The Drowning Child

‘If I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing.

The uncontroversial appearance of the principle just stated is deceptive… For the principle takes, firstly, no account of proximity or distance. It makes no moral difference whether the person I can help is a neighbour’s child ten yards from me or a Bengali whose name I shall never know, ten thousand miles away. Secondly, the principle makes no distinction between cases in which I am the only person who could possibly do anything and cases in which I am just one among millions in the same position.’

Peter Singer’s (famous, and much disputed) contention in ‘Famine, Affluence and Morality’ (1972) may have acquired a new, literal force this week with the widespread dissemination of images of the drowned corpse of a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach. The pictures don’t alter Singer’s argument one way or the other, but reduce the perceived distance between Western Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. More »

tashu duset sekar

Consider the following excerpts from a couple of language aptitude tests:

Test 1

The questions in this section are based on an invented language, called Dobla. Read each group of examples carefully, paying particular attention to different forms of words and working out what information they convey (just as in English there are differences between e.g. cat and cats, or beckon and beckoned). Word order in Dobla is different from that of English and is not entirely fixed; it is not a reliable guide to the meaning of sentences. Note also that Dobla has nothing corresponding to English the and a(n), so that tine can mean either ‘the maid’ or ‘a maid’. You are advised to work through the questions in this section in the order in which they are given, as the later ones may presuppose information or vocabulary supplied in the earlier examples. More »

How bad can you get?

From Larissa MacFarquhar’s Strangers Drowning: Voyages to the Brink of Moral Extremity:

She and Aaron had been rigorously vegan for years – and now Jen ate cheese. She went to Paris and gorged herself on cheese. She went shopping for clothes that were new. She drank alcohol for the first time in her life. She smoked pot and loved it. She revised her views on Israel. She worked as a dominatrix for foot fetishists. She stopped recycling.

Orango Goes Bananas

Orango hated communists. Part man, part ape, he was the product of a French biologist’s experiments in inseminating monkeys with human sperm. The human overcame the animal in him and in the early 20th century he rose to become a star journalist and media mogul, using his power to attack the fledgling Soviet Union. But the more he ranted about the evils of the working class and communism, the more ape-like he became, both physically and psychologically, descending into violence and finally madness. By this point a world cataclysm had brought down the bourgeois order, and Orango was sold to a Soviet circus: shown off at Red Square parades as the ape who could blow his nose like a human being.

This is where Shostakovich’s opéra bouffe Orango opens. Indeed it is the only scene we have. More »

Death in Palagonia

An elderly couple have been murdered in their home in Palagonia, a town of 16,500 people near Catania. The police have arrested an 18-year-old suspect, who was caught with the victims’ phone, computer and bloody trousers on his person. He says he found them under a tree. The crime was probably gruesome enough to have made headlines for its sensation value alone: both corpses were naked; the woman was thrown from a balcony. There were no signs of forced entry on the doors or windows of their apartment. But it’s still in the news because the suspect, an Ivorian national, arrived in Sicily by boat on 8 June. More »

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks, who died today, wrote his first piece for the LRB, ‘Wiccy Ticcy Ray’, in 1981. The others were ‘Musical Ears’, ‘The Leg’ and ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’.

Hacked!

I had just finished writing an article for the LRB and was attaching it to an email when suddenly all the files saved as icons on my screen vanished. I thought at first I had pressed some wrong and incomprehensible button – something that happens to me – when a message flashed up on my screen telling me that all my files were gone. If I wanted them back I would have to pay the equivalent of $500 in Bitcoins (at the current rate of exchange, that was 2.3 Bitcoins) within 130 hours, after which the sum would rise to $1000. Absurdly, I thought of Tarquinius bidding for the Sibylline books of prophecy, and every time he said the price was too high, the Sibyl burns three books and offers the remainder at the same price. Clearly, I was in that sort of auction. To help concentrate the mind the time remaining was set out in hours, minutes and seconds, with each second ticking off: looking at this merely increases one’s manic state as the loss of all one’s files kicks in. I was always promising myself to back everything up but hadn’t. More »

Read Everywhere

watermelon

The summer isn’t (quite) over: you have until Monday to take out a joint subscription to the LRB and the Paris Review. And while you’re at it, there’s still time to enter our #readeverywhere photo competition.

Dog Fights

I wake up every day to the sound of an argument. This time its James Naughtie pressing a shadow minister to declare his position on the prospect of a Corbyn win in the Labour Party leadership contest. The Today programme’s combative exchanges are all too familiar. The politician says no more than his notes allow; the interviewer attempts to expose his subject’s hypocrisy or ignorance. If the politician is guilty of selective hearing, driven by the soundbite and haunted by the Whip, then political interviewers don’t fare much better: irascible, heavy-handed, hectoring. It’s a game where each player depends on the other for his own performance. But for all its frustrations there’s no denying that such rhetorical sparring draws a crowd.

Konrad Lorenz, the Nobel Prize-winner and zoologist, once told a story about taking his French bulldog, Bully, for his daily walk. They would pass by the long and narrow garden of a neighbouring house, where a white Spitz lived.

More »

In Rawabi

Even through the rose tint of my 3D glasses, the architects’ rendering of Rawabi is a dizzying sight. Their animated introductory film swoops down on the central square, where men sit with shisha pipes in one hand and iPads in the other, glamorous women go shopping, young couples stroll by, businesspeople talk on the phone, and boys and girls (with and without the hijab) play football together. At a cost of $1.2 billion, Rawabi will be Palestine’s largest ever private sector project, and its first planned city. It’s the brainchild of the US-Palestinian multimillionaire Bashar Masri, who is funding it with backing from Qatar. More »

Advertisement Advertisement