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The Guardian Weekly – March 02, 2018

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Vol 198 No 13 £2.90 €5.50* Exclusions apply
A week in the life of the world | 2-8 March 2018
Syria’s week
of bloodshed
‘Hell on Earth’ in
eastern Ghouta
Leader of the
e
not-free world
rld
Xi to end China’
na’s
two-term limitit
Neanderthals
Ne
redraw
history
re
Cave
Ca reveals
the
th first artists
Can coral paradises be saved?
South-east Asian idylls
hope a tourism ban will
allow devastated reefs
time to recover. But
some fear it is too late
Hannah Ellis-Petersen
Thailand and the Philippines
Our Thai tour guide, Spicey, takes a
drag on her cigarette and gestures
sadly towards the beach. “The problem with people is that they are too
greedy. They see a beautiful place and
they want it. They take, take, take from
nature. And then they destroy it.”
The golden sands of Maya Bay are
some of the most famous in the world.
This once-idyllic cove, on the tiny
Thai island of Koh Phi Phi Leh, was
the paradise location of The Beach,
the 2000 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It was then pushed by tourism
officials in advertising campaigns to
entice wealthy visitors to Thailand.
But mass tourism has since
taken a vast toll on the fragile coral
reefs here: 80% of the coral around
the bay has been destroyed, the result of millions of boats dropping
anchor on it, tourists treading on
and picking it, or poisoning by rubbish
and suncream.
It is a sad tale replicated across
the bays and beaches of south-east
Asia. It was here that the world’s
greatest diversity of coral and marine
life used to occur, but now the reefs
are the most threatened on the planet,
with 80% of what remains at high risk.
Human pollution has combined with
overfishing and the tourist trade to
deliver environmental destruction.
Fragile … tour boats are a serious threat to the future of coral reefs Getty
“What we are seeing now with
coastal tourism in Boracay [in the
Philippines], Maya Bay and Koh Phi
Phi Leh is not new, but what is surprising is that this story is still very
real today,” said Dr Loke Ming Chou,
a tropical marine science professor at the University of Singapore.
The “frenetic, makeshift and ad-hoc
development driven only by profit”
was a curse for these pristine beaches.
“After so many lessons of overwhelmed beach locations,” he said,
“the rush to make money still ignores
the environment, which is what attracts tourists in the first place. This
is not sustainable and such places will
collapse when tourists stay away to
avoid swimming in their own muck.”
Last month it seemed governments were finally paying attention.
According to recent announcements,
both Maya Bay and Boracay could
be shut down for up to six months.
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has called for Boracay’s
temporary closure, comparing it to a
“cesspool”. “You go into the water, it’s
smelly,” said Duterte. “Of what? Shit …
it’s destroying the environment of the
Philippines and creating a disaster.”
In Thailand, where the ministry
of environment has banned smoking and littering in beach locations,
the mooted June-to-September shutdown of Maya Bay would be the most
far-reaching attempt yet to get a grip
on an industry that is both a moneymaker and an environmental menace.
In the high season, Maya Bay, just
200 metres long, receives up to 5,000
visitors a day. About 300 speedboat
trips are made here every day. Larger
boats sailing round the
islands also stop by
the cove. Although the
10→
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2 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
World roundup
Mueller investigation finds Europe link
Shock byelection blow for Orbán party
1
4
New charges filed
by special counsel
Robert Mueller’s
investigation detail the
existence of a group of
Europeans, known as
the “Hapsburg
Group” and led
by a “former
European
chancellor”, who
were allegedly
covertly paid by
Paul Manafort, pictured, Donald Trump’s
former campaign manager, for pro-Russian
lobbying. Justice department filings – which
were filed retroactively
– indicate that it was the
former Austrian chancellor, Alfred Gusenbauer,
who went to meet US
congressmen in 2013.
At the time
of the alleged
payments,
in 2012
and 2013,
Manafort was
working on
behalf of the then
Ukrainian president,
Viktor Yanukovych, and
his pro-Moscow Party
of Regions.
More US news,
pages 12-13
Hungary’s ruling
party suffered a
shock defeat in
a byelection, spelling
potential challenges
ahead for the prime
minister, Viktor Orbán,
ahead of the general
election on 8 April.
Last month Orbán,
who is seeking a third
term, branded the opposition as out of touch
and “hopeless”, but
last Sunday’s triumph
for Péter Márki-Zay in
Macron unveils tougher asylum law
the key constituency of
Hódmezővásárhely may
show a wider feeling
among voters against
Fidesz’s anti-migrants,
populist rhetoric.
Márki-Zay, who ran as
an independent but with
opposition backing, won
57.5% of the votes.
More Europe
news, pages 6-7
→
6
Tough proposals
to crack down
on immigration
and asylum in France
have been unveiled by
Emmanuel Macron’s
government. The bill,
which criminalises
illegal border crossing,
has sparked anger from
charities.
The plan, to be
debated in parliament
in April, will reduce the
consideration period
for an asylum application to a maximum of
six months. Polls have
consistently shown a
majority of French people believe there are too
many migrants in France.
→
Ecuador drug suspect extradited to US
6
5
1
2
A suspected drug
chief known as
the “Pablo Escobar of Ecuador” has
been extradited to the
US, Colombia’s chief
prosecutor’s office said.
Washington Edison
Prado claimed membership of the Farc guerrillas, a status that would
have made him eligible
for amnesty under a
Colombian peace deal,
but was unsuccessful.
US officials accuse
Prado, also known by the
alias Gerald, of shipping
more than 200 tonnes of
cocaine to the US.
More Americas
news, page 14
→
Russia and Argentina foil cocaine plot
3
A former Russian
diplomatic official
and an Argentinian police officer were
among those arrested
in connection with a
large cocaine seizure
at the Russian embassy
in Buenos Aires
that prompted
a year-long
investigation
into an international drug
ring, officials
have said.
The Argentinian
security minister, Patricia
Bullrich, said the 389
kilos of cocaine were hidden inside luggage seized
in December 2016.
The investigation
began after Victor Koronelli, the Russian ambassador to Argentina, and
three members of the
Russian federal security
service told Bullrich of
their suspicions about
the diplomatic
luggage found
at a school
annexe to the
embassy.
After
authorities
confirmed that
there were drugs
inside the 16 pieces of
luggage, they swapped
the cocaine for flour and
placed a GPS to track
the luggage.
US unions challenged at supreme court
5
A divided US
supreme court
sparred on Monday
over a case that could
undermine the financial
footing of labour
unions that represent
government workers.
The justices heard
arguments in a challenge
to an Illinois law
brought by Mark Janus
that allows unions
representing government employees to collect fees from workers
who choose not to join.
The court split fourfour the last time it
considered the issue,
in 2016. Justice Neil
Gorsuch joined the court
in April and has yet to
weigh in on union fees.
In the US, organised
labour is a big supporter of Democratic
candidates and interests.
Unions strongly opposed
Gorsuch’s nomination
by Donald Trump. The
unions say the outcome
could affect more than
5 million government
workers in 24 states and
the District of Columbia.
The unions argue
that so-called fair share
fees pay for collective
bargaining and other
work the union does on
behalf of all employees,
not just its members.
More than half the
states already have
right-to-work laws
banning mandatory
fees, but most members
of public-employee
unions are concentrated
in states that do not,
including California,
New York and Illinois.
Labour leaders fear
that not only would
workers who do not
belong to a union stop
paying fees, but that
some union members
might decide to stop
paying dues if they
could in essence get
the union’s representation for free.
9
2
3
Saudis to budget big on entertainment
7
Saudi Arabia
announced plans
to spend billions
on building venues and
flying in western acts, in
a radical overhaul of its
entertainment sector.
Known for its ultraconservative mores, the
kingdom has embarked
on a programme of
reform driven by the
crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
At a glitzy media con-
ference in Riyadh, the
General Entertainment
Authority chief, Ahmad
bin Aqeel al-Khatib, told
reporters the kingdom
was to invest $64bn in
its entertainment sector
over the coming decade.
“We are already building the infrastructure,”
Khatib said, adding that
ground had been broken
for an opera house.
More Middle East
news, pages 4-5
→
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 3
Eyewitnessed
The week’s events in pictures
→ Centre pages 24-25
Ramaphosa’s South African reshuffle
Rubbish dump collapse kills 17 in Maputo
South African
president Cyril
Ramaphosa, who
took office last month,
announced a sweeping
cabinet reshuffle that
included re-appointing
Nhlanhla Nene, who was
sacked by Jacob Zuma,
as finance minister.
Ramaphosa stamped
his mark on the presidency with his choice
of Nene, while David
Mabuza, the current
premier of Mpumalanga
Heavy rains
triggered the
partial collapse of a huge mound of
garbage in Mozambique’s
capital, burying and killing at least 17 people.
Authorities said more
bodies might be buried
at the Hulene rubbish
dump on the outskirts
of Maputo and a search
was under way on Monday. The garbage in the
8
province, was named
as deputy president, a
controversial choice due
to his reputation as a
tough hardliner.
Ramaphosa
announced a total of
30 changes after grafttainted Zuma was forced
to resign by the ruling
ANC party last month.
More Africa news,
page 7
→
10
poor, densely populated
area where the disaster
happened rose to the
height of a three-storey
building, according to
the Portuguese news
agency Lusa.
Lusa and Rádio
Moçambique both
reported 17 deaths. Half
a dozen homes were
destroyed and some
residents in the area
fled for fear of another
collapse.
4
Uproar over Jacinda Ardern interview
12
New Zealanders
have criticised
an interview
with their prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.
In the opening
segment of the Australian current affairs
show 60 Minutes, which
aired last Sunday, the
veteran reporter Charles
Wooley described the
37-year-old Ardern as
“attractive”.
The interview was
met with derision from
many New Zealanders on
social media, who were
appalled at Ardern having to endure the overly
personal line of questioning, and dismissed
Wooley as misogynistic
and inappropriate.
Other viewers said
the interview was
“repugnant”, “creepy”
and “painful”.
Malaysian PM makes a food blunder
13
7
11
13
8
14
10
12
Unicef deputy quits after text claims
9
Justin Forsyth
resigned as deputy
executive director of Unicef following
accusations of inappropriate behaviour towards
female staff while chief
executive of Save the
Children.
Forsyth,
pictured, said
he was not
resigning
because of the
mistakes he had
made while at the
charity, but because
of attempts to damage
aid organisations and the
humanitarian sector.
It emerged last
week that Forsyth was
accused of sending
inappropriate texts and
making comments to
female staff about their
appearance on separate
occasions in 2011 and
2015 while head of Save
the Children. After
the allegations
came to light,
Forsyth said
he had issued
an unreserved
apology to
the women
involved at the
time, and considered
the matter closed.
He announced that
he was tendering his
resignation to Unicef
with a heavy heart.
Bollywood pioneer mourned
11
Indian cinema
pioneer Sridevi
Kapoor died unexpectedly in Dubai last
weekend. She was 54.
Tributes poured in for
the versatile performer,
who was celebrated
for her ability to bring
nuance and depth to
her roles. She made her
debut as a child actor in
the Tamil film industry,
winning her first lead
role in Bollywood in
1979’s Solva Sawan.
More South Asia
news, page 10
→
Malaysian
prime minister
Najib Razak
sparked criticism after
saying he had stopped
eating rice in favour of
more expensive quinoa.
Najib, who faces a
general election within
months and is under a
cloud in a corruption
scandal, has been blamed
for a rising cost of living
since launching a goods
and services tax in 2015.
Hoping to win a third
term in the election
due by August, Najib
has denied wrongdoing
in connection with
the graft scandal
surrounding the 1Malaysia Development Berhad
state fund. The fund has
also denied wrongdoing.
Opponents labelled
the prime minister aloof
and out of touch with
ordinary people following a comment he made
while visiting a hospital.
“I don’t eat rice. I
eat quinoa,” Najib is
heard saying in a video
taken at a question-andanswer session.
Rice is a staple grain
in Malaysia. It was
subsidised by the government until 2015.
More Asia Pacific
news, pages 8-9
→
Mould ordeal for Nauru asylum seekers
14
Four years after
the Australian
government
was repeatedly warned
the mould growing
throughout Nauru’s
regional processing
centres was making
people sick, refugee
families, including young
children, are still being
forced to live under
rotting canvas.
At least 330 refugees
and asylum seekers,
including 36 children,
still live in mould-prone
tents on Nauru. Some
tents and work buildings
have previously been
found to be “highly
toxic”, with the level
of mould measured
at up to 76 times the
normal, safe level.
At least a dozen
former staff are
understood to have
developed conditions
from exposure to
mould and breathing
the contaminated air
in the buildings. The
conditions include toxic
mould syndrome, cognitive and neurological
symptoms, chronic pain
and chest infections.
4 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
International news Middle East
Moscow mired in Syria as
Putin’s ‘victory’ slips away
Fresh barrage in Ghouta
exposes Russian leader’s
gamble to protect Assad
Martin Chulov Observer
and Kareem Shaheen Istanbul
From the ruins of eastern Ghouta, Arif
Othman sees the current phase of Syria’s war as brutally simple. The longer
he holds out against Bashar al-Assad
and his allies, the worse it will get –
especially at the hands of the Russians.
“We were supposed to have surrendered by now,” he said at the end of
the most intensive week-long barrage
anywhere in Syria in the past three
years. “When we didn’t, the bombs
were bigger, the planes more regular,
and the injuries like nothing we’ve
seen. All sent from Moscow.”
The Russian-led air blitz has been
the sum of all fears for the besieged
population. Up to 400,000 people,
with nowhere to run, have been
pinned down by Vladimir Putin’s air
force as Syrian and Iranian-backed
ground troops edge closer to the
largest and most important opposition area anywhere south of Idlib.
Despite a nationwide 30-day
ceasefire ordered by the UN security
council last Saturday, Syrian regime
forces launched a fresh ground and
air offensive the next day against rebel
positions in the enclave. In the last
week more than 500 people have died,
among them more than 130 children.
Putin on Monday ordered five-hour
daily “humanitarian pauses” in eastern Ghouta, effectively replacing the
UN security council resolution. The
move by Moscow followed mounting
condemnation of the violence, with
the UN secretary general, António
Guterres, describing the situation in
Ghouta as “hell on Earth”.
The Russian defence ministry said
on Monday the measures, decided in
agreement with Syrian forces, were
Areas of control
Former opposition
areas evacuated or
surrendered to
regime
Oppositioncontrolled
enclave
Adra
Douma
Eastern
Ea
E
aste
ern
e
r Gho
ho
ho
out
ou
u
uta
ut
tta
a
Arbin Eas
Damascus
D
am
mas
m
ma
a
ascu
as
ascus
sc
scu
cu
cus
uss
Mezze
military
airbase
2 km
2 miles
Ein Tarma
City limits
Former
opposition areas
seized by regime
Isis control
Source: Institute for the Study of War. Map ©OpenStreetMap contributors
intended to help civilians leave and
to evacuate the sick and wounded.
However, the spokesman for Failaq
al-Rahman, one of the main rebel
groups in eastern Ghouta, called it a
“Russian crime”, accusing Moscow of
presenting people with the choice of
forced displacement or being killed in
bombardment and siege.
The UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said: “Five hours is better than no
hours, but we would like to see an end
to all hostilities extended by 30 days,
as stipulated by the security council.”
For Assad and Putin, Ghouta is the
key to controlling the capital and winning the war. But outside the Syrian
cauldron, both friends and foes are
starting to believe the two have miscalculated. Nearly 18 months into Russia’s intervention to prevent Assad’s
defeat at the hands of rebel groups , it
is increasingly unclear just how Moscow will recoup its investment in the
world’s most intractable conflict.
While it no longer appears Assad
is in danger of falling, what remains
of Syria looks nothing like the prewar country he used to rule. Central
authority in the once-rigid police state
has been subsumed several times over
– first by opposition groups, then by
regional players also increasingly invested in shaping postwar outcomes
in their own interests, which only
partly align with what Putin wants.
Protagonists on both sides are
drowning in a swamp they did not see
ahead. Putin, in particular, is learning that Syria in its present form is
ungovernable. His December claim
of “victory” at a Russian airbase near
Idlib has been followed by a dizzying
series of events which, on the contrary,
have drawn Russia further into the
war. The statement is looking every bit
as premature as George W Bush’s claim
of “mission accomplished” in 2003 at
the end of the war in Iraq.
From Ghouta north to the Turkish border, from Hama in the west
to the oil-rich Deir ez-Zor in eastern
Syria, where up to 200 advancing
Russian mercenaries were killed by a
US counterattack on 7 February, a new
regional order is being fought out.
“And we will be trampled like mice under the feet of buffaloes,” said Ayman
Thaer, a volunteer at an aid centre in
Ghouta. “May God damn them all.”
Just how to balance the increasingly potent interests on display in
Syria is bedevilling all who have tried.
“The only winner so far is Iran,”
said Bassam Barabandi, a former
Key questions about the battle for Ghouta
similarities: persistent and ferocious
bombardment with the aim of
forcing rebels into a deal.
Why is Bashar al-Assad’s regime
targeting eastern Ghouta?
Eastern Ghouta is the last rebel-held
enclave bordering Damascus. Forces
loyal to Assad have imposed a deadly
siege on the area since 2013, yet
several insurgent factions have kept
control. Last month Syria’s army
launched one of the most intense
bombardments of the war, saying
their assault was necessary to end
rebel mortar strikes on the capital.
Residents accuse Russia of also
bombing Ghouta.
Is this the beginning of the end of
the war?
Dislodging militants from Ghouta
will essentially give Assad control of
the capital and its surroundings, but
he has vowed to take back all Syrian
How bad is the situation on the
ground and is aid getting in?
In an attempt to convey the desperate misery, Unicef released a blank
statement last week. A footnote
said the agency has no words to
describe the “children’s suffering
and our outrage”. The UN secretary
general, António Guterres, said it
was “hell on Earth”. About 400,000
civilians, already starved from years
of blockade, are trapped. More than
500 people have been killed since
25 February. Humanitarian groups,
who say Syrian helicopters have
dropped barrel bombs on markets
and medical centres, were unable
to enter the enclave before last
weekend’s UN-ordered ceasefire.
How does Ghouta compare to
Aleppo?
Syria’s second city, Aleppo, fell into
government hands in December
2016 after four years of resistance.
Whole districts were pulverised by
Russian and Syrian air raids. The
battles for Aleppo and Ghouta share
Seven hospitals
in the region have
reportedly been
bombed recently
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 5
Fantasy islands
Dubai revives its grand tourist folly
→ Review, pages 26-29
Blow to Netanyahu as reports
say former aide will testify
Oliver Holmes Jerusalem
Syrian diplomat who defected from
the regime in mid-2013. “It achieves
what it wants without too much
noise. Iran enjoys Russian-American
conflict because it makes Russia more
dependent on Iran to survive.”
The clash between the US and
Russian mercenaries was kept quiet
by Moscow, which – in different
circumstances – would have complained bitterly if 200 of its citizens
had been killed by a rival power. For
Putin to admit the men were there
would have belied his claim of victory
and withdrawal from a war that no
longer needed him. Acknowledging
they were advancing on an oil refinery held by US Kurdish proxies would
have been an equally tough sell, when
Unrelenting … Smoke billows after
Syrian government bombardments
in eastern Ghouta Getty
territory. While there are insurgents
across the country, Ghouta is one of
the two main remaining pockets controlled by opposition fighters. The
other is the north-western province
of Idlib, the largest rebel stronghold.
little to alleviate suffering, and food
and medical supplies are low.
How bad is the situation for
residents?
Ghouta’s fate has been compared
to that of Srebrenica, the Bosnian
Muslim enclave whose residents
were massacred in 1995. It has
suffered years of besiegement and
multiple chemical attacks. Seven
hospitals have reportedly been
bombed. The first aid convoy for
many weeks arrived recently but did
securing Syria from the threat of terrorism and US hegemony remains the
official narrative. Russian officials have
complained to their counterparts in
Turkey that Iranian aims are increasingly at odds with their own. Russia
– which had high hopes of ensuring
Assad’s survival and securing its own
lead role in shaping order in the region
– is focusing on more short-term gains.
With little to bank, Russia will continue to find its veto at the UN security
council a potent tool. It has vetoed UN
resolutions against Assad 11 times.
Leader comment, page 22 →
Why isn’t the world doing anything
to stop the war?
Seven years in, the civil war has
dragged in multiple nations, turning a pro-democracy uprising into a
quagmire of conflicts. The UN security council has called for ceasefires,
but failed to halt the bloodshed.
Many of its members are focused
on their military aims. Washington
has accused Beijing and Moscow of
blocking progress through vetoes.
In turn, Russia says US support for
anti-Assad forces has destabilised
the region. Oliver Holmes
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin
Netanyahu, who is battling for his
political career in the face of various
corruption allegations, has suffered a
potentially devastating blow after a
former confidant reportedly agreed
to turn state witness.
A week after police recommended
the country’s second-longest-serving
prime minister be indicted for bribery,
Israeli press reported that Shlomo
Filber would testify against his former boss to avoid jail. Police did not
confirm whether Filber, a Netanyahu
appointment who headed the ministry of communications, would testify,
but all the main Israeli media reported
that a deal had been reached.
Filber was arrested last Tuesday
over allegations that he had promoted regulations worth hundreds
of millions of dollars to the telecoms
company Bezeq, in return for a news
website run by its principal shareholder providing favourable coverage of Netanyahu and his family. The
shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, is also in
custody, along with his wife and son.
Former reporters at the Walla! news
outlet have claimed they were put
under pressure to avoid negative reports on the prime minister. Elovitch
has denied the allegations. Filber’s
legal team has not commented.
Police also announced that they
had arrested Nir Hefetz, a former
Netanyahu spokesman, alleging that
he had tried to bribe a judge to drop a
fraud case against Netanyahu’s wife.
The prime minister has not yet
been named as a suspect in the case,
but he is expected to be questioned.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing
and claims a media-led witch-hunt
has sought to remove him from office.
Government critics hope Filber’s
testimony will open a fissure in
Netanyahu’s inner circle and force
him to step down early, despite pledging to remain in office until 2019.
Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of
the leftwing newspaper Haaretz,
wrote a piece headlined The Final
Days of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Rule.
Others have speculated about snap
elections, possibly as a last-ditch
attempt to stall legal proceedings.
Avi Gabbay, the head of the opposition
Labor party, said last Tuesday night:
“The Netanyahu age is over. We must
prepare for an election soon.”
Netanyahu’s delicately balanced
governing coalition has held together,
but his once sturdy political foothold
appeared shaken last week when
police declared they were recommending that the country’s attorney
general indict him for “bribery, fraud
and breach of trust” in two separate
Police have
recommended
that Benjamin
Netanyahu
be indicted
for bribery
and fraud
cases. Case 1000, known as the “gifts
affair”, involves claims that he and his
family received about $280,000 worth
of gifts from international billionaires.
In return, police said, Netanyahu had
helped Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood
producer and media magnate, with
US visa matters and Israeli tax breaks.
Case 2000 relates to secret talks
with the publisher of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, in which
Netanyahu allegedly requested positive coverage in exchange for damaging a competitor, the pro-Netanyahu
freesheet Israel Hayom. The Yedioth
Ahronoth columnist Nahum Barnea
wrote that Netanyahu’s days in office
were numbered.
US targets May for date of Jerusalem embassy opening
The US is expected to officially open
its Israeli embassy in Jerusalem
in May, US officials have said,
dramatically bringing forward
Donald Trump’s contentious plan
by at least a year.
US officials said the move was
brought forward to coincide with
the 70th anniversary of Israel
declaring independence. It was
not clear how Washington planned
to open a so-far unbuilt embassy
within three months.
The decision comes despite
overwhelming global opposition.
It is widely feared that moving
the embassy from Tel Aviv will
push back efforts to achieve peace
between Israelis and Palestinians.
Trump, speaking at the
Conservative Political Action
Conference in Washington, said
moving the embassy to Jerusalem
was “the right thing to do”.
Diplomats are believed to be
looking at several sites. The US
consulate in west Jerusalem,
which issues visas, could be swiftly
converted into an embassy.
OH Jerusalem
6 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
International news
Political fatigue rife as Italian poll looms
Berlusconi’s longevity is
emblematic of sense
that little ever changes
Angela Giuffrida Rome
Federico is one of the swath of Italians
aged 18 to 23 eligible to go to the polls
for the first time this Sunday to vote in
national elections.
Like many of his cohort, he is
unimpressed by politics, but far from
disengaged. “Of course, I will go to
the voting booth,” said the 21-yearold engineering student at Roma Tre
University. “But I will put a big cross
through the ballot paper. None of the
politicians are honest, all they do is
use propaganda.”
Marco, a fellow engineering student, is unsure whether to vote, but
has nonetheless taken note of the
candidates and finds them wanting.
Silvio Berlusconi has dominated
Italian politics since the early 1990s,
and came to power for the second time
four years after the two students were
born. Now, the 81-year-old billionaire’s
coalition of rightwing parties is leading
in the polls, as he attempts a comeback
after years of scandal. “Berlusconi, he
never goes away,” says Marco.
The men are equally disenchanted
by the youngest candidate in the running: Luigi Di Maio, the 31-year-old
leader of the Five Star Movement
(M5S), which has morphed into
Italy’s most popular party over the
past nine years – mostly thanks to 25
to 40-year-olds inspired by the party’s
vows to weed out corruption and bring
down the old elite.
“Look what’s happening to M5S
now,” said Federico. “They said they
Friend or foe … Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini Andrew Medichini/AP
Analysis: the bitter fight for control of Italy’s right wing
With polls showing they have
37% support of Italy’s electorate,
the centre-right coalition of Silvio
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and
Matteo Salvini’s Lega is within
sight of securing an absolute
majority in parliament. A Forza
Italia victory in this Sunday’s
election could give Berlusconi the
power to choose the next prime
minister of Italy. The 81-year-old
is barred from running for office
after a tax fraud conviction.
If Salvini emerges with an edge
over Berlusconi, who has suggested
he would name Antonio Tajani, the
president of the European parliament, as prime minister, it would
have vast implications for the thirdlargest economy in the eurozone.
Berlusconi is critical of Brussels
but ultimately supports the EU.
He is seen as a leader who would
essentially favour the status quo
on budget and pension rules and
the enactment of jobs legislation
signed by the current Democratic
administration. Salvini, on the
other hand, wants to scrap Italy’s
retirement age, change pension
and budget rules, and has called
for upending Italy’s migration
and asylum policies as part of his
“Italians first” campaign.
“Berlusconi is a one-man show
who has always worked through
compromise,” says Wolfango
Piccoli, from Teneo Intelligence.
“Salvini sells himself as a disrupter.”
Stephanie Kirchgaessner Rome
would give part of their salaries
towards helping small businesses,
but [in some cases] it’s not true. They
presented themselves as being different, but they’re the same as the rest.”
Valentina Prosperini, a 22-year-old
shop worker, said she would vote but
had not decided which party to back.
Surveys forecast that up to 40% of
voters under 25 could snub the vote.
But Prosperini said: “It’s important to
participate. The most important theme
for me is jobs. It’s difficult to find work,
and, when you do find it, you have to
try to keep hold of it.”
Analysts say the growing sense of
political apathy is not confined to the
young: overall, about 30% of voters
plan to abstain or are undecided.
“This is partly due to a loss of faith
in politicians,” said Antonio Noto, the
head of polling agency IPR. “A decade
ago, the level of faith in political parties
was around 10%, now it’s 7%. People
think that voting is useless.”
The main concern among voters is
financial wellbeing, as the country’s
recovery from a lengthy recession
gathers pace.
The outcome of the upcoming
elections will likely be determined
by the 10 million voters who, so far,
remain undecided. In the 2013 elections, support for M5S rose 5% in the
final few days of the campaign.
“There are those who will say: ‘I
don’t want Berlusconi,’ and those who
will say: ‘I don’t want [current prime
minister Matteo] Renzi either as he is
as a replica of Berlusconi,’ and so might
vote for M5S,” said Francesco Galietti,
founder of Policy Sonar, a Rome-based
consultancy. “And then are those who
will say they’ve all been a disappointment in one way or another, and so
won’t vote at all.”
Greek MPs back inquiry into leaders over bribery claim
Helena Smith Athens
The Greek parliament is to investigate
10 of the country’s top politicians over
accusations that they accepted bribes
from the Swiss pharmaceutical group
Novartis in return for patronage that
resulted in huge losses for Greece.
After a raucous 20-hour debate,
MPs voted last Thursday to form a parliamentary committee tasked solely
with investigating two former prime
ministers and eight other ministers in
connection with the allegations.
Yannis Stournaras, the governor of the Bank of Greece; Dimitris
Avramopoulos, Europe’s migration
commissioner; and the former prime
minister Antonis Samaras are among
those accused of giving Novartis
preferential market treatment.
“We will not cover up,” Samaras’s
successor, Alexis Tsipras, told parliament. “The Greek people must learn
who turned pain and illness into a
means of enrichment.”
Officials in Tsipras’ administration
have described the alleged bribery
scandal as the worst since the creation
of the modern Greek state almost 200
years ago. It has raised fears of political instability when many had hoped
the country was finally returning to
normality after years of tumult.
The 10 who have been implicated
vehemently rebutted the charges in
often angry and emotional speeches.
Stournaras, a former finance
minister who helped steer Greece
through some of its darkest days of
the debt crisis after the country’s
near- economic collapse, described
the allegations as “disgusting fabrications”. Panagiotis Pikrammenos,
who headed a one-month caretaker
administration at the height of the
crisis in 2012, came close to tears as
he described the allegations “as lies
and unacceptable slander”.
A cross-party committee of 21
MPs is expected to be established
imminently. It will have the power to
decide whether accusations of bribery,
breach of duty and moneylaundering
apply, under a strict statute of limitation, to the accused. Under Greek law,
parliament must investigate politicians for alleged infractions before
they can face judicial prosecution.
Few question that wrongdoing was
committed. A confidential report by
prosecutors originally tipped off by
US authorities alleged that bribes of
as much as €50m ($60m) were paid to
politicians between 2006 to 2015 to
promote Novartis’s products. More
than 4,500 doctors are accused of
malpractice as well.
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 7
International news
Move over, Homo sapiens Neanderthals were the first artists on Earth
More than 65,000 years ago, a
Neanderthal made strokes in red
ochre on the wall of a cave, and in
doing so became the first known
artist on Earth, scientists claim.
The discovery overturns the
belief that modern humans are
the only species to have expressed
themselves through works of art.
In caves separated by hundreds
of kilometres, Neanderthals daubed,
drew and spat paint on walls producing artworks, researchers say,
tens of thousands of years before
modern humans reached the sites.
The finding, called a “major
breakthrough in the field of human
evolution” by an expert not involved
in the research, makes the case for a
radical retelling of the human story,
in which the behaviour of modern
humans differs from the Neanderthals by the narrowest of margins.
Until now the evidence for Neanderthal art has been tenuous and
hotly contested, often because the
works were not old enough to rule
out modern humans as the artists.
But the latest findings, based on
new dates of symbols, hand stencils
and geometric shapes found on cave
walls across Spain, make the most
convincing case yet.
“I think we have the smoking
gun,” said Alistair Pike, professor
of archaeological sciences at the
University of Southampton. “When
we got the first date for the art, we
were dumbfounded.”
The Neanderthals were already at
home in Europe when modern humans left Africa and made their way
to the continent about 40,000 years
ago. The remnants of Neanderthals,
in the form of skeletons, tools and
adornments, reach back more than
120,000 years in the region.
In a study published in Science
last Thursday, an international
team led by researchers in the UK
and Germany dated calcite crusts
that had grown on top of ancient
artworks in three caves in Spain.
Measurements revealed that paintings on the walls predated the arrival of modern humans by at least
20,000 years. At La Pasiega cave
near Bilbao, a ladder-like painting has been dated to more than
64,800 years old. In Maltravieso
cave in western Spain, a hand shape
– thought to have been created by
spraying paint from the mouth – was
found to be at least 66,700 years old.
At Ardales cave near Málaga, stalagmites and stalactites appear to have
been painted red 65,500 years ago.
“We have no idea what any of it
means,” said Dirk Hoffmann at the
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. Paul
Pettit, professor of palaeolithic
archaeology at Durham University,
said: “The most important question
still remains … What were Neanderthals doing in the depths of dark and
dangerous caves if it wasn’t ritual,
and what does that imply?”
In a second paper, published in
Science Advances, Hoffman and
others show that dyed and decorated seashells in the Aviones sea
cave in southeast Spain were made
by Neanderthals 115,000 years ago,
pointing to a long artistic tradition.
If Neanderthals were the first
artists, what might they have
achieved had they not died out?
“If you’d given Neanderthals
another 40,000 years,” Pike said,
“they probably would have got to
the moon.” Ian Sample
Images: P Saura/PA; Breuil et al
Leader comment, page 22 →
Netherlands ‘becoming a narco-state’
Daniel Boffey Brussels
The Netherlands is starting to resemble a narco-state, with police unable
to combat the emergence of a parallel
criminal economy, a report from the
Dutch police association has warned.
Official figures suggest crime is on
a downward trend, but officers say
many victims have stopped reporting incidents while organised crime
syndicates have been given a free rein.
“Only one in nine criminal groups
can be tackled with the current people
and resources,” the report given to the
De Telegraaf newspaper says. “Detectives see that small criminals develop
into wealthy entrepreneurs who establish themselves in the hospitality
industry, housing market, middle
class, travel agencies.” The paper
from the Dutch police union, based
on interviews with 400 detectives,
adds: “The Netherlands fulfils many
characteristics of a narco-state. Detectives see a parallel economy emerge.”
Critics of the Dutch tolerance policy towards the sale of cannabis and
the legal status of prostitution claim
the Netherlands is a major hub for
trafficking drugs and people. Most of
the ecstasy taken in Europe and the
US comes from labs in the south of
the country. Half of the €5.7bn ($7bn)
a year of cocaine taken in Europe
comes through Rotterdam, according
to Europol. The Dutch police association wants an extra 2,000 officers to be
recruited. While there has been a 25%
drop in recorded crimes over the past
nine years, to below 1m, the paper says
3.5m crimes a year go unregistered.
The mayor of Amsterdam, its local
police force and the capital’s public
prosecutor also warned last month
of a growth in organised crime. Amsterdam’s police chief, Pieter-Jaap
Aalbersberg, said his force was spending 60% to 70% of its time attempting
to combat gang-related hit-jobs.
The minister for justice and security, Ferd Grapperhaus, said the report
must be taken seriously. “Therefore
we are investing extra money in the
coming years: an average of €267m
every year. We also have a fund for
combating organised crime (€100m).”
Schoolgirls
kidnapped
in Nigeria
Ruth Maclean and agencies
More than 100 girls remained unaccounted for early this week following
an attack on a school in north-eastern
Nigeria by suspected members of
Boko Haram, officials have said.
The disappearance may represent
one of the largest kidnappings since
the jihadi group abducted more than
270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in 2014. That case spawned the
social media campaign Bring Back Our
Girls. The information ministry said
110 students of the Government Science and Technical College in Dapchi,
Yobe state, were unaccounted for after
what is believed to be a faction of Boko
Haram invaded the school last week.
Heavily armed insurgents attacked
the village of Dapchi last Monday
evening in camouflaged trucks, according to witnesses, heading directly
for the school and shooting as they
went, scattering pupils and teachers.
It is unclear whether or not the military later staged a rescue mission.
Last Friday president Muhammadu
Buhari said Nigeria had suffered a
national disaster. He said more troops
and surveillance aircraft were being
sent “in the hope that all the missing
girls will be found”.
Several parents and a government
official told Reuters last Wednesday that the military had rescued 76
schoolgirls and recovered the bodies of two that were killed, leaving 13
missing. But the local government of
Yobe state released a statement saying
50 remained unaccounted for.
Last Thursday, however, Reuters
reported that the Yobe governor
had told residents of Dapchi that no
girls had been rescued. Meanwhile,
a parent from the school told AP
that a list had been compiled of 101
missing children.
Chiefs of the armed forces and
the police were on their way to the
state, according to the information
minister, Lai Mohammed. However,
Nigerians remember with bitterness
how long it took the administration
to acknowledge the attack on Chibok,
and then to act.
Despite often claiming victory
over Boko Haram, whose insurgency
has led to the death of tens of thousands, and making some inroads
against them, Buhari’s government
and armed forces have failed to wrest
back control of the north-east and,
unable to protect civilians in their
villages, have corralled them into
garrison towns.
8 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
International news
North Korea open to US talks
Pyongyang says Seoul
negotiations should be
undertaken in tandem
Tom Phillips Beijing
Benjamin Haas Pyeongchang
North Korea has said it is willing to
start direct talks with the US, with
the move coming as a high-level
delegation from Pyongyang, headed
by a controversial general, visited the
South for the Winter Olympics closing
ceremony.
Pyongyang also said the relationship between the two Koreas and
US-North Korean ties should advance in tandem, according to South
Korea’s presidential Blue House. The
announcement last Sunday came
after president Moon Jae-in met the
head of the North Korean delegation,
Kim Yong-chol, the vice-chair of the
Workers’ party’s central committee.
The eight-person North Korean
delegation included officials responsible for its nuclear programme and,
in a rare move, diplomats in charge of
US issues. The makeup of the group
suggest ed Pyongyang was looking
for a breakthrough in the diplomatic
impasse and economic sanctions
resulting from its nuclear and missile tests, and could signal a desire for
more substantial talks compared with
an earlier visit by Kim Jong-un’s sister
during the opening ceremony.
Kim was a highly controversial
figure to lead the delegation because
many in South Korea blame him for
the sinking of a naval ship that killed
46 sailors and for attacks on remote
islands in 2010. The 72-year-old previously headed the Reconnaissance
General Bureau and was tasked with
foreign espionage and cyber-attacks.
His trip coincided with a visit by
Ivanka Trump, sparking speculation
Close encounter … Ivanka Trump and Kim Yong-chol Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
that officials from the two sides could
have met while in South Korea. An
earlier meeting with the US vicepresident, Mike Pence, was cancelled
after he criticised Pyongyang’s dismal
human rights record.
Trump was seated close to Kim at
the closing ceremony, and the two
watched as athletes from North Korea waved their own flag – a rare sight
in South Korea. The two neighbours
marched together under a unified flag
during the opening event.
The Winter Olympics led to a dramatic rapprochement between the
two neighbours which remain in
a state of war. The two sides began
discussions for North Korea to participate in the Paralympic Winter Games,
which begin on 9 March.
Several prominent politicians
spoke out against the South Korean
president’s decision to allow Kim –
who has been blacklisted by Washington and Seoul – to lead the delegation.
Dozens of protesters travelled
to condemn Kim upon his arrival,
some holding signs calling him a war
criminal. Six opposition lawmakers
camped overnight on a road near
where Kim crossed the border, saying
Moon should cancel the visit.
A day before North Korean officials
arrived, Pyongyang said its nuclear
arsenal was aimed only at the US and
dismissed talk that it would attempt to
reunify the Korean peninsula by force,
according to the state news agency.
Washington announced new sanctions targeting more than 50 ships and
trading companies and Donald Trump
warned there would be a “phase two”
if the move did not produce results.
Sarah Sanders, the White House
press secretary, said : “There is a
brighter path available for North
Korea if it chooses denuclearisation.
We will see if Pyongyang’s message, that it is willing to hold talks,
represents the first steps along the
path to denuclearisation.”
Ten Winter Olympic highlights, page 46
Australia replaces deputy prime minister
Katharine Murphy Canberra
Michael McCormack became Australia’s deputy prime minister on
Monday, replacing Barnaby Joyce as
leader of the National party. Joyce
resigned last week after controversy
about his private life and the lodging
of a sexual harassment claim, which
he contests.
McCormack saw off a late challenge from the maverick George
Christensen to take the party leadership, vowing to unify the Nationals
Xi paves way
to stay on
beyond 2023
and stand up to their Liberal coalition
government partners when necessary.
McCormack said he was “a team
player” who would serve the interests of rural and regional Australia.
“We will all work closely together because that is what the National party
members do,” he said.
“I would like to thank each and
every single National party member
for the faith they have shown in me
and I want people to know that in
me we have a fighter. I will fight. I have
never shirked from a tough decision
and I will never be silent when I
ought to speak.”
Christensen had declared the Nationals should use Joyce’s departure
as a trigger to end the formal coalition
with the Liberals. He said he would
rather see a Liberal prime minister and
a full cabinet of Liberal ministers than
“compromise our values and the welfare of the good people we represent”.
McCormack met the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, on Monday
to discuss the allocation of portfolios
and the coalition agreement.
The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, considered the country’s most dominant
since Mao Zedong, looks to have further cemented his grip on power after
Beijing unveiled plans to scrap the
presidency’s two-term limit.
China’s official news agency, Xinhua, announced the dramatic news
last Sunday in a bland 36-word dispatch. It paves the way for Xi to remain
in power well into the next decade and
perhaps even beyond.
The report said the Communist
party’s 205-member central committee had proposed China’s constitution
be modified so that it no longer contained a section stipulating that the
president and vice-president should
“serve no more than two consecutive
[five-year] terms”.
Jude Blanchette, an expert in
Chinese politics from New York’s
Conference Board research group,
said: “It’s amazing. I just did not
think this was possible. I just thought
it was way too aggressive and bold [a
move] and unnecessarily so. It’s an
unequivocal signal that Xi Jinping has
designs to stay on past 2023.”
Bill Bishop, the publisher of the
Sinocism newsletter on Chinese
politics, said: “So long as Xi is alive
and the Communist party of China
is in power then Xi is going to be the
most powerful man in China.”
Steve Tsang, the director of the
Soas China Institute in London, said:
“It’s now official that he’s not going to
stand down … welcome to Xi Jinping’s
brave new era. The message [from Xi]
is: ‘I can do it, I will do it, don’t even
think about challenging it!’”
The growing supremacy of Xi,
64, who took power in late 2012,
was underlined in a second Xinhua
report that announced a body of political philosophy bearing his name,
Xi Jinping Thought, would also be
written into China’s constitution. The
philosophy was added to the Communist party’s charter last October,
a move experts said effectively
anointed Xi as China’s most powerful
leader since Mao, who ruled between
1949 and his death in 1976.
Blanchette said it was impossible to
see the central committee’s proposal
not being green-lit by China’s parliament, the national people’s congress,
when it convenes this month. “I think
it’s a pretty good bet to say that Xi Jinping is going to be the dominant force
in Chinese politics for at least the next
decade,” he said.
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 9
Lab masters
China’s great leap forward in science
→ Discovery, pages 32-33
International news
Fate of Hong Kong publisher snatched
from bullet train remains a mystery
Beijing diary
Tom Phillips
T
he 11.10am to Beijing
left on time, gliding
north out of Shanghai’s
rail terminal and darting through the suburban sprawl. On board
the bullet train sat an
unlikely trio, one of whom held the
key to a real-life political thriller so
frightening and tangled that it has left
all those trying to decipher it gripped
and unnerved. Only two would make
it to their final destination.
As the G126 hurtled towards the
Chinese capital on 20 January, the
latest chapter in a surreal two-year
saga was about to unfold.
The man who didn’t make it to
Beijing was Gui Minhai, a portly
Chinese-born Swedish publisher
known for his scandalous books
about the leaders of the world’s
second-largest economy. Just over
two years earlier, in October 2015,
Gui had vanished from his holiday
home in Thailand, one of five Hong
Kong booksellers snatched in still
unexplained circumstances during
what many suspect was an attempt
to silence or punish those who dared
defame members of the Communist
party’s top leaders.
The 53-year-old publisher – who
had only recently emerged from
Chinese custody – was travelling
with Sweden’s consul general in
Shanghai, Lisette Lindahl, and
another Swedish diplomat. At just
after 3pm, the train pulled into Jinan
West station in Shandong province,
about 400km shy of the capital.
The doors slid open and a cluster of
plainclothes agents pushed into the
carriage. As they lifted Gui from his
seat, an English-speaking female
officer announced a police operation
was under way. “They had no uniforms and no credentials,” said one
source with knowledge of the day’s
events. “They simply took him.”
Magnus Fiskesjö, who met the
bookseller in Beijing in the 1980s
and has been a friend ever since,
said he was stumped by the mystery.
“It’s a very scary movie,” the
Cornell University academic sighed.
“It’s astounding … I find myself
speculating quite wildly as to why
they would do this.”
China’s official explanation –
made public on 9 February after
Missing … police in front of posters for Gui Minhai, below, last seen alive on 9 February Anthony Wallace/Getty
the bookseller was paraded before
Beijing-friendly reporters at a
facility in eastern China – is that Gui
is suspected of leaking state secrets
to “overseas groups” and trying to
leave China as part of a Swedish
plot. “I fell for it,” the bookseller said
in a video that activists rejected as a
forced confession. (Supporters say
Gui was travelling to the Swedish
embassy for a medical examination
amid fears he was suffering from a
rare neurological disease.)
Few people believe that implausible narrative. Jerome Cohen, a New
York University expert in Chinese law
and human rights, said: “The thing
that is so surprising is the failure of
the Chinese government to put out a
coherent explanation that does not
subject them to ridicule. It seems the
People’s Republic of China doesn’t
mind how ridiculous it makes itself
look. It’s like a second-rate comedy
show – only the joke is on Gui.”
In the absence of hard facts,
dark hypotheses and conspiracy
theories have grown. Was Gui
snatched by rogue agents or had he
fallen victim to a botched handover
between security forces? Was he a
pawn in a game of geopolitical chess
that a newly assertive Beijing was
using to humiliate and intimidate
Sweden and the west?
More worrying still, had Gui
published or picked up some
information that had enraged one
of China’s top leaders and made
the bookseller the target of a
vicious campaign of retribution?
Or was he simply another victim
of an aggressive crackdown on
dissent that followed Xi Jinping’s
rise to power in 2012?
One thing seems certain, said
Fiskesjö: at some point after Gui’s
detention a high-level decision was
taken to silence him. Gui’s 23-yearold daughter, Angela, has another
theory: that the “state secrets” her
father supposedly possesses actually
relate to his own story, specifically
his illegal rendition and subsequent
mistreatment in Chinese custody.
During regular conversations on
Skype, which were permitted after
Gui was placed under surveillance in
a flat in October, she said her father
hinted at such abuse. “He wasn’t
able to speak very freely about it
… but it is quite clear to me that he
has been tortured.”
Cohen finds the theory convincing. “What secrets would this man
have, other than what he learned
through his own kidnapping and
his own mistreatment once he got
back to China?” he said.
In one of their last Skype chats,
Angela Gui recalls joking and
“talking shit” with her genial father,
as was their norm. But just over 24
hours after their last online encounter, on 19 January, Gui was gone.
When he reappeared before the cameras three weeks later Gui delivered
what some interpret as a farewell.
“My message to my family is that
I hope that [they] will live a good
life,” Gui said. “Don’t worry about
me. I will solve my own problems.”
10 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
International news
Fight to save the coral islands
← Continued from page 1 beauty of the
place is still evident, the atmosphere
resembles a busy industrial port more
than a paradise beach, with the roar
of engines and the smell of petrol. By
9am, as speedboats continually pull
up, the beach is packed. Three uniformed national park police blow their
whistles at the boats that park directly
on the beach, obstructing the view of
the bay. If tourists want to swim, there
is a small area where they are packed
in tightly, many in life jackets.
Paradise? US tourist Chad Roberts
thinks so. “It’s amazing, better even
than the pictures, I can’t believe how
blue the water is,” he said. But Spicey,
who was born in Phuket and has been
a tour guide for almost seven years,
said she hoped the Thai government
fulfilled its pledge to close Maya Bay,
even for a few months. “It needs just
a small break to heal.” The corals and
fish once visible when snorkelling
have all but disappeared, she said, yet
tourists still take bits of coral to feed
the fish, which is illegal as it stops the
fish cleaning the coral and it dies.
The local environmental authority has laws in place to protect Maya
Bay and the surrounding national
park, but the fines are so low – often
only 500baht ($16) – that the rules are
flouted. A year and a half ago a law forbade boats throwing down anchors,
possibly destroying 10 years’ worth
of coral growth in a single second.
But Kezia, a diver who has spent the
past year in Koh Phi Phi Don (the largest inhabited island on the Thai archipelago), said it still happens.
There is a reluctance by local authorities to prioritise the environment
over profit. Maya Bay is a massive
money-earner. Every visitor has to
pay 400baht simply to access the island, which can add up to a daily revenue of $70,000. According to another
Crowd pleaser … Maya Bay’s beach
tour guide, Yass, temporarily closing
Maya Bay is not enough. People must
be taught to look after it if it is not to
become a ruined paradise. “I see the
guys in the speedboats fix the oil and
change the engine on top of the reef
in the morning, and you can’t say anything to them,” he said.
Around 2,600km away, Boracay
has the same problems. More than
2 million tourists flock to this 8kmlong island every year. Unregulated
development has seen the rise of hotels, restaurants and food chains along
its famed White Beach. Inland is also
covered with hotels. Everywhere,
new construction projects are visible.
An endless flow of sewage is pumped
into the ocean, as well as detritus from
construction work.
Jojo Rodriguez works for Sangkalikasan Producers Cooperative, an
NGO that has been monitoring Boracay’s reef since 2012. He believes the
authorities “purposefully turned a
blind eye” on environmental issues
that could threaten the tourist trade.
Following a massive die-off of coral
in 2015, local authorities threatened
to declare Rodriguez persona non
grata after he linked the disaster to
the sewage pumped into the sea. He
said intimidation and threats have
since been used against campaigners
who tried to speak out about the environmental damage. “All these huge
profit makers don’t want anyone to get
in the way – everybody is afraid to lose
the tourism money,” he said, “and so
we’re slowly losing Boracay.”
Many living on the island said
while there were rules in place to
save the environment, bribes meant
these were rarely upheld. “If you have
money, you can do what you want,
build what you want here,” said Simone, owner of a kite-surfing shop.
On White Beach the horizon is filled
with boats, and a hum of boat engines
fills the air. Fertiliser from the island’s
vast golf course is also a major pollutant of the coral, as are the piles of rubbish that end up in the sea.
Michael Martillano, president of
the diving association on the island,
says the marine life of Boracay is nowhere near as rich as it used to be.
“You used to see a lot of sharks and
barracudas, all the big stuff. Now
you’ll see one, maybe two sharks if
you’re lucky, nothing like before.”
Is there still hope for the island?
“Boracay will never be the same
again,” said Rodriguez. “The president said close down Boracay, but it’s
not going to be solved in six months.
For the island to heal itself? Maybe 60
years if we are lucky.” Observer
Coral in crisis: why we need to act
What is coral?
Coral is made up of layers of skeletons of tiny animals called polyps.
Over years, these colonies form
banks known as reefs. Only the coral’s living surface is coloured – layers
of dead matter beneath are white.
Where are reefs found?
Coral reefs are located in tropical
oceans. The world’s largest is the
Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The
second largest is off the coast of
Belize, central America. Others are
found in Hawaii, the Red Sea, the
Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. Because they need sunlight to survive,
the reefs form in waters that are
usually no deeper than 45 metres.
Tourism also takes its toll. Boat anchors smash reefs and oil is spilled.
Hotels also pump sewage on to reefs.
Why are they important?
They protect coastlines from wave
action and tropical storms; provide
habitats for thousands of marine
species; and generate nutrients for
food chains. They are also an important source of tourism revenue.
How bad is the threat?
Roughly 75% of coral reefs face
danger. Threats include destructive
fishing, uncontrolled coastal development, tourism, pollution, climate
change and ocean acidification.
Why are the reefs dying?
Ocean temperatures are rising.
When the temperature gets too
warm, corals expel the algae that
provide them with nutrition and
then quickly die of starvation.
How many reefs will die out?
We have already lost about half of
all coral reefs. Scientists warn that,
even if we halted global warming today, more than 90% of the reefs will
die by 2050. Robin McKie Observer
Bali declares
war on its
waste heaps
Kate Lamb Jakarta
Overwhelmed by tides of waste and
decades of mass tourism, to some the
Indonesian island of Bali is a paradise
long lost. Last weekend, however,
thousands of people joined in an effort
to rid its coastline, rivers and jungles
of rubbish and restore its beauty.
The mass cleanup was the initiative
of One Island One Voice (OIOV), an
umbrella movement of organisations
and individuals wanting to reduce
waste and create a “greener, cleaner
Bali”. The movement includes groups
such as Bye Bye Plastic Bags, an NGO
founded by two Balinese teenage sisters, Melati and Isabel Wijsen, who
want Bali to ban plastic bags.
“This event is not only a cleanup
action, it is a chance to raise awareness and understanding about what
really happens in Bali,” said Rima
Agustina, one of the coordinators. She
said it was as much about changing
attitudes as cleaning beaches. “All it
takes is one or two hours of picking up
trash and for most people the mindset
is completely transformed.”
Bali’s beaches have been swamped
by mounds of rubbish for months,
much of it plastic washed in from
neighbouring Java during the annual
rainy season – or what Balinese call
rubbish season. The waste has become such an issue that tourists are
being scared away.
Indonesia is the second-largest
plastic polluter in the world after
China, with 200,000 tonnes of plastic flowing into its oceans via rivers
and streams each year. The initiative
echoes other movements around
the world trying to tackle the burial
of beauty under consumer garbage.
Volunteers in Mumbai, for example,
have been waging war on detritus on
the city beaches for several years.
The OIOV initiative aims to collect
tonnes of rubbish in every region in
Bali and take it to village-scale and
industrial sorting centres. Some will
be upcycled or turned into EcoBricks.
A small island ill-equipped to cope
with endless hotel developments
and its millions of tourists, Bali alone
produces about 5,000 cubic metres
of waste a day. With five legal rubbish
dumps on the island, only about 25%
of waste is collected via official channels. The rest is burned, or dumped
on roadsides, in rivers and the ocean.
The cleanup organisers say they do
not expect to turn Bali’s rubbish woes
around overnight. Cleanups are just a
way to raise awareness.
12 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
International news
Trump plan to arm teachers meets with
Unions have dismissed
presidential line while
students seek answers
Joanna Walters New York
US teachers’ leaders have strongly
rejected Donald Trump’s assertion
that the answer to mass shootings in
schools is to train and arm teachers
and expect them to confront and kill
gunmen carrying assault weapons.
The US president stuck to his
insistence last Friday that if an armed
teacher had confronted the gunman
who targeted a Florida high school on
14 February, the teacher “would have
shot the hell out of him before he even
knew what happened”.
The White House has said it will be
willing to spend government funds
on arming up to a million teachers,
to “harden our schools”, offering the
suggestion of bonuses to those staff.
In a crowd-pleasing address at the
Conservative Political Action Conference convention in Washington,
Trump also suggested that an armed
sheriff ’s deputy who failed to run into
the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high
school to take down the gunman may
have been a coward.
Trump said veterans moving into
teaching could carry concealed weapons, and ordinary teachers should
get trained. “You would have welltrained, adept, gun-adept people,
people who were marines for 20 years
and retired. I don’t want to have 100
guards with weapons all over the
school. You do it with concealed carry
and this would be a major deterrent,”
he said.
Teaching representatives were
horrified. “Teachers don’t want to be
armed, we want to teach. We don’t
want to be, and would never have the
expertise needed to be, sharp shooters. No amount of training can prepare
an armed teacher to go up against an
AR-15,” said Randi Weingarten, the
president of the American Federation
of Teachers, a leading union. “How
would arming teachers even work?
Would kindergarten teachers be
carrying guns in holsters? Is every
classroom going to have a gun closet?
Will it be locked? Anyone who pushes
arming teachers doesn’t understand
teachers and doesn’t understand our
schools … it may create the illusion of
safety but, in reality, it would make
our classrooms less safe.”
Many teenagers who survived the
shooting at Parkland on 14 February, in
which 17 people died, have called not
for their teachers to have guns but for
a ban on the kind of semi-automatic
rifles that the suspect, Nikolas Cruz,
was able to buy legally.
A group went to Florida’s capital,
Tallahassee, a week after the shooting to lobby state senate politicians,
although many said they were angry
at finding a lack of commitment to
new laws. They are also planning to
lead a national march in Washington
on 24 March to protest against the
proliferation of assault rifles in US
society and years of inaction over
mass shootings.
While the National Rifle Association and Trump were leading calls
Gun talk … President Trump
proposes his concealed carry plan;
below left: Isabella Pfeiffer, a high
school student, in the Florida
Senate Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA
to bring more weapons into schools,
it emerged last Thursday that surveillance footage at the high school
showed an armed sheriff’s deputy,
who was guarding the school, stayed
outside the building while the shooting was unfolding.
Trump said: “When it came time
to get in there and do something, he
didn’t have the courage. That’s a case
where somebody was outside, or
something happened. But he certainly
did a poor job. They’re trained, they
didn’t act properly or under pressure
or they were a coward.”
Trump received weak applause
when he suggested to the audience
that he would support moves to
strengthen background checks.
In a further sign Republicans are
only willing to make limited concessions on gun control, the pro-gun
Florida governor, Rick Scott, said he
would support restraining orders to
ban gun sales to anyone reported by a
relative or expert to have mental health
problems. He also wants to raise to 21
the Florida age limit for buying any
firearm, but he failed to signal support
for attempts to outlaw assault rifles or
high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Gary Younge, page 18 →
Doctors caught up in row over illness at US embassy
Ian Sample
When a mystery illness struck at the
US embassy in Cuba in late 2016, the
diplomatic fallout was rapid.
The US slashed the number of people at its Havana mission and expelled
15 Cuban diplomats after at least 24
people reported a mix of headaches,
dizziness, eyesight, hearing, sleep and
concentration problems.
Many of the affected diplomats
said their illness came on after they
heard strange noises in their homes or
hotel rooms. Some reported that the
sounds – which ranged from grinding
to cicada-like to the buffeting caused
by an open car window – appeared
to be directed at them, and that their
symptoms abated when they moved
to another room.
Now the dispute over the cause of
the episode has spread to the medical
world, where some doctors and scientists are furious with a situation they
believe is being spun for political gain.
A study published last month by
US doctors who examined 21 of the
diplomats has been criticised for starting from a position that the diplomats
had been exposed to some unknown
“energy source”. Sceptics insist this
remains conjecture at best, and is far
from proven.
The American
embassy in
Havana where 24
people reported
headaches and
dizziness after
hearing noises
While US officials have begun to
row back from claims of an acoustic
attack – a scenario an FBI investigation found no evidence for – the use
of some other kind of energy weapon
which happens to make a sound is still
under investigation.
The US government asked doctors
at the University of Pennsylvania to
run tests on 21 of the diplomats. The
results, published in the Journal of the
American Medical Association, describe a new syndrome that resembles
persistent concussion. While some
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 13
On the website
Latest US news, opinion and analysis
→ theguardian.com/us
outcry of horror
Native American hunter tests
rights along Canadian border
Leyland Cecco Toronto
Airlines among businesses that sever ties to gun lobby
The National Rifle Association has
criticised more than a dozen companies for choosing to sever partnerships after the shooting at a Florida
high school that left 17 people dead.
The lobby group called such moves
a “shameful display of political and
civic cowardice”.
Last Saturday, in similarly
worded statements, the airlines
Delta and United said they would
end discount programmes for
NRA members. The carriers joined
more than a dozen businesses,
including the car hire companies
Hertz, Budget and Avis, the hotel
chains Best Western and Wyndham
Hotels and the software groups
Symantec and Norton, that have
ended various loyalty and discount
schemes for NRA members.
In response, the NRA said the
companies had unfairly sought to
“punish” its the group’s 5 million
members over the massacre.
Oliver Milman
of those affected recovered swiftly,
others have had symptoms last for
months. The study concludes that the
diplomats appear to have “sustained
injury to widespread brain networks.”
Robert Bartholomew, an expert in
mass psychogenic illness (MPI) who
teaches at Botany Downs Secondary
College in Auckland, New Zealand,
said he was “floored by the study”
and claims that it reads like US government propaganda. In the article,
the doctors state that their objective
is to describe “neurological manifestations that followed exposure to an
unknown energy source” but Bartholomew points out that there is no
proof that any kind of energy source
affected the diplomats, or even that an
attack took place. “It’s like the authors
are trying to get us to believe an attack
has occurred,” he told the Guardian.
Mitchell Valdés-Sosa, director of
the Cuban Centre for Neurosciences,
who was part of a Cuban investigation
into the incidents, said other explanations have been dismissed too soon.
“When you look at the evidence, at
what’s being presented, it doesn’t support the idea of widespread damage to
brain networks.”
He believes that a few diplomats
had real medical problems, the causes
of which are unknown, which then
sparked fears over attacks when they
were linked to unusual noises.
When Rick Desautel shot the elk
perched high on a steep hillside, he
followed his typical routine: he retrieved the fallen animal, dressed it
and carried the meat to his hunting
camp in the forests of western Canada.
He then hiked to an area with cellphone reception and called the local
conservation officers. “It took them a
couple of days to find us,” he laughs.
He knew what was coming next: he
was 65km north of the border and the
officers would quickly work out that
he was a US citizen without permits
to hunt in the Canadian province of
British Columbia. As a conservation
officer, he knew the standard procedure: he would accept the tickets,
and as before, they would be dropped.
But this time was different: after that
hunting trip in 2010, the British Columbia government decided to bring
the charges to court.
The ensuing legal journey lasted
more than eight years, as Desautel
fought to prove his indigenous
heritage, and thus his right to hunt in
lands that were his ancestors’ territory
long before any border was drawn.
The case appeared to reach an end
in December, when the provincial
government lost its appeal at the British Columbia supreme court. But in
January, the government filed papers
to appeal again.
That fight, however, could have
unintended consequences: Desautel’s
case could set a precedent that would
grant tens of thousands of Native
Americans living in the US added
rights – in Canada.
The legal tussles comes as the
prime minister, Justin Trudeau,
promises to abandon the strategy of
forcing indigenous peoples to endure
costly court battles to win recognition
of rights.
Desautel identifies as Sinixt, an
indigenous people whose territory
once stretched from southern British
Columbia into Washington state. The
Canadian government declared the
Sinixt extinct in 1955. But in March
last year, the court affirmed his right
to continue hunting in Canada – and
restored the Sinixt’s legal status, in
an outcome he says made him feel
“elated and joyful”.
But the supreme court had gone
a step further: by determining that
Desautel did not need to be a resident of Canada to be granted hunting
rights, it transformed a case about
identity into one about the border.
“Judges tend to write decisions so
that the judgment is specific to the
case at hand. They try not to write
decisions which have a overarching
implications for the whole country,”
says Bruce Miller, an anthropologist
at the University of British Columbia, who provided documentation to
assist in proving the continued existence of the Sinixt.
Several indigenous groups contest
the border, some more forcefully than
others. The Six Nations of the Iroquois
Confederacy issues its own passports
and many of its members refuse to
recognise the frontier at all.
Experts believe the Desautel ruling
could apply to tens of thousands
of people living in the US who were
dispossessed of ancestral territory in
Canada when the border was drawn.
By recognising the hunting rights
of indigenous communities based in
the US, the province must reckon with
other rights that follow, says Gordon
Christie, a law professor at the University of British Columbia who focuses
on indigenous legal issues.
This could apply to consultation on
resource projects such as pipelines,
a contentious issue where indigenous communities hold significant
power at the bargaining table. Christie
National borders
cut through
indigenous
communities’
traditional
hunting grounds,
where elk roam
suspects the ruling could also apply to
valuable water rights.
Ironically, there is no chance of this
scenario unfolding in the other direction. In 2011, Stephen Stark, a Tsawwassen man in Canada, attempted to
fish waters his people traditionally
harvested – in the US.
Stark was apprehended 700 metres
over the border and learned, unlike
Desautel, that there is no comparable
provision in the US constitution that
could apply to indigenous peoples
in Canada who pursue fishing rights
south of the border.
In spite of his defence that he was
fishing traditional waters, Stark is
facing felony charges and could spend
up to five years in prison with a fine
of $10,000
Desautel believes he had to start the
process in order for future generations
to benefit. His fight is predicted to
continue for years and costs millions
of dollars. “My lawyer told me you’ll
be an old man when this thing wraps
up” says Desautel. “I’m starting to
believe him.”
14 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Debt load hampers rebuild of
Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands
On the mend … reparations provided small gains in construction jobs Dennis M Rivera Pichardo/Washington Post
Signs of recovery after
hurricane but concerns
persist over economies
Tim Craig
Washington Post
Hurricane-induced economic turmoil in Puerto Rico and the US
Virgin Islands is not likely to be as
severe or long-lasting as the financial
damage New Orleans suffered after
Hurricane Katrina, economists at the
Federal Reserve Bank (FRB) of New
York said last week.
With the economies of Puerto Rico
and the US Virgin Islands in tatters
even before the September storms,
William Dudley, president of the FRB,
said local recovery efforts have been
“severely hampered” by their governments’ inability to access additional
debt. But about five months after Hurricane Irma skirted the Virgin Islands
and Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Dudley said there are signs
the local labour market is stabilising.
“As repair and rebuilding efforts
get underway in both Puerto Rico and
the US Virgin Islands, jobs are being
created in sectors such as construction,” Dudley said.
Since September, Puerto Rico has
lost 4.2% of its jobs while employment
in the US Virgin Islands has dipped
9.4%, according to data presented by
Jason Bram, an FRB research economist. After Hurricane Katrina flooded
80% of New Orleans in 2005, that metropolitan area suffered a 29.7% reduction in the job market, Bram noted.
The losses in Puerto Rico and
the US Virgin Islands “are considerably steeper than after most major
hurricanes that have hit the United
States,” Dudley said. “However, they
are not as devastating as Katrina’s
impact on the New Orleans economy
more than a decade ago, which was
and remains unprecedented.”
FRB economists noted that in
Puerto Rico, overall post-storm job
loss remains just slightly higher than
the 3.3% job loss rate experienced in
New York after the 2008 financial crisis and recession. They caution that
Federal Reserve data does not take
into account the so-called “informal
economy,” which is believed to be
significant on both islands.
Despite continued job losses in the
hospitality industry, both Puerto Rico
and the US Virgin Islands already are
seeing small gains in construction jobs
compared with August, Bram noted.
Puerto Rico has regained 1,000 professional and business services jobs.
Another key recovery indicator
being closely tracked by FRB economists – night-time light usage – also is
showing signs of rebounding. Using
satellite imagery from the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bram estimates that Puerto Rico
had recouped 75% of its night-time
brightness by January, four months
after the storm. The brightness of the
US Virgin Islands night-time sky was
about 56%of pre-storm levels, he said.
The big unknown on both islands is whether the residents who
left after the hurricanes will return.
$73bn
Puerto Rico’s
debt. A long
recession also led
to a 15% drop in
GDP. The US Virgin Islands’ debt
is around $2bn
The population of both islands was
steadily falling in the years leading
up to the hurricanes. Citing Department of Transportation airport passenger data, Bram said Puerto Rico
experienced a net outflow of 220,000
people in the 12 months leading up to
November. That was about 160,000
more people than had been leaving
the island each year prior. In the US
Virgin Islands, which had a population
of about 103,000 before the storm, the
net annual outflow through November
totalled about 10% of the population.
If residents do not return in large
numbers, Dudley said the ability of
both islands to pay off debt and pay for
reconstruction could be constricted.
Puerto Rico, saddled with $73bn in
debt, declared a form of bankruptcy in
May. The fiscal crisis follows a decadelong recession, including a 15% drop in
the territory’s gross domestic product
since 2006. In 2016, President Barack
Obama and Congress approved the
Puerto Rican Oversight, Management
and Economic Stability Act, which included the creation of an independent
financial oversight board.
The US Virgin Islands has about $2bn
in debt. On 31 January, Moody’s Investor Service said the territory is likely to
default and that its employee pension
system will be insolvent by 2023.
Dudley said both islands will have
to face “painful” financial adjustments. But Dudley cited New York
City and Washington DC as examples
for how reforms and fiscal control
boards can help distressed localities
rebound relatively quickly.
“While Puerto Rico’s path to prosperity will not look exactly like that of
New York or other cities, history can
provide valuable lessons, as well as
hope for a better future,” Dudley said.
Finance in brief
Finance
• More than $1bn was wiped
off tech firm Snap Inc’s market
value last Thursday, in one of
the company’s worst trading
days since it went public last
year – and the rout was led by
a bored tweet from a member
of the Kardashian clan. Kylie
Jenner, one of the first wave
of celebrities whose fame
grew primarily on Snapchat
over other social media firms,
shared her disappointment
with the app on Twitter late
on Wednesday: “sooo does
anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me
... ugh this is so sad,” she said.
“[S]till love you tho snap ...
my first love”. Jenner’s tweet,
combined with growing fears
on the part of investors that
a long-awaited usabilityfocused redesign may not
solve Snapchat’s user growth
issues, sparked a plunge in
the company’s stock, which
fell 6% over the course of last
Thursday, clearing $1.3bn
from its market capitalisation.
• Charges related to Donald
Trump’s corporate tax
changes, the cost of exiting
Africa, the collapse of Carillion and legal battles pushed
Barclays bank nearly £2bn
($2.8bn) into the red last year.
Chief executive Jes Staley collected a pay package of £3.9m,
down from £4.2m. The group
reported an after-tax loss of
£1.9bn for 2017, against a net
profit of £1.6bn the previous
year, largely due to a one-off
US tax charge of £900m and a
£2.5bn loss on the sale of the
African business.
• Adani’s plan to build
Australia’s largest coalmine
suffered a setback as the company abandoned its deadline
for securing financing for the
first stage of the Carmichael
mine. In October, chief executive Jeyakumar Janakaraj had
set a March date for settling
the project’s financing.
Foreign exchanges
Sterling rates
Australia
Canada
Denmark
Euro
Hong Kong
Japan
New Zealand
Norway
Singapore
Sweden
Switzerland
USA
26 Feb
1.78
1.77
8.48
1.14
10.98
149.80
1.91
10.98
1.85
11.42
1.31
1.40
19 Feb
1.77
1.76
8.41
1.13
10.97
149.39
1.90
10.90
1.84
11.19
1.30
1.40
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 15
UK news
The drugs do work
Let’s be positive about antidepressants
→ Mark Rice-Oxley, page 22
Hygiene breaches found at
more than half of meat plants
Inspections showed violations of safety rules at many audited suppliers
Mega-producers driving out
the small local abattoirs
Andrew Wasley
The scale of food safety and hygiene
problems in meat plants around much
of the UK is revealed by new analysis
showing more than half of all audited
plants have had at least one “major”
breach in the last three years.
Inspection figures from the Food
Standards Agency (FSA) reveal there
were on average 16 major plant safety
infractions every week between 2014
and 2017, according to a data analysis
last week by the Guardian and Bureau
of Investigative Journalism.
Almost two thirds of audited meat
cutting factories (540 out of 890) in
England, Wales and Northern Ireland
had at least one instance of major
noncompliance with hygiene or food
safety regulations. Several plants had
multiple failures, with 25 breaches
at plants belonging to Russell Hume,
the meat supplier at the centre of recent concerns about UK food hygiene.
Scotland has a separate regulator.
A major noncompliance is, by the
FSA’s definition, “likely to compromise public health, including food
safety … or may lead to the production
and handling of unsafe or unsuitable
food if no remedial action is taken”.
Among the overall number of failings identified by FSA auditors in
the period analysed, there were 221
major non compliances relating to
maintaining legal temperature controls, and in excess of 300 relating to
minimising the risk of cross-contamination. More than 50 major breaches
were found relating to ensuring animal byproducts are correctly identified, and 26 connected to traceability.
Breaches at the Russell Hume meat
plants related to multiple aspects of
production, including maintaining
legal temperature controls, preventing cross-contamination, ensuring
environmental hygiene and management of food safety systems.
The findings “raise serious questions as to how robust the FSA’s system for monitoring food hygiene really is”, said Kerry McCarthy MP, a
former shadow secretary of state for
environment, food and rural affairs.
“Failure on this scale can’t be attributed to just a few rogue businesses
falling through the cracks. Consumers need to have confidence in the
system and need to know that action
Safety menu … concern is growing over food hygiene inspection Getty
is being taken against companies with
incidents of major noncompliance.”
“These figures are truly shocking,” Kath Dalmeny, CEO of campaign
group Sustain, said. “I find it so dismaying that over the last decade our
government has slashed the budgets
for the bodies who police our food system – our local authority meat hygiene
services, independent public analyst
laboratories and trading standards
inspectors.”
Ron Spellman, deputy secretary
general of the European Association
of Food and Meat Inspectors, said:
“What I also find worrying is the attitude of the company I’ve read today, in which they blame the FSA’s
handling of the issue for the collapse
of the company. There seems to be no
willingness to accept responsibility.”
Prof Hugh Pennington, an expert
in bacteriology, said: “Widespread
breaches [are] obviously a bad thing,
but their detection shows that the regulatory system seems to be working.”
An FSA spokesperson said: “We
carry out thousands of audits and
unannounced inspections of meat
plants each year to verify that food
hygiene standards are being met. Issues that may pose imminent or serious risk to public health will result in
immediate and robust enforcement
action being taken. Only 2% of plants
were found to have more than two
major noncompliances.”
In a statement, the former directors
of Russell Hume Ltd said: “Between
2014-2017 the FSA carried out a
number of routine inspections and
audits of Russell Hume’s six branches
… inevitably there were a small
number of recommendations over
this period that required action. But
these averaged around one a year per
branch, and taken together and in
the context of industry practice as a
whole, the audit results were positive
for Russell Hume. The company
has never been prosecuted for food
safety or hygiene offences, and saw no
FSA enforcement action taken against
it over this period.”
Locally sourced meat, one of the
cornerstones of sustainable eating,
may soon be out of reach for British consumers as large numbers of
small suppliers are forced to close.
Seeking out locally grown
foods is seen as part of healthier
eating that reduces environmental
impact, allows traceability and
improves farm welfare. But a new
study has found that small abattoirs are struggling to survive,
leaving more of the country’s meat
supply in the hands of a small
number of mega-producers.
More than a third of small
abattoirs have closed in the
past decade, leaving only 63 in
England, down from 96 in 2007.
In 1970 there were about 1,900
abattoirs in the UK. The reasons,
according to the Sustainable Food
Trust, are high costs and squeezed
profit margins. Transporting small
numbers of farm animals to be
slaughtered, and then back to
the farm of origin for traceability
purposes, is more expensive than
sending them to a larger abattoir.
The regulations governing
smaller abattoirs are also onerous,
because they were designed with
large facilities in mind. Many
struggle with the paperwork. Bigger abattoirs are also often built or
expanded with the aid of government grants or tax breaks, which
smaller ones miss out on. This
expansion can also create overcapacity, contributing to driving the
smaller concerns out of business.
In its report, the trust calls on
the government to put support
mechanisms in place to preserve
and build on what remains of the
local abattoir sector. One of the
measures suggested is allowing
mobile abattoirs, removing the
need for animals to be transported
to and fro, and small static
abattoirs sited on farms. The
authors also call for a taskforce to
be set up to examine the problem.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
did not respond to a request for
comment. Fiona Harvey
16 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
UK news
Corbyn backs customs union with EU
Labour leader’s move
puts party on collision
course with Tories
Anushka Asthana
Heather Stewart
Conservative MPs have sought legal
advice about the prospect of Theresa
May losing a parliamentary vote on
a post-Brexit customs union as Jeremy Corbyn made clear that Labour
now supported that position, the
Guardian understands.
The opposition leader attempted
to outflank the Tories by promising
to place such an arrangement firmly
on the table, in a speech on Monday
that won the cautious backing of
industry representatives.
Corbyn’s suggestion that Labour
would pursue “a new, comprehensive
UK-EU customs union” after Brexit was
praised by the Confederation of British
Industry (CBI) and Institute of Directors (IoD), as well as the former Conservative chancellor George Osborne.
The move places May on a collision course with a number of her own
remain-supporting backbenchers,
whose amendment to the trade bill
calling for the government to pursue
a customs union will now have the
backing of the entire Labour party.
The government has already
moved to delay the vote until after
the local elections in May because of
fears that it cannot be won. Now, in a
sign of further concern about the impact of a defeat, senior pro-Brexit Tory
MPs have sought advice on whether
the amendment is legally binding to
assess whether May could accept it
without having to fulfil its demands.
Fleshing out Labour’s Brexit policy
in a speech designed to put clear blue
water between the party and May’s
Conservatives, Corbyn also said:
Selfie conscious … Jeremy Corbyn is mobbed by admirers after a speech PA
Rightwing press attacks ‘boost Momentum support’
Attacks on Jeremy Corbyn by
the rightwing press are leading
to large spikes in his support
base immediately after negative
newspaper articles, according to
data seen by the Guardian.
Figures from Momentum came
days after Labour went on the
offensive over reports in the Daily
Mail, the Sun and other newspapers
that Corbyn met a Czechoslovakian
spy in the 1980s.
Breaking from the tradition of
his predecessors, who courted the
tabloids, Corbyn blamed significant
parts of the national press “owned
by billionaire tax exiles” for “a succession of false and absurd stories”.
Buoyed by its gains in the general
election, Corbyn’s Labour has
maintained it can use social media
to bypass the mainstream press and
any personal attacks.
Momentum, the Corbynsupporting group, said its numbers
not only supported this assertion,
but indicated that high-profile
press attacks had become a “seal
of approval”.
With 37,000 members and
additions of more than 1,500
newcomers a month, Momentum
insiders said the group’s
membership was estimated to
exceed that of the Conservative
party in less than two years. It is
already larger than Ukip and is
set to overtake the Green party’s
membership this year.
Ben Bradley, a vice-chairman of
the Conservative party, was forced
to apologise to Corbyn last week
and will make a “substantial” donation to charity for a tweet he made
about the Labour leader’s links to
cold war spies. Nadia Khomami
• Labour supported a “new and
strong relationship with the single
market” but would seek “protections,
clarification or exemptions” in relation to party policy on nationalisation
and state aid.
• Free movement would end after
Brexit “as a statement of fact”, but
the Labour party would put jobs
and the economy ahead of “bogus
immigration targets”.
• May’s government had kept voters
in the dark over what it was seeking from Brexit: “Anything agreed at
breakfast is being briefed against by
lunch and abandoned by teatime.”
Labour’s customs union policy
would prevent Britain from signing
independent trade deals, but Corbyn
insisted the UK should still be involved in EU-wide negotiations.
“A new customs arrangement
would depend on Britain being able
to negotiate agreement of new trade
deals in our national interest,” he told
an audience in Coventry.
Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI director
general, said Corbyn’s commitment to
a customs union would “put jobs and
living standards first by remaining in
a close economic relationship with
the EU”, although she questioned the
“rhetoric on renationalisation”.
Stephen Martin, the director general of the IoD, which is calling for a
partial customs union, said Labour
had “widened the debate” and
manufacturers would be particularly
pleased. However, Martin said there
were no easy solutions and it was
hard to see the EU extending its trade
agreements to a sizeable non-member
state without revising treaties.
Senior Tories, including Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, accused Labour of
betraying millions of leave voters. But
Corbyn said: “Our message has been
consistent since the vote to leave 20
months ago. We respect the result
of the referendum.”
Labour’s turn leaves May between a rock and a hard place
Analysis
Toby Helm
After months of what has become
known in Labour circles as “constructive ambiguity” – deliberately
blurred positions designed to
keep both remainers and leavers
onside – Jeremy Corbyn on Monday
confirmed that Labour wants
to keep the UK in some form of
customs union after the post-Brexit
transition period ends in 2021. The
move – urged upon Corbyn by a
majority of his shadow cabinet and
an increasingly rebellious group
of backbenchers – caused political
tremors across Westminster.
Last week attention was focused
on Conservative divisions on Brexit,
as Theresa May summoned 11
cabinet ministers for an awayday.
Hardliners Boris Johnson and
Michael Gove were supposed to
agree with soft Brexiters like Philip
Hammond and Amber Rudd what the
UK’s post-Brexit relationship with
the EU should look like. It was always
going to be an impossible task.
May, lacking a majority in parliament, is trapped between rival Tory
factions who will not allow her to
move one way or the other without
calling her leadership into question.
Since the bitter rows over the Maastricht treaty in the early 1990s, it has
been the Eurosceptic Tory right that
has caused most problems for Conservative prime ministers over the
UK’s relationship with Europe. But as
Labour shifts and large numbers of
anti–hard Brexit MPs show they are
prepared to abandon tribalism, new
alliances are forming in parliament.
If enough soft Brexit Tories are
prepared to join Labour, SNP and
other colleagues, the Tory left could
become the decisive force in this
backbenchers’ parliament, tipping
the scales in the crucial votes to
come. If it does, expect a very
different Brexit to the one desired
by the likes of Boris Johnson and
Jacob Rees-Mogg. Observer
Rafael Behr, page 21 →
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 17
Get a grip Technology adversely affects handwriting skills
Children are increasingly finding
it hard to hold pens and pencils
because of an excessive use of
technology, senior paediatric
doctors have warned.
An overuse of touchscreen
phones and tablets is preventing
children’s finger muscles from developing sufficiently to enable them to
hold a pencil correctly, they say.
“Children are not coming into
school with the hand strength
and dexterity they had 10 years
ago,” said Sally Payne, the head
paediatric occupational therapist
at the Heart of England foundation
NHS Trust. “Children coming into
school are being given a pencil but
are increasingly not able to hold
it because they don’t have the
fundamental movement skills.
“To be able to grip a pencil and
move it, you need strong control
of the fine muscles in your fingers.
Children need lots of opportunity to
develop those skills.”
Payne said the nature of play had
changed. “It’s easier to give a child
an iPad than encouraging them to
do muscle-building play such as
building blocks, cutting and sticking,
or pulling toys and ropes. Because
of this, they’re not developing the
underlying foundation skills they
need to grip and hold a pencil.”
Six-year-old Patrick has been
having weekly sessions with an
occupational therapist for six months
to help him develop the necessary
strength in his index finger to hold a
pencil in the correct, tripod grip.
His mother, Laura, blames
herself: “In retrospect, I see that
I gave Patrick technology to play
with, to the virtual exclusion of the
more traditional toys. When he got
to school, they contacted me with
their concerns: he was gripping his
pencil like cavemen held sticks. He
just couldn’t hold it in any other
way and so couldn’t learn to write
because he couldn’t move the pencil
with any accuracy.”
Mellissa Prunty, a paediatric
occupational therapist who
specialises in handwriting difficulties, is concerned that increasing
numbers of children may be developing handwriting late because of an
overuse of technology.
“One problem is that handwriting is very individual in how it
develops in each child,” said Prunty,
the vice-chair of the National
Handwriting Association.
“Without research, the risk is that
we make too many assumptions
about why a child isn’t able to write
at the expected age and don’t intervene when there is a technologyrelated cause,” she said. Amelia Hill
Photograph: Getty/EyeEm
University lecturers strike over pensions
Sally Weale
Alexandra Topping
University bosses were last week under pressure from the government to
return to talks in an effort to end strike
action that has brought widespread
disruption to campuses.
As tens of thousands of lecturers
and other staff walked out across the
UK last Thursday in protest against
changes to their pensions, the government intervened to try to bring the two
sides back to the negotiating table.
In London’s Tavistock Square, a
group of demonstrators occupied the
headquarters of Universities UK (UUK),
which represents employers and wants
to end defined-benefit pensions.
The industrial action is the biggest
ever seen at UK universities. The strike
is scheduled to last 14 days, spread over
a month at 65 universities. If a solution
is not found, staff are threatening to
extend the dispute to disrupt final-year
exams and graduation ceremonies.
Increasingly frustrated by the
impasse in the long-running dispute,
Sam Gyimah, the universities minister, urged both sides to return to negotiations to avoid further disruption for
students, who had thousands of their
lectures and tutorials cancelled.
“I am deeply concerned about the
impact this strike will have on students, who deserve to receive the
65
The number
of universities
where lecturers
are taking
industrial action
over changes in
their pensions
education that they are paying for.
For many, this is a vital time in their
studies,” he said.
The minister had spoken to UUK
and the University and College Union
(UCU), which represents striking staff.
The strike comes amid heated
debate within the sector about the
high cost and ultimate value of some
university degrees. The prime minister announced a review of higher education last week amid concerns that
students are graduating with debts
of more than £50,000 ($70,000) at
the same time as vice-chancellors are
receiving substantial pay rises.
A small number of vice-chancellors
broke ranks with UUK to come out in
support of their staff. A YouGov poll
on the eve of the strike suggested that
a majority of students (61%) support
the industrial action.
News in brief
UK news
• The UK’s biggest investigation into child sexual exploitation needs 100 more officers
to tackle the unprecedented
scale of abuse in Rotherham,
the head of the operation
has said. The National Crime
Agency, which is investigating past grooming offences
in the town, has identified
more than 1,500 potential
victims and 110 suspects, and
officers expect those figures
to rise. Paul Williamson, the
senior investigating officer
on Operation Stovewood,
said his team of officers had
been able to contact only 17%
of the 1,510 possible victims
due to a shortage of specially
trained detectives.
• The UK’s big energy companies have been accused of
dirty tricks after analysis revealed that they are routinely
charging customers almost
exactly the same amount after switching them off controversial default tariffs. In the
face of Theresa May’s plans to
impose a price cap on standard variable tariffs (SVTs),
which more than half of energy customers are on despite
their steep prices, companies
such as British Gas, E.ON and
SSE have pledged to phase
out such tariffs and shift billpayers on to better value fixed
deals. But data compiled for
the Guardian shows that, in
the case of market leader British Gas, the most expensive
fixed deal – which many customers are being moved on
to – is identical to its SVT, at
£1,099.84 ($1,533.83).
• Britain’s economy grew at a
slower rate than first thought
in the final three months of
2017, leaving the UK lagging
further behind other major
economies as it prepares to
leave the EU. The Office for
National Statistics revised
down its estimate for UK
growth in the fourth quarter
to 0.4%, following an earlier
estimate of 0.5% and missing
economists’ forecasts that the
rate would be unchanged.
• Toys R Us was expected to
tumble into administration
this week after last-ditch
talks to find a buyer faltered.
The move will put 3,200
jobs at risk and follows
the recent decision by its
bankrupt American parent
to try to sell the loss-making
UK business as well its other
European stores.
18 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Comment&Debate
Youth need
their elders
to change
gun laws
Gary Younge
Children, who have not
learned hopelessness,
can speak against the
status quo, but it is up to
adults to realise change
I
n May 1963, a white police officer in Birmingham,
Alabama, tried to scare some black children as
they went to protest against segregation. As fellow
policemen turned hoses and dogs on black youngsters nearby, the kids made it plain they knew what
they were doing and continued marching towards
the demonstrations. A reporter asked one her age.
“Six,” she said, as she climbed into the paddy wagon.
Events in Birmingham proved a turning point in
the civil rights era. Before protests started, only 4% of
Americans regarded the struggle for racial equality as
the country’s most pressing issue; after Birmingham, it
was more than half.
And young people were crucial to its success. That
was no accident. Adults had too much to lose, and the
campaign was faltering, so Martin Luther King’s organisation trained young people to carry the mantle.
Soon they were filling the city’s prisons. “There were 12
people in [my] jail cell,” Dennis Mallory, who was a teenager at the time, told me. “And 11 were from my school.”
The political courage and leadership of the young
people in Florida who took on the gun lobby last week
stands in the storied, inspiring tradition of youth
activism in America and beyond. Whether it was Paris,
Mexico or Brazil in 1968, Soweto in 1976, the intifada
of the late 80s, Seattle in the 90s, the Prague spring of
1968 or the Arab spring of 2011, the young have often led
resistance against injustice or for progressive change –
and sometimes both.
In Florida, the familiar cycle of carnage, thoughts,
prayers, rage and stasis has been broken by an
impassioned and uncompromising demand for gun
control triggered by the students of Marjory Stoneman
Douglas high school, where 17 people were shot dead
last week. There have been die-ins outside the White
House and school walkouts around the country: they
have grilled (and, frankly, toasted) their Republican
senator and a spokeswoman for the National Rifle
Association (NRA), and lobbied the state legislature.
When liberals see young people challenging authority
in this way, they can start to wax romantic. Youth can
be fetishised as though it holds intrinsically radical
properties. It doesn’t. It is not an abstract identity.
Youth interacts with class, race, gender, nationality,
region and a range of other factors in different ways at
different times. During the 1926 general strike in Britain,
students were used as scab labour. Young people, aged
18 to 24, voted for Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and 1983,
They are more likely
to be the spark
than the flame.
The systemic threat
from youth is one
of contagion
Robert G Fresson
and Ronald Reagan in 1984. The under-35s in India went
for the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi. Young white
people backed Donald Trump.
And while the young can at times make an impact on
the streets, they are among the least likely to vote – if
indeed they are even eligible to vote – and cannot withdraw their labour to any devastating effect. There is a
limit to what they can achieve alone. In the days after
the shooting, Emma González, 17, who was at the school
when the shooting happened, emerged as an impressive, articulate champion for gun control, saying: “We
are going to be the last mass shooting.” There have been
four since their school attack, and at the rate things are
going this year the United States was due another school
shooting before the end of February.
But, at a moment like this, far more problematic
than overstating the effect of young people’s protest is
underestimating it. If there is one unifying element in
the nature of youth and student protest over the past 50
years, it has been the likelihood of it finding its greatest
potency precisely when established political structures
have shown themselves to be obsolete – structures
young people feel neither beholden to nor indebted to.
There are few better illustrations of this than guns
in the US. A consistent majority favours stricter gun
laws, and support for background checks is almost
unanimous. Yet thanks to a combination of big money,
gerrymandering and political spinelessness, each mass
shooting is received in a mood of learned hopelessness.
Citing Sandy Hook, people understandably insist that,
if nothing changed when the kids were younger and the
president cried, then nothing ever will.
When reporting for my book about all the children
and teens shot dead in one random day in America,
I asked each family an open-ended question: what
did they think had made the tragedy possible? Not
one mentioned guns. When I asked the more leading
question, of what they thought about guns, most had an
opinion: they were too easily accessible. After a while,
I concluded that they looked on gun deaths as being a bit
like traffic fatalities. If your child was run over by a car,
you might call for a traffic light, speed bump or lower
speed limit – and no one would claim that was unconstitutional. But you wouldn’t call for an end to traffic. Who
could imagine a world without traffic? To these parents,
that would be as bizarre as a world without guns.
But González was 12 when Sandy Hook happened.
She and her fellow students have not learned to be
hopeless. Nobody can tell them to lobby through
the proper channels, because there are no working
channels. So they have gone for the source. The tone
of urgency, rage, hope and mocking disbelief in their
resistance is one of the things that has been missing
from this debate. America’s rate of gun death – seven
children and teens a day, as well as about 80 adults – is
an obscenity the nation has become accustomed to.
It is not just the fact of their opposition but the tone
that is thrilling. “Calling BS” on the political class and
the NRA, facing down senators and lobbyists, they
have acted independently of both political parties and
a mostly white, middle-aged, suburban-led gun control
movement that has little connection with the communities most acutely affected by gun violence.
This is fantastic, but on its own it doesn’t go far
enough. History has shown that young people have
the ability to expose a crisis and challenge it, but rarely
defeat or solve it unilaterally. They are more likely to be
the spark for the broader struggles than the flame itself.
The systemic threat from youth is one of contagion –
that their energy and commitment will infect others.
Of the victory against segregation in Birmingham,
the historian Taylor Branch wrote: “Never before was a
country transformed, arguably redeemed, by the active
moral witness of schoolchildren.” That may have been
the first time. Let’s hope it is not the last.
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 19
Comment&Debate
Europe requires Germany to take a gamble
Timothy Garton Ash
The far right resurgence shows how
urgently the continent’s centre politics
needs fresh impetus, but a new
German grand coalition won’t help
S
unday 4 March will be a turning point for
Europe. On the same day as an important
general election in Italy we’ll find out
whether an internal referendum of
German Social Democrat party members
has produced a yes for the grand coalition
government in Berlin, continuing its current
partnership with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.
Conventional wisdom says this would be a good result
for Europe. I think the conventional wisdom is wrong.
I spent two days in Berlin last week, and I’ve never
encountered less enthusiasm for a prospective new
government. This is supposed to be a wedding, but it
feels like a funeral. That is also what it could prove to be:
the funeral of the SPD, one of Europe’s oldest and most
important parties of the centre left. In a shocking public
opinion poll, the far right, nationalist-populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) scored 16%, half a point ahead of
the Social Democrats. That may be a flash in the pan, but
at 20.5%, the Social Democrats’ result in September’s
general election was already an all-time low.
We know from history that a grand coalition of the
main centre left and main centre right parties tends
to strengthen the extremes – and this has already
happened. It was partly as a result of there having
been this same grand coalition – or GroKo (for Grosse
Koalition) – for eight of the previous 12 years that the
AfD garnered the support of one in eight German voters
last September. And remember that the AfD makes
Ukip look moderate, and Silvio Berlusconi seem like a
distinguished conservative gentleman.
A crucial part of the response to the wave of antiliberal populism flooding across Europe must be a
fundamental regeneration of the centre left. The French
Socialists have virtually disappeared, and in the Italian
election campaign Matteo Renzi’s Democratic party is
doing almost as badly as the SPD. It is clearly impossible
for the German Social Democrats to regenerate their
party while locked in a joyless governing coalition
with their main opponents. That is one reason why the
Young Socialists, led by a man called Kevin Kühnert,
are touring the country trying to persuade their older
comrades to vote #NoGroKo.
Conventional wisdom says that Europe badly needs
a stable German government, and that government
needs to give a positive response to Emmanuel Macron’s
ambitious European proposals. After all, the year
leading up to the 2019 European elections is meant to
be a crucial one to put wind in the sails of a post-Brexit
European Union. This is why European council president
Donald Tusk tweeted: “German GroKo is good news.”
I am not persuaded that you need a German GroKo in
order to have the essential European coalitions of the
willing, or that a GroKo would be better for the European
project in the longer term. Play out a mildly pessimistic
but entirely plausible scenario: the German economy
falters in a couple of years, and at the same time eurozone arrangements put in place by the grand coalition
– responding to Macron at the insistence of the Social
Andrzej Krauze
A minority government
under Merkel
probably would not
last a full term. But
that would not be
the end of the world
Democrats – result in Germany having to make financial transfers to a crisis-torn southern European state.
Imagine the response among disgruntled German voters.
Twenty per cent for the AfD?
The worst argument for a grand coalition is the one
produced as a clincher in my Berlin conversations: there
is no alternative. But the elite politics of Merkel’s now
famous alternativlos, is precisely what voters are rebelling against when they choose the AfD, or Donald Trump,
or Brexit. Imagine that you’re an unhappy German voter.
You voted last September to change something. Then
absolutely nothing changes: same chancellor, same
coalition, same woolly rhetoric, very similar policies.
To be sure, new elections now, after five months of
unprecedented political muddle, might produce an even
larger protest vote for the AfD. But there is a better alternative, which the chancellor and federal president could
agree to try if the Social Democrat party membership
votes no: a Merkel-led Christian Democrat minority government. Minority government would be an innovation
in the history of the Federal Republic. But it has been
done in many other democracies, and there’s nothing in
the German constitution that says you can’t do it. The
mainstream opposition parties – Free Democrats and
Greens as well as Social Democrats – would surely offer
support on the main, consensual thrust of European or
security policy, as well as budget and confidence votes.
Yes, the minority government would lose some parliamentary votes on other issues, but as German historian
Heinrich August Winkler points out, that would actually
increase the importance of parliamentary debates and
the work of select committees. Would that be bad for a
parliamentary democracy? Quite the reverse.
A minority government under Merkel probably would
not last a full term, but that, also, would not be the end
of the world. I’m a great admirer of Merkel, but we are
definitely approaching the time for a change at the top.
That, too, is democracy. An election in 2019 or 2020 with
sharper opposition parties, and with a new, younger
leader of the Christian Democrats, would hardly be worse
than one forced on a stale and crumbling grand coalition.
20 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Comment&Debate
EU faces a
potential
crisis in the
Balkans
Ivan Krastev
T
he second world war is over but the first
world war is not yet finished.” Those were
the words of a senior Turkish official I
met recently in Ankara. He was speaking
of the Middle East, but it was the sort of
comment I might have heard in Moscow,
in Kiev or in the Balkans, about the state
of affairs on the European continent.
The one place I couldn’t possibly have heard this is
Brussels. That’s because the EU is still unprepared to
live in a world where geopolitics has returned – in which
governments, and much of the public, are obsessed
with borders and territories, and tend to define success
less by economic growth than by national pride. Last
month the EU presented its new western Balkans
strategy to encourage reform in Serbia, Montenegro,
Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania,
by renewing the prospect of membership. That Brussels
institutions, which find themselves in the midst of a
populist upsurge, now appear to have the courage to
restate that membership promise is no small miracle.
What the EU should be most afraid of is a repeat of the
Ukrainian scenario, in which government support for
European aspirations triggers a backlash from opponents
of enlargement (for which, read Russia), rather than
rallying European governments around the project.
Many factors have brought the Balkans back to the fore
– not least the recent refugee crisis, which deeply rattled
the region. There’s now a growing momentum for greater
Eva Bee
Europe Now Promise
of membership for states
in the region could be
undermined by rival
ambitions in Russia,
China and Turkey
“
integration, after a period in which the EU had come to
be known as an organisation that gave little money and
with many strings attached. One encouraging, if little
noticed, development has been the recent ratification of
a friendship treaty between Bulgaria and Macedonia, two
countries whose relations had long been fraught, mainly
over minority issues. By achieving this breakthrough,
they have signalled that the time has come to seek out
solutions to some of the region’s woes.
In 2003, when the EU first promised membership,
there seemed little doubt that the region’s future
would be European. Russia was looking to the Balkans
primarily as a transit area for its energy exports to western European markets. Moscow’s ambition then was to
preserve influence rather than to compete with Brussels.
Fifteen years ago, Turkey was enthusiastic about
its chances of joining the EU. As a result, it framed its
Balkans policies so as to demonstrate its own strategic
value to Europe. Back then, nobody spoke of China in
the Balkans. Today, geopolitical competition is rife.
China is set to become the No 1 foreign investor in Serbia
this year. Plans to build a high-speed railway between
the Greek port of Piraeus and Budapest, via Belgrade,
are of immense value to China as it deploys its “one belt,
one road” trade route between Asia and Europe. The
Chinese hope the western Balkans will eventually be
integrated into the European single market.
The Balkan region is where Russia can work to
destabilise the EU at very low political cost for itself,
both in cash terms and in risking a confrontation with
the US. So it’s up to European diplomacy to convince
Moscow that escalating tensions would not be in its best
interest. Is the EU ready for this? Then there’s Turkey, a
country whose relations with the EU stand at a historical
low. While Ankara is trying to build its influence among
Muslim communities in the Balkans, Moscow is using
its own leverage over Orthodox Christians. Could Russia
and Turkey possibly coordinate their policies, just as
they have attempted to do in Syria?
If the EU is slow to wake up to these new geopolitical
realities, its strategy for the Balkans will end in defeat.
Ivan Krastev is chairman of the Centre for Liberal
Strategies, a Sofia-based thinktank
More at theguardian.com/opinion
Opinion In brief
The alt-right world of a Trump fans’ dating site
Setting sail in style, or cruising for a bruising
I’m not normally in the habit of
joining dating apps while already
in a relationship, but last weekend
I made an exception. The internet
was abuzz with news of a website
for Trump supporters and, well, the
temptation to connect with the morally bankrupt fascist of my dreams
was too hard to resist. I sat my girlfriend down and broke the news as
best I could: “Sweetie, I love you,
but I feel like joining Trump Dating
is the alt-right thing for me to do. I
hope you understand.”
The site has been described as
a sort of Ashley MAGAson, as you
don’t need to be single to sign up.
But it is important to believe in the
sort of good old-fashioned family
values the president so stalwartly
represents. While married people
are free to join Trump Dating, gay
people aren’t. This was disappointing to discover, as I tend to lean
There should be a new word in
Australian English: boganfreude.
It could describe the joy that arises
after reading about anyone who gets
sick drinking arak in Bali, or arrested
for sex on a beach in Dubai. But
the Big Kahuna of the boganfreude
genre is cruise ship stories.
Last month up to 23 members
of an extended Italian family were
reported to be behind brawls – or
“bloodbaths” as one news site
called them – terrorising passengers onboard the Carnival Legend.
Remarkably, some passengers were
underwhelmed by Carnival Cruise’s
offer of 25% off their next cruise.
We love to read about cruise
holidays gone wrong. Remember
the Sick Ship – a gastro outbreak last
year that affected 200 people on
Ovation of the Seas? Who hasn’t felt
a spiteful shiver of delight in reading
about people who spew non-stop
lesbian. Nevertheless, I persisted
and joined anyway. Maybe there
would be a nice man on the site who
would make heterosexuality great
again, you never know.
I have, thrillingly, already
received one message. I’m rather
impressed by this, as I didn’t upload
a picture and put my height as
2.4 metres tall. Clearly, however,
Gumby75 is a man who believes it’s
what’s inside that counts. It’s also
possible he’s a Russian bot. While
Trump Dating may sound ridiculous,
I regret to inform you that the site is
not satire. Although someone needs
to tell Ivanka that Jared Kushner is
cheating on her.
Also, I am delighted to announce
that I am currently working on
BrexitLovers.com. It’s still early days
for the site, but I guarantee that if
you join, you won’t want to leave.
Arwa Mahdawi
for a week on a mega-ship, or who
have raw sewage seep into their
cabin as they sleep?
Maybe the fault is in cruise ships
themselves – the way they are
designed for excess, they way you
are all trapped in there together.
A brawl in these circumstances
is not so much a surprise as an
inevitability. Outside, the ocean is
flat, beautiful and mesmerisingly
monotonous. Inside the sensory
load is overwhelming.
To be on the cruise ship was
aspirational in the early 2000s
sense: in thrall to materialism but
without bourgeois-approved taste,
gorging on food and drink without
moderation or restraint. It’s a snobs’
view. A more expensive holiday
doesn’t make you a better sort of
person. But it does mean there are
fewer people around to film you
brawl. Brigid Delaney
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 21
Comment&Debate
In praise of …
Muslims in English football
Syrian forces launched a bloody assault on rebels in eastern Ghouta despite a UN ceasefire order Ben Jennings
Brexit walls
are closing
in on May
Rafael Behr
Time is running out in
Brussels. And lack of
support in Westminster
robs the PM of being
able to do Brexit her way
P
olitics is like comedy in two ways: most of
the people who think they would be good
at it are wrong, and success depends on
timing. With that in mind, Theresa May’s
decisions last year to trigger article 50 and
call a general election, in that order, look like
a bad joke. Instead of choosing a destination
and organising a strategy to get there, the prime minister
went on a clown-car diversion, jettisoning her parliamentary majority and incinerating her reputation as a
dependable leader. It now hardly matters how the cards
might have been played better. May’s most precious
commodity was time, and she misspent it.
Yet time is still being frittered away. The government
has postponed parliamentary debate on a bill to set
the legislative framework for post-Brexit trade. It may
not now come before the Commons for another two
months. The reason is that MPs wanted to customise the
law to enshrine contradictory Brexit preferences. The
hard brigade want to expunge clauses that they see as
gateways to retention of the EU’s customs union (or its
restoration under another name). The soft squad would
pass amendments to preserve such a union. Labour
appears to be shifting towards that preference too.
These are matters a cabinet subcommittee is
supposed to have resolved at Chequers last Thursday.
Ministers are reported to have agreed on “managed
divergence” from EU rules. But even if the cabinet has
found some elegant solution to its differences, there is
no guarantee backbench MPs will go along with them.
Abandoning the customs union is uniquely tricky
because there is the political problem of Ireland, where
border friction is another level of dangerous. In December
the UK and the EU agreed that the frontier should stay
invisible. They did not resolve how that can be done if
May continued to insist that Brexit means leaving the
single market and the customs union. And she does
insist. That December deal is now being codified into a
withdrawal agreement, of which a draft is to be published
this week by the European commission. Since this text
aims to be legally enforceable it will be less generous with
Cut through the bigotry of a vocal
minority, and there are some
uplifting chants to be heard at
English football matches nowadays.
Popular at Liverpool is one dedicated
to an Arab striker. It contains the
lines: “If he’s good enough for you/
He’s good enough for me/If he scores
another few/Then I’ll be Muslim too.”
Those who revere Egypt’s
Mohamed Salah – the subject of the
song – are not just paying tribute to
arguably the best player in the Premier League at the moment. They’re
also adhering to a distinctly British
tradition of tolerance and respect.
Muslims at Manchester United
include $125m midfielder Paul Pogba.
At Leicester there’s Riyad Mahrez,
and his old team-mate N’Golo Kanté
is now at Chelsea. At Arsenal there’s
Mesut Özil, at Manchester City Yaya
Touré, Mamadou Sakho at Crystal
Palace … the list goes on. I have spoken to many young British Muslims
who are not only watching their
heroes, but increasingly playing the
game, too. Nabila Ramdani
the Irish fudge. The window of vagueness in which May
has so far pretended that her no-customs-union policy
and her no-Irish-border policy are compatible might then
close. That in turn means the demise of her pretence that
Brexit can satisfy the European Research Group (ERG)
caucus of hard-right Tories, and ex-remainer, moderate
Conservatives at the same time.
She may then realise that her reliance on the hardline Democratic Unionist party (DUP) for a majority in
parliament and her desire for a “stable, orderly Brexit”
pull in opposite directions. She can have the backing of
the ERG-DUP, or she can have progress towards a constructive partnership with the EU. She can’t have both.
And this is all before this month’s European council summit when a decision is supposed to be made about transitional arrangements and – maybe – the initiation of talks
to settle the future relationship with the EU. Tick, tock.
The walls are closing in on May from two sides. The
negotiating timetable in Brussels is tight and so is the
parliamentary arithmetic in Westminster. May was
desperate to avoid having to negotiate Brexit with MPs
as well as the EU. When she became prime minister in
summer 2016 she took the referendum result as her
mandate, the “will of the people”. Then, in the spring
of 2017, she thought she saw a chance to convert that
rhetorical mandate into legislative power. By sweeping
up a vast majority, she would be able to enact whatever
Brexit she saw fit. But the election she called had the
opposite effect. The people’s Brexit instructions came
out diffused and distorted.
May’s legacy will be recorded as the collision of
those two dramatic electoral events: the one that put
her in charge of Brexit, and the one that robbed her
of the means to do it her way. The Eurosceptic ultras
brandish the 2016 result as licence to demand whatever
they want. But parliament, elected a year later, has
the authority to define Brexit in other, more moderate
ways. In popular cultural terms, the referendum was the
bigger deal. In constitutional terms, parliament is paramount. The contest between them is nearing its endgame and May looks more like a bystander than a player.
22 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Comment
Slaughter in Syria
Shaming failure at the UN
The world has come to expect brutality from
the regime of Bashar al-Assad. As Syria’s
civil war enters its eighth year this month,
the suffering of the besieged people of eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, is as extreme as
anything seen since this conflict began. Less
expected, perhaps, is the shaming inability,
or unwillingness, of the international community to stop this latest surge in death and
destruction. Its failure points to a bigger problem, with dire implications for global order.
Last week saw an orgy of mudslinging at the
UN security council over a modest proposal for
a 30-day humanitarian ceasefire in Syria. The
urgent aim of the resolution put forward was
to halt the slaughter in Ghouta, where more
than 500 people have died and thousands have
been wounded by Syrian and Russian bombardments. Even this small mercy was too much
for the Russians. Threatening a veto, Vladimir
Putin’s government insisted on prior “guarantees” that Islamist fighters would abide by any
ceasefire, before eventually agreeing to fivehour daily “humanitarian pauses”. In this war,
there is no such thing as a cast-iron guarantee.
Moscow has vetoed 10 previous Syria resolutions in furtherance of its policy of support
for Assad. If the US and the European allies
really want to deter Russian sponsorship of
Assad’s war, it is their clear responsibility to
apply the sort of asymmetric pressure Putin
understands. Additional economic sanctions
on Moscow, a switch to alternative energy
suppliers and investigations into Russian
abuses of the international financial system
would be a good start. But the west did nothing
to squeeze Putin last week. Donald Trump has
also failed Syria, and Ghouta is one direct result. He cares not a fig for dying Syrians. But he
does want to stay pals with his Russian buddy.
Last week’s ineffectual wrangling over
Ghouta should be a sobering moment for
EU governments, too. European politicians
responded tardily. Last Friday, Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron
personally appealed to Putin. The subsequent
silence emanating from Moscow was crushing. Macron’s ambitious ideas about Europe
as a powerful military and security force in the
world should be measured against this reality.
Other actors in Syria’s tragedy also share
the burden of shame. Iran’s responsibility is
too often underestimated. Tehran can be in no
doubt that its actions in Syria, and its face-off
with Israel across the Syrian border, weaken
the hand of those in the west who seek normalised relations. And Turkey’s latest Syrian
incursion, into Afrin, has made matters worse.
The biggest crisis surrounds the UN itself.
Like Ghouta, it is under siege. Its already
battered credibility is on the line. The entire security council system, and its standing as the pre-eminent international forum,
is under threat. There will be more wars and
more Ghoutas. The future of collective global
governance is looking bleak. Observer
Neanderthals
We were not alone
The three human subspecies known to have
hybridised to produce the present human
population of the planet – Neanderthals, Homo
sapiens and Denisovans – last had a common
ancestor more than half a million years ago.
Until now it has been assumed that the only
branch of her descendants to think symbolically was us, Homo sapiens. But the discovery
of palaeolithic art at four sites in Spain that
dates from the time when the peninsula was
occupied only by Neanderthals shows that
they worked with symbols of stone and paint.
We have no idea what these markings
mean. But we know Neanderthals were anatomically equipped for speech; their use of
painted symbols suggests that they could
make audible symbols and not just visible
ones. One of the effects of the discovery reported last month has been to push one of
the standard tropes of science fiction 40,000
years into our past, when Homo sapiens met
Homo neanderthalensis, another symbolically
intelligent species. These encounters must
have been reasonably peaceable, because
Europeans and all other populations outside
Africa carry some Neanderthal DNA.
Pushing the emergence of language so
far back is exciting enough. But the implications are dizzying. If Neanderthals and Homo
sapiens developed the capacity for symbolic
thought and language independently, the
ground for it must have been prepared more
than half a million years ago, when the ancestors of the Neanderthals first left Africa. If they
did not develop it independently, then those
ancestors, Homo erectus, must have had a capacity for symbolic thought far earlier than
most scientists would think likely.
Animals share almost all of the capacities
once thought uniquely human. But only humans have symbolic language, so far as we
know. Only humans form concepts and combine them as if they were physical tools and
use them to shape the world. Now it seems that
to be human in this sense is an older, stranger
thing than anyone had dared to dream.
Yes, there is a
bridge over
troubled waters
Mark Rice-Oxley
They are not a multibillion-dollar
conspiracy dreamed up by Big
Pharma Bond villains. They are not
a futile cop-out from overextended
family doctors. They are an effective
treatment to alleviate symptoms of
depression, a global scourge that
affects as many as one in 20 people.
Even the least effective antidepressants are better than placebos, the
sugar pills dished out in trials. And
placebos are better than nothing.
The upshot of the study led by
NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical
Research Centre, the most intensive
piece of meta-analysis ever conducted into antidepressants, is that
the millions of people (including
me) who take them – reluctantly,
sceptically, hopefully – can continue
to do so without feeling guilt, shame
or doubt about their treatment.
Moreover, doctors should feel
no compunction about prescribing these drugs, though really they
should be reserved for serious cases,
and should be offered as part of a
mix of interventions. Doctors might
also consider changing the specific
antidepressants they are dishing out: the league table that has
emerged is fascinating to those on
first-name terms with these medicines. The big surprises are that the
two best known – Prozac (fluoxetine)
and citalopram (mostly widely prescribed in the UK) – are relatively
poor at their job.
Of course, this is not the end of
the story. The other big questions
that have dogged antidepressants
have not gone away: why they work
for some and not for others (though
this is the same with other medicines); why they take so damn long
to kick in and how they work (the
rather vague science is that they
slow down the reuse of an important
neurotransmitter, serotonin, deficiencies of which affect everything
from mood and appetite to sleep
and concentration).
The other big question is what
the long-term side effects are. Most
people quit taking them within the
first year. But an important minority
take antidepressants as an openended treatment: they have tried life
without and it doesn’t work.
Who knows what the impact
of a lifetime’s usage might be. But
then again, something’s got to get
you in the end.
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 23
Reply
The cars and the stars
• Our space race billionaires need
to get a life. Why don’t they come to
the rescue of our millions who are
homeless and hungry?
Ron Willis
Perth, Western Australia
Korean thaw ignores anger
• Re: your recent leader comment
(Korea’s Olympic thaw, 26 January).
One of the most misguided and
often neglected areas in our understanding of North Korea is that we
are dealing with a country which
has no parallel in its abuse of human
rights and terrible record of provocations, mostly towards South Korea:
not to mention numerous killings of
innocent civilians and soldiers.
The anger shared among many
South Koreans, including younger
generations, is that the current
government is offering an olive
branch of dubious nature despite the
fact that the North is still threatening
our country with nuclear weapons,
and there is no progress at all on the
major issues. When dealing with
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Editorial
Acting editor: Graham Snowdon
Guardian Weekly, Kings Place,
90 York Way, London N1 9GU, UK
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FROM $399,999,999
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Briefly
Mopic/Alamy
The front-page image on the
16 February edition (The billionaire’s
space race) should give us pause.
A Tesla car plus mannequin driver,
helmeted, floats in space, dominating the moon or Earth in the background. What does this really tell us
about our culture and Elon Musk?
Once, such an image might have
suggested, in the style of Stanley
Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey,
a triumph of the human spirit. Now
it tells us that Musk has pulled off
the largest possible advertisement
for the sale of his electric cars. It is
a strictly consumer image. It tells us
also of a kind of triumph for one of
the most damaging technologies in
human history, the private car.
It also tells us literally of the
backgrounding of our space
environment, in the cause of sanctifying a shallow, hi-tech society that
is rapidly losing the language and the
imagery which might have helped
us to retain a concept of nature and
possibly, a fair part of nature herself.
Denys Trussell
Auckland, New Zealand
time. These innocent people have
been imprisoned for over four years,
hostages who are even subject to
people swaps with the US, that
you report. Was any hostage crisis
ever given less publicity? Only the
Guardian Australia website and
its reporter Ben Doherty do this
violation justice.
Stephen Langford
Paddington, NSW, Australia
countries like North Korea it is no
use talking for the sake of talks, as
modern European history with Nazi
Germany amply demonstrates.
The comparisons made with USChina, US-Soviet Union, and South
Africa are misplaced in my judgment.
Park Je-Geun
Seoul, South Korea
Journey to the Trump within
After articles on Donald Trump by
David Smith and Lauren Gambino,
and Jonathan Freedland, in the 12
January issue, I felt the need to see
him in a different light. Capricious,
ego-driven and careless of public
opinion, Trump is not stupid but neither is he smart enough to be a team
player in the world of ethical politics.
Instead, I see Trump’s appearance
as a long-overdue wake-up call for
all Americans, government leaders
and the electorate to use Trump as a
mirror to honestly recognise our own
“Trumpisms” – where the government has gone wrong - and where
each of us has our own “blind spot”.
Mary MacMakin
Kabul, Afghanistan
Hostages, not detainees
Thank you for continuing to track
Australian abuse of refugees (World
roundup, 23 February). Ian Rintoul
and the Refugee Action Coalition
you mention are stalwarts of the
resistance here in Australia.
The people on Manus and
Nauru are, in truth, hostages, not
“detainees”. Detention is for a short
To contact the editor directly:
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• I note with interest the number of
books written recently about death
and dying (How death got cool, 9
February; and Books, 16 February). I
am amazed at the way in which both
the authors and reviewers regard
the question of life after death as
unworthy of serious consideration.
I guess that a large majority of
the world’s population have some
faith or expectation of life after
death, whether it be reincarnation
or resurrection or whatever. If any
of these believers are right, then
nothing could be more important to
consider than this.
Martin Down
Witney, UK
• In praise of questions by Kenan
Malik (23 February) was interesting,
so some facts and a few questions.
The universe is about 14bn years
old, life appeared on Earth 3.8bn
years ago, Homo sapiens appeared
200,000 years ago, and today we
have approximately 4,000 religions,
faiths, beliefs, and the sun will eventually consume the earth.
Questions: is this a bad design
fault as far as humans are concerned? If we do go to heaven for
eternity what will we do to prevent
boredom? And therefore time being
so precious, is it worth listening to
the president of the United States?
Rhys Winterburn
Perth, Western Australia
• Oliver Burkeman (16 February)
should stop his rationalising of
the benefits of ageing with respect
to youth. As the old saying goes,
“Youth is wasted on the young.”
Can’t do better than that.
Robert Logan
Carterton, New Zealand
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From the archive
2 March 1949
Forget the poetry.
Follow that poet!
We English, when it comes to
literature, have always been more
interested in Lives than in Works.
To-day we gather our reward: the
wealth of biographical gossip is by
now so great that there is no need
to waste one’s time on Works at all
except for detective purposes.
There they stand, the solemn
ranks of Standard Works, but their
sober dignity does not fool us
any longer. We know now some
of the things that went on behind
those prim bindings. Did you hear
the one about Wordsworth? The
proper study of mankind is man
and probably it would not be too
difficult to get something quite new
and really startling on Pope which
would make reading him more
comfortably irrelevant than ever.
Not that we are out for scandal,
necessarily. Oddities are always a
good line in these jolly chats over
the literary fence. Browning (did
you know?) had one microscopic
and one telescopic eye with the
one he could watch things on the
horizon, while the other was able
to read small print by twilight (not,
presumably, at the same time). This
is the sort of thing we really like to
know in order to avoid feeling out
of touch.…
Norman Shrapnel
Corrections and
Clarifications
• An article about Freemasonry and
parliament (P15, 9 February) conveyed a misleading impression. The
lodges’ existence has been public for
many years. The lodges meet at Freemasons’ Hall, Covent Garden, not
at Westminster. The United Grand
Lodge of England told the Guardian
readers’ editor that no MPs are currently members of New Welcome
Lodge, and that UGLE records do
not show “lobby journalist” as the
profession of any of its members
but it cannot say with certainty that
there are no lobby journalists who
are UGLE Freemasons. UGLE said its
chief executive believed that fewer
than 10 current MPs were UGLE
Freemasons.
The Guardian Weekly’s policy is to
correct significant errors as soon as
possible. Please give the date, page
or web link: guardian.readers@
theguardian.com or The readers’
editor, Kings Place, 90 York Way,
London N1 9GU, United Kingdom
24 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Eyewitnessed
A seedling grows in cracked mud at Theewaterskloof dam near Cape Town, South Africa. Rainfall and water-saving measures have led the drought-hit city to push back to 9 July its “Day Zero” f
Models backstage during Milan Fashion Week in Italy, where the Moschino show took
inspiration from Jackie Kennedy’s 1960s look Tristan Fewings/Getty
The northern lights seen near Strand, northern Norway. Brilliant swirls of colour appear when
electrically charged particles from the Sun enter Earth’s atmosphere Martial Trezzini/EPA
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 25
forecast of when taps would need be turned off Mike Hutchings/Reuters
Palestinians wait to enter Egypt from Gaza through the Rafah border crossing after Egyptian
authorities opened it for four days, on 21 February, for humanitarian cases Said Khatib/Getty
Stormzy performs at the UK music industry’s Brit Awards, in London, where the 24-year-old
grime rapper won the best male artist and best British album awards Samir Hussein/WireImage
Demonstrators stage a “lie-in”near the White House last week in support of gun control
reform after the high school shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead Zach Gibson/Getty
26 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Dubai’s big folly: why it’s
A decade after it was scuppered by the financial crash,
the fantasy archipelago is back in business. But the seas
around the project are still choppy, writes Oliver Wainwright
I
had the whole of Palestine to myself that
day. It was only a short swim from Lebanon
but, as I waded ashore out of the shallow,
soupy water, it became clear that I was the
only visitor the island had seen for some
time. Clambering to the top of the hill, over a
lunar landscape populated by the occasional piece of
driftwood and the odd discarded beer bottle, I could
see the sandy mounds of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and
Ethiopia beyond, rising out of the sea like bobbing
croutons. The gleaming spire of the Burj Khalifa
twinkled through the haze on the distant horizon.
A decade since it was dredged from the seabed,
The World is a forlorn sight. It was the most ambitious plan of Dubai’s pre-crash bubble, topping the
creation of peninsulas shaped like palm trees and the
construction of the tallest building on the planet. In
pursuit of the world’s attention, the oil-rich emirate
would remake the world itself. “The Palm puts Dubai
on the map,” proclaimed the marketing material at
the time. “The World puts the map on Dubai.”
Conceived in 2003, the project was to be an
The vision
collapsed
just as
quickly as
computer
renderings
had been
conjured
exclusive offshore playground for film stars, royalty
and celebrity tycoons: an artificial archipelago of
300 islands set three kilometres off the coast. Invitations to “Own the World” were sent to a targeted
group of 50 potential buyers each year, offering
tours of the site by yacht or helicopter, with prices
for the islands ranging from $15m-50m. Richard
Branson posed for photos on little Britain in a Union Jack suit; Karl Lagerfeld launched plans for a
fashion-themed island; rumours swirled that Brad
Pitt and Angelina Jolie had acquired Ethiopia for
their ever-expanding clan of adopted children.
After five years of dredging, which saw 320m cubic metres of sand and 25m tonnes of rock hauled
into place, the final stone in the breakwater was laid
in January 2008 – on the eve of the global financial
crisis. The vision collapsed just as quickly as the computer renderings had been conjured. Dubai World,
the government investment arm in charge of the project, was revealed to have debts of $60bn.
Surveying the barren spots of sand that dot the
sea today – which, in aerial images, make it look
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 27
Under the skin
Maverick immunologists at work
→ Books, pages 34-35
Financial folly … a graphic image of The World
as it was originally envisioned Getty
not the end of the The World
as if the Gulf is suffering from a nasty case of acne –
it’s hard to shake the sense of an Ozymandian ruin.
Covering more than 5,000 hectares – almost seven
times the size of Venice – and encircled by a 30kmlong breakwater, the remains of The World lie as a
mind-boggling monument to the spectacular hubris
of a moment in time when anything seemed possible.
Overnight, billions of dollars in construction contracts evaporated in a puff of sand, leaving a trail of
bankruptcies, lawsuits and unpaid debts. The owner
of Great Britain, Safi Qurashi, was jailed, accused of
bouncing cheques to the value of almost $70bn (for
which he was later exonerated, after serving three
years), and the owner of Ireland, John O’Dolan,
killed himself in early 2009. After years of being
hounded by irate investors wondering where their
money had gone, the British co-owner of Thailand,
Imtiaz Khoda, was recently jailed for an unrelated
fraud. Dogged by associations with shell companies
and criminal dealings, the whole project became
toxic, damned by rumours of money-laundering,
pyramid schemes and reports that the islands were
sinking into the sea.
Lebanon was the only island that opened to the
public, and it still struggles on. For 200 dirham ($55),
you can spend the day at its world-weary beach club,
paddling in the pool and eating wagyu beef sliders
on a faded fibreglass sun lounger. The island plays
host to champagne-fuelled jamborees by night, as a
venue for fashion shows, DJ parties and debauched
corporate events. It seems like an appropriate place
for a bit of end-of-the-world hedonism, surrounded
by a scene of post-apocalyptic desolation.
So it comes as some surprise to learn that construction is back under way. Standing on Lebanon’s
beach alongside a small handful of other bewildered
tourists, I see diggers in the distance, shifting sand
beneath what looks like the frame of a substantial
new building on the next island. Trucks are trundling from a concrete batching plant on Monaco
over towards Sweden, where a series of villas are
under construction, designed in collaboration
with Bentley Home. On Italy, the Portofino Hotel
is rising out of the sand, billed as the first familyoriented five-star hotel in the region. The ground
is being prepared for the arrival of a sprawling
Alpine-themed complex on the island of Switzerland, while a speedboat brings a couple of Emirati
buyers to view a floating show home, and to marvel
at the view from its glazed underwater bedroom.
After a decade in limbo, The World is back – with
more ambitious plans than before.
“I am going to make it snow all year round,” says
Josef Kleindienst. He is sitting in a white leather
armchair in his office at the top of a tower in Dubai,
from where he can survey the fronds of the Palm
Jumeirah stretching out into the sea below. In the
room next door stands an enormous model of his vision for the Heart of Europe, a fantastical concoction
of Austrian castles, Swiss chalets, Russian palaces
and, oddly, Polynesian huts set across a group of
six islands, connected by meandering walkways
and baroque bridges. “Rain and snow might not be
so attractive if you live in northern Europe but, to
someone in Dubai, they are magical things,” he says.
“People here dance in the street when it rains.”
Kleindienst explains how he has been working
with scientists at the Fraunhofer Society in Germany to develop outdoor cooling technology using
cold water. It has the same energy consumption and
uses the same principle as conventional air conditioning, he says, except that the water will fall from
a network of pipes in the form of rain. On a plaza in
the Swiss-themed resort, the temperature will be
cranked down a few notches to make snowflakes,
which he says will settle on the ground thanks to
cooling pipes buried beneath the surface.
As a former police chief inspector in Austria, who
set up his property development business in 1998
and moved to Dubai in 2002, Kleindienst makes
an unlikely saviour of The World. He bought the
island of Austria in 2006, before catching the bug
and acquiring three more islands, then another
three. Owners received access to their patches of
sand from the master developer, Nakheel, in September 2008, one month before the full force of the
financial crisis hit Dubai. “There was a chance, and
there was a risk,” he says. “All the others saw the risk
and left. We saw the chance and stayed.”
As we walk around the Continued on page 28 →
28 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Weekly review
← Continued from page 27 big model, Kleindienst
ticks off his countries and attractions. “St Petersburg is our honeymoon island,” he says, pointing
out a blob of land that they have remodelled in the
shape of a heart, dotted with thatched cabins, from
which long piers extend to provide mooring posts
for “Floating Seahorse” villas, on sale for 12-15m
dirham. “Then we have the main Europe island, with
our Ibiza party hotel and four city hotels – Munich,
London, Amsterdam and Scandinavia, connected
by a circular, glass-bottomed swimming pool on the
roof – and the Ikaria wellness hotel, named after the
Greek island where people live longer and healthier
than anywhere else in the world.” It is a heady global
smorgasbord, with little concern for geographical
accuracy or architectural vernacular.
Germany has been reserved for higher-end
occupants – “the second or third homes of your
average millionaire” – while Sweden is billed as
the pinnacle of exclusivity, featuring 10 “palaces”,
whose rooftops are modelled on the upturned hull
of a viking ship. They come with infinity pools,
private beaches and furniture branded with the
winged B of Bentley. Kleindienst claims they have
all been sold to members of the Gulf states’ ruling
families, the last one for 75m dirham.
Just as Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, gave
one of The World islands to Formula One champion
Michael Schumacher in 2006, as a ruse to encourage
others to come here, so Kleindienst hopes to use
the presence of royals as bait. “We know that where
the royals are spending their summer vacation,
many other people also want to be,” he says. But
would privacy-seeking princes really want to relax
anywhere near hundreds of other people holidaying
in an Ibiza-themed resort? “One of our buyers could
easily afford to buy a whole island of his own,” says
Kleindienst, “but he wants to be part of our project
so he can experience the snow plaza and enjoy all
of the entertainment we will be laying on. We will
have a restaurant from every country in Europe, and
a different cultural festival each night.”
With distances of just a few metres between the
islands, it doesn’t feel like a particularly exclusive
place. You’ll be able to wave at your neighbouring billionaire across a shallow channel. “We are
working on floating landscaping for privacy,” says
Kleindienst. “We have already tested floating
palm trees.”
Trees won’t be the only things bobbing in the
water. Given the high premium on land, his company is developing plans for entire floating islands,
beginning with Venice. Gondolas will weave
between modern palazzos, set around a swimming
pool proportioned to match St Mark’s Square, while
underwater bedrooms and restaurants will provide
views on to a new coral reef. He says they have
already established a coral nursery on one of the
islands, and plan to cultivate oyster beds too, with
pearl-diving added to the list of attractions on offer.
Wading through the murky water today, it is hard
to believe the Photoshopped visions of people frolicking among shoals of exotic fish in a crystal-clear
lagoon, lounging in their underwater lairs or playing in the snow. Kleindienst says the entire development and its 4,000 bedrooms will be completed
in time for the Dubai Expo in 2020, which seems
impossibly tight. He insists that most of the Floating
Seahorse villas have been sold, promising investors
a guaranteed yield of 8% over five years; but these
figures are hard to take seriously when prime residential property yields in Dubai are about 5%. Nor
might it be of particular encouragement to investors
that one of Kleindienst’s structures recently sank
after a New Year’s Eve party.
For all the hype, industry insiders raise theireyebrows at the idea that The World is back on track.
“When you go into these marketing suites, it feels
like 2007 all over again,” says Dubai-based architect
Sara Anwar, who was involved with Karl Lagerfeld’s
plans for a fashion island, Isla Moda, before the
financial crisis hit. The project, developed by Dubai
Infinity Holdings, was to include a fashion resort,
themed residential villas, haute couture boutiques
and luxury hospitality facilities, all aimed at ultrahigh net worth individuals (or UHNWIs as they
are known – an acronym that, when pronounced,
sounds appropriately like “unwise”).
“Every five minutes a bus would arrive at the sales
office full of potential buyers, and people would fly
here on their private jets for the most lavish launch
parties imaginable,” Anwar says. “Everyone here on
the ground had a real belief in what was happening,
but there was definitely a sense of scepticism from
outsiders when they arrived.”
Others dismiss the new plans outright as a
financial loser, but Kleindienst’s bullish attitude
appears to be rubbing off. After a decade of despair,
some other island owners have been buoyed by the
company’s efforts. Seven Tides, an Emirati developer, announced in September that it planned to
complete a 100-villa resort on one of its 10 islands
in the South America cluster by the end of 2018.
“This will be the first resort of its kind anywhere
on The World,” said the company’s CEO, Abdulla
Bin Sulayem. “The design is beautiful, which is
important, because if we don’t have a ‘wow’ factor,
there’s no point in doing it.” Commenting on the unlikely speed of the project, he added: “When you’re
building lots of [similar structures], everything is like
Lego,” which doesn’t bode particularly well for the
quality of the plans. It’s not the first time Seven Tides
has announced its intention to be the first to have
a resort open on The World. In 2009, it promised a
scheme of chalets on stilts would be “opening soon”
on the islands of Buenos Aires, Bolivia, Argentina,
Chile and the Falklands, complete with swimming
pools and tennis courts. Nothing has materialised.
As if to complete the sense of deja vu, bringing
back a touch of celebrity sparkle, the actor Lindsay Lohan, who recently moved to Dubai, has
announced that she too is designing her own island
on The World. “I have a lot of little projects [in Dubai]
because I like to keep busy,” she told a US talkshow in
January, describing her expansive range of branded
enterprises, including “Lohan Island”. “I’m outtrumping Trump with the name Lohan!”
These days there is no sign of The World in the
sales office of Nakheel, the government-owned
development company founded in 2000 to head
up the offshore projects. I arrive at their complex
of domed buildings set in a lush tropical garden, to
be welcomed into a marketing suite beneath a roof
recalling a bedouin tent, where polished steel palm
trees tower over a model of the Palm Jumeirah.
“People ask why we build new land in the sea when
we have so much empty desert,” says Mohammed
Rashed Bin Dhabeah, Nakheel’s managing director
of development, adjusting his crisp white keffiyeh.
A vitrine of miniature sports cars stands against one
wall of his office, and a signed Lionel Messi football
shirt hangs framed on another. “We only have 60km
of beach running along the coast of the Emirates, but
we have 14 million visitors a year who come here for
the beaches. So we needed to create more beach.”
It all began with the Palm Jumeirah, an idea
credited to Sheikh Mohammed, who is said to have
sketched out the form of the trunk and fronds as
the most efficient shape to maximise the amount of
beachfront. Each frond would be like a street, with a
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 29
Fantasy islands or a very warm version of
American suburbia … clockwise from top, a
model of The World in Josef Kleindienst’s offices;
workers on the World travel back to the
mainland; loungers on ‘Lebanon’ gaze across to
‘Palestine’ and the Dubai skyline; an underwater
bedroom on the Floating Seahorse villa in 2018
Oliver Wainwright; David Levene
row of properties on either side, backing on to their
own stretch of private beach. It was a winning formula: the plots sold out in two days.
Walking up the hard shoulder of the roaring highway of the Palm today (there is no pavement; everyone drives), the feeling is less one of an exclusive private enclave than that of a generic slice of American
suburbia. The houses have been packed in, at three
times the original planned density, leaving rows of
McMansions looking across at each other between
thin strips of stagnant water.
In the sales brochures and news reports, this new
form of Google Earth urbanism was intoxicating,
especially given that much of the intended audience
would never see it in reality. The media frenzy generated by the Palm was enough to convince Nakheel
to plan a further two palm-shaped islands of even
greater size: the Palm Jebel Ali, further south along
the coast towards Abu Dhabi, and the gargantuan
Palm Deira nearer Dubai’s old town centre, sevenand-a-half times the size of the original. Together,
they would add more than 400km of coastline to the
shores of Dubai, and provide an additional 6,000
hectares of land – an area larger than Manhattan.
In a move that now seems like tempting fate, the
Palm Jebel Ali was to feature a halo of calligraphically shaped islands, spelling out the lines of a poem
written by Sheikh Mohammed: “Take wisdom only
from the wise, / Not everyone who rides a horse is a
jockey. / It takes a man of vision to write on water, /
Great men rise to great challenges.”
In this case, the challenge proved too great. The
shape of Jebel Ali was formed, but the project has
been on hold ever since. Meanwhile, Palm Deira got
as far as the base of the trunk before the rest of the
tree was cancelled, its sorry stump since rebranded
“Deira Islands”.
Caught up in a frenzy of shape-making, before
the palms hit the buffers, The World was the obvious
next step. “After the success of the Palm Jumeirah,
people wanted their own private islands,” says Bin
Dhabeah. “The World was a way of creating a place
where each person could do their own thing.”
On the corridor outside his office hangs a satellite
view that shows not only The World and the three
palms, but a cacophony of other swirly shapes that
fill the entire area of sea between the mainland
and the existing islands. There are moon-shaped
crescents, cosmic starbursts and wiggling worms,
arranged in an indiscriminate muddle, as if someone had spilt a bowl of spaghetti shapes across the
map. This is The Universe, an aborted plan for an
additional 3,000 hectares of fantasy islands shaped
like the Milky Way and the solar system. It was
announced in January 2008, just as The World was
completed, but was swiftly sucked into the great
black hole of the financial crisis. “We don’t talk about
that one,” says the PR, chivvying me out of the office.
Sitting at home in Miami, the architect of these
crazed visions recalls a time when Nakheel couldn’t
have been keener to shout its plans from the rooftops, recounting a rose-tinted era when nothing was
deemed too outlandish.
“They were totally unfazed by anything,” says
Luis Ajamil, president of the architecture group
Bermello Ajamil & Partners. “The Universe would
have been longer than Miami Beach in its entirety.
It even had its own airport, and would have needed
1 or 2 million people to make it successful. They said:
‘So what?’ If you said no to them, it was their trip to
say: ‘OK then, we’ll do it.’”
Ajamil did manage to bring a little bit of market
sense to the madness. Before he got involved, The
World had been planned solely with private owners
in mind. “It soon turned out that there weren’t
300 people who wanted to buy an island for $30m,”
he says, “so we changed the plan and increased the
density to make it commercially viable, more like a
city without cars. Imagine Venice on steroids.”
His team developed a zoning plan, locating the
more public, resort-style islands closer to the mainland, while the more exclusive areas for private
estates were sited further back towards the Gulf.
Antarctica was imagined as a big commercial hub,
with rows of seven-storey hotels and a beach facing
Dubai, creating a wall of development that would
have essentially blocked the sought-after view of
the mainland from the private islands behind.
Ajamil says sales really took off when they demonstrated how owners could re-shape their islands,
carving coves, inlets and marinas to create more
saleable area. His practice worked on a number
of the early schemes, including a plan to divide
Moscow into two islands, connected by a five-storey
glass box called Red Square, which would have
glowed red by night. He also planned to slice the UK
landmass in two, connecting the slivers with what
he describes as “an abstract interpretation of Tower
Bridge”. That wasn’t the only replica icon: “A lot of
people were looking at recreating wonders of the
world. At one point I counted seven Eiffel Towers.”
The premise behind The World was fundamentally transformed from being a community of exclusive desert islands, with a villa on each, to thin strips
of sand carved, stretched and squeezed to ensure the
maximum commercial return. Bermello Ajamil’s
design for the UK bears no relation to the outline of
Britain, or to its architecture. Instead, it looks like a
pair of mating caterpillars, upon which dozens of
white modernist holiday homes have been packed
side by side. The high-density rezoning paved the
way for Kleindienst’s plans, which do their best to
fill every bit of land and sea available, creating an
atmosphere redolent of the Costa del Sol.
But all of this planned terraforming was facing a
more fundamental hurdle: they were running out
of sand. “When they started building the first Palm,
the dredgers just went out and scoured sand from a
few hundred metres around the site and piled it up,”
says Ajamil. “But as they built the next palm and The
World, there was no sand left nearby. By the time The
World was being finished, the ships were going out
20km or more. The costs were getting prohibitive.”
And presumably the tangled knots of the
Universe would have drastically reduced the value
of the existing islands? “Absolutely,” says Ajamil.
“But, by then, a lot of The World was already sold.”
The speed of the sales, at the height of the bubble, was based on the fact that buyers would readily
pay 100% cash up front, based on drawings alone.
“You didn’t need to raise capital – that’s why things
moved so fast,” he says. “Now it’s a model that
requires risk and debt, and a lot of these developers are not equipped for that.” Still, he is optimistic
that The World will be inhabited one day.
“It will take a different mindset and a bit of focus
from the Dubai government, but it’ll happen. There
are billions of dollars of sales that have been made.
That money is not just going to sit out there for
ever.” Unless, that is, those billions have already
been swallowed into the sea.
30 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Weekly review
A correspondent’s
life under Putin
The Russia reported on
by Shaun Walker has
only ever had one man
at the helm, but it has
changed immeasurably
W
orking on one of my final stories
as the Guardian and Observer’s
Moscow correspondent last
December, I took my seat at
the Bolshoi Theatre for the premiere of Nureyev. The ballet
told the story of superstar dancer Rudolf Nureyev,
who defected from the Soviet Union to the west.
The premiere had been postponed at the last minute some months previously, partly due to its gay
themes. In the interim, the ballet’s director, Kirill
Serebrennikov, known for his risque productions
and political activism, had been placed under house
arrest on embezzlement charges that most people
thought were spurious. He’s still there and risks a
long jail sentence.
The Bolshoi’s gilded, celebrated auditorium was
packed with the elite of Vladimir Putin’s Moscow.
Theatre and television stars mingled with government officials and Putin cronies and they all
sat through the powerful staging that dealt with
the search for personal and artistic freedom under the oppressive Soviet regime. It did not require great leaps of thought to transpose the layers of history on to the present day. At the end of
the performance, the cast came on stage wearing
T-shirts and demanded that Serebrennikov be
freed. They were applauded from the stalls by the
representatives of the regime that had locked him
away. The evening was a distillation of all the things
that had first drawn me to Moscow. The coexistence
of beauty and horror, hope and despair, glory
and absurdity is frustrating yet alluring. Russia
gets under your skin.
For me, it’s been a particularly long journey. I first
set foot on Russian soil as an 18-year-old in January
2000, a few weeks after Putin had first been made
acting president by Boris Yeltsin. I leave, all these
years later, with Putin about to be re-elected for
another term.
I saw the consequences of the Soviet collapse vividly on my first trip to Russia. Life in the decade since
1991 had progressed along the lines of a particularly
implausible episode of a job-swap reality TV show:
biochemists were now taxi drivers, market stallholders were CEOs. The criminals became the authorities
and those who tried to stand up against them became the criminals. A few people had pilfered all the
ladders, leaving the rest to be devoured by snakes. A
few young business-oriented types saw it as a time of
great excitement and opportunity, but most people
seemed lost on some kind of existential level – plaintive, overwhelmed and alarmed by the chaos that
a decade of “democracy” had brought. Two years
earlier, a financial meltdown had meant that millions of Russians lost whatever paltry savings they
had managed to put aside.
Public opinion surveys from the time show that
the majority of people were unimpressed with the
new Russia. At the end of 2000, 75% of people said
they regretted that the Soviet Union had collapsed.
“Most of the population didn’t recognise the Russian Federation as a real thing,” I was told much
later by Gleb Pavlovsky, an adviser to both Yeltsin
and Putin. “They felt like they lived in some kind
of strange offshoot of the Soviet Union. We had to
ensure the handover, but we also had to create some
sense of nation.”
This, in the broadest terms, was Putin’s mission.
At the end of 2003, after university, I returned
to Moscow. I worked for an NGO for a year before
taking up journalism. The city was slowly becoming more prosperous. Over the next decade, oil
prices rose so high that, even allowing for the rampant corruption in Putin’s inner circle, money did
trickle down and provide real benefits to people in
the cities. In Moscow and other major settlements,
abject squalor was disappearing from the central
streets and a middle class began to develop. With
it came coffee shops, wine bars
and frequent flights to Europe.
Many of my Moscow friends
seemed to live life at a faster,
more exciting pace than people I
knew in London. Unsurprisingly,
given the turbulence of the past
decades, people tended to live in
the moment and nobody thought
about savings or pensions.
Moscow life was turbulent, unpredictable and extremely fun.
The journalism, too, could be
fun. In what other region of the
world would a top official mention as an aside during an interview that he had been abducted
by aliens in a yellow spaceship?
Where but in the former Soviet
lands would a journalist get to meet a reclusive
billionaire who had for years lived incognito in a
glass castle among a collection of exotic pets, before deciding he wanted to become prime minister,
and winning? (Those were the leader of the Russian region of Kalmykia and the leader of Georgia,
respectively.) Over the years, I’ve met oligarchs and
warlords, shamans and terrorists, mad scientists
and musical prodigies. Of course, every corner of
the globe is interesting, but I can’t help thinking that
the former Soviet countries do this combination of
depressing, inspiring and bizarre like nowhere else.
Not all the reporting was fun and there was plenty
to be depressed about in the suffocating crackdowns
on civil society, the egregious inequality and the
horrendous social problems. Putin’s goal has been
to imbue this creaking nation with a new vitality
and create a sense of national unity. For his first decade in power, the gradual economic improvements
were enough to satisfy many Russians that things
were gradually going to get better. Hard ideology
was thin on the ground and the Kremlin spin doctors (or “political technologists” as they are called
in Russia) who employed it often did so cynically.
Russians had watched the once-rigid ideological constraints of the Soviet Union crumble and
had then seen the lofty democratic slogans of the
1990s disintegrate in an orgy of stealing. It led to a
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 31
Swings and roundabouts … youthful Russians on
a fairground ride near St Basil’s Cathedral in
Moscow; below left: a flag flying in celebration of
Vladimir Putin’s 2012 election victory Grigory
Dukor/Reuters; Alexander Nemenov/Getty
situation where nobody really believed in anything
at all. The Kremlin manipulated the political playing
field, creating pocket opposition parties, liberals or
nationalists, and removing them again if they grew
too popular. I once visited a political technologist
who was working on a campaign for a regional mayor
who had been using “traditional values” rhetoric.
He welcomed me to an office covered from floor to
ceiling with Orthodox religious icons. I mentioned to
him that the devout backdrop seemed at odds with
his outfit, a black jumpsuit and a fluorescent orange
bandana. “Oh, I’m not at all religious,” he told me
with a laugh. “I just like to change my ideological
surroundings every few weeks for inspiration.”
One of the only narratives to rouse genuine feelings was the Soviet victory in the second world war,
or the Great Patriotic War, as it’s still known. The
book I’ve written about my time in Russia, The Long
Hangover, is partly about Putin’s attempts to overcome the legacy of the Soviet collapse and restore a
In what other region of the
world would a top official
mention that he had been
abducted by aliens?
sense of pride to Russians, particularly through the
war victory. The victory of 1945 was the answer to
the trauma of 1991.
For a wounded nation that had few victories to
celebrate in living memory, the war was a powerful
rallying point. Almost every family had some connection to the war, in which the Soviet sacrifice was
unimaginably huge, but gradually under Putin, the
darker sides of the war effort and the Stalin regime
that ran the country at the time were pushed to one
side. The understandable search for national pride
gave way to jingoistic chest-thumping. War rhetoric
was also used to colour the present-day narrative;
again, Russia alone faced a rapacious enemy – this
time, the US. Of course, all countries have a selective approach to their histories but in Russia, the
selective memory reached truly disturbing levels
and the glorious war narrative became something
akin to a civil religion, with its own saints, martyrs
and unimpeachable truths.
The logical conclusion of this increasing
bellicosity came in 2014. The Maidan revolution
was answered by Russia’s annexation of Crimea
and then the months of war in eastern Ukraine.
Thousands were killed, including the passengers of
flight MH17, almost certainly shot down by a Russian missile meant for a Ukrainian military plane.
There were many reasons why Putin decided to
annex Crimea and get involved in eastern Ukraine,
but among them was the clash between two nations
still attempting to create their new national identities after the Soviet collapse. The second half of my
book is about the events of 2014 and its pages are
filled with those who struggled to find new identities in the post-Soviet world.
After 2014, anti-western sentiment in Russia rose
and reporting on the Kremlin became more difficult. Putin’s inner circle shrank further and some
of the few doors that had been ajar to me were
slammed shut. The idea that the west was working
for regime change in Russia, and that the foreign
media were merely an arm of this policy, became
more widespread. At one meeting with a reasonably
high-placed official, whom I’d hoped to cultivate as
a source, my interlocutor pounced on me:
“You think we’re barbarians, don’t you?”
“Of course not! That’s a ridiculous thing to say,” I
said. He fixed his eyes on me: “Well, we are barbarians, OK? But it’s your fault. Why can’t you just leave
us alone? Why can’t the west just stop interfering
in our affairs? You did it in 1917, you did it in 1991,
and now you are again trying to bring the country
to a collapse and you will only succeed in making us
more angry! We know things are wrong here, but we
will fix them ourselves! Leave us alone!”
The paranoid outburst was an insight into the
curious duality so often present in the Russian
psyche: aggression and insecurity. Russian patriotism is fixated on the west and often rooted in an
inferiority complex. This is not that surprising given
what Moscow lost when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Much of Putin’s time in office has been about
trying to restore this influence. Sometimes, he has
succeeded: the intervention in Syria has reshaped
the Middle East and forced the west to have Russia
at the table, even if Russian casualties could become
a problem for the Kremlin. At other times, he has
overreached: the interference in the US election
may have won Donald Trump a few votes and Putin
some notoriety, but it has also made Russia a toxic
subject across the western world. Robert Mueller’s
indictments of 13 Russians for election interference last month are one more sign that the scandal
is not likely to abate soon.
As the international political situation deteriorated over recent years, the quality of life in Moscow kept improving. Part of the response to protests
against Putin in 2011 and 2012, largely driven by urban elites, was a beautification project designed to
make Moscow nicer and distract people from politics. This process continued after 2014. Whether
the plan to divert attention has worked is harder to
gauge. For now, political apathy reigns both among
the urban elite and the broader population and
Putin is sure to win re-election.
It will be strange for me to follow what happens
next in Russia from outside its borders. While I’m
ready to leave, I suspect that one day I’ll be back.
Having seen nothing but Putin’s Russia in the 18year span of my time there, I’m fascinated by what
post-Putin Russia will look like, whether we have to
wait six or 26 years to find out.
Shaun Walker was Moscow correspondent of the
Guardian and Observer from 2013-2018. This
month he takes up a new role as Central and
Eastern Europe correspondent, based in Budapest
32 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Discovery
China’s great leap
forward in science
Investment is paying off with serious advances
in biotechnology, computing and space that are
making western labs take notice, says Philip Ball
I
first met Xiaogang Peng in the summer of
1992 at Jilin University in Changchun, in the
remote north-east of China, where he was a
postgraduate student in the department of
chemistry. He told me that his dream was to
get a place at a top American lab. Xiaogang
was smart and hardworking – but so, as far as I could
see, were most Chinese science students. I couldn’t
help thinking he’d set himself a massive challenge.
Fast forward four years to when, as an editor at
Nature, I publish a paper on nanotechnology from
world-leading chemists at the University of California at Berkeley. Among them was Xiaogang. That
1996 paper now appears in a 10-volume compendium of the all-time best of Nature papers being
published in translation in China.
I watched Xiaogang go on to forge a solid career
in the US, as in 2005 he became a tenured professor
at the University of Arkansas. But when I recently
had reason to get in touch with Xiaogang again, I
discovered that he had moved back to China and
is now at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou – one of
the country’s foremost academic institutions. For
Xiaogang, it seems that America was no longer the
only land of opportunity. These days, Chinese scientists stand at least as good a chance of making a
global impact on science from within China itself.
The economic rise of China has been accompanied by a waxing of its scientific prowess. In January, the United States National Science Foundation
reported that the number of scientific publications
from China in 2016 outnumbered those from the US
for the first time: 426,000 versus 409,000. Sceptics
might say that it’s about quality, not quantity. But
the patronising old idea that China, like the rest of
east Asia, can imitate but not innovate is certainly
false now. In several scientific fields, China is starting to set the pace for others to follow. Whereas
once the best Chinese scientists would pack their
bags for greener pastures abroad, today it’s comto
mon for Chinese postdoctoral researcherss to
n a leading lab in the
get experience in
west and then head
ead home where
rnment will help
the Chinese government
them set up a lab that will eclipse
their western competitors.
mpetitors.
een lured back
Many have been
by the Thousand
d Talents Plan,
in which scientists
ists aged under
hinese citizens
55 (whether Chinese
or not) are given
n full-time positions at prestigious
gious universites, with larger
ties and institutes,
than normal salaries
aries and
g
resources. “Deng
Xiaoping sent
many Chinese
students and scholars out of China to developed
countries 30 to 40 years ago, and now it is time for
them to come back,” says George Fu Gao of the Institute of Microbiology of the Chinese Academy of
Sciences in Beijing – who himself gained a PhD at
Oxford before studying at Harvard.
“The startup packages for researchers in good
universities in China can be significantly higher
than Hong Kong universities can offer,” says Che
Ting Chan, a physicist at the Hong Kong University
of Science & Technology in what was previously China’s affluent and westernised neighbour. “They provide more lab space and can help settle the spouse.”
That, he notes ruefully, “makes recruiting young
faculty staff increasingly challenging here.” Other
well-off east Asian countries, such as Singapore and
South Korea, are feeling the competition too.
The Chinese authorities are pursuing scientific
dominance with systematic resolve. The annual
expenditure on research and development in China
increased from 1995 to 2013 by a factor of more
than 30, and reached $234bn in 2016. The number
of international publications coming out of China
has remained in step with this rise. The ultimate
aim is to develop a homegrown, innovative research
environment, says Mu-Ming Poo of the Institute of
Neuroscience of the Chinese Academy of Sciences
in Shanghai. “The government is beginning to
recognise that big investment and recruitment of
talent from abroad are not sufficient. We need to
build infrastructure and mechanisms that facilitate innovation within China.” That’s not easy, and
won’t happen fast. “Officially, government leaders
say that taking risks is allowed, but the system of
evaluating scientists and projects, and the philosophy and methods of instruction in university curricula, aren’t compatible with this policy.”
China’s strength also comes down to sheer numbers, though. “There is always a certain fraction of
talented people who are innovative,” says Chan.
China has the advantage of h
“China
having a lot of people.”
controver
One of the more controversial
ways Chinese institutions encourage
enco
ourage their researchers to publish
high-prof
high-profile papers is to offer
cash incentives.
inc
One study
that on average a paper
found th
in Nature
Na
or Science could
earn the author a bonus of
almost $44,000 in 2016.
almo
The highest prize on offer wa
was $165,000 for a single
paper, up to 20 times a
pape
typ
typical university proffessor’s annual salary.
According to quanttum physicist Jian-Wei
Pan of the University of
P
Science and Technology in Hefei, as a relative latecomer to the global scientific stage, China needs such
incentives as a way of maintaining enthusiasm. Chan
adds that “the rewarding system is transparent, and
the expectation of the senior administration is clearly
spelled out. Most of my friends in China don’t see this
as a problem – many feel that any formula, even if it’s
simple and naive, is better than no formula.”
But could it not tempt researchers to cheat, fabricate or cherrypick results so that they can claim a dramatic discovery? The 2016 study of cash incentives
also reported a rise in plagiarism, ghostwritten papers and other dishonest attempts to get published.
Poo says that, whatever the case, the practice of cash
incentives is not widespread. “Only a few low-level
research institutions are doing this, not the Chinese
Academy of Sciences or top universities,” he says.
He thinks that problems with scientific misconduct
and fraud in China have more to do with poor quality
control or lack of punitive measures.
However, the pattern seems clear, and is worth
heeding by other nations: despite China’s reputation for authoritarian and hierarchical rule, in science the approach seems to be to ensure that top
researchers are well supported with funding and
resources, and then to leave them to get on with it.
Cloning, embryology and virology
The recent news that a laboratory in Shanghai has
succeeded in cloning macaque monkeys made
world headlines not just because of the impressive
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 33
Headline advances … bottom left, cloned
monkeys Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua in Shanghai;
a rocket carrying cargo spacecraft Tianzhou 1,
which docked with the Tiangong 2 space
laboratory in 2017 Reuters; VCG/Getty
– not for reproductive medicine but to examine the
viability of the technique to edit a disease-causing
gene variant, using IVF embryos that could not develop further. That work was refused publication
in the leading journals Nature and Science on ethical grounds, although related work has now been
licensed and conducted in the UK.
China is taking great strides in other areas of
biological science, too. The waves of deadly bird
flu that have afflicted the country annually since
it was first detected in 2013 supply a very urgent
need for research in virology. Chinese researchers
had already learned a lot about viral epidemics,
says George Gao, after the outbreak of the particularly virulent form of influenza that caused Sars
(severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2002-03,
originating in Guangzhou.
Gao’s work has focused on understanding how
zoonotic viruses like bird flu, which cross from
animals to humans, are transmitted across species.
He has also looked at the structures and molecular mechanisms of the Sars, Ebola, Zika and Mers
(Middle East respiratory syndrome) viruses, all of
which potentially pose global threats. The government has invested heavily in this field, he says, but
he has no illusions that China still has some catching
up to do. “In my opinion we are yet far behind US
science in general. And we need a better system to
encourage businesses to develop basic research.”
The quantum internet
Illustration: Edward Tuckwell
scientific feat but because of the implications for
humans. While mammals from sheep (Dolly in 1997)
to pigs, dogs and cows have been cloned before,
primates have been a problem. Mu-Ming Poo and
his colleagues cracked the problem by treating the
monkey eggs into which the genetic material of the
cloned individual had been placed with a cocktail
of molecules that awaken the genes needed to promote development into an embryo. The Chinese
team has so far only produced healthy baby monkeys by cloning cells taken from other monkey foetuses, not from adult monkeys. But Poo tells me: “I
think cloning using adult cells will be accomplished
soon, probably within one year.”
Such experiments on our close evolutionary
relatives raise ethical concerns, all the more so
because there were many failures: only two live
births out of 79 attempts. Nonetheless, the work
makes human reproductive cloning look more
feasible in principle. And despite the ethical issues surrounding such research (many countries
ban it), the magnitude and cost of the work already
undertaken reinforces a sense that if China sets its
sights on a particular scientific or technological
target, nothing will get in its way.
It’s with good reason Poo asserts that China has
become a world leader in stem-cell science and regenerative medicine. Researchers at Sun Yat-sen
University in Guangzhou created similar surprise
and alarm when in 2015 they announced the first use
of high-precision gene-editing in a human embryo
In January, Chinese researchers announced that
they had sent data securely encrypted using the
rules of quantum mechanics via satellite to Vienna
in Austria – a demonstration of the potential of a
“quantum internet” that Dutch quantum physicist
hnical University of Delft
Ronald Hanson of the Technical
ilestone towards future
describes to me as “a milestone
quantum networks”.
Quantum information technologies harness
ciples of quantum physthe counterintuitive principles
rmation that are imposics to do things with information
sible with the 1s and 0s off binary code in today’s
puters can, for some
devices. Quantum computers
tasks, operate faster and
d with more computational resources than ordinary
inary computers, while
ications network – the
a quantum telecommunications
quantum internet – could
d employ data-encryption methods that are rendered
dered tamper-proof by
m laws of nature. The
the fundamental quantum
uantum cryptography
principles of so-called quantum
were worked out in the 1980s, but applying
oded in light signals
them to information encoded
ission is an immense
for long-distance transmission
technical challenge.
China’s approach here again exemplifies its
vernment has begun
can-do mentality. The government
to install a fibre-optic network
twork for quantum
hing from Shanghai
telecommunication stretching
to Beijing. But for longer-distance
-distance transmisood because the light
sion optical fibres are no good
signal eventually gets too dim as it passes along
the fibre. Instead signals must be through the
ct orbiting satellites
air, using lasers to connect
016
with ground stations. In 2016
China initiated an internanaantional project called Quanace
tum Experiments at Space
Scale (Quess) and launched
ed a
satellite designed for quantum data handling, called
Micius after the romanised name of the ancient Chinese philosopher Mozi.
The satellite work is being led by Jian-Wei Pan,
who studied for his PhD in Vienna under Anton
Zeilinger, one of the foremost scientists in the field
of quantum information science. In 2009 Pan oversaw the task of constructing a “quantum communication hotline” for the military parade on the 60th
anniversary of the Chinese communist state, and in
2012 he won the prestigious biennial International
Quantum Communication award.
Pan’s success in getting this technology up and
running feels almost inexorable. Last year his team
in Hefei drew more headlines by demonstrating the
first “teleportation” of quantum objects (photons or
“particles” of light) from the ground-based observatory at Ngari in Tibet to Micius, up to 1,400km away.
The feat is not quite as science-fictional as it sounds –
quantum teleportation, unlike the Star Trek version,
does not involve any transmission of matter – but it
could be an important trick for quantum telecommunications. The team also reported transmission
of the “key” used for quantum encryption of signals
between ground stations in China and Micius.
The latest advance was to get such keys all the
way from Beijing to Vienna. This meant sending a
laser signal with the quantum information from
the Xinglong observatory near Beijing to Micius as
it passed over China, and then having Micius communicate another such message with a station in Graz
as it traversed the night sky over Austria. The link-up
between Xinglong and Beijing, and between Graz and
Vienna, was made along local fibre-optic networks.
In this way, a video conference held between the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and the Austrian
Academy of Sciences (of which Zeilinger is president)
in Vienna was conducted with the robust security of
quantum encryption – a striking harbinger of what a
quantum internet might provide.
Pan says that the key to the success of Quess so
far is coordination and collaboration within the immense pool of talent that Ch
China possesses. “When
researchers [in different disciplines] undertake
joint research, they can ttruly innovate,” he says.
is still important
Acquiring skills abroad
ab
for Chinese researche
researchers, says Pan, and will
be for some time. But increasingly it’s workround. “In my laboratory
ing the other way rou
there are quite a few fforeign students from
developed countries, and some of them are
Chinese,” he says.
even learning Chinese
Space
In June the Chinese space
s
agency plans to
launch a lunar space mission to deliver a
satellite that will gui
guide a rocket in 2019 to
the far (“dark”) side of
o the moon, bearing a
robotic lander vehicl
vehicle. The satellite link is
essential for relaying
for relayin data from the rover
back to Earth. It’s a
all part of a campaign
aiming at a manned moon mission in the
2030s. China is already
alre
regarded as a serious contender wit
with the US, Europe and
Russia for predom
predominance in space . It
has launched two prototype unmanned
space stations in its Tiangong programme,
a prelude to Tiangon
Tiangong-3, which, if launched
in the early 2020s, will
w support a crew of
three – potentially including astronauts
from other UN member
nations. China has even
nati
disc
discussed building a moon
bas
base with the European
Space Agency. Observer
Spa
34 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Books
Life-saving wonders
that take place
beneath our skin
Mark Honigsbaum is intrigued
by the mavericks who work on
the human immune response
The Beautiful Cure: Harnessing Your Body’s
Natural Defences
by Daniel M Davis
Bodley Head, 272pp
In 1989, Charles Janeway, a scientist at Yale
University, had an epiphany that would revolutionise
immunology. For 50 years, immunologists had
subscribed to the dogma that vaccines worked by
training the body to recognise molecules that were
foreign to the body – “non-self” in immunological
jargon. The usual way of doing this was to use vaccines to expose people to a dead or harmless version
of a microbe, prompting the activation of antibodies
that would be ready to swamp the germ should they
encounter the alien entity a second time.
But there were exceptions to the rule: sometimes, proteins separated from originating germs
proved ineffective as vaccines; at other times,
vaccines required the addition of an adjuvant, such
as aluminium, to kickstart an immune response
and no one could explain why. What if, wondered
Janeway, the presence of something that had never
been in your body before was not sufficient to trigger an immune reaction? What if a second signal
was required?
Today, that second something is known as a
pattern-recognition receptor and it is understood
that there are countless varieties of them, each
equipped to detect specific types of germs and
switch on the appropriate immune responses.
Together with an alphabet soup of other specialised
cells, hormones and proteins, they form part of our
innate immune system, helping us to distinguish
harmful bacteria and viruses from
rom
beneficial ones, such as gut microbes
obes
essential for digestion.
For Daniel Davis, professor of
immunology at the University of
Manchester, they constitute a
“beautiful cure” more powerful than
an
any product of a pharmaceutical
al
laboratory. Yet it is only in the pastt
30 years that immunologists such
h
as Davis and Janeway, who died
in 2003, have begun to shed light
on these “wonders taking place
beneath the skin”.
In the process, they have
found new ways to treat cancer,
diabetes, arthritis and other agerelated diseases. Immunologists
are even beginning to understand
d the way in
which immune responses are dependent on emotional and psychological states and the role that
stress and exposure to light play in fighting disease.
Given this, you would have thought that research
into the workings of the immune system would be a
top scientific priority. But while billions have been
poured into the pursuit of the Higgs boson, immunology lacks a similar programmatic call-to-arms.
Instead, Davis argues, immunology has always
been a curiosity-driven science, a matter of “a few
individuals following their nose”.
This is nowhere more true than in the case of
interferon. A signalling protein involved in a host
of immune responses, interferon owes its discovery
to a chance meeting in 1956 between two scientists
at the National Institute of Medical Research in Mill
Hill, north London. At a time when their colleagues
were focused on tthe epidemiology of flu, Alick
Isaacs and Jean Lindenmann asked
Isaac
different question:
a completely
c
namely, why was it so rare for somenam
one to be infected with two different
viruses at the same time? That
viru
observation went back at least as
obse
far as
a Charles Darwin’s grandfather,
Erasmus Darwin, who commented he
Erasm
had n
never seen a patient with measles
also had smallpox, but until Isaacs
who a
no one had thought
and Lindenmann
Li
to inve
investigate the phenomenon.
They found that by signalling genes
produce proteins such as tetherin to
to prod
attack viruses,
vi
interferon played a crucial
role in th
this process. In an example of how
in science
scienc everything comes full circle,
recent st
studies even suggest interferon
may help people stave off flu, explaining why people who lack a key interferon-stimulating gene are
more likely to be admitted to hospital for the disease.
This is important because if people who lack the
interferon gene could be screened and prioritised
Billions have been poured
into the pursuit of the
Higgs boson; immunology
lacks a similar call-to-arms
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 35
The flaw in the mafia
code is misogyny
The Good Mothers
by Alex Perry
William Collins, 320pp
Clare Longrigg
Observer
Prepare to repel … our ability to fight viruses
can depend on emotional and psychological
states as well as physical defences, recent
research has shown PlrangGFX/Alamy
for vaccination in the autumn, it could reduce the
number of elderly patients hospitalised in winter.
Davis is a sure and engaging guide to these
developments. Beginning with Janeway’s prediction of pattern-recognition receptors, each chapter
is devoted to a scientist, or often a pair of scientists,
who, working outside the mainstream, thought to
ask questions no one else was asking at the time
and often had to endure years of scepticism and
scorn before seeing their ideas accepted (unfortunately in Janeway’s case he died before the award of
the Nobel prize to a colleague whose research was
inspired by his theories).
These mavericks include Ralph Steinman,
the Canadian immunologist credited with the
discovery of dendritic cells, and Jim Allison, whose
discovery of “immune checkpoint therapy” is fast
becoming an important adjunct to radiotherapy
and chemotherapy for the treatment of cancers. In
each case, Davis shows how these scientific thinkers
overturned the previous dogma and progressively
deepened the story of immunology.
His message is that, although knowledge of the
immune system has come on in leaps and bounds
in the past 100 years, immunology still lacks a unifying theory. “We must not expect everything the
immune system does to fit any one overarching
principle,” he concludes. “The system discriminates between self and non-self, and it detects
germs, and it responds to danger, and it does all
these things concurrently – and messily.” Observer
When Alessandra Cerreti joined the
anti-mafia prosecutor’s office in the
city of Reggio Calabria in 2010, she
was convinced women were the key
to breaking open the secret world of
Italy’s most powerful mafia. Women,
she believed, were more than victims. If they could be persuaded to
talk, their knowledge could be devastating. There
were precedents, though not many – the ’Ndrangheta,
the Calabrian mafia, is based on family groups ruled
with a combination of loyalty and fear and, as its
wealth and power have grown, it has proved
extremely difficult to penetrate.
Cerreti is tough, cool and striking, a brilliant investigator who came to Calabria after working on
terrorism cases. Her husband is a carabiniere, and
they live under armed guard – they have no children
because their work makes them a target. In Calabria,
Cerreti found she was up against not only the mafia’s violent and oppressive treatment of women,
but also some of her male colleagues, who were reluctant to take female witnesses seriously.
In about 2010, three women from different
Calabrian crime families each made a desperate bid
to escape from the mafia’s grip. They had all married young and suffered in violent relationships.
For these women, whose entire families and social
networks were rooted in the mafia, becoming a collaborator offered a way out, but not without collateral damage. The painful and dangerous process of
these women’s rebellion against the family makes
a gripping and heartbreaking narrative.
Maria Concetta Cacciola had been a virtual
prisoner in her own home for years when she
walked into a police station and said she wanted to
collaborate. Once Cerreti had established that she
was serious, and had valuable information to give,
she moved her to a safe place and interviewed her.
To leave the mafia means much more than physically getting away from it. If you leave, the women
are told, you cease to exist. You might as well be
dead; you will have no place in your children’s
lives. This emotional pressure can be annihilating.
Cacciola went home, even though the family had
threatened to kill her. In August 2011, Cerreti and her
officers were waiting in their cars, phones in hand,
ready to scoop up Cacciola and her children from
her parents’ house, when they got news that she was
dead. She had died from drinking hydrochloric acid.
Her family insist it was suicide, but the authorities
are convinced she was murdered.
These stories are not neat and the actions of
the people in them are not always reasonable and
Perry does not try to tidy them up. Cerreti’s greatest
breakthrough in the war against the ’Ndrangheta
was achieved working with Giuseppina Pesce, who
had been an active member of a powerful mafia family in Rosarno. Cerreti describes her first meeting
with Pesce in prison. Even as she said she had information to give, she displayed the high-handed attitude of a boss’s daughter. She offered a couple of bits
of information and demanded to be released into
witness protection. “She looked at me with such
loathing,” Cerreti said. “Such pride and resentment.
I represented the state, which was ruining her life.”
Pesce’s family fought a long campaign to turn
their daughter against Cerreti. But in May 2013,
Pesce’s help resulted in massive sentences and fines
against her family’s clan and their allies. Her story
shows that, when the authorities are intelligent
enough to support them, women can be a powerful weapon against the mafia.
Still an open wound
White Chrysanthemum
by Mary Lynn Bracht
Chatto & Windus, 320pp
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
George Orwell taught us that all
writing is political: Mary Lynn
Bracht’s debut novel is forthrightly
so. White Chrysanthemum is the
story of two Korean sisters separated
by the second world war. Hana is
dragged away by a Japanese soldier
to a life of sexual slavery; Emi is
left to grow up wondering what happened to her
sister. Hana’s narrative covers the war years, while
in Emi’s chapters it is 2011, and the elderly Emi is
still looking for her sister.
The language is blunt, with every page shouting
of wrongs perpetrated. Bracht rejects the old
mantra of show, don’t tell; her characters’ pain is
shown, told, shown and told again. For example:
“Anger and fear swarm through her body, radiating in hot waves to the soldier beside her. He
stole her from her seaside home, from everything
she knows and loves, and then raped her.” These
events have already been described in detail, but
Hana obsessively goes over them again in her
mind. Indeed, the book forces us to confront the
inescapability of these traumas.
Hana’s miseries are echoed in Emi’s quieter
moments of pain. Bracht describes her parents
pushing a flower into the ocean in mourning for
their lost Hana: “It was a chrysanthemum, a symbol
of mourning for Koreans. The imperial seal of Japan
was the yellow chrysanthemum, a crest symbolising the imperial family’s power. Emi had wondered
which came first, the symbol of power or mourning.” In 2011, Emi still cannot enjoy flowers. It is a
reminder of the way our conflicts and sufferings
seep into the future, changing the meaning of the
most innocent of objects.
White Chrysanthemum gives glimpses of
the suffering of others affected by the war – the
Japanese soldier dehumanised by the starvation
of his son and suicide of his wife, and the ageing
Japanese “comfort woman” who is kind to Hana –
but the bulk of the book’s attention and sympathy
is for the Korean victims, the women whose stories
are in danger of being lost for ever.
This book is fighting a battle that didn’t end with
the surrender of Japan in 1945. It was only in 1993 that
the Japanese government acknowledged the existence of comfort women; this despite the fact that the
United Nations estimates that 200,000 women were
forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese army.
Most were Korean, although Japanese and Filipina
women also suffered. In Continued on page 36 →
36 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Books
Troubled minds
← Continued from page 35 2015, Japan’s government officially agreed to recognise its military’s use
of comfort women and to set up a 1bn yen ($9.2m)
fund to help them; it did so only on condition that
the Korean government consider the issue resolved
and that the Statue of Peace in Seoul, which features
a comfort woman, be taken down. Yet in 2017, Japan
and Korea were in talks reconsidering this deal.
At the end of White Chrysanthemum, Bracht
includes a timeline starting with the end of the
Korean empire in 1905 and continuing to the present
day. Following that is a reading list of 38 books
relating to the struggle of the comfort women. The
book is fictional, but its concerns are political. I
suspect that the novel will affect readers differently,
depending on their background and historical
knowledge. Bracht has fashioned her own memorial to the comfort women. White Chrysanthemum
is a timely and furiously felt book.
Walking Wounded
by Sheila Llewellyn
Sceptre, 272pp
Elizabeth Lowry
Off the lead
Afterglow (A Dog Memoir)
by Eileen Myles
Grove Press, 224pp
Kate Kellaway
Observer
You may think, at least if you are not
a dog lover, that the dog memoir is
for a niche, non-literary readership.
But some of the best memoirs I have
read have been about dogs: JR Ackerley’s indispensable We Think the
World of You soothed my broken
heart as a teenager after a beloved
dog had died, and Paul Bailey’s A Dog’s Life is a
splendid memoir about the collie cross that took
over his and his partner’s life. Even Virginia Woolf
wrote a book about a dog: Flush (which is also a semifictional biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning).
But Eileen Myles’s Afterglow belongs in a strange
category of its own – it is unlike anything I have read
and is a work of Joycean ambition.
The dog is Rosie – a stolid, black-and-white pit bull
terrier chosen by Myles from a New York street litter.
We read early on about Rosie’s last trip to the vet aged
15 (and her last supper: carne asada). But Rosie’s end
turns out not to be an ending and her afterlife is in
playful hands. Myles, who started as a poet and performance artist in New York City, is now a professor
in San Diego and is billed as a “queer feminist literary
icon”, lets her imagination off the lead and feels no
need to make runaway thoughts come to heel.
This is not a dog elegy that, on the whole, tugs at
the heartstrings, although
h itss ending is comically
moving, in its quaint way
y.. Rum
Ru
um and
random non-sequiturs flou
floururish throughout (there is an
academic footnote, on the
he
toothlessness of Native
e
Americans) and Rosie links
ks
all the eccentric synapses –
she is regularly sighted and
nd
cited. She is even the pururported author/posthumous
ous
editor of a delightful chapter
pterr
in which she reveals her low
w
opinion of Myles’s earlier writwriiting efforts: “Afterglow is totally
otallly a
book with legs (four if I can be dumb)
d
Tale wags writer … Eileen Myles with Rosie,
who led her memoir to Joycean heights
so it will go a lot further than your earlier Eileenbased fictions.”
Myles also raises the hilarious and sobering
notion of the dog as ghostwriter: “Dog is travelling
through you. I’m dead but you’re going to be dead.”
And this leads to a nice aside on writers as ghosts:
“All the vitality floods on to the page while her own
existence grows wanner and thinner.” There is no
missing Myles’s vitality as puppets interview Rosie
or during the filming of dog moments, written up
with the intensity of a detective or clairvoyant. And
as Rosie’s voice is broadcast with droll authority –
matter-of-fact, gruff, butch – you realise the dog is
the ultimate alter ego: “I feel like a funeral director. Lots of funeral directors are dogs. The Grannan
family in Arlington. Remember them. I think they
were mainly terriers. Anyhow I knew their son. I
don’t want to get distracted.”
This is no run-of-the-mill anthropomorphism –
Myles prefers the reverse traffic: the dog in us and
in other people: “They cast their eyes up. They do
a deep huh.” Dog is even experimentally promoted
as God. And there is, throughout, the burden of
guilt, the sense that Myles should somehow have
been able to keep Rosie alive – the book is one way
of doing it. There is a wonderful chapter about attending an AA meeting wit
with
th Rosie and feeling “up
lighthouse
in my head like a depressed
d
keeper in
n cool
c
sneakers” (wonderfu
derful
ul image) and psychup to give an
ing
g herself
h
el
eloquent
loq
confessional.
But when Myles’s turn
Bu
B
comes round, the worry
ccom
iss a
about whether Rosie
might have c rapped
mig
m
on tthe floor – and she
sayss sso. Everyone laughs.
Posturing
Postu
uri goes out the window. F
For
For all its dog-leg turns,
there iss n
no putting down of
or of this book.
Rosie or
off th
This quietly self-assured first novel
contains some of the most graphic
descriptions of brain surgery likely
to be found outside a medical textbook. Set in a military psychiatric
hospital in 1947, Sheila Llewellyn’s
tale of the psychological costs of war
is an often nightmarish yet deeply
touching interleaving of the stories of resident psychiatrist Daniel Carter and his newest patient,
Burma campaign veteran David Reece.
David has what was once known as “war neurosis”, or what we would now call post-traumatic
stress disorder. When he is unable to reintegrate
himself into civilian life, David is admitted to Northfield Military Psychiatric Hospital near Birmingham. At Northfield – “not so much a hospital, more
a receptacle for army rejects” – he befriends other
casualties of war, among them a deserter from the
north Africa and Normandy campaigns called John
Bain, who is also being treated by Daniel.
But Daniel, too, has his battles to fight: this is the
postwar heyday of psychosurgery and the vaunted
quick fix of leucotomy (also known as lobotomy),
when psychotherapy is regarded with suspicion
by his colleagues. Their preferred approaches are
electro-convulsive therapy or psychotropic drugs,
and there is growing pressure at Northfield to adopt
this experimental surgical intervention. Daniel is
still haunted by having witnessed such a procedure,
carried out on a depressed woman years earlier by a
London surgeon called McKissock.
Executed with a commendable lightness of
touch, the book’s harrowing clinical scenes pose
wider questions both about power and consent in
the treatment of mental illness and the connection
between the mind and the brain. Leucotomy is the
atom bomb of treatments, an operation that promises to solve the problem of suffering by destroying the very landscape it aims to liberate: as Daniel
protests, “I just don’t see how you mend an unquiet
mind by taking a slice of it away.”
Instead, he pioneers a series of talk-based sessions
aimed at defusing traumatic memory. Llewellyn, a
trained therapist who has brought her own experience of working with victims of PTSD to bear on the
story, clearly knows the terrain well. The exchanges
between Daniel and his patients are compelling, not
least because in this subtle interplay of emotions it’s
often unclear who is really helping whom.
John Bain is the real name of the poet who wrote
as Vernon Scannell. His poem Walking Wounded,
with its recognition that the dead, if not mourned,
“must bear arms again”, gives the novel its name.
One wishes there had been more of Bain/Scannell
in the book. It’s through him, even more than
through the younger and less articulate David, that
Llewellyn makes her central point: if therapy is an
art, then all art is also therapy. Llewellyn’s restrained
story, with its wounded healer and its damaged
soldier-writers, invites comparison to Pat Barker’s
magnificent Regeneration trilogy. While Llewellyn
doesn’t have Barker’s savage inventiveness or wider
anthropological vision, her novel is nevertheless a
beautifully turned piece of work.
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 37
Books
Reading beyond the stereotypes
Disability runs through literature
but its meaning changes, explain
Clare Barker and Stuart Murray
Device … disability in
plays like Richard III and
Moby-Dick can illuminate
aspects of character
and plot Nobby Clark
K
ing Richard’s soliloquy at the start
of Richard III is one of the most
dramatic openings of any piece
of literature. From the play’s first
lines, Shakespeare stresses that his
central character is vengeful, vindictive and morally vacuous. Richard tells us that he is “determined to prove a villain”. But he spells out specific details that help us
understand his hatred. He is, he observes, “rudely
stamped”, “deformed, unfinished”, “scarce half
made up” and “cheated of feature by dissembling
nature”. Richard is disabled, and the fact of his
disabled difference is given as an explanation for
his desire to be “subtle, false and treacherous”.
Many literary villains are disabled, providing
a metaphorical shortcut to ideas of deviance,
bitterness or desire for revenge. So Richard’s
soliloquy is not actually signalling that the play
is a text about a man with disabilities. Here
an “unfinished” body is more about Richard’s
character than any real sense of embodied
experience. It is treachery, rather than disability,
that his “deformations” signify.
Disability is everywhere in literature, across all
periods and genres, whether in medieval saints’
narratives, the sentimentality of the 19th-century
novel, modernist obsessions with eugenics or
contemporary preoccupations with mental
health. Often in these stories disability appears in
the same way as it does in Richard III, namely, as
a narrative device that illuminates what appear
to be more “important” elements of plot or
character. Often it exposes the anxieties or preoccupations of the historical moment. So, for example, Tim Cratchit, the disabled child in Dickens’s
A Christmas Carol, facilitates that novel’s meditation on greed, wealth and charity even though
he barely features. Likewise, Bertha Mason,
Charlotte Brontë’s “madwoman in the attic”
in Jane Eyre, has been read as expressing the
outrage of gender- and race-based oppressions,
while Rochester, who loses a hand and is blinded
at the end of the novel, allows for the exploration
of questions of romance and care. Captain Ahab’s
prosthetic leg in Melville’s Moby-Dick is not
simply the sign of a historical encounter with
ningthe great white whale; it is far more meaningn
ful as a marker of the mania and obsession
that will lead Ahab to pursue his quarry to
o
the point of his own death.
In these texts and others disability is
fundamentally transparent, something
to be looked through to discuss other
concerns. The lens that disability provides might make readers think more
about “being human”, or provoke ideas
of shock, fear, deviance or pity, but at
heart these are understood as “universal”
”
issues rather than anything specific aboutt
disability experience. In DH Lawrence’s
Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Clifford
e
Chatterley’s paralysis and wheelchair use
are both a commentary on the barbarity
of the first world war and the sterility of the
Chatterleys’ marriage that licenses Constance’s
explorations; Clifford’s actual experience of his
wheelchair is less important than the wider contemplations it makes possible.
But just as the end of the last century saw the
rise of disability rights movements, so it heralded
changes in the ways literature presented physical
and cognitive difference. Life writing about
disability and mental health formed a major
part of the memoir boom of the 1990s, while
fiction, drama and poetry embraced the narrative possibilities that came with disability viewpoints. Writing from within first-person disability
perspectives is not a contemporary phenomenon:
people with disabilities have always written about
them – think of Milton or Joyce on blindness, and
indeed the very shift in our thinking about literature that comes from seeing these two writers as
having disabilities; while William Faulkner’s The
Sound and the Fury is a famous example of experimental disability writing from the 1920s.
But it has
h become a more common technique in the
t last few decades. Arguably the
best known
kno
text that uses cognitive difference
shape its narrative viewpoint is Mark
to sha
Haddon’s hugely successful The Curious
Had
Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
In
The novel, recounted by its protagoTh
nist, is full of alternative perspectives
nis
People with
disabilities have
always written
about them – like
Milton and Joyce
and ways of seeing the world that autism, a condition seemingly beyond biomedical knowledge
for most of the 20th century, is now understood
to possess. In such writing, disability is conceived
as difference and not deficit. In the best contemporary writing about disability, such difference
is shown to be often mundane and ordinary. A
disabled life is one among many.
Representation matters. It is more important
than ever to think about how disability is represented in our society: in the media; in fiction; in
television and film; in political discourse and public policy. People with disabilities are frequently
used as scapegoats. Media hysteria around the
idea of benefit scroungers has fuelled a resurgence
of Victorian ideas about the undeserving poor.
In the spirit of nationalist pride, we are invited
to celebrate the achievements of our “supercrip”
Paralympians while (as many activist athletes in
the UK point out) “ordinary” disabled people are
losing their income and their housing to cuts.
These ideas are not new. Literature gives context for understanding such confused and conflicting contemporary discourses. It helps trace
where stereotypes and oppressions have come
from and how they have evolved. Dominant
ideas about disability don’t necessarily reflect
the reality of lives and capabilities, but fit the
political agendas of particular times and places.
We can find in literature endless examples of the
prejudices that surround disability, but we can
also encounter the complexity of the world of
people with disabilities and the rich and vibrant
histories they make. Reading, as an engagement
with imagined possibilities, makes for better understanding of the shades of human difference
that disability highlights.
The Cambridge Companion to Literature and
Disability is published by Cambridge
38 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Culture
Establishment
figures embrace
shock of the new
Rolex is paying a fortune to pair up young artists
with acknowledged masters across a variety of
genres. But is there a catch, asks Alex Needham
T
he crowd wandering through Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie may look like
any other bunch of gallery-goers
on a Saturday afternoon. Seasoned
culture vultures, however, would
recognise that the lanky, shavenheaded man in an Adidas jacket is choreographer
Wayne McGregor; that the Irishman in an overcoat
is novelist Colm Tóibín; and that the energetic,
white-haired woman in glasses is Joan Jonas,
who this spring will show five decades’ worth of
groundbreaking work in her first Tate Modern
retrospective in London.
Also in town are the likes of architect David
Adjaye, cultural theorist Homi K Bhabha, theatre
director Selina Cartmell, as well as the artist and
opera director William Kentridge. Why are they all
here? Well, most of them are currently looking at
work by Thao-Nguyen Phan, a 30-year-old Vietnamese artist few, if any, will have previously heard of.
Phan’s exhibition is the first of a weekend of events
organised by Rolex, as part of its Mentor and Protege
Arts Initiative. Every two years, after scouring the
world for talent, the company pairs an established
artist with an up-and-coming one, usually from a different country. An idea that would have been familiar
to the old masters, the hope is that the younger artist
can learn from – and perhaps collaborate with – the
elder over the course of a couple of years.
As well as those mentioned above, the current
crop of mentors include Gravity director Alfonso
Cuarón, composer Philip Glass, Mozambican writer
Mia Couto, theatre director Robert Lepage, architect David Chipperfield and choreographer Ohad
Naharin. Rolex’s only stipulation is that the artists
spend a minimum of six weeks together. The company gives 100,000 Swiss francs ($107,000) to each
mentor and 40,000 to the proteges. It also funds
travel and expenses, which all adds up to a hefty
sum, given the global nature of the enterprise.
“It’s very open,” says Kentridge, who mentored
the Colombian artist Mateo López in 2012. “If we’d
said, ‘Actually we want to spend three weeks in the
Antarctic on a cruise’, Rolex would have done that.”
Kentridge, like the 100 or so other mentors and proteges who have participated in the scheme so far,
gets invited back every couple of years for weekends
like the one I am attending in Berlin. Here, mentors
introduce work they and their proteges have made,
or discuss how the process worked if there’s nothing
that can be shown.
The event concludes with a lavish dinner as the
proteges are sent off into the world. Many have
gone on to achieve considerable success. Ben
Frost, mentored by Brian Eno in 2010, has taken
his particular brand of extreme noise terror everywhere from Netflix’s Dark to an opera adaptation
of The Wasp Factory. Naomi Alderman, mentored
by Margaret Atwood in 2012, won the Baileys prize
for fiction five years later.
The previous arts weekend was in Mexico City,
while 2012’s took place in Venice. Given that everyone is flown in from around the world and put up
at a five-star hotel, it’s easy to see the appeal of
returning. But there are also opportunities to meet
old friends and strike up new collaborations – with
the incentive that Rolex will stump up another
30,000 francs for a follow-up project.
The Peruvian film-maker Josué Méndez in
2006 was mentored by Stephen Frears. “It’s a safe
environment,” says Méndez. “There’s time, which
is the most precious thing. They’re building this
community. It’s a really nice family.” Though he
has lost touch with Frears, Méndez is developing a
TV script with the Colombian writer Antonio García
Ángel, a protege who was mentored by the Peruvian
Nobel-winner Mario Vargas Llosa.
There’s no application form for the scheme:
instead, experts amass a list of two dozen or so likely
candidates in each genre, whittle this to three, then
present the final trio to the relevant mentor, who
spends time with them before reaching a decision.
Cuarón stipulated that he wanted “a woman from
the third world” to mentor, though he ended up with
a man, the Indian film-maker Chaitanya Tamhane.
Cuarón realised Tamhane was a better fit for his
forthcoming film Roma, an arthouse black-andwhite work that contains plenty of Cuarón’s famed
technical aplomb. “One film-maker was doing stuff
in Super 8. Her stuff is fantastic – it’s just her arrival
to a set, with all the toys and tools I’m working with,
was going to be a bit irrelevant for her process.”
What made Jonas choose Phan? “I thought her
paintings were really beautiful and interesting,” she
says, adding that she was also “very happy to give
a woman the opportunity to show her work outside
Rolex/Reto Albertalli
Learning from one another …
protege Thao-Nguyen Phan
presents her exhibition Poetic
Amnesia with mentor Joan
Jonas at Kulturforum, Berlin
Jonas says of
Phan: ‘I think
she has more
energy and
more creativity
than me’
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 39
Rolex/Reto Albertalli; Bart Michiels
The old and the new … above,
protege Pauchi Sasaki speaks
with mentor Philip Glass. Left,
Sasaki performs at the
Deutsches Theater, Berlin
Glass offered
advice on ‘the
practicalities of
the music world,
how to navigate
the business part’
of Vietnam, to be exposed. I know from experience
that young artists who are men have a slightly easier
time than women.”
Rebecca Irvin, Rolex’s head of philanthropy, says
the project’s diversity is largely due to the mentors
and the international nature of the programme.
“Certain mentors will say, ‘I want to help young
film-makers from Asia and Africa.’ We don’t have
quotas, we’re not following some kind of political
agenda, it’s happening organically.”
Not everyone gets the memo, however: there
are grumbles about the all-white, middle-aged and
male panel led by Chipperfield to discuss urban
planning, especially when, at the end, a woman in
the audience gets up and it’s decided that there isn’t
time to squeeze in her question.
There’s also the question of what Rolex gets out
of it. Palestinian film-maker Annemarie Jacir was
mentored by Zhang Yimou in 2010 as he made The
Flowers of War, which required trips to China and a
translator, all provided by the company. Nonetheless, Jacir says that – even after further support for
her film Wajib, Palestine’s entry for best foreignlanguage film at this year’s Oscars – Rolex’s money
comes without strings attached. “With other companies that do this kind of thing,” she says, “it’s all
about putting their name out there, about branding.
I have not had that feeling with Rolex.”
So the lead character didn’t have to wear a big
Rolex? “Exactly!” says Jacir. “They don’t ask that I
wear one everywhere. When they supported my film,
they didn’t have any conditions. I put a thank you in
the credits, but they didn’t ask. That is very unusual.”
Other projects shown over the Berlin weekend
include a four-screen reinvention of Macbeth by
Argentinian theatre director Matías Umpierrez,
starring his mentor Lepage; and a discussion
between Mia Couto and his protege, the Brazilian
Julián Fuks. The talks and performances conclude
with the Peruvian musician Pauchi Sasaki, who
emerges into the auditorium of the Deutsches
Theater wearing a dress covered in speakers, after
an introduction by Philip Glass.
What did the minimalist musical pioneer advise
her about? “The practicalities of the music world,
how to navigate the business part – how do you
make a living?” Glass said he wanted a protege
as he himself had once been in such a role, when
as a young man he had assisted sitar player and
composer Ravi Shankar on a film score in the 60s:
“He was very important to me.”
It’s not only the prestige and generous budgets
that appeal to the mentors – or, indeed, the watch
Irvin says they may be given “if they do a good
job”. It’s the opportunity to engage with a younger
generation. As Cuarón says, to remain relevant
as an artist, “you have to connect with the young
masters who teach you the new lessons of cinema”.
The older artists also produce work during the process: Jonas made a video while travelling with Phan
in Vietnam, which will form part of an installation in
her Tate show. Phan is 50 years younger than Jonas,
though the Vietnamese artist says: “I think she has
more energy and more creativity than me.” The two
will continue to collaborate after the scheme: Phan
is in a collective of Vietnamese artists, and Jonas will
make a work with them to show in Pittsburgh.
Sitting with Umpierrez, Lepage says the scheme
provides a “fountain of youth” for older artists who
have inevitably lost the bullishness of their hungry
years. “We’re all full of doubt,” he says. “The more
you know, the less you’re sure of. At a younger age,
you know less but you’re more confident, and that’s
very uplifting. That’s why you hang on to younger
people who say, ‘Go all the way.’”
40 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Culture
Mona Lisa of the middle ages
France’s Lady and the Unicorn
tapestries have travelled to
Sydney, reports Brigid Delaney
F
or a mythical creature that is supposedly very shy, the unicorn sure is
getting around. The white horse with
a long horn and Bambi eyes is popping up everywhere from decals on
children’s backpacks to T-shirts, key
rings, flags, toys and tattoos, often accompanied
by a little rainbow. The unicorn aesthetic has dominated music videos for the last few years. It’s been
borrowed for queer raves and even as a descriptor
for (usually) women who are the third party joining a couple in bed. These creatures – the mythical
animals, that is – are nothing if not versatile: they’ve
even been used in art as stand-ins for Jesus Christ.
Now, the Art of Gallery of New South Wales is
holding an exhibition of arguably the most famous
piece of medieval art featuring the creature. The
Lady and the Unicorn is a series of six wall-length
tapestries that feature a medieval lady in a garden,
sometimes accompanied by her handmaid, but
always hanging out with a unicorn.
The series, commissioned by a noble French
family in the 1500s and created by unknown weavers, has been called everything from the Mona Lisa
of the middle ages to a national treasure of France.
The priceless works of art, which have been restored
several times, have appeared in everything from the
writings of George Sand to poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
Facsimiles of them feature in the Harry Potter movies.
They have been seen in Jean Cocteau’s drawings, and
in sets and costumes for the Ballet Russes. They inspired Tracy Chevalier’s novel, Lady and the Unicorn,
and Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things.
The tapestries’ usual home is the Musée de Cluny
in Paris and it is rare to get a glimpse of them outside
France. They were acquired by the Cluny in 1882
after they had been hung in a municipal city hall.
Previously, they were housed in the Château de
Boussac. Over the course of several centuries they
were exposed to damp and to rats, and rumours
abound that the owners had cut them up for horse
cart coverings and a foot rug. (Sand stayed in that
chateau and became entranced with the tapestries.
Her writing about The Lady and the Unicorn was the
start of a movement to acquire and restore them.)
During the second world war, to protect them from
the Nazis, the tapestries were holed up in another
chateau in the middle of a forest.
To get to Australia, the tapestries each flew in a
separate plane in case of a crash. They were draped
over a stand in a crate and, when they landed in
Sydney, a whole team of curators from the Cluny
were there to supervise their hanging.
The tapestries are remarkably robust for works
so old but care must still be taken. Recently, they
were painstakingly cleaned using a super-fine mist.
Béatrice de Chancel-Bardelot, curator at Musée de
Cluny, says the weavers who created the works were
probably men from a local guild, and that creating the
six tapestries would have kept them busy for several
years. The family that commissioned the work was
based in Lyon and had houses in Paris and a castle
in Burgundy. “They were active in commissioning
Meditative mystery … Mon Seul Désir – or My Sole Desire Michel Urtado/RMN-Grand Palais
major works of art,” says De Chancel-Bardelot, and
were as likely as rich as Medusa.
Yet the artistic philosophy behind the works
remains a mystery. For example, who is the lady?
What is the significance of the unicorn? Why is it
paired with a lion?
The Art Gallery of NSW special exhibitions curator, Jackie Dunn, says the works remain enigmatic
despite years of scholarship devoted to their story
and origin. “Some people read the unicorn as a
stand-in for a lover, in a take on courtly love. In medieval times it was also a stand-in for Christ.”
In medieval times, people believed unicorns
were real, Dunn says. In art they were depicted
in brown “and looked like camels” while in Germany they were blue. “Everyone believed in them.
Travellers came back to Europe – like Marco Polo
– having reported seeing them in Jerusalem, in the
deserts of the Middle East.”
Walking through the gallery housing the
tapestries was akin to visiting a chapel, with each
tapestry reminiscent of a station of the cross. They
are thick and substantial, giving the acoustics of the
room a hush. They are immensely rich in detail and
feature many aspects of the natural world, including
holly bush and bluebells (one scholar has counted
40 species of plants), as well as birds and domestic
and wild animals. All are in harmony.
There is something of the Garden of Eden in the
work: everything is in its rightful place. Maybe that’s
why viewers are so drawn in. The peacefulness of
the works radiates through time and space. To look
at them is a kind of meditation.
Richly imaginary … details illustrate smell
and sound in two of the six tapestries
The Lady and the Unicorn is at Art Gallery NSW,
Sydney, until 24 June
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 41
Culture Reviews
Music
Kendrick Lamar
Television
Our Cartoon President
B
efore watching the new animated series
Our Cartoon President, I thought I’d come
down with a serious case of Trump Satire
Fatigue, or TSF. But created by Stephen
Colbert alongside Chris Licht, Matt Lapin,
animator Tim Luecke, and RJ Fried, Our Cartoon
President is actually a fantastic parody, a natural
offshoot of the Colbert brand that’s based on
a recurring segment from The Late Show. And
it works mainly because it’s not trying to be
trenchant, cautionary or even vaguely political.
There’s an absurdity coursing through the
teleplay and the animation that feels proximal
to the political climate but not unnervingly so,
and the show capitalises on the administration’s
haplessness but doesn’t necessarily comment
on it. The result is something like both The
Simpsons and The West Wing.
The show also owes some of its success to
the personalities making up president Trump’s
cabinet and inner-circle. There’s Jeff Sessions,
Theodore Bilbo’s spiritual heir, who’s been
imagined here as a diminutive, drunk grandpa.
Goldman Sachs-er Steven Mnuchin suggests
putting smallpox on pennies and is lovingly
referred to as “Nuch Dog” by cartoon Potus.
Ben Carson, brilliantly voiced by Zach Cherry,
looks vaguely somnambulant all the time, and
Classical & opera
Principal Sound
P
rincipal Sound is three days of concerts
devoted to the music of the last half
century. It takes its title from the only
organ work composed by Morton Feldman.
The focus of attention at St John’s Smith
Square, London, this year was the late music of
Luigi Nono, the fragile, fragmented pieces he
composed in the years up to his death in 1990.
Four of them were included during the weekend. There was … Sofferte onde Serene..., for
piano and prerecorded sounds, with its remembrances of Venice’s bells, played with wonderful
authority and assurance by Siwan Rhys, and A
Pierre, Dell’azzurro Silenzio, Inquietum from
members of the Explore Ensemble, a tribute to
Showtime
A
Stephen Miller takes the shape of a devilish,
uppity golem. Generals Kelly, Mattis, and
McMaster, each animated precisely by Luecke,
act as wily lion-tamers.
The man they must tame is, of course, Trump,
brought to life here by Jeff Bergman, a 30-year
voice-acting veteran. The first episode opens
on Donald, in bed next to Melania, enjoying
his “executive time”. He channel surfs before
landing on the Fox & Friends trio of Steve Doocy,
Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade, whose
sycophancy is one of the show’s best running
gags. “It’s 6am, Mr President. Rise and shine,
and I love you,” cartoon Kilmeade breathlessly
shouts through Trump’s television set. Later,
when he gives a Trump speech a nine out of 10,
Potus panics: “My God, I’ve lost Kilmeade.”
The machinations parodied herein will
remind most people tuned into our kneejerk
news cycle of Michael Wolff ’s scorched-earth
Trump exposé Fire and Fury, published in January. Our Cartoon President
esident is a similar tale of
palace intrigue and ineptitude, but one that can
be consumed without
out an analysis of reportorial
rigour. What it is, essentially,
ssentially, is a character
study and workplace
ce comedy that plays the
narcissism and perfi
fidy of the 45th president for
laughs. Jake Nevinss
Our Cartoon President
ent is on Showtime in the
US with a UK date to
o be announced
Boulez from 1985, in
n which electronics blur
the edges of the sonorities
norities of bass flute and
contrabass clarinet.. Most enigmatic of all
was the last piece that
hat Nono composed, “Hay
Que Caminar” Soñando,
ando, for two violins (Clemens Merkel and Alissa
ssa Cheung from the Bozzini
Quartet) responding
g to each other in halting
phrases or assertive
e outbursts.
Alongside this music,
usic, the late Feldman
pieces seemed almost
ost straightforward.
Three Voices pits a solo soprano against
two recorded versions
ons of herself to create
a beguiling filigree around the words
of a Frank O’Hara poem.
oem. It’s a tour
de force for any singer,
ger, and Juliet
Fraser’s performance
ce seemed
even more magical live than
it did on her recording
ing last
year. Andrew Clements
ents
man garlanded with every honour going,
from Grammy awards to a spot in Time
magazine’s 100 most influential people
in the world, Kendrick Lamar nevertheless seems a little taken aback by the response
to his arrival in Dublin. “I heard y’all painted a
picture of me on a wall,” he says. “No one’s ever
done that before.” Indeed they had: no sooner
had he landed than a vast mural of him appeared,
towering over Aungier Street. Meanwhile, in the
venue, the audience’s adoration is both rowdily
intense and so word-perfect that when Lamar
stops rapping and cuts the music during Humble,
they carry an entire verse without flagging.
In fairness, they have a lot to be excited
about. Lamar’s live show avoids most hip-hop
gig cliches – at no point are all the ladies in the
house required to scream, nor are we subjected
to the reliable lowlight that is the lengthy
demonstration of the DJ’s turntable skills. Instead
the performance is simultaneously understated
and spectacular. Aside from the occasional brief
appearance of a dancer or a man dressed as a
ninja, there’s nothing to look at except for Lamar
and a succession of films that seem more like
edgy arthouse fare than anything you’d usually
see at a sellout arena show.
At one point, Lamar ends up stalking the stage
in front of a disturbing loop of video that cuts
between a human embryo, underwater fauna and
flora and some pretty gruesome close-up footage
of eye surgery. Occasionally, the films are funnier
than you might expect. As is often the way with
artists whose music is taken very seriously indeed
– both as a creative force and a socio-political
statement – you don’t hear much about Kendrick
Lamar’s goofy sense of humour, but it’s there in
the fake kung fu epic that intersects the show:
Kung Fu Kenny Practises His Motherfuckin’ Skills.
For all his critical and commercial success,
Lamar’s music seems an odd fit for a gig this size:
it’s not ostentatious or showy,
showy it tends towards
self-examination, the music iis complex and
knotty, and his skills as a rapper
rapp are technical and
subtle. But if anything, the in
inflation to arena scale
turning a track such as
seems to potentiate it, turnin
Untitled 07 – wilfully scattered
scattere and disjointed in
its recorded form – into ssomething insistent
sound is clear enough
and anthemic. The soun
to get across how dazzl
dazzling his lyrical talent
to a kind of
can be and, relegated
releg
pit at the
makeshift orchestra
orch
side of the stag
stage, his band weave
around the bea
beats and samples,
navigating the tricky
not just naviga
sonic twists an
and turns of DNA, but
actively magni
magnifying them.
The overall effect is punchy
and relentless
relentless. At the most gripping moments
moments, they and he seem
almost without pause,
to perform alm
one track after a
another virtually
each other: an
segueing into ea
opening sweep of songs that concludes with King
Kin Kunta is breathtaking. Indeed, it’s so powerful that
effect feels besides
the odd special e
the point, more d
distraction than
attraction. Alexis Petridis
Kendrick Lamar’s European tour
Berlin on 5 March
concludes in Berli
42 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Diversions
Notes & Queries
Nature watch
Shapwick, Somerset
The river that will all too
soon be swept away
alone. Thank goodness a long-standing friend saw my unhappiness and
gave me the courage to move on.
Ursula Nixon, Bodalla, NSW, Australia
Where does time fly to? Why?
Time does not always fly, it sometimes drags!
The secret would be to find out
how to make it fly at such times.
Avril Taylor,
Dundas, Ontario, Canada
• My ballot when I voted
strategically.
Philip Stigger,
Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
• My tongue.
Adrian Cooper,
Queens Park, NSW, Australia
• Tempus fugit: Time doesn’t fly
to – it flees from. It escapes us, and
we it, at the last.
RM Fransson,
Wheat Ridge, Colorado, US
• Time will not fly. Time past is
gone, time future is at best a project,
at worst an illusion. Time is the
present, ticking.
E Slack, L’Isle Jourdain, France
• Bored by our myopic inattention,
time flies, hiding behind the
promise of tomorrow.
John Geffroy,
Las Vegas, New Mexico, US
• It hides in the equation E=mc2.
Speed of light squared, time flies,
my energy wanes.
Marilyn Hamilton,
Perth, Western Australia
• Time flies to the place where joy is
perfection and we yearn for eternity.
Charlie Bamforth,
Davis, California, US
• It lands at embarrassment to allow
time for unease.
David Ellis, Adelaide, South Australia
• Time flies to somewhere
immemorial to remind us mortals
not to waste it.
Richard Orlando,
Westmount, Quebec, Canada
• To be dishonest, I will say:
“Nothing”.
Jenefer Warwick James,
Paddington, NSW, Australia
Time on hold … Harold Lloyd in Safety Last
• Flying time only leads to wrinkles.
Stuart Williams, Lilongwe, Malawi
Forget George Washington
What is the least honest thing to
have ever come out of you?
As a teenager I lied to my parents
about going away for the weekend
with my boyfriend. My beloved
grandfather chose to die that
weekend and I was summonsed
back after they tracked me down.
This taught me that I would
always be found out and has kept
me honest.
Margaret Wilkes,
Perth, Western Australia
• My unconscious biases.
Paul Broady,
Christchurch, New Zealand
• Probably “... for better, for worse”.
Ted Webber,
Buderim, Queensland, Australia
• Continuing in a soul-destroying
relationship through fear of being
Socks obey strange rules
What happened to those lost socks?
Socks are an alien species that travel
inter-dimensionally at will.
Charlie Pearson, Portland, Oregon, US
• They will “a pair” when you least
expect it.
Jim Robinson, Bologna, Italy
More Notes & Queries
See additional answers online
bit.ly/notesandqueries
Any answers?
Is the rule still “Jam tomorrow, jam
yesterday, but never jam today”?
Maurice Trapp, Le Vigan, France
Document: What came first, the
verb or the noun?
Tracy Hickling,
Rosebud, Australia
Send answers to weekly.nandq@
theguardian.com or Guardian
Weekly, Kings Place, 90 York Way,
London N1 9GU, UK
Good to meet you Joanne Honeybone
I was introduced to the Weekly in
1999 as a VSO volunteer, working
in a South African township. The
Weekly provided insightful development and human rights news that
helped me understand my local
township experience of poverty
and discrimination within the bigger context. When I returned to
the UK to do a master’s degree, the
Weekly was an invaluable source
of global development news. I then
moved to India for three years to
work as a South Asia adviser for
an NGO. The Weekly came with
me everywhere – up Himalayan
mountains in Nepal, on trains across
India, on boats to Maldivian islands
and kept me going during endless
hours in remote airports.
Now back in the UK, I continue to
work for NGOs and travel regularly
to Asia, Africa and the Middle East
for work. Living in the bubble that is
London, it is easy to forget the other
world out there, so I continue to
In any other place a great white
egret passing overhead would have
commanded all our attention. The
national breeding total for this
species was just seven pairs in 2017.
Here, however, at dusk it was an
incidental detail, a stately white
shape rowing quietly through the
binoculars’ orbit, as we focused on
something far more captivating.
It was a flock of starlings, which
doesn’t sound impressive; until you
attach a number to them. The recent
reports cite a figure of 750,000. Yet
in conversation with a volunteer
from a neighbouring reserve we
learned that this estimate doesn’t
square with his own photographic
evidence. He processes the images
using software that can calculate
dots on screens very accurately
and his own counts suggest a total
for the whole Somerset Levels of
around 1.5 million.
Whichever figure is true, this roost
of “shitlegs” is a wonder to behold,
subscribe to the Guardian Weekly to
ensure that I keep my life and work
informed by the global context. I
value the Weekly’s focus on ensuring that important issues in the
world are reported, with headline
news about environmental, conflict,
development and human rights
issues that rarely get more than
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The Weekly has been a constant
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Notes & Queries contributors!
If you would like to appear in
this space, send a brief note to
guardian.weekly@theguardian.com
and for us the drama unfolded in
several distinct phases. Initially we
were entranced simply to see several
thousand, spread evenly through
the sky and moving in slow blizzard
above the skeletal trees. The stillness
of the winter wood, the chastening
cold of dusk and the clanging notes
of song thrushes at late choir were
all part of the moment’s affecting
mood. Then a sparrowhawk shot
through and the loose flow tightened
and folded upon itself, twisting and
spiralling down, genie-like, into the
mothering woods.
Wonderful, we thought –
until thousands became tens of
thousands, hundreds of thousands.
Then we were struggling for words.
They were birds reduced by distance
and number to something like smoke
in a long, globular unfolding that
seemed as solid as the ground over
which it flowed. There were such
numbers as dreams are made of.
Starlings turning like a tide; except
that this tide flipped suddenly into
itself to make a glorious nonsense
of any metaphor. It was a kind of
heaven in avian form. We felt uplifted merely to be there, immersed
in a susurration that is blended from
2 million small wings working as one
at end of day. Mark Cocker
Read more Nature watch online
bit.ly/naturewatch
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 43
Quick crossword
1
2
Cryptic crossword by Nutmeg
3
4
8
5
6
7
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
17
16
18
19
20
21
22
23
1
4
8
9
10
11
12
17
24
Across
Work – party (6)
Burrowing desert rodent (6)
Dance – unexpected turn (5)
Transmission (7)
Began to wake (7)
Set of exam questions (5)
Sky (9)
Of a number system with
base eight (5)
19 Use economically – partner
(7)
21 Train with berths (7)
22 (Pop group) not affiliated
with a major record
company (5)
23 Harry, Dennis or Beatrix? (6)
24 Free-flowing (6)
Down
1 Most recent (6)
2 Sheriff ’s officer – landlord’s
agent (7)
3 Absolute – speak (5)
5 Model (7)
6 Form of modern jazz from
about 1940 (5)
7
9
13
14
15
16
18
Opulence (6)
Mafia boss (9)
Fall back (7)
Stuff and nonsense (7)
Tittle-tattle (6)
Commercial (abbr) (6)
River that joins the Ouse to
form the Humber (5)
20 Not moving (5)
P
O
T
B
E
L
L
Y
U M
O
I D
I
F F
I
E E
D
S
S
C A N
O
A
T A P
P
Y
T
E R
E
W A
S
L O
N
O O
U
E S
F L
I
S T
T
V E
R
Y
T
V E
L
D L
E
T R
I P
I
A N
A
S C
O
F L
A
Y D
A
E
Y
P I
R
D I
S
E
P
O R
O
O V
I
I D
E
I D
Last week’s solution, No 14,880
First published in the Guardian
23 January 2018, No 14,886
N G
O
N G
O
P
A L
A
E Y
B
E A
L
O L
Across
Down
1 Update troops before
attack (5)
2 An account traveller
set, up providing
support for climbers
(7)
3,21 Liberal prone
to adopting
Conservative
hairstyle (4,4)
4 Crowd security?
(6,2,7)
Futoshiki Hard
∧
>
©Clarity Media Ltd
3 > 2 < 4
∧
4 < 5
1
Last week’s solution
2
3
4
5
6
9
7
8
10
11
12
13
14
16
15
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
26
5 Case based on word
of chap, or chaps,
before I’m involved
(6,2,7)
6 Treasury theatre
put on old romance
with current
investment (10)
7 His friend has
Hamlet’s first speech
abridged (7)
8 Doctor gets a
payment covering
time he has to serve
in US (7)
13 Tense liar added
ridiculous nonsense
(10)
16 Rebellious
graduates wash
thoroughly one day
a week (7)
17 Injured Danes
coming aboard in
gloom (7)
First published in the Guardian
24 January 2018, No 27,414
25
27
19 Abject drunk lives
without ever losing
heart (7)
22 What diver may do
with bill, on cutting
pound (5)
23 Employment from IT
entrepreneur? (4)
S U B M A
P
E
B
C A N N I B
H
C
E
M I G H T Y
E
O S I R I S
U
C
S P Y G L A
E
O
L
B R O O K L
H
G
Y
Y E L L OW
R
E
A
G
R O A D
R I N E
S O U L
L
A
Y
T
V E R I T Y
A L
N
E
I
E
E L S I N O R E
S
D
G
A
S E R G E A N T
O
C
P E P P E R
S S
A
E
Y N
R U B B E R
G
O
B
M
R E V O L V E R
I
E
E
R
R A N D A D D Y
Last week’s solution, No 27,408
Sudoku classic Medium
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.
1
5
∧
2 < 3
∧
1
3 > 2
5 > 4
∨
2 < 4
5
3
1
∧
5
1
3 < 4 > 2
1
1 Check those
printing religious
tracts? (7)
5 Beaten revolutionary
featured in flyer (7)
9 How sugar can be
used, if at all? (3,6)
10 Chest protected by
father’s waterproof
(5)
11 Brought books back
on approval (4)
12 Perseveres and
catches a little bird
(6,2,2)
14 Gulf national
sounding full of cold
(6)
15 Brexiteers asking for
this defeat on polling
day (7)
16 Bear from America
digging into soil (7)
18 Most utter support
after turning up (6)
20 Bloke gets the way
things are done
in small part of
Cornwall (6,4)
21 See 3
24 Each individually at
an advantage (5)
25 Sum up chapter cut
from historic volume
one’s penned (9)
26 Speeds up in speech,
as ten strikes (7)
27 Oriental crane
ultimately like
seabird (7)
∨
>
<
> 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
theguardian.com/sudoku
>
Last week’s solution
44 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Diversions
Shortcuts
KFC out of cluck over
chicken deliveries
It’s an upset that far outstrips the
Nando’s shortage of 2014, and at
a scale that makes last year’s dip
in British hummus supply seem
small fry: UK branches of KFC
last month ran out of chicken. The
$23bn company that has one job –
to sell fried chicken – was unable
to fulfil its culinary duties, citing
issues in its outsourced distribution … wings. This resulted in the
temporary closure of more than
two-thirds of UK branches (646 of
its 900 stores), while outlets that
remained open struggled to keep up
with demand.
Fans took to Twitter to playfully
riff off the events. Meanwhile, some
turned to MPs for intervention
and even the police to reportt these
crimes against deliciousness.. KFC
responded in a similar tone, saying
g
that the Colonel was looking into
the matter and that the “chicken
cken
may have crossed the road … just
not into [their] stores”.
KFC said the issues were caused
d
by its new distributor, DHL. The
contract for this job was previviously held by Bidvest, an estabablished food distributor that had
worked with the fried chicken
n
brand for some years.
GMB, the union representing
ing
Bidvest workers, said DHL
won the contract because it had
“undercut” the firm and was tryin
trying
ng
to fulfil the contract on the cheap.
heap.
It says it even warned KFC that
hat
it risked distribution problems
ms
because of the new contract. The
result: 255 job losses at Bidvest,
est,
the closure of a warehouse and
nd no
o
chicken for anyone.
Why did the chicken cross the
road? It didn’t. Road crossing has
been outsourced to carrier pigeons
who, we are very sorry to say, have
shat on your car. Coco Khan
Bathrooms set to
welcome back bidets
Bathroom news from the US, where
entrepreneur Miki Agrawal, who cofounded the period-proof underwear
company Thinx, “wants America to
embrace the bidet”. Agrawal stepped
down from Thinx last year after she
was accused of sexual harassment,
but has returned with a new company, Tushy, which makes devices
that convert toilets into bidets. So is
it time to forsake paper for water?
According to the World Wide
Fund for Nature, the equivalent
of almost 270,000 trees is either
flushed or dumped in landfills
every day – and about 10% of this
is toilet paper. Globally, according
to one environmental group, we
use enough toilet paper to stretch
around the planet every two minutes, or stretch to the sun and back
every 10 days. Scientific American
reports that switching to bidets
“could save some 15m trees”.
It would also be better for us. The
US urologist Dr Philip Buffington
says: “In the bidet v toilet paper
matchup, the nod goes to the bidet.
Bidets are healthier than toilet
paper. They provide better personal
hygiene.” Oscar Rickett
Hate campaign ahead
of Russian election
First there were avocados with no
stones
stones; now we have bananas with
edible
edibl
le skin, produced in Japan.
“Itt was
w created following research
cond
du
conducted
by Setsuzo Tanaka who
worked
work
ke on this for a long time as a
hobb
by a spokesman for D&T Farm
hobby,”
said iin an email. “The motivation
for it
ts development was the fact
its
he wanted
wa
w
to eat a banana that was
del
lic
delicious
and safe: people can eat
the
e peel because it is cultivated
organically
without chemicals.”
org
ga
T
The result is the fruit known as
Mo
on
Mongee
bananas, which roughly
translates
as Incredible bananas.
tran
ns
Buye
er are urged to wait for little
Buyers
b
row
wn spots to appear on the skin
brown
as a sign
sig
s
that it is ready to be eaten –
in itss entirety,
e
of course.
has been produced in small
It h
b
atch
he so far and is only on sale in
batches
Japan
n Customers who want to save
Japan.
themselves
the bother of peeling
them
ms
theirr bananas
b
will have to pay 648
($6) per fruit. Daniel Hurst
yen (($
Russians who don’t vote in this
month’s presidential elections risk
a very different future, a homophobic and xenophobic viral video has
warned. The three-minute video
was uploaded to social media last
month and has been watched by
millions of people.
Set on 17 March, the eve of the
presidential election, the video
starts with a man mocking his wife,
who wants to set an alarm to get
up and vote. “As if they won’t elect
someone without you,” he says.
He then falls asleep and dreams
that a military official, flanked by
two soldiers, including a black man,
attempts to conscript him into the
army. “I’m 52,” he protests. “Excellent. The conscription age has been
increased to 60.”
He goes into the kitchen, where a
tattooed gay man sits filing his nails.
“Who’s this?” he asks his wife. “I’m
a gay on a homestay,” the man tells
him, as his wife reminds him that
Russian families are now obliged to
take in gay people who have been
abandoned by their partners.
Rushing into the toilet in shock,
an intercom tells him “toilet time is
restricted”. In the tradition of classic
horror films, he apparently wakes
up, to find himself in bed with the
gay man. When he wakes up for real,
he urges his wife to get to the polling
station “before it’s too late!”
Opposition journalists believe
the video was produced by either
Vladimir Putin’s campaign team or
the government-controlled election
committee. The Kremlin is eager
to see a big turnout to underscore
Putin’s legitimacy. Marc Bennetts
Wordplay
Same Difference
Wordpool
Identify this pair whose spelling
differs only in the letter shown:
***** (writer)
**O*** (number)
Edible banana skins
no slip-up in Japan
Maslanka puzzless
1 Professor Pedanticus jibbed when
he heard on the radio that “the
Tiger’s chances of sur-vival are
precarious.” Is that fair?
2 When unromantic Rosegarten
left his girlfriend (he claimed he’d
never promised her a Rosegarten)
he sent her as consolation prizes
roses red, white and blue. 247
were not red, 472 were not white
and yet another permutation of 2,
and 4 and 7 were not white. How
many of each?
3 Wystan Rummy was beaten in
the race to the south pole by his
decision to also be the first person
to get there by going south west.
Can one ever reach the south pole by
constantly going south west?
4 Prove that the number of positive
integers is the same as the number
of positive even numbers.
5 Cardinal Buchman places successive volumes of Pope Idol in the
order 1, 2, 3 … on his shelf. But then
when the ninth volume arrived he
placed it between the fourth and the
fifth volume. Was it an aberration?
Or is there a rule? What was the next
volume that he inserted somewhere
into the sequence?
6 What date significant to the
Englander results if we write down
all the Roman numerals in order of
decreasing size?
Twitter: @ChrisMaslanka
These are archive puzzles; Chris
Maslanka was unwell this week
In each case find the correct
definition:
PUL
a) Siberian wildflower
b) Estonian land-measure
c) low-valued Afghan coin
d) fermented sesame paste
E pluribus unum
Rearrange the letters of SATANIC
INGOT to make a single word.
Missing Links
Find a word that follows the first
word in the clue and precedes the
second, in each case making a fresh
word or phrase. Fish mix could be
cake (fishcake & cake mix), bat man
could be he (bathe & he-man) ...
Cracker Barrel
a) crying hound b) university mat
c) noble cuts
d) war talk
e) quantum year f) garb discrimination
Why did they make a pencil king?
©CMM2018. For solutions see page 47
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 45
Mind&Relationships
Illustration by Michele Marconi; right, Lo Cole
A letter to …
My first love,
25 years on
Oliver Burkeman
Don’t knock Donald Trump for playing
so much golf. He is showing us all how
to enjoy the restorative power of nature
S
pending time in nature, as you’re
surely aware by now, is good for your
mental health. Like, really, really
good. People criticise Donald Trump
for whiling away so many hours
on golf courses, but they’re wrong:
imagine the damage he’d wreak if his
rage and repressed self-loathing weren’t offset
by the restorative benefits of all that greenery!
So there’s nothing intrinsically surprising about
a new study, led by Viren Swami of Anglia
Ruskin University, in Cambridge, suggesting
that natural environments improve people’s
body image; after all, they improve everything.
What remains debatable is why. One of the most
beguiling answers – first given three decades
ago by the US academics Rachel and Stephen
Kaplan – is also maybe the most pleasingly named
concept in psychology. In a world of relentless, aggressive demands on our attention, the
Kaplans argued, nature does something different:
it exerts “soft fascination”.
Soft fascination has two crucial components.
First, it’s effortless: you don’t need to “try to
focus” on the wind in the trees, or a moor top
blanketed in heather. Second, it’s partial: it
absorbs some attention, but leaves some free
for reflection, conversation or mind-wandering.
The result is what the Kaplans called “cognitive
quiet”, in which the muscle of effortful attention
– the one you use to concentrate on work – gets
to rest, but without the boredom you’d feel if you
had nothing to focus on. This helps explain why
nature’s benefits aren’t restricted to, say, trips to
the Grand Canyon or Great Barrier Reef. Those
places seize your whole attention, whereas your
local park may seize just enough of it to let the
rest of your mind relax.
Think about attention like this, and it becomes
clear how irresponsibly we usually treat our
own supply of it. “To concentrate on a task, you
need to block out distractions,” as the design and
technology expert Richard Coyne has written –
and “once that blocking function gets worn down
by fatigue, you are more likely to act on impulse,
to shirk tasks that prove too challenging [or] to
become irritable.” But all too often, we respond
to concentration fatigue by trying to concentrate
Anyone who loves hiking
knows part of the
pleasure is in pondering
k
other matters as you walk
g
– rambling while rambling
on something different: email, social media,
TV – “things that are more engaging but less
challenging”. It’s like taking a rest after lifting
dumbbells by lifting different dumbbells. Nature, by contrast, lets us switch modes.
There’s plenty of evidence for the soft
fascination thesis. But for me, it’s personal
o
experience that makes it ring so true. To listen to
some proponents of mindfulness, you might think
nk
the best way to engage with nature is being totally
lly
immersed in the scenery. Yet anyone who loves
hiking knows part of the pleasure is in pondering
g
other matters as you walk – rambling while ram-bling. Countless famous thinkers – Darwin, Tho-reau, Wordsworth – swore by daily walks in nad.
ture. But they were still thinking as they walked.
oliver.burkeman@theguardian.com
W
e were at school.
I remember being
awestruck that
someone would take
an interest in me.
But you did and we fell in love. We
both came from challenging backgrounds, which probably fuelled the
intensity of our relationship. What
started as a playground romance
became more serious – adult, even,
when we moved in together.
The next two years were spent
playing at being grownups – far
beyond the emotional capacity of
two teenagers – but for a while it
worked. Inevitably, our relationship
became strained; my insecurity
and jealously became unbearable.
And we split up. You met someone
else and moved on and away. The
pain was unbearable, and I tried to
take my own life.
I tried to move on, but each
relationship was a failure as I
compared it with ours. Then I met
my wife, went back to college, got
a serious job. I thought I had finally
got over you. And then, through an
early social media site, we started
chatting and agreed to meet. I
wanted to get closure, but seeing
you that night made me realise I
was still in love with you. We met
again and I wanted to tell you how
I felt, but was unable to. We drifted
apart once more.
Years passed; I thought of you
still. But I had travelled, had children. For the first time in my life, I
had found peace with myself. Then
I saw you on social media again and
we spent a Saturday night chatting
via WhatsApp.
pp I asked if we were
flirting. You said yes, and that you
had never really left me. I was
happy, scared.
confused, excited,
excit
We spoke on the phone, and
hearing your voice left me
close to tears. I know I’m
being se
selfish, but I want
more. More of you. You
are with someone and I’m
marrie
married. We both have children. P
Part of me hopes that
time has
h changed us to the
point where
w
we don’t go
But those feelany further.
fu
ings I had
h for you are back.
How do you feel about
want to lose
me? I don’t
d
I want to love
you again.
ag
you and
an be able to love you.
I don’t know where this is
g
going. But I know I
don’t want to lose
you again.
y
46 The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18
Sport
Chills and thrills
from Pyeongchang
Ester Ledecká, snow queen
It was audacious that the 22-year-old
Czech entered ski and snowboard
competitions – a decision that made
Winter Olympic history – but then
she won a shock gold in the Super-G
skiing before, a week later, storming
home in the snowboard parallel giant slalom. It made Ledecká the first
woman to win two separate events –
and a bona fide star. Sean Ingle
North Korean cheerleaders
The appearance of 229 women in
identical red snowsuits would
ould have
turned heads anywhere, but
ut
the presence of North Koreans singing in unison and
d
performing choreographed
d
routines often captured more
ore
attention than whatever
event they were attending..
Reactions were mixed and the
cheerleaders were largely seen
as a novelty, another thing to
take a selfie with, but they were
definitely unique to the Pyeoyeongchang Games. Benjamin
n Haas
South Korea’s Garlic Girls
The South Korean women’ss curling
team known as the Garlic Girls, a
nod to the famed export off their
Uiseong hometown where they
formed a team as high schoolers, became an overnight sensation during
their run to the gold medal match,
winning hearts around the world
with their steely focus and quirky
personalities en route to an improbable silver. Bryan Armen Graham
Kenworthy’s kiss
Gus Kenworthy kissing his boyfriend, just before his freestyle ski
event, was seen around the world.
He has been a champion for gay athletes at the Olympics and slammed
Mike Pence leading the US delegation. This year’s Games included the
most openly LGBTQ athletes with a
total of 15, including Ireen Wüst, who
became the most successful Olympic
speed skater ever with 11 medals. BH
Shirtless Tongan returns
The shirtless and oiled Tongan
g Pita
Taufatofua, below, at the opening
ope
ceremony, but this time in sub-zero
sub
temperatures, delighted man
many viewers. He had not seen snow un
until two
years ago but qualified for a ccrosscountry ski race in an effort to inspire
others to dream big. Ni
Nigeria’s
women’s bobsled team,
team a
carried a
first for Africa, also ca
motivational messag
message. BH
Kim's halfpipe heroics
he
There are many g
gold
medallists but sstars
are harder to ccome
by. Chloe Kim
Kim,
17-year-old
the 17-year
Korean-American
Korean-A
snowboarder
snowbo
entered
who e
these Olympics with the weight of
two countries on her shoulders,
placed herself squarely in the latter
camp when she delivered with
a transcendent run for Olympic
halfpipe gold. She has a future of
limitless promise. BAG
Morgan’s medal trolley dash
It seemed impossible that British
snowboarder Billy Morgan would
surpass partying with a toilet seat
around his head in Sochi. But in
Pyeongchang he claimed a brilliant
bronze, before celebrating by being
driven around the Olympic Village
on a trolley. The 28-year-old former builder has cojones the size of
breezeblocks – and is funny with it. SI
Norway in dreamland over record medal haul
Jon Henley
For a fortnight every four years,
Norway does not function with its
customary Scandinavian efficiency.
Phone calls go temporarily unanswered; conversations drift, midsentence, into silence; classrooms
empty. “It’s normal, I think,” said
Christina Nygard, a marketing manager in Oslo. “This is our moment,
when we can show the world what
we are. Although without boasting
too much about it, of course. That
wouldn’t be very Norwegian.”
But when Marit Bjørgen stormed
to victory in the women’s 30km
cross-country on the final day of the
Pyeongchang Games, Norway could
be forgiven for boasting a little.
Not only had Bjørgen, with her
15th medal, become the most decorated athlete in Winter Olympics
history (the second and third on the
list, biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen
and the legendary 1990s skier Bjørn
Dæhlie, are also Norwegian). Her
win brought the country’s Pyeongchang tally to a remarkable 39
medals, topping the table, equalling
– along with Germany – Canada’s record for golds won at a single games,
and eclipsing the largest previous
total medal haul of 37, held since
Final table
1 Norway
2 Germany
3 Canada
4 United States
5 Netherlands
6 Sweden
7 South Korea
8 Switzerland
9 France
10 Austria
G
14
14
11
9
8
7
5
5
5
5
S
14
10
8
8
6
6
8
6
4
3
B
11
7
10
6
6
1
4
4
6
6
Total
39
31
29
23
20
14
17
15
15
14
Selected others
13 OA Russia
16 China
19 Britain
23 Australia
26 New Zealand
2
1
1
0
0
6
6
0
2
0
9
2
4
1
2
17
9
5
3
2
US duo make history
No American woman had ever won
a medal in cross-country – much
less a gold – until Jessie Diggins and
Kikkan Randall overtook Sweden
and Norway on the final lap to win
the team sprint freestyle. The shock
victory was especially sweet for
26-year-old Diggins, who had finished in the top six but off the podium
in each of her first four events in a
hectic Pyeongchang schedule. BAG
Yarnold slides to gold again
A week before the Winter Olympics
Britain’s Lizzy Yarnold was a 28-1
outsider to retain her skeleton title
due to various niggles and mixed
performances. Worse still, she was
2010 by the US – whose population is
more than 60 times Norway’s.
The Nordic nation of 5.3 million
people spent every Winter Games
in something resembling “a kind of
state of emergency”, said Vegard
Einan, a leading trade union official,
taking collective time out for the
main medal events. A pre-Games
poll found that nearly 25% of Norwegian employees expected to be able
to watch at least the biggest races
of the day while they were at work,
with 12% saying they intended to
defy any management order not to.
There are reasons besides straightforward national pride for such allconsuming interest in the team’s performance: the vast majority of Norwegians either are or have been keen
participants in many of the sports
Sergei Bobylev/Tass via Getty; Reuters; NBC via Twitter
From doubling up
to breaking barriers,
Guardian writers recall
their favourite 2018
Winter Games moments
The Guardian Weekly 02.03.18 47
Sport in brief
also suffering from a brutal chest
infection and at one point feared she
would have to pull out. Yet, once
again when the pressure was highest, Yarnold delivered – with gold. SI
Canadians keep us guessing
Canada’s self-professed platonic
darlings Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir
punctuated their brilliant careers
with a second Olympic gold medal
in ice dance – and record fifth medal
overall – with a free skate of emotive resonance, technical precision
and smouldering sexual intensity
that managed simultaneously to
eclipse and underscore the are-theyor-aren’t-they riddle at the heart of
their mystique. BAG
they were watching. The country’s
policy of sport for all and its emphasis on fun rather than competition – until they are 13, children are
not ranked in sports events – means
nearly 93% of children and young
adults are active members of one of
the country’s 11,000 sports clubs.
Camilla Larsen, an industrial
designer, said there would be “huge
celebrations” when the team returned home. “We’re not a big country,” she said, “so even if we were
all born with skis on our feet, like
the Norwegian saying goes, when
we finish ahead of countries like the
US and Russia and Germany, we are
proud. But also I think very many
of us know quite well, we feel, what
the athletes have gone through. In
that sense, they really represent us.”
• Manchester City secured English
domestic football’s first silverware
of the season in comfortable style,
with goals from Sergio Agüero,
Vincent Kompany and David Silva
delivering a 3-0 win in the Carabao
• Justin Thomas won golf’s Honda
Classic at Palm Beach Gardens in
Florida on a sudden-death hole
against his US compatriot Luke List
to continue his stunning run of
success, after both players finished
at eight under par. It was Thomas’s
sixth US PGA Tour title since the
start of last year. There was to be
no dream scenario for Tiger Woods
on his third Tour start of the year.
The 14-times major champion was
a creditable 12th place but offered
frustration at not adding an 80th
Tour title to his CV.
At the double … Scotland’s Huw Jones, left
Cup final at Wembley. City manager
Pep Guardiola was charged by the
Football Association for wearing a
yellow ribbon in support of imprisoned Catalan politicians, but that
was only a minor blot on his horizon
as his team are 13 points clear at the
top of the Premier League and well
set to advance to the quarter-finals
of the Champions League. Premier
League chasers Manchester United,
meanwhile, consolidated their grip
on second place with a 2-1 win over
last year’s champions Chelsea.
Chess
• Ben Stokes’s return to England
cricket colours was no celebratory
occasion as New Zealand won an
absorbing first ODI by three wickets
in Hamilton. While the all-rounder
was able to inspire England with the
ball, the spoils belong to Ross Taylor, for a magnificent 113, and Mitchell Santner, whose blazing unbeaten
45 from 27 balls took the Black Caps
to their target of 285. Santner’s cool
head and long, nimble arms helped
him to four towering sixes, the last
of which finished the closest contest of the winter with four balls to
spare. It was New Zealand’s ninth
ODI win in a row.
Maslanka solutions
Leonard Barden
8
Moscow Aeroflot is one of the world’s
great opens and vies with Tradewise
Gibraltar for premier status.
Gibraltar boasts GMs from the
world top 10, almost all the best
women players, a wide mix of
nationalities, and a fine offboard social programme. Aeroflot targets the
GMs from the top 50-200 with ambitions to reach the elite, and has an impressive array of junior talent, though
its geographical mix is narrower.
Andrey Episenko, 15, qualified as
one of the youngest GMs, shone at
the world rapid/blitz, and drew his
first two games at Aeroflot against top
seeds. The blitz specialist Vladislav
Artemiev, 19, began with two wins.
There was less favourable news for
Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, who
became the youngest ever IM at 10
and has since had his eyes on Sergey
Karjakin’s record as the youngest ever
GM at 12 years 7 months. The Indian
prodigy still has only one of the three
required GM results – time will run
out for him on 10 March.
North-east England is enjoying
a sudden chess boom and Heaton,
Newcastle, recently staged the
Northumbrian Masters, the first
international tournament in the
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
a
b
c
d
e
f
g
h
3555 Lev Gutman v Berndt Feustel,
Germany 1982. How did White (to play)
escape Black’s threat to queen with check?
region for years. Danny Gormally’s
victory, below, looks smooth, but
was aided by Black’s passive strategy.
Danny Gormally v Iain Gourlay,
Northumbrian Masters 2018
1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 c4 e6 4 g3 Bb4+
5 Nc3?! dxc 4 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 bxc3
O-O 8 Bg2 Nd5 9 Qc2 f6 10 Nd2 Nb6
11 O-O Nc6 12 a4 a5 13 e4 Bd7 14 Ba3
Ne7 15 Bc5 Bc6 16 Rfb1 Rc8 17 Bxb6
cxb6 18 Nxc4 Be8 19 Nxb6 Rc6 20 Qb3
Bf7 21 d5 exd5 22 exd5 Nc8 23 Nd7!
Qxd7 24 dxc6 bxc6 25 Qb7 1-0
3555 1 f7+ wins. If Kf8 2 Rh8+ Ke7 3 Re8+ Kd6 4
f8Q+ and Black will soon be mated. If Kg7 2 Rh7+!
Kxg6 (if Kf6 3 f8Q+) 3 f8N+! Kf6 4 Rxd7 ends it.
Ice magic … clockwise from
main: Ester Ledecká on her way
to double glory; Scott Moir and
Tessa Virtue; Gus Kenworthy,
above left, and boyfriend Matt
Wilkas; Kim Eun-jung of South
Korea’s Garlic Girls curling team
• Scotland produced one of the biggest Six Nations rugby championship
shocks of recent years with a thrilling 25-13 victory over defending
champions England at Murrayfield.
Making a mockery of pre-match
predictions, the ebullient Scots ran
in three first-half tries, two scored
by Huw Jones, in a performance
orchestrated outstandingly by their
No 10 Finn Russell, to which England
had no riposte. Nor did it feel a matter of England shrinking in hostile
surroundings; their impressive hosts
were sharper on the day both in
thought and deed. As the England
coach Eddie Jones concluded: “We
lacked intensity and we’ve got to
find out why.” The route to the title
could now be opening up for Ireland,
who produced an outstanding performance in Dublin to defeat Wales
37-27. France’s youthful evolution
continued with an unconvincing
34-17 win over Italy in Marseille,
their first victory in nearly a year.
1 Strictly speaking (as Pedanticus so often is)
the chances cannot be precarious. The tiger’s
situation can be (and they are). Adjectives are
sticky. Be careful where you stick them.
2 The third perm must be odd. The only other
possibility is 427. Double the number of
flowers is 247 + 472 + 427. So there are 573
roses. By subtraction we have 326 red, 101
white and 146 blue.
3 Suppose he could. Then his path should
be reversible by leaving the pole by going
north-east! But there is only north at the
south pole. So no. That doesn’t mean
he can’t have got there by successive
movements of 1 unit south and 1 unit west,
so long as he chose the unit wisely.)
4 For each positive integer k there is exactly
one even number 2k and vice versa. QED.
5 They were in the alphabetical order of
the Roman numerals indexing their ordinal
number. So IX comes between IV and V.
Vol XIX is the next one out of numerical order.
6 You get 1666, the year of the Great Fire
of London. (Ah those were the days!)
Wordpool c)
E Pluribus Unum ANTAGONISTIC
Cracker Barrel ’Cause they couldn’t find
a ruler
Same Difference GO(O)GOL
Missing Links
a) crying/wolf/hound
b) university/place/mat
c) noble/savage/cuts
d) war/baby/talk
e) quantum/leap/year
f) garb/age/discrimination
Find much more online
Quizzes, puzzles and our
extensive crosswords archive
→ theguardian.com/crosswords
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Acting editor: Graham Snowdon.
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To subscribe visit gu.com/subscribe/weekly
Farewell to Russia
A correspondent recalls
his posting under Putin
Review, pages 30-31
George Monbiot
One UK town has discovered a potent
cure for illness – community. Frome’s
dramatic fall in emergency admissions
to hospital should be a lesson for all of us
the gaps were, which they then filled with new
groups for people with particular conditions.
They employed “health connectors” to help
people plan their care, and most interestingly
trained voluntary “community connectors” to
help their patients find the support they needed.
Sometimes this meant handling debt or housing
problems, sometimes joining choirs or lunch
clubs or exercise groups or writing workshops or
men’s sheds (where men make and mend things
together). The point was to break a familiar
cycle of misery: illness reduces people’s ability
to socialise, which leads in turn to isolation and
loneliness, which then exacerbates illness. This
cycle is explained by some fascinating science,
summarised in a recent paper in the journal
Neuropsychopharmacology. Chemicals called
cytokines, which function as messengers in the
immune system and cause inflammation, also
change our behaviour, encouraging us to withdraw
from general social contact. This, the paper argues,
Children in orphanages
died through lack of
human contact. That can
happen to anybody now
Bill Bragg
I
t could, if the results stand up, be one of the
most dramatic medical breakthroughs of
recent decades. It could transform treatment
regimes, save lives, and save health services
a fortune. Is it a drug? A device? A surgical
procedure? No, it’s a newfangled intervention called community, as results from a trial
in the Somerset town of Frome show. We should
be cautious about embracing data before it is
published in the academic press, and must always
avoid treating correlation as causation. But this
shouldn’t stop us feeling a shiver of excitement
about the implications, if the figures turn out to be
robust and the experiment can be replicated.
What this provisional data appears to show is
that when isolated people who have health problems are supported by community groups and
volunteers, the number of emergency admissions
to hospital falls spectacularly. While across the
whole of Somerset emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% during the three years of the
study, in Frome they fell by 17%. Julian Abel, a
consultant physician in palliative care and lead
author of the draft paper, remarks: “No other
interventions on record have reduced emergency
admissions across a population.”
Frome, in England’s south-west, is a remarkable
place, run by an independent town council famous
for its democratic innovation. There’s a buzz of
sociability, a sense of common purpose and a creative, exciting atmosphere that feels quite different
to many market towns, and for that matter, quite
different from the buttoned-down, dreary place I
found when I first visited 30 years ago.
The Compassionate Frome project was
launched in 2013 by Helen Kingston, a GP there.
She kept encountering patients who seemed defeated by the medicalisation of their lives: treated
as if they were a cluster of symptoms rather than
a human being who happened to have health
problems. Staff at her practice were stressed and
dejected by what she calls “silo working”.
So, with the help of the NHS group Health
Connections Mendip and the town council,
her practice set up a directory of agencies and
community groups. This let them see where
is because sickness, during the more dangerous
times in which our ancestral species evolved,
made us vulnerable to attack. Inflammation is now
believed to contribute to depression. People who
are depressed tend to have higher cytokine levels.
But, while separating us from society as a
whole, inflammation also causes us to huddle
closer to those we love. Which is fine – unless, like
far too many people in this age of loneliness, you
have no such person. One study suggests that the
number of Americans who say they have no confidant has nearly tripled in two decades. In turn,
the paper continues, people without strong social
connections, or who suffer from social stress
(such as rejection and broken relationships), are
more prone to inflammation. In the evolutionary
past, social isolation exposed us to a higher risk
of predation and sickness. So the immune system
appears to have evolved to listen to the social
environment, ramping up inflammation when
we become isolated, in the hope of protecting us
against wounding and disease. In other words,
isolation causes inflammation, and inflammation
can cause further isolation and depression.
Remarkable as Frome’s initial results appear
to be, they shouldn’t be surprising. A celebrated
study in 1945 showed that children in orphanages
died through lack of human contact. Now we
know that the same thing can apply to all of us.
Dozens of subsequent papers reinforce these
conclusions. HIV patients with strong social support have lower levels of the virus than those
without. Women have better chances of surviving
colorectal cancer if they have strong connections.
Young children who are socially isolated appear
more likely to suffer from coronary heart
disease and type 2 diabetes in adulthood. Most
remarkably, older patients with chronic diseases
do not have higher death rates than those who
are not suffering from chronic disease – as long
as they have high levels of social support.
In other words, the evidence strongly suggests
that social contact should be on prescription, as
it is in Frome. But the silo effect, budget cuts and
an atmosphere of fear and retrenchment ensure
that precious little has been done.
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