breaking news from the world of ideas

by Manfred Manera
Saturday, 22
January 2022
Off grid

Canova’s Theseus get masked up in Vienna

Austria's number one museum has fallen victim to hygiene theatre

Full vaccination mandates exist in only a few countries around the world, including Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, but soon they will come into effect in Austria, the first European country to require all of its citizens to be vaccinated.

In my country one cannot even buy a pair of shoes or enter a cafe without showing a vaccination certificate and a passport. In fact, the focus on Covid here is so all-encompassing that even great pieces of art are now involved. In the famous Kunsthistorisches Museum, I came upon a Canova masterpiece, Theseus and the Centaur, with the former’s face covered by a black and pink mask. ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Friday, 21
January 2022

What’s going on in Quebec?

The French Canadian province has gone in an increasingly authoritarian direction

Never fully in but never fully out, Quebec has always had an awkward status in Canada. Fiercely protective of its French identity, it has long flirted with separating from its anglophone motherland  but, a bit like Scotland, the support was never quite there. Also like Scotland, it has, throughout the pandemic, tried to flex its (limited) autonomy over health policy by consistently pushing for more restrictions than the national government.

The announcement of a ‘health tax’ in Quebec for the unvaccinated (at least C$100), followed by a decree that only vaccinated Quebecois could access the province’s liquor and cannabis stores, has drawn this point into sharper focus. These measures are just the latest examples of an increasingly authoritarian attitude towards Covid, but they are not the most severe; at the height of the pandemic in 2020, the Premier Francois Legault passed Bill 61, a highly controversial piece of legislation that sheltered the Government from oversight and limited parliamentary discussion on new projects to just one hour.  ...  Continue reading

by Kristina Murkett
Friday, 21
January 2022

Anxiety: the hidden cause behind school absences

Lockdown has had a detrimental impact on students' mental wellbeing

The Children’s Commissioner for England this week announced an inquiry into the 100,000 ‘lost children of lockdown’ who are still not attending school. According to Dame Rachel de Souza, around 95% of children are normally in school at this time of year, but now the figure is currently around 87%. While some absences will inevitably be down to illness and Covid, too many children have simply failed to return since classrooms were closed.

We cannot underestimate how important this inquiry is from a safeguarding perspective. We have seen from tragedies such as the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes how vital it is that children are in school so that teachers and other adults can flag signs of neglect and abuse. The chaos of lockdowns has made it all too easy for vulnerable children to slip through the net, and many of these ‘missing’ children will still be trapped in dangerous home environments, gangs and other criminal activity. ...  Continue reading

by Henry Oliver
Friday, 21
January 2022

Could Ukraine be today’s Schleswig-Holstein?

Dominic Cummings has compared today's involvement to the 1864 Prussian invasion

Dominic Cummings has compared the situation in Ukraine to the Prussian invasion of Schleswig-Holstein in 1864: “hope some in Ukraine have also read re London encouraging a small country to resist vs a Great Power, then abandoning…”. In that case, Britain promised to defend Schleswig-Holstein, failed to do so, and let Prussia invade. The West’s rhetoric of support today may turn out to be just as reliable.

Britain was the great power in the 1860s. The richest, strongest country in the world. In a matter of months, their position eroded from strong liberal internationalism — promising to defend Schleswig-Holstein against German invasion — to pacifism in the face of aggression. Historian John Prest calls it “one of the most significant failures of British foreign policy during the nineteenth century.” ...  Continue reading

by Oliver Bateman
Friday, 21
January 2022

Vaccination is the new dividing line in Republican politics

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis are now on opposite ends of the fight

Although the 2024 presidential election remains two years away, the Republican Party’s moderate position on Covid-19 management has coalesced. Glenn Youngkin, Virginia’s new Republican governor, distilled the policy in a series of recent initiatives: vaccinated and boosted himself, he extolled the virtues of vaccines and boosters while simultaneously rescinding a mask mandate for his state’s public schools and a vaccine mandate its public employees.

Perhaps more surprisingly, this line has been echoed by former president Donald Trump, who has received a booster after initially expressing scepticism about them. He regularly touts the development of the vaccines as a significant policy achievement of his administration. This puts Trump at odds with many members of his own base and even longtime supporter Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis has played it coy with regard to whether he intends to receive or has received a booster for his single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, stating only that he had “done whatever I did, the normal shot.” Trump, perhaps sensing the shifting of the political winds, fired back at his erstwhile ally, claiming that failing to disclose one’s booster status was “gutless.” ...  Continue reading

by John Lichfield
Friday, 21
January 2022

France’s answer to Partygate: honeymooning in Ibiza

Macron's education minister changed the rules while on a holiday break

For an education minister to announce new rules for testing for pupils for Covid a few hours before the start of term may be an error. To do so from a luxury hotel in Ibiza while on honeymoon starts to look like carelessness.

Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French education minister, has admitted his faux pas. The choice of the upmarket Spanish island resort for his short honeymoon break during a towering Omicron wave of Covid-19, was “symbolically” wrong, he said.

Only symbolically, though. He insisted that his convoluted choices for the multiple testing of pupils — already amended twice since his Ibiza Declaration on 2 January — were correct (at the time). ...  Continue reading

by Toby Green
Thursday, 20
January 2022

The world’s poorest countries are facing an unprecedented debt crisis

The pandemic has caused a collapse in tourist and service industry revenue

The World Bank reported this week on the looming debt crisis for Low-Income Countries (LICs). LICs face a $10.9 billion increase in debt repayments, following the economic crisis that has accompanied the Covid-19 pandemic. The report stated that LICs must repay an estimated $35bn to official bilateral and private-sector lenders during 2022, a 45% increase from 2020.

The debt crisis has long been predicted. The collapse in tourism and revenues from the service sector caused by the pandemic hit poor countries more than most. Stalked by the fear of downgrades in their credit-ratings and higher borrowing costs, many LICs were reluctant to adopt the Covid loans offered by multilateral lending institutions. Debt suspension initiatives sought to postpone about $20bn owed by 73 countries to bilateral lenders between May and December 2020. Yet in the end, just 42 countries received relief totalling $12.7bn. ...  Continue reading

by Michael Mosbacher
Thursday, 20
January 2022

In defence of the Vagrancy Act of 1824

Its continued existence sends a message about certain forms of behaviour

In an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the House of Lords this week voted in favour of repealing the Vagrancy Act in its entirety, defeating the Government in the process. The Act is a rather unusual piece of legislation to still find on the statute books, not least because it dates back to 1824. Its language is undoubtedly antiquated. The Act calls beggars “idle and disorderly” persons; those repeatedly convicted of begging “shall be deemed a rogue and a vagabond”. It has nasty things to say about those “endeavouring by exposure of wounds and deformities to gain or obtain alms” and those “lodging in any barn or outhouse….or in any cart or waggon”.   ...  Continue reading

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