Dutch historian Rutger Bregman berates billionaires at World Economic Forum

February 2nd, 2019 by Roger Darlington

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A review of the Dick Cheney bio-pic “Vice”

February 2nd, 2019 by Roger Darlington

Adam McKay stunned us with the “The Big Short” in which, as co-writer and director, he endeavoured to tell the complicated story of the sub-prime crisis in the USA economy in a virtuoso style. Now, as sole writer and director, he attempts the tell the incredible account of how Dick Cheney somehow became the most powerful Vice-President in American history with devastating consequences for the US and the world.

Again McKay deploys an idiosyncratic style in which he uses a whole panoply of cinematic tricks, including breaking the fourth wall, a false ending, and a narrator whose identity is only slowly revealed and really shouldn’t be any part of the movie. Such a scatter-gun approach does not always work, but it hits the target often enough to be both entertaining and informative in a manner which is both comedic and scary. By the time I saw it, the film had attracted 8 Academy Awards nominations.

There is a large cast with some terrific performances. None is better than an almost unrecognisable Christian Bale as the eponymous dark lord. It is not just that he looks utterly convincing, thanks to piling on 40 lb and having loads of prosthetics, but he even sounds like the guy with his gravelly voice and trademark pauses.

Other excellent portrayals include Amy Adams (Cheney’s wife Lynne), Sam Rockwell (George W Bush), and Steve Carrell (Donald Rumsfeld), while Alfred Molina has a delicious cameo role as a waiter offering Cheney and his chums a whole menu of devices to usurp power.

We even have a discussion of something called unitary executive theory which basically means that a US president can do just about anything he wants. A legal opinion asserting the validity of this principle is still in the records – but please don’t tell Donald Trump.

So “Vice” is uneven and not quite up there with “The Big Short” but, more seriously as a criticism, is it simply too polemical in the style of Michael Moore? At the end, McKay anticipates this charge and, in a brief scene visiting a focus group, he has a liberal arguing that it is all true. Don’t expect Cheney or anyone else to take McKay to the courts.

Posted in Cultural issues, History | Comments (0)

What was the American civil war really about?

January 30th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

I have now viewed the second segment of BBC Four’s series “American History’s Biggest Fibs With Lucy Worsley” which dealt with the American Civil War. 

Too many people think that the war was about the abolition of slavery. In fact, as Worseley reminds us, the war started when the Northern states insisted that new states should not be allowed to institute slavery, but the Southern states would have been allowed to continue with slavery.

Early in his political career, even President Abraham Lincoln was “morally ambivalent” about slavery, but he made his Emancipation Declaration of 1863 as a means of galvanising the North’s war effort.

The war did not actually abolish slavery outright because the Thirteenth Amendment allowed convicts to be classed as slaves. And, of course, if slavery was the most egregious manifestation of racial discrimination, discrimination continued which is why there was the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Worsley finishes up in Charlottesville to underline that the ultimate objective of the civil war – emancipation – is still far from realised.

I once read an excellent book on the American Civil War, from which I learned a lot, and you can read my review here.

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How would a universal basic income actually work?

January 29th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

new report published today by the Carnegie UK Trust sets out the key questions to be addressed to pave the way for a successful basic income pilot in Scotland. 

A basic income is the concept of regular, unconditional payments made to all citizens, regardless of whether they are employed or seeking work. The report, written by the Scottish Basic Income Steering Group, highlights learning from basic income pilots underway or in planning in Finland, Ontario and the Netherlands, compiled from discussions with representatives at the Basic Income Earth Network 2018 World Congress. 

The report concludes that there is no ‘one size fits all,’ approach to piloting basic income. It makes a series of recommendations around pilot framing, design, implementation, evaluation and communication, in order for a pilot to be delivered successfully within Scotland’s political and institutional context.

The Carnegie UK Trust is supportive of efforts to undertake a basic income pilot in Scotland in order to understand the potential positive and negative effects of the policy. As part of their ongoing feasibility study designed to scope out how a successful pilot could be undertaken in Scotland, Carnegie UK Trust funding has enabled the Scottish Basic Income Steering Group to produce this international learning report.

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Are you sometimes confused by text or online chat abbreviations? np

January 28th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

From A3 to ZZZ, this guide lists 1,500 text message and online chat abbreviations to help you translate and understand today’s texting lingo. The guide starts with a top ten.

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A review of the new film “Colette”

January 27th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

I’ve been a fan of Keira Knightley since “Bend It Like Beckham” in 2002. She’s had her critics but she’s maturely nicely as an actress and, in the eponymous role, this is among her best work, together with films like “Atonement” and “The Duchess”. 

Here she plays real-life writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette in late 19th century/early 20th century France who became a sensation once she broke free of the control of her older husband Henri Gauthier-Villars whose pen name was Willy (Dominic West in fine form). As a strong woman overtaking the lesser talent of her husband, the work echoes themes in recent movies “The Wife” and “A Star Is Born”, while this is a good time for lesbian relationships in mainstream films coming – forgive the pun – at about the same time as “Disobedience” and “The Favourite”.

Colette may be a French story but the director and co-writer is the British Wash Westmoreland who dedicated the film to his late partner Richard Glatzer who also worked on the script. Also much of what passes for France is in fact location shooting in Britain and Hungary. But then the British are rather good at making costume dramas and all round this is an enjoyable work that captures the modern zeitgeist of female empowerment.

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A review of the Oscar favourite film “The Favourite”

January 26th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

By the time I went to see this film, it had already received 10 Acadeny Award nominations, so there was an incredible buzz around the work. Is this deserved? Well, it is an exceptional work but an odd one too.

Losely based on actual events, this is a (very) black comedy set at the English court in the early 18th century but directed by a Greek, Yorgos Lanthimos, who throws in some modern interpretations (notably in one dance sequence).

As well as being co-written by a woman, all three leading roles are female: Olivia Colman as the lonely and gout-ridden Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as her aide and lover Lady Sarah, and American Emma Stone, sporting a fine English accent, as Abigail, the new rival for the Queen’s attention and affection. All three are superb and Colman is simply outstanding. The narrative is very cruel and very sexual and both language and behaviour are dirty in this gritty representation of a time of coarseness and struggle. 

There is much to admire in the film. As well as the splendid acting, we have a sharply acerbic script, wonderful costumes and wigs, deliberate use of natural lighting, and magnificent locations (mainly Hampton Court Palace and Hartfield House).

But it is a weirdly disorientating and discordant work: all use of text (in the credits and 18 chapter titles) is in an almost unreadable spread-out lettering; there is regular use of loud, repetitive noises which really grind on one’s nerves; and the camerawork is kenetic with much use of wide-angle shots and other shots swinging round 180 degrees. 

None of the human characters is appealling – the rabbits and ducks are cute – and most of them are utterly vain and manipulative, although motives may vary, with Lady Sarah influenced by a kind of love and Abigail spurred by her desire for status. I had some sympathy for Sarah, while my female companion identified more with Abigail. So, while this a film that I found ambitious and impressive, I cannot honestly say that I warmed to it.

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Bacteria and viruses are fighting back, but will big pharma save us?

January 25th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

“An apocalypse is looming, warn the public health experts. The spectre of a benighted world where humankind again falls prey to bacterial plagues, wiping out the frail and the young, has been hanging over us for many years now. Infections we have conquered, such as pneumonia and typhoid, will return to kill us. Surgery and chemotherapy for cancer will carry huge risks.

It’s a distant scenario as yet, but it cannot be dismissed as alarmist rhetoric. Antibiotics are no longer the cure-all for bacterial infections that they once were. Antimicrobial resistance is real. Microbes – both bacteria and viruses – are fighting back, developing resistance to the drugs invented to wipe them out. It’s an evolutionary thing. Bugs were here before we were and are evolving to survive us.”

These are the opening paragraphs of a story in today’s “Guardian” news paper which I found fascinating if disturbing. Sometimes the threats to humankind are not as visible as for instance is the case with climate change.

Posted in Science & technology | Comments (0)

Was the Munich Agreement of 1938 inevitable or avoidable?

January 23rd, 2019 by Roger Darlington

Before I read the historical novel “Munich” by Robert Harris, I decided to reread the 1988 book “Munich: The Eleventh Hour” by Robert Kee.

Was the betrayal of Czechoslovakia by Britain and France in September 1938 inevitable? Or should we have gone to war against Nazi Germany then rather than in September 1939?

You can read my review of Kee’s book here.

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What really happened in the American War of Independence?

January 22nd, 2019 by Roger Darlington

I enjoy reading history books and watching television programmes on history and I recently caught the first segment of BBC Four’s series “American History’s Biggest Fibs With Lucy Worsley” which dealt with the American War of Independence.

I don’t like the way Worsley feels compelled to dress up in period costume, but she has an interesting take on history which she defines as “the knitting together of rival interpretations”.

So, as regards the War of Independence, she reveals that Paul Revere never made it to Concord, the Liberty Bell wasn’t rung at the declaration of independence, and George Washington was a slave owner, and explains that the patriots could never have won without the support of the French.

I once read an excellent book on the American War of Independence, from which I learned a lot, and you can read my review here.

Posted in History | Comments (0)