When Vladimir Putin sent his tanks into Ukraine on 24 February, he did so under the assumption that the West was too ruptured and disjointed to pull together a unified response. It was the first of many miscalculations. That same day, Boris Johnson promised ‘massive’ economic sanctions that would ‘hobble’ Russia’s economy to the point of shutdown. ‘Putin chose this war,’ said Joe Biden that evening, as the United States announced its own sanctions on Russia’s top banks.
The purpose of economic sanctions was aptly summarised back in 1960 by a US State Department official in a secret memo on Cuban sanctions ‘to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.’ Twenty years later, the CIA concluded that ‘economic sanctions… have not met any of their objectives’. Worse, the measures strengthened the regime, providing Castro with ‘a scapegoat for all kinds of domestic problems’.
Almost 100 years ago the writer Virginia Woolf advised women to find themselves a room of their own: a refuge away from the busy, crowding demands of life, where they could focus instead on themselves and write, think, be. At a time of austerity, when space is at an expensive premium and when post-pandemic empty nests have been re-occupied by returning offspring and spare rooms newly identified as shared office space, I have found an alternative sanctuary.
According to Richard Branson, the secret to running a successful airline is to keep the staff happy. They will, in turn, be nice to the passengers, who will themselves be happy and flock to fly. A charming if naive theory. Virgin Atlantic, run on this principle, has teetered on the edge of insolvency for years.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary, on the other hand, doesn’t seem especially obsessed with the morale of either his cabin crews or his passengers.
Two months ago, I became one of the 80,000 Ukrainian refugees who have settled in Britain. The kindness I’ve been shown, by my host family and so many others, has been overwhelming. People are caring, but curious too. They ask how long Zelensky will really fight for. By which I suspect they mean: surely you guys don’t think you can actually win? Why prolong the bloodshed?
It’s a good question. By some estimates, nearly 80 per cent of the Russian army is in my country right now.
It’s probably now the longest running conflict since the Hundred Years’ War: Richard Nixon declared the ‘war on cancer’ 51 years ago. The enemy is still in the field, killing more people than ever as other causes of mortality shrink. But cancer is at last giving ground.
Fresh from its triumph in the race to make a vaccine for Covid-19, the German biotech company BioNTech has announced promising results using a similar vaccine against pancreatic cancer.
On Friday night, when the Israeli government usually shuts down for Shabbat, the Prime Minister’s office issued an emergency briefing. An attack on Israeli tourists in Istanbul was ‘imminent’, it said. Israelis in Turkey were ordered to stay in their hotel rooms for fear of assassins, sent by Iran. There was no attack that night, as it happened, but the threat to the many Israelis in Turkey remains.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has become increasingly enraged by Mossad’s assassinations of IRGC officers in Iran, and decided that the best and easiest way to get revenge is to target the thousands of Israelis in Istanbul.
In the theatre, to boo is taboo. There was an exception last week when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s name was booed by the crowd at the final performance of his musical Cinderella after a letter written by him to the cast, in which he called the show a ‘costly mistake’, was read out on stage. But that’s rare. Outside of panto season, the West End generally prefers a play to be received in a sepulchral hush.
It’s curious that booing is absent from modern theatre, because it’s as old as European drama.
Five years ago this month I wrote an article in The Spectator denouncing the National Army Museum after its £24 million Heritage Lottery Funded refurbishment. The concept of decolonisation was then in its infancy, and I criticised the museum’s relentless attempts to make visitors ashamed of the British Army’s supposed legacy of imperialism and slavery, when that constituted only a tiny part of its overall glorious story (and it was in the forefront of fighting against the latter).