By now, everyone has heard of the brutal suppression of protests all over Turkey, which began with a peaceful sit-in in Istanbul to protect a hapless apology for a park from demolition. Right by the city’s unofficial centre, Taksim Square, Gezi Park had been slated to become yet another one of the ruling AKP’s signature Ottoman-cum-Disneyland construction projects. It was hardly much of a park, by London standards, but it was one of the last remaining places in the area with a few trees and a bit of room to stroll around.
The Labour years can, in retrospect, be seen as a massive experiment into the link between cash and education. Gordon Brown almost doubled spending per pupil over the past decade, the biggest money injection in the history of state schooling. But as he did so, England hurtled down the international league tables. It now languishes in 18th place, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Michael Gove received a surprising amount of support from the opposition benches when he unveiled his GCSE reforms in the Commons on Monday. Among those Labour MPs saying they welcomed his proposals were David Blunkett, Barry Sheerman and, most unexpectedly, Diane Abbott, who said that they would particularly benefit working-class and black minority ethnic children. ‘Mr Speaker, I’m in love,’ said the Secretary of State for Education.
The first time my wife and I decided to rent a cottage in Cornwall in the summer holidays, the idea was to save money. Not that summer rentals are particularly cheap in Cornwall, but when you’ve got four children the cost of flying anywhere is prohibitive. There’s also the additional cost of renting a car to factor in — or rather a mini-van, because no car is big enough. If you live in London, as we do, one of the great advantages of Cornwall is that you can drive there in about four-and-a-half hours.
I love the remark made by one Oxford don about another: ‘On the surface, he’s profound, but deep down, he’s superficial.’ That sentence has more than once come to mind when reading the new atheists.
Future intellectual historians will look back with wonder at the strange phenomenon of seemingly intelligent secularists in the 21st century believing that if they could show that the first chapters of Genesis are not literally true, that the universe is more than 6,000 years old and there might be other explanations for rainbows than as a sign of God’s covenant after the flood, the whole of humanity’s religious beliefs would come tumbling down like a house of cards and we would be left with a serene world of rational non-believers getting on famously with one another.
Two marble graves are side by side. One is grey and encrusted, with moss growing over the top. The other is smooth and shiny white. It looks new but, in fact, like the grave next to it, it’s more than 100 years old. It’s not just been cleaned — its top layer has been shaved off completely. On its front are potted plants, hydrangeas and a can of Guinness. These are tributes to its new resident.
Its old resident, Robert John, died in 1894.
‘UK shale Eldorado just off the M62’, declared the Financial Times, reporting a huge gas find below Cheshire. Shale gas is natural gas trapped in beds of underground shale; it can be released by hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, which means pumping water, sand and chemicals into the shale under high pressure. That much we know for sure — but we also know that Eldorado, the city of gold lost in South America’s rainforests, turned out to be one of the world’s great myths.
Tim Yeo MP called his proposal for yet another draconian target to decarbonise Britain’s power sector the ‘green jobs amendment’. It was defeated last week by 290 votes to 267. One sweeping new regulation was apparently enough for the day as the Commons settled for casually renationalising the energy sector by passing the government’s bill.
The amendment’s defeat is a setback for environmentalists, who had campaigned for it aggressively, but not for Britain’s two and a half million unemployed.
On Saturday, 8 June, the research vessel Kaiyo Maru No. 7 left the port of Joetsu, in western Japan, to begin a three-year survey of the Sea of Japan — the latest step in a little-known research programme that in a decade or less could profoundly change the international balance of power.
Kaiyo Maru, a 499-ton trawler, is hunting for beds of methane hydrate, a cold, white, sherbet-like substance found off coastlines in Japan and much of the rest of the world.
St Helena, the island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on which Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled and died, is so far away from anywhere else that even pirates never discovered it. The only way to get there is by the last Royal Mail ship in existence, RMS St Helena, after a six-day journey from Cape Town, as I discovered this month when I visited in the course of researching my forthcoming biography of Napoleon.
Although the Emperor was violently seasick on his journey there in 1815, the seas were very calm for mine.