Extreme archives

That 10,000 year clock is being built in remote, mountainous west Texas, a location thought to be safe from whatever the future might have in store for us. Here’s news of another.

Microsoft apocalypse-proofs open source code in an Arctic caveBloomberg
This is the Arctic World Archive, the seed vault’s much less sexy cousin. Friedman unlocks the container door with a simple door key and, inside, deposits much of the world’s open source software code. Servers and flash drives aren’t durable enough for this purpose, so the data is encoded on what look like old-school movie reels, each weighing a few pounds and stored in a white plastic container about the size of a pizza box. It’s basically microfilm. With the help of a magnifying glass, you—or, say, a band of End Times survivors—can see the data, be it pictures, text, or lines of code.

extreme-archives-1

What starts out as a quirky vanity project/photo op for the GitHub CEO becomes to be seen, at the very end of the article, and for him personally, as a timely precaution against a world “fundamentally weirder than it was 20 years ago”.

Mixing yesterday’s politics with tomorrow’s technology

I must admit I was as incredulous as everybody else when this was announced. Any talk of nationalisation makes me cringe.

Full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on Labour’s British Broadband announcementThe Labour Party
A Labour government will make broadband free for everybody. And not just any broadband, but the very fastest. Full-fibre broadband to every home, in every part of our country, for free – as a universal public service.

And once it’s up and running, instead of you forking out for your monthly bill, we’ll tax the giant corporations fairly – the Facebooks and the Googles – to cover the running costs.

But perhaps I’m being too hasty to dismiss this?

The Conservative’s own research shows why Labour’s broadband plan makes perfect senseWired UK
Research commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) last year argued that current major providers are competing for a slice of just 75 per cent of the UK broadband market – and largely ignoring rural areas that they consider unprofitable. …

Openreach was even identified as the best (and only) contender for the job, and advised against “competitive tendering”. In a similar way to Australia and Singapore, this model could deliver coverage at a lower cost than a model that relies more heavily on the private sector, analysts argued.

We’ll have to wait and see. It could all be academic anyway, come 12 December.

Being an astronaut isn’t plain sailing

One way of escaping our worries here on Earth could be to take a trip to the International Space Station. That might not work out so well, though.

Life on the Space Station is about to get really weird and lonelyWired UK
Right now, there are six astronauts aboard the International Space Station, floating 408km above our heads. But soon things could be about to get a lot lonelier up there. Delays in building new spacecraft to get astronauts into space mean that the next trio of astronauts set to join the ISS in April 2020 are facing the possibility of being the space station’s lone occupants for six months.

Space can make your blood flow backwardsBGR
On Earth, gravity aids in draining blood from the head and ensuring a steady flow. In space, that assistance just isn’t there, and slow-moving or stagnant blood can cause clotting. In fact, two of the crew members were found to have clots or partial clots in their left internal jugular vein. Blood clotting is incredibly dangerous when it happens within the body, and if a clot were to form and then travel to the lungs it could create a pulmonary embolism, which is a potentially fatal condition that requires immediate treatment.

Who to vote for? Who to trust?

This election’s quickly getting complicated. Let’s start at the beginning.

General election 2019: A really simple guideBBC
The UK’s main parties are gearing up for a general election on 12 December. These national votes, to choose a government to run the country, are supposed to be held every five years. But this would be the third since 2015. …

The issues UK voters care most about have changed a lot, according to the polls. The National Health Service (NHS) and immigration were the things that most concerned voters in 2015. The European Union (EU) was of far less interest. Now, however, Brexit – the UK’s departure from the EU – is by far the biggest issue.

who-to-trust

As this explainer from the BBC shows, there are marginal seats, with a majority of less than 10%, and now there are ultra-marginals, those with a majority of less than 2%.

Election 2019 in maps: Where are the seats that could turn the election?BBC
In 2017 there were 51 of these ultra-marginals – considerably more than in previous elections. In fact there were eight seats with a majority under 50.

All those will be hotly contested. The Conservatives will be hoping to win back some of the seats they lost last time – like Canterbury, Keighley and Kensington – while Labour will try to take seats where it got within a whisker – such as Arfon, Pudsey and Southampton Itchen.

Lots of talk about pacts and alliances between parties, though that’s far from straightforward.

The Lib Dem-Green-Plaid pact isn’t really a remain allianceIndependent
It’s perfectly legitimate for parties to tactically stand down against each other to increase their chances of winning. To describe this particular arrangement as being in aid of Remain however seems like a stretch given some of the seats involved. The selection seems more driven by which seats the parties want to win, rather than an assessment of whether the sitting MP supports a Final Say or not.

Remain alliance hit by candidates backlash over centrally-imposed pactTelegraph
The Green candidate in former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith’s Chingford seat is now backing Labour even though the pact between LibDems, Greens and Plaid Cymru explicitly ruled out any deals with Labour because of Jeremy Corbyn’s backing for a Brexit deal. John Tyne, a Green activist, said he was “tactically withdrawing” from the contest and would instead work with Labour to overturn Mr Duncan Smith’s 2,400 majority.

UK election 2019: everything you need to know about Brexit Party’s Leave ‘pact’The Conversation
Electoral deals, unilateral standing aside and tactical voting seem to have become the hallmark of this election campaign so far. And, if the assumption that in the absence of a Brexit party, or of UKIP, supporters will tend to vote Conservative holds, then this is both good and bad news for the Tories. Because although it may help some defences, it undermines Johnson’s team in their attack seats. And it may not do wonders for its brand in other areas.

And no shortage of people telling us who to vote for, however surprisingly.

Second ex-Labour MP urges people to vote for Boris Johnson to stop Jeremy CorbynIndependent
Mr Woodcock, who held Barrow and Furness for Labour for eight years before resigning the party to go independent in 2018, said he would be voting Conservative in order to prevent Mr Corbyn taking control of the UK’s defence and security.

Vote Lib Dem, urges former Conservative minister David GaukeThe Guardian
The former chief secretary to the Treasury said getting enough Liberal Democrats and independents returned to parliament would create a parliament opposed to no deal and that would also block the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, from becoming prime minister.

At least we’re clear who the leaders say we should vote for, right?

The fake video where Johnson and Corbyn endorse each other BBC
A fake social media video where Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn endorse each other for prime minister has been posted online in an attempt to show the potential of so-called ‘deepfake’ videos to undermine democracy.

Rather than voting for the party you want, perhaps we should vote tactically, against the party we don’t. But how?

And then there were three: Remain tactical voting sites fail to agreeThe Guardian
While tactical voting could play a key role in shaping the result of a volatile election, there are already concerns that the three sites disagree on which party voters should back in dozens of seats around the country.

Under current plans, Miller’s site will back about 50 Liberal Democrat candidates. Another major site already up and running, run by the Best for Britain campaign, recommends about 180 Lib Dems. Remain United’s model suggests that the Lib Dems are likely to win only 33 seats if there is a significant tactical voting drive. A third site, run by the People’s Vote campaign, also launched this weekend with its own set of recommendations.

I live in one of those ultra-marginals mentioned earlier, a constituency on the People’s Vote top 100 key target list, and all three sites suggest the same for me. This is how Best for Britain sees the result going. We’ll see.

who-to-trust-2

How much faith should we have in these sites and their differing methodologies? And what on earth is multilevel regression and poststratification?

Can you actually trust tactical voting websites?Wired UK
Because there are very few rules ensuring transparency in MRP modelling, it’s almost impossible to know where this variance comes from. People are being advised to vote for a political party without knowing that advice’s true impact. While Remain United has posted its results and general methodology online, Best for Britain has been less open. … John Curtice, who is also the President of the British Polling Council, told me that the regulatory organisation is “in the process of developing” transparency rules for publishing data from MRP modelling.

But perhaps we’re seeing this whole election from the wrong angle. Perhaps we’re overestimating the significance of the pacts and alliances, of the tactical voting models and strategies — of Brexit, itself.

Tactical pacts won’t turn this into a Brexit electionThe Guardian
Most people are not party members. Only the eccentric few follow every twist of the debate. The nerds who monitor cabinet reshuffles as if they were football transfer windows relish an election. It is our world cup. But the rest see it more like a trip to the dentist, necessary but unwelcome. It is something that should happen regularly but not often; definitely not recreational. Those are the people who decide the result and, hard though it may be for the obsessives like me to accept, their perspective is often better than ours. …

The ambition for pacts comes from the belief that this election is a referendum in disguise, and that voters must be channelled into leave and remain streams before they can be let loose in a polling booth. That isn’t how most people will see things, because it isn’t how general elections work. They are a tangle of old habits and first-time departures, local cultures and personal priorities, of which Brexit is only one. For some it is the NHS, or crime, or just a nasty taste in the mouth when Johnson or Corbyn appear on television – which is as valid a test as any, frustrating though it can be for people who wish the electorate could be organised into tidy ideological compartments.

Disaster averted

Switzerland decides to keep emergency coffee stockpile after public outcry
In April, the Swiss government announced it would scrap its emergency stores of coffee beans because it considered the item to be “nonessential.” The public emphatically disagreed and, on Monday, the Swiss government announced it would not proceed with its controversial plan, according to Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger.

Better safe than sorry.

Say ‘I do’ with a spreadsheet? I’m glad I didn’t

I happily sit and play work with spreadsheets all day, but some people can take things too far.

Inside the hyper-organised world of wedding planning spreadsheets
I, too, initially scoffed at the wedding spreadsheets. It’s just a party! Why do people get so crazy about weddings?! I’m going to be a chill bride! But then I started to think about the venue. And the guest list. And the food. And the drink. And the music. And the transport. And the photographer… Of course, you can do away with as many of the details as you want (one spreadsheet I came across included tips on matching your tiara to your skin tone), but as much as you may wish to rail against the wedding-industrial complex, if you are getting married and want to do anything other than elope in secret, then mark my words, you will end up using a spreadsheet. …

As a result, while the spreadsheets can be generally helpful, they can also quickly spiral out of control, becoming a bullet-pointed reminder of all the social expectations heaped on people (and especially women) preparing for what they’re conditioned to believe must be a perfect event. Got a misalignment between guest numbers and venue capacity? You fail, back to square one! Didn’t factor in a hair and make-up practice session? What sort of bride are you? Forgot a flower buttonhole for the groomsmen? Game over, perfection not achieved! In one spreadsheet shared with me, you can almost hear the pleading of an embattled bride trying to keep a grip as she adds yet another entry: “Who will move presents and cards during cocktail hour, and to where?” Who will move the presents during cocktail hour? To where? Hang on a minute, I’m supposed to have a cocktail hour?

It was a while ago now, but in my case we didn’t so much want to get married, as be married — makes for a much simpler and calmer approach.

Can you hear this?

It’s been there since my teenage years, I think. But this last year, it’s really been making its presence felt.

Tinnitus
Tinnitus is when you can hear sounds inside your head that are created by your hearing system, not your environment. It could be a ringing, humming, pulsing or hissing. It is more prominent in quiet areas or at nighttime. … You can’t turn it off or move away from it, so it can be spectacularly annoying.

I think mine’s something like Tone 5 in this video of examples — very high pitched. The thought that the ringing will never, ever stop feels more stressful than the ringing itself, sometimes. Is this going to get worse?

Does tinnitus lead to hearing loss?
Even though tinnitus can’t be cured, there is still lots you can do to help with your symptoms. It’s important to understand that with rare exceptions, tinnitus isn’t caused by a serious condition and doesn’t lead to other symptoms. It certainly isn’t because you’re going mad. Nor is it going to keep on getting worse – in fact, it often gets less noticeable over time.

I’m not the only one with this problem.

White Noise – Tinnitus Radio Documentary
What happens when sounds exist inside your head? How do you cope with an internal soundtrack from which you can’t escape and only you can hear? These questions are explored in White Noise, a new Documentary On One production that investigates the mysterious world of people who suffer from tinnitus and the impact it has on their lives.

A fascinating, moving, award-winning documentary, full of people trying their best with this, created by someone who knows what she’s talking about.

Living with tinnitus – Documentary On One
I was prompted to make this documentary when I was diagnosed with tinnitus myself. About two years ago, I noticed an intermittent sound in my head that, over time, became a constant presence. You’ll hear tinnitus sufferers talk about ‘their sound’ and mine resembles stormtrooper boots marching on loose gravel, if you can imagine that. Then I began to wonder who else had it, and how do they cope with it on a day-to-day basis.

Will there ever be a cure?

Tinnitus: why it’s still such a mystery to science
It’s estimated that 30% of people worldwide will experience tinnitus at some point in their life. This number is likely to rise, as increases in life expectancy and exposure to loud music are all reasons people develop tinnitus. But while it’s more important now than ever to find a cure for this condition which is likely to become more common, researchers still struggle to find one because of how complex tinnitus is.

There seems to be no lack of research going on, though.

Tinnitus Week 2019
The positive take away from this, Dr. Aazh concludes, is that there are a number or rehabilitative approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, that can help a patient reduce their annoyance and the emotional distress caused by tinnitus, thus reducing the perceived volume of the tinnitus. This is something many people can achieve.

In the meantime, I should start following this advice from the British Tinnitus Association, and r e l a x .

Relaxation
The beauty and strength of the breathing exercises are that you can do them anywhere and at any time – standing, walking, sitting or lying down. They can be extended and control of the abdominal muscles can be introduced and combined with breath control. You can find more breathing exercises in books on stress management, relaxation, yoga, etc. so take an interest in learning to control your breath. Making breathing exercises a routine will allow you to see “letting go” as a first resort, not a last resort, in times of stress.

Here’s another take on that.

What being a tinnitus sufferer has taught me about silence
The only thing I can liken it to is when you own a refrigerator that hums, it’s really annoying and at first it’s all you can hear, but then as you live with it for a while your brain learns to tune it out – because it’s irrelevant noise. I’ve tried all kinds of ‘remedies’, I even got referred to the audiologist and had a full check up but no source for the tinnitus was found. The last thing the audiologist said to me when I left was “just try and forget it” – that’s pretty lame advice coming from a medical practitioner, but he was right actually. There is no known cure for tinnitus and the cause of mine is still unexplained, but sure enough things did get easier when I gave up trying so desperately to solve it, because the more attention you give to a sound the more prominent it will become.

I see his point in theory, but …

Be happy!

This study into happiness came out last month, but it’s interesting to read through this in light of the general election we’re currently in the middle of.

Why the UK was at its cheeriest in the 1920s
Says who? A study. By psychology researchers at the University of Warwick. They analysed millions of books and newspapers going back to 1825, counting key words that signify happiness and sadness.

And they found? That in the UK, we were happiest in the 1920s and after the end of the second world war. And least happy in 1978 during the winter of discontent.

Can money buy happiness? Two centuries’ worth of books suggest it can
By examining millions of books and newspaper articles published since 1820 in four countries (America, Britain, Germany and Italy), they have developed what they hope is an objective measure of each place’s historical happiness. And their answer is that wealth does bring happiness, but some other things bring more of it.

be-happy-1

Let’s hear from the researchers directly. It’s not all about the money.

What makes us happy? We analysed 200 years of written text to find the answer
What we found was remarkable. While gross domestic product (GDP) is often assumed to be associated with a rise in well-being, we found that its effect on well-being throughout history is marginal at best. GDP has increased fairly consistently over the last 200 years in the four countries that we looked at, but well-being has moved up and down dramatically over that time.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that well-being appears to be incredibly resilient to short-term negative events. Wars create dramatic valleys in well-being, but soon after the war well-being frequently recovers to its pre-war levels. Lasting changes to our measure of happiness occur slowly, over generations. …

Across countries, an extra year of life (in terms of longevity) is equivalent to a 4.3% rise in GDP. A year of internal conflict is equivalent to a 30% drop in GDP. Policies that seek to enhance longevity, for example through providing better access to healthcare throughout life, may therefore be better than policies that only attempt to increase GDP, which is increasingly being challenged as a measure of progress.

Sounds good to me

Yes, it can get a little too loud for us oldies sometimes, but movie music — and cinematic sound more broadly — is such a fascinating area.

Making Waves: The art of cinematic sound
Directed by veteran Hollywood sound editor Midge Costin, the film reveals the hidden power of sound in cinema, introduces us to the unsung heroes who create it, and features insights from legendary directors with whom they collaborate.

An incredible amount of vital yet laborious work goes on behind the scenes.

A new documentary explores the underrated art of movie sound
Synchronised sound came in with “Don Juan” in 1926, and synchronised speech followed in 1927 with “The Jazz Singer”, starring Al Jolson. But sophisticated sound design wasn’t born until 1933, when Murray Spivack created the giant ape’s bellow in “King Kong” by mixing a lion’s roar with a tiger’s roar, and playing it backwards at half-speed. Cece Hall did something similar on “Top Gun” more than 50 years later. Actual fighter-plane engines “sounded kind of wimpy”, she recalls, so she concocted her own substitute from big-cat growls and monkey screeches. The producers nearly fired her for her pains, she says, but she went on to win an Oscar.

The documentary is the work of Midge Costin, a sound editor-turned-academic. It took some time to get off the ground, however — getting clearance for the samples of so many movie clips can be a costly affair.

Making Waves: behind a fascinating documentary about movie sound
The courts have since ruled that sampling footage will be acceptable so long as it’s done in the spirit of public edification, and just like that, Costin was off. Between the connections she’d made in the industry and favors called in from fellow sound people, she put together an all-star lineup of commentators. From her former student Ryan Coogler to Steven Spielberg, who named her the Kay Rose chair at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, the deep bench of experts dissect scenes classic and contemporary to illustrate the great quantities of work that go into creating and fine-tuning a soundscape. Spielberg, for example, goes into the subtly expressionistic quality of the shellshocking beach invasion that opens Saving Private Ryan.

The bizarre methods by which sound effects are captured often remains a mystery, but in this music video, it’s all on show.

A brilliant highly rhythmic music sample created from abandoned industrial equipment on the docks
Multimedia artist Daniel Gourski and DJ Jonas Appel have created “Docks”, a brilliant, highly rhythmic music sample made entirely from abandoned industry equipment. Gourski and Appel creatively banged, scraped and knocked at the waterside equipment with all sorts of objects.

Gourski & Appel – Docks

You’ve had long enough

I loved the photograph chosen to head up this witty and insightful article by Jason Farago, art critic for The New York Times, about that Parisian “security hazard, educational obstacle and unsatisfying bucket-list item”.

It’s time to take down the Mona Lisa
Some 80 percent of visitors, according to the Louvre’s research, are here for the Mona Lisa — and most of them leave unhappy. Content in the 20th century to be merely famous, she has become, in this age of mass tourism and digital narcissism, a black hole of anti-art who has turned the museum inside out. …

In a poll of British tourists earlier this year, the Mona Lisa was voted the “world’s most disappointing attraction,” beating out Checkpoint Charlie, the Spanish Steps, and that urinating boy in Brussels. If curators think that they are inspiring the next generation of art lovers, they are in fact doing the opposite. People come out of obligation, and leave discouraged. …

The Louvre does not have an overcrowding problem per se. It has a Mona Lisa problem. No other iconic painting — not Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” at the Uffizi in Florence, not Klimt’s “Kiss” at the Belvedere in Vienna, not “Starry Night” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York — comes anywhere close to monopolizing its institution like she does. And if tourist numbers continue to rise, if last year’s 10 million visitors become next year’s 11 or 12, the place is going to crack.

youve-had-long-enough-1

youve-had-long-enough-4

I love photos of people taking photos, and there are more in a previous Times article from when the painting was recently moved.

Want to see the Mona Lisa? Get in line
Once they get past the metal detectors, ticket holders are herded like sheep in a long, coiling line. They shuffle up escalators until they reach the Mona Lisa’s skylit new digs: the Medici Gallery, named after a striking series of wall-to-wall paintings by Rubens also on display there.

Not that anybody notices the Rubens works. As if in an airport check-in area, dozens of visitors rowdily wait their turn in another snaking line. Armed with smartphones, selfie sticks and cameras, they then rush into the final stretch — the Mona Lisa viewing pen. They have roughly one minute there before the guards shoo them away.

youve-had-long-enough-2
youve-had-long-enough-3

Back inside the Mona Lisa viewing pen, Gregory Jimenez, 25, a college student from Chile, lifted his fancy camera above the heads of a row of people in front of him and took a shot. “You have to take a photo to be able to appreciate her,” he said as he walked out.

Photographs may be a solution, but they’re also part of the problem. People don’t just want to see the Mona Lisa: they want the picture for social media to prove it. Many don’t look at her at all; they focus on their smartphone screens. Some even turn their backs, beam their finest Mona Lisa smile, and take a selfie, as she grins right back.

Update 12/11/2019

News of a different approach from the Louvre.

The ‘Mona Lisa’ Experience: how the Louvre’s first VR project, a 7-minute immersive da Vinci odyssey, works
Visitors can strap themselves into the state-of-the-art headsets and learn snippets of information about Leonardo’s famous sitter, Lisa del Giocondo, as well as his artistic method and the history of the painting. It will immerse them in what could be the surroundings beyond the frame of what is depicted in Leonardo’s masterpiece, and, at the end, invite them to climb aboard an imagined version of Leonardo’s visionary flying machine—a sketch of which is also included in the exhibition—and soar across the landscape surrounding Mona Lisa’s luxuriant loggia.

youve-had-long-enough-5

Back to the Futurists

We’ve seen that the impact of AI on the art world has been quite transformative. Here’s how another new technology is changing what’s possible.

Umberto Boccioni: Recreating the lost sculptures
The destruction, in 1927, of a number of plaster and mixed-media sculptures by the Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) was a tragic loss for avant-garde art. Of the many ground-breaking sculptures he created between c.1913 and 1915, only a handful remain in existence today. Now, using a combination of vintage photographic material and cutting-edge 3D printing techniques, digital artists Matt Smith and Anders Rådén have recreated four of Boccioni’s destroyed works: a volumetric study of a human face titled Empty and Full Abstracts of a Head, and three of the artist’s iconic striding figures. This ground-breaking display enables modern audiences to ‘see’ these lost masterpieces for the very first time.

back-for-the-futurists-1

Boccioni’s best-known three-dimensional work is Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, the original plaster version of which belongs to the University of São Paulo’s Museum of Contemporary Art. One of the most instantly recognisable of all modernist sculptures, it appears on the Italian 20c coin. Dating from 1913, the work represents an aerodynamic figure – part man, part machine – racing energetically towards the brave new world envisioned by the Futurist movement. It was preceded by three sculptures on the same theme: Synthesis of Human Dynamism, Speeding Muscles and Spiral Expansion of Muscles in Movement. Until now, all that remained of these earlier works were a number of photographs taken in Boccioni’s studio and at three exhibitions around the world from 1913 to 1917. Careful study and comparison of these images has now enabled the creation of highly accurate 3D reconstructions of the original works, which were entrusted to a sculptor named Piero da Verona following the artist’s death, who subsequently disposed of them.

Here’s more on his most famous piece, from New York’s MoMA. It’s very striking.

Umberto Boccioni. Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. 1913 (cast 1931 or 1934)
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space integrates trajectories of speed and force into the representation of a striding figure. It does not depict a particular person at a specific moment, but rather synthesizes the process of walking into a single body. For Boccioni, one of the key figures in the Italian Futurist movement, this was an ideal form: a figure in constant motion, immersed in space, engaged with the forces acting upon it.

back-for-the-futurists-2

It reminded me of Universal Everything’s Walking City, but I think I prefer this version they did for Hyundai. More dynamic, and the merging of figures with speed and transport is definitely a key Futurist theme.

Running Man
Building upon Universal Everything’s series of films exploring human movement and digital costumes, Running Man is an expression of Resource Circulation, the automotive company’s eco-friendly production process – from steel to car to steel. The digital artwork’s sequence of costumes is inspired by this looping production cycle, as it evolves from scrap metal to molten and rolled steel, before being formed into a car frame, designed body and the fully realised car. The process is completed as the car is streamlined and recycled into the raw materials.

Web

A new political matrix?

Everyone’s election campaigns are underway now, with the various parties keen to target those voters they think best placed to swing it in their favour. But who are these people these days?

The centre folds – What happened to Britain’s median voter?
Since Brexit sliced through traditional political alliances, politics has become less of a simple matter of left versus right. Parties hammering out manifestos and preparing leaflets for swing seats are thus grappling with “Schrödinger’s median voter”, argues Marcus Roberts, a pollster at YouGov: they are unsure whether this mythical figure is alive or dead.

a-new-political-matrix-1

If Brexit dominates the coming election, the median voter will be no more. When it comes to leaving the European Union, voters have polarised. There is little sign of compromise between the Remain and Leave camps. Fishing in the gap between these two pools of votes will land few votes, points out Chris Prosser of the University of Manchester. When elections are fought on economic issues, between left and right, political parties can pick a point in the middle and not go far wrong. By contrast, “identity politics do not have give and take,” says Geoffrey Evans of Oxford University. It is relatively easy to compromise on, say, the level of tax. It is harder to do so on notions such as sovereignty.

Here’s my simplistic take on this: we need the parties to pick a quadrant.

This is how it used to be; the left, the right, the centre.

a-new-political-matrix-2

Brexit isn’t a left or right thing, it’s in or out.

a-new-political-matrix-3

But because we have another general election, rather than another referendum, we have to think of the latter in terms of the former.

a-new-political-matrix-4

So where does that leave those of us who sit in the bottom-left quadrant?

Meanwhile.

Tom Watson quits as Labour deputy leader and stands down as MP to ‘start a different kind of life’
The two men clashed repeatedly at the top of the party, with Mr Watson becoming a focus for the ‘moderate’ opposite in the party to Mr Corbyn. He criticised the leadership’s attempts to tackle anti-Semitism in the party and led moves to push it into supporting a second referendum on the EU, despite the entrenched resistance of the leader. Most recently, he defied Mr Corbyn by calling for the party to back a new public vote before the country went to the polls in a general election.

A quick word about data compression

Yes, data compression is a very technical subject but, as this Quartz Obsession summary shows, its roots are quite analogue.

Data compression
1867: Chicago Tribune publisher Joseph Medill argues for eliminating excess letters from the English language, like dropping the “e” in “favorite.” …

1934: Tribune publisher Robert R. McCormick, Medill’s grandson, institutes compressed spelling rules; some stick (“analog,” “canceled”), some don’t (“hocky,” “doctrin”).

Word up, guys

Following on from yesterday’s reconsideration of the treatment of Guy Fawkes, here’s a quirky little piece from The New Yorker.

Guy Fawkes and the new pronoun in town
The new pronoun is “guys” itself, which, according to Allan Metcalf in “The Life of Guy: Guy Fawkes, the Gunpowder Plot, and the Unlikely History of an Indispensable Word,” belongs on a paradigm of English personal pronouns in the twenty-first century: “I, you, he/she/it, we, guys, they.”

It’s used as a non-gender-specific pronoun, and I’ve certainly heard it being used that way at work for a while now. But for some, that’s still a problem.

But, for many, Guy’s etymological offspring, “guys,” when used as a pronoun, remains masculine, and its use is frowned upon as demeaning to women and L.G.B.T.Q. people. What to do about this upstart pronoun that has sneaked in through the back door? “Folks” is a little too folksy, but those same L.G.B.T.Q. people who gave us the singular nonbinary “they,” as well as “Mx.” and “Latinx,” have a solution: “folx.” Which sounds a bit like Fawkes. We can’t get away from this Guy, guys.

Remember, remember

Every year we’re asked to remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot. But how many of us really know what this means, this annual reinforcing of historical, institutionalised hatred and prejudice?

In her latest newsletter, The Conversation’s deputy editor Jo Adetunji compares our slightly bored commemorations today with the nightmare people went through at the time.

Before coming to the UK from Canada, I had no clue what Bonfire Night was. It was vaguely explained to me by friends as a celebration of some man named Guy Fawkes and his failure to blow up parliament on November 5th, 1605. Traditionally, the occasion is marked with fireworks, bonfires, and the burning of Guy Fawkes effigies. Or, as I’ve found in London, paying a £10 entry fee to stand in a wet, muddy park in some corner of the city, shivering while you wait for a five-minute fireworks display soundtracked by The Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars.

Of course, the real history behind Bonfire Night is far more dramatic than my recent celebrations let on. England in 1605 was bitterly divided – except back then, it was a religious schism taking place between the Protestants and the Catholics following the Reformation. Following the foiled attempt by Fawkes and his 12 co-conspirators, it only got worse. Accusations of treason, heresy, and even witchcraft, were used to persecute perceived enemies of the crown. Catholics fled north to escape, settling in places like Lancashire, which was cast as lawless – and full of witchcraft.

Through the lens of Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate, a fictional account of England in the early 1600s, Shareena Z Hamzah writes about the horrendous treatment of Catholics and women accused of murder by witchcraft. While Bonfire Night is a reminder of Fawkes, it should also be a reminder of the innocent people caught up in England’s troubled past.

remember-remember-1

The calls to continually burn these effigies (these days, I think, a thing of the past) remind me a little of a calmer, slow-motion Two Minutes Hate event.

It would be nice to think such religious intolerance is consigned to the history books. Alas:

In China, every day is Kristallnacht
In a cultural genocide with few parallels since World War II, thousands of Muslim religious sites have been destroyed. At least 1 million Muslims have been confined to camps, where aging imams are shackled and young men are forced to renounce their faith. Muslims not locked away are forced to eat during the fasting month of Ramadan, forced to drink and smoke in violation of their faith, barred from praying or studying the Koran or making the pilgrimage to Mecca.

And — in possibly the most astonishing feature of this crime against humanity — China has managed to stifle, through 21st century repression and age-old thuggery, virtually any reporting from the crime scene.

The Twitter Presidency

Some people think Twitter’s latest announcement about banning political ads is one others should copy.

The Irish Times view on Twitter’s ad ban: over to you, Facebook
In an important announcement on Wednesday, Twitter chief executive and co-founder Jack Dorsey promised the platform would ban all political advertisements – including ads about political issues – by late November. “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” he said. …

On Wednesday, Dorsey pointedly tweeted: “This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle.” He’s right. Facebook and others should follow Twitter’s example.

Here’s a different take on that, though.

Twitter’s political ad ban is disingenuous: The platform will continue spreading false political statements free of charge — and benefiting from it
In fact, I’d rather see a misleading statement by a politician clearly marked as an ad than endlessly replicated on my Twitter feed as organic content. It’s hard to disagree with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s contention that it makes more sense to increase political advertising transparency than to impose a complete ban on such paid content.

Of course, some “politicians” are getting their message out for free. Here’s a visually striking, in-depth article from The New York Times on how crazy Trump’s Twitter tantrums and tactics have become.

How Trump reshaped the Presidency in over 11,000 tweets
When Mr. Trump entered office, Twitter was a political tool that had helped get him elected and a digital howitzer that he relished firing. In the years since, he has fully integrated Twitter into the very fabric of his administration, reshaping the nature of the presidency and presidential power. …

“Boom. I press it,” Mr. Trump recalled months later at a White House conference attended by conservative social media personalities, “and, within two seconds, ‘We have breaking news.’”

twitter-presidency-1

twitter-presidency-2

Less elder-statesman, more oversugared-bullying-kid-in-sweet-shop. We’ll need to amend the dictionary definition of presidential, when all this is over.

There are other articles in this series, but I’m reluctant to subject myself to more of this craziness.

It’s OK

Technology is the reason we get old enough to complain about technology.
Garry Kasparov

It’s worth remembering that there is good news out there, if you know where to look.

The artists behind the names

Can you ever really know someone? Are we more than just a name?

The many faces of Rembrandt van Rijn
In the 350 years since his death in 1669, Rembrandt van Rijn has been reinterpreted time and again. The Victorians considered him a reclusive genius. Critics in the mid-20th century thought he was a misunderstood experimentalist. In the 1980s there was a fashion for seeing him as a brilliant businessman. More recently, he has been depicted as an empath, the supreme explorer of human emotion in paint. …

Curators seeking to shore up their characterisations of the artist have often done so by hanging him alongside other painters. Put Rembrandt alongside Caravaggio and he looks like a realist, alongside Auerbach and he looks almost expressionistic. … In these strange and turbulent times, it seems that the organisers could not help but show off Rembrandt’s comic sensibilities. The effect of pairing “Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul”—from which Rembrandt gazes out in exhausted forbearance—with Velázquez’s portrait of a Court bufón, scholarly and self-possessed, is humorous. Velázquez understands the dignity of a comedian, while Rembrandt demonstrates the comedy of dignitaries.

It is an insight that reaches its raucous climax in the Rijksmuseum’s prize Rembrandt, “The Night Watch”, which is currently undergoing the first stage of a public restoration. The painting depicts an Amsterdam militia company, the men’s gazes shooting off like misfired bullets, their gestures obscuring each other’s faces. The uniforms are mismatched, some a century older than others. The Rembrandt who painted it is an artist of political disorder—undoubtedly a Rembrandt that resonates in 2019.

From an artist with many faces to one who keeps his hidden.

Banksy caught on camera: New photo book documents street artist’s early years
More than 12,000 film negatives of his time with the artist “sat in files for years because I had no contact sheets,” Lazarides said. Then, he finally decided to start scanning them into a computer. The painstaking process took more than two years.

“It was a very strange period of time,” said Lazarides. “Film cameras were on their way out. It was incredibly expensive. But digital cameras hadn’t really come in. The internet wasn’t really that up and running. There was no social media, so you’re in a period in time when I suddenly realised, ‘Oh fuck, I’m the only person in the world with these pictures.’”

artists-behind-the-names-2

artists-behind-the-names-1

Dreaming of past Christmas presents

Nostalgia overload! New Argos site lets you browse 45 years of winter catalogues
For many, flicking through the Argos catalogue was, and possibly still is, a pre-Christmas tradition. Immersing yourself in that weighty tome and imagining how nice it would be to get that special present for Christmas, perhaps even circling it, was all part of the big build up.

Now, the retail giant has created the ultimate tool for wistful nostalgia with its new Book Of Dreams website. Whether you want to look for the toys you never got for Christmas, see how much prices have changed or show your kids the sort of things you dreamt of unwrapping on December 25, you can take a very long stroll down memory lane.

For Proust, it was a madeleine. For me, it was those silly Kodak disc cameras and teak effect cassette storage cabinets from the 1982/83 Argos catalogue.

The Book of Dreams | Argos

argos-1

argos-2

I wonder if the archive took its name from this Bill Bailey routine…

Bill Bailey – Argos

Here we go again

Another year, another vote, but it’s the wrong question. John Crace and Jess Phillips nail it again.

Brexit reduced to a petty squabble. Classic Dom
The one standout moment was a passionate defence of futility from Labour’s Jess Phillips. The coming election would not answer any of the questions that had precipitated it. People would interpret the results to suit their own ends, she argued, and Brexit wouldn’t be resolved for years.

All that was happening was that MPs had run out of ideas. An election was an admission of collective failure. Unable to resolve their differences, MPs had turned their sights on each other. A collective act of self-harm. We were heading for the Gunfight at the OK Corral. There would be blood. Many MPs wouldn’t be back in December. But everyone was banking on the fact it wouldn’t be them.

Nothing to worry about, right?

British polling – Who is winning the race for No 10 Downing Street?
Our poll tracker, which averages the findings of more than a dozen pollsters, shows how the parties are faring. It will be kept updated throughout the campaign. However, it should be read with caution. It gives an indication of public sentiment, but does not forecast the distribution of seats.

here-we-go-again-1

The Guardian ignores that last line about the polls not forecasting distributions of seats with this headline. It makes a good point about Labour’s fence-squatting habit, though.

Can Labour eat into projected 58-seat Tory majority?
Certainly, the Conservative strategy for an election campaign looks simple enough – “let’s get Brexit done” – an appeal that plays to the idea that the nation is worn out by Westminster’s endless battles.

That contrasts with the opposition’s argument, easy to portray as overly complex: vote Labour, negotiate a new deal and have referendum on the deal the party just negotiated. It is a promise of more Brexit debate and no certain final outcome.

And the first general election in December since the 1920s. Relevant? Nah.

Does holding a general election in December affect voter turnout? Science has the answer
“Such evidence as we have – which is limited – does not provide any support for the proposition that you can’t hold an election in the winter,” says John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde …

Research from 2007 published in the University of Chicago Press found that every incremental inch of rain decreased voter turnout by one percentage point. However, a 2013 study from researchers at Gothenburg University in Sweden didn’t find any effect of rain on turnout. Research from Oxford University also disputed any connection between weather and voter turnout, finding turnout was far more motivated by the election race being close or not and the policy differences between the leading parties.

Here’s another great piece from Chris Dillow, on a possible way forward through all this mess.

Detoxifying Brexit
The Leaver-Remain divide is so bitter because it’s become not about our relations with Europe but a battle of identities, with the two sides now being proxies for other things. Remainers see Leavers as social conservatives; Leavers see Remainers as elitists.

There are so many valid, sensible, rational and calming points here, from the benefits of constructing a counter-argument for yourself, to avoiding cognitive biases and dialling down fanaticism, but, as he acknowledges, there’s a problem:

The people who most need to know all of the above are those who are least likely to read it. The mainstream media seem keener to inflame passions than to dampen them.

A bit of me thinks the reason for this isn’t just to do with winning clickbait – something which the BBC, unforgiveably, seems as concerned about as the commercial media. Whilst we are divided about Brexit, we are not divided about something else – class. In this sense, Brexit hysteria suits our rulers just fine.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic:

Mash-up: Trump’s al-Baghdadi speech & Obama’s Bin Laden speech