Not enough insects?

Eriozona syrphoides. Photo © Frank Vassen

A recent review by scientists in Australia of 73 historical studies of insect decline concluded that insect biodiversity is threatened worldwide, and 40 per cent of insect species are threatened with extinction over the next few decades. But there is a puzzle. The classes that are declining fastest are butterflies, bees and dung beetles. No one is going out of their way to eliminate them. Other insects that we attack deliberately and for which extinction would be a cause for celebration are doing well. More »

At the Théâtre de la Ville

Every generation gets the scam artists it deserves. To a list that includes Elizabeth Holmes, Dan Mallory and Billy McFarland – whose spectacularly doomed attempt to stage Fyre, a music festival in the Bahamas, is once again a byword for debacle, thanks to the simultaneous release of documentaries on Hulu and Netflix – should we now add the name Ilya Khrzhanovsky, the Russian film director responsible for Dau, which finally opened in Paris at the end of January, and closes this weekend? More »

The Thin Blue Line

Greater Manchester Police take social media seriously. Their head of corporate communications said recently that PR can be a cheaper and more effective way of deterring crime than traditional policing: ‘PR is far from being “fluffy” promotional activity and is about supporting frontline policing.’ I’ve been following the Twitter account for police in central Manchester since 2015. More »

The Little Island that Could

Brexit – silly, sappy, snappy word – is not a fact, not an event. It’s a condition. It’s the new weather. Brexitosis is what it is. One would rather just groan, or scream, or swear, or feel seasick about the whole thing. All we know is there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s in the future, and it’s in the past, it’s both something that happened yonks ago (maybe hard feelings left over from 1066, or the Field of the Cloth of Gold, or Malplaquet), and something that is promised still to happen. Hence our peculiar helplessness and strickenness. You can’t fix it in the past, and you can’t fix it in the future. It’s like coming round after an operation – when they took out the wrong organ, and then went and left some of their ironmongery in you, for good measure – and swearing, not like a trooper (I don’t think troopers even swear), but like a patient.

None of the major players is having a good Brexit. (As indeed there is no good Brexit. The underwhelming Corbyn now scores worse than May, which takes some doing. Or in his case, no doing.) Only the experts and the commentators. We live for the cartoons, because we’re living in a cartoon. Everything is one toilet, one stinking corpse, one unending Zeno-esque funeral pageant for one undead ghoul in leopardskin fuck-me pumps on the cliffs of Dover. If the country had any sense, it would put itself under the command of Colonel Steve Bell. More »

Fracking Failures

Seven years ago, earthquakes in Blackpool led the coalition government to place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in UK rock formations. Drilling resumed late last year. Opposition has always been resolute and well organised, especially in Lancashire and Yorkshire. In a court hearing last autumn, the fracking company Cuadrilla announced that each day of delay at its Preston New Road operation saw it incur losses of £94,000. The figure was meant to cajole the courts, but may have had the unintended consequence of motivating protesters. By barricading roads, climbing aboard delivery trucks and taking legal action, campaigners have harried Cuadrilla and other firms every step of the way, shutting down fracking sites for days at a time. More »

In Rochdale

Whiteness is the colour of mourning for many Indians and Indonesians and in other cultures besides; ash at the end of a cycle of destruction can also turn white; the pallor of celery or asparagus in France is caused by growing it buried in darkness. The full spectrum of visible light glows white – white also conveys purity, radiance and lightness in both senses, luminous and weightless. The dancers in the corps de ballet of a Romantic ballet usually wear white, powder-puff tutus or shimmering longer layers of ethereal white tulle (and let’s not speak of wedding dresses). One of the most intense chapters of Moby-Dick hymns ‘the whiteness of the whale’, the creature’s spectral sublime.

Working with porcelain, the artist Rachel Kneebone makes whiteness reverberate to the depths. More »

No rights, only duties

On 20 January, during the anti-abortion ‘March for Life’ in Paris, Thomas Salgado and other activists from Act Up arrived at a Metro station in the 16th arrondissement to take part in a counter-demonstration. Within seconds, they had been surrounded by CRS officers, who ordered them against the wall for an ID check. Salgado asked why they were being searched. To prevent a threat to public order, he was told. ‘No rights for you; only duties.’ More »

In Zimbabwe

The latest government crackdown in Zimbabwe is not wholly surprising, but it is still shocking in its brutality. The people who took to the streets two weeks ago to protest against fuel prices and the rising cost of basic commodities have been beaten, arrested and raped. The state has also attacked anyone suspected of having the potential to protest, i.e. those living on the breadline, the only people desperate enough to risk it. The protests were sparked by the overnight doubling of fuel prices, but the anger and frustration have been building for months. When I visited Zimbabwe in December – I left on 11 January, just before the recent violence – people’s budgets were stretched to breaking point. There were twelve-hour queues at petrol stations. Friends asked me to bring them cooking oil for Christmas. More »

Perfection is not an aim

Lorenza Mazzetti now runs a puppet theatre for children in Rome. But in London in the 1950s, when she was in her early twenties, she begged, borrowed and stole camera equipment to film K, an adaption of Metamorphosis, in a storage space in Notting Hill and a fabric shop in Soho with no script and a non-professional cast who had never heard of Kafka.

Her next project, Together, the first publicly funded British fiction film directed by a woman, portrays the friendship between two dockworkers. Both characters are deaf; there’s no dialogue. Filmed in the streets, wharfs, pubs and fairgrounds of the bombed-out East End in 1956, Together woke British audiences up to a different kind of cinema. More »

New Sounds

In an interview with a French journalist, Joseph Jarman compared the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the avant-garde jazz quintet to which he belonged, to ‘a cake made from five ingredients: remove one of the ingredients and the cake no longer exists.’ Jarman, who died earlier this month, at 81, after a long illness, was the ingredient that made the band one of the most aesthetically adventurous groups of its era: he put the ‘art’ in Art Ensemble. More »

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    • Simon Wood on The Little Island that Could: Four powerful paras, Stu. I hadn't seen the Kundera letter and I have to say I giggled at the signatories - this was truly la crème de la crème. But...
    • Stu Bry on The Little Island that Could: The idea that Brexit is a parochial folly is very naive. It is part of the same discontent that drove Scottish independence close to a majority, that ...
    • Joe Morison on The Little Island that Could: It’s certainly looking more likely, but it’s not over till it’s over. Corbyn appears to be going to May’s aid; but, perhaps, as Steve Bell su...
    • mauisurfer on The Little Island that Could: Here is what Putin actually said about Brexit when he was asked at his annual news conference: quote let them decide this for themselves, this is no...
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