It could be the most audacious piece of political theatre of modern times. At the end of next month, just a week or so before Americans choose their next president, we could see Donald Trump standing on the White House lawn in front of a handful of friendly journalists, rolling up his sleeve and looking solemnly into the camera with hardly a wince as a nurse expertly administers America’s newly licensed coronavirus vaccine.
Thousands of city dwellers have to live with the noise and mess of urban gull breeding colonies. Often dubbed ‘flying rats’ because they gorge on garbage, gulls are protected by Natural England — a public body sponsored by the government — on the grounds that they are supposedly endangered. Anyone who has to put up with their dawn-shattering racket and profuse defecation can only wonder at the truth of this; and the fact is that it’s based on seriously flawed science.
The Roman emperor Caligula was renowned for his extravagance, capricious cruelty, sexual deviancy and temper bordering on insanity. Most famously, before he was assassinated, he planned to appoint his favourite horse as a consul. This is probably a legend. But King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the Thai throne in 2016, adopted Caligula’s playbook for real. In 2009 the then crown prince promoted his pet miniature poodle Foo Foo to the post of air chief marshal, in which capacity he served until his death in 2015, aged 17.
Setting out his nine principles of policing that underpinned the creation of the Metropolitan force in 1829, the home secretary Sir Robert Peel wrote that ‘the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them’. But those wise words are lost on today’s busy politicians who seem to measure their effectiveness by how many new burdens they impose on the justice system.
When al-Qaeda destroyed the Twin Towers almost exactly 19 years ago, the aims of the terrorists were not fully understood by many in the western media. Osama bin Laden intended not just to wage war against the non-Muslim world but to present himself — and his jihadi narrative — as the new voice of Islam. He was fighting a war of ideas, as well as one of terror. One of the best ways to understand and combat the ideological side of the jihadi movement is to read the works of the philosopher Bassam Tibi, who has been fighting fundamentalist ideas for the past four decades.
I know the exact day when my future life as a critic was set on its course, because I still have the ticket stub to prove it. It was 5 June 1992 — seat D4 at the 8.15 p.m. screening, to be precise — when I went to the Curzon Phoenix cinema in central London with three schoolfriends to see what would become my all-time favourite film (and, subsequently, book), Merchant Ivory’s Oscar-winning masterpiece Howards End. That perforated ticket stub, a little raggedy around the edges now, sits in pride of place on one of the three cork pinboards I display in rotation on the wall of my bedroom, all of which host a mini patchwork quilt of tickets for plays, films and exhibitions I’ve seen.
Why should radical leftists bother destroying institutions when the establishment will do the work for them? The governors of the Dragon, the prep school in north Oxford, have decreed that one of its boarding houses, Gunga Din, shall now be known as Dragon House. Presumably no consultancy fees were incurred for that name.
In a letter to Old Dragons, which as an alumnus I received, the chair of governors, Andrew Webb, sets out the wonderful contortions that led the board to the decision.
The government wants us back in the office — catching trains, buying sandwiches and actually seeing colleagues and clients rather than video facsimiles. But if we’re going to meet in person, we need agreement on a professional nicety more substantive than the feeble wave that has passed for a Zoom greeting.
Unless you’re fearless or forgetful, the handshake has been mothballed since March. What Masons now do is anyone’s guess (and their closely guarded secret).