Teixobactin

There’s been excitement this week at the announcement of a new antibiotic. Called teixobactin by its discoverers, it is produced by a soil bacterium, also new to science because it needed the development of a novel system to enable it to grow and be tested in the laboratory for antibiotic production. More »

Heroic Obstinacy

At the time of writing, ten of Charlie Hebdo’s staff are reported dead following this morning’s attack on the paper’s offices off the Boulevard Richard Lenoir. They include the editor Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb), Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (Cabu) and Bernard Verlhac (Tignous). Two police officers are dead and five other people are seriously wounded. Only a narrow provincialism imagines that blasphemy is not a dangerous pastime. But Charlie Hebdo isn’t a cosy backwater: it has always blasphemed in earnest, as a vocational duty with high attendant risks; the signs are pretty clear so far that this terrible attack was carried out as a lesson of some kind. More »

At the Movies

On Christmas day at 3.05 p.m. I managed to see The Interview. It was not so easy. It was playing at the Cinema Village, a pocket size three-screen theatre in Greenwich Village which specialises in obscure foreign films and other exotica. When I showed up at 2.30 all performances were sold out except the 1 a.m. but I joined the standby line and just at 3.03 managed to get in and find a seat in the very back of the theatre. There were some TV people outside both when I entered and left. What they expected I have no idea. More »

In Doha

photoThere was a bride in full wedding regalia on my plane from Cairo to Doha last month. She was wearing a sequinned, lacy hijab and a long, tight mermaid skirt that flared at the bottom, over a wire hoop. It wasn’t easy to manoeuvre the hoop down the aisle of the plane. She was travelling alone, and in the long empty hallways of Doha’s new airport made laborious progress. I didn’t see who came to meet her. More »

Business First

Whose university?

Whose university?

Last year, students at Cambridge campaigning for a living wage for staff were told by a senior official that their college was ‘a business first, a home second’. A few months later, King’s College hosted George Osborne and others at an international economics conference. Students were hauled before the dean for singing a protest song as Osborne walked past them in the bar. One of the things they were angry about was that the conference had taken over the student coffee shop – part of their home – for its corporate hospitality. More »

Outside the Egyptian Embassy

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the arrest and incarceration of three al-Jazeera journalists in Cairo. Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were charged with broadcasting false news and aiding a ‘terrorist organisation’ (the Muslim Brotherhood). Al-Jazeera rejects the charges.

‘They’re not terrorists, they’re journalists,’ Lindsey Hilsum, the Channel 4 News international editor, told me at a protest outside the Egyptian embassy in London. ‘Everybody knows that. President El-Sisi knows that. It’s completely insane that they’re still in prison.’ More »

In Cuba

On the morning of 17 December, schoolchildren in Coralito assembled under the Cuban flag to sing the anthem before starting lessons. Early sunshine picked out five palm trees on the roadside opposite the school. They were planted in support of the ‘Cuban Five’, agents sent to Miami to disrupt anti-Castro plots by Cuban exiles in 1998, but arrested and imprisoned for spying against the US. There are symbols or images of the Five all over Cuba, often accompanied by Castro’s declaration ‘Volverán!’ (‘They will return’). Last February Fernando González, the second to finish his sentence, returned to Havana, but the remaining three had longer sentences: one, Gerardo Hernández, was serving two life terms. More »

Happy Blairmas

Click to enlarge (or don't)

Click to enlarge (or don’t)

George Orwell, in a celebrated if brutal remark, said that at fifty everybody has the face he deserves. Luckily for him, Orwell didn’t have to specify what one would need to have done to deserve the face Tony Blair has on his Christmas card this year.

As a schoolteacher in the 1980s I took my politics class to sit in the Strangers’ Gallery of the House of Commons. More or less horizontal on the shadow front bench, his feet propped on the Speaker’s table, lounged the recently elected member for Sedgefield, aged 31 and acting already as if he owned the gaff. I thought he was an arse then. It would probably be over-egging it to say that he’s come round to this point of view. But on the Xmas card, Blair wears the look of a man wracked by other people’s conscience. His wife, in scarlet, manages to coax her features into a simper while cosying to his manly pecs. More »

Stephen Colbert 1997-2014

Last Thursday, Stephen Colbert, the comedian, gave Stephen Colbert, the character, his perfect send-off: a death scene the character was too stupid to see through, though many old guests – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Alan Alda, Christiane Amanpour, Ken Burns, Katie Couric, Peter Frampton, Henry Kissinger, George Lucas, Yo-Yo Ma, Willie Nelson, Randy Newman, Samantha Power, Gloria Steinem, Michael Stipe and others – had gathered to sing him on up to heaven. In the background, just behind Barry Manilow, I caught a glimpse of George Saunders. More »

Like the Ancient Romans

Thames Ironworks FC in 1899

Thames Ironworks FC in 1899 (Syd King is in the middle of the second row from the back)

When I began following West Ham fifty years ago nearly all the team was made up of local lads, including the World Cup-winning trio of Moore, Hurst and Peters; plus Harry Redknapp – a bit of a joke on the wing. (How we loved him! I still do.) Of course there were players bought in, one or two of them even from abroad; but the core was made up of East Enders and Essex boys. One of them (Andy Malcolm) went to my Dad’s school. We supported them because they were us. More »

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