Our Museum Future

I used to be a republican, but that was before Brexit. What does Britain have that the other countries of Europe will still want access to after we leave the EU? Banking will be safer away from ‘offshore London’. There are other places in the world besides Sellafield that can store spent nuclear fuel. The most expensive higher education in the world is unlikely to attract so many overseas students, its lure and decline mirroring that of Swiss finishing schools after their 1980s heyday. More »

Priority Markets

In July 2014, in an effort to pre-empt embarrassing revelations that might emerge from the UN’s decommissioning of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, the British foreign secretary made a tactical confession. Between 1983 and 1986, Britain had approved sales of chemical weapons precursors to Syria, which was known to be developing a massive weapons programme. William Hague told Parliament that the chemicals were probably ‘used by Syria in their programmes to produce nerve agents, including sarin’. ‘Such exports could not happen today,’ he said.

In March 2015, the Committees on Arms Export Controls said that ‘the decision of the present government to give two export licence approvals for dual-use chemicals to Syria in January 2012 after the civil war had started in Syria in 2011 was irresponsible,’ and that ‘the present government’s claim that at the time the two dual-use chemical export licences for sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride to Syria were approved in January 2012 “there were no grounds for refusal” is grossly inaccurate.’ More »

In Kathmandu

When I landed at Kathmandu airport three years ago, not long after the earthquake that killed almost 9000 people, the streets were eerily quiet. Dim street lights shone down on the devastation. Buildings, monuments and houses had been reduced to rubble. Thousands were living in temporary shelters in rough conditions. But the damage to the capital paled in comparison to areas of the country closer to the epicentre of the earthquake, nearly 50 miles west of the city. Two million Nepalis had been made homeless. They had lost everything. More »

Homage to Gene Clark

Harold Eugene Clark and Ingram Cecil Connor III – who grew up to be Gram Parsons – were both Southern boys, born a few years apart. Parsons was wealthy; Gene Clark was working-class. But both of them picked up guitars early on, moving with the times from rock and roll combos to folk groups before making their way to Los Angeles, where they ended up playing with the same musicians and, occasionally, with each other. Both of them passed through the Byrds: Clark formed the band with Jim (later Roger) McGuinn; Parsons was one of his eventual replacements. Both went on to make albums (The Gilded Palace of SinThe Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark) that are cornerstones of country-rock – what Parsons called ‘Cosmic American Music’. More »

A Load of Ballokis

I recently came across an image in a manuscript in the Bodleian Library that made me think of Gwyneth Paltrow. The image, from a late 13th-century medical compendium (Bodl. MS Ashmole 399), shows a woman, who appears to have fainted, being attended by a physician and servants. One of the female servants is wafting a burning feather beneath the patient’s nose. Another is extending a hand towards the patient’s genitals. She is receiving ‘odiferous therapy’, whereby strong-smelling substances were wafted under the nose and the vagina. More »

Call and Check

I sometimes think there’s a special relationship between postal workers and dustmen. We deliver the rubbish, they take it away again. We used to get paid per item for the junk mail we dropped through your letter box. These days we get a delivery supplement: a fixed amount per week no matter how many advertising leaflets we carry. The maximum we are allowed to deliver has also increased, to seven per household. More »

Enoch Powell’s Altered World

‘I was born a Tory,’ Enoch Powell said in a speech towards the end of his life, defining ‘Tory’ as ‘a person who regards authority as immanent in institutions’. During the Second World War, Powell spent two years in the Middle East and North Africa Commands, stationed in Cairo as secretary to the Joint Intelligence Committee. Unsatisfied, he wrote to his parents of his ‘determination to go East’. His chance came when the British, fearing the influence of Indian nationalism in the British Indian Army, sent a British general from Cairo to Delhi, allowing Powell to follow. He served as an officer in Delhi from 1943 to 1946, and ‘fell hopelessly and helplessly in love with India’. On his return to England he immediately joined the Conservative Party and resolved to become viceroy of India, studying Urdu at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London to further his chances. The significance of these early experiences of war and empire is the focus of Camilla Schofield’s recent study, Enoch Powell and the Making of Postcolonial Britain.

He took the news of India’s independence on 15 August 1947 badly, walking the streets of London all night. ‘One’s world,’ he wrote, ‘had been altered.’ More »

Trump v. the Law

An enraged President Trump, surrounded by uniformed military leaders, used the same press conference last week to condemn a raid on the office of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and announce that he was ‘making a decision as to what we do with respect to the horrible attack that was made near Damascus’. ‘In our world,’ Trump said, ‘we can’t let atrocities like we all witnessed’ happen, and ‘because of the power of our country – we’re able to stop it.’ That is the image, and the language, it will be necessary to keep in mind during the coming months if we are to understand the relationship between domestic crisis, foreign relations, the rule of law, military force, authoritarian populism and visual culture that is poised to reshape the international order. More »

On the March for Science

A small crowd gathered on Saturday outside the Ministry of Defence in Westminster, just across from Downing Street, for the second iteration of the March for Science. Last year’s event, which nucleated around the specific threat posed to American scientists by the incoming Trump administration, drew tens of thousands of people to Washington DC, and more than a million more across 200 cities worldwide. The number in London was reported to be 10,000.

This year there were fewer than a hundred. More »

Novichok and Other Toxins

The UK has the highest incidence in the world of poisonings caused by the toxins produced by E.coli O157:H7. It killed 17 people in the outbreak centred on Wishaw in central Scotland in 1996, still a world record for lethality. My involvement in attempts to stop a repeat led to an invitation to visit the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down. Security was impressive. The heavily armed welcome at the gate left an abiding memory. It is reasonable to guess that the Russian chemical warfare facility at Shikhany is as well guarded. The notion that nasty substances of high purity could leave it without some kind of authorisation seems highly unlikely. More »

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    • Timothy Rogers on One Cubit the More: Yes, the talk (or essay) was a deliberative, thoughtful one. The cubit is used as a quantitative measure to indicate the amount of scientific knowled...
    • AndrewL on One Cubit the More: Thank you for the link, Timothy. I must admit, I had naively assumed it would be a "shoulders of giants" talk too, but it is so much better than that...
    • Timothy Rogers on One Cubit the More: Here is the link to the talk, which was published in the August 1963 issue of Encounter. It is really about intellectual modesty and clarity about ou...
    • AndrewL on One Cubit the More: In case anyone else is looking for the original Bible verse, as I was, I think it is Matthew 6:27: "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit t...
    • farthington on One Cubit the More: Ditto. This vignette has made my day, given that the media has only horror stories. Exploding matter for the average brain. Years ago I saw a marve...

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