The Usual Rhetoric

Sean Spicer’s take on the Final Solution has prompted much indignation (and a series of faltering apologies from the White House press secretary), but I doubt he’s hiding any swastikas in his closet: the guy probably doesn’t even know what a swastika is, any more than he knows what Zyklon B is. More »

On ‘Elle’

Reading interviews with Paul Verhoeven on the publicity trail for his latest movie, Elle, you get the sense he might be disappointed at the relative lack of outrage over his ‘psycho-thriller’. The film, based on Philippe Djian’s prize-winning 2012 novel, Oh…, stars Isabelle Huppert as Michèle Leblanc. It begins with her being raped by a man in a ski mask, who has broken into her house. More »

The ‘Outsiders’

‘It’s going to be a very interesting election. But you know some outside things have happened that maybe will change the course of that race.’ This from Trump, speculating in an interview with the Financial Times about Marine Le Pen’s prospects in the French presidential election (round one on 23 April). As far as we know, Trump has yet to meet her. She got as far as Trump Tower in January, but the president elect was indisposed and Le Pen’s people said at the time that she never intended to meet him. She linked up instead with one of his aides-de-camp. Here she is having coffee with Guido Lombardi, who has a pied-à-terre in Trump Tower and was formerly the US representative of Italy’s Northern League. Both Le Pen and Lombardi like to spare a moment to mull over the scourge of immigration. More »

No Legal Justification

Most international lawyers have said that the US missile strikes against the Shayrat airfield in Syria on Friday morning were unlawful. The UN Charter prohibits recourse to force except in self-defence or if authorised by the Security Council to maintain international peace and security. The airstrikes, undertaken unilaterally in response to a chemical weapons attack allegedly conducted by the Syrian government against Syrian civilians, do not appear to fall within the limited exceptions of collective security or self-defence. The US government has given no legal justification for its actions. Yet many US politicians, Western allies and liberal commentators have supported the airstrikes, seemingly untroubled by the implications of the Trump administration’s nonchalant disregard for international law. More »

Free School Meals for All

On Thursday, Labour outlined plans to apply VAT on private school fees to fund free school meals for every primary pupil in England. The numbers add up: the provision would cost £900 million a year, and the prospective tax would raise far more than that. Speaking alongside the shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, Jeremy Corbyn said the measure would help ensure that ‘no child is held back because of their background.’

Free school meals are far from gesture politics; their nutritional and cognitive benefits, especially for poorer children, are well documented. More »

A Leonora Carrington A to Z

Leonora Carrington would have turned 100 today. I met her in Mexico City in the early 1990s, through our family doctor, and we embarked on a friendship of nearly twenty years. Most Sunday afternoons, my parents, my sister and I would visit her at home in the Colonia Roma, arriving at five and staying until after dusk. I often wrote down my impressions, and her words verbatim, as soon as I got home.

Ambidextrous: Leonora could write and paint with both hands at once, forwards and backwards. ‘Yes, I’m ambidextrous, like madmen,’ she once said. More »

The Belarus Free Theatre

The Belarus Free Theatre’s first performance was in 2005, when they staged Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis in a café in Minsk. The café owner lost his licence after two performances. The cast and crew lost their jobs with the state theatre. Between 2006 and 2010, their performances of, among other pieces, documentary plays by political prisoners were staged in private apartments and in forests. They were often broken up by KGB operatives toting machine-guns. At a performance during the 2010 protests, everyone in the audience was arrested and beaten. The creative directors moved to London. But the theatre still performs in secret locations around Minsk. I went to one a couple of months ago. They called me on my mobile a few hours before the play and told to come to a bus stop by a supermarket. ‘Wait on the corner. We’ll come and collect you. You can try to guess who else is there for the play.’ More »

Act Up at 30

Everyone was wearing the same T-shirt: black, with a pink triangle near the neck and white letters underneath, SILENCE = DEATH. The crowd was about three hundred strong, filling a side street in New York’s West Village, and many were carrying the same image on signs. An elderly man in a leather jacket spoke into a microphone. ‘In 1989 we shut down trading on the New York Stock Exchange, the only time trading has ever been stopped by a mass demonstration!’ There were cheers. ‘In 1992 we held the Ashes Action, where we dumped the ashes of Aids victims onto the White House lawn – right in George Bush’s backyard!’ More »

The Gibraltar Question

In politics, principle is play-dough for adversaries. Take nationality. Gibraltar is as British as the royal family, or a cup of Darjeeling. No it isn’t: it’s as Spanish as Catalonia, or the Alhambra, or flamenco. More »

At Kraftwerk Berlin

Kraftwerk Berlin was opened as a performance venue in 2006, in the old Mitte CHP Plant, a power station built in East Berlin in the early 1960s and abandoned in 1997. On a recent Saturday evening, as the time crept towards midnight, I lay on a canvas camp bed in the middle of the turbine hall listening to Alvin Lucier perform his pioneering piece of sound art, I am sitting in a room. More »

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