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Obituary: Leee Black Childers

Protegé of Andy Warhol; personal photographer to David Bowie. “He added an extra e to his first name to draw attention to himself”. Briefly manager of Iggy Pop and the Stooges. Tour manager for Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers. “Although a frail figure in his later years, Childers remained a striking presence in his fake leopard-skin jackets and glitter shirts, his face adorned with mascara” (Metered) (918 words)

Fossil Industry Is The Subprime Danger

American investors have been piling into fossil-fuel projects that will be probably be unprofitable if they can be exploited at all. “The cumulative blitz on exploration and production over the past six years has been $5.4 trillion, yet little has come of it. Output from conventional fields peaked in 2005. Not a single large project has come on stream at a break-even cost below $80 a barrel for almost three years” (Metered) (1,450 words)

Classical Music’s Dark Secret

Stage fright strikes even the greatest performers, and for classical musicians the fear is especially acute. “Make a mistake in a jazz break and few will notice; make one in a string quartet and everybody will”. Many use Valium and beta-blockers. Cognitive therapies are gaining ground: “You retrain the performer to accept that there will inevitably be a few mistakes, and the audience is on their side” (Metered paywall) (1,260 words)

Britain’s Days In The EU Are Numbered

The choice of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission greatly increases the likelihood that Britain will leave the European Union. The best argument for Britain’s staying was that we could shape the EU to our advantage. But our opposition to Juncker served only to rally other governments behind him. “Our influence in Brussels, in other words, is not just nugatory; it is negative” (Metered) (890 words)

Obituary: Felix Dennis

“A former jail bird, crack fiend, serial womaniser and sometime poet and arboriculturalist, he built a publishing empire worth hundreds of millions of pounds”. His titles included The Week and Maxim. He began his career as business manager of Oz, the counter-cultural magazine of the 1960. He survived Legionnaire’s disease, but crack almost killed him. His chauffeur brought it home “by the bucket load” (Metered) (1,845 words)

Flight MH370: What Are They Hiding?

A pilot writes. The inquiry and search have been bungled. Why? “Everything comes back to the Malaysian authorities. Criminal and civil liability can be big motivators when it comes to cover-ups. If crucial maintenance checks were being delayed by a loss-making airline to save money, we need to know. If dangerous cargo was being carried to augment revenues, we should be told. The Malaysians need to come clean” (Metered) (1,300 words)

The Madness Of Tony Blair

Tony Blair “has finally gone mad”, in claiming that Iraq would be in its current state with or without the 2003 invasion, and he undermines his own argument for fresh intervention aimed at stabilising the Middle East. Perhaps better-planned actions would have better results. But: “We cannot make the case for an active Britain that is engaged with the world unless we are at least honest about our failures” (Metered) (1,114 words)

Junking Juncker Is Pointless

For Britain to veto Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission would be gratifying and entertaining, but also futile. The job of the Commission is to federalise Europe. No president is going to change that. Juncker’s one merit is that he might do the job badly. Whoever popped up instead might be a more effective operator — Pascal Lamy, say — and thus a worse outcome for Britain (Metered) (1,080 words)

The Heartache And Pain Beyond London

UKIP’s poor showing in London is further evidence of the degree to which London has drifted apart from the rest of the country. The closest the average Briton can get to life in central London is to take a day trip there on the train, “wander the silent and shuttered streets of Belgravia and Holland Park, and admire the empty palaces where Russians or Arabs park their money but not their children” (1,330 words)

John Betjeman: Poetic Visionary

Remembrance of Betjeman, “the first best-selling English poet since Byron”, who died 30 years ago. He celebrated traditional themes in traditional forms. His poems echoed the rhythms of hymns and music hall. “He totally understood the modernist movement in poetry. He simply chose to do something different”. He was also “the man who helped us look at our architectural heritage and appreciate it” (1,090 words)

We Can’t Appease Vladimir Putin

Putin’s Russia increasingly resembles Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy in the 1930s; and the West’s policy looks increasingly like appeasement, which didn’t work then and will not work now, because dictators can never be appeased. “Power hunger cannot be satisfied. As the world gloomily contemplates Ukraine, Putin is starting to coerce the neighbours towards his military will. He is on the march” (Metered) (131 words)

Scotland Is Voting For Fiscal Austerity

Scotland’s referendum vote is a clash of cultures: “Scot Nats draw much of their support from traditional blue collar and child rearing female Labour voters. For them, independence provides not just the chance permanently to purge Scotland of Tory rule from Westminster, but also to disentangle their affairs from the metropolitan types that have come to dominate the Labour Party south of the border” (Metered) (1,340 words)

David Cameron Has Got Religion

The British prime minister’s new public enthusiasm for Christianity is expedient, but also sincere. “Downing Street can have an evangelising effect on its residents. When James Callaghan became chancellor in 1964 he was a lapsed Baptist, but started to pray again when the horrors of his job became clear. Tony Blair’s faith hardened in office to the extent that he set up his Faith Foundation upon leaving it” (1,300 words)

Why Is It Taking So Long To Find MH370?

Because the seas are very big, and a plane is very small. You can lose a large ship in plain view on the surface of the ocean; when the object is under 4.500 metres of water, the task becomes almost impossible. In this case searchers caught what seemed to be the dying pings of the black box, narrowing the hunt to a circle of 115km radius. But that area alone could take almost a year to search completely (1,650 words)

48 Hours With The Scottish National Party

Four findings from the final SNP conference before the independence vote. The party realises it needs to do more to appeal to women voters, and is calling for more women in business and in politics. The Nationalists distrust the English press, and animosity is building. The SNP’s backroom operations are super-efficient. And the party truly believes it will win the referendum (Metered) (975 words)

Global Solar Dominance In Sight

Solar power has “won the global argument” as the fuel of the future. It is cheap enough already to compete with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas in much of Asia, without subsidies; and prices have further to fall. World fossil-fuel use will peak around 2030; after which coal, oil and gas consumption will decline in absolute terms “because they cannot compete, not because they are running out” (Metered) (1,500 words)

Can We Forget The Man In The IRA Beret?

The presence of Martin McGuinness at a state banquet for the visiting president of Ireland in Windsor Castle this week truly marked the close of a century of conflict between England and Ireland. McGuinness commanded the Provisional IRA through a ruthless campaign of bombings and assassinations. Now he is deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. If he can dine with the Queen, is it time for a general amnesty? (Metered) (1,380 words)

A Load Of Bullocks

Review of Odd Job Man and Language!, by Jonathon Green, Britain’s greatest living lexicographer of slang. “He is the Dr Johnson of slang, its Putin, its Mr Toad, its Dickens”. His predecessors include Francis Grose (1731-91), “who was so fat that his servant had to strap him into bed every night”; and John William Hotten (1832-73), “a workaholic pornographer who died from a surfeit of pork chops” (Metered paywall) (1,500 words)

Obituary: Madeline Gins

Believing that comfort killed people, she “set out to achieve everlasting life through architecture”, designing buildings that made people “disoriented, dizzy, and slightly bilious”. Some of them even got built — with floors that “undulated like sand dunes”; kitchens “positioned at the bottom of steep slopes”; no doors; windows too high or too low; and everything painted in “dozens of clashing colours” (Metered paywall) (1,013 words)

Wes Anderson: “I Stole From Stefan Zweig”

Somewhat vulgar headline for a highly civilised conversation in which Wes Anderson discusses Stefan Zweig’s influence on Anderson’s latest film, Grand Budapest Hotel. “So much of his work is written from the point of view of someone who’s quite innocent and is entering into kind of darker territories. In fact, the truth seems to be completely the opposite. He seems to be somebody who more or less tried everything along the way” (2,925 words)

Bernard Williams: Essays and Reviews 1959-2002

Williams was “lucid, cultivated and entirely serious” as philosopher and critic. He would “perceive and expose the hidden assumptions in every argument, while understanding the goal that the argument was seeking to achieve”. He was a minimalist in the tradition of Hume. “He saw the impossibility of systems and grand narratives, and at the same time wanted to uphold our ordinary ways of thinking” (Metered paywall) (990 words)

William Shakespeare, King Of Infinite Space

Shakespeare wrote his plays in the time between Copernicus and Galileo, when past certainties about the universe were being overturned and new theories advanced. Some of his imagery suggests a close interest in “the new heliocentric astronomy”. The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe may even get a nod in Hamlet: two of his relatives were called Rosencrans and Guildensteren (1,300 words)

Marcel Proust, Comic Genius

Swann’s Way is one of the greatest novels, and the Remembrance of Things Past one of the greatest of all artistic achievements. But the learning curve is a very steep one. The writing goes “on and on”. You can’t just “nibble” at Proust, you have to go for “total immersion”. The best approach is to read him for the characters, not the story. Do that, and you discover a comic novelist the equal of Jane Austen (Metered paywall) (1,000 words)

Obituary: Sree Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma

Great first paragraph: “Sree Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma , who has died aged 91, was head of the family that once ruled the south Indian kingdom of Travancore and remained largely unknown to the wider world until 2011, when it was revealed that a temple of which he was hereditary custodian contained untold treasures”. The value of the treasures so far recovered: $26bn (Metered paywall) (1,245 words)

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