Speech: On The Middle East

“The region is in turmoil. At the root of the crisis lies a radicalised and politicised view of Islam, an ideology that distorts and warps Islam’s true message. The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world. It is de-stabilising communities and even nations. And in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively” (4,900 words)

Interview: Stalin

Irresistible. The New Statesman reaches into the archives and pulls out a plum. H.G. Wells, in Moscow for a writers’ conference, interviews Stalin: “I am very much obliged to you, Mr Stalin, for agreeing to see me. I was in the United States recently. I had a long conversation with President Roosevelt and tried to ascertain what his leading ideas were. Now I have come to ask you what you are doing to change the world” (6,300 words)

Being In Your Twenties Is Actually Great

I never suspected otherwise, but still, it is good to have this confirmed by people on the spot. “You can marry whomever you want, regardless of their gender. You can move anywhere in the EU and be in your twenties there instead. And when it doesn’t work out, you can come home crying and have a complete life rethink and no one will think you’re a failure; they’ll just think you made the most of your youth” (1,230 words)

Leaving Afghanistan

Some good news from Afghanistan as Western troops withdraw. The presidential election went smoothly; turnout was heavy; the winner looks likely to be former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, who is well-qualified if “super-temperamental”. According to a friend: “He is the sort of man who could easily order an execution in a fit of anger one evening, and deeply regret it when he calms down the following morning” (4,400 words)

How Heartbleed Works

“What the Heartbleed bug does is let anyone ping a server and make it throw up information from its memory, in 64kb chunks. The data that leaks is completely random – it could be anything from among the server’s memory at that moment – and 64kb isn’t much, but there’s no encryption on it, and it can be done as many times as possible. Passwords, usernames, security keys, drip by drip, it can all bleed away” (696 words)

Accidents In Architecture

Shigeru Ban, winner of the 2014 Pritzker prize for architecture, creates “emergency structures from improbable materials in crisis zones”. For disaster victims in Japan he has designed shelters made from beer crates and shipping containers. His “masterpiece to date” is a cardboard cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, built after an earthquake. “Whereas most buildings start on paper, many of Ban’s end in it” (860 words)

Watching A Brain Surgeon At Work Pick of the day

Brain surgery is “like bomb disposal work”, says Henry Marsh, a British neurosurgeon; “with the crucial difference that it is only the patient’s life at risk, not the surgeon’s”. Marsh’s memoir, Do No Wrong, is “a self-lacerating document: by and large, it contains stories not of triumph, or the author’s skill and expertise, but of the emotional and psychological toll exacted when things go horribly wrong” (3,920 words)

The Behavioural Benefits Of Castration Pick of the day

A vet reflects. In a single week he has castrated “40 calves, two colts, three dogs, one cat, one ferret and a coatimundi”, mostly for “behavioural rather than medical reasons”. Dogs no longer lunge at the legs of passers-by; geldings graze peaceably in fields; rabbits fight less and cease to mate with their siblings. “Freed from desire, they appear to be contented. Brave new world! Time to sharpen the knives for Homo sapiens(690 words)

They Come Here, Taking Our Jobs Pick of the day

They work for less money. They drive up the cost of housing. They consume public services and crowd the roads. They have strange habits, intrusive music, odd ways of dressing. They don’t understand what Britain used to be like before they came along. And there are so many of them. Immigrants? Perhaps — but also young people. And everything that we value in young people, we should also value in immigrants (1,330 words)

Slovakia: Life After Velvet Divorce

The “quiet success” of Slovakia, which broke away from the Czech Republic in 1993, offers an encouraging model for Scottish independence. Most Slovaks opposed independence at the time; now they embrace it. “The Czechs always used to complain that they were paying for us, and we used to complain that they were bossing us around. Not any more. Now we trust each other more. We get on better than ever.” (1,850 words)

Why Inside Llewyn Davis Is A Masterpiece

Coen brothers’ film is “fabulous, complex, divisive”. Oscar Isaac’s performance as Davis is perfectly judged: “If he were any less talented we wouldn’t want him to succeed. If he were any better we wouldn’t understand why he was failing.” Davis is “clearly profoundly depressed”. He’s “not demanding to be a star; he just wants to eat and sleep”. Critics complain of “tonal monotony”, but this film “looks how depression feels” (2,160 words)

The Best Europe We Have Ever Had

Britain is “drifting” towards a referendum on leaving the European Union. A referendum would a bad thing in itself, a surrender to populism; Britain is meant to be a representative democracy in which Parliament decides national issues. A referendum vote against EU membership would be disastrous. “This is the best Europe we have ever had; and Britain, as an influential member, has been a force for good in it” (2,000 words)

Interview: Winston Churchill (1939)

Churchill talks about war, democracy, privacy and freedom, eight months before WW2 and 15 months before his appointment as prime minister. “It may be that greater efficiency in secret military preparations can be achieved in a country with autocratic institutions than by the democratic system. But this advantage is not necessarily great, and it is far outweighed by the strength of a democratic country in a long war” (2,300 words)

Paul Dacre, Editor Of The Daily Mail

Sharp and admiring profile of Dacre, “by general consent, the most successful editor of his generation”. Readers expecting an attack on Dacre’s views and values will find instead much more in the way of praise, however grudgingly given, for his professional skills. “No other editor chooses, with such unerring and lethal precision, the issues, often half forgotten, that will create panic and fear among politicians” (6,860 words)

Time To Ditch The Word “Cancer”

An eminent surgeon and two-time cancer survivor writes: “Cancer is not a diagnosis. It is a label – and a misleading one at that, given the wide range of conditions that it covers. We need to demystify the problem. Cancer is ordinary; it is normal; it affects all of us indirectly and one in three of us will get it. To treat it as a sort of fairy-tale giant to be fought and conquered is to fuel unnecessary fear” (1,490 words)

Pox And The City

Admiring review of Leo Damrosch’s new biography of Jonathan Swift, “written in prose of true Swiftian lucidity”. The satirist sheds his reputation as a “twisted misanthropist”; emerges as a “friendly critic”, conscientious clergyman. “A reviewer never likes to say so, because it is such a gift to the publisher for the cover of the paperback, but in this instance it has to be said: this will be the definitive life of Swift for years to come” (1,640 words)

We Dream Of Utopia

Review of The Book of Legendary Lands, by Umberto Eco, an “enchanting” book about places celebrated in myths or created in fictions, from El Dorado to Uqbar. “Eco’s theme is the slippage from fiction to illusion in the human mind”. Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 19C fantasy novel The Coming Race told of super-humans descended from survivors of Atlantis; by the mid-20C some Nazis believed this as fact (1,800 words)

There’s A Bitcoin Heist Going Down Right Now

Bitcoins worth $100m were looted from an online trading site in recent days — one of the biggest robberies in history. And with a bit of effort you can still see the thief online as he goes through process of trying to launder the proceeds, breaking his hoard down into small lots and combining those with other small lots. The end-result will be anonymity, but it’s a time consuming process, and he may yet get caught by his victims (1,100 words)

How To Write About The North

A variant, for Brits, of Binyavanga Wainaina’s Granta essay, How to Write About Africa. “Mention any traffic problems on your journey, or any particularly awful baguette you were offered on the train. If your piece is generally favourable, mention any hills or cows you glimpse from first class and even risk a bit of poetry about pylons or cooling towers. If not, do note the first swear word you hear, particularly from a hoodie” (1,250 words)

Big Pots Need Big Kilns

Conversation between musician and potter. Interesting throughout. Eno on music: “People said that making records would take the life out of music, but then recording became a new kind of art.” Perry on fine art: “The art world has no equivalent of the popular. People always mention Jack Vettriano or Beryl Cook. Even Banksy. But they’re exceptions, and they are not the people who line up their paintings on the railings in Bayswater” “ (3,600 words)

Ironic Bold

Irony is easy to convey in speech, hard to convey in writing. Almost since the dawn of moveable type, writers and scholars have been suggesting typographical conventions to signal ironic intent. Erasmus called for an irony mark in 1509, though he didn’t say what it should be. Five centuries later, Tom Driberg proposed a font that would slope in the opposite direction from italics, and would be called “ironics” (1,830 words)

The Problem With Literary Festivals

They ought to be all about authors and readers. But they’ve been commercialised in a cynical way so that they’re more about money and celebrity. Bill Clinton can get £40,000 for speaking at Hay, whereas a professional author will be lucky to get a case of Cava and the chance to sell a few books. Nor do organisers make much effort at stage management, with the result that most presentations are dull (1,271 words)

The Notebooks Of Leopardi

Review of the first full English translation of Zibaldone, a journal kept by 19C Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. “With its publication, Leopardi will be ranked among the supreme interrogators of the modern condition. The notebook has something in common with Pascal’s Pensées and Kierkegaard’s diaries but the voice – refined, detached and betraying a reticent intellectual passion – is Leopardi’s alone” (1,800 words)

The Broken Road

Working from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s unfinished manuscript and his journals, Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron construct a third and final volume of Between the Woods and the Water, Leigh Fermor’s account of his walk across Europe to Constantinople. And it’s a triumph. “Although it is true that the text sometimes lacks the perfectionist gleam found in Leigh Fermor’s earlier work, these occasional slips barely show through the dazzle” (1,000 words)

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