Nemo’s Almanac is a long-running literary quiz, which may sound like a pointless thing to write about but it’s – almost – an important cultural phenomenon. It’s also at a critical moment in its history, representing as it does a radically different pace, mode and rationale of intellectual inquiry from the instant gratification of curiosity that the internet has made possible. It consists of 72 quotations, plus one more on the cover, arranged according to monthly themes (this year’s include Hats, Coal, Novelty, Foxgloves, Silence and Socialism). It was started by a governess called Mrs Larden (first name unknown) in 1892 as an almanac and quiz for her charges. The fourth editor, Katherine Watson, who ran a bookshop in Burford, turned it over to John Fuller in 1970. The editorship subsequently passed to Alan Hollinghurst, who in turn passed it on to the late Gerard Benson, who was followed by Nigel Forde; and now I am Nemo and the Almanac has become my responsibility. More »
Three weeks out from polling day, Donald Trump has called the election for Hillary Clinton by alleging widespread voter fraud before most people have cast their ballots. At last night’s debate Trump refused to say he would accept the election result, having earlier this week conjured the bogey of a zombie army of dead voters rising from its necropolis to spook his chances. Wisely, he’s discounted the possibility that his impending defeat has anything to do with having alienated most US voters by his mendacity, bigotry, sexual predation, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, manifest unfitness for public office and encyclopedic ignorance of public policy. Maybe he should call in Russian election monitors to ensure fair play. Responders have noted that verified cases of voter fraud are rare in US elections; their tendency is to infer that all’s well with US democracy. This is a non-sequitur. More »
An estimated 387 child refugees who have relatives in the UK are stranded alone in Calais. The UK government doesn’t really want to bring them over, and has only started to after being sued by a group of charities. Three teenagers who arrived this week have been accused of looking like young men rather than children. The way the right-wing press has singled out these boys and published their faces in a hit parade is straight-up racist intimidation, playing on a stereotype of non-white foreigners being freakishly and threateningly overdeveloped. More »
Donald Trump’s instinctive response to his most recent crisis was predictable. As the tales of groping multiplied and swirled, he claimed the high ground. His accusers, he said, were ‘horrible, horrible liars’, whose attacks were being ‘orchestrated by the Clintons and their media allies’. He was willing to suffer for his ‘disfranchised’ followers, however, and they would collectively ‘take back our country’. The election, he promised, was going to be ‘our Independence Day’.
As far as the US media took any notice – and many, in their mainstream way, were focusing instead on the complaints of Trump’s alleged victims – there was confusion. Was Trump drawing on the science fiction movie of the same name, wondered the New York Daily News? The 1996 film shows the White House destroyed by aliens. Worldwide havoc ensues. America’s president leads the counterattack that eliminates the intruders for ever (sequels notwithstanding). In Trump’s eyes, that’s not fantasy so much as cinéma vérité.
The inspiration for his speech, however, is almost certainly closer to home. More »
In the run-up to last year’s presidential election, Patience Jonathan, the wife of Nigeria’s then president, warned women what they were letting themselves in for should they reject her husband in favour of Muhammadu Buhari. The last time Buhari was head of state, as a military strongman in the mid-1980s, ‘he said women should be confined to the kitchen,’ she said. ‘But under Jonathan’s administration, women have been liberated to contribute to national development. If you vote for Buhari again, you will return to the kitchen.’
Her advice was ignored and Buhari was duly elected. Everybody was happy at first. Sixteen years of mind-boggling corruption had left the people clamouring for ‘change’, which quickly became the new government’s mantra. And then everything went horribly wrong. More »
May Brown, a Nigerian woman with leukemia, made the news last week when her sister was denied entry to the UK to provide life-saving stem cells. The Home Office said it wasn’t satisfied that the trip was genuine, or that the sister had enough money. This isn’t the first time Brown has been on the wrong side of British immigration; denied asylum in 2013, she attempted suicide. ‘We are sensitive to cases with compassionate circumstances,’ a Home Office spokesperson said last Friday, ‘but all visa applications must be assessed against the immigration rules.’ More »
Buckets of rain were falling over the MacTweedledeedum links. There was silence apart from the distant drilling in the wall of the clubhouse. Big Jim McTweedle was building another extension to the bar. Bob’s heart was in the highlands but his mind was on the next hole. It was the awkward 15th, where only a lot of backspin could keep you out of the bunker. More »
Writing in the Guardian in 2011, Shimon Peres, then president of Israel, welcomed the uprisings that were spreading across the Middle East. Israel wanted to see ‘improvements in our neighbours’ lives’, he said, which was the reason it was helping Palestinians in the West Bank develop their own economy, institutions and security forces. ‘Israel was born under the British mandate,’ he went on. More »
This time last year, Indian-administered Kashmir was welcoming tourists to its lakes, Mughal gardens and mountain meadows. The state tourism board reported 300,000 visitors between July and September 2015, numbers helped by various foreign governments lifting travel bans. Today, Kashmir is once more plunged into chaos and violence. Burhan Wani, a commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed by Indian security forces on 8 July. Protests broke out across Kashmir the next day. The official crackdown was severe. Dozens of people have been killed and thousands injured. Shops, hospitals and schools have been shut, mobile phone and internet services cut, property destroyed and local newspapers closed. More »
The Polish government says there were 24,000 protesters on Warsaw’s streets last Monday; the protest organisers say there were 116,000. Whatever the number, the ‘Black Monday’ demonstrations in support of abortion rights were an uncommon display. The protesters, most of them women, were on strike from work, school, housework and their children to oppose a law that would have banned all abortions in Poland, and imposed jail sentences of up to five years for both doctors and patients. The protesters wore black and held signs showing diagrams of uteruses. Schools, universities and government offices were forced to close in at least sixty cities, and sympathetic employers gave their workers the day off to participate. In the capital, where it was raining, they bumped umbrellas and chanted: ‘We want doctors, not missionaries.’ More »