In Berlin

The first I heard was a text message from a friend in London, around 9 p.m. When I opened my laptop it was already filled with images of the Gedächtniskirche in the centre of former West Berlin, its broken spire left there after the war as a memorial. But now, in front of it, a lorry had been driven into one of Berlin’s busiest Christmas markets: the wooden huts festooned with fairy lights were surrounded by the blue and red lights of the ambulances, fire engines and police cars. Blood stained the pavement and windswept reporters repeated the little information they had. Nine dead, many injured, the lorry’s passenger killed at the scene. The driver in custody. Was it worse that we weren’t even surprised? More »

Assassination of an Ambassador

At 7.05 p.m. Turkish time yesterday, the Russian ambassador, Andrei Karlov, was shot dead in an Ankara art gallery. The assassin, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, an off-duty Turkish police officer in a suit and tie, calmly shot Karlov in the back several times; spoke in Turkish about Aleppo, with his hand in the air, one finger pointed upward (a jihadi sign, symbolising ‘takbir’, the greatness and oneness of Allah); and then said, in accented Arabic, a few sentences associated with Jabhat al-Nusra. (We can be sure of all this because the shooting was captured by an Associated Press photographer.) Altıntaş was killed by security forces who stormed the building. Vladimir Putin was informed of the assassination while on his way to watch a play written by Alexander Griboyedov, Nicholas I’s ambassador to Persia, who was killed in 1829 when a mob stormed the Russian embassy in Tehran. More »

Cameron Vanishes

‘We will introduce a United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill to make it clear that ultimate authority stays in this country, in our Parliament,’ the Conservative Party’s 2010 manifesto said. It was a promise they never kept. Six years later it’s a promise that’s completely obsolete, thanks to the EU referendum, although just now even that ‘ultimate authority’ is in some doubt, as the Supreme Court deliberates on Miller v. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. ‘Our approach to foreign affairs is based on a belief in freedom, human rights and democracy,’ the 2010 manifesto also said. ‘We are sceptical about grand utopian schemes to remake the world. We will work patiently with the grain of other societies, but we will always support liberal values.’ More »

Shameless

Back in the day, the rhetoric of American power was thick with talk of high moral purpose. The ‘international community’, the label of choice for the United States’ Facebook fanbase, proved compliant in the face of US-sponsored mass killing in Indonesia under Suharto, the fire-bombing of civilians in Vietnam, and the decades-long portfolio of Monroe Doctrine-inspired murderous dictatorships in Latin America. Hot on the heels of Vietnam and the secret bombing of Cambodia, Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. Latterly the high moral tone took a bit of a knock from the bungled crusades in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. But now, in the dying days of the Obama regime, it’s back. More »

Southern Fail

At the High Court last week, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), the parent company of Southern rail, failed to secure an injunction against Aslef, the train drivers’ union. On Monday they took the case to the Court of Appeal, which also dismissed it, allowing the first drivers’ strike in the company to go ahead on Tuesday. More »

Double Standards

Anti-Semitism is on the rise and needs to be challenged. But the working definition of anti-Semitism that was formally adopted this week by the British government is dangerous. It says that anyone who subjects Israel to ‘double standards by requiring of it behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation’ is an anti-Semite. More »

Nebulous Concepts

The Casey Review into opportunity and integration was published last week. Among the platitudes (‘integration is a nebulous concept’) and non-sequiturs (it quotes opinion polls extensively without explaining why they are important or relevant, or considering if the questions were worth asking), Dame Louise Casey asks: ‘Why conduct an integration review?’ Because ‘numerous reports on community cohesion and integration had been produced in the preceding fifteen years but the recommendations they had made were difficult to see in action.’ More »

Red Squirrels and Leprosy

Photograph by Ray eye, CC BY-SA 2.0 deleprosy

The ‘much loved’ status of red squirrels in Britain probably won’t be damaged by the discovery that some of them are lepers. The finding that individuals on Brownsea Island are infected with a leprosy bacterium with a DNA sequence close to that of one circulating in medieval England seems unlikely to provoke significant concerns for public health, either. We don’t hunt, skin, eat or cuddle red squirrels so the opportunities for transmission are remote. More »

Is there a plan?

The oral argument in Miller v. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union finished in the Supreme Court case yesterday. The question was whether or not the government has to consult Parliament before notifying the European Council, under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, that the UK intends to leave the EU. Last month the Divisional Court in London ruled that Parliament must be consulted; the government is appealing against that decision.

Whatever the outcome of the case, the proceedings were remarkable. As with most hearings in the Supreme Court, the argument was streamed online. Unlike most, it attracted quite a few viewers. Transcripts were made available; commentators summarised the arguments. Lawyers took to Twitter to explain – or mock – the proceedings. When so little else seems to be going according to plan, this is some cause for celebration: the peaceful, public scrutiny of government actions by an open court is a rare thing. More »

Signing with the KGB

‘All intelligence agencies, no matter what controls they appear to work under,’ Phillip Knightley once wrote in the LRB, ‘are a danger to democracy.’ Knightley, who died yesterday, wrote a handful of excellent pieces for the paper in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including a withering assessment of James Jesus Angleton, head of CIA counter-intelligence, and a first-hand account of how the KGB monetised its archive when the Cold War ended: More »

  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • Delaide on Inauguration Day: I know it's not cool to praise Obama, or HRC for that matter. But in the context of what's possible in American politics, I think he did a remarkable ...
    • trumpaverse on The Nightmare Begins: It's not an incipient nightmare anymore: it has arrived. I did much searching this sad evening to locate something online to help me deal with my an...
    • suetonius on He won, won, won: You know what's funny? In Trump's description of the Twilight Zone episode, the guy dies in an accident. Actually, he's shot by the police. I find ...
    • melsumar on At the Gogol Centre: Several years ago I took a group of sixth formers to The Tempest in Russian. It turned out to be brilliant, especially for making them realise the phy...
    • Graucho on Inauguration Day: In a just world the Iran Contra affair would have had Reagan impeached and imprisoned, but it isn't a just world.

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

Advertisement Advertisement