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Image by Couleur from Pixabay

In Emily St John Mandel’s ‘The Glass Hotel’, a young female protagonist, Vincent Smith, imagines multiple counterfactual histories, including one in which the swine flu “hadn’t been swiftly contained.” The omniscient narrator then notes: “She [Vincent] could only play this game for so long before she was overcome by a kind of vertigo and had to make herself stop.”

This is the clearest indication yet that Ms Mandel is still writing in the fictional universe of her 2014 career-defining blockbuster ‘Station Eleven’. …

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Photo by Pau Casals on Unsplash

The weekend of the November 3 US election brought the world a new and pleasurable experience, despite the pandemic: the sound of silence from the Trump White House.

Donald Trump, decisively defeated by Joe Biden (who swung Georgia and reclaimed the mid-West and Pennsylvania), was out of sight — of the nation and the world.

He was also blissfully quiet. Oh, he continued to tweet away maniacally as always, but hardly anyone was reporting deeply and obsessively on what he said.

Instead of the media frenzy of the past five years over every opinion expressed by Mr Trump, news outlets simply concentrated on the facts of what he said. The facts were clear and they were reduced to a bald, brief, generic statement: “Mr Trump continues to make unsubstantiated claims that he won.” …

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he First Thanksgiving, 1621, Plymouth Colony, MA. The Pilgrims didn’t call it Thanksgiving

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn” read the handout in my short fiction creative writing MA class at the University of East Anglia.

It’s a famous six-word story, often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, though it’s not entirely clear he wrote it.

Whoever did was a master of flash fiction. There are many worlds in that one short sentence. It suggests many emotions, events and experiences.

Who placed that advert? A heartbroken nearly-mother? An impecunious almost-father? What pain lies in the two words “never worn”?

The six-word story can truly be a magnificent thing.

David Leonhardt of the New York Times recently asked readers to send in their six-word take for Thanksgiving. Write about what you’re grateful for, he suggested, building on magazine editor Larry Smith’s bestselling six-word memoir series.

This Thanksgiving, I’m busy thinking of my six thankful words. Try it.

Originally published at on November 26, 2020.

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Donald Trump with first lady Melania Trump as he pardons the National Thanksgiving Turkey named “Corn”, at the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, US, November 24. Reuters

Despite these testing times, American Thanksgiving (November 26) may be a useful moment to take stock. What should we, as a planet, give thanks for in a year that threw up the depressing new word “doomscrolling”?

It is true that 2020 has felt like a particularly bad year. It was roiled by two spreading crises, a global pandemic and growing turbulence as a result of deepening discontent with the way things are, in terms of social and economic inequality and environmental destabilisation wrought by climate change.

But there are some reasons to feel grateful. …

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Photo by gryffyn m on Unsplash

On Monday night, 20 days after US election day, Donald Trump finally acknowledged the limits of sloganeering. He finally admitted that inconvenient facts can’t be wished away as so much “ fake news “.

He tweeted that he was okay with the General Services Administration beginning its grudging move towards the presidential transition to Joe Biden. For, on Monday night, Emily Murphy, a Trump appointee who runs the agency in charge of presidential transitions, formally designated Mr Biden as the election’s “apparent” winner.

Talk about bad humour.

But there was more. From the White House and its troll-in-chief.

In his usual ill-tempered, ungracious and downright faux-authoritarian way, Mr Trump also said he would continue his legal efforts to overturn the election result. …

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s public truculence about dealing with a new US president who is not Donald Trump raises a pertinent question: What did Mr Trump ever do for Brazil?

Peter Hakim has an excellent blog on US-Brazil relations, which underlines the showy nature of the relationship between Mr Trump and Mr Bolsonaro and the pitiful gains it has produced for their countries.

In essence, both portray themselves as macho.

Both are prone to strongmen words and gestures.

Both spew a hateful nationalist rhetoric.

Both distrust multilateral institutions, are sceptical about climate change, globalization and the need to pro-actively deal with the coronavirus pandemic. …

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A common vampire bat. Photo by Acatenazzi at English Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 3.0

A new study has found that for vampire bats, social distancing while sick comes naturally. (That should say something to all those people out there who feel it’s an assault on their freedoms to have to socially distance!)

Anyway, the research by Ohio State University shows that “when vampire bats feel sick, they socially distance themselves from groupmates in their roost — no public health guidance required.”

The researchers gave 16 bats in the wild in Belize a substance that made them feel unwell for several hours and gave a control group of 15 bats a placebo.

Special tracking devices were glued to the animals’ backs so that the scientists could track their movements for three days after they returned to their roost. …

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Photo by Krsto Jevtic on Unsplash

It’s not just paper and all those dead trees. Your online life is also bad for the planet.

Especially pointless emails or ones in which the point is purely to be pleasant, courteous, social, even.

In an astonishing revelation, the Financial Times has covered the idea that it’s better to limit brief, pointless email exchanges.

Apparently the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a London-based agency charged with making Britain’s online life secure, recently raised the issue of unnecessary emails in a paper.

And research commissioned by OVO Energy, an energy supply company based in Bristol, indicated last November that if each individual in the UK sent just one fewer email a day it could cut carbon output by more than 16,000 tonnes a year. …

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Marina Wheeler, barrister, former wife of Britain’s prime minister and the mother of four of Boris Johnson’s children, began a recent opinion piece with a reference to her Sikh mother.

Dip Singh was displaced from Pakistan in 1947, Ms Wheeler noted.

While writing a book about her mother’s forced journey to India, “the fathers of the Indian republic” were increasingly on Ms Wheeler’s mind. So to this article, headlined “The India my mother knew is becoming unrecognisable”.

What would India’s founding fathers make, asked Ms Wheeler, “of the increasing alarm I hear from my Indian lawyer friends”?

What indeed?

Ms Wheeler, a Queen’s Counsel who specialises in public law and human rights, offers a few pointers. …

CEOs say ESG can be a means to “greenwash”

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Photo by Daniel Öberg on Unsplash

In the era of ESG — Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance criteria for investment in a business — I’m struck by the way investors reacted to the prolonged uncertainty about the US presidential election in the days immediately after the Nov. 3 vote.

Within 72 hours of the nail-biter, investors were cheery, buying stocks and sending the S&P 500 futures up nearly 2 per cent on the morning of November 5.

It was particularly interesting to note the take offered by DealBook, the excellent New York Times daily newsletter on business and policy.

Investors, said DealBook, “like the idea of divided government. The prospect of a Democratic president and Republican Senate, and therefore political gridlock, appeals to Wall Street. Investors are betting that higher taxes and regulatory crackdowns on health care and tech companies are unlikely, and that Joe Biden would run a more moderate, predictable administration on other policies”. …


Rashmee Roshan Lall

Journalism by trade & inclination. PhD. Sign up for free email updates on email me at

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