World on fire

The extent of the wildfires in Australia recently has been heartbreaking, even if some of the images that were doing the rounds were a little ambiguous.

Australia fires: Misleading maps and pictures go viralBBC News
One image shared widely by Twitter users, including by singer Rihanna, was interpreted as a map showing the live extent of fire spread, with large sections of the Australian coastline molten-red and fiery.

But it is actually artist Anthony Hearsey’s visualisation of one month of data of locations where fire was detected, collected by Nasa’s Fire Information for Resource Management System.

“The scale is a little exaggerated due to the render’s glow, but it is generally true to the info from the Nasa website. Also note that not all the areas are still burning, and this is a compilation,” Mr Hearsey wrote on Instagram in response to criticism by viewers that the image was misleading.

world-on-fire

But is this just a taste of things to come?

Analysis confirms that climate change is making wildfires worseNew Scientist
In light of the ongoing wildfire crisis in Australia, Richard Betts at the UK Met Office in Exeter and his colleagues reviewed 57 peer-reviewed studies about the link between climate change and wildfire risk.

All the studies found that climate change increases the frequency or severity of fire-favourable weather conditions.

The review found that fire weather seasons have lengthened globally between 1979 and 2013. Fire weather generally involves hot temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall in the preceding days and weeks, and windy conditions.

So what can be done? We’re hearing more and more about carbon offsetting, with not-even-slightly-green companies like Shell and JetBlue getting in on the act.

Do carbon offsets really work? It depends on the detailsWired
[S]ome critics worry the programs are an excuse to not take tougher measures to curb climate change. If not done right, the purchase of offsets can act as a marketing campaign that ends up providing cover for companies’ climate-harming practices.

When a company buys offsets, it helps fund projects elsewhere to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as planting trees in Indonesia or installing giant machines inside California dairies that suck up the methane produced by burping and farting cows and turn it into a usable biofuel. What offsets don’t do is force their buyer to change any of its operations. …

“What would JetBlue have done if they couldn’t buy offsets?” Haya says. “Would they have put money into efficiency of the planes, or invested in future biofuels to create a long-term alternative to fossil fuels? That’s the fundamental question we have to ask for voluntary offsets: How much is it taking the place of real long-term solutions?”

Talking to myself

Yesterday’s post from Jeremy in Hong Kong was about William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life, a book that shows how ancient Stoic philosophy is still relevant and needed today. And yesterday’s Wintergatan Wednesday video also included a review of William Irvine’s book, coincidentally.

Intrigued, I knew I had this book on my Kindle somewhere, so I thought I should re-read it and maybe blog a review of this book myself.

But then I realised I already had, back in 2013.

Once again, surprised Present Me thanks diligent Past Me for all his help with forgetful Future Me.

Things are on the up!

Well I, at least, can take a positive spin on this.

The mid-life crisis is real, study suggests, as economist pinpoints age of peak misery as 47.2The Telegraph
“Something very natural is going on here… maybe there’s something in the genes,” he said. “When you have this pattern in 132 countries, the reality is, it was really hard to not find it.”

In his paper entitled: ‘Is happiness U-shaped everywhere?’ and published yesterday by the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER), Professor Blanchflower said that averaging across 257 individual country estimates from developing countries gives an age minimum of 48.2 for well-being, and doing the same across the 187 country estimates for advanced countries gives a similar minimum of 47.2.

on-the-up

As a 47.8 year old, I’ve officially passed the nadir so can look forward to a continuing surge in happiness levels from now on!

Update 21/01/2020

Just parking this opposing article here, in case I need to refer to it later…

How to stave off depression in later lifePatient
Whether it’s moving from work into retirement or dealing with the loss of a loved one, it’s evident that the stresses and feelings of isolation in later life can take their toll. And it may come as little surprise that nearly half of all adults aged 55 and over said they had experienced depression, according to a recent survey by Age UK.

A mysterious seismic hum

That really faint noise? For me, it’s a quiet, high-frequency tone that seems to be coming from the centre of my head. For that guy in Arizona, it was a low-pitched drone coming from a neighbouring data centre. But these other unexplained low-frequency rumbles, heard around the world, could be much more elemental.

Ear-pleasing new report confirms volcanic source of mysterious global humSyfy Wire
Now a German scientific team has apparently solved the mystery of a strange seismic humming experienced around the globe since it was first detected in late 2018. And despite many believing it was some alien doomsday device warming up to unleash its planet-killing spores, it appears to be caused by a massive underwater volcano forming just off the coast of Madagascar.

Desk danger!

We all do it. We all know we shouldn’t. But are we at least allowed to read about the perils of eating lunch at our desks, whilst at our desks during lunch?

Why you really shouldn’t be eating lunch at your deskWired UK
“Often meal breaks are a time where you are able to refresh your attention,” says André Spicer, professor of organisational behaviour at Cass Business School in London. “If you don’t take a break in which you go away from your actual place where you’re working, you’re not able to get a boost in attention. Meal breaks basically allow us a productivity refresh.” …

“If you eat at your desk when you’re distracted through working and you’re not giving yourself a proper lunch break, then the food you eat doesn’t fill you up as much,” she says. “You don’t remember that you have eaten in the same way, and you don’t code food in the same way. You’re more likely to feel hungry in the afternoon and then eat more.”

A drop in productivity (heaven forbid!) isn’t the only worry. But help is at hand.

Oh crumbs! Hope of an end to food in keyboardsThe Times
Forget about fingerprint readers, retinal displays or edge-to-edge screens. There is one innovation that computer users have been waiting for since the first office worker decided to eat at their desk, and it could soon be here: crumb-proof keyboards.

Apple patents world’s first crumb-proof keyboardThe Independent
The filing suggests a number of ways in which the problem might be eradicated, discussing the application of gaskets, brushes, wipers and flaps to block gaps, the installation of a membrane beneath each key and even a “bellows” effect in which each key stroke forces air through the board, pushing irksome crumbs out.

Cinematic video games

1917, with its ingenious camerawork and set design, is getting plenty of award attention. (I feel obliged, though, to remind everyone that it’s not really one continuous take, it just looks like that. Others have managed to do that properly. Surely Russian Ark is the one to beat on that score. But anyway!) Its director, Sam Mendes, unlike David Cronenberg still sees potential in the cinema of the spectacle.

1917 director Sam Mendes “optimistic” about future of theatersCollider
“I am optimistic, actually, but it’s in the hands of the filmmakers more than anything else,” Mendes said to The Hollywood Reporter backstage at the Golden Globes. “It’s up to filmmakers to make films that need to be seen on a big screen and make an audience feel like if they don’t see it on the big screen, they’ll miss out… I think what’s important is that filmmakers are ambitious and that they use the tools of cinema, surround sound, IMAX, and every fiber of their being to make big stories for big screens.”

Its dazzling, attention-grabbing camerawork has its critics, too.

1917 review: turning a nightmare war into a theme park showcaseThe Verge
1917 has a small cast, but there are more than a few faces you’d recognize. Colin Firth makes an appearance, as does Andrew Scott of Fleabag fame, and Mark Strong. You might miss them entirely, though, because the camera never really gets close to them. It never lingers, never engages with them on a level any deeper than the bare minimum for establishing the action. Close cuts are used to foster intimacy, and if a camera never truly gets close to anyone, then we aren’t likely to either. In 1917, the horror and spectacle of war are impressive but never felt.

It’s the visual language of video games, but video games pull it off because that distanced voyeurism also comes with something additive: interactivity. Eventually, you will become involved. That is not something a film can offer.

Others make more positive associations with video games.

‘1917’ is a movie that feels like a videogame—in a good wayWIRED
Perhaps that is why, at times, watching it feels like playing a first-person shooter in the vein of Call of Duty or Battlefield. Like the recently released Gears 5, Mendes’ film wants the audience to experience the trauma of war along with Schofield and Blake, not just learn about it like a history lesson.

If it’s video game cinema you’re after, these 8-Bit Cinema videos from CineFix will sort you out. The concept works especially well for movies that are practically video games to begin with.

Mad Max: Fury Road – 8 Bit CinemaYouTube

The Matrix – 8 Bit CinemaYouTube

But I think it works just as well for other kinds of movies too, that are perhaps like video games after all.

The Shawshank Redemption – 8 Bit CinemaYouTube

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – 8 Bit CinemaYouTube

And what goes best with a little movie? A little popcorn.

PopcornVimeo

You have to be careful with video games, though. They can become quite expensive.

Austria′s former Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache ′addicted′ to gamingDW
The former Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache spent between €2,000 and €3,000 ($2,200–3,300) a month playing the mobile phone game “Clash of Clans,” and charged the fees to his political party, according to a lawyer formerly close to him.

Mad Mormon maps

Via Kottke, a map from 1899 illustrating what can happen when geography, religion and history get mashed together — a map of the ancient inhabitants of North and South America.

Mormon theological geography… on a nine-foot-high banner!Boston Rare Maps
The map was an official production of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) in Independence, Missouri. The RLDS (known since 2001 as the Community of Christ), is a reformist branch of the Church of Latter Day Saints, established in 1860.

mad-mormon-maps-1

It’s an impressive object for sure, and I do love a good map, but I was most struck by the summary of what this group of people actually believe.

Ten Lost Tribes: Latter Day Saint movementWikipedia
The Book of Mormon is based on the premise that two families of Israelites escaped from Israel shortly before the sacking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and that they constructed a ship, sailed across the ocean, and arrived in the New World as founders of Native American tribes and eventually the Polynesians.[18] Adherents believe the two founding tribes were called Nephites and Lamanites, that the Nephites were white and practiced Christianity, and that the Lamanites were rebellious and received dark skin from God as a mark to separate the two tribes. Eventually the Lamanites wiped out the Nephites around 400 AD, leaving only dark skinned Native Americans.

All I know of the Mormons is what I’ve learnt by sitting through school concerts that have included songs from that musical, so that was quite illuminating. Native Americans are really Jewish?

Send the lemmings on their way, first class

Video game nostalgia continues with these new stamps from Royal Mail. It’s great to see those lemmings again. I remember spending far too much of my time with those persistent little critters in the 90s.

Classic UK video games get the Royal Mail stamp treatmentIt’s Nice That
Royal Mail has released a set of stamps celebrating a golden era of British video game design from the 1980s and 90s, with nine classic games memorialised in 5×3cm, gum-backed format. Scenes from Lemmings (developed by Psygnosis in 1991) and Sensible Soccer (by Sensible Software, 1992), both created for Commodore Amiga, adorn first class stamps, while the rest of the collection features nostalgic stills from Sony Playstation’s Wipeout (Psygnosis, 1995), Sega Mega Drive’s Micro Machines (Codemasters, 1991) and Elite (Acornsoft, 1984) made for BBC Micro and Acorn Electron.

send-the-lemmings-1a

send-the-lemmings-2a

send-the-lemmings-3

Video GamesRoyal Mail
An action-packed collection celebrating classic UK-designed video games that put the ‘joy’ in ‘joystick’. A fun set of Stamps and Collectibles to get your thumbs twitching.

send-the-lemmings-4

Here we go again #2

This all feels very familiar. Let’s see if any lessons can be learnt this time, or we going to make the same mistakes as last time.

Labour leadership: where do the candidates stand?The Guardian
Lewis is certainly a candidate on the left of the party and was once very closely associated with the leader. He has, however, since said Corbyn did not go far enough to democratise the party by giving members a say and criticised his “prevarication and lack of leadership” over Brexit. …

Long Bailey is considered the continuity candidate. She is backed by many of Corbyn’s key allies and has stressed that the party’s radical platform at the election was “principled and popular”. …

Nandy has been critical of the manifesto and Brexit policy, but has also said Labour must not abandon the radicalism of the Corbyn era. She is considered to be on the soft left of the party and has stressed her socialist credentials, but some Corbyn allies may eye her with suspicion for having backed Owen Smith’s leadership challenge in 2016. …

Phillips caused a stir over the weekend by saying she would not rule out campaigning to rejoin the EU if Brexit turns out to be a disaster. … Phillips is a long-term critic of Corbyn and is unlikely to win many votes among his staunch supporters. …

Starmer was instrumental in shifting Labour’s position toward a second referendum, but has since said he was simply in favour of the party taking a stronger position one way or the other. …

Thornberry has been very loyal to Corbyn over the years, but declined this weekend to say he had been a good leader. She said only that he was a man of “many, many talents”.

Happy New Decade

Happy New Year, and all that. At last, we’re in a decade with a normal name.

decades

Decadesxkcd

2020 is such a futuristic-sounding year.

It’s 2020 and you’re in the futureWait But Why
It’s also weird that to us, the 2020s sounds like such a rad futuristic decade—and that’s how the 1920s seemed to people 100 years ago today. They were all used to the 19-teens, and suddenly they were like, “whoa cool we’re in the twenties!” Then they got upset thinking about how much farther along in life their 1910 self thought they’d be by 1920.

To give us a sense of the decade we’ve just left behind, here, via Kottke, is a list of all the best ‘best of’ lists, if that makes sense.

Lists: Best of the 2010s decade
This page, compiled by @fimoculous, aggregates all of the lists related to 2010s decade.

As well as what you’d expect to find (34 lists in the Books category, and 120 lists in the Film category), there are a few more interesting ones.

Here’s an extra one to add to the list, before our futuristic hubris catches up with us.

From Glass to Fire Phone, these were the decade’s top tech flopsWired UK
Facebook Portal: In 2018, though, a scandal-infected Facebook was attempting to put out fire after fire – the Cambridge Analytica breach, Russian troll ads, the UN’s report on its role in Myanmar. With Facebook the absolute worst word in privacy and trust, no-one wanted a Facebook camera and microphone in their homes, especially one which the company admitted would track call data in order to serve ads to users.

So much to read, so little time

Somhow Robert Cottrell, the man behind the Browser newsletter, manages to read almost the entire web every day, in order to find and share the best with his thousands of subscribers, including me.

The man who reads 1,000 articles a daySuperorganizers
But the verb ‘to read’ isn’t exactly right to describe what he does. Ingest is a little bit closer. But it doesn’t quite hit it on the nose, either. Ingestion implies that what he’s doing is a mechanical, rote activity. No, Robert Cottrell eats articles. With gusto and verve.

It’s encouraging to learn he uses some of the same tools I use for this blog—Feedly and Pinboard.

Feedly is an RSS reader for the iPad that aggregates all of the articles I want to read from publications I’ve selected. Currently, I’ve got about 700 RSS feeds in my Feedly — meaning it’s aggregating about 700 publications for me every day. …

I follow quite a lot of people on Pinboard, and so between MetaFilter and Pinboard that adds about another 360 posts a day to the feed.

I have a similar, albeit much reduced, system here, though I can only snatch a few moments each day on it.

Something I worry about with all these feeds and newsletters and blogs that I look through to find things to share here is FOMS, Fear Of Missing Something. When there’s so much to read you have to skip through a lot, and leave many articles unread. But what if you missed something really interesting, something worth highlighting and sharing?

You just have to let it go, I guess, and move on. It’s ok.

We need some new news

2019 has been an … interesting year for political news reporting and current affairs.

What we learned about the media this electionThe Guardian
The British public were more than capable of creating their own disinformation. Ahead of the election there were concerns about foreign manipulation of the electoral process. Although there were some issues – the prime minister refused to let a report into Russian money be released pre-election, and Reddit suggested a Russian-linked account may have helped distribute leaked US-UK trade papers – ordinary, politicised Britons proved more than capable of creating their own fake posts.

Looking forward to 2020, here are 10 themes for newsNew York Times
People crave transparency. Similar to the shift we’ve seen in the farm-to-table movement around food sourcing and production, people want to know what goes into news production. In dozens of conversations with people around the world, we heard that people want more than just the story: they want to know why it’s being told, who is telling it and how it came together. News consumers want to pull back the curtain to understand why a headline was written a certain way, or why a particular story was featured over another on a home page. They want to know that specific information was verified by multiple sources, or that reporters pored over thousands of pages of documents for a particular story.

The public hears claims of “fake news” just as often as people who work in media. When people understand the process and people involved in telling a story, they are more likely to trust it.

It’s not all bad news, of course.

99 good news stories you probably didn’t hear about in 2019Future Crunch
If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we have to change the stories we tell ourselves.

But even here, we need to be careful.

The year in good news 2019 (and the bad news about good news)Kottke
But at this point I feel obligated to remind myself (and perhaps you as well) that focusing mostly on positive news isn’t great either. A number of thinkers — including Bill Gates, Steven Pinker, Nicholas Kristof, Max Roser — are eager to point out that the world’s citizens have never been safer, healthier, and wealthier than they are now. And in some ways that is true! But in this long piece for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman addresses some of the reasons to be skeptical of these claims.

Let’s see what the new year has in store.

Flying machines, large and small

Drones are a popular Christmas gift, but I don’t know if budgets will stretch far enough for many of us to recreate these incredible drone effects.

800 LED drones create giant 3D airplanes in the skyThe Kid Should See This
The three-dimensional ‘sky sculptures’ created by these 800 LED-equipped drones are stunning. Airplanes, jets, helicopters, and words hovered as points of light over Nanchang, China for the 2019 Nanchang Flight Convention’s closing ceremonies.

A little more polished than TIME magazine’s efforts last year, I think, which were still pretty impressive.

The future of reading in safe hands

The end of paper? The end of books? As Leah Price discusses in this excerpt from her latest book, What We Talk about When We Talk about Books: The History and Future of Reading, it’s the same old story.

Books won’t dieThe Paris Review
In hindsight, we can see how rarely one technology supersedes another: the rise of the podcast makes clear that video didn’t doom audio any more than radio ended reading. Yet in 1913, a journalist interviewing Thomas Edison on the future of motion pictures recounted the inventor declaring confidently that “books … will soon be obsolete in the public schools.” By 1927 a librarian could observe that “pessimistic defenders of the book … are wont to contrast the actual process of reading with the lazy and passive contemplation of the screen or listening to wireless, and to prophecy the death of the book.” And in 1966, Marshall McLuhan stuck books into a list of outdated antiques: “clotheslines, seams in stockings, books and jobs—all are obsolete.”

Throughout the nineteenth century and again in the twentieth, every generation rewrote the book’s epitaph. All that changes is whodunnit.

And here’s a somewhat related article, asking us to see our current worries about technology ruining everything in a wider, historical context.

Pessimism v progress – The Economist
The New York Times sums up the encroaching gloom. “A mood of pessimism”, it writes, has displaced “the idea of inevitable progress born in the scientific and industrial revolutions.” Except those words are from an article published in 1979. Back then the paper fretted that the anxiety was “fed by growing doubts about society’s ability to rein in the seemingly runaway forces of technology”. …

The most important lesson is about technology itself. Any powerful technology can be used for good or ill. The internet spreads understanding, but it is also where videos of people being beheaded go viral. Biotechnology can raise crop yields and cure diseases—but it could equally lead to deadly weapons.

Technology itself has no agency: it is the choices people make about it that shape the world.

Well yes, to an extent. But are we completely free in our choices, or are we being manipulated a little?

I do think these Economist illustrations are very clever, though, like that one of Johnson’s V for victory sign.

future-reading-safe-hands-1

Unrolling history

A roll of paper was sealed in a jar and buried under a Buddhist shrine near the northern Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Two thousand years later, and it’s made its way to the United States and the Library of Congress in a Parker Pen box. Of course you’re going to want to know what it says, but ‘fragile’ doesn’t begin to cover it. 

How the Library of Congress unrolled a 2,000-year-old Buddhist scrollAtlas Obscura
The actual unrolling happened in June, 2006, on a Saturday, to reduce the risk of air currents created by coworkers and better control the humidity and temperature of the library’s paper lab. Krueger was present with only two others: Yasmeen Khan, a senior rare book conservator at the library, and Mark Barnard, the chief conservator at the British Library. “One cannot underestimate the nerves of steel required for such a project,” Krueger says. “We had only one chance for success.”

unrolling-history-1

unrolling-history-2

Engaging poetry

A strange little tale from Benjamin Aleshire, poet for hire.

Big Data vs. Big Dada: Writing poetry on demand at a New Orleans tech convention
“I’d like my poem to be about, ‘How to help people’—it’s for my boss,” a cheery young woman tells me, an hour before we close up shop on the final day of the conference. This assignment moves me profoundly—after a thousand poems about anniversaries and dense explications of maverick approaches to data analysis, someone seems sincerely interested in the human condition—an embodiment of the benevolent side of the tech industry. Despite my rage at companies like Facebook for their complicity in the election of a psychopathic demagogue, among many other sins—Silicon Valley aspires to a fervent streak of altruism that falls squarely into the tradition of idealism going back to the 1800s.

The subject for her poem is a question philosophers have wrestled with for centuries, leading to Marx’s indictment of capitalism as a virus which will ultimately eat itself, unless it’s eradicated by a system which doesn’t require exponential profit at the expense of workers and the environment. I don’t say any of this, because not even Marxists enjoy the mansplaining of Marx—instead, I say, “That’s so beautiful, it makes me think of the roots of idealism.”

“I was thinking more along the lines of customer engagement. Like, ‘How can we help our customer engage more with our product and our content?’” she informs me. Oy.

Needless to say, it doesn’t end well.

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 resilientElemental
“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.

Update 27/12/2019

On a related note.

Introvert? You may just be bad at recognising facesThe Conversation
We do not yet understand the importance and reason for these findings, however. It may be that extroversion causes superior face recognition or that people who are better at identifying faces become more extroverted as a result.

If so, then a person’s inability to learn and recognise faces may lead them to become more introverted, to avoid potentially embarrassing social situations. Alternatively, introverted people may meet fewer people and therefore never develop good face recognition skills.

It may also work both ways. If you are slightly worse at recognising faces to start with you may end up meeting fewer people, and therefore becoming even worse at it over time. It could also be that both extroversion and face recognition are related to yet another factor that we still don’t know about.

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.