A review of “Love In The Time Of Cholera” by Gabriel García Márquez

September 21st, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Márquez was born in Colombia in 1927 and died in 2014. This work – one his most famous – was published in 1981 and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. I finally read the work after seeing the film and visiting Colombia, including Cartagena, the Caribbean city where the novel is located (although this is not specifically stated in the text).

I suppose that initially I was put off somewhat by the Penguine English transation which uses small print and by the formatting which is long paragraphs and a mere six (untitled) chapters for the 348 pages. But once one starts to read the novel, it is just such a delight since Márquez has a wonderfully fluid and engaging style. There is no dialogue as such, just occasional quotes from conversations, but the rich narrative sweeps the reader along.

The three main characters are Forentino Ariza and Fermina Daza who are childhood sweethearts and Dr Juvenal Urbino whom she marries after she suddenly rejects her young suitor. When the novel opens Ariza is 76 and Daza is 72, while Urbino is 81 and the subject of a fatal accident. So, having waited for 51 years 9 months and 4 days for Daza to become widowed, Ariza seeks to revive the seemingly doomed love affair, having in the meanwhile never married and never used prostitutes but had an endless number of lovers.

Although few precise dates are given, the long story covers the last half of the 19th century and the first three decades or so of the 20th and Márquez has a magnificent evocation of time and place. This is a novel full of sensuality and sex and of love and loss plus obsessions with fornication, cholera and social etiquette and it is a moving account of the impact of ageing on bodies and minds. So, a really unusual tale but truly a triumph.

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Who are the best providers of communications services?

September 19th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Choosing a communications provider should not be simply a matter of price but also of service quality – but which provider is the best for fixed, mobile or broadband?

Fortunately Ofcom provides some very helpful data and I’ve reviewed the latest statistics in my new column on IT matters here.

Today, at Ofcom headquarters, I’ll be a chairing a workshop for comms providers, consumer representatives and Ofcom staffers at which we will discuss the regulator’s latest report on “Comparing Service Quality”.

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Why and how we could regulate Internet content

September 18th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Ofcom has today published a discussion document examining the area of harmful internet content. The document is designed to contribute to the debate on how people might be protected from online harm. It considers how lessons from broadcasting regulation might help to inform work by policymakers to tackle the issue.

This follows an interim report in July by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, which recommended that rules given by Parliament to Ofcom to enforce content standards for television and radio should form “a basis for setting standards for online content”.

Today’s document suggests that certain principles from broadcasting regulation could be relevant as policymakers consider issues around online protection. These include protection and assurance; upholding freedom of expression; adaptability over time; transparency; effective enforcement; and independent regulation.

Alongside today’s paper, Ofcom has published joint research with the Information Commissioner’s Office on people’s perception, understanding and experience of online harm. The survey of 1,686 adult internet users finds that 79% have concerns about aspects of going online, and 45% have experienced some form of online harm. The study shows that protection of children is a primary concern, and reveals mixed levels of understanding around what types of media are regulated.

I really welcome this initiative by Ofcom. Almost 13 years ago, I gave a speech at Ofcom arguing for regulation of Internet content.

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Who has saved more lives than any other person in history? You’ve probably never heard of him.

September 17th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Edward Jenner (1749-1823) was an English scientist who lived in the 18th century. He discovered the first vaccine, which was for the smallpox virus. This disease was widespread at that time and killed many people. Those who were infected but survived were often left badly scarred.

Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had caught the cowpox virus did not normally then catch smallpox. Cowpox was very similar to smallpox but less contagious.

He collected pus from the cowpox blisters on a milkmaid’s hands and purposefully infected a small boy. The boy was taken ill for a short while, but was then resistant to any subsequent infections of the cowpox and smallpox viruses. He tested this by infecting the boy with smallpox. No illness occurred. Jenner was therefore the first person to vaccinate someone against infection.

His discovery has subsequently led to the saving of countless millions of lives. I came across his story again recently when I was rewatching “Andrew Marr’s History Of The World” on BBC television.

You can read more about Edward Jenner here.

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When did you last write a letter?: The rapid decline of long-form communication

September 16th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

This week, I have chaired two meetings at which we’ve discussed different forms of communication and which have led me to draw the same conclusion: we are witnessing the rapid decline of long-form personal communications whether in the form of text or voice.

One meeting was at Citizens Advice which is the statutory body representing postal consumers. When we discussed trends in postal volumes, we noted that such volumes have been in decline since the mid 2000s. In fact, volumes have declined by around 40% since 2005.

Personal correspondence, as opposed to business communications, has always been a minority part of mail volumes and has declined much more rapidly. Most personal mail now is greetings cards and genuine letters from one individual to another is now almost entirely a thing of the past. How often do you send a personal letter?

The other meeting was at Ofcom, the statutory regulator for telecommunications as well as postal services.  We had an excellent presentation drawing out key data from the regulator’s latest “Communications Market Report”.

One might think that nobody writes personal letters anymore because it is so much easier and cheaper to phone a friend. In fact, the volume of calls on fixed lines has been  falling rapidly for years (almost half in the last five years) and and fell by as much as 17% last year alone. OK, so everyone is using mobiles, right? Well, after year after year of growth, call volumes on mobiles have just started to fall too, although by no means as rapidly as for calls on fixed lines (2% last year). How often you you make a phone call for a genuine chat?

Of course, we need to appreciate that voice calls can now be made using a variety of voice apps such as FaceTime and we do not have data for such Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls.

But the reality is that, instead of writing a letter or making a phone call, increasingly consumers are sending messages through e-mail or text or services such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. And a key feature of such messages is that they are short – much shorter than a letter or a phone call.  This seems to reflect the life that so many of us live now: fast and furious with time only for short, quick messages and little time to analyse or converse. What do you think?

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Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, I’m reminded of a story …

September 15th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

Ten years ago today, the American investment bank Lehman Brothers went into liquidation. It was the most dramatic event of the financial crash of 2008 which has led to economic retrenchment and austerity for so many nations and so many people.

When I started to write short stories, I found that one of the characters in my first effort was a former employee of Lehman Brothers in the City of London. He meets someone who has had an even larger set-back in his life and they have an unlikely but meaningful conversation.

I titled the story “Making A Difference” and you can read it here.

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How old is the germ theory of disease?

September 12th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Colombia which finished in the Caribbean port of Cartagena. Since my return, I’ve started to read the classic novel by Colombian Nobel prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez “Love In The Time Of Cholera”.

Although the novel does not specifically identify the location of the story, it is very clear that the fictional city is based on Cartagena. The period of the narrative is not spelt out exactly either but is roughly 1880-1930.

Reference is made in the book to the first outbreak of cholera in the city which probably killed around one third of the population. The date was 1849. This made we wonder when the germ theory of disease – which was not applied in this outbreak – was known.

Checking on the relevant Wikipedia page, I was surprised to find how old the theory is and how long it took to be generally accepted:

“The germ theory was proposed by Girolamo Fracastoro in 1546, and expanded upon by Marcus von Plenciz in 1762. Such views were held in disdain, however, and Galen’s miasma theoryremained dominant among scientists and doctors. The nature of this doctrine prevented them from understanding how diseases actually progressed, with predictable consequences.

By the early nineteenth century, smallpox vaccination was commonplace in Europe, though doctors were unaware of how it worked or how to extend the principle to other diseases. Similar treatments had been prevalent in India from just before AD 1000.[2] [N 1] A transitional period began in the late 1850s with the work of Louis Pasteur. This work was later extended by Robert Koch in the 1880s.

By the end of the 1880s the miasma theory was struggling to compete with the germ theory of disease. Eventually, a “golden era” of bacteriology ensued, during which the theory quickly led to the identification of the actual organisms that cause many diseases.’

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A guide to the mid-term elections in the US Congress

September 11th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

I’ve never been so interested in – and concerned about – the mid-term elections in the United States which will be held on Tuesday 6 November 2018. All the seats in the House of Representatives (435) and a third of the seats in the Senate (35)  are up for election.

The Democrats should win the House and just might take the Senate – but turnout is much lower in the election years when there is no presidential election. If the Dems take control of one or both chambers, they can limit to some extent the damage being done by President Donald Trump and prepare the ground for a Democratic return to the White House in 2020.

So these are really important elections.

The BBC has produced a useful guide to the mid-term elections here.

If you want more detail on the American political system, I have a guide here.

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My recent trip to Colombia – the full story

September 9th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

I have recently returned from a fascinating trip to Colombia. Although I did daily postings to this blog while on the holiday, I’ve now pulled all these together into a comprehensive and continuous narrative which you can read here.

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“Lunch Atop A Skyscaper” – so many questions …

September 7th, 2018 by Roger Darlington

You know this iconic photograph.

We know it was taken 840 feet (260 meters) above the streets of New York City during the building of the Rockefeller Centre – a building I have visited a couple of times – on 20 September 1932.

But who took the picture? It was credited to Charles C. Ebbets in 2003, but there are at least three other candidates.

And who are those guys? We only know for sure two names of the 11 men: Joseph Eckner, third from the left, and Joe Curtis, third from the right.

This evening, I watched a PBS documentary that tried to answer these questions – speculating about two more of the 11 men in particular – and explored the importance of the image.

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