As leaders assemble in Brussels for the Nato gathering today, many are hoping to avoid a rerun of June’s G7 summit where a belligerent US president frustrated key allies with a distinctly “America first” approach. There are no signs that today will be any different. In the run-up, Trump has professed the disparity between US and EU defence spending within Nato. The problem is, he’s right. Germany’s spending has lagged in recent years; while Angela Merkel has committed to expanding it to 1.5 per cent of GDP, the country still falls short of the 2 per cent goal set in 2014. European leaders have become used to the US providing defence muscle, as well as its willingness to act as world policeman – but those days are long gone. In the meantime, Trump’s penchant for treating allies like adversaries will be a source of tension on the world stage.
At the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in Beijing yesterday, Chinese premier Xi Jinping announced a €17bn stimulus loan for Middle Eastern nations. According to Xi, the money is for infrastructure projects, Chinese-Middle East collaboration in gas, oil and renewable energy, and “economic reconstruction”. The loan is part of China’s €767bn “One Belt, One Road” initiative, earmarked to create strong trade links with Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa – a modern Silk Road, as it’s been called. Especially set to profit, with a €13m package, are Palestinians – a move that has infuriated Israel despite China’s claims that the money is apolitical. Israeli critics and newspapers are already telling cautionary tales: in December 2017, Sri Lanka, struggling to repay it debt to China, handed over the strategic Hambantota port to Beijing on a 99-year lease.
During India’s local elections last year columnist Shobhaa De snapped a picture of a grossly overweight policeman and tweeted it, cracking a joke about “heavy security”. The gag went viral and resulted in Mumbai’s Saifee Hospital providing free weight-loss surgery for the officer. This story is not so much an isolated case but an endemic problem. It has emerged that one force has become so concerned about the size of its officers that it had to give them an ultimatum: slim down or face suspension. Bhaskar Rao, chief of Karnataka State Reserve Police, became alarmed when he realised that 153 of his 14,000 officers had died in the past 18 months as a result of weight-related issues such as heart disease and diabetes. When it comes to fighting crime and staying healthy, India’s thin blue line needs to watch its waistline.
The trappings of the modern world have delivered a set of unpleasant by-products. Alarm clocks jolt you out of repose in the morning, most jobs demand at least eight hours of work a day and there is never enough time devoted to being idle. These things caused former journalist Tom Hodgkinson to found Idler in 1993, a magazine that is devoted to a lifestyle of mental expansion and happy indolence. This weekend a live incarnation of the publication comes to Fenton House, a 17th-century merchant’s property in north London. The Idler Festival features talks on everything from Cambridge Analytica to the healing properties of hallucinogenic substances. Monty Python star Michael Palin will also be in discussion on whether idleness itself is a myth. “The idea was to create a mini-university, a day-school with fantastic people and an array of brilliant teachers,” says Hodgkinson. “Over time, idleness has become a philosophical lifestyle.”
Unconventional, ever-changing and utterly beguiling, this megalopolis is an endless parade of sights, sounds and smells.
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