Two young women, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, have been held in judicial custody at a maximum security prison in Delhi for more than a hundred days. They are founding members of the feminist student activist collective Pinjra Tod (‘break the cage’). At the start of the year, Narwal and Kalita led peaceful protests against India’s new citizenship laws, which discriminate against Muslims and Dalits. The Delhi police are looking to place blame for the deadly riots that tore through the city in February. The charges that Narwal and Kalita are being held on include property damage, assaulting state officials, armed rioting, murder, and the manufacture and sale of arms. They have also been booked under two sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, on counts of fundraising for terrorism and inciting criminal conspiracy. Anyone accused of such crimes is automatically denied bail.

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30 September 2020

Petulant, Annoying, Repulsive, Dismal

Christian Lorentzen

On the question of whether Donald Trump is a sinister mastermind or an incompetent scumbag (not mutually exclusive), last night’s debate will have to register in the scumbag column. His constant interruptions, vanity, self-pity and frequent forays into lies and nonsense are all by this point wearyingly familiar. Of course, Trump has been consistently underestimated since he entered politics, and his supporters no doubt enjoyed the petulant way he dominated proceedings. But his abuse of Biden was a far cry from the humiliations to which he subjected his opponents in the 2016 GOP primary debates. The show has gotten old.

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28 September 2020

This sea is mine

Jalal Abukhater

The residents of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank can drive to the seaside in a mere 30 to 45 minutes along their exclusive roads, while a generation of Palestinians have grown up unable to get to the coast. In August, however, reports started circulating on social media that Israeli soldiers weren’t stopping Palestinians who were crossing through gaps in the apartheid wall to go to the beach. The gaps are more often used by Palestinian labourers going to work in Israeli cities.

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25 September 2020

Ofcom gets it right

Rachel Shabi

Last week, Ofcom decided not to investigate a routine performed by the dance group Diversity on Britain’s Got Talent earlier this month. So far so good. The performance, which referred to the death of George Floyd and the wave of protests that followed, drew a record-breaking deluge of 24,500 complaints: that the dance routine was ‘racist towards white people’, portrayed the police negatively and supported a political organisation. ‘In our view,’ Ofcom responded, ‘the clear overarching narrative of the performance was to reflect the events of 2020 and to call for social cohesion and unity.’

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23 September 2020

On a Magic Carpet in the Aa-Kerk

James McVinnie

On 23 April 1710, the recently built tower of the Aa-kerk in Groningen collapsed, killing two people and destroying the organ, which had been installed by Arp Schnitger 13 years earlier. The tower was rebuilt but the organ gallery remained empty until 1815, when another Schnitger organ, dating from 1702, was relocated there, where it still stands. It is one of the supreme surviving examples of Schnitger’s work (though with alterations and additions from later organ builders), and speaks with an amazing clarity and beauty into the long, high, bright, plain church interior.

I first got to know the instrument in 2014, playing a concert of music by Nico Muhly and Philip Glass. Spicy-sounding baroque organs turn out to be well suited to 20th and 21st-century American keyboard and organ music: the repetitive spin of a Glass arpeggio or a Muhly filigree comes alive. But I also knew that the heart of the instrument lay in the music of the 17th and 18th centuries, especially J.S. Bach. I returned to Groningen in the dead of winter in 2017 to record Clavierübung volume three, Bach’s longest and most significant collection of music for the organ.

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22 September 2020

Cures for Unemployment

Phil Jones

There’s a long history of describing laid-off workers using metaphors of disease. The first comprehensive policy effort to deal with unemployment in the UK was the Labour Exchanges Act of 1909. ‘Relief works cannot seriously be regarded as a cure for unemployment,’ Gavin Hamilton said, proposing the bill in the House of Lords. ‘At the best they are only a palliative. What is wanted is not a drug to still the pain of this disease, but a cure which will reach deep down to its roots.’ Only recently, though, has unemployment come to be seen as a disease of the individual rather than social body.

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18 September 2020

The National Trust flexes its mansion offer

Nicholas Penny

The National Trust, unsurprisingly, has had a bad year. An honest statement of how the fulfilment of its duty to preserve places of historical interest and beauty has come under great pressure might have persuaded many of its members to double their subscriptions – especially if the Trust were to abandon some of its more extravagant and sillier initiatives. But the PowerPoint presentation entitled ‘Towards a Ten-Year Vision for Places and Experiences’, written by the director of visitor experience and leaked last month, must have left many people feeling that further support for the organisation should be conditional on the removal from office of those in the executive who endorsed such a document.

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