Sorry, Sarge

Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, plans to institute military cadet corps in schools. The idea, apparently, is not only to provide future recruits for the British army, but also to instil discipline and ‘British values’ – whatever he thinks they may be – in young people.

School cadet corps started up in the later 19th century in order to encourage national and imperial patriotism. Most public schools had them; state schools refused to, out of anti-militaristic principle. (That was one reason Baden-Powell founded his Boy Scout movement.) As far as I know, the public schools have them still. So do, or did, the grammar schools that liked to ape the public schools, such as mine. More »

The Walloon Impasse

Just over a century ago, ‘plucky little Belgium’ stood against the might of the ‘Hun’ by refusing Germany free passage to invade France. Earlier this month, the plucky and even littler Belgian region of Wallonia took a brief stand against the combined might of the EU and Canada, by blocking the CETA trade pact under the federal provisions of Belgium’s constitution. Yesterday, however, Wallonia gave in, ‘extremely happy that our demands have been heard’. Viewed in the blear light of Brexit, the Walloon impasse, however temporary, suggests it won’t be straightforward to get any deal past the 27 EU rump nations. But it also highlights blindspots in both Brexiters’ and Remainers’ thinking. More »

Angela Carter in the ‘London Review’

cov0504‘I like to write about books that give me pleasure,’ Angela Carter wrote in her preface to Expletives Deleted, the collection of her journalism published posthumously in 1992. ‘I also like to argue,’ she said. ‘A day without argument is like an egg without salt.’

Between 1980 and 1991, Carter wrote some of her finest literary tributes for the LRB: Grace Paley, Colette, Christina Stead, Iain Sinclair. But the pieces that really leap at you from the archive are three from the middle 1980s about food and foodies or, as Carter called it, ‘conspicuous gluttony’ and ‘piggery triumphant’, and how ‘genuinely decadent’ she found the foodie search for the perfect melon, ‘as if it were a piece of the True Cross’. More »

We Need to Talk about Donald

On 9 March, I went to Washington, DC to consult with the Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-partisan organisation founded in 1987 that runs the election debates. Any candidate who receives at least 15 per cent support in five national polls is eligible to take part. In practice, this usually means that a Republican faces a Democrat in three commission-sponsored televised debates. More »

The Horrors of Heathrow

Ian Gilmour on the horrors of Heathrow, the last time they were proposing to expand the airport (LRB, 19 March 1998):

Heathrow is the worst-sited major airport in the world. Probably no other country would be crazy enough to place its principal airport at a spot which, when the prevailing wind is blowing, requires all aircraft coming in to land to fly first over its capital, one of the world’s most heavily populated cities. And I am pretty sure that if any other country had committed such a blunder, it would not magnify it by building another airport next door to the original mistake. More »

Gaitskell and Europe

When the issue of Britain joining the EEC was raised following Harold Macmillan’s opening of negotiations in July 1961, Hugh Gaitskell had no time for those who saw the issue as one of principle, whether they were passionate pro-Europeans like Roy Jenkins or passionate opponents like many on the left who saw it as ‘a kind of giant Catholic, capitalist conspiracy’. (All quotations come from Philip Williams’s magisterial 1979 biography of Gaitskell.) Everything would depend on the conditions. More »

Maddening, Fiendish, Formidable

Nemo’s Almanac is a long-running literary quiz, which may sound like a pointless thing to write about but it’s – almost – an important cultural phenomenon. It’s also at a critical moment in its history, representing as it does a radically different pace, mode and rationale of intellectual inquiry from the instant gratification of curiosity that the internet has made possible. It consists of 72 quotations, plus one more on the cover, arranged according to monthly themes (this year’s include Hats, Coal, Novelty, Foxgloves, Silence and Socialism). It was started by a governess called Mrs Larden (first name unknown) in 1892 as an almanac and quiz for her charges. The fourth editor, Katherine Watson, who ran a bookshop in Burford, turned it over to John Fuller in 1970. The editorship subsequently passed to Alan Hollinghurst, who in turn passed it on to the late Gerard Benson, who was followed by Nigel Forde; and now I am Nemo and the Almanac has become my responsibility. More »

How to Rig an Election

Three weeks out from polling day, Donald Trump has called the election for Hillary Clinton by alleging widespread voter fraud before most people have cast their ballots. At last night’s debate Trump refused to say he would accept the election result, having earlier this week conjured the bogey of a zombie army of dead voters rising from its necropolis to spook his chances. Wisely, he’s discounted the possibility that his impending defeat has anything to do with having alienated most US voters by his mendacity, bigotry, sexual predation, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, manifest unfitness for public office and encyclopedic ignorance of public policy. Maybe he should call in Russian election monitors to ensure fair play. Responders have noted that verified cases of voter fraud are rare in US elections; their tendency is to infer that all’s well with US democracy. This is a non-sequitur. More »

British Hospitality

An estimated 387 child refugees who have relatives in the UK are stranded alone in Calais. The UK government doesn’t really want to bring them over, and has only started to after being sued by a group of charities. Three teenagers who arrived this week have been accused of looking like young men rather than children. The way the right-wing press has singled out these boys and published their faces in a hit parade is straight-up racist intimidation, playing on a stereotype of non-white foreigners being freakishly and threateningly overdeveloped. More »

Codependence Day

Donald Trump’s instinctive response to his most recent crisis was predictable. As the tales of groping multiplied and swirled, he claimed the high ground. His accusers, he said, were ‘horrible, horrible liars’, whose attacks were being ‘orchestrated by the Clintons and their media allies’. He was willing to suffer for his ‘disfranchised’ followers, however, and they would collectively ‘take back our country’. The election, he promised, was going to be ‘our Independence Day’.

As far as the US media took any notice – and many, in their mainstream way, were focusing instead on the complaints of Trump’s alleged victims – there was confusion. Was Trump drawing on the science fiction movie of the same name, wondered the New York Daily News? The 1996 film shows the White House destroyed by aliens. Worldwide havoc ensues. America’s president leads the counterattack that eliminates the intruders for ever (sequels notwithstanding). In Trump’s eyes, that’s not fantasy so much as cinéma vérité.

The inspiration for his speech, however, is almost certainly closer to home. More »

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