The Sunday Times: The ‘mad as hell’ brigade stir to wobble the Washington bubble

Photo: Marko Berndt

Photo: Marko Berndt

In the 1976 film Network, a crazed news anchor becomes so disgusted with the venal idiocy of American television that he refuses to say his lines. During a meltdown on air he encourages audiences to follow his lead and shout: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.” Instead of laughing at him the nation grinds to a halt as millions of Americans join in, screaming their frustration from the rooftops.

Last week 65,000 Republican voters in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District offered their own version of “I’m as mad as hell”. Only instead of screaming in frustration they used the primary race to get rid of Eric Cantor, the Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives. Instead of being good little followers and ticking the Cantor box, they voted for an economics professor, David Brat.

As the US media gleefully reported: Brat won by a whopping 56%-44%, despite having no name recognition and minuscule financial support. His campaign raised just $122,793; Cantor’s election headquarters spent $168,637 on steak dinners alone.

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The Sunday Times: Let them eat cannabis cake: a great social experiment has begun

Photo: Martin Vorel

Photo: Martin Vorel

In 1992 American TV audiences were amazed when the presidential hopeful Bill Clinton admitted on air that he had smoked cannabis while at Oxford. He managed to save his campaign by adding: “But I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale and didn’t try it again.”

Back when Clinton was covering up his pothead years, there was no one in America — at least no one sober — who would have predicted that marijuana was going to become legal in a generation. The 1990s weren’t only about millions of schoolchildren being encouraged to “just say no” to drugs; they were also the decade when law enforcement agencies switched from chasing crack-cocaine dealers to focusing on cannabis possession.

Between 1992 and 2002, marijuana went from being a mere 28% of all drug arrests to 45%. As Senator Morris Sheppard of Texas said about prohibition in 1930 (three years before its repeal): there appeared to be as much chance of legalising cannabis as “there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars — with the Washington Monument tied to its tail”.

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WSJ Historically Speaking: Famous Lost Words

Famous Lost Words“Trigger warning” used to be a clinical phrase in psychiatry. Nowadays, the term has gone mass-market. It is often used in blogs and humanities departments to highlight a text that might upset an unsuspecting reader.

In the not too distant past, going to college meant being exposed to all kinds of subversive, rude and downright shocking literature. This often caused the authorities great unease. Plato (c. 429-347 B.C.) was the first educator to denounce the pernicious effects of the written word on impressionable minds. In “The Republic,” he argued that literature was a breeding ground for immoral behavior. The solution was to keep fiction out of the hands of children (ignorance being the sincerest form of protection). A century and a half later, in 213 B.C., the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang put theory into practice and ordered the mass burning of all books save those on medicine, prophesy, agriculture and a few other topics.

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The Sunday Times: Right now, America’s Liberty likes her lemmings gluten-free

Photo: Daria Nepriakhina

Photo: Daria Nepriakhina

Is America a nation of gullible nitwits? For the record, there is no country on earth that can cast the first stone. Still, judging by the blind faith in loopy science that has turned the gluten-free diet into a $23bn movement, it is a valid question.

Gluten is a “gluey” protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It makes cakes go fluffy and bread taste moist. Wheat was one of the first domesticated food crops and is a staple food around the world. Nevertheless, a third of Americans now avoid gluten in the belief that it causes a range of ills from diabetes, obesity, autism and Alzheimer’s to joint pain, flatulence and diarrhoea.

A minuscule market that once served the 1% of Americans who have coeliac disease (and must avoid gluten) now commands the top shelves in the food aisles. Of all the egregious examples of corporate welfare, our paying huge premiums to Kraft and Kellogg’s for non-existent health benefits must take the gluten-free biscuit.

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WSJ Historically Speaking: When Summer Is a Bummer

Photo: THOMAS FUCHS

Photo: THOMAS FUCHS

Summertime has officially begun. But is it really true, as the George Gershwin song claims, that “the livin’ is easy”?

Benjamin Franklin advised his fellow Americans against seasonal complacency, observing, “Some are weather-wise, some are otherwise.” For many people, summertime means either the threat of floods and hurricanes or the pain of wildfires and droughts. Nothing easy there.

In Britain, however, summertime has always posed a somewhat different problem—more existential than experiential. As with invisible protons, being certain of the existence of the British summer requires a leap of faith. Lord Byron wasn’t convinced, writing, “The English winter—ending in July, to recommence in August.”

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The Sunday Times: One Kardashian bum selfie and Occupy Wall Street is history

Photo: @KIMKARDASHIAN ON INSTAGRAM

Photo: @KIMKARDASHIAN ON INSTAGRAM

It was mid-September, three years ago, when a small group of protesters gathered by the raging bull sculpture in Lower Manhattan and formed the Occupy Wall Street movement. They had a grievance and a slogan: “We are the 99%”. A few weeks earlier Kim Kardashian, the world’s most successful reality-TV star, had held a lavish televised wedding to a basketball player named Kris Humphries.

Less than four months later OWS had transformed itself into a global movement with offshoots from Toronto to Tel Aviv. It had even received the ultimate accolade in the form of a message from President Barack Obama. That’s right; the White House had issued a statement assuring Americans that their president was working for the 99%. No other movement in history had enjoyed so enormous an impact in so short a time.

In Los Angeles, however, where the bodaciously vapid Kim and her sullen hunk of a husband Kris were back in the bosom of the Kardashian family reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, things were not so rosy. With great fortitude and no doubt inhuman levels of personal sacrifice, they managed to keep the marriage going until October. On the 31st it was announced that they were filing for divorce.

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The Wall Street Journal: Literature: The Tragic Poets of World War I

Photo: THE GRANGER COLLECTION, NEW YORK

Photo: THE GRANGER COLLECTION, NEW YORK

In the early 1940s, the English man of letters Robert Graves observed that patriotic verse had always been written in time of war—but only in World War I did the terms “war poet” and “war poetry” come into use, and both were “peculiar to it.” The soldiers in the trenches included enormous numbers of highly educated young men from nonmilitary backgrounds, who brought a new and different sensibility to the experience of war.

The first notable war poet to emerge was the young Rupert Brooke. His 1915 poem “The Soldier” captured the early spirit of duty and sacrifice: “If I should die, think only this of me; / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England.”

But the Brooke model was short-lived. Later poets challenged the idea that patriotism had any connection with such slaughter. Two in particular, Wilfred Owen (“Dulce et Decorum Est”) and Siegfried Sassoon (“How to Die”), came to symbolize the disillusionment of an entire generation. Where Sassoon was sarcastic, Owen was blunt, as in “Anthem for Doomed Youth”: “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? / Only the monstrous anger of the guns. / Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle.”

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WSJ Historically Speaking: When a Monarch Calls It Quits

Photo: THOMAS FUCHS

Photo: THOMAS FUCHS

Abdication fever is sweeping the royal palaces of Europe. Recently, Spain’s King Juan Carlos became the third monarch in just over a year to renounce his crown. In January 2013, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands declared that she was stepping down in favor of her son, Prince Willem-Alexander. King Albert II of Belgium followed six months later.

Abdication in the old days was usually a prelude to execution. Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, or Tarquin the Proud (who ruled from 534 to 509 B.C.), is one of the earliest recorded examples of a monarch who was forced to abdicate and still lived to tell the tale. Tarquin was the seventh and last king of the Romans. Burdened by heavy taxes, the aristocracy was already wishing to be rid of Tarquin when his son raped the pious Lucretia. The crime proved to be the catalyst for the birth of the Roman republic.

Tarquin eventually retired to the court of a neighboring tyrant. There, bored and angry, he plotted endlessly to reconquer Rome. Today, if Tarquin is remembered at all, it is by the generations of British schoolchildren who grew up learning to recite “Horatius at the Bridge,” Thomas Babington Macaulay’s stirring ballad on Tarquin’s defeat: “Lars Porsena of Clusium, / by the Nine Gods he swore, / That the great house of Tarquin / Should suffer wrong no more…And how can man die better/ Than facing fearful odds / For the ashes of his fathers / And the temples of his gods.”

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The Sunday Times: Phoney cause of the nipple freedom fighters

Phoney cause of the nipple freedom fightersNew York last week was awash with nipples. Actually, it was a tiny corner of downtown Manhattan. And it wasn’t so much a sea of breasts, as a handful (or an eyeful) of women who went topless in support of a campaign to “free the nipple”. For the uninitiated, #FreeTheNipple, was the brainchild of 29-year-old Lina Esco, who felt it was unfair that men can show their nipples in public in all 50 states, whereas for women it’s a mere 13. Esco struggled in comparative obscurity until her protest was annexed recently by Scout Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore. She is locked in an ongoing struggle with Instragram over the freedom to post naked selfies. The internet company maintains a blanket policy against nude photos as a way of deterring pornographers and paedophiles.

Meanwhile, in Washington, far from the media glare and Scout Willis’s breasts, another struggle for women’s rights was taking place last week. This one, led by Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri and others, is part of a White House effort to stem the increase in sexual assaults across US campuses. Roused in part by a 2007 federal study that revealed a shocking level of violence against female students — 20% are sexually assaulted at some point during their college career — in May the White House appointed a taskforce to confront the problem. In addition to holding hearings on the subject on Capitol Hill, the taskforce is focusing on how to use Title IX, a 1972 civil rights law, to force universities to provide better protection for female students.

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The Sunday Times: Stay silent and soon Amazon will be telling the world what it can read

Photo: Glen Noble

Photo: Glen Noble

One of the greatest monopolies in history was the medieval Catholic Church. Its religious and temporal power was absolute until confronted by an even more potent rival: the printed book. Today, print is once more at the centre of a cultural revolution. Only this time it is not the challenger to a global monopoly but its most successful weapon.

Amazon, founded and controlled by Jeff Bezos, used the humble book to leverage itself into becoming the world’s largest online retailer. It took 20 years for Amazon to emerge as a monopolistic power. Last week, by creating an effective blacklist of authors for use as a bargaining tool against Hachette Book Group, the company showed us how far it would go in its abuse of that power.

The public has only recently become aware of the long shadow war between Amazon and the publishing industry. In February Amazon began quietly “disappearing” certain authors in an attempt to force Hachette into giving larger discounts on its books.

What the public does not know is that the real fight is about kickbacks. How can Amazon make up for the fact that it sells almost all its books at a loss?

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