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 »

At the US Embassy

‘Reason I canceled my trip to London,’ Donald Trump tweeted last month, ‘is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for “peanuts,” only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!’ The only fact he didn’t get wrong was the cost of the new US Embassy in Nine Elms. It looks like a billion dollars, too. From Vauxhall, the shiny green cube brings to mind an enormous pallet of dollars from a movie, but with a seemly swathe of translucent plastic skin on three sides. Up close, though, the skin stretches away from the glass uncomfortably, and the effect is more reminiscent of the piratical accountants’ building at the beginning of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. More »

Cross-Buttock, Hank and Hipe

‘There are people,’ Roland Barthes wrote, ‘who think that wrestling is an ignoble sport.’ It is possible that those who put together the recent successful nomination to make the Lake District a Unesco World Heritage Site are just such people. The bid made much of the paintings and poems inspired by the landscape, but gave little attention to Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling, which was said by Sir Walter Armstrong in 1890 to be ‘productive of the most unparalleled excitement in the Northern counties’.

A Thomas Bewick woodcut, thought to have been produced in 1776, shows two wrestlers engaged in the distinctive C&W back-hold, More »

On Probation

The probation service has a Cinderella complex: misunderstood and overlooked next to its more attention-grabbing siblings, the police and prisons. It does more than its share of legwork but gets little thanks. Many people seem to have a loose sense of probation as the do-gooding counterpart to the prison system, but little grasp of the detail. More »

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    • Trish Gellam on Why We Strike: At the University of Reading there was a vote of no confidence in Vice Chancellor David Bell backed by almost 90% of the staff. He refused to resign. ...
    • XopherO on Why We Strike: I seem to remember that the original decline in what was a very healthy pension fund was originally caused, not by the increased longevity of academic...
    • Anaximander on Something to Look Forward To?: Western capitalism has until now relied on the labourers having sufficient income to buy (some of) what they make. That's now changing. The rentier...
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