All posts filed under: Spotlight

I Run a Family-Owned Construction Firm. Here’s What COVID-19 Did to My World

When a crisis hits, sometimes just a day or two can feel like a lifetime for a small business owner. That’s how it felt for me when much of the Canadian economy went on lockdown in mid-March. My business is construction. It’s not something you can do over a Zoom videoconference or text chat. And the challenges I’m now facing are similar to those faced by other small, family-owned and -operated businesses everywhere. Even prior to the pandemic, my life was a hectic one. It wasn’t unusual for workdays to start at 6.30am, with me in the office laying out the work plan for the day with our foremen, and walking the tightrope we call cash flow. On any given day, I have at least two or three job estimates on my desk that need to be completed—plus accounting, payroll, project-management issues, client meetings, calls, and trips to jobsites to sort out the inevitable building and design issues. I also have to spend time chasing down the receivables. All of this was before COVID-19 hit. …

Denmark’s Weapons Against COVID-19: Early Action, High Trust—and a No-Nonsense Queen

It’s early spring in Denmark, a welcome relief after months of murky, rainy darkness. Even Copenhagen’s less-affluent districts are covered with carpets of blue wildflowers. It’s also the third week of the country’s coronavirus quarantine, in which Denmark became one of the first countries in Europe to shut its schools and send most public employees home. On March 14th, it was among the first to close its borders entirely. Other than going to work, shopping for non-essentials and dining out, the Danes are doing much of what they would otherwise be doing during spring’s chilly opening act. They are bicycling, sailing, taking nature walks, and gardening. Parents of three- and four-year-olds are teaching them how to ride a bicycle by sticking a broom through the seat support and guiding them along the sidewalks. And there is always plenty of spring housework—for everyone. (Danish men do more housework than any of their OECD counterparts.) This includes airing out the feather quilts after the long winter, filling up the window boxes with spring flowers, and embarking on …

Humanity’s Greatest Foe: Pandemics Through the Ages

A review of Plagues and Peoples by William McNeill, Anchor, 365 pages (1998) Readers seeking a longer historical perspective on the coronavirus pandemic would do well to consider William H. McNeill’s brilliant book, Plagues and Peoples. Originally published in 1976, Plagues and Peoples shows, in less than 300 pages (not including the appendix, notes and index), “how varying patterns of disease circulation have affected human affairs in ancient and modern times.” Not everyone, understandably, will wish to dwell upon the endless series of calamities infectious diseases have exacted in our collective past. The uncertain, terrifying ordeal immediately before us is quite enough. But along with well-informed worry, McNeill’s masterful account induces both awe and hope at our species’ capacity to endure the worst from its most ancient adversaries. To adapt words McNeill wrote in a slightly different context: The history of mankind’s long struggle against infectious diseases “will not solve contemporary dilemmas. It may, nonetheless, provide perspective and, as is the wont of historical awareness, make simple solutions and radical despair both seem less compelling. …

The Libertarian Case for Rejecting Meat Consumption

If George Orwell were alive today, he would troll vegetarians. In The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), Orwell described with exasperation how mere mention of the words “Socialism” or “Communism” seemed to attract “every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.” Orwell suggested that even this list did not include the flakiest leftists of all. And prominent among that group were those who ate no meat, a diet that Orwell associated with dreamy political projects such as the garden city movement, now forgotten, but which once sought to create urban areas ringed by greenbelts. “If only the sandals and pistachio-coloured shirts could be put in a pile and burnt, and every vegetarian, teetotaller and creeping Jesus sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly!” Orwell was one of history’s greatest political writers, but on the subject of vegetarianism, he never got past stereotype. Anyone who has regularly eaten a meatless lunch in public knows that the image of vegetarians and vegans as members of …

Create Dangerously: Albert Camus and the Power and Responsibility of the Artist

On December 14, 1957, only four days after he had delivered his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Albert Camus gave another speech in Sweden, this time at Uppsala University, called “Create Dangerously: The Power and Responsibility of the Artist,” in which he argued, “To create today means to create dangerously. Every publication is a deliberate act, and that act makes us vulnerable to the passions of a century that forgives nothing.” Exchange century for internet and you’ll know why Vintage has just rereleased this speech as its own pocket book in a new translation by Sandra Smith. These are dangerous times to create art. Which is also to say, these are the best times to create art. But what makes these times dangerous anyway? After all, Camus gave his speech only a decade after WWII when fascism had almost conquered Europe, and the Soviet Empire was just beginning its rule over half the continent that would last the next half a century. In today’s West, this idea of “danger” seems—to use one …

On Gender, Blurring the Line Between Dogma and Farce

Everyone has heard of Charlie Chaplin. Less widely recognized is the name of his older half-brother Sydney (often called Syd), who was a gifted comic actor in his own right. Unlike his younger brother, who invented his own kind of comedy, Syd relied on the established comic tropes of the day, which often were nothing more than feature-length versions of boys-school dress-up sketches. This included the 1925 version of Charley’s Aunt, in which Syd starred as an Oxford student who pretends to be a wealthy middle-aged widow as part of a hoax aimed at helping his friends Jack and Charley propose to their paramours Amy and Kitty. Predictably, this “aunt” attracts the romantic attentions of the villain, a penniless former grandee who seeks to plunder the aunt’s fortune. As this clip shows, the brilliance of Syd’s acting is expressed not by succeeding as a lady (as Nathan Lane did during portions of The Birdcage in 1996), but rather by failing in the nearly complete way that this kind of comic role requires: His feminine pretenses …

The Dangerous Dream of Dismantling Human Hierarchies

It is an idea that has always united radicals, from the sans-culottes of the French Revolution to current student activists at the University of Missouri: they have all detested the scourge of social hierarchy, the peculiar fact that some people rank higher than others and enjoy privileged access to some resources—be they power, esteem, attention or financial reward. It is, of course, not only radicals of past and present who shun hierarchies. Even in the more polite circles of newsrooms, sociology departments or centrist party academies, there is broad agreement that abolishing hierarchies has to be a moral imperative. Prestigious philosophers, like, say, Elizabeth Anderson, who can in no way be associated with the radical fringes, demand the dismantling of social hierarchies. In effect, the discourse of social justice is now largely synonymous with outlining what an abolition of status hierarchies would involve and if you ever wanted to make enemies and alienate people try to suggest at the next board meeting: “Well, let’s introduce a clear, steep hierarchy for a change!” Yet at the …

Why Has Kamala Harris’s Campaign Fizzled?

For Democrats, the current 2020 election cycle is perhaps the most important in modern history. For the party faithful, unseating Trump—a man Democrats consider to be the worst President in modern history—has become the overriding concern, even eclipsing the party’s lively policy debate. One rising star, and a politician many considered would give the President a run for his money, is the junior senator from California, Kamala Harris. Superficially, Harris looks like the party’s dream candidate. She is a woman—an asset to a party animated by gender politics, concerns about diversity and still reeling from the #MeToo movement. She is also an ethnic minority (her mother is Indian, her father is Jamaican), another box ticked for a party which draws considerable support from non-whites. Her former life as a prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney and California state attorney would be a dangerous match-up for the unscrupulous Trump, who has spent more time than most avoiding a court room. Having been a senator since 2016, she is already a national political figure. She has also proved …

Knitting’s Infinity War, Part III: Showdown at Yarningham

This is my third report for Quillette on the shockingly vicious social-media wars that have erupted in the world of knitting. My first, written in February, described how knitters’ blogs and Instagram accounts have become weaponized over the issue of racial representation after a knitting designer gushed publicly about her forthcoming trip to India. I concluded with the hope that “the world of knitting can return to a focus on designs, colors, and the value of something that’s unique and handmade, rather than the nationality or race of whoever made it.” This proved to be extremely naïve. In my second article on the subject, published last month, I described how this subcultural farce had descended into a full-blown tragicomedic soap opera, with knitters seeking to destroy one another’s livelihoods because of arguments about whether certain yarn colors might be racist, or whether yarn-related publications profile enough black women. I was surprised that such an esoteric subject would stir up so much reader interest. (My editors tell me that both articles went viral.) And I honestly …

Post-Liberal Politics—Left, Right, and Center

Say the words “post-liberal,” and you are bound to get a host of responses. Some may mention post-liberal theology, others may reference post-liberal peace-building, and many will discuss the prospect of organizing a genuinely post-liberal politics. Isolating a precise definition of post-liberal politics is difficult. Post-liberalism is a vague term that only denotes politics after liberalism—and after the “End of History“—without specifying what the content of this politics will be or clarifying how far this post-liberal withdrawal from liberal principles will go. According to the political philosopher John Gray, these liberal principles assume that humans on a universal basis are individualistic creatures that are destined to experience progress along meliorist lines and create better, more egalitarian societies that value the equal worth of each person. As writers and thinkers from across the political spectrum start to look beyond these axioms, a number of commentators have attempted to identify and explain the core tenets of an emerging post-liberal politics. This new brand of post-liberal politics can be divided into three strands—one on the Left, one on the Right, and one in the Center—which are …