Having won more votes than any presidential candidate in American history, Joe Biden might have hoped for a triumphant entry into Washington. Instead, he travelled to the inauguration in a private plane to deliver his speech to more members of the National Guard than guests. A combination of the pandemic and security fears ruined normal proceedings: the event had become a target, crowds too great a risk.
The emptiness embodies the problem Biden needs to overcome: not just the spats between left- and right-wing politicians, but the unravelling of trust in American politics.
‘Folks, I can tell you, I’ve known eight presidents, three of them intimately.’ So said then vice-president Joe Biden in 2012. A month earlier, he had assured a crowd in New York that President Barack Obama could, in Teddy Roosevelt’s famous words, ‘speak softly but carry a big stick’ when it came to international relations. ‘I promise you,’ he said. ‘The president has a big stick.’ The crowd started laughing at the double-entendre.
My introduction to an Irish-American sense of history was not in Boston or New York but in the American Midwest. I was visiting the eccentric House on the Rock in rural Wisconsin. The receptionist told me proudly that she was Irish. ‘My people were driven out during the Famine by Cromwell… and Strongbow.’ I admired her compositional virtuosity in bringing together the 12th-century Cambro-Norman warlord Strongbow, the mid-17th-century hammer of the Gaels (and the Scots) Oliver Cromwell, and the Irish landlord clearances of the 1840s — all in one short sentence.
January is when the difference between the rich and the poor becomes most evident. Whereas many people face a month plagued by the three Ds — debt, divorce and doldrums — the famous tend to take off for more clement climes. Simon Cowell famously frolics at the Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados at the start of each new year, and I myself have spent many January days at the Ritz-Carlton — but only the one in Tenerife, because I believe in keeping it real.
Coca-Cola’s most controversial bottling plant is a huge factory located in an industrial zone just outside the city of Urumqi in western China. Logistically, the factory is well situated: the international airport is a short drive away, as is the high-speed train station close to the fashionable Wyndham hotel. But the problem for Coca-Cola — and other western companies such as Volkswagen and BASF, which operate plants in the same region — is the existence of hundreds of facilities not mentioned on any official map.
In the leafy seclusion of the Lambeth Palace grounds, Archbishop Justin Welby goes for his daily jog. He used to run along the Thames and over the bridges until Canon David Porter, his Chief of Staff, put a stop to it. David Porter grew up in Belfast in the 1960s and he knows how easy a target a lone high-profile jogger can be.
As well as being Welby’s physical protector, Canon Porter has taken on the role of his bureaucratic gatekeeper.
‘Arrest me? Why would anyone arrest me?’ said Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny to reporters last week as he boarded a Moscow-bound plane. Four hours later he was in jail — but not before spending an hour circling above the Russian capital as riot police shut down the airport where 2,000 supporters awaited him and diverted his plane to another.
Did Navalny truly believe he would not be arrested? Did anyone? A week before his planned return from Berlin, where he had been recovering from being poisoned by Russia’s security services, Navalny posted a video on social media in which he openly taunted Vladimir Putin.
James Bond is not what he used to be. His motivations were once so simple: MI6 had told him to do it. Of late, though, he has been propelled about the screen by his inner demons, shooting people he’s not supposed to shoot, revisiting his childhood, collecting traumas, developing a mother-complex with Judi Dench. What makes Bond, Bond? Once, it didn’t matter, now it does. The next film, Bond girl Léa Seydoux has said, will be ‘even more psychological’.
The Wimborne Militia of Dorset prides itself on being the only formally commissioned ‘private army’ in England. We’re well known locally but less well known in California, which is perhaps why Facebook banned our homepage a few weeks ago, thinking we were a right-wing Trumpian ‘militia’. Its algorithm seems not to recognise historical re-enactment societies, which is a shame. They are an important part of British cultural life.