All change?

We can learn new facts, master new skills, grow and develop to become ‘better’, but can we really change? A few people recently have tried to find out.

Glass half-full: how I learned to be an optimist in a weekThe Guardian
Day three: One of the simplest strategies for increasing optimism is avoiding the company of other pessimistic people. I figure that I have a headstart here, in that I already avoid the company of most people.

The doorbell rings. I think: this can’t be good. Then I think: stop that. The man at the door has a package for me. My wife passes through the kitchen as I’m opening it.

“What’s that?” she says.

“It’s my gratitude journal,” I say, holding up a slim notebook with the words “Start with gratitude” written on the cover in a self-helpy calligraphic font.

“Stupid,” my wife says.

“If you’re not going to be positive about my journey,” I say, “then you and I might have to stop hanging out.”

“That can be arranged,” she says.

Ok, so perhaps the Guardian columnist Tim Dowling wasn’t taking the venture too seriously. Let’s see how Jessica Pan, author of Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come, gets on over the course of a year, rather than just a week.

Can you fake being an extrovert?Sydney Morning Herald
I had a lot of time to ponder: what did I want from life? I wanted a job, new friends I felt truly connected to, and more confidence. So what were other people out there with jobs and close friends and rich, fulfilling lives doing that I wasn’t? Eventually, and with mounting fear, I realised: they were having new experiences, taking risks, making new connections. I knew what I had to do.

I would talk to new people. I would travel alone and make new friends on the road. I would say yes to social invitations. I would go along to parties and not be the first to leave. It would be like jogging: sweaty and uncomfortable but possibly good for me in the long term. In other words, I would become an extrovert. I gave myself a year.

So how did she get on?

It was fear that if I never changed I would never know what it was like to live a bigger life that propelled me. I’d spent most of my life telling myself I was one kind of person, not believing I could do things that I saw other people doing. Then I spent a year doing all of those things that petrified me. A small part of me thought I’d undertake all these challenges and emerge as a socially savvy, articulate, gregarious social butterfly. Or wind up hiding in a ditch. But I am still who I was at the beginning of this year. Only I know more now.

I feel like co-opting a Stonewall slogan — Some of us are introverts. Get over it!

It’s okay if you’re not resilient
“This story has emerged that if you fail or are struggling, it’s because you lack this characteristic that other people possess,” says Mark Seidenberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Not only is this an unhelpful form of “victim blaming,” but it also confuses effect for cause, he says. People don’t fail because they lack resilience; they lack resilience because circumstances have set them up for failure. “Success is very motivating, and failure is discouraging,” Seidenberg explains.

There’s a balance to be had here, though.

While pointing to a lack of resilience as the cause of a person’s problems is both unhelpful and unfair, teaching a person how to be more resilient in certain contexts is beneficial and, according to some research, achievable. “I think both sides of this debate have a point,” Tabibnia says. “Just as we shouldn’t oversell the potential of behavioral and psychosocial strategies for boosting resilience, lest it should lead to further feelings of disappointment and failure, nor should we take a completely passive and helpless approach.”

She says the research so far points to three broad categories of intervention that seem to bolster resilience. The first involves downregulating negative thought patterns through approaches like exposure therapy and cognitive reappraisal. (Basically, these teach your brain to think about sources of stress in new and less-troubling ways.) The second category involves taking steps to improve optimism and social connectedness, both of which encourage positive feelings. And the third involves mindfulness, religious engagement, and other practices that help people “transcend the self,” Tabibnia says.

Corbyn’s fault

So that’s that.

Here’s what we learned from the election resultsHuffPost UK
Boris Johnson’s gamble of calling a snap general election has gone better than probably even he hoped. By 5am on Friday, the Conservative Party had officially won the 326 seats needed for a majority. The prime minster has declared a mandate to “get Brexit done”, killing off any chance of a second referendum as hoped for by pro-Remain campaigners.

I’m going to cheer myself up with a trawl through my bookmarks to play a four year long game of Told You So.

Let’s start with that first Labour leadership election, in 2015.

Corbynmania is ‘Alice in Wonderland’ politics, says Tony Blair in final pleaThe Observer
Writing in the Observer, Blair says he accepts that successive warnings about Corbyn from himself, Neil Kinnock and Gordon Brown have fallen on deaf ears and seem to have made people more likely to back the MP for Islington North than turn away. However, insisting that the debate about the party’s future will preoccupy the Labour party for years to come, he refuses to back off, comparing the surge for Corbyn – now the strong favourite to succeed Ed Miliband – to a suicidal rush towards a cliff edge.

Labour is losing touch with public opinion, research suggestsThe Guardian
YouGov data shows how Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity as leader and the changing profile of Labour voters could make the party unelectable. … “The party is winning tenuous support from former Lib Dems and Greens because of Corbyn, while simultaneously losing support from voters who best reflect public opinion. In so doing it is choosing to represent a dwindling section of the electorate that not only does not reflect the breadth of public opinion but is blissfully unconcerned by it.”

There was continued opposition to the Leader of the Opposition throughout 2016.

Brexit: Hilary Benn sacked as Corbyn faces ‘no confidence’ pressureBBC News
Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn has been sacked from the shadow cabinet amid claims he was encouraging ministers to resign should Jeremy Corbyn ignore a vote of no confidence. Labour’s leader faces a vote of no confidence over claims he was “lacklustre” during the EU referendum.

Whoever the leader is, Labour may never recover from this crisisThe Guardian
On one side is the current leader and a small band of leftist diehards, backed by an energetic, well-drilled movement but devoid of any coherent project and out of touch with the voters who have just defied the party in their droves. On the other is a counter-revolution led by MPs who mostly failed to see this crisis coming, have very few worthwhile ideas themselves, and are a big part of the reason the Brexit revolt happened in the first place. As the activist Neal Lawson says, the choice is essentially between different captains of the Titanic, and therefore is no choice at all.

I re-joined the Labour party just so that I could vote against him being leader again…

Join Labour now to help topple CorbynThe Times
If he is re-elected, the Labour party, which has been in existence since 1900, and which for all its faults has been a vital engine of social progress, will have been captured by extra-parliamentary forces, many of whom won’t care if the party’s share of the vote halves, so long as it can be portrayed as a “victory for socialism”. Effectively, Labour as a party of government will have been destroyed.

Saving Labour
After the referendum, Britain is at a crossroads. Britain and Labour needs new, strong leadership for the months ahead. Tens of thousands of people have joined our campaign calling on Jeremy Corbyn to stand down and 81% of Labour MPs say he should go, but he has refused. There is now a leadership contest, so your immediate action will make a difference. Join our campaign to save Labour and save democracy.

…but that didn’t work out.

Fury as new members barred from voting in fresh Labour leadership contest by NECIndependent
The meeting of the party’s ruling body decided by a margin of 18-14 that as the incumbent, leader Jeremy Corbyn had an automatic place on the ballot and did not need to gather 51 nominations. But it also decided that people who had been party members for less than six months could not vote.

A fetid cloud of acrimony hangs over Labour – this is the endThe Guardian
Clearly, there are elements from all wings of the party prone to horrible behaviour. But let’s not mess about: right now, the lion’s share of the noise is coming from people who evidently see what they’re doing as part of the defence of their embattled leader. Whether particular elements of the party – Momentum, chiefly – have authorised any of this is hardly the point: of course they haven’t, and many of their people are appalled. But there is also a sense that awful stuff is being tacitly tolerated, as the seriousness of what is happening is either underestimated or completely ignored.

Corbyn’s supporters loved his principles. But he ditched them in the EU campaignNew Statesman
If you believe the Labour party needs to be more than a rest home for embittered idealists – if you believe the working class must have a political party – if you believe that the job of opposing the government cannot be left to Ukip – if you believe that Britain is better than racism and insularity, and will vote against those vicious principles when given a reason to; if you believe any of those things, then Corbyn must go. Not just because he’s ineffectual, but because he’s untrustworthy too.

Labour of the negativeSpectator
The current crisis in the Labour party has many causes; but the principal one, it seems to me, is that the party is now led in Parliament by someone who thinks that he is answerable only to those who voted for him, and neither to his wider constituency in the country — the constituency of Labour voters — nor to the institution in which he sits.

Leading up to the 2017 general election, we were expecting the worst.

Never before in my adult life has the future seemed so bleak for progressivesThe Guardian
It is a perfect storm. Corbyn must be persuaded to promise that, in the event of the likely crushing defeat, he will stand down after the election, offering Labour MPs some chance of saving themselves and their party. It is improbable.

How to save the Labour partySpectator
The first question is whether Labour wants to give up or fight for its historic commitment to forming a government that can change the lives of working people. We know where the present leadership stands. Its election strategy is about maximising the vote share, not winning seats. Whatever the result, Corbyn and his supporters will argue millions voted for socialism and the job is not finished. The PLP should not allow this argument to take root.

Corbyn got through that, but we still thought his approach to Brexit was still the wrong one.

Labour MP says shadow minister is ‘fundamentally wrong’ on BrexitThe Guardian
She writes: “[Gardiner] starts by asserting the reasons he says people voted for Brexit last year – a list that could have come straight out of Tory central office – sovereignty, immigration and the ECJ. “But what about the false promise of large amounts of extra money for the NHS? What about the British prime minister who hyped up his negotiations with the EU but came back with very little to show for it?”

Labour has to stop dithering on BrexitThe Guardian
Today the Labour Campaign for the Single Market, along with Open Britain and many figures from across the Labour movement, have published a new report challenging these “Lexit myths”. It is claimed that a clean break from the EU will allow us to reverse austerity. In fact, EU rules impose no restriction whatsoever on levels of public spending. The reality is that a hard Brexit would so severely hurt the public finances that we would likely see a continuation of austerity and further strain on the NHS and other public services.

2018, and it’s obvious the problem isn’t just how Corbyn handled Brexit.

Patrick Stewart: ‘I find it difficult to know what Labour stands for’New European
The encounter symbolises the unhappy stage that Sir Patrick has come to in his relationship with a party that he has believed in passionately all his life. I ask him if he will be voting Labour again, and, after a long pause, he says, in a quiet and sad voice, probably not – so long as it supports Brexit and seems unable to deal swiftly and decisively with obvious evils such as anti-Semitism.

Among Britain’s anti-SemitesHarpers
The Jewish Labour Movement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and the Jewish Leadership Council condemned the new guidelines, and the editor of the Jewish Chronicle called the Labour Party “institutionally anti-Semitic.” Sixty-eight rabbis wrote to the Guardian to complain about the guidelines, and Labour decided to consult with the Jewish community and to delay a final vote until the fall. Even so, the drama mounted. Margaret Hodge, a veteran Labour MP whose grandmother was killed in the Holocaust, and who fought off a threat from the British National Party in her own constituency in 2010, called Jeremy Corbyn “an anti-Semite and a racist” behind the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons. He said: “I’m sorry you feel like that.” Oh, Jeremy Corbyn! The Labour Party said it would bring disciplinary charges against Hodge, but dropped the charges after she excused herself in the Guardian:

A definition of sexual harassment agreed without the explicit endorsement of women would be unconscionable. A definition of Islamophobia that was rejected by the Muslim community would never be entertained. Yet a definition that rolls over the sensibilities of Jews who are the victims of this racism is somehow OK.

Derek Hatton is back in the Labour Party – 33 years after he was kicked outLiverpool Echo
The former deputy leader of Liverpool City Council was kicked out of Labour by then leader Neil Kinnock and the party’s ruling committee for belonging to the left-wing Militant faction. But the ECHO can today exclusively reveal that he has once again been allowed to join Labour as a member and says he is excited to be back. Mr Hatton, now 70, said it was the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn that made him re-apply for membership – but insisted that he has no plans to run for public office.

Chris Leslie condemns Labour intolerance of critics of CorbynThe Guardian
Referring to the Corbyn’s speech at the Labour confernce in Liverpool on Wednesday, Leslie said in an article for the The Observer: “Jeremy Corbyn claimed this week that the Labour party should foster a culture of tolerance. But those acting in his name do the precise opposite. The reality is that we are no longer that broad church and with every ‘no confidence’ motion or change of selection rules, the party becomes narrower. Such tactics are familiar from the hard left of the past. Momentum is the Militant for the digital age. What do they expect the public to conclude, if Labour continues to push out people on the centre left like me while readmitting the likes of Derek Hatton?”

What party conference season says about British politicsTLS
At first glance, then, May’s tactic of comparing Corbyn and his closest colleagues to great Labour figures of the past seemed effective and, in the main, accurate. It is hard to dispute the claim that “the heirs of Hugh Gaitskell and Barbara Castle, Denis Healey and John Smith” were not on the Labour front bench. Instead, she said, “their faces stare blankly from the rows behind while another party occupies prime position: the Jeremy Corbyn party”.

2019 saw more people jump ship.

I can no longer support Corbyn becoming prime minister, which is why after 22 years I’m leaving Labour – I hope you’ll join meIndependent
The party’s collective failure to take a lead and provide sufficiently strong, coherent opposition to Tory government policy on the UK’s relationship with Europe, with all the adverse implications this poses for the working people of this constituency, is a betrayal of the Labour interest and Labour’s internationalist principles. This started with the leadership’s halfhearted effort to campaign for Remain in 2016, followed by its refusal even to commit to the UK staying part of the single market and now its offer to facilitate a Tory Brexit. So many families in my constituency, like me, have relatives from EU countries and feel grossly betrayed by the party.

Labour MPs quit over Brexit and anti-SemitismCNN
The seven Members of Parliament, many of them longstanding figures in the party, said variously that Labour was racist, had betrayed its working-class roots and was a threat to national security. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was not fit to become Prime Minister, they said. One of the seven, Luciana Berger, said she had become ashamed of the party she’d served as a Member of Parliament since 2010. It had become “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left,” she said.

Watson tells Corbyn he must change direction to stop Labour splittingThe Guardian
Watson’s emotional intervention came as a number of Labour MPs were poised to follow the founders of the new Independent Group – and after reports on Monday night that some Conservatives were also ready to defect. Saying that he sometimes “no longer recognises” his own party, Watson urged Corbyn to ensure Labour remains a broad church and reshuffle his shadow cabinet to reflect a wider balance of MPs.

MP Joan Ryan quits Labour for Independent GroupBBC
Joan Ryan has become the eighth Labour MP to quit the party in the past 48 hours, citing its tolerance of a “culture of anti-Jewish racism”. The Enfield North MP said she was “horrified, appalled and angered” by Labour’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism, saying its leadership allowed “Jews to be abused with impunity”. Ms Ryan said she did not believe Jeremy Corbyn was fit to lead the country.

And then, just last month, a few more nails in the coffin.

Tom Watson quits as Labour deputy leader and stands down as MP to ‘start a different kind of life’Manchester Evening News
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.

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.

Which brings us up-to-date, and to yesterday’s vote for the least worst. Let’s allow Polly Toynbee the last word.

Devoid of agility, charisma and credibility, Corbyn has led Labour into the abyssThe Guardian
Given the worst choice in history, the public preferred him [Johnson] to his opponent. How bad did Labour have to be to let this sociopathic, narcissistic, glutton for power beat them? That’s the soul-searching question every Labour member, office-holder and MP has to ask.

Labour was disastrously, catastrophically bad, an agony to behold. A coterie of Corbynites cared more about gripping power within the party than saving the country by winning the election. The NEC, a slate of nodding Corbynite place-persons, disgraced the party with its sectarian decisions. Once it was plain in every poll and focus group that Corbynism was electoral arsenic, they should have propelled him out, but electoral victory was secondary. …

Here’s the real tragedy. The manifesto was essentially magnificent. The vision was of a country freed from years of darkness with green investment, growth in places that most need it, salving the many wounds of marrow-deep cuts, restoring pride in the public sphere and hope in a future that was absolutely affordable. Why should we not tax and spend the same as similar north European countries? But if socialism is the language of priorities, these were lost in a profusion of never-ending promises too easily mocked. The political landscape was never prepared, soil untilled, last-minute policies falling on stony ground. Where was the simple five-point pledge card?

Credibility is everything and Corbyn lacked it like no other. Without credibility all was lost. Think on it, every Labour member. It will be a long, long road up from such a fall. There will be days to consider hope: today is for confronting reality.

Today is Friday 13th, unlucky for everybody. Well, not everybody.

corbyns-fault-1

Victory for Boris Johnson’s all-new ToriesThe Economist
This realignment may well last. The Tories’ new prospectus is calculated to take advantage of a long-term shift in voters’ behaviour which predates the Brexit referendum. Over several decades, economic attitudes have been replaced by cultural ones as the main predictor of party affiliation. Even at the last election, in 2017, working-class voters were almost as likely as professional ones to back the Tories. Mr Johnson rode a wave that was already washing over Britain. Donald Trump has shown how conservative positions on cultural matters can hold together a coalition of rich and poor voters. And Mr Johnson has an extra advantage in that his is unlikely to face strong opposition soon. Labour looks certain to be in the doldrums for a long time. The Liberal Democrats had a dreadful night in which their leader, Jo Swinson, lost her seat.

Here we are, then

General Election 2019: Longest voting queues ever at polling stationsMetro News
It’s been dubbed the most important election in a generation, and if the queues at polling stations this morning are anything to go by, that message has sunk in.

Let’s see what the night has in store, when the polls stop and the counting starts. But whilst we wait, here are a few reminders of this crazy campaign.

Thursday briefing: Now for the only poll that countsThe Guardian
Well, the campaign is finally over. It’s been a whirlwind six weeks in which the leaders have travelled across the country, stolen phones, hidden in fridges, refused to apologise for their party’s handling of antisemitism when repeatedly asked by Andrew Neil, refused to be interviewed by Andrew Neil at all, posed in boxing rings, posed bulldozing a menacing tower of styrofoam blocks, watched as their confident promise of becoming prime minister quickly became a vanishingly small prospect, or as their pledge to help the Tories by pulling out of seats backfired.

Campaigns are always a little scrappy and gaffe-prone. Here’s a quick look at how the parties are trying to spin the issues behind the photo ops.

The British election explained in five key phrasesThe Conversation
Tensions have been high as the country attempts to resolve the identity crisis first sparked by the Brexit vote in 2016. It’s a complicated moment for the nation and, at times like these, it can help to observe the big issues through the lens of language. The slogans and terms that get thrown around again and again during a campaign can often tell us a lot about the bigger picture.

That ‘get Brexit done’ line is so insincere. If anything, it should be ‘get Brexit started’.

Boris Johnson’s Brexit policy explainedThe Conversation
The UK and the EU have between the withdrawal date and December 31 2020 (the end of the transition period) to negotiate and ratify the full agreement on their future relationship, which should govern relations in a vast range of areas such as trade, migration, security foreign policy and data.

It has taken three and a half years to negotiate the withdrawal agreement, which covers a much smaller set of issues and has not yet been ratified. It will be highly challenging to resolve the future relationship in such a short timeframe, not least because the future relationship agreement may need to be ratified by each EU member state’s parliament, as well as several regional parliaments, which is not the case for the withdrawal agreement.

I loved the caption they used to go with this photo of Johnson and other EU leaders.

here-we-are-then

Getting the deal through the UK parliament is only the first stage. Then comes the boss level.

What I have found worrying though (apart from the prospect of this deluded act of national self-harm actually taking place), was the level of vitriol the BBC has had to sustain, from both sides of the divide.

BBC caught in the crossfire: why the UK’s public broadcaster is becoming a big election storyThe Conversation
Traditionally, the BBC is regarded as left wing by the right and right wing by the left and has perhaps taken comfort that this indicates balanced news coverage. But the Conservative Party has a traditionally feisty relationship with the BBC dating back, famously, to Margaret Thatcher’s fury over its coverage of the Falklands conflict. More recently, David Cameron threatened to “close down” the corporation during the 2015 election campaign.

But – more recently and less obviously outside the mainstream – relentless social media activity from a range of increasingly popular alt-left media websites has kept the BBC in the crosshairs throughout the campaign and might have provided the Conservatives with some cover. Given that the most recent Ofcom report notes that ITV and SKY News are perceived as marginally more trustworthy than BBC, then alt-left criticism might simply be fanning the flames of anti-BBC sentiment already emanating from the opposite side of the political divide.

Indeed our Cardiff/Swansea research examining the Facebook activity of alt-left media sites supports the notion that their critiques might be strengthening the prime minister’s resolve. Their collective seething at what they see as right-wing bias might be reinterpreted by the BBC’s critics as the public broadcaster being no longer fit for purpose.

In effect, left-wing media may have legitimised right-wing plans to abolish the licence fee.

I think they do a fine job and will be watching them this evening, as soon as the polls close.

The long and the short of it

From Amelia Wattenberger, a simple but very effective way of visualising an aspect of some famous texts from a variety of classical authors, such as Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Jane Austin.

Sentence lengths
How do different writers vary their sentence length? See how some authors play with different lengths, while others stick with one.

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A year of unrest

It’s that time of year again.

Top 25 news photos of 2019The Atlantic
As we approach the end of a year of unrest, here is a look back at some of the major news events and moments of 2019. Massive protests were staged against existing governments in Hong Kong, Chile, Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Haiti, Algeria, Sudan, and Bolivia, while climate-change demonstrations and strikes took place worldwide. An impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump was started, conflict in Syria continued, the United States won the Women’s World Cup, Hurricane Dorian lashed the Bahamas, and so much more.

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The year in pictures 2019The New York Times
5.6 million. That’s roughly the number of images photo editors of The New York Times sift through each year to find the perfect photographs to represent the news for our readers. This collection of images is a testament to a mere fraction of the conflicts and triumphs, catastrophes and achievements and simple but poignant moments of everyday life in the past 365 days.

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Not an easy task.

From 500,000 photos to 116: How our editors distill the year in picturesThe New York Times
Mr. Furst described the initial stage as daunting: “When you feel like you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, you’re reminded that you missed a dozen different news events or these 20 photographers or these 15 projects in the newsroom.” …

“One of the big balances is news value versus craftsmanship and beauty,” Mr. Henson Scales said. “We’re always having to juggle those kinds of elements.”

Getting just the right mix of images was the most challenging part. The editors considered a number of factors, such as the impact of a photo or its ability to delight, and the variety of images in each month. A beautiful, poignant picture could edge out a more newsworthy one, and vice versa.

Thanks!

This video struck a chord recently. It was shown to us as part of a Wellbeing Day at work a few weeks ago and—as well as being quite funny—I thought its practical, down-to-earth steps to a more positive mindset made a lot of sense.

The happy secret to better work | Shawn AchorYouTube
We believe that we should work to be happy, but could that be backwards? In this fast-moving and entertaining talk from TEDxBloomington, psychologist Shawn Achor argues that actually happiness inspires productivity.

One of his slides summarises the ways you can train your brain to become more positive.

thanks

I’ve been following these steps for a few weeks now, and writing down three new things I’m grateful for and a positive experience I’ve had that day does help me focus on looking for the positives.

That video was published in 2012, but one that contained a very similar message coincidentally appeared just a few days ago, from Kurzgesagt.

An antidote to dissatisfactionYouTube
Everybody is familiar with the feeling that things are not as they should be. That you are not successful enough, your relationships not satisfying enough. That you don’t have the things you crave. In this video we want to talk about one of the strongest predictors of how happy people are, how easily they make friends and how good they are at dealing with hardship. An antidote against dissatisfaction so to speak: Gratitude.

This video, too, discussed the benefits of a simple gratitude journal, “sitting down for a few minutes, one to three times a week, and writing down five to ten things you’re grateful for.”

thanks-2

In the end, how you experience life is a representation of what you believe about it. If you attack your core beliefs about your self and your life, you can change your thoughts and feelings, which automatically changes your behaviour. It’s pretty mind-blowing that something as simple as self-reflection can hack the pathways in our brain to fight dissatisfaction. And if this is no reason to be optimistic, what is?

So thanks, Shawn Achor and the folks behind Kurzgesagt, for highlighting the importance of gratitude!

So now you know

They say you learn something new every day. Here are some of the things Tom Whitwell learnt in a year.

52 things I learned in 2019Fluxx Studio Notes

  1. Since the 1960s, British motorways have been deliberately designed by computer as series of long curves, rather than straight lines. This is done for both safety (less hypnotic) and aesthetic (“sculpture on an exciting, grand scale”) reasons. [Joe Moran]

Ah, motorways, “the twentieth century’s equivalent of the pyramids”.

  1. Gravitricity is a Scottish startup planning to store energy by lifting huge weights up a disused mine shaft when electricity is cheap, dropping them down to generate power when it is expensive. Using a 12,000 tonne weight (roughly the weight of the Eiffel tower), it should be half as expensive as equivalent lithium ion battery. [Jillian Ambrose]

Such a simple idea, though something about it reminds me of those perpetual motion contraptions.

  1. CD sales still make up 78% of music revenue in Japan (compared with less than 30% in the UK). Japanese pop fans have been encouraged to buy multiple copies of their favourite releases to win rewards (buy 2,000 copies, win a night at a hot spring with your favourite star). One 32 year-old fan was charged with illegally dumping 585 copies of a CD on the side of a mountain. [Mark Mulligan]

You really must follow the link to that one and read more about the incredibly bizarre and manipulative marketing practices going on there. It beggars belief.

This next one reminds me of that xkcd comic about Bobby Tables.

  1. A man who bought the personalised number plate NULL has received over $12,000 of parking fines, because the system records ‘NULL’ when no numberplate has been recorded. [Jack Morse]

Here’s one for Borges and his friend Funes the Memorious.

  1. SDAM (Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory) is a rare syndrome where otherwise healthy, high-functioning people are unable to remember events from their own life. There is also an exhausting syndrome called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, where people can remember precise details about every single day of their life. [Palumbo & Alain]

And I’m sure this one applies this side of the Atlantic too, as we head into the last few days of general election polling.

  1. “Polling by phone has become very expensive, as the number of Americans willing to respond to unexpected or unknown callers has dropped. In the mid-to-late-20th century response rates were as high as 70%… [falling to] a mere 6% of the people it tried to survey in 2018.” [The Economist]

Sailing the psychedelic seas

You know earlier I said I like to be beside the sea? Well, I’m happy to enjoy views of this particular body of water from afar. It looks spectacular, but I like my seas less full of salt and mad algae.

China’s Dead Sea is a visual feastAtlas Obscura
In summer, it colors the landscape blood crimson, glossy green, and glassy indigo. In winter, it becomes crystalline, ice-white, and sculptural. Wars have been fought over it, gods have guarded it, and its contents fill plates and tombs. It’s not a landscape in a fantasy novel. It’s Northern China’s Yuncheng Salt Lake, the world’s third-largest sodium sulfate inland lake and one of China’s most important historical sources of salt.

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The view from Google Maps isn’t quite as vibrant, but still a little bizarre.

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The non-humans from a galaxy far, far away

The hype about the next and last (yeah, sure) Star Wars film is building up, ahead of its release 20 December, and Boing Boing have shared with us Max Gladstone’s very interesting theory about who we’ve been watching all this time.

There are no humans in Star Wars, so what are the creatures we are watching?BoingBoing
The title card tells us that the story takes place long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. So the characters aren’t actually human or even necessarily from a human-like society, they’re just played by human actors.

What can we learn about the creatures true nature from studying the first six movies?

Firstly, gender is wildly off-kilter. But so is family.

Star Wars: A long time ago, in a hive far far away?Max Gladstone
Family is a second important clue—or, rather, the absence of family. With one notable exception, people in the series don’t talk much about parentage. No non-Force sensitive male ever describes his family, if I recall correctly. Han, Lando, Wedge, Biggs, Tarkin, Dodonna, and so forth, all might as well have sprung from the brows of their ships. In six+hours of film about war, I would expect to see someone to drop at least a single reference to parents of some sort. The lack of strong family ties suggests that parenting relationships are much less close for most GFFA ‘humans’ than for Sol 3 humans—which in turn suggests large brood sizes, short gestation periods, young ages of maturity, or all of the above.

So we’re looking for an organism with large brood sizes, young ages of maturity, short gestation periods, and relatively few fertile females who naturally assume positions of social and organizational authority.

In a word—bugs.

Grammar society admit’s defeat

The Apostrophe Protection Society was started by journalist and sub editor John Richards, in 2001. 18 year’s later, hes calling it a day.

‘Laziness has won’: apostrophe society admits its defeatThe Guardian
Now 96, Richards is calling time on the society, which lists the three simple rules for correct use of the punctuation mark.

Writing on the society’s website, he said: “Fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language.

“We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!”

The societys website, however, is keen to point out that its still up and running, with many fine photo’s of apostrophe misuse on it’s ‘Example page’s.

Update – 06/12/2019

Heres an interesting follow-up.

Apostrophes: linguistics expert imagines a happier world without themThe Conversation
Hardcore apostrophites would no longer be able to roll their eyes at people’s inability to work out where the apostrophe goes in examples such as “The Joneses front door”, “Holding each others hand” or “Others opinions”. Neither would they be able to indulge in their habitual mocking of someone who has used the wrong form of “its”.

In fact, by removing apostrophes altogether, the pedantry arsenal is vastly reduced. Without their favourite punctuation mark of judgement, your average pedant will be forced to make do with old favourites such as split infinitives and insisting on the “correct” meaning of “decimate”. …

In reality, the Apostrophe Protection Society did not, of course, hold dominion over apostrophes or any other aspect of English. Nobody does. Linguistic conventions (for this is all they are) come and go, and are often based on idiosyncratic preferences from another era. A good grasp of apostrophe use says more about your ability to remember inconsistent patterns than it does about your intelligence.

It seems to me that apostrophes are used to judge others as much as they are used to clarify writing. Maybe the APS finally saw the light and realised this, and decided it wanted no further part in the snobbish pedantry that surrounds this fetishised punctuation mark.

See also this earlier post about apostrophe use.

So, farewell then, Clive

Sad to hear about the loss of Clive James (and Jonathan Miller and Gary Rhodes) earlier. A man of many talents.

TV reviewers the world over owe debt to Clive JamesIrish times
live James, who died this week, was a man of many impressive parts, poet, essayist, literary critic, broadcaster, songwriter and blogger among them. But for me, it was the TV reviews he wrote for the Observer newspaper from 1972 to 1982 that left the most vivid and lasting impression. That’s partly because James essentially invented the newspaper TV review as a particular sort of place where writers could flex their muscles and show off in a way that might have been frowned on elsewhere. But it was mostly because he was so damned brilliant at the job that everyone who followed remains in his shadow.

Clive James’ best quips – from Beyoncé takedown to Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘condom full of walnuts’ jibeMirror
On novelist Barbara Cartland: “Twin miracles of mascara, her eyes looked like the corpses of two small crows that had crashed into a chalk cliff.”

“Windows is Shutting Down” – Caltech
Clive James is an illustrious expatriate Australian poet and author living in London. The title (and opening phrase) of his poem will be familiar to everyone reading these words. I’ve read them often enough myself, but it has taken James’s wit to point out how they should have grated painfully on my grammatical ear. It is a marvellously chosen example to illustrate his claim about declining grammatical standards, since digital technology has been such a powerful force for generating mangled syntax.

It’s through his TV work that I know him best, and his shows in the 80s and 90s were compulsory viewing.

Clive James on Television – ITV, 14th August 1988YouTube

The Clive James Show (Carlton) – 26th May 1996YouTube

And yes, that last one does include a demonstration of the musical talents of one Margarita Pracatan.

Hiding noise with more noise

A few days after that post on tinnitus, this Quartz Obsession email arrived in my inbox, all about white noise. Apparently white noise technology is big business now, as more and more of us get increasingly fed up with noise pollution and are seeking a way out.

White noiseQuartz
The business of white noise has been commodified and packaged as a path to “silence” in a noisy world. Therapists and attorneys place white noise machines outside their office doors, like tiny privacy sentries. Parents clip white noise machines masquerading as cuddly lambs and owls to car seats and cribs to soothe babies to sleep. Apps offer personalizable white noise soundtracks.

As the world gets louder and noise pollution scales to what some claim as a public health crisis, white noise technology is facing a demand like never before, and business is quietly booming.

I hadn’t realised how much it can help with tinnitus, though.

Tinnitus is a chronic condition associated with the misfiring of neurons damaged by high excessive noise-exposure that leads to hearing phantom sounds. People affected by extreme noise are also more likely to develop dementia, anxiety, and have their learning ability impaired, suggesting sound exposure may have even wider neural effects. White noise is being pitched as one of the solutions to the problem. Research backed up by studies done on mice suggests low-level noise can reduce symptoms of tinnitus, and has become a recommended treatment method.

And it can come in all sorts of flavours, too.

Colored noise, and how it can help you focusYouTube
Colors like white, pink and brown aren’t just for clouds, flowers and cows! They also describe special sounds that can actually help you focus and sleep!

But let one of my favourite authors have the last word.

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
William Gibson, Neuromancer

A welcome video art refresher

I enjoyed this trip down memory lane, care of the BBC and Vic Reeves.

Kill Your TV: Jim Moir’s Weird World of Video ArtBBC iPlayer
With contributions from leading British artists such as Isaac Julien and Rachel Maclean, Jim shows how the arrival of the portable video camera in the 1960s allowed artists to create work that set out to take on the power of corporate media. New York-based artist Nam June Paik, credited as video art’s inventor, once declared, ‘television has been attacking us all our lives – now we can attack it back.’

It took me back to my student days, messing around with sound and video in an attempt to forge a new ‘interactive’ art. The work of Brian Eno featured quite heavily in those days (he was an ex-student of our Head of Programme, as our Head of Programme was always keen to point out), and I see he was in the news again the other day.

Brian Eno’s latest composition: A giant Christmas card with Julian Assange on itThe Register
Acclaimed lift music composer Brian Eno is orchestrating a mass mail-in to Brit home secretary Priti Patel so the great unwashed can tell her: “Don’t Extradite Assange.”

At 3pm on 3 December, the background muzak technician will pull the sheets off an oversized digital Christmas card (pictured) outside the Home Office’s Westminster premises, featuring a snap of white-haired WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and emblazoned with the cheery message: “This Christmas journalism is on trial.”

Faking a moon landing disaster

This July saw the 50th annivesary of the moon landing, and I shared a number of landing related links, including one about a speech for President Nixon in case the worst should happen, titled “In the Event of Moon Disaster.”

Well, it’s been given the deepfake treatment.

A deepfake Nixon delivers eulogy for the Apollo 11 astronautsKottke
Fifty years ago, not even Stanley Kubrick could have faked the Moon landing. But today, visual effects and techniques driven by machine learning are so good that it might be relatively simple, at least the television broadcast part of it. In a short demonstration of that technical supremacy, a group from MIT has created a deepfake version of Nixon delivering that disaster speech. …

The implications of being able to so convincingly fake the televised appearance of a former US President are left as an exercise to the reader.

In event of moon disaster – Nixon deepfake clipsYouTube

Resisting political negativity

It’s hard to stay positive about politics these days.

Chief Rabbi launches unprecedented attack on ‘mendacious’ Jeremy Corbyn over Jew hateThe Jewish Chronicle
Also highlighting shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s claim that the party is now “doing everything” to tackle the crisis, the Chief Rabbi says: “The claims by leadership figures in the Labour Party that it is ‘doing everything’ it reasonably can to tackle the scourge of anti-Jewish racism and that it has ‘investigated every single case’ are a mendacious fiction.” …

In a clear reference to Jewish MPs such as Dame Louise Ellman, Luciana Berger and also to the whistleblowers who spoke out about Labour’s failure to tackle the problem in a BBC Panorama documentary, he writes: “We sit powerless, watching with incredulity as supporters of the Labour leadership have hounded parliamentarians, party members and even staff out of the party for facing down anti-Jewish racism.”

Harry Dunn’s family urge voters to unseat Dominic RaabThe Guardian
They said: “We are not political people. Whatever political thoughts we hold we generally keep to ourselves. But the enormity and shocking nature of what has happened to us have left us feeling compelled to come to Esher and Walton this evening in the midst of the current election campaign. We feel that his handling of our situation has been so outrageously dishonourable and disrespectful that we have a duty to respectfully bring these matters to the direct attention of that local community that have until now voted him into this position.”

Tony Blair says Tories and Labour engaged in ‘populism running riot’The Guardian
“We’re a mess,” Blair said. “The buoyancy of the world economy has kept us going up to now, but should that falter, we will be in deep trouble. Investment is down; jobs in certain sectors are already moving; our currency stays devalued sharply; and market sentiment swings between anxiety and alarm.

“And across a range of international issues which matter to us, we’re irrelevant – too preoccupied to spare overstretched bandwidth of attention. Our politics is utterly dysfunctional.”

Nine key facts about the election everyone keeps getting wrongWired UK
The 2019 general election is proving to be one of the most complicated to discern, as candidates and political parties move away from traditional truth-stretching and fact-massaging to more malicious potential falsehoods.

The public have also picked up on it, too, becoming more tribal, overlooking obvious facts when they do not chime with their viewpoint. It’s also an immensely important election, so we’ve taken the time to look at several key areas and bust some “facts” you may hear from the mouths of politicians, pundits and the general public that prove to be… less than factual.

I need to revisit my earlier post, I think, It’s not all bad news, and its links to Hans Rosling’s work. I’m currently reading and thoroughly enjoying his “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think”, a book needed now more than ever.

FactfulnessGapminder
Factfulness is a relaxing habit for critical thinking. It helps you maintain a fact-based worldview. It teaches you how to recognise and avoid the most common ways information gets misinterpreted.

attention-filter-01

Too much of a good thing?

Looking for something to watch when you’ve got too much time on your hands?

The top 10 best 10-hour long videos on YouTubeLifewire
It’s pretty unlikely that most viewers actually sit there to watch one of these excruciatingly long videos in full, but that’s not really the point. The point is that a 10-hour version of a popular video or meme simply exists, and that’s what makes it at least ten times funnier than the original.

I see there’s an epic version of the catchy/creepy Russian Trololo guy, which I think I’ll pass. Though if they made a 10 hour version of any of these old Russian tunes I won’t complain.

Like to be by the sea

We always knew it to be the case, but now science backs it up.

Blue spaces: why time spent near water is the secret of happiness
In recent years, stressed-out urbanites have been seeking refuge in green spaces, for which the proven positive impacts on physical and mental health are often cited in arguments for more inner-city parks and accessible woodlands. The benefits of “blue space” – the sea and coastline, but also rivers, lakes, canals, waterfalls, even fountains – are less well publicised, yet the science has been consistent for at least a decade: being by water is good for body and mind.

like-to-be-beside-the-sea-1

White says there are three established pathways by which the presence of water is positively related to health, wellbeing and happiness. First, there are the beneficial environmental factors typical of aquatic environments, such as less polluted air and more sunlight. Second, people who live by water tend to be more physically active – not just with water sports, but walking and cycling.

Third – and this is where blue space seems to have an edge over other natural environments – water has a psychologically restorative effect. White says spending time in and around aquatic environments has consistently been shown to lead to significantly higher benefits, in inducing positive mood and reducing negative mood and stress, than green space does.

like-to-be-beside-the-sea-2

“People work with what they have,” says Kelly. When she lived in London, she would head for the Thames when she had a spare 10 minutes “and recalibrate”. Then, four times a year, she would go to Brighton “and the benefits would keep me going for the next few months – so I didn’t get into a place of being overwhelmed or stressed, just keeping myself topped up”.

like-to-be-beside-the-sea-4

All the more reason to be looking after our natural environment.

Democracy damaged

It seems the Conservatives have shown themselves to be factually untrustworthy. I can’t imagine they thought they’d get away with this. I guess they mustn’t care.

Or perhaps it’s just a classic Trumpian move: the more we’re talking about this concocted social media controversy, the less we’re talking about the real issues at stake. Either way, (more) trust is lost.

Tories under fire for ‘fake’ fact-checking Twitter accountThe Telegraph

Tories pretend to be factchecking service during leaders’ debateThe Guardian

Fact Check HQ: Tories condemned over fake Twitter accountThe Herald

Tory HQ slammed for ‘dystopian’ rebranding of Twitter account during leaders’ debateHuffpost

Election debate: Conservatives criticised for renaming Twitter profile ‘factcheckUK’BBC News

Britain’s ruling political party masqueraded as a fact-checker on Twitter during a TV debateCNBC

The Tories just used a disinformation trick that deserves to get them banned from TwitterNew Statesman

Twitter says PM Johnson’s party misled public with ‘factcheck’ accountReuters

The debate itself left no clear winner. Perhaps, as suggested in the latest B3TA newsletter, the format should be dropped entirely and substituted for something more testing.

Forget leaders debates, prospective Prime Ministers should do a series of tasks without losing cool: switch phone to a different tariff; retrieve ball from grumpy neighbour; submit tax return to HMRC website; take a driving test etc.

In an earlier newsletter they had some pointers on how to improve voting, which, joking aside, might really be worth considering.

16 year olds should get TWO votes as they’ve got to live with the consequences longer.

Blank ballot papers so votes only count if you can remember the name of the candidate.

One person, one vote and that person is Sir David Attenborough.

 

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.