John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for February, 2018


If the elite ever cared about the have-nots, that didn’t last long | John Harris

Monday, February 26th, 2018

The knee-jerk denigration of Brexit and Trump was bad enough, but now it is being intellectualised

Ten days or so ago, on the great sunlit upland of empathy and rational debate that is Twitter, the science writer Ben Goldacre drew his followers’ attention to an image posted by someone else. “Brexit voters get tremendously upset when you say they are racists and idiots,” he said. Below was a Venn diagram, with one ring each for “racists” and “idiots”, and an intersection labelled “racist idiots” – which, said Goldacre, “communicates the issue very clearly”.

Last Wednesday the New York Times ran a column by the journalist Roger Cohen headlined The Madness of American Crowds, partly about the Americans who voted for Donald Trump – who, he baldly claimed, were simply “mad”. “People are weak,” he wrote. “They are susceptible. They are easily manipulated through their fears. They long to prostrate themselves. They can be led by the nose into the gutter. The angels of their better natures, if they’ve ever given a moment’s thought to them, are a lot less powerful than the devils of their diabolical urges. They lie, they exploit, they seek distraction at any price from the monotony of existence.”

Just about all of us cast our votes at least partly on the basis of gut instinct and beliefs only partly rooted in truth

Related: It’s time to separate EU migration fact from Brexit fantasy | Kenan Malik

Related: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker review – life is getting better

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Will fentanyl deaths be the tipping point for our broken drugs policies? | John Harris

Sunday, February 18th, 2018

Synthetic opioids are an escalating tragedy, but treatment for addicts doesn’t have to be a dead end

Fentanyl is the unbelievably potent opioid drug cited in the deaths of such stars as Michael Jackson, Tom Petty and Prince. Far from mansions and flash hotels, it is also the street-level heroin substitute that is at the centre of mind-boggling statistics for drug deaths across the US: about 64,000 people died from overdoses in 2016, up 21% on the previous year. Fentanyl is so toxic that even inhaling small particles can be dangerous, but for the amoral people selling it to the addicts who often use it intravenously, it has no end of advantages, starting with basic economics: whereas a kilo of heroin is said to cost $6,000 (£4,300) to produce and will sell for a few hundred thousand dollars, the respective figures for fentanyl are put at $4,000, and as much as $1.6m.

Inevitably, it is now coming to Britain. Last summer the National Crime Agency said that fentanyl had been cited in 60 deaths over the previous eight months, the majority of which had taken place in Yorkshire and the Humber. In Hull, where as many as 16 people are said to have died recently because of fentanyl overdoses, journalists found people who had been long-term heroin users who were sold batches cut with this new drug – which seemed to inspire a mixture of awe and fear. What they said was vivid, and frightening: “On a scale of one to 10, heroin is a two and fentanyl is an 11,”; “It just comatoses you and throws you to the floor”. Fentanyl and its derivatives have also been mentioned in reports from south London, Hertfordshire, Birmingham, Bristol and the Scottish borders.

In ‘fix rooms’ common in Europe, users take drugs using clean syringes, overseen by people who help them into treatment

Related: Why fentanyl could become the UK’s most dangerous drug

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Profiteers make a killing on Airbnb – and erode communities | John Harris

Monday, February 12th, 2018

The short-let platform is pushing up rents and compromising people’s privacy and security. Regulation is long overdue

The woman I spoke to last week lives with her husband in Edinburgh, “in the suburbs, but close enough to touristy things and wedding venues”. Their flat is one of nine in a “big subdivided house”, with a communal garden. “I moved here in the expectation that I’d live with eight other families I would know,” she told me. “But suddenly, I didn’t. I was sharing it with a hotel.”

Related: Mass tourism is at a tipping point – but we’re all part of the problem | Martin Kettle

Related: Airbnb, Uber, eBay: in this intangible world workers must adapt to survive | John Harris

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We need to talk about ageing – and it’s about far more than the NHS | John Harris

Monday, February 5th, 2018

By 2050, 25% of the population will be over 65 – many living in solitude. Loneliness is becoming one of our biggest problems

The NHS crisis goes on, and its causes are clear: the government’s underfunding of the health service, and the eternally overlooked cuts to funding for adult social care provided by local councils, both of which go back to the 2010-15 coalition. Though some voices issue the usual cliched warnings about the NHS being a political football, the Conservatives – and Liberal Democrats – responsible should not be allowed to slip free of the blame.

In the short term, the solutions are clearly a change of government, and more money. But by 2050 one in four of us will be over 65 – and on current projections, such conditions as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s will be an everyday fact of vast numbers of lives. If we’re not careful, this winter’s horrors could be a portent of problems that will get increasingly worse, whoever is in power.

Related: Loneliness is killing us – we must start treating this disease | Philippa Perry

Longer lives, clearly, ought to be cause for some celebration

Related: The state of social care shames us all

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The punk rock internet – how DIY ​​rebels ​are working to ​replace the tech giants

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Around the world, a handful of visionaries are plotting an alternative ​online ​future​.​ ​Is it really possible to remake the internet in a way that’s egalitarian, decentralised and free of snooping​?​

The office planner on the wall features two reminders: “Technosocialism” and “Indienet institute”. A huge husky named Oskar lies near the door, while the two people who live and work here – a plain apartment block on the west side of Malmö, Sweden – go about their daily business.

Aral Balkan and Laura Kalbag moved here from Brighton in 2015. Balkan has Turkish and French citizenship, and says their decision was sparked by two things: increasing concerns about the possibility of Britain leaving the EU, and the Conservative government’s Investigatory Powers Act, otherwise known as the snoopers’ charter, some of which was declared unlawful this week by the court of appeal. The legislation cut straight to the heart of what now defines the couple’s public lives: the mesh of corporate and government surveillance surrounding the internet, and how to do something about it.

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