Tony Blair flew into Cairo on Wednesday to offer his support to the administration, to condemn the Muslim Brotherhood and to hold talks on the country's growing problem with an al-Qaida-linked Islamist insurgency. ‘We should support those people in the region who want the open-minded society and the modern economy. That means we support the government here in Egypt,’ he told Sky News Arabia.
As the Cambridge Edition of Virginia Woolf’s fiction slowly unfurls, this year will see the publication of Mrs Dalloway. It follows Anna Snaith’s edition of The Years (2012), which nestles Woolf’s 393-page novel in 600 pages of scholarly material: explanatory notes (144 pages), textual apparatus (220 pages), textual notes (50 pages), maps, chronologies, lists of illustrations, abbreviations, archival sources and editorial symbols, a bibliography and an (excellent) introduction. One paratext the Cambridge series doesn’t have, however, is an index.
Commentary on the turmoil in Ukraine often focuses on the division between a Russian-speaking east and a Ukrainian-speaking west. Ethnolinguistic lines, the argument goes, explain the pro-Moscow v. pro-EU camps, pro-protest v. pro-Yanukovich. But the situation is more nuanced than that. The closest thing Maidan has to a leader is the boxing champ Klitschko, who struggles in Ukrainian and whose Russian is far purer than President Yanukovich’s. Its first martyrs are an ethnic Armenian from Russian-speaking Dnepropetrovsk and a Belarussian Ukrainian resident. Its violent front line appears to be multilingual.
Last Tuesday a group of 29 young mothers and mothers-to-be occupied an East Thames Housing Association show flat in protest against their prospective eviction from the Focus E15 Foyer, a hostel that provides temporary social housing and training to young people in Newham. Some of the Focus E15 Mothers have been there for more than three years. Six months ago, the women were served an eviction notice following a council decision to cut £41,000 of funding for the Foyer and its purpose-built single-parent units. The only alternative offered to them was private rental accommodation in Hastings, Birmingham or Manchester, far from their families, friends, jobs, colleges and children’s schools.
In Cambodia there is no right to freedom of assembly. On 4 January, the interior ministry issued a statement banning all demonstrations and marches. It isn’t clear what counts as a march. Rumours spread that any gathering of more than ten people in Phnom Penh would be broken up and the participants arrested. The ban came after weeks of strikes and protests by garment workers calling for higher wages and improved working conditions. At the moment they earn around £2 a day.
I was interviewing the 'Bride of Sisi', as she called herself, when a crowd gathered around me and another journalist and accused us of working for a 'terrorist' news channel. Saadiya al-Sayed al-Sayed, a 48-year-old mother of two from the working-class area of al-Marg, had said she would like General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to be her and Egypt’s husband. 'We are scared for our children, for our country. Those people' – the Muslim Brotherhood – 'are coming to set the country on fire. We are a kind-hearted people, and we want those who are going to take care of us. Sisi said Egyptians are his beloved, and we like those who are tender with us.' The hundreds of women in the crowd around her, many of them with Sisi’s picture around their necks, began chanting, and she joined in: 'The people want the execution of the Muslim Brotherhood. The people want the execution of the Muslim Brotherhood.' Over and over, louder and louder.
The death toll from last Friday’s attack on Taverna du Liban, a Lebanese restaurant popular among expatriates in Kabul, has reached 21. The murdered foreigners include an American academic, the Lebanese head of the IMF’s Kabul office, two Canadian auditors and the restaurant’s owner, Kamal Hamade. The rest of the victims are unnamed ‘Afghan nationals’, many of them undoubtedly the cheerful young members of staff who would bring out extra dishes at no charge, who smiled when they mispronounced English words and waited to see if I would correct them, who were underpaid but happy at least to have a job. They were shot dead by two gunmen who got in after a suicide bomber destroyed the front gate and main security barrier.
Those who hold up the Netherlands as a beacon of toleration often cite Amsterdam’s ganja speakeasies as evidence. Last weekend I took a (coach) trip there to see them. On the coach our Dutch chaperones are Brian and Edgar. Brian (his real name) has lived in Brussels for the past eighteen months. He reckons that Brussels, and Belgium generally, suck the chrome off a bumper. Why? Everything is better in the Netherlands. ‘Amsterdam is like New York. Brussels is like a village in Arizona. Public transport is shit. Everything is dirty. Wifi coverage is crap compared with Holland. Vegetables in the shops are squashy or too hard. And the bureaucracy...’ ‘Don’t tell me about the bureaucracy,’ I say, but he does anyway, with a credible saga about his problems getting a Belgian bank card. I ask him about the coffee shops.
Being told to say sorry for my wrongdoings was my introduction to the double bind. I got the hang of how it worked, but never figured any way out of it. 'Don't just stand there. Haven't you got anything to say for yourself?' It became clear pretty quickly that a rational discussion of the pros and cons of my misdemeanour was not what the parent had in mind. 'Well? And you haven't even got the decency to say sorry.' Deep breath while I prepared myself for entering the mire. 'I'm sorry.' 'No you're not. You're just saying that, because you think you should.' This was almost always true. I was certainly sorry for the trouble I was in, but rarely sorry in a contrite way. It would go on like this. The demand for an apology, the apology, the rejection of the apology and further fury until some punishment was decided on and I was sent in disgrace to my room.
According to the front page of yesterday’s Guardian, the NHS is to start selling our confidential medical records. Every doctor has a duty to keep patient-identifiable data secure, and only share it as far as is in the patient’s immediate best interests. At the same time, in order to run healthcare organisations or to carry out medical research, it is necessary to compile statistics about diseases and treatments. It therefore makes sense for some information collected in the course of caring for patients to be made more widely available – shared with managers, bureaucrats and researchers – but only if it is anonymised.
In 1999, Sweden passed a law that made it a crime to buy sexual services, but not to sell them. It was the first law of its kind in the world, and is now sometimes referred to as ‘the Swedish model’. The Swedish government has been keen to export it. In 2009, Norway and Iceland adopted equivalent legislation. France passed a similar law at the beginning of December, and there have been calls for the UK to do likewise, not least since last month’s raids on sex workers’ flats in Soho.
Every morning the postman delivers a sack of new books to the LRB office. The bulk of them turn out to be either books about religion or self-help books, which may say something about the apocalyptic mood of the publishing industry. The categories often overlap, as in The Truth Within by Gavin Flood, ‘a history of inwardness in Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism’: religion can put you in touch with ‘a deeper, more fundamental, more authentic self’. The rest of this week's religious haul includes the Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies and a collection of essays on Habermas and religion. There’s less variation in the self-help books, as the genre creeps forwards fad by fad. Pace Flood, the new hot topic is outwardness: help yourself by understanding others.
In 2002 the photographer Lisa Ross was taken to the edge of the Taklamakan Desert in western China by her driver. She did not know why, but there was a path in the sand, and so she followed it, over the dunes: Colours began to reveal themselves. In the distance I could see what looked like wooden cribs or rafts, cresting on dry land, animated by coloured flags beating in the wind. As I neared the markers, there seemed to be animals with arms and legs stuck atop tall wooden posts.
‘One of the most wonderful places you can find anywhere,’ Will Rex wrote in Picture Play in April 1916, ‘is Fort Lee, that magic New Jersey town across the Hudson from New York City where murders, robbers and Indian chases take place while the police force – his name is Pat – leans, yawningly, against a convenient lamp post.’
Rukshar Khatoon, from Sahapara, Howrah District, West Bengal, has joined Saiban Bibi, a Bangladeshi beggar living on a platform of the railway station at Karimganj, Assam, and an unnamed cow grazing in Tamil Nadu, as markers of the success of vaccination programmes in India, successes which confounded all the critics. Rukshar was 18 months old when she developed paralytic polio in January 2011. Saiban was 30 when she developed smallpox on 24 May 1975. The Tamil Nadu cow developed rinderpest in September 1995. All three diseases are now extinct in India.
Johnathan Gurfinkel’s movie S#x Acts, which opened last month in Israel and the US, begins with a teenage girl (played by Sivan Levy) taking selfies on her laptop, her sometimes smiling, sometimes pouting face periodically illuminated by the flash of the computer’s camera. Gili has just transferred to a new high school in a wealthy Tel Aviv suburb, and is trying to attract the attentions of Tomer (Roy Nik), a richer, more privileged, more popular boy in her class. In the next scene, Tomer and his friend Omri (Eviatar Mor) are leaving a cinema in a mall. Pulling out their phones, they see Gili has posted one of the pictures on Tomer’s Facebook wall. ‘Look what a loser this girl is,’ he says. But Omri soon convinces him to call her.
A quarter century after the Mauerfall, much of Berlin is still a building site. Hoardings often enthuse ‘Wir bauen um!’ ('We're rebuilding!') to an inconvenienced public, as if construction projects were never simply means, but always ends in themselves.
1. Mark Duggan was shot dead by a Metropolitan Police officer on 4 August 2011 after getting out of a minicab on Ferry Lane, Tottenham. The inquest into his killing concluded yesterday. All ten jurors agreed he had a gun with him in the taxi before police stopped it. Eight of them were sure the gun was no longer in his hands when he was shot. And yet, by an 8-2 majority, they found that Duggan was lawfully killed. The jury accepted that V53, the anonymous officer who shot Duggan, ‘honestly believed, even if that belief was mistaken’, that he needed to use deadly force to defend himself against an unarmed man. According to the police witness accounts, Duggan was holding a gun until the moment he was shot. A gun was later found behind a wall nearby. No witnesses – including the only civilian – describe seeing Duggan throw anything away.
At the 1993 Labour Conference, a young delegate called Tom Watson proposed a motion to establish a new youth wing for the party: Young Labour. It would replace the Labour Party Young Socialists, which had long been dominated by the Trotskyist Militant tendency. New Young Labour would be loyal to the leadership. Twenty years on, the youth wing is still dominated by the playing-it-safe brigade. I was elected to the Young Labour national committee last year. At a meeting last month, I tabled a motion on ‘defending the right to protest’. After we had discussed it, one of my colleagues proposed that ‘the motion should not be discussed’. The majority then rejected it on the grounds that matters of policy should only be raised at Young Labour’s biennial policy conference.
According to Michael Gove writing in the Daily Mail last week, the First World War ‘has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles’. We watched Blackadder Goes Forth at school. Digging out my old exercise books to find out what else we did, I see that I studied the First World War for a few months in year 9, when I was 14, covering four areas: the causes (plural) of the war, trench warfare, government propaganda and ‘those who wouldn’t fight’ – all no doubt evidence to Gove of the left-wing hijacking of history.
'I don't normally cover my face, but I don't want to be identified,' the young woman told me last month. A student at al-Azhar University in Cairo, she was wearing a pink hijab and sweatshirt with a mustard-coloured bandana over her face. 'This is me,' she said, pulling aside the bandana with a smile. She couldn't have been more than 20. Many of the other young women around us had wrapped their faces in scarves to conceal their identities from the soldiers and policemen standing nearby.
Yesterday morning the plaza in front of New York’s City Hall was crowded with local luminaries, shivering under blankets and bundled in winter clothes. Celebrities and politicians, elders from the city's ethnic communities, clergy and union leaders gathered to celebrate the inauguration of the new mayor, Bill de Blasio. Regular citizens were there too. That in itself was notable. De Blasio’s inauguration was the first open to the general public in recent memory.