5 things about this week (23 June 2018)

by Stephen Tall on June 23, 2018

What is there left to say about Trump and the USA? The president’s policy of caging migrant children separated from their parents has proven too horrific even for him to sustain. (The audio recording of Spanish-speaking children crying out for their missing mums and dads is just heart-rending.) If there’s any chink of light in this story at all, it’s that Trump was forced to U-turn.

But note that polls showed a majority of Republicans (55%) backed him — and as The Economist points out here he only cares about energising his base. That, after all, is what put him in the White House in the first place; a blunt appeal to white America to take back control. Will what worked in 2016 work again in 2020 (assuming Trump does go for re-election) — you’re more optimistic than me if you’d bet against it.


I’ve been trying not to care about who hosts BBC1’s Confirmation Bias Clapalong Time Question Time following David Dimbleby’s departure. Trying not to care about QT is the default position of sophisticated political hacks; note how often we take to Twitter to declare we’re not watching it. I actually don’t watch it these days. It’s hard to know when the format got broke… Perhaps when they added a fifth panellist, meaning no-one gets time to develop proper arguments; or perhaps when the public decided going for cheap pops at the pols was the best way to go viral. Perhaps both. Either way, QT is all heat and little light. It is to serious political debate what WWF wrestling is to Olympic athletics.


I’ve been choosing my holiday reading. This used to be a thought-demanding, semi-stressful task — working out what which 5 (ish) books would fit in my suitcase and trying to anticipate what mood I might be in when I was elsewhere. A couple of quality Booker-ish novels, a crime thriller, a serious non-fiction read, and a wildcard were the usual mix. These days, there’s zero anxiety — I’ve got about 15 unread books downloaded to my Kindle — but also less anticipation. Then again, with two young children there’s also zero time.

If I did have still to choose, though, here’s the five I think would be on my short-list:

  • Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life (Booker-ish, 1)
  • Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (Booker-ish, 2)
  • Kate Atkinson, One Good Turn (crime thriller, though seriously well-written)
  • Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (non-fiction, long meant to read it)
  • Stuart Heritage, Don’t be a dick, Pete (wildcard — brilliantly funny Guardian writer)
  • **

    I’ve been reading about sugar: Wired’s long-read, The Collapse of a $40 Million Nutrition Science Crusade, how Gary Taubes’ anti-sugar campaign has more or less dissolved. The topic interests me as, when my partner was diagnosed with gestational diabetes during her last pregnancy, she was set a strict low-sugar diet which she had to monitor via twice-daily blood-prick tests. She lost loads of weight and I decided to join in; partly to avoid the inconvenience of cooking separate dinners, partly to lose the 5kg I needed to fit back into my when-I-was-30 clothes. And it’s worked brilliantly. Plus, it has the major diet advantage that drinking red wine is just fiiine (I’m doing it now, as I type).

    The tl;dr upshot of the article is that Taubes et al have been able to produce no hard evidence (yet) that a low-sugar diet is more effective than a low-fat one. Similarly, a recent major study comparing low-carb / low-fat diets found no major differences; and therefore advises that folk choose the diet that personally suits them best. (See above: red wine.)

    PS: this week, I made low-sugar brownies in my slow-cooker. The recipe demanded the use of 85%-cocoa chocolate with the inevitable result that the brownies are uneatable… unless mushed-up with (ahem) plenty of ice-cream.


    Swim time with the baby

    Swim time with the baby

    I’m three-quarters through my 8 weeks’ shared parental leave. Six weeks is nothing, I realise, just a tourist excursion into maternity leave. Still, I think I’m glimpsing the conflicted feelings my mum-friends experience at the prospect of going back to work. Relief at a return to normality, mixed with real remorse at the milestones I’ll miss out on witnessing first-hand.

    Our baby has learned to eat (and, mostly, enjoy) solids during my time off. He’s become much more confidently mobile. But he hasn’t yet said “mummy” (or “daddy”, despite a lot of coaching), or clapped his hands, or taken his first steps. Chances are, I won’t be around when he does. Six weeks’ ago, I’d have rationalised that away quite comfortably. Now, I feel a little bit sad at the prospect.

    Tuesdays have become my favourite day. With our high-energy and chatty ‘threenager’ in nursery I can focus on the baby. I take him to rhyme time at the library (where there’s maybe one other solo dad and 50 mums), then meet up with my partner to do some shopping and have some lunch. This week, while she had a scheduled afternoon work call, I took the baby to the park, playing on the swings and slide (so did he). Great fun and it wore him out, so I got to sit in the sunshine and read for half an hour while he napped. Then it was time to collect the threenager from nursery, and go back home with them both for dinner, bath, book and bed. It was pretty much a perfect day.

    And if you’d told me six weeks’ ago that would be my idea of perfection, I’d have laughed. Funny thing, parenthood.

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