Letterhole Diary – June 2018

Welcome to the first of a new series of monthly 'Letterhole Diaries', for all the thoughts and stories that aren't worth a full blog post, and a summary of some of the month's biggest events.

WHILE EYES are fixed on the World Cup in Russia, another, more low-key international football tournament has passed by somewhat unnoticed. That won’t come as a surprise, as this was the little-known CONIFA World Football Cup, a competition for unrecognised states and stateless minority groups that has nonetheless caught the attention of the football hipsters. It brought together a unique menu of teams, from Tibet and Northern Cyprus to the Isle of Man and Matabeleland, in a host of non-league grounds across London.

I had the privilege of covering several of these matches – including the final itself – as part of CONIFA’s volunteer media team. In the often scorching heat of early June, I travelled to exotic locations like Bracknell, Slough and Bromley, watching some fairly passable non-league level football played by the likes of Tibet and Western Armenia. The Tibet fans were particularly lovely, sharing traditional food and cultural performances before the game, and really getting behind their team. For them, this tiny competition meant a chance to show off their culture and support their nation-in-exile. It’s a truly unique perspective, and there’ll be a full blog coming soon.

Bad news, America. Anthony Kennedy, the closest thing to a swing vote on the United States Supreme Court, has announced his imminent retirement. This means Donald Trump will soon nominate a second Associate Justice, and it’s more than likely this one will be more amenable to his far-right agenda than Kennedy. With as many as five right-leaning Justices on the panel, abortion rights, voting rights and democratic institutions may come under threat, as well as the already-scant protections afforded to illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. Some have already speculated that a conservative-stacked Supreme Court would be able to retrospectively end Birthright Citizenship, stripping millions of people born to foreign parents their citizen.

And they can get away with all of this, either because too many people agree with it or because they aren’t affected by it enough to resist it. Worse still, these kind of hyper-conservative policies – particularly criminalising abortion – are exactly what a not insubstantial proportion of Trump’s voting base want him to enact. With these traditional Republican supporters energised, and an economy continuing to boom, plenty of voters will be more willing to tick the box next to his name come 2020. If this threat to liberty is to be stopped, voters need to come out in force for Democratic candidates this November – the ball is very much in their court.

Picture of the month


This month I’ve been listening – on Spotify, owing to the recent demise of a much-loved iPod classic – to Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, the Arctic Monkeys’ latest release. I understand the reaction has been, to say the least, mixed, but as with all divisive media, I’ve taken the contrarian view. To me, it’s a superb album; a mature, grown-up record with some very clear classic rock influences – The Ultracheese could easily have been sung by Roger Waters.

I think it’s brave for any band to commit to a concept album – particularly one about a floating space hotel – but the band really pulls it off. Each track – piano-driven, a unique sound as far as Arctic Monkeys’ albums go – forms a very smooth, thematic gestalt; there are no standouts, no songs you can dance or sing along to, but the end result is very ambient, very evocative, and very, very good. The album is ultimately a somewhat tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of expectations, and a criticism of the music industry. That content is nothing too original, but Alex Turner is at his lyrical best, and really carries the concept. Top marks.

Essential reading

1 June In the Financial Times, history writer Peter Frankopan visits Kazakhstan, where the heart of the new Silk Road intersects with authoritarian politics.

14 June The Economist examines what lies behind the rise of authoritarianism, as the likes of Erdogan, Putin, Orban and Trump continue to undermine democracy across the world.

15 June You know things are getting bad when the Ottawa Citizen asks how quickly Canada could build an atomic bomb.

18 June In a moving piece for the Players’ Tribune, Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku writes about growing up, a deprived childhood, and the first time he played for Anderlecht.

19 June In further evidence of America’s regression, Ria Tobacco Mar speculates in the New York Times that a South Dakota man has been sentenced to death – in lieu of a life sentence – because he’s gay.

25 June Dr Heather Halton of the University of Melbourne discusses the surprising interconnectedness of the 13th-century, as depicted through an Australasian cockatoo in a Sicilian manuscript.

28 June BuzzFeed News‘s Alberto Nardelli wonders whether the fall of Merkel might catalyse the fall of Europe.

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