A few months ago, Britain’s most senior ambassadors gathered in the Foreign Office to compare notes on Brexit. There was one problem in particular that they did not know how to confront. As one ambassador put it, the English--language publications in their cities (it would be rude to name them) had become rabidly anti-Brexit: keen to portray a country having a nervous and economic breakdown. Their boss, the Foreign Secretary, later summed it up: many believe that Brexit was the whole country flicking a V-sign from the white cliffs of Dover.
Americans forget their corruption in order to savour their innocence. When Republicans and Democrats are struggling to find ways forward and the presidency is all over the road, the combat of ex-FBI director James Comey and reality television star Donald Trump is almost heartening. For, despite partisan division and the rise of China, the drama of the American psyche survives. The puritan grips the porn-ographer, and the spirit of the civil servant contends with the flesh of the president.
Private schools in the United Kingdom are affordable only to those on the highest incomes. But surprisingly to many, this is not true across developing countries, where low-cost private schools are ubiquitous and affordable to all.
For nearly two decades I’ve been researching this phenomenon. I’ve visited low-cost private schools in more than 20 countries, from the vibrant slums of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to remote mountain villages in South-east Asia and the gang-dominated barrios of Central and Latin America.
Why would anyone who claims to care about the world’s poorest children try to shut down their schools? It’s strange and sad, but several British charities, in cahoots with some British unions, are making a concerted effort to close down hundreds of schools in Africa. They are doing this because they dislike private education, seeming not to care that this will destroy the life chances of thousands of desperate children, forcing them, at best, into state schools where the teachers are often absent, drunk or incapable.
Imagine Peace. These were the words that appeared on an otherwise blank page in the New York Times on New Year’s Day 2013. They were paid for by Yoko Ono and they are of course an echo of John Lennon’s most famous song. A few days later, the Guardian conducted an opinion poll in which it asked its readers whether they thought the advert would produce world peace. Surprisingly, a third of the respondents thought that it would, though there was little evidence around the world to confirm them in that hope.
My wife laughs that my love of gadgets is a remnant of my Communist upbringing, when western toys were objects of veneration. A couple of days ago, I found myself on a Lufthansa flight over the Atlantic indulging precisely that love: using an app, I could see live pictures of our house in rural Poland via the security cameras. I could also check that the alarm is on, heating system off and the new photovoltaic farm is producing more energy than the house is consuming.
One programme that still shines out as a beacon of intellectual rigour among the sea of dross on television is University Challenge. As always, teams of four students from Britain’s best universities battle it out for the series championship. Rather than assuming the viewer is an idiot, like most factual programmes, it works on the basis that we have a shared culture. There are always questions on kings and queens of England, Shakespeare and classical music.