Forever Not England

Sutton Hoo © Marc Atkins/marcatkins.com

Sutton Hoo © Marc Atkins/marcatkins.com

The photographer Marc Atkins and I are working on a project called Fields of England. We go into fields we have known for a long time, and others we just know about, but have never seen: battlefields, minefields, deserted village fields, fields undersea, gathering places, burial grounds, places of execution, places where treaties have been signed – but this is a list of field-genres. If we have learned one thing, it is the limitation of genre. There are as many genres as there are fields. And almost as many Englands. More »

Another Name for Rock and Roll

380px-chuck_berry_1957Every year, at around this time, the radio station WFMU hosts a fundraising marathon. The highlight is usually Yo La Tengo’s marathon-within-a-marathon covers session, which lasts for three hours or so. Callers who pledge a hundred dollars get to request a song – any song. YLT do their best to play it. Most of the time, there are too many songs to get to, and so, as the mini-marathon draws to its close, the band does an extended medley. On Saturday, YLT set that medley to the tune of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sister Ray’. Midway through, they sang a good portion of Chuck Berry’s mysterious ‘Memphis, Tennessee’. Weirdly, the words fit the tune perfectly. But then I was reminded of Berry’s response, in 1980, to recordings by Wire, Joy Division and the Sex Pistols. ‘So this is the so-called new stuff,’ Berry said. ‘It’s nothing I ain’t heard before. It sounds like an old blues jam that BB and Muddy would carry on backstage at the old amphitheatre in Chicago. The instruments may be different but the experiment’s the same.’ An hour later, a friend called to tell me that Berry was dead. More »

Selling São Paulo

Girafa by Alex Hornest, 2010


‘Girafa’ by Alex Hornest (2010).

São Paulo is for sale. João Doria, mayor since 1 January, is planning to auction off South America’s biggest city piece by piece: not only the racecourse, football stadium and carnival centre, but lighting, transport, health services and even the public funeral system. The glitzy promotional video is full of glass towers and night shots of glittering avenues; there’s no sign of the heaving lanes of traffic that blast and fume among concrete towers as far as the eye can see. There are few green or public spaces in São Paulo; the biggest, Ibirapuera Park, is now up for sale. More »

‘Only Sand and Bedouins’

paratroopers-western-wall-1967David Rubinger died on 1 March at the age of 92. His photograph of three Israeli paratroopers gazing at the Western Wall, taken minutes after Israeli forces seized Jerusalem’s Old City during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, was widely revered as a symbol of Zionism’s triumphant destiny. Rubinger, however, was not particularly fond of the picture: ‘Part of the face is cut off on the right side,’ he said, ‘in the middle the nose protrudes, and on the left there’s only half a face … photographically speaking, this isn’t a good photo.’ More »

‘Fit in or get out’

In the week the Netherlands goes to the polls, the irruption of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan into the Dutch election has wrenched the campaign out of its somnolence. At the weekend, the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and the family minister, Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, came to campaign among Netherlands-based Turks for next month’s plebiscite over extending President Erdoğan’s powers. The Dutch government banned Çavuşoğlu from entering the country and, after stopping Kaya entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, kicked her out into Germany. Turkey has had a long-standing friendship with the Netherlands since Atatürk’s day. ‘Security’, that trusty standby for squelching political inconvenience, is cited as the reason for banning the ministers and their Rotterdam rally. Early on Sunday, police dispersed demonstrators with dogs and water cannon. Erdoğan has accused the Dutch government of Nazism. More »

Le Pen’s Impatience

‘I see my country falling,’ Marine Le Pen recently announced on American TV. ‘It makes me impatient … It’s impatience that motivates me today. Quick! Quick! Quick! Quick! Let’s put our beautiful, coveted country back on its feet.’ The word déclinisme entered the dictionnaire Larousse last year, and though the far right has been exploiting the spectre of decline since the 1970s, it seems to have acquired a new note of urgency. Asked why she had chosen to contest the Nord-Pas-de-Calais seat in the French regional elections of 2015 instead of focusing her energies on the approaching presidential race, Le Pen retorted: ‘The situation degrades so rapidly, that wherever I can act, I must do so at once.’ More »

Women on Strike

This time, the colour was red. At the Women’s Marches in January, we wore pink: pink pussy hats, pink scarves and pink T-shirts with slogans like ‘Pussy Grabs Back’. But on International Women’s Day, 8 March, when women worldwide were asked to strike – both for women’s rights specifically, and more broadly against the globally ascendant far right – women wore red. On the sidewalk in New York it was easy to see who was striking or in solidarity with the strikers. There were red blouses and bags, red jumpers, red dresses, and many, many red hijabs. Red was dense downtown in the afternoon during a rally in Washington Square Park. There were red hats, coats and scarves crowding around the fountain; fathers toted daughters in red pullovers towards the playground; dogs with red leads sniffed the fire hydrants. More »

How much money can you make from a prisoner?

Prisoners are less likely to reoffend if they’re able to talk to their families while they’re incarcerated. Citing this fact, the American Federal Communications Commission (FCC) two years ago capped the price of a call from a prison pay phone. Prisons had been offering exclusive contracts to a few phone companies, and were getting away with price gouging because only prisoners and poor families were burdened, while the phone companies and state governments made a killing. The price of a 15-minute call from any Maryland prison soared to $5.15, secured through nearly $5 million in yearly kickbacks to the state. Some prisons tried to raise even more money by replacing in-person visits with digital conferencing. Fifteen-minute video sessions in Knox County, Tennessee were costing $5.99; the state took a little less than half. More »

Who needs to know?

In my earlier years I had some dealings with classified material, enough that I was able to see how arbitrary, foolish and transitory security classification can be. That there may be information on somebody’s computer that was classified at some point in the past doesn’t necessarily have any relevance for national security.

In summer 1958, I was briefly a consultant for the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica. I had a Q clearance, the most rigorous that the Atomic Energy Commission had. This enabled me to receive classified information on nuclear weapons on a ‘need to know’ basis. During most of my short stay I didn’t need to know anything, but one day the theory division leader descended on me with stacks of numbers he wanted me to add up on a Marchant calculator. More »

Murder in Honduras

One year ago, Berta Cáceres was asleep in bed in La Esperanza, Honduras, when gunmen burst into the house and shot her. She died in the arms of Gustavo Castro, a Mexican environmental activist who was injured but pretended to be dead until the murderers had gone. Instead of being treated as a victim, Castro was regarded as a suspect and prevented from leaving the country. Members of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH), which Cáceres led, were also interrogated. Eventually investigators turned their attention to those who had threatened to kill her in the preceding months. Seven arrests were made, but the people who ordered the murder were left untouched. Six weeks ago, Castro filed a petition against the Honduran government for the way it treated him and for its inaction in charging those behind the crime. More »

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