October 2021


22 October 2021

Red Light, Green Light

Jane Elliott

Most survival game stories keep the cash offstage, trading instead in lives, weapons and vital resources. In Squid Game, the conversion of lives into cash is literally writ large, on a giant scoreboard that keeps count of the diminishing number of players and accumulating prize money. An allegorical reading about class or capital seems redundant when the role of individual debt, financial speculation and violent inequality is as transparent as the giant glass piggy bank that hangs over the players’ dormitory. Which leaves us free to ask slightly different questions about the survival game as a prominent feature of contemporary culture: not what it is about, but what is it for?

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20 October 2021

At the Museum of Austerity

Daniel Trilling

Museum of Austerity is an immersive exhibition ‘that preserves memories of public and private events from the austerity era’. You could visit Room 1 at this year’s London Film Festival. It told the stories of disabled benefit claimants who died in the UK between 2010 and 2020. On my way in I was given an augmented reality headset and told to raise my hand if at any point I felt uncomfortable.

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19 October 2021

Fertility Lessons

Helen Charman

On 10 October, the Sunday Times ran a story about Murray Edwards College, one of the two remaining women-only colleges at Cambridge University, offering ‘fertility seminars’ for its students. The college’s new president, Dorothy Byrne, was quoted as saying that fertility was a ‘forbidden subject’, and implying that the classes would be a kind of aide-mémoire: young women, she said, might ‘forget to have a baby’. The piece was widely shared, and the backlash was swift.

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15 October 2021

Urdecks

Thomas Jones

The bespoke recording apparatus that Milman Parry took to Yugoslavia in the summer of 1935 – manufactured by Sound Specialties Inc of Waterbury, Connecticut, it had two turntables and a toggle for switching instantaneously between them – got me wondering about the history of such devices. Parry used his equipment for recording rather than playback, but it’s the same principle that later allowed generations of DJs to keep a dancefloor grooving indefinitely.

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15 October 2021

Dawn Foster’s Books

The Editors

Dawn Foster’s books will go on sale at Housmans Bookshop in King's Cross from 11 o'clock tomorrow morning (Saturday 16 October). All the books are stamped ‘Dawn Foster Forever – From the library of Dawn Foster 1986-2021’, and are priced £1, £3 or £5.

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13 October 2021

They’re playing our song

Jeremy Bernstein

I may be the only living soul who witnessed both the first and last public performances of Tom Lehrer. In my junior year at Harvard, 1949, one of my roommates was taking an introductory course in calculus. It was a large course and graduate students were engaged to grade homework assignments. The customary thing to do when performing this tedious job was simply to annotate with crosses and question marks. But on my roommate’s papers there were amusing remarks and even the odd funny drawing. I asked who the grader was and was told that his name was Tom Lehrer.

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12 October 2021

Free Speech and Double Standards

Rebecca Ruth Gould

On 1 October, David Miller was fired by the University of Bristol for his controversial statements about Israel. The reason for terminating his employment, the university said, was that ‘Professor Miller did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff.’ The behaviour in question consisted of words: contentious words with which many would disagree, but words nonetheless, words not directed against any specific individual and not conforming to any conventional definition of harassment, though respected colleagues have argued otherwise.

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8 October 2021

Out of the Silo

Sadakat Kadri

The nuclear weapons launch site in San Cristobal that sparked the Cuban Missile Crisis was modelled on one at Plokštinė in Lithuania, which opened on New Year’s Eve 1961. The disused installation is no longer top secret – it’s now a museum – but it is still out of the way. Overlooked by dense pine forests, the silos yawn with ominous promise, like thermonuclear wishing wells. Each of the SS-4 rockets that might once have roared out of them had more than half the firepower used throughout the Second World War, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A single warhead could have flattened London within ten minutes of take-off.

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7 October 2021

Over Sutton Hoo

Gillian Darley

The archaeological site of Sutton Hoo in coastal east Suffolk has ‘seen an overwhelming increase in interest’ since the release of the movie The Dig. The National Trust, the site’s guardian, has seized the opportunity to build a new viewing tower, a gossamer structure of latticed galvanised metal and slatted dark-stained timber which stands at the furthest end of the site. The aerial perspective you gain from the platform 17 metres up, together with an elegant explanatory plan etched into metal, transforms the scene from a bumpy stretch of heath into the royal burial ground of an Anglo-Saxon monarch and his immense retinue, a place of unmistakable, if masked, resonance.  

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5 October 2021

QAplomb

Ben Campbell

The Q’s dangling tail is not a recent problem, but dates to the first page of the first substantial book printed using moveable type in Europe.

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4 October 2021

Reading Sentences

Angelique Richardson

On 31 August at Leicester Crown Court, Judge Timothy Spencer handed down a two-year suspended sentence to Ben John, a 21-year-old student, for possessing information likely to be useful to a terrorist. He had downloaded bomb-making instructions along with 67,788 documents containing white supremacist and antisemitic material. Judge Spencer ordered John to read Dickens, Austen and Shakespeare, and also to think about Hardy and Trollope, returning to court every four months to be tested on his reading. For one commenter on the Mail Online, it was ‘worse than a prison sentence!’

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1 October 2021

Learn Everything from Stone

Percy Zvomuya

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, who died on 29 August at the age of 85, was born in Kendal, Hanover Parish, in the west of Jamaica. He worked first in the cane fields and then as a tractor driver on a road construction project in Negril. It was from the noise of rocks being broken up that he got his first ideas about music: ‘I learn everything from stone,’ he later said.

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