These are difficult times for democrats.
Before the World Cup began in Russia many predicted a brutal competition, with fans fighting police and foreign leaders staying away. Here, the Government all but encouraged a boycott.
So what happened instead? One of the most enjoyable competitions in years ended with President Macron of France leaping up in a packed stadium to cheer his country’s winning team — just a few seats away from a smiling President Putin.
And what has come next? Another blow to those who believe the best way to achieve prosperity and security is for stable, tolerant, democratic nations to work together openly through shared institutions such as Nato.
Today Putin meets Donald Trump in a private session in which the self-proclaimed US deal-maker will offer — well, what? Not even his closest team seems to know.
Faced with this — and the challenges at home of Brexit — two things stand out.
The first is that what now looks like the settled order of the years that followed the end of the Cold War is over. In reality it was never that settled — remember the Iraq War? But at least US Presidents respected Nato, they did not describe the EU as a “foe” and paid lip-service to the role of the UN.
All that civility has been blown up on Twitter.
But the second thing that stands out is that beneath the showboating the things that make the world stronger, safer and richer have not really changed.
Trade, not trade barriers, still works. Alliances are still more likely to keep the peace than one-off summit stunts. An open world is better than a closed one. Democratic progress is still something real.
Yes, all these face threats but that makes backing them all the more important. Even Putin’s World Cup shows it.
After all, which teams made the final? Democratic France, against post-Communist Croatia — a new EU member that emerged from the brutality of the Balkan war thanks to diplomacy and the commitment of Nato forces.
The autocrats do not have it all their own way.
New train times, again
For commuters on Thameslink new timetables seem to turn up as frequently as the trains.
Today brings the third in two months, promising more trains running more reliably, especially at peak times. Will it work?
This morning many services still seemed to run late but at least fewer were being cancelled. But passengers remain the victims of a botched relaunch for the route, which was supposed to have been transformed after a multi-billion-pound investment in new track and trains.
Even now, the rail industry cannot explain properly what went wrong.
That makes it all the more important that preparations for London’s next big rail scheme, the opening of the Elizabeth line this winter, are got right.
It affects fewer routes than Thameslink but it is even more high-profile.
Rail operators and Transport for London appear confident that things will go well — but then they were much too optimistic before the Thameslink changes, too.
Londoners will not forgive a second rail calamity — but if Thameslink really does improve and the Elizabeth line works, the horrors of much train travel over the past few months might just be followed by something better.
Summer in the city
Are you making the most of a rare, hot London summer?
A city built for cool, grey skies doesn’t always do heat well — just try the Central line at rush hour or sleeping in an airless flat — but there is plenty to like.
This week’s forecast is for cooler days until the sun returns on Friday, but with little rain ahead, the deckchairs are still out in the parks.
From outdoor cinema to the Proms and rooftop bars, the capital can get summer right.
Yes, there are queues at London’s best lidos but there is room in the pools on Hampstead Heath too — and if it all gets too much, don’t forget that soon enough we’ll be complaining about the cold.
So enjoy this brilliant summer while it lasts.