Orbán’s ‘Personal Leadership’

Everything appears to be going according to plan for Viktor Orbán. The Hungarian prime minister was re-elected on 6 April; after another week of counting absentee ballots and the votes of newly enfranchised ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring states, it is now clear that Orbán’s Fidesz party will retain its two-thirds majority in parliament – enough to change the constitution at any time it sees fit. Such concentration of power is unusual in Europe. But it conforms to the political vision Orbán outlined in a speech in 2009: Hungary, he claimed then, needed a dominant ‘central force’ to overcome not only the legacies of state socialism, but also what Orbán portrays as a failed transition after 1989. More »

Philby’s Bouillabaisse

In his autobiography, My Silent War, Kim Philby reminisces about the food he knew in London in the 1930s. ‘Haute cuisine’, he liked to label it, only the ‘haute’ element was more about his appreciation than it was about the food itself. His taste, as two new books about him suggest, was for Mediterranean cooking, food that Elizabeth David would make better known after the war – bouillabaisse, paella, that sort of thing. He apparently wasn’t a bad cook, either, which was less typical of men of Philby’s background. More »

Three Hours and Thirty-Seven Minutes

Before I ran the London Marathon on Sunday I was told that I would ‘enjoy the first 15 miles’ and ‘be buoyed by the crowd’. No such luck. It hurt from the start – I never hit the famous ‘wall’, just felt a steady increase of pain over time – and the crowd might as well not have been there, as far as I was concerned. I posted 3 hours and 37 minutes, which if I have some kind of memory lapse, I will probably try to better in the future.

It would be ungrateful of me, however, not to recognise that it’s been a bit of a struggle in the last century for women to be allowed to compete in marathons at all. Women have fought for my right to feel that amount of discomfort. For many years it was felt that women’s bodies could not withstand the stress of 26.3 miles. More »

In the Tenderloin National Forest

I took a walk in the forest the other day, a national forest. I’m not, customarily, big on walking in the forest unless there’s a Hansel and Gretel Bar & Grill about 300 yards in, but I’m glad I did. It was an uncommonly sultry April afternoon for San Francisco, and windless, rarer still. More »

On the Katzenklavier

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On April Fools’ Day, the Wire magazine put out an announcement for an avant-garde music festival in Poland. I was completely taken in; but then, none of the performances mentioned sounded unrealistic. So James Ferraro had written an operatic tribute to the Nokia 3310 that was to be ‘simulcast online using Netscape Navigator’? Sounds like a natural move after his elevator music installation last month at MoMA and his Heathrow Airport-themed concept EP. More »

In Donetsk

Most informed sources in Ukraine and Russia believe that the annexation of Crimea was planned and carried out by the siloviki (former KGB and security service officials close to Putin), and not by the foreign policy elite (including the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and defence minister, Sergei Shoigu), whose influence has been waning since Putin veered to the right in the wake of the 2011-12 anti-government protests.

A senior figure in the Yeltsin group told me that Putin is using the Ukraine crisis to cleanse the elite and to consolidate his support with the non-metropolitan public at large. It is no coincidence that the last few weeks have seen the Russian authorities cracking down on liberal and internet media.

A former intelligence officer told me that influential members of the president’s inner circle, such as Sergei Ivanov, Nikolai Patrushev and Igor Sechin, view the confrontation with the United States and European Union as a good thing for Russia, an opportunity to make a long-advocated turn towards China. More »

The Cathartic Torments of Adrian Mole

Peter Campbell on Adrian Mole (LRB, 5 December 1985):

Children take to the books partly, I gather, because the disgusting details of Adrian’s spots, the mention of his wet dreams and of his regular measuring of his ‘thing’, break taboos. But more because – despite his hypochondria, his naff intellectual ambitions, his deeply untrendy tastes – he is a hero who suffers as they suffer. More »

At the Theatre

Gary Beadle in Banksy: The Room in The Elephant at The Arcola. Photo © Richard Davenport

Gary Beadle in Banksy: The Room in The Elephant at the Arcola Theatre. Photo © Richard Davenport

‘Art is never finished, only altered,’ @therealbanksy tweeted to 130,000 followers last October. Tom Wainwright’s comedy Banksy: The Room in the Elephant opened at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston last week. Wainwright wrote the play in response to the story of Tachowa Covington, who lost his home in a disused water tank in LA after Banksy sprayed ‘This looks a bit like an elephant’ on it two years ago. More »

At the V&A

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Gianfranco Ferre advert, Fall/Winter 1991. © Gian Paolo Barbieri

The broad daylight at the southern end of the Mont Blanc Tunnel always seemed brighter than the light we’d left behind, but when you’re seven it’s easier to magnify minor differences. In 1970, and for some years that followed, the differences between France and Italy, as I saw them from a car window – there were so many of them. Both countries had motorways named for the sun – the Autoroute du Soleil, the Autostrada del Sole – but one took you to the Mediterranean, the other took you from one part of the Mediterranean to another. In France, the border police stared at you as if you were about to do something wrong; in Italy, they waved you through: ‘Avanti, avanti.’ More »

The FA and the Y-word

Last month the governing body of the US National Football League considered banning the use of the N-word on the field, on pain of a penalty. Several black players criticised the suggestion, including the Superbowl-winning cornerback Richard Sherman. ‘It’s a pretty common word in the locker room… But once a white person says it, it’s a derogatory term.’ Banning it ‘would be almost racist’, Sherman said, as it would discriminate against black players who used it between themselves.

The organisation Kick It Out, which campaigns against discrimination in English football, is holding a debate in Manchester tonight on the Y-word. Since the early 1980s, at least, some supporters of Tottenham Hotspur have referred to themselves as ‘yids’. The nickname, if it can be called that, is supposed to have been adopted as a defence mechanism, a way of positively embracing the perceived Jewish identity of the club, and throwing it back in the faces of opposition fans, some of whom targeted Spurs with anti-semitic songs. Most Spurs fans, including many who use the word to describe themselves, are not Jewish. More »

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