A Daily news digest by Jasper van Santen

Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

Staying dry in rain depends on body size – Telegraph

In Nonsense on July 24, 2012 at 20:53

Staying dry in rain depends on body size

While the natural response to a downpour may be to find shelter as quickly as possible, scientists have long argued that the situation is far more complicated than it appears.Some have suggested that running or walking made little difference to your overall exposure to raindrops, but others have argued that an optimal speed may exist depending on the direction and strength of the wind.Now an Italian physicist has complicated the problem further by arguing that the answer depends on another, previously unexplored factor: the body shape of the person in question.Writing in the European Journal of Physics, Prof Franco Bocci explained that while running through a shower will get you to shelter quicker, walking may mean less rain falls on your front at any one time.In calm conditions when rain falls directly downwards, or when there is a head wind blowing the rain towards you, Prof Bocci found that the most sensible solution would generally be to seek cover as quickly as possible.

When the rain blows in from behind, the best answer in theory would be to match your pace to the exact speed of the wind, meaning both your front and back would stay largely dry. But in certain weather conditions the optimum strategy for staying dry becomes more complex, depending on factors including raindrop size and even a persons body shape, Prof Bocci added.When the wind comes in from the side, he explained, thinner people are exposed to much less of the rain than larger people with a more rounded figure.In such cases the fatter person should run as fast as they can to escape the rain while a thinner person who presents a smaller target would still be better matching their speed to the wind, he said.Prof Bocci summarised his findings by telling the BBC: “Lets say that in general, the best thing is to run, as fast as you can – not always, but in general.”If youre really thin, its more probable that there will be an optimal speed. Otherwise, its better to run fast.”Prof David Tong, a Cambridge physicist who was not involved in the research, said: “Its surprisingly complicated, actually. The new factor that comes in is when you have some wind, so the rain is coming in and falling at an angle. Now it actually depends on the shape and size of your body as to what you have to decide to do.”Asked about the significance of the paper, he added: “Its not exactly the Higgs boson – I think its just a fun bit of mathematics that a few people have been playing with.”


Wall Street’s link to Libor – Guardian

In News, Really?!? on July 19, 2012 at 13:12

Wall Street’s link to Libor 

Britain is abuzz with the Libor scandal, but so far it’s been a yawn in the United States. That’s because Americans have assumed that the wrongdoing is confined to the other side of the pond. After all, “Libor” is short for “London interbank offered rate”, and the main culprit to date has been London-based Barclays. It’s further assumed that the scandal hasn’t really affected the pocketbooks of average Americans anyway.

Wrong, on both counts. It’s becoming apparent that Barclays’ reach extends far into the US financial sector, as evidenced by its $453m settlement with American as well as British bank regulators, and the US justice department’s active engagement in the case. Even by American standards, the Barclays traders’ emails are eyepopping, offering a particularly a chilling picture of how easily they got their colleagues to rig interest rates in order to make big bucks. (Bob Diamond, the former Barclays CEO, says the emails made him “physically ill” – perhaps because they so patently reveal the corruption.)

Most importantly, Wall Street will almost surely be implicated in the scandal. The biggest Wall Street banks – including the giants JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America – are likely to have been involved in similar manoeuvres. Barclay’s couldn’t have rigged the Libor without their witting involvement. The reason they’d participate in the scheme is the same reason Barclay’s did – to make more money.In fact, Barclays’ defence has been that every major bank was fixing Libor in the same way, and for the same reason. And Barclays is “co-operating” (giving damning evidence about other big banks) with the justice department and other regulators in order to avoid steeper penalties or criminal prosecutions, so fireworks in the US can be expected.

There are really two different Libor scandals, and both are about to hit America’s shores. The first has to do with a period just before the financial crisis, around 2007, when Barclays and, presumably, other major banks submitted fake Libor rates lower than the banks’ actual borrowing costs in order to disguise how much trouble they were in. This was bad enough. Had American regulators known then, they might have taken action earlier to diminish the impact of the near financial meltdown of 2008.

But the other scandal is worse, and is likely to get the blood moving even among Americans who assume they’ve already seen all the damage Wall Street can do. It involves a more general practice – starting around 2005 and continuing until … who knows, it might still be going on – to rig the Libor in whatever way necessary to assure the banks’ bets on derivatives would be profitable. This is insider trading on a gigantic scale. It makes the bankers winners and the rest of us – whose money they’ve used to make their bets – losers and chumps.

Obviously, Libor is not limited to the UK. As the benchmark for trillions of dollars of loans worldwide – mortgage loans, small-business loans, personal loans – it affects the most basic service banks provide: borrowing money and lending it out. People put their savings in a bank to hold in trust, and the bank agrees to pay interest on those. And people borrow money from the bank and agree to pay the bank interest.

The typical saver or borrower on both sides of the Atlantic trusts that the banking system is setting today’s rate based on its best guess about the future worth of the money. And we assume that the banks’ guess is based, in turn, on the cumulative market predictions of countless lenders and borrowers all over the world about the future supply and demand for money.

But if that assumption is wrong – if the bankers are manipulating the interest rate so they can place bets with the money we lend or repay them, bets that will pay off big for them because they have inside information on what the market is really predicting which they’re not sharing with the rest of us – it’s a different story altogether.

It would amount to a rip-off of almost cosmic proportions – trillions of dollars that average people would otherwise have received or saved on their lending and borrowing that have been going to the bankers instead.

It would make the other abuses of trust Americans have witnessed in recent years – predatory lending, fraud, excessively risky derivative trading with commercial deposits, and cozy relationships with credit-rating agencies – look like child’s play by comparison.


US condom crackdown impeding efforts to prevent HIV, study finds | World news | guardian.co.uk

In Nonsense on July 19, 2012 at 12:21


US condom crackdown impeding efforts to prevent HIV, study finds

Police in major cities in the United States are criminalising women who carry a stock of condoms, making sex workers and their clients less likely to use them and increasing their risk of contracting HIV, says Human Rights Watch.

A new report compiles evidence from sex workers in four major cities – Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Interviews with more than 300 people show that those most at risk of HIV, such as sex workers and transgender women, are afraid to carry condoms in case they should be stopped and searched by police.

“Some women told Human Rights Watch that they continued to carry condoms despite the harsh consequences. For others, fear of arrest overwhelmed their need to protect themselves from HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy,” says the report.

One of the interviewees, Carol F, a sex worker in Los Angeles, told HRW she had been arrested partly on the basis of carrying condoms. “After the arrest, I was always scared … There were times when I didn’t have a condom when I needed one, and I used a plastic bag,” she said.

Prostitution is a crime in 49 states of the US. Law enforcement agencies view the possession of multiple condoms as evidence that could help a court prosecution for a breach of the law.

But HRW says they are impeding efforts to prevent the spread of HIV, costing millions of dollars. “Enforcement … must be compatible with international human rights law, and governments should ensure that police policies and practices do not conflict with equally important public health policy imperatives, including those designed to curb the HIV epidemic,” says the report.

The report is published before the International Aids Conference, which begins in Washington DC at the weekend.

Washington, which has an HIV prevalence of over 3%, has taken strong measures to tackle an Aids epidemic as serious as that in some parts of Africa.

The District of Columbia distributed 4 million condoms in 2010 through a programme it calls “The Rubber Revolution”.

But sex workers and transgender women told HRW that they are searched and questioned by police if they are carrying multiple condoms.


US food aid programme criticised as ‘corporate welfare’ for grain giants | Global development | The Guardian

In News, Politics on July 19, 2012 at 07:04

Sacks of American wheat destined for Afghanistan being unloaded in Peshawar, Pakistan.

US food aid programme criticised as ‘corporate welfare’ for grain giants | Global development

• Get the data

Two-thirds of food for the billion-dollar US food aid programme last year was bought from just three US-based multinationals.

The main beneficiaries of the programme, billed as aid to the world’s poorest countries, were the highly profitable and politically powerful companies that dominate the global grain trade: ADM, Cargill and Bunge.

The Guardian has analysed and collated for the first time details of hundreds of food aid contracts awarded by the US department of agriculture (USDA) in 2010-11 to show where the money goes.

ADM, incorporated in the tax haven state of Delaware, won nearly half by volume of all the contracts to supply food for aid and was paid nearly $300m (£190m) by the US government for it. Cargill, in most years the world’s largest private company and still majority owned by the Cargill family, was paid $96m for food aid and was the second-largest supplier, with 16% of the contracted volume. Bunge, the US-headquartered global grain trader incorporated in the tax haven of Bermuda, comes third in the list by volume, and was paid $75m to supply food aid.

Together, these three agribusinesses sold the US government 1.2m tonnes of food, or almost 70% of the total bought.

Critics of the US system of food aid have complained for years that the programme is as much about corporate welfare for American companies as helping the hungry overseas.

Eric Munoz, agriculture policy analyst for Oxfam America, said: “This new information makes it abundantly clear that it is massive multinational firms – not rural America and not farmers – that are the direct beneficiaries of the rigged rules governing the US food aid programme.

“The more the reality of who benefits from these deals is exposed to the light of transparency and open debate, the less defensible current policy becomes,” said Munoz.

A USDA spokesman defended the aid programme, however, saying it benefited 33 million people worldwide between 2009 and 2012 while supporting jobs in the US.

“Farming operations of all sizes often sell their grain or other goods to larger entities for storage and distribution (or processing in some cases), benefiting the entire value chain and US economy,” he said.

But aid experts questioned whether the programme represented value for money and was the best way of feeding hungry people in poor countries.


Journalists who allow quote approval become complicit in political spin | Jeff Jarvis | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

In News, Politics on July 18, 2012 at 20:35

Obama speaks to reporters on Air Force One

Journalists who allow quote approval become complicit in political spin 

It’s shocking enough for The New York Times to report that it and other news organizations are now giving the White House and campaign sources from both parties quote approval – the ability to clean up, tighten up, tone down, rethink, and kill the embarrassing (and perhaps candid) bits from what they end up saying in print.

It’s worse that we’re learning of this only now, long after granting quote approval has clearly become standard operating procedure in what we used to call political journalism – but what a Mother Jones tweet relabeled stenography (or I’d say flackery).

This is not how I was brought up in journalism. I was taught never to give sources or subjects approval – or any detailed foreknowledge – of what we were to publish. To do so would have been a gross violation of professional ethics.

When I arrived at People magazine 30 years ago (and you may feel free to insert your own punchline here about that being the moment I left journalism … or about my age), I was shocked that the magazine gave photo approval and sometimes even reporter approval to the stars. But back then, even People refused demands for quote approval, even from the press agents for celebrities who had little to say anyway.

Now journalists give quote approval to the White House. Now politicians and their agents demand it and journalists cave. Quietly. Shamefully.

I realize there could be an argument in favor of checking quotes with sources: accuracy. But the modern technology of sound recording pretty much handles that. I have also witnessed the fact-checking regime in magazines, both as a writer and a source, and recognize that it provides an opportunity to try to backtrack on what has been said (though the good reporter will have a recording or good notes and a good reputation to fend off a source’s second thoughts). I’ve also been the beneficiary of the public radio show On the Media’s practice of editing out an interviewee’s verbal ticks and pauses, and I’m, um, well, y’know, like … grateful for that. It’s the substance that matters.

It’s also true that quote approval is given in other nations. I was gobsmacked the first time a German reporter offered to read back my quotes before publication. I later found it’s common practice there (but then, so is accepting journalist discounts for various goods and services).

The Times points to the wrenching choice journalists apparently face, having been quite rightly hammered for publishing quotes from anonymous sources. So isn’t taking doctored quotes from named sources the lesser of evil choices? No, it’s not.

When journalists give sources the opportunity to fix up what they’ve said, we become complicit in their spin. When we do so without revealing the practice, we become conspirators in a lie to the people we are supposed to serve: the public.

Besides, this is the age of 24-hour news and millisecond-reflex Twitter, when at the moment of an inane utterance, reaction is immediate. Some gaffes are just that – stupid mistakes, revealing little, and it’s our fault when we in media obsess on them or allow political opponents to do so. But some gaffes are not gaffes at all but revelations or attempts at spin that deserve to be exposed and not erased – witness campaign adviser Ed Gillespie’s attempt to argue on CNN Sunday that Mitt Romney had “retroactively retired” from Bain Capital. (I jumped on to Twitter immediately and gleefully with a #retroactiveromney hashtag.)

If TV, radio, and online become the media of spontaneity, without the option of retroactively rechoreographing a misstep, then what does that make printed news with its quotes now sanitized for sources’ protection? Propaganda?

In the end, I’m glad the Times has finally fessed up on behalf of my profession and revealed this sin of omission. I hope and assume the article is a tactic in winning back our publishing prerogative and pride.

Indeed, the Times article came on the very day that the paper appointed a new public editor (read: ombudsman), Margaret Sullivan, who served as editor of the Buffalo News for 12 years and worked there for 32. The Times had also considered some more digitally oriented candidates (including Dan Gillmor, who, true to transparent form, blogged his suggestions to the paper). I’ll hope it’s a good sign that there’s a traditional editor in the role who might just insist on returning to the long-held tradition of never giving sources quote approval.


Dark Knight Rises: Bane character part of political plot against Mitt Romney | Film | guardian.co.uk

In Nonsense on July 18, 2012 at 20:34

Bane and Mitt Romney


Dark Knight Rises: Bane character part of political plot against Mitt Romney |

When Christopher Nolan announced two years ago that the character Bane would be Batmans nemesis in The Dark Knight Rises, more than a few eyebrows were raised. While the villain has played a prominent role in the caped crusaders comic book canon, he is not nearly so well known as traditional bad guys such as Joker, Penguin or the Riddler. Now, the real reason behind the hulking antagonists deployment in Nolans forthcoming superhero blockbuster has been revealed – at least, in the mind of the rightwing US commentator Rush Limbaugh: its all a thinly veiled attack on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.According to Limbaugh, who was speaking on his syndicated radio show on Tuesday, “Bane” is designed to get Americans thinking about “Bain” Capital, the investment fund that Romney founded in 1984. The presidential hopeful is currently embroiled in a political spat with Barack Obamas team, who have accused him of being in charge during a period in which the private equity firm made a high number of layoffs at the companies it owned. Romney says he left the firm before the layoffs occurred.”So this evil villain in the new Batman movie is named Bane. And theres discussion out there as to whether or not this was purposeful and whether or not it will influence voters,” said Limbaugh. “A lot of people are going to see the movie. And its a lot of brain-dead people – entertainment, the pop culture crowd – and theyre going to hear Bane in the movie and theyre going to associate Bain.”And the thought is that when theyre going to start paying attention to the campaign later in the year and Obama and the Democrats keep talking about Bain, not Bain Capital but Romney and Bain, that these people will start thinking back to the Batman movies: Oh yeah, I know who that is!”Back in reality, Bane was not invented by Nolan for The Dark Knight Rises but first rose to prominence in the 1993 Batman comic book series Knightfall, in which he breaks Bruce Waynes back. Unless the British director had the ability to see into the future in 2010 when he was finalising his plans for the new film, it seems unlikely that he decided on utilising the villain for political reasons. Then again, Nolan began his superhero trilogy with 2005s Batman Begins, featuring a sinister organisation named The League of Shadows, known for manipulating events in order to forge the future in its own image.


French cows reared on fine wine – Telegraph

In Nonsense on July 10, 2012 at 21:02

French cows are enjoying up to two bottles of high quality wine every day as farmers attempt to produce the best beef in Europe.

French cows reared on fine wine 

French cows are enjoying up to two bottles of high quality wine every day as farmers attempt to produce the best beef in Europe.

The extraordinary development has seen a ‘Vinbovin’ label of meat established which is already being championed by some of the best restaurants in Paris.

It follows an experiment in Lunel-Viel, in the southern Herault region of France, which saw three cows fed local wine for four months.

Jean-Charles Tastavy, who came up with the idea, said the two Angus and one Camargue were initially fed the wine in a mix of barley, hay and grapes.It soon became clear that they were ‘happy cows’ who ended up producing an exceptionally succulent meat.

Outlining how he encouraged the cows to enjoy a tipple, Mr Tastavy said: “For each animal, alcohol intake should be equivalent to the amount recommended by health authorities for a man – namely two or three glasses of wine a day. In the case of cows, this amounts to between a litre and a litre-and-a-half a day.”

After a rough mix of grapes and water, the cows were allowed wine from Saint-Genies des Mourgues, a Languedoc village near Montpellier renowned for its vineyards.”The cattle loved what was on the menu and drank it with relish,” said Claude Chaballier, owner of the farm where the experiment started last year.

Referring to the Muscat grape, Mr Chaballier added: “I thought that next time we may try Muscat so as to give the meat a more musky taste.”

Laurent Pourcel, a Michelin-starred chef, is among those enthusing about the ‘luxury meat’ saying: “It has a very special texture – beautiful, marbled and tender, and which caramelises during cooking. All the best Parisien restaurants will take it.”

Japanese Kobe beef, which is made with beer, is currently considered among the best in the world, but the possibility of cows enjoying vintage wine will guarantee an even more luxurious product.

There is a down side, however: the introduction of wine into the feed of the Lunel-Viel cows tripled the cost of their feed, adding up to £80 to the cost of a prime beef cut.

Mississippi’s only abortion clinic fights to stay open amid onslaught of protest – guardian.co.uk

In Really?!? on July 10, 2012 at 12:03

Mississippi’s only abortion clinic fights to stay open amid onslaught of protest 

Mississippi is not alone in its attempts to limit access to abortions. Across conservatives states, there has been a concerted campaign by conservative, anti-abortion groups to shift the focus away from the treatment room to the court room in a bid to undo the constitutional right to abortion enshrined in the Roe v Wade supreme court decision in 1973.

Last year the number of bills to restrict abortion, from the defunding of Planned Parenthood to gestational limits, were the highest on record, according to the Guttmacher Insitute.

One of the most controversial in recent months was Virginia’s attempt to pass a law requiring women seeking a termination to have a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound. Eleven states, including Mississippi, have similar laws in the pipeline, while a further 11 state’s legislators have proposals to restrict medicated abortion, and 14 have introduced laws that seek to restrict abortion later in pregnancy – but prior to foetal viability.

Mississippi, the poorest state in the US, already has some of America’s strictest laws on the procedure and an accordingly low abortion rate. But lawmakers are determined to bring it down to zero and are throwing their political muscle behind their goal.

Last November, residents rejected a “personhood” amendment to the state constitution that would have eliminated all abortions and some forms of contraception by defining life as beginning at the moment of fertilization. During the debate, Bryant, then the Republican candidate for governor, warned that if the amendment failed, “Satan wins”.

“This is a battle of good and evil of biblical proportions,” he said.

In April, he signed HB1390, another constitutional scheme with the same aim.

Such increasingly intense rhetoric against abortion from state leaders has silenced the pro-choice voice. One physician who spoke to the Guardian refused to be quoted because he has been falsely vilified as an abortion doctor after speaking out in the past.

“Even the common sense things don’t get said” he said. “It’s hard to have a reasonable discussion.”

Doctors are ostracised for pro-choice beliefs. In April, the state’s Republican lieutenant governor, Tate Reeves, blocked the appointment of Dr Carl Reddix, a Harvard and John Hopkins-trained doctor from the state’s board of health. Reddix does not perform abortions but has admitting privileges and is the physician who the clinic would call if a woman in their care was rushed to hospital.

Abortion opponents pray outside the clinic. Photograph: Rogelio V Solis/AP

Critics argue that such overtly political decisions by leaders who frame the debate in moral terms clouds their ability to address the many problems Mississippi faces.

One example is a blind spot over the teenage birth rate, the highest in the country. Mississippi has 55 births per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19 in 2010, 60% higher than the US average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Yet until this year, there was no mandatory sex education in its schools. Even then it is limited. Following a new law, introduced in 2011 to tackle teen pregnancy, schools can choose from two curriculums, one emphasising abstinence, the other an “abstinence-plus” programme, which includes information about contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases. Parents also have to opt their children into the programme, restricting the number of children who receive it.

Felicia Brown-Williams, regional director of Planned Parenthood Southeast, who has been advocating sex education in schools for years, said it was at least “a step in a positive direction”.

Brown-Williams sees at first hand the effect Mississippi’s poverty


China plans £3bn theme park in Tibet – guardian.co.uk

In Really?!? on July 6, 2012 at 19:12

Jokhang temple in Lhasa, Tibet

China plans £3bn theme park in Tibet 

Chinese officials have announced plans to build a £3bn Tibetan culture theme park outside Lhasa in three to five years.

Authorities see developing tourism as crucial to the economic future of Tibet and have set a goal of attracting 15 million tourists a year by 2015, generating up to 18bn yuan (£1.8bn), in a region with a population of just 3 million.

But Tibetan groups have expressed concern that the surge in tourism has also eroded traditional culture and that the income has economically benefited Han Chinese more than Tibetans.

Ma Xinming, deputy mayor of the city, told journalists that the park would cover 800 hectares (1980 acres) on a site just over a mile from the centre. He said it would improve the Tibetan capital’s attractiveness to tourists and be a landmark for its cultural industry, state news agency Xinhua reported.

The mayor said it would include attractions themed around Princess Wencheng – the seventh-century niece of a Tang-dynasty emperor who married a king from Tibet’s Yarlung dynasty – whose tale has been embraced by Chinese authorities as a parable of ethnic harmony.

The park will include outdoor shows about the princess, along with other educational and entertainment facilities. Business and residential districts would also be included.

Ma said the park would also reduce tourist pressure on the Jokhang Temple and the Barkhor in the heart of old Lhasa, helping to protect the city’s heritage.

According to state media, the number of visitors to the region rose by 25.7% year-on-year in the first five months of 2012. The tourism bureau has said Tibet expects 10 million tourists this year – up one million from last year – with tourism revenues growing to 12bn yuan. But foreigners were last month indefinitely banned from visiting, amid growing tension.

The announcement came after two Tibetan men set fire to themselves in Lhasa. Tibetan areas across western China have seen a spate of self-immolations, with those involved protesting against Chinese policies.

Officials in China often see theme parks as a way to develop tourism, though many have failed to attract the investment and visitors they anticipated. Whether the Lhasa government ends up building the project on the massive scale envisaged remains to be seen.

Professor Robert Barnett, an expert on Tibetan culture at Columbia University, said that while some officials had talked about environmentally and culturally appropriate tourism in Tibet, “this represents a nail in the coffin – symbolically and perhaps practically – of attempts by Tibetans and Chinese to promote that.”

He added: “To recoup that cost, you have to have tourism on an unimaginable scale.”

Barnett said Tibetans might well go to the theme park themselves, but would also be likely to question whether it was good for their culture and worth the huge investment.

“They are very acutely aware of these issues … but I am not sure they have any form to ask them publicly,” he said.

Xinhua reported last month that officials have also earmarked more than 400m yuan to develop tourism in Nyingchi prefecture in southeastern Tibet, renowned for its scenic beauty.

In addition to creating an international “Swiss-style” tourism town, the schemes will involve building 22 “model villages”, where tourists will be able to enjoy homestays. Critics have warned the plan could damage the fragile environment.


Will anyone save Timbuktu from Islamist tomb raiders? -guardian.co.uk

In News on July 2, 2012 at 08:58

A mosque in Timbuktu.

Will anyone save Timbuktu from Islamist tomb raiders? 

In Timbuktu in Mali, great art is being attacked right now, as if it were an enemy. It is being assaulted, smashed, assailed. The aim is total destruction. The same brand of militant Islamism that deprived the world of the Buddhas of Bamiyan is now being turned on medieval tombs that are among the wonders of Africa.

The architecture of Timbuktu, with its strange organic beauty, is extraordinary. In the middle ages, this was a land of gold-rich rulers and marketplaces that connected Africa with the Mediterranean world across the Sahara.

Unlike the colossal statues of the Buddha destroyed by the Taliban, the monuments of Timbuktu are themselves Islamic. This is a great Muslim art centre. But the tombs revere Sufi saints, and the Islamist rebels who have taken over Timbuktu regard such saint-cults as idolatrous.

This is serious. The world needs to act. It is an attack on Africa itself. How many cultural monuments have endured the centuries on this continent? The Nigerian city of Benin was crushed by a British “punitive expedition” in 1897, its palaces ravaged, their great works of art plundered to become curiosities in museums. The San hunter-gatherers who painted wondrous rock art in modern south Africa were criminalised as vagrants. One by one, the rich, plural art traditions of Africa have been wrecked. But through the ages, from Renaissance times to today, Timbuktu – the near-legendary city at the end of the Saharan camel routes – was a place of mystery and renown. It is now being trashed and no one is going to stop it.

There is no ambiguity about the attack on culture that started this weekend. The Ansar Dine group says it will “destroy every mausoleum in the city – all of them, without exception”. It also threatens to demolish the mosques themselves if they contain monuments to saints.

It is horrible to see one of the most fantastic art capitals on earth assaulted in this way. Africa’s heritage is being systematically trashed. How will the world respond?