Ever heard of the African revolutionary Thomas Sankara?

April 5th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

My second granddaughter is named Kara Jo – the second name after the Labour MP Jo Cox who was murdered and the first name after the African revolutionary who was assassinated. I confess that I had not previously heard of Sankara.

However, as it happens, there is currently a play in London called simply “Sankara” and earlier this week I went along to a performance. The venue was a small, fringe theatre called “The Cockpit”. There is no stage but four flights of seats around a floor-level square where the actors perform.

The play has been written and directed by Ricky Dujany and the largely black cast is headed by Ike Chuks as the eponymous soldier/politician. It is a fascinating story although the play itself is quite heavy-going politically.

Thomas Sankara came to power in a coup in 1983 in the former French West African colony of Upper Volta which he renamed Burkina Faso which means “land of upright man”. He pioneered a raft of radical economic and social reforms but became increasingly dictatorial and was himself overthrown in a coup of 1987.

You can learn more about the play here.

You can learn more about Sankara here.

Posted in History | Comments (0)

Could China invade Taiwan?

April 4th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

As if the world needed any more to worry about, the “Guardian” today has an article which begins:

“China could do to Taiwan what Russia did to Crimea if Beijing’s relations with Washington, strained by an expanding trade war and military rivalry in the East and South China seas, deteriorate further. The warning from maritime security experts follows a series of recent Chinese moves to put pressure on Taiwan’s pro-independence government.”

The piece concludes:

“The worry now is that China, aware of Trump’s vulnerability over North Korea, angry at his tariff war and sensing his lack of interest in the western Pacific’s military balance may be tempted to test US resolve over Taiwan. Inviting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to the White House in a phone call last week, Trump appeared to have forgiven and forgotten all about Crimea. So how safe, really, is Taiwan?”

You can check out the article here.

Posted in World current affairs | Comments (0)

Antarctic melting underneath much faster than we thought

April 3rd, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Most of the news in the media is about specific events involving specific people, but often what’s going on underneath – sometimes literally – these headlines is a more significant story. An example is this “Guardian” news item which begins:

“Hidden underwater melt-off in the Antarctic is doubling every 20 years and could soon overtake Greenland to become the biggest source of sea-level rise, according to the first complete underwater map of the world’s largest body of ice.

Warming waters have caused the base of ice near the ocean floor around the south pole to shrink by 1,463 square kilometres – an area the size of Greater London – between 2010 and 2016, according to the new study published in Nature Geoscience.”

Posted in Environment | Comments (0)

It’s the centenary of the formation of the Royal Air Force

April 1st, 2018 by Roger Darlington

I suppose it was inevitable that I would grow up with a lifelong interest in the RAF and aircraft because my father was a fighter pilot in the service at the end of the Second World War although he was too young to see action.

Many years later, I married the daughter of a famous Czech night intruder pilot of the Second World War and wrote his biography entitled “Night Hawk”.

If you’re interested in the RAF and the Second World War, including the role of the Spitfire and the Hurricane, you might like to check out the aviation section of my web site.

Posted in History | Comments (0)

What proportion of Americans have a passport?

March 30th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

We know that it is low compared to most other developed countries – but how low? and is it still that low? I found myself asking these questions when, earlier this week, the actor and activist Sean Penn was interviewed by Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show”. He quoted a figure of 28% for the proportion of Americans with a passport.

I’ve now checked and actually Penn is way off. The current figure is 42%. Thirty years ago, the figure was a mere 3%, but it rose gradually so that, in 2007, it was 27%.

The pace of growth accelerated further in January 2007 when U.S. citizens travelling by air between the USA and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda were required to have a valid passport. Previously, it was possible for them to enter those countries without one, but the law was changed in the aftermath of 9/11.

At 42%, the US figure is still much lower than the UK which is 76%, but the USA is a huge landmass and Britain is a small island. At 42%, the proportion is still low – but it’s probably not as low as you thought and, in the next few years, a majority of Americans should have a passport. Now they need to travel abroad more often and more widely to gain some appreciation of the wider world and the States’ place in it.

More information and a graph here.

Posted in American current affairs | Comments (0)

What is it like to be the oldest man in Britain?

March 29th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Bob Weighton is 11o today (as is Alf Smith) and he had given this interview to mark the occasion.

Happy birthday and long life, Bob (and Alf).

Posted in Miscellaneous | Comments (0)

A review of the delightful new film “Lady Bird”

March 27th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

It is such a rarity – but a delight – to see a maintstream movie both written and directed by a woman. As well as being a fine actress, Greta Gerwig has written before (notably “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America”) but this is her directorial début. Astonishingly (but deservedly), at the age of just 34 this made her only the fifth woman in history to be nominated for a Best Director Academy Award and the first to be so honoured for her directorial début (but she did not win).

It is also uncommon – but again a pleasure – to have a leading role in a film with a decent budget taken by a young actress. Here Irish Saoirse Ronan plays the eponymous 17 year old American senior year high school student in this coming-of-age story. We first saw Ronan in “Atonement” but she has since proved to be an outstanding talent in work such as “Hanna” and “Brooklyn”.

“Lady Bird” is clearly semi-autobiographical territory for Gerwig: the central character’s real name is Christine (the name of Gerwig’s mother); the narrative is set in the early 2000s when Gerwig herself was a teenager; and, like Christine, Gerwig went to a Catholic high school in Sacramento before studying at a liberal arts college in New York City.

But Gerwig does not romantise her central character who has acne and a poor hair dye and exhibits selfishness and anger as well as charm and humour in a narrative that is at turns poignant and funny but always engaging. Although the focus is on one girl in one year, the supporting characters – notably Lady Bird’s parents and four friends (two girls and two boys) – are well-cast with Laura Metcalf especially impressive as the hard-pressed mother. In short, a rare treat of a movie which, at just 93 minutes, never overstays its warm welcome.

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

While I remember, let me talk to you about dementia

March 23rd, 2018 by Roger Darlington

It’s over six months ago that I did a blog posting explaining that I have been invited to volunteer for a study examining the risk factors for dementia. For various reasons, it was only today that I had my first hospital visit connected with the study.

I spent almost four hours at the Imperial Research Hub at Charing Cross Hospital in London where I was subjected to a whole battery of physical and mental tests.

The physical tests included blood pressure, blood sample, urine sample, alcohol breath test, measurement of height, weight and waist, and all sorts of checks on chest, back, arms, hands, legs, feet.

The mental tests included repeating the detail of short stories, recalling lists of nouns and numbers, counting down from 100 in various steps, drawing a complex mixture of shapes, identifying a variety of angles, and transposing numbers into symbols and symbols into numbers.

Additionally I had to answer a very long questionnaire about my health, the health of my family, and my professional and personal activities and a short questionnaire about my use of smartphone, computer and e-reader.

The next stages – over the coming few weeks – are to have a brain MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan. The MRI will check if there are any existing mental problems. The PET will measure the concentration of beta-amyloid in my brain.

The project requires 500 volunteers, 250 with a higher than average level of amyloid and 250 with a lower than average level. The main purpose of the project is to see whether the level of amyloid is a risk factor in the likely development of dementia.

If I’m accepted for the study – which will depend on the level of amyloid in my brain – then I will have checks every three months for the next three and half years. I will have study partner – in my case, my sister – to observe any changes in my behaviour that might indicate the onset of dementia.

All part of the fun of growing old … but I’m happy to contribute to medical science and possibly assist in the development of measures that can lessen the incidence of dementia or at least improve its treatment.

Posted in My life & thoughts | Comments (5)

It’s World Water Day

March 22nd, 2018 by Roger Darlington

I spent five years as Chair of the Customer Challenge Group at South East Water and this experience underlined my view that water plays an absolutely crucial role in life and all our lives. So, what is the United Nations World Water Day?

“World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is about focusing attention on the importance of water. The theme for World Water Day 2018 is ‘Nature for Water’ – exploring nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.

Damaged ecosystems affect the quantity and quality of water available for human consumption. Today, 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water at home; affecting their health, education and livelihoods.

Sustainable Development Goal 6 commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030, and includes targets on protecting the natural environment and reducing pollution.


Posted in Environment | Comments (0)

How consumers can obtain a voice in the regulatory system

March 21st, 2018 by Roger Darlington

This week, I gave a presentation to a course on “Economic Regulation Of Utilities” for regulators from five countries: Bulgaria, Botswana, Malaysia, Singapore and Afghanistan.

My presentation was entitled “How consumers can obtain a voice in the regulatory system“. After discussing the purpose of regulation, I looked at different models for an institutional consumer voice and different methodologies to discover consumer views.

If you would be interested in having a copy of the presentation, e-mail me.

Posted in Consumer matters | Comments (0)