These Sudden Mobs

I’ve been thinking about some lines of a poem by Wallace Stevens called ‘Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz’:

There are these sudden mobs of men,

These sudden clouds of faces and arms,
An immense suppression, freed,
These voices crying without knowing for what,

Except to be happy, without knowing how,
Imposing forms they cannot describe,
Requiring order beyond their speech.

Too many waltzes have ended.

The lines are the work of an American poet writing in the 1930s, and the first thing that may come to mind is the hunger marchers of the Depression. But there were other mobs then, in Germany, Italy and elsewhere. More »

Sex, pigeons and vengeful massage therapists

In 1998, after testing positive for high levels of testosterone, the American sprinter Dennis Mitchell blamed the result on alcohol (five beers) and sex (four times the previous night). It was his wife’s birthday, he said. ‘The lady deserved a treat.’ After failing three drugs tests in 2009 and 2010, the Olympic gold medallist LaShawn Merritt attributed the result to a ‘product I used for personal reasons’: the penis-enhancement drug ExtenZe. The Belgian cyclist Björn Leukemans, suspended for doping in 2008, claimed that high levels of testosterone appeared in his urine because drug testers interrupted him having sex with his wife. Anti-doping officials said that no amount of sex could explain the levels of synthetic testosterone in his blood. More »

Earth Overshoot Day

Last year we used up one year’s worth of the earth’s resources by 13 August. This year we’ve done it five days earlier: today is earth overshoot day. (We passed Europe’s fish dependence day on 13 July. This marks the point at which Europe’s fish consumption exceeds what it can catch in its own waters.)

In Pope’s Grotto

William Kent's drawing of Pope in his grotto.

William Kent’s drawing of Pope in his grotto.

Underneath the A310 in Twickenham, in the grounds of Radnor House prep school, lies the grotto of Alexander Pope. It once looked out over the Thames, but now its view takes in the walls of the sixth-form art block and an astroturf sports pitch. But the magic of what Pope called his ‘shadowy cave’ is not lost.

The grotto smells of flint. Its walls are encrusted with geological curiosities. There is a piece of basalt hacked from the Giant’s Causeway and there was once a stalagmite from Wookey Hole, supposedly shot down from the roof of the cave at Pope’s request. More »

Turkey through the Looking Glass

Since the failed coup attempt on 15 July, two distinct narratives about Turkey have emerged. Talking to Turks and non-Turks about the coup increasingly resembles travelling between parallel universes. More »

The Stern Review

It is a rare moment when critics of exercises such as the Research Excellence Framework feel vindicated by a government-commissioned review. Nicholas Stern’s review of the REF, though broadly in favour of it, includes some important criticisms. It acknowledges that the REF has functioned to the disadvantage of women, Black and Minority Ethnic academics, and academics with disabilities; that it devalues interdisciplinary research; and that its narrow conception of ‘impact’ has been geared towards policy changes and the commercialisation of academic work. More »

Public Service Announcement

We’ve reached the halfway point of our #readeverywhere photo contest (with the Paris Review), and as far as we’re aware everybody’s still in one piece. But in response to a couple of recent entries we feel compelled to remind entrants to take care. Here are five tips to help you #readeverywhere safely: More »

In Durban

The 21st International Aids Conference was in Durban last week. The last time it was held here, 16 years ago, Aids denialism in South Africa was rife, people were dying on the front lawns of hospitals, unable to access treatment, and President Thabo Mbeki had announced that Aids was caused not by a virus, but by poverty and poor nourishment.

A lot of progress has been made since then. More »

On the ‘Baghdad Bulletin’

The 'Baghdad Bulletin' being printed in 2003.

The ‘Baghdad Bulletin’ being printed in 2003.

‘Tomorrow, are you ready to die?’ Fadil asked me. He was the chain-smoking owner of the hotel in Jordan I stayed at 13 years ago, soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein. I was 22, had just finished university and was waiting for a ride across the desert to Baghdad, where I would begin working for Iraq’s first postwar English language newspaper, the Baghdad Bulletin. I wasn’t ready to die and thought I should maybe go home, but gave a watery smile, took a gulp of Fanta and fixed my eyes on the flickering TV, tuned to CNN. More »

In Philadelphia

At its most rabid, the Republican National Convention resembled a witch burning. The Democrats in Philadelphia, when they take aim at Donald Trump, do so in the form of a sanctimonious anti-bullying public service announcement. This didn’t work for his Republican rivals during the primaries, but they were talking to Republicans, who may see bullying as a fact of life, feel a bit bullied themselves, and indeed nominated the candidate who sold himself as a national bully. The Democrats ask, do you want your children looking up to a president who’s a bully? Children are ever part of the equation in Philadelphia. More »

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