I had never heard of this controversial 70s dystopian novel before I read Hadrian's review the other day. The premise, which has upset liberal comment...moreI had never heard of this controversial 70s dystopian novel before I read Hadrian's review the other day. The premise, which has upset liberal commentators ever since publication, is apparently that a tide of refugees from the Third World arrive in Europe, who unwisely agrees to accept them, despite the fact that their resources are insufficient and it is not in their best interests. This duly ends up destroying European civilization. The book has been generally labelled as racist, and, as a person with left-leaning sensibilities, my first reaction was indeed outrage. But, by one of those odd twists of fate, a story broke the very same day which has unexpected resonances with Raspail's offensive fable.
For people who don't play chess, a word or two of introduction. In the chess world, the central competition is the complicated series of elimination tournaments which culminate in the selection of a challenger for the World Championship. This is very serious, and there is substantial money at stake: the prize for winning the final match can be as high as three million dollars, depending on the state of the world economy and the availability of suitable sponsors. But, in parallel, there is the charming tradition of the Chess Olympiad, a world team event held every other year. Like the mainstream Olympic Games, this is an affirmation of community. Chessplayers from all over the world, from the most distinguished to the least significant, get together for two weeks and demonstrate their belief in the motto of the FIDE, the World Chess Federation: gens una sumus, we are all one kind. However, when I say "from all over the world", I should add a caveat. Once you arrive the Olympic venue, you are given free board and lodging; but the travel costs for getting there and back have to be shouldered by the team in question. In practice, this has meant that many of the very poorest countries, which in most cases weren't actually that interested in chess, didn't send teams. FIDE has 180 member organizations, but only about 130-140 would normally take part.
Fast forward to 2014. This year's Olympiad is being hosted by Norway, an extremely rich and enlightened country which moreover is the home of the new World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen. The Norwegians, who had secured 75M kronor in funding (about $12M), announced that they had set aside five million of those kronor as a travel fund. I do not know the details, but the intention was that teams who would not easily be able to pay would have the option of applying to have their flight tickets subsidized by the Norwegians. Unsurprisingly, the result was that entries shot up; apparently 181 teams have registered. This isn't actually more teams than there are members in FIDE, since the home country is fielding four teams, but almost every country has clearly decided to enter.
Last week, the Norwegian organizers made a humiliating admission. They have a massive shortfall in their budget, amounting to 15 million kronor ($2.5M). Somehow, they say they were expecting the usual 130-140 teams, and their resources don't stretch to cover the greatly expanded event. They have applied to their government for extra funding, but have been publicly turned down. The government minister in question seems rather annoyed about it, and says they needed to plan realistically based on the resources they were given. Attempts to find private sponsors have so far failed. At the moment, it is unclear whether the Chess Olympiad will go ahead. Obviously, everyone hopes that money will somehow be found to plug the gap, but right now it's not obvious where it will come from. The similarities with Raspail's story are painfully clear.
If you happen to know a chessplaying billionaire who wants to help out, please ask him to get in touch with the Norwegian organizers immediately. It would be so nice to prove that this unpleasant French racist was wrong. __________________________________
The saga continues. It's now become a political issue: the Norwegian leftist party is putting pressure on the center-right government to change their budget decision, and chessplayers from Sosialistisk Ungdom are setting up chess boards on the street to get money and publicity. Check out the rather sexist video here featuring a geeky male chessplayer and a cute girl acting as his barker. __________________________________
My Norwegian chess friend Stian sent me a link last night to this article. To summarize: the Norwegian government have given in and allocated another 12M kronor to the Chess Olympiad's budget, so the event will go ahead as planned.
I hope everyone agrees that Raspail's disgraceful racist arguments have now been comprehensively refuted. (less)
The author of this book is a serial liar and fantasist, who made a great deal of money out of her fabrications but is having her butt sued off in cour...moreThe author of this book is a serial liar and fantasist, who made a great deal of money out of her fabrications but is having her butt sued off in court. For recent details, check e.g. this page.(less)
Against my better judgement, I read the first volume in this series. (Look, I was about 17 at the time). The blurb for the second one, whose existence...moreAgainst my better judgement, I read the first volume in this series. (Look, I was about 17 at the time). The blurb for the second one, whose existence I've just discovered, renders me literally speechless:
Allan Carpenter escaped from hell once but remained haunted by what he saw and endured. He has now returned, on a mission to liberate those souls unfairly tortured and confined.
Partnering with the legendary poet and suicide, Sylvia Plath, Carpenter is a modern-day Christ who intends to harrow hell and free the damned. But now that he's returned to this Dantesque Inferno, can he ever again leave?
Until a few hours ago, I had never even heard of this book, which is apparently about a brain-damaged man who acts in an inappropriate and offensive w...moreUntil a few hours ago, I had never even heard of this book, which is apparently about a brain-damaged man who acts in an inappropriate and offensive way. But now I learn that it has achieved some minor notoriety because rumors are circulating that the author offered free copies to people who posted five-star reviews.
May I just point out, in as neutral and constructive a manner as possible, that I would almost certainly never have become aware of these rumors if Goodreads management had not threatened to close down the accounts of some people who have repeated them, thus making the story ten times as interesting. Guys, honestly: is this really the best way to deal with the problem? (less)