the black camel: hamilton macfadden, 1931.
"kamikaze" - it is a word that has become synonymous with all that is crazy, fanatical and self-destructive. i remember as a young schoolboy in Britain learning about the kamikaze pilots. to me, what they had done was inexplicable. for long afterwards, it coloured my view of Japan, and it left me with a nagging question: how did it happen? what caused thousands of ordinary young Japanese men to volunteer to kill themselves?
i had long dreamed of asking a kamikaze pilot that question. and so it was that last week I found myself ringing the bell of a comfortable-looking house outside the city of Nagoya in central Japan. moments later, striding out to meet me came a small, energetic and very neatly dressed old man, a wide smile on his face.
it was America’s most notorious prison.
perched on a rocky outcrop in the middle of San Francisco Bay, from the 1930s to the 1960s the Alcatraz federal penitentiary was reserved for the “worst of the worst”.
a who’s who of the criminal underworld were incarcerated there: george “machine gun” kelly, mickey cohen and al capone all spent time locked up in the tiny cells.
today, the “escape-proof” jail is a much more accessible place: more than a million tourists visit each year.
but scientists say there’s much more to “the rock” than crime and punishment, and they have come to Alcatraz to investigate the hidden history that lies beneath the prison walls.
a team from Texas a&m university has gathered in the prison’s recreation yard, where inmates would have spent as little as an hour a week away from the confines of the main block.
the 10 most criminal artists ever: from murdering goldsmiths to patricide, sex with teenage girls and receiving stolen goods, the history of art is littered with crimes and misdemeanours.
no. 6: the carmelite friar and renaissance genius filippo lippi seduced a young nun called lucrezia buti. they had a son and daughter. was 15th-century Florence scandalised by this outrageous defiance of ecclesiastical law? not really. lippi was a favourite artist of cosimo de’ medici, the most powerful man in the city, and as a result he was never prosecuted for his crime. his illegitimate son filippino grew up to become a great artist in his own right.
beverly mcguire saw the warning signs before the town well went dry: sand in the toilet bowl, the sputter of air in the tap, a pump working overtime to no effect. but it still did not prepare her for the night last month when she turned on the tap and discovered the tiny town where she had made her home for 35 years was out of water.
"the day that we ran out of water i turned on my faucet and nothing was there and at that moment i knew the whole of Barnhart was down the tubes," she said, blinking back tears. "i went: ‘dear God help us. that was the first thought that came to mind."
across the south-west, residents of small communities like Barnhart are confronting the reality that something as basic as running water, as unthinking as turning on a tap, can no longer be taken for granted.
three years of drought, decades of overuse and now the oil industry’s outsize demands on water for fracking are running down reservoirs and underground aquifers and climate change is making things worse.
parents, we are good at many things. but these days, we aren’t so good at selling our job.
we begin with the best of intentions, building shrines to our unborn children, impeccable nurseries frosted with designer furniture and pastels. before our children are a year old we’ve documented each smile and burp and broadcast it to the world.
we are hell-bent on raising specimens of genius and talent. the moment they utter that first miraculous word, we schedule the upcoming 20 years of their existence with music, art lessons, sports, and tutoring. we load their lives like a gym bag, filled to the brim with cleats and ballet slippers. but outstanding kids come at a high price. we’ve branded parenting in all the wrong ways. is it any wonder that an increasing number of couples are opting out of having children?
first, there’s the supposed sticker-shock of raising kids. according to a recent time magazine cover story, “the childfree life”, the cost of raising a child born in 2011 to the age of 18 is $234,900. even on a double income, that figure is staggering. it seems there is only one way to raise a child, and it is down a road paved with gold.
is the pope catholic? forgive the posing of a question that is usually rhetorical, the absolute benchmark of certainty, and traditionally regarded as even more settled than the one pertaining to the lavatorial arrangements of bears.
but the most alien element of doubt has been introduced to the inquiry following the pontiff’s interview with a jesuit magazine, in which he criticises his church’s “obsession” with gay people, contraception and abortion, and declares that the catholic hierarchy must dispense with power-playing. “we have to find a new balance,” said francis, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards … the people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.” the immediate thought is that you wouldn’t want to be his life insurer at the moment. but we shall come to the form book on modern reforming popes later.
so incendiary were the interview’s contents evidently deemed that it was practically smuggled out of the Vatican, with so few senior officials reportedly aware of its tenor that the consensus is that it has sent “shock waves” around the catholic world. its impact more than doubles down on the seismic jolt effected by the pope when he wandered back to the press seats on his plane out of Brazil a couple of months ago and addressed the issue of gay people with the words: “who am I to judge?" that can no longer be dismissed as the sort of lunatic thing one might say having consumed an ambien and several miniatures at 38,000ft – although one has to wonder if those hailing this latest interview as just what the church ordered have partaken of something similar down here on Earth.