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  • seandodson 11:55 am on May 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: joseph rowntree foundation, Politics, socialology, welfare   

    Why Labour supporters are turning against the poor 

    Like many on the left, my heart sank when I read yesterday that even Labour supporters are turning against the poor. According to a new study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Labour supporters believe that welfare recipients are undeserving and the majority now believe that the welfare state creates dependency. By heck, how times have changed.

    The reaction from the left has been muted, but I thought the excellent A Very Public Sociologist blog explained the case with some eloquence this morning:

    In a way, Labour people’s growing hostility to the less fortunate proves how successful divisive, dog-eat-dog policies and rhetoric can be. It also demonstrates the continued salience of class, albeit in a negative way. As appallingly crass it is, rubbish around the “squeezed middle”, “hard-working families/taxpayers”, and “strivers” does speak to large swathes of people. The public at large are being explicitly addressed as people who work while on Britain’s council estates, bajillions of others are idly living off their taxes. You have to work every hour you can send, while those on JSA or ESA get an income handed to them on a silver dish. It’s one class politics of envy card the Tories are never afraid to play because they know it resonates.

    • Ralph 10:33 pm on June 21, 2013 Permalink | Reply

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  • seandodson 8:54 pm on January 21, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Politics,   

    Orwell day: Politics and the English Language published in a pamphlet form for #orwellday 

    It’s #orwellday today. The first ever. Thanks to my good friend Katriona Lewis at the Orwell Prize, I received these four splendid editions of George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language, published recently by Penguin. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the essay. It’s certainly the single most useful piece of writing I’ve ever read. It offers general advice on good writing, laying down helpful rules, and then explains, with some choice metaphors, why good writing leads to more responsible politics (and bad writing to some very dangerous thinking). Four copies in my possession, if you would like one, please leave a good reason why and one is heading your way.

    • Samppa 2:10 pm on January 22, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Why? Don´t remember who many years have passed? Was it 2004? When it was Euro football or such? You teached me the essence of this writing, in some very lonely conversation in now passed way bar in Porvoo Finland. And that has still strugged me till today.

  • seandodson 11:24 am on August 1, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , larry elliott, Politics,   

    Nice point about the difference between the UK and Swedish economies made by Larry Elliott in the Guardian on Monday (my emphasis)

    The Swedes are enjoying the sort of export-led recovery the prime minister and the chancellor have sought in vain for the UK. Of the 1.4% rise in Swedish GDP in the three months to June, net exports contributed 0.8 percentage points. So much for the idea that developed countries, with their high wages and generous welfare systems, can no longer cut the mustard in cut-throat global markets. So much, also, for the idea that countries that opt for high levels of taxation to fund social security programmes are inevitably inefficient and uncompetitive.

    The Guardian, Monday, 30 July

  • seandodson 8:01 pm on May 24, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , leveson, , , Politics   

    So we finally learnt today that Jeremy Hunt thought that “our media sector will suffer for years” if Rupert Murdoch’s bid to takeover the whole of BSkyB was blocked by the government. Oh really? This being the same BSkyB that is already the UK’s leading supplier of both residential and business pay-TV services. The same company that led some analysts (Enders, 2011) to calculate that the company accounted for approximately two-thirds of UK residential subscribers to subscription pay-TV and about, wait for this, four-fifths of the sector’s market revenues last year. Let’s not forget, this is the very same BSkyB that dwarfs any other supplier in the market place, including the BBC. BSkyB enjoys revenues of £5.9bn. By comparison the BBC receives £2.4bn from the licence fee.

    This is precisely what I don’t get about the free market ideology espoused by Mr Hunt. It creates nothing like a market that is free. On the contrary, as the Enders calculations indicate, it creates a monopoly that stifles competition. Markets don’t need to be free, rather they need to be regulated in order to allow competition to foster. As the economist Ha-Joon Chan has written: “when free market economists say that a certain regulation should not be introduced because it would restrict ‘freedom’ of a certain market [as in the BSkyB case], they are merely expressing an opinion … their ideological cloak is to pretend that their politics is not really political, but rather is an objective economic truth.” If Mr Hunt’s view that the BSkyB bid wouldn’t damage the media sector isn’t a political decision, I don’t know what is.

  • seandodson 3:20 pm on September 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: michael gove, Politics, sarah palin,   

    Michael Gove in trouble over using private emails to conduct official business. Sound familar? Sarah Palin was caught doing exactly the same thing back in 2008 when WikiLeaks revealed two of her personal email that suggested that she was trying to circumvent US public record laws. Palin is still here, but will Gove survive this one?

  • seandodson 7:58 pm on July 6, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Politics, rebecca brooks   

    Peter Oborne of the Spectator on the phone hacking scandal.

    Let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that BP threw an extravagant party, with oysters and expensive champagne. Let’s imagine that Britain’s most senior politicians were there — including the Prime Minister and his chief spin doctor. And now let’s imagine that BP was the subject of two separate police investigations, that key BP executives had already been arrested, that further such arrests were likely, and that the chief executive was heavily implicated.

    Let’s take this mental experiment a stage further: BP’s chief executive had refused to appear before a Commons enquiry, while MPs who sought to call the company to account were claiming to have been threatened. Meanwhile, BP was paying what looked like hush money to silence people it had wronged, thereby preventing embarrassing information entering the public domain.

    And now let’s stretch probability way beyond breaking point. Imagine that the government was about to make a hugely controversial ruling on BP’s control over the domestic petroleum market. And that BP had a record of non-payment of British tax. The stench would be overwhelming. There would be outrage in the Sun and the Daily Mail — and rightly so — about Downing Street collusion with criminality. The Sunday Times would have conducted a fearless investigation, and the Times penned a pained leader. In parliament David Cameron would have been torn to shreds.

  • seandodson 11:35 am on May 23, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , freedom of the press, , Politics, , prior restraint, spartacus, sunday herald, super injunctions,   

    Defying the latest superinjunction is an “I am Spartacus” moment for Twitter 

    The right of individuals or organisations to prevent journalists reporting on their activities – the rule of prior restraint – has been around for almost as long as newspapers themselves. Injunctions- often served at the last minute – have been viewed as an oppressive form of censorship from the 18th century at least.

    More recently, like some legal version of the hospital superbug, the rule of prior restraint has mutated into the super injunction, which prevents journalists from not only publishing sensitive details that would otherwise remain hidden, but from even reporting on the fact that an injunction has been served.

    This has led to the alarmingsituation of the Independent newspaper blacking out whole sentences from its front pages (right), creating an image of censorship that reminds starkly of the last years of apartheid South Africa. While the Sunday Herald, and many European papers, have been free to splash the name of the promiscuous athlete without too much fear of retribution. Such a state of affairs makes the law look both clumsy and wrong.

    Of course rich celebrities, footballers, politicians and even prominent journalists deserve the luxury of privacy. The desire for privacy is a basic human need. But for our democracy to function as strongly as it always has done so in the UK, freedom of expression should trump the need for privacy in the eyes of the law.

    It is heartening, therefore, that the social media site Twitter, and its chorus on users, should defy the growth of the super-injunction in such an successful fashion. The latest estimates are that 900 people an hour are currently defying the ban on revealing the name of the footballer who had an affair with Imogen Thomas, an otherwise forgotten “star” of Big Brother. It is an “I am Spartacus” moment that defies authority and shares the blame across tens of thousands of users. In the process the super injunction is rendered an expensive folly.

    It is not our parliament, nor our judges, nor the European courts, nor even journalists, that are currently defending our right to freedom of expression. But hundreds and thousands of internet users who are brave enough to defy the ban.

  • seandodson 12:05 pm on May 2, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , osama bin laden, Politics,   

    When Robert Fisk interviewed Osama bin Laden 

    Robert Fisk, The Independent’s Middle East correspondent, and a war reporter of some renown, interviewed Osama bin Laden three times in 1996/7. Here is a memoir from from his three encounters, of which I’ve quoted below. The Sudanese interview (1996) is re-published here, I can’t yet find the other two interviews, all links lead nowhere, almost as if they’ve been removed from the web (although there is an account of all three in Fisk’s book, The Great War for Civilization) If I were the Indy’s web editor I’d dig them out of the archive, sharpish. The interviews are of historical significance and are most useful articles in trying to understand bin Laden, who almost always was presented as an Emmanuel Goldstein-like figure in most of the Western media and as a Saladin-cum-Che Guevara by the mythmakers in the mujahideen.

    The first time I met Osama bin Laden inside Afghanistan it was a hot, humid night in the summer of 1996. Huge insects flew through the night air, settling like burrs on his Saudi robes and on the clothes of his armed followers. They would land on my notebook until I swatted them, their blood smearing the pages. Bin Laden was always studiously polite: each time we met, he would offer the usual Arab courtesy of food for a stranger: a tray of cheese, olives, bread and jam. I had already met him in Sudan and would spend a night, almost a year later, in one of his mountain guerrilla camps, so cold that I awoke in the morning with ice in my hair.

    I had been given a rough blanket and my shoes were left outside the tent. Whenever we met, he would interrupt our interviews to say his prayers, his armed followers – from Algeria, Egypt, the Gulf Arab states, Syria – kneeling beside him, hanging on his every word as he spoke to me as if he was a messiah.

    On 20 March, 1997, I would meet him again. Although only 41 at the time, his ruggedly groomed beard had white hairs, and he had bags under his eyes; I sensed some infirmity, a stiffness of one leg that gave him the slightest of limps. I still have my notes, scribbled in the frozen semi-darkness as an oil lamp sputtered between us. “I am not against the American people,” he said. “Only their government.” I had heard this so often in the Middle East. I told him I thought the American people regarded their government as their representatives. Bin Laden listened to this in silence. “We are still at the beginning of our military action against the American forces,” he said.

  • seandodson 12:02 pm on April 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , orwell on the monarchy, Politics, republican,   

    George Orwell on the Monarchy 

    He wrote for the Spring 1944 Partisan Review:

    The function of the King in promoting stability and acting as a sort of keystone in a non-democratic society is, of course, obvious. But he also has, or can have, the function of acting as an escape-valve for dangerous emotions. A French journalist said to me once that the monarchy was one of the things that have saved Britain from Fascism. What he meant was that modern people can’t, apparently, get along without drums, flags and loyalty parades, and that it is better that they should tie their leader-worship onto some figure who has no real power. In a dictatorship the power and the glory belong to the same person. In England the real power belongs to unprepossessing men in bowler hats: the creature who rides in a gilded coach behind soldiers in steel breast-plates is really a waxwork. It is at any rate possible that while this division of function exists a Hitler or a Stalin cannot come to power. On the whole the European countries which have most successfully avoided Fascism have been constitutional monarchies. The conditions seemingly are that the Royal Family shall be long-established and taken for granted, shall understand its own position and shall not produce strong characters with political ambitions. These have been fulfilled in Britain, the Low Countries and Scandinavia, but not in, say, Spain or Rumania. If you point these facts out to the average left-winger he gets very angry, but only because he has not examined the nature of his own feelings towards Stalin. I do not defend the institution of monarchy in an absolute sense, but I think that in an age like our own it may have an inoculating effect, and certainly it does far less harm than the existence of our so-called aristocracy. I have often advocated that a Labour government, i.e. one that meant business, would abolish titles while retaining the Royal Family”.

    (thanks to Harry’s Place)

  • seandodson 2:48 pm on April 25, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: alternative vote, alternative vote referendum, av, electoral reform, nick clegg, no to av, Politics, referendum, yes to av   

    To AV or not AV? That is the question 

    Polling cards have arrived at our house and sooner rather than later I will have to make my mind up about how I will vote in the referendum over the alternative vote. There is something to admire about the alternative vote, as my friend Ismail Mulla has said, it means more marginal constituencies, which is a good thing. But then again as my other friend Paul Anderson has pointed out, among many other reasons, the alternative vote isn’t a vote towards proportional representation, and so we should reject it.

    The thing that troubles me most about the alternative vote – the thing that may cause me to vote against – is that you are structurally disadvantaged if you don’t have a second preference on the ballot paper. In other words, if you normally vote for one party and don’t like the look of the others, then the current system (first-past-the-post) works better for you. If the electoral system were a card game, under then alternative vote, the more casual voter, who is more likely to cast more than one preference, is therefore dealt more cards than the committed voter, who is only likely to vote once.

    I’m still undecided, but have yet to hear a compelling argument for change.

    • Antony McIver 4:37 pm on April 25, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I think it’s best answered in the form of a song!

      AV certainly isn’t perfect, but there is no way we’ll ever get a proportional system if No wins on May 5th.

    • Dave Stacey 11:14 pm on April 30, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Hummm… Not sure about your card analogy. If you vote only with your first preference, and assuming your candidate isn’t eliminated then you get as many votes as there are rounds of voting – just the same number as someone who’s vote transfers. You just use each of those votes for the same candidate.

      I’m not sure anyone who believes in a proportional system particularly likes AV, but I’ll be voting yes for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a very slight improvement on the current system in that it better recognises we live in a society that has several political parties in it, rather than just the two. Secondly, voting yes is a vote against the appallingly negative campaign run by the no-camp, which seems to have been based on at best distorting the truth and at worst deliberately lying.

  • seandodson 2:20 pm on March 31, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: andrew sparrow, anton vowel, cathy newman, , laurie penny, , , , , Politics   

    Orwell Prize longlist announced 

    The Orwell Prize for political writing announced its longlist for the 2011 prize in London last night. Of particular interest to me was the category for political blogging. I haven’t had time to digest all the blogs just yet but the most obvious thing to note how many entries from big, traditional media organisations, like the Telegraph and the BBC, now occupy the list. The longlist includes Politics Live from Andrew Sparrow of the Guardian; Fact Check from Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News (both excellent); Paul Mason’s Idle Scrawl (which has been longlisted before); Daniel Hannan of the Torygraph and Laurie Penny of the New Statesmen. That is nearly a quarter of the final 22.

    Now all these blogs are far better than my efforts, lazy and half-baked as they usually are, but should they be there at all?. The Orwell Prize was established to award the writers that came closest to Orwell’s ability to “transform political writing into art”. So, for example, Andrew Sparrow’s daily missive’s are necessary reading, and helping to evolve a new form of journalism indeed, but such blogs are the polaroids of political writing, rather than the more detailed portraiture that I’ve always assumed the prize was their to promote. Paul Mason, bless him, admits as much today when he writes “good luck to all the real bloggers who don’t have a mainstream media pension, salary and self-censorship training to fall back on.” He’s right.

    Luckily, the self-censored media don’t dominate the list and there’s a wealth of intelligent, independent blogging to pick over and help promote plurality in the public-blog-o-sphere. Anton Vowel’s Enemies of Reason writes about the media, mostly newspapers, picking on their inherent contradictions and biases and deploying some heavy sarcasm to great effect. Osama Diab’s The Chronikler seems pretty good, inherently strong on how it links technological issues to the upheavals in Arab world. While Prisoner Ben is an interesting addition because it’s the only blog being written (via the postal service) from inside a British prison. It’s got it’s fascination, although he lacks the eloquence of Peter Wayne.

    Is anyone on the list raising political writing to an artform? I’m not sure, but I haven’t read everyone on the list. Even if not, who am I to complain as my idle thoughts wouldn’t even make the very longlist. It’s still a useful list and a meaningful prize, but political blogging is not yet the art form Orwell would have had in mind.

    • msbaroque 2:39 pm on April 1, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for this – and for linking to Paul Mason’s wonderful cogitation on the same question of what political writing might be if it were an “art.” My blog – primarily a literary one, but politically active, as you might say – didn’t make the longlist; I wondered if it might be a long shot to enter, but political activist and journalist friends advised me to, and I was encouraged by Orwell’s sentence about the art. I’ve found myself thinking more and more deeply since the event about that statement by Orwell, which the Orwell Prize is based on. Making political writing into an art. The art would be literature, of course; and Orwell himself was an active member of the literary world, writing (obviously) novels as well as his essays, and poems, and having his essays published in literary magazines. You could be more of an all-rounder back then, and the same sensibility be assumed to inform all the activities.

      I haven’t arrived at a conclusion yet, nor – in a week when it was hard to find the time to go to the longlisting event (which I did), or even write a blog post myself, have I had time yet to read the longlisted blogs. But the thing I’m thinking so far is that if political writing IS an art, then that art is literature. He’d have loved blogs, as Defoe loved pamphlets. But further than that, there’s a wider question of what we want political writing – and indeed literature – to BE. Your post and Paul’s have given me more to think about.

  • seandodson 8:18 pm on March 30, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: chris grayling, cliche, , language, political language, Politics,   

    Chris Grayling and the artlessness of the political cliché 

    Politicians are rarely sincere. Most of the time they trade in clichés and platitudes, particularly when placed under pressure. But Chris Grayling, the Conservative MP for Epsom and Ewell, and minister of state for work and pensions, undid himself when he appeared on the BBC Daily Politics show this afternoon. When asked by Andrew Neil, the programme’s presenter, what the government where going to do about violent protests in the capital, his response was as follows, the clichés are highlighted.

    “It is quite clear that the tactics used weren’t as effective as we would wish. What happened was totally unacceptable, lessons have got to be learned. Those discussions will be taking place right now at the Metropolitan Police. But let’s be clear, it is people on the ground to decide what the tactics should be. We have to trust the professionals; we can give guidance; we can give a steer; we should be robust in backing the police in difficult situations. But is the officers on the ground, the senior officers on the ground, who have to make the decisions.

    So that’s nothing then. Which to be fair to Mr Grayling would have been a reasonable response. So why not admit so and spare us the vague language. I mean, when someone says we shoud “trust the professionals”, I just think of Bodie and Doyle.

  • seandodson 6:26 pm on March 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: andy becket, , , personality in politics, political profile, Politics, , the guardian   

    Ed Unplugged: The rise of private man 

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Richard Sennett lately and his book, The Fall of Public Man. Specifically, Sennett’s idea that we now live in an “intimate society” where social relationships of all kinds are only seen as real, believable, and authentic “the closer they approach the inner psychological concerns of each person”. In other words how private lives are increasingly played out in public.

    Now, all politicians feel it necessary to reveal their private lives to us and Ed Milliband, leader of the opposition, is no different. This Saturday the Guardian’s Weekend section delivered a 4000 word interview with the Labour Leader. It was written by Andy Beckett, one of the finest feature writers around, and the content of the interview/profile is actually as serious as you would hope for in the Saturday supplement of a broadsheet newspaper. But it’s the way that the profile is packaged that will most interest any disciples of Sennett.

    For a start there’s the cover (above right). Ed Unplugged. Unplugged from what exactly? It gives the idea that this is an authentic “accoustic” set, more personal and private and therefore more intimate account than you might otherwise expect. Note that is is Ed Unplugged and not Ed Milliband Unplugged or even Edward Milliband Unplugged. Imagine if Clement Attlee had been around today then it would it have been Clem Unplugged. But of course it wouldn’t, because that would be a nonsense.

    To be fair, the piece is detailed and meaningful, although Beckett clearly feels an obligation to conduct a psychological investigation of his subject (which is exactly what Sennett was writing about). We learn that Mr Milliband, I have to call him that now, likes Curb Your Enthusiasm; we are reminded that he and brother David (not Dave, note) went to comprehensive school and while the profile discusses future policy, it eventually pivots on the axis of his personality. Beckett writes: “His leadership, in short, is an experiment. Are empathy and thoughtfulness, plus awkwardness, the ingredients of a realistic Downing Street contender? Or is it now an unbreakable rule of politics that only shallower but slicker politicians become prime minister?”

    The dichotomy isn’t between policy and personality. It is between two different types of personality.

    Which is why the Guardian is packaging Milliband in this way. It’s all about personality. In order to attract lots of people who don’t read the Guardian proper to read its Ed Milliband interview, the Weekend section knows that, in an intimate society, the only way to portray a serious interview by a talented profiler is to offer an intimate insight into the private life of your subject. This, in my opinion, signals something of a defeat for high-minded journalism and that, by extension, actually helps create the idea that only “shallower and slicker politicians can become prime minister”.

    The idea, if you project it toward its logical conclusion, is that the only way serious journalism can package such an interview is to borrow something of the techniques of Hello!. This through-the-keyhole journalism, here a picture of the leader buttering some toast, there he is relaxing on the sofa with his child, is part of a machine that tries to sell a politician to the public though the use of an intimate lens. Although we all know that the images are as carefully constructed as any speech.

    Of course, in writing so, I just show how out of time I am with the contemporary print media. They’re all doing it. The Guardian Weekend example is instructive, but its not even a severe case. All the media behaves in this way. Of course, In the Fall of Public Man, Sennett was writing about 1977, but the process that drives ever more personality into politics shows zero sign of abating.

    Here is what he wrote in the Fall of Public Man:

    “The electronic media play a crucial role in this deflection, by simultaneously overexposing the leader’s personal life and obscuring his work in office. The incivility which this modern charismatic figure embodies is that his followers are burdened with making sense of him as a person in order to understand what he is doing once in power … Leadership on these terms is a form of seduction. The structures of domination especially remain unchallenged when people are led into electing politician who sound angry, as if ready to change things; these politicians are, by the alchemy of personality, freed from translating angry impulses into actions.”

    • Liz Yeomans 9:55 pm on March 23, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      The question is: who is Ed trying to appeal to? Not pictured in this blog, but in The Guardian Weekend magazine, is the slightly unflattering image of Ed in his kitchen. Here, he is surrounded by standard kit and appliances with giveaway sterilising equipment on the shelf denoting the new and demanding addition to the Miliband household. Not quite the dimmed lighting Aga-and-Le-Creuset set of Nick (or Dave) with corkscrew in one hand and a nice bottle of red in the other.

      In Ed’s “unplugged” world there are echoes of the early Blair years, with domestic life portrayed as slightly chaotic; toddler toys strewn around the carpet. Authentic, or a simulacrum of authenticity? And who is Ed trying to win over?

  • seandodson 9:29 pm on February 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: arms, arms sales, , oman, Politics, quatar   

    David Cameron flies off to the Middle East. Today he proclaims freedom in Egypt. Tomorrow he sells Typhoon fighter jets to Oman and Quatar

  • seandodson 1:08 pm on February 18, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: channel 4 news, lawrence mead, long-term unemployed, , Politics, unemployment   

    Bashing Britain’s beleaguered poor because they’re on benefits has dominated the news agenda this week. Newsnight ran a particularly unbalanced piece with US professor Lawrence Mead (who has a voice that makes Stephen Hawkings sound animated) lecturing the downtrodden of Anfield about the need for them to find work. The only other voice to feature was that of Chris Grayling, minister of state for work and pensions, a man who regularly berates the poor for being “workshy” but who once claimed for a flat in Pimlico, close to the House of Commons, despite having a constituency home less than 17 miles away. He also owned two buy-to-let properties in Wimbledon from which he made a profit 100 grand.

    The trouble with knocking the poor wretches at the bottom of society is that, with unemployment rising, it is extremely difficult for many people at them to find work, or be accepted back into work culture. Even if every single one of UK millions of unemployed decided to get work today – the vast majority would remain disappointed for a long time to come.

    The official statistics are also rarely allowed to get in the way of a good story. But according to this excellent piece of analysis by Channel 4 News, the number of long-term unemployed (the supposed “four-generations of workshy families” who have never had a job) has fallen ten-fold in the last 10 years. The supposed benefits culture the right keep banging their drum about is something of an urban myth.

  • seandodson 12:07 am on February 12, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , egyptian revolution, honsi mubarak, Politics   

    “The delusions of dictators are never more poignant – or more dangerous – than when they are in their death throes. To watch Hosni Mubarak today in his late-night speech in Cairo, as he used every means of rhetorical deflection to delay his inevitable end, was to watch a man so deluded, so deaf to the demands of history, that he was incapable of hearing an entire people screaming in his ear”.

    David Remnick, The New Yorker (via)
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