breaking news from the world of ideas

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 19
October 2020
Spotted
10:00

The West won’t defend Taiwan from China

The People’s Republic of China has escalated its military preparations for the invasion of Taiwan, according to the pro-Beijing South China Morning Post. Advanced hypersonic missiles have been deployed to military bases facing the breakaway island across the South China Sea, while satellite images show Marine Corps and Rocket Force military bases in Fujian and Guangdong steadily expanding over recent years.

Taiwan, an island in the South China Sea about 100 miles from China, has long been the subject of sovereignty disputes, with stints governed by imperial China, imperial Japan and even (for a short time in the 17th century) Netherlands. It’s been governed separately from China since 1949, when then-leader Chiang Kai-Shek retreated to the island after losing the civil war with the communists on the mainland. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 12
October 2020
Spotted
11:39

Rebels against the marriage ‘market’

Does algorithmic matchmaking actually reduce your chance of getting married? Outbreaks of human-powered relationship broking among the Very Online suggest that some have their suspicions.

Over the weekend, renegade academic Justin Murphy posted a long tweet thread in praise of marriage that garnered so much attention he’s offered to act as marriage broker for any of his friends who’d like his help. Murphy reports that he’s been overwhelmed with requests. And over the same weekend Tyler Alterman, a theorist of the ‘metatribe’, offered to do the same thing: matchmaking, a proposal that has also apparently been wildly popular. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 5
October 2020
Reaction
13:50

Pope Francis upsets both sides of the culture war

Pope Francis released his latest encyclical, ‘Fratelli Tutti’, on Saturday. The document, written under the cloud of Covid-19, sets itself firmly against the world’s prevailing logic of markets and individualism.

Francis decries the ‘disregard for the common good’ that is ‘exploited by the global economy to impose a single cultural model’, as well as the replacement of community with ‘digital communication’, which works ‘to disguise and expand the very individualism that finds expression in xenophobia and in contempt for the vulnerable.’

There’s something in Fratelli Tutti to annoy both sides in the culture war. The modern Left will find much to appreciate, such as the call for environmental stewardship, compassion for migrants and more just distribution of the world’s resources. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 28
September 2020
Spotted
14:55

Water shortages? You can bet on it

Endemic water shortages might seem like a dystopian nightmare, but the reality is fast approaching. The financial services industry, always alert to trends that can be translated into price rises or falls, now believes water scarcity is enough of a future certainty to want to make money from it. CME Group and Nasdaq have announced plans to launch a water futures product based on the Nasdaq Veles California Water Index, which tracks the cost of buying water in the state of California.

A futures contract is an agreement to buy or sell something in the real world at a fixed price. If you believe the price of a given commodity is going to fluctuate, it may make sense to take out a contract ahead of time that fixes the price of that commodity. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 21
September 2020
Reaction
11:31

Don’t treat children like consumer goods

This desperately sad short film published by Radio Free Europe looks at the case of Brigid, a girl born via commercial surrogacy in Ukraine. Brigid was born with disabilities, rejected by her US-based commissioning ‘mother’ and subsequently also by the woman who birthed her.

Though paid surrogacy is regarded as shameful in Ukraine, it pays well: women can earn around £14,000 for carrying a baby, a significant sum in a country where average monthly wages are around £320. The feminist Julie Bindel has written extensively about the grim reality of exploited women that lurks beneath the shiny image projected by surrogacy brokers, of loving would-be parents and altruistic gestational mothers. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Tuesday, 15
September 2020
Reaction
15:00

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

by Mary Harrington
Wednesday, 9
September 2020
Reaction
08:58

Yes, women are suffering during Covid-19 — but it’s men who are dying…

It’s becoming a cliché that coronavirus has disproportionately impacted women and girls, as recently stated by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a recent ‘Town hall’ address to women from civil society organisations.

Women make up the bulk of healthcare workers, meaning they have been on the front line of the Covid response, he said. Meanwhile, ‘unpaid care work’ has also found its way mainly back onto female to-do lists. That is, coronavirus abruptly cancelled the second-wave feminist compromise, which facilitated women’s entry into the workplace by displacing the traditional ‘women’s work’ of caring for dependent children less onto fathers than third-party providers. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Monday, 7
September 2020
Idea
09:43

On euthanasia, old Conservatives are the new radicals

Back in December the talk was all of how the new Red Wall Tory intake would pull the Conservative Party Right on cultural issues. But despite the apparent rout of Cameroon-style ‘double liberalism’, the political worldview that brought us a decade of austerity sweetened with platitudes about social freedom is proving resilient.

Two new salvos have been fired in the Tory double-liberal insurgency. The first of these comes from Tories freshly-elected in the 2019 landslide, some in Red Wall constituencies, a group of whom have called for a revival of Theresa May’s proposals for ‘gender self-identification’, abandoned by Johnson following a divisive public debate. The second comes from ERG member and Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski, who tweeted last week about ‘productive discussions’ with a colleague on moves to legalise ‘assisted dying’. ...  Continue reading

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