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The capitalist case against sexual harassment

Originally published at on Thursday, 19 October 2017, 2:57:26 pm UTC

“I CAME of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behaviour and workplaces were different,” said Harvey Weinstein in response to allegations of sexual harassment, by now dozens of them since the New Yorker and New York Times published the first this month. The film producer is an “old dinosaur learning new ways”, said a spokeswoman. Mr Weinstein is reported to be seeking treatment for “sex addiction”.

A throwback who loves women too much, then; a sly old rogue who doubtless holds doors open for women, too? Nonsense. What Mr Weinstein is accused of was never acceptable. It has never been good form to greet a woman arriving for a business meeting while wearing nothing but an open bathrobe. His accusers say he made it clear that rebuffing his overtures would harm their careers. Some accuse him of rape. American and British police are investigating. Mr Weinstein has apologised for his behaviour in broad terms. He denies engaging...

As Donald Trump blusters, Iran is reshaping the Arab world

Originally published at on Thursday, 19 October 2017, 2:57:26 pm UTC

THIS should be a time for rejoicing. The jihadists of Islamic State (IS), driven out of Mosul in Iraq in July, were defeated this week in their Syrian capital, Raqqa. Little remains of the “caliphate” but a few pockets and a bankrupt ideology.

Alarmingly, the scramble for spoils is bringing forth old rivalries and new conflicts across the Fertile Crescent. One clash has come in Kirkuk, where explorers struck Iraq’s first oil gusher in 1927. The city is home to many groups, among them Kurds, Arabs and Turkomans. It lies outside the Kurds’ official autonomous enclave but had been held by them. On September 25th Kurdish leaders held a referendum on independence that included voters in Kirkuk. The affronted Iraqi government, led by Shia Arabs, ordered its forces to retake the city and other disputed lands on October 16th. They did so swiftly. Even with Kirkuk’s oil the Kurdish enclave is broke; without it, dreams of independence have been dashed (see...

Breaking the spell of Peronism

Originally published at on Thursday, 19 October 2017, 2:57:26 pm UTC

WHEN Mauricio Macri won Argentina’s presidential election in November 2015, his victory appeared to signal the turning of Latin America’s “pink tide” of left-wing government. The election ended eight years of rule under Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a political heir of Juan Perón, an irresponsible populist president of the mid-20th century. In other countries, setbacks for the left followed. Venezuela’s opposition won control of the legislature from the ruling socialist party in December 2015. Brazil’s left-wing president, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached last year; her successor, Michel Temer, is a pro-business centrist. Better economic policies ensued in both Argentina and Brazil, though not in Venezuela, where the autocratic government squashed the legislature.

On October 22nd Argentina’s voters will render a judgment on Mr Macri in a mid-term congressional election (see...

Not nearly enough is being done for the Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar

Originally published at on Thursday, 19 October 2017, 2:57:26 pm UTC

TO UNDERSTAND how grim things are for Myanmar’s Rohingyas, consider what passes for good news amid the Burmese army’s two-month pogrom in northern Rakhine state, where most of them live. The flood of refugees to neighbouring Bangladesh must soon dwindle, charity workers say, because the Burmese army is running out of Rohingya villages to burn. For the moment, however, terrified Rohingyas continue to pour across the border. In the week to October 14th some 18,000 arrived. In less than two months a total of at least 582,000 of them have taken refuge in Bangladesh. That makes the current crisis one of the most rapid international movements of people in modern history, eclipsing in its intensity, for example, Syrians’ flight from civil war over the past six years.

Bangladesh has permitted the hungry, exhausted and traumatised Rohingyas to enter, and has set aside land for vast refugee camps. But aid agencies, by their own admission, are swamped. A third of the refugees are not receiving a...

How food created the British empire

Originally published at on Thursday, 19 October 2017, 2:57:26 pm UTC

The Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. By Lizzie Collingham. Basic Books; 384 pages; $32. Published in Britain as “The Hungry Empire” Bodley Head; £25.

IN 1879 a group of British soldiers at the battle of Rorke’s Drift in South Africa struggled to defend themselves against thousands of Zulu warriors. For shelter they threw up an improvised barricade. And the material they chose? Bricks of biscuit tins made by Carr’s of Carlisle.

It is an image that nicely sums up “The Taste of Empire”, in which Lizzie Collingham, a British historian of curry and of the Raj, argues that food was not an adjunct to Britain’s imperial might but fundamental to it. Usually it is assumed that Britain’s empire appeared and then Britain’s food trade—that vast tonnage of tea, flour, sugar, bully beef and Crosse & Blackwell pickle that swept across the seven seas—appeared to feed it. Ms Collingham...

A history of slang charts the change in taboos

Originally published at on Thursday, 19 October 2017, 2:57:26 pm UTC

SAMUEL JOHNSON defined his profession as that of a “harmless drudge”. Yet it has been well served by lexicographers writing entertainingly about their work. Two good examples are Kory Stamper waxing lyrical about the job itself and Jesse Sheidlower, in “The F-Word”, about the ubiquitous English swear word.

But lexicography really is patient, slow and yes, sometimes tedious work. Trying to find citations here or there that show what some rare word means or, perhaps even harder, revising the endless definitions for all-purpose words that run for page after page in a big dictionary is not for those of an impatient bent.

Few lexicographers are lucky enough, then, to have both endlessly pleasurable work and the talent to write amusingly about it. Jonathon Green is one. Mr Green is the world’s most respected chronicler of slang. His masterwork is the three-volume “Green’s Dictionary of Slang”. First published in 2010, it is continually updated in an online version, much of...

“La Belle Sauvage”, Philip Pullman’s new novel

Originally published at on Thursday, 19 October 2017, 2:57:26 pm UTC

Not Binsey but Godstow (perhaps)

La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One. By Philip Pullman. Knopf; 464 pages; $22.99. Penguin Random House and David Fickling; £20

IN HIS famous trilogy, “His Dark Materials”, Philip Pullman created a detailed fantasy universe every bit as compelling as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth or C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. Mr Pullman’s world is much closer to the real one than the other two. London and Oxford (the author’s home) feature prominently, as do other European places, albeit with some political tweaks. The two pre-eminent distinguishing features are an all-powerful, malevolent Church centred in Geneva, and daemons: a sort of external soul that all humans have and which takes the form of different animals depending on the person’s character.

Mr Pullman returns to that world in “La Belle Sauvage”, the first in a trilogy called “The Book of Dust”, which he has resisted...

The best of a clutch of recent books on Brexit—from both sides

Originally published at on Thursday, 19 October 2017, 2:57:26 pm UTC

Clean Brexit. By Liam Halligan and Gerard Lyons. Biteback; 382 pages; £20.

Making a Success of Brexit and Reforming the EU. By Roger Bootle. Nicholas Brealey; 353 pages; £10.99 and $19.95.

How to Stop Brexit (and Make Britain Great Again). By Nick Clegg. Bodley Head; 149 pages; £8.99.

Brexit and British Politics. By Geoffrey Evans and Anand Menon. Polity; 139 pages; £12.99.

SIXTEEN months after Britain voted to leave the European Union, the political debate over Brexit seems as intense as ever. That belies one of the hopes of David Cameron, the Tory prime minister who called the referendum, when he claimed to be drawing a poison that had long infected British politics. Publishers, writers and bloggers alike have not been slow to spot the market that the poison has created. Yet too many of the books and pamphlets that have been published since the vote amount...

Bruce Springsteen’s Broadway debut

Originally published at on Thursday, 19 October 2017, 2:57:26 pm UTC

THE man known as “The Boss” certainly knows how to work a room. Standing alone on stage in the Walter Kerr Theatre (capacity 939), dressed in a black T-shirt and dark jeans, Bruce Springsteen goes off-microphone early in his new Broadway show to confess something. “I’ve never held an honest job in my entire life,” he declares. “I’ve never done an honest day’s work. I’ve never worked 9 to 5.” Then he pauses a beat: “And yet that is all I have ever written about.” (Laughter.) “I have become absurdly successful writing about something of which I have absolutely no practical experience.” (More laughter.)

It is a nicely prepared line, well timed and well delivered. It would do fine in any of the stadium shows the rock star has played for decades. But Mr Springsteen’s showmanship here lies in the act of speaking directly to the room. He knows the fact that he can be heard, unamplified, is part of the magic. He is inviting his audience to lean in and listen as he tells and...

The crazy career of Herbert Hoover

Originally published at on Thursday, 19 October 2017, 2:57:26 pm UTC

Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. By Kenneth Whyte. Knopf; 752 pages; $35.

FOR his philanthropic efforts during the first world war, Herbert Hoover was described as a “man who began his career in California and will end it in heaven”. In a new biography, Kenneth Whyte lists the many hardships Hoover went through. Generally, he used them to his advantage—to increase his wealth, achieve fame and become America’s 31st president. At least, that is, until the Great Depression, which ruined him politically.

Born in Iowa in 1874, Hoover became determined early in life to earn a fortune for the security and independence it would bring. After graduating as a geologist from Stanford, he managed gold mines on the hot Australian frontier and mines in China during the dying days of the Qing empire. His career brought him the money he craved.

Hoover learned that the best way to thrive in a hellish...