breaking news from the world of ideas

by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 4
December 2020
Spotted
15:07

Mosul, unexpectedly, is a classic war film

Just over four years ago, as Facebook recently reminded me in that unsettling way it has, I tagged along with an Iraqi Army general and a large convoy of his armoured vehicles as they took us to see the first street in Mosul to be liberated from ISIS rule. The impromptu press tour, right on the edge of the city, didn’t work out quite as planned: ISIS counterattacked, trapping us all in the street, to the general’s surprise and then despair.

Iraqi tanks closed off the street at both ends, firing at the car bombs heading towards us, while mortar teams blasted away in all directions at the snipers harassing us from the neighbouring streets and houses; the general, and his staff, huddled in a commandeered house, with their heads in their hands, arguing with each other about how or whether we could escape. It wasn’t a great experience, but it was a vivid early glimpse of how the gruelling, months-long battle for the ancient city would pan out. ...  Continue reading

by Saloni Dattani
Friday, 4
December 2020
Reaction
11:34

In praise of the Covid superforecasters

It’s starting to feel like the end of the beginning of the pandemic, with news that a vaccine for Covid-19 has been approved in the UK and that two are set to be authorised imminently in the US. And yet, until very recently, many commentators, politicians and experts were incredulous that such a turn of events would be possible so soon — in their minds, the idea that a vaccine would be approved in less than 18 months — let alone in under a year since its design — was completely fanciful.

At the same time, I had been telling friends in May that vaccines would most likely be authorised for emergency use by the end of the year, and in July, a McKinsey report came to the same conclusion. In August, I explained in detail why I believed a rapid timeline was very likely, with the most likely outcome being that a vaccine would be approved and distributed in enough doses to vaccinate 25 million people in the US around February 2021. My friend and fellow forecaster Jonathon Kitson predicted in October that a vaccine would be approved in the UK in December and rolled out in January. ...  Continue reading

by Tobias Phibbs
Friday, 4
December 2020
Reaction
07:00

Vapid politicians will never unite our country

Another month, another report on Britain’s demographic tribes. This time from Onward, which argues that there is no turning back for the Conservatives: their new coalition of provincial voters in the south and ex-industrial working-class voters in the midlands and the north is less divided than was previously assumed, and by embracing a leftwards shift on the economy and a rightwards shift in culture they cement that coalition. Labour, meanwhile, are left fishing about among ‘new radicals’, ‘metropolitan liberals’ and ‘progressive professionals’ — who between them amount to only 37% of the country. ...  Continue reading

by UnHerd
Thursday, 3
December 2020
Video
15:02

Hong Kong dissident: 100,000 could move to Britain next year

Arguably the most famous Hong Kong dissident alive today, Nathan Law has become one of the most recognisable faces of the pro-democracy movement in his homeland. Having been at the forefront of protests against the controversial Hong Kong national security law over the summer, the democracy activist was subsequently forced to flee Hong Kong over fears for his safety. The departure proved timely: just this week three of his fellow activists (including Joshua Wong) were arrested and sentenced to 10-13 months in prison.

Nathan now lives in the UK, which took the unprecedented step earlier this year of offering residency to any holder of a British National overseas passport in Hong Kong. Up to three million Hongkongers are eligible for this residency, and according to Nathan, as many as 100,000 people could arrive in the first year. That is a substantial figure, and one that will present Boris Johnson’s government with a potentially difficult question on how to accommodate for such an influx. ...  Continue reading

by Tom Chivers
Thursday, 3
December 2020
Explainer
11:00

Healthcare workers will be the first piece of the vaccine jigsaw

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use in the UK, and vaccinations will start in the next week or so. It’s fantastic news, obviously. But, you might wonder, is it all that good news for you, given that you are (on the balance of probabilities) not in the first groups who will get vaccinated.

I want to say that, yes, it is. It is fantastic news for one fairly key reason: healthcare workers will be among the first to get vaccinated. That alone should have a pretty dramatic impact on the course of the disease.

As Andrey Zarur, the CEO of the biotech company GreenLight, told me for this piece, the toll on healthcare workers in the first wave was awful. This BMJ paper says that patient-facing healthcare workers in Scotland were three times as likely to be hospitalised as non-patient-facing ones. Healthcare workers are more likely to be exposed, and more likely to get higher viral doses, which raises the risk of severe disease. That meant that they died at about the same rate as the population as a whole, despite being, on average, younger and healthier than the rest of us. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 3
December 2020
Reaction
07:00

Give Harry a break, he’s right about Covid

In an interview for the WaterBear network, the Prince Harry said that “being in nature is the most healing part of life. I truly believe that’s one reason why it’s there.” That’s the closest thing I’ve heard to a religious statement from any of the young royals — though which religion I’m not entirely sure. Just about all of them, I guess.

Not the worship of Mammon, though. For a certain shade of Right-wing opinion, the only green thing to be revered is money. Which is why anyone expressing concern for the environment is to be ridiculed.

For instance, just look at the way that Harry’s interview was written up in yesterday’s Telegraph: “The Duke of Sussex suggested that the coronavirus pandemic was a rebuke from mother nature as he urged everyone to “be a raindrop” and repair the Earth.” ...  Continue reading

by Dan Hitchens
Wednesday, 2
December 2020
Spotted
17:49

In the Keira Bell case, the NHS trust had no answers

Yesterday’s High Court judgement, which set strict limits on how far children can consent to puberty-blockers, was not meant to be a verdict on gender-identity treatment, let alone on the transgender movement. As Keira Bell, who brought the case, said: “This judgment is not political, it’s about protecting vulnerable children.”

Nevertheless, the case has political implications. For years, anyone who raised concerns about gender-identity treatment was shouted down, and told that the experts knew what they were doing. But now those experts have had to present evidence in court: the defendant was the NHS trust responsible for gender-identity treatment, and the judges heard evidence from the country’s leading specialists. And the result is a judgement — from senior judges — that the standard practice was not doing enough to protect children. Moreover, the ruling exposed just how little is understood about these treatments. ...  Continue reading

by Niall Gooch
Wednesday, 2
December 2020
Response
15:00

It’s official: I’m a menace to society

A man called Alasdair Henderson, a distinguished barrister and a member of the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC), is in big trouble with The Guardian. What has he done wrong, I hear you ask? Has he perhaps been recorded using racial slurs, or shown to be corrupt? Did he attend Rita Ora’s lockdown-busting birthday party? Is there footage of him kicking a puppy or stealing a Werther’s Original from a rosy-cheeked child?

No. It’s much worse. He has been reading my Twitter.

This past Monday a senior Guardian reporter broke the incredible scoop that Mr Henderson has ‘liked’ tweets that disagree with The Guardian’s editorial line. Two of these were mine. One, from June, questioned whether it was wise for the police to squander public trust by being so supine in the face of BLM protests. The other, from September, suggested that Tory politicians should be less scared of being called names by journalists. ...  Continue reading

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