The end of the one-child policy?

Last week the Chinese government announced the end of its one-child policy; married couples will now be allowed to have two children. The policy was introduced in 1980, when the population had almost doubled since the Communists took control in 1949. It never applied to all citizens. People living in the countryside were allowed to have a second child if their first was female or born handicapped. Exemptions were also granted to ethnic minorities and people in high-risk occupations. More »

The Man Who Brought Zombies to America

Dover Press has reissued William Seabrook’s 1934 memoir Asylum, an account of his self-committal to a mental hospital in an attempt to cure his chronic alcoholism. Seabrook, who committed suicide in 1945, is probably most famous now for introducing the zombie to American popular culture in 1929, but he was also a bestselling journalist, travel writer, pulp anthropologist, Great War veteran, primitivist, sadomasochist, occultist, and fellow traveller among the Modernists in New York, London and Paris. More »

Being Lord Lugard

Frederick Lugard caricatured by Spy for 'Vanity Fair', 1895.

Frederick Lugard caricatured by Spy for Vanity Fair, 1895.

Frederick Lugard is a pivotal figure in Nigerian history. The colony’s first governor general, he effectively created and named it in 1914, amalgamating a multitude of disparate ethnicities, languages and religions into one of the most patchwork countries in the world. He compared the subjects he conquered to ‘attractive children’.

In 1894, Lugard had led an expedition through the ancient kingdom of Borgu on behalf of the Royal Niger Company, to secure treaties with the local emirs ahead of his French counterpart during the so-called European scramble for Africa. He succeeded except for the westernmost outpost of Nikki, which subsequently fell into what is now the Republic of Benin.

I was recently part of a 22-strong delegation which retraced Lugard’s steps through what is now Nigeria’s Middle Belt region. More »

In Nancy

commodeAn elaborate veneered late 19th-century commode is smothered in fecund art nouveau vegetation: according to the inscription on the top, Prunus armeniaca. This is botanical illustration in fine inlay but also a subtle vehicle for political commentary: 100,000 Armenians were massacred by Ottoman forces between 1894 and 1896. More »

Unsolved Mysteries

A police helicopter crashed into the Clutha Vaults Bar in Glasgow on 29 November 2013. The pilot, two police officer passengers and seven in the bar were killed. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch published its final report last week. Relatives of those who died had been briefed in advance. They said that they were doubly disappointed. More »

Blacklisting and Undercover Policing

In March, Theresa May announced that Christopher Pitchford, a serving lord justice of appeal, would lead an inquiry into undercover policing. It followed a series of revelations about members of the Met’s disbanded Special Demonstration Squad, who infiltrated protest groups and in some cases had long-term sexual relationships with their targets.

Just after Pitchford was appointed, a former SDS officer revealed he had spied on members of four trade unions; another officer posed as a joiner to infiltrate the builders’ union Ucatt. The most prominent trade unionist known to have been targeted by undercover police is Matt Wrack, the leader of the Fire Brigades’ Union. More »

On Chantal Akerman

Chantal Akerman in Je, tu, il, elle (1976)

Chantal Akerman in Je, tu, il, elle (1976)

Chantal Akerman’s films don’t have conventional plots with a beginning, middle and end. Yet nearly all the obituaries, following her death at the age of 65 this month, described how Akerman was inspired to make her first film at the age of 18 after watching Godard’s Pierrot le Fou, and said that Gus Van Sant cited Akerman as one of his major inspirations. Over and over, we were given her genesis as a filmmaker and the promise of her reincarnation, bookended by two credible male auteurs. More »

Captive Market

There are many reasons why China’s involvement in building nuclear power stations in Britain is wrong, yet those who oppose it, or question it, have struggled to articulate their unease without sounding racist, paranoid or Little-English, or getting bogged down in arcane financial minutiae.

One obstacle to exposing the British government’s error is language. In the case of China and the nukes, politicians, journalists and finance professionals are complicit in misleading usage of the words investment and tax. George Osborne, a master of such lexical abuse, maintains that Britain needs Chinese investment, and that the planned Chinese-French reactors won’t cost the British taxpayer a penny. Both propositions are false. More »

Election Fatigue

Six days after the vote in Guinea’s second democratic election, the Electoral Commission in Conakry announced that Alpha Condé, the incumbent president, had won decisively, with 58 per cent. The runner-up, Cellou Dalein Diallo, trailed with 31 per cent. In 2010, when Condé first came to office, he lost to Diallo in the first round, and only pinched it in the run-off. Diallo, the leader of the opposition UFDG, said the vote was rigged. He has repeated the allegations this time, pulling out of the race the day after ballots were cast and saying he does not recognise the results. More »

The End of the Abbas Era

The stabbings, shootings, protests and clashes now spreading across Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel present one of the greatest challenges yet posed to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his strategy of bilateral negotiations, diplomacy and security co-operation with Israel. The unrest – its proximate cause was increased restrictions on Palestinian access to al-Aqsa Mosque – reflects a sense among Palestinians that their leadership has failed, that national rights must be defended in defiance of their leaders if necessary, and that the Abbas era is coming to an end. More »

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