For years, Caroline and I have been squabbling over where to spend our summer holidays. Her ideal is a family-friendly Mediterranean resort where she can lie on a beach reading a paperback, while mine involves renting a car and driving from place to place, staying in Airbnbs and packing in as many ‘fun’ activities as we can. Last year she got her way; this year it was my turn.
So we took an easyJet flight from Gatwick to Munich. Admittedly not perfect, given that we were going to Italy, but it was the cheapest deal I could find: £450 all-in, including the kids. A bargain, even factoring in a 6.25 a.m. departure and a return flight to Luton. We ended up sprinting to the departure lounge after I’d miscalculated how long it would take to get through security — the perfect adrenalin-fuelled start to the holiday as far as I was concerned, although Caroline took a different view. (To read more, click here.)
With James Delingpole away in Greece, John Podhoretz steps in to discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones with me on Ricochet. His take on whether there is a progressive thread running through the saga is surprisingly sanguine and even-handed. Click here to listen.
written by an employee of Google called James Damore criticising the company’s efforts to diversify its workforce. This is 'where angels fear to tread' territory. The America technology sector has come under heavy fire for a number of years for failing to hire and promote enough women and Google is currently being investigated by the US Department of Labour for allegedly under-paying its female employees. But what makes this memo particularly controversial is that Damore takes Google to task for discriminating in favour of women.
He begins by saying he is pro-diversity and accepts that one of the reasons women don’t constitute 50 per cent of the workforce in the tech industry is because of sexism. But Damore goes on to say that psychological differences between men and women are also a factor and that these differences are, in part, biologically-based. For instance, he points out that women in general are more interested in people than things, which helps to explain why fewer women than men study computer science at university and apply for programming jobs. He also says that women in general value a good work-life balance, whereas men are more inclined to work long, anti-social hours to further their careers – probably a more important reason than ‘unconscious bias’ when it comes to explaining why there aren’t more women in leadership positions in tech. He goes on to argue that, in light of these differences, positively discriminating in favour of women may end up harming Google at the expense of better-qualified, harder-working men.
Before I get to the reaction the memo has provoked, which I’m sure you can imagine, it’s worth noting one more thing. (To read more, click here.)
One of the shortcomings of being an “education guru”, as I like to style myself, is that it can leave you feeling rather anxious about your own children’s progress. As a father of four I have lost count of the times that I have stumbled across some research paper only to think: “Blimey! I’m a really rubbish parent.”
Take “summer learning loss”, one of the most robust findings in the literature. Numerous research studies have shown that children lose, in aggregate, one month of schooling over the course of the summer holidays. In maths the average loss is 2.6 months. That is to say, when children return to school at the end of the holidays they are 2.6 months behind the point that they were when the school broke up.
Admittedly these figures are based on research carried out in America, where the long vacation lasts from mid-June to early September, so the average loss here won’t be as great. However, British schoolchildren still suffer compared with their counterparts in some of the world’s highest-performing school regions, such as Hong Kong, where the summer holidays are only four weeks long. Children in the UK attend school on average for 190 days a year, compared to an OECD average of 195 and an east Asian average of 208.
The reason this discovery left me feeling like a crap dad is because for years I was in the habit of leaving my children to their own devices during the holidays. (To read more, click here.)
Twenty-one years ago, in October 1996, I had the unenviable task of persuading Tony Blair to pose for Vanity Fair, the society magazine where I was working as a contributing editor. This was for the famous Cool Britannia issue in March 1997, celebrating Britain’s moment as the cultural capital of the world, and the editor-in-chief, Graydon Carter, was determined to get the youthful Labour leader of the opposition in the magazine before he was swept to power. Unfortunately, Blair’s deputy press secretary, Tim Allen, was unconvinced.
“Shouldn’t you be asking John Major?” he said. “Why should Tony help you publicise this phenomenon when it’s happened on his rival’s watch?”
He was right to be sceptical. (To read more, click here.)
For our 16th wedding anniversary, Caroline and I went to the Almeida Theatre to see Ink, a new play about Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the Sun in 1969 and the subsequent circulation war with the Daily Mirror. It is terrifically funny, brimming with comic characters and acerbic one-liners, as you would expect from writer James Graham, perhaps best known for This House, his play about the five-year duel between the Labour and Conservative whips during the period 1974-79. Ink is due to transfer to the Duke of York’s Theatre on 9 September and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
One of the things that struck me as the Murdoch character prowls the stage, laying out his plans for world domination, is how similar he is to Jeremy Corbyn. I don’t just mean in the obvious ways — privately educated, married numerous times, roughly the same age. I mean politically, too. Many of Murdoch’s best lines, particularly those in which he rails against the Establishment, could easily be delivered by the Labour leader. For Murdoch, the force he wants to unleash to bring down the ruling class is untrammelled capitalism, whereas for Corbyn it is organised labour. But they share a visceral contempt for the English class system and the sclerotic institutions and traditions that underpin it. (To read more, click here.)
As a Game of Thrones fan, I feel ambivalent about the fact that the saga is finally wending its way to a conclusion. The latest season, which debuted on Sunday, is the last series but one; there will only be a total of 13 episodes across both. On the one hand, I feel sad about the fact that a television series that has given me so much pleasure is coming to an end. But I’m also a little relieved.
At times, following the sprawling cast of characters and multiple story-lines has felt a bit too much like hard work. The past few seasons have become bogged down as the writers have dutifully charted the fates of minor figures such as Tommen Baratheon, an almost supernaturally boring princeling. I often found myself having to Google who the characters are just to keep track of them. The overarching storyline inched forward at a snail’s pace and the series began to take on a soapy quality — a drama without a proper engine. (To read more, click here.)