Our irreproducible humanity

Leaders of the museum and art gallery world have suggested that reproductions of artistic masterpieces should be put on display while the originals are stored out of sight. This would preserve such treasures from deterioration or the risk of theft, while enabling the public to view great works which are deemed too fragile to be displayed. Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum and the National Gallery, says modern reproduction techniques could enable people to see, for example, The Family of Darius Before Alexander by Paolo Veronese with…

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Coronavirus Britain Coronavirus 

Bromides punctuated by gibberish. Bravo no more, Boris

Oh dear. Boris Johnson’s much trailed address to the nation this evening has merely deepened the impression that this is a prime minister who is not in control of events at all. In summary, he was saying there will be no substantive change to the lockdown, other than the tweak of permitting more outside activity, at least until June when perhaps some schools may open and July when perhaps some of the hospitality industry and other public places may open too. As I have previously observed, such caution is at…

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Coronavirus Britain Coronavirus 

“How has it come to this” indeed. But now Boris must keep his nerve

This week, when Boris Johnson made his first appearance at prime minister’s questions since he nearly died from Covid-19, the new Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, got the better of him. It wasn’t just that the absence of the usual braying mobs of backbenchers played to Starmer’s strengths as a calm, relentless and well-briefed advocate. It was that the questions he asked with such deadly and polite quietness were unanswerable. With the UK’s virus death toll then standing at more than 29,000, Starmer asked: “How has it come to this?”…

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Britain Coronavirus 

Ignore these siren calls to end the lockdown

Bravo Boris! Urged days ago to announce a speedy exit from lockdown, he has refused to be pushed. He’ll set out his plan next week amid signs that restrictions will be lifted only slowly. Although the virus now seems under control, the prime minister’s caution is understandable. The rate of decline is still too small to permit a speedy lifting of restrictions without risking a fresh spiral in the infection rate. Yet among people for whom damage to the economy outweighs all other considerations, there’s no acknowledgment of Johnson’s complex…

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culture wars Britain Culture wars 

Even coronavirus can’t kill our grievance culture

Optimism has been expressed in some quarters that our poisonous culture wars will fade away under the impact of a global emergency with real victims and real heroes. So how’s that playing out? Not terribly well. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower, the ship that sailed from Plymouth for the New World bearing 102 Puritans fleeing religious persecution in England to start a new life. Commemorations are being organised by Mayflower 400, a UK-wide body that has created a variety of resources to enable…

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Boris Britain Coronavirus 

Prevention paradox and dilemma denialism

Bravo, Boris. His statement this morning, on return from convalescing from his near-fatal encounter with Covid-19, took real courage. Under enormous pressure to lift the lockdown, he refused. His priority, he said, was to avoid a second surge in cases. He asked the public to be patient and not to undo the progress that had been made by social isolation. No-one can doubt the pressure he was under from his own party, including a number of big donors, who have been warning of the ever-more terrible damage to the economy…

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Boris Britain Coronavirus Europe Israel 

The ghastly mirror-image of lethal group-think

In Britain, there are now insistent calls for the government to lay out its strategy for exiting the Covid-19 lockdown. Treat the public as adults, goes the cry; tell us the truth. Well, the truth which ministers are not telling is pretty unpalatable. For as in other countries, the government faces two brutal and appalling alternatives: destroying the economy or ending people’s lives. Yes, the lockdown is doing terrible damage to the economy and if it goes on for much longer some of that damage at least may well be…

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Quiz Britain 

Quiz drama proves we can’t believe what we see

Nearly two decades after his conviction for cheating his way to the million-pound jackpot on the hit TV quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, the so-called “coughing major” has had his case reopened in the court of public opinion. In 2003 Major Charles Ingram, his wife Diana and another contestant, Tecwen Whittock, were convicted of obtaining the prize through deception. The jury had been told that Whittock and Diana Ingram had coughed at key moments during the quiz to signal to the major when he alighted upon the…

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Britain Culture wars 

Why so many “experts” make such disastrous errors

If you want to discover why so many of our experts are getting things so terribly wrong, Giles Fraser’s interview on Unherd’s “Confessions” with the former Bank of England governor, Lord King, is essential listening. King asks what it means to be rational in an age of deep uncertainty. Many experts, he says, have come to believe that mathematical calculations and computer modelling provide us with an authoritative representation of reality. This is hopelessly wrong because such calculations can never encompass the uncertainties that help form human behaviour. Yet these…

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novel Britain 

Escape the lockdown with a gripping novel

Reading a good novel oxygenates the psyche. It’s an excursion from everyday experience into a different reality that leaves you refreshed and better able to cope with life. At a time of acute stress like this, such novels come into their own. Anne Enright’s Actress, published last month, is one such gem. I read it with gratitude recently when locked-down alone through Covid-19 restrictions and prevented from even venturing outside my front door. Novels touch us most deeply where we can identify with emotional truths. People’s relationships are often ambiguous…

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