The Diary: Paul Auster; Jerry Moffat; Punch magazine; Penny Woolcock

No peace prize for a divided America

The New York novelist Paul Auster has declared "civil war" amid the Obama-bashing currently taking place in Middle America. "I really thought when Obama was elected, the civil war would be over. We are not fighting with bullets but this country is deeply divided. I thought his election proved that forces of progress had won but it seems that it has only made divisions more rancorous." So poisonous is the atmosphere, he says, even in America's most liberal city, that he likened it to the Vietnam War. "I have never seen the country so divided, maybe during the Vietnam War it was similar." Auster said he was not among the cynics who thought Obama hadn't done enough to deserve his recent Nobel Peace Prize: "I thought, fine, who else has promoted peace as much? I think he's a remarkable person, he has done a lot of things... he's talked to the Arab world directly, he walked into this job when it looked just like were facing a 1929-style crash. He is trying to make medical care reforms." Obama still has one fierce fan.

Naked ambition

Jerry Moffatt, the man who made his name from intrepid rounds of mountain-climbing (and earned his notoriety after he appeared naked and tangled up in climbing rope in 'On the Edge' magazine) has won the Grand Prize at the 2009 Banff Mountain Book Festival arguably the most prestigious prize in mountain literature. He won the accolade for his autobiography, 'Revelations', and it would be most enlightening, given the title, to find out if he discusses how he came to be tied up with rope for the edgy photo call.

History repeated

A cartoon expressing fears about British involvement in Afghanistan, featuring a picture of John Bull being pulled by the nose into an Afghan pass, may seem topical to us today, yet it was drawn by Sir John Tenniel for 'Punch' magazine in 1878, so goes some way to proving the repetitions of history. The cartoon was accompanied by an imagined conversation between the unhappy bull and its drover, the then Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. It is for sale at Lowell Libson Gallery in London.

Best of British from Basingstoke

Proteus Theatre Company, based in a pre-fabricated hut in Basingstoke, with only two full-time staff members who have spent years touring the villages halls of rural England, has been selected to take their one-man, part-circus show, 'Merrick, The Elephant Man', to the prestigious Brits off Broadway festival in New York this month. The play has already been highlighted in the 'New York Times'. It will be staged with six others billed as the best regional productions to emerge from Britain in the last year, alongside a line-up that includes Alan Ayckbourn's 'My Wonderful Day'. The play is a re-working of the original with a modern-day reference to the cult of celebrity. Its producers say that had Merrick been born today, he would be gracing the pages of 'Heat' magazine.

Accused of projecting negative images

The film-maker Penny Woolcock faced another setback after police in Birmingham condemned her film '1 Day' for its "negative stereotyping" of the city's gang culture, and local cinemas pulled the plug on its screening (reported in last week's 'Independent'). Now, it has transpired that police were called to a screening of the film at the International Black Festival in Birmingham. A source said police halted proceedings and took a head count. When Woolcock asked why this had happened, she was told it was "because we heard there were problems with the projector".