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The Guardian Weekly – October 27, 2017

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Vol 197 No 21 £2.90 €5.50* Exclusions apply
A week in the life of the world | 27 October-2 November 2017
The fatal cost
of pollution
Millions dying,
new report findss
Cu
Cutting
down
on distraction
Warning
W
a
over
ttech
ec addiction
‘Football is often
en
a proxy for war’
ar’
Hank Willis Thomas’
omas’
art puts the boot
ot iin
n
After Raqqa, what will Isis do?
The caliphate has gone,
but terror may continue
Appeal to extremists in
west likely to decline
For a group with such spectacular
ambitions, Islamic State’s last stand
took place in surroundings of almost
shocking banality: a hospital and
sports stadium in Raqqa, the Syrian
town that was the political capital of
its self-styled caliphate. After weeks
of street battles and bombing, these
final strongholds fell to Kurdish fighters last week. More than three years
after Isis surged to global infamy with
a stunning campaign of conquest, the
end came with a whimper, not a bang.
“Once purported as fierce, now pathetic and a lost cause,” Brett McGurk,
the US special presidential envoy for
coalition forces tweeted. Such triumphant claims have become familiar
since the 9/11 attacks. I heard them in
Afghanistan in 2002, but US troops are
still engaged in the fight against the
Taliban. I heard them in Iraq in 2003,
2004, and then year after year until
the US pulled out in 2011. The scepticism with which any talk of “victory”
is greeted by analysts and reporters is
familiar, too. Many expert observers
counselled prudence rather than celebration: Raqqa may have fallen, but
if Isis is down, it is far from out.
Yet when we recall Isis at the height
of its powers, the scale of its decline
is impressive. By mid-2014 the group
controlled a taxable population of
some 7 or 8 million, oilfields and refineries, vast grain stores, lucrative
Bulent Kilic/Getty
Jason Burke
Crumbling stronghold ... a Syrian Democratic Forces fighter looks over Raqqa
smuggling routes and huge stockpiles
of arms and ammunition, as well as
entire parks of modern military hardware. Its economic capital was Mosul,
Iraq’s second-largest city. Isis was
the most powerful, wealthiest, bestequipped jihadi force ever seen.
Its blitzkrieg campaign and the
refounding of an Islamic caliphate
– announced from the pulpit of a
950-year-old mosque in Mosul in a
speech by its leader, Ibrahim Awwad,
the 46-year-old former Islamic law
student better known as Abu Bakr
al-Baghdadi – easily eclipsed the 9/11
attacks as Islamist extremists’ most
spectacular achievement. From Bangladesh to Florida, hundreds died in a
new wave of terrorist acts. A dozen or
so Isis “provinces” were established,
from west Africa to eastern Asia.
Yet this vast and ambitious project
has been reduced to rubble. As many
as 60,000 Isis fighters have died since
2014, according to senior US military
officials. The leadership has shrunk
to a rump – although al-Baghdadi survives. The administration is no more.
The training camps are gone. The
flow of propaganda so instrumental
in prompting attacks such as those in
the UK this year has ceased.
If the defeat of Isis did not come
easily, three weaknesses of its project
always made it likely in the long term.
First, Isis needed continual conquest
to succeed: victory was a clear sign
that the group was doing God’s work.
Expansion also meant new recruits to
replace combat casualties, arms and
ammunition to acquire, archaeological treasures to sell, property to loot,
food to distribute and new communities and resources, such
as oil wells and refineries,
to exploit. But once it had
5→
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2 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
World roundup
Canada sees rise in refugees from US
1
Asylum seekers who
illegally crossed
the US border into
Canada this year are
obtaining refugee status
at higher rates, new data
shows, as authorities
accept claims from
people who say they
feared being deported
by Donald Trump’s
administration. More
than 15,000 people have
crossed illegally; many
were in the US legally.
Trump took office
in January with a goal
of sharply cutting
refugee admissions, in
line with the hardline
immigration policies of
the Republican’s 2016
election campaign.
Of the 592 claims from
border crossers finalised
between March and September, 69% – or 408 in
total – were accepted,
according to Immigration and Refugee Board
figures. An additional
92 appeals of rejected
claims are pending.
That 69% acceptance
rate is higher than the
acceptance rate for all
refugee claims from
people who came to
Canada through any
method last year.
More regional
news, page 8
Women take top three jobs in Norway
Journalist stabbed at Moscow studio
4
6
Norway’s defence
minister, Ine
Eriksen Søreide,
has become the
country’s first female
foreign minister, in
a cabinet reshuffle
that put the three most
senior government jobs
in the hands of women.
Søreide, 41, replaces
Børge Brende, who is
stepping down to take
over as president of the
World Economic Forum.
She is the first woman to
become the top diplomat
in Norway, which is
a member of Nato.
Søreide joins the
prime minister, Erna
Solberg, and the finance
minister, Siv Jensen, in
holding the top three
spots in the centre-right
coalition government.
More Europe
news, page 6
→
A well-known Russian journalist is in
hospital after being
stabbed in the neck.
Tatyana Felgenhauer,
deputy editor of radio
station Ekho Moskvy,
was attacked on Monday
at its studios. “Tanya’s in
hospital, her condition is
serious but not critical,
the attacker has been
apprehended,” Alexei
Venediktov, the editorin-chief, said. Ekho
Moskvy is one of Russia’s
few independent journalism outlets. State TV this
month said Ekho Moskvy
and Felgenhauer were
“working to advance
foreign interests”.
→
4
Pressure on Trump over Niger ambush
2
Donald Trump’s
administration is
facing mounting
pressure to release
more details about the
circumstances that led
to the ambush of US
troops in Niger, leaving
four Americans dead and
two wounded.
The controversy
surrounding the attack
escalated last week
as the White House
engaged in a high-profile
feud with Frederica
Wilson, a Democratic
congresswoman, over
Trump’s condolence
call to the widow of
one of the fallen soldiers. Critics accuse
the administration
of failing to provide
adequate information
on the deadliest combat
mission since Trump
took office in January.
While no group
has formally claimed
responsibility for the
deadly attack on 4 October, US officials have
said it was probably
carried out by an Islamic
State affiliate. Initial
reports have suggested
that a 12-member
team of US troops were
travelling in the northwest African country in
unarmoured trucks when
they were ambushed by
as many as 50 militants.
7
1
2
54 police killed in raid near Cairo
3
Scientists back Neruda death doubts
3
A team of scientists
say they are “100%
convinced” that
Chile’s celebrated Nobel
prize-winning poet
Pablo Neruda did not die
from prostate cancer, his
official cause of death.
Neruda died on
23 September,
1973 – 12
days after
Augusto
Pinochet’s
military coup
toppled the
democratically
elected government
of President Salvador
Allende. In 2013 Chilean
judge Mario Carroza
ordered the exhuma-
tion of Neruda’s remains
after his chauffeur,
Manuel Araya, said
the poet told him that
he had been injected in
the stomach while he
was asleep.
Samples of Neruda’s
remains were
sent to forensic genetics
laboratories in
four countries
for analysis,
and in 2015
the Chilean government said that
it was “highly probable
that a third party” was
responsible for his death.
More Americas
news, page 13
→
5
At least 54 police,
including 20
officers and 34
conscripts, were killed
when a raid on a militant
hideout south-west of
Cairo was ambushed,
according to officials.
The ensuing firefight
was one of the deadliest
for Egyptian security
forces in recent years.
Egypt’s interior
ministry, which is in
charge of the police,
announced a much
lower death toll, saying
in a statement read
over state television
that 16 were killed in
the shootout. It added
that 15 militants were
killed or injured, later
releasing photos of some
of them.
The last time Egypt’s
security forces suffered
such a heavy loss of
life was in July 2015,
when militants from
the extremist Islamic
State group carried out
a series of coordinated
attacks, including suicide
bombings, against army
and police positions
in the Sinai peninsula,
killing at least 50.
More Middle East
news, pages 4-5
→
Acid seas a ‘deadly threat’ to marine life
7
Ocean acidification
is progressing
rapidly around the
world, German researchers have found, and its
combination with the
other threats to marine
life is proving deadly.
Many organisms
that could withstand
a certain amount of
acidification are at risk
of losing this adaptive
ability owing to
pollution from plastics
and the extra stress from
global warming.
The conclusions
come from an eight-year
study into the effects
of ocean acidification,
which found that the
world’s increasingly
acid seas – a byproduct
of burning fossil
fuels – are becoming
more hostile to vital
marine life.
More environment
news, page 10
→
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 3
Eyewitnessed
The week’s events in pictures
→ Centre pages 24-25
Huthi minister: send our children to war
8
The youth minister
in war-torn Yemen’s
rebel government
has proposed suspending
school classes for a year
and sending pupils and
teachers to the front.
Hassan Zaid, minister
for youth and sports in an
administration set up by
Huthi rebels, suggested
pupils and teachers could
be armed. “Wouldn’t we
be able to reinforce the
4
10
ranks with hundreds of
thousands [of fighters]
and win the battle?”,
he wrote on Facebook.
Social media users
replied angrily. “What
if we let the students
study and sent the ministers and their bodyguards to the front?”
one said. “That would
give us victory and a
prosperous future.”
6
Rohingya children in ‘desperate’ state
Nearly
340,000
Rohingya
children are living in
squalid conditions
in Bangladesh camps
where they lack enough
food, clean water and
health care, the United
Nations Children’s Fund
(Unicef) said last Friday.
Up to 12,000 more
children join them
every week, fleeing
violence or hunger in
Myanmar, and often still
traumatised by atrocities they witnessed, it
said in a report, Outcast
and Desperate.
In all, almost 600,000
Rohingya refugees have
left northern Rakhine
state since 25 August
when the UN says the
Myanmar army began
a campaign of “ethnic
cleansing” following
insurgent attacks.
11
India to open Jammu and Kashmir talks
12
The Indian
government
has announced
it will commence talks
in the disputed state
of Jammu and Kashmir
with all parties, including separatists calling
for independence or a
merger with Pakistan.
The government
led by Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi has
previously taken a tough
line on the 30-year-old
conflict in India’s only
Muslim-majority state.
Home minister Rajnath
Singh said Dineshwar
Sharma, a former chief of
the intelligence bureau,
would lead “a sustained
interaction and dialogue
to understand legitimate
aspirations of people in
Jammu and Kashmir”.
More Asia news,
page 7
→
Anger as US bans Indonesian general
13
Indonesia has
said an apology
from the US
after its military chief
was denied entry last
weekend does not go
far enough.
General Gatot Nurmantyo and his entourage were scheduled to
travel from Jakarta to
Washington last Saturday afternoon, but were
informed by airline staff
just before boarding
that US customs and
border protection had
blocked their entry.
The general had
been invited by General
Joseph Dunford, chair
12
5
10
8
13
9
14
Mugabe off WHO’s goodwill envoy list
9
The World Health
Organisation
has removed the
Zimbabwean president,
Robert Mugabe, as a
goodwill ambassador
following outrage
among donors
and rights
groups at his
appointment.
The WHO’s
director
general,
Tedros
Adhanom
Ghebreyesus, who
made the appointment
at a high-level meeting
on non-communicable
diseases, said in
a statement that he
had listened to those
expressing concerns.
“As a result I have
decided to rescind the
appointment,” he said.
The WHO boss
had faced mounting
pressure to reverse
the decision,
including from
some of the
leading voices
in global
public health.
Several
former and
current WHO staff
said privately they
were appalled by his
“poor judgment”.
More Africa news,
page 13
→
Siberia’s Lake Baikal in grave crisis
Victoria MPs pass euthanasia bill
14
11
Lake Baikal
in Siberia is
undergoing its
gravest crisis in recent
history, experts say. In
recent years the lake
has been crippled by
a series of detrimental
phenomena, some of
which remain a mystery
to scientists. They
include a reduction in
the number of omul fish
(now protected by a
fishing ban), rapid growth
of putrid algae and
the death of endemic
species of sponges.
of the US joint chiefs of
staff, to attend a conference on countering
violent extremism.
Seeking clarification
over the embarrassing
incident, Indonesia’s
foreign minister, Retno
Marsudi, summoned the
deputy US ambassador
to Indonesia, Erin Elizabeth McKee, to explain
on Monday morning.
After the meeting,
Marsudi said: “They
once again stated regret
and apologised.” She
added that the repeated
apologies from the
US had fallen short of
resolving the issue.
The lower
house of
parliament
in the Australian state
of Victoria has passed
assisted dying legislation
after a marathon fourday debate. It clears the
way for the bill to pass
the upper house, where
supporters believe they
have the numbers to pass
it in to law.
The debate on the
government-sponsored
bill began last Tuesday
and continued past
midnight each day. It
culminated in a debate
that began on 9.30am
last Thursday and was
still running by 11.15am
last Friday, when a conscience vote to pass the
legislation was finally
called.
Politicians debated
each of the 141 clauses
of the bill and proposed
more than 300 amendments. Liberal and
National MPs were
accused of filibustering as the debate went
on. The bill passed to
applause, 47 votes to 37.
More regional
news, page 12
→
4 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
International news
A partial victory, with
no political parallel
← Continued from page 1
occupied
its Sunni-dominated heartlands,
further expansion was unlikely. If it
was easy to sweep aside the border
of a shattered state such as Syria,
the frontiers of Turkey, Israel and
Jordan proved resistant. There was
no way even Isis, a Sunni Arab Muslim force, was going to fight its way
deep into Shia-dominated central and
southern Iraq.
Second, the violent intolerance of
dissent and brutality by Isis towards
the communities under its authority
sapped support. Sunni leaders in Iraq
and Syria saw advantages in accepting
the group’s authority. Its rule brought
relative security, a rude form of justice, and defence against perceived
Shia and regime oppression. But in
2015, with a weakened Isis unable to
offer anything other than violence,
defections started and rapidly snowballed. At the end, the hospital and
stadium in Raqqa were defended by
foreign Isis fighters. Remaining Syrian militants surrendered days before.
Third, Isis took on the west. This
was a conscious decision, hard-wired
into the movement, and not taken in
self-defence as some have suggested.
The first terrorist attackers were dispatched by Isis to Europe in early 2014,
before the US-led coalition began airstrikes. The combination of western
firepower and funding for local forces
has repeatedly proved a potent one in
Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Libya, Mali
and elsewhere. Militant organisations
targeted by the west are usually forced
at the very least to abandon territorial
gains, particularly urban centres.
It is clear that any victory over Isis is
partial. The recent military offensive
has not been accompanied by a parallel political effort. There are deep
wells of resentment and fear among
Iraqi Sunnis, and the Syrian civil war
grinds on. Isis will now return to the
vicious and effective insurgency it ran
before the spectacular campaigns of
2014. The project of constructing an
Islamic state has been defeated, but
the organisation has not.
Yet there is still cause for optimism.
The three key challenges that undermined the Isis state-building project
also face every other militant group,
and always will. Neither veteran jihadis such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, who
leads al-Qaida, nor younger hotheads
have found a way to overcome them.
Al-Zawahiri now advises a “softly,
softly” approach to win hearts and
minds locally, which appears to have
paid dividends in Syria, and encourages tactical withdrawal from territory such as that seized in Yemen by
his group’s affiliate there, rather than
bloody final battles. But if al-Qaida
or any other group seized a swath of
the Middle East and tried to govern
it as Isis did, it would face the same
outcome: bloody, expensive failure.
If they don’t seize territory, they
must rely on spectacular terrorism
to radicalise the world’s Muslims, a
long-term strategy that has had some
results, but is of patchy efficacy.
Isis can still do very great harm to
Iraq, Syria and the broader region. But
can it do similar harm to the west?
The group poses a threat to people
in the UK, US, Europe and elsewhere
through affiliated groups, the fighters
it dispatches to wreak havoc and those
it inspires. The threat from all of these
will change dramatically now that
the caliphate is no more. The effect
on the “provinces” established over
the past three years will vary. Some
currently affiliated groups have long
been more influenced by what is happening in their own environment than
thousands of kilometres away. Their
active commitment to “global jihad”,
and attacks on western targets, will
now diminish still further.
Nor is there much chance that an
Isis “province” could become a substitute base for the caliphate. Iraq
and Syria have historic and religious
significance that cannot be replicated
elsewhere. The suggestion that the
Philippines could be the seat of the
caliphate is risible. Then there are
the foreign fighters. So far the feared
wave of violence perpetrated by Isis
veterans returning from the Middle
East has not occurred. The UK has
suffered several attacks, but these
did not involve men who had been
to Syria or Iraq. This leaves the possibility that Isis can inspire people in
coming months and years to commit
atrocities in the way it has done in the
recent past.
Some believe Isis can exist as a
“virtual caliphate”, sustained by online propaganda, which would exert
the same pull on recruits in the west
as before. But this is to misunderstand
the appeal of the group in London, Birmingham, Paris, Antwerp or Berlin.
Many recruits from the UK, Belgium
or France were young men of immigrant background with records for
petty, and sometimes serious, crime
and a superficial knowledge of the
faith they professed to follow. Isis offered everything a street gang does –
adventure, status, even financial and
Final destination? A fighter of the
Syrian Democratic Forces guards
the Raqqa stadium entry Reuters
sexual opportunity – but with the
bonus of redemption from past sins
and resolution of a complex identity
crisis. A weakened Isis, stripped of its
territories, is no longer “the biggest
… baddest gang around”, as one former Belgian Isis recruit described the
group to me two years ago, and so the
attraction is no longer there.
Baghdad and Iran both claim fruits of victory over Kurds
Martin Chulov Erbil
Observer
When the guns fell silent on the
Kirkuk-Erbil road, just after noon
last Friday, a fresh border had been
scythed through the oil-rich soil – and
a new line of influence carved across
northern Iraq.
Vanquished peshmerga forces began another withdrawal a few kilometres closer to the seat of government
in the shrunken boundaries of Iraqi
Kurdistan. A few kilometres south,
closer to Kirkuk, Iraqi forces were
digging in, their conquest of the entire
province complete, and their five-day
sweep through the rest of the north
having seized up to 14,000 sq km from
the Kurds, with a minimum of bother.
Baghdad has now reasserted its
authority over territory that the Kurds
occupied outside their mandated borders, most of which they had claimed
during the three-year fight against the
Islamic State (Isis) terrorist group.
The extraordinary capitulation
– which followed an independence
referendum that was supposed to
strengthen their hand – has not only
shattered Kurdish ambitions for at
least a generation; it has also laid bare
a power struggle in Iraq, and a regional
dynamic fast taking shape in the wake
of the shattered Isis caliphate.
Lining up to claim the rout of the
Kurds were Iraq’s prime minister,
Haider al-Abadi, and Iran’s omnipresent general, Qassem Suleimani,
whose influence in the days before
last weekend’s attack was key to
shaping the aftermath even before a
shot had been fired. Iranian government officials, too, were celebrating
the win in Kirkuk, which the Kurdish
leader, Massoud Barzani, had in effect annexed by including it within
the boundaries in which the referendum was held. “We were never going
to let a Zionist project like this claim
Kirkuk,” said a senior leader of the
Shia-led forces, known as the Popular
Mobilisation Units (PMUs). “Kirkuk is
central to Iraq’s economy and it will
never belong to Barzani.”
Contested throughout history,
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 5
On the website
Latest news, comment and analysis
→ theguardian.com
Russia accused of helping
Taliban with arms supplies
Sune Engel Rasmussen
There have been four big waves of
Islamist militancy over the past 50
years. The first two – in the late 1970s
and early 80s, and then in the early
90s – was largely limited to the Muslim
world. The third and fourth – from the
mid-90s to 2010, and from then until
now – have combined great violence
in Muslim-majority countries with
spectacular attacks in the west.
All four have followed a similar trajectory: a slow, unnoticed period of
growth, a spectacular event bringing
the new threat to public attention, a
phase of brutal struggle, then retreat.
One reason we often miss the first
phase of a growing threat is that we are
focused on the last phase of a declining one. We should bear this in mind as
we contemplate the ruins of Raqqa’s
hospital and stadium. But a victory is
a victory, and there are few reasons for
cheer these days. So let us celebrate
the defeat of Islamic State and its hateful caliphate – and keep a wary eye out
for the next fight. Observer
Afghan officials have called on Moscow to stop supporting the Taliban,
as the militant group steps up attacks
across the country, allegedly with the
help of Russian weapons.
The plea is a sign of frustration with
foreign powers, which are muscling in
to fill the space left behind by the US
troop drawdown and hedging their
bets on the conflict by supporting several factions – including the Taliban.
After weeks of intense battles in
the western Farah province – in which
Taliban fighters nearly overran the
provincial capital for the third time in
a year – the commander of the Afghan
army’s 207th Corps has become the
latest official to point the finger at Russia. Russian-made weapons, including night vision sniper scopes, have
been seized, the commander, Brig
Gen Mohammad Naser Hedayat, said
last week. A local police chief asked
the Kabul government to summon the
Russian ambassador in protest.
The Kremlin has long sought to
curb the influence of Islamist extremists in central Asia. Last year the
Russian foreign ministry admitted to
sharing intelligence with the Taliban
to fight Isis in Afghanistan.
The offices of the Afghan president
and his national security adviser declined to comment, but government
officials have previously accused Russia of arming and financing the Taliban, which, according to the US defence secretary, James Mattis, would
be “a violation of international law”.
Javid Faisal, spokesman for the
government’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, said the government
had reports of insurgents using Russian weapons in the north and west
of the country, and in the southern
Uruzgan province, but added that
information was scarce. Afghan officials allege that Russian intelligence
helped the Taliban capture Kunduz
in 2015 and 2016, shortly after Mullah
Abdul Salam – one of the insurgents’
“shadow governors” – had travelled to
Tajikistan.
According to Afghan and western
officials, Russia has met several times
with Taliban representatives without
the knowledge of the Afghan government. Most noteworthy was a meeting last year in Iran with Taliban chief
Mullah Akhtar Mansour. On his return
to Pakistan, Mansour was killed in an
American drone strike.
Iran, China and Saudi Arabia are
all believed to be vying for influence
with the Taliban, making it harder to
control and to negotiate with.
Russian interference in Afghanistan is not limited to armed Islamists.
Russia is also allegedly supplying
weapons and cash to local strongmen
in northern Afghanistan, destabilising
an already fragile region.
Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan follows the example of Iran,
which although formally an Afghan
ally, is padding its pro-Assad militias
in Syria with Afghan Shias despite protests from Kabul. Tehran has also been
accused of training and arming rebels
in western Afghanistan.
Russian analyst Alexei Malashenko
said claims of weapons transfers
should be treated with scepticism.
“If we are talking about Kalashnikovs
or grenade launchers, then this kind
of thing could come from anywhere,”
he said. He added that it was not surprising Russia would be dealing with
some elements of the Taliban. “There
are different types of Taliban, and
there are some who are fighting Isis,
so why shouldn’t we speak to them?
Without the Taliban, the Afghan state
is not viable.”
Dozens killed in suicide bombings of Afghan mosques
Kirkuk is home to Kurds, Arabs and
Turkmen, as well as oilfields, an airport, a military base – and at least 8bn
barrels of subterranean oil.
In Baghdad, the Iranian claims of
being central to the victory were disavowed. “The popular myth is that a
certain Iranian general has a hand in
everything in this country, that he is
a viceroy of some sorts,” said a senior
Iraqi minister. “That’s not true.”
While Iraq’s military indeed played
a prominent role in reclaiming Kirkuk,
so, too, did Shia groups who report to
Suleimani and the joint leaders of the
PMU forces, Hadi al-Amiri and Abu
Mahdi al-Muhandis. Washington sat
out the past week of clashes, even as
forces loyal to Suleimani helped lead
the assault. A former US diplomat in
Iraq said: “The Iranian role here can’t
be denied. And nor can the fact that
this is a prime example of a bigger
struggle for the Iraqi street.”
“The political and military campaigns around Kirkuk were organised
by Suleimani,” said an Iraqi minister.
“Make no mistake about it.”
More than 70 people have been
killed in twin suicide bombings
on mosques in Afghanistan, government officials said. In Kabul, a
suicide bomber killed at least 39
people and injured 45 more in a Shia
mosque in the western part of the
capital, according to the interior
ministry. Some victims were reportedly shot after the blast last Friday.
In central Ghor province, a suicide bomber killed 33 worshippers
in a Sunni mosque, purportedly
targeting a local commander from
the anti-Taliban Jamiat party, said
a police spokesman. There was no
immediate claim of responsibility
for either attack.
The attacks came in a deadly
week for Afghans, in which nearly
200 people were killed. After
74 people died last Tuesday in a
wave of Taliban attacks across the
country, 43 soldiers were killed by
bomb-strapped Humvees in an attack in Kandahar last Thursday. The
violence comes as President Donald
Trump seeks to escalate the US
war in Afghanistan, and as the US
ramps up drone strikes on militants
in tribal areas on both sides of the
Afghan-Pakistani border. SER
6 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
International news
Catalonia defies direct rule
Madrid’s demand for
elections rejected and
‘de facto coup’ attacked
Agencies
Sam Jones Madrid
Catalonia’s parliament will meet over
the coming days to agree its response
to the Spanish government’s decision
to impose direct rule, as speculation
mounts that the regional president,
Carles Puigdemont, is planning to
press ahead with a unilateral declaration of independence.
Last Saturday night, Puigdemont
described Madrid’s move as the
worst attack on Catalonia’s institutions since Franco’s dictatorship and
accused the Spanish government of
“slamming the door” on his appeals
for dialogue to resolve Spain’s worst
political crisis since its return to democracy 40 years ago.
Hours later, the Catalan government said it would fight “tooth and
nail to defend Catalonia’s democratically elected institutions” and the
mandate it had received through the
unilateral independence referendum
held on 1 October. Its spokesman,
Jordi Turull, told the Catalan radio
station RAC1 that the coming week
would be one “where decisions are
taken … doing nothing doesn’t figure
in our plans”. He rejected demands for
fresh elections to be held as a way to
break the standoff, saying that polls
were “not on the table”.
Puigdemont signed a declaration
of independence on 10 October, but
proposed that its effects be suspended
for two months to allow for dialogue.
Although Puigdemont has resisted
internal political pressure to formally
declare Catalan independence, he has
refused to rule out the move, which
would escalate tensions further and
Catalan front … from left, Carles Puigdemont, Carme Forcadell and Artur
Mas (head of Catalan Democratic party) at a protest in Barcelona Rex
could pit the regional police force, the
Mossos d’Esquadra, against the thousands of Guardia Civil and national
police officers deployed in Catalonia.
Even if he draws back from a declaration, many Catalans – including
Mossos and civil servants – may decide to disobey orders from Madrid,
and tens of thousands of people could
take to the streets to protect key regional government institutions.
The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said last Saturday that his
government was taking the dramatic
step of invoking article 155 of the constitution to “restore the rule of law, coexistence and the economic recovery
and to ensure that elections could be
held in normal circumstances”.
He said Puigdemont’s administration would be stripped of its powers
and its functions assumed by the
relevant ministries in Madrid. The
government will submit its proposals
to a vote in the Spanish Senate this
week. The speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, called the
measures a “de facto coup d’etat”.
Spain’s reaction was firm and blunt.
Last Sunday its foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, said if a coup had taken
place it had been carried out by Puigdemont and his colleagues. Dastis said
the government was trying “reluctantly” to reinstate order in Catalonia.
Opposition politicians in Catalonia
urged Puigdemont to drop his independence plans and calm the situation by calling elections. Puigdemont
said the referendum, in which 90% of
participants backed independence,
allowed his government to set about
creating a sovereign republic.
According to the Catalan government, about 2.3 million of Catalonia’s
5.3 million registered voters – 43%
– took part in the referendum, and
770,000 votes were lost after Spanish
police tried to halt the vote.
Natalie Nougayrède, page 18 →
Czech poll victor must form coalition
Ian Cobain and Jon Henley
One of central Europe’s richest men
will begin the tricky task of building
a ruling coalition after convincing
Czech voters in weekend elections
that he can stem immigration, fight
corruption and banish the establishment from power.
Andrej Babiš, a tycoon turned
populist politician who has been
compared to Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi, confirmed on Monday
that the Czech president would ask
North Italy
regions back
autonomy
him next week to begin forming the
next government.
Babiš led his new party ANO – ano is
Czech for “yes” – to a resounding poll
victory, winning almost 30% of the
vote. The election ended a quarter of a
century of political dominance by the
traditional parties of the Czech mainstream, with the Social and Christian
Democrats scoring just 7% and 6%,
respectively.
“We’ll do our utmost to persuade
any other party to join us,” Babiš
said on Monday. Both the mainstream
centre-right and centre-left parties,
however, have already ruled themselves out of any coalition, and not
just because his abrasive style and
confrontational policies have alienated many of their leading members.
Many are reluctant to ally themselves with a self-styled anticorruption campaigner who is himself
mired in allegations of fraud. There
are also questions about whether
Babiš would enjoy immunity from
prosecution if he were able to form
a government.
Two of Italy’s wealthiest northern
regions last Sunday voted overwhelmingly for greater autonomy
in the latest example of the powerful centrifugal forces reshaping
European politics.
Voters in the Veneto region that
includes Venice, and in Lombardy,
home to Milan, backed more powers
being devolved from Rome in votes
that took place against the backdrop
of the separatist crisis in Catalonia.
Veneto president Luca Zaia hailed
the results, delayed slightly by a
hacker attack, as an institutional “big
bang”. But he reiterated that the region’s aspirations were not comparable to the secessionist agenda that has
triggered a crisis in Spain.
Turnout was projected at around
58% in Veneto, where support for autonomy is stronger, and just over 40%
in Lombardy. The presidents of each
region said more than 95% of voters
who had cast ballots had, as expected,
voted for greater autonomy. The votes
are not binding but they will give the
rightwing leaders of the two regions
a strong political mandate when they
embark on negotiations with the central government on the devolution of
powers and tax revenues from Rome.
Secessionist sentiment in Veneto
and Lombardy is restricted to fringe
groups, but analysts see the autonomy
drive as reflecting the same cocktail of
issues and pressures that resulted in
Scotland’s defeated independence
vote, Britain’s decision to leave the
EU and the Catalan crisis.
Lombardy’s governor, Roberto
Maroni, said he would hope to present detailed proposals on devolution
within two weeks, in a bid to ensure
they are considered before national
elections due by May next year.
Analysts say the northern regions’
enthusiasm for autonomy does not
represent a threat to the unity of Italy
in the short term. But they do see it
being a disruptive force over coming
decades, particularly as the indebted
central government can ill afford to
forgo the net contribution it gets from
Italy’s most dynamic areas.
The two regional presidents, both
members of the far-right Northern
League, plan to ask for more say over
infrastructure, the environment,
health and education. They also want
new powers relating to security issues
and immigration – steps that would
require changes to the constitution.
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 7
International news
Abe secures strong
mandate in Japan
Japanese PM’s hard line
on North Korea helps
him to crush opposition
Justin McCurry Tokyo
Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe,
has secured a strong mandate for
his hard line against North Korea,
and room to push for revision of the
country’s pacifist constitution after
his party crushed untested opposition parties in last Sunday’s election.
Abe’s Liberal Democratic party
(LDP) and its junior coalition partner
Komeito won 313 seats, keeping its
two-thirds “supermajority” in the
465-member lower house.
A supermajority will allow Abe to
propose changes to the constitution,
which currently restricts its military
to a defensive role. Most voters, however, oppose reform.
After a day that saw millions of voters brave driving rain and powerful
winds brought on by Typhoon Lan,
Abe’s election gamble paid off. Abe
had called the vote more than a year
earlier than scheduled.
While his personal popularity remains low, support for Abe’s uncompromising stance on North Korea has
risen following the regime’s recent
launch of two ballistic missiles over
the northern island of Hokkaido and
its threat to “sink” Japan.
Abe said he would accept the result
with “humility” after his personal
popularity ratings plummeted in the
summer amid two cronyism scandals.
An initial challenge by the Party
of Hope, formed only late last
month by the populist governor of
Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, petered out as
prospective supporters stayed with
the incumbent LDP.
“The situation in the world is not
stable in many aspects and I believe
the LDP is the only party we can depend on,” Kyoko Ichida, a Tokyo resident, said after casting her vote.
Abe, who has emerged as Donald
Trump’s key ally in the president’s
tough line against Pyongyang, said
“all options” – including military force
– remained on the table.
“At a time when North Korea is
threatening us and increasing tensions, we must never waver,” he said
in his final campaign speech last
Saturday. “We must not yield to the
threat of North Korea.”
Last Sunday’s victory will keep
alive Abe’s long-held quest to revise
Japan’s pacifist constitution to officially recognise the self-defence
forces (SDF) as a bona fide military.
But, aware of the strength of public
opposition, Abe said last Sunday that
he had dropped his 2020 deadline for
the revision. “First, I want to deepen
debate and have as many people as
possible agree,” he said in a TV interview. “That should be our priority.”
He added that he would “deal firmly”
with North Korea.
Any weakening of Japan’s pacifist credo is expected to anger China
and South Korea, where many still
harbour bitter memories of Japanese militarism in the first half of the
20th century.
The LDP is due to hold presidential elections next September, but
last Sunday’s victory means Abe is
virtually assured of retaining the
leadership of his party for another
three years and going on to become
the longest-serving prime minister in
Japanese history.
Manga manual Missile survival guide in Japan
Schoolchildren take cover beneath
their desks, while a farmer jumps
out of his tractor and crouches face
down in a field. Off the coast, the
crew of a fishing boat hide behind
their vessel’s wheelhouse.
The characters are fictional, but
they are playing out a scenario that
has become frighteningly real: a
North Korean missile strike.
Weeks after two ballistic missiles
overflew their island, authorities in
Hokkaido have married geopolitical
anxiety with Japan’s love of comic
books to produce a short manga
advising residents what to do in the
event of a test launch or attack.
The manga opens with depictions
of everyday scenes: a woman out
for a run, a man in a suit leaving for
work and a farmer tilling his fields.
Moments later a girl is jolted
awake by a smartphone alarm warning of a missile launch, while a television anchor instructs residents to
seek shelter.
The centre panel shows a North
Korean missile blasting off across
the sea towards Hokkaido.
The four-page survival guide,
created by manga artist Manabu
Yamamoto, uses a small cast of
characters to explain what Hokkaido’s 5.5 million residents should do
when they learn of a missile launch.
It advises residents to take cover in
sturdy buildings or underground, or
to lie face down or cover their heads
with their forearms.
Hokkaido, a sparsely populated
region in Japan’s far north, probably
ranks low on Pyongyang’s list of
targets, but Japan has reason to be
concerned about the threat.
North Korea first fired a longrange missile over Japanese territory in 1998, but under the current
leader, Kim Jong-un, the number
of test launches has risen dramatically. In August, a Hwasong-12
intermediate-range missile was sent
over Hokkaido, triggering an earlymorning test alert. In mid-September, more alerts and sirens were triggered on the island with the launch
of a missile that flew further than
any tested by the regime to date.
“We decided to release the manga
after hearing from residents that the
current manual is hard to understand,” Kiyomi Tanabe, a Hokkaido
official, told AFP.
The local government has posted
the manga on its website and sent
electronic versions to schools and
other public bodies to print and
distribute. Justin McCurry
Photograph: Hokkaido Prefecture
China’s leader gets his own brand of political theory
Tom Phillips Beijing
China’s communist leader, Xi Jinping, has further strengthened his
rule over the world’s second-largest
economy with confirmation that a
new body of political theory bearing his name will be written into the
party’s constitution.
During a week-long political
summit in Beijing marking the end
of President Xi’s first term, state
media announced the creation of
what it called Xi Jinping Thought on
Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. “The Thought is …
a historic contribution to the party’s
development,” Zhang Dejiang, one
of the seven members of China’s top
ruling council, the politburo standing
Xi Jinping has
been credited
with Thought on
Socialism with
Chinese
Characteristics
for a New Era
committee, told delegates at the 19th
party congress, according to Beijing’s
official news agency, Xinhua.
Liu Yunshan, another standing
committee member, said the elevation of Xi’s Thought into the party’s
list of “guiding principles” was of
“great political, theoretical and practical significance”.
Experts say the decision to grant
Xi his own eponymous school of
thought, while arcane-sounding, represents a momentous occasion.
“It is a huge deal,” said Orville
Schell, who has been studying Chinese politics since the late 1950s. “It
is sort of like party skywriting. If you
get your big think in the constitution
it becomes immortal and Xi is seeking
a certain kind of immortality.”
In an unexpectedly lengthy opening address to China’s 19th party congress last Wednesday, Xi offered a bold
and assertive vision of his nation’s
future, heralding the dawn of a “new
era” of Chinese prosperity and power
in which Beijing would move “closer
to centre stage”.
8 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
International news
Trump tax-cut budget passed
Senate vote allows
Republicans to start
overhaul of tax code
Lauren Gambino Washington
The Senate has approved a multitrillion-dollar budget that Donald
Trump has called a “first step towards
massive tax cuts”, a largely symbolic
move that sets the stage for Republicans to rewrite the US tax code without
a single Democratic vote.
The Senate last Thursday voted
51-49 to pass the budget resolution,
a blueprint for federal spending over
the next decade. Senator Rand Paul of
Kentucky was the sole Republican to
oppose it, objecting to the spending
levels in the proposal. Passage of the
resolution keeps Republicans on track
to pass tax reform as early as this year,
though many hurdles remain. They
have still not accounted for where the
cuts will come from.
Despite controlling both chambers
of Congress and the White House, Republicans have been unable to produce
a major legislative achievement. After
failing to repeal the Affordable Care
Act this year, Republican lawmakers
are under pressure from conservative
voters and donors to deliver on the
campaign promise of tax reform.
The non-binding resolution agreed
last Thursday night lays out Congress’s
spending priorities for the 2018 fiscal
year, which began on 1 October. But
most importantly for Republican priorities, the measure unlocks a special
parliamentary procedure that will allow them to cut $1.5tn in taxes with
just 50 votes – as opposed to 60 – in
the Senate, where they hold a two-seat
majority. Republicans have sold the
plan as a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to overhaul an outdated tax
system, while Democrats have called
it “Robin Hood in reverse”.
In a statement, a White House
spokesperson said: “This resolution
creates a pathway to unleash the
potential of the American economy
through tax reform and tax cuts, simplifying the overcomplicated tax code,
providing financial relief for families
across the country, and making American businesses globally competitive.
President Trump looks forward to final enactment of the fiscal year 2018
budget resolution so we can bring jobs
back to our country.”
In a floor speech last Thursday, the
Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said: “Tax reform is all about
getting America going again and growing again. It aims to take more money
out of Washington’s pockets and put
more money in middle-class pockets.”
The Democrats have said the tax
cuts would largely help the wealthiest
and have disputed the White House’s
claim that corporate tax cuts would
raise wages for the middle class.
Chuck Schumer, Senate minority
leader, said: “Our economy suffers
from massive inequality – which is
growing – a concentration of wealth
at the very apex of our country’s elite
… middle-class incomes have not risen
with the rise in corporate profits or
record levels of wealth concentrated
among the wealthiest families.”
Trump has promised a “giant, beautiful, massive tax cut” that would reduce the corporate tax rate from
35% to 20%, lower the number of tax
brackets from seven to three and cut
taxes for middle-class families. Trump
has denied that his plan cuts taxes on
the wealthiest Americans, but the
treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin,
appeared to confirm that the White
House’s plan, as drafted, would indeed
benefit top earners.
“When you’re cutting taxes across
the board, it’s very hard not to give
tax cuts to the wealthy with tax cuts
to the middle class,” he told Politico.
“The math, given how much you are
collecting, is just hard to do.”
Pledge … Trump has said his budget will help bring back jobs to US EPA
Outspoken Obama earns cheers at rally
David Smith Richmond, Virginia
It was the night his supporters waited
nine long months for. Barack Obama
returned to the fray last Thursday
with a denunciation of Donald Trump
in all but name, condemning the politics of division. The former president
got deafening cheers at a rally ostensibly for the Democratic candidate in
a gubernatorial election in Virginia. In
championing Ralph Northam’s cause,
Obama gave his views on the state of
the nation in the strongest terms since
his successor’s inauguration. He told
thousands of supporters in Richmond:
“Here’s one thing I know: if you have
to win a campaign by dividing people,
you’re not going to be able to govern
them. You won’t be able to unite them
later if that’s how you start.”
While not mentioning Trump by
name, he went on: “Instead of looking for ways to work together to get
things done in a practical way, we’ve
got folks who are deliberately trying to
make folks angry, to demonise people
who have different ideas, to get the
base all riled up because it provides a
short-term tactical advantage.”
Referring to the Charlottesville
events, the US’s first black president
said: “If we’re going to talk about our
history then we should do it in a way
that heals, not in a way that wounds,
not in a way that divides. We shouldn’t
use the most painful parts of our history just to score political points. We
don’t rise up by repeating the past. We
rise up by learning from the past and
listening to each other.”
Comment, page 21 →
Battle to end
Canada’s
health flaw
Ashifa Kassam Toronto
In his campaign for universal publicly
funded healthcare in the US, Bernie
Sanders has repeatedly held up Canada’s system as an example, highlighting the pride Canadians take in the
idea that medical care is a right for
everyone. But his legislation would
aim to go further, addressing a critical
shortcoming: that Canada is the only
developed country in the world with a
universal healthcare system that does
not cover essential medications.
“It’s a big issue, a big problem,”
Danielle Martin, a Toronto doctor, told
Sanders in a recent podcast. “I have
patients who take their pills every
other day, or who take them for a few
weeks and then have to wait until the
cheque comes in to fill it again.”
The gap, said Martin, was partly because Canada’s system was designed
in the 1960s, when prescription medication was less of a focus for care.
Today Canadians, however, face the
second-highest drug costs in the industrialised world, after Americans.
Many in Canada must choose between meeting their basic needs or
complying with the doctors’ orders,
said Hassan Yussuff of the Canadian
Labour Congress. “If you’re not fortunate enough to work for a sizeable
employer that has the resources to
provide you with benefits, you’re left
on your own,” he said.
His organisation, which represents
labour unions, recently launched a
campaign for a national pharmacare
plan. About 700,000 Canadians have
no prescription drug coverage. Another 3.6 million are believed to have
coverage that falls short of allowing
them to afford medications, according to government estimates.
While such legislation has little
chance of passing without support
from Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party,
the New Democratic party motion
got a boost from the parliamentary
budget officer. The independent
government agency estimated that a
pharmacare programme – with bulk
purchases of pharmaceuticals for all
Canadians – could slash the overall
cost of prescriptions by more than
C$4bn (US$3.1bn) a year. But more
than C$19bn in net costs to run the
programme would probably fall on
the federal government.
A spokesperson for the health department said the government had
budgeted C$140m over five years to
lower drug prices and improve access
to prescription drugs.
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 9
US
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Page XX
International news
Crusading journalist exposed dark side
of Malta, and paid the ultimate price
Valletta diary
Jon Henley
L
ooking back, they had
known – perhaps for a
long time – that it might
end like this. With hindsight, says Matthew
Caruana Galizia, redeyed from emotion and
lack of sleep, it seems obvious. “This
wasn’t an aberration,” he says. “It
was a culmination.”
The air in the family home, half
an hour’s drive from Malta’s capital, Valletta, is thick with grief and
quiet anger. Matthew, his brothers
Andrew and Paul, and their aunt
Corinne sit on the sofa and a couple
of armchairs around a large, low
table filled with empty coffee cups.
Down the hill, a few hundred
metres away and just visible from
the end of the drive – which now
has a police guard – a blue and white
tent stands in the middle of a field.
Figures in white overalls comb the
ground around it; the road beside it
is closed to traffic.
The tent covers the remains of
the Peugeot in which the brothers’
mother and Corinne’s sister, the
investigative journalist Daphne
Caruana Galizia, was killed last
Monday afternoon in an explosion
so powerful that it blew the car, in
pieces, into the field.
“I was sitting at the table there,”
said Matthew, himself a Pulitzerprizewinning investigative journalist. “I heard the explosion; the
windows rattled, the whole house
vibrated. I knew she was dead before I got up from my chair.”
Daphne Caruana Galizia had
made many enemies in the 30
years since she first began skewering alleged high-level corruption
in Malta’s political, business and
criminal elites – often, she would
argue, one and the same, or at least
closely connected – in print.
In recent years her hugely popular blog, Running Commentary,
had attacked Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat; his chief of
staff, Keith Schembri; and Konrad
Mizzi, the then energy minister,
tying offshore companies allegedly linked to the three men to
the controversial – and highly
lucrative – sale of Maltese passports
and large payments from the
government of Azerbaijan.
Outraged ... Daphne Caruana Galizia Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters
But her targets ranged across the
spectrum of graft, cronyism and
corruption, taking in politicians
(including from the opposition),
banks facilitating money laundering
and tax evasion, and online gaming
firms infiltrated by the mafia.
Much of her – and Matthew’s –
work since last year had focused on
revelations from the Panama Papers,
a huge cache of leaked documents
from the leading offshore law firm
Mossack Fonseca. But long before
I heard the explosion
… the whole house
vibrated. I knew she
was dead before I got
up from my chair
then, her sons recall, she was being
harassed and intimidated.
“In 1996, the front door was set
on fire,” says Andrew, who works
in the Maltese diplomatic service.
“Around about that time, too, someone killed the dog – cut its throat
and laid it across the doorstep. A
few years later, the neighbour’s car
burned out; his house has almost
exactly the same name as ours.”
The most serious attack before
the fatal car bomb was in 2006.
Paul, now a fellow at the London
School of Economics, was coming
home late, around 2am, and saw “a
huge blaze, right beside the house.
They’d dumped two big stacks of
car tyres, filled them with petrol,
and set light to it.”
Paul reached the house in time
to stop the fire taking hold. His parents were asleep inside, oblivious.
“That was the first serious attempt
to physically harm her,” he says.
“The clear intention was to burn the
house down, with her inside.”
Death threats were almost a daily
occurrence, says Matthew: “We
grew up with them. Phone calls,
letters, notes pinned to the door.
Then when mobile phones arrived,
text messages. And later, of course,
emails, comments on her blog. Not
to mention the lawsuits.”
There was “a concerted attempt to
ruin her financially”, adds Andrew.
“The libel threshold in Malta is low,
and to respond – simply to say you’re
contesting it – you have to pay something like €900 [$1,000] into court.
They came at her like that in groups,
businessmen, politicians, often with
foreign lawyers.” This year alone,
says Matthew, counting off the
names on his fingers, “15 – no, maybe
even 20 people” filed for libel against
his mother. One guy, a wealthy
businessman, “filed 19 suits, one for
every sentence in an article”.
With the support of their father,
and her husband, Peter – an “unflappable” lawyer – Daphne nonetheless
gave her sons “a normal childhood”,
says Matthew. “We were her priority,
always,” he says.
“But she remained capable of
outrage. That’s the thing. She never,
ever became cynical. Despite all she
knew about everything that’s rotten
in this country, she never became
cynical.” And there are things about
Malta, the family now knows, that
smell very rotten indeed.
In recent years Malta has been
called a “pirate base for tax avoidance”, helping multinational companies dodge nearly €15bn in tax.
Organised crime, including Italy’s
’Ndrangheta, uses its online betting
industry, which accounts for 10% of
the island’s GDP, for money-laundering, according to Europol, the
pan-European police agency.
The country’s biggest source
of revenue is now selling Maltese
citizenship and passports, which
cost €650,000 each, to very wealthy
foreigners. In the past 10 years, it
has witnessed 15 mafia-style killings, including five car bombings in
the past two years. All in a member
state, the smallest, of the EU.
Daphne’s family are not confident her death will change any of
this. “It will take other people,”
says Matthew. “In a normal country, a failure of the state would be
recognised, the institutions of civil
society would move in, fix things.
But what can move in here? This is
not a normal country.”
10 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
International news
In a blur … toxic air, water, soils and workplaces are responsible for the diseases that kill one in every six people around the world Rex/Shutterstock
Global pollution kills 9m people a year
Landmark report
reveals both human
and financial cost
Damian Carrington
Pollution kills at least 9 million people
and costs trillions of dollars every
year, according to the most comprehensive global analysis to date, which
warns the crisis “threatens the continuing survival of human societies”.
Toxic air, water, soils and workplaces are responsible for the diseases
that kill one in every six people around
the world, the landmark report found,
and the true total could be millions
higher because the impact of many
pollutants are poorly understood.
The deaths attributed to pollution
are triple those from Aids, malaria and
tuberculosis combined.
The vast majority of the pollution deaths occur in poorer nations
and in some, such as India, Chad
and Madagascar, pollution causes
a quarter of all deaths. The international researchers said this burden is
a hugely expensive drag on developing economies. Rich nations still have
work to do to tackle pollution: the US
and Japan are in the top 10 for deaths
from “modern” forms of pollution, ie
fossil fuel-related air pollution and
chemical pollution. But the scientists
said that the big improvements that
have been made in developed nations
in recent decades show that beating
pollution is a winnable battle if there
is the political will.
“Pollution is one of the great
existential challenges of the [humandominated] Anthropocene era,”
concluded the authors of the Commission on Pollution and Health,
published in the Lancet last Friday.
“Pollution endangers the stability of
the Earth’s support systems and
threatens the continuing survival of
human societies.”
Prof Philip Landrigan, at the Icahn
School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, US,
who co-led the commission, said: “We
fear that with 9 million deaths a year,
we are pushing the envelope on the
amount of pollution Earth can carry.”
Landrigan said the scale of deaths
from pollution had surprised the
researchers and that two other “real
shockers” stood out. First was how
quickly modern pollution deaths were
rising, while “traditional” pollution
deaths – from contaminated water
and wood cooking fires – were falling
as development work bears fruit.
“Secondly, we hadn’t really got our
minds around how much pollution is
not counted in the present tally,” he
said. “The current figure of 9 million
is almost certainly an underestimate,
probably by several million.”
This is because scientists are still
discovering links between pollution
and ill health, such as the connection between air pollution and dementia, diabetes and kidney disease.
Furthermore, lack of data on many
toxic metals and chemicals could not
be included in the new analysis.
The researchers estimated the welfare losses from pollution at $4.6tn a
year, equivalent to more than 6% of
global GDP. “Those costs are so massive
they can drag down the economy of
countries that are trying to get ahead,”
said Landrigan. “We always hear ‘we
can’t afford to clean up pollution’ – I say
we can’t afford not to clean it up.”
The commission report combined
data from the World Health Organisation and elsewhere and found
air pollution was the biggest killer,
leading to heart disease, stroke, lung
cancer and other illnesses. Outdoor
air pollution, largely from vehicles
and industry, caused 4.5m deaths a
year and indoor air pollution, from
wood and dung stoves, caused 2.9m.
The next biggest killer was pollution of water, often with sewage,
which is linked to 1.8m deaths as a
result of gastrointestinal diseases and
parasitic infections. Workplace pollution, including exposure to toxins,
carcinogens and secondhand tobacco
smoke, resulted in 800,000 deaths
from diseases including pneumoconiosis in coal workers and bladder
cancer in dye workers.
Low-income and rapidly industrialising countries are worst affected,
suffering 92% of pollution-related
deaths, with Somalia suffering the
highest rate of pollution deaths. India
has by far the largest number of pollution deaths at 2.5m. China is second
with 1.8m and Russia and the US are
also in the top 10.
‘Ecological Armageddon’ on the horizon, scientists fear
Damian Carrington
The abundance of flying insects has
plunged by three-quarters over the
past 25 years, according to a new study
that has shocked scientists.
Insects are an integral part of life
on Earth as both pollinators and prey
for other wildlife, and it was known
that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly
revealed scale of the losses to all
insects has prompted warnings that
the world is “on course for ecological
Armageddon”, with profound impacts
on human society.
The new data was gathered in
nature reserves across Germany
but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the
researchers said.
The cause of the huge decline is
as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread
use of pesticides are the most likely
factors, and climate change may
play a role. The scientists were able
to rule out weather and changes to
landscape in the reserves as causes,
but data on pesticide levels has not
been collected.
The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of
dozens of amateur entomologists
across Germany who began using
strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called
malaise traps were used to capture
more than 1,500 samples of all flying
insects at 63 different nature reserves.
When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured
a startling decline was revealed. The
annual average fell by 76% over the
27-year period, but the fall was even
higher – 82% – in summer, when insect
numbers reach their peak.
Previous reports of insect declines
have been limited to particular
insects, such European grassland
butterflies, which have fallen by
50% in recent decades. But the new
research captured all flying insects,
including wasps and flies which are
rarely studied, making it a much
stronger indicator of decline.
12 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
International news
Coalition to lead New Zealand Pakistan
Labour PM Jacinda
Ardern and NZ First’s
Winston Peters sign deal
Eleanor Ainge Roy Dunedin
New Zealand First and the Labour
party have formally signed a coalition
agreement, introducing a slew of new
policies focusing on climate change,
regional development and poverty.
On Tuesday, prime minister-elect
Jacinda Ardern and NZ First leader
Winston Peters – who will serve as
deputy prime minister and foreign
affairs minister in the new government – signed a commitment in
Wellington, pledging to making sure
all New Zealanders share in the country’s economic prosperity, which
“must” go hand-in hand with environmental responsibility.
Other major commitments include
banning foreign buyers from purchasing existing New Zealand homes, reducing immigration by up to 30,000
people a year and reviewing and reforming the Reserve Bank Act.
After the deal was signed, Ardern
said: “As a priority, we will restore
funding to the health system to allow
access for all; ensure all Kiwis can
live in warm, dry homes; take action
on child poverty and homelessness;
crack down on foreign speculators;
clean our rivers, and strengthen efforts to tackle climate change and the
transition to a low carbon economy.
“We will focus on sustainable
economic development, supporting
our regional economies, increasing
exports, lifting wages and reducing
inequality.”
The deal includes NZ$1bn ($700m)
in funding for regional development and a commitment to plant 1m
trees a year.
Other policies agreed include increasing the minimum wage to NZ$20
an hour by 2020, re-entering the Pike
River mine, increasing funding for
the department of conservation and
establishing a climate commission.
New Zealand First will have four
cabinet positions in the new government and one under-secretary role,
with portfolios to include defence,
infrastructure, regional development,
children, seniors and internal affairs.
As deputy prime minister and
foreign affairs minister, Peters will
be taking on roles he has held in previous governments.
From 1996 to 1998 he served as deputy prime minister under a Nationalled government, and in 2005-2008 he
was foreign affairs minister in Helen
Clark’s Labour-led government.
Ardern was due to be officially
sworn in on Thursday, when she
would become New Zealand’s third
female prime minister and, at 37, the
country’s youngest leader in 150 years.
The Green party also signed a
confidence and supply agreement
with Labour on Tuesday and confirmed four of its MPs have roles in
government – but not in the cabinet
– working on key campaign areas
such as climate change, conservation
and women.
Deals agreed between the Greens
and Labour include making New
Zealand a net zero emissions economy
by 2050, a substantial investment in
alternative transport options such
as walking paths and cycleways,
overhauling the welfare system and
committing to protecting New Zealand’s 3,000 threatened plant and
wildlife species.
Last week Peters, whose New Zealand First party won nine seats in
September’s general election, said he
would form a coalition government
with Labour, after weeks of negotiations that saw incumbent Bill English’s
National party, which has the largest
number of MPs, leave empty-handed.
Ready to rule ... Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters Hagen Hopkins/Getty
Hundreds refuse to leave Manus Island
Ben Doherty
More than 600 asylum seekers and
refugees are refusing to leave the
Manus Island immigration detention
centre, which is due to close next week.
Authorities will soon cut off access
to drinking water, food, medical
treatment, electricity and sewerage.
Refugees will be forced to move to
alternative accommodation centres
nearer Manus’s main city of Lorengau.
Services will be provided to refugees
while they wait for resettlement
elsewhere in Papua New Guinea or in
a third country.
There are also 156 people on
Manus whose bid for asylum has been
rejected. They will be moved to a third
accommodation centre, but are being
encouraged to return home.
According to Australian Senate
estimates heard on Monday, 606
people who were required to leave
by the closure deadline were refusing to move out. Asked if they would
be removed by force, the immigration department secretary, Michael
Pezzullo, said that was a matter for
the Papua New Guinean government.
Pezzullo suggested the ordinary
laws of trespass might apply because
PNG was planning to reoccupy the
former military facility.
A Rohingyan refugee, Imran
Mohammad Fazal Hoque, said that
men were fearful of being abandoned
in the Manus community, where
low-level wariness has escalated in
recent months to outright hostility.
“We call for help in the vain hope that
someone might answer,” he said.
indicts
former PM
Sune Engel Rasmussen Islamabad
An anti-corruption court in Pakistan
has indicted the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif over allegations
involving his family’s ownership of
expensive London property, potentially paving the way for the imprisonment of the disqualified leader.
The indictment is the latest blow
in a lengthy public fall triggered by
last year’s Panama Papers leaks,
and comes as Sharif’s family assiduously tries to maintain its influence
in Pakistan.
Sharif, who was disqualified from
office in July after failing to declare
a £2,000 ($2,600) income from a
Dubai-based company, was indicted
with his daughter Maryam Nawaz and
her husband, Muhammad Safdar. All
three pleaded not guilty.
After the indictment, their lawyer
read a statement saying the charges
were “not only groundless, baseless
and unfounded but also frivolous, and
on top of that we are being denied our
right to fair trial. The charges are being
framed on a report that is incomplete
and controversial. It will go down
in history as mockery of justice and
travesty of justice.”
Since his ejection from power,
Sharif has worked to reassert his authority. This month his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N),
re-elected him as its leader despite the
controversy, after he ran unopposed.
In September, in what was widely
seen as a vote on Sharif’s legacy, his
wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, narrowly
clinched a local election in Lahore,
Sharif’s stronghold, after a campaign
run by their daughter Maryam.
For Sharif supporters, his disqualification was an act of overreach by the
supreme court, which they say did the
bidding of the country’s powerful military, a longstanding foe of Sharif’s.
Outside court last Thursday, Maryam seemed to indirectly leverage the
same claim. “Each institution should
do its job,” she said. “Injustice and
atrocities cannot continue together.”
Others say the decision to bar the
former PM on grounds of “dishonesty” was appropriate. After examining Sharif’s wealth, the supreme
court ordered the national accountability bureau to investigate him and
conduct a trial.
The Panama Papers showed the
Sharifs’ London real estate was
bought with offshore wealth in
Sharif’s children’s names while they
were still minors.
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 13
International news
Brazil probe into special food for poor
Questions arise over
safety, nutrition and
provenance of farinata
Dom Phillips Rio de Janeiro
Prosecutors in Brazil’s biggest city
have opened an inquiry into a controversial plan to feed poorer citizens
and schoolchildren with a flour made
out of food close to its sell-by date that
critics have called “human pet food”.
João Doria, the populist, conservative mayor of São Paulo, and the city’s
Catholic cardinal, Dom Odilo Scherer,
have said that the product, called farinata (farinha is flour in Portuguese),
will help alleviate hunger at no cost
to the city’s government. But prosecutors have demanded more information about the nutritional content of
the new food and what testing, if any,
has been done after concerns were
raised by the Regional Council of Nutritionists and other bodies.
“There is an uncertainly over the
nutritional value of this food,” José
Bonilha, a São Paulo state prosecutor, said. “What were the tests and
the documents that authorised the
announcement of its introduction?”
Doria is a multimillionaire businessman (and former host of Brazil’s
version of The Apprentice) who won a
landslide victory in São Paulo last year
and is touted as a possible candidate
for next year’s presidential elections.
Launching the scheme last Wednesday, he described farinata as “solidarity food” and said it was “made to
combat hunger and also supplement
Launch … a new flour is produced from food close to its sell-by date Getty
people’s alimentation”. The mayor
then broke up a piece of bread he
said had been made with farinata
and handed it round, explaining that
journalists at the event had also eaten
bread made with the flour.
“I am offended when people say it
is pet food,” Scherer said at the same
event. “The concern is to recall food
from restaurants that is ready for
use and for it to be safely put on the
table of those who are hungry rather
than thrown away.”
Rosana Perrotti, founder of Plataforma Sinergia (Synergy Platform),
the Catholic organisation that developed farinata, said it came in the form
of a flour or as pellets and showed off
vials of powder made from foodstuffs
Marijuana reform in Peru
Dan Collyns Lima
Lawmakers in Peru have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a bill to legalise medical marijuana, allowing
cannabis oil to be locally produced,
imported and sold. After Peru’s Congress approved the bill 68-5, it will
be written into law in 60 days, once
regulations for producing and selling
cannabis have been set out.
Alberto de Belaunde, a governing party MP, said: “We’ve ensured
that thousands of patients and their
family members will enjoy a better
quality of life.”
The legislative approval followed a
government proposal to decriminalise
the medical use of marijuana for the
“treatment of serious and terminal illnesses” after a police raid in February
on a makeshift laboratory where a
group of mothers made marijuana oil
for their sick children.
The laboratory was in the home
of Ana Alvarez, 43, who founded the
group Buscando Esperanza (Searching for Hope) to treat her 17-year-old
son who suffers from a rare and severe form of epilepsy called LennoxGastaut syndrome, as well as tuberous
sclerosis, which causes tumours to
grow on the brain and other organs.
“We’re very happy with the fact
that Peruvian law has approved this,”
Alvarez said. “But we’re not totally
satisified. We want associations like
ours to be included in the production of this natural medicine,” she
added, pointing out that the new bill
only allowed strictly regulated local
production of cannabis oil.
such as pasta and manioc. The organisation’s website says it has received
a blessing from Pope Francis. “We
only process good food, following
techniques that have always been
applied in the industry,” she said. “In
Brazil we are able to prolong its useful
life by at least two years.”
Poverty, homelessness and unemployment have risen in recent years
as Brazil struggled with a debilitating
recession. But nutritionists argue that
nobody knows exactly what farinata is
made of, nor even whether it is safe.
“It is not food, it is an ultra-processed product,” said Marly Cardoso,
a professor of public health and nutrition at the Federal University of São
Paulo. “You don’t know what is in it.”
Cardoso said, given Brazil’s obesity
epidemic, caused in part by cheap and
aggressively marketed fast food, the
city should instead do more to encourage people to choose a healthy diet.
Last year São Paulo published a
comprehensive plan to improve the
city’s diet with a series of measures
that included promoting street markets selling produce supplied by family farmers, and controlling the prices
of fruit and vegetables. Cardoso described it as “a model of managing
nutritional problems in the 21st century”. But the plan was dropped by
Doria’s administration.
Cardoso also criticised a law sanctioned by the mayor that gives tax
breaks to companies donating food as
part of his hunger eradication policy.
Vivian Zollar, a nutritionist on the
Regional Council of Nutritionists for
São Paulo and Minas Gerais states,
said she was worried about plans to
give farinata to schoolchildren because the council had not been able
to confirm the product had undergone
tests legally required for school meals.
Synergy Platform, makers of farinata, did not reply to questions from
the Guardian about the nutritional
composition, which companies had
donated food, and what kind of testing had been carried out. But in a
statement it said: “The nutritional
composition of the diverse types of
farinata possible will depend on the
excess food not sold.” It added that
farinata was tested for “nutritional
composition, exemption of microorganisms, bacteria and toxins.
These tests are carried out by entities
with great reputations.”
Plague grips Madagascar
Peter Beaumont
The first fatality of Madagascar’s
deadly plague outbreak – which has
now claimed at least 94 lives – initially
went unnoticed.
In late August, according to researchers with the World Health Organization (WHO), a 31-year-old man
was visiting the island’s central highlands when he developed what appeared to be malaria symptoms. A few
days later, as he travelled on one of the
crowded taxi-brousses (minibus taxis)
to Toamasina – a journey that went via
the capital, Antananarivo – the man’s
condition worsened, and he died. In a
few days, 31 people who had come into
contact with him – directly or indirectly
– were infected. Four later died. Since
that “case zero”, the highly contagious
strain of plague has claimed close to
100 lives over two months, infecting
more than 800 people.
Many cases have also featured
the most virulent form of what was
known in the Middle Ages as the
Black Death – pneumonic plague. It
is initially caused when advanced
bubonic plague spreads to the lungs.
Pneumonic plague spreads very easily and is deadly if untreated. Of the
684 cases reported as of 12 October,
474 were pneumonic plague, 156 bubonic and one septicaemic. A further
54 were unspecified.
Plague outbreaks in Madagascar
have been an annual occurrence in
recent decades, but this outbreak has,
unusually, affected urban areas where
plague is not normally endemic,
increasing the risks of transmission.
14 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Cows come to Qatar’s rescue
Saudi-led blockade
forces nation to make
bold moves to survive
Patrick Wintour Doha
John Dore is off to Doha’s vast Hamad
International airport to greet the
8pm flight from Los Angeles via
Liège, Belgium. His imminent visitors are neither family nor friends.
Nor are they human, but rather a
herd of 120 cows.
A 58-year-old farmer from Co
Kildare, Ireland, might seem an unlikely figure in a bitter dispute between the Gulf monarchies, but as the
chief executive of the sprawling Baladna farm in the desert 60km north of
Doha, Dore is a vital player in Qatar’s
struggle for political survival.
Food security has become an essential goal for a country facing a land,
sea and air boycott imposed in June by
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain. It is all part of
a sprawling geopolitical dispute.
Whether Qatar can withstand
the boycott is a test of whether the
tiny state’s previously booming
economy can survive not just the
physical blockade but also financial
disinvestment by its Saudi and UAE
neighbours. If the economy stays
afloat, Doha’s chances of maintaining
its independent foreign policy and
forcing the Saudis into retreat will be
that much better.
As the Doha skyline attests, Qatar is not a country that does things
by half measures, and the Baladna
farm’s large parent company, Power
International Holding, is throwing
money at the challenge. Previously
dependent on Saudi Arabia for the
bulk of its milk supplies, Qatar initially
had to rely on the generosity of its remaining regional allies, particularly
Turkey and Iran. Dore is importing
cows from the US as fast as he can.
He plans to supplement his existing herd of 4,000, which is capable of
cornering 30 to 40% of Qatar’s milk
market, with a further 10,000 head by
next summer – nearly enough to meet
the milk needs of the country’s whole
population of 2.7 million.
“The boycott has been a great thing
for Qatar in a way,” Dore said. “It has
been a wakeup call to the entire country. It has made them aware of all the
opportunities that are there, and not
just in farming. Nearly 80% of its food
came from its neighbours. It sometimes takes war or the threat of war
to make countries look at their food
security. Look at the common agricultural policy in Europe.
Food security … the supply of milk has become a political issue AFP/Getty
“The people that have shot themselves in the foot are the Saudis. If the
blockade was lifted, there is so much
pro-Qatar sentiment and nationalist
pride that the people will buy Qatar
milk, not Saudi. I think the whole environment will completely change.
Our challenge is to get enough milk. If
we can make enough milk, the people
in Qatar will buy it.”
Self-sufficiency in food is only
one test of whether Qatar can withstand the blockade and perhaps even
emerge stronger, ready to receive
tens of thousands of visitors to the
2022 World Cup.
For all the country’s vast gas and
fiscal reserves, the economy took an
initial hit. The first few months saw
panic and a significant outflow of
capital. Qatar Central Bank and other
state funds quickly injected about
$38.5bn of the country’s $340bn reserves into the economy to ease pressure on the exchange rate and cushion the impact of the disinvestment,
according to a Moody’s report.
Ali Shareef al-Emadi, Qatar’s finance minister since 2003 and probably the most important politician
in overseeing resistance against the
blockade, explains: “It is not a secret
that we have injected liquidity into
the system. That was a precautionary
‘Nearly 80% of
Qatar’s food came
from its neighbours
before the boycott’
measure, but we can think the market
can absorb all this bad news. In terms
of our liquidity and our currency, we
see now the market is very stabilised.
“If you look by the second month
of the blockade, the trade balance
– imports and exports – was almost
back to the pre-crisis levels. For one
month, we had a 40% drop in imports, but we quickly adjusted. The
whole country has shifted in less than
a month so instead of relying on one
set of countries, we have access to
more than 80 countries. Food inflation is down. So despite all the pain
that has come in terms of personal
relationships, families, the fabric of
the Gulf Cooperation Council, a lot of
opportunity will arise from this for our
economy. Look at tourism, the health
sector, food security.”
Emadi says the economy will prove
resilient because it has been ahead of
other Gulf states in opening itself up
to foreign investment.
“Qatar took the most difficult steps
20 years ago. It was investing in liquid gas, oil and gas industries and
in utilities with international companies. We had ExxonMobil here 20
years ago, not two years ago. At the
time it was so difficult to get foreign
firms to invest in our natural resources, even culturally it was a difficult thing to sell. We made the big
investments in education.”
The boycott is now pushing Brand
Qatar to open up further, liberalising its permanent residency laws,
dropping visa requirements for 80
countries and cutting rents by half
for many businesses.
Finance in brief
Finance
• US ride-hailing company
Lyft secured a $1bn investment from a Google-led
consortium to help finance
its challenge to Uber in the
US – and possibly overseas.
The funding was led by
CapitalG (formerly Google
Capital), the strategic
investment arm of Google’s
corporate parent Alphabet,
and takes the valuation of
Lyft up to $11bn. Lyft claims
it is more ethical than Uber,
and is seeking to capitalise
on the current controversy
surrounding its rival. Lyft
has not revealed what the
funding will be spent on.
• Australia’s unemployment
rate was 5.5% in September, its lowest since March
2013, with 12 consecutive
months of employment
gains, the longest stretch
since 1994. The September
figure was attributed to a
government disability insurance scheme, which led to
a rise in employment in the
health sector, and a continued
recovery in the Western Australian mining industry. Some
economists suggested that
the Reserve Bank would have
to increase interest rates in
early 2018 as a result.
• Britain’s budget deficit
has fallen to its lowest level
in any September for the
last 10 years, as higherthan-expected tax receipts
handed Philip Hammond a
boost ahead of next month’s
autumn budget. The 11%
drop from September last
year shows the government’s
finances putting in a betterthan-expected performance,
despite recent Brexit turmoil
and a sharp slowdown in GDP
growth. Analysts said that, if
government tax and spending
plans remain on course, the
exchequer will undershoot
predictions for the 2017-18
deficit by about £10bn ($13bn).
Foreign exchanges
Sterling rates
Australia
Canada
Denmark
Euro
Hong Kong
Japan
New Zealand
Norway
Singapore
Sweden
Switzerland
USA
23 Oct
1.70
1.67
8.35
1.12
10.30
149.98
1.90
10.56
1.80
10.81
1.30
1.32
16 Oct
1.69
1.66
8.39
1.13
10.39
148.63
1.85
10.53
1.80
10.82
1.29
1.33
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 15
UK news
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Oxford accused of ‘social
apartheid’ over admissions
One in three colleges failed to admit black British A-level students in 2015
Anger … former education minister
David Lammy has criticised the lack
of diversity Trigger Image/Alamy
Richard Adams
Helena Bengtsson
Nearly one in three Oxford colleges
failed to admit a ny black British
A-level students in 2015, with the university accused of “social apartheid”
over its admissions policies by the former education minister David Lammy.
The data shows that 10 out of 32 Oxford colleges did not award places to
any black British pupils with A-levels
in 2015, the first time the university
has released such figures since 2010.
Oriel College only offered one place
to a black British A-level student in
six years. Similar data released by
Cambridge revealed that six colleges
there failed to admit any black British
A-level students in the same year.
Lammy first requested the ethnicity data from Oxford and Cambridge in
2016. While Cambridge provided it immediately, Oxford only released it last
Thursday after it was informed that
the Guardian was preparing a story.
As part of a set of data released by
the two universities that also revealed
a regional and socio-economic divide
in their intake, the figures showed
that just 1.5% of all offers from the two
universities to UK A-level students
went to black British candidates.
Lammy said the figures showed
that many colleges at both Oxford and
Cambridge failed to reflect the UK’s
population, and called into question
the universities’ claims to national
standing. “This is social apartheid and
it is utterly unrepresentative of life in
modern Britain,” he said.
The figures are the first to update
the embarrassing data published in
2010 – after freedom of information
requests by Lammy – that revealed
Merton College, Oxford, had not offered a single place to a black British
student for five years. While the new
data represents an improvement from
before 2009 – when 21 Oxbridge colleges offered no places to black students, compared with 16 in 2015 – the
figures suggest that elite colleges still
struggle to recruit black British school
pupils, especially from state schools.
A handful of black British students
– an average of 3.5 each year between 2010 and 2015 – who do not
have A-levels gain places at Oxford. In most cases they come from
independent schools that enter their
pupils for alternative exams such as
the international baccalaureate.
The new figures also show that
some parts of the country – especially
disadvantaged regions of Wales and
the north-west of England – have
largely missed out on efforts by the
two universities to widen their admissions base and admit students from
outside the south of England.
Only three Oxford colleges and six
Cambridge colleges made at least one
offer of an undergraduate place to
black British A-level students in each
of the six years between 2010 and 2015.
Oriel College, Oxford, made just one
offer to a black British A-level student
in the same period. Data released by
Oxford after the Guardian’s inquiries
showed three further black students
with other qualifications were offered
places at Oriel.
“Difficult questions have to be asked,
including whether there is systematic
bias inherent in the Oxbridge admissions process that is working against
Turing’s damning school report on display in Cambridge
In 1929, a teenager’s end-of-term
report noted that his English
reading was weak, his French prose
was very weak, his essays grandiose
beyond his abilities and his
mathematical promise undermined
by his untidy work.
The report gave few clues that
Alan Turing would come to be
seen as a genius, a mathematician
and computer pioneer whose
codebreaking work at Bletchley
Park helped to shorten the second
world war and whose name is given
to a test for artificial intelligence.
“He must remember that
Cambridge will want sound
knowledge rather than vague
ideas,” his physics teacher wrote.
Turing’s report from Sherborne
school went on display for the first
time this week at the Fitzwilliam
Museum in Cambridge as part of its
Codebreakers and Groundbreakers
exhibition, which will run until
4 February 2018. Maev Kennedy
talented young people from ethnic
minority backgrounds,” said Lammy.
He noted that “there are almost
400 black students getting three As
at A-level or better every year”, yet
few of them are attracted to apply to
Oxford or Cambridge. Around 3% of
the British population identified as
black in the last UK census.
A spokesperson for Oxford said rectifying the problem would be “a long
journey that requires huge, joined-up
effort across society – including from
leading universities like Oxford – to
address serious inequalities”.
Oxford said students from black
and minority ethnic backgrounds
made up 15.9% of its 2016 UK undergraduate intake, up from 14.5% in
2015, and that offers to black students
had more than doubled since 2010.
Those figures include British Asian
students and other minorities.
Lammy said: “I am disappointed
that the university has combined all
black people together into one group
– why should they be the only institution that doesn’t break down data
properly when you need granularity to
understand different ethnic groups?”
Oxford responded: “This is not
information the Data Protection Act
allows us to disclose without the
consent of the student.”
The spokesperson added: “We’re
also working with organisations such
as Target Oxbridge and the newly
formed Oxford black alumni network,
to show talented young black people
that they can fit in and thrive at a university like Oxford. All of this shows
real progress and is something we
want to improve on further.”
A spokesperson for Cambridge said
that admissions decisions were made
on academic considerations alone,
while spending £5m ($6.6m) a year
on access measures including work
with black and minority ethnic pupils.
They added: “The greatest barrier to
participation at selective universities
for students from disadvantaged backgrounds is low attainment at school.
We assess the achievements of these
students in their full context to ensure
that students with great academic
potential are identified.”
16 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
UK news
UK plan to register EU citizens ‘illegal’
Home secretary warned
post-Brexit register must
list ‘everyone or no one’
Daniel Boffey Brussels
Lisa O’Carroll
The home secretary, Amber Rudd, has
been warned by a cross-party group of
MEPs that her plans to make EU nationals add their names to a register
in the transition period immediately
after Brexit would be illegal and unacceptable to the European parliament.
The MEPs from across Europe have
written to Rudd following her suggestions to the home affairs committee
that she would expect EU nationals
to have to register with the authorities immediately after Britain left the
EU. Brussels is planning to insist that
a transition period after the UK leaves
in March 2019 would involve Britain
remaining under EU law and all its
institutions, without exception.
The MEPs wrote: “Is the Home Office suggesting that only non-UK EU
citizens need to register? Article 26 of
the freedom of movement directive
makes it very clear that residency
cards are for everyone, or no one. We
find it extremely troubling for the
home secretary of a member state
currently complying with EU laws to
make such a statement.”
The MEPs – Sophie in ’t Veld, Seb
Dance, Claude Moraes, Jean Lambert,
Beatriz Becerra, Cecilia Wikström and
Catherine Bearder – said: “We also
heard you say during the committee
hearing that those EU citizens who
fail criminal records checks may be
rejected. Article 7 of the freedom of
movement directive clearly states the
necessary areas of compliance for an
EU citizen to reside in a member state
and criminality is not one of them.”
The European parliament will have
a veto on any withdrawal agreement
between the UK and the EU, including
the terms of a transition period. While
some member states do insist on EU
nationals registering, their laws do
not discriminate between their own
citizens, those from other EU member
states or non-EU nationals.
The warning came as figures released under a freedom of information request showed the Home Office was struggling to cope with the
mountain of applications from EU
citizens for permanent residency
documents, with waiting times for
some submissions tripling.
The request by Colin Yeo, an immigration barrister, discovered the average processing time had increased
since 2015 for all types of documentation available to European Economic
Area citizens. Permanent residency
certificates – which can be issued to
an EU citizen or their spouse during
their initial five years in the UK – take
an average of 116 days to obtain, according to figures released by the
Home Office, from the fourth quarter of 2016. This is three times longer
than the average for the whole of 2015,
when it took just 43 days to get a certificate. Permanent residency cards take
even longer, with figures for the third
and fourth quarters of 2016 showing
it took an average of 170 days to get a
reply from the Home Office, compared
with 125 days in 2015.
The Home Office resisted releasing the figures when first requested by Yeo. It delayed release for
eight months and only did so after
an official warning from the information commissioner.
EU citizens are not required at present to have any paperwork proving
Message … a protest outside parliament for EU citizens’ rights Getty
their right to live in Britain, but many
were panicked into applying for
permanent residency documents
and certificates after the referendum
last year. Nearly 30,000 EU nationals applied to become British citizens in the 12 months after the Brexit
vote on 23 June, almost double the
number in the previous year. Home
Office statistics show that 28,502 applications were submitted between
July 2016 and June 2017, up from
15,871 in 2015-16.
Last Tuesday, Rudd revealed that an
extra 1,200 staff were to be recruited
by next April in order to establish an
“easy access” registration process
for EU nationals. The home secretary said those currently resident in
Britain would be “able to regularise
their position” by applying for settled
status biometric residence permits
if they had lived in Britain for more
than five years. Those who were
unemployed or failed criminal record
checks and identity checks could
be rejected.
The Treasury has made £50m
($65.8m) available to fund the preparation costs this financial year for the
new registration system. However,
some of the largest employers in London, including banks, supermarkets
and hotel chains, say they have serious reservations about the British
government’s capacity to establish
such a system. Mark Hilton, the employment and immigration director
at London First, whose members
include Marks & Spencer, HSBC and
Chelsea football club, said: “Whilst
we welcome [Theresa] May’s intentions to streamline the application
process, there’s little to assure us on
how this will happen. We’ve seen how
so-called streamlining to the welfare
system has played out with universal
credit. We need much greater confidence that this new system will work.”
Brexit fears putting brake on manufacturing investment
Angela Monaghan
Britain’s manufacturers are putting investment plans on hold as uncertainty
over Brexit makes them more reluctant to spend money on new factories
and machinery, a report reveals.
The amount invested by UK manufacturers in new plant and machinery
has slowed to 6.5% of turnover, from
7.5% last year, according to a survey by
EEF, the industry trade body, as companies press the pause button until
there is further clarity on a Brexit deal.
The business community has warned
the government it must urgently agree
a Brexit transition deal with the EU or
risk losing UK jobs and investment.
“With global demand on the
up, conditions should be ripe for
industry to make new investments in
capacity and productivity-enhancing technology, but Brexit means
the future outlook for investment is
not clearcut,” said Lee Hopley, EEF’s
chief economist.
The 328 companies taking part in
the annual EEF/Santander investment
monitor were almost evenly split
over whether they intend to increase
spending in the next two years. A
small majority, 51.1% of manufacturers, intended to spend more on plant
and machinery, either to replace obsolete equipment or to take advantage
of new opportunities on the back of an
improved global outlook.
For the other half, uncertainty over
the UK’s exit from the EU was holding back planned investment, while
there was also little focus on investing
to improve process efficiency. Hopley
said the chancellor, Philip Hammond,
should use his budget on 22 November
to introduce measures that would encourage business investment.
The British Chambers of Commerce
has also urged the government to use
the budget to help companies prepare
for Brexit rather than prioritise “goodies and giveaways”.
Official figures to be published this
week are expected to show UK growth
stalled at 0.3% in the third quarter,
having grown at the same rate in both
the first and second quarters of 2017.
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 17
Food fight British birds’ bigger beaks may be due to garden feeders
The reason some birds in Britain
have evolved bigger beaks over the
past 40 years may be down to the
country’s enthusiasm for feeding
them in their gardens, researchers
have said.
The report published last
Thursday in the US journal Science
compared beak length among great
tits in Britain and the Netherlands,
where bird feeders are less common.
“Between the 1970s and the
present day, beak length has got
longer among the British birds.
That’s a really short time period in
which to see this sort of difference
emerging,” said study co-author Jon
Slate, professor in the department
of animal and plant sciences at the
University of Sheffield.
“We now know that this increase
in beak length, and the difference in
beak length between birds in Britain
and mainland Europe, is down to
genes that have evolved by natural
selection.”
The report is part of a study
on great tits in Britain’s Wytham
Woods, along with Oosterhout and
Veluwe in the Netherlands.
Researchers screened DNA from
more than 3,000 birds in order
to uncover genetic differences
between the British and Dutch
populations. Changes in specific
gene sequences in the British birds
were found to closely match human
genes that determine face shape.
Researchers discovered that birds
with genetic variants for longer
beaks were more frequent visitors
to feeders than birds without
the genetic variation. There was
“strong similarities with genes
identified with beak shape” in
line with Charles Darwin’s historic
study of finches, which showed
how they evolved physical traits
that helped them adapt to different
environments in the wild.
“In the UK, we spend around
twice as much on birdseed and bird
feeders than mainland Europe –
and, we’ve been doing this for some
time,” said co-author Lewis Spurgin
of the school of biological sciences
at the University of East Anglia.
“Although we can’t say definitively
that bird feeders are responsible, it
seems reasonable to suggest that the
longer beaks among British great tits
may have evolved as a response to
this supplementary feeding.”
Researchers on the study came
from the Netherlands Institute of
Ecology and the Universities of
Wageningen, Oxford, Exeter, East
Anglia and Sheffield. AFP Photograph of greenfinches: Alamy
‘Health tourists’ face upfront NHS charges
Damien Gayle
Migrants and visitors to the UK not
eligible for free healthcare will from
now on be charged upfront for the
cost of their treatment, as rules come
into force that also extend charging to
community health services and charities that receive NHS funding.
The system, designed to counter
“health tourism”, requires medical
staff to establish whether patients are
eligible for state-funded healthcare
before providing treatment. If they
are not, patients must pay an upfront
charge that is currently set at 150% of
the cost to providers.
But critics say the new rules, which
came into force on Monday, will deter ill people from seeking life-saving
treatment, and patients with infectious diseases could pass undetected.
There is also confusion over how
the rules should be applied, with a
survey of NHS professionals showing
that eight in 10 were unable to make
the crucial distinction between the
eligibility of refugees, asylum seekers and those whose application for
asylum had been rejected.
There are fears that an identification-checking scheme currently
under pilot at 20 NHS trusts will be
extended across the country, raising the prospect of a future where
patients must attend hospital with
their passports and driving licences
to guarantee receiving treatment they
are entitled to.
While hospitals have had a charging regime in place for some time, patients not covered by the NHS have,
until now, been sent a bill for the cost
of their care after treatment. The
Department of Health says many such
bills have gone unpaid after trusts lost
touch with patients who had left the
country or otherwise disappeared.
According to the rules laid out in the
National Health Service regulations
2017, a piece of secondary legislation
that passed parliament with no debate, all organisations receiving NHS
funding must now charge ineligible
patients before they are treated.
The charging regime will also be
extended to services such as health
visiting, school nursing, community
midwifery, community mental health
services, termination of pregnancy
services, district nursing, support
groups, advocacy services, and specialist services for homeless people
and asylum seekers, according to the
human rights organisation Doctors of
the World.
News in brief
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UK news
• The cost of childcare for
young children in England
has risen up to seven times
faster than wages since 2008,
analysis shows. TUC research
published last Friday shows
childcare costs for parents
with a one-year-old have
soared by 48% over a period
when their wages have fallen
after adjusting for inflation,
albeit rising by 12% in cash
terms. The difference in the
rate of increase was greatest
in London, where childcare
costs rose 7.4 times faster
than pay from 2008 to 2016,
and the East Midlands,
where they rose seven times
more quickly.
• Gina Miller, the campaigner
who won a Brexit legal challenge against the government, has been named as the
country’s most influential
black person. The acknowledgement comes in the latest
annual list of the 100 most
influential people of African
or African-Caribbean heritage in Britain, published by
the Powerlist Foundation on
Tuesday. It is set against an
extraordinary range of vitriol
directed at the lawyer over
her successful challenge to
the UK government over article 50. “It’s amazing to get an
accolade when what I’ve done
has solicited a huge amount
of abuse,” said Miller.
• Half of the UK population
is financially vulnerable, with
one in six people unable to
cope with a £50 ($66) increase
in monthly bills, according to
a survey of Britain’s personal
finances by the Financial
Conduct Authority. The City
regulator’s biggest ever survey of households found that
4.1 million people are already
in serious financial difficulty,
falling behind with bills and
credit card payments, with
25- to 34-year-olds the most
indebted.
• The government spent
£370,000 ($488,000) of taxpayers’ money unsuccessfully
fighting court claims that its
plans to tackle air pollution
were illegally poor, a freedom
of information request has
revealed. The money was
spent battling two actions
brought by the environmental
lawyers ClientEarth. Critics
said that the government’s
expenditure was “disgraceful” and should have been
spent on cutting pollution.
18 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Comment&Debate
Catalonia
has a case.
But it’s very
dangerous
Natalie Nougayrède
Though the separatists
are asking Europeans
for their support,
the last thing the
continent needs now
is more nationalism
W
atching Catalonia and Spain feels
like watching a Pedro Almodóvar
movie where all the characters
start to act freakily. It could be
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (in this case, a
country on the verge of a nervous
breakdown) or Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (a film about
what, in the end, ties us to one another rather than
separates us).
Don’t get me wrong. Catalonia is a serious matter. But
it is also hard not to see the hysteria, the hyperbole, the
manipulation. Emotions sweep away reason; radical
gestures lead to more radical gestures; passion drenches
everything; the picture becomes one great confusing
swirl. Can anyone still get a grip?
To sum up the current situation: we now have full-on
confrontation. Not armed confrontation, but political,
legal and cultural. And with large street pressure involved. The Spanish cabinet met last Saturday after the
prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, indicated he wanted to
trigger article 155 of the constitution, which allows the
imposition of direct rule. Catalonia’s regional institutions could be disempowered.
In response the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont,
has threatened to press ahead with a declaration of
independence (currently “suspended”, although the
region’s parliament hasn’t yet formally voted on it). A
pro-independence demonstration, which was also held
last Saturday, attracted 450,000 people.
This comes just one week after an opposing, proSpanish unity demonstration, organised in both Barcelona and Madrid. There will probably be more of this
back and forth. The movie is not over.
Meanwhile, EU leaders met in Brussels for a summit
whose official agenda did not list Catalonia at all. But
obviously the topic came up in conversations, and (take
note, British readers) much more so than Brexit, which
in the end ranked as a minor issue with negotiations
hardly moving forward.
Nor is there much negotiating going on over Catalonia, which explains why independence activists have
become rather frantic.
Rajoy’s strategy has full EU support, and he’s
apparently aiming to defuse the crisis by triggering
new elections in Catalonia. He’s sticking to a stubborn
The script of this film
is one that leads to
two different
nationalisms heading
for a monumental
showdown
Gary Kempston
but consistent logic: nothing can happen outside the
constitution.
In private, most EU officials think that he’s mishandled the whole separatist question for years. Sending
policemen to push old ladies down staircases and fire
rubber bullets at crowds on the day of the referendum
was bound to backfire. He played straight into the hands
of his Catalan opponents.
The same can be said of the recent arrest of two leaders of pro-independence civil society organisations,
now accused of “sedition”. That was an inflammatory
move. The crowds last Saturday brandished slogans
about “political prisoners” – an expression even the
moderate mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, is using. So
now we have martyrs to the cause.
However, the 1 October referendum was hardly
a model of sound, democratic expression. Only a
minority of Catalans took part (turnout was 43%),
and its organisation ran counter to Catalonia’s own
legislation. The two laws that led to it were voted
through without the two-thirds majority the Catalan
charter (the Estatut) requires for such a momentous
reform process.
Nor was the vote overseen by the regional
constitutional court. The Council of Europe, Europe’s
democracy watchdog, said it did not abide by its
fundamental criteria. Reporters without Borders, an
organisation that scrutinises freedom of the press,
denounced the harassment and intimidation – sometimes physical – of reporters who did not toe the proindependence line.
These points often get drowned out in the romantic
wave of commentary that Catalonia and its history
can understandably inspire, within and beyond Spain.
Catalan radicals have taken to social media to try to
raise support across Europe, using English-language
videos. They are fronted by a young woman with
pleading eyes who describes a small nation that has
come under the juggernaut of a quasi-fascist central
government. She says “all [Catalan] values are under
attack right now”. She says the Catalans on 1 October did “just like the Scottish not long ago”. “Help
Catalonia, save Europe,” is the message. Propaganda
thrives in a crisis.
T
he script of this film is one that leads to
two separate nationalisms heading for a
monumental showdown. No matter what
colours you may want to drape it in, nationalism can hardly be good for anyone
in Europe, especially now. Rajoy is no
Franco. Puigdemont is no Mandela. Spain
is not an oppressive state but a democracy. The Scots
voted in a law-abiding process that had been agreed with
London – not in a sequence of events specially designed
to produce rupture.
Support for Catalan independence may now
skyrocket, centred on a narrative of victimhood and
in an atmosphere that’s become unhinged. Which
brings us, in a way, back to Almodóvar. Born in 1949 in
a poor family, he became the best chronicler of Spain’s
transformation as it freed itself from the Franco era
(with, by the way, Catalonia’s autonomy and economic success as a showcase for the whole country).
Almodóvar’s work reflected the festive, frenetic spirit of
a nation liberated from the past, from its suffering and
its entrenched rigidities.
In some of Almodóvar’s wild, dark comedies, the
scenario reaches a point where the viewer thinks only
folly is left. But then something happens, a realisation, a cathartic moment of understanding and, yes,
love. Self-destruction is averted. Feuds end. There is
reconciliation.
May the dizziness around Catalonia be like an
Almodóvar movie.
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 19
Comment&Debate
Owning a car will soon be a thing of the past
John Harris
The idea that we will surrender our
prized motors can look far-fetched.
But as cities clamp down on vehicle
use, technology is creating a utopia
I
f ours is an age in which no end of institutions and
conventions are being disrupted, it shouldn’t come
as a surprise that one of the most basic features of
everyday life seems under serious threat. If you are
fortunate enough to live in a house with a drive,
look outside and you will probably see it: that fourwheeled metal box, which may well be equipped
with every technological innovation imaginable, but
now shows distinct signs of obsolescence.
After a century in which the car has sat at the heart
of industrial civilisation, the age of the automobile – of
mass vehicle ownership, and the idea (in the western
world at least) that life is not complete without your
own set of wheels – looks to be drawing to a close.
And in our cities, the use of cars is being overtaken by
altogether greener, more liberating possibilities.
The sale of diesel and petrol cars is to be outlawed in
the UK from 2040. Oxford has announced that it is set
to be the first British city to ban all petrol and diesel cars
and vans – from a handful of central streets by 2020,
extending to the entire urban centre 10 years later. Paris
will ban all non-electric cars by 2030, and is now in the
habit of announcing car-free days on which drivers have
to stay out of its historic heart. London, meanwhile,
has shredded the idea that rising prosperity always
triggers rising car use, and seen a 25% fall in the share
of journeys made by car since 1990.
Highlighting the increasingly likely arrival of driverless vehicles, General Motors has announced that it will
soon begin testing autonomous cars in the challenging
conditions of New York City, apparently the latest step
in the company’s move towards building a new fleet of
self-driving taxis. Earlier this year, forecasters at Bank
of America tentatively claimed that the US may have
reached “peak car”, acknowledging that “transportation is costly and inefficient, making the sector ripe for
disruption”. Their focus was on ride-sharing services,
car-pool apps and the collective use of bikes: what they
were predicting had the sense of a reality that is already
plain to see.
There are caveats to all this. Although cities in the
world’s rising economies are just as fond of car-sharing
and bike use as anywhere in the west, car ownership in
India and China is rising vertiginously. And as one of the
25,000 residents of a West Country town that is expanding fast and now prone to gridlock, I can confirm that in
swaths of this country, the idea that we will soon surrender our vehicles can easily look rather far-fetched.
But deep social trends do point in another direction.
In 1994 48% of 17- to 20-year-olds and 75% of 21- to
29-year-olds had driving licences. According to the
National Travel Survey, by 2016 these figures had
dropped, respectively, to 31% and 66%. If you buy most
of your stuff online, the need to drive to a supermarket
or shopping centre dwindles to nothing; if you are in
daily touch with distant friends and family online,
might a time-consuming visit to see them feel that bit
less urgent? Meanwhile, at the other end of the demographic spectrum, an ageing population will soon have
Nathalie Lees
The age of mass
vehicle ownership and
the idea that life is not
complete without your
own set of wheels is
drawing to a close
equally profound consequences – for levels of car ownership, and the demand for alternatives.
I am from a generation for whom the promise of
your own car represented a kind of personal utopia.
Go-faster stripes were signifiers for aspiration; Margaret
Thatcher’s reputed claim that “a man who, beyond
the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself
as a failure” chimed with the newly discovered joys
of conspicuous consumption. Now, even if some of
this lingers on, it does not feel nearly as culturally
powerful. The rising global emergency focused on fatal
levels of air pollution confirms the motor industry’s
dire environmental impacts; and concerns about the
sub-prime loans that now define a huge swath of the
car market suggest that the supposed joys of driving
might be unsustainable in plenty of other ways.
T
he birth pangs of something better are
inevitably messy, as evidenced by the
stink currently surrounding Uber – an
archetypal example of those modern
disruptors who point to the future, while
obscuring their visions in a great cloud of
arrogance. But whatever Uber’s failings,
its innovations are hardly going to be put back in their
box. As and when Uber and Lyft go driverless in cities
and suburbs across the planet, the financial maths will
become unanswerable.
At a time of all-pervading gloom, make no mistake:
this is good news. At the heart of it all are amazingly
emancipatory prospects: mobility no longer dependent
on a huge cash outlay and on the organised extortion
of motor insurance; everybody, regardless of age or
disability, able to access much the same transport.
With the requisite political will, dwindling numbers of
cars will bring opportunities to radically redesign urban
areas. The environmental benefits will be self-evident.
With any luck, the mundane term “public transport”
will take on a new vitality.
“The remains of the old must be decently laid
away; the path of the new prepared,” said Henry Ford.
How ironic that the same wisdom now applies to the
four-wheeled dreams he created, and their final journey
to the scrapyard.
20 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Comment&Debate
Future of
Iraq’s Kurds
must be
negotiated
Emma Sky
Andrzej Krauze
As Kurdish fortunes
in the city of Kirkuk
take a turn for the worse,
it’s clear that only talks
can bring lasting
stability to the region
L
ast week saw thousands of Kurds fleeing
Kirkuk in the face of the advance of the Iraqi
army. The scenes conjure up memories of
Saddam Hussein’s campaigns against the
Kurds. The reversal of Kurdish fortunes
comes just weeks after Kurds voted overwhelmingly for an independent Kurdistan.
In 2003, as the governorate coordinator of Kirkuk,
I witnessed the struggle for control of the surrounding province in the aftermath of Saddam’s overthrow.
Kirkuk is home to different communities, including
Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians. It also has oil.
And a troubled past in which the Ba’ath party had
sought to ensure an Arab majority by expelling Kurds
and Turkmen, and importing Arabs from the south.
The Kurds were seeking to redress 35 years of ethnic
cleansing, encouraging those expelled from Kirkuk to
return while pressuring “new” Arabs brought up from
the south to leave. And they were pushing to restore the
pre-1976 borders of the province. All of this was aimed
at ensuring an overwhelming Kurdish majority so that
they could annex it – and its oil – to Kurdistan.
But the drive to make Kirkuk part of Iraqi Kurdistan
was rejected by Arabs and Turkmen.
I was working for the Coalition Provisional Authority, and one of its greatest challenges was managing
the competition between the region’s rival factions.
In December 2003, a demonstration was held that was
billed as a celebration for the arrest of Saddam. Banners
declared that Kirkuk should be part of Kurdistan; and
that Kurds who had been deported from the province by
the former regime should come back.
Arab and Turkmen leaders felt compelled to react. A
few days later, a crowd gathered in a square in Kirkuk.
Many Iraqi flags were visible. There were also blue Turkmen flags. Banners declared Arabs and Turkmen were
one, and called for “one country, one people, no ethnic
federalism”. Some provocateurs rushed towards the
offices of the Kurdish political parties. Shots were fired
and four people were killed.
For months, we had been beseeching Baghdad
to grant Kirkuk a special status. We argued that the
“Kirkuk issue” could derail Iraq’s new constitution.
There was real potential for conflict. Some form of special status could defer the determination of Kirkuk’s
final standing for five years – to provide time and space
to resolve the issues, and strengthen local leadership.
We believed special status had the support of the local population – and would stop Kirkuk being a political
football. But the coalition did not grant such status.
Over the intervening years, the Kurds exerted greater
control over the province. Kirkuk became a stronghold
for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party.
When Iraqi security forces fled in the face of Isis in
2014 it was the Kurds, with support from the US-led coalition, who fought back and pushed them out of Kirkuk.
Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional
government, sensed the Kurds were in their strongestever position, and decided to push ahead with a referendum on full-blown Kurdish independence, including
Kirkuk. The vote took place on 25 September.
But Kurdish over-reach has been met by a strong response from Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. He
deployed forces to push the peshmerga out of Kirkuk.
Long-term stability in Kirkuk, however, requires a
political settlement. Now, more than ever, there is a
need to negotiate the future of the disputed territories.
It is time to revisit the idea of a special status for Kirkuk,
with power-sharing. The future of Kirkuk should be
determined by politics and compromise – not by force.
Emma Sky is author of The Unravelling: High Hopes and
Missed Opportunities in Iraq
More at theguardian.com/opinion
Opinion In brief
Poetry can still capture the human heart
It is very unwise to mess with the badger
“If I feel physically as if the top of
my head were taken off,” said the
American poet Emily Dickinson,
“I know that is poetry.” I’m not sure
that’s exactly what happened to me,
but it wasn’t that far off. It’s 50 years
since Ted Hughes started Poetry
International. It’s nearly 30 years
since it was resurrected in London
by the poet Maura Dooley.
The “world poetry summit”
had some of the new greats. The
Icelandic poet Sjón has worked with
Björk and been nominated for an
Oscar. Anne Carson is still writing
blazing poems 25 years after I first
heard her read. Claudia Rankine’s
bestselling Citizen: An American
Lyric has changed the way many
Americans (and Brits) look at race.
These were voices from the frontline
of poetry, reminding us of its ability
to cross borders and break through
barriers of culture and power.
Henry Bolton, the 54-year-old
former army officer elected leader of
Ukip, claims that a suitable initiation
ceremony for him is “chasing a
badger across Dartmoor, capturing
it and breaking its neck with one’s
bare hands”. I hate to break it to
Bolton but, were it legal, there’s no
way he could murder a badger without a gun, a dog, a trap or poison.
Despite being badgered for centuries, Meles meles is not our largest
surviving carnivorous animal for
nothing. It runs faster than us and
administers a ferocious bite from
jaws that don’t dislocate. If a badger
ever lost its super-powered senses
of hearing and smell and was rugbytackled, Bolton would end up with a
broken arm, or worse.
One badger capable of chasing
Bolton across Dartmoor and
breaking his neck is Detective
Inspector LeBrock, the hero of
But the event that gave me the
Full Dickinson wasn’t with the
stars. It was a reading by Ten: Poets
of the New Generation, all included
in a new Bloodaxe anthology of
the same name. These are poets
from diverse ethnic backgrounds
who have been involved in a
national mentoring scheme. And
my God, they are the real McCoy.
Will Harris, Ian Humphreys, Yomi
Sode and Raymond Antrobus were
among the poets whose work
brought tears to my eyes.
“Good poetry,” as Hughes’s good
friend Seamus Heaney once said, “is
not just expectoration or self-regard
or a semaphore for self’s sake. You
want it to touch you at the melting
point below the breastbone and
the beginning of the solar plexus.”
You need, in other words, to engage
your brain if you want to capture the
human heart. Christina Patterson
Bryan Talbot’s stunningly immersive steampunk graphic novels,
who is back for a final outing next
month in Grandville Force Majeure. LeBrock is a muscular beast
with powers of deduction to rival
Sherlock Holmes but everyone’s out
to get him. Talbot’s alternative universe is populated by bears, gerbils,
horses, rats and lizards.
Talbot’s fantasy also belatedly
bequeaths literature with a heroic
female badger. For a century, the
literary badger has boringly followed
the template established by Kenneth Grahame’s Mr Badger in The
Wind in the Willows.
LeBrock is an old sexist but his
girlfriend, Billie, takes a pair of scissors to her period dress and turns
into an action hero every bit his
equal. She’s another one who could
take out Henry Bolton, any time she
chose. Patrick Barkham
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 21
Comment&Debate
In praise of ...
Jeremy the snail
Donald Trump’s comments about a fallen soldier created yet another bitter dispute with a military family
His bloody
hands will
never dry
Ross Barkan
He may sound good
now, but George Bush
has done more harm to
the US and the planet
than Trump ever might
F
or liberals across the spectrum, the
temptation is real to lionise George W Bush.
Donald Trump is our child-king, slobbering
over the country and embarrassing us all. He
is parody made real, a lackey for rightwing
billionaires everywhere. It’s not hard to find
a talking head on the left who will say he is
the worst president America has ever had.
But don’t make that easy mistake. Especially not
now as Bush, our 43rd president, rears his head from
retirement to denounce his bombastic successor. At a
speech in New York last Thursday, Bush set Democratic
heartstrings aflutter when he declared that “we’ve seen
our discourse degraded by casual cruelty”.
“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone and provides permission for cruelty and
bigotry,” he added. “The only way to pass along civic
values is to first live up to them.”
Bush delivered these words without mentioning
Trump. The last Republican before Trump to serve as
president, Bush lamented that America has seen “nationalism distorted into nativism, forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America”.
“We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade, forgetting that conflict,
instability and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism. We’ve seen the return of isolationist sentiments,
forgetting that American security is directly threatened
by the chaos and despair of distant places.”
Devoid of context, Bush has a point. Trump is a
bully who permits prejudice and cruelty. He doesn’t
have much regard for internationalism. His impulses
are isolationist in nature.
What is ironic here is that Bush will undoubtedly be
elevated to the status of a pious, grey-haired warrior
speaking out in defence of the republic he once led,
a talisman of decency for DC amnesiacs. He will be
cheered as another brave Republican defying a president of his own party, his past rendered meaningless.
There is a certain strain of conventional political wisdom exploited by the likes of Bush. It prizes optics over
Jeremy the snail, whose leftspiralling shell prevented him
from mating with the majority
of the world’s right-sided snail
population, was found dead last
Wednesday by scientist Dr Angus
Davison, who had been studying
him since last October. But Jeremy
did not die alone. The lovelorn
gastropod had finally been able
to mate with another left-sided
snail, Tomeu, before he perished.
The couple produced 56 baby
snails – all right-sided – of which
one-third were estimated to be
fathered by Jeremy.
Jeremy’s biology, described
as “one in a million” by Davison,
meant his major internal organs
were located on the opposite side of
his body to other garden snails. He
could only have mated with other
snails with counter-clockwise shells.
“In the case of these mutant
snails, two lefts make a right – at
least in the second generation,” said
researchers from the University
of Nottingham. Naaman Zhou
action, appearances over reality. Bush was a soft-spoken
president, a nice enough seeming man, and politically
correct. Well-coiffed and gimlet-eyed, he resembled a
screenwriter’s conception of an American president.
And he caused far more harm to the country and
planet than Trump has so far, and maybe ever will. It
was under Bush that America invaded Iraq, murdered
hundreds of thousands of civilians, and destabilised the
Middle East so thoroughly that it may take the entire
21st century to recover.
More than 4,000 American soldiers died. He stocked
his cabinet with warmongering neoconservatives far
more cunning and apocalyptic in outlook than any
of the amateurs who populate Trump’s gang. These
were men who dreamed of civilisation-annihilating
wars and found a president willing to transform their
dreams into crackling reality.
The blood on Bush’s hands will never dry. Under
the guise of spreading democracy, his administration
brought suffering to the world and strangled civil liberties at home. The Patriot Act ushered in a dystopian national security state that was maintained by Obama and
bequeathed to Trump. Bush’s economic policies, along
with failures by Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, fed the
worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.
Trump may be more bumbling and unseemly than
Bush, but if he avoids waging war on such a horrific
scale, he will have averted true catastrophe. Bush is
one of those statesmen who has acquired a new shine
in the age of Trump, welcoming to pundits in the context of such disorder.
Because of Trump’s chaos, there is a fetish these days
for military men. Democrats hope the generals can stage
a coup and restore order, and some stern-faced strongman with good table manners and an affinity for land
wars can occupy the Oval Office. He will take chummy
phone calls from Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and
Dick Cheney. He will dream anew of “nation-building”.
This is the world that gave rise to Bush and nurtured
his most heinous sins. His was a presidency that truly
ruined the country and the world.
22 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
theguardianweekly
Comment
Parliament and Brexit
Mrs May’s legislative fatberg
What is the toughest challenge facing Theresa
May’s government in implementing Brexit?
Many people’s answer, especially after the
delays and missed deadlines acknowledged in
the recent Brussels summit, is striking a Brexit
deal with the European Union. In fact the underlying problem is right here in the UK itself.
That problem, which has existed since the
referendum in 2016, is not merely that the
Conservative government cannot agree what
kind of Brexit it seeks, challenging though
that is. The problem is also that, far from
being resolved and narrowed, Conservative
disagreements about Brexit are deepening
and multiplying. The problem, in other words,
is within the Tory party.
The most immediate evidence for that
is the fate of the EU withdrawal bill. Once
optimistically dubbed the great repeal bill,
this has now become the great standstill bill.
It is six weeks since the bill got its second
reading in the Commons, back in the early
hours of 12 September. Since then, however,
the withdrawal bill has been as immovable
through the parliamentary stages as a fatberg
in a Victorian-era sewer.
More than 300 amendments have been put
down for the Commons committee stage, and
more than 50 new clauses proposed. Lacking
an overall Commons majority, and with a
weak leader and a divided cabinet, ministers
are struggling to agree which changes to accept, which to fight and which to try to tweak.
Each issue involves having to navigate the
Tory party’s obsessive divides, which is hard
enough, and then working with the other parties at Westminster.
The upshot is that the detailed committee stage may not begin before the November recess. It seems probable that the
committee stage may not be completed this
side of the new year.
That, though, is only phase one. Next spring
the bill may eventually reach the House of
Lords, where there is no Tory majority either,
and where pro-European feeling, not least
on the Tory backbenches, is strong. There is
a real prospect of significant amendments
to the bill in the Lords, perhaps for any final
Brexit deal to require fresh primary legislation, perhaps including a second referendum
on the final terms.
The withdrawal bill is not a crisis waiting to
happen. It is a crisis that is happening already.
It is also a Tory crisis. The longer it continues
the more it weakens the Tories. Last Saturday,
Labour’s Keir Starmer proposed six changes
– covering transition, ministerial powers,
workers’ rights, devolved authorities, human
rights and a final say for MPs – that could ease
the current gridlock. Mrs May will not want
to do a deal with Labour on such terms. But a
deal with the EU will only happen if it is clear
that Mrs May both knows what she wants
and can deliver it. At the moment that is not
happening. This way it might.
Eni Aluko
A well-deserved victory
The Football Association’s senior management were left floundering last Wednesday, as
they were forced to realise that their handling
of Eni Aluko’s complaint of racism had been
entirely inadequate. It was as if they had been
shaken awake from a dream in which a little
racist banter, such as telling a player of Nigerian descent not to let her folk bring in Ebola
when they came to watch her play for England, was greeted with backslapping chortles.
In their world, only a very bad sport would not
laugh along. Unluckily for the FA, but happily
for the wider game, Ms Aluko is not readily intimidated. She has brought the FA to account
with a determination that finally bore fruit in
front of MPs on the digital, culture, media and
sport committee last Wednesday afternoon.
The complaint from Ms Aluko, who had
won 102 caps but has not played for England since she first demanded action, has
now been investigated three times. Only
at the third time of asking were all the relevant witnesses, and Drew Spence, a second
complainant, interviewed. And, the MPs
learned last Wednesday, only in the third report did the QC conducting the inquiry conclude that the women’s coach, Mark Sampson
(who was sacked in September after earlier
allegations of inappropriate behaviour), behaved towards Ms Aluko in a discriminatory
way. At the end the committee chair, Damian
Collins, concluded that it was “disappointing”
that not a single one of those responsible was
prepared to admit they had got it wrong.
The FA’s record is abysmal. Earlier this
year MPs passed a vote of no confidence in its
governance. In May the FA put some modest
changes in train, including pledging to add
three women to the all-male board and more
black and minority ethnic members to the FA
council. The FA remains a sclerotic, inwardlooking organisation with barely a point of
contact with the 21st century.
Ms Aluko’s case will help change the culture and encourage people to engage instead
of dismissing those who dare speak up.
Elephants feel
and suffer – just as
we humans do
Carl Safina
This month footage of five young
elephants being captured in
Zimbabwe to sell to zoos travelled
round the world. Parks officials used
helicopters to find the elephant
families, shot sedatives into the
young ones, then hazed away family
members who came to the aid of the
drugged young ones as they fell.
Removing young elephants from
their parents and sending them
into captivity is largely justified on
the basis that they do not feel and
suffer as we do. For decades we have
been admonished against imbuing
animals with human-type emotions.
But, actually, humans have these
emotions because other animals
do as well. Elephants, humans and
many other animals share a nearidentical nervous system and likely
experience near-identical basic
emotions. Under the skin we are kin.
I have spent decades amassing
insights into animal cognition,
emotion and family lives. For that,
elephants provide a perfect trifecta.
Elephants have superhuman senses,
so life for elephants is likely superhumanly vivid. This is probably why
elephants often seem to know when
distant elephants are being killed.
Why do we deny the feelings of
other species against everything
science and our own senses show
us? Two reasons: our favourite story
is that humans are unique. Acknowledging that other animals have mental and emotional experiences spoils
our conceit. The other reason: denying that other animals feel allows us
to do to them whatever we want.
In 1789, Jeremy Bentham pointed
out that only one question about
what we do to animals really
matters. “The question is not, can
they reason?; nor, can they talk?;
but, can they suffer?” Charles
Darwin wryly noted: “Animals,
whom we have made our slaves, we
do not like to consider our equal.”
I have seen elephants show
most of the virtues and none of the
avarice that we show to one another.
Their major self-governing principle
is not just live and let live, but live
and help live. They live in better
resonance with themselves and
their world. I came away changed.
Carl Safina’s most recent book
is Beyond Words: What Animals
Think and Feel
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 23
Reply
Julian Borger’s piece (Europe’s leaders bypass Trump to salvage Iran
deal, 13 October) was insightful. I
hope there will be more such independent action by European countries and others. Donald Trump may
well be only playing tough brinkmanship in order to contain North
Korea and Iran, but his dangerous
words and actions risk going over
the edge. I have no sympathy for the
brutal regimes in North Korea, Iran
and Syria; people suffering under the
rule of such repressive governments
should be given our utmost support.
But the problems posed by North
Korea aren’t going to be solved by
Trump’s crude methods. In fact,
Trump’s appalling activities could
easily result in some minor incident
setting off a major conflict.
As the world situation has become very precarious, it is now vital
that the international community
get involved. We are in urgent need
of saner and wiser leadership. It’s
time for everyone to do something
to avert a dreadful catastrophe.
Steven Katsineris
Hurstbridge, Victoria, Australia
No safety in nuclear weapons
John Mullan notes that Kazuo
Ishiguro is the rightful winner of
the Nobel prize in literature (13
October). The same can be said
of the International Campaign to
Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican)
winning the Nobel peace prize.
Ican originated in Melbourne,
Australia, in 2007 as an initiative of
the Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW). It is the first
Nobel peace prize to have its roots in
Australia, as noted by Ican’s national
vice-president, Dr Sue Wareham,
who was motivated to join MAPW
two decades ago because of her
“horror at the destructive capacity
of a single nuclear weapon”.
It beggars belief that the Australian government fails to grasp the
essential truth that motivated Wareham: that a single nuclear weapon
has enormous destructive capacity.
Nuclear weapons worsen national
security, not enhance it.
Jenny Goldie
Michelago, Australia
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Editorial
Acting editor: Graham Snowdon
Guardian Weekly, Kings Place,
90 York Way, London N1 9GU, UK
Ellie Foreman-Peck
Global community must act
Livestock farming has a role
Caution is required when advocating the demise of livestock farming
(George Monbiot, 13 October) because many of the planet’s dryland
inhabitants derive their living from
grazing. Nomadic pastoralists are
dependent on animal husbandry
not just for sustenance but as part
of their culture. Harvesting animals
that harvest native vegetation is a
sustainable method of acquiring
protein from areas of low productivity, when it is carefully managed.
Switching to crops is fraught with
difficulties, including unpredictable
rainfall, soil erosion, the high costs
of irrigation and other hazards
experienced by farmers anywhere.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment tells us that 41% of Earth’s
land surface is dryland and that
2 billion people live there. That is a
lot of people and land to write off.
Andrew Beattie
Westleigh, NSW, Australia
Nationalism is a menace
As a Spaniard and non-nationalist
Basque, I appreciated your sensitive take on the Catalan problem but
was dismayed by Neal Ascherson’s
column (Catalans are riding the independence wave, 29 September).
He fails to distinguish between the
sense of social belonging and nationalism: that ugly sentiment with roots
in our tribal past, which makes us
feel different from our neighbours,
usually superior and insensitive to
their predicament. For Ascherson,
nationalism breaks even in its vices
and virtues, as he apparently forgets
To contact the editor directly:
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the thousands of European deaths
it has caused. He suggests that Catalonia felt Madrid was treating it as a
colony: in fact it has a high level of
autonomy that has been used to fuel
unrest with its control of education
and media, as shown by the rapid increase of aggrieved Catalan feelings.
Even so, recent opinion polls fell
short of a majority for independence. The EU has said that the Catalan independence movement runs
counter to the European project, but
Ascherson thinks “the global tide is
with them”. Maybe it was illusory
to think Europe was getting over its
tribal past.
Anton Digon
Vitoria, Spain
Briefly
• It was distressing to read (Japan
forced to face brutal work culture,
13 October) that in its first white
paper the Japanese government said
that 20% of employees were at risk
of death from overwork, more than
2,000 from suicide due to stress and
many more from illness brought on
by spending too much time at work.
This government paper goes on to
state that more than 80 hours of
overtime per month starts to pose a
serious risk to health and life.
It was damnably shocking to
read that prime minister Shinzo
Abe’s government proposes to cap
monthly overtime at 100 hours, ie 20
hours more than the serious risk.
Axel Brock-Miller
Langford, British Columbia, Canada
• The time is right for the UK to opt
out of the European community (20
October). So what next? In this time
of complex relationships, it might
not be best for the UK to go it alone.
The way forward might well be a
closer relationship with Norway,
Sweden, Denmark and Finland.
There is much that holds these four
nations together, and much they
could share with the UK.
To give one example: the benefit
of maritime trade via the Baltic,
North and Norwegian seas. The UK’s
close transatlantic link with the
United States could also benefit the
Scandinavian nations.
John Johansen-Berg
Oxford, UK
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From the archive
27 October 1959
West finds Eastern
inspiration for art
I feel that the growing fascination
which the music and dance of India exert upon us is more than the
physical consequence of our muchvaunted communication era. It is
rather the mysterious urge to return
to sources, together with a search
for yardsticks beyond the confines
of familiar values. These arts representing aesthetic and philosophical
views, these disciplines and techniques evolved on sound physiological and emotional principles, are
thousands of years old. They are in
fact the oldest living forms of man’s
title to divinity, creating order and
beauty for the ear and the eye of the
purest and most dedicated quality.
This trend holds great promise
for humanity for we have much
to learn in many fields from both
the theoretical and the empirical
knowledge which in India, China,
and other ancient cultures comes
to us from a still unbroken past.
As in Indian religion the body and
soul have never been divided, so in
their music, which is still mainly a
votive offering, Indians believe in
its therapeutic quality as well as in
its spiritual effect. By the same token they have not submitted to our
even-tempered scale, which has its
beginning with Bach. It has served
us well in portraying ever more
intensely and dramatically the passion and emotion of the individual,
until we have reached in the last
generation a revulsion against the
over-graphic, which has in its turn
prepared the way for a music at once
more abstract and less personal.
Here, I feel, is where the eclectic,
and highly evolved character of
Indian music has finally become
significant to the Western ear. Indian music has always stressed the
relation of man to the universal. For
this purpose the modal composition
– cast in one mood on a fixed base
of which the intervals are carefully
matched, together with a particular
rhythmic pattern – is capable of
achieving a hypnotic effect, in the
sense that it liberates the higher
mind from the limits of physical
form. So long as we have not studied
and tabulated, as have the ancient
cultures of India and Greece, the
specific effects of particular scales
and intervals, our efforts at musical
therapy can only remain rudimentary. This distinction in degree and
kind between the personal and the
universal is most urgent in our day,
when these dimensions seem hopelessly entangled. Yehudi Menuhin
24 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Eyewitnessed
Traditional Moroccan knights armed with muskets and muzzle-loading rifles put horses through their paces during an equestrian show as part of the Festival of Tbourida, a competition betwee
A sniper in camouflage surveys the scene during exercises held by the Russian Southern
Military District’s special forces unit near Krasnodar Vitaly Timkiv\Tass via Getty
European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker welcomes 31-year-old Austrian People’s
party leader Sebastian Kurz, who is set to lead a new coalition government Oliver Hoslet/EPA
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 25
en the Moroccan tribes, in El Jadida, south of Casablanca Nabil Mounzer/EPA
Orphaned baby sloths in a hammock at a sanctuary in Costa Rica. After rehabilitation many
of the animals are released back into the wild Lucy Cooke/Barcroft Images
Tea flasks arrive prior to the national congress of China’s Communist party, where president
Xi Jinping delivered a speech that lasted three and a half hours How Hwee Young/EPA
Sydney Opera House marks the beginning of Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival of lights.
Flurries of fireworks in Delhi saw air pollution hit 18 times the healthy limit David Moir/EPA
26 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
‘Everyone is distracted.
All of the time’
A small but growing band of Silicon
Valley heretics are uneasy about the
so-called attention economy they
helped to create, finds Paul Lewis
J
ustin Rosenstein had tweaked his laptop’s
operating system to block Reddit, banned
himself from Snapchat, which he compares to heroin, and imposed limits on
his use of Facebook. But even that wasn’t
enough. In August, the 34-year-old tech
executive took a more radical step to restrict his use
of social media and other addictive technologies.
Rosenstein purchased a new iPhone and instructed his assistant to set up a parental-control feature to prevent him downloading any apps. He was
particularly aware of the allure of Facebook “likes”,
which he describes as “bright dings of pseudo-pleasure” that can be as hollow as they are seductive. And
Rosenstein should know: he was the Facebook engineer who created the “like” button in the first place.
A decade after he stayed up all night coding a
prototype of what was then called an “awesome”
People
touch, swipe
or tap their
phone 2,617
times a day,
research
shows
button, Rosenstein belongs to a small but growing band of Silicon Valley heretics who complain
about the rise of the so-called attention economy: an internet shaped around the demands
of an advertising economy. These refuseniks are
rarely founders or chief executives, who have little incentive to deviate from the mantra that their
companies are making the world a better place.
Instead, they tend to have worked a rung or two
down the corporate ladder: designers, engineers
and product managers who, like Rosenstein,
several years ago put in place the building blocks
of a digital world from which they are now trying
to disentangle themselves. “It is very common,”
Rosenstein says, “for humans to develop things
with the best of intentions and for them to have
unintended, negative consequences.”
Rosenstein, who also helped create Gchat during
a stint at Google, and now leads a San Franciscobased company that improves office productivity,
appears most concerned about the psychological
effects on people who, research shows, touch,
swipe or tap their phone 2,617 times a day.
There is growing concern that as well as addicting
users, technology is contributing toward so-called
“continuous partial attention”, severely limiting
people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 27
Swaying opinion
America’s fake social media crisis
→ Review, pages 30-31
Eyes down … recent research showed that the
mere presence of smartphones, even when
turned off, damages cognitive capacity Alamy
IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity
– even when the device is turned off. “Everyone is
distracted,” Rosenstein says. “All of the time.”
But those concerns are trivial compared with the
devastating impact upon the political system that
some of Rosenstein’s peers believe can be attributed
to the rise of social media and the attention-based
market that drives it. Drawing a straight line between addiction to social media and political earthquakes like the rise of Donald Trump, they contend
that digital forces have completely upended the
political system and, left unchecked, could even
render democracy as we know it obsolete.
In 2007, Rosenstein was one of a small group of
Facebook employees who decided to create a path
of least resistance – a single click – to “send little bits
of positivity” across the platform. Facebook’s “like”
feature was, Rosenstein says, “wildly” successful:
engagement soared as people enjoyed the shortterm boost they got from giving or receiving social
affirmation, while Facebook harvested valuable data
about the preferences of users that could be sold to
advertisers. The idea was soon copied by Twitter,
Instagram, and countless other apps and websites.
It was Rosenstein’s colleague, Leah Pearlman,
then a product manager at Facebook and on the team
that created the Facebook “like”, who announced
the feature in a 2009 blogpost. Now 35 and an illustrator, Pearlman confirmed via email that she, too,
has grown disaffected with Facebook “likes” and
other addictive feedback loops. She has installed a
web browser plug-in to eradicate her Facebook news
feed, and hired a social media manager to monitor
her Facebook page so that she doesn’t have to.
“One reason I think it is particularly important for
us to talk about this now is that we may be the last
generation that can remember life before,” Rosenstein says. It may or may not be relevant that Rosenstein, Pearlman and most of the tech insiders questioning today’s attention economy are in their 30s,
members of the last generation that can remember a
world in which telephones were plugged into walls.
It is revealing that many of these younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley
schools where iPhones, iPads and even laptops are
banned. They appear to be abiding by a Biggie Smalls
lyric from their own youth about the perils of dealing
crack cocaine: never get high on your own supply.
One morning in April this year, designers, programmers and tech entrepreneurs from across the
world gathered at a conference centre on the shore
of the San Francisco Bay. They had each paid up
to $1,700 to learn how to manipulate people into
habitual use of their products, on a course curated
by conference organiser Nir Eyal.
Eyal, 39, the author of Hooked: How to Build
Habit-Forming Products, has spent several years
consulting for the tech industry, teaching techniques he developed by closely studying how the
Silicon Valley giants operate.
“The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions,” Eyal writes.
“It’s the impulse to check a message notification. It’s
the pull to visit YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter for just
a few minutes, only to find yourself still tapping and
scrolling an hour later.” None of this is an accident,
he writes. It is all “just as their designers intended”.
He explains the subtle psychological tricks that
can be used to make people develop habits, such
as varying the rewards people receive to create “a
craving”, or exploiting negative emotions that can
act as “triggers”. “Feelings of boredom, loneliness,
frustration, confusion and indecisiveness often
instigate a slight pain or irritation and prompt an
almost instantaneous and often mindless action to
quell the negative sensation,” Eyal writes.
Attendees of the 2017 Habit Summit may have
been surprised when Eyal walked on stage to announce that this year’s keynote speech was about
“something a little different”. He wanted to address
the growing concern that technological manipulation was somehow harmful or immoral. He told his
audience that they should be careful not to abuse
persuasive design, and wary of crossing a line into
coercion. But he was defensive of the techniques he
teaches, and dismissive of those who compare tech
addiction to drugs. “We’re not freebasing Facebook
and injecting Instagram here,” he said. He flashed
up a slide of a shelf filled with sugary baked goods.
“Just as we shouldn’t blame the baker for making
such delicious treats, we can’t blame tech makers for
making their products so good we want to use them,”
he said. “Of course that’s what tech companies will
do. And frankly: do we want it any other way?”
Without irony, Eyal finished his talk with some
personal tips for resisting the lure of technology.
He told his audience he uses a Chrome extension,
called DF YouTube, “which scrubs out a lot of those
external triggers” he writes about in his book, and
recommended an app called Pocket Points that
“rewards you for staying off your phone when you
need to focus”.
Finally, Eyal confided the lengths he goes to protect his own family. He has installed in his house
a outlet timer connected to a router that cuts off
access to the internet at a set time every day. “The
idea is to remember that we are not powerless,” he
said. “We are in control.”
But are we? If the people who built these technologies are taking such radical steps to wean themselves free, can the rest of us reasonably be expected
to exercise our free will?
Not according to Tristan Harris, a 33-year-old former Google employee turned vocal critic of the tech
industry. “All of us are jacked into this system,” he
says. “All of our minds can be hijacked. Our choices
are not as free as we think they are.”
Harris, who has been branded “the closest thing
Silicon Valley has to a conscience”, insists that billions of people have little choice over whether they
use these now ubiquitous technologies, and are
largely unaware of the invisible ways in which a
small number of people in Silicon Valley are shaping
their lives. A graduate of Stanford University, Harris
studied under BJ Fogg, a behavioural psychologist
revered in tech circles for mastering the ways technological design can be used to persuade people.
Many of his students, including Eyal, have gone on
to prosperous careers in Silicon Valley.
Harris is the student who went rogue; a whistleblower of sorts, he is lifting the curtain on the vast
powers accumulated by technology companies
and the ways they are using that influence. “A
handful of people, working at a handful of technology companies, through their choices will steer
what a billion people are thinking today,” he said at
a recent TED talk in Vancouver.
“I don’t know a more urgent problem than this,”
Harris says. “It’s changing our democracy, and it’s
changing our ability to have the conversations and
relationships that we want with each other.” Harris
went public – giving talks, writing papers, meeting
lawmakers and campaigning for reform after three
years struggling to effect change inside Google’s
Mountain View headquarters.
It all began in 2013, when he was working as a product manager at Google, and circulated a thoughtprovoking memo, A Call To Minimise Distraction &
Respect Users’ Attention, to 10 close colleagues. It
struck a chord, spreading to some 5,000 Google employees, including senior executives who rewarded
Harris with an impressive-sounding new job: he was
to be Google’s in-house design ethicist and product
philosopher. He explored how LinkedIn exploits a
need for social reciprocity to widen its network;
how YouTube and Netflix autoplay videos and next
episodes, depriving users of a choice about whether
they want to keep watching; how Snapchat created
its Snapstreaks feature, encouraging near-constant
communication between its mostly teenage users.
The techniques these companies use are not
always generic: they can be algorithmically tailored
to each person. An internal Facebook report leaked
this year, for example, revealed that the company
can identify when teens feel “insecure”, “worthless” and “need a confidence boost”. Such granular information, Harris adds, is “a perfect model of
what buttons you can push in a particular person”.
Tech companies can exploit such vulnerabilities
to keep people hooked. And the very same techniques can be sold to the Continued on page 28 →
28 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Weekly review
← Continued from page 27 highest bidder. “There’s
no ethics,” he says. A company paying Facebook to
use its levers of persuasion could be a car business
targeting tailored advertisements to different types
of users who want a new vehicle. Or it could be a
Moscow-based troll farm seeking to turn voters in
a swing county in Wisconsin.
Harris believes that tech companies never
deliberately set out to make their products addictive.
They were responding to the incentives of an advertising economy, experimenting with techniques that
might capture people’s attention, even stumbling
across highly effective design by accident.
The most seductive design, Harris explains, exploits the same psychological susceptibility that
makes gambling so compulsive: variable rewards.
When we tap those apps with red icons, we don’t
know whether we’ll discover an interesting email,
an avalanche of “likes”, or nothing at all. It is the possibility of disappointment that makes it so compulsive. It’s this that explains how the pull-to-refresh
mechanism, whereby users swipe down, pause and
wait to see what content appears, rapidly became
one of the most addictive and ubiquitous design
feature in modern technology. “Each time you’re
swiping down, it’s like a slot machine,” Harris says.
“You don’t know what’s coming next. Sometimes
it’s a beautiful photo. Sometimes it’s just an ad.”
The designer who created the pull-to-refresh
mechanism, first used to update Twitter feeds,
is Loren Brichter. Now 32, Brichter says he never
intended the design to be addictive – but would
not dispute the slot machine comparison. “I agree
100%,” he says. “I have two kids now and I regret
every minute that I’m not paying attention to them
because my smartphone has sucked me in.”
Brichter created the feature in 2009 for Tweetie,
his startup, mainly because he could not find anywhere to fit the “refresh” button on his app. Holding and dragging down the feed to update seemed
at the time nothing more than a “cute and clever”
fix. Twitter acquired Tweetie the following year,
integrating pull-to-refresh into its own app. Since
then the design has become one of the most widely
emulated features; the downward-pull action is as
intuitive as scratching an itch.
Brichter says he is puzzled by the longevity of the
feature. In an era of push-notification technology,
apps can automatically update content without being nudged by the user. “It could easily retire,” he
says. Instead it appears to serve a psychological
function: after all, slot machines would be far less
addictive if gamblers didn’t get to pull the lever
themselves. Brichter prefers another comparison:
“close door” button in
that it is like the redundant “clo
some elevators with automatic
automatically closing doors.
“People just like to push it.”
All of which has left Brichter,
who has put h
his design work on
the backburner
backburne while he focuses
on building a house in New Jersey, questioning
questionin his legacy. “I’ve
spent many hou
hours and weeks and
thinking about
months and years
y
‘The idea
i
is
to remember
to re
we are not
po
powerless.
We are in
ccontrol’
whether anything I’ve done has made a net positive
impact on society or humanity at all,” he says. He
has blocked certain websites, turned off push notifications, restricted his use of the Telegram app to
message only with his wife and two close friends,
and tried to wean himself off Twitter. “I still waste
time on it,” he confesses, “just reading stupid news
I already know about.” He charges his phone in the
kitchen, plugging it in at 7pm and not touching it
until the next morning.
Not everyone in his field appears racked with
guilt. The two inventors listed on Apple’s patent
for “managing notification connections and displaying icon badges” are Justin Santamaria and
Chris Marcellino. Both were in their early 20s when
they were hired by Apple to work on the iPhone. As
engineers, they worked on the behind-the-scenes
plumbing for push-notification technology, introduced in 2009 to enable real-time alerts and updates
to third-party app developers. It was a revolutionary
change, providing the infrastructure for so many
experiences that now form a part of people’s daily
lives, from ordering an Uber to making a Skype call
to receiving breaking news updates. But notification technology also enabled a hundred unsolicited
interruptions into millions of lives, accelerating the
arms race for people’s attention.
Santamaria, now 36, who now runs a startup,
says the technology he developed at Apple was not
“inherently good or bad”. “This is a larger discussion for society,” he says. “Is it OK to shut off my
phone when I leave work? Is it OK if I don’t get right
back to you? Is it OK that I’m not ‘liking’ everything
that goes through my Instagram screen?”
His then colleague, Marcellino, agrees. “Honestly,
at no point was I sitting there thinking: let’s hook
people,” he says. “It was all about the positives: these
apps connect people, they have all these uses – ESPN
telling you the game has ended, or WhatsApp giving
you a message for free from your family member in
Iran who doesn’t have a message plan.”
A few years ago Marcellino, 33, left the Bay Area,
and is now retraining to be a neurosurgeon. He
stresses he is no expert on addiction, but says he
has picked up enough in his medical training to
know that technologies can affect the same neurological pathways as gambling and drug use. “These
are the same circuits that make people seek out
food, comfort, heat, sex,” he says. All of it, he says,
is reward-based behaviour that activates the brain’s
dopamine pathways. He sometimes finds himself
clicking on the red icons beside his apps “to make
them go away”, but is conflicted about the ethics of
exploiting people’s psychological vulnerabilities.
“It is not inherently evil to bring people back to your
product,” he says. “It’s capitalism.”
That, perhaps, is the problem. Roger McNamee, a
venture capitalist who invested in Google and Facebook, has grown disenchanted with both companies, arguing that their early missions have been distorted by the fortunes they have been able to earn
through advertising. He identifies the advent of the
smartphone as a turning point, raising the stakes in
an arms race for people’s attention. “Facebook and
Google assert with merit that they are giving users
what they want,” McNamee says. “The same can be
said about tobacco companies and drug dealers.”
That would be a remarkable assertion for any
early investor in Silicon Valley’s most profitable
behemoths. But McNamee, 61, is more than an
arms-length money man. Once an adviser to Mark
Zuckerberg, 10 years ago McNamee introduced the
Facebook CEO to his friend, Sheryl Sandberg, then
a Google executive who had overseen the company’s advertising efforts. Sandberg became chief
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 29
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Escape from hi-tech … left, Tweetie founder
Loren Brichter, who created the pull-to-refresh
feature; far left, Tristan Harris Tim Knox
operating officer at Facebook, transforming the social network into another advertising heavyweight.
McNamee chooses his words carefully. “The
people who run Facebook and Google are good
people, whose well-intentioned strategies have
led to horrific unintended consequences,” he says.
“The problem is that there is nothing the companies
can do to address the harm unless they abandon
their current advertising models.”
McNamee believes the companies he invested
in should be subjected to greater regulation, including new anti-monopoly rules. In Washington,
there is growing appetite, on both sides of the political divide, to rein in Silicon Valley. But McNamee
worries the behemoths he helped build may already
be too big to curtail. “The EU recently penalised
Google $2.42bn for anti-monopoly violations, and
Google’s shareholders just shrugged,” he says.
Rosenstein, the Facebook “like” co-creator,
believes there may be a case for state regulation of
“psychologically-manipulative advertising”, saying
the moral impetus is comparable to taking action
against fossil fuel or tobacco companies. “If we only
care about profit maximisation,” he says, “we will
go rapidly into dystopia.”
James Williams does not believe talk of dystopia
is far-fetched. The ex-Google strategist who built
the metrics system for the company’s global search
advertising business, he has had a front-row view
of an industry he describes as the “largest, most
standardised and most centralised form of attentional control in human history”.
Williams, 35, left Google last year, and is on
the cusp of completing a PhD at Oxford University exploring the ethics of persuasive design. It
is a journey that has led him to question whether
democracy can survive the new technological age.
He says his epiphany came a few years ago, when he
noticed he was surrounded by technology that was
inhibiting him from concentrating on the things he
wanted to focus on. “It was that kind of individual,
existential realisation: what’s going on?” he says.
“Isn’t technology supposed to be doing the complete opposite of this?”
That discomfort was compounded during a moment at work, when he glanced at one of Google’s
dashboards, a multicoloured display showing how
much of people’s attention the company had commandeered for advertisers. “I realised: this is literally a million people that we’ve sort of nudged or
persuaded to do this thing that they weren’t going
to otherwise do,” he recalls. He embarked on several years of independent research, much of it conducted while working part-time at Google. About 18
months in, he saw the Google memo circulated by
Harris and the pair became allies.
Williams and Harris left Google around the same
time, and co-founded an advocacy group, Time Well
Spent, that seeks to build public momentum for a
change in the way big-tech companies think about
design. Williams finds it hard to comprehend why
this issue is not “on the front page of every newspaper every day”. “Eighty-seven percent of people
wake up and go to sleep with their smartphones,” he
says. The entire world now has a new prism through
which to understand politics, and Williams worries
the consequences are profound.
The same forces that led tech firms to hook users with design tricks, he says, also encourage those
companies to depict the world in a way that makes
for compulsive, irresistible viewing. “The attention
economy incentivises the design of technologies
that grab our attention,” he says. “In so doing, it
privileges our impulses over our intentions.” That
means privileging what is sensational over what is
nuanced, appealing to emotion, anger and outrage.
The news media is increasingly working in service
to tech companies, Williams adds, and must play
by the rules of the attention economy to “sensationalise, bait and entertain in order to survive”.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory, many were quick to question the role of socalled fake news on Facebook, Russian-created
Twitter bots or the data-centric targeting efforts
that companies such as Cambridge Analytica used
to sway voters. But Williams sees those factors as
symptoms of a deeper problem. It is not just shady
or bad actors who were exploiting the internet to
change public opinion. The attention economy
itself is setup to promote a phenomenon like
Trump, who is masterful at grabbing and retaining
the attention of supporters and critics alike, often
by exploiting or creating outrage.
In a blog published a month before the US election, Williams sounded the alarm bell on an issue
he argued was a “far more consequential question”
than whether Trump reached the White House. The
reality TV star’s campaign, he said, had heralded
a watershed in which “the new, digitally supercharged dynamics of the attention economy have
finally crossed a threshold and become manifest in
the political realm”.
Williams saw a similar dynamic unfold months
earlier, during the Brexit campaign, when the
attention economy appeared to him biased in favour of the emotional, identity-based case for the
UK leaving the European Union. He stresses these
dynamics are by no means isolated to the political
right: they also play a role, he believes, in the unexpected popularity of leftwing politicians such as
Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. All of which,
Williams says, is not only distorting the way we view
politics but, over time, may be changing the way we
think, making us less rational and more impulsive.
“We’ve habituated ourselves into a perpetual cognitive style of outrage, by internalising the dynamics
of the medium,” he says.
It is against this political backdrop that Williams argues the fixation in recent years with the
surveillance state fictionalised by George Orwell
may have been misplaced. It was another English
science fiction writer, Aldous Huxley, who provided the more prescient observation when he
warned that Orwellian-style coercion was less of
a threat to democracy than the more subtle power
of psychological manipulation, and “man’s almost
infinite appetite for distractions”.
Since the US election, Williams has explored another dimension to today’s brave new world. If the
attention economy erodes our ability to remember,
to reason, to make decisions for ourselves – faculties
that are essential to self-governance – what hope is
there for democracy itself?
“The dynamics of the attention economy are
structurally set up to undermine the human will,”
he says. “If politics is an expression of our human
will, on individual and collective levels, then the
attention economy is directly undermining the
assumptions that democracy rests on.” If Apple,
Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat
are gradually chipping away at our ability to control
our own minds, could there come a point, I ask, at
which democracy no longer functions?
“Will we be able to recognise it, if and when it
happens?” Williams replies. “And if we can’t, then
how do we know it hasn’t happened already?”
30 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Weekly review
A nation
divided by
‘impostors’
Fake social media
accounts are still
stoking tensions and
swaying US voters,
writes Tom McCarthy
F
or the past year the world has reeled
at reports of how Russia “hacked”
the 2016 US presidential election, by
stealing emails from the Democrats,
attacking voter registration lists and
voting machines, and manipulating
social media. Such is the focus on Russian meddling
that US congressional investigators are becoming
increasingly aggressive in asking the big technology
companies to account for how their platforms became the staging grounds for an attack on American
democracy. That scrutiny will intensify, with executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter formally
invited to appear before the House intelligence
committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Russian trolls and automated software “bots”
promoted explicitly pro-Donald Trump messages,
and used social media to sow divisions in America
by stoking disagreement and division on a plethora
of controversial topics such as immigration and Islamophobia. And it is clear that these interventions
are continuing as Russian agents fuel division about
such recent topics as white supremacist marches
and NFL players “taking a knee” to protest against
police violence when the national anthem is played.
Pro-Trump messages ... Russian trolls and
automated software ‘bots’ are suspected
The overarching goal, now and during the election, analysts say, is to attack the American social
fabric where it is most vulnerable, along lines of
race, gender, class and creed. “The broader Russian strategy is pretty clearly about destabilising
the country by focusing on and amplifying existing divisions, rather than supporting any one political party,” said Jonathon Morgan, a former state
department adviser on digital responses to terrorism whose company, New Knowledge, analyses the
manipulation of public discourse. “I think it absolutely continues.”
In recent weeks – mostly through vigorous reporting and academic research – it has also been
learned that the impact of Russia’s Facebook infiltration was far more widespread than Facebook
founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed when Barack
Obama pulled him aside at a conference in Peru
last November to inform him he had a problem on
his hands. As more evidence emerges revealing the
extent of the Russian web invasion, it is clear that
its footprint is far larger than the tech giants have
ever conceded.
On Facebook alone, impostors linked to Russia had hundreds of millions of interactions with
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 31
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potential US voters who believed they were talking to fellow Americans, according to an estimate
by Jonathan Albright of Columbia University’s
Tow Centre for Digital Journalism, who broke the
story this month with the publication of a trove of
searchable data.
Those interactions may have reinforced the
voters’ political views, or helped to mould them,
thanks to the impostor accounts’ techniques of
echoing shrill opinions and presenting seemingly
sympathetic views with counterintuitive, politically leading twists.
During the election, for example, an impostor Facebook page called Being Patriotic used words such
as “illegal”, “country” and “American” and phrases
such as “illegal alien”, “sharia law” and “welfare
state”, according to an analysis of Albright’s data.
The page racked up at least 4.4m interactions, peaking between mid-2016 and early 2017.
The urgency of the threat has not been matched
by the response of the tech companies, critics say,
which have been slow to acknowledge the problem.
A reference to Russia in a Facebook draft report in
April about election influence was inexplicably cut,
the Wall Street Journal reported this month. Only in
September did Facebook acknowledge that pages
linked to Russia had bought thousands of ads on
the platform.
According to the Washington Post recently
Google has detected similar ad-buying activity, of
unknown scope, on YouTube, Gmail and its search
engine – though the company has made nothing
public. The Russian impostors have also been detected on Instagram, Twitter and even the game
Pokémon Go.
Facebook did not reply to repeated requests for
comment. But the gravity of the situation, whose
dimensions are still unknown, was underscored recently in an interview that Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, gave to an American
website. “Things happened on our platform that
shouldn’t have happened,” Sandberg said, adding
that the company owed the American public “not
just an apology, but determination” to address
the problem.
The attackers appear to have a handy, if unwitting, ally in Trump, who is generous in spreading
bile online. In certain recent cases, social media
accounts linked to Russian influence operations
appear to have taken cues directly and immediately from the @realdonaldtrump Twitter account,
according to analysis by the Washington-based
Alliance for Securing Democracy, which maintains
a daily tracker of the networks in question. After
Trump criticised the “poor leadership ability” of
Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of San Juan, Puerto
Rico, on 30 September, for example, Russian-linked
Twitter accounts disseminated articles with “the
primary theme of either discrediting” Cruz “or accusing the media of spreading ‘fake news’”, the alliance said.
The week before that, the clandestine network
fuelled the fight picked by Trump with the mostly
African-American players in the NFL who kneeled
during the national anthem in protest at police violence. Instead of simply echoing the president’s
demand for a boycott unless the players stood,
however, the Russian accounts took both sides of
the issue, spreading both the hashtags #TakeaKnee
and #BoycottNFL.
“The ads and accounts appeared to focus on
amplifying divisive social and political messages
across the ideological spectrum – touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration
to gun rights,” said Alex Stamos, the chief security
officer at Facebook, in the first public statement the
company made on the matter.
Albright’s data encompasses six Facebook pages
previously linked by media investigations to Russia.
The pages were not clumsily partisan, pro-Trump
or anti-Hillary Clinton. Instead they worked by
crafting identities around sensitive issues in US
politics, and by wielding sympathy, in some cases,
with causes seen as antithetical to Trump, such as
LGBTQ pride and opposing police violence.
“There’s some really intricate manoeuvring
going on,” said Albright. “It’s definitely set up not
to directly force issues but to identify people that
fall into the wedge categories that can be used to
influence others or to push conversations elsewhere.” The impostor pages included Secured
Borders, an anti-immigrant account that grew to
133,000 followers; Texas Rebels, which parroted
Lone Star state pride while criticising Clinton;
Being Patriotic, which attacked refugees while defending the Confederate battle flag; LGBT United,
which espoused “traditional” family values; and
The Facebook pages were
successful in crafting
identities around areas of
sensitivity in US politics
Blacktivists, a faux satellite of the Black Lives Matter movement. “It seems Americans should be wary
of police brutality more than of Isis terrorists,” read
a typical Blacktivists post, which was “liked” thousands of times.
“Why there’s so many privileges and benefits
for refugee kids, but American kids forced to grow
up in poverty?” asked one September 2016 post by
Secured Borders. “That’s absolutely unacceptable!!” “More than 300,000 vets died awaiting care,”
read a post on Being Patriotic. “Do liberals still think
it is better to accept thousands of Syrian refugees
than to help our veterans?”
Owners of the impostor pages could post controversial – or seemingly sympathetic – messages or
event announcements, and then, by inviting and
observing interactions such as “likes”, comments
or merely views, gather information about genuine
American Facebook users, and potential voters.
Those voters could then be targeted with political
content that appealed to some of their most closely
held sympathies.
The strategy was highly effective, in terms of
penetration. Albright’s research showed that the
six Russia-linked Facebook pages had generated
more than 18m interactions – a conservative estimate, he said – before Facebook shut them down.
But those were just six accounts among “dozens
and dozens and dozens of pages” that bore obvious markings shared by other accounts linked with
Russia, said Albright.
“Those 18 million interactions are only for those
six pages, just on Facebook” and not Instagram or
other social media, Albright said. “So what are we
talking about here, overall? We’re talking about
hundreds of millions of interactions.”
The accounts and others have since been removed by Facebook. “I don’t think they have even
begun to find all the impostor accounts,” Albright
said. Morgan, the former state department adviser,
called the response so far by the big tech companies to the Russian presence on their platforms
a “misfire”.
“What I see is Facebook and Twitter and Google
trying to define this problem narrowly as about political advertising, and I think that that misses the
mark,” he said. “Because the next group of people
that are going to be vulnerable is American industry,
especially industry that’s foundational to how our
society operates. So the energy industry and the
financial industry – they can be manipulated just
like our electoral process. I think a narrow focus on
political advertising is ultimately going to miss the
forest for the trees.”
Albright agreed that “there needs to be some kind
of oversight”. “It doesn’t fall completely on Facebook,” he said. “The scale at which this is happening is concerning enough that something needs to
happen. We need to rethink a lot of this, because it’s
definitely not working.”
Everyone in the know, from the bipartisan heads
of the Senate intelligence committee down, agrees
with the researchers that more pressure needs to
be applied at every level – in the tech world and in
Moscow – to figure out what happened and what is
still happening. Everyone – but with one notable
exception. Observer
Too little, too late – tech giants face battle to limit the damage
Facebook may be a bete noire of US regulators
and legislators, but it is just one of several new
media giants to find themselves in the dock.
After years of subjecting them to relatively little
scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic, politicians
are turning their ire on tech corporations, having become suspicious of their business
models and the sometimes saccharine
claims made for how they are improving the world.
Toxic issues, from their perceived
reluctance to pay tax to the way their
disruptive technologies threaten
to monopolise markets, have seen
the firms come under sustained fire in
recent years. But growing fury over the apparent roles they played in disrupting the
h politil
cal process, chiefly the US presidential election
and the UK’s Brexit referendum, has seen them
subject to a whole new level of opprobrium.
Hillary Clinton has spoken about the role the
online world played in promoting fake news
before the referendum. “We’ve got some thinking to do,” Clinton said. “There has to be some
basic level of fact and evidence in our politics.”
The UK Information Commissioner’s Office is
launching an investigation into the way political parties target voters through social media,
warning
warnin they could be breaking the law.
In the
th US, allegations that the Kremlin
exploited
platforms are the subject of
ex
multiple
m
investigations.
Google’s parent company, Alphabet
be Inc, has confirmed that Russianlinked
lin
accounts had used its advertising network to interfere in the Trump/
Clinton
Clint race. Twitter has provided
legislators
legislato with advertisements by RT, a television network funded by the Russian government, that have appeared on its platform.
They may like to talk of new paradigms but
in regulators and lawmakers, the tech firms find
themselves fighting very old foes. And there’s no
algorithm for that. Jamie Doward Observer
32 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Discovery
A golden
moment for
astronomy
Neutron star collision ‘seen’ in both gravity waves
and light, explain Sarah Kaplan and Ben Guarino
S
ome 130m years ago, in a galaxy far
away, the smouldering cores of two collapsed stars smashed into each other.
The resulting explosion sent a burst of
gamma rays streaming through space
and rippled the fabric of the universe.
On 17 August, those signals reached Earth – and
sparked an astronomy revolution.
The collision created a “kilonova”, an astronomical marvel that scientists have never seen before. It
was the first cosmic event to be witnessed via both
traditional telescopes, which can observe electromagnetic radiation like gamma rays, and gravitational wave detectors, which sense the wrinkles in
space-time produced by distant cataclysms. The
detection, which involved thousands of researchers
working at more than 70 laboratories and telescopes
on every continent, heralds a new era in space research known as “multimessenger astrophysics”.
“It’s transformational,” said Julie McEnery, an astrophysicist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center
in Greenbelt, Maryland, who was involved in the
effort. “The era of gravitational wave astrophysics
had dawned, but now it’s come of age … We’re able
to combine dramatically different ways of viewing
the universe, and I think our level of understanding
is going to leap forward as a result.”
The existence of gravitational waves was first
theorised by Albert Einstein a century ago. But
scientists had never sensed the waves until 2015,
when a ripple produced by the merger of two distant black holes was picked up by two facilities
of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave
Observatory (Ligo) in Louisiana and Washington
state. Since then, the collaboration has identified
three more black hole collisions and has brought on
a third gravitational wave detector near Pisa, Italy,
to better pinpoint the sources of these distortions in
space-time. This month members of the Ligo team
were awarded the Nobel prize in physics.
Yet because black holes emit no light or heat, past
gravitational wave detections could not be paired
with observations by conventional telescopes,
which collect signals from what’s known as the
electromagnetic spectrum. The scientists at Ligo
and its European counterpart, Virgo, hoped to detect gravitational waves from a visible event, such
as a binary star merger or a kilonova.
Kilonovas are swift, brilliant explosions that occur during the merger of neutron stars, which are
ultradense remnants of collapsed stars that are
composed almost entirely of neutrons.
Collisions between neutron stars are thought to
be 1,000 times brighter than a typical nova, and they
are the universe’s primary source of such elements
as silver, platinum and gold. But much like gravitational waves, kilonovas have long been strictly
theoretical. Until this summer.
At 8.41am Eastern time on 17 August, a gravitational wave hit the Virgo detector in Italy and,
22 milliseconds later, set off the Ligo detector in
Livingston, Louisiana. Three milliseconds after
that, the distortion reached Hanford, Washington.
Ligo detects black hole mergers as quick chirps
The detection involved
thousands of researchers
working at more than
70 labs and telescopes
that last a fraction of a second. This signal lasted
for 100 seconds, and it vibrated at higher frequencies. From the smaller amplitude of the signal, the
researchers could tell this event involved less mass
than the previously observed black hole collisions.
“When we detected this event, my feeling was,
wow, we have hit the motherlode,” said Laura
Cadonati, an astrophysicist at the Georgia Institute
of Technology and Ligo representative.
Just 1.7 seconds after the initial gravitational
wave detection, Nasa’s Fermi space telescope registered a brief flash of gamma radiation coming from
the constellation Hydra. Half an hour later, McEnery, the telescope’s project scientist, got an email
from a colleague with the subject line, “WAKE UP”.
“It said, ‘This gamma ray burst has an interesting
friend … Buckle up,’” McEnery recalled.
Gamma ray bursts are the most energetic forms
of light in the cosmos. Scientists had long predicted
that a short burst would be associated with a neutron star merger. That violent collision shoots jets
of radioactive matter into space, as though someone had smashed their palm on a tube of toothpaste
with holes at both ends.
“We were beside ourselves,” McEnery said.
Scientists raced to find the signal’s source before
it vanished from the always expanding universe. “It
is the classic challenge of finding a needle in a haystack, with the added complication that the needle
is fading away and the haystack is moving,” said
astrophysicist Marcelle Soares-Santos of Brandeis
University in Massachusetts.
Gravitational waves travel at light speed. “Einstein predicts that gravity and photons move at the
same speed … and [the signals] arrived within two
seconds of each other, dramatically confirming
that Einstein’s prediction is right,” McEnery said at
a news conference last week.
Meanwhile, trigger alerts had gone out to Ligo
collaborators at dozens of observatories around the
globe. Ligo gave astronomers a narrow map of the
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 33
When neutron stars collide
Dispatches
A visualisation of the
collision of two neutron
stars, blasting out light,
gamma rays and gravity
waves Robin Dienel/
Carnegie Institution
for Science
1. Gravitational waves are detected 2. 100 seconds later
Two neutron stars orbit each other
30 times per second, distorting space
and time
Now orbiting at 2,000 times per second
and on the brink of colliding, the stars
are being distorted by intense gravity
Only about 19km
across, each star is more
massive than the sun
3. Two seconds later
4. Afterglow
After the briefest pause, where Ligo
could detect nothing, the stars violently
merge, emitting a burst of gamma rays
Scientists spot a new light in the sky,
the afterglow of the collision, which
they are able to identify as the source
of the gravitational waves and gamma
ray burst
sky to hunt for cosmic violence. “It was critical to
know where to look,” said Edo Berger of Harvard
University’s Center for Astrophysics. “If we were
just searching blindly across the whole sky I don’t
think we would have seen it.”
At Penn State University, phones began buzzing during a science operations team meeting for
Nasa’s Swift satellite. From low Earth orbit, the
Swift satellite cycled through 750 points in the sky
until it detected “a vast avalanche of data” in the
form of ultraviolet rays coming from the neutron
star merger. They were just in time: the UV emission
disappeared in less than 24 hours.
Ryan Foley, an astronomer at the University of
California at Santa Cruz, was walking around an
amusement park when he got the urgent text from
one of his collaborators. He abandoned his partner
in front of the carousel, jumped on a bike and pedalled back to his office.
He and his colleagues stayed up all night, first
waiting for the sun to set on their telescope in
Chile, then sorting through the telescope’s images
in search of a “transient” – a new object in the sky.
In the ninth image, postdoctoral researcher Charlie Kilpatrick saw it: a tiny new dot beside a galaxy
known as NGC 4993, 130m light years away.
He notified the group through the messaging
service Slack: “@foley found something; sending
you a screenshot”.
Foley marvelled at Kilpatrick’s measured tone in
those messages. “Charlie is the first person, as far as
we know, the first human to have ever seen optical
photons from a gravitational wave event,” he said.
The event was named for the telescope that
found it: Swope Supernova Survey 2017a.
Researchers collected data from the kilonova
in every part of the electromagnetic spectrum. In
the early hours the explosion appeared blue and
featureless – the light signature of a very young,
very hot new celestial body. But unlike supernovas, which can linger in the sky for months, the
Researchers have compiled a list of
social behaviours spotted in 90 different species of dolphins, whales and
porpoises, and found that the bigger
the species’ brain, the more complex –
indeed, the more “human-like” – their
lives are likely to be. This suggests that
the “cultural brain hypothesis” – the
theory that suggests our intelligence
developed as a way of coping with
complex social groups – may apply to
whales and dolphins, as well as humans. Writing in the journal Nature
Ecology and Evolution, the researchers
claim that characteristics such as hunting together and learning from observation are linked to the expansion of
the animals’ brains.
Treatment for dyslexia
Source: MIT; Caltech
The neutron stars
probably collapsed
into a black hole
Spectrometers detect
heavy elements such
as silver and gold
Cetaceans may lead
‘human-like’ lives
explosion turned red and faded. By separating light
from the collision into its component parts, scientists could distinguish the signals of heavy elements
like silver and gold.
For millennia the two dead stars circled each
other approaching the speed of light, shaking off
gravitational waves, which in turn pulled them
closer together. When the husks smashed together,
dinosaurs walked the planet. The shock wave from
the collision finally reached Earth in August.
Scientists don’t know what happened in the wake
of the explosion. Neutron stars are too faint to be
seen from so far away, so researchers can’t tell if the
merger produced one large neutron star, or if the
bodies collapsed to form a black hole.
But after two months of analysis, the collaborators were ready to inform the world about what they
have so far. Their results were announced last week
in more than a dozen papers in the journals Nature,
Science and the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
This kilonova was so bright that it could have
been observed even by amateurs with tiny telescopes. In the future, Ligo will alert the whole world
to potential detectors, allowing citizen scientists to
join in the global search.
France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation, which funds Ligo, compared
traditional, visual astronomy to a silent film. The
earliest gravitational wave detections added sound,
but they were little more than strange noises echoing in the dark, she said. “We couldn’t pinpoint the
location of the source.”
Now, for the first time, the soundtrack of the
cosmos has synced up with what scientists can see.
“It’s really a triumph of science,” Foley said. “We
as a civilisation have essentially been confined to
the Earth, and almost all the information we’ve ever
received from the universe has been through light.
Yet we were able to predict … things as extreme as
two neutron stars colliding when even the idea of
neutron stars is incredible.” Washington Post
French scientists claim they may have
found a physiological, and seemingly
treatable, cause for dyslexia hidden
in tiny light-receptor cells in the human eye. In people with the condition,
the cells were arranged in matching
patterns in both eyes, which may be
to blame for confusing the brain by
producing “mirror” images, the coauthors wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In nondyslexic people, the cells are arranged
asymmetrically, allowing signals from
one eye to be overridden by the other
to create a single image in the brain.
Mushroom therapy
Magic mushrooms may effectively
“reset” the activity of key brain circuits
known to play a role in depression.
Imperial College London researchers
used psilocybin – the psychoactive
compound that occurs naturally in
magic mushrooms – to treat a small
number of patients with depression,
monitoring their brain function, before
and after. Dr Robin Carhart-Harris,
head of psychedelic research at Imperial, who led the study, said: “We have
shown for the first time clear changes
in brain activity in depressed people
treated with psilocybin after failing to
respond to conventional treatments.”
Planetary ring found
A ring has been discovered on one of
the dwarf planets that orbits the Centaurs region, an area of small celestial
bodies between the asteroid belt and
Neptune. Until now, ring-like structures had only been found around the
four outer planets – Jupiter, Saturn,
Uranus and Neptune. Dr José Ortiz,
whose group at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Granada made
the discovery, said: “We didn’t expect
to find a ring around Haumea, but we
were not too surprised either.”
34 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Books
Armistead Maupin’s gossipy
Bildungsroman has universal
appeal, says Tim Adams
Logical Family: A Memoir
by Armistead Maupin
Doubleday, 304pp
In 1977, Armistead Maupin wrote a letter to his
parents that he had been composing for half his life.
He addressed it directly to his mother, but rather
than send it to her, he published it in the San Francisco Chronicle, the paper in which he had made his
name with his loosely fictionalised Tales of the City,
the daily serial written from the alternative, gay
world in which he lived. The letter began like this:
“Dear Mama, I’m sorry it has taken me so long to
write. Every time I try to write to you and Papa I realise that I am not saying the things that are in my heart.
That would be OK, if I loved you any less than I do, but
you are still my parents and I am still your child …”
The letter went on to explain that “your own child
is homosexual” and that the fact “was as basic to
[his] nature as the colour of [his] eyes”. And, moreover, that “being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me the limitless
possibilities of living.” The letter was written in the
voice of Maupin’s Tales of the City character, Michael
Tolliver, but there was no doubt in his mind that his
parents would read it – they read all his columns – as
the heartfelt statement of his own coming out.
He waited for a response. His parents lived in
North Carolina. His father was an avid Republican,
a vocal supporter of the notoriously bigoted senator Jesse Helms. In the end, several weeks later, he
received a short note in the mail: “Dear Teddy, as you
know your mother is very ill, so any additional stress
can only exacerbate the situation. Love, Daddy.”
By that time, Maupin had received hundreds of
other letters, nearly all of them from readers who
had cut out the column, substituted their own
names for Michael’s and sent it verbatim to their own
parents. Maupin’s Letter to Mama has since been set
to music three times and become “a standard for
gay men’s choruses around the world”. Despite all
of this, Maupin says, when he reads it himself now
40 years later, it is still guaranteed
teed to make
him cry. He reproduces the letter
etter here
at the end of a what is a gossipy
py kind of
Bildungsroman, a coming of age
ge that involves a rejection of all of the rigid
gid values
he was born into, and their replacement
placement
with a freewheeling set all of his own.
The intention set in early.
y. As a kid,
Maupin would be taken to a nearby
earby cemetery where generations off his
father’s family were buried.
d.
The idea was for Armistead to
o
understand his rightful place in
this confederate roll call of mythologised lawyers, governors,
planters and generals, whose
e
common thread, his fatherr
never failed to remark, was that
at
“whenever one of these men met
success, there was a self-effacing
ing
and goodly lady by his side”.
Maupin wasn’t then old enough to know for sure
that he wouldn’t be following that particular path,
but he had a suspicion that “he didn’t belong” in
that lineage. That his biological family would not
turn out to be kin or kind, that he would have to
instead find a “logical family, the one that actually
makes sense for us. We have to, if we are to live without squandering our lives.”
That quest, and the journey it took the author on,
through the trials of concealment of his sexuality in
school and in the navy, to his eventual liberation, is
the substance of the first half of the book. The second half counts the ways in which Maupin fell in love
with the freedoms of San Francisco in the 1970s and
found a voice to express them in all their variety in
his writing. Then, in the 80s with the advent of Aids,
it becomes a missive from the frontline of a massacre
that became a cause and a movement, and ends on a
reflective note on battles won and those yet to come.
Maupin, like anyone who has earned a living writing 800 words a day for decades, on an unfolding
story that promised no ending, is a very easy writer
to read. The subtle secrets of his imaginative creations, Anna Madrigal, Michael Tolliver and the rest,
however, inevitably made for more seductive stories,
in a way, than his own forensic detailing of the truth.
The “logical family” that Maupin celebrates and
grows to love are in many cases the survivors of those
San Francisco clubs and bathhouses – though he
dwells on a few of the father and uncle and brother
figures he lost along the way. Rock Hudson was a
longtime friend and one-time lover, and the tragedy
of the actor who never felt he could come out is examined in frank detail. Christopher Isherwood and
his youthful lover, Don Bachardy, “the first couple”
of gay America, became mentors and confidants.
Maupin sees some parallels between this memoir
and the second volume of Isherwood’s celebrated
Diaries, also written when the author was in his
70s: “Like Chris, I’ve finally found lasting love with
a younger man (named Chris, as fate would have it),”
Maupin suggests of a union that “distinguishes fidelity from monogamy”, in Isherwood’s spirit.
In creating this second west coast family, Maupin
continues to compare and contrast with the place
where he fell to Earth. Some of the most moving
parts are his accounts of the accommodations he
made with his parents, and the unconditional love
grandmother.
he received from his maternal
mate
There are prize mom
moments when the two worlds
clash. Maupin’s mothe
mother and father happened to
Francisco on the day of a memovisit him in San Franci
rial to Harvey Milk, th
the murdered gay rights pioneer and Maupin’s frie
friend. Family, biological and
friend Dave’s pick-up to get
logical, piled into his fr
to the event. At one po
point, Maupin looked on in
mild horror as h
his father, jammed in tight,
accepted tthe offer of a lit joint that
was being
bei
passed around. Their
met in surprise. “Well,”
eyes m
Maupin’s father said, “I gotta
Mau
do something. Your mother’s
up front with that goddamn
u
bisexual …” Observer
b
San Francisco logic …
S
A
Armistead
Maupin with
his par
partner Terry Anderson in
1989, an
and left, Maupin in 2017
Kim Komenich/LIFE Images/Getty
When life started making sense
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 35
US conservative rues
party’s deal with devil
How the Right Lost its Mind
by Charles J Sykes
St Martin’s Press, 267pp
Carlos Lozada
Washington Post
After Mitt Romney lost the 2012
presidential election, Republican
Party honchos released a 100-page
report, nicknamed the “autopsy”,
trying to figure out where the GOP
went wrong. It’s the kind of thing
you do when you lose. But how
about when you win and kind of
wish you hadn’t? “In victory,” Charles J Sykes writes
of the latest presidential race, “conservatives will
need something very different – an exorcism of
the forces that have possessed and, ultimately,
distorted conservatism.”
Sykes, a conservative true believer and former
talk-radio host in Wisconsin, earned the wrath of
Donald Trump’s supporters when he criticised the
Republican frontrunner early in the race, calling
him “a cartoon version of every leftist/media negative stereotype of the reactionary, nativist, misogynist right.” Sykes was branded “a sellout, a traitor, a Judas”, he recalls, for not boarding the Trump
Train. In How the Right Lost its Mind, Sykes has
written a sort of What Happened for conservatives.
The culprits are not James Comey, Vladimir
Putin or a reality television opponent, but the
return of “crackpotism” on the right; the fecklessness of conservative media, political and religious
figures, and the rise of a distorted worldview in
which Trump’s overwhelming character flaws
mattered little to a base that behaved as though
civilisation was in play in his election. The result
is a political environment that “has coarsened the
culture as a whole”, Sykes writes. In his eyes, the
election marked “the abandonment of respect for
gradualism, civility, expertise, intelligence, and
prudence – the values that were once taken for
granted among conservatives”.
It is a sanitised image of conservatism, no doubt,
but Sykes seems heartfelt in his lament. The insanity he purports to chronicle – on the book cover, the
title is stitched across a red baseball cap – did not
begin in 2016 or 2015, or even during this young
millennium. Sykes reminisces about the mid-20th
century, when his hero, William F Buckley Jr, was
casting out Birchers and Ayn Rand devotees from
the conservative movement, and when Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative sought
to balance, as the senator wrote, “the maximum
amount of individual freedom that is consistent
with the maintenance of social order”.
Sykes’s perch as a former popular radio personality should give him an insider’s perspective into the
travails of the conservative movement, yet the book
feels oddly distant. Sykes seems conflicted over how
harshly to judge Trump voters, especially on race.
At one point he deems it unfair to “impugn guilt by
association” to voters who may have other reasons
for supporting Trump. But elsewhere he decries the
alt-right forces for their “open embrace of undiluted
racism” and conservatives for their willingness to
inject “toxic sludge” into the American mainstream
for the sake of an electoral win. “If the conservative
movement is defined by the nativist, authoritarian, post-truth culture of Trump-Bannon-DrudgeHannity-Palin,” he writes, “then I’m out.”
He calls for fellow “contrarian conservatives” to
return to first principles. It is not clear who might lead
the resistance from the right, however, with so many
party leaders and thinkers compromised by Trumpism. To perform an exorcism, you need a priest.
The conservative movement doesn’t have one. The
Trump base doesn’t want one. And the Republican
party has already made its deal with the devil.
Anxious heart
Turtles All the Way Down
by John Green
Puffin, 304pp
Matt Haig
Following the gargantuan success of
John Green’s 2012 YA novel The Fault
in Our Stars, Turtles All the Way
Down is a publishing mega-event.
It’s also a book some might find easy
to not like. It is sentimental, occasionally cliched and ticks so many
teen fiction boxes you sometimes
wonder if the author has a form beside him (troubled
teen narrator – check; love interest – check; adults
who don’t understand – check; quirky best friend check; scene where boy points out stars to girl –
check; topical issue – check). I wondered at first if I
wouldn’t like it, but, spoiler alert, I rather did.
The story, narrated by a troubled Indianapolis
teenager, Aza Holmes, begins as a mystery. Along
with her mildly unscrupulous best friend Daisy,
Aza decides to search for billionaire Russell Pickett, who has gone missing under a cloud of fraud
and bribery accusations, in the hope of pocketing
the $100,000 reward money.
Early into their search, Aza begins to fall for Russell’s son Davis, who, despite his excessive privileges is also troubled: still mourning his mother,
who died nine years ago, he now has to deal with
his father’s disappearance, and the knowledge that
if his dad has died he has left his fortune to his pet
reptile. There are many places in the first half where
it feels as though you are reading a straightforward
mystery: perhaps a teen Grisham. The missing eccentric billionaire. The murky river. The mansion
full of potential secrets. The trails and dead ends.
You begin to expect, and predict, major plot twists.
But it becomes clear that Green’s main focus is not
the mystery – it’s the teenage friendships and love
interests and, maybe most of all, Aza’s mental health.
Green’s likable, introverted, neurotic narrator suffers
with invasive thoughts that centre around a fear of
bacteria and infection. She keeps reopening a wound
in a finger to “drain it” of infection. Aza and Daisy
inhabit a recognisably teenage world of crushes and
double dates, of late night texting and Star Wars fan
fiction and conversations about unsolicited dick pics.
And like the best of young adult fiction, the book has
a deep understanding of what it means to be a teenager. There is a twist, but not a thrillerish one: a twist
in the telling, not of what’s told.
This is by no means a perfect novel. The mystery
and love story and mental health aspects often feel
compartmentalised and it is 50 pages too long. But
it confirms John Green as a great chronicler of teenage life. He captures the Continued on page 36 →
36 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Books
← Continued from page 35 insecurities of youth in the
way Judy Blume used to. Though his characters are
troubled and insecure, they articulate themselves
with lucidity and wit and geeky self-awareness;
conversations zip back and forth like a kind of verbal air hockey. Even Aza’s self-confessed lack of
articulation is well articulated by her to the reader.
Green’s characters can be deliberately annoying –
such as the overbearing Daisy – yet you ultimately
warm to them as believable, redeemable human beings. The ever-strengthening thought-whirlpools
of Aza’s mental illness are well handled, and feel
unflinchingly raw and true (according to the author,
the novel marks his first attempt to write directly
about the kind of mental illness that has affected
him since childhood).
It often dwells in cliche, but only as pop songs
and epic poems do, mining the universal to create something that speaks to the familiar rhythms
of the heart. It will resonate with, and comfort,
anxious young minds everywhere and it might just
be a new modern classic.
Contagious idea
The Butchering Art
by Lindsey Fitzharris
Allen Lane, 304pp
Nicola Davis
Observer
Armed with surgical instruments,
chloroform and his sterilising spray,
Joseph Lister was ready for action. It
was 1871 and the eminent surgeon
g
was about to tackle an enormous abscess that, leftt unchecked, could prove fatal.
There was one further complication: the patient was the Queen. Itt was
a crucial operation – not just for Victoria,
oria, but the
practice of surgery itself. Radical change
nge was
afoot, at its heart the substance Lister was
as about
to use on the monarch: carbolic acid.
In The Butchering Art, Lindsey Fitzharris
harris
delves into the world of 19th-century surgery,
ery,
revealing how Lister struggled to determine
mine
the basis of infection and to establish his
pioneering antiseptic system in the face off opposition. The result is not for the faint-hearted.
ted.
Until the 1840s, surgery was carried
ried
out without anaesthetic, amputationss by
speed-demons of knife and saw. The great
reat
Victorian surgeon Robert Liston could whip
hip
off a leg in under 30 seconds, although,, as
Fitzharris notes, testicles were occasionally
ally
sliced off in the process.
Hygiene was nonexistent. “The surgeon,
on,
wearing a blood-encrusted apron, rarely
ely
washed his hands or his instruments and
nd
carried with him into the theatre the unmismistakable smell of rotting flesh,” writes Fitzhararris, who, it becomes clear, never missess a
chance to compound the horror. The operatating theatre packed for Liston’s demonstration
on
of ether in 1846 was not merely stuffy, it was
“plaguey hot”, while the Edinburgh slums
ms
“festered” like “weeping sores”.
Rough cut … an 1813 engraving of a surgical
al
amputating saw Getty
This was life and death writ large. The “big four”
– hospital gangrene, blood poisoning, pyaemia
(multiple abscesses) and the skin infection erysipelas – snuffed out life wherever it clung on. On
board HMS Saturn, one seaman expired after developing a gangrenous penis. “After several days of
agonising pain during which the wound blackened
and festered, the organ finally fell off,” Fitzharris
writes. And the danger was not confined to patients. The slightest self-inflicted nick could send
a surgeon to his coffin.
Into the midst of this carnage came Lister.
Born in 1827, the son of a Quaker inventor – his father was a pioneer of microscopy – young Joseph
developed an early interest in anatomy, spending one summer’s day happily scooping out the
brains from a sheep’s head. Fitzharris charts his
rise from a student at University College, London,
to his seminal work in Edinburgh and Glasgow
and, later, to his appointment as the Queen’s surgeon. It is a compelling portrait of a man of conviction, humour and, above all, humanity – the latter
beautifully captured in the touching relationship
between Lister and his father.
He was bold, too. In his first solo operation Lister
succeeded in the perilous procedure of stitching up
a woman’s intestines; later, as a rising star in Glasgow, he performed a mastectomy on his sister while
she lay chloroformed on his dining room table.
Yet just why the “big four” were unbeatable was
a puzzle to the medical world. Many believed they
were spread by noxious air, others that they arose
spontaneously. And while some had begun to suggest it could be a matter of hygiene, they remained
baffled as to why an open wound was so often a
death sentence when a closed injury was not.
The breakthrough came with French biologist
Louis Pasteur, who demonstrated that microorganisms in dust spoiled vats of wine. Lister leapt on the
revelations and beg
began a tireless quest to develop
and promote an antiseptic system of sterilising equipment
equipm
and dressing wounds.
The backlash from his peers
w
was severe, however, says
F
Fitzharris. “It was difficult for
many surgeons at the height of
man
their careers
ca
to face the fact that for the
past 15 or 20 years they might have been
inadvertently killing patients by allowinadverten
ing wounds to become infected with tiny,
Yet Lister persisted,
invisible creatures.”
cr
practices prevailed.
and his revolutionary
revo
There ar
are some omissions: Lister’s
and his later years are
childless marriage
ma
largely ignored;
ignore the nursing revolution, led
by Florence N
Nightingale, barely features;
the opportunity
opportun to contrast the “big four”
problems of today’s hospital suwith the prob
perbugs such as
a MRSA and Clostridium difficile is passed over. But despite its narrow
Butchering Art is thoroughly enremit, The Butc
joyable, tapping
tappin into the morbid pleasure
of rubbernecking
rubberneckin at the horrors of the past
knowledge that wounds today
– safe in the kno
are not packed w
with damp earth, as they were
for casualties in tthe American civil war.
revelation is the paraPerhaps the greatest
gre
digm shift that Fit
Fitzharris identifies, as the indefatigable Lister crosses continents to bring
his groundbreaking
groundbreakin techniques to the United
States. That his approach
app
to surgery did eventually take hold in the face of furious opposition offers a mes
message of hope that remains
powerful today: it is not only diseases that can
scientific progress itself.
be contagious, but sc
Delightful shocks
A Spot of Folly: Ten and A Quarter New Tales
of Murder and Mayhem
by Ruth Rendell
Profile, 224pp
Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales
by PD James
Faber, 192pp
Sarah Perry
At the age of 91, PD James pondered
the extent to which crime fiction
contains a moral element. “Detective
stories,” she said, “affirm the sanctity
of each individual life and the possibility of human justice.” It is perhaps because of this that the genre
has such enduring appeal and so
many lifelong devotees: justice and recompense
may elude the reader in matters both large and small,
but you may be certain the murderer will meet an
avenging angel. So readers will greet with gratitude
the publication of two terrific collections of crime
stories from two late masters of the genre, each
spanning 40 years of publication.
Rendell’s A Spot of Folly commences with the
“quarter story” of the title: it is a kind of jeu d’esprit
and not precisely a tale of either murder or mayhem. There follows a collection of stories that are
deliciously riveting, all the more so because Rendell’s extraordinary ability to delve coolly and
forensically into the dustiest nooks of the human
psyche is amplified, not diminished, by the short
story form. Often the reader is taken by the throat
by first-person narration and plunged instantly into
the company of a murderer. Sometimes the tone is
affectless and cool: “I murdered Brenda Goring for
what I suppose is the most unusual of motives.”
Elsewhere the criminal has a chatty tone: “You
won’t believe this, but last Monday I tried to kill my
wife. Yes, my wife, Hedda.”
Strikingly, a number of the Rendell stories focus
on men dispatching wives, or being dispatched
themselves by rivals. Occasionally one isn’t
convinced that, for example, a man will laboriously plot the interment of his revoltingly hearty
wife, conveying rocks hundreds of yards in a wheelbarrow, when a swift divorce would have been
altogether less bad for his back.
In James’s Sleep No More, there is no handsomely
taciturn Commander Adam Dalgliesh, but there is a
suggestion that, in her short fiction, James indulged
a sense of mischief not quite possible when serving
the demands of the novel. In The Murder of Santa
Claus, she permits herself a little metafictional
flourish, when the narrator professes himself to be
“no Dick Francis, not even a PD James”; while in
The Victim she so successfully inhabits the mind
of a murderer delighted by “a fountain of sweetsmelling blood” that the reader is almost enticed
into sharing his delight. The tone of these stories differs from Rendell’s cool, deliberate examination of
envy, selfishness and lust: they are, on the surface,
of the “cosy” school of crime fiction, though as any
seasoned James reader will anticipate, that cosiness
is something of an angora mitten on a clenched fist.
Each of these collections is a worthy addition to
their much-missed authors’ bodies of work. It is
difficult to imagine a more pleasing afternoon than
one settling in for a series of delightful shocks.
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 37
Market for ‘meowmoirs’
The genre of ‘pet lit’ is booming,
as it offers a respite from a world
in turmoil, writes Alison Flood
P
icture the scene: it’s the end of a long
day. You’re tired, you’re cold, you
need to curl up with a cup of tea and
something comforting to read. But
wait! You also love animals. What better, then, than a copy of A Pug Like
Percy, Fiona Harrison’s tale of a cute canine who has
been dumped in an animal shelter, but who brings a
“little miracle” to Gail and her unhappy family? Or
Daisy Bell’s The Christmas Guest, a “heart-warming
tale of a homeless puppy with a huge heart”? Or Jacqueline Sheehan’s A Dog Like Lloyd (“Roxanne Pellegrino’s … new life of solitude is interrupted when
she meets Lloyd – a stray black labrador with an
equally unhappy past”). You get the idea.
The genre – let’s go ahead and call it “pet lit” – is
booming. Melissa Daley’s Molly and the Cat Cafe has
sold more than 20,000 copies, according to book
sales monitor Nielsen BookScan. A Pug Like Percy
has shifted 10,000; Lynne Barrett-Lee’s Able Seacat Simon almost as many. Sheila Jeffries’s Timba
Comes Home is padding towards similar popularity,
with 8,000 copies finding a home.
All feature adorable images of puppies or kittens
on their covers. Most are narrated by the animals
themselves, as with A Pug Like Percy: “Filled with
despair, I slumped back on to my bed, flung my paws
over my eyes and tried to understand why Javier
had left me here to rot like so many other good
dogs before me.” Or, in Sheila Norton’s Oliver, the
Cat Who Saved Christmas: “The worst night of my
entire nine lives started with some leftover fish.”
Sophie Pembroke’s Claude’s Christmas Adventure
delivers similarly gritty realism: “I snuffled around
the base of the kitchen table, wiggling my rear
v
against the tiled floor, my tiny tail moving with it.” Claude is a French bulldog.
“There’s a lot of it about, and it’s hard
d
n
sometimes to differentiate between
them, although there are a few more dog
books this year – people are perhaps trying to move on from the cat phenomenon,” said Waterstones fiction buyer
Chris White. “The general idea is that
a small animal comes into a family’s
life, and transforms it for the better,
and there’s a strong core market for
it … They’re impulse buys, when you want a
comforting, not too challenging read, and you see
a nice picture of a cat. We do love our pets.”
At HarperCollins, which publishes Harrison, Lisa
Milton believes that “essentially, pet fiction is feelgood. Everyone loves kittens and puppies, cats and
dogs. But mostly … we all need to escape every now
and then. We had such success with Percy Pug in
hardback last year that we’re publishing A Puppy
called Hugo this year.”
Harrison herself says: “I think the world is not
much fun right now with Brexit, North Korea and
good old Trump … and if there’s a book out there to
raise a smile and make you feel good, then I’ll grab
it with both hands.”
Daley was inspired by her own pet, writing a spoof
celebrity memoir in the voice of her cat Nancy: Sex
Fiction is going
g
to the dogs …
feline and
canine narrators
ors
are becoming all
the rage
and the Kitty. “We got Nancy as a kitten and soon
discovered she was too friendly for her own good.
She used to follow people home, sneak into their
cars, hang out at the local pubs … she used to go
missing all the time, so I created a Facebook page
for her to keep track of where she was,” says Daley.
“It began to snowball and she picked up followers
from all around the world, not just in Harpenden.”
After an appearance on US TV show Must
Aft
Love Cats, Daley “began to wonder whether
Lo
there might be a market for a memoir, or
th
‘meowmoir’, written by a celebrity cat. It
‘m
turned out there was.”
tur
Like Harrison, she finds them very enjoyL
able to write. “I love trying to create feline
characters that have enough ‘human’ charcha
acteristics and emotional depth to engage
acte
the reader,
r
while at the same time still
till be
being convincingly
c
cat-like. It’s really lovely
vely to
o
owner
write about a cat’s relationship with its own
owne
er
from the cat’s point of view,” she says. “II thin
tthink
hink
anyone who has ever owned one has probably
ly
y wo
wonn
dered what their cat gets up to when it disappears
ap
ppe
pears
rs
out through the cat flap at dusk.”
White traces the genre’s popularity back to
o Jame
JJames
amess
Bowen’s A Street Cat Named Bob (Bowen’ss to
total
otal
sales topped 1m), and Marley and Me, which
h so
sold
more than 750,000 copies. There is also a more
mo e
mor
literary strand: Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Ca
Cat,
an award-winning novel about a cat that brings
ngs
joy to a lonely couple, has sold nearly 100,000
00
copies, while his countryman Haruki Muurakami is known for his talking cats.
Like pet sales, the genre “has a particu-lar bump” during the festive season, sayss
White. But “cat fiction is for life, not just for
orr
Christmas”, he warns.
On Literature
Books
Lincoln would
approve of this
year’s Booker
Justine Jordan
M
an Booker prize lore
has it that the favourite
never wins. The surprise this year was
that George Saunders,
pictured below, did just that. As the
second US winner in a row, his victory
may give further ammunition to the
chorus of voices decrying American
domination of the prize, but it’s a resoundingly good decision.
For two decades Saunders has been
acclaimed for his surreal and unsettling short stories set in uncanny theme
parks and soul-crushing corporations.
Lincoln in the Bardo turns out to be as
fantastical, funny and deeply affecting as Saunders’ short fiction – but the
broader canvas gives him more room to
develop his representation of character
and national identity.
At a time when America is notably
divided, the book drills down to its
early rupture. At its centre is a kernel
of historical truth: that during the civil
war, Abraham Lincoln, heartbroken after his 11-year-old son Willie had died of
typhoid, went into the cemetery where
he was laid to rest to hold his body.
Around this intimate family tragedy at a time of violent national strife,
Saunders creates a supernatural fantasy: the cemetery is full of unquiet
souls, squabbling ghosts trying to help
Willie on his way through the “bardo”,
what Tibetan Buddhists see as another
stage of consciousness in the hinterland between life and death.
Not only is the novel partly told
through a cacophony of these ghostly
voices, but the historical context of
Willie’s death is partly assembled
out of quotes
quote
tes fro
from
rom con
contemporary
accounts. Taken
Taken together
tog
geth they demonstrate
impossibility of a
onstra
ate the
he im
imp
fixed historical
histor
orical rrecord, with that
mixture o
off hum
human fallibility and
earnestness that is Saunders’
stock in trade.
Sa
Saunders’
aund
unders
e ’ project
p
has always
way
ayss been
bee one of radical
empathy:
empath to forge connections
nection through the
most u
unlikely means.
In this
thi book there is
warmth
warm mixed into
the weirdness, moral
force
forc behind the
grotesquerie,
and
grote
wild humour
h
amid the
tragedy. There’s never
been a no
novel like it.
38 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Culture
Weekly review
Curtsies, gossip and a good match
Ever, Jane is a virtual role-playing
game based on Jane Austen, as
Emily Gera politely finds out
I
had been travelling for two days with my
aunt Amelia in her carriage when upon arrival at the Fleckcot Glebe Inn, an establishment of some ill repute, Aunt Amelia
received a letter that so altered our plans it
leaves me in a whirlwind of mortification.
My name is Flopsy McCanada, a Regency era girl
of large oval face and low social standing. My aim?
To find my way through the confusing customs and
daily rituals of Jane Austen’s age without committing a major social transgression over tea.
I’m playing Ever, Jane, a virtual role-playing
game by Judy L Tyrer, formerly of Linden Labs,
which created the seminal online world Second
Life. As avid fans of Jane Austen, Tyrer and her
team at 3 Turn Productions have worked to unify
the worlds of Austen’s writing, turning them into
Tyrehampton, where women in bonnets lounge
about in day rooms and dissect their rivals.
“Gossip is our weapon of choice,” reads Tyrer’s
Kickstarter pitch. “Instead of raids, we will have
grand balls. Instead of dungeons, we will have
dinner parties.” Ever, Jane, currently a free playable prototype, has strict social rules. To navigate its mazes of etiquette, my character keeps a
Lady’s Magazine to hand. Drinks with characters
are scheduled via requests sent by letter, while
the importance of social conduct is reflected in the
fact you have three buttons, each offering a different kind of curtsy or bow. “It was about finding out
what the characters in her novels did,” says Tyrer,
“coupled with the etiquette of Regency period.”
The opening of Pride and Prejudice – “It is a truth
universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,”
forms the rules of Ever, Jane. “However little known
the feelings or views of such a man may be on his
first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well
fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that
he is considered as the rightful property of some one
or other of their daughters.”
This story, in other words, is about a competition.
Austen’s narratives dwell on matters of the heart, but
they’re also about positioning, strategy and working
the system. The game has many of the classic features
of conventional online fantasy adventures, but they
have been Austenified. While World of Warcraft has
Guilds, or teams of players who work together, Ever,
Jane has families whose status can be influenced by
the actions of individual players. Characters progress
‘Instead of raids, we will
have grand balls. Instead
of dungeons, we will
have dinner parties’
not just through experience but also by orchestrating
social engagements and by avoiding scandal through
dialogue. Quests take the form of social gestures that
raise your character stats.
At the start, you pick your gender, skin tone,
Regency outfit, then come up with a backstory.
Where are you from? Who is your family? Are you
single, married, betrothed, widowed? My Austenian
alter ego, Flopsy, is single and ready to mingle. After being abandoned by her aunt at the house of
a Mrs Hatch, she ties on the nicest bonnet in her
inventory and begins her first quest: the search for a
lost handkerchief, which Mrs Hatch has misplaced.
Mind your manners …
in Ever, Jane your stats
are raised through
social gestures
3turnproductions.com
Flopsy wanders the rooms and halls before locating the lost item in an upstairs bedroom. She hands
over the handkerchief to Mrs Hatch, who suggests
having a chat with the handsome Shepherd Brimley. And so Flopsy wanders Tyrehampton in search
of love, gliding down its streets, passing an ivycovered church and sheep stacked on top of each
another – the Austen livestock algorithm clearly has
some glitches to iron out.
Flopsy meets Master Brimley outside the sheep
pen on the village green. As a commoner, Lady’s
Magazine reminds me, he isn’t someone a woman of
my standing would normally talk to. But in the chat
window I write: “Good day, Shepherd Brimley!” He
has beautiful square blue eyes, like a polygonal
Colin Firth. Shepherd proceeds to tell Flopsy about
his sheep problem, how they’ve escaped to graze in
a nearby field, again standing on each other’s backs.
I curtsy to Master Brimley and he is added to my
list of acquaintances. Eventually, after I complete
enough tasks, there is the possibility of having a
deeper relationship with him, the options being
marriage, divorce, hiring and – strangely – adoption.
Suddenly my chat lights up. “Hello, Lady Flopsy
McCanada!” shouts Miss Esther Stapleton from a
house across the street. Miss Stapleton is with three
other players. Every week, Miss Stapleton tells me,
they meet in Mrs Hatch’s parlour for Working-Class
Wednesday, a role-playing session where they take
on the part of the proletariat rather than the gentry.
Role-playing is a significant part of the subculture surrounding Jane Austen. As the 2013 film
Austenland showed, the novelist’s works have a fanbase that rivals those of Star Trek and Harry Potter.
So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that users of
Ever, Jane revel in the role-playing. A Philadelphia
man, aged 37, who started playing a year ago as Silas
Turner, has created alter egos including a young, gay
former opera singer studying to be a barrister who
must keep his love a secret, and a vicar who’s settling into his first long-term job after falling in love.
“Ever, Jane sounded different,” he says. “I enjoy
games that are about physical challenges, but there’s
also a world of amazing drama to be had when the
focus is on what’s happening socially in an era of
restrictions and startling debauchery. My characters
have experienced sweet and tender poetic courtships, hot seductions, shame and subtle triumphs.
They’ve loved in secret, made calculating connections and stupid mistakes in the name of friendship.”
Players take to the game’s message board to discuss their experiences, with comments ranging
from grand introductions written in-character to
bug reports. The system will notify someone if
they are being talked about too often. If you’re a
good enough sleuth, it’s possible to find out who’s
spreading the rumours. Likewise, if a player gets
caught out lying, the consequences intended for
their target rebound on them twofold.
So how does one win in the universe of Jane
Austen? “The greatest way to ensure one’s happiness,” says Tyrer, “is to fulfil one’s social obligations
and find the perfect mate. We have many players
trying to lure Shepherd Brimley into matrimony.
We’ve had two weddings and one birth so far. We
do allow women to be single and become aunts or
pursue careers, such as writing and painting. But
it entails having a male relative willing to support
one – and one’s allowance might be rather pitiful.”
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 39
Culture
Kicker here like this
Then a short description here like this
→ Then Section and page XX
The super-stylist
bringing music
back into vogue
Marni Senofonte wields great
influence over what we want to
wear, finds Jess Cartner-Morley
B
reakfast with Marni Senofonte, LAbased super-stylist to Beyoncé and
Kendall Jenner, was never going to be
a slice of toast. Senofonte does breakfast the way she does everything:
attention-grabbing, high-energy,
ultra-perfectionist while flirting with crazy. That’s
her vibe, even at 7.45am.
After the visual spectacular of Beyoncé’s Lemonade album, the arresting Black Panther imagery of
last year’s Super Bowl performance, a pregnancyreveal Instagram post that became global breaking
news, Beyoncé is now not only significant as a music artist, but also one of the most powerful visual
influencers in contemporary culture. That makes
Senofonte, who has been central to Beyoncé’s styling team since Lemonade, the Anna Wintour of the
social media age, in terms of the dominion she wields
over what we want to wear. Those puff sleeves that
are everywhere now, for example, may have begun
on the catwalk, but took off when Senofonte made
them a visual refrain in Lemonade. “I go into Topshop or Zara now and it’s all pouffy sleeves, and I’m
like, we were doing that two years ago!” she says,
delighted. “Tim White, who is Beyoncé’s tailor, and
the whole wardrobe department literally wanted to
kill me with all the pouffy sleeves I kept asking for.
And now look! I’m so validated.”
The addition to her client roster of Kardashiandynasty supermodel Kendall Jenner represents
Senofonte’s expansion beyond music and into
fashion, introducing Jenner’s 83 million Instagram
followers to her style. Today, however, she is in
London as an emissary from the court of Beyoncé.
In April, Beyoncé will perform at Coachella music
festival, and the scale of the Beyoncé machine is
such that the advance organisation necessary
more closely resembles that for a state visit than
for a mere stage performance. For the designers
who dream of dressing Beyoncé, Senofonte is her
woman on Earth; her schedule while in London for
meetings about Coachella, and Beyoncé’s athleisure
brand Ivy Park, is packed.”
After decades when music was “sort of looked
down upon” by the fashion elite, the emergence of
sophisticated, multilayered aesthetics such as the
one Senofonte has helped Beyoncé build has turned
the tables. The world’s voracious appetite for fashion content can no longer be satisfied by the politesse of the catwalk. Rihanna in an omelette-yellow
dress at the Met Gala, Taylor Swift in a bath of jewels,
Beyoncé standing her ground in a burning house in a
high-necked Victorian lace gown: these are fashion
moments with the stadium-sized power to hold our
attention. Senofonte doesn’t just pick out Beyoncé’s
outfits; she helps craft her iconography. For the
singer’s most recent birthday, her famous friends,
including Michelle Obama and Serena Williams,
were photographed wearing the wide-brim hat,
braids and necklace that made up one of Lemonade’s
key looks. Like a Warhol screenprint of Monroe or
Elvis, the group portrait has a style that transcends
the glamour of even the most famous sitter.
Senofonte is a new type of stylist for a new era of
fashion. She has carved out a bold aesthetic that is
ere are so many visuals
perfect for 2017, when “there
out there that you have to be
e really extreme – almost
self. And it’s
comical – to separate yourself.
relentless. If I style a great outfit for a
client these days, we don’t save it for a
gram right
big event. We put it on Instagram
away and then I go figure outt another one.”
Being Beyoncé’s stylist is tricky, because the
iconography of Beyoncé is that her beauty
comes from within. Beyoncé
oncé is not a
ess. Logically,
fashion plate, she is a goddess.
Beyoncé is now
w one
werful
of the most powerful
cers in
visual influencers
y culture
contemporary
The Anna Wintour of
the social media age
… Marni Senofonte
styled Beyoncé’s
Lemonade album
Amanda Friedman
we know the image-making behind a visual album
such as Lemonade must be the work of a team of
creatives, but its power derives from the belief that it
comes from a single soul. Senofonte starts to stumble
over her words, on this subject. “I don’t like to talk too
much about Beyoncé personally, because … I guess
I am protective. I would never want to say anything
about her that could be misconstrued. It’s her story.”
While she “wouldn’t presume to speak” for
Beyoncé, Lemonade was “a continuation of what
Beyoncé has always stood for, which is empowering women. That’s where I come from.” Senofonte’s
grandmother was head pattern cutter at a Diane
von Furstenberg factory in the Pennsylvania town
where she grew up, “plus she made everyone’s wedding gowns, she made dinner every night, she had
five sons, she fixed the roof. Whatever needed to
be done, she figured it out. I am my grandmother.
That’s where I come from and that’s why I’m drawn
to amazing, strong women.”
Some of Senofonte’s most powerful looks in
Lemonade came in the visual landscaping of its racial politics. “I would hate to put my meaning on it,
because that’s not my place. You listen to the words
of a song and what it means to you is what it means
to you. That’s art. But we were on a plantation with
Beyoncé and all these beautifu
beautiful African-American
women, and I said, wh
what if these women
owned the plantation?
plantation What if they were
in, like, Givenchy
Givenc
haute couture?
Wouldn’t that
th be amazing? For
me, those women
w
were like Beyoncé in another
an
era. Because
if Beyoncé was on this plantation,
you just know she’d
she’ be walking round
in fricking couture.
coutur Right?”
I have to as
ask. What’s Beyoncé,
you know, rea
really like? “She’s this
… amazing tale
talent. And all I can say
about her perso
personally is that she’s the
hardest working human being I have
ever met. Like, hands down, in my
whole life. She’
She’s unbelievable. She
really is what e
everyone thinks she
is. Isn’t that, lik
like, crazy?”
40 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Culture
Proxy for war, basis for art
What divides and what unites is not so simple …
Hank Willis Thomas at his London show Sarah Lee
The Beautiful Game is about
the intersection of football
and politics, explains Tim Jonze
F
or some people, football is a matter
of life and death. But for Hank Willis
Thomas, much like Bill Shankly, it’s
far more important than that. Yes, on
an aesthetic level The Beautiful Game,
his first solo UK show, is a riot of colour
and energy: dazzling patchwork collages of Premier
League football tops; totem poles of rugby, football
and cricket balls inspired by Romanian sculptor
Constantin Brâncuși; a solitary leg performing a
midair bicycle kick that invites you to hear the gasps
of a non-existent crowd.
But Thomas is also attempting to start a conversation. Beyond the shock of seeing Liverpool and
Manchester United jerseys snuggled up next to
each other, you’re also asked to examine the web
of corporate sponsorship logos and expensive players from across the globe, and to question the contradictions that underpin the sport. Who is really
making the money? How many people’s dreams and
labours come to nothing so that a select few can succeed? And why are we so determined to pick sides?
That last question confronts you the moment you
enter the gallery – and find yourself being greeted
by a hand protruding from the wall and pushing a
football. This is unmistakably a recreation of Maradona’s Hand of God goal, which helped Argentina
knock England out of the 1986 World Cup.
“Football is often a proxy for war,” says the 41-yearold artist from New York as he guides me around. “So
if you think of the Falklands war” – which took place
four years before the Hand of God – “this piece speaks
to that colonialism, to how the rules of a game can be
changed, and how important it is to win at any cost,
even when you’re already the best.
“All of these questions play out on the football
field. On one level, sport is about local competition.
But it’s also about international competition and corporate competition. There’s a lot of stuff clashing.”
Thomas is also weaving a narrative about art
history with his quiltwork football tops, which
recreate iconic works: Verve, from Matisse’s jazz
series; Stuart Davis’s proto-pop art piece Visa; and
the asafo warrior flags created by the Fante people
of Ghana. These works, he says, were part of the
back-and-forth conversation between European
and African art that took place around the first half
of the 20th century.
With such a tangle of ideas, even Thomas admits
the show is about starting conversations rather than
concluding them. That’s something he’s proven
adept at. Last month, his sculpture of a giant afro
pick, topped with a black power fist, was installed
in Thomas Paine Plaza in Philadelphia, just metres
from a statue of the divisive former mayor Frank
Rizzo. “I can see it’s provocative but you hope every
work of art you make is provocative,” says Thomas,
who wasn’t responsible for the sculpture’s position.
Thomas’s earlier work approached things from
a more personal – although no less political – angle.
In 2000, his older cousin and role model Songha
was shot dead during a mugging in Philadelphia.
Thomas confronted it as an artist, recreating the
‘I can see it’s provocative,
but you hope every
work of art you make
is provocative’
killing using GI Joe figures for Winter in America, a
2005 collaboration with Kambui Olujimi. Another
piece from this period, Priceless #1, displays a photograph of mourners at Songha’s funeral, overlaid
with the text: “3-piece suit: $250. 9mm pistol: $80.
Picking the perfect casket for your son: priceless.”
“I guess there’s an irony in it,” he says. “For me,
witnessing my aunts in the funeral home, there was
the $7,000, the $2,000 and the $500 casket, and
then asking themselves the question, ‘Do I love him
more if I buy the $7,000 one?’ Even in mourning,
we’re still being marketed to.”
A fascination with advertising runs through much
of Thomas’s work – most notably in his Unbranded
series, which stripped the words from old adverts
to reveal the damaging ways black Americans and
white women were being sold to the public. Shorn of
the context, the standalone images showed women
in borderline pornographic poses, or black men reduced to crude stereotypes.
Recently, Thomas has been using this marketing
nous in a more direct manner. In 2016, he helped
set up For Freedoms, the first artist-run super PAC
(political action committee). In the lead-up to the US
election, the group were responsible for billboards
that showed the Bloody Sunday stand-off between
police and civil rights protesters in Selma, Alabama,
underneath the words: “Make America great again.”
The 1965 protests led to a change in the law, protecting African Americans’ right to vote.
“There’s no nuance in politics,” says Thomas.
“And the people who try to have a nuanced conversation are normally seen as trying to be intellectuals. So I think simple arguments lead to simple solutions.” For all Thomas’s talk of simplicity, however,
many residents were confused by the message, with
some believing them to be the work of far-right, proTrump groups. The billboards were eventually removed although, as with much of Thomas’s work,
a conversation had at least been sparked.
Has Thomas been surprised by what’s been
revealed to be bubbling under the surface of the
American psyche since Donald Trump’s election?
“I feel like one of those weird people who thinks
things have never been better. Because if you can’t
point at the problem and really see it, you can’t
actually address it.”
He mentions the NFL protests as a positive sign.
“Right now we’re seeing hundreds of millionaires,
and billionaires, actively protesting injustice,” he
says. “It’s exciting to see people using their visibility
for something more than just corporate gain.”
Seeing players from rival teams come together
against a different enemy, witnessing NFL team
owners shift their allegiances – such blurring of the
boundaries between sides is exactly what Thomas
is trying to unpick with The Beautiful Game.
“The context of who is us and who is them is very
malleable and always changing,” he says, “which
is why I always tell people that race isn’t real, it’s
a myth, a divide-and-conquer strategy to keep
people bickering while other people exploit them.”
He smiles and adds: “Much like sport.”
The Beautiful Game is at Ben Brown Fine Arts,
London, until 24 November
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 41
Culture Reviews
Kicker here like this
Then a short description here like this
→ Then Section and page XX
Film
The Party
Rock & pop
Springsteen on Broadway
T
he audience is in a state of high anticipation; but no one is entirely sure quite
what they are anticipating. Until now,
Springsteen on Broadway – the singer’s
four-month residency at the 975-seat Walter Kerr
theatre – has been a mysterious proposition.
Still, there are clues: the stage has been styled
in a mode we might call “Starbucks industrial”
– painted black brick, wreaths of cable, glowering factory lights, alongside flight cases, grand
piano, microphone. The implication is clear: this
will be no high-spangled production, but something stripped-back, unadorned, unflinching.
When Springsteen takes to the stage it is with
similarly studied understatement: a soft stride
across the boards, clad in faded black. Even his
hair, so recently a liquoricey crown, has been
allowed to soften. He takes a sip of water, casts
his eyes across the crowd, and launches into an
irreverent prologue designed to both acknowledge the theatricality of the event and undermine his own legend. “I come from a boardwalk
town where almost everything is tinged with
fraud,” he declares. “And so am I. In case you
haven’t figured that out yet.”
What follows is two hours of music and storytelling interlaced with a kind of warm intimacy.
The songs tonight are cherrypicked from across
Theatre
Heisenberg: The
Uncertainty Principle
S
imon Stephens’s new play is
not really about uncertainty.
Once Heisenberg’s ideas have
e
been floated it is hard to know
w
where to stop applying them. Does
the fact of my being a spectator influence what I am watching?
None of which matters as much
as it might in this first production
by Marianne Elliott and Chris
Harper’s new theatre company, Elliott & Harper Productions. There iss
no need to scowl at it simply for be-ing less probing than Michael Frayn’s
n’s
Rob DeMartin
T
his 45-year career, big-hitters such as Dancing
in the Dark and Thunder Road lying alongside
quieter moments such as My Father’s House
and The Promised Land. Many are reimagined
for the occasion – Growin’ Up, from Greetings
from Asbury Park, NJ (1973), is spun out across
several minutes, at one point taking on a kind of
incantatory reverie that recalls Van Morrison’s
Coney Island. Born in the USA, meanwhile, is
recast as sour, lost-souled blues. “It is,” he reminds the crowd, “a protest song.”
At such close range, Springsteen’s precision
as performer is quite astounding, each moment
deliberate yet effortless. He can conjure a crowd,
too, pitching his tone somewhere between beat
poet and Baptist preacher. Midway through the
two-hour show he steps back to deliver a tribute
to the E Street Band’s late saxophonist Clarence
Clemons: “Clarence was elemental,” he says
gently. “Losing him was like losing the rain.”
What then has made these songs so resilient?
What is it that still thrills the (mostly white,
mostly male, mostly middle-aged) faithful?
“There’s nothing like the feeling of being young
and leaving town,” he says. And it is this, in so
many ways, that Springsteen offers: a sense of
invitation and possibility – to leave, to go with
him, to find faith, to feel. Laura Barton
Springsteen on Broadway runs at the Walter Kerr
Theatre, New York City, until 3 February
Copenhagen – which 19 years ago embedded
the physicist’s
physicist theory in its structure. But
Stephens’s ti
title looks like an attempt to give
intellectual w
wings to a slight, sometimes
romance. Getting-on-a-bit Kenneth
sweet roma
Cranham iis, out of the blue, kissed on the
neck by fre
free-spirit American Anne-Marie
They start a love affair.
Duff, pictured.
pictu
Still the Heisenberg heft is in Elliott’s
sleight-of-hand production. Between
sleight-o
scenes everything slides and
sce
contracts. Walls are pushed
back or glide inwards.
Stephens’s observation that
S
music is the
th space between the notes is
brought to visual life. Susannah Clapp
Heisenb
Heisenberg:
The Uncertainty Principle is
Wyndham’s, London, until 6 January
at Wynd
he titular “party” of writer-director Sally
Potter’s riotous tragicomedy is both a
ghastly social function at which bourgeois
lives unravel and the unnamed political
opposition party through whose ranks Kristin
Scott Thomas’s brittle antiheroine Janet ascends.
She’s the newly appointed shadow health
minister, a careerist idealist who believes in
“truth and reconciliation” rather than shouting,
punching and biting. Yet during the course of a
single calamitous soiree, her right-thinking, leftleaning comrades will turn on themselves and
one another in an increasingly farcical feeding
frenzy. Indeed, when we first meet Janet, she’s
pointing a gun at the camera, a harbinger of
what’s to come in Potter’s short, sharp satire of
love, politics and burnt vol-au-vents.
The scene is set in an upmarket London townhouse, where a pinny-wearing Janet prepares
nibbles while fielding congratulatory phone calls
about her promotion. To her friends she’s “a
star” who “looks like a girl, thinks like a man …
ministerial, in a 21st-century postmodern, postpost-feminist sort of way”. She also has a secret
caller whose texts will add spice to the evening.
In the living room, Janet’s morose academic
husband (Timothy Spall) nurses a glass of red
wine, the repeated blues refrain of I’m a Man
blasting from his beloved stereo, accentuating
his emasculation. “I’m Bill,” he declares forlornly,
“or at least I used to be …”
Soon, guests start to arrive. There’s acidtongued April (Patricia Clarkson) and her hippydippy life coach boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno
Ganz); pregnant Jinny (Emily Mortimer) and
her older partner, Martha (Cherry Jones); and
Tom (Cillian Murphy), the “wanker banker”
who snorts coke in the bathroom and assures
everybody that his lovely wife, Marianne, will
arrive soon – like Godot.
All come to praise Janet, yet each brings their
own baggage of bile and bitterness. Martha is
alarmed that she and Jinny are about to become
“a collective rather than couple”. Gottfried is on
his “last supper” with April, her patience with
his new age nonsense exhausted. As for Bill, he’s
been to see a Harley Street doctor (“You went private?”) and has an announcement to make, one of
several bombshells that will pepper the evening.
Potter’s first film since 2012’s Ginger & Rosa,
The Party is an impressively lean affair, shot in a
single location with few frills and no fuss – just
an A-list cast at the top of their game. Dance has
always been central to Potter’s work (not just in
The Tango Lesson), and there’s a real exuberance
in the way she choreographs her players through
the slapstick pirouettes and pratfalls of this
vaguely absurdist romp. Meanwhile, Bill’s
vinyl collection provides contrapuntal jukebox
accompaniment, inappropriate records randomly
selected with hilarious results.
Shot over the fortnight in which the Brexit
referendum took place, The Party presents a
middle-class nightmare as microcosmic farce,
in a world going to hell in a handcart. “Tickle
an aromatherapist and you find a fascist” – the
quotable one-liners come thick and fast. But
beneath the surface there’s something more
substantial, an unexpected poignancy at play as
diehard rationalist Bill wrestles with metaphysical matters, while Janet rhetorically asks: “Why
didn’t I notice?” Mark Kermode Observer
42 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Diversions
Notes & Queries
Nature watch
Ribblesdale, N Yorks
From the time my eyes close
to the moment they open
• Please feel free to draw your
own conclusions, but most
escalator riders don’t seem to be
thrill-seeking.
Lawrie Bradly,
Surrey Hills, Victoria, Australia
How far can you make it without
reading?
Some people suffer from dyslexia
as children, but then so did Picasso
and Sir Richard Branson.
Richard Orlando,
Westmount, Quebec, Canada
• Yes, particularly when the
escalators aren’t working and you
have to climb up them.
Joan Dawson,
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
• Up to the stop sign.
Marilyn Hamilton,
Perth, Western Australia
• Thrills do: hates do not. I still
loathe rhubarb.
Philip Stigger,
Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
• H.
Charlie Bamforth,
Davis, California, US
An essential skill … reading
• The White House.
Jim Neilan, Dunedin, New Zealand
• Without Reading, my journey
from Basingstoke to Henley-onThames would be a lot quicker.
David Tucker, Halle, Germany
From a statistical perspective,
bet on having good reading skills
every time.
John Benseman,
Auckland, New Zealand
Will I fit in the dodgem car?
• Only from the moment I
fall asleep until the moment I
wake up.
Gillian Shenfield, Sydney, Australia
• Read the instructions, read my
lips, read the signs – it’s a matter
of survival.
Margaret Wyeth,
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
• In many societies, you can get
pretty far. While there is some
very good research on how people
succeed in western societies
despite poor reading skills, there
is a far bigger body of research
that shows that the odds are
overwhelmingly stacked against
non-readers in most aspects of
life, despite their doggedness and
innovative strategies.
Do childhood thrills like riding
escalators wear off ?
Not entirely. When I see a big pile of
raked-up autumn leaves, I just have
to go and kick them in all directions.
Ursula Nixon,
Bodalla, NSW, Australia
• Often they turn into fears; heights
and speed that once delighted
us as kids turn into paralysing fears
and phobias.
Meg Sutton Benseman,
Auckland, New Zealand
• Perhaps temporarily, but they
are rekindled when you have
grandchildren and start doing these
things with them.
Avril Taylor,
Dundas, Ontario, Canada
• Yes, when we discover more
appealing thrills, usually just after
puberty.
Alan Williams-Key, Madrid, Spain
• I take my grandchildren to the
Perth Royal Show, because I’d feel
stupid with my wife sitting next to
me in the dodgem cars.
Rhys Winterburn,
Perth, Western Australia
More Notes & Queries
See additional answers online
bit.ly/notesandqueries
Any answers?
The kindest act you’ve ever done?
Richard Orlando,
Westmount, Quebec, Canada
What behaviour contributes best to
domestic harmony?
William Emigh,
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Send answers to weekly.nandq@
theguardian.com or Guardian
Weekly, Kings Place, 90 York Way,
London N1 9GU, UK
Good to meet you Chris Lane
I am not sure exactly when I first became aware of the Guardian Weekly,
but I do remember the airmail
edition. So, it must have been in the
70s when I was a new immigrant
in Toronto. I arrived there in 1970,
when the job market was extremely
favourable for British-trained
engineers. We sailed from Liverpool
on the last voyage of the Canadian
Pacific liner Empress of Canada:
icebergs en route, and a snow-laden
Montreal greeted us.
After surviving the trauma of
settling into this new strange land,
we began to appreciate the diverse
multicultural nature of this city. As a
structural engineer, I became adept
at designing repairs for old buildings. New buildings, particularly
tall buildings, which the company
I worked for, specialised in, did not
interest me that much.
In 1994, my company transferred
me to Greenville, South Carolina.
Here, the outstanding quality of
When I was a kid I recall fishing for
minnows with a jam jar by the Ribble and being sketched by a man in
wire-framed specs. It was the writer
Arthur Ransome, who was there
with my grandfather, Nat Hunt,
then river keeper for the Manchester
Anglers’ Association. I no longer
have that sketch, but I do still own a
card Ransome sent Grandad praising
his hand-crafted trout flies (“north
country spiders”).
As the trout fishing season ends,
I’m back on the upper reaches of
the Ribble with Ian Fleming, who
has been the Manchester Anglers’
beck watcher for the past 15 years.
Reviewing the year’s fishing, he expresses himself delighted with the
present abundance of wild brown
trout after a spell of leaner years.
It’s some turnaround, he tells
me. “The club used to restock the
river, buying fish from trout farms.
But anglers encountering fewer fish
began to suspect imported trout
couldn’t cope with a high-gradient
the Weekly stands in stark contrast
to the local news sources. I have
recently started handing out back
numbers to anyone who does not
reject them, sight unseen. A gratifyingly large number, I am glad to say.
I scan the whole newspaper from
front to back, and then read it from
back to front. Finally I will face the
politically awful news in the front
section. Unlike other readers, I do
enjoy the Sports section, which
briefly covers European-focused
games and chess (a sport?).
If you would like to appear in
this space, send a brief note to
guardian.weekly@theguardian.com
spate river. In 2006 the club voted
to stop stocking the river and began
rewilding. Today beautiful wild
fish thrive here, perfect goldenyellow-brown trout sporting black
and red spots. We’ve also improved
habitats, removing weirs and introducing fencing in partnership with
the Ribble Trust. And riverbank
trees that shield the water from sunlight, as the native trout prefer? We
maintain these, too.”
He points upstream. A silverbobbed woman is wading, fishing
pole in one hand to help her keep
her balance on slippery rocks, rod
poised in the other. I watch entranced, half hoping she doesn’t
catch anything. But after several
whip-like casts, the rod bends double. A fish has taken the bait.
The angler is joined by another,
who slips a net beneath her
captive. They return to the riverside
and disengage the hook.
The club forbids the use of barbed
hooks, Ian tells me. “And 99.9% of
fish caught are returned.” The second angler keeps the net immersed
then points the catch upstream, allowing it to catch its breath before
release – just as I realise I’ve actually
stopped breathing. Tony Greenbank
Read more Nature watch online
bit.ly/naturewatch
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 43
Quick crossword
1
2
Cryptic crossword by Picaroon
3
4
5
6
Across
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
15
14
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
Across
1 Device for taking and
storing moving images (7)
8 Strive to match (7)
9 Sea dog (7)
10 Room — thicken (anag) (7)
11 Explosive projectile (5)
13 Suddenly (3,2,4)
15 Attractive (9)
18 Device used in aiming (5)
21 Public performance by a
solo musician (7)
22 Beware! (4,3)
23 Dickens’s miser (7)
24 Small fish (7)
1
2
3
4
5
6
Down
Low spirits (5)
Make a pig of oneself (5)
Large destructive fire (13)
European political leader (6)
Slaughter (3,2,3,5)
German city, Charlemagne’s
imperial capital (6)
7 Unkind person (informal) (6)
12 Food fish (4)
14 Bludgeon (4)
15 Coercion (6)
16 Incapable of being
tampered with (6)
17 Classical dance (6)
19 Evil spirit (5)
20 Give individual
instruction (5)
C
M A
F
D E
T
K E
R
B I
A
D
S
L
E
Z E I T G E I S T
M
O
T
P
X I
K I T T Y C
J
E
E
R E S I
V O U R
H
Q
E N L Y
C R U M
E
A
A
A T H L O N
D I
I
L
A
R
E L B OW R O O M
D
N
T
W
F
A
C
S
I
M
I
L
E
T
T
Y
L
Last week’s solution, No 14,780
First published in the Guardian
28 September 2017, No 14,787
Down
2 Hip liberal philosopher — his work is
decorative (7)
3 Head of Oundle has
great final term (5)
4 Slept so badly in a
state of deshabille (7)
6 Plain dancing? We’re
told why a ball may
be so (2,4)
Futoshiki Hard
©Clarity Media Ltd
4
∨
3
1
∧
2
2 < 4 > 3
∧
5
3 > 2 > 1
∧
> 2 < 4
1
5
∧
4 < 5
3
2
∨
< 3
1
5
4
<
<
1
Last week’s solution
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
17
15
16
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
7 Doctor or sleepy
nurses run kind of
hospital (9)
8 A canoe travelling
around one large
group of islands (7)
9 Acclaim actor lacking refinement in
London park (7,6)
15 British philosopher
welcomed by
German and not
hindered (9)
18 Salt in wonderful
starter of tabbouleh
getting consumed (7)
20 Look at cracking
cryptic done like a
Cyclops? (3-4)
21 One first rings a
doctor, a specialist
in feet (7)
22 Occasion to eat a
piece of cake (6)
25 Man turned on
philosopher (5)
First published in the Guardian
3 October 2017, No 27,318
29
R E B A D G
O
I
I
C I G A R
O
M
E
C H A N C E
O
C
T
M E
C
C
A
R E O R I E
O
N
L
S U C K
L
S
E
N
B O R D E R
O
T
A
W H O P P E
E
C O
T
O
H A M B
Y
M
L L O R
N
N D E L
O
R
N T A T
L
I O N S
N
A
E A U
A
R
R
U T
C O N U T
L
E
H
U R G E R
B
A
O
S T E W
O
I
I
S S O H N
T
N
S
E
N
F
M
S H A R E
I
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B L O C K
L
U
E
E N S I L
Last week’s solution, No 27,312
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.
5
1
1 Sex for Roman philosopher is noble (7)
5 Philosopher, one
working a large
amount (7)
10 This is a reminder to
invest pounds (4)
11 Sanctimonious lines
by philosopher, a
junkie (4-6)
12 Dance suggestively,
in extremely giddy
tempo (6)
13 Philosopher
concerned with
small units (8)
14 Clothing collection
and tea picked up by
philosopher (9)
16 King swallows drop
of Lemsip, catching a
chill (5)
17 Actress in Ultimo
bra, gracefully
twirling (5)
19 A friend meets Mike
using letters of
introduction? (9)
23 Supply me with
dosh in search for
pleasure (8)
24 Unearth erstwhile
philosopher (6)
26 Roman philosopher
running into virgin
(4,6)
27 Expression of
pleasure as tedium’s
cut short (4)
28 Finding court
composer’s given
precedence (7)
29 Flatter hulk stripping
off during a tryst (7)
∧
<
∧
∧
∨
<
<
∧
1
<
>
5
<
∧
5
9 1
2
5 7
9
2
4
9
3
3 7 1 6 5
9
2
4 3
5
7
8
6
6 3 1
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
6
4
5
2
8
3
9
1
7
8
9
1
4
5
7
6
3
2
2
3
7
6
9
1
5
4
8
9
7
6
5
4
2
1
8
3
4
1
3
8
7
9
2
6
5
5
2
8
1
3
6
4
7
9
Last week’s solution
3
8
2
9
1
4
7
5
6
7
6
4
3
2
5
8
9
1
1
5
9
7
6
8
3
2
4
44 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Diversions
Shortcuts
Greenhouse gas comes New Zealanders fear
from flatulent shellfish looming ‘chipocalypse’
severely impacted … It is a very important part of New Zealand psyche
having potatoes.” Eleanor Ainge Roy
Swedish scientists have found that
flatulent shellfish are creating vast
amounts of greenhouse gases. The
two gases in question – methane and
nitrous oxide – are potent agents of
climate change, with a warming potential 28 and 265 times greater than
carbon dioxide, respectively.
Scientists studying the Baltic Sea
off the coast of Sweden have found
that shellfish are producing onetenth of all the greenhouses gases
released there – the equivalent to
the output of 20,000 cattle.
Chief scientist Stefano Bonaglia,
from Stockholm University, is concerned: “It sounds funny, but small
animals in the seafloor may act like
cows in a stable, both groups being
important contributors of methane
due to the bacteria in their gut.”
He also points out that shellfish
were releasing these gases long
before global warming became
an issue, and believes that the
recent emissions may have been
exacerbated by the enrichment of
coastal waters, due to the run-off
from agricultural fertilisers.
To put this into perspective, the
average cow produces 120kg of
methane every year – 1,000 times
as much as even the most flatulent
human. With almost 100 million
head of cattle in the US alone, that
means 12m tonnes of gas are being
released annually, dwarfing the
efforts of the shellfish.
The major animal producers
of methane are cattle and sheep.
However, kangaroos have a different
digestive system, so they produce a
lot less methane – kangaroo steak,
anyone? Stephen Moss
A year of heavy rains has devastated
New Zealand’s potato crop, prompting fears of a “chipocalypse”.
The rainfall, which included two
“weather bombs” and two serious
floods in both the North and South
Island, has wiped out 20% of New
Zealand’s annual potato crop, and
30% in the regions most affected,
with the “crisping” varieties for
potato chips taking the biggest hit.
The news has sent some New Zealanders into a spin with concerns that
the shortage might affect their Christmas feasts. Some supermarkets have
put up signs in their crisp sections
alerting customers to the shortage.
Chris Claridge, the chief executive
of Potatoes New Zealand, said it was
concerning for such a serious shortage to hit a staple food product that
many New Zealanders relied on to
bulk up their meals, and supermarkets had begun to report shortages
of North Island-produced crisps.
“You can go for a week without
politics but try going for a week without potatoes. It is a food staple and
this is becoming a food security issue
as the effects of climate change take
their toll on our potato crop,” said
Claridge. “Potato farmers have been
Epidaurus acoustics
debunked by science
on Poppycock Terrace is called
Tryambarka. Clearly it is mystical
in intent. Nevertheless (or ever the
more) it might yet make a decent
geometry puzzle. If the radius of the small “eye” be
r, and of the larger ones
be R, find the area of R in
terms of r; and the radius
of the semicircle in terms of r.
4 Down at the Last Chance Saloon
at the behest of Tom, who calls the
shots, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
flip a coin. It is, with equal probability, either a fair coin, or one with two
heads. The coin shows heads for n
consecutive flips. Find the probability
in terms of n that it is the fair coin.
Twitter: @ChrisMaslanka
Wordplay
Wordpool
E pluribus unum
Define the word ASHWAGANDHA …
a) Arab stew
b) total muddle
c) Withania somnifera – or Indian
ginseng, of the nightshade family
d) lampshade
It has been held up as a stunning example of ancient Greek engineering,
but researchers say the acoustics of
the theatre at Epidaurus are not as
dazzling as they have been hailed.
Dating from the fourth century BC,
and seating up to 14,000 spectators,
the theatre has long been admired
for its sound quality, with claims that
audiences are able to hear a pin drop,
or a match being struck, at any seat in
the house. But research suggests such
assertions are little more than myth.
Constant Hak, assistant professor at the Eindhoven University
of Technology, and colleagues
used 20 microphones, placing
each one at 12 different locations
around the theatre, together with
two loudspeakers. They then
used the data to calculate sound
strength at different points in the
theatre, pictured below.
While the sound of a coin being
dropped or paper being torn would
be noticeable across the whole
theatre, it could only recognisably
be heard as a coin or paper halfway
up the seating. For a match striking,
the situation was worse, while a
whisper would only be intelligible to
those in the front.
Further work, based on the loudspeakers playing voices, revealed
that only when actors spoke up
loudly would their words be intelligible in the seats furthest from the
orchestra. Nicola Davis
Last Concorde finds
a fitting resting place
After languishing on a disused runway near Bristol for more than a
decade, the last Concorde to be built
is taking pride of place in a new £19m
($25m) home. Visitors will be able to
follow in the footsteps of world leaders, rock stars and royalty when they
step onboard Concorde G-BOAF, also
known as Alpha Foxtrot, at the new
Aerospace Bristol museum.
Filton, just north of Bristol, bills
itself as the British spiritual home
of Concorde, the Anglo-French
supersonic plane that crossed the
Atlantic in less than three hours.
The planes were built in Filton, but
since their retirement Concordes
have been placed in museums
around the world. Alpha Foxtrot
had its final flight in 2003.
John Britton, the plane’s chief
engineer in Britain from 1994 and a
volunteer at the museum, said it was
emotional to see Alpha Foxtrot, one
of 20 Concordes built, back under
cover and in pristine condition.
“It’s brilliant,” he said. “I was
here when this plane took off for
the first time from Filton and I was
here when she landed for the final
time. It was very sad when they
shut the engines down for the last
time.” Steven Morris
Maslanka puzzles
1 Pedanticus stormed out of the
church hall on reading the following
notice: “Children are not allowed
to enter the kitchen for health and
safety reasons.” I do carry a
magic marker for the odd
apostrophe catastrophe,
but I’m not sure if it was up
to this mistake. What was
it? How might matters be mended?
2 If a, b and n are positive whole numbers, show that the equation 1/a + 1/b
= 1/n must have an even number of
solutions if n is prime; and that one of
them must then have a = b. If n is not
necessarily prime, what governs how
many solutions the equations has?
3 Garabaggio’s latest masterpiece
touted at the Rogue’s Gallery
Rearrange the letters of EIGHT
HANDS to make a single word.
Same Difference
Identify the two words, the spelling of
which differs only in the letters shown
**** (shape)
***U* (gathering)
Dropouts
Each asterisk represents a missing
letter. Identify the words:
A*R*C*S
*T*R*A*I*N
Missing Links
Find a word that follows the first
word and precedes the second to
make a fresh word or phrase. Eg fish
mix = cake (fishcake & cake mix) ...
a) spray brush
b) scar paper
c) forest engine
d) radio time
e) wing hatch
f) shallow tone
©CMM2017. For solutions see page 47
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 45
Kicker here like this
Then a short description here like this
→ Then Section and page XX
Mind&Relationships
Oliver Burkeman
This column will change your life
Zen and the art of an empty mind
means putting aside our experience
and seeing without assumptions
I
f you spend any amount of time reading
books on Buddhism, or hanging out with
Buddhists, you’re likely to encounter the
idea known as the “doctrine of emptiness”. I’ve never understood it, yet always
liked it, probably because I’m perversely
drawn to how bleakly depressing it sounds.
(Buddhism is full of this downbeat stuff. It’s less a
religion of smiles and flowers, more a death cult.)
According to the doctrine of emptiness, all existence is, in some sense, empty. I still don’t totally
understand what that means. But I’m a lot closer
thanks to Robert Wright’s superb new book Why
Buddhism Is True. And the answer, it turns out,
isn’t even very depressing: it could be a muchneeded antidote to our increasingly angry times.
The basic premise is that we typically view the
world through a screen of assumptions, some
so basic they’re invisible. Most basic of all is the
way we project an “inner essence” on to every
object and person, a shadowy something we
never quite experience. “People have a default
assumption,” writes the psychologist Paul Bloom,
“that things, people and events have invisible essences that make them what they are.” If I stole
your wedding ring, replacing it with an identical
one, you’d be dismayed if you found out, because
it wouldn’t be your ring. That’s essence. In an
angry confrontation with a driver who is being
a jerk, it’s virtually impossible not to relate to him
as essentially a jerk. People who attend white
supremacist rallies are bad people.
This essentialism has the effect of stoking
animosity, feeding the sense of life as a constant
battle, in which the only viable solution is to
destroy the possessors of bad essences. Yet these
essences never seem to show themselves. In
Illustration by Michele Marconi; right, Lo Cole
What I’m really thinking
The adult acne sufferer
the confrontation with the driver, were you to
look solely to your experience, you’d find only
patterns of phenomena: the perceptions making
up your experience of the driver; your emotional
reactions, and so on. The white supremacist,
likewise, emerges as a collection of brain activity,
thoughts and actions – each caused by some other
phenomenon, caused by another, and another, all
the way back to the big bang. This isn’t to excuse
immoral actions, but to see clearly what’s actually
there. “There’s an important, if subtle, sense in
which we attribute too much form and content
to reality,” Wright notes. We could stop going
We project an ‘inner
essence’ on to every
object and person, a
shadowy something we
never quite experience
through life trying to protect certain essences
while avoiding or eradicating others, and focus
on simply reducing suffering.
In a famous Buddhist tale, told in many versions, a man piloting his boat over a foggy lake
is furious when another boat bumps into his. It
keeps happening; his rage at the other navigator
grows. Then the fog clears: the boat was empty.
His anger evaporates. Well, according to the
doctrine of emptiness, the boat is always empty
– even if there’s someone in it. After all, boatmen
are just collections of phenomena, too.
oliver.burkeman@theguardian.com
I’m sitting across the table from you,
eating dinner. The food is good, but
all that’s on my mind is my skin. Do
you notice it? Do you think it looks
awful? Can you see past it? Maybe
it’s true what they say: nobody notices as much as I do.
At home we get ready for bed.
You go into the bathroom first and
get into bed first, I insist. I need to
make sure you are in bed and the
light is out before I can take off my
mask of makeup. Under the cover
of darkness, I can lie with you face
to face and talk freely. You are so
kind and understanding, but this is
something I’d prefer to keep hidden
from everyone, including you.
I wake up in the morning and
look in the mirror. Have the miraclepromising potions made it all go
away? No, they have not. After 15
years, I should know better. My face
has even welcomed a few more on
board. Time to cover up. I cannot
remember the last time I ventured
outdoors in public without makeup,
except for early morning runs
and dog walks.
I visit the doctor, again. I am
supposed to be a solicitor, I tell her.
People don’t want somebody with
acne fighting their case in court. She
laughs at this. She thinks it is funny.
I smile politely but persist. She gives
me some tablets: risk of blood clots,
risk of depression, come back in
three months, if I am still fussing
about this little problem.
I am back w
with you
in the car. I am feeling OK; m
maybe
things are
a not so
Then you
bad. Th
look at me
loo
and casuan
ally comal
ment that my
men
isn’t lookskin is
My
ing so great.
g
heart is breaking
br
.
Tell us what you’re
really thinking at m
at mind@
theguardian.com
46 The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17
Sport
Hodge helps secure
win over All Blacks
Wallabies get small
measure of revenge to
end dismal run of losses
Bledisloe Cup
Ciaran Baynes Brisbane
Fittingly it was a drenched Brisbane
that saw the Wallabies end the most
worrying drought in Australian
sport. Reece Hodge was the toast of
the crowd for scoring the opening try
and then, after taking kicking duties
from Bernard Foley, booming two late
penalties – the second from inside his
own half – to provide the difference
between the sides.
Even with the Bledisloe Cup
decided and facing an All Blacks
side with six of their first choice XV
unavailable, it had the feeling of a
pivotal match. After coming heartbreakingly close in Dunedin two
months ago, the Wallabies could
not have stomached another creditable defeat and now they can look to
facing the All Blacks as rivals rather
than whipping boys after snapping the
seven-game losing run. The factors
you need to beat New Zealand were
there. An under-strength All Blacks
XV: check. Being gifted a try: check.
Scoring on stroke of half-time: check.
But the Australian effort was immense
and they deserved every bit of luck
they were handed.
“I felt like we had the fight in us
tonight, we really wanted it,” the
Wallabies coach, Michael Cheika,
said. “I think it’s the only way: to put
pressure on these guys.” Although the
win marked a remarkable turnaround
from the 54-34 humbling by their
rivals in the Rugby Championship
opener, Cheika did not think it balmed
the sting of failing to end their 15-year
wait for the Bledisloe Cup. “As enjoyable as it was, the disappointment of
not winning the cup still resonates.
We know New Zealand are going to
only get better and we’ve got to keep
improving as well.”
Without Hodge taking kicking duties at the end of the game, things might
have been different. Had the Wallabies
lost, just as in Dunedin Bernard Foley
would have shouldered much of the
blame as his one-from-four success
followed on from his two-from-six in
the last Bledisloe Cup contest.
The All Blacks perhaps pushed their
luck once too often, with Beauden
Barrett (out following a concussion)
the absence they could not overcome.
The visitors looked set to dominate
early but Will Genia’s pressure forced
an errant pass from Lima Sopoaga
straight into the arms of Hodge who
ran 75 metres to score under the posts.
Between this try and the cusp of
half-time the All Blacks dominated
territorially as handling errors shackled the Wallabies, but the visitors
could only put one try on the scoreboard when Aaron Smith fed Waisake
Naholo on the touchline to dive over.
Sapoaga converted from out wide to
level the scores and his two penalty
kicks gave them the lead. Moments
before the interval, Israel Folau took a
short pass from Kurtley Beale, showed
the ball outside and shrugged off two
tackles before diving over the line to
reduce the arrears to 13-12.
The second half got off to a stilted
start following a long stoppage as
the Wallabies lock Rob Simmons was
stretchered off with a neck injury but
after the resumption the Wallabies
grabbed the momentum once more.
A pivotal moment came in the
55th minute when twice they turned
Avengers … Australia rode their luck to end a seven-game losing streak
against the All Blacks, who won the series 2-1 Bradley Kanaris/Getty
down the opportunity to kick at
goal. It paid off as two minutes later
Marika Koroibete dived over inside
the left touchline after Folau fed him
five metres from the line. Characteristically, the All Blacks kept on the attack, but Hodge’s kick increased the
lead to seven.
With nine minutes on the clock,
Sonny Bill Williams drew two tacklers
before off-loading, enabling Rieko
Ioane to dive over for a try in the
corner. But with Sopoaga off, Damian
McKenzie took the kick and failed to
split the uprights.
It seemed like a time-wasting
strategy when Hodge took a kick
from his own half on a damp pitch
and a wet ball with two minutes
remaining, but the wing’s boot was
true and cleared the posts with metres to spare.
With a penalty just before the
hooter, the All Blacks had a last chance
to win from a lineout but their coach,
Steve Hansen, conceded that would
Norway sets a pay-parity standard for elite women footballers
Inside sport
Suzanne Wrack
A
standard has been set. The
Norwegian football association has announced that
its women’s national team
will now be paid the same as its
men’s side. It is the first national FA
to have devised an equal pay deal,
just a few months after the English
semi-professional team Lewes
vowed to do the same for their players. This latest deal is especially
significant, coming at a time when
women’s national teams are standing up and demanding more.
International women footballers have had enough of low wages,
shoddy facilities, a lack of respect
and what is often less than secondrate treatment. Players have been
forced to organise and threaten
action to win concessions that are
often far from demands for parity.
Scotland held a media blackout
while in dispute, Australia W-League
players won a significant pay rise,
while Nigeria held a sit-in protest over unpaid allowances and
bonuses. The Republic of Ireland
threatened to strike, and the allconquering US women’s side held a
long-running battle with US Soccer.
What makes the situation so
different in Norway is that the
plan for pay parity came from
the Norwegian FA, which did not
officially recognise women’s football until 1976. The pay rise means
the women’s team are set to earn
6m Norwegian kroner ($755,000),
a 93% increase. Even so, pay equality will not be straightforward: the
men’s team get 25% of the revenue
the FA receive from Fifa or Uefa if
they qualify for a major tournament;
as part of the new proposals, the
women will have the same margin.
Norway lost Lene Mykjåland,
Marita Skammelsrud Lund and
The Guardian Weekly 27.10.17 47
Sport in brief
• Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona
and Holland forward Lieke Martens
were named Fifa men’s and women’s
player of the year respectively at the
governing body’s annual “The Best”
awards. Ronaldo, of Real Madrid and
Portugal, took 43.16% of votes from
national team captains, coaches,
media and fans. In England, Everton
have sacked manager Ronald
Koeman, after a dismal start to the
season left them third-bottom in the
Premier League. Manchester City
are five points clear at the top after
beating Burnley while second-placed
Manchester United slumped to a
first defeat of the season, 2-1 away
at Huddersfield Town. At a league
match in Belgium, three people
including a police officer were
seriously hurt and 120 detained after
a brawl between fans of Club Brugge
and Antwerp that also attracted
hooligans from the Netherlands.
beat India by six wickets in the first
one-day international in Mumbai,
while South Africa thrashed Bangladesh by 200 runs in Eastern Cape to
win the ODI series 3-0.
of 75 points on offer with three races
of the season remaining, the British
driver can reclaim the championship
at Sunday’s Mexico Grand Prix by
finishing as low as fifth.
• Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton is on
the cusp of a fourth Formula One
drivers’ title after victory in the US
Grand Prix in Texas – his ninth race
win of the season. He beat his closest
challenger, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel,
by over 10sec to lead the standings
by 66 points. With only a maximum
• Alex Blackwell steered Australia
to victory over England in the opening rubber of the Women’s Ashes in
Queensland. Chasing the visiting
side’s total of 228 for 9 from 50
overs, the vice-captain’s unbeaten 67
helped her side over the line with five
balls remaining. New Zealand’s men
Top of the world … Lieke Martens
Chess
Isabell Herlovsen – all aged 30 and
under– to retirement before the Euro
2017 campaign. “We don’t like this
development,” Joachim Walltin, the
president of the Norwegian Players’
Association, says. “The average age
of teams that win the Euros or the
World Cup is around 30 so we can’t
have Norwegian players stopping in
their prime. We need them. Hopefully this pay deal will make life
better for everyone involved in the
women’s national team.”
• Italy’s Eyob Faniel unexpectedly
won the Venice marathon after the
six frontrunners went the wrong
way. Four favourites were in the
leading group 25km into the race
when they followed a motorcycle
that led them several hundred
metres off the route, and lost around
two minutes. Faniel stayed the
course to become the first Italian
winner of the race in 22 years.
Maslanka solutions
Leonard Barden
William Lombardy, who has died
aged 79, was a chess legend who in
1957 won the junior world title with
a 100% score. In 1972, Lombardy
became even more famous as Bobby
Fischer’s second against Boris
Spassky at Reykjavik.
But the most exceptional Lombardy success was leading the US
team to victory in the student Olympiad at Leningrad 1960, with a top
board total of 11 wins, including the
key game against Spassky. It was the
only time the US ever won a team
contest against the Soviet Union.
Spassky’s play in the decisive
game for student Olympiad gold
was just too conservative. 9 0-0-0
was more energetic before 14 f4?
allowed the exchange of White’s
dark-squared bishop for a knight.
Lombardy’s thematic central push
17...e5! and 19...d5! confirmed
Black’s advantage, but even then instead of the blunder 22 Nd1?? White
should hold a draw by 22 Nxd5 Nxd5
23 Bxd5 Qc5+ 24 Kh2 Qxd5 25 bxa3.
As played, 25...Qa5! forced the win.
5 Nc3 a6 6 Bg5 Nbd7 7 Bc4 Qa5 8 Qd2
e6 9 O-O?! Be7 10 a3 h6 11 Be3 Ne5
12 Ba2 Qc7 13 Qe2 b5 14 f4? Neg4
15 h3 Nxe3 16 Qxe3 O-O 17 Rae1 e5!
18 Nf5 Bxf5 19 exf5 d5! 20 Qxe5? Bd6
21 Qe2 Bxa3 22 Nd1?? Rae8 23 Qf3
Bc5+ 24 Kh1 Rxe1 25 Rxe1 Qa5!
26 Nc3 b4 27 Nxd5 Qxa2 28 Nxf6+
gxf6 29 Qc6 Qc4 0-1
Correction: we mistakenly repeated
the diagram for puzzle 3514
in puzzle 3515. For the correct
diagram, go to bit.ly/chess3515
Boris Spassky v William Lombardy,
Leningrad 1960
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6
3517 1 a5! (fixes the a6 pawn on a light square)
Bf1 2 Bh2! Bc4 3 Bg4! Bf1 4 Bh3! and Black is in
zugzwang (compulsion to make a losing move). If
Bc4 5 Bc8xa6 wins, or Kc6 5 Bxe5 fxe5+ 6 Kxe5.
have been undeserved. “They were
the better side,” he said. “They took
their opportunities, put us under
pressure as well and prevented us
taking ours.”
Hansen wants his players to reflect
on their first defeat of 2017 before
looking to reassert their dominance
in the northern hemisphere.
“We’ll use the hurt to grow,” Hansen
said. “A lot of these guys it’s probably
their first loss in an All Black jersey. It’s
an experience you don’t wash away.
You learn your lessons from it and
we’ll become a better team for it. The
sun will come out tomorrow.”
• The World Anti-Doping Agency has
come under fire for taking five years
to begin investigating allegations of
systematic doping in China that were
first made by a whistleblower in 2012.
On Sunday the Chinese doctor Xue
Yinxian told German broadcaster
ARD that more than 10,000 Chinese
athletes had used banned substances
during the 1980s and 90s, including
every medal winner in every major
championships – claims that Wada
has referred to its intelligence unit
for scrutiny. Xue is now seeking
political asylum in Germany.
3517 Boris Grachev v Sergey Karjakin,
Eurocup, Antalya 2017. Why was a7-a6 fatal?
1 Sentences with negatives can be tricky. For
example: “I didn’t marry him for his money”
seems OK; but “I didn’t like him because he
didn’t play the banjo” is ambiguous. Did you like
him (though your liking was not based on his
restraint in the banjo-plucking department)?
Or did you dislike him because you only like folk
that pluck a banjo? In the case in point is it the
case children are not allowed in the kitchen at
all (and we may blame that universal bugbear:
health and safety)? Or are they only barred if
they go there for reasons of health and safety
(to get a plaster) – but not eg because they
want to eat all the cakes? I had just finished
restructuring it so it read: “For health and safety
reasons children are not allowed to
enter the kitchen”, when I felt
r r
the hot breath of the vicar on
R
R
my neck. Collared! With
y
thanks to Ken Gambles
of Knaresborough
for sending this in.
R
R
2 Two (truly distinct)
solutions). [1/a + 1/b =
B
1/n —> (a + b)/ab = 1/n
—> ab/(a + b) = n —> ab = n(a + b) —> (a – n)(b –
n) – n2 = 0 —> (a – n)(b – n) = n2. If n is a prime,
p, then the two factorisations are 1 X p; and p X
p; so if n is prime we have just 2 solutions.] If n
is not prime the number of solutions depends on
the number of distinct factor pairs n2 has.
3 R = r(1 + √2); B = r(1 + √2)2.
4 The chances of n heads on the trot with a
fair coin are (½)n; with the double-headed
coin are 1; so the chances the coin is the fair
one are: (½)n/(1 + (½)n)=1/(1 + 2n): the
more heads you get the less chance the coin
is the fair one. EPU NIGHTSHADE
Same Difference FORM, FORUM
Dropouts AUROCHS, STARVATION Wordpool c)
Missing Links a) spray/paint/brush b) scar/
tissue/paper c) forest/fire/engine d) radio/play/
time e) wing/nut/hatch f) shallow/graves/tone
Guardian News & Media Ltd. All rights reserved. Published by Guardian News & Media Ltd.,
Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU, UK.
Acting editor: Graham Snowdon.
Printed by GPC. Registered as a newspaper at the Post Office.
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To subscribe visit gu.com/subscribe/weekly
Astronomy’s new wave
Scientists hail ‘transformational’
signals from neutron star collision
Discovery, pages 32-33
Fintan O’Toole
The lie that poverty is a moral failing was
buried, with the help of George Bernard
ard
Shaw, over a century ago. But now these
ese
arguments have risen from the grave
I
f you know Alfred Doolittle only from Stanley Holloway’s infinitely lovable portrayal
of him in My Fair Lady, you might not
realise that he’s a bit of a monster. In George
Bernard Shaw’s original play, Pygmalion,
he arrives in high dudgeon at the home of
Henry Higgins, who has, Doolittle assumes,
taken control of his daughter Eliza for sexual
purposes. He is not morally outraged – he just
wants to be paid: “The girl belongs to me. You got
her. Where do I come in?” Doolittle is a member
of the most despised of all social classes: the undeserving poor. He has no desire to be reformed.
But he asks – and answers – the most penetrating
question: “What is middle-class morality? Just
an excuse for never giving me anything.”
In the second half of the play, though, the
monster who was willing to sell his daughter for
a fiver reappears in a silk hat and patent leather
shoes. He is clean and elegant. He is getting
married. He is now, as he bitterly complains, a
paragon of that same middle-class morality. What
has transformed him? Money.
Pygmalion is not just about Eliza’s
transformation from flower girl to apparent
duchess. It’s about her father’s transformation
from a disreputable chancer to the epitome of
propriety. And in this morality tale is one of
Shaw’s most important arguments: people are
not poor because they are immoral; they’re
immoral because they are poor. Or, to put it in
the terms of today’s assumptions about poverty:
the problem with the poor isn’t their “culture” or
their want of character. It’s just that they don’t
have enough money.
By the time he died, in 1950, Shaw, as the
most widely read socialist writer in the Englishspeaking world, had done as much as anyone to
banish the fallacy that poverty is essentially a
moral failing – and conversely that great riches
are proof of moral worth. His most passionate
concern was with poverty and its causes. He was
haunted by the Dublin slums of his childhood.
As his spokesman Undershaft puts it in Major
Barbara: “Poverty strikes dead the very souls of
all who come within sight, sound or smell of it.”
The question – why are the poor poor? – has
a number of possible answers. A Eurobarometer
report in 2010 examined attitudes to poverty
in the European Union. The most popular explanation among Europeans (47%) for why people
live in poverty was injustice in society.
But the other half of respondents opted
for some other cause: 16% said people live in
poverty because of laziness and lack of willpower,
another 16% saw poverty as an inevitable
part of progress and 13% said people live in
poverty because they have been unlucky. These
arguments were also raging in the late 19th and
early 20th centuries, and Shaw was a crucial
figure in making people understand that poverty
is about the way society is organised, not about
the failings or bad luck of the poor.
In an era when many on the left purported to
despise money and romanticised poverty, Shaw
argued that poverty is a crime and that money
is a wonderful thing. He recognised that there is
no relationship between poverty and a supposed
Shaw thought people are
not poor because they are
immoral; they’re immoral
because they are poor
Money and morals … My Fair Lady, based on
George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion
lack of a work ethic: Eliza is out selling her
flowers late at night in the pouring rain but she is
still dirt poor. And therefore the cure for poverty
can never be found in moral judgments.
The cure for poverty is an adequate income.
“The crying need of the nation,” he wrote, “is not
for better morals, cheaper bread, temperance,
liberty, culture, redemption of fallen sisters and
erring brothers, nor the grace, love and fellowship
of the Trinity, but simply for enough money.”
The solution he proposed was what we now
call a universal basic income.
By the end of Shaw’s career, it seemed that
these arguments had been won. But moralising
about poverty returned with a vengeance.
When, in January 1983, Margaret Thatcher
declared that “Victorian values were the values
when our country became great”, it was clear that
one of those values was the belief that poverty
is fundamentally a question of character.
The rich are now as confident as they ever
were that they deserve what they have. We have
returned to what Shaw called the “absurdly unpractical notion that in some way a man’s income
should be given to him, not to enable him to
live, but as a sort of Sunday school prize for good
behaviour … Was ever so idiotic a project mooted
as the estimation of virtue in money?”
We live again in a world where, as Shaw wrote
of his own times, “we have million-dollar babies
side-by-side with paupers worn out by a long life
of unremitted drudgery”. We live again in a world
where that unremitting drudgery is no guarantee
of being able to afford a decent life.
We live again in a world of Victorian values
risen from the graves in which Shaw and other
great anti-Victorians buried them. We live again in
a world where the rich pleasure themselves with
the belief that they don’t just have more money
– they are better people. We live again in a world
where people struggling to survive have to prove
that they are “deserving” of the welfare payments
they need. And in such a world, it seems right that
George Bernard Shaw should live again too.
Fintan O’Toole is assistant editor of the Irish Times
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