breaking news from the world of ideas

by Giles Fraser
Tuesday, 26
May 2020

Netanyahu’s trial is a test of Israel’s democracy

With sitting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eventually in the dock facing what could be a year-long trial on charges of corruption and fraud, the justice system in Israel has once again shown itself to be a credit to its country: fiercely independent, neither bowing to threats from government, nor setting itself up as a mechanism for campaigning opposition.

For years, the charges against Netanyahu have been delayed from coming to court so that a trial would not interfere with the fair passage of elections. This may have been frustrating, but it allowed the democratic process to run its course. But neither have the courts been dissuaded in the face of considerable political pressure from doing their duty and bringing credible charges before the judge. ...  Continue reading

by David Quinn
Monday, 25
May 2020

Why do our church leaders worship at the altar of health and safety?

All over Europe public worship has returned, or soon will, albeit with strong social distancing and hygiene measures in place. But not in Britain or Ireland. In Britain places of worship will not be allowed to open their doors again, even for private prayer, until July 4. No date for the restoration of public worship has been announced yet.

In Ireland where I live, you can wander into a church and say a prayer but public religious services won’t be back until July 20, which is one of the latest dates in Europe, despite the fact that Ireland didn’t have a severe outbreak.

The worrying thing has been the lack of push-back by Church leaders on both islands. In Ireland, there hasn’t been a peep from the Catholic hierarchy. The contrast with their counterparts else in Europe has been extremely striking. ...  Continue reading

by Dan Jackson
Sunday, 24
May 2020

Where is the real Northumberland?

‘Let us always think of it; but never speak of it’, urged the French statesman Léon Gambetta after the Prussians annexed Alsace-Lorraine in 1870. A similar thought occurs to me whenever ‘Northumberland Day’ comes around, for this is a celebration of the shrunken county imposed on Northumbrians by Ted Heath and his cursed Local Government Act of 1972.

This Whitehall vandalism sliced off the most populous parts of the county’s industrial south east, creating ‘North Tyneside’ from the towns of Wallsend, Whitley Bay and North Shields and their pit village hinterlands. It also severed Newcastle upon Tyne itself – technically a county in its own right since 1400 — but also Northumberland’s historic seat of government (a role also played by other ‘counties corporate’, such as Southampton in Hampshire, and Chester in Cheshire). This saw the neo-classical grandeur of Northumberland County Hall – by the Norman ‘new castle’ that gave the city its name – abandoned for a dreary office block in Morpeth. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Friday, 22
May 2020

China’s amour propre has become its tragic flaw

China has signalled its intention to impose a new security law on Hong Kong, a move that pro-democracy activists claim would spell the end of ‘one country, two systems’.

Since it was returned to Chinese authority by the British government in 1997, the island has operated under this principle, enshrined in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. This permits far greater freedom of speech and assembly than in mainland China, as well as a promise (as yet unfulfilled) of democratic elections by universal suffrage. Last year’s wave of pro-democracy protests were campaigning for this goal, among other things. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Friday, 22
May 2020

Let’s put young Brits to work planting trees

The lockdown recession will have devastating effects on employment. And as Kathleen Henehan of the Resolution Foundation points out, the least advantaged young people will get the worst of it:

While recessions, such as the 2008 financial crisis, raised unemployment overall, and even more so for 18-29-year-olds… the worst effects were reserved for those who have only recently left full-time education. And among them, recent non-graduate leavers were hardest hit.
- Kathleen Henehan, The Resolution Foundation

Emergency measures like the furlough scheme will go some way to help existing workers, but they won’t do much for school leavers and graduates struggling to get their first jobs — or a replacement job after being made redundant.

An extended period of mass employment will have long-term scarring effects on those most directly impacted — setting them up for decades of economic disadvantage. To rescue a potentially lost generation, there’s a case for a state programme to provide the missing jobs directly. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Thursday, 21
May 2020

Banned by YouTube: Professor Karol Sikora discusses Covid-19

Note: this is the video that YouTube took down for “violating guidelines”. They rejected our appeal to have the video reinstated.

Judge for yourself if it is dangerous material…

We had a wide-ranging discussion, in which he said:

The virus is ‘getting tired’
– In the past two weeks, the virus is showing signs of petering out
– It’s as though the virus is ‘getting tired’
– It’s happening across the world at the same time

There is existing herd immunity
– The serology results around the world (and forthcoming in Britain) don’t necessarily reveal the percentage of people who have had the disease
– He estimates 25-30% of the UK population has had Covid-19, and higher in the group that is most susceptible
– Pockets of herd immunity help *already* explain the downturn
– Sweden’s end result will not be different to ours – lockdown versus no lockdown ...  Continue reading

by Tom Chivers
Thursday, 21
May 2020

How much difference would an earlier shutdown have made?

The Telegraph reports that if Britain had locked down one week earlier, 75% of British Covid-19 deaths would have been prevented. It’s attracted the attention of the BBC’s Jeremy Vine, and George Monbiot in The Guardian.

It’s based on a model by James Annan, a climate scientist, published on his blog, which was mentioned briefly by the BBC’s always fantastic More or Less programme on Tuesday.

I’m not here to debunk the model, exactly, and I would never dare contradict the More or Less team. I just wanted to flag a reason to be concerned with it.

The word ‘model’ can describe many things, from an all-singing, all-dancing climate model which simulates the action of the entire atmosphere and ocean system down to cubic-kilometre units, to a simple statistical curve which says ‘if X goes up by 1, Y will go up by 2’. The Annan model is very much at the latter end. ...  Continue reading

by UnHerd
Thursday, 21
May 2020
Seen Elsewhere

The Joe Rogan-Spotify deal is bad news for podcasting

This week Spotify announced a deal with one of the world’s most popular podcasters, Joe Rogan, for a reported fee of more than $100 million. In return, he will make his show The Joe Rogan Experience exclusive to Spotify and move his entire back catalogue onto the platform.

But while this deal has guaranteed Rogan a big pay day, it is, as Matt Stoller writes, a worrying sign for the future of independent podcasting.

In his weekly ‘BIG’ newsletter about the politics of monopolies, Stoller warns that the deal is part of a broader push for Spotify to monopolise the podcast market, which would limit competition and reduce the number of authentic voices in the podcasting world: ...  Continue reading