Get On Up

Trees blog

The common nightingale shows up in the south-east of England in April and is gone by early June. The BBC’s first live outside broadcast, in May 1924, saw Elgar’s favourite cellist, Beatrice Harrison, duet with a nightingale in her back garden. More »

The Council Housing Sell-Off Disaster

Council house blog

Forty years ago, there were five million council houses in England, lived in by three out of ten families. Since then the number has declined by two-thirds. The Housing and Planning Bill, which returns to the Commons this week, will make it even more difficult for anyone either to get a council home or to keep it once they do. More »

Labour and Anti-Semitism

You can’t discount an argument on the grounds that you suspect some of its proponents of ignoble motives for making it. It is almost certainly the case that some critics of the state of Israel are motivated by anti-Semitism, but that doesn’t invalidate all criticism of Israeli policy or actions. The occupation of the West Bank is illegal whether you’re anti-Semitic or not.

Defenders of Israel sometimes ask – the international relations equivalent of a drunk driver telling the police to go after real criminals – why the left is so focused on Israel’s wrongdoings, rather than the often far worse crimes of other states. But the answer probably has less to do with anti-Semitism than the fact that, of the $5.7 billion the United States spends each year on foreign military financing, $3 billion goes to Israel.

You can’t police the way people think, only what they do, which may sometimes include what they say. More »

‘Satoshi, Baby!’

Is this Satoshi Nakamoto?

Is this Satoshi Nakamoto?

The conference hall of the New York Marriott Marquis was in a fever. Today was the first day of Consensus 2016, the second annual blockchain technology summit. Blockchain is the underlying mechanism for bitcoin, and the conference has been shaken by the possible unmasking of the electronic currency’s mysterious inventor.

The BBC and the Economist published Craig Wright’s claim to be Satoshi Nakamoto early this morning. Wright had been rumoured to be the father of bitcoin since December 2015, but he’d always denied it, until today. More »

Investors v. States

Barack Obama has been in Europe. British observers – always suckers for American blandishments that the UK is The Special One – saw in the president’s visit a mission to rescue the EU referendum for Remain. But Obama’s overriding aim, as became clear when he progressed to Germany, was to speed the EU-US talks over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) before he leaves office in January. A salient goal of TTIP is to shadow the Investor-State Dispute Settlement system (ISDS), an instrument of public international law granting firms the right to raise an action in a tribunal on the basis that a state’s policies have harmed their commercial interests. More »

Get in Formation

It was 9 o’clock on Sunday morning when my best friend called: ‘Girl, wake up. It’s happened.’ In the days since, Beyoncé’s 12-track visual album Lemonade – ostensibly about her husband Jay Z’s adultery – has smashed records (she’s the only female artist to have all six of her studio albums debut at number one), put freelance journalists in clover and generated a hunt across six continents for ‘Becky with the good hair’. ‘This is Beyoncé’s world,’ Anderson Cooper said in 2013, ‘and we are just living in it.’ More »

Jenny Diski

Jenny Diski died early this morning. ‘Under no circumstances is anyone to say that I lost a battle with cancer,’ she wrote in the LRB in September 2014. ‘Or that I bore it bravely. I am not fighting, losing, winning or bearing.’ Her first piece for the LRB, a Diary, appeared in May 1992. In all she wrote 150 pieces for the paper (and 65 blog posts), the last of them in February this year:

For several days now I’ve been feeling as if I’m on a holiday, a short one coming to its end. Not an especially good one. Not sorry to be leaving, not sorry to have been here. No particular feeling one way or another. Not living in my place. Not familiar enough. As one might sit on the edge of a chair that is waiting for another occupant to take it over. It’s the strangest of strange feelings. Best travelling clothes, a ticking of a clock that will go on ticking after you leave and after the next occupant too.

A Whisper of a Beard

uncumber triptych

Hieronymus Bosch painted clog ships, fish soldiers, armoured creatures with insect wings and scales gobbling human limbs. In the recesses of his paintings you might find a spoonbill, wearing a hooded cape, sitting down to a supper of bird-claw at a table set with white linen and pewterware. His picture of Saint Wilgefortis – usually in the Accademia in Venice, but currently on display at an exhibition in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the town where he lived and worked – is perhaps one of his least strange paintings. It shows a bearded woman being crucified. More »

Theresa May’s Leadership Bid

In 2011, Theresa May told the Conservative Party Conference that the Human Rights Act needed to be restricted. One of the examples she gave of its alleged excesses was an ‘illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat’. Except she was making it up, or at least grossly exaggerating one small part of a case into its entire rationale. In March 2013, she created another stir by suggesting that the next Tory election manifesto should include a promise to dump the European Court of Human Rights. This forced old school Conservatives such as Kenneth Clarke to defend the Strasbourg body – which was just what she wanted, as it would make them more unpopular with Europhobic Tory voters, while boosting her own Eurosceptic credentials.

May’s speech on Brexit earlier this week needed some xenophobic noise to camouflage her pro-EU stance in the referendum campaign; human rights were once again her target. More »

In the Communist Playground

sofia playground 1

In one of the oldest playgrounds in Sofia, where I grew up, there are some new toddler attractions among the old rusting ones, but the potholes in the tarmac haven’t been repaired. For the last six years, flowers have been appearing in them, as part of an ongoing project devised by the artist Veronika Tzekova. She calls it WUMAMPAROI (‘When you make a mistake put a rose on it’). We are a long way from the Soviet cult of childhood, in which the playground played a key role, shifting children’s emotional focus away from home and setting them on the road to the Party. More »

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