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Black Holes and Revelations

Chris Lintott

The shadow of a black hole, photographed last year by the Event Horizon Telescope

Black holes have a fearsome reputation. They have imperilled a thousand stricken starship crews in the pages of science fiction, and the language used to describe them even in non-fiction often implies menace. In popular science, they ‘lurk’ at the centres of galaxies, waiting to ‘devour’ passing stars. I’m not sure this sort of imagery is justified, though it can be hard to avoid. A lot of the time black holes are passive, quiet beasts.

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2 April 2020

‘Can I go to work today?’

Anna Aslanyan

One of the routine questions asked of detainees at police stations is: ‘Are you fit and well?’ It has acquired new force in recent weeks. A homeless man I interpreted for a few days ago said he was, though he looked exhausted. He had recently been placed in a hotel in central London as part of an initiative reminiscent of O. Henry’s ‘Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen’, a story about the perils of ‘the yearly hunger which, as the philanthropists seem to think, afflicts the poor at such extended intervals’.

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1 April 2020

Rolling it out, ramping it up

Rachel Malik

‘The right measures at the right time’ has been a mantra of ministers and sanctioned experts: sensible, uncontroversial. But the government has undermined its own timelines and its own priorities. It has talked up increases in testing – ‘rolling it out’, ‘ramping it up’ – but at the weekend a significant gap appeared between ministerial claim and reality. Michael Gove said in his Sunday morning interviews that the target of 10,000 tests per day was being met; but on Saturday, it turned out, only 8278 tests were carried out on 4908 patients.

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31 March 2020

Rich Man’s Disease

Adewale Maja-Pearce

It is cold comfort that this time around the wealthy cannot flee to London and Delhi for medical treatment, as they did during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Every day, we hear of prominent people getting tested, even when they don’t have any symptoms, while ‘ordinary’ Nigerians who fear they may have caught the virus are told to come back in 14 days’ time. Covid-19 is known as ‘the rich man’s disease’: you needed the wherewithal to travel abroad in order to catch it in the first place, and the wherewithal to get tested on your return, having infected the ‘masses’ in the process.

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30 March 2020

And the winner is …

The Editors

The Republic of Consciousness Prize for small presses has been won by Fitzcarraldo Editions for Jean-Baptiste Del Amo’s novel Animalia, translated from French by Frank Wynne. Because of Covid-19, the £10,000 prize money this year is being divided equally between all the shortlisted publishers.

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27 March 2020

Brazil Undone

Forrest Hylton

The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, is the only world leader widely believed not only to have Covid-19 and to have lied about it, but to have knowingly spread it to untold numbers of his followers. Time (or Veja, the country’s leading news magazine) will tell, but at the very least, the circumstantial evidence is curious. Bolsonaro called on his largely evangelical base to hit the streets on 15 March to shut down Congress and the Supreme Court. Under quarantine after his return from the US – 25 members of his entourage have been infected with coronavirus, making Bolsonaro the centre of the largest initial cluster in Brazil – the president broke out of his motorcade to shake hands and high five those calling for the government buildings to be burnt to the ground.

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26 March 2020

Ultra Virus

Francis FitzGibbon

The criminal courts and the jails that feed and are fed by them are ideal incubators of Covid-19. It comes as no surprise that an elderly prisoner has died today, either from or with the virus, and he won’t be the last. Courts bring people together in small spaces for hours or days at a time, in the courtrooms, the cells, and the jury rooms, not to mention the offices where the staff work. In the basement cell area of a court I attended recently, a single air-conditioning unit blew the same air through all the cells and into the interview and staff rooms. My colleagues have been complaining for years about broken plumbing, absence of soap and towels, and frequently filthy conditions.

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