Philippa Thomas Online

Occasional thoughts about life, books and news.


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“Revenge of the ‘Deplorables'” – a good read

My day has been thrown off course by a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit. “Revenge of the ‘Deplorables‘” is an excellent long read – asking what’s behind the growing distrust in government institutions and conventional media.

The report asks whether Brexit and Trump are “a triumph of democracy or a threat to it?”

The headline is the EIU’s downgrading of the US from a full to a “flawed” democracy in its Democracy Index 2016 but with this key caveat – the election of Mr Trump as US president “was in large part a consequence of the longstanding problems of democracy in the US.” It’s been a long time coming.

 

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Why Jo Cox was the best kind of politician.

I will remember Jo on her boat with a baby and a smile.

We’d been introduced by a mutual friend who used to work in the White House. When I headed back to London after four years living in the States, he said “there’s this fantastic woman you just have to meet”. And so in October 2011 we did – on her lovely vintage houseboat on the Thames. We talked about babies and boats and travelling the world, about being working parents, and about what professional women could do to help others coming up behind them – as she did.

I first reported on politics for the BBC in Westminster back in 1990, and have spoken to dozens and dozens of politicians since in the UK, the US and beyond. I’m always fascinated with what drives them.

With Jo, this was very clear. She was in politics not for what she could be, but for what she could do. She was smart, strategic, lovable – yes, she could have been a cabinet minister or a party leader. But she really was driven to make the world a better place. And to make us behave more decently.

She was passionate but positive. Something else to hold onto in an age of politicians “full of sound and fury”.

“Let’s have a cuppa sometime” she tweeted me last month. Oh if only


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Donald #Trump. Really? My take on the upcoming US elections.

“Unhinged”. 

“Outrageous”. 

“Offensive and outlandish”. 

“A race-baiting xenophobic religious bigot”. 

All Republicans denouncing one – at least in name – of their own.

Donald J Trump is not backing down over his call for Muslims to be barred from entering the United States. Donald J Trump has elbowed his way to the top of the political agenda with two huge assets – money and belligerence. Continue reading


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Having fun learning “How to Speak Money”

I really enjoyed meeting author John Lanchester in the TV studio last night. I thoroughly enjoyed the insights of his novel “Capital” into the different tribes of modern Londoners. Now I can also recommend “How to Speak Money”, after speed reading the book in 24 hours, learning a lot, and laughing out loud at a surprising number of entries. Here are a few of the nuggets…. Continue reading


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Our Virtual Bookclub

The headlines are gloomy.  The newspaper industry is contracting; print publishing is suffering at the hands of Amazon’s low prices and the e-book alternative.  There is a justified pessimism about the traditional mechanisms of delivery.

And it’s thrown up very big questions.  What about the appetite for news and the appetite for reading?  What’s the impact of our expectation, in the early 21st century,  that it’s not just comment but content that comes free?

The gloomy wisdom, again, is that serious Reithian news provision is suffering. It costs money to staff foreign bureaux, to cover town halls, to mount a lengthy investigation. It’s easier to offer news-lite, news you can use, news that shades into light entertainment. And as for reading, some of the most remarkable growth is in the softer options, like teen reads for adults,  and guilty pleasures, like Fifty Shades of Grey on your Kindle on the tube.

But what do we make of the silver lining? These comments are purely anecdotal, no science.  I’m just enjoying the new enthusiasm about reading that seems to have been sparked by our new ability to share.

All the world’s a virtual bookclub. And anyone can start a conversation.

A blogpost book review gets an echo – whether it’s picked up by algorithm or another blogger with a human face.

Hashtags on twitter can create a global bookclub that forms and disperses within hours, like a literary flashmob.

A recommendation brings rewards: if at the end of a Kindle read, I post an appreciative tweet, a fellow-reader’s find often bounces right back – “if you liked that, you’ll love this” – or “try this one, it’s much better!”

Here are just three of my  online discoveries; I’d like to know yours.

A hashtag – #Fridayreads. 

A website – Brainpickings. 

And a weekly email from The Browser. 

They’ve made my reading broader, more prolific, more fun. And so far, they’re all free. Though I’ve enjoyed The Browser’s eclectic offerings of long reads so much, I’ve just responded to their polite invitation to become a subscriber for more.

It’s as if we’re all wandering within an enormous virtual bookshop, not as strangers wrapped up inside our own heads, but neighbours immersed in a hum of civilised conversation.

If you love to read – and like to make connections – this is one way in which you’ll never be lonely again.

I’m not ignoring the hard part – the harnessing of that enthusiasm to a willingness to pay the price which keeps authors (and journalists) in business.  I’m trying to see the bigger picture.

Could the rise of apps like The Browser lead to the end of my local library, or make it more likely that my child will get the library habit?  Does a rising tide float all boats? Or am I failing to see what’s struggling to survive : not waving, but drowning?


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With the families in London on #sept11

The Stars and Stripes flew at half mast from the roof of the American Embassy.  In the green square below, the families took turns to lay a  single white rose in the Memorial Garden. The motto inscribed there reads  “Grief is the Price we Pay for Love”.  Underneath are the names of the 67 British citizens who died.  It’s a simple, peaceful space, wreathed with wisteria and lilies, roses and rosemary. Continue reading