Satan’s Paradise

Barack Obama’s plane will land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport this evening. He will be welcomed on the runway by Jomo Kenyatta’s son, Uhuru, Kenya’s fourth president. Both men were born in 1961, three years after the Embakasi Airport was opened (it was renamed in 1978). The website of the Kenya Airports Authority has a page about the airport’s history. It says that it was ‘constructed in the mid-1950s’ before going into considerably more detail about its World Bank-financed refit in the 1970s. It doesn’t mention that the airport was built with the forced labour of thousands of men during the Mau Mau uprising that began in the early 1950s. More »

In Višegrad

In The Bridge on the Drina (1945), which tells Bosnia’s history through 500 years of anecdotes centered around an Ottoman bridge in the town of Višegrad (Basil Davidson called it ‘Bosnia’s Waverley’), Ivo Andrić wrote of the persecution of ethnic Serbs by Austrio-Hungarian authorities and their Muslim backers after Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914:

As has so often happened in the history of man, permission was tacitly granted for acts of violence and plunder, even for murder, if they were carried out in the name of higher interests, according to established rules, and against a limited number of men of a particular type and belief.

Saturday, 11 July was the 20th anniversary of the start of the slaughter of 8000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, ninety kilometres north of Višegrad. More »

Read Everywhere

lrb crab

Wherever you happen to find yourself this summer – in the middle of a saltmarsh or at the bottom of a kitchen garden or on the top of a bus – get someone to take a picture of you reading the LRB or the Paris Review, post it on social media with the hashtag #readeverywhere, and you’ll have a chance to win an Astrohaus Freewrite smart typewriter, among other fabulous prizes. While you’re waiting, take out a joint subscription to both magazines. No prizes for spotting literary allusions in blogposts though.

The 94th Element

Pluto photographed from the 'New Horizions' spacecraft. © NASA/APL/SwRI

Pluto photographed from the New Horizions spacecraft. © NASA/APL/SwRI

Glenn Seaborg, Joseph W. Kennedy, Edwin McMillan and Arthur Wahl discovered element 94 in Berkeley in 1941. McMillan and Philip Abelson had discovered element 93 the previous year. When Martin Heinrich Klaproth isolated element 92 in pitchblende in 1789, he called it uranium after the recently discovered planet Uranus. The scientists at Berkeley named elements 93 and 94 after the planets Neptune and Pluto. The discovery of plutonium was kept secret until after the war. At Los Alamos it was called ‘49’. This did not help much since Klaus Fuchs gave all the details about the bomb to the Russians. The Germans also realised the value of element 94 for making bombs but they never could make a reactor to produce the stuff. More »

The Queen’s Childhood

royal heilnessesLife as a royal correspondent has its longueurs. In fact, much of the time, there’s little but longueurs. At the palace tea-parties, everyone’s on their best, terrified of letting rip a Pimm’s burp or treading on a corgi. One yearns for a bit of bad behaviour – a drunken streaker, say, or a blue-blood f-bashing a dithering pap, or a party guest who’s swapped the usual frock coat and topper for a full Afrika Korps service uniform.

One waits in vain, too, for her majesty to appear in SS rig to lead the canapé-rodents in a rendering of the Horst Wessel. Still, the Sun’s ‘Their Royal Heilnesses’ scoop falls not far short of this. More »

Sisi’s Secret Gardens

The masters of Egypt’s arcane bureaucracy are still using ‘special funds’, or extra-budgetary slush-fund accounts, to siphon off state revenues for private gain and dispersal to patronage networks. Before he was deposed and locked up, Mohamed Morsi made a few half-hearted attempts to reform the special funds system and repatriate money to the treasury. But Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who recently announced a ‘national anti-corruption strategy’, has made no serious move against this idiosyncratic levy, which flourished under Sadat in the 1970s and increased dramatically under Mubarak in the 1980s. The secret gardens of Egypt’s bureaucracy and deep state may be harder to intrude on than Sisi claims to believe. More »

On the Tube

Eduardo Paolozzi's Tottenham Court Road mosaics.

Eduardo Paolozzi’s Tottenham Court Road mosaics.

There was general upset earlier this year when TFL revealed that the redevelopment of Tottenham Court Road station would lead to the removal of portions of Eduardo Paolozzi’s 1984 mosaics. The 20th-Century Society called – again – for a register of public art and bemoaned English Heritage’s failure to list them (as they had the water fountains at the station, also removed). Most of the murals, TFL says 95 per cent, remain in situ and are being restored, but the arches at the top of the escalators, which made going underground look like descending into Ali Baba’s futurist cave, are gone.  More »

If the Children Dared to Speak

With the exception of the novels he serialised in them – Hard TimesA Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations – the contents of Charles Dickens’s weeklies Household Words and All the Year Round have mostly been forgotten. But the lucky purchase by the book dealer Jeremy Parrott of a bound set of All the Year Round with handwritten marginalia identifying nearly all the anonymous contributors of its 2500 articles, stories and poems has generated much excitement. The handwriting seems mostly to be Dickens’s own, and names Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins and Lewis Carroll among many others: the speculation is that the bound set was Dickens’s file copy, which he kept in the flat above the office.

Whether the number of general readers will increase – in spite of the complete availability of both weeklies’ contents online – is hard to say. It would be a great pity if it didn’t. Although the articles were written a century and a half ago, they covered many issues that still trouble us, and show that what we tend to think of as new and malignant manifestations of modernity are anything but new.  More »

In Sofia

Djaved says he has learned that you can haggle with a policeman for anything in Sofia. At 10.15 on the morning we met it was already over 30ºC, but we went for a walk anyway. I grew up wandering these streets after school. Yuch Bunar, as the area near the Central Market Hall was once called, has traditionally been the home of migrants, Jews, traders, musicians. It is the most culturally and historically dense part of the city, and the buildings haven’t changed much since the late 19th century. They haven’t been intentionally preserved – just left undisturbed. The area has a synagogue, a mosque, one Catholic and two Orthodox churches, all working, all in one square mile, all peeling stucco in different shades of ochre, just minutes away from Parliament Square, where the buildings are in pale grey stone: the council of ministers, the presidential palace, the national bank. More »

What’s a Gang?

According to the Policing and Crime Act 2009, for violence to be ‘gang-related’ means that it involves at least three people, associated with a particular geographical area, who have ‘a name, emblem or colour’ which allows others to identify them as a group. Last month this was revised in new statutory guidance from the Home Office. There’s no longer any mention of geographical territory or gang emblems: a ‘gang’ is any group that commits crime and has ‘one or more characteristics that enable its members to be identified as a group’. There’s no mention of what those ‘characteristics’ might be. More »

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