May 2013


31 May 2013

Putin's Useful Cynics

Peter Pomerantsev

Earlier this month the bestselling crime writer Boris Akunin announced that as Russia was becoming a police state with political prisoners, any form of co-operation with the state by cultural and artistic figures was tantamount to collaboration. There has been much agonising since: what about if you work at a state newswire agency? Or at the Bolshoi? It’s an old debate in Russia: there are still fights about whether Shostakovich was collaborating with Stalin or subverting the system from inside. But the challenge is harder now the Kremlin has learnt to speak the language of democratic capitalism, and goes out of its way to own opposition narratives. I once did some consultancy for a hotbed of Russian liberal journalism: Snob.


31 May 2013

Small Victories

Joanna Biggs · #FBrape

This was a big week for Facebook feminism. A worldwide coalition of feminist groups, led by the UK's Everyday Sexism Project and Women, Action and the Media in the US, have been challenging Facebook's advertisers (mostly via Twitter) to suspend their ads until the platform agrees to remove some straightforwardly offensive images making hitting and raping women sound like fun. (They are depressingly easy to find on the internet. A couple is having dinner, a single rose in a vase on the table: 'Win her over... with chloroform.' This is the tame end.) If asking the advertisers to ask Facebook to ask whoever posted the images to take them down sounds like a roundabout way of going about things, that's because it is: Facebook, who have censored photos of breastfeeding in the past, had already vetted the images and didn't think they violated 'Facebook's Community Standard'. On Wednesday they backed down and issued a statement setting out how they were going to change their moderators' ways.


29 May 2013

‘Migration Watch’ Watch

Alex Drace-Francis

‘Where are all these East Europeans flocking from?’ That was the question Gillian Duffy asked Gordon Brown in 2010. Brown would have got into trouble if he’d answered ‘Eastern Europe’, though probably not as much as he got into for describing Duffy as ‘just a sort of bigoted woman’. Her prejudices, or fears, are widely shared. Nearly 150,000 people have signed a petition against the lifting of labour restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians next year. According to the petition, ‘there is currently an estimated 1.5 million people seeking work within the two countries.’ But how many of them might actually move to Britain?


28 May 2013

On Whitehall

Jon Day

On their Twitter stream, the English Defence League announced that they’d be meeting at the Lord of the Moon pub on Whitehall before marching to Downing Street, but the Moon didn’t want them and closed for the day. Instead they gathered at pubs around Trafalgar Square (including Halfway to Heaven: ‘loads of patriots here,’ someone tweeted – did they realise it's a gay bar?). As I passed the Silver Cross on the corner of Whitehall and Craig’s Court, a group of EDL marchers were chanting ‘who are you?’ at a busload of tourists, who were taking photos. Football casuals and hardened racists drank in the sunshine. There were cries of ‘Sieg Heil!’ from the crowd as the police pushed them back onto the pavement.


27 May 2013

In Cannes

Jonathan Romney

The young French journalist at the next café table was moaning disconsolately into his iPhone. ‘C’est idiot! C’est superficiel! I came here for serious cinema – but there’s nothing here but le showbusiness!’ It was his first visit to the Cannes Film Festival, and two days in, he was shocked at the preponderance of glitter. I don’t normally make a big thing of playing the seasoned old hand on the Croisette – although this year was my 21st visit to the festival – but I couldn’t help leaning over and reassuring him that there was plenty of seriousness to be found in Cannes, despite the opening days’ obsession with glamour. In fact, there could hardly have been a more misleading opening film than Baz Luhrmann’s bling-laden 3D version of The Great Gatsby.


24 May 2013

You are the prime minister

Thomas Jones

A general paper from the 2011 Eton scholarship exam has been exhumed and is doing the rounds. The first question required candidates to read a passage from The Prince ('it is much safer to be feared than loved' etc) and then (a) summarise the argument in no more than 50 words (5 marks); (b) in their own words say what they find 'unappealing' about the argument (5 marks); and (c), for 15 marks: The year is 2040. There have been riots in the streets of London after Britain has run out of petrol because of an oil crisis in the Middle East. Protesters have attacked public buildings. Several policemen have died. Consequently, the Government has deployed the Army to curb the protests. After two days the protests have been stopped but twenty-five protesters have been killed by the Army. You are the Prime Minister. Write the script for a speech to be broadcast to the nation in which you explain why employing the Army against violent protesters was the only option available to you and one which was both necessary and moral.


22 May 2013

We all need legal aid

Joanna Biggs

At one point on Monday night, during a meeting at the LSE about the government’s new proposals for legal aid, the lights went out. It went dark as Steve Hynes of the Legal Action Group was speaking about the justice minister, Chris Grayling, and Hynes’s quip – ‘Oh God, does Grayling control the lights as well?’ – brought one of the only genuine laughs of the night (the others were bitter). Grayling was invited to the meeting but didn’t make it, as far as I could tell. It didn’t matter. He was on everyone’s minds anyway.


21 May 2013

Was it a 'fit-up'?

Bernard Porter

Julian Assange’s latest piece of evidence that the extradition case against him is part of an American-Swedish plot doesn’t amount to much. Assuming he’s not making it up (which is unlikely), it simply tells us that someone at GCHQ – we don’t yet know who – believed it was a ‘fit-up’ because the ‘timings are too convenient’. Nothing solid here, and nothing from either of the horses’ mouths. So it doesn’t take us much further.


17 May 2013

Detritus from the Audio Sphere

Laura Soar

Test Centre is a new micro-publishing outfit in Dalston that’s putting out a series of limited-edition spoken-word vinyl records. Its second LP, The Museum of Loneliness by Chris Petit, was launched earlier this month at the Whitechapel Gallery.


16 May 2013

Will they let him stand?

David Patrikarakos · Rafsanjani’s Presidential Bid

More than 600 people have signed up to be candidates in Iran’s presidential elections on 14 June. The Guardian Council will now strike most of them off the list as unsuitable. One man, however, will not be so easy to deal with: Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani, president from 1989 to 1997, is one of the three most important men in the history of the Islamic Republic, along with Ayatollah Khomeini and the current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. He was Khomeini’s right-hand man and largely responsible for Khamenei’s succession.


15 May 2013

Newcastle University ♥ Adidas

Simon Childs

Newcastle University has made a deal with Adidas. The sportswear giant is giving the Students’ Union £30,000 and promising them visits from celebrity athletes. In return, Adidas will be the union’s preferred sportswear provider, with advertising space in the student newspaper and the union building, where it may also get to have a shop. The suggestion of an Adidas-sponsored degree was turned down over concerns for the university’s reputation, but the corporation will give scholarships to two students. Students have already received spam on their academic email addresses from adidas@ncl.ac.uk, and Adidas will be able to recruit ‘brand ambassadors’ to ‘spread the word’ about their products on campus.


14 May 2013

Everyone has to buy bread

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad · Pakistan’s Elections

For most of the world’s media, Pakistan’s general election was about terrorism. Candidates were identified according to their attitude towards the Taliban, and labelled as ‘secular’ or ‘conservative’. Little was said about party platforms. Circumstances appeared to justify the focus. There was a savage campaign of intimidation by domestic extremists in the run-up to the vote. More than a hundred people died, most of them members of the outgoing ruling coalition parties. The Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said they were targeted because of their uncompromising attitude towards the Taliban and avowedly secular views. There is some truth to this; but their enthusiastic embrace of the ‘global war on terror’ was a more immediate cause.


13 May 2013

Reagan's Favourite Genocidaire

John Perry

In 1954, the elected, mildly progressive president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, was deposed in a coup orchestrated by the CIA. Arbenz planned modest land reforms that threatened the interests of the United Fruit Company. His successor reversed the reforms and put to the firing squad an estimated 8000 opponents. The coup launched 42 years of dictatorship and violent repression. By the time peace accords were signed between the government and leftist guerillas in 1996, at least 200,000 people had died violently, more than 90 per cent at the hands of government agents; 100,000 women and girls had been raped and one million people displaced. Even after the peace accords, political assassinations continued. One president in the 1970s said that to eliminate the guerrillas he would ‘turn the country into a cemetery’. His prescription came closest to fulfilment during the short but bloody dictatorship of General Efraín Ríos Montt, who on Friday was found guilty of genocide and sentenced to 80 years in prison.


13 May 2013

Save the Emek Theatre!

Jay Weissberg

During the Istanbul Film Festival last month, police used water cannon, tear gas and batons to disperse a crowd, Costa-Gavras among them, who were protesting against the imminent destruction of the Emek Theatre. Built in 1924 as the Melek Sineması in the former Club des Chasseurs de Constantinople, the cinema closed in 2010. It has been an object of contention ever since plans were announced that the state-owned building would be torn down and replaced with yet another shopping mall, as happened to the nearby Saray Sineması. The government and the construction firm they leased the building to, Kamer İnşaat, say that the Emek will be preserved and moved to the mall’s fourth floor. This seems unlikely, considering that it’s an 875-seat, single-screen theatre.


10 May 2013

On the Couch

Christopher Turner

The Freud Museum announced earlier this week that it needed £5000 to restore Freud’s couch, the centerpiece of a study crammed with other relics, a cluttered cabinet of antique curiosities that Freud called his ‘old and dirty gods’. (‘Overwhelmed by the response’, they ‘are now seeking to raise around £40,000 to conserve Freud's collection of antiquities’.) The altar of psychoanalysis – on which Dora, Anna O. and the Wolf Man lay like sacrificial victims to the nascent science – is covered with an oriental rug and several opulent cushions; to preserve them the room is lit only with lugubrious light. The couch, behind its velvet rope, is apparently in a state of frayed disrepair that seems entirely appropriate. I always imagined Freud, who sat behind his patients in a green velvet armchair, pulling the loose threads as he disentangled their troubled minds.


10 May 2013

Better Together?

Peter Geoghegan

Michael Gray is a 21-year-old politics student at Glasgow University. On 7 April, an article he wrote appeared on National Collective, a Scottish independence website. The piece used sources already available online to paint an unalluring portrait of the business dealings of the Vitol Group, an energy trading giant. That day, Better Together (the No campaign) had announced that it had received more than £1.1 million in donations, including £500,000 from Ian Taylor, Vitol’s CEO (and a major donor to the Conservative party).


10 May 2013

Conditions of Sale

Harry Stopes

For most clubs in the NPower Championship, the football division below the Premier League, the season is now over. Cardiff City will be promoted as champions, along with Hull City, who came second. The next four teams are competing for the third promotion place. Leicester City beat Watford 1-0 in their first leg last night; Crystal Palace are playing Brighton and Hove Albion this evening; after the second legs on Sunday and Monday the winners will meet at Wembley. Palace and Brighton have a longstanding rivalry. Violence between fans isn’t unknown.


8 May 2013

The Empty Chair

Peter Pomerantsev · Goodbye Surkov

Egor could clearly see the heights of Creation,where in a blinding abyss frolic non-corporeal, un-piloted, pathless words, free beings, joining and dividing and merging to create beautiful patterns. Vladislav Surkov, Almost Zero Vladislav Surkov, the grand vizier of the Putin era, the creator of ‘managed democracy’ and ‘post-modern dictatorship’, today resigned (was sacked) from the Russian government. I saw him on 1 May when he gave the speech at the LSE that may have been his undoing. There was a small protest at the entrance to the lecture hall calling for him to be included on the list of Russian officials denied visas to the US for their part in the killing of the anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. In a gesture of patriotism Surkov had recently said he would be ‘honoured to be on the Magnitsky list’. Surkov avoided the protest and strode in through the back door. He was wearing a white shirt and a tightly cut leather jacket that was part Joy Division and part 1930s Chekist. He was smiling a Cheshire cat smile. He said that we were too clever an audience to be lectured at and that it would be much freer and more fun if we just threw questions at him. After one vague inquiry he talked for 45 minutes: it was his system of ‘managed democracy’ in miniature – democratic rhetoric and authoritarian practice.


7 May 2013

Return of the Tory Undead

Glen Newey

For the next period, debate over the UK’s relations with Europe, and UK politics generally, will be dominated by Ukip. Because of but also despite Nigel Farage’s persona – about one part Jeremy Clarkson to two parts Mr Toad – the purple people won big in last week’s local elections, and can now enjoy watching the Tories rip out each other’s gizzards in a political version of the Eton wall game. As the general election’s witching hour draws near, the Tory undead have started to rise, stakes uprooted from their hollow chests. Jacob Rees-Mogg has called for an electoral pact with Ukip. From his Telegraph column Lord Tebbit tacks as close to endorsing Ukip as any Tory can who wants not to be blown out of the party. Now Nigel Lawson, dad of the more famous Nigella, has become the first major Conservative to announce that if David Cameron manages to hold his promised referendum on EU membership around 2017, he’ll vote for the trapdoor.


7 May 2013

Hull Pride

Bernard Porter

I’m not sure that Hull City are good enough to play in the Premiership – they’ve been rubbish in recent games, and the very last stages of their campaign were pretty nail-biting – but their promotion is terrific for the city. With so much worldwide interest in the English Premier League, playing there puts this poor, isolated and much denigrated town on the map. Quite literally: I remember, the last time they were (briefly) in the Premiership, checking into a hotel in Copenhagen, giving my Hull address, and saying (based on my experience abroad): ‘I don’t suppose you know where that is.’ ‘Oh yes I do,’ the man replied. ‘It’s in the Premier League.’ Those of us who live there, especially if we came from the South (as I did, in 1968; the Hull-born and bred may be less bothered), greatly resent the way it’s generally presented by our softer neighbours. Being placed top of a list of ‘Crap Towns' a few years ago hurt. My son, who lives and works in London, gets it all the time – though he's better than I am at laughing it off.


7 May 2013

In the Reading Room

Gillian Darley

In 1857 Prosper Mérimée went to London to see Anthony Panizzi’s new Reading Room at the British Museum. As the head of the commission charged with transforming the Parisian national library, Mérimée was hugely impressed by what he saw: the top lighting, the drum-form and the integrated, orderly systems, all designed for a general reading public, not just a few clerics, rulers and their acolytes, the previous users of the great libraries of Europe.


3 May 2013

Pandemic Fatigue

Hugh Pennington

The virus in eastern China that since late February has killed 26 out of 128 confirmed cases has been officially named ‘avian influenza A (H7N9)’. Analysis of its genes shows a mixture derived from several bird flu viruses, and that the virus has been evolving for some time.


3 May 2013

The Next Hot Spot

Fatema Ahmed · Rana Plaza

‘While China is starting to lose its attractiveness in this realm the sourcing caravan is moving on to the next hot spot,’ McKinsey’s Apparel, Fashion and Luxury Practice division reported in 2011. The ‘realm’ is the readymade garments industry and the ‘next hot spot’ is Bangladesh.


3 May 2013

To Those That Have

Jenny Diski

The Duke of Cornwall, heir to the throne, Prince of Wales, wealthy in his own right (£18 million a year from the Duchy of Cornwall) and in receipt of state benefits (£2 million a year), also gets the money of the dead. Die intestate in Cornwall, without heirs, and whatever you've accumulated in your life (aside from your joys and sorrows) goes into the bank account of Prince Charles. It isn't quite like the wealthy pensioners who were urged by Ian Duncan Smith to return their winter heating allowance to the cash-strapped government. Charles isn't spending last year's windfall of £450,000 on dancing girls and kedgeree; he's using it – well, some of it – to fund his own special charities.


3 May 2013

Gone but Not Forgotten

The Editors


2 May 2013

At Tate Britain

Alice Spawls

Kurt Schwitters was 53 when he arrived in Britain in 1940. The Nazis had labeled him an ‘Entarteter Künstler’ (degenerate artist); in Britain he was an enemy alien, locked up in Hutchinson Internment Camp on the Isle of Man: brown walls, grey tiles, grey Irish Sea. The first room of Schwitters in Britain (at Tate Britain until 12 May) gives a glimpse of his life before exile. Schwitters hovered butterfly-like on the fringes of the major European isms of the 1920s: a bit of Dada here, a bit of De Stijl there. The geometry of Ja-was? Bild, with its strips of corrugated cardboard like sign posts in a blast of blue-green abstraction, makes dramatic use of a Suprematist grammar.


1 May 2013

Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week

Thomas Jones

Towards the end of The Great Gatsby, Gatsby's father shows Nick Carraway a book Jimmy Gatz had 'when he was a boy', a copy of Hopalong Cassidy with a handwritten 'schedule' on the last fly-leaf, mapping out his day: 'rise from bed' at 6 a.m., followed by 'Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling', 'Study electricity, etc', 'Work', 'Baseball and sports', 'Practise elocution, poise and how to attain it' and 'Study needed inventions'. There's also a list of 'general resolves':


1 May 2013

Versions of Omar Khayyám

Kaya Genç

Last year the Turkish pianist and composer Fazıl Say retweeted some lines attributed to Omar Khayyám: You say rivers of wine flow in heaven,is heaven a tavern to you? You say two huris await each believer there,is heaven a brothel to you? Say was accused of inciting hatred against Islam and taken to court. As a schoolboy fan of Khayyám’s epigrammatic rubais (Persian quatrains) about wine and women, I once wrote an essay entitled ‘From Omar Khayyám to Karl Marx: The Struggle for Freedom’, in which I made some bold claims about the revolutionary role I believed he had played in the middle ages, based on my selective reading of some of the more than thirty Turkish translations of Khayyám that appeared during the 20th century.