breaking news from the world of ideas

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 20
May 2020
Idea
10:20

Sobriety tags? Great, let’s put them on politicians

New legislation has just come into force authorising the use of sobriety tags. These are ankle-attached monitoring devices that can detect evidence of alcohol consumption in the sweat of any person wearing one.

They will be used in England and Wales to help enforce alcohol abstinence orders on convicted offenders.

Critics will say that this is a cheap sticking-plaster solution — one that fails to address the underlying causes of crime. But for a lot of crime, alcohol is the underlying cause. If removing it from the equation prevents re-offending then that’s half the battle won (or all of it, from the victim’s point of view). ...  Continue reading

by UnHerd
Wednesday, 20
May 2020
Seen Elsewhere
07:00

UnHerd and the UK new media landscape

Don’t miss The i newspaper’s piece about new media coverage of coronavirus coverage this week. Pointing to the record traffic news websites are seeing since lockdown, Ian Burrell singled out UnHerd for its willingness to “challenge simplistic headlines with nuance and context”:

- Ian Burrell, The I
This pandemic offers us time to be more discriminating in the news sources we turn to and to be less hurried in our consumption of information. UnHerd is a case in point.

UnHerd pieces can run to 2,000 words. A piece by Freddie Sayers on Sweden’s approach to quarantine hedged its bets under the headline “Jury still out on Swedish coronavirus strategy” but still attracted high traffic. Sayers presents Lockdown TV, UnHerd’s YouTube channel, which had 2.2 million views in the past month for lengthy videos including a 36-minute interview with epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, before his recent resignation. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 19
May 2020
Explainer
10:16

Will Covid mark the end of national sovereignty in Europe?

Can the European Union save itself? Yesterday, the FT published a chart that sums up the whole existential crisis. It shows all state aid approved by the EU during the Covid pandemic. Remarkably, just one country accounts for half of it: Germany.

Despite its comparatively light exposure to the virus, the strongest economy in the Union is getting the most help.

Most of this is self-funded, but there are obvious consequences for European solidarity. What makes the situation all the more intolerable is that the constraints of Eurozone membership prevent the weaker economies from helping themselves. There are limits on what they can borrow; they can’t make their own decisions on monetary measures like quantitative easing; and they can’t export their way to recovery through currency devaluation. Even the safety valve of sending their unemployed to find jobs elsewhere in Europe is subject to the effects and after-effects of lockdown. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Tuesday, 19
May 2020
Spotted
07:00

Does blank slateism make us more intolerant?

It turns out that if you believe people freely choose their political viewpoints, it makes partisan polarisation worse. At least that’s the implication of a new research paper from Boise State University social scientist Alexander Severson.

Recent research in political science is suggesting that to a significant extent, our political worldview is less freely chosen than we think. Rather, there are strong correlations between differences of brain structure and of political outlook, while a conservative outlook is also correlated with generally higher disgust sensitivity (the ‘yuck reaction’). ...  Continue reading

by Aris Roussinos
Monday, 18
May 2020
Reaction
11:53

Once again, Macron looks to de Gaulle

While Emmanuel Macron is no stranger to pomp and symbolism aimed at enhancing the dignity of his office, his appearance yesterday at a ceremony in the small Picardie village of Clermont-les-Fermes, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the battle of Montcornet, has infuriated the country’s Gaullist Right.

The 1940 battle, one of the country’s few, brief successes in the Battle of France, saw then-colonel de Gaulle temporarily halt the German Blitzkrieg by deploying French heavy tanks in accordance with his own far-thinking ideas of armoured warfare. As a consequence of his battlefield success, de Gaulle was immediately promoted to Brigadier General, the rank he wore for the rest of his history-shaping career. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Monday, 18
May 2020
Idea
07:00

Apocalyptos miss the heart of the Christian story

When Californian Bradley Garrett started doing the research for “Bunker: Preparing for the End Times” — due out this August — he could hardly have imagined how prescient it would be. What was researched as a niche subcultural activity of a few strange evangelical Christians and others, locking themselves away underground, preparing for the end of the world, has become more pervasive than anyone ever thought possible.

So how fascinating to be offered a glimpse into the lives of those who take lock-down to the extreme — those who make their homes in disused nuclear weapon silos, hundreds of feet underground; those ‘preppers’ preparing for the collapse of civilisation, hoarding guns and larders of tinned food. In Kansas you can buy the whole floor of a Survival Condo for $3 million, which offers five years of self-sufficiency underground, for when the end times begin. All this is quite a few stages past wearing a flimsy face-mask as you tentatively make your way over to Tesco to stock-pile your monthly bog-roll. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Saturday, 16
May 2020
Weekend read
07:00

Who was the real Oliver Cromwell?

If you’re after a long read to savour over Saturday coffee, I heartily recommend Ferdinand Mount’s luxuriant LRB review of Providence Lost, Paul Lay’s new history of the Protectorate. Its opening scenes set modern laments about political civility firmly into context: Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament, flinging insults at MPs — ‘drunkard’, ‘whoremaster’ — booting out the speaker, then flinging the mace into his quarters as a ‘bauble’.

Cromwell comes across as déclassé, foul-mouthed and full of resentment, wholly certain of his divine mission and indifferent to law or precedent. As Protector, he threw anyone who opposed him into the Tower, and is reported to have dismissed the authority of Magna Carta as ‘Magna Farta’: ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Friday, 15
May 2020
Idea
15:35

The post Covid blocs are beginning to emerge

We are beginning to see what a medium-term Covid world might look like. The ‘suppression’ strategy is winning out across the western and Asian world — country after country is opting to keep the virus completely at bay indefinitely, or until a vaccine.

The other side of this, of course, is that once you have almost no virus you have to shut your borders to preserve the purity of your virus-free kingdom: New Zealand is now completely closed to visitors; Hong Kong tests everyone on arrival.

One step further on from this will be pacts between neighbouring countries that share a common approach and similar levels of infection. In what has caused some understandable unease at a EU level, the young Chancellor of Austria has proposed a ‘travel corridor’ between Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic, that could even stretch as far as Greece, allowing the uninfected peoples of those countries to access the Mediterranean without fear of contamination. Are antibody-carrying persons with immunity passports going to be allowed into these special zones, I wonder? Britain is in discussions with France about a travel pact; the Baltic states have already agreed one...  Continue reading