Hans Niemann probably cheated in more than 100 chess games, investigation finds

  • Chess.com investigation contradicts Niemann’s denials
  • American likely cheated in more than 100 games, probe says
Hans Niemann, right, plays against Magnus Carlsen at last month’s Sinquefield Cup in St Louis.
Hans Niemann, right, plays against Magnus Carlsen at last month’s Sinquefield Cup in St Louis. Photograph: Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club

The latest bombshell in the scandal that has rocked the chess world to its foundation dropped on Tuesday when an investigation into the games of Hans Niemann found the American grandmaster has cheated far more frequently than previously disclosed.

The 72-page report, conducted by Chess.com and initially reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, found that Niemann “likely received illegal assistance in more than 100 online games” as recently as 2020, including in events where prize money was at stake.

The suspicions around Niemann, a 19-year-old who has made a meteoric ascent into the world’s top 50 over the past four years, were initially amplified last month when the world champion Magnus Carlsen first suggested, then outright declared, the American was winning through illegitimate means.

Niemann has mounted a vigorous denial of the allegations, though he did confess to violating the rules of fair play at least twice in the past by using the assistance of chess engines: first as a 12-year-old in an online tournament, and then as a 16-year-old playing unrated games while streaming.

But the Chess.com report, which relied on cheating-detection tools including a comparison of a player’s moves to those recommended by powerful supercomputers, has offered compelling data-driven evidence that dramatically contradicts those statements. The investigation made no conclusions regarding Niemann’s over-the-board games, but did flag contests from six of his stronger in-person events, stating they “merit further investigation based on the data”.

The full investigation, which was made public on Tuesday evening, stated that Niemann privately confessed to the allegations, and that he was subsequently banned from for a period of time from Chess.com, the world’s most popular chess platform.

The scandal erupted in September when Niemann beat Carlsen while playing with the black pieces at the $500,000 (£433,000) Sinquefield Cup in St Louis, ending the current world champion’s 53-game unbeaten streak in classical over-the-board games. The shocking defeat and Carlsen’s withdrawal ignited a maelstrom of comments and allegations that Niemann was cheating including from Hikaru Nakamura, the American grandmaster once ranked No 2 in the world.

Unsatisfied by Niemann’s explanation that he had somehow guessed what opening the Norwegian would play, Carlsen abruptly withdrew from the tournament, a virtually unprecedented decision for a sitting world champion that was interpreted as an act of protest. “If I speak I am in big trouble,” Carlsen tweeted, making a strong allusion to impropriety on his opponent’s side.

The controversy redoubled two weeks later when Carlsen and Niemann met again in the sixth round of the online Julius Baer Generation Cup and the world No 1 sensationally resigned after making just one move. Carlsen finally clarified his cryptic allusions with an official statement one week after, saying he was unwilling to “play against people that have cheated repeatedly in the past” and that he believed Niemann had cheated “more than he has admitted”.

“When Niemann was invited last minute to the 2022 Sinquefield Cup, I strongly considered withdrawing prior to the event,” Carlsen said. “I ultimately chose to play. I believe that Niemann has cheated more – and more recently – than he has publicly admitted.

“His over-the-board progress has been unusual, and throughout our game in the Sinquefield Cup I had the impression that he wasn’t tense or even fully concentrating on the game in critical positions, while outplaying me as black in a way I only think a handful of players can do. This game contributed to changing my perspective.”

The Chess.com report backed up Carlsen’s assessment of Niemann’s uncommonly rapid climb up Fide’s world ratings – a gain of 350 Elo points in four years and an astonishing surge from 2,500 to 2,600 in just three months – describing his rise as “statistically extraordinary” while stopping short of concluding that he’s cheated in any over-the-board games.

“Outside his online play, Hans is the fastest rising top player in Classical [over-the-board] chess in modern history,” the report said. “Looking purely at rating, Hans should be classified as a member of this group of top young players. While we don’t doubt that Hans is a talented player, we note that his results are statistically extraordinary.”

The report further explains the methodology behind Chess.com’s cheat-detection tools, which include: “analytics that compare moves to those recommended by chess engines; studies of a player’s past performance and strength profile; monitoring behavior such as players opening up other browsers while playing; and input from grandmaster fair play analysts”. Notably, it revealed that “dozens” of grandmasters have been caught cheating on Chess.com, including of of world’s current top 100, all of whom confessed.

It also addressed Niemann’s curious postgame analysis of his stunning win over Carlsen in St Louis, which top players at the time characterized as “at odds with the level of preparation that Hans claimed was at play in the game and the level of analysis needed to defeat the World Chess Champion”.

Carlsen’s statement made a similar observation of Niemann’s comportment, saying: “Throughout our game in the Sinquefield Cup I had the impression that he wasn’t tense or even fully concentrating on the game in critical positions, while outplaying me as black in a way I think only a handful of players can do.”

Niemann has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing at any point in recent years, stating one day after his win over Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup that he’d only cheated twice in the past.

“I cheated on random games on Chess.com,” Niemann said. I was confronted. I confessed. And this is the single biggest mistake of my life. And I am completely ashamed. I am telling the world because I don’t want misrepresentations and I don’t want rumours. I have never cheated in an over-the-board game. And other than when I was 12 years old I have never cheated in a tournament with prize money.”

Niemann admitted he had illegally used computers again playing in “random and unrated games” when he began streaming during the pandemic.

“To give context, I was 16 years old and living alone in New York City at the heart of the pandemic and I was willing to do anything to grow my stream,” he said. “What I want people to know about this is that I am deeply, deeply sorry for my mistake. I know my actions have consequences and I suffered those consequences. During that time I stepped away from a very lucrative streaming career, I stopped playing in all events and I lost a lot of close friendships and relationships.

“I decided the only way to make up for my mistake was to prove that I could win over the board events,” he added. “That has been my mission. And that is why I have lived in a suitcase and played 260 games in one year, trained for 12 hours a day, because I have something to prove.”

It also addressed Niemann’s postgame analysis of his stunning victory over Carlsen in St Louis, which top players characterized as “at odds with the level of preparation that Hans claimed was at play in the game and the level of analysis needed to defeat the World Chess Champion”.

Fide, the sport’s world governing body, issued a statement last week saying it will convene its own three-person panel to look into the allegations.

“The focus of the investigation would be twofold: checking the world champion’s claims of alleged cheating by Niemann and Niemann’s self-statement regarding online cheating,” it read. “The panel will ensure a fair ruling, protecting the rights of both parties during the investigation.”

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‘What was it all for?’: recaptured Lyman left shattered by Russian occupation

People in Ukrainian city try to pick up pieces amid remains of Russia’s chaotic and bloody withdrawal

In the shattered streets of Lyman, a Ukrainian city that has lived through the Russian invasion, months of occupation and last week’s brutal battle to liberate it, evidence of the chaotic and bloody Russian withdrawal and defeat is everywhere.

Emerging from the dugout ofestroyed a former Russian checkpoint on the outskirts of the Donbas city, a Ukrainian soldier appears clasping a Russian copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which he places next to a discarded water bottle cut in half and filled with rifle ammunition. He points inside to an Orthodox icon left pinned to a wall.

The fate of the former occupants of the dugout is unknown: whether they are prisoners now, or were killed in the fighting. Or whether they died during the subsequent pursuit towards neighbouring Kreminna, where a fleeing Russian convoy was shelled relentlessly by Ukrainian forces.

Destroyed buildings in the recently recaptured city of Lyman.
Destroyed buildings in the recently recaptured city of Lyman. Photograph: Yevgen Honcharenko/EPA

Or perhaps they managed to escape to be chased still further as the Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to push the Russian forces back.

It was not only equipment and personal belongings that were abandoned here. The Russians also left behind their dead to be worried by Lyman’s dogs, bodies that have been gathered by Ukrainian mortuary teams over the past three days.

But it is along the narrow roads outside Lyman where the fighting appears to have been the most intense.

The tarmac is holed and littered with shrapnel and missile casings, burned-out Russian armoured vehicles sit not far from blasted trenches and dugouts. Recently defused anti-tank mines are still visible in some places.

Ukrainian soldiers sit on an armoured vehicle as they drive on a road between Izium and Lyman in Ukraine
Ukrainian soldiers sit on an armoured vehicle as they drive on a road between Izium and Lyman in Ukraine. Photograph: Francisco Seco/AP

Here, the trees have been splintered and broken like matchwood by rockets and artillery.

Politicians, analysts, and the soldiers who fought in this battle emphasise the importance of Lyman and its railway sidings as the “northern gate” to Luhansk province. But the real meaning is the psychological hit to the morale of Russian troops whose lines have suffered mounting collapses in the east and south.

With Russian forces being pushed ever further back in the sector around Lyman, Ukraine’s military appears to have set its eyes on its next objectives: Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk, and the heavily contested Donbas city of Bakhmut where the Russians are still trying to advance.

And crucially the fall of Lyman has also given Ukrainian forces a foothold on the north side of the Siverskyi Donets River.

Occupied until last week by soldiers of the Russian 20th Combined Arms army and Bars-13 troops from the Russian Guard – some of whom had earlier retreated from Kharkiv province – when the attack came they were quickly trapped in a rapidly closing encirclement as the villages outside the city, set among rolling hills, were rapidly rolled up.

What is clear is that Ukraine’s military has found a way of fighting that is far more deft and flexible than the Russians – who are heavily reliant on their creaking supply lines – deploying quickly to cut off, encircle and destroy units piece by piece.

And those Russians who stayed to fight were obliterated by shells and missile fire. Or shot in the forests.

At a junction of a level crossing and a road, the trees around a Russian trench have been swept down as if by a giant hand, the road littered with artillery casings, bits of uniform and human remains.

Surveying the scene, “Flagman”, a Ukrainian officer who has fought in this sector since Russia launched its invasion in February, said that while the Russians relied on the roads, the Ukrainians ambushed them from these woods.

A Ukrainian serviceman walks along a road searching for dead bodies of his comrades
A Ukrainian serviceman walks along a road searching for dead bodies of his comrades. Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

“When they first came, they were a bigger force with heavier weapons. So we withdrew to better lines.

“But after the Ukrainian successes in Kharkiv and Izium in September, their forces pulled back to here although they did not really organise themselves. Then our commanders saw an opportunity to hit them.

“I trained as an officer in the Soviet era, and some of the Russian officers here had the same training.

“They were professional but it was their senior officers who let them down. We know that they asked to withdraw,” he says, confirming UK intelligence reports, “but those higher up didn’t care about their lives. In the end they were too busy with their illegal annexation and their celebrations.

“I don’t think the order ever came to withdraw. In the end they organised themselves to flee despite invitations to surrender.”

Now in the aftermath of the battle, the only remnant of Russia’s imperial ambitions is the graffiti painted on the walls by the former occupiers, the scrawl of “Russia rules!” next to inscriptions of the towns and regions from where the soldiers came.

For the few residents who stayed through it all, the aftermath has been grim.

Outside the apartment house where she lives on the fifth floor Olena Grigorivna, 69, was cooking spaghetti in a pan on an open fire that her husband was feeding with scavenged wood.

Olena Grigorivna cooks spaghetti outside her apartment
Olena Grigorivna said she was exhausted and frightened. Photograph: Peter Beaumont/The Guardian

She says she is exhausted and frightened of an approaching winter in a city without gas and with no windows in her home, words that could sum up the collective mood that seems less euphoric than dejected.

Once a place of about 27,000 people – many of whom worked on the railways – only hundreds remain, moving around the ruined streets by bicycle or on foot.

Many, like Olena, are older, unable or unwilling to flee when the war came.

“It was hard under the Russian occupation,” she says. “My pension didn’t come and we were only given food aid once a month. We didn’t see the Russians soldiers much and when we did there was almost no interaction.

During the battle last week, as Ukrainian forces swept the Russians out in a bloody rout, Olena hid in her basement, only realising it had ended when the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag was raised on a nearby building. “That’s when I knew that it was over.”

The fighting, at least.

Walking with two sticks and with her apartment damaged in the fighting, for Olena the war has not yet gone away, with the sound of booms from the new frontlines in the distance another reminder.

“I want to know,” she asks sadly. “What was it all for?”

In a grocery shop without electricity and half-empty shelves, a few queue for what provisions are available, paying in what money they have – Ukrainian hrvna or roubles imposed by the occupiers.

Outside, a handful of Ukrainian police, freshly returned to the town, patrol the empty streets.

“I came for bread,” says Viktor Serhiiyovych, 75. “But there isn’t any. There used to be a big bakery in the town but it got hit in the fighting. Now it isn’t working.”

Serhiiyovych returned to Lyman not long before last week’s assault after running out of money.

“All we want is a little peace, and a chance to organise our lives and see the town rebuilt. This is only the third day since the Russians left. The fighting was very loud and I hid in my basement. After the fighting started to die down I went to fix my windows, and that’s when I saw the Ukrainian soldiers had come.”

On the road out a military ambulance tries to find its way through a jam on the back roads. As it is waved forward, one of the medics opens a door briefly to check on the casualty inside being jostled through the ruts.

It clears the jam, disappearing into the distance with its siren wailing. Ukraine’s war is far from over.


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A year under the Taliban

Nilaab and her daughters saying farewell to family members before heading to the airport.
Nilaab and her daughters saying farewell to family members before heading to the airport.

A single year of extremist rule has turned life upside down for Afghans, especially women. A photographer who has long called the country home captured the jarring changes.

KABUL, Afghanistan — She was a girl of just 5 when the Taliban took over Afghanistan the first time, and her parents did not hesitate: With the militants bent on imposing a puritanical form of Islam, the family packed their bags and fled.

But when the Taliban returned to power in the late summer of 2021, Nilaab, now a 30-year-old mother of two, did hesitate.

The new government was quick with assurances that this time would be different, that the Taliban of the 2020s was not the Taliban of the 1990s, and that there would be no brutal campaign of repression against the women of Afghanistan.

Maybe they were telling the truth, Nilaab thought. She hoped so. She had returned to her homeland as a teenager after a decade in exile, and she was not eager to repeat the experience.

But then the militants ended education for girls after the sixth grade. Nilaab’s 13-year-old daughter, Arveey, cried every morning as she watched her younger sister, Raheel, 11, get ready for school. So Nilaab took Raheel out of school, too, until, she said, she could “figure out a solution.”

One afternoon in early August, surrounded by family members, Nilaab stood in front of the mirror and slipped into an abaya. In a few hours, she and her daughters, three suitcases and two dolls in tow, would be boarding a plane and leaving Afghanistan — this time, she said, for good.

In the room next door, Nilaab’s mother fell to the ground and sobbed. Nilaab ran to console her. They would meet again one day, she promised.

As their departure drew closer, her daughters wandered from one room to another, like restless ghosts. Raheel kept hugging her grandmother and embracing her aunts. Arveey found a quiet corner where she could cry her heart out. Nilaab sat on the floor and tied her shoe lace, fighting back tears.

“I never knew I would become a refugee again,” she said, “but I don’t want my daughters to taste the same bitterness,” she said.

Street life in Kabul has picked back up since the takeover.
Street life in Kabul has picked back up since the takeover.
A unit of Taliban fighters, who now wear brown uniforms, being dispatched for a shift of car searches.
A unit of Taliban fighters, who now wear brown uniforms, being dispatched for a shift of car searches.

I have spent the past eight years living in Afghanistan. Born in Iran and raised in Canada, I have grown to look upon the country as home.

On Aug. 15, 2021, the day Kabul fell, I left my house at 4 a.m. and headed for the airport to photograph Afghans desperately trying to leave before the Taliban had the country firmly in their grip. But by early evening, Taliban fighters had taken over the presidential palace, and with a broken heart, and grappling with immense guilt, I boarded a military plane and left.

Six weeks later, I returned, and for the past year I have worked on documenting life under the Taliban. (For the safety of themselves and their families, most would talk only if I agreed not to fully identify them.)

Over the past year, I have struggled to make sense of what has been lost. It is not always obvious.

A group of young Hazara men performed parkour tricks as a crowd in Kabul, including Taliban fighters, looked on in May.
A group of young Hazara men performed parkour tricks as a crowd in Kabul, including Taliban fighters, looked on in May.
Photos of poets, politicians, artists and musicians at a Kabul cafe. The vice and virtue police demanded the removal of photos of women, though the owner sneaked one in.
Photos of poets, politicians, artists and musicians at a Kabul cafe. The vice and virtue police demanded the removal of photos of women, though the owner sneaked one in.

Some of the changes that have taken place are glaring, but others emerge only after close examination. And sometimes, a close look is rewarded with a glimpse into the ways some Afghans have managed to defy the strictures imposed by the militants.

On the surface of the city, life goes on.

Street markets are buzzing, though perhaps not as much as they did before because of the crumbling economy. Cafes that have managed to keep their doors open have regulars who come in for a cup of tea. But it is often a quiet cup of tea — the Taliban have pressured cafes to stop playing music, along with radio and TV stations, even at wedding halls.

Radio stations have replaced songs with readings from the Quran. Cafes have settled on silence. At wedding halls, it is more complicated.

One recent Thursday evening, I accompanied Maroof, 32, as he picked up a decorated rental car from Flower Street in Kabul and drove to the beauty salon a few blocks away to pick up his soon-to-be-wife.

Inside the salon, a hidden side of Afghanistan revealed itself: Women young and old were dressed in extravagant, colorful garb and wore elaborate makeup.

The female section of a wedding hall before the guests arrived.
The female section of a wedding hall before the guests arrived.
Shopping for fabric at a market in Kabul.
Shopping for fabric at a market in Kabul.

When we went to the wedding hall, the mood was different.

In the section for men, guests sat listlessly around tables with white table clothes. A videographer awkwardly filmed elder men exchanging a few words, while the younger ones stared at their phones. The silence was leaden.

Oddly enough, the life of the party was to be found in the women’s section. There, disco light pulsed in different colors, a DJ (female) played popular songs and the women were dancing. Many wedding halls have ignored the music ban in the female sections of their establishments, confident that the vice and virtue police cannot barge in without notice.

In the days after the Taliban took over, one wedding hall, Stars Palace, which is right across from the Kabul international airport, took on a new role. A white palace-like building with golden lights, it was used as a meeting point for groups of Afghans who were being evacuated by foreign troops, offering a safe haven before they made their desperate dash to an airport gate.

A year later, a woman who was forced to find shelter near there, Masooda, recalled the chaos.

An Afghan Canadian citizen, Masooda had moved back to Afghanistan a few years earlier with her children, who are Canadian citizens. “I wanted them to reconnect with their roots,” she said. But when Taliban fighters reached the gates of Kabul, Masooda told them to pack a bag: “We have to go. It’s not safe for us anymore.”

Weddings are a regular occurrence again at Star’s Palace, which briefly served as a refuge for Afghans trying to flee after the Taliban took over.
Weddings are a regular occurrence again at Star’s Palace, which briefly served as a refuge for Afghans trying to flee after the Taliban took over.
With her husband and children safely in Canada, Masooda returned to Afghanistan to fight for women’s rights.
With her husband and children safely in Canada, Masooda returned to Afghanistan to fight for women’s rights.

About 10 months later, Masooda left her children with her husband back in Canada and returned to Afghanistan on her Canadian passport. With her knowledge of both Afghan culture and international aid organizations, she wants to help the country get back on its feet, and she is one of the relatively few women who have dared defy the Taliban government.

One small group of protesters, who call themselves the Afghanistan Powerful Women’s Movement, are also taking a stand. Two days before the anniversary of the Taliban takeover, about two dozen of them marched through central Kabul. “Bread, work and freedom,” they chanted.

The protest was short-lived. Within minutes Taliban fighters opened fire into the air above the protesters, sending them fleeing.

With the Taliban clamping down, only small groups of women have dared protest. This group protesting on the eve of the takeover anniversary was quickly dispersed.
With the Taliban clamping down, only small groups of women have dared protest. This group protesting on the eve of the takeover anniversary was quickly dispersed.
Taliban fighters celebrating the anniversary came out in far greater numbers than protesters did.
Taliban fighters celebrating the anniversary came out in far greater numbers than protesters did.

The Taliban proved far more welcoming to other demonstrators.

After the government declared Aug. 15 the country’s new independence day, hundreds of Taliban fighters on foot, or on motorcycles and trucks, descended on the capital to celebrate. Some marched past the former U.S. Embassy, chanting “Long live Islam” and “Death to America.”

Even those covering the celebration were bound by the new rules.

Spotting a truck with a male Afghan journalist filming the rally from on top of the trunk, I hopped on. As we sped along, I got a glimpse of a young woman sitting in the back seat of the truck, dressed head to toe in black, her face covered by a surgical mask.

Her name, I learned, was Breshna Naderi. She was 19 years old and had joined Kabul News TV just four months before the government fell. Despite the increasing hardship for female journalists, she had stayed on.

“Even if that means I have to sit in the back of the car while my male colleague films the rally, I won’t give up,” she said.

Breshna Naderi, a Kabul News reporter, says she is determined to do her job despite all the roadblocks.
Breshna Naderi, a Kabul News reporter, says she is determined to do her job despite all the roadblocks.
Some children chanted support for the Taliban at the rally Ms. Naderi was covering.
Some children chanted support for the Taliban at the rally Ms. Naderi was covering.

The journalism department of Kabul University, which is led by a woman, is one of the rare university departments that is still dominated by female students. One Friday morning, Basira, 21, Karima, 21, and Zahra, 23, all third-year students, met in the family section of a fast-food restaurant to prepare for their final exam.

They share more than a passion for journalism. A bond of trauma also connects the three women. Basira had survived two suicide attacks in recent years and Karima and Zahra had each survived three.

Zahra, left, Basira and Karima, studying in a family section of a restaurant.
Zahra, left, Basira and Karima, studying in a family section of a restaurant.
The Tea Talk cafe was once popular with students. Now it no longer allows women, and the family section is closed.
The Tea Talk cafe was once popular with students. Now it no longer allows women, and the family section is closed.

I’ve covered the aftermath of many a suicide attack. The worst was at the Sayed Ul-Shuhada girls’ school last year, and it killed at least 90 people and injured another 240. The school was in a community dense with Hazaras, a Shiite minority, and the next day the bodies were brought up a steep hill at the foot of a mountain range.

“You can almost name every hill for a different attack on Hazaras,” said a 73-year-old tea seller who goes by the name of Karbalai.

One Hazara woman, Soudabeh, became an activist as a teenager, but her work in her home province of Daikundi, where she educated rural communities about menstrual cycles — a taboo subject in Afghan society, did not sit well with the Taliban, and she was forced into hiding with her husband and two young children. For the past year, the family has barely left the house. Now they have been looking for a way to leave Afghanistan altogether.

Soudabeh, a Hazara woman, caresses her daughter in the house where they have been hiding.
Soudabeh, a Hazara woman, caresses her daughter in the house where they have been hiding.
Many of the victims of recent bombings in Hazara areas have been buried in the hills on the outskirts of Kabul.
Many of the victims of recent bombings in Hazara areas have been buried in the hills on the outskirts of Kabul.

The country they are trying to leave has changed profoundly from the one the militants took over just a year ago.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs is now the Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music is now a Taliban base. The British Embassy has been turned into a madrasa, an Islamic theology school for young men pursuing Islamic studies.

People, too, have had to redefine themselves overnight, especially the members of the old armed forces and employees of the previous government. Those who once wore uniforms or suits and rode around the city in armored vehicles now find themselves wearing traditional Afghan clothes and driving a modest car, or even pushing a vegetable cart.

Taliban fighters praying in front of what used to be the American Embassy.
Taliban fighters praying in front of what used to be the American Embassy.
Saeed Mujtaba, 40, used to work at the communication department of the presidential palace. After going into hiding he started driving a taxi to provide for his family.
Saeed Mujtaba, 40, used to work at the communication department of the presidential palace. After going into hiding he started driving a taxi to provide for his family.

Kabul had never felt as lonely as it did for me on the evening of the anniversary of the Taliban’s takeover.

In between deadlines, calls and assignments, I sat on our roof and stared into the city, searching for its ghosts. I hardly could remember how life was before the Taliban came back into power. It was as if they had never left.

The hardest part about covering the Taliban rally earlier that day was having to smile at the men who had occupied my favorite corners of the city, my favorite cafes and parks, and now would not even allow me to enter because I am a woman.

Since the fall of Kabul, my home has been raided, trashed and squatted in by militants, and twice they pressured me to leave the country. Each time I was left weeping. And still I was not ready to leave.

After my home was raided, a friend sent me an old essay by the Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg. “Once the experience of evil has been endured, it is never forgotten,” Ginzburg wrote.

This month, my partner and I gave up our apartment and began slow dancing our way out of Kabul’s bustling streets with their inescapable ice cream cart tune.

We, too, have left Afghanistan, but at least it is on our own terms.

On the surface, at least, daily life has resumed in Kabul.
On the surface, at least, daily life has resumed in Kabul.

New York Times September 30, 2022

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Stadels: The age-old barns that fed the Alps

(Image credit: Olivier Cheseaux Val d’Hérens)

Stadels: The age-old barns that fed the Alps (Credit: Olivier Cheseaux Val d'Hérens)

Long before the Swiss Alps became known as a skiing and hiking destination, ingeniously designed stilted barns sustained entire communities.

Blackened by the sun, stilted pitched-roof barns seemingly floated above the flower-strewn meadows, framed by the Matterhorn, Switzerland’s famed pyramidical peak. On closer inspection, I discovered the barns’ facades were festooned with weather-worn scythes, pitchforks and even a toboggan-like contraption used to transport hay.

These centuries-old stadels (grain-storage barns) are an intrinsic part of the landscape and still freckle the landlocked country’s high alpine valleys. Many of them are located in Zermatt, a resort town located in southern Switzerland’s Valais region, and the barns have borne witness to the monied ski and hiking destination’s humble beginnings as a farming community. Beyond their rural romanticism, these monuments to the past served a very practical purpose: to feed self-sustaining mountain communities.

Centuries-old grain barns still freckle Switzerland's alpine valleys (Credit: Sarah Freeman)

Centuries-old grain barns still freckle Switzerland’s alpine valleys (Credit: Sarah Freeman)

“I look at the stadels and I think, ‘How romantic, and [what] a hard life’,” said Zermatt-born Linda Biner. Her nonagenarian father, Thomas Biner, nodded knowingly from his rocking chair, telling me, “There was no rice in Switzerland back then.”

At just 14 years old, he recalled hiking over Zermatt’s 3,300m-high Theodul Pass to Italy’s Aosta Valley to trade tobacco for the prized grain. “My [widowed] mother had six children, four cows, three goats and not a penny,” he continued. Far from being shackled to the stove, women toiled the land too, even braving avalanche paths to tend to their livestock.

From the age of eight, Thomas learned to milk cows on Zermatt’s high pastures. Summers were spent sleeping on a bed of straw (used as winter fodder for the animals) in the upper part of the family’s two-storey stable, known as a gädi. This simple yet ingenious construction kept him warm by harnessing heat from the cattle below.

Moving in sync with the seasons wasn’t just a way of life, but a means of survival. It goes to explain the strategic placement of these traditional gädis and stadels, which tumble down from the steep slopes to the undulating meadows below. Zermatt (which translates as “by or on the meadow”) was originally a handful of hamlets scattered over some 60,000 acres.

Now a popular skiing and hiking destination, Zermatt was once a humble farming community (Credit: Jordan Lye/Getty Images)

Now a popular skiing and hiking destination, Zermatt was once a humble farming community (Credit: Jordan Lye/Getty Images)

The Biner family owned 10 barns just for stockpiling rye. Nicknamed “the sleeping grain” by Alpine farmers, it would hibernate under the first flush of snow after being sown in September, and was hand-cut the following August to be hoarded for the long winter ahead. Pest and damp-proofing the precious cereal was another matter. Farmers’ canny solution was to elevate their granaries several feet above the ground on mushroom-like stilts topped with huge circular slabs of locally sourced schist rock. The barns’ rose-hued, resin-rich timber was felled from local larch that’s particularly resistant to rye-loving rodents, that are repelled by its strong scent.

The distinctive silhouette of these age-old grain barns even inspired the logo for Zermatt’s 3.7km-long Culture Trail. Inaugurated in 2019, the trail steadily climbs 300m from the town centre to Zmutt, one of the Alps’ earliest-built hamlets.

“I was thinking one day, where are the oldest buildings [in the valley]?” president of Zermatt’s Cultural and Historical Society, René Biner (unrelated to Thomas and Linda), told me, as we walked along the trail that snakes past a 700-year-old-barn, only recently dated thanks to dendrochronology. “Owners have neglected the stadels in the last 30 to 40 years,” he added, explaining that many no longer serve a practical use since very little rye is now harvested, and are therefore abandoned.

This, combined with the fact that there is no financial incentive to restore them – since local law prohibits the conversion of agricultural buildings into residential dwellings – makes their ongoing maintenance a challenge.The grain barns are elevated on mushroom-like stilts and built from timber that's resistant to rye-loving rodents (Credit: Sarah Freeman)

The grain barns are elevated on mushroom-like stilts and built from timber that’s resistant to rye-loving rodents (Credit: Sarah Freeman)

With the exception of gädis (a handful of which provide refuge for the Valais’ famously friendly, curly fringed Blacknose sheep during Zermatt’s bitter winters), the majority of these barn-like structures lie abandoned. René is on a mission to remedy this. When we reached Zmutt, he revealed the bundles of freshly harvested rye sheafs stored in a friend’s stadel that he plans to use to make traditional roggenbrot (rye bread). His forefathers would have collected their flour from Zermatt’s only mill, before baking loaves in communal ovens shared by up to 20 people.

As recently as the 1940s, grain was grown at 2,000m in Zmutt, where stones demarcating locals’ land are still visible. A single family would have typically owned several dozen small parcels, dispersed to prevent a rockfall or avalanche from decimating their entire harvest. However, “When the train was built [in 1891] it was cheaper to buy the cereal from down the valley,” René said. The steady decline in farming continued as Alpine tourism took off in the 20th Century, with World War Two finally snuffing out Zermatt’s agrarian way of life.

For local hotelier and restauranteur Sandrine Julen – a descendant of one of Zermatt’s founding families – the stadels connect her with her heritage. “As a child, I remember walking through the stadels with my grandfather, him telling me the stories of his upbringing. They form a part of our history, and it’s a constant reminder that we shall not forget where we came from,” she told me.

In the wine-growing village of Visperterminen (the gateway to the Valais’ Visper Valley), a clutch of dilapidated grain barns is being repurposed for social good. It’s part of a decade-old non-profit called Chinderwält, founded by retired professor Julian Vomsattel. “All these old barns were unused, so I asked, what can we do to preserve them?” the local told me.In recent years, a number of old grain barns have been refurbished (Credit: Olivier Cheseaux Val d'Hérens)

In recent years, a number of old grain barns have been refurbished (Credit: Olivier Cheseaux Val d’Hérens)

With the help of several artists and architects, he has transformed them into five themed indoor playgrounds, and for a nominal fee of CHF10 (£9), children can spend three hours flitting between them. We shuffled along the original threshing corridor where farmers once flailed the rye, bisecting a “space-themed” stadel annexed to another grain barn packed to its 17th-Century rafters with vintage paraphernalia, like a windwanna. Used to separate the chaff from the grain kernels long ago, the instrument has since been upcycled into a flying dragon. “The project’s important for the life of the village,” Vomsattel said.

“It’s also helping to show the old way of life,” added Visperterminen-born interior architect Judith Kreuzer, who’s in the throes of renovating the project’s sixth barn.

Vomsattel counts himself among the eight-out-of-10 villagers who air-dry their meat as their ancestors did in speichers (storerooms). These seasonal fridges of yesteryear were also balanced on stilted stones, to prevent ground moisture from spoiling the meat. But air-circulating gaps between the floor panels differentiates them from their grain-caching cousins. Wind whistled through the cracks as Vomsattel pulled out a giant skeleton key to his family’s sixth-generation speicher. Hung from the ceiling joists were butcher-style hooks where Vomsattel’s hunter brother dry-cures game like roe deer and chamois (a goat-like antelope), from October.

Seventy-five kilometres away in the French-speaking valley of Val d’Hérens, six ancient grain barns (referred to locally as raccards) were spared demolition thanks to Swiss architect Olivier Cheseaux. He eyed them a decade ago while paragliding over the village of Evolène. “Our ancestors built perfectly in harmony with nature, cutting wood in the right season,” he said.Refurbished self-catering huts have been modernised while retaining the grain barns' classic exteriors (Credit: Olivier Cheseaux Val d'Hérens)

Refurbished self-catering huts have been modernised while retaining the grain barns’ classic exteriors (Credit: Olivier Cheseaux Val d’Hérens)

Virtually unchanged from the outside, inside, the self-catering “huts” have been contemporised in Cheseaux’s signature pared-back style, with smoothed concrete floors and spruce wood walls. “I quickly realised that the laws did not allow me to transform the buildings because they were in an agricultural zone. So, I decided to save heritage from ruin by using the philosophy of our ancestors, that is, by moving them [to the pocket-sized village of La Forclaz, which is outside the agricultural zone]” he told me. During the Little Ice Age (from the 14th to 19th Centuries), Swiss farmers frequently dismantled their barns and re-erected them away from advancing glaciers.

Few have travelled the distance that Nikola Kapp’s 150-year-old stilted barn has. Nestled in the back garden of the former banker’s Zermatt home is a 4.5mx5m gädi transplanted from the village of Eisten in the neighbouring Saas Valley. “We had to fly everything in on a helicopter,” she told me, pointing out the original wooden crucifix still affixed to the larch facade. “We numbered each piece of wood and even used some of the authentic nails,” she explained of the painstaking four-month-long restoration project undertaken in 2008. A labour of love, its Heidi-esque interior has made two-storied Kalu Gädi an instant hit on Airbnb. “My heart opens when I see the Matterhorn,” Kapp said of the gingham curtain-framed view of the snaggle-toothed peak.

My own gaze was drawn to the sunburnt, stilted barns in the foreground. Though dwarfed by the snow-capped mountain, they still stand defiant centuries later, and hopefully for several more centuries to come.


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From Blackadder to Blackstuff to Blobby: 100 years of the BBC, part seven

He concerned many BBC defenders … Mr Blobby with Noel Edmonds.
He concerned many BBC defenders … Mr Blobby with Noel Edmonds. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

Some of the greatest ever TV airs, Saturday nights get a Crinkley Bottom takeover – and the new comedy royalty are crowned.

The BBC challenges Thatcher in fiction, loses to her in fact, but begins seriously to court Black, working-class and sexually and gender-diverse audiences for the first time.

1982 – Boys from the Blackstuff

“Gis’ a job. I could do that,” pleaded the jobless “Yosser” Hughes (Bernard Hill), coining an unusually serious catchphrase. Exploring the consequences of redundancy, recession, Westminster neglect and religious division in Liverpool, Alan Bleasdale’s five-parter became one of the greatest achievements of TV fiction. Rich characters drew great acting, led by Hill and Julie Walters. And, as often with cultural hits, it was timely: deprivation and fury at parliamentary indifference caused riots on Merseyside in the early 80s, converting a rightwing politician, Michael Heseltine, to urban renewal.

1983 – The Black Adder

The Black Adder.
Evil schemer … The Black Adder. Photograph: Photo 12/Alamy

A peculiarity of TV – and an impossibility in theatre and cinema – is that a good show may have time to become great. Originally a spoof-medieval sitcom, The Black Adder was at first seen as too close to the sketch and standup comedy with which co-writers Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, playing the titular evil schemer, were associated. But from series two, Curtis’s pairing with Ben Elton brought into play the Shakespearean expertise on which Elton would later draw for Upstart Crow. As the concept moved through the centuries – in Blackadder II and Blackadder the Third – Curtis and Elton pioneered a sitcom in which the situation changes but cast and style remain. Blackadder Goes Forth, ending with the slow-motion slaughter of the cast in the 1917 trenches, remains one of the bravest and most devastating moments in TV comedy.

1984 – The Lenny Henry Show

The Lenny Henry Show.
Incredibly talented … The Lenny Henry Show. Photograph: Radio Times/Getty Images

Thirty-eight years on, the title star has become Sir Lenny but, dismayingly, is still campaigning for the diversity of which this series was an early example. An incredibly talented impressionist, Henry was restricted by the lack of celebrities of colour but took off singer Michael Jackson and newsreader Trevor McDonald. He also invented fictional characters including mellow Jamaicans and libidinous soul singers who have subsequently been judged stereotypical by some but which, crucially, were not racist.

1985 – EastEnders

Six years into Margaret Thatcher’s eventual 11 in Number 10, the BBC was one of her main targets, accused of leftist content and having too few popular shows to justify a legally enforced licence fee. Responding to this, the BBC directly challenged ITV with EastEnders, a naked attempt to find its own Coronation Street. More recently, the BBC has worried about being too southern but, at that time, went cockney to put clear beer between itself and Salford-set Corrie. Starting with the discovery of a possible murder, EastEnders also extended the grittier brand of soap introduced by Channel 4’s Brookside in 1982. Key EastEnders writer Tony Jordan learned from Corrie that British soap is a matriarchal form, popularising strong women including Dot Cotton (June Brown) and Pauline Fowler (Wendy Richard).

1986 – Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV

Victoria Wood As Seen On TV.
Brilliant … Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV. Photograph: Radio Times/Getty Images

Wood learned from Monty Python that humour about TV itself was not “in-jokes” (as the industry feared) but gags that the mainstream audience were likely to be in on. Reuniting with Julie Walters (with whom she had first appeared in a 1978 play) and Celia Imrie, she brilliantly skewered low-budget TV soap in the recurring sketch Acorn Antiques. This eventually became a musical, and stands as one of Wood’s two most-mentioned achievements – the other being the middle-age marital sexual tension epic song, The Ballad of Freda and Barry – when she died in 2016, at the horrifyingly young age of 62. There is a case that, following Gracie Fields, the two most important broadcast female comedians were Lancastrian.

1987 – French and Saunders

In the BBC’s relations with the government, 1987 was a tragic year: re-elected for the second time, Thatcher sent the security services into BBC Scotland to seize tapes of an investigative series called Secret Society and Alasdair Milne was sacked as director general by the Thatcherite BBC chair, Marmaduke Hussey. But it was a landmark year for comedy. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders followed Wood in writing their own material and cannibalising the schedules for satire and pastiche. In their first show, Grandstand presenter Steve Rider introduced a spoof Sports Report and they did a send-up of dance troupe Pan’s People called the Hot Hoofers.

1988 – Talking Heads/Countryfile

Cowed by the government – Milne’s replacement, the accountant Michael Checkland, was the first non-journalist director general since Lord Reith – the BBC was creatively quiet, the end-of-year newspaper round-ups unusually triumphant for their rivals. However, showing the organisation’s Darwinian survival wits, the two standout new series looked much more cosy and conservative than they really were. Alan Bennett reclaimed an insider insult for the dullest type of content (expert interviewees) in the title of Talking Heads, six 30- to 40-minute monologues. There were doubts about whether a single voice could “hold” for that long, but they were quickly dispelled by Bennett’s writing and actors including Maggie Smith, Patricia Routledge, Thora Hird and Julie Walters. The characters included an alcoholic, a victim of sexual abuse and (by 1998’s second run), a paedophile, a fetishist and the wife of a serial killer, proving Bennett to be about as cosy as Euripides.

After largely leaving rural matters to The Archers on radio, this was the year the BBC launched Countryfile, giving critics many “TV cereal” puns but, after John Craven, who had pioneered junior journalism in Newsround, became a presenter in series two, proved almost as perennial as events in Ambridge. Initially dismissed as soft content, it’s still in the schedules now, hugely popular and became increasingly controversial as farming was a central issue in Brexit.

1989 – Around the World in 80 Days

Although the broadcaster most associated with the BBC centenary is Sir David Attenborough, a strong second finisher is Michael Palin for a portfolio holding Monty Python and the schoolboy yarn spoof Ripping Yarns (with Terry Jones, 1976-79) and as the Attenborough of travel documentaries, starting with this recreation of Phileas Fogg’s fictional circumnavigation in Jules Verne’s 1873 novel. Palin’s natural intelligence and empathy avoided any risk of the parodic Englishman abroad during remarkable sequences, including buffeting through the Strait of Hormuz on a fragile shipping boat.

1990 – Have I Got News For You?/House of Cards/Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.
Changing of the guard … Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

The sense of Thatcherism ending (she fell on 22 November) was reflected with the launch of Have I Got News For You?, a vicious political quiz. November also saw the spookily timed launch of the adaptation of Michael Dobbs’ post-Thatcherite Westminster thriller, House of Cards. But a more lastingly significant changing of the guard was the primacy of gay experience in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson’s adaptation of her marvellous 1985 autobiographical novel about an adopted child whose sexuality appals her evangelical religious family. It was directed by Beeban Kidron and produced by Phillippa Giles; drama about women was finally being made by them.

1991 – Noel’s House Party

At this time, Friday and Sunday nights were a bigger deal to ITV than Saturdays, because shops were open the next day, attracting more advertising. The BBC took advantage of this opportunity to poach Saturday-night audiences by following Bruce Forsyth’s The Generation Game with a live format for Noel Edmonds. Many of the elements in Noel’s House Party – the fictional Crinkley Bottom setting, prank ambushes, celebrity walk-ons – had been developed on his Radio 1 or BBC One Multi-Coloured Swap Shop shows. By attracting a mass audience that had proved elusive to the BBC, House Party appeased some Westminster critics in its nine years, although the presence of Mr Blobby, a pink, yellow-spotted inflatable co-host who could only speak his surname, concerned many of the corporation’s defenders.


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As ‘Come From Away’ Closes, a Newfoundlander Heads Back Home

The Canadian actress Petrina Bromley has been in the cast during the show’s surprise hit run on Broadway. It resonated because “it’s about kindness,” she says.

Petrina Bromley at the Schoenfeld Theater, where “Come From Away” had its final performance on Sunday. She played several characters including Bonnie, who runs an animal shelter in Gander, Newfoundland.
Petrina Bromley at the Schoenfeld Theater, where “Come From Away” had its final performance on Sunday. She played several characters including Bonnie, who runs an animal shelter in Gander, Newfoundland.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

On Sunday afternoon, “Come From Away” played its final performance on Broadway, before a raucous sold-out crowd that wept and waved. By Monday morning, stagehands were already taking down and hauling away the real trees that gave the Schoenfeld Theater its forested look.

Petrina Bromley, the lone Newfoundlander in the cast, returned to the theater to collect her belongings and to talk about the show, which told the true story of how Gander, Newfoundland — a small Canadian city with a big airport — sheltered thousands of airline passengers forced to land when trans-Atlantic flights were grounded by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The musical, written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein and directed by Christopher Ashley, opened in 2017 and became a surprise hit, with its message of generosity and community resonating at a time when those values seemed in short supply.

Bromley, like all members of the cast, played multiple characters, but she is best known as Bonnie, the woman who ran the local animal shelter, and wound up caring for the dogs, cats and two bonobos that had been onboard the planes. (Among the items in her dressing room: a variety of bonobo-related gifts sent by fans.)

A scene from “Come From Away,” near the start of its Broadway run. Bromley said that when she first heard the creators’ idea for the show, she thought, “Good luck to you.”
A scene from “Come From Away,” near the start of its Broadway run. Bromley said that when she first heard the creators’ idea for the show, she thought, “Good luck to you.”Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Bromley, 51, has been with the show off and on for seven years, throughout its development and the Broadway run. All told, she has been in 1,514 performances of “Come From Away,” including pre-Broadway runs in San Diego, Seattle and Toronto as well as 1,362 Broadway performances. She has also been part of two concert presentations in Newfoundland — one before the Broadway run and one last month — and she was part of the cast of the filmed version, shot during the pandemic shutdown.

Her status as a Newfoundlander — she is a career Newfoundland actress who was raised on the island and is returning there now that the show has closed — gave her a unique perspective on the show. These are edited excerpts from our conversation.

It’s a lot, right? I thought yesterday would be hard, but this is actually harder. The trees are being felled. I’ve come and gone from the show a bunch of times but the space itself has always been here. And now it’s not going to be here anymore.

You wound up in the show because you met the show’s writers in Gander on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11?

I was in Gander with a local theater company, Rising Tide Theater — we were doing something as part of those events. We walked into the one coffee shop that wasn’t a Tim Hortons, and the only other people in there were this young couple sitting at a table with cue cards, organizing themselves to do an interview. I had the same reaction everybody in Gander had: “Good luck to you. I’m not sure how you’re going to turn that into a show, but have at it.” We stayed in touch through Facebook and stuff like that, and they saw me in a couple of shows in Toronto, and I was invited to audition.

Apparently the audition went well.

I was on the other side of the doors, waiting to go in, and some incredible person with an incredible voice sang “Let It Go” so incredibly well and loud and high and my inner monologue was, “What are you doing here?” So I abandoned my book and said to them, “You know, I think considering what the show is, and who I am, and where I’m from, I should sing you a song from Newfoundland.” So I sang a very silly song about a talking goat [“The Mobile Goat,” recorded by Joan Morrissey]. I think they were a little confused by it, but it was certainly something they hadn’t heard. And I do credit that tune with getting me the job in the end.

Bromley talking with fans outside the theater on Sunday. “People do tell me their pet stories all the time, and it’s beautiful,” she said.
Bromley talking with fans outside the theater on Sunday. “People do tell me their pet stories all the time, and it’s beautiful,” she said.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

You had some apprehension about how Newfoundland was going to be depicted.

When you have a culture that is distinct, it’s easy for it to be stereotyped. So the accent, and being poor, and being undereducated became the marks of what it is to be a Newfoundlander. In Canada, the “Newfie” joke was a big thing for many, many years, and we were often portrayed in the media and pop culture as stupid Newfies. That was my concern: Here are some mainlanders — “Come From Aways” — coming down to tell a story about us, and how are they going to paint us? But at the very first rehearsals in La Jolla, Chris Ashley made it very clear he wanted every character in the show to be treated with respect and not to be just cartoons. And as soon as he said that, I was like, “It’s all going to be fine.”

When this show was in development, there was a lot of skepticism about whether it could work commercially.

Absolutely. I’ve been skeptical the whole time. I was always wondering about the sheer earnestness of it, in a world that is as cynical as our world is. And telling a story about 9/11 in New York to New Yorkers — there was a lot of concern.

Why do you think the show worked for as long as it did?

Because it is about community, and it’s about kindness. There are no dragons and no helicopters and no wizards. This show raised up ordinary people doing very simple ordinary things — just helping each other out — and particularly in the past five or six years, with what’s been going on here in the States and around the world, kindness and generosity are things that we’re losing sight of.

You played a woman who runs the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Are you an animal person?

I have three dogs. I have allergies or I would have a million pets. People do tell me their pet stories all the time, and it’s beautiful. It’s a lovely way to connect.

Did you ever meet Unga, the bonobo most discussed in the musical?

She passed away before I was able to go to the zoo. If the pandemic hadn’t put a roadblock up, I would have been there to meet her. But I did meet Unga’s son Gander, and her other son Jerry, at the Columbus Zoo [in Ohio]. Bonnie and I went together and watched them in the enclosure. It was incredible.

What is the level of awareness of the show in Newfoundland?

You can’t not be aware of it — it’s everywhere. We just did those concerts back home — three shows in Gander and three shows in St. John’s, at large arenas, which sold out in minutes. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people have made the pilgrimage to come see it here or in Toronto or in places across the country where the tour was happening. It’s made its way into being part of the culture now. And everybody wants it to have a further life in Newfoundland.

Bromley, center, at the final curtain call with Bonnie Harris, the woman she portrayed in the show.
Bromley, center, at the final curtain call with Bonnie Harris, the woman she portrayed in the show.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

What was your career like before this show?

I thought it was fine! I was a very employed, everyday working actor in Newfoundland, which is not easy to do. I had enough of a reputation and experience to be consistently working, mostly in theater, sometimes in TV and film. And I thought that that was as good as it gets. I still feel that way. I’m going home, back to Newfoundland, hopefully to fall back into working with the people that I love who create new, incredible work all the time.

What is your career like now?

I’m much more recognizable at home, which is lovely. I picked up a TV series back home, called “Son of a Critch,” and we just finished filming the second season of that. I’m a tertiary character, but it’s a lovely little gig to have and hopefully that can blossom into other things. I don’t have an agent, and I never have, and I have worked in Stratford [in Ontario] and on Broadway. But I’m probably going to get an agent so that I can work across Canada.

What surprised you about Broadway?

While I do have a lot of reverence for it, if you hold things on a pedestal, when you get there in a lot of ways it’s the same thing: It’s a job that you go to every day. I appreciate, being the age that I am, to have had the experience to know that it was going to have highs and lows, and that there would be ordinariness inside of the extraordinariness. And I’m always aware of the privilege of it, and the reality that none of us would have been on that stage but for the fact that a very tragic event happened and thousands of people died. And grateful that I got to tell a story, connected to them, that kept their memories alive in any way, shape or form for people who needed to hear it.

What did you learn about New York City?

It’s crazy. It’s great. To live in New York was incredible. But again, the layers get peeled back when you live somewhere, and you see that it isn’t just a helluva town. I found it difficult on many levels. To be in a very privileged position of working at this incredible place, but literally walking past the most desperate individuals I’ve ever seen in my life, people who are in jeopardy, on the street, asking for help, and we all walk past them and no one helps them. To come and tell this story, where giving a helping hand makes sense, and watch it not happen in reality on the street, I’ve found that hard to reconcile.

Have you changed?

Absolutely. In many, many ways. I like to think that I’m a bit more generous, a bit kinder than I was before this. It’s also made me a better singer. It’s made me a better actor. And certainly the cosmopolitan experience of living in a big city has changed me.

Why are you going back?

Because it’s home. There’s a joke about Newfoundlanders: “How do you know the Newfoundlanders in heaven? They’re the ones who want to go home.”

New York Times October 3, 2022

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‘Time is brain: The longer you take to go to the hospital after a stroke, the worse the damage’

Alberto Lleó, director of neurology at Sant Pau Hospital in Barcelona, warns that the rise in neurodegenerative diseases will continue to squeeze healthcare systems

Alberto Lleó, director of the Neurology service at Hospital Sant Pau in Barcelona.
Alberto Lleó, director of the Neurology service at Hospital Sant Pau in Barcelona.GIANLUCA BATTISTA

To find out if the brain development of a newborn baby is normal, doctors usually look at – among other things – a small reflex action, triggered by exerting a tiny amount of pressure on the palm of the hand or the sole of the foot. This little movement in the first months of life provides invaluable information.

Lluís Barraquer Roviralta – considered the father of neurology in Spain – first utilized this technique over a century ago at Sant Pau Hospital in Barcelona. A full 140 years of scientific advances (and three generations of Barraquers) have now passed in the neurology clinics of Sant Pau. Today, specialized services in this area of medicine have taken giant leaps, thanks to the development of imaging technology.

“This is the decade of neurology,” proclaims Albert Lleó, the current director of the department that Barraquer created. The 50-year-old neurologist recently received a lot of media attention after his team successfully treated the 92-year-old former premier of Catalonia, Jordi Pujol, after he suffered a stroke. Pujol was released from hospital last weekend.

This interview has been translated and edited for clarity and brevity.

Question. How has the field of neurology changed in 140 years?

Answer. Neurological disorders are becoming more frequent. Many of these are age-related diseases – this is to be expected, given that people are living longer. It’s projected that the prevalence of degenerative diseases could triple within the next 30 years.

Q. How has the prognosis of these diseases evolved?

A. Thirty years ago, there were very few diseases that had effective treatment. In most cases, the causes and mechanisms were not well understood. For strokes, there were only antiaggregants, such as aspirin. Practically nothing was known about degenerative diseases. As for neuromuscular diseases, only cortisone or very broad-acting immunosuppressants were available. What has happened in recent years is that more knowledge about the causes has resulted in more effective treatments.

Q. It used to be said that neurologists know all about the diseases, but they can’t cure any of them…

A. This belief is totally obsolete. There are effective treatments for cerebral vascular diseases, for stopping blood clots from growing or causing problems… there are very effective treatments for migraines, there’s gene therapy treatment being carried out for spinal muscular atrophy. Perhaps the most difficult diseases to treat are Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Q. These are good times for neurology, then?

A. We are in a fantastic era, because of the therapeutic tools we have access to. But the rise of neurological diseases is also, in turn, a time bomb, because it can squeeze health services. We have aging populations, a greater prevalence of chronic diseases… all of this comes at a very high cost, the treatments aren’t cheap. This is why it’s very important to have adequate plans for Alzheimer’s, for example, or for other neurodegenerative diseases, to prioritize where we’re going to put the money – do we put it into long-term care homes or do we put it in research?

Q. Last week, former Catalan premier Jordi Pujol was proof that strokes can be reversible, even at an advanced age.

A. Today, more and more work is being done on biological age rather than on chronological age. That is, you can be 60 years old, but have the brain of an 80-year-old, because you’ve had an unhealthy lifestyle.

The rise of neurological diseases is a time bomb, because it can squeeze health services

Q. Mar Castellanos, the head of neurology at A Coruña Hospital, said in an interview with EL PAÍS that strokes don’t just take place among the elderly – more and more often, they are affecting the working age population. Why is this happening?

A. A stroke is highly influenced by lifestyle: smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, a sedentary lifestyle, high stress levels… age is not the only factor.

Q. Speaking of lifestyle… even though we’re living longer, are we living worse? Are we harming our brain with our habits?

A. I think there is still a lack of awareness regarding the prevention and early detection of neurological diseases. In the case of a stroke, for example, there are people who still think that it’s not necessary to go to the emergency room, that you can wait and see if it goes away. We see this every day. And why is this happening? Because cardiovascular or cancer prevention campaigns began in the 1970s, but in neurology, they started much later – we’ve been repeating this message for less time. In the case of a stroke, time is brain: the longer it takes to get to the hospital, the more brain damage there will be. Neurological diseases have been largely neglected from the point of view of awareness campaigns and funding.

Q. There’s a kind of knowledge black hole when it comes to neurodegenerative diseases, which still have no treatment. Why?

A. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s… these are very difficult diseases to study and treat. Sometimes, many years may pass before a person notices the first symptoms. By the time they begin to notice and seek help, there is already significant brain damage. When someone has a tumor, oncologists do a biopsy of the tissue, analyze it and look for viable treatment options. But you can’t do a biopsy in the brain: we depend on imaging techniques, which don’t have microscopic resolution. We aren’t able to examine these diseases in detail in the early stages – not knowing what’s happening during these critical years makes it difficult to find treatments.

In Alzheimer’s, there are more than 50 genes involved – it’s very difficult to know what the sequence of events is. Even so, I would say that much progress has been made. And it’s also very clear that the greatest advances have been made in the degenerative diseases that have received the most funding, like Alzheimer’s and MS. The common thread of all chronic diseases – except for strokes – is to understand the immune system in our brain, about which very little is known. This will be essential research over the coming decades.

Q. How can the healthcare system remain sustainable?

A. It’s necessary to carry out a cost-effectiveness analysis. If we manage to reduce or postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s for five years with effective treatments, we can reduce the number of total cases and, most importantly, improve people’s quality of life. This has a very high cost, but maybe it will buy patients a few extra years of life outside of long-term care.


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Mastermind’s Gestapo origins, immortal sitcoms and the birth of reality TV: 100 years of the BBC, part six

‘I know nothing’ … Fawlty Towers.
‘I know nothing’ … Fawlty Towers. Photograph: PA

From ‘Basil!’ to ‘lovely jubbly’, welcome to the age of the classic sitcom – and the dawn of a new genre where nothing was off the table apart from ‘making love and going to the lavatory’

The BBC finds perhaps its greatest ever radio broadcaster and two finest sitcoms, and persuades Tom Stoppard and John le Carré to TV highs.

1972 – Terry Wogan/Im Sorry I Havent A Clue/Mastermind

Although TV by now claimed the bulk of BBC budgets, radio created greatness. At 7.03am on 3 April, Terry Wogan moved to the Radio 2 breakfast show that he turned into one of the finest wireless franchises, from 1972-84 then again from 1993-2009. His combination of literate wit, ingenious smut (the “Janet and John stories”) and discussion of the previous night’s TV (especially Dallas) remains the benchmark for morning broadcasting.

Full of ingenious smut … Terry Wogan.
Full of ingenious smut … Terry Wogan. Photograph: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

Just eight days later, on Radio 4, another monument was unveiled. I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, an “antidote to panel games”, survives to this day, rivalling Wogan for clever filth and sparky banter. But a TV long-runner started, too. The longevity of Mastermind is partly due to the British love of quizzes. But creator Bill Wright also showed a crucial understanding of televisual atmospherics in the leather chair, dimmed lights and menacing music; he claimed these were influenced by his own Gestapo interrogation as a prisoner of war. Original host Magnus Magnusson also created one of the most famous catchphrases outside of standup: “I’ve started, so I’ll finish.”

1973 – That’s Life!

Almost all power in TV at this time was male, so Esther Rantzen was a significant pioneer as presenter and de facto editor of a late-night Saturday (later primetime Sunday) series interspersing comedy (Cyril Fletcher’s Odd Odes) and songs (including early numbers by Victoria Wood) with investigations of viewer complaints about jobsworths, mis-selling and shoddy service. Running until 1994, the show was notable, through Rantzen’s Childline, for increasing awareness of paedophilia, although, ironically, That’s Life! initially shared a schedule with Clunk-Click, a show hosted by Jimmy Savile.

1974 – The Family

The Wilkins family.
Frontrunners … The Wilkins family. Photograph: BBC

1975 – Porridge/Fawlty Towers/The Good Life

Whatever was in the water, it tasted good … Porridge. Photograph: BBC/Sportsphoto/Allstar

Between repeats of the first series of Porridge and the start of the second, two more immortal sitcoms debuted within five months. All three dramatised the nightmares of many middle-class viewers – imprisonment, terrible seaside hotels, agricultural and economic self-sufficiency – and they each featured actors with significant experience in theatre and/or sketch shows: Ronnie Barker as old lag Norman Stanley Fletcher, John Cleese’s inhospitable hospitality worker Basil Fawlty with Prunella Scales as boss-wife Sybil, and Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith playing the precociously green Goods and the politically true-blue Leadbetters. Whatever was in the water at the time, it tasted good. In a 21st-century poll of the BBC’s Top Ten half-hour comedies, Fawlty Towers was fifth, Porridge seventh and The Good Life ninth.

1976 – I, Claudius

Aged 54, the BBC was heading for a serious midlife crisis (under Thatcherism) but its 50s were extraordinarily creative. Although prone to dramatising the novels of Jane Austen in rotation, the source material here was bolder: 1934 novels by Robert Graves about an especially bloody, treacherous and licentious period of Ancient Rome. It proved an inspired choice, the impulse perhaps coming from a sense of western civilisation imploding as – post-Watergate America and mid-oil crisis Britain – economies and democracies wobbled. Derek Jacobi stuttering in the title role, Brian Blessed roaring as Caesar Augustus, John Hurt’s magnificently crackers Caligula and Sîan Phillips’s strong-woman Livia Drusilla relished Jack Pullman’s magisterial scripts.

1977 – Professional Foul

BBC Radio had given Tom Stoppard useful experience on his way to theatrical greatness, and the launch of Play of the Week, a BBC Two sibling to Play For Today, showcased one of Stoppard’s finest displays of wit, political intelligence and clever metaphor. Peter Barkworth was a linguistics professor attending an international football match under cover of a conference in Prague and having to make a personal moral decision about human rights abuse. Written in three weeks to panicky deadlines, even he has rarely matched its bite-to-line score.

1978 – Pennies From Heaven/Grange Hill

Pennies From Heaven.
Pioneering … Pennies From Heaven. Photograph: BBC

Early TV playwrights tended to have had apprenticeships in theatre or movies, but Dennis Potter was among the first to understand that TV fiction offered a specific canvas, especially the possibilities of a six-part weekly serial. Potter thought in pictures – his play Blue Remembered Hills memorably had adults playing child roles and, in Pennies From Heaven, even rethought the dramatic soundtrack. Taking a cue from Arthur Parker (Bob Hoskins) being a song-sheet salesman, the cast mimed to 1930s numbers, radicalising the period crime setting. Potter used surreal solutions – grownups as kids, lip-synced singing – to get round obstacles to realism such as asking child actors to carry major roles or speech performers struggling to hold a tune. The rerun life of Potter’s work may have been truncated by later concern over his objectification of women, but he pioneered the concept of the “TV novel”. Another writer with a sophisticated understanding of TV was Phil Redmond, who radicalised BBC children’s drama with Grange Hill, set in a London comprehensive school, which tackled issues including drugs and bullying.

1979 – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy/Not The Nine O’Clock News

A great decade for BBC comedy and drama finished with another classic of each. Ill-served by cinema, John le Carré realised that TV might better suit his long, deliberative plots. The six parts following super-spy George Smiley’s hunt for a Soviet mole in MI6 were notable for their daringly slow pace and lengthy theme song, although producer Jonathan Powell revealed that both decisions were caused by Arthur Hopcraft’s scripts coming in slightly short. Cast as Smiley, Alec Guinness at one point tried to leave the show – insisting that Arthur Lowe, Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army, was a better fit – but stayed to give a masterclass in TV acting.

1980 – Juliet Bravo

With a female head of UK government for the first time, one of broadcasting’s more oblique responses to Thatcherism was to wake up to top women in other fields, especially policing. ITV had Jill Gascoigne in The Gentle Touch, while BBC One launched Juliet Bravo, created by Ian Kennedy Martin, perhaps as male feminist penance for his previous biggest hit, ITV’s hyper-masculine The Sweeney. Weirdly neither of the woman-cop shows was named for its central character, unlike Dixon, Maigret, Sherlock Holmes etc. Juliet Bravo was not the protagonist but the radio call-sign of Inspector Jean Darblay, played by Stephanie Turner. It was a standard paradox of the time that this female breakthrough show was almost exclusively written by men.

1981 – Only Fools And Horses

Only Fools and Horses.
‘You plonker!’ Only Fools and Horses. Photograph: BBC/Sportsphoto/Allstar

John Sullivan left school at 15 with no qualifications but enthused by one bit of the curriculum: Charles Dickens. Written in instalments, and full of exaggerated characters, those comic novels shaped the sitcoms Sullivan began to write at BBC Television Centre. He created the Trotter family of south London, led by David Jason’s boosterish, delusional market trader Del Boy Trotter, a latter-day Micawber, luring younger brother Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) into money-making schemes doomed to failure. In retrospect, Del Boy Trotter (along with George Cole’s Arthur Daley in Minder), eerily foresaw the egalitarian spivvy aspect of Thatcherism. Sullivan had a knack not only for characterisation and catchphrases – “Lovely jubbly!” – but also visual gags, such as a chandelier accidentally unscrewed during work on a grand house and Del Boy leaning on an unfamiliar bar and falling through the raised flap.


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JFK derails Doctor Who, plus the drama that was too terrifying to show: 100 years of the BBC, part five

So alarming that BBC managers contacted The War Office … The War Game.
So alarming that BBC managers contacted The War Office … The War Game. Photograph: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy

The Pythons fly, Doctor Who stumbles, Match of the Day shows a game of one half, The War Game is pulled – and was Dad’s Army a metaphor for military impotence during the cold war?

The BBC launches four TV long-runners and four radio stations still in the schedules today, sees the appeal of police procedurals and, influenced by America, looks into the night.

1962 – Z Cars/Dr Finlay’s Casebook

With Dixon of Dock Green in its seventh top-rating year, the BBC crime scene expanded with Z Cars, a much tougher and more authentic depiction of policing, which developed key TV actors such as Brian Blessed, Colin Welland and Frank Windsor. It ran until 1978, turning police procedurals into go-to shows. In the same year, an equally powerful genre – the medical series – became entrenched in the schedules with Dr Finlay’s Casebook. The Scottish setting of that series, and Z Cars’ northern location, were a response to ITV’s strong regional branding.

1963 – Doctor Who

Aimed at children, this new series was due to start on Saturday 23 November at 5.15pm. But President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas the day before Doctor Who’s first episode, An Unearthly Child. A delay for an extended news plus widespread power cuts – probably caused by pressure on the grid from people following events in America – led the BBC to run a rapid repeat. William Hartnell, as the first Doctor, started the journey of a show that has survived for 59 years (with a 16-year black hole from 1989) and 14 doctors. The dark event that overshadowed the show’s launch was addressed in a 1996 spin-off novel, Doctor Who: Who Killed Kennedy.

1964 – Top of the Pops/Match of the Day

The BBC seems to have been under a lucky star in 1963-4, as Doctor Who was swiftly followed by two more future super-franchises. With the radio Hit Parade becoming increasingly important to young audiences, Top of the Pops was launched on the first day of the new year, featuring live performances of the week’s top songs. The issue of unavailable acts was solved (sexistly) by all-female dance troupe Pan’s People, and acts who couldn’t sing live by lip-syncing. Specialist music channels killed off the show in 2006, and its reputation was further damaged by a long association with sex offender Jimmy Savile, who hosted the first and last shows.

Seven months later, Match of the Day launched a brand that has been interrupted only by ITV or Sky Sports buying football rights. The Football Association had long resisted televising games except cup matches and internationals – fearing league crowds would reduce if fixtures were shown in homes – but, seeking distinctive material for the new channel BBC Two, the corporation persuaded the authorities to allow the second half of one game to be seen on Saturday evening.

1965 – The War Game

The most significant show of this year was one viewers never saw. Peter Watkins’ drama-documentary about a nuclear war – just three years after such a conflict seemed imminent in the Cuban Missile Crisis – so alarmed BBC managers that they consulted the War Office, who concluded the film was too frightening for viewers. Of particular concern were scenes showing the eyeballs of victims melting from the heat released by warheads, and police shooting victims judged by doctors too sick to survive. The film was not screened until 1985, in a season to mark the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

1966 – Cathy Come Home

Cathy Come Home.
Cathy Come Home. Photograph: PA

Not completely losing courage, the BBC turned to a horrible situation that politicians could not claim was scaremongering – homelessness. This film about a couple forced by bad luck and housing policy to live on the streets belongs to political history – spotlighting the launch of one charity, Shelter, and inspiring another, Crisis. But it was also an artistic landmark, highlighting (as The War Game had tried to do) the power of drama-documentary as a small-screen form and propelling the stellar movie career of director Ken Loach (Kes, Hidden Agenda, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, I, Daniel Blake.)

1967 – The Forsyte Saga/Radio 1/2/3/4

Increasingly, the BBC’s defence of the licence fee – criticised from right and left for being a non-means-tested “viewing tax” under threat of criminal prosecution – was to offer something for all possible audiences. This year, the corporation launched The Forsyte Saga, an adaptation of John Galsworthy’s Victorian-Edwardian family epic. Initially niche – because it screened on BBC Two, which still had intermittent reach – it became widely popular when repeated on BBC One on Sunday nights, establishing a key costume drama time-slot. The Church of England was even persuaded to bring forward Evensong to the afternoon so the faithful could fit in both their beloved fixes.

While the corporation courted core audiences with that drama, it also created a step-ladder of listening by splitting and expanding the Home, Light and Third programmes into Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4. This change created a potential BBC habit from nightclub to nightcap.

1968 – Dad’s Army

While a number of BBC franchises (Match of the Day, Desert Island Discs and The Archers) have endured through new shows, Dad’s Army is rivalled only by Morecambe & Wise in the original episodes remaining competitive in the schedules long after almost all participants are dead. Though it is now seen as the epitome of safe family TV, David Croft and Jimmy Perry’s sitcom about the second world war Home Guard was, on premiere, controversial. At a time when almost all viewers had some connection with the conflict, some MPs and BBC managers felt a comedy about the war effort was offensive; another worry was that the depiction of silly part-time soldiers was a metaphor for the impotence of military resistance in the cold war. The show’s longevity is down to perfect punchlines (“Don’t tell him, Pike!”), and Dickensian characterisation. The greatest British sitcom.

1969 – Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Photograph: BBC/Allstar

To the likely dismay of Lord Reith, approaching 80 in Scottish retirement, this year showed the extent to which his creation now had to share the airwaves with the commercial interloper. Two big live events – the Apollo 11 moon landings and the Investiture of the Prince of Wales – were screened on ITV as well. Even more startlingly, Royal Family, the first ever behind-the-scenes documentary about the House of Windsor, though made by BBC film-maker Richard Cawston, was required by the deal with Buckingham Palace to be screened a week later on ITV.

The year’s main homegrown show was Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Taking surreal comedy even further than The Goons, the Pythons launched several major TV careers – John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones – and encouraged comedy about the medium itself, including spoofs of the posh-man arts-lecture format running on the BBC that year in Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation. Python sketches such as a defective parrot returned to a pet shop, a Whitehall department promoting silly walks and singing-and-dancing lumberjacks soon entered the repertoire of British homes.

1970 – Play For Today/What’s New?

Continuing the “one service fits all” policy, conservative audiences were offered a classic period piece – The Six Wives of Henry VIII, the root of TV’s Tudor obsession – while liberals were lured with stories of now in Play For Today. This didn’t really work as political appeasement (audiences for one often objected to the existence of the other) but, over 14 years, PFT delivered some of the greatest screen theatre. Despite the title, some of the best were stories from yesterday: Jack Rosenthal’s story of second world war children billeted with strangers in The Evacuees, David Pirie’s Rainy Day Women, about rumours of German spies in a 1940 village, and Ian McEwan’s The Imitation Game, dramatising the Bletchley Park code-breakers three decades before the movie of the same name. Hotly contemporary, though, were Jim Allen’s The Spongers, questioning welfare cuts; Through The Night, Trevor Griffiths’ critique of NHS treatment of breast cancer; an examination of a rape case in Carol Bunyan’s Sorry; and a pioneering female plumber in Paula Milne’s A Sudden Wrench. Only accidentally televised – a studio drama slot came suddenly free – Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party became the most revered and repeated single TV play ever.

All 10 Play For Today scripts in 1970 were written by men, but the feminism memo had reached Radio 1, where, at 4.15pm on 12 January, between the shows of Terry Wogan and Dave Cash, Anne (later “Annie”) Nightingale became the first regular woman DJ, reviewing the week’s releases in What’s New?

1971 – Parkinson

Michael Parkinson.
Michael Parkinson. Photograph: ITV/Shutterstock

Though British TV had closely shadowed its American elder, UK networks were nervous of both post-dawn and pre-midnight programming, fearing exhausting the workforce. Michael Parkinson, though, dreamed of emulating Johnny Carson’s Tonight show in the US. Having failed to persuade ITV to give him a stars-on-the-sofa show, he eventually convinced the BBC that his journalistic credentials would lift the genre above showbiz. His Yorkshire accent, striking on a BBC dominated by RP voices, also seemed to promise substance not just stardust. Carson appeared every week night, a model that Parkinson wished to recreate – but he was initially restricted to a try-out of some summer Saturdays at 10.30pm. The first show, on 19 June, hosted African American tennis player Arthur Ashe, in town to play at Wimbledon, comedy actor Terry-Thomas, and Ray Bellisario, a paparazzo notorious for photographing members of the royal family (newshound Parky was looking for a story the papers would pick up). Despite Parkinson’s huge popularity, stuffy BBC governors never allowed the UK’s Carson-wannabe to run more than twice a week.


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Big-toothed David Attenborough’s emergency debut: 100 years of the BBC, part four

The start of something extraordinary … Zoo Quest.
The start of something extraordinary … Zoo Quest. Photograph: BBC

The BBC overcomes its objection to Attenborough’s teeth, the flower pot men strike gibberish gold, Blue Peter sets sail, Samuel Beckett is silenced – and a ‘dee jay’ plays some pop

As the second Elizabethan age begins, the king of wildlife is crowned, radio gifts us an immortal country drama and music shows go pop. Plus, for the first time, the BBC has competition.

1952 – Flower Pot Men

Bill and Ben the Flower Pot Men with Weed.
Bill and Ben the Flower Pot Men with Weed. Photograph: Picture library

The kindergarten ambitions of BBC Television created Watch With Mother, preschool viewing that began in 1952 with cloth doll puppets Andy Pandy (and his friend Looby Loo) and now expanded with The Flower Pot Men. Bill and Ben, with their flowerpot torsos, had a vegetating mate named Weed. The show made two discoveries that shaped the future of children’s TV – that a new target audience comes along every year (the same episodes ran for a decade and a half) and that characters who speak gibberish adapt easily to international sales (as The Clangers, Pingu and Teletubbies later did.)

1953 – The Coronation

The Queen’s coronation.
The Queen’s coronation. Photograph: PA

This outside broadcast was by far the longest (10.15am to 5.20pm), most complex (16 cameras) and durable (all recorded for archive purposes) in the BBC’s three decades to date. But it had to fight to reach the air at all. Sir Winston Churchill, in 10 Downing Street for a second spell, advised barring cameras (as they had been from the royal wedding). But the Duke of Edinburgh, chair of the coronation committee, agreed to live transmission, a highlights package to be flown by RAF jet to Commonwealth countries and even a version in 3D. Largely wiped from history, as female pioneers in many fields have been, Sylvia Peters was the main presenter, with Richard Dimbleby whispering inside Westminster Abbey.

1954 – Zoo Quest, Under Milk Wood

The 28-year-old David Attenborough, an almost exact contemporary of the young queen, was producing an animal show-and-tell when the host became unavailable and Attenborough stepped in, permitted in an emergency to override his boss’s belief that he should never be on screen because his “teeth are too big”. In a medium moving towards mass appeal – helped by the 20 million UK audience for the coronation, albeit crowded around only three million TVs – Zoo Quest effectively launched the mega-genre of BBC Wildlife, and Attenborough’s extraordinary seven-decade career.

David Attenborough at London airport (now Heathrow).
David Attenborough at London airport (now Heathrow). Photograph: Ron Case/Getty Images

At 7.25pm on 25 January, the Third Programme broadcast what remains the single most famous radio play, although its author was already dead. Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood was such a success that it was repeated four times in nine months. Thomas’s 90-minute lyrical archaeology of a bereaved lover, relieved widow, a homicidal husband and a depressed clergyman in the Welsh fishing village of Llareggub – the BBC censor either ignorant of, or ignoring, what it spelled backwards – set the standard for poetry and radio drama.

1955 – Dixon of Dock Green, The Archers

Panicked by the arrival of competition – from commercial network ITV – the BBC killed off Grace, scion of The Archers, on ITV launch night, and powered up its TV dramas. Pioneering the police procedural, Dixon of Dock Green followed a decent East End man in blue, played by Jack Warner, through the cases that came to his nick. All subsequent major cop shows either embraced or reacted against the Dock Green model.

1956 – Hancock’s Half-Hour

Tony Hancock.
Tony Hancock. Photograph: Hulton Deutsch/Corbis/Getty Images

With 98% of the UK population now in reach of TV transmitters (thanks to a new mast at Crystal Palace), the most significant political programme saw Anthony Eden, on 27 April, making the first ministerial broadcast as the Suez Crisis developed. More vital to the history of TV, though, was the premiere, at 8.45pm on 6 July, of Hancock’s Half Hour, based on the long-running radio series. During the Covid pandemic, older viewers and journalists referred to nightly broadcasts by the health secretary Matt Hancock by the same name.

1957 – Eurovision Song Contest, All That Fall

Fourth Eurovision song contest in Cannes. Jacqueline Joubert provided with a baguette announces the results of Eurovision.
The fourth Eurovision song contest in Cannes. Photograph: INA/Getty Images

In the lead-up to the 1957 Treaty of Rome, creating the European Economic Community, the attempt to prevent a third 20th-century war on the continent extended to singers, with the European Broadcasting Union establishing an annual pop sing-off. It began in 1956, but Britain joined late – the BBC’s first entry, Patricia Bredin’s All!, coming seventh in 1957. In the early decades, the UK won five times and most of the entries were in English, but the rest of the continent later bit back.

In a stark example of the BBC’s desire to make shows for both populists and elitists, the Third Programme’s contribution to European culture that year was an original radio play by Samuel Beckett, who had just transformed 20th-century theatre with Waiting for Godot. Beckett had not considered writing for wireless before, but was excited by a work of only sounds. All That Fall, in which an old lady has three encounters on an Irish road, explored the dramatic possibilities of the mind’s eye, silence and sound effects – such as a bicycle bell revealing a mode of transport.

1958 – Blue Peter

Having recently lost the Suez Canal, Britain perhaps compensated by building a children’s TV show around the symbol of a boat. If this seems odd, remember that many BBC producers at the time held naval rank. Inquirers were told that the show’s name invoked the “voyage of adventure” on which children would go. Remaining on air for two-thirds of the BBC’s history, it became a power franchise under Biddy Baxter, editor from 1962-88, and presenters – John Noakes, Valerie Singleton, Peter Purves – who established the tradition of British children being indelibly branded by “their” Blue Peter presenters.

1959 – Juke Box Jury

On a Monday night in June, BBC Television launched its most serious pop music project. Pete Murray, an early example of a profession billed in the first listing as a “dee jay”, and a panel including young singer Alma Cogan, judged new singles “hit” or “miss”.

1960 – An Age of Kings, Maigret

Rupert Davies as Maigret.
Rupert Davies as Maigret. Photograph: Joan Williams/Rex Features

The increasing power of ITV – as it prepared for the December debut of Coronation Street – again galvanised the BBC to fatten its fiction offering. A year before the launch of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the corporation stuck a flag in the ground with An Age of Kings, a mashup of Shakespeare’s English history plays. It would do so again in Wars of the Roses, an RSC co-production in 1965, the BBC Television Shakespeare (1978) and The Hollow Crown (2012-16), periods when the corporation wanted to stress its public service credentials to win government support. With Rupert Davies as the French detective created by the Belgian author Georges Simenon, Maigret was the first, and for many the best, of several TV retellings of these stories.

1961 – Comedy Playhouse

As the expense of TV production became clear, companies often made “pilots” – single episodes to test the potential for a full run. Having effectively started BBC sitcom with Hancock’s Half Hour, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson were so prolific that they wrote 10 pilots for possible future series, of which The Offer, about a dysfunctional father and son in a junk shop, became the classic Steptoe and Son.


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In Retreat on Ukrainian Fronts, Russia Shows Signs of Disarray

Confusion and recriminations marked the Russian efforts to call up draftees and claim sovereignty over Ukrainian territory, as well as the Russian response to battlefield setbacks.

A photograph taken during a Ukraine government-arranged tour for journalists showing Ukrainian soldiers in the town of Oskil, in eastern Ukraine, on Monday.
A photograph taken during a Ukraine government-arranged tour for journalists showing Ukrainian soldiers in the town of Oskil, in eastern Ukraine, on Monday.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

IZIUM, Ukraine — Russian forces in Ukraine were on the run Monday across a broad swath of the front line, as the Ukrainian military pressed its blitz offensive in the east and made gains in the south, belying President Vladimir V. Putin’s claims to have absorbed into Russia territories that his armies are steadily losing.

Following the capture over the weekend of Lyman, a strategic rail hub and gateway to the eastern Donbas region, Ukrainian forces showed no sign of stopping, pushing eastward toward the city of Lysychansk, which Russia seized three months ago after bloody fighting. Any loss of territory in the Donbas undermines Mr. Putin’s objectives for the war he launched in February, which has focused on seizing and incorporating the region.

The Kremlin reflected the disarray of its forces on the ground, where territory was rapidly changing hands, acknowledging that it did not yet know what new borders Russia would claim in southern Ukraine. “In terms of the borders, we’re going to continue to consult with the population of these regions,” Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters on Monday.

The military conscription Mr. Putin ordered on Sept. 21 to bolster his battered forces has set off nationwide turmoil and protest, bringing the war home to many Russians who had felt untouched by it. Many men have been drafted who were supposed to be ineligible based on factors like age or disability.

On Monday, the governor of the Khabarovsk region in the Far East said that half of the men called up there, numbering in the thousands, should not have been drafted and had been sent home and that the region’s military commissar had been dismissed.

Mr. Putin had meant for Monday to be a triumphant day in Moscow, where the lower house of Russia’s rubber-stamp Parliament, the State Duma, voted unanimously to ratify his proclaimed annexation of four Ukrainian regions after sham referendums there.

But events on the battlefield threatened to make a mockery of such declarations, as Ukrainians continued to recapture blasted, largely depopulated cities and towns from the retreating Russians. North of Lyman, the village of Pisky-Radkivski, retaken last week, was littered with burned-out Russian tanks, abandoned Russian gear and the bodies of Russian soldiers on Monday.

A photograph taken during the government-arranged tour for journalists showing a severely damaged religious building in Sviatohirsk, on Monday.
A photograph taken during the government-arranged tour for journalists showing a severely damaged religious building in Sviatohirsk, on Monday.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Ukraine claimed on Monday to have destroyed a Russian armored column near the village of Torske in the Donetsk region, east of Lyman and just 20 miles from Lysychansk. The attack left roads in the dense pine forest cluttered with burned tanks and armored vehicles, said Vladyslav Podkich, a Ukrainian military spokesman.

The attack could not be independently verified, but Russian officials admitted setbacks in the area, saying that Ukrainian forces had crossed into the Luhansk region for the first time in months, and had set up positions closer to Lysychansk. Donetsk and Luhansk, collectively known as the Donbas, are two of the four regions Moscow now claims as Russian territory.

Piled into the back of an army truck, heading down the road to new positions near Lyman, a company of Ukrainian and foreign soldiers were ebullient over the Russian retreat.

“We broke their lines and have been pursuing them since,” said the unit’s commander, a 26-year-old American volunteer who gave his name as Rob Roy, and uses the code name Borys. “Basically,” he added, “we shattered them.”

Ukrainian soldiers have encountered hungry, poorly outfitted Russian troops, some with little weaponry to defend themselves.

“Lots of times they were wearing flip-flops, malnourished,” Mr. Roy said.

Two Russian soldiers his unit found had only one gun between them. At another abandoned Russian position, he said, they found graffiti apparently left behind by fleeing soldiers that used a slur to describe their commander.

“It does not scream of a well mobilized army,” he said. “My feeling is they don’t want to be here.”

Ukrainian body collectors on Monday removing the corpse of a Russian soldier, killed during the recent battle for Lyman.
Ukrainian body collectors on Monday removing the corpse of a Russian soldier, killed during the recent battle for Lyman.Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Hundreds of miles away in the south, Ukrainian forces have also begun to move, pushing deeper into the Kherson region, in what a senior Ukrainian military official described as the beginning of the active phase of a monthslong offensive operation.

Russia’s Defense Ministry acknowledged on Monday that Ukrainian tank units had penetrated its line of defense in part of the region, a fertile part of southern Ukraine that Russian forces seized in the first weeks of the war.

A Russian-installed official in the region, Kirill Stremousov, said that Ukrainian troops had advanced along the Dnipro River in the direction of the Russian-held regional capital of Kherson, but insisted that “the situation is completely under control.”

Russia’s troops are in a precarious position in the Kherson Region. The bulk of the Kremlin’s forces are deployed west of the broad Dnipro, in and around the city of Kherson, while their supplies and logistical support are mostly on the river’s east bank.

Ukrainian forces have largely destroyed the crucial bridges needed to continue to supply troops with ammunition and equipment. Though the Russians are well dug in after many months in control of the territory, a concerted attack could tax their limited supply lines and possibly force — and complicate — a retreat across the river.

In the Zaporizhzhia region, where the security of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant has become an issue of international concern, Russian forces released the plant’s director, the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Monday, three days after they detained him. Russian troops seized control of the plant early in the war but it continues to be run by its Ukrainian staff, under what Ukrainian officials describe as a brutal occupation.

Also on Monday, Danish officials and the Nord Stream pipeline company said that natural gas had stopped spewing from the damaged pipes below the Baltic Sea linking Russia to Germany. The pipes ruptured last week in what was widely described as an act of sabotage, though no evidence has yet emerged about who was to blame.

Despite Ukraine’s recent gains, Russian forces still control about one-sixth of Ukrainian territory, including the areas they and their proxies seized in 2014. Moscow still holds the advantage in firepower and has threatened the use of a nuclear weapon to defend what it now calls Russian territory, and it has demonstrated repeatedly that it can rain destruction on Ukraine. On Monday, Ukrainian officials said a Russian strike on a hospital in Kupiansk, in the Kharkiv region, had killed a doctor and wounded a nurse.

A photograph taken during the government-arranged tour showing Ukrainian service members of an engineering regiment dismantling a pontoon bridge in the Kharkiv region on Monday.
A photograph taken during the government-arranged tour showing Ukrainian service members of an engineering regiment dismantling a pontoon bridge in the Kharkiv region on Monday.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Analysts have said the Ukrainian military risks stretching itself too thinly as it advances, becoming vulnerable to counterattack. Fighting in the east has been so fast-paced, soldiers from several Ukrainian brigades said in interviews, that they do not know where they will be deployed day to day.

The senior Ukrainian military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military planning, cautioned that success in the south, as well as other theaters, was contingent on “a million” factors that could not always be predicted. The official said that it was important to view military operations in particular theaters not as independent from one another, but as elements of a single strategic offensive operation.

“All offensive actions in the last few weeks are playing out within the framework of a unified design,” the official said. “For sure, there are decisions that are made outside the general plan on the basis of changes in conditions. This is called flexibility in command and control.”

In Washington, a senior Pentagon official on Monday cited the Ukrainian military’s “stunning success” in pushing Russian forces back in the Kharkiv region in the northeast, in capturing Lyman and in making progress in Kherson.

In the heavily damaged center of Lyman on Monday.
In the heavily damaged center of Lyman on Monday.Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Celeste Wallander, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said Ukraine’s offensive in the south was particularly significant, blocking Russia from advancing along the Black Sea coast into southwestern Ukraine.

“That will be both a major defeat for Russia because it means it pushes back even more Russia’s ambition to take Odesa, which was one of the stated objectives earlier this year,” said Ms. Wallander, a Russia specialist, speaking at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a policy research group. “It becomes that much harder, and it gives Ukraine a much better defensive position to ride out what probably will be a tamping down of the hot fighting over the winter.”

Amid the Kremlin’s efforts to legitimize an illegal annexation that no other country has recognized, officials were still struggling to explain their continued losses at the front. Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of the southern Russian republic of Chechnya and a close Putin ally, over the weekend blamed the Russian military leadership in a remarkable instance of public infighting within the ruling elite.

Mr. Kadyrov has sought to make himself indispensable to the Kremlin by sending thousands of Chechen fighters to Ukraine, while styling himself as operating separately from the Russian Defense Ministry and answering only to Mr. Putin himself.

“Of course, even in difficult moments, emotions should be kept out of any assessments,” Mr. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, said on Monday in response, an indication of the sensitivity of Mr. Kadyrov’s comments.

Taken together, the day’s events in Moscow showed that Mr. Putin’s political system is under growing strain — even though there was no evidence the president’s own grip on power was under threat.

After lawmakers in the Duma voted in favor of Mr. Putin’s annexation, one of them delivered a speech blasting the government for lacking the resources to properly outfit its soldiers.

“It’s a disgrace,” said Sergei Mironov, a senior, hawkish lawmaker. “What is this? The greatest country in the world cannot provide everything that’s necessary.”

A photograph taken during the government-arranged tour showing a site with destroyed Russian military vehicles and rocket launchers in Sviatohirsk.
A photograph taken during the government-arranged tour showing a site with destroyed Russian military vehicles and rocket launchers in Sviatohirsk.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Izium, Ukraine, Carlotta Gall from Pisky-Radkivski, Ukraine, and Anton Troianovski from Berlin. Reporting was contributed by Michael Schwirtz from Kyiv, Valerie Hopkins from Berlin, Maria Varenikova from Izium, Eric Schmitt from Washington and Oleksandr Chubko from Pisky-Radkivski.

New York Times – October 3, 2022

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The War on Drugs: 50 Years of Death and Failure

For decades, Colombia has experienced the destruction of ecosystems and numerous assassinations of judges, journalists, police officers, civilians and social leaders despite the US offensive in Latin America. The policy has not succeeded in curbing the sale of illegal substances but it has squandered public funds.

A soldier stands guard next to a truck burned by members of the Clan del Golfo cartel in Antioquia, Colombia, on May 6, 2022.
A soldier stands guard next to a truck burned by members of the Clan del Golfo cartel in Antioquia, Colombia, on May 6, 2022.JOAQUIN SARMIENTO (AFP)

It is undeniable that the war on drugs has failed. In his speech at the United Nations, Colombian President Gustavo Petro fell short of offering what the world is still waiting for: a solution to the problem. In 2016, at a special UN assembly, former president Juan Manuel Santos also spoke about the lost war on drugs and emphasized the need to rethink the approach. The interventions of Petro and Santos are the first steps toward a possible solution.

The war on drugs began 50 years ago when U.S. President Richard Nixon declared “an all-out offensive” against what he considered to be “enemy number one”: illegal drugs. This war was immediately extended to Colombia. In the 1970s, the South American country exported immense quantities of marijuana through the Caribbean, and criminal organizations later made the transition to cocaine. The war on drugs has sought to reduce the drug supply at all costs, based on the premise that if there were no drugs, there would be no consumers. Yet the production, sale and consumption of drugs have grown disproportionately. The effectiveness of the war on drugs can only be measured through the drug market, which is not slowing down anywhere in the world. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report, around 284 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 consumed drugs in 2020, an increase of 26 percent from 2010.

Colombia is the largest producer of cocaine, which accounts for only 5% of global consumption of all drugs. None of the strategies to end coca production – including aerial spraying of glyphosate (a chemical that has been banned since 2015 because of its harmful effects, though Iván Duque’s government defended its use), forced eradication of the plant and replacement with licit crops – has managed to stop the increased trafficking of cocaine. Indeed, it reached its peak in 2020 amidst the pandemic; according to the UNODC report, cocaine trafficking rose by 11 percent as compared to 2019, moving 1,982 tons of the substance.

Special Forces after raiding the luxurious house of a drug trafficker in Cali, in 1996.
Special Forces after raiding the luxurious house of a drug trafficker in Cali, in 1996.TOM STODDART ARCHIVE (GETTY IMAGES)

Global cocaine seizures have also increased. In 2020, a record 1,424 tons of the drug were impounded. Because of border closures between March 2020 and March 2021 and increased roadblocks, almost 90% of the cocaine confiscated around the world was trafficked in cargo containers or by sea. In fact, Colombia has recorded the most drug seizures, accounting for 41% of the drugs seized worldwide, followed by the United States at 11% and Ecuador at 6.5%.

In Colombia, the war on drugs has basically focused on the cocaine trade. Former Minister of Justice Yesid Reyes explains that there is no global solution to the drug problem. “Each country has specific problems and must attack them differently; coca plantations are our main problem,” says Reyes, who is currently the chairperson of Externado University’s department of criminal law.

Reyes believes that Colombia’s strategy should focus on the illicit crop substitution program, not on the forced eradication of coca leaf. He notes that the “crops end up being replanted in half of the cases.” Reyes says that the replanting rate is 0.6 percent.

Killing powerful drug traffickers, such as Pablo Escobar, and the demise of large cartels such as the Norte del Valle cartel, have not ended – or even affected – cocaine trafficking; in fact, the market has grown both in terms of routes and in the number of criminal groups that manage the business. The strikes that have caused significant casualties have only served to allow governments to boast and show results; they have not dismantled criminal structures. When one drug lord falls, one or more automatically emerge to take over the business.

El cuerpo sin vida de Pablo Escobar, sobre un tejado el Medellín.
El cuerpo sin vida de Pablo Escobar, sobre un tejado el Medellín.EPA

In 2015, at a conference at the University of Uruguay, anti-drug expert Felipe Tascón said that the war on drugs was set up to fail from the beginning: “They don’t tackle the causes, they are only interested in presenting the extradited [drug traffickers] to the North American public as the war’s “accomplishments.”

Strikingly, according to the same UNODC report, coca leaf crops (the raw material for cocaine hydrochloride) have decreased in Colombia, but, paradoxically, drug production has increased by 8 percent. Colombia has about 143,000 hectares of land that cultivate coca leaf.

According to Catalina Gil Pinzón, the Drug Policy Program Officer at the Open Society Foundations, the war on drugs has been an operational failure, but it has been very successful at the narrative level. “All that propaganda that has told us that the war is confronting the world’s most serious threat, or that all the violence in Colombia is because of drug trafficking, have been quite successful and are very popular among citizens,” says Gil. She believes that the way forward is through the regulated legalization of drugs, not prohibition. “Regulation allows for reducing the risks and harms associated with consumption,” she says. Gil notes that under this formula, each substance would have a different regulatory framework.

The war’s cost is incalculable, although the figures reach billions of dollars. Anti-drug policy has focused on prohibition and criminalization in drug-producing countries, but it doesn’t address the problem in the countries where the drugs are consumed.

Dairo Antonio Usuga David, alias 'Otoniel', leader of the Gulf clan with the Colombian military after being captured, in Turbo (Colombia), in October 2021.
Dairo Antonio Usuga David, alias ‘Otoniel’, leader of the Gulf clan with the Colombian military after being captured, in Turbo (Colombia), in October 2021.MINISTERIO DE DEFENSA DE COLOMBIA

Juan Carlos Garzón, a researcher at the Ideas for Peace Foundation, argues that the prohibitionist approach to drugs has not worked. “The expectation that there won’t be a demand for illegal drugs is unrealistic,” Garzón observes. He emphasizes that other drugs have far more impact than cocaine. Garzón believes that Petro’s policy is disruptive because it casts Colombia as a victim and fails to acknowledge the co-responsibility of Colombian elites in supporting the war. “In Colombia, the war on drugs has not occurred in a vacuum. It intersects with other wars; the war on drugs has served other purposes. So far, we’ve had a policy that treats the vulnerable very harshly but goes very lightly on those who have the most ability to be corrupt and violent,” he says.


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Rare diamond destined for a jewelry store has precious geological value

The gem from 410 miles down in Earth’s mantle reveals clues about oceans of water hidden deep within our planet


Gemologist Tingting Gu was working at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in New York when a diamond came to her for analysis and appraisal. It was to be set in a ring and sold in a jewelry store before she realized the geological significance of the gem under her microscope. It was the second ringwoodite diamond ever discovered.

To validate her find, Gu contacted Fabrizio Nestola, a professor with the Department of Geosciences at Italy’s University of Padua. The IaB-type diamond is very rare because it shows a mineral accumulation of ringwoodite with ferropericlase and enstatite. “This is the first time that this combination has occurred, which validates our laboratory experiments and provides us with exceptional new knowledge about the composition and structure of one of Earth’s most inaccessible and remote places,” said Nestola, co-author of the study published in Nature.

The 1.5 cm diamond comes from the Karowe mine in Botswana in southern Africa. A chemical analysis of the gem indicates that it originated 410 miles (660 kilometers) below the Earth’s mantle, where it came in contact with water. This finding changes scientists’ current understanding of the Earth’s subsoil in that water is now believed to be much more prevalent at that depth than previously thought.

Detailed plane of the diamond, where the analysis highlights a composition of ferropericlase (bluish center), ringwoodite (upper edge) and enstatite (lower edge).
Detailed plane of the diamond, where the analysis highlights a composition of ferropericlase (bluish center), ringwoodite (upper edge) and enstatite (lower edge).NATHAN D. RENFRO Y TINGTING GU (GIA)

Diamonds are geological time machines. High pressure and temperatures formed diamonds in Earth’s depths millions of years ago. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tectonic plate movements then brought them up to the Earth’s crust. Diamonds are one of the best sources of information about what is happening deep inside the Earth, an environment to which scientists have no direct access.

The diamond that came into Tingting Gu’s hands contains ringwoodite, which is a magnesium silicate mineral first discovered in 1969 in a meteorite that struck Australia. The first terrestrial ringwoodite sample was excavated in 2014 from the Juína mine in Brazil, sealed inside a “super-deep” diamond, according to Nestola. The discovery confirmed scientific theories about the Earth’s mantle, which can only be studied via the deposits expelled by geological cataclysms. It most likely emerged millions of years ago from the depths through a “chimney” of kimberlite volcanic rock. “This was very helpful,” says Nestola, “because the longest manmade shaft ever built only goes 7.5 miles deep.”

Ringwoodite is nothing more than an olivine, one of the most common minerals in the Earth’s upper mantle, just below the crust, “… to which great atmospheric pressure has been applied,” says geologist Javier García Guinea, of Spain’s National Museum of Natural Sciences. García Guinea, who was not involved in the rare discovery, says the study is “continuist” in nature, but acknowledges that “this is science, which is done step-by-step.”

The analysis of the IaB-type diamond indicates that it comes from a transition zone between the second and third layers of the Earth, at a depth of between 250 and 420 miles. The diamond was formed at a pressure of 23.5 GPa (gigapascals), and a temperature of about 3,000ºF (1,650ºC). To help us comprehend these facts, Nestola explains: “The pressure that crushes the atoms of the mineral into a diamond is immense – a single gigapascal is equivalent to four Mount Everests on top of your head.”

The presence of H₂O in the Earth’s lower mantle has implications for the structure and evolution of the planetGeologist Antonio García Casco (Department of Mineralogy and Petrology, University of Granada, Spain).

The chemical composition of the IaB-type diamond suggests that there are oceans of water between the Earth’s substrata, “which is not new information – this has been known for decades,” says geologist Antonio García Casco, from the Department of Mineralogy and Petrology at Spain’s University of Granada. But at those extreme depths, water is not the liquid we see on the surface. “It [H₂O] is transformed into a fluid that’s half-liquid and half-gas. It adheres to minerals and can comprise between 10-20% of their weight,” says García Casco.

García Casco says the study about the IaB-type diamond is significant because it leads us to “infer the presence of free-flowing H₂O in the lower mantle,” which has implications for “the structure and evolution of the planet. For example, implications for mantle convection and plate tectonics, which permanently change the planet.” For García Casco, this study is an opportunity for mineralogists to observe transformation processes that only occur “at depths that will be forever inaccessible.”

The diamond, saved in the nick of time from ending up in an engagement ring, “freezes and captures its environment, and then ferries it up from the depths until it reaches the light of day,” says Nestola. For geologists like him, the more material a gem absorbs, the more valuable it is to science. “Just the opposite for a jeweler,” he laughs.


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A basement full of worms could shed some light on the secrets of aging

The ‘lifespan machine’ scans tens of thousands of identical animals every hour in an attempt to understand why some live much longer than others


Not far from the popular Barceloneta beach in Barcelona, Spain, an underground room houses 35 office scanners stored in refrigerated chambers. Nicholas Stroustrup, an American biologist, is the holder of the key to the door of this peculiar place that is flooded by the roar of a very powerful air conditioner. “This is the lifespan machine!” he shouts so he can be heard over the noise. The scientist carefully opens the lid of one of the scanning devices. Inside, there are hundreds of worms. Hundreds more appear under another lid. He estimates that there are more than 20,000 worms in the room. The youngest ones keep moving: restlessly, they explore their environment. It is easy to feel dizzy when looking through the microscope at the oldest, motionless and wrinkled, waiting for death. This unusual machine, claims Stroustrup, could reveal the secrets of aging in human beings.

The scientist shares a surprising reflection: there is a lot of randomness in aging which has nothing to do with genetics – a person can die at 60 years of age, while their identical twin reaches 90. His worms, he explains, are not that different from humans. They are tiny animals, barely a millimeter long, with a ridiculous and exact number of cells: 959, no more, no less, apart from the ovules and sperms. A person is made up of about 30 trillion cells. However, despite their tiny size, these worms have everything: a mouth, an anus, a nervous system with 302 neurons, skin, genes, muscles.

The biologist, who compares aging to the game of roulette, is trying to discover its enigmatic rules. His lifespan machine scans the worms every hour, from birth to death. They usually live about 18 days, but the scientists perform all kinds of experiments to see what happens: they change their diet, stress them out, drug them, modify their genes, expose them to pathogens, raise or lower their temperature. Stroustrup thinks back. He has worked with “millions” of worms, and remembers some that lived for 50 days, the equivalent of a person reaching 225 years. Why did they live for so long while their identical siblings didn’t? They do not know.

Biologist Nicholas Stroustrup shows a microscope image of his worms, at the Center for Genomic Regulation, in Barcelona.
Biologist Nicholas Stroustrup shows a microscope image of his worms, at the Center for Genomic Regulation, in Barcelona.CRISTÓBAL CASTRO

Stroustrup came up with the idea for the lifespan machine when he was a 22-year-old doctoral student at Harvard University. Lacking the money for fancy automated microscopes, he went to a store and bought an ordinary office scanner. The first time he scanned a worm, he was amazed at the resolution. With a meager investment he was able to study tens of thousands of animals at once.

His first results were published in the journal Nature in 2016, and the data were surprising. A multitude of groups of identical worms lived more or less in each experiment, but there was always a pattern: within the same group, some lived longer than others. There was a constant randomness in the aging process. Stroustrup’s team has now gone further, investigating another factor besides longevity: how long the worms maintain vigorous movement.

The intuitive idea is that animals, as well as humans, have a biological age that could be different, or not, from their real age. A person may be 70 years old based on their date of birth, but their cells could be more like 55. Stroustrup’s experiment suggests something else that is quite different. The worms that maintain vigorous movement for longer – a reflection of healthy living – also live longer. However, statistical differences indicate that they are two independent variables. His study, published recently in the specialized journal PLOS Computational Biology, states that worms have at least two biological ages: one that determines the end of vigorous movement and another that marks the moment of death. Stroustrup suspects that there is actually a “constellation” of biological ages, depending on what part of the body is seen.

Laboratory plates with the worms 'C. elegans', in the longevity machine of the Center for Genomic Regulation, in Barcelona.
Laboratory plates with the worms ‘C. elegans’, in the longevity machine of the Center for Genomic Regulation, in Barcelona.CRISTÓBAL CASTRO

Can the longevity of a worm really reveal the keys to human aging? Sarcastically, Stroustrup replies with another question: “Can aging research in humans themselves reveal the secrets of human aging?” Repeating his experiments on people, he argues, would take decades. Centuries, even. The current focus is to look for other variables that are strongly correlated with aging, like the so-called epigenetic clock, chemical marks on DNA that are used to measure biological age. If a drug that is administered to a person has an effect on this epigenetic clock, it could be assumed that there will also be an effect on aging, but it would take decades to confirm this. Stroustrup’s new study suggests it is not that simple. If there are multiple biological ages, one of these indicators may suggest greater youth, while another denotes old age. Many companies already sell these controversial tests to measure biological age.

The worms that Stroustrup uses belong to the species Caenorhabditis elegans, already the center of experiments that have won three Nobel prizes: two for Medicine (2002 and 2006) and one for Chemistry (2008). The first one was for Sydney Brenner, the South African biologist who in the 1960s researched the function of DNA in these worms. “Genetics is the master science of biology. In fact, it’s the only science and all the others are ways of getting to understand what the genes do,” Brenner stated in his memoirs. In Stroustrup’s lab, Indian biotechnologist Natasha Oswal and Spanish neuroscientist Andrea del Carmen inactivate worm genes in the Barcelona basement. Del Carmen points out that other laboratories have managed to make their worms live 10 times longer with a single mutation. “Longevity is very malleable,” she emphasizes.

Biochemist Carlos López Otín, an expert in aging at the University of Oviedo, points out that Stroustrup’s new experiment shows “a negative correlation” between the period of vigorous movement of the worms and the duration of the subsequent period. “In other words, animals with a long healthy life would be doubly lucky, living a shorter phase of final functional decline,” he says. López Otín – who did not participate in this study – warns that more research is needed on the molecular mechanisms involved to confirm that the results in worms can be extrapolated to humans.

Italian hematologist Carolina Florian applauds the new work, and stresses that aging is a highly complex process. “Not everybody ages at the same rate, and the cells and tissues of our body can even age at different rates,” explains Florian, from the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute, in Hospitalet de Llobregat (Barcelona). “Given the complexity of aging, and the difficulties to even precisely define when a cell, tissue or organism is old, it is very easy to run into confounding factors,” she continues. “Precisely for this reason, this study in worms has really important implications for our current understanding of how biomarkers can predict human aging.”

Florian encourages the scientific community to keep going and develop innovative experiments that reveal the true mechanisms of aging. “We are already fully aware that aging is a biological process and that it is possible to treat it in order to extend the duration of life.”


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Putin’s latest frightening gambit lies at the bottom of the ocean

If the Russian president has finally started listening to his military chief, you can bet he’ll soon target all those poorly protected internet cables at the bottom of the sea

Coming to cut us all off? A Russian nuclear submarine.
Coming to cut us all off? A Russian nuclear submarine. Photograph: Russian Defence Ministry/Reuters

“Once is happenstance,” wrote James Bond’s creator. “Twice is coincidence. Three times, it’s enemy action.” As European politicians and security agencies ponder the three explosions that caused leaks in the two Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea on Monday, they may find this adage of Ian Fleming’s helpful in resolving their doubts about who was responsible.

The strange thing about Putin’s assault on Ukraine was that he clearly hadn’t consulted Valery Gerasimov, the guy who in 2013 had radically reconfigured Russian military doctrine at his behest (and is now chief of the Russian armed forces). Gerasimov’s big idea was that warfare in a networked age should combine the traditional kinetic stuff with political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military activities. This would mean, for example, that before firing a shot, you should first use social media and other network tools to misinform, confuse, polarise and demoralise the population of your adversary. In that way, democratic regimes would find it more difficult to motivate their citizens for combat.

Putin’s invasion in February ran directly counter to this doctrine; perhaps Gerasimov was not part of the inner circle of trusted cronies on whom Putin initially relied. Instead the assault was a 1940s-style blitzkrieg, except in Technicolor rather than black and white. And it hasn’t worked. So as he returns to the drawing board, it’s conceivable that the Russian leader has, finally, been talking to Gerasimov. If that’s the case, then their conversations will have rapidly turned to topics such as deniability, asymmetric warfare and identifying the critical weaknesses of their western adversaries.

Which in turn means that they will be thinking less about pipelines and much more about the undersea fibre-optic cables that now constitute the nervous system of our networked world. There are now about 475 of them and they carry more than 95% of all the data traffic on the global internet – $10tn money transfers and at least 15m financial transactions every day. The Telegeography site maintains a terrific up-to-date map of them all.

There are some strange metaphorical ironies at work here. We talk casually about keeping our data “in the cloud” – conjuring up images of fluffy clusters of water-vapour somewhere above our heads. But in reality most of the internet is under water. When you upload a photograph from your smartphone to the “cloud” it may first go to an air-conditioned shed somewhere on terra firma, but is then transferred or backed up via undersea cables to another shed somewhere else on the planet.

These cables are the critical infrastructure of the western world. They are funnelled into the sea via often poorly protected entry points on remote ocean coastlines. For the first few miles, they look fairly substantial because of the protective coating needed to protect them from the buffeting of tides, rocks and shallow water, but once out to sea a cable may be just the thickness of a garden hose.

Rishi Sunak concluded that the vulnerability of the undersea cable network was ‘nothing short of existential’

The cables mostly belong to a largish number of private companies, and so – up to now at least – have been largely neglected or ignored by governments. Some of them are owned by tech giants: Facebook, for example, is the owner and installer of the longest cable of them all – its 2Africa cable will be 45,000km long when completed, and will directly link Africa, Europe and Asia. Once cables are in international waters, maritime law – which is still rooted in an era when communications cables were peripheral rather than central – doesn’t provide much for their security. On the open sea, therefore, barriers to malicious interference are relatively low – especially for the navies of nation states.

Lying on the ocean floor, cables are obviously vulnerable to accidental damage. One industry source claims that only about 100 breaks a year are caused by fishing boats and trawlers. Until 2017 it seems that malicious attacks were rare. In that year there were two on transatlantic cables – UK to US and France to US – which were, er, under-reported at the time, but which may have been the trigger for a study written by none other than Rishi Sunak for the thinktank Policy Exchange, which concluded that the vulnerability of the undersea cable network was deeply troubling and that the danger of an attack on the system was “nothing short of existential”.

In his foreword to the report, Admiral James Stavridis, a former Nato supreme allied commander, pointed out that “Russian submarine forces have undertaken detailed monitoring and targeting activities in the vicinity of North Atlantic deep-sea cable infrastructure”. Which is interesting for two reasons. One is the conversations that are now doubtless going on in the Kremlin. The second is that Stavridis is the co-author of a fascinating thriller, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, in which the trigger for catastrophe comes when a Russian ship severs 30 undersea cables, thereby cutting the US off from the world. I doubt that President Putin has read it. But I bet General Gerasimov has.


 Submarine Cable Map

Submarine Cables: Risks and Security Threats

99% of the internet network runs through submarine cables. It is estimated that over USD 10,000 billion in financial transactions run today through these “seabed highways”. This is especially the case of the main global financial exchange system, SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications), which has recently been banned for many Russian banks. The security of these transactions is a political, economic, and social problem. This is a major issue that has long been ignored. The extreme geographic concentration of the cables makes them particularly vulnerable. There are over 420 submarine lines in the world, totalling 1.3 million kilometres, over three times the distance from Earth to Moon. Record: 39,000 kilometres length for the SEA-ME-WE 3 cable, which links South-East Asia to Western Europe through the Red Sea.

Submarine internet cables have a crucial importance, like oil and gas pipelines. In the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the seabed is more than ever a battlefield that must be protected. Western armed forces are considering a nightmare scenario of total interruption of the Internet in Europe, as 99% of the global network runs through submarine cables.

Satellites account for only 1% of data exchanges. The reason is simple: they cost more than cables and are infinitely slower.

A hundred submarine cable breaks a year

These infrastructures are equally important today as oil and gas pipelines. But are they equally protected? Modern submarine cables use fibre-optic to transmit data with the speed of light. However, while in the near vicinity of the shore, cables are generally reinforced, the average diameter of a subsea cable is not much larger than that of a garden hose.

For several years, the major powers are fighting a “hybrid war”, half open, half secret, for the control of these cables. As Europe focuses increasingly more on threats to cybersecurity, investments in the security and resilience of physical infrastructure that are the basis of its communications with the world does not seem to be a priority today.

The fear to act will only generate the vulnerability of these espionage systems, interruptions of data flows and undermining the security of the continent. On average, there are over a hundred breaks of submarine cables every year, caused in general by the fishing boats that pull the anchors. It is difficult to measure intentional attacks, but the movements of some ships have started to draw attention since 2014, their route following submarine telecommunication cables.

The first attacks of the modern age date back in 2017: it is about the cables between the UK and the US and between France and US. Although these attacks remain unknown to the general public, they are no less worrying and prove the capacity of external powers to separate Europe from the rest of the world. In 2007, Vietnamese fishermen cut a subsea cable to recover composite materials and try to resell them. Vietnam lost this way almost 90% of connectivity with the rest of the world for a period of three weeks.

Potential risks

TeleGeography, a US telecommunications consultancy, has created the Submarine Cable Map portal, an interactive map of all submarine cables unfolding around the world, with data about the companies that own them, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Verizon, or AT&T. On the map, we can see that a key highway is in the Atlantic Ocean, which links Europe and North America. In the meantime, the Great Pacific Highway links the United States of America to Japan, China, and other Asian countries. From Miami, several cables connect Central and South America. In the case of Mexico, for example, most cables run from the east of the country, cross the Gulf of Mexico to Florida and from there they connect to Central and South America.

Even if we have the tendency to believe that our smartphones, computers, and other cars are interconnected by space, most – almost 99% of all internet traffic – is thus carried by global telecommunications sublines. There are over 420 cables in the world, totalling 1.3 million kilometres, over three times the distance from Earth to Moon. Record: 39,000 kilometres length for the SEA-ME-WE 3 cable, which links South-East Asia to Western Europe through the Red Sea.

Germany Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Baltic Sea – undersea cable to Hiddensee island. | PHOTOGRAPH BY JENS KÖHLER—ULLSTEIN BILD/GETTY IMAGES

Cutting submarine cables, an old and proven practice of war

Recent attacks on cables carrying voice and data traffic between North America and Europe lead to the idea that they seem to be undergoing a new development. France and the United Kingdom had already dealt with this experience on the part of the Germans during the First World War. These infrastructures were part of the global cable telegraph network. Similarly, the United States cut wartime cables as a means of disrupting the ability of an enemy power to command and control distant forces.

The first such attacks took place in 1898, during the Spanish-American War. That year, in the Gulf of Manila (Philippines), the USS Zafiro cut the cable connecting Manila to the Asian continent to isolate the Philippines from the rest of the world, as well as the cable connecting Manila to the Philippine city of Capiz. Other spectacular cable attacks took place in the Caribbean, plunging Spain into the dark during the conflict in Puerto Rico and Cuba, which contributed greatly to the final victory of the United States.

Russia interested in NATO’s subsea infrastructure

Russia seems to materialize the concerns at the highest level in this field. In 2015, the presence of Russian vessel Yantar along the US coast, near the cables, did not fail to arouse tensions between the two states. At the end of 2017, the situation repeated.

“We are now seeing Russian underwater activity in the vicinity of undersea cables that I don’t believe we have ever seen. Russia is clearly taking an interest in NATO and NATO nations’ undersea infrastructure,” said Admiral Andrew Lennon, commander of the organization’s submarine forces. It’s like going back to the days of the Cold War… To the point where Policy Exchange has devoted an entire chapter of its “Russia Risk” report to this topic. The think tank recalls the episode of the annexation of Crimea in 2014, when the peninsula was isolated from the rest of Ukraine by physically cutting off communications.

“If the relative weakness of the Russian position makes a conventional conflict with NATO unlikely, fibre-optic cables can be a target for Russia. We should prepare for an increase in hybrid actions in the maritime field, not only in Russia, but also in China and Iran,” underlines the former commander of the NATO allied forces, the American Admiral James G. Stravridis.

Three major security risks

The first risk factor is the growing volume of data flowing through cables, which encourages third countries to spy on or disrupt traffic.

The second risk factor is the increasing capital intensity of these facilities, which leads to the creation of international consortia involving up to dozens of owners. These owners are separated from the entities that produce the cable components and from those that position the cables along the ocean floor. Timeshare makes it possible to reduce costs substantially, but at the same time allows the entry in these consortia of state actors who could use their influence to disrupt data flows, or even to interrupt them in a conflict scenario. At the other end of the spectrum, GAFAMs (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft) now have the financial and technical capacity to build their own cables. Thus, the Dunant cable, which links France to the United States, is entirely owned by Google. The Chinese giants have also embarked on a strategy of submarine conquest: this is the case of the Peace cable, which connects China to Marseilles, owned by the Hengtong company, considered by the Chinese government as a model of “civilian-military”.

Another threat is espionage, which requires specially equipped submarines, or submarines operating from ships, capable of intercepting, or even modifying, data passing through fibre-optic cables without damaging them. So far, only China, Russia and the United States have such means.

The most vulnerable point of submarine cables, however, is where they reach land: the landing stations Thus, the town of Lège-Cap-Ferret, where the interface room between the Franco-American cable “Amitié” will be built, has recently become a veritable nest of spies, according to informed sources.

But the most worrying trend is that more and more cable operators are using remote management systems for their networks. Cable owners are excited about the staff cost savings. However, these systems have poor security, which exposes submarine cables to cyber security risks.

Solutions in case of multiple attacks

The US executive has recently investigated possible risks in the event of multiple attacks. In addition to expanding the SSGP grant program, it has encouraged the Maritime Administration to involve various civil society associations, such as the International Propeller Club, in programs designed to minimize these threats. The idea is to create a kind of “submarine cable militia” capable of responding quickly in a crisis.

The Propeller Club has more than 6,000 members and has recently provided $ 3.5 billion in aid to the maritime industry in the fight against Covid-19. Similarly, the creation of a “submarine cable Airbus” capable of competing with GAFAMs, whose market share could increase from 5% to 90% in six years, can obviously become a reality only if Europe pays attention to this topic.

In a context of growing international tensions, the creation of a European program modelled on the US and Japanese programs, which aims to increase operations to deter attacks on these infrastructures and to develop a high-stakes construction and repair, has become very important.


Posted in 1

‘I am lonely’: controversial book reveals Anthony Bourdain’s final days

Family and friends are upset by new biography divulging Bourdain’s moods – and texts – in the lead-up to his death

‘I hate my fans, too. I hate being famous. I hate my job,’ Anthony Bourdain told his ex-wife Ottavia Busia-Bourdain before his death.
‘I hate my fans, too. I hate being famous. I hate my job,’ Anthony Bourdain told his ex-wife Ottavia Busia-Bourdain before his death. Photograph: Courtesy of Focus Features/A

“God gives us meat, but the devil sends us cooks,” Anthony Bourdain told the Observer two decades ago. He viewed the phrase as a compliment, and considered kitchens second homes for damned souls and “the degraded and the debauched”.

At that moment, he was already well-known in New York, as author of the scandalous bestseller Kitchen Confidential and as chef and co-owner of Les Halles, a French brasserie on Park Avenue that for a time became the favored spot for the creative demimonde.

His notoriety was soon to soar: he refashioned the job of the celebrity chef, puncturing the self-importance of the species; he infused the job with sex appeal and with intensity. He produced three seasons of globe-trotting food adventure, a run that made him a global star.

Yet 17 years later, Bourdain met his end in a provincial hotel in Kaysersberg, France, killing himself at the tail end of doomed relationship with Asia Argento, the actor and daughter of an Italian horror film director.

He became someone that he hated. By the time he realized that, he was too physically exhausted to straighten things out

Charles Leerhsen

Bourdain’s charismatic approach to cooking and to life, and his spiral down, will be revived four years after his death on publication next week of Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain.

The book is already setting off a wave of controversy among Bourdain’s huge fanbase, as well as his friends and relatives, who claim that journalist Charles Leerhsen’s account of Bourdain’s life is a slur on his memory. But it has also been praised as a frank retelling of a complex man’s life.

Either way, it will still keep Bourdain firmly in the spotlight – something that he perhaps once sought but came to hate.

‘I hate being famous. I hate my job’

For some, the anger is very real.

“Every single thing he [the author] writes about relationships and interactions within our family as kids and as adults, he fabricated or got totally wrong,” Bourdain’s brother Christopher told the New York Times last week.

But none have spelled out exactly where the errors lie, suggesting that Leerhsen’s accounting might be emotionally rather than factually discomforting.

The objections center around the publication of intimate details, text messages and last words that offer harrowing insights into Bourdain’s final days in which a collision occurred between conflicting interior and exterior lives that, at 62, he no longer had strength to address.

“I hate my fans, too. I hate being famous. I hate my job,” Bourdain wrote to his estranged wife Ottavia Busia-Bourdain, with whom he remained close, shortly before he took his life. “I am lonely and living in constant uncertainty.”

Although Bourdain amassed a large fan base through his TV shows, he voiced a disdain for celebrity.
Although Bourdain amassed a large fan base through his TV shows, he voiced a disdain for celebrity. Photograph: Naashon Zalk/AP

Some are in uproar about the book “as if it was their job now to protect him and remember him in an artificial way”, Leerhsen says. “There’s a self-righteousness about that, but if you’re curious about Anthony Bourdain, here’s a book.”

Leerhsen, biographer of Butch Cassidy, racehorse Dan Patch and baseball player Ty Cobb, says he came to his subject passing by a poster for the posthumous episode of Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, filmed in Hong Kong and directed by his girlfriend Argento, in circumstances that had alienated the chef from his close-knit film team.

“I just thought, wow, he looked so cool in his ripped jeans, like the Bourdain we all know. I felt I hadn’t read the story about what happened to him … this guy with the best job in world, the best life in the world, that came to take his own life?”

In the prelude to Down and Out, Leerhsen writes that Bourdain knew when he started out in television that he didn’t want to become a creature of it. “Here’s my pitch,” he said to a cable executive. “I travel around the world, eat a lot of shit and basically do whatever the fuck I want.”

“That turned out to be a winning formula, and it left Tony with the distinct impression that, as he more than once said, ‘not giving a shit is a really fantastic business model for television’,” Leerhsen writes.

At the height of his career, Bourdain was traveling 250 days a year, visiting far-off lands, meeting folks, and eating all manner of unusual food. His screen presence was compelling: Bourdain became an unconventional TV star traversing the world in a quest for adventure that, at its core, was as old as the Odyssey.

“It’s an age-old story of being careful what you wish for, of dealing with success and love in oceanic proportions,” Leerhsen says.

When success came, he says, Bourdain was considered about it. “But he became someone that he hated. By the time he realized that, he was too physically exhausted to straighten things out. He thought it simpler to seek what is famously called ‘a permanent solution to a temporary problem’.”

Attendant to Bourdain’s life was drinking that trailed an earlier drug addiction.

“Recovery, you might say, was one of the few things he couldn’t go all the way with. If he did something, he did it all out, whether it was comic books as a kid or fascination with the JFK assassination. But he pulled up short with recovery; he never stopped drinking.”

And that came hand-in-hand with unstable relationships. Bourdain ended up paying off a former child actor who had accused Argento – a #MeToo leader who was among the first women in the film business to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault – of sexually assaulting him when he was 17.

Leerhsen’s upcoming book on Bourdain examines his relationship with Asia Argento, left, including the texts leading up to Bourdain’s death.
Leerhsen’s upcoming book on Bourdain examines his relationship with Asia Argento, left, including the texts leading up to Bourdain’s death. Photograph: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Their relationship, he says, “was a classic, adolescent-sounding case of the boy wanting the girl more than the girl wants to be wanted,” says Leerhsen. “The more he presses on her, the more she pulls back.” In a traumatic finale, Argento texted Bourdain to “stop busting my balls”. He replied, “OK.” Hours later he had taken his life.

There’s a question around Bourdain’s legacy. Today, the site of Les Halles is again a French brasserie with the same swing doors through which Bourdain would magically appear in a white chef’s tunic – for day – or at night in black to mingle with the clientele.

On the menu is a “Homage a Antony Bourdain”: steak frites, french fries, and watercress with a choice of entrecôte or Béarnaise pepper sauce. Fitting tribute, Leerhsen believes, since Bourdain would have been “suspicious of anyone who praised his cooking too extravagantly”.

In a moving tribute after his death, Karen Rinaldi, his publisher at Bloomsbury USA, wrote that Bourdain not only crossed boundaries, “he collapsed the divisions we insist on building between us – those false but persistent barriers that are meant to safeguard but only serve to segregate.”

In an episode of Parts Unknown, Bourdain said that “making an omelette for someone the morning after is the best thing in the world”. Bourdain’s genius for comfort food – eggs, steak, fries, cassoulet – instead of fancy cooking was all about satisfying you and giving you love, Leerhsen believes.

“No one is ever one thing. Those images from the show where he made omelettes for Ottavia and Ariane, his daughter, were wonderful. He had that side but he got away from that. At the very end, something snapped. Like when you’re riding in a car and you look through the back window and realize how far you’ve come. That was shocking to him but he didn’t have the energy to turn around.”


The Last, Painful Days of Anthony Bourdain

A new, unauthorized biography reveals intimate, often raw, details of the TV star’s life, including his tumultuous relationship with the Italian actor Asia Argento. And it’s drawing criticism from many of his friends and family.

A new book about Anthony Bourdain reveals fresh details about his life and last days. Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

After Anthony Bourdain took his own life in a French hotel room in 2018, his close friends, family and the people who for decades had helped him become an international TV star closed ranks against the swarm of media inquiries and stayed largely silent, especially about his final days.

That silence continued until 2021, when many in his inner circle were interviewed for the documentary “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” and for “Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography.” The two works showed a more complex side of Mr. Bourdain, who had become increasingly conflicted about his success and had in his last two years made his relationship with the Italian actor Asia Argento his primary focus. But neither directly addressed how very messy his life had become in the months that led up to the night he hanged himself at age 61.

On Oct. 11, Simon & Schuster will publish what it calls the first unauthorized biography of the writer and travel documentarian. “Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain” is filled with fresh, intimate details, including raw, anguished texts from the days before Mr. Bourdain’s death, such as his final exchanges with Ms. Argento and Ottavia Busia-Bourdain, his wife of 11 years who, by the time they separated in 2016, had become his confidante.

“I hate my fans, too. I hate being famous. I hate my job,” Mr. Bourdain wrote to Ms. Busia-Bourdain in one of their near-daily text exchanges. “I am lonely and living in constant uncertainty.”

A three-person film crew surrounds a small table filled with food as two men sit and share the meal.
Mr. Bourdain and the chef Eric Ripert filmed a scene for the show “Parts Unknown” at a restaurant in Colmar, France, four days before Mr. Bourdain took his life.Credit…Etienne Butterlin/Associated Press

Drawing on more than 80 interviews, and files, texts and emails from Mr. Bourdain’s phone and laptop, the journalist Charles Leerhsen traces Mr. Bourdain’s metamorphosis from a sullen teenager in a New Jersey suburb that his family couldn’t afford to a heroin-shooting kitchen swashbuckler who struck gold as a writer and became a uniquely talented interpreter of the world through his travels.

Mr. Leerhsen said in an interview that he wanted to write a book without the dutiful sheen of what he called “an official Bourdain product.” Indeed, he portrays a man who at the end of his life was isolated, injecting steroids, drinking to the point of blackout and visiting prostitutes, and had all but vanished from his 11-year-old daughter’s life.

“We never had that big story, that long piece that said what happened, how the guy with the best job in the world took his own life,” said Mr. Leerhsen, a former executive editor at Sports Illustrated and People who has written books on Ty Cobb, Butch Cassidy and a racehorse named Dan Patch.

A tall man in a blue suit and white shirt and a shorter dark-haired woman in elegant black clothing walk together toward a theater at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Mr. Bourdain and the actor Asia Argento attending the ninth annual Women in the World Summit in New York in 2018.Credit…Derek Storm/Everett Collection/Alamy

The book has already drawn fire from Mr. Bourdain’s family, former co-workers and closest friends. His brother, Christopher Bourdain, sent Simon & Schuster two emails in August calling the book hurtful and defamatory fiction, and demanding that it not be released until Mr. Leerhsen’s many errors were corrected.

“Every single thing he writes about relationships and interactions within our family as kids and as adults he fabricated or got totally wrong,” he said in an interview.

    Felice Javit, vice president and senior counsel for the publisher, responded to Christopher Bourdain with an email: “With all due respect, we disagree that the material in the Book contains defamatory information, and we stand by our forthcoming publication.”

    Mr. Leerhsen said Mr. Bourdain’s inner circle and even some of his international fixers and former line cooks refused to speak with him for the biography, in part because Mr. Bourdain’s longtime agent, Kim Witherspoon, told them not to. Ms. Witherspoon did not respond to a request for an interview for this article. Laurie Woolever, Mr. Bourdain’s assistant, declined to speak about the book.

    A man with gray hair, black glasses and a blue-jean shirt sits in front of an open laptop, with trees and vines in the background.
    The author Charles Leerhsen wrote most of his new book at a table in the backyard of his Brooklyn home.Credit…Emon Hassan for The New York Times

    Mr. Leerhsen said that such resistance from the Bourdain camp helped open other doors for him. “A lot of people were willing to talk to me because they were left behind by Tony and by the Tony train,” he said, adding that some were moved to speak by their anger over the damage Mr. Bourdain had done to his daughter.

    One person close to Mr. Bourdain who hasn’t pushed back against the book is his wife, Ms. Busia-Bourdain, who controls his estate. The book’s most revealing material comes from files and messages pulled from Mr. Bourdain’s phone and laptop, both of which are part of the estate.

    Mr. Leerhsen said he got that material from a confidential source, but added that “the estate has not objected, and I don’t anticipate any objections.” He wouldn’t say whether he interviewed Ms. Busia-Bourdain, but she is quoted in parts of the book. She said through a friend that she would not comment for this story.

    The chef Eric Ripert, a close friend who found Mr. Bourdain dead in his Alsatian hotel room after a day of shooting for an episode of his CNN show, “Parts Unknown,” said he did not provide information for the book, though he has read it. He said he found many inaccuracies, but was surprised that it contained intimate details from those days in France that he had told only to a few people.

    In his research, Mr. Leerhsen traced Mr. Bourdain’s travels with trips to Montreal, Japan and France, where he and his wife talked their way into staying in the same room where Mr. Bourdain died, in the Le Chambard boutique hotel in the tiny village of Kaysersberg.

    The exterior of a small, old French hotel, which is painted mostly in red, with black shutters.
    Mr. Bourdain killed himself in a room at Le Chambard, a boutique hotel in Kaysersberg, France.Credit…Jeff Schaeffer/Associated Press

    The book starts with Mr. Bourdain’s early years, analyzing his parents’ marriage, his performance in school and his relationship with his first wife, Nancy Putkoski, who Mr. Leerhsen said was a helpful source.

    Mr. Bourdain graduated from high school a year early so he could follow her to Vassar College. His grades there were terrible, and he was happier during the summers he worked in restaurants in Provincetown, Mass. After two years, he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America, five miles north of Vassar in Hyde Park, N.Y.

    The book traces Mr. Bourdain’s career in New York restaurants, and his relationships with the intimidating chefs who molded him. It includes the well-known tale of how his mother, Gladys Bourdain, then an editor at The New York Times, handed an article he had written about the ugly secrets of a Manhattan restaurant to Esther B. Fein, the wife of the New Yorker editor David Remnick, who ran it in the magazine.

    The story turbocharged Mr. Bourdain’s writing career, leading to his best-selling book “Kitchen Confidential.” That piqued the interest of the freelance television producer and editor Lydia Tenaglia-Collins, who developed his first show, “A Cook’s Tour” and the media company Zero Point Zero, which produced his subsequent shows.

    The book delves deeply into Mr. Bourdain’s relationship with Ms. Argento. The two were involved for about two years in a tumultuous and very public relationship that, Mr. Leerhsen writes, Mr. Bourdain seemed willing to do anything to preserve.

    “I find myself being hopelessly in love with this woman,” he wrote to his wife.

    Mr. Bourdain spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Ms. Argento, providing financial support for her, her two children and sometimes her friends, according to the book. He insisted to co-workers that she direct and appear in the show, and became a fierce advocate for the #MeToo movement after she told the reporter Ronan Farrow in 2017 that Harvey Weinstein had sexually assaulted her.

    At one point, Mr. Leerhsen writes, Mr. Bourdain hired a private detective to investigate Jimmy Bennett, a young musician and actor who was 7 when he was cast as Ms. Argento’s son in “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things,” a 2004 film she directed.

    After Ms. Argento came forward with her account of sexual assault by Mr. Weinstein, Mr. Bennett filed a notice of intent to sue for what his lawyers claimed was sexual battery: He and Ms. Argento had sex when she was 37 and he was 17, still a minor.

    Mr. Bennett asked for $3.5 million. Mr. Bourdain quietly arranged to pay him $380,000.

    Mr. Leerhsen said he had exchanged a few emails with Ms. Argento, who he said quoted Oscar Wilde to him: “It is always Judas who writes the biography.”

    In an email to The New York Times, Ms. Argento said she had not read the book, adding, “I wrote clearly to this man that he could not publish anything I said to him.”

    A short woman with shoulder-length dark hair and a taller, gray-haired man in a suit pose for photographers in front of a colorful, food-themed mural.
    Mr. Bourdain and his wife of 11 years, Ottavia Busia-Bourdain, attending a food television event at Barneys New York in 2010.Credit…Erik Pendzich / Alamy

    When Mr. Bourdain was on the road, the book says, Ms. Argento became so controlling that she scrutinized the social media accounts of Mr. Bourdain and his wife, blowing up when she saw images of him with his family.

    In one text exchange, Ms. Busia-Bourdain pushed back after Mr. Bourdain warned her to not post family photos during an upcoming Father’s Day.

    “You didn’t want me to put a pic that had you in it because Asia would freak out and I have the feeling that will not change anytime soon,” Ms. Busia-Bourdain wrote. “I’m tired of pretending I don’t know you. Or that we are never in the same place.”

    Mr. Bourdain responded, writing in part: “I feel you. But I was being honest. The pap [arazzi] situation is horrendous. Since I left you guys, though, she’s freaking out.”

    Five days before his death, Ms. Argento was photographed dancing with the French reporter Hugo Clément in the lobby of the Hotel de Russie in Rome, where she and Mr. Bourdain had stayed together. Mr. Bourdain was incensed, the book says; over the course of the next few days, he searched her name online hundreds of times, and the two argued over text and phone.

    Mr. Leerhsen is not the first person to try to explain the unknowable: why Mr. Bourdain killed himself. His book offers a theory.

    Two days before Mr. Bourdain died, he joined Mr. Ripert for a meal at JY’s, a two-Michelin-star restaurant owned by an old friend, the chef Jean-Yves Schillinger. After the meal, the three men headed to Freiburg, a German city 30 miles away, for late-night beers. Mr. Schillinger said Mr. Bourdain was welcomed like the star that he was, and seemed his old self.

    A man with gray hair and a denim shirt looks downward as he stands in front of an off-white wall.
    Mr. Bourdain became a beloved travel documentarian with a global following. Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

    Mr. Leerhsen asserts that after that trip, Mr. Bourdain saw the cost of his demanding emotional pursuit of Ms. Argento.

    “I think at the very end, in the last days and hours, he realized what he had become,” Mr. Leerhsen said. “I don’t respect him killing himself, but he did realize and he did ultimately know he didn’t want to be that person he had become.”

    Mr. Bourdain’s mind-set in his last days and hours will forever be a matter of speculation. But there is no doubt his friends were concerned, and his last texts shed some light on his state of mind.

    When the group returned from Freiburg that night, a worried Mr. Ripert, who was staying in the room next door to Mr. Bourdain’s, put his ear to the wall and to his relief heard his friend snoring peacefully.

    The next day, the book says, Mr. Bourdain and Ms. Argento fought again.

    “I am okay,” he texted her. “I am not spiteful. I am not jealous that you have been with another man. I do not own you. You are free. As I said. As I promised. As I truly meant. But you were careless. You were reckless with my heart. My life.”

    The only thing that hurt, he wrote, was that the tryst took place in the Rome hotel they loved. He asked for her mercy. She wrote, “I can’t take this.”

    She told him she couldn’t stand his possessiveness, and could no longer stay in the relationship.

    After the next day’s filming, Mr. Leerhsen reports, Mr. Bourdain went out by himself, and ate and drank a lot. He and Ms. Argento then had their last text exchange, which Mr. Leerhsen places at the start of his book:

    Bourdain: Is there anything I can do?

    Argento: Stop busting my balls

    Bourdain: OK

    That evening, he hanged himself.

    New York Times – September 27, 2022

    Posted in 1

    My brain is shrinking – and so is my world. Could I find out what’s wrong with me?

    Ian Black, photographed in July this year.
    Ian Black, photographed in July this year. Photograph: Cian Oba-Smith/The Guardian

    First, the veteran Guardian foreign affairs correspondent found himself lost for words; then he started falling while out jogging. He and his wife Helen Harris try to make sense of a life-changing year

    Ian Black and Helen Harris

    It was in the summer of 2020 – at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic – that I first noticed a problem. I was having difficulty speaking. It wasn’t a casual chat with my wife, Helen, or our two daughters, or my son who lives in the US, but a Skype or Zoom interview about international affairs with a TV channel. I can’t remember which one or what the topic was – probably the Middle East, my main area of expertise, or possibly Brexit. I felt embarrassed because I was less articulate than usual – “lost for words”, as the saying goes.

    Apart from myself, I didn’t think anyone would have noticed, particularly as the interview involved an Arabic interpreter. Still, my slow response, and not being able to answer an entirely reasonable question in sufficient detail, were worrying. I hesitated about what to do. Finally, I contacted my GP, who was initially dismissive about my speech concerns. “You sound fine to me,” he told me during our phone consultation. Despite his reluctance, I insisted a few days later on being referred to a specialist at a nearby London hospital.

    Covid restrictions and unprecedented pressure on the NHS delayed my first appointment by several weeks. Then, in late September 2020, with Helen, I saw a neuropsychologist, who recommended that I undergo a professional assessment. I had to wait a long time for that next stage.

    Starting in February 2021, I went through a series of tests: my ability with words, short-term memory, drawing (copying shapes), speech. The results were mixed. The final assessment was that I was suffering from mild cognitive impairment. MCI is a condition that causes memory and thinking problems, affecting between 5% and 20% of people over 65. It is not a type of dementia, but for many people it is an intermediate stage leading to the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. That word, “dementia”, I found extremely upsetting and negative, so Helen and I began to refer to it as “degeneration” or “the D-word”.

    I talked a lot less, as I was scared of sounding inarticulate. I also worried about how this strange illness might progress

    I also underwent an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan of my brain. The result of that was that I had “normal” deterioration for my age. (Back then I was 67.) In retrospect that misleading assessment was simply a lack of expertise. Scans are pictures that always need to be interpreted by a specialist. When I later saw a neurologist, privately, at Queen Square in London (the most renowned centre of neurological research in the UK), his conclusion from his own scan was unhesitatingly that I had frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD), though, again, not yet dementia. That was in August 2021.

    Helen was aware of all this, of course; our daughters and my son less so. But close friends didn’t notice my speaking difficulties for several months. Nevertheless, I told them what was going on, as I was getting increasingly anxious to explain myself. The specific medical term for my speech problems is primary progressive aphasia. I talked a lot less than before as I was scared of sounding inarticulate. I was also, obviously, worried about how this strange illness might progress. Uncertainty about the future was the worst thing about it.

    Pre-Covid, I belonged to a gym. In May 2019, while doing laps in the pool, I noticed an unusual tightness in my chest. It wasn’t too painful but it was definitely there. I had what my cardiologist later described as a “tiny” heart attack and had to spend two nights in the Royal Free hospital in London.

    I was then a bit overweight, so I adopted a fairly rigorous exercise routine to lose some pounds and get fitter. The gym shut in March 2020 because of lockdown restrictions. In mid-May, Helen and I were walking on the Ridgeway in the Chilterns. It was a lovely sunny day but the clouds suddenly began to darken and it started raining torrentially. We walked quickly back to the car but I slipped in the mud and fell flat on my face, injuring my nose badly. Helen screamed. The question (asked largely in retrospect) is: why didn’t I put my arms out to break my fall? Was that an early sign that something was amiss?

    Once I recovered, I continued running and exercising. But in January 2021, I fell over again – while walking on a pavement near our house. I fell on my face, exactly as on the Ridgeway, injuring my nose and chin. I failed again to use my arms or hands. I wasn’t too badly hurt this time.

    When I got my FTLD diagnosis the following August, my neurologist (a keen runner) and the brilliant NHS team from the Neurological Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) in Edgware, north London, all encouraged me to keep exercising. I usually ran, albeit slowly, for 40 minutes every other day and when I got home would do 15 minutes on the rowing machine and some stretches. I bought a Fitbit and became fixated on achieving my daily goal of 10,000 steps, running and walking for one and a half hours – about five miles.

    But then in late November I fell over while running on the pavement. My nose was fractured, my chin and face were bleeding and I was concussed. Luckily, the daughter of an old schoolfriend was passing with her husband and child. She helped me up, took me to her parents’ house nearby and called an ambulance. It arrived surprisingly quickly and took me to the Royal Free. That, it turned out, was a landmark event. Afterwards, I did – reluctantly – stop running. The main reason was that I didn’t want to add to the stress that Helen was increasingly under. I also wanted to avoid falling.

    My speaking has got a lot worse since I first noticed the issue. “Lost for words” is no longer an adequate description. I now speak incredibly slowly. I find it physically difficult – and have to make a deliberate effort – to speak at all, though it is better in the morning than later. It is incredibly frustrating. Family, friends and neighbours have, sadly, got used to it though I have had to stop giving TV and radio interviews (a significant chunk of my freelance income) and also any public speaking, of which I did a good deal. My comprehension and ability to write, using a laptop – so far – do not appear to have been affected. And I am still addicted to deadlines.

    But difficulty with speech was not my only problem. Like 90% of humans, I am right-handed. My right hand started to feel weak, especially my fingers, just before the neurologist told me I had FTLD, while my left hand stayed strong. That provided another clue. In late February this year, my NHS consultant Prof Paresh Malhotra, a well-known researcher, told me that I also had features of corticobasal syndrome (CBS), in which parts of the brain begin to atrophy or shrink. CBS is an even rarer condition that can be part of the set of problems making up FTLD. A key element is a growing inability to use one side of the body. The underlying diagnosis can only be confirmed, however, in a postmortem examination of the brain. So, actually, I will never find out exactly what is wrong with me.

    FTLD most commonly affects people aged between 45 and 75. I was 68 by this point. Life expectancy is on average six to eight years: so we know (roughly) what the future holds. But not in detail: people with CBS tend to die from pneumonia, blood clots in the lungs or choking fits. I would have preferred to drop dead from a massive heart attack than face this grim, limited future. I would also like to know more about the final stages of this devastating condition. Helen doesn’t want to know. It is also financially necessary to know. How long will we need a carer to help me get washed, dressed and protect me from falling – or if I do continue falling (which seems highly likely), to help me get up from the ground? We are now exploring our options. Will it make sense to move me into a specialised care home at the end of life? It’s so weird to have to think about these questions, but it is our new reality.

    I can’t garden or cook, shaving or cleaning my glasses has become very difficult and getting dressed takes ages

    I am extremely ignorant about the underlying causes of my condition. Happily, it does not appear to be hereditary or related to lifestyle, but simply bad luck. A few months ago, I found myself needing to shake a plastic bottle of nasal spray before using it to tackle the constant dripping from my nose (another symptom of my illness). I managed without any problem to do it with my left hand. But my right hand was useless. I cannot clap any more, either. In recent months my right leg and foot have become very weak and I have fallen over many times. In late April and early May, this happened four times in 10 days. In mid-June, I fell over backwards in the kitchen. In July, it happened twice in two days. Thankfully, only once did I have to go to A&E.

    I don’t want to whinge endlessly, but this is a life-changing illness: I have been driving for half a century, but I noticed before summer 2020 that I had become more cautious, hesitating at junctions or roundabouts. My neurologist recommended that I undergo a voluntary driving assessment, which I failed last November. So I can no longer drive.

    I can’t do the gardening or cook any more, which I used to enjoy – and which increases the burden on Helen. Shaving or cleaning my glasses has become very difficult and getting dressed or undressed takes ages. I can still just about shower, but having a bath has become impossible because of the weakness in my right leg. I can’t write by hand – even sign my own name – which I find very strange. I am constantly tired. In recent weeks I have started to feel completely disabled. My right leg, foot, hand and arm feel almost useless.

    Bizarrely, I often giggle uncontrollably, which is of course embarrassing, or even worse, makes me choke

    For a short period until this spring, I looked normal, which was baffling to strangers who had not heard my speaking difficulties. This Valentine’s Day, we were having dinner in a local Iranian restaurant. I noticed several other diners looking puzzled when Helen cut up my kebab. Now, using a walking stick and limping heavily make it clear to anybody that there is something seriously wrong with me. It has made a huge difference, with even drivers being helpful in allowing me to cross roads. After one of my recent falls on Hampstead Heath, I called out to an older woman to assist me. She had a bad back, but shouted to a passing cyclist to come and get me up. He did. And that kind woman then walked me home.

    There is currently no cure for FTLD – thus my (private) irritation with friends and acquaintances, who haven’t seen or heard me in person, and write to me: “Hope you get/feel better soon.” Drugs may help to reduce symptoms related to memory and thinking. Other medications can reduce the physical symptoms, such as muscle stiffness and jerky movements. But I have not been prescribed any of these – only an antidepressant that may improve symptoms to some extent. I have become passive and apathetic – whether from the antidepressants or from the disease, I do not know. Bizarrely, I often giggle uncontrollably, which is embarrassing, or worse – if drinking tea or coffee – makes me choke.

    I have found physiotherapy helpful. The physio taught me exercises personalised for my needs. Theraputty (therapeutic modelling clay – I love the name) I use to slow down the growing weakness in my right hand, squeezing it frantically. But speech and language therapy has had a less positive effect.

    Helen and I have adopted the principle of enjoying life while we still can

    Practical items installed in our house by the NRC occupational therapy team include rails on the stairs, in the toilet and shower, and on either side of the front door. I have a metal frame on my side of the bed that helps me lie down and turn over. And they set up a contraption that raises the sofa in our living room to make it easier for me to stand up. They also ordered me a wheelchair, which is staying, for now at least, covered in plastic, in the garden shed.

    Not everything is negative: my friends and family have been amazingly kind and supportive. Literally as well: because I fall over so often I need to hold on to their arms while out walking. Helen’s friends have helped her, too. One neighbour invited me to join a small local book club, where the host of the session chooses a book title and provides supper for the participants. I appreciated the offer but I replied that I didn’t have much to contribute given my speech issues and inability to cook. I may go ahead and try it once or twice. I also belong to a walking group of old friends and neighbours, but I am going to have to stop taking part in that soon.

    Helen and I have adopted the principle of enjoying life while we still can. In March, we spent a fortnight in Venice: friends generously let us stay in their apartment two minutes from the Grand Canal. The only problem was getting on and off vaporetti. But I had to use a wheelchair – for the first time – at both airports as I now find it hard to stand still, especially in a queue.

    Given my increasing speech difficulties I have begun enjoying listening to music by myself – classical, folk and pop – much more than previously. Headphones and Spotify prove very useful. I also listen to podcasts a lot. Walking and talking are fundamental human activities that I can no longer do easily, so I focus on other things. I have become obsessed with loading and emptying the dishwasher. It’s about all I can do now to help in the house. I can’t multitask; I have to focus on the matter in hand. It is hard to ignore the increasing realisation that as my brain is shrinking, so is my world.

    Ian and Helen at home.
    Ian and Helen at home. Photograph: Cian Oba-Smith/The Guardian

    ‘This illness is a beast, like a mythical dragon I cannot slay, but I am going to fight, alongside Ian’: Helen Harris

    It should be clear to anyone reading this that Ian is reporting from the frontline of his illness with the same clarity and detachment with which he reported for decades from other trouble spots. I find his detachment – and his courage – extraordinary. Sometimes, I wonder how much the antidepressants the neurologist put him on are contributing. I do not share his detachment. I have done the freaking out and panicking for both of us.

    When you have been blessed to be happily married for as long as we have, an illness like Ian’s afflicts you both. There was a long initial period of denial – maybe a year – before the crushing realisation came that there was something seriously wrong with him. For months, we all thought he had become withdrawn and gloomy because he was depressed. The Covid lockdowns were enough to make anyone depressed – especially someone used to travelling the world. But you can’t keep kidding yourself for ever and a day (or a night) finally comes when you realise with awful clarity what is wrong.

    After an initial period of blind terror – I had (correctly) identified Ian’s illness on Google months before his formal diagnosis – I discovered a tough, no-nonsense side of me. I preferred myself before. Now I am quite capable of discussing Ian’s risk of death from aspiration pneumonia due to his swallowing difficulties without crying or without my voice shaking. I dislike this capacity in myself: sobbing would be a more appropriate response.

    This illness is a beast, like a mythical dragon I cannot slay, but I am going to fight, alongside Ian, for as long as I can. I asked a neurologist once whether the partners of all patients with Ian’s type of illness become horrendously bossy. He answered politely: “Helen, I would not say you were horrendously bossy,” before pausing and adding simply: “Yes.”

    Most painful is watching Ian live through the slow torment of losing his abilities one by one. His walking is slow and unsteady. It will get worse. It takes him more and more effort to talk. Not being able to write by hand any more or zip up his jacket or knot his laces all seem relatively minor compared with losing the basic abilities to walk and talk.

    Equally painful is how an illness such as this changes your relationship. For many years, I had a handsome foreign-correspondent husband who lived in a perpetual hurry, rushing to catch planes and to file his copy to a relentless deadline. He is still handsome and I still love him very much but, in some ways, he has changed beyond recognition. He moves slowly and cautiously, afraid of falling over. He speaks painfully slowly and, when we go anywhere, I have to allow extra time. Of course, I have been angry and frustrated; this slow-motion life is not what I want in my 60s. But, eventually, you learn to accept that this is how it is, the anger recedes and there is just sorrow. Ian has become disabled and I have become – I refuse the word “carer” – the person who looks after him.

    I do not want to give the impression, though, that there is nothing but misery. We still have good times. In fact, the knowledge of Ian’s illness, the fact that it is progressive and that there will be an end in the coming years, has made us both determined to make the most of now.

    It is hard to explain how this can be so, but the good times now seem better than they were before: the happiness is more intense – and Venice on our last trip was more beautiful than ever.

    Ian and Helen at their younger daughter’s wedding in May; it had been brought forward so Ian could walk his daughter up the aisle.
    Ian and Helen at their younger daughter’s wedding in May; it had been brought forward so Ian could walk his daughter up the aisle. Photograph: Libby Christensen Photography

    We relish every moment we get to spend with our children. They are young adults now, but watching their father go through this has been horrendous for them. Our younger daughter decided to get married a year or two earlier than she was intending so that Ian would still be able to walk her up the aisle. (He did.) Our elder daughter and her husband have taken on much more of a support role than I would have wanted for them at this stage of their lives. My stepson brought his six-year-old daughter over from the US so that Ian could spend time with his grandchild. (Ian’s speaking difficulties barely register with a small child.) Watching our children’s lives move forwards as they build their futures is our greatest comfort. They have also commented on how much more sweet-natured and mellow their father is in this new slowed-down version of himself. He takes pleasure in things he never had time for before when he was always rushing: music and nature and the infinite minutiae of north London streets.

    We have also had the opportunity – not granted to everyone – to plan for what remains of our future and even how I will organise my life after Ian is gone. It is desperately sad but there is considerable consolation in deciding on this together. I hope that writing this may help to raise awareness of these rare neurological conditions and deepen understanding. So little is known about what causes these illnesses. There are no treatments for them. But, faced with this grim reality, we have chosen to carry on dancing – until the music stops.


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    Amsterdam considers banning ‘cannabis tourists’ from its coffee shops

    Fed up with stoned visitors and worried by hard-drug criminality, the mayor wants to clean up the city. But will it work?

    The Oudezijds Voorburgwal, Amsterdam, which runs through its red light district. The site of the infamous Bulldog cafe sits halfway down on the left.
    The Oudezijds Voorburgwal, Amsterdam, which runs through its red light district. The site of the infamous Bulldog cafe sits on the left. Photograph: Yuliya Mykolaivna Heikens/Alamy

    Strumming gently at a guitar, outside the “nicest” coffee shop in Amsterdam, French tourists Terry Novel and Manon Fouquet enjoy a quiet joint in the sun.

    They have no idea of the dark cloud around them and the cannabis sector in Amsterdam. The council has just spent a day debating whether to ban tourists from cafes such as Coffeeshop The Rookies – where the state currently turns a blind eye to foreigners smoking weed and taxes the profits.

    “We just really love the city,” says Fouquet, 26. “We come for the museums and the people and the ambience, not just to smoke. But it’s nice that it’s legal and well done, there’s good-quality weed and a lot of respect from people.”

    Not, though, from everyone. The mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, who has the last word on law and order, wants a temporary ban on non-residents in coffee shops – by enforcing a national residents-only rule, known as the i-criterium.

    Even though there will be no majority for the ban when councillors vote on Wednesday, Halsema has not given up. In her view, and that of the local heads of police and prosecution bodies, banning tourists from coffee shops is unavoidable in order to reduce the size of the soft drug sector, tackle tourist nuisance and attack hard-drug criminality.

    A recent study suggested that 100 of the capital’s 166 coffee shops in effect serve only the needs of tourists. Now that coronavirus travel measures have gone, the red light district is as rowdy as ever, and there is increasing pressure to tell people wanting a “moral holiday” to go elsewhere. At the end of a long council meeting on Thursday, Halsema was not deterred. “My good friends,” she said, “we will let the i-criterium simmer in your heads.”

    The Easy Times coffee shop, Amsterdam, which currently sells marijuana legally for personal use.
    The Easy Times coffee shop, Amsterdam, which currently sells marijuana legally for personal use. Photograph: Marek Slusarczyk/Alamy

    In April, in a 13-page policy proposal, the mayor asked for the council’s support to temporarily enforce the residents-only law, largely because of concerns about the “criminal back door” of the coffee shops. Smoking and possessing weed for personal consumption are “tolerated”, but commercial growing is not – so coffee shops must buy from criminals. An influential 2019 report on the capital’s “dark side” suggested revisiting the residents-only rule to help tackle this “urban jungle”.

    Some parties agree, including the centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which proposed a ban two years ago. “It’s one of the few ‘knobs’ that we can turn on a local level to curb the major nuisance in the city centre and adjust our drink-drug image,” local party leader Claire Martens told the Observer. “Amsterdam is too beautiful for that and the residents deserve better. The bachelor parties and the European tourists who come here by car to smoke weed, sleep in their car and make noise are not adding any value to the city.”

    Els Iping, a former Labour politician involved in the residents group Stop de Gekte (“stop the madness”), and the Wallenwacht – which reminds misbehaving tourists that families live there – said locals believe tighter controls on brothels, alcohol serving-times and coffee shops are essential. “The dealers come for the tourists, the tourists come for the coffee shops,” she told the Observer. “We are saying: break the circle!”

    Others fiercely disagree. Mark Jacobsen, co-owner of The Rookies, believes hard drugs have nothing to do with his sector. “I have had my coffee shop for 30 years and the moment [customers] do anything with cocaine, I throw them out figuratively and literally,” he told the council.

    He told the Observer that research for the Bond van Cannabis Detaillisten business group found just under half of tourists came for cannabis, and 24% would still come, even if banned. “The government allows us to be entrepreneurs this way, but never finished gedoogbeleid [drug tolerance policy],” he said. “If someone grows cannabis, they are criminal, but I see my business as separate from hard drugs and other crime.”

    Others worry about street dealers increasing, especially as Amsterdam and other cities try to protect vulnerable young men from crime. Sheher Khan, head of the local Denk party, said: “Our main objection is that young people will be tempted under the wing of the large drug criminals. The i-criterium will make it possible for them to lure young men into street dealing. It is happening now. The question is: do you, as government, want to make it worse?”

    Dr Ton Nabben, criminologist and drug researcher, studied the effects of an unsuccessful mandatory resident “weed pass” a decade ago in border towns such as Maastricht. He told the council that there would simply be a “water bed” effect, with supply moving elsewhere. “You will get a situation where you arrive at Schiphol and the dealers ask if you’d like to buy something because you can’t go in a coffee shop,” he explained to the Observer.

    “Some tourists have been framed as low-value, but there are all kinds of groups who go to coffee shops, young and old, people with a job who come for a conference and, of course, the stoned young Italians and Brits. But that’s not the majority, and you see them in cafes the world over.”

    Back in The Rookies, where Amnesia Haze sells for €10.90 per gram and a sign invites visitors to smile, 21-year-old Novel wonders why cannabis is stigmatised. “It’s a daily help,” he says. “Like a glass of wine in France.”


    Posted in 1

    Russian forces retreat from Lyman

    Russia’s withdrawal from Lyman comes a day after Putin said he was annexing the region.

    Ukrainian soldiers near the city of Lyman in the eastern Donetsk region last week.
    Ukrainian soldiers near the city of Lyman in the eastern Donetsk region last week.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

    RIVNE, Ukraine — Russian forces withdrew from the strategic eastern city of Lyman on Saturday, a significant setback just a day after President Vladimir V. Putin’s internationally derided declaration that the region where it lies was now part of Russia.

    The battle for Lyman, a city in Donetsk Province with a pre-war population of 20,000, is particularly poorly timed for the Kremlin after it illegally declared its annexation of four regions in Ukraine where battles are raging and Kyiv’s stunning victories in the country’s northeast last month.

    It puts additional pressure on the Kremlin, which has been facing blowback at home over its setbacks on the battlefield and the conscription of hundreds of thousands of men to fight in Ukraine.

    Hours after Ukraine’s defense ministry said its forces were entering the city, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said in it had made the decision to pull out of Lyman. Confirmation of the withdrawal staved off a potential worst-case scenario for the Kremlin in which Russian troops were trapped in the city.

    “Due to the risk to be encircled, the allied forces were withdrawn” from the city to “more advantageous” locations, the ministry said in a statement posted on Telegram.

    The acknowledgment came after Ukraine’s Defense Ministry posted a video on Twitter showing two soldiers unfurling the country’s yellow-and-blue flag at a sign marking the city limits. The army “will always have the decisive vote in today’s and any future ‘referendums,’” it added in a pointed reference to the annexation process.

    A senior Ukrainian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Lyman was “already liberated.”

    “A mop-up is ongoing,” the official said. “The Russians have nowhere to run.”

    Last month’s sweeping and successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in the country’s northeast sent Russian soldiers in full retreat, leaving Moscow’s troops in Lyman isolated and severed from their supply lines. But that Ukrainian victory came at a cost: Russian forces managed to rush troops to Lyman, fighting viciously for the city amid Mr. Putin’s new territorial claims in eastern and southern Ukraine.

    Lyman, which fell to the Russians in May, serves as a rail hub that flows into Donbas, the mineral rich region comprised of Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk Province that has long been the focus of Mr. Putin’s war aims.

    Ukraine’s ability to recapture Lyman is the most significant proof yet that Russia’s ability to control the Donbas is anything but certain.

    With Lyman under Ukrainian control the battle for the Donbas will enter a new phase. The city’s recapture means that they have gained a new foothold in the region and are positioned to claw back territory before winter sets in.

    The next target, if the Ukrainian military continues its advance, would likely be Svatove, a city north east of Lyman where Russians have retrenched following their defeat in the north east, according to analysts.

    Russia’s military in the Donbas, depleted and losing ground, will be faced with a decision that involves shuttling resources from other parts of the front to slow Ukraine’s advance or continue to slowly lose chunks of the Donbas.

    Some of the nearest Russian reinforcements are roughly 25 miles to the southeast, around the city of Bakhmut. Wagner group, an infamous paramilitary unit that reports directly to the Kremlin, has battered the Ukrainian defenders there but failed to seize any significant parts of the city.

    Ukraine’s slow moving offensive in the south toward the port city of Kherson has largely been overshadowed by events in the east. But fighting there remains fierce as better trained Russian forces have put up staunch resistance against advancing Ukrainian troops.

    New York Times, October 1, 2022

    Posted in 1

    Could a digital twin of Tuvalu preserve the island nation before it’s lost to the collapsing climate?

    With rising seas expected to submerge the nation by 2100, official says ‘we should always be able to remember Tuvalu as it is, before it disappears’

    An aerial view of Fongafale island, home to the Tuvaluan capital of Funafuti
    Fongafale island, home to the Tuvaluan capital of Funafuti. Rising sea levels caused by global heating are expected to submerge the country within 80 years. Photograph: Sean Gallagher/The Guardian

    When Tuvalu vanishes beneath rising seas, its diaspora still want somewhere to call home – and that could be a virtual version of the tiny Pacific nation.

    Global heating is threatening to submerge Tuvalu by the end of the century, and its 12,000 inhabitants are considering the future.

    Dr Eselealofa Apinelu, Tuvalu’s former attorney general and current high commissioner to Fiji, told the State of the Pacific conference on Thursday that Tuvaluans needed “something they can hold on to”.

    “When that finally happens, that Tuvalu has disappeared and all they have is this virtual world … we should always be able to remember Tuvalu as it is, before it disappears,” she told the Australian National University’s department of Pacific affairs conference.

    Tuvalu's minister for justice, communication and foreign affairs, Simon Kofe, gives a Cop26 statement while standing in the ocean in Funafuti, Tuvalu.

    Tuvalu’s culture and values could be enshrined in a “digital twin”, housed somewhere like the metaverse.

    Apinelu said “it needs to be stored somewhere that there was a country called Tuvalu”.

    “It’s like the last option,” she said.

    “When the unfortunate does happen and Tuvalu seems to really disappear, I think the idea then is to preserve it, conserve it in a state so that generations of Tuvaluans can look into it … that’s the digitised idea.

    “[But] we can’t digitise people. It’s easy to speak about the land. We need to involve human beings, that’s something we’re still considering – how to deal with people in that context.”

    Apinelu called on countries, including Australia, to allow Tuvaluans easier access in the meantime so they can explore other potential homes before the rising tides force them to migrate.

    “We believe our values of shared responsibilities, they are values that can really help a person settle properly and respect the laws of individual countries,” she said.

    “But they need to access those countries first to work out where they can make a proper living, find a proper future.


    “Australia and New Zealand have been our closest partners, they’ve offered education, job opportunities … but the migration laws are not simple, they’re not easy. If only we had laws that were more friendly to smaller islands.

    “They need the support at a level where they can be exposed to other places, so they can visualise their own future, rather than the constant fear of the sea level rise.”

    Other speakers at the conference including professor Stephen Howes, from ANU’s development policy centre, said the government’s Pacific Engagement Visa would provide permanent visas to Pacific islanders when it begins next year. But those visas will be offered on a pro rata basis, while priority should be given to smaller nations like Tuvalu and Kiribati that are facing existential climate crisis threats.

    Meltwater flows from the ice sheet into the Baffin Bay near Pituffik in northern Greenland.

    While many will apply for the visas for economic benefit, for people from smaller islands it is a “lifeline”, ANU PhD candidate and former Kiribati government official Akka Rimon said.

    Tuvalu’s foreign minister, Simon Kofe, said last year that his country was looking at legal ways to remain a state even if it disappears.

    Apinelu said Tuvaluans were worried about the future, and about future generations, who would have to find somewhere to live.

    “If we can slowly allow the people to migrate at their own pace according to the laws of the individual countries they want to migrate to, it’s easier than packing up a whole nation at once and putting it somewhere,” she said.


    Posted in 1

    Art a la Monte Python – Millionaire burns Frida Kahlo drawing to sell it as NFT

    The owner of the Mexican artist’s piece is selling 10,000 copies of the original as a non-fungible token

    A drawing by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo being burned by the millionaire Martín Mobarak
    A drawing by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo being burned by the millionaire Martín MobarakFRIDA.NFT

    This past summer, millionaire Martín Mobarak burned an untitled drawing by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. He plans on selling 10,000 copies of the original in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFT) – digital certificates or cryptographic tokens used to record the value of tangible assets. The artwork – in which the words “sinister ghosts” can be read – was valued at $10 million. Mobarak says that his act will transform the world of digital art.

    Kahlo’s drawing is one of the items found in her diary, dated between 1944 and 1954. Mobarak – who presents himself as a philanthropist and NFT investor – is the founder of the Frida.NFT initiative. His website states that, by digitizing the destroyed original, Kahlo’s art will be introduced “into the metaverse… [merging] the traditional art world with the digital art world.”

    The Mexican millionaire bought the image in 2015 from the Mary-Anne Martin Gallery in New York City. He insists that, with the creation of this NFT, the charities he plans to donate to will get “constant” help. He also admits that his burning of the drawing could be “misunderstood.” However, he still claims that it will lead to the artist’s immortalization.

    “Burning the work is going to help create a new group of collectors,” Mobarak explains. He even claims – without any evidence – that, if Frida Kahlo knew the destination of the donations he intends to make, she would have told him to “burn everything.”

    Mobarak set the drawing on fire at an event held on July 30 in Miami. Online, the millionaire is now inviting the public to buy into what he considers to be the “most historic NFT in existence.” The sale period will end in November.

    The drawing 'Sinister Ghosts' before being set on fire.
    The drawing ‘Sinister Ghosts’ before being set on fire.FRIDA.NFT

    Both sides of the drawing were digitized. On the back page, it includes the words “Chromophore” and “Auxochrome” – two scientific terms that the Mexican artist adopted as names for herself and her partner, fellow artist Diego Rivera. In other pages of Kahlo’s diary – which is included in the Frida Kahlo Museum collection in the Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacán – the painter describes herself as “Chromophore, the one who receives color” and Rivera as “Auxochrome, the one who captures color.”

    Mobarak thinks that the work expresses love and pain. Love is reflected by the terms with which Kahlo referred to herself and her partner; pain is embodied by the “sinister ghosts” that, according to the Mobarak, the artist captured to show fear.


    Florida Museums Highlight Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Machu Picchu

    Museums in West Palm Beach and Boca Raton present exhibitions of the Mexican artists and of Peruvian ceramics and gold and silver ornaments.

    The “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism” exhibition is on view at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., through Feb. 6.
    The “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism” exhibition is on view at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., through Feb. 6.Credit…Chandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera — the tormented lovers and heavyweight Mexican artists — are together again. This time at a museum here in West Palm Beach.

    Their paintings, a batch of photographs and a replica of a Rivera mural are part of a pair of Latin American art exhibitions that create an elegant change of pace from the mostly contemporary work at Art Basel Miami Beach this year.

    The Frida and Diego show at the Norton Museum of Art captures a segment of the modernist movement in Mexico from the 1920s through the 1950s that the museum director, Ghislain d’Humierès, said added another dimension to the Norton’s permanent collection of American and European modernism.

    Down the coast a bit, the Boca Raton Museum of Art is presenting “Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru,” a dazzling collection of sculpted gold and silver ornaments, ceramic jugs and bowls, many dating back thousands of years.

    A copper funerary mask with applications of shell and stone from the “Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru” exhibition.
    A copper funerary mask with applications of shell and stone from the “Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru” exhibition.Credit…Boca Raton Museum of Art
    A gold and turquoise nose ornament from the exhibition.
    A gold and turquoise nose ornament from the exhibition.Credit…Boca Raton Museum of Art

    Andrew James Hamilton, a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, said the 192 works were among the finest examples of pre-Columbian art. “This is the crème de la crème,” he said in an interview. “These are the kinds of works that museums around the world are trying constantly to get on loan.”

    The exhibition has been staged like a theatrical production with dramatic lighting, sparkling crystal glass display cases and a virtual reality feature that takes you on a swooping, plunging, magic carpet ride over the roofless ruins of the Inca citadel.

    West Palm Beach and Boca Raton are an easy drive from Art Basel headquarters in Miami Beach, and there are lots of things to do in an overnight visit.

    The exhibitions are touring shows. The Frida and Diego show was most recently in Denver. The pre-Columbian exhibition, in its first iteration in Boca Raton, is heading for Europe in the spring.

    The intensity of the Frida and Diego exhibition strikes you as you enter their wing of the Norton. They gaze out from a giant, floor-to-ceiling blow up of a slightly grainy 1934 black-and-white photograph, almost, but not quite, cheek to cheek, Frida out front, Diego fixed on her with those irresistible eyes.

    She admired his swagger and acclaim as a muralist and painter, 20 years her senior. He saw her raw talent. They were on fire, politically charged, seeing a better Mexico in Communism. They told each other marriage would not fence them in.

    Frida’s Kahlo’s “Self Portrait with Monkeys” (1943).
    Frida’s Kahlo’s “Self Portrait with Monkeys” (1943).Credit…Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    But it was tough going. He slept with her sister. She slept with their friend, Leon Trotsky. They divorced, remarried and clung together until Frida died in 1954 at 47. Three years later, he was gone.

    She painted stark portraits, many of herself. She painted him. He painted her. He put her in a mural, handing out rifles. His lighter hand softened the harsh contours of rural life with sprays of calla lilies and sunflowers.

    The Norton is showing 29 of their paintings and three of their lithographs, 20 paintings by contemporaries and 90 photos, including two of her by Rivera, five by Nickolas Muray, one of her lovers, and nine by her father, Guillermo Kahlo, a professional photographer. Two photos show her in an open coffin at her funeral in Mexico City.

    In a self-portrait called “Diego on my mind,” Kahlo planted a tiny portrait of Rivera on her forehead and framed her face in a tight oval of pleated white lace overlaid with long, thin, angling, undulating nervous lines suggesting, perhaps, a cracked mirror or jangled nerves.

    “There’s a lot of energy there,” said Ellen E. Roberts, one of the Norton’s senior curators.

    Diego Rivera’s “Calla Lily Vendor” (1943).
    Diego Rivera’s “Calla Lily Vendor” (1943).Credit…Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    Diego Rivera’s “Calla Lily Vendor” (1943).

    The pre-Columbian exhibition in Boca Raton opens with the oldest of the works, a ceramic jug representing the head of a revered shaman. It was excavated, like all of the other pieces, from a burial mound. It is from the Cupisnique culture, 2,000 to 3,000 years ago.

    Ushers in bright yellow jerseys start people on their journey through the museum with a four-minute video, giving the historical context. A side curtain rises, and the exhibition unfolds.

    Dimmed, colored spotlights create a shadowy feel that focuses attention on the artifacts, set individually and in small clusters in specially built, tall, angular glass cases. The objects glisten in the beams of tiny, pinpoint LED spotlights embedded, out of sight, in the tops of the cases.

    Gold ornaments from the “Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru” exhibition.
    Gold ornaments from the “Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru” exhibition.Credit…Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA, via Shutterstock

    Continue reading the main story

    One stunning set of gold funereal trappings set on a skeletal manikin slams you to a stop: a big, blazing chest covering, a gleaming crown and shimmering round disks for the ears.

    “You feel the power of every object,” said Michelle Feuer, a director of a tech start-up from West Palm Beach, after spending part of an afternoon absorbing the pre-Columbian art.

    The exhibitions are a natural, one-two combination. Both are going heavy on digital advertising. Nikos Sotirhos, a robotics expert in Fort Lauderdale, got an email promoting the Machu Picchu show as he was working his way through the Frieda and Diego show. On the spot, he and his wife, Alexandra Karava, decided to head for Boca Raton.

    At the exhibition in West Palm Beach, Kahlo is by far the big draw. “Diego is part of the story,” said Jay Stollman, a musician from Stuart, just north of West Palm Beach, as he was wrapping up a visit to the show. “But I think Frida is really the headline.”

    New York Times-movember 28, 2021

    Trotsky (with glasses) pictured next to Frida Kahlo on arriving in Mexico in 1937. Photograph: © Bettmann/Corbis
    Here is some very rare footage of the great Mexican painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo paying a visit to exiled Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his wife, Natalia Sedova, in Coyocoán, Mexico, in 1938.
    The Trotskys had arrived the year before, after Rivera petitioned the government of President Lázaro Cárdenas to grant the controversial Marxist leader and theorist sanctuary in Mexico. When the Trotskys arrived on a Norwegian oil tanker at the port city of Tampico in January of 1937, Rivera was not well, but Kahlo boarded the ship to welcome the Trotskys and accompanied them on an armored train to Mexico City. She invited the Trotskys to stay at her family home, La Casa Azul (the Blue House) in Coyocoán, now a section of Mexico City. By the time this footage was taken by a visiting American named Ivan Heisler, Trotsky and Kahlo had either had, or were about to have, a brief affair, and the friendship between the two couples would soon fall apart. In early 1939 Trotsky moved to another house in the same neighborhood, where he was assassinated in August of 1940.
    Posted in 1

    September 24, 1991, the day Dr. Seuss died.

    In 1991, children’s author Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, died at age 87.

    The day Dr. Seuss died at 87 following illness in 1991


    Sep 23, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    American author, artist and publisher Theodor Seuss Geisel, known as Dr. Seuss, dies at the age of 87.
    American author, artist and publisher Theodor Seuss Geisel, known as Dr. Seuss, dies at the age of 87. (AP)

    He died Tuesday night at his home in La Jolla, Calif., following an illness of several months.

    Geisel, who won Oscars, Emmys and a Pulitzer Prize in 1984, wrote and illustrated 47 books, selling more than 100 million copies in 18 languages, including classics such as “The Cat in the Hat” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

    He infused his books with his liberal sentiments, sounding the environmental alarm early in the ’70s with “The Lorax” and inveighing against war in “The Butter Battle Book” in 1984. His most recent best seller, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” encouraged children to view life as having unlimited horizons.

    A self-described “flaming youth,” he went on to study literature at Oxford, where he met his future wife, Helen Palmer, but dropped out to spend time in Paris with such literary lights as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein.

    It was during a 15-year stint as an advertising man in New York that Geisel produced his first children’s book, “And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street.” It was a best seller, and he wrote three more children’s books before World War II saw Army Capt. Geisel assigned to animation in Hollywood.

    Afterward, he stayed on to produce documentaries and cartoons, winning three Academy Awards, one in 1951 for the creation of the animated character “Gerald McBoing-Boing.” But tired of studio interference, he moved to La Jolla, where he went back to writing children’s books.

    In 1954, when Life magazine published a controversial article criticizing the reading-by-rote textbooks of the time, author John Hersey suggested Dr. Seuss write for beginning readers. He produced “The Cat in the Hat” in 1957 using a mere 220 words and revolutionizing the standard approach to teaching children how to read.

    “That is what I am proudest

    of – that I had something do with getting rid of Dick and Jane,” Geisel said in 1962.

    Geisel, following the death of his first wife in 1967 after 40 years of marriage, married his neighbor, Audrey Stone Diamond.


    One picture and the videos have been added.

    Posted in 1

    In the ocean’s twilight zone, a fish that could feed the world – or destroy it

    A lanternfish displays bioluminescent photophores.
    Lanternfish, so-called because of their bioluminescent photophores, perform a vital role by helping transfer carbon from the sea’s surface to the deep. Photograph: Morgan Trimble/Alamy

    Lanternfish, the Earth’s most abundant vertebrates, may be the ultimate food source. But will catching them ruin the climate?

    In 1789, the explorers Alessandro Malaspina and José de Bustamante set sail from Cádiz on Spain’s first scientific expedition around the world. For five years, Malaspina and Bustamante studied and collected animals and plants across the Spanish empire, which stretched along the North, Central and South American Pacific coasts, and westwards to the Philippines.

    In 2010, another Spanish expedition set off from Cádiz, tracing much of the original route and studying what the oceans are like today.

    The team measured pollutants, plastics and chemicals that were not there in Malaspina and Bustamante’s time. They collected samples of seawater and plankton. And all the way through the 31,000-mile voyage, the ship’s sonar was switched on, listening for echoes from below. Their chief targets? Small silver fish that look like sardines or anchovies – only with bigger eyes and rows of spots that glow in the dark.

    A school of lanternfish.
    A school of lanternfish. Photograph: Oar/National Undersea Research Program

    They are lanternfish: there are about 250 species and they are not only the most common fish in the oceans’ twilight zone but the most abundant vertebrates on the planet. Huge numbers were first noticed during the second world war, when naval sonar operators saw echoes from what appeared to be a solid seabed, one that rose to the surface at night and fell back down at daybreak. In fact, the pulses of sound were echoing off the swim bladders – the internal gas-filled bubbles – of billions of lanternfish, as they congregated in dense layers hiding in the deep, then at sunset swam up thousands of metres to feed at the surface. Every night, along with other animals, such as the squid that prey on them, lanternfish undergo the greatest animal migration on the planet.

    Before the 2010 Malaspina expedition, studies based on trawl surveys estimated that the twilight zone contains about a gigatonne (1bn tonnes) of fish. But this was most likely an underestimate, it turns out, because lanternfish avoid being caught by swimming away from the open nets. The Malaspina acoustic survey did not rely on nets, and in 2014 its research led to new estimates of the abundance of twilight-zone fish, ranging between 10 and 20 gigatonnes.

    One study estimated that deep-dwelling fish capture and store the equivalent of 1m tonnes of carbon dioxide every year

    The prospect of such a colossal harvest raised an old question: could fish from the twilight zone help to feed a growing human population?

    Too tempting to ignore

    Lanternfish are unlikely to appear directly on anybody’s plate – they are far too oily and full of bones. However, their high oil content means they could be mashed down for animal feed, mostly for fish farms. After the Malaspina discovery, it has been suggested that if just half of the lower estimated mass of twilight-zone fish were caught – still a massive 5 gigatonnes – it could theoretically be turned into enough fishmeal to yield 1.25 gigatonnes of farmed seafood, which is considerably more than the current annual 0.1 gigatonne catch of wild fish.

    However, even if harvesting lanternfish were to begin, and setting aside other environmental impacts of many types of fish farming, such as pollution from pharmaceuticals and waste, many question whether it would achieve the virtuous goal of securing food for everyone to eat.

    Varieties of lanternfish.
    Lanternfish come in a variety of shapes and sizes, all of which have bioluminescent organs. Photograph: Paul Caiger/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    A lot of fishmeal gets fed to salmon and prawns for food-rich, developed countries, and a growing volume is increasingly being sold as a supplement in pet food. Moreover, previous attempts to establish lanternfish fisheries, including by Russian and Icelandic fleets, have been a commercial failure. Fishing these deep waters has so far proven too expensive, and fishmeal too cheap.

    More recently, however, prompted in part by the high estimates of lanternfish populations, plans are under way to investigate how to make twilight-zone fisheries profitable. The EU has funded a five-year research project to investigate such opportunities. In 2017, Norway issued 46 exploratory fishing licences for the twilight zone. These fisheries will probably seek to become profitable, not by producing low-cost fishmeal, but by supplying the more lucrative “nutraceuticals” industry supplying products such as omega-3 supplements and the fish-oil pills more people are taking despite little evidence of their benefits.

    These and other initiatives to develop a “twilight fishery” reflect an overwhelming imperative to hunt for wild fish. Amid talk of sustainability – and of the need to “feed the world” – is the counter-assumption that to leave those fish unfished would somehow be a waste. The term “underexploited” is often used, as if the only purpose of those animals is for human benefit. The idea of a thousand trillion shining fish cascading through the twilight zone is too tempting for many to ignore.

    A viperfish attacking a Lanternfish, which has light organs on tail to confuse predators.
    A lanternfish, which has light organs on its tail to confuse predators, is pursued by a viperfish in the deep ocean. Photograph: Minden Pictures/Alam

    To catch enough lanternfish and make it worth the effort, these fisheries will probably need to use huge midwater trawl nets and target the fish during the day, as they cluster together in large shoals that are easy to find with sonar. The nets will not touch the bottom or smash through 1,000-year-old corals, but as they sieve and strain the open water, they will catch other animals – sharks, dolphins, turtles – that already have troubles enough.

    Climate consequences

    In contrast to extremely slow-growing deep-sea species such as orange roughy, lanternfish are more likely to withstand substantial hunting pressure; they are much faster growing, and their lives are measured in months, some living for less than two years. Nevertheless, fishing in the twilight zone could trigger a different kind of catastrophe by disrupting the way lanternfish and similar species help regulate the climate.

    Their daily routine of swimming up and down forms vital connections between the surface and the deep by boosting the “particle injection pumps”. This is the process of little fish feeding in the shallows, then plunging downwards, where they are eaten by bigger fish that remain in the deep, thereby “pumping” carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the deep ocean where it can be stored. If particles sink below 1,000 metres their carbon can be stored for up to 1,000 years before returning to the surface. A study of the continental slope off western Ireland estimated that deep-dwelling fish capture and store the equivalent of 1m tonnes of CO2 a year.

    A hula skirt siphonophore.
    A hula skirt siphonophore, common in the deep ocean, has reflective, gas-filled bubbles inside its body. Photograph: imageBroker/Alamy

    No one can be sure how quickly or critically this biological carbon pump might weaken if twilight-zone fisheries were to damage that link between the surface and the deep. But there is a risk that lanternfish are a part of the global climate system that needs to be left alone.

    Alarmingly, not everyone agrees with the new elevated figure for the numbers of twilight-zone fish. Even the 2010 Malaspina study states its uncertainty and the limitations of the methods used. But the headline – that the twilight zone contains at least 10 times the amount of fish as previously thought – grabbed people’s attention.

    Subsequent studies have looked more critically at those figures and the assumptions that underpin them. Crucially, the Malaspina study assumed that the acoustic “backscatter” – the measure of sound reflected from the deep and received by the sonar – came entirely from fish. But they are not the only animals in the twilight zone with reflective, gas-filled bubbles inside their bodies. They are also found in many siphonophores– intricate jellies that the 19th-century German naturalist Ernst Haeckel identified and illustrated. And some twilight-zone fish lack swim bladders, so are not detected by sonar.

    A 2019 study reinterpreted the acoustic data from the Malaspina expedition, taking these uncertainties into account. The resulting estimates of twilight-zone fish ranged from 1.8 to 16 gigatonnes. It is too soon to say where on this scale the true value lies, which means it is surely too soon to start catching lanternfish based on the risky premise that there might be 20 gigatonnes out there.

    Recent history tells us that when industrial fisheries sweep into new regions to catch new species there are always devastating environmental effects. Can the same mistake be avoided in the twilight zone?


    Posted in 1

    Leopards don’t change their spots, do they?

    Chess: latest round of Hans Niemann saga expected in St Louis on Wednesday

    The 19-year-old, labelled a cheat by Magnus Carlsen, is due to play for the US title in a 14-grandmaster field including three of the world top 10

    Hans Niemann returns to action in the $250,000 US Championship in St Louis.
    Hans Niemann, the 19-year-old named as a cheat by Magnus Carlsen, returns to action in the $250,000 US Championship in St Louis. Photograph: Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club

    Hans Niemann will be tested by three of the top 10 grandmasters next week when the 19-year-old, who the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, has publicly declared to be a cheat, takes on the American elite in the $250,000 US championship at St Louis, which has its first round (of 13) on Wednesday.

    Niemann will be returning to the the “capital of chess” where a few weeks ago he shocked Carlsen by defeating the Norwegian in the third round of the Sinquefield Cup.

    The manner and circumstances of that result, an exceptionally rare loss for Carlsen with the favourable white pieces against a much lower rated opponent – ending the Norwegian’s run of 53 games without defeat, has come under close scrutiny after the world champion singled it out in his statement on Monday night.

    Magnus Carlsen has broken the social media silence that began following his withdrawal from the Sinquefield Cup.

    “Throughout our game I had the impression that he wasn’t tense or even fully concentrating on the game in critical positions, while outplaying me as black in a way I think only a handful of players can do,” said Carlsen. “This game contributed to me changing my perspective.”

    Carlsen’s assessment is contrary to the general view of commentators on the game that there were errors and inaccuracies on both sides, with Niemann missing clearer routes to victory and Carlsen overlooking several chances to draw or make the win difficult. Russia’s Alexander Grischuk summed it up succinctly: “Their game wasn’t suspicious. Niemann played average and Carlsen played poorly.”

    It is also possible to play against a world champion without tension, as evidenced by the reaction of Jonathan Penrose during his famous 1960 victory over Mikhail Tal, where he described the experience as feeling like an Essex v Middlesex county match.

    One of the spectators as the game and players were screened live from St Louis was Tim Harding, a Dublin historian and the leading expert on British 19th century chess. Harding wrote in the English Chess Forum: “I was watching pretty much throughout the game and Hans’s interview afterwards. I saw nothing to suggest that Hans was doing anything to put Magnus off, nor anything to suggest that Hans thought Magnus suspected him of cheating. I saw Niemann play well, but not perfectly (as the commentators showed at a few points) and I saw Magnus playing badly and acting pissed off near the end.”

    Carlsen’s prime example may be unconvincing, but top GMs have generally taken his side. The 2018 world title challenger and former world No 2, Fabiano Caruana,said he had personal experience with a cheater who had been exonerated: “There is no doubt in my mind that he was cheating and he got away with it.” Caruana described key moves in one of Niemann’s 2022 wins as “fishy” and “weird”.

    Chess 3835
    3835: Alexander Donchenko v Emre Can, Fagernes, Norway 2022. What was White’s winning move?

    Hikaru Nakamura, the current world No 5 and five-time US champion, will not be competing in St Louis next week, but has made it plain to his million plus Twitch followers that he distrusts Niemann.

    Ian Nepomniachtchi, winner of the 2022 Candidates and current world No 3, revealed his suspicions about Niemann’s erratic form before his strong start at the Sinquefield Cup. “For me it’s weird having two not so brilliant performances in a row, and then coming and screwing some of the top players,” he said. Levon Aronian, the world No 10 who will make his US championship debut next week, said: “I believe Hans has not been the cleanest person when it comes to online chess.”

    So five of the world top 10 have made critical statements about Niemann, while the other five have not made significant comments. There is no hard evidence but this still represents a crisis of confidence. What happens in the US championship, which includes a strong field of rising talents as well as the trio from the world top 10, may well determine what sort of future Niemann has in top-class tournaments. He is seeded eighth out of 14.

    The St Louis organisers, aware that their championship will be keenly watched by chess fans worldwide and by the international media, issued a pre-tournament statement which stressed that anti-cheating mechanisms will be prominent: “We anticipate hosting another successful event, complete with rigorous protocols to ensure the best chess players in the country can continue to compete on an even playing field.”

    Play begins at 7pm daily from 5 October until 19 October, with a playoff, if needed, on 20 October, and can be followed live online.

    Last week’s open at Nova Gorica, Slovenia, was a double success for English talents. Matthew Wadsworth, 22, fresh from his Cambridge MA economics dissertation and now aiming for grandmaster, won with 7/9, his third tournament win in a row.

    Magnus Carlsen, pictured in January of this year

    Shreyas Royal, 13, scored his second international master norm (of three needed for the title). Royal’s recent performances have surged, his tournament rating of 2535 was a personal best, and he is now in contention to break David Howell’s 2007 age record as the youngest ever English GM at 16 years and one month.

    Royal’s journey to the top has been significantly aided by backing from Tata Consultancy Services, the IT company which is part of the Tata Group most famous in chess as sponsor of the “chess Wimbledon” at Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands.

    The world girls under-eight championship in Batumi, Georgia, proved the narrowest of misses for England’s Bodhana Sivanandan, who tied on 9.5/11 with India’s Charvi Anilkumar but missed gold by half a point on the third tiebreak count.

    The Harrow state school pupil, who has featured previously in this column and will still qualify as an under-eight in 2023, is already England’s top-ranked girl under 11 despite having no master-level coach.

    3835 1 Rxe6+! Kxe6 2 Re1+ Kf5 3 Qa5+! (much stronger than 3 Qxd7+ when White has only a small edge) and Black resigned due to Kf4 4 g3+ and mate next move.


    Posted in 1

    All is well that might end well.

    Ukraine applies for Nato membership after Russia annexes territory

    Volodymyr Zelenskiy dismisses Moscow ceremony as a farce and rules out negotiations with Putin

    Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds up a copy of a request for fast-track membership of Nato, accompanied by Ruslan Stefanchuk (lef) and Denys Shmyhal, in Kyiv.
    Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds up a copy of a request for fast-track membership of Nato, accompanied by Ruslan Stefanchuk (lef) and Denys Shmyhal, in Kyiv. Photograph: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters

    A defiant Volodymyr Zelenskiy has announced that Ukraine is officially applying for membership of Nato, hours after Vladimir Putin said in a Kremlin ceremony that he was annexing four Ukrainian provinces.

    In a speech filmed outside his presidential office in Kyiv, Zelenskiy said he was taking this “decisive step” in order to protect “the entire community” of Ukrainians. He promised the application would happen in an “expedited manner”.

    “De facto, we have already made our way to Nato. De facto, we have already proven compatibility with alliance standards. They are real for Ukraine – real on the battlefield and in all aspects of our interaction,” he said. “We trust each other, we help each other, and we protect each other. This is the alliance. De facto. Today, Ukraine is applying to make it de jure.”

    The president signed the application form, as did the speaker of parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, and the prime minister, Denys Shmyhal.

    The alliance is unlikely to accept Ukraine’s imminent Nato entry while it is in a state of war. As a Nato member, fellow members would be compelled to actively defend it against Russia – a commitment that goes well beyond the supply of weapons.

    Zelenskiy acknowledged this soon after Russia’s full-scale invasion. “It is clear that Ukraine is not a member of Nato, we understand this,” he said in March. “For years we heard about the apparently open door, but have already also heard that we will not enter there, and these are truths and must be acknowledged.”

    In his address on Friday, shared on Telegram, Zelenskiy dismissed the ceremony in Moscow as a meaningless “farce”. He said no peace talks with Russia would be possible while Putin was president. “Putin doesn’t know what dignity and honesty is. We are ready for dialogue with Russia but only with a different Russian president,” he said.

    Zelenskiy promised that Ukraine’s armed forces would continue to free territory from Russian occupation, regardless of Putin’s insinuation that Moscow might use nuclear weapons to defend land it has seized. “The whole of Ukraine will be liberated from this enemy,” he said. Moscow was against “life, the law, humanity and truth,” he added.

    The president’s office let it be known that they did not watch Putin’s speech. Instead, Zelenskiy convened his national security council and met the commander in chief of his armed forces, Gen Valeriy Zaluzhnyi. He said they discussed progress on the battlefield and weapons deliveries. Zelenskiy added: “Everything will be Ukraine.”

    Zelenskiy said Putin’s willingness to kill and torture in order to expand his “zone of control” was madness. Ukrainian commentators agreed. They dismissed Russia’s president as delusional and said his new “treaty” incorporating four regions of Ukraine into Russia would make no difference to the situation on the ground, where Ukrainian troops are on the brink of securing a major victory.

    The Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Honcharenko described Putin as an “insane, inadequate person” and said Russia under his two-decade leadership had become a “constant danger to the world”. The ceremony inside the Kremlin’s St George’s hall was full of “strange people” who “look absolutely awful”, he said.

    Speaking to the BBC, he pointed out that the four supposed leaders of the provinces formally annexed by Russia – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – had no democratic mandate. “Who elected these people? Who are they?” he said, describing them as puppets.

    The prominent defence correspondent for the Kyiv Independent newspaper, Illia Ponomarenko, called Putin “absolutely mad”. He said the speech was the “most imperialistic” since Adolf Hitler. The Kyiv Post tweeted a question of the day asking: “On scale from 1,000 to 1,001, how mentally deranged is he?”

    Zelenskiy has made clear that annexation means negotiations with the Kremlin are at an end. His senior aides pointed to the fact that as Putin was speaking, thousands of his troops faced annihilation in the city of Lyman, in the Donetsk region – an area Moscow says is Russia’s “for ever”.

    Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, tweeted a picture of a cauldron, a reference to the fact Russian soldiers were apparently trapped in Lyman. Another senior aide, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Moscow would have to ask Kyiv for their safe exit. He added: “If, of course, those in Kremlin are concerned with their soldiers.”

    The Russian army is facing embarrassing military defeat and the possible collapse of its northern front in the Donetsk and Luhansk region. Unconfirmed video suggested Ukrainian forces had entered the outskirts of Lyman. It showed destroyed Russian vehicles and dead soldiers by the side of the road.

    The city, which is a strategic railway junction, had been under Moscow’s control since May. About 5,000 Russian fighters were reportedly trapped in the city. They included troops from Russia’s 20th Combined Arms Army, as well as fighters from the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic.

    A Ukrainian journalist, Yuriy Butusov, posted drone footage that appeared to show a Russian military column and stolen civilian vehicles trying to break out in the village of Zarichne. They were attempting to escape before darkness set in, he wrote on Facebook, and the route out was completely closed off.

    Earlier this month, Ukraine’s armed forces launched a surprise counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region, liberating an area half the size of Wales. They have since consolidated their positions around the city of Kupiansk and have crossed over to the east bank of the Oskil River.

    In recent days, Ukrainian battalions have pushed forward north of Lyman, while at the same time advancing from the south-east towards Yampil. Ukraine’s armed forces said on Friday they had liberated the town. They are now able to fire on a highway connecting Lyman with the village of Torskoye – with a wipeout of fleeing Russians possible.

    The surrender of Russia’s garrison in Lyman would be a humiliation for the Kremlin. Officials in Kyiv believe Putin’s hasty moves to annex Ukrainian land, including territory under Ukrainian government control, is a sign of desperation and weakness. On the battlefield, Russian troops appear to be going backwards.

    Ukraine’s army released video of what appeared to be Russian soldiers fleeing across a wood in the Lyman region. In ironic tones, it said they were involved in a “tactical regrouping” – the phrase used by the general staff in Moscow to describe the Russian army’s chaotic abandonment of Kharkiv oblast.

    It now seems likely that Ukrainian units will be able to make further territorial gains in the north of Luhansk province. The next obvious target is the city of Svatove, captured by Russian forces in March, soon after Putin began his “special military operation” in Ukraine.


    Posted in 1

    Get off the hamster wheel! How to quiet quit absolutely everything

    illo of a hamster next to a wheel with a hat on and holding a pint of lager
     Illustration: Justin Metz/The Guardian

    Sure, you can strive less in the workplace. But what happens when you dial down bigger things, like parenting, relationships and even showering?

    Coined in 2009, the phrase “quiet quitting” means simply, go to work for your contracted hours, do what you’re asked to do, and nothing more. It has come into its own in the past few years, since lockdown, colliding with the Chinese movement tang ping (“lying flat”) to become a global phenomenon: go to work, sure, but don’t be striving the whole damn time.

    Now, after many viral videos on TikTok, with young people discovering what trade unions have known for more than a century, it is spreading like wildfire. A Gallup poll found that nearly half the US workforce would describe themselves as “quiet quitters”.

    I reject the concept, from a workplace perspective: it merely means doing what you’re contractually required to do. This I would call “work”. Anything more than this is “hustle”.

    The love-your-work culture has become so dominant that “going above and beyond” is now often in the job description (recently abbreviated to “passionate”), which is ridiculous. If you said that in a relationship – “I want you to meet my stated needs, but also guess at other, potentially limitless, needs and meet those too” – you’d be called controlling and abusive, or at the very least, a bit of a handful.

    But is there some wisdom in the idea of quiet quitting, applied to other parts of life?

    Can you quiet quit your relationship?

    Figure out what a marital work-to-rule would actually look like. Essentially, it would be redrawing the boundaries of your union to include more time for yourself and less absorption of your spouse’s emotional baggage. This could include reworking the map of the domestic terrain, but that would be unlikely to pose a threat to your relationship.

    If, however, you suddenly want to go to the gym every night, or spend all weekend with your mates, having previously been spending that time together, the outcome is unlikely to be positive. Claire Seeber is a Gestalt therapist, “which is about looking at patterns that we get into, what we call ‘fixed gestalt’ – rigid patterns of behaviour”. She says: “If you spend all your time with your partner, and you suddenly realise it’s quite suffocating, you don’t just announce that.” Look into what has changed: is it you? Is it the relationship? “Are you talking about the end of the honeymoon period, or are you talking about 15 years of marriage and you’re bored?”

    illo of hamster in sunglasses listening to music and holding an android phone
     Illustration: Justin Metz/The Guardian

    Always communicate your thinking, which sounds like the opposite of quiet quitting, but doesn’t have to be. If you suddenly change your behaviour without communication, that’s not quiet, that’s stealth. Saying “I would prefer to go to the cinema on my own than spend one more evening discussing your problematic parents” is too absolute to be interpreted any other way than uncaring. Don’t say “I need” when you mean “I want”.

    Having said that, don’t be afraid of “I want”. “In therapy, I always come back to ‘What’s the risk if you do something, versus the risk if you don’t?’,” Seeber says. “If the cost of constantly subjugating your own desires is that you’re constantly pissed off, then that’s not a small cost.”

    Can you quiet quit a friendship?

    Friendship is a classic candidate, since you often don’t want an abrupt confrontation, you just want to dial it down. Instead of seeing each other once a fortnight, you’d be up for something more like a dental schedule: once every six months, infinitely postponable. You don’t want to ghost them, since that almost invites confrontation, but you’d like to radically reduce their expectations of you.

    The problem is, it’s not really fair. What Annie Duke, author of Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away, says of the workplace – “you have to have the conversation about how your job isn’t aligning with your values, so that your employer can address that” – is also true of intimate relationships. “You have to be brave.” Try to do the kindest thing – this means communicating, not ghosting.

    I write this after a coffee with someone who quiet-quit me 25 years ago. I don’t hold it against her, I was a jerk back then

    I write this straight after a coffee with someone who quiet quit me 25 years ago. I’m not even kidding. I don’t hold it against her at all, I was a jerk back then, and now we’re fine. Or maybe we’re not, maybe it was just one coffee before she quiet quits me again. But bravery is better in absolute terms.

    Can you quiet quit members of your family?

    The beauty of familial relationships is also their curse: you didn’t choose them. So you won’t necessarily be as attuned to the needs of family members as you are to those of your friends, and you will find areas of radical difference – in values, in views, in dress sense – that just wouldn’t survive in the rufty-tufty world of people you associate with by choice.

    At the same time, this makes these relationships extremely durable, and you can ebb and flow in the amount of emotional energy you’re willing to put in. Maybe you’ll sometimes land in quite a distant relationship, but find later on that the distance has made it more interesting, and now you want to quiet-reapply-for-the-job.

    Of course, we all have the odd rogue relative we would genuinely prefer not to have in our life, and here the management method described by Duke applies: “When you get to the point that you’re thinking about quitting, you should have already quit. We tend to walk away too late. There are all sorts of pain points that come in about leaving things, that have to do with having wasted the time and energy that we put into them.”

    For example, with horrible in-laws, all we can see at first is how difficult it would be to withdraw from the relationship – how much pressure it would put on your immediate family, how much emotional effort you’ve already wasted. Though if you get to the point where you think, “I’m quietly done with this person”, that has probably been true for some time, you just haven’t admitted it.

    But – and Duke wouldn’t agree with me here, since, like Seeber, she believes in bravery – I think quiet quitting is better than loud quitting in this scenario. Because, realistically, you’re going to see them at funerals and whatnot, and you don’t want their last memory of you to be you shouting “I quit”.

    Can you quiet quit parenting?

    It’s probably when your kids are small that looking after them feels most like work, in the sense that it’s relentlessly hard physical, emotional and mental toil, and you can’t completely believe you’re doing all that without getting paid.

    One parent often quiet quits every now and then: perhaps in a sibling fight they’ll enforce French rugby rules, which is to say, whoever’s fault it was last time, it’s the other one’s fault this time. Or perhaps they’ll dress up their own sloth as a bid to foster independence in the child, as in: “This three-year-old is old enough to get their own apple juice.”

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    In such a dynamic – and I cannot stress this enough – all that happens is that the other parent picks up the extra work. Duke says: “Quitting has to be an act that you do publicly. It would only be private if it doesn’t have an effect on anyone else around you. If they’re having to pick up the slack from your quiet quitting, they haven’t chosen that.”

    illo of a hamster lying on a wheel with a glass of wine
     Illustration: Justin Metz/The Guardian

    However, time marches on and soon they are teenagers, and now it’s also like work, except you’re on constant performance review. This morning, I said something, and the 14-year-old said, “I wish this was a Zoom, because everything you say makes me want to hit ‘End meeting for all’”, and I said, “Huh, rude”, and the 13-year-old said, “Don’t just commentate, do something”, and I said, “What am I going to do? It’s not like I’m going to punch him in the face”, and the 13-year-old said, “You can’t think of a single act in between ‘nothing’ and ‘punching him in the face’?”, and the 14-year-old said, “She’s not a consequences person”. This was all before 8am. Surely I can quiet quit now?

    Still, no, I’m afraid. There will be a time, Seeber says, “when teenagers only want you for food and money, but still expect you to be there at the drop of a hat when they need something”, and that’s what we call unconditional love, which is what you should be modelling. But it’s also important to model realistic expectation, so you can certainly zone them out or take up pottery. You wouldn’t be preparing them very well for adulthood if you were completely perfect.

    Can you quiet quit social media?

    You’d think, wouldn’t you, that this would be the easiest of all the quits: nobody on Twitter is relying on your hot take. No one on Instagram will mourn the loss of pictures of your knees on a beach. Why is it, then, that people never do go gently into that good night of social oblivion? Why are there endless announcements: “Followers, I’m taking August off”; “Disciples, this is the last Facebook post you’ll see from me, owing to my new disapproval of Mark Zuckerberg”?

    Nobody on Twitter is relying on your hot take. No one on Instagram will mourn the loss of pictures of your knees on a beach

    It’s because we all have a deep-seated fear of our absence going unnoticed. What does that mean for our IRL interactions? Could we spin off into the abyss and nobody would notice that, either?

    This is impossible, in other words, but noisy-quitting social media is fine too.

    Can you quiet quit superfluous grooming?

    This is a dumb question, because since lockdown we all know the answer: after the active government prevention of professional haircuts, pedicures, never mind more niche undertakings like depilation, it turned out we could do a lot of this stuff ourselves, and what we couldn’t do didn’t matter.

    It falls on us now to define “superfluous”. Is it absolutely necessary to shower every day? “Quiet” isn’t really the adjective for all this, however: the more important question is, can you quit this stuff without people being able to smell you?

    Man with his feet on a desk taking it easy

    Can you quiet-quit highbrow culture?

    You can quit highbrow culture no problem, it will merely behove you to stay quiet while other people are talking about it. Since you will strongly suspect that half of them have also quit intellectualism and are just winging it, you may find this a little frustrating.

    The more important question is, what are you going to do instead? If you just fill the acres of time left by not reading Don DeLillo with mindless TV and airport pap, you’ve got yourself a different problem. That marshmallow texture of undemanding culture may be easier to digest but it also leaves you heavy and nauseous. Don’t swap Molière for mush, in other words. Give up reading altogether, and take up tai chi.

    No hamsters were harmed in these illustrations


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    Attention economy — in defense of adult coloring books

    Mindfulness merchandise might be cringeworthy, but in the attention economy its offerings are invaluable, says DW’s Kate Ferguson.

    What sense do coloring books for adults make? Read on to find out!

    There’s a delightful shop in my neighborhood that sells gifts and textiles from Nepal. The woman who runs it is so charming that I once bought an unflattering dress just to show my appreciation for the complementary cup of herbal tea she offered me. Peppered on the walls of her store are dozens of lotus flowers.

    They are printed on plain cards, which are given to customers on the condition that they color them in at home and bring them back.

    I accepted one of these cards alongside an early purchase of a candle stick, safe in the knowledge that I would never actually complete the task. What adult has time for coloring anyway, I asked myself as I scrolled through Britney Spears’ Instagram feed. But it was a nice thought, and I used the card as a bookmark.

    The lotus flower must have stuck with me subconsciously though, because one day I found myself buying coloring pencils. I used them very occasionally to highlight important items on my to-do lists. The feel of their pointy nibs cracking ever so slightly on the scrap paper brought back indistinct memories of being a child. But I still didn’t color the lotus flower.

    In his final column for The Guardian in September 2020, the author Oliver Burkeman urged readers to lean into the practices that in his own words “strike you as intolerably cheesy or self-indulgent.”

    The examples he cited included gratitude journals, mindfulness meditation and seeing a therapist. The more they make you cringe, the more worthwhile they might be, he argued.

    For me, adult coloring books are a veritable source of cringe. I roll my eyes as I pass the mindfulness section of a bookshop, advancing smugly to the counter with the latest Elizabeth Strout instead of some remedial artbook for adults. And yet, as I pass the stand, the image of a nice cup of tea and some coloring pencils pops into my head. I quash the thought immediately.

    Split personality?

    The reason for my contempt naturally lies in my refusal to acknowledge the vast chasm between who I am and who I want to be. Ideally, I would be a person with an attention span long enough not to need a coloring book to refocus my mind. Deep down, I know this to be untrue.

    The shame that accompanies our inability to focus reminds us that attention is a commodity with a moral as well as monetary value. This distinguishes it from other resources which tend to have logistical, geographical or political explanations for scarcity.

    The late Nobel laureate economist Herbert Simon is credited with coining the term “attention economy.” Key to understanding the term, he believed was the acknowledgement of the inverse relationship between information and attention. The more of the former we have, the less of the latter we employ.

    This has implications in all kinds of domains. Populist politicians have always relied on people’s reluctance to spend too much cognitive energy analyzing the credibility of a punchy sound bite. This is especially poignant in an age where much of the world resists the opportunity to consult the abundance of credible sources of information at their fingertips.

    The phenomenon is equally unnerving in the media. News stories that don’t immediately hook the attention are relegated in favor of those that provide an immediate dopamine kick. Algorithms reinforce the trend and at some point we all find ourselves scrolling through Britney Spears’ Instagram feed.

    Coloring books can help you refocus your mind, the author insists

    Identifying the mindful

    Except of course for the mindful among us. You can identify them relatively easily by their penchant for buying newspapers, shunning social media and pausing before they speak.

    These rare diamonds of the attention economy offer a glimpse of what life could be if only we could focus. Populist politicians would be eliminated at the ballot boxes. Science would triumph. Our climate would have some chance of being saved.

    Half-baked thoughts of this kind surfaced recently when I discovered the lotus flower card inside a book I had not finished reading. If not now, when, I wondered. If not me, who?

    I took out my coloring pencils, turned my phone to flight mode and began. It was harder than I remembered to stay inside the lines. And don’t get me started on the intricate details on the petals. But those challenges notwithstanding, for 10 glorious minutes I was calm. 

    In the meantime, the energy crisis intensified, Sterling continued its rollercoaster ride and central bankers talked some more about interest rate rises. I didn’t emerge enlightened on any of these issues but I did feel more equipped to tackle a long read than I would have if I had been watching Britney Spears dancing on the beach. Baby steps.

    I returned to the Nepalese shop and made a point of admiring the colored-in lotus flowers on the wall. Before, possibly because of my attention deficit, it had not occurred to me to wonder why so many customers answered the call to color their cards. Perhaps my neighborhood was far more populated with mindful people than I had imagined? 

    “You get 15 % off your next purchase if you bring it back,” the owner told me, her raised eyebrows implying this was knowledge I should already have. The smug feeling you get as you return the card is complementary.


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