Boy, am I glad I’m not a Frenchman. Last week’s dramatic incident on board a Paris-bound train, in which a terrorist atrocity was narrowly averted by a group of heroic passengers, is a stain on French manhood to rival the Battle of Agincourt.
I’m not referring to the incompetence of the French security services, who seem unable to stop terrorists roaming the country, shooting people at will. No, I’m talking about the response of the French men on the train when they first became aware that a crazy-looking Middle Eastern man was stalking the carriages, armed with an assault rifle. The vast majority hid under their seats. Almost the only French nationals to react at all were employees of the Thalys railway company, who, according to eyewitnesses, ran away from the gunman as fast as they could and locked themselves in an office at the other end of the train.
Contrast this with the reaction of three American men and a 62-year-old British grandfather, all of whom were sitting in the first carriage the terrorist entered. It’s worth pointing out that by the time they decided to act, they’d witnessed El Kahzani shoot another man in the neck – and, to be fair, this other man, Mark Moogalian, was a French passport-holder and the first to tackle the monster. But it’s quite hard for any self-respecting Frenchman to salvage much national pride from his actions because Moogalian was also an American, just one who happened to possess dual citizenship.
Twenty-three-year-old Spencer Stone, an off duty American soldier, didn’t hide under his seat or run to the other end of the train. (To read more, click here.)
I’m currently at a French campsite in the Languedoc, having been persuaded by my wife that it would be a good place to spend our summer holiday. She described the campsite as “a French Butlins”, which she knew would appeal to me. If I can’t afford to stay at the Hotel du Cap, which I can’t, I’d prefer to be at the bottom of the social pyramid rather than somewhere in the middle. But her main argument was that it would be incredibly cheap – cheaper, even, than renting a house in Cornwall. We’re paying about £100 a day for a “chalet” that sleeps six. There was simply no way we could be disappointed.
Well, yes and no. I’ll start with the positive. The staff are remarkably well-mannered. During check-in, I detained the pretty receptionist for about 15 minutes by forcing her to ring round all the local sports bars to see if any of them were showing the QPR game that was about to be broadcast on Sky. The answer, inevitably, was no, but she smiled at me so sweetly and said “désolé” so sympathetically, I almost didn’t mind. (To read more, click here.)
The 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has produced some predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth about the horrors of nuclear weapons. The Guardian called the dropping of the bombs “obscene”, citing the figure of a quarter of a million casualties, and CND organised a commemorative event where Jeremy Corbyn renewed his call for unilateral nuclear disarmament.
As a conservative and a realist, I don’t have the luxury of moral certainty. Was Harry Truman wrong to take the decision he did? On 16 August 1945, Winston Churchill defended him in a speech in the House of Commons, making what has since become the standard case. Yes, Japan would have been defeated eventually, but the bombings brought the Second World War to an end without the need for a land invasion. In Churchill’s estimation, that would have led to the loss of a million American lives and 250,000 British, Canadian and Australian servicemen.
Critics of the bombings dispute those figures, pointing out that Truman received conflicting advice about the likely American casualties, with some estimating they would be below 250,000. But does the rightness or wrongness of the decision turn on whether it produced a net saving of lives? Even if the bombings indisputably produced a net loss, that wouldn’t necessarily make them wrong. Truman wouldn’t have been much of a President if he’d attached the same weight to Japanese lives as he had to those of his own people. His first priority was not to minimise the loss of human life per se, but to make sure America won the war and as few American lives were lost in the process. (To read more, click here.)
Fantastic Four begins quite promisingly, with a schoolboy standing up in front of his classmates and telling them about the science experiment he's conducting in his garage.
He's trying to build a teleporter that will beam human beings from one location to another, like in Star Trek.
As you'd expect, his schoolmates laugh and his teacher tells him to stop fibbing, but one boy's curiosity is piqued. This is Ben Grimm and the science nerd turns out to be Reed Richards, a brainiac to rival Albert Einstein.
They become friends and later, when Reed builds his machine and the two of them volunteer as guinea pigs, they're turned into The Thing (Jamie Bell) and Mister Fantastic (Miles Teller).
The trouble is, we have to wait for nearly an hour before this transformation takes place and, in the meantime, we're treated to endless scenes of Reed tinkering about in his laboratory — staring into a computer terminal, brandishing a welding torch and gazing longingly at Susan Storm (Kate Mara), his beautiful colleague.
Sir Tim Hunt's alleged views about how distracting female scientists can be are right on the money, according to this film.
While most superhero movies would get these early parts of the narrative out of the way as quickly as possible so the action can begin, Fantastic Four gets bogged down in them and doesn't give itself enough time to focus on the meat of the story.
So the dramatic conflict with Doctor Doom (Toby Kebbell), when it finally arrives, feels perfunctory. It's all build-up and no pay-off, like a 100-minute trailer for a film that never materialises. (To read more, click here.)
Watching a group of unruly schoolchildren make mincemeat out of a well-meaning teacher has become a television staple and Chinese School, a new factual entertainment series that debuted on BBC2 on Tuesday, is a case in point. We look on, aghast, as five teachers from mainland China struggle to manage a class of ordinary English 14-year-olds. They quickly discover that the techniques that have made Chinese schoolchildren the envy of the world don’t work with Kevin the Teenager.
On the face of it, the Chinese educational model has much to recommend it. Shanghai sits at the top of the PISA international league tables when it comes to maths, whereas the UK is languishing in 26th place. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds in the region are two-and-a-half years ahead of their British equivalents and even outperform the children of UK professionals. It seems we could learn a great deal from Chinese teachers, particularly when it comes to boosting the performance of our lowest achievers.
So why does it all go pear-shaped when they try and ply their trade at Bohunt School, a comprehensive in Hampshire? (To read more, click here.)
A few years ago, I got a bit fed up with receiving Christmas cards from my friends designed to show off just how well they were doing. A typical card consisted of five or six blonde children on ponies or quad bikes with a massive country house in the background. The caption would be something like: “Greetings from Shropshire.”
So I came up with an idea. Why not create my own version? I’d get my four children to strike a variety of delinquent poses. One would be outside QPR stadium, fag in mouth and can of beer in hand. Another would be doing an impression of Lord Coke with a rolled-up £10 note sticking out of his nose. My daughter would be pushing a double buggy containing two snotty babies and sporting a Croydon facelift. This is when they were all aged eight and under, which would have added to the joke. The caption would have read: “Greetings from Acton.”
I didn’t do it in the end, partly because I haven’t ruled out standing as the Tory candidate in Ealing Central and Acton. It’s exactly the sort of thing that would be reproduced on a leaflet by the sitting Labour MP, illustrating just what a heartless Tory bastard I am. But I was reminded of it earlier this week when I got a round robin email from the chair of the local residents association about a murder that had taken place on the corner of our road. (To read more, click here.)
The Prime Minister isn’t recommending that sickness benefit should be cut. Rather, he’s asked Dame Carol Black, the Chair of the Nuffield Trust, to assess a range of different strategies for reducing the level of obesity, drug addiction and alcoholism, including withholding benefits from those who refuse to seek treatment.
The economic case for tackling these problems is overwhelming. A recent study by McKinsey and Company estimates that obesity and its related medical conditions costs the British economy £47 billion a year, while the government puts the cost of alcoholism at £21 billion. Much of that cost is borne by the NHS, so reducing the scale of these preventable diseases will create some much-needed savings.
Then there’s the human case. (To read more, click here.)
Is this my Groucho Marx moment? Harriet Harman said earlier today that my application to become a “registered supporter” of the Labour Party had been turned down. I was “bogus” and had been “weeded out” [http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/28/harriet-harman-we-are-weeding-out-bogus-labour-leadership-voters?CMP=twt_gu]. Looks like I won’t be able to vote for Jeremy Corbyn after all [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/politics-blog/11680016/Why-Tories-should-join-Labour-and-back-Jeremy-Corbyn.html]. This is a club that doesn’t want me as a member.
Harman’s comment was in response to the news that up to 140,000 people have signed up to vote in Labour’s forthcoming leadership election [http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/07/ed-milibands-legacy-140k-new-hard-left-members-sign-up-to-back-corbyn/]. She said the party would be employing a battery of tests to check the bona fides of these new members and supporters, including listening to two-thirds of the recorded phone calls that union members are required to make in order to register to vote. “We are policing the integrity of this process,” she said. “The system is designed to give people that are supporters of the party, but not necessarily a member, a say in choosing the leader of the Labour Party.”
Harman’s in a tricky spot here. (To read more, click here.)