breaking news from the world of ideas

by Ed West
Friday, 18
September 2020

Anti-racism is a virtue gone mad

In one of the few feel-good stories in a grim year, news that the US Department of Education is investigating Princeton University after its president declared that racism was “embedded” at the institution.

The Washington Examiner reports that President Christopher Eisgruber published an open letter earlier this month claiming that “racism and the damage it does to people of color persist at Princeton” and that “racist assumptions” are “embedded in structures of the University itself”:

According to a letter the Department of Education sent to Princeton, such an admission from Eisgruber raises concerns that Princeton has been receiving tens of millions of dollars of federal funds in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner
 ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Friday, 18
September 2020

Boeing’s deadly sin

The full extent of corporate failure at Boeing over the 737 Max has been revealed this week. The congressional investigation into the crashes is damning, findingcost-cutting… that jeopardised the safety of the flying public”, “regulatory capture” and a “culture of concealment” leading to the deaths of 346 people in two separate crashes. 

The dry procedural language used in the report stood out to me, in part because I have been reading an economics classic by E.F Schumacher, Small is Beautiful. While official documents condemn “troubling mismanagement misjudgements”, and Boeing admits “mistakes were made”, it is left to the bereaved families to use words which for most of us come closest to an accurate summation: “I lost my dad to greed, corruption and lack of human decency.” ...  Continue reading

by Tom Chivers
Thursday, 17
September 2020

If your child has the sniffles, is it Covid or a cold?

My eldest kid has been back at school for nearly two weeks; my youngest has her very first day on Monday. As usual, the first few days of term are an absolute crucible for colds and flu.

“At this time of year children get colds and viral infections,” says Dr Sunil Bhopal, a paediatrician and epidemiologist at Newcastle University. “I spend the whole summer in paediatric A&E with hardly any children, and then in September we get an onslaught. It’s totally normal.”

But what’s not normal is that now, if a child has a runny nose or a sore throat, there is a risk it might be Covid-19. And, depending on the school, that child might be sent home — or, in some cases, their whole class might be. In my children’s school, if a child persistently sneezes, he/she has to self-isolate; in another school up the road, literally any sort of feeling-unwellness will get them sent home. ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Thursday, 17
September 2020

Don’t recycle plastic. Burn it.

Every Thursday I dump on the street for collection the laboriously sorted, washed and specially-bagged plastic rubbish my family has assembled over the course of the previous week. And every week the same niggling, cynical voice tells me this is an entirely pointless activity. What is the likelihood, this voice whispers, that any of this mound of plastic, the mere sight of which fills me with a vague and troubling sense of guilt, ends up being melted down and repurposed instead of mouldering in a heap or washed into the sea either here or on the furthest edge of the world?

So it’s with a strange sense of satisfaction that I read this horrifying piece this week from NPR and another by Politico about the plastic recycling myth. All along, American consumers were purposely misled about the value of the time and effort they devoted to recycling their used plastic, urged to save the world by carrying out this weekly ritual of middle-class self-mortification, when in fact: ...  Continue reading

by Noor Kadhim
Thursday, 17
September 2020

Does international law even exist?

Yesterday, Boris Johnson agreed to amend the Internal Markets Bill by granting MPs a vote before he can use the powers in it that would ‘break’ international law.

The move marks a partial climbdown from No10 in spite of claims that it actually “strengthened” the controversial provisions in the bill. But this is beside the point. In legal terms, international law is not the same as domestic law. As far as the UK courts are concerned, the European Court of Justice is not sovereign. Parliament is.

International law cannot be enforced by any police force, only voluntarily obeyed. As Thomas Franck, an esteemed international lawyer, once said: “the surprising thing about international law is that nations ever obey its strictures or carry out its mandates.” ...  Continue reading

by Ralph Leonard
Wednesday, 16
September 2020

Why are we racialising Beethoven?

It is customary for aspiring progressives and radicals to ‘problematise’ works associated with Western ‘high culture’. You see this with campaigns to ‘decolonise the curriculum’ in universities or assertions that working-class kids won’t ‘get’ Shakespeare because the quaint nature of these works are exclusionary, unrelatable to their ‘lived experience’ as marginalised peoples, and expresses the worldview of white, bourgeois, heterosexual men  —  their oppressors.

Recently, Vox published a podcast as part of a mini-series by its affiliate music podcast, Switched on Pop, marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig Van Beethoven and attempting to meditate on his musical legacy. In the third episode, the hosts looked at his 5th Symphony and its legacy vis-à-vis the relationship between elitism, race and classical music. The synopsis made a big deal over how masterpieces have been used by rich white men as “a symbol of their superiority and importance”, followed by a strange sentence that reads: ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 16
September 2020
Seen Elsewhere

Why fusionism failed

Where does one begin with ‘The Rule of Six’? There are just so many absurdities to choose from.

But writing for The Post yesterday, Mary Harrington reaches past the peripheral nonsense and identifies the core contradiction:

Charitably, Johnson seems to be trying to square the circle of Thatcherite economic liberalism and today’s calls for greater social solidarity. He’s doing so by telling us we have a communitarian obligation to curb our private social activities, so we don’t have to curb our economic ones.
- Mary Harrington, UnHerd

This is a prime example of what Americans call ‘fusionism’ — i.e. the decades-old alliance between conservative political parties and the advocates of untrammelled capitalism.

For a guide to the rise and impending fall of fusionism, I’d recommend a new essay for Quillette by Grant Wyeth.

It should be said that pre-fusionist conservatism was not implacably opposed to personal freedom or private enterprise. Indeed, true conservatives tend to see these as desirable… in their place. However, as Wyeth explains, fusionism elbowed aside the instinct for balancing economic liberty against other considerations: ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Tuesday, 15
September 2020

Even tribal Tories are baffled by the Rule of Six

Is the economy more important than a child’s birthday party? From one perspective, the answer is of course ‘yes’. But the value judgement implicit in imposing severe restrictions on privately organised gatherings, while leaving schools, businesses and now even grouse shooting unaffected, is going to rebound badly on Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.

I admit to a personal beef here: I just had to cancel my daughter’s fourth birthday party because of the ‘rule of six’. But what’s making people angry is not a sense of arbitrariness but of a government that can’t see the value of anything that doesn’t contribute to the exchequer. ...  Continue reading

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