Thrash Them Out

After Ed Miliband resigned, the acting Labour leader Harriet Harman said the system for electing his replacement would ‘let the public in’ to the debate:

This is the first time a political party in this country has opened up its leadership contest in this way and I think there will be a real appetite for it out there… We should not be afraid of differences. We should thrash them out.

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Not the Brontë Sisters

Not the Brontë sisters

Not the Brontë sisters

Witches always come in threes, and gothic spinster sisters too, so an early photograph of three severe looking women must be the Brontë sisters – mustn’t it? – especially if the scribble on the back could be read as their pen name, Bell. ‘Relikes been they, as wenen they echoon,’ says Chaucer’s Pardoner; everyone wants to believe in relics and to know what lady novelists looked like (Shakespeare too, but no one seems too fussed by what Smollett or Thackeray looked like, though we have pictures). The photo, bought on eBay for £15 by someone convinced it’s of the Brontës, is a collodion positive, the slow process (it takes up to fifteen minutes to develop) which began to replace daguerreotypes in the 1850s, and was itself replaced by gelatin plates not long after. Anne and Emily were both dead by 1850, so to be a picture of the Brontës this would have to be a photograph of an earlier daguerreotype. More »

The Deal with Iran

On 29 January 2002, George W. Bush designated Iran part of the ‘Axis of Evil’, despite Iranian co-operation in Afghanistan the previous year. In summer 2002, the US told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that two nuclear sites were under construction in Iran, at Natanz and Arak, neither of which had been declared to the IAEA as required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which Iran was a signatory.

To defuse the situation, President Khatami offered to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme with the EU3 (France, Germany and the UK). Jack Straw, Joschka Fischer and Dominique de Villepin visited Tehran in October 2003. Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rouhani, agreed to suspend the enrichment facility at Natanz and the construction of a heavy water reactor at Arak, and to sign the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which provides for more intrusive inspections of nuclear sites than the NPT does. More »

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 on an Ottoman bridge in the town of Višegrad (Basil Davidson called the novel ‘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 »

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