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The Guardian Weekly – December 08, 2017

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A week in the life of the world | 8-14 December 2017
Crunch time
me for
Brexit talks
May’s reputation
on the line
from all sides
The brutal final
battle for Mosul
Vol 198 No 1 £2.90 €5.50* Exclusions apply
Designer slams
fashion ‘waste’
McCartney joins
new campaign
Have Trump’s
tweets begun
to backfire?
9 0 kg g i nge r b r e a d
White House, with
9kg of icing, stood
beneath a portrait of
Abraham Lincoln. A
copy of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, read by President Franklin Roosevelt to his family,
was displayed in the library. At first
glance, last Friday’s White House
Christmas reception was not so different from years past.
But something was missing: the
host. Instead of greeting guests and
posing for photos like his predecessors, Donald Trump was upstairs in the
White House – tweeting. “The media
has been speculating that I fired Rex
Tillerson or that he would be leaving
soon,” he posted at 3.12pm, referring
to reports that his secretary of state
would soon be axed. “FAKE NEWS!”
Eight minutes later, Trump
descended to the grand foyer. The
president made brief remarks to “my
friends in the media” and shook a few
hands, but left after five minutes.
It was a sure way to avoid some awkward questions after another torrid
day, and week. That morning, Trump’s
former national security adviser
Michael Flynn had pleaded guilty to
lying to the FBI about his contacts
with Russian officials. The previous
day, there had been the reports about
Tillerson’s expected demise. And
before that, Trump had delivered one
of his wackiest speeches yet – “I will
tell you this in a non-braggadocious
way. There has never been a 10-month
president that has accomplished what
we have accomplished” – while pushing a major tax overhaul and used a
ceremony honouring Native American
war heroes to mock a senator he has
nicknamed “Pocahontas”.
“Something is unleashed with him
lately,” Maggie Haberman, White
House correspondent of the New
York Times, told CNN. “I don’t know
what is causing it. I don’t know how
to describe it. I think the last couple
of day’s tweets have been markedly
accelerated in terms of seeming a
little unmoored.” Haberman, who
has known Trump for years, added:
“People are constantly saying, ‘Don’t
do things.’ He’s also a grown man.
He’s the president. They can’t handcuff him. They can’t break his fingers
to keep him from tweeting. They do
tell him: ‘Please don’t do this.’ He does
these things anyways.”
The tweetstorms – that
After a week of diplomatic havoc, even some of
the president’s confidants fear his weaponisation
of social media is going too far, writes David Smith
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2 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
World roundup
Glitch leaves US airline short of pilots
Iceland hopes for stability with new PM
A scheduling glitch
that allowed all
American Airlines
pilots to take time
off during Christmas
week left the airline
scrambling to
find pilots
to operate
of flights
over the busy
holiday period.
the world’s biggest airline, has about
15,000 active pilots and
expects to operate more
than 200,000 flights in
The glitch let pilots
take a vacation even
when there were no
other pilots available
for that flight. Normally
such a request would
be denied.
A spokesman
for AA said it
expects to
avoid cancelling flights by
paying overtime
and using reserve
or on-call pilots. The
pilots’ union said that
about 15,000 flights
have been affected.
More US news,
pages 4-6
Katrín Jakobsdóttir, 41, the
leader of Iceland’s
Left-Green movement, replaced Bjarni
Benediktsson as prime
minister in a coalition
that Icelanders hope will
restore stability. The
former education minister, who is considered
to be Iceland’s most
trusted politician, signed
an accord with the centre-right Independence
and Progressive parties.
Varadkar safe for summit as deputy quits
Benediktsson’s Independence party narrowly
won the 28 October
election – the country’s
second snap poll in less
than a year – but lost
a quarter of its seats,
paving the way for
Jakobsdóttir to form a
left-led coalition.
More Europe
news, page 7
Ireland’s prime
minister, Leo
Varadkar, avoided
a general election after
his deputy, Frances
Fitzgerald, resigned
from the cabinet hours
before a parliamentary
vote that would have led
to the collapse of the
Fine Gael-led coalition.
An election threatened
to add to the complexities over EU negotiations
on Brexit and the UKIrish border.
Fitzgerald had been
under intense pressure
regarding her handling
of information about the
treatment of a police
Obesity warning for America’s children
More than half
of children growing
up in America
today could be obese
by the time they are
middle-aged, according to Harvard University’s TH Chan School of
Public Health.
Its projection found
that 57% of US children
will be obese by the
time they are 35, in part
because of increased
childhood obesity rates.
“It’s definitely a shocking and sobering number,” said Zachary Ward,
the study’s lead author.
“But if you look at trends
… over the past 40 years,
it’s not too surprising.”
Honduras election result still contested
Tens of thousands
took to the streets
across Honduras
last Sunday, demanding
a new president and an
end to an election debacle that has plunged the
country into its worst
political crisis since
a coup in 2009.
of Juan Orlando Hernández, pictured,
accuse him of
meddling with
the vote count in
order to deny victory to
the Alliance party leader,
Salvador Nasralla.
The electoral commission (TSE), which
is controlled by the
ruling National party,
announced as the
marches got under way
that the election winner
would be declared after
a recount of just 1,000
suspicious voting tallies.
The Alliance,
which has a list
of 11 demands
it believes are
necessary to
ensure a fair
and transparent vote count,
attacked the decision and said it would
not attend the recount
or accept the results.
More Americas
news, page 10
Malta arrests over journalist’s murder
Police in Malta
arrested 10 suspects over the murder of Daphne Caruana
Galizia, the country’s
prime minister has said,
nearly two months after
the anti-corruption
journalist was killed by a
powerful car bomb.
Joseph Muscat told
a press conference
on Monday that eight
people – all Maltese
nationals, most with
criminal records – had
been detained in earlymorning raids in three
different parts of the
island. He tweeted later
that two more suspects
were also in custody.
Muscat said there
was a “reasonable suspicion” the suspects were
involved in the killing of
Caruana Galizia, whose
popular blog attacked
high-level political corruption, shady business
dealings and organised
crime on the island.
The joint police and
military operation was
the first breakthrough
for the Maltese investigation, which has been
helped by experts from
the FBI, Europol and
the Finnish and Dutch
security services.
Police had until
Wednesday this week to
either charge or release
the suspects.
Muscat, who was
a frequent target of
Caruana Galizia’s blog
reports along with others in his inner circle,
offered his “personal
commitment” that those
responsible for the killing would be found.
Caruana Galizia’s
son, Matthew, who is
also a reporter, said his
family had been given
only one phone call from
a magistrate’s office
after the arrests were
made public.
Special report,
pages 12-13
Former president of Georgia detained
Ukrainian police
detained the
former president
of Georgia, who has
emerged as an anticorruption campaigner in
his new country.
Police arrested
Mikheil Saakashvili at his
home in Kiev on Tuesday. Footage showed
Saakashvili being taken
away while several hundred protesters were
blocking the road.
Saakashvili left
Georgia in 2013 after
serving as president for
nearly a decade, and
was appointed governor
of Ukraine’s Odessa
region. But he quit in
2016, complaining
that his efforts to root
out corruption were
suffering from official
Saakashvili’s Ukrainian citizenship was
revoked this year.
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 3
The week’s events in pictures
→ Centre pages 24-25
$1bn settlement frees Saudi prince
The senior Saudi
prince, Miteb bin
Abdullah, once
seen as a leading contender for the throne,
was released from
detention after paying
more than $1bn in a settlement agreement with
Miteb, 65, son of
the late King Abdullah and former head
of the National Guard,
Taliban storm Peshawar college
was among dozens of
royal family members,
ministers and senior
officials rounded up
as part of a corruption
inquiry, partly aimed at
strengthening crown
prince Mohammed bin
Salman’s position.
“It is understood that
the settlement included
admitting corruption,”
an official said.
Twelve people
were killed
and dozens
injured after Taliban
militants wearing burqas
stormed a college in
Peshawar, as Pakistan
marked the birthday of
the prophet Muhammad,
officials said.
Police said at least
three militants opened
fire at security guards
near the gates of the
Agriculture Training
Institute, injuring one
person before making their way inside
and targeting student
The main Taliban militant group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, claimed
responsibility saying the
place they attacked was
housing a secret intelligence office.
More South Asia
news, pages 8-9
It’s all smiles when Xi meets Obama
The former
US president
Barack Obama
met Chinese president
Xi Jinping in Beijing
only weeks after Donald
Trump’s state visit.
Chinese media fawned
over Obama and Xi,
dubbing the smiling
pair “veteran cadres”,
a term typically applied
to retired Communist
officials. But in a sign
of the diplomatic sensitivity, Chinese state
media released one
terse article.
Obama reportedly
encouraged developing
relations with China and
pledged to continue to
be involved in US-China
ties. The visit was part of
a trip that included stops
in India and France.
More Asia Pacific
news, page 8
UN chief visits North Korea amid furore
The United
Nations political affairs chief
visited North Korea this
week, the highest-level
visit by a UN official
in more than six years
as tensions grip the
region over Pyongyang’s
nuclear programs.
Jeffrey Feltman, a
former senior US state
department official, was
due to meet with officials to discuss “issues
of mutual interest and
concern”, the UN said.
Feltman is the first
senior UN official to
travel to North Korea
since B Lynn Pascoe
Opposition kept out of Harare cabinet
Opposition activists in Zimbabwe
said they will
launch a fresh campaign
to introduce democratic
reforms after the new
president announced a
fresh cabinet with key
roles for veterans
of the ruling
Zanu-PF party
and senior
soldiers, but
no posts for
the opposition.
Mnangagwa, pictured,
took power after popular
protests ousted Robert
Mugabe, and many had
hoped the 75-year-old
would give leading
opposition politicians
significant roles in an
“inclusive” government
in line with his promises
to reach out to all “patriotic Zimbabweans” and
build a “full democracy”.
Tendai Biti, a former
finance minister
and opposition
called the
move a
betrayal and
referred to
the government
as a “junta”.
“Now we the citizens
have to regroup and
[fight] for a normal
elected political
authority,” he said.
Hun Sen summons the power of prayer
Sumo star resigns after attack claim
Thousands of
monks joined the
Cambodian prime
minister, Hun Sen, for a
prayer ceremony at the
Angkor temple, lauding
“political stability” after
the main opposition
party was dissolved, an
act that has cemented
his grip on power. Hun
Sen, pictured with his
wife, has ruled Cambodia since 1985. The
court ruling dissolving
the rival party boosts
his position before next
year’s elections.
visited in February 2010,
the UN said.
The US and South
Korea went ahead with
large-scale joint aerial
drills on Monday, a move
North Korea had said
would push the Korean
peninsula to “the brink
of nuclear war”.
The exercises were
conducted a week after
Pyongyang said it had
tested its most advanced
long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching
the US. North Korea
has been under UN
sanctions since 2006
over its missile and
nuclear programmes.
One of the biggest stars of
sumo wrestling
announced his retirement after allegations
that he assaulted a
fellow wrestler.
Harumafuji, one of
four reigning grand
champions – or yokozuna
– said he was quitting
the sport, weeks after
he allegedly attacked
Takanoiwa, a younger
wrestler, leaving him
with a fractured skull
and concussion.
“As a yokozuna, I feel
responsible for injuring
Takanoiwa and so will
retire from today,”
Harumafuji told a news
The Mongolian
wrestler’s exit at the
pinnacle of his career
comes as sumo was
beginning to regain its
popular appeal after a
surge of bad publicity.
Japan’s education
minister, Yoshimasa
Hayashi, said sumo, as
Japan’s oldest sport,
needed to take its
responsibilities more
seriously and needed to
stamp out violence.
4 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
International news United States
Trump turns on Clinton after
Flynn admits lying to FBI
President’s tweet under
scrutiny as his lawyer
seeks to take blame
David Smith Washington
Martin Pengelly New York
Donald Trump said on Monday he
“feels badly” for his former national
security adviser Michael Flynn, who
pleaded guilty last week to lying to the
FBI, and claimed without evidence
that Hillary Clinton “lied many times”
to the agency without consequences.
The president spoke after John
Dowd, a lawyer who sought to take
the blame for a Trump tweet that analysts said indicated the president was
guilty of obstruction of justice over
Flynn’s firing, offered a new defence
of Trump’s actions: the president
cannot obstruct justice.
Trump’s remarks to reporters were
the latest in a series of outbursts over
the investigation into his campaign’s
alleged collusion with Russia, after
Flynn’s guilty plea and admission that
he is cooperating with special counsel
Robert Mueller.
“I feel badly for General Flynn,” the
president said. “I feel very badly. He’s
led a very strong life, and I feel very
badly about it. I will say this: Hillary
Clinton lied many times to the FBI and
nothing happened to her. Flynn lied,
and it destroyed his life, and I think
it’s a shame.”
Trump added: “Hillary Clinton on
4 July weekend went to the FBI, not
under oath – it was the most incredible thing anyone has ever seen – lied
many times, nothing happened to her.
Flynn lied, and it’s like – it ruined his
life. It’s very unfair.”
How Twitter has
made Oval Office the
focus of the world
← Continued from page 1
glimpse into Trump’s id – raged with
particular violence last week, triggering one of the worst diplomatic ruptures with the UK since British troops
torched the White House in 1814. It
started when Trump shared three
anti-Muslim videos posted by Jayda
Fransen, deputy leader of the far-right
hate group Britain First. Theresa May’s
office said he was wrong to do so. Then
Trump fired back: “@theresamay, don’t
focus on me, focus on the destructive
Trump did not provide details
about his accusation against Clinton,
who answered FBI questions in July
2016 about her use of a private server
while she was secretary of state. The
FBI never asserted that Clinton made
false statements.
Flynn, a retired general who was
a senior adviser in Trump’s campaign and his first national security
adviser, has pledged to cooperate with
Mueller’s investigation into whether
Trump’s associates coordinated with
Russian efforts to sway last year’s
election in favour of the Republicans.
As part of the deal, Flynn pleaded
guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the
presidential transition. Experts told
the Guardian the wording of his plea
agreement suggested he may already
have been wearing a wire or recording conversations with other figures
in the investigation.
Trump took aim at the FBI last
weekend, accusing it of bias in favour
of Clinton during its investigation of
her, which resulted in criticism but
no charges. He questioned the direction of the agency and wrote that after
director James Comey, whom Trump
fired in May, the FBI’s reputation is “in
Tatters – worst in History!” He vowed
to “bring it back to greatness”.
Flynn was forced to resign in February after it emerged that he misled
vice-president Mike Pence over discussions with Kislyak about sanctions
on Russia. Trump said in a tweet on
Saturday that he fired Flynn “because
he lied to the vice-president and the
FBI” about his conversations with the
ambassador last December.
The tweet could signal the president took part in the obstruction of
justice. If Trump did fire Flynn for
lying to the FBI, that would mean the
president knew Flynn had committed
a serious crime when, according to the
Comey, the president asked Comey
the next day to halt an FBI investigation into Flynn.
Dowd, the lawyer who said he had
written the tweet, told the Axios website on Monday: “The president cannot
obstruct justice because he is the chief
law enforcement officer under [the
constitution’s article II] and has every
right to express his view of any case.”
Any suggestion the Trump tweet
had admitted obstruction of justice,
whoever wrote it, would he said be
“an ignorant and arrogant assertion”.
Bob Bauer, a New York University
law professor and former White House
counsel to Barack Obama, was quoted
by Axios as saying: “It is certainly possible for a president to obstruct justice.
“The case for immunity has its
adherents, but they based their position largely on the consideration that
a president subject to prosecution
would be unable to perform the duties
of the office, a result that they see as
constitutionally intolerable.”
In his original attempt to contain
the fallout from the Saturday tweet,
Dowd said “the mistake was I should
have put the lying to the FBI in a separate line referencing his plea. Instead,
I put it together and it made all you
guys go crazy. A tweet is a shorthand.”
Dowd said the first time the president knew for a fact Flynn lied to the
FBI was when he was charged. It was
the first and last time he would craft
a tweet for the president, he said.
“I’ll take responsibility,” he said. “I’m
sorry I misled people.”
The suggestion that Dowd wrote
the tweet was met with incredulity
Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom.
We are doing just fine!”
In fact @theresamay belonged to
a different woman; Trump quickly
realised his mistake and corrected it
to @Theresa_May. The British prime
minister reiterated that Trump had
been “wrong” to retweet the incendiary and unverified videos. She was
joined by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Archbishop of Canterbury,
the (Muslim) mayor of London and
even longtime Trump cheerleaders
Piers Morgan and Nigel Farage.
The extraordinary spat refocused
attention on Trump’s Twitter habit
and its potential to wreak diplomatic
havoc. It is true that, long after the
fact, letters and telegrams revealed
tensions in the relationship between
wartime leaders Winston Churchill
and Franklin Roosevelt, and recordings demonstrated how Ronald Reagan apologised to Margaret Thatcher
for invading the former British colony
of Grenada without her approval. But
Trump’s Twitter barbs take place in
real time and on full public display.
It forced May to respond with sharp
words and, some fear, could one day
goad North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to
respond with a nuclear missile.
Thomas Countryman, a US foreign
service officer for 35 years, said: “The
UK and the US have had sharp disputes
Guilty plea … Michael Flynn is
cooperating with Robert Mueller
Chip Somodevilla/Getty
by Democrats and legal experts. Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor,
wrote: “Anyone who buys Trump’s
lawyer’s alibi for his corruptly treacherous client is a complete fool.”
Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer
in the White House of George W Bush,
said: “A lawyer who writes a tweet
like that incriminating a client should
in the past, but I am not sure I have
ever seen such a sharp dispute over
such a non-substantive issue and it
cannot possibly help the relationship.”
Trump joined Twitter in March
2009, when the social media site
was three years old. He has posted
36,500 tweets (not all written by him
personally) and has approaching 44
million followers (Barack Obama has
97.4 million). He weaponised tweeting during the election campaign .
In January the New York Times
observed: “While that habit generated conversation and consternation
when Mr Trump was a candidate, he
now serves as commander in chief and
his 140-character pronouncements
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 5
What happened next?
Essays on post-Obama America
→ Books, page 34
With Mueller calling the tune, the Russia
investigation edges closer to White House
Simon Tisdall
Comment, pages 18-19 →
irst came the lie. Then came
the cover-up. It’s a classic Washington two-step.
And the news that Michael
Flynn, a former White
House national security adviser,
has pleaded guilty to perjury means
Donald Trump may soon be dancing
to the tune of the special counsel
investigating the accelerating Russian influence-peddling scandal.
Flynn’s guilty plea rained a cold
shower on Trump’s victory parade
celebrating a rare success in Congress. Trump finally managed to get
his tax cuts bill through the Senate
late last Friday night.
Little matter that the tax changes,
which will benefit the richest Americans and big corporations, betray
the blue-collar voters who put him
in office. A win’s a win in Trump’s
zero-sum book.
But the Flynn affair is a different
matter altogether. A former general
sacked by Barack Obama, Flynn
was best known, until now, for his
ferocious attacks on Hillary Clinton before last year’s election. He
famously led a chant of “Lock her
up” at a Republican rally. Now it is
Flynn who is staring jail in the face.
By admitting he lied to the FBI
when he had denied holding secret
talks last December with the Russian
ambassador Sergey Kislyak to illegally subvert Obama administration
policy, Flynn has raised the lid on a
possible illegal conspiracy reaching
all the way to the top.
Last Saturday, Trump said Flynn’s
actions had been “lawful” and
said on Twitter that he had fired
him “because he lied to the vice-
carry the power of an Olympian
lightning bolt.”
On his wild Wednesday, Trump
began tweeting at 6.32am with a plug
for the Fox News show Fox & Friends,
which he watches. The first retweet of
Britain First – “VIDEO: Muslim migrant
beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” –
followed minutes later, eventually
earning a correction from the Dutch
embassy, which noted the perpetrator
was not Muslim. Idiosyncratic tweets
followed all day as Trump travelled to
Missouri – he is known to tweet from
cars and planes – then the swipe at
May at 8.02pm. He rounded off the day
with another old trope, a dig at Barack
Obama, at 9.23pm.
Even some of Trump’s confidants
believe he went too far with the Britain
First tweets. But Trump’s unapologetic embrace of Twitter makes perfect
sense to his biographer Gwenda Blair,
author of The Trumps and Donald
Trump: The Candidate. “He’s a salesman and a salesman’s No 1 technique
is to keep the attention on him and
frame what the conversation is and
control what is being discussed,” she
said. “Twitter is perfect: it allows him
to get out ahead of the news agenda.
“There’s often speculation that
various officials at the White House
have tried to … get his finger off the
send button. Perhaps. I think that’s
in part wishful thinking because it’s
be disbarred. He can tell Mueller he
wrote it.”
By Monday this week there had
been no comment from the White
House. Trump denies that he pressured Comey to stop investigating
Flynn. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman
for the Russian president, Vladimir
Putin, told reporters on Monday it was
“absurd” to suggest that Flynn’s conversation with the ambassador could
have influenced Putin’s thinking.
president and the FBI”. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and several other campaign and transition
officials have all denied personal
contact, or knowledge of contacts,
with the Russians before Trump
took office. Yet Flynn’s sworn evidence states he either discussed or
took orders about his meetings with
senior figures in Trump’s team.
Kushner was reportedly one
of those senior figures. Others in
the frame include Donald Trump
Jr (Trump’s eldest son), Michael
Cohen, a lawyer, and Carter Page, a
campaign adviser. Another adviser,
George Papadopoulos, pleaded
guilty to lying to investigators.
Trump has denied prior knowledge
of the contacts with the Russians.
The future of his presidency hinges
on the veracity of those statements.
Kushner, a close confidant inside
the family circle, is plainly in the
sights of the special counsel, Robert
Mueller. Trump named Kushner his
senior adviser on Middle East policy
last January. Prosecutors say that,
in the previous month, Flynn was
directed by a “very senior member” of the Trump team to ask the
Russians to help oppose a UN resolution unfavourable to Israel, contrary to Obama’s policy at the time.
The unfriendly relationship
between Benjamin Netanyahu,
Israel’s rightwing prime minister,
and Obama is a matter of record. So,
too, are Kushner’s pro-Israel stance
and his personal links to Netanyahu,
a close family friend.
Other people who occupy top
posts have questions to answer. The
transition team was led by Mike
Pence, the vice-president.
Trump and Pence claimed in February to have been misled by Flynn
about his contacts with Kislyak concerning Obama’s sanctions on Moscow for election meddling. Yet court
documents relating to Flynn’s guilty
plea say multiple members of the
transition team coordinated with
Flynn to ask Russia not to retaliate.
In the event Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, did not take retaliatory action, which was in itself
unusual. The day after Flynn met
Kislyak, Trump tweeted from his
Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida that
Putin was “very smart” not to hit
back. The tweet was retweeted by
the Russian embassy.
After Trump sacked Flynn in
February for supposedly misleading him and Pence, he asked James
Comey, the FBI director, whether he
could “see your way clear to letting
this go, letting Flynn go”, according
to Comey’s testimony to Congress.
Comey refused. His subsequent
sacking by Trump led directly to the
special counsel’s appointment.
Mueller is investigating whether
Trump’s firing of Comey and Flynn
was part of an attempted cover-up.
That would constitute obstruction
of justice – a charge that, if proved,
could spell the end for Trump.
like his magic wand. Why would they
want to take it away? He’s used it to
undermine the media, detach facts
from truth, makes himself the arbiter
of what’s important and cement that
politics-of-grievance bond.”
Under any other president, the
clash with Britain would have dominated the entire week. In Trump’s
world, it was quickly buried under an
avalanche of fresh dramas. Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman turned TV host, suggested
the president is now “completely
detached from reality”. He said on
the MSNBC channel: “You have somebody inside the White House that the
New York Daily News says is mentally
unfit. That people close to him say is
mentally unfit, that people close to
him during the campaign told me had
early stages of dementia.”
But another explanation for the
president’s boisterous behaviour,
seemingly emboldened, carefree of
consequences, may have been that
he sensed a legislative victory finally
in his grasp. In the early hours of last
Saturday, Senate Republicans passed
a $1.5tn tax bill that would deliver
massive gains to corporate America
and the wealthy.
True to form, Trump responded on
Twitter: “Look forward to signing a final
bill before Christmas!” The message
was posted at 2.49am. Observer
Jared Kushner, a
close condfidant
inside the family
circle, is plainly in
the sights of the
special counsel
6 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
International news United States
Tax cuts race through Senate
Critics attack ‘looting’ of
public purse as bill adds
$1tn to national deficit
Edward Helmore New York
Emma Graham-Harrison
President Donald Trump last Saturday hailed passage of a sweeping tax
reform bill through the Senate in the
early hours, calling it “one of the big
nights” and predicting Democratic
opposition would “cost them very
big” in midterm elections next year.
Critics warned, however, that the
bill was a shameless giveaway to lobbyists, corporations and the wealthy
that would hurt ordinary Americans
and push up the national debt.
After nine months of setbacks, the
vote put Trump and the Republicancontrolled Congress on the verge of
their first major legislative victory.
The first major overhaul of the tax
code in more than 30 years will pave
the way for a $1.5tn reduction in tax
bills, permanently slash the corporate
tax rate to 20% from 35%, and also offer temporary cuts to individual tax
rates. Congress’s own analysts say it
will come at a huge cost to the public
purse, adding around $1tn to the national deficit. But Republicans who for
years have demanded fiscal restraint
rejected those numbers to push the
bill through. The New York Times
was utterly damning in an editorial,
describing the bill as a “looting of the
public purse by corporations and the
wealthy”, which it said showed that
“Republican leaders’ primary goal
is to enrich the country’s elite at the
expense of everybody else, including
future generations who will end up
bearing the cost”.
The bill also tacked on controversial
Republican goals, including opening
Anger … New York protesters picket
a Trump fundraising brunch
the Arctic national wildlife refuge to
oil drilling, and is seen as a backdoor
attack on the Affordable Care Act.
It ends one of the key provisions
of the ACA, the personal mandate,
which forces healthy Americans to
buy health insurance or face tax penalties. Without it, insurers face a pool
of older, more vulnerable customers,
and the rise in premiums is expected
to mean 13 million Americans will lose
health coverage within a decade.
The bill was hurried through the
Senate in the early hours of last Saturday, without time for opposition senators to read it, much less for analysts
to cost out the last-minute changes
needed to secure the slim 51-49
majority that passed it. “The Republicans have managed to take a bad bill
and make it worse,” said the Senate
Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer.
Some amendments had been
scrawled on the 500-page draft by
hand, and several seemed to have
little to do with taxes. Adding to
Democrats’ outrage, they got the first
glimpse of many changes via lobbyists, who had seen the bill before
them. But they were powerless to stop
it, because Republicans used a procedural rule that meant they needed
only a simple majority to pass the
bill. Final-hour concessions brought
all but one of the Republican rebels on
board. Bob Corker of Tennessee voted
against the bill because of concerns
about its impact on the national debt.
Midterm elections next year proved
a helpful spur for Republican leaders
trying to rally support for the reforms.
Most analysis of the bill suggests it will
provide a rapid boost to overall economic growth, likely to appeal to any
politician facing re-election.
“We have an opportunity now to
make America more competitive, to
keep jobs from being shipped offshore
and to provide substantial relief to the
middle class,” said Mitch McConnell,
the Republican leader in the Senate.
The reform is not quite over its final hurdle. There are substantial differences with the bill passed by the
House of Representatives, ranging
from the Arctic drilling to whether individual tax cuts will expire, and the
fate of tax credits for student loans.
A committee will meld the two, and
the resulting bill will be presented to
Trump. “Something beautiful is going to come out of that mixer,” he
told reporters. “People are going to
be very, very happy. They’re going
to get tremendous, tremendous tax
cuts and tax relief, and that’s what
this country needs.”
Trump shrinks national monument lands
David Smith Washington
Oliver Milman New York
Donald Trump was widely condemned
on Monday for drastically shrinking
two national monuments, representing the biggest elimination of public
lands protection in US history.
The president modified designations for Bears Ears and Grand
Staircase-Escalante – rock formations
– in Utah, potentially opening the land
to big developers and the oil and gas
industry. It is likely that the move will
be challenged in court.
“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Trump said at the state capitol
in Salt Lake City. “And guess what?
They’re wrong.
“The families and communities
of Utah know and love this land the
best, and you know the best how to
take care of your land. You know how
to protect it, and you know best how
to conserve this land for many, many
generations to come.”
Bears Ears will be slashed from
nearly 607,000 hectares to 92,000,
while Staircase will be halved from
over 800,000 hectares to 407,300
Trump, who has focused intently
on undoing Barack Obama’s legacy,
described his predecessor’s Antiquities Act designations as a threat to
people’s way of life, imposing restrictions on hunting, ranching and economic development. In April, promising to “end another egregious use of
government power”, Trump ordered
a review of national monuments declared since the 1990s.
court agrees
to travel ban
Tom McCarthy and
Oliver Laughland New York
and agencies
The US supreme court ruled on
Monday that a ban ordered by Donald Trump on travellers from six
Muslim-majority countries and two
other countries could be imposed immediately while multiple court cases
challenging the ban are resolved.
The ultimate disposition of the
ban was expected to take months
to resolve. But the 7-2 ruling by
the high court was a blow to antidiscrimination advocates, who vowed
to protest against the decision.
The ban means that the United
States would categorically refuse
entry visas to prospective travellers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia,
Syria and Yemen, plus North Korea
and Venezuela. An executive action
announced in July, exempts travellers with “bona fide” links inside the
US such as documented business purposes or close family relationships.
The ruling does not mean that the
supreme court has accepted the ban
as constitutional, but that it finds
persuasive the Trump administration’s argument that an emergency
injunction against the ban was unnecessary. The high court is expected in
the coming months to rule on whether
it violates constitutional protections
against discrimination.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and
Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented from
the ruling. But justice Elena Kagan, a
Barack Obama nominee, sided with
the majority.
The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, hailed the ruling as “a substantial victory for the safety and security
of the American people”.
The progressive Center for Constitutional Rights decried the supreme
court ruling in a statement: “Whatever
the courts say, the Muslim Ban is inhumane and discriminatory. We must
continue to demonstrate that we reject
and will resist the politics of fear, antiMuslim racism, and white supremacy.”
The Trump administration has
denied that the ban is discriminatory
along religious lines. But the president
himself may have undercut that argument, legal analysts said, by tweeting
anti-Muslim videos from a British farright group last month.
The president’s first ban, issued in
January, was blocked by a series of
lower court rulings. The second attempt was allowed to come into effect
in a limited form over the summer.
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 7
International news
Suicide of Croat ‘hero’ reopens wounds
Tribute … a Bosnian Croat lights
a candle for Slobodan Praljak in
Mostar Dado Ruvic/Reuters
General found guilty of
war crimes has admirers
in nation’s heartland
Andrew MacDowall Čapljina and
Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina
On the square of the quiet town of
Čapljina, hundreds of candles on the
paving stones outside the municipal
building spell out one name: Praljak.
The Croat general Slobodan Praljak
died after taking poison on live TV
moments after his sentence for war
crimes was upheld last Wednesday.
Preliminary autopsy results, released last Friday, said he probably
died from heart failure after swallowing potassium cyanide. His suicide
shocked the world, but reactions in
Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Čapljina,
his hometown, and Mostar, the city
his forces besieged, are particularly
fraught. “It’s like life has stopped completely here,” says Miro Jovanović,
a municipal official. “We want to
honour him as he lived proudly, but
couldn’t live with this injustice.”
In Čapljina, beside the Neretva
river between Mostar and the Adriatic
coast, Praljak’s 20-year sentence is
seen as a miscarriage of justice. It lies
in the heartland of Croatian nationalism. A joke goes that in the rocky
hills of western Herzegovina nothing
grows but snakes, stones and Ustasha – the second world war Croatian
fascist movement. Several cafes have
posters of Praljak, the Croatian flag
and the slogan “our hero”.
“We were together in the war when
I fought, he wasn’t guilty,” said Ivan
Buntić, 59, as he opened his clothes
shop in Čapljina. “He was a special
man, like a Greek hero. Perhaps he
knew that war crimes were happening, but he couldn’t do much – he was
the one who was trying to restore
order. Everyone had armies, everyone
had [concentration] camps.”
Praljak was one of six ethnic Croats
convicted by The Hague tribunal who,
prosecutors said, were “key participants in a joint criminal enterprise to
ethnically cleanse Bosnian Muslims”
in the 1992-95 Bosnian war. He was involved in the siege of Mostar, during
which its 16th-century Old Bridge was
destroyed by Croat shelling.
Croats make up 16% of the population of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and
many feel that the framework established at the war’s end disadvantages
them at the expense of Muslim Bosniaks and Serbs, and that war crimes
against Croats have gone unpunished.
Arranging flowers outside her shop
on Čapljina’s main street, Marijana
Slobodan Praljak
swallows poison
in the dock after
the UN tribunal
in The Hague
upheld his war
crimes sentence
Vego, 29, said Praljak was “righteous”.
She added: “As a Christian Catholic,
this is the first time I’ve thought a suicide was heroic. I took my kids to light
candles. I’m not saying there were no
crimes, but there were crimes on all
sides.” Her friend Iva Meric, a 22-yearold working in a clothes boutique,
was more sceptical: “My generation
are pressured by what we’re told by
other people who lived through the
war. Everybody defends their own –
of course we say we’re not guilty.”
The implications of Praljak’s suicide echo beyond the Neretva valley.
The judges last Wednesday upheld the
verdict that the late Croatian president Franjo Tuđjman shared the purpose of the “criminal enterprise”; his
successors in Zagreb, now capital of an
EU member state, have been accused
of sending mixed messages since Praljak’s death. The Croatian president,
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, said Croats
needed to admit “some of our fellow
compatriots in Bosnia committed
crimes” – but acknowledged Praljak’s
death had “deeply struck the hearts of
the Croatian people”. The prime minister, Andrej Plenković, said the UN
court’s verdict was a “deep moral injustice”. Plenković leads the political
party founded by Tuđjman, the HDZ.
In the Mostar head office of the
HDZ’s Bosnian sister party, Vladimir
Šoljić, who was “defence minister” of
the wartime Croatian statelet HercegBosna, remembers Praljak as a charismatic, brave individual from their
first meeting at secondary school.
“He always had a crowd around him
at school, and later as a soldier was
always the first to lead. He spent every
day in the war seeing Muslims, helping
them with loans, support, calling their
families – then they turned around and
called him a war criminal.”
Šoljić insisted Herceg-Bosna was
not driven by ethnic cleansing, part
of a plan to divide Bosnia among Croats and Serbs, but a move to protect
Croats and that there were no war
crime orders from above. “If anyone
can find a single order or instruction
of any kind to commit war crimes, I’ll
do the same as General Praljak.”
Others have less rosy memories
of Praljak. Nedim Ćišić, a 38-yearold Bosniak musician and artist, was
sheltered with his parents and sister
by Croat friends in Čapljina after being released from a Croat-run prison
camp. “One night we heard boom!
boom! boom! Which was strange, as
the fighting wasn’t close at the time.
Then we heard it was the Muslim businesses being blown up. That’s when
we knew it was time to leave.”
Armanj, a 37-year-old waiter, was
wounded in the leg by a sniper when
he was a teenager. “Fourteen members of my family died, all because
of that monster, Praljak. His suicide
was cowardice.”
Moderates sidelined at German far-right AfD congress
Philip Oltermann and agencies
The nationalist wing of the German
anti-immigration party Alternative
für Deutschland has been strengthened and moderate forces sidelined
at a party conference marked by
protests last weekend.
Several people were reportedly
hurt in clashes between protesters
and police in the city of Hanover last
Saturday as the AfD congress chose
Alexander Gauland to return to the
co-leader post he had held until 2015.
Gauland opposes the expulsion of
Björn Höcke, an AfD member who
said history should be rewritten to focus on German victims of the second
world war. Gauland replaces Frauke
Petry, who quit to become an independent member of parliament. Her
sudden departure two days after the
AfD became the first far-right party to
win seats in the Bundestag since the
1950s exposed rifts over whether the
party should ditch rhetoric such as
saying that Islam was not compatible
with the German constitution.
Outside the conference centre,
thousands of anti-AfD protesters
marched carrying placards reading
“Hanover against Nazis” and “Stand
up to racism”. Earlier, riot police fired
water cannon at dozens of people who
blocked a road leading to the event.
Ten protesters were temporarily detained; several police officers and one
protester were injured.
The party’s incumbent leader,
Jörg Meuthen – a representative of
the economically liberal wing of the
movement who also opposes Höcke’s
expulsion – won enough votes to
keep his post. But he was joined as
co-leader by Gauland, who ran after a
candidate seen as a moderate, Georg
Pazderski, failed to win enough votes.
The sidelining of Pazderski, a former ally of Petry, weakens the influence of those AfD members who are
keen to manoeuvre the rightwing
party into a position where it could
enter a coalition. The party now has
seats in 14 of the 16 regional parliaments. Polls suggest it will also win
seats next year in Bavaria and Hesse.
8 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
International news
Rebels kill Yemen’s
ex-president Saleh
Leader sought to change
sides in civil war and
ally himself with Saudis
Patrick Wintour
The Yemen civil war took a dramatic
new turn on Monday when Houthi
rebels backed by Iran killed the former
president Ali Abdullah Saleh, punishing him for switching sides and seeking peace with Saudi Arabia.
Pictures of his body appeared on
Houthi-run television after the militia claimed it had killed him as he fled
the capital, Sana’a. He ruled Yemen for
more than 30 years and was forced to
resign in 2011 as part of the Arab spring
political revolution. Houthi military
officials said Saleh was killed as he
and other party leaders were travelling from Sana’a to his hometown
of Sanhan. Houthi fighters followed
him in 20 armoured vehicles, then attacked and killed him and almost all
those with him.
Earlier his house had been destroyed in fierce fighting that erupted
in Sana’a last weekend between
Houthi militia and forces loyal to
Saleh. Saudi-led coalition warplanes
pounded Houthi positions close to
the city airport and the ministry of the
Ali Abdullah
Saleh had ended
his alliance with
Houthi rebels
and sought talks
with the Saudis
and the UAE
interior. The Saudi bombing was part
of a doomed bid to prop up Saleh and
prevent the Houthis taking complete
control of the capital. His death may
prompt a furious reaction from Saudi
Arabia, which is determined to push
back Iranian influence in Yemen.
The violence between the Houthis and Saleh’s forces led to at least
125 civilian deaths and 238 injured in
clashes last week, according to the
International Red Cross. Houthis and
Saleh’s forces had held Sana’a for three
years before the alliance collapsed.
The International Red Cross
warned it was struggling to keep the
hospital functioning in Sana’a and
ensure access to its warehouse of
medical supplies. The distribution
of humanitarian aid across the country is already fraught, with 7 million
people dependent on aid in what the
UN has described as the world’s worst
humanitarian disaster. The civil war
has so far claimed 10,000 lives.
Last Saturday, in a televised address, Saleh in effect announced that
he was swapping sides in the civil
war, and would seek a dialogue with
the Saudi and United Arab Emiratesled coalition he had been fighting,
alongside the Houthis, since 2015.
The Saudis have sought to reinstall
the UN-recognised government of
president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
It is widely thought that UAE diplomats persuaded the 75-year-old Saleh
to swap sides. “Yemeni citizens have
tried to tolerate the recklessness of
the Houthi over the last two and a half
years, but cannot any more,” Saleh
said in his address. He told his forces
in the capital to stop taking instructions from the Shia Houthis. The alliance of convenience had been close to
collapse for months, with claims that
Houthis tried to kill Saleh’s son.
Hadi has ordered forces loyal to
him – mainly in the southern city of
Aden – to capitalise on the opposition’s disarray and advance north to
Houthi positions. Hadi’s staff said
they would offer an amnesty to collaborators with the Houthi regime.
It is thought the Saudis and UAE
had been engineering Saleh’s turnabout for months after they became
disillusioned with Hadi, who has been
living in exile in Riyadh.
Peter Salisbury, a Yemen expert at
the thinktank Chatham House, said:
“With Saleh gone, and no one with
whom the Saudis can strike a deal, it
is likely the Saudis will take the gloves
off, but the precise extent to which
they do so depends very much on
what Washington allows them to do. It
could get very bloody and messy.” He
added: “It had become clear to Saleh
that the Houthis were consolidating
their hold in north-west Yemen both
militarily and at an institutional level.
If he did not strike now, it would be too
late in six months, so his calculus was
to cut a deal with the Saudis.”
The UN humanitarian co-ordinator
for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, called
for fighting in Sana’a to pause this
week to allow civilians trapped in
their homes to seek food and water.
Riyadh’s determination to crush
the Houthis hardened last month
after an Iranian-made missile was
fired from Houthi positions at Saudi
Arabia’s international airport in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia responded by
mounting a blockade of goods entering Houthi-controlled ports.
Smoggy wicket Pollution stops play in Delhi
A cricket Test match between India
and Sri Lanka was repeatedly interrupted last Sunday with claims players were “continuously vomiting”
due to hazardous pollution levels in
the Indian capital.
Commentators said it was the
first recorded instance of an international match being halted due to
the toxic smog that afflicts much of
north India year-round but worsens
to hazardous levels in winter.
Airborne pollution levels 15
times the World Health Organisation
limits confronted players on the
second day of the third Test in
Delhi. As the haze worsened,
many Sri Lankan players returned
from lunch wearing face masks
before complaining to umpires,
who halted play for 20 minutes to
consult with doctors and match
officials. The match resumed but
was interrupted as bowlers Lahiru
Gamage and Suranga Lakmal left
the field with breathing difficulties.
“We had players coming off the field
and vomiting,” the Sri Lanka coach
Nic Pothas said. “There were oxygen
cylinders in the change room.”
It was the latest professional
match in Delhi to be affected by air
pollution after two in the domestic
Ranji Trophy tournament were
abandoned in the city when it was
engulfed in smog in November 2016.
Schools were shut and doctors
declared a public health emergency
in Delhi last month as pollution
levels spiked to 40 times the WHO
safe limits, likened to smoking at
least 50 cigarettes in a day. United
Airlines briefly halted flights into
the capital. Michael Safi Delhi
Photograph: Altaf Qadri/AP
Sport, pages 46-47 →
Japan’s emperor to abdicate
Justin McCurry Tokyo
Japan’s Emperor Akihito will abdicate
in spring 2019, almost three years
after he suggested his age and health
were affecting his ability to carry
out official duties.
The 83-year-old will officially retire
on 30 April 2019 in the first abdication by a Japanese emperor for 200
years. His eldest son, Crown Prince
Naruhito, will become the 126th occupant of the chrysanthemum throne.
Akihito has become an enormously
popular figure since succeeding his
father, Hirohito, Japan’s wartime
emperor, in January 1989.
While the postwar constitution
prohibits emperors from wielding
political influence, Akihito has used
his role to promote reconciliation
with former victims of Japanese wartime aggression. On a visit to China
in 1992, he said he “deeply deplored”
an “unfortunate period in which my
country inflicted great suffering on
the people of China”.
He and Empress Michiko, a commoner whom he met while playing tennis, have also had a prominent role in helping the victims of
natural disasters, making several
visits to the region devastated by
the 2011 tsunami.
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 9
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International news
‘Democracy is happiness’ in Himalayas
as Sherpas take long path to ballot box
Nepal diary
Vidhi Doshi
he treacherous trail
that connects the remote Sherpa village
of Tempathang, in
the Himalayas, to the
rest of the world was
unusually crowded
over the last weekend of November
as scores of voters walked for hours
across narrow mountain ridges to
vote in Nepal’s first parliamentary
elections since 2006.
Young men listened to songs
blaring from their phones. Mothers
carried babies in slings and baskets.
The night before the election, many
camped near the polling station,
sharing food and talking politics.
Nepal’s Sherpas, skilled mountaineers famous for guiding western
adventurers to difficult summits,
have lived on some of the world’s
most brutal terrain for centuries.
While Nepal’s neighbours have experienced decades of rapid growth,
its own experience has been different. Corruption and instability
have stalled development, leaving
Sherpa villages with limited access
to power, healthcare and education.
Now many hope Nepal’s transition
from monarchy to federalised republic will bring with it modern basics. “Democracy is happiness,” one
voter said, “and happiness is roads.”
Wangdhi Sherpa woke at 4am to
walk to the polling station. “If we
vote, there will be development,” he
said as he walked along the gruelling
trail that lies around 120km north
of Kathmandu, the capital. Sherpas
were among the 2 million Nepalis
who voted in the first phase of elections on 25 November. A second
phase was to take place this week in
towns and cities. New national and
local governments are expected to
be announced early next year.
In the past 28 years Nepal has had
26 changes of government. Previous
experiments with democracy in the
1950s and 1990s disintegrated. Then
came one disaster after another: 10
members of the royal family were
shot dead by the crown prince at a
dinner party in 2001; a decade-long
civil war claimed more than 16,000
lives; and a devastating earthquake
in 2015 killed more than 8,000
people and left thousands homeless. Amid such turmoil, elections
Trekker … Kami Sherpa, who walked from Tempathang, wore his best suit to vote Vidhi Doshi/Washington Post
are a festive event: the first phase
of voting saw an estimated 65%
turnout of those eligible to vote that
day. Before heading to the polls,
Kami Sherpa put on his best suit
and hat. “My country is becoming
more beautiful today,” he said, “so
I should also look my best.”
But for others, enthusiasm for Nepal’s future is tempered by memory
of past failures. Yangi Sherpa, one
of the few who stayed home in
Tempathang, said: “They say they’ll
make roads, give us electricity.
They’ve been saying these things for
a while, but nothing happens.”
Despite scattered violence, the
election commission rated the day
They say they’ll give
us roads, electricity.
They’ve been saying
this for a while, but
nothing happens
a “historic success”. The former
chief election commissioner Bhojraj
Pokharel attributed the high turnout
to Nepalis’ competitive spirit: “We
love democracy. Whether we understand it is a different thing.”
Since the civil war ended in 2006,
Nepalis have twice elected assemblies to write a constitution. Local
elections were held for the first time
in 20 years this summer. Now newly
created provincial governments will
have significant power to oversee regional development. At the national
level, the competition for leadership
in this election is between the Nepali
Congress party, led by prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, and the
Left Alliance, combining the party of
former rebel Maoists and the Unified
Marxist-Leninist party, rivals a few
months ago in local elections.
The Left Alliance is capitalising
on anti-India sentiment after what
some call a “blockade” by India in
2015 when Nepal was devastated
after the earthquake. India has denied imposing a blockade. A victory
for the Left Alliance, observers say,
could increase Chinese influence in
Nepal, where India has wielded diplomatic sway as a trading partner.
Levels of corruption in Nepal are
among the highest in South Asia,
and politicians switch allegiances
on a whim to form coalitions. Many
villages are still unconnected to road
networks and one in four Nepalis
live below the national poverty line.
“Election manifestos are whimsical and unrealistic,” said Sudip
Pokharel, director of the Democracy
Resource Center, an independent
organisation in Kathmandu that
observes elections. “They promise
things like cable cars and wifi for
everyone when even basic needs are
not met. Politicians keep winning
because of patronage networks,
which means there is no incentive
for parties to think about agendas.”
Meanwhile, the Sherpas of
Tempathang are virtually isolated
for half the year in winter and the
monsoon season. Many Sherpas
make a meagre living rearing a yakcow hybrid called dzo. The nearest
doctor is a six-hour walk away,
down the mountain, and the school
provides only primary education.
“We just have to trust them,” Nurbu
Sherpa, 55, said of political parties.
“They know what’s good for the
country.” Washington Post
10 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
International news
Argentina ‘death flight’ pilots sentenced
Navy calls off search for
survivors on submarine
Fate still unknown … portraits of the ‘disappeared’ outside the court in Buenos Aires Marcos Brindicci/Reuters
First judgment passed
in five-year criminal trial
of junta-era officials
Uki Goñi Buenos Aires
Two former Argentinian military
pilots have been given life sentences
for their part in the death of a close
friend of Pope Francis, who was hurled
to her death from an aircraft during the
country’s 1976-83 dictatorship.
The ruling last week marked the first
Argentinian judgment against participants in the so-called death flights, in
which opponents of Argentina’s military regime were thrown from aircraft
into the freezing waters of the South
Atlantic to hide the murders.
The court heard that former
coastguard pilots Mario Daniel Arrú
and Alejandro Domingo D’Agostino
were in the crew of a Skyvan PA-51
plane from which Esther Careaga
and 11 others were thrown to their
death on the night of 14 December
1977. Careaga was a close friend of
Jorge Bergoglio, who decades later
became Pope Francis.
The pilots were among 5 4
defendants in the huge trial, which
also involved the cases of 789 victims
of the Navy Mechanics Higher School,
ESMA, in Buenos Aires, where up to
5,000 people are estimated to have
been killed.
The victims included leftwing
opponents of the regime and members of Argentina’s tiny urban guerrilla
groups, but also human rights activists
and relatives of people who had already
been “disappeared” by the military.
Careaga was seized by the military
after denouncing the disappearance
of her pregnant 16-year-old daughter
Ana María. Along with two French
nuns and nine others, she was thrown
from a plane that left the city’s airport
on the night of 14 December 1977. The
court found that Arrú and D’Agostino
had piloted the three-hour flight.
The body of Careaga, along with
those of one of the nuns, Léonie
Duquet, and two other mothers, Azucena Villaflor and María Bianco, washed
ashore six days later and were buried in
a common grave. Their remains were
only identified via DNA testing in 2003.
Jorge Bergoglio met Careaga when
he worked as an apprentice at a
pharmaceutical laboratory in Buenos
Aires in the early 1950s. Careaga was
a feminist far ahead of her time, a biochemist and Bergoglio’s boss.
“Careaga was a good friend and a
great woman,” said Bergoglio, then
archbishop of Buenos Aires, when
the bodies of the three mothers were
identified in 2003.
The scope of the crimes under
investigation in the five-year trial was
astounding. A total of 484 cases correspond to persons who were either
murdered or made to “disappear” at
the ESMA. The remaining 305 cases
involve survivors of kidnapping
and torture as well as children born in
captivity at the camp.
Arrú and D’Agostino’s participation in the death flights was discovered by Argentinian journalist and
ESMA survivor Miriam Lewin, who
in 2011 tracked down the Skyvan
PA-51 aeroplane to Miami. Incredibly, the original 1977 flight logs
were intact and named the crew on
the night of Careaga’s death. A third
crew-member, Enrique José de Saint
George, died during the trial. The legal
campaign started with a single case
almost 40 years ago.
Argentina called off the rescue
operation for its missing submarine last Thursday, 15 days after
a reported explosion apparently
sent it to the bottom of the Atlantic
ocean off the coast of Patagonia.
“No one will be rescued,”
said navy captain Enrique Balbi,
who has been acting as official
spokesperson for the rescue effort.
Nonetheless, the search operation
for the ARA San Juan would
continue in waters of up to 500
metres deep, he added.
“Despite the magnitude of
the effort made it has not been
possible to locate the submarine,”
said Balbi, referring to the multinational response that has
included US, British and Russian
aircraft, ships and personnel.
The submarine had 44 people
on board. Luis Tagliapietra, whose
son Damián was a 27-year-old
trainee on the submarine, told the
TN news channel: “This is perverse
and impossible to understand.
They’re playing word games,” he
said. “What they are really saying is
that they’re not going to be looking
for it any more.”
The San Juan lost radio contact
with the naval base in Mar del Plata
on 15 November but it was not
until two days later that the navy
announced publicly that the submarine had gone missing.
“More than double the number
of days than it would have been
possible to rescue the crew have
passed,” Balbi told reporters.
The huge sea and air rescue
effort will now be reduced to trying
to locate the vessel itself.
Uki Goñi Buenos Aires
Bolivian anger as court scraps presidential term limits
Laurence Blair Orinoca
Bolivia’s highest court overruled the
constitution last week, scrapping term
limits for every office. The move allows
Evo Morales, the president since 2006,
to stand for a fourth term in 2019 – and
for every election thereafter.
Morales, 58, is a former coca grower,
and the country’s first indigenous
president. Bolivia, along with Nicaragua, is now the only presidential
democracy in the Americas to place
no limits on re-election. Last month,
a senior minister shared an image of a
placard that invited Morales to stay in
power until 2050.
“This is a coup against the constitution and a mockery of the referendum
results,” conservative senator Óscar
Ortiz said – referring to a plebiscite
18 months ago in which Bolivians
narrowly rejected a presidential reelection. Ortiz called for citizens to
spoil their votes in last Sunday’s judicial elections and vowed to challenge
the case abroad.
The US state department has
expressed “deep concern” over the
ruling, and some opposition leaders,
warning of an imminent “Venezuelan-Cuban-style” dictatorship, have
called for street demonstrations,
although few expect serious unrest.
The sharpest criticisms of Morales
have come from erstwhile allies .
Felipe Quispe, an indigenous leader
who once branded the policies of
Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism (Mas) as “capitalism with an
Indian face”, is in hiding after police
quashed anti-corruption protests.
“The outlook is bleak,” said Roger
Chambi, 27, a student and activist. “It’s
an outrage against the people. You see
where politics and justice has got to.
The worst thing is we saw it coming,
but could only watch.”
Some sense a wasted opportunity for Morales, who promised to
retire to a farmer’s life. “He could
have attained the moral stature of
a Mandela or a Simón Bolívar,” said
Diego von Vacano, a Bolivian political scientist at Yale University, “had
he chosen that route.”
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 11
International news
‘Wasteful’ fashion
industry attacked
Wear clothes longer and
recycle more, designer
Stella McCartney urges
Sandra Laville
Clothes must be designed differently,
worn for longer and recycled as much
as possible to stop the global fashion
industry consuming a quarter of the
world’s annual carbon budget by 2050.
Fashion designer Stella McCartney
condemned her industry as “incredibly wasteful and harmful to the
environment” as she joined forces
with round-the-world sailor and campaigner Dame Ellen MacArthur to call
for a systemic change to the way clothing is produced and used.
In a report published last Tuesday,
MacArthur’s foundation exposes the
scale of the waste, and how the throwaway nature of fashion has created a
business that creates greenhouse
emissions of 1.2bn tonnes a year –
larger than that of international flights
and shipping combined. It warns that
“if the industry continues on its current path, by 2050, it could use more
than 26% of the carbon budget associated with a 2C pathway”.
The report also reveals that:
• less than 1% of material used to make
clothing is recycled into new clothing;
• the estimated cost to the UK
economy of landfilling clothing and
household textiles each year is about
£82m ($110m);
• a truckload of clothing is wasted
every second across the world;
• the average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be
used has decreased by 36% in 15 years;
• half a million tonnes of plastic
microfibres are released per year
from washed clothes, contributing to
ocean pollution.
MacArthur, who gained the support of industry leaders including
the C&A Foundation, H&M and Nike
Ready to re-wear … McCartney’s
campaign highlights fashion waste
for her report, is calling for a circular
textile economy to be created to make
fashion more sustainable. The report
calls for four actions to be taken: to
phase out substances of concern and
microfibre release; increase clothing
utilisation, for example by the industry supporting and promoting shortterm clothing rental businesses; to
radically improve recycling; and to
move to renewable materials.
McCartney said the ideas in the
report provided solutions for an
industry that was incredibly wasteful
and harmful to the environment.
“The report … opens up the conversation that will allow us to find a way
to work together to better our industry
for the future of fashion and for the
future of the planet,” she said.
MacArthur acknowledged the
scale of the challenge to turn around
the $2.4tn industry. “Today’s textile
industry is built on an outdated linear, take-make-dispose model and is
hugely wasteful and polluting,” said
MacArthur. “We need a new textile
economy in which clothes are designed
differently, worn longer, and recycled
and reused much more often.”
Figures in the report reveal the
throwaway nature of today’s fashion industry, which is based on a
faster turnaround model, with more
new collections released per year, at
lower prices. The report said more
than half of “fast” fashion produced
is disposed of in less than a year. In
the US, clothes are only worn for
around a quarter of the global average. The same pattern is emerging
in China, where clothing utilisation
has decreased by 70% over the last 15
years. Sixty per cent of German and
Chinese citizens say they own more
clothes than they need.
Globally, customers miss out on
$460bn of value each year by throwing away clothes that they could continue to wear. The report said: “The
textiles industry relies mostly on
non-renewable resources – 98m tonnes
per year – including oil to produce synthetic fibres, fertilisers to grow cotton,
and chemicals to produce, dye, and
finish fibres and textiles.
“Textiles production (including
cotton farming) also uses around
93bn cubic metres of water annually,
contributing to problems in some
water-scarce regions.
“With its low rates of utilisation …
and low levels of recycling, the current wasteful, linear system is the
root cause of this massive and ever
expanding pressure on resources.”
Claws for thought Mystery of Pepsi lobster
A Canadian fishing crew found a
lobster with the blue and red Pepsi
logo imprinted on its claw, raising
fresh concerns about debris littering
the world’s oceans.
The lobster was caught in waters
off Grand Manan, New Brunswick,
and had been loaded on to a crate
when Karissa Lindstrand came
across it. Lindstrand –who drinks as
many as 12 cans of Pepsi a day – spotted the resemblance. “I was like: ‘Oh,
that’s a Pepsi can,’” she said.
On closer inspection, it seemed
more like a tattoo on the claw. “It
looked like it was a print put right on
the lobster claw.” Neither she or any
of the crew had seen anything like it.
Some experts believe the lobster
might have grown around a can at
the bottom of the ocean. Others
speculate that part of a Pepsi box
became stuck on the lobster.
The find comes amid growing
concerns over the amount of debris
accumulating in the world’s oceans.
Between 5m and 13m tonnes
of plastic leaks into the world’s
oceans each year to be ingested by
seabirds, fish and other organisms,
leading the record-breaking sailor
Dame Ellen MacArthur to warn that
by 2050 the sea could have more
plastic in it than fish, by weight.
Ashifa Kassam Toronto
Photograph: Karissa Lindstrand
Fears over US gene research
Arthur Neslen
A US military agency is investing
$100m in genetic extinction technologies that could wipe out malarial mosquitoes, invasive rodents or
other species, emails released under
freedom of information rules show.
The documents suggest the US’s
secretive Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency, has become the
world’s largest funder of “gene drive”
research, raising tensions ahead of
a UN expert meeting in Montreal
this week. The UN Convention on
Biological Diversity was due to debate
whether to impose a moratorium on
the gene research next year and several southern countries fear a possible
military application.
The use of “genetic extinction”
technologies in bioweapons is the
stuff of nightmares, but known
research is focused entirely on pest
control and eradication. Some UN
experts, however, worry about unintended consequences. One said: “My
main worry is we do something irreversible to the environment, despite
our good intentions.”
12 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
Special report Media freedom
Crime, censorship
and cash shortages
blight world’s press
Study finds international
freedom of expression at
lowest point in 10 years
Graham Ruddick
Media freedom around the world has
fallen to the lowest level for at least
a decade, according to a study that
shows journalists are threatened by
government censorship, organised
crime and commercial pressures.
Turkey has experienced the biggest decline in freedom of speech
over the past decade but Brazil,
Burundi, Egypt, Poland, Venezuela
and Bangladesh have also had a
disturbing decline in the diversity and
independence of the media, according
to the report.
“For the first time, we have a comprehensive and holistic overview of
the state of freedom of expression and
information around the world,” said
Thomas Hughes, the executive director of Article 19, the freedom of expression campaign group, which produced
the report in conjunction with V-Dem,
a political and social database.
“Unfortunately, our findings show
that freedom of expression is under
attack in democracies as well as
authoritarian regimes.”
The report’s authors measured
freedom of expression in 172 countries between 2006 and 2016 through
a metric based on 32 indicators such
as media bias and corruption, internet
censorship, access to justice, harassment of journalists, and equality for
social classes and genders.
Hughes said journalists were
threatened by intimidation, prosecution and even murder in some
parts of the world – with 426 attacks
against journalists and media outlets
in Mexico alone in 2016.
The freedom of the media globally
is further threatened by the rise of the
internet because online content is being controlled by a handful of internet companies whose processes “lack
transparency”. Commercial pressure
on news providers has also led to redundancies and cuts in investment,
while the “vast majority of countries”,
including China, restrict access to a
range of websites.
The report found that 259 journalists were jailed last year and 79 were
killed. Areas of concern include the
vulnerability of journalists reporting
on or criticising the “war on drugs” in
the Philippines, Mexico and Honduras, and intimidation and malicious
charges against voices opposed to the
Erdoğan regime in Turkey.
As of April this year, 152 Turkish
journalists were in prison, according to the opposition. More than
170 media organisations have been
shut down since last year’s coup,
including newspapers, websites and
TV stations, and 2,500 journalists
have been laid off.
However, Article 19 noted improvements in countries including Tunisia,
Sri Lanka and Nepal, and also praised
the introduction of freedom of information laws in 119 countries.
Another group, the Committee
to Protect Journalists (CPJ), warned
there has “never been a more dangerous time to be a journalist”. It said
Donald Trump’s attacks on “fake
news” were sending a message to authoritarian leaders that it is acceptable
to crack down on the media, pointing
to recent criticism of CNN by the Egyptian government after the terrorist attack on a mosque in Sinai.
Robert Mahoney, the deputy
executive director of the CPJ, said:
“The United States has traditionally
been a beacon of press freedom but
a barrage of anti-press rhetoric from
president Trump undermines the role
of the press in a democracy and potentially endangers journalists.
“Labelling reporting you don’t like
as ‘fake news’ sends a signal to authoritarian leaders globally that it’s
OK to crack down on the press. It did
not take the Egyptian foreign ministry long to seize on Trump’s attack on
CNN International last month to try
to draw attention away from the message to the messenger.”
The head of the BBC World Service – the biggest international news
broadcaster – warned that the rise of
new economic powerhouses that do
not fully support freedom of expression would threaten media freedom in
the 21st century. Francesca Unsworth
said: “We are dealing with a world I
don’t think buys into enlightenment
values of freedom of expression as
part of economic development.”
Unsworth said China was trying to
spread its influence in Africa and the
Caribbean by investing in the local
media alongside vast spending on
improving infrastructure.
Afraid to probe too far and
fearful when they publish
ome are in hiding, exile – or
jail. Others self-censor, use
pseudonyms or seek approval from officials. Some
are left hoping their work is
not too popular so it does not create
problems. Such is life as a journalist
in the growing number of countries
condemned for shutting down, stifling or squeezing the financial life
out of independent media.
Yevgenia Albats, editor-in-chief,
New Times weekly
All governmental institutions are
under the control of KGB graduates,
so politics in Russia is a clandestine
operation with non-transparent
rules, unknown participants and
secretive outcomes. It is difficult to
cover politics when the omnipotent
secret service is in charge.
I can publish whatever I believe
is worth it. No one can tell me don’t
cover this or that. Yet, I lack financial resources to run the paper and
hire enough reporters capable of
digging in. My biggest obstacle is the
fear among businesses, ad agencies
and newsmakers of dealing with a
publication considered anti-Putin.
It is a fact of life that you can get
killed or injured if you cover politics
in my country – as has happened to
two dozen reporters in the Moscow
region alone in the past decade.
Sandhya Ravishankar, a Tamil
Nadu-based investigative journalist
Tamil Nadu is a state where there is
an iron curtain as regards government transparency. When corruption is exposed, the government has
used criminal defamation laws and
intimidation to try to muzzle the
press. When I report on investigative stories that do not please the
government of the day, fellow journalists, who prefer to play safe or ingratiate themselves with the powers
that be, often turn against me.
When I began freelancing I found
my investigative reports were more
likely to be published online than
in newspapers or mainstream TV
channels. My four-year investigation
into illegal beach sand mining had
no takers until the Wire, a young
news portal, dared to pick it up.
Other newspapers loved the story
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 13
On the website
Latest world news and analysis
Prosecution … protesters support
a Cumhuriyet correspondent jailed
in Turkey in July Ozan Kose/Getty
Erik Silva, investigative journalist
The greatest difficulty of the media
in Brazil, especially smaller organisations, is the lack of financial
independence. This is used to target
journalists who challenge powerful
figures. I was charged with criminal
defamation for exposing exorbitant
payments to certain public servants.
So far, I have won in the courts, but
it has been time-consuming and
expensive. The legal process has
been used to try to silence the press
and undermine the credibility of the
information I publish.
The freedom of the press is guaranteed, but when it comes to information that displeases political interests, we suffer the consequences.
It is not just legal cases – there are
reprisals in terms of budget cuts
from our political clients.
Sometimes I worry about my
security. If something happened
to me, I would not be the first journalist in Brazil targeted because I
denounced powerful political interests. But more common than physical attacks are professional reprisals.
Politicians try to force critical journalists from their jobs, particularly
in small cities in the interior.
World press freedom ranking, 2017
Most freedom
Least freedom
Rank 1 Norway
22 Canada
153 Belarus
155 Turkey
148 Russia
No data
40 UK
43 US
147 Mexico
14 Ireland
8 Jamaica
103 Brazil
50 Argentina
but were afraid of lawsuits from
the illegal miners and did not wish
to wade into a politically charged
story of corruption that implicated
every government – centre and state
– for two-and-a-half decades. This
is self-censorship.
I fear for the safety of my family
more than anything else. My number has been made public on social
media and I have received calls
threatening to rape me. Police complaints have led nowhere.
Aydin Engin, a veteran correspondent for Cumhuriyet, who faces trial
The AKP government claims not one
journalist is in jail but we know the
number is above 160. None have any
South India
31 South Africa
19 Australia
other profession than journalism or
have taken part in any other kind of
activity, as is claimed.
[There is] almost no media left to
be censored. We frequently witness
governments, big companies and
banks trying to buy off journalists
around the world. But the AKP was
smarter and bought papers and TV
channels instead.
Today 70% of the print and visual
media in Turkey are government
bodies and no longer serve as news
and information channels. The other
30% have became mostly what we
call the “penguin media” because
they prefer to broadcast a documentary about penguins instead of
reporting on such big news as the
Gezi resistance.
Adam Leszczyński, former foreign
editor of Gazeta Wyborcza,
now founder of, a
crowdfunded fact-checking and
investigative website
The worst thing for journalists in
Poland is the avalanche of lies from
government propaganda. It is so
primitive, nonsensical and aggressive that is almost like a caricature
of authoritarian media. You cannot
debate in any meaningful way with
those people.
We are often attacked in progovernment media, but there are no
open and really dangerous efforts
to intimidate us or to block publication of our stories. It’s not that rosy,
however. Government officials often
don’t respond to our questions, even
though they are legally obliged to.
Ruling party politicians are
working on a law to “renationalise”
Polish media, but it will affect
mostly the big foreign players. They
probably calculated that an attack
on free media would be too costly
– especially when they haven’t finished taking over the justice system.
My guess is that they will not attack
free media until the government
starts losing popularity.
A former Cambodia Daily journalist,
who asked to remain anonymous
due to fears of reprisal, said he was
charged with incitement for his work
The hardest thing about being
a journalist in Cambodia is that
we don’t have the right to write
about the real situation because
the government is very strict on
independent media. Authorities
sue journalists they accuse of publishing untrue information. They
are arrested and put in jail. Some
independent journalists are hiding
after two reporters from Radio Free
Asia were arrested [last] month.
The prime minister, Hun Sen, wants
journalists to write good things about
the government because he is afraid
the international community will put
pressure on him.
The court received an order
from Hun Sen to take action against
me and my colleague when we
wrote about sensitive stories, including elections, corruption issues
and land disputes as well as illegal
logging. I have not been safe since I
was charged.
Journalist who must remain
anonymous for safety reasons
The hardest part about being a
journalist in Sudan is not having
freedom of speech. I mainly write
articles related to the environment
and climate change but can never
mention the government’s corruption and how it is stealing funds Sudan gets for establishing adaptation
and mitigation projects.
Journalists are sometimes forced
to add false information and lie to
the public. There is a pre-print censorship on all newspapers, which
means a security man comes each
day to check content to make sure
nothing damages the government’s
image. If I criticise the government
in an article the editor rejects it,
because the security men could
shut the whole publication.
The government won’t hesitate to
hurt anyone who stands in its way,
or even hurt their families. You can
be kidnapped, tortured and even
killed, or they can put you in jail.
Vadim Ni, environmental writer,
chair of
The hardest thing is that you never
know what can lead to prosecution.
Now many journalists prefer to
avoid publishing information until
they have spoken to officials, and in
many cases they are very difficult to
reach. The fear of criminal prosecution can prevent journalists from
writing about many sensitive issues.
I was concerned for my safety
this summer when we finished our
report on harassment of environmental defenders in countries of the
former USSR. We were lucky and no
penalties followed.
14 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
Cash vanishes in Venezuela
Hyperinflation of bolívar
spurs move from paper
to electronic payments
John Otis Caracas
Venezuela’s currency, the bolívar,
is named after Simón Bolívar, the
19th-century hero revered across
South America for leading the fight
for independence from Spain. But
the recent history of the banknote he
inspired is far less glorious: low-value
notes have been rendered practically
worthless – and now Venezuela is
running out of them.
The cash crunch is so acute that
ATMs now provide a daily limit of
10,000 bolívars, enough to buy just
a few cups of coffee. Black-market
money changers charge commissions
of up to 20% to score paper money for
small-business people who pay their
workers in cash. Banks are running
out of banknotes.
“Sometimes, bank tellers will
only pay you half of your pension
and suggest that you come back later
for the rest,” said Marta Milano, who
was waiting in a long line outside a
state-run bank in Caracas hoping to
collect her pension.
Although many nations are moving
away from paper money in favour of
electronic payments – for convenience
and to reduce crime – critics contend
that Venezuela is turning into a
cashless society thanks to economic
blunders by President Nicolás
Maduro’s socialist government.
Out-of-control state spending,
government currency controls
and other policies have led to what
many describe as hyperinflation,
as well the collapse of the bolívar –
which now trades at about 100,000
to the US dollar on the black
market. Now there is not enough
cash in circulation to keep up with
skyrocketing prices.
Jean Paul Leidenz, a senior
economist at the Caracas thinktank
Practically worthless denomination
… bundles of 100-bolívar bills
Ecoanalítica, says there are about 13bn
banknotes in circulation in Venezuela.
But about half of these are 100-bolívar
notes, each worth a small fraction
of one cent.
The central bank has introduced
higher-denomination bills, including
a 100,000-bolívar note. But these
new banknotes are printed in
Europe and the government, which
is dealing with falling production
of oil – its main export – and
massive foreign debt, lacks the
money to import enough of them to
meet demand.
“Prices are doubling around every
two months. So at that rate of price
increases you can’t keep up with
inflation even if you start importing
bills,” Leidenz says. He and other
analysts are calling for market reforms, including the lifting of government currency controls, to help
combat inflation and boost national
production amid Venezuela’s worst
economic crisis in modern history.
But the Maduro government has made
no effort to change tack.
Maduro blames the cash shortage
on private bankers whom he
claims are working in cahoots with
President Juan Manuel Santos of
neighbouring Colombia, who has
criticised Maduro for cracking down
on democratic freedoms. Maduro
insists that bankers are smuggling cash
across the Venezuelan-Colombian
border as part of an elaborate
conspiracy to sabotage the economy
and bring down his government.
He did not, however, explain
why smugglers would covet nearly
worthless banknotes or why spiriting
them out of the country would
threaten the Venezuelan economy.
Instead, Maduro tried to paint the
cash crisis as an opportunity for
Venezuela to ditch cash altogether.
He said that by next year, up to 95%
of all payments in Venezuela should
be done electronically.
That’s already starting to happen,
though critics point out that the
transition stems from a dearth of cash
rather than planning by the Maduro
government. These days Venezuelans
pay for the smallest purchases – from
a pack of gum to newspapers – with
credit or debit cards.
But paying with plastic creates
new problems. The rising number
of electronic transactions c an
cause internet connections for card
readers to collapse. Empty shelves
at supermarkets prompt many
Venezuelans to seek out blackmarket venders who sell milk, rice
and other basic staples but accept
only paper money.
What’s more, only about 40% of
Venezuelans have bank accounts.
For them the daily scramble for
cash continues.
Nicolás Maduro said during his
weekly televised broadcast last
Sunday. The new digital currency
would be backed by the country’s
reserves of gold, oil, gas, and
diamonds, he said.
Opposition leaders scorned
the announcement. “It’s Maduro
being a clown. This has no credibility,” opposition lawmaker and
economist Angel Alvarado told
Reuters. The move highlights how
• The UK and other EU
governments are planning a
crackdown on bitcoin amid
growing concerns that the
digital currency is being used
for money-laundering and tax
evasion. The Treasury plans
to regulate bitcoin and other
cryptocurrencies to bring
them in line with anti-money
laundering and counterterrorism financial legislation.
Traders will be forced to disclose their identities, ending
the anonymity that has made
the currency attractive for
drug dealing and other illegal
activities. Under the EU-wide
plan, online platforms where
bitcoins are traded will be
required to carry out due diligence on customers and report suspicious transactions.
• The Adani Group, an Indian
conglomerate and mining giant, is likely to have to again
answer allegations that it
siphoned more than $600m
into overseas tax havens, after finance authorities recommended appealing an earlier
judgment that had cleared
the group of the claims. The
Indian finance secretary said
that the decision clearing the
group in August had been
reviewed by officials in November, and that they had ordered an appeal to be lodged
by 14 December. In August,
the Guardian revealed details
of a massive fraud investigation into the company.
• A partly British-built hybrid
electric plane could be flying
by 2020 as the result of a
collaboration between Airbus,
Siemens and Rolls-Royce. The
manufacturers will convert
a short-haul passenger jet,
paving the way to making
commercial air travel running
partly on electricity a reality.
Engineers involved in the
E-Fan X project said the technology could mean cleaner,
quieter and cheaper journeys.
Foreign exchanges
Maduro to launch cryptocurrency and ‘overcome US blockade’
Venezuela’s president has
said his country will launch a
cryptocurrency to combat a US-led
financial “blockade”, although
he provided few clues about how
the economically crippled Opec
member would pull off the feat.
“Venezuela will create a cryptocurrency … the ‘petro’, to advance
in issues of monetary sovereignty,
to make financial transactions and
overcome the financial blockade,”
Finance in brief
US sanctions this year are hurting
Venezuela’s ability to move money
through international banks.
Venezuela’s traditional currency,
meanwhile, is in freefall. Currency
controls and excessive money printing have led to a 57% depreciation
of the bolívar against the dollar in
the last month on the widely used
black market. That has dragged
down the monthly minimum wage
to a mere $4.30. Reuters
Sterling rates
Hong Kong
New Zealand
4 Dec
27 Nov
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 15
UK news
of trust
like this
tell thehere
a shortGreen
like this
→ Matthew
Then Section
and Page
May’s weakness exposed as
DUP holds up Brexit progress
Irish border dispute embarrasses PM in efforts to advance Brussels talks
Daniel Boffey and
Jennifer Rankin Brussels
Anushka Asthana London
Theresa May’s political weakness
was brutally exposed to Brussels on
Monday as an agreement struck between Britain and the EU to solve the
problem of the Irish border and move
to the next phase of Brexit talks was
held up by a last-minute telephone
call with the leader of the Democratic
Unionist party.
Confidence early on Monday that
an agreement was within reach came
to nothing when, during a working
lunch with the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker,
May was forced to pause discussions
to take a call from Arlene Foster.
The unionist leader, whose party
currently provides the Tories with a
working majority in the Commons,
told the British prime minister that she
could not support Downing Street’s
planned commitment to keep Northern Ireland aligned with EU laws.
In London, Tory Brexiters, including Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob ReesMogg, told the Brexit minister Steve
Baker, and the prime minister’s chief
of staff, Gavin Barwell, that they were
also rallying behind the DUP’s stance.
David Trimble, a former first minister of Northern Ireland, said Tory MPs
at the meeting had shown “unanimous backing” for opposition to the
draft proposal “minted in Dublin”.
Discussions between May, Foster
and DUP officials continued this week
in a bid to secure an agreement, but
Monday’s events raised fresh questions
about May’s ability to deliver on any
deal she proposes to the 27 member
states, and has filled diplomats in Brussels with a deep foreboding for future
talks. Diplomats waited for two hours
in a room at the Council of Ministers
headquarters for a meeting that had
been planned to follow the JunckerMay lunch. When it became clear the
two sides could not get an agreement,
the officials were sent home.
Juncker and May attempted to put
a brave face on Monday’s spectacular
collapse of their plans. The commission president praised May for being a
“tough negotiator” who was energetically fighting for Britain’s interests.
“On many of the issues there is a
common understanding and crucially
Stalled … Theresa May’s talks with Jean-Claude Juncker Virginia Mayo/AP
it is clear we want to move forward
together,” May told reporters before
hinting further talks were needed.
“There are a couple of issues, some
differences do remain, which require
further negotiation and consultation. And those will continue but we
will reconvene before the end of the
week and I am also confident we will
conclude this positively.”
The delay also took the EU into unusual territory, as member states had
less than a week to approve an agreement that many have not yet seen.
Some EU diplomats are increasingly
concerned at the deadline, billed as
“the extension of the very last round”.
The text has to be discussed in 27
national capitals, if EU leaders are to
sign it off at a summit on 14-15 December. “The less time we have before the
European council, the more difficult
it becomes to run the text through 27
national administrations and get an
agreement,” said one. “It is [the UK’s]
decision to leave it to the last minute
and it is [the UK’s] risk.”
Government sources made clear
that there were two key sticking
points in the negotiations with the
EU27 – the role of the European court
of justice when it came to citizen
rights and the Irish border.
On Ireland, one senior government
source admitted that progress would
be difficult without the support of
unionists. “It has to be a deal which is
going to carry the support of the EU27
and everybody here. It is a reality that
you need DUP support if the deal is to
stand the test of time.”
In Dublin, where there had been
full confidence that an agreement had
been reached that could avoid a hard
border after Brexit, the Irish prime
minister, Leo Varadkar, told reporters that he was “disappointed and
surprised” by Britain’s U-turn.
Varadkar said: “It is evident
that things broke down, became
problematic during the lunch in
Brussels.” The Irish prime minister’s
deputy had been on national radio
just hours earlier predicting that a deal
was close and that “a positive statement for the country” from the taoiseach was planned for the afternoon.
The DUP’s fury had been prompted
by a leak early on Monday of a draft
15-page joint statement from the
European commission and the UK
that suggested Britain had bowed to
the Republic of Ireland’s demands
by accepting that “in the absence of
agreed solutions, the UK will ensure
that there continues to be continued
regulatory alignment” with the internal market and customs union.
Foster swiftly put out a statement
insisting that she would not accept
any special status for Northern Ireland
as the UK left the EU in March 2019.
Speaking at Stormont, she noted
the speculation emerging from
negotiations. “We have been very
clear,” she said. “Northern Ireland
must leave the EU on the same terms
as the rest of the United Kingdom.
We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates
Northern Ireland economically or
politically from the rest of the United
Kingdom. The economic and constitutional integrity of the United
Kingdom will not be compromised in
any way,” she said.
The news was then seized upon
by Scotland’s first minister, Nicola
Sturgeon, who suggested that any
promise for Northern Ireland could
be replicated for Scotland. That call
was followed by similar suggestions
from the London mayor, Sadiq Khan.
Jeremy Corbyn claimed that the
difficulties in overcoming negotiation
points showed May’s government was
ill-equipped to negotiate a successful
Brexit deal. The Labour leader said:
“It is disappointing that there has
not been progress in the Brexit
negotiations after months of delays
and grandstanding. Labour has been
clear from the outset that we need a
jobs-first Brexit deal that works for the
whole of the United Kingdom.”
However, the former Ukip leader
Nigel Farage said the DUP were right
to “scupper” the deal.
Additional reporting by Lisa
O’Carroll and Henry McDonald
16 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
UK news
Social mobility chief quits over ‘inaction’
May challenged to live
up to pledge to create
more equal society
Michael Savage
Theresa May was plunged into a new
crisis last weekend after the government’s social mobility adviser
revealed he and his team were quitting, warning that the prime minister
was failing in her pledge to build a
“fairer Britain”.
Alan Milburn, the former Labour
cabinet minister who chairs the
government’s social mobility commission, said he and his three fellow commissioners were walking
out – including a leading conservative, Gillian Shephard. The move
was seen as a direct challenge to
May’s vow to place social justice at
the heart of her premiership. In his
resignation letter, Milburn warned
that dealing with Brexit meant the
government “does not seem to have
the bandwidth to ensure the rhetoric
of healing social division is matched
with the reality.”
“I have little hope of the current
government making the progress I
believe is necessary to bring about a
fairer Britain,” he said. “It seems unable to commit to the future of the commission as an independent body or to
give due priority to the social mobility
challenge facing our nation.”
Milburn said that failing to deal
with the inequalities that fuelled the
Brexit vote would simply lead to a rise
of political extremes. He said: “The
worst position in politics is to set out
a proposition that you’re going to heal
social divisions and then do nothing.
It’s almost better never to say that
you’ll do anything about it.
Crisis … Alan Milburn said May had the wrong priorities Linda Nylind
“It’s disappointing that the government hasn’t got its shoulder to the
wheel to deal with these structural
issues that lead to social division and
political alienation in the country.
“In America for 30 years real average earnings have remained flat. Now
here the chancellor is predicting that
will last for 20 years. That has a consequence for people, but a political
consequence as well. It means more
anger, more resentment and creates a
breeding ground for populism.”
It is understood that Shephard, a
former Tory education secretary and
deputy chair of the commission, will
Child and pensioner poverty rising, report says
Hundreds of thousands of children and older people have been
plunged into poverty in the past
four years, according to a report
from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. It found almost 400,000
more children and 300,000 more
pensioners were living in poverty
last year compared with 2012-13,
the first sustained increases in
child and pensioner poverty for 20
years. The foundation warned that
decades of progress were at risk of
being unravelled amid weak wage
growth and rising inflation.
The thinktank urged the government to unfreeze benefits, increase
training for adult workers and
embark on a more ambitious housebuilding programme to provide
affordable homes for struggling
families. Richard Partington
also resign. The social mobility commission, set up by Nick Clegg under
the coalition government, advises
ministers on the issue and monitors
progress. Its most recent report last
month warned of a “striking geographical divide”, with London and
its surrounding areas pulling away
while other areas are left behind.
Milburn said that, while his term
as chair had now come to an end, he
had decided to walk away rather than
reapply for the role. He said a repeated
refusal to properly resource and staff
the commission, an obsession with
Brexit and an “absence” of policy had
led to his decision. The other remaining commissioners – Paul Gregg,
director of the centre for analysis of
social policy at the University of Bath,
and David Johnston, the chief executive of the Social Mobility Foundation
– were also understood to be quitting.
The dramatic resignations were a
setback for the prime minister, who
used her first speech after taking
office to vow to tackle social injustice.
“When it comes to opportunity, we
won’t entrench the advantages of the
fortunate few, we will do everything
we can to help anybody, whatever
your background, to go as far as your
talents will take you,” she said.
Milburn’s letter to May states: “I do
not doubt your personal belief in social
justice, but I see little evidence of that
being translated into meaningful
action. The 20th-century expectation
that each generation would do better
than the last is no longer being met. At
a time when more and more people are
feeling that Britain is becoming more
unfair rather than less, social mobility
matters more than ever.”
A government spokesman said the
resignations came after Milburn –
whose term as the commission chair
expired last July – was told that a new
chair was to be appointed.
Hunt says NHS must use new money to cut waiting times
Denis Campbell
Jeremy Hunt has ordered NHS England to stick to waiting time limits,
putting him in conflict with its leaders who said hours earlier that insufficient funding from last month’s
budget made this impossible.
NHS England told ministers last
Thursday that it would have to tear up
guarantees on waiting times and deny
patients new drugs next year because
of a lack of money. But the health
secretary rejected the proposals and
signalled the start of months of difficult negotiations over what care the
NHS can provide. “ The government
is committed to NHS constitutional
standards, that is why we found a significant increase for the NHS in the
budget. Our determination is to move
back to hitting those standards,” Hunt
told an audience of NHS chiefs.
NHS England, however, used a
board meeting to warn it had to make
“difficult choices” next year that
would involve limiting what it could
provide. It blamed the chancellor,
Philip Hammond, for creating what
the Patients Association said was an
“extraordinary” situation by giving it
only £1.6bn ($2.1bn) extra funding for
2018-19 in his budget last week – less
than half the £4bn sought by the NHS.
In a paper given to its board, NHS
England said: “NHS constitution
waiting times standards, in the round,
will not be fully funded and met next
year.” Hammond said in the budget
that the £1.6bn was to be used to
improve waiting times, which have
been increasingly breached since 2014.
NHS England ratified plans to
stop prescribing cough mixture, cold
treatments, eye drops and laxatives,
which it wants patients to buy instead,
as well as a range of “low-value treatments”, including fish oil, herbal
remedies and homeopathy, as part
of a plan to save up to £190m from its
£9.2bn bill for prescribed medications.
NHS England said it could not be
expected to provide more care at a
time when its budget increases of
1% to 2% were smaller than rises in
patient demand, running at up to 7%.
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 17
news Subject
UK news
Swept away on a wave Camera defies tide to rejoin its owner
A camera left on a beach in Yorkshire
will be reunited with its owner after
filming itself being swept up by the
tide at the beginning of a 800km odyssey across the North Sea.
The waterproof camera was discovered on 2 November on the shore
of Süderoog, a tiny German island in
the Wadden Sea. It was found by two
coastal protection officers who discovered that a number of short video
clips survived the journey.
The most recent recording, dated
1 September 2017, shows a boy and
girl playing on the beach. At one
point the camera is put on a rock and
left behind. The last minutes of the
movie feature images of seaweed
and the sound of gurgling water.
Holger Spreer and Nele Wree uploaded the clip to the Süderoog Facebook page, commenting that “at last,
a piece of flotsam is chatting to us”.
An officer of the German Maritime
Search and Rescue Association spotted the post and contacted the Royal
National Lifeboat Institution, one of
whose officers recognised the landscape visible in the video as that of
the Flamborough Cliffs near Thornwick Bay in east Yorkshire.
Using a computer programme
used to calculate the location of people missing at sea, German officers
identified the sea coastal stretch as
the likely origin of the camera.
After 12 days of searching, the island’s Facebook page announced that
the owner had been found. A father,
alerted by a friend to the story in the
Guardian, recognised the camera
as the one lost by his son. There are
plans to have owner and camera reunited by Christmas. Philip Oltermann
Photograph: Hallig Süderoog
Aid to Syria ‘was reaching jihadis’
Hannah Summers
The government has suspended a
multimillion-pound foreign aid project amid allegations that money paid
to a contractor in Syria was reaching
the pockets of jihadist groups.
The plug was pulled on the scheme
funding a civilian police force following
claims its members were being made
to hand cash to extremists. Officers from the Free Syrian Police were
apparently also working with courts
accused of torture and summary executions, according to allegations
made in a BBC documentary.
The Foreign Office confirmed last
Sunday that it had suspended access
to the justice and community security
scheme (Ajacs), which has been running since late 2014, following grave
concerns about its management by
the British contractor, Adam Smith
International. Britain is one of six
countries supporting the communityled police force set up after the Syrian
uprising and stationed in regions held
by opposition rebels.
According to documents seen by
Panorama, police officers in Aleppo
province were forced to hand over
cash to the extremist group in control
of the area, Nour al-Din al-Zinki. The
programme, Jihadis You Pay For, also
claims that Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian
branch of al-Qaida until a split in 2016,
had handpicked police officers for two
stations in Idlib province. Other evidence suggested dead and fictitious
people were on the force’s payroll.
Adam Smith International, which
strongly denies the allegations, said
it had managed taxpayers’ money
“effectively to confront terrorism”.
When the company visited one police station, supposedly the base for 57
police officers, it could not find a single
officer, the investigation found. The
contractor said it accounted for the officers on subsequent visits and that it
had found very few instances of dead
officers remaining on the salary list in
Syria. It said it used cash because there
was “no practical alternative” and that
officers imposed by Jabhat al-Nusra
were detected within two months.
Payments to the stations funding the extremist group Nour al-Din
al-Zinki were stopped in August 2016,
it added.
Jabhat al-Nusra
police officers for
two stations in
Idlib province,
a documentary
In a statement published last Sunday, Adam Smith International said
the allegations about the Ajacs project
were “false and misleading”.
Kate Osamor, Labour’s shadow
secretary of state for international
development, said that if the allegations were true, British taxpayers
would be “rightly outraged”.
She added: “The opaque Conflict,
Stability and Security Fund that
financed this project also operates
in 70 other countries – many with
questionable human rights records.”
Funds come from Britain’s £13bn
($17.5bn) foreign aid budget, which is
allocated largely by the Department
for International Development but
also spent by other departments including the Foreign Office (FCO).
An FCO spokesman said: “We take
any allegations of cooperation with
terrorist groups and of human rights
abuses extremely seriously and the
Foreign Office has suspended this
programme while we investigate these
allegations. Such work in Syria is important to protect our national security interest but of course we reach this
judgment carefully given that in such
a challenging environment no activity
is without risk. That is why all our programmes are designed carefully and
subject to robust monitoring.”
News in brief
Kicker here like this
Then a short description here like this
→ Then Section and Page XX
• UK rail fares will rise by
3.4% in January – the largest
increase for five years. Fares
for all journeys in 2018 show
an average rise slightly below
the 3.6% set by the government in August for regulated
fares, which include season
tickets. Rail operators said
it showed the industry was
attempting to keep down the
cost of travel. Unions said
it was “another kick in the
teeth” for passengers paying
the highest fares in Europe.
Paul Plummer, chief executive
of the Rail Delivery Group,
which speaks for the train
companies, said: “Money from
fares is underpinning the partnership railway’s long-term
plan to change and improve.”
• Royal Bank of Scotland is
closing 259 branches, a quarter of its network, in a move
that puts nearly 700 jobs at
risk and sparked warnings
about the end of high street
banking. The bailed-out
lender said 62 Royal Bank of
Scotland and 197 NatWest
branches would shut as
customers went online. The
Unite union said 1,000 roles
faced the axe, although the
bank – 71% owned by the taxpayer – said the move would
result in 680 redundancies
after redeployment.
• Net migration to Britain
over the past 12 months has
fallen by the largest amount
since records began, with
EU nationals accounting for
three-quarters of those who
chose to return to their native
country, official figures show.
In evidence that a “Brexodus” is under way, the latest
figures show net migration
to Britain fell by 106,000 to
230,000 in the 12 months to
June. The Office for National
Statistics said three-quarters
of the 106,000 reduction in
net migration from its 336,000
peak in June 2016 – the month
of the referendum – was accounted for by EU nationals.
• Facebook will create 800
new jobs in London over the
next year, increasing its UK
workforce by more than 50%,
as it opened a new office in
the capital on Monday. The
US tech giant has had offices
in the UK for 10 years, but its
expansion marks a vote of
confidence in the UK. By the
end of next year, Facebook
said it would employ more
than 2,300 people in the UK.
18 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
It’s time for
Britain to
end special
Jonathan Freedland
The neurotic link with
the US should be broken.
Trump’s hateful tweets
will help make the break
Probe points
to Kushner
Jill Abramson
The investigation into
Trump’s Russia links is
taking a new twist: his
son-in-law’s in the frame
hen Donald Trump took the oath
of office, less than 11 months
ago, the word of the hour was
normalisation. Let’s not treat
this man like a normal president,
his US opponents said, because
he’s not. You can’t, for example,
assume that most of what he or his White House says is
the truth – as you would for a normal occupant of that
office – because he is a serial and proven liar. And sometimes it will not be enough to describe his words or deeds
as “controversial” or “racially charged”, because the
right word will be “racist”.
For most of the past year, that normalisation debate
has raged chiefly inside the US. But now it is a global
question. Put simply, how should the peoples of the
world handle Donald Trump?
That question pressed in on Britain particularly
sharply last week, after Trump retweeted three inflammatory and unverified anti-Muslim videos shared by
the deputy leader of the Britain First group, a faction of
the far right so far off the spectrum that an unfamiliar
chorus of voices united to condemn the president for
legitimising its message. Even Nigel Farage and the
conspiracy-theorist headbangers of America’s Infowars
website struggled to defend him.
Not content with demonising non-whites in his
own country, Trump was now promoting a group
hellbent on spreading fear and loathing in ours. In
the process, and by angering those who had previously
kept silent, Trump brought a rare degree of unity to
these fractured islands.
The focus now is on Theresa May’s invitation to
Trump to come to Britain on a state visit. She made that
offer – usually extended only late in a presidency – on
that lightning trip to Washington, when the prime minister thought it would be smart to be the first foreign
leader to visit the new president, and to come bearing
extravagant gifts. How she must regret that move now.
Still, the very fact that this ludicrous situation even
exists points to a larger problem: the absurdity that is
the so-called special relationship.
So-called because it’s only the Brits who call it that.
The Americans never use the phrase unprompted.
When they do, it’s only out of an embarrassed obligation to accommodate British neediness. A former
state department official, Jeremy Shapiro, admitted
in October that his bosses were always careful to use
the phrase when the Brits were in town, “but really we
laughed about it behind the scenes”.
Yet it matters to us Brits desperately – and the Americans can smell our desperation. How much time does a
visiting British prime minister get with the president?
What kind of gift do they hand over? Is the body language warm or chilly? All these questions have obsessed
the political class, policymakers and journalists alike,
for decades. But this is not diplomacy, it’s neurosis.
Perhaps one could laugh off this behaviour, dismissing
as mere pathos the notion of a country that thinks it alone
has a special relationship with Washington, unaware that
a 2009 study found that 14 of 25 EU nations surveyed all
ame of Trumps is about to get really
bloody. With special counsel Robert
Mueller’s investigation moving ever
closer to President Trump himself, it
looks like someone inside the family
is about to be sacrificed. With Michael
Flynn, Trump’s former national
security adviser, pleading guilty last week to the charge
of lying to the FBI, much more about the Russia scandal
is now coming into focus. The Flynn flip was by far
the most dramatic event so far in the investigation into
alleged Russian interference in 2016’s US presidential
race. Flynn’s evidence can only lead up the chain of
power towards Trump.
Consider this chronology. On 23 November it was
widely reported that Flynn had informed the Trump
legal team that he could no longer discuss the case
with them. The end of cooperation with Trump surely
signalled the beginning of cooperation with Mueller.
Two days later the New York Times and Washington Post carried nearly identical stories about Jared
Kushner’s waning influence.
The Times story had three bylines, including Maggie
Haberman, the president’s go-to reporter. It concluded:
“Mr Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior
adviser, who had been in seemingly every meeting and
every photograph, has lately disappeared from public
view and, according to some colleagues, taken on a
more limited role behind the scenes.”
Ashley Parker, who was a frontline reporter on
the Trump campaign for the Times and now covers
the White House for the Post, parroted virtually the
same line in a story headlined “The shrinking profile
of Jared Kushner”.
Someone high up in the White House seemed anxious
for the word to spread. The Times story was attributed,
in part, to three “advisers to the president”. Parker’s
included an earlier interview with Kushner and came
“from interviews with Kushner himself, as well as 12
senior administration officials, aides, outside advisers
and confidants, some speaking on condition of anonymity to offer a more candid assessment”.
Both stories raised the question of how long Kushner
and his wife, Ivanka, the president’s daughter, would
remain in Washington.
The Flynn plea deal makes clear that he was not acting as a lone ranger in his communications with Russian
officials, including the Russian ambassador to the US,
Sergey Kislyak. Documents show that Flynn was told
to call the Russians and other key international officials
Robert G Fresson
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 19
Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on
Foreign Relations.
We are, says Leonard, over-invested emotionally in
the fantasy we call the special relationship. Yes, there
is shared history; and, yes, intelligence and special
forces cooperation is intensely close. But for the rest we
need to end the neurotic neediness – and be a bit more
like the French.
It’s striking that Emmanuel Macron has managed
both to host Trump in Paris and to stand up to him
on, say, climate change, with a minimum of psychodrama. Indeed, the US president is said to like his
French counterpart a lot. Part of that will be personal:
a misogynist like Trump was bound to show more
respect to a man than to May.
believed they, too, were special to the Americans. But
this fetish has real-world consequences.
It was the driving spirit behind Tony Blair’s
catastrophic decision to support the US-led invasion of
Iraq in 2003. Blair’s judgment was that the paramount
strategic objective was to be at Washington’s side:
“With you, whatever.” All other considerations were
subordinate to that goal.
That same urge propelled May to visit Trump in
Washington too soon, where she “put her career, her
reputation and the national interest in the hands of
someone who can land almost anywhere on any topic
and be on the opposite side the very next day”, says
to discuss the sanctions President Obama was placing
on Russia for interfering in the US election. Within
minutes of the plea deal being announced, several
news organisations reported that Kushner was the one
directing Flynn’s communications, which Flynn then
lied about to the FBI.
In the statement Flynn made about his guilty plea, he
noted that he made the decision to cooperate because it
was in the best interests of his family. No doubt this is a
reference to his own son, Michael Flynn Jr, who worked
for his father during the transition.
Until now, Kushner has survived the fights that are
common inside Trump’s circle. During the campaign
he dictated changes in the campaign leadership. In the
White House, he won a bloody duel with Steve Bannon,
whose hard-right, nationalist agenda was set back as a
result. But Kushner’s time may be up.
The clues that Kushner has been pulling the strings
on Russia are everywhere. Before the Trumps were even
in the White House, he tried to set up a backchannel to
communicate with the Russians. He then pushed Flynn
hard to try to turn Russia around on an anti-Israel vote
by the UN security council.
Then there were the secret reassurances to the
Russians that the Obama sanctions were nothing to
ut it’s also true that France has long managed to be more detached than Britain
in its dealings with the US. Paris decides
what it wants to achieve in the world, and
either works with or against Washington,
depending on what best serves its interests.
So while Blair followed George W Bush to
Baghdad, Jacques Chirac had no hesitation in staying
well out of it. For Robin Niblett, director of international
affairs thinktank Chatham House, it’s clear we need to
ditch the sentimental guff and “be more hard-nosed”.
Hold on, say the Brexiteers. Maybe there was a time
when we could have loosened our links to the US, but
not now: once we’ve left the EU, they say, we will need
the US as a partner in a new free trade agreement.
Even if you buy that logic, Trump is the wrong man
to rely on. We know he regards free trade as a con: the
only good deal, he once wrote, is one in which “you
crush the opponent and come away with something
better for yourself”. As a matter of principle, he doesn’t
believe in win-win. He is a zero-sum merchant – and he
will make sure Britain gets zero.
So now, at the end of this first year of Trump, is the
ideal time to ditch our delusions. If Britain is to be a
grown-up country, with a measure of self-respect, the
time has come to look at the US with clear eyes – and
to treat it as an ally whose leaders change. Sometimes
those leaders will reflect our values and interests; sometimes they will clash with them; and, very occasionally,
they will actively undermine them. When that happens, we have to be ready to stand up for ourselves and
against Washington. Now is one of those moments.
worry about once Trump took office. Kushner was
behind those machinations, too.
hat he told the president about
firing former FBI director James
Comey will be critical in assessing
whether Kushner is also vulnerable to obstruction of justice
charges. Those details are yet
to leak. Other clues include that
fishy meeting during the campaign to get dirt on Hillary
Clinton from a Russian lawyer close to Vladimir Putin.
Kushner was there, too.
And, during the transition, his meeting with a
sanctioned Russian bank. There was also the failure
to include some of these contacts on his initial federal
disclosure forms.
Declining power. Flynn turning state’s witness. It
doesn’t look good for Kushner. When President Trump
turned over his business empire to his two sons, he said
that if they did a bad job he would not hesitate to say:
“You’re fired.” The same is surely true for his son-in-law.
But what Kushner fears more is Mueller saying: “You’re
charged.” How he might deal with this, and what this
might mean for President Trump, no one yet knows.
It’s only the Brits who
call it the special
The Americans never
use the phrase
It looks like someone
inside the family is
about to be sacrificed
20 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
Attacks on
Sufism are
the real
HA Hellyer
Ellie Foreman-Peck
The Sufi tradition is
an integral part of Islam.
The hateful ideology
that insists otherwise
ignores history and
distorts the truth
ast month more than 300 Muslim worshippers were murdered in a mosque by
presumably extremist Islamists in Egypt.
One reason for the attack is a deeply ideological one, which relates to the Sufi
tendency of many of those massacred.
That ideological component is a problem
that Muslim communities the world over must tackle
– a virulent strain of extremist thought that ironically
rejects orthodoxy, while insisting it is the most orthodox.
In much of the international reportage around this
brutal massacre, words such as “Sufi minority” were
used, as though Sufism was some kind of marginalised
sect or cult. That perception is not the perspective of the
mainstream of Islamic thought. Historically, Sufism was
regarded by Islamic scholars as being an integral part of
the broader religious disciplines.
To describe Sufism as a sect would be akin to describing the different legal rites of Sunni Islam as “sects”. Of
course, this is precisely what the extremists do. They
will often declare in their rhetoric that Sufis are guilty of
shirk (idolatry) due to their bida (deviance). The irony is
that while such extremists insist that they are following
the most “pure” version of Islam, they have rejected a
fundamental part of mainstream Islamic thought.
In that regard, such extremists are themselves a sect.
The majority of Islamic scholarship is deeply influenced
by Sufism, and Islam’s most famous figures upheld it
as a core part of the faith. There were critics of certain
excesses, to be sure – but they were also Sufis themselves. Sitting alongside this is the incorrect narrative
that Sufis are somehow the “moderate” or “peaceful”
part of the global Muslim community. To declare them
as such is to fall into the framing that Sufis are somehow
wholly distinguishable from the overwhelming majority
of Muslims. The framing also suggests that the broad
majority of Muslims are not peaceful or moderate, and
that these “Sufi Muslims” are some kind of exception.
While some may wish to promote that kind of
dichotomy, it’s a rather baseless one – the overwhelming
majority of Muslims are not extreme, but are peaceful.
It’s because of that reality that they, as Muslims, are the
primary victims of groups such as Islamic State.
Second, it is important to be aware that it is not just
extremist Islamists who deny the historical authenticity
of Sufism. It is true that the likes of Isis and others have
declared their open rejection of Sufism, and their media
outlets have been inciting violence against Sufis. But
that rhetoric does not come out of a vacuum.
There are scores of preachers who are influenced by
purist Salafi notions of what proper Islam ought to look
like, who have been speaking against Sufis for a very
long time. While some leading Sufi figures have been
rather uncompromising in their own views, Sufi traditions recognise the plurality of Islam, which is at the
core of their own critique of purist Salafism – that the
latter fails to recognise that pluralism.
Purist Salafis by and large do not preach vigilante
violence. But the rhetoric many purist Salafis employ
against Sufism provides a type of background noise that
more radical extremists will quite happily exploit.
Extremism is not an intrinsically Muslim problem.
But there is an extremist ideology that exists.
If we are to tackle extremism in general, it isn’t a
“reformation of Islam” that anyone ought to be looking
for. Indeed, in a sense, that took place already, and one
result of that was the extremist rejection of orthodox
Sufism by many, who then claimed to be more orthodox
than anyone else. Any holistic response to the challenge
of extremism will need to address that fallacy.
HA Hellyer is senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic
Council and the Royal United Services Institute in London
More at
Opinion In brief
What to get your dog for Christmas?
We love vinyl – and a bit of inconvenience
Sales of Christmas pressies for pets
have gone up 300% over the last
two years, according to newspaper
reports. And the gifts seem to be
getting swankier: dog cologne for
£12.95 ($17.50) a pop, cat beds for
£449, pet tipis at £54. And I thought
most people were hard up.
There’s nothing wrong with
giving your pets presents. But,
speaking as a dog owner, doing so
should come with a warning. It’s
the present-opening that dogs love
even more than the present. What,
after all, is more fun than ripping
something open and tearing it to
shreds? Even if it isn’t yours.
You need spend barely a minute
wondering what the dogs will want.
You already know. Anything edible,
noisy and wrapped up. They don’t
want the latest toy or bit of technology; they don’t know about trends,
status, style, or whether you gave
As HMV records its biggest sales
of long-playing records since the
1980s, is it time to scrap the Spotify
and dust off the turntable?
Anyone who grew up with longplaying vinyl will appreciate its
appeal – the warmth of its sound,
the “rightness” of its length, the
indelibly irritating click of that
scratch where the cat once jumped
on the moving turntable.
Perhaps music has become too
easy to access: in a world where
a button can playlist the hits of
JS Bach to follow those of Stormzy
and Led Zeppelin, perhaps this is
a cry for a bit more difficulty, an
escape from the world that Bowie
predicted, where everything is
available “like running water or
electricity”, and nothing is valuable.
Perhaps we all subconsciously
want our lives to be a little more
them the same thing last year, or
whether their present only cost peanuts. There is no need to go over the
top with advent calendars, crackers
and beers. The dog does not give
a sniff whether his ball-thrower is
a retro wooden model. It doesn’t
insist that its biscuits taste seasonal.
My dogs have consistently rejected
Christmas-dinner-flavoured treats.
In the current climate, it might
be sickening to see people frittering
away vast amounts of money on dog
presents. Otherwise, why not? Their
presents are partly for us. They give
us a chance to stop being sensible
and to have a laugh. This, after all, is
a festival of lights, intended to keep
the gloom at bay.
And if you really want to buy
a dog a serious present, why not
rescue one for Christmas? That
would be the best present any dog
could get. Michele Hanson
If that’s the case, late-20th-century
Britain still has a lot to offer us.
It is Friday lunchtime, and every
single bank has a queue snaking out
of the door and on to the cracked
pavement, where the rainwater from
the gutter is making tidal waves
from the few passing Austin Allegros
that haven’t already fallen to pieces.
Such is the attachment to difficulty
here that these cars are made with
a rectangular steering wheel, making them skittish on a good day and
lethal on a bad one. Stuff your selfdriving cars. This is what we want.
While you’re at it, bring back
milk in glass bottles, rotary-dial
telephones, shops with ashtrays,
travel agents, insurance brokers,
and household showers with all the
water pressure of a middle-aged
midnight piddler. Bring it all back.
Progress? Pah! Wind up the gramophone and let’s dance. Nigel Kendall
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 21
In praise of ...
sanctuary for seabirds
Theresa May issued a carefully worded rebuke of Donald Trump’s retweeting of Islamophobic videos
If Green lied
then he
must go
Matthew d’Ancona
Tory modernisers would
be furious if Theresa
May’s deputy is shown
to betray everything
that they stand for
o change the controversy, change the
question. In July 2003, Joseph C Wilson,
a former US ambassador, wrote a New
York Times article casting serious doubt
on President Bush’s claim that Saddam
Hussein had been seeking uranium in
Niger. This posed the question: why did we
go to war in Iraq?
A week later, a Washington Post columnist disclosed
that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative.
Suddenly the question changed to: what is the couple’s
agenda? As a distraction, it worked a treat: Plame’s
career in intelligence lay in ruins, and Wilson’s revelation about the limitations of Saddam’s WMD programme
was lost in a Washington soap opera.
Compare the behaviour of Damian Green’s allies in
recent days. On 1 November, the writer Kate Maltby reported that he had made sexual advances towards her
in 2015 and 2016. Four days later, the Sunday Times reported that police had found pornography on a computer
seized from Green’s parliamentary office in 2008. Last
Friday, in a BBC exclusive on the Today programme, Neil
Lewis, a former Scotland Yard detective, declared that
he had “absolutely no doubt whatsoever”, after forensic
analysis of the machine, that Green had accessed “thousands” of pornographic images.
Green, the UK’s first secretary of state and Theresa
May’s de facto deputy, strongly denies all the allegations, which are now under investigation by Sue Gray,
the Cabinet Office’s head of propriety and ethics. Her job
is to establish whether Green behaved appropriately.
Last weekend, however, his senior supporters tried to
change the question. What they now ask, with the cold
fury of Tories clutching Magna Carta, is whether the police are conducting a vendetta against Green.
You can bet that further investigations will be
mounted in the long-running feud between the embattled cabinet minister and the police. But let us not be so
easily swayed by the studied outrage of the Green camp.
It is very possible that certain former coppers do not like
him, but that what they have alleged still stands.
Little terns and black-throated
divers are among the seabirds
that have been given greater
protection after a stretch of
coastline in Cornwall was awarded
special status. The marine special
protected area, which stretches
for 40km between Falmouth Bay
and St Austell Bay, is home to more
than 150,000 rare seabirds.
Great northern divers and
Eurasian spoonbills are also visitors
along with sandwich terns and common terns. All are amber-listed by
conservation groups because they
have suffered significant losses of
numbers and range recently.
The newly designated stretch
of land has been set up to help
minimise disturbance to the birds
that feed there and who use the
Cornish coastal areas as a safe haven
during winter. The latest expansion
of Britain’s marine special protected
areas will make a significant addition to the UK Blue Belt programme,
which already protects 23% of UK
waters. Robin McKie Observer
On the question of Green’s allegedly epic consumption of porn, I imagine that if this is proved, most people
will be wondering why an MP can get away with behaviour for which almost every UK worker would be sacked.
What really matters, though, is that we do not lose
sight of the broader picture. Gray has a formidable task.
It is not her job to say whether MPs should watch smut
in their offices: that responsibility is borne by Kathryn
Hudson, the parliamentary commissioner for standards.
But it is most certainly Gray’s job to assess whether
Green has told lies about his alleged consumption of
porn, just as she must judge whether he is telling the
truth about the alleged sexual misconduct.
Full disclosure: I am a good friend of Maltby and was
so at the time of the alleged incidents. I am astonished
by the suggestion that she is making these claims as a
publicity stunt or to climb on a bandwagon.
For more than 20 years I have praised Green as one
of the few senior Tories who grasped the need for rootand-branch reform of the party. In July, as most Conservatives made excuses for the party’s pathetic election
performance, he had the clarity of insight to insist that
“we need to think hard, work hard, and change hard”.
But that is precisely why there is such a strong sense
of anger among Conservative modernisers, especially
women MPs and activists, who feel that Green may have
betrayed utterly what they have fought for.
Needless to say it will be a disaster for May if Green
is not given a clean bill of health by the Cabinet Office
inquiry. But it will also be a serious setback for those
who have struggled for decades to persuade voters
that the Tory party is not a tribe of self-serving sexists,
bigots and xenophobes. If Green is found to be a sex
pest, what hope for the rest of them?
The matter before Gray is one of simple ethics:
did this man behave unacceptably towards women,
and did he lie about that and other matters? If he did,
he will have to go. And if he does, he will not be the
victim of a “witch-hunt”, a police stitch-up, or a smear
campaign, but of his disloyalty to the very principles
for which he once stood.
22 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
Refugees and migrants
Solidarity, not fear
The scale of the global humanitarian crisis
that has been unfolding since the Arab spring
precipitated revolt and instability across the
Middle East in 2011 can feel overwhelming. In
the past few weeks alone, terrible stories have
emerged of the brutal treatment of Rohingya
Muslims, forced to flee Myanmar to grim
camps in neighbouring Bangladesh. Recently
CNN ran a devastating film shot undercover in
Libya showing young migrants from Nigeria
being auctioned into slavery. The impact of
the CNN report drew unflattering attention
to the EU-backed programme run by Libya
to detain and repatriate migrants in order to
prevent them attempting the Mediterranean
crossing into Italy or Spain. This is an arrangement of convenience for Europe. It has led to
migrants being held in wretched and degrading conditions that were condemned by the
UN as “inhuman”.
Last week the EU met with members of the
African Union in Addis Ababa. The EU has
now signed up to a programme to repatriate
migrants rather than leaving the huge task
to a country that is still in turmoil after the
fall of Gaddafi, which was backed by the UK,
France and the US.
The great majority of the world’s displaced
people flee to the nearest safe place, often another poor or middle-income country: in the
past year a million refugees have arrived in
Uganda from South Sudan. By far the largest
part of the responsibility for those displaced
around the Middle East has been borne by
neighbouring countries, in particular Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Europe has been
reluctant and defensive in responding to a
crisis for which it is at least partly to blame.
There has been a complete failure to agree
a fair process for resettlement of refugees
across the 28 member states. Greece and Italy have been left, for years now, to manage
an unprecedented influx of desperate men,
women and children. In an unparalleled international political vacuum, there has been
little global leadership.
Last year the New York declaration on refugees and migrants tried to lay the framework
for a positive approach. It starts with recognising realities: the forces that motivate young
people to risk death in the hope of a better life
need to be met not by the kind of resistance
that ends up with thousands being penned
up in a filthy Libyan detention centre, but by
opening up legal channels of migration.
This time next year a UN refugee summit in
Morocco aims to have a programme for legal
migration in place. A humane policy for migrants would make it easier to distinguish and
meet our obligations to refugees, those who
flee in fear. But all of this depends on changing
attitudes, above all moving away from the language of threat. Many people in the rich world
want to – and do – support refugees. Fear often
speaks with a powerful voice. But so can that
other great human emotion, solidarity.
Catalonia election
The challenge of compromise
Campaigning in Catalonia’s 21 December regional election began officially on Tuesday.
Opinion polls show pro- and anti-independence political parties running neck and neck.
But the outcome will shape the future not just
of Catalonia and Spain but of other European
nations and EU institutions.
This election was triggered by the Madrid government after it enacted article 155
of the Spanish constitution in October – an
unprecedented move that led to the formal
suspension of the region’s autonomy. Spain’s
prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, hoped this
would help him to gain time while working
to dampen secessionist feeling, including by
floating ideas about an enhanced version of
Catalan autonomy for the future. More, not
less, political turmoil could lie ahead.
The political battle comes with a legal
one. On Monday a Spanish supreme court
judge decided not to release Catalan cabinet
members so that they can run in the election. The ministers are currently in custody
accused of sedition, rebellion and misuse of
public funds, all of which they deny.
Meanwhile the ousted Catalan president,
Carles Puigdemont, has sought refuge in Brussels with four of his former ministers. The
move has divided his sympathisers. Some
depict it as a case of forced exile, others as a
flight from responsibility. Mr Puigdemont cuts
something of a lonely figure now. He has been
badly frustrated by the lack of support from
European leaders.
Madrid’s attitude is unpopular in Catalonia.
Yet Catalan public opinion is fragmented, not
united, on what course to follow.
Catalan radicals talk about historic aspirations that were crushed under Franco and are
again in danger. A more immediate reality is
that Catalonia’s post-Franco regional autonomy now needs to be firmly re-established
and strengthened. This month’s vote is a key
test for Catalan and Spanish democracy. Dialogue and compromise remain good options.
The next weeks will show if they are realistic.
Will French be
the world’s new
lingua franca?
Steven Poole
Are we turning into a French-speaking planet? That was the surprising
possibility raised by president Emmanuel Macron on a recent visit to
Burkina Faso. “French will be the
first language of Africa,” he said,
plausibly, before adding, “perhaps
the world.” Ah, oui? C’est vrai?
No, this is preposterous, and
therefore very French. It’s true
that a 2014 study did indeed suggest that French could be the most
spoken language of the world by
2050 – assuming enormous population increases in Africa. But, given
that French is currently the first
language of only 75 million people,
most observers still bet on English
or Mandarin Chinese. Macron’s real
message, perhaps, was simply that
France is important – because talking up the French language has always been a proxy way of talking up
the importance of France itself.
It’s not that French is dead on
the global stage. French is still one
of the official languages of the UN,
Nato, the International Olympic
Committee and Eurovision. But the
days of its global pomp, when it was
the language of international diplomacy and spoken by much of the
global elite, are long gone.
Macron’s dream of a mainly
French-speaking planet almost certainly won’t come to pass, but its invocation is a clever rhetorical gambit: it implies a new swashbuckling
spirit in France, conveniently represented by the president himself,
as well as perhaps a sly assertion of
increased French strength within
the EU as Germany struggles to form
a government.
But the departure of Britain from
the EU will probably fail to help the
status of French as an official language. When I visited the European
commission recently, it was explained to me with regret that English is already the lingua franca in
EU business because it is everyone’s
second language.
No matter, though. We admire the
French – do we not? – precisely for
their lovable self-importance. And
French will always retain its allure to
literary and romantic types. It is still
the language of elan, of insouciance,
of existentialism. Perhaps if Macron’s
dream of the global primacy of the
French language doesn’t succeed in
this world, it will in the next.
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 23
Thank you for all the impressive
articles on Zimbabwe, especially
those by David Smith and Ranga
Mberi (24 November). Although
recent political events were sparked
by infighting inside the regime, the
appalling domestic, economic and
social situation in the country was
also a catalyst for change.
Zimbabwe has a literacy rate of
91%, but this is no benefit if the
country is one of the poorest and
people can barely subsist.
The new leader of Zimbabwe has
said he wants to fix the economy
and called for the lifting of sanctions. The international community
could exert pressure by offering to
do this in stages, when the regime
takes steps towards real democracy.
I’m not surprised that the new
leadership in Zimbabwe want to
let Mugabe keep his ill-gotten
gains and give him immunity, as
prosecuting him would also shed
light on his cronies’ corruption
and atrocities. But I hope that
the removal of Mugabe is the first
step to real freedom. It would be
a great pity if the Zanu-PF party
elite were to carry on with business as usual. Hopefully the people
can find ways to push forward the
struggle for their rights without
more brutal repression.
It is incredibly heartening to see
such wonderful developments.
Maybe other corrupt regimes in
Africa are afraid of similar events
and will give in to the people’s
wishes for fundamental change.
Steven Katsineris
Hurstbridge, Victoria, Australia
Stop blaming the Russians
Tom McCarthy (A nation divided by
impostors, 27 October) and Natalie
Nougayrède (Russian cyberwarfare
threatens democracy itself, 10 November) need to get real about the
impact of Russian interference using
fake social media accounts.
Do they really think that the
tiny amount spent by the Russians
in spreading misinformation had
more impact than the half-truths
promulgated in the lead-up to the
US election by multimillion-dollar
Letters for publication
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Guardian Weekly, Kings Place,
90 York Way, London N1 9GU, UK
Gary Kempston
What next for Zimbabwe?
donors, or nightly by Fox News?
The truth is that there was already
fertile soil for that misinformation
to thrive in.
Blaming America’s divisions
on Russia’s interference conveniently shifts blame away from the
nastiness that has already taken root
in America.
Ron Thomson
Nelson, New Zealand
Political blood relatives
Unlike Julian Borger, George Orwell
would not have been surprised
by the anti-democratic alliance of
radical libertarians and conventional
despots (24 November). They are
usually blood relatives, with the
former often adopting the “libertarian” label, or similar euphemisms,
as a disguise in places where
“autocracy” is in disrepute.
Here in Australia, the
conservative government that
jails refugees offshore but shows
strong sympathy for the fossil-fuel
industry and the right to denigrate
minorities is called the “Liberal
party”. For those confused by the
semantic fog pumped out by the
hard right, they can be detected by
a strong smell of xenophobia.
John Hayward
Weegena, Tasmania, Australia
We have too many toys
So Damian Carrington tells us that
various megatrends will help to turn
the tide against catastrophic global
warming (24 November). I have
To contact the editor directly:
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my doubts, since no one has yet
proposed to “take our toys away”.
We might have more renewables, more electric cars and more
efficiency, but how can we seriously believe that this will solve the
problem? Indeed, you only have to
ponder megatrend number four –
electric cars – to realise that this is
hogwash. We can’t even cover current electricity needs with renewables, so where will the electricity
come from to power all those cars?
Take a look at our skies, where
planes jostle for position. And at
our roads, where oversized trucks
haul millions of tons of “stuff ”
backwards and forwards unnecessarily so that we can enjoy cheap
shopping and corporations can
turn a hefty profit. Yes, you only
have to look at the mountains of
tat being piled up in our shops in
preparation for Christmas to know
that this is the case, but we simply
don’t seem to care.
I won’t believe that we are serious
about preventing climate change
until someone really does start to
“take our toys away”. And there is
no sign of that happening.
Alan Mitcham
Cologne, Germany
• It’s a pity that from the suggested
canon of great women film-makers
(24 November), only Agnès Varda
is convincing. What about Kelly
Reichardt, Naomi Kawase, Catherine
Breillat, Jane Campion?
John Aspinall
Castelnau d’Auzan, France
• We don’t need a border between
the two Irelands at all (1 December).
Reunite the island: the Northern
Irish can then stay in the EU as
they wish to do and my forebears
will rejoice. Great Britain can then
go its own way.
Derek Murphy
Bad Pyrmont, Germany
• Prince Harry is to wed an American divorcee? (1 December). The last
time a member of the royal family
did that, matters did not end well.
Alan Williams-Key
Madrid, Spain
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From the archive
8 December 1988
Gorbachev eases
Europe’s fears
This is not just the end of the Cold
War. Mikhail Gorbachev sought yesterday to announce the birth of ‘a
new world order through a universal
human consensus.’ And the midwife
of this new world is his promise to
end the age-old European nightmare
of invasion from the East.
The Russian steamroller has
loomed over Europe since it first
invaded, on the heels of Napoleon’s
retreat from Moscow in 1812. The
superpower confrontation across
the Iron Curtain that has locked
the developed world into two overarmed alliances has lasted since Gorbachev was a teenager. More than
two-thirds of the earth’s population
have known no other world.
As that era withers, a new and
more complicated world awaits us.
The first cries of that new world will
be heard this week, as Nato looks at
its plans to modernise short-range
nuclear weapons in the light of the
Gorbachev troop cuts. Dismantling
six of the 15 forward-based tank
divisions in eastern Europe, or 40
per cent of the punch potential for
a Soviet invasion of Nato, may not
bring about military parity on the
central front. But it should remove
Nato’s worst-case scenario of a surprise attack from a standing start.
By promising to reduce Soviet forces
in the European USSR and eastern
Europe, [Gorbachev] removes many
of the reserves any Soviet attack on
Nato would need. And on Mr Gorbachev’s other tense frontier, the
bamboo curtain with China, he also
promised to ‘reduce significantly’
the troops stationed in Asia.
The small print remains to be
studied. The head count of soldiers
and tanks going back to inland barracks has yet to be checked. But Gorbachev’s promise was clear: ‘We are
witnessing the emergence of a new
historic reality – a turning away from
the principle of superarmament to
the principle of reasonable defence
sufficiency,’ he announced.
But before declaring that peace
has broken out, it is worth noting
what Mr Gorbachev did not say
yesterday. He did not announce the
demolition of the Berlin Wall. And
there was no suggestion of an end to
the military conscription that keeps
the Soviet military far bigger than
the all-volunteer American forces.
The vision of a new global order
has been unfurled by Gorbachev.
Now the nitpicking begins as the old
world piles up its objections.
Martin Walker
24 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
Pope Francis receives a traditional honour guard during a welcome ceremony on his arrival in Dhaka, Bangladesh during a tour of south Asia. The Pope met a group of Rohingya refugees who fle
Young Saudi Arabian women have a King Kong moment while attending the first Comic-Con
Arabia event in the capital, Riyadh Fayez Nureldine/Getty
An elephant demolishes a house during an eviction drive inside Amchang wildlife sanctuary near
Gauhati, Assam, India. Hundreds of people live illegally within the reserve Anupam Nath/AP
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 25
ed Myanmar amid accusations of ethnic cleansing there Max Rossi/Reuters
Britain’s Prince Harry poses with Meghan Markle after announcing their engagement.
The couple will marry at Windsor Castle in May Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA
Balinese students ride to school as Mount Agung spews smoke and ash. The Indonesian island
volcano has erupted for the first time in more than half a century Firdia Lisnawati/AP
A robot at the Kimono Roboto exhibition at Space O in Tokyo, Japan, wears a kimono
created by a Japanese Living National Treasures artisan Franck Robichon/EPA
26 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 27
Digging for victory
Where archaeology and war intersect
→ Discovery, pages 32-33
The final battle for Mosul
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad followed Iraqi soldiers through treacherous ruins as
they made their last push against Isis. But with the city’s liberation, a new
wave of savagery was unleashed. Will this be the real legacy of the war?
ne hot and sticky evening in July,
in the dying days of the battle for
Mosul, a group of Iraqi army officers
sat for dinner in a requisitioned
civilian house not far from the ruins
of the mosque where, three years
earlier, the leader of Islamic State had announced
the creation of a new caliphate.
At the head of the table sat the commander,
large and burly, flanked by his two majors. The
other officers were seated according to rank, with
the youngest at the far end. The commander, who
was trying to lose weight, had banned his cook from
serving meat at mealtimes, but tonight was a special
occasion. The day before, his unit had liberated
another block of streets in the Old City without
casualties. In celebration, a feast of bread soaked in
okra stew, and roasted meat shredded over heaps
of rice, was laid out on a white plastic table.
Over the previous eight months, since the commander and his men had started fighting in Mosul,
the caliphate had shrunk to a tiny sliver of the Old
City squeezed between the River Tigris and advancing columns of army and police forces. Thousands
of Isis fighters, who captured the city in 2014, were
now trapped, living without running water or electricity, with dwindling supplies, being bombed day
and night by US drones and jets. Caught in the siege
with them were thousands of civilians. The few who
were managing to escape came out filthy, emaciated
and crazed by thirst and the constant bombing.
The officers at dinner that night were all veterans of the war against Isis, but nothing in their long
years of fighting compared to what they had experienced over the past few weeks in Mosul, one of the
fiercest urban battles since the second world war.
They fought in narrow alleyways, old stone houses
and dense networks of tunnels and basements.
Their advance was sometimes measured in metres,
and their casualties were mounting.
“We have one more battle and Mosul will be fully
liberated, inshallah,” the commander said as he
tucked into his meal. A captain who was still limping
from a recent injury said: “Our fathers used to talk
about the Iran-Iraq war as the ‘long war’. That one
lasted for eight years. Well, soon this war against
Isis will surpass it.”
Laughing, the commander asked the officers
to open the military maps on their phones and
proceeded to explain the plan for the next day’s
advance. “You jump into this building, make a fire
base here and here at street corners,” he said, giving
them the coordinates of the street. “You advance
towards this high building. Your flanks will be
secured by other units. Once you take the building,
you will dominate the whole area with your snipers
and we can reach the river in few hours.”
To the last man ... Iraqi soldiers shoot at Isis
fighters hiding behind a berm in the Old City of
Mosul Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
Before leaving, a wiry junior officer named Taha
asked the commander: “Sir, what do we do with
the two detainees?” The prisoners had crossed the
frontlines the night before and taken shelter with a
civilian who denounced them to the army. “We tried
to hand them to the intelligence service, but they
refused to take them.”
“Yes,” the commander said, “they told me:
‘You deal with detainees from your end. We can’t
hold them because of human rights and Red Cross
“We worked on them all night,” said the junior
officer. “One eventually confessed that he was with
Daesh [Isis], but he said he left them two months
ago.” At that, everyone laughed. “The other,” the
junior officer continued, “we beat him hard but he
didn’t confess, so I think he must be innocent.”
“Just finish them,” said a major.
“Release one and finish the other,” the commander said.
The sentence issued, now came the question of
who would be bestowed with the honour of executing an Isis fighter. Kifah, a tall and lean soldier, stood
next to the table and asked to be given the prisoner.
But the junior officer suggested that they gift the
One of the factors that had
aided Isis’s takeover of
Mosul was the conduct of
the Iraqi army in the city
prisoner to a captain who was still grieving the loss
of his brother, killed by Isis a month ago.
“Call him and give him the detainee,” said the
commander. The officers rose swiftly and stood
to attention as he made his way to the living room
where tea was to be served.
The following morning, Taha and two officers
headed to the Old City to scout the frontline before
the coming battle. They walked through streets
scattered with twisted cars and lorries, past halfcollapsed houses and craters left by airstrikes.
They stopped by the Great Mosque of al-Nuri,
where Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had
addressed his followers in 2014, to snap selfies in
the rubble. The al-Hadba minaret, which had long
been a symbol of the city, with its elegant design and
familiar lean, lay in heaps of 800-year-old bricks. It
had been blown up by retreating Isis fighters.
From behind the ruins, refugees were pouring
out of shelled houses. They emerged dazed after
months of siege. Even by the standards of Mosul,
they were wretched. A soldier carrying an old
woman stopped in the middle of the road to rest.
She clung to his back, fearing that he might leave
her. Taha went to the soldier and lent him a hand,
and together they carried her to a shed where
medics were trying to help other people fleeing.
They were followed by the woman’s young
daughter, who held a large Qur’an in her hands, and
her injured brother, who lay on a stretcher carried
by two soldiers. His bones stuck out of his skinny
flesh, his right leg was bandaged and he had an old
scar that stretched the length of his abdomen. After
depositing him in the shed, the two men left. Now
other soldiers took an interest in him, grabbing him
and starting to question him about his injuries.
“He was trying to get water from the river when
he was shot by a sniper,” cried his sister as her
brother lay in the stretcher, smiling faintly.
“This is the injury of a fighter,” said one soldier.
“Take him to where his brothers are.” Two men
helped the man to his feet and walked him across
the street into an empty shop, where he was shot.
The women screamed, begged and wailed, but
the soldiers ignored them. “You are Daesh,” one
soldier said. “All of you in the Old City are Daesh.”
One of the factors that had aided Isis’s takeover
of Mosul was the conduct of the Iraqi army and
security forces stationed in the city, who behaved
like sectarian occupation forces, mistreating and
detaining the population at will. In the early stages
of the battle for Mosul, the Iraqi army and police,
keen to change their prevailing image, had taken
care to preserve the lives of civilians. But the Old
City was seen as the last refuge of Isis, and almost
every inhabitant was treated as a suspect. Fightingage men from other parts of the city, and those with
injuries, were detained on the spot. The rest were
sent to detention centres, where their identity
would be checked.
On the way back, the officers went into the basement of an old stone house, where a couple of
soldiers lay on filthy mattresses, recording military
coordinates of the battalions taking part in the next
day’s offensive. The filth in the house matched the
ruins of the streets outside. Flies swarmed over discarded food packets, and dozens of empty plastic
bottles lay amid piles of women’s clothing and other
domestic items.
Then, on the radio, came the words: “We caught
a Daesh.” Taha grabbed a radio and said: “Bring him
to me.” A wave of excitement ran through the room.
Taha made a pistol gesture and shot in the air. “We
will have a party today.”
Half an hour later, a soldier brought an old man
into the room and pushed him to the floor. The man
looked emaciated, but underneath his threadbare Tshirt, his muscles were tense and lean. His silky grey
hair and wavy, shaggy beard, and the thick circles
around his large, dark eyes, gave him the look of
a 19th-century Russian revolutionary. The soldier
said he was spotted crossing over from Isis lines
with the civilians, but when he saw the soldiers he
tried flee back to Isis territory.
“Who are you?” asked Taha in a firm voice.
“I am a hospital medic, please check my card.”
“Where is your national ID card?” asked Taha.
“It was taken by Isis Continued on page 28 →
28 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
Weekly review
← Continued from page 27 fighters to prevent us
from leaving,” replied the man. “Daesh forced me
to go to the old city and work in their field hospital. I
was there treating injured civilians and yes, I will be
straight with you, I did treat some of their fighters,
too, because they forced me to. But I am not Daesh,
sir, I actually hate them.”
“You are a liar,” said Taha.
“Yalla old man, why don’t you confess so we can
send you away from here?” said one young officer.
The old man, smiling, said: “But how can I confess something I haven’t done? How can I prejudice
Taha swung his leg back and kicked the man’s
face so hard that he collapsed, motionless. One
soldier pulled the man up again. Slowly, he opened
his eyes, which at first looked stunned, and then
darkened with anger. He opened his mouth, and a
dark lump of flesh, blood and a set of large, gleaming false teeth tumbled on to his chest and the floor.
“Ha, will you confess?” said a soldier with a
metal pipe.
“I have nothing to say,” hissed the man with
blood pouring from his mouth. Taha nodded to the
heavyset soldier, who pulled the old man to his feet,
his legs wobbling. He leaned the man against the
arched window and then, in one quick move, the
soldier flipped him out of the window, but held his
feet. The old man hung, swinging, from the window.
“Are you going to confess now?” asked the soldier. “What else is left for you?”
“How can I prejudice myself ?” came the faint
voice of the old man from below.
In that dark room, the soldiers and officers looked
at the old man’s feet, dirty and cracked, for a few
seconds before they vanished from the window.
He fell into the yard below with a thud. The soldier
who had dropped him leaned out of the window and
fired five bullets into the body in the rubble below. A
cloud of gunpowder filled the room, dancing in the
shafts of light. The soldier looked out of the window
and then fired two more bullets. “These two at his
legs, just in case he wants to walk home,” said the
soldier, laughing.
Taha and the two officers walked back. A young
officer said, with a sheepish smile: “I wonder if God
one day will punish us for all these killings. Will we
go mad or something worse?”
“He is my fifth since the start of [the battle of] Mosul,” said Taha. “Al-Qaida have one good principle: if
they suspect someone, or have the tiniest evidence
against him, they execute him. They say that if he
was guilty, he deserved it, and if he was innocent,
his blood will be purged and later he will go to
heaven. I follow the same principle.”
The following morning, before dawn, in rooms lit
by flickering generator light, two dozen soldiers in
boxer shorts and T-shirts were preparing for battle.
They had slept on the frontline, ready to attack at
first light. Before they put on their uniforms and
weapons for the last push, these lean young men
looked harmless, even vulnerable. Like a large,
dysfunctional family preparing for a picnic, the
soldiers bickered and jostled. Someone shouted
for his night-vision goggles. Another looked for the
box of smoke grenades.
Finally the soldiers formed a long line and moved
into the ruined, haunted alleyways of old Mosul. As
they made their way through concrete rubble, their
metal ammunition boxes and magazines rattled in
the darkness, announcing their arrival like goat
bells on a mountainside. Bodies lay everywhere,
scattered like breadcrumbs leading to the frontline. With the sun rising, the stench of the dead rose
above the ruins, bringing with it swarms of flies. One
Destroying the city in order to save it ... above, civilians use a lull in the fighting to flee Old Mosul;
below, scenes of destruction in the city Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
young officer threw up. The soldiers stood watching
him dispassionately. They were silent.
“If someone is injured today, they will probably die before they reach the back lines,” said one
veteran soldier.
“Why are they pushing us so fast before even
securing a supply line?” said another soldier.
“So that the commanders can reach the river
quickly and take selfies,” someone answered.
At 5am, the soldiers climbed over the skeleton
of a metal bed and into a tall building that was once
home to medical labs. The building was gutted, its
floors piled with medical records, x-rays, medicine
boxes and decomposing bodies. A sign on a wall
instructed female doctors, by the authority of Isis’s
moral police, the Hissba, to always wear the niqab,
even when they were examining female patients.
When the order for the attack came, a column of
men, each holding the shoulder of the man in front,
moved quietly to the front of the building and stood
behind a twisted shutter. The early morning sun
filtered through a thousand bullet holes, washing
the soldiers’ faces with a bright orange glow.
The first column ran across the street, climbed
a mound of debris in the middle and reached the
opposite corner. A second column followed, one by
one. The first crossed, the second followed, then the
third. Smack, came a sniper’s bullet. The third soldier fell, and the fourth ran to pull him back. Smack,
came the second sniper bullet, and hit the helper’s
leg. He crawled back and the offensive came to
a halt.
The officers in the building called for an American airstrike on the sniper’s position. It came five
minutes later, but when it was over, the sound of
the sniper’s shots resumed outside. Trying to guess
the sniper’s position, the officers called for a second airstrike, closer to the building they occupied.
Soldiers and officers took cover in the corridors.
When it came, the building shook violently and the
air filled with a thick cloud of dark grey dust. Smoke
grenades were thrown, and the cloud turned orange
and yellow as the dead soldier was brought in, carried between four men, the first casualty of the day.
“We can’t stay here,” said the junior officer.
“Head to that house,” he said, pointing up the street.
With their guide, one of the local vigilantes helping
the army, the men started climbing another mound
of debris, slipping on pots, tiles and bits of furniture. They pushed open the front door slowly. In
the entrance of the house stood a small blue plastic
barrel filled with murky, acrid water. A dark film
floated on the top. In the July heat, they had finished
whatever water they had, and were parched. They
hesitated at first, but gradually relented, clambered
around the barrel and started drinking.
“Don’t drink that,” said the guide. “This is filthy
water. Just wet your lips, otherwise you will get
diarrhoea.” Ignoring him, the soldiers splashed their
faces and drank.
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 29
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→ Then Section and page XX
Bodies lay everywhere,
scattered like
breadcrumbs leading
to the frontline
The house was small: two rooms around a courtyard. One room had collapsed, and in the other the
junior officer, soldiers and their guide sank down,
exhausted. Outside the house, there was a racket of
explosions, machine-gun fire and the whoosh of airstrikes. At least five battles were raging on the same
block, and they didn’t know who was firing where.
“Go down and check that the basement is clear,”
the junior officer said. Two exhausted soldiers
dragged themselves to the rickety stairs.
“Sir,” the junior officer said into the radio. “Sir, are
we getting any support? We are only five here, and
we are waiting for other units to advance.”
“Hold your ground. Support is on its way,” answered the commander.
“And water sir, the men are parched.”
From downstairs came the clanging of furniture
and pots. The courtyard was clear. The two soldiers
moved towards a door to the basement. “Be careful,” shouted civilians from the floor above. “There
are families still hiding in this area.”
The basement door squealed as they pushed it
open slowly.
“If they die,” joked a soldier from the floor above,
“they will be martyrs in Allah’s eyes.” Silence,
followed by a burst of gunfire. A second burst echoed loudly in the small courtyard. The two soldiers
ran back up the stairs, one with his face covered
in blood, clutching his injured arm and dragging
his gun. “Tie it, tie it,” he pleaded, as he lay with
the bleeding arm in his lap.
“There is no one in the basement – they fired at us
from an opening in the wall leading to the alleyway.
They are in the alleyway,” said the second soldier as
he tied a tourniquet around the injured arm. Their
position exposed, bullets started raining over the
courtyard from multiple directions.
“Sir we have one injured man and we are besieged
here,” said the junior officer on the radio.
“Give me the enemy coordinates.”
“Where are they?” the junior officer asked
the soldier.
“How would I know? They shot from behind
the wall.”
They gave random coordinates 50 metres away
and settled back to wait. A whoosh followed by an
explosion shook the house. A wall fell and rocks rattled on the roof. There was nothing for the five of
them to do but wait. So they kept an eye on the door,
listened to the firing outside in the alleyway and
tried to guess where the Isis positions were.
Half an hour later, there was still no news of
reinforcements. “Boys, we can’t just sit here. We
will lose all our work, let’s move,” said the junior
officer. “Two of you go from that side and skirt
around them, and we move to the next house.”
They divided up the hand grenades, and were
preparing to move when the sounds of heavy
machine-gun fire came from outside the entrance of
the house. The door was pushed open, and 15 Iraqi
army soldiers from another column stumbled into
the room. “Disperse,” shouted their chubby officer.
“And keep an eye on the door.”
It was chaos: soldiers were shouting at their
officers, and officers were refusing to obey orders
radioed to them by their commander. The building
they had captured earlier had been set ablaze by Isis
fighters as they escaped, and two men had burned
to death inside. They did not want a repeat of that.
“Sir, I can’t advance, we are besieged. The other
battalion has an injured man and they can’t even
evacuate him,” shouted the officer into the radio.
“You either send us help or give us permission to
retreat. We can’t even evacuate the injured.”
Twice the officer and his men tried to find a way
out of the small house, but each time they opened
the door, Isis fighters opened fire, pinning them
down and sending everyone clambering back into
the room.
“They are trying to get us killed,” the officer said.
He collapsed on the floor where men squeezed
against each other, and more stood in the doorway.
The house was surrounded, and by the afternoon
even the acrid water in the plastic barrel was running out. A civilian scout came back to the house,
saying an Isis unit was moving down the lane.
The officers positioned two machine-guns at the
windows and went back to their slumber. American jets sent a rocket or a bomb every 15 minutes.
During a lull, when even those guarding the
window were nodding off, there came the tinkling
of broken glass, and the sound of something falling
just outside the room.
“Get down. It’s a grenade,” shouted a soldier.
The explosion smashed the front of the room,
sending in showers of glass, shrapnel and smoke.
Then bullets came screeching in, smacking against
the ceiling or high on the walls above the soldiers’
heads. Men piled on top of each other, trying to take
cover. Shouts of “I am injured” were drowned in
the chaos.
“You’re bleeding, let’s move,” said a voice. Someone crawled to the entrance and threw a smoke
grenade, and under its cover the soldiers ran. Taha
and his four men stayed behind, shooting bursts of
machine-gun fire from the window over the courtyard.
“We have to leave. We have one box of ammunition left, and no grenades,” said one soldier. Taha
didn’t want to leave and lose ground that had taken
him all day to capture, but his fighters were not going
to hang around. In a few minutes, they were back in
the crowded room where they had started their day.
In spite of half a dozen airstrikes, the sniper still controlled the street, cutting off the only supply route.
At 5pm, the generals demanded a fourth attack. Taha
called on the men to gear up and start moving.
“Water, water – we are dying of thirst,” the soldiers shouted back. They refused to move. The
junior officer alternately pleaded and threatened,
until finally they relented and shuffled forward,
grumbling and cursing. They were halfway to the
house when they learned that a young, gingerhaired new recruit who had volunteered to stay
behind and collect water had been killed by the
sniper. On hearing this, the men simply turned
around and walked back, abandoning the attack
and refusing to obey orders.
In the rubble-strewn alleyway, they sat on
boulders, or piled up metal sheets to make beds, and
asked anyone passing for water. The dead soldier lay
under a sheet, his feet sticking out. Two soldiers sat
next to his body and wept in silence, their shoulders
shaking. A few metres away lay the rotting corpse
of a dead Isis fighter.
After midnight, three soldiers crawled on their
bellies out of the darkness from across the street.
Braving the sniper fire, each carried sacks containing bottles of water and boxes of ammunition. They
emptied their load and headed back with the body
of the young soldier. The soldiers stayed where they
were, to continue fighting the next day.
Four days later, Taha and a captain, Wissam, sat
on piles of red, blue and pink underwear in a burnedout storeroom, contemplating their fate. They knew
that the commander was under pressure from his
commanders, who were under pressure from the
generals in Baghdad, who were under pressure
from the prime minister, who had been in Mosul
since yesterday, waiting Continued on page 30 →
30 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
Weekly review
→Continued from page 29 to declare victory, and
was himself pressured by the Americans to finish
the battle, or else they would stop air support. The
whole pyramid of pressure was weighing on these
few men in a room full of coloured bras and burned
bottles of shampoo.
Since the first day of the offensive, days ago,
they had been manoeuvring between bombed-out
buildings and heaps of rubble, trying to advance,
but had come up against fierce Isis resistance at
every corner. When they had managed to advance,
they only gained a few metres.
“I just want to see my daughter now,” the junior
officer said. “Will I ever see her again?”
“It’s fine,” laughed the captain. “In a few hours it
will be just another anecdote.”
They stood, collected their men and crept outside, skirting around the bodies. Other units had
pushed ahead, parallel to their progress, and their
sniper had killed a handful of Isis fighters, who lay
in the alleyway outside. They started shooting at a
corner building ahead, but before they reached it,
an explosion went off. One of the men inside had
blown himself up. The soldiers found six fighters on
stretchers, frozen into blackened charcoal in their
moment of agonising death.
The soldiers took shelter in a small shop, fired,
and moved down an alley into a building, where
they killed two more Isis fighters. They climbed
the wreckage of the building and emerged on to
the roof. They looked out at the vista of destruction. They had reached the blue River Tigris. Mosul
was liberated.
On 9 July, as the defeat of Isis was declared in
Mosul, the prime minister, dressed in military
fatigues, stood flanked by rotund generals in crisp
uniforms, and gave the long-awaited victory speech.
“Mosul is liberated,” he declared from a platform inside the military base on the outskirts of the city.
A week of celebrations was called and, all over Iraq,
banners and flags were raised in jubilation.
Pockets of Isis fighters continued to resist for another week, but gradually the fighting died down,
and a day came in Mosul when, for the first time
in years, machine-guns, car bombs and jet fighters
went silent. Then the orgy of killing started.
Night after night, in ruined houses, makeshift
cells and the dark streets of Mosul, those identified
as members of Isis were tortured and executed.
Jubilant Iraqi soldiers filmed themselves beating
and shooting prisoners.
The heritage of torture in Iraq evolved in a
linear path from Saddam’s intelligence agency,
the Mukhabarat, to the Americans in Abu Ghraib,
and thence to the sectarian forces of the Iraqi
government and its militias. Now, in the nightmare
of Mosul, torture served no investigative purpose.
It achieved and demanded nothing beyond an
imperative to exact pain and revenge.
The officers did not see their victims as humans,
let alone as fellow Iraqis: they were simply the
enemy. They needed to hear the Isis soldiers who
had been their tormentors begging for mercy, before
they could celebrate their final victory. They needed
to hear the Isis soldiers’ animal squeals of pain, in
order to feel they had avenged the loss of their families. Perhaps Isis’s victory lies in its conversion of
the Iraqi people to its own methods.
It has been a long time since the commander and
his men started fighting. Before Isis, they fought
Sunni insurgents and Shia militias, and before that,
they spent their formative years in the shadow of a
sectarian civil war – they had seen their relatives
killed, car bombs, kidnappings, dead bodies in
the streets. A decade and a half of harrowing war
had become an integral part of their existence, not
just as soldiers, but also as the unfortunate citizens of the country of Iraq. They are the children
The officers did not see
their victims as humans,
let alone as fellow Iraqis:
they were just the enemy
Time for a wash ... Iraqi soldiers rest after the end of the fighting Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
of the occupation, locked in an endless cycle of
the violence it created.
In the war against Isis, they found a cause, the
camaraderie of a close-knit tribe, and something
akin to patriotism. They saw themselves as the defenders of the nation, warriors of a just and pure
cause against an absolute evil. The cause allowed
them to feel they were above the state – they did
not answer to a gang of corrupt politicians in Baghdad. They have stared death in the eye many times,
and that gave them the right to decide what is right
and wrong.
“Sometimes we do things and we know we are
breaking the law,” the commander told me one
afternoon as he sat sipping his tea. He lit a cigarette
and continued: “My general tells me: ‘Don’t bring
me any prisoners – if you know they are Daesh, then
deal with them from your end.’ My soldiers call me
and say: ‘We have found a man’, and I tell them:
‘Kill him.’ I ask myself sometimes: what am I doing?
Who am I to end the life of a man? I tried to consult a cleric who fights with the security forces. He
said that if the prisoner was not armed, it is better
to be cautious and hand him over to the state. But
then who are those who are going to pass judgment
on him? What qualities does the judge have that I
don’t? And who appointed the judge? You’ll tell me
it was the state – but who gave the state the right to
rule over people? It wasn’t given by God, so I have
the right to end the life of a man as much as the state
has. But then, we are openly breaking the law, and
if they catch me I will be strung up.”
After the liberation of Mosul, when the military
started counting the cost of this war, the ecstasy of
battle wore off, to be replaced by bitterness, resentment and the feeling that their victory was hollow.
Like many other frontline units, the commander’s
battalion had suffered heavy losses. Many of his
veteran officers had been killed, and those who replaced them were killed, too. Those who survived
carried the scars of major injuries, and the mental
scars of a decade of war.
Around them in Mosul, captured Isis weapons
were siphoned off by soldiers and corrupt officers,
and then sold to the Kurds or one of the dozens of
Shia military units that were ostensibly established
to fight Isis. These militias have been stockpiling
Isis weapons in preparation for the next conflict.
In Baghdad, the very politicians whose disastrous
actions had led to the rise of Isis were appearing on
TV, giving speeches, as they continued to jostle,
bicker and loot the nation.
The commander and his men knew that the silence of guns in this ruined country did not mean
peace; it simply meant the end of one kind of war
and the start of another.
“What I dread most,” Taha said, “is going back to
the days of sectarianism, when we didn’t know who
was our enemy and who was our friend.”
“I wonder what will we have after Daesh?” asked
another officer.
“It will be the militias,” answered Cpt Wissam,
with his sarcastic laugh. “We will finish with Daesh
and they will send us down to the south. Why do you
think the Hashed [Shia paramilitaries] are hoarding
all these weapons and money?”
“I am afraid we will be coming back to Mosul to
fight again in few months,” said the commander.
“There were 40,000 Daesh fighters in Mosul. Have
we killed 40,000? No. Then where are they?”
“After Mosul, we should drive to Baghdad and do
to the Green Zone what we did to Daesh,” Taha said.
“Only then will Iraq have peace.”
The names in this article have been changed
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 31
Weekly review
Kicker here like this
Then a short description here like this
→ Then Section and page XX
Romania battles
over its bears
Not welcome … since the government banned the hunting of bears last year, stories of attacks on humans are becoming more widespread FLPA/Alamy
Despite a national hunting ban,
Transylvanians want to shoot
the beasts, says Luke Dale-Harris
igh in the Carpathian mountains,
Csaba Demeter, a forest guard, was
leaving the woods one evening early
this summer when a brown bear attacked him from behind. It pinned
him to the ground, sank its teeth into
his limbs and tore deep lacerations into his back with
its claws. Demeter pulled his coat over his head and
played dead, holding his breath and stiffening his
limbs as the bear dug into his flesh. It was five minutes before the animal gave up and went back into
the forest, leaving Demeter barely alive.
He has told his story many times to Romanian
journalists. It is not that it is unique – bear attacks
are relatively common in Romania, and a couple
of years ago it would barely have made local news.
But in recent months the attitude towards bears
has changed, and the appetite for stories of attacks
has risen dramatically.
In the small towns that greet the foothills of the
Carpathians, crowds gather to hear politicians talk
of action to deal with “problem bears”. Deeper
in the hills, in remote villages sealed off from the
world by thick forest, people have begun to take
the situation into their own hands, trading recipes
for homemade poisons designed to kill bears. Many
villagers see killing bears as a necessity. The government, they say, has left them to fend for themselves,
and the bears are a threat that cannot be ignored.
More than 6,000 brown bears are believed to live
in Romania, spread unevenly along the country’s
800km mountain range. For more than 25 years
after the fall of communism in 1989, management
of the animals was left to regional hunting associations. Each year, the associations would submit a
total for bears in their area, and the number considered dangerous to humans. A quota would be set for
each hunting association, who would then auction
off permits for “problem bears” to private companies catering to hunters from all over the world.
Then, in October 2016, the Romanian government
made a surprise decision to ban bear hunting. The
newly appointed environment minister, Cristiana
Paşca Palmer, claimed that under European law
“hunting for money was already illegal, but it was
given a green light anyway”. The idea that hunting
protected citizens from bears was, she claimed, just a
cover for the hunting industry and based on pseudoscience. Conservationists applauded.
Their optimism was short-lived. In the 12 months
since the ban, a movement calling for the widespread culling of bears has gathered momentum,
tipping the bear question over from political discussion into what the movement’s leader, Csaba
Borboly, describes as “something like a war”.
Borboly is the president of Harghita county, a
predominantly ethnic Hungarian region in the foothills of Transylvania, an area of dense forest and
precarious farmland where people and carnivores
have coexisted uneasily for centuries. It is here that
the presence of bears is most keenly felt. Almost
everyone has a story, from the woman who woke
up in the night this spring to find a 200kg brown
bear sniffing around her toilet, to the hundreds of
farmers who approach the government each year for
compensation for lost livestock and crops.
Borboly promises to “restore the natural balance”.
He claims that in the 12 months since the hunting
ban the number of attacks on people, crops and livestock in the region has more than doubled, with 263
so far this year. He puts this down to a huge rise in
bear numbers now that they are protected , and “the
genetic and behavioural deterioration” of bears not
punished for entering human space. His figures and
analysis are widely rejected by scientists, but in rural
Romania Borboly’s voice is heard loudest.
“The government does nothing and the patience
of the people is decreasing, therefore one takes
‘For thousands of years,
people have lived with
carnivores, and there has
never been a war like this’
justice into one’s own hands and bear traps and
poisoning appear,” Borboly says.
Last year, he was criticised for posting an article
on his blog calling for “vigilante justice”, offering
“ideas” on how to kill a bear: “Carbide in wax to
burn the bear’s stomach, bread soaked in antifreeze,
rat poison dipped in honey.”
Csaba Domokos, a bear specialist working in
Harghita with the Milvus Group, a wildlife protection NGO, says: “It is hard to explain the level of
influence that Borboly has developed in this region.
When he says something, even if it is completely
insane, you have to listen because you know that
everyone else around here is.
“[Borboly] has convinced everyone in these rural regions that the only thing standing between
them and total mayhem is hunters. He has helped
encourage the belief that vigilante killing of bears
is the only way for people to keep themselves and
their children safe.”
Less than 80km east of Harghita, in the steep
valley villages beyond the mountains, the attitude towards bears is quite different. Bears are still
common here, and attacks remain a part of life for
villagers. But few see hunting as the solution.
This is in part due to the work of Silviu Chiriac and
a small group of biologists who have spent much of
the past decade studying the effects of hunting on
bear behaviour. Their conclusions match those of
similar studies in other parts of the world: where
hunting is prevalent, attacks increase, and bears are
more prone to enter inhabited areas.
“Hunting is not the only cause of problems with
bears, but it is an important element,” he says.
“Hunters like to shoot the largest bears they can
find, deep in the forest. This is basically actively
choosing the bears least likely to attack humans,
the ones that never come into contact with civilisation. For thousands of years people have lived
with carnivores here, and there has never been a
war like now in parts of Romania.
“We don’t have true wilderness here – not like in
Alaska or Canada – so we need to find a way to live
with bears that is acceptable to people in the modern
day. It’s not easy, but unless we want to lose bears
from our country I can’t see that we have a choice.”
32 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
Modern warfare leaves
a mark on the ancient
Archaeologist Mary Shepperson explains how
military activity casts a fresh light upon her work
odern conflict archaeology, the
study of 20th and 21st century
conflicts, is a new and slightly
uncomfortable discipline. First,
very little of it involves what
most people would recognise
as archaeology – digging up cultural material from the ground for study. Most of
the material legacies of modern conflicts remain
above ground and embedded in current society,
necessitating a more anthropological, interdisciplinary approach. Second, the time periods under
study are often within living memory, and often
remain highly contentious. This means that modern conflict archaeology can be a political minefield – as well as an actual minefield.
I’m working in Iraq, in Basra province at the
2,000-year-old city of Charax Spasinou, founded
by Alexander the Great in 324BC. Thirty years ago,
however, the site was home to thousands of Iraqi
soldiers. The Iran-Iraq war was dragging towards
its end, both sides exhausted by the offensives
that had made 1987 the war’s bloodiest year. That
spring the Siege of Basra had cost the lives of at
least 60,000 Iranian and 20,000 Iraqi soldiers.
Charax Spasinou wasn’t the only archaeological site re-occupied during the eight-year conflict.
The border area between Iran and Iraq is rich in
archaeology, and archaeological sites often made
the best defensive positions – rising ground into
which earthworks could be dug. There’s hardly an
ancient tell in eastern Iraq that doesn’t have the remains of an artillery emplacement or observation
post. At Charax Spasinou it was the ancient city’s
ramparts that led to the site being incorporated
into the Iraqi defensive lines north of Basra.
The surviving mudbrick ramparts on the
northern and eastern sides of the city stand up to
eight metres above the flat alluvial plain and run
for almost 3.5km. When the Iraqi army arrived,
engineers refortified Charax Spasinou for modern
warfare. At least 45 gaps were punched through
the upper level of the ancient walls, with ramps of
debris on the inner side so that tanks and artillery
could be embedded in the ramparts. Along the
top, infantry positions were dug into the mudbrick and connected by trenches running behind
them. At least 199 of these dugouts are still visible
on the top of the ramparts, each big enough for
between two and four men. In some areas the
remains of sandbags can still be seen.
The alterations to the ancient wall are the most
visible reminder of the war at Charax Spasinou,
but the greater impact on the archaeological site
was from activity inside the walls, which damaged the city’s buildings just below the surface. In
front of the walls and behind them the army used
bulldozers to throw up berms, as well as digging
auxiliary trenches and storage pits for equipment
and ammunition. Hundreds of vehicles – tanks,
armoured personnel carriers, fuel tankers and
supply trucks – were stationed behind and around
the walls of Charax. Each was protected by bulldozed banks of ancient archaeological deposits,
usually heaped into a horseshoe shape to give protection on three sides and escape via the fourth.
So far I’ve counted 212 such vehicle emplacements
within the five square kilometres of the ancient
city, not including the many more visible immediately outside the ramparts.
As might be expected from such an intensive
occupation of the landscape, a considerable
How left-handed sportspeople master the art of surprise
Nicola Davis
From cricketer Wasim Akram to baseball pitcher
Clayton Kershaw and table tennis star Ding Ning,
the world of sport has no shortage of left-handed
players. But now researchers say they’ve worked
out why lefties are overrepresented in some elite
sports but not others.
The study, published in the journal Biology
Letters, suggests that being left-handed is a particular advantage in interactive sports where time pressures are particularly severe, such as table tennis
and cricket – possibly because their moves are less
familiar to their mostly right-handed opponents,
who do not have time to adjust.
“The data suggests that the heavier the time
constraints are operating in a sport, the larger the
proportion of left-handers,” said the study’s author,
Dr Florian Loffing of the University of Oldenburg in
Germany. “We are less used to playing lefties, and
[so] might end up in not developing the optimal
strategies to compete with them.”
While it is thought that about 10-13% of the population is left-handed, in certain interactive sports
there is often a surprisingly high proportion of lefthanders playing at elite levels.
Southpaw stars have seen significant success
in sport, with big names including baseball aces
Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson, cricketers Garfield Sobers and Mitchell Johnson and table tennis’s
Wang Nan and Kasumi Ishikawa.
Previous research has punted a number of possible explanations, including that left-handers
have more efficient connections between the two
hemispheres of theirr
brain. Others have
suggested that lefties
ies have
the edge due to an element of
surprise: since most players are righthanded, players will be more used to playing
against right-handed partners. But the question
remained: why did diff
fferent sports show such different proportions of left-handed players?
To probe the issue, Loffing collected the names
and handedness of the
he top 100 or so players for
badminton, squash, tennis,
ennis, table tennis and – for
men only – cricket and
nd baseball, across six years
between 2009 and 2014.
The initial findingss showed a significant difference in the proportion
n of left-handed players in different sports, with more
ore than 30% of top baseball
Mary Shepperson, Stuart Campbell/Courtesy of the Charax Spasinou Project
Old and new ... clockwise from left, the ancient
walls of Charax Spasinou, showing modern
infantry trenches and artillery emplacements;
liner from an Iraqi infantry helmet; the
wastelands of Charax Spasinou today, coated in
salt and the remains of military hardware
She moves in mysterious
… China’s left-h
left-hander Ding Ning
pitchers left-handed
left-handed, compared with
just under 13% of male
players and 8.7% of male squash
players. For women,
more than 19% of
ttop table tennis
players were leftp
iies, compared to
ffewer than 8% of
tennis and badte
minton players and
8.4% in squash.
Loffing said that
suggest simply being
the results sugg
amount of military material remains on the surface, although this is quickly disappearing in the
harsh environment of southern Iraq. Metal fragments are everywhere, most are unidentifiable
but there are large vehicle fragments in clusters
where trucks and troop transports have been left
to disintegrate. Corroded green copper bullets mix
with the ancient Parthian and Sassanian coins.
More personal items are sometimes in evidence. An occasional helmet, buttons, the zip
from a coat, an Iraqi army sock: the small leavings
of the men who fought here.
Ali Wehayib Abdul Abbas, who keeps an eye on
the site for the antiquities authorities and is helping us with our geophysics, remembers the war
at Charax Spasinou. He was conscripted into the
army at the age of 18 and fought in the northern
sector around Halabjah before being transferred
to the southern front. The army engineers arrived
in 1984, he tells me, and cut the ancient walls and
dug their trenches. Hundreds of tanks and troops
were based at the site and the local villagers were
moved to nearby towns.
The Iranians never quite reached Charax
Spasinou. Ali Wehayib says they were stopped at
Majnoon, now an important oil field a kilometre
north, in 1987. Nevertheless, Charax Spasinou
carries deep scars from the conflict, as does Ali
Wehayib, who rolls up his trouser leg to show me.
The recording of the Iran-Iraq war remains
forms a part of the archaeological survey we are
carrying out. In every respect, the military legacy
at Charax Spasinou represents an important phase
of occupation at the site, as well as being the material record of significant historical events that had
a profound impact on Iraq and the wider region.
While the use of archaeological sites as military
positions is an unfortunate aspect of war, it’s
important to remember that these activities are
also the record of important events in a landscape
that continues to be shaped by human occupation.
The Charax Spasinou project is supported by the
British Council’s cultural protection fund, and by
the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage
a rarity does not explain why left-handed players
are more common in certain sports. For both sexes,
it seems time is of the essence – possibly because
high pressure makes it harder to anticipate what an
opponent with an unfamiliar trait might do.
Loffing admits that other factors could be at play,
including team strategies in some sports. But he
advises right-handers to get as much exposure to
playing lefties as possible, particularly under pressure, and suggests left-handers keen for a sneaky
edge might want to take up fast-paced sports.
Dr Scott Hardie of the University of Abertay, who
was not involved in the research, said: “Another way
to look at this might be that it is not about rarity,
but about the way that left-handers may be able
to deal with fast-paced information and dealing
with reactions.”
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 33
Marriage can help stave
off effects of dementia
Being married could help stave off
dementia, a study has suggested. Levels
of social interaction could explain the
finding, experts said, after the research
showed that people who are single or
widowed are more likely to develop the
disease. Experts conducted an analysis
of 15 studies that held data on dementia and marital status involving more
than 800,000 people from Europe,
North and South America, and Asia.
Their study, published in the Journal of
Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, concluded that lifelong singletons
have a 42% elevated risk of dementia
compared with married couples.
Hormones and asthma
The puzzle of why asthma is about
twice as common in women as men
may have been solved, according to
researchers who say it might partly be
down to testosterone. While boys are
about 1.5 times as likely to have asthma
as girls, the situation changes with
adolescence. A team of researchers
from the US focused on a type of white
blood cell, known as ILC2 cells, that
originate in the bone marrow and
become “seeded” in particular tissues
of the body. When an allergen enters
the lungs, the cells secrete proteins
that trigger ILC2 to produce yet more
proteins, which kick off a cascade of
inflammatory response. The findings,
published in the journal Cell Reports,
revealed women with asthma had
about twice the levels of ILC2 cells
compared with men.
Breeding baby coral
Scientists have bred baby coral on
the Great Barrier Reef in a move that
could have worldwide significance.
Coral eggs and sperm were collected
from Heron Island’s reef during last
November’s coral spawning to produce
more than a million larvae, which were
placed on to reef patches in underwater
mesh tents, with 100 growing successfully. The lead project researcher and
Southern Cross University professor
Peter Harrison, who discovered mass
coral spawning in the 1980s, says the
results are “very promising”.
Caesar’s invasion spot
Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain was
launched from the sandy shores of
Pegwell Bay on the most easterly tip of
Kent, according to fresh evidence unearthed by archaeologists. Researchers
named the wide, shallow bay the most
likely landing spot for the Roman fleet
after excavators found the remains
of a defensive base dating to the first
century BC in the nearby hamlet of
Ebbsfleet, near Ramsgate.
34 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
These essays on post-Obama
America make for vital reading,
writes Annette Gordon-Reed
We Were Eight Years in Power:
An American Tragedy
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Jonathan Cape, 256pp
It is no surprise that the election of the first black
president of the United States would occasion much
thinking, writing and talking about the subject of
race in America. An event that many did not think
would happen in their lifetimes happened: a man
of African descent and – this may have been more
culturally important – his black wife and children
resided in the White House as the nation’s “first family”. President Barack Obama’s portrait would hang
in government offices across the country, and in
embassies around the world. He would be the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed services.
How proud this made Americans of all races. For
black people, having a black man compete for and
win the greatest prize in politics was beyond exhilarating. Yes We Can! That phrase, the Obama campaign’s insistent motto, also tapped into the desires
of many of Obama’s white supporters who wished to
produce evidence that there had indeed been racial
progress in the country, including some who may
have had a few doubts about the one-term senator
with the “non-American” sounding name. Even his
defeated opponent, Senator John McCain, took note
of the historical significance of Obama’s victory as
a praiseworthy thing. Countries across the globe,
themselves not even close to doing anything like it,
expressed surprise that Americans had done it, but
joined the chorus of praise.
At the same time, how galling it was for the not
insignificant number of white Americans who
fervently believed that the US began as a country
for white people, and should for ever remain so.
All the reasons why many saw Obama’s election
as an occasion for pride were for others evidence
of America’s degradation, a source of intolerable
shame and anger. Something had to be done. What
was done, Ta-Nehisi Coates says in We Were Eight
Years in Power, the book of essays that follows
his bestselling and influential Between the World
and Me, was to seek to erase with extreme prejudice the effects of the country having lived under
a black president by electing the man Coates dubs
in the book’s final essay The First White President
(Trump’s “ideology is white supremacy, in all its
truculent and sanctimonious power”).
Coates takes his title from the haunting words
of Thomas Miller, a black South Carolinian who
had been elected to state office during the years of
Reconstruction after the civil war. Black people in
South Carolina significantly outnumbered white
people and, for a time, dominated the legislature.
They had, in fact, as WEB Du Bois showed in his magisterial Black Reconstruction in America, instituted
“good Negro government”: the very thing, Du Bois
said, whites feared most. In the face of black success,
they resorted to lies about the black men who served
in office, creating a caricature of politics during
Reconstruction that lived in history books and
popular culture (for instance, DW Griffith’s film The
Birth of a Nation) until well into the 20th century. By
the time Miller talked of the achievements of “eight
years in power”, in 1895, Reconstruction, the effort
to make a new society in the south by bringing the
4 million African Americans freed after the civil war
into full citizenship, was dead.
The south had been “redeemed” for white southerners. Rather than share in the benefits of black advancement that would have lifted the south overall,
white southerners chose to turn back the clock to
the time when their superiority was unquestioned.
Even poor white citizens who could have joined
their black peers to shake the economic hierarchy
that kept white elites in charge and non-elite whites
near the bottom of the heap (just above blacks) opted
for racial solidarity rather than economic advancement. In choosing this title, Coates makes plain his
view that, post-Obama, the US is living under a nationalised form of a redemption government.
What are the characteristics of such a moment?
Coates answers with essays first published in the
Atlantic that range across politics (Malcolm X,
Michelle Obama), culture (Bill Cosby) and history:
“For most of American history, our political system
was premised on two conflicting facts – one, an oftstated love of democracy; the other, an undemocratic white supremacy inscribed at every level
of government.” These essays are introduced by
shorter Notes that contextualise the older pieces,
and track Obama’s presidency; Notes from the First
Year, Notes from the Second Year and so on.
The most famous of the essays reproduced,
the one that can be said to have put Coates on the
map just before the phenomenon of Between the
World and Me, is The Case for Reparations (recompense for historical crimes against African Americans). With this, Coates, who had been labouring
for years building a following on his Atlantic blog,
achieved what he calls in this book “writer fame”,
not to be confused, he quickly adds, with “George
Clooney fame”. But even this more modest level of
fame disturbs him. He became a known quantity,
interrupted on the streets and in “the cafe where I
regularly wrote”. While heartened by his great success, Coates indicates that it also perplexes him.
Passages in Notes from the Sixth Year, in particular,
reveal what sets Coates apart and has made him so
successful. He is remarkably open with his readers
about his conflicts.
No non-academic writer today has a keener sense
of the relevance of history to the problems about
which he writes. Significantly, Coates’s approach
to history does not appear to be purely instrumental. One senses a genuine interest in, and curiosity
about, the ways in which historical forces, always
subject to contingencies, have moved us to the
place where we presently stand. To say that this
could only be so, given that his most consistent
topic – race in present-day America – is ineluctably
tied to history, is to miss why he has become such a
powerful voice. Many write about race and history
but, more often than not, with history as a garnish.
To get details, one must do, and present, research,
which Coates does in a manner accessible to the
general public.
Whatever one thinks about the issue of reparations, Coates’s treatment of the subject was so effective because of his deft use of scholarship, a feature
Pete Souza/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty
History’s lessons
A new vision of how America saw itself … when
America elected Barack Obama as president
shared in common with nearly all of the essays in
this book. His is seldom, if ever, strictly an appeal to
emotion or an invocation of morality; though both
passion and morality are important to his presentations. Instead, the intellectual weight of the reparations piece, especially, is bolstered by Coates’s skilful deployment of the work of academics.
We Were Eight Years in Power is not quite the
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 35
Strangers who brought
gifts to other lands
The Story of the Jews: Belonging, 1492-1900
by Simon Schama
Ecco, 790pp
Thane Rosenbaum
Washington Post
opposite of an upbeat book. No one with a true historical sense could tie up the stories of America told
in these essays with a tidy assurance that we shall
overcome. The odds may even be against it. But
Coates says something near the very last page that,
again, shows his firm grasp of one of the most important lessons of history. Nothing was “inevitable”
about the outcome of the last election in the United
States. The American story will continue, for the
foreseeable future, at least. How that story unfolds
will be a matter of the choices we make.
In this multicultural age, Jews, bizarrely, have ended up less an ethnic
group than a subcategory of white
privilege. Israel is perceived as a colonial power, and Jews are regarded
as blue-blooded patricians with no
claim to historical oppression. For
those who regard Jews as Wonder
Bread-eating, upper-class Wasps, albeit with a better sense of humour, and are blindly without reference points on where Jews fit into the human story,
Simon Schama’s second volume of The Story of the
Jews will be a revelation. It is an engaging and electrifying read by a skilled literary craftsman, cultural
historian and tour guide, travelling through 500
years of history via Venice, London, Paris, Istanbul,
Jerusalem and San Francisco.
Along the way, Schama tells the story of the
Jewish people who survived the Middle Ages to
enjoy a measure of relief during the Renaissance
and Enlightenment. Schama enchants his readers
with characters worthy of a Charles Dickens novel,
if Dickens had decided to focus on the not-so-great
expectations and bleak houses of the Jewish diaspora. The Story of the Jews dazzles with the art and
alchemy of an adventure novel. Dashing between
nations and centuries, Schama assembles an all-star
team of largely unsung Jewish heroes who inject
humanity and spunk into what might otherwise
have been morbid tales of endless persecution.
In Mantua, Italy, in the mid-16th century, Leone
de’ Sommi was the predecessor of today’s Jewish
showman: producer, director, playwright, choreographer, costume and set designer. In Kaifeng, China,
during the Ming dynasty in the mid-17th century, a
thriving Jewish community was led by Chao Ch’eng,
a Jewish major in the imperial army. A French doctor
in the mid-18th century, Jacob Rodrigues Pereire,
taught the deaf to speak. An American naval officer,
Captain Uriah P Levy, was responsible for resurrecting Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello property and
commissioning the statue of Jefferson that stands
on the Mall today. Adah Isaac Menken, a glamorous
Jewish-American actress, appeared on Broadway in
the mid-19th century and wrote pro-Israel poetry a
century before the Jewish state came into existence.
Schama weaves a tapestry of interlocking themes
that illuminate the advances and setbacks of life in
the diaspora. For instance, wherever they lived,
Jews were determined to demonstrate their patriotism. And yet they were repeatedly subjected to false
charges of disloyalty - most prominently in France
during the Dreyfus affair.
One simply can’t tell the world’s story without including the Jews, a people infinitesimal in numbers
and yet essential in enhancing the richness of the
cultures in which they were provisionally accepted.
Yet, paradoxically, Jews throughout Europe, Russia
and the Middle East were at times forced to wear
identifying badges or hats; never truly came close
to achieving equal rights; were relegated to usurious occupations; and were always vulnerable to
grotesque caricatures, blood libels, forced conversions and pogroms.
So much destructive and misguided energy was
wasted on despising this resourceful minority, one
can only wonder what these countries would have
achieved had they left the Jews alone and empowered them to raise the quality of everyone’s lives.
That they didn’t probably accounts for why Schama
ends with Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism,
who concluded that having an actual homeland was
better than being a stranger in another’s land.
Comedy and cold
by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Harvill Secker, 272pp
Anthony Cummins
In Autumn, Karl Ove Knausgaard
mused on whatever came to mind
during his (now ex) wife’s pregnancy
with their fourth child, Anne.
Winter, the second in a quick-fire
seasonal quartet published in Norwegian two years ago, repeats the
formula for the run-up to her birth
early in 2014, with 60 prose pieces between two and
five pages long on everything from cotton buds to
the 1970s and “hollow spaces”.
It’s an enterprise that is catnip to parodists. A
piece on Conversation starts by informing us that
“a great deal of interpersonal communication takes
place outside language”. Chairs begins: “A chair is
for sitting on.” The excuse for such statements – that
their addressee is in utero – doesn’t survive literalminded scrutiny, but they’re only a springboard in
any case: Sugar starts by saying it “consists of tiny
white crystals that crunch between the teeth” and
ends by using it to explain the populist Progress
party’s rise to power in Norway.
These swerves are key to the book’s appeal.
When Knausgaard exposes himself in the manner
of his autobiographical novel My Struggle – admitting he’s afraid of women (“I fear … I will be found
lacking”) or describing a humiliating flare-up when
his daughter won’t sit down to lunch – it’s interesting enough. But he becomes more charming and
persuasive when Knausgaard wanders into quizzical speculation – about, say, why coffins don’t have
windows or how sex is like cannibalism.
Take his thoughts on the ontology of “mess”,
which isn’t, he says, a “meaningful concept when
applied to nature”, because nature “only exists
on one level, the level of the real” (it is what it is).
Your house, by contrast, can be messy: although it
too “exists in the real”, it simultaneously “aspires
towards the ideal”. “All tragedies arise out of this
duality, but also all triumphs,” he loftily concludes,
“and the feeling of triumph is what prevails in me
now, when the kitchen in the house on the other
side of the lawn, lit up like a train compartment in
the darkness, where only a few hours ago I did the
Christmas cleaning, is sparkling clean and bright.”
However unpromising the opening proclamations,
the sudden joy of that final image makes the argument harder to gainsay.
Knausgaard isn’t the silkiest writer – there’s a 200word whopper of an awkward sentence on the very
first page – but combing Continued on page 36 →
36 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
← Continued from page 35 over his prose feels a bit
like reporting on a football match by watching the
grass: fundamental and yet somehow unimportant.
It helps that he recognises the comic potential of his
restless endeavour to restore wonder to the world,
though it’s always moot. “One evening some weeks
ago the bureau that stands by the wall in the room
next to my office caught my attention,” begins a
piece entitled – wait for it – Atoms, which sees him
panic-buying books on particle physics (“I suddenly
realised I knew nothing”).
Winter is at its weakest when Knausgaard devotes entries to his friends. We don’t know these
people and for that reason don’t care about their
eyes or faces. Knausgaard’s pieces work best when
they have some preconception to unsettle. Thermodynamics as tragedy – convinced? Either way,
Knausgaard on the shamelessness of hot air doesn’t
seem a bad metaphor for this project, whether you
find its laissez-faire lack of inhibition laughable or
liberating, a swindle or sublime.
Magnificent beasts
Animals Strike Curious Poses
by Elena Passarello
Cape, 256pp
Kathryn Hughes
Elena Passarello starts this extraordinary book with the image of Yuka,
a woolly mammoth chiselled from
the softening permafrost by Siberian
tusk hunters in 2010. First a rounded
hoof comes into view, then a hollowed-out eye and finally the flank
still bearing evidence of the gash
that must have done for young Yuka – she was no
more than 10 years old when she died – nearly 40
millennia ago. Most surprising of all, though, is the
burning smoulder of her pelt, which has kept to its
ginger-red despite the passing centuries.
As Yuka is flopped on to the snowmobile it
is not her odd dislocations – most of her spine is
gone although her legs remain rigid – that qualify
as one of the “curious poses” of the book’s title
(taken incidentally from a line in When Doves Cry
by Prince). It is what happens next, Passarello suggests, that stretches and shrinks Yuka into something truly strange. First she becomes the object of
hard financial bargaining as the tusk hunters hide
her carcass in a frozen cave and wait for the highest
bidder. Then, when the scientists finally get their
hands on her, she morphs into the poster child for
a “rewilding” initiative that aims to make extinct
breeds live again by splicing their ancient DNA into
the embryo of their nearest living relatives.
Each of the 17 short pieces in this book catches
a famous historical animal just at the moment it
dangles precariously between nature and culture.
We meet a bear made to fight dogs in the stews of
Elizabethan Southwark, and Clever Hans, a horse
doing complicated fractions at a time when many
working people still struggled with basic numeracy.
Pressing on into the 20th century, there’s Mike the
headless chicken from postwar Oregon who struts
and preens around the farmyard for 18 months apparently unaware that he has been decapitated in
readiness for dinner. And Arabella, the common
cross spider who was sent into space with the Skylab 3 mission of 1973 and spent 59 days industriously
spinning webs so that the boffins could observe the
effect of zero gravity on her intricate craft.
Although these animal case histories lodge under
the label of “essay”, Passarello tests and stretches
the form in thrilling ways. Particularly brilliant –
but, honestly, they are all brilliant – is an extended
fantasy written from the point of view of Harriet,
the Galápagos tortoise who Darwin reportedly
brought back on the Beagle. Harriet – initially sexed
as “Harry” – is heartsick for her captor whom she is
convinced has saved her for love. Most of the other
Galápagos tortoises have been stowed on board as
ambient larders, but Harriet tells herself: “You’re
not dinner, you’re different.” Back on dry land,
though, “Charlie” turns out to be a heartless beast
and hopeless lover. He marries his “nervous, pious
cousin” and pimps Harriet out to various naturalists
with clammy hands, before finally sending her to a
museum in Whitehall so chilly that she is obliged to
go into perpetual hibernation. All this might come
off as charming but essentially whimsical were it
not for the fact that Passarello underpins her wild
imagination and pyrotechnic prose with rigorous
research. She doesn’t do footnotes, but an extensive bibliography of 255 sources bears witness to
the huge accumulation of reading that has gone
into her book.
There is always a danger with this kind of
“creative non-fiction” that the first-person narrator
will take over. Instead Passarello keeps a decorous
distance from her material, so that when she does
detour into memoir towards the end of the book,
it really means something. In her chapter Lancelot
child in the 1980s she became
she recounts how as a chi
obsessed with a circus “u
“unicorn” that was, in fact, a
deformed goat with a bad perm. But instead of makoccasion for mourning, Pasing this into an oc
sarello boldly m
maintains that it has always
been like this.
thi There never was a time
when animal forms weren’t already enmeshed (or m
mucked up) in fantasy versions of themselves.
For Passarello
is not so much
this realisation
dismaying as chastening. For it
only, she suggests, by coming
is only
about how we have used
clean a
animals to make sense of our
that we can begin to
own lives
we might repair theirs.
see how
Wild imagination ...
Passarello imagines the
trials in love of a
Galápagos tortoise
Feline fidelity
The Travelling Cat Chronicles
by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Philip Gabriel
Doubleday, 256pp
Lynne Truss
Consider two famous facts about
cats. One: on the night of 30 April
1915, the ship’s cat of the RMS Lusitania went awol in New York. The next
day, the ship sailed for Liverpool
without him; a week later it was torpedoed by U-boats and sunk. Two: in
the ruins of Pompeii, there have been
found no cat remains, although mosaics and statues
indicate that cats were favoured pets. Countless
people perished in the destruction of Pompeii, as did
dogs. But when they died, they did it cat-less.
I mention these feline feats of scarpering in times
of crisis because the reader needs to be warned: Hiro
Arikawa’s bestselling Japanese novel features a cat
with a heart, who feels loyalty and gratitude and
would never abandon his loving human master. Is
this a book for cat lovers who can’t handle the truth?
Nana is the protagonist. A stray cat in Tokyo, he
is taken in by a young man named Satoru after being hit by a car. Nana finds he has fallen on his feet.
Satoru is a cat lover from youth; gentle and intuitive,
he mourns his first cat Hachi, from whom he was
traumatically separated as a child. The name “Nana”
derives from na, the Japanese word for seven – the
shape of Nana’s tail; Hachi was named after the
number eight because of markings on his head.
Nana is scornful of Satoru’s literal-mindedness
when it comes to naming cats, but he has the feline
instinct for knowing which side his crispy chicken
is battered, and decides to stick around.
Five happy years of cohabitation pass in a single
sentence, and then Satoru tells the cat that they
must make a journey. They will visit Satoru’s childhood friend Kosuke, with the purpose of rehoming
Nana. Satoru is not forthcoming about the reason.
“We just can’t live together any more,” he says. At
this stage, Satoru’s motives are officially unclear.
The reunited Kosuke and Satoru reminisce about
the number-eight cat, and we learn about Satoru’s
talent for friendship and the shock of his parents’
death. But does Nana stay with Kosuke?
The structure of The Travelling Cat Chronicles
is deceptively simple. With alternating sections of
third-person and Nana-the-cat narration, it consists
of three journeys to friends, followed by a pilgrimage across a beautifully evoked landscape. There
is then a heart-breaking last journey that left me in
bits. I’ve rarely changed my mind so much about a
book in the course of reading it. I started out quibbling with the translation (would a cat that exclaims
“Good lord” also say “yada yada”?), but before long,
I had surrendered to Arikawa’s powerful emotional
agenda, according to which a human’s love for his
cat is not delusional but self-fulfilling, just as all loving sacrifice is its own reward.
What Nana observes and experiences is Satoru’s
huge capacity for consideration, which is moving
enough in itself. But when the cat responds to his
love – well, you ought to laugh, but I couldn’t. “Cats
are not so heartless,” declares Nana. “How could I
ever leave him?” But anyone who has ever unashamedly loved an animal will read this book with gratitude, for its understanding of an emotion that ennobles us as human beings, whether we value it or not.
38 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
Power of
born of
the old
William Eggleston’s colour photography was
revolutionary. Now, at 78, he has released his
very first album, explains Sean O’Hagan
arkness is falling outside the window
of William Eggleston’s fifth-floor
apartment in midtown Memphis, and
the silences that punctuate his conversation have grown even longer.
After several hours in his company,
I am preparing to take my leave, when suddenly he
decides he is going to play the piano for me. I help
him to his feet and he makes his way unsteadily to the
Bösendorfer grand in the corner of his living room.
Once seated, he stares for a few long moments at the
keyboard, as if lost in thought.
“I play the piano maybe two or three times a day,”
he told me earlier, “but only if she wants to be played.
I speak to her and she talks back. Mostly, just to say:
‘What’s in there?’ She is almost always responsive.”
This evening, the piano wants to be played.
The 78-year-old photographer, who has imbibed
several glasses of bourbon-on-ice in the past hour
or so, calls up a snatch of a Beethoven piano sonata
from memory. It is the starting point for a long
extemporisation that unfolds tentatively, becoming more complex and compelling as his concentration becomes total.
In his eighth decade, the man whom many consider the world’s greatest living photographer has
surprised the art world by releasing his debut album. Entitled Musik, it comprises 13 improvisations
on compositions by Bach (his hero) and Handel as
well as his singular takes on a Gilbert and Sullivan
tune and the jazz standard On the Street Where You
Live. Even more surprising, to those of us who have
witnessed his serene piano playing on several occasions over the years, the works are played entirely
on a Korg synthesiser, and assume the character of
experimental electronic soundscapes.
The original recordings survive on 49 floppy discs
that amount to around 60 hours of improvisation.
Producer Tom Lunt, a friend of his son, Winston, edited and remastered the tapes. Eggleston professes
to have had “nothing whatsoever” to do with the
album. The results are by turns challenging and
mesmerising. “There’s the same sense of freedom
you find in his photography,” Lunt said recently of
the album, while Eggleston’s close friend the film
director David Lynch has described it as “music of
wild joy with freedom and bright, vivid colours”.
The great washes of sound, sometimes seductively
symphonic, sometimes ominous, certainly add a
new resonance to the photographer’s most famous
quotation about being “at war with the obvious”.
William Eggleston has never adhered to tradition. Derided by critics in the early 70s as a vulgarian
for daring to shoot the everyday in vivid colour, he
is now regarded as a master of the medium. Other
photographers had used colour, but no one had
done so with the same vivid tonal palette and disorienting compositional force. “What he was doing
in the 70s,” Martin Parr once remarked, “was so far
ahead of the game that it was revolutionary.”
“For my generation, he is more influential even
than [Robert] Frank,” says Alec Soth, perhaps the
finest of the current generation of American documentary photographers. (Soth’s image of Eggleston
hunched over a keyboard adorns the cover of Musik.)
“I doubt there is anyone shooting in colour today
who has not been influenced by his early work.”
Eggleston’s photographs have influenced the
style of film-makers such as Sofia Coppola and Gus
Van Sant, and appeared on album sleeves by Big Star
in 1974, and more recently on Primal Scream’s Give
Out But Don’t Give Up (1994) and the 2007 EP Joanna
Steve Pyke; Eggleston Artistic Trust/David Zwirner, New York & London
Newsom & the Ys Street Band. “They are just gifts
from me to people I like,” he says.
“Eggleston sees the beauty in the things and
places that other people find commonplace or
even ugly,” says Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie.
“He transforms them somehow and the heightened
sense of reality in his best pictures is so intense it is
almost hallucinatory in its electric glow.”
It was not always thus. On hearing that Eggleston
had abandoned black-and-white in the early 70s, his
friend the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson told him: “You know, William, colour is bullshit.”
When John Szarkowski, the curator of the Museum
of Modern Art, showed Eggleston’s work in 1976, the
reviews were savage: the New York Times called it
“the most hated show of the year”. The negative criticism upset Szarkowski, but not Eggleston. “The controversy did not bother me one bit,” he says, “Those
few critics who wrote about it were shocked that the
photographs were in colour, which seems insane now
and did so then. What’s more, they didn’t explain why
it so shocked them. To me, it just seemed absurd.”
His detractors, though, were offended, not just
by how he photographed but by what he chose to
photograph. Eggleston pointed his camera at the
sky above him and the earth below, at rooftops, road
signs, puddles, deserted roads, the packed interior
of a freezer, the light falling on a ketchup bottle on
a diner tabletop. When people appear in his photographs, they often look beatific in the soft southern
sunlight or dazed by their excesses. His friend and
fellow southerner, the novelist Eudora Welty, said of
his work: “In landscapes, cityscapes, street scenes,
roadside scenes, at every sort of public convergingpoint, in dreaming long view and arresting close-up,
through hours of dark and light, he sets forth what
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 39
‘Words just don’t seem to fit’ … from left, William
Eggleston at home; Untitled, c 1975, one of his
most famous images; Greenwood, Mississippi,
1973, known as The Red Ceiling; cover of Primal
Scream’s 1994 album, Give Out But Don’t Give Up
makes up our ordinary world. What is there, however strange, can be accepted without question;
familiarity will be what overwhelms us.”
One of his best-known images, Greenwood Mississippi, 1973, more commonly referred to as “The
Red Ceiling”, depicts from below a bare lightbulb and
three white electric cables leading to it against a shiny
crimson-painted ceiling. Like several Eggleston images, it is mundane in terms of subject matter and
broodingly ominous in its atmosphere. “It’s like red
blood that’s wet on the wall,” he once said. “It shocks
you every time.” Was it, though, a record of what he
actually saw or an intensification, even an exaggeration, of it? “It was the most accurately reproduced
version of what I saw, if that makes sense.” So, the
red ceiling really was that red? He nods. “The prints
I have seen of it were not artificially enriched at all.
That’s why I use the word ‘accurately’.”
What was once perceived as vulgar is now acknowledged as visionary and sought after. In 2012
at Christie’s, New York, 36 of Eggleston’s prints from
the 1970s sold for close to $6m. One of the most famous – a child’s tricycle shot from street level to appear loomingly larger than life – fetched $578,500.
Eggleston seems blithely unconcerned by this, as
only people from old money can be, while also being
utterly assured – in his elegant, unassuming way –
of his own genius. Alongside making music, he has
been drawing and painting – abstract colour works
that fill hundreds of notebooks – even longer than
he has been making photography. “I haven’t tried
writing yet, but I still might,” he says, smiling. “Drawing, painting and photography we could say are all
run by the same rules – which don’t really exist.”
To make sense of the contradictions that define
William Eggleston, the gentility and the wildness,
the elegance and the excess, one must consider his
childhood on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi
Delta. Did growing up in the old, segregated south
mark him in any way? “Not much. The negroes that
I grew up around were really like family members.
They grew up around us and their families were
born in the main houses. That’s just the way it was.”
I sense that he had little contact with, or interest in,
the social upheavals of the late 1960s in America.
“No, not one bit. Whenever it was that civil rights
happened, though, we lost all our labour. They all
moved to Chicago or somewhere like that.” On the
door of his apartment, beneath his name is a postage
‘I don’t try to express the
power of my photographs.
I think I can say the same
thing about music’
stamp depicting civil rights activist, Rosa Parks. I
take it he was pro-civil rights? “I didn’t see anything
wrong with it,” he says, matter-of-factly. “I never
did think about it much, to tell you the truth.”
And yet his photographs often address, obliquely,
yet powerfully, the discontents of the American
south. A portrait of a besuited white man and his
white-jacketed black chauffeur, both standing and
listening attentively to a funeral service that is happening beyond the frame, evokes the entire history
of racially determined deference, protocol and
power. A picture of a confederate flag, reflected in
a puddle, with the title Troubled Waters, now seems
even more prescient in its suggestion of a fading
political past and uneasy present.
Part of the complex dynamic that underpins Eggleston’s work, and perhaps even more so his life, is
the tension between his temperament, which tends
towards the excessively libertarian, and his social
position. Other than taking photographs, which
he does not depend on for a living, he has not had
to work a day in his life. Even so, his creative selfabsorption seems extreme even by artistic standards. “It could be that I was always little bit selfish
in what it was I wanted to do,” he says, “so I was not
ever that interested in what Joe Blow was interested
in.” Does he believe that one needs to be selfish to
be an artist? “Now, that’s an interesting question.
Put it this way, I don’t see anything wrong with that.
I think you are right that maybe a really fine artist
possibly has to be selfish. Maybe that is just part of
the puzzle of being an artist.”
His life, I suggest, has been one long series of improvisations. Likewise, his way of going out into the
world to take photographs. “I’ve never thought that
exactly, but now you mention it, it must be so. Why
not?” So, there is an affinity between the taking of
a photograph and the making of a piece of music? “I
think so, yes. There must be some connection but it
remains utterly mysterious to me.”
He drags on his cigarette and closes his eyes in
deep thought. A silence worthy of Samuel Beckett
ensues, before he opens them again and, exhaling
slowly, continues: “What I will say is that it’s practically impossible for me to explain in words anything
at all about an image. So I don’t ever try to express
the power of my photographs. I think I can say
exactly the same thing about a piece of music. It is
what it is and words just don’t seem to fit.” Observer
Musik is out now on Secretly Canadian
40 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
Section Subject
A revolution in 13 characters
Cate Blanchett and director Julian
Rosefeldt issue a call to arms in
Manifesto, explains Steve Rose
ere’s Cate Blanchett as you’ve never
seen her before: as a bearded man
pulling a shopping cart through
a post-industrial wasteland. In a
drunken Scottish accent he/she proclaims: “We glorify the revolution
aloud as the only engine of life. We glorify the vibrations of the inventors young and strong. They carry
the flaming torch of the revolution!” Now Blanchett
is a grieving widow telling a funeral congregation,
“to lick the penumbra and float in the big mouth
filled with honey and excrement”. Now she’s an
American news anchor in the studio, talking to a
reporter standing in the rain under an umbrella. The
reporter is also Blanchett. “Well Cate, perhaps this
could all be dealt with if man was not facing a black
hole,” she tells her other self.
Now she’s a 1950s mother, clasping her hands in
prayer before the Thanksgiving family dinner: “I
am for art that comes out of a chimney like black
hair and scatters in the sky,” she murmurs, as the
children eye the turkey hungrily.
These are not clips from the two-time Oscarwinning actor’s showreel; this is Manifesto,
originally a multi-screen gallery installation, now an
unclassifiable feature directed by German artist and
film-maker Julian Rosefeldt. The script is collaged
from more than 50 artists’ manifestos from the past
century, and recited by 13 different Blanchetts.
Today, the actor is in another persona – different
from any of her previous roles. Certainly different
from her current turn as a green-screen-chewing, emo-styled goddess of destruction in Thor:
Ragnarok. This is Blanchett as artistic collaborator. Sipping tea alongside Rosefeldt, discussing
big ideas in overlapping sentences, they are an
articulate double act.
“Well the first thing is: is it a film?” Blanchett
“She keeps asking that,” says Rosefeldt.
“The amazing thing,” Blanchett continues, “is
that there are all these assertions of debasing and
debunking and destroying what comes before in
order to create this fundamental moment of unique
artistic expression, but in performing, you’re struck
by the similarities between
een these manifestos: the
e energetic similarities and
rhythmic similarities, the
just the intellectual attack.”
Rosefeldt takes up her point: “There’s
a lot of ‘down with this’’ and ‘to hell with
ant to break with
that’. They definitely want
structures. Many of them
m were written
when they were just 20 or 21 years old.
We now look at these as texts by world
famous artists but at the time, often the
here yet. They
artwork wasn’t even there
were just angry young people.”
Blanchett continues: “But you
know, what I admire, whether
or not there are certain things
in the manifestos that I might
find personally repugnant,
there’s something brave
Many faces … Cate Blanchett in Manifesto and, below, as herself Walter McBride/WireImage
and noble about having the courage to commit to
something. I think the artist understands that you
have to invest in something, absolutely.”
Blanchett certainly invests here. They shot Manifesto in 11 days on locations in and around Berlin,
which often meant playing being, say, the old Scottish man in the morning and the newsreader in the
afternoon, then preparing the next day’s accents in
the hotel room in the evening. Often they only had
time to do one extended take.
She seems to have enjoyed the change of pace:
“I always work best – which is why I love theatre
– where it’s just: ‘The audience is there. It doesn’t
matter whether I feel like doing this or not. I’ve just
got to do it.’ It’s got the adrenaline of standup.”
She and Rosefeldt first met in 2010, introduced
by a mutual friend at the opening of Rosefeldt’s
exhibition in Berlin. The idea for Manifesto formed
in 2013, when Rosefeldt was working on Deep
Gold, a 20-minute homage to the film-maker Luis
Buñuel. In his researching, Rosefeldt came across
two manifestos by French futurist writer and
choreographer Valentine de Saint-Point. “I thought:
‘That’s interesting … Manifestos,’” he recalls.
been written by artists across
Manifestos have bee
the world at different times, but the word
still evokes the revolutionary spirit of the
19th and early 20th century. The film has
also resona
resonated in unanticipated ways
in places where
they have shown it,
such as in Istanbul,
says Rosefeldt,
shortly after
aft the referendum granting
president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
sweeping new powers, and in
France, after elections in which
Front National was in genuine
the Fron
contention. Meanwhile, in the US,
Donald T
Trump’s fixation on “fake
news” gave
ga Manifesto’s newsreader
segment a new relevance.
The political landscape has
shifted towards populism and
against “elitism”, Rosefeldt suggests. Blanchett
agrees: “It’s that notion of ‘elitism’, provocative
ideas being the domain of the educated, and keeping
those ideas separate from the people who they’re
trying to keep uneducated and disenfranchised.
This is why artists’ voices are being taken away, and
the social and political discourse we’re dealing with
at the moment is so utterly simplistic.
“As much as Manifesto is about the role of the
artist, I think it also asks: ‘What’s the role of the
audience?’ Often their attention span is underestimated, and if you’re constantly shooting below the
intelligence or the capability of an audience then
the work gets thinner and thinner.”
So how does she square that with appearing in
Thor: Ragnarok? She laughs. “Yeah. All things are
an experiment, aren’t they? If you know the outcome then why do it really? There’s got to be an
element of risk and fun and fuck-up. That’s what
keeps me energised: involvement in projects of
different scale and ambition.”
Is there a certain dissonance between, let’s say,
Manifesto Blanchett and Thor Blanchett?
“Well, I haven’t done that many effects movies,
believe it or not,” she insists. “I went in as wideeyed and bushy tailed to [Thor] as I did into this.
And also, it shouldn’t be thus, but I felt like I was
speaking to different audiences.”
Perhaps she’s channelling Tristan Tzara’s Dada
Manifesto: “I write this manifesto to show that
people can perform contrary actions together while
taking one fresh gulp of air.”
“Whether you agree or disagree with the notion of
a manifesto, it’s an effort to engage,” says Blanchett.
“It’s an encouragement. It’s about something.”
Rosefeldt concurs: “Something that started
as a love declaration to these writings has almost
become a call for action. You feel like it’s time for
action again.”
Thor: Ragnarok is on general release worldwide;
Manifesto is on selected release
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 41
Culture Reviews
Kicker here like this
Then a short description here like this
→ Then Section and page XX
Battle of the Sexes
Surrealism in Egypt
xhibitions that celebrate global twists
on the story of modernism may not see
otherness at all, but just award points to
non-European artists of the 20th century
for getting safely westernised. Surrealism in
Egypt: Art et Liberté 1938–1948, which has just
opened at Tate Liverpool, falls into that trap.
In the 1940s, a group of artists in Cairo made
surrealist paintings and photographs that are
full of bodily contortions, dream visions and
sex. Some of this art is a lot of fun. Ida Kar’s
1940 photograph Eternity shows rotting meat
on rib bones that look like colossal columns: it
is an image of ruin from a land full of the past.
Mahmoud Said’s beautifully vulgar 1933 painting
La Femme aux Boucles d’Or portrays a woman
showing off her long golden hair and generous
breasts in front of a horizon that pointedly
includes two mosques.
This painting hints at the attraction of
surrealism in early 20th-century Egypt: it was
the first art movement that preached sexual
liberation. The Parisian ways of the surrealists
pointed to freedom. But the artistic results are
only so-so. There are lots of mildly diverting
paintings of nudes such as Fouad Kamel’s,
Rock & pop
he first Gorillaz tour in seven years is an
event that arrives in the UK trailing a certain degree of hype. There has been much
talk of the vast, continually rotating cast
involved: in addition to Damon Albarn, a band
that features in its ranks two drummers and six
backing vocalists, there’s a menu of guest stars to
contend with. Tonight at the Brighton Centre, the
biggest names present are either Long Beach rapper Vince Staples or two-thirds of De La Soul, the
latter performing a rapturously received version
of Feel Good Inc. But the lack of big-name guests
shines a light on Albarn’s less glitzy collaborators.
Peven Everett is faced not merely with performing superb recent single Strobelite – its sonic debt
to early 80s boogie underscored by the sight of
Albarn accompanying him on that most early 80s
Collection of Fatenn Mostafa Kanafani
above, skeletons and strange desert plants.
Yet there is no great artist in this show and
no evidence the Egyptian wing of surrealism
added anything essential to an international
movement that was already waning by the 40s.
It achieves the opposite of what it
presumably intends. Far from decentring
surrealism, it reveals that Egyptian artists
in the mid-20th century suffered from what
Robert Hughes, remembering how enslaved he
was as a baby critic in Australia by the myth of
Manhattan, called the cultural cringe. Egyptian
surrealists cringed before the might of Paris –
as artists and writers did all over the world at
that time. Why should we look at second-rate
imitations of a modern French style when we
could be contemplating a majestically beautiful
minbar carved in Cairo in the 15th century?
Forget progress in time if you want to widen
your sense of art.
It illustrates how today’s middle-class
reverence for the modern makes it harder, not
easier, to appreciate world art. To truly decentre
how we see art, we need to escape the archetypally western cult of the new: to risk a journey in
time as well as space. Jonathan Jones
Surrealism in Egypt: Art et Liberté 1938–1948 is
at Tate Liverpool until 18 March
of instruments, the keytar – but the more unenviable task of filling in for the late Bobby Womack’s
vocal on Stylo, which he does brilliantly. Zebra
Katz, clad in a silver jumpsuit, spends Sex Murder
oss the stage like a finalist in
Party sashaying across
RuPaul’s Drag Race. But the most striking guest
might be Little Simz. Her star turn, Garage Paly alive, an urgent, hammerace, comes thrillingly
aid with vocals increasingly
ing kick drum overlaid
swamped in dubby echo effects.
ism of Gorillaz output
The sheer eclecticism
can make for a disjointed
nted live experience.
The only real linking factor is Albarn’s
ncy to crestfallenvoice, and his tendency
sounding melodies. But it’s hard
not to be impressed by the
unbridled diversity on offer.
Alexis Petridis
Touring in South America
to 30 March 2018
his is a seductively enjoyable, smart and
well-acted film based on the most deadly
serious sporting contest of modern times:
the Battle of the Sexes tennis match of
1973 in a packed Houston Astrodome. It stars
Emma Stone, pictured below right, and Steve
Carell, pictured top, respectively women’s No 1
Billie Jean King and fiftysomething ex-champ
and self-proclaimed “male chauvinist pig” Bobby
Riggs – fighting to prove that men are better at
tennis and better, full stop.
The film crucially faces the same challenge
as the participants from real life: the challenge
of tone. How unseriously should this match be
taken? How strenuously should the attitude of
casual jokiness be maintained? No one involved
in this encounter could be certain of its outcome;
neither side could be sure of avoiding humiliation, and thus everyone had a vested interest in
keeping it light. Up to a point. But only one side
was facing jokiness as a weapon, the boorish
condescension and toxic bantz that they faced
outside the sporting arena every day of their
lives. The movie displays the same gracious good
humour as its heroine.
In 1973, King was enraged by the fact that
female players on the grand slam circuit were
paid a fraction of what the men got, despite pulling in the same number of paying customers. She
formed the breakaway Women’s
Tennis Association, and
having duly punished King
with excommunication
from their club, the male
tennis establishment was
quietly scandalised to
discover that the American
public rather liked their women
rebels and pioneers. They got sponsorship
hi and
even some sympathetic press coverage. Then
the sociopathically reckless has-been Riggs challenged King to an exhibition prizefight.
Stone has intelligence and candour as King.
She is instantly sympathetic and vulnerable;
her address to the camera has a cartoony
clarity and vigour. Her Billie Jean is sensual and
vulnerable when she discovers that, despite being married, she is falling in love with a woman:
LA hairdresser Marilyn Barnett – another unassumingly excellent performance from Andrea
Riseborough, pictured below left.
As for Carell, he is the only possible casting for Riggs: the humourless, belligerent guy
thinking that he is the life and soul of the party.
It’s a variation on his manager Michael Scott from
the American TV version of The Office or his
weatherman Brick Tamland from A
creates a winning
Simon Beaufoy crea
script, smoothly h
handled by
directors Valerie Faris and
Jonathan Dayto
And what rem
remains of this
now? King’s point is
argument now
meaningful equalthe same: mea
ity is what
wha she wanted.
But pay disparity remains, and not every
workplace has access
to the Houston
Astrodome to put
them to the test.
Peter Bradshaw
42 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
Notes & Queries
Nature watch
Wenlock Edge
You can party with a pal, but
a friend will help to clean up
• I propose the Age of Deleterious.
Earl St Jean,
Warkworth, Ontario, Canada
What’s the difference between a pal
and a friend?
The level of intimacy.
Charlie Bamforth,
Davis, California, US
• With the rise in sea levels, maybe
we are in fact seeing “the dawning
of the Age of Aquarius”.
John Anderson,
Pukekohe, New Zealand
• Pals can be found on social media.
Real friends can’t.
Margaret Wilkes,
Perth, Western Australia
• It is the Era of Malevolence.
Rosemary Durrant,
Breton, Alberta, Canada
Assess the stupidity quotient
• A pal is a casual acquaintance who
may develop into a friend.
Philip Stigger,
Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Social media … a pal imitation?
• You can say “You’re my friend”,
but you don’t need to say “You’re
my pal”.
E Slack, L’Isle Jourdain, France
• “Friend” usually signifies a
relationship of somewhat greater
depth. We don’t, for example, sing
“What a pal we have in Jesus”.
Lawrie Bradly,
Surrey Hills, Victoria, Australia
• Pals share your worldview.
Friends are hard-won and
Maurice Trapp, Le Vigan, France
• You party with a pal, but a friend
helps you tidy up after.
Richard Orlando,
Westmount, Quebec, Canada
The water keeps on rising
• The difference between being an
Australian and an American.
Lorna Kaino,
Fremantle, Western Australia
• A pal is a buddy but a friend has
the potential to be a BFF.
Avril Taylor,
Dundas, Ontario, Canada
• A pal is fleeting: for half an hour
you’re the greatest; then when his
mug is drained, his mug droops
and memory fades. “Hey, pal” is
generally derogatory since the 50s
(TV cop shows).
RM Fransson,
Wheat Ridge, Colorado, US
Doesn’t much feel like the Age of
Aquarius, so what shall we call it?
The Age of Aquariums. Silly, I know.
But it seems to be representative of
humans’ effect on the natural world.
Charlie Pearson,
Portland, Oregon, US
Is it time to rethink our definition
of intelligence?
Given the state of the world, is it
time to rethink our definition of
John Boyle,
Bentleigh, Victoria, Australia
• No need: determination of the
intelligence quotient was always
somewhat artificial.
Anthony Walter,
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
More Notes & Queries
See additional answers online
Any answers?
When we lose loved ones we try to
keep them alive in our mind. How?
Edward Black,
Church Point, NSW, Australia
• I think we should call it the Age
of Acquisitions.
Denise MacKean, Denman Island,
British Columbia, Canada
What makes an idea worthy of a
R De Braganza, Kilifi, Kenya
• The Age of The Chicken
Joyce Reesor, Corner Brook,
Newfoundland, Canada
Send answers to weekly.nandq@ or Guardian
Weekly, Kings Place, 90 York Way,
London N1 9GU, UK
Good to meet you John Geffroy
It was late in a long career teaching
in an international school in the
western United States when a
colleague introduced me to the
Guardian Weekly. He had spent years
teaching in Edinburgh, and brought
his subscription to the GW with him.
At first I suspected a British
affectation; he was also almost
alone among the male faculty in
insisting on a coat and tie. However,
when he lent me several articles
he guessed would interest me, I
realised that this compact weekly,
remarkably free of advertisements,
satisfied a need that had not been
well-served in my reading. The
writing, research and analyses were
consistently at a very high level,
and the breadth of coverage of the
world was unique among the weeklies I had sampled. I soon realised
that in my teaching of social and
cultural anthropology, the Guardian
Weekly would be invaluable in
raising issues concerning social
As the match-flare of a late
November afternoon dimmed in
the trees, I caught a glimpse of
a tower. Peering through hazel
branches I could make out a tall
structure that looked like the powerstation chimney – except that was
north and this was west. It could
have been a stack of hay bales, but
harvest was over long ago.
Curious to discover what I had
seen, I wandered down the wooded
bank, losing the long view, crossed
the road and went through the
gate on to a green lane, now used
only by dog-walkers, sheep and
an occasional tractor, but once the
thoroughfare over the Edge to a
hamlet on common land below.
Up the rise I had seen earlier was
a hedge about two metres) tall, but
no tower. There was a tree: a sweet
chestnut about 20 years old. All its
leaves had fallen; its bark marked
with smudges of grey lichen like a
potter’s thumbprints; its branches
and cultural change, especially the
processes of globalisation.
Our school consistently served
students from over 75 nations, and
I soon found the paper something to
rely on. The bulletin boards outside
my classroom gradually filled with
clippings from the Guardian relating
to our coursework.
Affectation, indeed! While I am
now retired from teaching, the
Guardian Weekly never ceases to
feed my appetite for sane and urbane
coverage of a bewildering world.
If you would like to appear in
this space, send a brief note to
scratchy dark against the sky – violet
to the south, cold blue to the north,
with a scud of grey clouds. I walked
to the end of the hedge, where the
downslope began, marked by a
holly tree. It was about 3 metres tall,
flail-sided and male, still holding a
few small white flowers, but it was
not a tower.
I turned back around the
other side of the hedge, once the
boundary of the green lane. By
five o’clock, the light had gone;
the hedge held a faint orange
illumination from bark lichens and a
weft of bryony berries; its dark was
full of the wing prrrrs and tzeeps of
settling yellowhammers.
Across the fields the woooo of
a tawny owl eased from mobbing
jay anxiety into night-time.
Something in the wood let loose a
treeful of wood pigeons, all clatter
and whistle. A dog barked. There
was no tower.
I walked back the way I had
come, down the fields, across the
road and up through trees to the
point where I had looked across
to the rise. When I reached it, I
peered through hazel branches and
there against the skyglow was the
silhouette of a tower. That can’t be
right, can it? Paul Evans
Read more Nature watch online
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 43
Quick crossword
Cryptic crossword by Screw
1 The spearfish (anag) –
mythical being that can
change its form (5-7)
9 Castrated chicken (5)
10 Temporary encampment (7)
11 Swear word (4)
12 Fur – lean kiss (anag) (8)
14,6 Light open lorry with low
sides and a tailboard (4-2,5)
15 Inhabitant of the country
at the southern end of the
Arabia (6)
18 Wedged together (8)
20 Weighty book (4)
22 Touched – held (7)
23 Relinquish (5)
24 Perceive the difference –
show prejudice (12)
2 Of the liver (7)
3 Yearn (4)
4 Rent all or part of a
rented property to another
person (6)
5 Complex (8)
6 See 14
7 Assessed once more (12)
8 Expert – done (12)
13 Strong (8)
16 Self-centred person (7)
17 Not often (6)
19 Useless – underwear (5)
21 Whooper or trumpeter? (4)
Last week’s solution, No 14,814
First published in the Guardian
6 November 2017, No 14,820
1 It’s driven tooth
upwards, colliding
with craft (2-4)
2 Pushy parent
ultimately spreading
disease (6)
3 Object forcefully as
her allies crumbled
4 Joined item in
bedroom – it won’t
happen again! (3-5,5)
Futoshiki Hard
Fill in the grid so that
every row and column
contains the numbers
1-5. The “greater than”
or “less than” signs
indicate where a number
is larger or smaller than
its neighbour.
©Clarity Media Ltd
2 > 1
3 < 4
4 > 3 > 2
4 > 3
> 3 > 2
Last week’s solution
1 What’s said when
one’s due to be
cuddled by future
partner (3,1,4)
5 Rubber rings held by
campaigners next to
motorway (6)
9 How big top is
making you upset (7)
10 He checks the blue
pens qualify (7)
11 Announced
foundation course (5)
12 Opening popular bit
of summer course in
Russia (9)
13 IT-speak on the
BBC, able to get
translated (12)
17 Act of authorising
a goal line
technology, initially,
is complex (12)
20 Can early bet inform
odds, when backing
one to get up? (4,5)
22 Please tell leader
off (5)
23 Alternatively, ten
said aid sent as I
tend to fracture
after separation (7)
24 Famous item in
entrants’ pockets (7)
25 Cryptic crossword
finally found in
papers taken by
woman (6)
26 Felt constituent’s
very large following
when leading (8)
6 Swinger didn’t get
called (5)
7 Writer comes after
top journo over
detail (8)
8 Yes, a film about
insects (8)
10 These in stock?
Sees at ground
14 Pay for return of
issue once (2,3,4)
15 Prize bull’s a bit
big (8)
16 Worried about
gonads, ie balls (8)
18 Bring up secretary’s
cleavage (6)
19 Some privates
switched positions
21 Note resounding
upturns when
there’s no resistance
First published in the Guardian
16 November 2017, No 27,356
Last week’s solution, No 27,349
Sudoku classic Easy
Fill in the grid so that
every row, every column
and every 3x3 box
contains the numbers 1
to 9. We will publish the
solution next week.
Free puzzles at
Last week’s solution
44 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
China keen to advance Florence rules David’s
its toilet revolution
image is copyrighted
When Mao Zedong was building up
support to conquer China he declared: “A revolution is not a dinner
party.” And Chinese president Xi
Jinping’s mission to “revolutionise”
the country’s toilets is certainly a far
cry from hors d’oeuvres.
Xi has stressed the need to upgrade China’s toilets in order to
build a more civilised society and
improve the hygiene of the masses.
He first launched the “toilet revolution” in 2015, initially aimed at
building better bathrooms at tourist
sites. The stench and filth of many
Chinese toilets horrifies foreigners.
But the latest campaign is also
about improving the bathroom
experience for the domestic populations. Xi has reminded cadres of the
need to carry out the toilet tumult
until the end, perhaps akin to Marx’s
permanent revolution, and encouraged officials to modernise tourist
bathrooms while expanding the
push to rural homes. Many country
loos are simple pit toilets.
“The toilet issue is no small thing,
it’s an important aspect of building
civilised cities and countryside,”
Xi said in a front-page article in the
People’s Daily, the Communist party
mouthpiece. “This work must be
a concrete part of advancing our
country’s revitalisation strategy and
we must make great efforts to fill
these shortcomings that affect the
quality of life of the masses.”
The National Tourism Administration announced plans to build
and upgrade 64,000 toilets between
2018 and 2020 as part of a plan titled Advance the Toilet Revolution
Steadily. Benjamin Haas
His are the most famous curves in
Florence and adorn everything from
aprons to fridge magnets, but images of Michelangelo’s David can
now only be used with official authorisation, a court
rt in Italy
y ruled.
The 16th-century
ury marble statue
is the star attraction
ion at the Galleria
dell’Accademia, which took
legal action against
nst a
tour company that
at used
an image of the biblical
nude in marketing
ng for
€45 ($53) tours off the art
museum, which normally
costs €8 to enter.
A civil court in
Florence ordered
Visit Today to
remove the images because
of copyright infringement, and
asserted that it is
the right of the institution that holds
the work to authorise
reproduction images
only on requestt and with
payment of an agreed fee.
The gallery director,
Cecilie Hollberg,
g, who
took the civil action,
described it as a “historic victory, which
provides a precedent”.
Hollberg was
as awaiting clarification
on from
the state attorney
about whetherr the
ruling could apply
to all the objects
and souvenirss that
portray David
d and
were sold across the city, La Repubblica reported.
The mayor of Florence, Dario
Nardella, said: “Now the task for
everyone – institutions, citizens
and businesses – is to apply this
ruling. Florence’s image should not
be commercially exploited without
limits and without rules.”
Robert Booth
New Zealand media
bullish about Te Reo
High-profile New Zea
Zealand media
personalities are refusing
to back
down from using Māori words
in their prime-time
primebroadcasting, despite h
hundreds of
complaints from English
speakers w
who say they
feel exclu
excluded by the use
of the Te R
Reo language.
Newshub presen
presenter Kanoa
Lloyd, who is of M
Māori descent,
began introducing Te Reo words
reports in 2015 and
to her weather rep
received a torrent of complaints.
Many listeners sa
said they were
unhappy with Lloyd
referring to
New Zealand by its Te Reo name
of Aotearoa, an
and to the North
and South Islan
Islands by their Te
Te Ika-a-Maui and
Reo names of T
Te Waipounam
Lloyd defie
defied her critics and
continued using Te Reo
has continu
words in her job as co-host
of The P
Project NZ. Her
staunch approach to
preserving the indigenous language seems
to have inspired other
“Radio New
Zealand – the New
Zealand equivalent
of the BBC – is supposed to be free
of political meddling. Yet now it has
been hijacked, and its hapless staff
obliged to dispense their daily dose
of Te Reo,” wrote Dave Witherow in
The Otago Daily Times.
Lloyd recorded a passionate twominute video rebuttal to her detractors, saying: “I actually felt a bit
sorry for these guys, sorry the world
is moving too fast for you my bros.”
Eleanor Ainge Roy
Finnish bakery offers
cricket-based bread
A Finnish bakery has launched
what it claims to be the world’s first
insect-based bread to be offered to
consumers in stores.
The bread, made using flour
ground from dried crickets as well
as wheat flour and seeds, has more
protein than normal wheat bread.
Each loaf contains about 70 crickets
and costs €3.99 ($4.75), compared
with €2-€3 for a regular wheat loaf.
“It offers consumers a good protein source and also gives them an
easy way to familiarise themselves
with insect-based food,” said Juhani
Sibakov, the head of innovation at
the bakery firm Fazer.
The demand to find more food
sources and a desire to treat animals
more humanely have raised interest
in using insects as a protein source
in western countries.
Last month Finland joined five
other European countries – Britain,
the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria
and Denmark – in allowing insects to
be raised and marketed for food use.
“I don’t taste the difference … It
tastes like bread,” said Sara Koivisto,
a student from Helsinki, after trying
the product. Reuters
Maslanka puzzles
1 “What is wrong with this headline?,” demanded Pedanticus: “Coffee drastically lowers your risk of
heart failure and stroke: Every extra
cup boosts your longevity by 8%,
study finds”. What had nearly given
the old boy a heart attack?
2 “It’s too difficult, and my teacher
agrees!” whinged Andy. Candy, who
likes to think for herself, took a look.
“You are told the minimum value of y
for the equation y = x(x - p)/3 + 4 is 1;
and you have to deduce the value of
p.” Andy looked doubtful. “Not calculus!” he cried. “I hate calculus”. But
Candy was already working on a solution – without calculus. What is p?
3 Down at The Last Chance saloon
Tom reveals an urn. It contains –
c) precious stone used as charm
d) Sultan’s bodyguard
a) joke-word for alcoholic beverage
b) aquatic organisms that can swim
c) of the dead
d) unaffected by magnetic fields
a) driver
b) usher
c) sand dance
d) ram’s horn used in Jewish ritual
Same Difference
Find the correct definition:
a) cedar chest
b) mass of indigestible material
blocking the digestive tract
Identify the words, whose spelling
differs only in the letters shown:
******* (in a geologist’s garden?)
C******* (in the kitchen)
with equal probability – two white
balls and one black; or three white
balls. Rosencrantz withdraws a ball
at random. It is white. What are the
chances the urn contains a black ball?
He now withdraws one of the two
remaining balls at random. It is white.
What are the chances the remaining
ball in the urn is black?
Twitter: @ChrisMaslanka
E pluribus unum
Rearrange the letters of FLEEING
COUNT to make another word.
Missing Links
Find a word that follows the first
word in the clue and precedes the
second, in each case making a fresh
word or phrase. Eg the answer to fish
mix could be cake (fishcake & cake
mix) and to bat man it could be he
(bathe & he-man) ...
a) heart fast
b) horse wheel
c) dry leaf
d) mortal king
e) horse box
f) live card
©CMM2017. For solutions see page 47
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 45
Kicker here like this
Then a short description here like this
→ Then Section and page XX
Oliver Burkeman
This column will change your life
When we read the reviews for products
online why do we believe that it’s
quantity, not quality, that counts?
arlier this year I fell straight into a trap
that, I’ve since learned, is common
when shopping on the web. Seeking
to banish sunlight from the bedroom
of a tiny human who starts his nights
before dark, I stumbled upon a blackout blind that promised to cling to the
windows as if by magic (though actually by static
electricity). It got plenty of reviews online, but a
mediocre average rating owing to the fact that, in
many cases, it didn’t cling at all. Yet in some semiconscious back corner of my brain, I figured that a
product bought by so many people couldn’t be so
bad. Unfortunately, it was. For the money I paid,
I could have taped bin bags on the windows, then
spent the rest on a nice whiskey to sip in the 45
minutes available to me each evening between the
baby going to bed and me falling asleep.
There’s solace, I suppose, in learning from a
paper just published in Psychological Science
that this appears to be a basic human bias: we’re
influenced more by how many other people
have chosen a product than by how that product
worked out for them. The Stanford psychologist
Derek Powell and his colleagues presented people
with pairs of products as they might show up on
Amazon, one with a poor average rating based
on lots of reviews, the other with a similarly low
rating based only on a handful. Reliably, people
chose the product with more reviews.
This makes no sense, statistically speaking:
the larger the number of reviews on which a bad
rating is based, the higher the likelihood the
product really is bad.
This is the “law of large numbers”: famously,
if you ask a crowd of 1,000 to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar, the average of their
Illustration by Michele Marconi; right, Lo Cole
What I’m really thinking
The Muslim office worker
guesses will be spookily close to the truth; ask
three people and it probably won’t. So, if forced
to choose between two such products, you’re
actually better off selecting the one with fewer
reviews, since there’s a bigger chance the people
who hated it are outliers, whose bad experience
won’t accord with your own.
There’s a faint echo here of the “mere exposure
effect”, which describes the way that we grow
In some semi-conscious
back corner of my brain,
I figured that a product
bought by so many
people couldn’t be so bad
fond of anything to which we’re repeatedly
exposed, all else being equal, regardless of any
other reason to like or dislike it. That’s one reason that grating TV adverts work: sure, they’re
annoying, but you notice them lots, and noticing
leads to liking.
In both cases, we seem designed to find sheer
quantity (of product reviews, of encounters with
an ad) reassuring at a gut level. It takes more conscious reasoning to see, in the case of online shopping, that the larger the quantity of purchasers, the
more seriously you should recognise their judgment – and not buy something if they hated it.
This is, perhaps not coincidentally in my case,
the kind of reasoning it’s notoriously harder to
practise when you’re tired.
My family has been in the UK for
60 years. We experienced racist
abuse in public and at school, and
saw our home vandalised many
times. But that was the 1980s.
Things got better and were meant
to carry on getting better. Sadly, the
abuse is back.
Increasingly, I practise shameful pragmatism in the workplace.
I don’t overdo the Brit shtick (“We
Brits don’t do that, do we?”), but I
do think twice about admitting I’m
not a royalist. I’ve lied to pass the
Tebbit cricket test, hiding my love
for a team that infuriates me and
fills me with pride, while reminding
me of days spent with my late dad
watching the sport.
I won’t mention the latest attack.
If you bring it up, I’ll say it’s sick,
awful, depraved. Is that enough? Or
should I say I condemn it “as a Muslim”? Are you just making conversation, or are you trying to find out if
I’m a sympathiser?
As a human, I’m horrified and
disgusted. As a Muslim, I’m mostly
frightened. Insecurities and anxieties I had as an immigrant’s child,
which lessened in my 20s, have
reached unhealthy levels this past
decade. My over-consumption of
news media means even I can understand why people can’t see past
my Muslim identity any more.
So, excuse me if I seem as though
I’m keeping my head down and
sticking to conversations about
work after this latest terror attack.
Like you, I’ll be thinking of the
human spirits
rubbed out
and those defined by
this atrocity
the rest
of their
lives. I’ll also be
wondering how
tthis chapter
of history
will end.
Tell us what
you really
thinking at mind@
46 The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17
Future promise in
England’s final pain
Tight, punishing contest
sees Kangaroos take 11th
trophy from 15 attempts
Rugby League World Cup
Aaron Bower
If there is one overriding image that
will remain with England fans for at
least the next four years, it is the sight
of Kallum Watkins stumbling and
falling with the freedom of Brisbane
Stadium laid out in front of him.
At that stage the opportunity was
clear for England perhaps more than
ever before. The chance to become
world champions was on – all Watkins
had to do was stay upright. What the
centre did not account for, however,
was one of those moments that turns
the course of a game, if not a tournament, on its head: the tap that won the
Rugby League World Cup.
Step forward Josh Dugan. The
Australian’s last-ditch ankle tap, with
Australia’s women sink
New Zealand to retain title
Australia’s departing co-captains
Steph Hancock and Renae Kunst
bowed out in style, defending their
Women’s Rugby League World Cup
title with a 23-16 win over New
Zealand at Brisbane Stadium.
There was no fairytale for New
Zealand captain Laura Mariu, who
ended her 17-year international
career. Australia centre Isabelle
Kelly crossed twice but the win was
sealed by Caitlin Moran’s drop goal
with 13 seconds left, ensuring the
hosts end 2017 undefeated.
Australian Associated Press
Watkins searing away downfield, just
about felled the centre and kept Australia’s six-point lead intact. There
were further near-misses – and further
frustrations – in the closing stages as
England pressed and pressed without
any reward. By full-time the outcome
was a distinctly familiar one.
Yes, this was World Cup No 11 at the
15th attempt for the all-conquering
Kangaroos. They remain the best
side in the world and the benchmark
for everyone else. And yes, this was
a missed opportunity for England to
end that stranglehold. But before their
celebrations could begin, there was a
frank admission from the world’s best
player, the kind that confirms just how
much England have stepped up in the
eyes of the Australians.
“It’s one of the toughest games I’ve
ever played in,” said Cameron Smith.
From a multiple World Cup, State of
Origin and National Rugby League
winner, that is fair praise. It will matter little in the moments immediately
after another heartbreaking defeat to
Australia, but longer term, this heroic
performance sets England up for an
opportunity it cannot squander.
International rugby league has
been reinvigorated by this World
Cup. The emergence of Tonga as a
powerhouse and the growth of the
other Pacific Nations makes it essential that momentum is not lost. But
from England’s perspective, there is
also much to build on. Sam Burgess,
stand-in captain for the final, led the
side with passion, James Graham bled
for the cause from the first minute and
England have surely piqued the public’s attention with this heroic effort.
They certainly could not have done
any more in that regard. As good as
Super League is, the powers that be
would be wise to listen; the public
Winning moment … Josh Dugan takes flight to ankle-tap Kallum Watkins
and deny England a potentially match-turning try Gregg Porteous/PA
want more of this international rugby
league drama. It could well catch on.
If you had not seen the game and
simply glanced at the final score, 6-0
in Australia’s favour does not suggest a
classic. But as a breathless, devastated
Graham just about managed to mutter:
“What a spectacle.” He was right. The
praise kept coming too, with greats
such as the Australian full-back Billy
Slater pointing out just what a war the
Kangaroos were in.
England’s agonising pain of defeat
will eventually subside and hopefully make way for optimism. The
gap is perhaps closer than it has been
between Australia and England – now
the world’s second-best side without question – for some time. Every
player takes credit for that – as does
the coach. Wayne Bennett’s appointment two years ago was met with confusion and scrutiny. The prospect of
an Australian coaching England even
drew criticism from some Kangaroo
greats. The gripe from an English
perspective mostly revolved around
how he would be based full-time in
Australia while in charge.
Bennett promised he would make
England better. Plenty doubted
whether he would come good on it.
Russia’s festival of football can rise above the residual cynicism
Inside sport
Amy Lawrence
t should come as no surprise
for Brazil and Germany to be
earmarked as favourites for the
football World Cup in Russia.
After all, they are the two most decorated countries in the tournament’s
history (not forgetting absent friends
Italy, who, like Germany, have four
gold stars embroidered over their
crest, one behind Brazil’s five). But
when you add some context, it reveals something about sport’s capacity to drag the badly defeated back up
from the floor that most bookmakers are not willing to separate two
heavyweights who flabbergasted the
planet with Germany’s 7-1 defeat of
the hosts in the 2014 semi-final.
That the gap has narrowed
enough for the 2018 World Cup’s
leading nations to be perceived
as equal again is a testimony to a
remarkable Brazil recovery. Outside
these two, France, Spain, Belgium
and Argentina are all capable of
having a say in the latter stages.
It is easy enough for cynicism
to play its part around a World Cup
draw. Some groups appear to lack
intrigue. The opening game, Russia v
Saudi Arabia is, according to the Fifa
rankings, the lowest-grade fixture
of the tournament. Reticence about
how welcoming the host country will
be adds extra negative vibes.
World Cup 2018 draw
Group A Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
Group B Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
Group C France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
Group D Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
Group E Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
Group F Germany, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea
Group G Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
Group H Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
Finals to be played in Russia from
14 June-15 July 2018
The Guardian Weekly 08.12.17 47
Sport in brief
But the World Cup’s capacity to
overcome the cynicism, to flush
away the pre-tournament negativity,
should not be underestimated. The
Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo got
to the heart of it all with one phrase:
“Going to the World Cup looks like
the key to entering a different dimension.” That sense of possibility, of
inspiration, is felt from underdog to
favourite. Four years ago Brazil were
crippled by pressure. Now, as the saying goes, they are ready to go again.
Halfpenny’s penalty, after South Africa had battled back from what was
at one stage an 18-point deficit. The
result left Wales with two wins and
two losses from their four matches.
and Sam Allardyce took over at
Everton. Pardew’s new reign
began with a goalless draw against
former club Crystal Palace at The
Hawthorns, while Allardyce, the
former England manager, got off to
a winning start with a 2-0 success at
home to Huddersfield.
• Two veterans of English football
management returned to their
Premier League dugouts last
week, as Alan Pardew was named
manager at West Bromwich Albion
• Wales rounded off their campaign
of autumn rugby union internationals
with a 24-22 victory over South Africa
in Cardiff. A tight game between two
weakened sides was settled by Leigh
More majors? Tiger Woods back on course
Leonard Barden
Magnus Carlsen’s next defence
of his world crown will be a
12-game series in London from
9-28 November 2018.
The prize fund is the world body
Fide’s minimum of $1m, which
could yet present a problem if
Fabiano Caruana wins the eightman candidates in Berlin in March.
In that case the billionaire Rex
Sinquefield, who has made his home
city of St Louis into a global chess
capital and who could easily fund a
much larger purse, may try to have
the match switched to the US.
Meanwhile, the 10-player annual
London Classic, which has both
Carlsen and Caruana in the field, is
under way at the Olympia Conference Centre. The event is also the
final leg of the Grand Chess Tour.
Norway has two world champions
now after Aryan Tari won the world
junior (under-20) crown.
Tari’s fastest win was scored in
daring style after his provocative 4...
Bg6 opening choice where 4...Bd7
is usual to prevent 5 e6. Later 9...g5!
took the initiative,and was rewarded
with the passive 13 Be3? (13 Nxe4
dxe4 14 c3 is safe). Tari’s vigorous
15...e5! set up complications where
• As England’s cricketers played
the second Ashes Test against Australia in Adelaide, their missing star
all-rounder Ben Stokes endured a
torrid time with bat and ball on his
Canterbury debut against Otago in
New Zealand’s 50-over Ford Trophy
tournament. The 26-year-old – who
is suspended from international
duty pending possible charges over
an altercation outside a Bristol
nightclub in September – signed as
an overseas player for Canterbury in
New Zealand, but was dismissed for
two and then failed to take a wicket
in his nine overs as Otago claimed a
three-wicket win in Rangiora. Nevertheless Stokes, along with opening
batsman Alex Hales, looked set to
be included in England’s one-day
squad to face Australia in the new
year. Hales is free for selection after
he was deemed to be a witness, not
a suspect, regarding the incident in
Bristol on 25 September. Stokes will
only be free to play provided charges
do not materialise.
Maslanka solutions
3523 Vasilios Kotronias v Hristos Banikas,
Greece 2014. How did Black (to play) win?
his opponent missed the tactical trick
21...Qxg5! with a potential knight
fork, and White soon resigned.
Grigoriy Oparin v Aryan Tari
1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 Bf5 4 g4 Bg6!?
5 e6 Qd6 6 exf7+ Bxf7 7 f4 Nf6
8 Nc3 Nbd7 9 Bh3 g5!? 10 fxg5 Ne4
11 Nge2 Bg7 12 O-O O-O 13 Be3?
Nb6 14 Bf4 Nxc3 15 bxc3 e5!
16 Bg3 Nc4 17 Rf5 Bg6 18 Qd3 Qe7
19 dxe5 Nxe5 20 Qe3 Bxf5 21 gxf5
Qxg5! 22 Nf4 Rae8 23 Qe2 Ng6
24 Ne6 Nf4 25 Qg4 Nxh3+ 26 Qxh3
Qxf5 0-1
3523 1...Rxh3! 2 gxh3 Qxe4+! 3 Rxe4 Nf6! and
White resigned. The mate threat is Bxe4+.
Now there can be no doubt, and the
Rugby Football League would be wise
to persuade him to continue this journey into 2018 and beyond.
When the players begin to drag
themselves up from the floor, they
will realise they have instilled England’s rugby league followers with
hope and confidence. They will rue
this missed opportunity, but they
have delivered pride and confidence
aplenty that the future is bright.
It took 22 years for England to
return to the World Cup final. One
would hope that, following the undoubted progress made by this side
over the tournament’s six weeks and
shown by the bucketload last Saturday, it will not be that long again.
• Rickie Fowler’s stunning closing
round of 61, which claimed the Hero
World Golf Challenge by four shots,
was not enough to switch the narrative. Even Tiger Woods’s Sunday
68, meaning three sub-70 rounds
out of four as he tied ninth, failed to
be as significant as what came later.
Woods, in the immediate aftermath
of his first completed tournament
in 12 months, declared his intention
to play regularly in 2018. He even
touched upon his desire to add to a
majors haul that currently sits – and
seemed destined to close – at 14. “I
don’t know what my schedule’s going
to be but my expectations are we’ll be
playing next year,” Woods said. “How
many, where, I don’t know yet, but
we’ll figure it out.” Woods’s fourth
surgery, a back fusion, has cured
what he described last week as crippling pain. Nonetheless, and sensibly
given the context, the 41-year-old
has called for patience as a watching
world wonders whether he can even
partly replicate past glories.
1 It must be difficult for headline writers, who
have to scan an article for the gist and
summarise it neatly in a few words. Although
we are gratified and prepared to believe that the
risk of a stroke or infarct might well increase
monotonically with each coffee quaffed it is
absurd that every extra cup should increase
longevity by 8%; for then two cups would
increase it by above 16%. I leave you to deduce
how many cups you need to double your life
expectancy. (I assume that by “every extra
cup” it means every extra daily cup). With
thanks to Robin Derricourt of Sydney for
sending this in.
2 y = x(x – p)⁄3 + 4. Rearrange this to give a
more pliable form: x2 - px = 3y – 12. If we add
(p⁄2)2 to each side [How do you know that’s
what you should add?] we find (x – p⁄2)2 = 3y –
12 + (p2)⁄4. But (x – p⁄2)2 ≥ 0; that is 3y – 12 +
(p2)⁄4 ≥ 0. In other words 3y ≥ 12 – (p2)⁄4. But
the minimum value is 1; so 3 = 12 – (p2)⁄4,
whence p2 = 36; so p = ±6. (This is part of an
“impossible” exam question controversially
set in New Zealand.)
3 At the outset the probability it is the black
urn P(B) = 1⁄2. Now there are 5 white balls, each
of them as likely to be the one that has been
withdrawn. Two of these are associated with
an urn with a black ball in; 3 with the urn with 3
balls in. The chances are thus 2⁄5 that the ball
came from an urn with the black ball in; so
after the first withdrawal, P(B)’ = 2⁄5. Now begin
again and this time withdraw two balls. The
number of (ordered) ways that could happen if
there is a black ball are 2; whereas in the other
case it is 6; so P(B)” = 2⁄(2 + 6) = 1⁄4.
Wordpool b), b), d)
Missing Links a) heart/break/fast b) horse/
fly/wheel c) dry/dock/leaf d) mortal/sin/king
e) horse/shoe/box f) live/rail/card
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products with lots of bad reviews?
Mind & Relationships, page 45
Zoe Williams
Are you fed up with secret Santa,
mince pies, office drinks and the whole
festive thing? Here’s how to say no
at Christmas and get away with it
f this season seems tailored to stimulate the
anxieties of Fomo sufferers – fear of missing
out – it holds just as much horror for those
with Dogi – dread of getting involved. They
are pinged like pinballs from one question
to which the answer is no, to another. Would
you like to come to x, spend the evening at y,
spend an entire day at the house of z, have another
drink, have a mince pie, come in for mulled wine,
taste my world-beating cake, join our secret Santa,
take a look at my tree why dontcha?
For some, all the true answers are “no”;
others wouldn’t mind a qualified yes, but balk at
the sheer scale of it all. Why can’t lunch just be
lunch? Why does it have to be 15 hours? There is
a subsection of questions to which the answer is
“nothing” – what would you like for Christmas?
What have you been up to all year? – and we’ll just
have to resolve that another time.
Just by the way, I am a no-er. I’m on the other
side of the hedge altogether, making the demands
and looking crestfallen when a person wants to
catch the last train. But only people who like to say
“yes” can explain how to say “no” in a way that the
“yessies” will understand, or at least accept.
Probably the most common no/yes axis is drink:
the season turns everyone into a problem drinker,
exaggeratedly merry and unrestrained, except
those who were problem drinkers already, who
find it really annoying how hard it suddenly is to
get to the bar. It is vital to the carnivalesque spirit
that everyone joins in; otherwise the alcoholic
bubble bursts and you’re just regular people, with
regular livers, on a regular Tuesday night, with a
regular wreck of a Wednesday coming.
There is a well-known canon of excuses for
teetotalism: I have a hangover; I’m on antibiotics
(one from the 80s, there – most antibiotics are
no longer incompatible with alcohol, but there
is something about a social lie that doesn’t keep
up with the times); my journey with booze has
come to an end (I like the open-endedness of this:
come to an end this week? Or come to an end for
ever? Only an oaf would press the point); I have
a big meeting tomorrow. All of these rely on the
premise that you’re dealing with reasonable
people, with a sense of accountability, who can
understand cause and effect.
That is exactly the opposite of what you’re
dealing with: a person like that wouldn’t be
trying to get you drunk in the first place. A person
like that would already have gone home. There
is no reasoning with merry people, you cannot
appeal to their wisdom. You just have to pretend
that the drink in your hand, whatever it is, has
vodka in it. Carry two drinks to ram home just
how thirsty you are.
The season turns
everyone into a problem
drinker, exaggeratedly
merry and unrestrained
At some point in the evening, your sobriety will
start to emit a high-pitched warning noise to other
people, who in the ever-dimmer caves of their
consciousness will notice that you’re not slurring
or repeating yourself. Five minutes before that
point, leave. Don’t say goodbye. Everyone notices
the person who’s the first to say goodbye; nobody
in the history of the social human has ever noticed
what time one person disappeared.
Refusing food, even though it should be a
universal human right not to eat something you
don’t fancy, is somehow even more freighted and
emotional. There is a sense of collective responsibility, here – look, none of us like mince pies, all of
us would rather not have this oppressive feeling
of baked goods backing right up to our oesophaguses, but we all take it for the team.
Demurring is like freeloading on other people’s
sense of duty. Just eat it. Even having to explain
this is making me want to eat a chocolate, just
to prove it’s not that big a deal in the service of
harmony. Again, the answer is never to find more
inventive ways of saying no; being gluten-free or
on a diet just compounds the original offence. It’s
better to just have something in your mouth that
makes it impossible to put anything else in, like
chewing gum, or a cigarette, or a party horn.
When it comes to social events, there are none
of these easy fixes: unavoidably, if you don’t go,
even if you’ve said you’re going to, people will
notice you’re not there. In the olden days, anyone
who hated hanging out with their families would
volunteer for Shelter. It’s a double-edged sword
for the homeless charity: they get a lot of brand
recognition (ha! Take that, RSPCA. Nobody’s
sitting round discussing your good works with
helping animals over Christmas dinner, while they
mourn the absence of uncle Tim). But they’re also
becoming a little jaded, and now I believe you
have to volunteer for the whole three days if you
want to hitch yourself to their apple-wagon.
You can always be the person who goes overseas for the whole two weeks, then stay indoors.
It’s like the premise for an afternoon radio drama,
rife with risk and potential for mishap. But definitely have a go if you think you’re crafty enough.
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