Jonathan Franzen's homily on the trouble with ebooks and the superiority of print has zapped its way around the world from the Hay Festival in Cartagena, Colombia (the Telegraph’s showbusiness editor has the full story):
Thomas Jones · Franzen's Homily
During two decades spent mostly under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi was a symbol of democratic resistance at home and abroad: she won the Nobel Peace Prize and inspired her compatriots to continue struggling against the regime. But because she was essentially kept out of politics by the government, she rarely had to behave like a politician. Since she had so little freedom to act, she was nearly impossible to criticise: I never met anyone in Burma with a bad word to say about her. In the past year, however, freed from house arrest, running for parliament in the upcoming by-elections and working closely with the government of President Thein Sein, Suu Kyi has become a politician again, losing some of her iconic status and no longer above criticism.
Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill, due to return to the Lords next month, is looking less and less well. A poll of more than 2500 GPs carried out by the RCGP found that 98 per cent were in favour of rejecting the bill if the other Royal Colleges agreed. When Ed Miliband challenged David Cameron with these figures on Wednesday, the prime minister responded by claiming the reforms were not only supported but being implemented by one Dr Greg Conner, a GP from Miliband's Doncaster constituency. A spokesman for Doncaster Primary Care Trust later told GP newspaper that ‘Dr Conner was no longer chairman of the Doncaster clinical commissiong group and he had in fact left the area.’
Supporters of Occupy Edinburgh were thin on the ground at the city’s sheriff court on Wednesday, 25 January, Robert Burns Day. Only 15 or so activists went to protest against their eviction from St Andrews Square, outside the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland (whose chief executive has just received a £963,000 bonus). ‘Oh, you’re with that lot,’ the security guard manning the metal detector said when I asked where the Occupy case was being heard. ‘Should have got rid of them months ago.’ After rummaging through my rucksack and confiscating my Dictaphone, he pointed in the direction of Court 13.
Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist has been nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. It was produced in France but got out of Best Foreign Language Film jail because, being silent, it doesn’t have a ‘predominantly non-English dialogue track’. It’s always described as a silent film, but it’s more closely related to movies of the sound era about the transition from silence to sound:
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia were set up in February 2009 to try the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders accused of being ‘most responsible’ for crimes committed between 1975 and 1979, when up to two million people died from starvation, torture and execution under Pol Pot's regime. In 2010, the prison camp commander Kaing Guek Eav was given a 35-year sentence for crimes against humanity. The trial of three other Khmer Rouge leaders is ongoing. But the tribunal is in danger of being derailed by cases 003 and 004, which involve lower ranking Khmer Rouge cadres and have been subject to intense political opposition from the Cambodian government, some of whom used to belong to the Khmer Rouge. Hun Sen, the country’s leader since 1985 and a former Khmer Rouge cadre, has spoken out repeatedly against cases 003 and 004.
That Scottish independence or anything which seriously reduced Scottish representation in the House of Commons could be fatal for Labour is now the common coin of politics. Labour is heavily dependent on its Scottish and Welsh heartlands. It has won a majority of English seats only five times – 1945, 1966, 1997, 2001 and 2005 – but these were exceptional results partly dependent on a distribution of seats in England which favoured Labour and which the Tories are now busily ‘correcting’. Wales is already losing 10 of its 40 seats under existing legislation, and Scotland will lose more seats under almost any new political arrangement. Under independence, of course, it would have no representation in the House of Commons.
Alan Gross, a 62-year-old US citizen, has been imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009. He fell foul of the authorities while working for USAID, liaising with Cuba's small Jewish community. The Washington Post earlier this month demanded his release, saying that ‘Cuba’s accusations stem from Mr Gross’s humanitarian work’. When he was convicted for ‘acts to undermine the integrity and independence’ of Cuba and sentenced to 15 years in jail, Hillary Clinton said that ‘he did not commit any crime’ but was ‘assisting the small Jewish community in Havana that feels very cut off from the world’ by improving their internet connection.
Followers of Michael Gove’s career might have missed its latest highlights. The cabinet has now decided to repeal the rights of parents to oppose the expansion of ‘popular’ schools and, despite the embarrassingly vociferous opposition of parents at Downhills primary school in Tottenham, seems determined to part the school from the LEA. Parental choice is allowed when parents support the Conservative Party and not allowed when they don’t. The Lib Dems appear to have no quarrel with this. No doubt it is their definition of community politics.
In 1997, I did a research project at the National CJD Research and Surveillance Unit at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital, supervised by Robert Will and James Ironside, who co-authored the 1996 paper in the Lancet that proposed the existence of vCJD in the UK. The only reliable way to diagnose the disease was by post-mortem examination of the brain, which would reveal the tiny holes in the brain tissue caused by massive cell death – giving it a sponge-like appearance – and allow us to test for the presence of abnormal proteins.
Arguments about Islam are liable to generate more heat than light wherever they take place, but one of the unlikelier hotspots over the last year was the state of Oklahoma. In 2010, a group of its Republican lawmakers proposed that local courts be forbidden from taking account of the sharia, and 70 per cent of voters backed a draft constitutional amendment to that effect. The law, known to supporters as the ‘Save our State’ amendment, was justified as a ‘pre-emptive strike’ against an imminent ‘onslaught’. Similar initiatives were soon spawning elsewhere, and by late 2011 they had been tabled in 24 legislatures, from Alabama to Wyoming.
Colin Burrow watches 'Coriolanus'
It was all set to be grand night out. A special preview of Coriolanus at the Phoenix Picturehouse in Oxford, to be followed by a Q&A with the film’s director and star, Ralph Fiennes. But he failed to show up. Fortunately I had brought a bag of Revels with me. They kept me going for the first ten minutes, during which Coriolanus, set in modern war-torn somewhere, is unrelentingly khaki.
For weeks now, candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have tripped over one another in the frenzied competition to announce their love for Israel. Mitt Romney has promised that it will be the first country he visits as president. Rick Perry insists that he will confront Iran head-on to protect Israel from being 'wiped off the face of the earth'. Newt Gingrich took it to another level when, in an interview with the Jewish Channel, he said that the Palestinians are an ‘invented people’. He repeated the assertion a few days later, comparing himself to Ronald Reagan for having the 'courage to tell the truth'.
Rick Santorum loves America, lobbyists’ cheques, sweater vests and his seven children. An eighth, Gabriel, was stillborn at 20 weeks in 1996. When staff from the morgue arrived, the Santorums refused to give up the foetal corpse. That night they slept with it between them in the hospital bed, and the next day took it home so that their children could snuggle with it before a funeral. Since his surprise near-victory in Iowa, the candidate’s supporters have lashed out at journalists who’ve revisited this story, but it was Karen Santorum who publicised it first. ‘Your siblings could not have been more excited about you!’ she wrote in Letters to Gabriel (1998). She describes giving the corpse to their eldest daughter, then five years old, to hold. ‘This is my baby brother, Gabriel,’ she said. ‘He is an angel.’ The book has a foreword from Mother Teresa.
David Patrikarakos · The Iranian Impasse
As assassinations go, last Wednesday’s killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist was unusually competent. Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who worked at Iran’s Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, was blown up when a passing motorcyclist slapped a magnetic bomb onto his car that killed everyone inside but left the area around the vehicle unscathed. It was the fourth killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in the last two years. An explosion at a missile base near Tehran on 12 November 2011 killed 18 people including Brigadier General Hassan Moghaddam, the architect of Iran’s missile programme. Take into account the Stuxnet computer virus that attacked the centrifuge system at Natanz, not to mention several defections of key scientific personnel, and it is clear that ‘non-diplomatic’ solutions to the Iranian impasse have become the norm.
Some evangelical Christian websites have been reproducing my LRB blog post on Mitt Romney, presumably less interested in his trochaic surname than in his Mormon underwear. One of them reprints, on the same page as my post, an article by Gary Bauer, president of American Values, chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, and perennial television talking head for the Christian right:
How does it happen that Scottish Nationalism walks and talks as if it’s able to call terms over an independence referendum which opinion polls suggest it would lose? A major reason for the SNP’s sweep to absolute majority last May was the inadequacy of the Scottish Labour Party. At Devolution, such was Westminster complacency, only one first-rank Labour politician went to Holyrood: Donald Dewar. Since his death in 2000, the party has been led by what Scots call numpties, five of them over eleven years, remembered for the impact they didn't have.
It’s now official. Urinating on dead insurgents, the US Marine Corps informs the world, is 'not consistent with its core values'. I think we need a list of non-core values as soon as possible. Pissing on the dead is considered loathsome in most cultures, but clearly can be a morale-booster for demoralised troops in an occupied country where the war is going badly for western civilisation. What better way to assert civilisational values against the barbarians and win local hearts and minds? And why stop here? The next stage surely is to excrete on them and use their beards as toilet paper. That would enhance the value of the videos and might even win the innovators the Santorum Prize for Moral Superiority.
On 4 November 2011, the police finally tracked down two men who were wanted for questioning in connection with at least 14 bank raids in towns across East Germany. Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos were found dead in a camping bus in Eisenach, along with a pistol that had been used to kill at least nine men between 1999 and 2007. Eight of the victims were of Turkish origin, the ninth was born in Greece. The authorities had not previously considered that the murders might be racially motivated: racist attacks are often explained away by the police as 'drunken brawls over private issues'. Official data put the number of racially motivated murders in Germany since 1990 at 48, but activist groups and journalists say the figure is closer to 140.
There are many reasons Mitt Romney will never be elected president. These include, in descending order of importance: 1) He is a Mormon who wears funny underwear. 2) On a family vacation, he drove for many hours with his dog, Seamus, strapped to the roof of his SUV. 3) He is a stuffed shirt, full of 'pious baloney', as the incomparable Newt recently put it. 4) He has been on both sides of every issue, while denying that he ever held the opposing view. But what will sink Romney is his last name. Americans do not find two-syllable names ending with a long e presidential. They are associated with diminutives and baby-talk and lack the requisite gravitas. American history is littered with these losers:
Ian Patterson · Carol Ann Duffy
On Saturday, the Guardian published a short poem called ‘Stephen Lawrence’ by the poet laureate, and recent Costa Prize-winner, Carol Ann Duffy. It was embarrassingly bad, I thought. But to judge by the response on Twitter, I was in a minority. 'This is what I want of a poet laureate! Brilliant Carol Ann Duffy poem re Stephen Lawrence,' Jon Snow tweeted enthusiastically, backed up by his Channel 4 colleague, Matthew Cain, who said the poem was ‘short but so very moving...’ The poem ‘sent a shiver’ down Tom Watson’s spine; Adrian Lester said ‘Succinct. Short and effective. Please read this.’ Other tweets included ‘a darkly moving summation’, ‘a powerful new poem’, ‘Another brilliant Carol Ann Duffy poem at the end of a momentous week’ and ‘Very moving. This is precisely why we need a Poet Laureate.’
There is no inherent harm in the opposition defence spokesman accepting ministerial defence cuts. From a party committed to Trident replacement, it might be a faint, late virtue. There is every possible objection to coupling it with talk of rejecting populism (whatever that means here) and hinting at readier general acquiesence.
It is increasingly clear that the UK housing crisis can only be addressed by building more social housing. Ross McKibbin wrote in the LRB last year that this should be a priority for a future Labour government, and even the coalition belatedly accepted the economic benefits of social housing construction in the run-up to the Autumn Statement. The problem is that they are actually doing the opposite. Social housing 'starts' fell to a miserable 454 in the last six months, and although they will start to increase soon, the new investment will have two very important downsides.
There are never many readers in the British Library between Christmas and New Year, so it may not have been the best time to open a new front in a philological campaign. But small piles of bookmarks appeared in the library locker room one morning last week, promoting the use of the word hu. Pronounced with a short vowel sound, as in ‘huh’, hu is ‘the stylist’s choice in epicene pronouns’ and ‘performs flexibly as a subject, an object, and a possessive epicene; for it is declension-free’. The sales pitch was followed by a few examples: