How much does it cost to elect one member of the US House of Representatives?

June 24th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

This week, Jon Ossoff for the Democrats and Karen Handel for the Republicans faced each other in an electoral contest in what became the most expensive House of Representatives race in history. The candidates, their parties and super Political Action Committees (PACs) poured more than $50 million (£39 million) combined into the effort to win a single House seat in the northern Atlanta suburbs of the state of Georgia (the state’s sixth congressional district).

Of that sum, more than $40 million was spent on television and radio advertising alone, smashing past House election records. Just think how much good one could do for poor Americans in Atlanta with $50 million. This race just underlines that effectively there are no limits on expenditure in American political campaigns. In the UK, political candidates and parties cannot buy broadcasting time.

So who won? It was a much closer race than the 20-plus percentage point wins typically posted by former Representative Tom Price whose departure to become Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary created the vacancy. Republican Handel defeated Democrat Ossoff by just 51.9% to 48.1%.

More information here.

Posted in American current affairs | Comments (0)

A review of the newly-released film “Churchill”

June 23rd, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Winston Churchill had a long and complex military and political career but this film – it could just as easily have been a play – concerns a mere few days in that rich life: the last five days of preparation for Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings in June 1944.

As a young minister, Churchill had been involved with the disastrous Gallipoli landings of 1915 and, from the opening scenes (involving a rather lurid imagining of the English Channel turning red), he is seen to be fearing that the Second World War invasion of France could be a repeat of the abortive First World War landing in Turkey.

So this is an unconventional portrait of Churchill in that he is seen to be opposing what turned out to be a successful if bloody landing in Normandy and to be overruled when he decides that, if it is going ahead anyway, he wants to be physically present in a British warship. But it is a very conventional representation of Churchill in that we see him constantly smoking a big fat cigar and shouting – almost all his lines are at volume – at everyone from military leaders to secretaries and his wife.

Brian Cox does well in his portrayal of the eponymous great man, although he does not always totally disguise his native Scottish accent and a prayer scene is delivered in over-the-top theatrics (I did say it could have been a play). Miranda Richardson is excellent as the long-suffering Clementine (I liked the endearing “woof woof” between husband and wife).

And many of the support roles are well-played, especially John Slattery as General Eisenhower and James Purefoy as King George VI, although one of Churchill’s secretaries is given a certain prominence in a sub-plot that I found unconvincing. Every line of dialogue is delivered with great portentousness, either very quietly or – much more usually – at great volume so that there are no normal conversations (did I mention that this might have been a play?).

At first sight, it may seem strange that a film about arguably the most famous British man, whose greatest achievement was to stand against Hitler, should be written by someone called Alex von Tunzelmann, but this historian and author is neither male nor German as one might imagine but female and British which is perhaps why we have a more rounded profile of Churchill than is often the case with acknowledgement of his vulnerabilities and depression. Equally the choice of director is interesting: Jonathan Teplitzky is Australian and there were many Anzac casualties at Gallipoli.

So, in short, an honourable attempt to show fresh insight into a very familiar character but a work that would have benefited from a bit more subtlety and less shouting.

I once read a book contrasting Churchill with Hitler in terms of leadership styles and you can read my review of that work here.

Posted in Cultural issues, History | Comments (0)

Thoughts on life from an American friend as he becomes 80

June 22nd, 2017 by Roger Darlington

This is from my good friend Arthur Shostak:

From the vantage point of my 80 years I like to think I have learned six lessons worth pondering by others of all ages:

First, recognize time passes faster than anything save perhaps the speed of light (and I am not so sure about that calculation anymore). None of it ought be under-valued or wasted. Treasure as much of it as possible, as it enables earning and storing memories worth visiting with when the Light begins to first flicker, and later dim.

Second, clarify and then hold fast to Sacred Priorities. Top candidates include preserving your dignity, your honor, and what you understand of your “soul.” Take the study of yourself as a Sacred Priority, and do not spare yourself doubt and recrimination, albeit promotion of the “better angels of our nature” should show the way.

Third, value giving and getting love as highly as possible. Understand it as the sum of appreciation you have for the unique help a soul mate can provide as you try to complete yourself. Love can put “poetry” into mere biological existence, as it makes it possible for us to help another in their effort to complete themself.

Fourth, take a stand! Join with others in projects that help improve the state of affairs, or at least help keep them from worsening. Be persistent, and yet also patient; steadfast, and yet also flexible; strong, and yet also sensitive. Choose ennobling Causes, and assist them in inching toward their highest potential. Make a worthy difference.

Fifth, live with an eye to your legacy. Take to heart the sage Latin contention – Non Omnis Moriar (I shall not wholly die). Much (even if not all) of your lasting influence is yours to consciously shape. You are always on stage; write the script and act out the finest character of which you are capable.

Finally, do not fear to dare. Take calculated chances, and make the most of them! Savor the miracle of consciousness. Of creativity. Of empathy. Of morality, and of love. Live with gusto, finesse, and style. Have good reasons at the end to exit with the satisfaction of having given it (life) your best … and then some.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Comments (0)

A review of the new film “Gifted”

June 21st, 2017 by Roger Darlington

The title is a reference to seven year old Mary who has outstanding mathematical skills inherited from her British grandmother and American-British mother. When her mother commits suicide, her uncle Frank spirits her off to Florida in an effort to give her a normal life. The narrative may be a bit trite and the conclusion too neat, but this small movie hits some emotional spots and is made by some fine performances.

Young McKenna Grace is amazing as Mary; Chris Evans is a much more low-key and nuanced than in his Captain America role as he plays Mary’s uncle; and Lindsay Duncan is very accomplished in the unsympathetic role as Mary’s grandmother. African-American Octavia Spencer and comedian Jenny Slate are strong in support turns.

Director Marc Webb, fresh from a couple of “Spider-Man” movies, is interested in real human relationships, as he showed with “300 Days Of Summer”, and he can be proud of this addition to his canon.

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

What is this thing called the Internet of Things?

June 20th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

You might have heard of something called the Internet of Things or IoT. You might have wondered what it’s all about.

My 94th column on IT issues looks at the current state of IoT in the UK and beyond. You can read this short piece here.

Posted in Internet | Comments (0)

A review of the Tom Cruise movie “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”

June 19th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

The original Jack Reacher movie in 2012, starring Tom Cruise in the eponymous role, was not a huge box office success but it did reasonably and clocked up a lot more revenue in the home entertainment market. I certainly found it enjoyable enough to welcome a return of the Lee Child creation of an American former military policeman who now lives off the grid and four years later Jack is back with a new director (Edward Zwick) and a new scriptwriter (Richard Wenk).

It is a well-paced thriller with lots of action interleaved with appropriate pauses to catch breath. What gives this Reacher movie a different feel is that the ex military cop is supported by a very capable (and attractive) army major (played by the former model Cobie Smulders) with the involvement of a young girl who may be related to Reacher (the promising Danika Yarosh).

This Cruise franchise will never rival the “Mission: Impossible” series but will quietly satisfy the actor’s many fans.

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

Never heard of Kamala Harris? You will …

June 18th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Kamala Harris is the  daughter of an Indian American mother and Jamaican American father, She was raised in Berkeley, where she was introduced to civil rights activism from a young age. She served two terms as the district attorney of San Francisco, the first woman to hold the position, before being elected the first female attorney general of California.

In January 2017, Harris became the first Indian American woman and only the second black woman to serve in the US Senate. She is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee where she has made herself unpopular with Republicans by tough questioning concerning links between the Trump administration and the Russians.

You are going to hear more about this assertive and ambitious woman who is determined to be heard in Congress.

You can read more about Kamala Harris here.

Posted in American current affairs | Comments (0)

25 photographs of my recent holiday in Sri Lanka

June 17th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Last month, I spent two weeks on holiday in Sri Lanka. I blogged on this site about the trip; then I pulled all the blog postings together into a continuous narrative for my web site; now I’ve added 25 photographs to break up and illustrate the narrative. Check it out here.

Posted in My life & thoughts | Comments (0)

Remembering the Labour MP, wife and mother Jo Cox

June 16th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

One year ago today, the 41-year-old Labour member of Parliament Jo Cox was shot and stabbed in Birstall, in her Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen. To mark the first anniversary of her death, her family and friends have urged people to hold events that celebrate her life.

The Great Get Together, involving picnics, street parties and concerts, runs across this weekend. Organised by the Jo Cox Foundation, it aims to reinforce the message in her maiden speech in the House of Commons that “we have more in common than that which divides us”.

May she never be forgotten, may her family and friends be supported, and may the causes for which she campaigned go from strength to strength.

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (0)

Do you understand the British political system?

June 15th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

I’ve just been checking the traffic data for my web site which I do from time to time. I noticed a big spike in visitors the day after the General Election. Whereas I normally have around 4,000 visits a day, on 9 June visits peaked at around 5,200.

The data suggests that the peak was the result of visitors accessing my “Short Guide To The British Political System” as they tried to make sense of what was going on after the shock result of the General Election.

You might want to check out my guide here.

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (0)