Endgame for Mugabe

On 4 November, Grace Mugabe announced that she could see no problem with her succeeding her husband as president of Zimbabwe. ‘What if I get in?’ she said. ‘What’s wrong with that?’ Then Robert Mugabe fired the vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the last of his long-term allies. That wasn’t wise. Mnangagwa, one of the original freedom fighters from the 1960s, is deeply embedded in the army and Zimbabwe’s security structures. He had been planning to succeed Mugabe himself. More »

Dam Violence

Since the murder of Berta Cáceres in March 2016, several more community activists have been killed in Honduras. And little progress has been made in solving Cáceres’s murder. Eight people have been arrested, but court hearings have been postponed several times because of the prosecutors’ failure to produce evidence, ignoring the judge’s deadlines. Data collected from phones and computers and in police raids has not been presented in court. The government says the judicial process continues, but has admitted that the crime’s ‘masterminds’ remain untouched. More »

Thomas Bewick’s Sketchbook

A perfect farm animal, according to the 18th-century agronomist Robert Bakewell, would be shaped like a hogshead cask, ‘truly circular, with as small and as short legs as possible’. Bakewell’s ideal was founded ‘upon the plain principle that the value lies in the barrel.’ There was no need for long limbs or lean necks: ‘all is useless that is not beef.’ This applied not only to cattle, but to pigs and sheep too, which after 1750 came to be reared as ‘production line animals’. More »

Racist Spires

One-third of Oxford colleges admitted no black British students in 2015. Oriel admitted one black British student over a five-year period. What explains these numbers? The Labour MP David Lammy believes that Oxford and Cambridge are engaging in social apartheid; others have blamed the admissions system, suggesting that the early application deadline and the interview process discourage many students from applying. Still others note that black and minority ethnic candidates tend to apply to newer universities in Britain’s big cities – a view that holds black British students responsible for their absence at Oxford and Cambridge. More »

Diplomatic Protection

The background to the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a young mother imprisoned in Iran apparently for no good reason, though careless remarks by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove haven’t helped – is not unusual, and not very favourable. Part of a diplomat’s job is to support British subjects who get into trouble abroad, including those who get into trouble with the law. But diplomats cannot intervene in foreign courts, any more than foreign governments can intervene in ours. I am no Iran expert, but the country has been the target of espionage, sabotage and even murder and it is no surprise if its vigilance sometimes appears like paranoia. Anglo-Iranian relations are poor; diplomatic relations have only recently been re-established; we do them no favours; they are unlikely to do us favours. More »

An Unfolding Humanitarian Emergency

The Australian government formally closed the Manus Regional Processing Centre on 31 October. The MRPC was an offshore immigration detention facility at a naval base on Manus Island in northern Papua New Guinea, which held around 750 people at its last official count. Refugee solidarity groups across Australia have long called for it to close, along with camps in Nauru and elsewhere. But last week’s developments are no cause for celebration. More »

In Bloomsbury Square

‘Trains show us that freedom and constraint are a matter of dosage,’ Patrick McGuinness wrote recently in the LRB. He quoted Klaus Kinski’s character in the 1966 film of Dr Zhivago, ‘shaking his chains, an anarchist headed for the camps’: ‘I am the only free man on this train. The rest of you are cattle!’
 
‘Soul’, a poem Pasternak wrote in 1956, is one of 20 on display in another meditation on poésie des departs, in Bloomsbury Square until tomorrow. More »

On Muhal Richard Abrams

In 1962, Richard Abrams, a 32-year-old pianist on the South Side of Chicago, formed a rehearsal group called the Experimental Band. Its purpose was not so much to perform as to provide a laboratory of artistic research and development for young black musicians and composers working in jazz, or what Abrams preferred to call ‘creative music’. Abrams had been electrified by the free jazz revolution launched a few years earlier by Ornette Coleman. As Abrams saw it, the liberation from chord-based improvisation that Coleman had brought about was only a first step. Creative musicians would have to invent new structures to replace the old ones; they would have to re-examine their relationship not only to music, but to sound. Freedom, Coleman’s gift, was also a challenge, even a burden: as exhilarating as free jazz was, the hard work of building on its liberties had only begun. More »

‘Pop-Up Brothels’ and Moral Panic

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade has launched an inquiry into ‘pop-up brothels’. The phrase started to appear in the media last year. Devon and Cornwall police warned property owners to be ‘vigilant’ about their holiday houses being used by prostitutes. Sex workers were renting flats in Newquay and other seaside towns for short periods before moving on to the next place, often using Airbnb or holiday letting companies. To sex workers, this wasn’t news; if you don’t want to work outdoors, you have to be inventive. More »

In Yerevan

The genocide memorial in Yerevan, a giant complex built when Armenia was part of the USSR, sits on a ridge overlooking the city: its museum tells of how ethnic Armenians in the final years of Ottoman rule were massacred and forcibly scattered and how the lands claimed by Armenian nationalists were reduced, by military defeat and international diplomacy, to the present-day republic in the South Caucasus. Passengers who leave the metro station at Yerevan’s central square are greeted with a giant map of Greater Armenia, a historical region that mostly falls within the borders of the current republic’s neighbours: Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia. And on the streets, pasted to lamp-posts, walls and junction boxes, are fly-posters offering cheap minibus rides to distant cities: Krasnodar, Rostov, Novosibirsk. The republic’s economy is partly sustained by emigrant workers, most of whom go to Russia. More »

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    • rncgray on Thomas Bewick’s Sketchbook: Somewhat reminiscent of the classic physicist's reductionist mindset "Imagine a sphericaL cow..."
    • KdW on Diplomatic Protection: The Thomson Reuters Foundation is hardly an illicit organisation. Not that I have any specific information, but there are plenty of people there who d...
    • RobotBoy on On Muhal Richard Abrams: A very welcome tribute to a remarkable artist and organizer. One of the greatest crimes committed against jazz by 'Jazz', the Ken Burns documentary,...
    • Phil Edwards on In Bloomsbury Square: "Further everywhere" is lovely, but I suspect a closer English equivalent would be "all points beyond", or more simply "all other places" - the locuti...
    • judgefloyd on An Unfolding Humanitarian Emergency: When it looked like this citizenship rule had only affected the Greens, the government was very snooty about it, with a government senator tweeting hi...

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