Earlier this month I went on a press junket to the Josef Koudelka retrospective in Madrid. Reading the catalogue on the plane, I realised I was living the inverse of the romantic myth that grew up around the work I was going to see. Stuart Alexander’s essay describes the photographer in 1973, not long after he left Czechoslovakia for the West:
On 7 August 1991, the Albanian ship Vlora docked at the Port of Durrës, twenty miles west of Tirana, with a cargo of Cuban sugar. Thousands of people, desperate to leave Albania in the first throes of its 'transition' from communism, boarded the ship and prevailed on the captain to take them to Italy. The Vlora arrived in Bari the next day. According to a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe report from January 1992:
Trouble over Trident has struck deep into the souls of disaffected Labour politicians, from those who say they ‘disagree with Jeremy’ to those making clear they will go to the stake for the ‘independent’ deterrent. Their belief in it turns on three considerations, spelled out three years ago by Luke Akehurst in Progress. First, jobs: the renewal of Trident is a jobs-protection scheme, worth £100 billion (Akehurst asks ‘what Barrow, or for that matter Derby or Aldermaston, are supposed to do to replace the highly skilled engineering jobs dependent on Trident renewal’). Second, ‘punching above our weight’ to ensure a ‘place at the table’, most notably as a member of the Permanent Security Council of the UN, a politically bankrupt arrangement if ever there were one. Third, insurance, a policy with a very high premium but worth every penny when heart-wrenchingly packaged: ‘I support Trident renewal because I want my children and hopefully their children to have a country in 50 years time which is still protected by a deterrent so powerful that no other power that arises in the intervening five decades, however hostile or malign, would risk bullying us with nuclear or other WMD threats.’ This is the family-man doctrine of deterrence.
At around 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday 16 September, Michel Kafando, the president of Burkina Faso, was taken hostage during a cabinet meeting. Members of the Régiment de Sécurité Présidentielle (RSP) burst through the doors of the meeting room in the Koysam Presidential Palace and detained Kafando and his prime minister, Isaac Zida. The next day, the RSP announced that the borders were closed and that General Gilbert Diendéré would assume the presidency until ‘inclusive and peaceful’ elections could be arranged.
Questions of how the Arab world should be depicted, by whom, in what language, and for what purpose, came up in several discussions I took part in over recent months. The debate is fraught, and prone to curtail writers’ freedoms as much as open up new ground. It is best engaged with in what Ahdaf Soueif has described as the ‘mezzaterra’ between East and West which, thankfully, is less of a no man’s land than it used to be.
In Yes Minister, 'one of the best run hospitals in the country' turns out to have a major advantage: it has no patients. This week, the Care Quality Commission said that the hospital I work at, Addenbrooke's in Cambridge, is 'inadequate', despite acknowledging that the care provided to patients is 'outstanding', with one of the lowest standardised mortality rates in the UK. This outstanding hospital is so inadequate that it's been placed in what are euphemistically termed 'special measures'.
As we know from William Hague’s career-trouncing baseball cap boo-boo, a Conservative leader has to be very careful what he puts on his head. Lord Ashcroft’s allegation, serialised in the Daily Mail and denied by the Tory party, that as part of David Cameron’s initiation into the Piers Gaveston Society, the future prime minister got it on with a dead pig, testifies maybe to a youthful lack of judgment, or perhaps simply to a dearth of sexual partners in Oxford in the 1980s. Whatever the reason, and regardless of the facts of the matter, the vision rears up of Dave tuxed and red-cheeked, breeches at half-mast and a bristly ear in each fist, pounding the snout with his symphysis.
In June, I received an invitation to the Second International Congress of 17,000 Iranian Terror Victims, to be held in Tehran at the beginning of September. The email was addressed to General Mirza Aslam Beg, the former head of the Pakistani army. I wrote back to say that, although in no way affiliated with the armed forces of Pakistan, I’d like to come. Four days later I got my own invitation and a promise to arrange my visa.
In Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop, published in 1978 but set in the late 1950s (and based on her experience in a Southwold bookshop), Florence Green decides to open the only bookshop in Hardborough, a place with no fish and chips, no cinema, no laundrette, an ‘island between sea and river’. Ripping Yarns, the Highgate bookshop which will close on Sunday, is on a sort of island too, between Highgate Village and Muswell Hill.
Upsets don’t come much bigger than Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour party leadership, so it’s unsurprising that Sadiq Khan’s triumph over Tessa Jowell to be the party's candidate for London mayor has been overlooked. Londoners won’t go to the polls until next May, but the ballot will be a defining moment for the Corbyn project in opposition, and the first significant bellwether of the likelihood of a Labour government, of some kind, four years later.
Had I put £1000 on a Tory Parliamentary majority in March, when the odds of that outcome were rated as low as 100-1, I'd have made £100,000. Had I then placed my winnings on Jeremy Corbyn to win the Labour Party leadership at the start of the contest, when he was a 200-1 outsider, I would have found myself on 12 September with £20 million. But I didn’t: Cameron and Corbyn's victories may have made someone a fortune, but it wasn't me. Those two elections have another winner, someone who has run no campaign but has recently returned to a position of power after four years away from the job. No prizes, no bets on who that is:
Two years ago, I counted 64 cranes from the top of Primrose Hill; now I count 96. Words attributed to William Blake are carved in stone on the hill's summit: 'I have conversed with the Spiritual Sun, I saw him on Primrose Hill.’ They were recorded by the poet’s friend, Henry Crabb Robinson. Blake told Crabb Robinson that God had spoken to him: ‘He said, "Do you take me for the Greek Apollo?" "No," I said, "that" – and Blake pointed to the sky – "that is the Greek Apollo. He is Satan.”’
As soon as Ed Miliband was elected Labour leader in 2010, political commentators argued he had only won because of the 'union vote'. (In the final round of voting, Miliband won 46.6 per cent of MPs’ votes, 45.6 per cent of party members, and 59.8 per cent of affiliated union members.) The line was repeated over and over by Tory frontbenchers. In 2013, David Cameron told Miliband that the unions 'own you, lock, stock and block vote', even though John Smith had abolished the union block vote in 1993.
‘Some people are going to have a problem with that flag,’ a man said to me as we marched down Piccadilly on Saturday. He was talking about the flag of the Syrian National Coalition: green, white and black, with three red stars. A Syrian refugee recently arrived in Britain, he said the flag didn't represent Christians or Kurds, and that he hoped the protesters 'support all civilians'.
The huge blast at a chemical factory in Tianjin on 12 August, which killed around 150 people, was China's worst industrial accident for several years. Since then there have been two more explosions in Shandong province, and now another in Zhejiang province on Monday. There have been at least 38 explosions so far this year at chemical plants, firework factories and mines. Among the causes are a lack of oversight, local corruption and attempts to boost profits by employing less qualified workers or ignoring safety protocols. These problems are endemic to most areas of the Chinese economy, whether it be food provision, the rail network or domestic tourism, all of which have seen serious accidents or health scares in recent years.
I caught up with the group of around 1000 refugees leaving Budapest on foot as they were crossing the Danube on the Elisabeth suspension bridge. We walked west along a dual carriageway. Families wheeled their belongings in pushchairs, with babies teetering on top. People were in flip-flops and beaten-up loafers. A woman pointed at my walking boots: ‘Very good,’ she said. Hungarian drivers stopped to offer people water and food. One man gave a family two pushchairs. At service stations, attendants rushed to the doors to stop people from entering, though they handed out bottles of water. A man on crutches overtook me, his friend carrying his prosthetic leg. It was about 150 miles to Vienna.
Atlantis Books is perched high on a clifftop in Oia, a village on the north-western tip of Santorini. Two American students, Craig Walzer and Oliver Wise, came up with the idea for the shop while visiting the island in 2002. ‘We read all of our books and couldn't find anywhere else to buy some,’ Walzer told me. They returned with friends in 2004 and built Atlantis out of found objects from beaches, junkyards, and donations from the neighbours. ‘We took our time actually building the shower, because books were more important that hygiene.'
On the first day of school last week, children in their first year at primary school in the small city of Ashkelon in southern Israel were excited to learn that Binyamin Netanyahu would be visiting their class. This is what the prime minister had to say to the six-year-olds: The first lesson in first grade is 'Shalom first grade' with the emphasis on shalom [peace]. We educate our children for peace. A few kilometres from here, Hamas teaches its children the opposite of peace and, from time to time, it tries to fire at us, at you. Our policy is clear – zero restraint, zero let-up, zero tolerance for terrorism. We respond to every hostile attack on our territory either by overt or covert action, and we are determined to foil terrorism at every turn, just as we did yesterday in Jenin. I wish a quick recovery to the soldier who was wounded.
Hossein Derakhshan, a leading Iranian blogger, was imprisoned in Tehran in 2008 for spreading propaganda against the ruling establishment, promoting counter-revolutionary groups and insulting Islamic thought and religious figures. He was pardoned and released last November. He recently wrote a piece about the ways the internet changed – for the worse, in his view – during his time inside. 'Six years was a long time to be in jail, but it’s an entire era online.' The web is dying, to be replaced by the stream:
Uri Avnery on 'the face of a boy': It is not yet clear which are more effective in the long run: the bullets or the photos. A test case is a short clip taken recently in a remote West Bank village called al-Nabi Saleh. Every Israeli has seen this footage many times by now. It has been shown again and again by all Israeli TV stations. Many millions around the world have seen it on their local TV. It is making the rounds in the social media. The clip shows an incident that occurred near the village on Friday, two weeks ago. Nothing very special. Nothing terrible. Just a routine event.
Last month, Amnesty International’s decision-making body meeting in Dublin voted ‘to adopt a policy that seeks attainment of the highest possible protection of the human rights of sex workers, through measures that include the decriminalisation of sex work’. The policy rests ‘on the human rights principle that consensual sexual conduct between adults is entitled to protection from state interference’.
'If I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing. The uncontroversial appearance of the principle just stated is deceptive... For the principle takes, firstly, no account of proximity or distance. It makes no moral difference whether the person I can help is a neighbour's child ten yards from me or a Bengali whose name I shall never know, ten thousand miles away. Secondly, the principle makes no distinction between cases in which I am the only person who could possibly do anything and cases in which I am just one among millions in the same position.' Peter Singer's (famous, and much disputed) contention in 'Famine, Affluence and Morality' (1972) may have acquired a new, literal force this week with the widespread dissemination of images of the drowned corpse of a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach. The pictures don't alter Singer's argument one way or the other, but reduce the perceived distance between Western Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Consider the following excerpts from a couple of language aptitude tests: Test 1 The questions in this section are based on an invented language, called Dobla. Read each group of examples carefully, paying particular attention to different forms of words and working out what information they convey (just as in English there are differences between e.g. cat and cats, or beckon and beckoned). Word order in Dobla is different from that of English and is not entirely fixed; it is not a reliable guide to the meaning of sentences. Note also that Dobla has nothing corresponding to English the and a(n), so that tine can mean either ‘the maid’ or ‘a maid’. You are advised to work through the questions in this section in the order in which they are given, as the later ones may presuppose information or vocabulary supplied in the earlier examples.
From Larissa MacFarquhar's Strangers Drowning: Voyages to the Brink of Moral Extremity: She and Aaron had been rigorously vegan for years – and now Jen ate cheese. She went to Paris and gorged herself on cheese. She went shopping for clothes that were new. She drank alcohol for the first time in her life. She smoked pot and loved it. She revised her views on Israel. She worked as a dominatrix for foot fetishists. She stopped recycling.
Peter Pomerantsev · Propaganda at the Proms
Orango hated communists. Part man, part ape, he was the product of a French biologist’s experiments in inseminating monkeys with human sperm. The human overcame the animal in him and in the early 20th century he rose to become a star journalist and media mogul, using his power to attack the fledgling Soviet Union. But the more he ranted about the evils of the working class and communism, the more ape-like he became, both physically and psychologically, descending into violence and finally madness. By this point a world cataclysm had brought down the bourgeois order, and Orango was sold to a Soviet circus: shown off at Red Square parades as the ape who could blow his nose like a human being. This is where Shostakovich’s opéra bouffe Orango opens. Indeed it is the only scene we have.
An elderly couple have been murdered in their home in Palagonia, a town of 16,500 people near Catania. The police have arrested an 18-year-old suspect, who was caught with the victims' phone, computer and bloody trousers on his person. He says he found them under a tree. The crime was probably gruesome enough to have made headlines for its sensation value alone: both corpses were naked; the woman was thrown from a balcony. There were no signs of forced entry on the doors or windows of their apartment. But it's still in the news because the suspect, an Ivorian national, arrived in Sicily by boat on 8 June.