Conspiracy of Errors

An old friend of mine told me that watching the first plane hit the World Trade Center from a commuter bus in Queens he assumed pilot error was to blame. (If only.) Like many editors, my friend saw the world as a conspiracy of errors and believed, despite my attempts to convince him otherwise, that emailing manuscripts resulted in digital corruption – the sort of thing where ‘too’ replaces ‘two’ or ‘to’.

But mistakes do happen, sometimes with dire consequences, especially if they involve planes and missiles. The seventh deadliest aviation disaster in history – the tenth if you’re counting 9/11 – is the downing of Iranian Air Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes on 3 July 1988. More »

In Moscow

‘When the news came in about the plane going down I couldn’t tell whether it was real. There have been so many fake pieces of news in the Russian media this week you can no longer tell what’s true and what isn’t,’ B said, as we sat in a Moscow café the weekend after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 had been blown out of the sky over Donbass. ‘Just this week there was a story about Ukrainian soldiers crucifying a Donbass child. Then there was a story about how the White House instructed the Ukrainians to depopulate Donbass so that the US can get control of its shale gas. And since the crash, there have been stories about Americans trying to down Putin’s plane but getting the Malaysian one by accident, or the plane being filled with corpses before it took off to fake the tragedy, or the US blowing up the plane to pull Putin into a war in Ukraine to distract from their economic problems.’ More »

At David Zwirner

installation view

‘Elysium’ (2003/1973) and ‘Lilac Painting 5′ (2008/1983).

‘For me, drawing is an inquiry, a way of finding out,’ Bridget Riley wrote in the LRB in 2009. ‘The first thing that I discover is that I do not know.’ The Stripe Paintings at the David Zwirner Gallery (until 25 July) shows us how much we don’t know either; how fickle our perception can be. More »

Needle, Haystack, Magnet

In 1765 Lord Camden, the chief justice of England, held that the King’s Messengers  the Special Branch of the day  had to pay damages for trespassing on the premises of a newspaper publisher. They were looking for copies of his newspaper, which the government regarded as seditious  or as we might say now, a threat to national security. They were acting on the orders of a government minister, but his orders didn’t have the force of law and couldn’t trump the publisher’s property rights  in effect, his right to privacy. ‘By the laws of England,’ Lord Camden said, ‘every invasion of private property, be it ever so minute, is a trespass.’ The case, Entick v. Carrington, established that ministers must not issue general warrants and their agents must not enter private property without a lawful warrant.

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIP) became law last week after just three days of parliamentary debate. When David Cameron said of the bill, ‘I want to be very clear: we are not introducing new powers or capabilities,’ he was clear, but he wasn’t accurate. More »

Can the world get by without Russia?

We can’t be sure that, in the tragedy of Vladimir Putin and Russia, the tragedy of the privatisation of a beautiful old prison by one of its former jailers, a new act has begun. The governments of Europe may hold their breath, move on, tut and do nothing while France sells Russia a powerful new warship in the autumn. Or they may decide that letting Russia invade and promote killing and destruction in neighbouring countries is a bad thing. As the Financial Times writes in an editorial, ‘Russia will become an international pariah and a dark new era in East-West relations will begin.’ More »

Motorway Accident in Wales

On Wednesday I received four calls from the BBC’s Good Morning Wales.

First morning call: was I available to be interviewed about Gaza tomorrow morning? I said yes.

First afternoon call: could I tell them what I would say? I said (a) Israel was a rogue state, pampered and cosseted by the US and its vassals. (b) Targeting and killing Palestinian children (especially boys) and blaming the victims was an old Israeli custom. (c) The BBC coverage of Palestine was appalling and if they didn’t cut me off I would explain how and why.

Second afternoon call: was I prepared to debate a pro-Israeli? I said yes.

Afternoon message left on my phone: terribly sorry. There’s been a motorway crash in Wales, so we’ve decided to drop your item.

In Praise of Weariness

According to conventional American wisdom, a crucial lesson emerged from the Second World War: the world could not get along without us. This assumption animates the foreign policy elite that has dominated US public discourse for seven decades: the bipartisan interventionist establishment that includes Congress and the executive branch as well as significant parts of the academy and the press. Madeleine Albright summarised the perspective in 1998, when she called the United States the ‘indispensable nation’. More »

In Thessaloniki

Lyubov Popova, Study for 'Spatial Force Construction'

Lyubov Popova, Study for ‘Spatial Force Construction’

‘Collectors,’ the collector George Costakis observed, ‘are like madmen.’ Costakis was the son of Greek emigrants who settled in Moscow at the turn of the 20th century and grew wealthy on tobacco. He made himself indispensable — as chauffeur and general factotum — to various embassies, who paid their staff in hard currency rather than worthless roubles. At first his madness took familiar forms: opulent carpets, Russian silver, Old Masters by the dozen. But the outbreak of war disrupted his livelihood, and the bibelots were sold off. It was just as well: tired of still lifes (which, he found, all ‘faded to a grey-brown blur’) and piqued by a chance encounter with a different sort of painting, a carcass of riotous colour and disjointed form, Costakis changed tack. He devoted the rest of his life to unearthing masterworks of the Russian avant-garde. More »

Stuffing the Topper

Under ten months till the UK general election, and the parties are busy pushing round the hat. Last week Labour threw a fundraiser at the Camden Roundhouse, at £15,000 for a seat at the top table. But that’s barely a groat in the cap beside the Tories’ prowess at stuffing the topper. More »

Fassbinder the Football Fan

fassbinderLast week someone on Twitter sent me a photograph of the late German iconoclast Rainer Werner Fassbinder, decked out in the crisp white livery of FC Bayern Munich. Ach, der einzige Fassbinder! A waxy faced slob who worked harder than anyone alive; a queer and dreamy aesthete who necked Bavarian beer by the steinful and counted German league football an all-consuming passion. (All Fassbinder’s passions were all consuming: this was both his song, and his downfall.) More »

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