Word of the day: arctophile

August 9th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

It means: someone who has a fondness for teddy bears, usually a collector of them.

I saw the word in reference to the new film about Christopher Robin, the friend of Winnie The Pooh.

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A review of the movie “Ant-Man And The Wasp”

August 8th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

After the mega movie that was “Avengers: Infinity War” – a canvas the size of the universe, a team of super-heroes the size of a small army, and a villain the size of Thanos – the Marvel Cinematic Universe goes miniature with this movie – most of the action in San Franscisco, only two super-heroes, and leading cast members mainly the size of insects before we zoom down to sub-atomic scale.

The plot is small-scale too: no threat to the whole universe but simply a rescue mission of an individual in the context of a narrative that is as much rom-com as sci-fi. What is not small-scale is the comedic element with a funny script and lots of visual humour as Ant-Man flips from human size to insect-size to something half-way and something gigantic.

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are back in the eponymous roles and this is the first time that a Marvel movie has featured a female super-hero in the title and the first time that two super-heroes have had a romantic relationship.

If anything, The Wasp is the cooler character, since she has wings and blasters, whereas Ant-Man needs another insect to get him around and has no weapons, but only Ant-Man can journey through the quantum tunnel into the quantum void where, following some quantum entanglement, he engages with the quantum realm (as he himself queries: “Do you guys just put the word ‘quantum’ in front of everything?”).

Some star power comes with Michael Douglas as the original Ant-Man and Michelle Pfeiffer as the original Wasp, although sadly we don’t see enough of her (after all, this is the actress who was once “Catwoman”).

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Will Colombia’s peace settlement survive the change of president?

August 7th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Today a new president takes office in the South American state of Colombia. On 17 June, Ivan Duque, the conservative  candidate of Democratic Centre – who is alleged to be under the control of the former president Alvaro Uribe – beat the leftist Gustavo Petro (a former member of the guerilla group M-19) standing for Human Columbia.

So, why should that interest me? Well, shortly I am about to make my first ever visit to Colombia (it will be my 73rd country) and Duque campaigned on a programme that was severely critical of the peace agreement with the largest guerilla group FARC which has ended a very long-standing if undeclared civil war.

FARC – which in English is known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia – was founded in 1964 and the war of some five decades between FARC and the state & paramilitaries has caused an estimated 320,000 deaths and almost 7 million displaced.

After many failed attempts and three years of talks, a peace deal was finally agreed in August 2016, but it was very narrowly rejected in a referendum in October 2016 (critics felt that it was too ‘soft’ on the guerillas). Following a whole series of amendments, a new deal was approved by the Congress in December 2016.

The terms of the deal are extensive and complicated and sometimes vague, but largely FARC has honoured the agreement (over 7,000 guerillas have surrender their arms) while the government has been slow to implement important features of the deal (former fighters need training and jobs).

Since the agreement was approved, however, critics of the deal have won the parliamentary elections of March 2018 and the presidential election of June 2018.

We now have to see how much change to the peace agreement will be sought by new president Ivan Duque and how FARC will react to any changes to the deal. Meanwhile negotiations continue with the second largest guerrilla army, the ELN (in English, the National Liberation Army). Furthermore, FARC’s withdrawal from the drug trade –  part of the peace agreement – has led to cartels battling to take over the business.

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Our universities need to start teaching economics differently

August 6th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

“Despite the pressure on universities to feed the financial industry with young, focused minds, there are efforts under way to broaden the outlook of economics graduates. The Core project was adopted by 13 UK universities last September and has won £3.7m from the Economic and Social Research Council.

It is an improvement, albeit an incremental one, that brings back a bit of Marxism (though just a discussion of Karl’s labour-market theory). The developers of the programme also claim it has freed itself from neoliberal thinking, which judges markets to be self-adjusting and consumers and businesses to be operating with the same information. The world is full of asymmetric power and information relationships, and Core reflects this.”

This is an extract from an article in this weekend’s “Observer” newspaper which provides a little hope that our universities might start to teach a version of economics that has learned from the crash of 20o8 and reflects how markets work in the real world.

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The rise and fall of the Weimar Republic

August 4th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

In the last couple of weeks, I have attended a set of two lectures at London’s City Literary Institute on the rise and fall of the Weimar Republic in Germany from 1919-1933 delivered by Alison Appleby. Below are some brief extracts from my notes:

What were the achievements of the Weimar Republic by 1926?

  • Attempted putsches by Left and Right successfully foiled
  • Hyperinflation dealt with and currency stabilised
  • Economic indicators were improving
  • Improved relations with former enemies France, Britain and USA
  • Allied armies were to withdraw early from occupied regions
  • Cultural achievements such as Bauhaus and Expressionism

Why did the Weimar Republic not last?

  • Institutions were largely dominated by anti-republicans in military and civil service
  • Death of Gustav Stresemann in 1929 who could have diluted the Treaty of Versailles
  • Political parties supporting Republic lost majority in legislature
  • Continuing depression in agriculture meant growing discontent in rural areas
  • Modernism and cosmopolitanism alarmed the traditionalists
  • Economic recovery was over-dependent on foreign loans and susceptible to global fluctuations

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A review of the summer blockbuster “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”

August 3rd, 2018 by Roger Darlington

For Tom Cruise (now 56) as Ethan Hunt, this is his sixth impossible mission in 22 years while, for writer and director Christopher McQuarrie, this is his second successive contribution to the franchise which previously has always had a new director for each episode. But Cruise and McQuarrie have worked on nine movies together over the last 11 years and clearly had a lot of fun on this latest outing which makes little sense plot-wise but delivers again and again in terms of action sequences.

As always, Cruise did his own stunts and famously broke his right ankle while jumping from one building to another in London. He even pilots the helicopter in the final chase sequence, set in Kashmir but shot in New Zealand although, unlike previous segments of the franchise, there is no one big set stunt, rather a whole series involving cars and bikes as well as that copter.

Hunt’s IMF team – Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) – are back of course, but this time we have CIA agent August Walker (Henry Cavill with a moustache) whose motivations are unclear and a number of interesting female roles, notably Rebecca Ferguson making a welcome return from “Rogue Nation” as hot-shot, former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust and Vanessa Kirby as a criminal broker called the White Widow.

The threat to the world is massive and the resolution could not be more last-minute so, as long as you suspend any critical faculties and simply enjoy the ride, this is a satisfyingly entertaining summer blockbuster.

You can find my reviews of all six “Mission: Impossible” films here.

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Ofcom reports on a decade of digital dependency

August 2nd, 2018 by Roger Darlington

  • Ofcom study shows how a decade of technological revolution has transformed our behaviour
  • One in five people spend more than 40 hours a week online
  • Brits now need constant connection to internet, and are checking their smartphone every 12 minutes

Most people in the UK are dependent on their digital devices, and need a constant connection to the internet, following a decade of digital transformation revealed by Ofcom today.

The findings are from Ofcom’s “Communications Market Report“, published today – the most comprehensive study of how communications services in the UK are changing. This year it focuses on how technology has revolutionised our lives within ten years.

You can find a headline summary of the report here.

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Does anyone else remember the “I’m Backing Britain” campaign of 1968?

August 1st, 2018 by Roger Darlington

I’ve recently attended two lectures at the City Literary Institute in central London which took a 50th anniversary look at some of the events worldwide in 1968 when I was a 20 year old university student.

Those events included the Vietnam War (especially the Tet Offensive), the assassination of Martin Luther King & Robert F Kennedy, the near-fall of the French government following massive student demonstration, the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, and much more.

I was reminded that, here in Britain, there was a remarkable and short-lived campaign called “I’m Backing Britain” which called on people to work half an hour longer for no extra pay and to buy British rather than foreign goods. It inspired this crass song by Bruce Forsyth.

Those were the days, my friend …

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A review of “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”

July 31st, 2018 by Roger Darlington

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the original “Mamma Mia!” movie, so I was delighted at the notion of another outing for Abba’s wonderful music.

Like “The Godfather 2”, this is both a prequel (back to Donna’s graduation) and a sequel (forward to a grand re-opening of Donna’s island hotel) and director and co-writer Ol Parker has some smart juxtaposing of certain prequel and sequel scenes and picks up so many bits of the original storyline, deepening our appreciation and love of the characters.

One way or another all the stars from the first movie are back but, since we now have all those prequel scenes, there is a raft of new young stars portraying Donna and her two best friends and Donna’s three lovers as they were in 1979. All of the six young actors very cleverly anticipate the style and mannerisms of the older characters and Lily James is absolutely charming with splendid vocals as the young Donna.

Indeed the ensemble cast list is fabulous: as well as the 12 roles already alluded to (Julie Walters is so funny again), Amanda Seyfried is delightful as Donna’a daughter Sophie and there are some fun cameo appearances from Cher, Andy Garcia and Omid Djalili (stay till the very end of the credits to access every opportunity to laugh).

For all the familiarity of this second film, there are some significant differences that make this more than just an opportunist retread of an enormously commercial success.

Tonally, “Here we Go Again” is less the unremitting joy of the first outing and more poignant, with some heartbreak and a few very moving scenes, most notably when we hear “My Love, My Life”. The other main difference is in the music: in the main, we are treated to somewhat less familiar Abba songs, although we have new versions of old favoutites like the eponymous “Mamma Mia!” and (my favourite) “Dancing Queen”.

In short, a triumph and a delight that deservedly will be a massive hit.

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A review of the novel “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid

July 29th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

I was impressed by “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, Hamid’s early novel which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2007, and so I was attracted to “Exit West”, another of his novels which was shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2017. It tells the story of two refugees, the Islamic adherent Saeed and the covered but non-practising Nadia, who flee the militant takeover of their unnamed country which could be Syria or Afghanistan or part of Hamid’s Pakistan.

It is an odd work with minimal dialogue and a deceptively plain style and some really long sentences (one covers a page and a half). The use of magical realism enables instant travel through a black door to an unknown destination somewhere else in the world. The couple move from their homeland to the Greek island of Mykonos to the capital city of London to the Marin county of California, while the narrative offers the reader glimpses of half-a-dozen or so different locations around the globe.

Through the prism of migration, Hamid examines the divided world in which we live: “The news in those days was full of war and migrants and nativists, and it was full of fracturing too, of regions pulling away from nations, and cities pulling away from hinterlands, and it seemed that as everyone was coming together everyone was also moving apart”. As he states: “We are all migrants through time”.

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