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You win or you die

John Lanchester

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen

According to the Foreign Services Institute, the US government body that trains diplomats and soldiers in foreign languages, it takes between 575 and 600 hours to learn Spanish from scratch. Not to be fluent, but to attain level three, ‘general professional proficiency in reading and speaking’. I’ve been wanting to learn Spanish for a while now, so I sometimes think about that number when I’m watching TV, while simultaneously trying not to remember Robert Robinson’s maxim that anybody watching television has taken a ‘conscious decision to waste time’. For instance, I rewatched the first seven series of Game of Thrones, prior to the start of season eight on 15 April. Two complete viewings of Thrones is 146 hours. If I had skipped that, and also The Sopranos (86 hours), Breaking Bad (62 hours), The Wire (60 hours), Battlestar Galactica (84 hours) and Gilmore Girls (153 hours), I would now hablar español.

17 May 2019

Power Plays

Benjamin Markovits

The first mistake I made when I joined the basketball team in Germany was admitting I spoke the language. It would have been weird not to – it would have been very weird. But sometimes over the course of the year, I imagined what it would be like for people around me (coaches, players) to talk naturally with each other in the expectation that I couldn’t understand them. It would have given me an edge.

16 May 2019

Drawn from Life

Gillian Darley

One of Margaret Gillies’s illustrations for the 1842 Report of the Children’s Employment Commission

The Report of the Children’s Employment Commission, published in 1842, was compiled by Dickens’s friend Richard Henry Horne. The result of a three-year investigation, it was unprecedented, not merely for the level of shocking detail and first-hand evidence, but because it was illustrated. And most of the 26 images were by Gillies.

15 May 2019

Safe, Solid and Unquestionable

James Butler

Saturday’s Times carried on its front page a protracted complaint by the headmaster of Stowe School that Oxbridge was actively discriminating against the beneficiaries of private education, and that any complaint about the staggering overrepresentation of the privately educated in every avenue of British life was born of the same reasoning as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was a particularly inept rendition of a favoured right-wing talking point: that any analysis which talks in terms of groups or classes is already merrily chugging along to the gulag, with precious individuality flattened under its wheels.

13 May 2019

The Measles Scandal

Hugh Pennington

Graphical representation of a measles virus particle, from the CDC Public Health Image Library

In 2004 I described the basis of attacks on the MMR vaccine as ‘unsubstantiated speculation masquerading as science’, and finished the piece: ‘I despair.’ Measles is now busier in Europe than it was fifteen years ago.

10 May 2019

Incredible Untrue Events

Jeremy Bernstein

Melita Norwood (far left) with her mother, sister and half-brother in the 1920s

Trevor Nunn’s movie Red Joan, starring Sophie Cookson and Judi Dench, claims to be ‘based on incredible true events’, namely the life of Melita Norwood. But the story told by the film is so far from the truth it’s nonsense.

9 May 2019

Istanbul returns to the polls

Julian Sayarer

On 31 March, Ekrem İmamoğlu of the opposition Turkish Republican Party (CHP) was elected mayor of Istanbul at the head of a National Alliance coalition. He was sworn in on 17 April, but removed from office this week when the Supreme Electoral Council announced that the vote will be re-run on 23 June.

İmamoğlu and the CHP will not have been unprepared for the decision. In a city of more than fifteen million people, he defeated the AKP candidate, Binali Yıldırım, by 23,000 votes at first tally. The government ordered a recount. To protect against tampering, polling station officials – supporters not of İmamoğlu so much as of Turkish democracy – slept next to the sacks of ballots waiting to be recounted. İmamoğlu’s majority was reduced to less than 14,000. But he had still won

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