Author Archives: James

Cheering for Thanatos

First published in The Hedgehog Review on 2nd June 2015fuseli_sarpedon_death

As if there weren’t enough mighty causes, age-defining campaigns, momentous movements coming to a head last week. As if the public square were not already deafened by the cacophony of acrimony, war cries, whoops of delight. As if health care, gun control, and gay marriage were a light load for the news cycles, yet another issue strode into the limelight, an issue the importance of which it is impossible to overstate.

At the end of that crowded week, The Economist took its stand on euthanasia. Its front page pictured a snuffed candle. “The right to die—Why assisted suicide should be legal,” the headline read. Just a few days before, The New Yorker had run a devastating in-depth “Letter From Belgium,” which reported on the escalating number of cases of assisted suicide for people with non-terminal illnesses in that Benelux bastion of social liberalism.

What has prompted the sudden prominence of the issue? Continue reading

June 2015 siiiicccckkkk playlist


The Vaccines, Dream Lover
Kendrick Lamar I
Mumford & Sons, Ditmas
Imagine Dragons, Bet Your Life
Florence & The Machine, Long & Lost
Foy Vance, At Least My Heart Was Open
Sufjan Stevens, There’s A World (Neil Young cover)
Ike & Tina Turner, Too Many Tears In My Eyes
My Morning Jacket, Believe
The Maccabees, Pelican
Townes Van Sandt, Lungs
Magnetic Fields, Love Is Lighter Than Air
Bruce Springsteen, Tougher Than The Rest

The Pope, the Jew and the vision of Blue Labour

First published by Standpoint magazine May 2015

In 2013 Lord Glasman of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill was giving a lecture at the Vatican. He was expecting to speak to a handful of intellectuals. Hundreds of people turned up, including, in the third row, a man wearing a white skullcap with a broad smile on his face. Speaking in Italian, Glasman outlined his signature critique of our overweening states and exploitative markets. He found himself assailed by an American free-market fundamentalist. “Interfering in managerial prerogatives and the free movement of capital,” said his inteDemotix 10th January 2012rlocutor. “There’s a word for this — Communism.” Glasman, who hails from a small-business background and whose project revolves around broader access to credit and the wider distribution of profit, set about defending himself. A fierce debate ensued until the man in the third row stood up to intervene. The room fell silent. “What’s the idea?” said Pope Francis to the American, siding with Glasman. “You exploit the parents and then buy pencils for their children in school?” Continue reading

April playlist

Sufjan Stevens, No Shade in the Shadow of The Cross
The New Basement Tapes, Lost on the River #20
Typhoon, PostscriptWill Butler
Will Butler, Anna
Odetta and Larry, Old Cotton Fields At Home
Yo La Tengo, Pablo & Andrea
Hollow Talk, Choir of Young Believers
Bifrost Arts Psalm 90,
Bob Dylan, Every Grain of Sand
Phosphorescent, You Can Make Me Feel Bad
Emmylou Harris and Richard Thompson, How will I ever be simple again?
Whales in Cubicles, We Never Win
Beirut, After the Curtain

How I screwed up in Hollywood (and how not to)

First published in The Spectator,Screwing up 28th March 2015

I took a trip to Hollywood because I’m a budding screenwriter. ‘Budding’ in this context means ‘unsuccessful’. Here’s Tennessee Williams on being an unsuccessful writer: ‘A life of clawing and scratching along a sheer surface and holding on tight with raw fingers to every inch of rock higher than the one caught hold of before.’

The meeting I clawed along to was at Rough Draft. This is how I got there: it started with pure nepotism. My dad knows a guy who has generous instincts and loves encouraging young people in their careers. He took me to lunch at Scott’s, where we happened to sit at a table along from a famous producer who’s made most of my favourite films. When he came over to say hi to my dad’s friend, I knew I had 30 seconds to pitch my script. Continue reading

Going to Church in America

First published by First Things

We are late for church. It’s Sunday morning in Char­lottesville, Virginia, and we’re late for church. I pull up in the car park, and my wife and I get out. We rush to the entrance, and I swing wide the door and hold it open for her. And then we find ourselves in a wide vestibule area.

The carpets, weak olive. The walls, light gray. Colors no one would live with, as Updike says.

But we can’t be that late, because smiley people—blazers and bow­ties—are still there to thrust pro­grams into our hands.

I lean forward and gently pull open the doors of the sanctuary. What we find inside is quite aston­ishing. It stuns me. It stuns Holly. It is beyond our wildest imaginations. I simply have no frame of reference for the sight that greets me. Continue reading

February 2015 Playlist

I’m excited about this one: some new discoveries as well as some classics. Enjoy!

The Headlocks – Dream While You’re Awake
Interpol – Hands Away
Vampire Weekend – Worship You
Alt J – The Gospel of John Hurt
Kansas City – Marcus Mumford (Basement Tapes)
Radiohead – Videotape
The Strokes – Heart In A Cage
Sufjan Stevens – We Three Kings
War On Drugs – Lost In A Dream
Letts – Charles de Gaulle
Yo La Tengo – I’ll Be Around

Chocolate threatens my marriage

First published by The Spectator Life on 29 November 2014

Mr and Mrs Smith: they have nothing on us. Their conflict, mere child’s play. Because since moving to America last summer my wife and I have been engaged in an increasingly frenetic game of cat and mouse over chocolate.

I only have myself to blame, because in a moment of madness I swore to give up chocolate, the substance which brings much pleasure and many pounds.

The logic went like this. 1. American chocolate is dreadful. 2. I am not tempted by dreadful chocolate. Therefore, ceteris paribus… 3. I will not eat chocolate in America.

But the premises were false.

First, naively did I assume that the America I knew as a child, when the chocolate options were exhausted by Hershey’s Kisses and Reese’s Pieces, would be the same country I encountered a quarter of a century later. Continue reading