Blacklisting and Undercover Policing

In March, Theresa May announced that Christopher Pitchford, a serving lord justice of appeal, would lead an inquiry into undercover policing. It followed a series of revelations about members of the Met’s disbanded Special Demonstration Squad, who infiltrated protest groups and in some cases had long-term sexual relationships with their targets.

Just after Pitchford was appointed, a former SDS officer revealed he had spied on members of four trade unions; another officer posed as a joiner to infiltrate the builders’ union Ucatt. The most prominent trade unionist known to have been targeted by undercover police is Matt Wrack, the leader of the Fire Brigades’ Union. More »

On Chantal Akerman

Chantal Akerman in Je, tu, il, elle (1976)

Chantal Akerman in Je, tu, il, elle (1976)

Chantal Akerman’s films don’t have conventional plots with a beginning, middle and end. Yet nearly all the obituaries, following her death at the age of 65 this month, described how Akerman was inspired to make her first film at the age of 18 after watching Godard’s Pierrot le Fou, and said that Gus Van Sant cited Akerman as one of his major inspirations. Over and over, we were given her genesis as a filmmaker and the promise of her reincarnation, bookended by two credible male auteurs. More »

Captive Market

There are many reasons why China’s involvement in building nuclear power stations in Britain is wrong, yet those who oppose it, or question it, have struggled to articulate their unease without sounding racist, paranoid or Little-English, or getting bogged down in arcane financial minutiae.

One obstacle to exposing the British government’s error is language. In the case of China and the nukes, politicians, journalists and finance professionals are complicit in misleading usage of the words investment and tax. George Osborne, a master of such lexical abuse, maintains that Britain needs Chinese investment, and that the planned Chinese-French reactors won’t cost the British taxpayer a penny. Both propositions are false. More »

Election Fatigue

Six days after the vote in Guinea’s second democratic election, the Electoral Commission in Conakry announced that Alpha Condé, the incumbent president, had won decisively, with 58 per cent. The runner-up, Cellou Dalein Diallo, trailed with 31 per cent. In 2010, when Condé first came to office, he lost to Diallo in the first round, and only pinched it in the run-off. Diallo, the leader of the opposition UFDG, said the vote was rigged. He has repeated the allegations this time, pulling out of the race the day after ballots were cast and saying he does not recognise the results. More »

The End of the Abbas Era

The stabbings, shootings, protests and clashes now spreading across Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel present one of the greatest challenges yet posed to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his strategy of bilateral negotiations, diplomacy and security co-operation with Israel. The unrest – its proximate cause was increased restrictions on Palestinian access to al-Aqsa Mosque – reflects a sense among Palestinians that their leadership has failed, that national rights must be defended in defiance of their leaders if necessary, and that the Abbas era is coming to an end. More »

Trudeau’s Astonishing Victory

Last night, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party took power in the Canadian federal election. It was an astonishing victory. In 2011 the Liberals won only 34 seats, their worst ever performance, which left them trailing both the Conservatives and the New Democratic Party (NDP). This year they took 184 (out of 338). It’s the first time since 1925 that a party has gone from third to first place in a single election cycle. And it’s the first time ever that a third-placed party has gone on to form a majority government in the next election. Two months ago, the Liberals trailed both the NDP and the Conservatives in the polls. Last night, they took 8 per cent more of the popular vote than the Conservatives, and 20 per cent more than the NDP. More »

Porridge in the Panopticon

jeremy benthams prison cookingPeter Singer’s Animal Liberation included in its first edition an appendix with vegetarian recipes, ‘Eating for Liberated People’. For utilitarians, the belly’s as good a persuasive route as the brain. The Transcribe Bentham project at University College London has put out Jeremy Bentham’s Prison Cooking, the perfect gift for a loved one spending Christmas in the nick. More »

Psychedelic Drug Therapy

In late 2009, the psychiatrist Friederike Meckel was arrested in Zurich and charged with multiple violations of the Swiss Narcotics Act. Meckel didn’t dispute the charges. She admitted that she and her husband, a lawyer, hosted group therapy sessions at their mountain villa, where therapist and patients – including doctors, academics and lawyers – took MDMA and LSD. The group was undone by an ex-patient, a woman who brought her husband to the sessions to work on their marital problems. He left her and moved in with Meckel and her husband; she told the police about the drugs. More »

Unjust and Expensive

Ronald Dworkin once said that a judge faced with an unjust law ‘would have to consider whether he should actually enforce’ it ‘or whether he should lie and say that this was not the law after all, or whether he should resign’. Faced with the criminal courts charge, introduced in April, magistrates have taken all three options.

The government’s policy is that ‘convicted adult offenders who use our criminal courts should pay towards the cost of running them’. Those who plead guilty pay £150; those who protest their innocence but are found guilty face a charge of up to £1200. There are obvious problems with this. First, courts have a financial incentive to find an accused person guilty. Second, the risk of the charge is a substantial inducement for the innocent to plead guilty. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is happening; it would be surprising if it were not. Third, the charge, which isn’t means-tested, is especially punitive on the poor. Louise Sewell, who had not eaten for two days, stole Mars bars worth 75p. After pleading guilty to theft, she was left with a bill of £150 for her use of the court. More »

Goodbye, Playboy

Playboy, the men’s magazine-turned-‘brand management company’ said this week that it was getting out of the nudity business. ‘The battle has been fought and won,’ Playboy’s CEO, Scott Flanders, told the New York Times, though the announcement sounded more like an admission of defeat. More »

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