IF: This University Is Free

Three years ago I wrote a blog post hailing the New College for the Humanities as a parodically bad response to the ongoing marketisation of UK higher education, which prompted me to quit the system at that time. The NCH offers tuition at £18,000, and presumably more for its overseas intake (the college keeps its foreign students’ rates secret). That’s double the rate that was then being introduced as the sector norm in public universities, for which the jeunesse dorée get to camp in Bloomsbury, drawn by the roster of telly dons that the college had on board, at least for publicity purposes.

At the end of the post, without much hope that it would happen, I sketched an alternative to the NCH: More »

How long a runway?

Assuming the pilots of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 didn’t destroy the plane; assuming they didn’t crash-land it either; and assuming instead they got it to an airfield, how long would the runway have to be to accommodate a jet as large as a Boeing 777? More »

On the Pilots Rumour Network

Crashes of commercial airliners are rare. That they should happen so infrequently, as Clinton Oster and colleagues wrote in Why Airplanes Crash (1992), ‘is one of the remarkable achievements of the 20th century’. Despite this, it’s axiomatic of plane crashes, when they do occur, that they should be talked about as if they happen all the time.

What happened last week to the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that was on its way to Beijing? Who knows. On the Today programme this morning Justin Webb interviewed a man who knew something about flying. Webb talked about the importance of not speculating, then asked the guest what his hunch was. More »

Translating Lorem Ipsum

Sometimes, when we’re putting together an issue of the LRB, we use Lorem Ipsum, a chunk of phoney Latin dummy text that’s been used by printers and typesetters since the 16th century. We paste it into a layout so we can tell what a page will look like before the copy’s ready. The practice is known as ‘greeking’ because the Latin’s so mixed up it’s all Greek.

Only it isn’t. The text itself has been designed not to communicate, to have the look of text but no meaning – but meaning bubbles up through it nonetheless. The 16th-century printer who came up with it got there by mangling Cicero’s ‘De finibus bonorum et malorum’, an exposition of Stoicism, Epicureanism and the Platonism of Antiochus of Ascalon. Though most of the metaphysical subtlety has been wrung out, sense hasn’t completely: the text is haunted, as Derrida might have put it, by the piece of writing it once was. More »

Paul Foot on Tony Benn

Paul Foot on Tony Benn (LRB, 22 February 1990):

For nearly a century, Labour MPs have been going to Parliament to change the world, but have ended up changing only themselves. Tony Benn is unique. He went to Parliament to change himself, but has ended up determined only to change the world. This extraordinary conversion has taken place not on the backbenches, where a young socialist’s revolutionary determination is often toughened by being passed over for high office, but in high office itself. Indeed, the higher the office Tony Benn occupied, the more his eyes were opened to the horror of capitalist society, and to the impotence of socialists in high office to change it.

At the Museum of London

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In 1912 a group of workmen demolishing 30-32 Cheapside struck gold. They brought up more than 400 pieces of late Elizabethan and early Stuart jewellery, and sold them to an asthmatic pawnbroker cum museum agent, George Lawrence, a.k.a. Stoney Jack. The entire hoard is on display at the Museum of London until 27 April. More »

Ongoing Thuggery

When a new arrival is brought in to the cells in the police station in Dokki, Western Cairo, the first questions he is asked by his fellow inmates are: what happened today? What’s going on outside? Very little information goes in to such places, and very little comes out. When security forces took Hossam Meneai from his apartment in late January, he said the only thing he wanted to do was get a message to his mother telling her he was alive. More »

Remember Eastern Rumelia

In 1878, as the Russo-Turkish war raged and Britons feared Russian expansion, the music-hall star G.H. MacDermott was crooning the ditty that gave the word ‘jingoism’ to the language. As McDermott pointed out, ‘we’ve fought the Bear before’ and ‘we’ve got the men, we’ve got the ships, we’ve got the money too.’ Now we’ve got few men, no aircraft carriers, and we’re broke. All that’s left, like a feedback screech, is the high moral tone.
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On the Road

One Saturday afternoon last summer, the forecast for rain, I set out on a dérive. Or not quite a dérive, because I knew where I was going, or aiming to go: to the dump, more than 70 blocks away across Vancouver, while reading Michèle Bernstein’s The Night in Clodagh Kinsella’s new translation. Bernstein’s intention fifty years ago was to create a ‘fake popular novel’ that would both form a ‘critique of the novel itself’ and alleviate her and Guy Debord’s financial woes. The narrator of La Nuit, Geneviève, is in a ménage-à-trois with Gilles and Carole. The novel describes a walk through Paris over the course of a night. More »

‘Russia is wherever we are’

The games the Kremlin is playing in the Ukrainian theatre of almost-war are an extrapolation of the techniques it uses in Russia. Postmodern authoritarianism – or whatever you want to call the 21st-century system the Kremlin has developed with its puppet politicians and simulated ideologies and pretend conflicts and real killing and corporate KGBism – is going on tour.
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