breaking news from the world of ideas

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

by Philip Cowley
Thursday, 20
January 2022
Off grid

What next after the Hong Kong Hamstercide?

Zero Covid countries are reaching for increasingly desperate policies

However badly today goes for you, at least you’re not a hamster in Hong Kong.

A handful of Covid cases were linked to a pet shop in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong island; all of the “small mammals” in that shop — and its store — are now off to the great hamster wheel in the sky. That alone put paid to around 900 hamsters, 150 rabbits, and 40 chinchillas. The English language version of the government’s press release contained a delightful typo, saying that the animals would be treated in a “humane manor”, which sounds more fun than what we all know really awaits them.

In addition, the import of hamsters has been banned and all other pet shops in Hong Kong are currently shut, until their pets have been tested. The government are contact tracing anyone who visited the Causeway Bay shop, while anyone who bought a hamster since late-December in any shop is being asked to bring it in for testing, followed, even if negative, by culling. It’s a bad way to lose a Christmas present. Anyone whose pet tests positive will be carted off to the government quarantine centre for three weeks, which must be quite an incentive for a bit of hamstercide on the sly. Local media is full of children tearfully saying farewell to their pets, while social media is packed with memes mocking the government. ...  Continue reading

by UnHerd News
Thursday, 20
January 2022

Picador cancels poet Kate Clanchy’s books

The author and her publisher have parted ways

Author Kate Clanchy and Pan Macmillan parted company this morning “by mutual consent”. The publisher will cease distribution of all her work, following criticism of Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me in 2021.

Clanchy has been a qualified practising teacher since the age of 22. Her writing includes three prize-winning collections of poetry, the Costa First Novel Prize-shortlisted Meeting the English, and the Orwell Prize-winning Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me. 

The books cancelled by Picador include England Poems from a School and How To Grow Your Own Poem. These poetry collections introduced more than 50 young poets from diverse backgrounds — migrant, refugee, neurodiverse, wheelchair users — to the reading public. Writers who emerged from this work include the prize-winning poets Amineh Abou Kerech and Mukahang Limbu. Clanchy’s teaching practice, which nurtured the England and Friends books was the subject of a documentary for BBC Radio 3. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Thursday, 20
January 2022

How to solve the cycle of decline? Print more babies!

Tech bros seem to believe that artificial wombs are better than the real thing

Have we reached Peak Everything? The great and the good are beginning to realise, nervously, that the illusion of never-ending growth can’t be sustained forever just by printing money. “Quantitative easing” has been deployed with staggering free-handedness since the Great Crash to ward off the unsettling prospect of the whole carousel crashing down. That accelerated again during the pandemic: City AM reported that one fifth of the entire world supply of US dollars was created in 2020 alone.

But a growing chorus of voices and economic papers now warns that a cycle of low fertility will drive not just faltering improvements in living standards but a vicious cycle of decline. In 2020, staggering global declines were reported in fertility rates, and these trends have worsened over the course of the pandemic...  Continue reading