• Like both previous disasters, Brexit reveals three enduring flaws in the UK’s workings.The first flaw is running a country on rhetoric. Brexit was made about 30 years ago at the Oxford Union — Oxford university’s version of a children’s parliament, which organises witty debates, and where future Brexiters such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were presidents in the 1980s. In 1990, Hannan founded the Oxford Campaign for an Independent Britain at the Queen’s Lane Coffee House on the city’s high street. This generation of mostly former public schoolboys didn’t want Brussels running Britain. That was their caste’s prerogative.The referendum was won like a Union debate: with funny, almost substance-free hot air. Remember Johnson’s policy on cake: he was pro-having it, and pro-eating it. In Britain, humour is used to cut off conversations before they can get emotional, boring or technical…Oxford Tories built a cross-class alliance with the tabloids, a scaremongering force unique in western Europe. In 2002, their spectre was Saddam Hussein bombing Britain. In 2016, it was Turkey joining the EU.Voters were misled. Whenever we Remoaners say this, Brexiters accuse us of calling voters thick. That’s not what I’m saying. Rather, most voters aren’t very interested in policy. They have busy lives. So when they are told that Brexit will free up £350m a week for the National Health Service, they tend to believe it.But after the referendum, the Brexiters were tasked with managing Brexit.This was like asking the winners of a debating contest to engineer a spaceship. Results have been predictable. The Brexiters cannot wow Brussels with rhetoric, because the EU’s negotiators prefer rules. “That is a cultural difference,” notes Catherine de Vries, professor of politics at Essex University…Actual foreign information keeps surprising the Brexiters. Because the referendum skated over boring policy stuff, even cabinet ministers are discovering only now that Britain will pay the EU a large divorce bill. Who knew that all real-world choices are suboptimal? The tabloids weren’t fully informed either. Though they always complained that Britain was ruled from Brussels, few of them bothered keeping a full-time correspondent there.The ruling class’s insularity, the UK’s second flaw, is linked with its third: delusions of grandeur. Britain became a great power because it pioneered the fossil-fuel economy in the 18th century, and because being an island was excellent protection when states still invaded each other. Neither advantage exists any more. Britain today is like a cute little bonobo ape that thinks it’s a gorilla.The ruling class doesn’t quite believe it can make Britain great again. Rather, the updated strategy is more or less “America First, Britain Second”. This means subordination not just to the US (as in the decision to invade Iraq) but also to the American model (as with the financial crisis). Brexiters are now praying that Donald Trump will reward the UK’s fealty with a sweetheart trade deal.Meanwhile, Britain ignores its genuine strengths, such as its knowledge economy. The other day I whizzed around central London, from the barristers’ chambers at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, past the London School of Economics, the City and the Foreign Office, and ended up having coffee by Google’s offices at King’s Cross. Almost all these clever people (now known as out-of-touch elites) are mere spectators at the Brexit slapstick. As Orwell said, in his attempt to describe England in a phrase: “A family with the wrong members in control.” Westminster’s distance from the knowledge economy had previously enabled the financial crisis. Britain’s ruling rhetoricians treated the City as an incomprehensible magic money tree, until in 2007 the tree fell down and hit the country…I wrote in 2011, “Running a country on eloquence alone hasn’t worked out disastrously — or at least not yet.” But maybe now it has.

    tags: Brexit SimonKuper UK culture delusion selfdelusion publicopinion ConservativeParty ignorance

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  • Jia Tolentino reviews Lana Del Rey’s latest album, “Lust for Life,” and compares it to the singer’s previous work on the albums “Ultraviolence” and “Born to Die.”… And what about America? Del Rey’s thematic fixations have always allowed her to merge disparate eras: she draws on thirties fake-book melodies, sixties surf-rock reverb, and contemporary hip-hop production, chromatically aligning everything with her deep romantic bent. These days, however, America’s past feels treacherous and its future alarming—romance doesn’t fit well with one of her primary subjects anymore. Del Rey has spoken about the Trump era in interviews, sometimes vaguely and sometimes sharply. She changed her tour visuals, she told Pitchfork: instead of the American flag, which she loves, she’d “rather have static,” she said. I appreciate the simplicity of this position; at a time when other artists are working overtime to muster a cogent thesis about America, Del Rey is letting her instinct for doom and darkness trouble the waters. At Pitchfork, Meaghan Garvey described “Lust for Life” as a vanitas painting about America. The images have changed: the beaches are black, the roses are burning. The flag looks like static, and a collective ruin seems to be at hand. Del Rey is getting out from under the narratives that have determined her. She is starting to work as if she’s seeing things rather than being seen.

    tags: LanaDelRay culture music USculture

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  • The obituaries a decade ago were predictably clichéd: Bergman’s films are ‘morbid’ and ‘pitiless’, ‘a long, dark night of the soul’. Yet the primary theme of Bergman’s work – the thread that links all his films together, across genres – is not death but the redemptive possibility of love. His bleakest visions relate not to mortality but to isolation and rejection; in particular, to unrequited love…

    Bergman’s relentless inquisitiveness is characterised as ‘cerebral’, suggesting an abstract loftiness, when in fact his work is intensely visceral. Bergman is categorised as ‘austere’, despite his playfulness, exemplified by Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), and the sensuality of many of his key works, including Persona (1966) and Cries & Whispers (1972)…

    Similarly, Bergman’s eloquence has been mistaken for sophistry, when in reality he mistrusts language and his work perpetually cautions against what he termed “the restrictive control of the intellect”. Those who regard Bergman as ‘elite’ ignore that his films are wary of authority (clerical or political) and his characters find wisdom beyond knowledge, in the comforts of human communion…

    In over 60 films in a career spanning six decades, Bergman charted the harrowing cost of what he called “emotional poverty”. His work in all its variety is arrayed against the cynical, clinical, calculating, careless, and callous; he decries our lack of compassion and our “empty but clever” irony. What makes Bergman radical in our own era is his unfashionable sincerity, which leaves him open to mockery and parody…

    Unrequited love began at an early age for Bergman. “I was an unwanted child in a hellish marriage”, recalls the protagonist in Wild Strawberries (1957), echoing the director’s own feelings. From his first screenplay, Torment (1944), to his last, Saraband (2003), Bergman portrayed adolescent rebellion and often futile attempts at reconciliation. In his autobiography The Magic Lantern, he asks his mother: “Were we given masks instead of faces?” She kept young Ingmar at a distance (“I used to try to find ways to win her love”) and he was prohibited from addressing his parents with the intimate du. In Persona (the title derives from the Latin for ‘mask’), an isolated child reaches out to a fading image of his mother.

    Bergman’s relationship with his disciplinarian father, a Lutheran pastor, was overtly hostile. In his surrealist horror film Hour of the Wolf (1968), an unsleeping anxious artist recounts those physical and psychological punishments that he received as a child. Grown men in Bergman’s films are frequently emotionally stunted, hindered by pride and the fear of humiliation – traits they pass on to their sons. In Winter Light (1963), it is suggested that the greatest torment of Christ was the pain of abandonment by his father: “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

    Through a Glass Darkly, like Face to Face (1976), is a reference to Corinthians 13, a paean to love. Yet for Bergman the Church’s model of Christianity is not one of compassion but of obscure superstition, tortured confession and obedience to a vengeful God. Nor are clerics the keepers of their flock, to whom they appear judgmental and lacking in sympathy. In Cries & Whispers, the pastor visits the deathbed of Agnes but offers little consolation to her sisters, instead decrying “this dark and dirty earth, beneath an empty and cruel sky”…

    In this context, it is worth reconsidering Bergman’s most iconic work, The Seventh Seal (1957), which takes its title from the Book of Revelation 8:1, an allusion to the silence of God. The film’s protagonist is a disillusioned knight who has returned from a decade fighting in the Crusades, only to find the personification of Death accompanying him on his final journey. The famous confession scene is cited as an example of the burden of disbelief, but the knight is most troubled by his own alienation: “My heart is empty. The emptiness is a mirror turned toward my own face. My indifference for my fellow men isolates me from them”. When the knight speaks of his “unpleasant companion”, it is not Death but “myself”; he experiences respite only in the company of loving strangers. The knight seeks knowledge, yet even the Grim Reaper cannot help him (“I am unknowing”). Instead, he finds redemption through “one meaningful deed”, an act of selflessness that gives his own life purpose…

    Conversely, Bergman treats the silence of God as a symptom of a closed heart rather than a closed mind. In Through a Glass Darkly, Karin’s suicidal father has a liberating epiphany: “I don’t know if love is proof of God’s existence, or if love is God himself… Suddenly the emptiness turns into abundance, and despair into life. It’s like a reprieve from a death sentence”…

    Bergman associates a lack of love with a loss of meaning. When we are loveless, the world appears to us as dull and deformed; when our love is unrequited, it mutates into spite and contempt. For Bergman, love is a form of protective care, a balm that soothes and sustains. Love involves a partial abandonment of the self: the greatest privilege is “to be allowed to live for someone else”, in the words of Tomas’ longsuffering parishioner…

    Bergman had an abiding fascination with mirrors, fixating on the female human face (“no-one draws so close to it as Bergman does”, noted the New Wave director François Truffaut). Bergman explored how our image of ourselves is refracted through the perception of others, distorting our sense of self. “If anyone loves me as I am, I may dare at last to look at myself”, says Eva in Autumn Sonata (1978)…

    Despite his immersion in contemporary philosophy, Bergman was sceptical of the embrace of ‘free love’ – even if his films were among the first to feature a nudist scene (Woody Allen recalls the excitement that greeted Summer with Monika, 1953). For Bergman, sex without love is meaningless: in The Silence (1963), lust and loneliness are inextricably linked…

    Bergman was even less trusting of marriage – he was divorced on four occasions. Among his 170 theatrical productions, Bergman frequently directed the work of Strindberg, and he shared his compatriot’s discomfort: Strindberg noted that ‘marriage’ in Swedish means both ‘gift’ and ‘poison’. In the harrowing Scenes from a Marriage (1973), Bergman suggests that the institution stifles and suffocates love. Liv Ullmann, the most brilliant of Bergman’s reparatory cast, attributed their end of their romantic relationship to his need for “the mother” – the unconditional affection he lacked as a child.

    For Bergman, the cardinal sins of humanism are “selfishness, coldness, indifference” (Cries and Whispers), each resulting from a deficit of love. But there is nothing facile to his creed: love demands forbearance, forgiveness, and a sacrificing of the ego. Bergman’s bleakest films, such as The Passion of Anna (1969), catalogue the consequences of insufficiently committing to love…

    Bergman once remarked that death is “a very, very wise arrangement” – it offers a bookend to our lives, which we can infuse with meaning through love. There is suffering in the world, and we must try to comprehend it, even in its senselessness, but above all we must seek to mitigate it with mercy and generosity. Bergman would like us to remember Agnes’s diary entry: “I have received the best gift anyone could have in this life. The gift has many names: affinity, fellowship, human contact, affection. I believe this is what is called grace”.

    tags: IngmarBergman obituary film art irony love compassion empathy kindness humanity marriage relationship death

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  • The chunk of global wealth illegally stashed in tax havens is a big feature of the modern economy….The economist Gabriel Zucman came up with an ingenious way to estimate the wealth hidden in the offshore banking system.In theory, if you add up the assets and liabilities reported by every global financial centre, the books should balance – but they don’t. Each individual centre tends to report more liabilities than assets.Zucman crunched the numbers and found that, globally, total liabilities were 8% higher than total assets. That suggests at least 8% of the world’s wealth is illegally unreported. Other methods have come up with even higher estimates…Zucman’s solution is transparency: creating a global register of who owns what, to end banking secrecy and anonymity-preserving shell corporations and trusts.That might well help with tax evasion. But tax avoidance is a subtler and more complex problem.To see why, imagine I own a bakery in Belgium, a dairy in Denmark, and a sandwich shop in Slovenia.I sell a cheese sandwich, making 1 euro of profit. How much of that profit should be taxed in Slovenia, where I sold the sandwich, or Denmark, where I made the cheese, or Belgium, where I baked the bread? There’s no obvious answer.

    tags: taxavoidance taxevasion estimation TimHarford transparency wealth inequality GabrielZucman ThomasPiketty

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  • >>>

    In other circumstances, the Labour party’s inconsistencies over Europe would not matter. Jeremy Corbyn’s party is in opposition against a government with a slender working majority. But Brexit is the generation-defining schism that cuts through Theresa May’s Conservatives and has divided the country. Labour’s European policy therefore deserves scrutiny — and the sharper the light, the more troubling the conclusion.

    In June’s general election, Mr Corbyn’s manifesto was an exercise in ambiguity. It promised a withdrawal from the EU that would “prioritise jobs and living standards, build a close new relationship with the EU, protect workers’ rights and environmental standards”. In an effort to appeal to metropolitan and provincial voters, Labour avoided an explicit commitment to keeping the UK in the single market or customs union. Many pro-EU voters might have assumed, wrongly, that the party favoured a softer approach than the Tories.

    That ambiguity has been consigned to the dustbin of history. In an interview last weekend, Mr Corbyn declared that Britain would leave the single marketunder a Labour government. It has also adopted the same hard line on the customs union: Barry Gardiner, the party’s international trade spokesperson, has confirmed it would exit that too. On the fundamental question of what Brexit means in practice, there is next to no difference between the approach of Mr Corbyn and Mrs May…

    With moderate Tory voices hunting for allies to buttress the case for a softer Brexit, a responsible Labour position could have a profound influence on negotiations. Those who realise this should speak up and not follow Mr Corbyn down a deeply wrong-headed path.

    tags: Brexit LabourParty JeremyCorbyn

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