In an excellent review/musing on Quentin Tarrantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane deploys the killer line: ”Whenever you go to a Tarantino film, you come away with the feeling that history is one inch thick.”
This, he insists, is “part of the fun” rather than a criticism. Providing the equivalent of an instant polaroid snapshot of a time and place rather than a fully realised picture is not always a bad thing. To paraphrase one of my musical idols, Bruce Springsteen, you can sometimes learn more from a three-minute record blasting through your stereo, than a curriculum of history lessons at school.
Admittedly, the word sometimes carries a lot of weight in that sentence. A single perspective version can be useful to bring you briskly up to speed. To genuinely understand a subject or a debate, you need to take the time to immerse yourself in it and the different perspectives of the protagonists. To offer a view without doing so leaves your message potentially as limited as the research which informs it.
The notion of history being recast as an inch thick came to mind when reading the Sunday Telegraph column of prominent Brexiteer and former Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith. Titled The Reformation was the making of modern Britain. Brexit is a similar opportunity, it likens a traumatic and bloody process which divided the nation for a century to Britain simply breaking away from the continental way of thinking. Railroading its significance, a complicated picture becomes merely an event enabling the UK to become a “buccaneering” nation that ruled the waves.
It is precisely the kind of claim that suggests little engagement on the author’s part with the historical reality. Yet this is only one of many examples of people condensing history to fit the only narrative they are willing to acknowledge.
Across the world, political debate increasingly eschews the history text books. It would be kind to describe Donald Trump’s most recent interpretation of history as an inch thick. When Jair Bolsonaro dismisses the cultures of the indigenous populations in the Amazon rainforest as “prehistoric”, claiming they “live isolated like cavemen”, it does not strike you as a researched view.
It is ok to enjoy the instant snapshot. We must bear in mind, though, that by the time the photo has formed, the picture has often already changed.
Two acts of American domestic terrorism and gun violence were perpetrated over the weekend. The first saw a white supremacist murder 20 people in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The second took place in Dayton, Ohio, in the early hours of Sunday morning and left a further nine people dead.
Representatives of the main democratic opposition party in Sudan and the leader of its military have signed a declaration to form a transitional government. It establishes a governing body, with a majority civilian presence, to oversee a three-year transition to democratic governance. The document will be formally signed in two weeks.
Heathrow Airport has said the proposed strike action by up to 2,500 of its security staff has been suspended, with negotiations continuing ahead of a continued planned strike on Tuesday. The 177 flights initially cancelled as a result of the proposed disruption have yet to be reinstated.
A report commissioned by the Scottish Government has criticised the proposed post-study work system the new UK immigration system will offer. The report suggests that the options are limited compared to other rival countries and that additional measures to support the longer-term retention of student migrants would be required.
Business & Economy
US stock exchanges ended the week down following the US Government’s decision to impose additional tariffs on Chinese goods. The proposals for 10% levies will mean effectively all of the country’s exports to the US face additional taxes. A spokesperson for the Chinese government stated there would be retaliatory measures.
Travel data firm, ForwardKeys, has highlighted a boom in Chinese tourism to the UK following the fall in the pound’s value. Flights from China to the UK have seen a 20% increase in passengers, with a six per cent increase in all long-haul markets.
Following record fines by the European Commission, Google has announced it will allow alternative internet search engines to become the default search provider on android phones. It comes with the caveat that Google will charge the search engine provider a fee for each user choosing their engine.
KPMG has reported a 46% rise in the number of Scottish businesses declaring insolvency in its latest figures for the first half 2019. It claimed economic volatility driven by uncertainty over the Brexit debate had been a key factor in the sharp increase
The Week Ahead
The fallout from the latest imposition of tariffs by the US on Chinese-imported goods is expected to carry through to this week, especially if China announces retaliatory measures. Fears it could provoke a global economic slump remain, with Thursday’s jobless figures providing a guide as to whether the labour market is reacting to developments.
In the UK, the latest indication of the business community’s fears over a no-deal Brexit may be provided in today’s purchasing managers index for services and in tomorrow’s retail sales index from the ONS. There are also a series of housing surveys due to be published this week, allowing for a potential metric of house sales and prices to be formed.
Focusing on company activities, the interim results for Standard Life Aberdeen on Wednesday will be of wide interest in the UK. The week concludes with GDP, trade and manufacturing figures from the ONS. Economists have predicted zero GDP growth during the second quarter of this year – not exactly the kind of relaxing summer reading the new prime minister will have been hoping for.
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Columns of Note
Prompted by a visit to Italy where he claims there is a far more balanced distribution of people and capital between its cities than the UK, the Financial Times’ Janan Ganesh discusses the merits and drawbacks of such an approach. Coming down firmly in favour of the “life-giving scale” of London and other mega-cities, he argues this is the only means by which nations can compete for individuals in a globalised world. Without a city which can call on all the utilities and culture that a nation can offer, he fears countries will inevitably lose out, though he acknowledges the “relative deficit” this creates in other parts of the country. (£)
Kate Maltby bemoans the failure of Democratic presidential candidates to look at the bigger picture in a column for CNN. Highlighting the multitude of policy issues and stances taken over two nights of debate last week, including on the Mueller report, the failure to consider how the US electoral system was open to manipulation was felt to have been left untouched. Citing the hopes of information expert, Peter Pomerantsev, that the internet would detach us from government censorship of our communications, she argues it is now more mired in government propaganda of a certain stripe than ever before. She highlights new tactics of distracting critics through bombarding them with disinformation and death threats, as well as establishing supposedly neighbourhood community forums which would quickly be used to spread a government agenda. She concludes by calling on Democratic candidates to come up with ways to halt this and to throw their weight into “the battle for America’s online soul”.
Did you know?
In a boon for lovers of the seaside, nowhere in Britain is more that 75 miles away from the coastline.
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