breaking news from the world of ideas

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 James Billot
Tuesday, 11
January 2022

The roots of Novak Djokovic’s vaccine hesitancy

The athlete's worldview was built from a lifetime of politics and faith

Countless media articles in recent days have attempted to portray Novak Djokovic as a bone-headed anti-vaxxer or a whimsical voodoo nutritionist. But the complex pyramid of beliefs that he espouses is deeply held and began long before the Covid era.

It is well known that the young Djokovic narrowly avoided NATO bombs falling out of the sky during the Kosovan war, but perhaps more salient is how his response to the lingering communist mindset in Yugoslavia shaped his attitude towards authority. As he writes in his nutrition guide-cum-memoir, Serve to Win, in communist Yugoslavia there was “ only one way of doing things”: ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Monday, 27
December 2021

Adam McKay: another satirist lost to activism

His latest film's agenda is painfully obvious

Adam McKay used to be one of America’s finest satirists. He won several Oscar nominations for his darkly comic The Big Short about the 2008 Great Recession and excoriating portrayal of Dick Cheney in Vice, which were both powerful critiques of how ordinary Americans can suffer from elite crises.

The shift has become all too familiar, but his latest film Don’t Look Up (a heavy-handed attempt at raising awareness about climate change) goes long on activism and short on satire. The film’s laundry-list of targets is reduced to half-baked caricatures that are all too rarely relieved by moments of genuine humour.  ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Wednesday, 22
December 2021

Kyle Rittenhouse: the latest Right-wing celebrity

The acquitted shooter joins a long line of accidental political pin-ups

“Do you like [girls] curvy or thick?”

This is not a question typically asked of someone who recently shot and killed two people with an AR-15. Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted on all charges, but his life after Kenosha has taken a rather bizarre, if depressingly predictable, turn (his answer, by the way, was ‘thick’). 

Instead, of “laying low” as Rittenhouse suggested he would do, the 18-year-old has been working the Right-wing podcast circuit hard, answering questions about his virginity (or lack thereof) and telling Lebron James to “fuck off”. This week, he entered the Wrestle-mania phase of his celebrity as he arrived at a young conservatives conference to personalised theme music and hundreds cheering his name. Welcome to America in 2021. ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Thursday, 18
November 2021

Green shoots of common sense at the New York Times

Is the Gray Lady aiming to produce more balanced content?

To understand the mindset of liberals in America, it is always worth reading The New York Times. As traditional liberalism gave way to its more identity-centred successor, there followed a discernible shift in the language, editorial direction and content of the paper. 

But the NYT’s drift towards ‘wokeness’ seems to be slowing down in recent months. In fact, green shoots of common sense are starting to emerge, such as the hiring of John McWhorter, a heterodox thinker who in his newsletter has criticised various liberal shibboleths like critical race theory, identity politics and systemic racism. Other well-known columnists have been taking more liberal-sceptical positions too. Michelle Goldberg, for instance, is one of the most reliably progressive columnists in the blue media ecosystem. Yet even she — especially over the last couple of months — has published pieces in favour of free speech, criticising sex-positive feminism and, just this week, lambasting the ‘absurd side of the social justice industry’.  ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Monday, 25
October 2021

Barack Obama gives up on a united America

The former president has given up any pretence of a post-partisan USA

There was once a time when Barack Obama dreamt of leading a post-racial, post-partisan America. Back in 2004, the then Senate candidate famously declared: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is a United States of America.” This was no doubt a sincerely held belief, and one that he ran with during his presidential run three years later: “I don’t want to pit red America against blue America. I want to be the president of the United States of America.”

Then, reality intervened. Obama left office as the most polarising president in history (before the arrival of you-know-who), with virtually all of his major achievements coming from party-line votes or executive actions. By his own admission, he failed: “There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide.” ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Monday, 18
October 2021

Anger and resignation at Green Pass protests in Italy

Protestors at this weekend's demonstrations in Milan had little hope

Milan, Italy.

“Giu le mani dai bambini” (“Keep your hands off the children”)

“Educare alla libertà” (“Educate for freedom”)

“Studianti e operai nella lotta contro il green pass” (“Students and workers in the fight against the green pass”)

These were some of the slogans on display at this weekend’s anti-green pass protests in Milan, Italy. Protests were nationwide, but here at the Arco della Pace an unusual cross-section of students, blue collar workers and parents had marched through the gates of the Castello Sforzesco to make one last stand against the green passes.

As speakers expressed solidarity with striking port workers in the cities of Trieste, Genoa and Ancona, flags of European countries were placed in the middle of the square to illustrate that this movement was international. Speeches were fiery, short and energising, focusing on the arbitrary expansion of government power, infringement on workers’ rights and fears over what kind of precedent the green pass was setting for their children.  ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Wednesday, 15
September 2021

Norm Macdonald: the only comedian to survive Trump

He managed to outlive the great death of comedy of the post-2016 era

Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was not a victory for comedy. Almost overnight, late night-talk show hosts became political pundits; stand-up comics metamorphosed into preachers; and once-hilarious film stars turned into the goons they were supposed to be mocking. With one exception, the worst thing to come out of it was a genre of Resistance comedy, in which Twitter stars lip-synced the president on Twitter to online adulation. 

By 2017, even the almost irreverent South Park creators admitted they were struggling:

If you have like a little monkey and it’s running himself into the wall over and over and you’re like, ‘That’s funny, but how am I gonna make fun of the monkey running himself into the wall?’ I can discuss the monkey running himself into the wall, I can copy the monkey running into the wall, but nothing’s funnier than the monkey just running himself into the wall.
- Matt Stone and Trey Parker

Another comedian agreed. “Trump is doing self-parody. Nothing looks dumber than parodying self-parody”.  ...  Continue reading

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