Archive for the 'current affairs' Category

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The Week


The week in review

As is always the case, lots happened this week, but my preoccupation continues to be the implications of the 7 and 9 January 2015 murders in Paris, or at least what they are coming to represent. As Kenan Malik laments in his excellent op-ed piece for Göteborg-Posten, the initial wave of sympathy for the dead and the huge public manifestations which happened as a reaction all over France, and in other countries, exactly one year ago don’t seem to have changed much for the better when it comes to public opinion on freedom of speech and freedom of expression. European countries, France not least among them, continue prosecuting people for various forms of “hate speech” and “terrorist sympathies” while identity politics are leading educated people in increasingly absurd to silence others. And Islamist reactionaries and jihadists seem as determined as ever to silence any perceived transgressors, whether in the West or in Muslim majority countries, most recently and horrifically Saudi Arabia. At the same time, very few in the West are joining Charlie Hebdo in the necessary, continued testing of the boundaries. And frankly Charlie itself is much diminished now that several of their best cartoonists are either dead or have left the publication. Continue reading ‘The Week’

Still at large


Today, and on Saturday, it happened a year ago. In some ways it wasn’t all that new, nor unexpected — jihadist terrorist attacks have happened all over Europe with increasing frequency for the last 10-15 years, and several lower key attempts had been made to silence Charlie Hebdo. In fact, it remains scandalous that they weren’t protected better — the attack on their offices could have been prevented.

Anyway, it seems like a watershed in Europe, creating a “before and after” in many people’s minds. The even more horrible attack in Paris on 13 November, while certainly shocking, only confirmed that everyone is at risk, not only cartoonists or Jews. Beyond that, there is a creeping, dangerous sense of “business as usual.” Probably because that is what it has become to us. Jihadist terrorism is surely here to stay for the foreseeable future, because its root causes are not going to disappear any time soon. And sadly, the influx of refugees from various Muslim majority countries probably isn’t going to help that particular problem. While we should clearly be doing more to help refugees — it is the only right thing to do — the challenges of integration are hard to deny, just like the prospects of peace in the Middle East and Afghanistan remain depressingly bleak. Continue reading ‘Still at large’

The Week


Writing extemporally what’s on my mind was kind of the point of these posts back when I was doing them regularly (i.e. almost weekly), so I guess that’s what I’ll do here for this brief resurfacing on my blog.

It’s a new year, and as usual it holds promise while simultaneously carrying a lot of baggage with it. Just these first few days remind us that people are still dying on the beaches of Europe while an increasingly destructive civil was is going on in the Middle East, Sweden — my neighbouring country as I write this — is instating universal ID checks at the border for the first time in generations, costing the country millions and reminding us all of the profundity of the problem we’re facing in Europe. Oh, and so-called Islamic State has just released another piece of vile agitprop promising bloody murder in Britain, my country of residence. And so on.

Yet, all of this seems strangely unreal to me, in the grip as I am — at least in unguarded moments — of a kind of apocalyptic paralysis. For obvious reasons 2015 was a stark reminder that climate change is almost certain to change the world as we know it over the course of the next generation. All the current problems are negligible in comparison to what’s on the horizon. COP21 arguably provided some cause for optimism, but it seems foolish fully to trust that we will be able to avert the cataclysm science tells us is coming to an extent that doesn’t profoundly upset life everywhere on Earth. Continue reading ‘The Week’

Here I stand

Hype: The Rotland Inquiry


Ryan Standfest, publisher at the small-press (dark) humor operation Rotland Press, recently put out the first issue of the Rotland Inquiry, which focuses on Charlie Hebdo, the Paris murders and their aftermath. Standfest has assembled an impressive range of cartoonists, critics and historians who present a variety of viewpoints and thoughts and images on the subject.

The roll call sounds: Stéphane Blanquet, Hugleikur Dagsson, D.B. Dowd, Mort Gerberg, Jeet Heer, Danny Hellman, David Hughes, Paul Krassner, Mark McKinney, Tony Millionaire, Leigh Phillips, Martin Rowson, Johnny Sampson, Mahendra Singh, Art Spiegelman, and um, me. I’m in there with an edited and slightly updated version of one of the pieces I wrote for The Comics Journal back in January.

I’m proud to be in the publication and encourage you to seek it out. It’s well worth it, whatever you think of my contribution.

More on the publication and Rotland Press from contributor D. B. Dowd here and here.

Remembering Malcolm X

Copenhagen Now


It feels – crushingly – like it was inevitable. Before, Copenhagen felt like it was somehow exempt from this kind of barbarism. That was an illusion, of course, but this is still a rude awakening.

That’s an image of the presumed target of the attack, Lars Vilk’s masterwork Nimis, the flotsam city on the edge of Kullen, in southern Sweden.

Angoulême 2015 at the Comics Journal


As mentioned a few weeks back, I was once again covering the Angoulême comics festival for The Comics Journal this year. It as a strange, beautiful and slightly oppressive experience being there, three weeks after the Paris killings. This dominates my reports, I’m afraid, but tune in also for views on artists as diverse as Bill Watterson, Alex Barbier, and Taniguchi Jiro, and for thoughts on French comics right now, the state of the Angoulême festival, and the award winners. Onsite reportage parts one and two plus the usual more in-depth aftermath analysis.

Charlie Hebdo and Paris: Post-Mortem


It’s been up for a few days now, but I just wanted to note that part two of my examination of Charlie Hebdo and the significance of the murders in Paris is online at The Comics Journal. Part one is here.

Charlie Hebdo at The Comics Journal


I recently published a review of the latest, 7 million print run-issue of Charlie Hebdo over at The Comics Journal. I have a second article, which delves further into the contentious and complicated issues surrounding the massacre, the cartoons and journalism of the magazine, and a bit of everything else, so stay tuned.

Charlie Hebdo anmeldt i Information


I dagens udgave af Information kan man læse min anmeldelse af ugens med spænding ventede nummer af Charlie Hebdo med den bemærkelsesværdige forside ovenfor. Jeg skrev teksten til en meget stram deadline, så bær over med den lidt stakåndede præsentation, den manglende reflektion og en lidt brutal redigering. Jeg håber at skrive noget mere dybdegående snart.

Nous sommes

Charb (RIP) channels Dostoyevsky's "Grand Inquisitor"


Today witnessed a mockery of the values of human dignity and community, fundamental concepts in all the major religions, not least Islam. It has already been repeated much today, but this really does feel like an attack on us all, and not just in the West, but much more broadly.

My thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims, while my hopes are with our societies to handle this outrage in the right way. There must be a robust response to the perpetrators and, more broadly, the mindset that motivated them, but ultimately the solution is more democracy and more freedom of expression for everyone, not less. Insha’Allah.

The Week

Paolo Veronese, The Conversion of Mary Magdalene, about 1548, oil on canvas, 117.5 x 163.5 cm. London, The National Gallery.


In a couple of weeks’ time, we’re opening the first major show of the works of Venetian Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese in decades at the National Gallery. Although it falls within my area of responsibility and will therefore occupy much of my time for the next few months, it’s an exhibition I have had nothing to do with, having started at the gallery only a few months ago. But needless to say one I’m looking forward to immensely: it’s a privilege thus to be dropped into the midst of a great project on an artist of immense generosity.

It’s not just that his pictures pull out all the stops, that his art is a rarely paralleled display of elegance, magnificence, and virtuosity, it’s that there is something profoundly touching about those qualities in his work. He is one of the few artists who really understood the lessons of Raphael. His immaculate sense of composition, his grasp of form, two- as well as three-dimensional, his sensitive use of gesture, and the subtlety of his portrayal of human interaction are all elements in what seems to me a distinctly civilising art, to paraphrase Kenneth Clark’s characterisation of Raphael. Contemplating Veronese is not only a joy, it makes you feel better about life and who we are.

That’s the high register. Keep an eye on the NG website for further thoughts and more concrete analysis during the course of the exhibition. I’ll keep you posted here and on twitter.

Links:

  • “There Are Good Guys and Bad Guys.” Bhob Stewart’s classic essay on/obituary of Wally Wood reprinted at the Comics Journal to mark the passing of its author. RIP. Read it, it is one of the most evocative, personal texts of its kind in comics. Really brings the great, flawed cartoonist to life.
  • Nikoline Werdelin interviewed. Arguably the greatest living Danish cartoonist, Werdelin has rarely if ever been interviewed about her comics (she has often talked to journalists about other things — life, style, death, and everything in between), so this in-depth, work-oriented interview by Thomas Thorhauge is a major scoop. Unfortunately it is only available in Danish, as is indeed the case with most of her work. English readers can sample her in From Wonderland with Love.
  • Finally, this uncredited photo, from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, is arresting, sobering, terrible. A reminder that something has to be done there. A no-fly zone blocking the government’s use of their air force remains a good place to start.
  • The Week

    The week in review

    It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these and it will probably be a while yet before I do another one. Much happening in terms of relocating more permanently to London, so… but I just felt the itch to post something here wishing you all (those of you still reading this rather stagnant page) a happy new year. Over the holiday I rekindled my interest in the civil rights movement and black liberation in the US by reading Manning Marable’s fantastic, and controversial, biography of Malcolm X, A Life of Reinvention. Presenting by far the most nuanced view of this complex figure so far, it does more to make him human, real, in the reader’s eye than just about anything else I’ve read. My one quibble is that by being so scrupulous about presenting the details of his life, warts and all, it tends to lose sight of what made him, this leader who achieved very little in terms of concrete political results, such a crucial figure in modern American history. It lacks sufficient exegesis on his words and thoughts, despite an excellent closing chapter that aims to provide perspective. But don’t let that deter if you have any interest in American history or the civil rights movement. It’s a great book.

    With that, I figured I’d post the above video of Malcolm X speaking in Oxford (close to home for me now, that’s why, I guess!) in 1964, five or six months after having broken with the Nation of Islam. It’s a remarkable encapsulation of the fluctuating state of his thought at that moment, starting with a forceful statement of principle — the nature of American racism, the use of violence — entirely consistent with his earlier, more confrontational rhetoric, passes through a Barry Goldwater quote as well — poignantly — as one from Hamlet, to an approchement to the civil rights movement and embrace of the vote as a potential game changer for black Americans. And he ends on a universalist, revolutionary call for action. There are greater moments to be found in his many speeches and interviews (the Malcolm X Project at Columbia University is a good place to start learning more), but I love the eclecticism and coherence of this clip.

    More links:

  • For those that missed it, Barton Gellman of the Washington Post interviewed Edward Snowden at some length last week. The paper also provided a disturbing perspective on the development of quantum computers and what it may mean for universal surveillance.
  • For Danish readers, this piece on how Green Growth has become a global buzzword over the last ten years , loosening the purse strings of corporations as well as government worldwide, is worth checking out. The same goes for Rune Lykkeberg’s piece on how the centre-left seems to have taken back the microphone in the Danish discourse on moral values.
  • MADIBA

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