Saiho-ji Temple Garden, Kyoto
One of the more benign consequences of perpetual rainfall, if you’re not living in a floodplain or on a disintegrating riverbank, is moss. When the rain stops, take a look at the vivid green material blanketing flagstones and roof-tiles, laying down velvety pads underfoot which make it feel as if you’re wearing cushioned trainers. The plant can’t get too much moisture: moss doesn’t have roots, but takes in water through its leaves. More »
At the end of last year the Federal Reserve started scaling down its massive $85 billion monthly asset purchase programme (commonly referred to as quantitative easing) by $10 billion a month for as long as the US economy continues to improve. The plan is to eliminate it by the end of 2014. So far that plan is on track and on 29 January the Fed reduced the asset purchase programme for the second consecutive month to $65 billion. The end of quantitative easing is a big deal not just for the United States and the mature economies of the global north, but for everybody. On 23 January, the Argentinian peso lost 15 per cent in one day. ‘The worst sell-off in emerging-market currencies in five years is beginning to reveal the extent of the fallout from the Federal Reserve’s tapering of monetary stimulus,’ Bloomberg reported. More »
In a small dark room at the Wellcome Collection, a stranger told me that the necklace we were both looking at through plastic magnifying glasses was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen.
The necklace was made by Katie Paterson as artist in residence at the Sanger Institute. It is 170 fossils, hand-cut into spheres and arranged in order of age, suspended at eye-height on medical-looking string. The oldest fossil, of archean butterstone stromatolite from present-day South Africa, hangs next to the youngest fossil, from a Cypriot hippo, phanourios minor. The stromatolite is formed of some of the first simple organisms; people were writing in Mesopotamia when the Cyprot hippo was fossilised. Between these points lived woolly rhinos, carcharocles megalodon sharks, dolphins and deer, squid, bison, lobster, mammoths, ink fish, iguanodons, coral, sponge, protozoa, cinnamon trees, winged ants and sea turtle eggs. More »
Ed Miliband has said with not very much reservation that the idea of getting rid of Prime Minister’s Questions is something he ‘might be up for’. He would look into it. As political statements go, that is edging on the emphatic. In the same interview he acknowledged public enervation at shouting matches. More »
I stumbled into journalism twelve years ago, at the dingy and convivial offices of the Cairo Times, a now defunct independent English language weekly whose Egyptian and foreign interns and journalists have gone on to report across the Middle East. I’ve worked as a reporter in Cairo ever since – as an editor at other local independent publications and as a correspondent for foreign media – and I’ve never known a worse time for journalists in Egypt than the present. More »
Lenin Mausoleum by Isaak Brodsky (1924).
People get uber-tombs when we don’t want to forget them, or when whoever’s in power wants us not to forget them. They’re a way of making sure that the dead don’t fully die, architectural avatars of the values that belonged to the person pickled, withered or wrapped inside. Lenin’s tomb in Moscow, as Gwendolyn Leick points out in Tombs of the Great Leaders: A Contemporary Guide, is a prime example, though its look – squat, windowless, Lego-like – had more to do with Stalin’s take on Lenin’s values than Lenin’s. When Lenin died in 1924 his widow wrote to his successor: More »
In the past 48 hours Ukraine has reached that tipping-point where the romantics become realists and the realists romantics. In the conventional world, romantics are those who think in terms of national destiny, the will of the people, of battle, of glory and self-sacrifice, of the radical political gesture; the realists those who prioritise money, balance sheets, personal safety, resignation, fatalism, the acceptance of an unjust, imperfect world where people know their place and limits, where things change slowly. More »
From Mavis Gallant’s Paris Notebooks:
10 May 1968. The bridges are guarded by CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité)… They must know they are hated now. They may wonder why. One fastening the other’s helmet chin strap, as if going to a party. More »
‘We have come to assess you,’ the crowd in Triton Square chanted, outside Atos’s London headquarters. The French IT company is under contract to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to carry out Work Capability Assessments on everyone applying for Employment and Support Allowance. A ‘disability analyst’ asks a ‘claimant’ a series of questions and enters the answers into a computer: if you score fewer than 15 points you are considered fit for work. There have been more than 1.2 million appeals against Atos’s assessments, 38 per cent of which have been successful. Atos’s blunders include the cases of Linda Wootton, who had a heart and lung transplant and died nine days after her allowance was withdrawn, and Mark Evans, a brain-damaged amputee who lost most of his benefits. Protests were held yesterday outside the company’s offices across Britain. The slogans in Triton Square included ‘Atos don’t give a toss’ and ‘Atos £500m contract killer’: that’s the estimated cost of the appeals; the company’s government contracts are worth a total of £3.1 billion. More »
Twenty-five people died in Kiev last night.
Before it started, when the day was still bright and my main thoughts were about dealing with my feverish four-year-old twins over half-term, I sent a message to a friend who also writes about Russia (I’d put the twins in front of a cartoon).
‘Just had an odd thought,’ was the gist of what I wrote (it was in a social media shorthand). ‘But what if all the stuff the Kremlin has been doing the last few months – destroying the relatively free RIA Novosti, taking TV Rain off the airwaves, pressuring radio Ekho Moskvy, ramping up the anti-Americanism and traitor-hysteria – is not just a case of a general “turning the screws”, not a reaction to social change, but actually active preparation for a huge operation in Ukraine. They want their informational bases covered. They’re planning something.’
‘Ummm. Maybe,’ my friend wrote. More »