February 2012


29 February 2012

Taking Down the Tents

Phil Edwards

All sides seem to agree that the Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters are leaving undefeated. The cathedral authorities stress that although 'tents and camping equipment' have been removed from the vicinity of St Paul's, 'ideas and protests' are still welcome. One protester described the eviction as 'an opportunity for us to move sideways and be innovative and creative'. But in London, as elsewhere, as the campers have had to move sideways, Occupy will have to find another way forward. It isn't the kind of protest in which an achievable goal is linked to a symbolic nuisance, so that when the authorities see reason everyone can go home. Its demands have been much bigger, and they've been backed by the continuing physical presence of people obstinately taking up space.


28 February 2012

Where Midges Fly

Hugh Pennington · Schmallenberg virus

Lambing is just starting. But the pictures on TV in the last few days have been of stillborns, and of newborns with bent legs, seized-up joints and crooked necks. Their mothers had been infected during pregnancy with the Schmallenberg virus, called after the German town where it was discovered last year. It belongs to a family – the bunyaviruses – that are mostly spread by insect bites.


27 February 2012

Bismarck speaks

Geoff Roberts

In 1889, Adelbert Wangemann, an associate of Thomas Edison, came to Europe to promote Edison's latest invention, the phonograph. After making some recordings in Paris, Wangemann travelled to Germany, where the Siemens family opened doors for him to be received by the kaiser. On 7 October 1889, Wangemann met Otto von Bismarck, who agreed to speak a few words into the megaphone.


24 February 2012

Sun Shiny Day

Jenny Diski · @RupertMurdoch

'This is the most humble day of my life,' Rupert Murdoch said after trying to avoid attending and before failing to give satisfactory answers to the Leveson Committee on 19 July last year. It was very probably true, at least in so far as he appears to have entirely ditched humility since that day, or moment. In January, Murdoch opened a Twitter account. For those of you not following him – why aren't you following him? – here's a taste of what you are missing. He does global politics, international finance, domestic UK and US policy on education and welfare, and jokes. Here's a joke from 19 February: 'Miracles do happen! Sun shining in London.' The sun was shining, it was a lovely day. But the following day Murdoch announced the launch of the Sun on Sunday. See? What a tease.


23 February 2012

After Comayagua

John Perry

The fire at Comayagua on 14 February brings the number of prisoners who have been killed in prison fires in Honduras in the last decade to more than 530. The government’s inaction in the face of repeated prison massacres may well mean that it is found guilty at a hearing of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on 28 February, concerning a fire in 2004. President Lobo described what happened at Comayagua as a ‘tragedy’; others have called it ‘an accident waiting to happen’. But it is already clear that the authorities were at the very least culpable in allowing prisoners to die unnecessarily, and may well be more deeply implicated.


22 February 2012

Outlandish Endeavours

Inigo Thomas · John Fairfax

Implausible, improbable, too good to be true or too good not to be true: such was the life of John Fairfax, the first man to row single-handed across the Atlantic, who died a fortnight ago and who became world famous over the weekend, when the obituaries really began to flow, many of them leaning heavily (and without acknowledgment) on an online extract from The Ocean Rowers by Kenneth Crutchlow and Steve Boga. ‘One of the world's most interesting men is dead,’ said a bold headline on Newser; he certainly led an interesting life, but that’s not necessarily the same thing.


21 February 2012

The Belgian Option

Jeremy Harding

Times are tough for the wealthy, with the taxman in hot pursuit of those hard-earned millions. But if you have them, and the right consultant, you can get around a little local difficulty by acquiring residency status in a country that’s proud to count you in and eventually make you a citizen. Belgium for example: a moneybags who went for the Belgian option would probably get citizenship within three to seven years of residency.


20 February 2012

Drawn That Way

Lidija Haas · Amanda Knox

Four months after Amanda Knox was acquitted of murdering Meredith Kercher, HarperCollins has paid her several million dollars for her memoirs. We will soon be able, we're told, to hear ‘her side of the story’ – except that her side, an account of the ‘nightmarish ordeal that placed her at the centre of a media storm’, to be told with the help of a ‘collaborator’, already sounds a little familiar.


17 February 2012

Coy Amis

Thomas Jones

Mark O'Connell has written quite a funny piece for The Millions on Martin Amis's out-of-print classic Invasion of the Space Invaders: An Addict’s Guide to Battle Tactics, Big Scores and the Best Machines, a book that Amis has done his best to disown. 'I recently discovered a copy in the library of the university where I work,' O'Connell writes, 'and I don’t think the librarian knew quite what to make of my obvious excitement at this coup.' Tom Shippey reviewed Invasion of the Space Invaders in the LRB when it came out in 1982:


17 February 2012

At the Berlinale

Jonathan Romney

At many major film festivals, there’s a significant gap between appearance and reality – perhaps nowhere more pronounced than in Berlin. On the surface, this is as showbizzy an event as any.


16 February 2012

The Pope and the Baroness

Glen Newey

Yesterday’s meeting between Benedict XVI and Baroness Warsi in Rome was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the pontiff to meet a great spiritual leader of our time, for which he seems to have been grateful. (At least Ratzo was elected. In the Tory chair’s one face-down with the electorate, in Dewsbury in 2005, she managed to bump up Labour’s majority against the national swing.) Meanwhile, back in Britain, another unelected leader has weighed into the church-and-state debate: the queen delivered a paean to the ‘under-appreciated’ Church of England in front of representatives of what the newspaper write-ups, dutifully following the church’s press release, called ‘the eight non-Christian religions’.


16 February 2012

Preventable Harm

Emma Baines

It’s increasingly hard to find anyone apart from Andrew Lansley and David Cameron who supports the Health and Social Care Bill. Most doctors, nurses and other NHS workers are against it. A Cambridgeshire GP who used to be the vice-chairman of his local CCG and an enthusiastic supporter of the reforms has written in the BMJ that GPs were 'duped' and the bill will 'wreck the NHS'.


15 February 2012

Kissing the Crocodile's Arse

Peter Pomerantsev

Last week the internet group Anonymous hacked into the emails of Nashi, the pro-Putin youth organisation often compared to the Hitler Jugend. It turns out that Nashi keeps lists of ‘enemies’ – including writers, bloggers, activists and politicians – alongside allegations to smear them with, such as ‘gave a blow job to a black man’ or ‘sleeps with prostitutes who say he has a small penis’. Top of the list of exploitable ‘weak spots’ is a Jewish background. But the biggest stir has been caused by allegations that Ilya Varlamov, a photographer and blogger thought to be anti-Putin, received large payments from Nashi. Varlamov, who denies the charges, is said to have been given 400,000 rubles (around £8400) for two photo blogs which, if not blatant propaganda, did make Putin look rather smart. The revelations have opened up an old debate in Russia: what are the limits of co-operation with an unsavoury state? When is it OK, if ever, to take money from Kremlin Inc?


14 February 2012

In Athens

David Patrikarakos

Charred bricks and broken glass form the bulk of what was once the Attikon cinema, burned down by hundreds of rioting Greeks in protest at the harshest austerity measures Europe has ever seen. Five lethargic firemen hose water onto the smouldering ruins. Behind them a ring of about 20 camera crews film the scene, and behind them, a ring of bystanders hold up their phones and take pictures. Even for crisis-hit Greece, the violence has been severe.


13 February 2012

LRB Winter Lectures 2012

The Editors

Neal Ascherson will give the first of the LRB Winter Lectures at the British Museum on Friday 2 March, on 'Europe': Europe is a monster (monstro simile, as they said of the Holy Roman Empire) and a mutant, a creature in its substance unlike the kingdoms and empires and states which preceded it. It's a sponge, indeterminate in outline, soft in texture, absorbing incomers and diffusing wealth and culture. How can it survive? You can book tickets here.


13 February 2012

Why the UN is like a failed state

Aidan Hehir

The double veto cast by Russia and China blocking the draft Security Council resolution on Syria provoked a chorus of international outrage. William Hague called it ‘cold-blooded cynicism’. Hillary Clinton said: To block this resolution is to bear responsibility for the horrors that are occurring on the ground in Syria. The US, the UK and France may be lamenting the use of the veto this month, but they have never shown any interest in scrapping or even amending it. Though occasionally inconvenient, it gives the five permanent members of the Security Council (P5) privileges too great to rescind, regardless of its detrimental effect on the UN's efficiency or the consequences for victims of atrocities.


13 February 2012

The New American Way of War

Andrew Bacevich

Not long ago, Greg Jaffe, the Washington Post’s military correspondent, wrote that ‘this is the American era of endless war.’ Endless war manifestly does not suggest any eagerness to use military power with an eye towards liberating or pacifying countries governed by regimes that Washington happens to dislike. Post-9/11 experiments along those lines in Iraq and Afghanistan yielded little but disappointment. The American people have lost their stomach for invasions that lead to long-term military occupations, with all that implies in terms of casualties suffered and money poured down the drain. When Robert Gates said that anyone advising a future president ‘to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined’, he was codifying sentiments that had long since found favour with the American public.


10 February 2012

Freejoyce!

Jon Day

In 1936 James Joyce wrote a letter to his grandson: My dear Stevie, I sent you a little cat filled with sweets a few days ago but perhaps you do not know the story about the cat of Beaugency. The letter included his story ‘The Cat and the Devil’, a short fairytale with echoes of ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’ and some delightful footnotes. ‘Stevie’ was Stephen James Joyce, who grew up to become the scourge of academic Joyceans as the fearsome executor of the Joyce estate. Academics, he once told the New Yorker’s D.T. Max, are like ‘rats and lice – they should be exterminated!’


9 February 2012

In Ayacucho

Belén Fernández

Last week I carried a very small white coffin down the street in Ayacucho, Peru, birthplace of the Maoist guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso. It contained the remains of Alejandro Aguilar Yapo, killed along with an estimated 105 others in a day-long massacre in 1984. Aguilar’s bones had been arranged in the coffin that morning by employees of the public prosecutor’s office in Ayacucho, who unpacked them, along with the bones of three other victims exhumed last year from a mass grave, from the Motta panettone boxes in which they had been stored after seven months of forensic analysis. After a service in the cathedral, the victims’ families prepared to take their remains on the lengthy bus ride back home to Sicuani, 740 km away.


9 February 2012

O Dreamland

Gillian Darley

The only colour on Margate seafront in February comes from the hoardings marking off the Dreamland site. The text and images tell of past glories and high hopes, and of how popular entertainment in the resort (starting in the 1860s and grinding to a halt some ten years ago) could yet come back to life. This was once the amusement park that beat all competition. For now, the hoardings mask an immense backland site stretching virtually from the railway station to the edge of the Old Town.


7 February 2012

Going Slow

Julian Sayarer

Last Thursday the Times launched a campaign to ‘Save Our Cyclists’. It was also the first anniversary of the death of 28-year-old Dan Cox, killed on his bike by a lorry at Dalston Junction. A memorial walk traced his last journey across the city. A ‘ghost bike’ near the spot where he was hit has been painted white and adorned with flowers and a copy of Kafka’s The Trial.


6 February 2012

Royal Woolwich

Peter Pomerantsev

At 6.15 on Friday evening, Henry VIII (played by the bloke who impersonates him at Hampton Court) led a procession of local politicians down the steps of Greenwich’s council offices. In front of a crowd of a few hundred people, they announced that Greenwich had been accorded royal status by the queen in honour of its ‘longstanding royal connections’. It’s only the fourth borough to be given the title (after Kensington and Chelsea, Windsor and Maidenhead, and Kingston upon Thames), and the first for more than a hundred years. It’s almost surprising it didn’t happen earlier: Greenwich is the birthplace of Tudor kings, home to Wren’s Royal Naval College, the National Observatory and the National Maritime Museum (where in the summer David Starkey will be curating an exhibition called Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames), and a Unesco World Heritage Site regularly used by Hollywood to shoot historical scenes of a vanished England.


3 February 2012

Why are we in Afghanistan?

Oliver Miles

The US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, told reporters in his plane as he flew to Brussels for a Nato meeting on 1 February that US troops in Afghanistan would step back from a fighting role by mid to late 2013, remaining there only in an ‘advise and assist’ and training capacity.

Only a few days earlier, on 28 January, David Cameron, welcoming President Karzai in London, had said:

Between now and 2014 there will be opportunities for different countries to reduce their numbers...


3 February 2012

'Total Policing'

Fatema Ahmed

On 16 January the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, gave a lecture on ‘Total Policing’ at the London School of Economics. By chance, earlier that day, London saw the first directly elected Police Commissioner take up his post (the title will be less confusing in the rest of the country, where they have Chief Constables). Any Londoners worried that they missed the chance to vote for this important figure needn’t be: the job automatically went to Boris Johnson. In light of his other duties as Mayor of London (and columnist for the Telegraph), he’s delegated most of his policing powers to his deputy Kit Malthouse, who as long ago as 2009 said: ‘We have our hands on the tiller.'


2 February 2012

In Port Said

Issandr El Amrani

Port Said, the city at the northern entrance of the Suez Canal, has seen its share of pain. In 1956 it was the centre of Egyptian resistance to the Tri-Partite Aggression. Egypt's defeat by Israel in 1967 turned it into a war zone and shut down the canal, its main source of income; the city was evacuated. Even after the 1973 war restored some Egyptian pride, and Anwar Sadat gave the city duty-free status as a reward for its sacrifices, Port Said never really regained its old cosmopolitanism. After an alleged assassination attempt against Hosni Mubarak in 1999 – many people believe the ‘assassin’, who was shot dead by security forces, was carrying a letter for the president, not a weapon – some of the fiscal privileges were withdrawn. After the violence at Port Said's football stadium last night, in which at least 74 people were killed and more than 1000 wounded, it isn’t surprising to see so many Egyptians not only decry the lack of adequate policing at the stadium, but accuse the police and the military of having manufactured the whole thing.


1 February 2012

Shh...

Jenny Diski · Mindreading

If you remember the BBC's Tomorrow's World, you'll feel a moment of nostalgia at reading about this exciting scientific breakthrough. The tomorrow of Tomorrow's World, like all tomorrows, never came. The marvellous invention or brand new piece of research that was going to change our lives for ever (tomorrow, obviously) never quite got to the point where it arrived in your kitchen or at a hospital near you. The marvellous machine today is the fMRI scanner. Today's promise for tomorrow's fMRI magic is that we can, finally, know what is going on in people's minds. Other people's minds. This is the great mystery and annoyance we all have to put up with, though if it ever comes to pass, I would be most eager to borrow it and find out what's going on in my own mind first.