A straight line can be drawn between celebrations of ‘precision’ air weaponry and airstrikes in civilian areas. The inability of US drone operators and targeters to find and identify individuals accurately has led to a strategy based on volume. Drop a lot of bombs, accept that many civilians will die, and occasionally you will kill someone you meant to.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.