Last Night of the Proms in Singapore

In 1983, Richard Tan, a research officer at Singapore’s Ministry of Defence, was captivated by the Last Night of the Proms on television. ‘It was quite a joyful time,’ he remembers, ‘the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and all the audience, the young audience, with their flags and banners.’ Three years later, Tan was made deputy director of the newly formed Psychological Defence Division at the Ministry of Communications and Information. Singapore’s political leadership was concerned that the nation’s economic success was breeding an unhealthy ‘Western’ individualism. Tan thought the Last Night of the Proms might offer a model of how to use music to help bring about a greater sense of national belonging. ‘If I want to reach the heart,’ he told himself, ‘I have to follow the British.’ More »

Landmines in the Sahara

Daha Bulahi, sixtyish, is a Sahrawi, born into a nomadic family in the northwestern Sahara. One of his eyes is fake, the eyelid mangled, and he’s missing a couple of fingers. None of this prevents him from brewing tea, which he did throughout our interview in the Sahrawi way, aerating the tea by pouring it from glass to glass and accumulating bubbles on the surface. He worked in landmine clearance for several years, and Yago, a Spanish demining technician who was working with him, told me the story of Daha’s mutilation. Lacking sophisticated equipment, he would dig underneath each mine and pick it up from below with his bare hands, avoiding the pressure-plate triggering mechanism on the top. Then he would throw it over his shoulder, letting it explode, and move onto the next one. This is about as safe as it sounds. He had cleared a vast number of mines successfully, but one day a mine exploded as he threw it, spraying him with shrapnel. Daha’s survival strained the bounds of credulity, but there he was, brewing tea with what was left of his hand. More »

‘Believe’

Alex Salmond has launched a judicial review of the Scottish government’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against him. The first few days after the news broke were marked by a curious reticence on the part of both the commentariat and the political establishment in Scotland. We can speculate as to the causes, although I think both shock that a colossus such as Salmond could be struck down by the #MeToo movement, and a complete lack of surprise about what insiders whispered was ‘an open secret’, played their paradoxical parts. Doubtless there was also a sense of ‘there but for the grace of God’ for some people; and for the other political parties, a fear that #MeToo might open the door on their own skeletons. One party even told some of its councillors to refrain from commenting on the allegations on social media because Salmond was so litigious. More »

‘Sorry, we didn’t know’

In 1979, as he celebrated a Youth Mass at Ballybrit Racecourse, Co. Galway, Pope John Paul II told the young people of Ireland that he loved them. It was a significant moment, and, for a time, it emboldened an authoritarian Irish Catholic Church. It was also the beginning of the end. More »

Travelling to Find Out

One night, I went on a boat trip down the Bosporus with about a dozen models, fashionistas, several transvestites, someone who appeared to be wearing a beekeeper’s outfit as a form of daily wear, the editor of Dazed and Confused Jefferson Hack, and Franca Sozzani, the editor of Italian Vogue. We were in the European capital of culture, but it was like a fabulous night at the London club Kinky Gerlinky transferred to Istanbul and financed by the Turkish Ministry of Culture. At one end of the boat, in his wheelchair, was Gore Vidal. At the other end was V.S. Naipaul. It must have been June 2010 because I remember catching Frank Lampard’s ‘ghost goal’ against Germany on a TV in the hotel lobby just before we dashed out. More »

At the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Hun Sen, whose Cambodian People’s Party took every seat in the national assembly in last month’s elections, is the world’s longest-serving prime minister (since 1985). His recent electoral victory was assured in November 2017, when Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition party after the government filed a lawsuit accusing it of conspiring with foreign powers to stage a revolution. Forty years ago Hun Sen was a Khmer Rouge battalion commander. Fearing a purge, he fled to Vietnam in 1977; he returned in 1979 with Cambodian rebel forces and the Vietnamese Army which overthrew Pol Pot’s regime.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia was set up in 1997 to try ‘the most senior’ surviving Khmer Rouge leaders, or those ‘who were most responsible’ for the atrocities committed under Pol Pot. More »

Let them eat apps

The Trussell Trust runs a network of over 400 food banks. Earlier this month, it reported that a spike in demand for its food parcels last summer was due to ‘holiday hunger’ among children entitled to free school meals. The all-party parliamentary group on hunger warned last year that as many as three million children are at risk of going hungry during the summer holidays. More »

With the Harbour Pilots

‘Ordinarily at this point I’d be looking at her,’ Will Mitchell told me as we approached the Cefas Endeavour, a research ship owned by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Acquaculture Science, a mile offshore the Cornish port of Fowey. ‘I’d be looking at the size of her, how she moves, where we’re going to board her. But I’ve worked this vessel before.’ It was a Wednesday lunchtime in July and the sky was overcast – a rare interruption in a week of fine sunshine – but the sea was almost flat. More »

State Terrorism

On 9 August, a Saudi Arabian air strike on a school bus in Yemen killed 40 children aged betweeen six and eleven, along with eleven adults, wounding a further 79. The 500-pound bomb had been supplied by the US. It might just as easily have come from the UK. Around half the Saudi air force consists of British-built planes, which have played a significant role in the war. More »

Predominantly Male Perpetrators

Jimmy Bennett can’t drive, so a family member dropped him off at Asia Argento’s hotel in May 2013. Legal documents leaked to the New York Times allege that Argento gave him alcohol and sexually assaulted him. Bennett was 17, Argento 37. They had met when Bennett was seven, and cast as Argento’s child in The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, which she also directed. They seem to have had an unnerving habit of referring to one another as mother and son.

Bennett brought a lawsuit against Argento, who denies his claims, More »

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    • heinz suenker on The Mass Psychology of Trumpism: thanks for the idea to bring adorno in - showing his contemporary relevance. I think what has to be added is his idea about the 'volksgemeinschaft' - ...

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