All posts filed under: Top Stories

Pandemics and Pandemonium

Minneapolis and urban centers across America are burning, most directly in response to the brutal killing of a black man by a white Minnesota police officer. But the rage ignited by the death of George Floyd is symptomatic of a profound sense of alienation that has been building for years among millions of poor, working class urbanites. The already diminished prospects facing such people have only been worsened by the unforeseen onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and the policies devised to combat it. Like earlier pandemics, the virus has devastated poorer communities, where people live in the most crowded housing, are forced to travel on public transport, and work in the most exposed “essential” jobs, most of which are badly paid. Unlike the affluent of Gotham, some 30 percent of whom were able to leave town and work remotely, the working class remained, forced to endure crowded conditions as the disease raged through the city. No surprise then that inhabitants of the impoverished Bronx have suffered nearly twice as many deaths from COVID-19 as those …

A Rainy Day in New York—A Review

In spite of a fresh round of uninformed press attacks, celebrity denouncements, and calumnies catalysed by the #MeToo movement, Woody Allen has remained an irrepressible creative force. Amid the kind of controversy that might have destroyed any other artist’s sanity, he somehow managed to produce a memoir and two new films. Getting his work in front of an audience, however, has proved to be more difficult. The long-discredited allegation that Allen molested his adopted daughter Dylan when she was seven was most recently revived by Allen’s former partner Mia Farrow and their son Ronan during the 2014 Golden Globe ceremony at which Allen was being honored. Ronan Farrow is now an investigative journalist whose star rose rapidly during the #MeToo era as a result of his Pulitzer Prize-winning articles for the New Yorker about Harvey Weinstein, and he has not hesitated to use his newfound celebrity and moral authority to pursue a vendetta against his estranged father. It was he who led the public condemnations of Hachette in March for agreeing to publish Allen’s book, …

America’s Black Communities Are Suffering. Violent Protests Will Make the Suffering Worse

Protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin—an act that prosecutors describe as murder—have devolved into violence. Numerous small businesses have been destroyed, and at least one elderly shopper at a Target store was assaulted. A man has been shot dead. This pattern of events is familiar because it has repeated itself numerous times over American history following acts of police brutality, especially in cases where, as with Floyd, the victim was black. First, large numbers of people protest peacefully, drawing attention to their cause and attracting national sympathy. Then, a smaller group turns violent, causing destruction in the community and sometimes harming innocent people. That smaller group sometimes includes people who exploit the chaos for their own ends. During the Baltimore riots of 2015, for instance, the looting of pharmacies led to opioids and other drugs flooding the market, likely feeding drug dependency, enriching gangs, and fueling more crime. In the 1960s, thousands of Americans took part in non-violent protests in opposition to segregation. Their …

Fighting COVID-19: Australia’s (Largely Untold) Success Story

On Friday, May 15th, pubs around Sydney re-opened after being closed for two months, a development that caused one delighted Sydneysider to observe: “Clinking that first glass… felt like I’d sloughed off a thousand years of sadness.” In fact, it had been roughly two months—a period during which 24 million Australians, myself included, observed a lockdown on all non-essential services. There are still many restrictions in place. And it will be months, if not years, before all aspects of society return to business as usual. But overall, the easing of restrictions has come faster than many Australians expected, in large part because the lockdown policies worked. The country has witnessed only about 7,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 103 deaths. Daily new cases spiked in late March in the low 400s, but then plummeted rapidly, and now are typically within single digits. It was once believed that, absent a vaccine, long-term herd immunity might be the only way to stop this pandemic. But examples such as Australia show that many countries may be able to …

Moving Away from Meat Means Welcoming the New ‘Flexitarians’

Author and animal-rights activist Jonathan Safran Foer recently argued in a New York Times essay that the COVID-19 pandemic represents a turning point in society’s attitude to eating meat. “Animal agriculture is now recognized as a leading cause of global warming,” writes Foer. “A quarter of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 say they are vegetarians or vegans, which is perhaps one reason sales of plant-based ‘meats’ have skyrocketed… Our hand has been reaching for the doorknob for the last few years. Covid-19 has kicked open the door.” I agree the pandemic presents the best opportunity in a generation for animal-rights advocates to win over skeptics. But if and when vegetarian and vegan diets become truly mainstream, it will not be for the reasons Foer emphasizes. Foer provides three main rationales for rejecting meat: (1) “We cannot protect our environment while continuing to eat meat regularly,” (2) we can live “longer, healthier lives” without animal protein, and (3) many forms of animal farming are both cruel and unhygienic. These are valid arguments that …

How Innovation Works—A Review

A review of How Innovation Works and How it Flourishes in Freedom by Matt Ridley, Harper (May 19th, 2020), 416 pages. If you are reading this, then you are taking advantage of the global information network we call the Internet and a piece of electronic hardware known as a computer. For much of the world, access to these technologies is commonplace enough to be taken for granted, and yet they only emerged in the last century. A few hundred thousand years ago, mankind was born into a Hobbesian state of destitution, literally and figuratively naked. Yet we’ve come to solve an enormous sequence of problems to reach the heights of the modern world, and continue to do so (global extreme poverty currently stands at an all-time low of just nine percent). But what are the necessary ingredients in solving such problems, in improving the conditions of humanity? In How Innovation Works, author Matt Ridley investigates the nature of progress by documenting the stories behind some of the developments that make our modern lives possible. Early …

Remembering My Friend Peter Beard

Peter Beard, internationally renowned photographer, author, railroad-fortune heir, and socialite, died last month. Or possibly in March. Beard (b. 1938) had been ill, and suffering from dementia. He wandered off into the forest near his home on Long Island. He was 82. His body was found in a nearby national park, which is grimly fitting, for wildlife and parks were some of his abiding passions. The unconventional manner of his death also matched the way he lived. And if he were going to pick a way to go out, this might have been it. Having gotten to know him reasonably well when we both lived in Kenya, I suspect he would have preferred not to have been found, however, as he was a consummate trickster. He might well have preferred an obit that said, “Mr. Beard disappeared from his home in Montauk sometime in the spring of 2020. His whereabouts are unknown.” Peter was a gifted photographer, an engaging diarist, a gracious and generous host, a non-stop raconteur, universally described (truthfully) with that cliché, “one …

A Bolt in the Dark

The scene is of the world falling apart: It is the late spring of 1942. We are in the city of Turin in the north-west of Italy, near the border of Nazi-occupied France. Mussolini’s Blackshirts march through the streets. Every few days the anxiety and senselessness of the moment is cracked by the whine of British bombers, who have made their way from the Allied invasion of North Africa. On occasion, they fly over the city, releasing their cargo as families scramble to their basements, despite the risk of being trapped beneath the rubble of their precarious homes—the fate of so many. Amid this chaos, along one ordinary street within a quite common home, there is a young Jewish-Italian woman at work. She is tall, probably 30, with dark hair and hawkish features. She is toiling away at her bedroom desk, her eyes fixed on the task before her. She is holding make-shift micro-scalpels that she has ground from sewing needles. To her left, there is a powerful Zeiss microscope and a syringe filled with …

Hypocrisy, Cynicism and Tara Reade

Four years after Tara Reade briefly worked as a staffer for then-U.S. Senator Joe Biden, I occupied a similar office in the same town. The summer of 1997 saw me tucked into one of a few polyester suits purchased off the clearance rack at Benetton, a pink “I-badge” hanging from my neck, heading for the Old Executive Office Building, where I worked as a White House intern. Through his Democratic Party connections, my father had arranged for me to spend the summer cooped up with Bill Clinton’s speechwriters. I learned a lot that summer, but very different things than I’d hoped. I learned that D.C. staffers, interns and even chiefs of staff worship the men and women they serve with a desperation I have not seen equaled since. And I learned that the men in high office—D.C.’s version of Hollywood stars—often come to believe they are as god-like as the underlings tell them they are. One morning, we interns were called together quite suddenly for an urgent talk, delivered by the woman who headed the …

Ronan Farrow’s Botched Journalism is Troubling. The Response to It Has Been Worse

On January 9th, during jury selection for the sex-assault trial of Harvey Weinstein, Ronan Farrow tweeted that a “source” with knowledge of the proceedings had told him that “close to 50 potential jurors have been sent home” because they’d read his book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators. In fact, the number of jurors sent home for that reason was two, as a New York Times reporter had already noted. Source involved in Weinstein trial tells me close to 50 potential jurors have been sent home because they said they’d read Catch and Kill. — Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) January 10, 2020 Twitter typically isn’t journalism, and Farrow wasn’t tweeting in his capacity as a reporter. But the fact that he believed the vastly inflated figure to be accurate, saw fit to boast to his followers about it, and even stood by the number when later challenged on it, is indicative of his robust sense of self-regard and the ease with which he is seduced by dramatic but dubious narratives. As …