January 2021


25 January 2021

Ways of Deforming Time

Jeremy Bernstein

I recently looked at Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein to see if there was anything about a connection with Proust. Sure enough there was a letter I had never heard of that Proust wrote to a physicist friend in 1921: ‘How I would love to speak to you about Einstein. I do not understand a single word of this theories, not knowing algebra. [Nevertheless] it seems to me we have an analogous ways of deforming Time.’ In understanding Einstein, algebra is the least of it.

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22 January 2021

On the High Street

Arianne Shahvisi

High streets were the landscapes of my teens, and they are now set to vanish. That would be fine if it also spelled the end of consumerism and an opening for something more decent. Instead, like a resistant bug, fast fashion rages on, from sweatshop to warehouse to doorstep, via a growing precariat of exhausted delivery drivers, alienated on all fronts: from the products they deliver, the means of production, their fellow workers and consumers. The ‘alien object that has power over him’, as Marx put it, is packaged in cardboard and scheduled for next-day delivery. 

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21 January 2021

‘Sovereign Britain’

Christopher Bertram

The post-Brexit debate, often involving the performance of allegiance on Facebook or Twitter, does not much resemble the collective deliberation of the ancient agora. Other aspects of the ancient city are making an unwelcome return. The first is a more prescriptive ideal of citizenship, according to which those who fail to measure up to a patriotic standard – ‘Remoaners’ and immigrants – lose their moral claim to membership. The ancient punishments of ostracism and exile are reprised in the enthusiasm of the Home Office for deporting people to countries they’ve never seen. Meanwhile, productive work on farms and in factories is often delegated to rightless foreign metics.

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21 January 2021

In Beirut

Loubna El Amine

Structural conditions – the protections afforded by kin groups, the weakness of state institutions, the state’s being shored up by the international community – make it reasonable to wish for a secular state but to turn to one’s sectarian group for protection, to believe in the law but circumvent it as necessary, to long for change but reject all existing alternatives to the status quo.

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19 January 2021

Tatbi or not tatbi?

Yonatan Mendel

In the last six months of 2020 – the death spiral of the Trump presidency – a series of peace deals and normalisation agreements were signed between Israel and Arab countries: the UAE and Bahrain came first, in September, followed by Sudan and Morocco. Rumours are that Oman will be next. In November, Netanyahu went to Saudi Arabia to meet the crown prince, Muhammad Bin Salman. Apparently, while most countries were counting the minutes till Trump’s term would be over, Israel and a few monarchies and dictatorships in the Arab world were squeezing the most out of his last weeks in office. Each delegation asked Trump, as if he were the Wizard of Oz, for what it most wanted in return for normalising relations: to be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism (Sudan); to have its illegal occupation of other people’s land recognised (Morocco); to buy a few squadrons of F-35s (UAE); to put the Palestinian cause to sleep (Israel); possibly along with other promises we will never hear about.

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15 January 2021

Church and State

Rachel Andrews

The Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, which documented disproportionate incidences of deaths and disease in Irish mother and baby homes between 1922 and 1998, was published this week. The commission was set up in 2015 after the discovery of around eight hundred unmarked burial plots on the site of the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway. It found that around nine thousand children died in the eighteen homes under investigation. The mortality rate, around 15 per cent, was almost twice what it was for ‘illegitimate’ children in wider society. The children died from respiratory infections and gastroenteritis, from diphtheria and typhoid. They died in homes that were overcrowded, where there were large, shared dormitories and nurseries, where privacy was impossible, where cots were crammed together, sometimes only a foot apart.

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14 January 2021

Confusion and Distrust

Francis FitzGibbon

The Covid-19 regulations are draconian, inconsistent, obscure and inconvenient, but they are not unconscionable. They do not require me to do things that the state should never make its citizens do. They are proportionate to the threat that the virus poses to health services, and necessary to slow the spread of the disease and protect those services: or at least, they are arguably so. The law and the reasons for it make sense. The regulations are contained within statutory instruments. They alone are the law. They are the ‘rules’. They can be enforced with criminal sanctions. Guidance and advice are not rules and cannot be legally enforced.

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13 January 2021

Carnival Cancelled

Forrest Hylton

Were it not for the semi-consistent use of masks in the street, and the closing of the beaches on Sundays and Mondays, you could be forgiven for thinking the pandemic hadn’t reached Salvador da Bahia, the capital of the state with the second-lowest Covid-19 death rate in Brazil. The official number of deaths for the whole country surpassed 200,000 on 8 January. Locals and visitors (mainly from elsewhere in Brazil) congregate in groups at outdoor tables without masks, and people walk – some masked, others not – along the oceanfront. A festa continua, mas não.

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12 January 2021

No such thing as a free lunch

Arianne Shahvisi

In my first year of secondary school, a science teacher began a lesson on nutrition by asking us to tell her what we ate for dinner so we could categorise the components of our meals into their correct food groups. She looked aghast as child after child muttered ‘chips and beans’. For some, ‘chips and beans’ was cover for something less wholesome and dependable. The teacher quickly abandoned the exercise and instead reverted to the mythical meal on the ‘food wheel’ poster Blu-tacked to the wall, a testament to our parents’ failings.  

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11 January 2021

Platypuses do it differently

Liam Shaw

Of all the mammals, the naturalist George Shaw (no relation) wrote when he first described it in 1799, the platypus ‘seems the most extraordinary in its conformation’, exhibiting ‘the perfect resemblance of the beak of a duck engrafted on the head of a quadruped’. Last week, the first near-complete platypus genome was published.

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8 January 2021

Meet me behind the mall

Joanna Biggs

At the start of the third lockdown, I wonder: what if lockdowns suit me? And I worry: shouldn’t it be easier now to understand what they do to my thoughts? Every day, I go out to walk under the bare trees and listen to one of the two albums Taylor Swift made last year: folklore, which came out in July, and evermore, which came out in December. (I’m not the only one: evermore is currently the number one album in the US, and number two in the UK.) The songs are a product of lockdown – Swift wrote them in the blank space that opened up when a tour had to be cancelled – but they are also of lockdown in the way they use a trace of the life before, a line like ‘meet me behind the mall,’ to conjure a world.

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7 January 2021

Wannabe Stormtroopers

August Kleinzahler

Trump’s wannabe stormtroopers were all eagerly lined up to do his bidding, with a quiescent Republican Senate and compromised Justice Department under my old high school classmate Bill Barr, terminally stained and diminished by their allegiance to the monster, or so one hopes. They are now, at very long last, beginning to distance themselves from him, after he incited his armed acolytes to break into the Capitol Building in Washington DC on Wednesday afternoon.

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6 January 2021

Prêt-à-Partir

Jeremy Harding

The late Pierre Cardin bought the château in 2001 and the arts school was acquired the following year by the Savannah College of Art and Design. That’s when the process of ruin in Lacoste underwent a curious reversal: the dilapidated castle was rapidly refurbished while the village beneath – population in the low hundreds – became a lifestyle showcase, like Cardin's high-end prêt-à-porter, as he began buying up property. Some of it was empty, but several residents were prêt-à-partir: his offers were too good to refuse.

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5 January 2021

Ni Una Menos

Arianne Shahvisi

In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull endorsing the ‘correcting, imprisoning, punishing and chastising’ of witches, who stood accused – among other crimes – of devising and applying methods of contraception that ‘hinder men from begetting and women from conceiving’, and creating abortifacients which ‘ruin and cause to perish the offspring of women’. The population of Europe still hadn’t recovered from the ravages of the Black Death and other disasters; it was critical that women be punished for these nascent forms of birth control.

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