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 »

Who needs football anyway?

In the end, the 2014 World Cup final turned out like the 2010 final. A scoreless match that seemed to be heading for penalties was only settled at the death when a composed, compact player managed to hold his nerve in front of goal, after everyone else had lost theirs. Last time it was Iniesta. Yesterday it was Götze. But really it was a different sort of match, as befits a different sort of tournament. The 2010 final was overshadowed by the performance of the referee, Howard Webb, who failed to control the spoiling tactics of the Dutch. This time, each side gave as good as it got and the contest had a proper shape to it. Had Higuaín’s first-half goal, which was correctly ruled out for offside, been allowed to stand, it would have been a very different occasion. But the officials got the important decisions right. Argentina fluffed each of their legitimate chances and have no one to blame but themselves. The game spoke for itself. More »

It’s almost all over

The arrival of the World Cup final is always a melancholy moment. It means no more lounging around the house in the knowledge that another game will be on in a minute. More than a month of wall-to-wall football gives way to a little bit of cricket and some desultory transfer speculation in the papers. It feels like the end of summer. Really it should feel like the start of summer – after all, it’s early July and the schools haven’t broken up yet. But when I was younger I used to resent the thought that there was now no excuse to stay indoors with the curtains drawn. I still feel like that. To make things worse, the final itself is usually a letdown. There hasn’t been a really exciting one for almost thirty years. More »

The Nicaraguan Model

There’s nothing new about children travelling alone through Central America and Mexico to get to the United States. The journey and its dangers were portrayed five years ago in the film Sin Nombre. One character, Sayra, a teenage girl from Honduras, ends up crossing the Rio Grande alone. She is looking out for Casper, a friend she made weeks earlier on the Mexico-Guatemala border. He doesn’t make it: he’s shot on the river bank by a rival, 12-year-old gang member.

What’s changed since then is a sudden surge in numbers. Unlike adult migrants, most children report to the US Border Patrol once they cross the frontier. In the nine months to June this year, more than 52,000 ‘alien children’ were registered, twice as many as in the previous twelve months. An unknown number have failed to report; died or been attacked on the way; decided that Mexico offers a marginally but sufficiently better life than Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador; or – most likely – been caught and deported by the Mexican authorities. More »

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