Category Archives: UK

Nolan’s “Dunkirk” – An Abstract Tribute

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Credit: Christopher Nolan [found at Cinemavine.com])

What I found especially gripping about Christopher Nolan’s latest film, a retelling of the Miracle at Dunkirk, was that each of the individual people in the story were not the main character. That role was filled by the seemingly indomitable human spirit, and will to survive and struggle ever onwards. Dunkirk might well be one of the most defining moments of the Twentieth Century for Britain, and quite possibly as well a crucial turning point for the whole world.

The film follows three main groups: the soldiers on the beaches, the sailors both civil and naval crossing the Channel, and the RAF in the air trying to keep the fighters and bombers of the Luftwaffe from wrecking further havoc to the men stuck at Dunkirk and the ships trying to ferry them to the safety of home, a mere 26 miles away. Though the plot is not in itself chronological, it nevertheless helps tie together each disparate group, connecting their experiences in a spiritual fashion as each come ever closer to the film’s climax.

For British and Commonwealth viewers this film will certainly reinforce that Dunkirk Spirit, that steely determination that even in the darkest of hours Britain and her sister countries will never surrender. I became quite emotional when, after witnessing the sense of doom the soldiers on the shore felt for a good hour, the hodgepodged fleet of little ships arrived in the waters off of Dunkirk. This moment, though one of the darkest hours in British history is also equally one of the most inspiring to have transpired in that island nation’s long story.

For American viewers this film should give us pause. In our present hour of immense internal divisions, of political unrest and civil discontent we should consider what it would mean for us as one people to come together for a cause we all knew to be necessary for the continued survival of our country and the liberty it’s Constitution assures. In this hour of great uncertainty we should be looking not to what divides us but what can unite us.

Hans Zimmer’s score is a welcome change from his usual set of loud brass, excessive strings, and choirs primarily singing “Ah” for far too many measures. While loud, this score adds to the energy of the film, and in a musical sense is largely understated. The music helps bring the viewer into the picture, onto the beach, aboard the small boats and naval ships, and in the cockpits of the Spitfires high above in the air. I really appreciated the echoes of Elgar’s Nimrod that played over the final scene as Britain and her forces came to rest aground again and prepare for the inevitable Battle of Britain to come.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and just a few minutes prior to sitting down to write this review I told my writing partner Noel that I have to go back and see this again soon. Dunkirk is a film that triggers both the conscious and sub-conscious, that calls upon one’s entire emotional and physical self. It is one of a number of films that are to me the new “talkies”; they address not only our visual and aural senses, but our emotional senses as well. I have a feeling there will be many more films like Dunkirk to come.

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Going forward from the U.K. General Election & Hung Parliament

So here we are, Friday morning, the Sun already having risen over the United Kingdom, the Moon at its most brilliant over my home here in the American Midwest, and the results are in for the 2017 U.K. General Election. This election, called by Prime Minister Theresa May in an attempt to secure her majority in the Commons, was a victory for a number of parties: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and of course for joint BBC/ITV/Sky poll, which unlike its predecessors in the last U.S. election in November, the Brexit Referendum before that, and of course the U.K.’s 2015 General Election was actually fairly accurate.

Yet missing from this list of winners are some of the key players in British politics in recent years: some of the top brass at the Scottish National Party (S.N.P.), the U.K. Independence Party (U.K.I.P.), and of course Theresa May and the Conservatives. What was supposed to be a rousing victory for the Tories ended up being one of the biggest political mishaps of recent British electoral history, which is saying a lot considering in the last ten years we have seen the fall of New Labour, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, the Milliband brothers, David Cameron, and the omnipresent Scottish Independence and Brexit referenda.

As of publication, 649 of the 650 constituencies have been declared, with the Conservatives leading at 318 seats, Labour in second at 261 seats, the S.N.P. In third with 35 seats, the Liberal Democrats in fourth with 12 seats, Northern Ireland’s two main parties the Democratic Unionists (D.U.P.) and Sinn Féin in fifth and sixth with 10 and 7 seats respectively, and finally the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru in seventh with 4 seats and the Greens in eighth with 1 seat. This leaves the Conservatives in a bit of a pickle, sitting 11 seats shy of the 326 that they need to hold a majority in the House of Commons. Thus, with no dominant party, the United Kingdom officially, for the time being, has a Hung Parliament.

A Hung Parliament is that often most dreaded of moments in any parliamentary election when the results come back with no clear winner. Ideally it will result in the largest of the elected parties forming a coalition with smaller parties of a similar ideology to form a government. This happened in 2010 when that year’s U.K. General Election resulted in the leading Conservatives entering into a coalition with their historical rivals the Liberal Democrats to form the first coalition government since the Second World War.

Should the largest party be unable to form a coalition, let alone choose its leader, as may well be an issue this time around, the next largest party will have an opportunity to form a coalition government with its ideological neighbours. While a very rare occurrence, this would nevertheless prevent the potentially most unwanted eventuality from happening: a second round of the General Election.

So, with this in mind what should the two largest parties, the Conservatives (aka Tories) and their opponents Labour do to ensure that they can craft a government in their image?

The Conservative Prospect

Photo: The Sun

Reports from the BBC Election Night coverage have stated that Conservative Party leadership is in a state of disarray. They did not expect to perform so poorly in this election, and in hindsight it’s early calling (this election was due to be held in 2020) shines horribly on Tory leader and Prime Minister Theresa May. The first question for the Tories is whether or not they want Ms May to remain as leader of their party going forward from this election. Should the Conservatives cast a vote of no confidence in Ms May’s leadership, or should she resign, then the Conservatives will first have to sort out their own leadership before turning to the necessity of forming a coalition.

As to their coalition prospects, they have a fairly simple choice. Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party is a clear ally to the Conservatives. Not only that but the D.U.P. came out of Thursday’s election with 10 seats, their greatest ever victory in Westminster. Should they join the Conservatives in either a coalition government, or as a reliable junior partner it will increase the Conservative majority to 328 seats. The Tories will then need at least one more M.P., most likely an Independent, to join them in their coalition to have a full majority of 326 M.P.s.

All this said, a 1 seat majority is far less safe than what the Conservatives were hoping for when they had their breakfast on Thursday morning. They will have a hard three years ahead of them before the 2020 election when potentially they could lose even that slim majority to Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The Labour Prospect

Photo: The Islington Gazette

Labour is in a slightly more percarious position, yet after seven years of Conservative government under David Cameron and Theresa May they can see the potential, no matter how slim, to take this Hung Parliament to their advantage and form a slightly more diverse coalition government. With 261 seats, Labour is 65 seats short of the 326 needed for a majority. But whereas the Tories are limited in their allies, Labour has a wide range of centrist and centre-left parties to choose from.

In an ideal situation, Labour could seek to form a coalition with the S.N.P. (35), the Liberal Democrats (10), Plaid Cymru (4), the Greens (1), and the one Independent M.P. This would give Labour a coalition of 312 M.P.s, still 14 seats shy of the total needed for a majority. However with the current total from all but 1 constituency (Kensington), which voted Tory in 2015, it seems unlikely that that seat will go for Labour or one of its potential allies.

Labour may be able to form a minority government, but only if the Tories cannot form a majority government with the D.U.P. Yet like the potential Conservative coalition government with a 1 seat majority, a Labour minority government would have their work cut out for them for the next three years in the lead up to the 2020 General Election. Nevertheless, such minority governments have been successful in the past.

Conclusions

In the end, the 2017 General Election might well be called Theresa May’s folly; holding the snap election was her decision to make, and in the end she made it in April when the Conservatives had far higher polling numbers. What Theresa May did not take into account was a.) the reaction to Brexit, b.) the terror attacks in London and Manchester, and c.) the way in which Jeremy Corbyn and Labour would react to her campaign strategy, message, and tone, countering it with an equally potent and frankly more positive message for Britain.

At this point, I do not know what will happen in the next fortnight in Westminster, let alone who will occupy 10 Downing Street when the dust has settled from Thursday’s democratic festivities. All that I can say is that perhaps more than any other time in the last ten years has the U.K.’s General Election reflected events going on beyond its shores. Its unsure results is by far a sign of these most uncertain of times.

 

Edits: 9 June 2017 at 15:12 BST, 09:12 CDT: article updated to reflect current seat totals with 649 of 650 constituencies reporting.

We Stand Together

18946991_10213047198957274_893548281_o.jpgAt this point in time, after so many terror attacks around the world in recent years, my initial reaction to the attack in London last night was somewhat muted and reserved. I was not surprised that it had happened; yet I was nevertheless deeply distressed that innocent people would be so brutally assaulted. The three attackers, their identities as of yet unannounced by the Metropolitan Police, will spend eternity lapping in the seas of ignominy, far from the verdant peaceful halls of rest that they may wished to have known.

They died attacking innocents; their last actions in this life were in the spirit of chaos. With all that said, they were still human, and as a Christian I believe they, like the rest of us, were made in the image and likeness of God. So, as time passes and I think on their final acts, I will be helpless but to consider them as humans, like the rest of us, and so mourn their poor decisions and pray for their souls, that eventually they, and their victims, might find peace.

We are all human; we all start our lives with that one equalising factor. If terrorists, warlords, and fearmongers seek to divide us, we must constantly remember what unites us. For the sake of our future we must stand together. In the wake of the latest attack we have a choice: to retaliate with ever increasing violence and terror, or to stand taller and remain above their cowardly and weak tactics. When they offer war we must offer peace. When they taunt us towards destroying all they know and love, we must not validate their evil by doing so.

Our societies and governments are founded upon the basic principles of constitutionalism. They are built on the principle that no one should be above the law. Justice is the rudder of our ship of state. Every time we treat anyone as less than their rightful station, every time we jump to conclusions about a person without facts or evidence, every time we respond to terror with terror, baying for blood, we undermine that omnipresent principle of justice for all. After all, once we begin to look out from beneath our blinders and consider the people around us, we will surely see another human being with feelings and hopes, with dreams and desires not unlike our own.

I did not know the men who attacked the crowds on London Bridge or in Borough Market. As of the time of publication the police have not released their names. Nor did I know the seven people whom they killed. I do not know what they were like, what they dreamed about at night, who they loved, or what their favourite things were. What I do know however is that they were all humans like me.

In my culture the golden rule is to treat others as you would want to be treated, and while these attackers certainly did not do that, how can I stand by that rule without seeing them as humans. Sure they were flawed, after all what they did is reprehensible to the highest degree, but all the same they were human. I hope that all involved, perpetrators and victims alike can find peace in this life or in the next. At the end of the day if we want the terror to cease, we must stand together as one common humanity. We must be the change, the light that will douse the darkness. The day we cease to preach and live love is the day we give in to terror and chaos.

Reflection on a Year Overseas

London – Eleven months and eleven days ago I moved from Kansas City, Missouri, USA to London, England. Eleven months and eleven days ago I left home and went on a great adventure that has forever changed the way I see myself, and the world. In the past I have said that one of the best ways to begin to know oneself is to understand the places from whence one comes. And, while time away has given me a greater appreciation for all the trappings and comfort of home, it has also given me the chance to explore some of the places from whence my own ancestors came: particularly in Ireland, in England, and in Finland.

As a historian, but perhaps more importantly as an American, this was a rare opportunity that very few of my fellow countrymen could ever hope to achieve. On the last Friday of May 2016, I quite possibly became the first descendant of my third great-grandparents, Juho Heikki and Anna Sophia Kuivaniemi, to return to their hometown of Rauma, Finland since 1879. On the other hand, I followed in the footsteps of my grandparents and was able to walk the roads and visit the town of Newport, County Mayo where my grandfather’s parents were born, and visit the nearby cemetery at Burrishoole Friary where the ancestors of so many of my relatives are buried. So many names from America are carved into those tombstones, yet here on the shores of Clew Bay they are in their original setting.

Yet perhaps most importantly over the past year I have had my beliefs, my understandings, my very philosophy of life and nature challenged time and again by friends and colleagues alike. I am eternally grateful to them all for those discussions, for those opportunities to think anew, opportunities which one day will lead me to act anew. Those beliefs, those views of mine which held water remain, while others have been left by the wayside, abandoned after much debate and discussion. I hope I am all the wiser for the people that I have met, and the great friendships that have been forged. We come from such different corners of the world, with different backgrounds, different views, different languages, yet respect abounds amongst us far more than contempt.

Next week I will at long last be returning home, to Kansas City, Missouri, in the heartland of the United States. I will return to the heat and humidity, and the allergies. Yet I will also be returning to my family, to many friends old and young. I am excited to be coming home once again, and looking forward to being surrounded by all those familiar things, sights, sounds, and smells. I did not realise it until I had been away, that even the softest sensory detail can be missed. Whether it be the sound of the wind whirling through the branches of the trees, or the familiar voices on NPR’s All Things Considered set to the backdrop of Kansas City at sunset, its streets filled with cars heading to and fro. In London I found that on winter nights, when the sky was clear and the street lamps glowed in a distinctly mechanical way, I missed hearing the familiar voice of Kai Ryssdal on Marketplace coming over the radio as I’d often hear at a similar time of night back home.

Yet I return to a country on edge, a country that has seen so much anguish, so much anger, and so much fear over the last year. The signs have been about for a while now. Since President Obama was elected in 2008 nearly every racist, closeted or not, has come out of the woodwork and ensured that the rest of us would have to hear their nonsensical cacophony rattling on. We could ignore racism as the rantings of the mad if it were not for the reality that words plant seeds, seeds sprout actions. Once again, around the world bigotry seems to be in fashion like it was in the 1920s and 1930s. There is always someone available for people to hate or fear. As Woody Allen put it in a recent interview with Catherine Shoard of The Guardian,

It’s in the nature of people to have someone to scapegoat. If there were no Jews in the world they would take it out on blacks. If no blacks, they’d move over to Catholics. No Catholics? Something else. Finally, if everyone is exactly the same, the left-handed people would start killing the right-handed people. You just need an other [on whom] to vent your hostility and frustration.

I know that bigotry has been around for a long time, and probably will still be around long after I’m dead, but I honestly did not really experience it until when I was at least around thirteen or fourteen. I remember some of the boys at school using the word Jew as an insult, which didn’t make sense to me, as I had always gotten along well with my Jewish friends and neighbours. I also never really had anything against African Americans, but after years of hearing from my classmates and friends that “Troost was dangerous,” I was less willing to go to the African American neighbourhoods east of Troost Avenue in Kansas City, MO. Subconsciously or not, I was accepting a racist ideology that I consciously abhorred.

Perhaps the best example of my reaction to bigotry comes from a strange experience that I had when I was fourteen, where an individual who I was working with at the time told me to my face, “I don’t like Catholics” knowing very well that I was a Catholic. I was shocked by this, not necessarily because he was saying that he didn’t like me because of my religion, but more so because his dislike for Catholics simply didn’t make any sense. Over the years as I have been exposed to a variety of opinions and ideas, and I have found myself adopting some similar views, whether it be a dislike for one particular nationality, or religion, or political philosophy, or a preference for a particular country over another. Yet each of these blanket opinions have been swiftly overturned as soon as I have met someone who fits into one of those categories.

How can I say that I hate someone or fear someone simply based upon their nationality, religion, politics, or even based upon the colour of their skin? It makes no sense. Bigotry of all kinds makes absolutely no sense!

I am proud of who I am. I am proud to be Seán Thomas Kane, or Seán mac Tómas Ó Catháin as it is in Irish. I am proud to have been born in Chicagoland, and to have lived most of my life in Kansas City. I am proud to be my parents’ son, and my grandparents’ grandchild, a nephew of my aunts and uncles, a cousin of my cousins, godson of my godparents, and a friend to all my friends. I am proud to be of Irish, English, Welsh, Finnish, Swedish, and Flemish descent. I am proud to be an American citizen. I am proud to have been a resident of the City of London for the past eleven months and eleven days. I am proud to be a historian, a writer, a filmmaker, an occasional musician and sketch artist. I am proud to be a Catholic.

But beyond all of these categories and more within which I fit, I am most proud, and most humbled to be human. We are all unique, we are all different, yes, as the crowd shouted up to Brian, “We are all individuals!” But most important of all is that we are all human. If we consider less what separates us and more what we have in common then surely we will be nicer to each other, and have better lives. If those in my country screaming against immigrants, African Americans, Muslims, Latinos, and all others considered what they have in common with the rest of us then surely they would think twice about their words and actions.

I am not proposing any sort of edifiable change, any sort of reform for our prisons, our city planning, our law codes, or our schools, all that will come next. What I am proposing is the essential necessity for any reform to happen. We must have a change of heart. We are all human.

Scotland Votes No in Independence Referendum

Edinburgh – With nearly all of the results from the 18 September referendum on independence having been announced, Scotland’s status as a member of the United Kingdom is secured. In an election with turnout at well over 80%, the No campaign won Thursday’s referendum by 10 points with a 55%-45% victory. In regards to individual vote numbers, No had 1,914,187 votes whilst Yes had 1,539,920.

While Thursday’s referendum did not result in Scottish independence, the results undoubtedly will result in further political change throughout the United Kingdom. The major No parties, the Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats all promised further devolution to Scotland, a promise which Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, MSP stated must be met.

All sides hailed the high voter turnout numbers throughout Scotland, with over 80% of the population casting ballots in the referendum. In particular, the voter turnout rate in Stirling, which voted no, was an incredibly high 90%.

The vote was settled by 06.00 BST (00.00 CDT, 15.00 AEST) with the returns in Fife, whose 139,788 votes against independence put the No campaign over the edge and into victory early Friday morning local time.

Much of the discussion in the hour since the Fife announcement has involved further devolution not only for Scotland, but also for Wales, England, and Northern Ireland, even with talk of a Federal system being established in the United Kingdom in the future.

Trading began in the City of London earlier than normal on Friday, with financial reactions being seen largely in the currency markets, with the pound sterling rising to 1.65 USD (1.28 EUR, 1.84 AUD). The BBC reported that the American markets are also expected to open higher than normal on Friday as a result of the no vote.

British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke from Downing Street at 07.06 on Friday (01.06 CDT, 16.06 AEST), saying, “Like millions of others, I am delighted” with the referendum’s results. “We now have a great opportunity to change how the British people are governed,” the PM continued. He made it clear to note that those commitments proposed by the three pro-Union parties will be taken up by a commission to be led by Lord Kelvin.

“I have long believed that a crucial part missing from this discussion is England.” Cameron went on to announce his support for plans to be drawn up that could lead to a future devolved English legislative body, which would have similar powers to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.

No matter the result, Scotland, and the United Kingdom are changed forever. Thursday’s historic vote will undoubtedly be remembered for centuries to come as a major milestone in the constitutional history of the United Kingdom.