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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Bad sex award goes to Italian novelist Erri De Luca’s genital ‘ballet dancers’

The Literary Reviews annual pillory of overheated erotic writing selects a passage from The Day Before Happiness for high-profile ridicule.

Italian author, poet and translator Erri De Luca has added another accolade to his glittering career although this may be one he would prefer to have avoided. The winner of the 2013 European Prize for Literature, hailed as writer of the decade by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in 2009, has won the 24th annual Literary Review Bad sex award for a passage in his novel The Day Before Happiness.

De Lucas win was announced at a ceremony at the appropriately named In and Out club in London on Wednesday night. The excerpt that swayed the judges involved the Neapolitan orphan protagonist and a mysterious woman he has watched from afar.

He writes: My prick was a plank stuck to her stomach. With a swerve of her hips, she turned me over and I was on top of her. She opened her legs, pulled up her dress and, holding my hips over her, pushed my prick against her opening. I was her plaything, which she moved around. Our sexes were ready, poised in expectation, barely touching each other: ballet dancers hovering en pointe.

De Luca was unable to attend and his publisher at Allen Lane accepted the prize on his behalf.


State Action

The book beat stiff competition from a shortlist that included former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis for a passage in her bestselling debut The Butchers Hook. It likened sex to hanging out wet washing. Ethan Canin was picked for an episode in A Doubters Almanac where pneumatic lovers enjoy sex like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors. The cheap mattress bounced.

In Men Like Air,Tom Connolly presented the eye-watering revelation that often she cooked exotic meals and put chillies or spices in her mouth while preparing the food and sucked him while the food cooked and then told him to fuck her while his manhood was burning rock-hard with fire. Leave Meby Gayle Forman, and The Tobacconistby Robert Seethaler were also in contention for this years prize.

Despite the sniggers that greet the annual announcement, the Bad sex award was established in 1993 to raise the tone rather than lower it. The then-editor of the Literary Review, Auberon Waugh, hoped the prize would draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction. Since then it has become the one prize literary authors hope to avoid.

Last year, the singer Morrissey won for a passage in his debut novel List of the Lost, in which the protagonists sexually violent rotation was rendered more laughable by the description: Elizas breasts barrel-rolled across Ezras howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Elizas body except for the otherwise central zone.

However, De Luca joins an illustrious group of past recipients. As well as Morrissey, bad sex writing by the likes of Melvyn Bragg, Sebastian Faulks, Norman Mailer and Ben Okri has also received the unwelcome accolade.

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Theresa May must fight the hard Brexiters or Britain will be ruined | Will Hutton

The economic fallout from a violent rupture with the EU will have devastating consequences for the country and its people.

Brexit is pure poison, polluting everything it touches. The fundamental questions the country should be addressing the crisis in productivity growth, the lack of affordable housing, the overwhelming strain on public services, our desperately weak export sector are all sidelined. There is not the bandwith or capacity to address them against the gigantic question of how to weather the greatest shock to our economy and society since 1945.

Be in no doubt. Brexit transcends the 1974 oil shock or the 2008/9 financial crash in the probable scale, intensity and duration of its impact. Every aspect of our economy is going to be affected. Investment decisions are going to be abandoned or reduced.

Of course, there is a degree of uncertainty about how much of a shock it might be. Britain negotiating a custom-made deal that allows a well-managed transition to full participation of the single market would be less of a shock than a sharp, hard Brexit rupture, but it is not going to happen. Every time she hints at it, Theresa May gets beaten back by the powerful, Brexit faction that wants nothing less than rupture. She then retreats, judging that keeping her party together is more important than retaining some association with the EU. Unless and until it becomes obvious that hard Brexit is both avoidable and enormously self-damaging, there is no political coalition strong enough to resist it.

Last week, the Office for Budget Responsibility, recognising that the Brexit faction makes the political weather, buckled and declared that its best guess was that Brexit would only be a short-lived mini-shock. It still earned brickbats aplenty from the new bovver boys in British politics, but the OBR pulled its punches. Its economic forecast of a small slowdown in growth, before it is fully resumed in two or three years time, is an optimistic outlier. Even so, the impact is severe. The intense squeeze on spending on public services has to continue to give any hope of balancing the budget even if this aim has been necessarily deferred until early in the next decade. But the shortfall in tax revenues means there will, cumulatively, be another 58bn of public debt than there would otherwise have been.

Worse, the rise in inflation caused by the fall in the pound means that what peoples wages will buy so-called real wages are hardly going to rise at all in the years ahead. Indeed, the Institute for Fiscal Studies projects no rise for another five years, so that real wages will be below 2008 levels for 13 years. The Resolution Foundation points out that in every decade since the 1920s real wages have risen by 20%, slowing down in the 2000s and now set to grow by only 1.6% in the 2010s. Both bodies declare that there has been no economic pain on this scale for the mass of wage earners for more than 70 years.


The impact will be hardest felt by the bottom 30% of the population, most reliant on the welfare system, but a welfare system scaling back support, freezing most benefits in cash terms. Public and social housing provision is stagnating. There has been no period like this in modern British economic history.

All the risks are that it could even be worse. The OBR thinks that inflation will peak at 2.6%; other forecasters think inflation could rise to 4% before it falls. That judgment matters: the higher inflation is, the more intense the squeeze on all forms of cash spending wages, welfare payments and public spending in real terms and the greater the depressive effect on the economy.

Then there is the judgment on private investment. The OBR sees it as falling a little. It’s hard to imagine what substantial investment can be justified next year or in the following years. Apart from a small real rise in government infrastructure spending, every notch on the dial is negative and all the risks on the downside.

Yet we have to endure Brexiters insisting that anyone who analyses the future in these terms is a Bremoaner, talking the economy down. There is a legitimate argument about how bad things could get the OBR recognises that in the range of its forecasts but to pretend all is well is delusional. Philip Hammond has done well to allow himself the capacity to spend compensating funds on infrastructure and science, but it is small beer against the severity of the underlying trends.

The open question is how this is going to play out politically. Negotiating with national governments, the European parliament and European commission simultaneously, across so many complex issues and with so little core agreement in government, is close to impossible. As the uncertainty mounts and the talks become ever more deadlocked, so the economy will suffer more and the Brexiters will blame it all on Bremoaners and European governments for obstruction and standing in the way of the democratic will of the people. The parts of the country that will hurt most the old industrial heartlands and left-behind communities are those that voted Leave and they will be receptive to the message.

Meanwhile, little is being done or can be done to address the economy’s core weaknesses, which is the real source of their distress. The bitterness and distrust can only grow, fuelling an ever more destructive enmity between Leavers and Remainers. This is, without doubt, the greatest crisis through which I have lived in my adult life.

Theresa May knows she wants a long transition to a custom-made participation in the EU single market. In the absence of any opposition or leadership elsewhere, she has to start saying so and start facing down the Brexiters. Otherwise, not just the economics, but the politics may start to be unmanageable.

  • Comments will open Sunday November 27

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Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Dwarfed By Estimates Of Need

States welcome President-elect Donald Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan. But their need is more than three times that.

The Associated Press
Texas transportation workers in July survey the damage from a bridge collapse in which a child died. President-elect Donald Trump has proposed fixing dilapidated infrastructure.

By Elaine S. Povich

If President-elect Donald Trump is successful with his proposed $1 trillion, 10-year program to fix Americas disintegrating and inadequate infrastructure, the states have a list of critical projects handy for him. And while a trillion could be a decent down payment, its not nearly enough.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that fixing all the roads, bridges, public transit, railroads, energy systems, schools, public parks, ports, airports, waste systems, levees, dams, drinking water facilities and hazardous waste installations in the 50 states and the District of Columbia would take $3.6 trillion by 2020. Thats a little over three years from now, not the 10 years Trump is touting.

The civil engineers group has ranked the states with a report card on their infrastructure. No state scored higher than a C-plus. The country scored a D-plus.

That the nations dilapidated infrastructure appears high on the agenda of the incoming president heartens many state officials. But theyre concerned over the financing.

The fact that [Trump] seems to go back to infrastructure as a priority, even when hes not specifically asked about it, does lend itself to the belief that it is one of the bedrock priorities of the new administration, said Joung Lee, policy director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

However, Lee said, a key part of dealing with infrastructure has to be on the spending side, i.e., taxes to finance the work. Thats a topic Trump is less inclined to talk about.

Instead of tax hikes, Trump has proposed a series of tax credits for infrastructure. He maintains that the money lost to the U.S. Department of the Treasury through the tax credits would be made up by increased personal income taxes paid by workers hired on the projects and by business taxes paid by the construction companies that hire them.

University of California-Irvine business school professor Peter Navarro, a Trump adviser, estimated that every $200 billion in additional spending on infrastructure creates $88 billion more in wages and increases the nations economic output, or gross domestic product, by more than 1 percentage point. Navarro also said the Trump plan would provide maximum flexibility to the states by streamlining permits and approvals.

In a sentiment echoed by many state leaders, Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo told reporters in Providence that she would be happy to accept Trumps proposal. We can certainly use that money for airports, money for trains, train stations and train tracks, money for roads and bridges, money for Wi-Fi, she said.

Her spokesman, David Ortiz, amplified the statement but noted that for the program to be effective it would have to be financed by more than just tax credits.

Much of the nations transportation system is a state-federal responsibility, and the federal government hasnt been investing in its share of the partnership.

Late last year, President Barack Obama signed a $305 billion transportation bill to fund roads, bridges and rail lines for four years, the longest reauthorization of federal transportation programs in more than a decade. However, the bill fell short of Obamas $478 billion plan and it didnt include an increase in the federal gasoline tax.

Congress hasnt raised the federal gasoline tax the nations most reliable source of revenue for financing roads, bridges and public transportation since 1993. As a result the gas tax isnt keeping up with inflation, let alone a growing backlog of repairs. Nor is it producing as much revenue, as motorists have turned to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The last time the federal government undertook a big transportation construction program was in 2009, during the Great Recession, when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the stimulus, was enacted. Its purpose was twofold: to build things and to put people back to work.

The back to work piece seemed the most important, and state officials were ordered to provide a list of shovel ready projects that could be undertaken immediately to fulfill the workforce goals. Critics said that meant larger, more ambitious construction projects went by the wayside.

In its final report on the effects of the stimulus, the Obama White House said it had improved more than 40,000 miles of road and fixed or replaced 2,700 bridges. But, with about 58,000 bridges needing repair, the stimulus barely made a dent.


State Action

In the absence of an aggressive and reliable federal infrastructure program, many states decided they could wait no longer as their highways and bridges crumbled and public transportation repairs languished.

This month New Jersey increased its gasoline tax by 23 cents to 37.5 cents a gallon to pay for road, bridge and commuter railroad repairs.

It was the states first increase in the gasoline tax in decades and brought New Jerseys price at the pump closer to neighboring New York and Pennsylvania, whose residents had been crossing the border for less-expensive fill-ups. New Jersey officials maintained that little revenue from out-of-staters would be lost because the tax is still 13 cents lower than Pennsylvanias and 5 to 10 cents lower than New Yorks.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a close Trump adviser during the campaign, signed the increase, saying it was badly needed to fix the states very old infrastructure.

New Jersey is the most densely populated and congested state in the nation and our roads and bridges are among the oldest in the nation, said New Jersey Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Schapiro.

Schapiro said about 9 percent of the states bridges are structurally deficient, and 58 percent of its highways are in good or fair condition. We are far from our goal of 80 percent of roads in acceptable condition by 2021, and additional funding will help make the investments needed to meet this goal.

Other states also have raised their gasoline taxes in the last few years. Georgia passed a 6.7-cent-a-gallon increase that took effect in 2015 and includes adjustments to keep up with inflation. Idaho and Iowa hiked their taxes 7 cents and 10 cents a gallon, respectively. Nebraska enacted a 6-cent-a-gallon increase over Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts veto.

In Utah, a 4.9-cent hike took effect Jan. 1, which also tied future increases to inflation and fuel prices. And Washington state imposed an 11.9-cent-a-gallon increasein two steps: a 7-cent increase last summer, and then a 4.9-cent increase this summer. In Michigan, gasoline and diesel taxes will rise by 7.3 cents and 11.3 cents, respectively, Jan. 1.

Not every state has followed suit, though more may soon.

There are still 20 states that have waited a decade or more since last raising their gas tax rates, said Carl Davis, research director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a progressive think tank.At least a dozen states are going to be discussing gas tax increases next year.

In Michigan, where Republican Gov. Rick Snyder willingly signed his states tax increase a year ago, spokeswoman Anna Heaton said that the states roads and bridges suffered from decades of underinvestment. But roads and bridges arent the states only infrastructure needs.

Michigan needs to plan for its energy future, water and sewer infrastructure, and widespread broadband access, Heaton said.

Snyder convened a special infrastructure commission to assess the states needs and make recommendations for projects and how to pay for them. The commission is scheduled to report Nov. 30, just in time for Trump to ready his transportation program and see exactly what at least one state, Michigan, is looking to build or repair.

Other states are ready to pounce on construction projects, as well, should the president-elect be able to follow through on his campaign promise. Among the big ones that have been on drawing boards:

  • The Hudson River tunnel to create another connection between New York and New Jersey, where existing routes are constantly congested.
  • The California high-speed rail project, which would make the trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco a breeze.
  • The Northeast Corridor high-speed rail plan for Amtrak, the nations passenger rail service.
  • The Purple Line commuter rail project in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, which experts say could help with the regions current status as the city with the longest commute times in the nation.
  • The Miami seawall project, which could help protect one of the nations cities most vulnerable to flooding from rising ocean levels.

Brian Pallasch, director of government relations and infrastructure initiatives at the civil engineers organization, said the nations cracking and crumbling infrastructure could cost the economy $3.9 trillion by 2025 and costs families $3,400 a year.

Pallasch said the economic toll was measured by tallying the cost of broken water mains that cause restaurants to close, power outages, bridges that cant take the weight of big trucks and force them to take detours, and the ridiculous amount of time workers spend commuting on congested roads.

Part of our message is, we need to make these investments not only to improve our economy, but also to give people something back, he said. Maybe they are paying a little bit more, but they may be getting something back that will allow them to get a couple of hours back a week in their commute.

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