A review of the new super-hero movie “Venom”

October 7th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

This movie is far from being the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but it is not as bad as many critics have suggested. What makes it a little different is that, in other super-hero films, the same character so often has two persona (think Clark Kent and Superman or Tony Stark and Iron Man)), but this time we have an anti-hero with two characters in the same person as one-time investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is possessed by a ‘symbiote” from outer space providing some comedic character clashes.

Sadly the work takes too long to get going and the female characters are poorly rendered (with a terrible under-utilisation of the talented Michelle Williams as the love interest). At least, the evil genius – Riz Ahmed as Dr Carlton Drake – is quite effective and Venom himself – looking like a cousin of “Alien” – is suitably fierce-looking, but the “symbiote” itself looks like a cross between an oil slick and a kitchen mess.

However well or otherwise the film performs at the box office, we know that we’ve not seen the last of Venom because a clip early in credits introduces us to a forthcomong opponent played by Woody Harrelson. Oddly, at the very end of the interminable credits, there is a long clip from an altogeher different film – an animated version of a Spiderman – that is part of Sony’s bit of the MCU.

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Could one woman still block Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court?

October 5th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

“In the end, whether or not the supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed could come down to the vote of one senator: Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine.

Historically, she is popular with women. She attracts voters who are registered Democrats. She opposed Trump’s candidacy for president, saying that he could make the world “more dangerous”.

And she has vowed not to support a supreme court nominee who demonstrates hostility to Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the United States.

But on Kavanaugh, she has remained mostly silent and her intentions are still a mystery.”

More on this story here.

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A review of “The Shortest History Of Germany” by James Hawes

October 4th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

How could the almost 2,000 tiny statelets that came out of Europe’s Thirty Years War of 1618-1648 become a united nation for the first time in 1871 thanks to Otto von Bismarck before plunging the globe into two world wars which it lost before rising anew as the leader of the European Union and one of the largest and most successful economies in the world? This remarkable story is told in little over 200 pages with more than 100 maps and images in a clear and compelling narrative by British novelist James Hawes.

He divides his accessible work into four (unequal) parts: the first half-millennium (8 BC – 525 AD) when the Romans created the Germans (the term Germans was first used by Julius Caesar) and then the Germans took over Rome; the second half-millennium (526 AD – 983 AD) when the Germans restored Rome; the third half-millennium (983 AD – 1525 AD) which he calls “a battle for Germany”; and the fourth half-millennium (1525 AD – January 2018) which takes up two-thirds of the text.

One of the themes of the book is how, in spite of many, many territorial changes, the geographical idea of Germany has remained broadly constant over two millennia with the West Germany of 1949-1990 being extraordinarily similar to the Germani planned by Augustus Caesar around 1 AD, to East Francia at the Treaty of Verdun in 843 AD, and to the Confederation of the Rhine in 1808.

Another – contrasting – theme is the continuing cleavage between the largely Catholic and industrious west and south on the one hand and the predominately Protestant and poorer north and the east on the other. He maps onto this division the voting for Adolf Hitler in the early 1930s and the voting for the extreme left and right in today’s united Germany.

Hawes insists that: “Since 100 AD, south/western Germany has belonged to Western Europe. It was only in 1525 that a new, essentially non-western Germany appeared on the scene: Prussia”. He argues that: “The brief Prussian/Nazi era of Germany history – 1866-1945 – must finally be seen for what it was: a terrible aberration”. At the end of his excellent history, writing of today’s nation, he opines that “This Germany is the sole hope for Europe”.

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Could this be what finally brings down Donald J Trump?

October 3rd, 2018 by Roger Darlington

US president Donald Trump has long sold himself as a self-made billionaire, but a mammoth “New York Times” investigation has found that he received at least $413 million in today’s dollars from his father’s real estate empire, much of it through tax dodges in the 1990s.

“The [New York state] tax department is reviewing the allegations in the NYT article and is vigorously pursuing all appropriate avenues of investigation,” the state taxation authority has told the “Washington Post”.

  • You can read a very short account of the “NYT” story here.
  • You can read 11 take-aways from the “NYT” piece here.
  • And you can read the full “NYT” investigation here.

Remember Al Capone was brought down through his tax affairs …

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A review of the new Polish film “Cold War”

September 30th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

This is a most unusual but utterly engaging film. Written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, it is largely in Polish (although the dialogue is quite sparse) and set mainly in Poland (but with sections in Berlin, Paris and Yugoslavia). It was shot in black and white and in an aspect ratio of 1.37 : 1 so it looks like the period in which it is set (1949 and beyond).

Loosely inspired by the lives of the director’s parents (and dedicated to them), it tells the tragic love story of urbane musician Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and the younger peasant girl with a special voice Zula (Joanna Kulig) and indeed music of different kinds – Polish folk music, jazz and even some rock – is as frequent and important as the dialogue, while the composition of the scenes is always captivating.

It will truly move you.

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Who voted for Hitler?

September 29th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

I’m currently reading “The Shortest History Of Germany” by James Hawes and I’ve reached the section on the rise of Nazism in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The explosive rise in the electoral support for the Nazis was amazing – from 2.6% in 1928 to 43.9% in March 1933.

Dawes invites the reader of his book to identify what characteristic was the best indicator as to whether a German would vote for the Nazis. Was it class, gender, education, occupation? Actually it was none of those. It was simply whether the person was Catholic or Protestant with the latter, largely in the north and east, voting disproportionately for Hitler.

A central theme of Dawes’ book is that this cleavage between the west and the south on the one hand and the north and the east on the other remains a key factor in understanding modern Germany.

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Citizens Advice super-complaint to CMA on the injustice of loyalty payments

September 28th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

super-complaint has been lodged today by Citizens Advice with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) calling for the regulator to investigate the loyalty penalty in a number of essential markets: mobile handsets, broadband, mortgages, home insurance and savings.

Research by Citizens Advice has found that consumers lose over £4 billion a year to the loyalty penalty, with 8 in 10 people paying a significantly higher price for remaining with their current supplier in at least one of these markets.

This practice is considered unfair by 89% of people, and certain vulnerable groups – such as those on low incomes, older people and people with mental health problems – are likely to experience the financial impact of the loyalty penalty disproportionately.

Citizens Advice is calling on the CMA to undertake a thorough market study to investigate all markets where the loyalty penalty may occur, and to propose remedies that can be implemented by the CMA itself, sector regulators and the government.

The CMA has now invited submission of evidence at LoyaltyPenalty@cma.gov.uk. The deadline for doing so is 14 October 2018.

The CMA now has 90 days to investigate and publish its response to the super-complaint. More information can be found on the CMA’s webpage.

 

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The global flu pandemic of 1918 killed at least 50 million – but where did it start?

September 27th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

The horror of World War One is estimated to have caused between 15-20 million deaths mainly in Europe but, even before the war ended, a global flu pandemic in 1918-1919 resulted in a further death toll of between 50-100 million and infected around one third of the world’s entire population.

This week, BBC Two television broadcast a documentary titled “The Flu That Killed 50 Million”. At the time and historically, it has been called “the Spanish flu” with the implication that it started in Spain. In fact, the only reason that flu in Spain received so much attention was that the country was neutral in the war and there was no press censorship of the epidemic as there was in the warring nations.

The BBC programme put forward a more recent thesis that Patient Zero in the pandemic was in fact an American in Kansas called Albert Gitchell who contracted the disease from water fowl and then spread it unknowingly through his army camp. Army supply ships brought the flu from the USA to Europe and it rapidly spread throughout the globe. The worst affected country was actually India with some 17 million deaths. Only Australia escaped the scourge by a tight quarantine policy.

Could such a pandemic reoccur? Certainly, but we now know so much more about flu and how to treat it. In 1918-1919, some 3% of those infected died. The television programme suggested that today the maximum death rate would be 1%.  So that’s reassuring …

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What’s in a name? A lot more than you think.

September 24th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Last week, the Office of National Statistics published the most popular baby names in England & Wales for 2017. This gave me an opportunity to up-date my extensive website essay on naming practices around the world where I have drawn out just how different these practices are from our experience in Britain.

  • It is assumed that the meaning of names is unknown and unimportant – but (virtually) all names have meaning if only we knew it and, in many, many cultures, names are chosen precisely because of their meaning.
  • It is assumed to be respectful to name a child after a parent or grandparent which is commonplace in Western culture – but, in China, it is considered very disrepectful to use even one character from the name of a parent or grandparent.
  • It is assumed that given names are gender-specific – but many African and all Chinese given names can be applied to boys and girls.
  • It is assumed that, when someone has more than one given name, the first is the one used in everyday life – but in Germany it is the second or the given name nearest the family name that is the ‘call name’.
  • It is assumed that people have a single family name – but, in Spain and Portugal, they have two.
  • It is assumed that family names are not gender-specific – but, in most Slavonic countries, family names ending with ‘-ov’ and ‘-in’ add an ‘a’ in their female form and Polish and Lithuanian have their own endings for female last names.
  • It is assumed that given names come first and family names come last – but the reverse is the case in countries like China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and even Hungary.
  • It is assumed that all countries have family names as well as first names – but Myanmar and large parts of India do not have family names.

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Could Texas turn blue? The battle between Cruz and O’Rourke.

September 23rd, 2018 by Roger Darlington

In the strange world of American politics, a blue state is one where the Democratic candidate is the winner. Texas has traditionally been a safe red state – that is, Republican. But that might change in the forthcoming US mid-term Congressional elections.

It underlines America’s strange and turbulent political moment that the highest-profile and most intriguing battle in November’s midterm elections is in one of the most predictably Republican states.

“We have a real race in the state of Texas,” the Republican senator Ted Cruz said during a bruising debate with Beto O’Rourke on Friday.

“The hard left is energised, they are angry, many of them are filled with hatred for President Trump.”

These are the opening words of an interesting article in today’s Observer” newspaper. Go O’Rourke!

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