Antonio Conte has admitted that he “suffered” in his personal life last season and says that he feels more settled at Stamford Bridge now that his family have joined him in England.
The Chelsea manager has been linked with a return to Italy since arriving last year and, speaking before Saturday’s match with Crystal Palace, rejected fresh suggestions that he could move on next summer, attributing them to a mistranslated interview. His wife, Elisabetta, and daughter Vittoria are both now living with him in Cobham after remaining in Italy during his first season at the club, and he expanded on the benefits of an improved work-life balance.
“For me to have my family with me is very important,” Conte said. “Last season, honestly, I suffered a lot. When you are in a new country and you are alone, and know that your family don’t stay here, it is not simple. This season I am very happy because my wife and daughter are with me, and for us it is a fantastic experience. I think this is an incredible experience for my daughter and a great gift I am giving her.”
It has provided respite from what increasingly looks a difficult title defence for the Premier League’s fourth-placed side. “This season I am driving here and last season was difficult because when you are alone there is only the work,” he said. “Now there is my job but we also take the car to visit different areas and sometimes go to London or Kingston, or to discover new restaurants.”
Conte’s satisfaction will ease concerns about his future although, in his earlier press conference, he had stopped short of suggesting he would stay beyond the expiry of his contract in 2019 – saying instead that, like any coach, he would “hope to stay for a long time and try to build something important for the club”.
Domestic life may be more straightforward but it has been a tricky week for Conte at Chelsea, who could be deprived of N’Golo Kanté for the next month after he returned from international duty with a hamstring injury. “We don’t have another player with the same characteristics,” Conte said of Kanté, and he will also be missing Álvaro Morata and Danny Drinkwater for the visit to Crystal Palace.
This week Conte has also had to deal with Charly Musonda’s dissatisfaction, expressed via Instagram, at a lack of opportunities at Chelsea. He said he had spoken to the 20-year-old winger, who “must be focused on the pitch and not on social media”.
Grzegorz Krychowiak has accused Unai Emery, the Paris Saint-Germain coach, of not telling him the truth about the reasons for leaving him out of the team for so much of last season, and revealed the extent to which their relationship broke down by saying he “felt deception” whenever he spoke to the Spaniard.
Krychowiak followed Emery to PSG in July last year for €30m after spending the previous two seasons playing under him at Sevilla, where they won the Europa League in 2015 and 2016. Krychowiak said at the time of his transfer that Emery’s appointment at PSG was a factor in his decision but the Poland international started only 11 matches in all competitions for the French club and was told in the summer he should look for a new team, only 12 months after signing a five-year contract.
With Krychowiak marginalised to the point that he was not involved in any pre‑season friendlies for PSG, West Bromwich Albion saw an unlikely window of opportunity and signed the midfielder at the end of August on a season-long loan deal that was regarded as a huge coup.
Krychowiak has settled quickly at The Hawthorns and is enjoying English football, yet he is clearly frustrated with the way things unravelled for him at PSG, in particular Emery’s responses whenever he sought an explanation. “I spoke with the coach but every time when I spoke with him I felt deception,” Krychowiak said.
Asked to elaborate on that and whether he felt he was not being told the truth during their conversations about his lack of match action, Krychowiak said: “Yes, exactly. So for me I didn’t understand why. The coach knows me very well. We spent two years together and before I signed the contract he told me to come to PSG, and I didn’t play.”
Krychowiak is open to all possibilities at the end of this season and has not ruled out returning to PSG, although that prospect appears highly unlikely in the circumstances. His move to Albion came out of the blue – he found out about the opportunity of playing in England 48 hours before he signed – and the 27-year-old is honest enough to admit he knew “not a lot” about the Midlands club before signing. Playing in the Premier League was part of the attraction, according to Krychowiak, as was the need to hold down a regular first-team place before next summer’s World Cup finals.
“It was one of the reasons,” Krychowiak said, when asked about Russia 2018 being a factor. “If I want to play for Poland, I need to play and find a club. I didn’t go for the two last games with Poland [in September’s qualifiers]. I spoke with the coach, he told me that it would be better that I find a club, then I will be back [in the squad]. So it was very important for me to have the opportunity to play in the World Cup.”
A keen traveller, Krychowiak spent the summer trekking across the US as well as visiting Mexico and Cuba, and he has already taken in a few diverse attractions in England, including visiting Blenheim Palace, Legoland and the historic colleges that make up Oxford University. “Football players have a lot of opportunity to change the club, the city, the country, to know a new culture,” Krychowiak said. “It’s very nice to discover these kind of places.”
You’d have to try pretty hard not to like Paul Merson as a TV pundit. Even if you insisted on making a public show of not liking him – rolling your eyes, clutching a scented handkerchief, pointing out, pedantically, that he often talks a load of rubbish – it would be hard to avoid secretly liking him all the same.
Maybe not in the same way you might like Ian Wright, who has in the past few years taken a breath, realised he can just say whatever’s on his mind and become in the process the best football pundit out there.
This is not as easy as it looks. Martin Keown, for example, also seems to know his stuff and has good opinions, but still talks about football like a man delivering a terse, menacing funeral elegy for his recently deceased border collie. Michael Owen is good these days but in an oddly resentful way, with an on-screen manner that suggests he’s been taken hostage in a brightly lit bunker by unseen kidnappers and is now buying time by sitting on a sofa speaking in a guarded voice about link-up play and instant finishes while a police sniper unit manoeuvres into position just out of his eyeline.
Merson is the opposite of this. At times he seems to have forgotten he is actually on television and is just sitting with some other people talking about Harry Kane for ages while a man in a suit keeps trying to change the subject. But he is always watchable and passionate, and often very persuasive. As he was this week while being right, for the wrong reasons, about Mesut Özil.
Merse has had enough of Özil. “He doesn’t work hard enough for the team,” is the latest variation on the doesn’t-run-enough strand of objections that have followed Özil around the Premier League. But it is impossible to argue with the natural conclusion. Özil is available to play now and may well shimmy back in with a goal or two, or an impudently brilliant assist against Watford on Saturday. But Arsène Wenger really does have to try to sell him in January. The idea of this Arsenal team as some high-grade Özil-centred machine has flickered at times. But that ship has sailed. This is over. It’s done.
Next week it will be the six-month anniversary of Özil’s last Arsenal goal. Since December 2016 he has contributed one – one! – assist away from the Emirates Stadium. The team play better without him in it. He has already earned £30m in his time at the club. There is nothing here to justify an astronomically improved contract. The Age of Özil is over, a fascinating footnote in the wider history of why apparently well-suited player moves sometimes just don’t work out.
This is the real point. Never mind debating the exact nature of Özil’s undoubted qualities. It is more interesting to understand why he has tailed off at Arsenal. English football has always loved calling people lazy or weak. The idea that your Özils are not native enough in style, lacking the basic fibre and guts to succeed in the world’s most energetic league is clearly quite appealing.
Whereas in this case the opposite is true. Firstly, as has been frequently pointed out, Özil does run quite a lot. Last year he covered more ground per game in the Champions League than any other player with as many goals to their name.
Secondly, like it or not, Özil’s significant failings are strikingly English in nature. What has happened at Arsenal is that he has failed to develop, has failed to add any further gears to his game. Football has changed a lot in four years. But Özil is basically the same player with the same skills, the same needs, the same strengths and flaws. This is a kind of laziness. But it’s not to do with running or energy expended on the pitch; more a familiar, and very native lack of curiosity, a complacency, a failure to learn.
And please, we know the excuses by now. I’ve set them out myself in the past, mainly because Özil is just such a seductively pleasing talent, a player who in the right team and the right mood makes everything look like a kind of dance, pirouetting in search of space, gliding the ball between a series of points with such ease you half expect to look down and notice he’s wearing flip-flops or holding a sandwich.
We’ve all heard the one about needing special privileges too, the idea Özil’s work is so finely graded as to be almost invisible to the uncultured eye, like the most delicate component of some purringly over-engineered luxury car.
The problem here is that club football has moved on. Often Özil’s best moments rely on his team having enough possession for long enough periods, as Real Madrid and Arsenal may have in the recent past and Germany still do. But opponents are less stretched by these tactics now, are less likely to find themselves pulled out of shape while Özil, or similar, wheels himself into place for the killer incision. His pure style has dated, just as Arsenal’s switch to playing a little more without the ball has hardly helped.
The proof is in the success of similar players with greater range. Kevin De Bruyne is the obvious counterpoint, a player who can also pass brilliantly, who has many of the same functions, but who has learned and adapted at a thrilling speed. De Bruyne can now do pretty much anything – central midfield, No10, manage the counterattack. He will find a way to affect the game. Similarly Christian Eriksen has improved in his own four years in England, and not only in the things he already did well. Meanwhile, to borrow an oft-quoted phrase, Özil hasn’t played 166 games for Arsenal, he’s played the same game 166 times.
Perhaps he will come again. He isn’t alone in failing to progress his career under Wenger. He often plays really well for Germany. For now it is hard to avoid the feeling of fate closing in. There was a genuine shiver of excitement when Özil signed for Arsenal. He was meant to announce and define an era, the embodiment of late Wenger-ism. And so it has come to pass. This has been the age of Özil. Just not in the way Arsenal will have hoped, more as an emblem of princely stasis, and of a paradoxically English refusal to adapt and learn.
Remind me. Are we talking about Donald Trump? Jimmy Savile? Bill Cosby? Roger Ailes? This week it’s Harvey Weinstein. And people are saying that he’s a very powerful man – that’s why no one spoke up when he allegedly forced an aspiring actor (still at university) to give him a blowjob. He’s a rich and powerful man – that’s why that other young actor didn’t speak up when he allegedly raped her. He has the power to make or break a career – that’s why a journalist said nothing when he allegedly cornered her, pulled out his erect penis and jerked off into a potted plant.
Because the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and the Savile, Trump and Cosby scandals are only tangentially about sex. They’re mainly about power.
I posted the following update on my Facebook feed a couple of days ago: “During the 15 years I worked in advertising (mainly in London) I worked with a rapist, a managing director who was the subject of an injunction to stop him sexually harassing one of his employees, and an endless parade of gropers, perverts and abusers. I once complained and was slapped with an 18-page lawyer’s letter on my desk the following morning. None of the men was ever sacked, though many of the women were quietly paid off with non-disclosure agreements.”
Within seconds, the stories began flooding in, from women who had worked in libraries, at the BBC, in journalism, for the MoD, in the civil service, in children’s publishing (children’s publishing!), in recruitment, in restaurants, at MIT, in the nuclear industry, at a law firm, in academia … the list went on and on.
One of the comments, from a literary translator, summed up the general feeling: “Yes, every woman, of any age (and degree of attractiveness because it’s nothing to do with sex), has similar stories to tell.”
Many of these stories are historical – women referring to incidents in their employment past. But there isn’t a shred of evidence to suggest that the world has changed since many of us began working in the 1970s and 80s. If anything, the presence of Donald Trump in the White House – a man getting away with every possible version of exploitative behaviour short of murder – has given a whole new generation permission to behave like thugs.
Let me tell you about some of the Harvey Weinsteins I worked with.
There was the creative director who regularly shoved his hand up his secretary’s crotch and down her bra. She was so outraged, she took him to a legal tribunal (which she lost). Most of the rest of us thought she was overreacting. After all, he was gay, so it wasn’t really sexual harassment, was it? For the record, he treated men as badly as he treated women.
There was the account guy who strolled into my office after a presentation and said, of the middle-aged female client who’d just turned down some of our work, “Nothing wrong with her that a good shafting wouldn’t fix.”
There were the two 40-something married CEOs who instructed pretty young account girls to wear very short skirts to work, then called them in to client meetings to hold presentation boards above their heads.
There was the art director who raped his secretary at an agency party. She reported it and was let go with a payoff of a few thousand pounds. He kept his job.
So why didn’t people complain?
Some of us did.
Late in my career, I registered an informal complaint against the creative director who had a habit of verbally abusing female creative teams – including a team I had hired. Was it sexual harassment? It didn’t matter. It was vile.
The next morning I found a threatening letter on my desk from the company’s lawyers. My desk was moved to an office with no windows. Terrified of being fired, I said nothing more. The agency waited a discreet few months before sacking me.
“You put your head above the parapet,” I was told.
And now when anyone says I’ve had the last laugh because I got out of the business and made a good career writing novels, I tell them that I’m still not laughing. I wasn’t raped or sexually victimised. But I was threatened and intimidated and privy to far too many cavalier “boys will be boys” displays of casual sadism. And it wasn’t just women who suffered. It was men too – young men particularly – who were bullied and made complicit to the endless and endlessly inappropriate exercise of power.
Why does no one say anything? Because of fear – the perfectly proper fear that you’ll lose your job, or be blacklisted, that the career you worked so hard to build will come tumbling down. And always, always, an obscure feeling that perhaps, somehow, it’s your fault.
So now, for the zillionth time in history we find ourselves asking how men can behave this way, over decades, in public, and get away with it.
And the answer comes from on high. When you’re powerful, they let you do it.
• Meg Rosoff is the author of How I Live Now and Just in Case
There are many shocks following on from this week’s reports of the sexual violations and rapes allegedly committed by film producer Harvey Weinstein. One shock for me is about the language used by the media to describe them. Almost all early reports referred to victimisation as “sexual harassment”.
Weinstein’s alleged acts involved quid pro quo offers, requests to be watched in the shower and for massages, naked pursuits of targets around couches. Such actions are sexual harassment.
But they are not just harassment. These are criminal acts that, if proved, would lead to jail time — not just fines and wrist-slapping. Language out of a Henry James novel made it sound as if rape was like using the wrong fork: “Mistreatment of women”, “misbehaviour”, “indiscretions”. Or “misconduct”, like a bad orchestra. Reporters used “episode” or the 70s-ish, hot tub-ish, “encounter”.
It’s likely that media lawyers advised reporters to use softer terms. But if you are reporting on a hate crime assault, you don’t inform readers accurately by calling it a “racial encounter”.
Shocking too is how district attorneys have failed to react. The New York Times and New Yorker exposés include reports of many alleged crimes in two jurisdictions: California and New York. I believe that basic information about the laws regarding sex crime and abuse are rarely explained to women, and this perpetuates a situation in which sexual assault is treated as a cultural event — “blurred lines” — when in fact criminal law is clear.
In New York state, any unwanted sexual contact is “sexual abuse”. In California, any unwanted sexual touching is “sexual assault” or “sexual battery” punishable by prison terms of six to 12 months. In both states, coercing someone into sex is sexual assault. Forcing someone to submit to oral sex, as actor and director Asia Argento alleged of Weinstein, is a felony. When someone chases a target around furniture, while he is naked, with exits from the room locked, this is arguably stalking and kidnapping.
When someone exposes himself in a public place such as a restaurant, and masturbates, as Fox reporter Lauren Sivan recounted, it is “public lewdness”, a class B misdemeanour. If “he or she intentionally exposes the private or intimate parts of his or her body in a lewd manner for the purpose of alarming or seriously annoying such person” it is a class A misdemeanour; six months, and usually placement on the registered sex offenders’ list.
Also, these events have widely been discussed as if they are history. But the statute of limitations is still open. In New York, the statute for sexual assault is five years, but there is no statute for rape. You can bring charges until you or your rapist dies. In California, a 2017 law, passed after the Bill Cosby allegations, extended the statute of limitations to — for ever. And to six years for assaults that took place prior to 2017. In the UK, there is no statute of limitations for serious sexual crimes. UK victims can bring charges forever.
Most of these women, in other words, could press charges today, even if their assaults happened years ago.
Ambra Gutierrez, an Italian model, wore a hidden recording device in 2015 to document the fact that an assault had occurred in her previous meeting with Weinstein. In an act of courage, this woman went back into danger. But DA Cyrus Vance’s office did not then pursue the case because, a statement said, it “couldn’t establish intent”. This week, it was reported that, months later, Vance was gifted $10,000 for his reelection campaign — by one of Harvey Weinstein’s lawyers.
Had Weinstein boarded a plane to Switzerland this week, as he was reportedly planning to do, that too may have constituted a crime: obstruction of justice. Resisting arrest. Flight. These are felonies or common law crimes.
But because our power brokers want to keep sexual assault in the realm of the “uncomfortable” or the “disgusting”, rather than the criminal, Weinstein was not told not to leave town. Only on Thursday was it announced that police in New York and London are taking action following the reports. Meanwhile, Weinstein headed to Arizona, to sex rehab, with yoga and equine therapy. But “rehab” is a choice, not a confrontation with the criminal justice system.
Another important legal question is what the Weinstein board knew, and when. In a statement earlier this week, the board said it was surprised by the revelations and that, “Any suggestion that the board had knowledge of this conduct is false.”
Yet there are positives to be taken from this eruption of testimony. One is the power of what happens when women come forward, name their abusers and identify themselves. I have been saying for years that “anonymity for victims”, which is touted as a feminist perk, is in fact a toxic guarantee of rape culture. Change will only happen when women name themselves as victims in public and also name their abusers. Anonymity allows for impunity.
This is not to blame women for not coming forward sooner. The reasons Weinstein’s accusers held back are only too obvious. But seeing Gutierrez put herself in danger to report a crime; seeing Argento put online the disturbing scene she filmed for her movie, which is based on her alleged assault, is transformational.
Patriarchy has managed to direct attention always at the victim. What was she wearing? Is she crazy? Is she in love with him? What is her motivation? Why doesn’t she just drop it? Is she a “good” or “bad” girl? This protects not only rapists but also institutions – universities, workplaces – in a patriarchy that runs on impunity for rapist and abusers, and for their boards, their deans, their trustees, their gatekeepers.
But when women come forward with their own names and stories — something that social media allows in an especially effective way — attention can turn to where it should be. We see how common it is for perpetrators to have a modus operandi; how frequently they groom a victim, make sure to get her alone, intimidate and coerce her. We see how a perpetrator creates a situation that a young woman may think she can manage or at least survive, and then suddenly, terrifyingly, he lunges, overpowers, demeans, violates her. Such assaults can result in the death of a young woman’s sense of self, vocation, possibility, future life and dreams.
An essay this week in the New Yorker by Jia Tolentino speaks about the familiar “sadness” that almost every woman can relate to, of how a moment in which a young woman thought her talents were being recognised, turns into trauma. And also into a terrible non-choice: speak and be “that girl” — hounded out of one’s chosen profession, or else keep a silence about someone else’s revolting secret, that weighs on one’s mouth and heart endlessly, like stone.
Now, as voices are being raised, the fact that perpetrators stalk and silence, buy off lawyers, intimidate and threaten victims — often for decades — becomes established. If you are alone and describe this, you are a conspiracy theorist. En masse, though, we start to see a system at work.
There is one answer to this. Move this discussion out of the realm of emotion and outrage and novels of manners, and into the arena of crime. Do it in public. File police reports. Record the calls. After consulting a lawyer in your country, consider naming your assailant online. You may not get a conviction, but you make impunity harder. The next victim will have a paper trail to support her.
Ask the online community to keep pressure on police departments to investigate and be accountable for complaints against alleged rapists and sexual abusers. The rate for false accusations is the same for sex crime as for any other crime — arson, fraud.
I actually believe in a “Name your assailant day”, in which women go to police together, to support one another in filing reports. It doesn’t matter if you are outside the statute of limitations. You may not be able to prosecute your own abuser. But the report will be on the record.
Last year I filed a police report about my own long-ago assault, after receiving a threat (not from my assailant), having previously filed a formal grievance at the university where the assault took place. I filed the report at the New Haven Police Department. It was “lost”. I filed it again in April. There is now an open investigation. I am not saying this process is easy. But it is critical.
The women who have spoken out are so brave. If they can possibly bear to, even just one or two need to call the California and NY district attorneys. It requires a victim to file. They need us to support them, comfort them, listen to them, raise money for their counsel.
Meanwhile Weinstein, in his rehab centre in Arizona, is counting on people’s energies dying down as some new drama takes the place of this rend in the fabric of patriarchy.
But whether he is prosecuted or not is not the only turning point. The turning point will be when every girl and boy, woman or man, who is assaulted, abused, forcibly touched — knows the law and know in his or her bones that these actions are crimes. When victims refuse shame and refuse to bear the burden of the perverse and unbelievable things perpetrators have done to them. When victims demand that the criminal justice system hears their complaints and acts on them.
When perpetrators planning to get that next young, hopeful woman alone to hurt her, finally think twice about their demonic “business as usual” — because they know that she has an invisible army, standing with the force of law behind her.
• Naomi Wolf is an author and CEO of DailyClout, a platform to make laws socially shareable
When he was a schoolboy, the great polymath Jonathan Miller won a reputation as the finest chicken impersonator in north London.
The pleasure his friends and family took in his performance had encouraged him to get the linguistics absolutely right. Rival impersonators at his school were happy to make do with “buk, buk, buk, buk … bacagh” but the future satirist, actor, opera director and neuropsychologist noticed that the noise chickens made wasn’t so regular, that “chickens liked to lead you up the garden path”, as he wrote in Granta magazine in 1988.
“They would lead you to expect that for every four or five ‘buks’ there would be a ‘bacagh’ … What I noticed, after prolonged examination, was an entirely different pattern of chicken speech behaviour. Thus: Buk, buk, buk, buk, buk, buk, bacagh, buk, buk, bacagh, buk, buk, buk, buk, buk, buk, buk, buk, buk … BACAGH, buk, buk …”
There was a war on – rationing, a shortage of eggs. Miller knew chickens intimately because his father, a military psychiatrist, kept them, and towed them in a trailer behind the car as the family moved from one hospital posting to the next.
My own family’s chickens, perhaps kept a little later than Miller’s but for similar reasons, weren’t so well travelled. They merely moved out of their shed in the daytime and back again at night, through a little door that could be lowered and raised like a shutter in an old-fashioned railway booking office.
When we got rid of the chickens this sliding door was nailed shut, to survive until the shed’s demolition 50 years later as a mysterious architectural feature that made sense only to those of us who’d seen the creatures stalking cautiously through it – “buk, buk, buk” – in those faraway days of cod liver oil and powdered egg.
What happened to the inmates? My memory is inexact, but I remember a scene in the kitchen: a hen fluttering and squawking (“BACAGH”), my father laughing and half-crying at the same time. “I cannie do it, I just cannie do it.” The hen was a favourite of his called Betty, and what he couldn’t bring himself to do was wring her neck. I don’t know what happened next, or what became of Betty’s four or five companions – perhaps they were sold or given away, or had their necks successfully wrung.
I also don’t recall eating any chicken, and chicken on the menu would have been rare enough to be memorable then, and in our house and many other houses would remain so into the 1960s. All that remains is an image: a frightened hen and its frustrated would-be killer.
Two weeks ago, when the Guardian and ITV published their undercover investigation into dubious work practices at a West Midlands chicken factory, that memory prompted a fantastical calculation. The plant’s owner, the 2 Sisters Food Group, kills and processes 6 million chickens every week. Other firms in the UK kill another 11 million chickens, which means the country contributes about 875 million chickens every year to the global total of more than 50 billion that are reared and killed annually for food.
If only a tiny proportion of these birds were looked on affectionately by the people who killed them, the distress added to humankind would still be considerable: my fantastical calculation imagined that kitchen scene of 60-odd years ago multiplied many million times, like frames in a very long film, each flickering with remorse.
Of course, the ever-moving production lines of the industrial food system spare workers no time to reflect. And they’ve come after all – from 36 different countries, in the case of 2 Sisters – to make money rather than campaign for animal rights.
And of course, the point of the Guardian-ITV story was to raise concerns on the consumer’s behalf rather than the animals’, with footage showing chicken pieces being retrieved from the factory floor and thrown straight back on to the production line, and evidence that packets contained chicken older than the sellby dates suggested.
But while these malpractices may threaten human health, they carry much less emotional weight than the sight of the slaughtering and cutting process itself, no matter how hygienic or well run. They seem like small breaches of discipline in the corner of a gory battlefield that we usually take care to avoid any sight of.
The industrialisation of the meat supply, which began in the 19th century, worked both for and against compassion. On the one hand, it broke the relationship between the animal and his human keeper by taking slaughter out of the farm and the butcher’s shop and confining it to the municipal abattoir, where beasts were literally poleaxed by slaughtermen whose only business was killing. On the other hand, it made a later generation uneasy about the invisible cruelty in their midst. In an increasingly urban and technological society, where animals were sentimentally attractive, the notion of “preventable suffering” grew.
Under the banner of its irreconcilable title, the Humane Slaughter Association campaigned for the humane mechanical killer – the stun gun – that was already used in parts of continental Europe when the association was founded in London in 1911.
By 1913 a Birmingham company, Accles & Shelvoke, had come up with something rather better – the captive-bolt Cash pistol, named after the animal welfarist Christopher Cash, who first had the idea. Since the Slaughter of Animals Act in 1933, Cash pistols have stunned most of Britain’s cattle, calves and sheep and made the fortune of Accles & Shelvoke, which surprisingly still exists to make them.
Poultry are not prepared for death that way. The big processing plants have two methods. In the older, the birds are hung by their legs from a moving line that swings them head-first into a bath of electrified water, which according to the strength and frequency of the current can either just stun the birds (if religious tradition insists they be kept alive for bleeding), or kill as well as stun them. In the newer method, using gas, the birds pass through a machine with a controlled atmosphere that makes them first unconscious and then dead.
These aren’t pleasant facts, and yet in most cases they represent a kindness – a quick and sure death – that has been absent in a typical chicken’s life until that point.
Felicity Lawrence, the Guardian’s writer on the food industry, has vividly described the effects of the genetic research that has gone into finding the most economically efficient bird. Fleshy breasts are particularly important in the broiler chicken. “By day nine, the broiler’s legs can barely keep its oversized breast off the ground. By day 11, it is puffed up to double the size of its [egg-laying] cousin … By day 35, it looks more like a weightlifter on steroids … bones, hearts and lungs cannot keep up. A large proportion of broilers suffer from leg problems … Birds that sit in foul litter suffer more skin disease. Deaths from heart attacks or swollen hearts that cannot supply enough oxygen to their oversized breast muscles are also common.”
Poultry now accounts for about a half of all meat eaten in Britain. It’s cheap. The cruelty that goes into the making of it is unconscionable.
The bar is set so low for Donald Trump that every day he doesn’t trigger a nuclear confrontation with a distant adversary is seen as a bonus. Today was one such day, as Trump signalled that he would not, after all, tear up the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, as many – including his closest lieutenants – once feared he would.
Sure, he disavowed the accord, slamming Tehran as a “rogue regime”, imposing fresh sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard and refusing to certify that Iran has complied with its terms, but he did not feed it into the shredder. Instead, he kicked the decision on its future over to Congress. That certainly puts the deal’s survival in jeopardy, but it does at least live to see another day..
That’s a cause for relief, because the international agreement that put severe, if not watertight, constraints on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions had looked set to be the latest victim of an emerging Trump doctrine. Distilled, that credo amounts to: “In the absence of a vision of my own, I’ll destroy everything Obama did.”
The day before the Iran decision, Trump made two moves, one involving the gutting of subsidies, designed to wreck Obamacare. Having tried and failed to get Congress to repeal it altogether, Trump is now working to render it unviable, thereby denying millions of Americans affordable healthcare. Whether it’s health or the Paris accord on climate change, Trump is bent on dismantling every last achievement of his predecessor – whose legitimacy as president, whose legitimacy as a US citizen, he never accepted.
But the Iran decision also stands as the latest instance of a strategy of containment. Normally that term is used by diplomats to describe policy towards an enemy state. This time, the one being contained is Trump himself.
Those doing the containing are the highest ranking officials in the administration, handily abbreviated as MMTK: national security adviser HR McMaster; defence secretary James Mattis; secretary of state Rex Tillerson; and chief of staff John Kelly. Three are former generals, who have concluded that it is their patriotic duty to save America from their president.
Republican senator Bob Corker, chair of the senate foreign relations committee, describes Kelly, Mattis and Tillerson as the “people that help separate our country from chaos”. As he put it, “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him.”
The fudged decision on Iran seems to be their handiwork. It fits a pattern in which Trump’s most senior officials work to thwart, defy or deceive him. When Trump was railing against the Iran deal, Mattis told Congress it was in the US national interest. When Trump was taunting North Korea’s “little rocket man” by tweet, Tillerson was opening up a secret back channel for talks with Pyongyang. When Trump tweeted his decision to ban transgender people from serving in the military, Mattis quietly ignored him, ensuring that it remains the military’s decision who can and cannot serve.
All these moves, coupled with the sight of Corker – a conservative Republican from conservative Tennessee – breaking ranks have led to fevered talk – and hope – that things might be coming to a head, that the Republican dam might be about to break.
It has been fuelled by Tillerson’s failure to deny that he had referred to the president as a “fucking moron”. (Apparently Tillerson was incensed by Trump’s desire, expressed during a White House briefing, to increase America’s already massive nuclear arsenal tenfold – as if the ability to destroy the world several times over is not enough.) This week another Republican senator asked Trump if he was recanting his oath of office, in which he had promised to “preserve, protect and defend” the constitution. Hours earlier, Trump had trampled on the first amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech, by saying: “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write.” Trump then called for broadcaster NBC to be stripped of its operating “licence”. Never mind that such a thing does not exist: it’s the thought that counts.
The notion that Trump’s own party is about to turn on him is not solely wishful thinking by his opponents or the liberal media. Steve Bannon, who exited the White House in August, is said to have told Trump he had only a 30% chance of serving out his full term. Bannon warned his undoing could be the 25th amendment to the constitution. To which Trump naturally replied: “What’s that?”
It’s the section that provides for a situation in which the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. If the vice-president and a majority of the cabinet declare Trump unable to do his job, and Congress agrees, they have the power to remove him. Which is why the question of Trump’s mental capacity has suddenly gained traction.
Note this week’s depiction of Trump by Vanity Fair as “unravelling” – a lonely, “increasingly unfocused” figure, raging that he hates everyone in the White House. Note too the comments of Trump’s ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal, Tony Schwartz, who tweeted this week: “I know this man. He’s out of control and it’s getting worse … Trump’s grip on reality is spiralling down into paranoia and delusion.”
As a fantasy, the 25th amendment has tremendous appeal: who wouldn’t want to end this presidency, swiftly and cleanly? But it is itself a delusion. Can you imagine the current US cabinet, stuffed as it is with sycophants and billionaire know-nothings, turning on their patron for the sake of the country and the world? Several are in trouble for billing the US taxpayer for the needless use of private jets; one is currently being taunted for insisting that, in the manner of Queen Elizabeth, a flag be raised whenever he is in residence. Selfless patriots they are not.
Even if they did turn on Trump, would the invertebrates who make up today’s Republican party in Congress do the same? Corker has spoken out – but only after he announced he’s quitting the Senate. The rest barely dare raise a whisper of protest against Trump, even when he’s soiling the flag they claim to revere. If, by some miracle, they did find their spine and remove him, the Trump loyalists would not just swallow it. There could well be street violence, even civil war.
No, the only way to remove Trump is for Democrats to do the hard graft of organising, campaigning and winning elections – starting with the midterms of November 2018. So long as Republicans control the House and Senate, Trump is safe.
I’m glad that Mattis, Kelly and the others are there to grab Trump’s wrist should he reach for the nuclear button. But even that is only a small comfort. A democracy that relies on a group of generals to frustrate an elected leader is in a bad way. The president does indeed pose a clear and present danger to America and the world. But democracy is what put him there – and only democracy can get him out.
As the majority of the so-called adults in charge across the globe begin to mirror the villains I grew up reading about, I find myself going back through old, worn favourites as well as buying plenty of new releases that help keep me sane. Kids’ literature, after all, is probably the best place to look for advice on dealing with monsters. I don’t know where I’d be without them.
Currently, I’m re-reading the accurately absurdist Alice in Wonderland, and the elaborate riddles and rabbit holes feel very 2017. Many quotes from the legendary Queen of Hearts (possibly one of the world’s first corporate feminists) remain lodged in my mind, but “why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast” is especially sticky.
Returning to the literature that I loved as a kid isn’t just a comforting regression when times are tough. I find that when things feel weirder than usual, I need to find a literary weirdness that’s capable of unscrambling my present tense.
Kids’ books offer ways to make sense of a world that is suddenly spinning so quickly we’re permanently dizzy; it’s one of the few formats that helps you do everything at once in the way the internet landscape demands; escape, understand and take action.
But as much as we need them more than ever, we’re still making the mistake of thinking that kids’ books are transient; that they only serve to get through a bedtime, or prep a child for the responsibilities of being a grown-up. There’s two things wrong with this.
Firstly, it pretends that kids in 2017 aren’t absorbing what adults do (albeit through a different filter) every single day. Secondly, it pretends that there is even such a thing as an adult in the first place. I know I feel like I’m impersonating a “grown-up” right now, and I imagine you feel like that, too. Maybe we delineate between books for adults and books for children because there is no greater comfort than pretending that the trajectory of time is linear and easy: we start out young and daft, and wait to become older and wiser. Really, though, it’s all just chaos. We are constantly jumping back and forth between different selves. Some days I go from 31 years old to six in a matter of minutes.
In 2017, it’s helpful to have as many spaces as possible in which this eerie grown-up world is refracted, not reflected. Nothing can leave you at that magical place where clarity meets absurdity like children’s literature.
In my mind it’s a sort of wiggly venn diagram, at the centre of which the complex inevitabilities of life: love, loneliness, death are rendered with an astounding simplicity. Better still, the themes, plots and characters aren’t afraid to confront how random and arbitrary life is.
At least that’s what I felt the first time I read Matilda, or flicked through Ruth Krauss’ A Hole is to Dig. A crocodile makes his way through a busy city to his job in a zoo enclosure, where he must remove his suit to become an appropriate spectacle for everyone else. That strange randomness of existence feels momentarily fathomable.
Great children’s books are always uniquely frightening, hopeful and mad, not unlike the world we live in now. Thanks to all that strange literature I’ve absorbed I can’t look at a jam sandwich without thinking of an infuriated wasp, or a onesie without feeling Max’s unrelenting fury as he stomped with the Wild Things in Maurice Sendak’s famous book.
Raised on a strict diet of Roald Dahl, I still consider all Pelicans to be called “Pelly” and can’t help but imagine the grim things that are probably hidden in hipster beards. EB White has plenty to answer for, too: when it comes to spiders, depending on the size, I find myself wondering if it might be on first name terms with a nervous pig.
Crucially, kids’ books remind me that everything has an interior life, not just me. Children’s books keep us humble, with their wonderful logic and endless empathy, reiterating that more of the world is unknown than it is known. There’s nothing better to help ease that stagnant, “grown-up” solipsism.
• Kat Patrick is author of the children’s books I am Doodle Cat and Doodle Cat Is Bored.
What are some of your favourite kids books to re-read as an adult? Let us know in the comments.
I know. The Kardashians in the Guardian – ban this sick filth. But I have tried on several occasions to write about this sort of reality TV and this is only the second time I have succeeded, so think of all the articles you haven’t had to read.
I did break through this summer when I suggested that Love Island could be less homogeneously heterosexual. That was OK, because it became acceptable to watch Love Island this year, perhaps because of the presence of contestant Camilla Thurlow, a person who had read an actual book, but who knows.
Despite such bold leaps forward, there is still no great love for the Kardashians among tastemakers. Most people who consider themselves in possession of more than a few brain cells are firmly in the camp of not wanting to know anything about Kim, her family members, or her large arse. As Jane Garvey said following a short item about the anniversary on Woman’s Hour: “I know not everyone thinks we should be discussing the Kardashians on Radio 4 … well, we just have.”
And really, why not? I love KUWTK, as it’s also helpfully known. It’s comedy gold for one thing. It has spawned a thousand memes, the most enduring of which is a shot of the matriarch of the family, Kris Jenner, wielding a camera and saying, “Kim, you’re doing amazing, sweetie”, as her daughter writhes around during a nude photoshoot for Playboy. Delightful. There’s plenty of drama, too. Kendall Jenner’s hot take on her tone-deaf Pepsi ad? “If I knew this was going to be the outcome I would have never done something like this.” Glad she’s cleared that up.
But I also enjoy the programme because, above all, the Kardashians are a supportive, close-knit family who spend a lot of time together. It reminds me of how much I love my own family, who sadly live across the pond too, but in less glamorous Virginia. All of these are valid reasons for enjoying the programme, and never once have I felt that KUWTK, or anything I enjoy, is a “guilty pleasure” – how can any pleasure be guilty?
Snobbery is everywhere. Popular films, TV programmes, music, books (don’t get me started on so-called chick lit) – large portions of all these genres are consigned to the trash heap; the bland refined pap of non-edifying culture. This attitude is summed up by the kind reader who commented on my Love Island piece: “Maybe you should quit watching all that crap and read or watch something substantial so you can write more meaningful columns.” Well, obviously, no. Who gets to decide what is “meaningful” and what is a guilty pleasure, or worse, “crap”? Men. The middle-aged. Oxbridge graduates. BBC executives. (On that note, I have tried to watch Doctor Foster and I simply can’t get through it. It may have high production values, but it’s nonsense on stilts. Also, Dr Foster clearly isn’t a very good doctor.)
This cultural snobbery is firmly aimed at women, specifically young women. Anything Kardashian-related, any Katie Price project, Made in Chelsea, The Only Way is Essex and the like are enjoyed by young women in their droves. Why are we saying their choices for entertainment are less valid than men’s? I am aware of all the arguments against these types of shows – whether or not the women in them are good role models, for example. Luckily I’m in my 40s, possessed of self-confidence and self-esteem, and I don’t give a crap. More to the point, though, this level of scrutiny simply isn’t levelled against shows that are aimed mostly at men. My fiance is partial to Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men, for example, and I don’t see reams written about what a terrible influence Dyer is on men’s values. Although he may be, of course.
Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes work is tedious and difficult; often my brain hurts. Sure, I recently enjoyed Toni Erdmann, a zippy 162–minute German study of generational conflict and globalism, and sometimes I’ll throw on some Ustvolskaya, but after a long day, more often than not, I like to snuggle up with a dose of vacuous reality TV and enjoy the parade of the young, the wealthy and the bikini-clad. Televisual Valium. And that is in no way something to feel guilty about.
And if you still think my love for the Kardashians is unacceptable, wait untiI I tell you about Teen Mom 2.
The awful news that all but two penguin chicks have starved to death out of a colony of almost 40,000 birds is a grim illustration of the enormous pressure Antarctic wildlife is under. The causes of this devastating event are complex, from a changing climate to local sea-ice factors, but one thing penguins, whales and other marine life don’t need is additional strain on food supplies.
Over the next year we have the opportunity to create an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary – the largest protected area on Earth – which would put the waters off-limits to the industrial fishing vessels currently sucking up the tiny shrimp-like krill, on which all Antarctic life relies.
In 1990, the Voyager 1 space probe looked back at Earth from six billion kilometres away and took a historic selfie of our solar system. What it saw, according to renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan, was a “pale blue dot”.
“Our planet is a blue planet,” echoed David Attenborough, in his opening words to the BBC’s landmark Blue Planet series. With over 70% of our world covered by water, this is no exaggeration. Our oceans can be seen from across the solar system.
The majority of this water falls outside of national borders. In fact, almost half of our planet is a marine natural wonder outside the boundaries of flags, languages and national divisions. These vast areas cover 230 million square kilometres, and they belong to us all. To give a sense of scale, that’s the size of every single continent combined, with another Asia, Europe and Africa thrown in for good measure. The size of our oceans may seem overwhelming. Our collective responsibility to protect them, however, should not.
It wasn’t long ago that the oceans were thought to be too vast to be irrevocably impacted by human actions, but the effects of overfishing, oil drilling, deep sea mining, pollution and climate change have shown that humans are more than up to the task of imperilling the sea and the animals that live there.
All of us who live on this planet are the guardians of these environments, not only to protect the wildlife that lives in them, but because the health of our oceans sustains our planet and the livelihoods of billions of people.
Here’s the good news. The tide of history is turning. We on the blue planet are finally looking seriously at protecting the blue bits. Just a few months ago, in a stuffy room far from the sea, governments from around the world agreed to start a process to protect them: an ocean treaty.
This ocean treaty won’t be agreed until at least 2020, but in the meantime momentum is already building towards serious and binding ocean protection. Just last year a huge 1.5 million sq km area was protected in the Ross Sea in the Antarctic. In a turbulent political climate, it was a momentous demonstration of how international cooperation to protect our shared home can and does work.
Over the next two weeks, the governments responsible for the Antarctic are meeting to discuss the future of the continent and its waters. While limited proposals are on the table this year, when they reconvene in 12 months’ time they have a historic opportunity to create the largest ever protected area on Earth: an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary. Covering the Weddell Sea next to the Antarctic peninsula, it would be five times the size of Germany, the country proposing it.
The Antarctic is home to a great diversity of life: huge colonies of emperor and Adélie penguins, the incredible colossal squid with eyes the size of basketballs that allow it to see in the depths, and the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale, which has veins large enough for a person to swim down.
The creeping expansion of industrial fishing is targeting the one species on which practically every animal in the Antarctic relies: krill. These tiny shrimp-like creatures are crucial for the survival of penguins, whales, seals and other wildlife. With a changing climate already placing wildlife populations in the Antarctic under pressure, an expanding krill industry is bad news for the health of the Antarctic Ocean. Even worse, the krill industry and the governments that back it are blocking attempts at environmental protection in the Antarctic.
Ocean sanctuaries provide relief for wildlife and ecosystems to recover, but it’s not just about protecting majestic blue whales and penguin colonies. The benefits are global. Recovering fish populations spread around the globe and only now are scientists beginning to fully understand the role that healthy oceans play in soaking up carbon dioxide and helping us to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Sanctuaries encourage vital biodiversity, provide food security for the billions of people that rely on our oceans, and are essential to tackling climate change. Our fate and the fate of our oceans are intimately connected.
Creating the world’s largest ever protected area, in the Antarctic Ocean, would be a signal that corporate lobbying and national interests are no match for a unified global call for our political leaders to protect what belongs to us all. The movement to protect over half our planet begins now, and it begins in the Antarctic.