Champions of absurdity

Jumping the shark isn’t yet an Olympic sport, but if it were the International Olympic Committee would be a shoo-in for gold. And silver and bronze too. Amid some low-key hoopla last week, the IOC awarded the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing. Yes, that’s the same Beijing that staged the 2008 Olympics and in a couple of weeks will put on the World Athletics Championships. The 2022 bidding boiled down to a two-horse race between Almaty, Kazakhstan, which at least has some snow; and Beijing, which doesn’t. The previous front-runner, Oslo, withdrew its bid last autumn after all the main political parties rejected the funding plans for the Games. It

How Putin turned Russian politics into reality TV

‘We all know there will be no real politics.’ A prominent Russian TV presenter is speaking off the record at a production meeting in 2001. ‘But we still have to give our viewers the sense that something is happening. They need to be kept entertained. Politics has got to feel … like a movie!’ When Peter Pomerantsev, a Brit of Russian descent, sat in on this meeting he had recently graduated and moved to Moscow to work as a TV producer. A decade in Russian television has now provided him with the material for his chilling first book. Nothing is True… is more than an evocative travelogue or an insight

Here’s my rule: If the word ‘he’ will offend, then always use it

Isn’t it about time the English language got itself a gender-neutral pronoun? This was the clarion call from the Guardian last week — and when that particular clarion sounds, we must all stand to attention and cut out the sniggering. I assume the writer of the piece was moved to action having seen photographs of members of Isis pushing gay people from the tops of large buildings — and was deeply worried that each of the victims, tumbling to their deaths, might have been unhappy about being referred to as ‘he’ by wilfully unprogressive western journalists. (Incidentally, with regard to these new acts of Islamist savagery, have you heard any complaints from

Russia is not a credible superpower in the 21st century

The West has really got to get its act together in its dealings with Russia. It is simply not credible for us to pretend that we are confronting a threat on the scale posed by the USSR throughout the cold war. Of course, President Putin is dangerous – any charismatic, nationalist strongman with expansionist ambitions and a nuclear arsenal is worth worrying about. But Russia is also Europe’s largest failing state, a country riven by corruption that permeates every aspect of its civil and public life. Its oligarchs have not built their fortunes through honest endeavour. They have plundered their nation’s natural resources aided and abetted by a governing class

Ivan Vasiliev and Roberto Bolle: interview with ballet royalty

In 1845, the theatre impresario Benjamin Lumley made history by inviting the four greatest ballerinas of the day to appeartogether on the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. It is fitting, therefore, that next week, 169 years later, Sergei Danilian’s internationally acclaimed project Kings of the Dance should reach the London Coliseum. After all, the project, which had its world première in 2006, is a modern adaptation of an old idea, even though it is an all-male event this time round, and more than just an exploitation of trite balletomania, which is probably what Lumley went for. Echoes of the old balletomania can be found in the title itself,

The week that tripled the size of my liver

 Gstaad Walking into a dinner party for 50 chic and some not-so-chic people in a nearby village last week, I was confronted by a tall man with horn-rimmed glasses who called me his neighbour, but then added, ‘No, you’re not my neighbour what’s your name?’ No cunning linguist I, nor used to being barked at by nouveaux-riches whippersnappers, I turned my back on him and told him to ‘look it up in the Almanach de Gotha, asshole!’ He wasn’t best pleased, especially as I also called him a dickhead. Now please don’t think for a moment that I approve of my bad manners. But nor do I accept some haemorrhoid

Vladimir Putin’s new plan for world domination

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Anne Applebaum and Matthew Parris discuss how far we should let Putin go”] Listen [/audioplayer]It’s been a generation or so since Russians were in the business of shaping the destiny of the world, and most of us have forgotten how good they used to be at it. For much of the last century Moscow fuelled — and often won — the West’s ideological and culture wars. In the 1930s, brilliant operatives like Willi Muenzenberg convinced ‘useful idiots’ to join anti-fascist organisations that were in reality fronts for the Soviet-backed Communist International. Even in the twilight years of the Soviet Union the KGB was highly successful at orchestrating nuclear

Podcast: Julie Burchill vs. Paris Lees, Putin’s plan to rule the world and Cameron’s love for Angela Merkel

What is intersectionality and why is it ruining feminism? On this week’s View from 22 podcast, Julie Burchill and Paris Lees debate the current state of feminism and whether intersectionality has been damaging to the left. How are the feminists of today different from those in the past? What does the treatment of Julie Bindel show about feminism infighting? And is there any chance of returning to a more traditional strand of socialism? Mary Wakefield and Freddy Gray also discuss Vladimir Putin’s new plan for world domination. What do the Sochi Winter Olympics tell us about Russia’s hard and soft power in the world today? Why are social conservatives looking

Martin Vander Weyer

Any other business: The friends of Putin taking home gold from the Sochi Olympics

Imagine if the BBC’s excitable commentators had been asked to cover the building of Sochi’s facilities, rather than the Winter Olympics themselves. ‘Yeesss!!’ Ed Leigh might have yelled, ‘That’s the 21st construction contract for the big lad from St Petersburg, Arkady Rotenberg. Seven point four billion dollars’ worth, a new Olympic record — more than the entire cost of the 2010 Vancouver Games! How cool is that for the 62-year-old who was Vladimir Putin’s boyhood judo partner? Up next, the $9.4 billion rail-and-highway link between Olympic sites: keep your eye on Russian Railways president Vladimir Yakunin, who used to be the President’s dacha neighbour…’ And so on through a roll

Roger Alton

In defence of the BBC’s Sochi commentators

You can trust the BBC to behave like a leaf blown by any breeze, but even that spineless leviathan (if such a beast could exist) might have tried to grow a pair and stick up for its admirably manic commentators at the Sochi Winter Olympics. It was Ed Leigh, Aimee Fuller and Tim Warwood on the opening weekend’s snowboarding contest that really got people going. There were a few hundred complaints, and one or two media observers who really should have known better got very snooty. Frankly anybody who can get worked up about some slightly over-the-top commentary on a sport no one has ever seen before should really get

Is the curling still on…?

The Winter Olympics have been going on for over a week now, and we’ve been treated to a good ten hours of winter sports per day by the BBC. But they have a very odd way of choosing what we’re allowed to watch; mainly, it seems, curling and skating. Brits have every reason to be proud of their curling teams, and of course they want to follow their progress. But why are there no other choices on offer? When Wimbledon’s on, we often have eight different courts to choose from via the ‘red button’, and for London 2012 the situation was the same. Hurrah, sports galore! No such luck in

Portrait of the week: as the waters continue to rise

Home Floods grew worse in the West Country. The village of Moorland, Somerset, was abandoned. Then the Thames flooded, from above Oxford to Teddington. Eventually, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, declared from Downing Street: ‘Money is no object in this relief effort.’ Some 1,600 troops were deployed. By midweek 1,000 houses had been evacuated. A storm had broken the rail line from Cornwall at Dawlish, which would take months to mend, as would the broken line from Barmouth to Criccieth. Landslides closed lines between Tonbridge and Hastings, between Machynlleth and Welshpool, and from Portsmouth via Eastleigh. Villagers at Wraysbury, Berkshire, complained of looting of abandoned houses. Eric Pickles, the Communities

Lloyd Evans

Putin: ‘Oi, Europe, you’re a bunch of poofs’

Sochi 2014 is the least wintry Winter Olympics ever. Yes, there’s a bit of downhill shimmying going on in the slalom. And a few figure skaters are pirouetting around the rink. Midair daredevils, with their feet lashed to planks of bendy plastic, are performing spectacular twirls and somersaults and crashes. And there are speed freaks on tea trays racing down ice-packed gulleys in tribute to the Hadron Collider. But the real action is off-piste and off-chute. It’s a political grudge match. Two implacable foes are angrily denouncing each other as shameful and perverted barbarians. The Hope Theatre’s verbatim drama, Sochi 2014, taps into this febrile mood with a documentary history

Why doesn’t Stephen Fry boycott the Saudis as well as the Russians? 

Call me sentimental, but I’ve never seen a better opening ceremony than the Sochi one, evoking Russia’s great past in literature and in many other things. The ballet sequence was tops, especially the acrobatics by the black-clad dancer portraying the cruel officer in War and Peace who seduced Natasha. All those hysterics about boycotts and terrorism, they were just hypocritical sensationalism by those PC jerks that seem to be running our lives nowadays. We westerners are averse to any discipline, impervious to duty, and disinclined to belong to a nation. We owe allegiance only to ourselves and love only ourselves. Not so over in Russia, where there’s a mystic connection

The Olympian smugness of the anti-Sochi gay protests

Now look, as Tony Blair would say, homophobia is bad. Very bad. But does that mean we have to turn the Sochi Winter Olympics into a sort of global gay pride event, simply because Russia has passed a not very pleasant law against teaching children about homosexuality? Apparently it does. Every right-thinking hack on earth, it seems, has expressed their disgust at Putin’s bigotry. Politicians are also desperate to let on, though they can’t say so publicly, that they really don’t approve of Russia. And Progressive media companies are using the opening of the Games today to show off their moral superiority to those backward Russians. Google has turned its logo into a rainbow. The

Barometer: When Britain was good at the Winter Olympics

Our first winter Hopes will not be high for a big haul of British medals in Sochi, but we have not always been Cinderellas at winter sports. In the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix in 1924 Britain sent 44 competitors, more than any other country, and ended up sixth in the medals, above the host nation, France. — There were bronze medals for the men’s ice hockey team and the less-than-elegantly named Ethel Muckelt. The men’s four/five-man bobsleigh won a silver. The men’s curling team won gold — although the medals were not presented until 2006 after a campaign by Scottish newspapers. — One of the curling team, Major D.G.

Sochi Olympics: Why picking on gays has backfired so horribly for Vladimir Putin

After all the fuss, the billions spent, the calls for boycotts and so on, the Sochi Winter Olympics will begin next week. Given the incredibly low expectations, the Russian Games may even be judged a success — as long as the weather stays cold and no terrorist attack takes place. But Vladimir Putin should not be too smug, because his broader campaign against homosexuality has backfired spectacularly. The Russian President’s decision to sign a law prohibiting ‘the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors’ last summer probably made sense to him at the time. This measure, along with one that bans the adoption of Russian children not just by homosexuals

Five reasons to be cheerful about British sport (yes, even the cricket)

James Cook’s third voyage as an English captain ended in disaster, stabbed to death and disembowelled by a pack of angry Hawaiians in 1779. The latest Captain Cook’s third tour since taking charge of the national cricket team has been just as successful, with Alastair’s England given the Hawaiian treatment by Australia. But don’t despair: for the British sports fan there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Try these: 1. Our women cricketers are thumping the Aussies, and it’s the women’s Ashes that matters, right? Just remind any passing Australian of that, and last summer’s Lions tour too, if you’ve got the time. Thanks to seven wickets from Anya

Taki: Stephen Fry and the gay lobby should cool it over the Winter Olympics

Gstaad I’ve met Stephen Fry twice in my life, both times long ago. The first time at a dinner given by the then editor of The Spectator, Dominic Lawson, in London, and the second time in a restaurant in New York with the writers Jay McInerney and Brett Easton Ellis. The first time I was completely out of it, the second he was, hence we didn’t exactly connect. Fry has been in the news lately for demanding a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. His beef is Russian anti-gay legislation. Now there’s a hell of a lot of things that are wrong with Russia — first and