The complicated process of ghostwriting Julian Assange’s autobiography.
London Review of Books
An Englishman’s eighteen years of exile-by-choice.
The rise and fall of the new oligarchs, who raided the Russian state. When Putin came to power most fled, but not Mikhail Khodorkovsky: “The other oligarchs, when they saw the fuzz, knew they should run. But Khodorkovsky forgot.”
Did the Obama Administration ignore evidence that someone other than Assad could be behind the sarin attacks?
On the assassination of a half-Palestinian, half-Jewish cultural revolutionary.
On interviewing and napping beside Norman Mailer.
The rise of the Night Wolves, a Kremlin-backed biker gang, and what it says about the Russian political condition.
On the attempt to rehabilitate Afghanistan’s child jihadis.
On the dangerous state of U.K. banks—“an existential threat to British democracy, a more serious one than terrorism, either external or internal”—and how it can be fixed.
In Cyprus with those who lost big by simply depositing their savings with Laiki.
Boomtown San Francisco, as seen from the “Google Bus.”
An inquiry into the assassination of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister.
An essay on Jimmy Savile, British television and child sexual abuse.
On Marilyn Monroe and the pains of post-war America.
Joining the water company’s “flushermen” to tour London’s sewers.
The French influence in Africa is on the wane, and the Chinese are coming.
On Alison Winter’s Memory: Fragments of a Modern History, and issues of memory in the 20th century.
Underlying the compelling feeling that we are our memories is a further common-sense assumption that our entire lives are accurately retained somewhere in the brain ‘bank’ as laid-down memories of our experience, and that we retrieve our lives and selves from an ever expanding stockpile of recollections. Or we can’t, and then that feeling that it’s on the tip of our tongue, or there but just out of range, still encourages us to think that everything we have known or done is in us somewhere, if only our digging equipment were sharper.
The youngest prisoner held at Guantánamo on his seven years in detention.
Three decades ago, Mohamed Siad Barre, commander of the Supreme Revolutionary Council, head of the politburo of the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party and the last ruler of a functional Somali state, built vast concrete buildings all over Mogadishu. The beautiful city on the coast of the Indian Ocean, with its Arabic and Indian architecture, winding alleyways and Italian colonial-era villas, was dominated by these monuments. They were Third World incarnations of Soviet architecture, exuding power, stability and strength. The buildings – like the literacy campaigns, massive public works programmes and a long war against neighbouring Ethiopia in the late 1970s and early 1980s – were supposed to reflect the wisdom and authority of the dictator.
On the Google conundrum:
It’s clearly wrong for all the information in all the world’s books to be in the sole possession of a single company. It’s clearly not ideal that only one company in the world can, with increasing accuracy, translate text between 506 different pairs of languages. On the other hand, if Google doesn’t do these things, who will?
In 1959, a social psychologist in Michigan brought together three institutionalized patients for an experiment:
[W]hat would happen, he wondered, if he made three men meet and live closely side by side over a period of time, each of whom believed himself to be the one and only Jesus Christ?
On the current state of the global economy and the inevitable decline of the U.K. and the U.S.:
A decade-long slowdown would accelerate this shift in global wealth and power and would be a grim thing to live through, but from a world-historical perspective it might not be a game-changer: it might just be the non-scenic route to the place we’re going anyway.
On the London riot on 2011, which “tells us a great deal about our ideological-political predicament and about the kind of society we inhabit, a society which celebrates choice but in which the only available alternative to enforced democratic consensus is a blind acting out.”
On secrets that surprise no one:
This is the paradox of public space: even if everyone knows an unpleasant fact, saying it in public changes everything.
How automated ‘execution algorithms’ are taking the world’s markets on a wild ride that few economists can even understand, much less control.
A look at the brave new world of privatized postal services, “optimized to deliver the maximum amount of unwanted mail at the minimum cost to businesses.”
A 12,000-word profile of recently departed Brazilian President Luiz Inácio da Silva, the “most successful politician of his time.”
The fever-dream life and death of Chinese poet Gu Cheng.
A review of several books on Rupert Murdoch first criticizes the authors for not grasping the many sides of their subject, then offers a thesis of its own. He’s “not so much a man, or a cultural force, as a portrait of the modern world.”