breaking news from the world of ideas

by Ella Whelan
Wednesday, 11
September 2019

Sorry Diane, you have to put up with Alan Sugar

I was disappointed to see my MP, Labour’s Diane Abbott, claiming to have reported Alan Sugar to the Twitter bosses for being repeatedly nasty about her online. This has always struck me as the adult equivalent of telling on someone — the aim is to silence the person once and for all by having them reprimanded or removed from Twitter altogether.

Diane Abbott in July (Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images)

As victims of online abuse go, Diane Abbott is probably the world-record holder. She gets an inordinate amount of disgusting racist and sexist abuse. It’s also true that Lord Sugar seems to have a rather pathetic obsession with the Labour MP, posting stupid poems about her shacking up with Corbyn and cracking jokes about her mathematical abilities.  ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Tuesday, 10
September 2019

Jonathan Franzen’s lesson for the end of the world

I have a friend who works on a chicken farm kibbutz at Megiddo in the Galilee. The Greek word for Megiddo is Armageddon. According to the book of Revelation, this is where the end of the world will begin, the final battle. My friend is used to excitable people making their grizzly pilgrimage up the hill hoping to witness the beginning of the end. She watches it all with a wry humour, just getting about the more prosaic business of clearing up chicken shit.  

The ‘end of the world’ used to be an esoteric footnote within Judaeo-Christian theology. But no longer. Its new name is climate catastrophe. And, increasingly, mainstream voices are speaking of this not as something to be averted, but as something that is a done deal;  we have already passed the point of no return and the end times are unavoidable. The latest of these is Jonathan Franzen writing in the New Yorker. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 10
September 2019

The nation’s twitchers are rising up

For a moment, let’s imagine a fantastical scenario in which a controversy other than Brexit becomes a big thing in British politics.

If I were the minister responsible, I’d look nervously to Minsmere on the Suffolk coast. Widely regarded as the most important wildlife reserve in the country, it’s also right next door to Sizewell B nuclear power station.

The mismatched neighbours rub along. But according to David Rose of the Mail, the proposal to build two new reactors (i.e. Sizewell C) threatens major disruption:

“Locals say years of discussions between the firm, environmentalists and local residents had been positive until EDF this year scrapped its plan to build a special half-mile-long jetty so most of the millions of tons of materials needed to build the power plants could be delivered by sea. ...  Continue reading

by Paul Embery
Tuesday, 10
September 2019

Where are our unions when we need them most?

If this week’s TUC Annual Congress has so far passed you by, you aren’t alone. It probably hasn’t registered with most of Britain’s six million trade union members either.

There was a time when the annual gathering of Britain’s trade unions was seen as a key event in the political calendar. Labour correspondents (remember them?) would devote vast column inches to the goings-on inside the conference hall.

Leaders like Jack Jones were known in every household

Images of gnarled old union bruisers holding forth at the rostrum would be beamed live into the nation’s living rooms via the BBC. Leaders of the movement would be sent up by Mike Yarwood on prime time TV. The names Jack Jones and Hugh Scanlon – the ‘terrible twins’ – were known in every household. ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Monday, 9
September 2019

Extreme? On all issues but one, the Tories have never been softer.

There’s an old joke in which a man laments how all the achievements of his life are overshadowed by a single act of gross sexual perversion, for which he is forever known. “Do they call me MacGregor the bridge-builder? No!”

The moral of the story is that, however much you achieve, you will always be remembered for your most extreme and eye-catching behaviour.

According to a poll in yesterday’s Sunday Times, the two main political parties in Britain are now regarded as “extreme” by half the population. Some 46% of voters said they felt that way about the Tories and 52% about Labour.

“Extreme” is in the eye of the beholder, but the general understanding of the term is of dangerous political ideas that lie beyond normal parameters. We regard as extreme those things we hate, and so the population viewing mainstream political opponents as “extreme” could just be a symptom of growing partisan hostility, as in the States, where 27% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans believe their rivals “so misguided that they threatened the wellbeing of the nation”. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Monday, 9
September 2019

What has the EU ever done for us?

REG: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

XERXES: Brought peace.

REG: Oh. Peace? Shut up!

So … what have the EU ever done for us? Remainers like to pose this question (google it, they really do) because it is supposed to remind us of that famous scene from Life of Brian. And, as with that scene, they imagine a long list of basic things that we have taken for granted and which we really ought to be grateful for.

Monty Python, ‘The Life of Brian’ (1979)

But a new book coming out later this month tells a different story. And it turns out that Reg may have been right all along. The best thing the Roman empire ever did for us was to collapse. For without the fall of Rome, European culture would not have flourished. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Saturday, 7
September 2019

Yale’s real problem is not free speech

If you’re tired of culture war takes on student ‘wokeness’, this lucid piece by Natalia Dashan in Palladium may even give you some measure of compassion for the lost children of America’s super-elite.

A class-inflected personal account of the author’s experience at Yale, the piece argues that the Great Awokening is less a free speech issue than a byproduct of a loss of moral purpose in America’s upper class. Her view is that America’s young elite has so far lost the desire to rule that for the most part it now prefers to give away its power, either via careers that effectively render them middle class, or else throwing themselves into ‘social justice’ activities whose purpose is less social justice than social bonding, or what she calls ‘coordination by ideology’. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Friday, 6
September 2019

Would you clone your dead cat?

Mr Yu’s cat died of a urinary tract infection. The cat’s name was Garlic. Mr Yu buried him in the park. A few hours later he dug him up and put it in the fridge. He had remembered something about a new company that had started to clone pets.

A man came over from Bejing and took skin samples. $35,000, and seven months later, Mr Yu is now the proud owner of his new version of Garlic – according to the press, China’s first cloned cat. Garlic mark 2 was born in the lab using a surrogate mother. It has been called “a feline version of The Handmaid’s Tale”.

China’s first cloned kitten, Garlic.

China is the wild west when it comes to cloning, with no regulations applying to cloning animals. So far the company called Sinogene has cloned more than 40 dogs, at a cost of about $53,000 each. “There is market demand,” says the man from Sinogene, “so where is the problem?” ...  Continue reading