Daniel Soar

Daniel Soar is an editor at the LRB.

The Sixth Taste

Daniel Soar, 9 September 2021

Foodis money. Or it can be, if you know how to transform it into profit. Ajinomoto Co. is Japan’s biggest producer of condiments and seasonings, with annual revenues of ¥1 trillion, or around $9 billion. Its most successful product by far – on shelves across East Asia since 1908 – is Aji-No-Moto, often sold in a little glass bottle with a trademark red label....

At the Pace Gallery: Trevor Paglen

Daniel Soar, 19 November 2020

The​ usual four white walls, but in each corner a screen, surveilling the gallery. Normally the display is pale pink but at times it flicks to grey, indicating that someone somewhere is watching. It could be you, at home, clicking on the website for Octopus (2020), the installation project by Trevor Paglen that allowed the stay-at-homes, the voyeurs, the disabled, the bored, the ill, the...

Short Cuts: Built from Light

Daniel Soar, 16 April 2020

Sometimes​ another world is there – you glimpse it out of the corner of your eye. In 1965 an engineer called Ivan Sutherland – he had effectively invented the whole field of computer graphics by writing a program called Sketchpad which allowed users to draw directly onto a screen – had a vision of the future. ‘The ultimate display,’ he wrote in a conference...

Sometimes​ you just have to think of England. It may be embarrassing, it may be awful, but it exists. Max Porter’s Lanny – his second novel – is partly about an idea of England. It’s set in an unnamed village, ‘fewer than fifty redbrick cottages’, within commuting distance of London, a place that is ‘a cruciform grid with the twin hearts of church...

Short Cuts: The Hitchens Principle

Daniel Soar, 21 March 2019

On Sunday​, 30 September 2007, in the late afternoon, four men met in an airy, book-lined apartment in Washington DC and had a two-hour discussion around a marble table. The subject, it seemed, was the misguidedness, stupidity and sometimes dangerousness of religious belief. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens: over the previous few years each had published...

At the Royal Academy: Renzo Piano

Daniel Soar, 3 January 2019

There is​ no reliable single view of a big city building. Take London’s tallest skyscraper, the Shard. Here’s one view: it looks like a blown-up version in glass and steel of Kim Il-sung’s Tower of the Juche Idea in Pyongyang – except it’s a monument to capital rather than revolutionary self-reliance. Both towers are steep pyramids, stretched vertically until...

Short Cuts: Sokal 2.0

Daniel Soar, 25 October 2018

Earlier​ this month, a small storm hit social media when it was revealed that a number of cultural studies journals had been the victims of a massive hoax. Three collaborators had submitted twenty ‘bat-shit insane’ papers – as they described them – to places like Gender, Place and Culture and Sex Roles. Four of the papers were published, and another three had been...

If you’re​ 18, without any experience of your chosen branch of higher education, your best hope of advancement – of learning to think like your elders – is to listen to your teachers, taking diligent notes. But that’s no good if what they’re saying makes no sense. Selin, the narrator of Elif Batuman’s novel, who is settling in to her first year at...

The Most Expensive Weapon Ever Built

Daniel Soar, 30 March 2017

The beauty of the Joint Strike Fighter project is that everyone can bring something to the party. In a Lancashire workshop, for instance, BAE Systems is building a section of the aft fuselage, including the tail, for every F-35; along with other contributions from all over the world, these pieces are then shipped to Texas for final assembly. This means that every F-35 sale is a boost to the coffers of Britain’s own largest arms company. (BAE has also been allowed to do the foldy bits at the end of the wings.) And the opportunities are everywhere. There are aluminium sheets from Milton Keynes, electronic modules from Billingstad, circuit boards from Ankara, hydraulics from Melbourne, wiring systems from Rotterdam, manifolds from Adelaide, wing parts from Turin and actuators from New York.

Short Cuts: Julian Assange

Daniel Soar, 18 February 2016

This is​ a story about two bad boys. One, Julian Assange, has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for more than three years. The other, the artist Ai Weiwei, has done his time in detention too – nearly three months’ solitary confinement in 2011 in an undisclosed location in Beijing. They’re friends: last year, while Ai was over for his big show at the Royal...

Short Cuts: Remote Killing

Daniel Soar, 24 September 2015

On 21 August​ a UK-piloted Reaper drone – an unmanned aerial vehicle, remotely controlled from RAF Waddington, an airbase south of Lincoln, a few miles off the A1 to Doncaster – launched a Hellfire missile at a car near Raqqa in Syria. In the car were Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin, two British citizens who had left the UK to join Isis in 2013. They were killed instantly. If this...

Short Cuts: Running Out of Time

Daniel Soar, 8 January 2015

A new year​! A new you! This is supposed to be the time for self-improvement, which makes me wonder what’s gone wrong for 2015. We’re used to the newspaper supplements’ December/January yadda-yadda of diets and get-fit-quick schemes, to the cultural roundups of the year ahead. The steady increase in all this stuff – the annual binge – is one of the more...

What matters more: the leaker, or the leak? Any one of the following, you’d think, might have been the news story of the year, or the decade: the revelation that America’s biggest spy agency, the NSA, has information on every phone call made in the continental United States as well as abroad; that it claims to have direct access to the servers of Google, Yahoo, Facebook and all the other major web companies; that GCHQ, the NSA’s British equivalent, is siphoning off the entire internet and storing some of it for thirty days; that online encryption has been subverted and nothing is safe from government spies.

How to Get Ahead at the NSA

Daniel Soar, 24 October 2013

If you’re not exhausted by or indifferent to the endless revelations about the NSA – another week, another codename, another programme to vacuum up the world’s communications – then you’ve probably long since drawn a single general conclusion: we’re all being watched, all the time. You may also think this is something we sort of knew anyway. Perhaps you see ubiquitous spying as a function of the post-9/11 authoritarian state, which gathers knowledge by any means possible in order to consolidate its control, and which sees us all as potential suspects.

Short Cuts: Leveson Inquiry

Daniel Soar, 21 June 2012

The event that turned a story about a few hacked phones into a scandal that came close to bringing down one branch of the world’s most powerful media empire was a piece of mistaken reporting. For two years a handful of people – Nick Davies at the Guardian, the MP Tom Watson – kept insisting that the problem was bigger than a couple of ‘rogue’ journalists...

At the Royal Academy: Hockney

Daniel Soar, 9 February 2012

The vast David Hockney show at the Royal Academy (until 9 April) is deliberately overwhelming. What it most looks like is an overblown, hyped-up, hyperreal parody of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, that super-English annual gathering of the amateur art establishment, to which the buying public with large pocketbooks flock from the Home Counties and beyond. The curator given credit for...

This spring, the billionaire Eric Schmidt announced that there were only four really significant technology companies: Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, the company he had until recently been running. People believed him. What distinguished his new ‘gang of four’ from the generation it had superseded – companies like Intel, Microsoft, Dell and Cisco, which mostly exist to sell gizmos and gadgets and innumerable hours of expensive support services to corporate clients – was that the newcomers sold their products and services to ordinary people. Since there are more ordinary people in the world than there are businesses, and since there’s nothing that ordinary people don’t want or need, or can’t be persuaded they want or need when it flashes up alluringly on their screens, the money to be made from them is virtually limitless. Together, Schmidt’s four companies are worth more than half a trillion dollars.

Short Cuts: The Bourne Analogy

Daniel Soar, 30 June 2011

Spies aren’t known for their cultural sensitivity. So it was a surprise when news broke last month that IARPA, a US government agency that funds ‘high-risk/high-payoff research’ into areas of interest to the ‘intelligence community’, had put out a call for contributions to its Metaphor Program, a five-year project to discover what a foreign culture’s...

Short Cuts: Terror Plots

Daniel Soar, 21 October 2010

It had been quiet for so long. And then, last week, the US issued a ‘travel advisory’ – not quite an alert, but it had the same dramatic effect – to its citizens in Europe, asserting that a co-ordinated al-Qaida attack on the transport networks and tourist sites of major West European cities could be expected soon. The Europeans had different ideas about how to...

Short Cuts: Spies

Daniel Soar, 22 July 2010

A lot of the coverage about the ten Russian spies caught while living under deep cover in ordinary corners of America – in Montclair, New Jersey; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Arlington, Virginia – has played with the idea that they were pantomime villains, a bit of a joke. ‘More Woody Allen than John Le Carré,’ the Sunday Times said, while nevertheless doing its...

Short Cuts: Terrorist Databases

Daniel Soar, 28 January 2010

One effect of the failed Christmas Day underpants bombing on NW Flight 253 to Detroit was to reveal how hard it is for counterterrorism bureaucracies to know, or do, anything about anyone. A leaked US Transport Security Agency document briefly required not only that passengers had been to the loo 61 minutes before their flight landed, but also that – with the exception only of heads of...

Ravish Me: Sebastian Faulks

Daniel Soar, 5 November 2009

There are probably more sophisticated reasons for admiring Milton, but I always liked the way his Satan was ‘involved in rising mist’. Involved. There aren’t many writers who are such literalists when it comes to the etymological uses of words: you’d have to have Latin coming out of your ears to think of making the meaning of the word a word is derived from more...

Short Cuts: The Open Left Project

Daniel Soar, 27 August 2009

It’s now at last clear that most Labour politicians are sure they’re going to lose the next general election. Some of them are behaving as though they’re already in opposition. Not by criticising actual government policy – they’re too craven for that – but in the more modern way, à la Blair c.1995 and Cameron c. 2005, of calling for a...

Political journalism is a tricky business. First, there’s the hanging around in the bars and tea-rooms of the House of Commons in the hope of picking up scraps of gossip from malcontents. Then, back at the drawing board, there’s the stitching together of hints and whispers, with a bit of freehand connecting of dots, in order to construct a plausible narrative line. And then...

Short Cuts: On @

Daniel Soar, 28 May 2009

The ‘at’ sign, @, which fancy typographers refer to by its French name, arobase, is a once unremarked but now central glyph that rewards closer examination. Many claims are made about its genesis, among them that it began circulation in 16th-century Florence as a symbol for the anfora, a unit of commercial measurement then in currency. A few years ago, La Repubblica published a...

If you want to write about violence – if you want to tell it like it is – then you’re advised to keep it plain. We’re conditioned to think that real horror should be described as succinctly as possible, since superfluous words only distract from the act itself. Words are so often digressive that inserting them where they’re not wanted can be seen as evidence of a...

Short Cuts: Books of the Year of the Year

Daniel Soar, 18 December 2008

Every November, the books pages of British newspapers perform what ought to be a helpful service: they present lists of the best books of the year, to remind us of what we missed. It’s part of the general round of year-end round-ups – 2008’s most significant moments in politics, art, sport, cinema, crime – but it always happens that the annual filing from the world of...

Short Cuts: Underground Bunkers

Daniel Soar, 6 November 2008

About three years ago, with time to kill, I climbed an unlit staircase behind a fire door at the back of the Barbican Centre. There was no one around. With its forty acres of 1960s Brutalist concrete and notorious labyrinth of tower blocks and overhead walkways, the Barbican is one of the most undervisited places in London. I love it as I love hospitals and airports, for the way they allow...

Short Cuts: mobile surveillance

Daniel Soar, 14 August 2008

For a moment in the late 1990s, it looked as though mobile phones might make us free. You could work in the park, be available when you wanted to be, choose who you answered to. You could be anywhere while you did anything. If location was mentioned it was gratuitous chatter (‘I’m on the train!’) or a handy lie (‘I’m in the office’). Back then, a phone in...

When David Davis, the shadow home secretary, announced his resignation as an MP on 12 June – in order to fight a by-election for his own seat on an issue about which he was in total agreement with his party’s line, on which in fact he was his party’s line – the media nearly choked with delight. The BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, called the resignation...

Short Cuts: Terror Suspects

Daniel Soar, 8 May 2008

The trial of eight men charged with conspiracy to murder and ‘conspiracy to commit an act of violence likely to endanger the safety of an aircraft’ is underway at Woolwich Crown Court, an enclave of Belmarsh prison in South-East London. You remember the scenario: the components of liquid bombs to be carried in shampoo containers or contact lens solution or drinks cans or bottles...

Short Cuts: the Arts Council

Daniel Soar, 7 February 2008

Publishers love moaning. The piles in Waterstones are too big, the number of titles stocked too small; advances are too high, supermarket prices too low; TV steals readers, except when it doesn’t (thank Richard and Judy). Nobody buys books. In fact, they do: the annual turnover of the British publishing industry is now £2.8 billion – a little more than fish or cheese and a...

Beatrix and Rosamond: Jonathan Coe

Daniel Soar, 18 October 2007

People think they like reading Jonathan Coe’s novels for any number of reasons. For their satirical sharpness, for instance: What a Carve Up! (1994) – the carve-up in question involving agriculture, politics and the media – seemed to express exactly what people felt about greed, corruption and class entitlement in the 1980s. Historians of their own lifetimes admired the...

Short Cuts: Spy Hard

Daniel Soar, 6 September 2007

The best scene in the new Bourne movie – a chase and a killing at Waterloo Station, with jolting cameras and real-life commuters – comes about because a journalist has failed to see how far the tentacles of American spies can reach. The journalist – we know he’s a fool because he wears a man-bag and writes for the Guardian – has just got back from interviewing a...

Short Cuts: Putin on Judo

Daniel Soar, 21 June 2007

During the row over weaponry that thundered on during the G8 summit at Heiligendamm – drowning out the distant shouts of protesters and the platitudinous murmuring of soon-to-be-ex-world leaders about the need (again) to tackle climate change – Russia’s president took a leaf out of his own book. The book is called Judo: History, Theory, Practice, and Vladimir Putin wrote it...

Martin Amis’s newest book, House of Meetings, is a short novel that purportedly describes conditions inside a Soviet forced labour camp. A sick and malingering prisoner is confined to an isolation chamber, where he squats on a bench for a week over ‘knee-deep bilge’. A blind-drunk guard, a woman-beater, spends the night outside at forty degrees below – and wakes up, frost-mangled, without any hands. The inmates hack one another apart with machine-tools. There are ‘vicings, awlings, lathings, manic jackhammerings, atrocious chisellings’.

In April this year, a number of articles were written and speeches made bemoaning the continuing rapid decline in Labour Party membership, and in membership of political parties generally. The crisis meant an alarming shortage of people to stuff propaganda into envelopes and have doors slammed in their faces at election time. The membership figure quoted by Labour headquarters in April...

Wiggle, Wiggle: Elena Ferrante

Daniel Soar, 21 September 2006

Elena Ferrante’s narrator, Olga, whose husband has left her, is too wrapped up in her own misery to remember, really, that other people exist. But there is one figure from her Neapolitan childhood she can’t forget: a neighbour, a bustling matriarch of the old school with large skirts and a clutch of nurtured offspring. She was jovial, gossipy; she distributed sweets and...

Short Cuts: What Ahmadinejad Meant

Daniel Soar, 25 May 2006

In the early afternoon of Monday, 8 May, a sealed A4 envelope was delivered by the Iranian Foreign Ministry to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran. The wire agencies were told that it contained a letter from Iran’s president, intended for his US counterpart. The news travelled fast. Ahmadinejad had written a letter. Might this be a turning point in US-Iran relations? The US denied any knowledge...

Woozy: The Photographic Novel

Daniel Soar, 20 April 2006

Weegee, aka Arthur or Usher Fellig, invented a certain kind of photography. His pictures of New York street life – crime scenes, car wrecks, society girls, circus freaks, racegoers, rough sleepers, fire victims – were intimate and direct. He used a 4x5 Speed Graphic camera, preset for instant shooting to 1/200th of a second at f16 with a focal distance of ten feet. He got right up...

Some people won’t read novels. I understand. I’m close to not wanting to read novels myself: they’re trying, and often seem the same. But one thing all fiction guarantees is that it will describe a place that doesn’t exist: ideally, a place that bears some relation to the world you think you know but is larger, stranger, bolder and more promising. The rest –...

Pfired! Benjamin Kunkel

Daniel Soar, 5 January 2006

When in doubt, toss a coin. If you really can’t decide which alternative is preferable, if everything seems equal and you don’t care a damn, it can’t matter what you settle on. Or so you would think. But to flip a coin – literally or figuratively – and abide by the result whatever the consequences would be an inhuman act. If you’ve ever tried coin-flipping...

At Tate Modern: Jeff Wall

Daniel Soar, 15 December 2005

Jeff Wall’s Mimic appears to be a documentary photograph. A tough man walks down the street, girlfriend in tow, and exchanges threatening glances with a passer-by. In Vancouver in 1982, when the picture was taken, it may have been more blindingly obvious that (as Wall relates it) the man’s reflexive gesture constituted racial abuse. Mimicry: a white trash white man mimics an Asian...

Amphibious Green: Barry McCrea

Daniel Soar, 3 November 2005

Stand by a bookcase and shut your eyes. Run your hand along the spines of the books, concentrating on the question you want an answer to. You may feel a tug, a certain book demanding attention; you may feel that this is mere frivolity, that any selection will be random. Either way, your fingers will linger on a book. The important thing at this stage is to know, with absolute conviction, that...

Formication: Harry Mathews

Daniel Soar, 21 July 2005

In 1973, the American writer Harry Mathews, who was then in his mid-forties, was living in Paris. He had been divorced by his first wife, Niki de Saint Phalle; the editor Maxine Groffsky, with whom he had spent the last 12 years, had recently left him to go back to New York; his two children had also gone. It was, he later wrote, a time when his life was ‘at an ebb, professionally and...

“Nothing that happens in Chinese Letter is secure. About two-thirds of the way through, Fritz announces that his mother has been kidnapped by white slave merchants. He has an uncomfortable interview with the police. He goes back home to find that his mother has been returned: the slave merchants had the wrong address. In the space of a few pages, Basara has conjured up a crazed subplot and then coolly deflated it. It’s a ploy that displays the familiar mechanisms of fiction in their undisguised form, showing up the magicians’ tricks for the deceptions they are. There are pleasingly subtle gestures of other kinds: Fritz, dismissed from hospital, has an idiosyncratic difficulty with walking that is a nod to Beckett; he scrawls part of his story on a bench in a nod to Hamsun; the two strangers, slightly less subtly, come from Kafka. Fritz is the sum of a progression that begins with Dostoevsky’s Underground Man and ends with Beckett, and he accumulates along the way most of the verbal tics and comic turns that characterise each writer’s outsider.”

At the Video Store: Saramago

Daniel Soar, 2 December 2004

All José Saramago’s novels tell a story. Each is predicated on a suggestive and compelling hypothesis: what would happen if the Iberian peninsula were to become detached from the European mainland (The Stone Raft), what would happen if everyone in a country lost their eyesight (Blindness), what would have happened if the crusaders had refused to help the beleaguered Portuguese in...

At The Hutton Enquiry: Hutton’s Big Top

Daniel Soar, 11 September 2003

If one thing is clear by now (and something has to be), it is that the machinery of government is not so much uniformly nefarious as multifariously uniformed: the left hand knows what the right hand wants it to do, but there are proper procedures it should follow in the present circumstances, and the right hand respects that – so long as the left hand does in the end pick up the pieces....

With its energetic cast and insistent street score, it still manages to be poignant without becoming bathetic, and violent without being exploitative. The movie ends as happily as it can, while being true to the statistics: ‘One out of every 21 black males will be murdered before he is 25 – most will die at the hands of other black men.’ Of course, realities hide behind...

Loners Inc: Man versus Machine

Daniel Soar, 3 April 2003

Two bishops side by side put pressure at long range on the pawns defending the castled Black king. My queen, ready to advance to the middle of the board, completes the threat. Black will have to weaken his defence by advancing a pawn. There are further forces I can bring into play. I find it slightly frustrating that my mechanical opponent either knows what I mean to do or has taken standard...

At the end of the second chapter of Middlesex, the first chronologically, Lefty and Desdemona Stephanides, brother and sister, are dancing in the grape arbour outside their house in the village of Bithyinios, on the slopes of Mount Olympus, overlooking the town of Bursa. It’s 1922. ‘And in the middle of this, before anything had been said outright or any decisions made (before...

It had better be big: Ben Marcus

Daniel Soar, 8 August 2002

In an exam I once took we were presented with a passage that began: ‘To see the wind, with a man his eyes, it is impossible, the nature of it is so fine.’ I found that sentence so distractingly meaningless, and lovely, that it was hard to concentrate on the rest of the passage, which (much more comprehensibly) described a snowy field over which a light wind was blowing; tiny...

Short Cuts: Pop Poetry

Daniel Soar, 25 July 2002

Bloodaxe, the independent poetry publishers, are excited. Their new anthology, Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times, is, they claim, set to topple The Nation’s Favourite Poems as the bestselling poetry book in the UK. This is good news for poetry publishing. The anthology of the nation’s soon-to-be second-favourite poems was brought to us by the BBC, who need no further...

Alphabetical: John McGahern

Daniel Soar, 21 February 2002

The setting is a lake in Leitrim, near the beginnings of the River Shannon, not far from the Border. The nearest town isn’t referred to by name, though if you spend long enough looking at the right map (Ordnance Survey of Ireland, 1:50,000 Discovery Series, No. 33, top right-hand corner) you will see Shruhaun, the village on the way to it. If you head away from the lake in one direction...

Into the Alley: Dashiell Hammett

Daniel Soar, 3 January 2002

A blank page is frightening. Something has to be written, but how do you choose the words? Why this word and not that? How to overcome the arbitrariness of writing? One way is to trick yourself, to pretend that what you’re about to write has already been written, that someone has been there already and that you’re only following his traces, trying to reconstruct what must have...

Short Cuts: The Big Issue

Daniel Soar, 20 September 2001

The Big Issue, the magazine sold on the streets by the homeless, is ten years old this month. The next three issues will describe and celebrate its history; the first of these – available on street corners in almost any town in Britain of any size you care to name – leads with an extract from Tessa Swithinbank’s book Coming up from the Streets: The Story of the ‘Big...

Not Analogous: Heather McGowan

Daniel Soar, 6 September 2001

Reading depends on memory: when one thing reminds you of another, however vaguely, both make sense. Even when the devil is in the plot, memory counts: the detective reminds the house party that the wound was inflicted from the left and you kick yourself for not remembering, once it’s been pointed out, that one of the guests swung her beads in her left hand. In this special sense, memory...

Short Cuts: The Kursk

Daniel Soar, 30 November 2000

On 8 September, four weeks after the Kursk sank, the Berliner Zeitung published a story claiming that the submarine was accidentally hit by a smart torpedo fired during a naval exercise by Peter the Great, the Russian warship that was also the first vessel to reach the Kursk’s last reported position. The article was incendiary enough to elicit immediate denials from the Navy, the FSB...

The Dark Horse Intimacy: Helen Simpson

Daniel Soar, 16 November 2000

Real life, in fiction at least, is supposed to involve tribulation, and because even the purest fairytales require obstacles, it had better also have grit, and dirt and (possibly) shame. But not everyone has time to read, and those who don’t are likely to be too consumed by gritty reality to want more of it. Escape is a good option, which is what genre fiction is for – you know...

Willesden Fast-Forward: Zadie Smith

Daniel Soar, 21 September 2000

A woman at the counter of the newsagent I was in was charged £25. I looked over to see what she could have been buying. Twenty Benson and Hedges, a packet of crisps – and a clutch of lottery tickets. Not cheap. I picture her going into the same shop Saturday after Saturday, buying more and more tickets each time. At first it was just one: then it was two, four the week after, six the next – until it was twenty, and her chances of winning were multiplied twenty times. The trick with gambling is this: each time you lose, you raise the stake you put in so that when you win you cover all your losses. There’s a catch: to be sure of winning you need to have a limitless supply of money. And you need to have enough time. If you buy twenty lottery tickets a week from the age of 18 you will, on average, be 700,000 years old before you win the jackpot, and if Richard Branson succeeds in his bid for the People’s Lottery you’re more likely to be a million.’

Zoom: Aleksandar Hemon

Daniel Soar, 6 July 2000

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo in 1914 by a young Serb called Gavrilo Princip – and so the First World War began. Jaroslav Hasek, writing in the early 1920s, added a soldier called Schweik, who discusses the assassination over a drink in a tavern in a far-flung part of Austria-Hungary, remarking how well the job had been done, because it isn’t easy to shoot an archduke, though it’s not so bad if he’s fat, since the target is larger; he is promptly hauled up before the police. Schweik blunders his way through his novel and the history of his times, always on the sidelines, but somehow causing more trouble than he’s aware of. Now we have an accordion player called Hemon, who features (twice) as one of the adoring crowd watching Franz Ferdinand’s progress through Sarajevo – and as Aleksandar Hemon’s possibly mythical, possibly fictional great-grandfather.’

In 1916, Private Nikolai Gumilev and two of his superiors came under fire on the bank of the River Dvina north of St Petersburg; the two officers jumped into the nearest trench. Gumilev wouldn’t be rushed: still in range of the battery on the other side of the river, he lit a cigarette and smoked it. Only then did he join the others. He was reprimanded for ‘unnecessary bravery’. Perhaps the original phrasing was stronger – ‘stupidity’ is a word you could imagine using – but the colonel who recorded the incident preferred the more flattering accusation for the regiment’s poet.’‘

From The Blog
16 June 2017

There was a silly story the other day about a company boss who had threatened to fire any employee who didn’t vote Conservative on 8 June. Silly because a secret ballot means you aren’t obliged to fess up, to your boss or anyone else, so who’d be so dumb? But also because the email that the boss in question sent was clearly very friendly. ‘Hi Everyone,’ John Brooker wrote to his staff on polling day.

From The Blog
9 April 2012

On Saturday night the Home Office website went offline for seven hours. The hacker group Anonymous took it down, they said, as a protest against the government’s planned new surveillance legislation. The plan, we learned earlier in the week, was to introduce a bill that would allow the security services continuous access in real time to all UK phone calls, emails and web traffic. It sounded scary, but most people stopped worrying about it after it became clear that nothing concrete would be known about the proposed legislation until the Queen’s Speech in May. There were also vague promises that the law, which would now be published in draft form only and open to consultation, would include the ‘highest possible safeguards’. ‘All we’re doing,’ Nick Clegg said, ‘is updating the rules which... allow the police and security services to go after terrorists and serious criminals and updating that to apply to new technology.’ ‘Let’s be absolutely clear,’ David Cameron said. ‘This is not about what the last government proposed and we opposed.’ He was very nearly telling the truth.

From The Blog
31 January 2012

You may have noticed, when using one or another of Google’s products lately, an announcement popping up: ‘We’re changing our privacy policy and terms. This stuff matters.’ Click on ‘learn more’ and you’ll be told: We’re getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google. In itself this isn’t a big deal – Google won’t be respecting your privacy any less, or any more, than it does already – but the more interesting question is what’s behind it. One privacy policy means One Google: if you use any part of Google you'll find it increasingly difficult not to use all the other parts too.

From The Blog
4 November 2011

Two new book proofs have arrived in the office: And: Both are to be published by Faber early next year. One is a history book, the other a novel. Guess which is which.

From The Blog
13 July 2010

Basil Davidson, who died on 9 July, wrote 14 pieces for the LRB in the 1990s, including this record of his time in the SOE.

Jeremy Harding will be writing about Davidson here on the blog soon.

From The Blog
5 August 2009

Translators are often ignored or overlooked, and that is an injustice. Therefore I call your attention to the work that has gone into this passage, from Antonio Negri and Raf Valvola Scelsi's Goodbye Mr Socialism: Radical Politics in the 21st Century (Serpent's Tail, £8.99): Iraq was the American attempt to get its hands on Empire, an attempt at a coup d'etat by means of permanent war, now a constitutive element of imperial development. It is clear that the problem of who commands the global market was tabled and progressively developed from the end of the Soviet system. Bit by bit, the Americans have elaborated a unilateral and exclusive vision of their command of globalisation.

From The Blog
22 July 2009

Theo Tait on Gordon Burn's last book, Born Yesterday: The News as a Novel, from the LRB of 5 June 2008: Gordon Burn’s work takes place at a point where fact and fiction, public events and private lives, fame and death all meet. Burn, who died last Friday, wrote pieces for the London Review on John Cheever (the ‘gut-spilling’, the ‘ear-scalding exhibitionism’) and Robert Stone (his ‘stoned rap’, his ‘junky jabber’).

From The Blog
23 June 2009

Microsoft says that its brand-new search engine, Bing, delivers results that are just as good as those of its competitors. But Bing is no mere imitator, slavishly copying those that have gone before. Just compare a search for 'Bing market share' on Bing with the same search as performed by what Microsoft coyly calls the 'market leader’. Despite the undoubtedly unprejudiced algorithmic approach of both technologies, the results look very different.

From The Blog
7 June 2009

There has, I hear, been much whispering in dark corners at the Palace of Westminster in recent days. But if the papers are to be believed, the darkest of dark whisperings have been taking place on the internet, in the form of the super-secret 'Hotmail conspiracy' to oust Gordon Brown. To recap: on Wednesday night, a few hours before polling opened for the European and local elections, the Guardianexclusively revealed that a group of parliamentary plotters had set up an anonymous webmail address, signonnow@hotmail.co.uk, in order to gather virtual signatories to a virtual letter calling for the PM to resign.


The Sixth Taste

9 September 2021

Daniel Soar writes: The dead get the last laugh. As Jordan Sand says, two people claimed to have written the infamous letter. One died in 2014 and can’t be interrogated. The other died four years later, at the age of 97, and can’t be interrogated again. But he – Howard Steel, or Howard Steel’s ghost – can be heard speaking on that episode of This American Life. In the...

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