Letterhole Diary – September 2018

Letterhole Diary. September. This month, we talk about Leeds United, dril, and whether there's any point to the Lib Dems. We also launch a new segment: Film of the Month.

WITH THE world burning down around us, it’s vital we remember what we still have to celebrate. That was particularly important this month, when we marked ten years since the collapse of Goldman Sachs on 15 September 2008, which precipitated the global financial crisis and the ongoing moral decline of the Western world. And this month we have to celebrate dril, or @wint, a Twitter user whose first ever tweet was sent that very same day, ten years ago.

Dril is the master of the non-sequitur. He’s an absurdist Twitter poet, a peerless prose stylist, and the perfect distillation of modern internet culture. His tweets are effortlessly funny, clever, ironic and characterised by a surreal, almost Pythonesque sense of humour. But they’re also sharply relevant and sagely prescient; it’s no coincidence that every major cultural and political event can be met by a tweet from somewhere in his endless back catalogue. So iconic are his tweets, and so vital is his contribution to internet culture, that a 2017 dox that revealed his identity and personal details went totally ignored by online communities. It was simply too important that his anonymity should be preserved.

But what was that timeless first tweet, made ten years ago this month? It was simply ‘no’. What better defines the bizarre, horrifying experience of Twitter in 2018 than that?

EVER since they were relegated from the top division in 2004, Leeds United have been in the doldrums. Yet their supporters have remained fiercely and commendably loyal; despite a poor 13th-place finish in 2017-18, attendance at Elland Road averaged 31,521, higher than ten Premier League clubs. They are without question the great sleeping giants of English football.

But all of a sudden there’s a new sense of optimism growing in West Yorkshire, and it’s all thanks to one man: Marcelo Bielsa. The appointment of the idiosyncratic Argentina manager by Leeds United – whose ownership has too often been capricious and short-sighted over the last few years – is nothing short of a masterstroke. In a few short months he has transformed the club, making a slew of good signings, and instituting a high-intensity, fast-paced attacking style of football that has seen them swat aside teams like Stoke City and Derby County. There is a risk, however, that this Leeds side will burn out quickly; Bielsa’s teams typically falter after Christmas. Time will tell if he has been able to adjust his strategy to the Championship’s gruelling 46-game programme.

Tweet of the month

In the wake of its party conference in Brighton this month, a lot of hilarious and clever journalists and commentators have been asking the same question: what’s the point of the Lib Dems? The answer is obvious: to advance liberal causes, promote liberal policies, and campaign for liberal candidates for council and for parliament. But the party’s main aim should always be to put a Liberal Democrat government in office, and it’s this reality that has troubled so many journalists.

That’s because, during the conference, party leader Vince Cable emphatically rejected any coalition with either the Conservative or Labour parties. To rapturous applause, Cable denied the party its one realistic chance of enacting liberal policies in government, just as it did between 2010 and 2015. And indeed, surely the Lib Dems are now in a much better position to sell this coalition to the voters: after all, haven’t they learned from their mistakes? Don’t they know exactly how to negotiate with a larger party in a way that, say, the SNP or Plaid Cymru do not, having suffered the disastrous consequences of failing to do so the first time round?

Some of the journalists posing this question would do well to ask some of the party’s 100,000 members, or some of the people served by Lib Dem councils in Eastbourne, Cheltenham or Richmond. But if they can deliver on a local level, why doesn’t Vince Cable want to do so nationally? I think that’s a fair question.

Film of the month

Your Name
Makoto Shinkai, 2016

Letterhole rating: 10/10

Your Name is a genuinely beautiful, uplifting film. It’s a masterwork of animation from Makoto Shinkai, a story about two teenagers who swap bodies on alternate days, living through their contrasting lives – Taki from Tokyo and Mitsuha from the countryside – before waking up the following morning returned to normal, but remembering their previous day only as a dream. As with all good coming-of-age films, this helps the pair learn something important about themselves, and each other, as a result. It has a fantastic twist, a proper denouement, and – most importantly – it’s emotionally satisfying.

Given its fantastical conceit, the film could easily become schlocky and unsatisfying, but Your Name masterfully balances its fantasy, romance and coming-of-age elements into a story that feels natural within the world its creates. Yes, there’s some stuff about nature, fate and love, but it works perfectly, and is kept grounded by the real human drama of growing up and maturing, and the contrast between modern, shiny Tokyo and a more traditional rural lifestyle. All this takes place in a colourful, beautifully-imagined version of modern Japan, in a world that really feels organic and alive.

Your Name lets its characters breathe and grow and fall in love in a subtle, authentic way. The film never lets the fantasy overwhelm the drama, and in that way it feels sincere and honest. It’s simply a really lovely film.

Essential reading

4 Sep In the Times, Hugo Rifkind is annoyed that so many supporters of leaving the EU seem to hate HS2, a big, important project that would help create the kind of Britain they pretend to want.

10 Sep The British video games industry is one of our biggest success stories. On politics.co.uk, George Osborn explains why he’s starting a pressure group to help protect it from Brexit.

13 Sep It’s the Economist‘s 175th birthday. To celebrate, the magazine launches a manifesto for renewing liberalism for the modern age.

14 Sep The United Kingdom has an advanced economy, but one creaking on Victorian foundations. In the Financial Times, Sarah O’Connor explains why it so desperately needs fixing.

17 Sep In the New Yorker, Evan Osnos investigates the threat Facebook poses to democracy, and whether Mark Zuckberburg is the right man to fix it.

28 Sep With Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as Supreme Court Associate Justice all but assured, the New Stateman‘s Sarah Manavis laments the death of the America she once knew.

29 Sep In an interview with Buzzfeed UK‘s Patrick Strudwick, former police chief Brian Paddick warns of the dangers of British drug policy, five years after his ex-boyfriend died from using GHB.

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