‘We own the field of ideas,’ Ilya Oskolkov-Tsentsiper says, ‘and at the end of the day it is ideas that create revolutions.’ Oskolkov-Tsentsiper is the head of Moscow’s hippest design and architecture school, Strelka. For the last few years they have been exploring concepts such as ‘civic space’ and the influence of protests on a city; now they plan to investigate ‘agents of change’. All mildly momentous stuff for Russia. Strelka is one of a few new institutions, publications and generally progressive places that have been spreading a new language, a new style and a new way thinking in Moscow. In and around the protest camp at ‘Occupy Abaj’, clusters of young people talk about the ‘self-identity of the city’ and ‘disrupting the society of the spectacle’.
It’s three years since the coup in Honduras that sent President Manuel Zelaya into exile in his pyjamas. Porfirio Lobo, who took over as president in January 2010 following highly questionable elections, is more than halfway through his term. The only grounds for optimism are offered by the resistance movement that sprang up after the coup. Much that's wrong with Honduras is illustrated by a recent incident. In the small hours of 11 May, in the remote Moskitia region, there was a drugs bust led by helicopters from the United States Drugs Enforcement Administration.
Last year I gave the Israeli artist Amir Nave an old Hebrew copy of Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace, which I teach every so often in my Introduction to Political Theory class. He took the book, flipped through it, ripped out the title page, turned it upside down, signed it and returned it to me. Nave, an Arab Jew of Iraqi descent, didn't say anything, but the gesture was eloquent enough: we are living in an era of perpetual war, and peace emerges, if at all, in the interregnum. Nave’s children go to the same school as mine. It’s called Hagar, after the biblical figure who wandered between different peoples and cultures in the desert not far from where I live. Hagar was founded by a group of Jewish and Palestinian parents who wanted to create a shared space for their children. It’s the only non-segregated school in the Negev region, which is home to about 700,000 Israelis, more than a quarter of whom are Palestinian Bedouin.
Geoff Roberts · Bild's Jubilee Issue
As Philip Oltermann writes in the latest LRB, it's sixty years since Bild was first published. To mark the anniversary on Sunday, the Springer Company delivered 41 million copies of the tabloid’s 'jubilee issue' to every household in Germany. A celebration of six decades of fearless journalism, or a desperate bid to boost circulation? Twenty years ago, Bild sold about five million copies daily; it's now down to about half that.
In April, a video entitled ‘Iceland forgives mortgage debt of its population’ went viral. The 30-second clip, a Spanish-language news broadcast by the Latin American TV network teleSUR with English subtitles, reported that the mortgage relief was ‘a response to citizens’ demands’. Within 24 hours of being uploaded, the report had been watched tens of thousands of times (videos on teleSUR’s English-language YouTube channel often struggle for double digit viewing figures). Activists on Twitter and Facebook hailed Iceland as an example to the world, reposting as they went.
‘Sovereign is he who decides on the exception,’ Carl Schmitt famously wrote in Political Theology. Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, which so excited Schmitt, invested the president with emergency powers. After they came to power in 1933, the Nazis duly got president Hindenburg to use article 48 to annul constitutional rights in the wake of the Reichstag fire. Executive fiat survives intact in today’s democracies. In the UK, Orders in Council persist as executive powers with the force of primary legislation, exercised under the royal prerogative – they were used in 2004, for example, to overturn a court ruling that the forcible exile of Chagos islanders was unlawful.
John Markakis · The Mnimonio
Like most Greeks, I have had my medical needs covered by a comprehensive state health insurance programme to which I’ve contributed all my working life. It is supposed to mean that I don’t pay for services and only a token amount for medicines. But at the doctor’s last month, the examination over and the prescription written, I was handed a receipt for €50. ‘What’s this?’ I asked. ‘My fee.’ ‘I’m insured, as you know.’ ‘I know. That’s why I’ve given you a receipt.’ ‘To do what with it?’ ‘So you can be reimbursed.’ ‘When?’ ‘If and when the crisis ends, and you’re still alive.’
Almost all western media reports of the massacre at Houla on 25 May said that it was carried out by members of the Shabiha militia, irregular forces loyal to the Assad regime. But in two articles for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Rainer Hermann has raised doubts about the reliability of the accepted version of events and offered evidence that rebel forces were responsible.
The hideous cloud of productivity now looms over all our lives. It seems that actual writers use productivity apps to get on with their articles and books. Helen Oyeyemi advises writers to download the Write or Die app onto their computer (or does she write on an iPhone?). In ‘kamikaze mode’, if you stop writing for more than 45 seconds it starts deleting the words you have already written. Other writers claimed they use it (‘great for those days when you simply can’t start’) or joined in with advice for getting those words down on the page. Pomodoro forces you into 25 minute slots and five minute breaks, making writing like interval training. Written? Kitten! gives you a cute kitten pic for every hundred words you get down. Stick or carrot? You decide.
Belén Fernández · The NYPD's Demographic Unit
Last year the Associated Press revealed that the NYPD, with help from the CIA, had set up an extensive surveillance operation to spy on Muslims both in the city and over the state line in New Jersey. Known informally as the Demographic Unit, it employed a network of undercover officers (a.k.a. ‘rakers’) and informants (‘mosque crawlers’).
In words that the secretary of state for education has caused to be placed in every school in the land, ‘He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord’ (Deuteronomy 23.1, King James Version). Like the rest of the good book, this instils a useful lesson for life: it never rains but it pours. You get kneed in the nuts behind the bike shed, only to learn you’re not going to heaven either.
Hugh Pennington · Legionella
Legionnaire's disease got its name in a blaze of publicity when attendees at the 1976 Philadelphia State Convention of the American Legion were struck down with severe pneumonia. They had stayed at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel from 21 to 24 June: 182 fell ill and 29 died; 39 passers-by were also affected, five fatally. Funerals and marching legionnaires made good television. The story was top of the news for five nights. But the cause was a mystery until a cold review of samples from victims was conducted six months later. It turned out to be a bacterium. This was unexpected. The pathology didn’t fit a bacterial cause, and it was widely believed that bacteria did not spread on the wind.
In his recent piece on Hergé in the LRB, Christopher Tayler notes the influence on Tintin’s creator of a Chinese artist, Zhang Chongren, whom he met in 1934, as he was starting work on The Blue Lotus.
Tomorrow night (Tuesday, 12 June) from 7 till midnight there will be a tribute to Christopher Logue at the Wreck, 65 Camberwell Church Street SE5, with poetry readings and music. Tickets £5.
Thirty years on, Uri Avnery on the causes and consequences of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and Sharon's 'plan for a new Middle East':
Germany, it seems, has neither the will to fix the euro nor the courage to pull the plug on it. Angela Merkel opposes the kind of real reform that might end the crisis for good, but when faced with a choice between the possible break-up of the eurozone and yet another bailout, she has (so far) proved willing to make concessions. The pattern looks set to be repeated with Spain over the weekend. Most economists agree that Germany has done well out of the euro, its strong economic performance over the last decade owing a lot to artificially low production costs at home and artificially high demand on the eurozone’s periphery. But in his new book, Germany Doesn’t Need the Euro, Thilo Sarrazin, a former member of the executive board of the Bundesbank, dismisses this argument out of hand, claiming instead that Germany has gained nothing from the euro because it hasn’t been growing any faster than northern European countries that stayed out of the single currency.
The cover story in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine is entitled ‘Prep School Predators: The Horace Mann School’s Secret History of Sexual Abuse’. Amos Kamil, who left the school in 1982, names several teachers, including the headmaster, as pervs. I was at Horace Mann 15 years earlier than Kamil – class of ’67, near the bottom of the fifth quintile and a great disappointment all round – and knew a couple of them: one was waving his baton as a young music instructor and the other, a large boy, a few years older than I, Stan Kops, later became a teacher at the school. Poor Stan wound up killing himself. I believe he swam butterfly on the varsity swimming team.
NHS doctors are planning to take industrial action on 21 June over pension reforms that would see them working until they're 68 and paying twice as much in contributions as other public sector staff on a similar pay-grade, for the same eventual pension.
The majority of GPs, consultants, junior doctors, staff, associate specialists and specialty doctors as well as public health and community health doctors who voted in last month’s ballot said they were even prepared to go on strike, but the British Medical Association has ruled that out: ‘doctors will ensure that patient safety is protected’ on the day by continuing to supply urgent and emergency care, only postponing non-urgent cases.
Jenny Turner · Free Schools
‘There are some of my colleagues in the coalition who are very sceptical of the benefits of profit,’ Michael Gove told the Leveson Inquiry last week. ‘I have an open mind. I believe that it may be the case that we can augment the quality of state education by extending the range of people involved in its provision.’ In Southwark, we’ve got used to seeing local schools be taken over by the Harris Federation, the chain set up by the Carpetright mogul Baron Harris of Peckham, responsible at the moment for 13 academies and with a couple of free schools on the way.
The housing minister, Grant Shapps, has just finished consulting on a new set of rules, refining laws introduced in 2008, to give council tenants the right to take over the management of their estates and request that ownership ‘be transferred from the council to a local housing association’. ‘Nobody knows the needs of a neighbourhood better than the local community,’ Shapps says. ‘Now I want to see tenants use these powers to prove us right.’ One group of tenants who intend to take him at his word are the residents of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, which belong to Tory-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham Council.
Glen Newey salutes her majesty
Why do people love the queen? Or, to put a slightly different question: what do people love when they love the queen? Whatever it is, this week’s Guardian/ICM poll suggests that a lot of people still do. Sixty-nine per cent of respondents thought Britain would be worse off, and only 22 per cent better off, without her. As politicians sink ever deeper in public esteem, so the queen rises. Over the coming weekend the country’s usually scabrous public sphere will turn, as it did when Diana croaked, as deferential as Zimbabwe’s.