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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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 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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The Sunday Times: The Ugly American inside Obama is wagging his finger at the world

Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

President Barack Obama began his recent four-nation tour of Asia by having dinner with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Japan’s renowned sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro.

The restaurant has three Michelin stars but only 10 seats and it can take years to get a reservation. The set meal consists of 20 exquisite sushi pieces, each personally cut by 88-year-old chef Jiro Ono. According to a witness, Obama decided he was finished after the 10th and put down his chopsticks.

There are three possible reasons why Obama stopped eating halfway through the meal. 1) The 44th president is severely allergic to raw fish. 2) Obama was frightened of pulling a George HW Bush and throwing up in Abe’s lap. 3) He was, well, kind of full, you know?

I have a strong suspicion that the answer is No 3. Obama has a political tin ear whenever he has to hobnob with foreigners — such as the time he bowed to the Japanese emperor in 2009 only to ruin the gesture by simultaneously shaking hands. Whether it was ignorance or arrogance or a combination of the two, the gaffe pandered directly to the stereotype of the “Ugly American”.

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The Sunday Times: It’s your Waterloo, chaps: a new epoch of female spending power is here

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Here is a thought for when the bells ring in 2014: we are teetering on the edge of a new epoch. Historians should never pretend to be fortune-tellers, but we can recognise patterns. One of the most consistent over the past millennium has been the significance of years ending in 14 as a marker or gateway between eras. It is as though the tide of human events reaches the new century only after a decade and a half of frothy preamble.

In the 13th century, for example, 1214 was the year that the feudal barons turned against King John, followed in 1215 by the signing of Magna Carta.

The mass misery that characterised the 14th century, with its great famine and Black Death pandemic, began with the harvest failures of 1314. The meteoric rise of the Portuguese empire in the 15th century began in 1414 when Henry the Navigator laid down plans to attack the Moors. Continue reading…