Assange and the European Arrest Warrant

Yesterday, following the debate – or rather non-debate – on the European Arrest Warrant in the House of Commons, and the press commentary on it, I was surprised that the Julian Assange case wasn’t cited as one of the more contentious instances of the warrant’s use. More »

Accidental Death of a Poet

Xu Lizhi threw himself from a Foxconn workers’ dormitory building in Shenzhen on 30 September. He was 24 years old, a migrant worker and a poet: neither line of work looks promising in China at the moment. In the 1980s ‘poet’ was a prestigious job-description, and did wonders for your love life. Now none of the papers would waste space on a poem, even as filler; if a self-advertised ‘poet’ turned up on a dating site there’d be no takers and plenty of eye-rolling: poets must be weird or poor, or both. Modern poetry was more or less buried, along with China’s golden 1980s, in the year we’re not suppose to mention. More »

At the Theatre

fridakahlopengewestChris Larner’s comedy The Frida Kahlo of Penge West had its first performance last June at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington, where the mere mention of Penge no doubt guaranteed a quick, if cheap laugh. All the braver of him then to take the play into the lion’s mouth by putting it on at the Bridge House Theatre in Penge High Street, that defiantly hipster-free part of southeast London where, as one of his characters puts it, ‘London was sick over Kent.’ More »

Among the Axolotls

The philosophers ‘will need to use a lot of drugs’, Plato says in the Republic, talking of the guardians’ need to con the banausics into thinking that their destiny is to keep their betters pondering. It’s one of my favourite Plato lines – ‘No pun intended, man!’ as Russell Brand might say. The other night, I speed-read – or, if you like, e-read, crack-read, acid-read – Brand’s shlockbuster Revolution, and had the strange feeling of having read it faster than I had. More »

Europe’s Folly

Last week Italy brought to an end its year-long search and rescue operation for undocumented migrants in the Mediterranean. Operation Mare Nostrum, which was set up after more than 360 people died in a shipwreck off Lampedusa in October 2013, saved around 150,000 lives. It will be replaced by Operation Triton, overseen by the European Union’s border agency, Frontex. Rather than an active search and rescue effort, Triton will be concerned with border surveillance, its remit limited to waters within thirty kilometres of the Italian coast. Mare Nostrum is said to have cost the Italian state more than €9 million a month; the budget for Triton will be a third of that.

Those are political choices. More »

How many libraries will Birmingham have?

The Library of Birmingham was overlooked for the Stirling Prize last month in favour of the remodelled Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. But missing out on architectural prizes may be the least of the library’s problems. The Council optimistically budgeted for more than £1 million a year of charitable donations; the shortfall this year could be as much as £713,000. Cuts of £500,000 to the library’s services are pencilled in for next year (running costs are around £10 million), with more to follow if the rest of the deficit can’t be made up from charity. More »

Sorry, Mrs O’Duffy

Cumann_na_mBan

Cumann na mBan

I should like to apologise to Brigid O’Duffy (née Davis), who served in the Irish Citizen Army during the Easter Rising in 1916 but did not see her military pension until 1937. Her pension application (MSP34REF20583 in the recently digitised Military Service Pensions Collection) is date-stamped December 1936 by the Department of Defence. The files of 433 other women have also been unveiled. More »

La bossa sona

The regional government of Catalonia has backtracked on its promise to hold a non-binding independence referendum on 9 November. Instead it is preparing to hold a symbolic vote, with no electoral roll and volunteers staffing the polling booths. This modest alternative was forced on Barcelona by the constitutional court in Madrid, which agrees that the Spanish government has a legal case against the referendum. Now that it’s gone to deliberation, a real referendum process is automatically suspended. But it looks now as though even a symbolic vote will be challenged. More »

Reverse Pedalling

I was walking along the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam’s inner canal belt when a woman whizzed past on a bike. She was perhaps in her fifties, and presumably, like most English visitors, on the chuckle-gum trail. I knew she was English because of the way she screamed at nobody in particular as she zipped by: ‘They’ve given me a bike with no fucking brakes!’ More »

Energy Rights

‘If it rains could you pop into ours to switch that thing on?’ my neighbour said before going away for the weekend. ‘And while you’re at it, make yourself a cup of tea; you can also do your washing.’ Their flat was recently flooded, and the company responsible for the leaking roof gave them a dehumidifier and offered to pay their electricity bills until the problem is resolved.

On Monday I went to the launch of the Energy Bill of Rights at the House of Commons. More »

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