The Spider in the Urinal

In The View From Nowhere, Thomas Nagel describes his encounter with a large spider in a Princeton University urinal, from whose gutter it can’t escape. Through the summer, the spider survives, even thrives, despite being urinated on ‘more than a hundred times a day’. Finally Nagel takes pity and helps it climb out of the trough with a paper towel. Next day he finds the spider, exactly where he had left it, dead. The golden shower turns out to have been its lifeblood. More »

Clerical Abuse

When I went up to Cambridge in October 1960, I found myself, for the first time, in the company of public schoolboys. My college, Corpus Christi, boasted – if that’s the word – a higher proportion of them than most, about 90 per cent, I would say, all appearing to fit in naturally to the ethos of the place, which I, at first, found strange and rather wonderful. They were all very pleasant to me, despite my ‘Estuary’ accent and the fact that I had lived at home during my school years, and I made close friends with a number of them. But there was always this barrier – of adolescent experience – between us. They knew things that I didn’t (and vice versa? perhaps).

One thing was the proclivities of one of the fellows, the Rev. E. Garth Moore, notorious in public school circles as a sexual predator: they felt they needed to warn me, as a comparatively plebbish ingénu. ‘If Garth invites you to tea in his rooms,’ one of them told me on my first day, ‘don’t go. We know about him. You won’t understand.’ I think they were trying to protect me from embarrassment more than anything. It was kind of them. Anyhow, I did get the invitation, and politely turned it down. More »

The Case of Fadi Mansour

In August 2012, Fadi Mansour, a 28-year-old law student from Homs, left Syria to avoid conscription. ‘I had to do my military service before the war started; after the war they called me to fight in the reserve army, so I escaped,’ he wrote to me yesterday. He told Amnesty International that he went first to Lebanon, where he was kidnapped and held to ransom. After his release he felt unsafe; in early 2015 he came to Turkey. He flew to Malaysia but was denied entry and sent back to Istanbul. ‘They caught me in the airport,’ Mansour said. ‘I asked for asylum here. But they rejected my request.’

This was on 15 March 2015. Since then Mansour has been detained at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport. He is living in the ‘Problematic Passengers Room’. It has no natural light and no beds. The electric lights are kept on around the clock. ‘Sometimes they let me go outside the room for one or two hours,’ he told me. ‘But nothing is different between here and outside.’ More »

Bold, Open-Minded and Entrepreneurial

Last week I lost my part-time job that feeds us. I had it for 16 years. It did not pay well, but I didn’t have to speak to anyone and I could do it anywhere there was internet. It also gave me the time and space to write two novels. I can’t save lives or fix broken pipes: I need a job with the potential for staring into space or reading Pinget on the side – a car park attendant seemed ideal. I found an advert online and immediately entered a car park of excessive adjectives. The parking lot attendant they were looking for needed to ‘Be a trail blazer … Be Bold, Open-minded & Entrepreneurial’. More »

Keep your elbow in when you shoot

The debate about the point of creative writing programmes took a new turn last week. People seem to like this debate – maybe because so many people like taking creative writing classes. Writing in the Atlantic, Richard Jean So and Andrew Piper start by pointing out how much the literary-industrial complex has grown in the last fifty years, and then try to ask a slightly different question about it. Not the usual, ‘is the creative writing industry having a pernicious effect on fiction?’ but: is it having any effect at all?

They used computational analysis to try answer the question, plugging a couple of hundred books into a computer program to see if it could detect a difference between the novels produced by MFA writers and those written by people who never did an MFA. (‘To make these two groups as comparable as possible’, they ‘only gathered novels by non-MFA writers that were reviewed in the New York Times, which we took as a mark of literary excellence’ – if only.) More »

Contagious Corpses

The persistence of Ebola virus transmission in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea took everyone by surprise. Previous outbreaks had lasted only weeks. The World Health Organisation’s response to Zika in South America has been significantly influenced by criticisms of the speed of its response to the events in West Africa. But a recent note in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the US Centers for Communicable Disease Control and Prevention is a reminder that the absence of virologists, public health doctors and nurses wasn’t the only reason for the size of the Ebola epidemic. More »

God Save the Gruffalo

A history of the House of Windsor

A history of the House of Windsor

A couple of weeks in, the EU referendum campaign has already spawned material to rival the US presidentials’ fabliaux spun round General Pershing, and Donald Trump’s mythic dong. A top pick in the EU campaign so far is the Guardian’s profile of the illustrator Axel Scheffler, warning that The Gruffalo, by the British author Julia Donaldson and the German Scheffler, might not have existed had Britain Brexited. It’s a clear ploy to shunt the votes of three-year-olds, if not their parents, towards Remain. ‘The Gruffalo is a British-German creative collaboration,’ Scheffler said, gesturing darkly towards the non-gruffalic nightmare that the EU has spared us. More »

Holy Water

Uri Avnery on Israel’s new police chief and the wave of rejuvenated religion being ridden by Netanyahu:

The Israeli Police needed a new commander … When Binyamin Netanyahu announced his choice, everybody was amazed. Roni Alsheikh? Where the hell did he come from? He does not look like a policeman, except for his mustache. He never had the slightest connection with police work. He was, actually, the secret deputy chief of the Shin Bet.

He is the first police chief to wear a kippah. Also the first who was once a settler. So we were all waiting for his first significant utterance. It came this week and concerned mothers mourning their sons. Bereavement, Alsheikh asserted, is really a Jewish feeling. Jewish mothers mourn their children. Arab mothers don’t. More »

Idomeni’s Entrepreneurs

Outside the Greek village of Idomeni, near the Macedonian border, about 15,000 people are living in small recreational tents and a few UN emergency shelters, waiting to continue their journey to Western Europe. The Macedonians shut the gates a week ago. They enforced their decision with tear gas and the threat of water cannon. The frontier occasionally opens and few dozen people cross, but more arrive every day than leave. In the camp, small signs of permanence have started to appear. More »

The Murder of Berta Cáceres

According to the campaign group Global Witness, 116 environmental activists were killed in 2014, a fifth more than the year before. Many of them were leaders of indigenous communities defending their land. The most dangerous place for environmental campaigners is Honduras, where 101 were reported killed between 2010 and 2014. The chief activist of the indigenous Lenca community, Berta Cáceres, a campaigner against dams and mining projects, told Global Witness that she led a ‘fugitive existence’ because of death threats. ‘They follow me,’ she said. ‘They threaten to kill me, to kidnap me, they threaten my family. This is what we face.’ She was awarded the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize. Last Thursday she was murdered. More »

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