What has caused this growing tech-lash?

February 7th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

It seems as if almost every day there is a story expressing concern about some aspect of the Net and attacking the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon. Why is this?

“Governments are concerned that they are not paying their fair share of taxes in the countries where they generate the most revenues; regulators are worried that they are stifling competition and crushing smaller players; politicians fear the impact of fake news and filter bubbles; parents and teachers are anxious that children are becoming addicted to the small screen.”

This is an extract from the latest (97th) in my 15-year series of regular columns on Internet issues. You can read the short piece here.

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Contemporary cinema (3): “The Post”, “Baby Driver”, “Blade Runner 2049”

February 6th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

I’ve now attended three more weekly sessions at the City Literary Institute in central London of an evening course called “Contemporary Cinema: The Best Films Of The Year” conducted by the American John Wischmeyer.

So far, the pattern has been that we view and discuss clips from an acclaimed recent film and then compare it to a couple of significant older movies.

In Week 3, we focused on “The Post” [my review here]. This film has only recently been released so we could not see clips but viewed a review on the BBC by Mark Kermode. We then compared it to the earlier  (1976) “All The President’s Men” (which I have seen) – both movies movies concern the “Washington Post” – and reference was also made to another newspaper-centred film “Spotlight” [my review here].

In Week 4, we turned to “Baby Driver” [my review here] and viewed clips of the opening car chase sequence and the following buying-the-coffee long take. The obvious comparison film was “Drive” [my review here] but we also looked at a clip of the car chase in the much older (1968) “Bullitt” (which I have seen).

Week 5 was all about “Blade Runner 2049” [my review here] and we watched – with 3D glasses – extended sequences from this long movie. Again there was an obvious comparison: this time the original “Blade Runner” [my review here] where we took in the sequence where Dekker first meets Rachael.

I’ll miss the next two sessions of the course since I’m about to take a trip to China to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

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So, after the leaking of the Paradise Papers, how is the UK doing on tackling tax evasion and avoidance?

February 5th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Figures from HM Revenue & Customs suggest that a series of measures to tackle offshore tax evasion will only bring in £349m a year – £650m a year less than had been hoped for.

Meanwhile a total of 28 anti-avoidance measures introduced under the Coalition and Conservative governments are bringing in less than expected, and the gap between the tax take originally expected from them and the revised forecasts total £2.1bn, or 25%.

Time to get serious with the tax dodgers.

More information here.

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A review of the new film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

February 2nd, 2018 by Roger Darlington

When so many movies are franchise works or sequels or remakes, it’s such a pleasure to find a genuinely original film like “Three Billboards”. The plotting is unconventional with unexpected developments and most of the characters are complex (unfortunately two young women are presented as stereotypically dumb and a black cop as overly honourable).

This is a social drama in the vein of “Manchester By The Sea” where the central characters are suffering great pain and anguish but, unlike the earlier film, what starts with a sense of vengeance ends in a kind of redemption. Much of the credit for the movie’s success has to go to the British Martin McDonagh who both wrote and directed, as he did in 2008 for “In Bruges”, but he is well-deserved by an excellent cast.

Frances McDormand, Academy Award winner for “Fargo”, is simply brilliant as Mildred Hayes, the mother of a girl who – as the middle of the three billboards states uncompromisingly – was “raped while dying”. Although she initially has the viewer’s unqualified sympathy, we are soon treated to words and actions from her that make clear that this is a woman who will say or do almost anything to advance what she sees as a righteous cause.

Woody Harrelson and especially Sam Rockwell give subtle performances as good cop and bad cop respectively in the Ebbing police station and, as the story develops, they – like Mildred – do not behave as you would expect. There is much physical and mental pain in this tale but also some black humour and unusual friendships. A real must-see.

Note: There is no Ebbing in Missouri and the film was largely shot in Sylva in North Carolina. The film has echoes of a use of billboards in a similar fashion over a long period in a place called Vidor in Texas where the killer has still not been identified.

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Time to Talk Day 2018

February 1st, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Two thirds of UK adults feel they have nobody to talk to about their problems, a survey has found. Of the 2,500 people questioned, 66% said they had no one to speak to about mental health, relationships or money. Difficulty finding the right time or place to talk were given as reasons behind the trend, the survey by mental health campaign Time to Change said.

More than a third (36%) of those questioned said they could never find the right time to raise their problems, while 28% said they had not spoken to anybody as they could not find anywhere appropriate to raise their concerns. Just over 22% said they had waited for a year for the “perfect” moment to discuss their issues.

The survey by the Time to Change project has been released to coincide with Time to Talk Day, which is backed by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

Too many people with mental health problems are made to feel isolated, worthless and ashamed. Time to Talk Day is a chance for all of us to be more open about mental health – to talk, to listen, to change lives. Wherever you are – at home, at work – have your conversation about mental health.

Some advice here.

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Which are the best and the worst countries in terms of the rule of law?

February 1st, 2018 by Roger Darlington

The World Justice Project produces a Rule of Law Index which measures – across eight factors – rule of law adherence in 113 countries and jurisdictions worldwide based on more than 110,000 household and 3,000 expert surveys and it has just published its latest annual report for 2017-18.

More countries’ overall rule of law score declined (34%) than improved (29%) as compared to their previous Index scores—a troubling trend. The biggest mover in this year’s Index was the Philippines, which fell 18 positions, now ranking 88th out of 113 countries overall.

The top three overall performers in the 2017-18 Index were Denmark (1), Norway (2), and Finland (3); the bottom three were Afghanistan (111), Cambodia (112), and Venezuela (113). The top three and bottom three performing countries have not changed since the 2016 Index.

Countries leading their regions in overall rule of law scores included: Nepal (South Asia), Georgia (Eastern Europe and Central Asia); Ghana (Sub-Saharan Africa); Uruguay (Latin America and the Caribbean); United Arab Emirates (Middle East and North Africa); New Zealand (East Asia and Pacific), and Denmark (Western Europe and North America, defined as EU + EFTA + North America).

The UK has dropped out of the top 10 to 11th place overall, while the USA ranks 19th.

You can find full details here.

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As Trump prepares to give his first State of the Union address, a reminder of his dire and unprecedented approval ratings

January 30th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

With an approval rating after a year in office at least 10 points lower than that of any other US president in modern history, Donald Trump is planning in his first State of the Union address to Congress to claim success in his 12 months in Oval Office.

According to the latest polling by both Gallup and CNN, Trump’s approval rating is a mere 35%. They are some of his worst marks yet as president and no other modern president has come close to such failing grades from the American people at this point in his term of office.

In this short article, there is bar chart showing the standing of each post-war president after one year in the White House. Trump is in a class of his own.

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Visions of light: a course on film technique and style

January 29th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

This weekend, I spent a day at the City Literary Institute attending a course by John Wischmeyer which examined film technique and style.

We began by watching the opening scene of “Jaws”, discussing it, and then watching it again to notice better all the techniques deployed by director Steven Spielberg. The rest of the course looked in more detail at the different elements of composing a film.

We considered the use of the camera for the long shot – such as the wounded soldiers in the railway station scene in “Gone With The Wind” – and the long take – such as the arrival of Sherif Ali in “Lawrence Of Arabia” [my review here].

Next we looked at the use of film scores, focusing especially on the scoring of Bernard Herman who did a lot of work with the director Alfred Hitchcock, including “Vertigo” [my review here]. Other cases of sound design included examination of clips from “A Clockwork Orange” [my review here], “Apocalypse Now” [my review here] and the recent film “Dunkirk” [my review here].

The next section of the course reviewed the role off the editor, known as “the invisible art” and arguably the least apparent to the viewer but the most important to the final look of the film. The typical film involves around 200 hours of material which has to be edited to something like two hours which could consist of some 5,000 shots. We viewed an interview with the brilliant editor Walter Murch.

Finally we considered the contribution of music to film. This is usually the last element of the work after the editing is done. Ennio Morricone and John Williams are particularly famous for their film scores.

A fascinating day that will enhance my appreciation of the movies.

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Flooding in Paris and drought in Cape Town

January 27th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

If I ever doubted the centrality of water to humankind (you could write a history of civilisation around the theme of water), the importance of H2O was underlined for me when I spent five years chairing the Customer Challenge Group for the regional company South East Water.

So I can’t help but noticing two current and contrasting news items: the flooding of the River Seine in Paris and the drought being suffered by the citizens in Cape Town (both cities which I’ve visited).

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Who will be the Democratic Party candidate in the presidential election of 2020?

January 27th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Donald Trump has only been in the White House for a year and we are still nine months away from the mid-term congressional elections in November. But already there is speculation about who the Democrats will field in 2020 to take back the Oval Office from the Republicans.

During his time as president, Trump has continued to tweet several times a day and to run election-style rallies, so he is in effect in permanent campaigning mode, but he may not survive in the office long enough to be able to seek a second term.

Meanwhile there is no obvious or clear challenger emerging on the Democrat side. For a few weeks, there was the notion that Oprah Winfrey might run for the office – as if we need another television celebrity in the West Wing – but she has now ruled this out.

Some of my American friends are excited about the idea of Bernie Sanders running again and there is recent news that he is considering another race. However, by the time of the election, he will be 79. There is talk about former Vice-President Joe Biden going for the top office. Yet he is only a year younger than Sanders and very much an establishment figure.

Among more than 30 names being talked about for the candidacy, there are two interesting women senators: Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris (Jamaican father/Indian mother). Then there is senator Cory Booker who is African-American. A ticket with a woman and a black candidate – say, Warren and Booker – would be something.

Of course, it’s far to soon to say – but it’s fun to speculate.

In the fictional world of television, Jed Bartlet of “The West Wing” was the president we had wanted Bill Clinton to be and currently Elizabeth McCord of “Madam Secretary” is being groomed to do what Hillary Clinton might have done.

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