Investors v. States

Barack Obama has been in Europe. British observers – always suckers for American blandishments that the UK is The Special One – saw in the president’s visit a mission to rescue the EU referendum for Remain. But Obama’s overriding aim, as became clear when he progressed to Germany, was to speed the EU-US talks over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) before he leaves office in January. A salient goal of TTIP is to shadow the Investor-State Dispute Settlement system (ISDS), an instrument of public international law granting firms the right to raise an action in a tribunal on the basis that a state’s policies have harmed their commercial interests. More »

Get in Formation

It was 9 o’clock on Sunday morning when my best friend called: ‘Girl, wake up. It’s happened.’ In the days since, Beyoncé’s 12-track visual album Lemonade – ostensibly about her husband Jay Z’s adultery – has smashed records (she’s the only female artist to have all six of her studio albums debut at number one), put freelance journalists in clover and generated a hunt across six continents for ‘Becky with the good hair’. ‘This is Beyoncé’s world,’ Anderson Cooper said in 2013, ‘and we are just living in it.’ More »

Jenny Diski

Jenny Diski died early this morning. ‘Under no circumstances is anyone to say that I lost a battle with cancer,’ she wrote in the LRB in September 2014. ‘Or that I bore it bravely. I am not fighting, losing, winning or bearing.’ Her first piece for the LRB, a Diary, appeared in May 1992. In all she wrote 150 pieces for the paper (and 65 blog posts), the last of them in February this year:

For several days now I’ve been feeling as if I’m on a holiday, a short one coming to its end. Not an especially good one. Not sorry to be leaving, not sorry to have been here. No particular feeling one way or another. Not living in my place. Not familiar enough. As one might sit on the edge of a chair that is waiting for another occupant to take it over. It’s the strangest of strange feelings. Best travelling clothes, a ticking of a clock that will go on ticking after you leave and after the next occupant too.

A Whisper of a Beard

uncumber triptych

Hieronymus Bosch painted clog ships, fish soldiers, armoured creatures with insect wings and scales gobbling human limbs. In the recesses of his paintings you might find a spoonbill, wearing a hooded cape, sitting down to a supper of bird-claw at a table set with white linen and pewterware. His picture of Saint Wilgefortis – usually in the Accademia in Venice, but currently on display at an exhibition in ’s-Hertogenbosh, the town where he lived and worked – is perhaps one of his least strange paintings. It shows a bearded woman being crucified. More »

Theresa May’s Leadership Bid

In 2011, Theresa May told the Conservative Party Conference that the Human Rights Act needed to be restricted. One of the examples she gave of its alleged excesses was an ‘illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat’. Except she was making it up, or at least grossly exaggerating one small part of a case into its entire rationale. In March 2013, she created another stir by suggesting that the next Tory election manifesto should include a promise to dump the European Court of Human Rights. This forced old school Conservatives such as Kenneth Clarke to defend the Strasbourg body – which was just what she wanted, as it would make them more unpopular with Europhobic Tory voters, while boosting her own Eurosceptic credentials.

May’s speech on Brexit earlier this week needed some xenophobic noise to camouflage her pro-EU stance in the referendum campaign; human rights were once again her target. More »

In the Communist Playground

sofia playground 1

In one of the oldest playgrounds in Sofia, where I grew up, there are some new toddler attractions among the old rusting ones, but the potholes in the tarmac haven’t been repaired. For the last six years, flowers have been appearing in them, as part of an ongoing project devised by the artist Veronika Tzekova. She calls it WUMAMPAROI (‘When you make a mistake put a rose on it’). We are a long way from the Soviet cult of childhood, in which the playground played a key role, shifting children’s emotional focus away from home and setting them on the road to the Party. More »

Have you seen him dance in those heels?

The late 1990s and early 2000s were a difficult time to be a Prince fan, not just because he was still in the creative gulf separating 1996’s botched Emancipation from his return to the mainstream with Musicology in 2004, but because I wasn’t even a teenager yet. I’d been given The Hits for my tenth birthday (My Dad was a fan); I played the first track – ‘Soft and Wet’, from his first album, For You (1978), sung in a joyful, sexy squeal – and then played it again and again. Who wouldn’t want to listen to Prince? More »

Valentino

I went with my girlfriend to see Prince play Madison Square Garden in 2010, a day or two before New Year’s Eve, on our last day in New York before moving out to the West Coast. I remember a snowstorm – the cabs wouldn’t take us back to Queens afterwards – but it was so worth it. Thanks to miraculous strokes of good fortune, we had excellent seats, directly in front of James McNew and his bandmates – who seemed a bit miffed, to be honest. But: there was Prince! He played for a long time and at some point my friend went to the bathroom. Just then, Prince started locking-and-popping – which wasn’t something I’d have thought Prince even did. More »

If Brexit, then Swexit?

Sweden’s relationship with the EU is almost as problematic as Britain’s. It only joined in 1995 – 25 years after the UK – and on the basis of a pretty narrow popular vote. At the same time, Norway voted to stay out. Like the UK, Sweden has spurned the euro. The bigger political parties are all pro-Europe. Sweden used to have a party like Ukip, known as Junilistan (‘June List’), which won 15 per cent of the vote in the 2004 European elections, but has withered away since. A recent opinion poll put its support at 0.3 per cent. There’s also a Folkrörelse (‘People’s Movement’) opposed to EU membership on mainly socialist grounds. The Vänsterpartiet (‘Left Party’, ex-communist) is anti-Europe. The right-wing Sverigedemokraten’s policy is to renegotiate the terms of Sweden’s membership, rather than to leave. The Greens are swithering. More »

Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Subject Sends His Humblest Felicitiations to Her Majesty on the Joyous Occasion of Her 90th Birthday

Long-lived monarchs need long memories, so they can remember what needs to be forgotten. John Aubrey recounts the disastrous gaffe by the 17th Earl of Oxford – famous as one of the people who didn’t write Shakespeare’s plays – while ‘making obeisance’ at court to Elizabeth I. After it, Aubrey says, the disgraced earl escaped by going on his travels, to return to the royal presence seven years later. ‘My Lord,’ Elizabeth greeted him, ‘I had forgott the Fart.’ More »

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