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Latest opinion, analysis and discussion from the Guardian. CP Scott: "Comment is free, but facts are sacred"

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    Even declarations of love from Michael Gove and Kirstie Allsopp couldn’t help the self-styled Maverick Toadmeister

    The grindingly algorithmic controversialist Toby Young was always painfully and obviously in the oedipal shadow of his socialist intellectual father, Michael Young. Each of his desperately politically incorrect tweets was an attempt to cuckold and castrate his progenitor.

    Toby Young has wasted his life spitting cold mucus at a ghost and throwing clumps of his own hot excrement at a shade, a raging zoo monkey. Toby Young was at war with a phantom cloud of semen, long since turned to dust motes, bobbing on the west London thermals. But, because I am kind and good, I take no pleasure in the slow-motion farce of his downfall.

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    Within months Egyptians will get a chance to elect a president. The result is not in doubt. The country’s future is

    Earlier this month Egypt’s authorities announced the dates for the nation’s next presidential poll. Yet before the starting pistol has been fired, the winner seems not in doubt. The country’s current president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, will almost certainly be his nation’s next president. A growing list of potential candidates have either withdrawn their bids or have seen them blocked. The man with the best chance of tapping the discontent in the Arab world’s most populous nation had been Ahmed Shafik, a former air force general who narrowly lost the country’s only free presidential election in 2012. His lawyer took to Twitter to claim that the government had forced him to pull out.

    This is a profoundly depressing but wholly expected turn of events in Egypt. Now the main threat from within the establishment is a former military chief of staff, though doubts linger over whether he will end up on the ballot. The army is reported to be secretly buying up private media groups to back a Sisi presidential run. All the signs point to the election being little more than a rerun of the 2014 poll, when Mr Sisi won 96% of the vote. Ludicrously, Mr Sisi’s opponent in that two-person contest finished third behind the spoiled ballots. Mr Sisi, a former head of the army, is coy about running again but everyone expects he will.

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    In the first of a new weekly column, Rhik Samadder reveals the horrific truth about his Amazon Echo, as well as his David Bowie and Kodak moments

    Got an Amazon Echo for Christmas, just like every other basic-issue human. I’m under no illusion it’s anything other than the larval cell of a cybernetic panopticon that will eliminate our species. But I love it, because it’s allowed me to turn my home into a centrally heated jukebox, with snacks in. “Alexa, play Whiter Shade of Pale,” I bellow the instant I get in the door, before I turn cartwheels across the floor. And it happens, like magic. Majestic, organ-led magic, the vibrations of which make the neighbours experience a creeping sadness they didn’t know they had.

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    The missed targets and overflowing beds are unprecedented, but at least Hunt admits it’s all about money. Two cheers for him remaining

    A minister presiding over a service in meltdown should expect to be sacked. Instead, on the NHS’s 70th birthday, Jeremy Hunt will be the longest-serving health secretary ever. And that’s a good thing. He is reviled by an NHS whose senior doctors and managers he has bullied, blamed and beheaded for the underfunding they repeatedly warned him against. Yet better the devil they know.

    When 68 of the most senior heads of A&E from the largest trusts tell the prime minister that patients are dying in corridors, that’s not shroud-waving or crying wolf, that’s real “prematurely” dead bodies. The current level of safety is “intolerable”, they write, with emergency departments “in a state of emergency”.

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    The Humphrys-Sopel ‘banter’ over Carrie Gracie reflects a wider contempt for women who demand equal treatment with men

    I am a woman employed by the BBC. I am a BBC woman. Both configurations are factually accurate, but the latter is weighted with deeper symbolism for me these days. The plural, BBC Women, is the collective name we have given ourselves in choosing to highlight a very simple principle: equal pay for equal work. It is a matter of the law, the Equality Act of 2010.

    And the group of BBC women I am a part of now numbers more than 200, including some of the most high-profile at the corporation. We are women who support our colleague Carrie Gracie in her public and eloquent pursuit of that principle of parity. Women who may have specific pay grievances or none, but, above all, have become involved in this issue because it is the right thing to do. And because we all want things to improve for future generations in the industry.

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    Porn didn’t invent women’s desire or exploitation, but, looking back at history, it has a powerful role in shaping both

    Another week, another news story about women’s porn habits: this time, data released by Pornhub showing that last year searches of “porn for women” increased by 359%. Year on year, data shows that women constitute a greater proportion of web traffic to adult streaming platforms– and with each new revelation comes a flurry of opinion pieces anatomising the trend’s social significance.

    Hailed in some quarters as a sign of women’s empowerment and decried in others as women’s complicity in our own violent objectification, such discussions retrench political antagonisms between second-wave (or “radical”) feminists and their third-wave (“sex positive”) counterparts. That’s before we even get to religious and conservative objections (undergirded by the delicious irony of Bible belt states driving America’s porn consumption).

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    Remainers gleeful at Nigel Farage’s call for a second vote are foolish. Those who voted to leave the first time have been given no reason to change their minds

    Say what you like about Nigel Farage, he shows a knack for pure politics that, unfortunately, the remain campaign never has. His latest double reverse ferret – coming out in favour of a second referendum, while insisting that it’s “the last thing he wanted” – has for some reason been welcomed by high profile remainers.

    The mood seems to be that if “even” Farage agrees with their call for a second referendum on Brexit, that is a sign that they’re winning the argument. Nobody has seemingly considered the idea that if Farage is calling for it then it may not be a good idea. Of course he would love a second referendum because there hasn’t been enough Nigel Farage on the telly for Nigel’s liking lately. He is a shameless egotist who ran Ukip as a vehicle for self-promotion of his own brand. While winning the referendum should have been a grand victory, it has resulted in him being sidelined in favour of actual cabinet ministers. A new campaign would put him front and centre where he feels he is entitled to be. It’s a no-brainer.

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    Mark Zuckerberg says he wants to ensure Facebook is good for people’s wellbeing – but its business model remains unaltered

    When Facebook announced it was tuning out publishers and brands to focus on friends, family and “meaningful interactions”, my immediate response was relief. I desperately want tech companies like Facebook to be fully aware of the impact they’re having on society and to take responsibility for when they steer us down dark paths. But I quickly realised something important was missing.

    Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg explained that this new direction was arrived at through research into social media. The findings say that when we use Facebook to communicate with people in our network we feel connected, and this can lead to long-term happiness. But when we passively scroll through a feed full of articles and videos, the results might not be as rewarding. “We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use but also good for people’s wellbeing,” the CEO explained in a Facebook post last week.

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    The Foreign Office should be protesting about the kidnap and torture of social media activists, not pandering to the generals

    In recent times Pakistani social media activists of a liberal, secular persuasion have been abducted by agents of the state, tortured then released after a few weeks. Invariably they then give up the blogging business: they stop criticising the country’s military establishment, or the militant religious groups long backed by the army as proxy warriors.

    Last month saw another abduction of a peace activist in Lahore. A Marxist professor was found dead in Karachi yesterday.

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    We need a profound cultural shift in our sexual politics – and that means recognising the smaller abuses of power too

    By now we’ve all become depressingly acclimatised to our favourite celebrities being outed as behaving less than perfectly in their private lives – and this week, it’s an account of an alleged incident involving comic and writer Aziz Ansari that’s gone viral. In a date described as “violating and painful”, a young woman says Ansari repeatedly misread signals, pressuring her into sexual activity she was uncomfortable with.

    Published by babe.net, the account makes for deeply unpleasant reading – and not just because of how clearly distressing the victim found the experience. In fact, her distress is even more pertinent and arresting because of how totally mundane it is. (Ansari has responded to the statement, saying “everything did seem OK to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned”. He noted that the sex was “by all indications completely consensual”.)

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    The will of the people cannot be respected on one issue only. Nicola Sturgeon could soon be calling for two referendums

    Brexit has turned British politics upside down. But to the UK government and Westminster political classes it is business as usual on the home front. It doesn’t matter for them that Brexit is nearly entirely an English revolt (with Welsh acquiescence), or that Scotland and Northern Ireland are being dragged along against majority sentiment in their territories.

    Related: UK government's Brexit impact assessment 'shameful' says Sturgeon

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    The failure of the outsourcing behemoth must be explained. Then we need a better way of managing public services

    To get a sense of the impact of the failure of Carillion, you only have to look at how far its ripples are spreading. Uncertainty now hangs over Aberdeen’s £750m western bypass, Sunderland’s biggest ever regeneration project, the glamorous new hospital in Liverpool, and another in Smethwick, the £350m Midland Metropolitan hospital. The ripples reach thousands of homes where military families live which Carillion is contracted to manage, the trains they are contracted to clean, and the school dinners they are contracted to make. The tentacles of this giant construction and outsourcing company, valued at £2bn only the summer before last, reached into the nooks and crannies of every part of the UK’s public services. It was a kind of parasitic growth in Whitehall growing fat on the contracts that government fed to it. It must not now be allowed to nationalise its losses.

    It is bleak for Carillion employees, direct and indirect. David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister, promises wages will be paid, but in the longer term jobs are in doubt; the pension fund is in deficit. Much-needed public investment will be delayed. Investors have lost everything: but what of Chris Grayling, the transport minister who awarded nearly £2bn of contracts, even after the company first issued profit warnings? Ministers insist the taxpayer is protected, but eyebrows were raised at the time at what looked less like a good deal than a bid to keep Carillion afloat. The government could have declared Carillion too risky to work with. It didn’t.

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    The government can avoid being ripped off by the EU, but the best deal the UK can hope for is to be first among outsiders

    Once upon a time there was a creature called Brussels that ate national sovereignty. This monster had a special hunger for Britishness, feasting on the independence of that nation, while its neighbours were mysteriously undiminished. France never became less French, despite dwelling closer to the beast’s lair. Prime ministers were forced to pay tribute to Brussels. They defended themselves with magical red lines, but the monster was too powerful. It had to be slain.

    That is the founding fable of Brexit, propagated by Eurosceptic journalists and politicians for years. At its core is the fallacy of “Europe” as something distinct from the UK; an extrinsic force over there, doing wicked things over here. In truth, Europe was part-British, as it was part-French and part-German. UK prime ministers wielded their share of the power that newspapers back home called “Brussels”. As a political entity and as a bureaucracy, Brussels was never just them. It was also us. A tragic irony of Brexit is that it risks turning our relationship with the EU into the unbalanced thing it was falsely said to be.

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    No wonder its figureheads are incompetent attention-seekers – the party only knows what it hates

    The Henry Bolton spectacle was paraded on Radio 4 a little too early this morning, which did nothing to allay its surreal and dreamlike quality. It was 07.21 hours, and an elderly man was quizzing a slightly younger man about his relationship with a 25-year-old white supremacist. They had their first date on Boxing Day 2017. Then, mysteriously, it seemed they were back in 1936. Given that Jo Marney only wanted to keep Britain white in a private Facebook message, and that wasn’t a “core belief”, didn’t Bolton, the leader of Ukip, feel moved to “stand by her”?

    Related: Ukip leader's future uncertain despite splitting from girlfriend

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    Educationists and politicians say introducing overly formal teaching practices is a potential disaster for children’s learning

    We are deeply concerned about Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings report. The report infers that reception classes should be taught like year 1. This would mean narrowing the curriculum to focus more heavily on literacy and mathematics, overly formal teaching and less opportunity for play. It asserts that “successful” schools already teach in this way. However, the report is based on visits to less than 0.25% of schools. It appears that Ofsted only visited schools where teaching was congruent with the recommendations the report would later make.

    Thousands of reception children make excellent progress following a broad and balanced curriculum where play is the central feature. Here, children engage in purposeful activities, both adult-guided and child-led, with teachers who are highly skilled in moving learning forward. The basic architecture of a child’s brain is forming during reception year. Introducing overly formal, unsuitable teaching practices is a potential disaster for children’s learning.

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    At the end of last year Peter Preston (obituary, 8 January) was sifting through hundreds of entries for the European Press prize, making sure that – right to the end – he had all the bases covered. We will all miss the wisdom, integrity and humour he brought to the venture that he had helped to found in 2012.

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    Self-belief | Obesity | Mary Shelley | The new Guardian

    • Hadley Freeman may be right that maleness seemed a necessary factor in acquiring confidence (Weekend, 13 January), but it is not sufficient. Neither I, nor my male friends leaving Huddersfield in the late 1960s for elite universities, managed the trick: we didn’t have the social class.
    Neil Hanson
    Huddersfield

    • Admire your fat body (Opinion, 16 January), but be reminded of future medical issues. I am in my 60s with a prediabetes warning. I should have been aware of the dangers of sugar and carbs years ago.
    Lorrie Marchington
    High Peak, Derbyshire

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    Lin Friend on getting her early-years class to play airports; maths is fun, says Karl Sabbagh

    I was an early years teacher for most of my career (Letters, 16 January). One afternoon our new head who was very target-orientated came into my classroom and stopped dead. “What are they doing?” she asked, clearly horrified. What she saw was that all the classroom furniture had been moved and the chairs were lined up in pairs in the middle of the room. The children were milling about and there seemed little control or purpose.

    What I saw and had helped them create was a role-play area based on a visit to an airport. We had a check-in desk where the children showed their passports, which they had made complete with photo, name and address. We had menus handwritten by the children, we had the flight crew examining a world map to decide where to go, we had cabin crew counting the number of seats and telling the check-in desk how many vacancies they had. All of this involved planning, cooperation, discussion and a shared purpose. Each child was engaged and each was eager to have a turn at the different roles.

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    If spilled, heavy fuel oil would remain for long periods and could spread widely if entrained in moving ice, writes Sue Libenson

    The stricken tanker now sunk offshore of Shanghai should give pause to all with concern for the ocean, especially those who depend on sensitive, remote waters such as the Arctic. The tanker’s cargo of light fuel burned for a week, but response crews have voiced concerns about the heavy fuel oil or bunker fuel that powered the tanker. Heavy fuel is the dirtiest oil and highly persistent if spilled. A large heavy fuel spill into the waters of China’s largest fishery would compound the tragedy of the tanker’s missing crew. High seas, poisonous fumes, explosions, and winds have hampered rescue and response efforts this week. China’s calamity highlights efforts to prevent heavy fuel oil spills in other sensitive, but more challenging waters. International consideration is being given to phase out the use of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic where communities depend on marine life and spill response is negligible. If spilled, heavy fuel oil would remain for long periods and could spread widely if entrained in moving ice. This dangerous fuel is already banned under international rules for Antarctic waters. The Arctic deserves the same international precautions.
    Sue Libenson
    Senior Arctic program officer, Pacific Environment, Haines, Alaska

    • Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

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