Russiagate Revisited

The anti-Russian hysteria in Washington has slipped beyond self-parody. We now have front-row seats in a theatre of the absurd, watching the media furor explode after Robert Mueller’s ‘indictments’ of 13 Russians and three Russian companies for interfering in the 2016 presidential elections.

Mueller’s actions deserve the scare quotes because they are not really indictments at all. The accused parties will never be extradited or brought to trial. Nor is it clear that their actions rise to the level of crimes. The supposed indictments are merely dramatic accusations, a giant publicity stunt. More »

Czech Spies and Other Fantasists

The right-wing press – Telegraph, Times, Mail, Express, Sun – is peddling the old accusation of ‘communist subversion’ against the Labour Party, specifically against Jeremy Corbyn. One leading Conservative MP, Ben Bradley, was forced, under threat of legal action, to withdraw a tweet in which he claimed that Corbyn had ‘sold British secrets to communist spies’. I hope they charge Bradley nonetheless. He’s the man who suggested that the unemployed could be vasectomised to stop them breeding. More »

Oxfam, Haiti and Miles’s Law

Oxfam is in serious difficulties. It is reasonable to speculate that the hard time it is being given by the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, is due to the workings of Miles’s law – ‘Where you stand depends on where you sit’ – in that it reflects forces in the British government and the Tory party hostile to the foreign aid programme.

I sit as a microbiologist, and see the harmful events in Haiti following the arrival of foreigners after the 2010 Port-au-Prince earthquake very differently, both from a quantitative and from a political point of view. More »

McMaster of War

A number of military experts – including the defense secretary, James Mattis – have warned that a US war against North Korea would be hard, incredibly destructive and bloody, with civilian casualties in the millions, and could go badly for US forces. But Lt. Gen. Herbert Raymond McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, is apparently insistent that ‘a military strike be considered as a serious option’.

One of Gen. McMaster’s claims to fame is a Silver Star he was awarded for a tank ‘battle’ he led in the desert during the so-called Gulf War of 1991. As a young captain leading a troop with nine new Abrams M1A1 battle tanks, McMaster destroyed 28 Iraqi tanks in 23 minutes without losing any of his own or suffering any casualties.

McMaster’s exploit (later embellished with a name, the ‘Battle of 73 Easting’) was little more than a case of his having dramatically better equipment. More »

Why We Strike

Next Thursday, staff at UK universities will begin a wave of strike action in defence of our pensions. Fourteen days of strikes will roll across 61 of the ‘pre-92’ universities; the other seven are being reballoted by the University and Colleges Union (UCU) as they didn’t meet the 50 per cent turnout threshold imposed by the 2016 Trade Union Act. On days not covered by the strike, we will work to contract. More »

Another Housing Privatisation Disaster

When the Ministry of Defence sold its armed forces housing in 1996, it already looked a bad deal: 57,000 houses were sold for £30,000 each, well under half the average house price at the time. Overnight, the sale created Britain’s biggest private landlord and gave it a blue chip tenant – the MoD. Yet the company that won the contract, Annington, had just been set up and had no experience of management on such a scale. More »

Damp Bohemians

‘There is a variable delicate friction between the interests of wives, husbands and children, and between human beings and nature,’ Penelope Fitzgerald wrote in a piece about her friend Stevie Smith, published in the LRB in 1981. ‘One might say between the seaside and the sea.’ She would know. The years of Fitzgerald’s life that she drew on for The Bookshop (1978) and Offshore (1979) combined complicated family dynamics with precarious physical circumstances, waving/drowning halfway between the shoreline and the water. More »

Fischia il vento

Pamela Mastropietro, an 18-year-old from Rome, left the rehab clinic where she’d been staying in the province of Macerata, in central Italy, on 29 January. Her dismembered corpse was discovered two days later, in two suitcases, in the countryside nearby. Innocent Oseghale, a 29-year-old Nigerian with an expired residency permit and a criminal record of drug dealing, was arrested almost immediately on suspicion of involvement in Mastropietro’s death. More »

‘Hawksmoor’ Revisited

‘There’s a writer in England called … er, Peter Ackroyd,’ David Bowie said in a short film he made in 2003, ‘who wrote a book called … Hawksmoor I think it was. Wasn’t it? Yeah.’ Ackroyd’s 1985 novel struck him as ‘a very powerful book, and quite scary’, and in 2013 Bowie included it on a list of his favourite 100 books, ranging from the Beano to The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. His son, the filmmaker Duncan Jones, recently launched #BowieBookClub to discuss ‘dad’s favs’ on Twitter, choosing Hawksmoor as ‘an amuse cerveau before we get into the heavy stuff’. More »

Gavin Stamp 1948-2017

Jonathan Meades’s eulogy was read at Gavin Stamp’s funeral in Camberwell on 25 January by Otto Saumarez Smith.

There are millions of people who feel deeply about the depredations of the construction industry; who feel deeply about architects wantonly exposing themselves like red-rumped macaques in the hope of attracting central Asian tyrants; who feel deeply about the environmental, social and aesthetic iniquities visited on this increasingly sick, increasingly corrupt little country.

But, as Thom Gunn noted, ‘Deep feeling doesn’t make for good poetry. A way with language would be a bit of a help.’ Most of the millions do not have a way with language. Gavin did have. For poetry substitute polemic; substitute philippic; history; panegyric.

Gavin tirelessly articulated the discontents of the many whose lives are screwed by the cupidity of the few. Architecture and buildings are political. And Gavin was, among much else, a political writer – a political writer in disguise, but a supremely political writer. More »

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    • Coldish on Why We Strike: My capacity for sympathy with the concerns of the university staff is tempered by the fact that even after more than 25 years continuous direct part-t...
    • mildly_baffled on Why We Strike: Seems like the financial realities that have raped private sector pension provision in the last decade, are finally catching up with academia - using ...
    • Waseem Yaqoob on Why We Strike: The final salary scheme for university staff was closed in 2011. The USS pension scheme is not funded out of general taxation; it is not a public sect...
    • bidem on Why We Strike: Final salary pension schemes have almost disappeared in the private sector. Basically because they are too expensive. It is inevitable that similar p...
    • Joefarrell on Fischia il vento: The rise of racism and the resurgence of Fascism in Italy is nauseating and worrying, but Italians are justified in complaining that they have had to ...

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