The Tasmanian devil is familiar to many as Bugs Bunny’s noisy, crazed, ineffectual nemesis, but now the real thing is back in the news, having returned to the Australian mainland after being away for … let’s see, September, October … let’s call it 3,000 years. (It’s likely that dingoes had eradicated the fierce marsupials, but because the wild dogs never made it over to Tasmania—an island 150 miles off Australia’s coast—the devils survived there, hence the name. The “Tasmanian” part, that is. The “devil” came from its god-awful screams.) BBC News reports that conservation groups have released 26 Tasmanian devils in a fenced sanctuary north of Sydney. The hope is that the devil—an enthusiastic carnivore with powerful jaws and a brain as tiny as its head is outsize—can re-establish itself and eventually help control the millions of foxes and feral cats that have been decimating Australia’s bird, reptile, and mammal populations. Yikes. The potential for chaotic frenzy sounds worthy of, well, a Looney Tunes short.
First Crimea, now borscht. From the Ukrainian perspective, it’s just another annexation, and this time the gauntlet Russia has thrown down isn’t a glove but a bowl of soup. This particular cultural-appropriation conflict was exacerbated by Moscow earlier in the year via an official government tweet that referred to borscht as “one of Russia’s most famous & beloved #dishes & a symbol of traditional cuisine.” Not so fast, says Ukraine, which argues that it has the strongest claim to borscht’s (beet)roots. In fact, the nation had already taken steps along those lines, and requested Unesco cultural-heritage status for the soup.
On its Facebook page, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine puts it bluntly: “The culture of preparation of borscht will enter the national list of elements of intangible cultural heritage.... This is an important step in the preparation of the borscht culture nomination for the representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity.” (Ukraine’s Unesco bid doesn’t stop with borscht, incidentally: “In addition to this, the National listing will be included: Technology of creating a klembivs’koyi shirt ‘with flower.’ Easter party ‘Drive Volodar’ in the village of Rozkoshivka Teplic’kogo district of Vinnytsia region. Borshchiv folk embroidery. Carpathian bedsheet.”) We’ll have to see how all this plays out. Meanwhile, pass the sour cream.
No one would accuse the writer Anthony Horowitz of not being industrious (Foyle’s War plus an additional 13 television series and 73 books, among them the Alex Rider novels), but he also likes to plan ahead. The name of the murderer in his nearly finished whodunit is in an envelope in his desk, just in case … what? “I have got two chapters to write before I finish my new book,” he told the Cheltenham Literature Festival. “And I am terrified I will die before I actually manage to do it. There will be a car crash or a trip going down stairs or something.” Die? Horowitz started writing at the age of eight and has said that for years he’s written “about 10 hours a day, often seven days a week.” He hasn’t got the time.
How many “likes” would an influencers’ union get? Plenty, apparently. The industry, which analysts expect to be worth $15 billion by 2022, is starting to organize. In the U.K., the Creator Union, “Representing Digital Creators & Influencers,” was co-founded this year by fashion blogger Nicole Ocran and influencer expert Kat Molesworth. And, reported The Guardian, “an industry trade group named the American Influencer Council was launched in the US; while in Germany, Jörg Sprave, a YouTuber with more than 2.6 million subscribers, is fighting to have his [union] recognised by the tech giant. These are employees many people don’t think of as employees, in jobs many still don’t consider jobs.” It’s true: we’re not talking steelworkers or the American Federation of Teachers here. And yet, influencers, regard them however you will, can be victimized by bad contracts, stolen images, unpaid fees, and the like. It’s a jungle out there, even for the fabulously self-regarding.
Ukrainian-born chess grand master Igors Rausis accepted a six-year World Chess Federation ban last year after having admitted to cheating by using a mobile phone during a tournament. Rausis, it was assumed, had retired. And he had, sort of. But even as the chess-world population of Igors Rausises unquestionably declined, there was detected a concurrent uptick in the number of Isa Kasimis—most notably at the Vsevoloda Dudzinska Memorial chess tournament last week in Valka, Latvia. Arturs Neiksans, a grand master and the tournament’s eventual winner, noticed an unranked but somehow familiar-looking player taking part, wearing a mask and carrying a crutch: yes, it was Rausis, now going by Kasimi, with a new passport and driver’s license to prove it. This did not go over well, but because the Valka tournament had not been organized by the World Chess Federation, Rausis was not technically banned from participating. Plus, he claimed, he wasn’t trying to pull a fast one: “I am a well-known figure in Latvian chess,” he told Chess.com. “Everyone could have recognized me already during the first round,” adding that he’d previously played two other tournaments “under my new name.” In this instance, anyway, the Rausis Gambit appears to have worked.
This from the Department of Last Resorts: “The Versailles of the Jungle” still exists, according to The Times of London. The $400 million concrete palace that Zaire’s former dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, built in the middle of nowhere—600 miles from Kinshasa, if that helps to situate it—remains where he left it when he fled the country, in 1997. (He died in exile.) Though the compound once boasted a landing strip that could accommodate the Concorde, getting there now “[involves] a flight from the capital of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a day and a half’s drive through tropical forest.” So, is it worth the trek? No! Once the site of Mobutu’s lavish parties, the palace and grounds are in a state of Ozymandias-like disrepair, with 50 families living on the ground floor, and the jungle steadily encroaching.
Last December at a NATO reception in Buckingham Palace, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was caught on video apparently mocking Donald Trump’s tardiness to an appreciative audience that included Emmanuel Macron. But now it’s the French president whose chronic lateness is being grumbled about. Le Parisien reported that when aides raised the subject with Macron, he replied, “I am never late, because nothing can start without me.” So you’ll just have to cool tes talons, everyone.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL