I’ve been teaching World War I this week, so this piece by London-based comprehensive teacher John Blake is especially apropos.
Addressing the first misconception is what started me thinking about all this to begin with. I realised recently that I was teaching the causes of the First World War in almost exactly the same way as they were taught to me 15 years ago, and using almost exactly the same resources and textbooks.
The lack of references in exam syllabuses to assessing historians’ interpretations has tended to mean that this area has gone unchanged, with little engagement with new historiography as it emerges. This is despite significant shifts in the view of academics, most recently represented by Christopher Clark’s magisterial The Sleepwalkers: how Europe went to war in 1914.
In theory, college professors are doing what Blake’s calling for: adjusting our lectures and courses in relationship to the latest scholarship. But in practice, I suspect that such adjustments are applied unevenly. As a scholar of the British Empire, comparative slavery/abolition/emancipation, and postemancipation Jamaica, I’m “up-to-date” on the literature relating to aspects of my research, and much less so on various aspects of the broad surveys I teach.
Blake on tensions between history and popular memory:
The First World War was an infinitely more complex historical phenomenon than British popular memory makes it. Instead of being approached with caution and examined - and learned from - as a multilayered event, it has become almost a “fixed point” in the historical calendar, a vision of war not as it was but as we think it should be taught.
This is neither desirable nor wise: it cheapens the contributions of those who served in full knowledge of what their service meant; it makes generals who may have been slow to learn but were ultimately highly effective into callous villains; and it substitutes an easy, allegedly historical lesson for a much harder set of truths.
“But what hope is there for football to address race in a nuanced and coherent manner, when the main talking point to come forth last week was the trustworthiness of the player who leaked the story? Even if the morale of the England team was damaged, how does that take precedence over racial inequality? While it’s not the sole responsibility of English football to combat racism, you can’t stand by a narrative which states that racism is no longer an issue on these shores, if you’re not prepared to do the work required.”—An issue that isn’t going to die and that will be covered in much more detail in this space.
“And then, no history of the sea can be written without precise knowledge of the vast resources of its archives. Here the task would appear to be beyond the powers of an individual historian. There is not one sixteenth-century Mediterranean state that does not possess its charter-room, usually well furnished with those documents that have escaped the fires, sieges, and disasters of every kind known to the Mediterranean world. To prospect and catalogue this unsuspected store, these mines of the purest historical gold, would take not one lifetime but at least twenty or the simultaneous dedication of twenty researchers. Perhaps the day will come when we shall no longer be working on the great sites of history with the methods of small craftsmen. Perhaps on that day it will become possible to write general history from original documents and not from more or less secondary works. Need I confess that I have not been able to examine all the documents available to me in the archives, no matter how hard I tried. This book is the result of a necessarily incomplete study. I know in advance that its conclusions will be examined, discussed, and replaced by others and I am glad of it. That is how history progresses and must progress.”—
From Fernand Braudel, “Preface to the First Edition,” The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, 18.
What an elegant description of the challenges of ambitious historical scholarship!
On “the methods of small craftsmen,” would digital history be a step towards the more appropriate methods Braudel’s hoping for?
“Research takes time. As in: months and often years. Seriously. (*2)
First I have to figure out what sources are available, and which of those sources will be useful. That alone can take several months. I also must sift and sort as I work my way through this phase of the project. Do I want to read newspapers first? Should I look at government documents first? Diaries? Letters?
Then I have to find those sources. They aren’t piled in a neat stack somewhere, waiting for me to leaf through them. If I’m lucky, I’ll find much of it in the university library in the town where I live. If what I need isn’t there, often the library is able to borrow it for me.
But much of the material that historians rely on is stored in special collections: at historical societies, for example, or at specialized libraries, or in the “special collections” departments of research libraries. And must of that stuff can’t be borrowed. Think, for example, original copies of letters or diaries that have not been reproduced in any form. If I want to read them, I have to go to the place where they’re stored. For the beer book, I visited a dozen or so different kinds of repositories located in Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis.
A great deal of the material I use is only be available on microfilm or microfiche. I’ve spent the equivalent of several years of my life sitting at microfilm readers loading reels of film, slowly scanning the film, re-winding the reels, etc. (*3)
These days, and hallelujah!, many (although certainly not all) primary sources have been digitized, and even when sources themselves aren’t, indexes that can help me sort through documents are digital. (*4)
That’s been an extraordinary time saver. Even ten years ago, if I wanted to read up on a topic in, say, American Farmer, a serial published in the 19th century, I had to go read the table of contents from each issue of the magazine. Now? I can search by keyword. (Although I’m not sure if American Farmer has been digitized. But you get the drift.) A timesaver? Ohdeargodinheavenyes.
The downside to digitization, however, is that it’s upped the historian’s ante: Now that so. much. stuff. is available in a way that it was not a decade ago, I fear, as do all historians, that I’ll miss something important. I try to balance that fear with this thought: Even if I miss a source or a fact, I won’t miss the main point or the general thrust. (Still, I’m sure I’m not the only historian who sometimes wakes up in the dark hours thinking “Oh, fuck. What if I’ve missed something!?!?”)
In between reading all those primary documents, whose number is infinite, I’m also reading secondary stuff: Who’s written what that will fill in the gaps in my knowledge and can provide material for background? (See my Hemingway example above.) What have other scholars and experts said about this topic? Does my view jibe with theirs? Am I about to become an intellectual outlier and thus the subject of ridicule? (God forbid.)”—And this is only the gathering phase of the process. For the thinking and writing, read the rest of Maureen Ogle’s great explanation of what historians do. For the historians who are professors, add to all of that teaching and committee work.
Outside a Rugby World Cup final they come no bigger. Rarer still are the days when players leave a dressing room knowing their careers and even lives could be transformed by the time they return. If that sounds a touch fanciful it is precisely what senior members of this British & Irish Lions squad have been telling their younger colleagues. Those fortunate enough to win a Lions series feel a glow which lasts a lifetime.
More than that, they will enjoy a rush of relief, satisfaction and gratitude which transcends the confines of mere sport. If this tour has proved anything already it is that Lions adventures remain gloriously different to anything else. Can you believe the reshuffled, all-important half-back pairing of Jonny Sexton and Ben Youngs will line up having previously spent just 52 competitive minutes together?
Never mind. From deep within comes the faith that anything is still possible. Bottle that spirit and you have the Lion brew, that most potent of amber nectars. Also detectable at the Lions’ final training session amid the eucalyptus trees and suburban calm of Scotch College in Hawthorn was an air of focused confidence and a distinct edge. Every single member of the tour party knows what is coming. An Australian team in a sudden-death situation will always front up physically and history’s lessons also suggest the most brutal of contests. Remember the 2009 second Test against South Africa in Pretoria when Adam Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll ended up in the same hospital corridor? The difference this time is that the Lions are 1-0 ahead and firmly braced for whatever heads their way.
A research question for future projects: what is the rhyme and reason behind why and when the home nations play as a Great Britain team (and why team GB instead of team UK, given that Northern Ireland is part of these teams) and when they splinter off into independent teams?
The protracted dispute between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands appeared to harden further on Thursday, as the British side dismissed any thought of inviting the new Argentine pope to help mediate, and the Argentines rejected a March referendum that showed the islanders want to remain British.
Both sides made their positions known after an annual meeting of the United Nations Decolonization Committee, which called on Britain and Argentina to negotiate. Britain has said any negotiations must include a representative from the Falklands, a condition rejected by Argentina, which calls the islands, in the South Atlantic, Las Malvinas.
This past semester, I gave an exam in my European imperialism class a few days after Margaret Thatcher died. On this exam, I included a several-part extra credit question about the Falklands. During Fall 2011, when I taught Modern Britain, we watched Nick Broomfield’s slightly odd documentary Tracking Down Maggie. Among other revelations, Broomfield showed how seriously Thatcher took the Falklands conflict, even though looking back now, the whole conflict looks silly and unimportant for those not impacted. It looks especially so to US undergraduates whose childhood and teenage years were all post-9/11. Nevertheless, these last gasps of empire—and the degree to which former empires still cling to their meager smattering of holdings—say a lot about the self-image of these imperial nations.
“For a period of months last fall and winter, when I was twenty-nine, my life turned into an implausible movie about being a writer. In January my first novel, Prep—the story of an Indiana girl who goes on scholarship to an elite New England boarding school—was published by Random House. Over the next several weeks Prep became a New York Times best seller, Paramount Pictures optioned the movie rights, and foreign rights were sold in thirteen countries. On one especially surreal day I found myself on the fourteenth floor of the Random House offices in midtown Manhattan, drinking champagne. It was three-thirty in the afternoon.
Maybe the way to say it is not that my life became a movie but that I became a person I would probably have found odious not long before—less because of the book’s content (in such scenarios the book is always peripheral) than because of the supremely cute pink-and-green grosgrain-ribbon belt (embossed, no less) on the book’s jacket, because of the blurbs (so thoughtful and eloquent! so varied and plentiful!), because of the many articles about me in which I made little jokes and told little anecdotes and just generally talked about myself ad nauseam.
Still, I was excited by the thought of no longer having to use air quotes when referring to myself as a “writer” working on a “novel.” But then I learned that Prep wouldn’t be published until January of 2005, which made me both impatient and nervous. I suspect that every writer has had the experience of looking back on work that once seemed perfectly acceptable and feeling appalled. What if, in the intervening eighteen months, I turned against Prep? I wanted it published before I grew enough as a writer to realize how bad it was!”—Curtis Sittenfeld on the months before her debut novel Prep was published.
“Looking across the seas at political scandals surrounding the likes of Silvio Berlusconi and Jacques Chirac, at match-fixing in Pakistani cricket and Italian football, or claims of tax avoidance on a nationwide scale in Greece, it was said jingoistically for many years that humble Britain could never compete with the explosive corruption scandals that ‘Johnny Foreigner’ seemed to specialise in.
Yet recent British scandals can compete with the best Europe can offer. Besides MPs fiddling their expenses and Jimmy Savile’s history of paedophilia, racing has been hit by Frankie Dettori’s six-month drugs ban, we’ve seen London-based banks Barclays and UBS embarrassed by the Libor rate-fixing scandal, and BAE Systems has been investigated over its arms deals.
The police have become embroiled, too, with Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn jailed for offering to sell information to the now defunct News of the World and evidence of a cover-up on the Hillsborough disaster. And while none of our Prime Ministers have yet had to stand before a court, MPs including Jonathan Aitken and Margaret Moran have been convicted and Neil Hamilton famously lost his libel claim against Mohamed al Fayed over the cash-for-questions affair.
With this weighty list and other cases to examine, it will be claimed…[at a conference called ‘How Corrupt is Britain?’] that corruption has in fact become an everyday part of British national life.”—Corruption and British exceptionalism.
For some observers, the Confederations Cup may have a hokey, inauthentic feel — hey, let’s jam a competition into an otherwise quiet summer, fill it with authorized vendor zones, official beer, Sepp Blatter and generally low-stakes soccer — but to view it so cynically means to ignore its charm. It’s short; it’s somewhat inclusive of small, easy-to-love minnows (c’mon, Tahiti!), it’s relaxed and it’s a good chance to see a handful of bigger teams measure themselves on the road to the World Cup.
Started in 1992 as the King Fahd Cup (the first two tournaments were run by the Saudi Arabian FA as a good way to get some top-class opponents to face the national team) and taken over by FIFA since 1997, it has provided some memorable moments, particularly if you’re a U.S. fan.
To put it simply, the tournament may lack some star power but it’s never short of intrigue. With that in mind, let’s predict how the groups might play out.
For almost two years now, I’ve been trying to get my head around soccer. I’m making some progress. I can get invested in international tournaments, and I’m making slow progress watching club-level soccer (not yet having picked a Premier League team is the major obstacle).
[Sidebar: if MLS wants a bigger audience, it’s going to need to have more games on non-subscription channels. I have an extended sports package and still can barely watch one MLS game a week. I could watch more games of Major League Lacrosse than MLS. That’s a problem.]
I’m still struggling to figure out the plan behind what still looks like running and kicking a ball to me. I understand when a goal kick is given versus a corner kick. I understand most of the referee’s hand signals. But I can’t tell the difference between a clean tackle and a foul-inducing one. I know off-ball movement is important, but I can’t really tell why certain people move to certain places. In other words, the strategy behind the running and kicking remains very obtuse to me. But at one point, so did the ball hitting in tennis and the vagaries of the new figure skating judging system; I’ll figure it out eventually.
But I’ve never been able to get my head around the myriad ancillary tournaments. Why does the FA Cup exist alongside the basic Premier League competition? Am I supposed to pay attention to the Europa League? Today another one of these seeming sideshows starts: the Confederations Cup. Here’s how ESPN columnist Roger Bennett describes it:
The Confederations Cup (June 15-30) is the ritual eight-team dry run designed to give the World Cup hosts the chance to iron out any kinks in their stadia and transport systems a year before the big show begins.
Yeah, that makes me real excited. That’s why we watch sports, to identify infrastructure deficiencies. Only after this logistics reminder does Bennett tell us about the event itself.
The tournament pitches the hosts, reigning World Cup holders and six confederation champions (with Italy qualifying as Euro runners-up to World Cup holders Spain) into battle.
I’m not really criticizing Bennett’s journalistic priorities. But it’s hard to see why we should be watching a tournament created to test Brazil’s highway system. More from Bennett:
This is a competition best understood as the opportunity to see a movie’s prequel a year before the blockbuster on which it is based is even released. The 15 days promise to be stuffed full of foreshadowing and subtle backstory-ing.
Though transport and telecommunications networks may still remain unreliable, in-stadia, early ticket sales indicate this should be the most popular Confederations Cup of all time. The passion of Brazilian soccer fans packed into refurbished stadia including Rio’s legendary Maracana should be contagious.
That sounds better. But still: what is the point of all of this? I’ll be watching, but is this a prize that matters? Does it matter to the players themselves? Because if not, why should we care?
On another note, Tahiti, a team made up of teachers and office workers, is the representative of the Oceania Confederation. How cool is that? One week you’re teaching high school science, the next you’re playing Spain in an international tournament.
Oceania Confederation representatives, tiny Tahiti, will hope to provide the tournament’s Bad News Bears moments. Ranked 138th in the world, the Warriors of Steel have only one full-time professional on their squad and will send out a team consisting of salesmen, office workers and school teachers to face Africa Cup of Nations champions Nigeria, World Cup and Euro winners Spain and Copa America holders Uruguay.
Coach Eddy Etaeta harbors no illusions about the magnitude of the task that awaits his team, telling me, “Our wildest dream as a team is to score a goal.
“FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, approved a package of reforms meant to address the racism and abuse that permeates international soccer and returned to focus when Kevin Prince Boateng, a Ghanaian midfielder for Italian club AC Milan, walked off the pitch after fans showered him with racial taunts in a friendly match this year. Fans have also targeted Boateng’s teammate, Milan striker Mario Balotelli, and it seems not a month goes by without news of another racial incident at a soccer match somewhere in the world.
FIFA’s efforts face significant challenges, though, and one of them may be that the most common racism isn’t at matches in top-tier leagues like Italy’s Serie A, where Milan plays, or in major international matches.
The question facing FIFA and its continental and domestic federations is whether it can or will apply the same scrutiny to soccer’s lower leagues, which exist as an afterthought for most soccer fans, regulators, and media. Will racism that occurs on the dusty fields and in the empty “stadiums” that play host to those matches be noticed, monitored, and punished the same way it will be at matches that occur in the international spotlight and spark ugly headlines across the world?”—
Remember Stadiums of Hate, last summer’s BBC Panorama program that informed viewers of the virulent and unchecked racism prevalent in the Polish and Ukrainian stadiums that would host the upcoming European Championships? That documentary—and the crucial issues surrounding it—was in large part a galvanizing reason why I created this tumblr. From one of my early posts:
Reporter Chris Rogers traveled to host countries Poland and Ukraine to observe fan behavior in soccer matches. The images, especially those in Ukraine, were disturbing. Large fan sections in Polish stadiums were chanting anti-semitic jeers as standard fare and made monkey noises at black players. The Ukraine footage showed—with the journalist himself in the frame, which eliminates the possibility that this was old stock footage—hundreds, if not thousands, of fans raising their arms in Nazi salutes and, in the worst scene, a pack of fans abandon the fight they were in with opposing fans and run across several sections of the stadium to attack a group of South Asian students. The students, who were cheering for the same team as their attackers, were beaten, kicked, dragged up and pushed down the stairs. It took an excruciatingly long time for stadium authorities to arrive on the scene and, even then, all they could do was try to move the students out. Other footage shows riot police pinned against plexiglass by rioting fans, so it’s not clear how effective authorities would be anyway.
During the program, we see former England captain Sol Campbell watching the footage and commenting on it. In fact, the program unwisely treats him as an authority on the subject. Nevertheless, he strongly urged fans to stay at home, lest they end up dead. (His exact words: “you could end up coming back in a coffin.”) The British Foreign Office has warned fans of Afro-Caribbean and South Asian descent to take special caution. The families of two young England players, including 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is playing in his first major soccer tournament (and whose father himself played for England), aren’t going.
Although there were several incidents of black players being jeered by opposing team fans (again, well documented here), we did not see the kind of ghastly spectacles anticipated by Stadiums of Hate. One of the theories going into the tournament was that the worst racist offenders are partisans of their local clubs; they wouldn’t be interested in the international competition.
A year on, and Waldron’s comments, which draw on Wright Thompson’s reporting for ESPN about racist ultras in Italy—add weight to that theory. While incidents against Balotelli or Boateng get a lot of attention, it’s the lower club levels where the majority of the abuse occurs. It’s also the lower levels that might be the hardest to regulate. And it’s likely that if we see a significant decrease in racism incidents at the international level, it may not be an accurate reflection of a wider spread eradication.
A sad story—Van de Velde seems no longer to be the prime suspect—but one with many little gems that remind me just how much has changed since 1999: “dean of Yale College, Richard Brodhead,” a pre-9/11 “senior essay […] about the terrorist Osama bin Laden,” and my favorite, “a local deejay, Glenn Beck.”
“Dear Charlotte Moore (acting controller, BBC One),
As the ninth series of The Apprentice is aired, we want to draw your attention to an important omission from BBC TV programming. Business shows like The Apprentice inspire generations of entrepreneurs and provide role-models for young leaders and whole swathes of the workforce. But by and large, the business leaders we are currently watching are leading 20th century-style businesses, using outdated business models and methods.
There is a growing global social enterprise movement. It’s thriving as a result of the last few decades of business practices and behaviours that are being spurned by people of all generations, especially young people. … The people running social enterprises are running successful businesses – but their main purpose isn’t just the pursuit of profit. Business like Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, Pants to Poverty, the Big Issue, Belu water and Divine Chocolate. Social entrepreneurs are running businesses that tackle, rather than create, social and environmental problems.
We, supporters and champions of the social enterprise sector, and leaders in business, are calling on the BBC to host a different kind of Apprentice television programme. One that recognises the hard work of the men and women using their business acumen to help people and the planet. One that showcases their talent and inspires the next wave of budding entrepreneurs to use business as a means to create real social change in the UK.”—
The UK’s version of The Apprentice is one of my favorite ever reality shows. Ever. The US version doesn’t hold a candle to the hilarity that ensues in the British version. (The Irish version was pretty fab as well.) I mean where else are you going to hear gems like this?
I’m half machine. I can process things at a speed that is out of this world.
That person was eliminated in week 1. Another gem:
I take inspiration from Napoleon. I am here to conquer.
To which Lord Sugar (Apprentice boss, Labour peer) responded (said candidate had apparently recorded similar sentiments in his resume),
You can consider me the Duke of Wellington of this process.
That said, it is perhaps the most visible distillation of what business in the UK currently is. At some point, I’ll write about the Irish version of The Apprentice, but both shows have reflected how drastically the 2008 economic downturn affected business in both countries. In the case of the UK Apprentice, Sugar stopped giving the winner a £100,000 job in one of his companies and instead, starting in series 7 (2011), made the process about choosing a business partner. The winner now receives a £250,000 investment and Sugar as an equal partner in a fledgling business.
This has changed the show in certain ways: the interviews (maybe the greatest highlight of any season and always features the moment when a much too cocksure candidate who has slipped through thus far on slick business patter is cut down to size by a panel unimpressed with vague cliches and more interested in specifics) are now done in the final episode and not the penultimate. Some of the challenges have changed as well, though not all. Viewers also watched with a giant unknown hanging over proceedings. Without knowing the substance of each contestant’s business plan, the audience knew nothing about the supposedly most important factor in the final decision.
How important that missing information would prove wasn’t initially clear. During series 7, the show had one of its best ever contestants, Helen Milligan, who won the most challenges (10 of 11) of any UK contestant and who had almost singlehandedly brought her team hundreds of thousands of pounds and euros worth of product orders—twice. She seemed a lock to win. Yet her final business plan was weak, a real surprise given how strong she had been throughout. It was too weak to beat out the winner’s business plan, which was something vague about back problems and chairs. In reality, Sugar invested in the winner’s previous invention, a curved nail file.
The business plans have by and large been weak. One person last year proposed a call center without much thought to the fact that everybody hates call centers. The weakness of these plans also raises questions about the application/vetting process. But they have shed more light on the difficulties of entrepreneurship.
In that light, it’s significant that the signees (two of whom are former contestants) of this letter calling for BBC programming to feature social entrepreneurship reference The Apprentice specifically. Indeed, they’re calling it “The Apprentice Campaign.” It seems that part of the problem is that the idea of social enterprise is hard to pin down precisely. What is it really? What does it mean? One of the signees, series 7 contestant Melody Hossaini, had a business plan that never made much sense within the context of the show. Her ideas couldn’t be summarized into pithy phrases, and so didn’t work well as television. And maybe that’s the bigger issue: is competitive reality television (or any form of popular entertainment) the best forum to highlight this new type of business? And if not, what is?
As a social entrepreneur – I run InspirEngage International – I had always been led by my passion for the cause with business being an incidental model for allowing me to do the work I had been doing voluntarily for 10 years.
Suddenly, I was thrust into the world of bottom lines, but this time the bottom line was not measuring social impact and the difference we were making to young people’s lives but merely the pounds and pence we had made that day. The environment and design didn’t allow for a socially enterprising focus. For instance, when asked what job title I wanted on the show, I immediately replied, “social entrepreneur”, but I was met with an uneasy expression and told, “Melody, people will think you’re an entrepreneur who likes going out a lot.” Two years on, and 32 candidates later, it’s extremely disappointing to see that no other social entrepreneurs have been added to the line-up.
A few years ago, figures showed The Apprentice ranked top in TV programmes that inspired individuals to set up their own business. And although that’s positive, I feel an emphasis should be placed on “business for good”, with social enterprise as an option, thereby increasing understanding of social values. At this point, perhaps I should be fair and say that The Apprentice was only reflecting what was mainstream in business, and doing so well, but it needs to be updated to reflect this important and valuable sector.
“Indeed, the problems with “The Center Holds” — which draws upon interviews with more than 200 people — underscore the difficulties faced by even the most astute reporters writing what the author calls “contemporary history.” Especially at a time when there is wall-to-wall, 24/7 news coverage online and on TV, and when one narrative — concerning, say, Mr. Obama’s resounding victory in last fall’s election — can so quickly give way to another one of gridlock and dysfunction.
Read today, much of the material here feels like reheated news. Once again, we hear about the “clown car” antics that dominated the Republican primary process as candidates like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry vied to become their party’s front-runner. Once again, we hear about disarray within the Mitt Romney campaign and its failure to blunt his image as a wealthy businessman out of touch with everyday middle-class concerns. And once again, we hear about the rise of the Tea Party and the president’s clashes with Republicans in Congress over the budget, the debt ceiling and sequestration. … With one exception, Mr. Alter adds: “the intense racial consciousness that he had nurtured in his own mind since childhood was more apparent in private. He knew that if he crossed a certain line in reacting to criticism, he would hand his enemies a weapon: “ ‘See, he’s like all the rest of them.’ It was better for him to be perceived as ‘different,’ with all the challenges that brought.” This “stifling of himself,” this “inability to swing at certain pitches,” made him, according to one aide, about “5 percent more aloof than he had been before coming to the presidency.”
A similar sort of dynamic, in Mr. Alter’s opinion, helps explain the president’s dismal first debate, which jeopardized his re-election: “Obama didn’t trust himself to tangle with Romney. He thought Romney was a liar and an empty suit and would reverse everything worthy he had done as president,” and he had “long worried that his attitude would spill out. Suppressing that was part of what threw him off his game” in that Denver debate.”—
Michiko Kakutani on Jonathan Alter’s new book, The Center Holds. Kakutani suggests that the more rapid distribution of news and, crucially, analysis through social media makes these post-campaign rundowns redundant. Even one of the sections that Kakutani deems revelatory isn’t.
And he provides some interesting observations on Republican-backed efforts to implement election “reform” around the country (like requiring state-issued photo ID’s and cutting back on early in-person voting) that would hold down “turnout among young people and minorities, who tended to vote Democratic.” Those efforts failed, says Mr. Alter, instead creating a backlash against Republicans as a wave of black voters headed to the polls in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Florida, angry at attempts to suppress their votes.
This is news to no one, at least no one who’s black. My father and I said exactly this to each other on election night.
If it is the case that there is less need now for the campaign narrative, it’s a change from even just 4 years ago, when books like Game Change added significantly to our understanding of the 2008 campaign.
P.S. At the end of an interview (6/4/2013) on MSNBC’s Last Word, perhaps smarting from Kakutani’s review, Alter promised that “you will learn something on every single page.”
A York mosque dealt with a potentially volatile situation after reports that it was going to be the focus of a demonstration organised by a far-right street protest movement - by inviting those taking part in the protest in for tea and biscuits.
Around half a dozen people arrived for the protest, promoted online by supporters of the EDL. A St George’s flag was nailed to the wooden fence in front of the mosque.
However, after members of the group accepted an invitation into the mosque, tensions were rapidly defused over tea and plates of custard creams, followed by an impromptu game of football.
I haven’t had much to say about the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich, mainly because it’s too awful for flippant commentary and because the potential fallout from the attack (clashes between British minorities and far-right extremists could be just one result) is also too serious for random speculation. That said, this story suggests one promising response in what could be a difficult summer.
“Ten days after his release Deeney played a friendly, three days after that he came off the bench against Bristol City. His main physical difficulty was losing muscle he had put on inside. In three weeks he lost nearly 10kg through focusing on cardio work. Twenty goals later, Deeney is playing the best football of his career.
“For as long as I’ve been a travelling England fan (my first game was Moldova away in 1996), a decent proportion of England fans have used the musical pause after the third line of God Save the Queen to insert “No Surrender” with as much volume and defiance as they can manage. And as the action ebbs and flows on the pitch – especially when it ebbs – the chant will go up again: ‘No surrender, no surrender, no surrender to the IRA scum!’
Meanwhile, journalists are scrambling to unpick what the chant means, with associations with the National Front, BNP, EDL and extreme Northern Irish unionism widely trailed. This is the great get-out clause. If No Surrender can be shown to have something to do with the far right, we can safely condemn it as belonging to the other. Yet the notion of not surrendering is absolutely central to a much broader version of Englishness than that of the fascists and race haters – and it is not all bad either. World war two, resistance against the Nazis, the Battle of Britain and the blitz spirit were all about not surrendering too.
Yet ironically, since 1945, surrendering is one thing this the English have excelled at. First it was the empire. Then at Wembley in 1953 our presumed footballing superiority was dashed when Puskas’ Hungary thrashed us 6-3 (I wonder how the FA will mark that anniversary). We have surrendered the idea of being a monocultural nation: there’s a reason why there will be so many Irish there on Wednesday night, some of whom will be sitting amongst the England fans. We’ve also surrendered to being not completely apart from Europe. Does everyone welcome any or all that we’ve given up in order to become what we are now? It’s complicated. “No Surrender” rings out while we’re cheering on a team that is the perfect example of a post-imperial, multicultural and Europeanised England.”—Why England fans should surrender their traditional chant
Still, the Champions League anthem — officially titled “Champions League” but known to many as that song that is always on during important European soccer television broadcasts — will be played at a final for the 21st time this weekend. Two decades after its introduction, it remains one of the best-known sports songs in the world.
So although there will be plenty of stars on the field at Wembley Stadium on Saturday — top players like Arjen Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Robert Lewandowski — for the millions of fans watching around the world, the most recognizable feature of the match between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund may be the music.
The song is undeniably connected with the Champions League (Thompson said one study by his company showed that 98 percent of Europeans surveyed could identify the anthem), and from the standpoint of providing gravity to the Champions League games, the song appears to arouse from players, coaches and fans a general sentiment of respect and appreciation.
Unlike songs used mainly for television broadcasts — like Leo Arnaud’s “Bugler’s Dream,” the familiar Olympic song used by ABC and NBC — the Champions League anthem is played in the stadium just before each match. Players can often be seen with wide eyes or shaking shoulders during the anthem as they nervously anticipate the start of the game. Gianluigi Buffon, an Italian goalkeeper, once acknowledged that when Juventus spent two seasons out of the Champions League, the anthem was part of what he missed.
“I used to hear it from my sofa,” he said in September. “I used to think it wasn’t fair.”
Britten, too, has enjoyed hearing the anthem on the field before matches, and he has conducted live versions of it on occasion, including a memorable day at the San Siro stadium in Milan for the 2001 final, when he led the famed La Scala opera house choir.
Johnson is a self-admitted soccer novice — “I didn’t know a 4-4-2 from a 747 when I started this,” he said — so creating the boards has become a critical part of his preparation. He began digging through the markers, searching for a few other colors. As he did, he fell into what has become his way to pass the time this week: rattling off the names of the players, drawing out their pronunciations in an attempt to train his tongue.
“Ilya GOON-de-wahn. GOON-de-wahn. GOON-de-wahn,” he said, referring to Ilkay Gündogan, a Dortmund midfielder. He kept going. “Schweinsteiger. Le-van-doski. Subotic. Subotic. Subotic. Schmelzer. Schmelzer. Schmelzer. Santana. That’s easy.”
He hesitated. “PEEZ-check. PEEZ-check. Blaszczykowski. Yup, that’s going to be the tough one,” he said. “That and Grosskreutz.”
There is an element of loneliness to Johnson’s new job. When he was doing the N.C.A.A. tournament, if he sat in a coffee shop in Louisville or Kansas City, fans would come up to him and shout one of his catchphrases like “Rise and fire!” or “I get buckets!” Johnson loved it.
In Europe, though, he works in relative anonymity. He has been recognized just once, he said — “We were in Manchester and there were some Man United fans who were visiting from America, and they said, ‘Hi, Gus!’ ” — but otherwise he receives little feedback from the public, save for the reviews of his performances, many of which have been scathing and can be found on the Internet. (One Web site, EPLTalk.com, noted that 69 percent of tweets about Johnson’s performance on a Barcelona-Bayern Munich game were negative.)
Like many American journalists and broadcasters, Johnson quickly realized that working conditions in Europe are far different from those in the United States. Climate-controlled press boxes with midfield views are rare; at Camp Nou, Barcelona’s stadium, Johnson and other commentators were essentially on the roof, and a large speaker next to Johnson partly obscured his view.
It began two weeks ago when I referenced the government’s wheeze to ease Mary Seacole out of the classroom. That touched quite a nerve, and triggered pointed communication from Wales. Not once did you mention the Welsh Crimean nurse Betsi Cadwaladr, it said; another example of the Welsh being airbrushed. Is this Hideously diverse England? What about Wales? What should I write about, was my question? Language he said. With more children taught in Welsh, Welsh in the media and government keen to promote the language, we thought more people than ever were speaking Welsh. Then came the census suggesting decline.
We’re in shock. So here I am, at his suggestion, in Swansea, sharing a chicken tikka lunch with author, linguist and activist Heini Gruffudd. He is slightly perplexed, and he’s worried about what the decline – 21% to 19% – means for the Welsh and Welsh. But at 66 he’s seen a lot and he’s an optimist. His message: don’t panic. ‘People have been saying that Welsh would die out for hundreds of years,’ he says. ‘With all the pressures it has faced, its survival is a bit of a miracle.’
GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany — The resurgence of German soccer began, like the country’s economic comeback, after a long slide toward stagnation amid dire prophecies of impending irrelevance.
The sick man of Europe, as Germany was known a decade ago, could as easily have been called the sick man of soccer. After a disastrous European Championships in 2000 when the traditional powerhouse won no games and scored one goal, the problem-solving, build-a-better-widget German drive kicked in.
While the government was loosening German labor laws to grease the creaking gears of the country’s economy, a society known for its apprenticeships and vocational training set about methodically developing young talent in the world’s most popular sport.
In a little more than a decade, Germany has invested nearly $1 billion in its youth programs, with academies run by professional teams and training centers overseen by the national soccer association, the Deutscher Fussball Bund, or D.F.B. The programs testify to the long-term strategic thinking and to the considerable resources that have driven Germany’s rise to renewed prominence in — and at the expense of — a struggling continent.
THE OLD stereotype of the stupid footballer may have to be consigned to history after a new study claimed that players have better cognitive skills than undergraduates and even PhD students.
Research by Canadian academic Jocelyn Faubert, of the University of Montreal, found that sports stars were able to ‘hyper-focus’ when doing tests, thanks to physical differences in their brains.
However, some people appear to have got carried away by the findings. ‘John Terry is brainier than physics super-boffin Professor Stephen Hawking, exclaimed The Daily Star.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Altidore said he decided to play through the abuse Tuesday because he didn’t want to give satisfaction to people who directed monkey chants at him.
The 23-year-old said it was the first time he has experienced racism like this, on or off the field.
'This was pretty big. To have a stadium chanting monkey sounds is not something pleasant,' he said in the phone interview. 'I'm the only black player on my team, so I think it was more directed to me than anyone else.'
The silence and/or uselessness from the top leaves the sole responsibility of responding to racist fan culture to men who are barely adults and are being abused and attacked in their place of business. And when individuals are making decisions on the spot and under enormous pressure, we see a variety of responses that journalists and other commentators are taking it upon themselves to judge. Is Altidore’s playing on better than Boateng’s leaving?
Who are we to judge?
And why are we spending more time thinking about the individual choices these players are making instead of demanding that UEFA/FIFA treat this as an issue of utmost importance? We owe it to Jackie Robinson to demand better.
“I have become fixated with a map. It’s an interactive map of London that shows where the German Luftwaffe dropped bombs on the city between 7 October 1940 and 6 June 1941. It’s a period that includes 57 nights of consecutive bombing that pummelled the city at the height of the Blitz. You can find it on a site called bombsight.org.
Yet the map works now in another way. A reading street by street explains much about the city you see today. My exploration has radiated out from the small street in Bloomsbury where I live. My road was not hit. The neighbouring street, however, took a double strike when two highly explosive bombs hit a row of houses. And this explains why it’s now lined by blocks of not very nice late-1950s apartments.
Almost every post-1945 building in my ’hood owes its presence to a bomb dropped from a German plane. Perhaps this is how history can really be brought to life – how many of the children, or adults, living in my neighbourhood realise that what the[y] see every day is the consequences of war. It’s made me more sensitive to the city and its randomness and quirks. It’s also made me think how robust this old city must be: all that destruction and terror but it rebuilt. At their best, cities can heal again and again.”—Very cool stuff. The website in question, bombsight.org, will be a great teaching resource the next time I teach the Blitz. For what it’s worth, the street in West Hampstead where I lived during my dissertation research trips was bombed once, according to the map, as was a nearby side street.
Yes, this lack of nerves. What’s that about? It’s a weird one. You have to have nervous energy to perform, because that’s what kicks your body into mode. But there’s nervous energy where people are absolutely bricking it and it’s detrimental, and there’s nervous energy where you look at it and go, ‘You know what? It’s going to be amazing, I’m going to have the best time of my life and I’m going to go out and win this.’
But that brings its own pressure, doesn’t it? Obviously my heart was beating faster – of course it was, I was in the London Olympic final – but the way I viewed it was very different, possibly, to some others who maybe let the occasion get to them. And that comes with experience. In previous years I had issues where probably I had let the nerves get to me a little bit too much and I underperformed, but there I felt so confident with the way I was training, the way I was jumping. I felt pretty good. The only time I was nervous was in Round Six, when I knew I was eight jumpers away from being Olympic champion and I had to just pick each one off and hope nobody jumped further than me.
We hear that you’re a keen baker. Any chance you can squeeze the Great British Bake Off in to your schedule? I wouldn’t mind that, to be totally honest. Baking is something that I do. I haven’t had a lot of time over the last few months to get any done – and obviously I couldn’t eat the produce, but now I can, so once I actually get some time to get home for a bit I’m going to get baking again and have some fun. It’s just a way for me to relax at times. If I had the opportunity to go on certain shows I’d definitely be going on them.
And are you likely to make sugary concoctions or those slightly forlorn-looking savoury tarts? I’m very much a sweet-toothed person. There are days when I only feel like savoury, but generally I’m very sweet-toothed. So baking cakes I love.
What’s your favourite? It’s more a challenging one for me: it’s a checkerboard cake. My attempt a few months ago didn’t come out very well. My Mum is a great, great cook and a great baker; she sort of taught me. She makes the perfect checkerboard cake and I just want to perfect that technique. Basically when you cut it open it looks like a chess board. It’s easier than it sounds but you have to have equipment to do it.
Did you love history at school? It was the one subject that I could really apply myself to because I actually really enjoyed it. So that and a couple of others, that was sort of my forté, but everything else I let go by the wayside really, I wasn’t as keen. Even though arguably I could have done much better at school, I’d decided at a young age that I was going to be a professional sportsman at some sport. And at that stage there was a bit of luck: I was fortunate to meet the right people at the right time to get me to where I am now.
My biggest regret of 2012: not being in the world’s best city for such a sensational Olympics.
Fear, cynicism and a sheer overwhelming desire to piss all over the Olympics parade; these were the key themes of the dominant story that prefaced London 2012. And what was so staggering about the pre-Olympics snipes and snides was that they were effectively green lit by the overt defensiveness of successive governments, both Labour and Lib-Con.
So you see, there was a time, before the sun shone on Stratford, before an audience of billions revelled in an extraordinary spectacle, when the Olympics was the focal point for little more than fear and loathing. A fear of what happens when large numbers of people gather together, and a loathing of the type of high-cost ambition embodied in the staging of an Olympics. In the years after 2005, when London won the bid, the anxieties and prejudices of a narrow stratum of British society, composed mainly of the political and media classes, shaped and formed the pre-Olympics narrative into a tale of hubris and imminent misery and woe.
Then it happened. From the Games’ opening ceremony onwards, another narrative erupted into life, a story drawn from the excitement and enthusiasm of the millions who simply loved what the Olympics is actually about: the sinewy drama of competition, the ceaseless, tenuous striving, and of course, for some athletes, the glory. Mo Farah’s double distance gold, Usain Bolt (enough said), David Rudisha’s 800 metres supremacy… the list goes on.
As the public buzzed, the elite cynics, the miserable pseudo-radical killjoys and the endless panicmongers, simply melted away.
“A lot of people said my win was unexpected, but it wasn’t. I was world number one going in. I had won most major competitions during the year. I went into the race saying, ‘I’m going to win this’, because I genuinely believed that I could.”—Well then. (Greg Rutherford on Christmas after winning gold.)
Every Christmas when my mother was alive, she and I watched A Child’s Christmas in Wales. In the 11 years since I last saw it, it’s apparently become incredibly hard to find, which is a crime. Best Christmas movie ever.
One of the most lovely things you can watch during the holiday season is the 1987 film of Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” starring the late Denholm Elliott. It’s a faithful yet playful adaptation of Thomas’ work, a narrative poem conceived as a radio play, and the film is at once appropriately sentimental about Christmases past and tartly realistic about the Christmas depicted in the film’s present. It stands in contrast to so much Christmas entertainment that is either gloppy or pious; Elliott, as both narrator and lead actor, provides a vinegary crispness to the role of nostalgic grandfather.
But here’s the thing: A Child’s Christmas in Wales is difficult to find.
Go to Amazon.com and you’ll be told that the DVD version is “not available.” The VHS copy I bought years ago skips and stutters, and its colors are faded — I always expect the tape to snap when we hook up the old VHS machine to re-play it on Christmas Eve, a Tucker family tradition.
They learn about Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mary Seacole at this time of year. And as of this year, Barack Obama. And it all makes sense in inner-city schools, where the intake is multicultural and teachers hope a focus on Black History Month can help minority pupils centre themselves and aspire. But that doesn’t really explain why they have bothered with it over the past few weeks at Delce Junior School in Rochester. Save for a tiny proportion of the school population – 20 from 400 – everyone is white. But they tell me that they do it because they think it helps prepare seven- to 11-year-olds from a largely white working class community for a world of different backgrounds and myriad histories and varied cultures. They do it because they think it’s right. Headteacher Karen White, newly transplanted from the mosaic that is Hackney, east London to the relative homogeneity of Rochester in Kent, tells me that no one has balked, which wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
And so, with the harvest festival a recent memory, the children go on to learn about the SS Windrush, and Bob Marley and Lewis Hamilton. They eat Jamaican patties, jerk chicken; they colour maps of St Lucia.
Not only is the John Terry debacle not dying down—Terry recently retired from international football before his FA disciplinary hearing—we seem to be hearing more about it, and racism in soccer, than ever. The Observer, for one, isn’t happy about where the FA seems to be on racism.
And the FA, even now, seem to have some difficulty learning lessons from this fiasco. In a briefing to journalists from the Sunday media on Thursday – before the publication of the independent commission’s report – the England manager, Roy Hodgson, responding to persistent questions, said he might consider giving the captaincy to Ashley Cole for the World Cup game against Poland to coincide with the defender’s 100th cap.
On Saturday the FA made it clear to those same journalists that they should not refer to that section of the press conference lest it reflect badly on Hodgson or the FA, or that not giving the captaincy would be seen as revenge for the Cole tweet. Perish the thought.
The fact that the request from the FA came with an implicit threat that anyone who ignored this advisory might suffer in terms of future cooperation from the FA is both abysmal and shocking.
Racism is vile and malevolent and has blighted many people’s lives. It continues to do so, although great strides have been taken to reduce its incidence. Only racists and intellectual Neanderthals would need convincing that society has to adopt a zero tolerance approach to incidences of racism, or racist insults. And that includes football.
As one writer noted on Saturday: “Most footballers get through the day without uttering a racist remark.” In fact, most of us get through the day without uttering a racist remark.
Terry and Cole are an embarrassment to football, to Chelsea and to England. The club – and just as importantly, their supporters – need to be seen to understand that clearly. And react accordingly.
The Bolton striker Marvin Sordell has claimed he and several of his team-mates were racially abused by Millwall fans during his side’s 2-1 defeat at the Den.
The 21-year-old, who was a member of the Team GB squad at the London 2012 Olympics, wrote on Twitter that he had reported his allegations to officials, and claimed that midfielders Lee Chung-yong and Darren Pratley, plus his fellow forward Benik Afobe, had also been subjected to racist taunts by a section of home supporters.
Sordell, an unused substitute in the match, wrote: “Putting the match aside, its 2012 in England and people are still shouting racial abuse at a football game? Shocking.”
He added: “Chungy, Pratts, Benik and I had all sorts of things said to us. The police were standing yards away and did nothing.”
Sordell, who claims the word “slave” was among those aimed at him, also received abusive responses to his allegations on Twitter.
He added: “Funniest thing is if I had come on and scored and gave them some back, I would be the one who got fined.”
On the formulaic gesture of “giving slaves agency”:
I suppose what I am suggesting is that the present has changed and with it have the implications of our form of address to the past. While I certainly do not want to argue that chimeric promises of Official Academic Multiculturalism have solved the problems of white overprivilege and Black disadvantage, I think that it is fair to say that the political stakes of white alignment with the cause of Black freedom within the academy have changed. Such gestures today enter a well-grooved field: making them has very few costs and, for white scholars at least, more than a few benefits. The politics of solidary they ostensibly represent seem to me to be correspondingly diminished. Indeed, in the absence of the type of hard and clear thinking about the relation of history-writing to history that characterized Gutman’s decision to respond to the Moynihan Report by writing The Black Family, these rhetorical and performative gestures seem to me today to liquidate their ethical and political obligations in the very act of asserting them: even as they assume a posture of present engagement in the political struggles of the past they do so on a closed circuit by which historians and their audience together share in the knowledge that they have transcended the past. Left it behind. By formulating, through the terms of scholarly address, a pat notion of a community of believers who have made it far enough beyond slavery or racism (or whatever) in order to look back on them with the condescension of the converted they establish a set of terms in which the present is washed clean of the sins of the past (rather than doggedly implicated in them. And it is this that I want to highlight. If we are to draw credibility by doing our work in the name of the enslaved and then seek to discharge our debt to their history by simply ‘giving them back their agency’ as paid in the coin of a better history, some knowing laughter, and a few ironic asides about the moral idiocy and contradictory philosophy of slaveholders, then I think that we must admit we are practicing therapy rather than politics: we are using our work to make ourselves feel better and more righteous rather than to make the world better or more righteous.
Walter Johnson, “On Agency,” Journal of Social History 37, no. 1 (Autumn 2003), p. 120-121
A good friend of mine from the United States, observing the British higher-education scene, noted that, whereas the United States had taken 30 years to make its system more market-oriented, it was taking England only two.
The result, I think, is a kind of general culture shock. Universities, students, and parents are still trying to work out where they stand as the challenging—to put it mildly—admissions round this year has shown only too well. (Many English universities have ended up with quite dramatic shortfalls in student numbers because of a new quasi-market.)
Yet I don’t think there is much doubt that parts of the current U.K. government are enamored of the U.S. system. They espouse the virtues of market discipline as an all-purpose nostrum that will bring competition to institutions which somehow aren’t good enough—even though all the league tables suggest the exact opposite—a market discipline which can somehow be applied to a system in which demand outstrips supply and in which there are, at most, a couple of hundred higher-education institutions in comparison with the 4,500 in the United States.
In most cases, this positive vision of the American system probably arises from a brief brush with an Ivy League university.
Be that as it may, I think a U.S.-style market solution (one which actually ignores just how complex the U.S. system is) will produce worse higher education not only because it will threaten English universities’ global preeminence but because it will prove to be mean-spirited. I’d like to think that England will stop now and rethink before it is too late.
”—Especially interesting is the contention that those pushing for UK educational reforms based upon US models are usually doing so by looking at the US’s elite private school, rather than the whole picture.
“What I love most about Gone Girl was the way Flynn made me think about how character and identity are constructed. She made me like and then dislike a character, dislike and then like another one, and then dislike the whole lot of them, the idea of identity dissolving and reappearing at every moment.”—
British archaeologists have unearthed a slave burial ground containing an estimated 5,000 bodies on a remote South Atlantic island.
The corpses were found on tiny St Helena, 1,000 miles off the coast of south-west Africa. Those who died were slaves taken off the ships of slave traders by the Royal Navy in the 1800s, when Britain was supressing the slavery in the Caribbean. Many of the captives died after being kept on the slavers’ ships in appalling conditions, and later in refugee camps when they reached the island.
According to Britain’s National Archives, between 1808 and 1869 the Royal Navy seized more than 1,600 slave ships and freed about 150,000 Africans.
How on earth did I miss the discovery of a massive slave burial ground on St. Helena? (h/t to valchanelle)
I have long been fascinated by this under-reported piece of information about the aftermath of the slave trade: that after Parliament abolished the slave trade in 1807, the Royal Navy took Africans enslaved by traders from other nations and “freed” them. But this freeing did not involve returning these people to their homelands—although I’d be interested in hearing about any cases in which it did. No, as I’ve found in my own research, these “captured Africans” were often transported to the Caribbean to work as indentured servants.
It’s probably high time I revisited Monica Schuler’s "Alas, Alas, Kongo" (1980). Roseanne Adderley’s also done good work on this topic: see her "New Negroes from Africa": Slave Trade Abolition and Free African Settlement in the Nineteenth-Century Caribbean (2006)
Has it really been ten years since The Forsyte Saga aired?
AMONG the best drama nominees at the Emmy Awards ceremony on Sunday night, “Homeland,” an of-the-moment political thriller, and “Downton Abbey,” a soapy period drama, could hardly be more different.
But a decade ago the dynamics that animate both shows churned within a single mini-series: “The Forsyte Saga.”
Based on the John Galsworthy novels, the series spanned the decades from the 1870s to the 1920s and starred Damian Lewis of “Homeland” as another repressed villain demented by love and loss.
His Soames Forsyte — like Brody, his character on “Homeland” — is driven by a cause he believes is just and evokes sympathy for his torment if not his misguided actions. An uptight man of property, Soames grimaces his way through an evolving London as if enduring a nasty toothache. Gina McKee was Irene (pronounced eye-REE-nee), a chilly swan-necked beauty who marries Soames for his money but openly despises him, driving him to despicable behavior.
The Booker prize-winning novelist Ian McEwan has rejected any notion that he is a British writer, insisting instead that English and Scottish writers are culturally different and have distinctive roots and ways of writing.
McEwan said he believed the ‘strange and rather heady’ celebration of Britishness captured by Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the Olympic Games – ‘which I have to say I was completely obsessed by’ – was the first experience of his life where a concept of Britishness was being celebrated.
The novelist said: ‘I suppose I was surprised somewhat by the Olympics. And I think it was about the first time in my lifetime that I was aware people were celebrating Britishness as opposed to something more local. When we talk of culture, and this comes back to what I was saying earlier, we do divide.
'And the act of union has not been an act of union of literary cultures and, for the reasons I mentioned before, there are very strong reasons for that. Imagination has a specific quality tied to landscape and locale, to community, to neighbourhoods. Even the rise of the modernist novel with its certain internationalist flavour, well look at Ulysses [by James Joyce]: what could be more local and provincial as it were and specific to a place and time than that, but it's the modernist bible, the central text.'
'It never occurred to us to ask for a council house. It's about pride. We're not bringing our children up in that cycle because we were not bought up relying on benefits or the council for property. We bought our house through sheer hard work: I regularly work an extra 20 hours a week on top of my full-time shift to bring in an extra £320 a week.
‘One of the hardest things was stopping putting money into Olivia’s child trust fund when she was two. No one in either of our families has gone to university and we hoped Olivia would be the first, but we couldn’t afford to keep putting even a few pounds into her account each month. I was gutted to have to stop but we literally had nowhere else to cut our spending.
'I had already stopped paying my union subs, which is a shame because unions are a way to get a better deal at work, although that requires people to pull together and that hasn't happened of late. I even stopped playing football six years ago because, as a postman, I just can't risk injuring myself. That was a very frustrating sacrifice: I've played football since I was seven years old but if I can't work due to injury, we literally would not be able to cope.'
”—Heartbreaking stuff from Paul and Emma Marshall, the second family in the Breadline Britain project.
GCSEs are out, an English baccalaureate is in. I don’t understand English secondary education well enough to make any extended comments, but this change seems significant, not least because it looks as though more will leave high school without qualifications. (The important context here is that in England, high school qualifications almost function in the same way that a college degree does here. You need to have them. However, these qualifications are earned much earlier: at age 16.)
As education experts raised concerns that less academically gifted pupils could be left behind by the new “EBacc”, the education secretary, Michael Gove, confirmed that a sizeable proportion of students would leave school with no qualifications. Students who find the new exams ”difficult” will be given a “detailed record of their achievement” by their schools, which will be forwarded to further education colleges where they will be encouraged to sit the exams later, aged 17 or 18.
The confirmation that a large number of students will leave school without a qualification is likely to intensify criticism. The National Union of Teachers said ministers were creating a two-tier system.
UWI literary critic Carolyn Cooper questions Jamaica’s motto, “Out of many, one people.”
The plate has a little chip, but it’s the spirit that counts: a little bit of tactile history. It features the Jamaican coat of arms. There is an Amerindian woman bearing a basket of pineapples and a man holding a bow. At school we were taught they were Arawak. These days, they are called Taino. But the distinction is academic.
The native people of Xaymaca, as the island was once called, are extinct. In their culture, the pineapple symbolized hospitality. Genocide was their reward for the welcome they gave Christopher Columbus. They survive only in the coat of arms and in the modest museum that is dedicated to their history. Perched above the man and woman is a crocodile. The reptile has fared better; its descendants live on.
Though this might appear to be a vast improvement on the servile Indies, the new motto encodes its own problematic contradictions. It marginalizes the nation’s black majority by asserting that the idealized face of the Jamaican nation is multiracial. In actuality, only about 7 percent of the population is mixed-race; 3 percent is European, Chinese or East Indian, and 90 percent is of African origin.
The roots of our distinctive music, religion, politics, philosophy, science, literature and language are African. But the culture of African Jamaicans has been marginalized in the construction of the nation-state. Fifty years after independence, we must revise our fictive national motto, rejecting the homogenizing myth of multicultural assimilation.
This does not mean that the African majority disdains kinship with minority groups. We all made the crossing from ancestral homelands, willingly or not. We are an island people with a continental consciousness. We remember our origins across oceans of history. For us, independence is not just about constitutional rearrangements. It’s in our blood.