‘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include the cases of Linda Wootton, who had a heart and lung transplant and died nine days after her allowance was withdrawn, and Mark Evans, a brain-damaged amputee who lost most of his benefits.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 »
Nembutal, an old friend of mine from other days, turns out to be pentobarbital, US executioners’ drug of choice for lethal injections. Now a problem has arisen. The licensed manufacturer refuses to allow it to be sold for that use, and so it comes about that the state of Missouri, which has an inmate, Michael Taylor, on death row waiting to be dispatched this month, has no stocks to hand and can’t get the wherewithal. Unable to source the real thing, they looked around for someone to cook it up for them. Homemade pentobarbital can apparently give you a very nasty death – on top of the already nasty death you get from judicial execution. In a recently recorded use of it, the victim’s heart continued to beat for ten minutes after he had stopped breathing; last month another recipient of such an injection said after 20 seconds: ‘I feel my whole body burning.’ More »
As my mother likes to say, life’s a shit and then you die. Not only that, but many of the things that help mitigate the shit – overeating, drugs, booze, brain-addling TV, tobacco – are likely to make you die sooner rather than later. So the clear-eyed choice is between eking out an existence of miserable and abstemious longevity, and one where the booze, as well as getting you pissed in the short term, bestows the added boon of an early grave. More »
View of the Thames from Cliveden, in milder times © Leonard Harding 2009
From the terrace at Cliveden, with its western and southern panorama, the Thames and its floodplain are partly obscured by woodland, and so yesterday you couldn’t judge the extent of the flooding in the valley below. But that didn’t appear to matter to the large number of people visiting the house and its gardens, on the first gale-free day in some time, many of whom had turned out to see what they could of the floods. Disaster tourism?
‘Enlightenment does not produce tolerance; tolerance is the result of boredom,’ Quentin Crisp said in 1968, when asked about changing social attitudes towards homosexuals. ‘The facts have to be repeated over and over and over, and in the end people say: “All right, so you’re queer. Just talk about something else.” And then the work is done.’
It seemed that the moment of peak boredom had come for gay people in Ireland in their fight for equal marriage rights. With a referendum timetabled for early 2015, and the government getting behind the ‘Yes’ campaign following strong recommendations from the Constitutional Convention, gay rights campaigners seem confident, if not complacent, about a change in the law.
But they haven’t won yet. Catholic pressure groups are campaigning against gay marriage. The Irish Times commentator John Waters called it ‘a satire’. ‘It’s not that they want to get married,’ he wrote, ‘they want to destroy the institution of marriage because they’re envious of it.’
The drag performer Rory O’Neill said on the Saturday Night Show last month that attitudes such as Waters’s represent a ‘subtle homophobia’. More »
Stuart Hall and I used to argue about jazz. He was a Miles Davis fan, and I was into the Modern Jazz Quartet. The third member of our late 1950s Universities and Left Review troika, Raphael Samuel, was more or less tone deaf except for folk. In the New Left’s early days Stuart and Raphael made a fabulous team: Stuart unfailingly courteous, cool, unflappable and – quite rare this on the left – with a terrific sense of humour. More »
When George Clooney and his friends got special leave to be photographed in front of Leonardo’s Last Supper the Italian newspapers couldn’t resist pointing out that the last man to have that privilege was Silvio Berlusconi. And when he said off-the-cuff in Berlin that it would be very nice if the Parthenon frieze that Lord Elgin brought to London 200 years ago were returned to Greece, Clooney didn’t help his case by confirming his view to the press in London but calling them the ‘Pantheon’ marbles. More »
From Daniel Defoe’s The Storm: or, a Collection of the Most Remarkable Casualties and Disasters Which Happen’d in the Late Dreadful Tempest, both by Sea and Land (1704):
We have reckoned, including the City of London, about 123 People kill’d; besides such as we have had no account of; the Number of People drowned are not easily Guest; but by all the Calculations I have made and seen made, we are within compass, if we reckon 8000 Men lost, including what were lost on the Coast of Holland, what in Ships blown away, and never heard of, and what were drowned in the Flood of the Severn, and in the River of Thames. More »
From the beginning of the end of The Mill on the Floss:
In the counties higher up the Floss, the rains had been continuous, and the completion of the harvest had been arrested. And now, for the last two days, the rains on this lower course of the river had been incessant, so that the old men had shaken their heads and talked of sixty years ago, when the same sort of weather, happening about the equinox, brought on the great floods, which swept the bridge away, and reduced the town to great misery. More »