After the hopeful Wisconsin flutter, might this be the beginning of an Egyptian summer in New York? Spring has absconded from the heart of political America for far too long. The frozen winters of the Reagan and Bush years didn't melt with Clinton or Obama: hollow men who rule over a hollow system where money overpowers all and the much-maligned state is used mainly to preserve the financial status quo and fund the wars of the 21st century. Discussion, serious debate, openness have virtually disappeared from mainstream political life in the United States and its more extreme versions in Europe, with Britain as the cock on the dung heap. The extreme right is small. The extreme left barely exists. It is the extreme centre that dominates political and financial life.
Tariq Ali · Occupy Wall Street
Jeremy Harding · More on DSK
As Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s humiliation in New York levels out into web-chat and news about the news, the undead are on the move. You saw nothing with fangs, in a cape, hovering in the near distance when the fourth estate held up the mirror to human nature in the wake of the gruesome Sofitel encounter? That’s because it didn’t cast a reflection. The internet, which never sleeps, has made it clearer now: the real beast in this story is racism. Earlier this month, SlateAfrique asked a range of punters and luminaries in the US and France what would have happened if Nafissatou Diallo, the Sofitel maid, had been ‘a blue-eyed blonde’. Two Diallos, one of them a cousin, another who runs a café in Harlem, were confident things would have come out differently. Diallo 1: ‘They wouldn’t have thrown her in the dustbin the way they did.’ Diallo 2: ‘If she’d been white and Jewish, she wouldn’t have had that kind of treatment.’ And later: ‘The whole Jewish lobby is behind it.’
Their proposed route would have led them past the labour exchange, but, as the leader of the procession wheeled to the right towards a side street, the policemen in front about faced and formed a cordon. The column halted: drum and bell were silenced. The organiser stepped forward desirous of an explanation, receiving scant courtesy of the inspector, who, pointing his stick down the road and staring elsewhere than at the man to whom his remarks were addressed, said: ‘Keep straight on.’... The police farther down the line behaved strategically, breaking up the column into several small portions, preventing further augmentation of the crowd blocking the roadway higher up. The Battle of Bexley Square took place on 1 October 1931,
Thomas Jones · Robert Harris
Apocalypses aren't what they used to be. Thirty years ago, science fiction stories about sentient computers taking over the world tended to imagine them trying to wipe us all out using nuclear bombs (The Terminator, War Games). These days, if Robert Harris's new novel, The Fear Index, is anything to go by, the rogue AI's weapon of choice is the financial markets. 'Tales of computers out of control are a well-worn fictional theme,' Donald MacKenzie wrote in the LRB earlier this year,
To get to Dale Farm you have to take a train to Wickford or Basildon and then try to get a taxi. ‘If your cab driver refuses to take you,’ the Dale Farm Solidarity website says, ‘tell them they’re being silly, then ask to get dropped off at the Belvedere Golf range.’ On Sunday I went to the Traveller site in Essex, where eighty or so families are waiting to be evicted from the green-belt land they own (it used to be a scrapyard, and hasn’t been ‘green’ for years), with Damian Le Bas, a journalist and Romani gypsy.
Mahmoud Abbas’s address to the United Nations General Assembly on 23 September fell considerably short of Yasir Arafat’s electrifying 1974 speech from the same podium. Nor did it compare with Haidar Abdul Shafi’s dignified – and unanswerable – call for justice at the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference. Yet it may come to be seen as a historic turning point in the fortunes of the Palestinian people. Abbas’s agenda was transparent. He was sending the Americans a message: grow a spine, stop appeasing Israel and launch credible negotiations – because if you don’t, my next failure will be my last. There are several problems with his approach.
Judith Butler · Palestine at the UN
Among the many astonishing claims that Barack Obama made in his recent speech opposing the Palestinian bid for statehood was that ‘peace will not come through statements and resolutions.’ This is, at best, an odd thing to say for a president whose ascendancy to power itself depended on the compelling use of rhetoric. Indeed, his argument against the power of statements and resolutions at the United Nations to achieve peace was a rhetorical ploy that sought to minimise the power of rhetorical ploys. More important, it was an effort to make sure that the United States government remains the custodian and broker of any peace negotiation, so his speech was effectively a way of trying to reassert that position of custodial power in response to the greatest challenge it has received in decades. And most important, his speech was an effort to counter and drain the rhetorical force of the very public statements that are seeking to expose the sham of the peace negotiations, to break with the Oslo framework, and to internationalise the political process to facilitate Palestinian statehood.
One of the T-shirts you’ll see quite often around MIT says: ‘Speed limit: 186,000 miles per second. It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law.’ The speed in question is the speed of light, and the law comes from Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. Relativity is predicated on the notion that the speed of light is unsurpassable, and most of modern physics is predicated on relativity. So this morning’s announcement that a team of physicists at CERN may have measured tiny particles, known as neutrinos, travelling faster than light has the potential to eclipse all other news that ever has or may yet come out of CERN – Higgs particles, supersymmetry and all else combined. The key word, though, is ‘potential’. By the physicists’ own reckoning, their results require a lot more scrutiny before anyone concludes that physics has one fewer leg to stand on.
You can understand how they might be grouchy at UBS, the Swiss bank that reckons it has lost $2.3 billion through alleged jiggery-pokery by one of its employees, Kewku Adoboli, only three years after the bank was bailed out by the Swiss government. When one of UBS's economists, George Magnus, says that French banks are now the ones that need to be bailed out – as he did this morning in the Financial Times – you might suspect a tinge of schadenfreude.
Doom and gloom doubled last week when the Economist announced not just the death of books, but proved it by the death of bookcases. In particular Billy, a classic IKEA item of furniture that has been available for thirty years, has five adjustable shelves, is cheap enough for students to give up the brick and plank solution to book storage (though I don't know why they would) and which even 'may be completed with BILLY height extension unit in the same width for added storage vertically'. Billy, the Economist said, was suffering a redesign that suggested a change of use: the shelves were being deepened from 11" to 15" in order to hold ornaments, framed photographs, trophies, plants, decorative boxes. Glass doors have also been added: through which to look at objets, rather than to give instant book access. IKEA, it seemed, was declaring the end of books as we know them, a sure marker that the ebook revolution was complete.
I wrote on 2 September that of the five Cubans who have been imprisoned on terrorist charges in the United States, one was due to be released. It has now been announced that when René González leaves prison on 7 October he will have to spend three years on ‘supervised release’ in Miami, where anti-Castro feeling is rife, even though he has made it clear he would like to renounce his US citizenship and return to Cuba. His family have only been allowed to see him once in 13 years.
The LRB recently sent me Cita Stelzer’s Dinner with Churchill: Policy-Making at the Dinner Table to review. It’s a good subject. We know that Churchill believed in personal diplomacy (he thought he could charm the most obdurate dictator if he could only meet him face-to-face); that he did a lot of negotiating over meals; and that he was a sparkling conversationalist. I hadn’t heard of Stelzer, but the CV provided by her publisher, Short Books, looked good. She is a 'Reader at Churchill College, Cambridge’ (‘reader’ being a rare and high academic accolade, one step short of 'professor'), 'a Research Associate at the Hudson Institute' in Washington, a 'member of the Board of the Churchill Centre (UK)', and a freelance journalist and editor. Dinner with Churchill promised to be a lively but serious work of history. If only.
More from Uri Avnery on the UN vote on Palestinian statehood:
Rory Stewart may have been the first Tory MP into Libya after Gaddafi’s ousting from Tripoli (though let’s not forget the battle for Sirte is still going on), but he certainly wasn’t the last. David Cameron and William Hague were hard on his heels. The prime minister had a tricky line to walk as he addressed the crowds in Benghazi’s Tahrir Square (he and Nicolas Sarkozy were ‘greeted as heroes’, according to British state television): how to take credit for the regime change but at the same time downplay the level of foreign intervention? The former (former?) PR man handled it with his trademark plummy aplomb.
I recently got back from la Creuse in central France, where the annual local treasure hunt has been glossed by an insanely elaborate, cross-disciplinary polytext. The instructions for ‘Sherlock Holmes enquête à Boussac’ come on a double-sided sheet of A3 done up to look like an old newspaper, l’Eclaireur. About 15 square inches of it are taken up by the rules; the rest – six fat columns of newsprint (c.3300 words) – is devoted to explaining the game’s back story. Holmes and Watson have been summoned to the small Creusois town of Boussac by a painter friend, who has been tipped off by one of his more famous painter friends (Gauguin) that there’s buried treasure in the region.
Glen Newey · Françafrique
When do empires die? The late François-Xavier Verschave, economist and founder of the pressure group Survie, coined the term Françafrique to denote the Fifth Republic’s suffocating relation to its former African colonies. The pun – France a fric – was intended. With Jacques Chirac on trial for municipal corruption while mayor of Paris, the Franco-Lebanese lawyer Robert Bourgi has alleged that the ex-president and his Gaullist sidekick Dominique de Villepin helped themselves to some $20 million in bungs from African dictators between 1995 and 2005. Both men have denied the allegations and issued writs. Chirac has pleaded memory loss to avoid having to show his face at the corruption trial, but remembers enough to know that Bourgi’s allegations are false in all details.
Since Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in Burma last November, she has travelled the country, drawing large crowds in Bagan in July, launched plans to revitalise the National League for Democracy, and even appeared in the domestic media for the first time in years. She has also been talking with Burma’s new president, Thein Sein.
The Editors · Life and Fate
Uri Avnery on divisions in the tent protests in Tel Aviv: Something very strange – or perhaps not so strange – happened to the media on this occasion. All three major TV stations covered the event live and at length. Itzik’s speech was carried in its entirety by all three. But in the middle of Daphne’s speech, as if on orders from above, all three stations cut off her voice and started broadcasting “comments” by the same tired old gang of government spokesmen, “analysts” and “experts".
From Christopher Hitchens's review of Andy Beckett's Pinochet in Piccadilly, published in the LRB in July 2002: For many people including myself, 11 September has long been a date of mourning and rage. On that day in 1973, lethal aircraft flew low over a major city and destroyed a great symbolic building: the presidential palace in Santiago, known (because it had once been a mint) as La Moneda. Its constitutional occupant, Salvador Allende, could perhaps have bargained to save his own life, but elected not to do so.
Deborah Friedell · Georgette Heyer's Advice for Novelists
Georgette Heyer's advice for novelists, from Jennifer Kloester's forthcoming biography: 1. Induce your publisher to hand over at once a sum of money grossly in excess of what the book is likely to be worth to him. This gives one a certain amount of incentive to write the thing, and may be achieved by various methods, the most highly recommended being what may be termed as The Little Woman Act. 2. Think out a snappy title. This deceives the publisher into thinking (a) that he is getting the Book of the Year; and (b) that you have the whole plot already mapped out. The only drawback lies in the fact that having announced a title you will be slightly handicapped when it comes to hanging some kind of story on to it.
When the Israeli tent protests began, some of the movement’s fiercest critics – outside the Israeli government – were progressive Arab intellectuals and activists. The protests seem to draw inspiration, tactics and even slogans from Tahrir Square, but to many people in the region they look a lot like ‘Israeli falafel’: a bland imitation of the real thing. Omar Barghouti described the protesters' failure to target the illegal occupation of Palestinian land as a ‘hysterical denial of the colonial reality’. But the denial may not last. While the army raises the spectre of a ‘radical Islamic winter’, Israeli demonstrators and the press are beginning to ask tough questions about the corruption of the military-industrial elite.
Emma Baines · The Health Bill
The Health and Social Care Bill was passed in the House of Commons yesterday by 316 votes to 251. Before the vote, during Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron said: We now see the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing all supporting our health reforms. He may see it, but that doesn't mean it's true. On Monday, the deputy chairman of the General Practitioners Committee said: The BMA is very clear – the majority of doctors have serious concerns with the Health Bill. We want to improve the NHS, but a wholesale review of the current plan is needed, which is why we are calling for it to be withdrawn.
On the second Friday of the Egyptian revolution (4 February) I noticed a change in the dusty, makeshift bookstalls on the streets leading to Tahrir Square. The usual array of cheaply printed, sun-faded, sometimes used books – Programming for Dummies, C++, The Prophet’s Hadith, The Little Prince, Advanced Mathematics – were joined by An Alternative President, Red Card for the President, Revolution 2025 and a selection of pirated publications with covers bearing the silhouette of Che Guevara or social networking logos. ‘It was a revolution for our business,’ one of the booksellers told me recently. ‘There were no longer police on the streets – there was no one to arrest us or take away our goods. Censorship ceased to exist.’
The Venice Film Festival still trades on its glamorous reputation, but the truth is a little more tawdry. The Lido’s legendary Grand Hôtel des Bains, where until recently stars would lounge on the verandas, is now boarded up, pending refurbishment as luxury apartments. The festival itself takes place in a decidedly unswanky enclosed compound, much of it sectioned off as a building project in never-ending progress. Nevertheless Venice sustains its prestige through stars.
Such terrifying dogs have not been seen since the Hound of the Baskervilles. They have been bred by an ardent admirer of the late ‘Rabbi’ Meir Kahane, who was branded a fascist by the Israeli Supreme Court. Their task is to protect the settlements and attack Palestinians. Our TV stations have reported on them at length. All in preparation for ‘September’.
Inigo Thomas · Rewatching Rolling News
Someone called David von Pein is uploading old documentaries and live TV footage to YouTube – including 'more than 23 hours of television news coverage' from 11 September 2001. The tapes – from ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN – begin at about 8.30 a.m., before the first attack, and run until after the collapse of the second World Trade Center tower.
René González spent his 55th birthday on 13 August in a Florida prison. He and four colleagues, known in the UK as the ‘Miami Five’ and in the US as the ‘Cuban Five’, have been in prison since 1998. René is the least unlucky of the five, because his sentence of 15 years was the lightest. However, when I met his mother recently, she was worried that the Miami courts had a further punishment in mind: to send him out on ‘probation’ to one of the areas on the City’s west side where Cuban exiles are concentrated, and where he might very well be shot.
The price of freedom, as we all know, is eternal vigilantism. In its quest to build the Big Society, the coalition government, like its predecessor, has determined to let a thousand grasses squeal. So the general public is regularly exhorted to rat on housing benefit frauds, bogus asylum seekers and in-the-pink incapacity benefit cheats, not to mention suspected ‘terrorists’. Shop a looter! posters currently grace Manchester’s Piccadilly station. As its trains pull out of each station, the ever drear TransPennine Express enjoins passengers to report ‘anything suspicious’ to the TE conductor. I’m writing this on one of their trains, and there’s a bloke on the other side of the glass partition in First Class who looks a bit dodgy. He could be a serial tax evader. Time to tip the clippie the wink.