Ryss Skräck

Loch Ness Sub

Sweden has always had a problem with Russians and the sea. You can see why when you visit the Stockholm Archipelago and learn about the days when whole islands were set on fire by Russian invaders in the 18th century. Covered with fir trees and little wooden houses, they are very combustible. Whole towns were burned down. It was called a ‘terror’ campaign. Against this, Sweden’s eastern defences are not too impressive. The story is told of the Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke that he laughed ‘only twice in his life: once when he heard of the death of his mother-in-law, and then when he visited Waxholm.’ Waxholm fort was supposed to be Stockholm’s outer defence. More »

Who’s afraid of ‘Klinghoffer’?

The Death of Klinghoffer, John Adams’s 1991 opera about the hijacking of the Achille Lauro by the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985, has achieved a rare distinction in contemporary classical music: it’s considered so dangerous by its critics that they’d like to have it banned. For its opponents – the Klinghoffer family, Daniel Pearl’s father, conservative Jewish organisations, and now the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former New York governor George Pataki, who took part in a noisy demonstration outside the Met last nightKlinghoffer is no less a sacrilege than The Satanic Verses was to Khomeini and his followers. They haven’t issued a fatwa, but they have done their best to sabotage the production ever since the Met announced it. More »

In George Square

‘I came down here to support Tommy,’ the man said when I asked why he’d given over his Sunday to stand in the middle of George Square and listen to a stream of speeches, mainly about the perfidy of Albion. ‘I think he’s had a raw deal.’ Tommy Sheridan was on stage in a Yes T-shirt. Between the bronchial sound system and us was a sea of Saltires and homemade signs. A trio of mocked-up heads with the faces of Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and Alistair Darling bobbed above the crowd, with a placard labelling them the ‘3 stooges’ and ‘traitors’. More »

At Frieze

pears

There are champagne and pizza in the courtyard at Frieze but no ashtrays, so attendants with brooms circulate two paces behind the smokers, collecting the debris. Inside, the bins are concealed in the walls to save visitors the embarrassment of admiring, or trying to buy, non-art that could easily be confused with the art-art. Safe in its playground, the art-art makes the most of this: it’s all over the floor. Dog bowls with a little water beneath one picture, three pears near a wall, oversized wine glasses, a pile of vegetables. More »

‘Gamergate’

A few years ago, a colleague in the English department told me she was vexed by her son’s addiction to, and incessant chatter about, a video game. The implication was that his time would be better spent reading. I asked what the game was.

Braid,’ she said.

‘Dude,’ I said. ‘You’ve got to play Braid. It’s awesome!’

It wasn’t long ago that many of us in academia regarded video games as little more than the violent and misogynist recreational pursuits of our least attentive students, things that our children should be protected from. But games have matured as an art form in the past decade, and are now among the most vital and quickly evolving cultural phenomena. More »

What does Ukip have to offer?

Beneath its increasingly well-funded, electorally successful veneer, Ukip is an organisation with no substantial programme and little by way of a propositional politics. That may not be a problem for a party that collects 3.1 per cent of the popular vote in a general election, as Ukip did in 2010, but it is for a party that has just had its first MP elected and is riding at 25 per cent in opinion polls. More »

Do I speak Dutch?

How many languages do you speak? Last week Jakub Marian, ‘a Czech mathematician, linguist, and musician currently living in Germany’, blogged his guesstimate of the figure for the typical person in each European country. Expectedly, the British are near the bottom of the heap; only the Hungarians do worse. It’s debatable whether this is cause or effect of the anglosphere’s hegemony (well, perhaps not that debatable, though it’s hard not to like the theory that puts its triumph down to Britons’ refusal to learn anyone else’s lingo). The Brits bounce back, though, if the question is what percentage of a given country’s population speaks English, at around 95 per cent. More »

JN and Theo

Last Thursday, a leaked Department for Education memo was published. Written in October 2013 by Dominic Cummings, one of Michael Gove’s special advisers, it expressed ‘serious concerns’ about the performance of Ofsted and its chief inspector, Michael Wilshaw: ‘No element of human life that works well – e.g. Silicon Valley – works on an Ofsted basis.’ More »

Brought to you by the Conservative Party

The Conservatives are largely responsible for their present plight. Ukip may profess contempt for the Tory Party, but it is one of its products. The Conservative leadership and its press supporters always believed, like many right-wing toffs in the past, that they could control any insurgency their political tactics might evoke. For the last few years the Tory Party and its cheerleaders in the Mail, the Sun, the Express and (a little more decorously) the Telegraph have cultivated a populist rhetoric – xenophobic, anti-European, anti-trade union, anti-welfare – as extreme as anything we have known. And they have assumed that such rhetoric could be managed for the benefit only of the ruling circles within the party. But for several years it has been clear – not least to David Cameron – that this assumption is wrong. More »

The Lindsay Lohan Mystery

‘Do you really like movies?’ a weary Lindsay Lohan asks another woman in The Canyons (2013), Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis’s languid micro-budget thriller. ‘Maybe it’s just not my thing any more.’ Widely considered uninsurable, Lohan has had a hard time getting cast in anything for years: the footage of her social life and legal troubles has been far outstripping her film career for a very long time, and she’s still only 28. More »

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