If there is one lesson the world should have learned from Iran’s ‘Green Revolution’ of 2009 and the so-called Arab Spring that followed, it is this: the worst regimes stay. Rulers who are only averagely appalling (Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak) can be toppled by uprisings. Those who are willing to kill every one of their countrymen stay. So it is that after almost half a million dead we enter 2018 with Bashar al-Assad still President of Syria and with Iran’s mullahs approaching the 40th anniversary of their seizure of power in 1979.
What do Europeans really think about Brexit? Do they secretly admire our unexpected decision to walk away from all those pesky regulations and sub-committees? Or are our former ‘European friends’ relieved the arrogant, entitled Brits are leaving them alone?
The official response of the European political class is one of regret combined with studied indifference and a determination not to let Brexit weaken the project.
This year is the centenary of the Armistice to end what Siegfried Sassoon called ‘the world’s worst wound’: the first world war. A bare week before the conflict concluded in a grey November, another poet, Sassoon’s friend and protégé Wilfred Owen, whose work now epitomises the waste and futility of that struggle, was cut down by a machine-gun as he tried to lead his men across the Sambre-Oise canal in one of the war’s last battles.
Subtitles are taking over the world. It’s increasingly rare these days for a video clip to be free of those irritating little bars along the bottom, rendering before your eyes what your ears are coping with quite easily, thank you very much.
That interview you clicked on from Twitter? There are the speaker’s words subtitled below. That report on a news website? There are the subtitles again, spelling out everything from the presenter’s narration to the sound effects in the background.
Angela Rayner is perhaps the only Labour MP who works with a picture of Theresa May hanging above her desk. It’s there for inspiration, she says, a daily reminder of the general incompetence of the Conservative government and the need for its removal. ‘That picture motivates me, in a strange way,’ she says when we meet. ‘They are doing such a bad job of Brexit, and a lot of people will be let down.
Hedge funds have already spotted it: Jim Mellon’s latest book, Juvenescence, reviews the new science that will lengthen our lives by 20 years. Through regeneration (stem cell) and repair (DNA) technologies, we’ll soon be living healthily and happily to 110 or more. How soon? Who knows. But the repercussions will be enormous. Major insurance companies will go bust; speculators will make a fortune shorting them; 90-year-olds who bought annuities will become destitute when their annuity provider fails; there will have to be a total rethink of the nation’s state pension age.
For some reason, I decided to go to the other side of the world for Christmas. I may never do it again. Not because I didn’t like Australia (I loved it) but because it takes forever to get there. And spending 23 hours with your knees under your chin on a long-haul flight to the Antipodes will cure you of ever going further than Calais.
When you’re flying economy it’s of paramount importance to choose the right airline.