What happened in Cologne?

Media coverage of the recent violence in Cologne is perpetuating sexism and racism in the name of feminism. On 9 January, the German magazine Focus carried a photograph on its cover of a naked white woman with black handprints all over her body. Süddeutsche Zeitung used a drawing of a black hand reaching up between a white woman’s legs. (SZ’s editors have since apologised; Focus’s have not.) A Charlie Hebdo cartoon shows monkey-like men chasing a woman and asks: ‘Who would little Aylan have become if he’d grown up? A bottom-groper in Germany.’ The British media too have carried stories on the problem of ‘migrant gang sex attacks’ and ‘sexual jihad’, accepting the far right’s use of the spectre of sexual violence to advance its anti-immigrant agenda. More »

How Buildings Sound

Derek Sugden, the dean of acoustic engineers, who has died at the age of 91, remained perpetually surprised that architects could be so concerned with every aspect of the building they were designing ‘but not really with what it sounded like’. According to Sugden, ‘the sound is as important as the surface and the feel. It’s important because our ears define for me the nature of space.’ More »

Statues Quo

oriel rhodes statuePlausibly, nothing much matters. Among human beings, opinions differ about how much things matter. A surprisingly common defence of the status quo is to say of some institution arraigned for affronting reason or decency that it doesn’t matter – because it’s purely ‘symbolic’, say – but it’s very important not to change it. So having a royal head of state doesn’t matter, because she’s a figurehead, but it matters that the post is not filled by sortition, say, because then any fool might do the job. Again, with free speech, words are mere hot air, unlike sticks and stones; but it matters intensely that people get to vociferate them.

And so it is with statues. More »

Ted Hughes in Hebden Bridge

Stoodley Pike, above Hebden Bridge

Stoodley Pike, above Hebden Bridge

In ‘Stubbing Wharfe’, a poem from Birthday Letters, Ted Hughes writes about sitting with Sylvia Plath in a pub ‘Between the canal and the river’ in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire: More »

Made in Britain

The share prices of BAE Systems, Qinetiq and other British arms firms rose in November as the likelihood of Britain launching airstrikes against Syria increased. After the House of Commons voted in favour of military action on 2 December, there were three sorties in five days, then nothing until Christmas Day, when a Reaper drone hit an Isis checkpoint south of Raqqa. The much lauded Brimstone missiles were at last deployed on 10 January, to destroy a small supply truck. The Telegraph recently quoted a military aviation expert saying that Britain’s air campaign is ‘a non-event which can have had little, if any, impact on the balance of power on the ground’. A Reaper attacked another checkpoint in Syria on Monday, and yesterday evening Typhoon FGR4s from RAF Akrotiri dropped Paveway IV bombs (manufacturer: Raytheon UK) on a compound in Mosul.

Paveway IVs are also used by the Royal Saudi Air Force. Save the Children said in early December that Britain was putting arms sales before humanitarian concerns. More »

Why They Strike

It’s wrong to jeopardise patient care, even if it means working very long hours for mediocre pay. That’s why junior doctors will often turn up to work if they are themselves ill, and why they haven’t gone on strike for forty years. The leader of the BMA Junior Doctors described today as ‘the saddest day in our profession’s recent history’. It’s difficult to disagree. This is not because emergency care was compromised. The service provided by junior doctors today was on a par with that of a bank holiday (the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton was more disruptive to the NHS). Around 3500 patients had elective procedures cancelled, though, and this dispute isn’t their fault. More »

At University College Hospital

Not so long ago, I had a bicycle accident in the quarter of Camden Town that forms the background for many of Frank Auerbach’s paintings. The front wheel lost its grip as I rode over a manhole cover, made more slippery that morning by overnight rain. It was bad luck, but my good luck it wasn’t worse — my bike slipped away to the left, I fell to the right, my hip and chest took most of the impact, I wasn’t wearing a helmet, it happened on a side street used by few cars, two people picked me up.
More »

Corbyn’s Right to Reshuffle

The old Labour establishment’s loud objections to Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle betray a belief that shadow cabinet members have a moral and democratic right to their jobs. Had Corbyn, like almost any party leader in history, appointed a shadow foreign secretary who shared his foreign policy, dismissing Hilary Benn would have prompted even more outrage from Labour’s centrists.

The outrage has no democratic basis. The power to reshuffle and remove shadow ministers is, to be sure, a power from above, but it has been granted to Corbyn by the biggest popular mandate any Labour leader has ever had. Michael Dugher, Pat McFadden, Hilary Benn and Maria Eagle, on the other hand, were not elected by anyone to speak for the Labour Party as a whole. Their only mandate is from their constituents, which gives them the right to a seat in the Commons for the duration of this parliament, not a place in the shadow cabinet. More »

Eternal Bowie

Halfway through his final performance as Ziggy Stardust, at the Hammersmith Odeon in July 1973, David Bowie sang ‘My Death’, his version of ‘La Mort’ by Jacques Brel. It’s a faintly ridiculous song, rich with pompous melancholy, but he carries it off wonderfully. ‘Whatever lies behind the door/there is nothing much to do/angel or devil, I don’t care/for in front of that door/there is you.’ The last time through the chorus – in D.A. Pennebaker’s film of the concert you can see a tear, or a drop of sweat, glisten in the corner of Bowie’s eye – he pauses before the last word, and voices from the audience call out, as they may have done before, and would do again: ‘Me! Me!’ Whether he was expecting the response or not, his gaze flickers across his fans, as if picking them out one by one, and his ghostly face breaks into an unforced smile of pleasure and surprise. ‘Thank you,’ he says.

Sleazier Sounds

Steve Mackay, the saxophone player, died in October. I found out just last week, after falling into a YouTube hole marked ‘Stooges’, though his death was covered not only by the music press but by the Washington Post and the Guardian. This is slightly surprising; Mackay did many things with his life, but he’s known for playing on a few tracks on one album, which came out 45 years ago. Then again, the album is Fun House, and one of those tracks is ‘1970’ – mind-blowing, earth-shattering music, which really was made to shatter the earth: ‘What the Stooges put into ten minutes was so total and so very savage,’ Iggy Pop wrote in his memoir, I Need More, ‘the earth shook, then cracked, and swallowed all misery whole.’ More »

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    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

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