breaking news from the world of ideas

by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 14
July 2020
Spotted
07:00

How we make life easy for the modern slavers

Modern slavery reported crimes. Credit: CSJ

It Still Happens Here, a report from the Centre for Social Justice and Justice and Care, contains shocking details about the extent of modern slavery as practiced in Britain today. The authors put the number of victims at 100,000 and possibly higher.

But what exactly is “modern slavery”? According to Anti-Slavery International it is the “severe exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain.” At its worst, victims are held captive and forced, under threat of violence, into degrading, dangerous and unpaid labour.

But other forms of such exploitation are more subtle, work being rewarded with some (but illegally low) pay and control being exercised through debt servitude, social isolation and other manipulative tactics. As the report puts it: “many victims of modern slavery are unaware that they are being exploited… in some cases, tragically, their experience… can feel like an improvement on the situation they left behind.” ...  Continue reading

by Mary Dejevsky
Monday, 13
July 2020
Reaction
16:00

A final victory for conservative Poland?

The re-election of Andrzej Duda as President of Poland by the narrowest of margins showed a country split almost down the middle along practically every index. According to provisional results released by the Electoral Commission, Duda, supported by the ruling conservative Law and Justice Party, received 51.2 per cent of the vote, to Rafal Trzaskowski’s 48.8. It was one of the closest results in a Polish presidential election on a turnout that, at practically 70 per cent, was one of the highest.

Duda’s re-election is a huge disappointment for supporters of Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of Warsaw, who had hoped that his victory would start to return Poland to the largely progressive path it had been on in the years immediately before and after it joined the European Union in 2004. It means that the conflict with the European Union over changes to the country’s judicial system — which are seen as potentially politicising the judiciary — is likely to continue, as will pursuit of the traditional “family values” agenda, which limits LGBT rights and outlaws gay marriage. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 13
July 2020
Spotted
08:43

The almost-comical tale of Lady A

The platinum-selling country band formerly known as Lady Antebellum has changed its name to Lady A, for fear that a name referencing the time before America’s Civil War might imply endorsement of the slavery that characterised that period in history.

This has been done, we’re told, out of respect to the many black people whose ancestors were victims of the slave trade and the post-abolition racism that has dogged the lives of black Americans since those times.

It’s nice to see the music industry stepping up to our brave new moment of ending racism. Only there’s a problem. The name ‘Lady A’ is already taken. Anita White, a black blues singer has been performing under that name since 1987. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Friday, 10
July 2020
Video
15:26

T-cell immunity and the truth about Covid-19 in Sweden

We hear a lot about Sweden’s experience of Covid-19, with the New York Times declaring this week that that country is now “the world’s cautionary tale.”

But what’s it really like on the ground?

Dr Soo Aleman has been both on the front lines of the Covid-19 epidemic as a senior physician at Stockholm’s leading Karolinska hospital, and on the research side, as Assistant Professor at the Karolinska Institute and one of a group that last week published new data around T-cell immunity.

I talked to her about the findings of that study, and how it matches what she is seeing in her hospital. Have a watch above. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Friday, 10
July 2020
Reaction
07:00

The Hagia Sophia is for prayer, not pictures

When it was built in 537, Hagia Sophia — Greek for Holy Wisdom — was the largest building in the world, not just the largest church. For roughly the first thousand years of its life it was a place of Christian worship, sending prayers upwards to the living God. In 1453, after the city fell to the Ottoman invaders, it became a Mosque, and was so for nearly five hundred years, again sending prayers to the Almighty. In 1935, the secular Turkish state turned it into a museum, and the prayers stopped.

Now I am no particular fan of Turkish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but when it comes to his desire to return this once holy place back to a mosque, I cannot but applaud. There will be those — Greek Orthodox Christians especially — who would prefer it to return to being a Cathedral. Of course, that would be wonderful. But it is never going to happen in a country where Christianity represents a vanishingly small percentage of the population. And so that aspect of the argument is something of a distraction. ...  Continue reading

by Tom Chivers
Thursday, 9
July 2020
Spotted
11:06

Finally! A way to analyse NHS data from 17 million people

There’s a new paper out in Nature, led by Ben Goldacre of Bad Science fame, which is really interesting. It’s been available in preprint for a month, but it has just been properly published.

For starters, it’s interesting because it looks at causes of death among Covid patients, and confirms, for instance, higher rates of death among black and Asian patients that can’t be fully explained by pre-existing conditions. It also found a muddy and confusing picture when it comes to smoking and Covid. Current smokers seem to do better than non-smokers, but this is complicated by the fact that some non-smokers will be former smokers who have quit because of smoking-related disease. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 9
July 2020
Response
07:00

Why isn’t the Creative Class more creative?

In The Times, Daniel Finkelstein argues that there’s a fundamental flaw in the government’s ‘levelling-up” agenda. He begins with the premise that, in order to level-up, “non metropolitan areas need to become… more metropolitan.” In other words, if the Tories want to help their socially conservative red wall voters then they must re-embrace the socially liberal values of the so-called “Creative Class”.

It’s a thought-provoking piece, but also profoundly wrong in a way that only the cleverest arguments can be. In fact, there are so many different levels of wrongness that it would take a much longer piece to explore them all. So, for now, I’m going to focus on just one weakness — which is the mismatch between the importance placed on the Creative Class and what they’ve actually managed to create. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Wednesday, 8
July 2020
Video
17:44

Steven Pinker: They’re trying to cancel me

Steven Pinker – world famous linguist, evolutionary psychologist and Harvard professor — is in the middle of a ‘cancellation’ attempt. It looks like he will survive it unscathed, but a group within the Linguistics Society of America have written an open letter detailing various transgressions on Twitter and elsewhere in which he was deemed to be insufficiently robust on race and gender issues.

He told me about it, the open letter he has signed to Harper’s magazine in defence of free speech, and the way in which ‘crazies’ from his university days went on to get tenure and have been indoctrinating students in extreme ideas ever since. ...  Continue reading

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