At the end of January the President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, gave a speech on the tarmac of Santiago airport. ‘Today is a day of joy, excitement and hope,’ he said, standing in front of a Boeing 787 which had just arrived from Beijing. Inside it were two million vaccine doses produced by the Chinese company Sinovac. It was the first of two similar-sized shipments arriving that month.
A few days earlier, the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, had emerged from Covid confinement to thank a ‘genuinely affectionate’ Vladimir Putin for pledging 24 million Sputnik doses to Mexico in the coming months.
Is Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden’s secretary of state, preparing to abandon Barack Obama’s powder-puff Asian foreign policies? It is now widely agreed that Obama, under whom Blinken served as deputy secretary of state, ceded to China uncontested control of the South China Sea. Obama’s so-called ‘pivot to Asia’ was all talk and no trousers. Blinken, who believes that diplomacy must be ‘supplemented by deterrence’, may be about to implement a more aggressive foreign policy in south-east Asia and elsewhere.
If ever there was a moment to address the issue of home-schooling, it is now. The pandemic has disrupted teaching, school life and examinations in catastrophic ways. Many children will now never get the education they would have had. But every crisis is an opportunity — and this crisis offers the chance to reform education in radical ways for the better.
Britain could learn a lot from New Zealand. Since 1922, the Kiwis have run a state-funded national correspondence school, known now in Maori as Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura for short).
Not all Facebook groups are forums for insurrection, anti-vaccine propaganda and rude remarks about Bill Gates. Some are just places where people talk about their dads. ‘Middle Class “Your Dad” Talk’ is a group where some 23,000 members share observations and witticisms that all follow the same format: ‘your dad is extremely specific about how the dishwasher is loaded’; ‘your dad judges others’ success by how big their kitchen island is’; ‘your dad was building up the courage to confront the postman about leaving the garden gate open until he saw he had a tattoo on his arm’.
The latest absurdity in American journalism is the forced resignation of the veteran New York Times reporter Donald McNeil Jr for uttering the word ‘nigger’ in front of a group of teenage tourists on a Times-sponsored trip to Peru. It has been justly ridiculed by many sane conservatives and even some courageous liberals. Although the infraction happened more than a year ago, calls for reason have had no practical effect against the demands online and inside the Times that McNeil be fired after the Daily Beast revealed the teenagers’ complaints.
In ITV’s otherwise terrible drama Finding Alice, one line struck me with particular force. A funeral director is addressing our heroine, who finds herself unexpectedly having to organise last rites for her partner. Wicker coffins are particularly popular now with relatives, says the undertaker, and I found myself nodding in strong agreement. A light woven coffin, made of pleasingly biodegradable material and topped with a simple but stylish cross of early spring flowers, was exactly what we selected for my father, to be buried in one of the last remaining — and therefore highly sought-after — spots in the churchyard.
The Spanish flu pandemic a century ago resulted in around 50 million deaths worldwide. Its second wave was over ten times more deadly than its first. History is repeating, with the global death toll from Covid-19 this second winter already three times that of the first. In the UK, the number of deaths in this second wave is close to double the number we suffered in the first wave.
The death toll in the first wave, while tragic, is somewhat understandable.
If you scratch his tummy, Ivory the clever pig will take you on at a computer game. He wields the joystick with his snout which makes it difficult for him to see the screen. Floppy ears don’t help when he’s tracking the cursor. Even so, Ivory has proved a dab trotter at gaming, outperforming his porcine friends, Ebony, Omelette and Hamlet. Researchers at Purdue University, Indiana are delighted with all four, claiming last week that they’ve revealed cognitive skills never before recorded in swine.