Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Trump vs. Putin

So, in 2014 Trump called Russia a threat, but now if we got along with Russia “it wouldn’t be so bad”.  I sort of agree with that.  It would be great if the US and Russia were to work together towards the furtherance of world peace and stability.  It would be an absolute nightmare if the two countries where to work together to nefarious self-serving ends, such as colonizing countries and “taking their oil”.   However, I strongly suspect that the reality will be very different.

I don’t think either Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin trust each other very much.  I think there is the hope that they will get along, but I’d be very surprised if Russia’s interests are found to align with those of the United States in most cases.  Consequently, with Donald Trump pursuing an aggressive isolationist philosophy, I expect “America First” to ultimately fly in the face of any proposed long term alliance with Russia. 

Does Vladimir Putin hope to profit from the Presidency of Donald Trump?  I’m quite sure that he does. Will he do so?  Maybe for a while, maybe for no period of time at all.  Once the dust clears, words turn into action, speeches turn into policy and Twitter diplomacy gives way to real substantive conversations, I expect both sides to have a rude awakening; and that awakening will probably be ruder on Putin’s side.  Donald Trump remains unpredictable on the world stage and if Russia banks on his support and friendship, they’d better have a good back-up plan.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Alternative Facts – The New United States of America

I have lived under several governments in 3 continents and am sad to say that the present U.S. one already reminds me of a third world dictatorship.  Am I being overly dramatic?  Probably.  However, when I hear things like Kellyanne Conway’s defence of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s bold-faced lie, I can’t help but draw strong comparisons in my head to what I've seen before.  Think about everything we’ve heard through the campaign, on inauguration day and now: bombastic rhetoric, over blown promises, overt and covert bullying (allegedly), brazen untruths that not only insult the viewer’s intelligence but takes said intelligence round the back shed and gives it a solid beating …  I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone.   Is this the United States of America? Is this real?  It all sounds disturbingly similar to what we’re accustomed to seeing from African and Middle-Eastern despots (among others.)

Kellyanne Conway is a bad liar.  She visibly flinched as she talked about “alternative facts” and clearly didn’t believe what she was saying.  Even Sean Spicer looked unconvincing in his speech.  Why can’t any of these folks positively influence the President when he sets off on one of his tours of alternate reality? His loose relationship with the truth was on full display during the elections, and didn’t seem to stop him from ultimately winning the race.  Perhaps that’s why he thinks he can keep going in the same direction.

Arguably, all politicians lie.  Certainly, all politicians present the facts in a way that favors them most.  However, most credible politicians do not make bold-faced lies which are easily controverted by a simple google search, a publicly available video recording or listening to an audio archive.
As a man of faith, I believe God can use anyone to fulfill His purposes on the earth.  And yes, God can use Donald Trump.  Some days however, it’s easier to believe than others.

May God continue to bless the United States of America.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

We Shall Overcome

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome someday
Deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome someday

So starts the popular anthem that inspired a generation of civil rights activists, and still lives on today.  My daughter came home from school singing the song, and I marveled.  They're teaching this in schools? Wow, things have really come a long way.  Having only recently seen the movie "Selma", one is reminded of the struggles at the heart of the civil rights movement in the '60's.   Of course struggles remain today and we only need to watch the news to see that.  The damning report on policing in Chicago, the spate of violence that has given rise to the "Black Lives Matter" movement, the intolerance which many Donald Trump supporter have unleashed on the diverse public in the light of his election victory, inflamed by the divisive rhetoric of the President-elect's campaign itself... yes, America still has a very long way to go before racial prejudice and attendant violent conflict is truly overcome.

Martin Luther King day is a good opportunity to reflect on the positive steps that America has taken towards racial equality, and to honor the memory of the man who, among others, gave his life in pursuit of that dream.  Dr. King was a flawed man, as we all are, but he was instrumental in his life and in his death, in bringing the issue of racial inequality to the consciousness of a complacent nation.

Now, as America bids a long goodbye to its first African American President, it says hello to a new and uncertain era, where key participants in the incoming administration are dogged by accusations of racism and association with openly racist organizations. Will the new administration sincerely seek to govern in the interests of all Americans?  I sincerely hope so, and we may all be about to find out.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Crown (TV Series - 2016) - A Review

The Crown is a Netflix series which chronicles Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.  The beloved British Monarch is portrayed by Claire Foy (Anne Boylen in the fantastic “Wolf Hall”), first as the Princess Elizabeth just before her marriage to Prince Philip, and Season One ends a few years into her reign.  Matt Smith (a former Dr. Who) plays the young Prince Philip.

I came to the series with very high expectations, not all of which were met.  Some episodes were positively riveting and I came away with a fresh appreciation of the humanity of the Queen’s father, King George VI.  A couple of episodes verged on being slow, though being a keen lover of historical drama I never did feel like switching off and walking away.

When Season one was done, I felt as if not enough ground had been covered and there was still too much shut away behind closed doors.  I was left wanting more depth to the story, to some of the characters, as much as is possible when dramatizing real events.  Having said that, with multiple Golden Globe nominations and wins including best drama and best actress in a Drama series, Netflix has clearly done something right here.

Would I watch a Season 2? Certainly. Would I recommend the Crown to others?  Yes I would, but with a caveat.  You probably need to be a fan of historical drama, or an avid Anglophile to really enjoy this.  It’s not even particularly Royalist in its treatment of the family; if anything I wouldn’t be surprised if it was made by people with Republican leanings (in the Monarchical sense).

Check it out, and let me know what you think!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Annie (2014) Movie Review

I feel quite strongly about this one.  Annie is a story about an optimistic young foster child who dreams of reuniting with her parents one day, and crosses paths with a rich man who is himself incomplete.  The tale follows their interractions and effect on each other's life and world.  The 2014 adaptation of the much-loved musical was almost universally panned by critics, and as I direct result I didn't bother to see it until recently. A quiet holiday afternoon afforded the perfect opportunity and I sat down to view this with the family.  Despite the critical consensus, we all quite enjoyed this movie.

Let's get one thing out of the way right now.  The voices are auto tuned, and I think this greatly detracts from the viewer's experience.  You can't beat great, natural voices, but for whatever reason, this musical decided to go down the robotic route. This is my biggest criticism of the movie, and it's a big one for a musical.

Having said that, I enjoyed the modern take on the story, the reworked old songs, as well as the new ones. Stand out song for me is "Who am I"  which features a sweet harmonic blend between Jamie Fox, Cameron Diaz and Quvenzhane Wallis.  Yes, it's auto tuned as well but I really love the harmonies and it still sounds beautiful.

Cameron Diaz overreacts as Miss Hannigan, intentionally so, but I'm not sure it always works.  I didn't always find Quvenzhane believable in the title role, but overall she did a good job.  I think Jamie Foxx was excellent as Oliver Warbucks, and clearly the best singer of the main cast.

Why did critics hate this so much?  I suspect nostalgia had a lot to do with it.  This Annie did not pay enough deference to the 1982 version - indeed it was perceived by some to have poked fun at it - and I believe that most critics found the change too radical to endure.  Some decried the movie's apparent materialistic message, but it's difficult to unreservedly side with that criticism, considering the fact that the film did try rather unsubtly to praise the value of integrity above financial gain.  Quoting a couple of lines:

"Who am I, what have I become?
Do I stand for something, or for money?"

So, Annie 2014 is not a perfect movie, but it does not deserve 27% on rotten tomatoes.  56% would have been more in order, which is about where IMDB sits (5.3/10).

Monday, 2 January 2017

The Trouble With North Korea

So, Kim Jung Un is now planning to test a nuclear launch missile which could potentially reach the United States.   How did we get here?   I remember the days when the UN was inspecting sites in North Korea; you know, those days before the second war in Iraq.  North Korea asserted its rights to use nuclear power, and after a brief cat-and-mouse game, kicked the inspectors out of the country and re-opened their nuclear research facilities.

What did the UN do about it?  Oh, the usual... strongly denounced North Korea's actions, tabled sanctions, then sat impotently by as North Korea gleefully progressed its nuclear programme.  What did the United States do about it?  Not much.  They were too busy planning to invade Saddam Hussein in order to divest him of ... wait for it ... weapons of mass destruction.

There is something very wrong with your foreign policy if you ignore a country that's kicking out nuclear inspectors and openly restarting nuclear facilities, and attack the country that insists it has no weapons and is at least making a show of a last-minute attempt to cooperate with the international community.

All that is ancient history... except that it isn't.  The effects of those decisions, actions and distinct inaction from 14 years ago are still felt today, and may reverberate far into the future if nothing is done about it now.  What does one do about North Korea?  Dismiss and ignore the leader's statements?  Assume they're just rhetoric, politically motivated and only loosely based on facts? Charge in with military might and risk destabilizing the Korean Peninsula - again?

I think it's a very bad idea to keep standing by while a notoriously reclusive and potentially unstable regime gets its hands on long-range nuclear capabilities.  However, it's equally -if not more- dangerous to destabilize strong regional/national leadership and unwittingly unleash a flood of potentially disgruntled formerly suppressed militant groups upon the region and the world.  Perhaps it's time for a proper negotiation with North Korea which will ease economic sanctions in return for a cessation of nuclear activities.

I pray for wisdom for those who do have to make the decisions in today's perilous world.  May God help them, and us.