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The “Not Entirely Closed” Western Balkan Route: The Impact on Rights and the Rule of Law

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Sep 27, 2017.

This event sheds light on the situation along the Western Balkans’ migration route and provides an opportunity for experts to analyze how the migration crisis and the European Union’s response to it has impacted the region.

The “Not Entirely Closed” Western Balkan Route: The Impact on Rights and the Rule of Law

From Open Society Foundations - European Union. Published on Sep 27, 2017.

This event sheds light on the situation along the Western Balkans’ migration route and provides an opportunity for experts to analyze how the migration crisis and the European Union’s response to it has impacted the region.

Neck massage at barbershop damages man's nerve leaving him paralysed for life

From : World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Ajay Kumar got his phrenic nerve damaged during a haircut-and-massage routine.

Anti-Isis battle in Syria's Raqqa in 'final stages' with 80% city liberated says US-backed SDF

From : World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

The Syrian army also reached Raqqa's provincial border after capturing about 100km of the west bank of the Euphrates recently.

Mexico earthquake: Race to find survivors under collapsed school

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Rescuers step up efforts to find people trapped under rubble, including at a school in Mexico City.

Mexico quake rescuers race to free girl, other victims

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Death toll rises to 230 as President Enrique Nieto says 'every minute counts to save lives'.

Europe’s Muslims hampered by prejudice, warns study

From Europe. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Survey reveals extent of discrimination in labour and housing markets

Why Fatah and Hamas won't reconcile

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

The latest episode of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation saga is not a step closer to a unity government, analysts say.

Angela Merkel writes the plumber’s guide to politics

From Europe. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

The big unanswered question is what the chancellor intends to do with her victory

Drop separatism calls and we can talk money, Madrid tells Catalans

From Europe. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Minister says funding reform is open to discussion if region backs down on referendum

Myanmar VP 'concern' over Rakhine

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Henry Van Thio said there was a problem of "significant magnitude" in Rakhine but the cause was unclear.

Rihanna on diverse make-up: 'It's not rocket science'

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

We spoke with Rihanna about the response to her new beauty brand Fenty Beauty.

North Korea says Trump speech is 'a dog's bark'

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

North Korea's top diplomat was responding to the US president's vow to "totally destroy" the country.

North Korea shrugs off Trump threat as a 'dog's bark'

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Foreign Minister Ri dismisses US president's threat to 'totally destroy' his country, saying Trump had a 'dog dream'.

US tries to enlist EU and Japan in China tech fight

From Europe. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Washington steps up moves to tackle Beijing over intellectual property regime

Macron vows to ‘name and shame’ tech groups

From Europe. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

France, UK and Italy demand action to block terror content online

Trump urges 'strong and swift' UN action for Rohingya

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

In strongest US response yet, vice president says violence against Muslim minority sowing 'seeds of hatred and chaos'.

Sri Lankan baby farms: Minister admits illegal adoption trade

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

An investigation by Dutch journalists uncovers thousands of illicit baby sales in the 1980s.

Catalonia referendum: Spain PM calls for 'escalation' to stop

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Mariano Rajoy appeals to Catalan separatists in a televised speech after a day of unrest in Barcelona.

Rescue teams in Mexico work furiously to find survivors as earthquake death toll reaches 230

From : World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

President Enrique Peña Nieto has declared three days of mourning for the second time this month.

Hurricane Maria: Whole of Puerto Rico without power

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Hurricane Maria has knocked out electricity for the entire island, home to more than 3.5m people.

Failing grade for companies dealing in palm oil: report

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

As palm oil plantations have rapidly expanded across Southeast Asia, controversy over the edible oil has intensified.

One-year-old boy in critical condition after being thrown from car during parental fight

From : World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Both parents have since been arrested and charged, local media reported.

The Theory and Practice of Civic Engagement, by Eric Liu

By James Fallows from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Eric Liu (Citizen University)

If you happen to be in Redlands, California, on Thursday evening, September 21, I suggest you go by the headquarters of the tech company Esri to hear a talk by my friend Eric Liu, on the practical possibilities for civic engagement in our politically troubled age.

If you don’t happen to be in Redlands, I recommend getting Eric’s book, You Are More Powerful Than You Think. It addresses a central question of this politically troubled age: what, exactly, citizens who are unhappy with national politics can do, other than write a check or await the next chance to vote.

This is a question I wrestled with immediately after last year’s election, in this Atlantic article, and in a commencement speech a few months later. But Eric, author of several previous books about the theory and practice of citizenship (including The Gardens of Democracy and A Chinaman’s Chance) and head of the Citizen University network, based in Seattle, has devoted his useful and enlightening new book to just this topic, in the age of Trump. He described some of its principles in a NYT interview with David Bornstein a few months ago. Essentially his topic is how to bridge the gap between thinking, “something should be done,” and actually taking steps to doing that something, on your own and with others. This also is the ongoing theme of Citizen University, which emphasizes that citizenship is a job in addition to being a status.

I’ll leave the details, of which there are many, to Eric — on the podium in Redlands or in the pages of his book. The high-concept part of his argument flows from these three axioms:

  • Power creates monopolies, and is winner-take-all. → You must change the game.
  • Power creates a story of why it’s legitimate. → You must change the story.
  • Power is assumed to be finite and zero-sum. → You must change the equation.

He goes on, in practical terms, to illustrate what these mean. The political question of this era (as discussed here) is how the resilient qualities of American civic society match up against the challenges presented by the lurches of Donald Trump. Can the judiciary adhere to pre-2017 standards? How will the Congress fare in its ongoing search for a soul? Will states and cities maintain their policies on the environment, on standards of justice, on treatment of refugees and immigrants? And how, fundamentally, can citizens play a more active and powerful role in the affairs of their nation? These and others are central struggles of our time. And Eric Liu’s book is part of the effort to push the outcome in a positive direction.

Designing Innovative High Schools

By Elizabeth D. Steiner; Laura S. Hamilton; Laura Stelitano; Mollie Rudnick from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

RAND evaluated the Carnegie Corporation of New York's Opportunity by Design high school redesign initiative. The data in this interim report describe implementation facilitators and challenges after two years.

Impatient for change

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Angola has publicly funded healthcare with state-of-the-art clinics. So why are some hospitals running out of drugs? The BBC's Mayeni Jones investigates.

Causing friction

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Billboards featuring a former porn star advise safe sex during a Hindu festival, upsetting conservatives.

Moving on up

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

The people of the Guna Yala archipelago, off the Panama coast, may be among the first island communities to leave their homes and move onshore.

Love and loss

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

Meeting the Kenyans affected by the illness.


From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

The Office québécois de la langue française has eased up on dozens of English language words.

'What I saw'

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 21, 2017.

In this photo essay, photographer Clayton Conn shares his experience of the Mexico City earthquake.

US funding cuts and the impact on Syrian refugee women

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

How the US went from all to nothing at a maternity clinic in the world's largest Syrian refugee camp.

Canada MP sorry for Catherine McKenna 'climate Barbie' remark

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

Conservative Gerry Ritz apologised over a remark he aimed at environment minister Catherine McKenna.

Raqqa faces deadly 'barrage' from US-led coalition

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

Over 430 civilians likely died in August by US-led coalition actions in anti-ISIL push in Syrian city, says Airwars.

The Atlantic Daily: Furious Fallout

By Rosa Inocencio Smith from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

What We’re Following

Foreign Policy: President Trump’s aggressive speech to the UN General Assembly is getting criticism from around the world—not only from the governments he criticized, but also from some U.S. allies. His emphasis on American interests over global interdependence stood in stark contrast to the traditional ideals outlined by French President Emmanuel Macron. And though his threat to “totally destroy” North Korea if necessary didn’t differ all that much in substance from existing U.S. policy, the extreme rhetoric risked raising tensions and making him look indecisive and ill-prepared. With the administration’s foreign policy in the global spotlight, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—whose messages have sometimes diverged from the president’s—is scheduled to speak tonight.

Disaster Strikes: A magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Mexico City on Tuesday, toppling buildings and killing more than 200 people. It was the second major quake to hit the area this month, and it came on the anniversary of a devastating 1985 quake, which many residents had marked earlier in the day with earthquake drills. Rescue efforts are still unfolding. And in the U.S., in an effort to let the nation’s economy recover after the recent hurricanes, the Federal Reserve announced it would keep interest rates steady instead of raising them as it had planned earlier this year.

Explanation of Benefits: Though defenders of the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal and replace Obamacare say the legislation is intended to distribute federal funds more equitably between states, the states it would help would be the ones that declined those funds in the past—while those losing out would most likely be poorer red states that desperately need the money. In an angry monologue on Tuesday night, the late-night host Jimmy Kimmel harshly criticized the bill for failing to live up to its promises.

Rosa Inocencio Smith


Rescuers search for earthquake survivors in a collapsed building in Mexico City on September 19, 2017. More photos from the aftermath here. (Miguel Tovar / AP)

Evening Read

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick on how the Vietnam War undermined Americans’ faith in the presidency:

It did not happen all at once, this radical diminution of trust. Over more than a decade, the accumulated weight of critical reporting about the war, the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, and the declassification of military and intelligence reports tarnished the office. Nor did the process stop when that last chopper took off. New evidence of hypocrisy has continued to appear, an acidic drip, drip, drip on the image of the presidency. The three men who are most responsible for the war, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon, each made the fateful decision to record their deliberations about it. The tapes they left behind—some of them still newly public, others long obscured by the sheer volume of the material—are extraordinary. They expose the presidents’ secret motives and fears, at once humanizing the men and deepening the disillusionment with the office they held.

Keep reading—and listen to the presidents’ recordings—here.

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

After Facebook revealed that a Kremlin-linked firm bought $100,000 worth of political ads around last year’s election, the question of how advertising should be regulated on social media rose to renewed prominence. Another Facebook ad-related scandal revealed that flaws in the algorithms that categorize users’ interests have made it possible for advertisers to target their products to self-described “Jew haters.” And fact-checking endeavors on the social-media site have proved less than effective at discouraging users’ belief in false stories online. All this has highlighted the irony that Facebook’s efforts to connect people while removing people from its inner workings are letting problems slip through the cracks.

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

1. The dramatic red bubble of light scientists can now see around the star U Antliae originated ____________ years ago, when the star expelled a large amount of gas at high speed.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

2. The first Wiffle balls were made by punching holes in the packaging for ____________.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

3. The British Museum was founded using the collections of the wealthy physician ____________, who offered them to Parliament in his will in exchange for £20,000.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

Rachel Gutman

Answers: 2,700 / Coty perfume / hans sloane

Look Back

On this day in 1871, the Italian Army entered Rome, gaining control of the city from the papal army and leading to the unification of Italy. In our October 1883 issue, William Chauncy Langdon described the period leading up to the city’s capture:

It is true that even the Romagna had, so far, maintained its independence of the Holy See, pending the decisions of a European congress which was soon to meet at Paris, and to which the Italian question had been referred; but, meanwhile, a French army of occupation kept all fear of revolution from the thresholds of St. Peter’s. ...

Nevertheless, of all the exciting problems in Italian politics, “the Roman question” was “la question brulante.” ... Wherever people dared discuss public affairs at all they debated whether the French emperor would be induced by Austria to restore the legations to the Pope; or whether he could be brought by Count Cavour to leave the Romans also free to settle their own future for themselves, or even ... if the temporal power were inevitable, to reduce the inevitable to a minimum, and the temporal papacy to the city and comarca of Rome.

Read more here.

Reader Response

Sigal Samuel recently interviewed the Biblical scholar James Kugel about his research into how ancient prophets experienced and interpreted their visions. One reader reflects:

Even a child can hear a voice inside their head that feels as if it arises from elsewhere. I remember discussing the conscience with my daughter when she was 4. About that voice, she said, “That’s the voice that always says, ‘No.’”

People I know hear their inner voice accessed during meditation or exercise or when they’re “in the flow”—something I experience regularly when running long-distance (why I’m addicted to long-distance running)—and attribute that voice to God if they are religious. So is it less common now, or was it just a prescientific understanding of one’s internal life?

Check out a scientific perspective on consciousness here, and read more about accessing one’s inner life through poetry here.


Kiwi hatched, heaven reached, Trump tackled, animals tracked.

Time of Your Life

Happy birthday to Jussi (twice the age of Pokémon); to Michael’s daughter (a year younger than the Super Bowl); to Karen’s daughter Kate, who at 12 is too young for the timeline, but just the right age to go to an Ivy League school; and to Mital’s twin sons, Arun and Viraj, who at 7 are just old enough to become artists. And happy birthday to Caroline (one-sixth the age of The Atlantic), the associate editor for our new membership program The Masthead.

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.

Meet The Atlantic Daily’s team here, and contact us here.

Did you get this newsletter from a friend? Sign yourself up here.

Hurricane Maria eyes Dominican Republic after wiping out electricity in Puerto Rico

From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

The storm ripped trees, destroyed homes and ushered in 'catastrophic flash flooding' to the US territory.

Iran's leader Hassan Rouhani slams Donald Trump in UN speech

From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

Iran's president hits back over the US president's criticism of his country and its 2015 nuclear deal.

Lawmakers fear Russia’s Facebook meddling continues

From Europe. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

Congressional pressure mounts on Silicon Valley to stem hostile foreign influence

A Trump Nominee's Illegal Vote Exposes the Voter-Fraud Charade

By David A. Graham from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

Jeffrey Gerrish made a mistake. Not a big one, although he did break the law. But it’s a mistake many people make, and for the most part, they aren’t called out by the Senate Finance Committee and in the pages of The New York Times.

Most of the people who make the error, however, are not nominees of a president who has alleged that there were 3 to 5 million fraudulent votes cast in the 2016 election, or who empaneled a commission to consider voter fraud that is on a dubious hunt to try to validate that wild, unsubstantiated claim. Jeffrey Gerrish, however, is President Trump’s nominee to be deputy U.S. trade representative, so it happens that investigators realized he cast his vote in the 2016 election in Virginia, even though he had moved to Maryland—a far less competitive state in national elections.

Actually, Gerrish broke two laws. Although Virginia allows people to vote there 30 days after moving—after all, they probably know the candidates and issues in their old home best—he was outside that grace period. The Times adds: “A Trump administration official, who asked for anonymity to discuss the case in detail, said that Mr. Gerrish had a Virginia driver’s license at the time of the election and was under the impression that the state granted a longer grace period for former residents.” But Maryland also requires that new residents get a Maryland license within 60 days of moving, which he had not done.

Of course, such laws about getting new licenses are routine and routinely ignored. Many people just wait for their old license to expire before getting a new one, no one gets hurt, and no one launches a commission of inquiry. But that’s just the point about Gerrish’s old vote. The story isn’t so much a gotcha on Gerrish as it is a statement about the folly of Trump’s vote-fraud commission.

The commission is chaired by Vice President Pence, but its co-chair and driving force is Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state in Kansas. Kobach is a long-time advocate for tighter voting laws, which he says are needed because of widespread voter fraud. In particular, he’s concerned about what’s known as in-person voter fraud: Someone actually shows up and casts an unlawful ballot, either because they aren’t registered, because they’re registered unlawfully, or because they vote in someone else’s name. The problem is that this is highly unusual. Repeated studies have shown that voter fraud is extremely rare, and that it’s far more common for someone to register fraudulently, or for poll workers to commit a crime, than it is for people to actually vote illegally.

Kobach is particularly into the idea of databases of voter lists from various states, which can then be crosschecked against each other to find people who are unlawfully double-voting—or at least double-registered—in several states. That was the motivation behind his controversial request that states provide full voter rolls to the commission. The problem is that the technique has repeatedly failed to find widespread fraud, even as it produces lots of false positives from similar names. In one instance, Kobach dramatically announced more than 2,000 dead voters who were still on rolls, only for the supposedly dead to be revealed as still alive quite quickly. More recently, Kobach declared in a Breitbart column that there was proof of widespread fraud in New Hampshire, then saw the state’s secretary of state shred his claim. Many people, including some of Trump’s closest relatives and advisers, are registered in two states (probably because they, like most people, didn’t bother to cancel their old registrations), but also almost certainly don’t vote twice.

When there really is in-person voter fraud, however, it’s probably more likely something like what Gerrish did. He’s not the first person to decide to vote in his old home in the hopes of casting a more consequential vote. I’d bet that Washington, D.C., is packed with young, transient, politically engaged people who know their vote is probably superfluous and decide to vote in their old home, rationalizing the decision by saying they’re not really rooted in D.C. This is illegal, but it’s unlikely to be prosecuted, and it’s also naively idealistic: Those occasional ballots mailed back home to Nevada and Ohio and Florida are unlikely to swing any election.

The same is true for Gerrish’s ballot. Even with his vote, Clinton won Virginia by more than 200,000 votes, and she won Maryland by more than 700,000. She also lost the electoral college to Trump, which is why Gerrish is in the spotlight today. As a lawyer, he probably ought to have known better, but he didn’t, which is another reason to suspect that most cases of fraud are about ignorance and bad judgment, not grand conspiracies. Contra the Trump voting commission’s starting assumptions, there’s very little in-person voter fraud, and where it occurs, it’s usually individuals exercising poor judgment—not massive, coordinated campaigns that stuff the ballot boxes with Trump’s fictitious millions of illegitimate votes. Then again, that doesn’t make much of a story, does it?

The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Deal or No Deal

By Elaine Godfrey from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

Today in 5 Lines

Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly requested extensive records from the White House as part of his probe into Russia’s interference in the presidential election. President Trump told reporters he has made a decision on whether to abandon the Iran deal, but refused to comment further. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said McConnell intends to bring the latest proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act to a vote next week. More than 200 people are dead after a category 7.1 earthquake struck Mexico on Tuesday. Puerto Rico is completely without power after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 storm, swept across the island.

Today on The Atlantic

  • Failing the Jimmy Kimmel Test: On Tuesday, the late-night host again weighed in on America’s health-care debate, but this time, he was angry. Under the new Republican proposal to repeal Obamacare, he said, “your child with a preexisting condition will get the care he needs—if, and only if, his father is Jimmy Kimmel.” (Megan Garber)

  • A Stricter Cap on Refugees: President Trump’s remarks at the United Nations on Tuesday highlighted an ongoing debate in the United States: How many refugees should be resettled in the country? (Krishnadev Calamur)

  • Not Helping: Rather than deterring nuclear threats from North Korea, President Trump’s vow to “totally destroy” the country actually increases the risk for nuclear war. (Ankit Panda)

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


Nayeli Miranda, 2, dances in the aisle as she attends a naturalization ceremony with her immigrant grandmother who was becoming a new U.S. citizen, in Los Angeles, California. Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

What We’re Reading

‘We Can Accommodate’: Several months before the 2016 presidential election, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort reportedly offered to provide private briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire. (The Washington Post)

America’s Greatest Vulnerability: Over the past two decades, the United States has become a deeply tribal society, where race, religion, and geography define its political parties. (Andrew Sullivan, New York)

She’s Baaack: Edward Morrissey argues that Hillary Clinton’s re-emergence is a gift to President Trump. (The Week)

Who Is Madame Giselle?: A woman living in an upscale apartment building in Chevy Chase, Maryland, claimed to be the secret wife of the Egyptian president, and a mentor to Ivanka Trump. But things got messy when she promised her neighbors she could make them a lot of money. (Manuel Roig-Franzia, The Washington Post)

All or Nothing: Republicans are putting Rand Paul on blast for not supporting the newest plan to repeal Obamacare, but he doesn’t care: “These people, they so totally do not get it,” said the Kentucky senator. (Seung Min Kim and Burgess Everett, Politico)

Like Thelma & Louise?: Vox asked nine Republican senators why they support the latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Here’s what they said. (Jeff Stein)


‘Should We Build the Wall?’: Explore the sights and sounds from every foot of the U.S.-Mexico border in this interactive report. (USA Today)

Devastating: More than 200 people were killed in a massive earthquake in Mexico on Tuesday. See a few early images from the disaster. (Alan Taylor)

Question of the Week

On Tuesday, President Trump made his debut speech at the United Nations General Assembly. During the week, world leaders are expected to address a host of issues, including the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and North Korea’s intensifying nuclear threats.

What would you like to see Trump focus on achieving at the gathering—and why?

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

-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)

Theresa May takes veiled swipe at Trump's climate credentials to empty seats at UN

From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

The UK PM referred to the US role in climate change.

How the Rest of the World Heard Trump's UN Speech

By Krishnadev Calamur from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

In his sovereignty-centric speech Tuesday to the UN General Assembly, President Donald Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea”; called Iran “a corrupt dictatorship” whose “chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos”; and said Venezuela’s government “has inflicted terrible pain and suffering on the good people of that country.”

The remarks have prompted the expected reactions from Iran, whose foreign minister called it an “ignorant hate speech [that] belongs in medieval times,” and Venezuela’s foreign minister, who countered: “Trump is not the president of the world ... he cannot even manage his own government.” North Korea, whose nuclear-weapons and missile programs have raised tensions with its neighbors and the U.S., is yet to respond.

While Trump’s remarks about these countries aren’t necessarily off the mark—human rights groups have consistently cited Iran for its abysmal human-rights record; Venezuela has slid into a virtual dictatorship under Nicolas Maduro—the language the U.S. president used to express his remarks was criticized even by U.S. allies. “It was the wrong speech, at the wrong time, to the wrong audience,” Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom told the BBC. Trump’s remarks also gave countries like Iran the opportunity to criticize the U.S. at an international forum—and receive a sympathetic ear.

“Reading the text of the speech, I was struck by the extent to which the language he’s using is potentially more appropriate for schoolyard debates as opposed to what we normally see on the floor of the UN General Assembly,” Sarah Snyder, an associate professor who studies human rights at the American University’s School of International Service, told me. “Using language like ‘loser terrorists’ [as Trump did to describe terrorist groups like ISIS] strikes me as not the most compelling way to make an argument about international policy.”

Indeed, the U.S. has for years detailed human-rights abuses and religious persecution in other countries in annual reports that are angrily denounced by those countries that are named and shamed. China has gone so far as to release its own annual report specifically devoted to human rights in the U.S. (hint: it’s not good), but such denunciation, Snyder said, offers strong evidence that countries like China are concerned about U.S. human-rights reports.

“For me, that’s some of the most compelling evidence that they take some of these accounting mechanisms seriously,” said Snyder, the author of the forthcoming From Selma to Moscow: How Human Rights Activists Transformed U.S. Foreign Policy.

Trump’s remarks did not mark the first time an American president, or indeed other world leader, has used the UN General Assembly to criticize another country. George W. Bush referred to the “axis of evil” to describe Iran, Iraq, and North Korea; Hugo Chavez compared Bush to the devil. Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe as a Filipino official criticized the Soviet Union. What makes Trump’s remarks different, Snyder said, is the “significant shift in the tone and the content of what he’s saying at the UN General Assembly.” And what Trump was saying was sovereignty was the most important element of the global order.

“We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch,” Trump said. He added: “Strong, sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures, not just coexist, but work side by side on the basis of mutual respect.”

As my colleague Uri Friedman wrote:  

Donald Trump inverted the argument: Contemporary challenges, he told the world leaders assembled in New York, are best tackled by self-interested states that work together when and where their interests overlap.

That’s a marked departure from how foreign policy has been conducted by Western countries since the end of World War II when the U.S. and its allies have intervened to stop humanitarian crises in various parts of the world. Snyder told me Trump’s “repeated defense of sovereignty and sovereign rights of nations will signal to repressive governments that the United States is no longer going to be paying attention to human-rights violations that are happening within a country’s borders.”

“I think the other thing that really struck me that seemed to be quite different—particularly thinking about the rhetoric of someone like George W. Bush—was [Trump’s] emphasis on preserving American rights, but saying nothing about protecting the rights of others,” Snyder said. “And that to me seemed to be a significant shift.”

Russia certainly noticed. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Associated Press that Trump’s message was “the U.S. would not impose its way of life on others.” “I think it’s a very welcome statement,” he said, “which we haven’t heard from an American leader for a very long time.”

    Earthquake kills more than 220 in central Mexico

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Rescue workers race to find survivors after deadliest tremor in 32 years kills 223 in central Mexico.

    UNGA: What is Donald Trump's message to the world?

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The United Nations hosts its 72nd General Assembly which is US President Donald Trump's first.

    If the United States Steps Back, Can Innovative Global Governance Step Forward?

    By Jason S. Pielemeier from Defense and Security. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The following is a guest post by

    If the United States Steps Back, Can Innovative Global Governance Step Forward?

    By Jason S. Pielemeier from Human Rights. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The following is a guest post by

    Trump's Indecisive, Ill-Prepared Debut at the United Nations

    By Thomas Wright from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Above all else, President Donald Trump wants the world to see him as strong. He has repeatedly described himself as “militaristic,” and his cabinet as a group of “killers.” He relishes saying the supposedly unsayable. When he spoke at the UN General Assembly yesterday, he surely wanted his listeners to be awed by his toughness. Better, as Machiavelli said, to be feared than loved.

    Trump’s team loaded his speech with harsh words and phrases. He promised to destroy North Korea if attacked. He called the Iran nuclear deal an embarrassment. He rejected globalism and spoke at length about the benefits of sovereignty, nationalism, and patriotism.

    But when one moves beyond the image Trump tries to project and looks at the consequences of his words, things look quite different. His UN speech was one of the least effective, weakest, and indecisive ever given by an American president. It’s not that it failed against some arbitrary standard set by the foreign-policy establishment he despises. It failed on its own terms. And how it failed tells us something important about where his foreign policy is headed.

    According to multiple media reports, Trump is poised to refuse to certify that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—against the advice of his cabinet. This would be Trump’s most momentous decision to date. It would immediately spark questions about whether decertification will lead to new sanctions and the collapse of the deal. It would spur a transatlantic crisis—all European nations, including Britain, have adamantly supported the JCPOA.

    One would have thought that the UN speech would give Trump a chance to explain the necessity of decertification. He could have shown why Iran is not in compliance. He could also have laid out what Iran needed to do to ensure certification. And he could have stated the strategy he proposed to pursue if he pulled out of the deal. But he did none of these things. Instead, he rattled off a list of Iranian provocations and aggressions in the Middle East, but said virtually nothing about its “non-compliance.” Instead, he charged that “the Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

    Believe me? There was a time when the world took American leaders at their word. In 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy dispatched Dean Acheson, the former secretary of state, to meet with Charles De Gaulle, the president of France. Acheson offered to share all U.S. intelligence on the Soviet missiles in Cuba. De Gaulle replied, “I don’t need to see pictures … the word of the president of the United States is good enough for me.”

    What may have worked for Kennedy then does not work any more. For that, America can thank Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction. And it definitely will not work for a president with as flexible a relationship with the truth as Trump.

    This speech was a gift to Iran because it hinted that the president of the United States has no case and no evidence. The day after the speech, Trump said he had decided on whether or not to certify the JCPOA, but would not yet reveal his decision. When he does so, he will not have prepared the nation or the world.

    Trump always justifies his reticence to offer strategic details by saying he wants to preserve the element of surprise. This is a standard line of his since at least 1984, when he told a Washington Post reporter he had a secret plan to negotiate nuclear arms reductions with the Soviet Union that he could not reveal in the unlikely case he was asked to implement it. But, the penny is beginning to drop that, with Trump, there is no difference between unpredictability and indecisiveness. He does not know what he intends to do. So he feigns unpredictability .

    The consequences of this indecisiveness and lack of preparation are real. If Trump does announce that Iran is no longer in compliance with the nuclear deal, he will then have to decide whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran. In a major speech to the American Enterprise Institute, Nikki Haley, his ambassador to the United Nations, said the administration would stay neutral on the issue and pass it over to Congress. Since the United States does virtually zero trade with Iran, Congress would face the challenge of either sanctioning non-American companies, including EU-based ones, who invest in or trade with Iran.

    EU officials have made clear that they will oppose these sanctions. They are considering legislation to make it illegal for EU companies to comply with U.S. sanctions on Iran; they are also considering retaliatory measures. It’s not just the sanctions issue: If the deal collapsed and Iran resumed its nuclear program, the Trump administration would quickly have to decide whether to bomb Iran or not. If sanctions are not re-imposed or are neutered and the deal remains intact, Trump will look completely powerless. He will have decertified the deal only to see it continue as if nothing happened.

    Trump’s remarks on North Korea were even worse. He could have used his time to explain to a global audience why North Korea’s ballistic missile program is a threat to world peace. He could have shown how the Kim regime has repeatedly cheated on previous agreements. He could have made the case why Kim is not just seeking nuclear weapons to guarantee his own survival, but also actively seeks the breakup of the U.S. alliance with South Korea and the forced unification of the peninsula under his rule. Trump did none of this. He did not even mention Kim’s ICBMs, and why they are a game-changer. Instead, he focused on his undeniable repression at home. A legitimate topic, for sure—albeit one he dismissed on principle elsewhere in the speech—but not the actual reason for the present crisis.

    Trump ensured that everything he said would be overshadowed by his promise to “destroy North Korea.” He could have said that if North Korea attacked the United States or its allies, America would bring Kim’s regime to an end. Instead, he threatened to destroy the country and its people, something entirely at odds with U.S. doctrine for many decades. He probably delighted in the audible gasps that comment produced in the room but it only allowed America’s rivals to draw an equivalence between the two leaders. It will play very badly in South Korea, and weaken popular support for the alliance with the United States. This phrase let Kim off the hook. Meanwhile, Trump said nothing about the consequences for Kim or China if North Korea acquires its ICBMs but does not use them.

    It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the threat to destroy North Korea was compensation for the fact that Trump has no idea what to do about the ICBM threat. He’s clearly frustrated that, based on the advice of the military and his secretary of defense, that a preventative strike is off the table. But that frustration is no excuse for a failure to educate the American people and the rest of the world about the nature of the North Korean threat, and to lead a conversation about how to respond appropriately. Trump is now locked into a path where he keeps issuing bombastic, vague threats, but Kim keeps testing his weapons. The American people are worried, but their president has not yet made a speech in which he explains the stakes and his strategy to deal with it. Ultimately, this leadership vacuum will present Kim Jong Un with strategic opportunities.

    Russia was also a winner in Trump’s speech. In the past three years at the UN General Assembly, President Obama spoke at length about the Russian challenge. He was accused of not doing enough. But here was an American president speaking less than a year after a Russian attack on the United States—on American sovereignty and the democratic process—and he said absolutely nothing. No price would be paid. No red line would be drawn. It’s almost as if it never happened. The message to Russia—and other would be aggressors—is clear: The U.S. policy on political warfare is unilateral disarmament.

    Trump was also largely silent on the geopolitical ambitions of Russia and China and the challenge each poses to the postwar U.S.-led international order. He did include one confused sentence in his speech that hinted at the Russian and Chinese challenge. “We must,” Trump said, “reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea.” No mention of Russia by name. No mention of China. Just a very vague expression of concern with the added insult of getting Ukraine’s name wrong (there is no “the”). This was fairly typical of how Trump treats Russia in his foreign policy speeches—a short, vague reference to its aggression, just enough so that no one can accuse him of completely ignoring it. Trump’s continued use of the word sovereignty and his criticism of past U.S. presidents for violating it was surely music to Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping’s ears. They have long argued for an international order that “respects” their sovereignty as they define it: order organized around spheres of influence with a much smaller American role.

    For the first eight months of Trump’s presidency, America’s allies have hugged him close because they know he responds positively to praise, and they hope to shape him. However, this tactical support is not a blank check. They cannot and will not support actions that they believe are not in their interest, especially when they doubt that there is any plan at all. Trump’s UN speech will have removed any lingering vestiges of hope they had that he is becoming more strategic or has a clear sense of how to tackle the most pressing threats and challenges facing America and its allies. As Trump nears an important decision on Iran and runs out of road on North Korea, he may find that his allies desert him when he acts.

    Meanwhile, America’s rivals will take note. They are wary of Trump because he is erratic, indecisive, and commander-in-chief of the world’s strongest military. But they also understand that American power is more complex than military hardware. It also includes the skill of the president, strategic nous, and America’s unparalleled ability to build international coalitions. On all these counts, the weakness is beginning to show. The known unknown is whether and how they will exploit it.

    Qatar-Gulf crisis: All the latest updates

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    An air, sea and land blockade imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt is now in its fourth month.

    The Hurricane Effect

    By Gillian B. White from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve Board announced that it would forgo a rate hike, keeping the federal funds rate at 1 to 1.25 percent. The board cited the continuing economic impact from major hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria as short-term concerns.

    Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve indicated that it anticipated at least one more rate hike in 2017. But as hurricane season got underway, analysts anticipated that the wave of major storms hitting the U.S. would cause the board to maintain current rates in the name of economic security. Indeed, it seems that concerns over aberrations brought on by the severe weather seemed to factor into the thinking. “Storm-related disruptions and rebuilding will affect economic activity in the near term,” a statement from the Fed reads. “But past experience suggests that the storms are unlikely to materially alter the course of the national economy over the medium term.”

    The committee said it expects the fallout from the storm to be felt in some very specific ways including temporarily higher gas prices, changes to overall economic activity (including declines because of business disruption and increases due to rebuilding efforts), and slightly higher inflation. Within a 12-month span the board expect that inflation will still remain lower than 2 percent.  

    Overall, the committee believes that there’s still room for economic growth, and still some space to push for it via job growth and low rates, before inflation surpasses its target and becomes a cause for concern.

    Kenya court blames electoral body for nullified vote

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Judges say election process was neither 'transparent nor verifiable' but dismiss opposition claims against Kenyatta.

    In praise of the AK-47: Russia unveils statue of Mikhail Kalashnikov

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Russia celebrates the assault rifle inventor with a dedicated monument in the capital, Moscow.

    French siblings who had incestuous relationship recognised as legal parents

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The couple, named as Herve and Rose-Marie, grew up in separate homes and met by chance in 2006.

    Hurricane Maria tears through Puerto Rico

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Strongest storm to hit the US territory in nearly 90 years has killed at least nine in its wake across the Caribbean.

    Hurricane Maria knocks out power in Puerto Rico

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The powerful storm has cut off electricity to 3.5 million people.

    Tech’s cash glut leaves public markets behind

    From FT View. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Even if this is not a bubble, it is not a healthy development for finance

    Is our galaxy a galactic outlier? The Milky Way may not be as 'typical' as we thought

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Many models for understanding the universe rely on galaxies behaving in a similar fashion to the Milky Way.

    How long can Labour’s uneasy truce over Brexit last?

    From The Big Read. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    It is not just the Conservatives: the opposition party also has sharp divisions over Europe

    Romanian politician's hunger strike lasts all of three hours between lunch and dinner

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    National Liberal Party (PNL) MP Florin Roman threatened to starve himself unless a monument got built.

    What Mentorship Can Mean to Undocumented Immigrants

    By B.R.J. O'Donnell from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Well before Jose Antonio Vargas became a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and filmmaker, he was told he couldn’t get an internship at The Seattle Times because he was an undocumented immigrant. At the time he feared that his immigration status would threaten both his ability to build a career in journalism as well as his ability to stay in the United States. Today, with more experience and better perspective, he helps others navigate concerns like these.

    One such mentee is Yosimar Reyes, an artist in residence at Define American, an organization Vargas founded that “uses the power of story to transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants.” The two met at a film festival several years ago, at a screening of one of Vargas’s documentaries. Since then, Vargas been a mentor to Reyes, helping him think through how he could attend college and offering him a job at Define American after graduation. The two are now developing, among other projects, a play that Yosimar wrote about growing up queer and undocumented.

    For The Atlantic’s series on mentorship, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” I spoke with Reyes about how Vargas has influenced his ideas about citizenship, belonging, and forging a career as an undocumented immigrant—especially now that the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is uncertain. The conversation that follows has been edited for length and clarity.

    B.R.J. O’Donnell: How do you and Jose help each other with the frustrations that come with being undocumented?

    Yosimar Reyes: Jose has always told me that freedom doesn’t come with papers, freedom does not come with having a Social Security number. He’s always quoting Toni Morrison: “Freedom is in the mind.” Freedom is in knowing that you have the ability to do whatever, despite these obstacles. So I think for me, that kind of mentorship has been really vital. Before I met Jose, I was struggling. It was so hard, and I just didn’t see an end to it.

    O’Donnell: Have you and Jose talked at all about what DACA means for you?

    Reyes: It’s interesting because when DACA happened, our roles kind of reversed. I remember he was really excited, saying, “Oh my God, now you have something that I don’t have—you have a Social Security number.” And he told me, “You need to use that as much as possible and take advantage of those opportunities.”

    O’Donnell: What is missing from public conversations about being undocumented in 2017?

    Reyes: It’s important that we talk about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, but at the same time, I want to remind people that DACA is basically me paying the government $500 every two years for a work permit, and to pay taxes. It’s not legalization—it’s a crumb. At the end of the day, what I have through DACA is a Social Security number that works temporarily. And though I’m grateful for the people that advocated for it, it’s not a solution.

    O’Donnell: When did you first meet Jose?

    Reyes: Five years ago, he did this film called The Other City looking at the AIDS epidemic in D.C., and it was showing at Outfest [an LGBT-oriented film festival] in Los Angeles. Jose wasn’t out as undocumented at the time. We met and said hello. Then two years later, I was watching TV, and it’s announced that “Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas comes out as undocumented.” And I thought, “Oh my God, that’s the guy I met. He didn't tell me he was undocumented.” I’m always telling people I was undocumented. Soon after that, I got invited to something at Sundance, and so did Jose, and that’s where we reconnected. He saw me perform, and then out of that, we built a friendship.  

    O’Donnell: What made you want Jose to mentor you?

    Reyes: I feel like we share similar kinds of backgrounds. I grew up in San Jose; he grew up in Mountain View, which is 20 minutes away. I grew up with my grandmother; he grew up with his grandmother. Oh, and the other thing we have in common—we are both queers, we are “undocuqueer” [laughs]. So I think there were a lot of correlations.

    O’Donnell: How has Jose influenced the way you think about your work?

    Reyes: His motto is: “You’re ‘a writer that happens to be undocumented’—you are not ‘an undocumented writer.’” My struggle, as an undocumented person, has been that when people tell me to dream big, I always have a sense that there is a glass ceiling, that there are things that are just impossible for me. And for Jose, his outlook is, “No, everything is possible.” I have seen what he has been able to do, and how he interacts with people, and I think that’s such an accomplishment, because when people find out you are undocumented, doors automatically close.

    O’Donnell: Can you talk more about how that describes your experience?

    Reyes: Because of DACA, I was actually able to return home to Mexico after 25 years. I came to the United States when I was three, so I’ve never really spent time in Mexico. The first person that I texted was Jose. He asked me what it felt like, and I remember telling him it feels good, and I felt honored that I could have that chance to go home, but then I told him, “I don't want to get excited.” Because at the end of the day, I’m undocumented, and something can always go wrong. And then what happened before the trip? Trump got elected.

    O’Donnell: What were your conversations with Jose like after the election?

    Reyes: After Trump got elected, Jose went Super Mom. He told me something along the lines of “You're not going to Mexico, it’s not going to happen, I'm making a decision.” I just kept thinking, “I need to figure out if I can thrive over there, because I’m not going to be undocumented forever. I’m smart, I’m talented, I can make it anywhere.” And I said to Jose, “Ultimately, I have to make that choice.” And that was hard, because we clashed. But then he came back and said, “I want to apologize. It's your decision to make, and I will support you.” And I ended up going.

    O’Donnell: Did the time you spent in Mexico change how you viewed your undocumented status in the U.S.?

    Reyes: When I went back to Guerrero, I realized how American I was. I was like, “Jose is right! How does he know these things?” When I came back and told him, he said, “See, I told you.” He just has a sense of these things because I think he’s already been through it, and I think I’m still in the process of unraveling it and figuring it all out.

    O’Donnell: What can mentorship do within the undocumented community?

    Reyes: At the moment, there is a national platform, and people want to help undocumented people. I tell them, we need mentors. We need people actively sharing skills with people who haven’t had access to those usual paths. Because we are undocumented, they often don’t let us into internships, and they don’t let us in fellowships.

    For example, my frustration coming into Define American was that because I’m undocumented, I felt like I had the skill set of a 19-year-old, because I haven’t been able to do certain things. I was just frustrated about it, but Jose told me not to be. He reminded me, “You have the lived experience. That’s sufficient, that’s enough to be a part of what we are doing.” I think that is what mentorship is. Now, I’m out here, making moves.

    Dozens of states sign treaty banning nuclear weapons

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    More than 50 nations sign agreement calling for a global ban on nuclear weapons, but none of them possess such arms.

    Donald Trump's Other Wall

    By Krishnadev Calamur from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    President Trump offered Tuesday a glimpse into his administration’s refugee policy when he told the UN General Assembly that the U.S. supports efforts to host those displaced by conflict “as close to their home countries as possible,” calling it “the safe, responsible and humanitarian approach.”

    “For the cost of resettling one refugee in the United States, we can assist more than 10 in their home region,” Trump said.

    The president’s remarks reinvigorate the fierce debate over how many refugees the U.S. should admit each year, what they cost, and whether they pose a security risk. Those issues were the centerpiece of Trump’s presidential campaign in which the real-estate mogul cited the terrorist attacks in Europe as a reason for why the U.S. should be more discerning about those it allows into the country.  

    Trump’s speech Tuesday was reportedly drafted by Stephen Miller, his adviser who is an immigration hard-liner; the basis for the claim on the costs of resettling refugees came from a report by the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors reduced immigration. But that study was based specifically on data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from the Middle East, where there’s been an influx of refugees migrating to neighboring countries and Europe as a result of the Syrian civil war.

    The president’s remarks at the UN on Tuesday foreshadowed the administration’s expected announcement on the number of refugees the U.S. will accept in the next fiscal year. That announcement could come as early as next week. The Obama administration had set a cap of 110,000 refugees for this fiscal year; the Trump administration reduced that to 50,000. Refugee advocates say they want the Trump administration to accept at least 75,000 refugees in the next fiscal year, but there’s little indication the number will come even close to that. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Miller has advocated for around 25,000 refugees, and that the Department of Homeland Security proposed a cap of 40,000. That number would be the lowest since 1986, when the Reagan administration set a cap of 67,000. (A cap is the ceiling on the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. It is not necessarily the number actually granted admission. For instance, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the refugee cap remained the same, but the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. fell dramatically.)  

    Trump’s remarks at the UN highlight a contentious debate over what it costs to resettle a refugee in the U.S. The Times obtained a document that showed the Trump administration rejected an estimate from the Department of Health and Human Services that the net fiscal impact of refugees from 2005 to 2014 was positive, at $63 billion. That estimate took into account factors like the payment of federal, state, and local taxes.

    Proponents of reduced immigration and refugee admissions counter, however, that in the first four years after refugees are admitted, they use more social services than native-born Americans. Both assessments are accurate, but differ in how the math is done: HHS ultimately submitted a report that compared the costs of refugees to native-born Americans without taking into account their revenue contributions. There’s little expert consensus over whether immigrants tend to cost the system more than native-born Americans.

    “The fact that there are studies that our government is conducting that are somehow either not being shared with the president or being disregarded or ... certain findings [are] being excised out if they are not in line with a particular worldview should be very disturbing to everyone,” Melanie Nezer, senior vice president of public affairs at HIAS, the Jewish refugee-resettlement agency, told me on Tuesday. She said the figures in the HHS report were “an assertion … not necessarily a fact.”

    Refugee advocates say accepting refugees is not only the right thing to do; it also make foreign-policy sense. Ryan Crocker, a veteran diplomat who served as ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan during both the Bush and Obama administrations, said: “The United States sadly has not in recent years led on the issue of refugees, and we have seen the impact it’s hard on European solidarity  and unity.” He was critical of President Obama: critics say he did not respond quickly enough to the Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis it prompted in Europe.

    “This is a defining moment in many respects for the United States ... and the world,” Crocker said, urging the Trump administration to accept at least 75,000 refugees in the next fiscal year. “If we don’t make that gesture, we’re much more broadly moving away from American leadership on this issue.”

    The U.S. has traditionally resettled far more refugees than being discussed in the present debate. This fiscal year, which ends September 30, so far some 52,282 refugees have been admitted to the U.S. Their top five countries of origin are the Democratic Republic of Congo (9,110), Syria (6,532), Iraq (6,824), Somalia (5,977), and Burma/Myanmar (4,900). In fiscal year 2016, of the almost 85,000 refugees admitted, the Democratic Republic of Congo, followed by Syria, and Myanmar/Burma,  in that order, accounted for about half. (The U.S. provides more money to refugees around the world than any other country, but the overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees live in camps in the world’s poorest nations that often border restive regions in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.)

    Part of the reason refugee advocates are worried about the numbers that might emerge from the Trump administration is that the president and some of his closest aides have said they view refugees as a security risk. Refugee advocates counter that no one in the U.S. has been killed by a resettled refugee since the attacks of September 11, 2001. (The family of the Tsarnaev brothers, who carried out the Boston Marathon bombings, entered the U.S. as tourists before applying for asylum. Tourists are subject to far less scrutiny than potential refugees to the U.S.) One of Trump’s first actions as president was to issue an executive order that severely restricted immigration from several Muslim countries, suspended all refugee admission for 120 days, and barred all Syrian refugees indefinitely; much of that order has been ensnared by legal challenges, though parts of it have been allowed to move forward. Despite those challenges, Trump’s rhetoric on refugees has remained consistent, and is one of his defining issues.

    Nezer told me that the issue of refugees is one of the only issues that has “consistently been in the crosshairs. ” She declined to speculate about the motives for Trump’s position, but they are in line with the president’s America First policy.

    Immigration advocates say, however, that if the Trump administration sets a dramatically reduced cap on the numbers of refugees admitted into the country, they will turn to Congress where there is bipartisan support for refugee admissions. The recent short-term funding bill recently approved by Congress funds refugee resettlement through the end this calendar year.  

    “We would obviously prefer for the president to do the right thing here, but if he does not, we will be turning to Congress and expecting them to respond,” Nezer said in the same conference call at which Crocker spoke. She added: “As you know, in Washington nothing’s ever a completely done deal.”

    How This Year's Oscar Contenders Are Tackling Trump

    By David Sims from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    When introducing his new movie The Shape of Water at the Toronto International Film Festival last week, the director Guillermo del Toro was clear about the message he wanted to convey. The Shape of Water is a romantic, grown-up fairytale, where a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) working at a secret government facility in 1962 falls in love with a sea creature (Doug Jones) that’s being held there against its will. It’s a story of empathy triumphing over prejudice, one where the facility’s villainous supervisor (Michael Shannon) is largely driven by hatred of what he doesn’t understand.

    “It’s super easy to sound smart when you’re a cynic,” del Toro said of the movie. “And I just thought, can we listen to The Beatles and Jesus, and sound smart when we talk about love?” Such a statement might sound trite, but it’s the bedrock of the film’s storytelling. When discussing The Shape of Water, del Toro (who is Mexican) has been equally upfront about how its sea creature is a stand-in for “the other,” or the outsider, in any kind of political situation. As this year’s Oscar race kicks off, del Toro’s movie is resonating—it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. It’s also part of a larger trend in political and allegorical mainstream filmmaking, where directors are plainly and loudly tackling the Trump administration, some with more grace than others.

    The Toronto International Film Festival, which ended Sunday, has long been a proving ground for Oscar buzz, a preview of the next few months in cinema where movies either begin to build critical momentum for a major awards campaign or wither on the vine. This year, a sizable chunk of the festival’s biggest hits have a few key things in common—they’re coming out in the first full year of the Trump administration, they’re deeply topical despite many of them being period pieces covering unfortunate historical events, and they have all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

    The Shape of Water is an excellent film because it functions as both a parable and a delightful genre work that’s by turns rollicking fun and soaringly emotional. Del Toro has taken this storytelling approach in the past, particularly with his Spanish-language movies set in the shadow of the Spanish Civil War (The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth). But The Shape of Water is more directly applicable to the current debate raging over the White House’s hardline immigration policies and the emergence of the alt-right.

    Del Toro hasn’t shied away from that interpretation, saying of Shannon’s villain, “He doesn’t see anyone because his arrogance is so big. ... It speaks about the issue we have today that choosing fear over love is a disaster.” When asked about the current political climate, he said, “It’s like a cancer. We have a tumor now. That doesn’t mean the cancer started with that tumor. It was gestating for so long.” In dramatizing America’s idealized past in The Shape of Water, del Toro tries to get at the root of problems in the present. The film takes place in the ’60s, when the country is a forward-looking superpower, but the story is set largely within a darker underbelly. “If you were white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant, it was a great time to be alive,” del Toro said of that decade. “If you were not, if you were anything else, it was not.”

    The allegory of American rot in The Shape of Water is mythic, but other Toronto hits were more obvious in their political parallels. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s Battle of the Sexes, a recounting of the famous 1973 exhibition tennis game between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), all but invites viewers to map it onto the 2016 election. Riggs is a loudmouthed, if brazenly charismatic, performer who gets TV publicity by barking misogynistic opinions about women. King is unfairly burdened by the mantle of her sex, as her showdown with Riggs is billed as a winner-take-all war between Riggs’s outmoded values and the feminist movement. Dayton and Faris’s film is a gentle crowd-pleaser, but it would have seemed broader and more dated if it were released just a couple years earlier, before the Trump-Clinton race.

    Darkest Hour (Focus Features)

    Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, a biopic of Winston Churchill’s (Gary Oldman, assured of an Oscar win next year) first month in office as prime minister amid the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, would have felt similarly passé not long ago. The film centers on Churchill’s boisterous resistance to the invading German armies, and the disquiet that provokes within his party, which still has a substantial contingent hoping to sue for peace. Wright and the screenwriter Anthony McCarten turn that ideological fight into a swooning parable of courage in one’s convictions and the necessity of standing up to extremism rather than trying to meet it halfway—a seemingly simple message that’s delivered with old-fashioned, stiff-upper-lip panache.

    Other TIFF films focused on times in American politics that were similarly fraught, even if their contemporary resonance is less clear. Peter Landesman’s Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House is a biopic about the FBI lifer who became “Deep Throat,” the journalist Bob Woodward’s source on the Watergate scandal. As written and directed by Landesman (a former journalist who has written for The Atlantic), the movie has the same blunt competence of his last film, Concussion, and sees Liam Neeson playing Felt as a warrior for political sanity in an age of back-stabbing chaos. Unfortunately, the movie misses some of the deeper complexity of the internecine wars between various government agencies at the time.

    There’s also Chappaquiddick, a retelling of the 1969 car accident that almost ended the political career of Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) and resulted in the death of his brother’s former campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). That film, directed by John Curran, is much more narrowly invested in the double-edged mythos of the Kennedy family and is impressive mostly for how bitterly it portrays its subject, considering his eventual bounce-back. But given the many current scandals and distrust in government, any story touching on relevant tales from the past should find purchase with studios seeking Oscar gold.

    There are films looking to take on the harder task of examining American race relations in more specific ways than The Shape of Water’s depiction of “the other.” Dee Rees’s terrific Mudbound, which has been acquired by Netflix, follows a white family and a black family in post–Civil War Mississippi, digging into the ways their dynamics have and haven’t changed since the conflict. But that movie (based on a novel by Hillary Jordan) succeeds because it’s character-driven, spending time on the backstories of each member of its ensemble and building slowly, and carefully, to its tragic outcome.

    Suburbicon (Paramount)

    George Clooney’s Suburbicon, which had a rocky debut at TIFF, tries a more forthright approach, marrying a script about suburban crime shenanigans written by the Coen brothers in the 1980s with a real-life story. Clooney and his co-writer Grant Heslov took the Coens’ script and added a subplot based on the case of the African American Myers family, who moved into the Pennsylvania suburb of Levittown and were subjected to months of racially motivated torment by their white neighbors who wanted to drive them out. In joining the two ideas, Clooney seems to be trying to make a point about the ignorance and sublimated evil of the white couple (played by Matt Damon and Julianne Moore) at the center of the darkly comedic main plot. But since the two storylines never interact, and the actors playing the Myers family aren’t given much screen time, the juxtaposition feels bizarre, as does the uplifting note Clooney decides to end things on.

    In talking about the movie, Clooney admitted he made story changes after Trump was elected (in the middle of Suburbicon’s production). “It changed the temperature on the film a little bit. ...  The goofy seemed too goofy,” he told me. “It was really written as a piece to talk about the idea that there’s a group of white Americans who are terrified that they’re losing their place in society and are blaming minorities for it.” Clooney’s intentions might have been noble, but Suburbicon was poorly received—it’ll be best remembered as an early reaction to a political moment that’s far from over. But when I spoke with him, Clooney did hit upon something that’s true about every wildly topical era in Hollywood: Movies succeed not when they’re didactic, but when they manage to reflect or capture a larger national mood.

    “I don’t think films can tell people what to think, and I don’t think films can lead anything [politically] because it just takes too long to make them,” Clooney said. “What films can do is they can point to a moment in time in your history and tell you what you were thinking.” In the ’60s, Hollywood made films about nuclear paranoia and the end of the world; in the ’70s, it churned out cynical dramas about the nation’s growing distrust in government and rejection of societal norms. Now, viewers are seeing a wave of mainstream cinema that’s trying to find the right language for empathy and political resistance. As Clooney noted, movies can tell the country what it’s thinking, and this year’s Oscar crop is just the start of that effort.

    Merkel moves assuredly towards a fourth term

    From FT View. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    German voters opt for stability, but leadership abroad is required

    Merkel moves assuredly towards a fourth term

    From Europe. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    German voters opt for stability, but leadership abroad is required

    Sleep deprivation improves depression in nearly half of patients

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Should we be getting less sleep, not more, to improve mental health?

    Iran's Hassan Rouhani hits back at Trump in UNGA speech

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Warning 'rogue newcomers to the world of politics', Iran's leader slams potential US withdrawal from 2015 nuclear deal.

    Milwaukee school says students must submit pictures of dresses for approval before dance

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Dress code has led to accusations of sexism and body-shaming from parents and pupils.

    This ancient 'devil' frog had the bite force of a tiger and could eat dinosaurs

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Beelzebufo - or the devil frog as it is known - weighed around 4kg and lived 68 million years ago.

    Catalonia referendum: Protests over raids to halt vote

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Spain's government has stepped up efforts to halt an independence vote in Catalonia they call illegal.

    One million 'Kodi box' pirate devices sold in the UK in last two years

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    New FACT report claims 25% of the British public "consume illicit content".

    Man sentenced for redirecting company's website to gay porn in extortion attempt

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Tavis Tso sent customers to and asked for $10,000 to fix it.

    Do parents share too many pictures of their children online?

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Too much information: Rise in 'sharenting' sees 80% of kids under two have an online presence.

    Ryan Phillippe's supermodel ex shares injury pics as actor denies domestic violence accusations

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Elsie Hewitt filed a lawsuit against the Shooter actor claiming he attacked her.

    Kenya’s supreme court explains why it annulled last month’s presidential poll

    By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    WHAT makes for an acceptable election? That is the question Kenyans must consider during the next month or so. On September 20th, almost three weeks after the country’s supreme court annulled the presidential election held on August 8th, the judges issued acomplete judgment to explain their ruling. As an indictment of the electoral commission and a statement of the supremacy of law, it was searing and inspiring. The constitutional mandate placed on the commission, said David Maraga, the chief justice, “is a heavy yet noble one” that it had failed to fulfil. But on the question of whether the poll was actually rigged, as the opposition alleges, or as a guide to how to hold another one, it was less definitive.

    Compared with the summary ruling issued initially, the full judgment revealed relatively little new. According to the deputy chief justice, Philomena Mwilu, the court was left with no option but to annul the poll because of the “contumacious” approach of the...Continue reading

    Iranian President Rouhani hits back at Donald Trump's UN speech

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    In his first speech at the UN on Tuesday, President Trump included Iran among "a small group of rogue regimes".

    Biafra is Back

    By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Tension is rising in Nigeria over secessionist claims by “Biafran” organizations in southeast Nig

    Jake LaMotta: Legendary Raging Bull boxer dies at 95

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Jake LaMotta, the uncompromising boxer portrayed by Robert De Niro, dies aged 95.

    Kenya's Supreme Court criticises IEBC electoral commission

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The presidential election was cancelled because the results were announced before being verified.

    Election annulled

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Can a new election be held in the time allocated by Kenya's constitution?

    Spanish national police raid Catalan government headquarters

    From Europe. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    13 arrests made as referendum on independence looms

    The Real Losers of the Graham-Cassidy Health-Care Bill

    By Vann R. Newkirk II from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    “Obamacare, for whatever reason, favors four blue states against the rest of us.” So South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, in a floor speech on Monday, defended the central rationale of his Obamacare replacement, the Graham-Cassidy bill. In that speech and other statements, Graham has cast his bill as a redistribution, taking federal Obamacare money poured into the liberal bastions of California, New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland, and giving some of it to cash-strapped red states that have been left out, and whose sicker populations have languished. In this telling, Graham is Robin Hood, and his co-sponsors Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are his merry men.

    There are a few problems with this reasoning, though. To start, the states that receive the most money from the Affordable Care Act are the ones that have expanded Medicaid, while the ones left out of the revenue stream have deliberately chosen not to accept federal funds to do so. Additionally, Graham-Cassidy’s “redistribution” isn’t really a redistribution: It would allocate Medicaid expansion and exchange tax-credit funds on an equal per-capita basis to states for covering low-income people, but would do so after greatly restricting eligibility and shrinking the funding base. In essence, Graham-Cassidy would diminish support for the majority of states to provide a reduced version of benefits to states that have refused more generous benefits in the past.

    The states with populations that would be hurt most by such a scheme aren’t California and New York, but cash-strapped, smaller, mostly-rural states or Rust Belt states that decided to expand Medicaid, often in order to meet extraordinary statewide health crises. These states are not liberal bastions Graham claims are favored by Obamacare; rather these states—Louisiana, Arkansas, Arizona, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Maine, Iowa, Alaska, New Mexico, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana—are largely dominated by Republicans, and make up a large swathe of the party’s geographic base.

    While the exact effects of Graham-Cassidy are so complex and dependent on state decisions that the Congressional Budget Office announced it won’t be able to properly score the bill for weeks at least, a rough picture of the best-case funding scenario in each state is emerging.  A new analysis of that scenario from consulting firm Avalere finds that Graham-Cassidy would reduce overall federal health funding to all states by $215 billion by 2026, and by $4 trillion by 2036.

    But within those larger cuts, the states that lose most are of particular interest. Graham-Cassidy contains two major provisions that will constrain funding over time: The allotment formula that purposefully underfunds the combined Medicaid expansion and premium tax-credit block grants to states, and the implementation of a per-capita cap on regular Medicaid spending. While the per-capita cap will underfund Medicaid over time because it doesn’t keep up with inflation, over the near-term, the block grant would dominate immediate funding impacts.

    And the Avalere analysis finds that between 2020 and 2027 those impacts would pull about $100 billion from the aforementioned states. Only 11 states—all places that have declined the Medicaid expansion—would gain funding over that term. The biggest beneficiary of this reprioritization would be Texas, which would gain $24 billion in funding. Texan politicians have repeatedly fought the Medicaid expansion, against arguments from hospitals, public-health officials, patients, and economists.

    The collection of red states that would lose under Graham-Cassidy is notable. Their governments fought for Medicaid expansion against the party line because they were often in dire need of those funds. Kentucky, New Mexico, and Louisiana are the three poorest states in the country, and Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, and Maine are all among the worst 10 states in infant mortality. Many of those states score close to last in other health indicators. Additionally, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Maine, and New Mexico are on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, and have needed extra Medicaid funds to buoy health infrastructure that has been incredibly strained.

    The gains in those states have been palpable. For example, in Louisiana, which has had expanded Medicaid for less than two years, uninsured rates have dropped, diagnoses for chronic conditions have risen, and state coffers have been less stressed. Providers and patients in rural Maine have grown increasingly vocal about the usefulness of the Medicaid expansion, and the expansion has been vital to efforts in West Virginia in combating a multitude of public-health problems, all while caring for the health issues of coal miners.

    While governors and other officials from red states that have expanded Medicaid are split on their support of Graham-Cassidy, those that oppose the bill are perhaps even more important opponents than Democratic lawmakers. Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, leads an influential bipartisan group of governors—including fellow Republican Brian Sandoval of Nevada—that is fighting against Graham-Cassidy and led the charge to make more moderate fixes to the ACA. Democrats John Bel Edwards of Louisiana and Steve Bullock of Montana are also in that group. Louisiana health secretary Rebekah Gee has also blasted the plan and Cassidy’s involvement for potential harmful effects on Louisianans.

    But the one red state that might make the most difference in the debate is Alaska, which faces a very unique set of health-care challenges. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s decision on Graham-Cassidy will perhaps make or break the bill’s chances in the Senate, and that decision would mean a great deal for her home state. The Medicaid expansion has been critical across rural areas in the state, where Obamacare funds have kept frontier providers—often the last lines of health-care defense—afloat, reduced state funding, and provided jobs. Alaska has also been one of the edge cases necessitating the kind of expanded national reinsurance program desired by Kasich’s group. Governor Bill Walker, a political independent, signed onto Kasich’s anti-Graham-Cassidy letter, and state health commissioner Valerie Davidson has expressed concerns to Murkowski about past bills that would risk Medicaid expansion funding.

    Under Graham-Cassidy, funding for the Medicaid expansion and exchange block grants would expire in 2026. If future funds aren’t appropriated, states would revert to the pre-Obamacare status quo, only with a less substantial, capped Medicaid program in place. Essentially, Graham-Cassidy creates the conditions for a near-complete repeal of Obamacare in the future, which would leave every state with less funding to cover sick and needy populations. So, after 2026, there wouldn’t be any perceived bias, whether to the blue states Graham resents or against the red states in the middle. There wouldn’t be winners and losers. Just losers.

    Iran's hackers exposed: 'APT33' group, tied to destructive malware, seeks military secrets

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Cybersecurity firm FireEye said the hackers use 'recruitment lures' for cyber espionage.

    France's President Defies Trump at the UN

    By Uri Friedman from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Since the Second World War, American presidents have repeatedly gone before the United Nations General Assembly and made a similar argument: The United States has national interests just like any other country, but in the modern era those interests are increasingly international in scope and shared by people around the world, requiring more of the multilateral cooperation that the UN was founded to foster.

    John F. Kennedy argued that nuclear weapons necessitated “one world and one human race, with one common destiny” guarded by one “world security system,” since “absolute sovereignty no longer assures us of absolute security.” Richard Nixon spoke of a “world interest” in reducing economic inequality, protecting the environment, and upholding international law, declaring that the “profoundest national interest of our time” is the “preservation of peace” through international structures like the UN. In rejecting tribalism and the walling-off of nations, Barack Obama asserted that “giving up some freedom of action—not giving up our ability to protect ourselves or pursue our core interests, but binding ourselves to international rules over the long term—enhances our security.” These presidents practiced what they preached to varying degrees, and there’s long been a debate in the United States about the extent to which America’s sovereign powers should be ceded to international organizations, but in broad strokes the case for global engagement was consistent.

    On Tuesday, during this year’s UN General Assembly, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, made this case. But the American president didn’t. Instead, Donald Trump inverted the argument: Contemporary challenges, he told the world leaders assembled in New York, are best tackled by self-interested states that work together when and where their interests overlap. “If we are to embrace the opportunities of the future and overcome the present dangers together, there can be no substitute for strong, sovereign, and independent nations—nations that are rooted in their histories and invested in their destinies,” Trump said.

    Macron, by contrast, emphasized interdependence rather than independence. The lesson from humanity’s collective history in recent decades is that, from Mali to Saint Martin, “we are inextricably linked to each other in a community of destiny” and  “planetary responsibility,” the French president noted in a speech soon after Trump’s. “There is nothing more effective than multilateralism in our current world because all our challenges are multilateral: war, terrorism, climate change, the digital economy.”

    Trump and Macron even diverged in their interpretation of the postwar period. World War II was won because “patriotism led the Poles to die to save Poland, the French to fight for a free France, and the Brits to stand strong for Britain,” Trump recounted, and the UN “was based on the vision that diverse nations could cooperate to protect their sovereignty, preserve their security, and promote their prosperity.”

    Macron, meanwhile, began his address by stating that he wouldn’t be standing before the UN as the leader of the French Republic had people from America and Africa, to Asia and Oceania, not resisted “the barbaric regime that had seized my country,” recognizing that “their freedom and their values depended upon the freedom of other women and of other men who lived thousands of kilometers away from them.” He and his country also owed a “debt” to those who later created the “international order”—including the UN, the rule of law, and mechanisms to facilitate exchanges between peoples—to restore the “values of tolerance, of freedom, of humanity” that the Second World War “had flouted” and that held the worst instincts of humankind “at bay.”

    Trump vowed to put America’s interests first, and suggested other leaders do the same. In condemning the authoritarian leaders of Cuba and Venezuela, he proclaimed that “nations of the world must take a greater role in promoting secure and prosperous societies in their own regions.” Macron rejected parochialism. Peace, freedom, and justice are not solely to “be enjoyed in our own corner,” he contended. “If we don’t stand up for those values, then all of us will be affected.”

    Macron preferred to describe the world’s problems on an international scale. He expressed concern about the “dictatorial trends” on display in countries like Venezuela and the “jihadist terrorism” afflicting all continents, warned that North Korea threatened efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and praised the Paris climate-change agreement as a pact between states and generations. Trump acknowledged that international problems such as terrorism and drug-trafficking demand international solutions. But he nevertheless dwelled on the level of the nation-state, which he characterized as “the best vehicle for elevating the human condition.” He called out the suffering that the socialist dictator of Venezuela had inflicted on his own people and gave notice that the “rocket man” in North Korea, in brandishing nuclear weapons at the United States and allied nations, was embarking on “a suicide mission.”

    Trump again and again stressed America’s power and capacity to prevail against its enemies, echoing the argument of two of his top advisers earlier this year that the world isn’t a “global community” but “an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.” He claimed that the U.S. economy and military were stronger than ever and—in the most stunning moment of his speech—threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, a fellow UN member state. Macron lamented that “we have allowed the idea to proliferate that multilateralism is … the tool of the weak,” that “we were stronger if we took unilateral action.” If the world continues down this path, if the history that birthed the UN is forgotten, “it’s the survival of the fittest that will prevail,” Macron cautioned.

    These stark differences in worldview help explain why Macron, and other like-minded Western European leaders, are currently at odds with the Trump administration on the top global issues of the day, including the North Korean nuclear crisis (Macron favors a multilateral diplomatic solution, Trump prefers economic pressure and threats of force); the Iran nuclear deal (Macron wants to preserve it, Trump wants to tear it up); and the Paris climate deal (Macron is committed to it, Trump pulled out of it).  

    But they also testify to divisions that endanger the United Nations itself. If the world’s major powers can’t agree on what the UN is for, what does that mean for the future of the organization? Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister who has studied ways to reform the UN, likes to point out that while we may take the United Nations for granted, order in international relations is the exception, not the rule. “Since the rise of the modern nation-state,” he has observed, “disorder has been the dominant characteristic of inter-state relations.” As I wrote last year, after interviewing Rudd:

    Over the last 500 years, Rudd notes, “there have been four major efforts in Europe to construct order after periods of sustained carnage”: in 1648, after the Thirty Years’ and Eighty Years’ wars; in 1815, after the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars; in 1919, after World War I; and in 1945, after World War II. “The first three of these ‘orders’ have had, at best, patchy records of success. The jury is still out on the fourth.”

    This week, Trump alluded to the fragility of the United Nations: “The true question for the United Nations today, for people all over the world who hope for better lives for themselves and their children, is a basic one: Are we still patriots? Do we love our nations enough to protect their sovereignty and to take ownership of their futures? Do we revere them enough to defend their interests, preserve their cultures, and ensure a peaceful world for their citizens?” What is urgently needed, Trump said, is “a great reawakening of nations.”

    Macron made the same point by posing the polar opposite question. “I cannot say whether my successor … in 70 years’ time will have the privilege of speaking before you,” he reflected. “Will multilateralism survive this time of doubt and change?”  

    The price of accessing higher education

    By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Should young people from low income backgrounds abandon higher education, or do they need more support to access it? 

    The determination of over 400,000 young people to go into higher education (HE) every year, despite England having the most expensive HE system in the world, and particularly the determination of over 20,000 young people from low income backgrounds to progress to HE should be celebrated. Regrettably, there are many in the media and politics that are keen to argue that we have too many students and HE is not worth the time or expense.

    These views stem partly from the result of high levels of student debt, and changing graduate employment markets appearing to diminish the payoff from a degree. It is not just economics though; it is partly a product of a generational gap. Older graduates appear to find it hard to come to terms with more people, and people from dissimilar backgrounds to theirs, getting degrees.  Such unease is personified by Frank Field, a veteran of many great causes, using statistics showing over 20 per cent of graduates early in their working lives are earning less than apprentices to make a case against HE participation. In fact, the same statistics show that for the vast majority a degree makes a better investment than an apprenticeship. This is exactly what the majority of young people believe. Not only does it make a better financial investment, it is also the route into careers that young people want to pursue for reasons other than money.

    This failure of older "generations" (mainly politics and media graduates) to connect with young people’s ambitions has now, via Labour's surprising near win in June, propelled the question of student finance back into the spotlight. The balance between state and individual investment in higher education is suddenly up for debate again. It is time, however, for a much wider discussion than one only focussed on the cost of HE. We must start by recognising the worth and value of HE, especially in the context of a labour market where the nature of many future jobs is being rendered increasingly uncertain by technology. The twisting of the facts to continually question the worth of HE by many older graduates does most damage not to the allegedly over-paid Vice Chancellors, but the futures of the very groups that they purport to be most concerned for: those from low income groups most at risk from an uncertain future labour market.

    While the attacks on HE are ongoing, the majority of parents from higher income backgrounds are quietly going to greater and greater lengths to secure the futures of their children – recent research from the Sutton Trust showed that in London nearly half of all pupils have received private tuition. It is naive in the extreme to suggest that they are doing this so their children can progress into anything other than higher education. It is fundamental that we try and close the social background gap in HE participation if we wish to see a labour market in which better jobs, regardless of their definition, are more equally distributed across the population. Doing this requires a national discussion that is not constrained by cost, but also looks at what schools, higher education providers and employers can do to target support at young people from low income backgrounds, and the relative contributions that universities, newer HE providers and further education colleges should make. The higher education problem is not too many students; it is too few from the millions of families on average incomes and below.

    Dr. Graeme Atherton is the Director of the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON). NEON are partnering with the New Statesman to deliver a fringe event at this year's Conservative party conference: ‘Sustainable Access: the Future of Higher Education in Britain’ on the Monday 2nd October 2017 from 16:30-17:30pm. 


    SDF: Battle for ISIL-held Raqqa city in 'final stages'

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    ISIL fighters are now confined in Raqqa city centre, the SDF alliance says as it announces the opening of a new front.

    Catalan leader accuses Spain of 'totalitarian' actions

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    President Carles Puigdemont denounces detentions of high-ranking regional officials in the run-up to independence vote.

    The Anger of Jimmy Kimmel

    By Megan Garber from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    “By the way, before you post a nasty Facebook message saying I’m politicizing my son’s health problems, I want you to know: I am politicizing my son’s health problems.”   

    That was Jimmy Kimmel on Tuesday evening, in a monologue reacting to the introduction of Graham-Cassidy, the (latest) bill that seeks to replace the Affordable Care Act. Kimmel had talked about health care on his show before, in May—when, after his newborn son had undergone open-heart surgery to repair the damage of a congenital heart defect, he delivered a tearfully personal monologue sharing the experience of going through that—and acknowledging that he and his family were lucky: They could afford the surgery, whatever it might cost. Kimmel concluded his speech by, yes, politicizing his son’s health problems: He emphasized how important it is for lower- and middle-class families to have comprehensive insurance coverage, with protections for people with preexisting conditions. “No parent,” he said, speaking through tears, “should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life. It shouldn’t happen.”

    The monologue went viral—it was a speech that “will surely be a big part of his late-night legacy,” my colleague David Sims noted at the time—and one of the people who saw it was Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. The politician, a physician by trade, soon began talking about the need for an Obamacare replacement that would pass the “Jimmy Kimmel test.” Cassidy appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, sound-biting the same message. Cassidy assured Kimmel—and, per the transitive property of late-night television, the American public—that he would work to create a new health-care bill that would pass that test.

    The bill Cassidy ended up co-authoring with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, which the two introduced earlier this month—a bill that, in the frenzied fashion becoming so common with such things, may be voted on next week—does not pass the test.

    And so, on Tuesday, Jimmy Kimmel yet again politicized his son’s health problems. This time not with tears, but with anger.

    “I don’t know what happened to Bill Cassidy,” Kimmel told his audience. “But when he was on this publicity tour, he listed his demands for a health-care bill very clearly. These were his words. He said he wants coverage for all, no discrimination based on preexisting conditions, lower premiums for middle-class families, and no lifetime caps.”

    Kimmel paused. “Guess what? The new bill does none of those things.”

    The bill does pass Cassidy’s “Jimmy Kimmel test,” the host allowed—but a different Kimmel test. “With this one, your child with a preexisting condition will get the care he needs—if, and only if, his father is Jimmy Kimmel. Otherwise, you might be screwed.”

    It was a notable shift. The power of Kimmel’s earlier speech on health care was not just the pathos of its story, but also its ability to make the political personal: to drive home the idea that, while “health care” might seem academic and theoretical, it can, in an instant, become intensely personal, with stakes no less than life or death. Kimmel, this time around, took that same logic—the political, made personal—but applied it to a single person: Bill Cassidy.

    “This is not my area of expertise,” Kimmel said. “My area of expertise is eating pizza, and that’s really about it. But we can’t let him do this to our children, and our senior citizens, and our veterans, or to any of us,” Kimmel told his audience.

    We can’t let him. We can’t let him.

    And then Kimmel zoomed out, extending his anger to Cassidy’s colleagues. “Health care is complicated,” Kimmel noted. “It’s boring. I don’t want to talk about it. The details are confusing. And that’s what these guys are relying on. They’re counting on you to be so overwhelmed with all the information, you just trust them to take care of you. But they’re not taking care of you. They’re taking care of the people who give them money. Like insurance companies.”

    They. They. They.

    Kimmel is a host who once boasted that an episode of his show would be “Trump-free”—and who once announced that “if anyone says the name of the orange-colored man with the Russian boyfriend, they will have to put $100 in that jar that Guillermo is holding right there.” Now, though, the politics have knocked on his own door, at his own home, for his own son. And he is rising to meet them—another late-night host who is embracing the idea that politics and entertainment are, at this moment in America, tightly tangled together. On Tuesday, at the end of his monologue, Kimmel listed the medical interest groups that have opposed Graham-Cassidy. He shared a number that viewers can call to tell their representatives that they oppose the bill. He took for granted that anger can be its own political force.

    “There’s a new Jimmy Kimmel test for you,” Kimmel told Cassidy: “It’s called the lie detector test. You’re welcome to stop by the studio and take it anytime.”

    Rome mayor declares September 'black month' as spate of rape cases leaves Italy shocked

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Virignia Raggi calls for special laws to be introduced to tackle violence against women in the country.

    Hungary to consult public on alleged Soros migrant plan

    From Europe. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Budapest targets philanthropist over supposed scheme to flood Europe with immigrants

    Palestinians submit Israel 'war crime' evidence to ICC

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Four Palestinian groups allege high-level Israeli officials are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    Revealed: The high street restaurants so loud it's like eating next to a lawnmower

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Take-away anyone?

    The Good Place Is Still TV Heaven

    By Sophie Gilbert from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    This story contains spoilers through the whole first season of The Good Place.

    The moment The Good Place transformed from genially quirky sitcom to malevolently brilliant work of art came at the end of the first season, when Eleanor (Kristen Bell) finally twigged that something was extremely wrong with heaven. After dying in the first episode and being welcomed by an angel named Michael (Ted Danson) to a sterilized, fro-yo friendly paradise, Eleanor spent the series trying to earn her spot in The Good Place, since a clerical error seemed to have sent her there by accident. But observing how efficiently the afterlife emotionally tortured Eleanor and her three new friends, she concluded that it was actually The Bad Place, a.k.a. hell. With that, Michael’s gentle expression twisted into a diabolical grin, revealing the monster he’d been all along.

    Not since a journalist morphed into Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate has a metamorphosis been so jarring. Of course, there were clues: Michael kicked a puppy in the very second episode, and no self-respecting Elysium so closely resembles a chichi outdoor mall in Pasadena. But Eleanor wasn’t the only target. We, the audience, had been fooled into thinking The Good Place was just a zany comedy about a drunken pharmaceutical rep who lucks her way into heaven, but really it was a much craftier and more complex beast, using food puns and toilet humor to disguise a show that was deeply interested in the moral philosophy of existence. When Eleanor scribbled a note to herself to “find Chidi,” her “soulmate” (William Jackson Harper) who actually ended up being her soulmate, she wrote it on a page ripped from T.M. Scanlon’s What We Owe to Each Other, a 1998 treatise that considers the duty humans have to be good to one another.

    The brilliance of the twist was that it upended everything viewers thought they knew about the show while also making perfect sense. Where could a second season go from there? Judging by the first four episodes, two of which air on Wednesday night before the show returns to a normal Thursday schedule, The Good Place’s showrunner, Michael Schur, has it all figured out. To reveal too much would be to spoil the surprise, but the second series picks up where the first left off, with Eleanor in The Good Place 2.0, her memory wiped, trying to decipher the note she wrote for herself while acclimating to an afterlife that’s just as strange as ever, though tinged with a more palpable darkness.

    The most obvious advantage of The Good Place post-reveal is that it allows Danson to play up his devilish side. His fiendish giggle from the finale, rapidly immortalized in GIF form, offered a glimpse of Michael’s potential as a baddie, but he’s not just evil in the new episodes—he’s in trouble. Understandably so, since the (dubious) conceit of The Good Place is that it’s a worthwhile investment to recruit hundreds of demons as actors and construct a huge paradise just to torture four souls who weren’t even that terrible during their time on Earth. (In addition to Eleanor, Michael’s carefully crafted hell-alternative was designed to plague Chidi, a Senegalese ethics professor who can’t make decisions; Tahani (Jameela Jamil), a self-absorbed and shallow philanthropist; and Jason (Manny Jacinto), a moronic DJ and wannabe dancer from Jacksonville.)

    The Good Place has always had elements of a workplace comedy, but with Michael intent on finding ways to make his elaborate idea work, the show is now more explicitly akin to The Office and Parks and Recreation (both of which Schur also worked on). Michael gives himself comforting pep talks about confidence before Skype meetings with his boss, a demonic higher-up (Marc Evan Jackson). And he has to negotiate with his disgruntled underlings, most of whom want to go back to their old jobs pulling out fingernails, tossing people into acid pits, and working the old (self-explanatory) penis flattener. There’s a meta element, too, with the demon who played Real Eleanor last season (Tiya Sircar) now unhappy with her new, diminished role (“There’s a great arc coming for Denise the Pizza Lady,” Michael tells her, placatingly.)

    Watching the first few episodes, I was concerned that it all seemed too scattered, with Groundhog Day–like repetition that could quickly become wearing. But I wasn’t giving Schur enough credit. There’s a distinct plan in place, one that opens up all kinds of new narrative ground for the show to explore. Along the way, it gets to pursue the most fascinating questions it set up last season. What does moral growth really mean? What if The Good/Bad Place ended up redeeming the four souls it was designed to torture? What if Michael, in trying to devise a hell for others, created a world that ended up tormenting him just as much? And, most intriguingly, what does the real Good Place look like?

    These are complex existential questions for a show obsessed with terrible puns (“Knish From a Rose,” “Biscotti Pippen,” and “Beignet and the Jets” are a few of the bakeries in the new, improved Good/Bad Place), one that has space in its universe for something called “butthole spiders.” But that’s the magic of The Good Place: The bad stuff is really what makes it special.

    Rape charges against two schoolboys dropped, Australian police ordered to pay thousands in costs

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Two 13-year-old boys saw their charges dropped over the alleged sexual assault of a six-year-old girl.

    A Presidential Misunderstanding of Deterrence

    By Ankit Panda from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    How are we to make sense of the president of the United States—a man with unitary launch authority for over a thousand nuclear weapons—going before the United Nations General Assembly and threatening to annihilate a sovereign state? That’s exactly what President Donald Trump did on Tuesday, halfway into a long, winding speech on everything from sovereignty to UN funding. “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump read carefully from his teleprompter. In one breath, he touted the virtues of the nation-state and sovereignty and, in another, promised the utter destruction of a sovereign state.

    While Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric and threat to commit a horrific act expressly forbidden by international humanitarian law will surely go down in General Assembly history, their underlying logic is undeniably familiar. The remarks echoed similar, countless deterrent threats levied against North Korea by past U.S. presidents with more subtlety and innuendo, perhaps allowing for a more calibrated and flexible response. But ultimately vowing to “totally destroy” North Korea if America or its allies come under attack is, in fact, not all that sharp a break from existing U.S. policy.

    That familiarity, however, shouldn’t obscure that this kind of posturing is precisely the kind of rhetorical exercise that can exacerbate North Korea's insecurity and lead to deadly miscalculation—miscalculation that would, now, almost certainly expose Americans, South Koreans, and Japanese, to nuclear attack.

    Unlike Trump’s off-the-cuff August promise to respond to continued threats from Kim Jong Un with “fire and fury,” his latest words were presumably the product of interagency coordination—or at least considered speechwriting reflecting policy. As a result, they reflect a bona fide U.S. position. “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” Trump added in his speech, using his nickname-of-choice for Kim.

    Why is Trump so seemingly vexed by North Korea? His speech came within weeks of Kim’s test of what was allegedly a compact thermonuclear device, which yielded an energy level an order of magnitude greater than the regime’s previous nuclear tests. Moreover, last week, for the first time ever, North Korea demonstrated its ability to fly a ballistic missile—one perhaps capable of carrying precisely the nuclear device that it claimed to have tested—to the U.S. territory of Guam. The test was also the second ballistic missile launch by North Korea to overfly Japan's territory. (North Korea had previously only launched satellite launch vehicles over Japanese territory.)

    For anyone even peripherally aware of North Korea’s bellicosity, none of this is new. The Kim regime is a loathsome and serial violator of human rights, leaving its people’s interests subservient to its pursuit of what it sees as absolute security under a nuclear umbrella. But the world has dealt with all of this before. Over multiple administrations, senior U.S. officials, including presidents, have threatened to bring grievous harm to North Korea should it ever initiate a war against America or its allies. President Barack Obama, in his first summit with former South Korean President Park Geun Hye in 2013, noted that the United States would defend its ally with the “full range of capabilities available, including the deterrence provided by [its] conventional and nuclear forces.” Similarly, senior U.S. officials regularly promise an “effective and overwhelming” response to any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies by North Korea.

    That phrase was emphasized last year by Ash Carter and John Kerry, the then-secretaries of defense and state, respectively, and repeated recently by their successors, Jim Mattis and Rex Tillerson, in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed outlining Trump’s North Korea policy. Clarifying that there are conditions under which North Korea would elicit its own destruction at the hands of the United States, then, has been a part of how Washington talks to and about North Korea. North Korea knows that a nuclear attack against the United States or its allies would lead to massive U.S. nuclear retaliation—total destruction, in other words. These threats, while undoubtedly gruesome, serve two important strategic ends: They reinforce deterrence against North Korea and reassure America’s allies that, if attacked, they would be backed by Washington’s full military might—including the nuclear weapons at its disposal.

    The use of the conditional “if” in the above statements, and even in Trump’s General Assembly speech, is critical, as was what came before it. That’s why his promise of “fire and fury,” implying that the United States would use nuclear weapons first against North Korea in response to mere threats rather than specific actions, were of such concern.

    But Trump’s remarks at the General Assembly are cause for concern, too. “Fire and fury” aside, official U.S. language has, of late, grown both more apocalyptic in style and less clear in substance—with implications for deterrence stability. On August 9, for example, on the 72nd anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki by the United States, Mattis released a statement noting that North Korea “should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.” Ultimately, these cavalier threats—some euphemistic and some less so—to “destroy” a country of 25 million people are a reminder of the dirty business that underpins nuclear deterrence and brinkmanship.

    As Thomas Schelling observed decades ago, the possession of nuclear weapons meant that “Military strategy could no longer be the science of military victory.” Instead, strategy “would be the art of coercion, intimidation and deterrence.” The implication: Telling your adversaries exactly how you’ll harm them and for what behaviors can be the clearest incentive for them to steer clear of those behaviors.

    But let’s be real. Trump’s statement wasn’t a considered attempt at establishing what Schelling called the “balance of terror” between the United States and North Korea. Arguably, the threats of “effective and overwhelming” responses have communicated the consequences of any attack to North Korea now for years; if Pyongyang is familiar with America’s credible threat of massive nuclear retaliation, why rock the boat at the UN with needless braggadocio? Trump's remarks must be considered along with his administration's bumbling signaling to Kim, which has given him the impression that everything—ranging from direct diplomacy with fewer preconditions than the Obama administration imposed, to a preemptive strike—remains “on the table.”

    Most importantly, however, it’s impossible to make sense of Trump’s threat without considering that second sentence, which implied that Kim—the “Rocket Man”—is on “a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.” The concept of suicide, when applied to nation-states and regimes, comes with a strong implication: That they do not seek survival above all else. Extending that reasoning, a nation-state that does not seek survival but instead seeks suicide cannot be deterred with threats of total destruction. If Kim Jong Un is indeed “suicidal” in his pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles, he is presumably irrational and, as a result, cannot be deterred.

    Trump’s advisors have also intimated that Kim may be similarly irrational. H.R. McMaster, his national security advisor, recently argued that his brutality meant that “classical deterrence theory” didn’t apply to him—never mind that Mao Zedong’s China and the Soviet Union were similarly repressive and characterized as rogue, unstable regimes. Nevertheless, they were deterred.

    Both McMaster and Trump are wrong about the Rocket Man. He tests his missiles for entirely rational reasons. Not only does he seek survival above all—that's his entire reason for building a nuclear arsenal in the first place. As an editorial in North Korea's state-run Rodong Sinmun observed in August, the regime’s core takeaway from the submission of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to disarmament efforts—and their ultimate fates—is that “nuclear possessors did not suffer military aggression.” Kim calculates that as soon as he’s able to place that nuclear device he tested on September 3 on the intercontinental-range missile he first tested on July 4 and fly it to the contiguous United States, his survival is guaranteed. That’s how he wins: by forcing Trump into a corner where initiating a regime-change war seeking North Korea’s “total destruction” would instead put Washington on a “suicidal” course. It’s unclear if Trump and his advisors understand this just yet. The repeated threats suggest they either don't or are content to erode U.S. credibility for little reward.

    If sanctions don’t change North Korea’s behavior, and if diplomacy is unpalatable to Trump, and war is an unacceptably costly option, the most likely path is for deterrence to continue to hold between Washington and Pyongyang. Allowing that to happen will not only require the Trump administration to take North Korea's capabilities seriously, but to communicate its own deterrent threats as clearly as possible.

    If Trump wanted to reinforce deterrence with North Korea at the General Assembly podium, all he need to do was succinctly communicate that any use of nuclear weapons would elicit the standard “effective and overwhelming” U.S. response. We know what that means; North Korea does, too. And so do U.S. allies. Instead, Trump delivered another round of inelegant and potentially destabilizing messaging that will only harden Kim’s resolve to continue apace with his ballistic missile and nuclear weapons development, and heighten the prospects for catastrophic miscalculation.

    How to check which of your iPhone and iPad apps won't work on iOS 11

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Flappy Bird fans, you might want to look at this before you install the new update.

    Nigel Farage spectacularly mocked for delivering a letter of complaint to BBC

    By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Ukip, we Photoshop.

    Like a solitary pensioner finally taking action over Robertsons jam changing its logo, Nigel Farage decided to march in person to the BBC’s New Broadcasting House to deliver a letter of complaint.

    He (or some poor assistant behind him) took a ludicrous video of him walking there, then holding up a piece of blank-looking paper:

    A moving and defiant act of protest, I’m sure you’ll agree.

    Unfortunately for the former Ukip leader – but happily for the entire internet – this was extremely easy to Photoshop:

    …and also easy to parody:

    Your mole should inform you that Farage’s complaint is about a voxpop of a member of the public taken by a BBC journalist. When interviewed, the resident of Harlow, Essex, claimed the Brexiteer had “blood on his hands” for the death of a local Polish man last year.

    Rather ironic for Nigel “voice of the people” Farage to be complaining about a voxpop by a member of the public – especially considering how often he pops up as a talking head on the BBC himself. Speaking of which, perhaps he can do some filming while he waits for a response to his complaint, as he’s in the area…

    Still from Twitter

    Catalans goad Spain in its most acute political crisis since 1981

    From Europe. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    A settlement before an independence referendum seems out of reach, writes Tony Barber

    Cameroon using 'anti-terror' law to silence media: CPJ

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Committee to Protect Journalists say government uses anti-terror law to silence and intimidate the media in Cameroon.

    Brazilian judge sparks outrage after backing psychologist offering 'gay conversion therapy'

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Psychologist described homosexuality as a "disease" and urged patients to seek religious guidance.

    Likely transfer of entire Bedouin town 'unprecedented'

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Palestinian community of Khan al-Ahmar pessimistic over upcoming verdict by Israel's top court on forced eviction case.

    The Golden Age of Animal Tracking

    By Marina Koren from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    In 1804, a young naturalist named John James Audubon tied silver threads to the legs of the eastern phoebes, tiny white-and-brown songbirds, that lived in a nest near his home near Philadelphia. The birds soon flew away for the winter. The following spring, two returned with threads still attached. The experiment marked the first recorded use of bird banding in America, a technique for studying migration patterns.

    More than two centuries later, technology, particularly the wonder of GPS, has turned silver threads into tags, sensors, and other devices capable of tracking all kinds of species around the world. Today, researchers get text-message alerts from collars worn by elephants in Kenya. They can stick tags on the shells of turtles or attach sensors to the fur of seals that transmit information with the help of satellites. They can even glue tiny barcodes to the backs of carpenter ants.

    These are just a few of the projects described in Where the Animals Go, a book by geographer James Cheshire and designer Oliver Uberti, out this week in the United States. Cheshire and Uberti spoke to dozens of scientists tracking animals, from owls and elk to pythons and hyenas, and turned their data into a collection of 50 beautiful maps.

    The maps show the paths the animals take as they cross desert, forest, ice, and ocean to feed, breed, and survive. The maps reveal what Audubon couldn’t see when he tied his silver thread to the birds: a journey. Some are especially quirky, as in the case of the seagulls who made daily trips to a city in France that was 40 miles away from their breeding colony. When researchers visited the site to investigate, they found the gulls feasting on discarded food outside of a potato-chip factory.

    I spoke with Uberti and Cheshire about animal-tracking technology and the strange places it takes us. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

    Marina Koren: So your book introduces us to a fairly new era of tracking animals using technology. Can you tell me about the era that we’ve left behind? How did humans track animals before they could stick GPS tags on them?

    Oliver Uberti: Until fairly recently, tracking involves looking for footprints, looking for fallen feathers, broken branches, droppings—any sign that an animal has passed through. Then around the past couple centuries, you start to get people like John James Audubon, who are tying threads to the legs of songbirds to prove that they’re actually returning to the same place every year. And then in the 20th century, you start to get people doing some real DIY tracking where they’re attaching cameras to pigeons or radio transmitters to a duck. But it’s only really been in the past 20 to 30 years that GPS has come on the scene, and then after that the miniaturization of computing power and the internet and satellites—it’s literally just exploded what you can do in a really tiny device.

    James Cheshire: We’ve really transitioned from monitoring animals as a resource to be exploited to monitoring them as individuals within a species that we can collect a myriad of data from. Prior to the animal-tracking revolution, one of the biggest data sets collected on whales came from where we killed them, from whaling ship logs. There’s now sensors that they’ve got on whales that collect more data points than the sum total of the data collected in the previous five decades or more of research.

    Koren: What kind of technology do we use today?

    Uberti: There’s really no “one size fits all.” Scientists tailor tracking tags to the species and to the study, and that all depends on the environment that the animal lives in. GPS doesn’t penetrate underwater, so if you’re tracking a marine animal like a shark or a turtle, you need to have a device that can transmit when the animal comes to the surface and gets a brief, sometimes split-second window to shoot up to a satellite and transmit. Or you need a device that can release off the animal and float to the surface and then transmit. If you’re talking about songbirds, there’s protections in place to make sure they’re not taking tiny little songbirds that weigh only a few grams and saddling them with a giant computer. You talk about tracking plankton—you’re not even using a computer. You’re setting up an environment in an aquarium, you turn off all the lights, and you inject the plankton with a fluorescent particle like they use to track cancer in some medical technologies. And in the darkness, the individual plankton fluoresce and, by recording that with cameras, [scientists] can watch the illuminated animals move up and down the water column in response to UV light.

    [At the Save the Elephants organization,] they can get text messages if they think elephants are in danger, if they’re moving too slowly, which is often a result of being shot by poachers or herders who’ve been scared because the livestock are coming close to these elephants and they don’t know what to do. If the animal is moving slower than it’s expected to move, the GPS tags notice and their accelerometers inside notice. It’s much like the way Google Maps can track different traffic patterns on the road by how fast they’re expecting you to be moving. If the elephant moves below a threshold, then it sends out an alert and Save the Elephants can dispatch rangers and law enforcement to check on the animal immediately.

    Koren: How did you go about visualizing the immense data sets from the sicentists you talked to?

    Uberti: When the data comes out raw from the tags, it’s an immense hairball. Tracks of many, many mountain lions, for instance, are all tangled on top of each other. To really tell any story of what the animals experienced or what the scientists are investigating, we try to turn big data into small data, and highlight one or two individual animals and walk you through or swim you through or fly you through what that animal experiences. It was a lot of editing down, taking out extraneous tracks, and really zeroing in on the lives of a few individuals.

    Cheshire: Getting the right base-mapping information, all of the contextual stuff that goes around the tracks—that was a huge amount of effort, actually. It was probably more work than dealing with the actual animal data itself because we needed to make sure that what we were showing on those maps was relevant to that particular animal. We wanted to create maps that conveyed some of the environmental conditions. For example, when we mapped snowy owls over the Great Lakes, the satellite imagery we used for that roughly comes from the same time as when the owls themselves were flying over them, so you could see the same ice floes that the owls are seeing.

    Koren: What was it like to look at a completed map, see a bunch of squiggles, and know that that’s an animal going about its life?

    Uberti: This all goes back to an elephant named Annie, who I first mapped years ago. I saw where her GPS tracker stopped recording in [southeastern Chad], where she and a number of her companions had been killed by poachers. Mapping her moving through her environment, waiting till nighttime to cross the roads, to avoid interaction with humans, and then just watching her life stop on a map—that was the first time a map had connected me to an individual animal. It’s easy to think of animals when you hear about them, when you watch nature specials on TV, as furry robots that are just kind of preprogrammed, moving about the earth, doing what they as a species are assigned to do. And when you look at these tracks, you see in each individual path animals making decisions that are unique to them—what they like to eat, where they like to go.

    Koren: The maps in the book really make clear how animal migrations transcend borders, whether it’s of national parks or nations. Has your idea of borders changed after seeing just how irrelevant they are for animals?

    Uberti: It confirmed my own assumptions that borders don’t exist in the natural world. A great example of that goes back to the first GPS tracking study in Africa, where Cynthia Moss was doing research on elephants in Amboseli [in Kenya]. Some of her elephants were leaving and crossing the border into Tanzania into wildlife hunting ground and were being shot. When they confronted the Tanzanian government and the hunters about it, the hunters said, oh, no, these are our elephants in Tanzania, they’re not yours from Kenya. So Moss got Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of Save the Elephants, and he put two [sensors] on two elephants, and sure enough, one of them crossed over the border into Tanzania. Here you had this undeniable proof that animals don’t follow human borders.

    Border walls and pipelines make headlines, but far more insidious in their effect on animal behavior are freeways and fences. Mountain lions in Los Angeles are completely marooned on genetic islands in the Santa Monica and the Santa Ana Mountains because of this web of freeways, many of them eight, 10 lanes long, that the animal can’t get across. And if they can’t get an influx of DNA from animals from outside their population, they’re doomed by inbreeding.

    Cheshire: It’s certainly true that animals don’t care about national borders, but the national borders themselves and the geopolitics around them still have big impacts on animals. We have a story about a wolf named Slavc who walked across Europe and starts in Slovenia and finishes in Italy and goes via Austria. Each of those countries had different laws and different attitudes toward large carnivores and whether they could be hunted. So for the researcher who was tracking Slavc’s progress, it was a real roller coaster, because as soon as Slavc stepped over the Austrian border, the chances of him getting hunted were bigger because there are laws there that mean you can shoot stray dogs. An animal doesn’t have to show a passport to cross from one country to another, but the impacts, when they do, can still have a big difference on their life chances.

    Koren: What does the future of animal-tracking technology look like?

    Cheshire: Stuff is going to get smaller and more powerful and cheaper to deploy. But the real interesting stuff is going to be what the researchers are able to do with the data when they get back to their labs, and start crunching through these big sets of numbers they’ve got, and see if they can look at the health of an ecosystem almost in real time. Researchers are now looking into how animals interact with one another, with predators, with prey. It’s those interactions that dictate how successful an animal is—are they getting enough food, are they able to hunt, are they able to breed? [Researchers] are beginning to tag enough animals within an ecosystem to see how those interactions are playing out.

    Koren: Has working on this book changed the way you look at animals in your everyday life, even just a squirrel on the street?

    Cheshire: For sure. There’s a tree in my backyard that has songbirds in it that come and go. Before, I didn’t pay them much attention, but now I’m wondering how long they’re going to hang around for, where they’re going to go, where they’ve been.

    Uberti: The Wallace Stevens stanza that we excerpt kind of sums it up for me. “When the blackbird flew out of sight, it marked the edge of one of many circles.” Working on this book just made me think that way about all the animals I see in my day, whether it was a roebuck that jumped past me while hiking in Slovenia, to a lizard that skirted out from underneath a trash can here in Los Angeles, or the brown widow spider I saw last night outside of my flowerpots in my backyard. So much is happening outside of what we can see for ourselves.

    French Socialists forced to sell Paris headquarters

    From Europe. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Cash-strapped party could raise more than €30m from selling property in chic Left Bank

    Australian who masturbated on kid clothes on neighbour's washing line wins bid to work with children

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Man explained he was under pressure at the time he committed act and did not intend to cause any harm.

    8 statistics proving that the housing market eats millennials for breakfast

    By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    It used to take three years to save up a deposit. Now it takes 19. 

    Labour’s most popular manifesto promise in the 2017 snap election, according to YouGov, was not scrapping tuition fees or nationalising the railways. It was capping rents in line with inflation. 

    There is a reason it captured the imagination. The average house costs 7.6 times the average salary, according to the Office for National Statistics – a figure that disguises the swollen property markets in the cities where aspiring buyers are most likely to find work. In a society that values home ownership, workers in their 30s and 40s are still sharing rented flats – often part of a portfolio of buy-to-let properties owned by babyboomer landlords. 

    And yet, at the same time, the housing market shows up our collective lack of imagination. Millennials are still instructed to "get on the housing ladder", as if renting was just another peculiar fad, or to stop drinking lattes, as if the nation's coffee habits kept up with the 259 per cent increase in house prices between 1997 and 2016. 

    A new report from the Resolution Foundation shows how the housing market is widening inequality. Here are some of the most startling facts: 

    1. 30 somethings

    Half a century ago, only one in ten 30 year olds lived in private rented accommodation. Today, four in ten do. 

    2. That saving feeling

    A generation ago, the average young family could save up a typical deposit for a house in three years. Today, that same family would have to save for 19 years. 

    3. The rents

    Today’s families headed by 30 year olds are only half as likely to own their home as their parents were at the same age.

    4. A tuppence on a mortgage

    In the 1960s and 1970s, homeowners with a mortgage spent about 5 per cent of their income on housing costs, while renters spent 10 per cent. In 2016, mortgage borrowers pay around 12 per cent of their income on housing costs. But here’s the biggie – private renters were paying 36 per cent of their income on housing costs. 

    5. Generation commute

    Resolution estimates that by the time millennials turn 40, they will spend close to three more full days commuting than their parents did at the same age. 

    6. Gradual improvements

    According to the first National House Condition Survey in 1967, one in five properties did not have a sufficient supply of hot water, and one in ten was deemed unfit for habitation. Fast forward 50 years, and one in ten homes still have no central heating, and one in five fail the decent homes standard. Both in 1967 and 2017, the worst cases could be found in the private rented sector. 

    7. Cosy times

    On average, a household member in private rented accommodation has seven square meters less today than they did in 1996. By contrast, homeowners have an extra seven square meters. 

    8. Antisocial housing

    In 1981, nearly one in three families lived in relatively affordable and secure social rented housing. Today, just 14 per cent of families do. 



    What Happened reveals Hillary Clinton as a smart thinker – unlike the man who beat her

    By Helen Lewis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Those asking why she blames everyone but herself for Donald Trump clearly haven't read the book.

    Hillary Clinton is smug, entitled, dislikeable, hawkish, boring. She was unable to beat a terrible Republican presidential candidate. Why doesn’t she just shut up and sod off? Bernie would have won, you know. Sexism? There’s no sexism in opposing someone who left Libya a mess and voted for the Iraq War. Also, she had slaves.

    This is a small sample of the reactions I’ve had since tweeting that I was reading Clinton’s memoir of the 2016 campaign. This is one of those books that comes enveloped in a raincloud of received opinion. We knew the right hated Clinton – they’ve spent three decades furious that she wanted to keep her maiden name and trying to implicate her in a murder, without ever quite deciding which of those two crimes was worse. But the populist candidacy of Bernie Sanders provoked a wave of backlash from the left, too. You now find people who would happily go to sleep in a nest made out of copies of Manufacturing Consent mouthing hoary Fox News talking points against her.

    One of the recurrent strains of left-wing criticism is that Clinton should apologise for losing to Trump – or perhaps even for thinking that she could beat him in the first place. Why does she blame everyone but herself?

    Perhaps these people haven’t read the book, because it’s full of admissions of error. Using a private email server was a “boneheaded mistake”; there was a “fundamental mismatch” between her managerial approach to politics and the mood of the country; giving speeches to Wall Street is “on me”; millions of people “just didn’t like me… there’s no getting round it”.

    Ultimately, though, she argues that it was a “campaign that had both great strengths and real weaknesses – just like every campaign in history”. This appears to be what has infuriated people, and it’s hard not to detect a tinge of sexist ageism (bore off, grandma, your time has passed). Those who demand only grovelling from the book clearly don’t care about finding lessons for future candidates: if the problem was Hillary and Hillary alone, that’s solved. She’s not running in 2020.

    Clinton marshals a respectable battalion of defences. Historically, it is very unusual for an American political party to win three elections in a row. The Democrats (like Labour in Britain) have longstanding problems with white working-class voters outside the big cities. Facebook was flooded with fake news, such as the story that the Pope had endorsed Trump. And besides, Clinton did win three million more votes than her Republican rival.

    Added to which, it is now hard to deny that Russia interfered heavily in the US election, with Trump’s approval – “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he told a press conference in July 2016 – and perhaps even with the active collusion of his campaign. The next Democratic candidate will have to reckon with all this.

    The election outcome would have been different if just 40,000 voters in three key swing states had flipped, so there are dozens of potential culprits for Clinton’s loss. But perhaps one of the reasons that many in the US media have been so hostile to the book is that it paints them as such villains. Even now, it is common to hear that Clinton “didn’t have an economic message”, when a better criticism is that no one got to hear it.

    In their mission not to be accused of “elite bias”, the media desperately hunted for bad things to say about Clinton, when none of her offences came close to the gravity of a totally unqualified, unstable man with no government experience going on a year-long bender of saying mad shit and boasting about sexual assault. In both the primary against Sanders and the general election, she was treated as the obvious next president, and held to a different standard. (Incidentally, there is surprisingly little criticism of Sanders in here; she credits him with helping to write her policy platform.)

    The book is at its best when it reflects on gender, a subject which has interested Clinton for decades. She calculates that she spent 600 hours during the campaign having her hair and make-up done, as “the few times I’ve gone out in public without make-up, it’s made the news”. She writes about the women she met who were excited to vote for a female president for the first time. She mentions the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation, where 3.8 million people cheered on her candidacy. (Tellingly, the group was invite-only.)

    Yet Clinton was never allowed to be a trailblazer in the way that Barack Obama was. That must be attributed to the belief, common on the left and right, that whiteness and wealth cancel out any discrimination that a woman might otherwise suffer: pure sexism doesn’t exist.

    The narrative of the US election is that Clinton was deeply unpopular, and while that’s true, so was Trump. But where were the interviews with the 94 per cent of African-American women who voted for her, compared with the tales of white rage in Appalachia? “The press coverage and political analysis since the election has taken as a given that ‘real America’ is full of middle-aged white men who wear hard hats and work on assembly lines – or did until Obama ruined everything,” she writes.

    Clinton faces the uncomfortable fact that whites who feel a sense of “loss” are more attracted by Trump’s message than Americans with objectively worse material conditions who feel life might get better. That is an opportunity for the left, and a challenge: many of those Trump voters aren’t opposed to benefits per se, just the idea they might go to the undeserving. Universal healthcare will be a hard sell if it is deemed to be exploited by, say, undocumented immigrants.

    Yes, What Happened is occasionally ridiculous. There’s a section on “alternate nostril breathing” as a relaxation technique that a kinder editor would have cut. The frequent references to her Methodism will seem strange to a British audience. The inspirational stories of the people she meets on the campaign trail can feel a little schmaltzy. But it reveals its author as a prodigious reader, a smart thinker and a crafter of entire sentences. Unlike the man who beat her. 

    What Happened
    Hillary Clinton
    Simon & Schuster, 494pp, £20


    Oman's Sailing Stars

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    How four young Omani women sailors challenge stereotypes and push the limits to represent their country internationally.

    Massive Google leak reveals Pixel 2 price and design, Amazon Echo Dot-like 'Home Mini' smart speaker

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    New 'Pixel' Chromebook and Daydream VR headset also leaked ahead of October event.

    Erdogan warns of sanctions over Kurds' independence bid

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Turkish leader says Ankara is mulling sanctions if Iraq's Kurdistan region proceeds with September 25 referendum.

    The Grinch that stole Christmas? Mariah Carey sued by choir who claim she left them shortchanged

    From : World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Broadway Inspirational Voices sued diva for $67,500 after she cut them from Beacon Theater Christmas concert.

    Invention of the Mizrahim

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Israel invented the word Mizrahim to strip Arab Jews of their histories as they tried to do with Palestinians.

    The Srebrenicans are standing with the Rohingya

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Survivors of genocide are obliged to take action when others are being threatened with the treatment they once received.

    Here's what Theresa May could say to save the Brexit talks

    By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The best option would be to invent a time machine, but unfortunately that's not on the table. 

    One of my favourite types of joke is the logical impossibility: a statement that seems plausible but, on closer examination, is simply impossible and contradictory. “If you break both legs, don’t come running to me” is one. The most famous concerns a hapless tourist popping into a pub to ask for directions to London, or Manchester, or Belfast or wherever. “Well,” the barman replies, “I wouldn’t have started from here.”

    That’s the trouble, too, with assessing what the government should do next in its approach to the Brexit talks: I wouldn’t have started from here.

    I wouldn’t have started from a transient Leave campaign that offered a series of promises that can’t be reconciled with one another, but that’s the nature of a referendum in which the government isn’t supporting the change proposition. It’s always in the interest of the change proposition to be at best flexible and at worst outright disregarding of the truth.

    Britain would be better off if it were leaving the European Union after a vote in which a pro-Brexit government had already had to prepare a white paper and an exit strategy before seeking popular consent. Now the government is tasked with negotiating the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union with a mandate that is contradictory and unclear. (Take immigration. It’s clear that a majority of people who voted to leave want control over Britain’s borders. But it’s also clear that a minority did not and if you take that minority away, there’s no majority for a Leave vote.

    Does that then mean that the “democratic” option is a Brexit that prioritises minimising economic harm at the cost of continuing free movement of people? That option might command more support than the 52 per cent that Leave got but it also runs roughshod over the concerns that really drove Britain’s Leave vote.

    You wouldn’t, having had a referendum in inauspicious circumstances, have a government that neglected to make a big and genuinely generous offer on the rights of the three million citizens of the European Union currently living in the United Kingdom.

    In fact the government would have immediately done all it could to show that it wanted to approach exit in a constructive and co-operative manner. Why? Because the more difficult it looks like the departing nation is going to be, the greater the incentive the remaining nations of the European Union have to insist that you leave via Article 50. Why? Because the Article 50 process is designed to reduce the leverage of the departing state through its strict timetable. Its architect, British diplomat John Kerr, envisaged it being used after an increasingly authoritarian state on the bloc’s eastern periphery found its voting rights suspended and quit “in high dudgeon”.

    The strict timeframe also hurts the European Union, as it increases the chances of an unsatisfactory or incomplete deal. The only incentive to use it is if the departing nation is going to behave in a unconstructive way.

    Then if you were going to have to exit via the Article 50 process, you’d wait until the elections in France and Germany were over, and restructure Whitehall and the rest of the British state so it was fit to face the challenges of Brexit. And you wouldn’t behave so shabbily towards the heads of the devolved administrations that Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP and Carwyn Jones of the Welsh Labour Party have not become political allies.

    So having neglected to do all of that, it’s hard to say: here’s what Theresa May should say in Florence, short of inventing time travel and starting the whole process again from scratch.

    What she could do, though, is show flexibility on the question of British contributions to the European budget after we leave, and present a serious solution to the problem of how you ensure that the rights of three million EU citizens living in Britain have a legal backdrop that can’t simply be unpicked by 325 MPs in the House of Commons, and show some engagement in the question of what happens to the Irish border after Brexit.

    There are solutions to all of these problems – but the trouble is that all of them are unacceptable to at least part of the Conservative Party. A reminder that, as far as the trouble with Brexit goes, Theresa May is the name of the monster – not the doctor. 

    Photo: Getty

    Brexit bill battle switches from principle to price

    From Europe. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    May is preparing to make an opening offer but will it be enough?

    Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

    By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

    Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

    On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

    Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

    This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

    In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

    There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

    It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

    This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 


    Why are Moby, Ed Sheeran and Laura Mvula putting on gigs in the living rooms of total strangers?

    By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Billy Bragg, The National and Nothing But Thieves are all doing the same.

    Depending on your personal taste, Ed Sheeran turning up at your house, guitar in hand, to sings some earnest tunes could be a dream come true or a living nightmare. But what about The National? Or Moby? Or Laura Mvula? These are just some of the artists that have agreed to put on shows today in people’s homes around the world – from Washington DC to Cape Town.

    Today, over 1,000 artists will play “living room shows” in 60 countries as part of Give a Home, “the largest global festival ever held”. Organised by Sofar and Amnesty international , the concerts are being held to raise awareness of the refugee crisis, and as a guesture of solidarty with the 22 million refugees worldwide: fans were given the chance to donate to Amnesty when applying to win tickets.

    British rock group Nothing But Thieves have always injected a level of political consciousness into their songs. Their second album, Broken Machines, was released earlier this month, charting at number two in the UK album chart. I spoke to guitarist Joe Langridge-Brown about Give A Home and their concert tonight in London.

    Why did you agree to be a part of Give a Home?

    It’s just something that we’re passionate about. We write songs about the refugee crisis, and this is what we talk about as people: in the band, on the bus. My girlfriend works at NGOs like Care and Amnesty, so it’s something that we’re passionate about. When we got this opportunity to play we jumped at the chance - anything we can do to even marginally help, we will. This is going all around the world, Ed Sheeran’s doing one in Washington, and The National are doing one. It’s amazing how many bands and artists have got involved.

    Any you’re particular fans of?

    Well, I mean, Conor [Mason, lead singer] really likes the National – but they just beat us to number one album!

    Have you done a gig like this before?

    Yeah, absolutely. We like playing these stripped back sessions, it makes the song come alive a bit more in a way, because they’re really raw, and some of them were written like that: just acoustic guitar and voice.

    Do you think musicians and celebrities have a responsibility to engage with politics and issues like the refugee crisis?

    We feel that way. I feel like we would be letting ourselves down and neglecting some sort of duty to use your platform for good and for things that you believe in. I get that it’s not for every artist, and I don’t think every artist should be pressured into doing it. But personally, for us, we’re writing an album and we want it to say something. It wouldn’t represent us if it didn’t.

    What do you hope people who go to the gig will get from it?

    Hopefully it will give people a sense of community, that’s what this whole thing is about. Its about raising awareness for the refugee crisis: I mean, it affects 22 million lives. It’s important to do something that just lets refugees know that they’re welcome and safe. Anything we can do to help in that way would be a positive thing.

    What can people do to support refugees?

    You might have to ask my girlfriend! Just talking about it in a way that is compassionate is important. I think one of the problems we have, especially at the moment in the age of Facebook, is that although social media has done a world of good in some areas, it also creates an “us v them” enviroment, and I think that’s really dangerous for humanity. I don’t think that way of thinking is positive at all. If this can do anything to bring a sense of community and togetherness, then that would be amazing.


    How do the German elections work?

    From Al Jazeera English. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    On September 24, Germans will head out to the polls to choose the 19th Bundestag.

    A Climate Stress Test of Los Angeles' Water Quality Plans

    By Abdul Ahad Tariq; Robert J. Lempert; John Riverson; Marla Schwartz; Neil Berg from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Overall, this study suggests that climate change and land use can significantly affect TMDL implementation plans; identifies how one such plan might be modified to address the resulting vulnerabilities; and demonstrates how robust decision making methods, employed with existing simulation models, may be able to generate legally acceptable plans that are robust and flexible in the face of climate and other uncertainties.

    Prevalence and Predictors of Mental Health Programming Among U.S. Religious Congregations

    By Eunice C. Wong; Brad Fulton; Kathryn Pitkin Derose from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Nearly one in four U.S. religious congregations provide some type of programming to support people with mental illness.

    Store lifts ban on 'pillow fort' boy, 12

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    A New Zealand store had banned the boy for two years but his family say he was "just being a kid".

    Theresa May's speech is just the latest in politicians wilfully misunderstanding the internet

    By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    How the threat of terrorism is used to justify censorship and surveillance. 

    As is so often the case, The Daily Mail started it. After the Parsons Green attack last week, the newspaper wasted no time in allocating blame. A day after the tube bombing, the Mail's front page headline read: WEB GIANTS WITH BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS. 

    This isn't a new line of argument for the paper, which labelled Google "the terrorist's friend" after the Westminster attack in March. As I wrote in the magazine back in April, the government (with the aid of particular papers) consistently uses the threat of terrorism to challenge tech giants and thus justify extreme invasions of our online privacy. This year, Amber Rudd condemned WhatsApp's privacy-protecting encryption practices, the Snoopers' Charter passed with little fanfare, the Electoral Commission suggested social media trolls should be banned from voting, and now - just today - Theresa May has threatened web giants with fines if they fail to remove extremist content from their site in just two hours. 

    No one can disagree with the premise that Google, YouTube, and Facebook should remove content that encourages terrorism from their sites - and it is a premise designed to be impossible to disagree with. What we can argue against is the disproportional reactions by the government and the Mail, which seem to solely blame terrorism on our online freedoms, work against not with tech giants, and wilfully misunderstand the internet in order to push through ever more extreme acts of surveillance and censorship.

    It is right for May to put pressure on companies to go "further and faster" in tackling extremism - as she is due to say to the United Nations general assembly later today. Yet she is demanding artificially intelligent solutions that don't yet exist and placing an arbitrary two hour time frame on company action.

    In April, Facebook faced scrutiny after a video in which a killer shot a grandfather remained on the site for two hours. Yet Facebook actually acted within 23 minutes of the video being reported, and the delay was due to the fact that not one of their users flagged the content until one hour and 45 minutes after it had been uploaded. It is impossible for Facebook's team to trawl through everything uploaded on the site (100 million hours of video are watched on Facebook every day) but at present, the AI solutions May and other ministers demand don't exist. (And incidentally, the fact the video was removed within two hours didn't stop it being downloaded and widely shared across other social media sites). 

    As Jamie Bartlett, Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos, told me after a home affairs committee report accused Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube of "consciously failing" to tackle extremism last year:

    “The argument is that because Facebook and Twitter are very good at taking down copyright claims they should be better at tackling extremism. But in those cases you are given a hashed file by the copyright holder and they say: ‘Find this file on your database and remove it please’. This is very different from extremism. You’re talking about complicated nuanced linguistic patterns each of which are usually unique, and are very hard for an algorithm to determine.”

    At least May is in good company. Last November, health secretary Jeremy Hunt argued that it was up to tech companies to reduce the teenage suicide rate, helpfully suggesting "a lock" on phone contracts, referring to image-recognition technology that didn't exist, and misunderstanding the limitations of algorithms designed to limit abuse. And who can forget Amber Rudd's comment about the "necessary hashtags"? In fact, our own Media Mole had a round-up of blunderous statements made by politicians about technology after the Westminster attack, and as a bonus, here's a round-up of Donald Trump's best quotes about "the cyber". But in all seriousness, the government have to acknowledge the limits of technology to end online radicalisation.

    And not only do we need to understand limits - we need to impose them. Even if total censorship of extremist content was possible, does that mean its desirable to entrust this power to tech giants? As I wrote back in April: "When we ignore these realities and beg Facebook to act, we embolden the moral crusade of surveillance. We cannot at once bemoan Facebook’s power in the world and simultaneously beg it to take total control. When you ask Facebook to review all of the content of all of its billions of users, you are asking for a God." 


    #2: The Confession Tapes, Tricky's ununiform and Deep Blue Something

    By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The new NS culture podcast with Tom Gatti and Kate Mossman.

    On the New Statesman's new culture podcast, The Back Half, Tom Gatti and Kate Mossman discuss the Netflix true crime series The Confession Tapes and Tricky's new album ununiform. Plus, for their next noniversary, they celebrate "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Deep Blue Something. Listen on iTunes here, on Acast here or via the player below:

    The RSS feed is

    Get in touch on Twitter via @ns_podcasts.

    The theme music is "God Speed" by Pistol Jazz, licensed under Creative Commons.

    Creative Commons

    Islamic State 'execution' stopped by RAF drone in Syria

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    This is the moment an RAF drone stopped a public killing staged by so-called Islamic State in Syria.

    The New Statesman Cover: The revenge of the left

    By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    A first look at this week's magazine.

    22 - 28 September issue
    The revenge of the left

    Wanxiang Innovation Energy Fusion City

    By Rafiq Dossani; Marlon Graf; Eugene Han from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    RAND authors develop a mission statement and recommend policies to help achieve the Wanxiang Group's vision of developing the Wanxiang Innovation Energy Fusion City into an innovative cluster built around smart and green automotive technologies.

    As long as the Tories fail to solve the housing crisis, they will struggle to win

    By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The fall in the number of homeowners leaves the Conservatives unable to sell capitalism to those with no capital. 

    For the Conservatives, rising home ownership was once a reliable route to government. Former Labour voters still speak of their gratitude to Margaret Thatcher for the Right to Buy scheme. But as home ownership has plummeted, the Tories have struggled to sell capitalism to a generation without capital. 

    In Britain, ownership has fallen to 63.5 per cent, the lowest rate since 1987 and the fourth-worst in the EU. The number of private renters now exceeds 11 million (a larger number than in the social sector). The same policies that initially promoted ownership acted to reverse it. A third of Right to Buy properties fell into the hands of private landlords. High rents left tenants unable to save for a deposit.

    Rather than expanding supply, the Tories have focused on subsidising demand (since 2010, housebuilding has fallen to its lowest level since 1923). At a cabinet meeting in 2013, shortly after the launch of the government’s Help to Buy scheme, George Osborne declared: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up”. The then-chancellor’s remark epitomised his focus on homeowners. Conservative policy was consciously designed to enrich the propertied.

    A new report from the Resolution Foundation, Home Affront: housing across the generations, shows the consequences of such short-termism. Based on recent trends, less than half of millennials will buy a home before the age of 45 compared to over 70 per cent of baby boomers. Four out of every ten 30-year-olds now live in private rented accommodation (often of substandard quality) in contrast to one in ten 50 years ago. And while the average family spent just 6 per cent of their income on housing costs in the early 1960s, this has trebled to 18 per cent. 

    When Theresa May launched her Conservative leadership campaign, she vowed to break with David Cameron’s approach. "Unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising," she warned. "The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced. And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth."

    The government has since banned letting agent fees and announced an additional £1.4bn for affordable housing – a sector entirely neglected by Cameron and Osborne (see graph below). Social housing, they believed, merely created more Labour voters. "They genuinely saw housing as a petri dish for voters," Nick Clegg later recalled. "It was unbelievable." 

    But though housebuilding has risen to its highest levels since 2008, with 164,960 new homes started in the year to June 2017 and 153,000 completed, this remains far short of the 250,000 required merely to meet existing demand (let alone make up the deficit). In 2016/17, the government funded just 944 homes for social rent (down from 36,000 in 2010). 

    In a little-noticed speech yesterday, Sajid Javid promised a "top-to-bottom" review of social housing following the Grenfell fire. But unless this includes a substantial increase in public funding, the housing crisis will endure. 

    For the Conservatives, this would pose a great enough challenge in normal times. But the political energy absorbed by Brexit, and the £15bn a year it is forecast to cost the UK, makes it still greater.

    At the 2017 general election, homeowners voted for the Tories over Labour by 55 per cent to 30 per cent (mortgage holders by 43-40). By contrast, private renters backed Labour by 54 per cent to 31 per cent. As long as the latter multiply in number, while the former fall, the Tories will struggle to build a majority-winning coalition. 

    Photo: Getty

    How Gossip Girl changed the way we talk about television

    By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Recappers Chris Rovzar and Jessica Pressler reminisce about the Best. Show. Ever.

    If you watched Gossip Girl from 2007-2012, then you’ll know it was The Greatest Show of Our Time. Silly, ridiculous, insider-y, and deeply New York, Gossip Girl was a show that lived and died on its in jokes. For so many of the show’s viewers, talking about this ridiculous Rich Kids of The Upper East Side drama was as important as watching it. But, premiering in 2007, Gossip Girl aired at a time just before social media dominated television conversations. Now, every viewer has a channel to make memes about their favourite show as soon as it hits screens. Gossip Girl was a show about bitchy teenagers mocking each other that cried out for audiences to tease them, too. They just needed a space to do it in.

    Chris Rovzar and Jessica Pressler caught on to that fact early. TV recaps were still a fledgling genre when the Gossip Girl pilot emerged, but the New York Magazine writers could tell that this was a show that needed in-depth, ironic analysis, week on week. The most popular Gossip Girl recaps were born. These included the Reality Index (points awarded for, to take one episode, being “More Real Than Serena Sleeping With a Teacher After Less Than One Semester”), the cleavage rhombus (in tribute to Serena’s fashion choices), and the Most Obnoxious Real-Estate Conundrum of Our Time. If this is all second nature, you might even know what I mean when I say “No points, just saying.” It is these kinds of inside jokes that made New York Magazine’s Vulture recaps of the show so irresistible, and so influential. Each week, Rovzar and Pressler would run down the most absurd and the most spot-on New York moments of the episodes, and soon developed a cult following with a very devoted audience. Their recaps were became so popular that the creators responded to their burning questions, and the two were given a cameo on the show itself. They even also wrote recaps of the recaps, to include the best observations from hundreds of commenters.

    Now the show is over, their work has spawned a thousand similarly tongue-in-cheek TV blogs: from ever-popular Game of Thrones power rankings to new versions of the Reality Index for other shows. A decade after Gossip Girl first aired, I reminisced with Rovzar and Pressler about their contributions to the Best. Show. Ever.

    How did you come across Gossip Girl? Was it love at first watch?

    Jessica: I had just moved to New York. Chris and I were thrown together at New York Magazine vertical Daily Intelligencer. He was much more of a seasoned New York person who knew what things were cool, and I was this yahoo from a different city. I was basically Dan Humphrey, and he was Serena. He got the pilot from a publicist, and he said there was a lot of a hype. The O.C. had been a huge show. So the fact the creators [were] coming to New York, doing all these real location shoots, and it was going to be a New York-y show was exciting, especially to us, because we were in charge of covering local New York news at that point. And it was really boring in 2007! Everything exciting happened the following year, like the Eliot Spitzer scandal, but in 2007 there was nothing going on. And Sex in the City had just ended, so there was a void in that aspirational, glamorous, TV space. So we were like, we’re going to hype this up, and then we’ll have something really fun to write about. And it was fun!

    Chris: The CW needed a new hit, and it was the show that they were hoping would define the programming they would make going forward, so they really hyped it up before it aired. They sent us a screener. We watched it and realised that because they filmed it in New York, they were going to really use the city. It checked the boxes of Sex in the City and The O.C., with a young beautiful cast out in real world situations.

    Jessica and I decided that this show was going to be a show that we wanted to write about, because it was so New York-y. I don’t think our bosses cared either way. Our bosses were grown-ups! They didn’t watch Gossip Girl! But from the very beginning, we called it The Greatest Show of Our Time, because we knew it was going to be a really iconic New York show. And it was very good at making these running jokes or gags, like Blair with her headbands, or Serena with her super tight dresses.

    And the cleavage rhombus?

    Chris: And the cleavage rhombus! We eventually got to know the costume designer and the producers and the writers. Once they recognised the things that we were writing about in the show, they would adopt them. The cleavage rhombus came up a few more times because they knew the audience knew about the cleavage rhombus.

    Do you have an all-time favourite character or plot line or episode?

    Chris: Our favourite character was Dorota. She was very funny and the actress, Zuzanna Szadkowski, was very well used. I think we were all rooting for Chuck and Blair. Sometimes with shows like Friends, by the end, when Ross and Rachel finally get together, you think, “Hm, I’m not sure I wanted Ross and Rachel to get together.” But the show was good at making Chuck and Blair the central romance, and you were psyched about how that ended up.

    Jessica: Well, now, of course you look back and the Jared [Kushner] and Ivanka [Trump] cameo was, like, the best thing ever. It’s so nice to remember a time when those two were extras in our lives, instead of central characters. And then Nate, of course, went and bought that newspaper, which I believe was called The Spectator, which was a thinly veiled Observer. There was this succession of blonde temptresses brought in to tempt Nate. I don’t even know what he was supposed to be doing! I don’t know why they were there, or what their purpose was! But that was an ongoing theme, and that was kind of amazing. One was a schoolgirl, one was a mom. Catherine, and Juliet – and yes, I do remember all their names.

    But for us, it was the real stuff that was really fun. They put in cameos of people only we would know – like Jonathan Karp, the publisher at Simon & Schuster. Or the couple who run The Oracle Club [a members’ club in New York] – I saw them recently and we talked about how we still receive $45 royalty cheques from our cameos because an episode aired in Malaysia. And Armie Hammer! They really went out of their way to involve real New Yorkers.

    How did it work each week? Did you have screeners and write it leisurely in advance?

    Jessica: No, no, we had to do it live! We had a screener for the pilot. We got them probably three times in the whole course of the show. We would normally be up till three in the morning.

    Chris: My husband eventually stopped watching it with me because I was constantly pausing and rewinding it, asking: “What did they say? What was that? Did you see that street sign? Do you think that dress is Balenciaga?” It becomes very annoying to watch the show with someone who’s doing that. Each of us would do our own points and we would email them to each other and mix them up. That way you could cover a lot more stuff.

    What made you decide to do the Reality Index? Did you ever really disagree on points?

    Chris: It always more about wanting to say something funny than about the actual points. Very occasionally we would disagree over whether something was realistic or not. We were both adults, and there was a lot of trying to figure out what kids would do. Like in the first episode, they sent out paper invites for a party, and we said, “Oh, no, kids would use Evite!” And then a lot of readers were like “Are you kidding me? Kids would use Facebook cause this is 2007.” And we were like, “Oh yes, we’re not actually kids. We don’t know.”

    Jessica: We came from different places of expertise. He had been in New York so much longer than me. In a cotillion scene, he knew the name of the band that was playing, because he knew which bands people had come to play at cotillion. I was more like, “This is realisitic in terms of the emotional lives of teenagers.” But the Reality Index stopped being about reality early on, and we had to just had to comment on the cleavage rhombus instead.

    The comments were really important – how did you feel about all these people who seemed to have as intense feelings about the minute details of this show as you did?

    Chris: We definitely weren’t expecting it, more so because internet commenters on the whole are awful. They’re mean and they’re angry and they have an axe to grind. Our commenters were very funny and wanted to impress each other and wanted to make each other laugh. They were really talking to each other more than they were talking to us. We decided, a couple of years in, to start rounding up their comments and do a recap of the recap. This was one of the most rewarding parts about it, because they were just so smart and on top of it. And they definitely disagreed with us. A lot!

    Jessica: It did feel like people liked the Reality Index because of the participatory aspect of it. We became more like the moderators of this little world within a world. We couldn’t believe it - we thought it was amazing and bizarre. There would be hundreds of comments as soon as you put it up, it was like people were waiting. And sometimes people would email us, if one of us had overslept or been out to dinner the night before so couldn’t watch the show until the morning. And you got to know people through that – actual humans. I know some of the commenters now!

    You wrote the “Best Show Ever” cover story on Gossip Girl for New York Magazine, which reads like it was incredible fun to write, and is now immortalised as a key moment in the show’s history. Every fan of the show remembers that cover image. What’s your favourite memory from working on that piece?

    Jessica: Oh my God! It was so fun! We split them up – I interviewed Chace Crawford and Jessica Szohr and Blake Lively. Those kids were in New York living this vaguely Gossip Girl-esque lifestyle at the same time as the show was on, being photographed as themselves, but often in character during filming. So the overlap was fun. Ed Westwick and Chace Crawford lived together in a dude apartment! I think Sebastian Stan moved in. And Penn Badgley would hate me saying this, but he was and is Dan. He just never wasn’t Dan. He lived in Brooklyn and dated Blake Lively and girls who looked like Vanessa. It was so fun to have this show within a show going on in New York.

    Chris: The fun thing about the kids, is that they were all really excited. For almost all of them, it was their first brush with fame. Blake Lively was the only one who had an acting background. So they were really excited to be in the city. It was very fun to hang out with them, and they all liked each other. It was fun to be out in the world with them. Leighton Meester is very funny, and a really fun person to be around, and after we did the story someone sent in a sighting to Page Six of us, where we had lunch. And when I went out for lunch with Chace Crawford, who’s also very nice, it was the first time I’d been in a situation where somebody tries to subtly take a cellphone photo of you. I was like: “Wow, I have done this, as a New Yorker, and it is so obvious.” You think you’re being slick and it’s very, very plain to see. And Chace was very gracious with everybody. I wasn’t there for the photoshoot but Taylor Momsen’s mom had to be there, because I think she was 16. And I remember when the photos came back, thinking, “Errr... we have some very young people in underwear on the cover!” But I guess everyone was OK with it! It was a really striking cover, and a really great choice with the white virginal clothes and the implication of the opposite. I love how it came out.

    Can you talk about your cameo on the show? How did that work, what was it like?

    Chris: That was really fun. I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect it to be so interesting and fun. They wanted someone from New York [Magazine], they wanted someone from Vanity Fair, and they wanted someone from another magazine, and I think they’d asked a lot of magazines if they would send an editor. I was at Vanity Fair, and they asked Graydon Carter, the editor-in-chief, if he would do it – and he said no. One of my friends from college was by that point a writer on the show, and she said to the producer: “You know, if you want a Vanity Fair editor, I know one guy who will definitely do it!” And then they asked me and I had to ask the publicist for Vanity Fair if I could do it. And she laughed! And I said, “No, I’m serious, can I do this?” And she said “Oh! Uhh… Yeah, OK.”

    It was me, Jessica, and Katrina vanden Heuvel from The Nation. Katrina was the only one working the whole time: tweeting and writing stuff. Jessica and I were like kids in a candy store. We were running around checking out the set, opening drawers! They had us wear our own clothes, which was stressful.

    Jessica: They put fun clothes on me! It was so nice, I got to wear a really good outfit! Which I wish I had stolen, actually. But we got to the set and they had made up our offices. We sent them pictures of what they looked like and they recreated it.

    Chris: They completely recreated it, right down to the Post-It notes that I had all along my bookshelves. Some of the books that I had on my desk were there. It was really surreal. Sitting there with Michelle Trachtenberg and Penn Badgley was completely surreal. They were funny, we joked around, it took probably 15 minutes.

    Jessica: My scene was with Penn, and I had a line that made absolutely no sense. And we were all like, “That line makes no sense!” And they were like, “Oh it’s fine, just say it anyway.” And I thought: “Ok, well they’ll cut it out later.” But no, it just… went in.

    Chris: But so many cool people had done cameos already, like Jared and Ivanka and Tory Burch, and just a million New Yorkers you’d heard of. So it was cool to join that crew.

    You had this cameo, and plenty of people who worked on and starred in the show confessed to having read your recaps religiously. Stephanie Savage even emailed in over the exact location of Dan’s loft – whether it was Dumbo or Williamsburg. What was it about these recaps that allowed them to enter the world of the show in a way that TV writing normally doesn’t?

    Chris: It was a very early recap. There wasn’t the endless recapping that there is now, of every show. It was kind of a silly show to recap – it wasn’t like Game of Thrones, where there’s all this politics to analyse. So it was an unusually devoted account of the show, with a ton of attention to detail – and then all the commenters also had a ton of attention to detail. So it was a great way for the show to get a sense of what the audience was thinking. And I think it was just funny for them. When they made a joke, we would catch the joke and laugh at it and make a joke back. It became a fun game for them too.

    Jessica: The creators were definitely trying to foster the same atmosphere that we picked up on. They said early on that their goal for the show was “cultural permeation”. So they did what they could to encourage us, in some ways, and responded to us when we had questions.

    Do you think your recaps changed television writing? Have you seen anything by other writers in recent years that has made you think, “Oh, we influenced that!”? For me, the Reality Index was very influential, and I feel like it was instrumental in this tone that was, yes, snarky and mocking, but the kind of mocking that can only come out of genuinely, truly loving something – now, that’s how most TV writing sounds.

    Chris: I think we definitely were early on the trend of having the audience feel like they had the right to have their opinion on the show known, that they could voice an opinion – and maybe at some point the creators of the show would hear it. I think also having a very specific structure to a recap was new. Over the past ten years you’ve seen a lot of people do Power Rankings or try different ways of doing recaps other than just repeating what happened. I’d like to think that the recaps helped break the mould and create a new format.

    Jessica: I definitely see things that are called Reality Indexes, and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a thing before us, because it doesn’t even totally make sense as a concept. As far as tone, I think that came both from the combination of Chris’s and my personalities – Chris was more of the fan, and I was more of the snark. But also that was Vulture’s thing – I think the site’s tagline was “heart of a fan, mind of a critic”. It came after the early 2000s era of pure snark and sarcasm. But I just met Rebecca Serle, who wrote the series Famous in Love, and she said the Gossip Girl recaps helped inspire her career. I was like: “That’s amazing!”

    Looking back, why do you think Gossip Girl and the conversation around captured the zeitgeist?

    Chris: It had a lot of elements of the great shows. It had a core ensemble cast like Friends. It had a very soapy way of running the plots, that just meant that a lot happened in every episode, and not all of it was believable! And that’s really fun to watch. But unlike Ugly Betty, which was making fun of telenovelas, it took itself seriously, which let the audience take it seriously too, while at the same time laughing about it and appreciating how over the top it was. And I also think the cast was very key to it. They were so young and attractive and good, and you could tell they were all going to go on to bigger and better things. You were watching them at the very start of their careers. And they all stayed through the whole thing, and that was great. You knew the show was going to end the way the creators wanted, which made it feel like a great, rare moment in TV.

    Jessica: That show captures that era of socialites in New York City, when it was like Olivia Palermo and Tinsley Mortimer and everyone was running around going to parties and being photographed. It was like an education about New York as I was arriving there. And they did an amazing job, especially now, when you look back at it. All those location shots! I don’t think people can afford those any more, they just aren’t happening. And the costumes! All of that was so enjoyable and fun. I’m not sure I fully appreciated how fun it was, like I do now, when everything is much more drab and Brooklyn-centric. But I felt a real kinship with Penn Badgley because we talked a lot over the course of things, occasionally about how we didn’t expect the show to go on this long! He wanted to go and play other roles and I wanted to do… other things, and we were both stuck with Gossip Girl.

    And finally: looking back, how do you feel about Dan being Gossip Girl?

    Chris: I was talking to someone about this the other day! I still don’t know if in the books, Dan was Gossip Girl. At the time, we didn’t really devote a lot of time to thinking about who Gossip Girl would be. It felt like they were just going to pick somebody in the last season – which they did. But I thought they did a good job of backing up that decision.

    Jessica: Oh my God, I was just talking about this! I feel like, you know… It’s just a total disappointment, there’s no getting around it. They tried to play it like they had been planning for it to be Dan all along, and that was clearly false. So it was annoying that they postured in that way. But I remember maybe even just the season before, a character said “Gossip Girl is all of you! Look at you all, on your phones!” That should have been the ending, that Gossip Girl was everyone. That would have been the cleverer ending, in a way. But Dan as Gossip Girl gets a minus from me in the Reality Index. -100

    A Peek at the Glowing Red Shell Around an Aging Star

    By Marina Koren from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Most pictures of stars in our galaxy show them as tiny jewels against a sea of darkness. This one’s a little different.

    U Antliae, one of the members of the constellation Antlia, is located in the southern hemisphere of the sky. About 2,700 years ago, the star expelled a bunch of gas at high speed, creating a thin shell around itself. Thanks to powerful telescopes, astronomers can now take a close-up picture of it.

    U Antliae is a carbon star, which means its atmosphere contains more carbon than oxygen. As the star has aged, carbon has given it and its surrounding bubble a red hue.

    Stars in their prime produce light through nuclear reactions in their cores that turn hydrogen into helium. But when stars start to lose their hydrogen reserves, their cores can become so hot that they transform helium into carbon. That carbon is ejected to the star’s outer layers, where it produces a material that scatters blue and green light. The red light persists, and eventually travels many light-years to Earth, where telescopes detect it and astronomers turn it into the mesmerizing image at the top of this story.

    The photo, released Wednesday along with research in Astronomy & Astrophysics, comes from the the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA. ALMA, a radio telescope stationed in the desert of northern Chile, is one of the most powerful observatories in the world. It’s built to measure the wavelengths of light coming from some of the most distant astronomical objects, including the very first stars and galaxies in the universe.

    Because ALMA can pick up different wavelengths, it can measure gas moving at different speeds and in different directions. The photo below shows gas moving toward Earth’s line of sight in blue, and gas moving away in red:

    ESO / NAOJ / NRAO / F. Kerschbaum

    Pretty trippy.

    Astronomers have known U Antliae has a bubble of ejected mass around it, but they’ve never seen it in such fine detail. “It’s amazing that this has been captured ‘on film,’” said Anna Frebel, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology astrophysicist who studies the early stars of the universe, and who was not involved in the ALMA research. “We know that such mass loss has to happen, but seeing it like this is truly gratifying.”

    The study of carbon stars and their shells can help astronomers learn more about stars’ life cycles. It can also contribute to our understanding of how galaxies form. Carbon stars spew a variety of chemical compounds along with carbon that can drift into the dusty space between stars.

    “These stars quietly expel material into space, and with it bits of all the new elements made inside the star. This is particularly carbon, the most important element for life, but also heavy elements from the bottom of the periodic table, like strontium and barium,” Frebel explained in an email. “Because there are many, many of these types of stars, all together they are shaping the chemical composition of local regions within their host galaxies.”

    Why ESPN Is More Political Than Before

    By Conor Friedersdorf from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Bryan Curtis reports a striking scene in “Jemele Hill and the Fight for the Future of ESPN,” his essay on America’s premier sports network and its relationship with politics. The staff of SportsCenter, a group under fire for producing shows that are “too political,” are gathered together to decide the contents of the 6 p.m. broadcast.

    “ESPN’s transformation is usually described as swapping a highlight for a debate segment,” Curtis writes. “But the changes are even more elemental. At the SC6 staff meeting, everyone had their heads buried in their social media feeds, looking for content … Twitter is now the de facto coordinating producer of ESPN’s daytime lineup. The network’s old currency was a highlight of Klay Thompson shooting a three. The new currency — and, indeed, that day’s top offering — was a video of Thompson dancing like a dork in a Chinese nightclub. Programming ESPN is like curating your Twitter feed: Find the content that everyone’s talking about and craft the right joke.”

    Upon reflection, the change makes a lot of sense. ESPN no longer enjoys a huge advantage in access to the old currency, athletic highlights; a sports junky who puts even minimal effort into curating his or her social media feeds will thereafter receive an endless stream of content that surfaces the most striking plays of the day. SportsCenter needs to offer something more to add value for those sports junkies.

    That puts a different gloss on debates over whether the show should “stick to sports,” which started long before anchor Jemele Hill called Donald Trump a white supremacist.

    On one side of that debate are people like Ben Domenech, who argues that “celebrities, comedians, and sportscasters” diminish an important good that entertainment provides when they express strong opinions. “When you ‘stick to sports,’ you are doing more than confining yourself to the field,” the conservative pundit reasoned. “You are providing a way for people who may have diametrically opposed politics to share a beer at a bar discussing quarterbacks instead of executive orders. This is valuable, particularly given that one of the factors that led to Mr. Trump’s rise is a market for outrage, on the right and the left … There is always another inch to be won, another point to be defended, and this hyper-politicization limits the space free from the culture wars Mr. Trump exploited to great effect.”

    One counter-argument is that celebrities sometimes have a duty, or at least a compelling interest, to call attention to an injustice or an alarming political trajectory; that there is a reason we look back on athletes who spoke up on behalf of causes like civil rights as heroes; that staying mum in the face of evil is itself a political act; and that like it or not, millions of people look to athletes as role models. And many black athletes and much of the black talent at ESPN who cover them believe the Trump Administration poses a threat to their community, particularly in the way that it is weakening federal protections against civil-rights abuses.

    The clash between those perspectives shapes the current moment, as do the decisions of individuals like Colin Kaepernick, who feels that the benefits of taking a political stand outweigh the costs. Insofar as figures within the NFL, MLB, and NBA inject themselves into politics, ESPN will get political even when “sticking to sports”––sports, it should be added, that incorporate the national anthem, flyovers by military jets, presidents throwing out first pitches, and all manner of other symbols and rituals that mark them as civic territory, not a separate realm of escapism.

    But Curtis’s piece clarifies the degree to which an uptick in political content on ESPN isn’t a function of cultural elites deciding to politicize sports or to fight injustice, depending on your perspective;  it is a matter of SportsCenter trying to remain what it has always been, a nightly sports show with hosts who are so up on what sports fans are talking about that they can distill the zeitgeist multiple times every evening; what’s changed is that many of those sports obsessives have spent all day in the milieu of social media, where sports is mashed up with politics and culture as never before.

    To “just do sports,” even setting aside Tim Tebow praying or Lebron James wearing an “I can’t breathe” t-shirt, is to ignore what sports fans are talking about on their own initiative, and to seem out of touch on a program that has always thrived on knowing in-jokes.   

    But to allude to the latest way sports and politics intersected online is to lose touch with another set of sports fans, who do not deeply inhabit the peculiar information ecosystem of social media. They catch 15 minutes of local sports talk on the way to work and never signed up for Twitter––and so, if they tune into SportsCenter and hear a quip about Dunham/Dykstra, they are baffled, and mistakenly believe ESPN staffers are the instigators of the sports-culture-politics mashup when really they are reacting to it.

    In this telling, the trend of not “sticking to sports” was fueled by everyone whose personal stream of posts, shares, and likes on social media evinces an interest in sports and politics; everyone who follows politicians, celebrities, and athletes online; and everyone who subjects their brain to the streams of the social web, reorienting their notion of what an ESPN host must know and say to seem conversant.  

    To a much greater extent than many appreciate, the uptick in political content on ESPN is not political in motivation; it is a response to the world that the audience outside the network, including large swaths of its core audience, has created together.

    Saudi Arabia to lift ban on internet calls

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Apps such as WhatsApp and Skype had been blocked for failing to comply with "regulations".

    India rape: Second uncle held in 10-year-old pregnant child's case

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The search for a second suspect began when the baby's DNA did not match that of another uncle in jail.

    SRSLY #111: The Problematic Faves Live Show

    By Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Live on stage at the London Podcast Festival, Caroline and Anna discuss one of the biggest dilemmas in pop culture: what to do when you discover that your fave is problematic.

    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

    Listen to our previous discussion about "Your Fave Is Problematic" culture.

    Dylan Farrow's piece for the New York Times.

    Bethany Rose Lamont's piece for Rookie about Woody Allen.

    For next time:

    We are listening to the album Lighthouse by the Russian prog chamber duo iamthemorning. Listen to it on bandcamp here.

    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], 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 #110, check it out here.

    Donald Trump tweets he is “saddened” – but not about the earthquake in Mexico

    By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Barack Obama and Jeremy Corbyn sent messages of sympathy to Mexico. 

    A devastating earthquake in Mexico has killed at least 217 people, with rescue efforts still going on. School children are among the dead.

    Around the world, politicians have been quick to offer their sympathy, not least Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose wife hails from Mexico. He tweeted: "My thoughts are with all those affected by today's earthquake in Mexico. Pensando en todos los afectados por el terremoto en México hoy" in the early hours of the morning, UK time.

    Barack Obama may no longer be an elected politician, but he too offered a heartfelt message to those suffering, and like Corbyn, he wrote some of it in Spanish. "Thinking about our neighbors in Mexico and all our Mexican-American friends tonight. Cuidense mucho y un fuerte abrazo para todos," he tweeted. 

    But what about the man now installed in the White House, Donald Trump? The Wall Builder-in-Chief was not idle on Tuesday night - in fact, he shared a message to the world via Twitter an hour after Obama. He too was "saddened" by what he had heard on Tuesday evening, news that he dubbed "the worst ever".

    Yes, that's right. The Emmys viewing figures.

    "I was saddened to see how bad the ratings were on the Emmys last night - the worst ever," he tweeted. "Smartest people of them all are the "DEPLORABLES."

    No doubt Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto will get round to offering the United States his commiserations soon. 

    Photo: Getty

    Iraqi refugee in Berlin praised for handing over cash find

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The 16-year-old Iraqi refugee found thousands of euros in a handbag on the subway.

    Time to go?

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Protesters want an end to the rule of President Faure Gnassingbé, who succeeded his father in 2005.

    Italy’s central bank headache

    From Europe. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Ignazio Visco caught in a power struggle between former and acting prime ministers

    Will Corbynites be in charge of the Labour Party forever?

    By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    What yesterday's important rule changes say about Jeremy Corbyn and his senior team.

    Corbynism forever? That's the general verdict on the consequence of Jeremy Corbyn's big victory on Labour's ruling executive yesterday, as the NEC passed proposals to reform the party's structures. The big ticket items: an expansion of the number of trade union and membership places on the NEC, and a reduction in the number of parliamentary signatures required for candidates for the party leadership, from 15 per cent to 10 per cent of the PLP. (That's 28 MPs and MEPs or 26 MPs if the next leadership election takes place if/when Brexit has happened and there are no MEPs.)

    "Forever" is an awfully long time, and you don't have to remember that far back to a time when one member, one vote was meant to ensure that the likes of David Miliband would be elected leader forever. "Forever" turned out to mean "not at all". Labour has an amusing tradition of its constitutional quirks not quite working out the way its architects hope, and it may well happen the same way this time.

    The far more interesting story is what these rule changes say about Jeremy Corbyn and his senior team. They're getting better at games of "you scratch my back, I scratch yours" with the trade unions. The leadership also backed the Jewish Labour Movement's motion giving the party tougher powers to kick anti-Semites out and released a statement about it, too. As well as being the right thing to do, there's a crude electoral argument here – if Labour can repair its relationship with the community, its dominance in the capital and elsewhere will only increase.

    All in all, the Labour leader is taking the challenge of winning more seriously and his team are increasingly streetwise. His internal opponents, well, they seem to be going in the opposite direction.

    You don't have to agree with it to see that there is a good principled case to be made against weakening the right of MPs to help select the party's leader. Making it might even help Labour's Corbynsceptics, as one of their biggest problems is that Labour members see them as unprincipled. Yet instead of making it, they're criticising the move as "a power grab", and one that divides Labour when they should be uniting against the Tories. Bluntly, Corbyn grabbed power once in September 2015 and again in September 2016 and consolidated it in June 2017.  And the problem is, it's only divisive because Corbynsceptics are opposing it.

    (Also, let's face it, if June 2017 had ended in a Labour rout, you better believe that whichever Corbynsceptic MP emerged as leader would be changing the hell out of the Labour party rulebook right about now rather than focusing on beating the Tories.)

    Although there are significant exceptions – Bridget Phillipson's recent longread for the New Statesman is one – it's all too rare to hear a senior Corbynsceptic argue from principle rather than expediency. And until that changes, Corbynites will, indeed, remain in charge of Labour forever.

    Photo: Getty

    The Cyber Threat To Germany's Elections Is Very Real

    By Sumi Somaskanda from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    One afternoon in early September, a small group of journalists, policy makers, and visitors in Berlin gathered for a lunch panel discussion, titled “Who’s hacking the election—how do we stop the attackers?” Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic-security agency, was the guest of honor. In his remarks, he warned of the dangers of what’s known as white propaganda”: information illegally collected and disseminated by hackers with the intent of manipulating public opinion against the German government and disrupting its upcoming parliamentary elections. “We and our partners are of the opinion that the background [of the hack on the Democratic National Committee] in the U.S. was Russian,” he said. Russian military intelligence, his office alleged, was very likely responsible for hacking and leaking top DNC officials’ emails during the 2016 campaign season, exposing sensitive internal-party communications that drove a wedge through the party. Maassen warned that a cyber attack on the German government now, so close to the country’s vote on September 24th, remained a possibility.

    Such a hack would not be new. Two years earlier, the IT system of the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, was hit by a large-scale attack; in the months that followed, further incursions infiltrated Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), the foreign ministry, and the finance ministry. The breaches were blamed on the Kremlin-linked hacking unit APT28, or Fancy Bear, the same group tied to the DNC hack and the cyber attack in France on the campaign of President Emmanuel Macron just days before the country’s election.

    Maassen assured his listeners that Berlin was prepared for whatever may be in store in the weeks ahead. Germany’s top security agencies had been fortifying their defenses for months, readying for an eleventh-hour hack while shoring up weak spots, including the software used to tally ballots on September 24th, he said.

    But two days after the lunch in Berlin, Die Zeit published a deep investigation into PC-Wahl, a widely used vote-counting software system in Germany. A team of reporters and three IT analysts uncovered alarming security holes that could allow hackers to manipulate results on local and state levels with ease. The Chaos Computer Club (CCC), a Berlin-based hacker association tasked with confirming the investigation’s results, outlined myriad weak links in PC-Wahl, which is owned by the company vote iT. For one, CCC found a username and password for PC-Wahl’s internal service area that gave the hackers unobstructed access to the software code. PC-Wahl also collects results on an unencrypted spreadsheet-like file , opening the door for hackers to falsify numbers. While some flaws in the software’s security architecture were to be expected, these vulnerabilities were gaping, numerous, and easily exploitable.

    In another investigation published earlier this month, Der Spiegel revealed a hodgepodge of software providers employed by different regions, with PC-Wahl believed to be in use in at least half of Germany’s 16 states. “The software we looked at is so easy to hack that if you were a major adversary, it wouldn’t take you long to hack the other software, too,” Frank Rieger, a spokesman for CCC, told me, adding that other software packages were also poorly protected. “Germany used to joke about the U.S. and its election technology as being so chaotic, but it turned out … when it comes to vote tallying software, the same holds true here.”

    German authorities insist they’ve long been aware of these vulnerabilities, and have been working to safeguard the election. In a statement released after the investigation dropped, the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) said it had already been working with vote iT to improve security, and that the company was taking further steps to fortify its software. The Federal Returning Officer, which oversees federal elections, said it had urged vote iT to install software updates immediately and add more protections for the day of the election, like requiring results to be confirmed on the phone as they are transmitted up the chain.

    Vote iT did not yet respond to a request for comment. It is a private company, however, and with just days to go to the election, Berlin has little real recourse now beyond calling for urgent patches to the problems.

    Germany and the West are increasingly reckoning with subversive forces from beyond their borders that put government agencies, critical infrastructure, and companies under threat. Berlin has recognized that the battlefield is shifting, but so is the enemy. And European governments have yet to develop a cogent strategy for rebuffing hackers intent on undermining democracy—especially when that democracy is dependent upon technology that can easily be compromised.

    Despite the flaws CCC uncovered, it did point out that polling workers must verify results and report inconsistencies at the local level, helping them catch voting discrepancies quickly. Germans also cast their votes on paper ballots; even if the software that tallies the vote is compromised, the ballots themselves cannot be. Still, preliminary results that reach the media on election day could be compromised, and analysts fear irregularities could rattle voters’ faith in the country’s democratic process. In its annual report released this summer, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) described the use of cyber attacks as a tool to undermine democracy with “massive consequences for the domestic political situation.” The agency pointed to the DNC hack as a clear attempt to influence the U.S. vote in favor of Donald Trump.

    All this comes as Germany grapples with the rise of its own political outsider, the right-wing nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Since its founding in 2013, it has come to champion anti-foreigner and nationalist sentiments that have shattered long-held taboos in Germany and challenged its system of consensus politics. The party also advocates friendlier ties with Russia, and has denounced the current government’s diet of sanctions and reproach towards Moscow. It has already accused mainstream parties and media outlets of colluding to squash any real opposition. It is also on track to becoming the third-largest party in the Bundestag.

    Stefan Heumann, co-director of the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung (SNV), a Berlin-based think tank focused on technological change, told me the worst-case scenario is one in which election observers discover problems with the results and the government is forced to call for a recount. “If you have to do a recount there is a sort of shadow [over the vote], especially for [those on] the fringes because they have their conspiracy theories,” he said, referring to the AfD.

    Even if voting software is not compromised, the government remains a target for hackers. In the 2015 breach—the broadest and deepest Germany has suffered—attackers used Trojan viruses to compromise the email accounts of at least 15 MPs. It took months, however, for federal investigators to recognize the scale of the attack and take the IT system offline, and install new software and hardware across the Bundestag. The hackers have not released the stolen material yet; some lawmakers have speculated there was simply nothing of interest in official Bundestag emails. But others fear the leaked material could still be published in the coming days, or even after the vote.

    Bettina Hagedorn, a Social Democrat in the Bundestag, was one of the victims. “I kept trying to figure out what they might have been searching for on my computer that would’ve been relevant and I couldn’t think of anything,” she told me. Experts said the prime targets appeared to be lawmakers working on Russian policy or related fields. Though Hagedorn does not fit the bill, she does sit on the appropriations committee, which oversees the intelligence services’ budget. “On the one hand, I trust that they improved the security. And on the other, I think all of us know it could happen [again] at anytime,” Hagedorn said. “It’s a major election campaign season and any possible hackers see it as an opportunity.”

    The attacks would continue. In the first half of 2016, the BSI recorded more than 400 hacks a day on government networks that could not be recognized by commercial malware software. Roughly one a week could be linked to a foreign-intelligence agency.

    Meanwhile, the specter of “black propaganda”—trolls, social media bots and fake news used to wage disinformation campaigns—also looms large. In January 2016, Russian media reported the alleged rape of a 13-year-old Russian-German girl by a group of refugees in Berlin. She had fabricated the attack, she later admitted, but not before Russian-Germans took to the streets in protest and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minster, had accused Berlin of covering up the story. Earlier this year, after the Social Democratic Party’s Martin Schulz announced his candidacy for chancellor, a story claimed his father had been a concentration camp guard—also untrue. It briefly made waves but was easily discredited.

    In August, SNV led a study into the impact of fake news, examining a test case involving prominent evangelical leader Margot Käßmann. The AfD claimed that Käßmann, speaking at a church assembly event in Berlin in May, had said that any citizen with two German parents and four German grandparents was a neo-Nazi. Her words had been taken out of context and manipulated. Still, the story spread rapidly on right-wing media, Facebook, and Twitter. It was shared and posted more than 27,000 times in the days following. Major media outlets debunked the story within two days, but there was far less interest in the correction. The conclusion: Germans, too, are vulnerable to false stories.

    Even so, Heumann of SNV argued that disinformation campaigns require a deeply polarized society to really flourish and Germans are still far less divided than Americans. The German media are an important watchdog, and they expect a hack or leak. A majority of Germans still trust traditional print and broadcast outlets.

    “If the mainstream media immediately frame these stories in the context of disinformation, announcing it could be a hack and we need to be careful, far fewer Germans would share it and be vulnerable to being influenced,” Heumann said.

    Weeks after the U.S. election last November, Merkel invited a data scientist to brief her cabinet on the dangers of bots, trolls, and fake news in shaping voters’ opinions. In June, the Bundestag approved a law aimed at corralling fake news and hate speech by forcing social networks like Facebook and Twitter to delete criminal content—hate speech, defamation, and incitements to violence—within 24 hours, or face massive fines. The Interior Ministry is considering forming a new agency to combat fake news. The government has directed significant resources towards cyber security; in addition to the BSI and the BfV, the military has also added a cyber command team. Seven government bodies, including the intelligence agency, have banded together to create a joint cyber-defense center.  

    Yet it is also the cornerstones of Germany’s democracy—its institutions, its consensus politics, and its social cohesion—that have become the target of hackers looking to sow discord; these could prove far more difficult to protect.

    “Campaigns are at the heart of our democracy and they need to be out in the public,” Heumann said. “We need to have a broader debate and think about the boundaries of what’s acceptable, and what practices further undermine our democracy that we should not allow.”

    How to Raise the Rarest Kiwi

    By Ed Yong from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    FRANZ JOSEF, NEW ZEALAND—When I first see the kiwi chick, I briefly wonder if I’m actually looking at a real animal. It’s a grapefruit-sized sphere of fluff with an adorably short version of an adult’s long beak. When it sits still in its dark, red-lit enclosure, it looks indistinguishable from some of the plush toys that fill New Zealand’s gift shops.

    Unlike the chicks of most birds, the kiwi’s surprisingly mobile and self-sufficient, even though it hatched just six days ago. It’s too early to tell if it’s male or female, but it already has a name: Kami, after a Maori word that means “force of nature.” And it will soon have company. In the room next door, 22 more kiwi eggs are incubating in an artificial chamber.

    I’m in the West Coast Wildlife Center, a stark black-and-lime building in Franz Josef, on the western flank of New Zealand’s South Island. Most of the people in this town have come to trek the glaciers that smear the landscape. But some are here for the kiwis. As part of Operation Nest Egg, a 23-year project to save New Zealand’s most iconic animal, rangers and volunteers capture the eggs of wild kiwis, incubate them in captivity, and rear the chicks till they’re large enough to fend for themselves.

    For millions of years, they had little to fend against. The only land mammals in New Zealand were bats, so kiwis evolved to fill the niche that's typically occupied by shrews and hedgehogs, becoming honorary mammals. With their tiny vestigial wings, bristly feathers, and heavy marrow-filled bones, they can’t fly. Then again, they don’t need to. Their attention lies not in the meters above the ground, but in the inches below it, which they explore with long bills that have nostrils at their tip. They use their exceptional sense of smell to probe for worms and insects, and they move with a steady deliberation that belies their bumbling exterior.

    Around 70 million kiwis used to trundle through New Zealand’s undergrowth, before humans turned the islands into worlds of fur and teeth. The predators that we introduced—dogs, ferrets, cats, rats, and especially stoats, a larger relative of weasels—slaughtered their way through the kiwi population, reducing it to the measly modern tally of just 68,000 birds.

    Most people speak of kiwis as if they are one species, but they are actually five. Kami belongs to the rarest of the quintet—the rowi, which was only recognized as a distinct species in 2003. Today, these particular kiwis are confined to a tiny region called Okarito, nestled among the South Island’s glacial forests. There are only 450 of them left in the wild, and around two-thirds of those were reared by Operation Nest Egg. The West Coast Wildlife Center alone has hatched 232 rowi chicks since it opened seven years ago.

    In the wild, half of rowi eggs fail to hatch. Of those that do, around 90 percent lose their lives to the jaws of predators before they reach adulthood. After seeing these depressing statistics in the 1990s, Rogan Colbourne and Hugh Robertson from the Department of Conservation realized that the best way to save the birds was to raise their chicks in sanctuaries, releasing them only when they had outgrown the appetites of stoats, at least. And so, Operation Nest Egg began.

    First, rangers find wild rowi and collect their eggs. It’s the males who incubate, and most of them have been fitted with smart transmitters that monitor their movements. If they’re staying still for a long time, chances are they’re sitting on an egg. Then, it’s a matter of reaching into the burrow, which can be anything from a hole in the ground to a rotten log, and pulling the egg out—sometimes from underneath a brooding bird.

    Kiwi eggs are huge, and disproportionately so. They can account for up to a quarter of a female’s body weight, and they’re only slightly smaller than the eggs of much larger birds like ostriches, emus, and cassowaries. Kiwis are closely related to these giants, and they all have one thing in common: They can rear up and deliver surprisingly powerful kicks. Kath Morris, who works at the West Coast Wildlife Center, tells me of a friend who was camping in kiwi territory when one of the birds put its foot through his tent. She also shows me a kiwi-inflicted scar across her wrist. “You don’t notice you’re bleeding until later,” she says.

    After the volunteers avoid lashing feet and successfully secure an egg, they place it in a cool box and send it to a captive rearing facility. There, volunteers “candle” the eggs—shining a light on it to check for cracks and to inspect the embryo within. Once the egg is inspected, cleaned, and weighed, it is placed in an incubator that slowly turns it, mimicking the actions of a incubating male. (Colbourne discovered that behavior by using sensor-studded dummy eggs to work out how wild kiwi actually incubate their eggs.)

    After 90 days or so, it’s time for the egg to hatch. The kiwi chick sticks its bill into an air sac at the top of the egg, and starts to squeak. It then punctures a small hole in its shell, and uses its already strong feet to push its head out. In one case, a chick got stuck because it accidentally kicked the bottom out of its shell. Fortunately, quick-thinking keepers repaired the damage with tape.

    A newly hatched chick, like Kami, doesn’t have to eat. For a week or two, it subsists on the yolk from its egg, which it carries around between its legs. Once the yolk is exhausted, keepers feed the chicks on a mix of fruit, vegetables, beef mince, and ox heart. (Kiwis are born independent, and don’t imprint on their parents—or humans.) The birds are less than a pound at birth, and the goal is to get them closer to three pounds—heavy enough to defend themselves against stoats and thrive in the wild.

    Early on in the project, researchers realized that the newly released youngsters would frequently run afoul of adults, who were defending their territories. “They were safe from stoats but they weren’t safe from kiwis,” says Colbourne. “We lost a lot of the young birds.” The problem was that these hand-reared youngsters had never learned kiwi social etiquette, and would inadvertently provoke fights that they were too placid to finish.

    To socialize them, the team now transport the chicks to crèche islands—predator-free offshore sites, where a young kiwi can learn how to kiwi. “All the young birds socialize, get into scraps, and learn how to run away,” says Colbourne. “They learn that if they see another kiwi, they shouldn’t run up to it. And if they get chased, they’ll be fit enough to run.” After some time, they’re taken back to Okarito and released.

    Without all of this intensive work, only two new rowi would make it to adulthood in a single breeding season. Now, around 50 do so. The population is growing, and the species was recently downlisted from “nationally critical” to merely “nationally vulnerable.”

    “We’ll get to the point where we have huge numbers, and it’ll be a matter of where can we put them,” says Colbourne. “It’s almost been too successful.”

    Understanding how organisations ensure that their decision making is fair

    By Kate Cox; Lucy Strang; Susanne Sondergaard; Cristina Gonzalez Monsalve from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The UK General Medical Council commissioned RAND Europe to investigate the tools, practices and processes used by organisations to support fair decision making in a regulatory context.

    What a 1963 Novel Tells Us About the French Army, Mission Command, and the Romance of the Indochina War

    By Michael Shurkin from War on the Rocks. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    For several years I have been studying and writing about the French Army’s approach to expeditionary operations and, more generally, how it fights differently from Americans. This summer in Paris, a French Army general handed me a missing piece of the puzzle. “If you want to understand us,” he said, “you need to read Pierre ...

    Filling the Maritime Law Enforcement Gap

    By Scott Cheney-Peters from War on the Rocks. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Last week, Japan gathered world maritime security leaders in Tokyo for the first-ever Coast Guard Global Summit. Even without the U.S. Coast Guard’s headline-grabbing search and rescue operations in the wake of recent hurricanes, attendees had plenty to talk about. They face an array of maritime challenges including piracy in Africa and Asia, large-scale migration in ...

    Spain national police raid Catalan government headquarters

    From Europe. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Building peace in a dangerous world needs resources, not just goodwill

    By Chris Mullin from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Conflict resolution is only the first step.

    Thursday 21 September is the UN-designated International Day of Peace. At noon on this day, which has been celebrated for the last 25 years, the UN general secretary will ring the Peace Bell on the UN headquarters in New York and people of good will around the world will take part in events to mark the occasion. At the same time, spending on every conceivable type of weaponry will continue at record levels.

    The first couple of decades after the end of the Cold War saw a steady reduction in conflict, but lately that trend seems to have been reversed. There are currently around 40 active armed conflicts around the world with violence and suffering at record levels. According to the 2017 Global Peace Index worldwide military spending last year amounted to a staggering $1.7 trillion and a further trillion dollars worth of economic growth was lost as a result. This compares with around 10 billion dollars spent on long term peace building.

    To mark World Peace Day, International Alert, a London-based non-government agency which specialises in peace building, is this week publishing Redressing the Balance, a report contrasting the trivial amounts spent on reconciliation and the avoidance of war with the enormous and ever growing global military expenditure.  Using data from the Institute for Economics and Peace, the report’s author, Phil Vernon, argues that money spent on avoiding and mitigating the consequences of conflict is not only morally right, but cost-effective – "every dollar invested in peace building reduces the cost of conflict".

    According to Vernon, "the international community has a tendency to focus on peacemaking and peacekeeping at the expense of long term peace building."  There are currently 100,000 soldiers, police and other observers serving 16 UN operations on four continents. He says what’s needed instead of just peace keeping is a much greater sustained investment, involving individuals and agencies at all levels, to address the causes of violence and to give all parties a stake in the future. Above all, although funding and expertise can come from outside, constructing a durable peace will only work if there is local ownership of the process.

    The picture is not wholly depressing. Even in the direst conflicts there are examples where the international community has help to fund and train local agencies with the result that local disputes can often be settled without escalating into full blown conflicts. In countries as diverse as East Timor, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Nepal long term commitment by the international community working with local people has helped build durable institutions in the wake of vicious civil wars. Nearer to home, there has long been recognition that peace in Ireland can only be sustained by addressing long-standing grievances, building resilient institutions and ensuring that all communities have a stake in the outcome.

    At a micro level, too, there is evidence that funding and training local agencies can contribute to longer term stability. In the eastern Congo, for example, various non-government organisations have worked with local leaders, men and women from different ethnic groups to settle disputes over land ownership which have helped fuel 40 years of mayhem. In the Central African Republic training and support to local Muslim and Christian leaders has helped reduce tensions. In north east Nigeria several agencies are helping to reintegrate the hundreds of traumatised girls and young women who have escaped the clutches of Boko Haram only to find themselves rejected by their communities.

    Peace building, says Vernon, is the poor cousin of other approaches to conflict resolution. In future, he concludes, it must become a core component of future international interventions. "This means a major re-think by donor governments and multilateral organisations of how they measure success… with a greater focus placed on anticipation, prevention and the long term." Or, to quote the young Pakistani winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousufzai: "If you want to avoid war, then instead of sending guns, send books. Instead of tanks, send pens. Instead of soldiers, send teachers."

    Redressing the Balance by Phil Vernon is published on September 21.   Chris Mullin is the chairman of International Alert.


    Hurricane Maria: Aerial footage shows devastation in Dominica

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Fallen trees, flattened buildings and strewn debris can be seen after Hurricane Maria struck.

    A clinically-approved birth control app is changing the way we think about contraception

    By Sanjana Varghese from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The particle physicist Elina Berglund has created an app that is 99 per cent effective. 

    Women around the world using the contraceptive pill have long complained to their friends about its perceived side effects – weight gain, acne, mood swings to name a few. Some more recent studies have verified that anecdotal evidence – a Danish study from 2013 confirmed that there was a 40 per cent increased risk of depression for women who were on the pill, compared to those who weren’t.

    Frustration around the inadequacy or ill-suitability of certain methods of contraception is rife. One woman, Elina Berglund, decided to do something about it.

    Formerly a particle physicist at CERN (and a member of the team responsible for the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle), Berglund co-founded Natural Cycles, a contraceptive app, with her husband Raoul Scherwitzl. Approved as a contraceptive app earlier this year, it is downloadable on a smartphone and relies on a relationship between body temperature and fertility to tell women when they're fertile.

    But contraception campaigners have viewed the concept with caution. Widespread use of the pill, condoms, and diaphragms comes after decades of campaigns against reliance on "natural methods" – not to mention the opposition of religious organisations like the Catholic church. 

    At first glance, Natural Cycles might not seem all that different from the Vatican-approved "rhythm method", which is based on observing the exact stages of a woman's fertility cycle and avoiding sex during ovulation. This can be, according to the NHS, up to 99 per cent effective – but in reality it is closer to 75 per cent, because "people can make mistakes". 

    Users of Natural Cycles take their temperature daily and input it into the app (which costs £6.99 a month). The app then compares the figure to its own dataset and uses an algorithm based on Berglund's days from CERN. It also asks for other data, such as the dates of user's periods and whether they are planning for a pregnancy or not, to create a personalised calendar.

    If it’s safe to have unprotected sex, then the in-app calendar will show up as green. If not, the in-app calendar will show up as red. On those red days, users should find methods of contraception if they aren’t seeking pregnancy.  

    Menstrual tracking apps are all the rage (there are around 1,000 of them on the current Apple app store). But recent studies have shown that those apps are often inaccurate and lack any scientific basis. 

    Natural Cycles, by contrast, carried out three clinical trials, each time expanding the dataset to reduce errors. The most recent, written up in Contraception, involved 22,785 women across 37 different countries in settings that mimicked real life. The co-authors pointed out that in instances of perfect use, one out of 100 women become pregnant accidentally. However, in instances of typical use, seven out of 100 women had the same result.

    When Natural Cycles first gained publicity, Berglund pointed out to the press that “now they (women) have a new, clinically verified and regulatory approved option to choose from”. Berglund and Scherwitzl are looking into getting Natural Cycles prescribed on the NHS, like the pill.

    So is Natural Cycles the future of family planning? The first thing to make clear is that the app cannot actually function as physical contraception – on “red” days, the app advises users to use a condom if they’re having sex and don’t want to get pregnant. It cannot prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases either. 

    Nor is the app really marketed to those who may benefit from the most information about their sexual health – 16 to 25-year-olds, who are also the age group most likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour. 

    A spokesperson for Marie Stopes, the reproductive health NGO, said: "Apps to track fertility are a high-tech version of what women have been doing for years with a diary and a thermometer.

    "For anyone trying to get pregnant, they might well help. However, if you want to avoid pregnancy, it’s much better to choose a reliable, long-acting modern method of contraception like an IUD or implant. Traditional methods, including tracking fertility, carry a much higher risk of unintended pregnancy."

    The app relies on an algorithm, meaning it is only as effective as the data that it receives from users. It is also not free, which may exclude its usage by certain sections of society. A blog written for NHS Choices emphasised that the data collected in all the trials was collected from women who were already signed up for the product, making it likely that they had an incentive to continue with this specific additional contraceptive, as opposed to looking elsewhere. Even so, a third of users who had signed up still dropped out, potentially because of the maintenance required to get results from it. 

    All the same, Natural Cycles has 380,000 users and counting. It has received clinical approval to be marketed as a medical device, and it seems to be meeting a need – 70 per cent of Natural Cycle's users come from hormonal contraception, according to Berglund. In her account of Natural Cycles in the Evening Standard, Kate Wills highlighted that the Apple Watch had all sorts of health inputs, but no way to track periods.  All kinds of apps exist to make modern life easier – why has it taken so long for one that addresses a concern for so many women to make its way into the mainstream?

    The history of contraception is littered with examples of women being ignored. Early birth control studies vastly underplayed the potentially debilitating side effects of hormone fluctuations on women’s mental health and physical appearance, often treating users as though they were hysterical. Add into the equation the stigma around accessing contraceptives safely and non-judgementally, and it’s easy to see why a relatively painless and private form of contraception might be appealing. 

    Natural Cycles may well work for some women – those who are in stable relationships, hoping to get pregnant and fastidious enough to note their temperature every morning. But it doesn’t prevent diseases, requires a steady commitment and – here's the clincher – can't take measurements when you’re hungover as alcohol can affect your temperature. There's also a big difference between the "perfect" use of the app, and the likelihood of pregnancy when used in a "typical" fashion. So long as that's the case, old-fashioned contraception seems unlikely to be swept away by a digital revolution. 

    Photo: Getty

    Mexico earthquake as it struck

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    A strong earthquake has struck central Mexico, killing more than 220 people and toppling dozens of buildings in the capital, Mexico City.

    A day on the factory floor with a young Syrian refugee

    From Europe. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    In Turkey, poverty and isolation have forced thousands of children into work

    German election: AfD’s advance in six charts

    From Europe. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    How the populist party could upend the country’s politics on Sunday

    Turkey’s EU accession: the way forward

    From Europe. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    For all the harsh words, Erdogan does not want to walk away

    AfD sets populist course for heart of German politics

    From Europe. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Polls suggest anti-refugee party could be third-largest bloc after Sunday’s election

    Mississippi's path

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Road trips along the second longest river in North America.

    Bombshell: How I Learned to Start Worrying…

    By Loren DeJonge Schulman, Radha Iyengar and Erin Simpson from War on the Rocks. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Erin, Radha, and Loren get the band back together and invite Laura Rosenberger to dish about the launch of the Alliance for Security Democracy (her new project aimed at countering Russian efforts to undermine democratic institutions), her love of the Steelers, and our open invitation to military listeners to help us land on a carrier. ...

    The New Series on the Vietnam War, and the Mysteries of Historical Resonance

    By James Fallows from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The Ken Burns / Lynn Novick 18-hour series on The Vietnam War began its run on PBS on Sunday night and continues through this week and next. I felt about as familiar with that era as I could imagine—with its tensions at the time, with the journalism and literature that came out of it, with the historical assessments, with the war’s role in music and movies and others parts of pop culture and public imagination. Even so I found this a tremendously revealing series. I recommend it very highly. Please find a way to watch—now, or in the many streaming and download alternatives they are making available.


    As with any attempt to grapple with a topic this vast and complex, and of such emotional and historical consequence, the Burns/Novick series is bound to be controversial. For one example of an avenue of criticism, see this review by veteran Asia-hand correspondent Jim Laurie, who was on-scene in Vietnam and Cambodia during the war.

    Here’s another: When I did an interview with Burns and Novick for the upcoming issue of Amtrak’s The National magazine, I asked them about one of the central themes of their press-tour presentation of the project, as opposed to the video itself. Both Burns and Novick have stressed the idea that the divisions generated by the Vietnam war prefigure the polarization of Trump-era America.

    To me, that seems a little too pat. Even though I argued back at the time that the “class war” elements of Vietnam were a central reason the U.S. remained engaged for so many years, so much has happened between then and now that it’s hard to trace a sensible connection from those times to these. Since the height of the fighting in Vietnam, we’ve had: the end of the draft; the disappearance of the Soviet Union; the emergence of China; multiple dramatic shifts in political mood (the arrivals of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, later Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump, were each seen as the dawns of new political eras); the 9/11 attacks; multiple wars; multiple booms and busts; multiple grounds for hope and despair. Donald Trump was on one side of the Vietnam class-war divide, with his student deferments and mysterious physical disqualifications. Figures as politically diverse as John McCain, Al Gore, John Kerry, Jim Mattis, and Jim Webb were on the other. But it’s hard to make a neat match of that cleavage 50 years ago to the multiple axes of disagreement now. To me, it seems easier to trace a line of descent from the Civil War—subject of Ken Burns’s first national-phenomenon film series, back in 1990—to Trump-era divides than from the Vietnam war.

    I lay out this disagreement on a specific point as a set-up for emphasizing  how valuable and informative I think the series is overall. It is remarkable in interleaving the accounts of participants from opposite sides of the same battle— the Americans and South Vietnamese, but also the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong—all describing what they were afraid of, what their plans were, how they reckoned victory and defeat in struggles for control of a particular hill or hamlet. It offers abundant evidence of battlefield bravery and sacrifice, on all sides—but precious few examples of political courage or foresight, especially in the United States. It’s hard to say whether Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon comes off worse for the combination of strategic misjudgment and flat-out dishonesty in management of the war. The White House recordings from both men are spell-binding.

    Please watch. And since most of today’s Americans had not even been born by the time the last U.S. forces left Vietnam, it’s all the more valuable for generations who know nothing about that era first-hand.


    Further on the theme of linkages between Vietnam and previous American engagements, a reader makes the evocative connection to the first war that troops of the newly formed United States ever fought.

    Read On »

    Men only

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The case of a woman fined for peeing in an Amsterdam alleyway has sparked a debate about sexism.

    'Abandoned wives'

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    Photographer Deepti Asthana documents the lives of a family of fisherwomen whose husbands deserted them.

    Shots fired

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    The shooting of a Georgia student raises a question - why do US police shoot people carrying knives?

    The Atlantic Daily: Fighting Words

    By Rosa Inocencio Smith from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    What We’re Following

    Trump at the UN: In his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump declared the U.S. ready and willing to “totally destroy North Korea” in defense of itself or its allies—a dangerous assertion, since the effects of using force in North Korea would be serious and tragic. He also implied that he may withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran that the U.S. entered under President Obama. Overall, writes Peter Beinart, the speech was a direct rebuke of Obama’s previous emphasis on international cooperation, and an advancement of Trump’s own inconsistent ideas of sovereignty.

    Mueller and Manafort: New reports on the federal investigation into Paul Manafort say that Trump’s former campaign chairman was under surveillance by the FBI before and after last year’s presidential election, and that Manafort was informed in July he would soon be indicted in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The emerging details raise several questions about the probe and its findings so far, but they don’t vindicate Trump’s claims that he himself was wiretapped by the Obama administration. Rather, they likely spell continued legal trouble for Trump’s team—which is now using Republican National Committee funds to pay his legal fees.

    The Right Takes Sides: Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are under pressure to make a decision on the latest effort to repeal Obamacare after their “no” votes killed the effort in July—and their states’ governors are taking opposing positions. Meanwhile, conservative publications are struggling to respond to the rising populist sentiment among their readers, and the Republican party is grappling with how it may have laid the groundwork for Trump’s current breaches of political norms.

    Rosa Inocencio Smith


    A woman feeds a bear at Yellowstone National Park, circa 1925. See more photos from the park’s 145-year history here, and read about how the naturalists John Muir and John Burroughs celebrated Yellowstone in our archives here.

    Evening Read

    Sarah Zhang on tracing a rare disorder through French Canadian genealogy records:

    Whenever a small group of people leave a large population (France) to found a new one (New France), they bring with them a particular set of mutations. Some of these mutations will by chance be more common in the new population and others less so. As a result, some rare genetic disorders disproportionately impact French Canadians.

    One of these is Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, which causes vision loss, usually in young men. Recently, geneticists using French Canadian genealogy have reexamined the effects of Leber’s and found a striking pattern of inheritance: It seems to show a long-theorized but never-seen-in-humans pattern called the “mother’s curse.”

    Keep reading here, as Sarah explains how the rare disorder hides from natural selection—and how scientists traced its presence in Canada back to a single woman’s DNA.

    What Do You Know … About Business?

    This week, we take a look back: Inventions as simple as air-conditioning have had a lot to do with shaping city skylines, jump-starting economies, and even, some say, picking presidents. Historic inequities creep into how Americans climb out of poverty, and even how they network. And Black Monday, the 1987 crash when Wall Street saw its steepest falls ever, presaged the 2008 financial crisis—but regulators still haven’t learned its lessons.

    Can you remember the other key facts from this week’s business coverage? Test your knowledge below:

    1. At the alt-weekly Washington City Paper, the late journalist David Carr cultivated a star class of interns including Jelani Cobb and the Atlantic writer ____________.

    Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

    2. The only prime-time broadcast television show to grow its under-50 audience in 2016 and 2017 was ABC’s ____________.

    Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

    3. The Federal Reserve Board of Governors could have only three of its ____________ seats filled after Vice Chair Stanley Fischer’s departure next month, the lowest number in Fed history.

    Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

    Steven Johnson

    Answers: ta-nehisi coates / the bachelor / seven

    Our Next Instagram Contest

    Last month, we watched you take your Atlantic magazine to school, to the kitchen, and to the back of your truck to view the Great American Eclipse. We had so much fun with our last #ReadingMyAtlantic Instagram contest, we’ve decided to do it again. Until October 2, submit your best snapshot or Boomerang of the October 2017 issue on Instagram using the hashtag #ReadingMyAtlantic for a chance to win a digital subscription and a prize package. Check out the official rules here, and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram.

    Urban Developments

    Our partner site CityLab explores the cities of the future and investigates the biggest ideas and issues facing city dwellers around the world. Adam Sneed shares three of today’s top stories:

    Fans of the Insane Clown Posse made news by rallying on the National Mall this weekend, but make no mistake: It wasn’t a joke. The Juggalos have something important to say.

    The Northeast and Midwest are dotted with small, inner-ring suburbs that are struggling. What’s to be done? Consider merging them with the larger cities next door.

    The federal government spends $7.6 billion each year paying (mostly affluent) Americans to drive to work. It's worsening traffic, pollution, and quality of life—and it’s time to stop.

    For more updates from the urban world, subscribe to CityLab’s daily newsletter.

    Reader Response

    In a recent edition of our magazine feature "The Big Question," we asked some folks to nominate the most underappreciated medical inventions in history. David L. Lerner, a doctor and reader, adds:

    It is especially ironic that Dr. Jack Ende’s reason for nominating the stethoscope as the most underappreciated medical invention is that it “connects doctors to patients” and counters the erosion of the doctor-patient relationship. Dr. René Laënnec invented the device in 1816 specifically to distance himself from patients, against whose breasts he would otherwise have been expected to press his ear. Over the past two centuries, progressively longer tubing has been incorporated into stethoscopes, resulting in even greater distancing, both literal and metaphorical.

    More on stethoscopes, their history, and what they bring to the doctor-patient relationship here.


    Biblical brains, Alaskan farms, health inequities, movie meanings.

    Time of Your Life

    Happy birthday to Sherill’s best friend, Krzyychu (twice the age of Microsoft Windows); to Sarah’s fellow explorer, Morgan (a year younger than graphical web browsers); to Gene’s fiancé, Ann (a year younger than car seat belts); to Margie (twice the age of Harry Potter) and her father (the same age as Ruth Bader Ginsburg); to Floyd’s girlfriend, Karen (who was 18 when the last U.S. troops left South Vietnam); to Marylka’s son Doniphan (a year younger than CD players); to Molly’s boyfriend, Billy (who was 23 when the Berlin Wall collapsed); from Courtney to Epli (a year younger than the 24-hour news cycle); and to Maria (the same age as Barack Obama) from her daughter, our newsletter-writer Rosa.

    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.

    Meet The Atlantic Daily’s team here, and contact us here.

    Did you get this newsletter from a friend? Sign yourself up here.

    Photos of the Earthquake in Mexico City

    By Alan Taylor from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    On September 19, 2017, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake shook Mexico City, rattling skyscrapers and sending millions into the streets. Reuters is reporting at least 200 deaths across several Mexican states. Coincidentally, Tuesday was the 32nd anniversary of the devastating 1985 Mexico City earthquake, an occasion that led to many first responders and volunteers already being gathered outside, taking part in earthquake-preparedness drills. Below, some early images of the still-unfolding disaster in Mexico City. Updated with new 12 new images on September 20.

    Republican Donors Are Helping Cover Trump's Legal Bills

    By Matt Ford from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 20, 2017.

    President Trump, whose surname became a byword for gilded opulence in the 1980s and 1990s, is reportedly leaning on his reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee to pay legal fees stemming from the Russia investigation.

    Reuters reported on Tuesday that Trump’s legal team had received payments from both organizations, although it was not immediately clear how much has been disbursed. The payments are legal, the wire service noted, because Federal Election Commission regulations authorize using private campaign funds to pay for legal costs incurred “as a candidate or elected official.” They’re also not entirely unprecedented.

    Trump’s campaign coffers are being filled through an aggressive fundraising operation. The president made the unprecedented decision to begin raising money for his reelection in 2020 soon after he won last November, far earlier than any of his predecessors in the modern campaign-finance era. Some of his email solicitations for donations have included thinly veiled references to the Russia investigation, usually by way of criticizing the media. In a July 19 fundraising pitch sent one week after Donald Trump Jr. disclosed a secret 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, Trump denounced the “fake news media” as “the real opposition.”

    “Rather than working to fix the problems this nation is facing, the Fake News Media and the Left are hand-in-hand peddling supposed ‘news’ based on anonymous sources and an unbelievable lack of journalistic integrity,” the email read. Recipients of the request were invited to purchase “FIGHT THE FAKE NEWS” bumper stickers for one dollar.

    The appeals came as Trump built up his legal-defense team. Over the summer, Trump gathered an eclectic team of lawyers, including special White House counsel Ty Cobb and outside attorneys Marc Kasowitz and Jay Sekulow, to oversee his affairs in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation. Mueller’s team is probing the extent of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, including whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government and whether Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey amounted to obstruction of justice. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and denounced the inquiry as a “witch hunt” on multiple occasions.

    Using campaign funds to cover legal fees is not unheard-of, with the closest parallel to Trump’s case coming from Richard Nixon and his associates during the Watergate crisis in the 1970s. The Committee to Re-Elect the President, Nixon’s reelection campaign, drained its funds to pay the legal bills of some of the co-conspirators, although it eventually declared it would only reimburse those acquitted of a felony. Those convicted, like Watergate burglar Howard Hunt, accrued hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs along the way. A White House tape of Nixon discussing Hunt’s request for help paying off the fees was subsequently used as evidence of a cover-up.

    The division between the president’s official and personal costs were also more fluid at the time. Government funds paid the salary of James St. Clair, Nixon’s Watergate attorney, toward the end of his presidency. St. Clair insisted he was defending the presidency, not Nixon personally, although as president Nixon was the chief beneficiary of his legal advice. After his resignation, Nixon organized a legal-defense fund to cover what remained; his controversial pardon from Gerald Ford spared him from the substantial costs of defending himself at trial.

    Major political scandals in between the Nixon and Trump administrations did not involve election campaigns and therefore raised no questions about using campaign funds. The Independent Counsel Act, a post-Watergate federal law that created an independent prosecutor’s office, allowed the subjects of its investigations to receive some compensation for legal fees if they were investigated but not indicted. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush used the provision to recoup legal costs after the Iran-Contra investigation, as did top Cabinet officials.

    Bill and Hillary Clinton faced perhaps the highest legal bills of any White House residents after the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations under Independent Counsel Ken Starr. After leaving office, the Clintons asked a special three-judge panel established by the independent counsel statute to waive $3.5 million in fees related to Starr’s Whitewater probe, but the panel only approved $85,000 in compensation in 2003. The judges concluded that the Justice Department would have investigated the matter regardless of the independent counsel’s involvement. Thanks to lucrative book deals and a series of speaking engagements, the Clintons paid off their debts by 2005.

    Elements of a compromise on state innovation waivers

    By Jason Levitis, Stuart M Butler from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Following the failure of several Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal bills in the Senate, there has been increased interest in designing bipartisan ACA reform legislation, both within the relevant Senate committees and among analysts and policy organizations.  Bipartisan packages being developed or proposed seek to stabilize the market through such means as clarifying that cost-sharing…

    Soggy spun sugar and complete and utter Poopwafels: disaster hits the Bake Off tent in week four

    By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    “The tricky thing about caramel is… everything.”

    It’s caramel week on The Great British Bake Off, so obviously the episode begins with the self-consciously zany Noel Fielding wistfully wondering what would happen “if we were wasps right now”, and introducing the first challenge mere seconds later with the phrase, “Now, as you know, I’m part wasp”. Will he adopt a croaking wasp accent? Or some comedy antennae? Only time will tell.

    This week, the signature challenge is millionaire shortbread, which sounds fairly simple and easy, but it’s not, because of things like ratio and layering and a very hot humid tent. Liam and Julia boldly illustrate the two possible reactions to a week based entirely around caramel. Liam grins fondly and says, “I love caramel. I’m not saying I’m good at it, but I love it.” Julia grimaces and says, “The tricky thing about caramel is… everything.”

    Sophie makes her shortbread with strange acetate rings around them, and Prue flares her nostrils as she asks why she doesn’t have the precise tins that would make this easier. Sophie admits she couldn’t afford them, and I am momentarily truly outraged that Channel 4 forks out for overpriced pastel mixers but can’t provide the bakers on this baking show with baking tins. Meanwhile, adorable James is getting gold leaf all over his teeth and sounding the most out-of-touch any baker ever has (which is saying something) when he says, “I might take up rapping.”

    Some bakers, perhaps misguidedly, are trying to have “fun” with their shortbread. Yan spray paints the Queen’s face on hers in a damning comment on the sickly, overdecorated status of the Royal Family. Noel asks her if she is the real Banksy, which she denies. “Only a true Banksy would say he wasn’t Banksy.” A good joke from Noel! Well done Noel.

    When it comes to the judging, Prue bangs on about how she doesn’t like overly sweet things and can’t eat too much caramel at once – Mary Would Never. “How can you eat that much caramel, Paul!” she moans, and for the first time in my life, I am on the side of Paul Hollywood.

    The technical challenge this week is “Stroopwafel” which is basically those caramel wafery waffles you get in high street chain cafes. Bake Off nerds will be delighted to learn that the fourth week sees the return of The History Bit, which is as charmingly dull as ever, introduced in the only way Noel Fielding knows: “The Stroopwafel is a Dutch national treasure, the biscuit equivalent of Rutger Hauer. But it had humble origins, before racing to success with the film Blade Runner. Oh, no, that was Rutger Hauer. Here’s a film about Stroopwafels.” Then he does a comedy fall into a bush. Cool.

    Liam sums up everyone’s approach to this caramel treat with a shrug and two words: “Waffles, innit”. Sandi and Stephen chat about caramel’s original use in waxing, leading Sandi to, with mock surprise, say she likes that Stephen knows about waxing. “Of course I know about leg waxing,” he says with a wink. I know about lots of things.” I love this sexy Stephen and wish we’d caught a glimpse of him before now.

    Everybody fails resoundingly at the Stroopwafel. The caramel is pure Goopwafel. The bakers’ faces Droopwafel. The judges have been Dupewafeled. They are complete and total Poopwafels, if you will.

    Stacey wins the technical for the second week in a row, but it’s a hollow win, a prize for being the Least Worst, and she’s not overly pleased with it.

    Begrudgingly we move on to the showstoppers: in Stephen’s words, “caramel is obviously a sensitive subject for everybody” right now. But ambition abounds regardless, with bakers working on animal scapes, elaborate crowns, and statuesque tricks with spin sugar. There're more lascivious comments than have featured so far in this series – with James babbling about “dipping” his” nuts” and Stephen calling his mirror glaze “sexual”. Everyone struggles with the caramel and spun sugar elements of their bakes in the humidity of the tent.

    Ultimately, Stephen’s crown jewels cake shocks everyone when it is labelled “disappointing” – but it’s Tom who royally fucks his up. Kate, perhaps surprisingly, does the best of the lot. Liam builds his reputation as a wizard with spices – after a series of disasters last time, it’s a great week for him.

    But what will next week offer? Noel and Stephen’s sugarspun ponytails, £3.99 a piece? We can only hope.

    Channel 4

    German election: testing the welcome

    From The Big Read. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    The eurozone recovery achieves critical mass

    From FT View. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    The central bank’s loose policies are key to the bloc’s remarkable turnround

    The eurozone recovery achieves critical mass

    From Europe. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    The central bank’s loose policies are key to the bloc’s remarkable turnround

    Aung San Suu Kyi: Notably Absent from the Opening of the UN General Assembly

    By Council on Foreign Relations from Human Rights. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    As the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) opened for debate today, the world is once again re

    Toys R Us defined my childhood – 6 of the toys I won't forget

    By Jason Murugesu from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Memories of a now-struggling toy shop. 

    For my family, visits to Toys R Us usually took place around Christmas time. Since it was invariably freezing, this first meant being wrapped up by fussy parents in the cheapest and scratchiest of woolly hats, gloves and scarves. 

    My Toys R Us was on Old Kent Road in south east London. It has a stupidly big car park, and was opposite a sofa-store which changed its name every few years. 

    The store itself was as well-lit as a supermarket, but instead of cabbages, the shelves were lined with colourfully-packaged toys. 

    On a street with few constants, Toys R Us has remained ever present. Now, though, the firm is filing for bankruptcy in the US and Canada. UK branches will not be affected for now, but the trends behind its demise are international - the growth of online retailers at the expense of traditional toyshops. 

    Each year at Toys R Us is different as each is defined by a different set of best-sellers - the toys which defined my childhood are unlikely to define yours.  

    Here is a retrospective catalogue of my Toys (and yes, they deserve capitalisation):

    1. Beyblades

    Perhaps my most treasured toy. Beyblades were in essence glorified spinning tops. 

    The hit TV show about them however, made them anything but. 

    On the show, teenagers would battle their spinning tops, which for some reason were possessed by ancient magical monsters, against each other. 

    These battles on TV would last for multiple (surprisingly emotional) episode arcs. Alas, in the real world battles with friends would be scuppered by the laws of physics and last no longer than 30 seconds. 

    Not so with the remote-controlled Beyblade. An electric motor provided an extra minute or so of flight time. 

    It was wild. 

    2. Furbies

    At aged eight years old, I thought Furbies were stupid. I was wise beyond my years.

    3. Barbies

    Trips to Toys R Us inevitably also meant buying something for my younger sister. I would choose the ugliest looking doll from the shelves to annoy her. She was always annoyed.

    4. Talking Buzz Lightyear

    A toy which I will always remember as it led me to the epiphany that Santa Claus wasn't real. How did I figure it out? The Christmas tag was written by someone who had the distinctive handwriting of my father. I for one, am not looking forward to Toy Story 4. 

    5. Yu-Gi-Oh Cards 

    Yu-Gi-Oh was a card game about magical monsters that actually required a lot of strategy. It was cool to like them for a bit. Then we quickly realised that those who were actually good at the game were the losers and should be made fun of.

    I was one of those losers. 

    6. Tamagotchi

    The first birthday present I ever bought my sister (with my hard earned birthday money, no less). She didn't care for it. Who did?

    As much as all these playthings, Toys R Us itself has defined a specific part of childhood for millions. But for those growing up in the US however, that may not be the case any longer.

    Photo: Getty

    Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi fails the Rohingya test

    From FT View. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Country’s once revered leader proves feeble in the face of army atrocities

    Youth v experience

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Will being "someone different" see Labour's young new leader oust the New Zealand Nationals?

    In defence of the BBC Front Row presenters who don’t like theatre

    By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Giles Coren, Amol Rajan and Nikki Bedi of the new BBC Two arts show are getting stick for not being playgoers.

    When I heard last month that BBC Radio 4’s Front Row will be expanded to a TV slot on BBC Two, I was a bit unsure about its presenters. The restaurant grouch Giles Coren and the BBC’s Media Editor Amol Rajan – both respected commentators but on completely different subjects – didn’t feel the same as the radio version’s current hosts (though The Arts Hour and Loose Ends radio journalist Nikki Bedi made more sense).

    Now, all three presenters have given an interview to the Radio Times, picked up by the Telegraph, in which they lay into theatre as an art form.

    Coren revealed he hadn’t been to the theatre much in the past seven years, due to parenting duties – and also his stress over the idea that the actors would forget their lines. He believes it “has to be such a good production” for modern audiences to suspend their disbelief, and also complained about the seats:

    “In the theatre they’re all so uncomfortable and old, and it feels like they’re trying to throw you out. I’d also like easier access to the loo.”

    His co-presenters also didn’t seem particularly enthused. Bedi admitted, “I resent going to the theatre and not having an interval for two hours and 45 minutes. I want more intervals”, adding that she prefers film, and “tight, fast-paced, creative theatre that moves away from tradition”.

    Rajan also mentioned that being a father makes it difficult to go (he has a young baby), but he saw the musical Dreamgirls last week and the School of Rock musical two years ago. He added that his favourite place is the Globe, which only seemed to rile the theatre world more.

    The Telegraph’s theatre critic Dominic Cavendish seethed:

    “What is the BBC doing, given the world-envied pre-eminence of our theatre culture, handing over the invaluable job of informing the TV-viewing public about what’s on stage, what's good, what's not and why, to a Come Dine With Me melange of lightweights who between them seem to have quite liked going to Shakespeare’s Globe and School of Rock IN NEW YORK!”

    The playwright Dan Rebellato tweeted:

    “Imagine if BBC’s art critics said novels were ‘too long’ or poetry ’too difficult’ or classical music ‘too boring’. Fucking OUTRAGEOUS.”

    The editor of The Stage Alistair Smith added:

    “It’s great the BBC is putting arts and theatre coverage front and centre, but I’m sure the industry will be hoping it will include some slightly more incisive criticism than ‘the seats are uncomfortable and there aren’t enough loos’.”

    But many theatre fans (including this one) won’t feel outraged by the presenters’ comments. Even the theatre critic and associate editor of The Stage Mark Shenton admitted that, “yes, these matters sometimes vex professional theatregoers too – I routinely go to the theatre six or seven times a week – but the rewards far outweigh the inconveniences and irritation.”

    The first layer of outrage was at the presenters’ focus on practicality: Coren’s comments about the uncomfortable seats and sparse loos, and Bedi’s complaint about duration and lack of intervals. Yes, it might seem banal, but it’s true.

    In those old Victorian theatres, try being above average height, below average height, having a disability, elderly, or with children. And for any production, try being someone who works early morning shifts or night shifts. Most mainstream theatre is pretty impractical – both timewise and seating-wise – and that makes it pretty inaccessible to lots of people. Maybe not to BBC presenters, but the programme is for the public, not just for their fellow journos who get press tickets and seats in the stalls.

    Then the second, far worse, layer of outrage focused on Rajan’s comments. “The Globe!” The theatre world giggled. “Musicals!” It corpsed some more. This is nothing but snobbery. As if Shakespeare’s Globe is too obvious and musicals are too low-brow to be critiqued on, uh, an entertainment show. But then they can’t stomach Bedi’s enthusiasm for more avant-garde pieces. So which is it?

    If the presenters’ comments give away a little too much about their attitude to the arts, the theatre world’s response says far worse about its own.


    Donald Trump's threats give North Korea every reason it needs to keep nuclear weapons

    By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    The US president's warning that he may “totally destroy” the country is a gift to Kim Jong-un's regime. 

    Even by Donald Trump's undiplomatic standards, his speech at the UN general assembly was remarkably reckless. To gasps from his audience, Trump vowed to "totally destroy" North Korea if it persisted with its threats and branded Kim Jong-un "rocket man". In an apparent resurrection of George W Bush's "axis of evil", the US president also declared: “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph". 

    For North Korea, Trump's words merely provide further justification for its nuclear weapons programme. Though the regime is typically depicted as crazed (and in some respects it is), its nuclear project rests on rational foundations. For Kim, the lesson from the fall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi was that tyrants pay a price for relinquishing their arms. The persistent threats from the US strengthen the regime's domestic position and reinforce a siege mentality. Though North Korea must be deterred from a pre-emptive strike, it must also be offered incentives to pursue a different path. 

    As Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remarked last month: "We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel. We are not your enemy... but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond. And we hope that at some point they will begin to understand that and we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them."

    The present nadir reflects the failures of the past. In 1994, the Clinton administration persuaded North Korea to freeze its nuclear programme in return for economic and diplomatic concessions. A communique declared that neither state had "hostile intent" towards the other. But this progress was undone by the Bush administration, which branded North Korea a member of the "axis of evil" and refused to renew the communique.

    The subsequent six-party talks (also including China, Russia South Korea and Japan) were similarly undermined by the US. As Korea expert Mike Chinoy records in the Washington Post in 2005, the Bush administration provocatively "designated Macau's Banco Delta Asia, where North Korea maintained dozens of accounts, as a 'suspected money-laundering concern.'" When a new agreement was reached in 2007, "Washington hard-liners demanded that Pyongyang accept inspections of its nuclear facilities so intrusive one American official described them a 'national proctologic exam'".

    For North Korea, the benefits of nuclear weapons (a "treasured sword of justice" in Kim's words) continue to outweigh the costs. Even the toughened UN sanctions (which will ban one third of the country's $3bn exports) will not deter Pyongyang from this course. As Tillerson recognised, diplomacy may succeed where punishment has failed. But Trump's apocalyptic rhetoric will merely inflate North Korea's self-righteousness. 

    Photo: Getty

    Jeremy Corbyn secures big victory on Labour's national executive committee

    By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    The NEC has approved rule changes which all-but-guarantee the presence of a Corbynite candidate on the ballot. 

    Jeremy Corbyn has secured a major victory after Labour’s ruling executive voted approve a series of rule changes, including lowering the parliamentary threshold for nominating a leader of the Labour party from 15 per cent to 10 per cent. That means that in the event of a leadership election occurring before March 2019, the number of MPs and MEPs required to support a candidate’s bid would drop to 28. After March 2019, there will no longer be any Labour MEPs and the threshold would therefore drop to 26.

    As far as the balance of power within the Labour Party goes, it is a further example of Corbyn’s transformed position after the electoral advance of June 2017. In practice, the 28 MP and MEP threshold is marginally easier to clear for the left than the lower threshold post-March 2019, as the party’s European contingent is slightly to the left of its Westminster counterpart. However, either number should be easily within the grasp of a Corbynite successor.

    In addition, a review of the party’s democratic structures, likely to recommend a sweeping increase in the power of Labour activists, has been approved by the NEC, and both trade unions and ordinary members will be granted additional seats on the committee. Although the plans face ratification at conference, it is highly likely they will pass.

    Participants described the meeting as a largely low-key affair, though Peter Willsman, a Corbynite, turned heads by saying that some of the party’s MPs “deserve to be attacked”. Willsman, a longtime representative of the membership, is usually a combative presence on the party’s executive, with one fellow Corbynite referring to him as an “embarrassment and a bore”. 

    Photo: Getty

    The vitriol aimed at Hillary Clinton shows the fragility of women's half-won freedom

    By Sarah Ditum from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    The more I understand about the way the world treats women, the more I feel the terror of it coming for me.

    I’m worried about my age. I’m 36. There’s a line between my eyebrows that’s been making itself known for about the last six years. Every time I see a picture of myself, I automatically seek out the crease. One nick of Botox could probably get rid of it. Has my skin lost its smoothness and glow?

    My bathroom shelf has gone from “busy” to “cluttered” lately with things designed to plump, purify and resurface. It’s all very pleasant, but there’s something desperate I know at the bottom of it: I don’t want to look my age.

    You might think that being a feminist would help when it comes to doing battle with the beauty myth, but I don’t know if it has. The more I understand about the way the world treats women – and especially older women – the more I feel the terror of it coming for me. Look at the reaction to Hillary Clinton’s book. Too soon. Can’t she go quietly. Why won’t she own her mistakes.

    Well Bernie Sanders put a book out the week after the presidential election – an election Clinton has said Sanders did not fully back her in –  and no one said “too soon” about that. (Side note: when it comes to not owning mistakes, Sanders’s Our Revolution deserves a category all to itself, being as how the entire thing was written under the erroneous impression that Clinton, not Trump, would be president.) Al Gore parlayed his loss into a ceaseless tour of activism with An Inconvenient Truth, and everyone seems fine with that. John McCain – Christ, everyone loves John McCain now.

    But Hillary? Something about Hillary just makes people want to tell her to STFU. As Mrs Merton might have asked: “What is it that repulses you so much about the first female candidate for US president?” Too emotional, too robotic, too radical, too conservative, too feminist, too patriarchal – Hillary has been called all these things, and all it really means is she’s too female.

    How many women can dance on the head of pin? None, that’s the point: give them a millimetre of space to stand in and shake your head sadly as one by one they fall off. Oh dear. Not this woman. Maybe the next one.

    It’s in that last bit that that confidence racket being worked on women really tells: maybe the next one. And maybe the next one could be you! If you do everything right, condemn all the mistakes of the women before you (and condemn the women themselves too), then maybe you’ll be the one standing tippy-toe on the miniscule territory that women are permitted. I’m angry with the men who engage in Clinton-bashing. With the women, it’s something else. Sadness. Pity, maybe. You think they’ll let it be you. You think you’ve found the Right Kind of Feminism. But you haven’t and you never will, because it doesn’t exist.

    Still, who wouldn’t want to be the Right Kind of Feminist when there are so many ready lessons on what happens to the Wrong Kind of Feminist. The wrong kind of feminist, now, is the kind of feminist who thinks men have no right to lease women by the fuck (the “sex worker exclusionary radical feminist”, or SWERF) or the kind of feminist who thinks gender is a repressive social construct (rechristened the “trans exclusionary radical feminist”, or TERF).

    Hillary Clinton, who has said that prostitution is “demeaning to women” – because it absolutely is demeaning to treat sexual access to women as a tradeable commodity – got attacked from the left as a SWERF. Her pre-election promises suggest that she would probably have continued the Obama administration’s sloppy reinterpretation of sex discrimination protections as gender identity protections, so not a TERF. Even so, one of the charges against her from those who considered her not radical enough was that she was a “rich, white, cis lady.” Linger over that. Savour its absurdity. Because what it means is: I won’t be excited about a woman presidential candidate who was born female.

    This year was the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, and of the Abortion Act. One of these was met with seasons of celebratory programming; one, barely mentioned at all. (I took part in a radio documentary about “men’s emotional experiences of abortion”, where I made the apparently radical point that abortion is actually something that principally affects women.) No surprise that the landmark benefiting women was the one that got ignored. Because women don’t get to have history.

    That urge to shuffle women off the stage – troublesome women, complicated women, brilliant women – means that female achievements are wiped of all significance as soon as they’re made. The second wave was “problematic”, so better not to expose yourself to Dworkin, Raymond, Lorde, Millett, the Combahee River Collective, Firestone or de Beauvoir (except for that one line that everyone misquotes as if it means that sex is of no significance). Call them SWERFs and TERFs and leave the books unread. Hillary Clinton “wasn’t perfect”, so don’t listen to anything she has to say based on her vast and unique experience of government and politics: just deride, deride, deride.

    Maybe, if you’re a woman, you’ll be able to deride her hard enough to show you deserve what she didn’t. But you’ll still have feminine obsolescence yawning in your future. Even if you can’t admit it – because, as Katrine Marçal has pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, our entire economy is predicated on discounting women’s work – you’ll need the politics of women who analysed and understood their situation as women. You’ll still be a woman, like the women who came before us, to whom we owe the impossible debt of our half-won freedom.

    In the summer of 2016, a radio interviewer asked me whether women should be grateful to Clinton. At the time, I said no: we should be respectful, but what I wanted was a future where women could take their place in the world for granted. What nonsense. We should be laying down armfuls of flowers for our foremothers every day.

    Photo: Getty

    Here’s everything I learned this weekend at LibDem conference

    By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Fear and loathing in the Bournemouth International Centre.

    I spent my weekend in Bournemouth. It’s a lovely place for a weekend away, with gorgeous sandy beaches, beautiful parks and unusually good weather for an English seaside resort – but I didn’t get to enjoy any of that because I spent the weekend shut in a conference centre with a bunch of Lib Dems. Here’s what I learned from the experience.

    There are people who think that EU flag berets make a stylish addition to any head

    Almost the first thing to catch my eye on entering the Bournemouth International Centre was a cluster of women with EU flags on their head.

    I’m not entirely clear whether there were a lot of these guys, or a small group I just happened to notice a lot because an EU flag beret is the sort of thing you’ll almost certainly be able to spot across a crowded conference hall, but either way I kept seeing them all weekend.

    Vexingly, they were always women of a certain age. Do young women not love the EU? Do they not make the hats in men’s sizes? What?

    Anyway.  If you want to show your support for Britain’s membership of the European Union while looking a bit like one of the mushrooms from Super Mario Bros 3, now you know how. 

    You can buy laminated pictures of Tim Farron for £4.25 a throw

    Something I would like to know is who exactly the market is for this particular product.

    Something I would not like to know is why this product is laminated.

    Vince Cable wants to bring house prices down...

    The reason I was at LibDem conference at all was because the Young Liberals had wanted someone who wasn’t a politician to join their panel about intergenerational inequality and, basically, shout at everyone about housing. This is how I spend most Saturday nights anyway, so I agreed.

    The thing that stays with me about that discussion was something the new(ish) party leader Vince Cable said. I’m paraphrasing, but it was along the lines of: We need to explain to homeowners that house prices have to fall.

    At the time, I thought perhaps this was a comment tailored for a young and angry audience – but he said something similar when taking questions from the party at large the next day. He also said that the party needed to take on the NIMBYs that oppose house-building. 

    All of which I’m quite in favour of, on the whole. Except...

    ... but his party night not let him least some of those NIMBYs are members of his own party. One of them is the MP for Oxford West & Abingdon, Layla Moran, who was elected in June on a platform of protecting Oxford’s green belt from the housing development she says neighbouring Tory and Labour councils are threatening to build. 

    During our panel debate, Moran explained that she favoured meeting Oxford’s housing need by building in neighbouring Bicester (not, as it happens, a part of her own constituency). She also argued that building on the green belt should be the “last resort”, although since the city already has the most expensive housing in Britain relative to wages it’s not clear to me what the last resort might look like if not this.

    At any rate: LibDem policy is set by the members, not the leadership. And Moran will be far from the only LibDem politician who wants to protect their patch from development. For those who favour housebuilding, Cable’s support is A Good Thing – but that doesn’t mean his party will follow him on the issue. 

    Political tribalism is personal

    Why, I asked people in a panic whenever conversation palled, are you a LibDem? Sometimes, when people seemed particularly annoyed with the party around them, I’d instead ask: why are you still a LibDem?

    One of the answers I was given stays with me, because I’d not considered it before. You might hate the leadership, the policies, the coalition. You might not know many LibDems back home. But twice a year you go off to a conference somewhere, and you spend four days with friends from all over the country who otherwise you would hardly ever see. 

    Leaving the party doesn’t just mean cutting up a membership card: it means abandoning those friends. 

    This, I suspect, goes some way to explain why, even when the party is very obviously in a hole, everyone in the Bournemouth International Centre this weekend was so bloody cheerful.

    Shutting a couple of thousand strangers in a badly ventilated conference hall for several days is a great way to incubate all sorts of exciting diseases

    I’m a man on the cusp of middle age and I’m sitting here with freshers’ flu and no free drinks parties, how the hell is this fair.

    Just because you agree on Europe that doesn’t mean there’s no excuse for a fight

    The Brexit debate on Sunday morning was, I was assured, going to be the fight of the conference. I’m a big fan of both pointless political rows and the European Union so I went along.

    The funny thing, though, was it was a remarkably difficult fight to understand. Both sides wanted Britain to remain in the European Union, of course (they’re LibDems; they have hats). But one faction wanted to commit the party to an “exit from Brext” referendum on the final terms of Brexit, while the other just wanted to stuff the whole thing. Okay.

    It further transpired that actually both sides would probably accept another referendum (either the first or the third, argued former MP Julian Huppert, depending on how you count, but definitely not the second). The argument was really about the meaning of that referendum: if that was lost, too, would the LibDems accept it and back Brexit? Well, obviously not, but in which case what was the point of supporting a referendum? Why not just be clear that you oppose the whole thing as a mess?

    Moreover, LibDem policy is meant to represent what a LibDem government would do. In the event of a LibDem majority – pause here for hollow laughter – it’s probably safe to assume that the mood of the British public towards Europe will have changed so radically that we could cancel Brexit without bothering with another referendum. So is LibDem policy a guide to the policy of a majority LibDem government? Or is it a guide to what it would fight for without said government? And since nobody outside the party is likely to read the thing does it actually matter?

    Just as I was getting my head around this, someone requested that conference suspend standing orders, the chair said that would be a vote on whether to have a debate about this request, someone else said that standing orders had already been suspended, everyone began muttering, and my nose began to bleed.

    In the event, after a long and exhausting debate that left everyone in a terrible mood, the LibDems voted overwhelmingly to keep policy pretty much the same as it had been before. Which, ironically, is a good description of the party’s position on Brexit.

    The LibDems love a good singsong

    “Oh you have to go to Glee Club,” people kept telling me. “You’ve not seen LibDem conference until you’ve been to Glee Club.”

    I promise that whatever you’re imagining right now, the reality is worse. 

    It works like this. People rewrite the lyrics to popular songs to make them about British politics, and then a roomful of LibDems sing them like they’re hymns. Here’s a topical one about David Cameron and a pig, sung to the tune of English Country Garden:

    Sadly I didn’t make it to glee club – I was back in London before the glittering night – but just so I didn’t feel left out a crowd of LibDems demonstrated the concept to me by singing several verses to the tune of American Pie outside a pub. And just for me. Lucky old me, eh!

    Despite the lyric “Tony Blair should fuck off and die”, this, I’m told, actually dated to before Iraq, all the way back to talk of a Labour-LibDem pact in the mid-1990s, long before many of those singing were even involved in the party. The lyrics are printed in a book that expands every year, and you can buy your own copy. So it is that people can confidently sing along with satirical songs dating back to the 90s or beyond. Amazing scenes.

    If you ever tweet anything nice about LibDem conference, they will start sending you membership forms


    Apart from anything else you people give me the flu.


    Everything wrong with the Electoral Commission’s suggestion to ban trolls from voting

    By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Today in terrible ideas.

    Social media trolls could be banned from voting under legislation suggested by Britain’s election watchdog. The Electoral Commission said yesterday that introducing new offences around trolling could reduce the amount of abuse faced by politicians. Let he who has not trolled cast the first ballot.

    Here’s the thing about this idea: it’s what we call a bad one. Although it is in its infancy, it should not be allowed to grow old. As it stands, the Electoral Commission have suggested building on existing electoral laws, dating back to the 1800s, which rule that certain electoral offences can result in the offender being disqualified from voting or running in an election.

    “In some instances electoral law does specify offences in respect of behaviour that could also amount to an offence under the general, criminal law. It may be that similar special electoral consequences could act as a deterrent to abusive behaviour in relation to candidates and campaigners,” the Electoral Commission stated.

    Here are two truths: 1) MPs face a shocking amount of abuse on Twitter that must not go on unchallenged, and 2) this is not the way to stop it. Dianne Abbott – who incidentally was statistically proven to be the most abused MP during the 2017 general election – disagrees with the policy. Yesterday, she tweeted: “Don't agree. Their abuse should be stopped, not their votes.”

    The first issue is that banning a large group of people from voting is a direct attack on our democracy, laws-dating-back-to-the-1800s or not. But even leaving that big old clunky Orwellian nightmare aside, there are a multitude of problems with the proposal.

    What is a troll? What is abuse?

    Most people think they know the answers to these questions – most people are wrong. There is no firm definition of an internet troll or internet abuse, and the terms are often thrown around incorrectly. In August, political journalists were mocked for assuming the internet slang “corncobbed” was a homophobic slur. “Kys” – an initialism for the words “kill yourself” – is used as a joke by teens, but can be a disturbing message to be on the receiving end of. Just over a year ago, Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire was ruthlessly mocked for reporting a student who tweeted at her to “get in the sea”, another popular online slang phrase.

    It is clearly hard to define what constitutes abuse – and this is problematic not just because people could end up wrongly accused, but because such flexible definitions would easily allow abuse of the system.

    These problems are exacerbated by the fact that many true trolls take pains to hide their identity online. While it could be argued that people who are serially abusive deserve to have their privacy invaded, allowing the police to investigate the identity of anyone they deem abusive is clearly problematic (although it would just be one addition to the UK’s ever-increasing list of shockingly dystopian surveillance laws).

    And how can the public trust that such laws really are intended to stop trolls? Over the last year, newspapers and policy makers have suggested encroaching on our privacy and democracy in order to put an end to terrorism. The Daily Mail has called Google “the terrorist’s friend”, while The Sun similarly blamed Whatsapp’s encryption policies for the Westminster attacks. On the surface, it’s hard to disagree with these ideas. You want to stop terrorists, don’t you? Trolls are bad, aren’t they? But in reality, security and privacy are not a binary, and this is a moral panic designed to manipulate the public into agreeing with anti-democratic laws.

    But finally, the Electoral Commission’s suggestion is simply disproportionate to the problem. At present there is no real “warning” system to deter an online troll from engaging in abusive behaviour, and it seems a huge leap to go from the occasional email from Twitter to a real-life “block” button in the form of banning votes. MPs can mute a person on social media, that doesn’t mean they should be able to mute them from public life.

    The root of this new suggested policy is agreeable, as it is undeniable that abuse is unacceptable. Yet this is a proposal designed to be abused. 

    Flickr: Hoboh Official

    Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

    By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

    And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

    May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

    The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

    Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

    His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

    Photo: Getty

    Fifty Years Later: U.S. Intelligence Shortcomings in the Nigerian Civil War

    By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    The Nigerian Civil war, which lasted from July 1966 to January 1970, remains the most significant

    Impressions and Appraisals in Hong Kong

    By Albert Wohlstetter from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Impressions from the author gleaned during a trip through Hong Kong circa 1962.

    How well have Germany’s refugees integrated?

    From Europe. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Data reveal more asylum seekers are being sent to regions with fewer jobs per capita

    Election tests German compassion for migrants

    From The Big Read. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to more than 1m refugees hangs over Sunday’s national poll

    Election tests German compassion for migrants

    From Europe. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to more than 1m refugees hangs over Sunday’s national poll

    Vince Cable will need something snappier than a graduate tax to escape tuition fees

    By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Perhaps he's placing his hopes in the “Anti Brexit People’s Liberation Front.” 

    “We took power, and we got crushed,” Tim Farron said in what would turn out to be his final Autumn conference as Liberal Democrat leader, before hastening on to talk about Brexit and the need for a strong opposition.

    A year and a snap election later, Vince Cable, the Lib Dem warhorse-turned-leader and the former Coalition business secretary, had plenty of cracks about Brexit.

    He called for a second referendum – or what he dubbed a “first referendum on the facts” – and joked that he was “half prepared for a spell in a cell with Supreme Court judges, Gina Miller, Ken Clarke, and the governors of the BBC” for suggesting it".

    Lib Dems, he suggested, were the “political adults” in the room, while Labour sat on the fence. Unlike Farron, however, he did not rule out the idea of working with Jeremy Corbyn, and urged "grown ups" in other parties to put aside their differences. “Jeremy – join us in the Anti Brexit People’s Liberation Front,” he said. The Lib Dems had been right on Iraq, and would be proved right on Brexit, he added. 

    But unlike Farron, Cable revisited his party’s time in power.

    “In government, we did a lot of good and we stopped a lot of bad,” he told conference. “Don’t let the Tories tell you that they lifted millions of low-earners out of income tax. We did… But we have paid a very high political price.”

    Cable paid the price himself, when he lost his Twickenham seat in 2015, and saw his former Coalition colleague Nick Clegg turfed out of student-heavy Sheffield Hallam. However much the Lib Dems might wish it away, the tuition fees debate is here to stay, aided by some canny Labour manoeuvring, and no amount of opposition to Brexit will hide it.

    “There is an elephant in the room,” the newly re-established MP for Twickenham said in his speech. “Debt – specifically student debt.” He defended the policy (he chose to vote for it in 2010, rather than abstain) for making sure universities were properly funded, but added: “Just because the system operates like a tax, we cannot escape the fact it isn’t seen as one.” He is reviewing options for the future, including a graduate tax. But students are unlikely to be cheering for a graduate tax when Labour is pledging to scrap tuition fees altogether.

    There lies Cable’s challenge. Farron may have stepped down a week after the election declaring himself “torn” between religion and party, but if he had stayed, he would have had to face the fact that voters were happier to nibble Labour’s Brexit fudge (with lashings of free tuition fees), than choose a party on pure Remain principles alone.

    “We are not a single-issue party…we’re not Ukip in reverse,” Cable said. “I see our future as a party of government.” In which case, the onus is on him to come up with something more inspiring than a graduate tax.


    Boris Johnson “will resign before weekend” if Theresa May defies his Brexit wishes

    By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    The Foreign Secretary is against paying permanently for single market access.

    It turns out Boris Johnson’s 4,000 word piece in the Telegraph on Friday on his post-Brexit “vision” is exactly what we thought it was: a threat cushioned by patriotic fluff. Which is a good way of describing the man himself, really.

    Because the same paper has just published an exclusive story that the Foreign Secretary will resign from cabinet before the weekend if Theresa May doesn’t follow his desired plan for Brexit.

    He wants to put pressure on May not to follow the “EEA minus” option, which would see the UK paying the EU permanently for access to the single market and other benefits. The Telegraph reports that he “could not live with” that arrangement and would quit.

    Johnson is trying to distance himself from the story, which allies are calling “nonsense” and blaming on his enemies, suggesting they’re spreading it as revenge against his Telegraph essay.

    This is the problem for Johnson. His intervention was co-ordinated with the same paper, which now has an exclusive on his resignation threat. Anyone watching his mischief-making over the weekend would assume it had come from him. Then again, his enemies would know that, too.

    But the Prime Minister has a bigger problem. She is about to make a set-piece speech in Florence on Friday, outlining the government’s approach to Brexit. She was planning on showing a draft to cabinet on Thursday.

    Up against a Tory party and cabinet divided over how hard or soft Brexit should be, it was always going to be a difficult task. With the threat of a high-profile cabinet resignation, it will be even harder. It shines the light on ideological divisions that she hoped to push out of the way of conference season. With Brexit addressed in the Florence speech, she could have used Tory party conference to focus on domestic policy (ie. looking like a Prime Minister in control for a bit). Now, it’ll be all about the party’s divides – and leadership challengers.

    Photo: Getty

    Marine Le Pen demands senior adviser quits think-tank role

    From Europe. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Call for Florian Philippot to step down reflects tensions in France’s National Front

    The eurozone’s economic recovery proves doomsayers wrong

    From Europe. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Europe’s single currency area even edged ahead of the US in improving GDP per person

    Ukraine women's football clip prompts online sexism row

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    A Ukrainian TV promotion for a women's football game scores an own goal with many on social media.

    I discovered the secret poetry of Donald Trump – and it's tremendous

    By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    A person who is very flat chested is very hard to be a ten / We're going to make America great again.

    Confession: in the past year I've been far more exercised by the words of Donald Trump than by any number of iniquities far more consequential (and closer to home). I'm not proud of this hold he's exerted over me, but I know I'm not the only one. So rather than just impotently fuming after each new verbal transgression, I decided to do something with his quotes.

    Where the idea of assembling them into fully footnoted poems came from is hard to say, but I do remember entertaining – after an especially brash debate performance against Hillary Clinton – the perhaps unlikely idea that there might be more to Trump than he lets on. Perhaps this bravado hides a secret sensitive side.

    The first poem came easily. I typed the indispensable Trumpian adjective “beautiful” into a few online search tools, collected some quotes and citations, and started arranging them. I tried to make the second poem rhyme – a much harder task, especially as I'd made the decision not to alter Trump's original words in any way.

    As the poems became more formally ambitious, the hunt for source material took me deeper into the archives. I bought his books, looked up interviews from the 80s and 90s, viewed a string of campaign speeches, transcribed his paid appearances on wrestling shows and McDonald's commercials, and trawled through his seemingly infinite Twitter feed.

    This research provided the material for compositions including haikus and one narrative poem that nearly fell apart when I could not verify a source. (It eventually turned out better, if more surreal, than I'd expected.) I did have to abandon an attempt at a sonnet - finding enough effective 10-syllable rhymes turned out to be beyond me – but in the end I completed more than enough poems for a collection.

    At times I convinced myself (perhaps in order not to give up) that there was a higher purpose to this labour. The comedian Peter Serafinowicz’s Sassy Trump videos gave Trump a comically camp voice, allowing us to listen to Trump's patter anew in isolation from his normal baritone. Maybe my poems could defamiliarise his words in a similar way, by packaging them as poetry not news content. Maybe I could help readers get out of the well-worn grooves of response that tired media formats have created.

    Having got some distance from the project, I can gladly accept now that the poems are 90 per cent nonsense. But I still believe that taken as a whole the collection reveals something interesting about Trump. It's a snapshot of his verbal output through the ages and across his guises (as washed up playboy, as reality TV star, as political Messiah). It captures the flavour of how he speaks and thinks.

    Having read so much of Trump's oeuvre, the thing that struck me most was how consistent he has been stylistically. The choppy short sentences, pared down vocabulary and preoccupations are always there, as is his ability to sense what his core audience wants, give them slightly more than they asked for, and make them think they wanted that, too. I found very few moments where he “breaks character” or reflects on his strategies for manipulating an audience or dominating an opponent. He just does it.

    So having wondered at the start if there was another Trump hidden beneath the surface of the one we know, I arrived at an answer. No, there probably isn't. As he's repeatedly said himself, he is who he is. And who he is is a weirdly authentic bullshit artist.


    Will Smith did a great job by smacking the guy “reporter” who kissed him2
    Together we're going to fix our rigged system3
    Sarah Jessica Parker voted “unsexiest woman alive” – I agree4
    We must keep “evil” out of our country5
    A person who is very flat chested is very hard to be a ten6
    We're going to make America great again7

    1 Tweet criticising Hillary Clinton, 21 December 2015
    2 Tweet referencing Will Smith's red carpet incident, 21 May 2012
    3 Campaign rally in St Augustine, Florida, 24 October 2016
    4 Tweet criticising Sarah Jessica Parker, 26 October 2012
    5 Tweet, 3 February 2017
    6 Discussing female beauty in an interview on The Howard Stern Show, 2005
    7 Hardball with Chris Matthews, MSNBC, 22 April 2016

    Pittsburgh, not Paris1

    Kate Middleton is great – but she shouldn't be sunbathing in the nude
    It's really cold outside3
    NBC News just called it the Great Freeze4
    Thus, as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord5
    We want global warming right now!6

    1, 5 Paris Climate Accord exit speech, 1 June 2017
    2 Tweet, 17 September 2012
    3 Tweet, 19 October 2015
    4 Tweet, 25 January 2014
    6 Tweet, 27 May 2013 

    Rob Sears is the author of The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump (Canongate, out now). He's previously written fiction and comedy for McSweeney’s and Audible.

    Photo: Getty

    Does her small majority mean Amber Rudd's hopes of becoming PM are already over?

    By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    The Home Secretary is well-liked at Westminster, but has a narrow hold on her seat.

    Among Conservative MPs, there is only one politician at cabinet level who arouses any enthusiasm: the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd. As I wrote in my morning briefing yesterday, at present, she is in the box seat as far as first place among Tory MPs is concerned.

    But Rudd has a problem: her wafer-thin majority. Her constituency of Hastings and Rye has gone with the national winner at every election since its creation, and appropriately in 2017 it was on a knife-edge: just 346 votes separated Rudd from her Labour challenger.

    Although in some ways the problem is secondary – as if Rudd loses her seat, then Labour will be heading into power, whether in some form of minority government or as a majority one, at which point, the Conservatives would seek a new leader in any case. But as the Liberal Democrats have frequently found, the problem with having a leader in a marginal seat is it takes your biggest gun off the field of battle if they are continually having to pop back to their constituency to defend it.

    At the last election, neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn had to campaign extensively in Maidenhead or Islington North, while Tim Farron had to fight a rearguard action to hold onto his seat, which was solidly Tory until he won it in 2005 and nearly flipped back to the Conservatives in 2017.

    It also adds a note of soap opera to your general election campaign that no one wants or needs if your Prime Minister-designate is having to fend off questions about what happens in their own seat.

    But there are two factors at play that are not commonly discussed. Firstly, it’s not as if Hastings (or Rye for that matter) are a particular part of the Rudd brand and she could very easily pop up in a safe seat elsewhere. Not least because you can easily finesse an argument about having been an MP in a marginal seat for seven years but now as Prime Minister you need to focus on the whole country, and so forth. Her supporters at Westminster are already discussing potential berths.

    The second is the possibility of a wholesale boundary review on the basis of 650 seats not 600. Whatever happens, the current 600-seat review is dead in the water: neither the DUP, nor Conservative MPs who might lose out, will sign it off in its current form. But as the current constituency boundaries are so old and out-of-date, any review will be fairly destabilising, which would also allow Rudd to discreetly move to another, safer seat.

    But as I've also said, the matter may not arise. Rudd’s pro-Europeanism and privately more liberal stance both mean that while she is well-placed to be the carrier of the Cameroon flame in the next Conservative leadership election, she faces an uphill battle to actually win.

    Photo: Getty

    “I’m frightened, genuinely frightened”: how London terror attacks affect the rest of the country

    By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    What happens to tourism after terrorism? 

    Like many children his age, Adele Pillinger’s six-year-old son is “obsessed” with dinosaurs. Last year, the mother of two from Silsden, West Yorkshire, booked a family trip to London so her two sons could visit the fossil-filled Natural History Museum. They were to go in October 2017 – next month. But last week, Pillinger cancelled the trip.

    “I feel it’s too much of a risk,” says the 38-year-old, who made the decision to cancel after the Parsons Green tube attack last Friday. “I’ve got two young children… I wouldn’t put them in harm’s way and that’s what I feel like I’d be doing by taking them to London at the moment.”

    Pillinger is not isolated in her decision. Although it is difficult to count the precise impact of terrorism on London tourism, the Westminster Bridge attack in March and London Bridge attack in June saw school trips being cancelled and many changing their plans to visit the capital. Headlines after terror often speak of resilient city-dwellers keeping calm and carrying on, but the effect of terrorism on the psyche – and plans – of others in the country is little discussed.
    Adele's son, via Adele Pillinger
    “I’m frightened. I’m genuinely frightened,” says Pillinger. “I feel genuinely sorry for you guys [Londoners] because you kind of have to crack on with it. I’m sure if it was happening on our doorstep we’d probably feel the same way… but I wouldn’t visit for pleasure at the moment, I can make a decision to not do it.” Instead, Pillinger plans to take her family mountain-biking in Wales.  

    Cori Clarke, a 30-year-old teaching assistant from York, has recently decided against taking her six-year-old son Jude to visit his great-grandmother, who lives in London. “Last summer I took my daughter for a few days in London, a sort of girls’ weekend, and this year was going to be my son’s turn. But with what’s happened, I’m just not going to take him.”

    Although she’s aware it may sound hypocritical, Clarke does agree with people who say that cancelling plans is “letting the terrorists win” – and she even persuaded her mother against cancelling her own separate trip, planned for November. “I would say you can’t let these people stop your plans, which I know is contradictory,” explains Clarke, “but I don’t want my son seeing anything; I think he’d be absolutely terrified if anything happened… I just thought it’s not worth it basically.”

    Many other parents face similar decisions to Pillinger’s and Clarke’s. Primary school children were trapped in the Houses of Parliament during the Westminster attack in March, and schools across the country have been reassessing their planned trips to London. If schools go ahead with their plans, mums and dads then face the difficult decision of whether or not to isolate their children by pulling them out of the trip.

    “I just said no, it just seemed too recent,” says Milli Brazier, a 27-year-old from Southend, Essex, who pulled her nine-year-old daughter out of a trip to visit the Science Museum after the Westminster attack. Though the school originally intended to cancel the trip, it went ahead after parents complained. Brazier and a few other parents decided against letting their children go.

    “To be honest the school’s not the most organised school and the thought of if anything did happen… the idea of the school not being able to organise the children and keep them safe…” Brazier trails off. “I think as a parent if you’re not comfortable sending your child anywhere… if it’s not right for you as a parent, then you shouldn’t do it.”
    Milli and her family, via Milli Brazier
    Like Pillinger, the mother from Silsend, Brazier feels that the rest of the country doesn’t have to “carry on” like Londoners do after attacks. “If you live in London you have to carry on, but if you’re making an unnecessary trip to me it just seems a little bit pointless to take that risk when you don’t need to,” she says. “If I didn’t have children I’d probably do it myself but it’s different when you have children.”

    Neither Pillinger, Brazier or Clarke know when they will feel comfortable enough to visit the capital again. “I don’t feel the government is doing enough to make people feel safe,” says Pillinger. When people accuse her of letting the terrorists “win” by changing her plans, she has a succinct reply.

    “I would say that I think they’re already winning,” she says, “because we’re not doing anything about it. Everyone’s entitled to feel how they feel about it but I think they’re already winning because I’m frightened…

    “It’s not normal what’s happening, it’s not normal and it’s not right and I do think the government needs to get a grip on it and do something more about it.”

    By the end of the year, it will perhaps be easier to see the financial impact terrorism has had on London’s tourist industry. It's worth noting that, at present, you're more likely to be killed by a dog or by hot water than by a terrorist. But regardless, it is clear that some families' perception of the capital has changed. 

    Photo: Getty

    How Jeremy Corbyn and an Arsenal player roasted Piers Morgan… in Spanish

    By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Muy burn.

    As if politics in the UK wasn’t spicy enough, watch what happens when you do it in Spanish.

    It all started when backward ham Piers Morgan complained in a piece for the Mail that Jeremy Corbyn and his wife froze him out of a conversation with the Arsenal player Héctor Bellerín at the GQ Awards:

    “Later, fellow Arsenal fan Jeremy Corbyn came over to speak to him. When I tried to interrupt, the Labour leader – whose wife is Mexican – promptly switched to fluent Spanish to shut me out of the conversation.

    ‘What did you tell him?’ I asked.

    Corbyn smirked. ‘I told him to please send Arsène Wenger my very best and assure him he continues to have my full support, even if he’s lost yours, Piers. In fact, particularly because he’s lost yours…’

    A keen-eyed tweeter picked up the passage about speaking Spanish, and the anecdote went viral:

    So viral, in fact, that Bellerín himself commented on the story in a tweet saying, “Come on mate, don’t take it personally” to Morgan – punctuated masterfully with a crying laughing emoji.

    Then the Labour leader himself joined in the great burning ceremony, replying to the thread in full Spanish:

    His response translates as:

    “It was nice to meet you. It’s better that we don’t tell him what we were talking about, he wouldn’t understand. Well-played in the game on Sunday.”

    And muy buen juego to you too, El Jez.


    Meet the megabots – how scientists turned robots into a swarm

    By Sanjana Varghese from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Researchers have discovered how to make one robot “the brain” of the others. 

    Alexa is an automated butler that tells you what the weather is like and gives you the film showing times. Roomba is a robot that can clean your floors (and provide entertainment). They are designed to have a harmonious relationship with their human owner. But imagine if you accidentally step on your Roomba one day, or get frustrated if Alexa doesn't recognise your question. For now, it seems like those actions might have no consequences, except you venting your rage. 

    But in future, you might watch your words. According to recent research from Nature Communications, it’s entirely possible that in the future, all those autonomous robots could merge together to form one kind of megabot, capable of carrying out commands and actions as a cohesive whole.

    Researchers from three different centres in Lisbon, Brussels and Lausanne were able to effectively program very simple robots to be able to move together, reminiscent of a swarm of bees. This study opened the door for future, mildly terrifying possibilities, like weaponised robots being used to disperse tear gas through huge groups of people.  

    Robotic units have been seen before. Programmers have been able to put robotic units together to form a “megabot” of sorts – think putting Wall-E and R2-D2 together. But if you wanted that hybrid to do something, you would have to reprogramme the robots individually, which is trickier than it seems. A merged Wall-E and R2-D2 wouldn’t really be able to do much, because the robots do not share a central unit, like a brain.

    Over the course of 10 years, the researchers from three different countries worked together to build a megabot. This meant finding a way to create a mergeable nervous system that would enable modular robots to act as one, the first of its kind. 

    As shown in this video, under this system, one of the smaller robotic units touches another one, and a mechanism will make one of  the robotic units will surrender its authority to the other one, and so on. The “winner” will become the brain of the two units, and so on until those smaller robots become a bigger swarm.

    Pointing an LED light at one swarm of robots will make the whole group move. It designates one unit, which glows red, as the “brain unit” and enables it to co-ordinate the action of other robotic units, which glow blue.  But as the swarm splits apart, each individual unit then carries that same knowledge and processing ability to coordinate the censors and actuators of the robotic units. If a brain unit develops a fault, the other components can come together to disengage the faulty unit.

    This study is only a baby step in the creation of megabots. The robots used in this study were not the complex, almost human-like robots we’re used to seeing in pop culture, but basic models with relatively uncomplicated “robot nervous systems”.Watching these robots bump into each other and light up doesn’t really invoke the same fear as the popular images of megabots like the Decepticons tearing up everything in their sight. 

    As with most other investigations into emerging technologies, the results of the study are exciting. However, the implications might be cause for alarm. Creating a mergeable nervous system for robots is completely unprecedented. It could open the door for all kinds of other robotic developments that might not be as easy to regulate. 

    Programming robots to merge nervous systems together was the most probable way to achieve the researchers' end goal. The other way to develop working megabots would be to code robots to function like “higher order “ animals. "Higher order" animals would refer to beings such as ourselves. We respond to stimuli based on the context we’re gaining information in, and then work together in groups to carry out tasks.

    That requires the ability to "think" autonomously for robots, which remains years away at least. But if that breakthrough occurs, it's possible to imagine sex robots that turn murderous, or co-ordinated explosive robots, of the kind already sent to warzones. If that were the case, a swarm of Roombas would be the least of our problems. 


    The beggar used to be friendly – now he was ranting at everyone

    By Nicholas Lezard from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    What was I doing, dismissing him with maximal curtness – and not caring?

    The first beggar was walking but still wretched. Probably in his early twenties, clearly ravaged by more than just alcohol, he made a beeline for me, as if he had an appointment. He was not to know that I was in a mood from hell, though the look on my face would have told him, if he’d been in any kind of state to register it.

    “Excuse me, have you got 10p for…”

    “No.” And I walked on.

    Why? I am almost invariably a soft touch for this kind of thing. But as I said, I was in the foulest of tempers.

    Also, this was East Finchley. For those who do not know London, East Finchley is a northern suburb, which at one end hosts the wealthiest street in the country – the Bishops Avenue, where multimillionaires tear down houses and erect new ones even uglier than those they have replaced – and at the other end a typically seedy, dull collection of terraced houses.

    The main supermarket is Budgens, a name so ungainly that it could only have belonged to a real person, either too proud or unimaginative to think of something else.

    But what, I asked myself, was someone this wretched doing in East Finchley? And what was I doing, dismissing him with maximal curtness – and not caring?

    The second beggar, further up the street, I met the next day: much older and clearly mad, rather than chemically poisoned. He asked how I was doing.

    “Not so well, as it happens,” I replied.

    “Would you like me to say a prayer for you?”

    “Why not?” I said, and he placed a clenched fist to my forehead and made a brief incantation, something like an exorcism, and then kissed the large white plastic crucifix hanging from his neck.

    I half-expected to feel a jolt of faith, some kind of divine restructuring. This time I gave him money: a pound coin and a 50p coin. But then later I thought: why didn’t I give him more? I’d been doing some tidying earlier and had retrieved a heavy pocketful of change; I could have given him a generous handful.

    The third beggar was in Shepherd’s Bush. I knew him from the days when I lived there: a skinny, middle-aged guy who would occasionally stop and rant in a friendly way at me, just sane enough not to ignore. That was ten years ago. Now he was raging at everyone, accusing the teenagers queueing in the kebab shop of being batty boys and saying “bloodclaat” a lot. (Batty boy: homosexual. Bloodclaat: tampon.)

    The people he was addressing knew perfectly well what he was saying. They shrugged it off. I got on the bus; so did he, and the whole bus knew about it. There was nothing friendly in him now, and I wondered through which hole in the increasingly threadbare welfare safety net he had been allowed to slip.

    That’s it, I thought. I’m getting out of London, its pampered core oblivious to the surrounding anguish. The world in a nutshell. Luckily, my great friend S— had asked if I could cat-sit for her in Brighton. I know her cat, and I know Brighton. Also, I know about a dozen people there who I keep meaning to see, so why not? London was making me ill, and possibly a bad person. So S— invited me down a couple of days before she was due to go on her holidays, and I took the first train I could.

    And now I find myself sitting on a sunlounger in a tiny backyard, in a charming house just abutting the North Laine, and the mood is palpably different to the capital’s. It is like a city ought to be: compact, diverse and funky. There is no reek of High Capitalism. It is healthily decadent. It would appear to be full of people who have rejected the idea of London. It still has an enormous number of beggars, but more people were dropping money for them than I ever saw do so in W1, W12 or N2.

    So this is what it’s like to fall out of love with the city of one’s birth. What most surprised me was the speed and force with which it happened. I’d made my mind up over a nice lunch that my friend N— was buying me, to cheer me up.

    “Don’t you have to stay in London? You know, for book launches and things like that?”

    “I don’t go to fucking book launches any more,” I said. I was taken aback by the vigour of my reply. I’m only here for ten days but I have plenty of people to see and dozens of memories, all good, to bump into. I’m already feeling better. 

    Photo: Getty

    Forget gaining £350m a week, Brexit would cost the UK £300m a week

    By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Figures from the government's own Office for Budget Responsibility reveal the negative economic impact Brexit would have. 

    Even now, there are some who persist in claiming that Boris Johnson's use of the £350m a week figure was accurate. The UK's gross, as opposed to net EU contribution, is precisely this large, they say. Yet this ignores that Britain's annual rebate (which reduced its overall 2016 contribution to £252m a week) is not "returned" by Brussels but, rather, never leaves Britain to begin with. 

    Then there is the £4.1bn that the government received from the EU in public funding, and the £1.5bn allocated directly to British organisations. Fine, the Leavers say, the latter could be better managed by the UK after Brexit (with more for the NHS and less for agriculture).

    But this entire discussion ignores that EU withdrawal is set to leave the UK with less, rather than more, to spend. As Carl Emmerson, the deputy director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, notes in a letter in today's Times: "The bigger picture is that the forecast health of the public finances was downgraded by £15bn per year – or almost £300m per week – as a direct result of the Brexit vote. Not only will we not regain control of £350m weekly as a result of Brexit, we are likely to make a net fiscal loss from it. Those are the numbers and forecasts which the government has adopted. It is perhaps surprising that members of the government are suggesting rather different figures."

    The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, to which Emmerson refers, are shown below (the £15bn figure appearing in the 2020/21 column).

    Some on the right contend that a blitz of tax cuts and deregulation following Brexit would unleash higher growth. But aside from the deleterious economic and social consequences that could result, there is, as I noted yesterday, no majority in parliament or in the country for this course. 

    Photo: Getty

    Rightwing populist AfD dominates German Twitter, new study shows

    From Europe. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Nationalist party holds outsize sway on social media as election draws near

    Internalized Stigma as an Independent Risk Factor for Substance Use Problems Among Primary Care Patients

    By Magdalena Kulesza; Katherine E. Watkins; Allison J. Ober; Karen Chan Osilla; Brett Ewing from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    High rates of internalized stigma - self-applied negative stereotypes - among primary care patients with opioid or alcohol use disorders were significantly related to greater substance use problems.

    Barriers and Facilitators to Implementation of VA Home-Based Primary Care on American Indian Reservations

    By B. Josea Kramer; Sarah D. Cote; Diane I. Lee; Beth Creekmur; Debra Saliba from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Common experiences among Veterans Affairs medical centers expanding their home-based primary care services to rural American Indian reservations provide lessons learned for future expansions.


    By Min Gong; Michael Stephen Dunbar; Claude Messan Setodji; William Shadel from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Zonnic marks the tobacco industry's entry into nicotine-replacement therapy products, which may warrant new research and policy priorities.

    What's happened to the German left?

    By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    For a fourth successive election, the left seems to be failing to challenge the status quo.

    When Germany goes to the polls this weekend, Angela Merkel is expected to win a fourth term in office. Merkel has maintained her commanding lead in the polls on 37 per cent, while her closest competitor, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has been relegated to, at best, a possible coalition partner. 

    The expectation that the status quo will continue has left commentators and politicians of all stripes asking: what has happened to the German left?

    Lagging behind in the polls, with just 20 per cent of the country's voting intention, Martin Schulz’s SPD has slumped to its lowest level this year only days before the vote, according to the latest poll by Infratest dimap for ARD television.  

    Even the prospect of a left-wing alternative to a Merkel-led coalition appears to have become unpalatable to the electorate. An alliance between the SPD, die Grünen (the Greens) and the socialist party die Linke (the Left) would not reach the threshold needed to form a government.

    One explanation for the German left's lack of impact is the success Merkel has had in stifling her opposition by moving closer to the centre ground. Over the last four years, she has ruled a grand coalition known as GroKo (Große Koalition) with the centre-left SPD, leaving many of its voters believing their party was no longer any different to the chancellor's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

    Rolf Henning, 34, has been a member of the SPD since 2004. Campaigning in Pankow, a diverse area of eastern Berlin which has traditionally voted on the left, he told the New Statesman that although the coalition had enabled the SPD to push its social agenda, the party did not receive any credit for it.  

    “It is now hard to motivate people to vote for the SPD because people think it will not make any difference. If we were to enter a coalition again with Merkel and the CDU then our support base will drain even further,” he said.  

    Another grand coalition between the CDU and the SPD is very much on the cards, as Merkel is unlikely to win an outright majority. But while the arrangement has seemingly worked out well for the chancellor, its benefits for the SPD seem rather less certain.

    “The political strength of the left is an illusion," says Gero Neugebauer, a political analyst and a former senior researcher at the Freie Universität Berlin, "The SPD did a good job in the coalition to push issues of social policy and family policies, but Ms Merkel took the credit for a lot of it. People saw the car and the chauffer rather than paying attention to the engine."

    In 2015, under pressure from the SPD, the Merkel administration introduced a minimum wage in Germany, a benchmark for many in the party which yet did little to gloss over the SPD’s image. On the contrary, Merkel’s election campaign sought to win over disillusioned SPD voters.

    According to Neugebauer, the left-wing parties have failed to work together to form a real alternative coalition to the Merkel administration. He warns that Germany’s left-wing camp has become “an illusion” with “virtual power”.

    For a short-lived moment the election of Martin Schulz, the former president of the EU Parliament, to head the SPD, brought hope to the idea of a left-wing coalition. 

    Stefan Liebich, a member of parliament for die Linke representing the Pankow district, says the SPD initially rose in the polls because people thought there could be an alternative coalition to Merkel. "But then the SPD made a lot of mistakes and they were wrongly told they would lose support if they worked with us," he adds.

    "Now nobody believes a left-wing coalition could ever happen because the SPD is so low in the polls.” 

    Before Schulz took over the SPD, few believed that after four years in the coalition government the party had a good chance in the upcoming election. “But Schulz arrived and said ‘I will be chancellor’ and it was like a phoenix rising from the ashes,” says Neugebauer.

    Schulz revived the social-democratic tradition and spoke about social justice, but the delay of his election programme left many wondering whether he would be able to walk the walk – and his popularity started to fall.

    “Compared to Merkel, he became less credible and less trustworthy,” says Neugebauer.  

    The SPD are, of course, not the only left-wing party running. Back in Pankow, Caroline, a lawyer and a long-time SPD voter said she was considering voting for the more left-wing die Linke because she did not want to give her ballot to Schulz.

    “There is something about him, he is not straightforward and he is too much like the CDU," she continues. "As the head of the EU Parliament, Schulz was good but I don’t think he has what it takes to tackle issues in Germany."

    For Ulrike Queissner, also a Pankow resident, the SPD’s lurch to the centre convinced her to vote for die Linke: “The SPD has become mainstream and part of the establishment. It has become too close to the CDU and has no strong position anymore.”

    Stable at about 8 per cent in the polls, die Linke is still trailing the extreme-right Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD), which is anticipated to win between 8 and 11 per cent of votes. This means it would enter the German parliament, the Bundestag, for the first time, becoming its third biggest party.

    At the core of die Linke’s manifesto is the redistribution of wealth, a peaceful foreign policy and measures to stamp out the remaining social rift between east and west Germany.  

    The party strives to challenge Merkel’s feel-good slogans by putting the spotlight on the discrepancies between rich and poor, and east and west.

     “When we look around to Portugal, Spain, Italy, and maybe even to the UK, we seem happy," says Liebich. "We don’t have an exit [from the EU] debate or a high unemployment rate. And yet, there is a part of Germany that sees that things are not going so well."

    And for some of die Linke’s eastern electorate, immigration is at the top of the list of grievances, putting pressure on a party which has always defended an open door-policy – something Liebich acknowledges.

    “In Berlin a majority of voters say they are open to people who need help, but in the eastern states, where we have a high unemployment rate and a lot of people who are not used to living with people of other cultures, there is a lot of anger."

    That will add to concerns that large numbers of silent AfD supporters could create a surprise in the traditionally left-wing area of east Germany, where the far-right party is capitalising on the anti-immigration sentiment. The left seems to be squeezed between Merkel’s move to the centre ground and the AfD’s growing populist threat.

    For Neugebauer the prospect of AfD members in parliament should force left-wing parties to sharpen their political lines, and form a consensus bloc against the rising extreme-right. The silver lining lies in the hope that all three left-wing parties – die Linke, die Grünen and die SPD – find themselves together in the opposition.

    “Then, there would be an opportunity to start a conversation about what the parties have in common and start working together," he says. "It would be a chance for the German left to find itself again and create a vision for co-operation.” 

    And yet, commentators still anticipate that at least some part of the left will end up working with Merkel, either through a grand coalition with the SPD or a three-way “Jamaica coalition”, with the pro-business FDP and the Greens. For the German left the time for cooperation, and a shot at taking charge of Germany's future, may still be some years away.

    Photo: Getty

    Economic and Strategic Considerations in Air Base Location

    By Albert Wohlstetter from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    This paper is not intended to locate and describe preferred air bases, but rather to locate and describe some of the elements of the base problem, with special reference to economic and strategic considerations.

    Impact of a Mental Health Based Primary Care Program on Quality of Physical Health Care

    By Joshua Breslau; Emily Leckman-Westin; Hao Yu; Bing Han; Riti Pritam; Diana Guarasi; Marcela Horvitz-Lennon; Deborah M. Scharf; Harold Alan Pincus; Molly Finnerty from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Programs to integrate physical health care services into specialty mental health clinics improved monitoring of psychiatric medication side effects, but did not improve other aspects of care among the seriously mentally ill.

    “I don’t want to burst into tears on stage”: The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt

    By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    The cult chamber pop curmudgeon on the process of writing a song for every year of his life – and how he avoided soul-searching.

    Stephin Merritt has a stye. Sitting in a hushed greenroom at London’s Barbican, he presses a hot mug of tea against his left eye and winces.

    An enormous Steinway grand piano shimmers by the wall, reflecting the room’s sparse glow from an electric candle and mirror framed in fairy lights.

    “Have you ever had one?” asks the 52-year-old musician, after bowing in his chair in greeting (to avoid germ contact).

    No, I reply.


    Set against the grandeur of his surroundings, it’s a fitting introduction to The Magnetic Fields frontman and cult chamber pop curmudgeon.

    Medical complaints are just one theme in his painfully personal new album, 50 Song Memoir. It’s an epic, genre-bending variety show with a song for each year of his life, performed in two halves. The 1992 track “Weird Diseases” cites an ear condition that confines him to a soundproofed shelter from his band onstage – and means he covers his ears when applauded by the Barbican audience later that evening.

    Waiting for his soundcheck in his signature brown flatcap, a beige and turquoise argyle jumper and fawn trousers (he only wears brown – it’s hard to get dirty, and matches his eyes, hair and beloved late chihuahua Irving), he’s about to perform the last show in The Magnetic Fields’ first tour in five years.

    “I hate touring,” he tells me in his baritone drawl, his head cupped in one hand. “I can’t wait to get home.”

    Before he returns to Hudson, New York, he’s taking a week’s holiday in London, which he first visited at 15. As he wrote in the song for 1980, “London By Jetpack”, its blossoming New Romantic scene passed him by.

    “I was here at the right time, but I was not in the right places to experience it,” he sighs. “So I was doing touristy things and going to Madame Tussauds. Eating English pizza. I bought a Sherlock Holmes hat and London trenchcoat for my costume, I guess which was fun.”

    Merritt went to high school in Boston, where he founded the revolving gaggle of musicians that make up The Magnetic Fields in 1989. The album 50 Song Memoir is their 11th. It’s an eccentric, dizzying journey from Merritt’s nomadic childhood of cults and communes with his bohemian mother, via a cockroach-infested ménage à trois and the 9/11 aftermath, to writing a silent movie score for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

    But it has the regular stuff too. Break-ups, unrequited love, absent fathers and all too present ex-boyfriends. In scope and ambition, it’s similar to The Magnetic Fields’ most famous work, 69 Love Songs (what it says on the tin), but it’s the first time Merritt has written a first-person, autobiographical album.

    We hear bitterness and mockery in equal measure about his beatnik upbringing (“My mama ain’t no nudist/Except around the pool/She’s a Tibetan Buddhist/Like Catholic only cool”), dark musings on the AIDS crisis (“We expected nuclear war/What should we take precautions for?”), and the final song, 2015’s “Somebody’s Fetish” – like a filthier version of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love” – acts as Merritt’s self-deprecating justification for finding love (“Nothing’s too strange for somebody’s palate/Some spank the maid and some wank the valet”).

    Stephin Merritt. Photo: Marcelo Krasilcic

    Like the Stephen Sondheim of New York’s underground scene, or a rock ‘n’ roll Noël Coward, Merritt’s acerbic observations and camp brand of miserablisim have established him as an extraordinary lyricist over a quarter century of music-making.

    Throughout the 25 albums he’s made with different bands and as a solo artist, Merritt’s words are brought to life by theatrical scores and an experimental use of instruments – but nowhere more celebrated than with The Magnetic Fields.

    “I keep wondering if this album has been so well-reviewed partly because people think it would be boorish to question bearing my soul,” he says. “Because reviewing it is like reviewing a person.”

    Although 50 Song Memoir seems like a highly revealing “audio-biography”, Merritt insists: “I am against soul-searching in general. I don’t believe in souls in the first place – and if I did, I don’t know how one would search them.”

    He points out that these songs are more likely to provoke laughter than tears. The “psychoanalysing” by critics annoys him. “I have to perform these things and I do not want to burst into tears on stage,” he says, his eyes widening. “I don’t want to stand on stage humiliating myself and the audience.”

    Merritt recalls crying while performing The Magnetic Fields’ classic ballad “The Book of Love” at the funeral of a friend who died suddenly. “That is the last time I will ever do that,” he smiles drily.

    The 50 Song Memoir show is more of a revue, with wry narration by Merritt between each song, and band members playing everything from the omnichord to a saw. The singer himself sits in his pastel-hued soundproof booth, surrounded by 16 dolls houses and other trinkets from his own home – Hooty, his stuffed owl, little wooden animals, quirky instruments and “some of my lunchbox collection”. It makes him feel “weirdly” at home.

    Before releasing these songs, Merritt contacted every person he names to run the lyrics by them – including his mother, who burst into tears when he played the music for her in his studio.

    “What I’m saying about her is not necessarily criticism on her terms,” he says. “So she should not feel insulted, and I said that. She agreed and said in fact [she didn’t] feel insulted.”

    You get the impression Merritt enjoyed the mechanics of writing 50 Song Memoir more than the emotional vulnerability. It pieces together lyrics and music he had written back in the Eighties and never released, and even a guitar solo he wrote at the age of 11. It features 100 instruments, many from his own collection. He also notes the challenge of finding rhymes for so many proper nouns. “I usually let the rhymes lead the narrative,” he says, calling them, “the automatic plot generator”.

    Merritt mostly wrote this album at a couple of bars in his neighbourhood, filling around five notebooks overall. He buys expensive pads – to try and guard against losing them – which look as different from each other as possible, “in the hope I will be able to find a song or a thread more easily with visual help: ‘this was the piece of music I wrote in the flowery notebook with a robot on the cover’”.

    A useful system for when he returns at the age of 100 to fulfil his vague ambition of adding another 50 songs to the piece (“I have quite a while to decide.”)

    It’s soundcheck time. After admiring my rucksack (it’s brown), Merritt says goodbye without getting up, apologising again for his stye.

    Never mind, perhaps we’ll hear about it in a song in 50 years’ time?

    He gives a rare chuckle. “48, actually.”

    The Magnetic Fields performed both halves of 50 Song Memoir at the Barbican. Listen to Stephin Merritt discussing the show on the Barbican podcast here.

    Marcelo Krasilcic

    These are the two options for Brexit – which will Theresa May choose?

    By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    It doesn't really matter if the Tories are unified around a position that doesn't work. 

    Has Theresa May taken control of the Brexit talks or lost it? On the plus side you have the poaching of Olly Robbins, from his post as chief mandarin at the Brexit department to Downing Street. He will retain his role as the UK's top civil servant in the Brexit negotiations, increasing May's involvement in the talks. Jim Pickard and Henry Mance have a good account of the consequences across Whitehall in the FT.

    On the minus side, you have, well, everything else really. "Boris is Boris," was the PM's lukewarm response to his big intervention in the Brexit talks, an acknowledgement that she is too weak to move him. In the Times, Francis Elliott and Sam Coates report on May's plan to try to bind Johnson into her Brexit approach a meeting of the cabinet on Thursday, before her big speech in Florence at the end of the week.

    May's predecessor-but-three, William Hague, has used his Telegraph column to warn her that she must unite the Conservatives on Europe or lose the next election to Labour. (He would know, to be fair.) "May must unite Tories on Brexit or lose election, warns Hague" is their splash.

    The big divide, James Forsyth explains in the Spectator, is between those favouring a Canada-style loose arrangement with high levels of freedom but a low standard of participation in the single market, and those backing a Norway-esque close arrangement with a low level of freedom and a high level of participation in the single market. Which will May pick?

    As one senior Conservative observed yesterday, political reality means that May will likely tilt towards the cabinet's Canada tendency, as Tory Remainers are reluctant to be "suicide bombers" against their own government. The PM has a lot less to lose by moving away from Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd and Damian Green than she does from Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Priti Patel.

    There's a small problem here, though: which is that the United Kingdom can't negotiate a Canada-style deal in the time set out by Article 50, and will struggle to put one together even with a period of transition. There isn't really an off-the-shelf model here, as far and away the biggest part of the British economy is services and most big trade deals have done comparatively little for services.

    That only compounds May's difficulties. The first problem is that unifying her party around a common position on Europe is easier said than done (just ask, say, anyone who has led the Conservatives since 1970). The second is, as her clash with Boris Johnson shows, she can't unify anything as she doesn't have the power any more. The third and the most important is that it doesn't really matter if the Conservative Party is unified around a Brexit position that doesn't work. 

    Photo: Getty

    Follow the Money

    By Beth Grill; Michael McNerney; Jeremy Boback; Renanah Miles; Cynthia Clapp-Wincek; David E. Thaler from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    This report analyzes the obstacles that the Department of Defense (DoD) faces in tracking security cooperation spending and provides recommendations for streamlining DoD's reporting process to meet new requirements for transparency.

    Germany’s Election Won’t Stop the Slide in Relations with Turkey

    By Lisa Sawyer Samp and Jeff Rathke from War on the Rocks. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become a thorn in the side of many European leaders. His authoritarian politics, bombastic statements, and arrests of German citizens have injected particular tension into German-Turkish relations. Hopes for improved ties following the March 2016 E.U.-Turkey migration deal have been displaced by a diplomatic showdown that sees two powerful ...

    Why Damage Limitation Isn’t the Answer to the North Korean Threat

    By Alexander Kirss from War on the Rocks. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Foreign policy analysts are understandably on edge about North Korea. Given the combustible combination of burgeoning North Korean nuclear capabilities and Donald Trump’s penchant for recklessness, the potential for war in Northeast Asia seems higher than it has been in a long time. North Korea’s recent test of a purported thermonuclear weapon has further exacerbated ...

    Orhan Pamuk's The Red-Haired Woman is playful and unsettling

    By Alex Clark from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    At times, the novel seems to owe as much to Dostoevsky as to the epics of the long-distant past.

    When cultures collide or begin to merge, what happens to their myths? In Orhan Pamuk’s psychodramatic and psychogeographic tale of fathers and sons, the protagonist Cem mentally collects versions of the Oedipus story from across Europe – Ingres’s painting of Oedipus and the Sphinx hanging in the Louvre, Gustave Moreau’s work of the same name, painted 50 years later, Pasolini’s film adaptation, Oedipus Rex. But he also fixates on the epic poem “Shahnameh”, written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi; and in particular the story of Rostam and Sohrab, a reversal of the Oedipus story in which father kills son rather than vice versa. As Cem and his wife travel the world’s libraries to inspect copies, what they learn is “how ephemeral all those ancient lives had been”.

    Nor is Cem immune to the act of readerly projection. “Like all educated Turks of my father’s generation,” Cem tells us, “what I really hoped to find on these trips wandering the shops, the cinemas, and the museums of the Western world was an idea, an object, a painting – anything at all – that might transform and illuminate my own life.”

    Cem has more reason than many to seek clarification: his own father has been absent – whether for reasons of underground political activity or romantic complications is, for a long time, unclear – for most of his childhood; he and his mother become impoverished and, as he tells us at the very beginning of the novel, his dream of becoming a writer yields to a life as a building contractor. But these matter-of-fact bare bones are deceptive, for what unfolds is a far more fabular account of a life gone awry.

    Even beyond his father’s departure, Cem’s life is shaped by his teenage apprenticeship to Master Mahmut, a well-digger of great renown. It removes him from his protective mother’s sphere of influence and immerses him in a world at once simple – long hours of physical labour – and highly skilled. As his and Master Mahmut’s quest for water on a patch of land slated for development runs into difficulties, so their relationship – boss and employee, craftsman and disciple, quasi father and son – becomes antagonistic, beset by undercurrents of rivalry and rebellion. Before too long (and avoiding spoilers) matters come to a head.

    Throughout, their story gestures toward the fairytale, as underlined by Cem’s irresistible attraction to a travelling theatre troupe performing satirical sketches and classical scenes in the town near their excavation, and to the red-haired woman of the title. But Pamuk, in the style that characterises much of his work, fuses this material with political and social commentary. Over the three or four decades covered by the narrative, which takes place from the mid-1980s to the present day, the landscape of Istanbul and its surrounding areas literally changes shape. Residential and commercial developments spring up everywhere, many of them courtesy of Cem and his wife Aye, who have named their business after Shahnameh’s murdered son, Sohrab. Water shortages belie the sophisticated nature of these new suburbs, which eventually begin to form an amorphous mass.

    Cem is preoccupied by the differences between Turkey and Iran, the latter seeming to him more alive to its cultural past. Turks, he decides, “had become so Westernised that we’d forgotten our old poets and myths”. While in Tehran, he sees numerous depictions of Rostam and Sohrab, and finds himself stirred:

    I felt frustrated and uneasy, as if a fearful memory I refused to acknowledge consciously might suddenly well up and make me miserable. The image was like some wicked thought that keeps intruding on your mind no matter how much you yearn to be rid of it.

    The extent to which individuals and societies suffer by not keeping their mythic past in mind is Pamuk’s subject, but it becomes more ambiguous when different stories are brought into play. What is the significance of a son who kills his father in innocence rather than a father who kills his son? Which is the more transgressive and ultimately damaging act and should both killers be regarded as guiltless because they knew not what they did?

    But, as its title is perhaps designed to suggest, these accounts of fathers and sons omit a key element of the family drama: if paternity becomes a focus to the exclusion of all else, maternal energy must find an alternative outlet. As this strange, shifting novel edges to its conclusion – becoming, in its final act, a noir thriller – that energy makes a dramatic return, changing not only the story but the entire narrative paradigm.

    The Red-Haired Woman is a puzzling novel; its intentions are often concealed, and oblique. At times, it seems to owe as much to Dostoevsky as to the epics of the long-distant past; it moves forward by indirection, swapping modes and registers at will. Playful and unsettling, it reprises some of Pamuk’s favourite themes – the clash between the past and the erasures of modernity, so charged in a Turkish context, and the effect on the individual’s psyche – without quite reaching the expansive heights of some of his previous novels. It is, nonetheless, an intriguing addition to his body of work. 

    The Red-Haired Woman
    Orhan Pamuk. Translated by Ekin Oklap
    Faber & Faber, 253pp, £16.99

    Photo: Getty

    “We have lost our birth place”: the long, slow persecution of the Rohingya Muslims

    By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Mohammed Ilias was a school teacher. Then the government dismissed Muslims from their posts. 

    The first time the Myanmar army came to his door to ask about the militants, in early August, Mohammed Ilias, a softly-spoken Rohingya teacher in his mid-forties, invited them in. “My little child welcomed them into the house,” he said. “They said: ‘The teacher’s child is very good. Very nice. He’s welcoming us! How well-behaved he is!’”

    Maybe it was the kindness of his son. Maybe it was luck. But that day, Ilias wasn’t among the hundreds he said were rounded up in the village of Doe Tan in Maungdaw township, for interrogation about the new Rohingya insurgency. “At least 400 of them they took to the schools and tortured very badly,” he said.

    The next time the soldiers came to Doe Tan, they were on a rampage. Insurgents calling themselves the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had attacked dozens of police posts two days earlier, on 25 August. In response, homes were set alight and shots fired indiscriminately, Ilias said.

    His eyes welled up with tears. “In that gunfire, one of my elder sisters – 75 years old – died in her home,” he said. “I decided: ‘They killed my sister. They may kill us.’” That day, he left the village with his wife and six children, carrying only a piece of plastic to use as shelter on the road.

    The chaos that has engulfed Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state over the past three weeks, pushing an estimated 400,000 people into neighbouring Bangladesh, has awoken the world to the plight of Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority estimated to number around one million.

    Soldiers and Rakhine Buddhists are accused of slaughtering civilians and razing villages in a campaign of indiscriminate violence, terrifying in its intensity. But to Rohingya like Ilias, this is the culmination of a lifetime of persecution. It is only the latest brutal chapter in a story of oppression that has deprived an entire people of freedom, education and opportunities over the course of generations.

    “They have been torturing us for years,” say many of the Rohingya now living in makeshift camps in Bangladesh. The events of August were the final straw.

    In the muddy, cramped camp outside the port town of Cox’s Bazar, a Bangladeshi fishing port close to Myanmar, where many of the Rohingya have sought refuge, Ilias sat with his hands folded on his lap. He wears a black watch on his left wrist and a brown checked longyi, the sarong worn by Burmese men. “My name is Mohammed Ilias. I am 46,” he said quietly, beginning his story.

    He was born in 1972 to a well-known and respected family, he said. His grandfather, Abdul Aziz, was an influential local leader who had been decorated by the British for fighting alongside them in World War II. During the colonial era, the British had encouraged migration into Rakhine from neighbouring Bengal, supplementing the existing Muslim population.

    At the time of Myanmar’s independence, in 1948, the first Prime Minister, U Nu, recognized the Rohingya as an ethnic group. Families who had lived in the country for at least two generations could apply for a green card granting them full citizenship. Abdul Aziz was among them. “My grandfather had a card which was green,” said Ilias. “Green like the colour of leaves.”

    But in 1962, Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup and introduced sweeping new rules governing national identity. The 1982 Citizenship Act, which excludes Rohingya from a set of accepted races, effectively rendered them stateless.

    The junta began issuing Rohingya with temporary registration certificates, or “white cards” that made them “residents” rather than citizens. “My family had so much status, so much honour,” said Ilias. “My grandfather was like a king. He helped the British. He got a green card from the Myanmar government, so why would we take the white card?”

    Before Ilias’s father died, when his son was still small, he expressed a wish that at least one of his children follow in his footsteps. But it was becoming more difficult for Rohingya to access decent jobs. They were barred from higher education. “He told my sister: ‘Somehow, please make a teacher from my family,’” Ilias recalled.

    Ilias couldn’t go to university, but he managed to get a job at a state-run school, teaching maths and science. It didn’t last long. “After that Myanmar decided not to take Muslim teachers,” he said. “They forced us to resign and took lots of Rakhine people into the schools for teaching.”

    He continued teaching informally, he said, sometimes taking payment from parents but more often working for free. But few Rohingya in the village could see the benefits of sending their children for an education rather than to work as farmers or labourers, he said. “Our children were getting an education but they can’t do anything,” said Ilias. “They can’t get a government job. If you are an educated man, but you can’t do anything to earn money, how can you cover the expenses for your family?”

    To make ends meet, Ilias ran a small shop in the village. But getting supplies required hiring Rakhines to bring them. Even farmers relied on Rakhines to bring fertiliser for their fields. Relations between the two communities had been tense for years but worsened dramatically after outbreaks of communal violence in 2012.

    And then, in 2015, voting rights for Rohingya were withdrawn ahead of the anticipated election in November. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide victory. But it was quickly apparent that advocating for Rohingya was not on her agenda. In late 2016, ARSA militants launched their first attack on police posts.

    The ensuing months in northern Rakhine, the center of the new insurgency, were fraught. Imams – accused of lending religious legitimacy to the violence – and community leaders like Ilias were suspect.

    In early August, the military called a meeting with educated Rohingya in Doe Tan, Ilias said. They were told to sign a paper promising the tackle the insurgency. “It was a paper given by the military, like a peace contract,” he said.

    But the militants attacked again on 25 August and soldiers were soon back in Ilias’s house. They saw bottles of medicine – used to stock his shop, he said – and accused him of treating ARSA fighters. “You are not a teacher, you are a doctor for ARSA,” they told him.

    “There were four or five of them,” recalled Ilias. “They pushed me to the ground, then with the pliers they took away my nails. They beat me with a bamboo stick.” 

    He was saved when a commander recognised him and reprimanded the soldiers. “I saw you, you are a teacher in the school, you are not a bad man,” Ilias recalled the commander saying. “He was just trying to convince me to give information about ARSA. But actually I don’t know about ARSA. How can I give him any information without knowing?”

    After fleeing the village, leaving behind the body of his sister Basuma, who he described as a pious and well-liked widow, Ilias heard the whole area had been looted and razed. “The wealth was gone, the houses empty, no people... Then they started to burn from the outside part of the village. They were burning our houses for three days at least,” he said.

    The United Nations’ top human rights official has called the recent violence a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Auu Kyi, on the other hand, has attracted international condemnation for failing to speak out. She decided not to attend the UN General Assembly this week, and has limited her comments to saying she felt “deeply” for the suffering of “all people” in the conflict. 

    “You start systematically weakening a maligned group in order to make their existence either so fragile that they leave of their own accord, or to ensure they fail to put up much of a struggle when a military operation such as this gets underway,” said Francis Wade, author of Myanmar’s Enemy Within: Buddhist Violence and the Making of a Muslim ‘Other’.

    Like many Rohingya, Ilias spent years finding ways to work within a system that ground him down. Now in Bangladesh, which has reluctantly accepted the new arrivals but has said it plans to keep them in camps, he is staring into an uncertain future (he was photographed for this article, but from behind, as he did not want to show his face for fear of retribution). “We have lost our homeland. Our birth place,” he said. “We are now here in Bangladesh but we don’t want to make any trouble. We don’t want to be destroyed, like waste.”

    Poppy McPherson is a freelance journalist reporting on South East Asia, mainly Myanmar

    Photo: Poppy McPherson

    India-Japan Relations: Strong and Getting Stronger

    By Shashank Joshi from War on the Rocks. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published by The Interpreter, which is published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, an independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Sydney. War on the Rocks is proud to be publishing select articles from The Interpreter. In 1999, India’s then-foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, travelled to Tokyo to smooth ruffled feathers after India’s ...

    The science and technology committee debacle shows how we're failing women in tech

    By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    It would be funny if it wasn’t so depressing.

    Five days after Theresa May announced, in her first Prime Minister’s Questions after the summer recess, that she was "particularly keen to address the stereotype about women in engineering", an all-male parliamentary science and technology committee was announced. You would laugh if it wasn’t all so depressing.

    It was only later, after a fierce backlash against the selection, that Conservative MP Vicky Ford was also appointed to the committee. I don’t need to say that having only one female voice represents more than an oversight: it’s simply unacceptable. And as if to rub salt into the wound, at the time of writing, Ford has still not been added to the committee list on parliament's website.

    To the credit of Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP who was elected chair of the committee in July, he said that he didn't "see how we can proceed without women". "It sends out a dreadful message at a time when we need to convince far more girls to pursue Stem [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] subjects," he added. But as many people have pointed out already, it’s the parties who nominate members, and that’s partly why this scenario is worrying. The nominations are a representation of those who represent us.

    Government policy has so far completely failed to tap into the huge pool of talented women we have in this country – and there are still not enough women in parliament overall.

    Women cannot be considered an afterthought, and in the case of the science and technology committee they have quite clearly been treated as such. While Ford will be a loud and clear voice on the committee, one person alone can’t address the major failings of government policy in improving conditions for women in science and technology.

    Study after study has shown why it is essential for the UK economy that women participate in the labour force. And in Stem, where there is undeniably a strong anti-female bias and yet a high demand for people with specialist skills, it is even more pressing.

    According to data from the Women’s Engineering Society, 16 per cent of UK Stem undergraduates are female. That statistic illustrates two things. First, that there is clearly a huge problem that begins early in the lives of British women, and that this leads to woefully low female representation on Stem university courses. Secondly, unless our society dramatically changes the way it thinks about women and Stem, and thereby encourages girls to pursue these subjects and careers, we have no hope of addressing the massive shortage in graduates with technical skills.

    It’s quite ironic that the Commons science and technology committee recently published a report stating that the digital skills gap was costing the UK economy £63bn a year in lost GDP.

    Read more: Why does the science and technology committee have no women – and a climate sceptic?

    Female representation in Stem industries wasn’t addressed at all in the government’s Brexit position paper on science, nor was it dealt with in any real depth in the digital strategy paper released in April. In fact, in the 16-page Brexit position paper, the words "women", "female" and "diversity" did not appear once. And now, with the appointment of the nearly all-male committee, it isn't hard to see why.

    Many social issues still affect women, not only in Stem industries but in the workplace more broadly. From the difficulties facing mothers returning to work after having children, to the systemic pay inequality that women face across most sectors, it is clear that there is still a vast amount of work to be done by this government.

    The committee does not represent the scientific community in the UK, and is fundamentally lacking in the diversity of thought and experience necessary to effectively scrutinise government policy. It leads you to wonder which century we’re living in. Quite simply, this represents a total failure of democracy.

    Pip Wilson is a tech entrepreneur, angel investor and CEO of amicable

    Photo: Getty

    Regionális Közösségi Központok Program

    From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    A Nyílt Társadalom Alapítvány támogatást nyújt társadalmi, szociális programokra az Észak-Alföldi és a Dél-Dunántúli régiókban.

    Regional Community Centers Programs

    From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    The Open Society Foundations offer grants for projects tackling social issues in Hungary's Northern Great Plain and Southern Transdanubia.

    Unlikely Guides

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 19, 2017.

    During six years of war, these Girl Guides have kept learning to camp, sing songs and change tyres.

    'We have nothing'

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    Miami dodged much of Irma's wrath but the aftermath of the storm has been devastating for the city's poor.

    Nobody seems to know why there’s no US inflation

    From The Big Read. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    As the Federal Reserve meets this week, officials are flummoxed by restrained price rises

    South Africa’s descent into despotism must stop

    From FT View. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    Zuma’s rotten rule demands a robust international response

    The EU’s free marketeers struggle to hold the line

    From FT View. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    Activist trade policy must not be allowed to become protectionism

    Vote Leave can't hide their responsibility for the Brexit mess

    By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    Dominic Cummings has become the latest Vote Leave official to try to muddy his part in the unfolding disaster. 

    Dominic Cummings, formerly a special advisor to Michael Gove and one of the key backroom figures in Vote Leave, has made one of his periodic interventions in the post-referendum debate with a very long Twitter thread – containing a link to an even longer article.

    The headline-grabbing line – though he has said it before – is that in triggering Article 50 when it did, the government committed a “historic and unforgivable blunder”, which has jeopardised the country’s chances of making Brexit a success. Squarely in his sights for the blunder: David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, and Britain’s top civil servant, Jeremy Heywood. Is he right?

    Particularly attentive readers will know that I have been banging on about this precise point at considerable length both before and after Article 50 was triggered. (Unlucky followers of my Twitter feed will be even more sick of this point.)

    And in Cummings’ defence, so was he. In one particularly colourful remark, before the referendum, he described using Article 50 to facilitate leaving as putting a gun to your head and pulling the trigger. Vote Leave’s campaign literature advised against immediately triggering Article 50, so he has half a point. But crucially, only half.

    Why only half? Well, here follows a list of people and publications who called on the government not to use Article 50 to facilitate its exit from the European Union: the Financial Times, the New Statesman, the blogger FlipChartRick, the lawyer Jolyon Maugham, and Cummings himself.

    You’ll note something that is immediately missing from that list: any senior politicians who backed a Leave vote, including Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Labour’s Gisela Stuart, the three frontline figures who did more than almost anyone else to ensure that Britain voted to leave the European Union.

    In neither of their short-lived leadership bids did Johnson or Gove use their platforms to argue against triggering Article 50, nor did either of them use their considerable clout in the pro-Brexit press to do the same. Stuart, one of Labour’s most impressive operators, who helped negotiate and write Article 50, and therefore knew full well that the mechanism was designed to disadvantage the departing nation and hand maximum leverage to the remaining members of the European Union, not only said nothing to discourage it but like Johnson and Gove actively voted to trigger on May’s timetable.

    May has made a series of unforced errors in the Brexit talks, but as far as the disastrous decision to trigger Article 50 when she did goes, politically, she had no other choice but to trigger early due the demands of Brexiteers on her own backbenches.

    If you want to be generous you can say that this only occurred because some Remainers were talking about an indefinite transition or overturning the referendum result which meant that Brexiteer MPs were less cautious than they should have been. But you can’t absolve Vote Leave on this metric, as anyone who knows anything about politics or human nature should have expected that at least some Remainers would behave in that way and that at least some Brexiteers would respond in that way and they did nothing, nothing at all, after the campaign to prevent it from happening.

    Cummings is right that triggering Article 50 was a historic and unforgivable blunder that has made the chances of a bad Brexit considerably more likely. But he’s wrong to say that the architects of Vote Leave can escape at least a share of the blame. 

    Photo: Getty

    Nigeria Security Tracker Weekly Update: September 9 - September 15

    By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    Below is a visualization and description of some of the most significant incidents of political v

    Egypt social media users mock college flag ceremony

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    Egypt's decision to have college students salute the flag prompts online mockery.

    These two quotations show just how weak Theresa May has become

    By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    What a difference an election makes. 

    “Boris is Boris.” It’s the kind of remark one associates with the ineffective owner of a pet hound that has just urinated over a beloved family couch rather than of a Prime Minister in reference to her Foreign Secretary, but here we are.

    Theresa May was being asked to respond to a Telegraph article written by Boris Johnson that appeared to ride roughshod over the government’s position on Brexit. It’s strange to think that a little over a year ago, May, then merely a candidate for the premiership, mocked Johnson, talking about how the last time he “negotiated in Europe, he did a deal with the Germans [and] came back with three nearly-new water cannon”. It’s stranger still to think that just 13 days after that quip, May appointed Johnson as Foreign Secretary and immediately drastically shrunk both his and the Foreign Office’s power.

    (Although the Department of International Trade shares a building with the Foreign Office, the Department for Exiting the European Union is based in the Cabinet Office – the psychological impact on morale at the FCO in removing its control over the largest foreign policy challenge in British history is large.)

    Now Johnson has undermined her big Brexit intervention, which means that anything she says in Florence on Friday will either be seen as a capitulation to Johnson or at best a provisional statement of British foreign policy, and her response is “Boris is Boris”.

    It’s a reminder of just how much May lost along with her parliamentary majority on 8 June.

    Photo: Getty

    Művészet és Közösségépítés Program

    From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    A Nyílt Társadalom Alapítvány támogatást nyújt művészeti és kulturális programokra Budapesten.

    Boris Johnson has a problem: he doesn't have any friends

    By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    The Foreign Secretary's difficulty is that he doesn't have a natural faction, and can count on the unstinting service of just a few MPs. 

    In the dying days of the Second World War, the subject of the future of eastern Europe came up. Winston Churchill interjected to warn Joseph Stalin, the ruler of the Soviet Union, that the sensibilities of the Pope had to be listened to. Stalin paused, then asked: “How many legions does the Pope have?”

    His point was that while the Pope might have political influence, when it came down to cold, hard numbers, he had no military and therefore no real political power. There are not many comparisons to be drawn between Boris Johnson and the Pope, but this is one. The Foreign Secretary retains a significant degree of influence due to his supporters in the press, including his old stomping grounds of the Spectator and the Telegraph.

    But as far as firm support among Conservative MPs go, the number of actual “divisions” he commands is significantly smaller. During the years of coalition, his support had two roots among the party’s MPs: the fondness in which he was held by Conservative activists, and the belief that he, having won London, was a “Heineken Tory” who could win in places where other Conservatives could not.

    MPs buying stock in Johnson then tended to have a low view of David Cameron’s chances in the 2015 election. Their assumption was that the next leadership election would take place in the shadow of an Ed Miliband-led government, in which the Conservatives would have gone 23 years and four leaders without winning a parliamentary majority, and Johnson, at the time the most popular politician in the country, would be the logical frontrunner.

    As a result, MPs we thought of as being in the Johnson camp tended to be from the party’s right, not because of any particular right-wing convictions on Johnson’s part, but because the further to the Conservative right you were, the more likely you were to think that Cameron’s approach was doomed to failure in 2015. The biggest brain of that tendency was probably Kwasi Kwarteng, the MP for Spelthorne. But Cameron’s unexpected success in 2015 and the emergence of new candidates on the Conservative right means that these MPs can now shop around, with the natural choice for many of them being Dominic Raab, a justice minister and the MP for Esher and Walton.

    Bolstering Johnson's support from the right were parliamentarians of the most valuable and dangerous commodity in any political party: MPs Who Want Jobs. This group were of the opinion that Johnson’s popularity meant that he would win any leadership election, and they wanted to get in on the ground floor. But the difficulty with this group, as George Osborne and Andy Burnham could both tell you, is that like nervous traders, they might bolt at any point; and they did, the second that Michael Gove chose to mount his own bid for the leadership in 2016 rather than support Johnson’s campaign. (Theresa May was the biggest net beneficiary.)

    That Johnson’s USP – being able to win in parts of the country the Conservatives cannot usually reach – was holed below the waterline after Cameron’s win in 2015 only furthered the drop in support: the former Mayor of London simply didn’t have enough support to stay the course on his own, though the likes of Ben Wallace, MP for Wyre and Preston North, remained loyal.

    Adding to his misery since then, though Theresa May has shown that being able to win a majority is harder than it looks, is that Ruth Davidson has taken some of his oxygen as a leader who can win in places the Conservatives tend to struggle. Meanwhile, Jacob Rees-Mogg has supplanted him as the activists’ darling.

    But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a path to power, or at least a second-placed finish among Conservative MPs, after which point he has, as one Johnson-supporting MP puts it, “a puncher’s chance” of beating whoever he faces among members.

    Just as in the last leadership election, where the top two candidates were MPs who had campaigned for Remain (Theresa May) and for Leave (Andrea Leadsom), it is likely that the top two will again be a choice between two sides of the party’s referendum divide. And although Johnson is not the first choice of many committed Brexiteers, he has the advantage that he is not their last choice, either. 

    Photo: Getty

    Bashing Facebook Is Not the Answer to Curbing Russian Influence Operations

    By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    Sean Spicer's Emmys love-in shows how little those with power fear Donald Trump

    By Nesrine Malik from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    There's tolerance for Trump and his minions from those who have little to lose from his presidency.

    He actually did it. Sean Spicer managed to fritter away any residual fondness anyone had for him (see here, as predicted), by not having the dignity to slip away quietly from public life and instead trying to write off his tenure under Trump as some big joke.

    At yesterday’s Emmys, as a chaser to host Stephen Colbert’s jokes about Donald Trump, Sean Spicer rolled onto the stage on his SNL parody podium and declared, “This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period.” Get it? Because the former communications director lied about the Trump inauguration crowd being the largest in history? Hilarious! What is he like? You can’t take him anywhere without him dropping a lie about a grave political matter and insulting the gravity of the moment and the intelligence of the American people and the world. 

    Celebs gasped when they saw him come out. The audience rolled in the aisles. I bet the organisers were thrilled. We got a real live enabler, folks!

    It is a soul-crushing sign of the times that obvious things need to be constantly re-stated, but re-state them we must, as every day we wake up and another little bit of horror has been prettified with some TV make-up, or flattering glossy magazine profile lighting.

    Spicer upheld Trump's lies and dissimulations for months. He repeatedly bullied journalists and promoted White House values of misogyny, racism, and unabashed dishonesty. The fact that he was clearly bad at his job and not slick enough to execute it with polished mendacity doesn't mean he didn't have a choice. Just because he was a joke doesn't mean he's funny.

    And yet here we are. The pictures of Spicer's grotesque glee at the Emmy after-party suggested a person who actually can't quite believe it. His face has written upon it the relief and ecstasy of someone who has just realised that not only has he got away with it, he seems to have been rewarded for it.

    And it doesn't stop there. The rehabilitation of Sean Spicer doesn't only get to be some high class clown, popping out of the wedding cake on a motorised podium delivering one liners. He also gets invited to Harvard to be a fellow. He gets intellectual gravitas and a social profile.

    This isn’t just a moment we roll our eyes at and dismiss as Hollywood japes. Spicer’s celebration gives us a glimpse into post-Trump life. Prepare for not only utter impunity, but a fete.

    We don’t even need to look as far as Spicer, Steve Bannon’s normalisation didn’t even wait until he left the White House. We were subjected to so many profiles and breathless fascinations with the dark lord that by the time he left, he was almost banal. Just your run of the mill bar room bore white supremacist who is on talk show Charlie Rose and already hitting the lucrative speaker’s circuit.

    You can almost understand and resign yourself to Harvard’s courting of Spicer; it is after all, the seat of the establishment, where this year’s freshman intake is one third legacy, and where Jared Kushner literally paid to play, but Hollywood? The liberal progressive Hollywood that took against Trump from the start? There is something more sinister, more revealing going here. 

    The truth is, despite the pearl clutching, there is a great deal of relative tolerance for Trump because power resides in the hands of those who have little to lose from a Trump presidency. There are not enough who are genuinely threatened by him – women, people of colour, immigrants, populating the halls of decision making, to bring the requisite and proportional sense of anger that would have been in the room when the suggestion to “hear me out, Sean Spicer, on SNL’s motorised podium” was made.

    Stephen Colbert is woke enough to make a joke at Bill Maher’s use of the N-word, but not so much that he refused to share a stage with Spicer, who worked at the white supremacy head office.

    This is the performative half-wokeness of the enablers who smugly have the optics of political correctness down, but never really internalised its values. The awkward knot at the heart of the Trump calamity is that of casual liberal complicity. The elephant in the room is the fact that the country is a most imperfect democracy, where people voted for Trump but the skew of power and capital in society, towards the male and the white and the immune, elevated him to the candidacy in the first place.

    Yes he had the money, but throw in some star quality and a bit of novelty, and you’re all set. In a way what really is working against Hillary Clinton’s book tour, where some are constantly asking that she just go away, is that she’s old hat and kind of boring in a world where attention spans are the length of another ridiculous Trump tweet.

    Preaching the merits of competence and centrism in a pantsuit? Yawn. You’re competing for attention with a White House that is a revolving door of volatile man-children. Trump just retweeted a video mock up where he knocks you over with a golf ball, Hillary. What have you got to say about that? Bet you haven’t got a nifty Vaclav Havel quote to cover this political badinage.

    This is how Trump continues to hold the political culture of the country hostage, by being ultra-present and yet also totally irrelevant to the more prosaic business of nation building. It is a hack that goes to the heart of, as Hillary's new book puts it, What Happened.

    The Trump phenomenon is hardwired into the American DNA. Once your name becomes recognisable you’re a Name. Once you’ve done a thing you are a Thing. It doesn’t matter what you’re known for or what you’ve done.

    It is the utter complacency of the establishment and its pathetic default setting that is in thrall to any mediocre male who, down to a combination of privilege and happenstance, ended up with some media profile. That is the currency that got Trump into the White House, and it is the currency that will keep him there. As Spicer’s Emmy celebration proves, What Happened is still happening.

    Photo: Getty

    There is no Commons majority for Boris Johnson's low tax, low regulation Brexit

    By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    The loss of the Conservatives' majority denied the party the option of pursuing a free market route. 

    In his leadership bid Daily Telegraph Brexit article, Boris Johnson resurrected the vision of a low tax, low regulation UK. Many Conservatives have long aspired to use EU withdrawal as a Trojan Horse for a smaller state. 

    Back in January, Chancellor Philip Hammond warned that Britain would change its "[economic] model" if the EU refused to grant the government's preferred deal. But after Hammond later ruled out "unfair competition in regulation and tax", Johnson has sought to claim this mantle. "It [Brexit] means simplifying regulation and cutting taxes wherever we can," the Foreign Secretary wrote.

    Before the EU referendum, Johnson's ally, International Development Secretary Priti Patel, declared: "If we could just halve the burdens of the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3bn boost to our economy and 60,000 new jobs."

    But there is one decisive obstacle to this programme: parliament. Had the Conservatives won the large majority they expected, the possibility of a free market Brexit would remain. But without a majority at all, it is inconceivable. The Tories simply do not have the votes they need to slash taxes and regulation (there would be enough rebels to eradicate the government's slim working majority of 12). Britain will not become the Hong Kong of the West (the oft-cited Singapore is a hotbed of interventionism.)

    It was precisely for this reason that Hammond retreated in July. Though the hard Brexiteers blame the "soft" Chancellor for repudiating this path, the true blame lies with the voters. Had the Tories stood on the libertarian manifesto proposed by some, they would likely have fared worse, not better. As Labour's performance demonstrated, many voters crave a larger state.

    Indeed, if the government is ever to raise the revenue required to deliver £350m a week extra for the NHS (as promised by Johnson), it will need to increase, not reduce taxes (indeed, Labour has considered embracing the policy itself). Since the UK's net EU budget contribution was, in fact, £252m a week last year, the government could not meet the £18.2bn pledge simply by ceasing EU payments. 

    Were Johnson, or another Tory, to soon replace May, the Conservatives could of course seek a new mandate from the electorate. But as long as the risk of allowing Labour into power remains, Tory MPs will not vote for an early contest. 

    Photo: Getty

    Boris Johnson's £350m mistake – and 6 other statistical errors we all fall for

    By Jason Murugesu from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    Boris Johnson was publicly scolded by a statistics boss for resurrecting a Brexit campaign claim.

    Sir David Norgrove, the head of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote an open letter to Boris Johnson on how he was "surprised and disappointed" by the foreign secretary restating that Brexit will lead an extra £350m per week being made available for public spending.

    Norgrove went on to say that "it is a clear misuse of official statistics". Johnson is not the first Conservative cabinet minister to be reprimanded by the Stats Authority. Six others have as well, as detailed by George Eaton

    Johnson made a classic statistical mistake - if we can call it that - by confusing net and gross contributions to the EU. He failed to mention that the EU made payments back to the UK to support the likes of agriculture and scientific research. 

    For the benefit of present and future cabinet ministers, here are some other statistical mistakes to watch out for:

    1. P – hacking

    P-hacking is a scientific term used to describe the practice of collecting data until non-significant results become significant. You can call it playing the system, unintended human biases or just the realities of working in a field

    Take the classic Derren Brown special on horse-racing (spoiler alert). In the special, Brown picks a random woman who bets on a new horse in subsequent races based on Brown's recommendation.

    She wins everytime and makes a lot of money. How did Brown known who would win? The theory online is that he bet on every single horse in every single race, and only aired the footage of when he and the woman won. Do an experiment enough times and you're bound to get the results that you're looking for. 

    2. Conflating a lower chance, with no chance

    Most polls said Hillary Clinton had a higher chance of winning the US presidential election in 2016, but that didn't mean Donald Trump had no chance of winning. The 45th president is the epitome of the saying: "if you don't try, you won't succeed."

    3. Confirmation Bias

    We believe stats more readily when they confirm our prior prejudiced beliefs. Numerous studies have found that even if the evidence for your beliefs has been refuted, you are still unlikely to change your mind

    4. Unrepresentative sample

    One reason cited for why pollsters did not predict Trump a higher chance of winning the 2016 election was that without the ubiquity of landline phones (where pollsters could randomly pick people from a phone-book), pollsters struggled to find a truly representative sample of the population. 

    In the run up to the UK 2017 general election, most polls predicted a Tory majority and a minority a hung parliament. The difference was down to the polling methodology. YouGov, a pollster which concentrated on improving its sample, was one of those closest to the mark. 

    5. Understanding significance

    In most scientific literature, the statistical Holy Grail is the p-value of 0.05. A p-value tells you how likely the results of the experiment are due to chance alone.

    For example, if you missed the bus every morning for two weeks, the p-value would tell you how likely that this was due to chance. The smaller the p-value, the more likely it wasn't due to chance and was due to some other factors such as a new bus schedule or you waking up too late.

    A p-value of 0.05 is arbitrary. Sure, five times in a hundred days you slip on a puddle, but the real reason you're late is your alarm clock isn't loud enough. But why are we interested in 5 per cent of cases? Why not 3 per cent? Better still 1 per cent? 

    This is what many now argue, especially in an era of big data, where sample sizes can number in the hundreds of thousands. They say that even if a pattern is deduced 95 per cent of the time, results which seem significant may simply be false positives, something which is due to chance. 

    6. Meaningless correlations

    A press release from Labour's grassroots movement Momentum boasts that their viral videos on social media reached far beyond their usual base. It says: “These people are more likely to follow Maximum Respect for the British Armed Forces and the Royal British Legion, Ant and Dec and Match of the Day than Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party or Momentum.”

    This is a standard statistical error. More people in Britain generally like Ant and Dec and football more than any politician or political party. The more people who watch a video, the more Ant and Dec fans among them. 

    Johnson argued in his response to Norgrove that he was talking about "control" of the money and not about extra money. The never-ending battle between number-crunching and terminology continues...

    Women’s stories triumph at the Emmys

    By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    Winners were original stories told by diverse voices, that shone a light on society's injustices, or engaged with the current political landscape in the USA head on.

    The 69th Emmy Awards was a great night for stories about women, starring women, and written by women. The biggest winners of the night, which celebrates excellence in television, were The Handmaid’s Tale (with five awards) and Big Little Lies (also with five awards). Both are female-fronted series tackling wider issues of patriarchal violence in a sexist political climate. Black Mirror: San Junipero and Veep also picked up multiple awards.

    The Handmaid’s Tale won the biggest award of the night: Outstanding Drama Series. But it also picked up awards in every category it was nominated. That meant awards for drama writing and direction, while Elisabeth Moss won the Emmy for a lead actress in drama. Ann Dowd won the best supporting role award for the terrifying Aunt Lydia, while Alexis Bledel picked up the award for best guest performance, announced at the Creative Emmy Awards last week.

    Big Little Lies won Outstanding Limited Series, with Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern and Nicole Kidman all picking up acting awards: Kidman delivered a powerful speech on the importance of representing stories of domestic abuse.

    Lena Waithe became the first black woman to win the award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for her work on Master of None, thanking her “LGBTQIA family”. Black Mirror won Outstanding TV Movie and a writing award for its love story between two women, “San Junipero”.

    It was a night of firsts more generally: Donald Glover became the first black winner of Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series, and Riz Ahmed became the first man of Asian decent, and the first Muslim, to win an acting Emmy.

    Firsts aside, Julia Louis-Dreyfus made Emmy history for the most awards won by a single performer for one role, picking up her sixth consecutive award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Veep. Reed Morano of The Handmaid's Tale became the first woman to win the award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series in 22 years, while Sterling K Brown from This Is Us became the first black man to win Outstanding Lead Actor In a Drama in 19 years.

    All in all, the winners, be it The Handmaid’s Tale, Big Little Lies, Saturday Night Live, Veep, The Night Of, This is Us, Black Mirror: San Junipero, or Atlanta, were generally original stories that placed diverse voices at the centre, shone a light on societal injustices, or engaged with the current political landscape in the USA head on.

    Oh, and if you’re wondering why Game of Thrones and Twin Peaks were snubbed: they weren’t eligible.

    The full list of winners can be found here.

    Photo: Getty

    “Like-Minded” Dictatorships and the United Nations

    By Council on Foreign Relations from Human Rights. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    The United Nations General Assembly is about to open, with the traditional lead-off speech by the

    Andy Burnham: Labour must not be a “London-centric” party

    By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    After being denied a speech at Labour conference, the Greater Manchester mayor warns Jeremy Corbyn that he must demonstrate his commitment to the north.

    On the evening of 22 May, Andy Burnham was at home watching Newsnight having just returned from a game of five-a-side football. When he was called by his friend Steve Rotheram, the mayor of Liverpool City Region, Burnham initially ignored his phone. “But then he called again and I realised it must be something important.”

    The Manchester Arena, where Rotheram’s daughters were that evening, had been targeted by a suicide bomber. “Like everybody, I felt sick to the pit of my stomach,” Burnham recalled when we spoke recently. “You feel it every time you hear of a terrorist attack, but to have one so close to home...”

    At the time of the attack, which killed 22 people, Burnham had only been in office for two weeks. The incident, the worst the UK had endured since the 7 July 2005 bombings, was a severe test of the Greater Manchester mayor’s leadership. But he was prepared.

    “On day one in the job I’d sat down with the chief constable and asked him outright: ‘Are we ready? Are we prepared for another terrorist attack?’” Burnham told me. “The reason I did that, I suppose, comes out of my background at shadow home... If you look back, a big theme of mine during that period was challenging Theresa May [then home secretary] about whether regional cities were as prepared as London for a terrorist attack.”

    He added: “I got assurances on day one and they were real assurances because Greater Manchester (GM) had been planning. The NHS had, in fact, planned for an attack on the arena a few weeks before. While I did feel sick to my stomach and anxious about what was happening, the strength of GM was immediately apparent to me.”

    Burnham described the city as “recovering” (the arena reopened with a concert on 9 September) and emphasised that it was “a long process”. “I’m meeting the families on a fairly regular basis. We’re beginning discussions about appropriate ways to create a memorial to the victims.”

    The mayor has established a new commission on tackling violent extremism, led by Labour councillor Rishi Shori, the leader of Bury Council, and believes that Prevent, the government’s counter-terrorism programme, is critically flawed. “It doesn’t have the confidence of the people it needs to have at the moment. If the flow of information isn’t coming up from families and communities and faith organisations then it won’t work”.

    The last time I interviewed Burnham, in August 2015, he was struggling to put a brave face on his inevitable defeat to Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election. In the ensuing period, Burnham was pilloried by former allies for his subsequent loyalty to Corbyn (he did not join the mass shadow cabinet resignation in June 2016). But as mayor, the 47-year-old former health secretary is a politician reborn.

    On the morning I was due to meet Burnham, a fire on the London-Manchester line had halted all trains. We arranged to speak by phone. “Devolution can really change politics, it could begin to provide an answer to the alienation we’ve seen growing over many years and that culminated in the EU referendum result,” the mayor told me as he reflected on his opening months in office.

    Burnham, who was MP for Leigh from 2001-17, and previously a special adviser to culture secretary Chris Smith, spoke disdainfully of his former workplace. “The Westminster system is set up institutionally to promote point-scoring, isn't it? It’s built into the foundations of the place. It is quite liberating to leave that totally behind and just focus on place and people and making a difference.”

    One of Burnham’s policy priorities has been tackling homelessness in Greater Manchester (which has quadrupled since 2010 to 4,428 people). He donates 15 per cent of his £110,000 salary to a homelessness fund and will do so as long as he is in office.

    Though Burnham has vowed to end rough sleeping in the region by 2020, he conceded that “the problem seems to be getting worse”. “But my commitment doesn’t diminish. I’m not going into that mode of saying: ‘It’s all somebody else’s fault’”. On the morning we spoke, Burnham wrote to all public bodies demanding “immediate steps” to address the crisis.

    The mayor spoke of his desire for further devolution, such as the transfer of the welfare budget. “Steve [Rotheram] and I were in New York earlier in the summer, with mayors from the US and Europe. And in the States, where there’s a long tradition of mayors, there’s a clearer analysis that Washington has always been dysfunctional, to a degree, and that it’s become more so under Trump and, therefore, change is going to be driven by city regions.”

    In the case of the UK, Burnham believes that “our antiquated, London-centric system” is similarly cumbersome. “The Brexit debate has brought that out and I feel strongly that it’ll be city regions that drive the quickest and most progressive change in the future ... Manchester has an incredible history of radical forward-thinking, of social disruption, industrial innovation. We’re being absolutely true to our roots in being at the forefront of this movement towards devolution.” I am reminded of the words of Factory Records founder Tony Wilson: “This is Manchester, we do things differently here.”

    Burnham joined Labour as a 14-year-old having been “radicalised” by the 1984-85 miners’ strike. On 4 May this year, he was elected mayor by a landslide, winning 63.4 per cent of the vote and achieving support in Conservative areas such as Bolton West and Altrincham & Sale West.

    I asked Burnham, who finished second to Corbyn in the 2015 leadership election (winning 19 per cent to his opponent's 59.5 per cent), whether he ever contemplated how Labour would have performed under him. “No, that’s in the past, as far as I’m concerned,” he replied. “I feel I’m in the right job at the right time. I genuinely don’t spend time on that.”

    Burnham did not join Corbyn at the victory rally that followed his mayoral election, explaining that he was too busy (he was later pictured drinking champagne with his team at The Refuge restaurant). At this year’s Labour conference, Burnham, like his London counterpart Sadiq Khan, has not been accorded a speaking slot.

    “Well, it’s a matter for the party and the powers that be ... I’ve always respected that,” Burnham said when I raised the subject. But he added: “What I would say, and it’s no divine right of mine to be there, is that if elected mayors aren’t to be given any role, I think the party needs to think long and hard about how it demonstrates its commitment to devolution.

    “And its commitment, more directly, to the rest of the country, the regions. I’ve criticised the party in the past for being too London-centric and I will always challenge it. There is a tendency to be London-centric in the Labour Party and that tendency needs to be constantly challenged.”

    Four of Labour’s keynote speakers represent north London seats that border each other: Corbyn (Islington North), Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington), Emily Thornberry (Islington South) and Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras). A fifth, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, is another London MP (representing Hayes and Harlington).

    Burnham did not disguise his displeasure with the arrangement. “Obviously the shadow cabinet needs a prominent role, but Angela Rayner [shadow education secretary], what a fantastic voice. Andrew Gwynne [shadow communities secretary], what a fantastic ambassador for the party, rooted in his home region. Debbie Abrahams [shadow work and pensions secretary] doing tremendous work.

    “I’m all in favour of more grassroots involvement, and fewer set-piece speeches, I understand why the party may want that. But I think it is important that the voices of all regions ring out at conference. I don’t think it’s mine or anyone’s right to expect a platform but I do think the party needs to demonstrate both its commitment to devolution and to the regions more broadly. If it’s not to do that through inviting someone like me, then it needs to do it a different way.”

    Burnham also warned the Conservative government not to marginalise the UK’s regions during the Brexit negotiations. “After a lot of challenges, we’ve finally been offered a meeting with David Davis [the Brexit secretary], this is Steve Rotheram and I, and the Teesside mayor [Ben Houchen], on the Friday after the Tory conference. Well, OK, I’m grateful for the meeting but that isn’t a good enough response, I have to say.”

    He continued: “There could be trade-offs here, couldn’t there? The City of London is something that the government will want to protect; are other industries going to pay the price for that?” With a view to strengthening the regions’ voice, Burnham is discussing the formation of a “council of the north” which would assemble twice a year.

    Burnham backed Labour’s support for EU single market and customs union membership during a “transitional period” but emphasised: “We also have to demonstrate, and continually stress, that we respect the result and will respond to the concerns that clearly were articulated by many Labour voters up and down the country in the referendum.”

    I end by asking Burnham whether he would ever consider returning to Westminster to seek a national leadership role.

    “I don’t see this as a stepping stone,” he insisted. “People might think, ‘he’s just biding his time up in Manchester’. I don’t think of it like that at all. For me, this is a new chapter in my political life, which I’m very fortunate to have. I’m devoting myself to it wholeheartedly, I don’t do anything by halves. I’m not really a tactical politician in that way. If I do something I try and embrace it wholeheartedly. I’m doing it in that spirit and I hope to be here for the long-term.”

    Photo: Getty

    Jonathan Safran Foer Q&A: “I feel like every good piece of advice boils down to patience”

    By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    The author on delivering babies, Chance The Rapper, and sailing down the Erie Canal.

    Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of the novels “Everything Is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, and the nonfiction book “Eating Animals”. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

    What’s your earliest memory?

    Falling asleep on my dad’s chest on a swing at my grandparents’ house. But the memory is a bit suspicious because there is a photograph and I remember my mum taking it, so I guess I wasn’t really asleep.

    Who are your heroes?

    The only person I have ever been nervous to meet, or whose presence felt larger than life, is Barack Obama. I don’t think that makes him a hero but there are many ways in which I aspire to be more like him.

    What was the last book that made you envy the writer?

    Man Is Not Alone by Abraham Joshua Heschel. It’s a meditation on religion – not really organised religion but the feeling of religiosity and spirituality. I can’t believe how clear he is about the most complicated subjects that feel like language shouldn’t be able to capture. It really changed me.

    What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

    There was a period of about two years when my kids and I would go to an inn every other weekend so maybe the inns of Mid-Atlantic states? I’m not sure Mastermind would ever ask about that, though, so my other specialism is 20th century architecture and design.

    In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

    I would be very happy to return to my childhood in Washington, DC. In a way, what I would really like is to be somewhere else at another time as somebody else. 

    What TV show could you not live without?

    I really like Veep, it’s unbelievably funny – but I could definitely live without it. Podcasts, on the other hand, are something that I could live without but might not be able to sleep without.

    What’s your theme tune?

    I don’t have a theme tune but I do have a ringtone, which is this Chance The Rapper song called “Juice”. Every time it rings, it goes: “I got the juice, I got the juice, I got the juice, juice, juice.” I absolutely love it and I find myself singing it constantly.

    What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

    It isn’t really delivered as advice but King Solomon says in the Bible: “This, too, shall pass.” I feel like every good piece of advice I’ve ever heard – about parenting, writing, relationships, inner turmoil – boils down to patience.

    When were you happiest?

    I took a vacation with my two sons recently where we rented a narrowboat and sailed down Erie Canal. We were so drunk on the thrill of hiring our own boat, the weather, the solitude, just the excitement of it. I can’t remember being happier than that.

    If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

    An obstetrician. No obstetrician comes home on a Friday and thinks: “I delivered 20 babies this week, what’s the point?” The point is so self-evident. Writing is the opposite of that. I managed not to fill any pages this week with my bad jokes and trite ideas, flat images and unbelievable characters. Being a part of the drama of life in such a direct way really appeals to me.

    Are we all doomed?

    We’re all going to die. Isn’t that what it is to be doomed? There is a wonderful line at the end of Man Is Not Alone, which is something along the lines of: for the person who is capable of appreciating the cyclicality of life, to die is privilege. It’s not doom but one’s ultimate participation in life. Everything needs to change.

    Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest novel “Here I Am” is published in paperback by Penguin

    Picture: STAVROS DAMOS

    Both the UK and EU are falling into the Brexit negotiations trap

    By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    The more the negotiators struggle, the more complicated the negotiations get. 

    How are the Brexit negotiations going? That is a deceptively easy question with a fiendishly complicated answer. After the latest round of negotiations, Brexit is quickly becoming synonymous with words like "impasse", "deadlock", and "blockage". Yet, in another sense, it was never going to be any different. In particular, the fault lines keep re-emerging precisely where the unstoppable force of Brexit meets the immovable object of the EU – notably, budget contributions. As both sides pull harder, loose negotiation threads become tangled into what the Greeks call a Gordian knot - the legendary bundle that nobody could untie.

    Worse, the current approach by David Davis and his team appears, if anything, to be tightening the knot further for two main reasons. First, while the British press and politicians focus on Brexit every day, nudged by a constant stream of leaks, this is not the case on the continent. Part of this is understandable - untangling 44 years of European law is fiendishly complicated, as the EU Withdrawal Bill demonstrates.

    However, this creates the impression that these negotiations are followed closely by national leaders and that, perhaps, the UK can bypass the "inflexible" European Commission and talk directly to the "decision-makers". This is unlikely to work. Simply put, Brexit is down the EU's pecking order of challenges, behind topics such as migration and neighborhood policy, rule of law in some member states, security challenges, and managing the transatlantic relationship. Indeed, in the recent German electoral debate between Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz, Brexit was mentioned exactly zero times.

    The second reason why the Gordian knot keeps tightening, as the third round of negotiations last month made clear, is the UK's contribution to the EU budget. Its refusal to engage on the issue and discuss a possible methodology has angered many in Brussels. The reason why this is proving so tricky lies in the conception of the infamous Article 50. Brits should be aware of this, given the leading role of Lord Kerr in the process.

    In short, Article 50 was never intended for a big member state, but rather as a quick procedure to terminate relations with a recalcitrant member state that had drifted far apart in matters of rule of law and democracy. The candidates in mind at the time were all among the new members in Central and Eastern Europe - and they are net recipients rather than contributors to the EU budget. Therefore, Article 50 did not explicitly envisage any rules for what to do if the leaving country is actually a contributor, not to mention one as large as Britain, which is responsible for roughly 12 per cent of the overall EU budget.

    For Brussels, Britain is still pushing and poking for ways to "have its cake and eat it too". The barrage of position papers, while welcome, shows that London is still aiming at a bespoke deal that preserves the benefits of membership (frictionless trade, free-flowing capital) without its obligations (European Court of Justice jurisdiction, movement of people, and budget contributions). Hence the oft-repeated invocation "no cherry-picking" that reflects, simply, the fact that the EU is not going to consciously break its own social contract to satisfy Davis.

    Therefore, in this first few months of negotiations, Britain has continuously tried to push against the fundamental reasons for the existence of the EU. This has meant EU leaders have had the relatively easy task of dismissing such attempts. Anyone who has closely followed the EU over the last decade cannot fail to note that the 27 member states and the Commission have been more united on Brexit than perhaps any other topic during this period.

    To begin to untie the Gordian knot, Britain should accept that trying to recreate membership outside of the EU is a non-starter. Instead, it should focus on outlining certain trade-offs - these do not yet need to be fully spelt out, but would be an important signal that the UK grasps the reality of being a "third country". To a slight extent this has happened on the topic of ECJ jurisdiction,. It is possible that within the next two negotiation rounds '"sufficient progress", in the EU jargon, can be claimed in this area. However, it has decidedly not happened on the topic of budgetary contributions.

    In response to such acknowledgment from London, the EU should also act. In October, it is increasingly likely that the European Council, composed of national leaders, will deem there has not been "sufficient progress" to move to what Britain really wants to talk about - trade and transitional arrangements. In response to a British acknowledgment of inevitable tradeoffs, the Council should move to loosen the strict split of "separation" and "future relationship" issues currently embedded in Barnier's negotiation strictures.

    In this new phase - we might call it phase 1.5 of the negotiations - the focus should be on a narrow set of issues. It is increasingly clear that keeping "separation" issues apart from the framework of future relations is counterproductive. In particular, this should open the way to discuss the linking of British payments into the budget with transitional arrangements, marking a step back from exacting an up-front settlement.

    This time should also be used to flesh out additional details on the current ideas surrounding the rights of EU citizens, notably acknowledging the significant administrative challenges and discussing tricky areas such as the right to bring in family members. Given the negotiation timeline, this phase however should be strictly limited to December 2017. At this point, the European Council should make its decision on "sufficient progress".

    In the end, the Gordian knot in Ancient Greece was severed - not by carefully unpicking loose ends, but by Alexander the Great deciding to cut through it with his sword. On Brexit, Britain should show that it recognizes the need for trade-offs and Europe should reciprocate via a phase 1.5 of the negotiations. Just maybe, this can be the decisive action needed to get things moving.

    Ivaylo Iaydjiev is a a DPhil student at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. He is a former adviser to the Bulgarian government.


    Autonomous Vehicles and Federal Safety Standards

    By Laura Fraade-Blanar; Nidhi Kalra from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    In this Perspective, we examine changes being considered to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard exemption process that are aimed at facilitating deployment of autonomous vehicles.

    Paleoart: the evolution of dinosaur paintings, from watercolours to Soviet visions

    By Tom Holland from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    Zoë Lescaze's book is a hulking great sauropod.

    In 1830, an English geologist named Henry Thomas De la Beche painted a watercolour of Dorset. The scene it portrayed was not a conventional one. Cows and green fields were notable by their absence. Instead, palm trees sprouted from otherwise bare lumps of rock. Shark-like reptiles with bristling teeth and giant eyes swam in a sinister, monster-filled sea. Overhead there soared strange creatures, half-dragon, half-bat. Bucolic it was not.

    De la Beche’s theme was Duria Antiquior: a more ancient Dorset. As a young man, he had become an associate and admirer of Mary Anning, the daughter of a cabinet-maker from Lyme Regis whose unrivalled eye for fossils had brought to light a whole host of astonishing discoveries. The seas and skies of Dorset, it appeared, had once teemed with remarkable creatures. Geologists made their names presenting Anning’s finds to learned societies in London. Anning herself, meanwhile, as someone who stood outside the scientific establishment, was denied both the credit and the financial rewards that were properly her due. De la Beche, outraged on her behalf, painted Duria Antiquior to make amends. Reproduced as a lithograph, it proved wildly popular. Anning’s discoveries were introduced to a fascinated public, and her celebrity assured. De la Beche, meanwhile, had initiated an entire new genre: what Zoë Lescaze, in her hulking great sauropod of a new book, terms “paleoart”.

    Laelaps by Charles R Knight, 1897. Picture: American Museum of Natural History, New York

    The ambition to put flesh on prehistoric bones did not originate in 19th-century Britain. The Roman emperor Tiberius, presented with a fossilised tooth over a foot long, is said to have commissioned the model of a human head proportionate to the scale of the artefact. At Klagenfurt in Austria, the statue of a dragon sculpted in 1590 was given a head modelled on the skull of a woolly rhinoceros. Only with the emergence of palaeontology as a science, though, were artists at last able to portray what long-extinct creatures might have looked like with a reasonable degree of accuracy – and, what was more, to situate them within landscapes thrillingly different to those of the present day. This is why De la Beche ranks as such an innovator.

    Few genres of art were more authentically representative of the industrial age than portrayals of the prehistoric past. As the artist Walton Ford puts it in his preface: “This is a book brimming with images born in the heat of startling discovery, urgent works of first contact and of handcrafted time travel.”

    As such, they are images not just of prehistoric life, but of how different people at different times have imagined prehistoric life. Hence, perhaps, why the earliest illustrations compiled in the book tend to be the most agitated and unsettling of all. They are the expressions of an entire upheaval in sensibility, of the shock felt by complacent humanity at the discovery of just how immense were the cycles of geological time, and of how brutal had been the repeated cullings of creatures that were now only to be found entombed in rock.

    “Prehistory,” as Lescaze puts it, “could not help but engender uncomfortable musings on a benevolent God’s capacity to annihilate entire species.” A shadow of the apocalyptic hung over the earliest works of paleoart. Volcanoes exploded, oceans seethed, beast preyed on beast. In Duria Antiqua, such was the terror of one plesiosaur that the wretched animal was shown voiding proto-coprolites on to the sea floor.

    Pteranodon by Heinrich Harder, reconstructed by Hans Jochen Ihle, 1982. Picture: Taschen

    This conviction, that life in prehistory had been nothing but endless competition, achieved its most iconic expression in America – fittingly, in 1928, just a year before the Wall Street Crash. Charles Knight’s illustration of a Tyrannosaurus rex confronting a Triceratops established a template for dinosaur-on-dinosaur action that has never been superceded. It was an image bred of American mythology – and specifically of the mythology of the lands across which both species of dinosaur had once roamed. In Knight’s rendering, they advance through the haze, as Lescaze nicely puts it, “like gunslingers outside a saloon”.

    Different cultures, though, could imagine the Mesozoic in different ways. In an early Second World War Soviet painting by Konstantin Konstantinovich Flyorov, the ceratopsians are altogether less individualistic. Banding together into a collective, three of them see off a tyrannosaur which, like the Nazis in Stalingrad, proves unable to breach a determined defence. Almost fauvist in its use of colour and abstraction, Flyorov’s paintings will prove revelatory to anyone brought up, as I was, on an exclusive diet of Western paleo-illustrations.

    “The art form,” Lescaze argues, “reached its apogee under the Soviet regime, flourishing in a society that not only prized science, but craved glory and international prestige.” As she brilliantly demonstrates, prehistory provided artists under Stalin with a theme that could legitimately encompass ambivalence, mystery and doubt. “There is no single narrative, no blatant message impressed upon the viewer.” The startling images that Lescazes has assembled from the former Soviet Union, justify the price of this sumptuous, beautiful book alone.

    So too, though, do the studies of better-known paleo-artists, whose work will be instantly familiar to anyone who enjoyed a dinosaur-obsessed childhood in the 1970s or 1980s: Rudolph Zallinger, who toiled in Yale’s Peabody Museum throughout the Second World War over a colossal fresco of Mesozoic megafauna; the troubled, ghoulish Czech, Zdenek Burian, whose mammoths, brachiosaurs and Neanderthals “burn with the artist’s obvious fascination with fur, flesh, scales, and skin”; Neave Parker, a beer-drinking, self-proclaimed clairvoyant who worked at the Natural History Museum, and had a taste, when drawing dinosaurs, for “hyperarticulated muscle”.

    Tree of Life by Alexander Mikhailovich Belashov, 1984. Picture: Borrissiak Paleontological Institute RAS​

    The only real disappointment of the book is that it stops when it does: for there is no room, in Lescaze’s otherwise panoramic study of paleoart, for more recent developments in the genre. The work of contemporary paleo-artists such as Julius Csotonyi or Mark Witton bear comparison with anything in the field that has gone before: true to palaeontology, but true as well to the traditions of eeriness and inventiveness that have been constants in paleoart since De la Beche settled down to paint Jurassic Dorset.

    Tom Holland’s most recent book is “Dynasty: the Rise and fall of the House of Caesar” (Little, Brown)

    Zoë Lescaze
    Taschen, 286pp, £75

    Picture: Taschen

    Has Boris Johnson ruined his chances of leading the Tories?

    By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    His Telegraph article has strengthened rather than weakened the fears MPs have about him.

    Heavy weekend? You and Boris Johnson both. The Foreign Secretary is nursing one hell of a hangover after he kick-started his Friday evening with a couple of Jägerbombs and a 4,200-word article for the Telegraph laying out his vision for Brexit. As one does with an article that is categorically not a leadership bid, he put the whole thing on his Facebook page in order to circumnavigate the Telegraph's paywall.

    In the article, he did three things. The first was to re-open the row over that £350m bounty for the NHS, earning a sharp rebuke from the head of the UK Statistics Agency, David Norgrove. "Johnson in 'distortion' row after £350m Brexit claims" is the Guardian's splash while "Number-crunchers take Johnson to task over revived £350m pledge" is the FT's.

    The second and more important aspect as far as the Brexit process goes was to set himself against continuing payments to the European Union after we leave, a stance which, if committed to by the government, would necessitate an immediate exit in March 2019 with no transition and a significantly worse standard of access to the single market than the one we currently enjoy.

    But Johnson has been left isolated after the Cabinet's big beasts – not Amber Rudd or Damian Green, as you'd expect, but also Michael Gove – declined to back the stance. That any final deal will be the choice between May's deal-with-payments and an exit without will mean that any Brexit ultras who rebel will surely be outnumbered by opposition MPs doing what they can to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit. "Johnson cut adrift after Brexit ploy backfires" is the Times' splash.

    The decision to relitigate the £350m row tells you a lot about the Foreign Secretary. There's a reason why some Remainers obsess over it: it was a politically effective deception that they failed to counter. But almost alone on the winning side, Johnson is incapable of shrugging his shoulders and saying, yes, it was a lie, but that's politics for you. As Francis Elliott explains in his excellent analysis of the whole row, Johnson's bruised feelings about the £350m for the NHS as well as a sense that he was being cut out of the Brexit talks drove his unexpected intervention.

    The third thing Johnson did of course was re-open the discussion of life after Theresa May. As far as SW1 goes, it's Amber Rudd who is in pole position – she used her appearance on Marr yesterday to remind viewers of her credentials as a steely operator, accusing Johnson of "back-seat driving" and adding that she hadn't read the piece as she had "rather a lot to do" responding to the terror attack at Parsons Green.

    It's certainly true that Rudd is the candidate that Labour would least like to face and the only Cabinet-level successor to May that generates any spontaneous enthusiasm among MPs. It's also true that, on the whole, Johnson has strengthened rather than weakened the fears that MPs have about him: that his vanity and poor sense of timing make him an ill-suited replacement to the PM.

    There's a big "but", though, which is that precisely the reasons that Rudd worries Labour and is well-thought of in Westminster make her vulnerable among Conservative members. It may be that the real golden ticket in the next Tory leadership race is whoever can come second, and with that face Rudd among ordinary Tory members. And that second-place could, still, end up being Boris Johnson's.

    Photo: Getty

    Retaining the Army's Cyber Expertise

    By Jennie W. Wenger; Caolionn O'Connell; Maria C. Lytell from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    Soldiers in the Army's Cyber career field require extensive training, and Army leadership is concerned that they will be lured away by lucrative civilian jobs. This report describes findings to inform the Army's retention strategy for these soldiers.

    A Strategic Assessment of the Future of U.S. Navy Ship Maintenance

    By Bradley Martin; Michael McMahon; Jessie Riposo; James G. Kallimani; Angelena Bohman; Alyssa Ramos; Abby Schendt from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    This report assesses possible supply and demand capabilities in the ship maintenance workload for the U.S. Navy and notes long-term challenges facing mitigation efforts.

    Northern Syria’s Anti-Islamic State Coalition Has an Arab Problem

    By Daniel Wilkofsky and Khalid Fatah from War on the Rocks. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    What holds the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) together? This is an important question, as Washington has thrown its support behind this coalition of politically disparate factions in the fight against ISIL. Indeed, the SDF reportedly now controls 60 percent of Raqqa — the collapsing caliphate’s self-proclaimed capital — in addition to most of northeast Syria. ...

    The Polish government is seeking $1trn in war reparations from Germany

    By Christian Davies from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    “Germany for many years refused to take responsibility for the Second World War.”

    The “Warsaw Uprising Run”, held each summer to remember the 1944 insurrection against Nazi occupation that left as many as 200,000 civilians dead, is no ordinary fun run. Besides negotiating a five- or ten-kilometre course, the thousands of participants must contend with Nazi checkpoints, clouds of smoke and a soundtrack of bombs and machine-gun fire.

    “People can’t seem to see that this is not a normal way of commemorating a tragedy,” says Beata Tomczyk, 25, who had signed up for this year’s race but withdrew after learning that she would have to run to the sound of shooting and experience “the feeling of being an insurgent”. “We need to commemorate war without making it banal, without making it fun,” she tells me.

    The race’s organisers are not the only ones causing offence by focusing on Poland’s difficult past. The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has revived the issue of German reparations for crimes committed in Poland during the Second World War.

    The move followed large street protests against the government’s divisive proposals for legal reform. The plans also added to the country’s diplomatic isolation in Europe. The EU warned that Poland’s funding could be cut in response to the government’s attempts to erode the rule of law and its refusal to honour commitments to take in refugees under an EU quota system. In response, the PiS leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, argued that Poland’s funding from the EU is not linked to respect for common European standards. Instead, he claimed in July, it was tied to Poland’s wartime suffering.

    PiS lawmakers then asked parliament to analyse the feasibility of a claim for reparations from Germany. “We are talking here about huge sums,” said Kaczynski, who co-founded the right-wing party in 2001, “and also about the fact that Germany for many years refused to take responsibility for the Second World War.”

    Soon after the government announced that it was considering reopening the reparations issue, posters appeared in Warsaw in support of the initiative. “GERMANS murdered millions of Poles and destroyed Poland! GERMANS, you have to pay for that!” read one.

    Reparationen machen frei” read another poster promoted by the right-wing television station Telewizja Republika, in a grotesque parody of the “Work sets you free” sign above the gates of Nazi concentration camps. Poland’s interior minister said in early September that the reparations claim could total $1trn.

    The legal dispute over reparations goes back to a decision by the postwar Polish People’s Republic, a Soviet satellite, to follow the USSR in waiving its rights to German reparations in 1953. Reparations agreed at the 1945 Potsdam Conference were paid directly to the Soviet Union.

    Advocates of the cause argue that the 1953 decision was illegitimate and that Poland has never given up its claim. Germany strongly disputes this, saying that Polish governments have repeatedly confirmed the 1953 deal.

    Since the reparations announcement, Angela Merkel has signalled that she won’t be cowed by the claim and has continued to criticise the Polish government for its policies. “However much I want to have very good relations with Poland… we cannot simply hold our tongues and not say anything for the sake of peace and quiet,” she told a press conference in August.

    The PiS’s willingness to broach a subject widely regarded as taboo across Europe has angered many Poles who regard the achievements of a decades-long process of Polish-German reconciliation as sacrosanct. A recent survey showed that a majority of Poles oppose the reparations claim.

    “This policy is not only primitive and unwise but also deeply immoral,” says Piotr Buras, the head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “To blame and punish the second and third generations of Germans for atrocities committed over 70 years ago threatens what should be our ultimate goal – that of peace and reconciliation between nations.”

    Karolina Zbytniewska, a journalist and member of a Polish-German network of young professionals, says: “It’s true that Poland didn’t receive proper compensation, but times have changed and Germany has changed, and that matters a lot more than money.”

    Government propaganda about contemporary Germany is curiously contradictory. On one hand, Germany is portrayed as a threat because it hasn’t changed enough – Kaczynski has implied that Merkel was brought to power by the Stasi and that Germany may be planning to reclaim part of western Poland. On the other, Germany is presented as dangerous because it has changed too much, into an exporter of liberal values that could flood Poland with transsexuals and Muslim migrants.

    The government’s supporters also denounce the “pro-German” sentiments of Poland’s liberal opposition, whose members are portrayed as German agents of influence. This paranoia came to a head during protests in cities across Poland in July, when tens of thousands took to the streets to oppose a government attempt to pass legislation giving the ruling party control over judicial appointments and the power to dismiss the country’s supreme court judges. PiS leaders accused foreign-owned – and, in particular, German-owned – media outlets of stirring unrest as part of a wider campaign to deny the Polish people their sovereignty.

    But if the government’s fears of a German-engineered putsch are exaggerated, so are fears that its German-bashing will poison the attitudes of Poles towards their neighbours. Too many have visited, lived and worked there for anyone beyond a cranky minority to believe that Merkel’s Germany is the Third Reich in disguise.

    “I have German friends, and I don’t think of them as the grandchildren of Nazis or people in Warsaw in 1944. They are not responsible for it on a personal level,” says the runner Beata Tomczyk. 

    Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Photo: Getty

    The Welsh Assembly is yet to achieve its founding ideals

    By Roger Scully from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    After 20 years, it's hard to imagine life without devolution. But there's more to do. 

    On 18 September 1997, the Welsh people just about voted to create a National Assembly. This narrowest of endorsements was delivered despite some highly favourable political winds for devolution. It had support from the highly popular new Prime Minister Tony Blair, while the correspondingly unpopular Conservatives opposed it. Even so, only 50.3 per cent of those voting, on a 50.1 percent turnout, said Yes. This was no tidal wave of Welsh national sentiment.

    Two decades on, the National Assembly is an established part of Welsh life. There have been five sets of elections to the chamber, which now enjoys a (rather fine) home in Cardiff Bay. The proportion of people in Wales who cannot remember life without devolution grows by the day.

    Part of the reason that the Assembly has become more established is that attitudes changed after September 1997. Opposition to devolution fell away surprisingly quickly, both among the public and the political elites. First the Conservatives, and then Ukip, dropped their anti-devolution stance – although a tiny Abolish the Assembly party won 4.4 percent of the list vote in last year’s Assembly election, demonstrating that there remains a constituency of support for such a position. Nonetheless, repeated studies since 2001 have shown consistent and clear majority support for devolution in Wales. New survey evidence published today suggests that were the 1997 referendum being held now, the Welsh would vote by around two-to-one in favour of establishing the Assembly.

    Indeed, significant public sentiment behind extending devolution has helped underpin substantial changes in the status of the National Assembly since it was first elected, and first convened, in 1999. There is now a formal division between a Welsh government (headed by Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones) and an Assembly that is a primary law-making parliament. The Assembly is developing taxation and borrowing powers. And an inquiry currently under way may even help the body expand in size from its current, and absurdly under-powered, 60 members.

    Yet weaknesses persist. An argument frequently heard in 1997 was that greater support would follow from the success of devolution in delivering tangible improvements in people’s lives. That has not been born out. Wales’s economic record during the past two decades, plus its delivery of key devolved public services like schooling and the NHS, has not obviously been better than England’s – and the public have noticed. The one respect in which politicians in Cardiff Bay are unambiguously favoured by the Welsh public over those in Westminster is in being trusted to care about Wales’ problems. But they are no more likely to be seen as competent in delivering answers to those problems. “It’s crap, but it’s our crap” seems a fair assessment of the attitudes of many in Wales to their devolved institutions.

    There also remains substantial public confusion about the scope of devolved government in Wales. In truth, the public have some fairly legitimate excuses for this. The powers of the Assembly have been under almost continual revision for the last two decades: the devolution settlement has most definitely not been settled. The weakness of the severely under-resourced Welsh media is another contributory factor to public ignorance, while the political parties have played their part as well. In this year’s general election, Carwyn Jones (who was not actually a candidate) fronted a Welsh Labour campaign that focussed heavily on the NHS – which, as a devolved issue should have been irrelevant to a Westminster election in Wales. No wonder people are often confused.

    A third weakness is diversity. The Assembly was established amidst lots of talk about a "new politics" that would do things differently from Westminster. In some respects there has been progress. Wales’s representation at Westminster was long very heavily male dominated, but the Assembly has been much closer to gender balance (although, if anything, things have slipped backwards in recent elections). Yet only two black, Asian, or minority ethnic AMs have ever been elected – both of them men. As for partisan diversity: well into the fifth Assembly term we are no closer than at any point to a non-Labour government. The entire menu of governmental options for the Welsh people thus far has been Labour on its own or a Labour-led coalition.

    On 18 September 1997, Wales had its Sliding Doors constitutional moment. Had the vote gone against devolution then, this would have been the second time that the Welsh people had rejected an Assembly. The idea would surely have been killed off permanently, and it would have been quite understandable for Whitehall to interpret such a verdict as indicating that the Welsh really didn’t want a governmental manifestation of their national identity and thus look to wind up much of the limited apparatus of administrative devolution that then existed. As it is, Wales has its Assembly and it is not going away. Devolution is now the settled will of the Welsh people to an extent that was difficult to imagine 20 year ago. But the national mood is more indifferent than celebratory - which is perhaps as it should be.


    Back on the Playground: Returning to Iraq, Eight Years Later

    By Scott Cooper from War on the Rocks. Published on Sep 18, 2017.

    Revisiting the location of significant moments in your life unleashes a flow of memories. Walking the halls of your high school, you recall your glory days. But you also see how the place has changed. The trophy case of state championships has been moved. Mrs. Johnson has retired, and her venerated classroom is now occupied ...

    Boris Johnson’s naked power play on Brexit

    From FT View. Published on Sep 17, 2017.

    The UK foreign secretary is undermining prime minister Theresa May

    Catalonia’s referendum is no basis for statehood

    From FT View. Published on Sep 17, 2017.

    Negotiations on improved self-government are the right way forward

    Five Star Movement: the unanswered questions about Italy’s populist party

    From The Big Read. Published on Sep 17, 2017.

    Davide Casaleggio is gatekeeper of the party yet it discloses little about his role or his company

    Statistics authority delivers polite but firm smackdown to Boris Johnson over £350m EU figure

    By Helen Lewis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 17, 2017.

    Claiming we will get back £350m a week is a "clear misuse of official statistics", says Sir David Norgrove.

    Boris Johnson has been accused of a "clear misuse of official statistics" by the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove.

    On Friday, the Foreign Secretary laid out his vision for Brexit in a 4,000 word Telegraph article. The intervention was widely interpreted as an advertisement of his interest in replacing Theresa May, and was condemned by Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson for coming on the day of a terror attack on the London Tube.

    Johnson wrote:  "Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week. It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

    "I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350 million per week, in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union," wrote Sir David Norgrove. "This confuses gross and net contributions. It also assumes that payments currently made to the UK by the EU, including for example for the support of agriculture and scientific research, will not be paid by the UK government when we leave. It is a clear misuse of official statistics."

    During the referendum campaign last year, the previous head of the statistics authority, Andrew Dilnot, made the same criticisms of the £350m figure. It was a key part of the Leave campaign, making the case that quitting the EU would leave Britain with more money to spend on the Health Service. However, fact-checking websites pointed out that it used our total contribution, ignoring the rebate we receive. It also assumed that the UK would make no budget contributions to the EU once we were no longer members. This is extremely unlikely, as Theresa May has already signalled her intention to remain part of several pan-European schemes, and maintain close security links. 

    The polite, but brutal, letter from Sir David Norgrove is a rare direct criticism of a senior politician by the non-partisan Statistics Authority. It signals quite how irritating statisticians find the continued misuse of the £350m figure. Johnson's intervention - which has already attracted negative comments from several Tory MPs - now looks even more misguided.

    Boris Johnson. Photo: Getty

    The rocks under our feet shape every aspect of human existence

    By John Burnside from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 17, 2017.

    From agriculture and art to our emotional and psychological weather.

    The only image that remains in my mind from school is a map on my geography teacher’s wall showing, as its title elegantly proclaimed: “A delineation of the strata of England and Wales, with part of Scotland; exhibiting the collieries and mines, the marshes and fen lands originally overflowed by the sea, and the varieties of soil according to the variations in the substrata, illustrated by the most descriptive names.”

    I loved this map, though only as an object of beauty and of some strange knowledge that I knew I would never possess.

    At 15 I was too foolish to take an interest in geography; if I had, I would have known that this beautiful object was “the map that changed the world”, paving the way for Darwin’s theories and revolutionising the study of geology. It was created by William Smith, a blacksmith’s son whose life was dogged by betrayal and poverty (including a spell in debtors’ prison), but who, in later life, gained something of the recognition he deserved.

    I was prompted to remember Smith while reading Fiona Sampson’s lyrical and highly insightful Limestone Country, in which she describes four limestone landscapes – in England, France, Slovenia and Jerusalem – and the various ways people live with and relate to them. The book reveals how the rocks under our feet shape every aspect of human existence, from agriculture and art to our emotional and psychological weather.

    Sampson concentrates not on the chemistry and physics of what she calls “the cannibal earth reconsuming her own”, but on how the geological terrain governs our imaginings and our potential – and how an engagement with limestone landscapes offers all manner of rewards, from the fine wines of the Périgord, to the spiritual revelations of the Holy Land and, most importantly, a deeper appreciation of the environment as a whole. “Really living in these landscapes means paying radical attention to how they behave,” she says.

    It means knowing their wildlife as well as ways of farming, observing how water and vegetation respond to the mineral facts of rock and soil as much as how humans live in and with them… Such attention is patient and detailed. It’s a kind of ‘slow knowledge’ that is the opposite of generalisation.

    Limestone Country does not avoid the painful and tragic aspects of the landscape; indeed, it ends in one of the world’s most troubled places, where the earth is “the colour of rust, of fire, of blood. Apt coincidence that here, in Jerusalem, the limestone ground rock should produce terra rossa or red earth.” Eerily, the land seems to echo human activity everywhere Sampson turns, but the slow knowledge and wisdom of her Périgord neighbours, and the gorgeous passages, set in Oxfordshire, where she celebrates what American poet Randall Jarrell calls “the dailiness of life”, offer a healing alternative to that red earth, a sign that, when we are humble and attentive enough to learn from the earth how to live, we may begin, as Auden suggests at the close of his great poem “In Praise of Limestone” to “imagine a faultless love”.

    I wish now that I had paid more attention in geography lessons at school; I might have learnt how to appreciate the land around me better, to understand how utterly we depend on rocks and stones and trees and to know, where that land is most threatened, how I might best help to defend it.


    In The Age of Decadence, Simon Heffer leaves his comfort zone

    By Jad Adams from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 17, 2017.

    The writer explores the rise of class warfare in Victorian Britain.

    The late Victorians inhabited a social structure that many at the time considered to be ripe past rottenness and ready to drop. Simon Heffer has set himself the task of chronicling this decadent period of Britain when the wealth built up by previous stoical generations was squandered by the ruling class in rich living. He starts with William Gladstone’s second administration in April 1880 and ends in July 1914 with Ireland on the brink of war over Home Rule, taking in widespread industrial unrest and the militancy of the suffragettes.

    At the beginning of his story are the landed interests, 10 per cent of the population that owned 92 per cent of the nation’s wealth. Their citadel was breached by the introduction of death duties by a Liberal administration in 1894, which Heffer says “derailed a class that had for centuries regarded wealth and privilege as its right”.

    The ruling class had always behaved badly: the difference in the 1890s was the end of the assumption that they had the right to rule; and the amount of wealth now available for ostentation at this high point of empire and industrialisation. Suspicion of the aristocracy was accelerated in the 1890s by a combination of the new popular press, mass literacy, and a middle class that (perhaps rather comically) actually believed in “Victorian morality” and delighted in persecuting those who deviated from it.

    Heffer has particular ire for members of the ruling class who let the side down, describing the Prince of Wales as “the personification of the manners and morals that caused the age in which he prevailed and later reigned to be regarded as one of decadence”. Heffer is so preoccupied with old Tum-Tum’s “setting an atrocious example” that he misses the contention that Queen Victoria’s pro-German sentiments damaged Britain’s interests at a time when Germany was in the ascendant. By contrast, as King, Edward VII’s association with France, and his command of the language and manners of that country, led to a smooth ride for the Entente Cordiale with the French in 1904.

    Down the scale, there was so little security of employment that people who had managed to climb the ladder lived in fear of falling back down it, so they served their interests by aping what they considered to be the virtues of their social superiors. It is this grasping after an ephemeral “respectability” that enriches the novels of HG Wells and Arnold Bennett in describing the determination of the lower-middle class to become the middle-middle class.

    Heffer calls this the “most socially divisive and disruptive period since the rise of Chartism in the late 1830s” with labour unrest, Irish nationalists, Ulster unionists and suffragettes. In chronicling it, he is somewhat limited by his lack of natural sympathy for the masses in revolt as he leaves what the talent-show judges would call his “comfort zone”.

    Heffer, a Daily Telegraph columnist as well as a New Statesman contributor, shows a love for the landed gentry, an affectionate joshing of the middle class – keep at it, you’ll get there, chaps – but a caution bordering on bewilderment for the working class. He sees unrest not as a positive working out of aspirations, but as the failing of “a ruling class whose decadence had provoked the often successful challenges of the Labour movement”.

    He recognises that both Liberalism and Conservatism had failed the state, but views the evidence of this failure with incomprehension. He writes:

    One of the paradoxes about the birth of socialism as a doctrine in Britain is that few of its early apostles were working class and many working men were happy with what the Liberal party (or even, in some cases, the Tories) offered them, until enlightened by their betters.

    The idea that workers were misled into socialism by middle class agitators was indeed a contemporary view (and Heffer quotes The Times expressing it) but it was not true. Working-class people had developed class consciousness over the industrial revolution and incorporated socialist ideas over most of the century (the term was first used in 1835). They sometimes chose leaders of better education to articulate their feelings, but the feelings were genuine. The notion that middle-class left wingers were “often fuelled by class guilt” is more pencil-sucking than analysis.

    Skilled workers might have been happy with the lot that their trade unionism had brought them, including the election of Liberal MPs, but the match girls, gas workers and dockers who made the big waves at the end of the century were unrepresented by Liberals. It was the impetus of the dissatisfaction of unskilled workers, along with legal attacks on unions (including those of the skilled workers such as the engineers) that gave birth to the Labour Party in 1900.

    One of the problems of this account is too much reliance on received wisdom – Heffer is not sufficiently familiar with the terrain of Labour activism, as he is with the machinations of parliamentary grandees. He accepts without question that middle class Annie Besant led the match girls’ strike. In fact, as Louise Raw’s research for her 2009 book Striking a Light shows, Besant was nowhere near the match factory when the strike began, and unaware of it until a deputation of strikers came to her office days later. She then did invaluable work in publicising the dispute and the working conditions that gave rise to it. Heffer is never inside meetings of the socialists or the suffragettes as he is in those of Chamberlain, Rosebery and Salisbury. He is at home in the corridors of power, but absent from the streets of unrest.

    Age of Decadence appreciates the near-disaster of the Boer War of 1899-1902 as a key event in the development of national uncertainty and imperial decline. The larger event of the First World War has concealed from us how powerful the shocks of the early defeats at the hands of the Boers were to a nation that had no doubt of its superiority in all things. Heffer is sensitive and thoughtful about the empire, noting it is “hard to find evidence that the mother country made an overall profit”. It is probable that by the end of the 1890s the empire was costing more than it was worth in monetary terms.

    There is much to enjoy in this long account, packed with detail about such things as stamp-collecting mogul Stanley Gibbons’s five wives; the Marconi scandal; Asquith pining over his daughter’s best friend; and Beatrice Webb’s dismay at the Fabians’ failure to find a workable standard for sexual relations for the left (good luck with that one). There is welcome attention paid to the literary as evidenced in chapter headings “The Decline of the Pallisers” (referring to Anthony Trollope’s parliamentary novels) or “The Rise of the Pooters” (a nod to the clerk narrator of The Diary of a Nobody); and discussion of now neglected writers such as Arthur Wing Pinero and John Galsworthy.

    At around 325,000 words it is an enormous, spine-straining work. This bulk shows its cost in the quality of writing, which is never poor, but lacks the vigour of, say, George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England covering a part of this period and which Heffer cites approvingly.

    This was a time of excess and exuberance and was undoubtedly decadent in that sense. For some it was also decadent in the sense of decline, as Victorian certainties tumbled. Other ideas were on the rise, however: women, the working class and nationalists could celebrate this period as one not of decadence but ascendancy.

    The Age of Decadence: Britain 1880 to 1914
    Simon Heffer
    Random House Books, 912pp, £30


    How US states are fighting inequality with a “millionaire tax”

    By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 17, 2017.

    The rise of progressive taxation has coincided with the rise of the super-rich.

    Donald Trump is often characterised as an “economic populist”. Many attribute his election victory to voters disillusioned with free market capitalism and the Republican mainstream. Yet his recent tax proposals represent an intensification of Reaganomics.

    The US president has promised to reduce the top rate of income tax (levied on earnings over $418,400 a year) from 39.6 per cent to 35 per cent and corporation tax from 35 per cent to 15 per cent, and to eliminate progressive measures such as the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax (which ensures that high earners who benefit from tax exemptions contribute to the US treasury).

    Should the proposals receive congressional approval – a significant hurdle – they would serve to increase both the deficit and inequality. The Tax Policy Center estimates that the programme would increase borrowing by $7.8trn over the next decade, with 60.9 per cent of the lost revenue accruing to the top 1 per cent of earners.

    This approach contrasts with that advocated by Trump’s recently departed political strategist Steve Bannon. The alt-right nationalist argued for a new top tax rate of 44 per cent on earnings over $5m a year. For Bannon, Trump’s refusal to embrace the idea was a betrayal of his campaign promise to prioritise middle-class tax cuts. (“It’s going to cost me a fortune,” the president once erroneously boasted of his plan.) The divergence reflects the tensions inherent to the Republican coalition of libertarians (such as the house speaker, Paul Ryan) and interventionists.

    Beyond the White House, the cause of progressive tax reform is advancing. State legislators in Massachusetts recently voted by 134 to 55 to hold a referendum in 2018 on a “millionaire tax”: a surtax of 4 per cent on annual earnings over $1m (the current flat rate is 5.1 per cent). The “fair share amendment”, as it is known, is designed to raise $1.9bn for education and transport.

    US citizens are taxed significantly less than their European counterparts (tax revenue represents 26 per cent of GDP, compared to the EU average of 35.7 per cent), but America is far from a bastion of pure libertarianism. At present, three states levy millionaire taxes – California (a 13.3 per cent rate), Connecticut (6.99 per cent) and New York (8.82 per cent) – as does Washington, DC (8.95 per cent). In addition, New Jersey imposes an 8.97 per cent rate on earnings over $500,000 and Maine a 10.15 per cent rate on earnings over $200,000 (the measure was approved in a 2016 referendum by 50.4 per cent to 49.6 per cent, giving the state the second-highest rate after California).

    Though opponents of the Massachusetts proposal warn of tax flight, this phenomenon has not occurred elsewhere. As Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, observed: “We just have not seen… the kind of mass migration of millionaires that people keep predicting.”

    The rise of progressive taxation has coincided with the rise of the super-rich. Since 2001, the number of households with an income greater than $1m has doubled. Most of the gains from the US recovery (GDP is now 13 per cent above its pre-crisis peak) have flowed upwards.

    Recently published research by the economists Thomas Piketty (the author of Capital in the 21st Century), Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman found that inequality is even greater than previously assumed. Between 1980 and 2014, the share of income held by the bottom half of earners fell from 20 per cent to 12 per cent, while, in a mirror-image trend, that enjoyed by the top 1 per cent rose from 12 per cent to 20 per cent.

    In the UK, where the top rate of tax on earnings over £150,000 was cut from 50 per cent to 45 per cent in 2012, a similar pattern has emerged. The share of income held by the top 1 per cent has more than doubled since 1980 to 12.7 per cent.

    The US has often served as a laboratory for future UK policies (such as tax credits and free schools). As the Conservatives grapple with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, ambitious Tory MPs may yet alight on the “millionaire tax”. 

    Photo: Getty

    Facts About the Vietnam War, Part V: Bad Strategy, Bad Leadership Doomed South Vietnam as Much as the Curtailing of U.S. Aid

    By Arnold R. Isaacs from War on the Rocks. Published on Sep 16, 2017.

    Editor’s Note: This is the fifth and final installment in a short series before the documentary series The Vietnam War (directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick) premieres this Sunday. Do not miss Part I (“They Didn’t Fight With One Hand Tied Behind Their Backs“), Part II (“The Draft Was a Moral Disgrace“), Part III (“Peace Marchers Didn’t Turn U.S ...

    On Form: how do athletes and performers unlock the secret to being “in the zone”?

    By Ian Leslie from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 16, 2017.

    Psychoanalyst and former cricketer Mike Brearley asks this intriguing question.

    Mike Brearley’s new book began as at talk he gave at the London School of Economics in 2012 on what it means to be “in the zone” – the mental state of intense focus and absorption in the task at hand, experienced by athletes and other performers at moments of peak performance. Afterwards, encouraged by friends, he wrote up his thoughts, and the more he wrote, the more he thought. The result is a book that roams far beyond its starting point, without getting anywhere in particular.

    Brearley is a psychoanalyst, a career for which he prepared by captaining the England cricket team. Between 1977 and 1981 he led England in 31 Test matches, of which only four were lost. Brearley was a very good though not outstanding batsman. His success as captain was down to his astute tactical brain, and above all to his ability to bring the best out of an England team which included brilliant, sometimes headstrong talents such as David Gower and Ian Botham.

    Brearley read classics and moral sciences at Cambridge, and pursued a career as a philosophy lecturer before giving it up for cricket (he was a late developer, in sporting terms, first selected for England at the age of 34). Silver haired, softly spoken and undemonstrative on the field, he provided an alternative to the Churchillian archetype of a leader. On retiring from cricket in 1983 he trained in psychoanalysis and became a professional therapist, while maintaining his interest in sport. In On Form, Brearley combines sport, psychology and philosophy to draw some lessons for life. This is his second book: his first, The Art of Captaincy, was published in 1985.

    A prerequisite for being on your game seems to be a freedom from deliberation. Brearley quotes Australian cricketer Greg Chappell, who wrote that a batsman at the crease should simply watch the ball and respond to what he sees: “The conscious mind can be involved with the big picture stuff such as strategy, but once the bowler approaches, one must trust the subconscious and the years of training to do the rest.”

    Those years of training are crucial. A sportsman can only rely on instinct when he stands on what Brearley calls the “secure base” of technique. Freedom must be earned: the more meticulously that performers work to improve their skills, the greater ability they have to make good decisions unthinkingly. My favourite expression of this principle comes from the conductor, Carlos Kleiber, who told a student: “With good technique you can forget technique.”

    Brearley draws a comparison between Greg Chappell’s advice and that offered by the postwar British psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion, who said that an analyst should strive to be “without memory or desire”. In life, as in sport, worrying about what might happen or has happened comes at the expense of attentiveness to the present and its satisfactions. Psychologists who study insomnia refer to the problem of “rumination”: when the would-be sleeper can’t sleep, he worries about the consequences of not sleeping, which means he can’t sleep. Over-deliberation is recursive.

    That makes it difficult to fix. If you were impatient with Hamlet you might tell him to get over himself, but of course, that’s exactly what he is trying to do. In Robert Icke’s recent production of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Andrew Scott gave a heartbreaking portrayal of the Danish prince as a man unable to escape the frenzy of his own brain. I was unexpectedly moved by the moment of respite Scott’s Hamlet found in the embrace of an old friend: “Horatio? Or I do forget myself?” To forget yourself, it helps to have a task to which one’s mind must be fully applied. Hamlet can’t throw himself into work. One difficulty of being a royal heir is that there’s so little to do to take your mind off the question of what to do.

    When an athlete is playing badly it’s often because they are trying too hard to be in form. Timothy Gallwey, author of The Inner Game of Tennis, first published in 1974 and popular ever since, argued that players who are out of form are clenched too tightly, physically and mentally. He proposed that each person is divided inside themselves between a “teller” and a “doer”. The problems begin when the teller, instead of productively directing the doer, scolds, harasses and berates it, which turns the doer into a sulky rebel, or a nervous child.

    Brearley recalls an encounter he had as a young man with Tiger Smith, the legendary English cricketer and coach, then in his nineties and nearly blind. After playing an innings for Middlesex at Edgbaston, Brearley asked Smith, who had been watching, if he had any tips. In the players’ dining room, Smith stood with his walking stick and watched Brearley swing his bat through a few strokes. “Do you think frowning helps you hit the ball harder?” Smith asked, before pointing out how tense Brearley was in the face, hands and arms. A few years later, Brearley inspected a batting glove of Ian Botham – never guilty of under-hitting the ball – and was amazed to see its fingers almost unmarked by the bat. Botham played fast and loose.

    “Choking” is a spike of nerves, experienced by performers on the brink of a success, which distracts the mind and constricts action. One trick used by athletes to cope with it is to develop mantras, or simple mental routines, to be deployed at high-pressure moments. The content of the mantra (“Stay focused”, “Be strong”) is less important than the mental space it takes up; its function is to shut out stray thoughts. But the most powerful antidote is enjoyment. Roger Federer struggled with choking in his early thirties – he threw away double match points against Novak Djokovic in the finals of both the 2010 and 2011 US Opens. His return to the pinnacle of his sport at the age of 36 has seen him playing more freely than ever. “He just seems to enjoy the feeling of having the ball on his strings,” said the former world number one Mats Wilander, in wonderment.

    If you are planning to act on instinct you had better ensure that your instincts are compliant with your plan. The philosopher David Papineau, who spoke at the same LSE event as Brearley (his thoughts also developed into a book: Knowing The Score, on philosophy and sport, was published earlier this year), tells a story about the former England batsman Mark Ramprakash. It’s a pity that Brearley doesn’t explore the same story in On Form – perhaps he felt that Papineau had claimed it – because it touches on the core psychoanalytic question of how much we know about what we desire.

    In a series against Australia in 2001, England lost the first two Tests but were in a strong position in the third, having built a lead of 120 with six wickets in hand. Ramprakash had been batting calmly and steadily for an hour. He looked set to take England to victory, and keep his team in the series. But then he did something almost inexplicably rash. Facing a delivery from the great spin bowler Shane Warne, Ramprakash danced recklessly towards the ball, swung at it and missed, and was easily stumped from behind. England went on to lose the match, and the series. Ramprakash never played Test cricket again.

    Papineau argues that there are no conscious decisions in batting: the ball moves too fast, and the intentional system of the brain too slowly, for the batsman to do anything but react instinctively. The brain’s reflex, or “action-control” system is in charge. The same is true when a tennis player faces a serve, at least in professional tennis. What the batsman can do is prepare his instincts by deciding on a strategy before stepping up to the crease.

    In other words, he can calibrate the parameters of his action-control system to respond aggressively, or defensively, or whatever he thinks necessary. For this to work, the batsman must already have trained himself to perform reflexively in those modes – otherwise known as the acquisition of technique. He must also be able to stick to his strategy, and execute on it precisely under pressure – an ability known as mental focus.

    For Papineau, this is what being “in the zone” is all about: the precise alignment of intention to instinct. It requires immense willpower, because our instincts are unruly, capricious, and easily distracted by passing stimuli. There is always something tugging at the brain, seducing it with the prospect of a pleasurable digression from the plan.

    Or someone: for several overs before Ramprakash’s dismissal, Warne had been goading him into a dramatic, showboating stroke. “Come on Ramps, you know you want to,” he said, over and again, until, eventually, he succeeded in hacking his adversary’s action-control system. Ramps knew what he intended; Warney told him what he wanted.

    On Form refuses to settle on a theme, or to develop an over-arching argument. Instead, it wanders aimlessly from topic to topic, each of which has a vague connection, if you have the patience to identify it, to the question of what it means to be in or out of form, although what they really seem to have in common is that the author has given some thought to them over the thirty or so years since his last book.

    Brearley amasses a dizzying amount of references: every one of his 26 chapters is stuffed with, well, stuff. There are stories from his careers in cricket and therapy, and anecdotes from sportspeople, businesspeople, politicians and psychiatrists. There are quotes from philosophers, passages from novels, remarks made by friends, observations of his grandchildren, newspaper stories that caught his eye, notes on films, and a Taoist parable.

    In form, On Form is a little like an 18th-century commonplace book, a bricolage that doesn’t build into something greater than its sum. Much of the material he assembles is interesting; I just wish Brearley had been more discriminating in its selection, and bolder in shaping it. He seems hesitant about imposing his point of view on the reader. Like a batsman changing his mind about a dash for a single, he is always doubling back on himself, balancing each point against another, with the effect that they cancel each other out.

    He recalls how his pride in being selected by England improved his performance as a batsman for Middlesex; in the next paragraph he reflects that pride can beget carelessness. In life, he says, “we need both security and challenge, safety and adventure”. A successful team requires its members to be selfish and unselfish. Some people need to be more spontaneous; others should pause for thought. Antitheses bounce endlessly off theses without making it to synthesis.

    Brearley is not unaware of these problems. The penultimate chapter contains a long, self-lacerating discussion of whether he should have left more out, the better to avoid a book that is “undisciplined, vague, jumping from one thing to another, incoherent…”. Well, quite. It is a painful passage to read, a digression on whether his digressions should have been cut that ought itself to have been cut, and is itself full of digressions. At one point (more than one point, actually) Brearley reminds us of how much effort he has put in:

    I worried at the text like a dog at a bone. Did you know that the word “worry”, originally the Old English wyrgan, derives from the Proto-Germanic wurgjan, meaning “strangle”? I don’t suppose you did, and nor did I, till, worrying at it, I looked up the word in the online etymological dictionary.

    After more than 360 pages in this mode, I slightly wanted to worry the author in the Proto-Germanic sense. Maybe the best way to read On Form is as a performative exercise in the mental affliction that knocks people off their game: over-thinking.

    On Form
    Mike Brearley
    Little, Brown, 416pp, £20

    Picture: BORIS LUYBNER

    Boris Johnson resurrects the Leave campaign’s £350m for NHS fantasy

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

    A sign of desperation from the Foreign Secretary, as the mess of Brexit threatens his reputation.

    In a column for the Telegraph, Boris Johnson has repeated the false claim that Brexit will result in £350m a week for the NHS.

    “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week,” he writes. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

    This notorious pledge – its place on the side of the Vote Leave battle bus now a symbol of the misleading campaign – was dropped even by the most ardent Brexiteers in the aftermath of the EU referendum.

    Just a few hours after the result, Nigel Farage himself was on Good Morning Britain, merrily calling the claim “a mistake”. Change Britain, the Vote Leave campaign’s successor group, abandoned the promise in September last year.

    The figure is inaccurate, because it doesn’t account for the UK’s rebate, which is removed before it sends any money to Brussels.

    After the rebate, the money it paid the EU in 2014 was £276m per week – not the £350m claimed – and that money is sent back to Britain for farming subsidies, underdeveloped regions, science and universities, etc. On some projects, this funding is matched by private investors.

    So we wouldn’t be getting £350m or £276m a week extra by leaving. Also, Britain’s contribution to the EU has been decreasing since 2014. The Leave campaign’s figure is simply wrong.

    Johnson, a fairweather Brexiteer, knows full well that it’s inaccurate. Perhaps he thinks the insertion of the craven adverb “roughly” into his column protects him. But he’ll need more than that to rescue his reputation.

    As Brexit becomes increasingly messy, his future career looks ever more precarious. He has staked his political standing on Brexit working out, and reached the Foreign Office because of this gamble.

    But now it’s going wrong, he has to resort to a desperate and shallow “vision for a bold, thriving Britain” in column inches to put pressure on Theresa May (while distancing himself from her course of action), and remind people that he still exists as a potential successor.

    With plummeting personal ratings, it looks less likely he’ll succeed. From being Britain’s most respected politician in 2012, with 58 per cent of voters onside, he’s now disliked or really disliked by 53 per cent of the British public, according to YouGov. Even the most masterful “roughly” won’t help you with those stats.


    Parsons Green: Does the UK’s sustained terror threat affect our psychology?

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

    The mental health implications of living in the most sustained period of terrorist activity in England for 50 years.

    On Friday morning, the fifth terror attack in Britain this year hit the London Underground at Parsons Green Tube station, southwest London. Twenty-two people are injured, and the previous four incidents saw 36 people killed.

    This means that England is now living in the most sustained period of terrorist activity since the early Seventies IRA bombings, according to BBC analysis.

    There was one attack, in which the MP Jo Cox was murdered, last year, and one at Leytonstone Tube station in east London the year before that. The UK has certainly seen a stark change in terrorism activity this year, so when does that begin to affect a nation’s psychology?

    The general public

    Although the flurry of the 24-hour news cycle and social media coverage can create panic – and Donald Trump has been publicly jumping to exclamation mark-pocked conclusions – repeated terror incidents can actually have the opposite effect on a population.

    “There is often an assumption that society could crack under the strain of terrorist attack,” says Professor Andrew Silke, the Director of Terrorism Studies at the University of East London, who has studied this subject. “[But] the general psychological research is that society overall is surprisingly resilient in the face of terrorism.”

    Professor Silke has looked into the psychology of Israel and Northern Ireland during times of sustained terror, and found that people develop an even stronger resilience in these circumstances. He says there is a “threshold”, after which the “resilience factor kicks in”.

    “Once terrorist attacks start becoming more frequent, people become habituated and almost treat them as normal, to an extent,” he says. “It’s when terrorist attacks are actually very infrequent, so quite rare and quite unpredictable that an individual terrorist attack tends to have a bigger psychological impact.”

    Britain has not yet reached this threshold, but after five attacks in a year by September, it’s in a middle ground. Certainly the element of surprise when an attack such as the one at Parsons Green happens has diminished.

    The psychology behind resilience is partly because of the “community impact” of being under sustained threat. “It’s what was referred to as the Blitz Spirit type thing,” says Professor Silke. “People feel more tied into their communities, there’s a shared sense of threat, and there’s a shared sense that we need to pull together.”

    An increased sense of community has a “fantastic impact on psychological health”, according to Professor Silke, and this outweighs the negative psychological impacts of living through a period of terror.

    The victims

    The Chairman of Psychiatry at NYU Dr Charles Marmar, who has worked as a consultant to the Metropolitan Police and citizens in the London area on stress, law enforcement and terrorism, finds that “the natural course following such an incident” at Parsons Green is “towards recovery with time, not towards illness” – for both people directly involved and Brits generally.

    “Most people in London are sufficiently stress-inoculated, if you will, Londoners are strong people and British culture is very strong when dealing with trauma,” he tells me.

    However, he stresses that the “greatest concern” remains for those injured, their families, fellow passengers, people in close proximity, and the emergency services involved. “The people who are in the immediate event, or directly linked, are the ones who need to have support, psychological first aid, monitoring, and care to make sure they don’t go on to develop acute stress symptoms.”

    Dr Marmar also warns against “indifference to the suffering” of those in the general population whose mental health problems are exacerbated by incidents like terrorist attacks.

    While he points out that the UK has a “very strong culture for dealing with terrorism”, he says this “stoicism which is part of British culture” is not always helpful. “Sometimes it makes it harder for people to express their vulnerability, or there might be more stigma associated with having emotional problems,” he warns.

    Ultimately, he finds the UK’s “population strategy” in dealing with terrorism impressive, and calls on the media to reflect this, rather than scaremongering. “The big picture is resilience, stoicism, and the ability to accept the reality of the dangerous world we live in. You had it during the IRA attacks, and in World War II with German rocket attacks.”

    If you're affected by any of the mental health issues mentioned in this piece you can call the Mind helpline on 0300 123 3393.


    Anna of the North's Lovers feels like being submerged in cold, clear water

    By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 16, 2017.

    Anna Lotterud’s brand and sound are deeply Norwegian.

    Anna Lotterud was raised in the small town of Gjøvik, which sits on the banks of the Mjøsa, Norway’s largest lake. It’s a place where, as she told the Fader magazine, “everything is so safe”. She has been making music since she was 20 years old; legend has it that she was working in a clothes shop when a stranger urged her to leave her homeland (and her relationship) behind. Lotterud booked a flight to Melbourne, where she met her future collaborator Brady Daniell-Smith, and started making music as Anna in the North..

    Since then, she has carved out her own place in the current wave of young women creating synth-heavy pop with a whiff of the Eighties (see also: Carly Rae Jepsen, Shura, Christine and the Queens). Her 2014 song “Sway” led to a collaboration with Tyler, the Creator on this summer’s “911/Mr Lonely” alongside Frank Ocean. Her debut album, Lovers, was released on 8 September.

    Lotterud’s brand and sound feels deeply Norwegian: from her cool, airy electronics to her crisp style (the artwork for this album and its singles sees her in bright white athleisure cradling different snowy animals: a bull terrier, a fluffy cat, a cockatoo). Lotterud acknowledges that she loves “space, clean colors, air, and white”. Her time in Australia encouraged her to embrace her identity of Anna of the North (a name that started as a joke, “because I was living in Australia so it was like Anna from Norway”), and Lovers was recorded in Oslo. 

    Listening to Lovers feels a bit like being submerged in cold, clear water. There’s a buoyant, gliding quality to the record’s slow jams, and while ballads abound, there’s something in their catchy hooks and Phil Collins-esque drumbeats that makes them flirt with danceable pop. “Someone”, with its hints of  “Bette Davis Eyes”, sounds like it should be in a movie starring Molly Ringwald, while “Always” carries the sentiments of Robyn’s hit “Dancing on My Own” (“I’m tired of being in love / Always in the background”). Even when Anna of the North sounds heartbroken, she is irresistible. 

    Photo: Anna of the North

    I must have spent £20,000 on TV subscriptions since the Premier League began

    By Hunter Davies from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 16, 2017.

    I have continued to fork out knowing only too well I am being taken advantage of.

    Since the Premiership began 25 years ago, I have blamed myself for the worst of the madnesses. Oh, there are loads. Not all of them my fault. Why are they such shite at taking free kicks? And corners? What do they do all week in training? I would sort them out, no question. Like all fans, I am a total expert and know what the manager should do.

    The madness for which I take the blame is the madness of money, the obscene amounts now floating around, being gorged upon by those lucky enough to receive it.

    It does not personally upset me that Harry Kane earns so much – he does not compared with stars at Man City, Man United and Chelsea. They don’t worry me either; those at the top in the City, the law, universities and media also get enormous fees. Footballers have relatively short careers and their salaries are just another reflection of the capitalist system. What does start me frothing is the size of transfer fees. How can Pogba be worth nearly £100 million, or Neymar £200 million?

    Then I calm down and think: all my fault. Obviously, not totally mine, but shared with fans worldwide. If we had not been so daft and craven we would not have willingly handed over more money each year on season tickets and TV subscriptions. You can tell yourself your £1,000 season ticket is helping your club, but who are you helping by paying so much to Sky or BT? I must have spent £20,000 on TV subs since the Prem began, just to watch football.

    What an eejit, so in love with football, and my team, that I have continued to fork out knowing only too well I am being taken advantage of. If all fans like me refused to go to a game, or watch one on telly, for just one season, the clubs would soon appreciate us more and change their ways. Oh, yes.

    Shirt sponsors depend on fans to buy their junk. Giving money to satellite TV companies means they can pay clubs fortunes for the rights to show games, which clubs then spend madly on players, assuming it will never dry up.

    Hence all these years I have been stripping naked and flaying myself with ancient satellite dishes, hoping for absolution, before continuing my wicked ways. Well, it turns out this explanation for the mad money in football is bollocks. Everything has changed. I, and all the fans, are not to blame.

    Since 1885, when professionalism arrived, rich individuals have always owned clubs, sometimes out of a duty to put something back, sometimes in recent decades to make a fast buck. Now foreign countries, or investment agencies backed by their governments, are increasingly becoming involved in leading football clubs, and apparently neither to make a fast buck nor out of duty.

    The Gulf Arabs have been at Man City for some time. A Qatari investment group is behind Paris Saint-Germain and the purchase of Neymar. Qatar is the main sponsor of Barcelona and for the first time ever, Barça have a shirt sponsor, Qatar Airways. Qatar also has football interests in other European countries, such as Belgium, as well as in South America and Africa. The Arabs have now been joined by the Chinese, who were trying to buy into Liverpool a while back but now seem to have taken over the main clubs in the West Midlands – West Brom, Wolves, Birmingham and Aston Villa.

    Why are these countries doing this? Because they can. They have money to burn. But even more because they want prestige before profit – to look good around the globe, attract friends, make fans believe they are lovely people, especially if they pour money into our particular club. Qatar hopes that by the time the World Cup arrives in 2022, its world image will be up there with Marie Curie hospices.

    So I will now stop blaming myself. In fact, the opposite. It is because of me and all the fans who have helped create such a popular, entertaining, exciting product, loved around the world that this new money is coming in. So hurrah for us! 

    Photo: Getty

    Freaked out about artificial intelligence? Remember what's in your pocket

    By Sanjana Varghese from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 16, 2017.

    In reality, we don’t need to welcome our robot overlords for our private information to be made public. 

    When the iPhone X was unveiled this week, its facial recognition feature immediately made headlines. Owners of the £1,000 phone can bypass the pesky password and just use their face to unlock their device. Aside from the obvious pitfalls (even the Apple demonstration didn't work seamlessly), it’s evident that a world where facial ID software becomes commonplace is one that could spiral out of control.

    For researchers Michal Kosinski and Yilun Wang, the dangers of such kinds of technology are paramount. In order to make their point, they shared the results of a study. They had trained a machine learning programme to identify from a series of photographs whether the face in them was gay or straight.

    The study itself had some methodological idiosyncrasies, but despite the simplistic headlines the researchers generated, their general concerns resonated. In a later interview with the Guardian, Kosinski said that he had been carrying out preliminary work into determining whether facial features could give away an individual’s political views. So far, the initial results indicated they could. Predictably, people on various social media networks and in the comments section were more than a little perturbed.

    Many of the narratives around artificial intelligence paint it as a nebulous, amorphous entity that will soon change the fabric of reality. AI, according to these theories, will take our jobs, drive our cars, and in some distant dystopian hellscape, control our lives after overpowering human intelligence. This slow creep of automation into the most complex aspects of our lives is more than a little unnerving.  

    Forget the finer points of Kosinski and Wang’s algorithm. The mere fact that they were able to create it from software, technology and information that are publicly available is what’s terrifying.

    After all, facial recognition may capture the imagination, but it is hardly necessary to work out who we are. Glued to our hands, on our bedside tables, in our pockets, our smartphones carry so much of the information that anyone would already want to know about us. We don’t need to welcome our robot overlords before our private information is made public; we already, often willingly, have shared that information ourselves.

    If you – like the majority – are reading this on a smart device, the object you hold in your hand is far more useful to a government or company than your face. Social networks, auto-fill forms and browsing histories build up a profile of our personalities without anyone necessarily needing to look us in the eye. 

    We download dating apps like Grindr and Tinder and let them access our locations even as we roam. We put our debit card details into our phones to make buying concert tickets easier. We create a digital footprint of what kind of food we buy, we let mapping apps know where our home is so we can return to it, with fewer taps of our fingers.

    Meanwhile, large corporations are making a killing out of uploading our lives – our holiday pictures, our music tastes, what we secretly find funny – into their own servers. Companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram already sell to third parties, such as law enforcement agencies.

    Publicly available data has been used in the past to crack down on dissent. Facial recognition software has long since been a hindrance for activists and protestors – new artifical intelligence programs can recognise protestors' faces even if they're covered. 

    Read more: Ranking the features of the £1,149 iPhone X from “why” to “sweet lord why”

    In the early days of the internet, we were quick to denounce programs, software and companies that ask for too many details of our lives – my dad still maintains a deep distrust of putting his card details into online forms. As time has worn on and as concepts like Amazon's Alexa, one-click shopping, and autofill forms have made the little inconveniences disappear, we are, collectively, forgetting the parts of our privacy we sacrifice. The iPhone X may recognise your face, but it isn’t really that much more dangerous than the models which came before.

    In the last decade, as artificial intelligence technology has accelerated, we have made a trade-off between privacy and a more connected world. It's a trade off we have to make, but we can be smart about it – and remember that some of these predictions around privacy have already come true. 

    Photo: Getty

    The marathon fight to overturn Brexit: Jo Swinson on her party's future

    By Helen Lewis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 16, 2017.

    “The only way to secure our place in the EU,” she notes, “is a change in public opinion.”

    When Jo Swinson announced in June that she would run for deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, rather than leader, she used a vivid analogy: “Creating lasting political change is a marathon, not a sprint.” (She also noted: “Most blokes in my shoes would run for leader like a shot.” Sir Vince Cable, 74, duly did so.)

    At 37, Swinson is a veteran of several marathons, starting with one around Loch Ness in October 2007, when she spent the journey to the course preparing posters for the “election that wasn’t”. It began a tradition of her running being interrupted by political life.

    This year, at least, she felt she had plenty of time to prepare for the Stirling marathon on 21 May. After losing her East Dunbartonshire seat to the SNP in 2015, she had spent time thinking about her life, helped by Herminia Ibarra’s 2003 book Working Identity, which describes unusual career changes, such as a psychiatrist who became a Buddhist monk. Swinson’s own transformation was less eyebrow-raising: she began writing a book on gender inequality, to be released next year, which draws on her time as minister for women and equalities in the coalition government.

    Then Theresa May called a snap election on 18 April. “I knew in a heartbeat what I wanted to do,” she tells me in her office in Portcullis House, looking out on to Big Ben. “And I knew I could do it.” (On 8 June, she reclaimed her seat from the SNP with a 5,339 majority.)

    The election was less brutal than she expected – “or maybe I’ve just got a thicker skin” – with no repeat of 2015, when her mum's car was vandalised in the run-up to polling day. “Was that because of the election, because she had a Swinson poster in the window?” she asks now. “Was it coincidence? It’s never been vandalised in the three decades before.” She adds: “There’s a level of vitriol in Scottish politics where I hope we can put the genie back into the bottle, but it’s hard. It’s unhealthy for democracy.”

    Now, as deputy leader, Swinson will need all of her stamina as she tackles two connected issues: first, the slow, grinding process of scrutinising Brexit in the Commons, and second, getting a hearing for the Liberal Democrats, given the party has just 12 MPs. It is one of the strange quirks of the election that many anti-Brexit voters went to Labour, despite Jeremy Corbyn’s own Eurosceptic inclinations.

    Swinson believes the Remain campaign failed because of its lack of emotional resonance; the only time she felt moved, she said, was in the last days of the campaign when the actor Sheila Hancock “talked about the experience of living through the Second World War, and what that meant, and what Europe meant”.

    She says the Lib Dems need to find that register again to convince people that we need a second vote on the terms of the deal – in the country, not just in parliament; and on continued EU membership v the proposed deal, rather than comparing it with no deal at all. “The only way to secure our place in the EU,” she notes, “is a change in public opinion.”

    Over the summer, she talked to an academic from Birkbeck University who told her that one question predicted a voter’s attitude to the EU better than any other metric, even income. It is this: “Do you think it’s more important that children should be well-behaved, or considerate?”

    The question has been around since 1992, and it measures an axis not picked up by conventional ideas of left and right. Rather than economic and social issues, it suggests the big split in modern politics is between authoritarians and liberals. However, she adds: “I’m the mother of a toddler; frankly, either would do.”

    One problem with this axis – which is also described as “open v closed” – is that “it’s not like there’s one economic or social policy that’s going to sort it out”. Another might be, on the evidence of the Lib Dems’ dire poll ratings, that there are far fewer liberals about than we assumed.

    Swinson’s party is also hamstrung by its time in coalition with the Tories. Echoing Nick Clegg, who has called the vote to raise tuition fees a “mistake”, she says that it was inexperience that led her party to agree to the measure. “The mistake was before we got to the vote,” she says. “We should have reopened the comprehensive spending review.” (There’s a parallel here with Harriet Harman’s exit from the first Blair cabinet for pushing through welfare cuts; she wishes, she says in her autobiography, that she’d had the courage to tell Gordon Brown to find the savings elsewhere.)

    The Lib Dems also suffered during the election campaign because of the relentless focus on Tim Farron’s Christianity – specifically, whether he thought gay sex was sinful. Given that Jacob Rees-Mogg has just had the same pushback for saying that abortion is always wrong, isn’t there a case for saying that it is impossible to be a high-profile politician if you have strong Christian views?

    “There is a big difference between Tim Farron and Jacob Rees-Mogg in that regard,” she says. “Tim Farron voted for gay rights and Jacob Rees-Mogg has voted to restrict abortion.” Swinson, a humanist, says that having experienced pregnancy herself, she finds it hard to understand how “to force someone to go through all that… not to see how that isn’t itself a massive ethical quandary.”

    Swinson has just finished Naomi Klein’s polemic No Is Not Enough. However, she is resolute in her belief that we are currently too tribal – and too cynical. Trying to overturn the current anti-politics mood, however, will definitely be a marathon, not a sprint. 


    What’s at Stake in the German Elections?

    By Council on Foreign Relations from Politics and Government. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Introduction The German federal elections on September 24 will be watched intensely acr

    A Kurdish referendum on independence risks backfiring

    By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    THE vast oil reserves and disputed status of Kirkuk have given it a reputation as a powder-keg. The multi-ethnic province in northern Iraq lies beyond the Kurdish Autonomous Region but is ruled by the Kurds and claimed by the Arabs in Baghdad. To locals, the ambiguity has had its advantages. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters provided security; Iraq’s government footed the bill (which it refused to the undisputed Kurdish enclave further north). For years Kirkuk’s heterogeneous population has largely left Iraq’s identity wars at the city gates and continued their polyglot ways. Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs happily jumbled their different languages in the cafes. Flush with funds and oil wealth, malls and fancy restaurants sprouted along its roads. The province has a Kurdish governor. Peshmerga fighters, who swept in with the Americans in 2003, have the upper hand, but most of the province’s officials are still Arabs.

    The tinderbox never really caught fire. But a unilateral referendum...Continue reading

    How Apple and co became some of America’s largest debt collectors

    From The Big Read. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Cash-rich US companies are buying corporate bonds, but will promised tax reform end the buying spree?

    Cyber Week in Review: September 15, 2017

    By Council on Foreign Relations from Defense and Security. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have mis

    When big companies become asset managers

    From FT View. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Taxes alone are not keeping corporate cash out of the real economy

    Facts About the Vietnam War, Part IV: U.S. Journalists Didn’t Lose the War, Celebrate the Enemy, or Vilify American Soldiers

    By Arnold R. Isaacs from War on the Rocks. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in a short series before the documentary series The Vietnam War (directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick) premieres this Sunday. Do not miss Part I (“They Didn’t Fight With One Hand Tied Behind Their Backs“), Part II (“The Draft Was a Moral Disgrace“), and Part III (“Peace Marchers Didn’t Turn U.S Policy ...

    Carmakers accelerate into an electric future

    From FT View. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    The pressing question for auto executives: can they make money?

    The Paradox of Rwanda's Paul Kagame

    By Council on Foreign Relations from Politics and Government. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    President Paul Kagame, along with many other chiefs of state, will be visiting New York for the o

    Daily chart: Britain reaps outsize benefits from the EU’s free movement

    By from European Union. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Main image:  AMONG the most contentious issues in negotiations over Brexit is the status of expatriates. Over 3m people from European Union (EU) countries outside the British Isles currently live in Britain, and around 1.2m Britons reside elsewhere in the EU. In theory, a “hard Brexit”, in which the EU’s free-movement guarantee is abruptly revoked, could force both groups to uproot their lives and move if they cannot secure new visas.Such an exodus would not only cause widespread disruption in the short term, but also inflict a heavy toll on Britain’s demographic profile. Foreigners of prime working age who live in Britain are far more likely to have jobs than their peers elsewhere in Europe are. Fully 78% of immigrants to Britain aged 25-49 are employed, compared with 68% in Germany (whose ratio is the second-best in the EU) and just 58% in France. And in addition to luring other countries’ workers, Britain also excels at exporting its own pensioners. Nearly a quarter of a million Britons aged 65 and over live in other EU countries—120,000 in Spain alone—whereas only 85,000 of those aged 65 and over from elsewhere in the EU have settled in Britain.A deal allowing both groups to stay put could well be reached. Nonetheless, the threat of Brexit-related upheaval already seems to be influencing ...

    Army exercise blunts bumper Belarus mushroom harvest

    From BBC News - World. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    The Zapad 2017 military exercise annoys Belarusian mushroom pickers.

    Understanding and Learning from the Diversification of Cannabis Supply Laws

    By Beau Kilmer; Rosalie Liccardo Pacula from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Prohibitions on producing, distributing, and selling cannabis are loosening in various jurisdictions around the world, but the evidence base for assessing changes in cannabis supply laws remains weak..

    Incentivizing Care Coordination in Managed Care

    By Paul J. Chung; Carlos F. Lerner from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    States with high primary care case management (PCCM) penetration provide more access to coordination of care than states with high HMO penetration.

    Standardizing the Measurement of Commercial Health Plan Primary Care Spending

    By Michael Bailit; Mark W. Friedberg; Margaret Houy from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Primary care is often acknowledged as the foundation of any high-performing health care delivery system. But how much of our health dollars go to supporting it?

    Digital coin mania

    From The Big Read. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    One step closer to the brink – how US diplomacy failed in North Korea

    By Jack Broome from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    A policy of isolation and containment has left the North Korean regime convinced that its nuclear deterrent is the only way to guarantee survival. 

    At around 7am on Friday, loudspeakers in the town of Kaimaishi, northern Japan blared into action, warning of an inbound North Korean missile. The missile passed over Japan and splashed down in the Pacific approximately 2,000 kilometres east of Hokkaido. This is only the fourth time North Korea has directed a missile over Japan. The first was in 1998 and the second 2009. The last two times have only been a matter of weeks apart.

    North Korea’s latest missile test comes in response to a new round of sanctions imposed on the country after it conducted its sixth nuclear test on 3 September 2017. Heralded by the US as the toughest yet, the measures include an embargo on North Korean textile exports, a bar on North Korean workers overseas obtaining new work permits and reducing oil imports by 30 per cent. Whilst the resolution was passed unanimously by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the support of Russia and China was only won after the original proposal from the US was diluted heavily.

    This latest response, as well as the detonation of a high-yield nuclear device following the first round sanctions in August, have not swayed the US conviction that imposing ever tougher sanctions on North Korea will force the regime to abandon its nuclear programme. Already there are calls for fresh sanctions. The United States (US) secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is pressing for Russia and China to take "direct action of their own" ahead of the emergency UNSC meeting later today.

    However, both Russia and China have expressed scepticism over US policy preferences on North Korea. Prior to the last UNSC meeting, at a Brics summit in China, Russian president Vladimir Putin remarked: “The sanctions regime has run its course…they will rather eat grass in North Korea than abandon this programme.” Putin was also reluctant to support the US demands for an oil embargo, arguing that Russian oil exports to North Korea are negligible.

    Signalling a shift in attitude, China has been more open to pursuing sanctions against the North Korean regime. Crucially though, Beijing has stressed the need to accompany this with moves to resume negotiations and attempts to de-escalate the crisis. A key step towards this goal, Beijing argues, is for the US to cease its joint military exercises with South Korea in exchange for North Korea agreeing not to carry out further missile tests.

    Even among the US and its allies, there is a marked difference in their respective policy objectives. The Republic of Korea’s (ROK) new president, Moon Jae-In, was elected following a campaign which promised a softer stance towards the country’s northern neighbour, with the aim of promoting dialogue and resume negotiations. Given that South Korea would bear the brunt of any conflict with North Korea, its government is keen to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

    The US, on the other hand, has displayed a far more aggressive stance towards North Korea. In stark contrast to the calm and considered policy of de-escalation usually favoured by previous US presidents, Donald Trump has promised "fire and fury" if North Korea does not cease its threats against the United States. Trump caused controversy for describing Moon Jae-In's approach to North Korea as a policy of "appeasement". Alluding to the use of force, Trump claims that, “they only understand one thing!” and has repeatedly stated a military option is still available.

    Japan is also becoming less tolerant of the threat North Korea poses to its national security. This morning the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said that North Korea’s provocative acts "threaten world peace" and called for the international community to unite against the recalcitrant regime. Abe’s support for the remilitarisation of Japan is, in part, due to the need to counter North Korean aggression. The Japanese Defence Ministry’s plans to acquire the land-based Aegis Ashore missile-defence system is also a reflection of the new types of threat the country faces.

    The fact North Korea has carried out a sixth nuclear test demonstrates a significant failure in policy on all sides. Central to this failure, is a complete lack of understanding of Pyongyang’s motives. The US, as well as the wider international community, have relished the opportunity to portray North Korea as a pariah state headed by an irrational dictator with bellicose tendencies. By doing so, the US is able to justify its policy of isolation and containment. This places the onus on North Korea to resume negotiations, whilst also retaining the option for US military action.

    But despite Washington's attempt to depict North Korea as the sole aggressor, Pyongyang views its position in the crisis as defensive. Both North and South Korea have declared reunification to be their ultimate goal. However faced by the overwhelming military strength of the US-ROK alliance, Pyongyang's short-term priority is regime survival.

    Seen from Pyongyang, brinkmanship-based diplomacy is necessary to compensate for the imbalance of power. Should North Korea seek to initiate negotiations, it would be at an immediate disadvantage. This is particularly true as Washington insists on North Korean nuclear disarmament as a precondition for negotiations, which the regime considers its strongest bargaining chip.

    For this reason, the North Korean regime employs hyperbolic rhetoric and limited acts of aggression, such as missile tests, to increase tensions. In doing so, the regime hopes to achieve a two-fold effect. Firstly, to deter the US from pursuing a pre-emptive attack. Secondly, to raise the threat level to a point where the US is forced to abandon its precondition of nuclear disarmament and initiate negotiations on terms more favourable for North Korea.

    Crucially, if neither side can commit to the other’s preconditions, nor can see any chance of gaining significant concessions, the logic of brinkmanship falls apart. Pyongyang is caught in a Catch-22 situation. It believes attaining a credible nuclear deterrence to be the strongest protection against regime change and a means to be treated as an equal on the international stage. However, the US refuses to negotiate with North Korea unless it is prepared to discuss nuclear disarmament. Similarly, Washington will not tolerate North Korea obtaining the ability to strike the US homeland, but Pyongyang cannot provide a credible deterrent without this capability.

    In these terms, the closer North Korea comes to developing missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, the more the situation becomes a zero-sum game for both countries. North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear programme as it approaches its goal. The US does not want to risk losing the opportunity of a pre-emptive attack. Here, negotiation is in neither party’s interest. The real currency of diplomacy becomes military might, where the emphasis is placed on acting first.

    Worryingly, we are already at this point. North Korea has declared it possesses nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of hitting the US’s West Coast. Although this claim was met with scepticism by North Korean analysts, most agree this reality is now likely less than a year away. In North Korea’s sixth nuclear weapons test, a suspected 100 kiloton bomb was detonated, which is the largest yet. Doubt remains as to whether this was a genuine hydrogen bomb, or simply an atom bomb boosted by a secondary explosion. What is clear is that North Korea's nuclear weapons technology is advancing much faster than previously predicted.

    Trump’s “they only understand one thing!” comment reflects growing frustration and impatience in the US with the ongoing North Korea crisis. Prior to commencing his presidency, Trump was warned by Barack Obama that North Korea represents the greatest threat to US security. Trump is eager not repeat the same mistakes as Obama, having chastised him for his policy on North Korea during the US election run. Other members of the Trump’s government, such as James Mattis, are still unwilling to rule out diplomacy. However, a recent poll shows that, for the first time, a majority of Americans support military action if South Korea is attacked.

    Barack Obama came to office promising a tougher stance on North Korea than the previous Bush administration. In particular, Obama aimed to break a cycle in which North Korean provocations lead to concessions, as means to secure agreements, which later collapse, causing the cycle to begin anew. Although Obama had criticised the Bush administration’s policy of containment and isolation, he failed to deliver on his promise of sincere and lasting engagement with Pyongyang. In actual fact, he was criticised for sitting on the fence. He did not bring North Korea back to the Six-Party Talks, but nor did he adopt a more aggressive policy line against the rogue state. This had the effect of further isolating the North Korean regime and disconnecting Pyongyang's own policy of brinkmanship with the necessary channels to pursue de-escalation.

    Trump has not only returned to the Bush administration’s policy of containment and isolation, but has also adopted a far more hawkish approach to North Korea. In addition to his "fire and fury" comments, this has included a sharp rise in the number of joint military exercises with South Korea and Japan, in addition to the three US aircraft carriers now anchored in Korean waters.

    With each successive breakdown in negotiations, the likelihood of further talks diminishes as the crisis cap is raised higher and higher. This creates a situation in which North Korea is required to make ever greater threats and pursue even bolder acts of aggression in a bid to force the US to negotiate on more favourable terms. As a result, the crisis edges closer to war with each new incident. 

    The failure of US diplomacy is in large part to blame for North Korea’s sixth nuclear test and continuing missile tests. A policy of isolation and containment has left the North Korean regime convinced that its nuclear deterrent is the only way to guarantee survival.

    The international response to this latest missile test will be crucial in avoiding hostilities. Imposing further sanctions without any engagement will only put North Korea in a situation where it has nothing to lose from a surprise attempt at reunification. It is highly unlikely that North Korea will shut down its nuclear weapons programme. Therefore the US will need to come to terms with this, in the same way it did with India and Pakistan. In fact, North Korea attaining a credible nuclear deterrence will curtail the need for brinkmanship-based diplomacy and may make the US more amenable to negotiations.The irony of this would surely be lost on the Trump administration.

    Photo: Getty

    Parsons Green terror attack: Metropolitan Police condemn Donald Trump tweet

    By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    The US president is accused of tweeting irresponsibly about the incident on the London Underground.

    The Metropolitan Police have called the US president’s tweet about a terror incident on the London Underground “unhelpful” and “pure speculation”.

    Responding to a blast at Parsons Green Tube station, south-west London, which is now being treated as a terror incident by the authorities, Donald Trump tweeted:

    “Another attack in London by a loser terrorist.These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!”

    A police spokesperson told CNN that Trump’s tweet was, “pure speculation given we don’t know who is involved. Any speculation is unhelpful.”

    The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he hasn’t “had a chance to look at Twitter, let alone tweet”, in response to questions about Trump’s comments.

    The two have clashed before over terrorism in the UK, when Trump quoted Khan out of context in a tweet following the London Bridge attacks. “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed’!” he tweeted, when the mayor’s remarks were actually about increased police presence in the capital.

    Photo: Twitter screengrab and Getty

    Laying the foundations for conflict-free construction

    By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    If the UK’s construction industry is to flourish in the years to come then it will need a fair, fast and flexible system for avoiding disputes

    The construction industry is immense. It contributes around 10 per cent of the UK GDP, and employs over two million people in over 180,000 businesses. It is a complex and innately competitive industry, where many of its diverse participants maintain priorities which often do not align. The truth about the UK construction industry for many years is that complex inter-relationships and competing interests routinely creates discord between employers and their supply chains. When disagreements are not addressed early, and effectively, they inevitably turn into disputes.

    Resolving disputes can be extremely slow and costly. The disputes themselves can also cause tremendous damage to commercial relationships and put brand reputations at risk. They are a major reason why projects fail to complete
    on time and on budget.

    The UK construction industry’s recovery from the 2008 financial crash has been slow and prospects are still precarious. The shape and timetable for Brexit is still unknown but it is inevitable that the UK, once outside the European Union, will rely heavily on the construction industry as a major contributor to the future success of the economy. Ensuring the industry is economically successful brings into sharp focus the need to improve the way participants manage their relationships and deal with differences of opinion.

    Employers and contractors in UK rail and transport are at the head of a growing movement within the construction and engineering sector. This movement is fundamentally changing the way employers and contractors work and how they resolve disputes. 

    With support from professional and membership bodies such as RICS, ICE, CIArb, ICES, DRBF, RIBA and ICC, Transport for London (TfL) and Network Rail (NR) are creating a major shift in the culture of the construction industry, to make harmful and expensive disputes a rare occurrence. The key objectives of this coalition are to promote a more collaborative working culture in the UK construction space, help reduce legal spend in the industry and protect brand reputations, which would be at risk if businesses were to gain reputations for generating disputes with their suppliers, and/or not dealing with them effectively. Ultimately, the coalition aims to create a step change in the culture of the UK construction industry, away from combative and dispute-heavy business relationships to a more collaborative partnership approach.

    The campaign presents some major challenges, including the necessity to eliminate the standard mindset that has existed in the industry for many years, and which encourages and perpetuates conflict.

    Two key messages emanating from the coalition are: conflict situations should be avoided where possible and, where differences of opinion do arise, they should be dealt with early and effectively, ideally in the boardroom.  The coalition has now embarked on a campaign to persuade employers, contractors and professionals working in the industry to signal their support for conflict avoidance by signing up to the “Conflict Avoidance Pledge” ( 

    The pledge, which will be formally launched in London in January 2018, has already been signed by leading employers and contractors, including TfL, Network Rail and many of their suppliers.

    When an organisation or individual signs the pledge, it indicates they are committed to:

    • Working proactively to avoid conflict and facilitating early resolution of potential disputes.
    • Developing their capability in the early identification of potential disputes and in the use of conflict avoidance measures.

    The strategies for collaborative working and improved conflict management, which have been adopted  by TfL, Network Rail and many in their supply chains, is evidence of a sea change in the industry. Employers and contractors are increasingly adopting innovative methods to prevent conflict situations developing. When opinions diverge and before matters become irreconcilable, bespoke dispute resolution systems are being applied to tackle the developing issues early and cordially.


    How TfL steers clear of conflict

    In 2013, TfL was looking for a suitable form of alternative dispute resolution for use on its major Capital Delivery contracts, to resolve emerging issues before they turned  into full disputes. TfL approached a number of professional bodies for advice. When no suitable process was found, RICS offered to work with TfL in developing one, and the Conflict Avoidance Process (CAP) was formed. The CAP not only enables issues to be resolved without the parties becoming combative, but actually promotes collaboration and trust to such an extent that it improves the ongoing client-supplier relationship.

    Case study: Victoria station upgrade

    This major upgrade is being delivered by one of TfL’s key delivery partners, Taylor Woodrow – BAM Nuttall JV (TWBN). An issue arose on the project relating to a difference in how the contract was interpreted, which led to a disagreement on TWBN’s entitlement to certain costs. Both the TfL and TWBN project teams agreed to work together in preparing a joint submission to the CAP. This enabled common ground to be established, and the disagreement was narrowed and focused to the root of the issue. This was achieved before the CAP was involved and this collaborative approach ensured that the CAP recommendation led to an outcome that was successfully accepted by both parties. This instance of CAP was extremely quick and provided exceptional value, with CAP costs amounting to just 0.2 per cent of value of the issue.

    Shutterstock / Ant Clausen

    The vote against tuition fees is more than symbolic – our democracy is at stake

    By Angela Rayner from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    The Tories tried to bypass parliament for the latest fees hike. 

    I thought I had seen it all from this government. But this week in the House of Commons we have reached a new and deeply alarming moment, not just for education policy but for the functioning of parliamentary democracy itself.

    Labour won two votes in the Commons on Wednesday, including my motion against the latest rise in tuition fees. This rise - of up to £1,000 extra for an undergraduate course - was engineered through statutory instruments, rather than primary legislation. 

    Few people outside the Westminster bubble have heard of statutory instruments ("secondary legislation" in parliamentary jargon) but we will all be hearing more about them under this government. They allow ministers to change the law without needing to pass a whole new Act through parliament.

    They are meant for relatively minor changes that Parliament has allowed ministers to make without needing a full parliamentary process. But they were never meant to be a way of dodging Parliament entirely.

    In the case of tuition fees, the Tories quietly wheeled out an increase in fees on the last day before a parliamentary recess, tabling so-called "statutory instruments" bringing the fees hike in to force.

    The rules give MPs 40 days to lodge an objection to any new regulations under this process, which should lead to a vote on them – and that is exactly what I did. It took some months, but eventually the government conceded a vote on 18 April 2017 – only to immediately call the snap general election and dissolve Parliament before it could be held.

    After losing her majority, you would have thought that the Prime Minister might assess where she went wrong. After all, the surge in young people voting showed that tuition fees were an important issue. Clearly, she didn’t. The leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, instead decreed that there would be no parliamentary time on the issue. This was despite her predecessor promising the House of Commons we would have a debate and a vote just weeks before.

    We called an emergency debate, in effect forcing time on the Commons floor. When the universities minister Jo Johnson tried to say the time limit had passed, the Speaker had to slap him down, making clear we had done everything within the rules to call a vote. But still they refused.

    Which brought us to this week. The Opposition is allowed time of our own on the floor and we can also table motions. So we did: a resolution of the House revoking these specific regulations.

    I warned the government that the debate we were having went beyond policy differences on tuition fees. This was about the role of the House of Commons and, ultimately, our democracy. But not only did they refuse to address the point, they even refused to vote, so the motion to scrap the fees rise passed unanimously.

    Ministers dismissed the votes as symbolic. They even told their own MPs not to bother voting on it. But I was very clear that the motion I tabled was far from a simple statement of opinion. It was a resolution revoking the regulations that increased the cap on fees. Far from being symbolic, this was the legislature doing its job: legislating. 

    Since then, ministers have indicated that they will simply ignore it. In an argument straight out of the pages of a Kafka novel, they argued that we had not held the vote within the 40 days. That, of course, was because they would not give us the time. So the government can now just refuse to allow the Commons to vote within the time limit, then tell us that any vote won’t count because we’re out of time.

    This is not a dry, constitutional point for lawyers, professors and bewigged clerks to debate in legal textbooks. It is a serious attack on the role MPs have in checking government power. The Commons Speaker said he cannot recall a recent example of such behaviour, setting a "very worrying" precedent.

    I said this week that the government are not just running scared, but dragging us in to a constitutional crisis. The details may sound complicated by the fundamental point is simple. In a parliamentary democracy, it is the job of parliament to decide the law, not the government. In this case, the government has changed the law. It has done so not just without parliament agreeing but despite parliament actually voting against it.

    Once we allow this principle to slide, parliamentary democracy itself is undermined. It is even worse when you look at the government’s Brexit Bill. This allows ministers sweeping powers under the very same mechanism that they used to change tuition fees – statutory instrument. They even want the power to change full-blown Acts of Parliament that way – the so-called "Henry VIII" power.

    The Brexit secretary David Davis told us we didn’t have to worry about these because they couldn’t be used to change the law without parliament having a say. But even as he was promising us that, his colleagues were proving him wrong. They decided that they can govern by simply ignoring elected MPs and ruling by decree – not so much Henry VIII as Charles I.

    Thankfully we have moved on from the times when wars were fought to settle the balance of power between the executive and legislature. But the battle over our democracy has just begun.


    The Mercury Prize has gone a bit weird, but this year's winner was a classic

    By Kate Mossman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    The 2017 award show had mums and famous names, but bands still can't win.

    In the last two years, the Mercury Prize has gone a bit weird. It’s now held in a mega venue with celebs among the judges, and really massive people get on the shortlist, who don’t need another award. It’s more like the Brits.

    One of the upsides of this is that everyone looks happy – it’s now a pre-requisite to look happy at the Mercurys. This change from diffidence to showbiz pride began in 2015 when Benjamin Clementine made the awkward decision to drag all the other winners up on stage with him.

    That year, the Mercs were between sponsors, held in the small BBC radio theatre with no snacks and everyone facing the same way as if on an airline. The next year, after the facelift, winner Skepta brought his mum on stage. Mums are now an essential part of Mercury participation. Loyle Carner wore a T-shirt saying “Sun of Jean” (a song which features his mum). One of the reasons no bands win is there’d be too many mums to bring on.

    The inclusion of famouses – Stormzy, Ed Sheeran – on the shortlist is guaranteed to get people writing and ranting about an award that every year, we say is more irrelevant and powerless. It ensures ratings and a razzy ceremony.

    Both men fall within one of the Mercury’s famous criteria: that the winning album should represent the year in music. This is our most lucrative time for musical exports since 2000, before all the trouble began: British music has contributed £4bn to the UK economy this year, and Sheeran is probably responsible for 3.98bn of those. Stormzy, among other grime people, was the soundtrack to Jeremy Corbyn.

    As an ex judge looking down the list last night, I could see that many of the turns might win, according to the other swirling and mysterious criteria employed by the Mercury panel.

    A unique voice from a modest figure who’s been tooling away in the background for years (the Elbow vote)? Sampha. A super confident debut from a modern British artist who could do with being introduced to a mainstream audience? J Hus, Carner. An unusual brain who’s been nominated before, didn’t win then, and is continuing to pluck their own intense tune (the James Blake vote)? Kate Tempest. And just a really good album by a band? The Big Moon. No chance! (Bands are Mercury outcasts in this age of personal confession and emotional backstory.)

    They used to say to us: don’t be swayed by the live performance, this is about the album! At points, I thought my favourites, Sampha and Carner, might be swallowed up in the drama. It was indeed impressive to see Stormzy recreating his last supper album tableau on stage, though he cannot sing. And Tempest is so brain-pummellingly full-on, how could she not win? Imagine you were turning on the TV and seeing her for the first time.

    There was another weird new thing at the time of the announcement, when Lauren Laverne hinted at the winner by narrowing it down to a debut album from South London – presumably to generate tweet. But at the end of the day, the winner was classic Mercury. A bashful backroom boy whose demeanour gives no hint of the transatlantic royalty he’s worked with – Drake, Kanye West, Solange, Frank Ocean – and whose music recalls the open-heartedness of Antony Hegarty or Blake, only much warmer.

    On Stars in Their Eyes, the winner used to have to go on again and sing straight away, even if they were shaking and crying with shock. I felt for Sampha when they made him go and do it all again.

    Photo: Getty

    It will take more than tinkering with interest rates to turn young voters away from Jeremy Corbyn

    By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    The Tory obsession with the 18-24s is leading them to neglect their problem with 24 to 55-year-olds. 

    A spectre is haunting the modern Conservative Party; the spectre of youth turnout. Labour crushed the Conservatives among the under-40s, taking around 60 per cent of the vote, while the Conservatives took just under a quarter. Adding to Tory misery, the young voted in higher-than-usual numbers. The result? The loss of the first Conservative parliamentary majority for 23 years.

    Understandably, much of the party’s policy post-mortem has focused on what the party can do to win back young voters. (The average age in the United Kingdom is 40, so for the purposes of this piece, I am defining “younger voters” as 39 and under, and older voters as 40 and over.)

    In good news for Labour, the Tories have largely settled on one particular policy area: tuition fees. They spend a large chunk of the summer pointing out that the policy wouldn’t extend to existing graduates and are now trying to work out their own policy offer.

    Will Tanner, a former aide to Theresa May, has used his debut column in the to suggest some policy levers that the government could pull to win back this group, including reintroducing maintenance grants and tinkering with the rate of interest paid on tuition fee debt.

    The first is unquestionably good policy. As I wrote in 2015, when George Osborne scrapped maintenance grants and replaced them with maintenance loans, the policy is effectively the same as having two tax bands at £45,000 – one of 42p for people who have come from wealth, and one of 45p for people who grew up in poverty. That maintenance payments are not generous enough also helps contribute to the drop-out rate among poorer students and forces them to take on additional jobs, not for luxuries but merely to get by, which also further harms academic performance. 

    The second will mean that slightly more people will pay off the total debt but we are talking about very, very small numbers – in effect, regardless of the interest rate, the way that the £9,000 fees work for most graduates is as a capped, 30-year graduate premium on income tax. It’s not a bad policy but it’s not going to move the earth.

    The difficulty with both these policies is that polling consistently shows that while tuition fees exercise students who have yet to pay them, they are consistently among the bottom of issues as far as graduates who have actually started repaying their fees go. Once someone starts paying, the whole system is indistinguishable from everything else they lose through payroll taxes.

    Just as very few people are more upset at how much they pay in national insurance as opposed to income tax, the whole bill is secondary to the question of how much money graduates have in their pockets when they’re paid.

    As I’ve written before, it seems unlikely that Labour’s big gains among 18-24 year olds weren’t a result of the party’s pledge to scrap tuition fees. If you spend £11.2bn on a voter group, you are almost certainly going to get their votes. If the Conservatives want to compete with this group, they have only really got one option: scrap fees entirely.

    Tinkering with interest rates or maintenance grants aren’t going to fix the problem. (Though it’s worth highlighting that reintroducing maintenance grants and increasing their level is a far better policy than anything either of the big two is proposing do as far as tuition fees go.)

    The much bigger problem for the Conservatives wasn’t that they did badly among students – it was that they did badly among voters aged 24 to 40. (And indeed, 40 to 55).

    The big problem is issues that used to be the preserve of students and people on the first rung of post-16 employment – insecure tenancies in the private rented sector, loose employment contracts in which most of the benefits of flexibility accrue to the employer – are increasingly being felt up the age distribution. Add to that the politically toxic effects of planned cuts to schools and you have the far more electorally decisive switch in this election – of 30-somethings, 40-somethings and even 50-somethings to Labour from the Conservatives.

    The good news for the Conservatives is that many of these problems could be fixed for far less than the £11.5bn necessary to match Labour’s tuition fee policy. The great news for Labour is that so little of the government or its outriders’ energy is focused on how to do it. 

    Photo: Getty

    Here are 29 thoughts on James Cleverly’s ludicrously dumb Stalin tweet

    By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Who is he comparing to Stalin here, exactly?

    Earlier, Jeremy Corbyn tweeted this:

    Here was the response from the Tory MP for Braintree James Cleverly.

    Just... what?

    I have questions.

    1) Is he saying that asking for a 2 per cent pay rise for nurses and firemen literally makes you as bad as the actual, literal Stalin?

    2) No, but is he really saying that though?

    3) Because that’s self-evidently ridiculous but I can’t work out how else to interpret that tweet.

    4) Mind you, the people we want to hear from in Corbyn’s tweet are public sector workers, while the people we can’t hear from in Cleverly’s are the victims of communist regimes. Soooo….

    5) Cleverly actually comparing the public sector workers whose pay his government is refusing to boost to the millions purged by Mao and Stalin?

    6) Because that’s worse, actually, isn’t it? That’s definitely worse.

    7) I’m not sure Theresa May would like the fact you’ve just compared her government to Stalin’s, James.

    8) I mean, it might affect your prospects for promotion, that’s all I’m saying.

    9) If anyone can actually work out how paying nurses enough to keep up with inflation leads to mass murdering dictatorship, please do write in, I’m curious.

    10) I’m not going to draw attention to Cleverly’s name, and the fact this tweet is a strong case against nominative determinism, because most of Twitter has already done that, and it wasn’t that funny then.

    11) More like James Moronically, amirite?

    12) No, sorry, that wasn’t very funny either.

    13) Seriously, though, what an amazingly, hilariously, catastrophically stupid take.

    14) Is there a name for this Tory tendency to respond to every mildly social democratic proposal by shouting, “GULAGS?!”?

    15) Given that it’s a sort of inverted Godwin’s Law, I suggest we name it “Cleverly’s Law”.

    16) Cleverly’s Law states: “As any debate about Labour policy continues, the chances that a passing Tory will compare Jeremy Corbyn to Stalin approaches 1.”

    17) I’m aware by this point that I’ve put far more thought into Cleverly’s tweet than he ever did himself.

    18) I’ve not even put that much thought in, it’s a sodding listicle, but seriously what was he thinking here?

    19) One of the millions of brain cells who have died at the hands of James Cleverly’s disuse? We want to hear your story but can’t, because you’re a brain cell and also dead.

    20) Also, let’s be honest about this, James Cleverly just trivalised the daily struggle faced by the millions of people in this country who are watching their incomes gradually eroded by housing costs, inflation and the collapse of sterling brought on by a catastrophic Tory Brexit.

    21) No, of course that’s not the sort of struggle that’s in any way comparable to the sort people experienced in Stalin’s Russia. But it’s still a bit rubbish to live through, and given that these people vote, it might be a good idea for politicians to improve their lives, rather than just laugh at the very idea we might try.

    22) “Vote Tory to keep wages low!” doesn’t sound like an election winner, that’s all I’m saying here.

    23) Six months ago, the Tories were 20 points ahead and the idea of a Labour government seemed laughable. Since the election, Labour have maintained a small but consistent lead. Yet the Tories are still acting like the idea that Labour could beat them is laughable.

    24) But it’s not, is it? Unless something changes, Labour are now the favourites for the next election.

    25) Something that, by all accounts, is holding the Tory party together right now is their shared fear of the words “Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn”. So why aren’t they taking this stuff more seriously?

    26) Why are they not trying to address the reasons people might be voting Labour, instead of laughing at them for it?

    27) Where are the policies to increase wages, improve living standards, offer people a brighter, more secure future?

    28) Why did they waste their summer arguing about a fucking bell?

    29) Seriously: is this all they’ve got?

    BONUS 30TH POINT: A number of people have been in touch to complain I missed out the key fact that James Cleverly is the MP for Braintree, which James Cooray Smith describes as “Perhaps the first known case of doubling down on inverted nominative determinism.” Clearly, somebody in Conservative Central Office has a sense of humour.

    Photo: Getty

    Are cats solid or liquid? 13 of the best winners of the Ig Nobel prize

    By Sanjana Varghese from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    This satirical awards ceremony has celebrated unusual contributions to science for 27 years. 

    Every year, the Ig Nobel Prize Committee hands out ten awards. A parody of the Nobel Prize, it recognises some of the most whimsical contributions to science. 

    Categories include psychology, fluid dynamics and chemical engineering, much like the real Nobel Prizes, but change year to year. Its name is a pun on the word ignoble.

    Studies that won prizes this year include a paper which discovered which part of the brain creates repulsion to cheese, a report on the effects of human blood in the diet of hairy-legged vampire bats, and research explaining why old men have big ears (gravity). The winners are just the latest in 27 years of the award. Here are 13 of the most head-scratching and unique winners:

    1. Original conspiracy theories

    Erich Von Daniken won the Literature Prize in 1991, the first year of the Ig Nobel awards, for his book Chariots of the Godswhich suggested human life takes its origins from ancient aliens that came to earth. Originally published in 1968, the book imagines that many ancient civilisations demonstrated higher scientific abilities than was possible given the limitations of their time, so aliens must have come to Earth and transmitted the knowledge to make human progress possible. 

    2. The Antichrist from the East

    Robert Faid, a mathematician, invested a huge amount of time in calculating the exact odds of whether Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union, is the Antichrist. (The exact odds are 710,609,175,188,282,000 to 1, if you’re curious).

    3. Refined pigeons 

    Shigeru Watanabe, Junko Sakamoto and Masumi Wakita successfully trained several pigeons to discriminate between Picasso’s paintings and Monet’s paintings, a skill that some humans might still be struggling with. 

    4. Lovesick

    Four scientists at the University of Pisa discovered that the biochemical basis of romantic love might not be all that different from the biochemical basis of neuroticism and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as they observed the multiple ways that platelet serotonin was transported around various sections of the brain. 

    5. Hell is closer than we think 

    Dr. Jack Van Impe and Rexella Van Impe carried out research which demonstrated that one of the universe’s great mysteries, black holes, fulfil the theological and technical requirements to be the location of hell itself.

    6. Feathery feelings 

    Stefano Ghirlanda, Liselotte Jansson, and Magnus Enquist of Stockholm University demonstrated that our flightless friends may be no different to us – in that chickens prefer beautiful humans. Chickens were more likely to react to pictures of faces that were deemed more conventionally attractive.

    7. Creative (non) fiction

    This went to a whole group of people in Nigeria, the internet entrepreneurs who used e-mail to introduce many innocent fraud victims around the world to “a cast of rich characters – General Sani Abacha, Barriste Jon A Mbeki Esq”, who find themselves in need of a loan and rely on the generosity of strangers to access their own immense fortunes. 

    8. Say Cheese 

    Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes of the Australian Commenwealth Scientific and Research Organisation did all the legwork and found the exact number of photographs that you have to take in order to ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed. 

    9. A girl's best friends 

    Three scientists at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México were able to create a girl’s best friend, diamonds, from her other best friend, tequila. They did this by heating tequila at very high temperatures to turn it into a gas. They then heated the gas further to break it into solid crystals that had the same composition as pure diamonds. 

    10. Swearing is good for you 

    Richard Stephens, John Atkins and Andrew Kingston of Keele University finally proved that there’s a scientific basis for the belief that swearing relieves pain. It may have something to do with how swearing can nullify the typical fight-or-flight response to pain, among other reasons.

    11. Beer goggles

    Five scientists, Laurent Begue, Brad Bushman, Oulman Zerhouni, Baptiste Subra and Medhi Ourabah, confirmed that “beauty is in the eye of the beer holder” ie that if you’re drunk, you’re more likely to think you’re attractive.

    12. More than a pet rock 

    Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes and Shelagh Fergon were able to use a sales and marketing perspective to ascertain the potential personalities of various kinds of rocks, by interviewing focus groups who said what they believed the rocks could be like. Some rocks (particularly the more fetching ones) were described as "classy, feminine", while others were seen more as "a hippy, someone who believes in star signs and whatnot". 

    13. The internet's favorite animal 

    Marc-Antoine Fardin sought to answer the age old question: cats – liquid or solid? Apparently, they're both. (Fardin admits there’s much more research to be done). 

    A full list of every year's winners can be found here

    Photo: Getty

    Moving from Efficacy to Effectiveness

    By Jessica Saunders; Michael Robbins; Allison J. Ober from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    In this study, we examine the Drug Market Intervention (DMI) program, which was replicated dozens of times based on early successes. This study represents the first effectiveness trial of DMI by following a cohort of sites attempting to implement it.

    Collaborative Care for Opioid and Alcohol Use Disorders in Primary Care

    By Katherine E. Watkins; Allison J. Ober; Karen Lamp; Mimi Lind; Claude Messan Setodji; Karen Chan Osilla; Sarah B. Hunter; Colleen M. McCullough; Kirsten Becker; Praise O. Iyiewuare; Allison Diamant; Keith G. Heinzerling; Harold Alan Pincus from New RAND Publications. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Among adults with opioid and alcohol use disorders, a collaborative care intervention—which integrates behavioral health care into primary care—increased both access to treatment and abstinence.

    Whatever their intention, Spurs fans should stop calling themselves Yids

    By Daniel Harris from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    The team's supporters cannot “reclaim” the word Yid because it is was never theirs to claim.

    Last Saturday afternoon, Chelsea visited Leicester City. When Álvaro Morata opened the scoring, the away fans naturally extolled him in song: “Álvaro, woah oh, Álvaro, woah oh oh oh,” went the ditty. “He came from Real Madrid, he hates the fucking Yids.” For the benefit of the uninitiated, “Yids” is a reference to Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea’s bitterest rivals.

    Like all the best art the song is slightly ambiguous, offering more questions than answers, specifically: is the point simply that Morata hates Spurs? Or does the phrase “fucking Yids”, not exactly intended as a compliment, come with an unavoidable inference that he not only hates Spurs, but all Jews? And finally, in 2017, should we really need to perform an autopsy on this kind of shit?

    Later that day, Morata tweeted a request for Chelsea fans to “please respect everyone” – immediately after thanking them for being “amazing”. Meanwhile the club disavowed the behaviour, being, as they are, staunchly opposed to all racism (save that perpetrated by their most successful captain).

    Though the rights and wrongs of this particular case are clear, the wider issue it raises – deployment of the word “Yids” by Spurs fans – is more complex and emotive. Starting in the Seventies and continuing through the Eighties, it was an insult directed at them by others according to the perception that they had a relatively high concentration of Jews within their support – a notion later amplified by the official involvement of Irving Scholar, David Pleat and Alan Sugar.

    Whether they are actually supported by more Jews than anyone else is probably unknowable, but seeing as we’re here: my experience growing up in north London during the Eighties and Nineties, attending one of Europe's biggest Jewish schools, suggests so; my experience following Manchester United about suggests maybe not.

    My current experience also suggests that Arsenal are in the mix. But really, who gives a shit? What difference does it make to anything anyway?

    In response to being attacked for their purported Jewishness, Spurs fans began referring to themselves as “Yids”, “Yiddos” and “Yid Army” – and 30-odd years later still do. As a kid, I quite liked it because (to psychoanalyse myself) the antisemitism I experienced didn’t penetrate my cocoon of positive Jewish identity nor make me feel less than anyone else. 

    “Yid” wasn’t a word through which the antisemitism I experienced was dispensed – it was more “Aaaa aaaa aaaa achoo” and “fucking Jew”, along with the usual chasing and violence. On the basis that we’re being honest, not recriminatory, I was also amused by the black comedy of 40,000 Spurs-supporting gentiles defining themselves according to what I understood to be their opposite. 

    As an adult, however, the whole thing makes me increasingly uncomfortable. I see and fear antisemitism more now than I did then. I understand far more about the specific word “Yid” and care far less about personal experience relative to collective experience. I’ve also grasped that it’s far more important things are right than things are funny – as I have the difference between being edgy and being a prick.

    I should at this point make clear that none of this makes a moral equivalence between the abuse of Spurs fans as “Yids” and the adoption by Spurs fans of the moniker “Yids”. One is a priori antisemitic, the other not. But just because there is something worse than the status quo is not reason to be at ease with the status quo, so here we go.

    In the first instance, Spurs fans using “Yid” as a rejoinder was probably fair enough. Football matches are not the place for nuanced debate and reasoned explanation, so a quick, pointed riposte – one that said “this insult is not an insult, in fact it’s so not an insult that we’ll use it to describe ourselves” – must have been powerful. I do not doubt that this was well intentioned, and well appreciated by many Jewish Spurs fans. 

    But we are no longer in that moment of immediate response, which means that there is time to consider other options. There is no need to use the word “Yid” to inform those using it as an insult that they are, say, “racist cunts”. It is possible, for example, to simply call them “racist cunts”, using any of the many tunes to which the words fit, and be done with it.

    Except Spurs fans no longer use the word “Yid” solely in self-defence, but to assert their collective identity. The problem is that it is not their collective identity to assert.

    I write that as someone who understands the relationship between a football club and a sense of self, so let’s try looking at things this way: Spurs were formed in 1882, giving them nearly a hundred years of rich history before they were targeted by antisemites. Plenty has happened since that is unrelated.

    Are we seriously saying that what it is to be Spurs would be different had this racial abuse never happened? That who they are is, to a significant extent, predicated on the antisemitism of a minority of Chelsea fans? And as a consequence, putting the term away would be too painful to contemplate?

    Either way, normalising terms of racial abuse is not in the gift of those to whom the terms do not really refer, and no amount of rationalising and equivocating can change that. It is true that by definition, the word “Yid” just means “Jew”, but it is freighted with a whole lot more once it has been weaponised.

    And it is also true that the word “Yid” or “Yiddo” is sometimes used by Jews to describe themselves – hardly ever, in my experience – but that still does nothing to legitimise its use by others.

    Its genesis is in Nazi Germany. It was used to persecute, and on that basis, it will always mean “negative description of a Jew”, however much people might prefer it to mean “positive expression of what it means to be Spurs”, or even that it is against antisemitism.

    The proclamation of Jews as other – the word “Yid” is but one encapsulation – stretches through centuries of libel, inquisition, expulsion, pogrom, discrimination and ridicule. Those whose families were decimated by the Nazis have intimate knowledge of lives ruined at worst, irrevocably tainted at best, and still experience the multifarious ways in which these tragedies, both personal and communal, have been passed on. Holocaust trauma runs even deeper than that, able to alter the genes of survivors’ children; literally who we are has changed because of what “Yid” signifies.

    Though this is not the defining characteristic of Jewish identity – far from it – it does not mean that others may appropriate that aspect for their own ends.

    I am not a Spurs fan, and as such do not know what it means to be one; I say that as a third-generation Manchester United fan. On the other hand, I can trace back my Jewish roots across tens of generations and hundreds of years, which is to say that non-Jewish matchgoing Spurs fans – mainly straight white men, who have never been discriminated against on the basis of something elemental about themselves that they can never change – are not well-placed to gauge what it’s like to be a Jew, nor to judge how Jews should respond to abusive terms.

    Spurs fans cannot “reclaim” the word “Yid” because it is was never theirs to claim. To suggest otherwise is profoundly patronising, especially given that their use of it also inspires antisemitism.

    Those familiar with football crowds will know how it works: one side sings the most antagonistic song it can muster, then the other side leaps in with the most antagonistic response; generally speaking, it’s fucking great.

    But when Spurs begin an exchange with something Yid-related, they are no longer defending the Jews among them but asserting their own identity. And though they are not responsible for how others retort, if Chelsea or West Ham are the opponents, then what’s actually going on, wittingly or otherwise, is that one group of predominantly non-Jews are tempting another group of predominantly non-Jews to search their antisemitic songbook in order to attack a group not party to the exchange.

    Though it may sometimes seem to the contrary, football does not exist in a vacuum, so let’s be clear about this: antisemitism has always been a problem in the UK. And given the current temperature of our country, that which relates to it is more jarring than usual.

    Earlier this week the #RoaldDahlDay hashtag was doing brisk business on Twitter. Or to put another way, an unarguable, unapologetic antisemite was being feted by people who should know better. Of course, we can still enjoy his work – but to honour him with his own specific day of celebration? To lapse back into footballing parlance: not for me, Clive.

    If that’s a subtextual apathy to antisemitism, just last week Nigel Farage went to Germany to speak at a far-right rally, where his contribution was cheered enthusiastically. And who would be surprised to see that very same racist former leader of a racist political party – one already given a frankly revolting amount of airtime by our broadcaster to inspire mass xenophobia – return to our public sphere?

    The Labour leadership, meanwhile, is struggling with antisemitism, while the authoritarian Tories flap around backing whatever discrimination they think will solidify their flimsy grip on power. Make no mistake, they are no great philosemites – it just so happens there are people it is more fashionable to hate than Jews – but it’s part of the same thing and all equally terrifying.

    And that’s just in the UK; in the US, the incumbent president courted the vote of the KKK and defended those who brought Nazi imagery, rhetoric and intimidation to the streets of America – a suite which included men with semi-automatic rifles hanging around outside a synagogue.

    Self-evidently, the portents are not good, and we are nowhere near enlightened enough to throw around discriminatory language like it’s safe in our hands.

    Criminalising the benevolent use of “Yid” seems excessive, and given football’s tribal nature it’s hard to imagine the language will ever stop – but that does not mean we should stop explaining why it should. So, please: stop.

    Photo: Getty

    Tori Amos on Tip O’Neill and the happy-hour hucksters of Washington

    By Kate Mossman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Tales from the piano bars of Capitol Hill.

    In winter 1977, the Russian flu found its way to the United States, and Capitol Hill, then under the eye of President Carter, was not exempt from its snots and shivers. The Congressional Christmas party was to be held at the Sheraton Carleton Hotel on 16th and K (Jimmy had cut back on White House entertaining). Yet as the night approached, it became apparent that all the piano players on the hotel’s roster had caught the nasty virus – except for 14-year-old Ellen “Tori” Amos.

    Amos was already somewhat known on the Washington piano-bar circuit. She could be seen every Friday night at Mr Smith’s on M Street, playing songs like “Don’t Fence Me In” for tips. At the Christmas party, White House speaker Tip O’Neill – then at loggerheads with Carter over Congress, energy and increasingly frugal White House breakfasts – took a seat next to Amos on the piano stool, and sang “Bye Bye Blackbird” to the crowd.

    “I am not making this up, Kate!” she tells me down the phone. “This is what the British press didn’t know about me when they were lambasting me in the Nineties because I am friends with the fairies.”

    Amos watched O’Neill run the room that night – “a political ballet”. And so began her few years entertaining the congressmen and lobbyists of Washington, DC, with the popular hits of the day.

    The Reverend Edison Amos may have believed that rock music turned young girls into a vortex for the devil, but that hadn’t stopped him dragging his child round the bars of Georgetown looking for work when she was just 13. She’d already attended the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins – the youngest person to be admitted (at five years old) and the youngest to be kicked out (at 11).

    The heartbroken preacher, “a regular Billy Graham”, was determined to keep his daughter playing, and got her a regular gig at a gay bar, Mr Henry’s – where he sat as her chaperone, his dog collar floating alongside the studded neckpieces of the male clientele. From gay men, the young Amos learned deportment, and “how not to be a slut”. By the time she’d moved to the bars of Capitol Hill, she was dressed in evening gowns with her hair in a bun, and ready for business.

    At the Hilton Lounge, near the White House, lobbyists would come to mingle with the department of the interior. Amos played them Joni, Elton, Billy Joel from 5 to 7.30 every day – but often instrumental versions, because happy hour was prime deal-making time and the bar wanted the men to be talking and thirsty.

    As a teenage girl, she was harmless; they’d lean and chat, elbows on the piano, and she’d concentrate on the music – ie eavesdrop. “I know that’s not very mannerly but are you kidding me?” she cries. [Deep voice] “Come on man! OK Don! And I’d have to figure out, who is that on their arm? Is it the wife, the mistress or the mother? I had to be very careful when playing my requests.”

    She was making $600 a week. The administration shifted – her sister was an intern in George Washington Hospital the day Reagan was brought in, shot – but the lobbyists remained: guns, oil, tobacco. “Making deals in such a back-slapping, laissez-faire way when people’s lives were at stake,” she says. “And at 16 I realised: this is how policy gets made.”

    Around this time, in the same bars, the Koch Brothers  – billionaire industrialists, generous funders of many a hardline Republican cause – were beginning their epic political machinations. The work of the brothers subtly informs Amos’s new album, Native Invader.

    “The seeds that were planted in 1979, 1980,” she explains, “came to fruition in autumn 2016. These people turn words upside down. They say freedom, and they are not giving you freedom.”

    She continues: “The seeds, given to a harmless piano player, 40 years ago, were replanted in a sonic secret garden that the muse decided to plant!” (And by that, she means her album.)

    Photo: Getty

    Can Ukraine pave an economic path back to normality?

    By David Clark from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Three years after the country sank into conflict, its government is pursuing economic reforms. 

    The issue of new Eurobonds by Ukraine expected next week will mark the biggest step the country has taken to recover its economic sovereignty since Russia initiated armed aggression against it in 2014. Not many Ukraine watchers expected the country to return to the sovereign debt market so soon. Yet investors have welcomed the prospect of a new bond issue. Moreover, it shows that Russia’s effort to block Ukraine’s path to the West by reducing it to the status of a financial basket case has failed.

    The scale of this turnaround is worth considering. At the peak of its crisis, Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, lost 59 per cent of its value against the dollar, foreign reserves fell to $7.5bn, inflation hit 61per cent and gross domestic product shrank by 17 per cent. The picture today could hardly be more different. The hryvnia has recovered 80 per cent of its value, foreign currency reserves have been restocked and inflation is projected to fall to single figures by the end of the year. In 2017, growth was at 2 per cent, with 3.5 per cent forecast next year and 4 per cent the year after, according to World Bank forecasts. Credit agency Moody’s recently upgraded Ukraine’s outlook from stable to positive.

    Of course, none of this would have been possible without the financial lifeline thrown to Ukraine by its Western allies, especially the $17.5bn loan facility provided by the International Monetary Fund. Perhaps more important than the money itself has been the conditionality attached to it, which has spurred the reforms needed to move Ukraine forward again. The fruits of this include a streamlined and more business-friendly tax code, an open and transparent public procurement system, the establishment of a new National Anti-Corruption Bureau and action to strengthen the financial sector by closing failing banks and recapitalising others. The long overdue raising of domestic energy tariffs to market levels has strengthened Ukraine’s national finances and removed a major source of corruption and inefficiency.

    The IMF’s role in pressing for many of these reforms has been instrumental. Indeed, there is concern that Ukraine’s ability to return to the international capital markets could reduce the IMF’s influence and weaken the impetus for further reform. In this pessimistic scenario, the only changes that matter are those that can be imposed from outside. Yet this assumption can be faulted on two counts. It understates the extent to which pro-reform sentiment has taken root in Ukraine and overstates the wisdom with which the IMF sometimes wields its authority. There is at least one area in which a stronger Ukraine could lead to better policy.

    When the IMF’s mission to Ukraine arrives in Kiev next week, two issues will be top of the agenda: pensions and land reform. Progress on both is considered essential to unlocking the next tranche of IMF funding. There is consensus on the action needed to make the pensions system financially sustainable. A bill to increase the entitlement threshold from 15 to 25 years of contributions is already before parliament. The issue of land reform, however, is more contentious. A moratorium on the sale of agricultural land has been in place since 2002. Opposition to lifting it stopped the government from submitting planned legislation in July. 

    There is no disagreement that Ukraine stands to benefit from the creation of a functioning market in land. The 41 million hectares of land available for agricultural use represent its biggest and most underutilised asset. It has the potential to attract tens of billions of dollars of new investment and add around 12.5 per cent to GDP within a decade. There are, however, legitimate concerns that a big-bang liberalisation might deepen some of the country’s most persistent problems, most notably the entrenched power of the oligarchs, the excessive concentration of wealth and the systemic corruption that comes with both.

    We have been here before. The shock therapy privatisations of the early post-communist years often took place before the necessary legal and regulatory safeguards had been put in place. This enabled networks of insiders, including some with criminal ties, to acquire assets on the cheap and grow staggeringly rich as they reflated to their real market value. Many sensible Ukrainians worry that in a country where property rights remain weak and most people lack the resources to stake a claim in the market, the spoils of liberalisation could once again go to those with the capital and connections to game the system. These concerns need to be taken seriously.

    The IMF should take heed of its own experience of imposing ideologically-inspired blueprints without sufficient regard to local circumstances. Instead of treating scepticism as evidence that Ukraine is backsliding on reform, it should be working with the government, and just as importantly with civil society, to develop a plan for the sale of agricultural land that spreads the benefits as widely as possible. If this means that reform takes longer, so be it. The results in the long term will be better for Ukraine and better for its international partners.


    Problem play, solved: Follies at the National Theatre is an exceptional revival

    By Mark Lawson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Finally, Sondheim's most difficult musical is done right.

    Since its 1971 Broadway premiere, which won seven Tony awards but lost a lot of money, Follies has continued to have the paradoxical status of an obviously great musical that stumbles in production. Successive revivals – including the West End in 1987 and Broadway in 2011 – divided critics and audiences, the only unity coming from production accountants blinking at the red ink.

    The show’s slipperiness is apparent from the fact that no two major revivals have used exactly the same Stephen Sondheim music and lyrics, or James Goldman dialogue: Dominic Cooke’s National Theatre production has custom-built yet another version from the vaults of scores and scripts. If Sondheim is the Shakespeare of musical theatre, Follies is his “problem play”, a Measure for Measure or All’s Well That Ends Well. As in those cases, the difficulty lies in reconciling starkly divergent tones.

    Set at a 30-years-on reunion of vaudeville singers and dancers from a New York theatre that closed in 1941, the show moves between the time periods. Sondheim alternates sharp-eared pastiches of their former acts – tap-dance duets about kissing in the rain, cod-accented tributes to the lovers’ city of “Paree” – with fiercely realistic accounts of infidelity, depression, and alcoholism among the main characters: Sally, who is married to Buddy, has come to the bash in the hope of finally igniting old flame, Ben, to leave Phyllis, the showgirl he chose over her.

    If the interleaving of these burlesque and tragic songbooks were not already ambitious enough, the finale goes simultaneously for joke and broke. In a nightmare version of one of their old shows, each of the central quartet has a solo that, through some style of crooning or hoofing, exposes their soul: Imelda Staunton’s Sally performs “Losing My Mind”, a clinically precise account of a suicidal nervous breakdown in the form of a torch song, while Philip Quast’s Ben, in “Live, Laugh, Love”, has a tap-dance crack-up that goes from white tie and tails to white coats in a few notes.

    The key to a production that surely finally solves the musical’s problems is Cooke’s constant blurring and merging of the two worlds: the junior 1930s versions of the characters stalk and haunt their seniors in the Nixon era, the young as horrified by the prophecies of their futures as the old are tormented by memory. The revelation of this staging is that Follies forms, with A Little Night Music (1973) and Merrily We Roll Along (1981), a Sondheim trilogy about the accusing ghosts that lie in wait on both the roads we take, and those we don’t.

    This unsettling sense of past and present judging each other is helped by the fact that Staunton, completing a remarkable 2017 double in American roles after her powerhouse turn in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, can uncannily become the younger Sally during a smiling or grimacing reminiscence. Staunton is already celebrated for her ability to play the full theatrical range – farce, darkness, song, dance – but Janie Dee also gloriously hits all four as Phyllis, required to twist legs and tongue to their limit in “The Story of Jessie and Lucy”, a fable about two women who envy each other, with lyrics that are somersault-supple, even by Sondheim standards: “Lucy wants to be dressy / Jessie wants to be juicy / Lucy wants to be Jessie / And Jessie Lucy.”

    Two years into the artistic directorship of Rufus Norris at the National, there are regular columns and blogs citing prominent flops (Salomé, Common) as evidence of a crisis. It’s true that Norris’s tenure has veered between must-see and don’t-look, but the best has been exceptional, with smart new plays by women (Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes) and dazzling revivals of modern American repertoire: Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Motherfucker with the Hat, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Annie Baker’s The Flick, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (just announced to transfer to Broadway next year), and now this astonishing Follies.

    Purists might object that Norris risks running a National Theatre of America rather than of Great Britain, but it would be ridiculous to complain on any grounds about work of this intelligence and quality. Those struggling with tickets or travel for London should make a date at their nearest cinema signed up to the NT Live scheme, which will screen Follies on November 16. 

    Follies” runs until 3 January 2018

    Photo: National Theatre

    Is the EU going to curb free movement after all?

    By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Political support for the Schengen travel zone is eroding among member states.

    Could there be life in Britain's membership of the European Union yet?

    Although it wasn't the only reason Britain voted to leave the EU, without the free movement of people, there would have been no Brexit vote.

    Although for the most part, opposition to the EU at Westminster is driven by other issues, like the loss of sovereignty or the supposed statist impulses of the EU, or the difficulty of being a leading member outside the eurozone, these are concerns that would struggle to pull in 10 per cent of the country. You have to add in anger about migration from the rest of the EU to get to 52 per cent.

    That in turn drives the British government towards a Brexit that lets Britain escape one of the four freedoms, which all-but-guarantees a hard exit from the EU. Even continuing to be a member of the EEA or the single market wouldn't allow the government to satisfy that particular itch.

    But what if the free movement of people wasn't quite so inescapable after all? That's the question raised by a story in today's Times.

    That paper's Brussels correspondent Bruno Waterfield has got hold of a proposal backed by the French, German, Austrian and Danish governments to effectively kill the Schengen agreement, which allows passport-free travel between the nations of the EU plus the EEA-Efta states, with the exceptions of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland (both voluntarily through opt-outs) and four which are legally obliged to join at some point.

    Could curbs to free movement be next? That's the argument being made by some Remainer politicians and pundits: they're saying that the news validates the "remain and reform" argument put forward by David Cameron, the Remain campaign and Tom Watson in the final days of the campaign. On the other side, some Brexiteers (and indeed some Remainers) are using it as a stick to beat Cameron with, showing that he could have got a deal on free movement if he'd pushed ahead. Are they right?

    Well, the find is big news as far as the post-Brexit development of the EU27 goes but the importance is being muddled somewhat in translation. What's eroding political support for Schengen is not opposition to unfettered legal movement between the nations of the EU, but that it eases illegal movement of criminals, particularly terrorists, and particularly by road. (The Berlin truck attacker Anis Amri escaped from Germany by train before being killed by police in Milan, but his escape was through several policed borders – it was a problem of competence, not Schengen.)

    With the exception of Germany, which, like the United Kingdom, became the employer of last resort for much of the bloc and the eurozone in particular as those economies recovered faster than the rest, when politicians on the European mainland talk about reform of migration, they are largely talking about refugees. When politicians in Britain talk about reform, they are largely talking about economic migrants.

    So, no, David Cameron's renegotiation probably wouldn't have worked out better if he'd stamped his foot a little bit more, and no, "reform" of free movement probably isn't on the cards. People arguing for a more open British economy and a close relationship or even re-entry to the EU are going to have to convince people of the value of free movement if they want it to succeed.

    Photo: Getty

    Command and Control in North Korea: What a Nuclear Launch Might Look Like

    By Vipin Narang and Ankit Panda from War on the Rocks. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    A new nuclear state, in a major crisis with a conventionally superior nuclear-armed adversary, contemplates and prepares to move nuclear assets in the event it has to use them. Who controls the nuclear forces? Who decides when they might be assembled, mated to delivery vehicles, moved, and launched? Who has nominal authority to order those ...

    Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is a rampaging, monstrous phantasmagoria

    By Ryan Gilbey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    This spectacular film has a mood of Buñuelian wickedness.

    In an isolated octagonal house surrounded by whispering grass, a nameless young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) and her much older husband (Javier Bardem) are living a precariously peaceful life. She is refurbishing their home, which is scarred from a fire that predates their marriage; he is a poet, much-celebrated but currently blocked.

    One evening they have an unexpected visitor: a jittery doctor (Ed Harris) who needs a bed for the night. The woman is resistant but her husband seems positively enthused by the idea of a guest. The next day, the doctor’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, overflowing with vampy sexual energy and making insinuating remarks about the woman’s childlessness and the age difference in her marriage. Alarm bells start ringing. Actual alarm bells, that is: breakfast is burning. The inference is clear. She’s trouble.

    This scenario of sinister social comedy comprises only the first 20 minutes of Darren Aronofsky’s spectacular and volatile film Mother! and offers no indication of where the rest of it is heading. There are hints early on that the house is twinned with Lawrence’s psyche; whenever she places her hands on the walls, we cut to a shot of a pulsating organism, suggesting that the building itself is alive. As the property is subjected to vandalism – imagine Roman Polanski directing The Money Pit and you’re close – it comes to represent the fragile life that this couple have built for themselves in the mistaken belief that happiness can stave off the world and its woes.

    Aronofsky’s grasp of spectacle has veered between the intimate (Black Swan) and the overblown (Noah) but he fuses both here, turning a chamber piece by increments into a rampaging, monstrous phantasmagoria, dragging the characters through different genres (comedy of manners, farce, horror) while escalating the mood of ecstatic delirium. One moment household items are accidentally smashed; then a priceless stone vital to Bardem’s wellbeing is shattered.

    A bloodstain on the floorboards graduates into an unmistakably vaginal opening that eats through the wood. There’s a room that  is crudely boarded up to keep out intruders but also an entire labyrinth hidden behind a stone wall. When Lawrence says “I’m confused,” she could be speaking on behalf of the audience.

    One thing they won’t be is bored. Aronofsky rattled off an initial draft of the screenplay in six days and the end result thrives on that tumbling, runaway rhythm: it feels as if the movie is being poured onto the screen as we watch. The rapidly accelerating events suggest a reversal of Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, the conundrum here being not why people won’t leave, as in that film, but where they might be coming from. When Lawrence asks a stranger what he is doing in her house, he responds with a wan philosophical enquiry (“What are any of us doing here?”) that is mordantly funny in the face of her mounting exasperation.

    Lawrence has one note of pained incredulity to play for two hours, just as Bardem is required to respond to her only with consoling platitudes, but Mother! depends on her for its success. In the film’s mood of Buñuelian wickedness, she tries at all times to be reasonable, preferring to put up with imposition rather than undermine her husband.

    The cinematographer Matthew Libatique favours the handheld close-up, keeping the frame tightly crowded but unstable, so that chaos has descended before we can register what’s happening. Action is dictated by dream logic – Lawrence finds herself called upon to give a speech at the wake of someone she didn’t even know. As the film grows nastier, there is a sense that it could be read as a commentary on her own experience of fame. A star whose private photographs have been distributed online might have a unique appreciation of how it feels to confront a hostile, faceless mob.

    Mother! is strange but it isn’t surreal, and this prevents it from reaching the heights of Buñuel or Polanski. Aronofsky offers an embarrassment of interpretations rather than the stubborn refusal of them that surrealism demands.

    It might be addressing the inseparability of the personal and the political; the uncontainable enormity of globalism; the destructive properties of creation; the creative properties of destruction – and how love is never quite enough. The film is a one-size-fits-all allegory, gloriously visceral in the moment but too easily decoded to endure. The only things we can be sure it’s definitely not about are the challenges of renovating a house and the difficulty of removing stains from the woodwork

    Angling for Advantage: Iran’s Differential Approach to Southern Asia

    By Hussein Banai from War on the Rocks. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Editor’s Note: This is the seventh 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. Catch up on the rest of the series.  ...

    The 350-Ship Fantasy: It’s Time for the Navy to Think Radically About a Smaller Fleet

    By Steven Stashwick from War on the Rocks. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    A 350-ship Navy: President Donald Trump promised it during his campaign; the service has released studies and strategies supporting it; and analysts and advocates, including influential members of Congress, have pushed plans for it. However, political and industrial constraints mean a fleet of that size almost certainly won’t happen. Meanwhile, the Navy faces a strategic ...

    Space suicide: the sad but noble death of the Cassini probe

    By Sanjana Varghese from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    It’s not surprising that scientists and space geeks around the world will bid it adieu with a heavy heart.

    Since April 2016, a Twitter bot called @CassiniNoooo has been tweeting out “Nooooo” followed by random numbers of “O”s. The last tweet sent by the bot is just “I......”.  

    The account has been paying a light-hearted tribute to one of the most important important scientific projects of recent times, and one which is soon to come to an end. 

    Launched in 1997, Cassini-Huygens is a plutonium-powered probe that has been circling Saturn since 2004. Providing teams of scientists with unparalleled images of Saturn and its moons, it has allowed experts to examine the composition of solar bodies one billion miles away.

    But on 15 September, Cassini will begin its final mission, referred to by Nasa scientists as its "Grand Finale". It will shed its modules and sensors as it heads towards a final fiery death in Saturn's gaseous atmosphere.

    When news of Cassini's impending end was announced in April, scientists, casual space fans, engineers, teachers and other assorted stargazers expressed sadness about the craft’s suicide mission. Many are expected to tune in to watch the live stream of the probe's final moments on Nasa’s dedicated webpage

    Cassini has provided some of the most intriguing discoveries about our solar system. It discovered a saltwater ocean under the icy surface of one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, by "tasting" molecules – a finding that could, in theory, support alien life. It also took photographs of Titan, a moon bigger than Mercury, which enabled scientists on earth to discover liquid on its surface – only the second body in the universe to have free-standing liquid after our own planet. 

    In a way, Cassini's discoveries signed its own death warrant. Potentially life-supporting pristine environments must not be contaminated by Earth-originating microbes and, left to its own devices, Cassini could collide with one of the moons it discovered so much about.

    Faithful until its last moment, Cassini will be diving in and out of the space between Saturn and its rings as it reaches the end of its final orbit, a feat never achieved before, transmitting completely novel data that would be too risky to gather unless it was already destined for immolation.

    Cassini's contribution to science, laid out in this oddly moving webpage from Nasa, not only allowed us a deeper understanding of our solar system, but also helped us picture other kinds of worlds. It's a service that has been recognised well beyond academics or professional scientists. One six-year-old is even throwing Cassini a goodbye party, with a themed cake and games – because, he said, it was the “only spacecraft he ever knew”. Others have tweeted out music composed for Cassini, and comics depicting their versions of its final moments.

    It has not been easy for the scientists who had to approve the decision to kill Cassini. In a press conference on 4 April, roughly three weeks before Cassini started its final orbit, Linda Spilker, a planetary scientist at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, admitted that it was hard to say goodbye to their “plucky, capable little spacecraft”. Some even referred the probe as their child.

    On Earth, we get to think of these robotic explorers like astro-ambassadors, not least because so much of the current discussion around space monitoring centres on how information collected will enable life in space for humans. Now one of those ambassadors is about to make its final visit to a foreign planet, long before its creators will get to make their own introductions.

    Photo: Getty

    The greatest and the least loved: Chris Froome's extraordinary resilience

    By Xan Rice from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Why is the cycling champion of his generation so underappreciated?

    Before 2012, no British cyclist had won the Tour de France, the three-week road race that twists through the Alps and Pyrenees and is arguably sport’s most gruelling event. (Riders burn more than 6,000 calories a day on average, the equivalent of 23 Mars bars.) Bradley Wiggins’s victory that year was widely celebrated and, with his Olympic success, earned him the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award and a knighthood.

    But cycling fans noted the crucial role of one of Wiggins’s Team Sky colleagues in his Tour triumph. Chris Froome, the quiet, willowy, Kenya-born rider, protected his team leader from attacks by rivals and helped him up the toughest climbs. Froome finished second overall, but many believed that he was the strongest rider in the race. So he has proved.

    Froome, now 32, went on to win the Tour in 2013, 2015, 2016 and again this summer. Only Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Induráin have finished the Tour in the yellow jersey more often.

    On 10 September, Froome sealed his status as the “champion of his generation”, in Hinault’s words, and one of cycling’s all-time greats, when he became the first Briton to win the Vuelta a España, Spain’s grand tour. No rider has won the Tour and the Vuelta – 4,265 miles of racing in all – in the same year since Hinault in 1978.

    Yet Froome’s picture did not appear on the front page of the Times, Guardian, Mail or Telegraph. Asked if he expected to make the BBC Sports Personality shortlist this year, Froome smiled and said: “I’m not going to hold my breath.” The finest sportsperson in the UK may also be the least loved.

    Why? It’s true that Froome lacks the charisma of his former team-mate “Wiggo”, the eccentric mod. But he is polite, speaks well of his rivals and is by all accounts a good family man, with a wife and young son. In a brutal endurance sport with a long and inventive history of the use of performance-enhancing drugs, Froome is untainted. (Team Sky has suffered reputational damage for issuing therapeutic exemption certificates to Wiggins and failing to keep records of medical packages.)

    The most obvious explanation for ignoring Froome’s achievements is the idea that he is not sufficiently “British”, having made his home in Monaco, close to where he trains, and grown up in Africa. Froome was born in Nairobi to a mother whose parents had emigrated from Gloucestershire to Kenya decades earlier, and an English father. As a young boy, Froome kept pythons as pets, became fluent in Swahili and learned to ride a mountain bike with the help of his dreadlocked Kenyan cycling mentor, David Kinjah, who lived in a shack.

    “Kinjah helped me see you didn’t need the best bike or perfect conditions,” Froome told the Guardian in 2013. “You can just get on a bike and go – no matter where you are.”

    Like his two elder brothers who boarded in England, Froome had a British passport, but he was sent to secondary school in South Africa and then studied economics at university there. With his long, scraggly hair, bangles and battered Golf, he did not look like a potential elite rider. However, he showed flashes of brilliance on the road and ambition off it. He blagged his way into representing Kenya at the under-23 World Championships, sending in his entry using the Kenyan cycling association’s Hotmail account.

    In 2007, aged 22, Froome quit his studies and turned professional. A year later, he was picked to ride in the Tour de France, the first Kenyan to do so. But he missed the next three Tours, and even after he swapped his Kenyan racing licence for a British one and joined Team Sky in 2010, his performances were inconsistent.

    Then, seemingly from nowhere, he finished second in the Vuelta in 2011. He later explained his transformation by revealing that he had been suffering for years from the parasitic disease bilharzia, which was now under control. Froome, who is 6ft 1in, had also cut his weight from 75 kilograms when he turned professional to 66 kilograms, by eating fewer carbohydrates and smaller portions, he said, without sacrificing much muscle. His power-to-weight ratio, crucial in cycling, shot up. Already a strong time trial rider, he was now a superb climber, too. He was also supremely confident in his abilities.

    “Chris wants to win the Tour seven times,” said Team Sky’s lead mechanic, Gary Blem, in 2013, a month before Froome’s first Tour win. “He is intensely focused. Honestly, man, this guy’s unbelievable.”

    Strict drug testing and slower average speeds in the grand tours suggest the days of rampant doping are gone. Yet some fans, disappointed so often by riders such as Lance Armstrong who were later revealed to be cheats, refuse to believe that the top cyclists, especially a late developer such as Froome, can be clean. While riding the Tour, French spectators have hurled insults and even urine at him. But he always kept his composure and, with the help of his dominant Sky team, stayed in yellow.

    Next year, he will attempt to win his fifth Tour de France, equalling the record. He also wants a victory at the Giro d’Italia. He may even try to win all three tours in a year, something that has never been done. “I wouldn’t say it’s impossible… but certainly it would take some doing,” he said. 


    Your life's work, ruined – how storms can wipe out scientific research in an instant

    By Sanjana Varghese from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 15, 2017.

    Some researchers face the prospect of risking their own lives to save valuable scientific research that could benefit future generations.

    Before the autumn of 2012, if you went into the basement of New York University's School of Medicine in Manhattan, you would find a colony of more than 3,000 live mice. This was the collection of Gordon Fishell, the associate director of the NYU Neuroscience institute, which he had spent more than 20 years building up, and which he was using to discover how neurons communicate with other cells.

    As Hurricane Sandy began to approach New York State, Fishell and his colleagues, like others in the city, made preparations for the onslaught. This meant leaving extra food and water for their colonies, and making sure that emergency power was on.

    But no one anticipated the size and intensity of the hurricane. On the day it finally arrived, Fishell was forced by the weather to stay home, and to his horror he saw that his lab was now in the path of the storm. As he wrote later in Nature magazine: "We were done for. It was obvious that our labs were in great danger, and there was nothing I could do." All of Fishell's mice drowned. Furthermore, scientific equipment and research worth more than $20m was destroyed.

    In seeing years of academic work wiped out by a storm, Fishell and his colleagues at the School of Medicine are not alone. In 2001, Hurricane Allison, a tropical storm turned hurricane, had caused similar devastation at Texas Medical Centre, the world's largest such research centre, inflicting at least $2bn in damages. In 2011, the Japanese tsunami hit Tohoku University’s world-renowned Advanced Institute for Materials Research and destroyed some of the world’s best electron microscopes, as well as $12.5m in loss of equipment.

    Such stories used to be seen as unique and unfortunate incidents. But the increasing incidence of extreme weather events over the last 20 years has highlighted the dangers of complacency.

    Not only do facilities affected by natural disasters lose decades of irreplaceable research, but many contain toxic chemicals which could be potentially deadly if released into the water or food supply. During the 2007 floods in the UK, a foot and mouth outbreak was traced back to a lab affected by heavy rain. In Houston, during the recent Hurricane Harvey, leakages from industrial facilities contaminated the floodwater. 

    Gradually, university deans and heads of research facilities in the United States have realised that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is badly prepared for this kind of problem. "They had never thought of how to deal with a research loss," Susan Berget, the vice president of emergency planning at Baylor College of Medicine told Nature in 2005. "To them, transgenic mice are a foreign concept."

    It therefore falls on universities, local communities and regional governments to ensure they are adequately prepared for disasters. A common complaint is the lack of guidance they receive. 

    Often, researchers who choose to save valuable scientific research are putting their lives at risk. One particularly harrowing story was that of biochemist Dr Arthur Lustig, who spent four days in his Tulane university laboratory before being evacuated to a shelter. Despite his tenacity, he lost more than 80 per cent of his work on yeast strains, carried out over 20 years, to flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina.

    Other than the immediate, heartbreaking effects of losing research, natural disasters also pose a threat to future investment. If a region is increasingly seen as not disaster resilient, it reduces the amount of federal and private funding for groundbreaking research, as well as applications from prospective researchers.

    A recent report in the journal of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine quantified this link. It found that varius tropical storms led to as many as 120 researchers losing their livelihoods. In one instance, a psychology internship for high schoolers was discontinued. 

    Disasters like hurricanes and tropical storms are usually thought of as high risk but low probability events. As Bill McKibben noted in the Guardian, Hurricane Harvey was a once in 25,000 years kind of storm, but the “normal” measurements of incidence cannot necessarily be held as true anymore. Just like the rest of us, researchers will have to be prepared for every possibility.      

    Photo: Getty

    The Bank of England should be in no rush to remove stimulus

    From FT View. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    There is little evidence as yet of domestically generated inflation in the UK

    In cryptocurrencies, tech and speculation meet

    From FT View. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    Regulators are getting to grips with digital currency, and not too soon

    ‘It’s Impossible to Imagine Trump Without the Force of Whiteness'

    By Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    “The foundation of Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in his feature for The Atlantic’s October 2017 issue. In this animated excerpt from a recent interview with Coates about his article, the writer explains how tribalism and white supremacy paved the way for Trump. Gallup research shows that white voters overwhelmingly supported the candidate across demographics.

    Network adequacy under the Trump administration

    By Mark Hall, Caitlin Brandt from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    Network adequacy was one of the many critical issues that the Trump administration confronted when it took over responsibility for administering the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In an effort to provide greater consumer value, insurers in the ACA’s reformed Marketplace have shifted to much narrower provider networks than had existed previously. Many analysts view this as a potentially…

    Same-sex marriage reignites Australia’s culture wars

    From The Big Read. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    A plebiscite on gay unions exposes wider leadership rifts, which prime minister Malcolm Turnbull will struggle to overcome

    This single speech shows that the Tories aren’t taking Corbyn or Brexit seriously

    By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    The world has changed a lot since Britain voted Leave – unless you’re a Conservative.

    Jean-Claude Juncker used his state of the union address to call for a wide variety of measures, among them greater defence integration across the European Union – or, in Brexiteer speak, “an EU army”.

    This is being taken as validation of the Vote Leave campaign, which among other things warned that remaining meant being part of an EU army. The reality is that if anything, Brexit has made British participation in an EU army more likely.

    As a member state, the United Kingdom could veto the creation of an EU army if it wanted to, it can’t from the outside. As the British government wisely wants to continue participation in EU-wide security programmes, as most of the threats the EU faces are also threats to the United Kingdom, that may now involve some British participation in... you guessed it, a European army.

    As George notes, the United Kingdom has sacrificed its ability to shape the structures of the EU for a (real or perceived) greater freedom of manoeuvre elsewhere. (Don’t forget either that an EU army is partly a way that Germany can spend more on European defence without offending either its own or its neighbours' cultural sensibilities.)

    Away from the question of Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe, it’s worth noting however that quite a lot has changed as far as defence and security issues go since the United Kingdom voted to leave. Donald Trump, an avowed sceptic of Nato and the Western alliance, has been elected president of the United States. Jeremy Corbyn, who, likewise, has been frequently critical of the alliance, albeit for very different reasons to Trump, came within a whisker of winning the popular vote and needs a very small swing, historically speaking, to win the next election.

    It’s perfectly plausible that, in 2022, a re-elected Trump and a newly-elected Corbyn could both be in office, meaning that Nato will be effectively a paper tiger. Whether you think that’s a good or a bad thing, it unquestionably changes the foreign policy calculus as far as the question of what the EU’s defence arrangements look like.

    And that speaks to one of the more surreal aspects of British politics in 2017. Brexiteer politicians have yet to adjust their policy objectives, either to the reality of Britain’s Leave vote or to the very real possibility of a Corbyn victory. 

    Photo: Getty

    Object lessons: Rachel Whiteread and the legacy of the Young British Artists

    By Michael Prodger from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    In this Tate Britain exhibition, the mood that her pieces transmit is one of contemplative silence.

    One of the objects in Tate Britain’s retrospective of the work of Rachel Whiteread is a cast in clear resin of a doll’s house. It is called Ghost, Ghost II and is an austerely beautiful thing, stately and translucent, as though made from Fox’s Glacier Mints. It is also a nod towards the ghost that haunts the whole exhibition: the cast of 193 Grove Road in the East End of London, the last house of a Victorian terrace that in 1993 was being demolished to make way for an urban park.

    Whiteread filled the empty building with concrete and then removed the walls, floors and roof to reveal a version of the house in negative. What had been air was now solid and what had been a piece of unexceptional Victorianism was now a piece of innovative modernism – a cockney dolmen.

    House lasted for only 80 days before it, too, was demolished and during that time it divided opinion. Sidney Gale, the last inhabitant of the original building, was quoted (or misquoted) as saying, “If that is art, then I’m Leonardo da Vinci,” and numerous others took aim at it. Its supporters, however, saw the work as a poignant memorialising of everyday lives and a now lost working-class culture. When someone spray-painted “Wot for?” on it, they were answered with a graffitied “Why not!” Despite a motion in the Commons, House came down.

    Much of Whiteread’s subsequent career – and almost all of her work at Tate Britain – plays on the themes contained in House. If nature abhors a vacuum, her self-appointed task has been to fill it by making casts of little-regarded items, from toilet rolls to shelves of books, turning them into sculptural objects that reveal something of the poetry of the quotidian. Indeed, the numerous pieces in the exhibition can be viewed as individual components of one huge work, which might be titled The Stuff of Life.

    Whiteread came to prominence as part of the Hirst-Emin-Chapman-brothers generation. Charles Saatchi included her cast of a room in his 1992 “Young British Artists” show, and she appeared in the 1997 “Sensation” exhibition that noisily launched the YBAs as a group. She was never, however, a fully fledged member, not least because she was not part of the ex-Goldsmiths cluster that was at its heart, although her subject matter more closely resembles the work of Michael Craig-Martin, the George Martin figure in the YBA story, than does that of any of his students – Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Gary Hume, Mat Collishaw and Sam Taylor-Wood (now Taylor-Johnson) among them.

    The 20 years since “Sensation” have not been kind to the reputations of most of the now middle-aged YBAs: since his cow and shark vitrines, Hirst has become a gallerist and purveyor of gimcrack grandiosity; Tracey Emin remains stuck in her rut of mawkish solipsism; Taylor-Johnson is better known as the director of the film of Fifty Shades of Grey (which won her a nomination for the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director) than for her photography; Jake and Dinos Chapman, who once promised much, seem to have lost their identity and edge, and so on. With each passing year, the YBAs look more facile and their moment in the sun less of a significant turbo­boost for British art and more of a blip. Even their occasional provocations – such as when Jake Chapman declared that taking children to art galleries is “a total waste of time” because “children are not human yet” – now raise a wry smile rather than the tabloid indignation of old.

    Whiteread’s reputation, though, has held up, in part perhaps because her work is founded on traits that are decidedly un-YBA. The mood that her pieces transmit is one of contemplative silence and her themes – memory and shared experiences – have a universality that says “Look at us” rather than “Look at me”.

    Looking is nevertheless the first thing that her work demands. Its inside-outness takes some getting used to; in her hands, the banal becomes strange. The first work in the show is Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) from 1995 and comprises the casts of the space beneath 100 chairs captured in fruit-jelly shades of resin. Before the brain registers the imprint of chair legs, stretchers and the underside of seats, the objects appear random, laid out in ranks like avant-garde chess pieces. Once the mental link has been made, however, the viewer’s perception readjusts; we start to see these shapes first as coalescences of air and then as having a human aspect, too: these were places where 100 pairs of legs once kicked and innumerable shoes were discarded.

    All of her pieces are quietly biographical since they bear the imprint of anonymous lives. The exhibition contains a series of casts of mattresses that slump against the walls, their surfaces scored with the weave of the ticking. There are half a dozen doors (from grand double ones and the standard panelled variety to the rough timber doors of sheds), and in some the heads of the screws that once held locks in place stand proud in the plaster or tinted resin rather than being recessed. The smoothly sculptural shape of baths is revealed in reverse. These works do more than simply show the essential character of objects. Rather, they all prompt the same question: Who slept on these mattresses? Who walked through these doors? Who soaked in this bath?

    This link to other lives is even more tangible when some pieces retain marks of the original objects – a smear of soot from the back of a fireplace, or a dab of rust that has transferred from the underside of an enamel bath to be preserved in the plaster. Such unintentional traces subtly indicate the transition from subject to object.

    Other items become something different in the process of casting, a transition from sculptural form to sculpture. For example, in the 1990s Whiteread made a group of pieces called Torso by filling hot-water bottles with wax, rubber or dental plaster and then cutting away the rubber casing. The resulting shapes, in colours from dusty pink to silver, have a vaguely humanoid appearance, and Whiteread has likened them, accurately and disquietingly, to “headless, limbless” babies.

    The two biggest works are Untitled (Room 101) and Untitled (Stairs) – Whiteread has the annoying quirk of claiming something is “Untitled” and then giving it a title. The first is a full-size cast of the room at the BBC’s old Broadcasting House that was George Orwell’s model for “Room 101” in Nineteen Eighty-Four, while the second is an Escher-like version of the interlocking staircases at the artist’s home, a former synagogue. These are massive works, made in sections and put together to form the facsimiles.

    Because the process has preserved the textures of the originals, from worn treads to peeling wallpaper, the works demand to be looked at close up as well as from a distance. Chance has given them surface patterning that sculptors have to carve with rasp and chisel.

    What the exhibition does not show is any great development in Whiteread’s art. She is a somewhat limited artist whose method and themes have remained largely consistent over the past 30 years. But in refining her technique, she also refines the expressive possibilities of her work, as with her casts of the boxes that contained various items that belonged to her mother when she died – a quiet work of preservation on more than one level.

    Casts, of course, also have a long art-historical provenance, both as reproductions of classical sculptures and as teaching aids for artists, and Whiteread’s work references this history as well as the minimalism of Carl Andre and Donald Judd – although her pieces are more tactile than theirs (and she has clearly looked at Giorgio Morandi). Yet she is, in essence, a still-life artist whose work commemorates Everyman, the pattern of whose daily life she freezes in time.

    The exhibition runs until 21 January 2018


    NS#234: Brexit's Nigel Farage Problem

    By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    The New Statesman podcast.

    Helen and Stephen discuss Theresa May's dislike of parliamentary scrutiny and Labour's use of opposition day debates. Then we hear what Stephen learned about Brexit on his recent trip to Poland. Finally, they answer a rather topical question: should former politicans like Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton just go away?

    You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes here or with this RSS feed:, or listen using the player below.

    Send us your questions and thoughts for future episodes on Twitter via @ns_podcasts@helenlewis or @stephenkb.

    Get tickets for the SRSLY podcast live show here and listen to the first episode of the New Statesman's new culture podcast, The Back Half, here.

    Further reading:

    Stephen on Angela Rayner's tuition fees vote.

    The Esquire profile of George Osborne.

    Helen's piece about Tony Blair.

    Hillary Clinton on the Pod Save America podcast.

    Hutchins Roundup: Large-scale asset purchases and bank risk taking, effects of credit availability, and more

    By Vivien Lee, Louise M. Sheiner from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    Studies in this week’s Hutchins Roundup find that large-scale asset purchases increased bank risk taking, credit supply shocks boost household demand, and more. Want to receive the Hutchins Roundup as an email? Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday. Large-scale asset purchases led to relaxed lending standards and increased loan risk Following the…

    Lowland: small and mid-caps for…income?

    By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    The UK dividend seeker’s dilemma: avoiding too much income concentration.

    The concept surrounds a fairly well-penned story in the press about how the vast majority of the UK’s dividends are paid by a small cadre of the top FTSE 100 companies: the top 20 companies hand-out 70% of all UK dividends paid; the top 10 pay 50%; the top five pay 35%.

    But what choice do we have? This is the structural nature of the UK’s stock market.

    Actually, there is choice, and it’s a great argument for the professional oversight of good active fund managers. They are not forced to overly concentrate their portfolios in pre-determined amounts according to index weightings; they are free to balance perceived risks and extract income from a variety of sources as they see fit.

    Laura Foll, Co-Fund Manager of the Lowland Investment Company - a UK focused investment trust that invests in all sizes of companies to try to grow your capital as well as provide a good level of income - points to how the issue of structural income concentration is dealt with in the portfolio: diversifying the income stream through small and mid-capitalisation stocks, ordinarily unloved by the income seeking portfolio manager but with the potential of being great yield stories.


    An unexpected journey

    The small and mid-cap space is usually reserved for the growth investor – those seeking above average levels of earnings growth, which they believe will translate into strong share price returns. Large caps have tended to be more associated with income seekers.

    The income rationale behind larger businesses is that strong and stable companies with entrenched market positions and experienced management tend to be very focused on creating shareholder value and therefore delivering steady or rising levels of dividends.

    But Laura points to the fact that there are plenty of businesses further down the size scale that engender these qualities. In fact, she says, in the Lowland portfolio they are some of its highest yielding stocks.

    Looking at the broader evidence, the FTSE 250 – the UK’s mid-cap market – is forecast to pay a 3.0% yield this year; the FTSE Small Cap is forecast to pay 3.1%. This compares to the higher yielding FTSE 100, which, although yields a higher 4.2%, has a lower level of dividend cover.

    Because of their lack of liquidity, mid and small cap stocks are often under-researched by analysts. Less coverage means less information feeding into the stock market and the share price, giving the savvy investor a greater chance of uncovering undervalued stocks with attractive yields.

    Laura points to the following as great examples of high yielding stocks from lower down the market-cap scale, where small-cap is defined as a company worth less than £500m. Please remember though, these are portfolio stock examples and not recommendations to buy.


    Motoring ahead – Redde

    When your car breaks down or you’re involved in an accident, a few things are crucial in rectifying your situation: you need to get the car fixed and pay any legal or medical expenses that may need covering. You also need a replacement car for the interim. Redde assists the insurers with a few of these jobs - running fleets of courtesy cars and operating repair garages.

    The business – around £450m in size – is proving to be a success: increasing market share, which in turn is resulting in strong earnings growth and dividend growth. Currently it’s yielding 6.6%.


    Suited to all occasions - Moss Bros

    Moss Bros leads the pack in the UK for branded suits. Its journey since the financial crisis has been one of improvement and change. Years of underperformance made way for new management and a shake-up of the product range, disposals of non-core assets, and store refurbishments. The changing nature of the competition also helped – the quality of suits in rivals M&S and Next has slipped.

    All-in-all it is a niche and profitable business with above-average retail sales growth relative to its marketplace and a healthy dividend pay-out, which is propped up by a strong net cash balance sheet in the event of a downturn.

    It’s worth about £100m and currently yields 6.1%.


    A market for convenience – McColls

    Head down to your local shops and you might notice a McColls convenience store or newsagents. They’re a growing presence, at around 1400 stores. Convenience stores are one of the higher growth areas of the food market with less cost pressures than their supermarket cousins.

    Recently, management have wrapped up a very good deal for the business – buying 298 stores from Co-op, enabling them to exert much greater buyer power and cost savings on the goods purchased for their stores. The product range has also improved over the past five years and they’ve been gradually switching the mix from lower margin tobacco-driven newsagents to higher margin convenience stores with fresh produce.

    The business is valued at around £90m. Its current yield is 5.1%.


    Let’s not tar with a brush

    The concentration of income in the UK equity market has led the Lowland Investment Company’s fund managers to seek out lesser known sources of dividends to diversify the portfolio’s revenues. Exemplified in some of its holdings, attractive yields can be found where many an income manager would not look – in small and medium sized businesses. This may give the UK income seeking investor the chance to depart from the status quo of large-cap driven dividends.


    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.

    Bello: Punishing Nicolás Maduro

    By from European Union. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    Print section Print Rubric:  Can sanctions force a return to democracy? Print Headline:  A long haul in Venezuela Print Fly Title:  Bello UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Closing in on cancer Fly Title:  Bello Main image:  20170916_AMD001_0.jpg DESPITE four months of protests, more than 120 deaths and mounting diplomatic pressure, Nicolás Maduro has got away with it. Venezuela’s president has imposed a rigged constituent assembly to replace the elected, opposition-controlled parliament. He is ruling as a dictator, jailing or harassing scores of opponents. This poses a stark question: what, if anything, can be done to restore democracy? In the short term, the answer is not much. The protests have stopped. Mr Maduro has the opposition where he wants it: split as to whether or not to participate in an overdue election for regional governors next month, ...

    Politics this week

    By from European Union. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    Print section Print Headline:  Politics this week UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Closing in on cancer Main image:  20170916_wwp001.jpg Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc in 13 Caribbean countries, killing scores of islanders and leaving thousands homeless. Nearly all the buildings on Barbuda were destroyed, as were two-thirds on St Martin. Some islands suffered from food shortages and looting. Many governments pledged aid, but Unicef said it would not be enough without private donations. In Florida, 6.5m people were ordered to leave their homes. Over 30 people died in America, including eight in a nursing home when the storm knocked out the building’s air conditioning. See article. An earthquake of magnitude 8.1 hit Mexico. Centred off the coast of the state of Chiapas, it killed at least 96 people. See article. Guatemala’s congress passed legislation that reduces the punishment for campaign-finance crimes and protects lawmakers from prosecution. They said the vote was a matter of “national urgency”, and postponed votes on school meals and other issues. ...

    War and dysfunctional politics threaten Iraq’s marshlands

    By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    THE recovery of southern Iraq’s marshlands is arguably one of the great environmental triumphs of recent times. Reduced to dust and withered reeds when Saddam Hussein drained them to flush out rebels in the 1990s, the wetlands once again buzz with birds, dragonflies and the songs of buffalo-breeders, thanks to the devoted efforts of Iraqi conservationists. But the renewed symphony may be the marshes’ swan-song. A water crisis rooted in wasteful irrigation, climate change and dam-building is imperilling them again.

    A weakened flow into the Tigris and Euphrates rivers means that salt water from the Persian Gulf can now seep upstream into the marshes. This, coupled with farming run-off that has boosted salinity, again threatens wetland wildlife, vegetation and the local Marsh Arabs who have depended on them for millennia. Jassim al-Asadi, a conservationist brought up in the marshes before Saddam drained them, fears that no more than half the 5,600 square kilometres slated for...Continue reading

    Egypt is making renewed efforts to reform its economy

    By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    THE train north from Cairo winds through the lush fields and meandering canals of the Nile Delta, before chugging into Alexandria. The scenery is pleasant on a 180km journey that can drag on for more than four hours. It is slow enough that EgyptAir offers flights on the same route.

    Egypt’s state-owned, 6,700km rail network, the oldest in Africa, has seen better days. Stations are dingy; trains are dangerous and often delayed. In August 41 people were killed in one collision. It was the deadliest crash since 2012, but smaller ones are common, with over 1,200 last year alone. (Britain’s rail network, with three times as many passengers, saw about 750.)

    Days after the accident the transport minister said that he would bring in the private sector to improve quality and safety. His ministry is drafting a law to allow private firms to run trains and stations. If it passes, it would be the clearest sign yet that Egypt is serious about reforming its top-heavy...Continue reading

    Donald Trump’s efforts to end a feud in the Gulf get nowhere

    By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    THIS time Donald Trump seemed to back his braggadocio with results. On September 7th he met the ruler of Kuwait, who has tried to mediate the three-month feud between Qatar and his Gulf neighbours led by Saudi Arabia. Mr Trump suggested a new mediator: himself. “I think you’d have a deal worked out very quickly,” he said. The next day Qatar’s emir made a surprise phone call to the Saudi crown prince, their first known talk since the crisis began.

    But the rapprochement was fleeting. Hours after the call, Qatar’s state news agency said that Saudi Arabia had offered to appoint two envoys to negotiate a deal. But the Saudis were insulted. It was as if they had made the first concessions. Qatar’s report, they fumed, was a “distortion…of the facts.” Any further talks stalled. The call had made things worse.

    The Saudis—along with Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates—cut ties with Qatar in June and cut transport links with the tiny peninsula....Continue reading

    Congolese art is recovering from its lowest days

    By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    Worth a thousand words

    JOSEPH KINKONDA, one of the most famous artists in the Democratic Republic of Congo, lives in a dank bedroom in Ndjili, a scrubby neighbourhood of Kinshasa. At the end of his bed sits a plate with a few balls of paint wrapped in plastic. The air-conditioning unit is broken; a single bare light bulb hangs from the ceiling. Mr Kinkonda, who goes by his pen name of Chéri Chérin, seems as worn down as the surroundings. His legs are swollen; his belly barely covered by a shirt that is as dirty as it is shiny. Yet when he speaks, this miserable studio comes alive.

    “I was born with drawing,” he announces. “I did not learn it. I had it in my blood.” Born in 1955, he recounts how his father wanted him to become a priest and sent him to a Jesuit seminary. But sensing that his passion was not for religion, the Jesuits sent him to Kinshasa’s Académie des Beaux-Arts instead. On finishing he started drawing huge murals on shop walls. Today...Continue reading

    The Blair ditch project: Tony Blair has a plan to exit from Brexit

    By from European Union. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    Print section Print Rubric:  A talented fudger proposes a third way out of the Brexit mire Print Headline:  The Blair ditch project Print Fly Title:  Exit from Brexit UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Closing in on cancer Fly Title:  The Blair ditch project Main image:  20170916_brp005.jpg BRITAIN’S eventual exit deal with the European Union will not only have to be signed off by the bloc’s 27 increasingly irritated member states. It must also satisfy a home audience split between those with sky-high expectations of Brexit and those who oppose it in any form. There is a growing sense that the government—which announced this week that the next round of talks in Brussels would be delayed by seven days, until after the prime minister has made a big speech on Europe in Florence—lacks the political skill to forge such a delicate compromise. On September 9th ...

    The point of pantouflage: Why do European companies bother to hire ex-politicians?

    By from European Union. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    Print section Print Rubric:  Why do European companies bother to hire ex-politicians? Print Headline:  The point of pantouflage Print Fly Title:  Politicians-turned-businessmen UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Closing in on cancer Fly Title:  The point of pantouflage Location:  PARIS Main image:  20170916_WBP003_0.jpg THIS month Gerhard Schröder starts a new job. Shareholders in Rosneft, a Russian energy giant with a market value of nearly $60bn, are set to appoint Germany’s ex-chancellor as a board director on September 29th. Russia’s government, Rosneft’s majority-owner, nominated Mr Schröder, who is pals with Vladimir Putin. Despite Western sanctions imposed on the firm after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Mr Schröder’s move is no surprise. He has worked for years with ...

    Big Tech’s nemesis: Is Margrethe Vestager championing consumers or her political career?

    By from European Union. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    Print section Print Rubric:  Is Margrethe Vestager the champion of consumers or of her own political career? Print Headline:  Big Tech’s nemesis Print Fly Title:  Europe’s chief trustbuster UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Closing in on cancer Fly Title:  Big Tech’s nemesis Main image:  20170916_WBP001_0.jpg EVEN her enemies admire the bloody-mindedness of Margrethe Vestager, the European commissioner in charge of competition policy. Last autumn, not long after she had ordered Apple to pay €13bn ($14.5bn) in back-taxes to Ireland, to the fury of many in America, she flew across the Atlantic on a charm offensive. The Americans were not charmed; Ms Vestager was unmoved. Buckling up for the flight home, she tweeted that she had never felt so European. Since she assumed her current role in November 2014, Ms Vestager has had several high-profile clashes ...

    Wales doesn't need a rebrand – but an electrified railway would be nice

    By Shazia Awan from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    And try showcasing some diverse Welsh talent while you're at it. 

    Having been born and raised in Wales, for me it’s obvious that Wales is a beautiful, vibrant and culturally rich country. I’m fortunate enough to be able to say I’m Welsh and call Wales home.

    I am left puzzled, however, that this country that I know and love is failing when it comes to showcasing its many strengths to the world. Last year, Wales had approximately one million international visitors. That might sound impressive – until you realise that there were 2.7 million international visitors to Scotland and 2.6 million to Northern Ireland.

    Given that our tourist industry has been so grossly underperforming, (despite being in the global spotlight in recent years with events such the UEFA Champions League final, the Ryder Cup, Ashes Test matches and a Nato summit) it is entirely understandable that the Welsh government has been trying to “re-brand” the country and market it in a positive way. There is much to commend in the resultant campaign by the Amsterdam/Cardiff agency Smörgåsbord. It seeks to portray a positive and upbeat image of Wales, emphasising the beauty of the landscape and the richness of the cultural history, and it has been credited with an uptick in overseas visitors

    Yet, watching the marketing videos and reading about the campaign outlined by the agency, and signed off by Welsh government, I found myself failing to recognise the nation that they were talking about.

    Is Wales really all just beaches, mountains and castles? It’s true we do have more castles than anywhere in Europe, but as one historian put it, they are the magnificent emblems of our subjugation. The Wales I know is about arts, culture and diversity.

    It’s a place where the chair of next year’s National Eisteddfod, our festival of music and poetry, is a Punjabi man from Wolverhampton, who fell so in love with the language and culture that he made Cardiff his home. It’s a place which nurtures artists and brings to the world stage some of the best sporting stars and creative talent. And who can beat the opportunity to catch a train from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysyliogogogoch – yes, that is the longest train station name in the world!

    There was something else unsettling about the videos I watched. Despite watching several, I had barely a glimpse of a non-white face. Wales's diversity and rich heritage seems to have been somewhat erased.

    You would hardly think that Wales was home to places like Tiger Bay – one of the UK’s oldest multicultural communities, where sailors from over 50 countries have settled. Or that contemporary Welsh heroes include Shirley Bassey, Colin Jackson, Jamie Baulch, Colin Charvis, Taulupe Faetau and Ryan Giggs. The Wales we are telling the world about is, apparently, almost wholly rural and white. 

    It makes me wonder: who exactly is this campaign trying to attract? Surely, in light of 17 out of 22 local authorities voting to leave the EU, it's even more important Wales shows it's open to the world? 

    Then there are other features of the campaign that raise eyebrows, such as the fact that Smörgåsbord tell us that they drew around 500 versions of the dragon before reaching the final design. Do we really need to pay for this? The Welsh flag is so iconic in the first place, why not leave it alone?

    But maybe the people at Smörgåsbord took their cue from the Welsh government. After all, this was a government that recently – and in all apparent seriousness – planned to spend £630,000 on an ugly, 98ft-wide "Iron Ring" construction at Flint Castle in the name of boosting tourism. The "iron ring" was, of course, the term used to describe the network of fortresses constructed by the brutal English King Edward I as part of his conquest of Wales. Welsh Government Minister Ken Skates, who had originally labelled the Flint plans "perfect", was forced into a speedy and embarrassing u-turn.

    In the long term, what would most effectively bring people to Wales would be a more flourishing economy. That would bring people here in greater numbers – both to visit and to stay. In the shorter term, the best marketing campaign in the world will struggle to overcome the chronically poor transport infrastructure. Anyone who has been to Wales will tell you it is not that easy to get beyond the capital Cardiff. It is often even harder to move around once you are here. Let’s face it - we have no major international airport. The closest thing to it, Cardiff (actually in Barry) almost closed a few years ago as it was doing so badly.

    Wales also remains, for a little longer at least, one of the very few nations in Europe without a single mile of electrified railway. Current plans are for the link from London to be electrified only as far as Cardiff. Within Wales, both road and rail links from north to south might, if you were trying to be polite, be described as abysmal. Let me give you one example. To go from my home in Cardiff to the beautiful west Wales town of Aberystwyth is a journey of under 100 miles as the crow flies. But if you are driving, expect the journey to take you at least two and a half hours. If you want to go by train, it will take you four hours and will require you to go via England.

    A marketing rebrand which seeks to get a niche group of people to Wales is simply insufficient. Wales is a superb holiday destination and an even better place to live. But if you want to get people to experience our wonderful country, we must showcase all of its diversity. And it should be easy to get around. Tourists head first to London, then Edinburgh, because once there they can travel about easily. Improving transport links to get from one side of Wales to the other would go a long way to boosting our tourist economy. You don't need to redraw a dragon to understand that. 

    Photo: Getty

    The UK was already having its cake and eating it in the EU

    By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    Jean-Claude Juncker has used Brexit to propose greater integration. But the EU consistently gave the UK flexibility. 

    Jean-Claude Juncker's grandiloquent State of the Union speech is being hailed by Brexiteers as proof that the UK is better off out. The European Commission President spoke of his desire for deeper EU integration, including the creation of a European defence union, the establishment of a single European president and finance minister and greater control over taxation. 

    Brexiteer and former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith told the Sun: "This tells you why the vote last year makes sense. Jean-Claude Juncker’s bar room utterances have given the game away. It’s the future of the EU – the march of the super-state."

    Never mind that Juncker's proposals depend on the support of member states (Germany above all) to become a reality. What concern is it of the UK if the EU uses its departure to pursue integration? (So often hindered by Britain.)

    The irony of the UK demanding "flexibility" from Brussels during the Brexit negotiations is that the EU so often showed it before. Britain enjoyed a formal opt-out from the euro (the only member state other than Denmark to do so), it remained outside the borderless Schengen Zone, it received a £4.9bn budget rebate and was granted numerous home affairs opt-outs. 

    True, the EU did not grant the UK greater control of free movement (which helped lead to Brexit). But David Cameron was awarded significant concessions during his renegotiation of the UK's membership. They included an official exemption from "ever closer union" (which would have covered Juncker's proposals), a four-year ban on in-work benefits for EU migrants (activable for seven years) and greater safeguards for the City of London).

    And in the case of free movement, as I've noted before, the UK already has the flexibility to impose greater control. 

    Though EU citizens are initially permitted to live in any member state, after three months they must prove that they are working (employed or self-employed), a registered student or have "sufficient resources" (savings or a pension) to support themselves and not be "a burden on the benefits system". Far from being unconditional, then, the right to free movement is highly qualified.

    Yet the supposedly immigration-averse UK has never enforced these conditions. Even under Theresa May, the Home Office judged that the cost of recording entry and exit dates was too high. Since most EU migrants are employed (and contribute significantly more in taxes than they do in benefits), there was no economic incentive to do so.

    The Brexit negotiations have now stalled as the UK seeks to retain the economic benefits of EU membership from outside the union. As Britain is forced to realise that it cannot have its cake and eat it, it may yet recall that it was already doing so. 

    Photo: Getty

    Trans rights, TERFs, and a bruised 60-year-old: what happened at Speakers’ Corner?

    By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    How an event about gender led to an attack in Hyde Park.

    On the evening of Wednesday 13 September, pictures of a 60-year-old woman with bruises on her face began to circulate online.

    The person in the picture is called Maria MacLachlan. She claims on both Mumsnet and Facebook that she was “beaten up by a bunch of kids” at Speakers’ Corner after “some kid in a hoodie” tried to take her camera, which was looped around her wrist.

    (From Mumsnet)

    MacLachlan was waiting to attend an event called “What is Gender?” – its location was announced at Speakers’ Corner last night, and while waiting she came into contact with people she describes as “trans activist bullies” who were protesting against the event. MacLachlan has not responded to a request for comment.

    The event she wanted to attend was initially scheduled for Wednesday 13 September from 7-9pm at the New Cross Learning centre in Lewisham, south-east London. The speakers would be discussing the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 (which is now under review by the government).

    What is Gender? flyer from Twitter

    When the event was announced, activists, including the campaign groups Sisters Uncut, Goldsmiths LGBTQ+ Society, and Action for Trans Health London, organised a protest against it. None of their call-outs to their members that are visible on Facebook incited violent action. All three organisations have been asked for comment but have not yet responded.

    Some protesters encouraged contacting the organisers of the event to ask for it to be cancelled. This is because the speakers included the writer and self-described “fabulous transsexual” Miranda Yardley, the “radical lesbian feminist activist” Dr Julia Long and jewellery designer Venice Allan.

    They are all well-known feminist figures who are accused of being “TERFs” – short for “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists” – by some in the trans community and beyond, who find their views on gender threatening towards trans women in particular (Long calls trans women “he”, for example, and Allan’s most recent tweet at the time of writing states, “trans women are NOT women”.)

    The protesters argued that there was no “debate” aspect to the talk, and therefore the prevailing message would be an attack on trans people.

    On Tuesday 12 September, the New Cross Learning centre announced that it would be cancelling the event. “After completing a risk assessment the Management Committee believe the potential risks to the library, volunteers, public and building are beyond our risk appetite,” it wrote on its Facebook page. “Our decision is not due to outside pressure but is purely taken for health & safety reasons.”

    (From the New Cross Learning Facebook page)

    Although the venue denies outside pressure led to the event being cancelled, Goldsmiths LGBTQ+ Society claimed some part in the decision on its Facebook page: “GOOD NEWS! This protest has been cancelled, because the event has been cancelled!!”, it announced. “We succeeded in putting enough pressure on the organisers that the[y] decided to cancel for 'Health and Safety concerns'.”

    (From the Goldsmiths LGBTQ+ Facebook page)

    The venue has not yet responded to the New Statesman's question asking if it received threatening calls or emails from any of these protest groups, and there is currently no evidence to suggest it did.

    On the day the event was due to take place, the speaker Yardley tweeted a meeting point – Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park – for heading to its new location:

    Protesters as well as attendees like MacLachlan gathered in Hyde Park in response to this, which is when the incident occurred. There is some footage of the altercation on YouTube:

    It is difficult to tell in the clip what exactly happened – there is a scuffle that involves MacLachlan in physical contact with a younger person, a piece of equipment (her camera) crashing to the floor, and then being hit in the face by a third person in a hoodie who eventually runs off.

    There are cries of “call the police” at the end of the clip. The identity of the perpetrator or perpetrators is unknown.

    After initally saying twice that they had no record of the incident, the Metropolitan Police later said they had been called to an the incident at 7:30pm and spoken to the victim. There were no arrests and and enquiries continue. 

    Although the circumstances of the attack are still unclear (and will probably remain so, unless clearer footage emerges or the police investigation procves fruitful), voices from both camps – those who were in favour of the event taking place, and those against – are claiming what it reveals about their opponents.

    Trans activists warn that the incident could be used to claim they are violent, or that it might be described as an episode of male violence, which would be offensive if the attacker turns out to be a trans woman.

    (From the Action for Trans Health London Facebook page)

    Others, such as the speakers and those who are sympathetic towards them, are asking why we can’t all condemn an attack on a woman.

    No conclusions can be drawn without further evidence or testimony from the parties involved, so it’s probably best to end with the writer and comedian Shon Faye’s Twitter take on the story, and condemn both transphobia and violence against women:

    This article was updated at 10.45am on the 20 September 2017 after the Metropolitan Police corrected their earlier statements that there was no record of the incident. They had previously stated on two occasions that no incident had been reported.


    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

    Eduardo Martins, the celebrated war photographer who didn't really exist

    By Antonia Quirke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    BBC World Service tells the story of a fake.

    “This is a cautionary tale,” warned the presenter Megha Mohan during a report about the 32-year-old Brazilian war photographer Eduardo Martins (10 September, 10.20am). Martins has 125,000 followers on Instagram; his work documenting conflict zones has appeared around the world, including the Wall Street Journal – but it seems Martins isn’t a war photographer. Nobody knows what he is. Not a person exists who has actually met “Eduardo Martins” – someone who likes to give boastful and strictly online interviews about surviving cancer and saving children from Molotov cocktails.

    For several years (until a journalist in the Lebanon started asking questions) Martins passed off other photographers’ work as his own, using chasteningly basic mirror-imaging techniques to elude plagiarism software. All of which has been reported across the world – but never so Bill & Ted-ishly as here. “I was, like, daaang!” frowned a photographer whose images had been nicked. “This dude used a cheap-ass Photoshop trick to hijack several years of my work.”

    Martins had also appropriated, as personal ID, the Facebook profile photographs of a Cornish surfer called Max – hair shaggy as a chrysanthemum, above a lovely salty tan. The real Max himself popped up, a one-man Leveson Inquiry: “So I thought, yeah, that’s weird.”

    A war photographer! Phwoar! Think Nick Nolte in Under Fire crossed with John Malkovich in The Killing Fields – plus Patrick Swayze in Point Break. It quickly became clear that Martins (or whoever) had done all of this basically to meet girls. Like a heron snacking on dozing trout, he had six women – young, successful, professional – seemingly involved in intense “romantic online relationships” with him.

    Syria, Iraq, the scooped and blasted villages of Afghanistan – mere window-dressing, effectively the velvet chaise across which he’d been lolling. “What can we learn from all this?” demanded Mohan, like an amiable TV detective who must wait until the last episode to get shrewd. Ga! Too late. Eduardo has disappeared. He’s taking “a year-long break to travel to Australia, and wants to be left in peace”. I picture him relaxed, on a fully licensed flight. 

    Photo: Instagram

    Inaction over ethnic cleansing in Myanmar will only fuel Islamist extremism

    By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    If Western governments don't speak up for the Rohingya, extremist recruiters will. 

    The silence of Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi over the Rohingya emergency has been deafening. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has been rightly challenged, repeatedly, over her failure to address what the United Nations has said is “ethnic cleansing”.

    It is not hard to find the hatred which beats beneath the surface of the country and targets the nation’s one million vulnerable Rohingya. The anti-Muslim rhetoric being promoted by those such as the so-called “Burmese Bin Laden” – the Buddhist priest, Wirathu – is no different to some of the virulent anti-Muslim hatred that has been used by far-right extremists in Europe. Wirathu has spread the politics of division and hatred by suggesting that Muslims repeatedly rape Buddhist women.

    In one interview he said: “We are being raped in every town, being sexually harassed in every town, being ganged up on and bullied in every town…..In every town, there is crude and savage Muslim majority.” The aim appears to be to rally the masses against a weak and insecure Rohingya population and to frame them as an unstable and malign force within Myanmar – simply because of their faith.

    Back in February a UN human rights report highlighted the systematic targeting and persecution of Rohingya villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. It gathered testimony from 220 people which showed “severe restrictions on the freedom of movement” of the Rohingya and “clearance operations” by the army, with relatives and family members reporting rape, other sexual violence, abuse and disappearances.

    The government of Myanmar’s response has been to deny all charges, claiming it is the victim of a conspiracy from foreign forces wanting to destabilise the country. In essence, this mirrors the response we heard from another regime which was involved in the mass transfer and genocide of its populations: the Serbian government under Slobodan Milošević, and the Republika Srpska paramilitaries which were controlled by Radovan Karadžić, in the 1990s during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Karadžić, the President of Republika Srpska at the time, was sentenced to 40 years imprisonment last year for the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered. 

    The comparisons between the two countries do not end with anti-Muslim rhetoric. The break-up of Yugoslavia and the subsequent calls for independent states led to Serbia’s war of aggression towards Bosnia and its predominantly Bosnian Muslim population. Religious hatred tore apart villages, communities, marriages and families that had been forged over centuries. The attack on the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina led to the merciless siege of Sarajevo, with daily news items showing people cowering from shells as Serb gunners fired down with impunity from the surrounding hills.

    The siege of Sarajevo and the West’s inactivity and unwillingness to intervene acted as a recruiting sergeant for Islamist extremists. Their narrative, often carried in extremist literature handed out on London’s streets, said that Muslims are being murdered because they were Muslims.

    Western European nations did not step in for some time. In 1992, then-Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd made clear that Britain would not engage troops on the ground. It was this inertia that created a strong pull for the Islamist-Jihadist narrative, which said that the West was doing nothing and was in cahoots with the Serbs to wipe out Muslims in Europe. Fighters arrived from the Middle East, fuelled by stories of the atrocities unleashed by Bosnian Serb and Serbian forces against Bosnian Muslims.

    Myanmar today is reminiscent of the Bosnian crisis, though there is only one side which is perpetrating the majority of violence. The images and video footage filtering through are having an impact. Within Muslim countries, and here in the United Kingdom, large sections of the Muslim community are voicing anger about the international community's inaction.

    Just as in the 1990s people complain about the “inaction of the West”, irrespective of the complexities and or opportunity to influence any real change in Myanmar. The reality seems to be that Western nations are not going to intervene in Myanmar. In a world of realpolitik they calculate they need Myanmar’s military junta as a "stable partner" for the future. There will be much talk about human rights and about the need for the persecution to stop, but the reality is that the UK government will probably do little to exert real and sustained pressure on Suu Kyi and the military.

    How soon we forget the lessons of Bosnia, when inaction feeds Islamist groups and extremism, who then step in to portray themselves as the defender of Muslims and Islam. Inaction over the Rohingya and softly spoken words about the genocide in Myanmar will help no-one but Islamists who use such situations as a recruiting sergeant for Muslim hearts and minds.

    The Rohingya do not need jihadi bedfellows. Nor can or should we allow Suu Kyi and her junta to get away with the open and blatant persecution of a defenceless people. The latter is going unpunished, but without action the former becomes increasingly likely.

    Fiyaz Mughal is founder and ex-director of anti-Muslim hate crime initiative, Tell MAMA, and Director of the interfaith organisation, Faith Matters

    Photo: Getty

    Dylan Jones's Diary: Harmony between Jeremy Corbyn and Alastair Campbell?

    By Dylan Jones from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    A year is a long time where the GQ Men of the Year Awards are concerned.

    If a week is a long time in politics, 12 months is certainly a long time where the GQ Men of the Year Awards are concerned. While we have occasionally been accused of pandering too much to the Tories, we have tended to mirror public opinion, as we have done in all of the other categories that we celebrate at the awards.

    For the first seven or eight years, we acknowledged the success of the likes of Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and David Blunkett, and when the tides started to turn – as they inevitably do – we went through a period when the room was full of David Cameron, George Osborne, Boris Johnson, William Hague and others. One year, all four of them happened to be there, prompting another winner, Noel Gallagher, to say quite rightly that the evening felt like being at the Tory party conference (not that he would know anything about that).

    This year, we had Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan in the house, and up on stage, as well as Alastair Campbell (who has become something of the magazine’s conscience), so right back atcha. I may even have managed to achieve a rapprochement between Corbyn and Campbell. We shall see.

    Seizing the day

    One of the many books I took away with me this summer was A Life in the Day, Hunter Davies’s entertaining (and rather moving) second autobiography. I had forgotten that he was responsible for one of the best things about newspaper supplements, the Sunday Times Magazine’s “A Life in the Day” column, which Hunter came up with in 1975, while he was editor.

    It was always meant to be a litany of the mundane, prosaic things that a person got up to, a genuine snapshot of domesticity. For a while I edited this section when I worked at Wapping in the 1990s, and it was surprising how many celebrities misunderstood the concept.

    My favourite was a (very) former pop star who had obviously condensed an entire year’s worth of achievements into a single day, so it went something like this: “Got up, made tea, ran a marathon, wrote a book, had a meeting with Martin Scorsese, sang on a charity album, climbed Kilimanjaro, had dinner with Richard Branson, spoke at the UN…”

    We didn’t have the heart to tell his PR how foolish he looked, so we ran it. I often wonder how that meeting with Scorsese panned out.

    Balearic buzz kill

    The summer wasn’t all I had hoped it would be, as I was sick for most of it. I’ve been ill for nine months now, struck down by some kind of ear infection that has manifested itself in a variety of issues, not least obstructed Eustachian tubes and a horrific bout of tinnitus. The latter is an ailment that many believe is untreatable but, having spoken to a fair number of experts this year, I have learned that it is usually a symptom of something else completely, and that if you get the right diagnosis, it is possible to rid yourself of it.

    I am still in the middle of the process and have learned a great deal since it developed. One important thing is that it is extremely advantageous and rather comforting to find yourself surrounded by cicadas, especially those that congregate around rented pools on the Balearic Islands. They might not be there for the duration, but in the short term they certainly help to disguise the buzzing in your ears.

    Soho subterraneans

    Having just spent many a year writing and compiling an oral biography of David Bowie – interviewing more than 150 people in places as far removed as Los Angeles and Ipswich – I was surprised that he had such strong connections with London’s Soho, especially as he largely lived “abroad” from 1974 onwards.

    One of my favourite passages is the period in the mid-1980s when the film director Julien Temple was leading Bowie around various fleshpots in the West End, looking for the inspiration that would fire up the disaster that became Absolute Beginners. Everywhere Bowie went, people knew him: not from the TV, not for his fame, but really knew him. Twenty years earlier, he had been introduced to the denizens of the coffee bars, clip joints and after-hours drinking clubs by his brother, Terry, and they had never forgotten. There was a lot of: “All right, Dave, ’ows it going, son?”

    The authenticity of this glorified pub crawl didn’t stop Temple’s film from being an unmitigated disaster, even if it did include one of Bowie’s finest and often forgotten works, the magisterial title song. Many of these more marginal voices are in my book, and I hope they help contribute to our greater understanding of the man. It was certainly a joy meeting them.

    Soap and glory

    The minutiae of someone’s life are as important as the glittery bits (if indeed there are any), something that Hunter Davies understood well. I discovered lots when I was researching my Bowie book. Towards the end of the 1970s, the Thin White Duke was touring his Low and Heroes albums, records that were quite austere in their construction and eventually in their presentation, too.

    The stage show at the time was so long that Bowie had included an interval of half an hour, not just so the crowd could drink some more beer, but also to allow himself a breather. At half-time, what he did was this: he would stand upright, dressed in his full stage kit, with one leg on a trestle chair while he watch prerecorded videotapes of Coronation Street.

    That’s right, the most influential recording artist of the decade would decompress during one of the most intense tours of his life – of anyone’s life – by watching recordings of a soap opera. There’s nowt so queer as flame-haired ambisexual rock stars from space, let me tell you.

    Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ and the author of “David Bowie: A Life” (Preface)

    Photo: Getty

    Two museums are having a fight on Twitter and it's gloriously informative

    By Sanjana Varghese from New Statesman Contents. Published on Sep 14, 2017.

    Natural history v science.