Death in Palagonia

An elderly couple have been murdered in their home in Palagonia, a town of 16,500 people near Catania. The police have arrested an 18-year-old suspect, who was caught with the victims’ phone, computer and bloody trousers on his person. He says he found them under a tree. The crime was probably gruesome enough to have made headlines for its sensation value alone: both corpses were naked; the woman was thrown from a balcony. There were no signs of forced entry on the doors or windows of their apartment. But it’s still in the news because the suspect, an Ivorian national, arrived in Sicily by boat on 8 June. More »

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks, who died today, wrote his first piece for the LRB, ‘Wiccy Ticcy Ray’, in 1981. The others were ‘Musical Ears’, ‘The Leg’ and ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’.


I had just finished writing an article for the LRB and was attaching it to an email when suddenly all the files saved as icons on my screen vanished. I thought at first I had pressed some wrong and incomprehensible button – something that happens to me – when a message flashed up on my screen telling me that all my files were gone. If I wanted them back I would have to pay the equivalent of $500 in Bitcoins (at the current rate of exchange, that was 2.3 Bitcoins) within 130 hours, after which the sum would rise to $1000. Absurdly, I thought of Tarquinius bidding for the Sibylline books of prophecy, and every time he said the price was too high, the Sibyl burns three books and offers the remainder at the same price. Clearly, I was in that sort of auction. To help concentrate the mind the time remaining was set out in hours, minutes and seconds, with each second ticking off: looking at this merely increases one’s manic state as the loss of all one’s files kicks in. I was always promising myself to back everything up but hadn’t. More »

Read Everywhere


The summer isn’t (quite) over: you have until Monday to take out a joint subscription to the LRB and the Paris Review. And while you’re at it, there’s still time to enter our #readeverywhere photo competition.

Dog Fights

I wake up every day to the sound of an argument. This time it’s James Naughtie pressing a shadow minister to declare his position on the prospect of a Corbyn win in the Labour Party leadership contest. The Today programme’s combative exchanges are all too familiar. The politician says no more than his notes allow; the interviewer attempts to expose his subject’s hypocrisy or ignorance. If the politician is guilty of selective hearing, driven by the soundbite and haunted by the Whip, then political interviewers don’t fare much better: irascible, heavy-handed, hectoring. It’s a game where each player depends on the other for his own performance. But for all its frustrations there’s no denying that such rhetorical sparring draws a crowd.

Konrad Lorenz, the Nobel Prize-winner and zoologist, once told a story about taking his French bulldog, Bully, for his daily walk. They would pass by the long and narrow garden of a neighbouring house, where a white Spitz lived. More »

In Rawabi

Even through the rose tint of my 3D glasses, the architects’ rendering of Rawabi is a dizzying sight. Their animated introductory film swoops down on the central square, where men sit with shisha pipes in one hand and iPads in the other, glamorous women go shopping, young couples stroll by, businesspeople talk on the phone, and boys and girls (with and without the hijab) play football together. At a cost of $1.2 billion, Rawabi will be Palestine’s largest ever private sector project, and its first planned city. It’s the brainchild of the US-Palestinian multimillionaire Bashar Masri, who is funding it with backing from Qatar. More »

Written on the Barn

I have recently had occasion to reread a piece I wrote in November 2007 following the beating to death of Paul Quinn in a shed on the southern side of the Irish border by – local people said – the Provisional IRA. I mentioned Gerry Adams’s categorical denial of IRA involvement, I noted that the British and Irish governments were reassured by his call for those involved to be brought to justice, and referenced the further calls, from the Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Féin’s partner in the (then new) power-sharing executive to wait to see if there was evidence of ‘corporate’ IRA responsibility, a phrase whose ‘Blairite banality’, I suggested, masked ‘a volte-face to rival Orwell’s “four legs good, two legs better”’.

Substitute the name Kevin McGuigan for Paul Quinn and the piece might have been written yesterday.  More »

Pity the Seagull

A Saracen shooting a seagull in Marino Sanudo's Secreta fidelium Crucis>/em>, c.1321-24.

A Saracen shooting a seagull in Marino Sanudo’s Secreta fidelium Crucis, c.1321-24.

Northumbria police have launched an investigation after a photo was posted on Facebook of a man apparently strangling a seagull. Councillors in seaside towns are considering using drones to kill seagull chicks in their nests. Although the numbers of most gull species in the UK are in decline, they have an ‘increasing presence in urban areas’. The RSPCA is looking into reports that people in Cornwall are attacking gulls with fishing line. Meanwhile the birds have been accused of attacking people and killing pets, and in Namibia they’ve been spotted pecking out the eyes of baby seals, as if they weren’t already hated enough. More »

In Addis Ababa

Over the last three years, the United Nations has been working to establish a global sustainable development agenda to succeed the eight Millennium Development Goals, which are about to expire. Unlike the MDGs, which were drawn up by bureaucrats behind closed doors, the new Sustainable Development Goals have been subject to the largest consultation in UN history. Negotiators came up with 17 goals and 169 targets covering everything from abolishing poverty to achieving gender equality to rescuing the planet from climate catastrophe. They are due to be adopted at a UN summit in New York in September. In Addis Ababa last month, member states met to agree on ways to pay for them. The cost of achieving the SDGs is estimated at between two and three trillion dollars a year for fifteen years: roughly 15 per cent of annual global savings, or 4 per cent of world GDP. More »

Freed from the Dollar

In the summer of 1997, one Asian currency after another fell. With the financial crisis in full swing, rumours circulated in Beijing that George Soros had placed a bet with China’s prime minister, Zhu Rongji. It had no repercussions in the currency markets, because Soros couldn’t short sell renminbi, as he had with sterling five years earlier: China’s currency was, and still is, not fully convertible. But Soros is said to have bet $100 million that the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) would not be able to defend the renminbi’s parity with the dollar. It did and he lost. China’s currency has been appreciating ever since – until last week, that is. More »

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