Why are teachers striking over slavery?

In 2019, my children’s teachers went on strike for higher pay, and I supported it, which was a bit of a surprise. I’d always thought public-sector unions a mockery of the idea of organised labour — not workers bargaining for a larger share of the value they create, but bureaucrats extracting rents from taxpayers, via politicians. On top of this, I’d trained to be an English teacher. I saw up close the pathetic scholarship and inane doctrines that inform teacher education in American universities. To me, unionised teachers were a convergence of these two unhealthy forces.

But then my wife and I had kids in the expensive California city of Oakland, and we sent them to our local government school (“public” school, in the US). I saw that, rather than applying dubious theories from their training — “child-centred” teaching inspired by John Dewey, Paulo Freire’s “pedagogy of the oppressed” — teachers were mainly using age-old methods to convey mandated curriculum to restless children. And I learned that many of them, especially younger teachers without spouses, or divorced teachers raising children of their own, were sharing bedrooms in group houses to cut down on living expenses, commuting huge distances from more affordable cities, or even working second jobs. ...  Continue reading

Why Putin will use nuclear weapons

However you try to spin it, the drone strikes that struck Moscow’s wealthiest neighbourhoods on Tuesday night represented a grim turning point in Putin’s flagging campaign against Ukraine. The surprise attacks — which killed eight people, and for which Kyiv has denied all responsibility — were the first against Russian civilians since the war began. They were also the most significant incursion into Russian territory since the Second World War.

Putin was quick to brand the strikes a “terrorist” act, while a rattled Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenaries, gave war chiefs a dressing-down for their inability to prevent three of eight drones from evading Russian air defences. Yet while this all provided a morale boost for the Ukrainian war effort, the question of retaliation hangs in the air. ...  Continue reading

Levelling up died in Teesside

It’s Saturday night on Middlesbrough High Street and a lager-soaked man called Chris is calling the Mayor of Teesside “a fucking wanker”. It’s not an unusual sentiment in these parts, where political apathy is particularly pervasive. Chris’s intervention, however, has a personal touch. For two months he worked for a company launched by Ben Houchen — a sportswear outfit called BLK that went under in 2018 with £3 million of debt.

Now, the Financial Times, Private Eye, The Yorkshire Post and many in Westminster have joined Chris in expressing concern about the character, business dealings and ability of a man once deemed the “rising star” of levelling up. Last week, their scepticism appeared vindicated when Michael Gove ordered a review into corruption allegations around one of the set pieces of post-Brexit Britain: the Teesworks development containing the country’s largest freeport...  Continue reading

The cynical hysteria around AI

When it comes to whipping up AI hysteria, there is a tried-and-tested algorithm — or at least a formula. First, find an inventor or “entrepreneur” behind some “ground-breaking” AI technology. Then, get them to say how “dangerous” and “risky” their software is. Bonus points if you get them to do so in an open letter signed by dozens of fellow “distinguished experts”.

The gold standard for this approach appeared to be set in March, when Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and 1,800 concerned researchers signed a letter calling for AI development to be paused. This week, however, 350 scientists — including Geoffrey Hinton, who effectively invented ChatGPT, and Demis Hassabis, founder of Google DeepMind — decided to up the ante. Artificial intelligence, they warned, “should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war”. ...  Continue reading

Pride is no place for homosexuals

How are you spending Pride month? I myself am gearing up to run the second annual Viner Award. A kind of Golden Raspberry for corporate wokery, it’s awarded via a public Twitter poll to the company or institution that most beclowns itself in the season of alphabet sanctimony. 

Last year’s contenders included the bank Halifax, which told customers to close their accounts if they disagreed with staff being asked to wear pronoun badges, and the Natural History Museum, which decided it was progressive to liken homosexuals to self-cloning lizards. The winner, though, was Nottingham City Council, which celebrated Pride by banning the lesbian activist Julie Bindel from giving a talk on violence against women, her “crime” (entirely unrelated to her talk) being her belief that humans can’t change sex. ...  Continue reading

Ukrainian MP: why victory is the only option

Inna Sovsun is a Ukrainian MP, deputy leader of the pro-European Golos party, and one of the most eloquent spokespeople for the Ukrainian perspective. She spoke to me from Kyiv about attacks inside Russian territory, the future of Crimea and political tensions inside Ukraine.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.

There have been reports of explosions and attacks within Kyiv in recent weeks. What is day-to-day life like now in the capital?

Since May 1st, there have been seventeen or eighteen nights when explosions were heard here in Kyiv. That is extremely disturbing. You wake up in the middle of the night because of the very loud explosions. And your heart starts pumping and your hands are trembling, and then they go numb. At least that’s my physical reaction. It’s very, very scary. That’s something that nobody wants to wake up to. And this has been happening almost every other night. You go to bed and you don’t know when the explosions are going to happen. ...  Continue reading

The Oxford kids are alright

Life as a gender-critical feminist can be quite strange. The first time I ever entered the Oxford Union, I was a 19-year-old fresher. All I really remember is getting very drunk on peach schnapps, crashing into a trestle table, and being asked to leave.

Fast forward 31 years, and I’m walking in there again, surrounded by security and being chased by photographers, accidentally dressed like a cut-price Kendall Roy from Succession. The image will make national front pages the next day. (Hilariously for our mutual friends, one of the presumed bodyguards is in fact my fellow philosopher friend Rob.) ...  Continue reading

Why Ron DeSantis can’t meme

Once upon a time, the Republican primaries were a soporific spectacle of speeches, policy discussions and debates. That all changed in 2016, when Trump’s trolling army descended on a sedate slate of centrists; Jeb Bush, for instance, was reduced to meme fodder, begging audiences to “please clap” for him. This time around, however, a fully fledged meme war is playing out — the battle for the soul of the Online Right.

At first glance, this group — made up of internet-savvy provocateurs, anonymous contributors, eccentric celebrities, and some vestigial “alt-Right” figureheads — still seems to be supporting Donald Trump, their once and future president. In 2016, they viewed him as a figure of entertainment, a political outsider who was wittily disruptive and assumed the status of a fantastical, Warhammer-esque “God-Emperor”. The portly University of Chicago graduate William Thomas Clark, also known as “Kantbot”, was among those who fervently amplified this narrative, riding a small wave of internet virality after he was filmed shrieking about Trump “completing the system of German idealism”. ...  Continue reading

Poetry has lost its violence

Jerome Rothenberg, aged 91, has made immeasurable contributions to American poetry over the past seven decades. Born in New York in 1931, he first came onto the scene in 1959 with New Young German Poets, the unintended fruit of his just-completed service in the US Army’s occupation of Germany. This collection of Rothenberg’s translations included poems by Paul Celan, the German-language Jewish author of “Death Fugue”, a work that single-handedly refutes Theodor Adorno’s scepticism about the viability of “poetry after Auschwitz”: it turns out there can be poetry after Auschwitz, even if we may not like what we see. ...  Continue reading

How Tokyo crushed the Nimbys

If Vienna, thanks to its extensive, high-quality social housing programme, is a renter’s heaven, where would one find a renter’s hell? London and New York spring to mind, but how about Tokyo? Long associated with tiny living spaces and exorbitant rents, some might imagine it a candidate. But in fact, Tokyo has become a Yimby paradise that the UK would do well to learn from.

What makes Tokyo so enviable is its abundance of housing and the ease with which new building projects can get off the ground. An astonishing number of homes are built every year in the city — 145,000 in 2018 — which is more than in the whole of California (with roughly three times the population) and, in some years, than in the whole of England (with about four times the population). ...  Continue reading

The Arab Spring exposed America’s weakness

When Bashar al-Assad touched down in Riyadh last week, to be embraced by the Saudi king on the occasion of Syria’s readmittance to the Arab League, the Syrian War drew to a close, and with it the Arab Spring. His rule secure, his broken nation quiescent once again, Assad has indisputably won. Following its only tangible success, the Tunisian Revolution, being overturned by president Kais Saied’s bloodless coup, the final results are in — and, contrary to initial assumptions, they show a firm victory for absolute monarchy.

But though objectively a failure, the bloody, tangled events of the Arab Spring shaped the world of 2023. In a strange way, the war in Ukraine is downstream of the fiery suicide of a frustrated Tunisian street vendor in 2010, and all the dashed hopes and human suffering that flowed from it. The Middle East’s convulsions indeed changed the world, but not in a way anyone participating expected or intended. ...  Continue reading

Why Gen Z prefers dogs to babies

The last time I travelled on the London Underground, I had our Labrador, Saffy, with me. Britain is a nation of dog lovers, but I was still surprised by how many strangers cooed over her. It was startling, in fact, compared to my recollections of travelling on the Tube with a baby in a pushchair a few years back. No contest: Saffy got more love.

So the ad I spotted in that Tube carriage, for the dating app Tinder, seemed particularly fitting. It depicted a smiling young couple in psychedelic clothing, with the caption: “Finally Having Kids”. They each rest one hand on a pushchair. In the pushchair is a dog. ...  Continue reading