Selling Love

In order to be made a saint in the Catholic Church, you first have to be dead and then you have to perform two miracles. The first posthumous miracle the Vatican says Mother Teresa performed was the healing of an Indian woman named Monica Besra, whose abdominal tumour disappeared after a locket containing a picture of the nun was pressed to her stomach. The tumour was caused by tuberculosis, one of the diseases Mother Teresa had spent her life providing care for. The Vatican rushed to confirm the miracle, but Besra’s family and doctors were sceptical: ‘She took medications for nine months to a year,’ Besra’s doctor told the New York Times. Other hospital staff said that they felt pressure from Catholic authorities to say that the recovery was miraculous. More »

Cameron Quits Again

On 19 June, shortly before the EU referendum, David Cameron tweeted that ‘Britain isn’t a quitter.’ Outside 10 Downing Street three days later, he reaffirmed that ‘Brits don’t quit.’ The next day, Britain voted to quit the EU. During the campaign, he had let it be known that if it did, he would remain prime minister – before quitting on the morrow of the referendum. In his resignation speech he vowed to stay on until the autumn, to ‘steady the ship’ for his successor. When he was elbowed aside within a fortnight, he vowed not to quit as MP for Witney. Now he’s quit at that, too. More »

In John Lewis

fashion queen mannequinLondon Fashion Week will begin on Friday, and with it comes the usual dismay about the thinness of the models and the impact of this on women and teenagers – including the models themselves. The Women’s Equality Party (founded last year) has launched the #NoSizeFitsAll campaign to challenge the UK fashion industry to do better. One of its demands is for Fashion Week to include models of UK size 12 and above. (Size 12, though smaller than average, is considered ‘plus-size’.) ‘The softly, softly approach has been tried for years and is not working,’ the manifesto says. Well: not for women, anyway.

Nearly a year ago I complained about the mannequins at the entrance of the ladies’ department in John Lewis on Oxford Street. ‘It’s nothing to do with us, it’s head office, you’ll have to fill in a complaint form,’ the sales assistants told me. A few months earlier, Topshop had been publicly shamed for its ‘ridiculously thin’ mannequins after a customer’s open letter went viral. More »

A Battered Monument

Whenever Nick Cave launches a new project in London, the same group of respectable goths and men in silk shirts find themselves together again, and recognition flickers – because you met this person last time, or you catch a glimpse of Ray Winstone again, or Will Self. It was like that at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 2013, when the Bad Seeds played Push the Sky Away in full for the first time; and at the Barbican in 2014, for a gala preview of Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s film about Cave’s 20,000 Days on Earth. Last night, P.J. Harvey was ahead of me in the queue at the cinema, where I’d gone to watch One More Time with Feeling, Andrew Dominik’s film about Cave’s sixteenth album with the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree. More »

The Zrada Card

The three Home Alone movies all featured in a list of the ten most watched TV programmes in Ukraine in January and it’s tempting to speculate that the popularity of the franchise reflects the way the country sees itself: abandoned by those who should be responsible for it, under attack from bigger powers and having to improvise its self-defence with anything that comes to hand. This isn’t just about the latest Russian aggression. Historically Ukraine has been invaded and occupied by everyone in the region: Romania, Austria, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia. More »

Israel’s Impending Civil War

Something happens to retired chiefs of the Israeli internal Security Service, Shin Bet. Once they leave their jobs, they become spokesmen for peace. How come? Shin Bet agents are the only members of the establishment who come into real, direct, daily contact with Palestinians. They interrogate Palestinian suspects, torture them, try to turn them into informers. They collect information, penetrate the most remote parts of Palestinian society. They know more about the Palestinians than anybody else in Israel (and perhaps in Palestine, too). More »

The Spirit of Charlemagne

By origin the European Union is a deeply Catholic institution. Its six-member precursor took in the main Catholic powers of Western Europe, apart from Fascist Spain; even part-Protestant Germany was led in by that devout Roman Catholic Rhinelander, Konrad Adenauer. The Union’s close historical avatar, the Holy Roman Empire, aspired to an imperium that, if not wholly Roman, remained as firmly of this world as papal power itself. More »

At Lincoln Center

A few weeks ago, I played an album by the jazz saxophonist Henry Threadgill to a composer I know, and asked him to guess who wrote it. Old Locks and Irregular Verbs is an extended suite for an octet, and, like many of Threadgill’s compositions, full of jagged rhythms and mind-teasing patterns. ‘Milton Babbitt?’ my friend suggested.

Babbitt was an academic serialist composer and the author of a notorious article, ‘Who Cares if You Listen?’ But he also dabbled in jazz, or rather, in ‘Third Stream’ music. The Third Stream, a synthesis of classical music and jazz, was first dreamed up by the French horn player and composer Gunther Schuller, in a 1957 lecture at Brandeis University. More »

After the Olympics

Athletes are now arriving in Rio for the start of the Paralympic Games next week. The predictions of unfinished stadiums, Zika outbreaks and rampaging crime at the Olympics last month proved largely unfounded. Brazil won more medals than ever before, with some powerful symbolic victories for its ordinary citizens. The men’s football team avenged their 7-0 World Cup defeat against Germany. Brazil’s first gold of the games (for judo) was won by Rafaela Silva, a black lesbian from the City of God favela. Maicon de Andrade Siqueiro, who got a bronze medal in the taekwondo, trained around his work as a builder and a waiter. El País described him as a fighter not only in the stadium but, ‘like so many Brazilians’, in life. More »

Trump in Aspen

Until 1880, Aspen, Colorado was known as Ute City, after the Native American people who inhabited the valley. During the silver boom of the 1880s it was an extremely prosperous small town. There are still traces of that era, including the Wheeler Opera House. It came to an abrupt halt in 1893 when the silver market collapsed. The place was moribund for fifty years until the Chicago industrialist Walter Paepcke, who liked to ski, saw the potential of the place as a resort. Among other things he created the Aspen Institute where industrialists like himself might be exposed to Aristotle. The Aspen Center for Physics, where I have been coming since the 1960s, was originally part of the institute. This used to be a pretty funky town. In 1970 Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff. There were some wealthy people like Paepcke but they pretty much faded into the background. Either you could ski or you couldn’t. Things have changed. There are now fifty billionaires who have some sort of property in Aspen. Three of the Koch brothers – Charles, David and William – have roots here. (William is the poor Koch brother, worth only $2.3 billion.)

Donald Trump does not own any property here – though he once tried to build a hotel – but he has left a trail. More »

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