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The Guardian Weekly – December 15, 2017

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Vol 198 No 2 £2.90 €5.50* Exclusions apply
A week in the life of the world | 15-21 December 2017
May’s great
Brexit escape
EU deal keeps
talks on track
Legends in their
own lunchtime
How sandwiches
consumed Britain
From Doctorr
to Duke
Matt Smith on
a regal role
Jerusalem fears for its future
Anxiety along city’s
fault line amid wider
dismay over Trump’s
plan to move embassy
Peter Beaumont Jerusalem
In the driving rain of a Jerusalem
winter storm, the site suggested as a
potential location for a future US embassy in one of the world’s most contested cities isn’t much to look at it.
Sandwiched between two busy roads
in north Talpiot district in the west
of the city, it is a scrubby area of dirt
punctuated with litter and a few trees.
Unprepossessing as it is, this
plot is the most visible symbol of a
controversy set to disrupt the Middle East after Donald Trump last
week said the US would recognise
Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and
announced plans to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the city.
The location of a barracks during the
British mandate, the site was later an
Israeli police base before being rented
on a peppercorn, 99-year lease to the
US government for $1 a year.
In a city of deep divisions – claimed
as a capital by both Israelis and Palestinians – this plot is now on a dangerous fracture line splitting not only
Palestinians and Israelis, but the
Middle East and international diplomatic opinion that for five decades
has avoided recognising Jerusalem as
Israel’s capital alone.
Last Wednesday, as Trump delivered his speech, Jerusalem had never
felt more divided and anxious. In the
conference hall and corridors of the
city’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, where
Anger … a Palestinian defies the US decision in front of al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem Ahmad Gharabli/Getty
the Jerusalem Post was holding its
annual diplomatic conference, Israeli ministers and leading political
figures appeared exhilarated by the
news. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, avoided mentioning
the issue but had rarely seemed more
pleased, boasting about Israel’s diplomatic victories under his tutelage
even as Middle Eastern leaders were
delivering dire warnings about the
repercussions of the embassy move.
Others, however, did not dodge the
matter. “This is also the time for the
entire world to recognise united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Policies
should not be dictated by threats and
intimidation,” said Yair Lapid, leader
of Yesh Atid, a centre-left opposition
party. “If violence is the only argument against moving the embassy to
Jerusalem, then it only proves it is the
right thing to do.”
Outside the Waldorf’s corridors,
however, others were questioning the potential cost of a move that
has alarm ed many on both sides,
even those who believe the move
is overdue. Among them was Aviad
Kleinberg, writing in the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. “There is
a good chance that this recognition,
which is reasonable and justified in
and of itself, will spark – if done separately from a peace agreement – waves
of violence around the world. People
will be killed. Is that justified?” he said.
Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, also warned of the risk
of renewed violence in the
city and the West Bank,
while European embassies
Abu Dhabi AED14.50 Bahrain BHD1.90 *Cyprus €2.50 Czech Rep CZK145 Denmark DKK39 Dubai AED14.50 Egypt EGP49 *Greece €3.95 Hong Kong HKD52 Hungary HUF950 *Republic of Ireland €3.30 Japan JPY900 Jordan JOD2.90 Kuwait KWD1.45
Latvia €5.50 Lebanon LBP6000 *Malta €2.20 Norway NOK52 Oman OMR1.65 Pakistan PKR385 Poland PLN14 Qatar QAR14.50 Saudi Arabia SAR15.50 Singapore SGD8 South Africa ZAR49.90 Sweden SEK55 Switzerland CHF9 Turkey TRY15.50
2 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
World roundup
Clues in US embassy’s Havana puzzle
Scourge of tax cheats is new Polish PM
Doctors treating
the victims of
invisible attacks
on the US embassy in
Cuba have discovered
brain abnormalities as
they search for clues to
explain the damage to
their hearing, vision,
balance and memory.
Tests have revealed
the embassy workers
developed changes to
the white matter tracts
that let different parts
of the brain communicate, several US officials
said. Loud sounds followed by hearing loss
and ear-ringing had led
investigators to suspect
“sonic attacks”. But
officials are now avoiding that term.
Physicians, the FBI
and US intelligence
agencies have spent
months trying to piece
together the puzzle in
Havana, where the US
says 24 government
officials and spouses fell
ill, starting last year in
homes and later in some
hotels. The US refers to
“specific attacks”, but
says it does not know
who is behind them.
For more US news,
see pages 4-5
Poland’s ruling
Law and Justice
(PiS) party named
Mateusz Morawiecki as
replacement for Beata
Szydło, who resigned as
prime minister.
Morawiecki, 49,
made a name for himself
by tackling tax evasion
and bolstering the
welfare state. A broader
government reshuffle is
expected ahead of local
elections next year, a
parliamentary poll in
2019 and a presidential
election in 2020.
Changes to state
institutions introduced
by the Eurosceptic PiS
have been attacked by
critics in the EU and US
for subverting democracy and the rule of law
in Poland.
More Europe
news, page 8
Hardliner to lead French conservatives
France’s bitterly
divided conservative opposition
party has elected a new
hardline leader.
Laurent Wauquiez
will take control of the
Les Républicains (LR)
party after its disastrous
performance in the
presidential election this
year when its candidate,
François Fillon, failed to
make it into the secondround vote.
Wauquiez was elected
president of LR with
74.6% of the votes.
However, less than half
of the 235,000 paid-up
party members – 99,600
in all – cast a ballot.
Man held over NYC subway bomb blast
A 27-year-old man
was in custody
after detonating
an “improvised” explosive device attached
to his body on the New
York City subway on
Monday morning. The
suspect, Akayed Ullah, a
Bangladeshi immigrant,
was one of four people
injured in the explosion, which occurred in
midtown Manhattan,
New York City police
said. None of the injuries
were life-threatening.
Mayor Bill de Blasio
said: “This was an
attempted terrorist
attack.” He also said
there were “no known
additional incidents”
but added there would
be an increased police
presence in the city.
Rio police and military net drug kingpin
Security forces
in Rio de Janeiro
have arrested a
drug kingpin blamed
for a war between
rival gangs in Brazil’s
biggest favela.
Rogério da Silva,
36, also known as
Rogério 157,
was seized in
an operation
3,000 Brazilian military
and police. He
was wanted for
homicide, extortion
and drug trafficking,
and a $15,000 reward
had been offered for
his arrest.
Rio’s O Globo newspaper said he was caught
hiding under a duvet
after jumping the wall of
his safe house. His arrest
marks a rare success for
police in a city where
violent crime is soaring.
Cristiana Bento,
a detective who
the arrest,
said Da Silva,
pictured, was
responsible for
the gang war
that exploded in
Rocinha favela, situated
between Ipanema and
the city’s Olympic Park.
More Latin America
news, page 6
Al Franken resigns from US Senate
Senator Al Franken
became the highest-ranking US politician yet to step down
in the wake of widening
allegations of sexual
misconduct against
powerful men in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the
media and politics.
Addressing the
Senate last Thursday,
Franken, who said he
would quit in the coming weeks, declared: “All
women deserve to be
heard and their experiences taken seriously.”
But he said that his
response to the sexual
misconduct allegations
“gave some people the
false impression that
I was admitting doing
things that I hadn’t
done. Some of the allegations against me are
simply not true. Others I
remember differently.”
His decision followed
calls led by Senate
Democratic women who
urged Franken, one of
their party’s most popular figures and a former
star of Saturday Night
Live, to step down.
In the last few weeks
Franken, 66, has been
accused by more than
half a dozen women of
groping or trying to forcibly kiss them.
The senator apologised for his behaviour
and asked the Senate
ethics committee to
investigate him. Initially
he appeared poised to
ride out the controversy,
even as John Conyers,
the longest-serving
member of the House
of Representatives, left
Congress amid multiple
accusations of sexual
Franken’s replacement will be appointed
by Minnesota’s Democratic governor, Mark
Dayton, to serve until
the 2018 election.
UN peacekeepers killed in Congo
Heavily armed militants killed at least
15 peacekeepers
and five soldiers in the
Democratic Republic of
the Congo (DRC) in one
of the worst attacks on
United Nations personnel in recent memory.
More than 50 peacekeepers were wounded
after fighters from a
local Islamist extremist
group overran a remote
base in the east of the
country, after hours of
confused fighting last
Thursday. Many casualties were in a critical
condition and the death
toll was expected to rise.
António Guterres,
the UN secretary
general, described the
attack as the worst in
the UN’s recent history
and “a war crime”.
“I condemn this
attack unequivocally,”
Guterres said.
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 3
The week’s events in pictures
→ Centre pages 24-25
Iraq announces fight against Isis is over
Iraq formally
declared its
fight against
Islamic State over after
three years of combat,
although surviving militants are widely expected
to launch a guerrilla war.
Iraq’s prime minister,
Haider al-Abadi, made
the announcement in
Baghdad last Saturday.
The full length of
the border between
Iraq and Syria is also
now held by Iraqi
forces. “All Iraqi lands
are liberated from
terrorist Daesh [Isis]
gangs and our forces
completely control the
international IraqiSyrian border,” Lt Gen
Abdul-Amir Rasheed Yar
Allah said.
More Middle East
news, pages 4-5
Saudi Arabia to lift ban on cinemas
Saudi Arabia
is to allow
to open for the first
time in 35 years as it
continues a push to
overhaul its society and
image after decades of
hardline rule. The first
movie theatres will be
opened by March and it
is intended that up to
2,000 screens will be in
place within 12 years.
The plan was widely
welcomed but left some
Saudis worried that the
speed of change would
lead to a pushback
in a country that for
decades has been one
of the world’s most
culturally restrictive. The
announcement made by
culture minister Awwad
Alawwad gave no details
about whether audiences
would be segregated
along gender lines.
India encourages intercaste marriage
India has
an incentive
scheme for Hindus who
marry members of the
country’s poorest and
most oppressed caste,
the Dalits.
A scheme introduced
in 2013 offered 250,000
rupees ($3,875) to
encourage Hindus
from higher castes
to marry members
of the “untouchable”
The government
envisaged about 500
such marriages annually,
but less than 100
have taken place each
year. To revitalise the
scheme, the Ministry
of Social Justice and
Empowerment has
scrapped the 500,000rupee income ceiling for
the higher-caste spouse.
China planning for North Korea refugees
Brawl erupts among Cameroon’s MPs
A politician was
hurt by an object
thrown by another
MP during chaotic
scenes in Cameroon’s
parliament during
a budget debate.
The fracas comes
against a
backdrop of
unrest in the
regions that
led to independence protests that
turned fatal in October
and the detention last
week of US professor
Patrice Nganang for criticising the government’s
handling of the issue.
Government spokesman Issa Tchiroma
said Nganang’s arrest
followed the posting
on Facebook of a death
threat against the head
of state. He repeated
the pledge of
president Paul
Biya, pictured,
who has been
in charge of
the francophone nation
since 1982, to rid
the country of what
he calls secessionists
among the Englishspeaking minority,
which has complained
of discrimination.
China is quietly
building a
network of
refugee camps along its
1,400km border with
North Korea as it braces
for the exodus that a
conflict or the collapse
of Kim Jong-un’s regime
might unleash.
The existence of plans
for the camps emerged
in an apparently leaked
document from a staterun telecoms giant
tasked with providing
internet services.
The China Mobile
document, circulated on
social media and overseas Chinese websites
since last week, reveals
plans for at least five
refugee camps in
Jilin province.
The document, which
the Guardian could not
independently verify,
says: “Due to crossborder tensions … the
[Communist] party
committee and government of Changbai county
has proposed setting
up five refugee camps
in the county.”
It gives the names
and locations of three
such facilities: Changbai riverside, Changbai
Shibalidaogou and
Changbai Jiguanlizi.
North Atlantic right whales could vanish New Zealand school needs pupils
The US National
Oceanic and
Administration (Noaa)
said North Atlantic right
whales could become
extinct. About 450 are
left and only about 100
breeding females. This
year 17 died. US and
Canadian regulators
need to consider the
possibility that the population will not recover
without action, said John
Bullard from Noaa.
More environment
news, page 12
A school in
rural New Zealand that has
no students has pledged
to stay open for as long
as possible in case a new
pupil wants to enrol.
Tuturumuri school in
Wairarapa in the North
Island has been without
any children for the last
term and has no new
children scheduled to
start in the new year.
Teachers say the lack of
students is down to families moving out of the
area as the region’s farming industry contracts.
However, the school’s
board said it will use
its savings account to
pay three staff so it can
remain open for the coming term. If they don’t
have any enrolments
next year, the plan is to
buy a bus so children can
be taught in the nearest
town, 35km away.
Any new students
would get the highest
staff-to-student ratio
in the country – and
a heated indoor
swimming pool.
More Asia Pacific
news, page 7
4 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
International news Middle East
Macron warns Netanyahu of
new threat to regional peace
French president urges
freeze on settlement
building in West Bank
Peter Beaumont Jerusalem
Patrick Wintour
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has warned that US recognition
of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a
“threat to peace” as he hosted Israel’s
prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu,
on his first foreign trip since Donald
Trump provoked widespread condemnation with the decision.
The joint appearance by the two
men, following talks in Paris, came
after teargas was used to disperse
protesters outside the US embassy in
Beirut and a Palestinian man stabbed
an Israeli security guard at Jerusalem’s
central bus station in the first attack
in the city since the announcement.
Palestinian media identified the
assailant as 24-year-old Yasin Abu
al-Qur’a, from a village near Nablus
in the northern West Bank, who reportedly posted on Facebook hours
earlier mentioning Jerusalem. Police
described it as a terrorist attack.
Trump last week declared that the
US would recognise Jerusalem as the
Israeli capital, breaking the international consensus on one of the most
sensitive issues in relations between
Israel and the Palestinians, who wish
the capital of a future Palestinian state
to be in the east of the city.
Macron said he had told Netanyahu that Trump’s statement on Jerusalem “is a threat to peace and we
are against it”, and suggested that
an Israeli freeze on settlement building would be an important gesture,
Israelis hail Trump’s
move but deep
anxieties remain
← Continued from page 1 have warned
visitors to avoid demonstrations and
gatherings. And the complexities of
Jerusalem, the reality of which seems
to have gone above Trump’s head, are
summed up by areas like Shuafat refugee camp, the only one inside the city
limits. Part of the Jerusalem municipality, Shuafat is on the other side of
the Israeli separation wall.
In Shuafat, the Trump speech
changed everything. In a social club
in the camp, young Palestinian men
showing Israel was committed to
peace. In uncompromising remarks
unlikely to calm the crisis, Netanyahu
replied that the sooner Palestinians
recognised the reality that Jerusalem
was Israel’s capital, the sooner there
would be peace. He also lashed out at
the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip
Erdoğan, saying he would not “take
lectures” from someone who bombs
Kurdish villages, supports Iran and
“terrorists” in Gaza.
Several rockets were fired from the
Gaza Strip toward Israel last Thursday
and Friday following Trump’s declaration, leading Israel to respond with
airstrikes that killed two people.
Macron has led European criticism
of the US decision and rang Trump to
warn him of the likely damaging consequences for the Palestinian peace
process. Before Netanyahu’s visit, he
and Erdoğan spoke about a joint diplomatic approach to try to persuade
the US to row back on Jerusalem. He
began his remarks alongside Netanyahu with a condemnation “of all
forms of attacks in the last hours and
days against Israel”.
Graphic footage of the incident in
Jerusalem showed the attacker calmly
handing his coat to the security guard
before abruptly plunging a large
knife into his chest. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the guard
sustained a serious wound and the
attacker was apprehended.
In Beirut, Lebanese security forces
broke up a protest outside the heavily guarded US embassy with teargas
after demonstrators pelted them with
stones. Protesters, some waving Palestinian flags, lit fires in the street and
threw objects at members of the security forces who had barricaded the
main road to the embassy. Addressing
the protesters, the head of the Lebanese Communist party, Hanna Gharib,
declared Washington “the enemy of
Palestine” and said the embassy was
“a symbol of imperialist aggression”
that must be closed.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to
the UN, defended Trump’s decision,
saying it reflected his appreciation
for facts on the ground and – without giving details – that it would advance peace talks. “You’ve got the
parliament, the president, the prime
minister, the supreme court, so why
shouldn’t we have the embassy there?”
she told CBS. “When you recognise the
truth, when both parties recognise reality, peace comes. We are living in the
reality that Jerusalem is the capital of
Israel.” She said US allies in the Middle
East were more concerned about Iran’s
growing influence in the region.
The US president’s recognition of
Jerusalem as the Israeli capital has
nevertheless infuriated the Arab
world and upset western allies, who
say it is a blow to peace efforts and
risks causing further unrest.
Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after
capturing it in 1967, to be occupied territory. They say the status of the city
should be decided at future IsraeliPalestinian talks.
On Monday, Netanyahu met the EU
foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, in Brussels, as well as 27 EU foreign
ministers, who rejected calls by Israel
for them to follow Trump’s example
and recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s
capital. Even the Czech Republic, one
of Israel’s closest allies, said Trump’s
decision was bad for peace efforts.
France said Jerusalem’s status could
be agreed only in a final deal between
Israelis and Palestinians.
were playing snooker and cards in the
minutes before the televised speech,
which – translated into Arabic – was
watched intensely and at first largely
in silence, with the television tuned to
a Palestinian channel with a new logo
declaring “Jerusalem is ours”.
“He’s saying he’s going to move the
embassy,” said Hamdi Dyab, growing
more agitated by the minute. “This is
very dangerous speech. Things don’t
look good. We are calling for a new
intifada. Now we can’t accept a twostate solution. We wanted Palestine
from the sea to the Jordan river!”
Sheikh Abdullah Alqam, coordinator of a Jerusalem committee
representing Palestinian factions in
East Jerusalem, also delivered a stark
warning as Trump spoke. “This will
only encourage extremism. It will encourage Isis. Over one billion Muslims
are asking why he is taking this step.”
Then there are the settlements
inside Jerusalem’s boundaries, most
unrecognised by the international
community. Some are simply houses
occupied by settlers in the Muslim
Quarter of the Old City and Palestinian
districts in the east of the city. Others
comprise whole districts, like Pisgat
Ze’ev on the other side of the wall from
the camp in Jerusalem’s east.
Among the shoppers in Pisgat
Ze’ev’s mall last Wednesday were
Miriam Barr and Natalya Yakoby, who
Straight talk … Benjamin Netanyahu
and Emmanuel Macron together in
Paris Philippe Wojazer/Getty
Mogherini said Europe would
become more intensely involved in
the Middle East peace process, adding that she believed that “the only
realistic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine is based
on two states with Jerusalem as the
capital of both”. The EU would continue to recognise the “international
consensus” on Jerusalem, Mogherini said, adding that the EU would
Mediterranean Sea
Golan Heights
Tel Aviv
30 km
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 5
The hand of Kushner
Trump’s son-in-law is causing havoc
→ Comment, page 19
What recognising Jerusalem
as Israel’s capital will mean
In a move condemned by most
of the world, Donald Trump announced the US will recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. What
does it mean for the key players?
The peace process
This has been in effect at death’s
door since former secretary of state
John Kerry’s peace mission ended in
failure in 2014. But the international
community – apart from the US – is
united in saying recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel is disastrous for hopes of reviving meaningful talks. The status of Jerusalem is
seen as one of the pivotal issues that
must be agreed between the two
parties in negotiations.
The Palestinians
They will see Trump’s announcement as the end of their hopes and
demands for East Jerusalem as a
capital of a future independent Palestinian state. Many will feel diplomatic efforts have got them no closer
to a state of their own, and will see
little alternative to direct action.
increase its peace efforts and hold
talks with the Palestinian president,
Mahmoud Abbas, next month.
Before he left Israel for Europe,
Netanyahu was critical of EU leaders, who have also condemned the
building of Israeli settlements in the
West Bank. “While I respect Europe,
I am not prepared to accept a double
standard from it,” Netanyahu said
last Saturday. “I hear voices from
there condemning President Trump’s
historic statement, but I have not
heard condemnations of the rockets
fired at Israel or the terrible incitement
Municipal boundary
East Jerusalem
The proposed
site for the US
embassy in
Location of
existing US
3 km
against it. I am not prepared to accept
this hypocrisy.”
Arab League foreign ministers met
last Saturday to denounce the US decision as illegitimate and unlawful, but
held back from any new measures.
The Arab League chief, Ahmed
Aboul Gheit, said the shift in US policy
undermined Arab confidence in the
Trump administration and amounted
to legalisation of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The ministers said
the move “deepens tension, ignites
anger and threatens to plunge the region into more violence and chaos”.
though happy with Trump’s planned
recognition were also nervous about
what it might mean. “ This is our
country and of course we want Jerusalem to be recognised as the capital
of Israel. But I am worried,” said Barr.
“We have young children. We made
aliyah [the act of moving to Israel]
here from Russia,” explained Yakoby.
“Our only thought is that our kids
have a better life. And one of the kids
in my son’s class was injured in an attack near here, though now he is OK.”
Was Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem worth the risk? Barr shakes her
head slightly. “They [the Palestinians]
want us to give up more and more. But
of course the best situation is peace.”
The state of Israel
Ever since it captured (and later annexed) East Jerusalem in the 1967
six-day war, Israel has claimed the
city as its “eternal and undivided”
capital and has longed for international recognition. Trump’s decision
will reinforce the view of many
Israeli politicians that there is little
to be gained by negotiating with the
Palestinians. Some 200,000 Israelis
living in settlements in occupied
East Jerusalem, illegal under international law, will also celebrate.
The region
Trump’s move will further destabilise an already volatile region. The
powerful Turkish president, Recep
Tayyip Erdoğan, said the US was
“plunging the region and the world
into a fire with no end in sight”.
Turkey hinted it might cut ties with
Israel. Saudi Arabia believes the
move damages its efforts for a peace
deal. Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and
Syria all condemned the move.
Most western European countries
will be deeply alarmed, but a key
question is whether the EU will take
action, such as enforcing bans on
imports from West Bank settlements
and refusing to deal with Israeli
businesses in occupied territory.
Christians in the Holy Land
Patriarch Theophilos III, the Greek
Orthodox patriarchate, seen as the
most senior Christian figure in Jerusalem, and a dozen other church
leaders in the Holy Land sent a letter
to Trump last Wednesday warning of
“irreparable harm”. His move “will
yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and
the Holy Land, moving us farther
from the goal of unity and deeper
toward destructive division”.
The city itself
In 2015 Palestinians made up 37%
of the city’s population of about
850,000. Many live in overcrowded
homes and areas, unable to get
permits to build or extend buildings. Three-quarters live below the
poverty line, and 25% live in districts
cut off from the rest of the city by
the separation barrier. Nir Barkat,
the city’s mayor, said: “Here in Jerusalem and Israel we applaud the
president.” If people became violent,
“they will pay a heavy price”.
Harriet Sherwood
US seeks to quell global outrage: ‘The sky hasn’t fallen’
Two days after America’s closest
allies denounced it in the UN, a
day after an Israeli airstrike killed
two in Gaza, and hours after protests erupted near the US embassy
in Lebanon, Nikki Haley, Donald
Trump’s envoy to the UN, relayed
his message to the world: “The
sky’s still up there. It hasn’t fallen.”
Despite widespread protests following the president’s announcement, Haley last Sunday argued
that the decision has realpolitik
logic. She suggested Israeli settlements and Palestinian poverty do
not weigh as heavily on the minds
of Middle East allies, especially
Saudi Arabia, as does Iran’s growing influence in the region. “What
they mostly care about and what
is their top priority is Iran, and we
are in lockstep with them.” Asked
about fears that the decision might
inflame extremists in the region,
Haley said: “I have no concern.”
Haley asserted that Trump’s announcement “will go down in history” as “the move that finally got
the two parties to come to the table”. Sceptics should return in five
or 10 years to ask about the peace
talks, she said. Alan Yuhas
6 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
International news
Maduro consolidates power
Venezuela ‘corruption’
arrests snare potential
2018 election opposition
Rachelle Krygier Caracas
Anthony Faiola
Washington Post
Four days before the knock on his
door, Venezuela’s oil minister tweeted
an ode to president Nicolás Maduro:
“Thank you, President Maduro, for
giving me the honour of being by
your side.”
Flattery got the oil chief nowhere.
In a scene videotaped and displayed
on government channels, a masked
intelligence agent, clad in black,
handcuffed the surprised minister
at the door of his home on 30
November, before hauling him away
to a military jail.
Venezuela’s government called
the arrest of Eulogio Del Pino part of
a “historic fight against corruption”
that in recent weeks has ensnared
dozens of senior officials, especially
those linked to the all-important state
oil giant, PDVSA. Yet observers say
the moves also highlight an escalating effort by Maduro to consolidate
power ahead of next year’s presidential elections, in which he is expected
to seek another term.
The removals include the forced
resignation earlier this month of
Venezuela’s once-powerful envoy to
the United Nations, Rafael Ramírez,
who some saw as a possible Maduro
rival in their United Socialist party of
Venezuela. Del Pino was viewed by
some as one of “Ramírez’s men” – as
were several other arrested officials.
Maduro “seems to be clearing the
decks for a presidential run in 2018,
trying to reduce the stature and
perhaps the freedom of anyone who
might be a countervailing centre of
power”, said Eric Farnsworth, vicepresident of the Americas Society and
Council of the Americas, a business
and culture organisation.
Maduro, the handpicked successor of leftist firebrand Hugo Chávez,
who died in 2013, is among a handful
of global leaders identified as threats
by the Trump administration, which
has described Maduro as a dictator.
With Venezuela’s economic crisis
spiralling out of control, the climate
is ripe for dissent.
Yet after suffering a series of arrests
and electoral setbacks that many
blamed on fraud and intimidation,
the political opposition is weakened
and divided. One faction, for instance, participated in last Sunday’s
mayoral elections – in which the ruling
Box ticked … Maduro is said to be
‘clearing the decks’ for a 2018 run
party won more than 300 of the 335
offices – while others boycotted it.
The opposition is in such disarray that
despite Venezuela’s myriad problems,
a new public opinion poll showed
Maduro’s popularity jumping to 31%,
the highest in two years.
With his opposition neutralised as
an immediate threat, Maduro appears
to be looking closer to home, observers
say. At least one thing is sure: internal
divisions within the socialist party
founded by Chávez have rarely been
Opposition ban threatened
Venezuela’s ruling socialists
triumphed in nearly all mayoral
elections across the country, as president Nicolás Maduro threatened
to ban opposition parties from future elections in the oil-rich country wracked by economic crisis.
Hundreds of supporters shouted
“Go home, Donald Trump” to
interrupt Maduro at a rally late
last Sunday in the colonial centre
of Caracas, where he announced
that pro-government candidates
had won more than 300 of the 335
mayoral offices.
Three of the four biggest opposition parties refused to take part in
last Sunday’s contests, protesting
against what they called an electoral system rigged by a “dictator”.
After voting, Maduro said.
“A party that has not participated
today cannot participate any more.
They will disappear from the political map.” Associated Press Caracas
so public. Last Tuesday, Ramírez, the
representative to the UN and once
one of the country’s most powerful
government officials, announced in a
tweet that he was quitting his post at
Maduro’s request.
“I’ve been removed because of
my opinions. I will continue to be,
no matter what, loyal to Commander
Chávez,” he tweeted.
Ramírez, a close Chávez ally who
ran PDVSA from 2004 to 2014, had
been the subject of intrigue for years.
The oil giant has been implicated in
a number of corruption scandals
during Ram írez’s reign and afterward. In 2015, officials in Andorra
intervened in a bank called BPA
after the US government said it was
involved in laundering billions of
dollars, including money pilfered
from PDVSA. Ram írez has denied
wrongdoing, as has BPA.
Speculation in Venezuela has raged
that Ramírez was considering a run for
the presidency, backed by Chávez’s
daughter, Maria Gabriela Chávez, who
has worked with him at Venezuela’s
mission at the UN since 2015. In midNovember, Ram írez published an
article on a leftist website in which
he criticised the Maduro administration’s handling of the economy.
Ramírez’s differences with Maduro
were evident for years, said Isaías
Medina, who, until July, worked for
Ramírez at the mission.
“Maduro sent Ramírez to the UN
to get rid of him after he disagreed
on the way Maduro was running the
economy,” said Medina, who cited
differences with the government
when he resigned his post. “This
persecution is a public sign of a fight
between criminal blocs.”
Experts see Del Pino’s detention
as an attempt to purge government
officials who aren’t completely loyal
to Maduro. “I think there’s a growing
desperation within Maduro’s inner
circle and with Maduro himself, and
we see that manifested with Ramírez
and these arrests,” said a senior Trump
administration official, who spoke on
the condition of anonymity because
of the sensitivity of the issue.
The man at the helm of Maduro’s
cleanup operation is Venezuela’s chief
prosecutor, Tarek William Saab. Since
being named to the job in August, he
has arrested more than 60 officials on
corruption charges. Venezuela’s oil
sector has been widely viewed as corrupt for years. Graft, a lack of investment and poor management are often
cited as reasons for its gradual decay.
Saab said that the fight he’s leading
to “clean PDVSA” doesn’t have political undertones. “That wretched argument is absolutely false,” he said.
president in
‘treason’ case
Uki Goñi Buenos Aires
A judge in Argentina has accused the
former president, Cristina Fernández
de Kirchner, of treason and called on
the country’s senate to permit her
arrest and trial for allegedly covering up Iranian involvement in a 1994
bomb attack on a Jewish centre in
Buenos Aires.
Judge Claudio Bonadio accused
Fernández last Thursday of seeking
to negotiate a secret deal to obtain
trade concessions with Iran in return for camouflaging Tehran’s role
in the attack on the AMIA Jewish
centre that killed 85 people and left
hundreds wounded.
At a press conference, Fernández
denied the charges, saying: “There’s no
crime, there’s no case. Bonadio knows
it. The government knows it. President [Mauricio] Macri also knows it.”
The Argentinian government made
no official comment on the case,
though press reports cited government sources as saying Macri would
not press for a congressional vote to remove the former president’s immunity.
The arrest warrant is based on a
2015 investigation by the prosecutor
Alberto Nisman, who died under mysterious circumstances only a few days
after presenting his charge against
Fernández in court.
Bonadio asked lawmakers to remove Fernández’s legal immunity
– which she gained when she was
recently sworn in as a senator – and
ordered the arrest of several close
allies of the former president.
Fernández’s former legal secretary
Carlos Zannini, the social activist Luis
D’Elía – accused of being the middleman between the former president
and Iran – and the Muslim cleric Jorge
Alejandro Khalil were all arrested in
raids last Thursday morning. The
former foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, was held under house arrest
due to health issues.
Fernández has repeatedly denied
any wrongdoing or involvement in
a cover-up, and described the case
against her as a legal vendetta.
The former president faces potential jail sentences in several other
cases involving alleged corruption
during her term of office, but currently enjoys congressional immunity
from prosecution.
Two-thirds of the senate would
have to vote in favour of lifting her
immunity to comply with the judge’s
arrest order.
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 7
International news
Australia hits back on China ‘interference’
Australian PM’s Mao quote
falls foul of China experts
Turnbull accuses
Beijing of meddling in
his country’s affairs
Christopher Knaus
Tom Phillips Beijing
The Australian prime minister has hit
back at China over the issue of foreign
interference, speaking Mandarin and
invoking a famous Chinese slogan
to declare Australia will “stand up”
against meddling in its national affairs.
Beijing issued a stinging rebuke
of Malcolm Turnbull last Friday, saying his allegations of Communist
party interference had poisoned the
atmosphere of bilateral relations and
undermined mutual trust.
But Turnbull stood his ground last
Saturday, using strong language to reject the criticism and maintain there
was evidence of foreign interference.
Turnbull said Labor senator Sam Dastyari – who has twice stepped down
from the Senate over China-related
controversies – was a “classic case”.
Switching between Mandarin and
English, Turnbull then said: “Modern
China was founded in 1949 with these
words: ‘The Chinese people have
stood up.’ It was an assertion of sovereignty, it was an assertion of pride.
And we stand up, and so we say, the
Australian people stand up.”
Beijing lodged a “serious complaint” with Australia over the allegations of Chinese interference.
During a regular briefing last Friday, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, expressed shock
at Turnbull’s remarks during the parliamentary debate on Australia’s new
foreign interference laws last week.
“We are astounded by the relevant
remarks of the Australian leader,”
Geng said, according to Associated
Press. “Such remarks simply cater to
Making a point
… Turnbull
said Australia
would ‘stand
up’ to China
the irresponsible reports by some Australian media that are without principle and full of bias against China.
“It poisons the atmosphere of the
China-Australia relationship and undermines the foundation of mutual
trust and bilateral cooperation. We express strong dissatisfaction with that
and have made a serious complaint
with the Australian side.”
Turnbull introduced the foreign
interference laws to parliament last
Thursday. The laws, among other
things, ban foreign donations and require former politicians, executives
and lobbyists who work for foreign interests to register if they intend to attempt to influence Australian politics.
Under the proposed legislation, it
would become a crime for a person to
act on behalf of a foreign principal to
influence a political or governmental
process in a manner that is either covert or involves deception.
Turnbull spoke of China while introducing the legislation to the lower
house. “Media reports have suggested
that the Chinese Communist party has
been working to covertly interfere with
our media, our universities and even
the decisions of elected representatives
right here in this building,” he said. “We
take these reports very seriously.”
China is Australia’s largest trading partner and its biggest source of
foreign political funds. Australian
law has never distinguished between
donors from Australia and overseas.
Beijing’s emphatic pushback reflects an increasingly forceful – some
say hectoring – posture from China
and Chinese state media towards foreign governments or journalists who
dare to question its actions or policies.
Foreign leaders, including former
British prime minister David Cameron, who have met the Dalai Lama
have been punished with lengthy
diplomatic freezes. The Norwegian
government faced an almost complete
suspension of diplomatic relations after the 2010 Nobel prize was handed
to Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident.
Experts say Chinese efforts to
browbeat its international critics have
become more aggressive in the wake
of the 2008 financial crisis and Xi Jinping’s rise to power in 2012.
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull
dusted off his Mandarin and doffed
his hat to Chairman Mao last Saturday as he hit back at Chinese meddling in Australia’s politics.
“Modern China was founded in
1949 with these words: ‘Zhongguo
renmin zhanqilai’ – the Chinese
people have stood up,’” Turnbull
told reporters after Beijing accused
him of poisoning ties by “pandering to irresponsible reports”.
“It was an assertion of sovereignty, it was an assertion of pride,”
he continued. “And so we say:
‘Aodaliya renmin zhanqilai – the
Australian people stand up.’”
It was an effective soundbite
from Australia’s Great Helmsman –
but perhaps not entirely historically
correct. While that phrase is widely
remembered as the one with which
Mao founded the People’s Republic
of China – on 1 October 1949 – experts believe the revolutionary
leader said nothing of the sort.
“In fact, Mao opened his famous
speech that day with the words
Zhongua renmin gongheguo zhongyang renmin zhengfu jintian chengli
le – the central people’s government of the People’s Republic of
China today is established,” the
revered China scholar Perry Link
writes in his 2013 book An Anatomy
of Chinese.
In a 2009 report Hong Kong’s
South China Morning Post drew the
same conclusion. “When Mao stood
in front of a microphone in Tiananmen Square, speaking with a ribbon
on his chest and a piece of paper in
both hands, the slogan did not appear, nor did it anywhere in his address to the marching crowd during
the rest of the ceremony.” TP
North Korea ready for talks with US, says Lavrov
Julian Borger Washington
North Korea is open to direct talks
with the US over their nuclear standoff, according to the Russian foreign
minister, Sergei Lavrov, who said he
passed that message to his counterpart, Rex Tillerson, when the two diplomats met in Vienna last Thursday.
There was no immediate response
from Tillerson but the state department’s official position is that North Korea would have to show itself to be serious about giving up its nuclear arsenal
as part of a comprehensive agreement
before a dialogue could begin.
Lavrov conveyed the apparent
offer on the day a top UN official,
Jeffrey Feltman, met the North Korean foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, in
Pyongyang, during the first high-level
UN visit to the country for six years.
Feltman is an American and a former
US diplomat, but the state department
stressed he was not in North Korea
with any message from Washington.
“We know that North Korea wants
above all to talk to the United States
about guarantees for its security. We
are ready to support that, we are ready
to take part in facilitating such negotiations,” Lavrov said at an international conference in Vienna, according to the Interfax news agency. “Our
American colleagues, [including] Rex
Tillerson, have heard this.”
The diplomatic moves come amid
an increased sense of urgency to find
a way of defusing the tensions over
North Korea’s increasingly ambitious
nuclear and missile tests. The standoff reached a new peak on 29 Novem-
ber, when North Korea tested a new
intercontinental ballistic missile ,
the Hwasong-15, capable of reaching
Washington, New York and the rest of
the continental US. The missile launch
followed the test of what was apparently a hydrogen bomb in September.
Pyongyang has said that current
joint exercises by the US and South Korea involving hundreds of warplanes,
along with “bellicose remarks” by
US officials, have “made an outbreak
of war on the Korean peninsula an
established fact”.
8 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
International news
Catalan separatists split by squabbles
Independence debate
eclipses social concerns
in the regional election
Stephen Burgen Barcelona
The 21 December elections, many
believe, could shape Spain’s future
by paving the way for Catalan independence. But divisions are emerging among the separatists – and the
leader of the leftwing party ahead in
the polls is floundering as she comes
under scrutiny.
As campaigning reaches a climax,
political leaders are ignoring their
traditional focus on issues such as
the economy and have turned this
month’s contest into a race between
two blocs – secessionists and constitutionalists. Xavier Domènech,
leader of the leftwing Catalunya en
Comú, struggled to gain traction on
issues such as health and education
as last Thursday night’s crucial first
television debate involving all the
main parties rarely strayed far from
the national question.
Noticeably absent among the seven
leaders was Marta Rovira, general
secretary of the leftist-nationalist Esquerra Repúblicana Catalunya (ERC),
ahead by a slim margin in the polls.
The ERC leader and former Catalan
vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, is
being held in Madrid for his role in
the unilateral declaration of independence in October and he anointed
Rovira to campaign in his name.
Politicians do not come more proindependence than Rovira, but Junqueras may live to regret his choice.
She has been described as a tough
scrapper with a glass jaw – and she is
proving a liability when she leaves the
comfort zone of the pro-independence
Marta Rovira … a language problem
media. Part of the problem is language.
Although Spanish is the mother
tongue of more than half of Catalans,
Rovira is uncomfortable in anything
but Catalan. This was a factor in her
one-on-one TV debate with Inés Arrimadas, leader of the centrist party
Ciutadans and the clear winner.
Days later she suffered the same
fate in another debate, this time with
Esquerra candidate Raül Romeva, who
speaks several languages. Her deputy
stood in for Rovira in last Thursday’s
debate as she was elsewhere. The next
day she cancelled a press conference,
saying she was unwell, though she recovered sufficiently to speak at a party
rally the same evening.
The secessionist camp is not quite
the united front it was. Its deposed
president and erstwhile leader, Carles Puigdemont, in self-imposed
exile in Brussels, shows no sign of
contrition for a campaign that has led
to deep divisions in Catalan society.
Meanwhile Junqueras, his rival for the
presidency, has renounced unilateralism as an “error” and is seeking dialogue with Madrid instead. However,
Chaos as artworks are removed from museum in Catalonia
Scuffles broke out between police
and demonstrators after hundreds
of people gathered outside a museum in the Catalan city of Lleida
to protest against the removal of
44 artworks at the centre of a longrunning dispute between Catalonia
and neighbouring Aragón.
The pieces, including paintings,
alabaster reliefs and polychromatic
wooden coffins, were sold to the
Catalan government by the nuns of
the Sijena convent in Aragón in the
1980s. Aragón has tried to recover
the works via the courts, saying
they were unlawfully sold.
Last month Spain’s culture
minister, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, intervened. With Catalonia currently
under Madrid’s control, he ordered
the treasures to be returned to
Aragón. The move has increased
tensions in Catalonia. On Monday,
experts escorted by Guardia Civil
officers and Catalan police packed
up the art as 500 people protested.
A poll published last Sunday in
the Catalan daily La Vanguardia
suggests separatist parties will narrowly fall short of a majority in this
month’s election – perhaps by only
one seat. Sam Jones Madrid
according to Rovira: “There never
was a unilateral way, that was something invented by the Spanish state.”
Eyebrows were also raised when she
claimed that on the eve of the declaration of independence Madrid told the
Catalan government there would be
“blood on the streets, real bullets and
not just rubber ones” if they did not
desist. This was denied by the interlocutors, the archbishop of Barcelona
among them, and Rovira has never
been able to substantiate the claim.
Her party, the ERC, is one of the oldest in Catalonia. It was founded in 1931
and the following year the Spanish
republic accepted the Catalan statute
of autonomy. The party was declared
illegal after Franco’s victory in 1939
and in 1940 its leader, Lluís Companys, was executed by firing squad. In
recent years its leftwing credentials
have suffered after it allied with the
centre-right nationalists led by Artur
Mas and now Puigdemont, and over
the past five years the national question has overshadowed social issues.
This is largely because secessionists
argue that until Catalonia is independent there is no point in pushing for
social change, because Madrid often
uses the courts to overrule Catalan
parliament decisions.
One outcome of the campaign
is that Catalonia may elect its first
woman president. While Rovira is
running in Junqueras’s stead, Elsa
Artadi is fronting Puigdemont’s campaign in his absence, and Arrimadas
is the Ciutadans’ candidate. The only
man likely to become president is the
socialist leader Miquel Iceta.
The sole certainty is that, whatever
the result, the independence issue
will predominate. Rovira told a meeting in Tàrrega, central Catalonia: “We
are living in dark times. If we don’t
win on 21 December, they will sweep
us away.”
Confrontational Erdoğan shocks his Greek hosts
Helena Smith Athens
The first visit to Greece by a Turkish
president in 65 years began in hostile
fashion last Thursday as Recep Tayyip
Erdoğan flouted the niceties of diplomacy and crossed an array of red lines.
Within an hour of stepping off the
plane in Athens, he told the Greek
president, Prokopis Pavlopoulos,
that Greece should seek to improve
on religious rights enshrined in the
1923 Lausanne treaty for the Muslim
minority in Thrace. “It needs to be
modernised,” he said of the accord
that has long governed Greek-Turkish relations. The treaty delineated
modern Turkey’s borders and set
provisions for the status of Muslims
in Greece and of Greeks in Turkey. A
shocked Pavlopoulos responded that
the treaty was non-negotiable. “It
has no flaws, it does not need to be
reviewed, or updated.”
Athens had hoped the 48-hour
sojourn would put bilateral relations
on a new footing. But the Turkish
leader, while thanking his hosts for
the welcome, continued to ratchet up
the rhetoric. In talks with the prime
minister, Alexis Tsipras, he chastised the Greeks for failing to look
after Ottoman sites and to provide a
proper place of worship for Muslims.
Cyprus, he said, had not been reunified because Greek Cypriots kept
turning down a “just” settlement;
and there was the “economic chasm”
between Greeks who earned on average €15,000 ($17,700) a year and the
Turkish-speaking Muslims in Thrace
who earned about €2,200 a year.
Athens, he said, should return
10 Turkish officers who escaped to
Greece as last year’s failed coup unfolded, despite the Greek judicial
system blocking their repatriation on
the grounds they would not be given a
fair trial. Tsipras repeated that Greece
respected judicial decisions. Earlier,
Tsipras had told his guest that respect
for international law was the basis of
solid ties between the two neighbours.
“It is important … that we express our
disagreements in a constructive way,
without being provocative.”
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 9
like this
could usurp
Then a short
like this
→ Natalie
Then Section
and Page
XX 18
International news
Navalny’s army of young people lead
his improbable challenge to Putin
Kemerovo diary
Shaun Walker
t has been a rough couple of
months for Ksenia Pakhomova,
a bright-eyed, garrulous
23-year-old from the Siberian
mining town of Kemerovo.
Her boyfriend was kicked out
of university, her mother was
fired from her teaching job at an arts
school, and her grandmother was
threatened with dismissal from her
job at a gallery.
To top it off, someone plastered
notices with her photograph in
public places near her home,
complete with her mobile number
and an offer of sexual services.
All of this appears to be linked to
Pakhomova’s job as regional coordinator for the presidential campaign
of Alexei Navalny, an opposition
politician who wants to challenge
Vladimir Putin for the Russian presidency in elections next March.
Putin finally declared his candidacy last Wednesday, and is likely to
win comfortably. Standing against
him are a cast of political has-beens
and a few spoiler candidates whom
few Russians are taking seriously.
Navalny will most likely be barred
from standing due to a criminal
conviction in a case that was widely
seen as politically motivated, but
the 41-year-old anti-corruption campaigner is ignoring this. Instead, he
has chosen to engage in the kind of
enthusiastic, grassroots campaigning that has been absent from Russia
in recent years: real politics, in
short. He has embarked on a marathon of trips across the country’s
vast expanse, holding rallies and
setting up campaign headquarters.
The liberal opposition has traditionally made few inroads in places
like Kemerovo, a tough, workingclass region four hours by plane
from Moscow. Here, Navalny is
attracting the support of a different
kind of Russian from the chattering,
Moscow intellectual class that many
see as the natural supporters of the
democratic opposition.
Navalny’s supporters are mainly
young Russians who have known
little except a Putin presidency.
Pakhomova, who studied law
at university, said she was not
particularly political until earlier
this year, when she started watching
Navalny’s videos. She was horrified
Fierce opposition … Navalny campaigner Ksenia Pakhomova Shaun Walker
by a video alleging staggering
corruption on the part of the prime
minister, Dmitry Medvedev, which
led to major protests in Moscow
and other cities earlier this year. In
Kemerovo, she began volunteering
for the local Navalny campaign, and
in time, she was appointed head of
the local office.
“Everyone in Russia knows
that officials are corrupt, but when
Navalny’s supporters
are mainly young
Russians who have
known little except
a Putin presidency
you see the details, how openly
they think they can do it, it’s shocking,” she said.
Ksenia’s mother, 46-year-old
Natalia Pakhomova, said she was
warned in September that she
should prevent her daughter from
working for Navalny, but refused.
At the end of October, she was removed from her job, on the pretext
that anonymous parents had called
the local administration and complained that teachers at her school
were soliciting bribes. She had
worked at the school for 26 years,
and in April had received a medal
from the governor for her service.
Natalia’s 67-year-old mother,
who works as a gallery attendant in
the local art museum, was asked by
her boss to talk her granddaughter
out of working for Navalny and was
also threatened with dismissal. She
is on sick leave, which Natalia said
was due to frayed nerves from the
incident. Ksenia’s boyfriend was
kicked out of university, though he
has since been reinstated.
Navalny has said if he is not
allowed on the ballot, he will call for
an “active boycott” of the elections.
Navalny said that since the
beginning of the year campaign staff
had between them spent more than
2,000 days in jail and been fined
more than 10m roubles ($170,000).
“What’s happening in Kemerovo
is extreme, but it’s a pattern across
Russia and it’s clearly directed from
the top,” he said.
Whenever Navalny travels,
authorities create problems, and
he has been jailed and assaulted on
numerous occasions this year. When
he visited Kemerovo earlier this
autumn, local authorities cancelled
public transport to the area on the
outskirts of town where they had
given Navalny permission to speak.
Despite all this, more than 2,000
people attended the rally, making it
one of the biggest demonstrations in
Kemerovo since the miners’ strikes
in the late 1980s that heralded the
collapse of the Soviet Union.
State television has long denied
Navalny access to the airwaves, and
claimed the opposition is working
to promote foreign interests in
Russia. Kremlin insiders portray him
as a marginal figure who poses no
serious electoral threat.
“His limit would be 5-10% in
big cities and 2-3% overall,” said
one source close to the Kremlin,
who added that the only reason
to keep him off the ballot was to
prevent “negative vibes” around
the election. “He’d have three
months of telling everyone that the
government is lying and corrupt,
and nobody wants to listen to that.”
But there are signs that Navalny’s
message could potentially resonate
among a new audience.
Dima, 14, was initially scolded by
his mother for attending Navalnybacked protests in Kemerovo earlier
this year, after the child support
agency showed up at his house to
complain. However, she is now
helping to collect signatures for the
campaign, and took a selfie with Navalny when he came to Kemerovo.
“My mother had some problems
with her politics,” said Dima.
“But afterwards she started
watching Navalny’s videos and
her political understanding is now
more developed.”
10 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
International news
Drug could slow
Huntington’s pace
Trial brings hope of
combating devastating
genetic brain disease
Hannah Devlin
A landmark trial for Huntington’s
disease has announced positive
results, suggesting that an experimental drug could become the first to
slow the progression of the devastating genetic illness.
The results have been hailed as
“enormously significant” because
it is the first time any drug has been
shown to suppress the effects of the
Huntington’s mutation that causes
irreversible damage to the brain.
Current treatments only help with
symptoms, rather than slowing the
disease’s progression.
Prof Sarah Tabrizi, director of University College London’s Huntington’s
Disease Centre who led the phase 1
trial, said the results were “beyond
what I’d ever hoped … The results
of this trial are of groundbreaking
importance for Huntington’s disease
patients and families.”
The results have also caused ripples of excitement across the scientific world because the drug, which
is a synthetic strand of DNA, could
potentially be adapted to target other
incurable brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. The
Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche has
paid a $45m licence fee to take the
drug forward to clinical use.
Huntington’s is an incurable degenerative disease caused by a single gene
defect that is passed down through
families. The first symptoms, which
typically appear in middle age, include mood swings, anger and depression. Later patients develop uncontrolled jerky movements, dementia
Go slow … in Huntington’s, genetic
mutation causes damage to the brain
and ultimately paralysis. Some people
die within a decade of diagnosis.
“Most of our patients know what’s
in their future,” said Ed Wild, a UCL
scientist and consultant neurologist
at the National Hospital for Neurology
and Neurosurgery in London, who
administered the drug in the trial.
The mutant Huntington’s gene contains instructions for cells to make a
toxic protein, called huntingtin. This
code is copied by a messenger molecule and dispatched to the cell’s
protein-making machinery. The drug,
called Ionis-HTTRx, works by intercepting the messenger molecule and
destroying it before the harmful protein can be made, effectively silencing
the effects of the mutant gene.
To deliver the drug to the brain, it
has to be injected into the fluid around
the spine using a 10cm needle.
The trial involved 46 men and
women with early stage Huntington’s disease in the UK, Germany and
Canada. The patients were given four
spinal injections one month apart and
the drug dose was increased at each
session; roughly a quarter of participants had a placebo injection.
After being given the drug, the concentration of harmful protein in the
spinal cord fluid dropped significantly
and in proportion with the strength of
the dose. This kind of closely matched
relationship normally indicates a drug
is having a powerful effect.
“For the first time a drug has lowered
the level of the toxic disease-causing
protein in the nervous system, and the
drug was safe and well-tolerated,” said
Tabrizi. “This is probably the most significant moment in the history of Huntington’s since the gene [was isolated].”
The trial was too small, and not
long enough, to show whether patients’ clinical symptoms improved,
but Roche is now expected to launch a
major trial aimed at testing this.
If the future trial is successful, Tabrizi believes the drug could ultimately
be used in people with the Huntington’s gene before they become ill, possibly stopping symptoms ever occurring. “They may just need a pulse every
three to four months,” she said. “One
day we want to prevent the disease.”
The drug, developed by the California biotech firm Ionis Pharmaceuticals, is a synthetic single strand of
DNA customised to latch on to the
huntingtin messenger molecule.
The unexpected success raises the
tantalising possibility that a similar
approach might work for other degenerative brain disorders.
California fires Blaze threatens Santa Barbara
Crews battling a massive winddriven California wildfire that has
torched hundreds of buildings and
charred at least 93,000 hectares were
this week bracing to protect towns
near Santa Barbara menaced by
flames along the state’s coastline.
The Thomas fire ignited last week
and has been burning in Ventura and
Santa Barbara counties, about 150km
north-west of Los Angeles.
Santa Ana winds and the rugged terrain hindered firefighters as
they fought the blaze, which has
destroyed at least 800 houses, outbuildings and other structures and
left more than 90,000 homes and
businesses without power.
On Monday the fire was 10% contained, down from 15% last Saturday,
growing by 2,700 hectares in one day
and covering 11 more kilometres, fire
captain Steve Concialdi said.
The governor of California, Jerry
Brown, told a news conference that
drought and climate change meant
the state faced a “new reality”, in
which lives and property were continually threatened by fire, at a cost
of billions of dollars.
President Donald Trump issued a
federal proclamation last week that
enabled agencies to coordinate relief
efforts in southern California.
The Santa Barbara County fire
department said 200,000 people
have been evacuated. A 70-year-old
woman died last Wednesday in a car
accident as she attempted to flee the
flames in Ventura County.
Guardian reporters and agencies
Photograph: Reuters
Gene editing tool upgraded
Hannah Devlin
Incurable diseases such as diabetes
and muscular dystrophy could be
treated in future using a new form of
genetic engineering designed to boost
gene activity, according to scientists.
The technique is an adapted version of the powerful gene editing tool
called Crispr. While the original version of Crispr snips DNA in precise locations to delete faulty genes or overwrite flaws in the genetic code, the
modified form “turns up the volume”
on selected genes. This potentially
overcomes the problem of the wrong
genes being modified by mistake,
which is viewed as a major safety barrier to using Crispr in a clinical context.
“Cutting DNA opens the door to introducing new mutations,” said Juan
Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, who led the
latest work at the Salk Institute in La
Jolla, California. “It is a major bottleneck in the field of genetics – the possibility that the cell, after the DNA is
cut, may introduce harmful mistakes.”
Crispr has been a game-changer in
biomedical research because of the
ease and accuracy with which it can
be used to edit the genetic code. It is
normally used along with a bacterial
enzyme, called Cas9, which acts as
molecular scissors, chopping the DNA
at the exact point required.
In the new version a Crispr-style
guide is still used, but instead of cutting the genome at the site of interest,
the Cas9 enzyme latches on to it. The
new package also includes a third element: a molecule that homes in on the
Cas9 and switches on whatever gene
it is attached to.
The new paper, published in Cell,
demonstrates how this strategy might
be applied to devastating illnesses.
12 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
International news
Air pollution ‘damages unborn babies’
Research links toxic air
to low birth weight that
can cause lifelong harm
‘Death spiral’: half of Europe’s
coal plants are losing money
Damian Carrington
Air pollution significantly increases
the risk of low birth weight in babies,
leading to lifelong damage to health,
according to a large new study.
The research was conducted in
London, but its implications for many
millions of women in cities around
the world with far worse air pollution
are “something approaching a public health catastrophe”, the doctors
involved said.
Globally, 2 billion children – 90% of
all children – are exposed to air pollution above World Health Organization guidelines. A Unicef study also
published last Wednesday found that
17 million babies suffer air six times
more toxic than the guidelines.
The team said that there are no reliable ways for women in cities to avoid
chronic exposure to air pollution during pregnancy and called for urgent
action from governments to cut pollution from vehicles and other sources.
“It is an unacceptable situation that
there are factors a woman cannot control that adversely affect her unborn
baby,” said Mireille Toledano, at Imperial College London, who led the
new research published in the British
Medical Journal (BMJ).
The study analysed all live births
in Greater London over four years
– more than 540,000 in total – and
determined the link between the air
pollution experienced by the mother
and low birth weight, defined as
less than 2.5kg. The scientists found
a 15% increase in risk of low birth
weight for every additional 5 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) of fine
particle pollution.
Bad air … 90% of children exposed to pollution above WHO guidelines Alamy
The average exposure of pregnant
women in London to fine particle pollution is 15µg/m3, well below UK legal limits but 5µg/m3 higher than the
WHO guideline. Cutting pollution to
that guideline would prevent 300350 babies a year being born with low
weight, the researchers estimated.
“The UK legal limit is not safe and is
not protecting our pregnant women
and their babies,” said Toledano.
“We know that low birth weight is
absolutely crucial,” she said. “It not
only increases the risk of the baby dying in infancy, but it predicts lifelong
risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease
etc. You are setting in stone the whole
trajectory of lifelong chronic illness.”
The research shows the impact of air
pollution on babies in London is significant, but affects a relatively small
number – only 2.5% of all full-term babies are born with low weight. However, many cities around the world –
such as Delhi in India – suffer far higher
levels of toxic air, raising concerns of
huge impacts on unborn babies.
“Though the new results from
the UK are concerning, a global
perspective reveals something approaching a public health catastrophe,” said Sarah Stock and Tom Clemens, from the University of Edinburgh, in a BMJ editorial.
“The pregnancy effects of extreme
exposure environments like Delhi are
unmeasured, and there is an urgent
need to turn attention to such environments where large numbers are at
considerable risk of harm.”
Stock said that outdoor air pollution
is already causing millions of early
deaths every year among adults and
children: “And that is not taking into
account deaths in utero or resulting
from exposure in pregnancy, because
we just don’t have the data yet.”
The new BMJ study is based on
observations and so cannot prove a
causal link between air pollution and
low birth weight, but the correlation
is very strong, said Toledano: “The
power of our study is incredible due
to the sheer numbers.” The study is
the largest to date in the UK and the
link is strengthened by a series of previous studies from other regions that
replicate the findings.
More than half of the European
Union’s 619 coal-fired power stations are losing money, according
to a report. The industry’s slow
plans for shutdowns will lead to
€22bn ($26bn) in losses by 2030 if
the EU fulfils its pledge to tackle
climate change, the report warns.
Stricter air pollution rules and
higher carbon prices are set to push
even more plants into unprofitability, according to the analysts Carbon Tracker, with 97% of the plants
losing money by 2030. Furthermore, rapidly falling renewables
costs are on track to make building
new wind and solar farms cheaper
than continuing to run existing
coal plants by the mid 2020s.
Utility companies continue to
run loss-making plants in the hope
that competitors will close their
plants first or that governments
will provide subsidies in return
for guaranteed power, though the
European commission wants to
ban such payments.
Coal in Europe is in a “death spiral”, according to Carbon Tracker,
with seven nations, including the
UK, already having announced the
end of coal power by 2030 or earlier. At the UN climate change summit in November, the launch of a
new alliance of 19 nations committed to phasing out coal rapidly was
greeted as a political watershed.
Until recently European utilities
were strong performers, beating
Europe’s Stoxx 600 index by
60% between 2000 and 2010.
But since then, the utilities have
plunged 20% in value as the rise of
renewable energy and government
policies radically reshaped the
market. DC
Meat tax ‘inevitable’ to beat climate and health crises
Damian Carrington
“Sin taxes” on meat to reduce its huge
impact on climate change and human
health look inevitable, according to
analysts for investors managing over
$4tn of assets.
The global livestock industry causes
15% of all global greenhouse gas emissions and meat consumption is rising
around the world, but dangerous climate change cannot be avoided unless
this is radically curbed. Furthermore,
many people already eat far too much
meat, seriously damaging their health
and incurring huge costs. Livestock
also drive other problems, such as water pollution and antibiotic resistance.
A new analysis from investor network Farm Animal Investment Risk
and Return (Fairr) Initiative argues
that meat is therefore now following
the same path as tobacco, carbon emissions and sugar towards a sin tax, a levy
on harmful products to cut consumption. Meat taxes have already been
discussed in parliaments in Germany,
Denmark and Sweden, the analysis
points out, and China’s government
cut its recommended maximum meat
consumption by 45% in 2016.
“If policymakers are to cover the
true cost of human epidemics like
obesity, diabetes and cancer, and livestock epidemics like avian flu, while
also tackling the twin challenges of climate change and antibiotic resistance,
then a shift from subsidisation to taxation of the meat industry looks inevitable,” said Jeremy Coller, founder
of Fairr and chief investment officer
at private equity firm Coller Capital.
“Far-sighted investors should plan
ahead for this day.”
Nations begin to implement sin
taxes as consensus forms over the harm
caused by the product, the analysis
notes, and today over 180 jurisdictions
tax tobacco, over 60 tax carbon emissions and at least 25 tax sugar.
The first global analysis of meat
taxes done in 2016 found levies of
40% on beef, 20% on dairy products
and 8.5% on chicken would save
half a million lives a year and slash
climate warming emissions.
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 13
Bitcoin creates global frenzy
Cryptocurrency’s boom
concerns regulators and
investment experts
Renae Merle
Washington Post
Bitcoin soared past the $17,000 mark
at one point last week, a dizzying run
for a digital currency that was worth
less than $1,000 at the start of the year
and was once largely the preoccupation of technologists or those looking
to avoid scrutiny to launder money or
buy drugs and weapons online.
The fast rise – it went up more
than 40% last week alone – is creating a buying frenzy among eager
speculators around the world
and helping push bitcoin
into the mainstream. But it
is also forcing US regulators
to grapple with whether to
legitimise a product that
operates outside the control
of any government.
The run-up in price came as
bitcoin enthusiasts prepared for a
new landmark. Last Sunday, a bitcoin
product traded for the first time on a
US financial market, making it almost
as easy to bet on the virtual currency
as oil, corn or the euro.
The move has given it a “veneer”
of legitimacy, said Mark Williams, a
former Federal Reserve official who
teaches finance at Boston University. “From an investor’s standpoint, that could give it a false
sense of protection.”
Indeed, many industry experts warned that the US was
not prepared for bitcoin’s
entry into the financial
markets. The Futures
Industry Association, which includes
Goldman Sachs and
JPMorgan Chase,
has complained that
the process for investing in bitcoin
is moving too fast. “We remain apprehensive with the lack of
transparency and regulation
of” bitcoin, the group said
last week.
Such warnings haven’t
stopped the craze surrounding the currency,
as the sharp rise in value
creates ever more demand
around the world. In South Korea, ordinary people are pouring their
life savings into bitcoins and other
digital currencies. In Venezuela, after
observing the rise of bitcoin, the government announced it would launch
its own virtual currency called “The
Petro” to get around US sanctions.
Bitcoin was first created in
2009 under mysterious
circumstances – little is
known about who originally came up with the
idea. It launched as a
digital currency – without physical coins – and
was accompanied by an
online payment network,
similar to Paypal. But unlike
Paypal, the bitcoin transaction system
is not owned by anyone.
Its decentralised, democratic nature gave it special appeal among
technologists – and some international criminals. Only buyers and sellers – rather than the central bank of a
government – can change
its value. Transactions
between accounts are
recorded on online
ledgers and prices
posted publicly on
exchanges such as
Coinbase’s GDAX, one of the indexes
that tracks the value of bitcoin.
It has also proven popular
with people seeking to buy
drugs on online marketplaces without being
detected by the police.
When federal authorities
shut down one such marketplace called Silk Road
in 2014, they seized 26,000
bitcoins worth about $3.6m.
“The people who started to use bitcoin years ago were those that couldn’t
use anything else,” said Nicolas Christin, a security researcher at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University.
Confidence in the virtual currency
has been shaken by spectacular failures, including the 2014 implosion
of the largest bitcoin exchange of its
time, Mt Gox, which went bankrupt
after $400m in bitcoin was allegedly
stolen. Hackers remain a threat and
sometimes bitcoins just disappear
after their owner forgets or loses the
passwords for their accounts.
For Wall Street investors, bitcoins
have until now remained a fringe
product, too awkward – and potentially hazardous – to buy and sell. But
investors are finding bitcoin increasingly difficult to ignore as its collective value races past $250bn, more
than the gross domestic product of
Vietnam and Greece.
The currency’s growing popularity
has split the investment world. Jamie
Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan
Chase, the largest bank in the United
States, has dismissed bitcoin as a
“fraud”. “If you’re stupid enough to
buy it, you’ll pay the price for it one
day,” he said last month.
Yet, Bill Miller, a legendary investor
famous for producing better returns
than the Standard & Poor’s 500 for 15
years straight before hitting a rough
stretch, has been investing in bitcoin
for years. Bitcoin remains “speculative” and could easily fall 50%, he said.
But “it’s been a big winner for us”.
$64m in cryptocurrency stolen in ‘sophisticated’ hack, exchange says
Nearly $64m in bitcoin has been
stolen by hackers who broke into
Slovenian-based bitcoin mining
marketplace NiceHash.
The marketplace suspended
operations last Thursday while it
investigated the breach, saying it
was working with law enforcement
as “a matter of urgency” while urging users to change their passwords.
The hack was “a highly professional attack with sophisticated
social engineering” that resulted in
approximately 4,700 bitcoin being
stolen, worth about $63.92m at current prices, said NiceHash head of
marketing Andrej P Škraba.
NiceHash is a digital currency
marketplace that matches people
looking to sell processing time on
their computers for so-called miners to verify bitcoin users’ transactions in exchange for the bitcoin.
Online security is a vital concern
for cryptocurrency marketplaces
and exchanges, with bitcoins
contained within digital wallets
that have increasingly become a
target for hackers as the number of
bitcoins stored and their value has
skyrocketed over the last year.
In Japan, following the failure
of bitcoin exchange Mt Gox, new
laws were enacted to regulate bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies.
Mt Gox shut down in February
2014 having lost approximately
850,000 bitcoins, potentially to
hackers. Samuel Gibbs
Finance in brief
• Fears that China risks being the cause of a fresh global
financial crisis have been
highlighted by the International Monetary Fund in a
warning about the growing
debt-dependency of the
world’s second-biggest economy. The IMF’s health check
of China’s financial system
found that credit was high by
international levels, personal
debt had increased in the past
five years, and the pressure
to maintain the country’s
rapid growth had bred an unwillingness to let struggling
firms fail. It said reforms by
Beijing in recent years had not
gone far enough.
• The US job market appears to have bounced back
from the devastating storms
that struck Florida and
Texas in the autumn, adding
228,000 jobs in November
as the unemployment rate
remained at a 17-year low
of 4.1%. Hurricanes Harvey
and Irma set off huge swings
in job-creation numbers,
released each month by the
Department of Labor, causing
a sharp slowdown in September followed by a strong
rebound in October. The news
is likely to ensure that the
Federal Reserve will vote to
raise interest rates when it
meets this week.
• BAE Systems has
announced a £5bn ($6.7bn)
contract to supply Typhoon
aircraft to the Qatari air force.
The deal, which will help
secure UK jobs, includes a
support and training package.
The contract is subject to financing conditions and is expected to be fulfilled no later
than mid-2018. It provides for
24 Typhoon aircraft, with delivery expected to commence
in late 2022. About 5,000 people in Britain are employed to
build the Typhoon, mainly at
Warton in Lancashire.
Foreign exchanges
Sterling rates
Hong Kong
New Zealand
11 Dec
4 Dec
14 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
UK news Brexit
May’s great escape …
but what was agreed?
Unionists mollified over Irish border and deals struck on
EU citizens and money – but much remains ambiguous
Toby Helm, Michael Savage and
Daniel Boffey Observer
“They can smell a rat. But they are
keeping quiet for now because they
are not yet sure which rat it is they can
smell.” At the end of a week that began
with humiliation for Theresa May but
ended with much of the British press
hailing her as a hero, this was how one
UK diplomat summed up the muted
reactions of Brexit-supporting MPs to
the deal struck by the prime minister
in Brussels last Friday.
Was it the triumph rightwing
papers and cabinet ministers were
claiming? Or was it, as they suspected,
a sellout that would be exposed as
such in the coming days and weeks?
No one was quite sure.
May had dashed to Brussels in the
early hours last Friday and signed
off an agreement that had seemed
unachievable four days earlier. She
had left the Belgian capital last Monday with nothing, forlorn and seemingly politically broken. The DUP, on
whom she relies for a parliamentary
majority, had pulled the plug. Arlene
Foster, the party’s leader, pictured,
rang May during a lengthy lunch with
the European commission president,
Jean-Claude Juncker, to say the proposals May was ready to sign off on the
Irish border issue were unacceptable.
In one devastating act, the DUP had
both cruelly exposed the fragility of
the prime minister’s
ster’s grip on Downing Street and put the entire Brexit
negotiating process
cess in peril, right
up against the EU’s
U’s deadline. But
then, to everyone’s
one’s surprise,
Tory MPs awoke
e last Friday to
declarations of a new
dawn. The Irish
h issue had been solved.
An agreement had
been struck on money
and EU citizens.
All the sticking
points were unstuck.
Michael G ove,
e, the
ting cabinet
minister, went on the BBC’s
Today programme
mme to heap
unrestrained praise
raise on May
for her brilliant
nt negotiating skills. The environment
secretary, who led the Vote
Leave campaign, declared May had
“won” and could be proud of a “significant personal achievement”. He
appeared to have locked himself into
the deal before the ink had dried.
Boris Johnson quickly came in
behind May too. “Congratulations to
PM for her determination in getting
today’s deal,” he said. “We now aim
to forge a deep and special partnership with our European friends and
allies while remaining true to the
referendum result – taking back control of our laws, money and borders
for the whole of the UK.”
May had won a reprieve among
many in her party. “The mess
happened earlier in the week,” said
one former cabinet minister. “It was
a fuck-up over the Irish border, but in
terms of recoveries it’s not a bad one.
She has some breathing space. She
would have been in very big trouble
had talks failed. She deserves a bit of
slack now and I think she will get it.”
Tory backbenchers were slower
to go public in support. The EU had
indeed agreed to move talks on to
trade, but at what price for Brexit? Was
Johnson right to speak of taking back
control of our money and laws when
under this deal the UK had signed
away about £40bn ($53.5bn) to the EU
(money Johnson had once said the EU
could “go whistle” for) and agreed that
the European court of justice (always
the Brexiters’ thickest of red lines)
allowed to play a role
would after all be allow
disputes involving
for eight years in disp
EU citizens residen
resident in the UK and
UK ones resident in the EU?
was the most
Then there w
ambiguous but
bu potentially
most far-reaching
part of the
which talked of
agreement, wh
the possibility
possibilit of “regulatory alignm
alignment” between
of Ireland
the Republic
and the UK in the event
deal, including
that no de
on the border
north and south, could
be agreed.
agree Did this not
imply that
th the whole
of the UK would, in
that case,
to abid
abide by EU rules,
under ECJ oversight,
as if it
and operate
was still inside the customs union and
the single market?
It was shortly before 5pm last
Monday when word came through
to diplomats in the European council
headquarters in Brussels that they
might as well go home. They’d been
cooped up for two hours, waiting for
May and Juncker to sign off on a deal
that would allow them to move talks
on to trade. But there had been a hitch;
a big one. Foster had phoned the
prime minister to say she could not
accept what the proposed agreement
said about regulatory alignment with
the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.
May had no option but to leave
Brussels with her tail between her legs,
facing the real prospect that a Brexit
deal had been scuppered, perhaps for
good. Tory MPs privately questioned
if she could carry on, while Labour
taunted her for leading a government
that had lost all credibility.
The impression of chaos grew in the
middle of the week when Brexit secretary David Davis appeared before the
Brexit select committee and admitted
the impact assessments of leaving the
EU did not, in fact, exist. The same day
the chancellor, Philip Hammond, told
stunned MPs on the Treasury select
committee the cabinet had not yet
discussed an end destination for the
Brexit negotiations.
Last weekend, despite the doubts
and scepticism in many quarters, a
few certainties were clear. Theresa
May was in a much better place than
she was the week before. Her job is
no longer in immediate peril. But
British diplomats and MPs know the
deal done was deliberately opaque
on many key issues, particularly the
question of the Irish border, and that
in many ways the real arguments have
merely been postponed.
One said: “Everyone in the EU and
on the British side knew they had to
move forward … What they came up
with is a deal that was deliberately
vague so that all sides could put whatever construction they wanted on it,
and sell it as a success.”
Paul Drechsler, president of the
CBI, said: “They have made significant progress, but they have not
agreed the transition. We need agreement on transition, the terms of it
and the duration of it. That is what
enables companies to suspend the
execution of contingency plans. Every
day that we don’t have that agreement and clarity, there is a negative
impact on the UK. The clock is ticking. Decisions are being made. People
are being reassigned. Investments are
being relocated.”
Lord Kerr, the crossbench peer
who drafted article 50, said earlier
this month that extending the transition period beyond two years may be
deemed illegal under EU law. However, he is among those who believe
that a trade deal will take longer than
that to complete, raising the prospect
of a period in which the UK would have
to trade under basic World Trade Organisation rules and significant tariffs.
In many ways
the real arguments
have merely
been postponed
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 15
Everyone’s happy, for now
Brexiters will soon rue May’s deal
→ Andrew Rawnsley, page 21
Trump expected to visit in
2018 to open new embassy
Patrick Wintour
One UK diplomat said a free trade
deal between the UK and EU, similar
to that with Canada and excluding
services, was all that would be on offer from the EU but would not be ready
until 2024 at the earliest. “This would
mean we need a transition to last to
then, accepting the full EU acquis [body
of law]. That would not be popular with
the Brexiters, but that is the reality of
the situation.” Charles Grant, director
of the Centre for European Reform,
said: “It suits both the UK government
and the EU to pretend that the transition will last only about two years.”
The question of how close the UK
stays to the single market and what degree of “alignment” it accepts has not
yet been confronted. That will have to
be an issue for a cabinet meeting before the Christmas break, at which the
“end destination” will be discussed.
If the UK wants a large slice of the
single market, it will have to accept
ECJ oversight, free movement and
regular payments to the EU budget
in return. One EU source said the
first negotiations were just the hors
Making progress … Jean-Claude
Juncker and Theresa May can move
talks on Yves Herman/Reuters
d’oeuvre – “The attitude in Europe is
going to be, if you thought that was
hard, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Senior Tories believe that when
these issues have to be resolved there
is a serious chance not just of cabinet resignations but of pro-Brexiters
leaving the party should May opt for
the “soft Brexit” option in order to
ensure maximum market access.
The Brexit process moves on,
but as it does so it will become ever
more difficult to fudge the many
fundamental questions that have been
left unanswered over recent days.
May’s respite is likely to be short-lived.
One Tory summed it up like this. “I
think we need a pause now. Certainly
members of the public I meet have
had enough of Brexit. They just want
us to get on with it and for everyone
to go away for Christmas. Then it can
all start up again afterwards. And rest
assured, it will.”
The US ambassador to the UK has said
he expects Donald Trump to go ahead
with a working visit to the UK in the
new year, despite a recent Twitter
row with Theresa May over the terror
threat posed by Muslims in the UK.
The remarks by Woody Johnson
to the BBC’s Today programme represent the first official confirmation
that the president is expected to visit
in early 2018, when he may formally
open the new American embassy.
A formal state visit – which would
include a meeting with the Queen – is
not envisaged. The Queen is likely to
be preoccupied with preparations for
a Commonwealth summit next year.
Johnson told the BBC the disagreement over Trump’s sharing of videos
posted by the far-right group Britain
First was “probably misinterpreted”.
The ambassador was being interviewed about the US embassy’s move
from its current UK headquarters in
Grosvenor Square in central London
to a new £800m ($1bn) complex in
Battersea, south of the river Thames.
Johnson said the embassy would need
to be dedicated by a US president.
May said Trump had been “wrong”
to share videos posted by Britain First,
prompting the president to tell the
prime minister to focus on her job.
Johnson, a close friend of the president, said Trump’s relationship with
the UK was “very, very good”. The
president had not yet set a date for
the possible visit, he added.
Asked if Trump was coming to the
UK, Johnson said: “Absolutely, I think
he will come. It hasn’t been officially
announced but I hope he does. I think
it’s a very, very good relationship”.
The UK government has found itself in a series of disagreements with
Trump over climate change, the Iranian nuclear deal and the imposition
of tariffs on the plane and train manufacturer Bombardier. Harold Wilson’s
falling out with President Lyndon
Johnson over Vietnam was probably
the last time there has been as big a
wedge between the two countries.
In June, Trump criticised London
mayor Sadiq Khan, for his response
to the London Bridge terror attack,
misquoting Khan’s message urging
city residents not to be alarmed by the
increased presence of armed police.
“There may be disagreements of
how [Trump] says something, or how
he does something,” Johnson said.
“He wants to protect Americans. He
is not going to be namby-pamby about
it. I mean, he is going to come out. He
is probably going to take some chances
and maybe he will ruffle feathers.”
The ambassador insisted the security alignment between the two
countries remained intact. Speaking
of May’s visit to the Oval Office in
January, Johnson said: “The prime
minister was his first visitor, the first
official foreign leader to visit.”
Trump had told May that he did
not want to come on a state visit if
there were large-scale protests, but
the chances of such protests not going ahead are minimal. The Speaker
of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has said the president would not
be welcome to address both Houses of
Parliament, an honour typically given
prestigious overseas politicians.
Britons in EU say rights have been sacrificed to get deal
British nationals living in mainland
Europe say they are alarmed by
claims that their rights have been
protected by the Brexit deal sealed
last Friday.
Brexit affects the future lives
of an estimated 1.2 million Britons settled in mainland Europe,
most of them working. They have
accused Theresa May and JeanClaude Juncker of sacrificing them
in the rush to sign off phase one of
Brexit talks.
One of the biggest fears of such
Britons is that they will remain
“landlocked” in the country in
which they now live, unable to
move across borders to work.
British in Europe, an organisation representing 10 core campaign
groups, has called on the European
parliament to vote against
endorsing the deal struck between
May and Juncker last Friday.
“We are very upset about it, as
it is not fixed. The media are being
told that we can live as we did
before and that is simply not the
case,” said Jane Golding, chair of
British in Europe. “In May, the European commission offered to confirm our existing rights but the UK
government didn’t accept the offer,
and now we are left worse off.”
In the UK, groups campaigning
for the rights of EU citizens are
also wary. Nicolas Hatton, the cofounder of the3million, said there
was a “big gap between what the
government is claiming and what
EU citizens know is happening”.
Lisa O’Carroll
16 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
UK news
Hope for release of Briton jailed in Iran
Latest court appearance
put off following Boris
Johnson’s trip to Tehran
Patrick Wintour
Kevin Rawlinson
Hopes have been raised that the
British-Iranian dual national Nazanin
Zaghari-Ratcliffe could soon be
freed from a Tehran prison after her
expected appearance in court was
postponed in the wake of a visit to the
country by the UK foreign secretary,
Boris Johnson.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case was complicated when Johnson wrongly told
parliament she was training journalists in Iran, and it had been expected
she would face fresh charges of
espionage last Sunday, partly based
on Johnson’s remarks.
She has been held in jail since April
2016 after being accused of plotting to
overthrow the regime.
Some Iranian officials pounced on
Johnson’s error, citing it as proof of
her guilt and she was brought before a
judge on a second charge. She was due
to appear in court again last Sunday
but her husband, Richard Ratcliffe,
said the hearing was put off.
Ratcliffe said: “I said I thought that,
if the foreign secretary had a good Saturday, we might have a good Sunday,
with a court case postponed. And so it
has come to pass. Today is one of the
good days in the past 20 months.”
Johnson, who faced calls to resign
in the wake of his mistake, made a
two-day visit to Iran, where he held
talks with the president, Hassan
Rouhani, and his Iranian counterpart,
Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Jailed … Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held in Iran since April 2016 PA
The visit, the first by a British foreign secretary for two years, gave
Johnson a chance to underline that the
UK remained staunch in its support of
the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015,
even if the Iranians pressed him to do
more to ease trade between the two
countries by pressing UK commercial
banks to finance deals. The banks are
reluctant to do so, fearing they will
be subject to swingeing fines by US
authorities for breaching continued
intrusive US sanctions.
The Foreign Office said Johnson
and Rouhani “both spoke forthrightly” and “agreed on the need to
make progress in all areas”.
Last Sunday, Zaghari-Ratcliffe
said she could “see some light”. “The
court, the imprisonment emerged all
of a sudden out of the blue, so I hope
it can disappear out of the blue also – if
there is enough will,” she said.
Last month, Zaghari-Ratcliffe
underwent a health assessment to
determine whether or not she was
fit to remain in prison. Though the
results are unknown, hope had been
expressed that she might be released
early, having served the minimum
sentence required.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in
2016 during a holiday visit to show her
baby daughter, Gabriella, to her parents. She has worked for BBC Media
Action and Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency’s charitable
arm, though not as a journalist.
Although Johnson’s meeting with
Rouhani was regarded as a significant
sign of Iranian willingness to engage
with the UK, Iranian media accounts
highlighted the problems standing in
the way of improved relations, especially the belief that the UK could do
more both to rein in US-led banking
sanctions, and president Donald
Trump’s criticisms of the Iranian
nuclear deal.
Iranian news agencies reported
Iran’s parliament’s speaker, Ali Larijani, telling Johnson that US and UK
military campaigns since 2000 had
plunged the world into ever-worsening chaos, and were the major reason
for the spread of terrorism. Larijani
said: “Instead of voicing anti-Iran sentiments, it would be more rewarding
to pay attention to the reality of what
is going on in regional countries.”
He also suggested that all aspects
of the Iran nuclear deal, also known
as the JCPOA, had not been fully implemented by the UK. He was quoted
as saying: “After the JCPOA agreement
was reached, unlike certain other European countries that did their best to
engage in economic cooperation with
Iran, the UK did not take appropriate
measures to promote economic cooperation with Iran. You did not even
solve the banking obstacles of the
Iranian embassy in London.”
But Iranian news sites also claimed
Johnson had been relatively evenhanded in discussing the disputes
between Saudi Arabia and Iran that
have spread across the Middle East.
The Iranians reported Johnson as telling the Iranians: “Iran, Saudi tensions
are not beneficial to any countries and
will only result in unstable conditions.
The problems between the two countries need to be solved”.
Johnson also met similar criticisms
from Ali Shamkhani, the secretary
of Iran’s supreme national security
council. Shamkhani was reported as
saying that since the JCPOA went into
effect, economic relations between
the UK and Iran had not developed
NHS trust boss resigns in protest over underfunding
Denis Campbell
The boss of one of the NHS’s biggest
trusts has resigned in protest at what
he claims is such serious government
underfunding that hospitals cannot
perform their key role properly.
Bob Kerslake, who was the head of
the civil service until 2015, has quit as
chairman of the board at King’s College hospital in London, after a longrunning dispute with the NHS watchdog over its finances. Ministers are in
denial about the reality of how much
extra money the NHS requires, he says.
In an article for the Guardian,
Lord Kerslake, a highly respected
crossbench peer and former permanent secretary at the Department for
Communities and Local Government,
explains that he is stepping down because hospitals are being asked to
agree to meet unrealistically demanding savings targets.
“My two and half years at King’s
have been in equal parts inspiring
and frustrating. There are undoubtedly things that I and the trust could
have done better … but fundamentally
our problems lie in the way that the
NHS is funded and organised. We desperately need a fundamental rethink.
Until then, we are simply kicking the
can down the road,” says Kerslake.
On Monday, he called for a fundamental review, potentially on a
cross-party basis, on how the NHS is
funded. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today
programme: “I am deeply concerned
about the position generally, actually,
in London where most of the hospitals
are struggling. But there is also a big issue about social care as well, which got
no additional funding in the budget.
“And I think, deep down, what
we need is a proper review, a crossparty review, I don’t mind what it’s
called, that looks at what kind of NHS
do we want, how much is it going to
cost and then how are we going to pay
for it.”
His resignation comes just before
NHS Improvement, which regulates
the health service’s finances in
England, is expected to put King’s
into “financial special measures” over
its inability to stick to its budget for
this year. Kerslake says that, despite
reducing its spending on agency
staff, its financial situation has worsened since it took over the troubled
Princess Royal hospital in 2014.
Kerslake’s reputation, his readiness to speak his mind and his long
track record of senior positions in the
public sector could prompt a renewed
focus on government funding of the
health service.
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 17
Light show Isaac Newton drawing found on wall of childhood home
A friend of Isaac Newton once
described him as a compulsive
scribbler on walls. Almost 300 years
after the scientist’s death, a wobbly
drawing of a windmill has turned
up, scratched into a wall at his
childhood home.
The image was found during a
conservation study at Woolsthorpe
Manor in Lincolnshire, now owned
by the National Trust, where there
is also an apple tree said to be the
one that inspired Newton’s theory
of gravity.
Appropriately, in the house
where Newton first used a prism to
split white light into its constituent
colours, the drawing was found
using reflectance transformation imaging, a method that combines multiple images to reveal detail invisible
to the naked eye. It was beside a fireplace in the hall, formerly the main
family room of the house.
Chris Pickup, from Nottingham
Trent University, who made the discovery, said: “I hope that by using
this technique we’re able to find out
more about Newton as man and boy
and shine a light on how his extraordinary mind worked.”
The drawing is believed to have
been made when Newton was a boy
and saw a similar mill being built
nearby. The habit of drawing on the
walls stuck.
His friend and biographer William Stukeley wrote: “The walls,
& ceelings were full of drawings,
which he had made with charcole.
There were birds, beasts, men,
ships, plants, mathematical figures,
circles, & triangles.”
Drawings were revealed on the
walls in the 1920s and 30s when
farmhouse tenants were peeling
away layers of old wallpaper. The
National Trust believes more remain
to be found and it will continue the
hunt in the new year. Maev Kennedy
Photograph: Robert Bird/Alamy
University students failed by high fees
Richard Adams
Students taking out huge loans to pay
for higher education are being failed
by universities in England, with only
one in three saying they receive value
for money according to a stinging
report by the government’s spending
watchdog. The sector is already facing questions over extravagant pay for
Amyas Morse, head of the National
Audit Office (NAO), said if universities were banks they would be investigated for mis-selling. The NAO has
called on the Department for Education (DfE) to provide more aggressive
oversight to ensure value for money.
Morse said: “Young people are
taking out substantial loans to pay for
courses without much effective help
and advice, and the institutions concerned are under very little competitive pressure to provide best value.
“If this was a regulated financial
market, we would be raising the
question of mis-selling. The [DfE] is
taking action to address some of these
issues, but there is a lot that remains
to be done.”
The NAO found that the increased
numbers of disadvantaged students
now attending universities were
mainly going to lower-ranked institutions – “which risks creating a two-tier
system”, dividing those from rich and
poor backgrounds.
Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who
chairs parliament’s public accounts
committee, has accused the DfE of
taking a “hands-off ” approach that has
left students floundering with £9,250
($12,500) annual tuition fees and debts
totalling £50,000 on average.
“The government is failing to give
inexperienced young people the advice and protection they need when
making one of the biggest financial
decisions of their lives,” she said. “It
has created a generation of students
hit by massive debts, many of whom
doubt their degree is worth the money
paid for it.”
The report’s conclusions were
echoed by Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP who chairs parliament’s
education committee.
“Recent high-profile examples of
stratospheric levels of pay and perks
for some university vice-chancellors
do little to suggest universities recognise the struggles of their students
or, indeed, of poorly paid university
staff,” Halfon said.
In response, a DfE spokesperson
said the government already planned
to conduct “a major review of funding” for tertiary education.
A spokesperson for the Universities UK lobby group said students
were rightly demanding greater value
for money.
News in brief
Kicker here like this
Then a short description here like this
UK news
• Britain’s car factories are
helping drive the country’s
manufacturing production to
its longest period of growth in
more than 20 years, according
to government figures. The
Office for National Statistics
(ONS) said cars made for export and a bumper month for
pharmaceutical firms helped
output grow for the sixth
month in a row in October –
the longest unbroken period
of manufacturing growth
since 1994. The annual rate of
expansion is 3.9%, confirming
the manufacturing sector’s
status as one of the brightest
areas in the UK economy.
• The US firm General Electric plans to cut 1,100 jobs
from its UK power infrastructure business as part of
a Europe-wide cost-cutting
exercise, blaming a fall in demand for new power stations
and dwindling investment
by its clients. The job losses
would affect staff in Rugby
and Stafford, reducing GE’s
18,000-strong UK workforce
by 6%. The company plans
to cut 12,000 jobs globally.
• The national police lead
on acid attacks has said 2017
is likely to see the most on
record in the UK, as the profile of incidents shifts from
domestic violence to street
attacks involving gangs
and young people. Rachel
Kearton, an assistant chief
constable with Suffolk police,
said Britain has one of the
highest rates in the world of
attacks with acid and other
corrosive substances and the
number appeared to be rising. This was partly due to
other badly affected countries
such as India not keeping
comprehensive records, she
said. There were slightly more
than 400 incidents in the six
months to April 2017.
• Former celebrity publicist
Max Clifford, who was serving a jail sentence for sex
offences, has died in hospital
aged 74, the Ministry of Justice has said. Clifford had a
cardiac arrest in hospital last
Friday, his daughter said. In
April 2014, Clifford was convicted of eight counts of indecent assault against teenage
girls and women committed
between 1977 and 1985. Clifford was involved in some of
the biggest stories to emerge
in the British press, with a
flair for kiss-and-tell stories.
18 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
We must
plan for
Russia after
Putin goes
Natalie Nougayrède
The ambitious president
says he will stand again.
But as the dramatic fall
of the Soviet Union
showed, the unexpected
can happen
ladimir Putin has announced he will
be running for re-election next March.
He has no serious challengers. Another
six-year term lies ahead. None of this
is a surprise, but it raises the question
of where Russia is heading, and how
to deal with it. Before 1991, hardly
anyone would have predicted the demise of the Soviet
Union; today almost no one ventures to predict the
end of Putinism. The widespread assumption among
western officials and experts – and in Russia itself – is
that Putin can hang on for a long time yet. He has fanned
the flames of militarist nationalism, both to consolidate
his domestic power and to enhance Russia’s clout in the
world. It has worked well so far. Can it last?
Binary, contradictory narratives about Russia
are nothing new. A Russian journalist once asked
Boris Yeltsin how well he thought Russia was doing.
“Good!” he shouted. When the journalist suggested
he give a longer answer, Yeltsin thundered: “Not
good!” The anecdote was shared at a Chatham House
conference last week in Berlin shortly after Putin’s
announcement. In the discussions, two diverging
narratives emerged.
American, European and Russian experts are
increasingly asking whether Russia can go on for much
longer as a confrontational and revisionist power
seeking revenge for its humiliation when the cold war
ended. Most said it would.
Putin has left himself no other choice, goes that
logic. After massive street protests in 2011-12, he
needed to find new political legitimacy. The 2014
overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine as the
result of a popular uprising handed Putin just that
opportunity: western hesitation in Syria had convinced
him that the US would stomach the annexation of
Crimea, rather than respond to it.
Russia is today at war, in Syria and in Ukraine, and
that’s the new normal – not a passing phase. Russian
society has embraced aggressive nationalism and antiwestern sentiment. Russia has no interest in resolving
conflict situations and sees the use of force as a key
instrument to achieve foreign policy goals. Russia’s GDP
may be the size of Italy’s, and it has failed to diversify
its economy, but Putin compensates by raising Russia’s
international prestige.
He diverts attention from Russia’s domestic weaknesses by capitalising on western weaknesses – now
Putin is just the face
of a Russian power
system, not its
embodiment. That
system could one
day replace him
Juliane Berger/Ingram Publishing/Alamy
made worse by the Trump presidency. Putin is in good
shape. He’ll be around for a long time.
The opposite, minority, view holds that none of this
is sustainable. Putin has been in power (as president or
prime minister) for as long as Leonid Brezhnev, who ran
the Soviet Union into its strategic dead end. By the end
of his next term, Putin will be 71. Even without changing the constitution, it is conceivable he might still be
running for president in 2030, when he’ll be 77 (after
an interim period similar to the handpicked Medvedev
presidency of 2008-12).
Russians have experienced gerontocracy before. It
didn’t end well at all. Putin is faced with a succession
problem in a petro-state where the economy is stagnating, just as it was in the Brezhnev era. As in the late
1980s, global oil prices are low and likely to remain so.
The pie will get smaller for Russia’s oligarchic class.
Infighting among the ruling elite is on display, with the
trial of a former minister for bribery.
A brain drain deprives Russia of many young talents,
who are emigrating in droves. Russia is set to decline.
A resurgent China breathes heavily down its neck.
Putin’s plans for a “Eurasian Union” are an empty shell.
Bombastic nationalism will exhaust itself. Putinism is
set to run its course.
ow to deal with Russia? Answers hinge
on which of the two narratives one
chooses to prefer. If Putinism is set
to last in its current form, containing
Russia is essential. Western alliances
must ensure all options for a successful
Russian war in Europe are entirely closed
off – it would be folly to hope Russian aggressiveness
dissipates soon. Indeed, Moscow believes it stands
to benefit from the weakening of the UN-based
international order. That has been at the heart of its
policies in Europe and in the Middle East.
If, on the other hand, Putinism is slowly entering
its final throes, then preparing for important changes
in Russia makes sense. If anyone had prepared for
the collapse of the Soviet system, mistakes might have
been avoided: offering post-Soviet Russia the equivalent
of a Marshall plan would have prevented its slide
towards authoritarianism.
For its modernisation and stability, Russia will have
no other choice but to turn to Europe, says that theory.
When that time comes, Russia should be offered a package of rapprochement with the west, with stringent conditions attached, including complete troop withdrawal
from Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
In the first scenario, Putin is just the face of a Russian
power system, not its full embodiment. That system
could one day replace him without fundamentally
reforming itself. To obsess about Putin is a trap. It
misses the deeper, durable course Russia has embarked
on. Russians may dream of western living standards,
but they have no real interest in democracy or in
cooperation with Europe.
The second scenario – the end of Putinism – would
produce political ruptures in Russia that western democracies would do well to anticipate. Russians feel
much closer to Europeans than they do to the Chinese.
They want to live in a “normal” society, not one caught
up in Orwellian paranoia, with widespread corruption.
The first view seems by far the most realistic. The second is where a degree of hope can be found. Putin made
his announcement last week in an interesting place:
the city of Nizhny Novgorod, formerly known as Gorki,
where Andrei Sakharov, the great Soviet dissident and
Nobel peace prize winner, lived in internal exile after
Brezhnev had him arrested in 1980 for protesting about
the Soviet war in Afghanistan. A decade later, transformations that no one could ever have thought possible
suddenly erupted in Russia.
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 19
Kushner wreaking havoc in the Middle East
Moustafa Bayoumi
In his role as a special adviser,
the president’s son-in-law seems
to have decided he can remake
the region. The results could be dire
he entire Middle East, from Palestine to
Yemen, appears set to burst into flames.
The region was already teetering on the
edge, but recent events have only made
things worse. And while the mayhem
should be apparent to any casual
observer, what’s less obvious is Jared
Kushner’s role in the chaos.
Kushner is, of course, the US president’s senior
adviser and son-in-law. The 36-year-old is a Harvard
graduate who seems to have a hard time filling in forms
correctly. He repeatedly failed to mention his meetings
with foreign officials on his security clearance and neglected to report to US government officials that he was
co-director of a foundation that raised money for Israeli
settlements, considered illegal under international law.
In his role as the president’s special adviser, Kushner
seems to have decided he can remake the entire Middle
East, and he is wreaking his havoc with his new best
friend, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old who burst on to the international
scene by jailing many members of his country’s ruling
elite, including his own family, on corruption charges.
Days before Salman’s unprecedented move, Kushner
was with the crown prince in Riyadh on an unannounced trip. The men are reported to have stayed up
late, planning strategy while swapping stories. We don’t
know what exactly the two were plotting, but Donald
Trump later tweeted his “great confidence” in Salman.
But the Kushner-Salman alliance moves far beyond
Riyadh. The Saudis and Americans are privately pushing
a new “peace” deal to various Palestinian and Arab leaders that is more lop-sided toward Israel than ever before.
Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian parliamentarian in the Israeli Knesset, explained the contours of the deal to the
New York Times: no full statehood for Palestinians, only
“moral sovereignty”. Control over disconnected segments of the occupied territories only. No capital in East
Jerusalem. No right of return for Palestinian refugees.
This is, of course, not a deal at all. It’s an insult to
the Palestinian people. Another Arab official cited in
the Times story explained that the proposal came from
someone lacking experience but attempting to flatter
the family of the American president. In other words,
it’s as if Mohammed bin Salman is trying to gift Palestine
to Jared Kushner, Palestinians be damned.
Next came Donald Trump throwing both caution and
international law to the wind by recognising Jerusalem
as the capital of Israel.
But it’s not just Israel, either. Yemen is on the brink
of a major humanitarian disaster largely because the
country is being blockaded by Saudi Arabia. Trump
finally spoke out against the Saudi measure last week,
but both the state department and the Pentagon are
said to have been privately urging Saudi Arabia and
the UAE to ease their campaign against Yemen. Why?
Because Saudi and Emirati officials believe they “have
tacit approval from the White House for their hardline
actions, in particular from Donald Trump and his
Robert G Fresson
In their zeal to isolate
Iran, Kushner and
Saudi crown prince
Salman are leaving
a wake of destruction
around them
son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner”, journalist Laura Rozen reported.
The Kushner-Salman alliance has particularly irked
the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. Kushner reportedly
leaves the state department completely out of his Middle
Eastern plans. Of special concern to Tillerson, according
to Bloomberg News, is Kushner’s talks with Salman regarding military action by Saudi Arabia against Qatar. The
state department is worried of all the unforeseen consequences such a radical course of action would bring.
Here’s where state department diplomacy should kick
in. The US ambassador to Qatar could relay messages
between the feuding parties to find a solution to the
standoff. So what does the ambassador to Qatar have to
say about the Kushner-Salman alliance? Nothing, since
there still is no confirmed ambassador to Qatar.
What about the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia? That
seat’s also vacant. And the US ambassador to Jordan,
Morocco, Egypt? Vacant, vacant and vacant. It’s partly
this vacuum of leadership by Tillerson that has enabled
Kushner to forge his powerful alliance with Salman.
And in their zeal to isolate Iran, Kushner and Salman are
leaving a wake of destruction around them.
he war in Yemen is only intensifying. Qatar
is closer to Iran than ever. A final status
deal between Israel and the Palestinians seems all but impossible now. The
Lebanese prime minister went back on his
resignation. And the Saudi state must be
paying the Ritz-Carlton a small fortune to
jail key members of the ruling family.
There’s a long history of American politicians deciding they know what’s best for the Middle East while buttressing their autocratic allies. But the Kushner-Salman
alliance also represents something else. Both the US and
Saudi Arabia are concentrating power into fewer hands.
And with fewer people in the room, who will be around
to tell these men that their ideas are so damaging? Who
will dare explain to them how they already have failed?
Moustafa Bayoumi is the author of the award-winning
book How Does It Feel To Be a Problem? Being Young
and Arab in America
20 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
must now
adapt to
John Harris
Ben Jennings
As physical production
falls away, the future
looks bright for those
who can reinvent
themselves – and dim
for those who can’t
s descriptions of capitalism go, it’s
surely one of the best ever written. According to the Communist Manifesto:
“Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all
social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the
bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable
prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed
ones become antiquated before they can ossify.” And
then the kicker: “All that is solid melts into air.”
Whatever their shortcomings as revolutionaries,
Marx and Engels’ vision of ceaselessly changing economies and societies seems just as pertinent now as it did
169 years ago, with one particularly surreal caveat.
Most traditional conceptions of capitalism have been
founded in some notion of material stuff: physical property, premises, machinery, goods. But the companies at
the forefront of the 21st-century economy have a very
different way of operating, as evidenced by one of the
year’s most talked-about books. Written by the economist Jonathan Haskel and the innovation researcher
Stian Westlake, Capitalism Without Capital may sound
like a riddle but actually makes perfect sense.
Airbnb has revolutionised the market in accommodation but owns no property. Chinese online giant Alibaba
is reckoned to be the world’s biggest retailer but holds
no stock. Neither does eBay.
Such are the strange ways of what is becoming
known as platform capitalism. Cutting-edge capitalism
is increasingly weightless. What makes the difference
between winners and losers is not physical things, but
such quicksilver commodities as ideas, knowledge, research, software, brands, networks and relationships.
Haskel and Westlake centre their story on a shift in
investment, away from “tangible” assets to these “intangible” items. In the United States, the share of GDP
devoted to the latter is reckoned to have overtaken the
former in the mid-1990s; in the UK, the watershed was
reached towards the end of that decade. In other countries – Italy and Spain, for instance – investing in oldfashioned kit and plant still take precedence. But in all
the statistics there is a clear implication: that as we head
into the future, intangibles will rule.
As Haskel and Westlake see it, the future belongs to
people who can endlessly adapt – “product managers,
lawyers, business development people, design engineers, marketers, head-hunters, and so forth”. Or, put
another way, “people who combine decent data-analytical skills with the soft skills needed to broker relationships inside and outside their own company”.
The old world is a factory canteen in a company
town, full of harried workers keeping their heads down
before they graft on a production line; the new reality is
symbolised by a street-corner coffee shop full of people
answerable to a mixture of employers, who may be either working or socialising, or both.
As consistent work involving physical stuff increasingly falls away, it seems the clash between two very different kinds of people will characterise the painful birth
pangs of a new reality.
Haskel and Westlake tentatively put Brexit and the
election of Donald Trump in this context. Indeed, extend the notion of intangibles beyond assets and into
questions of culture, and you have a key to what is so
unsettling many western societies: on one side sit social
forces loyal to such ideas as place, vocation and family; on the other is a cluster of people happy to reinvent
themselves whenever required.
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” says the Communist Manifesto.
The future will be too.
More at
Opinion In brief
It’s OK not to be OK
I have never suffered from a
depressive episode. I know this isn’t
the case for many. In 2014-15 some
4 million Australians (or 17.5%)
reported a “mental or behavioural
And yet I have been deeply sad, in
many instances throughout my life.
Not clinically depressed, thankfully,
but sad. Sad because I lost contact
with a friend. Sad over the death
of a family member. Sad owing to
a love lost or a promise unfulfilled.
Sometimes the sadness stretched on
for weeks, or months.
In those early stages of sadness,
I never quite knew what to do with
the feeling. Should I see someone?
Do I need to read more books on
analytical psychology? Is there an
app for this? Tell me there is an app
for this!
These days, if someone isn’t seeking to cure their sadness through
Not even vicars have the patience of saints
therapy, there is a range of wellbeing
apps, books, courses, expensive
retreats or myriad distractions they
can deploy. Sadness is discomfiting
and challenging, but aided by
today’s hyper-consumer culture
you need never truly feel it.
But what if sadness is good for us?
Our aversion to sadness feels like
a very modern problem.
We think that if we’re not happy
all the time, completely satisfied in
our jobs, and having state-of-the-art
travel experiences, that something
is fundamentally broken.
Yet sadness is a reasonable
response to the horrors of the world
and the absurdities and disappointments of modern life; a world
in which we devote more time to
racking up likes than to actively
liking each other.
And we don’t need an app to tell
us that. Johanna Leggatt
“You only work one day a week!”
Clergy hear it all the time. The
people who say it think they’re being original. They’re not. Being a
vicar is an enormous privilege, but it
is also hard work and the clergy can
pay a heavy emotional price.
So when I read that the Rev Andy
Thewlis in Wiltshire had written a
strongly worded letter to his congregation for what he perceived as their
lack of warmth – a letter for which
he has since issued an apology – I
wasn’t remotely surprised. He said
his enthusiasm had been sapped by
“grumbling and disunity”, also complaining about “arrogant gossips”
and “criticism and negativity”. It
“drains energy”, he said. Every
case is different. But all clergy will
recognise something of this.
All the clergy I have spoken to
know how it feels to want to write
that sort of letter. In particular,
Thewlis says he perceived a lack
of warmth among the people he
served. That can be very painful for
the clergy, who have often moved
significant distances to live in a community they don’t know very well,
to do a hard job with a lot of public
exposure. It doesn’t take more than
a few people who are adept at finding fault, or who resent a new person in their community exercising
leadership and making decisions,
to feel vulnerable and isolated. A
throwaway unkind comment or a
hastily written angry email can eat
away at a parish priest for days.
Thewlis has said he recognises
the letter he sent his parishioners
was inappropriate. But spare a
thought, and perhaps a prayer, for
the clergy who even now find the
cursor hovering over the “send”
button. There are more of them than
you might think. Liam Beadle
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 21
In praise of ...
new Christmas carols
UK prime minister Theresa May’s divorce deal with the European Union merely got the ball rolling
Be sceptical
Andrew Rawnsley
The hard Brexiters in
the cabinet are praising
Theresa May for a deal
that they would once
have called a betrayal
veryone is happy. Well, everyone except Nigel Farage with his shouts of “betrayal”. The
EU says it is happy with the deal struck with
Theresa May last Friday morning. May says
she is happy. Truth to tell, the prime minister and her aides are gasping with stunned
relief. Even more remarkably, Boris Johnson
and Michael Gove, standard bearers of the hard Brexiters
in the cabinet, claim to be happy.
Cabinet members who want a soft Brexit say they are,
yes, happy. Business groups are happy. Even the Labour
party says it is sort of happy.
A chorus of Tory commentators are singing
hallelujahs to the prime minister. They applaud May
for the apparently remarkable feat of aligning her riven
cabinet, her divided party, the island of Ireland and
the EU behind the same deal. Can this be the same May
whom the Tory choir had previously been bewailing as
a maladroit incompetent who could be out of her job by
Christmas? The very same.
This outbreak of delirium ought to make us extremely
suspicious. Everyone cannot be happy. Someone is
deluding themselves about what has been agreed – or
they are trying to fool us.
It is worth stepping back from the frenzy to gain a
longer and cooler perspective on what has unfolded
since the negotiations in Brussels commenced in June.
At that point, leading Brexiters were still peddling their
fantasy that March 2019 was a feasible date to achieve
both a new trade deal and a “clean-break” Brexit. The
government slowly realised that this was simply delusional and conceded that formal departure would have
to be followed by a “transition period”, during which
Britain will continue to trade as if it is still a member
of the EU at least until 2021. With the important difference that Britain will continue to be subject to EU
law without having any say about what those laws are.
Britain will go from being a rule-maker to a rule-taker.
The other very obvious area where the British
government has had to concede is over the money. In
the end, even the cabinet’s most fanatical Brexit zealots
As many as 300 new carols have
been written this year, the result
of enduring public affection and a
boom in competitions.
Some of the most notable contemporary composers – Judith
Weir, Michael Berkeley, Harrison
Birtwistle and Roxanna Panufnik –
have written 21st-century carols.
The winner of the Bach Choir’s
carol competition, 22-year-old
composer Alex Woolf, has written
Nowell, a narrative piece telling the
story of Mary, from her vision of the
Angel Gabriel to the birth of Jesus.
The choir’s musical director, David
Hill, described it as full of melody,
rhythm and mood.
He estimates that between 200
and 300 new carols have been written this year. “It’s a burgeoning
industry,” he said. “Leading choirs
are inundated with offers. Writers
know there’s an appetite for carols
… People might not go to church at
other times of year but they want to
hear again the most famous story
ever told.” Catherine Pepinster
have been forced to bow to the raw truth that having
to pay the EU €40bn (£35bn), large as it may be, is relatively small compared with the calamity that would be
inflicted on the British economy by a car-crash Brexit.
So how can anyone really be happy? Those who hope
for one of the softer versions of departure are relieved
because they think this agreement reduces the danger
of a catastrophic “no-deal” Brexit. May is happy because
she has bought herself some more time at No 10. For her,
any deal was better than no deal.
The most intriguing question is why the hard
Brexiters in the cabinet are now acclaiming May for
making concessions that they would have previously
denounced as a betrayal. I think the answer to that
comes in three parts. One of the only things to be said
for this tortuous and perilous experiment is that it has
served as an education for some of the Brexiters, as their
illusions have been forced into contact with reality.
I also strongly suspect that the likes of Johnson and
Gove have become petrified by what will happen to their
reputations if Britain crashes out of the EU and into a
nasty recession. In the darker stretches of the night,
they must ask themselves how Tory chroniclers will rate
them if they are recorded by history as the men who
guaranteed a seat in No 10 to Jeremy Corbyn.
We ought also to remember that, beneath all their
blustery bravado, the Brexiters are haunted by the fear
that Britain might choose to change its mind. Their
overarching goal is to be sure that Britain is formally out
of the EU by March 2019. They will swallow anything
– principles, pride, groaning plates of their earlier promises – to secure that. They also think, and about this they
are right, that the next and more important battle will
be about precisely what end state Britain seeks for its
future relationship with EU, a subject that, incredibly,
the cabinet has yet to debate.
As for everyone else, the question to keep asking is
why our country is spending so much time, energy and
money trying to negotiate a deal with the EU that will be
inferior to the one Britain currently enjoys as a member.
Who can be happy about that?
22 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
The Grenfell inquiry
Hear the victims’ voices
Six months after the Grenfell Tower fire in west
London in which 71 people died, the first formal sessions of the inquiry began this week.
The survivors and the families of the victims
are still profoundly mistrustful of the state that
failed them so catastrophically on the night of
14 June. There is much to be done if they are
to have confidence in the inquiry’s findings.
The tragic – and, many believe, wilful –
failure of UK central and local government to
respond to tenants’ well-founded concerns
about the management of their block, and
the resistance at ministerial level to enacting
recommendations made by an earlier inquiry
into the Lakanal House fire in a similar block
in south London in 2009, is only the start of
the charge sheet that has so undermined confidence. The immediate response from the
prime minister down to individual Kensington and Chelsea councillors was pitiable. The
institutional inadequacies, newly itemised in
a report by the neighbouring London borough
of Hammersmith and Fulham, found a total absence of leadership. And even now, six months
later, 103 families, including 29 with children,
are still in emergency accommodation, waiting to be rehoused. That history alone puts an
exceptional burden on the inquiry.
But it is not only the specific circumstances
that require Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the inquiry
chair, to look beyond the narrowly technical
investigation that his background in commercial law inclines him towards. As the charity
Inquest, which is coordinating the families’
legal representation, argued in its proposed
terms of reference, the Human Rights Act
requires a much wider response. In the stark
clash of cultures between the dry academic
approach of the judges and lawyers, and the
survivors and bereaved families’ entirely human need to bear witness, to feel ownership
of the investigation, the human must prevail.
The families of the victims want a much
more diverse panel that they will feel confident can represent the different cultures,
faiths and ethnicities of Grenfell residents.
They want the same approach that played
such an important role in restoring confidence
in the Hillsborough inquest, when each of
the bereaved was invited to tell the inquiry
something of the person or people they had
lost, placing the dead at the very centre of the
process. The Human Rights Act, with its emphasis on accommodating a common need of
the bereaved to feel that their loss might in
some way be turned to the benefit of the wider
community, demands no less.
Last weekend the Equality and Human
Rights Commission announced its own inquiry, and promised to report in April. That
is months ahead of any likely interim conclusions from the official investigation. It should
serve as a spur to the Moore-Bick process. It
will slow the proceedings. It will complicate
them. But without it the process of rebuilding
confidence in government cannot begin.
Fighting terror
Maintain trust
Good intelligence depends on making connections. So it is worth considering the developments that coincided with last Tuesday’s admission, in the report from David Anderson
QC into the Manchester and London terror
attacks, that the intelligence agencies made
mistakes, and might have been able to prevent the Manchester bomb. First came news
that the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, had
told the cabinet that, while four attacks had
got through, nine more had been foiled since
March; then later it emerged in a supposedly
confidential briefing note from the Crown
Prosecution Service that a man was due in
court on charges relating to an assassination
attempt on the prime minister.
MI5 would deny any suggestion of choreography; yet it is unquestionably convenient that the itemising of failings that might
have prevented the Manchester attack was
dwarfed by the news that a detailed plan to
murder Theresa May had been intercepted.
The upshot is that the security services will,
to all intents and purposes, be the only judges
of their failure to prevent the attacks in which
35 people died.
Two things emerge. Once again, it is clear
that, for all the extensive new powers that the
security services have acquired, the failure is
human. When a decision to increase surveillance was delayed, it emerges that the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, might also
have been subject to greater surveillance, but
the meeting to decide was scheduled for the
week after he exploded his bomb. Secondly,
while there are pledges of greater efficiency
and better data-sharing beyond security agencies, there is also talk of a “greater role” for MI5
in combating “domestic extremism” beyond
Islamist terrorism.
After the extent of unlicensed snooping
exposed in the Snowden files, a new era of
openness was promised. The handling of last
Tuesday’s reports risks undermining, rather
than strengthening, confidence that the
promise will be kept.
Trump sucks air
from conversation
on climate change
Lisa Hymas
Which story did you hear more
about this year – how climate change
makes disasters like hurricanes
worse or how Donald Trump threw
paper towels at Puerto Ricans?
If the latter, you have plenty of
company. Academic Jennifer Good
analysed two weeks of hurricane
coverage during the height of hurricane season on eight major North
American TV networks, and found
that about 60% of the stories included the word Trump, and only
about 5% mentioned climate change.
Trump doesn’t just suck the oxygen out of the room; he sucks the
CO2 out of the American dialogue.
Even in a year that has seen a string
of hurricanes, heatwaves and wildfires worthy of the Book of Revelation the effect of climate change
on extreme weather has been dramatically undercovered. Some of
Trump’s tweets generate more coverage than devastating disasters.
Good’s analysis lines up with
research done by my organisation,
Media Matters for America, which
found that US TV news outlets gave
far too little coverage to the welldocumented links between climate
change and hurricanes.
The weekend after Maria
slammed into Puerto Rico, the five
major Sunday political talkshows
devoted less than one minute in
total to the storm and the humanitarian emergency it triggered.
When Trump visited Puerto Rico
on 3 October, almost two weeks after Maria assailed the island, he got
wall-to-wall coverage as journalists
reported on his paper-towel toss and
other egregious missteps. But after
that trip, prime-time cable news
coverage of Puerto Rico’s recovery
plummeted, Media Matters found,
even though many residents to this
day suffer from electricity outages
and a lack of clean water.
If we are to fend off the worst possible outcomes of climate change,
we need to shift as quickly as possible to a cleaner energy system.
We could expect more Americans
to get on board if they more fully
understood the problem – and that’s
where the critical role of the media
comes in. As the weather gets worse,
we need our journalism to get better.
Lisa Hymas is the climate and energy
programme director at Media Matters
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 23
Worried about Germany
Jonathan Freedland is right when
he claims it’s time for Britain to end
special relationship (8 December).
The only problem is there probably never was one, apart from a
marriage of convenience between
Winston Churchill and Franklin
Roosevelt after the invasion of Pearl
Harbor by the Japanese.
America has always pursued its
own interests first and foremost.
Tony Blair wilfully suppressed that
knowledge to his cost – and ours, and
of course that of the many thousands
of casualties from all sides – when
he ignored all the warning signs and
supported George W Bush’s Iraq invasion. Theresa May is in desperate
need of a strong trading partner as
well as a military ally, given the cards
she was dealt after the Brexit vote
and her subsequent failed attempts
at bluffing on a losing hand. The best
she can hope for is to try to keep her
special relationship with Donald
Trump on the back burner, in the
vain hope of his impeachment.
For the time being at least,
Trump appears fireproof. Once his
shadow has faded away though, the
UK’s best hope is to negotiate a new
and more adult relationship with
the US and the EU, with no favours
asked and none given.
Noel Bird
Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia
The pessimists in Philip Oltermann’s
article on Angela Merkel’s coalition
difficulties are right: the comparison
of the present federal republic in
Germany with the Weimar one is an
apt and very worrying one (1 December). And not just for Germany.
Around the world liberal western
democracies are in trouble, with
unlikely party alliances being cobbled together with varying degrees
of unmanageability. In all these
countries tyranny waits in the wings
if they can’t get it right and their parliamentary systems reach the point
of collapse. We are closer to such a
collapse than we think.
A major global economic downturn could do it – especially if that
were coupled with a major new
armed conflict. Alarmingly, both are
real possibilities and our complacency is dangerous.
If we wake up one morning to see
a senior uniformed military figure
announcing on television that the
constitution has been suspended
and that martial law is in place, we
will only have ourselves to blame.
It is now up to all of us to make
sure our failing democracies are revived before it gets to that stage.
Terry Hewton
Adelaide, South Australia
Question the assumptions
Dani Rodrik’s critique of neoliberalism (1 December) was rather weak.
Although he brought out the important point that state interventions
often have a great impact in setting
up well-functioning markets, the article was curiously silent on the neoliberal policies foisted on many developing countries through “structural adjustment programmes”.
The opening up of developing
economies and the withdrawal of
the state’s role have left many countries, including my own, India, with
unfathomable inequality.
Separating “the first-order principles” of economics, as Rodrik
argues, from what appears as
neoliberal creed need not be so difficult. All principles are based on
Letters for publication
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Guardian Weekly, Kings Place,
90 York Way, London N1 9GU, UK
Gary Kempston
It’s really nothing special
underlying assumptions and we
have to question these assumptions
so as to not conflate the fundamentals of economics with one dominant school of thought. Political and
historical contexts can help clarify
why some assumptions look like
first-order principles in a heavily
contested discipline like economics.
Deepa Iyer
Cambridge, UK
• Dani Rodrik provides a necessary
critique of neoliberalism’s addiction to the more-markets-and-lessgovernment mantra. It is, however,
disappointing that he both presumes
no end to a capitalist economy and,
worse, only highlights the traditional code words of mainstream
economics as the starting point
for alternative policies. It’s all very
20th-century and overly limited.
Meanwhile, Kate Raworth in her
splendid book Doughnut Economics has detailed some new ways to
think like a 21st-century economist
by fundamentally reframing our
understanding of what economics
is. Raworth provides a new set of
code words as the basis of a better
economics. They include “growth
agnosticism”, “socially embedded
economy”, “distributive by design”
and “regenerative by design”.
Rodrik is playing the old game, albeit a better version of the old game.
Raworth is changing the game and
providing inspiration for a new generation of economists, policymakers
and campaigners.
Stewart Sweeney
Adelaide, South Australia
To contact the editor directly:
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You can subscribe at
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• As grandmother of a redhead
I really enjoyed your 24 November
What I’m really thinking. When he
was little and people in the street
commented on it he would smile
and say: “Yes, and it’s curly”. But
when a friend’s four-year-old was
approached in the supermarket with
“What lovely red hair, where did you
get it?”, the child replied: “I don’t
really know, but Mummy gets hers
at the hairdresser.”
Jeanette Ward
Freshwater, NSW, Australia
• In view of his determination to
meet force with force, it does seem
rather apt that Egypt’s president
Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is the mirror
image of Isis (1 December).
Nicholas Houghton
Folkestone, UK
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From the archive
15 December 1981
Israel to annex
Golan Heights
Israel last night annexed the Golan Heights, captured from Syria
in the Six-day War of June 1967.
The measure removes all prospect of a territorial compromise
in any future peace negotiation.
Annexation of the Heights, where
6,600 Jews live in 31 settlements, will be popular with the
overwhelming majority of Israelis.
Israel’s annexation in all but
name of the Golan Heights is Mr
Begin’s way of poking a sharp stick
in the eye of President Assad of Syria
when the President’s other eye is
being poked by the Muslim Brotherhood. The move will have wide
support in Israel, first because the
Heights are deemed essential to the
security of the settlements in the
valley below, and second because
Mr Assad is thus shown the penalty
of not entering into peace negotiations (not that he would get the
Heights back if he did).
Any Israeli government has a
diverse constituency to satisfy.
The withdrawal from Sinai due in
April has antagonised the Gush
Emunim and other nationalist
groups who have threatened
physically to obstruct it.
Annexation of the Golan may
therefore have been designed
partly as an emollient to Sinai
settlers. Until President Mubarak
has retrieved his territory he in
turn will not wish to prejudice the
deal by strenuous opposition to the
Golan annexation.
What the annexation does is to
signal Israel’s commitment to only
its own terms for securing peace.
They include the effective control
of all the territory seized in 1967
with the exception of the Sinai
desert. Eric Silver
Corrections and
• A graphic that listed Africa’s
longest-serving leaders (1 December) incorrectly said both Teodoro
Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Paul
Biya were presidents of Equatorial
Guinea. Biya became president of
Cameroon in 1982.
The Guardian Weekly’s policy is to
correct significant errors as soon as
possible. Please give the date, page
or web link: guardian.readers@ or The readers’
editor, Kings Place, 90 York Way,
London N1 9GU, United Kingdom.
24 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
A blur of automation as robots weld at Toyota’s Tsutsumi car assembly plant in central Japan. First introduced 20 years ago, the Prius hybrid is now up to its fourth generation and is assembled
A curious Eurasian eagle-owl at a rescue station in Olomouc, Czech Republic. The birds, boasting
distinctive orange eyes, have a wingspan of up to two metres Slavek Ruta/Rex/Shutterstock
Liberal MPs Trent Zimmerman and Tim Wilson embrace after the marriage amendment
bill passes to make Australia the 25th country to recognise same-sex marriage Mick Tsikas/AAP
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 25
at the facility near Nagoya Franck Robichon/EPA
A seasonal labourer carries a head-load through a cloud of dust in a Bangladeshi brick-making
field near the Shitalakshya river in Narayanganj Md Mehedi Hasan/Barcroft Images
Paris grinds to a halt as a ‘people’s tribute’ lines the funeral route of French rock icon Johnny
Hallyday, who died last week aged 74. Culture, page 40→ Laurent Vu/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock
Scott Tingle, rear, Anton Shkaplerov, centre, and Norishige Kanai prepare at the Kazakh Baikonur
cosmodrome for a flight to the international space station Getty
26 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
Sam Knight unwraps the culture
of the British sandwich, an
invention that has its own
mythology, is worth billions,
employs thousands and
aided productivity
across the
A culinary
gift to
the world
Illustrations: Pete Gamlen
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 27
he invention of the chilled packaged
sandwich, an accessory of modern
British life that is so influential, so
multifarious and so close to hand
that you are probably eating one
right now, took place 37 years ago.
Like many things to do with the sandwich, this
might seem, at first glance, to be improbable.
But it is true. In the spring of 1980, Marks & Spencer, the nation’s most powerful department store,
began selling packaged sandwiches out on the
shop floor. Nothing terribly fancy. Salmon and
cucumber. Egg and cress. Triangles of white bread
in plastic cartons, in the food aisles, along with
everything else.
Looking upon the nation’s £8bn ($10.7bn)-ayear sandwich industrial complex in 2017, it seems
inconceivable that this had not been tried before,
but it hadn’t. Britain in 1980 was a land of Formica
counters, fluorescent lighting and lunches under
gravy. Sandwiches were thrown together from
leftovers at home, constructed in front of you in a
smoky cafe, or something sad and curled beneath
the glass in a British Rail canteen. When I spoke recently to Andrew Mackenzie, who used to run the
food department at M&S’s Edinburgh store – one
of the first five branches to stock the new, smart,
ready-made sandwiches – he struggled to convey
the lost novelty of it all. “You’ve got to bear in mind,”
he said. “It didn’t exist, the idea.”
If anything, it seemed outlandish. Who would
pay for something they could just as easily make
at home? “We all thought at the time it was a bit
ridiculous,” said Mackenzie. But following orders
from head office, he turned a stockroom into a miniproduction line, with stainless steel surfaces and an
early buttering machine. The first M&S sandwiches
were made by shop staff in improvised kitchens and
canteens. Prawns defrosted on trays overnight, and
a team of five came in before dawn to start work on
the day’s order.
And, oh, they sold. They sold so fast that the
sandwich experiment spread from five stores to 25,
and then 105. In the Croydon branch, a crew of seven
was making a hundred sandwiches an hour. The first
official M&S sandwich was salmon and tomato, but
in truth it was a free-for-all. They sold so fast that
staff made them out of whatever was lying around.
In Cambridge, they made pilchard sandwiches,
and people wanted those, too.
Without being designed to do so, the packaged
sandwich spoke to a new way of living and working. Within a year, demand was so strong that M&S
approached three suppliers to industrialise the process. (One of the world’s first sandwich factories was
a temporary wooden hut inside the Telfer’s meat pie
factory in Northampton.) In 1983, Margaret Thatcher
visited the company’s flagship store in Marble Arch
and pronounced the prawn mayonnaise delicious.
Every supermarket jumped on the trend. Up and
down the country, chefs and bakers and assorted
wheeler-dealers stopped whatever they were doing
and started making sandwiches on industrial estates.
The sandwich stopped being an afterthought, or a
snack bought out of despair, and became the fuel of
a dynamic, go-getting existence. “At Amstrad, staff
start early and finish late. Nobody takes lunches –
they may get a sandwich slung on their desk,” Alan
Sugar told an audience at City University in 1987.
“There’s no small-talk. It’s all action.” By 1990, the
British sandwich industry was worth £1bn.
A young economics graduate named Roger
Whiteside was in charge of the M&S sandwich
department by then. He had read that apartments
were being built in New York without kitchens, and
Growing pains
The difficult dawn of agriculture
→ Books, pages 34-35
he had a sense of where things were going. “Once you
are time-strapped and you have got cash, the first
thing you do is get food made for you,” he told me.
“Who is going to cook unless you are a hobbyist?”
In the sandwich department, he commissioned
new prototypes every week, and devised an ultimately impractical scheme to bake baguettes in
west London each morning and deliver them, still
crusty, to stores around the capital. Baguettes go
soft when they are refrigerated – one of a surprising number of technical challenges posed by sandwiches. Whiteside immersed himself in questions of
“carriers” (bread), “barriers” (butter, mayonnaise),
“inclusions” (things within the bread), “proteins”
(tuna, chicken, bacon) until they bordered on the
philosophical. “What is more important, the carrier
or the filling?” he wondered. “How many tiers of
price do you offer in prawn? How much stimulation
do people need?”
In the early 90s, Whiteside developed M&S’s
first dedicated “food to go” section, with its own
tills and checkouts, in Manchester. The innovation prefigured the layout of most contemporary
supermarkets, and was fabulously successful. But
it wasn’t successful enough for Whiteside. He didn’t
understand why absolutely everyone in Manchester
city centre wasn’t coming in to M&S for their lunch.
One day, he went into a branch of Boots on the
other side of the street. Like almost every major
retail chain, the pharm acy had followed M&S
British sandwich-makers
are sought-after across
Europe and invited to
places like Russia
into the sandwich business. But Whiteside was
convinced that its sandwiches weren’t as good as
M&S’s, and that most customers knew that, too. He
confronted the lunchtime queue in Boots and asked
people why they weren’t coming to his store. “They
said: ‘Well, I am not crossing the road’,” he recalled.
The answer struck Whiteside with great force.
Mass-producing a meal that you could, if necessary,
rip open and consume in the street was transforming
people’s behaviour. “Instant gratification and total
convenience and delivery,” Whiteside said. “If you
are not there, they are not going looking for you.”
He returned from Manchester and tried to persuade
M&S to open hundreds of standalone sandwich
shops in London. “It was so obviously an opportunity.” M&S didn’t go for the idea, but Whiteside was
convinced that the future would belong to whoever
was selling on every corner. He saw Pret a Manger
and Starbucks and Costa and Subway coming a mile
Sandwiches never sit still … new varieties are
tried but 80% of sales come from 20% of flavours
off. During the 1990s, the sandwich industry trebled
in size. By the end of the 20th century, more people
in Britain were making and selling sandwiches than
working in agriculture.
If you have been eating a packaged sandwich
while reading this, you will have probably finished
it by now. One industry estimate says that, on average, they take 3.5 minutes to consume. But no one
really knows, because no one pays attention. One of
the great strengths of the sandwich has been how
naturally it grafts on to our lives, enabling us to walk,
read, take the bus, work, dream and scan our devices
at the same time as feeding ourselves with the aid of
a few small rotational gestures of wrist and fingers.
The pinch at the corner. The sweep of the crumbs.
But just because something seems simple, or
intuitive, doesn’t mean that it is. The rise of the British chilled sandwich over the last 40 years has been a
deliberate, astonishing and almost insanely labourintensive achievement. The careers of men and
women like Roger Whiteside have taken the form
of a million incremental steps: of searching for less
soggy tomatoes and ways to crispify bacon; of profound investigations into the molecular structure
of bread and the compressional properties of salad.
In the trade, the small gaps that can occur within
the curves of iceberg lettuce leaves – creating air
pockets – are sometimes known as “goblin caves”.
The unfortunate phenomenon of a filling slumping toward the bottom of a sandwich box, known
as a skillet, is “the drop”. Obsessed by perfection
and market share, the sandwich world is beset by
conditions of permanent and ruthless competition.
Every week, rival sandwich developers from the big
players buy each others’ products, take them apart,
weigh the ingredients, and put them back together
again. “It is an absolute passion,” one former M&S
supplier told me. “For everybody. It has to be.”
The homeliness of the sandwich has been able to
mask its extraordinary effectiveness as a commercial
product. In 1851, the Victorian social commentator
Henry Mayhew calculated that 436,800 sandwiches,
all of them ham, were sold on the streets of London
each year. That might sound a lot, but Sainsbury’s,
which currently accounts for around 4% of the UK
“food to go” market, now sells that number every 36
hours. “It is sometimes hard to tell how much has
changed with our sandwich consumption, because
we feel really nostalgic towards them,” Bee Wilson,
the food writer, told me. “But actually, eating sandwiches five days a week, as lots of people do now, or
even seven days a week – that is what has changed.
They have invaded every area of our lives.”
And yet the sandwich is not satisfied. You might
think that, in a nation that buys around 4bn a year,
and in which you have been feeling better since you
stopped eating so much bread, that the market might
be saturated, or even falling off a little. But that is not
the case. According to the British Sandwich Association, the number grows at a steady 2% – or 80m
sandwiches – each year. The sandwich remains the
engine of the UK’s £20bn food-to-go industry, which
is the largest and most advanced in Europe, and a
source of great pride to the people who work in it.
“We are light years ahead of the rest of the world,”
Jim Winship, the head of the BSA, told me.
British sandwich-makers are sought after across
Europe, and invited to places like Russia and the
Middle East to advise on everything from packaging
and production lines to “mouth feel” and cress. “In
Saudi Arabia they absolutely love the story of the
Earl, the scoundrel,” one factory owner told me.
And during weeks of reporting for this article, I
didn’t come across one person who doubted that
the boom would continue. Continued on page 28 →
28 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
Weekly review
← Continued from page 27 “It’s big. We all do it. And
we do it a lot, is our summary of the market,” said
Martin Johnson, the chief executive of Adelie Foods,
a major supplier of coffee shops and universities.
Part of what pushes the industry forwards is the
maddening fact that we continue to make so many
sandwiches at home – an estimated 5bn a year. “The
biggie is still the people who aren’t buying,” Johnson
told me. The prize that seemed so unlikely in 1980 –
the industrialisation of something as scrappy as the
sandwich – is now almost a provocation to people
who dedicate themselves to the food-to-go concept.
After all, every sandwich you make at home is
one they have not sold. When you talk to people
in the business, they will invoke the inventory
problems faced by ordinary households in supplying enough variety in salads and breads. They are
also aware that, barring a dramatic change in our
circumstances (around 2009, following the financial crisis, there was a brief but noticeable fall in the
sale of shop-bought sandwiches), people who start
eating on the move don’t look back. When I dropped
by the development kitchens at Sainsbury’s a few
weeks ago, there was an Oakwood smoked ham and
cheddar sandwich – the supermarket’s bestseller
– sitting on the table. “Twenty thousand people
a day used to make a ham and cheese sandwich,”
said Patrick Crease, a product development manager. “Now this is their ham and cheese sandwich.”
I don’t know whether he meant to, but he made this
sound somehow profound and irreversible. “There
are 20,000 variants that don’t exist any more.”
More fundamentally, though, the sandwich
has proven itself to be uniquely adaptable to our
time-pressed, late-capitalist condition. In her 2010
book about sandwiches, Wilson wrote that the best
way to understand it was not to think about it as
food wrapped in bread, but as a form of eating –
functional and transitory – that reflects how we live
now. “Sandwiches freed us from the fork, the dinner
table, the fixed meal-time,” Wilson wrote. “In a way,
they freed us from society itself.”
Sandwich people seek to know more about us
than we know about ourselves. They spend just
as much time thinking about our habits and frailties as they do thinking about what we want to
eat. Starbucks knows you are more likely to have
a salad on a Monday, and a ham and cheese toastie
on a Friday. Sandwich factories know that our New
Year’s resolutions will last until the third week of
January, when the BLT orders pick up again. Clare
Clough, the food director of Pret a Manger, told me
that the company can predict years in advance, if
necessary, its busiest day for breakfast sandwiches:
the last working Friday before Christmas – office
Earl of Sandwich … opinions vary as to how he
came up with his eponymous culinary creation
party hangover morning – which this year fell on 15
December. “We can tell you now how many we are
going to do,” she said.
The most obvious – and ambitious – plot of the
sandwich industry is to make us eat them throughout the day. People in the trade, I noticed, rarely talk
about breakfast, lunch or dinner. They speak instead
about “day parts”, “occasions” and “missions”,
and any and all of these is good for a sandwich. In
2016, the British public carried out an estimated
5bn food-to-go “missions”, and these are spread
ever more evenly across the day parts. In recent
years, the biggest development in the sandwich
business has been its successful targeting of breakfast. (The best-selling filling of the last 12 months has
been bacon.) And the next frontier, logic dictates, is
dinner – or, as it was described to me at Adelie Foods,
“the fragmentation of the evening occasion”.
Whiteside, the former Marks & Spencer sandwich
man, is one person who believes that the industry
can take on the night. He left M&S in 1999, after
20 years, and helped to found Ocado, the online
supermarket. In 2013, Whiteside became the chief
executive of Greggs, the UK’s largest bakery chain,
where he has overseen a radical expansion and simplification of the business – opening hundreds of new
stores, drive-throughs and a delivery service. In October, he told me that he sees the hot sandwich as the
key to making Greggs “more appealing in the evening day part”. If you want people to eat a sandwich
on their way home, give them something warm. We
were sitting in a small meeting room on the second
floor of Greggs’s corporate headquarters, on the edge
of Newcastle. “Think about it,” said Whiteside. “A
burger is a hot sandwich, isn’t it?” He seemed pleased
by this, the intimation of another day part to conquer.
“Sandwiches,” he said, “never sit still.”
The revolutionary possibilities of the sandwich
have always been well hidden by its sheer obviousness. The best history, written by Woody Allen in
1966, imagines the conceptual journey taken by the
fourth Earl of Sandwich 200 years earlier. “1745:
After four years of frenzied labour, he is convinced
he is on the threshold of success. He exhibits before
his peers two slices of turkey with a slice of bread
in the middle. His work is rejected by all but David
Hume, who senses the imminence of something
great and encourages him.”
Scholarly attempts to isolate the precise moment
of incarnation – the first stack – mostly read like
other parodies. There is some theorising around
“trenchers”, thick hunks of bread that served as
plates in the Middle Ages, while everyone acknowledges the long history of flatbreads and their fillings in southern Europe and the Middle East. For
this reason, there is strong interest in the Earl’s tour
of the Mediterranean as a young man in 1738-39,
but unfortunately he made no mention of the pitta
bread or the calzone in the detailed journal that was
published after his death.
The first definite sandwich sighting occurs in the
diaries of Edward Gibbon, who dined at the Cocoa
Tree club, on the corner of St James Street and Pall
Mall in London on the evening of 24 November
1762. “That respectable body affords every evening
a sight truly English,” he wrote. “Twenty or thirty
of the first men in the kingdom … supping at little
tables … upon a bit of cold meat, or a Sandwich.” A
few years later, a French travel writer, Pierre-Jean
Grosley, supplied the myth – beloved by marketing
people ever since – that the Earl demanded “a bit of
beef, between two slices of toasted bread”, to keep
him going through a 24-hour gambling binge. This
virtuoso piece of snacking secured his fame.
The evidence for this, though, is weak. In his
It takes a
certain type of
mind to really
between two
slices of bread
definitive biography, The Insatiable Earl, published
in 1994, NAM Rodger concludes that Sandwich was
hard-up, and never wagered much for a man of his
rank. A large, shambling figure, prone to breaking
china, the Earl ran the Admiralty, by most accounts
badly, for 11 years. The likely truth is that the entire
future of the sandwich – its symbiotic relationship
with work, its disregard for a slower, more sociable way of eating – was present at its inception. In
18th-century English high society, the main meal of
the day was served at around 4pm, which clashed
with the Earl’s duties at the Admiralty. He probably
came up with the beef sandwich as a way of eating
at his desk.
It takes a certain type of mind to really innovate between two pieces of bread. Isabella “Mrs”
Beeton arguably designed the first avant-garde
sandwich, in 1861, with her “Toast Sandwich” – a
piece of toast, seasoned with salt and pepper, between two pieces of bread – but for most of the 19th
and 20th centuries, the sandwich was what it was.
Crustless fingers for the rich; what one cookbook
called “mouth distorters” for the poor. In postwar
Britain, in particular, the sandwich – bread dry after
hours on display, a sad mess inside – came to express a kind of culinary hopelessness. “It is by eating
sandwiches in pubs on Saturday lunchtimes that the
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 29
Kicker here like this
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In postwar
Britain, the
came to
express a kind
of culinary
British seek to atone for whatever their national sins
have been,” wrote Douglas Adams in 1984.
The M&S breakthrough arrived on high streets
populated by mostly featureless sandwich bars.
Slow service. Bins of fillings of indeterminate age. “It
was a depressing situation,” Julian Metcalfe told me.
“Ninety per cent of them were depressing places.”
Metcalfe opened the first branch of Pret a Manger, at
he sum75b Victoria Street, in London, during the
mer of 1986. He was 26 years old. He had
been running a delicatessen in Putney,
but it had no kitchen, and Metcalfe was
dismayed by what he was forced to
sell. “We were delivered coleslaw with
a 16-day shelf life,” he recalled. “I remember thinking: ‘Goodness.’” With
a university friend, Sinclair Beecham,
Metcalfe decided to open a delicatessenncum-sandwich shop in Westminster.
s, cured
The first Pret was a mess of salads,
meats, cheeses and sandwiches that Metcalfe made
in the back. When I asked him how he came to settle
on sandwiches, he said: “Because they sold better
than ham. Slicing ham took for ever.” Metcalfe,
who is by temperament impatient, concentrated
on trying to serve customers in a minute or less.
“We started by selling the obvious sandwiches,” he
said. “Cheese. And I realised, why can’t we do leg
of lamb with mint?”
Metcalfe was unleashed. He roasted chickens until 1am, and stripped off the meat by hand. A supplier
pitched him a small freshwater lobster, called a crayfish. He was mad about rocket. The formula didn’t
come easy. It took the duo four years to open their
second shop, in the City of London. When they did,
they played
playe opera at full blast to accompany
the sandwiches.
“It was preposterous,”
said Metcalfe. “But it worked.”
Two doors down from the original
Pret, there used to be another sandw
wich shop, called French Franks,
which concentrated on the filled
croissant – itself a daring concept at
the time. Frank Boltman, who is not
French, watched the Pret boys with
wonder. “It was make six, sell six. Little
but often. IIt is the same way it works now,” he
said. “They were constantly selling fresh product,
which is beautiful.”
Boltman had nine branches of French Franks by
the early 1990s, but he could not keep up with Pret
a Manger. Pret will open its 500th branch in 2018,
and is valued at £1.4bn. (Metcalfe sold most of his
stake in 2008.) But Boltman still knows a thing or
two. He won four consecutive sandwich designer
of the year awards – at the BSA’s fiercely contested
“Sammies” – between 2009 and 2012.
“My idea of relaxation is to write down five new
sandwiches,” he said when we met recently at his
latest baby, a vaguely hipsterish place called Trade,
on Essex Road, Islington, north London. The quest
of the sandwich inventor is a mostly pitiless one. The
industry has its own 80:20 rule: 80% of sales come
from 20% of the flavours. These are often referred
to as “the core” – the egg mayonnaise, the BLT – and
they are as familiar as our own blood. Pret’s bestselling sandwiches (the top three are all baguettes:
chicken caesar and bacon, tuna and cucumber,
cheddar and pickle) have not changed for seven
years. M&S’s prawn mayo has been its No 1 for 36.
The art of the sandwich designer is to think
inwards, to find variations within a known and
delineated realm. “It is a question of using tenacity,
knowledge, know-how, flair,” said Boltman.
People in the industry talk about seminal new
combinations – Pret’s crayfish and rocket; M&S’s
Wensleydale and carrot chutney – like Peter Brook’s
Midsummer Night Dream, or Zeffirelli’s Romeo and
Juliet. The story comes alive again. Someone finds
a new move in chess.
Boltman has been round the block a few times. He
had a McDonald’s franchise for a while. He observed
that, even as sandwiches function as an accelerant of our harried, grinding lives, they also offer a
moment of precious, private escape. “People want
to eat,” he said, leaning close. “They want comfort.
They want solace. I’ve had a shit morning. I’ve fallen
out with my boss. I’ve had a fucking horrible journey in. A poxy lettuce-and-whatever concoction in a
plastic bowl is not going to do it for me. I want a cup
of tea, a chocolate biscuit and I actually want to cry.
I am going out for a fucking sandwich.”
On a grey October morning, I was invited to see
the sandwich assembly lines at Adelie – a £300m
food-to-go manufacturer – in north-west London.
Like many wholesalers, Adelie is reluctant to name
its clients, for fear of ending the illusion that most
supermarkets still make their own. The factory
manager was Azzeddine “Abdul” Chahar, a 48-yearold former police detective from Algiers, who fled
the country’s civil war in 1993. Chahar sometimes
gets funny looks when he tells friends back home
what he does. Algerians, like many people around
the world, regard the sandwich as inferior fast food,
because it is cold. “Even today,” he shrugged.
We put on wellington boots, white coats and
hairnets, and washed our hands three or four
times. Dressing to enter a sandwich factory is a bit
like preparing to perform surgery. Chahar showed
me corridors stacked high with specialised brown
bread (which must be perfectly square), cold storage
with six days’ supply of cheese, and a room with
22 different mayonnaises. In 2010, Raynor Foods,
a small family-owned factory in Essex, introduced
the Intense tomato, a plum tomato with thicker
cell walls that help retain moisture. It has become
the industry standard. The tomato was originally
designed by a subsidiary of Bayer, the German
pharmaceuticals corporation, for use in pizza toppings, and has dramatically reduced the incidence
of soggy sandwiches. But it is sometimes hard to
come by. Chahar spotted a crate. “The suppliers
were struggling to find them last week,” he groused.
In the main production hall, a couple of hundred
workers lined seven conveyor belts. Chahar took me
to the middle of the room, where around a dozen
women were making one of Adelie’s newest lines,
a chicken tikka and onion bhaji sandwich, which is
popular among students. Continued on page 30 →
30 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
Weekly review
← Continued from page 29 The belt was going at
about 33 sandwiches a minute, so the woman at
each stage – arranging the 40g of chicken, dolloping and spreading out the bhaji paste, sprinkling on
3g of coriander – got less than two seconds before
they went past.
Over the years, Chahar has tried to get unemployed British people to join his sandwich lines.
“They come here. They do half day. They never
come back,” he told me. (Adelie has also made similar, largely unsuccessful attempts with ex-convicts.)
The work is too cold, and too repetitive. Pay at the
Wembley factory starts at £7.50 an hour. As a result,
most sandwich factories have relied on immigrant
labour for at least a decade; in 2014, the news that
Greencore was recruiting in Hungary prompted
an infamous Daily Mail headline, which asked:
MAKE A SANDWICH?” According to the BSA, about
75% of people in the sandwich and cafe sector in the
capital are from overseas; in the rest of the country,
it’s 40%. For Chahar, who dreams of introducing the
sandwich to Algeria, it is a baffling situation. “The
British people needs to get into this job. It is the
sandwich,” he said. “They should be proud.”
The decision to leave the European Union,
then, is proving extremely awkward for Britain’s
national cuisine. In theory, the country’s freshly
made sandwich sector, with its world-leading
technology and expertise, could be on the brink
of spreading lucratively around the world. In fact,
since the referendum on EU membership last
June, it has been assailed by rising food prices and
unnerving questions about who – or what – is going
to make the damn things in the future. “Brexit has
fucked everything up,” one chief executive, whose
firm relies heavily on eastern European labour,
told me. “On the day after the vote, on that Friday,
people are walking up to me and saying, ‘Do I go
home now?’ These are the people who dug us out
of a hole when the indigenous population failed.”
When I met Jim Winship, of the BSA, he sketched
an unhappy picture of the nation’s sandwich infrastructure falling apart. “You take the workforce
away and the Costas of this world can’t function,”
he said. “If they start closing down and retracting, that is going to have a knock-on effect.” The
sandwich industry, Winship pointed out, doesn’t
merely sustain hundreds of thousands of jobs, it
also produces billions of pounds of added productivity throughout the economy. “It allows people to
carry on working over lunch,” he said.
At Adelie, the CEO, Martin Johnson,
n, who
worked at BMW and Ford earlier in his career, was more circumspect. But he obbserved that Brexit is likely to hasten the
arrival of robots on the sandwich line.
“One of the things you can do is be less
dependent on labour,” he said. Down
on the factory floor, Chahar showed
me a new high-tech filling depositor – a
shiny metallic cone – that the company
was trying out. “The idea is to move to automation as much as you can,” he said.
d. Blobs
of egg mayonnaise dropped precisely on to slices of
white bread from about 30cm above the conveyor
belt. A lone woman spread the sandwich mix with a
spatula in each hand. I looked up and down the line.
There were only four people on it, compared to eight
or nine on all the rest. The completed sandwiches
seemed to travel a long time on the belt without any
human intervention. At the far end, the stacker readied them for the slicer. She caught my eye and smiled.
Sandwiches, wraps and
baguettes account for
more than a third of all the
food bought at lunchtime
The steady, relentless expansion of the sandwich
empire – the colonisation of new day parts – is not
a phenomenon that draws attention to itself. Over
two days in late September, I attended Lunch!, the
food-to-go industry’s annual trade show in London,
and the sandwich was conspicuous by its absence.
Instead there were 300 or so exhibitors hawking
fruit crisps, tofu from Devon and chickpea puffs.
A graph supplied by the organisers more or less
explained why. Together, sandwiches, wraps and
baguettes accounted for more than a third of all the
food we bought at lunchtime in 2016. Add burgers
and the proportion rises to 40%. The only other
items that came close were crisps, chips and chocolate bars. Salads made up 3.5% of lunches in the UK.
Sushi didn’t make the top 10.
Filling station … a sandwich production assembly line Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty
The sandwich has nothing to prove. Whether it
wanted to or not, pretty much everything else at
Lunch! – the nut shots, the sun-dried bananitos
(small bananas
from Thailand), the glutenfree, dairy-free,
sugar-free chai lattes, the
coconut teriyaki jerky and the cactus
water – was vying for the chance to
be picked up as an accompaniment
to the main event. The packaging
stands were the same. A man called
Ewald showed me a new, lightweight
German baguette wrapper that zips
halfway down and is selling like
off h
crazy in the Benelux countries and Argentina. “It’s a wow effect, ja,” he said, stripping
off the top half of a seeded bun.
In the centre of the hall, I came across the Soho
Sandwich Company, an upmarket supplier, which,
I learned, provides sandwiches to the Guardian
canteen. Dan Silverston, the managing director,
showed me its new TLT – a vegan BLT made with
tofurkey. “That’s cool,” he said. “That’s on point.
That’s on trend.” Frank Boltman ambled up. He
gazed at the stands of pitta breads, exotic botanicals
and pre-mixed salads surrounding us. “Take away
the food,” he said, “and it’s just a war.”
On the Friday morning, a huge crowd gathered
for a talk by Roger Whiteside, the former Marks
& Spencer executive now running Greggs. When
Whiteside took over, the business was struggling. A
high-street baker for 70 years, Greggs hadn’t found
a way to adapt to the fact that 80% of its customers
wanted something to eat immediately. Over the last
four years, and in his matter of fact way, Whiteside
has turned Greggs from a baker that also sold sandwiches into a pure food-to-go company. Profits have
risen by 50%.
A few weeks later, I travelled up to Newcastle to
see him. When I asked Whiteside to explain the rise
of the sandwich that he has witnessed throughout
his career, his answer acknowledged in part the
pressured lives of the population it feeds. “When
you talk to people, if they are honest, a large number
of people eat the exact same sandwich every single
day, all their life,” he said. Even as it facilitates a
faster and more solitary life, the sandwich provides
a kind of security. We seek it out because we have
enough to contend with as it is. “People don’t want
to be disappointed,” said Whiteside. And in a way,
that is the very British secret of a very British industry. The sandwich is a national pastime of modest
expectations, remorselessly fulfilled.
Before I left, Whiteside wanted to tell me about
the hot sandwiches that he hopes will break open
the evening day part. In their way, the new evening
sandwiches, which Greggs is calling “street food”,
sound as unlikely as the M&S packaged sandwich
did in 1980. “There are a high number of sandwiches
eaten at night, actually,” Whiteside observed.
“If you talk to customers, a lot of them eat sandwiches when they get home because they can’t be
bothered to make anything else. It’s what they’ve
got. So they make a sandwich.”
A few minutes later, I was taken to Greggs’s “food
zone”, on an industrial park a short drive away.
Kate Jones, the product development manager,
showed me three flavours of the new street-food
sandwiches under a heat lamp. I took a bite of one
of the new sandwiches: barbecue chicken with
a Korean barbecue sauce, served on a baguette.
The filling was warm and sweet, and it stuck to my
teeth. Greggs has developed a new bacon-flavoured
mayonnaise as a garnish. “Strategically,” said Jones,
“we are going to make sure we have the appropriate
offer for any time of the day.”
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 31
Weekly review
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South Korea breaks taboos around sex
Benjamin Haas hears how a
conservative culture is giving
way to a female-led revolution
hen Lin Yu-han has a successful
date, she uses Twitter to
announce her latest conquest. Other times, it’s an
opportunity to urge her digital
followers to shed South Korea’s
conservative social mores and have a bit more fun.
“Why do you need to be engaged or feel some deep
responsibility to have sex?” she wrote in one post. “If
they’re hotties with bodies just hop on.”
In another expletive-filled post Lin, 34,
expressed her hatred of men who under-performed
in bed. “From now on, I’ll try them out and if the
sex is bad, I’m never gonna meet them again,” she
pledged online.
Lin is part of a grassroots sexual revolution
sweeping South Korea, where a deeply conservative society is beginning to loosen up when it comes
to sex, and women are challenging centuries of
strictly demarcated gender roles in relationships.
Long-held taboos around sex are rapidly melting
away, giving rise to more casual relationships and
less focus on marriage, while doctors have seen a
sharp increase in patients asking for contraceptives.
“A lot of people still think a woman talking
about sex in public is bad, while men talk about
sex all the time,” Lin said during an interview in
Seoul’s upmarket Gangnam neighbourhood. “I just
want to break that.”
Lin has been chronicling her relationships and
thoughts on sex for two years, originally with
the aim of encouraging other women to be more
independent. She believes as South Korea’s economic growth has plateaued, marrying young has
become less important.
Many Koreans are still shy about discussing sex
and often use a host of English loan words for terms
such as “penis”, “adult shop” and even the word
“sex” itself. The government regularly censors online pornography, placing it on the same level as
gambling and North Korean propaganda.
A conspicuous manifestation of South Korea’s
newfound openness are the rash of sex shops
appearing across Seoul, the latest fad in a country
that latches on to trends with ferocity.
Pleasure Lab, in the fashionable Dosan neighbourhood, offers sex education seminars, mainly
aimed at women, which are run by its founder and
former nurse Eura Kwak. The space has Kendrick
Lamar on play and a clean minimalist design, as
it tries to shake off the seedy image most Koreans
associate with sex toys. Customers receive
a pamphlet with a detailed drawing showing the
location of the clitoris.
“It’s difficult for women to take a leading role in
South Korean society when it comes to sex,” Kwak
said. “Men always took the lead in sex, which meant
for a long time sexuality for women did not exist.”
She added: “Giving pleasure isn’t shameful, but in
Korean culture, when women talk about pleasure
people will call her a whore.”
In a sign of remaining conservative attitudes,
South Korea’s most popular search engine, Naver,
has blocked search results for the store’s name,
‘Giving pleasure isn’t shameful’ … Eura Kwak in her Seoul sex shop Pleasure Lab Benjamin Haas
forcing Kwak to place a sticker on each item explaining how potential customers can circumvent the ban.
“If businesses like us didn’t start, I think we’d
be exactly where we were five years ago. Our community was underground for so long,” said Kwak.
While portrayals of relationships in mainstream
media remain largely chaste, there have been a few
edgier programmes in recent years. The television
show Witch Hunt, which first aired in 2013, was
known for its frank talk about sex and relationships. It was originally conceived as a programme
to teach awkward men how to succeed in romance
and all four hosts were male. Meanwhile in March,
a show called Cranky Men and Women began airing
with the explicit purpose of “talking honestly about
gender stereotypes in everyday life”, and has been
championed by prominent feminists.
In 2015, the country’s highest court ruled a
60-year-old law that banned adultery was illegal. It
had been punishable by up to two years in prison,
although jail time had become increasingly rare.
The court had previously reviewed the law three
times and kept it in place.
Some attribute the newfound sexual freedom
and the ability to talk about it to to the rise of feminism in popular culture and increased visibility of
sexual minorities fighting for equality.
‘A lot of people still think a
woman talking about sex
in public is bad, while men
talk about sex all the time’
Kuciia Diamant is an office worker at an e-commerce company on weekdays and Seoul’s most
famous drag queen every weekend. “Our community was underground for so long, but wanted to be
a bridge to wider society,” Diamant said.
Starting in 2015, the Korea Queer Culture festival
was held in the heart of Seoul outside city hall,
attracting the attention of a vocal contingent
of protesters. In a small country such as South
Korea, a group of scantily clad men and women
partying in front of a government building is
national news.
“We’re making sex seem fun and more
enjoyable,” Diamant said. “There’s no event
or leader. The change is coming from us, from
individuals seeing and learning more about sexuality and gender issues.”
South Korea’s large and vocal Christian community is alarmed by these recent trends. Pastor So
Kang-suk preaches often about the pitfalls of liberal
attitudes towards sex and is a frequent fixture at
anti-LGBT demonstrations.
“South Korea had been respecting its traditional
values, but this is such a radical change,” So said.
“It’s going in the wrong direction.”
At his Sae Eden congregation, a mammoth
church in Seoul with 40,000 parishioners, he has
started hosting events aiming to teach people “sex
is valuable, sex is precious”.
So said: “Even as this new openness comes at us
like a flood, the youth that engages in free sex, if
they look deep inside themselves, they can’t say
what they are doing is legitimate or proper.”
Additional reporting by Soeun Seo and Jake Kwon
32 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
Are dogs smarter than cats … or
The best way to gauge intelligence is not by brain
size but the number of neurons, finds Jason Bittel
at people and dog people have long
sparred over which species possesses
the best brains. Team Cat points to the
felines’ self-reliance as a sign of intelligence. The animals can hunt, which
isn’t so great for wildlife but does
showcase the cunning predator still lurking within
lap kitties. Cats also clean themselves, relieve themselves in tidy litter boxes – or even toilets – and are
generally better at food portion control than their
canine housemates.
Team Dog cites the canines’ ability to learn complex tasks, especially those that benefit humans.
Dogs guide the blind, herd livestock, sniff out explosives and help find survivors beneath earthquake
rubble. They also have strong memories and an impressive capacity to understand human language.
But as it turns out, all of this résumé listing may
be unnecessary. According to a study published in
Frontiers in Neuroanatomy, the best way to measure
cognitive ability is to tally each animal’s neurons.
Neurons are cells that communicate via electrical
charge and populate the brain and central nervous
system. They are the units that process information.
While measuring intelligence is an incredibly difficult affair, Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a Vanderbilt University neuroscientist, and her colleagues
believe their method of quantifying neurons in an
animal’s brain, especially in the cerebral cortex,
is the most accurate tool for judging its capacity
for complex thought.
So which animal comes out ahead in the Great
Neuron Census? Brace yourselves, Team Cat.
“Dogs have about twice as many neurons as cats,”
said Herculano-Houzel, who wrote a book about
brains called The Human Advantage.
But wait: the average dog is larger than the average cat. Isn’t it a given that dogs would have larger
brains and therefore more neurons? This is where
things get interesting.
The study found the overall mass of one’s grey
matter is not what’s important. In addition to the
dog and cat, the team examined brains from a
domestic ferret, a banded mongoose, a raccoon,
a striped hyena, an African lion and a brown bear.
While the bear’s brain was three times as large as
the dog’s, the dog’s had more neurons. In fact, the
bear’s neuron count was similar to that of the cat,
an animal whose brain is about 10 times smaller.
To put some numbers in play here, a cat has 250m
neurons in the cerebral cortex to a dog’s 530m. Both
species are dwarfed by the average human, who
clocks in at 16bn cortical neurons.
But one of the more surprising insights from
the research has nothing to do with cats, dogs or
people. It’s about raccoons, those “trash pandas”
that have long been dismissed as vermin or vectors
for the rabies virus. Within the raccoon’s cat-sized
brain lurks a dog-like number of neurons. So many,
in fact, that if you were to look only at neuron count
and brain size, you might mistake the raccoon for
a small primate.
“And that is saying a lot,” Herculano-Houzel said.
“Because something that we found previously is
that there’s a huge difference between how many
neurons you find in a primate or in a non-primate
brain of the same size.”
Jessica Perry Hekman, a veterinary geneticist at
MIT and Harvard’s Broad Institute
e, said there are a
n interpreting the
number of reasons to be cautious in
study’s results. For one, she said, the link between
neuron numbers and intelligence
is anything but proven.
“Which isn’t to say it’s wrong,”
Hekman said, “but that it’s
definitely something that they’re
just starting out with and collecting
information on.”
The study also had a small sample
size. With the exception of dogs,
gs, who
dy, each
contributed two brains to the study,
of the other species was represented
nted by
just one brain. The study’s comparison
of domesticated, wild and zoo animals
could also
alsso have
hav an important influence
e on the
results, Hekman
have found
d Researchers
affects brain development, especially in
early life: rats raised in pens
with lot
lots of enrichment, such
as toys or complicated territory to e
explore, develop more
synapses, or connections
between neurons, than rats
raised in barren pens. So it’s
possible the life history of
analysed hyena or monthe an
goose played a role in its
Farm work gave prehistoric women great strength
Nicola Davis
Prehistoric women had stronger arms than elite
female rowing teams do today thanks to the daily
grind of farming life, researchers have revealed,
shedding light on their role in early communities.
The study of ancient bones suggests that agricultural work had a profound effect on the bodies
of women living in central Europe between about
the early neolithic and late iron age, from about
5,300BC to AD100.
“We think a lot of what we are seeing is the bone’s
response to women grinding grain, which is pretty
much seated but using your arms really repetitively
many hours a day,” said Dr Alison Macintosh, co-author of research from the University of Cambridge.
The study also reveals that the strength of women’s arm bones dropped – probably as technology
was developed to ease manual labour. By medieval
times, the strength of women’s arm bones was on a
par with that of the average woman today.
The research builds on previous work by the
team on male leg bones, which revealed a decline
in strength since the late iron age. “Early farming
men had these really strong leg bones – when you
compared them to living men they were close to
what you see in living runners, suggesting they
were really active,” said Macintosh. “Then [there is]
this really progressive decline though time in bone
strength, down to what you see in living sedentary
undergraduate students at Cambridge.”
With similar trends not seen for women,
Macintosh and colleagues decided to explore
whether skeletal remains could offer other clues
about the roles of women in early farming communities. To do so they explored the remains of
94 women spanning about 6,000 years, from the
time of the early neolithic farmers (dating back to
around 5,300BC) through to the ninth century, from
countries including Germany, Austria and Serbia.
In addition, the team looked at scans from bones
of 83 living women who fell into four groups: runners, rowers, footballers and not particularly sporty.
The researchers explored the strength of two
bones: the tibia, or shin-bone, and the humerus –
the long bone in the upper arm.
Comparing between bones of women across the
ages rather than between the sexes was crucial, said
Small, but very smart … cats and dogs look up to
raccoons in terms of their cleverness Alamy
brain anatomy. Hekman
an said
she thinks an animal’s number
of synapses, rather than
an neurons, might be a more accurate
measure of its intelligence.
But the biggest problem
is that intelligence is a tough
nut to crack. In fact, it may be
several different nuts.
s. Each
species has distinct skills
ills and
“I’m not even really sure
ure we
should call intelligence
e one
trait,” Hekman said. “It’s
It’s a
lot of different things.”
Even if this paper is not the definitive guide to
animal intelligence, it reveals some interesting data.
For instance, why did the larger carnivores like the
lion and bear have fewer neurons than we’d expect
for animals of their size?
According to Herculano-Houzel, it’s not that
larger predators can get away with being stupid. At
the study’s outset, she and her team guessed predators would have significantly more neurons than
the prey they hunted, because they reasoned that
hunting is a more challenging way of life. Most lion
hunts end in failure, for instance, and every day is
a battle to consume sufficient calories to make it to
the next kill. A wildebeest, on the other hand, can
fill up on plants at its leisure and form large herds
that minimise its chances of turning into lion lunch.
Instead, the team found lions and hyenas had
similar ranges of neurons as prey animals of relative
size, like the blesbok and kudu.
But wouldn’t it make sense for evolution to produce increasingly brainy predators, whose cunning
would translate into catching more prey? Well, yes,
but even evolution has to work on a budget. “Neurons, especially neurons in the cerebral cortex, are extremely energetically expensive,” Herculano-Houzel
said. “There is a point where you cannot afford both a
huge body and a large number of neurons.”
The science of comparing animals is evolving,
said it would be great to
and Herculano-Houzel
consistently incorporate neuronal information
with studies
of behaviour. It would also be
valuable to count the neurons of many brains
from th
from the same species to get a better range, as
Hekman suggested. The dog neuron counts
came from
just two animals, a mixed breed and
a golden
retriever. Who knows what sorts of
erences one might find between chihuahuas,
mastiffs and corgis?
For the moment, it seems the jury is still out
on whether dogs or cats are smarter – not that
on w
a fe
a few million neurons would change a pet
owner’s mind anyway.
Now, who wants to start rooting for Team
Raccoon? Washington Post
Macintosh, explaining why the team did not look
at male arm bones. “Men put more bone on, and
in a stronger way, in response to physical activity
than women do, even if those activities are really
similar,” she said.
The results, published in the journal Science
Advances, reveal that while the arm bones of women
from the neolithic to the late iron age showed variations in strength, they were stronger than those
of rowers, football players and non-athletic women
for their left arm, and the latter two groups for their
right. Indeed, the neolithic women had arm bones
about 30% stronger than non-athletic living women.
“We really saw them standing out through
that first 5,500 years of farming, just really consistently stronger arm bones than the majority
of the living women, including the rowers,” said
Macintosh. “Medieval women had much weaker
arm bones than those previous prehistoric women;
they looked a lot more like modern, recreationally
active women.”
While grinding grain using stone tools was likely
to be a key factor, the researchers add that other
strenuous occupations including pottery making,
planting and harvesting crops, and tending livestock could also have contributed.
The findings, said Macintosh, throw a spotlight
on the hard graft of women.
“Women have been doing rigorous labour over
thousands of years [and] that’s really been underestimated so far because we haven’t been comparing
them to living women,” she said.
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 33
Type 2 diabetes can be
treated with radical diet
A radical low-calorie diet can reverse
type 2 diabetes, even six years into the
disease, a study has found. The number of cases of type 2 diabetes is soaring, related to the obesity epidemic.
A study from Newcastle and Glasgow
Universities shows that the disease can
be reversed by losing weight, so that
sufferers no longer have to take medication. Nine out of 10 people in the trial
who lost 15kg or more put their type
2 diabetes into remission. Professor
Roy Taylor from Newcastle University,
lead researcher in the trial funded by
Diabetes UK, said: “These findings are
very exciting. They could revolutionise
the way type 2 diabetes is treated. This
builds on the work into the underlying
cause of the condition, so that we can
target management effectively.”
Hostility to HPV vaccine
Health officials have become increasingly alarmed at campaigns aimed at
blocking the take-up of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, which protects women against cervical cancer.
Three leading nations have seen major
reductions in the take-up of the vaccine and a growing number of doctors
fear its use could be blocked elsewhere.
“Whenever a new vaccine is introduced, there is always a group of people who say it is unsafe,” said Professor
Margaret Stanley of Cambridge University. “But the HPV vaccine seems to
raise extraordinary levels of hostility.”
Japan, Ireland and Denmark have witnessed sustained campaigns that have
seen take-up rates plummet.
Avoid walks near traffic
Walking is often recommended for
older people, but a study from Imperial
College London and Duke University in
the US suggests that the over-60s and
those with lung and heart problems
should steer clear of urban areas with
heavy traffic. The negative effect may
well be the same in younger people,
say the authors, and it reinforces the
urgency of reducing city emissions.
The research compared walking for
two hours in Oxford Street with strolling in Hyde Park, which registers far
less air pollution than in the heart of
London’s shopping district.
Record treasure in UK
A record number of treasure finds
– 1,120 – was reported by the British
Museum in the year 2016. Among the
spectacular discoveries mainly made by
metal detectorists were a hoard of 158
bronze age axes and ingots, the largest
of its kind to be found in Yorkshire; and
more than 2,000 silver Roman coins in
Piddletrenthide, Dorset.
34 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
to bean counters
A new look at the earliest states
re-evaluates the notion of human
progress, finds Barry Cunliffe
Against the Grain: A Deep History of the
Earliest States
by James C Scott
Yale, 336pp
James Scott comes clean with his readers from the
start. Having been asked some years ago to give
two lectures at Harvard he turned to a theme that
had long interested him – the beginnings of food
production and the origins of the state in the near
east. He had taught the subject before, but when
he began to read the more recent literature he was
astonished to find that interpretations widely held
only a decade previously had been revolutionised
by new archaeological data. Scott disarmingly describes himself as an amateur and his book as “a
trespasser’s reconnaissance report” since it relies
heavily on the work of an army of specialist fieldworkers, “native trackers” as he nicely puts it. But
who better than Scott, renowned political scientist,
to take an eagle’s eye view of the most significant
change in human history before the industrial revolution – the transition from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to the early state. In bringing together the work
not only of archaeologists and ancient historians
but of environmentalists, biologists, demographers
and epidemiologists, he has provided a narrative
that is both well founded and highly provocative.
Twenty years ago the story was thought to be
quite simple. In the “fertile crescent”, extending
from the Levant through northern Syria to Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), the domestication of plants led
to a more sedentary life and fixed-field agriculture
that, in turn, led directly to the development of the
state. This simple idea took with it a baggage of value
judgments. Hunter-gatherers led a hand-to-mouth
existence, but once they were settled and producing
their own food, life improved, providing leisure to
create the wonders of civilisation. How naive we were.
Since then a number of pioneering excavations have
shown the situation to have been far more complex.
Scott emphasises the considerable benefits of the
hunter-gatherer way of life. By exploiting a range
of environments, each producing different types of
food, a varied diet could be provided; if one source
failed the others would compensate. Life was energetic and the comparatively small size of the community militated against the spread of disease. But
change was inevitable once people began to rely on
domesticated animals and cultivated plants. Humans became less active as they had to weed and
guard the crops and to tend the animals. With less
time to hunt and to gather, diets became more restricted so the varied mineral intake they had provided declined. With more people living together, in
close proximity to their animals, disease increased.
In other words, farming was bad for your health.
All this could explain why there was a gap of 4,000
years between the first domestications and the rise
of the state. Rather than embracing farming with enthusiasm, communities chose to adopt subsistence
strategies that combined hunting and gathering with
By exploiting a range of
environments, each with
different foods, a varied
diet could be provided
a low level of domestication and cultivation. It was
the best of both worlds. But over time, some groups
allowed themselves to become increasingly dependent on cultivated grain, and by about 5000BC there
were hundreds of agricultural villages scattered
around the fertile crescent. As populations grew,
new villages colonised the alluvial lands in the valley
bottoms and it was from these that the early states
began to develop around 3300BC.
Scott takes a rather bleak view of early states but
his critique provides a fascinating insight into how
they worked. He argues that for a state to exist it
needed to be reliant on a staple that could easily be
taxed – and grain was the ideal. Because the fields
were fixed and the crop ripened over a short period
of time it was impossible for the farmer to avoid the
tax collector. Communities elsewhere in the world
reliant on tubers or root vegetables as their staple
were more able to avoid tax since the crop can be harvested over a long period. Such societies seldom develop into states. Another advantage of grain to the
state was that it had a higher value per unit volume
than most other foodstuffs and was easy to store in
the protection of the city. Through taxation the state
became the quartermaster and producers became
subjects. The non-productive elites who emerged in
such a system had a keen interest in protecting the
grain-producing farmers and so some of the surplus
they controlled was invested in city walls and armies.
Scott argues that early states are “population machines” designed to control labour, domesticating
them as a farmer domesticates his herd. Maintaining the numbers of workers was vital and if numbers
fell a new crop had to be gathered through warfare.
Women were also herded into state enterprises.
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 35
A blazingly amazing
brave tech world
Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey
Through Virtual Reality
by Jaron Lanier
Bodley Head, 368pp
the end-time prophet, all dread worries and warnings. Lanier frequently describes the tech-run world
as “hell”. As might be expected of the boy who was
given purpose, identity and a route to freedom out
of unrecoverable grief by technology, Lanier lands,
nevertheless, on a full-throated optimistic note. VR
is a full sensory canvas into which young people
will “create beauty”, he writes. More than that,
“the friendships, the families, the meaning” that
are facilitated, in its best moments, by any piece of
technology, are “blazingly amazing”.
Simon Parkin
Honed to
perfection …
lifestyles carried
major benefits,
argues Scott
Dan Kitwood/Getty
Around 3000BC there were 9,000 textile workers
in the city of Uruk (in today’s Iraq) – about 20% of the
population – most of them women. From the farmer
paying his dues to the state, to the captive slave, all
the working population were in some kind of bondage, their efforts supporting the ever-increasing
luxury in which the elite demanded to live.
Early states were fragile constructs and Scott offers a particularly revealing analysis of this. Within
the system lie the seeds of its own destruction.
Large urban populations living in close proximity
are prone to epidemics, a threat that increased as
trade developed, bringing strangers and new diseases. Then there was ecocide – the degeneration
of the environment through overuse. Add to this social unrest and endemic warfare and it is surprising
that early states survived at all. In fact, most did not,
and episodes of “collapse” punctuate the historical
record. Scott sees collapse not as a disaster but as an
opportunity. The oppressive state system is dismantled and the population disperses, redistributing itself across a wider territory – it is a bolt for freedom.
Early states were surrounded by a sea of “barbarians”, who were essentially mobile. In contrast to the
state, they were complex and diverse but the two
had to find some sort of unstable equilibrium. The
natural tendency of the barbarian was to raid, but
why go to this effort if a symbiosis could be established through exchange of goods and services? And
so the system moved to another stage of complexity.
Scott’s original book is history as it should be written – an analysis of the deep forces exposed in the
eternal conflict between humans and their environment. What makes it even more welcome is that it
has been written with the enthusiasm of discovery.
Two years ago, I stood on the precipice of the World Trade Center. I
watched the birds wheel hundreds of
feet below my toes, as yellow cabs
fidgeted in the distance beyond.
Eventually, I took a step on to the rope
that lolled between the Twin Towers.
Even though the vignette – created to
promote the film The Walk, a dramatisation of the
French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s 1974 dance
between the towers – was fabricated in VR, it was
terrifying (more than half of the people who tried it,
I was told, were unable to take the physical step on
to the virtual rope). Such is the mind-cheating power
of VR, a medium that, if Facebook and all the other
heavily invested mega-corps are to be believed,
stands on the precipice of its own moment.
We have been here before, as the computer scientist and philosopher Jaron Lanier knows only too
well. It was Lanier’s company VPL, formed in 1985,
that pioneered the use of head-mounted screens to
render computer-generated worlds to fool the brain.
At first glance, Lanier’s book seems like a sustained
effort to secure his place as a founding father, but
Lanier is more self-deprecating and self-reflective
than the typical California tech maven, and too selfcritical and self-aware to play the role of blinkered
advocate. The result is a studied and nuanced interrogation of VR’s potential, as well as a gentle critique
of what he sees as a failure of imagination when it
comes to the medium’s current proponents.
Unexpectedly, perhaps, the book focuses principally on Lanier’s story, from childhood in the 1960s
through to the closure of VPL, in the early 1990s. It
offers a human and, often, romantic (if meandering) route into what might otherwise be a somewhat
dry subject matter. This is aided by the fact that Lanier’s childhood was preposterously unusual. His
Viennese mother survived a concentration camp
to find fortune in America trading on the New York
stock exchange from New Mexico. One windfall was
spent on a new car, the colour of which Lanier got to
choose. But on the day Lanier’s mother passed her
driving test, she was killed in a crash. Lanier and
his father’s bewildered grief (“we cried for years”)
was compounded by antisemitism. A teacher told
the boy that his mother, as a Jew, “had it coming”.
After their home was burned down in an arson attack, the pair lived in a tent until Lanier’s father suggested his 13-year-old son design a new home. While
still at high school, Lanier somehow enrolled at New
Mexico State University to study computer science.
Lanier joined the nascent video game industry, and
using the money he made there, funded early VR
experiments. Lanier’s VR company survived for
just five years, but its effects were wide-ranging
and long felt. Descendants of VPL’s nascent apps
are still used today.
The memoir complete, in the final sections of the
book Lanier enters his wheelhouse: pontificating in
tones that lurch between that of the cheerleader and
Twisted dimension
Places in the Darkness
by Chris Brookmyre
Orbit, 416pp
Alison Flood
The award-winning Scottish crime
author Chris Brookmyre tweeted a
one-star Amazon review he received
for his new novel, Places in the Darkness, last month. “This needs a ‘serious science fiction’ warning, in
capital letters,” raged the reader,
who’d clearly been expecting
another slice of Brookmyre’s excellent tartan noir.
“I feel kind of bad,” responded Brookmyre, brimming with sarcasm. “My publishers should maybe
have put a space station on the cover or something.”
Brookmyre is, it’s true, better known for his crime
novels, particularly those starring his doesn’t-dothings-by-the-book reporter Jack Parlabane; the
recent Black Widow won him both the Theakston
crime novel of the year and the McIlvanney prize.
Places in the Darkness does indeed see him boldly
going into the realms of science fiction, so count
yourself warned – if that space station filling the
front cover hadn’t already given it away. It’s set on
Earth’s first space station, Ciudad de Cielo, known
as CdC, or Seedee. Built 70 years ago, with 100,000
residents, it’s “as close to a city without crime as
mankind has seen”. There’s never been a homicide
before, but Brookmyre opens with a doozy, his new
setting allowing a writer who has never been afraid
of diving right into the visceral side of a crime a
whole new dimension to play with.
“In zero-g, the gentle ballet of objects in motion can make anything look elegant. Not this.
Glistening organs dance gently around each other
in the bright expanse, like motes of dust in a shaft of
sunshine,” he tells us, entirely gruesomely, before
introducing his diametrically opposed detectives.
First up, there’s Alice Blake, who has just arrived
from Earth to shake up CdC’s security operation.
Young and bright, although bad at reading people,
she’s viewing everything for the first time too, and
serves as our introduction to the place. Then there’s
dodgy cop Nikki Freeman, a former LAPD investigator who is making a living from the shadier side of
the station’s operations. “You gotta be prepared to
turn a blind eye to lesser crimes … In my experience,
bootlegging and payola are less of a threat to society
than flaying a human being and turning the body
into a real-life exploded anatomy diagram.”
As the killings escalate and panic looms, Nikki
and Alice are forced to investigate together. “There’s
tension in this place. You can feel it. And it’s building
up to something bad, something explosive,” Alice
is told by one of the many Continued on page 36 →
36 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
Heart of darkness
← Continued from page 35 space station residents
with a vested interest in her new role.
Brookmyre, who has dabbled in SF before with
the novel Bedlam, gives us a fully realised world –
one far enough into the future to feature intriguing technologies, such as the mesh implants that
upload information into their owner’s brains. “You
don’t need to read or experience new information,
you simply know it, and you can’t forget what you
learned or choose to switch it off at the end of the
day.” But what this veteran crime writer really provides in Places in the Darkness is another corker of
a murder mystery, his new setting – with which he’s
clearly having a whale of a time – giving him the
opportunity to wow us with an even twistier twist
than usual.
Sing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward
Bloomsbury, 304pp
Sukhdev Sandhu
The golden oldies
Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold
by Stephen Fry
Michael Joseph, 432pp
Edith Hall
Ever since William Godwin persuaded Charles Lamb to retell The
Odyssey as a novel for younger
readers in The Adventures of Ulysses
(1808), the myths of ancient Greece
have been retold in contemporary
prose by every generation. Most of
these retellings were originally
poetry; in Mythos, Stephen Fry has narrated a selection of them in engaging and fluent prose. But do
we need another version of the Greek myths in an
already crowded market? So should a reader looking
for an initiation into the thrilling world of the ancient Greek imagination choose Fry’s book?
One reason to do so is that Fry is unusually sensitive to the contemporary resonance in myths about
gay gods and heroes and the transgender Hermaphroditus. But his subtitle The Greek Myths Retold
is misleading; it implies a certain comprehensiveness. In fact he has selected a rather small group
of stories. They derive mostly from Hesiod’s Theogony (the birth of the gods and the creation of the
first few generations of humans),
ns), Apuleius’s Latin
novel The Golden Ass (Cupid and Psyche), and
Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Arachne,
ne, Midas, Echo
and Narcissus). Fry’s collection
n is the equivalent of a book advertising itself
elf as retelling
“the stories from Shakespeare”
re” that leaves
out Hamlet, Othello, Lear, Julius
us Caesar,
Romeo, Juliet and Henry V. Since
ce there
is no contents page, nor an index,
dex, the
eccentricity of his choice of myths is
immediately apparent.
Yet Fry’s ear is finely tuned
ed to
the quaint tonality of some
e of
his ancient sources. This is best
revealed in his retelling of two
Homeric Hymns, to Demeter
and Hermes. They deal respecectively with the abduction of teeneenage Persephone and the theft by the
newborn Hermes of his big brother
Apollo’s cattle. Fry’s distinctive
ve voice
undoubtedly adds something
g lively,
humorous and intimate to myth’s
psychological dimension. People
who enjoy his media personality
ity and
Humorous and intimate retellings of the classics
… above, Narcissus, and Artemis, below
particular style of post-Wodehouse English drollery
are in for a treat. He tells us that he imagines Hera,
queen of the gods, “hurling china ornaments at
feckless minions”. Ares, god of war, “was unintelligent of course, monumentally dense”. Baby Hermes
tells Maia: “Get on with your spinning or knitting
or whatever it is, there’s a good mother.” Epaphus,
child of Zeus and Io, “was always so maddeningly
blase about his pedigree”.
Dialogue is Fry’s great strength, his wit
demonstrated in the episode he has invented where
an infant Artemis cajoles her “daddy” Zeus into
promising her a whole series of presents. This enables Fry to explain her divine attributes: a bow and
arrows, a short practical tunic, hunting dogs, choirs
of maidens, protection from men and, of course,
the moon. Fry’s gods and heroes exchange banter
in an endearing style resembling his own posh but
colloquial metropolitan argot.
Sometimes the charm of Fry’s rather domesticated mythical world comes at a price. He tends to
play down the horror of the primal power struggles
and violence in his sources: Kronos has “an unkind
habit of eating anyone prophesied to conquer him”.
Perhaps this explains why Fry has kept away from
the legends of quest,
quest war, politics and kinmurder that are the sstuff of the major mythical cycles.
as to the intended
This leaves the question
audience. Fry insists eloquently in his foreword that the dazzling
dazzli Greek myths are for
require no traditional claseveryone and requ
sical education whatsoever. He has a
touching miss
mission to inform the public
arcane issues
about some relatively
of classical scholarship
and I have already heard from schoolteachers at
primary and secondary level
both primar
that the acc
accompanying audiobook,
in which he reads his versions
himself, is going down well in
the classroom.
This applies especially to the Ovidian tales .
Despite my reservation about
the book’s limited coverage of
o the teeming world of
Greek mythology
mythology, it is commendable to
see the well-loved Fry put his fame to such
constructive use.
Sing, Unburied, Sing begins as it
mostly means to go on: in blackness.
A teenager named Jojo is being
shown how to kill a goat: how to slit
its throat, how to slice its stomach
and reach in for its intestines. There
are terrible bleating and gurgling
sounds. The smell “overwhelms like
a faceful of pig shit”. Buzzards hover above. Soon the
youngster is throwing up in the grass. Not much later
he’ll be eating the goat’s liver in a plate full of gravy.
If this sounds apocalyptic, it’s representing
the slow apocalypse being experienced by black
America. Jesmyn Ward’s gnarly, freighted novel is
a portrait of a broken family living on the Gulf Coast
of Mississippi. This family is headed by Leonie, a
mother at 17, hooked on drugs, married to a white
man named Michael whose cousin killed her brother
and who is himself completing a jail sentence. Their
son Jojo acts as a bridge between grandparents Pop
and Mama (the former afflicted by memories; the
latter dying of cancer) and his toddler sister.
Hearing that Michael is about to be released
from prison, Leonie, her children and her equally
substance-addicted white friend Misty head north
to meet him. It’s a road journey without epic or
transcendent qualities: an often amusingly banal
odyssey full of gas station ennui, dodgy drug deals,
kids who teeter between nausea and ravenous hunger. On the return leg, when a police officer stops
their car – with its motley crew of ex-cons and crystal meth fans – it seems probable that one of them
will be gunned down.
Sing, Unburied, Sing is most effective as a poetic
critique of US history. The landscapes it describes
with forensic ferocity are toxic. One of its characters, a 12-year-old who is caught stealing salted
meat, is sentenced to three years at Mississippi
State Penitentiary. It’s a brutal place, and has three
cemeteries on site. The division between carceral
and civilian life is also porous. For Ward, Mississippi
poisons bodies and imaginations alike. Leonie believes it taught her that “after the first fat flush of
life, time eats away at things: it rusts machinery, it
matures animals to become hairless and featherless,
and it withers plants”.
The novel is set in the wake of Hurricane Katrina
and haunted by the unspoken spectre of the great
Mississippi flood of 1927; it frequently invokes water
both as liberation and as part of the problem. Mama,
who had a rich cosmology of voodoo-istic spirits,
liked to call on a goddess of the ocean, honouring
“all the life-giving waters of the world”.
Sing, Unburied, Sing won the US National Book
award for fiction. In many ways, though, it’s not
as strong as Ward’s previous work. In drawing on
William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying – both in its multiple first-person narratives and its story of a poor
rural family that embarks on a wagon trek to Mississippi – it comes across as self-consciously literary.
Still, for all its occasional mis- and oversteps, Sing,
Unburied, Sing is a brooding, pained meditation on
the proposition, spelled out by Colson Whitehead in
The Underground Railroad, that “America is a ghost
in the darkness”.
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 37
Books Interview
‘It’s my job
to imagine
what it is to
be the other’
Peter Carey has finally written
about Indigenous culture.
He tells Stephanie Convery why
eter Carey has one key piece of advice for white novelists attempting
to write about Indigenous Australia:
“Do not make a dick of yourself.” It’s
all anyone wants to talk to him about
at the moment. Carey’s new novel, A
Long Way From Home, is his first attempt at tackling
the living legacies of colonialism in Australia headon, including genocide, slavery, rape, the Stolen
Generation – things he admits he’s been silent about
for most of his life.
It was age that turned him around on this, he says
– the realisation that Indigenous dispossession is a
critical part of his Australian identity. “It’s no good
not engaging with something that you’ve been intrinsically involved in. You wake up in the morning
and you are the beneficiary of a genocide,” he says.
“I’m an Australian writer and I haven’t written about
this? Well, that just seems pathetic to me.”
Although he was aware of the debates about cultural appropriation – such as the controversy over
Lionel Shriver’s speech defending the practice at
the 2016 Brisbane Writers Festival – Carey says they
didn’t seep into his writing.
“It’s my job to take creative licence, and it’s my
job also to imagine what it is to be ‘other’, and it’s
my job to do it in such a way that I’m not making a
dick of myself.”
It’s instantly clear on meeting Carey that he is
not shy of voicing his opinion. He has little reason to be. At 74, he is one of Australia’s most
accomplished writers, with 14 novels, two Booker
prizes, three Miles Franklin awards and two Commonwealth Writers prizes under his belt. His 2000
novel, True History of the Kelly Gang, is poised to be
made into a film, only the most recent of his works
to make that leap.
He is scathing, for example, about big business:
“Amazon doesn’t give a fuck about the writers,” he
says, of the retail juggernaut’s recent Australian
launch. “They don’t care if they’re making the books
cheaper, and if that means the publishers are making less money, and that means the publishers can
pay the writers less, and so the writers can have less
time to write and the culture is being impoverished.
But no one seems to care about that very much.”
His opinions about culture don’t confine themselves to literature, either. “Culture is the way for a
country to know itself. You can look at the central
business district of Sydney … and you can know that
the people who designed those buildings and paid
for those buildings and planned those buildings have
not the least fucking clue about culture or human life
on the planet, otherwise they wouldn’t make these
dark, rotten, life-defying environments in one of the
most beautiful cities in the world.”
When it comes to approaching difficult
topics in his fiction, he is crystal clear: “You
do the work and show respect and you
have the patience. And you do not make a
dick of yourself.”
For A Long Way from Home, that work
involved engaging the help of experts including anthropologist Catherine Wohlan
from Australian National University; going out to the Kimberley region to spend
time with Indigenous communities; and
taking the feedback of Indigenous readers, such as Steve Kinnane. “I can just try and
d act
thoughtfully, decently and open myself up to criticism, while I’m writing [the book], from people to
whom that might be of vital importance,” he says.
Initially readers may wonder what in the novel
sparks this conversation. A Long Way from Home
begins in the 1950s, in the white rural Victorian
town of Bacchus Marsh – Carey’s own hometown . The sparkling, practical, decisive Irene
Bobs, her car salesman husband Titch and their
two children have moved next door to the bookish Willie Bachhuber: a disgraced teacher with an
‘I’m an Australian writer
and I haven’t written
about this? Well, that just
seems pathetic to me’
‘You are the beneficiary of genocide’ …
Peter Carey says that national dispossession is
a critical part of his identity Heike Steinweg
occasionally explosive temper, who is hiding from
his child support payments.
The three strike up a friendship of sorts, and
decide to enter the Redex Around Australia
Reliability Trial, a real event – albeit one that no
longer takes place – invented by a fuel additive
company, in which workaday cars were driven
thousands of kilometres to some of the most remote
parts of Australia in order to test their reliability.
Carey’s parents were dealers for General Motors,
and he remembers
the Redex trial coming through
the town when he was a kid, but he is adamant this isn’t a rewriting of his own childma
hood or an exercise in nostalgia: “Bacchus
Marsh is sort of there because it’s lying on
the floor and I can use it,” he says. Still, he
drew on the family for critical information,
such as how to finance a car dealership, or a
description of pulling apart
very meticulous
a 1953 air cleaner on a Holden.
In the
novel, Carey repositions the Retrial as a kind of colonial marking. He
dex tr
describes the book as essentially two maps,
li d together: “We’re pissing around the border
of our territory, defining land and mapping it. And
I thought, well, there’s another sort of map that
they’re going over.”
It’s a solid 150 pages before the parallel narrative,
that second map, reveals itself. It would be a spoiler
to say too much about how or why, but the Indigenous stories Carey makes use of in the second half of
the book are startling, and the way the novel takes
the reader into that world is clever and disarming.
“I didn’t go anywhere too deep,” he says. “The
stories that I felt best about were when Indigenous
people had appropriated [European stories] … the
general notion of the colonised biting back.”
Many of his novels deal with questions of
Australian identity, but if there’s continuity across
his oeuvre he says that’s for readers to divine. “I
want every book to be a completely different book.”
A Long Way from Home is published by Penguin
38 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
‘I found a lot to
celebrate in Philip’
Phil Fisk/Observer
Being cast as Doctor Who at 26 was a baptism
of fire, but the burden of public attention stood
Matt Smith in good stead to portray the Duke
of Edinburgh for The Crown, finds Tim Lewis
ot long ago, an associate of Matt
Smith’s – “a man of prominence
in the film world”, the actor says
gnomically – was at a dinner hosted
by the Queen and Prince Philip.
There was just a handful of guests
and he was sitting next to the Duke of Edinburgh.
“What do you do?” asked Philip, as the first course
arrived. “Are you involved in this … Crown thing?”
The Duke was referring to the Netflix drama
created by Peter Morgan that gives us supposed flyon-the-wall access to Buckingham Palace and the
longest-running soap opera in British public life. The
first season of 10 episodes, released last November,
covered from 1947 to 1956; it introduced us to a young
Elizabeth (played by Claire Foy) and followed her as
she married Philip Mountbatten (Smith) and became monarch. Like Morgan’s other work – notably
the 2006 film The Queen and The Audience, a 2013
stage play – The Crown skilfully skips along a line between salacious and sympathetic, revealing but also
respectful. Morgan always reiterates that his work is
free from external interference, but has also said that
the royal family is “very, very aware” of the series.
At the dinner, the man replied to Philip that no,
he wasn’t involved in the show, and conversation
moved on. But the idea of Liz and Phil sitting down
for a Netflix night in with the corgis warming their
feet was too irresistible. So, as the evening wound
down, he said: “Philip, I’m just wondering, because
I have some friends who made The Crown, have you
watched any?” The Duke stopped and glowered:
“Don’t. Be. Ridiculous.”
Smith explodes in laughter as he pronounces
Philip’s riposte with an impeccable haughtiness.
“Whether it’s true or not, I don’t know, but I just
think he’s a bit of a cool cat,” Smith goes on. “And
that’s what I love about him: he’s done what he
wants, when he wants, how he wants, with whom
he wants. He hasn’t asked permission. And his
wife’s the Queen.”
“This Crown thing” has caused a bit of a stir. Much
of the attention, initially, was on its lavish budgets:
most estimates said $100m for 10 programmes,
which would make it the most expensive TV show
in history. This being Netflix, they didn’t need to
confirm or deny, but Morgan has suggested it was
closer to $130m for the first two series. Initially, the
suspicion was that The Crown would be catnip for
anglophile American audiences; in the event, its meticulous research and attention to detail have given
it considerable traction in the UK and beyond too.
The first season of The Crown concentrated on
Elizabeth, a performance that earned the immaculate Foy a Golden Globe. With its return, which tracks
the House of Windsor from the Suez crisis in 1956 to
the Profumo affair in 1963, Philip comes to the fore.
For the modern audience, the Duke of Edinburgh
tends to be viewed as a politically incorrect liability. In The Crown, he is a castrated alpha male; an
irascible silverback who has been stuck in a zoo and
prowls his cage, furious.
“Rightly, as a society, we’ve celebrated Elizabeth
as a wonderful example of a powerful, stylish, brilliant woman,” says Smith, over a cup of tea in a photographic studio in east London. “But in many ways,
what an example of a roguish, brilliant man. Why
aren’t we as men allowed to celebrate that, fictionally
or not? And I just found a lot to celebrate in Philip.”
At a glance, the 35-year-old Smith would not
seem to have much in common with the Duke of
Edinburgh. He was born in Northampton and went
to the local state school; his father ran a plastics
business. “Yeah, I’m not of that class, nor is Claire,”
he says. “We’re lowly middle-classers.” There’s
not much of a physical resemblance to Philip, either. “I’m not great casting for Philip really,” Smith
accepts, “but actually when I got into it, there’s an
interesting synergy here.”
One area of crossover was a love of sport, and
the male companionship that often comes with it.
For Philip, it was mainly polo, sailing and carriage
driving; for Smith, it was football. As a teenager, he
played central defence in the youth teams for Northampton Town, Nottingham Forest and Leicester
City. Then, aged 16, he had a back injury and Leicester released him. Smith has scarcely kicked a ball
since, and it’s clear that he misses not just that, but
the sense of belonging he felt in the dressing room.
“I grew up surrounded by lads and I like that
culture,” says Smith. “I like the camaraderie and the
way you can take each other down, and that still
exists between me and my mates. We get together
and we tear each other to bits and we laugh. And
in the tearing each other to bits, there’s something
about it that entertains me, I suppose. But also,
at the end of that, you have a sporting endeavour
or whatever it is together and I like that sense of a
team. I think Philip liked all that, too.”
Smith realises that, in the age of Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump, these are precarious
waters to dip a toe in. “Maleness,” he notes sadly,
“has been perverted and misconstrued.” It is also
complex with regard to The Crown. The first season
touched on the emasculation that Philip felt when
Elizabeth became Queen, many years earlier than
they both expected, and his discomfort at doing her
bidding; he once complained that he was nothing
but “a bloody amoeba” and that he was the only
man in Britain who wasn’t allowed to pass down his
name to his own children.
Season two of The Crown returns to this theme
with relish. It opens with Elizabeth informing Philip
that she would like him to – that is, he has to – take
a five-month solo tour of the outer reaches of the
Commonwealth aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia.
He would open the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne and
drop in on Papua New Guinea and the Antarctic. For
company, he would have Mike Parker, his private
secretary, and 240 men and officers from the Royal
Navy. The trip has gone down in legend: “It’s not a
royal tour,” snipes Princess Margaret in The Crown,
“it’s a five-month stag night.” There are resilrumours that Philip had numerous
ient rumour
affairs around
this time.
Smith again has a measure of
sympathy for the Duke of Edinsympa
burgh. When
Whe he retired from royal duties in August,
Augus he had been dispatched
on 22,219 solo engagements since 1952. “If
you strip away
aw the royal family-ness of
it, it’s two
human beings,” he says.
challenge anyone if their part“I ch
ner said, ‘By the way, you’re
going off for five months,’ to
not go, ‘Whoa, hang on!’ And
I defy
anyone to be married as
‘I not great
ccasting for
Philip really.
But when I
got into it, there
is an interesting
synergy here’
BBC; Alex Bailey/Netflix
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 39
Cool cat … Matt Smith with co-star Karen Gillan in Doctor Who and as Prince Philip in The Crown, below
long as they have and it be plain sailing the whole
way. As human beings, they’ve struggled.”
Here’s another parallel between Prince Philip and
Smith: both have lived their early adulthood in the
public glare, and both seem to have been deeply
conflicted about the lack of privacy. For Smith, the
day his life changed for ever came in January 2009,
when he was unveiled as the 11th Doctor, and aged
26, the youngest actor to play the 1,000-year-old
time traveller. It wasn’t just that he was a long shot
to replace the very popular David Tennant; he didn’t
feature on anyone’s list outside the BBC. More than
one publication used the headline: “Doctor Who?”
The response was immediate, and it was confounding for Smith, who was not a fan of the show.
“I’d never seen it,” he says. “Nothing can prepare
you. Nothing. And literally overnight. As soon as it’s
announced, five reporters turn up to your mum and
dad’s house, with cameras. Overnight. They then go
to your grandad’s house. They then approach every
one of your best friends. It was that intrusive.
“Yeah, I was 26 and I didn’t claim to be a saint,”
Smith continues. “I was a 26-year-old lad, and I
thought about saying no. And my agent quickly
dispelled that idea. But I did, I genuinely thought,
‘Is this where I want to take myself?’”
Smith’s casting was a success, both with fans
and in the ratings, and he is happy with his decision, broadly speaking. Doctor Who was demanding hours – “Undoubtedly the greatest workload
you will ever take on, bar none” – but it provided
an unbeatable education in leading a show. Plus,
the role is a gift for any actor: there’s a reason why
no recurring part, even James Bond, attracts such
frenzied speculation when it is up for regeneration.
“The part’s sooo good,” says Smith. “He can do
anything. He can go from A to Z. Like any other character you play, Prince Philip for instance, you have
go through at least D, F, G, P, before you get to Z.
But the Doctor goes A to Z to B to Y, flips it up, and
you don’t have to explain that because he’s an alien
who’s 1,000 years old: he’s seen more than you have,
he’s done more than you’d do. He’s seen so much
tragedy that it’s made him really funny.”
When Jodie Whittaker was announced earlier
this year as the 13th Doctor, Smith rang her up and
sang the theme tune to her voicemail. Does he have
any more useful advice ? “Oh, I just think she’ll have
a wonderful time,” he says. “But the shift in your life
is extraordinary, because it crosses generations. So
when she goes to a wedding, she’s not going to the
wedding any more as Jodie Whittaker, she’s going
as the Doctor. When she goes to a funeral, she’s not
going to a funeral as Jodie Whittaker, she’s going to a
funeral as the Doctor. At her local cafe, they’ll talk to
you about that. Because people can’t help but attach
that to you; something changes in the perception of
everyone else around you.”
Smith, who stepped down from Doctor Who after
the 2013 Christmas special, feared that he would
never outgrow the role but he is making a decent
stab at writing an alternative script. Right after he
wrapped Doctor Who, he signed up for a musical
version of American Psycho. His Patrick Bateman
was required to appear onstage in just “tighty-whities” and an eye mask and, more terrifyingly, had
to belt out 80s pop. In 2018, he will play the lead in
a biopic of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe,
whose work in New York in the 60s and 70s caused
national outrage in America.
“I did Mapplethorpe,” Smith explains, “as an
endeavour of, well a) he’s a fascinating character,
and b) there’s something about his photos that is
just … who knew, as a straight man, that pictures of
penises were so utterly compelling? But they are!
And you don’t know why.
“I like to make myself feel uncomfortable. That’s
why I did a musical. That’s why I did Mapplethorpe,
because there was an unknown entity to those projects. David Bowie said to the guy in LCD Soundsystem: ‘Go and make yourself feel uncomfortable
again.’ And it’s really important.”
This is Smith’s final outing as the Prince; for the
next series, he’ll be replaced by an older, as-yetunnamed actor. He will be sad to leave the world,
in part because of the exotic locales The Crown films
in: “We went to Africa and Scotland and Surrey.”
But, perhaps after the experience of Doctor Who,
he accepts that career-wise it is a good time to move
on. Besides, Smith has been realising that he was
finding it hard to leave Prince Philip on set. “You
expect your toothpaste on your toothbrush in the
morning,” he sighs.
Smith, though, is excited about what comes next.
He says, “I think my 40s will be quite interesting as an
actor.” Because? “Dunno. I’ve got a weird face. Charactery. I think if I keep getting better hopefully there
could be some interesting parts out there.” Observer
Season two of The Crown is currently on Netflix
40 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
On Music
Flame goes out
for patriarch
of French pop
Angelique Chrisafis
Kim Willsher
Graphic … Naming the Money, 2004, by Lubaina Himid, below Stuart Whipps/Spike Island
Turner prize matures
Lubaina Himid benefited from
scrapping the wearisome age
restriction, says Adrian Searle
t feels inevitable that Lubaina Himid should
have won the Turner prize for 2017, a year in
which she has had concurrent solo shows at
Modern Art Oxford and Spike Island in Bristol and a significant presence in The Place
is Here, a travelling exhibition about Black
British art in the 1980s.
In that, her 1987 tableau A Fashionable Marriage
– a take on William Hogarth’s Marriage à la Mode,
restaged as a series of large cut-out figures – had
a giddy, comic and sprawling vitality, holding its
own among other key works of the decade, including Black Audio Film Collective’s Handsworth Songs
(directed by John Akomfrah) and Isaac Julien’s
early film Territories. But in her Turner prize show
in Hull, A Fashionable Marriage feels constrained.
Shown alongside a group of reworked, adumbrated
pages from the Guardian (a series begun 10 years
ago, and continuing), a single recent painting and a
set of decorative Lancaster crockery and tablewear
that Himid has overpainted with acrylic figures,
scenes and portraits, it adds up to an uneven
show that lacks coherence.
Made in 2007, the Lancaster
aster Dinner
Service is a barbed reflection on the slave
trade, British class and the collision of
cultures. Part obliteration, part excavation, part chronicle and partt fiction, riffing on fat squires, vomiting
g bewigged
youths, a whole cast of 18thh- and
19th-century caricatures, and
mixing them with images of
black slaves and servants, as
well as patterns from Nigeria
and Mali, the work showss
what a powerful graphic
artist Himid can be. This is
where the pleasure of her art
really lies.
Himid’s art is interested as much in ideas as in
objects, in histories as much as in paintings. Her tableaux of often larger-than-life cut-out and painted
figures, crowds and groups have both a cartoonish boisterousness and vitality that her paintings
often seem to lack. Himid studied theatre design
at the Slade, and the theatricality of her best work
enables her to make serious points – about ethnicity and history, origin and arrival – without getting
bogged down. Her art has a surprising lightness.
This is a strength.
But it is odd to have a Turner prize show that
relies more on past achievements than on the
present, though it does free the Turner from its
perpetual focus on the new.
Dropping the upper age limit of Turner prize nominees is a good thing; I wouldn’t exclude any artist
on the basis of age. But it is not a valedictory award.
More and more older artists who have previously
been sidelined, ignored and overlooked are being
re-evaluated when they are no longer sexy, hot and
under 30. Himid, 63, has been showing for decades.
I first saw her work in the early 1980s. The sculptor
Phyllida Barlow only began achieving wide international recognition in her 60s. The painter Rose Wylie
– at 83, 20 years Himid’s senior – has her first major
show in a public gallery
now, to much acclaim, at
the Serpentine. K
Keep at it long enough, at a high
enough level, an
and things will happen.
Are we looking
at a whole career, at the
current exhib
exhibition, at the enthusiasm carried
over by Himid’s
Himid recent re-evaluation? A bit of
all of these
these.. And there is no doubt that as a campaigner for blac
black artists, a teacher and lecturer
and, in her w
way, something of an establishment figure, Himid is a good thing.
doubt the other contenders will
object to her winning. I just wish
her art did more for me. Rosalind
Nashashibi’s recent films, and esp
pecially Vivian’s Garden, which I
tthought deserved the prize just
on its own account, are what
II’ll take away with me, to think
about and want to see again.
rance’s biggest rock star,
Johnny Hallyday, the
leather-trousered “French
Elvis” who sold more than
110m albums over a career
spanning more than half a century, has
died from lung cancer aged 74.
The singer, whose hits were little
known outside the French-speaking
world, went from a young heartthrob
with a quiff who introduced US-style
rock’n’roll to France in the 1960s to the
ageing, bad boy “patriarch of French
pop”, a national monument, plastered
over the cover of celebrity magazines.
His more than 55 years of stardom
were marked by contradictions. He was
musically eclectic, veering from French
ballads to blues, and from country and
western to prog rock, and was sometimes seen as rebellious, but mostly
adored by several generations for his
comforting light touch.
Hallyday was often mocked as an
airheaded rocker, but he protested that
he was smarter than people thought. He
was capable of delivering searing and
acclaimed film performances, and once
acted for the auteur-director Jean-Luc
Godard. His trademark was astonishing
stage shows – in more than 50 tours he
played to more than 28 million people –
where his hip-swinging stunts inevitably
involved bursts of flames, plumes of
smoke or arriving on stage after being
winched down from a helicopter.
Part of Hallyday’s appeal through
the generations was his fragility. He
survived an early suicide attempt,
was candid about depression and
needing cocaine to get out of bed and
work, and bounced back from years of
serious health problems. During five
marriages, including marrying one
woman twice, he was a staple of gossip magazines, but when journalists
turned up at posh hotels to meet him,
he would present himself as a selfeffacing, ordinary bloke.
In later years, weighed down by
layers of metal skull jewellery and a
cigarette, Hallyday’s status as France’s
leading entertainer meant he was
fawningly courted by politicians,
including his friend Nicolas Sarkozy.
He was given national honours by
Jacques Chirac, although Hallyday was
careful to stay friendly with everyone.
Once asked to name the best
compliment that could be bestowed
on him, Hallyday said: “The show was
good tonight.”
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 41
Culture Reviews
Kicker here like this
Then a short description here like this
→ Then Section and page XX
Liam Gallagher
The Parisian Woman
he title of The Parisian Woman, the
new stage play from Beau Willimon, the
creator of Netflix’s House of Cards, is a
red herring. The play’s set in Washington
DC. Plus, no one is French.
The Parisian woman refers to Chloe, played
by Uma Thurman – pictured above left – in her
Broadway debut, an American francophile with
a tattoo of a baguette on her hip. Beautiful, sharp
and soignée, Chloe’s magnetic field naturally
attracts the rich and powerful; in the play’s first
scene, we meet Chloe’s husband Tom (Josh
Lucas), a tax attorney with political ambitions,
her lover Peter (Marton Csokas), a banker with a
direct line to the Oval Office, and Chloe herself,
who makes both men jealous by texting friends
and lovers in front of them.
Set in contemporary DC and directed by
Pam MacKinnon, Donald Trump is president,
terms like “fake news” and “snowflakes”
are used, and Tom is gunning for a lifetime appointment to the fourth circuit court of appeals,
a job for which he’s spectacularly unqualified.
But, as the characters point out several times,
things such as readiness and experience don’t
particularly matter any more.
Tom’s manoeuvres set in motion a plot that,
in the tradition of most political dramas and
V&A in Shekou
he V&A’s new outpost in Shenzhen, southern China, occupies part of the Sea World
Culture and Arts Center, a vast 1.3bn yuan
($195m) building.
Some items are displayed as pairs to draw
parallels: in a section on the communicative role
of design, a celestial globe from 17th-century
Pakistan is shown next to the Blackphone, a
smartphone designed with extra security features.
A section on performance pairs an astrolabe with
an absurd Swiss army knife that has 80 functions,
while a display on problem-solving shows an iron
corset with a Paralympic running blade.
The approach can seem scattershot, but it
provides an intriguing overview of the V&A to
Matthew Murphy
especially the one Willimon made for television,
consists of profoundly cynical people, reliably
surprising twists, and the requisite tug-of-war
between good conscience and ambition. The
play’s at its best when characters trade wisecracks about Beltway politics and make shrewd
observations about what motivates its powerhungry practitioners; it’s at its worst when it
reaches higher, for emotional beats that feel
clunky, especially when transmitted through
characters whose interpersonal relationships are
half-baked and flimsily developed.
The play’s pulse is Thurman’s Chloe, who’s
on stage for all 90 minutes. Chloe, who dresses
like a dilettante and thinks like a dragon-slayer,
resists easy classifications: she’s neither Lady
Macbeth, pulling the strings of her husband’s
political rise, nor is she the beleaguered wife set
adrift by his ambition. What she offers instead is
warmth, wit and empathy, a figural representation of the questions many Americans are asking
themselves today: how do you maintain your
soul in a political hellscape?
An uber-modern update to Henry Becque’s
1885 play La Parisienne, The Parisian Woman
was originally written in 2013; after the 2016
election, Willimon felt the need to rejigger
the script to make it better reflect the times.
Jake Nevins
At the Hudson Theatre, New York, until 11 March
an uninitiated audience, enhanced by an exhibition design that revels in a palette of novel
material combinations. The
section on performance employs foamed aluminium and
colour-changing dichroic film,
the area on cost combines lavish
slabs of green marble (matched to
the V&A’s own South Kensington
lobby) with the plywood of mu-seum packing crates.
“We imagined it as something
between a cathedral and a shopping
centre,” says the exhibition’s designer,
Sam Jacob. It is a good image forr
the entire building, whose nave-like
atrium is lined with alternating chapels
of culture and consumerism.
Oliver Wainwright
he former Oasis frontman struts on to
the stage at Leeds’s First Direct arena,
all swagger and attitude, as if fresh from
an argument with a traffic warden. His
first words to the crowd rejigs the Beatles’ I Am
the Walrus: “Hiya, you are Leeds and we are all
together.” He kicks a fan (of the mechanical, not
audience, kind) and starts singing: “Tonight, I’m
a rock’n’roll star.” And for the next 90 exhilarating
minutes, he is exactly that.
It’s not immediately obvious what Gallagher
has got that so many other performers haven’t.
Unusually, for a star at arena level, there’s not
much of a show. Indeed, for almost the entire performance, we’re watching a 45-year-old man in an
anorak, who sings while rooted to the spot. And
yet, every movement seems to radiate raw power
and energy as guitars and drums rage around him.
The eye is drawn to him, all the time (his vivid
coat, pictured below, while the musicians are all in
black, certainly helps). At the end of the song, he
spits out his own explanation of his magnetic otherness: “None of the fuckin’ plastic pop star!”
Being able to draw on an era-defining Oasis
classic such as Morning Glory as early as the
second song certainly adds a frisson. But
when people – many half his age – gawp up at
Gallagher in the same way small children gaze at
a T-rex skeleton in a museum, they do so in the
knowledge that we may not see his like again.
However, the show doesn’t feel nostalgic. If
Gallagher’s supersonic confidence took a knock
after the flop of his post-Oasis band, Beady Eye,
it’s surely rocketing again after his solo debut
album As You Were outsold the rest of the Top
20 combined in October (and shipped more than
brother Noel’s current No 1). Half of his set still
consists of Oasis songs, penned by his estranged
sibling, but as Liam recently pointed out on
Twitter: “He wrote ’em, I made ’em.”
With his voice recovering a long lost octave,
the likes of Some Might Say and Supersonic are
roaring jets, but the solo songs hold their own.
With Gallagher’s voice a perfect mix of two Johns
– Lydon and Lennon – they are either spikily
vitriolic (Greedy Soul, You Better Run and Wall
of Glass) or more wistfully emotional (Bold and
For What It’s Worth). The last – reputedly an
apology to ex-wife Nicole Appleton and already
a crowd singalong – is as great an anthem as he
has sung in 20 years. He then turns impeccable
curator of his catalogue. Be Here Now is
recovered from the scrapyard of lesser-loved
Oasis songs and turned into a showstopper.
raised, couples (straight
Throughout, pints are raised
and gay) hug and chants of
o “Liam! Liam!”
echo around the arena. With the house
lights up, Sid Vicious’s version of My Way
blaring out and th
the crowd filing out,
Gallagher su
suddenly bounds
“Had you there,
back on. “
didn’t II?” he cackles,
delivers a perfect
and d
Wonderwall before
exiting as he entered,
applauding the
applause, and every
inch the rock’n’roll
star. Dave Simpson
Touring worldwide
until August 2018
42 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
Notes & Queries
Nature watch
Dolbenmaen, Wales
Listening to Tchaikovsky?
Then it must be true love
• Regrettably, they have turned into
vulgar McMansions.
David Turner,
Bellevue Heights, South Australia
When does infatuation turn to love?
When other people have reason to
take it seriously.
Bernard Galton,
St-Nazaire-sur-Charente, France
• The big bad wolves blew them
all away.
Philip Stigger,
Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
• They run in parallel – if you’re
Michael Olin, Holt, UK
After years of tears and trust
• After midnight.
David Tucker, Halle, Germany
• About two years before love turns
to indifference.
Ann M Altman,
Hamden, Connecticut, US
• When it doesn’t matter that the
feet of clay are discovered.
Margaret Wyeth,
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
• When one begins to see through
the eyes of the heart.
R De Braganza, Kilifi, Kenya
• When you finally tire of Abba and
find Tchaikovsky.
Marilyn Hamilton,
Perth, Western Australia
• When it’s reciprocated.
Bruce Williams,
Clifton Springs, Victoria, Australia
Big bad wolves struck again
Whatever became of those ‘little
pink houses for you and me’?
They’ve turned into pink elephants.
Richard Orlando,
Westmount, Quebec, Canada
• A series of calamities: the couple
had children, sold their love nest
Romantic Tchaikovsky … Swan Lake
for a larger multi-bedroom sprawl
farther outside the city limits. Then
developers realised that the land
was worth more than the little pink
house, bulldozed it and built a
monster home in the colour palette
of the decade on every available
inch. Owners then renovated the
house, repainted the exterior … until
they realised that the house was far
too large for them, at which point
they purchased a “tiny home”.
It was pink.
Bryan Smith,
Sweaburg, Ontario, Canada
• They devolved into boxes – made
of ticky-tacky.
Adrian Cooper,
Queens Park, NSW, Australia
What’s the difference between a pal
and a friend?
The pal comes first and then after
years of laughter, tears, trust and
secrets comes the friend.
Doreen Forney, Pownal, Vermont, US
• A pal is a friend that you drink
Charlie Pearson,
Portland, Oregon, US
• Leaving aside the semantic
differences, could you imagine
Carole King making a hit with a title
like “You’ve got a pal”?
John Ryder, Kyoto, Japan
More Notes & Queries
See additional answers online
Any answers?
When do in-laws become outlaws?
John Geffroy,
Las Vegas, New Mexico, US
• We’re no longer in the pink.
RM Fransson,
Wheat Ridge, Colorado, US
Should we anticipate the world of
the Jetsons or the Flintstones?
RM Fransson,
Wheat Ridge, Colorado, US
• They are now only available as
an Airbnb.
Craig Sergeant,
Nashville, Tennessee, US
Send answers to weekly.nandq@ or Guardian
Weekly, Kings Place, 90 York Way,
London N1 9GU, UK
Good to meet you Rowland Jepson
I am a 61-year-old retired teacher
living in Brecon, Wales. I have
been reading the Guardian Weekly
since 1986. In that year I started
a teaching job in the Dominican
Republic, and with only the BBC
World Service as a source of news,
I was very pleased when a colleague
showed me his Guardian Weekly,
which I hadn’t known existed. I
soon became a subscriber, and kept
up my subscription through jobs in
eight other countries.
Each week I looked forward to
the arrival of the paper, though in
the Dominican Republic, Ukraine,
Kenya and Laos its arrival was
pretty erratic. In Mexico, the US,
Germany and Italy its arrival was a
bit more dependable.
As a teacher of history and the
theory of knowledge in international
schools, the Weekly was a lifesaver:
I used hundreds of articles, reviews
and pictures from it for my teaching
over those years. I think there are
This sett I’ve known for 50 years.
I think it was first occupied in the
early 1950s. Huge now, 200 metres
long and 60 wide, with innumerable
entrances concealed among dense
rhododendron thickets, I called it
Badgeropolis, and spent much time
watching from the hillside above
as the badgers made their moonlit
excursions. These were an enchantment: the silvery bounce of their
beautiful coats; the rough-andtumble of cubs’ play; their curiosity
and habituation to my still, nightly
presence; the astonishing inflected
vocabulary of squeal, purr, yelp and
mew; their tenderness at mating;
the affection between boar and sow,
parents and cubs.
There was little threat to badgers
in those days. Shepherds in the
valley viewed them fondly as
natural pest-controllers. The only
horrible sight I witnessed was when
one rogue farmer set his collies on
a big old boar caught in a fox snare,
thousands of students who have
been introduced to different points
of view through the Weekly.
Then and now, it takes me a
week to read – I’ve never felt the
need for any other papers. I enjoy
the international news articles and
the Comment & Debate section
best. I’ve always found the book
reviews interesting, and read many
books based on those reviews, but
unfortunately there seem to be
fewer reviews of novels now than
there used to be.
If you would like to appear in
this space, send a brief note to
and summoned his friends. The
savage noise of his “sport” polluted
the valley. By the time I reached its
source, the badger was defenceless,
a back leg stripped by wire to sinew
and bone, the dogs still ripping at it.
I took a shotgun propped against
a parked Land Rover, hurled the
dogs aside, put the muzzle to the
poor animal’s heart, replaced the
gun, and spat at the spectators’ feet
as I walked away. It was a death that
filled the valley with silence. That
night, my tyres were slashed.
Through the Thatcher years,
the big sett became a focus for
terriermen with spades and sacks.
They dug out these old spirits of
place, sold them to the calvaries of
city dog-pits.
This afternoon, for the first time
in years, I went back to see how
Badgeropolis had survived. Setts can
be remarkably resistant to persecution. I looked for signs that denote
presence and activity: neat dungpits
along field-margins; snuffle-holes
among leaf-litter; tufts of hair where
pathways pass beneath barbed wire;
paw prints and scratch-marks. All
were there, but so much less numerous and recent than I remember. A
new darkness has arrived for these
lovely, sentient creatures. Jim Perrin
Read more Nature watch online
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 43
Quick crossword
Cryptic crossword by Paul
1 Creamy almond-flavoured
filling – a finger pan (anag) (10)
7,1down Scottish dance
(involving a caber?) (8,5)
8 How many Horsemen of the
Apocalypse? (4)
9 Indian clarified butter (4)
10 Male pleasure seeker (7)
12 Vast (11)
14 Without the slightest delay
16 European mountains (4)
19 Dollar – deer (4)
20 Fluorine, chlorine, bromine,
iodine and astatine (8)
21 Covered by heavy metal
protection (6-4)
1 See 7
2 Track or field sportsperson
3 Chew (4)
4 Small and of little
importance (8)
5 Very good (slang) (5)
6 Outbreak of public
excitement (6)
11 Baby train? (4-4)
12 Flight of the Israelites out of
Egypt, led by Moses (6)
13 Against the rules (7)
15 Muslim mendicant monk
and holy man (5)
17 Ecclesiastical council (5)
18 Speak indistinctly (4)
Last week’s solution, No 14,820
First published in the Guardian
14 November 2017, No 14,827
1 Punch a delicate
thing (5)
2 Wild flower
containing nectar,
primarily (7)
3 Building – criminals
removing roof (5)
4 Second wind isn’t
always necessary
then, initially (7)
Futoshiki Easy
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
4 > 3 > 2
3 > 1
4 > 3
4 > 3
2 > 1
Last week’s solution
1 As do commissioner,
Senegalese and
classic beauty? (5,4)
6 Resist male (4)
8 Cowardly old Italian
PM wearing outfit the
wrong way round (8)
9 Worthless slime’s
parting bow (2-4)
10 Unkindness in party
needing sympathetic
leaders (6)
11 Scold male,
splitting up hunk
and husband (8)
12 Bad quotes recalled,
including one from
Plato (6)
15 Egypt’s last king
inspired by old
queen’s home cooking ingredient (8)
16 No regret for Piaf in
smearing of alto from
1 down, say? (8)
19 Cut around page,
newspaper’s lead
story (6)
21 Coalition charlatans,
by the sound of it? (8)
22 Close school during
breaks (6)
24 Interior alone
ultimately in British
parliament (6)
25 Lead in pencil I
gather erroneous –
this the stuff ? (8)
26 Combine equipment,
including pole (4)
27 Device used by
police ending in
convictions – not
entirely shallow
then, on reflection?
5 Recognisable
features, with
a thousand in
exaltation (9)
6 Plant, a big one that’s
monstrous (7)
7 Spooner’s chief
murder weapons (9)
13 Abhorrent jerks
created like humans,
say? (9)
14 Emotional relief, as
Tom is obliged to
admit stress-related
injury (9)
17 Part water, perhaps?
18 Food on Italian table,
dip in way (7)
20 One starting to miss
a diner (7)
22 Union member
translated duck’s
opening quack (5)
23 Lifting positions
inspiring one
exercise (3-2)
First published in the Guardian
23 November 2017, No 27,362
Last week’s solution, No 27,356
Sudoku classic Medium
> 2 <
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 15.12.17
Ancient cave found
underneath Montreal
Strange weather leads
to enormous apples
Amateur explorers in Canada have
found a vast underground passage
– stretching hundreds of metres
underneath the bustling streets of
Montreal – the formation of which
dates back more than 15,000 years
ago to the Earth’s last ice age.
“It’s just beautiful,” said Luc Le
Blanc, who found the network of
caverns earlier this year with fellow spelunker Daniel Caron. “The
walls sometimes look like layers of
fudge and chocolate; there’s brown,
there’s dark brown, there’s ochre.”
The pair had for years poked
around an existing cave in the city,
known as the St Léonard cavern,
suspecting that there was more to
it. Discovered in 1812, the cave sits
below a city park.
In 2014, Caron – using dowsing,
a technique used to locate ground
water – detected an anomaly in the
ground, suggesting a void could lie
beyond the existing cave.
In October they found an underground chamber about six metres
in height, three metres wide
de and
steeped in water. “It’s perfectly
silent,” said Le Blanc. “The water is
not moving. It’s not a river,, it’s the
water table.”
They were able to estimate
ate that
the passageway runs at least
st 250
metres before their travels were
stymied by high water levels.
els. “But
it keeps going, so we have no idea
where it will end,” said Le Blanc.
“The ceiling and the floor are
parallel but its sloping down.
wn. So
as you go further and further
er into
the cave, there’s more water
er and
less air.” The hope is to return
urn to
the passage in early 2018 when the
water levels recede. Ashifa
a Kassam
A British supermarket is selling
supersized Braeburn apples after
unusual weather conditions in the
spring produced a crop of giants.
The latest frost for nearly 20
years in April meant fewer apples
grew, with as much as 10% of the
country’s Braeburn crop affected.
However, farmers were surprised
to find that the reduced crop had
grown to more than twice the normal size and weight.
Weighing in at an average of 450g
each, the apples dwarf the typical
170g Braeburn and will be the
biggest apple sold by Morrisons in
living memory.
Braeburns are typically picked
in the autumn and require three
weeks’ rest at chilled temperatures
to sweeten. The cold April stopped
apple trees from flowering fully,
limiting the pollination essential
for fruit growth. However, favourable conditions later in the growing
season gave a nutrient boost to the
remaining apples that had got off to
an early start, allowing them to grow
to their giant size.
Melvyn Newman,
a grower from
Howfield Farm,
Chartham, in
Kent, said: “Over a third of our Braeburns this year are a much bigger
size, and with a smaller crop overall
it would have been heartbreaking
to leave oversized fruit on the trees
when they are just as tasty and with
better colour.” Rebecca Smithers
Taiwan professor to
claim longest rainbow
A professor in Taiwan claims to have
witnessed the longest-ever visible
rainbow, clocking in at nearly nine
hours, and plans to submit it for a
world record.
The rainbow lasted for eight
hours and 58 minutes in the mountains around the Taiwanese capital
of Taipei, according to Chou Kunhsuan, a professor at the Chinese
Culture University.
Chou, along with colleague Liu
Ching-huang, scrambled to document the rainbow that appeared
on 30 November, mustering students to photograph the arc from
every angle. The professors were
originally monitoring the rainbow to
test a theory that the band
bands of light
descend as time passes.
“It was amazing … It felt like a
gift from the sky … IIt’s
so rare,” Chou told
tol the
BBC. “When we broke
the previous rrecord
after passing six
hours, I was hardly
able to stay seated
for lunch. I was so
The professors
observed four
separate rai
nineduring the n
hour period, at one
time photogra
all in a single fra
The previous day a rainbow near the
campus appeared for six hours.
A combination of a seasonal monsoons trapping moist air, a lack of
strong winds and a partially cloudy
sky allowed for the rainbow to be
visible for such a long time.
Chou plans to apply to Guinness
World Records for the world’s longest visible rainbow. The previous
record holder was seen for six hours
above Sheffield, UK, in 1994.
Benjamin Haas
Zola’s photography
gets recognition at last
Émile Zola, the 19th-century French
author of celebrated works including Thérèse Raquin, Nana and
Germinal, is being recognised as a
talented and experimental photographer with the auction of a rarely
seen personal collection of pictures.
In the eight years before his death
in 1902, Zola became obsessed with
photography, taking thousands of
pictures with his 10 cameras and
developing them in the basements
of his three homes.
The collection, which fetched
€370,000 ($440,000) when it went
under the hammer last Monday,
belonged to the writer’s grandson,
François Émile-Zola, who died in
1989 – he had inherited it from Zola’s
son, Jacques. The auction included
albums, prints, glass plates and
photographic equipment.
Zola was 54 when he discovered
photography; he not only took
pictures but also experimented
with film development and made
his own contact sheets. The collection includes images of his wife,
Alexandrine, and the children he
had with his mistress, Jeanne, his
favourite model. Kim Willsher
Maslanka puzzles
1 “We wondered how did he get
there,” said the voice on the radio
and Pedanticus rose like Poseidon
with a fork in his hand snarling:
“Oratio obliqua, you lumbering great
turkeys!” What was he on about?
2 At the Last Chance saloon, Tom
reveals an urn. The probability it contains two white balls is 1⁄4; the probability it contains a white and a black
is 3⁄4. Rosencrantz withdraws a ball
at random. It is white. What are the
chances the urn contains a black ball?
3 Solve: AA…AA2 + BB…BB2 = CC…
CC2, where A, B & C are distinct digits
and each number has the same number of digits.
Twitter: @ChrisMaslanka
In each case find the correct
a) Estonian martial art
b) Brazilian footballer
c) Finnish doggedness and grit
d) firewalking
a) early type of wheat
b) monster
c) Turkic ethnic group of
Central Asia
d) pivoting move in kickboxing
a) salt of boron
b) large browsing dinosaur
c) in the style of one of the
Brontë sisters
d) of the character of thunder
Rearrange the letters of ECONOMIST
to make another word.
Identify the word in which each
asterisk represents a missing letter:
Same Difference
Identify the two words, the spelling
of which differs only in the letters
shown (above, right).
J*** island
L*** hot stuff !
Missing Links
Find a word which 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) guard’s guard
b) commercial story
c) am wood
d) wind pond
e) plough index
f) party dancing
©CMM2017. For solutions see page 47
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 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
Are our dreams trying to tell us
something? Whether you trust them
or not, they are definitely intriguing
hat are dreams for? It’s
one of those bottomless
questions where the answer
tells you mainly about
the person doing the answering. Those who pride
themselves on being hardheaded and scientific will say they’re meaningless
nonsense or some kind of process for consolidating
the memories of the day. Those who think of themselves as spiritual will insist they’re messages from
beyond. Yet the hard-headed answer isn’t much
more plausible than the kooky one. If dreams are
random brain-firings, how come they have coherent narratives? And if dreams are just a dull retread
of everyday events, how come they’re so often
wildly inventive, haunting or surreal? As James
Hollis, a Jungian psychotherapist for whom dreams
are far from meaningless, writes: “Who would
make this stuff up?” Night after night, you go to
bed and elaborate stories plant themselves in your
mind through no choice of your own! Don’t tell me
something intriguing isn’t going on.
Dreams are hard to study in the lab, for the
obvious reason that only you experience your
own. Indeed, as the philosopher Daniel Dennett
points out, you can’t even be certain you
experience them, at least in the way you imagine.
You “recall” them when you wake, but how do
you know that memory wasn’t inserted into your
mind at the moment of waking? Yet recent work
by researchers including Matthew Walker, author
of the new book Why We Sleep, strongly suggests
dreams are a kind of “overnight therapy”: in
REM sleep, we get to reprocess emotionally
trying experiences, but without the presence
of the anxiety-inducing neurotransmitter
noradrenaline. In experiments, people exposed to
Illustration by Michele Marconi; right, Lo Cole
What I’m really thinking
Owner of a ‘dangerous’ dog
emotional images reacted much more calmly to
seeing them again after a good night’s dreaming.
Neither dreamless sleep nor the mere passage of
time duplicated that effect.
Carl Jung certainly wouldn’t have settled
for that explanation, though. He argued – I’m
simplifying here – that dreams were messages
from the unconscious, offering, in symbolic form,
insights and advice the conscious mind might have
missed. That dream where you’re careening down
If dreams are just a dull
retread of everyday
events, how come they’re
so often wildly inventive,
haunting or surreal?
a slope in a runaway shopping trolley towards a
cliff edge: what might that be saying about how
you need to change? So you wrote down a dream,
then studied it, with or without a therapist, trying
out different interpretations, and if one rang true
you pursued it further. What’s striking is that this
approach would work even if Jung were wrong,
and dreams were just random. If you treat them
as potentially meaningful, retaining only those
interpretations that really “click”, you’re going
to end up with meaningful insights anyway. I’ve
dabbled in this, and highly recommend it. To ask
what your dreams might be trying to tell you is to
ask deep and difficult questions you’d otherwise
avoid – even if, in reality, they weren’t trying to tell
you anything at all.
The fact that she was muzzled the
first time we met her at the rescue
centre didn’t stop us falling in
love with her amber eyes. She had
been in kennels for 10 months and
was the most “fear-aggressive”
dog they’d ever taken in. So we
were aware of her limitations.
She’s a great indoors dog. Someone
loved her once. We try not to think
what she went through to become
such a scared animal.
In the year we have had her, she
has come on leaps and bounds,
and we thank our friends and family for their tolerance and endless
supply of cheese. She is starting to
repay their understanding, but we
don’t think she’ll ever overcome her
nervousness with other dogs.
We always do the sensible
thing: she’s always on a lead
outside the house; we walk her at
odd times; if the local park has a
dog off the lead, we skirt around
the edges and go elsewhere. But
still, other dog owners, seeing her
on her short lead, watch their dog
bound over, and shout, “It’s OK,
he just wants to play” or, “Don’t
worry, he won’t bite.” There is
at least one incident every week
where a dog goes out of its way to
make friends with her. She doesn’t
want dog friends. It becomes a
stressful incident for all involved,
usually ending in a “Sorry, love”
from the other owners, who can’t
recall their dog effectively and then
scarper, embarrassed.
My beautiful, loving, doting,
gentle rescue dog is a staffie, and
chances are the blame for any incident will be put on her, despite her
being the one on the lead and under
control. I implore you, if you see a
dog on a lead, it’s not
just for our sake – it’s
for yours, too.
Tell us what
you’re really
thinking –
email mind@
46 The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17
IOC gives Russia
the cold shoulder
‘Systematic manipulation’ of anti-doping results
punished with Winter Games ban – but some still
feel Moscow has got off lightly, writes Sean Ingle
or too long the International Olympic Committee has shown a strange
reluctance to prosecute
Russian doping. No
matter how staggering
the evidence, or loud the cries for
justice, its president, Thomas Bach,
has resisted sanctions. Last Tuesday
in Lausanne, however, the IOC finally
had no choice but to act. The truth had
at last overwhelmed its diffidence –
and defences.
It came from the former president
of Switzerland, Samuel Schmid, who
confirmed there had been “systemic
manipulation” of anti-doping results
at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014,
and elsewhere, by the Russian state
– and the evidence was not only extensive but “watertight”. Even Bach, a
good friend of the Russian president,
Vladimir Putin, felt compelled to call
it an “unprecedented
ented attack on the
integrity of the Olympic Games
and sport”.
By the time Bach
ach spoke, the
ussia’s punishworld knew of Russia’s
pic Committee
ment. Its Olympic
ended from the
had been suspended
n Pyeongchang,
Winter Games in
South Korea, in
n February,
and its deputy prime
rt, Viminister for sport,
taly Mutko, pictured,
banned from the
Olympics for life
for his part in the
ndeception. Meanwhile the Russian Olympic
Committee was
fined $15m to reimburse the IOC’s costs
and to improve the capacity and integrity of the global anti-doping system.
Given the breathtaking extent of
Russia’s crimes, some will believe
the punishments should have been
deeper and the fines far steeper. Russia was, in effect, convicted of statesponsored doping over a thousand
athletes in 30 sports after all. Meanwhile Mutko somehow remains in
charge of next year’s football World
Cup, which will be held in Russia.
You might think this would raise an
eyebrow at Fifa, especially given dozens of the country’s footballers are
under suspicion for being part of the
doping programme – and particularly
given that Grigory Rodchenkov, the
former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory turned whistleblower,
gave a 52-page affidavit to Schmid detailing dozens of meetings with Mutko.
hour after the IOC’s
Yet less than an hou
decision in Lau
Lausanne, Fifa insisted it had “no impact on
the preparations
preparatio for the 2018
World Cup a
as we continue
to work to d
deliver the best
possible event”.
Perhaps we
should not be ssurprised. Footbody
ball’s governing
has never cared
much about the
grubbier side of
the game.
the verdict
was welcomed
by anti-dopb
iing and athletes’
groups. Many of
Slippery … despite the ban, the IOC agreed that non-tainted Russian
athletes can compete in Pyeongchang under a neutral flag Getty
them recognised there was no perfect
solution but were pleased the IOC had
finally taken firmer action. As Travis
Tygart, the chief executive of the
United States Anti-Doping Agency,
put it: “The IOC listened to those who
matter most – and clean athletes won
a significant victory.”
Russia was thrown a lifeline,
though, with the IOC agreeing its
athletes will get to compete in Pyeongchang – albeit under a neutral flag
and with the words “Olympic athlete from Russia” on their jerseys,
providing they can show they are
not tainted by Mutko’s regime. That
seems fair enough – this was always
about justice, not vengeance, and that
applies to clean Russian athletes, too.
However it was ironic the solution
the IOC came up was nearly identical to
that implemented by the International
Association of Athletics Federations
before the Rio Olympics. Seventeen
months ago Bach had sniffed at its
proposal. Now he embraced it. Bach
explained this reversal by insisting
a great deal had changed since the
IOC waved through most of Russia’s
athletes into the Rio Games.
Such an explanation is clearly
disingenuous. By May 2016 the
world knew through Rodchenkov’s
evidence that agents from Russia’s
secret service, the FSB, had found
out how to open the supposedly
tamper-proof bottles used to collect
urine from athletes and had switched
samples that would have otherwise
tested positive for steroids with
clean ones in Sochi. Rodchenkov also
claimed that at least 15 medal winners
were involved.
The first of two reports by Richard
McLaren, published in July 2016,
also linked this conspiracy to the heart
of the Russian government, saying
Mutko, as Russia’s sports minister from
At 2-0 down, is there any way back for England in the Ashes?
Inside sport
Vic Marks
nce again England’s cricketers are in familiar Ashes
territory, heading to Perth
this week 2-0 down in the
series with three to play. In Brisbane
and Adelaide England managed to
tantalise. They have not been uniformly hopeless. They clung on at
the Gabba for three days and there
were moments when they could
have taken control of that Test. Conversely in Adelaide, having played
ineptly for two-and-a-half days,
they bowled out Australia for 138 in
their second innings. On the fourth
day they rose again and allowed
their fans to dream. On the fifth
grim reality returned. All out for 233,
defeated by 120 runs.
Australia may have recovered
from 2-0 down under Don Bradman
in the summer of 1936-37 but there
are no more recent precedents to
cheer Joe Root and his tourists.
England’s pace bowlers may be as
skilful as their counterparts but they
are slower. The misgivings about
England’s attack are most easily
identified when contrasting the spin
bowlers Nathan Lyon, of Australia,
and England’s Moeen Ali. Admittedly Moeen has been handicapped
by injuries but there has been a gulf
between this pair. Lyon is tormenting England’s left-handed batsmen,
including Alastair Cook, who had
few problems with the pacemen
but looked like a novice against the
finger spinner.
As a batsman Moeen may be more
inclined to attack Lyon than the others but he has been dismissed by him
four times out of four. Yet the blunt
and difficult truth is England will
have to attack him successfully to
get back in the series and they need
their right-handers at the crease for
longer if that is going to happen.
The Guardian Weekly 15.12.17 47
Sport in brief
• Police officers and stewards
had to separate up to 20 players
and members of staff from
Manchester United and City after
an extraordinary bust-up in which
bottles and punches were thrown
and Mikel Arteta, one of the City
manager Pep Guardiola’s assistants,
was left with blood streaming down
his face. The incidents, which
followed the Manchester derby
at Old Trafford last Sunday, have
prompted an inquiry from the
Football Association. City won the
game 2-1, sending them 11 points
clear of United at the top of the
Premier League, leading the United
manager José Mourinho to all but
admit defeat in the title race.
It should be more difficult for
Lyon to prevail in this week’s third
Test in Perth where the ball seldom
turns – at least it never used to. One
suspects in his last Test there John
Lewis, the Waca’s groundsman,
would like to finish with a fast,
bouncy pitch that has been the USP
of one of cricket’s iconic grounds.
However, there are doubts whether
this is still possible. In recent times
the Waca has been more of a haven
for batsmen than fast bowlers.
Close to a return? Serena Williams
be proactive to have surgery now
on a knee injury and I’m looking
forward to returning to action fully
fit.” There was also a blow for England’s Six Nations hopes, with Bath
confirming that Semesa Rokoduguni
requires shoulder surgery.
• Serena Williams is “very likely”
to return to Melbourne for the
2018 Australian Open in January,
according to tournament director
Craig Tiley. Williams gave birth
to her first child, Alexis Olympia
Leonard Barden
At the London Classic the US No 1,
Fabiano Caruana, jumped to No 2 in
the world rankings behind the world
champion Magnus Carlsen, and now
looks a potential winner of the 2018
candidates event, which will decide
the Norwegian’s next challenger.
Wijk aan Zee, the world’s most
respected annual tournament, is
longer than London, 13 rounds, and
there is a wider range of abilities.
Gawain Jones, the 30-year-old
British champion, is the lowestranked invitee to the top section
so will be a must-win opponent for
Carlsen and Caruana.
Caruana’s win against Sergey
Karjakin was down to his deep prep.
His sharp Taimanov Sicilian came
with the bomb 15...Bc6! where Rc8 is
normal. Karjakin avoided 16 Nxa6 as
Qc8 17 Nac5 d6! gives good play, but
next turn he should have preferred
17 exf6 gxf6 18 h3 Qxf4+ 19 Qxf4
Nxf4 20 Re1 with compensation for
a pawn. As the game went, 22...Ng6!
gave Black a fine position due to his
central pawn block, his d5 bishop
and later his f3 knight. White’s game
collapsed when 35...Qa5! forced off
queens, and 42...Rg5! (43 Bxg5 f2)
was a neat finish.
• AlphaZero, the game-playing AI
created by Google sibling DeepMind,
has beaten the world’s best chessplaying computer program, having
taught itself how to play in under
four hours. The repurposed AI, which
has repeatedly beaten the world’s
best Go players as AlphaGo, has
been generalised so that it can now
learn other games. It beat the world
champion chess program, Stockfish
8, in a 100-game match. AlphaZero
won or drew all 100 games, according
to a non-peer-reviewed research
paper published with Cornell
University Library’s arXiv.
Maslanka solutions
3524 Simon Williams v Eivind Risting. London
Fide Open 2017. Black to play and win
Sergey Karjakin v Fabiano Caruana
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nc6
5 Nc3 Qc7 6 Be3 a6 7 Qf3 Ne5 8 Qg3
b5 9 O-O-O Nf6 10 f4 Neg4 11 Bg1
h5 12 e5 b4 13 Na4 Nd5 14 Nb3 Bb7
15 Nac5 Bc6! 16 Ne4 f5 17 h3? h4
18 Qe1 fxe4 19 hxg4 Nxf4 20 Rxh4
Rxh4 21 Qxh4 Qxe5 22 Bd4 Ng6!
23 Qh3 Qg5+ 24 Kb1 Bd5 25 Bg1
Be7 26 g3 Ne5 27 Be2 Nf3! 28 Bxf3
exf3 29 Bd4 Kf7 30 Nc1 d6 31 Nd3 e5
32 Bf2 Be6 33 Nxb4 e4 34 Qh1 Rc8
35 Nxa6 Qa5! 36 Qh5+ Qxh5 37 gxh5
Bg5 38 Re1 Bc4 39 Nb4 Re8 40 Re3
Bxe3 41 Bxe3 Re5 42 g4 Rg5! 0-1
3524 1...Bf2! if 2 Kxf2 Rxh2+ 3 Kg1 Qxg3 mate
or 2 Rxe7 Rxh2+! 3 Kxh2 Qxg3+ 4 Kh1 Qh3 mate.
2008 to 2016, had issued direct orders
to “manipulate particular samples”.
Yes, most countries have a problem
with doping but it was obvious that
Russia’s problem was unique in its
scale and scope. The IOC was aware of
it, too, but chose not to act. Incredibly,
Bach said he believed the decision
would “draw a line” despite years of
state-sponsored doping in Russia,
noting Alexander Zhukov, the president of Russia’s Olympic Committee,
had issued an apology, something
global regulators have long requested.
But while Bach wants to swiftly
move on, for others it will not be so
easy. As Rodchenkov’s lawyer, Jim
Walden, explained, the whistleblower
is still in hiding and facing death
threats for speaking out.
“My hope is that the situation
improves but the Kremlin has proved
to be a very determined and difficult adversary for Grigory,” Walden
said. “He knows that he’s going to
be looking over this shoulder for the
rest of his life.”
• Sam Warburton has been ruled
out of Wales’s Six Nations rugby
union campaign next year after having knee surgery that will keep the
Lions captain out of the game for
up to six months. Warburton, Wales
and the Cardiff Blues decided the
flanker should have surgery while
he was already sidelined with a neck
problem. He will miss the rest of the
season. Warburton said: “In close
consultation with the WRU and
Cardiff Blues we decided it would
Ohanian Jr, during the 2017 US Open,
and has not competed professionally
since she won her 23rd Grand Slam
singles title at the Australian Open
earlier this year. Her coach Patrick
Mouratoglou said recently that she
had not yet made a decision on
whether she would compete for
her eighth Australian Open singles
title. Tiley, however, was much more
enthusiastic: “She has got her visa,
she has entered, she’s practising,
and she probably just needs a bit
more space for a bigger entourage.
There is no question she will be
ready in our view.”
1 Indirect questions and sequence of tenses
are dying out and speech radio must take
some of the blame. At first I thought it was just
sloppy reading of scripts saying, “Today we
ask: ‘Where are all the house husbands?’” as
if it didn’t include direct speech, but then we
begin to hear such teratological forms as “He
asked him where did he go” and rarely hear the
more natural: “He asked him where he went.”
2 Let’s do this by an ensemble method. Consider (Ww), (Ww), (WB), (WB), (WB), (WB),
(WB), (WB). Each pair of brackets represents
N instances of an urn with the contents indicated by the brackets. Thus (Ww) represents N
(where N —> ∞) instances of an urn with two
white balls in; (WB) N instances of an urn with
one white ball and one black. Initially then the
probability of an urn with two white balls is 2⁄8
= 1⁄4, as required. Withdrawing a ball produces
a new ensemble (w) [we withdrew W]; (W)
[we withdrew (w)]; 3 instances of (W) [we
withdrew B]; and 4 instances of (B) [we withdrew W]. But we then find we did not withdraw B. That leaves (w), (W) and 3 instances of
(B); so the probability of a black ball remaining
is 3⁄5. This is the same result as we would have
got by using conditional probability.
3 Dividing throughout by (11...11)2 we are
left with A2 + B2 = C2. We recognise this at
once as a Pythagorean trio, the only one of
which uses only digits being (A, B, C) = (3, 4,
5) or (4, 3, 5).
Wordpool c), c), d)
Same Difference JAVA, LAVA
Missing Links a) guard’s/van/guard
b) commercial/success/story c) am/ply/wood
d) wind/mill/pond e) plough/share/index
f) party/line/dancing
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Fur brained
Why raccoons can teach cats
and dogs a thing or two
Discovery, pages 32-33
Cas Mudde
Populism is the Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year,
but it should be nativism. The former simply functions as
a fuzzy blanket to camouflage the nastiness of the latter
people tend to use the term with reference to “the
implied lack of critical thinking on the part of the
populace, and the implied cynicism on the part
of the leaders who exploit it”. In other words,
populism is a political ploy by cynical leaders
who mobilise the “ordinary people” by promising
them whatever they want.
While this might be the way that many of
the members of the embattled cultural and
political establishment use the term to disqualify
it and (implicitly) its supporters, this is elitist,
self-serving and unhelpful. It implies that
non-populist politicians are genuine; non-ordinary
people are politically sophisticated; and that
populism has no true substance, and therefore
no real critique of the political status quo. This
might be a convenient definition for those who
find themselves challenged by populists, but it
This year mainly stands
out for the way in which
nativism has been
whitewashed as populism
Ellie Foreman-Peck
he Cambridge Dictionary has
declared populism its 2017 word
of the year. In many ways, that
makes perfect sense. Since Brexit
and Trump, virtually every political
event has been couched in terms
of populism, from the Dutch
parliamentary elections to the French presidential
elections earlier this year. New media catchwords
such as “fake news” are linked to populism.
However, it has become the buzzword of
the year mostly because it is very often poorly
defined and wrongly used. Indeed, the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition perfectly illustrates
this. It describes populism as “political ideas and
activities that are intended to get the support of
ordinary people by giving them what they want”.
Oddly enough, this is almost identical to
the interpretation used by many populists
themselves. However, rather than populism,
it describes responsive politics, as exists in
idealistic models of democracy. The only part of
that description that has some overlap with more
common academic definitions of populism is the
reference to “ordinary people”.
In its blog, the dictionary further claims that
has little to do with what populism actually is.
While there is no consensual definition of populism within academia – like all important political
terms, it is contested – most scholars use the term
to denote a specific set of ideas that juxtapose “the
people” and “the elite” and side with the former.
In our new book, Populism: a Very Short
Introduction, Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser and
I define populism as an ideology that considers
society to be separated into two homogenous and
antagonistic groups, “the pure people” and “the
corrupt elite”, and argues that politics should be
an expression of the general will of the people.
While many colleagues debate whether populism
is truly an ideology, or more a political discourse
or style, their definitions are not much different.
However, the Cambridge Dictionary does not
only get the definition wrong – its application is
wrong, too. It argues: “What sets populism apart
… is that it represents a phenomenon both truly
local and truly global, as populations and their
leaders across the world wrestle with issues of
immigration and trade, resurgent nationalism
and economic discontent.”
If anything, 2017 was the year of nativism, or
more correctly, yet another year of nativism, as
we have had many of these years since the turn
of the century. Nativism is an ideology that holds
that states should be inhabited exclusively by
members of the native group (“the nation”), and
that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation-state.
This year mainly stands out for the way in
which nativism has been whitewashed as populism. This is not to say that populism is irrelevant to contemporary politics or to the populist
radical right. But within the core ideology of the
populist radical right, populism comes secondary
to nativism, and within contemporary European
and US politics, populism functions at best as a
fuzzy blanket to camouflage the nastier nativism.
Journalists should not let the radical right get
away with that. They should not allow the popularity of the term populism to mask the nativism
of the radical right. Because it’s only when we
know exactly what is threatening our liberal
democracies that can we effectively defend them.
Cas Mudde is the author of On Extremism and
Democracy in Europe and editor of The Populist
Radical Right: a Reader
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