At the end of the first chapter of Émile Zola’s 1887 novel La Terre, a sower looks on encouragingly as an adolescent girl helps a thrusting bull to mount and ejaculate into the enormous cow she has walked over from a nearby town. The book is full of sex, violence and sexual violence; its first English publisher was prosecuted for obscenity. A few years earlier the Daily Telegraph had denounced Zola’s writing for its ‘unnecessary and offensive grossness’. The BBC’s striking new miniseries, I May Destroy You, written by and starring Michaela Coel, neatly observes Zola’s three principles of naturalism: faire vrai, faire grand and faire simple. The plot follows Coel’s character, Arabella Essiedu, and her friends as she pieces together the events of a night out that ended with someone spiking her drink and raping her.
‘A good jury turns into a little community,’ Baroness Hale has said, ‘working together in the interests of justice.’ As a jury advocate for over thirty years, I have always been impressed, and often humbled, by the care and dedication they give to their work. Academic research supports the experience of criminal lawyers that juries are fair, and do their utmost to bring in the right result. In every case, it isn’t just the defendant on trial: the state itself is on trial, too, in public, before its citizens. Can it prove its case to the high standard the law requires? Has it used its coercive powers wisely and lawfully? Have its operatives in the courtroom – the judge and the lawyers – conducted themselves properly?
Organised working-class activists in Cape Town, as well as less organised community protesters across the country, have continued to demand more police stations, more equipment and more police officers in poor neighbourhoods to combat crime, pointing out what amounts to a racist distribution of policing resources. The broader, less nuanced, conversation in South Africa continually returns to criminal justice metrics: why don’t the police arrest more, why don’t the state defenders prosecute more, why don’t the courts convict more? Other conversations veer towards reigning the police in: less torture, less killing of protesters, less assault of sex workers.
According to figures compiled by researchers at McGill University, the Covid-19 pandemic is predicted to cause an additional 400,000 malaria deaths this year; an additional 700,000 HIV-related deaths in Africa alone; 15 million unintended pregnancies; and up to 1.4 million additional tuberculosis deaths by 2025. The list continues: at least 80 million children under one are at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, rubella and polio, as routine immunisation services have been disrupted in almost 70 countries. There could be an additional 113,000 maternal deaths in the next 12 months because of disruption to care before, during and after childbirth.
‘I fell in love with Neil’s pain,’ Carrie Snodgress said, recalling her life with Neil Young. Apparently, she meant physical pain: Young had back injuries from polio contracted at the age of six or seven, type 1 diabetes and epilepsy. But no matter how chronic, pain does not make for a solid foundation. The marriage ended. Young made an album about it, then shelved it. ‘It was a little too personal,’ he told Cameron Crowe in 1975. ‘It scared me.’
Last month, Romania’s parliament passed a bill banning schools and universities from teaching the idea that ‘biological sex is different from gender.’ The response was quick. A petition asking President Klaus Iohannis not to ratify the bill gathered more than 30,000 signatures in less than 24 hours. Forty universities and eighty civil society organisations across the country denounced the bill as an attempt to limit academic freedom. A students’ union asked the government not to ‘go back to the Middle Ages’. Dozens of people protested in front of the Presidential Palace in Bucharest, with signs saying ‘education prevents gender violence’ and ‘trans rights are human rights’. The bill still lies on Iohannis’s desk.
Plague struck Wittenberg in August 1527, ten years after Luther posted – or didn’t post; historians disagree – the 95 Theses on the door of the castle church, and two years after the Peasants’ War of 1525, when thousands of peasants were slain after they revolted against their lords. Luther had backed the authorities in putting down the revolt with massive bloodshed. Earlier in 1527, Luther had undergone a major physical and emotional collapse, and found himself unable to write or read for some months. Then, just as he was starting to recover, plague broke out in the town.