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When renegotiating NAFTA, Trump should re-evaluate his premises on international trade

By Dany Bahar from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Robert E. Lighthizer, the Trump administration’s chief trade negotiator, listed substantially reducing the trade deficit as one of the main United States goals for NAFTA renegotiations, which started this week. Since the North American Free Trade Agreement came into force in 1994, imports from Mexico to the U.S. have increased at a much faster pace…
      
 
 

YouTubers Jake Paul and Tessa Brooks targeted by hackers as 'explicit images' leak

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Brooks' social media profiles and YouTube account hijacked by 'Snail Team' hackers.

Japan's 'Buddhist' robots replace priests at cut-price funerals

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Nissei Eco offers humanoid Pepper robots to perform the role at a much lower cost.

Hutchins Roundup: valuing health insurance, regulatory oversight and bank behavior, and more

By Vivien Lee, David Wessel from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Studies in this week’s Hutchins Roundup find that low-income people won’t purchase health insurance without very large subsidies, reduced regulatory oversight increases risky bank behavior, and more. Want to receive the Hutchins Roundup as an email? Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday. Most low-income individuals are willing to pay at most half…
      
 
 

Antarctica: Unprecedented penguincam videos show how Gentoo penguins 'talk' to each other

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Communication is thought to help the penguins hunt more effectively.

The delicious mystery of why water and whisky work so well together finally solved by science

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Your grandfather was right to put a drop of water in his Glenfiddich.

US government seeks data on visitors to anti-Trump site

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Rights groups say the US Department of Justice could violate privacy rights of people who visit anti-Trump protest site.

Google Lunar XPrize contestants now get more time to send their robotic rovers to the Moon

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The contest intends to inspire engineers and entrepreneurs to develop low-cost methods of space exploration.

Baby died of opioid and benzodiazepine cocktail – Ohio father arrested

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Dorrico Dawaun Brown's son died of an oxycodone and alprazolam overdose at their home in Hamilton, Butler County.

Uncertainty as Texas A&M drops White Lives Matter rally

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Texas A&M University cancels rally with speakers from the alt-right and a neo-Nazi group.

Philippines police kill 60 people in three days in Duterte's deadly war on drugs [Graphic images]

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The 60 deaths mark the deadliest period of the crackdown that has killed thousands since Duterte took office over a year ago.

Pain in Spain

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

As anti-tourism protests hit Barcelona, can visitors happily coexist with local residents?

Alt-right Caribbean cruise cancelled following Charlottesville backlash

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Norwegian Cruise Line says Rebel Media 'espoused views that are inconsistent our core values'.

Germany’s SPD criticised over Schröder’s post at Rosneft

From Europe. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats try to exploit public unease by turning fire on Schulz

'Just stop': Trump's lawyer trolled for posting collage of his black friends to show he isn't racist

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

'Congrats on your black friends,' one Twitter user wrote.

Warwick scientists develop synthetic antifreeze to help preserve organs longer before transplant

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The synthetic antifreeze will stop ice crystals from forming, keeping organs alive longer.

Saudi, Iraqi leaders 'draw closer' after Sadr meeting

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

For Saudi Arabia, talks with Iraq are attempt to build alliances with its Shia leaders, analysts say.

Madrid taxi driver guilty of raping teenage au pair who fell asleep in car

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Court hands taxi driver seven years in prison and orders him to pay €55,000 in compensation.

The end of broken smartphone screens? Motorola eyes next-gen self-healing displays

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Lenovo-owned company submits patent for screen that heals through heat.

Big Bang Theory's Kaley Cuoco posts a sexy pic and her co-star teases 'Where is your shirt, missy?'

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

'I'm sure that was the Sheldon in you,' a fan responded to Jim Parson's hilarious comment on the photo.

Emma Stone is 2017's best paid actress making $26m (£20m), according to Forbes

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

La La Land star Emma Stone makes more than any other actress in the past year, according to Forbes.

Couple told to leave Italian hotel because they don't 'accept dark-skinned guests'

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

It is the latest discrimination case to spark outrage in Italy in recent weeks,

DR Congo landslide kills dozens in northeast

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

At least 40 people killed after heavy rain triggers landslide in fishing village near Lake Albert.

Sierra Leone mudslide: What, where and why?

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

On August 14 a mudslide killed hundreds on the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown. Here is what we know.

Duterte's drug crackdown hits capital Manila killing 25 suspects within a day

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The Philippines president said he is determined to wipe out drug pushers in the country by all means.

I went to a Harry Potter-inspired school and this is what I learned

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Rule number one: Don't touch the dragon eggs.

The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAM, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Getty.

The Solar Eclipse as a Religious Experience

By Marina Koren from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Tens of millions of people across the United States are preparing to look skyward next Monday as the moon passes between Earth and the sun and, for a few brief moments, daylight turns to darkness. For many, the solar eclipse is one of nature’s greatest spectacles, a magnificent demonstration of what can happen when celestial objects align.

For others, its magnificence is of a different kind.

Some religious groups and institutions are anticipating the eclipse through the lens of faith. A religious perspective provides certain tools for encountering natural wonders, adding a few extra layers to the experience. It can the eclipse into something other than just a really cool thing, and into a reminder of heavenly wonder, an opportunity to proselytize, or as an omen of dark days to come. (Or, for one Kickstarter project that raised $11,000, a chance to publish "an original communication" from God about alien contact.)

Several institutions in Oregon, Wyoming, Missouri, and other states along the path of totality—the narrow stretch of land where the full effect of the eclipse will be visible—are treating the eclipse and the wave of visitors following it as an opportunity to spread gospel.

In Silverton, Oregon, Sonrise Ranch is hosting a sold-out, family-friendly festival on its grounds called “Eclipsed With God’s Love,” which will include outdoor church services and Christian film screenings. In Casper, Wyoming, which is expecting thousands of visitors, a pair of Baptist churches and a local chapter of a Christian nonprofit will hand out hundreds of copies of God of Wonders, a movie, styled like a nature documentary, that features creationist explanations for everything from weather systems to DNA. “Additionally, if our parking lot is utilized for eclipse watchers, we will take that opportunity to try and share the Gospel,” a pastor explained, according to the Baptist Press. In Chillicothe, Missouri, a Baptist-run campground will host a “Wonders of Creation Solar Eclipse Family Retreat” of hiking, swimming, and other activities, interspersed with time for worship and teachings. “Since we’re in the range of the eclipse, we thought we were in a position to do teaching and ministry for families,” an organizer told The Pathway, a Baptist publication in Missouri.

The ultra-Orthodox Jewish-outreach organization Chabad wondered in a blog post about the Jewish perspective on the solar eclipse. Although the Talmud, a fifth-century compilation of rabbinic teaching, warns that when the luminaries are stricken, it is an ill omen for the world,” Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin writes, “an eclipse is not caused by sin. Rather, it is an indication of a trying time, a time when there is a natural predisposition for sin, and for strict judgment of that sin.” The Rabbinical Assembly, an organization of Conservative rabbis, explored the question of a potential blessing for the solar eclipse. In Judaism, there’s a blessing for nearly everything, from weather-related phenomena like lightning and thunder to everyday activities like preparing meals and going to the bathroom—but none for an eclipse. “One could certainly respond with any number of texts from our tradition that speak of inspiration derived from celestial bodies,” Rabbi Joshua Heller writes, and offers some advice on DIY blessings.

For a small group of Christian leaders, the solar eclipse is less about spreading the Word than receiving a message from God—and not a good one. In a recent blog post, Anne Graham Lotz, the Christian evangelist daughter of Billy Graham, compared the celebratory mood of viewing parties for the eclipse to the biblical feast Belshazzar held in Babylon, oblivious to the Persians and Medes sneaking up on the kingdom, ready to take over. “While no one can know for sure if judgment is coming on America, it does seem that God is signaling us about something,” she said. “Time will tell what that something is.”

Reverend Mark Creech, the head of the Christian Action League in North Carolina, agreed with Graham Lotz in a column at The Christian Post. “America is definitely ripe for judgment,” he wrote. Gary Ray, a writer for Unsealed, an evangelical Christian news site, told The Washington Post this week the eclipse may be a hint about the second coming of Jesus Christ. “The Bible says a number of times that there’s going to be signs in the heavens before Jesus Christ returns to Earth,” Ray said. “We see this as possibly one of those.”

The view of events like solar eclipses as messages from the gods—good or bad, but mostly bad—has a long record in human history. For millennia, the sudden and brief darkening of the sun was more likely to trigger panic than amazement because, also for millennia, eclipses were poorly understood.

Careful observations and attempts to predict these events took place in ancient civilizations across the globe, but the information gleaned from this study remained with the religious elite, explains Paul V. M. Flesher, a religious-studies professor at the University of Wyoming. For most people, the sudden disappearance of the midday sun was a break in the natural procession of the world as they knew it, in the rhythmic routine—sunrise, sunset—that arranged their lives. Such an unexpected interruption in the natural order of things was, not surprisingly, frightening. “What could be more traumatic than the abandonment of the sun?” as my editor Ross Andersen wrote last week. “This is the energy source that powers Earth’s photosynthetic food chains, the ball of fire that anchors and warms us as we twirl around in the cold cosmic void. The sun is the giver of life.”

The masses attributed eclipses to a god or gods, the only beings they knew to be capable of manipulating forces of nature, the kind that, for example, sometimes delivered badly needed rains for their crops, and other times, withheld them. “Eclipses, whether lunar or solar, are not really central to any theology of any religion,” Flesher said. But there are references to a darkening of the sun throughout religious literature, including in the description of the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s not known whether these mentions represent historical eclipse events or, as Flesher puts it, embellishments to convey significance beyond human control.

Science eventually explained solar eclipses as a testament to the natural world’s power, which is blissfully ignorant of the humans that fear it. Some superstition persists, because solar eclipses, while they’re easily predicted today, are still a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for many. “While they’re common on Earth, they aren’t common in the same place on Earth, so once you get to the notion that somehow this is a rare event and it’s not predictable, then you get to the notion that this is an omen or a portent,” Flesher said.

Eclipse viewers are susceptible to emotional responses to solar eclipses, whether they view them as natural phenomena or heavenly wonders. Feelings of fear and awe fall along the same spectrum, and the splendor of astronomical events can sometimes blur the lines.

“You read stories of people who saw their first eclipse as a child and it was an overwhelming, numinous—to use a good religious term—response to a physical natural event, something that is beyond description. It’s somehow coming face-to-face with something ultimate and unimaginable,” Flesher said. “The flip side of that kind of numinous reaction—it can be scary. It can be terrifying.”

Fans hail Jinger Duggar for wearing tight pants against Jim Bob's rule: 'Those skirts were awful'

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The reality star got married to Jeremy Vuolo in October last year.

From Facebook to Uber: How Silicon Valley is taking on white supremacists after Charlottesville

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

"It's a disgrace that we still need to say that neo-Nazis and white supremacists are wrong," Facebook said.

White nationalists are 'clowns' - Trump aide

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The usually low-profile chief White House strategist turns on a movement he is seen as cultivating.

Venezuela crisis: All the latest updates

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The latest news from Venezuela since its political crisis started.

Spotify takes on neo-Nazis by scrubbing 'white power' music from streaming platform

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Nearly 40 bands linked to white power scene were deleted from the streaming service.

German election: AfD leader Frauke Petry faces perjury fight

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Weeks before Germany's election, Frauke Petry is likely to lose her immunity from prosecution.

ECB minutes reveal concern over euro strength

From Europe. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Policy makers flag worries over possible overshooting in the repricing of currency

ICC Timbuktu case: Mali Islamist liable for €3m in damages

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The ICC says Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi caused €3m of damage when he led attacks on Timbuktu shrines.

Apple Pay terminates service on white supremacist websites selling Nazi-branded clothing

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Apple is one of several technology firms distancing themselves from neo-Nazis after deadly Charlottesville rally.

ECB minutes reveal concern over euro strength

From Europe. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Mayim Bialik reveals Big Bang Theory season 11 opening scene: 'You definitely get answers' in episode 1

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

'We filmed the 1st episode of @BigBangTheory_cbs last night' said Bialik.

Charlottesville: a town haunted by the far right

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Locals fear a bitter far right will return.

On 12 August, a car ploughed down pedestrians in the street where I used to buy my pecan pies. I had recently returned to London from Charlottesville, Virginia – the scene of what appears to have been an act of white supremacist terrorism – having worked and taught at the university there for four years. While I unpacked boxes of books, the streets I knew so well were full of hate and fire.

The horror began on the evening of Friday 11 August, when thugs with torches marched across the “Lawn”. Running through the heart of the university, this is where, each Halloween, children don ghoulish costumes and trick-or-treat delighted and generous fourth-year undergraduates.

But there were true monsters there that night. They took their stand on the steps of the neoclassical Rotunda – the site of graduation – to face down a congregation about to spill out of St Paul’s Episcopal opposite.

Then, on Saturday morning, a teeming mass of different groups gathered in Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park), where my toddler ran through splash pads in the summer.

We knew it was coming. Some of the groups were at previous events in Charlottesville’s “summer of hate”. Ever since a permit was granted for the “Unite the Right” march, we feared that this would be a tipping point. I am unsure whether I should have been there, or whether I was wise to stay away.

The truth is that this had nothing to do with Charlottesville – and everything to do with it. From one perspective, our small, sleepy university town near the Blue Ridge Mountains was the victim of a showdown between out-of-towners. The fighting was largely not between local neo-Nazis and African Americans, or their white neighbours, for that matter. It was between neo-Nazis from far afield – James Alex Fields, Jr, accused of being the driver of the lethal Dodge Challenger, was born in Kentucky and lives in Ohio – and outside groups such as “Antifa” (anti-fascist). It was a foreign culture that was foisted upon the city.

Charlottesville is to the American east coast what Berkeley is to the west: a bastion of liberalism and political correctness, supportive of the kind of social change that the alt-right despises. Just off camera in the national newsfeeds was a banner hung from the public  library at the entrance of Emancipation Park, reading: “Proud of diversity”.

I heard more snippets of information as events unfolded. The counter-protesters began the day by drawing on the strength of the black church. A 6am prayer meeting at our local church, First Baptist on Main (the only church in Charlottesville where all races worshipped together before the Civil War), set the tone for the non-violent opposition.

The preacher told the congregation: “We can’t hate these brothers. They have a twisted ideology and they are deeply mistaken in their claim to follow Christ, but they are still our brothers.” Then he introduced the hymns. “The resistance of black people to oppression has only been kept alive through music.”

The congregation exited on to Main Street, opposite my old butcher JM Stock Provisions, and walked down to the statue of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark – the early 19th-century Bear Grylls types who explored the west. They went past Feast! – the delicacy market where we used to spend our Saturday mornings – and on to the dreamy downtown mall where my wife and I strolled on summer evenings and ate southern-fried chicken at the Whiskey Jar.

The permit for the “protest” was noon to 5pm but violence erupted earlier. Between 10.30am and 12pm, the white supremacists, protected by a paramilitary guard, attacked their opponents. As the skirmishes intensified, police were forced to encircle the clashing groups and created, in effect, a bizarre zone of “acceptable” violence. Until the governor declared a state of emergency, grown men threw bottles of piss at each other.

At noon, the crowd was dispersed and the protesters spilled out into the side streets. This was when the riot climaxed with the horrific death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Throughout Saturday afternoon and evening, the far-right groups marauded the suburbs while residents locked their doors and closed their blinds.

I sat in London late into the night as information and prayer requests trickled through. “There are roughly 1,000 Nazis/KKK/alt-right/southern nationalists still around – in a city of 50,000 residents. If you’re the praying type, keep it up.”

No one in Charlottesville is in any doubt as to how this atrocity became possible. Donald Trump has brought these sects to group consciousness. They have risen above their infighting to articulate a common ground, transcending the bickering that mercifully held them back in the past.

In the immediate aftermath, there is clarity as well as fury. My colleague Charles Mathewes, a theologian and historian, remarked: “I still cannot believe we have to fight Nazis – real, actual, swastika-flag-waving, be-uniformed, gun-toting Nazis, along with armed, explicit racists, white supremacists and KKK members. I mean, was the 20th century simply forgotten?”

There is also a sense of foreboding, because the overwhelming feeling with which the enemy left was not triumph but bitterness. Their permit had been to protest from noon to 5pm. They terrorised a town with their chants of “Blood and soil!” but their free speech was apparently not heard. Their safe space, they claim, was not protected.

The next day, the organiser of the march, Jason Kessler, held a press conference to air his grievances. The fear is that the indignant white supremacists will be back in greater force to press their rights.

If that happens, there is one certainty. At one point during the dawn service at First Baptist, a black woman took the stand. “Our people have been oppressed for 400 years,” she said. “What we have learned is that the only weapon which wins the war is love.”

Getty

Qatar-Gulf crisis: All the latest updates

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The latest news after three Gulf states and Egypt cut ties with Qatar and imposed a land, sea and air blockade.

Man 'stabbed relative to death with scissors for allowing daughters to shake hands with boys'

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The alleged honour killing took place by Stensjon lake in Grycksbo, near Falun in Sweden.

North Korea crisis: War would be horrific, US general says

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

A top US general gives a bleak assessment of a military response but says it remains a possibility.

400 dead. Hundreds missing. Where is the world's outcry for Sierra Leone's mudslide victims?

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

In one of Sierra Leone's worst tragedies, hundreds more are currently homeless, with nowhere to go.

Sierra Leone reels from deadly mudslides

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Family members line up in pouring rain to identify loved ones’ remains following mudslides and floods that killed 400.

Belarus minister wants ex-prisoners to work on farms

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Interior minister suggests prisoners work on farms as form of rehabilitation.

Indian rape victim, 10, gives birth by Caesarean section

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The rape victim, who was not allowed to have an abortion by the Supreme Court, delivers a baby girl.

The NS Podcast #230: It's (New) Party Time

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The New Statesman podcast.

Helen is joined by Anoosh to consider whether a new political party would have any chance of success in the UK. Then they discuss the TV shows everyone really likes to watch but doesn't admit to and analyse why the quality of Don't Tell The Bride has declined. Finally, a bumper You Asked Us section including listener questions on social care, punching Nazis, the Tory economic agenda and more.

You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes here or with this RSS feed: http://rss.acast.com/newstatesman, or listen using the player below.

 

Further reading:

The NS centenary debate from 2013 - did the left win the twentieth century?

Meet the Ivanka Voter by Anne Helen Petersen on Buzzfeed.

Anoosh on the EDL.

Why is Love Island so Tory?

How Don't Tell the Bride lost its spark

Take Me Out and the failures of feminism by Alan White.

Saudi King Salman invites Qatar pilgrims to Hajj

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Qatar welcomes decision, but says move should include a full lifting of the blockade imposed by the Saudi-led group.

Sierra Leone mudslide survivors describe shock, anger

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

First mass burial to take place on Thursday after floods and mudslides kill more than 400 people in Sierra Leone.

Five of the biggest myths about HIV - and how you can debunk them

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

HIV is not passed on via casual contact or saliva.

FedEx recalls Samsung Galaxy Note 4 batteries due to fire hazard

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The recall affects refurbished editions of the Note 4 that were distributed through AT&T's insurance program.

Property programmes are torture for millennials - so why do we keep watching?

By Daniel Curtis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Once aspirational, property TV shows now carry a whiff of sadism. 

I watch property programmes because I like inflicting pain on myself.

That’s the only conclusion I, as a millennial, can come to. I must be a masochist, because I enjoy seeing people with more money than I’ll ever have buying homes I’ll never be able to afford.

There was a time when, for me at least, watching property shows was an act of dissent. In the mid 2000s, catching Homes Under the Hammer during its 10am timeslot as a teenager was the ultimate sign of rebellion, because you should, by rights, be in school. Ditto with Location Location Location, Escape to the Country or any of the litany of property programmes which have been going strong since the turn of the century.

Now, though, I realise that these property shows are not simply designed for adolescents pulling sickies. In fact, I’m not the prime target audience for these shows at all. The people who actually appear on these shows are whiter than white, comfortably middle-class and able to splash the cash from years of good jobs. They couldn’t be further away from a working class, white-passing millennial in an age defined by the mortgage crisis and subsequent financial crash.  

It wasn't always this way. When Location, Location, Location began in 2000, 20 per cent of young people and 80 per cent of middle-aged people owned their own home. Rewind a decade, to 1991, and just north of 35 per cent of 16-24 year olds owned their own home. By 2013-2014, that figure had fallen to under 10 per cent. On average, house prices have risen 7 per cent each year since 1980. Job security is hugely decreased. The average deposit needed to buy a property in London, where jobs are most plentiful, has risen by £76,000 in the last decade. 

In short, in 2017, watching a property programme as a millennial is simply a reminder that the ladders have all been pulled up. 

To add insult to injury, political attempts to help young renters, like that of Ed Miliband's 2015 manifesto, face a backlash from Britain's well-organised and vocal landlord class. It's a small comfort that both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have proposed reforms, since this parliament looks likely to be dominated by Brexit. On the plus side, as far as sofa bums are concerned, appalling renting conditions has spawned a new genre of gritty reality TV typified by When the Landlords Moved In. 

So why do I keep watching programmes about people I do not resemble buying houses I cannot afford? Simply because property programmes make undeniably good viewing. Teenagers argue on Twitter about which of them would be the better replacement for Grand Designs’ iconic presenter Kevin McCloud. One friend I spoke to about the show called it "daydream material".

"It's really satisfying to watch", she said. "There's something about seeing people be able to build their dream houses that's interesting. I like thinking about what my house would look like." Another said that "it's a nosiness thing combined with seeing how the other half live". Another friend I spoke to, a couple of years younger than me, couldn’t describe the allure specifically, simply saying “I just like houses”. 

Twitter hosts a number of young fans who also like houses:

Why indeed, Ally. Why indeed.

Other millennial users are brokenhearted that Kirstie and Phil, the pair who host Location Location Location, are not, in fact, a real couple:

There’s something else here though, aside from on-screen sexual tension. It goes back to that idea of "daydream material". It’s an image of what could be – of what should be. You can’t help but be excited for the homeowners featured on the programme, especially if they’re buying their first home or expanding to a home for life. It’s an infectious feeling of what we’d like to have. It’s hope.

Granted, it might be futile. Despite Brexit, a shortgage of homes means house prices don't look set to plummet any time soon. And millennials don't seem likely to afford them - figures released yesterday make clear that though employment has gone up, wages remain stagnant.

There doesn't appear to be any real way out, except for a permanent sojourn in the letting market. As a result, property TV is actually perfect "reality" TV. Like living in the Big Brother house, or finding "love" on an island, or winning £1,000,000 through being a nerd, property TV has ascended from its roots as programming designed to inform and entertain, to the realm of unantainable, glossy wish-fulfilment, as removed from real life as that Total Wipeout assault course.

And yet, the hope lives on. It might not be yet – it might not even be soon - but Phil and Kirstie, when you come for me, I’ll be ready.

Logan Lucky Is a Welcome Return to Movies for Steven Soderbergh

By David Sims from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Clyde Logan (Adam Driver), a one-armed bartender in a small West Virginia town, is convinced his family is cursed. And he’s got plenty of reason to think so: He lost his arm to a roadside mine on his way home from his second tour in Iraq, and his brother Jimmy (Channing Tatum) can’t keep a job because of a lingering leg injury (or, as his apologetic boss puts it, a pre-existing condition). Clyde looks back into the Logan family history and finds only misery, using the failings of his ancestors as an excuse for staying put in life. But where Clyde sees trouble, Jimmy sees opportunity—and a chance to reverse their misfortune.

Logan Lucky, Steven Soderbergh’s first film in four years (and his grand comeback from self-imposed retirement), is a jangly jaunt of a heist movie, following Jimmy’s elaborate plan to rob the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The film has the same breezy feeling as Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, being a caper movie where, even as things go wrong, there’s never a pressing sense of danger. But Logan Lucky works because the stakes are higher than they initially seem: Just as Danny Ocean was really striving to reclaim his lost love, Jimmy and Clyde Logan are looking to disprove decades of family misery. They’re seeking a cosmic re-alignment.

The robbery itself is low on pathos (there’s not even a villainous businessman, like Andy Garcia in Ocean’s Eleven, to cheer against), but Soderbergh smartly grounds it in emotion rather than greed, making a ridiculous scheme sound downright sensible. Jimmy is out of a job, yes, and needs a few bucks to hire a lawyer for his ongoing custody battle with his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes). But there’s no dying relative, no massive debt owed to the mob, no overriding reason for him to try and pull off such a daring heist. Rather, Jimmy is trying to prove the very gods of luck wrong, and it makes him that much more fun to root for.

Logan Lucky feels like a Coen brothers movie, down to its fairly cartoonish view of life in West Virginia. There are plenty of John Denver references made, trucker hats worn, and broad Southern accents. There’s also a delightful grab-bag of colorful supporting roles for the sparkling cast: Hilary Swank as a meticulous investigator, Riley Keough as the Logans’ capable sister Mellie, Dwight Yoakam as a preening prison warden. Best of all is Daniel Craig as the expert safecracker Joe Bang, whom the brothers decide to break out of prison for his special skills, then break back into prison once the heist is done.

Most of the lead performers are easygoing: Tatum’s Jimmy is a hop and a step removed from the actor’s work in Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, a down-home boy possessed of a quiet brand of confidence. Driver’s Clyde is just slightly edgier, but Logan Lucky isn’t filled with the kind of violent hotheads you might expect from a heist story. Craig, whose Joe Bang sports a peroxide-blonde crew-cut that accentuates his ice-blue eyes, is the closest Logan Lucky comes to having a wild card. Even he’s more grounded than you’d assume, in one scene patiently explaining the science of an explosive bag of gummy bears he rigs up for the safe-cracking.

As with Ocean’s Eleven, the thrill of this film isn’t in whatever mortal danger the Logan brothers might be in, it’s the goofy joy of watching their plan come together, and witnessing Jimmy and Clyde side-step obstacles with grace. In all, it’s a gentle return from retirement for Soderbergh. Logan Lucky is like a cheerful sing-a-long of a movie, sweeping its audience along easily, even if some of the details quickly vanish from memory.

But, of course, Soderbergh was never really retired from moviemaking. It seems he was just looking for new ways to tell his stories, and frustrated with a studio system that largely ignores these kind of actor-driven, mid-sized films that used to dominate Hollywood. Soderbergh made The Knick, a terrific exploration of the human ecosystem of a hospital in the early 20th century, on television. He served as the cinematographer and editor of Magic Mike XXL, the tone-poem sequel to his male-stripper movie that bathed its chiseled cast in moody color filters. Logan Lucky is yet another of Soderbergh’s wonderful ensemble pieces, one that should stand out in the cinematic doldrums of August.

Texas: Video of invasive search shows 'rape by cop', says lawyer

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The woman's lawyer says it amounts to "rape by cop" but charges against two officers were dropped.

Why Australia's detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island are still open

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Eva Orner on documenting life inside Nauru and Manus and the effects of Australia's harsh immigration detention policies.

Saudi border to open for Qatari pilgrims attending Hajj

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The move comes after the first high-level meeting between the two neighbours since ties were cut.

Bonnie Tyler to perform Total Eclipse during total eclipse

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The singer's next performance also involves a cruise ship and one of the Jonas Brothers.

Mehdi Karroubi: Iran opposition leader taken to hospital

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Mehdi Karroubi stopped eating on Wednesday to press the authorities to give him a public trial.

6 ways Brexit is ruining our food

By Daniel Curtis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

A meat-eating chocolate-lover? You're in trouble.

We were warned. “We’ve got to get our act together”, said Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London about an impending culinary crisis. He predicted that food would be the second biggest Brexit issue after the future of banking in the City of London. But whereas The City, ominously capitalised, is an ephemeral consideration for those outside the infamous metropolitan liberal elite, food certainly isn’t. Food affects us all – and so far it’s been hit hard by Brexit, after the value of the pound has been savaged, making importing to the UK more expensive. Here are six ways in which Brexit has is ruining our food.

Walnut Whip

The final insult. The sign that Brexit really has gone too far. It was announced yesterday that Walnut Whips would become nothing more than mere Whips. The reason given for this abomination was that the new range would cater for those who didn’t like, or were allergic to, nuts, allowing them to enjoy just the gooey, chocolatey goodness within. Closer inspection reveals that’s not quite the whole story. Walnut importers like Helen Graham, told the Guardian that the pound’s post-Brexit fall in value after last June, combined with “strong global demand” and a poor walnut yield in Chile, have led to Whips shedding the Walnut - not consumer demand. Nestlé say that individual packets and Christmas bumper packs will still be available - but at this rate, getting hold of them might prove harder in practice than in theory.

Marmite

2016’s Marmite shortages was perhaps the first sign that not all was well. Marmite is the ultimate Brexit metaphor: you either love it or hate it, a binary reflected in the 48-52 per cent vote – and the bitter taste it leaves for many. Marmite’s endangered status was confirmed after Tesco entered hostile negotiations with food megacorp Unilever, who wanted to raise trade prices by 10 per cent due to that inconvenient falling pound. Lynx deodorant, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Persil washing powder and PG Tips tea were similarly affected, but none inspired quite the same amount of outrage as the yeast-based spread.

Toblerone

The beauty of Toblerone is the frequency of its triangles. That angularity has been undermined by manufacturer Mondelēz’s decision to space them out, removing 10 per cent of the bar’s total chocolate in the process. Art has truly been tampered with. The scandal led to Colin Beattie MSP calling for the Scottish Parliament to offer condolences to triangle fans, blaming it directly on Brexit. Defending the change, a spokeswoman for Mondelēz said "this change wasn't done as a result of Brexit", suggesting it's part of the sad trend of chocolates getting skimpier. That said, they did admit that the current exchange rate was "not favourable" - and that in itself is directly due to Brexit. They also refused to be drawn on whether they'd be changing their signature chocolate in other EU territories. Hmm. Semantics aside, the dispute is getting legal. Poundland, who are seeking to bring out a "Twin Peaks" alternative to Toblerone echoing the brand's original shape but with two peaks per block instead of one, claim that Toblerone's shape is no longer distinctive enough to warrant a trademark. They claim that their new rival has "a British taste, and with all the spaces in the right places". Shots. Fired.

Cheddar

This one hurts more because it’s closer to home. Our Irish neighbours are reportedly considering turning away from cheddar to mozzarella. This act of dairy-based betrayal is understandable: if export tariffs to the UK go up, Irish cheese producers will have to sell their wares primarily on the continent – for which mozzarella would be a better fit. Tragic.

Chlorinated chicken

Ah, the big one. The subject of not only a transatlantic war of words, but also the source of strife within the cabinet. With the UK forced to look to the US for trade support, it was feared that the country's’ trademark chlorinated chicken would be forced upon these shores as a concession. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox called the media “obsessed” with the topic, dismissing fears over Britain’s meat of the future by saying that there is “no health risk”. Environment Secretary Michael Gove, however, said that there is no way that chlorinated chicken would reach British shelves. The row has faded away somewhat – but this game of chicken between these cabinet heavyweights may yet be renewed when Parliament reconvenes.

Hormone beef

Hormone beef is similarly contentious. US farmers raise cows on growth hormones to fatten them up for markets. As with chlorinated chicken, it’s a practice banned under EU law. It’s a touchy subject for US trade negotiators. Gregg Doud, a senior figure in Trump’s agriculture team, has said that accepting hormone beef is essential to any trade agreement. This debate, too, will presumably rumble on.

All told, it’s a good time to be a vegetarian, but a bad time to have a sweet tooth. Most of the upheaval rests around the weakness of the pound, so maybe the only way forward is to just eat good old homegrown British fruit. At least we'd all be healthier and more in pocket. Oh wait. Apparently British fruit harvests are in jeopardy too, given that most of our fruit is picked by short-term EU migrants. Ah, well, at least we've all got Boris Johnson to make sure that we can have our bananas curved, in packs of more than three.

Mass burials being held for Sierra Leone mudslide victims

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The search continues for some 600 people still missing following the disaster in the capital Freetown.

Why Military Chiefs Are Condemning White Supremacy

By Andrew Exum from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Since the president of the United States cast his lot in with white supremacists in his #NotAllNazis moment this week, the nation’s military service chiefs have responded with full-throated statements rejecting extremism and intolerance.

These statements have alarmed many. “If we lived in a different sort of country,” Fred Kaplan wrote in Slate, “this could fairly be seen as the prelude to a military coup.”

And I have some sympathy for this alarm.

As I have written in these pages, I am growing increasingly worried about the politicization of our military. And when I see the military appear to resist the impulses or tweeted policy preferences of the president, I am very conscious that —to build on an astute observation made by my friend Erin Simpson early on in this administration—some of the actions that protect the fabric of American society in the near term could be detrimental to American institutions in the long term. A politicized military that endures beyond this administration, for example, is not in the interests of the American people.

But I’m not as worried by the statements I’ve seen from the service chiefs, because I know there are two other important —and more parochial—motivations leading them to speak out against intolerance and hate groups.

The first motivation is that the U.S. military has long struggled with hate groups—and specifically white supremacists —in its ranks. White supremacist groups and their sympathizers were especially present in the ranks of the U.S. Army’s combat arms units and the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1986, an exasperated Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, ordered the military to crack down on these groups, and another purge was ordered after U.S. Army veteran Timothy McVeigh planted a bomb that almost levelled the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, killing 168 people. 1995 was the same year a paratrooper from the Army’s 82d Airborne Division murdered a black couple outside Fort Bragg.

When I arrived in my first infantry unit in 2000, I remember encountering non-commissioned officers who were by then quite adept at interpreting the tattoos on the young white men arriving to the unit fresh from basic infantry training. By that point, though, recruiters were already weeding out most of the men who showed up with any sign of affiliations with white supremacist groups.

By the time I arrived at the elite 75th Ranger Regiment in 2002, meanwhile, the command sergeant major—the senior enlisted man in the regiment—was black, a regimental first. He had the respect of the entire regiment for two reasons: his rank, naturally, but also the toughness he displayed while rising through the ranks at a time when, in the 1980s, African-Americans were decidedly unwelcome in certain quarters of the special operations community.

The military’s service chiefs are among the last men in the U.S. military who still remember those bad old days in the 1980s and 1990s. They are proud of the way they have largely purged the ranks of extremists and want to keep it that way. It was no surprise that the commandant of the Marine Corps was the first service chief to say something, as his service has arguably struggled with white supremacist groups—and diversity more broadly—more than the other services. Besides, when the service chiefs made their statements this week, they were merely affirming—for the nation and for the men and women in their ranks—existing policy.

The second motivation behind the statements from the service chiefs is the same motivation that led so many corporate leaders to abandon the president this week. As the Wall Street Journal correctly noted, “business leaders are risk-averse. They prioritize stability and the status quo. What has changed is the definition of the status quo.”

The modern U.S. corporation is far ahead of Trump’s base when it comes to progressive social values. All of these corporations actively promote an environment of multicultural liberalism. They have to. If corporations want to attract the best and brightest young American workers, they need to be seen as being friendly toward gays, lesbians, and transgender people. They need to be seen as welcoming toward religious and ethnic minorities. Why? Because this is the expectation of the younger Americans entering the workforce, regardless of their own personal ethnic or gender identity.

This is the same problem facing the service chiefs. Yes, the men and women who enter the military can be slightly more conservative than those entering the workforce out of university, but remember: unlike corporations, the U.S. military only recruits young people. The kids joining the military today—and most of them are still teenagers—have grown up in precisely the America that scares white supremacists. They simply can’t imagine a public institution, for example, hostile to homosexuals or people of color.

So the military service chiefs have to create some distance between their institutions and the idiots in Charlottesville carrying semi-automatic carbines and wearing body armor, playing soldier. The military is in an annual competition for able-bodied young men and women willing to sacrifice their lives in the service of their country.

And, as we have seen, it’s a competition in which white supremacists need not apply.   

The Dark Minds of the Alt-Right

By Olga Khazan from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Some of the protesters who marched through Charlottesville last weekend were described as “alt-right,” a newish term that has been used for everyone from white supremacists to economic populists. But what does it actually mean? The Associated Press recently issued guidelines discouraging journalists from using the term “generically and without definition” since “the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience.” Meanwhile, President Trump recently told reporters that some of the protesters in Charlottesville who waved Nazi insignia and chanted anti-Jewish slogans weren’t all nefarious—some “were very fine people.”

A psychology paper put out just last week by Patrick Forscher of the University of Arkansas and Nour Kteily of Northwestern University seeks to answer the question of just what, exactly, it is that the alt-right believes. What differentiates them from the average American?

For the paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, Forscher and Kteily recruited 447 self-proclaimed members of the alt-right online and gave them a series of surveys. How did they know these people were really “alt-right?” The individuals responded to questions like, “What are your thoughts when people claim the alt-right is racist?” with statements like:

“If it were not for Europeans, there would be nothing but the third world. Racist really needs defined. Is it racist to not want your community flooded with 3,000 low IQ blacks from the Congo? I would suggest almost everyone would not. It is not racist to want to live among your own ... Through media [the Jews] lie about the Holohoax, and the slave trade. Jews were the slave traders, not Europeans ... many people don't even understand these simple things.”

The researchers compared the responses of the alt-right people to a sample of people who did not identify as alt-right. What they found paints a dark picture of a group that feels white people are disadvantaged. They are eager to take action to boost whites’ standing. What’s more, they appear to view other religious and ethnic groups as subhuman.

Importantly, the study authors did not find that economic anxiety was driving the alt-right’s sentiments, debunking a popular theory in the wake of the 2016 election. “Alt-right supporters were more optimistic about the current and future states of the economy than non-supporters,” they write.

But there were key ways that the alt-right participants differed from the comparison group. The alt-right members trusted “‘alternative’ media” such as Breitbart and Fox more than mainstream outlets. They were much more likely to have a “social-dominance orientation,” or the desire that there be a hierarchy among groups in society.

One can easily guess who they want at the top of this hierarchy. The alt-right participants were more likely to think men, whites, Republicans, and the alt-right themselves were discriminated against, while minorities and women were not. This is in line with past research showing that white supremacists have a victimhood mentality, in which they consider whites to be the real oppressed people of American society.

In this study, the alt-right members were much more likely to be willing to express prejudice, to engage in offensive behavior and harassment, and to oppose Black Lives Matter. And here’s the scariest part. The researchers showed the participants the below scale, which psychologists use to ask people how “evolved” various groups are. A score of zero puts them closer to the ape-like figure on the left, while a 100 is the fully evolved human on the right. It’s a scale, in other words, of dehumanization.

Forscher/Kteily

The alt-right members were much more likely to consider groups they see as their opponents—people like Muslims, Mexicans, blacks, journalists, Democrats, and feminists—to be less evolved than they are. “If we translate the alt-right and non-alt-right ratings into their corresponding ascent silhouettes, this means that our alt-right sample saw religious, national, and political opposition groups as a full silhouette less evolved than the non-alt-right sample,” the authors write.

Vox’s Brian Resnick further breaks down the data here:

On average, they rated Muslims at a 55.4 (again, out of 100), Democrats at 60.4, black people at 64.7, Mexicans at 67.7, journalists at 58.6, Jews at 73, and feminists at 57. These groups appear as subhumans to those taking the survey. And what about white people? They were scored at a noble 91.8. (You can look through all the data here.)

The comparison group, on the other hand, scored all these groups in the 80s or 90s on average. (In science terms, the alt-righters were nearly a full standard deviation more extreme in their responses than the comparison group.)

“If you look at the mean dehumanization scores, they’re about at the level to the degree people in the United States dehumanize ISIS,” Forscher says. “The reason why I find that so astonishing is that we’re engaged in violent conflict with ISIS.”

Forscher and Kteily also found there were two distinct subgroups in their sample of alt-righters. Some were “populists,” who were concerned about government corruption and were less extremist. The more extreme and racist among them, meanwhile, were the “supremacists.” The authors speculate that people who start out as populists might become radicalized into the supremacist camp as they meet more alt-righters.

This study, once it is peer-reviewed, may have broad implications for the fight against hate groups—and for psychology itself. As the authors note, modern psychology studies mostly focus on implicit bias—the internal racism that most people don’t outwardly express. They might be, say, slower to associate “professor” with a picture of an African-American person, but they’re not grabbing torches and heading to rallies. Perhaps psychologists simply thought society had progressed to the point where overt racism is so rare as to be difficult to measure. But this study shows that hundreds of actual, proud racists can be easily recruited online for a study for the low price of $3.

The authors of this paper write that “blatant intergroup bias has by no means disappeared.” It’s something the events in Charlottesville revealed all too vividly last weekend.

Hong Kong jails three Umbrella Movement leaders

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law given between six to eight months for their part in 2014 protests.

Leader: Trump's dangerous nation

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

From North Korea to Virginia, the US increasingly resembles a rogue state.

When Donald Trump was elected as US president, some optimistically suggested that the White House would have a civilising effect on the erratic tycoon. Under the influence of his more experienced colleagues, they argued, he would gradually absorb the norms of international diplomacy.

After seven months, these hopes have been exposed as delusional. On 8 August, he responded to North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities by threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. Three days later, he casually floated possible military action against Venezuela. Finally, on 12 August, he responded to a white supremacist rally in Virginia by condemning violence on “many sides” (only criticising the far right specifically after two days of outrage).

Even by Mr Trump’s low standards, it was an embarrassing week. Rather than normalising the president, elected office has merely inflated his self-regard. The consequences for the US and the world could be momentous.

North Korea’s reported acquisition of a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental missile (and potentially reach the US) demanded a serious response. Mr Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric was not it. His off-the-cuff remarks implied that the US could launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, leading various officials to “clarify” the US position. Kim Jong-un’s regime is rational enough to avoid a pre-emptive strike that would invite a devastating retaliation. However, there remains a risk that it misreads Mr Trump’s intentions and rushes to action.

Although the US should uphold the principle of nuclear deterrence, it must also, in good faith, pursue a diplomatic solution. The week before Mr Trump’s remarks, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, rightly ruled out “regime change” and held out the possibility of “a dialogue”.

The North Korean regime is typically depicted as crazed, but its pursuit of nuclear weapons rests on rational foundations. The project is designed to guarantee its survival and to strengthen its bargaining hand. As such, it must be given incentives to pursue a different path.

Mr Trump’s bellicose language overshadowed the successful agreement of new UN sanctions against North Korea (targeting a third of its $3bn exports). Should these prove insufficient, the US should resume the six-party talks of the mid-2000s and even consider direct negotiations.

A failure of diplomacy could be fatal. In his recent book Destined for War, the Harvard historian Graham Allison warns that the US and China could fall prey to “Thucydides’s trap”. According to this rule, dating from the clash between Athens and Sparta, war typically results when a dominant power is challenged by an ascendent rival. North Korea, Mr Bew writes, could provide the spark for a new “great power conflict” between the US and China.

Nuclear standoffs require immense patience, resourcefulness and tact – all qualities in which Mr Trump is lacking. Though the thought likely never passed his mind, his threats to North Korea and Venezuela provide those countries with a new justification for internal repression.

Under Mr Trump’s leadership, the US is becoming an ever more fraught, polarised nation. It was no accident that the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer, took place under his presidency. Mr Trump’s victory empowered every racist, misogynist and bigot in the land. It was doubtless this intimate connection that prevented him from immediately condemning the white supremacists. To denounce them is, in effect, to denounce himself.

The US hardly has an unblemished history. It has been guilty of reckless, immoral interventions in Vietnam, Latin America and Iraq. But never has it been led by a man so heedless of international and domestic norms. Those Republicans who enabled Mr Trump’s rise and preserve him in office must do so no longer. There is a heightened responsibility, too, on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, the president. The Brexiteers have allowed dreams of a future US-UK trade deal to impair their morality.

Under Mr Trump, the US increasingly resembles a breed it once denounced: a rogue state. His former rival Hillary Clinton’s past warning that “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” now appears alarmingly prescient.

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Iceland toilet roll 'price war' wipes out jobs

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Opening of warehouse store in Icelandic capital sees workers laid off from country's only toilet paper manufacturer.

How Trump's Reaction to Charlottesville Threatens the GOP

By Ronald Brownstein from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

From his first days as a presidential candidate, the gravest political risk Donald Trump has presented the GOP is that he would stamp it as a party of racial and social intolerance precisely as the most diverse and inclusive generations in American history—the Millennials and the post-Millennials behind them—are growing into decisive roles in the electorate.

After Trump’s morally stunted response to the recent violence in Charlottesville, that wolf is now at the party’s door.

Trump’s election “may be one of the most costly presidential victories in history for a political party, because [it is leaving] a crimson stain on the party,” said Peter Wehner, the former director of strategic planning in the George W. Bush White House. “I don’t think it … will be easy to get away from.”

Through Trump’s first months, the danger of him branding the GOP as intolerant has steadily smoldered, as he’s rolled out polarizing policies on undocumented and legal immigration, crime and policing, affirmative action, and voting rights. He’s also moved to reverse protections for transgender Americans in schools and the military.

But Trump’s belligerent response to the unrest in Virginia has detonated this slowly burning fuse. His pointed refusal to unambiguously condemn the white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups who gathered there may crystallize, in a way no policy debate could, the picture of him as racially and culturally biased, particularly among younger voters. “The truth is, I bet that Millennials have not paid that much attention to the policy stuff he’s done,” said Andrew Baumann, a Democratic pollster who has extensively surveyed the generation. “But I think Charlottesville is a whole different thing. This is a watershed moment.”

The president’s reaction to Charlottesville closely followed the template he established for dealing with white supremacist David Duke during the 2016 GOP primaries. In late February of that year, Trump refused to directly disavow Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, when pressed by Jake Tapper during a CNN interview held two days before the largest concentration of Southern primaries. Only after those states had voted, and white nationalists had exulted in Trump’s evasive initial response, did the presidential contender explicitly renounce Duke’s support.

At first, Trump employed the same two-step on Charlottesville. His initial statement, on Saturday, drew cheers from white nationalists when he refused to criticize them by name. Within two days, Trump had once again bowed to bipartisan condemnation by issuing a stronger and more explicit statement. But Trump quickly diluted his rebuke when he immediately issued a flurry of racially provocative tweets—and then virtually erased it when he reverted to blaming groups on “both sides” during a chaotic press conference on Tuesday.

Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville have provoked a much stronger backlash than his comments about Duke did. That’s partially because a president’s words carry more weight than a candidate’s. But the broader criticism he faced this week from Republican elected officials—as well as the procession of corporate and labor leaders who resigned from his manufacturing advisory board—signals that all the controversies the president has ignited have taken a cumulative toll. Trump abruptly terminated his two principal business-advisory panels—the manufacturing group and the Strategic and Policy Forum—via tweet on Wednesday morning, after participants in the latter panel had already decided to disband over the controversy.

The stampede away from Trump from business leaders generally sympathetic to his economic agenda dramatically illuminates how much they fear being associated with his social and racial views. That concern may be a canary in the coal mine for politicians: As Baumann notes, the consumer base for most companies skews younger than the electorate, which means business executives must be even more cognizant about youth opinion than elected officials are.

Even before Charlottesville, Trump faced gale-force skepticism from the Millennial generation. In an early August Quinnipiac poll, only one-fourth of them nationwide approved of his job performance, while two-thirds disapproved (fully 59 percent strongly). Just one-fourth said he shared their values; almost two-thirds said he wasn’t honest and didn’t care about average Americans.

Because Trump retains some irreducible support among younger whites, particularly those without college degrees, Baumann said the Charlottesville firestorm would likely do more to harden, rather than expand, that Millennial resistance. “I think he’s really cemented these views of Millennials, and I have a hard time believing there is much he can do to reverse that,” Baumann said.

The big question for Republicans is how far this damage extends beyond Trump. Long before he emerged, the party had moved right on issues like immigration and voting rights. But Trump has identified the GOP much more explicitly with themes of white backlash.

Though several Republicans criticized Trump’s initial Charlottesville remarks—and more condemned white nationalism without directly addressing the president—only a tiny handful (arguably just Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and Ohio Governor John Kasich) have ever hinted they consider him unfit to serve. On most issues, Republicans remain committed to working shoulder-to-shoulder with Trump. That increases the chances that voters will view the party as an extension of his values and beliefs.

Trump’s racially confrontational posture helped the GOP solidify crushing advantages last year among the blue-collar, older, evangelical, and non-urban whites that express the most unease in polls about demographic change. And Republicans won’t pay the full price next year for Trump’s positioning if Millennials don’t improve their previously anemic turnout in midterm elections.

But by 2020, the highly diverse Millennials will clearly pass the predominantly white baby boomers as the largest generation of eligible voters. That Millennial advantage will widen over the next decade, and it will be reinforced when the first post-Millennials—the generation born after 2000 that’s even more racially diverse—file into the voting booth.

In a measure of the growing headwinds the party could face, Kristen Soltis Anderson, a prominent Republican pollster who has written a book on Millennials, told me this week that the absence of effective resistance from party leaders or voters to Trump’s posture has left her increasingly pessimistic the GOP can set a direction that will appeal to young people like her.

“Given a lot of the data I’ve seen since the start of the Trump presidency, I wouldn’t blame a young person who is just becoming interested in politics who thinks the GOP … is comfortable with white supremacists,” she told me in an email. “Not just because of perceptions of what Trump believes, but because of the accurate perception that a majority of Republican voters stand with him, even on his most controversial views.”

Trump is immersing the GOP in the darkest impulses of America’s past precisely as the nation’s future is hurtling into view. For Republican leaders, the political, as well as moral, price of tolerating Trump’s intolerance is only likely to grow.

Charlottesville: Heyer's mother address mourners

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Mother of 32-year-old anti-racism protester addresses memorial service for Heyer who was killed on Saturday.

UBS Wealth raises forecasts for French GDP

From Europe. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong jailed for six months

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Convicted for his role in the 2014 protests, he was sentenced to jail after a government appeal.

How Kenya became the latest victim of 'fake news'

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Disinformation and "fake news" were employed to influence young Kenyans' vote during the elections.

Death toll continues to rise in Duterte's war on drugs

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Police claim killing of 25 criminals in Manila's week of bloodshed as President Duterte continues crackdown.

We're hiring! The New Statesman is looking for a Subscriptions Assistant

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Reporting to the Subscriptions Manager, you will assist with single-issue orders and print and digital subscriptions.

The New Statesman is looking for an organised, conscientious and enthusiastic person to work in our subscriptions department. Reporting to subscriptions manager Stephen Brasher, you will be responsible for dealing with single-issue orders and print and digital subscriptions, helping to maintain our database and fulfil orders through post and on the internet.

The position is based in London in our offices at Blackfriars, and is a permanent full-time job, with the potential to work across other titles in Progressive Digital Media. The right candidate will be conscientious, organised and used to dealing with customers on email and over the phone.

Experience of subscriptions software is not essential, although you should be familiar with databases and spreadsheets.
 
Starting date TBC, but early September would be preferable. Salary on request.
 
Please send a covering letter and CV to india.bourke @ newstatesman co uk by email, with the subject line “Subscriptions Assistant” by 18 August.

Getty

When White Nationalists Get DNA Tests That Reveal African Ancestry

By Sarah Zhang from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The white-nationalist forum Stormfront hosts discussions on a wide range of topics, from politics to guns to The Lord of the Rings. And of particular and enduring interest: genetic ancestry tests. For white nationalists, DNA tests are a way to prove their racial purity. Of course, their results don’t always come back that way. And how white nationalists try to explain away non-European ancestry is rather illuminating of their beliefs.

Two years ago—before Donald Trump was elected president, before white nationalism had become central to the political conversation—Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, sociologists then at the University of California, Los Angeles, set out to study Stormfront forum posts about genetic ancestry tests. They presented their study at the American Sociological Association meeting this Monday. After the events in Charlottesville this week, their research struck a particular chord with the audience.

“For academics, there was some uneasiness around hearing that science is being used in this way and that some of the critiques that white nationalists are making of genetics are the same critiques social scientists make of genetics,” says Donovan, who recently took up a position at the Data and Society Research Institute. On Stormfront, the researchers did encounter conspiracy theories and racist rants, but some white-nationalist interpretations of genetic ancestry tests were in fact quite sophisticated—and their views cannot all be easily dismissed as ignorance.

“If we believe their politics comes from lack of sophistication because they’re unintelligent or uneducated,” says Panofsky, “I think we’re liable to make a lot of mistakes in how we cope with them.”

Panofsky, Donovan, and their team of researchers analyzed 3,070 Stormfront posts spanning more than a decade—all from forum threads in which at least one user revealed the results of a DNA test. Some of the results were 100 percent European, as users expected. But often—surprisingly often, says Panofsky—users disclosed tests results showing non-European ancestry. And despite revealing non-European ancestry on a forum full of white nationalists, they were not run off the site.

While some commenters reacted with anger, many reacted by offering up arguments to explain away the test results. These arguments largely fell into two camps.

First, they could simply reject all genetic ancestry testing. Genealogy or the so-called mirror test (“When you look in the mirror, do you see a Jew? If not, you’re good”) were better tests of racial purity, some suggested. Others offered up conspiracies about DNA testing companies led by Jews: “I think 23andMe might be a covert operation to get DNA the Jews could then use to create bio-weapons for use against us.”

The second category of explanation was a lot more nuanced—and echoed in many ways legitimate critiques of the tests. When companies like 23andMe or AncestryDNA return a result like 23 percent Iberian, for example, they’re noting similarities between the customer’s DNA and people currently living in that region. But people migrate; populations change. It doesn’t pinpoint where one’s ancestors actually lived. One Stormfront user explained it this way:

See, THIS is why I don’t recommend these tests to people. Did they bother to tell you that there were whites in what is now Senegal all that time ago? No? So they led you to believe that you’re mixed even though in all probability, you are simply related to some white fool who left some of his DNA with the locals in what is now Senegal.

Panofsky notes that even these legitimate scientific critiques were often filtered through a white-nationalist interpretation of history. For example, the mixing of DNA in region would be explained by the heroic conquest of Vikings. Or a white female ancestor was raped by an African man.

The team also identified a third group of reactions: acceptance of the genetic ancestry test results. Some users did start to rethink white nationalism. Not the basic ideology—Stormfront’s forums are not exactly the place you would do that—but the criteria for whiteness. For example, one user suggested a white-nationalist confederation, where different nations would have slightly different criteria for inclusion:

So in one nation having Ghengis Khan as your ancestor won’t disqualify you, while in others it might. Hypothetically, I might take a DNA test and find that I don’t qualify for every nation and every nation’s standards, though I'm sure that at least one of those nations (and probably many of them) will have standards that would include me

Another user dug deep into the technical details of genetic ancestry testing. The tests can rely on three different lines of evidence: the Y chromosome that comes from your father’s father’s father and so on, the mitochondrial DNA that comes from your mother’s mother’s mother and so on, and autosomal DNA that can come from either side. One user suggested that a purity in the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA were more important than in the autosomal DNA. But others disagreed.

Sociologists have long pointed out the categories of race are socially constructed. The criteria for who gets to be white—Italians? Arabs? Mexicans?—are determined by social rather than biological forces. And DNA is the newest way for white nationalists to look for differences between the races.

In these years of posts on Stormfront, you can see users attempting to make sense of DNA, figuring out in real time how genetics can be used to circumscribe and preserve whiteness. ​​​​​​The test results are always open to interpretation.

Stop telling me to get over slavery...

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

...when you can't get over monuments to slavers.

What I Saw in Charlottesville and What We All Lost

By Robert Levinson from War on the Rocks. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

As the nation reels from the events in Charlottesville over the past weekend, Americans will have to wrestle with a variety of issues raised by the demonstrations, the response, and, sadly, the deaths. Ideally these discussions should occur calmly and dispassionately, but this will be difficult in the emotionally charged environment in which the country ...

The Islamic State May Be Failing, but Its Strategic Communications Legacy Is Here to Stay

By Colin Clarke and Charlie Winter from War on the Rocks. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

No insurgency in recent memory has enjoyed as much sensationalist news coverage as the Islamic State, which has consistently been referred to as the “most powerful,” “most dangerous,” and “most barbaric” terrorist outfit since its 2014 blitz across Iraq and Syria. But as the vast gains made against the organization in the last two years ...

Charlottesville attack: What, where and who?

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

A man rammed a car into anti-racist protesters in Virginia. Here is what happened.

Hope and Hype: Advising Foreign Forces in the Middle of a Counterinsurgency Campaign

By Will Selber from War on the Rocks. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Walter C. Ladwig III, The Forgotten Front: Patron Client Relations in Counterinsurgency (Cambridge University Press, 2017) – Available in paperback with a 20% discount.   There is a bit of nervous excitement when one is sent to partner and advise a host nation government and its security officials. Sure, you know that thousands of veterans ...

The government is abdicating responsibility for the Irish border after Brexit

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The invisible border plan is full of holes and only a softer Brexit can avoid chaos.

The Government’s Brexit position paper yesterday on Northern Ireland that included its border proposals has only multiplied the number of questions that need urgent answers.

The questions people in Northern Ireland, particularly those in border communities, have asked me over the past year are in many ways similar to those I'm asked in my constituency in St Helens; what impact will Brexit have on them, their families, their jobs and businesses and their freedom of movement. But one issue looms larger than any other - the border.

These new proposals have now opened up a fresh set of questions on the border that are being asked not just by people in Northern Ireland but across Britain, Ireland and the EU too.  

The most obvious is that if you do not have checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland or between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, where do you carry out checks on immigration, goods and services?

The Government talks about an invisible border and using technology to make it work, proposing to have barrier-free access to the EU while negotiating free trade agreements. In that context, these ill-conceived proposals are more a reflection of a fantasy politics where the solution, not the border, is invisible. 

Based on its proposals yesterday, the Government is effectively handing back the decisions over a porous border of 310 miles and over 200 crossings to the European Union and abdicating responsibility for a mess of its own creation.

The Government paper stresses its commitment to maintaining an open border. But their relentless progress towards a hard Brexit raises a number of practical obstacles.

The first is immigration. A majority of my constituents in St Helens North and the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU in the referendum last year. I understand the fact that for many of them their main motivation was to achieve better control of immigration.

The Prime Minister herself has been very clear that her Government’s policy remains to cut annual net migration to the "tens of thousands" - a metric I believe to be artificial and flawed. But the Government’s policy on maintaining the Common Travel Area will create a gaping hole in Britain’s immigration policy.

Yesterday's proposals suggest that when we leave the EU, people wanting to come to Britain from EU countries will have to do no more than to book a flight to Dublin, take the bus to Belfast, and then cross the Irish Sea to enter Great Britain - with no checks at any point.

Far from taking back control of its borders as it claimed, the Government will be giving it away. Far from making our borders more secure, the loss of our place in the Single Market will open up a new route to illegal immigration and people traffickers. This is not what my constituents, or anyone else, voted for in the referendum.

At present, around 35,000 people cross the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic every day to work, study, visit relatives and do business. Over 200 crossing points handle 177,000 lorries, 208,000 vans and 1.85m cars per month.

Any immigration checks on the border whatsoever would be a practical nightmare. They would also be a collective psychological nightmare for people living in proximity to the border on both sides, erecting barriers between people - families and friends - in the North and South and potentially reopening divisions of the past.

This is the appalling Catch 22 the Government has placed itself in. Their position paper contains no evidence that they have a clue how to solve the problems they have created.

On customs, there is currently no barrier whatsoever to exporting and importing goods across the border. Huge numbers of firms rely on this frictionless cross-border trade. However, the Government’s plan raises the prospect that new controls will come into place, introducing additional cost and bureaucracy for companies and hitting the economy.

While they are trying to reassure small firms in particular that this will not be the case, it is inconceivable that Britain could leave the EU’s Customs Union and not impose customs checks.

Besides, Ireland is a member of the EU. Any deal cannot simply be arranged bilaterally between London and Dublin. It will need to apply to all the other EU nations.

The Government is casting around for a workable solution to the problems Brexit presents for Northern Ireland. But the easiest and most obvious answer is staring them in the face.

If Britain stayed within the Customs Union or the Single Market, the Common Travel Area would be mucheasier to maintain, and customs checks of any kind would not be required. To truly rule out a return to the borders of the past, the Government needs to swallow its pride and drop its commitment to a hard, destructive Brexit.

Theresa May made a huge strategic error in caving in to the Tory right-wing by ruling out a customs union or membership of the Single Market. She could have worked with EU partners who also have concerns about freedom of movement and want reform to get a good deal on good terms for Britain.

She has squandered goodwill in Europe and united the other 27 EU nations around a harder position against the UK.  The lack of a viable answer to the pressing questions over the Irish border is just the start of what I fear will be a very painful road ahead.

Conor McGinn is Labour MP for St Helens North.and a supporter of the Open Britain group.

Turkey’s Drift from the West: From Transactionalism to Hostility

By Aykan Erdemir and Merve Tahiroglu from War on the Rocks. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Turkey’s relations with its Western allies, in a downward spiral since 2013, are at a breaking point. Ankara not only accuses Washington of plotting last year’s abortive coup, but also blames it for arming and supporting Kurdish rebels that it sees as an existential threat. Bitter diplomatic spats unfold with one European country after another. ...

Mass burials after devastating Sierra Leone mudslide

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

People rush to bury their dead amid fears of disease outbreak after a flood disaster that has killed over 400 people.

The Indian schoolgirl asking PM Modi to save her park

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The child has filed a court case and written to the PM saying: "This park is our lifeline".

Prince of Broadway

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The award winning director-producer reflects on his past work, Trump and the state of Broadway.

Politician dons burka in Australian Senate

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The Australian far-right leader's stunt came ahead of her bid to ban the garment in the nation.

Moon Jae-in: There will not be war on Korean Peninsula

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Marking 100 days in office, the South Korean president says he will consider talks if the North stops its missile tests.

French unemployment falls to 2012-low

From Europe. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Chasing Asylum: Australia's Offshore Detention Centres

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Life in Australia's detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island through the eyes of asylum seekers and whistleblowers.

Germany: Confronting the colonial roots of racism

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

'The Nazis didn't fall out of the sky, there is a deeper racist, xenophobic mindset in German history.'

Bond in numbers

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

How does Daniel Craig compare to the actors who have played 007 before him?

Democrats Mount an Effort to Censure Donald Trump

By Conor Friedersdorf from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

When Donald Trump failed to single out and denounce Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and their allies Sunday, even after they marched by torchlight through an American city, where one among them ran down an anti-racist protester, I noted the historic failure of presidential leadership—a failure underscored by the praise that white supremacist leaders heaped on his approach—and called on Congress to step into the breach, reasserting the nation’s conscience by censuring the president.

In the days that followed, Trump buckled to widespread pressure to single out the white-supremacist groups, naming them in a statement that he read from a teleprompter. But he subsequently declared, in a combative, unscripted press conference Tuesday, that there were some good people on both sides of the Charlottesville protest, implying that good people marched alongside swastikas and KKK members.

A formal censure became even more necessary.

And Wednesday, a group of House Democrats produced a censure resolution against President Trump.

Its full text:

Censuring and condemning President Donald Trump.

115th CONGRESS
1st Session
August 18, 2017

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Mr. NADLER, Ms. WATSON COLEMAN, and Ms. JAYAPAL submitted the following resolution, which was referred to the Committee on _______;

RESOLUTION

Censuring and condemning President Donald Trump.

Whereas on August 11, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, a gathering of white supremacists, including neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members, and other alt-Right, white nationalist groups, marched through the streets with torches as part of a coordinated ‘Unite the Right’ rally spewing racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry and hatred;

Whereas on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, a car driven by James Alex Fields, Jr. rammed into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 20 others;

Whereas President Donald Trump’s immediate public comments rebuked “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and failed to specifically condemn the ‘Unite the Right’ rally or cite the white supremacist, neo-Nazi gathering as responsible for actions of domestic terrorism;

Whereas on August 15, 2017 President Donald Trump held a press conference at Trump Tower where he re-asserted that “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and attempted to create a moral equivalency between white supremacist, KKK, neo-Nazi groups and those counter-protesting the ‘Unite the Right’ rally;

Whereas President Donald Trump has surrounded himself with, and cultivated the influence of, senior advisors and spokespeople who have long histories of promoting white nationalist, alt-Right, racist and anti-Semitic principles and policies within the country;

Whereas President Donald Trump has provided tacit encouragement and little to no denunciation of white supremacist groups and individuals who promote their bigoted, nationalist ideology and policies;

Whereas President Donald Trump has failed to provide adequate condemnation and assure the American people of his resolve to opposing domestic terrorism:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

(1)   does hereby censure and condemn President Donald Trump for his inadequate response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, his failure to immediately and specifically name and condemn the white supremacist groups responsible for actions of domestic terrorism, for re-asserting that “both sides” were to blame and excusing the violent behavior of participants in the ‘Unite the Right’ rally, and for employing people with ties to white supremacist movements in the White House, such as Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka; and

(2)   does hereby urge President Donald Trump to fire any and all White House advisors who have urged him to cater to the alt-Right movement in the United States.

An overwhelming vote by the House to censure Trump would help to mitigate his inadequate leadership by sending the message he failed to send to white supremacists: that the people are overwhelmingly opposed to their bigotry; that even the most populist branch of government is so adamantly anti-KKK and anti-Nazi that members will censure a president of their own party for delivering anything short of moral clarity. The country would benefit greatly.

This isn’t a perfect resolution; there are likely tweaks that would increase the chance of Republican votes without undercutting the benefits to America. It is, however, a good starting point. The GOP can suggest changes or write its own resolution, bearing in mind that the resolution at hand is far better than nothing at all.

As yet, House Republicans have been willing to ally with Trump despite his cozying up to the alt-right, denigrating Mexicans and Muslims, and stoking ethnic anxieties. If they are to redeem themselves in the least, censure or impeachment is necessary. Should they do nothing, history should record that they were complicit in Trumpism.

Collecting corpses

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Volunteers are working to prevent rotting human remains causing a health emergency.

The Guam identity

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes examines the conflicted identity of the US territory of Guam.

Hamas guard killed in suicide bombing in southern Gaza

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Several Hamas security men also injured in the bombing blamed on ISIL near the Palestinian enclave's border with Egypt.

Mumbai's blue dogs

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Animal rights campaigners say they know why some of the city's stray dogs have suddenly gone blue.

Dozens killed in gun battle at Venezuelan prison

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Fighting erupted between inmates and security forces in the prison in the city of Puerto Ayacucho, in Amazonas state.

'Liquid biopsy' spots early-stage cancers in blood

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

US researchers report progress in identifying early-stage cancer by scanning blood for tumour-specific DNA.

Charlottesville: John Boyega and Kathryn Bigelow react

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The actor, who stars in a new film on Detroit's 1967 unrest, notes parallels with recent clashes.

Wall of Grief

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Artist Georgy Frangulyan is putting the finishing touches to a vast, bronze sculpture in Moscow

Vera Golubeva: Teacher imprisoned for telling a joke

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Vera Golubeva was a teacher when she was put in prison for telling a joke. This was in Soviet Union in the 1950’s.

Distress calls

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Italian prosecutors are investigating him and others for aiding and abetting illegal immigration.

'Unnecessary pain'

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

A Chilean woman campaigning for a change to Chile's total ban on abortions tells her story.

Brazil court favours indigenous groups in land dispute

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

The Supreme Court rules against Brazilian state seeking compensation for land that had been declared as tribal reserves.

Cycles of conflict

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Mohammad Younus Butt, the grocery store owner who has lived through peace and conflict in Kashmir.

The Atlantic Daily: Clashes and Backlash

By Rachel Gutman from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

What We’re Following

Charlottesville Fallout: President Trump dissolved two business-focused initiatives—his Manufacturing Council and his Strategic & Policy Forum—after a number of industry leaders resigned from the council over the president’s implication that white supremacist protesters and their associates were morally equivalent with aggressive counter-protesters. The decision suggests Trump is embracing white identity politics at the cost of the jobs agenda that also helped him get elected—yet in practice, the key pieces of his business-friendly policy will remain. Meanwhile, the White House held firm, issuing a series of talking points to congressional Republicans that asserted “the President was entirely correct,” along with a transcript of his inflammatory press conference. Read it here.

Where Violence Comes From: Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville included a condemnation of left-wing activists who sometimes use violent tactics to confront white supremacist groups. Members of this movement, known as antifa, see themselves as fighting fascism through direct action—but as Peter Beinart writes, they may well be giving their extremist opponents ammunition. After all, white supremacist groups rely on a victimization narrative to radicalize their recruits just as jihadist groups like ISIS do. And as tensions ratchet up, David Frum argues that open-carry laws exacerbate the threat of political violence.

GOP Updates: Incumbent Senator Luther Strange and former state supreme court justice Roy Moore will advance to a runoff Republican primary next month in Alabama’s Senate race. Both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have endorsed Strange, who’s unpopular due to his establishment ties and came in second to Moore. Elsewhere, the Congressional Budget Office released its report on the would-be effects of Trump’s threat to end Obamacare payments to insurers. The conclusion: Stopping the payments would increase premiums and federal spending, and end up hurting Republicans politically.

Rosa Inocencio Smith


Snapshot

The outstretched hands of Indian girls wearing tricolored bangles form a circle
Girls with bangles in the colors of the Indian flag practice for Independence Day celebrations in Secunderabad, India, on August 15, 2017. More photos here. (Noah Seelam / AFP / Getty)

Evening Read

Ciara O’Rourke on investigators’ search for the identity of a teenage girl murdered in 1977:

Over the past four decades, they’ve struggled to give Jane Doe a name, sending letters to police departments around the country to inquire about missing-persons cases, piecing together forensic evidence, and searching federal records. They’ve compared her DNA to possible matches. Each lead has taken them to the wrong girls.

But after so many dead ends, investigators might have found a way to finally close the case. Jane Doe’s DNA has so far failed to identify her, but perhaps it can be used to identify a family member instead. As genetic testing has become more accessible and popular, the Snohomish County sheriff’s office is cautiously optimistic that a parent, a sibling, a cousin—some relative of Jane Doe—has explored websites like Ancestry.com to learn more about their family tree. If someone has wondered enough about their heritage to submit a DNA sample to one of these genealogy databases, there could be a genetic crumb trail that leads to Jane Doe’s identity.

Keep reading here, as O’Rourke explores how genealogy websites can help solve decades-old murder cases.


What Do You Know ... About Science, Technology, and Health?

Scientific innovation has its fair share of ethical dilemmas, from determining whose consent is necessary in organ-donor experiments to deciding whether the government can seize websites’ entire visitor logs. When American technological prosperity is historically intertwined with racism and a leader in the pharmaceutical industry feels compelled to take a moral stand, it's clear that science can’t be fully separated from its political context. And sometimes scientific studies are all about their human applications, like psychological analyses of white supremacists that reveal a pervasive belief in their own victimhood.

Can you remember the other key facts from this week’s science, tech, and health coverage? Test your knowledge below:

1. Algae and plant life become possible on Earth after a complex cell swallowed a ____________ between 900 and 1,900 million years ago.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

2. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, which promotes and supports breastfeeding, was launched in the year ____________ by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

3. After the natural phenomenon of a ____________, Alexander the Great would sacrifice a substitute king in an attempt to avoid the wrath of a higher power.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

Rachel Gutman

Answers: cyanobacterium / 1991 / solar eclipse


Look Back

In our December 1866 issue, Frederick Douglass urged Republicans in Congress to defy President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat who had supported oppressive policies against black Americans after the  Civil War:

If time was at first needed, Congress has now had time. All the requisite materials from which to form an intelligent judgment are now before it. Whether its members look at the origin, the progress, the termination of the war, or at the mockery of a peace now existing, they will find only one unbroken chain of argument in favor of a radical policy of reconstruction. For the omissions of the last session, some excuses may be allowed. A treacherous President stood in the way; and it can be easily seen how reluctant good men might be to admit an apostasy which involved so much of baseness and ingratitude. It was natural that they should seek to save him by bending to him even when he leaned to the side of error. But all is changed now. Congress knows now that it must go on without his aid, and even against his machinations.

Read more here, and see how Atlantic writers responded to 19th-century defenders of slavery here.


Reader Response

In our ongoing coverage leading up to the Great American Eclipse on Monday, Evan Zucker, a reader who’s seen seven total eclipses, offers his advice for capturing the moment:

My main advice to first-time eclipse observers is just to observe the event and not worry about photographing it. You can take all the photos you like during the partial phases, but during totality I suggest just observing. Other than a solar filter for the partial phases, the only hardware I would recommend (if you already have a pair) are binoculars for observing totality. If you have access to some sort of tripod, I recommend putting your cell phone on a tripod and have it record video beginning about 5-10 minutes before totality begins and continuing for a few minutes after totality ends. The audio from that recording will do more to convey the wonder and excitement of the eclipse more than any photograph can.

Want to share photos from your eclipse-viewing party? We’re collecting them in our Instagram story—here’s how to submit.


Verbs

Grades inflated, democracy tested, snowball earth melted, satire sung.


Time of Your Life

Happy birthday to Jim’s wife Gwynn (a year younger than the Academy Awards); to Carol’s sister (twice the age of The Oprah Winfrey Show); to Lauren’s sister Katie (twice the age of Wikipedia); to Huma (the same age as LeBron James); to Marly (a year younger than James Bond); to Felix’s daughter Maria (twice the age of the International Space Station); and to Sue’s son Declan, who’s too young for the life timeline, but just the right age to get a call from an astronaut. And Susan’s daughters share the same birthday—one is a year younger than Toy Story while the other is twice the age of the iPhone.

Do you or a loved one have a birthday coming up? Sign up for a birthday shout-out here, and click here to explore the Timeline feature for yourself.


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A licence to kill bear cubs?

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

Trump is once again allowing hunters in Alaska to shoot bear cubs and hibernating bears, but is this as bad as it sounds?

US woman confronts her neighbour over Nazi flag

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Page Blaswell couldn't believe her eyes when she drove past a home flying a Nazi flag in North Carolina.

The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: The President's Manufacturing Cancel

By Elaine Godfrey from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Today in 5 Lines

President Trump announced on Twitter that he was dissolving two of his advisory councils, after business leaders had stepped down from the groups, citing Trump’s handling of last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. At a memorial service, Susan Bro, the mother of the young woman killed in Charlottesville, urged attendees to “make my daughter’s death worthwhile.” Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s long-time aides, will serve as the interim White House communications director. Former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will advance to a runoff election in September to fill the Senate seat left open by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The city of Baltimore removed four Confederate monuments overnight.


Today on The Atlantic

  • Trump’s Priorities: President Trump had two choices this week: work with business leaders and fulfill his pledge to bring back manufacturing jobs, or espouse white identity politics. He chose the latter. (David A. Graham)

  • And Then There Were Two: The results of Alabama's GOP special election primary for the state’s open Senate seat are in—and it’s headed to a September runoff election between two candidates: a Bible-thumper and a tainted establishment figure. (Molly Ball)

  • Charlottesville Could Have Been Worse: To prevent more violent clashes, states should rethink their open-carry gun laws, writes David Frum. After all, “the purpose is always to intimidate—to frighten others away from their lawful rights.”

Follow stories throughout the day with our Politics & Policy portal.


Snapshot

Car attack victim Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro is embraced by Heyer’s coworker at her memorial service inside the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters


What We’re Reading

Not All Bad: During a news conference on Tuesday, President Trump said there were “fine people” among those who marched to defend the Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. That may be true, argues Peter Beinart, but “fine people can believe monstrous things.” (Forward)

‘Down the Breitbart Hole’: White House chief strategist and former Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon once called the site a platform for the alt-right. But Breitbart’s current editor, Alexander Marlow, says he has a different vision. (Wil S. Hylton, The New York Times Magazine)

Trump’s ‘Ride-or-Die’: A variety of polls, analyzed side by side, show the true size of President Trump’s base: Roughly one in four Americans support the president no matter what he says or does. (Kristen Soltis Anderson, Washington Examiner)

Insult to Injury: A new law in Florida has enabled insurers to deny benefits to injured undocumented workers, and has led to dozens of arrests and deportations of workers. (Michael Grabell and Howard Berkes, NPR and ProPublica)

Made in the USA: While the Trump administration touts the importance of manufacturing jobs in the American economy, factory workers are quitting their jobs at the fastest rate in years. (Danielle Paquette, The Washington Post)


Visualized

Higher Premiums, Higher Deficit: Here’s what the Congressional Budget Office predicts will happen if President Trump eliminates funding for the Affordable Care Act’s cost-sharing subsidies. (Haeyoun Park, The New York Times)


Question of the Week

Often in moments of public crisis, people turn to books or readings to make sense of it. What books or readings do you turn to for comfort or reflection in uncertain times?

Share your response here, and we'll feature a few in Friday’s Politics & Policy Daily.

-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)

Trump's Faux Breakup With His Manufacturing Council

By Annie Lowrey from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

It was a quick turn for 26 hours’ time. On Tuesday morning, President Trump blasted Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive officer of Merck Pharmaceuticals, for leaving a White House advisory council in protest of Trump’s equivocating statement on the white-nationalist violence in Charlottesville. On Wednesday afternoon, after more than half a dozen CEOs joined Frazier in publicly refusing to work with the White House (and others reportedly quietly indicating they might do the same), Trump abruptly disbanded two advisory panels.

The question of who dumped whom aside, the breaking-up of the two panels did not make for the best optics for an often chaotic White House. That said, the development seems unlikely to change the course of policymaking in Washington. The panels were largely ceremonial, and the Trump administration has shown a remarkable willingness to heed the demands of big business, even if big business has this week shown a remarkable willingness to chide the Trump administration.

Both the manufacturing council and the strategic and policy forum—a group of top executives from a broad range of industries, representing Boeing, General Electric, and JPMorgan Chase, among other firms—were launched with significant fanfare. In a statement, the then-president-elect said that “pioneering CEOs” would help “create new jobs across the United States from Silicon Valley to the heartland.” Soon after, the White House held a few splashy events with the corporate executives who signed on, eager to get the president’s ear.

But it was never clear exactly what the councils were doing other than providing photo opportunities. There has been little to show from their meetings, and from the start, virtually all of the news about the councils involved controversy, with various members quitting in protest: Travis Kalanick of Uber due to the Muslim ban, Robert Iger of Disney and Elon Musk of Tesla over Trump pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, and then Frazier and many others over the Charlottesville incident. With every withdrawal, the remaining CEOs found themselves forced to explain why they continued to work with Trump. In many cases this led executives to repudiate his policies and stress that they were staying on for the good of the economy.

The dance was always an awkward one. “It’s a tough situation for CEOs,” Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, told Fort Worth’s Star-Telegram. “You want to make nice with the president because you’re a public company and you have shareholders, and it’s hard to balance doing the right financial thing versus doing what they think is the right thing, whatever your political beliefs are.” (Trump and Cuban are often at odds. Once, Trump said Cuban “backed me big-time but I wasn’t interested in taking all of his calls. He’s not smart enough to run for president!”) With Trump condemning the violence on “many sides” and saying that there were “fine people” marching with the white nationalists in Charlottesville, that dance became untenable.

Frazier quit. Trump lashed out. “They’re not taking their job seriously as it pertains to this country,” he said at a news conference held in Trump Tower. “Some of the folks that will leave—they’re leaving out of embarrassment because they make their products outside” the country, he added. Brian Krzanich of Intel and Kevin Plank of Under Armour also quit, and were soon joined by Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO, and Inge Thulin of 3M. According to The New York Times, executives on the business panel agreed they should disband it on a conference call on Wednesday morning, and members of the manufacturing council were reportedly planning, before Trump’s announcement, to hold a similar call on Wednesday afternoon.

While the relationship between Trump and these individual executives soured in an extraordinary public fashion, it is clear that much of the substantive romance between Trump and big business remains. The White House has not made any meaningful progress on tax reform or infrastructure, two business-friendly issues he made promises about during the campaign. But after he promised to drain the swamp, he has installed dozens of lobbyists across the government: lobbyists for insurers and the pharmaceutical industry in the Department of Health and Human Services, lobbyists for defense contractors at the Pentagon, lobbyists for the construction industry at the Labor Department, and on and on. A lawyer who built a career helping banks skirt regulations now manages one of the country’s most powerful financial regulators.

Indeed, regulatory policy might be the arena where Trump’s pro-business tilt has been most apparent. His White House has quit enforcing a policy that stopped telecom businesses from charging prisoners and their families exorbitant rates for phone calls. It stopped pursuing loan relief for students defrauded by educational institutions, and made it easier for mining companies to pollute public waterways. It is gearing up to allow drilling on public lands, and trying to make it easier for businesses to stash profits overseas. It has promised to go after Dodd-Frank, the most substantial piece of legislation to be passed in the wake of the financial crisis. Even as Trump bashed Frazier and Merck for high drug prices, a leaked draft order suggests that the administration plans to strip back pharmaceutical regulations—something that would likely boost industry profits, potentially without lowering prices for consumers.

This “systemic”—to use the administration’s own word—war on regulations will in many industries slash the cost of doing business and buoy profits. No wonder business optimism is surging and stock prices continue their upward march. Corporations might be an occasional force for social justice in public, but in private many remain remain a force for the conservative priorities of deregulation and low taxes, after all. Individual executives might repudiate Trump, but many of their shareholders are still cheering.

What to Do With Venezuela?

By J. Weston Phippen from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Until last Friday, much of the conversation in Latin America was aimed at how to remove Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from office. The region is often only unified in its unwillingness to meddle, no matter how radical the politics. So it was historic when 12 countries met last week in Lima, Peru, and together denounced Venezuela’s “rupture of democratic order.” Such a large and unified opposition was a major blow to Maduro’s narrative that the country’s economic woes are the result of political sabotage led by the U.S. Then President Trump mentioned the possibility of a “military option.”

Earlier that week, Trump had threatened “fire and fury” if North Korea provoked the U.S., and Trump’s comments toward Venezuela were taken as another shoot-from-the-hip moment that should not be taken seriously (a problem in itself, as my colleague Kathy Gilsinan wrote).  But even with Trump’s inclination for braggadocio, the thought of U.S. military intervention in Latin America recalled a not-so-distant past—think Panama, and before that, nearly every country in South and Central America. It also struck a nerve because there is a feeling that international pressure might not be enough to convince Maduro to step down, or end his push to rewrite the country’s constitution, and that the U.S. might take the lead with a more drastic approach. The U.S. does have several options for intervening in Venezuela, though they will likely not come in the form of Marines dropping from helicopters. The best possible option, however, might be to do nothing at all.

Part of Trump’s effect has been to alter the conversation on Venezuela from one of what to do, to that of what will not be allowed. Vice President Mike Pence is on a tour of South America, and during his first stop in Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos said “every country in Latin America would not favor any form of military intervention.” But there is also the somewhat counterintuitive line that says Trump may have helped. Alejandro Velasco, an associate professor of modern Latin America at New York University, told me that by saying something fairly outrageous Latin American leaders can easily come out against Trump, who is deeply unpopular in the region.

“They see in Pence as an ally, and the U.S. as an ally,” Velasco told me, “but by being able to beat Trump like  piñata they can have their cake and eat it, too. They can perpetuate this idea of an independence, that we are not subservient to Trump or the U.S.”

Finding a balance in U.S. policy will be difficult because Venezuelans might be hypersensitive to any overly aggressive U.S. actions. The experts I spoke with dismissed the thought of  military intervention, and Geoff Ramsey, an associate for Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America, told me the idea of an invasion is beyond extreme. “It’s important to separate Trump’s recent remarks from the works the State Department has done,” Ramsey said. Much of the talk at the U.S. State Department so far, Ramsey said, has been focused on sanctions. And, at the most extreme level, a possible oil embargo, because Venezuela is still one of the top suppliers of oil to the U.S.

The Trump administration could also continue sanctioning high-level Maduro supporters, a continuation of the Obama administration’s tactics. These are done under executive order, and are specific to individuals. The sanctions block any property subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and prevents them from doing business with U.S. companies. Sanctions are somewhat limited in their impact, because in many cases top officials have already moved their business and accounts away from the U.S. What could be more effective, is if Latin American countries—like Panama—joined.

A step up from sanctions would be if the U.S. banned exports to Venezuela. Mostly, this has to do with oil, because though Venezuela has some of the largest reserves in the world, it depends on the U.S. for refined oil and light crude—some 120,000 barrels each day. About half that is used by the Venezuelan people, and the other is mixed with heavier oils and often re-exported back to the U.S. This gets at one of the most drastic options (short of boots on ground). What’s left of Venezuela’s economy depends heavily on the 2.1 million barrels of oil it exports each day. The U.S. accounts for one-third of that, and banning all Venezuelan crude imports would likely finish off what remains of the country’s broken economy and kill its moribund oil industry. This is sometimes called the “nuclear option” because it would not only devastate the Maduro government, it would equally ruin the powerful and the poor, supporters and the opposition. A move this drastic would likely strengthen Maduro, because it feeds into the historic narrative set up by his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

In 2002, during a failed coup to remove Chavez, much of Latin America remained quiet because leaders didn’t want to intervene against a democratically elected official, whatever his politics. The U.S., however, was far from quiet in its support of the coup. And when Chavez returned to power, he claimed the U.S. had orchestrated it all so it could snatch up the country’s oil reserves.

“I was accused of having organized the coup,” Charles Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela at the time, told me. Shapiro, who is now president of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, then jokingly added, “I am not that efficient.”

It didn’t matter that the U.S. wasn’t involved, Shapiro said, because Chavez was able to unify supporters around the narrative that at every moment the U.S. was focused on undermining his socialist movement—as it had done to other countries throughout Latin America during the Cold War. In the same way, Trump’s “military option” has likely helped Maduro. His popular support may be below 20 percent, but that doesn’t mean those people necessarily support the opposition, a coalition of groups who often argue among themselves. There is still the very real the risk that the U.S. will empower Maduro if it takes too aggressive a stance. The best option for the U.S. may be to give Latin American leaders space. Otherwise, any U.S. intervention could backfire.

Indeed, after Trump’s remarks, Maduro gave a speech behind a lectern with the words #FueraTrumpDeAmericaLatina, or “Trump get out of Latin America.” His military also conducted exercises and marched the streets, and among those who joined were Maduro’s remaining supporters, wearing red shirts, and pumping their fists in the air at the thought of Trump’s “military option.”

The Road to Radicalism in Charlottesville

By Julia Ioffe from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 17, 2017.

“Of course, it was terrorism,” said General H.R. McMaster on Sunday morning, the day after James Alex Fields, Jr. allegedly plowed his gray 2010 Dodge Challenger into a crowd of anti-white supremacist protestors, then reversed and, bumper dangling by a thread, hit still more people on the way back. When he was done, one person, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was dead and 19 more were injured. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Monday that the attack was an act of “domestic terrorism” and that the Department of Justice was investigating him. Fields is being held without bail on a second-degree murder charge.

In being an act of violence with an apparent political motive, Fields’s alleged actions clearly “count” as terrorism according to most definitions of the term. But there are also parallels between Fields and other terrorists in aspects of his route to Charlottesville.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about Fields, but there is evidence that he was an adherent of a violent and extremist ideology. Just hours before he allegedly drove his car into that crowd, he was seen marching with and carrying a shield featuring the insignia of Vanguard America, a known white-supremacist group. According to Fields’s former high-school teacher Derek Weimer, Fields was also infatuated with the Nazis. “It was obvious that he had this fascination with Nazism and a big idolatry of Adolf Hitler,” Weimer told The Washington Post. “He had white supremacist views. He really believed in that stuff.” A paper Fields wrote in high school, according to the teacher, was a “big lovefest for the German military and the Waffen-SS.”

In American political discourse, terrorism is a label often reserved for followers of a violent interpretation of Islam, whereas people who commit violence in the name of extremist far-right ideology based on race are sometimes portrayed as troubled young men, or criminals. The actions of the Trump administration have only deepened that gap. As one of its first acts, the administration reoriented the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism program away from combatting white-supremacist groups. Life After Hate, an organization which helps people leave such groups, says it never received a promised $400,000 grant, even as the Southern Poverty Law Center received increased reports of hate crimes and threats in the period immediately after the election. In the months after the election, Life After Hate reported getting a 20-fold uptick in calls from family members, begging for help to pull their loved ones out of violent white supremacist groups.

The policy to shift federal resources away from protecting Americans against far-right extremism is both misguided and dangerous. According to a 2017 study done by the Government Accountability Office, fatal attacks by far-right extremists outnumbered those by jihadists by a factor of two to one in the last 15 years. (They are slightly less effective, however, as the jihadists have killed more per attack.)

Still, the two types of attacks often use similar methods. The attack in Charlottesville, after all, used a signature ISIS technique, one that has also been espoused by the American far-right in targeting Black Lives Matter protesters. “Run them over,” they say. Or, “All lives splatter.” But for the differing death tolls, it looked a lot like the acts of Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the man who plowed an 18-wheeler into a crowded boardwalk in Nice.

Similarly, despite the differences in jihadist and neo-Nazi, white-supremacist ideologies, the two movements and how they attract and retain followers are often studied side by side by scholars of extremism. When the problem of mass recruitment by jihadists emerged in the West, researchers turned for guidance to what they had learned studying the psychology, behavior, and structure of neo-Nazi groups. “It’s an obvious comparison, absolutely,” says Jessica Stern, a leading scholar of terrorist groups.

Take, instance, Daniel Koehler, founder of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies (GIRDS). He grew up in a small town in East Germany where, after reunification, neo-Nazi culture was all the rage among young locals. But after spending years helping German neo-Nazis leave those far-right groups, he moved into helping families pull their kids out of jihadist movements. And it worked—precisely because the two movements are so similar in how they seduce individuals.

“The process and structure of radicalization and extremism,” J.M. Berger, a fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague, wrote via email, “are the same in different kinds of movements, even when the content of the extremist belief is different (such as with neo-Nazis and jihadists).”

Scholars have often observed a radicalization process that goes something like this: After a first contact with the ideology, a person’s curiosity drives them to seek out more information, often through social media. After trying it on for size, they decide that the ideology sufficiently addresses their grievances, usually by framing it as the result of their group—their Muslim brothers and sisters, or their brothers and sisters in the white race—are being victimized by another group, say infidels or non-white immigrants. Then, the new adherent will consider whether he or she is doing enough to advance the cause, and if the answer is no, the person will act. “Extremist groups rely on a crisis-solution construct,” says Berger. “The in-group”—the ideological group, say, neo-Nazis or ISIS members—“is afflicted with a crisis that is blamed on the out-group”—people excluded from that group as enemies and threats, say, non-believers or non-whites—“and the extremist movement is presented as offering a solution to that crisis, which is often violent. The crisis is defined as being intrinsic to the identity groups involved, rather being than situational or temporary.”  

Another parallel is how the recruitment narrative can involve the promise of rewards. With ISIS it was sometimes the promise of wives or sex slaves; the Daily Stormer goaded its followers to head to Charlottesville by saying that “random girls will want to have sex with you. Because you’re the bad boys. ... Every girl on the planet wants [you] now.”

Violence isn’t always the result; few people radicalize in the first place, and still fewer commit attacks after doing so. But what can lead to violence is the many ways in which the process of radicalization is constricting: It alienates you from family and friends, and posits an acute problem to which the ideology demands a solution. After a while, it feels like an emergency every day. “The general psychological process of moving to those movements is very much the same,” says Koehler, who is also a senior fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. “It is a process of de-pluralization and isolation. There is a grievance or perceived threat, and it gets more and more intense until you don’t see any other solution but violence.” Both the jihadist and white-supremacist ideologies, Koehler said, “explain what is wrong in your life, and tie your personal frustration into a global struggle—the global conspiracy against Islam, or against white race—and gives you a chance for significance, for living out a positive, heroic life.” Koehler has even worked with several neo-Nazis who became jihadists. (They’re not common, but some have made it into the news.)

There are few identifiable patterns in who is most susceptible to radicalization; it is, scholars agree, a highly individualized process. In my reporting on radicalization, for instance, many of the youth that joined ISIS came from homes where there was no father, or where he was a weak presence. Fields’s father reportedly died before his birth in a car accident, but scholars say this alone doesn’t predispose someone to radicalization and extremism. Plenty of terrorists come from happy or intact families, and plenty of non-terrorists come from broken ones.

Still, what’s known about Fields shows he had some of the known risk factors. There is evidence that people with mental-health problems are more susceptible to being radicalized. Fields, it seems, fit the bill. His mother repeatedly called 911 on her son, then barely a teenager, who was physically violent with her and once threatened her with a 12-inch knife, according to police records described by The Washington Post. The same report says that in 2011, she told police that she wanted him hospitalized for assessment, and that in 2010 she told them that Fields was on medication to control his temper. Weimer, Fields’s high-school teacher, told the Associated Press that Fields had confided having been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The aggression toward family, especially mothers, is also something Koehler says he has observed in his work. “I have seen that in ISIS radicalization where they’ve been aggressive against their mothers,” Koehler says. “It’s part of the process of de-pluralization. These groups will try to draw a line between the group and ideology, and the biological family. They have to do that so that the recruit can join the new spiritual family, to turn the recruit against the family because otherwise they can step in and interfere in the radicalization. And kids, teenagers, don’t know how to cope with that kind of tension.”

Another sign is fascination with a warrior myth. “It’s very common,” says Koehler. “The ISIS fan boys dream of being Muslim warriors. Warrior hero culture is essential to understanding that specifically male aspect of radicalization.” Arno Michaelis, a former white supremacist and author of Life After Hate, wrote that, “Since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with the idea of being a warrior.” Fields tried to become a warrior, joining the Army in 2015, and then flunking out in a matter of months after failing to meet basic training requirements. He then worked as a security guard.  

There’s one other thing that is the same between jihadi and white-supremacist radicalization: identity. Radicalization is simultaneously an intensely individual and intensely collective process. What draws a person to an extremist ideology, be it jihadism or neo-Nazism, grows out of a unique cocktail of that person’s experiences, frustrations, hopes, and needs. But what keeps them there and propels them toward the final, violent stage comes from a community that first reels them, keeps them engaged, and pushes them toward action. “In my experience, there is no radicalization without a group context,” says Koehler. “It happens within the interaction between individuals. It is impossible to get to the stage of using violence without other people to support you, to push you forward.” There are no true lone wolves, in other words, not in radical Islam, not in white supremacy.

What Trump said versus what I saw

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

The BBC's Joel Gunter was in Charlottesville and assesses the president's claims about the violence.

The White House Is Under Siege

By David A. Graham from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Updated on August 16 at 3:59 p.m.

While Donald Trump is on vacation, there are major renovations going on in the West Wing. Perhaps they’ll alter plans and include a portcullis and a moat, because the White House is under siege.

The president is once again facing loud denunciation (though so far little else) from members of his own party. Vice President Pence is cutting short an overseas trip and returning home to an administration in crisis. And Wednesday afternoon, the president announced he was pulling the plug on a manufacturing council and a strategy and policy forum, both comprised of business leaders, after a spree of defections in reaction to Trump’s handling of violence in Charlottesville.

Trump’s campaign for president stood on two legs: the politics of racial grievance, and a promise to bring back manufacturing jobs. What became clear this week is that he can either work with industrial titans on jobs or he can place white identity politics center stage, but he cannot do both. With his open embrace of de-facto white nationalism on Tuesday, Trump made his choice.

From his border wall with Mexico to his protectionist trade impulses to his vow to end “American carnage,” Trump promised white Americans that he would get them back on their feet, turn back the tides of immigration and progressive social justice, and bring back their jobs.

In order to take on the jobs question, he assembled two panels of blue-chip business leaders, the President’s Manufacturing Council and the Strategy and Policy Forum. The actual utility of presidential panels like this is often hard to judge, but for Trump, they represented the concrete evidence that unlike previous presidents, he was a businessman who could bring other titans of business together to make the country run better for its people.

The two bodies were already fragile—several members quit over Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord—but it was the white-supremacist and neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville that wrecked them. After Trump issued a bland statement on Saturday blaming “all sides” for violence at the march, Merck CEO Ken Frazier announced he was stepping down from the Manufacturing Council’s board. It did not go unremarked that Trump was faster to denounce Frazier than he was neo-Nazis, but Monday afternoon he tried to correct course, laboriously reading a statement in which he declared, “Racism is evil.”

Questions about Trump’s sincerity quickly surfaced, climaxing in a stunning press conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday, in which he tried to defend the Charlottesville march even as he condemned neo-Nazis and white nationalists. The number of defections from the council climbed over the course of the week, as my colleague Annie Lowrey chronicled. The members were either genuinely appalled by Trump’s remarks, used their acute business sense to realize that being associated with him would be bad for their companies and reputations, or both.

Wednesday afternoon, Reuters and CNBC both reported that Trump’s Strategy and Policy Forum had decided to disband itself amid the controversy. Trump had been defiant over earlier defections—“For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!” he tweeted Tuesday morning—but he saw the end in sight and tried to get ahead of the story. In a twist on the old “you can’t quit, I’m firing you,” he said he did so for the good of the members:

In practical terms, the end of these groups may not make much difference. After all, Trump has achieved so few of his goals on economic policy that the executives’ absence can’t really hurt. It is, however, a blow to Trump’s self-conception. Having long nursed a grudge over being viewed derisively by many business moguls, he reveled in inviting them to the White House. It is also a blow to his public image, suggesting that rather than being the businessman who could fix government, he can wrangle neither the private nor the public sector effectively.

And it is, as well, a challenge to his approach to race. On Tuesday, a reporter asked him what he’d do to overcome racial divides. “I really think jobs can have a big impact,” Trump said. “I think if we continue to create jobs at levels that I’m creating jobs, I think that’s going to have a tremendous impact, positive impact, on race relations.” If Trump believes, as he told reporters, that racial divides can be healed by the rising wages of a manufacturing revival, the dissolution of the business councils deals his agenda a double blow.

Also on Wednesday, North America’s Building Trades Unions also issued a statement that did not name Trump but called on “men and women of character to demonstrate leadership and unequivocally reject those who perpetrate hate, racism, sexism or any other manner of corrosive public discourse and action that only weaken us as a country.”

But the demise of the two panels is just one element of the latest self-inflicted crisis for the White House. Pundits have for months wondered what would happen when Trump encountered a genuine crisis that was not of his own making, and Charlottesville helps to clarify: As usual, he finds a way to make it harder for himself.

One bright spot for Trump is that despite the horror with which his comments on Charlottesville have been received, he has yet to have a single Cabinet member or high-profile aide resign in protest. While there’s been lots of staff turnover at the White House, those who have left have either been fired or pushed out in internal power battles. Reports pop up from time to time of top aides who are angry, but none of them has actually quit or said publicly that they could not tolerate the president’s words or actions.

Trump’s comments place all of his associates in a difficult position: They have to find some way to defend the president without implicating themselves in his wilder positions. Pence, speaking in Chile, said, “What happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy and the president has been clear on this tragedy and so have I. I spoke at length about this heartbreaking situation on Sunday night in Colombia and I stand with the president and I stand by those words.” But he avoided other parts of a question about whether there were “good people” in the march, or whether Robert E. Lee should be considered an American hero. The vice president said he was cutting short his Latin American trip and coming home on Thursday, ahead of schedule.

Pence faces the same dilemma as newly installed Chief of Staff John Kelly, who looked uncomfortable during Trump’s remarks Tuesday, and as Republican officeholders. Many of them continue to treat Trump’s views on Charlottesville as an error, but as one more akin to a tactical difference—as though they simply disagreed about how to fund a new initiative. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, perhaps Trump’s most prominent GOP critic at the moment, said he wanted his colleagues to stage an intervention with Trump:

Flake’s doubts that Trump would listen are prudent. This is not simply a matter of difference of policy approach. The optimists espouse the view that they can talk Trump out of a central tenet of his political identity. The improbability of that happening is manifest in the case of Trump’s manufacturing and strategy councils, in which he would not sacrifice white identity politics to defend another of his top priorities.

Inside the Dugway Proving Ground

By Alan Taylor from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

George Frey, Getty images photographer, recently had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground, a sprawling top-secret military facility in the Utah desert that tests and develops methods of working with chemical, biological, radiological, and explosive hazards. Frey: “Workers at this facility handle some of the most deadly and dangerous biological and chemical agents on Earth.”

What Is the Far Right’s Threat to National Security?

By Cas Mudde from Defense and Security. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

White supremacists’ armed protests against the removal of a Virginia memorial to the Confederacy

Tariffs would put US solar power in the shade

From FT View. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Cheap imported panels have created a vibrant industry in America

A blow to the credibility of on-the-job learning

From FT View. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Learndirect’s collapse must focus minds on quality of apprenticeships

A Play That Tests Ethical Questions in Real-Time

By Sophie Gilbert from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

The trolley problem, that hoary old mainstay of philosophy syllabi and drunken ethical squabbles, is, to put it bluntly, hot right now. Just this year, it’s popped up in episodes of both Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Orange Is the New Black, as characters wrestled with the principles of utilitarianism and what it means to try to do good in the world. It’s also become a meme, as New York’s Select All explored last year: a framework for people to explore everything from pro-life principles to the death of Harambe.

The problem, in its most basic form, goes like this: A runaway trolley car is heading toward five people, and if it hits them, they will die. You, the problem solver, are standing by a lever that enables you to redirect the trolley to a siding where only one person is standing. By pushing the lever you will save five lives but be directly responsible for the loss of one. Do you pull the lever—seek the greatest good for the greatest number—or do nothing, and let fate take its course?

The issue with this particular conundrum, though, as Sarah Bakewell wrote in 2013, is that while people think they’re creatures of reason, our instincts are actually “fickle and easily manipulated.” And this is also the problem with direct democracy in general—when we’re asked to vote on matters of national importance, we tend to be uninformed, personally biased, or swayed by the strangest of factors. The Majority, a new show at London’s National Theatre by the performer and playwright Rob Drummond, is inspired by a wave of recent electoral upsets, from the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 to the Brexit vote last year. Throughout the show, Drummond asks a series of timely questions to which the audience votes “yes” or “no” on in real time, with the results immediately revealed, as he demonstrates how easily the shape of a question can alter its answer.

The questions range from the personal to the timely. Are we, the audience members, liberal? (90.55 percent yes.) Are we white? (91.18 percent yes.) Do we use social media? (67.29 percent yes.) Do we believe in absolute freedom of speech? (61.68 percent no.) Is violence sometimes the answer? (51.16 percent no.) Would we pull the lever to save five people? (70.94 percent yes.) What if, instead of pulling the lever, we had to push a fat man over a bridge to save five lives? Could we do it? (71.05 percent no, almost exactly the same percentage that would pull the lever the first time.) “It’s different when it’s a person, isn’t it?” Drummond notes, as if pondering our inconsistency.

These votes tend to play out as if the audience is participating in a game of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? While we vote, on small devices that are given out before the show begins, jaunty music plays and a giant clock projected onto the stage ticks down the time remaining. The votes are interspersed with Drummond’s narrative, a strange, meandering story about how he got involved with the anti-fascism movement and ended up being arrested for punching a white supremacist. Drummond seems to want to use his personal experiences to illuminate the questions at hand, but his gonzo style means it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s creative license.

As the show proceeds, the tone of the recurrent trolley questions gets darker, as if to emphasize to the audience the potential consequences of even the most theoretical questions. Would we save one innocent person to kill five nonviolent neo-Nazis? Should we vote for Drummond to dox a Scottish white nationalist—who pops up a handful of times in the story—right then and there? (On the night I attended, the audience voted “yes,” and Drummond dutifully typed the man’s name and address into a comment section on a website that may or may not be real.)

Drummond is an engaging host, although the show’s frequent jumps in style and tone sometimes make him feel like an interrogator rather than an entertainer. The pace often drags in his measured descriptions of his friendship with a mentally ill Scottish beekeeper obsessed with bringing down the “Nazis” who were overtaking his town, and the narrative doesn’t cohere as well as it should with the questions The Majority asks. But the show’s concept is a fascinating one, exposing the foibles and contradictions embedded in the minds of an audience of majority white, liberal, non-male theatergoers—which is exactly the audience Drummond wants to target, although conservatives who attend might find themselves in the majority more than they’d think. When he asks people to vote on whether they believe in absolute freedom of speech, and only 38.82 percent say yes, he pauses. “Liberal,” he says, with ironic emphasis.

By the end of the 90-minute production, after Drummond has shared his disgust with himself for, as he puts it, “punching a man for having an opinion,” the audience seems shaken. When he asks us again whether it’s okay to abuse someone for something they personally believe, 87.64 percent say no. He has, essentially, converted us. But the ease with which he’s done it is yet another unnerving element to bolster his argument—that few of us really know or deeply consider what we’re voting for.

The world has not had enough of Daniel Craig as Bond

By Ryan Gilbey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

The actor's fifth film in the franchise will be a welcome return for his layered and troubled Bond.

It looked like a cut-and-dry case. He was going to be the spy who went out in the cold. The one who didn’t say “never say never again.” Dr No Thanks. But with the announcement this week that Daniel Craig is staying on to have one final stab at the role of James Bond, it’s become a case of Resign Another Day. 

A fifth outing in the part will nudge Craig ahead of Pierce Brosnan (four) and comfortably outstrip Timothy Dalton (two) and George Lazenby (one) while leaving him a couple short of both Sean Connery (seven) and Roger Moore (also seven, though consecutive where Connery’s run was not). But it’s the quality not the quantity that counts and Craig has been consistently intriguing and surprising, whether the films themselves have been (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace) or not (Skyfall, Spectre). He has also attracted compliments where it counts. Moore, who died earlier this year, referred to Craig as “the Bond.” Are you going to argue with the man who leapt across a row of snapping crocodiles in Live and Let Die, survived the G-force simulator in Moonraker, told a tiger to “Sit!” in Octopussy and went to bed with Grace Jones in A View to a Kill? Thought not.

I’m glad in one way that Craig has chosen not to leave just yet. He has one of the best heads in the industry. I’m not talking about his business acumen - I mean his actual head, a cross between a breeze-block and a bullet, with distinctive jutting ears stuck on the sides for good measure. He looks formidable before he even produces a weapon. What’s more, he casts the most easily-identifiable shadow since Mickey Mouse. His appeal is not just physical though. His is a genuinely layered and troubled Bond, something which the films immediately prior to his own tried to evoke, but which seemed slightly beyond the range of Pierce Brosnan - who, let it be noted, had some tremendous moments of befuddlement in GoldenEye (the one where Judi Dench, as M, gives him that memorable dressing-down in which she calls him a “dinosaur”) and even came close to a Craigian callousness in The World Is Not Enough.

In the end, it was Brosnan who was not enough. Not dangerous, intelligent, damaged enough. Craig has the whole package. If you’ve seen Casino Royale, and you have forgotten the intermingled strains of pain, resentment and vulnerability that he brought to one cruel line near the end of the film (“The bitch is dead”), then I envy you. I can still hear his chilling delivery. 

Any reservations I feel about his return in the next Bond movie, which is scheduled for November 2019, can be traced to an eagerness to see what else he will do once he hangs up his holster and tuxedo. He was a fine actor before Bond (check out Love is the Devil, The Mother and the BBC’s Our Friends in the North for proof) but has not made such a strong impression so far in extra-curricular parts during his tenure as 007. (He will shortly be seen in Steven Soderbergh’s heist movie Logan Lucky.) It will be exciting to witness what he can do once he is a free agent - or rather, not an agent any more at all.

It would have been nice and neat for Craig to have bowed out with Spectre. It wasn’t an impressive piece of filmmaking by any stretch of the imagination but it dropped so many hints about its hero’s demise that it felt like a natural swansong. Bond is first seen in Spectre  wearing a skull mask during Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City. In scenes later on in London, he learns that plans are afoot to sack him. Switching on a radio, he is greeted by “New York, New York”, the lyrics of which have P45 stamped all over them: “Start spreading the news/I’m leaving today.” His off-screen antipathy in interviews towards the idea of being bound to Bond only fuelled the rumour that it was curtains for him.

But though he said straight after finishing Spectre that if he played Bond again it would only be for the dough, no one should doubt his commitment. “I get paid a lot of money to do something I love to do,” he said in 2011, when Skyfall was still in the planning stages. “And whatever it is—the way I was brought up, or whatever—I feel if you’re getting paid you should put the work in. Maybe I’m stupid and everyone’s looking at me and saying: ‘Chill out, take the money and run.’ I can’t do that. I feel the more we put into it, the more we’ll get out. How best can we spend all this money? You don’t just take it and go, ‘Yay! See ya!’ I want millions of people to watch the movie. So why not make it good?”

Getty

The Origin Story of Animals Is a Song of Ice and Fire

By Ed Yong from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Around 717 million years ago, the Earth turned into a snowball. Most of the ocean, if not all of it, was frozen at its surface. The land, which was aggregated into one big supercontinent, was also covered in mile-thick ice. And then, everything changed. Volcanoes released enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to trap the sun’s heat and trigger global warming. The ice melted, and the surface of the sea reached temperatures of 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. By 659 million years ago, the world had transformed from snowball to greenhouse. And just 14 million years later, the ice returned and the planet became a snowball for the second time.

This song of ice and fire was a momentous period for life on Earth. According to Jochen Brocks from the Australian National University, it liberated a flood of nutrients that permanently transformed the oceans, from a world that was dominated by bacteria to one where algae were ascendant. The algae, in turn, revolutionized the food webs in the sea, paving the way for the evolution of larger and increasingly complex organisms—like the first animals. If the Age of Algae had never dawned, we wouldn’t be here.

Before algae, the oceans were dominated by bacteria. Some of these microbes, the cyanobacteria, could make their own food by harnessing the power of sunlight—a process called photosynthesis. In doing so, they provided most of the oxygen in the planet’s atmosphere, and the formed the foundations of the ocean’s food webs. It was their world.

Then, in a chance event, an ancient complex cell swallowed one of these cyanobacteria and gained its ability to photosynthesize. That one fused cell then gave rise to all algae and plants—everything from small green plankton that float in the ocean, to the seaweed that wraps our sushi rolls, to the flowers and trees that grace our forests.

The merger that started all of this happened sometime between 900 and 1,900 million years ago, and some scientists are trying to narrow down that range. But Brocks had a different goal: He wanted to know not when algae originated, but when they became important. When did they go from merely existing to truly thriving? When did they supplant cyanobacteria as the world’s top photosynthesizers?

To find out, he turned to cylinders of sediment, which petroleum companies remove when they dig for oil. These cylinders preserve the remains of ancient bacteria and algae that sank to the ocean floor when they died. Their cells have long since vanished, but their constituent chemicals still remain. Other scientists have tried analyzing these chemicals before, but they always got weird results because oil from the drilling machines would contaminate the sediments. That oil came from the Jurassic, 145 to 200 million years ago, so it obscured the presence of chemicals from earlier periods in time.

When Brocks realized this problem, he used industrial machines to abrade the contaminating gunk off the surface of the sediment cores. His team then ground the leftover rock into powder, and put it into what’s essentially a huge coffee machine. It pumps solvents through the powder and extracts the molecules within, producing a brown liquid that looks like (and pretty much is) oil. Brocks and his colleagues searched this goop for two particular groups of chemicals—steranes, which are found in algal cells, and hopanes, which are found in bacterial cells. By comparing the ratio of these substances, they could work out how the relative numbers of these groups changed over time.

They found that during the first snowball period, and in all the millennia before it, bacterial hopanes greatly outnumbered algal steranes. But in the interval when the planet had defrosted, between 645 and 659 million years ago, sterane levels skyrocketed by 100 to 1,000 times, reaching a peak that has persisted to this day. The diversity of steranes also went up, from a single molecule into a whole smorgasbord of them. These results are far starker than Brocks had anticipated. They clearly show that algae rose to power during a narrow 14-million-year window, becoming more abundant and more diverse.

“The causes and consequences of that rise are controversial, and I’m looking forward to people fighting about it,” says Brocks. But the evidence for the rise itself “is very clear. There’s a transition from a bacterial world to an algal one.”

Why? Brocks was puzzling over that mystery when he read a study, published last year, showing that the oceans used to have very low levels of phosphate—a vital nutrient. Phosphate levels only started to rise between 800 and 635 million years ago—exactly before the algae took off. “I thought: Wow, this can’t be a coincidence,” says Brocks.

When phosphate levels are low, bacteria do better than algae because their cells are much smaller. With more surface area for their size, they’re better able to absorb nutrients from their surroundings. “If nutrient concentrations are low, small size wins every time,” says Brocks. “In a low-phosphate world, the larger algae had no chance.”

This competition started tilting in the algae’s favor during the first snowball Earth, when mighty glaciers ground mountainsides into powder, releasing phosphate into the ocean. When the planet warmed, increased rainfall hit the newly exposed ground and washed even more phosphate seaward. It was an overkill of nutrients, the likes of which the planet hadn’t seen before. And, according to Brocks, it broke the bacterial stranglehold in the oceans.

Here’s what he thinks happened. At first, the glut of nutrients would have gone to the dominant cyanobacteria, which would have been eaten by microscopic grazing cells. These grazers capped the bacterial numbers, freeing up nutrients for the larger algae, which could finally flourish. The presence of so much algae would, in turn, have fueled the evolution of predators like rhizarians—single-celled hunters that devour around 50 percent of the ocean’s algae every day.

Entirely new food webs came to be, as did arms races between predators and prey that led to the evolution of larger and larger creatures. By the 635-million-year mark, at the dawn of the Ediacaran period, centimeter-sized organisms showed up. And it was during that period that the first animals appeared. “They all come so close to each other—phosphate came first, algae came second, animals came third,” says Brocks. “The algae provided the food and energy source that allowed organisms to become big. I just don’t think an ecosystem with sharks in it would be possible with just bacteria.”

“It presents a feasible scenario and brings together the best new data,” says Robin Kodner from Western Washington University, who studies algae both modern and ancient. “But like all historical geobiological studies, there are some oversimplifications.” For example, there are many types of algae. Of these, the green algae—and specifically, a group called the prasinophytes—are the only ones of any great ecological importance. It’s unclear if the rise in algae that Brock found is a rise in prasinophytes specifically.

Also, many prasinophytes are tiny, and only slightly bigger than cyanobacteria. There’s no particular reason why their rise should have dramatically reworked food webs in the way that Brocks suggests. The reality is that such webs are complicated. Cyanobacteria and algae coexist, filling different roles. The predators that devour one group will often eat the other too. So working out how exactly the rise of algae led to the rise of animals—or even if they did—will take more work. “And really, I don't think we can do any better than this with the data from the geological record,” Kodner says.

Events that happened hundreds of millions of years ago are necessarily hard to reconstruct, and will always be open to speculation and debate. But Brocks’s study is valuable because it unites a bunch of disparate observations into a cohesive framework, against which future discoveries can be compared, writes Andrew Knoll from Harvard University in an accompanying commentary.

And as Brocks says, “If someone comes to me and says they have a better explanation, I’d be happy to accept that.”

At Last, a Big, Successful Trial of Probiotics

By Ed Yong from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

For all the hype that surrounds them, probiotics—products that contain supposedly beneficial bacteria—have rarely proven their worth in large, rigorous studies. There are good reasons for this disappointing performance. The strains in most commercially produced probiotics were chosen for historical reasons, because they were easy to grow and manufacture, and not because they are well-adapted to the human body. When they enter our gut, they fail to colonize. As I wrote in my recent book, they’re like a breeze that blows between two open windows.

But even though probiotic products might be underwhelming, the probiotic concept is sound. Bacteria can beneficially tune our immune systems and protect us from disease. It’s just a matter of finding the right strains, and helping them to establish themselves. Many scientists are now trying to do just that, and one such team, led by Pinaki Panigrahi at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, has just scored a big win.

Since 2008, Panigrahi’s team has been running a large clinical trial in rural India, where they gave a probiotic of their own devising to thousands of randomly selected newborn babies. Their product contained a strain of Lactobacillus plantarum, chosen for its ability to attach to gut cells. The team also added a sugar, chosen to nourish the microbe and give it a foothold when it enters a baby’s gut. Together, this combination is called a synbiotic. And it was strikingly effective.

The team found that babies who took this concoction had a significantly lower risk of developing sepsis—a life-threatening condition where infections trigger body-wide inflammation, restricted blood flow, and organ failure. Sepsis is one of the biggest killers of newborn babies, ending around 600,000 lives every year when they’ve barely begun. Some proportion of these cases begin in the gut, and probiotics might be able to prevent them by ousting harmful microbes, or by stopping benign ones from crossing into the bloodstream and causing infections.

Sure enough, in Panigrahi’s trial, just 5.4 percent of the infants who took the synbiotic developed sepsis in their first two months of life, compared to 9 percent of those who received a placebo. That’s a reduction of 40 percent. Such estimates always come with a margin of error, but the team calculate that the reduction in risk should still be somewhere between 25 and 50 percent.

The effect was twice as large as what the team expected, especially since the infants took daily doses of the synbiotic for just one week. And given the clear evidence of benefits, independent experts who were monitoring the study decided to stop the trial early: It would have been unethical to continue depriving half the newborns of the treatment. Panigrahi originally planned to enroll 8,000 babies into the study. He stopped at 4,557.

Which is still a huge number! Probiotics trials have been criticized in the past for being small and statistically underpowered. Those that looked at sepsis, for example, usually involved just 100 to 200 babies, making it hard to know whether any beneficial effects were the result of random chance. The biggest trial to date included 1,315 infants; Panigrahi’s study is over three times bigger. “[It] exemplifies how intervention research should be done,” writes Daniel Tancredi from the University of California, Davis, in a commentary that accompanies the paper.

“In most studies, people take the probiotics that are available on the shelf without asking why that probiotic should work in the disease they’re interested in. And they think they’ll stumble onto something good,” says Panigrahi. “It’s counter-intuitive, but we did the same thing.”

At first, his team tested Lactobacillus GG and Lactobacillus sporogenes—the most commonly used probiotics in India—in small pilot studies. Both strains are claimed to colonize the gut. “We did the trial and the colonization was almost zero,” says Panigrahi. To find more suitable strains, the team collected stool from healthy volunteers and screened the microbes within for those that could stick to human cells, and could prevent disease-causing bacteria from doing so. They ended up with a strain called Lactobacillus plantarum ATCC strain 202195, which not only colonized infant guts successfully, but stayed there for up to four months. That’s when they launched the big trial.

Aside from preventing sepsis, it also reduced the risk of infections by both the major groups of bacteria: the Gram-positives, by 82 percent; and the Gram-negatives, which are harder to treat with antibiotics, by 75 percent. It even reduced the risk of pneumonia and other infections of the airways by 34 percent. That was “completely unexpected,” says Panigrahi, and it’s the result he’s especially excited about. It suggests that the synbiotic isn’t just acting within the gut, but also giving the infants’ immune systems a body-wide boost.

Probiotics are not without risk. There have been rare cases where the bacteria in these products have caused sepsis in newborn or preterm infants. But Panigrahi saw no signs of that in his study: His synbiotic didn’t seem to cause any harmful side effects.

Beyond protecting infants, Panigrahi says that this approach would also reduce the use of antibiotics, and slow the spread of drug-resistant infections. And perhaps best of all, it can be done cheaply. You’d need to treat 27 infants to prevent one case of sepsis, and each week-long course costs just one U.S. dollar.

“It’s a very important study,” says Marie-Claire Arrieta from the University of Calgary. “It not only shows an effective and low-cost way to prevent a horrible infant disease that kills millions worldwide, but provides important clues on how to improve strategies to change the infant-gut microbiome.”

Two earlier trials tested off-the-shelf probiotics on 1,099 and 1,315 premature infants respectively. Neither found any benefits for sepsis. Nor did an Indian trial involving 668 babies born with a low birth weight. In retrospect, such failures were to be expected. Sepsis is a varied and complicated condition. The microbiome is also incredibly varied in early life, and changes in ways we barely understand. “It’s not surprising that a one-size-fits-all approach hasn’t worked thus far,” says Arrieta. Success probably depends on choosing the right strain, administering it at the right time, and feeding it appropriately.

Then again, Panigrahi’s trial only included healthy newborns of normal weight, whose mothers had begun to breastfeed them. They already had the best odds of fighting off infections, so it’s unclear if his synbiotic would work equally well with weaker or smaller babies, who are more prone to sepsis. It’s also unclear exactly why the synbiotic worked, or what effect it might have on the infants’ microbiomes in the long run.

“We may need to test this in different settings and we’re working with the government to do so,” says Panigrahi. “But this should be the standard of care. The money involved is very small. The synbiotic can be manufactured anywhere without fancy technology. And it can do so much good.”

Charlottesville: Heather Heyer's mother pays tribute at vigil

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Heather Heyer's mother pays tribute to her daughter at a vigil in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The perils of calling the peak of the equities bull run

From The Big Read. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

By many measurements, today’s stock markets are overvalued but investors are struggling to work out when or if a crash will come

Baltimore Takes Down Its Confederate Monuments

By Clare Foran from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

The city of Baltimore took down four Confederate monuments overnight, less than a week after white nationalists rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, in support of a monument to Robert E. Lee. “They needed to come down,” the city’s Democratic mayor, Catherine Pugh, said on Wednesday morning. “We moved as quickly as we could.”

In the wake of Charlottesville, where the weekend’s demonstrations and counter-protests led to deadly violence, a contentious debate over Confederate symbols is once again playing out across the United States. The Democratic mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, said on Saturday that he would work to “relocate” Confederate statues, though the state’s Republican governor argued on Tuesday that removing monuments would amount to a “sanitization of history.” In Durham, North Carolina, on Monday, protesters toppled a statue honoring “the boys who wore the gray,” an act that has already led to one arrest.

The decision to extract Baltimore’s monuments during the night, and with relatively little fanfare, was reportedly motivated by city officials’ desire to avoid public clashes.

“I’m proud that the city moved so quickly,” said Kwame Rose, a local activist who gained national prominence during protests over the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody in 2015. “I think it stands to show that Baltimore will come to be one of those cities—even after having had so much negative press in the past—that becomes a guiding light,” he told me. Other cities, he noted, have “dragged their feet.”

The Baltimore monuments’ removal began hours after President Trump questioned the rationale for taking Confederate monuments down. “So this week, it is Robert E. Lee,” he said at a press conference. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” The president’s comments drew criticism from historians who pointed out that Washington and Jefferson played a foundational role in establishing the United States, while Lee was a Confederate general who fought against the Union.

In response to the weekend’s events in Charlottesville, the Baltimore City Council voted on Monday in support of removing the monuments. According to The Baltimore Sun, the process began Tuesday evening just before midnight local time and ended at 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Crews dismantled the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors and the Confederate Women’s monuments, as well as statues honoring Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Supreme Court justice Roger B. Taney. As the Sun explained, while “the Taney statue makes no overt references to the Confederacy … Taney’s authorship of the Dred Scott decision, which ruled that Congress couldn’t regulate slavery and that blacks weren’t citizens, has caused him to be linked with the Confederate cause.”

Though the Baltimore monuments are now gone, there are others throughout Maryland, which was a slave-holding state until 1864. Political pressure to take them down shows little sign of letting up. In 2015, the shooting of black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, sparked widespread debate over Confederate flag imagery. At the time, Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan pushed back against the idea of widespread removal of rebel symbols. “Where do we draw the line?” he said that July, a message similar to Trump’s remarks on Tuesday.

This week, however, Hogan expressed support for removing a statue of Taney from the grounds of the state house in Annapolis. The governor faces pressure, though, to take further steps. One of his early opponents in the 2018 gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate and former head of the NAACP Ben Jealous, said in a statement Wednesday that Hogan should now work to “pull our state together around removing all Confederate monuments from every part of our state.”

Is it OK to punch a Nazi?

By Jasper Jackson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

There are moral and practical reasons why using force to stop a far-right march is justified.

It says a great deal about Donald Trump that for the second time under his Presidency we are having to ask the question: is it OK to punch a Nazi?

More specifically, after the events in Charlottesville last weekend, we must ask: is it OK to turn up to a legal march, by permit-possessing white supremacists, and physically stop that march from taking place through the use of force if necessary?

The US president has been widely criticised for indicating that he thought the assortment of anti-semites, KKK members and self-professed Nazis were no worse than the anti-fascist counter demonstrators. So for him, the answer is presumably no, it’s not OK to punch a Nazi in this situation.

For others such as Melanie Phillips in the Times, or Telegraph writer Martin Daubney, the left have seemingly become the real fascists.

The argument goes that both sides are extremists and thus both must be condemned equally for violence (skipping over the fact that one of the counter-protesters was killed by a member of the far right, who drove his car into a crowd).

This argument – by focusing on the ideologies of the two groups – distracts from the more relevant issue of why both sides were in Charlottesville in the first place.

The Nazis and white supremacists were marching there because they hate minorities and want them to be oppressed, deported or worse. That is not just a democratic expression of opinion. Its intent is to suppress the ability of others to live their lives and express themselves, and to encourage violence and intimidation.

The counter-protesters were there to oppose and disrupt that march in defence of those minorities. Yes, some may have held extreme left-wing views, but they were in Charlottesville to stop the far-right trying to impose its ideology on others, not impose their own.

So far, the two sides are not equally culpable.

Beyond the ethical debate, there is also the fundamental question of whether it is simply counterproductive to use physical force against a far-right march.

The protesters could, of course, have all just held their banners and chanted back. They could also have laid down in front of the march and dared the “Unite the Right” march to walk over or around them.

Instead the anti-fascists kicked, maced and punched back. That was what allowed Trump to even think of making his attempt to blame both sides at Charlottesville.

On a pragmatic level, there is plenty of evidence from history to suggest that non-violent protest has had a greater impact. From Gandhi in to the fall of the Berlin Wall, non-violence has often been the most effective tool of political movements fighting oppression, achieving political goals and forcing change.

But the success of those protests was largely built on their ability to embarrass the governments they were arrayed against. For democratic states in particular, non-violent protest can be effective because the government risks its legitimacy if it is seen violently attacking people peacefully expressing a democratic opinion.

Unfortunately, it’s a hell of a lot more difficult to embarrass a Nazi. They don't have legitimacy to lose. In fact they gain legitimacy by marching unopposed, as if their swastikas and burning crosses were just another example of political free expression.

By contrast, the far right do find being physically attacked embarrassing. Their movement is based on the glorification of victory, of white supremacy, of masculine and racial superiority, and scenes of white supremacists looking anything but superior undermines their claims.

And when it comes to Nazis marching on the streets, the lessons from history show that physically opposing them has worked. The most famous example is the Battle of Cable Street in London, in which a march by thousands of Hitler-era Nazis was stopped parading through East End by a coalition of its Jewish Community, dockworkers, other assorted locals, trade unionists and Communists.

There was also the Battle of Lewisham in the late 70s when anti-fascist protesters took on the National Front. Both these battles, and that’s what they were, helped neuter burgeoning movements of fascist, racist far right thugs who hated minorities.

None of this is to say that punching a Nazi is always either right, or indeed a good idea. The last time this debate came up was during Trump’s inauguration when "Alt Right" leader Richard Spencer was punched while giving a TV interview. Despite the many, many entertaining memes made from the footage, what casual viewers saw was a reasonable-looking man being hit unawares. He could claim to be a victim.

Charlottesville was different. When 1,000 Nazis come marching through a town trying to impose their vision of the world on it and everywhere else, they don't have any claim to be victims. 

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Trump Knows Exactly What He’s Doing

By David A. Graham from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

President Trump’s short press conference Tuesday afternoon was remarkable for seeming cogent. In so many of his public statements Trump wanders, free-associates, digresses, and seems either incapable or uninterested in piecing together complete sentences. The fact that he didn’t seem to be improvising made his defense of some of those who participated in a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, more important.

It was the clearest and most precise articulation of a view that Trump has espoused since the start of his political career. The president worked to draw a fine distinction between different elements of the march, and in the process to rescue his own vision of pride in white America from being tarnished from association with neo-Nazis. Trump mounted a defense of a political movement rooted in pride about Confederate symbols and white heritage by seeking to disassociate it from its more extreme elements.

“I am not putting anybody on a moral plane,” he said, but that wasn’t quite right. Trump was passing moral judgment on self-described neo-Nazis and white supremacists, in order to defend those who marched alongside them in defense of a Confederate monument, even if they did not endorse either their means or ultimate ends. The latter group forms a core part of Trump’s support. Although many Republican officeholders rushed to condemn Trump’s comments, there’s little evidence to believe most Trump voters disagree with the president. In June 2017, the left-leaning firm Public Policy Polling found that 70 percent of Trump backers support public monuments to the Confederacy, with only 15 percent approve of their removal. In a June 2015 CNN poll, almost six in 10 whites said they viewed the Confederate battle flag as a sign of Southern heritage, not bigotry.

Having drawn this distinction, Trump could portray what happened in Charlottesville not as a battle over racism but instead as a clash between two equally legitimate political factions. It allowed him to declare that there is an “alt-left” equivalent to the alt-right—fringes that employ violence, and tarnish the “very fine people on both sides”—and to ignore questions about whether there was actually equivalent hatred and malice in the two groups that clashed in Charlottesville.

“You had a group on one side and the other and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and horrible. It was a horrible thing to watch,” he said. “There is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You have just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. You can say what you want. That’s the way it is.”

But one can condemn violence in all forms while still acknowledging that, even before anyone threw a punch in Charlottesville, the Unite the Right rally was led by, and composed of, in large part, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Trump claimed Tuesday that his initial statement on Charlottesville blamed “all sides” because he had not yet gathered the facts, but it doesn’t require any fact-gathering to condemn white supremacy. It does not matter that, as Trump correctly stated, the white nationalists had a permit. The point is not that the president should infringe the right of white nationalists to assemble and speak freely. It is that a system of free speech which relies on good ideas to triumph over bad ones only functions if political leaders, starting with the president, loudly and clearly denounce the content of hateful speech.

The crux of Trump’s statement Tuesday was to draw a distinction between the worst of the extremists who marched in Charlottesville, and the rest who were there. “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists,” Trump said. “They should be condemned totally. You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. The press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”

How, precisely, had the press treated them unfairly? Apparently by lumping them in with the people they chose to march with—a mob that sported swastikas, bore white-supremacist symbols, and shouted anti-Semitic slogans. Trump argues that there were some in the crowd who disagreed with the neo-Nazis but were there to defend a statue of Robert E. Lee that the city of Charlottesville wants to remove, and thus decided to march alongside them.

This is an old canard in the debate over Civil War symbols: “Heritage, not hate.” Defenders of Confederate statues and Confederate flags have long contended that these symbols represent not hatred of black people but simply reverence for ancestors and a bygone way of life. Many people honestly believe that they are upholding heritage rather than hate in their embrace of Confederate symbols. But that can’t alter what the Confederacy actually stood for, why these symbols were erected in public spaces, or what they mean to many other Americans.

The Civil War was fought to maintain black enslavement and defend white supremacy (a point on which the founding fathers of the Confederacy were quite clear, despite latter-day insistence that the fight was over states’ rights). It was a treasonous rebellion against the legitimate government of the United States, and it was defeated. And defining “Southern culture” around the Confederacy erases the fact that African Americans are an important segment of Southern culture that did not support the war, to say nothing of the many Unionists in secessionist states.

Trump raised another common canard on Tuesday: the slippery slope. “Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status?” he asked. “Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? … Are we going to take down his statue? He was a major slave owner.”

This may seem on its face like the most compelling argument against removing Civil War statues, but as I have written before, it falls apart under any scrutiny. Many Civil War symbols were erected not immediately after the war but at times when white supremacy was asserting itself most aggressively in the South—at the end of the 19th century, as states enacted strict race laws and rolled back Reconstruction, and again in the 1950s and 1960s, during the heart of the civil-rights movement. The United States can, and increasingly is, making sure that discussions of figures like Jefferson are more nuanced than they have been. But there is also a clear, bright line between flawed men who founded the country and those who sought to tear it apart.

“We can distinguish between people who wanted to build the United States of America and people who wanted to destroy it,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed said this summer. “It’s possible to recognize people’s contributions at the same time as recognizing their flaws.”

Trump wants to speak to Americans who disdain Nazis and disavow white supremacists, but who share their sense of cultural displacement, angry resentment at a diversifying nation, and conviction that white Americans are the real victims. Just as he converted birtherism from a fringe, racist belief into a mainstream (though no less racist) movement, Trump is trying to draw a line around a group of people who have beliefs that are substantially similar to those of white nationalists (and in some matters, neo-Nazis)—who are literally willing to march alongside them—and to make them acceptable in polite society because they say they are not neo-Nazis or white nationalists, but simply wish to protect their culture.

This is, probably not coincidentally, precisely the project of the so-called alt-right. As my colleague Rosie Gray put it, “The alt-right movement has sought over the past two years to rebrand white nationalism, lifting it out of the obscure corners of the website Stormfront and elevating it into the mainstream political discussion.” No wonder that alt-right leader Richard Spencer deemed Trump’s condemnation of white supremacists and hate groups on Monday insincere—in retrospect, it clearly was—and was delighted by Tuesday’s change of course.

This might be politically successful. Trump has shown an acute sense for how to push the envelope of racist rhetoric and policy, going far beyond what any mainstream observer would have thought politically possible during both his campaign and his presidency so far—though the presidency has been a series of stumbles. Trump and the alt-right help push each other forward into the mainstream of American politics, and now the president is using the bully pulpit to keep helping his allies. Trump is not much for loyalty per se. He is doing so because he sees a political upside in both appealing to and whipping up a sense of grievance among whites who would never explicitly align themselves with neo-Nazis, but might be made to believe that their culture is in danger because of the removal of an old statue.

In the aftermath of the press conference, even Trump’s media allies seemed initially appalled, and the press said the president had veered off the rails once more. But that misses the point. A senior White House official expressed surprise, telling CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, “That was all him—this wasn't our plan.” Yet the White House fired off a set of talking points to members of Congress that didn’t blink. “The President was entirely correct—both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility,” they stated. Though plenty of observers are disgusted by the president’s validation of racist protesters, no one should be surprised or take it as a spontaneous riff: It was one of the most cogent, precise, and enduring cases he has made as a politician.

The Eclipse Conspiracy

By James Hamblin from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

The scientists are all talking like it’s a sure thing.

On August 21, the “moon” will pass between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the light of the latter. The government agency NASA says this will result in “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.” The astronomers there claim to have calculated down to the minute exactly when and where this will happen, and for how long. They have reportedly known about this eclipse for years, just by virtue of some sort of complex math.

This seems extremely unlikely. I can’t even find these eclipse calculations on their website to check them for myself.

Meanwhile the scientists tell us we can’t look at it without special glasses because “looking directly at the sun is unsafe.”

That is, of course, unless we wear glasses that are on a list issued by these very same scientists. Meanwhile, corporations like Amazon are profiting from the sale of these eclipse glasses. Is anyone asking how many of these astronomers also, conveniently, belong to Amazon Prime?

Let’s follow the money a little further. Hotels along the “path of totality”—a region drawn up by Obama-era NASA scientists—have been sold out for months. Some of those hotels are owned and operated by large multinational corporations. Where else do these hotels have locations? You guessed it: Washington, D.C.

In fact the entire politico-scientifico-corporate power structure is aligned behind the eclipse. This includes the mainstream media. How many news stories have you read about how the eclipse won’t happen?

Meanwhile the newspaper owner Jeff Bezos is out there buying all of Seattle with the revenue from these “eclipse glasses.”

You’d think there would be a balanced look at even considering the idea that the eclipse isn’t going to happen. It’s like no one is even thinking to question this. Where are their voices? Why does Google give so few results that say the eclipse is fake? I would start by looking at Mark Zuckerberg and Charles “Chuck” Schumer.

I am not saying the eclipse isn’t going to happen. I’m just saying there are two sides to every story.

Should You Try to Take a Photo of the Total Eclipse?

By Rebecca Boyle from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Most full moons, I try in vain to take a photo of our nearest celestial companion, and wind up posting something terribly blurry on Instagram. But even my best shots don’t depict what the scene feels like; I can only hope to preserve a piece of that feeling. So for something as rare and fleeting as a total eclipse, should I even try?

Eclipse chasers are mixed on this, and many say eclipse novices shouldn’t bother; not only will the photo feel insufficient, it’s not worth missing the show just to put something on Insta. But they almost all agree on one thing: Take photos and videos of your surroundings, even if it’s just on your smartphone. You’ll enjoy having a chronicle of what you and your companions did when the moon’s shadow came barreling toward you at more than 1,600 miles an hour, and how you reacted when the sun disappeared. (If you do take photos, send them our way, and we’ll highlight them in our Instagram story!)

If you want photos of the partial eclipse, you need special solar filters on your camera, which block almost all of the sun’s harmful light. NEVER photograph the sun directly without these filters! When the sun is 100 percent eclipsed, in “totality,” you’re fine to take them off, and to remove your eclipse glasses. But for the average viewer with an iPhone, how do you know when to do so? Darren Nilsen of Sterling, Virginia, wonders how he’ll know it’s okay to look at the sun from the path of totality in Carthage, Tennessee:

As we will be in the path of totality we should be able to safely remove our solar eclipse glasses during the two-plus minutes of totality. My question is: How will we know when it is safe to remove our glasses? Having never seen a total eclipse I wanted to make sure we don't remove our glasses too early (or certainly too late). I'm considering purchasing an atomic clock so that I can time it, but I didn't know if there were better/cheaper options or if it will just be apparent at the time of the eclipse that we can remove our glasses.

It’s a good question, and fortunately the answer is simple: You'll know it's safe because it will get so dark. You will see the moon's shadow racing toward you, and when it envelops you, you'll know. Take the glasses off at that point, and look up. When to put them back on is a bit more tricky. For that, you may want to start a timer, assuming you know just how long totality will last at your location. To find that out, you can check this map by a French cartographer and eclipse chaser.

If you don't have a timer, or if you forget to set one in the moment, then don't worry: Just put the glasses back on when the first beads of light start to reappear on the other side of the moon. These are called Baily's beads, and they happen because light is streaming through valleys on the moon.

Along with just watching it, which you really should do, you can take a photo of totality using your iPhone. But some eclipse chasers pack more sophisticated equipment. Evan Zucker is a lawyer, Air Force veteran, and eclipse chaser who has traveled to see seven total eclipses, along with several annular or “ring of fire” eclipses, when the sun is not completely obscured. He’ll be in Casper, Wyoming, with many other eclipse enthusiasts—and a bunch of gear.

I plan to observe the eclipse through 15x50 image-stabilized binoculars and a 3.5-inch Meade ETX telescope. Of course, I have solar filters for both, including 2 different types for the telescope. I plan to photograph and videotape the eclipse with a Nikon P900, Lumix FZ1000, Sony A77, Sony RX100 IV, and two iPhones.

My main advice to first-time eclipse observers is just to observe the event and not worry about photographing it. You can take all the photos you like during the partial phases, but during totality I suggest just observing. Other than a solar filter for the partial phases, the only hardware I would recommend (if you already have a pair) are binoculars for observing totality. If you have access to some sort of tripod, I recommend putting your cell phone on a tripod and have it record video beginning about 5-10 minutes before totality begins and continuing for a few minutes after totality ends. The audio from that recording will do more to convey the wonder and excitement of the eclipse more than any photograph can.

If you do take video, you can send it to Google, which will stitch it together into an eclipse “MegaMovie.” The project is designed to accumulate a massive public archive of eclipse imagery, as well as to do citizen science on the corona, says the project’s cofounder, Hugh Hudson of the University of California, Berkeley.

A major collateral part of this program is the app we are developing, Megamovie Mobile, that will allow smartphone users to participate painlessly while they watch the spectacle. [It’s available on Android and iOS.] The main effort in Megamovie, though, is to engage the large community of well-equipped photographers all along the path, and with their voluntary participation (we’re aiming at more than a thousand volunteers), to produce detailed high-resolution movies over the whole hour and a half.

Personally, I will be in Corvallis, Oregon, with one or two smartphones running our app, possibly with a telephoto lens attached to one of them. But I propose during the actual totality to ignore all instrumentation and just to enjoy the view.

Terry Garbutt, a retired IT worker living in rural Ontario, is headed to Alliance, Nebraska, one of the towns with the best chance of clear weather. He plans to contribute to the Megamovie, and he’ll be in place by 6 a.m. August 21.

I will set up my still camera (Canon APS-C DSLR/300-mm lens) and (BMPCC/420-mm lens) video camera on a single equatorial iOptron SmartEQ tripod mount. Stills from the Canon will go to the Google/Berkeley Eclipse Megamovie project. I may wear a GoPro for self-documentary purposes. All right, maybe a selfie!

Until first contact I will be checking the checklist, and checking it twice. Of course, by then I will have done dozens of practice runs. It will be a piece of cake. I’ll bring a headlamp. Yes, it gets pretty dark; one will see a 360-degree “sunset” effect. Throughout all this, I will be thinking positive weather thoughts.

Just after the “diamond ring” bright flash, the beginning of totality, take off your glasses, sit back in a chair, observe it to the fullest, hoist a glass of bubbly, and join your neighbors in celebration.

Remember the next United States/Canada total eclipse is in April 2024 ... you want to have retained your vision. The next time, you can photograph/video it.

Labour MP Sarah Champion resigns over grooming gang piece in The Sun

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

The shadow equalities minister is standing down after her controversial article sparked accusations of racism.

Sarah Champion has resigned as shadow equalities minister over her incendiary article about grooming gangs in The Sun.

The Labour MP for Rotherham caused controversy by writing a piece about the Newcastle paedophile ring, which the tabloid headlined: "British Pakistanis ARE raping white girls... and we need to face up to it".

This sparked accusations of racism, including from figures in her own party. Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, wrote in the Independent“Such an incendiary headline and article is not only irresponsible but is also setting a very dangerous precedent and must be challenged.”

Champion initially tried to distance herself from how the article was framed, claiming that the opening paragraphs were edited and "stripped of nuance". The paper, however, said her team approved the piece and were "thrilled" with it.

In her resignation statement, Champion apologised for causing offence: “I apologise for the offence caused by the extremely poor choice of words in the Sun article on Friday. I am concerned that my continued position in the shadow cabinet would distract from the crucial issues around child protection which I have campaigned on my entire political career.”

“It is therefore with regret that I tender my resignation as shadow secretary of state for women and equalities.”

In a comment decrying The Sun's general Islamophobia-inciting coverage, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned against "attempts to brand communities or ethnic or religious groups, wittingly or unwittingly".

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Sage, Ink: Off Message

By Sage Stossel from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Another monument comes down: In a cartoon, the American eagle leaps off Trump's podium in response to his remarks on Charlottesville.

The New Statesman Cover: Trump goes nuclear

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

A first look at this week's magazine.

18 - 24 August issue
Trump goes nuclear

The 1850s Response to the Racism of 2017

By Alexis C. Madrigal from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Last night, Tucker Carlson took on the subject of slavery on his Fox News show. Slavery is evil, he noted. However, slavery permeated the ancient world, he said, as reflected in the on-screen graphics.

Screengrab of Tucker Carlson’s Tuesday-night show

On Twitter, recent University of Toronto English Ph.D. graduate Anthony Oliveira noted, “Here's Tucker Carlson right now on Fox making the *exact* pro-slavery case (bad but status-quo and well-precedented) made 160 years ago.”

It sounds like a particular variety of Twitter gallows humor, not meant to be taken quite seriously. But it is not a joke.

This precise series of ostensible mitigating factors around the institution of American slavery were, in fact, advanced by pro-slavery forces through the 19th century. And it got me wondering: Given that The Atlantic was founded as an abolitionist magazine before the Civil War, might there be an article or two that might address Carlson’s warmed-over proto-Confederate arguments?

And indeed, there are.

Take Carlson’s bullet point, “Until 150 years ago, slavery was rule.”

Well, yes. Slavery was legal in some American states. But how did this happen, especially when other countries began abolishing slavery early in the 19th century? In our second issue, Edmund Quincy put his pen to “Where Will It End?” And he doesn’t mess around. Slavers had power because they went on bloody conquests to open up new territory for slavery.

The baleful influence thus ever shed by Slavery on our national history and our public men has not yet spent its malignant forces. It has, indeed, reached a height which a few years ago it was thought the wildest fanaticism to predict; but its fatal power will not be stayed in the mid-sweep of its career ... Slavery presiding in the Cabinet, seated on the Supreme Bench, absolute in the halls of Congress—no man can say what shape its next aggression may not take to itself. A direct attack on the freedom of the press and the liberty of speech at the North, where alone either exists, were no more incredible than the later insolences of its tyranny ... The rehabilitation of the African slave-trade is seriously proposed and will be furiously urged, and nothing can hinder its accomplishment but its interference with the domestic manufactures of the breeding Slave States ... Mighty events are at hand, even at the door; and the mission of them all will be to fix Slavery firmly and forever on the throne of this nation.

Indeed, in the early days of The Atlantic, the violent battle over whether Kansas would become a slave state raged. In the “Kansas Usurpation,” from Issue 4, our author details the endless skulduggery that slavers perpetrated “to force the evils of slavery upon a people who cannot and will not endure them.”

And how about the idea that ancient peoples also held slaves? The Atlantic didn’t address Greek slaveholding, but takes on their admirers, the Romans. In a piece called “Spartacus,” published in Issue 3 in 1858, the author explicitly differentiates the Roman version of slavery from the American.

“Fowell Buxton has happily translated [the Roman motto], ‘They murdered all who resisted and enslaved the rest.’ But it was as slaveholders that the Romans most clearly exhibited their impartiality,” the piece states. “They were above those miserable subterfuges that are so common with Americans. They made slaves of all, of the high as well as the low—of Thracians, as well as Sardinians, of Greeks and of Syrians as readily as of Scythians and Cappadocians.”

With ever-increasing rigor from colonial times, the American system explicitly made only people with African ancestry subject to chattel slavery, i.e. they were the only people whose children were born enslaved and who would die enslaved, absent an extraordinary circumstance. American slavery was different.

To be clear, this isn’t just about Carlson. My target is the implicit idea that American slavery was not historically, distinctly terrible. It was. There is no parallel. While other countries—and states within the Union—were banning slavery, the South was intensifying slavery in several different ways.

First, the ideological and theological interpretation of slavery in the South began to change. The specific and perpetual enslavement of African people had seemed to Jeffersonian Americans as an evil that was ebbing away. “In the late 18th century, most Americans believed that slavery, as institutionalized dependence, was neither good nor practical, and so would fade before the action of natural forces under the new, free political system,” writes John Patrick Daly in When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War.

But as abolitionists began to succeed in the northern states, chattel slavery of black human beings began to be theologically promoted as something to be proud of, possibly even holy, in the South. “Good slaveholders, they maintained, gave the institution its character—that is, goodness,” Daly writes. “This formulation allowed proslavery spokesmen to denounce the historically evil institution of slavery while defending Southern practices: Slaveholders in the evil form of slavery were bad men; the Southerners were good, and the source of their wealth untainted. Good—and especially evangelical—slaveholders supposedly redeemed the institution of slavery.”

Second, the old colonial state slaveowners were making a business out of selling the people they enslaved south and west. This became a lynchpin of the region’s wealth as agriculture declined there. Black people were chained together in Virginia and the Carolinas and marched to Georgia, to Florida, to Mississippi, to Texas. Whatever networks of family and community they’d been able to build within the oppressive violence of slavery were destroyed (again).

Ed Baptist tells this story in The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. “The massive and cruel engineering required to rip a million people from their homes, brutally drive them to new, disease-ridden places, and make them live in terror and hunger as they continually built and rebuilt a commodity-generating empire,” he writes, “this vanished in the story of a slavery that was supposedly focused primarily not on producing profit but on maintaining its status as a quasi-feudal elite, or producing modern ideas about race in order to maintain white unity and elite power.”

Third, the gin-powered cotton economy relied on huge financial investments to open up new cotton land ever farther south and west. A series of financial bubbles ran in those directions, with literal securities issued to slaveowners secured by the bodies of enslaved people.

“African American bodies and childbearing potential collateralized massive amounts of credit, the use of which made slaveowners the wealthiest people in the country,” write Ned and Constance Sublette in The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry. “When the Southern states seceded to form the Confederacy they partitioned off, and declared independence for, their economic system in which people were money.”

To make their loan payments, these speculator-slavers created the brutal “whipping machine,” which drove massive productivity gains at the expense of the health and well-being of the already oppressed people working in the fields.

The returns from cotton monopoly powered the modernization of the rest of the American economy, and by the time of the Civil War, the United States had become the second nation to undergo large-scale industrialization,” Baptist writes. “In fact, slavery’s expansion shaped every crucial aspect of the economy and politics of the new nation—not only increasing its power and size, but also, eventually, dividing U.S. politics, differentiating regional identities and interests, and helping to make civil war possible. The idea that the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people necessarily are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth.”

It was this marriage of new ideological underpinning, the incredible profits the gin-powered cotton industry could produce, and the new modes of capitalization and management that American slaveowners developed that make American slavery different and worse from those that preceded it.

The drive to keep opening up cotton land to feed the slaver-speculator economy also led to genocidal atrocities against Native Americans, as well as the imperial project of snatching the western part of the continent from Mexico, which had abolished slavery in the 1820s.

In April 1861, with the slaveholder’s rebellion beginning, The Atlantic published an essay by Charles Francis Adams Jr., the grandson of John Quincy Adams, called “The Reign of King Cotton.”

“Throughout the South, whether justly or not, it is considered as well settled that cotton can be profitably raised only by a forced system of labor,” Adams wrote. “With this theory, the Southern States are under a direct inducement, in the nature of a bribe, to the amount of the annual profit on their cotton-crop, to see as many perfections and as few imperfections as possible in the system of African slavery.”

But the bribe didn’t stop getting paid at the Mason-Dixon line. Even New England, hotbed of abolitionism and birthplace of this magazine, got rich on textiles spun in the factories along the Merrimack. Where do you think they got the cotton for the City of Spindles? Baptist tells the story of the Collins Axe Works, which sold hundreds of thousands of axes into the western parts of the South, where they were given to enslaved black people to clear the forests. Hundreds of millions of trees fell through black labor performed with these axes. And back on the Farmington River, a white factory owner and his associates got rich.

“All told, more than $600 million, or almost half of the economic activity in the United States in 1836, derived directly or indirectly from cotton produced by the million-odd slaves—6 percent of the total U.S. population—who in that year toiled in labor camps on slavery’s frontier,” Baptist calculates.

There is no escaping the basic facts of our history. Plato, Muhammad, and the Aztec empire did not have the cotton gin or the luxuries that came from the securitization of enslaved people. Native American slaveholders didn’t shape and take advantage of emergent American capitalism to subdue a continent.

Given all this, no wonder the neo-Confederates keep fighting to keep their heroic monuments. Understanding the breadth and depth of the American slavery’s evil would undermine not just their dedication to busts of Robert E. Lee, but the whole moral project of seeing whiteness as a sign of virtue.

This is what Confederate flag wavers mean when they say they are “fighting for their heritage.” They are fighting for the right to declare their ancestors good, despite the evidence of the horrors they perpetrated, which rival anything that happened in the 20th century.

And what they’re counting on is that Americans, no matter when their families arrived across seas or rivers, will excuse the Confederate flag-wavers because they want to believe only the best stories about our country, too.

There is no excuse. That other people at other times owned slaves—Greek, African, or Native American—does not excuse the system of oppression that we erected on this continent to build this country.

“Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week, it’s Robert E. Lee, I noticed that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down,” President Trump said yesterday at a press conference. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

What if the answer is that it doesn’t? The evil of slavery and the white supremacy it embedded in the fabric of the country go all the way back to the beginning. And our history needs to honestly tell the story of James Madison dying without freeing a single one of the 100 enslaved people who worked for him right alongside his call, quoted in The Atlantic in 1861, to leave the words slavery out of the Constitution so that it would “be the great charter of Human Liberty to the unborn millions who shall enjoy its protection, and who should never see that such an institution as slavery was ever known in our midst.”

We can excise the words, but we can never scrub the blood from the soil.

Exports and low unemployment fuel rapid growth in central Europe

From Europe. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Romania is EU’s fastest-growing economy as jobs boom in region continues

Hopes of an anti-Brexit party are illusory, but Remainers have a new plan to stay in the EU

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Stopping Brexit may prove an impossible task. Remainers are looking to the "Article 49 strategy": reapplying for EU membership. 

The Remain campaign lost in the country, but it won by a landslide in parliament. On 23 June 2016, more than two-thirds of MPs voted for EU membership. Ever since the referendum, the possibility that parliament could thwart withdrawal, or at least soften it, has loomed.

Theresa May called an early general election in the hope of securing a majority large enough to neutralise revanchist Remainers. When she was denied a mandate, many proclaimed that “hard Brexit” had been defeated. Yet two months after the Conservatives’ electoral humbling, it appears, as May once remarked, that “nothing has changed”. The government remains committed not merely to leaving the EU but to leaving the single market and the customs union. Even a promise to mimic the arrangements of the customs union during a transition period is consistent with May’s pre-election Lancaster House speech.

EU supporters once drew consolation from the disunity of their opponents. While Leavers have united around several defining aims, however, the Remainers are split. Those who campaigned reluctantly for EU membership, such as May and Jeremy Corbyn, have become de facto Brexiteers. Others are demanding a “soft Brexit” – defined as continued single market membership – or at least a soft transition.

Still more propose a second referendum, perhaps championed by a new centrist party (“the Democrats” is the name suggested by James Chapman, an energetic former aide to George Osborne and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis). Others predict that an economic cataclysm will force the government to rethink.

Faced with this increasingly bewildering menu of options, the average voter still chooses Brexit as their main course. Though Leave’s referendum victory was narrow (52-48), its support base has since widened. Polling has consistently shown that around two-thirds of voters believe that the UK has a duty to leave the EU, regardless of their original preference.

A majority of Remain supporters, as a recent London School of Economics study confirmed, favour greater controls over EU immigration. The opposition of a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs to “soft Brexit” largely rests on this.

Remainers usually retort – as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, put it – “No one voted to become poorer.” Polls show that, as well as immigration control, voters want to retain the economic benefits of EU membership. The problem is not merely that some politicians wish to have their cake and eat it, but that most of the public does, too.

For Remainers, the imperative now is to avoid an economic catastrophe. This begins by preventing a “cliff-edge” Brexit, under which the UK crashes out on 29 March 2019 without a deal. Though the Leave vote did not trigger a swift recession, a reversion to World Trade Organisation trading terms almost certainly would. Although David Davis publicly maintains that a new EU trade deal could swiftly be agreed, he is said to have privately forecast a time span of five years (the 2016 EU-Canada agreement took seven). A transition period of three years – concluded in time for the 2022 general election – would leave the UK with two further years in the wilderness without a deal.

A coalition of Labour MPs who dislike free movement and those who dislike free markets has prevented the party endorsing “soft Brexit”. Yet the Remainers in the party, backed by 80 per cent of grass-roots members, are encouraged by a recent shift in the leadership’s position. Although Corbyn, a Bennite Eurosceptic, vowed that the UK would leave the single market, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have refused to rule out continued membership.

A group of Remainers from all parties met in the Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s office before recess, and they are hopeful that parliament will force the government to commit to a meaningful transition period, including single market membership. But they have no intention of dissolving tribal loyalties and uniting under one banner. A year after George Osborne first pitched the idea of a new party to Labour MPs, it has gained little traction. “All it would do is weaken Labour,” the former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a past Social Democratic Party member, told me. “The only way we can defeat hard Brexit is to have a strong Labour Party.”

In this febrile era, few Remainers dismiss the possibility of a second referendum. Yet most are wary of running ahead of public opinion. “It would simply be too risky,” a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Thoughtful Remainers, however, are discussing an alternative strategy. Rather than staging a premature referendum in 2018-19, they advocate waiting until the UK has concluded a trade deal with the EU. At this point, voters would be offered a choice between the new agreement and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be history. The proviso is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms, rather than the standard ones (ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). Some MPs suggest agreeing a ten-year “grace period” in which Britain can achieve this deal – a formidable challenge, but not an impossible one.

First, though, the Remainers must secure a soft transition. If the UK rips itself from the EU’s institutions in 2019, there will be no life raft back to safe territory. The initial aim is one of damage limitation. But like the Leavers before them, the wise Remainers are playing a long game.

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, development hacks, and the power of digital record-keeping

By Merrell Tuck-Primdahl from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

A nationwide innovation in India was picked up by Nigeria to eliminate ghost workers who were sucking the government’s payroll and even collecting pensions. As the digitization process expanded, it also made inroads toward giving identities to thousands of Nigerians whose invisibility had left them unable to plug into modern life, whether for banking, health…
      
 
 

The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

By Adam Swersky from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.

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Universal Credit takes £3,700 from single working parents - it's time to call a halt

By Debbie Abrahams from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

The shadow work and pensions secretary on the latest analysis of a controversial benefit. 

Labour is calling for the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) to be halted as new data shows that while wages are failing to keep up with inflation, cuts to in-work social security support have meant most net incomes have flat-lined in real terms and in some cases worsened, with women and people from ethnic minority communities most likely to be worst affected.

Analysis I commissioned from the House of Commons Library shows that real wages are stagnating and in-work support is contracting for both private and public sector workers. 

Private sector workers like Kellie, a cleaner at Manchester airport, who is married and has a four year old daughter. She told me how by going back to work after the birth of her daughter resulted in her losing in-work tax credits, which made her day-to-day living costs even more difficult to handle. 

Her child tax credits fail to even cover food or pack lunches for her daughter and as a result she has to survive on a very tight weekly budget just to ensure her daughter can eat properly. 

This is the everyday reality for too many people in communities across the UK. People like Kellie who have to make difficult and stressful choices that are having lasting implications on the whole family. 

Eventually Kellie will be transferred onto UC. She told me how she is dreading the transition onto UC, as she is barely managing to get by on tax credits. The stories she hears about having to wait up to 10 weeks before you receive payment and the failure of payments to match tax credits are causing her real concern.

UC is meant to streamline social security support,  and bring together payments for several benefits including tax credits and housing benefit. But it has been plagued by problems in the areas it has been trialled, not least because of the fact claimants must wait six weeks before the first payment. An increased use of food banks has been observed, along with debt, rent arrears, and even homelessness.

The latest evidence came from Citizens Advice in July. The charity surveyed 800 people who sought help with universal credit in pilot areas, and found that 39 per cent were waiting more than six weeks to receive their first payment and 57 per cent were having to borrow money to get by during that time.

Our analysis confirms Universal Credit is just not fit for purpose. It looks at different types of households and income groups, all working full time. It shows single parents with dependent children are hit particularly hard, receiving up to £3,100 a year less than they received with tax credits - a massive hit on any family budget.

A single teacher with two children working full time, for example, who is a new claimant to UC will, in real terms, be around £3,700 a year worse off in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12.

Or take a single parent of two who is working in the NHS on full-time average earnings for the public sector, and is a new tax credit claimant. They will be more than £2,000 a year worse off in real-terms in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12. 

Equality analysis published in response to a Freedom of Information request also revealed that predicted cuts to Universal Credit work allowances introduced in 2016 would fall most heavily on women and ethnic minorities. And yet the government still went ahead with them.

It is shocking that most people on low and middle incomes are no better off than they were five years ago, and in some cases they are worse off. The government’s cuts to in-work support of both tax credits and Universal Credit are having a dramatic, long lasting effect on people’s lives, on top of stagnating wages and rising prices. 

It’s no wonder we are seeing record levels of in-work poverty. This now stands at a shocking 7.4 million people.

Our analyses make clear that the government’s abject failure on living standards will get dramatically worse if UC is rolled out in its current form.

This exactly why I am calling for the roll out to be stopped while urgent reform and redesign of UC is undertaken. In its current form UC is not fit for purpose. We need to ensure that work always pays and that hardworking families are properly supported. 

Labour will transform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment, and creating a fair society for the many, not the few. 

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Former Russian economy minister demanded $2m bribe, court told

From Europe. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Ulyukaev denies seeking cash for favourable review of Rosneft purchase of Bashneft stake

Theresa May condemns Big Ben’s silence – but stays silent on Donald Trump’s Nazi defence

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Priorities.

You know what it’s like when you get back from your summer holiday. You have the inbox from hell, your laundry schedule is a nightmare, you’ve put on a few pounds, and you receive the harrowing news that a loud bell will chime slightly less often.

Well, Theresa May is currently experiencing this bummer of a homecoming. Imagine it: Philip’s taking out the bins, she’s putting the third load on (carefully separating shirt dresses from leathers), she switches on Radio 4 and is suddenly struck by the cruel realisation that Big Ben’s bongs will fall silent for a few years.

It takes a while for the full extent of the atrocity to sink in. A big old clock will have to be fixed. For a bit. Its bell will not chime. But sometimes it will.

God, is there no end to this pain.

“It can’t be right,” she thinks.

Meanwhile, the President of the United States Donald Trump is busy excusing a literal Nazi rally which is so violent someone was killed. Instead of condemning the fascists, Trump insisted there was violence on both sides – causing resignations and disgust in his own administration and outrage across the world.

At first, May’s spokesperson commented that “what the President says is a matter for him” and condemned the far right, and then the PM continued in the same vein – denouncing the fascists but not directing any criticism at the President himself:

“I see no equivalence between those who profound fascists views and those who oppose them.

“I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them.”

Unlike May, other politicians here – including senior Tories – immediately explicitly criticised Trump. The Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said Trump had “turned his face to the world to defend Nazis, fascists and racists. For shame”, while justice minister Sam Gyimah said the President has lost “moral authority”.

So our Right Honourable leader, the head of Her Majesty’s Government, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, made another statement:

“Of course we want to ensure people’s safety at work but it can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years.

“And I hope that the speaker, as the chairman of the House of Commons commission, will look into this urgently so that we can ensure that we can continue to hear Big Ben through those four years.”

Nailed it. The years ahead hang in the balance, and it was her duty to speak up.

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No More Girls and Boys shows the small things that shape children

By Sarah Ditum from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

The BBC2 TV series is validating and dispiriting at the same time. 

Here’s a story we like to tell ourselves. Once upon a time, we were sexist, but then feminism happened and now we’re not sexist anymore. But boys and girls carry on being different because they are different. Male brains are systematising and female brains are empathising, says Simon Baron-Cohen. Boys like blue and girls like pink, say the toy aisles. Men have a “drive for status”, and women have “openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas,” says that bloody Google engineer in his ten-page evo-psych anti-diversity manifesto. And if we are going to live happily ever after, we just have to learn to accept it.

Here are some other stories. “I think boys are cleverer than girls… because they get into president easily don’t they?” “I would describe a girl as being pretty, lipstick, dresses, lovehearts. If a woman has a child, the men have to go to work and earn some money.” “Men are better at being in charge.” “Men are better because they’re stronger and they’ve got more jobs.” All these are things said by year three pupils at Lanesend primary school in the Isle of Wight, both girls and boys, who by the age of seven have thoroughly imbibed the idea that their sex is their fate. All of them are about to take part in an experiment designed to unpick that belief.

That experiment is actually a BBC 2 documentary called No More Boys and Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free? Presenter Dr Javid Abdelmoneim finds that the boys are more likely to overestimate their abilities; the girls, to underestimate theirs. Girls are underscoring on confidence; boys, on empathy. Abdelmoneim isn’t buying that this is all down to hormones or different physiques. At seven, boys and girls are evenly matched for strength, and will be until the testosterone surge of puberty has boys building muscle mass. There are no fixed differences in their developing brains. Genitals aside, they’re simply kids. He wants to see whether teaching the kids differently will lead to them thinking differently.

First, the classroom environment has to change so sex is no longer the first division. Signs are put up affirming that boys and girls are sensitive, girls and boys are strong. The “girls’ cupboard” and “boys’ cupboard” where the children put their coats are repainted as one big gender-neutral wardrobe. Stereotyped books are swapped out for ones about adventurous girls and kind boys. The children have their career expectations shaken up by meeting a male ballet dancer, a female mechanic. And their likeable teacher, Mr Andre, has to change too: he’s trained out of his habitual reference to the girls as “love” and the boys as “mate”, and introduced to a lottery system to break his habit of picking boys first.

It’s the smallness of these things that’s really telling of the hugeness of the problem. Individually, they seem so trivial as to barely seem worth fixing, and so ingrained that trying to fix them takes constant vigilance (Mr Andre’s slips into “love” and “mate” are recorded on a wall chart). No wonder sexism seems to be one of those things that everyone’s against but no one sees as their problem to fix. The head, for example, speaks regretfully of “quite biased views about what boys are expected to do and what girls are expected to do.” But somehow this has never translated into the kind of interventions Abdelmoneim is trying.

Does it work? That’s the cliffhanger for episode two, but the first part suggests some pretty dramatic results. When the children take part in a test-your-strength contest, the difference between expectation and performance lead to tears: a girl who happily cries “I didn’t think I could do it!” about her maximum score, and a boy who predicted himself a 10 but throws himself down on the ground in an angry tantrum when he fails to get a single point. How much stronger might girls be if they didn’t absorb the myth of their own weakness and opt out of physical activity early? How much more resilient would boys be if they weren’t holding themselves up to an unrealistic standard?

We won’t know the answer to that unless adults are able to stop telling the same dull old gender stories to children. In one scene, the documentary reenacts the famous Baby X experiments, showing how adults direct infant play down strictly sex-stereotyped lines, pressing dolls on the baby in pink, and robots and shape sorters on the one in blue. But given the opportunity to be themselves first rather than their sex, the children of Laneseed seem to thrive. In fact, the only reform they chafe at are gender neutral toilets. (“The girls were like, ‘Oh they [the boys] come out with their bits dangling out and they don’t wash their hands,’” Abdelmoneim told the Mail.)

Watching No More Boys and Girls is a strange experience, validating and dispiriting at the same time. Yes, you see the evidence of sexism in action that’s usually hidden in plain sight. You also see that there’s so much of it, it’s hard to know where to begin in countering it. Maybe we should start like this: stop insulting children by pretending their understanding of gender is hardwired at birth, and take some adult responsibility for the world we’ve put them in. 

No More Boys And Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free? starts on BBC2 at 9pm on Wednesday.

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Solving a Murder Mystery With Ancestry Websites

By Ciara O'Rourke from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

On August 9, 1977, David Roth drove his mother’s car to Silver Lake. It was a hot day for Washington, the temperature slinking toward the high 80s, so he’d decided to go for a swim. He headed about 20 minutes north of Lynnwood, where he slept on his mom’s couch, and parked at a beach just off the road. But his plans changed when he noticed a girl trying to hitch a ride.

She was about 5’10” and slender, wearing cutoff jeans and a low-cut, sleeveless shirt—not bad-looking, Roth thought. Sliding into the 1963 Chevrolet Nova, she said she was on her way home. She told him she lived with two guys in a trailer just south of the lake. It was late in the afternoon, around 4 or 5 p.m., but when he asked if she wanted a beer, she agreed.

Roth was underage, a 20-year-old with bad skin, but he was also tall, 6’5”, his hairline already in retreat. He bought a case of Bud Light at a nearby store and they drove to a wooded area just north of his old high school. After a few drinks, he wondered if the girl would take off her shirt. She stripped down to her shorts, and he grew excited as she let him touch her. But the feeling darkened when she refused to have sex with him.

Roth pivoted, offering an unusual gift in the face of rejection: peacock feathers. Did she want one? There were some in his trunk, and as he retrieved a handful, he also grabbed a bungee cord. Then he walked around to her side of the car, handed her the feathers, and wrapped the cord around her neck. He pulled until he thought she was dead.

When he dragged the girl into some brush, her body started to jerk. Roth took a rifle from the car and shot her in the head.

Forty years later, authorities still don’t know who she is. A couple out picking blackberries found the girl facedown five days after she was murdered, her body decaying in the heat. Her limbs were black, and her face had decomposed. She was unrecognizable.

Though it took detectives from the Snohomish County sheriff’s office more than a year to apprehend Roth, he was a suspect almost immediately. A friend of his, Robert Hendershott, alerted the police that Roth had said he killed someone. “They deserved it,” Hendershott recalled Roth telling him. Roth had described strangling the girl until the cord broke, at which point he got another bungee from the trunk. He later collected the beer bottles they had been drinking so he didn’t leave any fingerprints.

With a warrant in hand, officers seized pills, paraphernalia, and more than 100 empty bottles from the Roth residence. Peacock feathers, inexplicably, were everywhere—eight in the living room, seven in the garage. “More peacock feathers,” an inventory of the items notes. “Unknown amount at this time.” The officers found the Chevy Roth drove at his brother’s house. On its passenger-side window, someone had scrawled “Ass Gas or Grass. Hardly anyone rides for free.” The officers lifted fingerprints and bagged a long brown hair nestled among feathers and two cords in the trunk. Bullets matched the slugs found in the girl’s body.

In January 1979, police in Port Orchard, a town on the other side of the Puget Sound, arrested Roth on a warrant for possession of a controlled substance and called Snohomish County. He confessed to the murder, but he couldn’t answer all of the detectives’ questions. He told them he didn’t know the girl’s name.

Today, investigators are sure that someone does. They can’t imagine a teenager—probably a minor—went missing and no one ever wondered where she is. Maybe her family reported her disappearance somewhere across the country, or woke up one morning and realized she had run away from home. There was no Facebook back then to search, the way users look up old elementary-school friends now. No one could Google her name. Obituaries appeared in local newspapers, not on Legacy.com.

Detectives had their own limitations. Over the past four decades, they’ve struggled to give Jane Doe a name, sending letters to police departments around the country to inquire about missing-persons cases, piecing together forensic evidence, and searching federal records. They’ve compared her DNA to possible matches. Each lead has taken them to the wrong girls.

But after so many dead ends, investigators might have found a way to finally close the case. Jane Doe’s DNA has so far failed to identify her, but perhaps it can be used to identify a family member instead. As genetic testing has become more accessible and popular, the Snohomish County sheriff’s office is cautiously optimistic that a parent, a sibling, a cousin—some relative of Jane Doe—has explored websites like Ancestry.com to learn more about their family tree. If someone has wondered enough about their heritage to submit a DNA sample to one of these genealogy databases, there could be a genetic crumb trail that leads to Jane Doe’s identity.

This mystery is one of 725 open cases of unidentified deceased children in the United States that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC, is helping to investigate. The nonprofit has been a clearinghouse for missing kids under the age of 20 since it was founded in 1984. But it wasn’t until late 2011 that the center started focusing on unidentified victims, says Carol Schweitzer, a supervisor of the forensic-services unit. So far, they’ve been able to help local authorities identify 107 children.

These days, police are required to take missing-persons reports and enter them into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, a database that any law-enforcement agency can access, Schweitzer says. But in the 1970s, there was no national standard. Agencies might have refused to take a report if, for example, the child was a suspected runaway. And even if an agency did file a report, Schweitzer adds, it could have been expunged from the system when the child would have turned 18. People who went missing decades ago could easily not be in any countrywide searchable database.

In 1977, Snohomish County detectives combed through National Crime Information Center records after Jane Doe’s hands were removed and sent to the FBI for fingerprints. The agency also found about 75 prints on Roth’s car and the beer bottles, but none identified the girl. They had enough evidence to get Roth convicted, but the case stayed open as the sheriff’s office ruled out dozens and dozens of missing women through DNA and dental records.

About three decades after the murder, a detective named Jim Scharf joined the cold-case unit and inherited the investigation. He’d been at the sheriff’s office since 1986, tracking major crimes, like rape, and violence against children. By the time he turned his attention to older cases, forensic science had progressed. Scharf began talking to experts at the University of North Texas, which has a unit that helps resolve missing-person and unidentified-body cases around the country using DNA technology. They’d have the best luck extracting DNA from three long bones, they told him.

In 2007, Scharf appealed to his sergeant to exhume the girl’s body. He’d taken to calling her Snohomish County’s precious Jane Doe, and felt a certain responsibility to the lost soul under his jurisdiction. He had moved to the area a year before she was killed, starting his life there as hers ended. “After 30 years of not knowing, we need to put a face and a name to this girl and send her remains home to rest with her family, where she belongs,” he wrote in a memo.

The girl’s bones were unearthed the following year from an unmarked grave at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Everett, Washington. As Scharf had hoped, they offered promising insights into her identity. NCMEC used the newly retrieved DNA to identify three potential matches, and an anthropologist determined that Jane Doe was likely much younger than everyone thought. Officials initially determined she was 25 to 35 years old—into the 1990s, media reported she had been in her late 20s to early 30s—but revised estimates pegged her as 15 to 21, and most likely 16 to 19.

It seemed like a breakthrough. Tips came in from people who had seen news stories about the case. But as Scharf checked out each one, comparing dental records and circumstances, it became clear that while the DNA from the bones had helped him eliminate more possible matches, he was still no closer to sending her remains home.

It would be easy to forget about Jane and John Doe cases in Snohomish County. There are no families pleading with police to solve them. Many detectives who were originally assigned to investigations have retired. At the medical examiner’s office, the remains of 11 Does are stored in boxes in a special room, secondary to the new bodies that arrive each day.

But the people closest to these cases don’t forget. Jane Jorgensen, an investigator at the medical examiner’s office, tries to do one thing on one case each morning as soon as she gets to work, before the living demand her attention. Scharf, who’s now nearing retirement age himself, worries someone once did report his precious Jane Doe missing, but that sometime over the years the case was lost. He’s also discovered that some people still reported missing have been found. Sometimes he’ll spend days and weeks researching the name of a girl someone phoned in, only to learn she’s alive in a different city. He’s always glad to find them safe, but it’s disappointing, too.

A few months ago, I met Scharf at the Snohomish sheriff’s office, on the fourth floor of a county courthouse building in Everett. He led me back to an interview room with a two-way mirror and three dossiers on the table stuffed with documents that spanned the decades detectives have spent trying to solve the mystery of Jane Doe’s identity. I skimmed through piles of reports and tip sheets that officers filled out after fielding calls, like one in 1992 from a woman who saw the case featured on TV. She thought Jane Doe might be her friend, but detectives found the friend alive in California. Another woman from Omaha, Nebraska, called in 2015. Her father-in-law’s aunt had disappeared in August 1977, but Jane Doe wasn’t her.

“I think I am almost positive her name is Carrie,” one man said in an email in 2009. Someone else wrote in 2010: “I can’t be 100 percent sure but this girl really resembles someone I knew a very long time ago. We were both runaways from the midwest.”

After so many false starts, Scharf finally turned to someone he knew had known Jane Doe: her killer. The parole board had granted David Roth his freedom more than 26 years after his sentencing, and he was released from prison in early 2005. When Scharf knocked on Roth’s door, he was bigger than the detective expected—intimidating even. But Roth agreed to try to help identify the girl on the condition they didn’t discuss her death.

“I can no longer help her, but I can help those who are looking for her,” Roth later told a reporter for The Everett Daily Herald. In prison, he had learned to value life, he said. “Some things we have to do.”

Roth offered details to refine a sketch of Jane Doe, correcting the way her hair looked when he saw her. A 2009 description of the girl recalls a teen with short, light- to medium-brown hair. Tank top with white, blue, green, and pink pastel stripes. Two front teeth with dental restoration. Appeared to have suntan. Eyes: unknown.

Officers tasked with identifying older Jane and John Doe cases have to stretch farther to solve them than contemporary homicides, says Carol Schweitzer, the NCMEC forensic specialist. The investigators may not be able to question witnesses or revisit the scene of the crime. The woods where Snohomish County’s Jane Doe was discovered, for instance, has been developed into housing. New technology is critical, because it gives agencies a chance to take these cases “leaps and bounds” beyond what was possible in the 1970s and ’80s, Schweitzer says.

As new DNA-testing techniques have reshaped the criminal-justice landscape, leading to both arrests and exonerations, they may also open up new opportunities to address unidentified bodies. Public genealogy databases are unfamiliar territory, Schweitzer says, but they’re a promising frontier. Genealogical DNA testing became available commercially in 2000, when Family Tree DNA and Oxford Ancestors debuted to help people trace their lineage and find ancestors and living relatives. Today, millions of people have submitted their DNA to such a service by mailing in their saliva or other samples. Five million have used Ancestry.com, for example, and 23andMe has more than 2 million genotyped customers, according to the companies.

Since the Snohomish County sheriff’s office couldn’t find a match for Jane Doe’s DNA in federal databases, investigators wondered if they could find a family member’s DNA in online ones. But they needed help. So Scharf reached out to Colleen Fitzpatrick, a forensic genealogist based in California. She runs Identifinders, a service that uses DNA samples to help clients locate people. That can include adoptive children looking for their birth parents, or police with a DNA sample from a crime but no hits in CODIS, an FBI database that stands for Combined DNA Index System. Using methods the company calls proprietary, Fitzpatrick compares an unidentified DNA sample with records across public genealogy websites.

To replicate the process with Jane Doe, investigators are trying to glean more DNA from her remains by recreating her entire genome—“every little bit of DNA from beginning to end,” Fitzpatrick says.

There are a couple hurdles. Fitzpatrick is concerned Jane Doe’s DNA may be too deteriorated to pull together a complete sequence. At some point authorities cooked down her bones to extract DNA from them, plus the girl’s grave was watery when they exhumed her remains in 2008. Still, Fitzpatrick hopes to have a sequence by the end of the year. “We have the technology to start approaching DNA samples we couldn’t look at in the past because they were so degraded,” she says.

A second barrier might be more daunting. Some popular DNA-testing services like Ancestry.com and 23andMe won’t readily work with law-enforcement agencies. And that’s with good reason, according to Mechthild Prinz, a forensic-science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Cooperating with law enforcement could put such companies in a tight spot with their customers, she says. “You are doing your genealogy, but all of a sudden you’re putting your family into forensic investigations?”

Adding to privacy concerns, some high-profile cases have stoked fears that authorities will misuse the information collected by genealogy websites. In 2014, police got a warrant to seize genetic information from Ancestry.com after DNA found on a murder victim’s body was a close match to someone in the company’s database. Michael Usry’s father had donated DNA to a nonprofit scientific organization before his and other samples were acquired by Ancestry.com, so officers identified Usry as a suspect and demanded his DNA. Tests later showed it didn’t match the samples taken from the crime scene.

23andMe has said that it “unequivocally chooses to use all practical legal and administrative resources” to resist law-enforcement requests, and that it doesn’t share customer data with public databases. Moreover, Kate Black, the company’s privacy officer, says that Jane Doe’s sample, drawn from decaying bone, wouldn’t even be compatible with those that 23andMe analyzes. According to Black, the company only uses the spit of living people, “and unless we get that sample and can process it through our lab, we really can’t do much with the data.”

Would they assist in Jane and John Doe investigations if they could? Black says the company would have to consider each on a case-by-case basis. But, she adds, “I don’t think this is a type of situation we’d involve ourselves in.”

So far, it’s unclear if there’s any middle ground where authorities can tap this evolving technology without alarming civil-liberties advocates. Fitzpatrick, for her part, contends that Jane Doe’s cold case is different than ones in which the suspect is at large. “These people are victims,” she says. “She had a mother and a father.” She likens Jane and John Does to adopted children in search of their biological parents.

Schweitzer remains optimistic. If investigators can locate Jane Doe’s family, she hopes the success will encourage law-enforcement agencies and major DNA-testing websites to cooperate. In an analogy that echoes Fitzpatrick’s, she notes that the people who send their spit to DNA-testing services aren’t so unlike officers trying to identify a decedent. “The whole purpose is to find people they’re related to and didn’t know about,” she says. “That’s really the exact purpose of what we’re trying to do with these unidentified victims: find the heritage of where they came from, and find their relatives.”

Unlike in murder cases, time is on the investigators’ side. Whereas the first 48 hours are supposedly the most important to tracking down a killer, the odds of identifying Jane Doe with a suitable DNA sample improve the more time passes, Fitzpatrick says. And even a small lead, such as a number of genealogical matches in a particular region, could help detectives narrow in. It would kindle more hope than what officers are sure she left behind: a partial pack of Marlboro cigarettes, 17 cents in her pocket, the pair of men’s sneakers she was wearing when Roth picked her up.

When Scharf met Roth, Roth said that he remembered the girl being anxious to get back home. The detective understood that to mean the trailer where she said she lived, just south of the lake. But where was she from? Roth said the girl mentioned she’d hitchiked all over the place. Maybe she was from the Pacific Northwest, or maybe she stuck out her thumb one day and made her way to Washington from far away.

Recently, Scharf wondered if Roth might be able to recall even more details. But he couldn’t track him down. At some point after the two met, Roth had moved out of his house, and Scharf wasn’t able to find a new address or phone number. It became another, smaller mystery in a case full of so many.

But this one was solved. Earlier this month, Scharf discovered that Roth succumbed to cancer at a medical center in Everett. He died on August 9, 2015, the date he killed Jane Doe.

Ireland welcomes UK’s plan for post-Brexit border

From Europe. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

SRSLY #106: Kesha / Coconut / Swimming Studies

By Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

On the pop culture podcast this week: Kesha's long-awaited new album Rainbow, the BBC Three mockumentary Coconut and Leanne Shapton's memoir Swimming Studies.

This is SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman. Here, you can find links to all the things we talk about in the show as well as a bit more detail about who we are and where else you can find us online.

Listen using the player below. . .

. . .or subscribe in iTunes. We’re also on StitcherRSS and SoundCloud – but if you use a podcast app that we’re not appearing in, let us know.

SRSLY is hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s head of podcasts and pop culture writer. We’re on Twitter as @c_crampton and @annaleszkie, where between us we post a heady mixture of Serious Journalism, excellent gifs and regularly ask questions J K Rowling needs to answer.

The Links

Events! Tickets for the Game of Thrones quiz from here, for the live episode at the London Podcast Festival here and for Caroline's podcasts and social media workshop here.

Kesha's Rainbow

The album on Spotify.

The Ira Madison III review Caroline mentioned.

Coconut

The show on BBC iPlayer.

The Vice take on mockumentaries that Anna mentioned.

Swimming Studies

The book.

Leanne Shapton's Native Trees of Canada which Anna also mentioned.

For next time:

We are listening to No Shape by Perfume Genius.

If you’d like to talk to us about the podcast or make a suggestion for something we should read or cover, you can email srslypod[at]gmail.com.

You can also find us on Twitter @srslypod, or send us your thoughts on tumblr here. If you like the podcast, we’d love you to leave a review on iTunes - this helps other people come across it.

We love reading out your emails. If you have thoughts you want to share on anything we’ve discussed, or questions you want to ask us, please email us on srslypod[at]gmail.com, or @ us on Twitter @srslypod, or get in touch via tumblr here. We also have Facebook now.

Our theme music is “Guatemala - Panama March” (by Heftone Banjo Orchestra), licensed under Creative Commons. 

See you next week!

PS If you missed #105, check it out here.

Want an independent-minded MP? Vote for a career politician

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

The brutally ambitious are not content to fall in with the crowd. 

“Never having had a ‘real’ job outside of politics”: this is what the majority of respondents told a YouGov poll in 2014 when asked the most undesirable characteristic of the British politician. The result is hardly surprising. Type the words “career politician” into your search engine or raise the topic at a dinner party, and quickly you will be presented with a familiar list of grievances.

One of the fundamental criticisms is that career politicians in parliament are elitists concerned only with furthering their own interests. Their pronounced and self-serving ambition for climbing the ministerial ladder is said to turn them into submissive party-machines, sycophants or yes men and women, leading them to vote loyally with their party in every parliamentary division. But do we actually have evidence for this?

A new in-depth analysis, to be published later this month in the academic journal, Legislative Studies Quarterly, presents a forceful challenge to this conventional wisdom. In fact, I find that career politician MPs in the UK are more likely to rebel against their party than their non-career politician peers. Why?

My study was motivated by the observation that the existing impression of the party loyalty of career politicians is based mostly on anecdotal evidence and speculation. Moreover, a look through the relevant journalistic work, as well as the sparse extant academic literature, reveals that the two main hypotheses on the topic make starkly contradictory claims. By far the most popular — but largely unverified — view is that their exclusively professional reliance on politics renders career politicians more brutally ambitious for frontbench office, which in turn makes them especially subservient to the party leadership.

The opposing, but lesser known expectation is that while career politicians may be particularly eager to reach the frontbenches, “many of them are also much too proud and wilful to be content to serve as mere lobby fodder”, as the late Anthony King, one of the shrewdest analysts of British politics, observed nearly thirty years ago on the basis of more qualitative evidence.

Faced with these opposing but equally plausible prognoses, I assembled biographical data for all the MPs of the three big parties between 2005-15 (more than 850) and analysed all parliamentary votes during this period. I followed the debate’s prevalent view that an exclusive focus on politics (e.g. as a special adviser or an MP’s assistant) or a closely-related field (e.g. full-time trade union official or interest group worker) marks an MP as a careerist. In line with previous estimations, just under 20 per cent of MPs were identified as career politicians. The extensive statistical analysis accounted for additional factors that may influence party loyalty, and largely ruled out systematic differences in ideology between career and non-career politicians, as well as party or term-specific differences as drivers of the effects.

As noted above, I find strong evidence that career politician backbenchers are more likely to rebel. The strength of this effect is considerable. For example, amongst government backbenchers who have never held a ministerial post, a non-career politician is estimated to rebel in only about 20 votes per parliament. By contrast, a career politician dissents more than twice as often — a substantial difference considering the high party unity in Westminster.

This finding reveals a striking paradox between the predominantly negative opinion of career politicians on the one hand, and the electorate's growing demand for more independent-minded MPs on the other. In fact career politicians are the ones who perform best in delivering on this demand. Similarly, the results imply that the oft-cited career-related dependency of career politicians on the party can be overridden (or, at the very least, complemented) by their self-image as active and independent-minded participants in the legislative process. This should attenuate the prevalent concern that a rise in career politicians leads to a weakening of parliament’s role as a scrutinizing body.

Finally, the findings challenge the pervasive argument that a lack of experience in the real world disqualifies an MP from contributing meaningfully to the legislative process. Instead, it appears that a pre-parliamentary focus on politics can, under certain circumstances, boost an MP's normatively desirable willingness to challenge the party and the executive.

Raphael Heuwieser is researching political party loyalty at the University of Oxford.

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The Tories have missed a chance to show that they care about student debt

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

After condemning Jeremy Corbyn for his "betrayal", the government has still raised the top student interest rate to 6.1 per cent. 

For weeks, the Conservatives have assailed Jeremy Corbyn for his alleged betrayal over student debt. The Labour leader told NME during the campaign that he would "deal with" the issue. But he later clarified that this did not amount to a "commitment" to wipe out student debt (which would cost around £100bn) and that he had been "unaware of the size of it at the time". For this, the Tories have accused him of Clegg-style hypocrisy. 

There is little sign, however, that the attack has proved effective. Labour’s manifesto said nothing on the subject of student debt and Corbyn's language in the NME interview was ambiguous. "I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that [student debt], ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off," he said. There is no comparison with the Liberal Democrats, who explicitly vowed not to raise tuition fees before trebling them to £9,000 as part of the coalition. Young voters still credit Corbyn for his vow to abolish tuition fees (were he to break this promise in power, it would be a different matter). 

A further problem for the Tories is that they have spotlighted a problem - student debt - without offering any solution. At present, graduates pay a marginal tax rate of 41 per cent on earnings over £21,000 (20 per cent income tax, 12 per cent national insurance and 9 per cent student loan repayment). This, combined with the average debt (£50,800), leaves them struggling to save for a home deposit, or even to pay the rent. The Conservatives, unsurprisingly, are unable to sell capitalism to voters with no capital. 

Yet rather than remedying this problem, the government has compounded it. The Department of Education has ruled out reducing the top interest rate on student loans from 6.1 per cent, meaning the average student will accrue £5,800 in interest charges even before they graduate.

By maintaining the status quo, the Tories have missed a chance to demonstrate that they have learned from their electoral humbling. Had they reduced student debt, or cut tuition fees, they could have declared that while Corbyn talks, they act. Instead, they have merely confirmed that for graduates who want change, Corbyn remains their best hope. 

Getty Images.

Russia denies giving lake to Kazakhstan

From BBC News - World. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Authorities deny reports that a popular tourist lake has been transferred to Kazakh neighbours.

Leave.EU is backing a racist President - why aren't more Brexiteers condemning it?

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Our own homegrown Trump trumpeters. 

The braver Republican politicians are condemning Donald Trump after he backtracked on his condemnation of far-right protestors in Charlottesville. “You had a group on one side and group on the other,” said the US president of a night in which an anti-fascist protestor was run over. Given the far-right protestors included neo-Nazis, it seems we’re heading for a revisionist history of the Second World War as well. 

John McCain, he of the healthcare bill heroics, was one of the first Republicans to speak out, declaring there was “no moral equivalency between racists and Americans standing up to defy hate and bigotry”. Jeb Bush, another former presidential hopeful, added: “This is a time for moral clarity, not ambivalence.”

In the UK, however, Leave.EU, the campaign funded by Ukip donor Arron Banks, fronted by Nigel Farage, tweeted: “President Trump, an outstanding unifying force for a country divided by a shamefully blinkered liberal elite.” A further insight into why Leave.EU has come over so chirpy may be gleaned by Banks’s own Twitter feed. “It was just a punch up with nutters on all sides,” is his take on Charlottesville. 

Farage’s support for Trump – aka Mr Brexit – is well-known. But Leave.EU is not restricted to the antics of the White House. As Martin Plaut recently documented in The New Statesman, Leave.EU has produced a video lauding the efforts of Defend Europe, a boat organised by the European far-right to disrupt humanitarian rescues of asylum seekers crossing the dangerous Mediterranean Sea. There are also videos devoted to politicians from “patriotic" if authoritarian Hungary – intriguing for a campaign which claims to be concerned with democratic rights.

Mainstream Brexiteers can scoff and say they don’t support Leave.EU, just as mainstream Republicans scoffed at Trump until he won the party’s presidential nomination. But the fact remains that while the official Brexit campaign, Vote Leave, has more or less retired, Leave.EU has more than 840,000 Facebook followers and pumps out messages on a daily basis not too out of sync with Trump’s own. There is a feeling among some Brexiteers that the movement has gone too far. "While Leave.EU did great work in mobilising volunteers during their referendum, their unnecessarily robust attacks and campaigning since has bordered on the outright racist and has had damaged the Brexit cause," one key Leave supporter told me. 

When it comes to the cause of Brexit, many politicians chose to share a platform with Leave.EU campaigners, including Labour’s Kate Hoey and Brexit secretary David Davis. Some, like Jacob Rees-Mogg, get cheered on a regular basis by Leave.EU’s Facebook page. Such politicians should choose this moment to definitively reject Leave.EU's advances. If not, then when? 

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Italy posts best annual economic growth since 2011

From Europe. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Brexit plans leave Irish border without customs posts

From Europe. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Latest government paper aims to tackle one of thorniest issues of departure

Ike’s Lament: In Search of a Revolution in Military Education

By Robert H. Scales from War on the Rocks. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

It was the day after Suzy died. Congressman Ike Skelton’s dearly loved soulmate was gone, and Ike’s call to me that night was heart-rending. Our annual House Armed Services Committee battlefield staff ride was the next day so I assumed Ike was calling to cancel. After offering my condolences, I suggested that we might put ...

This is Not the NATO You’re Looking For: A Practical Vision for Arab and Asian Security Networks

By Lindsey Ford and Melissa Dalton from War on the Rocks. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

The Trump administration’s relationship with NATO is complicated, to say the least. While President Donald Trump keeps the alliance at arm’s length, the administration keeps looking for NATO in all the wrong places—like Asia and the Middle East. It’s sort of like the ex-boyfriend you swear you don’t want, but find yourself inadvertently holding up ...

From Darwin to Damore - the ancient art of using "science" to mask prejudice

By Sanjana Varghese from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Charles Darwin, working at a time when women had little legal rights, declared “woman is a kind of adult child”.

“In addition to the Left’s affinity for those it sees as weak, humans are generally biased towards protecting females,” wrote James Damore, in his now infamous anti-diversity Google memo. “As mentioned before, this likely evolved because males are biologically disposable and because women are generally more co-operative and agreeable than men.” Since the memo was published, hordes of women have come forward to say that views like these – where individuals justify bias on the basis of science – are not uncommon in their traditionally male-dominated fields. Damore’s controversial screed set off discussions about the age old debate: do biological differences justify discrimination?  

Modern science developed in a society which assumed that man was superior over women. Charles Darwin, the father of modern evolutionary biology, who died before women got the right to vote, argued that young children of both genders resembled adult women more than they did adult men; as a result, “woman is a kind of adult child”.

Racial inequality wasn’t immune from this kind of theorising either. As fields such as psychology and genetics developed a greater understanding about the fundamental building blocks of humanity, many prominent researchers such as Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, argued that there were biological differences between races which explained the ability of the European race to prosper and gather wealth, while other races fell far behind. The same kind of reasoning fuelled the Nazi eugenics and continues to fuel the alt-right in their many guises today.

Once scorned as blasphemy, today "science" is approached by many non-practitioners with a cult-like reverence. Attributing the differences between races and gender to scientific research carries the allure of empiricism. Opponents of "diversity" would have you believe that scientific research validates racism and sexism, even though one's bleeding heart might wish otherwise. 

The problem is that current scientific research just doesn’t agree. Some branches of science, such as physics, are concerned with irrefutable laws of nature. But the reality, as evidenced by the growing convergence of social sciences like sociology, and life sciences, such as biology, is that science as a whole will, and should change. The research coming out of fields like genetics and psychology paint an increasingly complex picture of humanity. Saying (and proving) that gravity exists isn't factually equivalent to saying, and trying to prove, that women are somehow less capable at their jobs because of presumed inherent traits like submissiveness. 

When it comes to matters of race, the argument against racial realism, as it’s often referred to, is unequivocal. A study in 2002, authored by Neil Risch and others, built on the work of the Human Genome Project to examine the long standing and popular myth of seven distinct races. Researchers found that  “62 per cent of Ethiopians belong to the same cluster as Norwegians, together with 21 per cent of the Afro-Caribbeans, and the ethnic label ‘Asian’ inaccurately describes Chinese and Papuans who were placed almost entirely in separate clusters.” All that means is that white supremacists are wrong, and always have been.

Even the researcher Damore cites in his memo, Bradley Schmitt of Bradley University in Illinois, doesn’t agree with Damore’s conclusions.  Schmitt pointed out, in correspondence with Wired, that biological difference only accounts for about 10 per cent of the variance between men and women in what Damore characterises as female traits, such as neuroticism. In addition, nebulous traits such as being “people-oriented” are difficult to define and have led to wildly contradictory research from people who are experts in the fields. Suggesting that women are bad engineers because they’re neurotic is not only mildly ridiculous, but even unsubstantiated by Damore’s own research.  As many have done before him, Damore couched his own worldview - and what he was trying to convince others of - in the language of rationalism, but ultimately didn't pay attention to the facts.

And, even if you did buy into Damore's memo, a true scientist would retort - so what? It's a fallacy to argue that just because a certain state of affairs prevails, that that is the way that it ought to be. If that was the case, why does humanity march on in the direction of technological and industrial progress?

Humans weren’t meant to travel large distances, or we would possess the ability to do so intrinsically. Boats, cars, airplanes, trains, according to the Damore mindset, would be a perversion of nature. As a species, we consider overcoming biology to be a sign of success. 

Of course, the damage done by these kinds of views is not only that they’re hard to counteract, but that they have real consequences. Throughout history, appeals to the supposed rationalism of scientific research have justified moral atrocities such as ethnic sterilisation, apartheid, the creation of the slave trade, and state-sanctioned genocide.

If those in positions of power genuinely think that black and Hispanic communities are genetically predisposed to crime and murder, they’re very unlikely to invest in education, housing and community centres for those groups. Cycles of poverty then continue, and the myth, dressed up in pseudo-science, is entrenched. 

Damore and those like him will certainly maintain that the evidence for gender differences are on their side. Since he was fired from Google, Damore has become somewhat of an icon to some parts of society, giving interviews to right-wing Youtubers and posing in a dubious shirt parodying the Google logo (it now says Goolag). Never mind that Damore’s beloved science has already proved them wrong.   

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Alex Salmond made the worst joke and I for one feel sorry for him

By James Millar from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

The "joke" is indefensible on grounds of both taste and humour. But he's an inexperienced man. 

I’m not here to defend Alex Salmond’s "joke". It is indefensible on grounds of both taste and humour.

At the opening night of his Edinburgh festival show he told the audience: “I promised you today we’d either have Theresa May or Nicola Sturgeon or Ruth Davidson or Melania Trump, but I couldn’t make any of these wonderful women come…” cue a "boom-tish" from his on-stage drummer then the punchline “…to the show.”

Basically he should’ve just said, “Women are all sex objects and I’m shit at sex.”

This man used to be Scotland’s First Minister. It’s impossible to imagine another senior politician of that rank making such a crass comment in such a public place.

And I, as the co-author of a book called The Gender Agenda and guest on a forthcoming Woman’s Hour special about it, am appalled.

The Scottish National Party press office’s official response that those that did not see the funny side were failing to get into the spirit of the Fringe was as lame as the original gag. If SNP staffers think Salmond’s turn embodied the essence of the festival, it suggests they are spectacularly unlucky in their choice of Edinburgh show.

But hang on just a moment. Other political journalists may have rushed to condemn Salmond, or simply sat back content that the public were now being exposed to the sort of behaviour they’d observed over the years. I, on the other hand, had some sympathy. And, heaven knows, having once endured a monstering at Salmond’s hands, I would be within my rights to gloat at his mis-step.

But I know comedy is tricky.

I know because, like Salmond, I once took to the stage at the Edinburgh Fringe. I’d argue my turn was tougher. I joined the bill for Late n Live, then undisputed as the most raucous of late night shows on the Fringe. I was great for the first three minutes. (Scots comic Fred MacAulay would later joke with me that that was a sentence that could apply to so many areas of life - proving that you can make self-deprecating jokes about sex that are funny and inoffensive). I was awful for the next three minutes, finishing up with an improvised rant aimed at Dame Vera Lynn. And to top it all my failure was aired on Channel 4. It’s probably on the internet somewhere.

I met my now partner after my performance.

Salmond’s fellow former MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh and current partner in business was apparently standing by the stage in her role as producer. It is not the first time they've worked together - see Salmond's turn as a ghost in a Pakistani soap opera.

Yes, Salmond's joke was bad. But writing and telling jokes is hard. And Salmond, like almost all of us, isn’t really very good at it. Even in his pomp, his evident self-satisfaction precluded the self-deprecation at the heart of so many good gags.

Previous to this week’s turn on stage, his most famous joke was probably the time he gave a Telegraph reporter a bag of sweets. That really was the sum of it.

What Salmond is good at is politics. But courtesy of the electorate, that’s not his job any more.

And his predicament does rather sum up the state of the SNP this summer.

He, like the party he led, is adrift, unsure of what to do next, and devoid of any decent material.

Scotland’s so-called Yes movement has turned in on itself. Most of those that followed Salmond to the summit in 2014 would have been appalled to hear their former master introduce David Davis at his Fringe show as a “good pal”.

All the while Salmond was publicly demonising the Tories in Scotland, he was chumming around with right-wing Brexiteer Davis in Westminster (he of the "it's DD for me" campaign).

Perhaps if they had noticed, they might have been less surprised when Scotland returned 13 Conservative MPs in June. 

And with indyref2 if not unpopular then certainly not popular enough to pick up as a policy, the party has to think hard about what to do next.

Faced with the accusation that the Scottish government had not passed any legislation since winning the 2016 Holyrood election, the best it could come up with was a bill to legalise cutting dogs tails off. Really.

Nicola Sturgeon (who remained strangely silent on her predecessor’s sexist joke despite piling into the row over children’s shoes) has promised a relaunch in the autumn. Party sources are already downgrading that to a re-set. There likely be a reshuffle that’ll amount to little more than Jeane Freeman getting promoted, due to a dearth of other talent knocking on the cabinet room’s door. And as for a policy programme, ask an SNP politician for a big idea that they are going to drop into the policy mix and you’ll get some waffle about Brexit and independence. Neither are going to wash with an electorate increasingly concerned about Scotland’s health and education, rather than issues that’ll ultimately be decided at Westminster.

The party’s autumn conference could be a jamboree of big thinking. Instead sources close to Bute House confess the First Minister is paralysed. Her Spring gambit of calling for indyref2 backfired when Theresa May stared her down, then launched a snap election that cost her 20 MPs. Consequently Sturgeon’s lost her confidence.

One party source told me: “Our moment has passed.”

As so often, what’s said about the SNP could equally apply to Salmond.

But the same gloomy source’s prediction that “we’re fucked” is altogether premature. The SNP has proved itself supremely nimble, not least because it remains the pre-eminent party in Scotland by a distance. Brexit is yet to unfold, and the sands of UK politics look destined to shift around for some time yet. 

Unlike Salmond in the imaginary sexual couplings he has with leading female politicians, the SNP will come again.

 

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Romanian economy expands at 5.9% annual rate

From Europe. Published on Aug 16, 2017.

Hate Groups Are Growing Under Trump

By Sophia Myszkowski from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

According to research by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups has been increasing rapidly since 2000. Heidi Beirich, director of the Center’s Intelligence Project, links the rise in recruitment to the 2000 census that predicted whites would be a minority by 2042. Beirich says there’s been another spike following the election of Donald Trump, particularly among alt-right organizations who have attached themselves directly to the current president. In an interview filmed at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival, Beirich says that Trump’s limited commentary on hate crimes shows his lack of concern.

International Observers and the Kenya Election

By Council on Foreign Relations from Politics and Government. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

The outcome of the Kenya elections remains disputed.

Can Ballistic Missile Defense Shield Guam From North Korea?

By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

North Korea has

Britain’s Brexit papers aim to fast-track customs talks

From Europe. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Businesses in UK and the rest of EU seek clarity to plan for a new relationship in 2019

India’s partition holds a lesson for today’s leaders

From FT View. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Divisions stoked to serve political aims take on lives of their own

Britain shows only a glimmer of Brexit sense

From FT View. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

The UK has shown destructive ambivalence, not creative ambiguity

The flirting has got extremely out of hand in the latest episode of Game of Thrones

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Game of Bones, more like.

Last week, we discovered the romcom residing within Game of Thrones: this week gave us all that and more. “Eastwatch”, the fifth episode of the season, didn’t have high-octane action scenes or lengthy shots of people scheming around maps. But it did have a whole lot of character building: as old allies returned, new tensions emerged and new bonds were formed. And that, my friends, resulted in truly the best thing of all: lots and lots of good, old-fashion Westerosian flirting.

We begin with Bronn and Jaime emerging from the lake: reader, they did not die. Lying on the grass together, dripping and panting. “What the fuck were you doing back there?” Bronn says angrily about Jaime nobly risking his life in his attempt to kill Daenerys. KISS! KISS! KISS! “Listen to me, cunt,” Bronn continues. “Until I get what I’m owed, a dragon doesn’t get to kill you. You don’t get to kill you. Only I get to kill you!” Possessive much? Bronn leaves Jaime looking sadly out over the lake, contemplating the wars to come.

Meanwhile, Tyrion looks sadly over the ashes of battle, contemplating the wars to come. Daenerys and Drogon are presiding proudly over the remaining soldiers, demanding they swear fealty to their new queen. Lord Tarly and his hot son Dickon refuse, and in a vaguely horrifying call back to her father’s taste for (wild)fire, Dany has them burned alive. RIP Lord Tarly’s hot, dead son.

Dany flies Drogon back to Dragonstone, where they run into Jon Snow. Drogon and Jon’s eyes meet across an uncrowded hillside. Jon is transfixed. He gazes deeply into Drogon’s reptilian pools. He removes the glove upon his hand, that he might touch that cheek! They touch. Jon gasps. It’s steamy stuff. Then Daenerys jumps down and Jon’s attention is refocused. What a love triangle.

Dany seems moved by Jon’s connection with her enormous, dreadful son. “They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” She sighs. “It wasn’t the word I was thinking of,” Jon mutters, before remembering who he’s talking to. “But yes, they are. Gorgeous beasts.” It’s adorably unconvincing. They chat about her new habit of burning men alive and Jon’s past habit of taking knives to the heart. The flirting is purely restricted to the eyes but, my God, it’s there.

Until, of course, Ser Jorah Mormont turns up. Boy, this love quadrangle is heating up. Dany openly and outrageously flirts with Jorah’s new, smooth, scale-free face, calling him “an old friend”, saying things like “you look strong”. They hug for way too long. Jon scowls. I can’t wait for the scene where they fight in the fountain to the red-hot guitar chords of The Darkness!!!!

That scene arrives sooner than you’d think. After Bran has a vision of ravens flying over the White Walkers as they march on Eastwatch, he sends a raven to Jon from Winterfell. Jon finds out Arya and Bran are alive and that the White Walkers are approaching their destination. After a long debate, Dany, Jon, Tyron, Davos and Jorah all agree that the priority is to get Cersei to believe the White Walkers are real – by taking one captive and bringing it to King’s Landing. Of course, Jorah and Jon use this opportunity to dick swing in front of Dany like “No, I, The Big Man, will go beyond the Wall, because my penis is larger.” Dany absolutely loves it, doing the same facial expression she used to reserve for gazing between Daario Naharis’s naked thighs.

Even after all this, the flirting is not over for the Dragonstone club. Davos runs off to King’s Landing with Tyrion, where he discovers………. GENDRY! And, my dudes, he’s hotter than ever!! My heart truly sings. What we lost with Dickon’s death (RIP Lord Tarly’s hot, dead son) we gain twice over with the return of the sweaty, hammer-wielding bastard son of Robert Baratheon. Davos and Gendry flirt about Gendry’s love of rowing, Davos’s aging face and being fucked, hard (by Time). Mere seconds later, as they attempt to escape in their comically tiny and unstable boat, Davos flirts with some guards about their massive erections (before Gendry murders them with his larger, harder hammer). Tyrion is impressed, muttering “He’ll do!”

Gendry makes an instant impression back at Dragonstone by refusing to hide his true identity as Davos suggests immediately introducing himself as the bastard son of Robert Baratheon, asking to join the trip to the Wall, and flirting outrageously with Jon by teasing him for being short. Jon absolutely loves it. “Our fathers trusted each other, why shouldn’t we?” Gendry says, cheerfully. (Editor’s note: thanks to the political ramifications of their friendship, both Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark are dead.)

Before we leave Dragonstone we pack in three more sexually-charged conversations. Tyrion flirts with Jorah. “You may not believe it, but I’ve missed you, Mormont,” he says. “Nobody glowers like you, not even Grey Worm.” In a gesture of grand romance, he gives Mormont a coin from their past, and insists he promise to make it back from The Wall alive, in order to return it. Then Jorah and Dany exchange syrupy goodbyes, Dany grabbing Jorah’s hands and Jorah kissing hers. Jon turns up and fishes for compliments. “If I don’t return, at least you won’t have to deal with the king of the North anymore.” “I’ve grown used to him,” she replies. It looks like Jorah has won the battle – but Jon will win the war.

Outside of the steamy boudoir of Dragonstone, elsewhere in Westeros, relationships are tested. In King’s Landing, Jaime confronts Cersei about Dany’s unbeatable dragons, and Olenna’s confession that she murdered Joffrey. Tyrion meets Jaime to tell him of the White Walkers and Dany’s proposition of a truce. Cersei responds with the shocking reveal that she’s pregnant, and plans to tell the world that Jaime is the father.

In Winterfell, Arya watches Sansa placate the Northern Lords as they complain about Jon – and finds Sansa not protective enough of her brother. When Sansa tries to explain the importance of diplomacy, Arya is like “just kill em all, bitch” as she is wont to do. Sansa sounds surprisingly like her brother when she says: “I’m sure cutting off heads is very satisfying, but that’s not the way you get people to work together.” It’s the first hint we get that while Arya is very good at murdering others and surviving herself, she’s not brilliant at managing other people – a thread that continues when she falls into a trap set by Littlefinger, who, by pretending to hide a letter from Arya, leads her straight to it. It’s the letter Sansa was forced to send to Robb when she was a prisoner of Cersei – asking him to swear fealty to her beloved King Joffrey. It’s intended to poison Arya against her sister – but I don’t buy that she would be fooled so easily

In the Citadel, Sam ignores his smart girlfriend because he’s an idiot. Gilly discovers in one of the citadel’s dusty old books that Prince Rhaegar Targaryen’s marriage in Dorne (presumably to his Dornish wife, Elia Martell) was annulled and he was remarried – possibly to Lyanna Stark. We know that Jon is actually Rhaegar’s son with Lyanna Stark - if Jon was their legitimate child, that’s a key piece of the puzzle in figuring out if Jon has a claim to the Iron Throne. Sam responds by talking over her, jacking in his maester training and leaving the city with all the useful information in. Good one, ya idiot.

Finally, Jon visits the Wall where he is reunited with the Wildlings. Tormund obviously lusts after Brienne – “the big woman” – which makes Jon chuckle with delight. He discovers the Brotherhood Without Banners in the basement, and they all flirt by insulting each other repeatedly. Jon gets to do his favourite thing of reminding everyone that there real war is the one with DEATH. “We’re all on the same side,” he insists. “We’re still breathing.” It’s a great line on which to end the episode, which closes with a shot of this ragtag bunch o’ misfits striding out beyond the wall. Will this motley crew figure out a way to work together? Will they complete their quest and secure a White Walker? Or will they discover that, all along, the real prize beyond the Wall… was friendship?

But time for the real question: who was the baddest bitch on this week’s Game of Thrones?

  • Bronn calling Jaime a cunt. +11. Same.
  • Jon telling Daenerys her dragons aren’t beautiful. +9. Risky move.
  • Sam just boldly butting in to a Serious Maester convention when he’s essentially their cleaner. +19.
  • Tyrion and Varis sipping wine and reading private letters. +8 each.
  • Dany openly lusting over two men and subtly encouraging them to vie for her affection. +21. This is serious bad bitch behaviour.
  • Davos seriously suggesting that Gendry rename himself “Clovis”. What the fuck kind of weird name is Clovis?! +12.
  • Davos: “Don’t mind me, all I’ve ever done is live to a ripe old age!” +16. Why does no one ever listen to Davos!!!
  • Gilly just casually discovering some of the most crucial information for the wars to come. +21.
  • Gilly taking no shit when Sam treats her like a total fucking idiot. +17.
  • Sam, being a total twat. -71.
  • Gendry immediately running off with Davos after five seconds in his company again and no knowledge of the task at hand. +14.
  • Gendry killing people with an enormous phallic hammer. +8.
  • Gendry discarding all advice and breezily identifying himself to a potential rival for the Iron Throne. +18
  • Gendry negging the King of the North five seconds after meeting him. +12.

That means this week’s bad bitch is Gendry!!!!! The hammer-weilding, Jon-teasing king of my life. He is closely followed by Gilly, who I strongly suspect will get her day in the sun one day soon. Congrats to both.

HBO

The push for faster aid to developing countries

From The Big Read. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Western governments believe insurance will help deliver relief more effectively. But some fear the policies do not cover the real risks

Italy hopeful over migrant crisis as arrivals fall

From Europe. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Rome calls for ‘mutual trust’ between government and aid groups in Mediterranean

How did Don’t Tell the Bride lose its spark?

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Falling out of the love with reality TV’s wedding planning hit.

Steph, 23, from Nottinghamshire, is standing in a drizzly field wearing a wedding dress. Her betrothed, Billy, is running around in a tweed flat cap trying to make some pigs walk in “a continuous parade”. A man from Guinness World Records is watching with a clipboard, shaking his head. Bridesmaids gaze sorrowfully into the middle distance, each in a damp pig onesie.

Thus ends the second wedding in E4’s new series of Don’t Tell the Bride – and the programme’s integrity with it.

When the classic programme, which follows grooms attempting to plan their wedding (punchline: human males doing some organising), began a decade ago on BBC Three, it had the raw spark of unpredictability. For eight years, the show did nothing fancy with the format, and stuck with pretty ordinary couples who had few eccentric aspirations for their wedding day.

This usually resulted in run-of-the-mill, mildly disappointing weddings where the worst thing that happened would be a reception at the nearest motorway pub, or an ill-fitting New Look low heel.

It sounds dull, but anyone who has religiously watched it knows that the more low-key weddings expose what is truly intriguing about this programme: the unconditional commitment – or doomed nature – of a relationship. As one of the show’s superfans told the Radio Times a couple of years ago:

“It’s perfect, and not in an ironic or post-ironic or snarky way. The format has the solemn weight of a ceremony . . . Don’t Tell the Bride is not about ruined weddings, it’s about hope. Every wedding is a demonstration of how our ambitions curve away from our abilities. It’s a show about striving to deserve love and how that’s rarely enough.”

It also meant that when there were bombshells, they were stand-out episodes. High drama like Series 4’s notorious Las Vegas wedding almost resulting in a no-show bride. Or heart-warming surprises like the geezer Luke in Series 3 playing Fifa and guzzling a tinny on his wedding morning, who incongruously pulls off a stonking wedding day (complete with special permission from the Catholic Church).

For its eight years on BBC Three, a few wildcard weddings were thrown into the mix of each series. Then the show had a brief affair with BBC One, a flirt with Sky, and is now on its tenth year, 13th series and in a brand new relationship – with the more outrageous E4.

During its journey from BBC Three, the show has been losing its way. Tedious relationship preamble has been used to beef up each episode. Some of the grooms are cruel rather than clueless, or seem more pathetic and vulnerable than naïve. And wackier weddings have become the norm.

The programme has now fully split from its understated roots. Since it kicked off at the end of July, every wedding has been a publicity stunt. The pig farm nuptials are sandwiched between a Costa del Sol-based parasail monstrosity and an Eighties Neighbours-themed ceremony, for example. All facilitated by producers clearly handing the groom and best men karaoke booth-style props (sombreros! Inflatable guitars! Wigs!) to soup up the living room planning process.

Such hamminess doesn’t give us the same fly-on-the-wall flavour of a relationship as the older episodes. But maybe this level of artifice is appropriate. As one groom revealed to enraged fans in The Sun this week, the ceremonies filmed are not actually legally binding. “It makes a bit of a mockery of the process that the bride and groom go through this huge ordeal for a ceremony which isn’t even legal,” he said. Perhaps we should’ve predicted it would all eventually end in divorce – from reality.

Don’t Tell the Bride is on E4 at 9pm

Don't Tell the Bride YouTube screengrab

The Brexit customs union plan reveals the government is in fantasy land

By Chris Leslie from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

All this proposal does is shift the cliff edge for businesses back from 2019 to 2021. 

The government’s position paper on our customs arrangements with the EU after Brexit, released today, is characterised by fantasy and wishful thinking. It operates under the pretence that we can leave the biggest free trade bloc on earth, which buys nearly half of everything we sell as a country, without damaging the economy or putting jobs at risk. And it assumes that we can negotiate the same benefits as being in the EU customs union while leaving it. This just isn’t tenable. I believe, along with many MPs from across the House of Commons, that the only way to retain these benefits is to stay within the customs union.

These discussions about customs arrangements might sound technical and dull, but they are of vital importance. British exports to the EU are worth over £200bn a year to our economy, supporting millions of jobs. As part of the customs union, these exports are completely free and frictionless. Our companies do not need to pay tariffs when they export to Europe, meaning that selling a British car in Berlin is as simple as selling it in Birmingham. And they do not face time-consuming, costly customs checks on every product they sell to the EU. 

The government’s position paper seems to be pretending that these benefits can be retained despite leaving the customs union. They say that they are seeking to achieve “the most frictionless customs arrangement anywhere in the world”. Well, Britain is already a part of that, and it is called the customs union. The idea that Britain can leave that organisation, negotiate the exact same benefits as membership, and then go around negotiating new trade deals with other countries, is just nonsense.

The European Union has been quite clear about this. In response to the government’s paper, the European Commission stated the fact that “frictionless trade is not possible outside the single market and customs union”. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s point person on Brexit, dismissed the Government’s plan as “a fantasy”. I want Britain to get the best deal possible, one that ensures that our economy is undamaged and jobs are not lost. But for that to happen, we need to adopt positions based on the reality of the negotiation, rather than wish lists that are dismissed the moment they are released.

It is true that the government has effectively conceded we will stay in the customs union for a transitional period, likely to last two years, after we are meant to leave the EU in March 2019. This is a welcome victory for the realists in cabinet, like Philip Hammond, and a defeat for those who until recently were talking of a clean break at the end of the Article 50 period. But all this proposal does is shift the cliff edge for businesses back from 2019 to 2021. As to the future of UK-EU customs after that point, the government’s proposals are incredibly vague, and seem to rely on new technology emerging to minimise customs checks on goods passing across the Channel. Transition is a stay of execution, but nothing more than that.
 
We should be absolutely clear that the only way to preserve free and frictionless trade with the European Union is continued membership of the customs union, as well as the single market. Only that can ensure that Brexit will not damage our economy and put jobs at risk. As a matter of urgency, the government must change course and put these options back on the table in the Brexit negotiations.

Chris Leslie MP is a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign

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Macron celebrates 100 days in office with historically low approval ratings

By Pauline Bock from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

He knows whose fault it is... and it's not his.

Clouds are accumulating over Jupiter. Today marks 100 days in the French presidency of Emmanuel Macron, the cunning “neither left nor right” politician with a grand vision for France who has been compared to the aforementioned king of Roman gods, France’s Sun King Louis XIV, and Napoleon, the last of whom Macron only just loses out to as the youngest French ruler since the Revolution. There’s just one problem with the narrative - the French people don’t seem to agree.

Macron’s approval ratings have plummeted over the summer, to reach an all-time low for any modern-era president's first 100 days of 36 per cent. That’s 10 points lower than his predecessor – and former boss – Francois Hollande, whose nickname right after his election in 2012 was “Flamby”, the French equivalent to a very floppy pudding. It's much lower than Nicolas Sarkozy, to whom Macron has been compared for his relative youth and flamboyant style: at 100 days, “Sarko” was sailing with 66 per cent (though he would fall to 34 per cent during his later “bling” period, never recovering enough for the 2012 election). That's even a point below Donald Trump's own ratings, and the US President is a few steps away from causing the apocalypse.

There are many explanations for this abysmal drop: rows have developed over the summer, including one over a planned housing aid cut and another after the general-in-chief quit over army budget cuts (the general's approval ratings in the row were much higher than the president’s). The French Parliament, which is controlled by his party La République en Marche, has also allowed the government to use rulings to reform the French labour market rather than putting them to a full vote.

But Macron thinks he knows the real reasons his popularity has fallen. MPs from his party are deemed inexperienced, his ministers don’t speak enough to the press and his Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, “doesn’t leave enough of a mark” on the public. Basically, it's not his fault – nevermind that his vision detailed all the things he is blaming: a renewed Assembly, a very restricive media strategy, and a PM who would remain in the president’s shadow.

To find a similarly unpopular French President near the start of his term, you must go back to 1995 and newly-elected Jacques Chirac’s attempt to makes cuts in the sacred French healthcare system, la Sécurité Sociale, which left voters feeling betrayed. He recovered, topping 63 per cent in 1999, but in 2002 was unpopular again and only got re-elected (with an astounding 82 per cent) because he was facing far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen in the runoff. Remind you of anyone? Actually, even that isn't a favourable comparison, as Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen last May was much less of a landslide, with 65 per cent.

Not all is lost, though. Now 84, Jacques Chirac saw the tide of public opinion turn in in his favour, at least after his presidency. He has been named "most likeable president" by the French people and has become a meme, notably on the viral Tumblr dedicated to photos of his mandates, FuckYeahJacquesChirac.

Macron’s own Tumblr fans aren’t quite as famous yet, but he will need all the help he can get if he wants his authority to survive past the autumn’s planned social movements.

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The Grenfell Inquiry must address the powerlessness social tenants feel

By Kate Webb from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

All too often social housing residents tell us that they feel like second-class citizens.

The Grenfell fire was the most horrifying reminder in generations of the stark injustice of our housing crisis.

It quickly became obvious that the disaster was the result of such enormous failings that we would need an inquiry to address to how on earth this could have been allowed to happen.

Fire experts said the building had burnt in a way no well-constructed high rise should have done, and the fact that landlords had outright ignored the safety concerns of Grenfell residents quickly came to the fore.

Ensuring the right lessons are learned is absolutely crucial to making sure that not only can nothing like this happen again, but that it acts as a wake-up call that the wider housing crisis cannot continue.

With the terms of the Grenfell inquiry announced today, it’s heartening to hear it will cover not just the technical question of how the fire started and spread, but the building’s refurbishment and the relationship between residents and the local authority.

It’s crucial that in the coming months the voices of all those affected by this tragedy must be front and centre. Where before the residents felt so fatally overlooked, they must now be heard loud and clear and with real influence, so they can get the justice they are rightly seeking.

It is this question of powerlessness that is at the heart of much of the anger that has erupted since Grenfell. People must feel that their lives matter and that their concerns will be listened to and acted on.

Talking to the people who come to Shelter for help, it is hard to avoid the conclusions that social hosing has become a poor service for poor people. All too often social housing residents tell us that they feel like second-class citizens and that politicians simply don’t care about them.

And sadly this comes as little surprise when Shelter’s own research shows that nearly three in ten local authority and housing association tenants don’t live in decent conditions and nearly half can’t afford their home.

Crucially today, the prime minister said that this broader question of social housing will not go unanswered and the government must now make good on its promise to seriously examine the state of social housing today.

This should include a thorough investigation into how existing tenants live: what works for them and what doesn’t, and whether their housing meets their needs and aspirations – or whether their landlords simply insist they should be grateful to have a roof over their heads.

We know that genuinely affordable, secure homes can play a crucial part in tackling the housing crisis, reducing homelessness and improving the quality of people’s lives. But in recent years the benefits of social housing have been cast aside, with few homes being built and reforms which have weakened it even further.

As our housing crisis has grown ever-worse, those in need of social housing have been bearing the brunt of it – yet left forgotten by the very people who are meant to take care of them. Grenfell must stand as the wake-up call that this must never be allowed to happen again.

This is the third in a series of blog posts by Shelter for The New Statesman on Grenfell Tower. Read the first one here.

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Can Income Diversification Explain the Growing Entrepreneurship Gap by Age?

By Christian E. Weller; Jeffrey B. Wenger from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

The key result of our analysis is that income diversification has become increasingly important in determining entrepreneurship, but that younger households became less likely over time to have income from multiple sources. At the same time, older households maintained their income diversification and their likelihood of working as entrepreneurs became more responsive to having substantial income from non-business sources such as capital income and Social Security benefits.

Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention for Substance Use Disorders

By Sean Grant; Benjamin Colaiaco; Aneesa Motala; Roberta M. Shanman; Marika Booth; Melony E. Sorbero; Susanne Hempel from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Across studies, our analyses did not indicate that MBRP has beneficial clinical effects beyond comparator interventions (such as relapse prevention, health education, CBT, andTAU) on substance use relapse.

German judges refer case on ECB’s QE stimulus to European court

From Europe. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Constitutional court finds indications that programme may violate EU law

What Defines a High-Performing Health System

By Sangeeta Ahluwalia; Cheryl L. Damberg; Marissa Rose Silverman; Aneesa Motala; Paul G. Shekelle from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Lack of a consistent definition of a high-performing health system severely hampers our ability to compare delivery systems based on performance.

Britain's commemoration of Partition is colonial white-washing in disguise

By Bhanuj Kappal from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

It’s much easier to focus on the indigenous perpetrators of religious violence than on the imperialist policies that facilitated it.

While in London a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t help but notice a curious trend in the British media’s coverage of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the end of British colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent. It wasn’t the familiar think-pieces about "the jewel in the crown", thinly disguised nostalgia for empire masquerading as critiques of colonialism (see for example, The Conversation’s piece on how colonialism was traumatic for, wait for it, officials of the British Raj). It wasn’t the patronising judgements on how India and Pakistan have fared 70 years down the road, betraying the paternalistic attitude some of the British commentariat still harbours towards the former "colonies". It wasn’t even the Daily Mail’s tone-deaf and frankly racist story about 92 year old countess June Bedani and her “loyal Indian houseman” Muthukanna Shamugam, who doesn’t even speak a word of “Indian” (that’s just classic Daily Mail). What got my attention was the British media’s raging hard-on for Partition - a flurry of features, documentaries and TV specials about one of the biggest and bloodiest mass migrations of the 20th century.

Just take a look at the major headlines from the past couple of weeks - "They Captured And Forced Him Out Of His Home: This Isn’t Syria In 2017, It Was India In 1947" (Huffington Post UK); "Partition: 70 Years On" (The Guardian, BBC and Independent, each with a different subhead); "The Real Bloody Legacy Of Partition" (The Spectator); "Remembering Partition: 70 Years Since India-Pakistan Divide" (Daily Mail) and many more. It isn’t that - unlike some of my more reactionary compatriots - I believe that the Partition story shouldn’t be documented and spoken about. On the contrary, I think India and Pakistan have failed to grapple successfully with Partition’s scars and still festering wounds, and the way it still haunts both our domestic politics and our relationship with each other. But the overwhelming focus on the grisly details of Partition by the British press is deeply problematic, especially in its unsubtle erasure of British culpability in the violence. Even the Guardian’s Yasmin Khan, in one of the few pieces that actually talks about the British role in Partition, characterises the British government as “naive and even callous” rather than criminally negligent, and at least indirectly responsible thanks to its politics of "divide and rule". Of course, it’s much easier to focus on the indigenous perpetrators of religious violence than on the imperialist policies that facilitated it. That would require the sort of national soul-searching that, even 70 years on, makes many British citizens deeply uncomfortable.

Rose-tinted views of empire aside, the coverage of Indian and Pakistani independence by the British press is also notable in its sheer volume. Perhaps, as some commentators have suggested, this is because at a time of geopolitical decline and economic uncertainty, even the tainted legacy of colonialism is a welcome reminder of the time when Britain was the world’s reigning superpower. There is certainly some truth to that statement. But I suspect the Brexit government’s fantasies of Empire 2.0 may also have something to do with the relentless focus on India. There is a growing sentiment that in view of historic and cultural ties, a post-Brexit Britain will find natural allies and trade partners in Commonwealth countries such as India.

If that’s the case, British policy-makers and commentators are in for a reality check. The truth is that, despite some simmering resentment about colonialism, most Indians today do not care about the UK. Just take a look at the contrast between the British and Indian coverage of Independence Day. While there are a handful of the customary pieces about the independence struggle, the Indian press is largely focused on the here-and-now: India’s economic potential, its relationships with the US and China, the growing threat of illiberalism and Hindu nationalism. There is nary a mention of contemporary Britain.

This is not to say that modern India is free of the influence - both good and bad - of colonialism. Many of the institutions of Indian democracy were established under the British colonial system, or heavily influenced by Britain’s parliamentary democracy. This is reflected both in independent India’s commitment (in theory, if not always in practice) to the ideals of Western liberalism and secularism, as well as its colonial attitude towards significant sections of its own population.

The shadow of Lord Macaulay, the Scottish legislator who spent four eventful years in India from 1834 to 1838 and is considered one of the key architects of the British Raj, still looms large over the modern Indian state. You can see it in the Penal Code that he drafted, inherited by both independent India and Pakistan. You can see it in Indian bureaucracy, which still functions as a paternalistic, colonial administrative service. And you can see it in the Indian Anglophile elite, the product of an English education system that Macaulay designed to produce a class of Indians “Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” It was this class of Anglophile Indians who inherited the reins of the Indian state after independence. It is us - because I too am a Macaulayputra (Macaulay’s child), as the Hindu right likes to call us. We congratulate ourselves on our liberalism and modernity even as we benefit from a system that enriched the few by impoverishing the many. This class of brown sahibs is now the favourite punching bag of a Hindu nationalism that we have allowed to fester in our complacency.

Still, ghosts of the past aside, the UK no longer holds sway over young India, even those in the Anglophile upper classes. Today’s young Indians look to the United States for their pop culture references, their global aspirations and even their politics, both liberal and conservative (see the Hindutva fringe’s obsession with Donald Trump and the alt-right). We still want to study in British universities (though increasingly strict visa rules make it a less attractive destination), but we’d rather work in and emigrate to the US, Canada or Australia. We drink coffee rather than tea (well, except for the thoroughly Indianised chai), watch Veep rather than Yes Minister, and listen to rap, not grime.

Macaulayputra insults aside, the British aren’t even the bogeymen of resurgent Hindu nationalism - that dubious status goes to the Mughal Empire. Whether this cultural turn towards America is a result of the United States’ cultural hegemony and economic imperialism is a topic for another day, but the special "cultural links" between India and the UK aren’t as robust as many Brits would like to think. Which is perhaps why the UK government is so intent on celebrating 2017 as the UK-India year of Culture.

Many in the UK believe that Brexit will lead to closer trade links between the two countries, but much of that optimism is one-sided. Just 1.7 per cent of British exports go to India, and Britain's immigration policy continues to rankle. This April, India allowed a bilateral investment deal to lapse, despite the best efforts of UK negotiators. With the Indian economy continuing to grow, set to push the UK out of the world’s five largest economies by 2022, the balance of power has shifted. 

The British press - and certain politicians - may continue to harbour sepia-tinted ideas of the British Raj and the "special relationship" between the two countries, but India has moved on. After 70 years, perhaps the UK will finally realise that India is no longer "the jewel in its crown". 

 

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Enhancing ACC Collaboration with DIUx

By Carolyn Wong from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Helps Air Combat Command (ACC) understand what the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) offers ACC and how ACC can collaborate with DIUx.

Scotland goes too far on the free stuff - but Nicola Sturgeon's baby box is worth every penny

By Chris Deerin from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Giving new parents a box of goodies is a rather romantic gesture.

The left in Scotland displays what can only be described as a lust for free stuff: free prescriptions, free eye tests, free school meals, free university education, free winter fuel allowance for the elderly, free bus passes for the elderly, free care for the elderly. Throughout this prolonged period of austerity, as budgets elsewhere have felt the crunch, these handouts have been ferociously guarded. As well as a long-standing council tax freeze, finally relaxed this year, the Scottish National Party made an open-ended pledge during the general election to protect the triple lock on the state pension.

If anything, the hunt has not been for savings, but for more potential giveaways. It might seem from the outside like devolved Scotland has a big heart, but it more often feels like our politicians are simply afraid to annoy anyone.

The problem is not that the poor have access to these services, so much as that the middle class and the wealthy do too – they are are universally available. There seems to be a national allergy to the idea of means-testing, regardless of the fact there are things listed above that the better off would happily pay for, or, if it came to it, should be forced unhappily to stump up for. A promise of a widespread review of universal benefits made in 2012 by the then Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont survived for about five minutes. The consequence is that public money that could be spent on those who truly need it is instead lavished on those who do not. Generous Scandinavian-style services funded by Anglo-Saxon levels of taxation – you really can’t have both.

It’s not just stingy old centrists like me who have a problem with this. Nicola Sturgeon’s poverty adviser Naomi Eisenstadt has warned that Scotland has gone "too far" on the free stuff. "The difficulty is that there is a balance between the bureaucracy in administering means-tested benefits, and sometimes the stigma associated, against how do you spend your money most effectively," she told the BBC in 2016. "I think we have gone too far in Scotland on the universal side and not far enough on the targeting. I think on the targeting we need to make the culture of public services more respectful and therefore avoid stigma that way."

Sounds about right. There are senior figures in the Scottish NHS who make much the same case, and point to all the good ideas that are currently unaffordable due to this expensive commitment to universality. The problem is, of course, that it’s easier to give something to people than to take it away. Even though most of the policies mentioned above are relatively new, they are effectively now regarded as birthright by the electorate. It’s a brave politician who steals the lollipop.

So you might expect me to look unkindly on the baby box, the latest free-for-all wheeze from the Scottish government. Following trials in Orkney and Clackmannanshire, new parents across Scotland will from this week begin to receive a large box containing useful items, from scratch mittens and vests to thermometers and nursing pads. The box also doubles as a crib (and comes with blankets, a mattress and a British safety standard). Each, including its contents, costs around £160 and the annual budget is predicted to be around £8 million.

Well, I confess: I kinda like it. The programme is imported from Finland (as covered in this interesting piece by my colleague Julia Rampen), where it has run for almost a century and had a positive impact on infant mortality rates and child health. Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s chief medical officer, said the scheme will be evaluated to see whether it has a similar beneficial outcome. But in 21st century Scotland, where mortality rates are low, that is only one strand.

The boxes are available to all new mothers on request, and although there are concerns that better-off parents will take the expensive bits and dump the rest, I’m not clear why this should be a problem. The box has apparently proven popular as a sleeping place during the pilots – including among mothers who were initially sceptical. Parents are already often given useful odds and sods at the hospital as they prepare to take their baby home for the first time - a more comprehensive and uniform package seems entirely sensible.

Most important of all, it seems to me, is the explicit message that the nation values newborns and their parents, and is willing to offer a helping hand in those difficult, tiring and expensive first months. The birth of a child is a levelling and nerve-wracking moment, regardless of income. It doesn’t seem overly intrusive – unlike Nicola Sturgeon’s odd "named person" policy - for us all to chip in for a starter pack. In fact, it’s a rather romantic gesture.

I’m not one for the"SNP bad" school of thought, where every measure introduced by the Nationalists is automatically dismissed as useless. I do think they’ve made a lot of mistakes, and have been cowardly when it comes to significant public-service reform. But on this occasion, the naysayers come across especially mean-spirited. This scheme is, in effect, a type of early intervention, something we should be much, much better at across the UK. So: welcome to the baby box. And well done, Ms Sturgeon.

 

Scottish Government

10 times James Chapman slammed his former boss David Davis

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

The Brexit Secretary’s ex-adviser makes damning claims about his work and social life.

James Chapman, the former DExEU chief-of-staff and Mail journo, has been firing off fascinating allegations on Twitter about his former boss and Brexit Secretary David Davis.

Here are some of the juiciest:

1. Horrifying the Slovakian PM


2. Being too chummy with BBC journalists like Andrew Neil and John Humphrys


3. Working a three-day week


4. Acting “drunk, bullying and inappropriate” with Diane Abbott


5. Ordering someone else to make him plain ham sandwiches (no butter)


6. Ignoring how existing trade deals with non-EU countries would play out


7. Calling up Nigel Farage....


8. …and demanding civil servants saved his number on his office phone


9. Mistaking Michel Barnier for a “far-right” friend on the phone


10. Taking six sugars in his tea, stirred in by someone else

***

Davis himself denies having Farage on speed dial, though admits to having his number. On Good Morning Britain, he referred to Chapman as “dear old James” and said:

“James did a great job as my chief-of-staff, but even the day he arrived he was a Remainer.”

Your mole contacted the Department for Exiting the European Union to find out Davis’ response to Chapman’s other allegations, and was pointed towards his similar comments on Sky News this morning:

“James was a ‘Remainer’ from the beginning, but he was a very good Chief of Staff. I am not going to criticise or argue with him [on air].”

Your mole has also asked BBC News about its presenters’ relationship with the Brexit Secretary. Radio 4 Today programme editor Sarah Sands said on Twitter that Davis and Humphrys have never been on holiday together, and Andrew Neil denies being a regular drinking buddy. They are not providing any further response to Chapman’s claims.

How the Secretary of State takes his tea and sandwiches remains unconfirmed. 

Getty and Twitter screengrab

A good second-hand shop is where the minds of people long dead are made to live again

By Nicholas Lezard from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

It is both a testament of decay, of oblivion, and also a kind of limbo.

Some people have drug habits; some a gambling addiction; some, illicit sex. What I do, though, when I want to distract myself by spending money I can ill afford to spend, is go to second-hand bookshops, and buy something old. Glamorously old.

I have a 17th-century edition of St Augustine, in French, bought in Toulouse for fr.100, or about a tenner. (Oh, the second-hand bookshops of Toulouse! Hard-by the cathedral, the weight of its million bricks pressing down on the city like the brutal hand of history...) I have my 1720 edition of Thomas Creech’s translation of Horace’s Odes, Satyrs and Epistles (“On the Luxury of the Age”: “Our Squares still rise, our Fields decrease/And now the Ploughs must rust in Ease”), bought from Fosters’ on Chiswick High Road (£35); and a late-19th-century edition of Tennyson, its stiff boards encased in leather and stamped, in gold, with the livery of Christ Church, Oxford, smelling like the inside of a Rolls-Royce (£30, or thereabouts).

It was awarded as a prize to some scholar, but I cannot remember who now, as I gave it to K— for her birthday last year, as it was the only thing I had of value to give her. In Paris, I now have to deliberately avoid the bouquinistes whose stalls line the Seine, for I will end up doubling the weight of my luggage with multi-volume editions of Verlaine, or du Bellay’s Les Regrets, which are only going to make me sadder than I already am.

My favoured bookshop – actually bookshops, though how two of them managed to exist in such close proximity – are in Bell Street, off Lisson Grove in London. Supremely shambolic, with teetering piles everywhere, and in the basement a piano, gap-toothed and chaotically tuned, but just about good enough to try out a piece from the stacks of music sheets surrounding it.

A good second-hand shop is the deep memory of an area. A location served by one is blessed. In it lie the fragments of a civilisation, shored up against its ruins. It is both a testament of decay, of oblivion, and also a kind of limbo; not true death, but a place where the minds of people long dead can be made to live again in someone else’s. They draw the lonely, the bored, the idle, the mentally unstable; oh boy, do they draw the mentally unstable. I feel myself going a little batty when I enter one.

I mean really, what am I going to do with a copy of Volume I of Don Quixote, date and translator unknown, as many early pages are missing? Or indeed my 1681 Soliloques, Manuel, et Meditations of Augustine? “Delivrez-moy, ô mon Dieu, du neant du peché, comme vous m’avez tiré du neant de l’estre”: “deliver me, oh my Lord, from the void of sin, as you drew me from the void of being.”

So there I am, walking up Lisson Grove, my mind more troubled than it has ever been since the end of my marriage, for disaster I cannot write about has struck, and I think: at least I live within walking distance of these shops. My income has been reduced by 60 per cent, but I have a little cash left in my account. Saving right now is futile if not impossible: I’ll buy myself a beautiful old book.

The astute reader will have worked out the punchline by now. The shops have gone. In London, everything is going. Venerable businesses are being forced from their premises; people are being forced from their homes. When the price of the tiniest, seediest London property reaches such absurdly high figures then it is a marvel more people aren’t simply being murdered, to save on the legal fees of eviction. People are talking of the Sixth Great Extinction, by which humans are exterminating countless species apparently just for the sheer giddy hell of it, or because they can; this is another kind of extinction, caused by money, doing it because it can, and because, in many people’s hands, it can do nothing else.

Anyway, there I am, already at a low ebb, and feeling emotionally labile. And these two modest sanctuaries have gone. Well, who needs them – apart from me, the dozen or so other lunatics who browsed in them, and the people who ran them? It’s not as if they were providing a useful service, such as a betting shop, or an estate agency, or a branch of Starbucks.

I am getting tired of this world. The list of good things in it is getting shorter and shorter. And I write about one of its most affluent corners. Imagine how much worse it is everywhere else, and how much worse it’s going to get. 

Photo: Getty

How Momentum activists are learning to win over Tory voters

By Jason Murugesu from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

The snap election may be over, but Momentum is already preparing its activists for the next one. 

In a dimly-lit conference room off Euston Road, littered with assorted packs of crisps and chocolate digestives, Jamie Driscoll, a training coordinator for Momentum asks the assembled group of activists: “What can you do in 10 seconds?”

This, according to Driscoll, is "the time that it would take to sum up a Labour manifesto point, concisely and clearly”. 

Momentum, the grassroots organisation made up of supporters of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, likes to describe itself as "a new kind of politics". Its critics, on the other hand, suspect it of the opposite - a throwback to 1980s hard left groups like Militant. But after a general election in which Labour, supported by Momentum's sophisticated online campaigning techniques, did better than almost anyone predicted, is it time to take the organisation's ambitions seriously?

In the Momentum training session, Driscoll remarks that, when talking to people on the doorstep, you quickly realise that “there’s this myth of a left-right spectrum”. There are nods of agreement around the room. He adds that individuals will often adopt contradictory stances and “in reality, everybody is incredibly complex and arrives at their views differently”.

Momentum’s approach to canvassing, inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US, attempts to create a deeper engagement between the activists and the members of the public they are speaking to. The message at the training session was ambitious - even the staunchest Tory can be convinced to vote for Labour. 

Canterbury’s swing to Labour this summer is a case in point. A previous Tory stronghold, the constituency swung to Labour by more than nine percentage points, and was won by Labour's Rosie Duffield with 45 per cent of the vote. 

One workshop attendee who canvassed in Canterbury believes this swing was because Momentum “went to every house” and that even those who seemed hostile to Momentum “still wanted to talk politics with them”. 

After the result of the snap election, with Theresa May's plans for Tory domination in tatters, Momentum announced plans to continue to campaign as though there was another snap election on the horizon. Activists and canvassers have descended on  Boris Johnson's Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat as recently as three weeks after the snap election, supported by notable Labour party figures such as Sir Keir Starmer MP and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry. While May has clung onto power over the summer break, the continued political turbulence adds a sense of urgency to the training session.  

As Beth Foster-Ogg, one of the training co-ordinators at the workshop admits: “There’s a lot of work still left to be done - after all, we’re not in government yet”. 

The session on Saturday was the first of three and will be replicated throughout the country. There are also further sessions planned on community organising and the long-term role that Momentum can play in creating spaces for political conversations. Training sessions such as this one can take a surprisingly highbrow turn - the sessions typically use concepts such as Aristotle’s ethos, logos and pathos, roleplay and forum theatre exercises.

Despite swelling to an impressive 27,000 members, the emphasis on Momentum’s training is on local communities and collaboration. 

“The more people you empower, the more positive it will be.” says Beth Foster-Ogg, one of the training coordinators at the workshop.“We hope to upskill all of our activists - making sure that everyone has the kind of engagement that enthuses people to run for chair, even if they have no previous political experience.”

Throughout the meeting, individuals who had never met each other before were swapping jokes and horror stories, in addition to offering tips and techniques about how best to approach hostile voters. “Momentum’s politics are about participation and inclusion," says Dan Iley-Williamson,  a Labour councillor for the ward of Holywell, Oxford and a Momentum member. “The community spirit comes about a result of that.”

The workshop ends with Foster-Ogg telling the group that she’s added everyone to a Slack group to help better coordinate future workshops. 

The older members of the group look puzzled. Foster-Ogg explains it's a collaborative messaging service. She seems convinced that all the participants will soon master it - and Momentum will be one more step towards its new kind of politics.  

 

Getty Images

How scientists uncovered the invisible balloon around your head

By Jason Murugesu from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

A study has discovered the balloon-like nature of our personal space which has evolved to protect us from threats above. 

Before you even know where the wasp is, you flinch. Each of us has this space around our bodies that is extremely sensitive to external stimuli.  It's an evolutionary advantage to be hyper-alert to threats nearby as they're more likely to cause you harm, a lot sooner. 

Researchers at University College London have found that this space, at least for humans, is like “a child’s balloon - it sticks up regardless of one’s posture”. 

Utilising a reflex called the hand-blink-reflex, the scientists imaged this personal space in different conditions. 

The experiment consisted of asking the participants to stand upright and then electrically stimulating a nerve in the right wrist, while the same hand was placed a few centimetres from the participant's nose. The hand was then placed in ten different equally-spaced angles from above the head, to below the chin. 

The reseachers could then measure the participant’s personal space by recording the increase in their blink reflex. The hand-blink-reflex is a defensive reflex which increases the closer the hand being stimulated is to the participant's face. The more the participant blinked, the more sensitive their personal space was in that area. The space could then be imaged as a geometric model using the data they collected. 

This experiment was repeated with the participant lying on his or her back and lying sideways. The researchers found that the larger end of the space was always at the top - like a balloon which always flaoats the same way up -  and concluded that the brain "continuously updates the threat value of stimuli based on gravitational cues". 

There is an obvious evolutionary advantage to being aware of threats from above - gravity causes objects to fall. In other words, the no.1 priority for the human brain is avoiding being squashed from above. 

Some animals have a more evolved personal space than us. Professor Gian Domenico Iannetti, who conducted the experiment with Dr Rory Bufacci, is currently experimenting on mice using virtual reality. Mice in particular have very developed personal spaces and are known to run towards their nest immediately at the onset of a shadow growing above them. More research needs to be done on other animals to determine if gravity is also important to their evolved sense of security. 

Iannetti points out that some animals, like snakes, are more likely to receive their threats from below and so may have a personal spaces that have developed completely differently to us. 

As for humans, the research shows the remarkable ability of the brain to calculate physical laws automatically. The question for 21st century scientists is not why the apple fell, but how much Isaac Newton flinched. 

Getty Images

German GDP grows at fastest annual rate since 2014

From Europe. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Rising domestic demand helps economy expand 0.6 per cent in second quarter

What is the EU customs union and will we leave it after Brexit?

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

David Davis has suggested we might temporarily stay in it after Brexit. 

Brexit secretary David Davis has suggested the UK may have to pay to participate in a temporary customs union after we leave the EU. But what does being in the customs union actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent much of the time since 24 June 2016 talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. 

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

Brexiteer-in-chief Davis's intervention suggests that any departure will be more of a transition, at least if the UK gets its way. 

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

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German constitutional court refers QE challenge to ECJ

From Europe. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

The Last Wolf: Robert Winder's book examines the elusive concept of Englishness

By Paul Kingsnorth from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

If English national character is so hard to pin down, could this mean there is no such thing any more?

Is there anything more tiresome than debating the essence of “Englishness” – or any other national identity, come to that? Millions of words must have been spilt on this fruitless quest over the past century, generating gigatonnes of wind that could have been usefully harvested for energy. Each time, no “essence” is to be found, and everyone goes back to the beginning and starts again.

That’s how it used to be, anyway. More recently, in the wake of the Brexit vote and the divisions it has laid bare, the debate about who “we” are has become fraught and urgent. England, and Britain more widely, is hardly alone in its soul-searching. Arguments about belonging, culture, nationhood and identity are flooding across the Western world – and beyond – because people are increasingly unsure about who or where they are. The sweeping changes unleashed by hypercapitalism, technological change and unprecedented levels of migration are making rootlessness the norm, and the more people feel rootless the more they want to know where they belong and where they come from.

British politicians often respond to this by attempting to formulate some notion of our collective “values”. Here’s who we are, all 65 million of us, they say, and then proceed to read out a list of uniquely “British” things that only “British” people do, like valuing democracy, being tolerant with each other and standing in queues politely. These attempts at top-down unity are always failures, largely because, with the possible exception of the queuing, all the “values” asserted are pretty much universal. There’s nothing uniquely “British” about valuing the rule of law or freedom of speech (regularly clamping down on freedom of speech is a more reliably British virtue, if history is anything to go by). The failure of anyone to produce a list of “values” that are uniquely British – or English, or Welsh, or Scottish – suggests that they don’t exist. The island is just too teeming, diverse and disconnected now for much to be held in common at all.

So what, if anything, might define that elusive “Englishness”, the subject of Robert Winder’s new book? Cultural quirks, perhaps? I can confidently assert that the English know how to make a good cup of strong tea better than anyone else on earth (with the possible exception of the Irish), and we’re also world champions at dog shows, proper beer and indie guitar bands. But I’m not sure that these are things I would encourage my children to die patriotically in a trench for.

Winder offers a better answer, and it’s one that anyone brave or suicidal enough to pitch in to the contemporary European identity debate should consider. It offers a path through the horrible, thorny maze of arguments about race, ethnicity, migration and the like, towards something that, potentially, could unite people rather than divide them. What makes and forms a “people”, says Winder, in England as elsewhere, is the one thing they all share: the place itself. If there is an “Englishness” it is formed from the nature, literally, of England:

If we really wanted to search for the national identity, I thought, the real place to look was in the natural heritage of hills, valleys, rivers, stones and mists – the raw materials that had, over time, moulded the way we were. Landscape and history – the past and the elemental backdrop – were the only things we could truly claim as our own. Just as some plants thrive in sand and others in clay, so a national character is fed by nutrients it cannot alter.

Early on in the book, Winder quotes the novelist Lawrence Durrell, who makes the same case more provocatively:

I believe you could exterminate the French at a blow and resettle the land with Tartars, and within two generations discover… that the national characteristics were back at norm – the relentless metaphysical curiosity, the tenderness for good living and passionate individualism.

Durrell goes on to suggest that “a Cypriot who settled in London would in time become English, simply because human customs owe just as much to the local environment as to trees and flowers”. I’m in a position to test this hypothesis, because my grandmother was a Cypriot who settled in London. Did she become English? Well, she wore English clothes, lived in a bungalow, cooked roast dinners, won endless rosettes in endless dog shows and had her English friends call her Doris, because they had trouble pronouncing Demetra. On the other hand, she never lost her accent, her language or her connections to her homeland, and until the end of her life she made a mean baklava. I don’t know what any of that means, other than that labels can get confusing pretty quickly.

And that is Winder’s point: forget the labels, look at the land below your feet. That’s where your “identity” comes from. Take the last wolf in England, which gives the book its title. Allegedly killed in the 1290s by a Shropshire knight named Peter Corbet (the king had tasked this “mighty hunter” and other nobles with ridding the land of predators), the wolf’s end freed up the English to transform their landscape – in a way not available to many other European countries, whose wolf populations were too large and interlinked to kill off – into “the biggest sheep farm in the world”. This turned England, in the Middle Ages, into a wealthy wool economy. It was an agricultural revolution, shaping everything from land ownership to diet to class structures to the architecture of the Cotswolds, and it happened not just because the landscape was now wolfless, but because “the country was made for grass”.

The same soil and climate that made growing grass so easy did the same for wheat – which, mainly in the form of bread, has been the staple of the English diet from the rise of agriculture to the present day, when we eat more wheat than ever. Add in the later discovery of coal, which was found in rich seams across the country, and which gave rise to the Industrial Revolution and the British Empire, and Winder suggests, only slightly playfully, that the English national character can be summed up by way of an algebraic equation: e = cw4: “Englishness equals coal x wool, wheat and wet weather.”

The book’s central case – that “natural history might be a branch of political science” – is a necessary corrective to a public debate in which we are increasingly instructed to believe that virtually every aspect of our character is a “social construct”. Winder wants us to understand that much of it is actually a natural construct, which means in turn that our development is not entirely under our control. It’s not a message that many people want to hear in an age of selfies and consumer choice: “Just as each vineyard (or terroir) produces its own unique wine, so human beings are conditioned by their local landscape. We move around more now, so the lines are blurred, but the underlying skeleton of English culture – the bare bones of the national psyche – may have changed less than we think.”

I couldn’t help, as I read, wanting more detail on this “underlying skeleton”. Where are the folk songs, the rhymes and ballads? Where is the mythology? Where are the grainy details of the lives of the people who, throughout English history, were probably shaped by the landscape most of all, and who shaped it in turn – the peasantry? There are glimpses of all this, but there is also too much school-textbooky history of inventors and their inventions, of revolutions and wars. A book like this ought to start at the bottom – in the mud, in the mulch on the forest floor. I wanted an earthier, messier story.

Despite this, there is plenty to chew on here. The question that remained when it was over though, for this reviewer at least, was: is any of it true any more? It may once have been the case that human customs were formed by places, but is it now?

When people in England, or anywhere in the modern world, have more connection, via their handheld screens, with the mill race of global consumer “culture” than they do with the landscape around them, and when only a handful of us work on or really know that landscape, what chance does it have of forming the basis of our cultural life?

If English national character is so hard to pin down, could the reason simply be that there is no such thing any more; that the English, like other denizens of techno-post-modernity, are shaped not by their natural environment, but by the artificial one that is rising to enclose them like a silicon cocoon? When the heavy metals in your smartphone are mined in Indonesia, not Cornwall, what equation defines you – and do you even care? 

Paul Kingsnorth’s books include “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist ” (Faber & Faber)

The Last Wolf: the Hidden Springs of Englishness
Robert Winder
Little, Brown, 480pp, £20

The stand against Nazis at Charlottesville has echoes of Cable Street

By Nicky Woolf from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Opposing Nazis on the streets has a long and noble history.

Edward Woolf – my grandpa Eddie – was a second-generation Jewish immigrant, whose parents arrived in London in the early 20th century after fleeing pogroms in Russia. They settled, like many Jews did, in the warren of streets around Whitechapel in London's East End. He was an athlete – he would later become a champion high-diver, and box for the army – and was soon to become a soldier.

The second time he fought the Nazis, it was as an officer for the Royal Artillery. He blew up his guns on the beach at Dunkirk to prevent them falling into enemy hands; later in the war he fought the forces of Imperial Japan in the jungles of Burma.

But the first time he fought the Nazis was at the Battle of Cable Street.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandfather as the events in Charlottesville, Virginia played out over the weekend. On Friday night, a neo-Nazi demonstration through the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville exploded into chaos as they encountered a counter-march by protesters and anti-fascists. A 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, was killed and 19 others injured when a car driven by a Nazi ploughed into a group of counter-protesters.

Police, outnumbered by both parties and outgunned by the Nazi marchers, many of whom held semi-automatic weapons, were unable to prevent the violence. A state of emergency was called; the national guard was brought in. In a jaw-dropping statement on Saturday, president Trump blamed the violence on "many sides".

Ever since a video of white nationalist leader Richard Spencer being punched in the face on the streets of Washington, DC went viral in the early days of the Trump administration, America has been engaged in a bout of soul-searching. Is it OK to punch Nazis? Is it OK to be gleeful about the punching of Nazis? After having spent all of 2016 slamming Obama and Clinton for refusing to say “radical Islamic terrorism”, why is Trump – who eventually, begrudgingly condemned the neo-Nazi groups involved in the violence on Monday, a full two days after Heyer's death – so incapable of saying “radical Nazi terrorism”?

It's all given me a strange sense of deja vu. In fact, that's not the right term. We really have seen all of this before.

In 1936, just three years before Hitler's Germany invaded Poland, triggering war with Britain and – eventually – America, it was not uncommon to see Nazis on the march. The Great Depression was at its height, and many working-class whites on both sides of the Atlantic, feeling that their jobs were threatened by immigration, turned to far-right ideologies as a panacea for their economic fears. (Let me know if any of this sounds familiar...)

In the UK, Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF), known widely as the Blackshirts for their distinctive uniforms, had also been swiftly growing. Mosley was a veteran of the First World War and a rising star politician, albeit something of a maverick. He had served as a Conservative, Labour and independent MP before he founded the Blackshirts in 1932. He was not a proletarian demagogue like Hitler or Mussolini; he was a wax-moustached aristocrat, a fencing champion and the son of a baronet, educated (until his expulsion) at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst.

Mosley was drawn to the far-right after touring continental Europe following a 1931 electoral defeat, and became enamoured with the ideas, and the pageantry, of fascism. His second marriage, to the socialite Diana Mitford, was held at the Berlin home of Joseph Goebbels. Hitler was an honoured guest.

Of course, these groups weren't just a British phenomenon. Hitler's newly-appointed deputy, Rudolf Hess, had called on a man named Heinz Spanknobel to found US-based Nazi groups; Spanknobel formed an organization called the Friends of New Germany, and later another, called the German-American Bund, in Buffalo, NY in March 1936. They ran a summer-camp on Long Island called Camp Siegfried, and as late as 1939 American Nazis held a rally in Madison Square Garden attended by 20,000 people.

Back in the UK, Mosley planned an audacious and inflammatory march through London's East End, a route which would take his blackshirts through the middle of Stepney, Whitechapel, and Bow – areas almost entirely populated by poor Jewish immigrants. For Mosley, who had drawn a crowd of more than 20,000 to an earlier rally in 1934 at Olympia, the East End march was clearly meant as an intimidation play - a gleeful and glorious celebration of the fourth anniversary of his founding of the BUF. But he had made a wild miscalculation.

The morning of 4 October 1936 dawned with a sense of anticipation. Newsreels from the time show an intimidating crowd of 5,000 fascists, with their sinister black low-rent-SS uniforms, turned out to join Mosley on his march. 

But Mosley had severely underestimated the organising capacity of the burgeoning anti-fascist movement that was growing up in opposition to his ideas. A coordinated leafletting campaign had taken place, which, combined with newspaper and newsreel attention, meant that there were few in East London who were unaware of, or unprepared for, the day of the march.

By the time Mosley's men assembled in Shoreditch, a truly vast crowd had assembled across the East End to stop them. Estimates of its size vary wildly from the tens to the hundreds of thousands; according to some sources as many as quarter of a million Jews, Communists, anti-fascists, union members, Catholic dock-workers, local residents, and many more who just came to see what would happen, flocked to the route of the march. Among them, somewhere in the crowd, was my grandfather, linked arm-in-arm with his friends. He was 20 years old. 

The Communist Party was key in organizing the counter-protest, and the rallying-cry for the counter-protesters was borrowed from the Spanish civil war: no parasan, meaning: they shall not pass.

More than 6,000 police officers, many on horseback, were deployed to prevent violence, but, vastly outnumbered, they were unable to clear the makeshift barricades and the people standing arm-in-arm from the street. The march ground to a halt and swiftly dissolved into a riot.

The embattled police tried to redirect Mosley down nearby Cable Street, but the crowd overturned a goods lorry to block their path, and a pitched battle ensued. From the upper windows of the tenement houses along the street, people threw rotten fruit and vegetables, and even emptied the foul contents of their chamber-pots, over the now-trapped blackshirts. As shit rained down, the fascists fought back with sticks, stones, and anything else they could find.

After a series of pitched battles, Mosley was forced to call off the march. At least 150 people had been injured in the brawl.

“I was moved to see bearded Jews and Irish Catholic dockers standing up to stop Mosley,” historian Bill Fishman, who witnessed the battle, said at a 2006 event commemorating its 70th anniversary. “I shall never forget that as long as I live, how working-class people could get together to oppose the evil of fascism.”

Cable Street didn't stop fascism in Britain - the outbreak of war, and the accompanying internment of Mosley and his lieutenants as possible enemy collaborators, did that. But it stopped their momentum, their confidence that power was almost within their grasp. The defeat showed them - showed everyone - that there was an opposition, and more, that the Nazis didn't hold the monopoly on intimidation. They too could be made to feel fear.

The echoes of Cable Street are crystal clear in the events this weekend in Charlottesville. Terms like “alt-right” and “white nationalist” are often chosen by journalists to cover these groups, but let's not mince words: Nazis again marched through the streets this weekend. The police were powerless to stop them. They were powerless to prevent the death of Heather Heyer. And the situation in America seems likely only to get worse. Spencer, who was one of the leaders of the Nazis in Charlottesville, announced that he is planning another march, this time in Texas, next month.

Enough has been written already about the need to stay above the baser instincts of mob violence and revenge. Let the Nazis call for lynching; we're better than that, but if I'm honest I can't summon much bile for the Antifascists who decide that Nazi violence should be met in kind.

Perhaps, in the wake of Charlottesville, the story of Cable Street teaches us that, in troubled times like these, it may be good to fill a chamber-pot or two for when the Nazis march again; or that the time will come when we, like my grandfather did, must stand together with arms linked and tell them: they shall not pass.

Getty

The Blended Retirement System

By Beth J. Asch; Michael G. Mattock; James Hosek from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

This report assesses the effects of the Blended Retirement System on military retention and continuation pay cost for the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy and finds that retention can be sustained relative to the legacy system.

How Americans Feel About Going to (Nuclear) War

By Christopher Preble from War on the Rocks. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Two years ago, long before a U.S. president threatened to rain “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea (channeling, perhaps unwittingly, Harry Truman), Scott D. Sagan and Benjamin A. Valentino conducted a clever survey experiment to test Americans’ attitudes on the use of nuclear weapons. They summarize their findings in ...

Long Ignored: The Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons Against Insurgents

By Glenn Cross from War on the Rocks. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

A conventional shibboleth is that chemical and biological agents have no place in modern conflicts. In this view, chemical and biological agents are not useful because they are inhumane, uncontrollable, ineffective, or obsolete in the face of modern conventional weapons. These arguments were put forth when the U.S. decided to ban biological weapons, and later ...

Finland suffers first annual GDP contraction since 2012

From Europe. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

German GDP growth hits fastest annual pace since 2014

From Europe. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

Amsterdam in pieces: why Dutch voters rejected politics as usual

From Europe. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

How one of Europe’s most stable electorates has become fickle and fractured

Corbyn, Macron and D66: the elections that shocked the political class and why it’s not over yet

From The Big Read. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

So what comes next? Voters in the UK, France and the Netherlands talk to the FT

In a Paris suburb, Macron’s victory over populists is fragile

From Europe. Published on Aug 15, 2017.

French voters remain angry in spite of an election marked as a push back against extremism

Charlottesville and Donald Trump’s crass political opportunism

By Camille Busette from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

Over the weekend, a car plowed into a crowd following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. One woman died. While Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe denounced the tragedy in strong terms, President Trump’s first reaction was to blandly call for Americans to “love each other.” What’s wrong with this? Well, several things. First, the fact that…
      
 
 

Climate change shifts timing of Europe’s floods, study finds

From Europe. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

Implications for insurers and hydroelectric generation

The key to innovation is balancing risk and rigour

From FT View. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

GSK’s chief has vowed to focus its research: easier said than done

Japan’s economy extends its winning streak

From FT View. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

Monetary stimulus is having the desired effect on growth

North Korea missile parts linked to Ukraine

From Europe. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

Pyongyang said to have used modified version of Russian-designed missile engine

Stamped from the Beginning charts the uncomfortable history of American racism

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

Ibram X Kendi offers an un-yielding narrative of racist ideas, violence and harm – but also resistance.

In Between the World and Me (2015), Ta-Nehisi Coates contends that the great question of American history is not whether “Lincoln truly meant ‘government of the people’”, but what America has, from its inception, “taken the political term ‘people’ to actually mean. In 1863, it did not mean your mother or your grandmother, and it did not mean you and me. Thus America’s problem is not its betrayal of ‘government of the people’, but the means by which ‘the people’ acquired their names.” Stamped from the Beginning provides a lucid, accessible survey of how “the people” were racialised over 500 years.

Ibram X Kendi uses five “tour guides” to narrate his book: the Puritan minister Cotton Mather, the founding father and president Thomas Jefferson, the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and the scholar-activists WEB Du Bois and Angela Davis. Each life helps to highlight important shifts. Over the longue durée, Kendi shows that every generation has invented new ways to be racist. Early colonists fled persecution but failed to leave behind the racist theologies of Britain and Europe. Blackness was attributed to the “curse of Ham”, the punishment that one of Noah’s sons suffered for mocking his father.

Mather, who was admitted to Harvard at 11, spent his life preaching that Christianity could uplift the enslaved. After the 1750s, scientific racism proliferated as black people were said to make natural slaves or belong to a different species to white people. After the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, racists turned to evolution to entrench racialised discrimination. In 1860, Senator Jefferson Davis, later president of the Confederate States of America, defended slavery by claiming that the “inequality of the white and black races” had been “stamped from the beginning”. In the present day, racists draw upon discredited standardised tests to claim genetic differences between racial groups.

Kendi focuses on America, but it is worth noting that these ideas also flourished across Europe, although the notion that humans were not a single species enjoyed significantly greater popularity in America. For centuries, the mutability of racist ideas has allowed whiteness to remain in power while inventing new lies about blackness and blaming victims for their oppression.

Kendi defines a racist idea as “any concept that regards one racial group as inferior or superior to another racial group in any way”. The definition is elegantly concise but leads to conclusions that many will find uncomfortable. Almost everyone recognises “segregationist” theories of innate and immutable difference between races as racist. However, for Kendi, “assimilationists” frequently accept and promote racist ideas even while calling for racial equality.

In 1954, Judge Earl Warren ruled that separate schooling could never be equal in the Brown v board of education case. Yet his landmark dismissal was rooted in his assumption that black children were intellectually inferior and would benefit from being schooled with white children in white schools. He did not imagine that white children were being harmed by segregation or that black children did not inherently require “improvement”.

Perhaps the most common assimilationist tactic has been “uplift suasion”, the attempt to outrun racism by being educated or morally upright, as exemplified by WEB Du Bois, the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard and, in more recent popular culture, The Cosby Show, in which the Huxtables succeed in living the American dream through hard work and self-reliance. Striving may seem like an innocuous motivational strategy but, as the book shows, uplift suasion places the burden of overcoming oppression solely on black people without dismantling institutionalised racism, such as in the education and prison systems. Meanwhile, anyone who does beat the odds is seen as extra­ordinary, not as evidence of broader potential under equal circumstances.

Kendi confidently re-evaluates the writings of many celebrated abolitionists and African-American heroes and concludes that racism often underpinned their strategies. Despite their progressive politics, Kendi discerns racism in the words of people as revered as Frederick Douglass and Barack Obama. In 2008, during the presidential campaign, Obama delivered a speech on race. He acknowledged America’s racist past, but he rejected activist anger because he felt that it “keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition” in overcoming a “legacy of defeat”. For Kendi, Obama’s dismissal of justifiable anti-racist anger and his claim that African Americans were at fault as a racial group were classic examples of racist assimilationist rhetoric.

In Kendi’s estimation, consistently anti-racist activists have been much rarer, although Zora Neale Hurston and Angela Davis stand out. Davis was already active in the Black Power movement when she began teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1969. The state’s young governor, Ronald Reagan, urged the university’s board to fire her because of her membership of the Communist Party; she was ousted the following year. Since then, she has spent decades exposing contemporary racism, especially as it targets black women.

Kendi draws from his own experience by suggesting that learning to be anti-racist requires personal effort. Admirably, he admits that he “held quite a few racist ideas” when he began writing and only slowly realised that the “only thing wrong with black people is that we think something is wrong with black people”. Intriguingly, Kendi is currently writing his next book recounting his journey to anti-racism. His emphasis on self-reflection and the labour required to be truly anti-racist is instructive. It is too easy to assume that we are not part of the problem if we openly espouse racial equality; yet, even the most well-intentioned person can be motivated by racist ideas.

Kendi’s most important insight might help rethink anti-racist activism. Racism is often explained as the consequence of racist ideas. Kendi rejects this causal relationship as ahistorical. For him, racist ideas did not preceed racism. Rather, racist policies designed to maintain America’s foundational white supremacy birthed racist ideas. As Frederick Douglass noted: “When men oppress their fellow men, the oppressor ever finds, in the character of the oppressed, full justification for his oppression.”

Many believe that racism will be defeated by showering racists with evidence disproving their fallacies. For Kendi, such strategies – whether uplift suasion, educational persuasion, or self-sacrifice – are bound to fail, precisely because they invert the causal relationship between policy and ideas. He argues that the powerful have not and will not abolish racial discrimination “as long as racism benefits them in some way”. One might expect Kendi to be despondent, but he believes that eradicating discriminatory policies will consign racist ideas to the past. He suggests that we are at a critical moment because anti-racists have created their own positions of power from which to demand justice. I write this shortly after the police officer Jeronimo Yanez’s acquittal of the manslaughter of Philando Castile in Minnesota and the death of Rashan Charles following his arrest in London. Sharing Kendi’s optimism is difficult, but perhaps it isn’t necessary as long as the fight continues.

Stamped from the Beginning is an un-yielding narrative of racist ideas, violence and harm. However, the book is also a history of refusals. From the enslaved choosing to run away, lead rebellions and fight for their freedom to the Black Power movement eschewing anti-blackness, resistance has secured accreting freedoms. Those rights helped to make it possible for Barack Obama to be elected US president. As he took office, many pundits insisted that America had entered an era of post-racial equality. Kendi rejects this disavowal of contemporary racism and dedicates the book “to the lives they said don’t matter”.

Writing as the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, the Charleston Nine and Sandra Bland came to light, Kendi traces the structural violence at the heart of American history and argues that now is the time to secure lasting change. Crucially, his anti-racism is rooted in Kimberlé Crenshaw’s notion of intersectionality. We are all urged to refuse racism, sexism, elitism, homophobia, ethnocentrism and class bias in favour of embracing humanity and ensuring that the dispossessed secure the right to be their “imperfect selves”. To be imperfectly human should never be a white privilege, or a black death sentence. 

Sadiah Qureshi is a senior lecturer in modern history at the University of Birmingham

Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
Ibram X Kendi
Bodley Head, 592pp, £18.99

Photo: NEW YORK DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

5 unmissable Nigel Farage scenes from Bad Boys of Brexit: The Movie

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

It’s 2022, and the taps at Simpson’s Tavern have finally run dry.

Farage is going to Hollywood, according to The Telegraph. It reports that a major studio there is planning a six-part series adapted from the referendum account by Arron Banks, a Ukip donor, The Bad Boys of Brexit. Banks and Nigel Farage are both expected to be executive producers on the series, which will probably go something like this...

1. The fight scene

In this gritty scene, Nigel Farage dares to enter the Canon’s Gait pub/crack den in Edinburgh’s dodgy Royal Mile, but has to flee after 50 young heroin addicts shout “choose life, choose a job”, “racist” and "Nigel, you're a bawbag, Nigel you're a bawbag, na, na, na, hey!"

Final shot: Nigel in the police riot van while the junkies mouth “bawbag” through the tinted glass.

2. The slow-motion kiss

Nigel stands waiting in the wings as his successor, Diane James, makes her first speech as Ukip leader. Together, they’ve conquered Middle England and seen of the Remainiacs. Yet he feels like their story is incomplete. Bond always gets the girl, he tells himself. 

Final shot: Diane James’s horrified face as his lips land on her cheek.

3. The car chase

Nigel escaped the plane crash unscathed, and now he is driving down the M4, foot on the accelerator. He’s got to stop that traitor Douglas Carswell, before he ruins Ukip and Britain. He’s got to get out of the slow lane. But just then, a car overtakes him. It’s a bloody Pole. And another. They’re all here. All 831,000 of them. All on the M4. He’ll never stop Carswell now.

Final shot: pan out from Nigel Farage to blocked motorway as it begins to rain.  

4. The golden lift

Nigel opens a cigarette packet and finds a golden ticket – to meet Mr Brexit, the eccentric owner of the United States covfefe factory. Mr Brexit takes Nigel into his golden elevator and presses a button that shoots them out of the building and into space, where they meet an amoeba-like monster called Vlad the Knid.

Final shot: Vlad the Knid chewing up one of Nigel’s aides.

5. The war-time escape

It’s 2022, and the taps at Simpson’s Tavern have finally run dry. Everything is a grey and dull colour, because there are no longer any flights to Spain. All music is in a minor key. Nigel stands in the queue for the German embassy, his fedora pulled over his eyes. Across the road, the mob are tearing a Tesco assistant apart because the price of cheese is too high. Why did I leave you for that French waitress, Kirsten, he thought silently. I’m not a 50cl man. I’m a two-pint stein.

Final shot: the food rioters spy Farage and descend on him. The camera lingers on his black fedora in the gutter.  

Photo: Getty

The Terrorist Diaspora

By Colin P. Clarke from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

Document submitted August 11, 2017, as an addendum to testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Task Force on Denying Terrorists Entry into the United States on July 13, 2017.

Think Charlottesville couldn't happen in the UK? Then look at today's Sun

By Jasper Jackson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

When columnists call for a solution to “The Muslim Problem” it begins to legitimise the kind of hate boiling over in the US.

The sight of actual, real-life, flag-flying, gun-toting, "blood and soil" chanting Nazis and white supremacists marching through Charlottesville in the US this weekend was chilling, even before one of them drove into counter-protesters, killing one and injuring almost 20 more. 

As is often the way for those in the UK, watching what happens to our English-speaking transatlantic partner prompts the question "could it happen here?".

History suggests it's unlikely. Britain has had its own racist movements – the English Defence League, Britain First, further back the National Front – but most of the population takes pride in the country's history of opposing fascism. Not only is the Second World War seen as our greatest moment, but the Battle of Cable Street, in which thousands of Jews, trade unions and communists fought and won street battles against Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts, is celebrated right across the political spectrum. 

Yes, we have the likes of Thomas Mair, the far-right murderer of MP Jo Cox, but we have no significant, organised groups espousing the kind of white supremacist ideology on display in the US this weekend.

That's what we reassure ourselves with at least. 

Yet in what seems like an inadvertent masterstroke of timing, along comes Sun columnist Trevor Kavanagh to remind us how you get from civilised debate to goose-stepping in small, easy steps.

In Monday's Sun, Kavanagh has penned a column mostly about Chancellor Philip Hammond and Brexit, but with a few paragraphs dedicated to the conviction of a group of mainly British Asian men in Newcastle for running a sexual abuse ring.

There are obviously debates to be had about how this case and other instances of sexual abuse are carried out by groups with shared religious or cultural backgrounds (though maybe let's include the Catholic Church in that debate).

But Kavanagh, of course, went a lot further than that, linking the convictions to Brexit's promise of full control of immigration and asking: "What will we do about The Muslim Problem then?"

This isn't so much a political dog-whistle as a full on Wagner symphony. The Sun has been asked for a comment on whether it was a deliberate attempt to mirror the Nazis' second-favourite euphemism for hating Jews (the first, remember, has already been used by former Sun columnist Katie Hopkins after she'd left for the Mail.) It seems unlikely it was a mistake, given that Kavanagh's terrible views do not detract from his skill with words. 

The other argument (as it was with Hopkins) is that Kavanagh is just voicing his opinion as an independent columnist. That argument is a little difficult to hold up when Kavanagh is the Sun's former political editor, as well as its current assistant editor (he also sits on the board of media regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation). 

But even if you set aside Kavanagh's exalted position at the Sun and take it simply as one columnist saying something objectionable for attention, it's is part of a broader pattern of writing across the tabloid press that seeks to dehumanise minorities, and these days that mostly means Muslims. 

You will course see worse things on social media and the dark corners of the web. There is more explicit enthusiasm for applying Nazi tactics to minority groups in the UK on, for instance, the comments posted to Mail Online.

But while the right-wing tabloid press's statements, hints, and calls for serious debate in the face of oppressive "political correctness" are more subtle, their appearance in the supposedly mainstream media legitimises the most extreme of views. 

And to see how that works you only have to turn back across the Atlantic. 

Donald Trump's rise was backed by a drip drip of subtly-legitimatised hate from the likes of Breitbart and Fox News, augmented by the more crazy fringe of those like Alex Jones at Infowars, who talk of a white culture under threat. And there is a feedback loop running through Trump himself, where his comments and sometimes lack of comments boosts those messages. When he branded both sides in Charlottesville as equally violent, and refused to answer questions about support from white supremacists, it gave succour to the most openly fascist organisations on the internet

The US example shows what years of this process results in. It softens up the public for even more vicious views, and pushes the Overton Window so being a Nazi seems just another viewpoint – one sympathised with by parts of the supposed mainstream and perhaps, even, at least a little, the president himself. 

The US is perhaps a decade or two ahead of us down this path, but in Kavanagh and other writers like him, we have at least the beginnings of the same process. Maybe something like Charlottesville taking place here seems like a distant prospect. But we have plenty of people with huge media platforms doing their best to prepare the ground. 

Photo: Getty

The internet dictionary: what is astroturfing?

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

Yes, like the fake grass.

Thanks to the internet, there are a lot of new words. You’re most likely up to speed with your LOLs and OMGs, which became Oxford English Dictionary-worthy in 2011 (LOL OMG if you’re not). But words emerge constantly, and it can be hard to keep track of them. This is what this column is for. Every week, I’ll define a word that is crucial to understanding the internet, starting with “astroturfing” – like the fake grass.

To astroturf is to mask the author of a message to make it appear to have come from the grass roots. Messages created by brands, politicians and even the military are disguised as comments made by the public. The practice existed before the web – the term is thought to have been coined in 1985 by a US senator who received a “mountain” of letters from insurance companies posing as the public – but the internet has propelled it to new, disturbing heights.

“GIRLS U NEED TO READ THIS,” reads a tweet by a handsome teenage boy named Ashton, who tweets the same words day after day, followed by crying and heart emojis. Ashton lives to promote the book of a 19-year-old self-published author from Sheffield – or, at least, he would, if he lived at all. Ashton is fake, a profile designed to make the book seem popular. Many teenage girls have been duped by this. One told me: “I felt very cheated out of my money and my time.”

It has been estimated that a third of all consumer reviews online are fake. But it doesn’t end with bad books. In China, the “50 Cent Army” are astroturfers who are allegedly paid a small fee for each positive post they write about the Chinese Communist Party. And in 2011, it emerged that the US military was developing an “online persona management service” to spread pro-American messages, allowing one person to manage multiple online identities.

We would be foolish to assume that our own democracy is immune. Much was written about how the Tories used targeted social media adverts at the last election, and it is easy to see how astroturfing could transform our political landscape for ever. 

Photo: Getty

As a vegetarian, I’m relaxed about Britain’s cannibals

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

British cave dwellers apparently ate their dead relatives. They were consistent, at least. 

“Prehistoric Britons ate their dead,” exclaimed the Telegraph in a recent article, which went on to describe the “deeply sinister” and “grisly” discovery that British cave dwellers ate their deceased relatives.

Scientists from the Natural History Museum and University College London had drawn this conclusion after noticing human bones that had been filleted, chewed and ultimately broken to extract the bone marrow.

Find that icky? Well, yes, I do too. That’s why I don’t eat meat, and haven’t since I was four. But what I find stranger than ancient cannibalism is the attitude of carnivores today. 

In the 21st century, the humble plant-eater can note two contradictory trends – braggadocious carnivores, and a complete ignorance about where the nation gets its meat.

Take the self-proclaimed carnivores first. Our culture casually assumes there’s something macho about meat. According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, most languages relate meat-eating to the male gender.

"To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, all-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, all-American food," the authors wrote. "Soy is not.” This attitude has been taken to extremes by Tokyo’s Macho restaurant where all the meat-grilling chefs are bare-chested beefcakes. 

Given that meat eaters are supposedly macho hunter-gatherers, then, it’s strange that the second trend is that meat eaters are increasingly distant from the animals they eat. Victorian novels are packed with red-cheeked women wringing chickens’ necks, but in fact the rise of chicken as a popular meat in the UK went hand-in-hand with the rise of factory farming. Consumption of meat overall accelerated in the second half of the 20th century, as it became mass-produced – and the process of killing animals was hidden away in the supply chain. 

I noticed this first-hand when I worked in a sandwich shop. “I’ll have all the meat,” a customer would say proudly. Despite my vegetarianism, I could then quite happily use the tongs to pick up a dozen, odourless pink shapes on the counter, with their non-animalistic names. There was nothing to suggest this was a dead animal at all. The customer could walk away feeling more macho with every bite, without ever having looked directly at an animal and decided to kill it. 

Of course, when it comes to cannibalism, it’s impossible to stay that detached. We can’t read a description of human bones being nibbled without feeling it in our bones too. This attitude sometimes extends to animals considered intelligent – I’ve seen an enthusiastic carnivore look askance at a menu serving dolphin – or cute (see the continued outrage about dog meat). And this unease lends itself to a question most would rather avoid: where do you draw the line? At what level of intelligence or consciousness does an animal become sacred? When does killing an animal for meat become murder?

Our ancestors, apparently, thought about it and came to the conclusion: everything’s on the table. So while I don’t like factory farming, or hypocritical carnivores, I’m fairly relaxed about the concept of being descended from cannibals. At least they were consistent in their carnivorous tastes. 

Photo: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum

On its way to lace

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

A new poem by Craig Raine.

I am flying at night.
Pins and needles
waiting in my iPhone.
Then the sadness of landing gear
swallowing the lump in its throat.
Dim the cabin lights.
My phone is dying.

Venice in blackface,
raining and gleaming.
The lagoon tonight
like patent leather dancing pumps.

A seagull’s umbrella feet.
Its irritable beak.
Each litter bin
a sarcastic cornucopia.

Trees on Sant’Elena.
Trees at Treviso.
The beauty of this dying,
the leaf on its way to lace.

See, the sick greens’ pallor.
Look, the slow release of colours,
pale lemons, sauternes,
cod liver oil capsules,
rusts, ground coffee beans,
lucozades, irn bru,
bright Colman’s mustard,
drab Dijon mustard,
Dover sole, freckles, keratoses,
the blush of old cricket balls,
the rouges of gout, sunsets,
bloods, brash burglar alarms,
lavender bruises, Fonseca port.

The leaves turn, they turn away also,
they turn from us, the leaves,
so that we shall know this once,
for once, the world we have
we have to lose.

Craig Raine’s latest book is “My Grandmother’s Glass Eye: a Look at Poetry” (Atlantic)

Photo: Getty

Our Big Texas Launch Party: UT and WOTR Join Forces

By James Goldgeier, William Inboden, Radha Iyengar, Paul Miller, Loren DeJonge Schulman, Erin Simpson and Ryan Evans from War on the Rocks. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

You’ve read a bit about our alliance with the Texas National Security Network, brought to you by the University of Texas. Now you get to be a guest at our launch party in DC, where we ate Blue Bell ice cream, drank Shiner Bock (and scotch, of course), and held an awesome panel with the hosts of ...

Nigeria Security Tracker Weekly Update: August 5 - August 11

By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

Below is a visualization and description of some of the most significant incidents of political v

Delivering Clinical Practice Guideline-Concordant Care for PTSD and Major Depression in Military Treatment Facilities

By Kimberly A. Hepner; Coreen Farris; Carrie M. Farmer; Praise O. Iyiewuare; Terri Tanielian; Asa Wilks; Michael Robbins; Susan M. Paddock; Harold Alan Pincus from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

This report describes the psychological health workforce at military treatment facilities, examines the extent to which care is consistent with clinical practice guidelines, and identifies facilitators and barriers to providing this care.

Military Mental Health Care

By Kimberly A. Hepner; Coreen Farris; Carrie M. Farmer; Praise O. Iyiewuare; Terri Tanielian; Asa Wilks; Michael Robbins; Susan M. Paddock; Harold Alan Pincus from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

This infographic describes data on various aspects of the Military Health System capacity to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

The Power and the Story: fact, fabrication and the shaping of the modern media

By John Gray from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

Author John Lloyd is amazed at how Donald Trump has “set about trashing” the practice of journalism.

“Don’t you understand that if something is not on TV it doesn’t exist? Not a product, a politician nor an ideal!” Addressing one of his closest aides, in an exchange reported in a book published in 2006, Silvio Berlusconi enunciated the first principle of commerce and politics in our time: to be is to be perceived in the media.

Acting on this maxim, Berlusconi amassed an empire in which he and his family controlled half of Italy’s television output, a quarter of the national papers, half of the news magazines and the biggest Italian publishing house. At the same time, using staff from his advertising business Publitalia, he created from nothing a political party, Forza Italia – an expression, usually translated as “Go, Italy!”, which until then had been used mainly at international football matches. Through this he was able to enter parliament (where deputies enjoyed immunity from prosecution) and serve as prime minister in four governments.

Struggling to describe Berlusconi’s extraordinary personality, John Lloyd writes:

…no biography has yet been able to do justice to the amalgam of arrogance, boldness, cynicism, determination, empathy, grotesquerie, hope, intuition, jocularity, kindness, lying, malevolence, nobility, opacity, quixotry, romance, self-confidence, trickery, understanding vindictiveness, wackiness, X-ratedness, youthfulness and zip that he contains.

But it may not have been only this improbable combination of attributes that enabled Berlusconi to build his empire in the media and politics. There may also have been a body of theory, which guided some of those involved in its construction. According to Andrew Hussey, the biographer of the French situationist thinker Guy Debord, one of Berlusconi’s lieutenants boasted that Debord had taught him all he knew. In The Society of the Spectacle (1967), Debord suggested that contemporary capitalism was constructing an omnipresent system of images, distracting people from the reality of their situation and locking them into impoverished lives. Berlusconi’s executive absorbed this theory, and used it to strengthen the hold of the spectacle on Italian society.

It seems unlikely that Debord’s writings are among those studied by Donald Trump’s communications guru Steve Bannon, whose knowledge of European thinkers appears to be confined to a few on the far right. But Trump’s campaign techniques had more than a little in common with the strategies that, 20 years earlier, helped Berlusconi build his empire. “More than any other figure in Europe whose business included the production of journalism,” Lloyd writes, “Berlusconi created a political-media world in which his interests were protected, while at the same time the TV experience was shifted decisively on to the ground of instant pleasure – in game shows, popular films, soap operas, musical spectaculars and high-impact news.” Trump’s campaign exploited social media more than television. But it was similarly demotic, deploying racial slurs, conspiracy theories and what came to be called “alternative facts” to create and mobilise a mass movement against the established political classes in both main parties.

Outrageously transgressive in terms of the liberal norms that shape much of American journalistic culture, particularly in the print media, Trump was also shockingly successful, and the strong bond he forged with his followers has survived his failings in office. In his core constituencies, efforts by mainstream media to demonstrate his mendacity have only reinforced the image Trump had fashioned for himself – that of being a truth-telling outsider besieged by Washington power elites determined to destroy him.

At the end of this exceptionally wide-ranging and informative book, Lloyd expresses amazement at the way in which, aping autocrats around the world, Trump has “set about trashing” the practice of journalism. “That this should be happening in America,” he writes, “is hardly credible.”

Throughout Lloyd’s critical survey, which covers post-communist Russia and Eastern Europe, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Mexico, China, India and Japan as well as the US and UK among other countries, he points again and again to the links between the practice of journalism and liberal democracy. Proper journalism requires freedom to investigate and to publish. More, it must be able to provoke some response from the authorities. In the absence of these conditions – which exist only in liberal democracies – journalists are powerless. If any overall message can be gleaned from Lloyd’s account it is that journalism is an intrinsically liberal enterprise, threatened by the same forces that threaten liberalism itself. In fact the relations between journalism and the forces that aim to stifle it are more diverse and conflicting than this simple formula would suggest.

A contributing editor for the Financial Times, formerly its Moscow bureau chief from 1990 to 1995, and a senior research fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, Lloyd does an impressive job in showing how journalism is vulnerable to the power of the state and the market. In authoritarian regimes – whether or not they sport the trappings of democracy – the license of media companies to operate can be revoked at any time, and journalists may have to make a choice between serving the ruling power or following the story and risking whatever sanctions they might incur. These can include death. Some 20 journalists have been killed in Russia since Putin came to power, many of them following years of intimidation and harassment – such as Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in her apartment block in 2006 after having suffered a mock execution by Russian military forces in Chechnya, being poisoned on an airplane and receiving many death threats.

 The suppression of journalists in Putin’s Russia has been viewed as a reversion to Stalinist norms, but as Lloyd points out this is not so. In Russia today there are sections of the press and small radio and television stations that allow dissenting voices and books that criticise the regime. Above all there is the freedom of the Internet (though it may be worth noting that Russian MPs recently voted to curb online freedoms by clamping down on anonymous browsing and access to websites deemed dangerous by the government). There is another difference, though Lloyd does not spell it out. Journalists were not singled out to be killed in Stalin’s totalitarian state. Like millions of others, they were swept up in purges and many perished; but they were not individually targeted for criticising the regime. When the media are state owned and serve a single master, all the journalism that is produced is pre-censored; there is no need to murder journalists for attacking the regime, since no such journalists exist. The violent deaths of journalists testify to the relative weakness of the Russian state, not its strength. In this respect Russia today resembles not so much the Stalinist Soviet Union as contemporary Mexico, where journalists have been assassinated for uncovering webs of complicity between organised crime, state officials, politicians and the police.

Where Putin’s Russia is more distinctive is in the media apparatus the regime operates. Since the Soviet-born writer and former Moscow television producer Peter Pomerantsev’s semi-autobiographical volume Nothing is True and Everything is Possible (2014), much has been written on how Putin has created a media operation in which truth no longer has any meaning and objective reporting has been replaced by a weaponised version of post-modern relativism – a view of the Russian media that Lloyd broadly accepts. Certainly Putin’s army of “political technologists” has been remarkably adept at manipulating public perception in Russia and (through the television channel RT – formerly Russia Today – which has tens of millions of daily viewers) many other countries. In the virtual world fashioned by Putin’s media complex, facts are lost in a wilderness of mirrors.

This kind of information warfare, however, is not as new as it seems. Flowing from Lenin’s belief that politics and war are one and the same, deception (maskirovka in Russian) was an integral part of the Soviet state from the beginning. Putin’s strategy of denying the role of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine continues this tradition. Lloyd writes that Lenin “did not adhere to the view that there was an objective truth in events”. But Lenin was no relativist: he was convinced he had understood the logic of history and could use this insight to outwit the West. Believing the West is in retreat and using disinformation to accelerate the process, Putin is not so different.

It is true that the contemporary media environment makes it harder to tell the difference between fact-based reportage and fabricated news. As Lloyd notes, this is why populist movements tend to favour new media over more traditional outlets: “The Net, with its promiscuous mixture of fact, conjecture, partisan spin and fake news, deliberately constructed to gain attention and income, is a much more attractive medium within which to work.” Not all the effects of the Net have been negative. As newspapers have lost circulation, revenue and, in some cases, intellectual content, websites have sprung up that match or surpass the old media in ambition and rigour. Washington-based Politico, with seven-to-eight million unique visitors and 50 million page views each month, is a notable example. Again, some magazines – not least the one in which I write – have bucked the trend of dwindling circulation and declining intellectual content. Even so, the impact of new technologies on old media has been mostly destructive.

One such effect is a relentless focus on subjective sensations and emotions. “Tabloid journalists need a few facts,” Lloyd writes, “but above all they need to stimulate or imitate emotion, an approach now leeched into straight news.” As Lloyd implies, this focus on feeling is largely market-driven. Sensationalism is popular and, in terms of ratings, profitable; much of the public may have little interest in digging into the history and causes of events. But the rise of a fact-light, emotionally manipulative journalism is by no means confined to the tabloids and news media.

Opinion columns nowadays have less to do with the analysis of events and more with whatever feelings of outrage the writer is momentarily gripped by or has confected for the purposes of the column. The idea that a columnist might usefully stand against the temper of the age, chastening readers’ enthusiasms and mocking their pretensions to virtue, is too outlandish to be contemplated. A figure like H L Mencken, who regaled his readers with caustic commentaries on the idealistic follies of what he described as “the booboisie”, is inconceivable today.

 One reason for this situation may be the belief that good journalism and liberal values are joined at the hip. Lloyd is right in arguing that decent journalism can be practiced in any continuing and widespread fashion only against a background of liberal freedoms. The trade of the reporter requires that facts can be uncovered and published without the danger of journalists being silenced. But when facts are denied, ignored or under-reported, the reason is not always the risk of sanctions from governments or media barons. Facts can be marginalised because they do not fit into the prevailing view of the world, which in much of the media is liberal.

Consider immigration. That an increased supply of cheap labour tends to drive down wages is an economic truism. In the same way, sharply increased demand for housing and social services tends to make these services harder to access by those who need them. In both cases the impact is largest on the poorest sections of society. Yet mentioning these facts in any discussion of immigration violates one of the axioms of the prevailing liberalism, which lays down that the economic benefits of immigration always outweigh any costs it may have. For many in the media, this is a self-evident truth that only malignant and morally disreputable reactionaries could possibly deny.

If the job of the journalist is, as Lloyd suggests, “to say, and to show, that this happened”, it can be obstructed in many ways. Not only does the power of the state and the pressure of the market stand in the way. So, at times, do journalists themselves. Showing what is happening is difficult when it undermines an integral part of one’s world-view.

 The inherent tendency of the media at the present time is towards a kind of magical realism – the construction of a fabulous world that is less intractable than the one that actually exists. It is not that the idea of truth no longer applies. Conspiracy theory, which is rife on the internet, is based on the belief that the truth is so blindingly obvious that it must be actively concealed. The function of much of the media – mainstream and alternative – is not to subvert the idea of truth, but instead to render the truth emotionally satisfying.

When he suggested that we were coming to inhabit a media-constructed environment, Debord anticipated a pattern in late 20th- and early 21st-century politics. Berlusconi and Trump, Corbyn and Macron are episodes in media spectacles that reveal and at the same time obscure the conflicts of their societies. Where Debord went wrong was in supposing that the spectacle is unitary, and virtually all-powerful. Many spectacles are at work in today’s fragmented and accelerated media environment, each of them liable to rapid obsolescence or a sudden crash. What will Corbyn’s cuddly anti-capitalism be in a few months? What will have become of Macron’s Napoleonic visions? Berlusconi was right in thinking that if something is not in the media it does not exist. Political projects are now little more substantial than television advertisements, and often have shorter lifespans.

The Power and the Story: the Global Battle for News and Information
John Lloyd
Atlantic Books, 480pp, £25

Photo: MAGNUM

Army Stock Positioning

By Adam C. Resnick; Jeremy M. Eckhause; James Syme from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

This report analyzes how the U.S. Army can improve its distribution of heavy secondary items that account for a small proportion of the overall number of items the Army must ship to users but comprise a large proportion of the weight it ships.

The inventor of Godwin’s Law says it’s fine to call Charlottesville rioters Nazis

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

Turns out doing Hitler salutes, flying swastika flags and hating other races will do it.

Good news from the bad lands of the internet. It is now officially online-okay to compare the white supremacists rioting at Charlottesville to Nazis.

Mike Godwin, the American lawyer and author who came up with the (only slightly tongue in cheek) law that online arguments inevitably, and often unneccessarily, result in a comparison to Hitler, says so himself:

“By all means, compare these shitheads to Nazis,” he tweeted. “Again and again. I’m with you.”

So now anyone crying “Godwin’s Law” in defence of the “alt-right” has been put right by the man himself.

Getty

There's an obvious way out of the prisons crisis

By Edward Garnier from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

Overcrowding is at the heart of the problem, writes former shadow prisons minister Edward Garnier. 

It is a truth beyond cliché that those outside the world of prisons rarely hear or read about what happens in prisons – unless there has been a riot or a particularly violent death in custody.

We see news film of angry inmates on roofs hurling tiles onto watching police or prison officers; we see smoke spiralling up from a fire deliberately started by prisoners upset at some real or imagined grievance; we hear ministers, Conservative and Labour, saying that there will be an inquiry and that lessons will be learned. Then we move on to the next news story or whatever concerns us more and forget about prisons, prisoners, and prison officers, and allow the metaphorical tide to re-cover the sand.

Even when the chief inspector of prisons publishes an annual report, as Peter Clarke has just done, it gets scant attention in the media and still less in parliament. That is almost as great a scandal as the things Clarke writes about in his Annual Report 2016-17 published this July.

You do not have to read very far into the document to become depressed, both because it is true and because it could have been written each year for the last 30 years. Clarke begins:

At the heart of our work is the inspection of adult prisons, which hold more than 81,000 men and nearly 4,000 women. Last year I reported that too many of our prisons had become unacceptably violent and dangerous places. The situation had not improved – in fact, it has become worse. There have been startling increases in all types of violence. The biggest increase is assaults on staff which, in the 12 months to December 2016, rose by 38 per cent to 6,844 incidents. Of these 789 were serious, an increase of 26 per cent. In total there were more than 26,000 assaults, an increase of 27 per cent. Of the 29 local prisons and training prisons we inspected during the year, we judged 21 of them to be "poor" or "not sufficiently good" in the area of safety.

This is pretty stark stuff. It is evidence of repeated failure on a large scale. It is evidence that should make us ashamed. But it is only part of the picture. Here is Clarke again:

By February this year we had reached the conclusion that there was not a single establishment that we inspected in England and Wales in which it was safe to hold children and young people… there seems to be something of a vicious circle. Violence leads to a restrictive regime and security measures which in turn frustrate those being held there. We have seen regimes where boys take every meal alone in their cell, where they are locked up for excessive amounts of time, where they do not get enough exercise, education or training, and where there do not appear to be any credible plans to break the cycle of violence.

Things are getting worse, not better. They have been for some while. Yet governments, past and present, seem to be unable or unwilling to do anything of a practical nature to repair or reform the system.

The analysis of the facts of prison life and the work done in them by governors, officers, teachers, psychiatrists, drug teams, medics and other professionals produces the same recommendations I was learning about and researching over 10 years ago when shadow prisons minister.

Far too many young men in prison were addicted to noxious drugs or alcohol (it was and is not difficult to get hold of these substances). Far too many of them were mentally unwell (and not just depressed because they were in custody, a long way from home, frightened and isolated, although they were). Far too many of them were ill-nourished and physically unfit and took no or little exercise; far too many of them were functionally illiterate and innumerate; and far too many of them were leading lives devoid of purpose in prisons that were overcrowded and under-staffed. They were unsafe places to live and to work. They were holding stations for the more than 80,000 people the rest of us wanted to forget about.

As Clarke also points out, the treatment of and regime for those more than 3,000 prisoners on indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs) is far from satisfactory. Ten years ago, I was told by every prison governor whose prison housed IPP prisoners that they were the most difficult cohort to manage. They had no release date, they could not get onto the courses necessary to demonstrate they were no longer a danger to the public, and many of them did not understand the policy behind or the practical effect of their sentence.

In court, they had taken in only the number of months or years of their minimum tariff before they could be considered for release, and it had not dawned on them that they might still be there a decade or more later. In prison, years beyond their tariff, they became stuck in a hopeless spiral of decline, depression and surliness that would occasionally erupt into violence against staff or other inmates or self-harm.

This week the former chief inspector of prisons and current chief inspector of probation, Nick Hardwick, has published his report. It reinforces Clarke’s. IPP prisoners are still, some years after the sentence was abolished, being held in custody years after their tariffs and still there is a long backlog of cases awaiting consideration by the Probation Board. It is an appalling state of affairs and one that can only be dealt with if prisons policy gets further up the government’s agenda of priorities.

Theresa May was not directly concerned about prisons as home secretary but the Ministry of Justice needs both a prime minister and a secretary of state to take a close interest in prisons policy. David Lidington is a man of great intellect and humanity. He has not, I suspect, had much to do with prisons since his time as Douglas Hurd’s special adviser 30 years ago. There were only 45,000 people in prison then. He needs to bring a sense of purpose to this brief which has been bedevilled by too many justice secretaries since 2010, some of whom could, had they stayed longer in the job, perhaps achieved positive reform. And he needs a prisons minister who has the political clout that comes with seniority within the government, who has the active support of the secretary of state, and who has the interest and ear of the Prime Minister.

The heart of the problem in our prisons lies in overcrowding. The government knows that. What they do about it is the issue. Promising more prison staff is no longer good enough although necessary. The new recruits are, sadly, often not up to the job and anyway do not stay in the job long enough to be of value. There are more than 85,000 people in custody and not enough people to look after them. As a result prisoners spend far too much time in their cells doing nothing. If they are sharing a cell (and many are sharing cells designed for single occupancy) they have no privacy even to the point of having to defecate in sight of their cellmate.

Read more: “I'm to blame”: Blunkett's indefinite prison sentences

Prisons are, as Clarke points out, unsafe. They are also unproductive. Those who leave them on the completion of their sentences are more likely to reoffend that not; they are more likely to be unemployable than employable. If they went in illiterate they are likely to be illiterate on release; if they went in with an addiction, they are likely to be addicted on release. If a company ran a factory making products where 50 per cent of them broke down within six months of production or never worked in the first place, there would be a shareholders’ revolt and the management would be sacked. Years of failure or absence of improvement would not be tolerated. Why though do we tolerate it in our prisons system?

The easy answer to overcrowding is to build more prisons, but we cannot afford that. The other answer is to send fewer people to prison. Drug addicts should be rehabilitated outside prison; the mentally ill should be treated and helped within the health system. Prisons should be reserved for the dangerous, the violent and the depraved. The government has more to do than just dealing with Brexit and it should deal with our prisons urgently. 

The Rt Hon Sir Edward Garnier QC was Conservative MP for Harborough 1992-2017, shadow prisons minister 2005-09, shadow attorney general 1999-2001 and 2009-10, and HM solicitor general 2010-12

Photo: Getty

Enhancing Management of the Joint Future Vertical Lift Initiative

By Jeffrey A. Drezner; Parisa Roshan; Thomas Whitmore from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

It is possible to achieve some degree of commonality without joint program management and identifies lessons from historical experience and how they apply to the joint Future Vertical Lift initiative.

What is ‘good work’, and can it be encouraged?

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

In today’s changing economy it is time to look at the quality of work, and how it can be improved for the benefit of employees and companies alike 

The publication of the Taylor Review into Modern Working Practices, initiated and supported by the Prime Minister, sought to address issues around employment rights, benefits and taxation, and working practices. It analysed these considerations within the context of various forms of self-employment, contract work, and in light of the growth of the so-called gig economy.

There are welcome proposals on rights, and definitions of different types of working relationships, such as the distinction between independent and dependent contractors. However there also needs to be a conscious effort to ensure workers, and their employers, understand their rights. That is why the CIPD manifesto calls for a ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign, run by government alongside employer bodies and trade unions. This would help ensure that the rights were not just clear for individuals at a legal, technical level but understood by managers and employers, in order to help encourage good working practices.

Importantly Matthew Taylor took a big step back and recognised that the debate we need to have today is not just over understanding different forms of work, but should also be about what could be called “good work”, and why that is important. Good work is work that is engaging, gives people a voice, treats them fairly, is good for their wellbeing, and helps them to progress. It should be positive for individuals, but also lead to wider positive organisational and economic outcomes: higher levels of productivity and output, and greater innovation and adaptability.

The idea of focusing on “good work” is not new. With support from business and HR leaders the Work Foundation founded a Good Work Commission in 2010, but the concept has lacked consistent traction. As we face a more uncertain future of work, with the growing impact of technology and geopolitical change, now is the time to focus on this vital agenda.

Amongst the G20 nations the UK ranks in the bottom quartile for productivity, and the rate of progress has slowed almost to a halt. Many of the challenges we face in addressing productivity have their roots in the very nature of the jobs and roles we create, how they utilise and develop skills, how well people are led and managed, and how we do more to invest in our people and workplaces. Following the Productivity Review in 2016, led by Sir Charlie Mayfield, the creation of a Productivity Council aims to provide more support to businesses in all these areas. The reality is that we have under-invested in our workplaces over the last decade or more, perhaps being too tempted to take on relatively cheap and flexible labour instead. We have neglected to create the kinds of jobs, roles and support that can draw the best from people.

We also are seeing the growth of work-related stress, and in turn greater attention being paid to wellbeing at work. Most surveys on levels of engagement at work make for concerning reading, and again the UK does not compare well. Good work should result in positive individual outcomes, and there is plenty of evidence that points to the relationship between wellbeing and engagement to productivity and creativity, and more broadly overall wellness and longevity.

The Taylor report offers a strong reminder that good work should be a unifying theme in addressing these challenges, and creating opportunities for more people to have fulfilling working lives. As the report describes, we need to re-focus our attention away from a strict adherence to quantity of work, and promote the idea that quality of work is just as important. With a long-standing labour market policy focus on the number of people in employment, policy-makers have tended to prioritise proposals that boost full time employment, while potentially treating other forms of work as less important.

More flexible working opportunities are crucial for the many workers who have other life commitments, such as caring, and can help retain older workers in the labour economy. However, flexible or part time working, particularly zero-hours contracts or roles within the gig economy, are framed in a way that often suggests they are inherently inferior to full time work. While in some cases workers on those contracts are not treated fairly, and there has been significant media coverage around some employers and their practices, it’s also important to note that bad practices can exist for any type of work or employment. Indeed, many of the CIPD’s own surveys find that workers on these kinds of contracts are generally satisfied, and in many cases particularly positive about the flexibility of work provided.

If we are to make progress around the idea of good work, we need not only to define it but also ensure we encourage good practice, whatever form the work or employment arrangement takes.

There is recognition of the need to define good work at a national as well as international level. However, there are significant challenges to any attempt to agree a definition. There have been some studies that use wages as a guide, while others use job satisfaction, but both of those methods only tell part of the story of someone’s experience at work. Building an agreed framework, and possible measures, around good work is important to help government and businesses understand it, and can therefore be held accountable. It will require bringing together academics, practitioners and policy makers, and should involve the intersection of ideas across productivity, wellbeing, pay and reward, and the changing nature of work. The Taylor review has given this work a positive impetus.

Regulatory reform is not going to be the silver bullet, and needs to be pursued with caution. There will be critical areas that government can positively influence, from skills investment to improving careers advice and guidance. Nevertheless, the responsibility for creating good work must primarily lie with business. They have an obligation to consider the quality of work they are offering, opportunities for progression and fair treatment of all their workers. It is crucial they understand how these factors are key drivers of long term business performance. 

 

Peter Cheese has been the Chief Executive of the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, since July 2012. He previously had a long career at Accenture and is also a Companion of the Institute of Leadership and Management, the Chartered Management Institute, and the British Academy of Management.  

SHUTTERSTOCK / DAISY DAISY

Pakistan’s Search for its Place in Southern Asia’s Evolving Order

By Sannia Abdullah from War on the Rocks. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of “Southern (Dis)Comfort,” a new series from War on the Rocks and the Stimson Center. The series seeks to unpack the dynamics of intensifying competition—military, economic, diplomatic—in Southern Asia, principally between China, India, Pakistan, and the United States. Read the first installment here.  Southern Asia’s evolving geopolitics are ...

Collecting memories of partition: “this is our last chance to hear first-hand accounts”

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

On the 70th anniversary of the divsion of India and Pakistan, archivists try to build a museum.

Nand Jhaveri was a few months over ten years old when he left his home in Shikarpur, Pakistan for India. It was 7 January 1948. The countries had become independent the previous August following the bloody creation of two separate states.

Now, a city like Delhi, a crucible of Muslim Mughal culture, was stranded in the middle of a Hindu-majority country, while Bengalis were divided into Indians and East Pakistanis (later Bangladeshis). 

Sindh, the province containing Shikarpur, had been relatively peaceful, unlike neighbouring Punjab where thousands of people had been killed on both sides of the new border. But on 6 January, major riots took place in Karachi, the capital of Sindh, convincing many Hindu Sindhis that it was time to leave. Jhaveri arrived at the city's port with his mother, uncles and cousins by camel cart and boarded the Karapara bound for Bombay (now Mumbai). “It was fun for me,” said Jhaveri, now 81.

In Bombay, Jhaveri lived in a barrack in a camp set up for partition refugees in the suburb of Chembur. His father and grandfather arrived a year later. Since they couldn’t bear to sell their ancestral land, they signed it over to their Muslim manager. Jhaveri, who ran a diamond trading business and wrote Sindhi poetry, has never been able to get Sindh out of his mind. He has visited Pakistan six times, travelling to Karachi and his old home in Shikarpur.

Jhaveri was one of the estimated 15 million people who crossed borders between India and Pakistan during partition. The numbers that died during the violent separation and exodus in both directions are said to range from 250,000 to two million. Despite being the largest migration in history, partition is perfunctorily studied in school and hardly talked about in the public sphere.

However this year, the 70th anniversary of independence, is different. For the first time, there have been large-scale efforts to remember the horrors of partition. On 17 August the Partition Museum will open fully in Amritsar in Punjab. It was partially opened last year. Described as a "people’s museum", it documents personal histories of those who were there.

“I think in the immediate aftermath of partition, people were raw,” said Mallika Ahluwalia, the co-founder of the Partition Museum (pictured above). “There was the economic impact of it. People lost homes and grieving was considered a luxury. They had to pull themselves together. There was also a veil of silence because of the violence against women. Now there’s a sense of urgency. This is our last chance, in ten years we won’t get a first-hand account of partition.”

Ahluwalia’s grandparents migrated to the Indian side of Punjab in 1947.

Anju Makhija, a poet living in Mumbai who has translated into English poetry about partition written in Sindhi, attributes the lack of a conversation to the near absence of an archival culture in India. “We don’t archive and we don’t have strong university programmes that support research,” she said.

One of those pioneering remembrance is the Mumbai-based arts organisation the Godrej India Culture Lab, which held a three-day "pop up museum" remembering partition. It was the first such event in years, which is surprising as the city is home to a large number of partition migrants. Many of them are Sindhis, who mourn the loss of their state, which is entirely in Pakistan

The 1947 Partition Archive, a collection of oral histories, also released its cache of 4,300 stories to universities in India, Pakistan and the Stanford Digital Repository this week. In 2008, shortly after the 60th anniversary of partition, Guneeta Bhalla, at the time a PhD student in Florida, visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. She was moved enough to begin gathering stories of partition.

At first she spoke to Indians in the US, and later interviewed witnesses in the Punjab. The archive began as a word-of-mouth exercise, but found a digital home in 2011. It now has stories from across the world including the UK, which has a large numbers of Indian immigrants. The archive’s witness accounts have been mostly crowdsourced either by "citizen historians", who must sign up for an online workshop on oral history, or "story scholars", who have earned fellowships to collect stories.

Collecting stories about Partition is not an easy task – one reason it is infrequently discussed is that the witnesses see little value in raking up the past. London resident Arjan Kirpalani was 18 at the time. While two of his brothers moved to India in 1948 aboard the Karapara, the same ship that brought Jhaveri to Bombay, Kirpalani stayed back in Hyderabad with his parents. His father had a job in the government of Sindh and was reluctant to leave. He migrated to the UK in 1958. “What would you get back by remembering these things?” he said, in a phone interview. “It was dirty politics.”

Birmingham resident Kidar Jain was ten when partition took place. He recalls travelling in a bus, filled with men and women migrating to India from his hometown of Jhelum, to Amritsar. The ride felt like an adventure and he sensed no danger even when the passengers were told not to step outside.

It was only much later that he realised how perilous the journey through Punjab was. Jain’s mother had died of an illness that year and his father was meant to join him in a few days. But his father was stabbed to death before he could cross over. “I had been dreaming of my father coming back, but he never came,” Jain said. He moved to the UK in 1965 and got a job in Birmingham as a laboratory technician. Both Jain and Kirpalani’s stories have been documented by the archive.

The archive is not just about Hindus fleeing to the newly-independent India. It has many accounts of Muslims who crossed over from India to Pakistan, and of Hindus and Muslims who moved between India and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

Ali Shan, who lives in California, was a six-year-old boy in Ranguwal in Indian Punjab when he saw a mob kill his mother and brother. He survived being shot at and, in an ironic twist, was later rescued by one of the men in the mob, who handed him over to a Sikh family. Shan was fostered for six months before being taken to a refugee camp in Lahore. (India and Pakistan had an agreement that those who’d been abducted or separated from their families would be returned to their families.) Shan’s maternal uncle found him at the camp and took him home to Kasur in Pakistani Punjab.

Another story is that of Kazi Shamsuzzaman, who migrated from Howrah in West Bengal in India to Dhaka in East Pakistan in 1947. During communal riots in 1946, he hid in a tree to escape a murderous mob. Friends convinced his father that India was unsafe for Muslims and the following year, they abandoned their land and a large house to take a train to Dhaka with just a bag of jewellery and some papers.

By revealing people’s stories of partition, Bhalla and fellow archivist Ahluwalia are keen to correct the popular perception of the event as a conflict between Hindus and Muslims, especially at a time when India's right-wing government appears to be fanning anti-minority sentiment. Bhalla finds that young Indians have more religious biases than their elders. “It’s important for our generation to know because most [partition witnesses] recognised that it was not a religious thing,” Bhalla said. The violence was the fault of a few. In fact, oral accounts of Indian partition witnesses are full of anecdotes of Muslims protecting their Hindu neighbours.

Rajinder Kumari Sabharwal, who lives in Mumbai, left her village near Jaranwala in Pakistani Punjab a few days before partition. While she arrived safely, her parents had a dramatic departure some days later. They hid in their Muslim neighbour’s home when rioters ransacked Hindu homes in the village. The next morning, they retrieved gold jewellery they had hidden beneath the stove and left for the Indian border escorted by a gun-wielding Muslim man from the village.

Sabharwal compared the violent mobs to terrorists and said their actions had nothing to do with religion. Yet she feels talking about partition will only deepen fissures between Hindus and Muslims. “What’s the point of raking up these issues?” she said. “We’re settled now.”

Photo: Getty

Blue on blue: the 10 greatest Tory feuds

By Tim Bale from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

The party's war over Europe is nothing new.

The Conservatives have descended into infighting over Europe, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone – they have been at each other’s throats many times before. The Tory expert Tim Bale provides a guide to the most acrimonious feuds, starting in 1945…

10) Winston Churchill v Lord (Fred) Woolton

You’ve probably never heard of Lord Woolton – of course you haven’t. And that’s just the way Winston hoped it would turn out. The two men started out on pretty good terms. After all, it was Churchill who appointed his wartime minister of food to the chairmanship of the Tory party in 1945.

It proved a shrewd appointment. Woolton increased the membership and raised a shedload of money, which helped Churchill win office again in 1951. But by that time, every­one who worked with either of them knew that they didn’t see eye to eye, although the tension tended to bubble rather than boil over. It was partly down to jealousy on both men’s parts, but also because Churchill’s enthusiasm for an electoral pact with the Liberal Party went far beyond what Woolton (and most of his colleagues and the Tory grass roots) thought was necessary or wise. The result? Churchill is mythologised and Woolton largely forgotten.

9) Anthony Eden v Winston Churchill

Remember how Gordon Brown kept nagging Tony Blair to stand down so he could take over, and how Blair kept stringing him along? The relationship between Anthony Eden and Winston Churchill followed a similar dynamic. Many Tories assumed that Churchill, after regaining the premiership in 1951, would promptly hand over to the man widely tipped as his successor. But Churchill clung on to office despite increasingly serious concerns about his health and, indeed, his fitness to govern.

Eventually, he bowed to the inevitable but let it be known to a few close associates that he feared Eden would make a hash of things. He was right. After Eden’s handsome victory at the 1955 election, it only took weeks for the new prime minister’s high-handed manner to grate on his cabinet colleagues, with the result that few were upset when, after the humiliation of Suez, he resigned on the grounds of ill health.

8) The Tory establishment v Rab Butler

If it’s tough at the top, it can be even tougher getting there – or not getting there. When Eden went, many expected Richard Austen Butler, familiarly known as Rab, to succeed him. They were wrong.

After consultations among the party – there was no such thing as a leadership contest back then – it was Harold Macmillan who “emerged” as Tory leader and therefore prime minister. Butler felt the slight deeply but continued to serve loyally.

When Macmillan, who had won an impressive victory at the 1959 general election, resigned in 1963 after the Profumo affair, it looked as if Butler would finally get his chance. But he was again denied it by the “customary processes” that (allegedly with Macmillan’s help) handed the leadership and the premiership to Alec Douglas-Home, who had to renounce his place in the House of Lords to claim his prize.

Not everyone was pleased, and two high-profile ministers pointedly refused to serve under him. Enoch Powell was one of them. The other (better known at the time) was Iain Macleod, who used his position as editor of the Spectator (think George Osborne but still in parliament) to write an exposé in which he claimed that an Old Etonian “magic circle” had manipulated the consultation process to block Butler in favour of one of their own.

7) Enoch Powell v Ted Heath

Powell was always seen as a bit of an oddity – albeit a rather brilliant one – by his colleagues. When the Tories held their first democratic leadership contest in 1965, he came third with the support of just 15 MPs, far behind the winner, Ted Heath, with 150.

His fellow MPs knew that Powell was becoming increasingly concerned about what he saw as the long-term downsides of mass immigration from the Caribbean, Africa and the Indian subcontinent. But both the content and the tone of his “rivers of blood” speech in April 1968 came as an enormous shock. Ted Heath never forgave or, apparently, even spoke to Powell again. Yet Powell – a Thatcherite and a Euro­sceptic avant la lettre – was, according to contemporary polling, one of the most popular politicians in the country. He then spent most of the next five years opposing Heath’s ultimately successful attempt to get Britain into Europe. In 1974, Powell quit the Commons and urged people to vote Labour.

6) Ted Heath v Margaret Thatcher

A true grudge match. Heath only appointed Thatcher to his shadow cabinet and then his cabinet because he felt obliged to give something to a woman, and she was by far the most talented available. She stuck loyally to her education brief during his 1970-74 government, although privately she thought his government was a disaster. After he lost both of the 1974 general elections, she had the temerity  to challenge and then beat Heath for the leadership the following year. 

He never forgave her, descending into what became known as “the long sulk”. She refused to offer him an olive branch or a way back into high office. They died unreconciled.

5) Margaret Thatcher v John Major

Thatcher, like Heath, bought into the myth of her own indispensability and was devastated when her parliamentary party decided in November 1990 that she had passed her sell-by date. Fearing that she might be succeeded by Michael Heseltine, she alighted on her chancellor, John Major, as the man most likely to stop Hezza. But things soon began to turn sour as (according to Thatcher) her anointed successor proceeded to stray from the path of true Conservatism. Their relationship grew increasingly strained as she grew more Eurosceptic and made her displeasure ever more public.

4) Team Hague v Team Portillo

For sheer comedy value, this one had it all. Michael Portillo’s dream of taking over from John Major after the Tories were blown out of the water by New Labour in 1997 came crashing down as he lost his seat in the landslide. William Hague got the job, but it wasn’t too long before Portillo made it back in a by-election, after which there was much talk – at least among Hague’s paranoid praetorian guard – about the Portillistas scheming to snatch the top job for their Iberian icon. Every policy announcement, media interview and speech by the shadow chancellor was analysed for disloyalty (and for signs that he might be making a move).

Meanwhile Team Portillo grew increasingly frustrated by the right-wing populist thrust of Hague’s operation and its sheer incompetence. At the time, Tony Blair was walking all over the Conservative Party, so their infighting was a fine illustration of Sayre’s law: “In any dispute, the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.”

3) Iain Duncan Smith v almost everyone

By 2001, Michael Portillo was privately convinced that the Tory party wasn’t ready for the modernisation that he thought was crucial to reviving its electoral fortunes. So after that year’s election defeat, he stood for the leadership with a measure of reluctance. What happened proved him right. Portillo had his youthful gay experiences dragged up by his opponents and didn’t make it into the ballot of grass-roots Tory members, who promptly chose the right-wing “headbanger” Iain Duncan Smith over the cuddly Europhile Ken Clarke.

As many predicted, Duncan Smith was a disaster and fast became a national joke.  He was eventually defenestrated in a confidence vote after party donors made it clear that his time was up.

2) David Cameron (and the Notting Hill set) v Derek Conway and others

Remember Conway? The MP for Ted Heath’s old constituency? A good mate of David Davis? Got in trouble with the parliamentary authorities for employing his son as his parliamentary assistant while he was a full-time student? In 2004, after a story went round that the leadership wanted rid of “bed-blocking”, “old”, “suntanned faces” in the parliamentary party, Conway appeared on the BBC to denounce what he called the “Notting Hill set”– the modernisers around David Cameron. Cameron had the last laugh. In 2008, the committee on standards and privileges produced a damning report on Conway and the Tory leader withdrew the whip from him – no doubt more in sadness than in anger…

1) George Osborne v Theresa May

Throughout the coalition years, there were bitter policy disagreements between Osborne and May – particularly when she, as home secretary, insisted on trying (in vain) to cut immigration in ways that he, as chancellor, considered politically risky and economically illiterate. But then the Brexit vote happened, not only foiling Osborne’s plans to take over from Cameron but giving May a chance to humiliate him by refusing to offer him a cabinet post.

That led Osborne to the editorship of the London Evening Standard, which he has turned into a bully pulpit, helped by knowing where pretty much all the bodies are buried. Given that the Prime Minister presumably has only a limited shelf life after she blew the general election, let’s enjoy this feud while we can. 

Picture: RALPH STEADMAN

When Should the President Use Nuclear Weapons?

By Rebecca Hersman from War on the Rocks. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

In the United States, we do not just elect a president. We elect a commander-in-chief, and the Constitution grants that person tremendous power to protect and defend the nation. In doing so, the founding fathers entrusted an awesome responsibility to our electorate. No burden on the American president is greater than the authority to use ...

Working Conditions in the United States

By Nicole Maestas; Kathleen J. Mullen; David Powell; Till von Wachter; Jeffrey B. Wenger from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

This report presents detailed findings from the 2015 American Working Conditions Survey about the prevalence and distribution of working conditions across the American workforce by age, gender, and education.

How Americans Perceive the Workplace

By Nicole Maestas; Kathleen J. Mullen; David Powell; Till von Wachter; Jeffrey B. Wenger from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

Half of American workers say that they work in their free time to meet workplace demands, 63 percent feel that they are doing useful work, and 46 percent of retirees age 50 and older say that they would return to work if conditions were right.

The American Working Conditions Survey Finds That More Than Half of Retirees Would Return to Work

By Nicole Maestas; Kathleen J. Mullen; David Powell; Till von Wachter; Jeffrey B. Wenger from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

According to the American Working Conditions Survey, more older workers report having meaningful work compared with their prime-age counterparts, and more than half of retirees would return to work under the right conditions.

The American Working Conditions Survey Data

By Nicole Maestas; Kathleen J. Mullen; David Powell; Till von Wachter; Jeffrey B. Wenger from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 14, 2017.

This codebook describes the content and structure of the American Working Conditions Survey data (AWCS) which was fielded on the RAND American Life Panel (ALP) in 2015.

Violence in Virginia, void in the White House

From FT View. Published on Aug 13, 2017.

A terrible moment confirms the worst fears about US administration

Kenyan courts should scrutinise election result

From FT View. Published on Aug 13, 2017.

A trusted electoral system is needed that is not winner-takes-all

Crunch time for Donald Trump on trade

From The Big Read. Published on Aug 13, 2017.

President’s vow to bring back jobs by rewriting Nafta clashes with realities of global commerce

A Bold and Dangerous Family: the Italian brothers who resisted Mussolini

By Ian Thomson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 13, 2017.

Caroline Moorehead's absorbing biography tells the tale of Nello and Carlo Rosselli.

In 1929, Italy’s most influential anti-Fascist, Carlo Rosselli, founded the clandestine Justice and Liberty movement, then the country’s gravest threat to Mussolini. Members were known as giellisti after the movement’s initials “g” and “l” (for Giustizia e Libertà); they espoused an ideal of democratic socialism and aimed propaganda against Italy’s Savoyard monarchy (then cravenly pro-Fascist), as well as Mussolini. By the early 1930s though, with the Marxist Antonio Gramsci in jail and other leading anti-Fascists (Giacomo Matteotti, Giovanni Amendola) murdered, all Italy lay under the dull hand of Fascist conformity. Anticipating arrest, Carlo and his younger brother Nello fled to France.

One spring day in 1937 they were found murdered on a country road in Normandy; their carotid arteries had been severed. At a stroke, Italy was deprived of two intransigent and courageous Resistance figures. Their funeral cortège was followed to the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris by more than 200,000 mourners. Justice and Liberty was forced underground, but five years later it re-formed as the Action party, which was feared and loathed by the blackshirts. Its cautious socialism and intellectual integrity would vitally influence Italy’s armed resistance to the German occupation in 1943-45.

Fourteen years after the murders the Italian novelist Alberto Moravia – best known for The Women of Rome (1947) – published his acutely disturbing novel about the Rosselli murders, The Conformist. Although Moravia, who was related to the Rossellis on their mother’s side, had reluctantly undertaken clandestine work on behalf of Carlo Rosselli in Paris, his attitude to Mussolini remained one of patrician condescension. (Fascism, Moravia told me in an interview in Rome in 1985, was “really a very boring movement”). He avoided Mussolini’s dragnets at home in Italy by travelling abroad in some style. That was not the Rosselli way of undertaking anti-Fascist combat.

Moravia gets a rather bad press from Caroline Moorehead in this absorbing biography of the Rosselli brothers. A scion of the Venetian-Jewish Pincherle family, Moravia was scarcely 21 when his first novel, The Time of Indifference, appeared in 1929. The book irked the Fascist authorities for its portrayal of complacency and double-dealing in Mussolini’s Rome. Its assault on bourgeois morality was courageous for the time, yet for many years Moravia kept silent on the Rosselli murders. Why? The brothers’ mother Amelia was convinced that Moravia had done so out of “opportunism” if not “weakness”.

Amelia had literary pretensions of her own, writing a number of successful plays and children’s books. She presided over a distinguished intellectual milieu in her native Venice and, later, Florence, where she aligned herself with Filippo Turati, the “grand old man” of Italian socialism, and the austere moralist Piero Gobetti, founder in 1922 of Italy’s first anti-Fascist weekly, Rivoluzione liberale. Gobetti’s clarion-call for “liberty” looked back to Italy’s 19th-century Risorgimento patriot Giuseppe Mazzini, whose visionary writings defended the subject peoples of Europe against rule by outsiders. As an exile in London for 25 years, Mazzini had moved from one boarding house to another, keeping the curtains drawn in daylight for fear of detection.

In the early 1920s, the Rossellis, too, sought safety and patronage in London, mingling with left-leaning society hostesses and Fabian Society members (among them George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell and Sidney and Beatrice Webb). By now the Rossellis were convinced Anglophiles; England was seen as a bastion of civil liberties, equality and reason. During his time in London, Nello researched a biography of Mazzini, which was published in 1927. Mazzini might easily have been caricatured as a devilish, El Greco-faced guastafeste (killjoy); Rosselli extoled him as a Voltaire of a new age of national liberation. Without Mazzini’s political ideas on free nationality and nationalist awakening, the organisation of Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries (from the dissolution of the Habsburg and Ottoman empires to the unification of Germany) might have taken a different course.

Moravia, typically, had letters of introduction to Lady Ottoline Morrell and others in the by-then almost defunct Bloomsbury set. He met Nello and Carlo in London, along with the Turin-born artist and doctor Carlo Levi, who later found fame as the author of Christ Stopped at Eboli. Spies were everywhere. The first nucleus of British Italian Fascists was founded in London in 1921, Moorehead relates. Members saw the cult of ducismo as a more virile alternative to the “effeminate” world of flappers, leftist poets and dithery parliamentarians.

Cosmopolitan, polyglot Jews such as Moravia and the Rossellis were viewed by Mussolini and his disciples as self-regarding, supranational types inimical to the sturdy Blackshirt bond of race and nation. They should be eliminated.

By the end of his life, Moorehead writes, Carlo Rosselli had been watched by no fewer than 42 of Mussolini’s agents. In 1927 he was sentenced to confino – internal exile – on the remote prison-island of Lipari off Sicily (now a holiday destination). He languished there for two years before escaping to France via Cap Bon in Tunisia. Much of this is chronicled by Stanislao G Pugliese, in his 1999 biography of Carlo Rosselli. According to Pugliese, Rosselli was less a political theorist than a “public moralist”; the betrayal of socialism in Stalin’s Russia was as heinous to him as Italian Fascism.

The Rossellis might have disappeared from history altogether had Bernardo Bertolucci not turned Moravia’s novel into the acclaimed film The Conformist, starring Jean-Louis Trintignant as a Fascist police informer on the trail of Professor Quadri (a thinly veiled Carlo Rosselli). Rarely has Fascism appeared so simply horrible as in that 1970 film. The Rossellis had been murdered, it seems, by a group of Jew-baiting, right-wing French extremists set on the political “rejuvenation” of their country through the jingoist trinity of travail, famille, patrie. The assassins in fact belonged to a prototype Front National outfit called the Cagoulards (some of whom were friendly with the very young François Mitterrand) and, most likely, in the pay of Mussolini’s agents. As Stalin said: “No man, no problem.” l

Ian Thomson is the author of "Primo Levi: a Biography" (Vintage)

A Bold and Dangerous Family: the Rossellis and the Fight Against Mussolini
Caroline Moorehead
Chatto & Windus, 448pp, £20

The City Always Wins: a poetic, intimate debut set in Cairo during the Arab Spring

By Rebecca Swirsky from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 13, 2017.

The novel's author Omar Robert Hamilton has activism in his blood.

Literature can have the emotional edge, telling the truth in a way pure reporting cannot. Despite Egypt’s revolution having been well televised, Omar Robert Hamilton’s novel offers us a psychologically acute perspective on the uprising as it unfolded, positioning the reader alongside political dissidents – kids, barely – who, for a short while, made the impossible seem possible.

The author and political commentator (and Hamilton’s mother) Ahdaf Soueif wrote a diary of the revolt’s first 18 days entitled Cairo: My City, Our Revolution. Hamilton’s novel, written in a poetic, stream-of-consciousness style, divided by sub-headings like news bulletins, also reads with a diary’s intimacy.

Beginning on 9 October 2011, the novel is divided into three parts: “Tomorrow”, “Today” and “Yesterday”. Events are told through the actions of 20-something Khalil and Mariam, who meet while ducking into a stairwell, checking each other’s bodies for Tahrir Square bullets. American-born Khalil, a former law student, translator, journalist, fixer, copy editor, graphic novelist, English teacher, NGO worker and volunteer, believes “Cairo is jazz: all contrapuntal influences jostling for attention, occasionally brilliant solos standing high above the steady rhythm of the street.” Mariam, an activist with the bravado required to confront officers used to inspiring fear, is the chain-smoking daughter of two doctors who used to run the best cancer unit in the country.

Khalil and Mariam, alongside Rania, Rosa, Malik and Hafez, form part of Chaos Cairo, a collective of podcasters, video-makers and photographers. They are joined by a host of other volunteers. The Chaos office, a crumbling apartment paid for by crowdfunding, is a hub where, initially, information is relayed to domestic and foreign media with lightning speed, offering an intoxicating sense of empowerment.

A hacktivist-savvy generation, the young are taking back the streets with bloodied bodies and busy laptops. The whole world – including Khalil’s ex-girlfriend in America – is watching: “They can’t keep up with us, an army of Samsungs, Twitters, HTCs, emails, Facebook events, private groups, iPhones, phone calls, text messages all adjusting one another’s movements millions of times each second.”

The question of how to bear witness belongs to all massacres, and cataloguing injustice is a central theme of the book, weaving from the streets of Tahrir to Gaza to Michael Brown’s prone body in Ferguson, Missouri. Ultimately, the need to wage a media war leaches poison into Khalil and Mariam’s psychic bloodstream, as potent as any gas. While the lines of communication to Athens and America dry up as the world’s attention shifts, the tremors, lack of sleep, and teeth grinding from visiting field clinics, pharmacies, doctors, donors and morgues remain. For Mariam, the odour of the morgue drips off her hair like “cigarette smoke in the shower”.

Khalil and Mariam’s belief that they “could have done more” before the Muslim Brotherhood opened their negotiations with the army is devastating. Their thoughts and observations come in an onslaught, and line by line Hamilton has the power of a crack poet. His prose is sometimes a little too burdened by poetry, too didactic or fractured in tone, but the anger and pain throbbing from these pages is palpable.

The Brotherhood having been ousted, a fever for Abdel el-Sisi, then minister of defence, as a potential presidential candidate grips Cairo’s streets. Torture and death seem close, while coffee and cigarettes and courage last only so long. Khalil and Mariam’s voices blur into one another, their tone taking the form of a lament. Khalil believes that: “It was lost from the start, lost from the moment we didn’t take Maspero, lost with the Molotov held back from the second army truck, lost when the square emptied after Mubarak fell.” Reading George Orwell and Eric Hobsbawm, he wonders: “Are we all doomed to the certainties of the historical materialist? Or is that a deflection of responsibility?”

Egypt’s future currently looks bleak. President el-Sisi’s human rights record is proving worse than that of Mubarak. Egypt has seen 19 new prisons since the 2011 revolution, 16 since el-Sisi took office, with Egypt’s activists dubbed “generation jail”.

Hamilton’s connection with the Egyptian prison system is personal. Activism is in his blood; he comes from a family of dissidents. The book is dedicated to his incarcerated cousin Alaa Abd El Fattah – a blogger and lauded activist, who is mentioned by characters throughout the book.

Khalil reads the spray-painted words on a Cairo wall: “If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep.” This graffiti is an imaginative act, showing defiance of spirit, much like the book as a whole. Most essentially, this novel bears witness, recording injustice and aiming, as all good literature attempts, to tell the truth.

“The Common People” by Rebecca Swirsky appeared in the collection “Best British Short Stories 2015” (Salt)

The City Always Wins
Omar Robert Hamilton
Faber & Faber, 320pp, £14.99

Photo: Rex

Donald Trump refuses to condemn white supremacists after car rams protesters in Charlottesville

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 13, 2017.

The US president denounces “many sides” after a woman is killed and 19 others injured.  

Donald Trump has refused to condemn white supremacists after a car rammed into a group of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman and injuring 19 others. Police have arrested 20-year-old James Fields of Ohio and charged him with murder.

The US president criticised the “violence on many sides” but refused to single out the far-right protesters. He said in Bedminster, New Jersey: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” 

The car attack targeted those demonstrating against the “Unite the Right march”, called to protest against plans to remove a statue of the Confederate general Robert E Lee. A civil rights investigation into the incident has been launched by the FBI. Among those present were Ku Klux Klan members.  Later that afternoon, two police officers died when a helicopter monitoring the clashes between protesters crashed in woodland south-west of the city.

The Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio and former presidential candidate responded to Trump by tweeting: “Very important for the nation to hear @POTUS describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists.” Another Republican Senator, Cory Gardner of Colorado, said: “Mr President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.

The Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, commented: “The march and rally in Charlottesville goes against everything the American flag stands for. President Trump must condemn this in the strongest terms immediately.”

Unlike Trump, Virginia’s Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe explicitly condemend the far-right. He told a press conference: "I have a message for all the white supremacists, and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple: Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you. You pretend that you're patriots, but you are anything but a patriot.

"You came here today to hurt people. And you did hurt people. But my message is clear: We are stronger than you."

US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has been publicly criticised by Trump, said: “The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice. When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.

“I have talked with FBI director Chris Wray, FBI agents on the scene, and law enforcement officials for the state of Virginia. The FBI has been supporting state and local authorities throughout the day. US attorney Rick Mountcastle has commenced a federal investigation and will have the full support of the Department of Justice. Justice will prevail.”

Charlottesville, a liberal college town, where 86 per cent of residents voted for Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election, has been repeatedly targeted by white supremacists. On Friday, the day before the attack, torch-bearing protesters chanted “white lives matter” as they marched through the University of Virginia campus. In February, the city council voted to remove and sell the Robert E Lee statue, and to rename the surrounding Lee Park Emancipation Park.

Photo: Getty

In sickness and in health: Stephen McGann on the diseases in his family’s past

By Erica Wagner from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 13, 2017.

The actor's book is more than the opening up of a family’s secrets. It is a cautionary tale.

Since he was a teenager, Stephen McGann has been fascinated by his family history. Sitting opposite me in the restaurant of the Covent Garden Hotel over a pot of Darjeeling and a smoked salmon bagel, the actor tells me how, as a boy in Liverpool, he began trying to discover “how I got to be me”.

McGann’s father, Joe, fought in the Second World War and landed on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. “There was lots he wanted to forget. There was lots he didn’t like. He made his world-view and he clung to it. There was nothing he wanted to dig up. But I was curious. Well, everyone was curious, but nobody did anything. That was ‘Steve’s thing’.” By “everyone”, he means his three brothers – all of whom have found acclaim as performers – his sister and his mother, Clare.

“Steve’s thing” has now become a book, Flesh and Blood: a History of My Family in Seven Maladies. It isn’t the usual actorly autobiography but rather a tracing of McGann’s family history from the Irish famine of the 1840s onwards, with his and his relatives’ stories told through what afflicted them: hunger, pestilence, exposure, trauma, breathlessness, heart problems, necrosis. It is an artful, honest book, marked by the author’s clear-eyed examination of how his family’s lives were entwined with history’s often terrible markers: not only the famine and the Second World War but the sinking of the Titanic, the Alder Hey scandal and the disaster at Hillsborough.

Steve’s other thing is playing the kindly Dr Patrick Turner in the BBC series Call the Midwife, a show that demonstrates social revolution by stealth, its hard-hitting portrayal of life in postwar east London cloaked by a veneer of cosy Sunday-night drama.

The drama was developed by McGann’s wife, Heidi Thomas, adapted from the bestselling memoirs of Jennifer Worth. McGann is vehement about its commitment to social history. “My wife does an astonishing thing,” he says. “On a Sunday night, before the nine o’clock watershed, she shows one in six people in this country – man, woman and child – what backstreet abortions are like, what happens to a woman who gets pregnant by a married man and is the victim of institutionalised cruelty. She shows what socialised health care was founded for, where our ideas might have come from and how they might change. And all this before nine o’clock!”

McGann’s role in Call the Midwife led to a book, Doctor Turner’s Casebook, detailing the real cases behind the storylines in the series. After its success, his publisher asked if he might like to write another book. He proposed Flesh and Blood, though he was, he says laughing, “too naive to terrify myself adequately” at the prospect of writing it.

Talking to McGann, I sensed his urgent intellectual engagement. Having failed his A-levels “spectacularly”, he forged a successful career as an actor, but his education was always “unfinished business”. After completing a BSc in computer science in his forties, he went on to do a Masters in science communication at Imperial College London.

This, one senses, is his real passion: he understands that true communication happens not with lists of facts or statistics but through story. Flesh and Blood is strikingly personal, for it is not just a book of family history but a book of a family’s living present, too.

McGann writes about the terrible agoraphobia that he suffered as a teenager; he writes about the stillborn twins his mother gave birth to before her other children; he writes about his wife’s beloved brother, David, who had a congenital heart defect. After David’s death, his heart was removed without the family’s consent at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. He writes about the time Heidi nearly died from an obstructed bowel.

Why, I ask, did he choose to be so open? “It just bubbles up at four in the morning,” he says. “If you are going to tell a story about family, it has to be about how a family branches out, where it leads to. You become extinct; people leave other people; people form their own families. So eventually my life had to be there.”

McGann writes frankly about the degrading conditions in which his family lived when it first arrived at Liverpool’s docks from County Roscommon in north-central Ireland. It was a striking experience, he says, to read about that world from the vantage point of his “cosseted media life”.

He and his siblings, he tells me, don’t always agree: “But there’s one thing we all agree on. We feel very strongly that we existed in a social and educational golden age.” They are “beyond livid that the door is closing behind us”.

His family’s history “is a defence of the NHS. How could it not be? The NHS was the nation’s debt payment for my father’s horrific burden of duty. It was the foundation on which my mother reared a large working-class family with the necessary health to learn, thrive and give something back. It’s the greatest expression of humanity through policy that our society has ever demonstrated.”

Flesh and Blood, then, is more than the opening up of a family’s book of secrets. It is a cautionary tale. “I fear that the NHS as I knew it will soon pass away into history through selfishness and public complacency,” McGann says, “and this will prove an act of enormous national self-harm.

“Even the need to defend such an obvious good is a symptom of the deeper malady of our times: a society that’s become careless about inoculating itself against past horrors, and one that now risks disastrous reinfection.” 

Photo: GUARDIAN NEWS & MEDIA

Joan Bakewell Q&A: “What would make my life better? More of it to come”

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 12, 2017.

The television presenter on Brexit, Beethoven, and meeting Clement Atlee at university.

Joan Bakewell began her career as a television presenter for “Late Night Line-Up” in the 1960s. She served as Labour’s “tsar for the elderly” between 2008 and 2010, when she was made a peer.

What’s your earliest memory?

A tomato sandwich with the skin and crusts removed, on brown bread with butter. The war was on, so food mattered. It was fuel, not fun. So this was a special treat.

Who are your heroes?

Charlotte Brontë was my childhood hero: a woman who struggled to gain success and did it with a novel that idealised romantic love. Success was a good message, romantic love bad. My adult hero is John Maynard Keynes: he was right then and he’s right now.

What politician, past or present, do you look up to?

Clement Attlee. I met him at the University Labour Club. He couldn’t connect to a young student admirer, but the welfare state happened on his watch so he clearly got something right.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Television in the 1960s. It’s always good to be in on the blossoming of a new discipline. The 1960s were a television golden age, not for the programmes but for the structures – BBC and ITV – that made them possible.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

As a woman, there’s no better time than now in the west. Class, gender and money matter in all eras. But historically, I’d opt for Elizabethan England.

What TV show could you not live without?

I’m something of a news junkie. Channel 4 News is my touchstone for global information and opinion… and for my first drink of the evening.

Who would paint your portrait?

Holbein. He offers truth and judgement without sycophancy. He makes women look thoughtful.

What’s your theme tune?

The “Prisoners’ Chorus” from Beethoven’s Fidelio, Elgar’s First Symphony, or the Beatles’ “Let it Be”.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

From my mother, to deal with my whining: “Life’s not fair; get used to it.” It has helped with disappointments. I passed it on to my children and they say it helps too.

What’s currently bugging you?

Brexit, naturally. I am appalled by how bad things are. But I’m a co-founder of 48% & Rising, a group pledged to supporting Remainer morale and promoting a brighter outlook for the future.

When were you happiest?

At school in the 1940s, at Cambridge in the 1950s. Everything seemed possible. All the things I cared about were improving.

What single thing would make your life better?

I wish there were more of it to come. My book Stop the Clocks is an elegy to old age. There is so much to love and enjoy about the world. I don’t want to miss it.

In another life, what job would you have chosen?

Would I have the patience to be an historian or scholar? The empathy to be a psychiatrist? Perhaps a tap dancer?

Are we all doomed?

In the immediate future the prospect looks dire. In the long term we are all stardust. What’s the alternative?

“Stop the Clocks: Thoughts on What I Leave Behind” by Joan Bakewell is published in paperback by Virago

Picture: Stavros Damos

To the Back of Beyond destabilises everything in the most stable of lives

By Neel Mukherjee from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 12, 2017.

Peter Stamm's haunting new novel is simple, yet irreducible and mysterious.

The forensic study of heterosexual desire in Seven Years, the Swiss-German writer Peter Stamm’s first novel to be translated into English, announced a formidable European writer to the Anglophone world. Reading To The Back of Beyond, his third novel, one begins to discern recurring themes in his work: man-woman relationships, marriage, desire, infidelity, family, a particular bourgeois matrix of life that can become a trap despite it – or even, because of it – being the end-point of the individualist desire that lies at the foundation of capitalist societies.

The story of To The Back of Beyond is simple yet irreducible and mysterious. On the day Astrid and Thomas and their two children, Konrad and Ella, return home to their small town in Switzerland from summer holiday in Spain, Thomas opens the garden gate in the evening, while Astrid has gone inside to settle the children in bed, walks out onto the street and keeps walking. It’s not giving away a crucial plot-twist to mention that he will never return to the life he walks out of, nor is it an unwelcome divulgence to note that we will never be told the motives behind this act. The book will alternate, in short sections, between Thomas and Astrid, and while we will be let inside her head, we will be kept out of his almost entirely.

The Thomas strand of the narrative follows him walking into the valleys and mountains of Switzerland, avoiding populated towns to prevent being noticed by people who may be questioned later about a missing person. He sleeps outdoors while the weather is favourable, then takes to living in mountain huts, engaging in short-term casual employment, before moving on to another place.

Astrid’s story sees her going to the police eventually to report her missing husband and breaking the news to the children. She even drives along a route she thinks Thomas could conceivably have taken; the novel seems to hint that she arrives in some of the places he has passed through or briefly stayed at but just after his departure. The investigation ends on a baffling note and marks a kind of pivot in the text towards a shifting and elusive mixture of fantasy, reality, and interiority in Astrid’s world.

As the novel nears its end, Stamm does two skilful things with time: the first is to indicate effortlessly its passing in large segments, so that we move from the earlier calibration of time as hours and days through weeks and months to years and decades; the second, to loop back in time to give us the story of how Astrid and Thomas came to be together.

Stamm’s interest does not lie in the texture of lives that are usually depicted by novelists in lyrical- or psychological-realism, especially in the logical progression of events that generally provides the dynamo for plots. For example, almost all the problems related to childcare, money, and work that would arise from an earning parent’s inexplicable disappearance seem to have been airbrushed away and when they do make an appearance – to answer the reader’s incredulity at their absence, I feel – they are dealt with in the most perfunctory manner.

There is very little context, social or economic, except what we can infer from light details. Stamm is not even interested in psychological interiority. He is more concerned about something that I can only call existential, something that will be indicated merely through the most oblique of hints, such as during a moment of descent through the hills in Thomas’s wandering, when he “had the feeling that something had fallen away from him, a repression, a pain”. What has Thomas walked away from? What does his freedom entail? What are its costs? The novel invites these questions but will not supply answers, destabilising everything one takes for granted in the most stable and ordinary of lives; the effect can be dizzying.

The translation, by Michael Hofmann, a mighty critic and poet as well as one of the foremost translators from the German language, does an impeccable job in rendering the blanched austerity of Stamm’s style and its deliberate affectlessness. Hofmann himself writes a prose that is so densely packed, so impatient with the desire to fill his sentences with ideas, that it feels restless, fissile, alive (see his introduction to Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March, or any essay in his collection Where Have You Been?). I often wonder if he becomes another person to let Stamm’s German speak through his English. 

Neel Mukherjee’s latest novel “A State of Freedom” (Vintage) is out now

To the Back of Beyond
Peter Stamm. Translated by Michael Hofmann
Granta, 160pp, £12.99

Photo: Getty

Robbie Brady’s astonishing late goal takes its place in our personal histories

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 12, 2017.

A new short story by Sally Rooney.

Conor calls her from an alleyway, near a plastic skip. It’s going to eat his phone credit if she picks up, and he expects himself, in light of this, to hope belatedly that she won’t pick up, but he finds himself, regardless, hoping that she does. And she does. She says hello in a crisp, amused voice, as if this phone call is already part of an ongoing joke between them.

Were you watching that? he says.

Oh, I was watching. The atmosphere in the stadium looked like fun.

It was good, yeah.

I envied you slightly, says Helen. I’ve been here looking at the memes for the last hour.

Relaxing now, he leans against the alleyway wall. It’s late but still warm out in Lille, a humid heat, and he’s been drinking since the late afternoon.

Memes about the match? he says. Are there ones already?

Oh yeah, it’s like simultaneous. It’s actually very interesting in the sense – well, do you want to hear my opinions about memes or are you busy?

No, go on.

Are there roaming charges?

I have free calls, he lies, implausibly and without really deciding to.

On the other end of the line, Helen doesn’t question the plausibility of Conor having free calls while in France, mainly because she doesn’t really register what he’s said, beyond the sense that he has given her permission to talk about what she was already thinking about before. She’s sitting on her bed, her back against the headboard. She sat this way for the duration of the Ireland-Italy match, which she streamed online and watched alone, eating a bowl of instant ramen noodles with disposable chopsticks while the light in her window faded from a bluish-white to a whitish-grey and finally to dark.

It’s interesting to watch an event being recycled as culture in real time, she says. You know, you’re watching the process of cultural production while it takes place, rather than in retrospect. I don’t know if that’s unique.

Yeah, I get you. And, uh. Well, I’m drunk so I’m not going to be at my sharpest here, but I want to say, you know, the disintegration of the idea of authorship.

Totally. That’s sharp, you’re very sharp. You don’t even sound drunk.

I think about memes a lot, he says.

Helen lifts her laptop off her lap and on to the empty part of the bed, as a gesture of commitment to the conversation.

But what’s tricky about the point you’re making, she says, is that it becomes very difficult to locate power. And to analyse operations of power, culturally. I guess we’re used to doing that through the hegemonic figure of the author, or at least through some identifiable power structure like a movie studio or an ad company.

Yeah, and now it’s just happening through like, spontaneous mass participation.

I guess you could argue online spaces are gendered and classed in particular ways but like, are they even?

Let’s never forget gender, says Conor. Gender everywhere, I would suggest. Are you hearing a lot of noise on the line?

A group of fans have just vacated the bar next to him and flooded on to the street cheering. In the lights over the bar their jerseys have that cheap-looking nylon sheen. They’re singing something to the tune of the 1979 Village People hit “Go West”. Almost all the chants, for some reason, are sung to the tune of “Go West”, making the individual lyrics difficult to decipher in many cases, creative and redolent of spontaneous mass participation though they are.

A little bit now, she says. Are you somewhere busy? It was quiet before so I assumed you were back in the hostel.

No, still at the bar. With the, yeah – the legendary Irish fans.

That’s you, you’re a legendary Irish fan now. Are you wearing a jersey?

No, I’m kind of keeping my distance, he says. I’m trying not to sing too much or like, suck up to any cops or anything.

The sucking up to cops I must say is a global embarrassment.

French cops as well. The policemen of a country literally renowned for racism. But anyway, look, here we are.

Having said this, Conor realises that it sounded like an attempt to move the conversation on to some new destination. He can practically hear their sudden mutual awareness that he hasn’t yet explained why he’s calling her, that he has hollowed out a little well in the conversation now where this explanation should go, and yet he doesn’t have one, or indeed anything further to say at all. He even considers hanging up, and emailing later to say the signal cut out.

He last saw Helen six weeks ago, at the beginning of May. He was visiting her in Cambridge for the weekend. After a long and tiresome day of travel and vague anxiety about currency, he arrived on Friday night. All day he’d been mentally converting sterling to euro in an attempt to keep track of how much money he was wasting on bus tickets and cups of coffee, and this minor but persistent cognitive effort had drained him and made him feel miserly and self-conscious. It was dark when he got off the bus. He remembers now the flat blue surface of the park beside the bus stop, picked out by streetlights, and the strange flavour of weather, the crisp quality of air, the cool winding-down of a day that might earlier have been warm. He saw Helen then, waiting in her little jacket and scarf, he was amused somehow by the sight of her, and he laughed and felt better.

They walked back to her apartment together, chatting about nothing really. He remembers the yellowish stone facade of her building while she rooted in her bag for the keys. Upstairs she made tea and laid out a little food. They talked until very late. Eventually, in her room, she undressed for bed. He sat on the sofa, where he had put his sleeping bag, and she was talking about something to do with her thesis, how much reading she had glanced at before and now had to do in earnest, and that it made her feel slightly fraudulent, and while she was saying this, she was standing at the wardrobe putting on her nightdress. She was partially, but it seemed not consciously, hidden by the wardrobe’s open door. Still he could see her bare left shoulder, her slim white upper arm. She hung her blouse on a wire hanger, replaced it in the wardrobe, and without looking up said: are you watching me?

I’m looking in your direction generally, he said, but not “watching” as such.

She laughed then and closed the wardrobe door. It was a black nightdress, longish, with shoulder straps.

I was listening to what you were saying, he said.

Oh, I know. I’m very sensitive to losing someone’s attention.

He found this remark pleasantly cryptic at the time. Now on the phone he waits for Helen to say something, though it is by the unspoken rules of ordinary conversation obviously his “turn” to speak, having just signalled that he has something to say.

Good match anyway, he says.

I wish I’d been there. Were you swept away on a tide of emotion?

I was swept a bit, yeah. I shed a tear.

She laughs. That’s very sweet, she says. Did you really?

A tear came to my eye, I don’t know if it was shed or not.

I was watching alone so I couldn’t really experience the full range of emotions, she says. It’s like when you go to see a film in the cinema, you laugh in places you wouldn’t laugh if you were watching on your own. But it doesn’t make the laughing false, you know. Being alone is just less enjoyable.

Are you lonely?

She pauses at this question, which is unusual to hear from Conor, and for the first time in the conversation, including the time when he earlier claimed to be drunk, she’s struck by the possibility that he might actually be drunk.

I have to say, I don’t like most English people very much, she says. So yeah, living in England, that becomes lonely. Maybe I’m just getting a bad impression of them with the referendum coming up.

Yeah, that looks rough. I think they will stay in, though.

I hope so. Either way it’s brought out a lot of very ugly things.

I do feel for you having to live there, he says.

She, too, is thinking of the weekend he visited, the beautiful weather they had. On Saturday they woke up late, to a radiant blue sky powdered with tiny clouds. She made a pot of coffee, they ate toast and oranges. She tidied up the breakfast dishes while he showered, and she was comforted by the noise of the hot water tank and the rush of the taps. When he reappeared in the kitchen he was dressed, and she was still wearing her nightgown, with a cardigan wrapped over it. There was this moment of abrupt eye contact between them, which made her feel as if they hadn’t really looked at one another since he arrived. Their eyes stilled the whole room. She thought about satirising this moment lightly to deprive it of its seriousness, maybe by doing something mock-flirtatious, but she couldn’t rely on her flirting to seem comic to him rather than grotesque. Instead she turned away, flustered, and he just hovered there not saying anything.

It was a warm day out and Helen remembers what she wore: a flimsy white blouse, a pale ballet skirt, her flat shoes. She wasn’t concerned, or doesn’t remember being concerned, about her appearance in any real way, but she registered dimly that she would rather look bad than look as if she were trying to look good. They wandered around the Fitzwilliam Museum together in the afternoon, talking. After that they had lunch, and after lunch more coffee. Conor was telling some funny story about work and Helen laughed so much that she spilled coffee on her skirt, which pleased him. She knew that he relished her laughter. It seemed to give him some private, almost sheepish satisfaction, and while she laughed he would avert his eyes slightly, as if to look at her directly would be too much.

She’s met a lot of very intelligent people in Cambridge, people who take a brittle pride in demonstrating how clever they are. She somewhat enjoys engaging them in conversation, little jousting exchanges, until the other party becomes defensive and irritable. But the enjoyment is ultimately feline, as if she’s idly batting her interlocutor back and forth between her paws. There’s something about their kind of intelligence which isn’t lively or curious. Conor, who works in a call centre for a mobile service provider, is her ideal conversational partner, the person around whom she feels most clear-minded and least remote. They keep up with one another effortlessly in conversation, and maybe for this reason, or maybe out of a sincere and long-standing mutual affection, their discussions don’t become competitive. Helen finds it philosophically sustaining that two people who agree on everything can still find so much to say to one another.

Most people are pretty liberal here, she says, and they’re self-congratulatory about that. You can see they have a lot of contempt for normal people, who didn’t go to Cambridge or don’t have college degrees. And I think the contempt is actually part of what they congratulate themselves on.

Am I a normal person, to you?

Is that… you’re objecting to my use of the phrase “normal people”, or we’re talking about our relationship?

He smiles. His eyes are tired and he closes them. The lids feel wet somehow. Well, I like to think I’m very special to you in some ways, he says. He can hear her laughing.

I am curious why you’ve called, she says. But I’m happy to be talking to you so I don’t mind if there’s no reason.

I’ll be honest with you, I got carried away watching that match. The tide of emotion you were speaking about. And I felt an impulse to give you a ring. I wanted to tell you I love you, and all that.

For a few seconds he hears nothing at all. He can’t tell what she’s doing on the other end of the line. Then there’s a faint noise like a laugh, and he realises it is a laugh.

I love you, too, she says. I was trying to think of something intelligent to say there about how we feel and express love through these communal cultural experiences like football, but then I thought, oh my god, shut up. I love you, too, I miss you.

He wipes at his eyes with the hand that isn’t holding the phone. Her voice has a soft, wet quality to him, associated with the deepest consolation he has ever felt.

The weekend I stayed with you, I kind of thought something might happen, he says. But I don’t know. Maybe it’s good that it didn’t. He swallows. I lied about having free calls, he adds. So I probably shouldn’t stay on that long.

Oh, she says. Well, that’s alright. Go and celebrate.

There’s a final silence, in which they both feel the same nameless feeling, the same stirring impulse toward an unknown act, each in fact wanting the other to say again: I love you, I love you very much, but unable to say it again themselves. Despite this unexpected sense of irresolution, of something unfinished, they are each pleased at having managed to extract this new confession from the other, Helen thinking herself the more pleased because Conor said it first, and he thinking himself the more pleased because she didn’t have the excuse of drunkenness. They say their goodbyes, distracted now. Conor slips his phone back into his pocket, stands up from the alley­way wall. On the main road a police car drives by, its siren revolving silently, and the fans cheer, for the police or for some other unrelated reason. Helen puts her phone on her bedside table with a soft clicking sound, glass on wood, and then pauses for a moment in stillness. She looks at the opposite wall as if a certain thought has only just now occurred to her. Absently she touches her hair, unwashed today. Then in one seemingly natural, thoughtless motion, she lifts her laptop back on to her crossed legs and taps the trackpad with two outstretched fingers to light the screen. 

Sally Rooney’s debut novel, “Conversations with Friends”, is published by Faber & Faber

Picture: BARRY FALLS

From hippies to Silicon Valley: the birth of California design lies in Sixties counterculture

By Natalia Bus from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 12, 2017.

“California: Designing Freedom” is an exbition tracing the history of the tools that liberate us.

While modern manifestations of the “hippie” often include tie-dye T-shirts, recreational drug use and Glastonbury’s Greenpeace area, the movement traditionally refers to a prominent strand of 1960s and 70s American counterculture. 

Born in California and popularised during the Summer of Love, the movement saw the exodus of young people from cities and into the countryside, where they set up communes, promoting a self-sufficient and independent way of life.

Justin McGuirk, the chief curator of London’s Design Museum, would also have you believe that the “hippie” should be linked with the likes of Silicon Valley and Steve Jobs. He says “California: Designing Freedom” is an exhibition about “how an idea of freedom that was born in the counterculture of the 1960s slowly morphs into the techno-utopianism of Silicon Valley, which becomes a kind of global digital culture.”

From Google’s Waymo “Firefly” self-driving vehicle, to the wooden frame of a surf board, nearly every object on display has its roots in Sixties counterculture.

The exhibition is split into five areas: “Join What You Want”, “Make What You Want”, “Say What You Want”, “See What You Want”, and “Go Where You Want”. McGuirk says that in the process of putting the show together, “we realised that what we're doing is not aesthetic, but a set of attitudes, and so we made the themes a set of attitudes”.

While a chronological layout would have certainly been easier to grasp, the themes convey what is at the heart of the show – the physical tools of personal liberation. They come in all shapes and sizes: tools of collaboration and community in the communes and first online networks, production and self-reliance, freedom of expression in the graphics of protest posters, perception and fantasy in LSD, or movement and escape in the replica of the Captain America chopper.

Personal liberation is also what the hippies wanted to achieve by setting up communes. They found encouragement and guidance in Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, a magazine which set out its purpose firmly on the first page: “We are as Gods and might as well get good at it.” The publication ran from 1968 to 1998 and focused on reviewing and advertising tools for an ecological, self-sufficient lifestyle. 

“These people are world-makers. That's kind of central to, certainly to the Catalog's mission, and to many of the communalists as well, this idea that they can start again,” says McGuirk. 

In the 1970s, when the commune movement started to peter out, Brand was the first to notice the potential of personal computers to become the new tools for transforming society. For McGuirk, Brand is a pivotal figure in California design: “He is the nexus between counterculture and computer culture. He kind of marries them together and you know eventually you get the first bulletin boards happening, the first kind of online networks happening.” 

While Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, the yellowing pages of which you can peruse through at length, is perhaps the most literal link between hippies and computers in the exhibition, connections can be found in the most unassuming of products. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s first ever Apple creation, the Apple 1, is displayed as a circuit board screwed down onto a piece of plywood. McGuirk explains that this was only one of many DIY designs for the product as it was up to the user to connect a keyboard and screen. The design of the casing was also left completely up to the user. While Jobs and Wozniak were selling the personal computer as a source of liberation, they were also encouraging users to get involved in the DIY maker culture embodied in the hippie communes. 

There is a darker side to the brand of personal freedom sold by the mythical Silicon Valley, however. The exhibition appears ambiguous on the topic as rows of iPhones, GoPros, and video cameras are cast both as means of positive self-documentation and ominous self-surveillance. 

McGuirk assures me that the show is “not giving in to a very cynical view of Silicon Valley, which is that it's all bad, because, if you think about it we're all using these tools and these tools have transformed our lives.”  But in the same way that the hippie ethos of peace and love ultimately collapsed, there is a suggestion that our tools of personal liberation can quickly become tools of confinement. 

“California: Designing Freedom” runs until 17 October at London's Design Museum

Photo: Getty

Who is Yuriko Koike, the most powerful woman in Japan?

By Joji Sakurai from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 12, 2017.

Tokyo's ambitious governor, whose supporters wave broccoli in honour of her green slogan.

“You idiot, you’re about to meet the governor!” In a surreal televised moment, one of Japan’s most celebrated film-makers – the winner of the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion in 1997 – emerged from a limousine dressed as Donald Trump, with a blond wig and red tie, on his way to visit the governor of Tokyo, a city of more than nine million people.

Takeshi Kitano, better known in Japan as the comedian “Beat Takeshi”, brushed off the scolding from his dark-suited sidekick waiting outside city hall and strode through the sliding glass doors to meet Yuriko Koike, Tokyo’s first female governor and Japan’s political star of the moment.

Koike, 65, is a former newsreader who last year broke ranks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to run as an independent for Tokyo governor – a position roughly equivalent to that of London’s mayor. She won in a landslide after promising to tackle corruption, empower women, clean up Tokyo’s environment and restore its lustre as a leading financial centre.

In July, she humiliated Abe again by taking on the LDP in the Tokyo assembly elections with her newly formed “Tokyoites First” party and guiding it to victory. Many now give her a fighting chance to succeed the long-dominant Abe, who has been in power since 2012, and become Japan’s first female prime minister.

Koike’s encounter with Kitano showcased the qualities that brought her to power in Tokyo and drew comparisons with France’s Emmanuel Macron, who also rode a wave of popular disgruntlement with the political status quo. The beaming governor glided into the room to greet a somewhat cowed-looking Kitano in English – “Hello, nice meeting you” – before cracking up into hysterics at the practical joke.

It was political theatre, staged and opportunistic. In the 20-minute conversation that followed, Koike outlined her reformist vision, stressing a commitment to cut the skyrocketing costs of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, while trading jokes with Kitano. Koike’s performance, mixing humour, an articulate command of policy and toughness, demonstrated why she has been able to go head to head with Abe and others in the male-dominated political arena.

Koike has built a life out of bucking convention, a lesson she learned from her trading magnate father, who told her when she was a young girl, “It’s shameful to do what everybody does.” After dropping out of university in Japan, she studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo. Back home, her fluent Arabic helped to secure her a job at a TV network, and as a news commentator she made her mark by challenging the views of the male host. She entered politics in 1992, joining the reformist Japan New Party during a period of political upheaval before switching to the LDP, and went on to become environment minister and Japan’s first female defence minister under Abe during his earlier stint as premier.

Though today she can be counted as a member of the establishment, Koike has successfully rebranded herself as someone who could uproot the clubby and collusive world of Japanese politics. During campaigning, she was swamped by crowds in Tokyo plazas, her more environmentally conscious fans waving broccoli and scallions in honour of her slogan “Koike Green”.

“Her predecessors were symbols of the old, male-dominated society. Koike was chosen as a reaction to that,” says Shoko Tanaka, a Tokyo clothing company employee.

Tanaka supports the governor for her pledge to help women balance their career and family, especially by addressing a chronic shortage of childcare places, which reflects the expectation that mothers will care for their children at home. With the world’s highest overall longevity, 83.7 years, and one of the lowest fertility rates, 1.43 births per woman, Japan sits on a demographic time bomb. One of the nation’s urgent priorities – to protect younger generations from a crushing pension-and-debt burden – is to create opportunities for women to pursue careers after childbirth, something that Koike vows to do in Tokyo.

“As a working mother, it’s heartening to have a leader putting emphasis on childcare places and the environment,” says Tanaka, who has first-hand experience of Tokyo’s notorious queues for nursery places. Like many people in the city, however, she is taking a wait-and-see attitude regarding Koike – scepticism born of decades of disappointment with charismatic reformers: “I want her to be a governor who carries out what she says.”

In a rough-and-tumble neighbourhood, Teruyuki Sugimoto has run one of Tokyo’s best greengrocers for the past half-century. He has a salty way of talking, typical of parts of the city known as shitamachi, or “downtown”.

“We’ve been spitting into the heavens,” he says of the pollution that Koike promises to tackle, “and now the spittle’s falling right back into our face.” He respects Koike’s intentions, especially when it comes to taking on corruption – “The Tokyo assembly has long been a den of demons,” he says – but he is less confident about her chances of making a difference.

Koike’s predecessor, Yoichi Masuzoe, was also a popular TV commentator who promised sweeping reform. He was forced to resign last year amid revelations that he had raided political funds for holidays and fine dining. Koike enjoys an impeccably clean image but falls into a line of celebrity Tokyo governors, which has included a TV comic and a novelist, who ultimately delivered more talk than substance. “She’s good at manipulating the media,” Sugimoto says.

Takao Miyamoto, who runs an upmarket bar in Tokyo’s Nakameguro district, sees the Koike phenomenon as being largely about her seizing of the right political moment, as Abe suffers from personal scandals, such as allegations of abusing his influence to help friends, and voters sense that he has grown complacent from a big parliamentary majority.

“Koike stepped in as Tokyoites were getting fed up, wanting somebody to clean out the stables,” he says, but adds: “We haven’t seen results yet.”

Photo: Getty

What should you do when two Isis suspects are interrogated right before your eyes?

By Anthony Loyd from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 12, 2017.

On the ground in Mosul, the terror group's stronghold is crumbling.

It was nearly midnight when the prisoners were brought in. A couple of the Iraqi soldiers in the room had already drifted off to sleep in the effortless manner of front liners, while those still awake had dropped the volume on their conversation to a murmur, focused mainly on how to capture the unit’s final objective from Islamic State the following day.

I was sitting on one side of a sofa, half-listening to the conversations around me, my eyelids starting to hood. From time to time there was the muffled thump of an explosion, but the rhythm of violence was on the ebb. There was nothing much to be worried about in that house that night, full of armed troops nearing the end of a nine-month battle to recapture the last Mosul stronghold of Isis, known in the region as Daesh. Thoughts of sleep unrolled easily across my mind.

Then, suddenly, the front door opened, and two Isis suspects were frogmarched in. The captives were young men in their early twenties; short, tough-looking guys, already beaten and bound, plastic cuffs holding their wrists tight behind their backs.

“Shit,” I thought, as they were pushed down on the floor in front of us between the sofa and TV. “Interrogation. Just when I am about to get some sleep.”

The beating and abuse of bound prisoners is widespread among Iraqi forces; and that is just the low end of the human rights violations scale seen in the country during this brutal war. Intensive torture; the slaughter of human shields by Islamic State; civilians killed by air strikes and artillery; rape; murder; extrajudicial execution. It was all out there on the snarling Mosul battlefield.

The battle did have its share of heroes, though, and many brave men. The Iraqi army – which had so shamefully run away from Mosul in 2014, leaving two million people to the mercy of the world’s cruellest terror group – redeemed its reputation for courage, enduring huge casualties in nearly nine months of fighting to take the city back. That said, history should simply record the battle as the hard-fought, high-cost turning point in which the caliphate died. No one should call it pretty, or try to discern some greater glory.

Right from the beginning it was looking bad for the two captives. Found in the street outside after curfew, they looked like escapees from the Old City, where Isis made their final stand in those last weeks of the Mosul battle. They had hard faces and the sinewy build of impoverished urban fighters.

Prisoner A had fresh scabs pockmarked up the left hand side of his body from shrapnel which he admitted had been thrown up by an airstrike. It would be seen as incriminating evidence that he was a fighter. “Uh-oh,” I thought, sitting up. “Bad start.”

A smiling fat soldier brought in a length of twin cable, knotted, to start the beating, and put it on the floor at his feet. Another opened a laptop in front of the commanding officer to check the suspects’ names against a database of wanted people.

From my years spent covering the fighting in Iraq, I had learned how interrogations usually progressed. Anyone suspected of possible Isis membership – and that included almost any male coming out across the lines from the Old City during the final stages of fighting there – was likely to be beaten with cables and flex across his back and the soles of his feet. That could progress to stress positions, or being hung upside down for further beating. It depended on the mood of the unit, the corroborating information on the suspects’ database or the suspicious nature of the prisoner. If the soldiers really wanted to go for it they would wrap a length of rope or cable around the suspect’s upper chest and tighten it with an improvised winch from behind, which provoked extreme pain and the sense of suffocation.

After a while the captive might either be released, or else handed over to division level intelligence officers for further questioning, in which case the torture options increased. In the latter stages of the battle, when the holding areas became too full of suspects, some were killed merely because there was no space to detain them. Earlier this summer in the Old City I saw the body of one Isis suspect who had been shot without being questioned at all. His sister had denounced him as they clambered out of the rubble together.

The challenges for a journalist were complex. A reporter’s presence could either antagonise the interrogators or mitigate the treatment of captives. Should journalists just watch and say nothing, like they do in so many other incidents during war? Say something? Or walk away?

The officer’s laptop powered up. The database appeared. He ran the suspects’ names through it, while starting to ask some simple questions. Prisoner A – short-haired, clean-shaven, in dirty tracksuit bottoms, a filthy T-shirt and sandals – made an early beginner’s mistake, by saying he knew of no one in his family affiliated to Islamic State.

The database said different, and the commanding officer yelled: “Liar!”

He was a big guy, the CO. His shout echoed in the room. The prisoner hung his head and beside him the fat soldier stood ready with the whip, rocking on his toes while looking at me as if I was the maiden aunt who should have gone to bed before the party started.

“It says here you have six brothers with the Daesh, one of them fighting in Syria!” said the CO.

“Six brothers in Isis?” I thought, aware of feeling intensely hostile to the captive. “You prick. You’re dead already.”

But he came back well, Prisoner A. “They were all my step-mother’s sons!” he said, sounding indignant and somehow credible. “They were the sons of my father’s second wife. I never lived with them! It’s true what I say! I beg you believe me.”

“Smart move,” I thought. Iraqi families are as complex and divided as any. Every second soldier in that room must have had a stepmother issue, or bad blood with a half-brother. “I, against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world,” as the old Bedouin saying goes.

I felt intrigued but uncomfortable, watching it all unfold, the bound and kneeling men waiting for the whip or worse. I knew that if I left the room both prisoners would get thrashed for sure, and likely tortured. If I stayed, they might get thrashed anyway, in front of me, which might have implied my acquiescence. But I also wanted to know what would happen. It was awkward either way.

***

Ali Arkady’s story epitomises this dilemma. A 34-year-old Iraqi photojournalist, Arkady had been embedded with a unit from the Emergency Response Division during the start of the battle for Mosul. The soldiers whose heroism he set out to portray started torturing prisoners, hanging them from ceilings with weights on their bodies, gouging their eyes, beating them, sometimes shooting them.

Arkady was so involved with the unit that he later admitted to striking some of the prisoners too, an act he claimed to have done under duress. Nevertheless, he somehow managed to reclaim his integrity and fled Iraq, publishing a dossier of prisoner abuse images in May 2017, while the battle still had six weeks left to run.

I knew how difficult it could be to avoid bonding with troops under shared pressure. Although my own contact with them was brief, just a few days, I liked the soldiers with whom I stayed during the battle’s final act. It was hard not to. They looked after me and fed me. There was no formal “embed” process as such.

I had met the CO through my interpreter. He put me in a Humvee and took me to the front. His soldiers escorted me around the Old City, even when other journalists were blocked from the area. Tough guys fighting a terrible enemy, they were as nuanced and funny and complicated as any soldiers I met anywhere else.

The best conversations we shared were about fear. House-to-house fighting is terrifying. Sometimes they got stuck in a building with Isis fighters in adjoining rooms, or were temporarily cut off, or lost, or fought with friendly units in confused night-time bloodbaths in basements.

There were improvised explosive devices, IEDs, everywhere. The bomb disposal officer attached to the unit told me that he received his posting to Mosul after drawing names from a hat. “Oh fuck,” he had said when he saw where he was being sent.

But now these nice guys had a couple of prisoners and they wanted to beat the crap out of them. Prisoner B, who had eyes like black pebbles and a scraggly beard, looked even more messed up. The database recorded his elder brother as being a senior Isis commander fighting inside Syria, while his mother was an MP in the Iraqi parliament.

“It’s true of my brother,” he said, staring at the floor, utterly resigned to what was about to befall him. “But I am not Daesh.”

I had a sudden bolt of inspiration. On my phone I had a photo of my own face, taken in a hospital in 2014, a few hours after I had been worked over by a Syrian rebel group while being held as their hostage. It was a proper beating.

“Hey, this was me when I was beaten with my hands tied,” I said, producing the photo. In the UK anyone who has seen that picture winces and makes a sympathetic “oooh” noise. But in Iraq they raise their eyebrows and go “huh!”, as if admiring the professionalism of the beating.

“The thing is,” I began, “it really upsets me now, after this happened to me, when I see someone else with their hands tied getting beaten in a similar way.”

Then I took a tactical piss in the hallway loo to let the soldiers discuss the matter among themselves. I knew I had hit on a good idea. Iraqis are fabulous hosts. The thought of upsetting a guest was an anathema, even in an interrogation session.

Sure enough, when I came back in the prisoners had their plasticuffs cut off, and were sitting on the floor drinking juice, looking dazzled with surprise. They pulled up their T-shirts to reveal terrible raised welts – as well as proper cat-o-nine-tails scarring – which they said had been given to them during two earlier interrogations that same week by other Iraqi units. Then the soldiers let them go into the night.

“I think maybe they were innocent after all,” the CO said, rather unconvincingly. “It is important you understand we treat prisoners fairly.”

Only the fat soldier looked pissed off.

I went next door to sleep. One of the officers put an assault rifle by my blanket and said “just in case”. I was about to nod off when I suddenly twitched awake, fearing that maybe I had been duped after all, that maybe the captives had been set free, and then shot around the corner, out of my view.

“Oh well,” I thought finally, closing my eyes. “Maybe they were Daesh after all.”

Anthony Loyd is a reporter for the Times 

Photo: CAROL GUZY / ZUMA / EYEVINE

Changes to state innovation waivers in Senate’s “skinny bill” still raise serious concerns

By Jason Levitis from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

On July 27, the Senate introduced and narrowly defeated a stripped-down health reform bill, entitled the Health Care Freedom Act but widely called the “skinny repeal” bill, that would make a small number of substantial changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Like earlier drafts released by Senate Republicans, the bill includes revisions to state…
      
 
 

Netflix’s rivals take aim at its stream of success

From The Big Read. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

The online entertainment service has rapidly become a dominant maker of films and TV shows, but established players are hitting back

Banks are right to shun Venezuela hunger bonds

From FT View. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

Credit Suisse’s ban reflects both reputational and legal risks

When will there be female managers in the English Premier League?

By Jason Murugesu from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

Wenger said he was “convinced” that there would be a female manager in the Premier league “soon”.

A lot has happened since Andy Gray and Richard Key’s infamous off-air remarks six years ago.

“The game’s gone mad," they decried, remarking on the presence of female officials in the men’s game.

Unfortunately for them, like the following loss of both their jobs, neither saw what kind of future was coming.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger’s comments are more indicative of what is next for women’s football. When asked at the Football Writer’s Association Gala about the prospect of female managers in the men’s game, Wenger pointed towards the success of his fellow compatriot Corinne Diacre.

Diacre, the manager of the second division French club Clermont Foot 63, is the only female manager in the higher leagues of Europe. Her club finished 12th in the league last year, but the previous year were close to promotion.

Diacre also recently revealed that she had been approached by a Ligue 1 team, but turned them down as she wanted to continue her work at Clermont Foot till her contract ends.

Wenger went on to say that he was “convinced” that there would be a female manager in the Premier league “soon”.

Felicia Pennant, the editor-in-chief of the women’s football and fashion zine SEASON is similarly optimistic. She likes to think that there’ll be a female manager in the Premier league “in the next ten years”.

The optimism is a large part due to the success of England’s Lionesses this summer. Their semi-final exit to Holland in this year’s Euros were watched by over four million people on Channel 4 and received widespread coverage in the press.

Pennant does however note that “the hype and euphoria of the Women’s Euro 2017 seems to have already died down as the men’s football season is restarting”.

A report published by the FA in March on the future of the women’s game states that the organisation aims to double both the number of registered women’s teams from 6,000 to 12,000 and increase the average attendance of international matches from 11,000 to 22,000.

Greg Clarke, the chairman of the FA, believes that “women’s football is the biggest single opportunity for us to grow the game”.

Clarke is putting his money where his mouth is.

More money has been allocated to the women’s game in England than other country since the last women's European championship, and England has the fastest growing numbers of female football players in Europe. It is the currently the fourth largest team sport in the country, behind men's football, cricket and rugby.

The FA has grand ambitions for it to overtake both men's rugby and cricket soon. 

These ambitions led to the announcement this week that England will bid to hold Euro 2021.

Baroness Sue Campbell, the head of women’s football in the FA, added that "This is another wonderful opportunity to maintain the momentum around women’s football and the feel-good factor generated by the Lionesses in the Netherlands. I’m right behind the bid.”

While there is certainly much momentum surrounding the women's game at the moment, it should be noted that only five managers in last season’s Women’s Super League were women and only 1 per cent of the people who hold a UEFA Pro coaching license are female.

Aubrey Cooper, FA's recent hire for the newly created position of Head of Women's Coach Development, helped launch Women's High Performance Centres in partnership with 10 universities last month, which she hopes "will help to get more female coaches qualified". 

Cooper also noted that in order to promote more women in the professional game, the 37,000 female coaches that are currently qualified must be "given the oppurtunity to progress in the game" and that "clubs need to be open minded to considering women's managers". 

When asked when she believes there will a female manager in the Premier League, Cooper seems confident: "There are women capable to make that step now." 

Perhaps, the future is closer than we imagined. 

 

 

 

Getty

Ten years on, the crisis leaves a dark legacy

From FT View. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

The legitimacy of capitalism was undercut, and is unsteady still

Move objects with your mind – telekinesis is coming to a human brain near you

By Sanjana Varghese from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

If a user puts on the Neurable headset, they can move virtual objects with their thoughts. 

On 30 July, a blog post on Medium by Michael Thompson, the vice-president of Boston-based start-up Neurable, said his company had perfected a kind of technology which would be “redrawing the boundaries of human experience”. 

Neurable had just fulfilled the pipe dreams of science fiction enthusiasts and video game fanboys, according to Thompson – it had created a telekinetic EEG strap. In plain English, if a user puts on the Neurable headset, and plays a specially-designed virtual reality video game, they can move virtual objects with their thoughts. 

Madrid-based gaming company eStudioFuture collaborated with Neurable to create the game, Awakening. In it, the user breaks out of a government lab, battles robots and interacts with objects around them, all hands-free with Neurable's headset. Awakening debuted at SIGGRAPH, a computer graphics conference in Boston, where it was well received by consumers and investors alike.

The strap (or peripheral, as it’s referred to) works by modifying the industry standard headset of oversized goggles. Neurable's addition has a comb-like structure that reaches past your hair to make contact with the scalp, then detects brain activity via electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors. These detect specific kinds of neural signals. Thanks to a combination of machine-learning software and eye-tracking technology, all the user of the headset has to do is think the word “grab”, and that object will move – for example, throwing a box at the robot trying to stop you from breaking out of a government lab. 

The current conversation around virtual reality, and technologies like it, lurches between optimism and cynicism. Critics have highlighted the narrow range of uses that the current technology is aimed at (think fun facial filters on Snapchat). But after the debut of virtual reality headsets Oculus Rift and HTC Vive at 2016’s Game Developers conference, entrepreneurs are increasingly taking notice of virtual reality's potential to make everyday life more convenient.

Tech giants such as Microsoft, Facebook and Google have all been in on the game since as far back as 2014, when Facebook bought Oculus (of Oculus Rift). Then, in 2016, Nintendo and Niantic (an off-shoot from Google) launched Pokémon Go. One of Microsoft’s leading technical fellows, Alex Kipman, told Polygon that distinctions between virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality were arbitrary: "At the end of the day, it’s all on a continuum." 

Oculus’s Jason Rubin has emphasised the potential that VR has to make human life that much more interesting or efficient. Say that you're undergoing a home renovation – potentially, with VR technology, you could pop on your headset and see a hologram of your living room. You could move your virtual furniture around with minimal effort, and then do exactly the same in reality – in half the time and effort. IKEA already offers a similar service in store – imagine being able to do it yourself.

Any kind of experience that is in part virtual reality – from video games to online tours of holiday destinations to interactive displays at museums – will become much more immersive.

Microsoft’s Hololens is already being trialled at University College London Hospital, where students can study detailed holograms of organs, and patients can get an in-depth look at their insides projected in front of them (Hololens won’t be commercially available for a while.) Neurable's ambitions go beyond video games – its headset was designed by neuroscientists who had spent years working in neurotechnology. It offers the potential for important scientific and technological breakthroughs in areas such as prosthetic limbs. 

Whether it was a childhood obsession with Star Wars or out of sheer laziness, as a society, we remain fascinated by the thought of being able to move objects with our minds. But in actual realityVR and similar technologies bring with them a set of prickly questions.

Will students at well-funded schools be able to get a more in-depth look at topography in a geography lesson through VR headsets than their counterparts elsewhere? Would companies be able to maintain a grip on what people do in virtual reality, or would people eventually start to make their own (there are already plenty of DIY tutorials on the internet)? Will governments be able to regulate and monitor the use of insidious technology like augmented reality or mixed reality, and make sure that it doesn't become potentially harmful to minors or infringe on privacy rights? 

Worldwide spending on items such as virtual reality headsets and games is forecast to double every year until 2021, according to recent figures. Industry experts and innovators tend to agree that it remains extremely unlikely you’ll walk into someone examining a hologram on the street. All the same, VR technology like Neurable’s is slowly creeping into the fabric of our lived environment.

Photo: Getty

‘Peak’ everything?

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

In the 1980s I remember writing an economics homework essay about how the world was going to run out of oil by the year 2000 

In the 1980s I remember writing an economics homework essay about how the world was going to run out of oil by the year 2000 — Marion King Hubbert’s original ‘peak oil’ thesis. Well, predictions are tricky, especially about the future as they say. However, the peak, and indeed trough, thesis seems particularly appropriate to the rather odd world we currently live in.

Peak stuff

Sure, we have had peak government and peak car but new terms are entering the lexicon: peak stuff, peak globalisation and even peak tech. We in the West actually consume less stuff than we did ten years ago. My garage is full of stuff, which I have no need for even though ‘Aunt Amazon’ keeps knocking at the door (not sure my wife subscribes to the peak stuff philosophy).  Maybe I am not the only one who wants nothing for Christmas; my wife says I’m miserable — I probably am!

Peaked or troughed?

It seems everything has peaked out or indeed the opposite; many seem to be going through a trough. Virtually every industry we can think of has too much capacity — airlines, shipping, steel, autos and retail — all with no pricing power. As seasoned readers will know we don’t lend to these industries; if it ‘flies, floats or rolls’ or indeed, if it is one of the three Rs, ‘retail, restaurant or the rag trade’. Take shipping for an example; it is an appalling industry, plagued by capacity build ups and no growth — witness the recent demise of South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping among others. 

On a recent holiday to the Seychelles, I was amazed to read in the airport that there are 35 international flights a week into the Seychelles at an average capacity of 40% (the breakeven load factor for airlines - the point at which operations start to make money - is currently around 60-65%). The Arab carriers, among many others, are throwing capacity at this route, increasing their market share and aiming to dominate it. Granted, this is good for cheap holidays as someone else is subsidising the costs.  Airbus have recently cut production of their flagship double decker A380 plane (the best solution for 21st Century growth according to Airbus) to only 12 a year – aviation finance bonds anyone?  One of my favourite pictures of all time is all those planes rusting in the desert – I wonder when the first A380 will be parked up there?

Enter the ‘sharing’ economy

It was the Ikea executive, Steve Howard, who recently spoke about peak stuff; how it was unlikely they could sell any more furniture as everybody has enough already. This chimes a chord with us and seems hugely relevant to the shared economy. The average car only moves 4% of its life. So in the future we will need less cars and will simply be sharing them (arguably US car production is peaking out at the moment). 

Airbnb could hugely lower the need for extra hotel rooms as we simply share existing houses; peak RevPAR2? The effects could be hugely deflationary. Just look at the effect Uber is having on London private hire firm Addison Lee’s profitability, where they have recently fallen by two thirds.

So we can add to our list peak taxi fare, peak hotel room and peak car ownership.

Growth troughs, asset inflation peaks

Post the Global Financial Crisis, economic growth has been pitiful. Economic growth, inflation, defaults, volatility, productivity, trade, credit demand and bond yields all seem to have troughed while asset inflation peaks (S&P 500, NASDAQ indices) on an almost daily basis. There are a number of complementary theories to explain this. 

Jenna and I have spoken about Richard Koo’s balance sheet recession view of the world for over five years now. This is where individuals or corporates do not want to borrow when interest rates are lowered, as they just want to reduce their debt — peak credit perhaps? Larry Summers’ secular stagnation is a similar view but emphasises excess savings as the cause of the lack of aggregate demand.

Demographics or deflationary effects of technology?

More recently demographics have been getting another airing — not enough producers/consumers and too many older savers — those dependency ratios just keep getting worse. 

Other theories focus on the chronic lack of productivity and the deflationary effects of technology and the shared economy. One such technology is artificial intelligence. It has been around for years, but more recently advances in machine learning, sensor technology, and computer power has meant new generation software and hardware robots are being applied across almost every industry, replacing humans and driving down operational costs.

Indeed in our very own asset management industry we’re seeing the creeping use of A.I. to do varying parts of the fund management process, from risk analysis to asset allocation to using algorithms to picks stocks.  It is enabling disruptive start-ups - known as robo-advisors - to strip-out human costs and charge much lower fees, pressuring fees from ‘active’ managers and driving a recent wave of mergers and consolidation (this year Henderson merged with American firm Janus Capital). Could this be peak active fund management?  We hope not.

Behavioural changes matter

But more importantly, we think the behavioural change in the consumer is significant. My colleague, Arjun Bhandari, has highlighted the reduced desire and ability for millennials to consume as this demographic would rather purchase experiences than consumer durables. 

Behaviours vary by generation but also by culture. We heard a story from a respected Japanese economist the other day — if you go to the consumer electronics district of Tokyo you will find canny Japanese consumers buying cheap ‘value’ Chinese made rice cookers. Whereas the ‘bling3‘ Chinese tourists tend to buy overpriced, over‑engineered Japanese rice cookers. It is not until we have a change in consuming behaviour, that we may have the remotest chance of getting out of the current economic malaise.

Did we mention ‘lower for even longer’?

We are sympathetic to all of the above theories. We have talked about ‘lower for even longer’ for years but now it is getting much more mainstream acceptance among our client base. In this regard, in recent years we have favoured quality, long‑dated (higher duration), large‑cap, non‑cyclical corporate bonds over high yield bonds. This has worked very well, whereas some of our competitors are still in the reflation camp. 

In a well-behaved world, business cycles follow the pattern of growth, boom, recession and recovery. In the boom phase excess demand leads to rising inflation, which in turn translates into higher interest rates to dampen the demand (hurting bond returns). The current prolonged period of recovery has naturally led to reflation theories. But such theories miss the important fact that the economy has now moved on from an excess in demand to an excess in supply, making the prospects of inflation even more remote.  Indeed, the lack of inflation is a global problem.  It does not feel temporary or idiosyncratic to us.  But the Fed, run by labour market academic economists continue to place too much emphasis on the broken Phillips curve analysis (please see article on this subject due to be released week of 14th August 2017).

Thus the current consensus that the boom in bonds is soon to go out with a bang, may actually turn out to be only a whimper. In reality, however, it is impossible to predict.

Meanwhile, in a little corner of the fixed income market …

The current economic environment has been a great time to be invested in corporate bonds. Central bank quantitative easing programmes, and more lately bond purchases by the European Central Bank and the Bank of England have made the bond drought even more severe.  Peak bond maybe, but we are not convinced. 

Remember, a golden rule of investing is ‘don’t fight the Fed’ and another is ‘respect the technicals4’. Today’s bond markets are technical, technical and technical. If anything we prefer a more credit sensitive market, one that is more focused on the likelihood of company defaults and future earnings, but hey, who’s complaining?

We continue to like large reliable lower end investment grade and top end high yield corporate bonds, in our efforts to deliver a reliable income stream for our investors.

1The tide of globalisation is turning, Martin Wolf, Financial Times, 6 September 2016

2RevPAR = revenue per available room

3Refers to the propensity of Chinese consumers to buy luxury brands

4Supply/demand and investor positioning (among other causes) influencing markets rather than fundamentals such as economic growth or corporate health

 

The information should not be construed as investment advice. Before entering into an investment agreement please consult a professional investment adviser.

Past performance is not a guide to future performance. The value of an investment and the income from it can fall as well as rise and you may not get back the amount originally invested.

Issued in the UK by Janus Henderson Investors. Janus Henderson Investors is the name under which Henderson Global Investors Limited (reg. no. 906355), Henderson Fund Management Limited (reg. no. 2607112), Henderson Investment Funds Limited (reg. no. 2678531), Henderson Investment Management Limited (reg. no. 1795354), AlphaGen Capital Limited (reg. no. 962757), Henderson Equity Partners Limited (reg. no.2606646), Gartmore Investment Limited (reg. no. 1508030), (each incorporated and registered in England and Wales with registered office at 201 Bishopsgate, London EC2M 3AE) are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority to provide investment products and services.

 

Sounds delicious: the food podcasts you should be listening to

By Felicity Cloake from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

It turns out you don't always need to see and taste meals to make them interesting.

Leaving aside certain swanky Riviera spots, beaches are, as a rule, not great places for the food lover. For a start, sand is no respecter of your carefully wrapped sandwiches, and more importantly, it’s hard to work up much of an appetite when all you’re doing is lying around hoping to eventually turn from pale gammon to crispy duck.

One thing that does travel well, however, is the podcast; as good for whiling away a few quiet hours with your eyes shut as it is when you’re stuck in traffic en route. Though audio might seem an unlikely medium for a topic that’s best experienced through taste and sight, the food category is booming, with hundreds of different series devoted to every detail of production and consumption, including an increasingly healthy homegrown crop to rival the wealth of weird and wonderful content from the United States.

Dan Saladino, series producer of Radio 4’s long-running and multi-award-winning Food Programme, credits its success to the fact that, because of the limitations of the medium, the story has to be about more than just the food on the plate. “As a nation we buy more cookbooks, watch more television programmes about food and go out to restaurants more than our parents did,” he wrote last year. “However I’m not convinced we all know as much as we need to about how our food is produced, what the consequences of our buying decisions are and what impact any particular food has on our bodies. Our mission statement is ‘Investigating every aspect of the food we eat’ and that pretty much sums it up.”

Gilly Smith produces the Delicious magazine podcast, the only non-BBC shortlistee in the best radio programme or podcast category in this year’s Fortnum & Mason food and drink awards. She tells me that, although she’s also worked in print and television, “audio is the best. It’s so immediate… the stories I got from the former drug addicts who make the award-winning cheese at San Patrignano in our July episode would have been a nightmare with a camera, but it was just me, a Zoom recorder and genuine empathy.”

These lower production costs (Smith often records links underneath a duvet to improve the sound quality) allow for more diversity in the market – she compares them to pop-up restaurants: “The same spirit of adventure, getting in there and on with it… it’s about immediate, easy-going chat and real connection with people. Most successful podcasts are a bit quirky… and certainly treat the listener as an equal. It cuts out the middle (wo)man.”

Olive magazine’s Janine Ratcliffe agrees: “Our whole podcast is made by the editorial team – it means we can be really reactive to getting guests we are interested in. If that means travelling to a festival or going to a new gin bar at 11pm for an interview, we’ll do it. And when it’s random chat between the team it’s more like listening in to an entertaining talk with friends who are as food obsessed as you are.”

Their 61 episodes to date have covered everything from the Olive staff’s favourite sandwich fillings to the green arguments for eating insects. Whether you’re interested in the geopolitical history of hummus or where to get the best burger in Brooklyn, cultural appropriation in western food media or the surprisingly lewd history of the peach emoji – like the hotel breakfast buffet, there’s something for everyone. Including, of course, podcasts about hotel breakfast buffets.

Photo: Getty

Communities can mend the torn fabric of society – but they need funds to do so

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

There is only so much that volunteers can do without government support. 

In many ways, Britain has never been so divided. It’s not just the vote on Brexit that has split the nation. There are other more deep-rooted problems. 

Unable to get on the housing ladder and often with limited job prospects, many young people feel their lives are a world away from financial security of those who went before them. 

As well as the intergenerational chasm, a divide is opening up between the three million EU citizens living here who fear what the future might hold for them and the rest of the UK’s citizens.

And, there is the alarming gap that appears to be opening up between some ethnic minority communities and the authorities and the police.

This was seen with the anger over the shambolic response of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council to the Grenfell Tower disaster and the unrest in East London following the death of Rashan Charles after he was pursued and apprehended by police. 

As someone who was welcomed when I came to England as a teenager and a Kurdish refugee from Turkey, these changes are worrying. There is a risk these divisions will deepen unless we act.

The fabric of our society is not torn apart, but it is badly damaged. We need action to fix that and make sure we heal these divisions to make Britain safer and more inclusive.

That work should start with the youngest. Too many children are still living in poverty in a country where the richest are so wealthy they can afford to leave multi-million pound mansions in London empty.  

According to Barnardo’s, there are 3.7 million children living in poverty in the UK – a shocking figure by any standards.

Around 400 Sure Start centres, places that gave children such a great start in life, have shut under the Conservatives. An injection of £500 million in early intervention funds promised by Labourwould be enough to reopen the centres and restore their services.

But it is not just about securing more funds.  We also need communities get much more involved in tackling some of these deep-seated problems and helping to strengthen society. 

We saw that with the fantastic way the community rallied around to provide food, support and practical help in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire and filled gap left by the local authority. 

There are also established schemes that do an excellent job in the community like the Near Neighbours programme which has helped more than one million people.  

The scheme – which encourages people of different faiths to work together - uses small grants to strengthen local communities, build support and trust and break down obstacles that stand in the way of better community relations. 

In south London, there is a great example of a community project that is continuing to grow and bring people together. A few gardening enthusiasts turned a waste site on Clapham Common into a thriving community garden. From a humble start, the Bandstand Beds Association is now Clapham’s biggest food growing project. 

But we also need to see more help from central government to improve community cohesion by reversing some spending cuts. 

Teenagers are particularly hard hit after the government scrapped the educational maintenance allowance in 2011, cut the youth services budget by almost £400m since 2010 and hiked tuition fees. 

When it comes to crime, young people from ethnic minorities are disproportionately victims of knife attacks. But the police struggle to deal with the problem after years of budget cuts. 

There is no easy solution. I have been involved with charities in London that are trying to halt the epidemic of knife crime. We have seen volunteers team up with police to search for hidden knives and other weapons. 

But there is only so much that volunteers can do. The promise from Labour of 10,000 extra police would make our neighbourhoods safer.

The money pledged by Labour to abolish the student tuition fees that cripple the finances of so many young people would help reduce the intergenerational wealth gap between the young and old. 

And, those EU citizens worried about their place in the UK would be reassured by Labour’s guarantee that all EU nationals currently living in the UK will see no change in their legal status due to Brexit. 

All these measures would help. But we still need to do more to strengthen our society.

That includes the Muslim community in Britain – the vast majority of whom are, like me, rightly proud of their British identity. From their ranks have come doctors, nurses, teachers and businessmen that have done their part in to improve our society.

There are multiple other examples and there is much to celebrate when it comes to the contributions of multiculturalism – despite the threat posed by those who want to attack us for our tolerance. 

In my case, it was the proud moment my staff and I at Troia restaurant gave meals, help and a hospitable environment to the emergency services after the Westminster attack in March.  

Against all the efforts to divide us, we need to work together to strengthen the pillars of our society.  It will help make Britain a happy, safer and more prosperous place. 

Ibrahim Dogus is an entrepreneur and chair of SME4Labour. He was Labour’s parliamentary candidate in the Cities of London and Westminster at the general election.

 

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“He's isolated himself”: Al Gore on Donald Trump

By India Bourke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

Gore discusses climate change, the power of the presidency and his new film An Inconvenient Sequel.

There are two groups of people who should see former US vice-president Al Gore’s new film, An Inconvenient Sequel. First up are the producers on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Earlier this week, the radio show asked Lord Lawson, a renowned UK climate sceptic, for a response to Gore’s latest message on climate change. The online environmental community then took a collective gasp as the show’s presenter failed to challenge Lawson’s series of inaccurate claims.

Perhaps most maddening of all was the idea that the global temperature has “slightly declined” in the last ten years. Those who have seen Gore’s new film would know that this is barmy. And for those who have not, this graph from Carbon Brief is essential viewing:

The fact the BBC is still struggling to get on top of this issue is perhaps justification enough for the film’s release.

But the second group of people who should see An Inconvenient Sequel are those who are probably already up to date on the latest science and politics. That’s because one of the movie’s most striking insights is into how high-level operatives hang on when the going gets tough.

Having lost the presidential election to George Bush in 2000 (despite having won the popular vote), Al Gore knows what a disappointment feels like better than most. “I have seen a lot of setbacks over the years and I see this as another one,” he says of Donald Trump’s election. This allows him to put Trump’s climate-sceptic presidency in context. It’s “not the worst” upset for action on climate change, he says, pointing to the resolve of many across the business community and local government to meet the country’s commitments on emissions regardless.

He even has room for optimism: “The damage [Trump] is doing is turning out to be less than what I feared he would do. I think he’s isolated himself. I think that, even today in the US, members of his own political party in the house and senate are beginning to separate themselves from him, and why wouldn’t they?” Before stopping himself and adding: “I need to calm down here!”

The former US vice-president is sharing the above thoughts with a small group of journalists gathered inside London's Claridge's hotel. He sits at the head of the circular table, lion-like in his corporate American poise and expensive suit. He’s a little late, but that’s OK – he’s charming and impressively tall.

I tell you these details because much of the new film shows exactly this: Al Gore on stage at the many climate change talks he has given over the years, Al Gore backstage, Al Gore speaking to journalists, Al Gore on TV, Al Gore on the phone and Al Gore on stage again.

And while this risks feeling like the climate change movement has been turned into the Al Gore show, the film’s sobering take-away is that powerful political individuals do make a big difference.

Thankfully, in many cases, that difference is for the good. The film’s second half is a roll-call of the many brilliant figures who made the 2016 Paris Conference a success, such as the “incredible” executive secretary of the UNFCC, Christina Figueres. There’s even a cameo handshake from a dashing Justin Trudeau.

Gore’s story also provides an important lens on the reach of American power. As the film builds towards the triumphant climax of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, we learn how he helped secure the all-important support of the Indian government – pulling strings and putting in calls to banks and business leaders. “Let’s call up Elon,” he says at one point, referring with impressively casual panache to Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and Solar City.

Yet there are also points at which this all-American saviour story feels outdated; a “sequel”, if you will, to a historical zeitgeist that peaked a decade ago – and in which politicians of Gore’s generation sometimes feel a little stuck. I’m sure, for instance, that the development-focused Indian government would have a different account of the movement. As might the new generation of climate activists.

But Gore’s worldview is still poignantly insightful in one particular regard – and that’s the power wielded by the White House and how its weight still falls so heavily on one pair of shoulders alone. “I do not know of a position in the world with [the ability to bring about] positive change that is like the position of the US president," Gore says in response to a question about whether he has any personal regrets – a rare moment where you can feel his statesmanlike persona stretching at the seams.

Ultimately his film’s message is not a new story – Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2016 Before The Flood covers similar science, and the optimistic end delivered by the Republican Mayor of Georgetown is almost identical to the one the same man gives in From the Ashes. But at least in Gore it has one of the best climate storytellers the old world has to offer.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is in UK cinemas from Friday 18 August.

Photo: Getty

Federally Qualified Health Center Clinicians And Staff Increasingly Dissatisfied With Workplace Condition

By Mark W. Friedberg; Rachel O. Reid; Justin W. Timbie; Claude Messan Setodji; Aaron Kofner; Beverly A. Weidmer; Katherine L. Kahn from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

Providers and staff at federally funded safety net clinics reported declines in professional satisfaction, work environment, and practice culture.

The New Statesman pick of 90s sitcoms from Frasier to the Fresh Prince

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

And why they still matter to us today. 

Will and Grace, the sitcom about two women and their gay best friends which ran from 1998 to 2006, is coming back. No doubt that while some of the millions who watched it in the mid-Nineties and early 2000s will be celebrating, others, like New Statesman contributor Eleanor Margolis, think some things that were good in the Nineties should stay in the Nineties

But despite the huge audience figures, Will and Grace was just one chuckle in the sitcom smorgasbord that was the Nineties. In a time before TV on-demand, there was the golden hour of the evening – BBC Two at 6pm – when the nation's kids were served up sitcom after sitcom, and everyone was watching TV at the same time.

There were the character dramas – the emotional volleyball of Ross and Rachel – but also the day-to-day scrapes of the schoolyard heroes, the Fresh Prince and Bart Simpson (OK, we're bending the sitcom rules in favour of great TV), and the slapstick of Fathers Ted, Dougal and Jack.

Here, our writers reflect on how Nineties sitcoms shaped them, surprised them, or just left them cringing on the sofa:

Martin Crane's hideous chair was the true star of Frasier

Frasier has a proper emotional core, woven through the story from the beginning, writes Helen Lewis. It is about what happens when you move social classes. What you gain, and what you lose.

We laughed at Alan Partridge – little did we realise he heralded the age of Donald Trump

Nigel Farage famously copied failed fictional chat show host Alan Partridge's blazer, but the two men's resemblance is more than sartorial, writes Daniel Curtis. Partridge is indeed to return to our screens in the not-too-distant future as "the voice of hard Brexit". 

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was radical – because it was so ordinary

An equivalent comedy – a majority-minority sitcom in which their ethnicities were an afterthought, rather than the central point of the joke – wouldn’t be made in the United Kingdom until 2016, writes Stephen Bush. 

Spaced's meta-sitcom showed how pop culture invades our everyday lives

Not an episode goes by without a slew of references to, or riffs on, some other show or piece of cinema, writes Jasper Jackson. 

It's outdated, wealthy and white – so why do I still reach for Sex and the City?

The girls live in a wealthy, white bubble – for a city as diverse as New York, the main cast was startlingly white – and the men they date are a veritable parade of investment bankers and lawyers, writes Sanjana Varghese. Yet, there is still something compelling about Sex and the City. 

The Simpsons: the greatest comedy of the Nineties (and not beyond)

Comedies in television history endure because they are tinged with sadness, and tell us something real about the human experience, writes Anna Leszkiewicz.

Why do so many Irish Catholics love being mocked by Father Ted?

The Catholic Church looms over everything in Father Ted, writes Julia Rampen, but less as a theology, and more as a hierarchical institution that is just asking to be turned upside down. 

Time travelling with That ’70s Show

The series about a group of Seventies teenagers doing nothing in particular in a small Wisconsin town first aired in the US in August 1998. Yo Zushi explains why retro comedy works so well.

Drop the Dead Donkey is why I wanted to be a journalist

As with most British sitcoms, most of the characters were utter wankers, writes Jonn Elledge. But the kind of wankers you'd want to be. 

Absolutely Fabulous will show future generations how fun life was before Brexit

Ab Fab is a love letter to being a citizen of the world – and the opportunities for hedonism that come with looking beyond the boring confines of Little England, writes Lizzie Palmer.

All the fuss over Brass Eye’s bad taste obscures its technical genius

OK, it's not strictly a sitcom, but it's topical, writes Tom Gatti. The show’s continued relevance confirms our suspicion that “fake news” is not a product of the digital era but has long been with us.

Why did immigrant families like mine see so much of ourselves in Only Fools and Horses?

Some people might think it strange that my Sri Lankan-born parents named me after Del Boy Trotter, writes Jason Murugesu. But it's hard to think of a show the British Asian community identified with more. 

The One Where Phoebe Googled: why modern technology would make Friends obsolete

Much as we may want it to, a Friends reunion would just not work in 2017, writes Natalia Bus. 

Photos: Getty

“It's like groundhog day”: smaller booksellers rail against Amazon's latest low tax bill

By Daniel Curtis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

While the online giant's revenues soar, bricks-and-mortar stores fight on.

When I spoke to independent booksellers last week, their pitch was clear: level the economic playing field, and we’ll compete with and outdo Amazon.

Recent signs for bricks-and-mortar stores have been promising. The managing director of chain Waterstones, James Daunt, recently told the Bookseller that a new fixed pricing structure “in some form or another” would be a “fine thing”.

There are other suggestions too. Lizzie Kremer of David Higham Associates (the agents who represent Owen Jones, Jacqueline Wilson and Stephen Fry among many others) is the vice president of the Association of Author’s Agents. She proposes independent-exclusive special editions “priced at the right level for those sellers and offering content exclusive to them for their customers”.

With topics like this finally being raised, the debate that bricks-and-mortar booksellers have long coveted now looks like it’s starting to happen. But, in the here and now, they still have an economic fight on their hands.

Amazon this week announced that the amount of corporation tax it paid in 2016 halved from £15.8m to £7.4m. This is despite turnover rising from £946m to £1.46bn. Those numbers put Amazon in another universe from most booksellers, who have to struggle with things like rents rising far more rapidly than their still-recovering turnovers.

In response, booksellers are mobilising. The Booksellers’ Association has launched an emphatic attack, with Giles Clifford, head of corporate affairs, calling Amazon's annual announcements of its low tax payments “groundhog day”.

Clifford said that the low level of tax “gives Amazon – possessed of a huge market share and all the associated commercial bargaining power that goes with it – a further, substantial, advantage over its competitors in the UK book trade”.

It’s not the only advantage benefiting the internet giant. Amazon’s UK arm has, over the years, been the recipient of generous government grants. In 2012, Amazon paid £2.44m in corporation tax, just less than the £2.5m in grants it received from the Scottish government which enabled it to build a new distribution warehouse in Dunfermline.

Clifford, representing British booksellers as a whole, sees this as a systemic issue, describing shops as “constantly forced to compete with one hand tied behind their backs”.

 “This is an annual reminder that the current system of taxation is out of date and discredited,” he said. “It is simply wrong that the current system is so heavily weighted against bricks-and-mortar retailers, who are paying £2.41 in business rates for every £1 paid in corporation tax.

“We already know that the Waterstones on Bedford High Street is paying 17 times more in business rates than Amazon. This deeply unfair system must end.”

Clifford, who says that the association will be taking the matter to parliament when it reconvenes in September, has described “ensuring a fair market” in bookselling as a “top priority”. But as Amazon's latest tax bill shows, there are few signs the status quo will change without a fight.

Photo: Getty

The awful stand-up gig rescued by an obnoxious Stag and his former English teacher

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

Nothing annoys a self-styled alpha male more than a friend saying: “He’s got you there mate.”

I was performing at a weekend booking of gigs at Pryzm in Bristol. Think Oceana, or Flares, or whichever other cattle market you get your neon-coloured shots from. Tiger Tiger maybe – a place so predatory they named it twice.

Pryzm is a great venue for clubbing: high ceilings, loud sound systems, bars everywhere. These, however, are not good things for a comedy night, not least because they’re attractive features for stag- and hen-dos. And for some reason a group of sexually frustrated, drunk people still thinks the best way to celebrate a weekend is to fill up on stimulants in the form of cocaine, taurine and Jägermeister, and then attempt to sit down and listen to jokes and some social commentary. It’s like having a rollercoaster in a library.

Tonight: we have a 15-strong stag-do in, all wearing black polos with Tony Montana embroidered on them. So we know their stance regarding drug use, and also comedy: eavesdropping on their conversation, I find out their intention, between lines of Colombia’s finest, to “ruin the comics” that come on stage as they’re “the real funny ones”. (I feel at this point that I should explain that I’m using the toilet; my nerves get to me before shows, and I respect my comedy colleagues enough not to make the green room uninhabitable.)

The night begins. The first act (whose name I shall protect, because it’s not pertinent to this anecdote, and we’ve all been there) opens with a line ridiculing Ukip, to illicit a sense of unity amongst fellow patrons of performing arts in their rejection of Ukip’s racist ideology. He is wrong. The stag party, lead by a particularly loud stag, begins to chant “Ukip! Ukip!” enthusiastically. The first act understandably struggles, and departs for another gig, leaving the compere and me to sort through the rubble.

I begin my set before a crowd that’s being held hostage by this stag party. Heckles such as “Buyakasha” (thanks Sacha Baron Cohen, on behalf of all black men) and “What ghetto you from, bruv?” are directed at me.

I then ask the loudest stag what makes him the ringleader within his group. He replies: “I’m Sperm Donor,” turning round to show the lettering on the back of his shirt. The problem is, he’s spelled it “SPERM DONER” – as in kebab. As in, a kebab covered in man-yonnaise, or gar-dick sauce. I’m saying these puns now because I didn’t get to at the time. Instead, I said: “I hope nobody you love gets sick, or needs your help.”

The audience is now in hysterics, and the gig feels like an actual gig, thanks in part to Sperm Doner and his former English teacher.

Then, the icing on the cake. Nothing pisses off a self-styled alpha male more than a friend saying: “He’s got you there mate.” The Doner’s racial slurs are drowned out by laughter. Security kicks them out to continue their awkward night. And, like that, one of my greatest hecklers commits comedy suicide. 

Photo: Getty

Spaced's meta-sitcom showed how pop culture invades our everyday lives

By Jasper Jackson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

As part of our 90s comedy week, we look at the last great sitcom of the decade, Spaced

Spaced was the last great British sitcom of the Nineties, debuting in 1999 and straddling the millennium to finish its second and final series just months before the September 11 attacks brought to an end one era and began another.

Its short run over the cusp of the millennium seems appropriate in hindsight, because Spaced was a watershed in TV's development. It was the point at which it became not just a medium that knew its place within the pop culture canon, but one that wore that knowledge on its sleeve. It was the first show to repeatedly, lovingly and explicitly acknowledge the debt it owed to everything that came before, and turn it into a virtue. It was, basically, the first truly meta-sitcom.

Not that you’d get that from a description of the bog-standard premise underlying it all. Two almost-strangers – geeky graphic artist Tim (Simon Pegg) and lazy wannabe journalist Daisy (Jessica Hynes, née Stevenson) – pretend to be a couple so they can rent a flat from live-upstairs-landlord Marsha (Julia Deakin). An oddball neighbour Brian (Mark Heap) and the "couple's" equally odd friends Mike (Nick Frost) and Twist (Katy Carmichael) round out the main cast, with the likes of Bill Bailey and Peter Serafinowicz dropping in as recurring characters.

Tim and Daisy's daily lives in North London had plenty for my then-teenage self to relate to. I went to sixth form around the corner from their Tufnell Park flat, drank in the bar which forms the backdrop for the show’s sublime finger-gun slow-mo shoot-out, and played frisbee on the same Hampstead Heath fields where Gramsci the Marxist German Shepherd roamed after eating his owner, Minty. 

The mix of jobs, parties, video games and pubs was also familiar, even if the clubbing was, in the words of a quite clearly-still-buzzing Mike, “only for the, only for the, only for the hardcore UK raver”.

But while the mundane aspects of Tim and Daisy's lives in many ways matched my own, the stories Spaced wove for them were suffused with something far more universal – the film and TV of the second half of the 20th century.

Not an episode goes by without a slew of references to, or riffs on, some other show or piece of cinema. Lines of dialogue out of Jurassic Park. Opening shots from Manhattan and Goodfellas. An in-fridge camera angle from 2001: A Space Odyssey. A whole plot line from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And, of course, lots and lots of Star Wars.

Pegg and Hynes, who wrote Spaced, as well as director Edgar Wright, were pretty much exactly the right age to be Star Wars-obsessed when the original three films in that franchise came out, but the allure hadn’t exactly worn off for kids like me almost a quarter of a century later. The flashback in which the utter crapness of prequel The Phantom Menace causes Tim to burn his Star Wars memorabilia on a pyre (itself a reference to Return of the Jedi) was spot on for a generation disappointed with George Lucas’s attempts to give us our own trilogy.

Of course not everyone would get all the references, but that didn’t matter. I remember finding out that a girlfriend who shared my love of Spaced had never seen Star Wars. Having convinced her she was missing out on a far deeper understanding of one of her favourite shows, I insisted we sit down to watch the original films. It was, I think, at the end of Empire Strikes Back, when Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia are wishing Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca good luck in their mission to find a Carbonite-encased Han Solo, that she exclaimed “oh, that’s a Spaced reference”.

That muddled timeline gets to the heart of one of the strange and wonderful things about pop culture in the 21st century. You’re just as likely to see a reference to a piece of TV or film in another work as you are to have seen the original.

The culture of borrowing did not stop with Spaced. Pegg and the director Wright applied their approach to the "Cornetto" film trilogy of Sean of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and the World’s End (perhaps not so coincidentally the name of another pub in Camden). Wright has also made other films heavy with references to video games (Scott Pilgrim) and music (Baby Driver). Meanwhile in a nice twist, Pegg has managed to appear in new film versions of both Star Wars and Star Trek, another source of early inspiration for him. There's even speculation that a line said by Chris Pine's Captain Kirk in one of the new Star Trek films, "skip to the end", is a reference to the phrase's regular appearance in Spaced. Inception-style levels of meta there.  

But while Spaced's creators deserve credit for being ahead of the curve, this evolution was inevitable. Pop culture has been delivered at mass scale for long enough now that most of us don't remember a time before TV and film were a constant. They have become part of the fabric of our lives, affecting how we see the world and how we talk about it.

And that's what those who decry the referential nature of modern pop culture as lazy are missing. All culture is ultimately meant to have something to say about lived experience, and in the 21st century a huge part of that experience is the culture we've previously consumed. We are what we have watched, and Spaced was the first show to really get that.

Photo: Channel 4

Talk of a new party ignores the real obstacle to stopping Brexit

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

At the moment, there aren't the numbers in parliament or the country for a gentler exit. 

What are the obstacles to a softer exit from the European Union – or no exit at all? They are, in descending order of importance: public opinion, Labour MPs in the West Midlands and Yorkshire, Eurosceptic Conservative MPs, the question of whether or not Article 50 is reversible, and Jeremy Corbyn’s Euroscepticism.

The latter has had more column inches devoted to it than anything else: it’s true that the Labour leader’s private belief is that Britain is better off out. He was persuaded to take a role in the Remain campaign, albeit one that frequently frustrated the official campaign, partly to retain the leadership, and partly because Yanis Varoufakis convinced him that Brexit would lead to the break-up of the European Union and an even worse deal for the nations of the EU’s southern perimeter.

That the EU doesn’t look remotely likely to break-up as a result of Brexit means that Corbyn’s old Euroscepticism is back in vogue, but the Labour leader doesn’t, as one ally puts it, “have religion” on the issue. (As I explain in my column this week, Corbyn’s passion project is foreign policy, and like most Labour politicians, he doesn’t really regard the EU as properly abroad.)

Although there are committed Eurosceptics with a powerful voice in the leader’s office, there are also a number of Europhiles. Corbyn’s position is essentially to have a quiet life internally and to find ways to defeat the Conservatives wherever possible, both of which push him towards a more Europhile position.

But the reality is that the Labour leader’s position is not all that important as far as Britain’s Brexit trajectory goes. The party’s position is, but that is set through the competing interests of the membership and trade unions – who largely favour retaining Britain’s single market membership – and the parliamentary Labour party – where a narrow majority favours a more drastic Brexit. That’s why the preferences of Labour MPs in the West Midlands and Yorkshire, the group most likely to be committed to a version of exit that ends the free movement of people, bringing with it a big breach from the European Union, are a lot more important than Corbyn’s feelings about the rules of single market membership.

An equally important block to a softer exit are committed Eurosceptics on the Conservative side. Taken together, the votes of Conservatives who are ideologically committed to a drastic Brexit or believe that only a drastic breach from the European Union can uphold the demands of Leave voters, plus those of Labour MPs who are ideologically committed to Brexit (not a very large group but every vote counts) and those Labour MPs who believe that a drastic Brexit is the only way forward (a significantly larger bloc) means that it is difficult to get 325 votes for an alternate strategy.

Then there’s the problem that while few voters, whether they backed Remain or Leave, have changed their minds, there is a large majority that believes the referendum must be upheld – and that majority also believes that “upholding the referendum” means a drastic breach from the EU.

It’s not clear what coagulating the narrow minority of MPs who currently back a softer version of exit into a new party (parking for a moment where the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru fit into this) does to peel off recalcitrant members of Labour or the Conservatives who might one day back a softer exit but are currently voting and arguing for a more drastic breach.

It might give a bigger platform for someone arguing for a gentler exit, perhaps helping to turn public opinion. But given that at present so few MPs are interested, talk of a new anti-Brexit party feels like displacement activity, rather than a serious attempt to stop Brexit. 

Photo: Getty

On immigration, Macron's words draw borders

By Pauline Bock from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

France can't “endure” more economic migrants, but could do with more “expats”.

This is the fifth in a series looking at why Emmanuel Macron isn't the liberal hero he has been painted as. Each week, I examine an area of the new French president's politics that doesn't quite live up to the hype. Read the whole series.

The 37 French people Emmanuel Macron had invited to his speech on 27 July were special: all had just become French by way of naturalisation. For his first big speech on immigration, the new French president was addressing (former) migrants.

“What we must do today,” he told them, “is look at the world as it is: shaken by terrorism and the economic and environmental crisis, great migration, including endured migration, on these necessary routes from the Middle East, the Balkans in the past, the whole of Africa and the Mediterranean.”

Macron took a good look at the world as it is and its “endured migration” and proposed his solution: the creation of “hotspots”, located in Libya, where migrants would be sorted “to avoid people taking foolish risks when they are not all eligible for asylum”. With or without Europe, he said, this would start “this summer” (although he conceded that Libya needs to be “stabilised” for this plan to be implemented – with the country currently engulfed in civil war, that may take some time.)

The Socialists and the National Front were both quick to condemn the measure for its “unfeasibility”, but it is symptomatic of a particular view of migration. Macron is setting apart two categories of migrants: the asylum seekers and the “economic migrants” who, he said, “come from safe countries and follow economic migration routes, feeding ferrymen, organised crime and sometimes terrorism.” France must be “rigorous” and “inflexible” with this class of migrant because “we cannot welcome them all”.

On asylum rights, he spoke to France’s ideals: pledging to reduce the asylum application process to six months (the current waiting time is 14 to 18 months) and to provide emergency housing to remove all migrants from the streets. A “pipe dream”, judged Liberation: the government’s plan to create 7,500 openings in migrant centres is a step forward, just not a big enough one.

But it is economic migration that Macron really gets wrong. “Sorting people who are eligible for asylum from economic migrants is extremely complex and very difficult to do,” says Maryse Tripier, professor in sociology of immigration at Université Paris Diderot.

She says citizens of Sudan and Eritrea fleeing poverty and dictatorship, Colombians fleeing drug traffickers, women fleeing violence, even a Syrian she met who emigrated after losing his earthenware business to a bombing, can all be considered economic migrants by France, as asylum rights ask that individuals prove they have been persecuted and will die if they return to where they come from. Even war victims like Syrians, although clearly coming from an “unsafe” country, can struggle to provide proof. “Factors for migration are multidimensional, we can’t put them easily in the box ‘economic’ or the box ‘asylum’. It’s too simplistic, it cannot really work.”

The hotspots aren’t a new idea, she says: “It externalises borders: we trade development aid funding with countries like Libya or Morocco if they accept to stem migration flux going through their territory.”

Macron’s speech linked economic migration to organised crime and terrorism – that, she says, is due to the “electoral topic” that immigration has become. Tripier regrets that European countries, that could “totally absorb” the small part of migration from Africa they receive, never set up humanitarian corridors through the Mediterranean and into Europe: “With regulated policies, there would be fewer crime and human trafficking. When we close borders, that’s when ferrymen and mafias come in.”

It’s worth noting that not all migration is deemed “endured” by the French president. American researchers, international entrepreneurs, London City bankers: Macron has tried to lure them all to France. Technically, they, too, would be economic migrants. “It works with his conception of class,” Tripier says, “the idea that we can welcome people for their competence and skills.” But it reflects on the ones France doesn’t want – there's “something about poverty, misery”, Tripier says.

Read more: The Macron Con #4: France's housing aid row is the latest indication of Emmanuel Macron's class problem

This difference in wealth or skills also plays out in what these desirable migrants are called. Tripier gives the example of her nephew, who works for a French company in Singapore: “He’s told that he’s an expat, not that he’s an immigrant. He is protected by his company, by his country of origin. These are distinctions with a social context.” It may not come as a surprise that during the presidential election, 93 per cent of French expats voted for Emmanuel Macron.

In any case, hotspots in Libya won’t prevent economic migration. “There is a right to mobility,” Tripier says. “But people should have the choice to remain or to leave. We can’t tell them, ‘No, you’re not allowed to leave.’” And development won’t stop migration flux, either, she says – when people are more educated, they become more global, move to finish their studies, to live and work abroad.

Often, the refugees Tripier talks to hope to go to England, where they know the language, or to Germany, where they know the welcome is warmer. “Economic migrants who want to come to France are those from former colonies, who already speak French and want to work, but we don’t let them in,” she says, adding that the French economy, which would benefit from migration, gets obstructed by “out of sync” politics. “In Morocco, there are Senegalese who want to come to France and say, ‘Our grandparents died in your war, our parents built your roads, and you feel like you have no debt to us.’” This, she says, is the last act of colonisation, “telling them, ‘You are useless to us, we don’t want you.’”

Of the 37 newly-naturalised French who listened to Macron’s big plans, how many realised the door had closed right behind them?

Photo: Getty

Beware the cemetery gates – tombstone tourism is coming back to life

By Daniel Curtis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

We must watch out, for cemeteries have become a trope.

Jim Morrison’s grave feels more like a stage than a resting place. Perhaps that’s fitting. There’s a barrier separating the labyrinthine paths of Paris's Père Lachaise Cemetery from Morrison’s plot. As The Doors' frontman, he sang: “Well I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer / The end is uncertain and the end is always near”. Such dark lyricism – combined with membership of the infamous "27 Club" of stars who died young – gives Morrison and his grave a particular morbid appeal.

The barrier itself, its metal covered by stickers, is a dead ringer for a gig venue barrier, and it puts you at a remove from the tomb. If you time your visit well, there are a handful of other visitors. If you time it badly, so-called "tombstone tourists" throng the barrier, with someone playing The Doors through a speaker.

I timed it badly.

The main thing you notice is that the turf is covered with cigarette butts. Covered is not an exaggeration. A few of the tombstone tourists who were beside me muttered a few words of succour to the 60s icon – “here you go, enjoy” – as they threw half-smoked fags onto his grave.

It’s a sweet gesture, albeit one which runs uncomfortably close to glamourising premature, drug-fuelled death. Even the nearby grave of Oscar Wilde, whose donated, ornate monument is framed with lipstick kisses on napkins, small notes and well-loved editions of his bibliography, could not compete with the vibrant mania of Jim Morrison’s.

Literature has played its part in poeticising graveyards, while pop culture’s countless premature deaths have created a cult of doomed youth. The combination of the two makes it hard not to romanticise, or at least be struck by, cemeteries.

This isn't a new interest – Wilde and Morrison died 71 years apart. Instead it is one which has ebbed and flowed with time. That most famous of Shakespearean scenes, Hamlet’s skull-touting “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well”, may have gone down well with the 17th century crowds, but by the 18th century, Georgian audiences were shunning it.

If there is any era synonymous with cemeteries, though, it would have to be the Victorian age. The Victorians built many of Britain's greatest eternal resting places, and their love for graveyards – or, as it's rather clinically known, taphophilia – is clearly reflected in the work of Charles Dickens. 

A writer who knew the power of a well-used gravestone, Dickens began Great Expectations in a cemetery. Before the dramatic introduction of the escaped convict Magwitch, protagonist Pip explains that he took Pirrip as his surname “on the authority of his [father’s] tombstone”.

“As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription, ‘Also Georgiana Wife of the Above,’ I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly. To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine – who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle – I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence.”

The thought of being defined by your tombstone is certainly a dark one, but it’s also an arresting one. Dickens knew that well, because this wasn’t the first time he had used the device. The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come leads Scrooge to his tomb in A Christmas Carol, as the miserly character learns the fate that awaits him if he fails to repent.

Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE.”

So far, so recognisable. But tastes change. In the decades following Dickens' work, the losses suffered in the First and Second World Wars made cemeteries places to avoid, rather than frolic in. Morbid fascination gave way to mourning.

Now, more than 70 years removed from the horrors of the Second World War, cemeteries have once again become palatable. Just look on Twitter, where there are countless edgy millennials quoting The Smiths’ "Cemetry Gates" [sic], whose chorus chimes: “A dreaded sunny day / So I meet you at the cemetery gates / Keats and Yeats are on your side / While Wilde is on mine”.

Similarly, there are a farcical number of climactic scenes in films featuring black-clad characters in rainy cemeteries – and not just in Four Weddings and a Funeral. In comic book movies, it’s become the lazy go-to: see Spider-Man (2002), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), Daredevil (both the film and the Netflix series), and Hellboy. 

In short, we must be wary, for cemeteries have become a trope.

It’s the neatness of a cemetery funeral – the sense of finality, but of bittersweet emotion – that lends them so well to the screen. For a director to set their final 20 minutes in a retirement home, or a hospice, would neuter that sense of conclusion. 

Cemeteries fulfil a very clear and obvious purpose in literature: to juxtapose youth with death, and create a sense of emotional weight. It’s a conceptualisation that’s obviously helped by cemeteries being crumbly, dark and inherently creepy. They are a handy location for a writer to tie their narrative up with a neat little moribund bow.

That’s not to say that cemeteries cannot be liberated from cliché. Dickens used A Christmas Carol's graveyard to offer a solemn reminder to live well while you can. In "Cemetry Gates", Morrissey is able to mock young edgelords’ pretentious attempts to outdo their peers when it comes to a love of poetical miserabilism.

In 2017, death may not happen as frequently to us as it did to the Victorians, or the wartime generations. Nevertheless, it exists, and writers must find ways of using and confronting death. These days, cremations are growing in popularity, opening up the possibility of storing ashes in a jar, scattering them to the seas, or even smoking them, if you believe the rumours about Tupac's old group The Outlawz paying tribute to their fallen member.

The list of much-loved celebrities who died last year is eye-wateringly long: David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Sir Terry Wogan and Leonard Cohen to name but a few.

So, in the 21st century, let's approach death in literature through unexpected and interesting lenses. It's time to bury an artistic trope which – thanks to Dickens and Morrissey and the aestheticism of the internet – might have spawned a fatalist fanaticism that can't be contained by a single song, narrative, or gravestone. A dreaded sunny day indeed.

Photo: Getty

The Simpsons: the greatest comedy of the Nineties (and not beyond)

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

The Simpsons' TV show started out on a wing and a prayer. But now the wing was on fire, and the prayer had been answered by Satan.

The Simpsons begins and ends in the Nineties. As all die-hard fans know, it started airing just as the year 1990 began. It finished airing in 1999.

At this point it was replaced by a cunning doppelgänger. The fansite Dead Homer Society argues that the quality of The Simpsons drops so dramatically after around season ten, that it becomes a different show.

Zombie Simpsons is a show on the FOX Network that’s been airing on Sundays at 8pm since roughly the year 2000,” they explain. “Like most half-hour comedy shows, it has its ups and downs, but it’s usually blandly forgettable… The only thing that makes Zombie Simpsons exceptional is its illustrious predecessor, The Simpsons.” 

So when I was asked by my editor to write about the best sitcom of the Nineties, I knew it had to be The Simpsons. Often described as the greatest sitcom of all time, its Nineties episodes are far and away its best, with their blend of satire, mischievousness, warmth, pathos, and joyful, ridiculous silliness.

The best comedies aren’t simply funny. Stories rarely stick with us for making us laugh alone. The greatest comedies in television history endure because they are tinged with sadness, and tell us something real about the human experience.

When The Simpsons started, yes, it was a satirical and cartoonish look at American family life, but the Simpsons themselves felt like a real family, with real, sad problems. In the first season alone, Homer almost attempts suicide, the family go into counselling, Marge almost cheats on Homer, and Lisa experiences depression.

In this last episode, “Moaning Lisa”, the writers explore how it’s inauthentic and unproductive to pretend that life is all laughter and no tears. Marge attempts to support her sad daughter. “Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down, past your knees, until you're almost walking on them,” she insists. “Happiness will follow.” But minutes later, after watching Lisa fake a smile through frustrating interactions, she’s changed her mind. “If you want to be sad, honey, be sad. We'll ride it out with you. And when you get finished feeling sad, we'll still be there.”

The first two seasons might be considered too excessively sentimental for die-hard Simpsons fans, made at a point when the writers were yet to tap into the true comedy potential of the show. But for me, many of the most memorable moments of The Simpsons are emotional ones. Homer, convinced he has hours left to live, spending his final moments with his family. Mr Bergstrom handing Lisa a note that reads, “You Are Lisa Simpson”. Homer sat on the trunk of his car after he says goodbye to his mother, staring up at the night’s sky. Bart and Lisa skating on the ice hockey pitch arm in arm. Homer’s collection of pictures of Maggie framing the reminder, “Do It For Her”.

These clips and screenshots have reached an iconic status today. The Simpsons still holds a huge amount of cultural relevance. It's fertile ground for generating memes, its quote accounts continue to grow in popularity, and screencap site Frinkiac made headlines when it emerged online last year. But the episodes with the most contemporary appeal remain restricted to those that first aired in the Nineties.

Even at the time, the show itself seemed hyper-aware of its shelf life, exploring the problem in a series of meta episodes now hailed as classics. In 1997, Season 8’s “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” aired which, as Sean O’Neal at the AV Club notes, showed the creators were feeling the impact of a hyper-attentive audience. “By 1997, The Simpsons wasn’t just facing criticism from professional critic types who were waiting impatiently, like Kent Brockman says here, ‘for cracks to appear in the show’s hilarious façade,’” he explains. “It was also in the early stages of its tense alliance with the internet – primarily through the dedicated denizens of the alt.tv.simpsons newsgroup, whose users had already spent most of the show’s run pointing out errors in consistency and offering hyperbolic, knee-jerk raves or pans.”

The episode sees the makers of The Itchy & Scratchy Show panic about how it can stay relevant, and create a new character voiced by Homer: Poochie, the rockin’ dog! It’s terrible (and yet also, obviously, amazing). “Last night's Itchy & Scratchy was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever,” Comic Book Guy announces. “Rest assured, I was on the internet within minutes, registering my disgust throughout the world.” When Bart asks him why he feels like he has the right to do that, Comic Book Guy insists, “As a loyal viewer, I feel they owe me.”

Bart: What? They've given you thousands of hours of entertainment for free! What could they possibly owe you? If anything, you owe them!

Comic Book Guy: ...Worst. Episode. Ever.

At the end of the episode, when classic Itchy & Scratchy has been reinstated, Lisa says blankly: “We should thank our lucky stars that they're still putting on a programme of this calibre after so many years.” A beat passes, and Bart asks: “What else is on?” When Lisa changes the channel, the screen goes static.

But the end was not yet nigh. One episode, "Behind the Laughter", stands out as a strange, faux-behind the scenes documentary about the making of The Simpsons, featuring Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa as talking heads, discussing the strains of being in such a long-running, high-profile show. “The funniest stuff came right out of real life,” Bart says, as we cut to flashbacks of Homer strangling him. But after drug problems, ego issues and skyrocketing debts, a different picture emerges.

“With the family in disarray,” a voice over narrates, “episodes increasingly resorted...to gimmicky premises and nonsensical plots”. We cut to fan-hated Simpsons episode, “The Principal and The Pauper”. “Trendy guest stars were shamelessly trotted out to grab ratings. Fans reacted to these... slapdash episodes with yawns. The dream was over. The Simpsons’ TV show started out on a wing and a prayer. But now the wing was on fire, and the prayer had been answered by Satan.

This episode aired in 2000, dangling over the precipice where dedicated fans think Simpsons become Zombie Simpsons. The show predicted its own point of no return. The Nineties Simpsons dream was ending.

This is part of the New Statesman's look back at classic comedy. You can find some of our previous pieces on Drop the Dead Donkey here, Ab Fab here, Father Ted here and Frasier here.

Picture: Fox

Here are the 12 funniest things about YouGov’s “design your own House of Commons” survey

By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

Even Lib Dems don't want the Lib Dems to win.

What does the Ideal House of Commons look like? What if, instead of choosing an individual MP, the British public could choose the composition of the entire House of Commons?

What if, YouGov, what if? To find out, the polling firm – which, it must be said, is having a pretty good run of putting out the sort of slightly shady research that’s just perfect for grabbing shocked clicks on social media – asked 5,000 people to design their own ideal House of Commons. It’s a bit like that IKEA app in which you can redesign your living room, except instead of self-assembly shelves and tasteful rugs called things like Bjorn Borg, all you get a bunch of politicians in tasteful suits.

So. What did the great British public, whose views must be respected and which is never wrong about literally anything ever, want the House of Commons to look like?

1) The average member of the public does not want a functioning government

Look at this clusterfuck:

There is, best I can see, no possible government in there that isn’t going to be a nightmare for all concerned. To form a majority government, you either need:

a) a coalition of at least four parties, and dear god no; or

b) Labour and the Tories putting their differences aside and coming together to form a “grand coalition” in the national interest.

There are two ways of reading this result: either the public, despite the apparent implications of the recent referendum, wants Britain to be a lot more like Germany; or, they don’t actually want a government at all. Which seems more likely to you?

2) They do want the lack of government to be a Labour lack of government, though

Labour 223, Conservative 215. This isn’t really new information – it fits with the party’s slight but consistent polling lead of late. But the collapse of the Tory vote share over the past three months is the single funniest thing to have happened in British politics in decades, so I’m still including it in my list.

3) They also want the Lib Dems back as a third party

Which is funny, because while the average member of the public wants the Lib Dems to get 56 seats – nearly as many as the 57 they got in 2010, and literally four times as many as they have now – this desire doesn’t seem to extend to actually bothering to vote for them. Basically, we all just wish other people were voting Lib Dem.

4) They want the SNP cut down to size

In 2017, the Nats got 3 per cent of the UK-wide vote: if that sounds low it’s hardly surprising, because they didn’t even stand in the overwhelming majority of seats. Scotland has just 59 MPs.

Nonetheless, their 3 per cent still won them 35 seats, making them the third largest force in the Commons. In 2015, of course, they did even better, winning 56 seats – 8.6 per cent of the lot, on just 4.7 per cent of the vote. First Past the Post may be bad news for the Lib Dems, but it’s great if you’re a regional party.

In the fantasy Commons, though, they’re down to 23 – 3.5 per cent of the commons, rather more in line with their actual vote share. Which sort of makes sense.

Less explicable is the 16 seats the average voter is giving to Plaid Cymru. That’s up from just four in reality, and is waaaaay out of line from the 0.5 per cent of the votes they actually get.

One possible explanation for this is that the party is vastly more popular outside Wales, where people can’t vote for it, than inside Wales, where people can. Frankly, though, who knows?

5) The hard right is back in a big way

Our average member of the public gives Ukip 29 seats and the BNP (remember them?) six.

I’m gonna be honest with you here, I can’t immediately see a way of making that fact funny.

*****

YouGov also helpfully broke the results down so we can see what voters from each individual party would like to do with the Commons. So:

6) Even the average Tory doesn’t want a three figure majority

Remember how, before the election, we all thought Theresa May was on course for the largest landslide in eighty years? A majority of 100? Or 150, even?

Even Tory voters think that’s a terrible idea. They only want a majority of 80:

7) Labour voters are actually even less enthusiastic about a Labour landslide:

Majority of 58. That’s less than Blair in 2005, or Wilson in 1966, neither of which are exactly remembered as landslides today.

8) LibDem voters don’t even want the Lib Dems to be the largest party:

This is by far the funniest thing about this entire survey:

Honestly, what kind of political party do you have to be for your own voters to not actually want you to win? The ideal result for the average Lib Dem is apparently to come second to Labour.

Do they want a lovely coalition with Labour? To be kingmakers, with choice of coalitions? Not to be in government at all, but just to torture minority governments forever more? What is wrong with these people?

9) Even the Greens are actually more serious about their own political prospects than the Lib Dems

That’s still a coalition, but it’s one in which they’re much closer to parity with Labour. But it means the Lib Dems are taking all this less seriously than the Greens.

That said:

10) Basically everyone wants far more Green MPs

Honestly: Labour and the Lib Dems are each giving them more than 40. Even the Tories want 11, and Ukip voters want 20 (I’m guessing this is an anti-establishment thing, rather than a secret love of windfarms).

This result isn’t funny in itself, but it is pretty funny when you remember that the actual number of Green MPs is “one”, and then imagine Green voters reading these results and getting increasingly incoherent with rage at quite how much they’ve been shafted by the British political system.

11) Everyone wants more feminists - except the Tories

In the public’s ideal Commons, there are 12 members of the Women’s Equality Party, making it the eighth party. Labour voters want 14, Lib Dems want 11, Greens want 15... Even Ukip voters want 13, the same number of seats they’d give, er, the BNP.

How many WEP MPs do the Tories want? Five. I’m saying nothing.

12) The average Ukip voter’s ideal House of Commons is an actual vision of hell

Ukip as largest party, leading to a Ukip/Tory coalition in which the Tories are the junior partner.

I’ve been thinking about this scenario for some time, trying to come up with an upside so I can end on a joke, and the only one I can think of is: well, at least it puts the prospect of imminent nuclear war with North Korea into some kind of perspective.

If you’re the kind of sick bastard who’d like to read more about this survey, you can do so here.

Photo: Getty

Mosquitoes, a play that shows sensible mothers don't necessarily produce capable children

By Mark Lawson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

The dialogue in Lucy Kirkwood’s show at the National Theatre is clever, funny and painful.

Critics sometimes warn that plays about rupturing relationships might be an unwise choice for a date night. With two of the summer’s hottest tickets, though, think twice before offering to take a sibling or your mother instead.

Mosquitoes is outwardly about science – two of its main characters are particle physicists – but it most intensely concerns the art of bringing children into the world and keeping them there. Lucy Kirkwood’s clever, funny, painful dialogue stages a round of bouts within a family over the impact of inheritance, environment and life choices.

Olivia Williams is Alice, who, as a top cog in the team building the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, has stayed close to the model of her mother, Karen Landau (Amanda Boxer), who might have won a Nobel Prize if physics hadn’t been so sexist in the past. Olivia Colman’s Jenny has rebelled against her mother and sister by being unintellectual, horoscope-obsessed and prone to believing in online blogs about, for instance, the risks of inoculation.

Mosquitoes is Kirkwood’s third major play in four years, following Chimerica (2013) and The Children late last year. They suggest a dramatic brand that explores big ideas through populist plotting. Sudden deaths, sexual betrayals, hideous social embarrassments and even nuclear explosions are frames for debate about the post-Cold War relationship between capitalism and communism (Chimerica), the selfishness of baby boomers (The Children), or, in Mosquitoes, the responsibilities of science and the irresponsibility of anti-science.

The script avoids simple opposition between rationalism and intuition. Religious faith and kindness come from unexpected sources and sensible mothers have not necessarily produced offspring better equipped for life, as shown by an excruciatingly funny internet dating scene featuring Alice’s son, Luke (Joseph Quinn), who, in the cruel way of DNA, seems to have been bequeathed the worst elements of all of his relatives.

Rufus Norris’s staging repeatedly has one character tracking or circling another, risking, like the proton beams in the LHC, collision and the release of unpredictable energies. Colman has won Bafta prizes for playing comedy (Twenty Twelve) and tragedy (Broadchurch), but this role allows her to show both tones, sometimes in the same moment, as her open, deceptively happy face betrays the pain of someone clever enough to know that she has been stupid.

In Lucy Kirkwood, Jez Butterworth and James Graham, we begin to see the shape of a generation of playwrights that may one day be talked about as Caryl Churchill, Tom Stoppard and David Hare are now.

A pivotal line in Mosquitoes – “I think some people shouldn’t be allowed to have kids” – spookily proves to be the driving theme of Apologia, the next big event in the diary. The play, by Alexi Kaye Campbell – the author of the award-winning drama The Pride – was premiered quietly on the London fringe eight years ago but gets a West End revival with paparazzi outside and stars in the stalls because Stockard Channing (Grease, The West Wing) has taken the main role of a feted American art historian living in an English cottage.

Channing’s character, Kristin Miller, has summoned her family to supper, which – as evidence from Titus Andronicus to Festen demonstrates – rarely proceeds in drama from aperitifs to cheese without eruption. The matriarch has recently published a hit memoir, which has reminded her admirers of her part in the pro-feminist and anti-Vietnam struggles of the 1960s and 1970s but riled her sons, the successful Peter and the troubled Simon, by omitting any mention of them.

The nub of the play comes when Simon, arriving late to the feast, confides to his mother, “Pretty much everything we are and everything we do is a response against you.” Thus Peter, raised an atheist, is engaged to an intense American evangelical Christian, while Simon, encouraged to debate politics before he had teeth, lives with a TV soap actress who would be unlikely to be interested in a politician unless they appeared in a meme supporting a dolphin with a life-threatening condition. As in Mosquitoes, the different generations might as well be separate species, so contrasting are their priorities and vocabulary.

Joseph Millson brilliantly plays both sons, showing how they have fallen at very different angles to the tree but with some of the same bruises. But the large audiences that Jamie Lloyd’s production deserves will be drawn by the screen stars Laura Carmichael – an English actress meticulously American in accent and body language as the God-fearing girlfriend – and Channing. The latter gives an enthralling character study of someone whose faults of sarcasm, intolerance and self-absorption are balanced by intelligence and culture and who proves, when the play reaches its long-delayed arraignment for maternal neglect, to have a surprisingly plausible defence.

The scarcity of good roles for women in British theatre is a long-running scandal but, between them, Apologia and Mosquitoes deliver half a dozen. 

“Mosquitoes” is at the National Theatre, London SE1, until 28 September

“Apologia” is at the Trafalgar Studios, London SW1, until 18 November

Photo: BRINKHOFF MOGENBURG

Money stinks up the Premier League, but there's still no sport like English football

By Daniel Harris from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

As England's top footballing tier returns for the new season, let's try to separate the good from the bad.

In these Brexit days of racism, myopia and rampant arsegobbery, reliable British exports are hard to find. But the Premier League – which restarts tonight – is one, a global icon unaffected by our official regression to the state of nature.

This is because there is no sport on earth quite like English football. As the country is small, supporters can watch their teams away as well as at home, something hard or impossible to achieve in other countries with elite leagues. This fosters a unique atmosphere and immersive culture – both general and specific – of small groups assimilated into one large group containing hundreds of people on nodding terms or more who will, at some point, spontaneously embrace and cavort.

Thus thousands of lives are furnished with an addictive, contagious routine involving ridiculous stories, rowdy friendships, petty rivalry and civic pride which manifests both in the stands and on the pitch.

The nature of the game itself is also particular to England. Of course, what constitutes excitement is subjective, and there is a thrill in, say, watching the kind aesthetic destructions or technical, cerebral battles more common elsewhere. But for those of us who expect football to agitate the elements of our psyche which, for the good of humanity, lie dormant in real life, then the artistry and intensity of English football is incomparable.

Its harem-scarem nature means that no league is less predictable – especially now, when the standard at the top is not so high but the standard just below has never been higher. We are drawn to sport, in significant part, because we don't know what’s going to happen, which is why the Premier League is so magnificently alluring.

In the last five seasons we have seen four different champions; at this point a year ago, Chelsea were only deemed fourth most likely by the bookmakers. Indeed, in the 25 editions since the division was formed, the pre-season favourites have taken the title on just ten occasions, a statistic all the more telling given that the same club won 13 of them.

Currently, the expectation is that Manchester City will be celebrating come May – and yet the centre of their defence is dodgy and their manager unproven in the league. Meanwhile, Manchester United look short of goals, Liverpool lack elite quality, Chelsea have barely strengthened, Tottenham are playing home games at Wembley and Arsenal are Arsenal. Our certainty these teams will comprise the top six may be misplaced, but at least we are forced to accept it is impossible to predict in what order. 

The challenge of such uncertainty was crucial in persuading managers as charismatic as José Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte and Jürgen Klopp to work in England. The intermeshing of their personalities adds yet another layer of intrigue and edge. Nor are the unknowns limited to the top of the table. Last season, Burnley were overwhelming favourites to go down but did not, and almost half the table was involved as the battle to stay up reached its denouement.

While it would be dishonest not to note that the Premier League is followed worldwide because of the excesses of Empire, it also boasts a surfeit of famous clubs, with well-defined identities, seminal players and contemporary achievements. Manchester United and Liverpool have enjoyed success across 60 years and lifted the Champions League this century, as have Chelsea. Arsenal have reached a final. The sovereign wealth of Abu Dhabi makes Manchester City an unignorable presence.

Naturally there are downsides to all of this, and most revolve around the folding green. As Bob Dylan noted, “money doesn’t talk, it swears”. Thanks to avaricious authorities and apathetic governments, clubs are legally owned by an assortment of gangsters, carpetbaggers, human rights abusers and morons, while supporters, their moral owners, are exploited.

For this reason it is far too expensive to watch Premier League football, whether on telly or in the flesh, and as such, the ability to stream foreign coverage for free is the best thing to happen to supporters in decades. Our clubs exist because generations of supporters have invested their time, money, effort and emotion, and as such they and their descendants are entitled to watch them. You cannot steal that which is yours.

Money's encroachment into football is especially evident in close-season. The richest clubs hawk themselves around the world to, depending on your bent, "grow their brand” or "snaffle as much money as possible”, not necessarily conducive to starting the season well, yet absolutely conducive to signing better players – so, swings and roundabouts.

Either way, these matches bring English football to people who cannot otherwise enjoy it live. This does not grant the matches legitimacy – a friendly played in Houston between Manchester United v Manchester City means nothing and is not a  “Manchester derby”. But 67,401 people enjoying a precious pleasure is not the worst thing in the world, nor even the worst thing in football. It’s easy – mandatory, even – to take the piss, but a global game with a global language is increasingly hard to hate in an ever-more fractured world.

And then there are transfer fees, the sums exchanged both horrifying and terrifying – all the more so given the Brexit-shaped turd flaming on our doorsteps. Yet any signing which works quickly looks a bargain, and for now at least, the majority of clubs can afford their failures. Which is not to say things should not change. Money earned at the top of the game must be more equitably redistributed, while a salary cap and transfer cap would restore some competitive integrity. The game is not success but glory, and that can never be achieved by brute wealth.

But instead, people and papers choose to rail at what individuals earn – even though our society prizes football highly, those who are best at it sacrifice for their status, and money not disbursed to them would simply disappear into suit pockets. Strangely, far less vitriol is directed at tennis players, actors and the family Windsor, which is to say that carping about the wealth of working-class players says more about the carpers than it does the players.

If we are to take issue with how football clubs pay their employees, then our focus ought to be on how little they give those who do less heralded jobs, rather than on how much they give those whose jobs are among the most heralded on the planet.

So, as another season starts, a suggested resolution: separate that which seems infuriating from that which is actually infuriating and retain accordant fury, but never allow it to encroach on joy. Have a good one. 

Photo: Getty

3D Printing

By Simon Veronneau; Geoffrey Torrington; Jakub Hlavka from New RAND Publications. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

This Perspective describes potential uses of 3D printing in a military context to help the U.S. Department of Defense understand future impacts on the supply chain and the structural and policy changes that might be required to support these efforts.

Time travelling with That ’70s Show

By Yo Zushi from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

Like Happy Days, it was a period comedy  but dumb teenage boredom feels the same in any era.

Someone in the sweaty, black middle of the room hollered, “Turn Me On!” It was the winter of 2014 and the modest concert hall of Cargo in east London was relatively full. “Turn Me On!” repeated the voice, which belonged to a man neck-deep in his late thirties, his Sepultura T-shirt plastered on his wet back like an old billboard poster in the rain. From where I was standing near the back, I could see the 1990s band Quasi onstage behind a sea of bald or balding heads. 

“Turn Me On!” Sepultura Man shouted again. 

“Wha…?” said Sam Coomes, Quasi’s lead singer and keyboardist. “Oh. OK.” Then he started to play “It’s Hard to Turn Me On”, with his bandmate Janet Weiss bashing away on the drums, just as she had done a decade earlier at another venue, over in Camden Town, where her shock-and-awe loudness left my right ear permanently damaged. 

Most of us there were oldish, at least for an indie rock audience. There was no moshing, but then again Quasi weren’t a band that inspired moshing. A lot of Nineties rock was more about swaying in zoned-out malcoordination, something that The Simpsons captured in its 1996 “Homerpalooza” episode with its dead-eyed Smashing Pumpkins fans. So there we were, oldish, swaying in zoned-out malcoordination – but right in front of the stage was a strange apparition. There had been a rift in time.

There’s a spooky story that goes like this: one day, a man was staying at an old stately house in England that had been used decades earlier as barracks for US soldiers fighting in the Second World War. He was woken up in the middle of the night by weird sounds coming from the parlour on the floor below, so he went down to investigate. When he opened the door, he saw young men smoking cigarettes and huddled around the piano, playing an old music hall song and dressed in 1940s army uniform. One of the soldiers looked up at the man and said, “Look! A ghost!” Suddenly they vanished.

The apparition at Cargo was long-haired and skinny, a waifish dude with a floppy fringe and in slightly flared jeans. He was about 18 years old. He swayed just like a Nineties indie rock fan, his head angled down and lolling in vague time with the music. But he couldn’t have been a genuine Nineties rocker, unless he had once been a supernaturally precocious toddler who eschewed The Lion King soundtrack for the Domino Records catalogue. He was too young. It occurred to me that maybe the 1990s had finally become “retro” and ripe for revival, but then the guy was so convincing a specimen of the era that my mind soon reached the obvious conclusion: Janet Weiss’s very loud drumming had caused Newtonian reality to unravel, and we were witnessing a small pocket of the 1990s through a tear in space-time. Or something. Over there was a Nineties kid who had slipped through to the 2010s.

The strangest thing about my paranormal experience was that it reminded me how much this variety of Nineties kid was actually a Seventies kid (the clothes, the hair!), and that so much of Nineties music was also deeply rooted in the Me Decade. When I spoke to Quasi’s Sam Coomes earlier this year, he told me that bands such as Black Sabbath had been a “portal” into his own creativity; the cult of Alex Chilton and Big Star, meanwhile, which includes Yo La Tengo, the Jayhawks and every band that ever played pop with jangly power, attests to the same sort of phenomenon, in which the sights and sounds of a previous era shape the sights and sounds of a new one.

This process probably explains why That ’70s Show worked so well as a comedy of the late 1990s, despite its period clothes, its references to Something/Anything?-era Todd Rundgren gigs and its Big Star theme tune. The comedy series, about a group of teenagers doing nothing in particular in a small Wisconsin town in the 1970s, first aired in the US in August 1998. In pre-production it was originally titled “Teenage Wasteland” – and the wasteland it presented looked pretty much unchanged in my own pre-social media, pre-email, pre-smartphone late adolescence, even with the new millennium just around the corner. 

We had CDs, not eight-track, and VHS made us better acquainted with the pop culture of past generations. We had MTV and 16-bit video games. But growing up in the late 20th century was still full of languor, waiting, and time for guilt-free boredom, unbothered by the nagging “fear of missing out” fuelled by today’s connective technology. The show’s characters spend a lot of time in a basement, talking about nothing and smoking weed. I’m sure kids do the same thing in 2017, but I suspect it feels different when there’s a wormhole to the rest of the world in everyone’s pockets.

Watch a show enough times and its characters almost become as real as your friends; its setting as familiar as your own turf. I was raised in north London, a short walk from Camden Town, which was then the epicentre of Cool Britannia. A quick glance at my CD and video collection would have confirmed that I was pretty typical of that time: a stack of Sixties and Seventies records (Dylan, the Band, Neil Young), which were enjoying a revival at a time of renewed interest in guitar music; some Peckinpah Westerns; the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls end of Hollywood; alongside more contemporary stuff like Elliott Smith albums and Kevin Smith films. So much of this was drawn from past decades, however, that when That ’70s Show’s Steven Hyde (Danny Masterson) enthused about Led Zep, or Eric Forman (Topher Grace) obsessed about George Lucas, none of it felt alien, and none of it felt like it belonged exclusively to our parents’ generation. And London was a world apart from sleepy Point Place, Wisconsin, where the show is set, but teenage boredom in a big city is essentially the same as teenage boredom in the suburbs, or anywhere.

This sense of relatability was part of the show’s design. Garry Marshall’s series Happy Days, which ran from 1974 to 1984, was really about kids in the 1970s and 1980s, despite its idealised vision of the 1950s. Likewise, That ’70s Show felt current and never seemed intrusively anachronistic. In an odd bit of casting, Tommy Chong of the Cheech & Chong movies played a drug-frazzled old hippie called Leo. But wasn’t this type of drug-frazzled old hippie still a drug-frazzled young hippie in the 1970s? Watching the programme, I didn’t think it mattered, because I’d forget that what I was watching was all supposed to be happening in the past.

When That ’70s Show did play up its period setting, however, it was often to revel in the cultural insensitivities of previous decades. Like the Anchorman films, it got away with jokes about race – there’s a running gag about the foreign exchange student Fez’s (Wilmer Valderrama) country of origin – and made light of the era’s sexist attitudes. Over the course of the series, Donna (Laura Prepon) morphed happily from Eric’s girl-next-door love interest into “Hot Donna”, a rock DJ known for her hotness. Simpler times. It was done knowingly, so it didn’t come across as offensive. I think.

The final episode of That ’70s Show was broadcast on 18 May 2006, and in some ways it already seemed like a product of an older form of comedy. It had a laugh track – missing from edgier shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm – and was conspicuously uncinematic, largely relying on a handful of stage sets and unfussy, get-the-job-done cinematography. But I find its datedness reassuring, now, with my teenagehood long over and the 21st century bamboozling us all with its crazy complexity in virtually all areas of life. It was a dumb show, but lifelike in its dumbness. When I see it today, it takes me back not to the 1970s but to my own formative years, tearing a hole in space-time like Janet Weiss’s very loud drumming.

Photo: Fox

Cynically commercial, Atomic Blonde is a total waste of Charlize Theron

By Ryan Gilbey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

David Leitch's film forgets that a driver is only as good as her vehicle.

Atomic Blonde has been in development for a good few years now but it was the success of Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Charlize Theron as an unsmiling, one-armed, shaven-headed trucker, that accelerated production. One of the new picture’s 19 producers must have arrived at a simple equation (Theron + action = dynamite), forgetting in the excitement that a driver is only as good as her vehicle.

Theron has hair this time, as well as a full complement of limbs, though there’s still precious little smiling. Her acting here comes in two modes: sunglasses off and sunglasses on. Mostly on. She plays a British spy named Lorraine, which sounds a bit Birds of a Feather for MI6, but then this is the 1980s.

We are in pre-unified Berlin shortly before the Wall comes down, which means lashings of neon, spray paint and cigarette smoke, as well as the use of pop hits including David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”, already associated with two other films (Cat People and Inglourious Basterds), and Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom”, the theme from the TV series Deutschland 83. Four names are credited with music, but does it really take that many people to pinch soundtrack ideas from other places?

Dressed in a series of raincoats that scream “Look at me! I’m a spy!”, Lorraine is on the trail of a stolen microfilm containing a list of her colleagues. “If the Russians get that, we’ll be buggered sideways,” declares her boss, which sounds like an agreeable outcome compared to what Lorraine does to her enemies. One adversary she stabs in the face with a set of keys. They just hang there from his cheek. At least he’ll know where they are when he needs them.

Her counterpart in Berlin is the uncouth David Percival (James McAvoy). “You’ve got some balls breaking in here: I’m impressed,” Lorraine says after discovering him in her hotel room. “You should see my balls,” he replies. “Then you’d be really impressed.” Not sure that quite works.

Luckily he’s better at his job than he is at repartee. He has made contact with a former Stasi officer (Eddie Marsan), who has memorised the contents of the microfilm. Lorraine will need to protect him but can she trust her fellow spies? The director David Leitch thinks not. He is fond of beginning scenes with the camera lying on its side before rotating it 90 degrees to an upright position. He could be trying to evoke visually the topsy-turvy world of international espionage. It’s as good a guess as any.

These pointless affectations would be easier to tolerate if he could shoot an action sequence fluidly. Mad Max: Fury Road proved that stunts will always be more effective if we can see they’re happening for real, but this is not a lesson that Atomic Blonde has taken on board. A high-speed chase is rendered fuzzy by the computer-generated imagery that allows the camera to perform impossible manoeuvres inside the car.

A protracted fight on a stairwell, which gives the impression of having been shot in one take but contains plenty of swish-pans in which cuts can be hidden, is gory without suggesting actual jeopardy. When Lorraine dispenses with six assailants using a saucepan, a hose and a refrigerator door, the whole under-lit episode feels painfully sluggish. No other director has choreographed a dust-up to the low-tempo sound of George Michael’s “Father Figure”, and now we know why.

Success for MI6 depends on getting the Stasi man safely out of town, but a more pressing race is the one between Theron and McAvoy, both likeable enough actors, to see which of them can squander the audience’s goodwill the fastest. Lorraine isn’t a person so much as an attitude. She goes ten rounds with suspects then soothes her bruises in ice-cube baths before hitting the vodka; it isn’t assassins she needs to worry about, it’s alcoholism and hypothermia. She comes close to caring for the female agent Delphine (Sofia Boutella), with whom she shares a sex scene, but this isn’t progress for gay women in the action genre so much as an attempt to get fanboy hearts beating that bit faster. Even an actor as good as Theron can’t turn a set of cynical commercial considerations into a character. 

Dunkirk: A Deliverance Worth Cheering

By Patrick Porter from War on the Rocks. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

Tony King is one of the world’s most distinguished sociologists, and he now turns his guns on the new film Dunkirk. King charges it with regressive nostalgia. Dunkirk is a re-telling of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation in mid-1940 of over 300,000 British and Allied troops from a port on the French coast while trapped by ...

The Chain of Command Problem in Central and Eastern Europe

By Thomas-Durell Young from War on the Rocks. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

For years, Russia’s armed forces have conducted offensive exercises directed at Europe, such as the recent Zapad field exercise series. The exercises, aimed at reminding the West of Russia’s ability to defend its western flank, raise a troubling question: If Russia were actually to challenge the territorial integrity of a new NATO member in Eastern ...

Donald Trump's “brain” Stephen Miller is also obsessed with Muslims and Mexicans

By Mehdi Hasan from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 11, 2017.

It would be no exaggeration to call the president's senior policy adviser an extremist.

Remember how the White House adviser and arch-schemer Karl Rove was dubbed “Bush’s brain”? Stephen Miller fills that role for Donald Trump.

The balding, skinny-tie-wearing Miller, aged just 31, serves as White House senior adviser on policy and has played an outsized role in the Trump administration so far. He was the author of Trump’s dystopian inaugural address, with its dark invocation of “American carnage”, and also wrote the president’s first speech to Congress, with its hyperbolic references to “lawless chaos” and “radical Islamic terrorism”. He was the co-architect, with Steve Bannon, of Executive Order 13679, better known as the “Muslim ban”, and went on cable news to denounce the federal judges who ruled against it, claiming: “The powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

One former colleague has described Miller as “a true believer in every sense of the word” with “a better understanding of the president’s vision than almost anyone”. Miller, in fact, was one of Trump's early adopters: in 2014, he emailed friends saying: “Trump gets it. I wish he’d run for president.” In January 2016, he quit his job with conservative Senator – now Attorney General – Jeff Sessions and joined the insurgent Trump campaign, soon becoming a a warm-up act for the property tycoon at his frenzied campaign rallies.

Within the White House, where he was once seen only as a Bannon acolyte, the shrewd and ambitious Miller has today positioned himself also as a close ally of Jared and Ivanka.

In recent weeks, he has become the public face of the administration’s hard-line immigration policy, taking to the White House press room podium – after the resignation of the mendacious Sean Spicer as communications director and the sacking of his foul-mouthed replacement, Anthony Scaramucci, ten days later – and loudly clashing with the CNN reporter Jim Acosta over the new plan to give preference to immigrants who speak English.

In the teeming cast of White House grotesques, the dead-eyed Miller – “He looks like the hitchhiker other hitchhikers stay away from,” joked the late-night talk show host Seth Meyers – stands out as a paradoxical figure. Though he is Jewish and was born and raised in liberal Los Angeles County, Miller has the most extensive ties to the white nationalist movement of any White House adviser, Steve Bannon included.

It would not be an exaggeration to call Miller an extremist – and one whose extremism goes back to his teenage years. “He believes multiculturalism is a weakness, that when we celebrate our differences we are ignoring our ‘American culture’,” his former high school classmate Nick Silverman recalled on Facebook in February. “He didn’t like someone from El Salvador celebrating their homeland, or someone from Vietnam bringing in food from their country of origin. He wanted everyone to celebrate one culture. One country.”

Other former classmates told the US Spanish-language news network Univision that Miller “used to make fun of the children of Latino and Asian immigrants who did not speak English well”. One student, Jason Islas, claims that Miller told him they could not be friends because of the former’s “Latino heritage”.

In a high school newspaper column written three months after 9/11 and entitled “A Time to Kill”, Miller also mocked the idea of Islam as “peaceful” or “benign” and demanded a violent response to “millions of radical Muslims”. Later, he worked with David Horowitz – dubbed an “anti-Muslim extremist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center – to organise “Islamofascism Awareness Week” on college campuses.

To recap: for more than a decade, Miller’s biggest obsessions have been race and culture; Mexicans and Muslims. Who does that remind you of? The truth is that his boss – who has retweeted neo-Nazis and received the official endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan – has recruited a motley crew of far-right nativists to serve in his White House. Bannon, the chief strategist, has bragged about how he turned Breitbart News into “the platform for the alt-right”. Sebastian Gorka, who serves as a “deputy assistant” to the president, is alleged to have once been a member of a far-right Hungarian group.

Miller is a former university pal of the white supremacist Richard Spencer, who has called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing”. Spencer referred to himself as a “mentor” to Miller, telling the Daily Beast that he “spent a lot of time with him at Duke [University]… I hope I expanded his thinking.”

Miller was quick to deny any relationship with Spencer. “I completely repudiate his views,” the Trump adviser told Mother Jones last October. But does he really? In his recent clash over immigration with CNN’s Acosta – which has led to reports that he may be promoted to White House communications director – Miller denounced the reporter for his “cosmopolitan bias”. As commentators and historians have since observed, that deeply loaded phrase has both racist and anti-Semitic connotations.

Let’s be clear: the Trump administration’s plans to cut legal immigration in half and prioritise the speaking of English by new applicants have nothing to do with economics or national security and everything to do with Making America White Again. As the academic Carol Anderson observed in the New York Times, the “guiding principle” of his administration “is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage”. (The administration’s support for this immigration bill is also a classic example of Trumpian hypocrisy – the president’s grandfather Friedrich Trump arrived in the US from Germany in 1885, unable to speak English, while according to the 1910 census, Miller’s great-grandmother could speak only Yiddish.)

It cannot be pointed out often enough that this is not in any way, shape or form a normal Republican or even conservative administration. Forget the serial dishonesty and astonishing dysfunction. This is a White House that indulges and panders to far-right bigots and nativists in both coded and not-so-coded language; a government of white nationalists, by white nationalists, for white nationalists. The rise and rise of the odious Stephen Miller, from high school provocateur to senior White House adviser – and maybe now even communications director – is worrying proof of that.

Mehdi Hasan is an NS contributing editor. He is based in Washington, DC

Photo: Getty

Dangerous Times for Kenya

By Council on Foreign Relations from Politics and Government. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

What Kenyans hoped would not happen has happened.

Cyber Week in Review: August 11, 2017

By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have mis

Brexit places Britain’s judges in the line of fire

From FT View. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

They have reason to worry, given ministers’ failure to defend them

Regulators and residents take Airbnb to task

From FT View. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

Taxes are due but authorities should be wary of stifling innovation

The existential masculinity of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

In spite of the gendered history of the form, Lowery has produced A Very Manly Ghost Story.

David Lowery’s film A Ghost Story – which sees Casey Affleck as a ghost, under a sheet with two cartoonish eye holes cut into it – begins with a quote from a more traditional ghost story. It’s a line from "A Haunted House" by Virginia Woolf: “Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting.” We get more quotes from this short story later, when some books fall to the floor. A glimpse of a sentence: “The wind roars up the avenue.” And another: “The pulse of the house beat.”

A Ghost Story follows a couple (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, only named in the credits as C and M respectively) who argue about their Texas home. M wants to leave, C wants to stay. They are at an impass, until C gives in, and says they can move. Soon after, he dies in a car crash practically on their driveway. After M confirms his identity, we watch a very, very long shot of C’s body, on a gurney, beneath a sheet. Until he sits up.

For the rest of the film, we watch Affleck under this sheet haunting the house he was due to leave. He watches M grieve and eventually move on romantically, before she moves out of the house all together. New families move in and out, parties begin and end, the house is torn down, new developments spring up, the ghost moves into the distant future before being catapulted back into the distance past and watching the same sequence of events all over again. He is forced to confront the smallness of his own life in the wide expanse of history, and watch his transient legacy disappear into nothing.

This, to me, at least, is a quintessentially masculine film, and it’s interesting to me that opens with a quote from Woolf’s ghost story. Certainly, there are obvious parallels between these two stories. Both share a disarming compression of time. The key recurring motif of A Ghost Story is of M and a small, anonymous girl hiding notes in places of emotional significance – “so that if I ever wanted to go back, there’d be a piece of me there waiting.” C spends the film trying to unearth one of M’s notes from the walls of their Texas home. "A Haunted House" follows the ghosts of a relationship hunting for an unspecified “it”, a “treasure buried”: “Wandering through the house, opening the windows, whispering not to wake us, the ghostly couple seek their joy.”

A ghost story is arguably a woman’s story. From the 1800s onwards, the form was dominated by women writers. In her anthology of feminist supernatural fiction, Jessica Amanda Salmonson argues that as much as 70 per cent of ghost stories published in British and American magazines in the 19th century – the peak of the form’s popularity – were written by women. Many (male) critics have explained women’s prominence in ghost story writing by suggesting that the reliable popularity of the genre meant that it was the best way for women to make money. But the ghost story was also a form of considerable cultural impact, one suited to exploring ideas of isolation, claustrophobia and repression – and women’s liminal experiences in Victorian society.

Melissa Edmundson Makala, in Women’s Ghost Literature in Nineteenth-Century Britain, writes that “just as the spectral forces in their writings transgress the boundary between life and afterlife”, women writers used the ghost story to reject and “transgress the cultural boundaries of their day”. Vanessa Dickerson, in Victorian Ghosts in the Noontide: Women Writers and the Supernatural, argues that in the 19th century, “the act of writing a ghost story” was also “the creation of a public discourse for voicing feminine concerns”.  Unlike male-authored ghost stories, women authors of the time “truly treated the return of the repressed and the dispossessed” in their discussions of repressed desires, stifled ambitions and diminished, fading selves. In the Victorian era, “women were at some more profound level the real ghosts”.

The in-between experience is key to many ghost stories of the period. From Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” to Mary E Wilkins Freeman’s “The Shadow on the Wall” to Margaret Oliphant’s “The Library Window”, there are a whole host of ghost stories that follow women who actively desire to transgress supernatural boundaries, or are consumed by them. In Ada Trevanion’s 1858 “A Ghost Story” a schoolgirl longs for the ghost of her beloved teacher Miss Winter. Female narrators yearn to go behind the wall or the library window or closed door to discover what ghosts lurk beyond; female ghosts ache for lovers left behind.

We can see this in Woolf, too. The academic Anne McConnell writes that Woolf’s short stories include liminal spaces that provide “a refuge, primarily for women, who suffer most significantly from the limiting aspects of social convention.” She notes gendered differences in language in Woolf’s short stories, which often feature an expressive, non-linear, musical narration usually associated with a female perspective. Male dialogue, by contrast, offers “dry, factual information that interrupts”.

While these ghost stories deal in questions of oppression, repression and transgression, Lowery’s A Ghost Story is preoccupied with what might be considered more masculine themes of roots, legacy, and remembrance. Of course, these are questions that women writers have grappled with just as much as male ones – but there’s a deeply masculine tradition of work concerned with inheritance, ancestry, legacy and posthumous laurels. Indeed, the promotional material for the film declares, “Our yearning for legacy is what makes us human.”

“What is it you like about this house so much?” M asks C, when she is trying to persuade him to give it up. “History,” he declares, before adding, “We have history here.” “Not as much as you think,” M shoots back.

Before C dies (and after, when he watches the events of their relationship play out again, as a ghost), we get a sense of his relationship with M. It’s not good. Though the pair have chemistry, we watch tired gender dynamics play out between them: M tries to push C into talking with her about their division over their home, C sulkily refuses. C is a musician (of course he is), and repeatedly priorities his song writing over these discussions with M – yet, when it comes to showing her his new music, it’s indicated that he wrote it for her. The song (Dark Rooms’s “I Get Overwhelmed”) seems to discuss the distance in their relationship includes lyrics like “Did she die in the night? Leave you alone?” and “No place like home / Just a fucking mess”. After M hears it, she leaves the room.

A much-distributed summary of the movie, “A passionate young couple, unexpectedly separated by a shocking loss, discover an eternal connection and a love that is infinite,” makes me wonder if the writer of this sentence and I saw the same film. A gulf exists between C and M long before death does them part. C is a man who is intelligent enough to be aware of this problem, but refuses to take on the emotional labour required to (at least partially) fix it, instead wallowing in more existential questions of human connection. C is every man who jokingly references their struggles to have a productive romantic relationship whilst refusing to confront their own inability to be vulnerable.

Of course, the casting of Casey Affleck feels significant here, too. In a piece for the New Republic also considering masculinity and A Ghost Story, Christian Lorentzen calls Affleck “the current avatar of American white male woe.” At Polygon, Ben Kuchera notes that Affleck personifies “everything terrifying about a culture of emotionally broken men in America”. Affleck was cast in A Ghost Story when he was fresh out of Manchester by the Sea, a film in which, according to the Junkee article "Boys Don’t Cry: The Masculine Melodrama Of Manchester By The Sea", his character “represents the distillation of uncommunicative masculinity”.

Accusations of sexual assault (including of cuddling a sleeping co-worker without her awareness or permission) and his refusal to verbally engage with them lends a pungent whiff of toxic masculinity to Affleck’s brand. (“People say whatever they want,” Affleck has said of the accusations, which he denied. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you respond.” Both claims were settled out of court in 2010). It’s hard to watch him – both dead and alive, seen and unseen –  protectively cuddle a sleeping Rooney Mara in this film without wondering why this actor, this body, specifically needed to be cast in this role (given he is under a sheet and only moving almost imperceptibly for the majority of the film). It seems the deeply masculine perspective extends to the film's context as well as its content. 

I think, again, of Woolf, and her thoughts on the ghost story. “It is at the ghosts within us that we shudder, and not at the decaying bodies of barons or the subterranean activities of ghouls.”

A Ghost Story is a dialogue-sparse film with one long, verbose monologue. A party held at C and M’s house, long after M has left, sees the musician Will Oldham (pretentiously credited as simply “Prognosticator”) delivering a drunken, self-absorbed rant on the impossibility of preserving a legacy. (It’s one we’ve all been forced to listen to at some point in our lives, only now we are forced to listen to it sober.) “It’s the heart of the movie, because it does lay bare the concept of the film,” Lowery says. “There is no way to get around the inevitability of … the seeming meaningless of everything when placed against the concept of time.”

“A writer writes a novel, a songwriter writes a song,” Oldham says in the film. “We build our legacy piece by piece.” He tells a long rambling story about how fragments of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony may or may not survive an apocalypse. After a tectonic shift the Earth as we know it will cease to exist: Yosemite will blow, the oceans will rise, the mountains will fall, and 90 per cent of humanity will be gone. “This is just science,” he insists – the dry, factual information that interrupts. “You can write a book, but the pages will burn.” And yet, he concedes that we will we do it anyway.

“At the end of the day, that makes us men”.

The narrator's profoundly elegiac timbre is the best thing about this Arthur Miller series

By Antonia Quirke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

The Lure's Ed Harris stormed past the usual threshold of BBC Radio 4 magnetism.

In the second of four plays marking Arthur Miller’s centenary (2.15pm, 2 August), a 35-year-old Miller visited Hollywood with his friend Elia Kazan, who had just directed Death of a Salesman. Attempting to sell an early version of On the Waterfront to one of the studios, they discover an industry that is “scared of words”, as Kazan spits.

Should Miller be willing to turn “the gangsters into communists and put some jokes in” then the film might be made. He wasn’t. There were disdain-dense exchanges about the House Un-American Activities Committee, then at its most feverish. Kazan would go on to name former members of New York’s Group Theatre. “I appreciate what America has enabled me to do,” he reasons, “and I’m not throwing it away on a lot of hot air!”

It made me think of a time I interviewed the Coen brothers when they made Hail Caesar! – a parody of 1950s Hollywood. At one point the film features what could be the Hollywood Ten accused communists, sitting about impotently debating and eating biscuits. When I mentioned the scene, Ethan Coen rolled his eyes saying that while the blacklist was “terrible”, being an actual Marxist-Leninist at that time was a “bit of a dunderheaded thing”. (Never assume sympathy for the post-war communist with modern-American liberal film-makers.)

It’s the speaking voice of the narrator that’s the best thing about this Miller series, which was made with the non-profit LA Theatre Works. Who is this guy, I thought, as a profoundly elegiac timbre stormed past the usual threshold of BBC magnetism. Well, it’s Ed Harris.

A couple of days before, John Malkovich had appeared on Today to lament the death of Sam Shepard, speaking in his sly-as-the-devil way: a voice with its own low temperature that sounded entirely at odds with the others on the show. I thought it a shame, incidentally, that nobody mentioned Shepard’s teeth – so over-crowded and mega-snaggled. One image of the actor-playwright lingers indelibly: him shyly staring across a wheat field in 1978’s Days of Heaven, his mouth a dark complication in an otherwise perfectly handsome face.

“His voice was authentic,” insisted Malkovich. Ditto his teeth. 

Photo: Getty

Chucking Kiev: Ryanair drops plans to serve Ukraine

By from European Union. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

Main image:  SUCH has been the success of Ryanair, Europe’s largest low-cost carrier, that the continent is now awash with towns and villages whose economies depend in no small part on access to its route network. This encroachment into small regional airports evolved from an early focus on large European cities, whose gateways swelled with traffic following deregulation in the 1990s. Yet today, there are still European countries not served by the airline. Ukraine, the last big jewel for low-cost carriers in Europe, is an obvious white spot. It may be for some time to come. Despite promising to add four routes to Kiev and seven to Lviv this year, Ryanair has been pushed out by a coalition of local interests who have little appetite for competition. Ukrainians will foot the bill for their protection.The low-cost carrier scrubbed its plans last month, accusing Boryspil International Airport in Kiev of bowing to the wishes of its largest customer, flag-carrier Ukraine International Airlines (UIA). Local media report that a framework agreement struck by Ryanair and Boryspil in March, and enthusiastically endorsed by the Ministry of Infrastructure, was binned by airport bosses, who hastily drew up a new contract stripping out all financial incentives. Low-cost carriers rely on specially negotiated airport ...

Nordic populists struggle with the burdens of power

From The Big Read. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

Elections in Norway will provide the next test of whether these parties can cope with the responsibility of government

Hutchins Roundup: SNAP benefits and crime, consumption inequality, and more

By Vivien Lee, David Wessel from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

Studies in this week’s Hutchins Roundup find that changing the timing of SNAP benefits can reduce grocery store crime, conventional measures may be overstating inequality, and more. Want to receive the Hutchins Roundup as an email? Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday. Timing of SNAP benefits affects crime rates Examining the relationship…
      
 
 

Hizbullah’s armoury is growing

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

FROM a rocky outcrop overlooking a limestone quarry in the desolate valley below, a fighter from Hizbullah surveys what just days before had been territory controlled by militants linked to al-Qaeda. “There were snipers behind every rock,” recalls the young man with a wispy moustache. The operation to drive the jihadists from their mountain lair on Lebanon’s north-east border with Syria began on July 21st. It took only a week for Hizbullah to defeat its militant rivals, adding yet another victory to its growing list of military achievements since war broke out in Syria six years ago.

Along with Russian air power and Iranian military aid, Hizbullah’s ground units have kept the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s blood-soaked president, in power. The cost has been high. About 2,000 of the group’s fighters, out of a total of perhaps 15,000 (excluding reservists), have died on Syria’s front lines. But the conflict has also transformed Hizbullah, a Lebanese militia-cum-political...Continue reading

Chaining giants: Internet firms face a global techlash

By from European Union. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  Though big tech firms are thriving, they are facing more scrutiny than ever Print Headline:  Chaining giants Print Fly Title:  The global techlash UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The death of the internal combustion engine Fly Title:  Chaining giants Location:  SAN FRANCISCO Main image:  20170812_IRD001_0.jpg HOW much bigger can they get? The five biggest technology firms—Alphabet (Google’s parent), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft—have published financial results in recent weeks that put their combined quarterly revenues at $143bn. Yet this rude financial health conceals a more troubling long-term trend: governments, long willing to let internet firms act as they wish, are increasingly trying to tie them down. This goes far beyond the latest row over ...

A referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq carries grave risks

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

THE enormous new statue of a peshmerga soldier, overlooking the Baba Gurgur oilfield, just outside Kirkuk, is a stark indication of the Iraqi Kurds’ aspirations to establish an independent state with borders that stretch beyond their historic homeland to encompass some of Iraq’s richest oilfields. A referendum on independence scheduled for September 25th will probably move the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) further down that path. But the timing of the poll has been questioned, not least because it is unclear what will come after. Some fear that a vote for independence will elicit violent responses from the government in Baghdad and from neighbouring countries.

Iraqi Kurdistan, which has enjoyed relative autonomy since 1991, already has many of the trappings of a sovereign country, including an army, a parliament and its own domain on the internet. After Baghdad withheld budget payments to the region in 2014, the KRG began selling its crude independently of the federal...Continue reading

Binyamin Netanyahu’s legal troubles are mounting

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

Don’t bother me, I’m reading the fake news

THERE seems to be no end to the legal troubles piling up around Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, his family and close circle. In the space of a week his former chief of staff, Ari Harow, signed a witness deal with the prosecutor’s office and police confirmed that they are investigating a case of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in which Mr Netanyahu is a suspect. His wife Sara has been questioned by police over allegations of misuse of public funds and his son Yair has been sued for libel over a post on Facebook.

Mr Harow, who worked with Mr Netanyahu for more than a decade, agreed to testify in return for a reduced sentence in his own trial on charges of defrauding the tax authorities. His testimony is expected to serve as evidence against Mr Netanyahu, who is suspected of receiving illicit gifts from businessmen. The prime minister is also suspected of a backroom deal in which he offered to limit...Continue reading

The offspring of Africa’s strongmen are living it up

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

THE Mugabe brothers are having a night out again. Here they are showing off their outfits: distressed white denim, high-top sneakers, statement sunglasses. Now they’re in a VIP booth at a club, swaying and swigging from bottles of Moët & Chandon while the music pumps. At some point they will post a flame emoji, indicating that the evening is “lit”.

Like many millennials, Robert Mugabe junior and Bellarmine, his younger brother, shamelessly chronicle their days (and late nights) on Instagram, a social-media site for sharing pictures. Uniquely, however, their 93-year-old father is the president of Zimbabwe. The steady stream of photos and videos they post offers an unusual and oddly intimate window into their privileged personal lives. Lately the two brothers appear to be spending much of their time in Johannesburg. Life is more “lit” there than back home in Zimbabwe, where their father has ruined the economy.

The Mugabe brothers are not the only scions of African...Continue reading

Kenya’s election may turn nasty as the opposition disputes the count

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

IN KIBERA, a slum in the south of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, the tyres were burning by mid-afternoon. Across the country five people had been killed in protests and other violence. Several of them were shot by the police. A day after Kenyans voted for president, this was a hint of the menace that often lurks beneath the country’s elections. “It seems clear that somebody hacked this election,” said Kennedy Mhando, a 34-year-old clothes seller. “We want the actual results...If they are credible, we will accept them.” If not, “we will get the directives from our leaders.”

On August 8th some 15m Kenyans voted in an election to fill 1,882 positions. A few hours after polls had closed, provisional results released by the election commission showed that Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent president, had amassed a commanding lead over his main rival, Raila Odinga: 54% of the vote to 45%. What was not clear, however, was whether Mr Odinga would accept defeat. At a press conference in an...Continue reading

Letters: Letters to the editor

By from European Union. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

Print section Print Headline:  Letters to the editor UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The death of the internal combustion engine Fly Title:  Letters Main image:  20170812_LTP001_0.jpg Brexit’s new frontier You described vividly the hurdles that the traffic of people and goods would face if a hard border were to be established between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland as a consequence of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union (“The border that isn’t—yet”, July 15th). Yet this does not need to be so. Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which lays down the rules to be respected by member countries when they establish customs unions or free-trade areas in order that other countries are not discriminated against, contains a little-used provision on “frontier traffic”. It allows members of the World Trade Organisation to deviate from these constraints in respect of “advantages accorded to adjacent countries in order to facilitate frontier traffic”. There ...

The 385 tax rules make American businesses more competitive—Treasury should keep them

By Adam Looney from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

Efforts to improve the competitiveness of U.S. companies often focus on how we tax U.S. companies on the income they earn in foreign markets. For example, calls for a lower corporate rate and a territorial tax system, in which income earned by U.S. companies in foreign markets is excluded from U.S. tax, are often motivated…
      
 
 

Why do so many Irish Catholics love being mocked by Father Ted?

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

In our 90s sitcom week, celebrating the show that gave the world “Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse”.

“My mum hated it,” Margi Murphy, a Londoner with an Irish mother recalls. “What really pissed her off was when I said ‘go on...go on go on go on go on go on’ when offering her a biscuit.”

Any true fan will already know which sitcom Murphy's referred to, but for everyone else out there, it is fair to say Father Ted was designed to offend. A sitcom about an opportunist Irish Catholic priest exiled to the remote Craggy Island, written by Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, it relied on digs at the Catholic Church and Irish provincialism (episodes include the legendary “Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse”). The offending quote above comes from Mrs Doyle, an eccentric housekeeper who is positively fascist about making sure you’ve had your tea.

My Mancunian Irish Catholic family, on the other hand, loved it. A straw poll of Irish Catholics (lapsed or otherwise) soon revealed we were not alone. “You could hear us shrieking from miles away,” one Irish-born Londoner tells me.  She could not think of anyone who was offended: “People still love it.” Another Irish friend agrees. Another still, a practising Catholic, laments the fact it was not initially shown on a domestic TV channel: “Such a loss.” Even priests have come round to it

Father Ted might have gifted the world the protest slogan “Down with this sort of thing”, but the sitcom's devotees can be found at the highest echelons of power. A recent meeting with a leading Brexiteer broke into laughter after I mentioned the sitcom. A City worker told me how her family regularly quote sections of the show to each other, the most popular referring to an episode where Father Ted and other priests get lost in the lingerie section of a department store. Despite running for a modest three series, I've heard of fans in Canada and South Africa. There have been other shows about religious figures, but it is Father Ted who has endured. Why?

The first is the characters. Father “the money was just resting in my account” Ted is a cunning man forced to share a dreary home with two other priests and Mrs Doyle on a windswept island. Father Dougal, his companion, is naïve. “Ted, do you believe in the afterlife?” he asks in the episode "Grant Unto Him Eternal Rest". Ted: “Well generally priests have a very strong belief in the afterlife.” Dougal: “Ooh, I wish I had your faith, Ted!” 

Father Jack, on the other hand, is a curmudgeonly old drunk, and an audience favourite. (A Scottish Irish friend who works in the whisky industry in Scotland got in touch to claim he was in the process of getting Father Jack tattooed on to his leg). There are also repeat appearances by the hyperactive, guitar-strumming Father Noel (Graham Norton), and Ted’s nemesis, Father Dick Byrne. 

All the same, I suspect Father Ted wouldn’t be half as funny if wasn’t for the Catholic Church. It looms over everything, less as a theology, and more as a hierarchical institution that is just asking to be turned upside down. “I think it was the satirical element,” one Irish Father Ted fan says of why her family loved it. “Very cheeky to be so ‘mean’ about priests.” Just as kids read The Bash Street Kids for the tussles with authority, so Irish Catholics tuned into catch Father Ted trying to avoid impending disgrace. It's not a revolution, it's a giggle. 

This makes even more sense when you consider that Catholicism is not simply a spiritual movement but a set of physical encounters that are - even for the lapsed among us - inevitable. As well as the mysterious church rituals, there are the family christenings, weddings and funerals, the schools, the confirmation names (shout out to my cousin Sexburga), the confirmation dresses, the charities, the deep-held prejudice that Catholics are just more friendly, and of course, the Pope, which everyone has an opinion on. You can't navigate all of this without a joke from time to time. Father Ted captures the familiar detail - the squabbling couple who fake marital harmony when a priest walks by, the collision between Catholicism and modernity - while offering up the fantastical, like the nun singing Ave Maria down the phone to Ted when his call is put on hold. 

Based on my conversations, it seems those who were offended by Father Ted were mostly older Irish immigrants to Britain fed up with “Paddy jokes”, rather than blasphemy. For younger generations, on the other hand, Father Ted is something to hold on to. Dermot Morgan, who played Ted, died at the age of 45 in 1998. (Morgan was said to be keen to be known for something other than Father Ted, but as one fan joked: "God had other plans.") As for me, my upbringing among laughing Catholics has always made me suspicious of those who think religion is purely a serious matter. I stopped going to church long ago, my closest Irish relations have passed away, but you’ll still find me humming along to Father Ted's 1996 Eurovision entry, “My Lovely Horse”. 

This is part of the New Statesman's look back at classic sitcoms from the 90s. You can find our takes on Alan Partridge here, Ab Fab here, Only Fools and Horses here, Sex and the City here and Brass Eye here.

Why you should watch pop's best videos

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

From Charli XCX to Selena Gomez, music television is more wonderful than ever.

Have you ever wanted to watch a former Disney starlet eat a tube of lipstick? Or the serious actor Riz Ahmed whisper into the ear of a giant pink teddy bear? The last month has seen a sweep of music videos from female solo artists that are delighting audiences with their eccentric aesthetics.

In Dua Lipa’s colourful and acutely choreographed video for “New Rules”, the British pop singer glides around a Miami hotel with eight seamlessly in-sync girlfriends in pastel dressing gowns. “Perfect Places” shows Lorde utterly alone in different sites of natural beauty. Charli XCX’s “Boys” features male celebrities (Stormzy, Joe Jonas, Tom Daley) flirting with the camera in a way usually reserved for female models. And Selena Gomez’s “Fetish”, directed by artist Petra Collins, is a suburbia-set horror film in which she writhes around on the floor covered in food. They’re all wonderful.

Mainstream female pop stars are moving consciously towards artier statement videos. Ten years ago, the press declared “the internet killed the video star”, citing the rise of YouTube for the fall of MTV. Without TV channels to curate what music we watch and when, they said, the music video debut would no longer be an event, and the video itself less of a big deal.

Now, these theories seem faintly ridiculous. Gomez, Lorde, Charli et al trailed the release date of their new videos on social media. Kanye West livestreamed the debut of his video for “Famous”. And of course, Beyoncé announced that her album-length film Lemonade would be premiering on HBO at 9pm on 23 April 2016 – without giving anyone the slightest clue as to what Lemonade was. Not only is music television as big as it ever was – it’s better than ever, too. 

Photo: Getty

Tony Blair isn't the only New Labour figure with a far-left past

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

The former PM's Trotskyism was shared by Alistair Darling and Alan Milburn, while Peter Mandelson and John Reid were communists. 

“Tony Blair was once a Trot!” Variations of this headline appear on most news sites today. In an interview with historian Peter Hennessy on Radio 4, Blair has spoken of how Isaac Deutscher's masterful biography of Trotsky briefly drew him to revolutionary socialism.

“Here’s this guy Trotsky, who was so inspired by all of this that he went out to create a Russian revolution and changed the world,” Blair recalled. “I think it’s a very odd thing – just literally it was like a light going on.” Pressed on whether he was “briefly a Trot”, Blair replied: “In that sense I was.”

The story isn't strictly new. Blair has previously cited Deutscher's Trotsky trilogy (The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, The Prophet Outcast) as one of his favourite works. In a 1982 letter to Michael Foot, unearthed in 2006, Blair wrote: "Like many middle class people I came to Socialism through Marxism (to be more specific through Deutscher's biography of Trotsky)". But the story is perhaps eye-catching enough to be worth telling twice.

Yet Blair is actually rare among New Labour figures in having only, as he puts it, "toyed with Marxism". Peter Mandelson, one of the project's architects, joined the Young Communist League, rather than Labour, in protest at Harold Wilson's support for the Vietnam war. The future business secretary attended a youth conference in Cuba (a visit recorded by the British intelligence services) and sold the Morning Star outside Kilburn tube station. 

John Reid, another future Labour cabinet minister, was also a member of the Soviet-aligned Communist Party of Great Britain. "He told us he was a Leninist and Stalinist," Jim White, a fellow party member later recalled. "Although I was suspicious about his transition, we couldn't tell if he was acting. We let him join."

Others, dismayed by the Soviet Union's degeneration, were drawn to Trotskyism. Future chancellor Alistair Darling was a supporter of the International Marxist Group, the sect to which soixante huitard Tariq Ali belonged. "When I first met him [Darling] 35 years ago," George Galloway once recalled, "Darling was pressing Trotskyite tracts on bewildered railwaymen at Waverley Station in Edinburgh. He was a supporter of the International Marxist Group, whose publication was entitled the Black Dwarf. Later, in preparation for his current role he became the treasurer of what was always termed the rebel Lothian Regional Council."

Stephen Byers, the future transport secretary and Blairite-ultra, was a supporter of Militant, the entryist group later expelled from Labour by Neil Kinnock. Alan Milburn, who served as health secretary under Blair, was another youthful Trotskyist, running Marxist bookshop Days of Hope (known to locals as "Haze of Dope"). 

Though all renounced their revolutionary politics, some detected remnants in New Labour's fondness for "command and control" (reminiscent of Leninist democratic centralism). And while Labour has never been a Marxist party, Marxism has long been a strain within it. Tony Benn, a rare example of a politician who moved leftwards with age, regularly cited the lessons of Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto. Asked to name the "most significant" influences on his thought in 2006, John McDonnell (who was then standing for the Labour leadership) replied: "The fundamental Marxist writers of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, basically." 

Blair's youthful Trotskyism makes his professed bemusement at Jeremy Corbyn's rise all the more surprising ("I really mean it when I say I’m not sure I fully understand politics right now," he remarked). Just as the former PM was drawn to radicalism, so Labour's young (and old) members were inspired by Corbyn's unabashed socialism. Rather than lamenting the Islington MP's rise, Blair and his ideological successors would do better to learn from it. 

Photo: Getty

The NS Podcast #229: Apocalypse Now?

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

The New Statesman podcast.

Helen and Stephen contemplate the escalation of hostilities between the United States and North Korea from the podcast bunker, and analyse why Venezuela causes such problems for British left. Then, in a new segment, they go head to head to determine which is the best Nineties sitcom: Frasier or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?

You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes here or with this RSS feed: http://rss.acast.com/newstatesman, or listen using the player below.

Further reading:

Helen on Labour and prisons.

Stephen on the left and Venezuela.

Helen on Frasier.

Stephen on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Want to give us feedback on our podcast, or have an idea for something we should cover?

Visit newstatesman.com/podcast for more details and how to contact us.

The problem with a new party – neither Tory left nor Labour right wants to play

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

Even before you get to the question of how well a new party would do, the appetite is not there among MPs. 

There is not a lot that worries Team Corbyn these days, but the prospect of a new party of the centre is one. They don’t think this party would do well enough to overtake Labour, let alone win an election in its own right, but they fear that it would take a large enough chunk out of the Labour vote to deprive them of victory at the next election.

That private fear has turned into public debate after a series of tweets by James Chapman, a former aide to George Osborne, called for MPs of all parties who know that Brexit will be a disaster to “unite”, in a new party if necessary, to prevent it from taking place.

The debate is slightly bizarre, because ultimately, the appetite is not there among the group that really matters: Labour MPs on that party’s right and Conservative MPs on that party’s left. To take the former first: for reasons of both strategy and sentiment, most Corbynsceptic Labour MPs are opposed to any breakaway. On a strategic level, the success of Corbyn at the election shows, they believe, that the space on the left for any new party is limited in the extreme. On an emotional level, a combination of love and hatred keeps MPs in the tent: an emotional attachment to Labour, its history, its leaders and its tradition, and an aversion to letting the party fall into the hands of the leadership permanently.

On the Conservative left, there is more willingness to talk about a new party, but no more appetite to make the jump. (One thing that frustrates Labour’s pro-single market MPs is a willingness on the Tory side to, as one parliamentarian puts it, “to write pieces on Red Box or give sad interviews but not actually commit to anything”, be that voting with them on pro-European issues or even remaining part of Open Britain, the cross-party campaign to keep Britain’s single market membership.)

It's worth noting, too, that Conservative MPs who might discuss a new party know that they are unlikely to have their bluff called by Labour MPs. It's fairly safe for Anna Soubry to say it's "time to get on with" forming a new party – she wouldn't even stay in Open Britain the moment the idea of working to keep pro-Remain MPs in the House of Commons was floated. 

There is undoubtedly a chunk of the Labour Party membership and ex-membership that would be willing activists in a new, pro-Remain party. But without leaders, they don’t really have anywhere to go. That could change if there are wholescale deselections of sitting Labour MPs, but for a variety of reasons, that is unlikely to happen.  

There are then, of course, further questions about how well any new party would actually do. But all that is secondary: because the appetite to create one, let alone vote for one, is very small. 

Photo: Getty

Ken Loach and John McDonnell to headline Momentum's politics festival The World Transformed

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

The politics festival viewed as a rival conference by some Corbynsceptics is back for a second year. 

The film director Ken Loach and shadow chancellor John McDonnell will be speaking at Momentum's politics festival The World Transformed during the Labour party conference in Brighton.

The announcement of the 2017 festival comes at a time of relative Labour unity, in marked contrast to 2016, when Momentum's "special event" was viewed by critics of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a rival conference.

Corbyn said of this year's event: "The World Transformed has shown itself to be a powerful new space on the Labour Party conference fringe for people to debate policies, exchange ideas, and expand our political horizon with arts, music and culture. 

"Events like these complement the main conference, open up politics and help develop a strong campaigning movement to elect a Labour government for the many not the few."

In 2016, The World Transformed held more than 150 hours of events, attended by more than 5,000 people. The organisers planned to follow this up with 100 local Brexit events in 2017, but were stymied by the snap election. 

This year, the organisers expect to hold more than 160 hours of events from 23 to 26 September and again host thousands of attendees. New Statesman columnist Stephen Bush will be among those speaking. 

The conference will be ticketed, with general entry to the main festival programme. There will also be special events ticketed separately, and free tickets available for the unwaged. 

Getty

Billy Bragg's Diary: would Harry Potter have voted for Brexit?

By Billy Bragg from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

He just looks like a Tory.

Fort Adams is a former US army outpost, built in the mid-19th century to defend the approaches to Narragansett Bay and the strategic city of Newport, which was established on the isle from which the state of Rhode Island takes its name. For one weekend in July, the fort – now a state park – functions as the setting for the Newport Folk Festival. Joe Henry and I are here to perform material from our album of railroad songs, recorded on a train journey from Chicago to Los Angeles last year.

Browsing through a photo gallery of artists who appeared at the festival over breakfast the next morning, it occurs to me that I may have been the oldest performer on Saturday’s bill. While this might give cause for concern at Reading/Leeds or V Festival, it’s not something to worry about at Newport. One of the nice things about folk music audiences is that they actively encourage you to grow old. If I’m still doing this job in 15 years’ time and have grown to look like Burl Ives – imagine Falstaff with a Spanish guitar – they’ll still book me for the Cambridge Folk Festival. Sadly, for many of my contemporaries, rock audiences are not so forgiving. If Morrissey goes the same way – portly, bewhiskered and bald – he’s finished.

A skiffler’s trip to the library

I’m in Washington, DC, to deliver a talk at the Library of Congress on skiffle, the 1950s roots music craze that introduced the guitar to UK pop music and acted as a nursery for the British invasion of the US charts. The movement began in January 1956, when Lonnie Donegan scored his first hit single with a cover of Lead Belly’s classic railroad song “Rock Island Line”.

I’ve been invited to speak at this august institution because many of the skifflers were sourcing their material from the Library of Congress recordings, which were available to borrow from the United States Information Service at the embassy in Grosvenor Square, London. The library archivists have a special treat for me: the brown paper sleeve of the original recording of “Rock Island Line” made by John A Lomax, assisted by Lead Belly, at Cummins prison farm near Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 1934. The ten-inch shellac disc they cut that day is stored elsewhere, but the sleeve, bearing Lomax’s handwritten notes, is removed from its protective folder and passed to me. I become acutely aware that I’m holding in my hands an artefact from the earliest moments of the genesis of British pop music.

The boy wizard’s Govian sheen

Recent changes in US work-permit rules necessitate an early-morning trip to a federal building in lower Manhattan. On seeing my passport, the woman behind the glass starts chatting about Doctor Who, Harry Potter and Brexit as she processes my application. We ponder whether these two quintessential representatives of modern Britain would have voted Leave. I point out that the Time Lord (or should that be Lady?) is an alien, so we assume she would have voted Remain. But the boy wizard? Given that he went to private school, I’d expect him to have a Govian enthusiasm for all things Brexit. He just looks like a Tory.

Corbyn’s Brexit waiting game

The anger among some hard Remainers at Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to come out in total opposition to Brexit is audible from across the Atlantic. Yet if we really want to salvage our membership of the European Union, it just doesn’t make tactical sense for Labour to start campaigning for Remain at the moment. To do so would risk uniting the Tories and reviving Ukip. Better to wait until negotiations reveal the true cost of Brexit and public opinion starts to shift.

I realise that this flies in the face of commentariat orthodoxy, which paints the Labour leadership as ideologically pro-Brexit, and is heresy for those Corbyn supporters who believe pragmatism was one of the sins of New Labour. Yet while the party’s ambiguous stance on Brexit may be frustrating for some, don’t be too surprised if, a year or so from now, Corbyn declares himself to be in favour of Remain and reform – especially if that position appears to offer a path to Downing Street.

Zero-carbon tunes

Home from America just long enough to wash my smalls and boil my hankies, I’m off again to play a string of dates in Italy, Croatia and Austria. The morning before I go, I have to launch my new single, “King Tide and the Sunny Day Flood”, three minutes of reflection on the perils of global warming. In the old days, this would have involved weighty pressings of vinyl being distributed around the country by heavy vehicles, creating a cloud of emissions. Today, all I have to do is post a link to the video clip and head off to the airport, leaving the internet to take care of distribution while I fly to Milan for the first show.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: what’s the point of making a zero-carbon release of a new single if you then jet off to Europe, creating polluting emissions in the process? However, research has revealed that it is not we performers who are responsible for the carbon footprint of touring – that is almost wholly created by the audience. The emissions given off by those attending the gig can be considerable, especially in a place like America, where people think nothing of driving for hours to watch their favourite band.

Naturally, those artists who travel with a huge entourage and staging will have a greater responsibility for emissions, but for a solo performer such as myself, the implication is that I should be doing more touring, not less, seeking out venues that are more easily accessible to my fans in order to discourage them from travelling vast distances to see me perform. After all, it would only require two of them to fly to Britain from New York with the intention of catching a date on my November tour to match all of my personal carbon footprint from my recent US trip. 

Billy Bragg’s UK tour starts on 5 November

Photo: Getty

Drop the Dead Donkey is why I wanted to be a journalist

By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

A rapid interface in the chin-wag department.

I  grew up in suburbia. My parents worked in offices. As a podgy, nerdy kid always picked last in games, I was never going to be a fireman or an astronaut or anything else that required my body to be anything more than the place I kept my mind. And so, I guess I always knew, I was destined to work in an office too.

Which was a problem, because offices are bloody boring. They’re bad enough now; they were worse before the age of the internet and social media, because you weren’t just bored, you were isolated. On work experience in the mid 1990s I spent three days reorganising a company’s filing system – not because they made me, because it was genuinely more interesting than anything else I could find to do. There were only so many rounds of Minesweeper a kid could play.

As with most forms of suburban mediocrity, of course, this comes under the heading of good problems to have, since very few people lose limbs or meet an early death thanks to catastrophic photocopying accidents: if you are in a position to whine about how dull your boring job is, that is, in itself, a form of class privilege. All the same, as much as I may have longed for the freedom of adult life, I was also slightly concerned I was going to be bored for most of it.

Until I saw Drop the Dead Donkey.

If you’ve never had the pleasure, Drop the Dead Donkey was a Channel 4 sitcom which ran for six seasons between 1990 and 1998. It was written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, who’d later produce Outnumbered; it effectively launched the careers of several of its cast, including Stephen Tompkinson and Neil Pearson.

And it was set – this is where it gets kind of self indulgent; I am aware of the problem, I promise, but I’m in this now – in the media. The show took place in the news room of the fictional GlobeLink news.

Some of the show’s humour came from office politics. But much of it came from topical jokes: the scripts were written, and the episodes filmed, mere days before broadcast, and repeats required a voiceover explaining what was in the news at the time of original broadcast just so that viewers would have some vague chance of understanding what the jokes were referring to. (The setting, incidentally, explains the show’s apparently nonsensical title: it’s an example of the sort of thing the writers imagined might be yelled out in the last few moments before the news went on air. It was almost called “Dead Belgians Don’t Count”.)

There was much about life at GlobeLink News that didn’t look pleasant. In the first episode the company is taken over by Sir Roysten Merchant, a media mogul with suspiciously familiar initials, who pressures the editors to be more sensationalist and run fewer stories that might negatively affect his businesses.

We never actually see Sir Roysten: he appears once, to speak one line in the very last episode, but his views are made known via his right-hand man Gus, a walking LinkedIn account who speaks in a surprisingly creative stream of incomprehensible management-speak (“There is just something I’d like to pop into your percolator, see if it comes out brown.”)

All this, though, was rather better preparation for real life than I appreciated at the time, and there was a lot else about the show that made the media look like an interesting place to be. The way the staff were mostly clever, engaged people who sit around making jokes about the nation’s leaders. The energies they poured into, basically, trolling each other, with varying degrees of plausibility. (This will make no sense whatsoever if you’ve never seen the show, but for those who have, a personal favourite is: “‘Xylophone for sale’? Who put this here?”)

Then there was field reporter Damian Day’s habit of sexing up his footage of war zones or natural disasters by adding a battered child’s teddy bear to every pile of rubble (“This bear’s visited more disaster scenes than Margaret Thatcher! It’s the only cuddly toy to have taken part in the Iran-Iraq War!”).

Best of all, the thing I feared most about most about working life – being shut off from the world, isolated in a world of post-it notes and white boards – didn’t seem to apply. The show took place in an office; but it was an office where what happened in politics and the wider world mattered. It made working in journalism look fun.

As with most British sitcoms, most of the characters were utter wankers. But, as I watched Drop the Dead Donkey, I would find myself thinking: “That’s the kind of wanker I want to be.”

As a kid, your view of the world is tightly constrained, and your idea of what options might be open to you in adult life can be directly influenced by the books, TV or film you consume. There’s a generation of SpAds who got into politics in part because they wanted to live in The West Wing. I suspect there are lawyers out there, too, who grew up with John Grisham or thought it looked fun on The Good Wife. (This raises the interesting possibility that, somewhere in the world, there are guys who, inspired by The Wire and Breaking Bad, went onto a career in the exciting and lucrative illegal pharmaceuticals industry. But anyway.)

For me, though, it was Drop the Dead Donkey. It didn’t make me become a journalist. But, as Gus Hudges might say, it certainly put the idea in my mental microwave to see if it would defrost.

This is part of the New Statesman's look back at classic sitcoms from the 90s. You can find our takes on why Martin Crane's hideous chair was the true star of Frasier here​, and how Absolutely Fabulous is a reminder of pre-Brexit Britain here.

Hat Trick Productions

In Trust Me, Jodie Whittaker plays an entirely different kind of doctor

By Rachel Cooke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Aug 10, 2017.

The hospital imposter is an excellent dramatic device, playing on our deepest fears in BBC One's drama.

The medical drama Trust Me (BBC One, 8 August, 9pm), starring Jodie Whittaker, is just the kind of battiness we need in these, the dog days of summer. It’s completely preposterous, right from the get-go. But its vice-like grip makes for a delicious accompaniment to a large glass of rosé. And this is even before we get to our heroine’s considerable love interest: a brooding Scottish doctor called Andy (Emun Elliott). Cue rising temperatures all round.

Whittaker (soon to be a Doctor of an entirely different kind) plays Cath, a Sheffield nurse and aspiring whistle-blower. When her complaints about corner cutting fall on deaf ears and she is suspended for having made them, she pinches the CV of her friend Ally, a doctor who is about to emigrate to New Zealand, and assumes her identity.

It’s quite a good CV – at the Edinburgh hospital where she will land a job in A&E, her interviewer wonders whether she isn’t over-qualified – and it brings with it the in-built admiration of her new colleagues, who fancy she’s slumming it out of sheer good-heartedness. These medics, though: are they blind as well as naive? Why do they never notice Cath hurriedly Googling the symptoms of diabetes or the fact that she sometimes pulls from the pocket of her scrubs a book that is possibly titled Emergency Trauma for Dummies?

Still, the hospital imposter is an excellent dramatic device, playing as it does not only on our deepest fears, but on our rapidly changing attitudes to the medical profession, a dangerous shift that has been facilitated, as Cath’s new job has been, by the internet.

I also think – though this could be the rosé speaking – that the queasiness one experiences every time she pulls on a pair of latex gloves carries with it a weird resonance. When she’s out of her depth, which isn’t all the time because she was a seriously good nurse, I can’t help but remember the moments when I was, in life, too. I think of all those I know for a fact to be in this position now – my God, they’re everywhere! – but who would rather die than admit it.

As loopy as it is, Trust Me speaks loudly to this age of bullshit, instant fame and the scorning of expertise. What is David Davis in the end, but an unqualified doctor who is about to attempt to insert a large stent into a particularly tender part of the body politic?

And so, gingerly, to Diana: In Her Own Words (Channel 4, 6 August, 8pm). Before it screened, journalists were expected to be in camps: for or against. Neither position allowed for the reality, which was both tawdry and enlightening. The tawdriness emanated almost entirely from the unseen Peter Settelen, the voice coach who recorded the Princess in 1992-93 (the films around which the documentary was built), and who could be heard asking her, among other things, how frequently she and the Prince of Wales enjoyed conjugal relations.

The enlightenment came from the script, which was elegant, from the editing, which was deft, and above all from Diana herself, who was here both utterly delightful – a goofy comedian with a good line in self-deprecation – and slyly knowing. Something, indisputably in my view, really has been added to the record: an unexpurgated reminder, perhaps, of the way in which the establishment moved almost as one to describe an unhappy but perfectly sane and capable woman as “mad”.

Settelen should not have sold