January 2022


17 January 2022

Beautiful Handwriting

Arianne Shahvisi

Those who wish to defend statues of dead white men on free speech grounds invariably undermine their case by failing to support that right for living people, especially those with marginal identities who say things they don’t like. Free speech isn’t just about who can speak, or whose statue stands or falls; it’s about who chooses not to speak because the consequences aren’t worth it, and who disappears from history without being heard at all.

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14 January 2022

Perfect Storm

Forrest Hylton

The holiday season hit Brazil like a tsunami: on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, after five years of record drought, two dams burst, as record rains and flooding put at least 116 communities underwater, killed 21 people, displaced at least 50,000, affected more than 417,000, and destroyed infrastructure (and vaccines) throughout southern Bahia; a flu epidemic broke out nationwide at the moment that Omicron arrived. The unseasonal rains led to an increase in mosquitos: though Zika and dengue fever numbers are still down, Chikungunya is way up.

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13 January 2022

Home Furnishings and Body Armour

Amir-Hussein Radjy

At the end of November, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi opened the second Egypt Defence Expo. The former field marshal delivered a perfunctory welcome, but the importance of the event was clear. Egypt is the world’s third largest arms importer (after Saudi Arabia and India). Shopping around the international arms bazaar is one way it manages its relations with its patron states.

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12 January 2022

The Colston Four

John Foot

The Colston Four admitted fully to their role in toppling the statue but pleaded not guilty to criminal damage. Their case went to a jury trial at Bristol Crown Court. The prosecution argued that the four were common criminals who had damaged property. Colston, they said, was ‘irrelevant’ to the trial. The defence, however, turned the case into a ten-day history lesson, calling the historian David Olusoga as a witness. The jury heard in detail about the horrors of slavery – the rapes, the murders, the branding, the trafficking of children – and about the statue itself: even when it was put up, nobody really wanted it. The defence argued that the statue was a ‘hate crime’. They also pointed out that the total cost of the damage caused by toppling it and dragging it along the pavement was only £3750.

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11 January 2022

Double Fault

Arianne Shahvisi

Ever the opportunist, Nigel Farage has become Novak Djokovic’s most vocal advocate. On the face of it, this is a little peculiar. Farage is not only a professed devotee of Australia’s immigration policy, in particular ‘its points-based system’, but has built his political identity out of racialising and vilifying Eastern Europeans. Ahead of Farage’s meeting with the Djokovic family in Serbia (who either did no research on Novak’s ‘friend’ or liked what they found), Andy Murray tweeted: ‘Please record the awkward moment when you tell them you’ve spent most of your career campaigning to have people from Eastern Europe deported.’ But Farage’s worldview is one of hierarchies and exemptions. He cites the ‘rule of law’ when it comes to borders, but flouted the Covid lockdown in May 2020 – as it happens, on the same day as the Downing Street garden party – to strike out into the English Channel on a fishing boat and film dinghies of asylum seekers.

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10 January 2022

Memories of Didion

Inigo Thomas

I first met Joan Didion in the summer of 1993, soon after I moved to New York, at the launch party for Christopher Hitchens’s book For the Sake of Argument. I was mesmerised by the hand with which she held her glass – her long, thin fingers. Those hands are on show in the recent Netflix documentary about Didion made by her nephew, Griffin Dunne: she waves her arms and hands in front of the camera as if casting a spell. I’d recently been to Miami and had read her book about the city. As she saw it, Miami was ‘long on rumour, short on memory, overbuilt on the chimera of runaway money and referring not to New York or Boston or Los Angeles or Atlanta but to Caracas and Mexico, to Havana and to Bogotá and to Paris and Madrid’. Much of Miami is about the Cuban exile scene, where a love of guns, violence and conspiracy prefigures the paramilitary supporters of Donald Trump. ‘As in other parts of the world where citizens shop for guerrilla discounts and bargains in automatic weapons, there was in Miami an advanced interest in personal security.’ A single word, ‘advanced’, turns a flat sentence into something else.

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7 January 2022

Conversations with Schrader

Alex Abramovich

For years, Paul Schrader was revered for writing Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, for his other collaborations with Martin Scorsese, and for films he’d directed himself: Affliction, American Gigolo, Light Sleeper and Mishima, among others. Then, he hit a lull. Dying of the Light, a spy movie with Nicholas Cage, was taken away from Schrader and butchered in post-production. ‘These people tried to kill me,’ he said, a few years ago. ‘I fell into alcoholism, depression. I thought that was it.’ Approaching seventy, Schrader might have retired. Instead, he made his own cut of Dying of the Light from workprint DVDs. Then, as if to clear the air, he made another movie with Cage: Dog Eat Dog. Manic, violent and slightly unhinged, it looked much more like a Paul Schrader film, though the script was written by somebody else. He followed it, almost immediately, with First Reformed, casting Ethan Hawke as a pastor coming to grips with climate change and the end of the world as we know it.

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5 January 2022

Such a Positive Dream

Deborah Friedell

On Monday, twelve jurors in San Jose agreed, unanimously, that Elizabeth Holmes was guilty on four counts, including ‘conspiracy to commit wire fraud’ against investors in her company, Theranos. On the charges that she defrauded patients, she was found not guilty. On other charges, regarding particular investors, jurors were unable to reach a verdict. It was a win for the prosecution – Holmes will go to prison – though the mixed bill suggested it had been a near thing. One of the jurors (an actor with a Daytime Emmy for writing the Tiny Toon Adventures theme song) gave an interview to ABC News, reported more fully on The Dropout podcast. When it began deliberating, the jury was divided on ‘most everything’, he said. ‘It’s tough to convict somebody, especially somebody so likeable, with such a positive dream.’

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4 January 2022

‘With Literally Nothing’

Sadakat Kadri

Priti Patel isn’t the first politician to overstate her experiences of adversity, and her opinions, at least, are consistent. She’s been an ardent nationalist since working as a press officer for James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party in the mid 1990s, and politicised patriotism runs in the family: her father contested a council seat for Ukip in 2013. The dodgy backstory matters, however, because it illustrates how hard it is to differentiate between worthy and unworthy refugees. Just as Patel’s parents escaped Uganda to improve their lives, most migrants are compelled to leave their homelands for mixed reasons: hopes as well as fears, ambition as well as anxiety.

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