I wish I knew

My son was playing a new piece of piano music following his lesson yesterday that really caught my attention. I didn’t recognise the title, ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free’, but if you’re a TV viewer in the UK of a certain age, you’ll certainly recognise the tune.

Barry Norman “Film” theme tune

It reminds me little of the South Bank Show theme tune — wonderful music we’d hear each week that I didn’t fully appreciate had a life outside that TV programme.

It was written in 1963 by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas and served as an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 1960s. Here it is performed by the Billy Taylor Trio, after a wonderfully laid back intro.

Billy Taylor Trio – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free

But if it’s a recording with soul you’re after, here’s the irrepressible Nina Simone. This just builds and builds.

Nina Simone – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free (Audio)

And here’s an amazing live performance from Montreux 1976.

Nina Simone – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (Montreux 1976)

The Luke Ascending

The Classic FM Hall of Fame 2019 was unveiled over the weekend, and Ralph Yawn Williams’s The Lark Ascending is in the top spot yet again. But don’t worry if, like me, you’re not a fan — here’s a much improved version.

The Star Wars theme combined with the Lark Ascending is unashamedly populist
Nobody saw this coming: Star Wars has never been so pastoral in this arrangement for keyboard.

The Luke Ascending – Star Wars/Vaughan Williams mashup

The image at the top of the post is a screenshot from one of the marvellous Auralnauts Star Wars Saga videos. I’m sure everyone’s seen these by now, but you must check them out if not.

Da Vinci, the map maker

We’re familiar with Leonardo da Vinci’s sculptural sketches and engineering diagrams, but he was an innovative cartographer too.

How Leonardo da Vinci made a “satellite” map in 1502
It was a feat of technological and symbolic imagination. And it was pretty accurate, too.

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This old map: Da Vinci’s plan of Imola, 1502
A map made by da Vinci would be interesting even if he hadn’t applied his fabled genius to the task. But here, he absolutely did. Besides this being a beautiful map, with its delicate colors and washes, it achieves a technical precision few others did at the time.

Most Renaissance maps are known for their fanciful inclusion of dragons, castles, and undulating mountainsides, and most of them show buildings in elevation, or the “oblique perspective.” But da Vinci’s sought to capture the proportions and relationships between land features more accurately, and he developed new technologies to do so. To make this map of Imola, he may have used the special hodometer and magnetic compass he’d already invented (he’d been fascinated by maps and optics for years). With careful measurements in hand, he drew every “street, plot of land, church, colonnade, gate and square, the whole encompassed by the moat,” writes the Renaissance historian Paul Strathern.

Da Vinci centered the plan in a circle with four crossing lines, representing the points on a compass. And he showed the city ichnographically, “as if viewed from an infinite number of viewpoints,” perhaps inspired by his study of avian flight. It is the earliest such map in existence.

We’re all in this together. Right?

Hanna Rosin from NPR has noticed a worrying trend. It’s not just that we’re caring less, but that we’re reducing who we care for.

The end of empathy
Konrath collected decades of studies and noticed a very obvious pattern. Starting around 2000, the line starts to slide. More students say it’s not their problem to help people in trouble, not their job to see the world from someone else’s perspective. By 2009, on all the standard measures, Konrath found, young people on average measure 40 percent less empathetic than my own generation — 40 percent!

It’s strange to think of empathy – a natural human impulse — as fluctuating in this way, moving up and down like consumer confidence. But that’s what happened. Young people just started questioning what my elementary school teachers had taught me.

But surely we’re all in this together.

I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people
Personally, I’m happy to pay an extra 4.3 percent for my fast food burger if it means the person making it for me can afford to feed their own family. If you aren’t willing to fork over an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac, you’re a fundamentally different person than I am.

I’m perfectly content to pay taxes that go toward public schools, even though I’m childless and intend to stay that way, because all children deserve a quality, free education. If this seems unfair or unreasonable to you, we are never going to see eye to eye.

Generative art’s rich history on show

Artnome’s Jason Bailey on a generative art exhibition he co-curated.

Kate Vass Galerie
The Automat und Mensch exhibition is, above all, an opportunity to put important work by generative artists spanning the last 70 years into context by showing it in a single location. By juxtaposing important works like the 1956/’57 oscillograms by Herbert W. Franke (age 91) with the 2018 AI Generated Nude Portrait #1 by contemporary artist Robbie Barrat (age 19), we can see the full history and spectrum of generative art as has never been shown before.

Zurich’s a little too far, unfortunately, so I’ll have to make do with the press release for now.

Generative art gets its due
In the last twelve months we have seen a tremendous spike in the interest of “AI art,” ushered in by Christie’s and Sotheby’s both offering works at auction developed with machine learning. Capturing the imaginations of collectors and the general public alike, the new work has some conservative members of the art world scratching their heads and suggesting this will merely be another passing fad. What they are missing is that this rich genre, more broadly referred to as “generative art,” has a history as long and fascinating as computing itself. A history that has largely been overlooked in the recent mania for “AI art” and one that co-curators Georg Bak and Jason Bailey hope to shine a bright light on in their upcoming show Automat und Mensch (or Machine and Man) at Kate Vass Galerie in Zurich, Switzerland.

Generative art, once perceived as the domain of a small number of “computer nerds,” is now the artform best poised to capture what sets our generation apart from those that came before us – ubiquitous computing. As children of the digital revolution, computing has become our greatest shared experience. Like it or not, we are all now computer nerds, inseparable from the many devices through which we mediate our worlds.

The press release alone is a fascinating read, covering the work of a broad range of artists and themes, past and present. For those that can make the exhibition in person, it will also include lectures and panels from the participating artists and leaders on AI art and generative art history.

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Process Compendium (Introduction) on Vimeo

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An ugly problem, a possible solution

Taylor Lorenz at The Atlantic takes a long, hard look at Instagram and the extent of the misinformation and extremist ideologies that riddle the site.

Instagram is the internet’s new home for hate
Following just a handful of these accounts can quickly send users spiraling down a path toward even more extremist views and conspiracies, guided by Instagram’s own recommendation algorithm. On March 17, I clicked Follow on @the_typical_liberal. My account lit up with follow requests from pages with handles alluding to QAnon, and the app immediately prompted me to follow far-right figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Alex Jones, and Candace Owens, as well as a slew of far-right meme pages such as @unclesamsmisguidedchildren and @the.new.federation. Following these pages resulted in suggestions for pages dedicated to promoting QAnon, chemtrails, Pizzagate, and anti-vaccination rhetoric.

On and on it goes.

@q_redpillworld17, for instance, which requested to follow me after I followed @the_typical_liberal, has posted several videos and images claiming proof that the New Zealand shooting was a “false flag”; one post compares the mosque’s blood-spattered carpet with another image, implying that the carpets don’t match so the shooting was staged. Another is a graphic video of the shooting, with a caption claiming that the bullets disappeared mid-air. Another suggests 200 examples of proof that the Earth is flat. Another falsely claims that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is secretly connected to the Clintons, who feed baby blood to George Soros.

It’s interesting, vital reading, with links to Instagram accounts I’m certainly not going to follow or even link to here.

But what can be done? Ignore the worries of the privacy, anti-censorship and free-speech activists and regulate the whole tech industry? Yes, let’s start with that.

The white paper on online harms is a global first. It has never been more needed
Some of the worries seemed rooted in the classic error of confusing the internet with a few giant companies that have come to dominate that world. In reality, the problem we have is not the internet so much as those corporations that ride on it and allow some unacceptable activities to flourish on their platforms, activities that are damaging to users and, in some cases, to democracy, but from which the companies profit enormously. Sooner or later, democracies will have to bring these outfits under control and the only question is how best to do it. The white paper suggests one possible way forward.

It does so by going to the heart of the problem – corporate responsibility.

[…]

The white paper says that the government will establish a new statutory duty of care on relevant companies “to take reasonable steps to keep their users safe and tackle illegal and harmful activity on their services”. Fulfilment of this duty will be overseen and enforced by an independent regulator with formidable powers and sanctions at its disposal. Companies will have to fulfil their new legal duties or face the consequences and “will still need to be compliant with the overarching duty of care even where a specific code does not exist, for example assessing and responding to the risk associated with emerging harms or technology”.

You can read the White Paper online and judge for yourself.

She’s been restored before

The images of Notre Dame yesterday were just horrible. Let’s look at some different ones (with apologies for relying on Google Translate).

1840 – Notre Dame before restoration
The success of Hugo’s novel and the beginning of the Romantic Current will contribute to a renewed interest in French Gothic heritage. In 1843, a vast restoration program will be launched at the initiative of Prosper Mérimée, then Inspector General of Historical Monuments. Architects Viollet le Duc and Lassus will win the competition.

Started in 1845, the titanic construction site will last twenty years. Every effort will be made to restore the cathedral to its former splendor. The arrow and the Red Gate will be restored among others. A hundred or so statues, inspired by other cathedrals, will be made under the careful control of the architects.

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(Via a Benedict Evans newsletter.)

Meanwhile.

Notre Dame fire hoaxes are already spreading on social media
Online conspiracists are baselessly trying to blame the fire on their political opponents.

YouTube’s new fact-check tool flagged Notre Dame fire coverage and attached an article about 9/11
The widget showing information about the Sept. 11 terror attacks appears to have been triggered by a new feature YouTube is testing to provide “topical context” around videos that might contain misinformation.

Process unclear

Another day, another flowchart trying to explain the remaining Brexit options, at the end of this article from the BBC on Jeremy Hunt’s take on recent events.

Brexit: Jeremy Hunt says ‘absolute priority’ to avoid European polls
The foreign secretary said the public would find it “hugely disappointing” to be asked to send MEPs to Brussels. Asked if it could be a disaster for the Tories, he told the BBC “in terms of polling it certainly looks that way”.

process-unclear

Want more?

Brexit: What happens now?
The UK was originally due to leave on 29 March. The first extension shifted that date to 12 April. But now the UK now has just over six months to decide what it wants to do.

Government ministers are continuing talks with Labour leaders to try to find a compromise deal. If they can agree, MPs will be given a chance to vote on the deal. If not, a range of alternative options will be put to them instead.

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You bought it, but is it yours?

Microsoft has changed its mind about selling e-books. Not only is it not selling any more, but it’s unselling those it sold previously.

Microsoft removes the Books category from the Microsoft Store
Previously purchased books and rentals will be accessible until early July, but after this, books will no longer be accessible, officials said in a customer-support article today. The company is promising full refunds for all content purchased from the Books category; anyone who bought books via the Store will receive further details on how to get refunds via email from Microsoft.

People aren’t happy though, as you can imagine.

Microsoft announces it will shut down ebook program and confiscate its customers’ libraries
This puts the difference between DRM-locked media and unencumbered media into sharp contrast. I have bought a lot of MP3s over the years, thousands of them, and many of the retailers I purchased from are long gone, but I still have the MP3s. Likewise, I have bought many books from long-defunct booksellers and even defunct publishers, but I still own those books.

When I was a bookseller, nothing I could do would result in your losing the book that I sold you. If I regretted selling you a book, I didn’t get to break into your house and steal it, even if I left you a cash refund for the price you paid.

Via the Wired newsletter, which added that “this remains a stark illustration of the fact that you never really buy digital media that’s locked down with DRM: merely a licence to access it for as long as its provider sees fit.”

Pay less attention?

Some advice, via Daily Stoic, on how to better manage your mood that feels decidedly counter-intuitive.

How to keep your cool: an interview with James Romm
My own favorite is summed up in the quote: “Do you want to be less angry? Be less aware.” Anger often starts from noticing too many subtleties of the way others interact with us. In many cases, we’d do better not to notice the slights and microaggressions that can drive us nuts if we let them. One can will oneself to ignore such things — a practice many long-married couples will instantly recognize!

Playing with music

Video game music is a big deal. It’s not all beeps and balalaikas anymore.

God of War wins Best Music and sweeps the board at Bafta Games Awards 2019
The Bafta Games Awards took place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London last night, hosted by Dara O’Briain. God of War was the big winner of the night, winning five awards including Best Game and the Performer award. The other games nominated for Best Music included Far Cry 5, Celeste and Florence, a puzzle game about two people falling in love – which went on to win the Mobile Game category.

Music for saving the world: Sarah Schachner and the soundtrack of video games
With experience throughout different entertainment mediums under her belt, Schachner has felt natural restrictions of composing music for film and television. Due to their inherent structure, the straightforward progression of storytelling doesn’t present the necessary room to experiment as much as a composer might desire. This is where the possibilities began to open up. In the fluid universe of a video game, there’s more space to grow. New galaxies to explore, aliens to encounter and reasons to spark an audience’s imagination beyond what they see every day. On a personal level, Schachner says, that’s what she has experienced in games.

Anthem Theme – Performed Live at TGA 2018

Meet the record label turning video game soundtracks into super-cool vinyl
It’s not often artists like Weezer and Courtney Love are mentioned in the same breath as Hollow Knight, Darkest Dungeon and Nuclear Throne. For Ghost Ramp, a boutique record label based in Southern California, representing video games soundtracks alongside traditional music is a typical day at the office.

James Hannigan on video game music: is it art?
And what of those games that are open-ended, allowing players to create their own stories or scenarios? Sims, strategy and open world games, for example. Somehow, composers working on those need to create music that emotionally engages but also remains flexible enough to feel as boundless in scope as the game itself. Music like this is rarely composed to picture or synched with visual events and, at times, there is a sense that it lingers in the air, belongs to locations or emanates from the environment. It can feel like part of the very fabric of a game’s reality.

Here, Mark Savage takes a deep dive into how it began 40 years ago and what’s behind the blockbuster game soundtracks of today.

Top scores
It’s a world away from the simplistic bleeps of 1980s arcade machines, but these epic, multi-layered, orchestral scores are fulfilling the same function as the chiptune sounds of 30-plus years ago. They’re there to guide, prompt and steer the player. Repeated themes help you organise and make sense of the game world. And psychologically, things like key and tempo can even affect the way the player perceives time. Done right, the marriage of music and gameplay can induce a level of immersion that’s impossible in other forms of entertainment.

Video game soundtracks are often compared to movie music, but they’re designed very differently.

Taken to its most complex extreme, horizontal resequencing takes a grab-bag of musical components and puts them together like Tetris blocks as you play, creating an entirely unpredictable, dynamic score. Glam-prog-ambient-techno genius Brian Eno took just that approach with The Shuffler – a piece of software that created a constantly mutating score for 2007’s ambitious-yet-flawed evolution adventure Spore.

A more recent application came in Hello Games’ space adventure, No Man’s Sky, which was released in 2016 for the PlayStation 4. An astounding technological feat, the on-screen game algorithmically generates everything that exists in its vast, freeform universe. Plants, planets, alien lifeforms and environments are all randomised, with a theoretical 18 quintillion worlds for the player to visit and, perhaps, conquer.

The music is no less ambitious. Created by Sheffield math-rock band 65daysofstatic, it’s a progressive, experimental suite of songs that changes every time it’s played… with almost infinite variations.

Meanwhile.

4 Levels of Mario Music: Noob to Elite

Bringing old maps to life

The National Library of Scotland have combined historic, hand-drawn maps with the latest satellite elevation data, allowing you to explore these visualisations of landscapes like never before.

Scotland from above – our 3D map viewer with new vertical exaggeration
The standard practice of depicting relief in the 18th century was with hachures, lines with variable thickness with followed the direction of slope, and by combining the map with elevation data, the shape of the landscape can be seen more clearly. This example below focuses on the mountains of Suilven and Canisp in Assynt, with the Ordnance Survey’s one-inch “hills” edition (1885-1903), with brown hachures:

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The Edinburgh mapmakers, John Bartholomew & Son were famous for their use of layer-colouring, employing a palette of colours from greens closer to sea level to browns and sometimes whites for mountains. This view below looks north-east along Loch Tay, with the dramatic outline of the Ben Lawers ridge to the north:

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(Via Atlas Obscura)

Not happy with the world

It seemed a simple gimmick, to present a globe upside down to mirror the sense of geopolitical unease we feel. But nothing is without consequences.

LSE considers altering sculpture to show Taiwan as part of China after student pressure
Mainland Chinese students protested against the demarcation of Taiwan on Mr Wallinger’s sculpture, and the use of a red dot for Taipei as the capital city of a country, like other nations shown on the globe.

Taiwanese students however maintained the globe should remain as is, as Taiwan operates like any other democratic nation with its own government – led by president Tsai Ing-wen, a LSE alumnus – currency, military and foreign policy. Most of its 23.5 million people identify as Taiwanese.

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Wallinger’s upside-down globe outside LSE angers Chinese students for portraying Taiwan as an independent state
Although recent news articles say that LSE has now agreed to change the colour of Taiwan from pink to yellow on the globe, to make it appear part of the People’s Republic, these reports appear to be premature. An LSE spokeswoman told us this morning: “We are consulting our community and considering amendments to the work. No final decisions have been reached.”

The LSE director, Minouche Shafik, may now be regretting what she said at the unveiling: “This bold new work by Mark Wallinger encapsulates what LSE is all about.”

Damien Hirst and Da Vinci in Leeds

Leeds plays host to two artists at completely opposite ends of the art world.

Damien Hirst homecoming announced for Yorkshire sculpture festival
The inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International festival on Wednesday announced plans to display in Leeds and Wakefield provocative works such as The Virgin Mother, a 10-metre high surgically flayed pregnant woman, and Black Sheep with Golden Horns, part of Hirst’s animals in formaldehyde series.

Hirst grew up in Leeds and followed in the giant footsteps of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore by going to Leeds Arts University, then called Jacob Kramer College.

He recalled happy, important visits to Leeds Art Gallery. “I never thought I’d ever be famous or considered important or anything like that, but seeing paintings by people like John Hoyland, Francis Bacon, Peter Blake and Eduardo Paolozzi – alongside the aquarium and natural history stuff in the City Museum – opened my mind to art.”

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Meanwhile, at Leeds Art Gallery currently…

Leonardo da Vinci: A life in drawing
The Royal Collection holds the finest surviving group of Leonardo’s drawings – more than 550 sheets that have been together since Leonardo’s death, acquired by King Charles II around 1670. As paper is damaged by light, these drawings cannot be on permanent display.

So to mark this anniversary, we are collaborating with 12 museums and galleries to stage simultaneous exhibitions of Leonardo’s drawings across the United Kingdom from 1 February – 6 May.

The exhibition
12 of Leonardo’s sculptural drawings are presented at the home of sculpture at Leeds Art Gallery. Although none of Leonardo’s sculptures themselves survive, the drawings on display provide an unparalleled insight into his investigations and thinking as an artist, and his reach across parallel areas such as anatomy as well as proposed sculptures and his design for the monumental Sforza monument.

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And that story about one of his paintings is still rumbling on.

London’s National Gallery defends inclusion of Salvator Mundi in Leonardo show after criticism in new book
If Lewis is correct, then the consensus was that only part of the painting was by the master, with the remainder presumably done by his assistants. Yet in Syson’s National Gallery catalogue entry, the painting is unequivocally attributed to Leonardo and described as “an autograph work”. Exhibition curators are fully entitled to make their own judgements, but it is surprising that Syson’s entry does not at least allude to the suggestion by other scholars that parts of the picture may have been painted by assistants, even if he went on to dismiss this idea.

A new kind of electronic music

Nowadays it’s mostly classical, but when I was younger I was a big fan of electronic music — though by that I mean Underworld and Brian Eno, not … whatever this is.

What will happen when machines write songs just as well as your favorite musician?
It would take a human composer at least an hour to create such a piece—Jukedeck did it in less than a minute. All of which raises some thorny questions. We’ve all heard about how AI is getting progressively better at accomplishing eerily lifelike tasks: driving cars, recognizing faces, translating languages. But when a machine can compose songs as well as a talented musician can, the implications run deep—not only for people’s livelihoods, but for the very notion of what makes human beings unique.

That future is just around the corner.

Warner Music signs first ever record deal with an algorithm
Mood music app Endel, which creates bespoke soundscapes for users, is expected to produce 20 albums this year. […]

“I’m certain listeners enjoying these new albums will benefit from reduced anxiety and improved mood,” said Kevin Gore, president of Warner Music Group’s arts music division, described as “a new umbrella of labels focused on signing, developing and marketing releases across under-served genres”.

Generative, ambient background music is an “under-served genre” now?

Here’s another write-up from Classic FM of the same story. I especially liked their choice of image and caption to accompany the piece.

Warner Music becomes first record label to partner with an algorithm
The algorithm uses musical phrases created by composer and sound designer Dmitry Evgrafov to create pieces of music tailored to specific users.

Founder and CEO of Endel, Oleg Stavitsky said: “We are focused on creating personalised and adaptive real-time sound environments, but we are happy to share those pre-recorded albums to demonstrate the power of sound and our technology.”

Everything’s upside-down

Feeling disorientated?

Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger unveils new public work, The World Turned Upside Down
Forcing the viewer to reconsider their relationship to the traditional Mercator projection of the world (i.e. the one most of us immediately see in our mind’s eye when we’re asked to conjure up an image of the globe) by asking us to consider both the vastness of the oceans and the true size of Africa, The World Turned Upside Down we’re told, reflects “the spirit of progressive enquiry that has characterised the School since its inception.”

Minouche Shafik, LSE Director, is quoted as saying, “this bold new work by Mark Wallinger encapsulates what LSE is all about. We are committed to tackling the biggest global challenges through our research and teaching, and this means seeing the world from different and unfamiliar points of view.”

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It’s a simple idea, effectively realised, and sits nicely alongside this magazine cover from Germany.

“A small twist with a big impact”: New ZeitMagazin International cover reflects topsy-turvy Europe
The new SS19 issue of ZeitMagazin International, the German weekly’s English-language sister publication, is all about Europe in a time of confusion and uncertainty. Mirko Borsche, the creative director of the biannual glossy magazine, has created a limited-edition cover for 1,000 copies showing the map of Europe turned upside-down.

“It’s interesting, because the European map looks totally strange, even though fundamentally I haven’t changed anything, apart from turning the country labels 180 degrees.” He says the decision was mainly motivated by the team in Berlin’s feelings about Brexit. “Personally, I’m sad about it,” he says. “But like the cover itself, I think it will change everything without changing very much.”

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Art, design and politics are more entwined than ever.

Luc Tuymans: ‘People are becoming more and more stupid, insanely stupid’
This is a dark time, Tuymans says. “Think of England, it’s no longer an empire although the English still think it is, which is basically insanity. Think about Brexit, about this narcissistic idiot Trump, the whole constellation of the West is in dire straits.” In the face of this, it is important to study not just our history—“people forget, that’s one thing,” Tuymans says—but the way we construct it and misremember it. At the heart of Tuymans’s project is a central conceit: that images are unreliable, that they can offer us no more than a fragment of reality and that our own memories, personal or collective, mislead us.

Self-improvement

The Economist’s charts are usually very clear and helpful, but that’s not to say they can’t be improved – as they themselves show.

Mistakes, we’ve drawn a few
At The Economist, we take data visualisation seriously. Every week we publish around 40 charts across print, the website and our apps. With every single one, we try our best to visualise the numbers accurately and in a way that best supports the story. But sometimes we get it wrong. We can do better in future if we learn from our mistakes — and other people may be able to learn from them, too. […]

Misleading charts
Let’s start with the worst of crimes in data visualisation: presenting data in a misleading way. We never do this on purpose! But it does happen every now and then. Let’s look at the three examples from our archive.

Mistake: Truncating the scale

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Twenty years of bullet time

John Wick’s son Neo turns 20 this year. Kind of.

The Matrix at 20: how the sci-fi gamechanger remains influential
Yet objects tend to shift during flight, and in the year 2019, The Matrix has endured as both touchstone and Rorschach blot, a way for people of vastly different ideologies to make sense of the world around them. The effects are still a marvel, but the film’s ideas have taken root in a destabilized culture where conspiracy theories flourish and individuals are defining for themselves what is and isn’t real, and what constitutes freedom in a heavily monitored, highly synthetic technological space. Neo may “follow the white rabbit” into a Wonderland of personal discovery, but we’re citizens of Wonderland now, having made a second home for ourselves where the laws of gravity don’t apply.

[…]

Yet the idea of the world as changeable seems far closer to what the film’s creators, the Wachowskis, had in mind. In the time between then and now, the Wachowskis have both gender transitioned and The Matrix seems at least a subconscious reference to the evolution to come. Much has been written about the film as trans allegory, and the reading bears out in the possibility for humans to define themselves however they like, outside the fixed identities enforced by the machines. Whenever Agent Smith snarls “Mr Anderson”, it feels like a menacing taunt, his refusal to allow Neo to untether himself from the matrix and discover who he actually is. That goes beyond red-pilling, which is about the authoritarian business of telling someone how things really are, and grants them the latitude to figure it out on their own.

The trans narrative escaped me then, and escapes me still. It’s certainly a philosophical film, though.

15 facts about The Matrix on its 20th anniversary
7. The actors were asked to brush up on their knowledge of philosophy before production began.

The Wachowskis had all the lead actors read Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard, Out of Control by Kevin Kelly, and Introducing Evolutionary Psychology by Dylan Evans and Oscar Zarate in order to better understand the world of the movie. In the film, Neo actually hides his illegal computer files in a copy of Baudrillard’s book.

Not everyone’s a fan, however.

The Matrix’s male power fantasy has dated badly
It’s this attitude which now seems so antiquated – so glaringly late-20th Century. Anderson isn’t kept awake at night by war or climate change or the rise of fascism. He isn’t campaigning for equal rights – and he certainly isn’t doing any Kung-fu practice. He’s a white-collar worker whose most pressing problem is a slight dissatisfaction with ordinary office life. He is, fundamentally, a less witty brother of Chandler Bing from Friends. And they have plenty of other brothers. One is the unnamed narrator (Edward Norton) of Fight Club. The other is Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a disgruntled software programmer in Mike Judge’s cult comedy, Office Space. Both of those films came out in 1999, as The Matrix did. And as different as the three of them may appear, they all share a theme whose prevalence in 1990s pop culture culminated with the debut of the BBC2 sitcom The Office, in July 2001. The theme is that being a handsome, middle-class, thirtysomething professional is ultimately not very fulfilling. The Matrix may allude to Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, to Jean Baudrillard and Jesus, but its central thesis is right there on the Office Space poster: “Work Sucks”.

Perhaps those confusing sequels were to blame for souring it a little.

The ending of The Matrix trilogy finally explained
One major theme that came to the fore as the series reached its conclusion had to do with the similarities between humans and machines. In the original, they couldn’t seem more different, but by Revolutions, programs in the Matrix are portrayed as being almost more human than our heroes, loving and happy individuals, as worthy of existence as any person. Further, characters from the first film who were firmly human or machine are portrayed in the sequels as having a little bit of both.

[…]

The humanizing of the Machines and the complimentary mechanization of Neo made for a storytelling turn that audiences weren’t really ready for. People who saw The Matrix couldn’t be faulted for expecting an ending that saw Neo winning by doing his Superman thing and eradicating humanity’s robot overlords. Instead, Neo triumphed by becoming a bridge between man and machine, sacrificing his own life for the sake of securing the future.

Still being led by donkeys

I’ve mentioned them before, but I’m more than happy to share another article about them. It was great to see one of their billboards just down the road from me here in Leeds, and here they are again, on that recent Brexit march.

How the viral Led by Donkeys anti-Brexit campaign is haunting flip-flopping politicians
On a weekend that featured an array of aesthetically creative Brexit protest signs, the most memorable was perhaps the simplest: just a quote from arch-Brexiteer David Davis, blown up to massive size and unfurled over the thousands of protestors gathered in London’s Parliament Square.

still-being-led-by-donkeys

I thin they’re right about the impact of these physical, in-your-face representations of what could be seen as throwaway lines.

Richard says that the effectiveness of the group’s tactics has something to do with relationship between offline and online speech. “We discovered that if you take a digital format, a digital message and you put it up on a six-meter-by-three-meter billboard in a town centre, in a physical space, it forces that politician to own those words,” he says. Bringing an online quote into the offline world seems to overcome the internet’s ephemerality; it makes a statement more substantial.

Another take on all that.

The Brexit farce is about to turn to tragedy
Welcome to Disneyland. Leading Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg is playing Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice from Fantasia; Theresa May is the wicked witch from Snow White — though she is short on magic. Across the pond, an evil ogre known as Donald Trump is waiting to eat us all up.

It’s grim; but it’s a great learning experience. Has anyone learnt? Has former Brexit secretary David Davis worked out that his plan to leave the EU while retaining “the exact same benefits” as staying in the single market, was a little ambitious? Or that the Germans actually care more about the integrity of the EU than about selling Brits BMWs? Has Michael Gove finally noticed that we did not after all “hold all the cards” the day after we voted to leave? Has anyone worked out that frictionless trade is quite complicated, and that the dreary Brussels machinery does a good job for us?

We shouldn’t count on it.

I loved this last line. An inquiry is coming, surely?

Government by slogan does not work. Are we taking back control or handing it over to Brussels? By the time we find out, it will be too late. If the UK prime minister had a sense of humour, she would set up the committee of inquiry now, so it could take evidence in real time, as the tragedy unfolds.