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The Guardian Weekly – April 20, 2018

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Vol 198 No 20 £2.90 €5.50* Exclusions apply
A week in the life of the world | 20-26 April 2018
Trump feels
the pressure
Mueller closes in
on US president
for learning
The power of
babies’ brains
Lend me
your ideass
recycled verse
A powder keg waiting to blow
Target … a Syrian soldier films
damage at one of the sites hit
by American-led airstrikes AP
Amid the paranoia and
jostling of agendas over
Syria lie disturbing
echoes of the eve of
the first world war,
says Julian Borger
s UN secretary general, it is António
Guterres’s increasingly frequent duty
to warn the major
powers they are
rushing towards
catastrophe. Last Friday, on the eve
of the US-led airstrikes, it was the
former Portuguese prime minister’s
turn once again to raise the alarm at
the latest of a series of deadlocked
security council sessions on Syria.
“The cold war is back with a vengeance and a difference,” he said.
The difference is it is no longer
cold. US troops are a grenade’s toss
away from Russians and Iranians in
Syria, and last weekend missiles and
planes from the US, UK and France
flew against the Syrian regime.
“The mechanisms and safeguards
that existed to prevent escalation
in the past no longer seem to be
present,” Guterres said. It is debatable exactly when the world last found
itself in such a perilous situation.
Perhaps the 1983 missile standoff in
Europe, when a Nato exercise, Able
Archer, almost triggered a panicked
nuclear launch by the Soviet Union.
The level of paranoia has not
yet reached that pitch, but other
aspects of the current crisis are
arguably more dangerous. There is
less communication between Washington and Moscow and there are no
longer just two players in the game,
but a jostling scrum of major powers
in decline and middling powers on
the rise. Pursuing national agendas
on such a crowded battlefield without colliding with others is increasingly hard. The precise targeting of
the airstrikes was all about avoiding such a potentially catastrophic
collision. But US defence secretary
James Mattis and his generals were
reportedly under pressure from the
White House to use the strikes as an
opportunity to take a swipe at Iran.
Those temptations are not going
to go away, particularly after the
arrival in the White House of John
Bolton, a hawk on Iran, whose new
position as national security adviser
at Trump’s ear will echo what Trump
is hearing from Israel, Saudi Arabia
and the United Arab Emirates.
In the gravitational pull of these
agendas and allies, there are disturbing echoes of the eve of the first
world war – with nuclear weapons
looming not far off stage. The battle
lines in Syria are more complicated
than the Balkans in 1914. Syria’s
west is dominated by the regime,
its Russian and Iranian backers and
their various client militias. The
rebels in the remaining western
enclaves mix self-defence with
allegiance to regional sponsors.
In the north-west, a Turkish
offensive has taken Afrin, and now
threatens Manbij, where Kurdish
units are allied with US
special forces in an anti-Isis
coalition. The continuing
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2 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
World roundup
Congress grills Zuckerberg on privacy
Poll moves Montenegro closer to EU
Facebook founder
Mark Zuckerberg
faced sharp questions in testimony to
the US Congress about
the company’s ability to
track user movements, shopping habits
and browsing
During the
tense session,
the billionaire
entrepreneur said his
own information was
among that handed
over to the political
consultancy Cambridge
Analytica, which
harvested the data of up
to 87 million users without their permission.
Last week, Facebook
began notifying millions
around the world that
their private information may have
been given to
Analytica in the
worst privacy
debacle in the
company’s history.
Questions of greater
regulation of the tech
industry were also raised
during the hearing.
More US news,
page 6
Union leader Milo
ÐjukanoviĆ won
Montenegro’s presidential election to extend
his dominance over the
country’s politics.
The state election
commission’s preliminary count showed
he won 54.1% of last
Sunday’s vote with
97% counted; Mladen
BojaniĆ won 33.2% on a
63.9% turnout. BojaniĆ,
a businessman, ran on a
platform of closer ties
with Russia.
ÐjukanoviĆ and his
Democratic Party of
Socialists (DPS) led
the Balkan republic of
620,000 people into
Nato last year and he
has pledged to complete
talks for EU membership.
More Europe
news, page 7
Slovakia ‘not a mafia state’ says PM
The prime minister of Slovakia
hit out at those
seeking to portray his
country as a mafia state
following the murder of
a reporter investigating
government corruption,
but conceded that the
“professional” killing
was proving difficult to
solve. Peter Pellegrini,
who replaced Robert
Fico after he was forced
to quit in the wake of
the murders of the
journalist Ján Kuciak,
27, and his fiancee,
Martina Kušnírová, said
unprecedented numbers
of police were working
on the case.
Legal victory for gay men in Trinidad
Sex between
men in Trinidad
and Tobago could be
decriminalised following
a court judgment that
campaigners said may
lead to similar decisions
elsewhere in the Caribbean. In a ruling last
Thursday, a judge said
sections of the Sexual
Offences Act, which
prohibited “buggery”
and “serious indecency”
between men, criminalised consensual samesex activity between
adults, and were
More Americas
news, page 9
Plastic-eating enzyme could ease crisis
Ecuador journalists ‘have been killed’
Three Ecuadorian
journalists who
were abducted
by dissident Colombian rebels have been
murdered, Ecuador’s
president announced.
Lenín Moreno
offered $100,000 for
information that leads
to the capture of a
guerrilla leader known
as “Guacho”, who is
believed to be responsible for the abduction
and murder.
Moreno said Ecuador
was “grieving”, having
previously given the captors 12 hours to prove
the hostages were alive
before facing a military
response. “We’re not
going to let ourselves be
intimidated,” he said. He
appeared to make good
on his threat, ordering
the resumption of military operations.
Reporter Javier
Ortega, photographer
Paul Rivas and driver
Efraín Segarra, who
worked for Ecuadorian
daily El Comercio, were
kidnapped on 26 March
by a faction of the Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia, or Farc, the
leftist rebel group which
laid down its weapons
and became a political party after a 2016
peace deal.
Scientists have
created a mutant
enzyme that breaks
down plastic drinks
bottles – by accident.
The breakthrough could
help solve the global
plastic pollution crisis
by enabling the full
recycling of bottles.
The research was
spurred by the discovery
in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally
evolved to eat plastic, at
a waste dump in Japan.
Scientists have now
revealed the detailed
structure of the enzyme
produced by the bug.
The international
team then tweaked
the enzyme to see how
it had evolved, but
tests showed they had
inadvertently made the
molecule even better
at breaking down the
PET (polyethylene
terephthalate) plastic.
“What actually turned
out was we improved
the enzyme, which was
a bit of a shock,” said
Prof John McGeehan,
at the University of
Portsmouth, UK, who
led the research.”
More environment
news, page 10
One dead, hundreds injured in Gaza
Israeli forces on
the Gaza frontier
last Friday
killed one person and
wounded hundreds of
Palestinians, who were
demonstrating for the
third week in a row.
Health officials in
Gaza said 363 people
were injured by live
ammunition and teargas
inhalation. They said
a Gazan journalist was
in a serious condition
after being shot in the
abdomen. The Palestine
Red Crescent Society,
said one of its medics
was shot in the knee.
Rights groups accuse
Israel of wanton use of
live fire. Israel says the
protests are a ploy by
Gaza’s rulers Hamas to
stage attacks, including
using explosives, or to
breach the border.
More regional
news, pages 4-5
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 3
The week’s events in pictures
→ Centre pages 24-25
Algerian plane crash kills 257
A military plane
carrying soldiers
and their families
crashed soon after
takeoff in northern
Algeria, killing 257
people in what appears
to be the worst plane
crash in the north African
country’s history.
The defence ministry
said 247 passengers
along with 10 crew
died when the plane
crashed in a field last
Wednesday, next to an
airbase in the town of
Boufarik, 30km from the
capital, Algiers.
It is the deadliest
plane crash since
Malaysian Airlines
flight MH17 was shot
down over eastern
Ukraine in July 2014,
killing all 298 people
on board.
Outcry forces Weibo to reverse gay ban
One of
China’s largest
social media
sites, Sina Weibo,
reversed a ban on online
content “related to
homosexuality” after an
outcry from users.
Last Friday, Sina Weibo
said it would remove
content “with pornographic implications,
promoting bloody
violence, or related
to homosexuality”. In
response, users posted
photos with their partners, comments and rainbow emojis. Many quoted
China’s constitution and
laws about the protection
of minorities.
Following the deluge
Sina Weibo said on
Monday its campaign
would now exclude
gay content.
More China news,
page 13
Arrests in ‘political’ Indian rape case
Police in India
made a second
arrest after
the alleged rape of a
teenager by a ruling
party politician sparked
national protests.
The case, along with
the rape and murder of
an eight-year-old girl,
has brought Indians to
the streets for demonstrations not seen since
the rape and murder of
Japan’s prime
minister, Shinzo
Abe, is likely
to resign in June after
two cronyism scandals
sent his approval ratings
to an all-time low and
risked damaging his party’s fortunes in elections
due next year, according
to one of Japan’s most
popular postwar leaders.
Junichiro Koizumi,
a flamboyant reformer
who was prime minister
from 2001-06, said Abe
had found himself in a
“dangerous” situation
over the scandals.
Speaking to Aera
magazine, Koizumi
Lions killed in Ugandan national park
Eleven lions,
including a number
of cubs, were
found dead in Queen
Elizabeth national park
in Uganda after possibly
being poisoned, a conservation official said.
Bodies of the three
lionesses and eight
cubs were found near
gu fishing
ourvillage, a tourtion.
ist destination.
es“An invesas
tigation has
been opened,
but we suspect
poisoning,”” said
gi of the
Bashir Hangi
Uganda wildlife
Lions have been killed
in a number of poisoning
incidents in recent years.
In May 2010, five were
killed in the park in a
similar case. Between
May 2006 and July
2007, 15 died in the
area in attacks blamed
on herdsmen defending
cattle. The grasslands
are home tto more than
600 sspecies of
bird and about
100 types
of m
including buffalo waterbuck,
and elephants.
Africa news,
page 13
Philippines threat to international court
member so the court had
no rights.
Duterte withdrew
the Philippines from the
ICC in March and said
he would continue his
crackdown on drugs, in
which thousands have
been killed.
said Abe could harm
his Liberal Democratic
party’s chances in the
2019 upper house
elections if he manages
to cling on to the
LDP presidency in a
leadership election due
in September.
Abe has been badly
bruised by allegations
of cronyism centring
on the heavily discounted sale of public
land to the operator
of an ultra-nationalist
kindergarten in Osaka
with links to his wife,
Akie Abe.
More Asia Pacific
news, page 12
Fresh attacks on aid workers in PNG
Rodrigo Duterte
threatened to arrest an
international criminal
court prosecutor if she
conducted activities in
the country, arguing it
was no longer an ICC
Japan’s PM tipped to resign in June
a student in 2012. The
outrage has put pressure
on the prime minister,
Narendra Modi, whose
ruling BJP is accused of
shielding a state MP in
one case and defending the accused in the
other. Police arrested
Kuldeep Singh Sengar,
a lawmaker from Uttar
Pradesh, last Saturday.
More south Asia
news, page 12
Staff from two
aid agencies
have been
attacked in the past week
in Papua New Guinea as
violence and tribal conflict hampers the efforts
of agencies assisting in
earthquake recovery.
A team of aid workers
with the PNG Red
Cross was robbed and
assaulted by armed
assailants in Tari, a settlement in Hela province. According to police
and incident reports
seen by the Guardian,
the group of eight was
robbed by five people
armed with shotguns
and machetes.
They had been
travelling to Tari,
through Hela province,
an area that has seen
a recent escalation in
violence. The assailants
assaulted and robbed
them. One man was hit
with a machete.
The following day a
team of Unicef workers
was attacked in the
Southern Highlands,
with at least one
person believed to have
sustained injuries.
4 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
International news Middle East
fly as crisis in
Syria deepens
US claims Russians
‘tampered with’
evidence at strike sites
Patrick Wintour and agencies
Chemical weapons experts were due
to arrive in Douma this week to investigate an alleged poison gas attack,
Russia said, as the US voiced fears
Moscow had already “tampered with”
evidence at the site.
Russia and the Syrian regime had
been accused by western diplomats of
denying chemical weapons inspectors
access to sites in the town of Douma,
where an attack killed dozens and
prompted US-led missile strikes last
Russia and Syria had cited “pending
security issues” before inspectors
could deploy to the town outside
Damascus, said Ahmet Üzümcü,
the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical
Weapons (OPCW), at a meeting of its
executive council on Monday.
Syrian authorities were offering
22 people to interview as witnesses
instead, he said, adding that he hoped
“all necessary arrangements will be
made … to allow the team to deploy
to Douma as soon as possible”.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration delayed action on sanctions
against Russians suspected of helping
the chemical weapons programme,
contradicting earlier remarks made by
the US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley.
At the meeting on Monday, the
OPCW director general, Ahmet
Üzümcü, said his team of nine volunteers had reached Damascus but so
far “the team has not yet deployed to
Douma”. Syrian and Russian officials
warned of “pending security issues to
be worked out before any deployment
could take place”, Üzümcü said.
The US ambassador to the OPCW,
Ken Ward, claimed the Russians had
already visited the site and “may
have tampered with it with the intent
of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW
fact-finding mission”. The Kremlin
dismissed the claims. “I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with
the site,” said the foreign minister,
Sergei Lavrov.
Syrian state media early on Tuesday said air defence had shot down
missiles over the central province
of Homs, with the strikes reportedly
targeting regime air bases. It was not
known who carried out the attack,
with the Pentagon spokeswoman
Heather Babb saying: “There are no US
or coalition operations in that area.”
The weekend missile strikes by
the US, Britain and France were in
response to a chlorine and sarin gas
attack in Douma on 7 April in which 40
people were said to have been killed.
The missiles that US, French and British warships fired on suspected chemical facilities on Saturday constituted
the biggest western attack against the
regime in the seven-year war between
Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad,
and forces attempting to topple him.
The targeted sites were largely
empty and were all said to be facilities for chemical weapons storage or
The UK prime minister, Theresa
May, and the French president,
Emmanuel Macron, have each faced
a political backlash for conducting the
air strikes with the US.
Western countries are making a
push both at the OPCW in The Hague
and the UN in New York to secure
wider diplomatic support for a clampdown on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The suspicion is that the
Syrian government previously misled
inspectors when it declared its entire
chemical weapons stockpile had been
disclosed and destroyed.
EU foreign ministers threatened
new sanctions against Syria, but
offered little support among member
states for fresh US measures against
Russia. A joint statement from the 28
also fell short of wholehearted support for the US-led strikes.
Syria joined the OPCW in 2013 after
a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds
of people in Ghouta. The move was
part of a joint Russian-US deal that
averted military action threatened by
the then US president, Barack Obama.
The OPCW needs a two-thirds
majority to take decisions, and faces
the threat of being fatally weakened
as Russia and the west fight over the
OPCW’s mandate to ascribe responsibility for attacks. A Russian veto at the
UN last November means the OPCW is
empowered only to state if chemical
weapons have been used, and not to
attribute responsibility.
France urged OPCW nations to
boost the organisation’s work so it can
completely dismantle Syria’s “secret”
toxic weapons programme.
The trio that carried out the strikes
warned they would repeat the operation if Damascus used chemical weapons again.
May faces UK parliament, page 15 →
An expensive firework display, but nothing much changes for
Luke Harding
On the face of it, the attacks on the
alleged homes of Bashar al-Assad’s
chemical weapons programme by
the US, France and Britain counted
as a resounding military success.
More than 100 missiles had hit
their targets.
Afterwards the man behind this
show of force, Donald Trump, struck
a triumphal note. In a tweet, he
congratulated France and the UK
on a “perfectly executed strike” and
thanked them for their “wisdom and
the power of their fine military”.
The decision to attack Syria followed the regime’s use of poison gas
on 7 April against the then rebel-held
Damascus suburb of Douma, now
reoccupied by regime forces. Viewed
in narrow terms, the strikes worked.
No civilians were killed. Crucially,
Russian military casualties on the
ground were avoided. Trump had
telegraphed his intention to hit Syria
well in advance. This allowed the
regime – and its Iranian and Russian
backers – time to move personnel and
munitions out of the target zones.
Assad’s ability to gas his own people
remains. Most civilians have been
killed by conventional weapons.
The attack, critics said, was an
expensive firework display, executed
without any long-term plan for peace
in Syria or coherent geopolitical
strategy. Syrian exiles opposed to the
regime decried its modest ambition.
They predicted that Assad would
continue to murder his opponents
exactly as before.
The cynical view is that the timing
of Trump’s operation was reminiscent of Wag the Dog, the Hollywood
comedy about a president who goes
to war to distract from a sex scandal.
International reaction to the raids
has been predictable. Vladimir Putin
– whose forces have bombed Syria
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 5
Arms control
Signing up must mean something
→ Leader comment, page 22
Danger levels increase as national agendas
confront one another on crowded battlefield
Clear signal … the Damascus sky
is lit up as missiles head for their
targets Hassan Ammar/AP
Syrian regime airbases
Airbases with
known Russian
Deir ez-Zor
RAF Akrotiri
76 missiles
hit a scientific
research facility
in the Damascus
suburb of
Saudi Arabia
British and
French planes
took part in an
attack on two
sites at Him
Shinsar, which
included a
storage facility
and bunker for
Assad’s brutal regime
every day for the past two years,
targeting hospitals – complained of
“an act of aggression”.
Syrian state TV showed Assad – or
someone who looked like him – going
to work as usual on Saturday. Assad
said his country would stand its
ground “against an agenda imposed
by the west”.
Now Trump can claim that –
unlike the “dithering” Obama – he
had acted decisively. The Kremlin
can point out that the bombing
was minimal, with no casualties.
Immediate follow-up action seems
unlikely after the US defence
secretary, James Mattis, said: “Right
now this is a one-time shot.”
The prospect of a summit
between Trump and Putin looms.
With the football World Cup in
Russia on the horizon, Moscow
will be keen to dial down the
possibility of confrontation.
Meanwhile, Syria’s agony goes on.
Andrew Rawnsley, page 18 →
← Continued from page 1 tension
puts in doubt US Central Command’s
ability to use its airbase in Turkey
near the Syrian border at Incirlik. It
does not appear to have played a part
in last Saturday morning’s airstrikes.
The fight against Isis leaves the US
and its allies vulnerable to other unintended consequences. As competition for territory and oil fields quickens among the vanquishers of Isis,
US troops fighting alongside Kurds
and other rebels have shot down Iranian drones and exchanged fire with
Russian contractors working for a
pro-regime militia. In the south-west,
Israel has looked on with dismay as
Iran, and the Islamic Revolutionary
Guard Corps (IRGC) in particular, has
consolidated its position in Syria,
carving out a solid land link from
Tehran to the Lebanese coast.
IRGC-trained Shia militias have
provided effective ground troops on
the regime’s side. Israel has carried
out airstrikes to prevent heavy arms
transfers to Hezbollah and to keep
Iranian-backed forces away from the
Golan Heights, but it has held back
from any major engagement.
After losing hope of a major US
intervention against Assad and Iran,
the Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, has tried to convince Moscow
to rein in Iranian military expansion
near Israeli territory. So far Russia
has not used its air defences against
Israeli planes, most recently last
week when Israel bombed a Revolutionary Guard drone base in Homs
province, despite Iranian appeals
for protection. Tehran has vowed
vengeance for the incident, in which
seven IRGC guardsmen were killed.
“In the absence of a solid comprehensive understanding between the
US and Russia, Israel and the Iranians are on a collision course,” said
Ehud Yaari, an international fellow
at the Washington Institute for Near
East Policy. “It’s getting very tricky.
I haven’t felt the situation was this
dangerous in years.”
The battle lines are not just geographical. The US, UK and France
say they carried out the airstrikes to
enforce a ban on the use of chemical
weapons that has been breached
only on a handful of occasions over
the course of a century. The challenge facing the western coalition
was what scale of attack would constitute effective deterrence, given
that the last US airstrikes, a year ago,
failed to stop the regime’s use of gas.
There were voices calling for a much
more expansive range of targets and
goals. However, the more ambitious
the campaign, the higher the risk
of escalation. Mattis fought hard to
keep the airstrikes narrowly focused
on the three alleged chemical weapons facilities. The Russian military
is equally aware of the risks, and
appears not to have activated its formidable air defences when the moment came, noting that the missiles
had not come anywhere near their
main bases at Latakia and Tartus.
This minuet with high explosives
appears to have been successfully
executed on this occasion, but that
offers no guarantees it will work
in the future. It has always been
unclear how much leverage Moscow
has over Assad, and use of chemical
weapons has been an effective tool
in crushing rebel enclaves. Douma
surrendered a few days after the
chemical weapons attack.
If Trump, with Bolton’s encouragement, walks out of the nuclear
deal with Iran next month, as he
has repeatedly threatened to do,
Iran’s sense of threat will increase. If
Tehran responds by restoring its uranium enrichment programme, it will
In the absence of a
solid US-Russia
understanding, Israel
and the Iranians are
on a collision course
lead to a return to a military standoff
pitting the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia against Iran. Syria will be one of
the battlefields, most likely the key
battlefield, and it is hard to see this
White House staying out of the fight.
Russia may wish to absent itself
from that struggle, but with so much
military hardware flying around in
such a confined space the potential
for miscalculation rises steadily.
As the Russia investigation closes
in, Trump’s deference to Vladimir Putin appears, for now, to have soured
into hostility, fuelled by his sense of
betrayal that Moscow has not kept
Assad in check. It was Russia Trump
warned to “get ready” for incoming
missiles after the Douma attack, and
Russia he warned would pay a “big
price” for betting on Assad.
If an unforeseen and unplanned
clash takes place, the commanderin-chief’s state of mind is critically
important. The absence of any check
in the nuclear launch protocol that
would allow any other US official to
countermand a direct presidential
order remains arguably the world’s
scariest fact.
6 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
International news United States
Mueller’s inquiry is Trump’s real threat
Ex-FBI head’s book a
diversion as special
counsel targets lawyer
Tom McCarthy
n former FBI director James
Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty,
obtained by the Guardian last
week from a bookseller in New
York before publication, the
former official casts Trump as both
“unethical” and “untethered to
truth” and compares his presidency
to a “forest fire”.
But Comey is not the only former
FBI chief giving Trump a migraine –
the special counsel Robert Mueller’s
investigation into possible Russian
collusion with the Trump campaign
has been accelerating and is also
enraging the president.
The sky began to fall in for Trump
last Monday, when FBI agents raided
the offices and a hotel room used
by Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen.
The raids were a strong sign that
prosecutors might soon charge one
of Trump’s fiercest loyalists with
a serious crime or crimes, legal
experts said.
As the implications of those raids
continue to sink in, Trump may be
lured towards the kind of drastic action that would send fissures through
the executive branch and beyond.
“The raid of Michael Cohen’s
office was a seismic event, for any
presidency,” said Andrew Wright,
a former White House associate
counsel and a professor at Savannah
Law School. “I think he [Cohen] is in
very serious trouble.
“And sure enough, the president
Net closes in … Michael Cohen
appears to have really come pretty
unhinged at that news, so I think
that’s incredibly significant.”
Even for a White House that can
seem to cycle from crisis to extreme
crisis, the current pressure on
Trump, and the resulting peril for his
presidency and the country, is acute,
according to seasoned prosecutors.
“The pressure on the president is
unimaginable to me,” said Elizabeth
de la Vega, who was a federal
prosecutor for more than 20 years.
While the public has no way of
knowing how far along Mueller is
in his work, De la Vega said, the
decision to conduct the Cohen raids,
given their high stakes, could indicate that prosecutors had completed
significant work behind the scenes.
Cohen, who has denied all
wrongdoing, could face charges including bank fraud, wire fraud, campaign violations, tax crimes or other
charges relating to payments made to
multiple women before the 2016 election, and communications thereafter
with at least one of those women.
In the days since the Cohen raids,
Trump has lashed out at Mueller and
his superior, the deputy attorney
general, Rod Rosenstein.
“Mueller is most conflicted of
all (except Rosenstein...),” Trump
tweeted in a tirade last Wednesday
against “the Fake & Corrupt Russia
Investigation, headed up by the all
Democrat loyalists, or people that
worked for Obama”.
Mueller has indicted or reached
plea agreements with 19 individuals, plus three companies in Russia.
He is a Republican, as is Rosenstein.
So are Comey and Jeff Sessions, the
attorney general.
None of Mueller’s targets has
been as close to Trump as Cohen,
who is a friend of the family, has
been involved with the Trump children on real estate deals, and who
could have a lot to tell prosecutors
about operations inside the Trump
Organization. The visceral threat
of a prosecution so close to his
company and his family could drive
the president to take a step that the
White House asserted last week was
within his power: removing Mueller,
or perhaps Rosenstein.
Members of Congress in both
chambers have said they support
passing legislation to protect the
special counsel, but such legislation
is moving slowly.
Trump, meanwhile, continues to
believe that the best way to handle
the prosecutions swirling around
him is to fight back with all the
power the presidency can muster.
Cohen reveals surprise client:
Fox’s Sean Hannity
Donald Trump’s legal fixer Michael
Cohen has also been representing the firebrand conservative
Fox News host Sean Hannity, one
of only three private legal clients
Cohen has taken on in the past
year, his lawyer told a federal court
on Monday.
The revelation came as a
federal judge rejected a bid by the
president and Cohen to prevent
US prosecutors from examining a
documents and recordings seized
from Trump’s long-time confidant.
Cohen’s office, hotel and home
were raided by the FBI last week
following a referral from special
counsel Robert Mueller.
Last week district judge Kimba
Wood had ordered Cohen to disclose all his private practice clients
since he left the Trump Organization after the 2016 election, but he
had partially resisted the court’s
order. In a letter to Wood from
his attorneys, Cohen disclosed
that he had been representing the
president and the disgraced former
GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy, but
declined to reveal the identity of
a third client. However, lawyers
for Cohen were forced on Monday
afternoon to disclose that Hannity
was the third individual.
Shortly after the revelation,
Hannity said on his radio show
that his legal relationship with
Cohen involved “occasional
discussions with him for his
input and perspective” and he had
assumed those discussions were
confidential and covered by client
Guardian reporters New York
President is ‘morally unfit’ to serve, declares Comey
Tom McCarthy New York
James Comey accused Donald Trump
of being “morally unfit” to be president and treating women like “meat”
in his first television interview in support of his new book, A Higher Loyalty.
The former FBI director further described Trump as a “stain” on everyone who worked for him, according to
a transcript of a five-hour interview
published by ABC and first obtained
by the New York Times. Yet Comey
said he does not wish for Trump’s impeachment because that “would let
the American people off the hook”.
A one-hour edited version of the interview with George Stephanopoulos
aired on ABC News last Sunday night.
Replying to a question about
whether Trump had committed an obstruction of
justice, Comey said “it’s
possible”. “There’s certainly some evidence of
obstruction of justice,”
he said. But for the president to follow through on
threats to fire special counsel Robert Mueller would “set off
alarm bells that this is his most serious
attack yet on the rule of law”.
In his book, Comey compares
Trump to a mafia don and challenges
the president’s character, honesty and
commitment to public service.
Comey also spoke for
the first time about his
immediate family’s disappointment at Hillary
Clinton’s loss.
He said that his four
daughters and his wife,
Patrice, wanted Clinton to
win, and as the ABC broadcast showed pictures of them
protesting Comey disclosed that
they attended the Women’s March
in Washington the day following
Trump’s inauguration.
He responded to criticism by Clinton and others that he had cost her the
election by making public a late-stage
twist in an investigation of her emails.
“It sucked,” he said, but added that he
would make the same decision again.
Comey dismissed Trump’s denial
of a different scene, in which he said
Trump told him to “let go” of an investigation of former national security
adviser Michael Flynn. “The president says he didn’t say that,” Stephanopoulos said. “What am I gonna do?
He did,” Comey replied with a shrug.
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 7
International news
Russia ‘tested its
poison on handles’
the codename Foliant. Sedwill said
Russia regarded at least some of its
defectors as “legitimate targets for assassination”, with the suggestion they
could include Skripal, a former member of the GRU, Russian military intelligence, who was convicted by Russia
Ewen MacAskill
of espionage in 2004 after working for
Russia had tested whether door MI6. “We have information indicating
handles could be used to deliver nerve Russian intelligence service interest
agents and had targeted the email in the Skripals, dating back at least as
accounts of Sergei and Yulia Skripal far as 2013, when email accounts besince at least 2013, according to pre- longing to Yulia Skripal were targeted
viously classified intelligence over the by GRU cyber specialists,” Sedwill
Salisbury attack that has been made wrote.
public. The UK released the intelHe also said: “During the 2000s,
ligence last Friday, linking Russia to Russia commenced a programme to
the attack on the former double agent test means of delivering chemical
and his daughter.
warfare agents and to train personnel
The door handle and email claims from special units in the use of these
were made in a letter from Sir Mark weapons. This programme subseSedwill, the UK’s national security quently included investigation of
adviser, to the Nato secretary general, ways of delivering nerve agents,
Jens Stoltenberg. It is rare for the UK to including by application to door
make such intelligence public. In the handles. Within the last decade,
letter, Sedwill, who has an overview Russia has produced and stockpiled
of the work of all British spy services, small quantities of novichoks under
filled in some of the intelligence the the same programme … It is highly
prime minister, Theresa May, referred unlikely that any former Soviet reto when she made a parliamentary public (other than Russia) pursued
statement saying Russia was highly an offensive chemical weapons prolikely to have been behind the attack. gramme after independence. It is unIn response, the Russian ambas- likely that novichoks could be made
sador in London, Alexander Yako- and deployed by non-state actors (eg
venko, announced that the embassy a criminal or terrorist group).”
would be publishing its own report on
The decision to release the intellithe attack. “The British government gence is partly in response to Russia’s
still hasn’t produced any evidence repeated denials that it is responsible
in support of its position that would for the attack. The Organisation for
confirm their official version,” he the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,
told a press conference. “We get the which is linked to the UN, confirmed
impression the British government last Thursday that a novichok nerve
is deliberately pursuing the policy of agent had been used in Salisbury.
destroying all possible evidence.”
Yulia Skripal, meanwhile, said she
In his Nato letter, Sedwill said the did not wish to take up the offer of
nerve agent novichok had been devel- services from the Russian embassy,
oped at the Russian research facility according to a statement issued on
in Shikhany as part of an offensive her behalf by the Metropolitan police.
chemical weapons programme with
In the statement, published last
Wednesday, she said
her father remained
seriously ill and she was
still suffering from nerve
agent effects. She also
addressed comments
by her cousin Viktoria
in the Russian media,
asking her not to contact
or visit her in the UK.
Skripal said she was
safe and would give
interviews in time. The
statement came two
days after she was discharged from Salisbury
District Hospital.
Recovering … Yulia and her father Sergei Skripal
‘Come home’ Barcelona urges leaders’ return
UK security chief sends
previously classified
intelligence to Nato
More than 300,000 people are
estimated to have taken to the streets
of Barcelona last Sunday to call for
the return of the 16 Catalan leaders
who are in prison or have fled the
country following last October’s unilateral independence referendum.
The mass demonstration, which
was called by the two main Catalan pro-independence groups and
backed by the regional branches of
Spain’s two biggest unions, took place
under the slogan “For rights and freedoms, for democracy and cohesion,
we want you home!” Police put the attendance at 315,000, while the organisers said 750,000 people took part.
The former regional president,
Carles Puigdemont, who fled to
Belgium at the end of October and
is on bail in Germany, tweeted that
the march was “a great civic and
democratic demonstration”, adding: “We are European citizens who
just want to live in peace, free and
without fear.”
Elsa Artadi, a spokeswoman for
Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia
party, said the event put paid to suggestions the independence movement was running out of steam.
“We’re here today because there are
16 people in prison or in exile for defending political ideas that represent
2 million people,” she said.
The involvement of the Catalan
branches of the Workers’ Commissions and General Workers’ Union
was not universally endorsed, as
some members oppose secession.
But Camil Ros, GWU regional secretary general, said: “The majority of
Catalans, regardless of their political
position, agree that pre-trial jail is not
justified. What we as labour unions
are asking for now is dialogue.”
Despite the huge turnout, polls
suggest Catalans remain almost
evenly divided over seceding from
Spain. A recent survey found that
support for independence fell from
48.7% last October to 40.8% in
February this year. Sam Jones Madrid
Photograph: Lluis Gene/Getty
Thousands protest over Orbán win
Thousands protested in Budapest last
Saturday against what organisers said
was an unfair election system that
gave the prime minister, Viktor Orbán,
another landslide victory after a “hate
campaign” against immigrants.
Orbán won a third term after his
anti-immigration message secured
a strong majority for his Fidesz party
in parliament, granting him twothirds of seats based on preliminary
In a Facebook post, rally organisers
called for a recount of ballots, free
media, a new election law, and more
efficient cooperation instead of
bickering among opposition parties.
Fidesz got 49% of national party
list votes and its candidates won 91
of 106 single-member constituencies, mostly in rural areas, while
leftwing opposition candidates carried two-thirds of voting districts in
Budapest. Support for Orbán was at
37% among voters under 30, rising
to 46% among those over 50, according to a survey by thinktank Median
last week.
The Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe said the election did not offer opposition parties a
level playing field.
8 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
International news
Holocaust victims’ music heard at last
Legacy … Francesco Lotoro
conducts at the Notes of Hope
concert in Jerusalem last Sunday
Mika Gurovich/JNF UK
Concert of prisoners’
work is climax of Italian
composer’s long quest
Harriet Sherwood Jerusalem
At 85 – and given the powerful emotions of the moment – it would not
have been surprising if Aviva Bar-On’s
voice had wavered. But as she sang in
clear tones in front of an audience of
3,000 people in Jerusalem last Sunday
night, it was easy to imagine the nineyear-old Nazi concentration camp
prisoner she was once was.
Bar-On (pictured below right) performed a song she committed to memory more than seven decades earlier in
the Theresienstadt (Terezín) camp in
Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Composed by the Jewish poet and musician Ilse Weber, later gassed at Auschwitz, the song had never been heard
in public. It was one of 11 pieces at the
concert, climax of a 30-year quest by
Francesco Lotoro, an Italian composer
and pianist who has tracked down
thousands of songs, symphonies and
operas from the Holocaust.
The music was created in the darkest moments imaginable by musicians and performers whose lyrics
and scores were written on scraps of
paper or memorised. “Some [of the
music] was written in notebooks, on
coal sacks, food wrappers, tickets,”
Lotoro said. One five-act opera was
found on sheets of lavatory paper.
And some of the music was held only
in the memories of survivors.
Lotoro has travelled the world,
searching in bookshops, attics and
archives, and interviewing Holocaust survivors. He has salvaged and
recorded 8,000 pieces of music, “but
there are more than 10,000 more
waiting to be deciphered that I have
not yet touched”.
Last Sunday, for the first time in
more than 70 years, a fraction of this
music was performed in a concert in
Jerusalem called Notes of Hope. The
audience included Holocaust survis.
vors and their descendants.
Nineteen children from
two music academies in
the Negev desert, mentored by Lotoro for the
past two years, played
with the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra. They
were accompanied by
some of Israel’s most
eminent performers, singing
in Hebrew, Yiddish, German, Czech
and Romany, with Lotoro conducting.
Despite the circumstances of their
composition, most of the songs were
upbeat. Zitra (Tomorrow), composed
by Joseph Roubicek for a young
prisoner, Manka, looks forward to a
day when “everyone will be happy
at heart”. Tango in Auschwitz, written by 12-year-old Irka Janowski and
set to a popular dance tune, speaks
of freedom “beyond fences and railings”. Bar-On sang When I Was Lying
Down in Terezín’s Children’s Clinic,
which makes light of the illness and
disease suffered by many inmates.
The Czech
Czechoslovakian Jew spent
three y
years in the Theresienstad
stadt transit camp from
the age of nine. “They
were very hard years of
hunger, illnesses and
epidemics,” she said.
“But the musical life of
the ccamp was very rich.
There were famous opera
singers an
and high-ranking musii
were lots of performances,
and a women’s choir. We didn’t know
about the gas chambers.”
During a spell of sickness, Bar-On
was nursed by Weber. “She was a
wonderful, smiling lady. She played
the mandolin and sang; some of
her songs were very funny. Now
I’m the only one in the world who
remembers them.”
After the camp’s liberation, a small
notebook containing Weber’s lyrics
was discovered. Eventually it found
its way to Lotoro, who was frustrated
by the lack of a musical score. But
Bar-On’s memory came to the rescue.
In Westerbork, another transit
camp, Max Ehrlich, a prominent
performer in the prewar Berlin cabaret scene, teamed up with fellow
musician Willy Rosen to create the
Westerbork Theatre Group. “Suddenly
the best cabaret in Europe was to be
found in a concentration camp,” said
Alan Ehrlich, the performer’s nephew.
The camp commandant sat in
the front row of all of the troupe’s
performances of original songs,
jokes, sketches and dance routines.
Entranced, he kept the performers’
names off the lists of those destined
for the death camps. But Max Ehrlich
was eventually deported to Auschwitz
in 1944, where he was recognised by a
guard and forced to perform one last
time before being killed.
The material unearthed by Lotoro’s
detective work originated from Jews,
Gypsies, political prisoners, soldiers
and others in concentration, labour
and PoW camps over a 20-year period.
“In the camps, there was an explosion
of creativity,” he said. “When your life
is in danger, you create more as a testament for the future.” And he said
his quest to unearth the music of the
Holocaust would go on. “It’s a mitzvah
[a religious good deed], a reparation.”
Traditional antisemitism is back, global study finds
International Tender
Concern Worldwide South Sudan invites tenders from
qualified suppliers for the following:
Non-Food Items – jerricans and blankets and solar
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Tender Documents Available From:
Closing date for submission is:
13 hours GMT on 4th May 2018
Feelings of insecurity are widespread among European Jews as a
result of the resurgence of the extreme right, anti-Zionist debate on
the left and radical Islam, according
to a global study of antisemitism.
Last year the number of recorded
violent antisemitic incidents fell by
about 9% compared with 2016 – and
by almost 50% compared with the
2006-14 average – but there was
a notable increase in harassment
and abuse, according to a survey
published by the Kantor Center
at Tel Aviv University. The report
highlights a strengthening of the
extreme right in some countries,
“accompanied by slogans and symbols reminiscent of the 1930s” and
“the intensity of the anti-Jewish
sentiments expressed in a variety
of ways [...] especially on street
demonstrations … Expressions of
classic traditional antisemitism are
back and, for example, the term
‘Jew’ has become a swear word.”
The report examines antisemitism in Europe, the post-Soviet
region, the US, Canada, Australia,
South America and South Africa. It
records 327 major incidents of violence, vandalism and desecration in
2017, compared with a peak of 1,118
in 2009 and a low of 78 in 1989.
The report says that, as a result
of insecurity, an increasing number of Jews were no longer wearing identifying items in public or
attending synagogues on Jewish
holidays. HS
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 9
Once bitten
Finding out why malaria drugs fail
→ Discovery, pages 32-33
International news
Plastic waste chokes life out of river,
but local community is fighting back
Recife diary
Sandra Laville
aria das Gracas
started collecting
her plastic bottles
after she saw the
body of her neighbour floating past
her house, carried
along with the pollution that helped
cause the deadly floods.
She stores them by the front door
of her one-storey home, which sits
on the litter-strewn banks of the
Tejipió river in north-east Brazil.
When she has enough she will
take them to the local storage skip,
where a litter collector will pay her
two reals (60 cents) for 50 plastic
bottles. She’s not just doing it for the
money. She’s doing it to stop the tide
of plastic drowning this community.
Every day Maria and other residents of Coqueiral, a poor neighbourhood in the city of Recife, feel
the impact of the world’s plastic
binge. It is visible in the waters of
the river that once flowed freely
through the area.
Fifty years ago when Rildo
Wandray was a boy, he would jump
into the Tejipió and swim, while his
friends fished beside him. Today
the river is stagnant, obstructed at
every tributary by a tide of plastic
waste; Coca-Cola and Fanta bottles,
water containers, crisp packets
and wrappers.
Globally, some 2 billion people
live in communities with no rubbish collections. While international
attention has focused recently on
the marine plastic litter crisis, the
devastating impact of plastic waste
on the world’s poorest is no less
destructive, causing flooding, disease and hundreds of thousands of
premature deaths from toxic fumes
caused by the burning of waste.
In Recife the plastic waste is exacerbating already devastating flooding from rising sea levels caused by
climate change. And those living
around the Tejipió have grown tired
of waiting for the government to act.
For Das Gracas, the tipping point
came when flooding took the life
of one of her neighbours. “I was
trapped inside my home with my
son,” she said.
“There was nothing we could do,
the water came up and we could not
get out. I looked out and saw a body
Litter crisis … the trash-filled Tejipió river in Brazil; below, flowers made from the plastic Moisés Lopes/Tearfund
float past. She was face down, I could
see the hair. That night the flood
nearly took me too. Ever since then I
have collected my bottles, I wanted
to try and do something to reduce
the waste going into the river.”
Organised and supported by
the local baptist church through
its project Instituto Solidare, local
communities are mobilising:
street protests, public meetings,
awareness campaigns. They are also
trying to build a network of entrepreneurs who can make a living out
of collecting the waste, and turning
it into products they can sell.
The Recife campaign is supported
by Tearfund, the international
NGO that is lobbying for global
development funding for waste
projects to be increased from 0.3%
to 3%: a move that would push
waste higher up the international
agenda, reduce global plastic
littering, help cut marine litter
and improve the environment and
the lives of the world’s poorest
and most vulnerable.
In Recife, Evandro Alves, who
leads Instituto Solidare, says the
world’s poorest are suffering the
most from the plastic waste crisis.
“The situation here in this
community, where life is already
incredibly hard, has been getting
worse,” he said. “We are seeing
more and more plastic being used
and thrown away, and it stops
here in their community. So we
decided to mobilise.”
Young people in Recife are at the
forefront of the campaign, eliciting
support and mobilising on social
media. In one direct action, pupils
whose school is on the riverside,
removed some of the waste from
the Tejipió: a sofa, plastic bottles,
a TV, tables, plastic chairs and built
a house on the banks which they
called Casa Lixo (House of Trash).
Another post saw children holding
a fashion show from clothes created
out of plastic bags and cups.
Some women are involved in
an enterprise making handbags,
jewellery and toys out of the plastic
and other waste collected from their
communities. It provides them with
employment and a small income.
Carol Santos, who lives on the
banks of the river with her three
children, understands the need
to take personal responsibility for
the waste she creates. But she also
believes her community has been
abandoned by the state and that
large multinationals like Coca-Cola
could do more to clear up the
pollution their products create.
“The company could help to collect the waste and support the community to recycle it, but it doesn’t.
We don’t see them,” she said.
Her home is flooded several times
a year. “When the rains come the
flood destroys everything. It is a
desperate situation – at least nine
times a year I lose everything, my
children get sick from diarrhoea
when it floods, it’s awful for them.
We live here because we have
nowhere else to go.”
10 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
International news
Gulf stream threat
to world weather
Scientists say disruption
of Atlantic currents could
exacerbate climate shifts
Damian Carrington
Serious disruption to the Gulf Stream
ocean currents that are crucial in
controlling global climate must be
avoided “at all costs”, senior scientists
have warned. The alert followed the
revelation last week that the system
is at its weakest ever recorded.
Past collapses of the giant network
have seen some of the most extreme
impacts in climate history, with
western Europe particularly vulnerable to a descent into freezing winters.
A significantly weakened system
is also likely to cause more severe
storms in Europe, faster sea level rise
on the east coast of the US and increasing drought in the Sahel in Africa.
The new research worries scientists
because of the huge impact global
warming has already had on the
currents and the unpredictability of a
future “tipping point”.
The currents that bring warm
Atlantic water northwards towards the
pole, where they cool, sink and return
southwards, is the most significant
control on northern hemisphere climate outside the atmosphere. But the
system, formally called the Atlantic
Meridional Overturning Circulation
(Amoc), has weakened by 15% since
1950, thanks to melting Greenland ice
and ocean warming making sea water
less dense and more buoyant.
This represents a massive slowdown
– equivalent to halting all the world’s
rivers three times over, or stopping the
greatest river, the Amazon, 15 times.
Such weakening has not been seen in
at least the last 1,600 years, which is as
Cold deep
Source: Nature
Ocean circulation in the Atlantic is
driven by warm surface currents
and cold deep-water return flows
far back as researchers have analysed
so far. Furthermore, the new analyses
show the weakening is accelerating.
“From the study of past climate, we
know changes in the Amoc have been
some of the most abrupt and impactful events in the history of climate,”
said Prof Stefan Rahmstorf, at the
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact
Research in Germany and one of the
world’s leading oceanographers, who
led some of the new research. During
the last ice age, winter temperatures
changed by up to 10C within three
years in some places.
“We are dealing with a system that
in some aspects is highly non-linear,
so fiddling with it is very dangerous,
because you may well trigger some
surprises,” he said. “I wish I knew
where this critical tipping point is,
but that is unfortunately just what we
don’t know. We should avoid disrupting the Amoc at all costs. It is one more
reason why we should stop global
warming as soon as possible.”
Oceanographer Peter Spooner, at
University College London, shares the
concern: “The extent of the changes
we have discovered comes as a surprise
to many, including myself, and points
to significant changes in the future.”
A collapse in the Amoc would mean
far less heat reaching western Europe
and plunge the region into very severe winters, the kind of scenario
depicted in an extreme fashion in the
movie The Day After Tomorrow. A
widespread collapse of deep-sea ecosystems has also been seen in the past.
But as the Amoc weakens, it might
actually increase summer heatwaves.
That is because it takes time for the
cooling of the northern waters to also
cause cooling over the adjacent lands.
However, the cooler waters affect the
atmosphere in a way that helps warm
air to flood into Europe from the
south, a situation already seen in 2015.
Other new research last week
showed Greenland’s massive ice cap
is melting at the fastest rate for at least
450 years. This influx will continue
to weaken the Amoc into the future
until human-caused climate change
is halted, but scientists do not know
how fast the weakening will be or
when it reaches the point of collapse.
However, Rahmstorf said the international climate deal agreed in
2015 offers some hope if its ambition
is increased and achieved: “If we can
keep the temperature rise to well
below 2C as agreed in the Paris agreement, I think we run a small risk of
crossing this collapse tipping point.”
Power track Swedish road recharges vehicles
The world’s first electrified road that
recharges the batteries of cars and
trucks driving on it has been opened
in Sweden.
About 2km of electric rail has
been embedded in a public road
near Stockholm, but the government’s roads agency has already
drafted a national map for future expansion. Sweden’s target of achieving independence from fossil fuel
by 2030 requires a 70% reduction in
the transport sector.
The technology behind the
electrification of the road linking
Stockholm Arlanda airport to a
logistics site outside the capital
aims to solve the thorny problems
of keeping electric vehicles charged,
and the manufacture of their
batteries affordable. Energy is
transferred from two tracks of rail in
the road via a movable arm attached
to the bottom of a vehicle. The
design is not dissimilar to that of a
Scalextric track, although should
the vehicle overtake, the arm is
automatically disconnected.
The electrified road is divided
into 50m sections, with an
individual section powered only
when a vehicle is above it. When
a vehicle stops, the current is
disconnected. The system is able
to calculate the vehicle’s energy
consumption, which enables
electricity costs to be debited per
vehicle and user.
The “dynamic charging” – as
opposed to the use of roadside
charging posts – means the vehicle’s
batteries can be smaller, along
with their manufacturing costs.
Daniel Boffey Photo: eRoadArlanda
Action on methane leaks
Damian Carrington
Methane leaking from oil and gas
facilities around the world – a major
contributor to global warming – is set
to be spotted from space.
The Environmental Defense Fund
has announced it aims to launch a satellite called MethaneSAT by 2021 to scan
the globe and make major leaks public. It hopes the information will enable
governments to force action. Building
and launching the satellite will cost
tens of millions of dollars, but the EDF
says it has raised most of the money.
Methane is a potent greenhouse
gas, 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the short term, and is
responsible for about a fifth of humancaused climate change. The oil and gas
industry is to blame for about a third
of anthropogenic methane emissions,
from fracking and other exploration
sites, and from leaky pipelines.
“Cutting methane emissions from
the global oil and gas industry is the
single fastest thing we can do to help
put the brakes on climate change right
now,” said Fred Krupp, the EDF president. Only 3% of oil and gas companies
report quantitative methane emissions, according to the EDF. “By providing reliable, fully transparent data
on a worldwide scale, MethaneSAT will
help transform a serious climate threat
into a crucial opportunity,” he said.
Plugging methane leaks is widely
seen as a fast, cheap way to tackle
climate change. The International
Energy Agency (IEA) estimates half
of the gas leaks could be stopped at
zero cost, because the cost of doing
so is offset by the value of the extra
gas captured and then sold.
12 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
International news
Indonesia’s stranded refugees lose hope
Desperate and living on
streets, asylum seekers
dream of being detained
Kate Lamb Jakarta
Ben Doherty
For nearly two months, Farid Attaie has
been sleeping on the footpath outside
an immigration detention centre in
Kalideres, West Jakarta, with his parents, five siblings, and another Hazara
family of three from Afghanistan.
Less than 20 metres from where
they sleep, the gates of the full-tothe-brim detention facility are topped
with spirals of barbed wire designed
to stop people from getting out.
But Attaie and more than 300
homeless asylum seekers and refugees camped out on the street in
makeshift tents of tarpaulin and
bamboo are trying to do the opposite.
They want to get in. After years in
limbo in Indonesia this is the end of
the line – their money has run out and
they have nowhere to go.
In the past asylum seekers would
arrive in Indonesia from countries
such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Iraq, hoping to board a boat to
Australia. But only a handful of boats
have made it to Australian shores in
the past three and a half years, and the
few asylum seekers who have reached
Australia have found themselves
exiled – again – to languish indefinitely
in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Refugees here are now hoping to be
approved for third-country resettlement. But globally each year, less than
1% of refugees get that chance.
For the 13,885 asylum seekers and
refugees in Indonesia, the walls have
been steadily closing in. In recent
months the United Nations high commissioner for refugees has told them
they are unlikely to ever be resettled.
Shattered dreams … Sharmila Attaie
(above), aged 10, lives with her
family outside the Kalideres centre;
(right) Abdul Fatah Kate Lamb
“We don’t know for how many
years we will be here,” says Attaie, 20,
as motorbikes and cars spray dust and
fumes into his roadside shelter. “Last
month UNHCR said … maybe you will
be here for always.”
Attaie’s family fled their homeland
after his eldest brother was shot dead
by insurgents last year. After 10 months
in Indonesia their money has gone.
Exceptional cases – single mothers, single-parent families, unaccompanied minors or the physically
and mentally impaired – will be given
priority. For the rest, life in abeyance
is taking its toll.
In detention centres in Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan there have
been regular protests this year, while
reports of depression and requests for
psychological assistance are on the
rise. A young Afghan asylum seeker
committed suicide here last month,
reportedly after hearing the news that
resettlement would likely never come.
In Kalideres the desperation is palpable. The street is a string of horror
stories. “In the morning they come
with guns – my family killed,” says
Muhammad Al Amien, 17, from Darfur, in Sudan. “I hid in the school.”
Living on the street that lines the detention centre, more than 300 asylum
seekers and refugees are reliant on
charity for water and food. Getting
inside the centre would mean a roof
over their heads and regular meals.
Outside, battling poor sanitation,
crippling heat and monsoonal rain,
people are getting sick. Nursing his
one-and-a-half-year-old son, a Hazara
father, Salim Hussini, points to a fresh
spray of scabies on the boy’s leg. “My
wife is sick and now my son is sick,”
he says. “But I finished my money –
everything – so I have to come here.”
Hussain Badavi, a 22-year-old
Iranian refugee who has been in Indonesia for five years – 20 months of
which was spent in detention in Kalideres before he was moved into community housing – visits every few days
to check on the asylum seekers’ health.
With the support of an Indonesian
philanthropist, Badavi assists those
needing medical treatment. In recent
weeks he has helped asylum seekers
suffering appendicitis, diabetes,
tuberculosis and influenza, and intervened in the case of Abdul Fatah, a
young Yemeni man with a rare genetic
skin disease called epidermolysis bullosa. The emaciated 21-year-old was
found on the streets with blisters,
scabs and lesions covering his body.
In recent weeks things have gone
from bad to worse. The Australian Department for Immigration and Border
Protection has pulled funding to the
International Organisation for Migration to support any new arrivals in Indonesia. The DIBP is the IOM’s principal funder in Indonesia, so Canberra’s
diktat means the organisation can no
longer support any new asylum seekers, despite their continuing arrival.
Even before Australia shut its borders, and US president Donald Trump
introduced tighter immigration
policies, resettlement for refugees in
Indonesia could take up to a decade.
Now it looks like most could be stuck
in Indonesia for ever.
Rohingya’s Myanmar return just a stunt, say rights groups
Michael Safi and agencies
Myanmar says it has repatriated the
first Rohingya refugees from among
nearly 700,000 who fled a crackdown
in the country last year despite warnings from the United Nations that it is
not yet safe to return.
Rights groups have criticised the
announcement as a publicity stunt
and Bangladesh has distanced itself,
saying the repatriation was not part of
the return process the two countries
have been trying to start.
The stateless Muslim minority
have been massing in squalid
refugee camps across the border in
Bangladesh since the Myanmar army
launched a brutal campaign against
the community in northern Rakhine
state in August.
T h e My a n m a r g ove r n m e nt
announced late last Saturday that a
family of refugees had become the
first to be processed in newly built
repatriation centres earlier that day.
“The five members of a family ...
came back to Taungpyoletwei town
repatriation camp in Rakhine state
this morning,” said a statement posted
to the Facebook page of the government’s information committee.
Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, told
Agence France-Presse that the family
had been living in a camp erected on a
patch of “no man’s land” between the
two countries.
Several thousand Rohingya have
been living in the zone since August,
crammed into a cluster of tents
beyond a barbed-wire fence that
roughly demarcates the border zone
between the two countries.
Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed
a repatriation plan in January but
its start has been repeatedly delayed
as both sides blame the other for lack
of preparation.
According to the Myanmar statement, immigration authorities
provided the family with national
verification cards, a form of ID that
falls short of citizenship and has been
rejected by Rohingya leaders who
want full rights.
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 13
International news
Congo opposition
vows to defy Kabila
Humanitarian situation
declines as activists risk
imprisonment or worse
Jason Burke Goma
Opposition politicians and activists
in the Democratic Republic of the
Congo are bracing for a further wave
of repression as the troubled country
edges towards elections that have
been promised by the president,
Joseph Kabila, later this year.
The DRC has been hit by rebellions
and outbreaks of communal violence
in recent months, with some observers
fearing a slide into anarchy, which
could destabilise much of the region.
Hundreds have died and the UN has
warned of a dramatic deterioration
in the humanitarian situation. More
than 4 million people are displaced
and at least 8 million are in the acute
stages of hunger. The country is also
facing its deadliest cholera outbreak
in 15 years.
Police and military forces are
blamed for widespread human rights
abuses. According to a recent UN report
Opposition figure
Moïse Katumbi
launched his
campaign to be
president from
South Africa
last month
“state agents” carried out 1,176 killings
last year, but the true toll may well be
much higher because security agencies and police have been accused of
hiding evidence and many witnesses
have been intimidated.
Five members of the civil society
movement Lutte pour le Changement
(Lucha) were recently detained in the
eastern city of Goma, while many
more have experienced systematic
harassment. Five protesters and one
police officer were injured when
security forces dispersed a protest
last month. Alexis Kanane, a former
spokesman of the Lucha in Goma, was
shot dead two weeks ago. Campaigners believe he was assassinated.
The relatives of victims of recent
shootings and alleged abductions
who were contacted by the Guardian
were unwilling to talk after receiving
threats. But members of the DRC’s
fragmented opposition as well as
civil society activists said they would
continue to protest despite the risks.
“We are threatened every day. They
tell us: ‘Stop what you are doing or
something bad will happen to you.’
The worse thing is not the threat of
prison, it is the fear of not being able to
do anything to change the situation,”
said Gloire Wahzavalere, a 20-year-old
Lucha activist in Goma.
Kabila, who took power in 2001
after his father was assassinated,
ignored the end of his second fiveyear term in 2016. Aides have said the
46-year-old will not stand again at
polls scheduled for December.
“This is not a kingdom … it is
a demo cratic republic,” Lambert
Mende, the information minister, told
the Guardian in February. Last Friday
the government boycotted a donor
conference in Geneva, accusing aid
agencies of exaggerating the extent
of the country’s crisis.
Many believe Kabila will try to hold
on to power by changing the constitution, outright fraud, ensuring a close
ally wins polls or manipulating the
electoral system to ensure opposition
parties are marginalised.
Opposition activists say there is “a
new consciousness among the Congolese”. Christian Badosa, an official
from the Commitment for Citizenship
and Development party, said: “There
is a popular anger [Kabila] cannot
resist. Everyone wants a change.”
Badosa said he had been attacked
four times by unknown thugs in Goma
and repeatedly detained. “I’ve spent
a lot of time in safehouses. They are
ready to do anything to silence us but
we are used to their threats. We’re
going to keep up the pressure.”
The lack of unity among the opposition parties may allow Kabila to pursue an effective policy of divide and
rule, analysts say, and there is still
some support for the president.
“We have seen some huge achievements in recent years: hospitals,
clinics, schools. But you have to be
realistic. Look at where we were coming from! Since independence, this
country was effectively destroyed,”
said Sylvestre Nkuba Kahombo, a
Goma MP with the president’s party.
The most popular opposition figure appears to be Moïse Katumbi, the
former governor of Katanga province.
Katumbi, who was forced to
leave DRC after being charged with
fraud in 2016, launched his run for
the presidency from South Africa
last month. The multimillionaire
businessman says the charges against
him are fabricated.
Leader comment, page 22 →
Farewell Winnie Huge crowds attend funeral
Tens of thousands of South Africans
filled a stadium in Soweto for the
funeral of Winnie MadikizelaMandela, a heroine of the antiapartheid struggle but also one of its
most controversial figures.
Shouts of “Long live Comrade
Winnie” and “the struggle
continues” rang out during the
emotional service last Saturday. A
joyful and tearful crowd listened,
sang and danced to prayers, tributes
and the anthems. President Cyril
Ramaphosa, dignitaries, and political
and cultural figures joined wellwishers at the service. In his eulogy,
Ramaphosa called MadikizelaMandela proud, strong, brave and
articulate. “Winnie’s life was of service to her people,” he said. “She felt
compelled to join a struggle that was
as noble in its purpose as perilous in
its execution. Loudly and without
apology, she spoke truth to power.”
Her death has prompted a fierce
debate between admirers and
detractors. “Some praise Winnie
because she was a fearless fighter for
justice and a feminist icon; others
excoriate her because she was a
violent egomaniac,” wrote Palesa
Morudu, a publisher and writer.
Born in the poor Eastern Cape,
she married Nelson Mandela in 1957,
and continued the struggle during
his 27 years in prison. However,
during the 1980s, she was drawn
into a violent world, and most notoriously, found guilty of ordering
the kidnapping of the 14-year-old
Stompie Seipei, who was murdered
by members of her personal bodyguard detail in 1989. Jason Burke
Photo: Charlie Shoemaker/Getty
China tops execution list
Staff and agencies
China remains the “world’s top
executioner” amid a decline in executions worldwide, Amnesty International said in its annual report on
capital punishment.
According to the report, released
last week, China carried out “more
death sentences than the rest of the
world combined”. Amnesty believes
that thousands of executions and
death sentences took place in 2017
in China, where they are considered
a state secret.
China aside, executions worldwide
dropped again in 2017, with at least
993 recorded in 23 countries – down
4% from 2016 and 39% from 2015.
At least 2,591 death sentences
were recorded in 53 countries in 2017
– down from a record high of 3,117 in
2016 – and at least 21,919 people are
known to be under a death sentence,
Amnesty said. It said the “positive trend” towards ending capital
punishment was exemplified by subSaharan Africa, where 20 countries
have now abolished the death penalty
for all crimes. Just two countries in the
region, Somalia and South Sudan,
carried out executions last year.
“The progress in sub-Saharan
Africa reinforced its position as a
beacon of hope for abolition,” the
Amnesty International secretary
general, Salil Shetty, said.
Excluding China, 84% of the
reported executions last year were
carried out in just four countries:
Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan. Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait and
the United Arab Emirates resumed
executions in 2017.
14 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
Finance in brief
No-show … Netflix are not attending Cannes – audiences booed the firm’s logo at screenings of Okja last year Getty
Hollywood studios fear the
growing power of Netflix
Threat to industry’s
business model of
cinema-first releases
Mark Sweney
The decision of Netflix to pull out of
the Cannes film festival highlights
the tension between streaming companies and the cinema industry over
how movies will be watched.
The world’s premiere film festival
provided a cool reception for Netflix last year, with audiences booing
its logo when it appeared before the
screenings of Bong Joon-ho’s family
adventure film Okja, as well The
Meyerowitz Stories from US director
Noah Baumbach. Boos aside, the films
were a critical success. But they symbolise a threat to a well-established
business model for the industry.
This year the festival’s organisers,
who insist that films can only be
entered for the competition if they
are screened in French cinemas, have
said Netflix can only show films out
of competition at the festival, which
takes place next month. Netflix will
not do this because under
French law, films cannot be
streamed until three years
after their cinema release
in the country.
The British actor Helen
Mirren (right) joined the
fray last week, saying the
rise of streaming had been
“devastating” for film-makers
such as her husband, the US film
director Taylor Hackford, who want
their work to be “watched in a cinema
with a group of people”.
Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s head of
content, highlighted the division
between “Netflix-film-makers” and
the traditional industry when he
said he feared that to show up at all
in the south of France could mean
“having our films and film-makers
treated disrespectfully”.
Netflix has never been overly keen
to make its films available in cinemas.
At best it likes a simultaneous release,
such as acclaimed African civil war
drama Beasts of No Nation, whereby
some cinemas show the film while it
is released to subscribers at the same
time. Most US cinema chains refused
to screen the film, which Netflix
bought for $12m but which made less
than $100,000 at the box office.
Netflix’s streaming-first model
threatens traditional film distribution that allows cinema chains
to attract audiences because they
have historically always enjoyed an
exclusive period as the only place to
catch a new release.
Having disrupted the model for TV
broadcasters by making schedules
irrelevant and grabbing millions of
viewers, Netflix is now making a run
at Hollywood. It is directing a significant chu
chunk of its $8bn budget
making 80 films this year.
at ma
Tha is equivalent to the
sam number of releases
the top five Hollywood
will deliver in 2018.
Net ix’s deep pockets have
lured Hollywood stars such
as Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, stars o
of the company’s recent
$100m sci-fi film Bright, which is an
indication of its intent.
The company’s combination of
quality content, cheap monthly cost
– starting from $11 in the US and UK –
and straightforward delivery has seen
it race to more than 120 million subscribers globally, and a market value
of $130bn. Worryingly for the cinema
industry, analysts believe Netflix is
still in its infancy. Cinema attendance
remains massive, at more than 1.2bn
visits a year in the US and more than
170m in the UK. However, that US figure represented a 6% decline year-onyear and analysts predict Netflix will
continue to grow rapidly.
A recent investor note by the US
investment bank Morgan Stanley
forecast that Netflix will double in
size, driven by other regions including
Asia. “We believe Netflix is still in the
early stages of global adoption,” it
said. “The recipe for success is clear
… [with] the virtuous cycle of scale
leading to a deeper competitive moat.”
Nevertheless, the cinema industry
is fighting back by investing heavily
in making movie-going an experience
that cannot be replicated at home. It
is investing in leather reclining seats,
VIP areas and high-quality sound and
picture technology. “Our demise has
been predicted for the last 80 years
– with TV, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, now
with the internet – and we are not
complacent,” said Tim Richards, the
chief executive of Vue International,
a top-three cinema chain.
Philip Knatchbull, chief executive
of UK cinema chain Curzon, however
forecast a global decline. “I think
worldwide cinema admissions will
[fall] back about 20% in the next five to
10 years. Look at music, people were
blinkered and didn’t see that technology put power in the hands of the
consumer. I think the big multiplex
operators are living in a bygone age.”
• Christine Lagarde, the head
of the International Monetary
Fund, warned of “darker
clouds looming” for the global
economy amid simmering
trade tensions between the
US and China, and urged
governments around the
world to steer clear of
protectionism or face negative consequences. Speaking
in Hong Kong, Lagarde said
the current system for world
trade was “in danger of being
torn apart” and it would be
an “inexcusable, collective
policy failure” for world trade
to break down with nations
erecting punitive tariff
systems against their rivals.
“Let us redouble our efforts
to reduce trade barriers
and resolve disagreements
without using exceptional
measures,” she said.
• Iran’s government scrambled to contain a currency
crisis after the rial hit an
all-time low, prompting
panic-buying of hard-tofind dollars amid political
uncertainty. The Iranian
currency has been steadily
losing its value against the
dollar since the 1979 Islamic
revolution, when one dollar
bought 70 rials. Last week,
one dollar was exchanged for
up to 60,000 rials in central
Tehran. Vice-president Eshaq
Jahangiri said the government
would impose a unified rate
of 42,000 rials for a dollar.
• Sir Martin Sorrell is in line
for almost £20m ($28.6m)
from WPP over the next five
years, as part of the deal
struck to leave the advertising
group he founded. The
departure of Sorrell, who
resigned before learning the
findings of an internal investigation into alleged personal
misconduct, is also being
viewed as a potential catalyst
for a breakup of the world’s
largest advertising group.
Foreign exchanges
Sterling rates
Hong Kong
New Zealand
16 Apr
9 Apr
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 15
UK news
An ideal to fight for
What next for special needs education?
→ John Harris, page 21
Syria strikes: May tells MPs UK
could not wait for UN approval
Delay would give Russia an effective ‘veto’ over foreign policy, says PM
MPs likely to have given
backing before British strike
Pippa Crerar and Jessica Elgot
Theresa May has warned that waiting
for the United Nations to authorise military action in future would
effectively give Russia a veto on
British foreign policy as she defended
her decision to join strikes against the
Syrian regime.
The prime minister accused Moscow of preventing inspectors from
reaching the site of the chemical
weapons attack on Douma and suggested that Bashar al-Assad’s forces,
backed by the Russians, were attempting to destroy evidence of the attack.
She faced down her critics in a
heated debate in the Commons in
the wake of the atrocity, which she
described as “a stain on our humanity”, insisting the UK had needed to
act rapidly to prevent further attacks.
May faced widespread recrimination for launching strikes before consulting parliament – although many of
those MPs said they would have given
her their support – but she suggested
the “security” of the operation could
have been compromised.
“I am absolutely clear that it is parliament’s responsibility to hold me
to account for such decisions – and
parliament will do so,” she told MPs.
“But it is my responsibility as prime
minister to make these decisions. And
I will make them.
“This was a limited, targeted strike
on a legal basis that has been used
before. And it was a decision that
required the evaluation of intelligence
and information, much of which was
of a nature that could not be shared
with parliament.”
However, Labour leader Jeremy
Corbyn said the strikes were “legally
questionable” and that parliament
should have been given the chance
to approve the action, which he suggested was at “the whims” of the US
president, Donald Trump.
Corbyn called for a renewed diplomatic effort by the UK government
and its allies to bring peace to the region – although the prime minister attacked his suggestion that diplomatic
efforts had not been exhausted.
May warned: “The leader of
the opposition has said that he can
‘only countenance involvement in
Syria if there is UN authority behind
it’. The house should be clear that
Decisive … Theresa May sets off to deliver statement to MPs Andy Rain/EPA
would mean a Russian veto on our
foreign policy.”
May, who spent more than three
hours at the dispatch box, denied that
Britain had joined the US-led airstrikes
at the request of Trump, insisting it
was the “legally and moral right” thing
to do in response to the onslaught
which killed up to 75 people.
The prime minister pledged there
would be a further diplomatic push
to bring the Assad regime back to the
negotiating table as well as a “full
range” of political and economic
levers, to strengthen the ban on the
use of chemical weapons.
May denied Corbyn’s claims in a
Guardian article that the attacks had
just demolished empty buildings. She
said the targets included a scientific
research centre developing chemical
weapons, a chemical weapons bunker
and command post and a missile base,
assessed to be a location of sarin gas.
The statement marked a new low
point in diplomatic relations with
Russia, already poor in the wake of
the Salisbury attack, with the Kremlin
reacting furiously to claims that it was
hindering the Douma investigation.
It comes after Ken Ward, the US
ambassador to the Organisation for
the Prevention of Chemical Weapons
(OPCW), expressed concerns that
the Russians had tampered with the
attack site with the aim of thwarting
the weapons inspectors’ mission.
May cited intelligence which
showed that a “wider operation” to
conceal the facts of the attack was under way. Moscow strongly denied interfering with the work of inspectors,
suggesting the international missile
strikes in response had made it difficult
for the OPCW to travel to the scene.
After the prime minister’s Commons statement, there was a further
lengthy debate on the Syria action.
It ended in a wholly symbolic vote
called by the SNP on the motion that
the house “has considered the current situation in Syria and the UK
government approach”, which the
government won 314 votes to 36.
The Commons response to Theresa
May’s statement on military strikes
in Syria exposed a paradox: while
many believed she should have
sought the approval of parliament
beforehand, it seemed clear this
would have been granted anyway.
Labour MP Jess Phillips summed
up this view two hours into the
discussion, saying: “I regret that
were wasn’t a parliamentary vote
on this issue. But I wish to tell the
prime minister and the house that
she would have had my vote had I
been asked to give it.”
Other Labour MPs stood up to
contradict Jeremy Corbyn’s view
that the UK’s involvement was
legally questionable and should
not have happened, while also
regretting May’s decision to not
recall parliament.
Similarly, a number of
independent-minded Conservative
MPs supported May’s decision
to join the US and France in the
strikes. But the prime minister
came under repeated pressure over
the lack of advance parliamentary
scrutiny of the decision.
Yvette Cooper, a senior
backbench Labour MP, said:
“The PM and her cabinet appear
to be rejecting the entire principle
of consulting, debating and
voting in parliament in advance
of military action.”
Another Labour MP, Hilary
Benn, asked for an assurance from
May that if there was a further
chemical attack in Syria, “she will
come to parliament first, she will
share such evidence as she can …
and that she will trust parliament
to decide what is to be done”.
The prime minister also came
under pressure over the very
limited numbers of Syrian refugees
brought to the UK.
Labour’s Stella Creasy said she
wanted to “beg the prime minister
to rethink her approach to those
Syrians who have fled to Europe.
They are the same people fleeing
this horror, they are the people
who needed this safe haven.”
Peter Walker and Jessica Elgot
16 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
UK news
Home Office to tackle Windrush scandal
Minister pledges change
over undocumented
long-term residents
Amelia Gentleman
Pippa Crerar
The home secretary has announced
the creation of a new Home Office
team to ensure no more Windrushera citizens will be classified as illegal
immigrants, and acknowledged that
the Home Office had become “too
concerned with policy and strategy”
over individuals.
In a significant criticism of her
department, Amber Rudd said the
Home Office had become too concerned with policy and strategy and
sometimes lost sight of the human
costs. “This is about individuals. We
have seen the individual stories and
some of them have been terrible.”
The Home Office promised that fees
to naturalise or apply for a biometric
card, which can be thousands of
pounds, would be waived for people
in this category. Rudd said there
would be a team of about 20 people
working on the issue.
The announcement came after
immigration minister Caroline Nokes
said some residents who answered
the call to come to the UK to work in
essential services in the 1950s and
60s had been deported in error to
countries they left as children for not
having the right documents.
Rudd said action would be taken to
rectify the situation for anyone who
had been wrongly deported. She said
she was not aware of anyone who had
been deported and added the government was trying to establish this with
the Caribbean heads of government.
She was repeatedly challenged over
Theresa May’s “hostile” immigration
environment, and asked if it was
Stateless ... migrants expected the UK to honour their birthrights Alamy
time to end the policy. The Tottenham MP David Lammy, who secured
the urgent debate, said this was “a day
of national shame”.
“Can she [Rudd] tell the house how
many have been detained as prisoners in their own country, how many
have been denied access to health
services, how many denied pensions
and lost the jobs?” he asked. “It has
come about because of a hostile
environment policy that was begun
under her prime minister.”
Nokes told ITV News before the
debate: “There have been some horrendous situations which as a minister
have appalled me.” Asked how many
people had been deported, she said:
“I don’t know the numbers. But what
I’m determined to do is say we will
have no more of this. We want people
to have confidence to come to the
Home Office. We want to give them
a message of reassurance, because I
value these people.”
The prime minister agreed to meet
representatives of 12 Caribbean countries this week to discuss the problems
experienced by some British residents
of the Windrush generation, in an
apparent climbdown.
Downing Street said the prime minister deeply valued the contribution of
Commonwealth citizens who moved
to the UK decades ago, and stressed
that nobody with a right to be in the
UK would be made to leave.
No 10 had initially rejected a formal
diplomatic request from the 12 countries, whose representatives were in
London for the Commonwealth heads
of government meeting, giving the
impression that the May government
was not taking a sufficiently serious
approach to the problem. On Monday
there was growing outrage among
politicians about the situation, which
has affected an unknown number of
people who arrived in the UK as children, but never formally naturalised
or applied for a British passport.
Downing Street’s change of heart
followed the publication of a letter sent to May and signed by more
than 140 MPs from across the political spectrum. The letter expressed
concern about the many long-term
residents who have been incorrectly
identified as illegal immigrants.
Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, tweeted on Monday: “I’m deeply
concerned to hear about difficulties
some of the Windrush generation are
facing with their immigration status.
This should not happen to people who
have been longstanding pillars of our
community. The government is looking into this urgently.”
The prime minister’s spokesman
said: “She deeply values the contribution made by these and all Commonwealth citizens who have made a life
in the UK and is making sure the Home
Office is offering the correct solution.
“She is aware many people are
unlikely to have documents that are
over 40 years old and is clear that no
one with the right to be here will be
made to leave.”
The spokesman said the Home
Office would look at cases with “great
sensitivity”, suggesting the department could provide extra support to
help people navigate the system.
However, most people in this situation have not found the Home Office
sensitive to their plight. “[May] is
going to make sure that we’re offering the correct solution for individual
situations. Each situation may well be
different, but we need to make sure
that we have the support there to
help people through the process,” the
spokesman said.
Father of Stephen Lawrence says he forgives son’s killers
Robert Booth
The father of Stephen Lawrence has
said he forgives his son’s killers, 25
years after they stabbed the 18-yearold to death as he waited for a bus in
Eltham, south-east London.
Neville Lawrence, 78, said the decision to forgive the gang for the racist
attack was the hardest one he would
ever make, but that he was embracing
his Christian faith and planned to
spend the anniversary of his son’s
death in church.
Two of the group of up to six men
who attacked the teenager and his
friend Duwayne Brooks because
they were black have been convicted
of murder, but the rest have evaded
justice. David Norris and Gary Dobson are both serving life sentences
after convictions six years ago. They
were connected to the murder scene
by advances in forensic science.
Three other men who have consistently been accused of the killing but
never convicted are Jamie Acourt,
41, his brother Neil, 42, who uses his
mother’s maiden name Stuart, and
Luke Knight, 41. The initial investigation was “marred by a combination
of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers”, according to
the judicial inquiry into the case by Sir
William Macpherson.
Lawrence’s decision has come
after Scotland Yard admitted it had
run out of leads, although it hoped
that a three-part BBC1 documentary,
Stephen: The Murder That Changed
a Nation, which was due to begin
screening this week, could result in
new witnesses coming forward.
In the documentary, Doreen Lawrence – Stephen’s mother and Neville’s
former wife – described the killers as
“idiots” and complained that “they
had more rights than we did”.
In 2012, after the convictions of
Norris and Dobson, she said she
could not forgive them because
“you can only forgive somebody
when they have shown remorse
and accepted what they have done –
and they haven’t”.
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 17
Hot rocks Giant’s Causeway riddle solved with a little Icelandic help
According to legend, the Giant’s
Causeway was built by the Irish
giant, Finn MacCool, as a crossing to
confront his Scottish rival. Scientists
have an alternative explanation, and
for the first time they have reproduced in the laboratory the process
through which the causeway’s
40,000 near-perfect hexagonal
columns were formed.
Geometric columns are seen in a
variety of volcanic rocks across the
Earth and are known to form as the
rock cools and contracts, resulting in
a regular array of polygonal prisms
or columns. But until now geologists
had been unsure of the threshold
at which cooling magma suddenly
fractures into a geometric pavement.
Yan Lavallée, professor of volcanology at the University of Liverpool
and lead author of the study, said:
“[This] is a question that has fascinated the world of geology for a very
long time. We have been wanting
to know whether the temperature
of the lava that causes the fractures
was hot, warm or cold.”
To answer the question, Lavallée
and colleagues recreated the process
in the laboratory, using basalt cores
drilled from the Eyjafjallajökull
volcano in Iceland. The 20cm-long
cylinders, gripped by a clamp at
each end, were heated to more than
1,000C until they began to soften into
lava. The samples were fixed at each
end in a mechanical grip and cooled
to test at what point they snapped.
The basalt magma fractured at between 840C-890C, the study found,
suggesting that this is the temperature at which the Giant’s Causeway
would have formed.
“I have spent over a decade pondering how to address this question
and construct the right experiment
to find the answer to this question,”
said Lavallée. “Now, with this study,
we have found that the answer is hot,
but after it solidified.” He hopes to
extend his inquiry by using a large
pool of magma to reproduce the
geometric fracturing as rock is cooled
– although he said this would have to
be under controlled conditions.
The Giant’s Causeway formed
between 50m and 60m years ago,
when the region that now sits on
the Antrim coastline was subject
to intense volcanic activity. Molten
basalt erupted through chalk beds
and formed a lake of lava. As this
cooled and contracted, cracks propagated across the plateau to form
hexagonal stepping stones. Similar
geological structures are seen elsewhere, including Devils Postpile in
California, and the pattern occurs
on many scales as faster cooling
produces smaller columns.
The findings are published in the
journal Nature Communications.
Hannah Devlin Photograph: Marco
Poor building work ‘fuelled Grenfell fire’
Robert Booth
The Grenfell Tower fire was fuelled by
botched building work that went well
beyond the use of flammable cladding
panels, a study for the Metropolitan
police has reportedly revealed.
Gaps around windows, wrongly
fitted cavity barriers meant to stop
fire, and dozens of missing door closers helped to spread rather than limit
the fire in June 2017 that resulted in
the deaths of 71 people, according to
details that emerged on Monday.
A survivors’ group, Grenfell United,
said the findings were shocking. The
analysis comes as the more than 530
core participants in the public inquiry
digest a series of confidential technical
reports commissioned by the inquiry
chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick. In
parallel, Scotland Yard is investigating
the blaze and has said it is considering
possible manslaughter and corporate
manslaughter charges.
The technical report for detectives
was drawn up by BRE Global, a building
research company that runs fire testing
in the UK. It reportedly identified multiple “deficiencies” in the £10m ($14m)
recladding of Grenfell Tower between
2014 and 2016, carried out on behalf
of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant
Management Organisation, the social
housing arm of the Royal Borough of
Kensington and Chelsea.
Cavity barriers that are meant
to expand and seal gaps between
concrete surfaces and cladding in the
event of fire were of “insufficient size
specification”, it is reported. They
were designed to close a 25mm gap but
were installed with a 50mm gap. Some
were installed upside down or back
to front and the failures “provided a
route for fire spread”.
There were gaps of 15cm between
window frames and concrete columns
that were filled by rubber membrane,
foam insulation and plastic panels.
The report said this allowed “a direct
route for fire spread”. It meant the
first obstacle the fire encountered as it
escaped flat 16 was the window frame,
which provided “fuel”, not a barrier.
Scotland Yard and BRE Global were
yet to comment on the report.
News in brief
UK news
• Growing numbers of NHS
personnel in England have
been the victim of a violent
attack at work, with understaffing and delays in patients
accessing services being
blamed for the rise. Hospital
trust figures recorded 56,435
physical assaults on staff in
2016-17, up 9.7% on the 51,447
recorded the year before.
The data, from 181 of the
NHS’s 244 hospital trusts,
was obtained by the Health
Service Journal for the union
Unison under the Freedom
of Information Act. Nurses,
paramedics and mental
health staff are among those
most likely to be assaulted.
• A major push for a “people’s
vote” on the final Brexit deal
between Britain and the EU
has been launched by MPs,
celebrities and business
leaders. Conservative MP
Anna Soubry, Labour’s Chuka
Umunna, the Greens’ Caroline
Lucas and Liberal Democrat
Layla Moran launched the
initiative last Sunday. They
have been at pains to avoid the
term “second referendum”.
• The majority of British
migrants living in Europe are
of working age, even in Spain,
the most popular EU country
for UK citizens to settle in, new
figures show. The Office for
National Statistics data contradicts the widely held belief
that most Britons in Europe are
pensioners. ONS figures show
two-thirds of the 784,900
British citizens recorded as
long-term residents in the EU,
excluding the UK and Ireland,
are aged between 15 and 64.
• Peter Horrocks, the vicechancellor of the Open
University, resigned after
failing to quell a staff revolt
over his plans to institute
major budget cuts and redundancies. Horrocks proved
unable to win the backing of
the OU’s governing council,
after failing to convince its
members that he could manage the reforms needed at the
distance-learning institution.
• TV presenter Ant McPartlin
was fined £86,000 ($123,000)
and disqualified from driving
for 20 months after admitting
drink-driving. The 42-yearold crashed into two vehicles
while under the influence in
Richmond, south-west London, last month. He was more
than twice the legal limit.
18 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
Syria has
paid dearly
for western
Andrew Rawnsley
After seven years of
failing to act, we can
review where a noninterventionist policy
has got us. It has been
an utter catastrophe
et’s cut the canting. No one thinks, not those
ordering them and not those opposing
them, that the missile strikes against the
Assad regime will influence the outcome
of the catastrophe in Syria. If there was an
opportunity for America, Britain and their
allies to make a difference for the better, the
chance was missed many, many deaths ago. What we are
witness to – on the part of both the leaders of the western
democracies and their critics – is a tableau of actors
striking postures designed to make the players feel
better about themselves. This posing can never rewrite
the blood-drenched history of a seven-year conflict
that has turned Syria into a charnel house and shredded
international norms about the conduct of war.
The proximate cause of this crisis is the chemical
attack on Douma. After years of unmasterly inactivity by
the democracies, it is that atrocity that drew attention
back to what is happening in Syria and finally stirred
punitive action against President Bashar al-Assad. In
the words of the ineffable Donald Trump, the retaliatory
strikes are supposed to demonstrate to “animal Assad”
that there is a “price to pay” for the dictator’s use of
banned weaponry. In the more measured language of
Theresa May, “we cannot allow the use of chemical
weapons to be normalised”. Yet the normalisation
of chemical weapons is precisely what has already
happened in Syria. Assad’s regime has time and again
used chemical warfare to slaughter its own people, as
it has also deployed hideous “conventional” weapons,
such as dropping barrel bombs and fuel-air bombs on
civilian areas to inflict mass casualties.
Over seven years of relentless savagery in Syria,
the hands of the leaders of the western powers have
been wedged firmly under their bottoms. They have
been encouraged to maintain this impotent posture
by legislators too feeble to grip the dilemmas posed
by Syria and voters weary of engagement with the
hard parts of the world. Listening to both their public
pronouncements and their private calculations, the
abiding impression is that this belated and limited
action by Washington, London and Paris is not driven
by any conviction that these strikes will make any
meaningful difference. Missiles are flying mainly to
soothe guilt about repeated earlier failures to act.
Even so, I give these leaders a little more credit than I
can find for those whose only counsel is to do absolutely
nothing. At least some of these belated interventionists
are wrestling with a genuine dilemma. To let yet another
use of chemical weapons happen without any form of
response would have given a complete sense of impunity
to the Assad regime and its sponsors in the Kremlin.
The non-interventionists come in two categories.
There are the “it’s nothing to do with us” brigade who
declare that “we haven’t got a dog in the Syrian fight”.
Mainly to be found on the hand-washing right, the cold
R Fresson
While the noninterventionists have
talked about talking,
the Assad regime and
its backers have been
free to go on killing
brutality with which they express their indifference to so
much human suffering has the sole merit of being candid.
Less honest, not least with themselves, are the
self-proclaimed peace-lovers. Mainly to be found on
the hand-wringing left, they are too busy looking in
the mirror admiring their own halos to face the moral
challenges posed by a situation like Syria. Jeremy
Corbyn opposes last weekend’s action on the grounds
that it “risks escalating further” what is “an already
devastating conflict”. The Labour leader and those who
share his world view are consistent. Do nothing has
been their unvaried policy for the past seven years of
carnage. There is no doubt that they can expect support
from much of a domestic electorate turned allergic to
engaging with abroad, especially the Middle East.
s the non-interventionists have
preached inaction, the death toll in
Syria has been remorselessly escalated
by the Assad regime and its allies.
Whenever pressed to say what they
would do, the non-interventionists fall
back on calling for “negotiations” and
more effort at the United Nations. They have to be aware
that Russia has repeatedly used its security council
veto to shield Assad from any effective action by the
UN. While the non-interventionists have talked about
talking, the Assad regime and its backers in the Kremlin
and Iran have been free to go on killing.
It is not provable whether earlier intervention would
have altered the course of Syria’s tragic history. Noninterventionists said then, as they say now, that anything that the west does only makes things worse. That
we can’t prove either. What we can see is how bad things
have become and it is hard to conceive how exactly it
could be worse. After seven years of failing to act in
Syria, we can audit where a non-interventionist policy
has got us. It has been an utter disaster in every respect.
The United Nations struggles to put an exact figure
on how many people have died, but best estimates
put the number at around half a million. More than
5 million Syrians are refugees abroad and more than
6 million have been internally displaced. Assad has
flattened cities and smashed through nearly every
international taboo about the conduct of war. The
Syrian dictator is massacring his way to victory and
there is no one who thinks that missile strikes will in any
way impede him. The conflict has inexorably widened
and now consumes the region as Syria has been turned
into a battlefield for proxy conflicts between regional
players. Russia has been encouraged in its belligerence.
The west looks helpless. Dictators the world over
have been emboldened to believe that they can crush
opposition using the most barbaric methods and the rest
of the world will do nothing to stop them. Those striving
for freedom have been commensurately disheartened.
The rule of international law
has been weakened.
Action has consequences
and they are not always the
ones intended and hoped for.
That was the grisly lesson of
Iraq. Inaction also has consequences. Doing nothing can
have a price every bit as high.
I’d think better of the noninterventionists if they’d ever
once admit that. Inaction has
been a terrible choice in Syria.
Interventionists have
been rightly obliged to own
all that went horribly wrong
in Iraq. Non-interventionists,
the horrors of Syria are on
you. Observer
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 19
A better future? No wonder capitalism is distrusted
Larry Elliott
Post-cold war politics shifted towards
the right, and ordinary people were
forced to suffer. Mainstream parties
need to learn what went wrong
istory tells us the first cold war lasted from
1945 until 1990, and was won by the west.
Capitalism triumphed over communism,
freedom over tyranny. The early 1990s
witnessed a victory roll for markets:
economic shock treatment was administered to the former Soviet Union and its
satellites; a global free trade deal was wrapped up; and
parties of the left got with the programme. They stopped
talking about socialism and embraced the need for greater
competition, efficiency and labour market flexibility.
The centre of gravity of politics shifted. Before the
collapse of the Soviet Union, the middle ground in the
west was halfway between full-blown communism at
one extreme, full-blown capitalism at the other. From
the late 19th century onwards, the fear that the working
classes would be seduced by Marxism prompted parties
of both left and right to introduce reforms intended to
knock some of the rough edges off capitalism.
There were plenty more concessions after the second
world war. America’s Marshall plan was not just philanthropy. It was also the result of fear of communism and
a feeling that, if capitalism couldn’t deliver for ordinary
people, they had somewhere else to go. This anxiety
dwindled as it became clear the Soviet economy worked
a lot better when the need was to provide tanks and
aircraft than it did to produce consumer goods. The
end of the cold war removed the threat of an alternative
ideology altogether. So the new middle ground – the third
way – moved closer to an undiluted form of capitalism.
To take just one obvious example, the economic strategy being proposed at present by John McDonnell, Britain’s shadow chancellor – higher personal and corporate
taxes, state ownership of the public utilities and the
railways, a national investment bank – would have been
firmly in the social democratic mainstream when the
cold war was at its height. Now it is seen as so extreme
that Labour dissidents are – in another echo of the past –
toying with the idea of forming a new centrist party.
In the new post-cold war politics, parties that once
believed their job was to make capitalism work for
voters now believed their task was to make voters
fit for capitalism. State intervention did not cease, it
merely took a different form. Governments might have
believed they could do nothing to prevent communities
wiped out by deindustrialisation and were no longer to
guarantee full employment, so they used welfare reform
to get the unemployed to take low-paid jobs and told
the poor they needed to smoke less, drink less and eat
more healthily. State control over people replaced state
control over the economy, and it didn’t really matter
whether the voters liked the tough love or not, because
there was nowhere else to go. The austerity policies
of the past decade saw the full flowering of the new
politics. Those responsible for the biggest financial crisis
since the second world war went unpunished; those
who were innocent felt the full force of deficit-reduction
programmes. There was nothing like Marshall aid for
Greece when experiencing a 30% fall in GDP.
Eva Bee
The decision to
embrace the discipline
of the global market
has proved disastrous
for the parties of
the centre-left
It is now almost three decades since the cold war
ended, and few hanker for a return to the days when
the iron curtain divided Europe. Yet the promises made
in the early 1990s have not been fulfilled. Liberalising
markets did not lead to economic perfection; instead
the orgy of speculation unleashed led to the financial
crisis of 2008. Living standards have continued to rise in
the west, but more slowly than they once did. Productivity growth has stalled. In the UK, personal debt levels
are not much lower than they were before the crash.
The country that has done best in the post-cold war
era – China – has done so with a version of the old middle
way. Strong growth has meant a great fall in poverty
rates, but movements of capital have been regulated,
trade barriers are higher than in the US or Europe, and
the state has kept ownership of large chunks of industry.
China is more market-friendly, but only up to a point.
The decision to embrace the discipline of the global
marketplace was disastrous for centre-left parties. They
did well enough in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when
cheap goods flooded in from China, but were bereft of
ideas when the global economy hit the wall in 2008.
Where there would once have been a plan to re-regulate
capitalism there was instead an intellectual vacuum.
There are some obvious lessons to be drawn. The
first is that mainstream parties need to come up with
policies that do things for people rather than do things
to people. The record shows that the managed capitalism of the cold war delivered better results than the
unmanaged capitalism since.
The second lesson is that voters don’t buy the idea
that global capitalism is a force of nature that cannot be
tamed. That’s why Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs on
Chinese imports and McDonnell’s plan to nationalise
the utility companies are proving popular. People want
now what they have always wanted: a job, decent pay,
a pension, a roof over their heads and a sense that their
children will be better off than they are. They can’t
understand why the global economy can’t deliver today
what nation states could deliver half a century ago.
There is one final lesson. If mainstream parties don’t
come up with the answers, the evidence is that voters
will look elsewhere for solutions. The rise of populism
explodes the myth that they have nowhere else to go.
20 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
Let’s follow
Harry Quilter-Pinner
was born in Liverpool and grew up on a council
estate. I had a clean home, toys and nice meals as
a kid. When I was nine years old, the sexual abuse
started. My abusers made me feel special. They
gave me gifts, moneys, cigarettes and sweets.
When I was 13 I ran away from home and soon
found myself in the murky world of prostitution
on the streets. My life was out of control.”
This is how it all started for Simon. I met him 23 years
later at SCT, a local charity I help to run in east London
that offers support to people who are homeless and face
alcohol and drug addiction. He used to make me coffee
every morning at the social enterprise cafe we run. He
had spent years in and out of hostels and institutions, as
well as long spells on the streets.
When I met him, Simon was sober and working for
the first time in years. He said at the time that SCT
“offered me the opportunity to get my life back on track.
Life is worth living now. I’m looking forward to my
future.” Tragically, this future wasn’t to be: soon afterwards he decided to return to the streets and died.
I would like to be able to say that Simon’s story is
an exception. But in reality it is all too familiar. The
number of homeless people dying on the streets or in
temporary accommodation in the UK has more than
doubled over the past five years to more than one per
week. The average age of a rough sleeper when they
die is 43, about half the UK life expectancy. The tragedy
is that it’s entirely within our power to do something
Robert Fresson
The number of rough
sleepers in Britain is
soaring, with deaths
a weekly occurrence.
It’s time to treat housing
as a basic human right
about it: homelessness is not a choice made by the
individual; it is a reality forced by government policy.
As homelessness has rocketed in the UK – up 134% since
2010 – it has fallen by 35% in Finland over a similar
period of time. The Finnish government is now aiming
to abolish it altogether in the coming years.
I travelled to Finland to understand how it had done
this. It turns out its solution is painfully simple: give
homes to homeless people. As Juha Kaakinen, who has
led much of the work on “housing first” in Finland, explained when I met him in Helsinki, “this takes housing
as a basic human right” rather than being conditional on
engaging in services for addictions or mental health.
This is fundamentally different to our model in the
UK, where stable accommodation is only provided as a
“reward” for engaging in treatment services. The problem with this is obvious if you think about it: how do we
expect people to address complex personal problems
while exposed to the chaos of life on the streets?
Sceptics will argue that giving homes to homeless
people is a recipe for disaster. Aren’t we just subsidising
addiction? Don’t people need an incentive to get their
lives back on track and engage in services?
Actually, no. The evidence from Finland – as well as
numerous other pilot schemes across the world – shows
the opposite is true. When people are given homes,
homelessness is radically reduced, engagement in support services goes up and recovery rates from addiction
are comparable to a “treatment first” approach. Even
more impressive is that there are overall savings for
government, as people’s use of emergency health
services and the criminal justice system is lessened.
At the last election, the government committed to
pilot a housing first approach in the UK. This isn’t good
enough. During my time in Finland I didn’t see one
homeless person. Within a few hours of coming back
to London I walked past more than 100 rough sleepers queueing for food just a few minutes from parliament. What we need is action. Ending homelessness is
achievable if we have the will to take action.
Harry Quilter-Pinner is director of strategy at SCT, a
homelessness and addictions charity in east London.
He writes here in a personal capacity
More at
Opinion In brief
Please wake me up from this nightmare
Dylan’s love song twist reflects a-changin’ times
In my (admittedly self-regarding)
opinion, I do my very best living
between the hours of 11pm and,
say, 3am. That’s when my children
have been confined to their beds
and I have the relative freedom that
allows me to consume television
until my eyes start to sting.
The best way I can describe my
nocturnal nirvana is that it’s like
being alive while being partially
dead – a battle against sleep in order
to feel as though I’ve enjoyed some
quality solitary time, even if nothing
constructive is being achieved. A
tiny, useless victory against the
relentless tyranny of parenting.
Tragically though, the enduring
nuisance that is science has come
along to jam a spanner in my welloiled works. A study from the
chronobiologists at the University
of Surrey suggests that night owls
are more prone to smoking, heavy
I’ve always found a love of Bob
Dylan to be elusive. I get it, but I
don’t get it, sort of like deep-pan
pizza or electric bicycles. Still, I very
much enjoyed Bob’s contribution
to a new EP called Universal Love,
which sees various artists singing
classic love songs with a same-sex
pronoun twist. Kesha has covered
Janis Joplin’s I Need a Man to Love,
turning that man into a woman,
while Kele Okereke has done The
Temptations’ My Girl as My Guy.
It’s indicative of the music industry’s ever-tightening belt that it has
been funded by the hotel company
MGM Resorts International, which
says same-sex unions account for
20 to 30% of wedding ceremonies at
its Vegas hotels and hopes Universal
Love will provide a soundtrack.
Dylan has taken on the 1929 classic She’s Funny That Way, crooning
his love to a male suitor instead.
drinking, depression and drug
abuse. Oh, and unhealthy eating.
The study, in Chronobiology International, shows that late risers
are 30% more likely to have diabetes, 22% more likely to have respiratory problems and 94% more likely
to have psychological disorders.
Thankfully, the chronobiologists
aren’t here to night-shame us
– they argue that lives could be
saved if society was more flexible
to the needs of those who stay up
late. They’ve found that the No 1
risk factor for premature death is
chronic sleep deprivation.
This has all come as a massive
wake-up call. If I carry on with my
night-time solitude, I may lose a
few years. So in future, if you catch
me tweeting about a 1980s episode
of Top of the Pops at 2am, please
tell me to get to bed – you could be
saving my life. Andy Dawson
It’s only mildly unusual to hear him
sing to a man and only if you’re
listening closely, which seems like
a great leap forward from the many
decades of pop songs that were only
ever directed to the opposite sex or,
if the artist was being more coy, to
“you”. Queer artists explicitly singing to a person of the same gender is
a relatively recent development.
Pop seems joyfully full of new
young artists not only being candid
about who their songs are lusting
after, but celebrating that point of
difference, too. Hayley Kiyoko sings
about being a better option than
her crush’s boyfriend. Troye Sivan
disappears into a bedroom with
more-than-just-a-man-friend in
the video for Youth. Even Cardi B’s
album contains a lyrical request for a
threesome with Rihanna.
As Bob once had it, the times they
are a-changin’. Rebecca Nicholson
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 21
In praise of …
Theresa May faced MPs after ordering strikes against Syria without consultation with parliament Ben Jennings
Lessons in
for us all
John Harris
Policies that seek to
push children with
special needs out of
mainstream schools are
turning back the clock
uman progress is slow to happen and
sometimes hard to see. But look back,
and you may see how far we have come.
I grew up in a world where words such
as “handicapped” and “retarded” were
part of everyday speech. A sure sign of
the way society kept some people at
arm’s length was the inhuman use of the definite article:
people knew about “the deaf”, “the blind” and “the
disabled”, but didn’t give them much thought. Many of
these attitudes linger. But millions of people now know
that even the word “disability” often does little justice to
who people actually are, and how much the concept blurs
into the supposedly “able” population. Human beings are
complex: as the American writer Steve Silberman puts it
in his book NeuroTribes, “Just because a computer is not
running Windows doesn’t mean it’s broken. Not all the
features of atypical human operating systems are bugs.”
And then you look at the English education system
– or, more specifically, the arrangements and policies
for kids with so-called special educational needs – and
wonder what happened. Cuts are deepening, and there
is a rising sense of children who do not fit in being
pushed out. At the last count, 4,152 children deemed to
have special needs had not been found a school place
(up from 776 in 2010), and most of them were forced to
stay at home without formal provision. Even if they are
in school, thousands more are increasingly being denied
the support they need.
As things stand, the government funds the majority
of pre-16 state education through the dedicated schools
grant, one of whose elements is the so-called high-needs
block, meant to cover the education of children who
either need intensive support in mainstream education,
or go to special schools. From 2011 up to now, the highneeds block has effectively been frozen – and to make
things worse, new government rules limit councils’ ability to top up special–needs funding from the much bigger budgets intended for mainstream schools as a whole.
Amid an across-the-board spending squeeze, dozens
of local authorities are running high-needs deficits.
The fondue is back and Britain is seeing a resurgence of a 1970s dinnerparty set piece. It’s the fondue’s
potential as a sharing dish and conversation piece that is part of the attraction, say researchers from Oxford
University, along with the comforting
nature of all that melted cheese.
In the 1930s, fondue became the
national Swiss dish and was championed by the Swiss Cheese Union as
part of a campaign for the “spiritual
defence of Switzerland”. Could the
fact that the dish comes from a small
thriving nation outside the EU be appealing to the UK’s post-Brexit fears?
Its origin is traced to isolated
communities who had limited
access to fresh food in the colder
months so used old bits of cheese
and bread, turning them into a
rich, warming meal with the help
of some local high-acidity white
wine. The classic is usually a mix
of a nutty meltable cheese such as
comté, emmenthal or gruyère with
a creamier one such as fontina,
reblochon or port salut. Rosie Sykes
Across England as a whole, there is reckoned to be a
£400m ($572m) gap between what councils say they
require for their high-needs provision and what the
government is providing. So schools are cutting back on
teaching assistants, special-needs training and outside
help. If you have a child with special needs, or know
anyone who does, you will know what all this entails.
One-to-one provision at school often makes the difference between a child progressing or withdrawing.
Without such support, it can feel like the sky is falling in.
At the same time, sweeping reforms to the specialneeds system – which, among other things, extend the
state’s responsibilities to thousands of people up to the
age of 25 – have been botched and underfunded. In an
absurd twist, people are now exiting the public sector
system and successfully pushing councils to fund places
at independent special schools.
It would be easy to think that this is all about
austerity, but it is worse than that. In the Conservatives’
2010 manifesto, there was a pledge to “end the bias
towards the inclusion of children with special needs
in mainstream schools”, and push back against “the
ideologically driven closure of special schools”. In the
context of education policy, these pledges have since
taken on a more sinister aspect.
We all know what modern English education policy
is all about: results, league tables, a fixation with
“discipline”. Where, you wonder, does special-needs
education fit in. The beginnings of an answer, perhaps,
lie in a government announcement in 2017 that under
the auspices of the free schools programme, there are to
be 19 new “special free schools”.
I have a child with special educational needs. He’s 11 –
and, with a lot of support, he has been taught alongside
his peers in mainstream state schools since he was four.
He has benefited immeasurably, but that is only half
the point. His presence at his endlessly encouraging,
proudly diverse school means that his peers understand
what human difference means in practice. This is the
ideal we are now going to have to fight for – before it gets
snuffed out, with tragic consequences.
22 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
Arms control
Signing up must mean something
In 2013 Barack Obama made a bargain with
Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, brokered by
Russia, the latter’s ally. The United States withdrew its threat to attack Mr Assad’s regime for
using sarin against Syrians in Damascus that
summer. Hundreds died in the deadliest use of
chemical weapons since the Iran–Iraq war. Mr
Assad denied he had used such weapons, but
in return for US restraint his regime agreed to
dismantle its chemical weapons programme.
Much of the country’s banned substances were
thought to have been destroyed, and Syria
joined the treaty against their use.
But Mr Assad has made a mockery of the
agreement. Syria’s civil war, now in its seventh
year, has been wreathed in toxic fumes. Experts
from the UN and the chemical weapons watchdog said the Syrian regime has used helicopters
to dump chlorine gas on opponents. Chlorine
is not a banned substance, since it has commercial uses, but its use as a weapon is. The
watchdog last year said Mr Assad’s forces also
used sarin gas, a nerve agent. There have been
an estimated score or more of incidents of
chemical weapons use since then.
These are heinous crimes. It’s not that these
weapons kill on any wider scale than heavy
artillery does, but that they kill in a very cruel
way. The use of chemical weapons amounts
to official terrorism, corrupting further a
corrupt regime. Mr Assad does not care; it
has been effective, even in smaller doses than
the 2013 attack, to evict insurgents from their
sanctuaries, forcing them to keep moving and
making it harder to regroup.
Mr Assad has been allowed to act with
murderous impunity because of his backers in
Moscow. Russia has vetoed critical resolutions
at the UN security council. In an attempt to
deter Mr Assad from using chemical weapons
again, the US, France and the UK last weekend
took military action.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia has largely fallen
out of love with arms control, seeing the
rules-based order as a way of reducing its influence and stature in the world. Moscow wants
Russia’s power to reflect its gigantic geography
rather than its puny economy and almost nonexistent political magnetism. Russia is similar
to North Korea and Iran in seeking strength
through having adversaries. But in eliciting
global condemnation they achieve weakness.
The only way to bring back rogue nations
into compliance will be through re-establishing the fundamental premise of why arms
control agreements exist. Countries enter into
them not for the sake of moral principle but because they help to set up the rules for military
strategy. Key to this is developing ways to avoid
war, minimising the competition between military powers, and curtailing the scope of violence. In Syria, the Russians and Iranians have
lost sight of these things. Military action without parliamentary scrutiny, such as that seen
last weekend, will not help. What will is establishing a wider cost for such awful behaviour.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
President ignores his people’s plight
The world has managed to largely ignore
one of its worst humanitarian crises, unfolding now in central Africa. The Democratic
Republic of the Congo holds over a tenth of
the globe’s malnourished children; more
than 13 million people need aid. Around 4.5
million people are displaced internally, and
another 750,000 have fled abroad. The International Crisis Group has warned that deterioration is likely. Multiple conflicts across 10
provinces intensify; their roots are complex,
but President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to leave
office has aggravated them. Civilians are
caught between the brutality of rebel groups
and of security forces. There are growing fears
of civil war, in a country already so deeply
scarred: the 1998-2003 conflict killed millions
and sucked in neighbours. Meanwhile, the
budget of the UN peacekeeping mission – the
world’s largest – has been slashed.
One faint glimmer of hope came last Friday
from Geneva, where the United Nations, the
European Union and donor nations convened
a funding conference. Extraordinarily, the
DRC itself was absent. Mr Kabila’s government boycotted the meeting, denying that
there is a crisis. It has lobbied other countries
to dismiss or denounce the aid drive, which
it describes as a demonisation campaign.
And it justifies all this on the grounds that
the desperately needed drive for support will
discourage foreign investment.
While immediate needs must be met,
improving the bigger political picture is
essential. Mr Kabila is already two years over his
five-year term, and barred from standing again
by the constitution. At the end of 2016, internal and external pressure forced him to agree
a path to elections. But the 12-month deadline
came and went with no sign of such polls. The
government now promises there will be an
election in December, and that Mr Kabila will
not be a candidate. Few place any confidence
in his pledges. Only sustained and forceful
diplomacy by western and African partners
stands a chance of holding him to them.
Ireland’s open
border ensures
people can eat
Felicity Lawrence
In Northern Ireland, 56% of those
who took part in the referendum
voted to remain in the European
Union. For the majority, the freedom
for people and goods to come and
go without checks across the Irish
border carries the momentous freight
of national identity; it goes to the
heart of the peace settlement. The
UK government knows this – which
is why Theresa May has promised a
contradiction: that what will become
the border with the EU will remain
frictionless, despite also promising,
to please Brexiters, that Great Britain
and Northern Ireland will be outside
the customs union and single market.
The idea that you can have a
frictionless, open border without
customs arrangements that match
exactly or near as damn it on either
side is a myth. But while the politics
of the border have been extensively
discussed, the practical importance
of the customs union is still not
widely understood. While it may
sound technical, what it controls
is as basic as bread and milk. We
discuss it in the abstract. We need to
talk about the effect on people.
The Northern Irish economy
depends on its agri-food exports.
The lion’s share of the $1.6bn a year
it exports to the EU flows across the
Irish border. Thousands of daily
movements of people, lorries and
animals go back and forth. Forty per
cent of lamb reared in the north travels over to the south for processing, as
does up to a third of Northern Ireland’s
milk production. Food and drink is
the north’s largest manufacturing
sector and one in 10 jobs depend on it.
Cutting off the flow of food into
Northern Ireland, meanwhile,
is unprecedented outside of the
circumstances of war. Just three
supermarket chains feed it, to all
intents and purposes – Tesco, Asda
and Sainsbury’s supply 70% of the
country’s grocery sales, providing
an uninterrupted stream of fresh
food sourced from across continental
Europe through Britain. Think on
that with the day-to-day impact
on families in mind. Even a small
increase in delays for inspection
could risk the prospect of food rotting before it was processed.
Even if the political consequences
of a new, hard border were
surmountable, the practical ones
seem unmanageable.
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 23
Democracy’s memory gap
We can all make a difference
I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s proposal to empty half the earth of its
human population (30 March) and
found that, although it makes sense,
there is a high chance of such a plan
resulting in dystopia.
Moreover, there are things that
can be done now: for example, the
Tesco megastore near Streatham
Common in south London. There
is a cluster of video advertising
screens, worthy of Terry Gilliam’s
film Brazil, busily bombarding the
public with offers they can’t refuse.
Although I agree with Robinson
that, for example, it is better to have
city rather than suburbia, so long as
we are hooked on the consumption
and growth dogma, hopes for the
planet will remain slim.
So, yes, let’s formulate policy to
progressively switch from suburb to
city, but let’s also take drastic action
against our runaway consumerism.
Alan Mitcham
Cologne, Germany
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Hit Putin where it hurts
Gary Kempston
The famous quote by George
Santayana, “Those who cannot
remember the past are condemned
to repeat it,” is echoed by Yascha
Mounk in his feature on the rise
of populism and why “democracy
must rebuild its moral foundations”
(6 April). Mounk writes, “One
possible explanation for why young
people are disenchanted with
democracy is that they have little
conception of what it would mean to
live in a different political system.”
Today most of the millions
who fought against fascism in the
second world war have since passed
on, their children are in their 70s
and 80s, and Remembrance Day is
held only once a year. Confronted
by this huge, and ultimately tragic,
memory gap, Mounk suggests
that “civic education … should
spend more time pointing out
that ideological alternatives to
liberal democracy, from fascism to
communism, and from autocracy to
theocracy, remain as repellent today
as they have been in the past”.
Richard Orlando
Westmount, Quebec, Canada
for too long waiting for his job, and
he will get it. With the Queen gone,
Canadians may decide to scrap the
monarchy. But for now, the Queen
remains loved by many, tolerated by
others, and we will miss her.
Reiner Jaakson
Oakville, Ontario, Canada
• Anna Turns quotes film-maker
Chris Jordan’s despairing comment
that “… individuals cannot make
a difference. When 100 million
people decide to do something
differently, that’s when change
happens” (The plastic plight of the
albatross, 23 March). It is not a huge
mass of 100 million that will make
a difference, but individuals deciding where they can make a change,
whether it is taking shopping bags
into the supermarket, reusing
plastic bags as bin liners, refilling
their drink bottles with tap water or
dropping them into the recycling.
Then you will see the difference.
Kitty Monk
Auckland, New Zealand
Canada’s monarchy fatigue
About half of Canadians have monarchy fatigue, which will rise with
Prince Charles as king (Unhappy and
inglorious? 30 March). It’s not just
his years of mistreatment of Diana,
but more his pompousness and privileges, such as having his shoelaces
ironed and toothpaste squeezed on
to his toothbrush. Can the man not
do anything for himself?
A British monarch who lives in a
foreign country was never popular
with many French-Canadians.
Canada has become a rainbow
nation of immigrants and refugees
who have no connection to Britain.
Skipping succession one generation and making William king and
Kate queen consort would give the
monarchy in Canada a huge boost.
But Charles has been unemployed
To contact the editor directly:
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The article UK allies turn the screw
on Russia (30 March) and the accompanying analysis by Patrick Wintour
describe how the west has rolled
up its sleeves to huff and puff in the
face of Vladimir Putin’s arrogant
disregard for what the west deems
to be “the rules”. He has done this
before with absolute impunity.
On top of withdrawing western
diplomats, the UK has proposed the
killer blow of not sending a royal to
the World Cup in Russia: something
that will undoubtedly humiliate
Putin in the eyes of the Russian
people to a level that will have him
trembling in his bed at night. If they
want to hurt Putin’s pride, why don’t
they just boycott the World Cup
altogether? It seems inconceivable
that the west is still happy to endorse
Putin, legitimise his actions and reinforce his credibility by sheepishly
participating in the World Cup.
A cancellation of the World Cup
is not something Putin could hide.
I guess Fifa hasn’t got the balls.
Ian Alexander
Madrid, Spain
• In regard to We tore the cover off
an American city by Dorian Lynskey
(30 March): thanks for the attention
to The Wire TV series. My wife and
I watched this series fully twice. It
changed my thinking about many
aspects of the US. It felt uncommonly honest – both in its stories
and its characters.
The only other television series of
similar power and depth that I recall
is Upstairs, Downstairs from the BBC
in the 1970s. Quite different in many
ways from The Wire, yet for me it
shared that current of honesty, and
changed my worldview.
Helge R Berg
Newberg, Oregon, US
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From the archive
20 April 1993
Reno denies Waco
raid was botched
The burned-out Branch Davidian
cult centre was still too hot for the
FBI post-mortem teams to examine
last night as the questions began,
and the Clinton administration
and Justice Department officials
began defending themselves from
charges of a badly botched operation.
Attorney-General Janet Reno said
that fire engines had not been on
hand because of fear that the 0.5in
calibre anti-tank rifles the cult held
could have posed a threat to softskinned vehicles. But the first fire engines must have been much farther
away, not appearing on the scene for
40 minutes after the fires began.
The biggest weakness in the
authorities’ case so far is the lack of
contingency planning. The second
is their failure to take seriously the
possibility of a mass suicide. The
third question is Ms Reno’s statement that the decision was taken to
force a decision yesterday with the
use of gas because hostage rescue
teams needed to be stood down.
“I have absolutely no doubt at all
that the cult members set the fire,”
Ms Reno told a Washington press
conference. “We were presented
with a range of options: to pull back,
to build walls, to go in, or to use
gas. The plan we chose was the best
option. Nobody ever accused me of
running from a decision based on
the best information I had. President
Clinton feels as bad as I do.” The
siege ended with the deaths by fire
of over 80 people in the charred
tomb with the grimly apt name of
Camp Apocalypse.
Could the FBI have planned for a
mass suicide attempt, and had fire
engines to hand or blanketed the
compound with fire-suppressant
foam? An FBI spokesman, Bob
Ricks, said in interviews with cult
members not inside the compound,
all agreed a mass suicide was not
likely. “There had been a plan for
the cult leader, David Koresh, to give
himself up on March 2, but to come
out wrapped in grenades and blow
himself up as he surrendered. At the
last minute, he chickened out,” the
FBI spokesman said. “Everybody
knew that was the plan. There had
been a meeting in the chapel. He
kissed all the kids goodbye. We took
that into account as we considered
the prospect of a mass suicide.”
The FBI search of the rubble was
hampered by still-exploding rounds
of ammunition. As dusk fell, few
bodies had been found.
Martin Walker in Washington
24 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
Aluminium heater tubes from a factory in Dongguan, China. US president Donald Trump has proposed tariff hikes on the metal, alongside steel, prompting China to file an appeal with the World
The hands of the Great Clock of Elizabeth Tower – which houses the 13-tonne bell Big Ben –
Sacro Cuore di Gesù (1865) by Italian painter Pietro Gagliardi was recovered after having
were removed during restoration work on London’s Houses of Parliament Henry Nicholls/Reuters been stolen from the Chiesa Nuova in Rome last April Massimo Percossi/EPA
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 25
d Trade Organization Bobby Yip/Reuters
A Hindu devotee with vivid colour applied to his face celebrates the Lal Kach festival,
welcoming the Bengali new year, in Narayanganj, Bangladesh Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters
Rhythmic gymnast Hannah Martin, representing England, performs on day seven of the Gold
Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia. She went on to finish seventh Scott Barbour/Getty
A Mary River turtle is one of hundreds of species on the Zoological Society of London’s new
Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) reptiles list Chris Van Wyk/ZSL/PA
26 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
The perils
of treating
babies like
If we could understand how the
infant mind develops, all children
might reach their full potential. But
seeing them as learning machines
is not the answer, says Alex Beard
Image Source; Kittipong Jirasukhanont/Alamy
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 27
eb Roy and Rupal Patel pulled into
their driveway on a fine July day
in 2005 with the beaming smiles
and sleep-deprived glow common to all first-time parents. Pausing in the hallway of their Boston
home for Grandpa to snap a photo, they chattered
happily over the precious newborn son swaddled
between them. This normal- looking suburban
couple weren’t exactly like other parents. Roy
was an AI and robotics expert at MIT, Patel
an eminent speech and language specialist at
nearby Northeastern University. For years, they
had been planning to amass the most extensive
home-video collection ever.
From the ceiling in the hallway blinked two
discreet black dots, each the size of a coin. Further dots were located over the open-plan living
area and the dining room. There were 25 in total throughout the house – 14 microphones and
11 fish-eye cameras, part of a system primed to
launch on their return from hospital, intended to
record the newborn’s every move.
It had begun a decade earlier in Canada – but
in fact Roy had built his first robots when he was
just six years old, back in Winnipeg in the 1970s,
and he’d never really stopped. As his interest
turned into a career, he wondered about android
brains. What would it take for the machines he
made to think and talk? “I thought I could just read
the literature on how kids do it, and that would
give me a blueprint for building my language and
learning robots,” Roy told me.
Over dinner one night, he boasted to Patel, who
was then completing her PhD in human speech
pathology, that he had already created a robot
that was learning the same way kids learn. He was
convinced that if it got the sort of input children get,
the robot could learn from it.
Toco was little more than a camera and microphone mounted on a Meccano frame, given
character with ping-pong-ball eyes, a red
feather quiff and crooked yellow bill. But it was
smart. Using voice recognition and patternanalysing algorithms, Roy had painstakingly
taught Toco to distinguish words and concepts
within the maelstrom of everyday speech. Where
previously computers learned language digitally,
understanding words in relation to other words,
Roy’s breakthrough was to create a machine that
understood their relationship to objects. Asked
to pick out the red ball among a range of physical
items, Toco could do it.
Patel ran an infant lab in Toronto and Roy flew
up there to see what he could learn. Observing the
mothers and babies at play, he realised he’d been
teaching Toco badly. “I hadn’t structured my learning algorithm correctly,” he explained to Wired
magazine in 2007. “Every parent knows that when
you’re talking to an 11-month-old, you stay on a very
tight subject. If you’re talking about a cup, you stick
to a cup and you interact with the cup until the baby
gets bored and then the cup goes away.”
His robot had been searching through every
phoneme it had ever heard when it was learning a
new object, but Roy tweaked its algorithm to give
extra weight to its most recent experiences, and began to feed it audio from Patel’s baby lab recordings.
Suddenly Toco began to build a basic vocabulary at
a rate never seen before in AI research. His dream
of “a robot that can learn by listening and seeing
objects” felt closer than ever. But it needed to feed
on recordings, and these were hard to find.
No one had ever truly studied “in the wild”
what happens to a child in those first crucial years.
Raising eyebrows
Evolution gave us expressive faces
→ Discovery, pages 32-33
The norm for researchers were weekly hour-long
observation sessions – that was how Patel studied
mothers and infants in her lab. If you were going
to study the way a baby learned to talk, you’d need
someone eccentric enough to rig up a house with
hidden recording devices.
I first heard about Patel and Roy’s experiment
while working as a teacher at a London comprehensive. Most of the children I taught arrived at
school aged 11 far behind where they we were expected to be with their language, and as a novice
I struggled to help them catch up. Whereas everything I tried seemed outdated, Roy’s approach
was scientific. I hoped his findings would unlock
a secret that could help kids to realise their full
potential. If we could create machines that learned
like humans, could we also develop ones that could
help us perfect human learning?
Before pressing record, Roy and Patel agreed
some ground rules. The recordings would be available only to their most trusted inner circle of researchers. If at any time they felt uncomfortable
with the filming, they would junk the footage.
When privacy was required, the system could be
temporarily shut down. It was a leap of faith, but
they agreed it was worth it. Their experiment had
the power to unlock new insight into the workings
of the infant mind. Toco was Pinocchio to Roy’s
Geppetto. But whereas he was wondering what real
kids could teach robots, I wanted to know if those
home videos might hint at how to enhance learning
for the youngest humans.
‘The learning industry has
convinced many that the
memorisation of content
is all that’s needed’
In 1995, two researchers, Betty Hart and Todd
Risley, published the results of a study in which
they trailed 42 Kansas City families to compare the
experiences of preschoolers from poor families
with their richer peers. Starting when the infants
were nine months old, they observed them regularly over a two-and-a-half-year period, recording
and transcribing all parent-and-child speech during their hour-long visits. The findings were stark.
The number of words a child heard by their third
birthday strongly predicted academic success aged
nine. The difference was barely fathomable. They
estimated that, at the age of four, the richest kids
had heard 30m more words than the poorest.
“The problem of skill differences among children
at the time of school entry is bigger, more intractable and more important than we thought,” Hart and
Risley said. Their research showed it was worth intervening as early as possible. “The longer the effort
is put off, the less possible change becomes.”
If the problem was stark, the solution seemed
simple. There was a gap, and it had to be filled
with words. Hart and Risley’s findings fuelled a
word-rush that endures today. Across the Englishspeaking world, parents flocked to buy flashcards
and brain trainers for their tots.
But my experience in the classroom suggested
that the interpretation was a little simplistic, equating the development of the human mind with the
inputs and outputs of computers. I suspected that
there was more to infant learning than the quantity
of words you heard.
A professor of early childhood development
at Temple University in Continued on page 28 →
28 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
Weekly review
← Continued from page 27 Pennsylvania, Kathy
Hirsh-Pasek, seemed to agree. She had written that
“just as the fast food industry fills us with empty
calories, what we call the ‘learning industry’ has
convinced many among us that the memorisation
of content is all that is needed for learning success
and joyful lives”. She had also written an influential book that laid out her reservations about
the word-rush: Einstein Never Used Flashcards:
How Children Really Learn and Why They Need to
Play More and Memorize Less. I thought she might
have some answers.
Hirsh-Pasek is legendary in the field of early
child development. The author of 12 books and
hundreds of academic articles, she is a distinguished faculty fellow who runs Temple’s Infant
and Child Laboratory, whose slogan is “Where
Children Teach Adults”.
At the lab, scientists were putting tiny humans
through their paces. Researchers had developed
ingenious experiments that measured changes in
heart rate to show some of the things that eightmonth-olds already knew. “They know the mobile
won’t fall on them,” said Hirsh-Pasek. “They know
that if I drop this plate on the table, the plate won’t
go through the table. That’s amazing. They know
that if I’m sitting across from you, and you can’t see
the bottom part of my body, I still have one.”
Until recently, scientists had tended to think of
infants as irrational, illogical and egocentric. In his
Principles of Psychology in 1890, William James had
described babies’ experience of sensory overload:
“The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and
entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming,
buzzing confusion.” This understanding had contributed to a mechanistic view of learning, and the
idea that the sheer repetition of words was what
mattered most. But it wasn’t true.
Even in utero, babies are learning. At that stage,
they pick up sounds. One-hour-olds can distinguish
their mother’s voice from another person’s. They
arrive in the world with a brain primed to learn
through sensory stimulation. We are natural-born
explorers, ready made for scientific inquiry. We
have to understand this if we were to realise our
learning potential.
“We enter the world ready to ‘read the perfect
cues out of the environment’,” said Hirsh-Pasek.
I thought back to Toco. He read the environment,
too – or at least what his eye cameras saw and ear
microphones heard. But robots can only reach out
in ways they have been programmed to, can only
learn from stimuli they were instructed to pay
attention to. It limits them to a small range of
experiences that would shape their behaviours.
There is no meaning in their methods. Babies, on
the other hand, are social learners.
“We arrive ready to interact with other humans
and our culture,” said Hirsh-Pasek. The real genius of human babies is not simply that they learn
from the environment – other animals can do that.
Human babies can understand the people around
them and, specifically, interpret their intentions.
As we evolved, social and cultural transmission became possible. Language was our starting point – the possibility of two beings ascribing a shared meaning to an otherwise abstract
concept or symbol.
Couldn’t we see the beginnings of this in
babies’ behaviour? Infants under a year engaged in proto-conversations with carers. They
babbled away, held eye contact, exchanged things,
mimicked their expressions or actions. They also
experimented with tools, sticking them in their
mouths, bashing them on things.
At the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary
Anthropology in Leipzig, Prof Michael Tomasello
wrote that our young learn “in an environment of
ever-new artefacts and social practices, which, at
any one time, represent something resembling the
entire collective wisdom of the entire social group
throughout its entire cultural history”.
If all of us are to achieve our potential as learners,
the question we have to answer is how we ought
to shape this environment. Human brains have
specially adapted to learn. Our long period of
immaturity is a risky evolutionary strategy, making
us vulnerable early on to predators or sickness,
and delaying for many years our capacity to reproduce, but the payoff is immense. We can actively
incorporate enormous amounts of the latest
information from our environment and social group
into our cognitive development.
Scientists have long recognised the nature-vnurture debate as fallacy. A huge amount of our
brain development takes place in the first three
years. In those years, the brain grows in relation to
the environment, forming itself in interaction with
sensory experience. As Hart and Risley showed in
their study of the word gap, that experience can
have a huge effect on who that person becomes.
We have evolved to be a species of teachers and
learners. Our ability to understand other people
arrives around the ninth month, at a moment
in their development at which babies begin to check
the attention of others by holding or pointing at
Robots learn from stimuli
they are instructed to pay
attention to – it limits their
range of experiences
objects. At a year, they can follow another’s attention, gazing at, touching or listening to the same
thing. At 15 months they can direct it. Listen to that!
Look over there! Shared attention is the starting
point of conscious human learning. It is why infants
don’t learn to talk from video, audio or overhearing parental conversations. We haven’t evolved to.
That’s why it matters that we talk to our children. It’s
also why we can’t learn from robots – yet.
The implication for understanding how we
learn sounds like common sense: each generation
ought to ensure the next is steeped in their earliest
years in the tools, symbols and social practices of
the current culture.
In search of the kind of learning environment that
might best cultivate our natural abilities, I visited
Pen Green Early Childhood Centre, a specialist centre in early child development in the Northamptonshire town of Corby in the UK. The outdoor space
was cold and overcast, but that wasn’t deterring
the children. By a bamboo bush, two small boys
splashed at an ever-running tap. “Don’t get me
wet!” they squeaked with delight. A teacher bent
down to comfort a toddler in a “Be Fast or Come
Last” T-shirt. Four small girls were deep in a serious
conversation while absent-mindedly digging sand
into colourful buckets.
Pen Green had a global reputation for excellence
in early child development and family support, a
prototype that had inspired successive early-years
interventions by government, including Sure Start
and Early Excellence. I spoke to the director, Angela
Prodger. She had just taken over from the legendary
Margy Whalley, who set up the centre in 1983. In the
1980s, Corby was among the UK’s poorest towns, its
population of Scottish migrant workers unmoored
by the closure of the steelworks for which they had
moved south – 11,000 people had been made redundant. The centre was intended as a lifeline for
the next generation. Today it serves 1,400 of the
UK’s least well-off households.
I asked her about language learning. We knew
words mattered, but I’d not heard much talk at
playtime. “If we’re not addressing personal, social,
emotional development first, you’re not ready to
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 29
learn,” said Prodger. She explained that before children could acquire the tools of speech and language,
you had to ensure they felt a sense of “being and
belonging”. Too frequently, she thought, our approaches to early learning skipped these steps. It
sounded to me like a nice-to-have, not an essential,
but research showed otherwise.
In the 1950s, British psychoanalyst John Bowlby
proposed a theory of “attachment”. He hypothesised that infants, unable to regulate their own
feelings, were prone to get upset when they were
hungry, sad or lonely. A carer was needed to help
them “co-regulate” their feelings, which over time
would teach the child to self-regulate, provided
their early experiences helped them do so. If negative experiences weren’t alleviated with love from
a parental figure, they could become established.
The implications for children growing up in
poverty-stricken or traumatic environments were
significant. This was why Pen Green took care to
put the being and belonging of its children first.
“Behaviour is always just a sign of children trying
to tell you something,” said Prodger.
As we toured the building, Prodger told me that
the skill of the practitioners at Pen Green was in
learning to attend to what was going on in the minds
of the kids, and interpreting it as evidence of what
the youngsters were signalling, even before they
were able to verbalise it themselves. Children were
constantly communicating with us, she told me. We
just had to learn to understand.
“It’s about looking,” Prodger said. “What are
the children trying to explore? What are they trying
to find out?”
Creative play is the foundation on which creativity, language, maths and science are built. If you
start too early with flashcards, you lose this developmental stage. “It’s about being free,” Prodger
said. “It’s about risk-taking.”
They take the kids out to the forest a few days
a week, light fires, let them experiment with scissors and ride BMX bikes. If they want to be outside,
they go outside. If they fancy returning to the snug,
where the youngest infants roll around, that’s where
they would go. The environment dictates the learning. The adults aim only to connect and share attention with the children. Reading and writing could
wait. Nurseries ought to be as social as possible, and
follow kids’ lead in their play. Before kids can get on
with learning, we have to ensure they belong.
The children seemed happy here, learning to
belong and laying down foundations for their future success through play. And yet I wondered if
we couldn’t do still more to accelerate early learning. The implication of Deb Roy’s robot experiment
was that every moment counted. Could we afford to
leave so much to chance?
“The accident of birth is the greatest source of
inequality in the US,” wrote economist James Heckman. It’s equally true in the UK today, where the
strongest predictor of academic achievement is how
much your parents earn. Though two-thirds of our
kids attain a C or above in English and maths GCSEs
each year, that number falls to just over a third of
kids on free school meals. Heckman has also shown
that the best way to tackle this inequality is to invest in children’s development as early as possible
in their lives. It isn’t enough to transform schools
– we have to start much earlier than that.
At Temple University, Hirsh-Pasek told me that
we can’t simply drop kids in front of iPads and expect them to catch up – but that doesn’t mean we
should give up entirely on intelligent machines.
Some of her lab’s experiments are aimed at closing
developmental gaps between rich and poor kids.
Others cover topics such as language development
and spatial awareness, and all use technology in
different ways. “What the machine can’t do is be
a partner,” Hirsh-Pasek told me. “It isn’t social. It’s
interactive without being adaptive.”
Hirsh-Pasek’s mission was to change the way we
thought about learning, especially for the poorest
kids. “We had this vision that it was so important
to get the basics into poor kids,” she told me. “We
thought we should drop recess – even though we
know being physical helps kids learn, helps build
better brains. And we thought we should just do
reading and maths, and cut out the arts and all this
superfluous stuff like social studies.”
It weighed heavily on her. Policymakers and
laymen had twisted the science to fit their own
ends. No scientist thought flashcards worked. No
scientist believed you should start learning to read
and write at an ever younger age. It was a fantasy of
governments. More recent Continued on page 30 →
30 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
Weekly review
← Continued from page 29 research has added depth
to the language lessons of Betty Hart and Todd Risley’s Kansas Study. In 2003, the psychologist Patricia Kuhl experimented with teaching American
infants Mandarin. Split into three groups (video, audio and flesh-and-blood teacher) only those with a
human tutor learned anything at all.
Schools are still guilty of ignoring these insights into infant learning. Erika Christakis, earlychildhood expert and author of The Importance of
Being Little, charts the slow descent in preschool
learning from a multidimensional, ideas-based approach to a two-dimensional naming-and-labelling
curriculum. Daphna Bassok at the University of
Virginia asks if kindergarten is really the new first
grade. The expectation that kindergarteners – aged
five or six – can read is now commonplace. Yet this is
counter to all the evidence. A Cambridge study
comparing groups of children who started formal
literacy lessons at five and seven found that starting two years earlier made no difference at all to a
child’s reading ability aged 11, “but the children who
started at five developed less-positive attitudes to
reading, and showed poorer text comprehension
than those who started later”.
These findings are clear: if you start on the decoding before you have an underlying understanding of
story, experience, sensation and emotion, then you
become a worse reader. And you like it less. Treat
kids like robots during early learning and you put
them off for life.
Instead, Hirsh-Pasek wanted kids to embrace
the joy in learning and growing up. Apart from
kids, her other great love was music. She often
used to break into song, especially on the phone
to her granddaughter.
Domestic experiment … Deb Roy and
his infant son in their home, which was
fitted with cameras to record the
child’s development MIT Media Lab
In her book, she suggested six Cs for modern
learning: collaboration, communication, content,
critical thinking, creative innovation and
confidence. Truisms, I had thought, but unlike
much education policy, drawn from scientific evidence. If I was to take away one thing, she said,
it should be that “from the earliest ages, we learn
from people”.
It was the same insight that had prompted a pair
of suburban scientists to hit the “record” button.
Deb Roy was dressed in black and still looked
youthful when we met at MIT. A few flecks of
grey in his hair were the only evidence of 11 years
of parenthood. Looking back, the Human Speechome Project – as his and Patel’s home-recording
Infant humans didn’t only
regurgitate – they created,
made new meaning and
shared their feelings
experiment had been named – seemed a quirk of
turn-of-the-millennium enthusiasm about artificial intelligence. In all, they had captured 90,000
hours of video and 140,000 hours of audio. The
200 terabytes of data covered 85% of the first three
years of their son’s life (and 18 months of his little
sister’s). But now the footage had been gathering
dust. “I still have the whole collection,” he said.
“I’m waiting for his wedding day, just to bore the
hell out of everyone.”
In a way, it was also a great lost home video. With
his team at MIT, Roy had developed new approaches
to visualising and studying the data they had captured: “Social Hotspots” showed two tightly knotted lines, visual traces of tender moments in which
parent and child came together to chat, learn or explore; “Wordscapes” were snow-capped mountains
ranged throughout the living room and kitchen, the
highest peaks rising where particular words were
most often heard. The tools had turned out to be
fantastically lucrative as a means for analysing talk
on Twitter. Roy and a graduate student had spent
the decade building a new media company.
Roy was now back at MIT. His new group was
called the Laboratory for Social Machines . He
had given up building robots that would compete
with humans and instead turned his attention
to the augmentation of human learning. What
had changed his mind was the process of actually
raising a child.
The first time his son uttered something that
wasn’t just babble, Roy was sitting with him looking at pictures. “He said ‘fah’,” Roy explained, “but
he was actually clearly referring to a fish on the wall
that we were both looking at. The way I knew it was
not just coincidence was that right after he looked at
it and said it, he turned to me. And he had this kind
of look, like a cartoon lightbulb going off – an ‘Ah,
now I get it’ kind of look. He’s not even a year old,
but there’s a conscious being, in the sense of being
“I guess, putting on my AI hat, it was a humbling
lesson,” he continued. “A lesson of like, holy shit,
there’s a lot more here.”
Roy was no longer sure you could bring a robot
up like a real human – or that we should even try. It
didn’t seem there was much to gain by developing
robots that took exactly one human childhood to
become exactly like one young adult human. That’s
what people did. And that was before you got into
imagination or emotions, identity or love – things
that were impossible for Toco. Watching his son,
Roy had been blown away by “the incredible sophistication of what a language learner in the flesh
actually looks like and does”. Infant humans didn’t
only regurgitate; they created, made new meaning,
shared feelings.
The learning process wasn’t decoding, as he had
originally thought, but something infinitely more
continuous, complex and social. He was reading
Helen Keller’s autobiography to his kids, and had
been struck by her epiphany at understanding
language for the first time. Deaf and blind after an
illness in infancy, Keller was seven years old when
she got it. “Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness
as of something forgotten,” she wrote, “a thrill of
returning thought; and somehow the mystery
of language was revealed to me. I knew then that
‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something
that was flowing over my hand. That living word
awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!
Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to
a new thought. As we returned to the house every
object which I touched seemed to quiver with life.”
Roy had recently started working with HirshPasek, following her insight that machines might
augment learning between humans, but would
never replace it.
He had discovered that human learning was communal and interactive. For a robot, the acquisition
of language was abstract and formulaic. For us, it
was embodied, emotive, subjective, quivering with
life. The future of intelligence wouldn’t be found in
our machines, but in the development of our minds.
Natural Born Learners by Alex Beard is published
by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 31
Weekly review
The borrowing bard
Shakespeare and his literary recycling
→ Books, page 34-36
Islamabad’s bookshops face final chapter
Seismic political and commercial
pressures have taken their toll,
explains Usman Ahmad
adeem Ahmad Siddiqui is holding
court with a group of friends and
regulars at his Islamabad bookshop, Jumbo. The jovial chatter and
tea-drinking is broken up every so
often by a customer seeking Siddiqui’s help. A child is gently admonished to find
something more stimulating to read, while a question about medical textbooks from a mother and
daughter soon turns into an animated discussion
about India-Pakistan relations.
Tucked away in the corner of a busy commercial
sector, Jumbo Books has a special status among
Islamabad’s “old bookshops”, as secondhand book
stores are known here.
Once the nondescript doorway is located among
the swanky new restaurants and fashion boutiques
of Pakistan’s capital, the visitor takes a staircase
down to a concrete basement. Inside are shelves
piled high with rare antique books, philosophical
tomes and contemporary literature.
When Islamabad was built as the capital of a
newly independent Pakistan, it was the “old bookshops” that gave the neighbourhoods a spirit and
character beyond the insipid soullessness that
pervades purpose-built cities.
Now their accelerating disappearance tells a
story of the seismic political and commercial shifts
that have taken place in the city over the past two
decades. First, the 9/11 attacks and Pakistan’s
subsequent role in the war on al-Qaida saw the departure of many of Islamabad’s foreign residents,
who made up a significant portion of the stores’
customer base. Then, when the country began to
show signs of recovery, the bookshops of Islamabad
were unable to keep up.
Islamabad’s evolution from dreary city of civil
servants to modern international capital has caused
much of their decline – particularly through rising
rents, thanks to an influx of shopping malls, hotels
and big retailers, and Islamabad’s increasing importance as a hub on the China-Pakistan economic
corridor. Then there’s the rise of ebooks, online
shopping and Pakistan’s crumbling education system; while extremism means stores can no longer
stock certain books for fear of violence.
Siddiqui says that when his father opened
Jumbo Books in 1974, it was the first
of its kind in the city. Even the term
“old bookshop” is said to have
originated with him.
“My father started this business
by selling secondhand books on the
side of a pavement in Rawalpindi,”
he says. “He was eventually able to
open a store in 1957, before relocating
to Islamabad in 1974.
“He was the first to coin the term ‘old
bookshop’, and then every secondhand bookshop that opened in Islamabad began using it. What
set us apart from other booksellers in Pakistan is
that, with a regular turnover of foreign diplomats,
we had a ready supply of the latest titles which were
sold or donated to us. We were also selling mostly in
English, which was unheard of at the time.”
Soon Siddiqui is joined by his cousin Shahid, who
last year closed his old bookshop to go into the toy
business. His father, too, was one of the pioneers
of the industry, and their story also began on the
pavements of Rawalpindi with books sourced from
‘Pakistan’s situation
hasn’t helped but it has
been rent hikes that have
put paid to the business’
Fading tradition … (above) rent hikes have hurt
Islamabad’s bookshops; (below) Nadeem Ahmad
Siddiqui and one of his patrons Usman Ahmad
private collections left behind by the British after
independence. From the age of 10, Shahid would
help his father every Friday to learn the trade. In
1984, he opened his own shop in Islamabad.
“Islamabad used to have old bookshops with distinct identities in every neighbourhood,” he recalls.
“In the 90s, books used to come in on
shipping containers in huge numbers
and we never had a problem selling
them. Now, though, very few of us
remain and a lot of the newer stores
are focused on selling school and
university textbooks. Pakistan’s political situation hasn’t helped, but it
has been the rent hikes in Islamabad
that have really put paid to the business. I miss owning my own bookshop
very much, but what can you do?”
It seems that most of the old bookshops that
have survived share one characteristic: the owners
of the store own the premises too.
Old Books Collection in the Jinnah Super Market
mall is one of the survivors. Following the death
last year of its proprietor, Malik Ijaaz, his wife has
decided to keep the business alive.
Atif Masood, a regular customer, has witnessed
the development of Islamabad into a modern city
first-hand – and says it retains some of its old charm,
despite the closure of many old bookshops.
But he believes the unique character of the stores
will see them endure.
“The other day, I asked for a crazy reduction,”
he explains. “The attendant said he would give
me a special discount if I could guess the prices of
the books of the gentleman who had been ahead
of me in the queue. I was able to guess correctly
and secured my discount. You can’t get this kind of
service elsewhere.”
32 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
Uncovering why
malaria drugs fail
Scientists focus on a Cambodian region where
treatments lose their effect, reports Robin McKie
ailin is a small settlement nestling in
tropical rainforest near Cambodia’s
border with Thailand. It is an unassuming town that lies at the centre
of one of the country’s main logging
areas. Pailin harbours secrets, however. It was in this town, in the late 1970s, that the
Khmer Rouge set up one of its main strongholds and
ruled Cambodia with a ferocity that caused at least 2
million deaths. It is a grim legacy, by any standards.
But Pailin has another unwanted claim to fame,
one that is also associated with widespread death.
The town, it transpires, lies at the heart of a region
that has seen successive waves of resistance to
malaria drugs arise in local people and then spread
across the globe. The resulting death tolls can be
measured in millions of lives, say scientists.
Just why malarial drug resistance has arisen here
is not clear. Nevertheless, scientists are emphatic:
the region has seen the creation of several mutations in malaria parasites that have allowed them
to shrug off medicines that once protected humans.
Even worse, they have discovered that a new wave
of malarial drug resistance has recently appeared
in this tiny area and has already spread into Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, and begun to move into
Myanmar and travel towards India and Bangladesh.
“The problem is that we are pussyfooting
around,” said Prof Sir Nicholas White, of the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit. “The
World Health Organization (WHO) has not provided
the necessary leadership. We need very firm direct
action and at present we are not getting that.”
Resistance to major malaria drugs first appeared
in the late 1950s when chloroquine – then a highly
effective successful treatment for the disease – began to lose its efficacy. Crucially, this resistance first
appeared in Pailin on the Cambodian-Thai border
and then spread to Africa by the early 1980s. Several
million deaths were added to the already grim toll
of lives lost to the disease as a result.
Scientists have recently discovered once more
that resistance to key malarial drugs – in this case,
the artemisinins – has evolved – and in exactly the
same place as before: the farms and village that
surround Pailin. Just why this tiny region of southeast Asia has proved to be such a fertile zone for
the emergence of deadly resistance to malarial
medicine is not clear, a point stressed by Dominic
Kwiatkowski, director of the centre for genomics
and global health at Oxford University.
“We would love to know the answer, but it is not
obvious,” Kwiatkowski said.
“One idea is that resistance keeps arising here
for historical reasons. Maybe it has something to
do with the way that malarial medicines are administered here. But how exactly?” In fact, this theory is
just one of a great many other suggestions that have
been put forward to explain why this resistance is
appearing here first.
The local strain of malaria parasites may have
some special properties, or the ecology of the region
may have features that boost the rise of resistance.
“The crucial point is that we need to do something
about it and once we have, we need to monitor the
situation very, very carefully,” said Kwiatkowski.
One factor that has recently become clear is that
malarial drug resistance appeared very quickly in
the region. Writing in Lancet Infectious Diseases in
February, researchers from the Wellcome Sanger
Institute and collaborators reported that resistance to combination therapies that included artemisinins arose almost as soon as the treatment was
introduced as a first-line malarial drug. However,
that this loss of efficacy was not spotted, for a variety of reasons, until several years had passed.
The implications of this failure were stressed
by Ben Rolfe, head of the Asia Pacific Leaders
Precaution ... Pailin province residents sleep
under protective nets Paula Bronstein/Getty
Malaria Alliance. “On our watch, drug resistant
strains have spread almost unnoticed,” he told the
British journal BMJ recently. “As a result, we now
risk a global resurgence of the disease.”
The question facing scientists – and heads of state
and health leaders – is straightforward: what can
be done? White is emphatic. “We have a window of
opportunity but it is closing rapidly,” he said.
What is needed is a campaign, run with military efficiency, to use current drugs – while they
still have some efficacy – not only on people who
How evolution raised an eyebrow to give us expressive faces
Ian Sample
Modern humans might never have raised a quizzical
eyebrow had Homo sapiens not lost the thick, bony
brows of its ancient ancestors in favour of smoother
facial features, a new study suggests.
Researchers at the University of York believe
early humans bore prominent brow ridges as a
mark of physical dominance, and as the human face
evolved to become smaller and flatter, it became a
canvas on which the eyebrows could portray a much
richer range of emotions.
“We traded dominance or aggression for a wider
palette of expression,” said Prof Paul O’Higgins, the
lead author of the study who lectures in anatomy.
The York team stress their conclusions are speculative, but if they are right, the evolution of smaller,
flatter faces may have unleashed the social power
of the eyebrow, allowing humans to communicate
at a distance in more complex and nuanced ways.
“We moved from a position where we wanted to
compete, where looking more intimidating was an
advantage, to one where it was better to get on with
people, to recognise each other from afar with an
eyebrow flash, and to sympathise and so on,” said
Penny Spikins, a palaeolithic archaeologist at York
and co-author on the study, published in the journal
Nature Ecology & Evolution.
The scientists set out to investigate why ancient
humans had such prominent brow ridges in the first
place. Over the years, researchers have put forward
a range of hypotheses. One idea states that the ridge
simply filled the gap that would otherwise exist
between the protruding face and the braincase.
Another argues that a prominent brow served as
structural reinforcement, ensuring the face could
take the stress of powerful chewing.
Working with their colleague Ricardo Godinho,
the researchers obtained a 3D x-ray scan of an
ancient skull belonging to a human ancestor called
Homo heidelbergensis that lived in what is now
Zambia between 300,000 and 125,000 years ago.
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 33
Humans make neurons
throughout their lives
Humans continue to produce new neurons in a part of their brain involved
in learning, memory and emotion
throughout adulthood, scientists have
revealed. The findings could help in
developing treatments for neurological
conditions such as dementia. A recent
study had claimed that new neurons in
the hippocampus were at undetectable
levels by our late teens. But another
group of scientists has revealed the
new neurons are produced in this brain
region in human adults. “The exciting
part is that the neurons are there
throughout a lifetime,” said Dr Maura
Boldrini from Columbia University in
New York and first author of the study
published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
Gene-editing crops in US
Researchers in the US have been given
the go-ahead to use gene-editing
techniques to alter crops and plants.
The decision opens the door for
scientists to create a new generation
of genetically altered crops without
serious restriction and paves the way
for approvals for similar work in Britain
and the rest of Europe. The decision
– by the US Department of Agriculture –
has delighted scientists who had feared
that limitations on the creation of
genetically modified crops would also
be imposed on crops created using far
simpler gene-editing techniques.
already have malaria but on those individuals who
have been infected but who have not succumbed or
shown symptoms of the disease.
“These individuals carry small numbers of
parasites and although they don’t get ill they are
sources of new infections,” said White. “Mosquitos
bite them, take their blood and spread it to others.
They are the source of new infections.”
The plan, proposed by White and other scientists, is that everyone in a village in a malaria
hotspot should be treated with anti-malarial drugs
– regardless of their symptoms. “It is called mass
drug administration. It is very controversial but it
works – if it is done as part of a concerted strategy.
If you do it badly you will only make the problem of
resistance worse, so this has to be done right. But if
we don’t do it we won’t be able to eliminate malaria
quickly enough, and if resistance worsens it may
become untreatable,” says White.
WHO officials say that the dangers posed by
the new malaria superbug are exaggerated and that
better prevention, monitoring and treatments will
limit its spread from the Mekong region. Others are
not so sure, however.
White said: “We are running out of time and
unless we act rapidly, people will suffer and the
people who will suffer most will be the children
of Africa.” Observer
Moore’s law … James Bond actor Roger shows
that the eyebrows have it United Artists/Allstar
Known as Kabwe 1, the skull displayed a thick brow
ridge that was even more prominent than the ones
seen on of Neanderthals.
Using computer models, the scientists performed
a series of experiments on the virtual skull. They
looked at how much brow bone was needed if its
purpose was to plug the gap between the face and
the braincase, and “shaved away the bone to get the
minimum needed to fill the gap and found we could
reduce its size dramatically,” O’Higgins said. “The
skull has far more bone than is needed to fill the gap.”
The researchers looked at how the stress of chewing
spread over the face with and without the brow ridge.
“We fully expected serious consequences for
the face, but nothing happened. It’s clear that this
is not about resisting bending in the face,” O’Higgins
said. “What we are left with is the plausibility of
a social explanation.”
Out of Africa – earlier
A fossilised human finger bone dating
to almost 90,000 years ago has been
discovered in the Saudi Arabian desert,
a find researchers say points to the
possibility that our species ventured
towards the east far earlier than previously thought. Until recently, evidence
suggested that Homo sapiens migrated
out of Africa about 60,000 years ago.
Now researchers say that our species
was not only setting up home on the
doorstep of Africa early on, but was
travelling even further afield up to
25,000 years earlier than expected.
Carolina Reaper pain
A man who took part in a chilli pepper
eating contest ended up with more than
he bargained for. After eating a Carolina
Reaper pepper, the 34-year-old dry
heaved before developing a pain in his
neck that turned into thunderclap headaches. The Carolina Reaper can reach
2.2m on the Scoville heat scale, and was
the world’s hottest pepper at the time
of the 2016 incident. As a comparison,
jalapeño peppers measure 2,500-20,000
on the scale. BMJ Case Reports reveal
the pain caused the man to go the
emergency room at Bassett Medical
Center in Cooperstown, New York.
34 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
Shakespeare and the
art of literary recycling
John Mullan admires a study
of the Bard’s complex pattern of
borrowing to make fresh drama
Shakespeare’s Originality
by John Kerrigan
Oxford, 192pp
For a long time, the sedulous student who wants
to see Shakespeare in the act of creation has been
able to go to the extracts contained in the eight fat
volumes of Geoffrey Bullough’s Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. Here you can find
the stories that he pilfered and changed. You can
see how he twisted two completely separate tales
together to make The Merchant of Venice, for example, or decided to kill Lear and Cordelia at the
end of King Lear when in his chronicle source both
survived, or made Othello Desdemona’s murderer,
when in Cinthio’s original Italian story, it is Iago who
does the deed. The volumes give a dizzying sense of
the playwright’s narrative dexterity as you see him
welding together elements from others’ narratives.
Read John Kerrigan’s intense, condensed account of the playwright’s creative borrowing and
the dizziness only increases. Focusing on a handful
of plays, Kerrigan, one of the world’s leading Shakespeare scholars, shows that Bullough has recorded
only the more obvious half of it. Kerrigan takes us
beyond Shakespeare’s primary sources into the
deeper texture of his allusions and passages of imitation. His originality, by this account, was largely
a gift for the alchemical transformation of what he
had read, heard recited or remembered from his
days on a hard bench at Stratford grammar school.
Kerrigan’s introduction ruminates about the
meanings of originality, a concept unknown to critics before the later 18th century. Shakespeare inhabited a literary culture in which imitation of earlier
models was applauded. Rhetoric (the Renaissance
version of creative writing) approved of “invention”, but specified that this meant the clever combination of inherited elements. Yet Shakespeare is
His originality was largely
a gift for the alchemical
transformation of what he
had read or heard recited
also different from his contemporaries: he is not
showing off his literary knowledge but adapting
narrative patterns and fragments of dialogue lodged
in his memory. Kerrigan quotes Emerson observing
that “All minds quote”; yet most of Shakespeare’s
quotations – or inventive misquotations – would not
have been spotted by his first audiences.
A chapter devoted to Much Ado About Nothing
reveals a play that is “pieced and patched and recycled” out of various Italian tales, its radical novelty
a matter of the “piecemeal superflux” of reused materials. You will have to read slowly – and maybe
Google – to understand the variety of materials that
go into this nearly tragic comedy. The reward is a
vivid sense of how original it was to borrow.
Traditional assurances that Shakespeare knew
next to nothing of Greek tragedy are upended
in an analysis of King Lear and its relationship to
Sophocles’s two Oedipus plays. Shakespeare had
access to these via widely available Greek/Latin
parallel texts. In particular, he found his way back
to Greek tragedy via Seneca’s Latin versions of
Greek originals. The scene on Dover Cliff, where the
blind Gloucester thinks he has been led by Edgar,
the son he does not recognise, has its “original” in
Seneca’s Phoenissae, where Antigone leads Oedipus in search of a convenient precipice. “Layers of
imitation resonate back to antiquity.”
In his final chapter, Kerrigan tackles one of the
few Shakespeare plays supposed to have no specific
source, The Tempest. He finds here not only echoes
of contemporary writing about the colonisation of
Virginia and Bermuda, but also the reuse of sentiments culled from Virgil’s celebration of the powers
of agriculture, his Georgics. Where Shakespeare is
supposed most natural he is in fact most literary.
The book is unrepentantly erudite, but the
erudition is as diverting as it can be daunting.
There are digressions into men’s hairstyles in
Renaissance England (essential to some of the
jokes in Much Ado), contemporary agricultural
experiments (ditto The Tempest), or manners
of walking on the stage (where actors strutted or
“jetted” or jigged or “tripped” or – like Richard III
– balefully limped). The chapter on Much Ado, a
play in which a servant almost triggers a tragedy
by dressing up as her mistress, traces its reliance
on contemporary publications about fashionable
dress. Elizabethan England still had sumptuary
laws, placing stern limits on the wearing of luxurious apparel. “Actors were an affront to these rules,”
elaborate costuming being one of drama’s essential resources. How exciting it was to see someone
flagrantly dressed in the wrong clothes!
The four main chapters began as lectures, and
Kerrigan clearly expected his listeners to concentrate hard. He is confident he can use words such as
“sticomythic” and “haruspication” without further
explanation, that Euripides and Virgil are our familiars, and that the plot details of Shakespeare’s plays
are hardwired in our heads. The text bristles with
endnote numbers, taking the reader to a compendium of Shakespearean lore at the back of the book.
But the trust in our literary curiosity is intoxicating.
Who wants Shakespeare to be made easy when he
was so beautifully and originally complex?
Theatrical magpie … Timothy West as King Lear
and Rachel Pickup as Cordelia – the characters die
in the Bard’s play but both survive in the source
material; (left) his Third Folio Tristram Kenton
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 35
Life’s heavy burdens,
sparsely narrated
The Cost of Living
by Deborah Levy
Penguin, 208pp
Kate Kellaway
WH Auden once said that writing
about your life was “using up capital”, but this is what makes memoir
such a generous form. And Deborah
Levy is a most generous writer. What
is wonderful about this short, sensual, embattled memoir is that it is
not only about the painful landmarks in her life – the end of a marriage, the death
of a mother – it is about what it is to be alive.
I can’t think of any writer aside from Virginia
Woolf (or, perhaps, Helen Simpson) who writes better about the liminal, the domestic, the non-event,
and what it is to be a woman. I always feel, reading
Levy (this is her second memoir), that she is a writer
with nothing much – and with everything – to say.
After her marriage breaks down – at a time when
her career is ascending (she has been shortlisted for
the Booker prize) – Levy and her two young daughters move into a north London block of flats that she
describes, in its stricken deficiency, with panache.
She makes of the flat a story, with its big skies and its
sterile corridor. She describes the bees that are her
unexpected flatmates, her prospering strawberry
plants, and the exotic oranges with cardamom that
she and her daughters eat for breakfast. She writes
entertainingly about her attempt, encouraged by a
friend, at “living with colour” – her yellow bedroom
a garishly false move.
Levy’s style is shorn; emotional burdens are carried without surplus words. She describes renting
the poet and playwright Adrian Mitchell’s shed from
his widow, to write in, and it becomes, like the flat,
a character: a shed of one’s own. The affectionate
portrait of eightysomething Celia Mitchell herself is
delightful. She wonders why Levy bothers to wear
pearls to work in a dirty shed, and introduces her to
friends as “She Who Lurks in the Garden”.
This is a little book about a big subject. It is about
how to “find a new way of living”. Rage is brewing
just beneath its surface. But it’s complicated, not
least because Levy has a gift for homemaking. She
writes about it as a process of “empathy” (she uses
the word more than once), and reflects that it is “an
act of immense generosity” in women to “be the
architect of everyone else’s wellbeing”.
How, then, in middle age, does a woman who
possibly never felt at home in her own home leave?
How does she attain the same freedom as a man?
How does a writer stay a mother? Levy notes the
telltale way in which wives often get talked about
by their husbands as “my wife” – and are not named.
I read this book with indecent speed and greed,
but it deserves to be read at a pace closer to lived
time. I particularly love Levy’s amused curiosity
about strangers. I was entertained by the saga of
the elderly neighbour who did not like her parking
her electric bicycle in front of their flats. This apparently insignificant conflict was an insight into one
woman unable to watch another living a fuller life
(my judgment – Levy shows but does not judge).
I was stirred by the portrait of her mother, and
the description of buying ice lollies from a Turkish
newsagent’s during her mother’s last days in hospital, when these were all she could eat. One disastrous day the newsagent’s had only bubblegum
flavour left. Levy was distraught – but the story of
the predicament made her mother smile. Levy was
too devastated to explain in the shop why, in midwinter, she was buying ice lollies every day – until
after her mother’s death. And then the newsagents
were “so upset it was their turn not to speak”. This
made me cry, although I was not surprised by their
reaction: Levy knows how to share her story.
Astronomic epiphany
Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine
by Alan Lightman
Pantheon, 226pp
Tim Adams
Alan Lightman has made a unique
career finding imaginative ways to
bridge the “two cultures” of science
and humanities. A novelist and
physicist, he was the first person to
be awarded a joint professorship
in literature and astrophysics at
Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT). He made his name as a writer of
fiction with Einstein’s Dreams in 1993 – a lyrical
series of short sketches, each one an attempt at a
different understanding of time, and all rooted in the
freewheeling mind of Einstein as he grappled with
relativity in Berne, Switzerland, in 1905. That book
drew comparisons with the playful philosophical
fiction of Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges,
and became an international bestseller. Since
then, Lightman has published 17 books, each
of which dwell in different ways on life, the
universe and everything.
In a TED talk, Lightman drew the distinction
between his two habits of mind in this way: “The
scientist tries to name things; the artist tries to
avoid naming things.” As he approaches his three
score and 10, the gap between those two positions
apparently becomes ever more urgent to him. This
latest curious book of essays is another stab at
resolving that universal either/or.
The starting point for its reflections is a kind of
epiphany Lightman experienced 12 months or so
ago. For many years, he has spent his summers
and, occasionally, parts of his winters, on a tiny
island off the coast of Maine. Six families have
houses on it, each with their own jetty. By necessity all the families have become at home in boats.
One clear night, Lightman was chugging out to the
island alone when he decided to turn off his engine
and his lights and just drift. He lay on his back and
gazed at the “sky vibrating with stars”, and not for
the first time in his life experienced a kind of intense
weightlessness, a powerful sense of eternity, a loss
of self; he suggests when he returned from that
Wordsworthian mental journey he had no idea how
long he had been travelling.
This experience inevitably got him thinking,
somewhat in the manner of the star-gazing ancients
or visionary Romantics. The book, a series of fragments of philosophy of mind, and insights into the
creative lives of the great scientists, and attention
to the materiality of the universe in both its largest and smallest components, is the result of those
wandering meditations.
Continued on page 36 →
36 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
The illusion of home
← Continued from page 35
Lightman’s discursive
method is full of insight into some of the mysteries
of the physical world, as well as the physics of mystery. He uses his own biography – the little science
lab he created in his bedroom closet in Memphis,
Tennessee, aged 12 – to demonstrate an intact sense
of wonder at what we know and what we don’t. At
the heart of his mediation is this neat formulation
of the boundaries of scientific understanding: “The
infinite is not merely a lot more of the finite.”
Lightman has a sympathetic gift for recreating
the leaps of faith in scientific advance. At the same
time, he feels himself in a wonderland of shifting
scales. He maps out the heavens, concentrates on
the veins of a leaf, tries to fathom the evolution of
the hummingbird, the veracity of Van Gogh’s Starry
Night, and returns often to the thrilling chutzpah
of Einstein rethinking time and space. Does he
end up much the wiser after this latest record of
attention to his pattern-making mind? Of course
not. Does that make the effort of tracking his
progress worthwhile? Of course.
by Graham Rawle
Chatto & Windus, 384pp
Xan Brooks
A poor case study
The Drugs That Changed Our Minds
by Lauren Slater
Simon & Shuster, 416pp
Alex Preston
In Prozac Diary (1998), Lauren Slater
wrote powerfully of the way fluoxetine had transformed her previously chaotic life. While the author
recorded a handful of negative sideeffects – a profound loss of libido, for
instance – the reader was left with
the sense that Prozac had pieced
back together the shards of Slater’s existence. In
some ways, The Drugs That Changed Our Minds is
a sequel to that book. Slater is now in her mid-50s,
recently divorced, and on a cocktail of antidepressants. She’s “a consumer of polypsychopharmacy”,
having taken fluoxetine, venlafaxine, olanzapine,
aripiprazole, clonazepam, lisdexamfetamine “and
probably one or two other tablets I’m forgetting
because there are so many”.
The book weaves between Slater’s personal history and a wide-ranging narrative of the development of the psychopharmalogical industry, with each chapter following a
new evolution in the antidepressant
market. Where Prozac Diary was
a (measured) celebration of the
power of mood-altering drugs, the
tone here is far more jaded. Slater
has seen her mental and physical
health eroded by the hedonic logic
of pill-popping: she needs to take
more and more with each passing
year just to stay (more or less) sane.
Slater swallowed her first psychiatric
drug – imipramine, for depression – at 19. “Now,
35 years and 12 drugs later, my kidneys are failing, I
have diabetes, I am overweight and my memory is
perforated. As the years close in on me, my lifetime
now seems seriously foreshortened, not because of
a psychiatric illness but because of the drugs I have
taken to treat it.” Slater’s sex drive has been more
or less permanently erased and she found that Prozac stripped her of her creative impulse. “It was as
Pill-popping … Lauren Slater’s book shows how
little we know about how the human brain works
if fluoxetine had dried up the well from which my
deepest dreams and images sprang.”
This last point might account for one of the failings of The Drugs That Changed Our Minds: the
uneven quality of the prose. When Slater takes us
through the history of chlorpromazine and lithium,
fluoxetine and Tofranil, the style is cogent and fluent, if occasionally a little dry. When the narrative
rounds to her own experience, though, things are
on shakier ground. Slater notes early on that she’s
“compulsive by nature”. There’s something compulsive about her writing, too. First, the descriptive prose is often painfully overblown: every noun
must have its accompanying adjective. It’s as if she
fears the solitude of the unadorned word.
There are too few descriptions of the
experiences of others and too much of
Slater’s own life story, much of it either
repetitive or otiose. Where Slater
does give us Oliver Sacks-like case
studies they are fascinating. But
they are too brief.
This is a better book than Johann
Hari’s very similar Lost Connections, published in January. Slater
shares with Hari scepticism towards
the 20th century’s antidepressants;
they also both write illuminatingly on
the therapeutic possibilities of psychedelic drugs like magic mushrooms, but Slater
is better on the grotesque corruption of the pharmaceutical industry. Slater’s attempt to construct
an overarching history of psychopharmacology
stumbles partly because the development of one
drug reads much like any other. More problematic,
though, is that her central case study – herself – is
neither interesting enough nor written about with
sufficient eloquence to hold our attention.
Viewed from above, Overland, California, is a patchwork community of redroofed houses and bucolic
sheep meadows. There is a
church and a tennis court
and a tranquil blue lake. It’s 1942 and the world is at
war. But unremarkable Overland sits apart.
It is only at ground level that the facade starts
to flake. The Overland diner serves only coffee and
doughnuts. The fire hydrants emit not water but
steam. And the tranquil blue lake is a vast sheet of
tarpaulin: toss an apple on to its surface and the fruit
risks being sucked down a vent and dropped on to
the shop floor of the Lockheed aircraft factory concealed down below. The town, it transpires, is more
involved in the war than it would have us believe.
The concept of the ersatz American town is almost as old as the American town itself. It’s there in
Nathanael West’s 1939 novel The Day of the Locust,
with its pick-and-mix of “Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Swiss chalets and Tudor collages” and
on screen in films such as Pleasantville and The
Truman Show. But Graham Rawle’s tale of fakery
is grounded in fact. In the immediate wake of the
attack on Pearl Harbor, the US War Department
recruited the services of the major Hollywood studios for what became known as “Operation Camouflage”. This involved disguising air bases and factories on the coast of California to the point where
they blended in with the surrounding neighbourhoods. The Lockheed Corporation plant covered 40
hectares and employed 25,000 workers. But from
the air it could pass for a suburb of Burbank.
Rawle’s master illusionist is George Godfrey, God
for short, an art director on loan from the Warner
Bros lot, who explains: “Warner Brothers studios
are about the same size as the Lockheed plant.
Lockheed puts out one B-24 bomber a week, plus a
number of smaller planes and parts. Warners puts
out one class-A feature plus a number of B-movies
and shorts. Some of those take off and fly; some of
them get shot down.”
Godfrey is determined his Overland will be
bought by the public. It certainly casts a spell on
the Lockheed employees who find their way above
ground. First Japanese-American Kay scrambles
through the vent to emerge in the lake “like Botticelli’s Venus”. Then pregnant starlet Queenie begins
pushing a doll in a pram about the suburban streets,
disappointed to discover there are no speaking parts
on this set. Possibly Overland has even come to seduce its creator. When the project is mothballed,
Godfrey cannot let it go. He wants to build a windmill to “add character” and insists that every road
should be named.
In Godfrey’s opinion there is little difference between the Hollywood dream factory and the Burbank aircraft plant. Equally it might be argued that
not much separates the fake town from the real. It is
this conceit, finally, that makes Overland so appealing. Having arranged his stage-flats and his harumscarum performers, Rawle manages to make them
all feel of value. The place is an illusion, but that
doesn’t mean it’s not home.
38 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
‘People have lost
the ability to even
know what a joke is’
Arcade Fire rolled out their last record, Everything
Now, with a satirical ad campaign. Result? Mass
confusion and bad reviews, says Laura Barton
n a corner booth, Win Butler sits beaming
in a broad-brimmed black hat, at his elbow
a large martini glass garnished with three
fat green olives. It is Thursday evening in
Manhattan’s theatre district and Butler has
chosen a steakhouse once recommended to
him by his late grandfather, the guitarist and swing
bandleader Alvino Rey. When he began travelling
the world as a teenager, Butler says, Rey would furnish him with tips. “The first time I went to London
he sent me to this place that had been around for 100
years, to have the lamb chops.”
Tonight, Butler is fresh from a rehearsal for his
band Arcade Fire’s appearance on Saturday Night
Live. The day has seen several run-throughs of their
single Put Your Money on Me, as well as a skit that
references the band’s Canadian roots (though Butler
and his brother Will are from Texas). It will be their
fifth performance on the show, including the time
they performed as Mick Jagger’s backing band, and
Butler describes the series’ appeal. “Monty Python
and SNL were punk bands,” he says, his voice quick
and high and giddy. “They were part of that movement, but they just got on TV.”
It is surprising to find Butler in such open spirits.
Last July, Arcade Fire released their fifth studio album, Everything Now, and while it debuted at No 1
on the US and UK charts – their third album to do so –
and has helped sell lots of tickets for their upcoming
arena tour, the critical response was more muted.
Some were unconvinced by the songs. Others took
issue with the album’s promotional campaign, an
elaborate construct in which the band had become
contractually bound to the Everything Now Corp,
and were now obliged to promote marshmallows
and fizzy drinks as well as their music. Simultaneously, they posted a glut of fake news stories about
themselves online, from pretend album reviews to
parodic lifestyle blogs.
Both album and campaign nodded to the times,
but they also suggested disdain for the media; I expected to find Butler defensive and perhaps a little
sullen over dinner with a journalist. Instead, he is
forthright and enlivened, and close to defiant. Over
oysters, crab meat and steak tartare, he discusses
an array of subjects including satire, gun control
and Angolan dance music, as well as the response
to Everything Now. “Part of me hopes that this record is our stinker, our horrible record,” he says,
eyes drawn sharp and wide. “Because if it is, then
we may be the greatest band of all time. It’s pretty
funny to me,” he adds, laughing. “If that’s the worst
thing we can possibly do then I’m at peace.”
He seems genuinely concerned that people did
not get the joke of the promotional campaign, cocreated by “really clever people” from the New
Yorker and spoof news site the Onion. Had any of
it simply appeared on the latter, he argues, its humour would not have been questioned. “That was
what was interesting about it,” he says. “It seems
that by changing the masthead to something real,
it changes the context of what the joke is.”
Perhaps, in the era of Donald Trump and fake
news, the joke becomes a little less funny. “Some
of the critical response to the themes that we were
talking about was: ‘We know this already!’” he
concedes. “‘You’re worried about corporations?
Boring!’ But I look at the moment we’re in. We’ve
got a reality star in charge of the United States, and
everything that we love and care about is filtered
through this incredible corporate structure.” He
gestures at my iPhone sitting on the table. There
is something distorted, he says, in the suggestion
that a corporation such as Apple could be so widely
regarded as benign. “Like: ‘Hey, we’re not Exxon,
we’re the good guys!’ We’ve all just accepted it.”
If SNL was the punk band of television, perhaps
with Everything Now Arcade Fire made a stab at
being the daring comedy troupe of rock music. “We
felt very inspired by that golden era of [satirical
1970s magazine] National Lampoon,” Butler says.
“By modern standards, some of that stuff does not
fly: the photo spread saying they’d found Hitler in
paradise. It’s so offensive, but so perfectly executed.
You’re probably not doing it right if it’s not on that
edge. A lot of comedians now say the same thing:
they won’t play colleges now because you can’t tell
a joke. People have lost the ability to even know
what a joke is. It’s very Orwellian, it’s the canary in
the coalmine. Comedians have always been at the
frontline of what people have been scared to talk
about, and as soon as you stop being able to do that
it’s a downward slope.”
The evening prior to our chat, Arcade Fire
appeared at Manhattan’s Gramercy Theatre
before an audience of 600 fans, conducting a
short Q&A with the director Spike Jonze, before
unveiling their new David Wilson-directed video,
Money + Love, starring Toni Collette. After the
closing credits, the screen suddenly dropped
to reveal the band ready to play a surprise show.
For fans, it was a dream setlist, including Keep
the Car Running, Afterlife, (Antichrist Television
Blues), Rebellion (Lies), plus a cover of John
Lennon’s 1973 hit Mind Games and a whisper of
Radiohead’s Karma Police.
It was a reminder that Arcade Fire remain one of
the most extraordinary, visceral live bands in the
world. In songs from Neighbourhood to Sprawl II
and Everything Now, they encourage the listener
to live a life that is gutsy, physical and heartfelt,
‘We’ve learned to
appreciate being in a
room and seeing the
whites of people’s eyes’
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 39
Taking a leap … (from left) Tim Kingsbury, Jeremy
Gara, Will Butler, Régine Chassagne, Richard
Reed Parry and Win Butler Mary Ellen Matthews
to resist the slow drift into numbed existence. It
is a feeling they have always embodied live: from
their first London shows at King’s College student
union and University of London Union in March
2005 where the band marched off through the
crowd, still playing; to more recent gigs, where they
repeat the trick using a central stage like a boxing
ring, exposed at the sides.
“We’re trying to connect, trying to get people in the
back to engage,” Butler explains. “With the Reflektor
tour one of the reasons for asking people to dress up
for the shows was that we were then able to wear
masks and be in the crowd and hang out and have a
vibe of what’s going on. There’s a certain power in
the rock star: they’re bigger than life and you can’t
touch them. Being in the audience breaks that wall.”
But in a social media age when that wall is
constantly broken, returning to the music has, Butler
feels, become a difficult yet vital task. He tells two
stories. The first involves the parade they put on in
New Orleans (pictured below) following the death
of David Bowie, a friend and supporter of the band.
Announced at 24 hours’ notice, it attracted 10,000
people, turning the city into a joyous musical wake.
“It shut down the entire downtown,” he remembers.
“People in full makeup, little kids, dogs with the
[Bowie] lightning bolt. It was the most beautiful,
profound thing: all these people needed to mourn.
We had to make a noise for this man. It gives me chills
thinking about it.” The second involves a musician
friend who plays with the city’s Preservation Hall
brass band and made a documentary about the
musical relationship between New Orleans and
Cuba. When the friend had his tuba stolen, the story
was reported widely, Butler says, but no one wrote
a word about his film. “And when we made a T-shirt
with Kylie Jenner on it [as part of the Everything Now
campaign], it got more press than if we made the most
beautiful thing. It’s a weird, weird moment.”
In a backstage room before the
Gramercy show, I sit with three more
members of the band – multiinstrumentalists Will Butler,
Richard Reed Parry and Tim
Kingsbury – discussing being musicians in the age of
online entertainment.
“I think the online world
has gotten a lot more brutal
over the past few years,”
says Will, who is a steadier
presence than his older
brother. “Both commercially
and artistically, the way you get
chewed up is so raw and radical.
We were always a physical band, an inthe-room band, we always sought eye-toeye connection. But as Netflix has come along, and
people have come to watch 30 years’ worth of work
in a weekend and be, like, ‘Cool! B-minus!’, we’ve
learned to appreciate being in a room and seeing the
whites of people’s eyes.”
“We also got popular at the moment that people
were starting to talk positively about things on the
internet,” Reed Parry points out. “And people were
paying attention to that positive talk, and that fed
into us becoming a known entity. But it’s now such
an insane horrible dragon chasing itself.”
Will loves Twitter, but sees it as “a place to
shut up and listen”, where he can follow political
activists and “a lot of radical Native American voices
that you don’t get access to unless you’re online.”
Back at the steakhouse, Win Butler is talking
about the home he and the band’s Régine Chassagne
bought in New Orleans to live with their son, Eddie.
“If you told me I’d be living in the American south
again, where the prison system, healthcare and
education is so crazy, a system set up to screw over
poor people …” he shakes his head. “That part is
really hard to get used to.
“But I think the American left are crazy, too,” he
says. “I’m an independent, I’ve never been a registered Democrat. I voted for Obama, I’ve only voted
for Democrats, but I have no horse in that race, no
one I have any affiliation to. My heroes are Martin
Luther King and Gandhi. I’m way more on the side
of MLK than I am Occupy Wall Street in terms of
my personal philosophy. The thing about the civil
rights movement was it was about something very
specific, and I find that the left is just devouring itself. Concerning itself with things that are not particularly healthy; not focusing on accomplishing
actual things, just surface things.”
When Obama ran in the Democratic party primaries, Arcade Fire got in their van and drove to Ohio to
play shows in support. “And then the second he got
elected it was like: ‘We did it!’” He smugly claps his
hands. “He was like: ‘OK, I want to work on healthcare’, but everyone was just like: ‘Cool, we did it!
You’re the first black president!’ I don’t even count
it as Obama’s failure. It’s our failure as a people.”
At the close of the Gramercy show, he encourages
the audience to join the March for Our Lives protests
against gun violence, but during our conversation
he has a more muted take. “I grew up going to birthday parties in fifth grade where we shot guns. It’s
fine. I know that seems weird to a British person,
but it is what it is. Shotguns are quite different to
semi-automatic weapons.” He is a little pessimistic
about how much can change. “There was a mass
shooting at a country music festival that didn’t
even move the needle on gun control; I don’t know
if we’re up to the challenge as a people.
“Just putting in a hashtag is not enough,” he
continues. “It does feel satisfying, and
it’s a useful tool, but it’s really not
affecting the thing itself, which
is physical, completely human
and not even political, really.
It has to transcend politics.
We’ll see if it can break
through that noise ceiling.”
Butler ultimately finds
a lack of patience in contemporary America. “I got
Radiohead’s The Bends
when I was 14, and it was my
favourite record I’d ever heard.
But I never listened to the second half of it for a long time,” he
says. “It took me a year, easily, to
understand it. And I don’t know if people
have the patience to do that now, to listen to records
like that now. It’s not a value judgment.”
Any exasperation fades when Butler talks about
his son: how he loves Michael Jackson and the
Clash; how he just learned to sing Mr Tambourine
Man in French at school; how he heard the theme
tune to Harry Potter just once but can nevertheless
still sing it in its entirety, “all the movements and the
boring part in the middle”. Eddie loved Everything
Now. “We were recording it literally underneath his
bedroom in our house in New Orleans; he remembered songs from going to sleep and hearing them
through the floorboards.”
He smiles, a world away from promotional campaigns, hashtags and negative reviews. “I can’t
remember reading a critique of anything I liked listening to,” he says. “You like what you like, in the
air, when you hear it. I was lucky enough to hear
the Cure and Radiohead and Björk and I feel like
my life’s course was changed because I happened to
be in that physical airspace. Because I accidentally
heard something that made me question: ‘Maybe I
don’t have to live in the suburbs of Houston!’ And
even though I don’t see anyone around me caring
about this, maybe me caring about it is enough to
make a life out of it, to make a family, to make shit
real. Maybe that’s good enough.”
40 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
Is ‘black girl
magic’ here
to stay in
Box office success offers overdue
opportunities but brings fears of
labelling, writes Eliza Anyangwe
ollywood is having a black girl
moment. That’s right, coloniser!
Melanin has been dripping off the
big screen for little over a year, creating new stars, new social media
challenges – and women have very
much been at the centre of it all, both in front and
behind the camera.
Hidden Figures, which came out in the US in
December 2016, told the true story of the three
African-American mathematicians who played a
pivotal role in getting US spacecraft into orbit. It
made more than $200m globally. Then, last year,
came the brilliantly bawdy comedy Girls Trip.
Grossing more than $140m, the film introduced
global audiences to the actor Tiffany Haddish.
We learned in February that the smartest person in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not Tony
Stark (Iron Man) or Bruce Banner (the Hulk), but
a 16-year-old Wakandan girl named Shuri, the sister of T’Challa, the Black Panther. Along with her
female co-stars, Letitia Wright presents through
Shuri an image of black women rarely seen on the
big screen: they are strong but not masculine; gloriously adorned but not exoticised; honouring their
traditions and cultures but not dictated to by them.
“The fact that this particular image has natural
hair and dark skin and women in positions of power,
it’s ... really just going to change the way children
see themselves,” Lupita Nyong’o (who plays Nakia)
told gal-dem magazine.
Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time builds on
this positive portrayal. The Disney fantasy film
tells the story of teenager Meg Murry who travels
across dimensions to save her scientist father.
While trying to put the world to rights, Meg is at first
deeply insecure about her features, particularly her
curly hair. But as the story progresses, she comes
into her own, loving and caring for her locks. It is a
message that resonates strongly with black women.
It’s a message of black girl magic.
“I wonder what this film would have done for
me if I was nine or 10 years old,” says Paula Akpan,
social media editor at gal-dem. “Seeing this black
girl dealing with all the awkward feelings … like
most young people, but it’s made worse by the antiblackness you experience. Watching [Meg] washing
her hair and caring for it I teared-up a good bit.”
Coined as a hashtag in 2013 by Twitter user
CaShawn Thompson, the term “black girl magic”
celebrates the achievements of black women in
spite of the adversity they face. “‘Black girl magic’ is
a wonderful catchphrase because it subverts in just
a few words all the classist, racist, sexist assumptions that are made about black women and black
bodies,” says Mia Mask, professor of film at Vassar
College, New York. The term has also proved to be
lucrative. Black Panther has now passed the $1bn
mark at the global box office.
So is black girl magic coming of age in film or is
the concept as an easy way for executives to market
to audiences they know have been starved of representation? Also, does it always serve black women
to be seen as magical? UK film-maker Jenn Nkiru is
cautiously optimistic: “We are experiencing a moment. But a couple of films that have done very well
is by no means a signifier that things have changed.”
Gaylene Gould, head of programme and acquisitions at the British Film Institute (BFI), mentions
the pioneering films and film-maker collectives of
the 1960s (such as the LA Rebellion and the Third
Cinema) that “told all kinds of universal, powerful
stories”. Black women took centre stage again in the
1990s with movies such as Set It Off, How Stella Got
Her Groove Back and Waiting to Exhale, all precursors to Girls Trip. But the proportion of black female
film-makers, producers, distributors or even actors
barely changed in that 20-year period.
“As a black woman, there is a pressure to come
out of the gate perfect. If you don’t then you don’t
get to make more films,” explains Nkiru, whose
short Rebirth Is Necessary gained acclaim at February’s Clermont-Ferrand short film festival. “I know a
lot of white male counterparts whose work doesn’t
do well and you’ll hear: ‘He’s still understanding
himself as an artist. Let’s wait until his third film.’”
‘We are experiencing
a moment but a couple
of films is no signifier
that things have changed’
Magic moment … left to right, Janelle Monae in
Hidden Figures; Letitia Wright and Lupita
Nyong’o in Black Panther; Storm Reid in
A Wrinkle in Time 20th Century Fox; AP; Disney
Having little tolerance for the failure of black
women is a critique of both the film industry and
of black girl magic itself. It is a concern that film
studios, aware that diverse audiences will pay
good money to see themselves represented in their
strength, will still not support projects that portray
diverse characters in their complexity. Akpan says:
“I like black girl magic but I do think that [labels] can
create a lot of pressure. It can have a huge impact
on your mental health, leaving you with imposter
syndrome. It’s OK to not be outstanding all the time;
you’ll wear yourself out.”
While the expression might be relatively new, it is
rooted in a much older history. “I think about black
girl magic in the context of black women poets who
came before and laid the groundwork,” says Mask.
“Particularly Maya Angelou – and the poem Still I
Rise – stands out as the progenitor for all this.”
But it is former first lady Michelle Obama whom
Mask credits for taking black girl magic global. “The
sheer mass distribution of images of the Obamas
engaged in socio-political activity was a gamechanger.” According to Mask, Obama was able to
take vocabulary from the black community into
the mainstream, as she did at the Black Girls Rock
awards in 2015, but she wasn’t alone in doing so.
Somewhat straying from its radical roots, Mask acknowledges that black girl magic – as with everything
else in our consumerist society – is now a brand. “This
is not to be cynical,” she says, “but this is branding
of black feminism. It’s not enough to have meaning,
you’ve got to present your idea in tweetable form.”
She says it’s important to be “honest about how black
culture works within a capitalist marketplace. Ideas
must be presented in a way that’s appealing.” She
offers the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag as an example:
“There have been 20 years of conversations about
the Academy Awards being exclusionary. Then April
Reign developed #OscarsSoWhite and all of a sudden
everyone is talking about the lack of diversity.”
For all the opportunities that black girl magic creates in film and on TV, ultimately Nkiru warns against
creating another limiting trope: “What I want to see
is black women represented as human beings: we
win, fail, do right, do wrong. We’re not monolithic.”
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 41
Culture Reviews
Mean Girls
Allstar/Memento Films
120 Beats Per Minute
two-hour historical drama about gay
activism in the late 1980s/early 1990s
– with subtitles! – might sound like a
hard sell, but French writer-director
Robin Campillo’s 120 Beats Per Minute (aka BPM)
is also a house-music opera, an urgent, steamy
love story and a jubilant battle cry. Centring on
the activist group Act Up-Paris, an offshoot of
the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power that started
in New York in 1987, it serves as a snapshot of
those who resisted in the early days of the disease’s global pandemic. The film lives its “politics in the first person”, showing how Act Up lobbied for legislation, research and treatment for
those with HIV/Aids, while also tracking a tender
romance between two of its members.
Campillo places the viewer bang in the middle of the Act Up community. Members wearing
fake-blood-splattered T-shirts explain that – in
the lecture hall – democracy means transparency. There will be no clapping (just clicking) so
as not to drown out those speaking, and all debate will take place in the room (private conversations and hallway chatter are prohibited).
The tension and infighting Campillo shows is
riveting and edifying. This isn’t the rose-tinted
memory of an overlooked political movement, but
the pulling of the afflictive past into the present
Monet & Architecture
his is a ludicrously pleasurable holiday
in Monet’s senses. There’s no slow, dull
buildup as we wait patiently for him to
grow as an artist. He’s already bloody good
in his 1864 painting Chapel Notre-Dame-de-Grace,
Honfleur, done when he was 24. For Monet was a
prodigy, a natural, born to paint. He had – by the
time he painted that Norman church – a uniquely
sensitive eye for nature.
That vision takes off and flies in the first
few canvases of this superb show. Street in
Sainte-Adresse, painted in 1867, has a dappled
silver-grey cloudscape hanging over it that is so
fresh, so alive. And there are 78 paintings here
that get better and better the more you look.
tense. And what could be more afflictive than
love? Dramatic personal stakes are introduced as
militant HIV-“poz” livewire Sean (the scene-stealing Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) and shy, handsome
new member Nathan (Arnaud Valois) are drawn
into each other’s orbits. Yet Campillo is careful to
cast the Aids crisis as both personal tragedy and
social epidemic. Conversation, dancing and sex
are presented as essential, inseparable forms of
direct action – and all are vital parts of the film’s
DNA. Whether in scenes of the group storming
schools to distribute condoms and leaflets about
STDs, or a hospital bed hand-job offered as an act
of love, the film doesn’t shy away from sex.
Nor should it. Mainstream films such as Philadelphia were careful to treat the solemn history
of the Aids crisis with hospital gloves, but this
tendency towards tasteful seriousness frames
their central journeys as a stoic and sexless death
march. What feels revolutionary – and revelatory
– about this film and its characters is the way they
resist that urge, managing to find moments of
galvanising fury and ecstatic joy while in the grip
of debilitating disease. Arnaud Rebotini’s dissonant, humming, house-inflected score – and the
metronome-like heartbeats that underscore the
action – are reminders that, even on their deathbed, a person has a pulse. In its dying gasps, the
film grasps at life. Simran Hans Observer
Selected UK cinemas and on-demand
Stand with Monet on a wooded rocky shore looking across glittering turquoise water at the golden
skyline of Antibes in his 1888 painting Antibes,
Morning. Walk with him in the haze of a snowy
day delighting in the new-born white world in
Snow Effect, Giverny, painted in 1893.
As you wallow in this party for the retina,
strange things happen. Places loom, full of history, throbbing with emotion. His paintings of the
gothic facade of Rouen Cathedral, painted in the
early 1890s, are mind-stretching marvels. From
a distance – a considerable distance – they look
eerily like Victorian photographs, as if he was inspired by sepia postcards of this venerable monument. Go closer – as close as the guards allow
– and the illusion crumbles in a matted, rough,
abstract surface of wild colour. Jonathan Jones
At the National Gallery, London, until 29 July
ean Girls, the new musical from Tina
Fey and other collaborators, may walk
away with a few Tonys and plenty of
yearbook superlatives, too. It looks
good for Most Popular and Most School Spirit,
Teacher’s Pet and Class Clown. Is it Most Likely to
Succeed? Yes. And maybe also no.
Because Mean Girls is fine. Mean Girls is fun.
The songs, by Fey’s husband Jeff Richmond and
lyricist Nell Benjamin, are catchy enough, the book
is reasonably witty, the staging, by Casey Nicholaw, sufficiently fluid. The anti-bullying message
is straightforward enough (maybe too straightforward). But – no offence, OK? – Mean Girls is basic.
Here’s the story. Cady Heron (Erika Henningsen, below right) grows up doing field work in
Kenya with her biologist parents. She likes the
life, but she has a vague, inchoate sense that it
might also be nice to live somewhere with fewer
ostriches and more shopping malls. Relocated to
Chicago, she struggles to find friends until she’s
adopted by the “art freaks” Janis and Damian
(Barrett Wilbert Reed and Grey Henson). When
Cady catches the attention of Regina George, (Taylor Louderman) North Shore High’s HBIC (head
bitch in charge), Janis and Damian persuade her
to infiltrate Regina’s group, the Plastics, putting
Cady at risk of becoming pretty plastic herself.
That was enough to make Fey’s 2004 movie a
hit and it seems like decent source material for a
peppy musical, especially with Nicholaw (Book
of Mormon, Spamalot) here to zhoosh it up for
Broadway and Fey around to tweak the book and
update the tech. “Sometimes I feel like an iPhone
without a case,” one character says mournfully.
“At any time I could just shatter.”
Louderman, Henson, Kerry Butler (below left)
in the Fey role, and Kate Rockwell, as a Plastic
who has the blonde good looks of a Barbie doll and
about as much interiority, give line readings to die
for. But as the musical scampers from one bright
number to the next (a Halloween party with a sexy
Yoda and a sexy Abe Lincoln is a highlight), you are
rarely moved to care about them.
This is not the fault of Henningsen, who does
everything the script asks of her. Problem is,
the script doesn’t ask enough. Is it friendship
she wants? Is it love or adventure or a coherent
sense of self or all of the above? Mean Girls is
clear about a lot of stuff. Girls should support
each other instead of trying to tear each other
down. Girls shouldn’t send nude pics and boys
shouldn’t ask for them. Girls
should be themselves.
Agreed! But there’s no real
sense of who these girls are
– they’re rarely more than
stereotype. The boys,
too. That doesn’t make
the sprightly show a
failure or a flop or a
swing and a miss, but
it’s no hit either.
Here’s the best/
worst thing you can
say about Mean
Girls: it’s nice.
Alexis Soloski
At August Wilson
Theatre, New York,
until March 2019
42 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
Notes & Queries
Nature watch
Lune Estuary, Lancs
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company
The question could be a good
guide to how totalitarian is the
country in which you live. The
less of a difference there is, the
more you should worry. I am
getting increasingly nervous for
much of the world.
David Isaacs, Sydney, Australia
Why does a certain poem come
to mind, so easily and so often?
Because of the memories
attached to it.
R De Braganza, Kilifi, Kenya
• I’m not sure why certain poems
come to mind but I am eternally
grateful to my English teachers who
insisted that we learn them by heart,
as I have a rich treasure trove of
poetry to draw from in my later life.
Margaret Wilkes,
Perth, Western Australia
• The lines of favourite poems
can emit verbal endorphins.
Richard Orlando,
Westmount, Quebec, Canada
• Familiarity. I or my wife have
only to say, “Yes” in a knowing
tone and the other will reply,
“I remember Adlestrop.”
Charlie Bamforth,
Davis, California, US
• For heaven’s sake, don’t tell
me what the poem is, or I won’t be
able to get it out of my head!
Bruce Inksetter,
Gatineau, Quebec, Canada
• The poem that comes to my mind
most readily (especially at this time
of year) is Wordsworth’s I wandered
lonely as a cloud (also known as
Daffodils), probably because it was
the first poem I was required to
learn in elementary school!
Avril Taylor,
Dundas, Ontario, Canada
• Because it rhymes with the times.
Edward P Wolfers,
Austinmer, NSW, Australia
• The first is the totalitarian
principle of prohibition; the second
is the natural principle of plenitude.
David Tucker, Halle, Germany
• Not sure, ask Big Brother.
Pat Phillips,
Adelaide, South Australia
Blooming memorable … daffodils in poetry
• The Lady with the Alligator Purse
– an old jump-rope rhyme – was
fixed in my memory at about two,
probably a bathtub song sung by
Mom. It re-emerged at 50.
RM Fransson,
Wheat Ridge, Colorado, US
• I suspect that very few people
would care unless compulsed to
Gillian Shenfield, Sydney, Australia
• It is neither compulsory nor
forbidden to answer questions
requiring mental gymnastics, but
I think I sprained a synapse.
Margaret Wyeth,
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
• Because it reflects life as
I perceive it.
Philip Stigger,
Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
More Notes & Queries
See additional answers online
• I can never get Horace’s Dulce
et decorum est pro patria mori
(“It is sweet and fitting to die for
your country”) out of my head
when I see war pictures. It is so
dreadfully wrong.
Jenefer Warwick James,
Paddington, NSW, Australia
Any answers?
What sort of person squares up
picture frames in other people’s
John Geffroy,
Las Vegas, New Mexico, US
You should ask Big Brother
Is anything truly incredible?
Clive Wilkinson, Rothbury, UK
Is there a difference between
‘Everything which is not
compulsory is forbidden’ and
‘Everything which is not forbidden
is compulsory’?
Send answers to weekly.nandq@ or Guardian
Weekly, Kings Place, 90 York Way,
London N1 9GU, UK
Good to meet you Warren Redman
writing. A few months ago, the
Globe decided to drop its circulation
to this region and I took out a subscription to the Guardian Weekly.
So here we are, after 34 years,
reunited with our lost love. I pore
through every article, not a misprint
in sight, lapping up the astutely
Daniel St Louis
During the 60s we used to call it,
affectionately, The Guarniad in
deference to its regular misprints,
now a thing of the past thanks to
technology. In 1984 in London, I met
the love of my life and introduced
her to the Cryptic crossword. I lived
in the UK, and she in Canada.
It took seven years of lonely
anguish and unsolved clues before
we got together. While we lived in
Calgary for another 20 years, the
Globe and Mail was our reading
matter, which continued when
we moved to Atlantic Canada. I
gradually reduced the time I spent
as a life coach and emotional
fitness trainer and took up full-time
It was becoming light, but not light
yet. Water, salt marsh, sky: these
were names for things that did not
exist in the dark before dawn. Then
the glim of something, maybe a
moon-piece, as befits the Lune,
made its way in to where it was
possible to look but not go. There
was the cold, face-wash quiet of the
air and the slight rub of dry sedge
on the road. There was frost, if that
smells of silver. A spectral breath
returned inside after exhalation,
setting the mind afloat. There was
a slow opening in the east and then
the nets of river fog filled with gold.
As shoals of light swam through
the air, the river and the land
floated in banded layers of colour,
none of which lasted longer than
a few seconds. This was a weightless landscape, at liberty and so
insubstantial that any ripple could
disperse any or all parts of it to drift
away in different directions. As the
sky blued into being, a bow of geese
written articles, occasionally by
well-remembered journalists,
hungry for more cricket news and
grateful for the wide-ranging and
important world topics covered.
By Sunday, we are ready to settle
down to the Cryptic crossword
over a long and lazy breakfast, with
the view of Shediac Bay from our
window, perhaps rereading Nature
watch. Thank you to the Guardian
Weekly for being back in my life,
and helping to enrich it even further.
The three of us together again.
If you would like to appear in
this space, send a brief note to
flew northward and a jack snipe
lifted from somewhere indefinable
between marsh and water, jinking
bat-like out of and back into the mist.
Far off, some oystercatchers piped
the first bars of their call and then,
as if a signal that dawn had broken, a
curlew summoned sunrise, its song a
weir of keening but without grief.
The morning opened everything
up: the reed and sedge thatch scattered across the road from the last
high tide; huddles of plastic flotsam
in the bank; an upturned armchair
on the marsh; junk thrown out of
the back of a van; a trickling spring
through ash roots; smoking chimneys, towers, turbines; rooks investigating the mystery of how this was
not the world they left last night.
The day was full of journeys that
returned us to Wenlock Edge, where
the dusk began to settle. Walking
in the woods I found a fragment
of blue shell in my pocket that I’d
picked up on the Lune Estuary that
morning. I put it in the fork of a
hawthorn, a gift brought back from
the sea. Through the silhouettes of
trees, the fields purpled and blackbirds let their last songs trail into
echo as a golden light, strange and
wonderful from behind the hills,
swept across the woods. Paul Evans
Read more Nature watch online
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 43
Quick crossword
Cryptic crossword by Nutmeg
1,15 Canada’s smallest
province (6,6,6)
9 Path of one celestial body
about another (5)
10 Upstart (7)
11 Become immoveable (4)
12 Cosy – loose (8)
14 Instrument used for a
fight (6)
15 See 1
18 Vessels used to deepen
channels (8)
20 Metal, Zn (4)
22 Small fish (7)
23 Espresso added to frothed
steamed milk (5)
24 What one needs to get on
2 Mother of Jacob and Esau
3 Distinction (4)
4 Swell (6)
5 Rodent that sleeps most of
the day (8)
6 Elite group (1-4)
7 Routemaster, for example
8 www (5,4,3)
13 Lark, for example (8)
16 Woman in a flying
machine (7)
17 Fire-breather (6)
19 Juan Perón’s wife (5)
21 Alliance of countries (4)
Last week’s solution, No 14,921
First published in the Guardian
13 March 2018, No 14,928
1 British state’s
to continental
breakfast? (6)
2 Minister’s canny,
calling in the
artillery (6)
3 Music from
Southern religious
ceremonies? (10)
4 Here we go for relief
– relief coming up in
stages (5)
Futoshiki Easy
Fill in the grid so that
every row and column
contains the numbers
1-5. The “greater than”
or “less than” signs
indicate where a number
is larger or smaller than
its neighbour.
©Clarity Media Ltd
2 < 3
5 > 4
4 > 3 > 2
2 < 4
2 < 3
4 > 2
Last week’s solution
5 > 3
1 What contentious
folk often get for
seconds? (5,2)
5 Miserly investment
in worthy sculpture,
for instance (4,3)
9 Is rubbish put back
in trunks? (5)
10 Get dirty, menacing
look after party (9)
11 “Almost clean”
Brexit arranged, that
can be delivered (10)
12 Painter’s energy
always returns (4)
14 Wild animal with
truer colour (11)
18 Rein in twins,
those running the
enterprise (11)
21 What Jersey did,
presumably, banning
English humour (4)
22 Whistleblower runs,
busy and able to
change direction (10)
25 Grouse when main
road’s used the
wrong way – playing
ball! (9)
26 Audacious
League of Nations
enterprise originally
unsupported (5)
27 Here at sea might
one see son strip
off ? (7)
28 Bent journalist
beyond suspicion (7)
5 Barrage’s fluid seal
broken (9)
6 Gas, once
found, regularly
discharged (4)
7 A game soldier
first to attempt a
written defence (8)
8 Cow with last of
clover to chew
coming in later (8)
13 Any child is mad
giving pound for a
necklace (5,5)
15 Characteristic craft
nameless country (9)
16 Charming qualities
masking Nutmeg’s
ugly looks (8)
17 In Montmartre, a joint
seldom found (8)
19 Put paid to king,
moving bishop not
pawn (6)
First published in the Guardian
12 March 2018, No 27,454
20 Top husband in
contest getting
promotion (6)
23 Punster’s last to
cut gag (5)
24 This is oddly
coloured (4)
Last week’s solution, No 27,451
Sudoku classic Hard
2 <
Fill in the grid so that
every row, every column
and every 3x3 box
contains the numbers 1
to 9. We will publish the
solution next week.
Free puzzles at
Last week’s solution
44 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
Italian postman fails to
deliver for three years
A former Italian postman is facing
charges after police found 400kg
of undelivered mail stashed in his
home in the northern city of Turin.
Police said the 33-year-old, who
has not been named, told officers
he did not deliver any mail for three
years because his salary was too low.
He quit the job in 2017.
The stash was discovered after
the man was stopped during a
routine road check, local police said
in a statement. He was found in
possession of a 20cm-long folding
knife, and 70 letters were found on
the back seat of his car.
Sensing something was amiss,
police then went to his home,
where they found a further 40 boxes
of undelivered mail that included
bank statements, bills and other
private correspondence.
“I wasn’t paid enough and so
I quit,” the man reportedly said.
He now faces charges of theft,
misappropriation of correspondence
and for carrying a weapon.
Italy’s postal service is fairly
unreliable, and the case is not
the first of its kind. In January, a
56-year-old was arrested
d after police
found 500kg of undelivered
ered mail
dating back to 2010 hidden
den in his
garage in the northern
city of Vicenza. The
pile included telephone
directories, bills and
campaign leaflets for
regional elections, in
what police said was the
largest haul of undelivered mail ever found.
In 2013 a postman
in Sardinia failed to
deliver 400kg of mail during a fouryear period. Such an offence carries
a prison sentence of up to one year.
Angela Giuffrida
German man cashes in
on bottle recycling
A 27-year-old man faced court in
Bochum, Germany, on two fraud
charges, after allegedly making
€1.2m ($1.5m) through illegally
manipulating machines used
for a deposit return scheme for
bottles and cans. He is accused of
defrauding drinks manufacturers by
disabling the shredding mechanism
on two machines, allowing him to
claim back deposits for the same
bottles over and over again.
With each plastic bottle usually
earning a 25-cent return, the accused
man would have had to “recycle” his
set of bottles 4.8m times.
His lawyer claimed his client was
a “straw man” who had taken over a
retail outfit as a favour to a relative,
unaware of the manipulated
machines having been put in place.
Under the deposit return
scheme, which has been in place
in Germany since 2003 and is due
to be introduced in England this
year, customers pay an additional
deposit or Pfand as part of the price
of a bottle or can, which they can
reclaim when returning the drinks
container to a vendor.
The return usually takes place
via sophisticated “reverse vending
machines” that scan in the bottles
and hand out a voucher customers
can cash in at the counter.
Reusable bottles are stored and
sent back to the manufacturer, while
nonreusable “one-way” bottles,
usually made out of polyethylene
terephthalate, are shredded inside
the mechanism. Philip Oltermann
part in research experiments such
as growing food while in orbit, revel
in a virtual reality experience on
the holodeck, and stay in touch or
live stream with their loved ones
back home via high-speed wireless
internet access.” Edward Helmore
Argentinian police
claim mice ate drugs
A Houston-based company said it
plans to open the “first luxury hotel
in space” by late 2021.
Orion Span’s compact Aurora
Station – at 11x4 metres its interior
will be comparable to that of a
Gulfstream jet, the company said –
is projected to accommodate four
travellers and two crew members
for 12-day stays 320km above
Earth. Guests will be charged
$9.5m each: about $791,666 a night.
Refundable deposits of $80,000
can now be made online.
Orion Span said it would take
what was historically a 24-month
training regimen
to prepare
travellers to
t visit a space station
and streamline it to three
months, at a fraction of
tthe cost”.
The company said
ttravellers would then
the exhilaration
of zero gravity … gaze
at the northern and
ssouthern aurora through
tthe many windows, soar
over their hometowns, take
Eight Argentinian police officers
have been dismissed after claiming
that more than half a ton of marijuana that disappeared from a police
warehouse had been eaten by mice.
The cannabis had been in storage
in a warehouse for impounded
drugs in the town of Pilar, 60km
outside the capital, Buenos Aires.
But an inspection revealed that
of the 6,000kg that had been
registered, only 5,460kg were found.
Suspicion fell on the city’s
former—police commissioner Javier
Specia, who had left the inventory
for the impounded marijuana
unsigned when he left his post
in April 2017. His replacement,
commissioner Emilio Portero,
noticed the shortfall and notified
the force’s internal affairs division.
Called before Judge Adrián
González Charvay, Specia and
three of his subordinates all
offered the same explanation:
the missing narcotics had been
“eaten by mice”, they said. The
officers have been called to testify
before the judge on 4 May. The
judge will seek to determine if the
missing marijuana was the result
of “expedience or negligence”.
Specia also faces an internal
police investigation into why he has
not yet presented his sworn income
statement for 2017. Uki Goñi
Uncle Rebus
First luxury hotel in
space planned for 2021
Maslanka puzzles
1 “It would be wrong to raise the issue of German reparations during the
current economic crisis or it would
look as if Greece was looking for an
alibi,” opined a radio spokesperson.
Pedanticus crushed his receiver with
a sledgehammer. Why?
2 An equilateral triangle can be
made by cutting two
identical hexagons
into three big identical
pieces. Now perform
the same feat by cutting them
instead into two identical big pieces
and four identical small pieces.
3 Three glasses were each supposed
to contain the same amount.
I poured a half of the first glass
into the second, then a third of the
second into the third and finally a
quarter of the third back into the
first. Now they each contained 12ccs.
How much did they start out with?
4 In the football results all home teams
scored four goals and all away teams
scored only one consolation goal –
apart from just one away team, which
managed to equalise in their
fixture with four goals. With
what pithy phrase was this
summarised in the headline?
5 The first multiplicative magic
number is 6, since 1 x 2 x 3 = 6. N is
magic if and only if the product of all
its factors smaller than itself equals
N. Prove that the number of multiplicatively magic numbers is infinite.
Twitter: @ChrisMaslanka
Find the correct definition for each:
a) pertaining to snails
b) crumbly
c) Learian nonce word
d) reedy
a) fear of mice
b) fear of musicians
c) fear of dirt
d) severe allergy to moulds
E pluribus unum
to make a single word
(4, 3, 2, 5)
Missing Links
Find a word that follows the first
word in the clue and precedes the
second, in each case making a fresh
word or phrase. Eg the answer to
fish mix could be cake (fishcake &
cake mix) and to bat man it could
be he (bathe & he-man) ...
a) stone room b) rolling cube
c) human horse d) window station
e) grape gun
f) pork ties
©CMM2018. For solutions see page 47
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 45
A letter to …
my uncle,
the convicted
Illustration by Michele Marconi
Oliver Burkeman
The absent-minded genius is just a very
clever jerk. He can fail to show up for
a meeting and the world sees it as cute
work with a lot of very stereotypical
absent-minded professors,” the University of Toronto philosopher Joseph Heath
wrote a while back on the Canadian blog
In Due Course. One former colleague, he
remembered, “called me up once, on a
Friday evening, wondering why I was not
yet at his house. His wife had given him the task of
inviting the guests to their dinner party, which he
had promptly forgotten to do, and then forgotten
that he had forgotten to do it.” Readers in academia will recognise the phenomenon, but then,
so will everyone else, as the stereotype goes back
millennia: the ancient Greek astronomer Thales
supposedly once fell into a well because he was
stargazing as he walked. There’s a lesson here for
all thinkers with their head in the clouds, though
also for anyone who texts as they walk.
What makes this form of forgetfulness so annoying is that you’re not even supposed to be annoyed by it: the absent-minded professor can fail
to show up for an appointment, or forget he owes
you money, and the world “treats it as though it
were cute, and possibly a sign of genius”. He’s not
just allowed to neglect duties the rest of us feel
obliged to observe, but he’s also rewarded for it.
And, on closer inspection, as Heath notes, this
trait – let’s call it high-status absent-mindedness –
exhibits some curious features. For one thing, it’s
overwhelmingly a characteristic of men. For another, it somehow always seems to end up benefiting the absent-minded person. If someone were
straightforwardly bad at retaining information,
you might expect them to show up early for meetings, sometimes, rather than late; they’d forget
you owed them money as often as the other way
round. But that never happens, leading Heath
to speculate that what’s going on here is really a
form of “male dominance behaviour”. You act as
though you’re too important to concern yourself
with trifling matters to demonstrate that you can
get away with doing so. And, by cloaking your
obnoxiousness in absent-mindedness, you don’t
even have to admit you’re being a jerk.
There are echoes here of “strategic incompetence”, whereby people exempt themselves from
tedious chores such as stacking the dishwasher
or clearing paper jams at the office, by performing
He’s not just allowed
to neglect duties the rest
of us feel obliged to
observe, but he’s also
rewarded for it
them so terribly, they’re never asked again.
Unlike strategic incompetence, however,
high-status absent-mindedness needn’t be
conscious. Sigmund Freud argued that this
kind of “motivated forgetting” was a way of
expressing unconscious antipathy to others in a
form acceptable to the conscious mind. And the
evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers shows how
natural selection has made us excellent at selfdeception, because the best way to deceive others
is often to deceive yourself first. That way, when
you perform the part of the scatterbrained genius
who can’t help himself, you get to be completely
sincere and thereby more convincing. Or, to putt it
another way: your forgetfulness may be a statussat.
boosting act, but you’ve forgotten you know that.
Illustration by Lo Cole
t’s not the fact that I’ve shared
my life with someone convicted
of appalling sexual offences
against a child that hurts the
most, even as a parent. It’s the fact
that you haven’t shown remorse.
I’m the family’s resident
bleeding-heart liberal. If you’d said,
“I’ve had these urges all my life, I
know they’re wrong, but they just
got the better of me. I’m ashamed,
and will be getting help to make sure
I never do it again”, I would have
tried to empathise with you.
I don’t want a medal but, bearing
in mind the more “creative” punishments suggested by strangers online, it’s pretty reasonable, right?
But, instead, you’ve spun a line
about how this was just a series of
misunderstandings that snowballed
into a taped confession and a decade
on the sex offenders register.
One of your offences took place in
my parents’ home and now they are
afraid to bathe their grandchildren,
in case they get convicted of child
abuse, too. You did that to them.
I can’t believe you’ve positioned
yourself as the victim. Not just
ostracising your own child for not
brushing things under the carpet,
but encouraging others to do the
same. You have ruined lives for the
sake of sexual gratification, and
you’re expecting sympathy.
Maybe a miscarriage of justice has
occurred. But if a series of implausible mishaps had led to me being
branded a child molester, I’d appeal.
You’ve shrugged and acted as if
nothing happened. And people have
gone along
g with it.
This family is so good at pretending that stuff ne
never happened, but
live with the consewe all have to li
quences of wha
what you did.
And I know that, as time
passes, the more we’ll become the
th troublemakers.
Association with you is – if
nothing else – potentially
professionally ruinous.
So, any time that there’s a
birthday party or a family
wedding, we can’t go if you
go. An
And you will go.
And when my grandmothe
mother dies – or anyone
dies – my
m children cannot
attend the funeral, because
you will
wi be there.
If blood
were thicker
tthan water, you
wouldn’t have put us
iin this position.
46 The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18
Scintillating City
deserve plaudits
Towards the end their vulnerability was exposed
but it was too late to stop Guardiola’s side breezing
to the Premier League title, writes Jonathan Wilson
he statistics offer some
measure of Manchester
City’s greatness. They
have won the Premier
League title with a
month to spare and are
on course to set records for points
gained and goals scored. Achieving
that in an era when there is, theoretically at least, a big six – when they
are not just steamrollering much
weaker sides – is extraordinary.
But the stats are only part of it
and probably not the main part.
One does not have to be Manchester
United’s José Mourinho or one of
his acolytes to realise that, with the
money City have spent in the two
years since Pep Guardiola took over,
a failure to challenge would have
been an intense disappointment. But
it is the way that money has been
spent that marks them out.
City may have outlaid a net $515m
under Guardiola but their most expensive player is defender Aymeric
Laporte, brought in for $81m. They
have not done what Paris SaintGermain have done – or even what
Manchester United have done – and
spent a huge amount on a couple of
big-name players.
There was a joke doing the rounds
last summer that featured Guardiola
telling Sheikh Mansour, City’s owner,
that he could win the league title
with the most beautiful football imaginable and that all he needed to do
that was the best two players in the
world in every position. And that,
essentially, is what has happened.
There will always be those who see
the money spent as detracting from
the beauty but Guardiola has also
improved players and he has blended
them to accentuate their assets. Yes,
money has been spent but City have
got full value for it. And that is the
wonder of this City team.
The statistical milestones do not
tell the full story. The record points
tally in England’s top tier is – for now
– 95, held by Mourinho’s Chelsea
in the first season of his first spell,
Kompany proud after United
United’ss slip-up
slip up secure
secures title
Vincent Kompany challenged
his Manchester City team-mates
to retain their Premier League
title after Manchester United’s
shock 1-0 defeat to the bottom
side, West Bromwich Albion,
n, last
Sunday confirmed Pep Guardiola’s
men as champions.
“You can’t take them for granted
– I’ve been lucky to win three
but there have
hav been so many I’ve
missed as well,” said the
Belgian centre-back. “I
kind of want to see what
the reaction is going to be
now. I’ve never retained
the title and I want to see
the if this team has got it to
carry on and be even more
successful.” Ed Aarons
2004-05. They were, without doubt,
a very fine side, one of the best of the
Premier League era, but did they stir
the heart as City have? Perhaps they
did, with their organised muscularity enlivened by Damien Duff, Arjen
Robben and Joe Cole. Aesthetics,
after all, are subjective. It is entirely
reasonable to argue for the thrill of
the United treble-winners of 1998-99
with the contrasting wing play of
David Beckham and Ryan Giggs and
the intermovement of Andy Cole
and Dwight Yorke. Or for the blend
of pace and finesse in the Arsenal
Invincibles side of 2003-04.
Or, reaching further back, the
blossoming of Liverpool in 1987-88,
when the signings of John Barnes,
Peter Beardsley and Ray Houghton
complemented John Aldridge and
added a swagger to a unit that had
previously been largely efficient
with moments of brilliance. But that
is where an aesthetic evaluation
strikes a problem.
The best sides marry thrills and
aesthetic pleasure with effectiveness. Those on the highest levels of
the pantheon combine being good
to watch with consistency and a
capacity to get the job done in difficult conditions. City, perhaps, have
been almost too good this season.
They have won the league with such
ease that it is hard to point to one
defining game when they have been
pushed to the limit and have found
Australia shines
with Commonwealth Games tally
Mike Hytner Gold Coast
After a hugely successful start to
the final day of competition two
cruel, late body blows led to an air of
opportunity lost for the host nation as
the final curtain fell on the Gold Coast
Commonwealth Games.
Three marathon wins, followed
by another basketball triumph and
victory on the squash court took
Australia’s gold medal tally to 80, but
there it remained thanks to late drama
in both the netball and the women’s
rugby sevens finals.
In the netball, England secured an
astonishing last-second 52-51 victory
against the world champions. Until
now every Commonwealth Games
final had been contested between
Australia and New Zealand. England’s win, when the expectation here
was that the hosts would saunter to
victory, could prompt a major shift in
the sport’s world order.
Soon after, Australia’s rugby sevens
team fell to a 17-12 sudden-death extra-time defeat to New Zealand in the
final at Robina.
Earlier, champion para-athlete
Kurt Fearnley, one of the faces of these
Games, bowed out of international
racing after claiming gold in the first
event of the day with a Commonwealth record for the T54 marathon.
The two-time Paralympic marathon champion, who also won silver
in the T54 1500m, said he was ready
to call time. “I’m grateful actually [to
Final medal table
Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Australia
2 England
3 India
4 Canada
5 New Zealand
6 South Africa
7 Wales
8 Scotland
9 Nigeria
10 Cyprus
The Guardian Weekly 20.04.18 47
Sport in brief
• No driver, it seems, is going to
have an easy ride in Formula One this
season but, if the rollercoaster of the
Chinese Grand Prix is repeated, the
sport will be all the better for it. For
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who won
the inner strength to win despite
There is a vulnerability to City
and just because Liverpool – in their
recent Champions League quarterfinal – are the only side to expose it
for long enough to take advantage
this season does not diminish the
flaw, particularly when it is such a
recurring theme for Guardiola sides.
When they were unable to control
possession, that defensive fallibility
was their undoing and that raises a
serious question.
How great can a side, however
aesthetically pleasing, however
easily they have won the league, really be if they cannot endure when
games begin to turn against them?
be retiring] That just hurt. I busted
myself out there, I’ve got nothing.”
David Palmer also bid farewell to
his career on a high note, winning the
men’s doubles squash title with Zac
Alexander with victory over England’s
Daryl Selby and Adrian Waller.
The Games ended on a flat note as
organisers apologised after stinging
criticism of the closing ceremony,
when television viewers were unable
to see the athletes entering the stadium with each nation’s flag bearer.
The length of the speeches also had
athletes and spectators heading for
the exits long before the ceremony
officially wound up.
Hamilton was relieved that rather
than dropping points to the German
he has narrowed the gap in the title
battle from 17 to nine points but the
first half of the race proved that his
team have been put on the back foot
by Ferrari, who have the quicker
car. Valtteri Bottas was second for
Mercedes and is now five points
behind Hamilton.
Close … Tiger Roll and Pleasant Company
the race, it was the climax of an emotional and challenging two weeks.
From questioning his F1 future after
retiring on lap two of the last round
in Bahrain, the Australian emerged
triumphant and euphoric, having
made his mark in the race of the
season so far in emphatic style. Ricciardo’s overtaking was superlative
but behind him there was a different
picture, with Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel
left licking their wounds after finishing in fourth and eighth respectively.
• Paris Saint-Germain reclaimed the
French Ligue 1 championship in style
with a 7-1 thrashing of last year’s
champions, Monaco. The result sent
them 17 points clear of their secondplaced opponents with five matches
remaining. Unai Emery has now
completed a domestic double after
PSG’s Coupe de la Ligue triumph
last month, though the Spanish
manager’s future is the subject of
intense speculation. PSG have scored
103 goals in this league campaign so
far, winning 28 of their 33 games. In
Italy, Juventus defeated Sampdoria
3-0 in Turin to go six points clear at
the top of Serie A, while in England’s
second-tier Championship, Wolverhampton Wanderers celebrated
their return to the Premier League
next season after a 2-0 win over local
rivals Birmingham City.
Maslanka solutions
Leonard Barden
Fabiano Caruana has won two elite
tournaments in a fortnight, jumped
to No 2 in the live ratings only 21
points behind world champion
Magnus Carlsen, and is playing in
the US championship in St Louis.
America’s world title challenger
is already putting psychological
pressure on Carlsen, seven months
before their 12-game world title
series. While capturing the Grenke
Classic at Baden-Baden, Caruana
won his final two games with the
unfavourable black pieces, and,
just as in the candidates at Berlin,
went for the full point in the last
round when a draw would have
ensured first prize.
While Caruana plays in St Louis,
Carlsen will play at the Shamkir
tournament in Azerbaijan.
Caruana broke another taboo
in the final round at Grenke when
he unleashed a startling opening
novelty rather than hoard it until
November. After 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6
3 d4 Nxe4 4 dxe5 d5 5 Nbd2 Qd7!?
has the immediate idea that if
White continues 6 Nxe4 and swaps
queens, Black can retake with the
knight on d7 rather than with king
or bishop on d8.
3562 Maxim Matlakov (Russia) v Tamir
Nabati (Israel), 2018. White to move and win.
Nikita Vitiugov v Fabiano Caruana
1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 d4 Nxe4 4 dxe5
d5 5 Nbd2 Qd7!? 6 Bd3 Nc5 7 Be2
g6 8 Nb3 Ne6 9 Be3 c5 10 Ng5?! b6
11 Nxe6 fxe6 12 a4 Bb7 13 O-O?! Nc6
14 f4 Bh6 15 a5 Ne7 16 Bg4 d4! 17 Bc1
O-O 18 Qd3 Bd5 19 Qh3 Bg7 20 Nd2
Nf5 21 c4 dxc3 22 bxc3 Rad8 23 axb6
axb6 24 Re1 b5 25 Ne4 Qe7 26 Ng5 h6
27 Nf3 Bc6 28 Bxf5 gxf5 29 Be3 Rd3
30 Rac1 Ra8 31 Qh4 Qxh4 32 Nxh4
c4 33 Kf2 Bf8 34 Nf3 Bd5 35 Nd4 Bc5
36 Nxf5? Ba3 37 Nxh6+ Kg7 38 f5 Bxc1
39 Bxc1 Rxc3 40 f6+ Kg6 0-1
3562 1 Nf7++ Kg8 2 Qg8+! Nxh8 3 Nh6 mate.
Not, however, 1 Bxg6?? Qxf1 mate.
City swagger … Kevin De
Bruyne rushes to his teammates. Their side have won
28 of 33 league games so far
Laurence Griffiths/Getty
• Tiger Roll, the smallest horse in
the field, held off a late surge from
Pleasant Company in one of the
closest ever finishes in Britain’s
Grand National at Aintree. A threetime Cheltenham Festival winner,
Tiger Roll was well backed at 10-1
coming into the historic race, which
is watched by an estimated global
television audience of 600 million,
and always looked likely to challenge. He surged ahead on the home
straight of the four-and-a-half mile
course and looked set for a comfortable win. But David Mullins chased
him down on Pleasant Company and
Tiger Roll required all his courage to
hold off the stirring challenge from
the 25-1 shot. The eight-year-old
winner is owned by Irish businessman Michael O’Leary, the chiefexecutive of Ryanair, and trained by
Gordon Elliott. The winning jockey,
Ireland’s 38-year-old Davy Russell,
said he was delighted to have finally
won the race at his 14th attempt.
1 Greece is where it is, ex vi termini, as
we used to say in the old days. An alibi
is a defence by virtue of one’s being
elsewhere, which is quite difficult for a
country to do. And was used to be were
in counterfactuals!
2 See diagram (right). With
thanks to Jon “Chappers”
3 They
with 16,
10 and
10cc in
them, in
4 All 4-1 and one 4-all.
5 All numbers of the form
p x q (p and q both primes)
are trivially magic. The number of
primes is infinite (Euclid); so the number
of multiplicative magic numbers must
also be infinite. Point to Ponder What
is the next multiplicative magic number
after 6? What other forms of number
besides pq are multiplicatively magic?
Wordpool d), c)
E pluribus unum COTONEASTER
Missing Links
a) stone/chat/room
b) rolling/stock/cube
c) human/race/horse
d) window/dressing/station
e) grape/shot/gun
f) pork/pie/ties
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Acting editor: Graham Snowdon.
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girl magic’
Representational shift or
clever marketing concept?
Culture, page 40
Hans Rosling
Ease up on the drama: the world isn’t as
horrific as you think. Training yourself
to put the news into perspective will
change your outlook for the better
Terrorism too is rising. Overfishing and the
deterioration of the seas are truly worrisome.
The list of endangered species is getting longer.
But while it is easy to be aware of bad things, it’s
harder to know about the good things. The silent
miracle of human progress is too slow and too
fragmented to ever qualify as news. Over the past
20 years, the proportion of people in extreme
poverty has almost halved. But in online polls, in
most countries, less than 10% of people knew.
Our instinct to notice the bad more than the
good is related to three things: the misremembering of the past; selective reporting by journalists
and activists; and the feeling that, as long as
things are bad, it’s heartless to say they are
getting better. For centuries, older people have
romanticised their youth and insisted things
ain’t what they used to be. Well, that’s true. Most
things used to be worse.
Stories about gradual improvements rarely
make the front page even when they occur on a
dramatic scale and affect millions of people. And
thanks to increasing press freedom and improving technology, we hear about more disasters
than ever before. This improved reporting is
The silent miracle of
human progress is too
slow and too fragmented
to ever qualify as news
Sébastien Thibault
hings are bad, and it feels like
they are getting worse, right?
War, violence, natural disasters,
corruption. The rich are getting
richer and the poor are getting
poorer; and we will soon run out of
resources unless something drastic
is done. That’s the picture most people in the west
see in the media and carry around in their heads.
I call it the overdramatic worldview. It’s stressful and misleading. In fact, the vast majority of
the world’s population live somewhere in the
middle of the income scale. Perhaps they are not
what we think of as middle class, but they are not
living in extreme poverty. Their girls go to school,
their children get vaccinated. Perhaps not on
every measure, every year, but step by step, year
by year, the world is improving. In the past two
centuries, life expectancy has more than doubled.
We have made tremendous progress.
The overdramatic worldview draws people to
the most negative answers. It is not caused simply by out-of-date knowledge. My experience has
finally brought me to see that the overdramatic
worldview comes from the very way our brains
work. The brain is a product of millions of
years of evolution, and we are hard-wired with
instincts that helped our ancestors to survive in
small groups of hunters and gatherers. We crave
sugar and fat, which used to be lifesaving sources
of energy when food was scarce. But today
these cravings make obesity one of the biggest
global health problems. In the same way, we are
interested in gossip and dramatic stories, which
used to be the only source of news and useful
information. This craving for drama helps create
an overdramatic worldview.
We still need these dramatic instincts to give
meaning to our world. If we sifted every input
and analysed every decision rationally, a normal
life would be impossible. But we need to learn to
control our drama intake.
It is absolutely true that there are many bad
things in this world. The number of conflict
fatalities has been falling since the second world
war, but the Syrian war has reversed this trend.
itself a sign of human progress, but it creates the
impression of the opposite. Activists and lobbyists manage to make every dip in an improving
trend appear to be the end of the world, scaring
us with alarmist exaggerations and prophecies.
In the US, the violent crime rate has been falling
since 1990. But each time something horrific or
shocking happened, a crisis was reported. Most
people believe violent crime is getting worse.
My guess is you feel that me saying that the
world is getting better is like me telling you that
everything is fine, and that feels ridiculous. I
agree. Everything is not fine. We should still be
very concerned. But it is just as ridiculous to
look away from progress. The consequent loss of
hope can be devastating. When people wrongly
believe that nothing is improving, they may lose
confidence in measures that actually work.
Take girls’ education. When women are
educated, the workforce becomes diversified and
able to make better decisions. Educated mothers
have fewer children, and more survive. More
energy is invested in each child’s education: a
virtuous cycle of change.
Remember that the media and activists rely
on drama to grab your attention; that negative
stories are more dramatic than positive ones; and
how simple it is to construct a story of crisis from
a temporary dip pulled out of context. When you
hear about something terrible, calm yourself by
asking: if there had been a positive improvement,
would I have heard? If there had been hundreds
of larger improvements, would I have heard?
This is “factfulness”: understanding as a
source of mental peace. Like a healthy diet and
regular exercise, it can and should become part
of people’s daily lives. Start to practise it, and
you will make better decisions, stay alert to
real dangers and possibilities, and avoid being
constantly stressed about the wrong things.
Hans Rosling was a Swedish physician, academic
and statistician, who died in 2017. This is an edited
excerpt from his posthumously published book
Factfulness (Sceptre), written with Ola Rosling and
Anna Rosling Rönnlund
Журналы и газеты
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The Guardian Weekly, newspaper
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