Do you speak EUnglish?

Learning another language is not easy, but is it harder if you already speak English? It might not just be down to a lack of motivation, knowing that seemingly everyone else in the world speaks English.

Five reasons English speakers struggle to learn foreign languages
4. Keeping track of case
Where German has der/die/des/dem/den/das, English has only the – and this poses considerable challenges for English speakers learning German. So why does German have all these different ways of saying the? This is the German case system which spells out the article the differently depending not only on whether it is singular or plural (see above), but on its function in a sentence (subject, direct object, indirect object, possessor).

But perhaps it’s more important than ever to try, in these uncertain times.

The English language is evolving – here’s how it will change after Brexit
As part of my ongoing PhD research on the translation profession, I interviewed some British translators working at the European Commission. From their perspective, English will remain the principal working language following Brexit, as switching to only French and German, or adding another language would be unrealistic and require a huge investment in training by the EU. Instead, they report that English will continue to be used, and will simply evolve and change in these settings.

So-called “EU speak” is an example of this.

Linguistic diversity driven, not by invaders this time, but bureaucrats?

11 examples of the odd dialect called ‘EU English’
10. COMITOLOGY

The Commission must draft new rules setting out the powers and workings of the bodies replacing the Committees in the framework of the now-abolished comitology procedure, to ensure that the new system operates properly.

The report states that there are 1253 instances of this word in an EU document database but “not only does the word not exist outside the EU institutions … it is formed from a misspelt stem (committee has two m’s and two t’s) and a suffix that means something quite different (-ology/-logy means ‘the science of’ or ‘the study of’). It is therefore highly unlikely that an outsider would be able to deduce its meaning, even in context.” It means something like “having to do with committees.”

Is this indigenous to just Brussels, I wonder. Does it count as endangered?

Thaana, from the Atlas of Endangered Alphabets
Thaana, which seems to have been invented in the eighteenth century, is unique in other respects, too. For one thing, its letters are based on numbers — but numbers from two different number systems. The first nine letters (h–v) are derived from the Arabic numerals, whereas the next nine (m–d) were the local Indic numerals. The remaining letters for loanwords (z–ch) and Arabic transliteration are adapted from native consonants, with the exception of y, which is of unknown origin.

Tackling Wikipedia’s diversity problem, one page at a time

Anyone can edit Wikipedia, and you can start articles about anything you like. And yet, as physicist Jess Wade notes, “somewhere between 84% and 91% of Wikipedia editors are male” and “only 17.7% of Wikipedia biographies written in English are about women.”

Why we’re editing women scientists onto Wikipedia
What we choose to edit is informed by what we know — not only in terms of our scientific expertise, but also from our own lived experiences. For women and people in other under-represented groups in science, that knowledge includes an intimate understanding of how our contributions are downplayed or outright erased from the history of science. The Wikipedia community should reflect the populations it serves — in race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. The US National Science Foundation has invested money to understand and bridge the gender gap on Wikipedia, and we are hopeful that more efforts to better recognize the contributions of all other under-represented groups will follow.

It sounds like a huge, thankless task, though some appreciation and recognition seems to be coming her way.

Jess Wade one of Nature’s 10
Nature notes that when Jess started writing a Wikipedia page every day, she didn’t expect her efforts to earn her global attention. She was simply trying to correct the online encyclopaedia’s under-representation of women and people of colour in science. But in July, when she tweeted about a trollish comment she’d received about the work, it prompted an outpouring of support and a big boost for her quest. “That wouldn’t have happened without that one mean comment,” she says.

Meet the physicist on a mission to change perceptions of women in science
Dr Jess Wade has a much higher profile than most scientists conducting research into chiral organic light emitting diodes. When I mention to a friend that I’m interviewing the 29-year-old physicist, that friend – who has not been in a science lab since her GCSEs – brightens with recognition. “Oh, the Wikipedia scientist?” she says. “I’ve heard about her! She’s so cool!”

A physicist is writing one Wikipedia entry a day to recognize women in science
Wade, who works in printed electronics and creates light-emitting diodes, said she doesn’t find herself notable enough as a scholar. Yet Ben Britton, an engineer in the Department of Materials at her college, created a Wikipedia page about her. And Wikipedia hasn’t deleted it.

“I know I’m not notable enough yet as an academic, and it has become a space for trolls to nominate me for deletion and basically discuss how rubbish I am!” Wade said. “I’m much happier talking about how great other people are other than anything I’ve achieved.”

This isn’t just an issue with Wikipedia, though, as she explains in this interview with Wired.

We’re all to blame for Wikipedia’s huge sexism problem
The lack of diversity in science is not only an issue of equality, but impacts the science that we study, the real-world applications we create as well and the environments that researchers exist in. The questions scientists ask, the problems science seeks to solve, and the assumptions scientists bring to their research are all informed by researchers’ lived experiences.

Ensuring a diversity of experiences and backgrounds are included in the research endeavour is essential for correcting biases and pursuing a diverse set of questions. Representation of currently underrepresented groups is therefore not a mere matter of justice, but a requisite for doing good science.

Seeing sounds

It was the one on how quartz watches work that first caught my eye, but I’ve been enjoying working my way through the rest of Steve Mould’s science videos.

These two are my favourites so far, though I’ve yet to see them all.

Laser + mirror + sound
A laser shining on a mirror driven by a speaker creates cool patterns.

Interaural time difference and how to find your phone instantly
The science of sound localization is really interesting. This video is specifically about interaural time difference and how mobile phone ringtones are badly designed for the way our brains detect sound direction. You can make you phone easier to find by changing the ringtone to white noise. Also, emergency vehicle sirens like ambulances are badly designed for the same reason.

A timely refresher

Following on from that post about watchmakers, here are a couple of videos explaining how mechanical and quartz watches work. In this opaque and bewildering hi-tech world of ours, it’s refreshing to find something complex yet still understandable.

First, this 1940s explainer from Hamilton. (I love the narrator’s accent!) Ironically, the pacing for this short documentary is a little slow by today’s standards, but I found that quite helpful.

How a watch works (1949)
A simple demonstration of the basic design and operation of a watch, including stop-motion animation showing a watch being assembled from many parts.

Science YouTuber Steve Mould brings us up-to-date with this look at quartz watches. I didn’t realise how similar they are to mechanical watches, in a way. 

How a quartz watch works – its heart beats 32,768 times a second
Quartz watches have a tiny crystal tuning fork inside that vibrates at 2^15 Hz and there’s a really clever reason for that. This video also talks a bit about how mechanical watches work.

Did you lose your baggage today?

So, today was Let It Go Day, apparently.

Today (23rd June, 2019) is… Let It Go Day
Let It Go Day is another one of the bevy of holidays created by Thomas and Ruth Roy of Wellcat Holidays & Herbs. They knew the difficulty of living with a pocketful of regrets that haunts you during every quiet hour, and knew that letting them go was the only way to find peace and contentment in their lives. So it was that Let It Go Day was created, with the intent of encouraging others throughout the world to let go of their regrets and forgive themselves for actions taken in the past.

Perhaps file this under ‘Whatever will they think of next?’

It’s national Let It Go Day, so here are 8 things you should definitely… well, let go of
6. Regret. I believe in learning from mistakes but not getting mad at yourself for making them. We do what seems like the best decision in the present, and we can’t always know that our future perspective will look like. We also can’t know how the future would have turned out if we’d acted differently. The results of our “mistakes” are often blessings in disguise.

Co-incidental music

Time flies. One minute I’m graduating with a university degree, wondering what on earth I’m going to do with it. The next minute*, I’m at a university again, only this time with child #1 on his first Open Day visit.

That evening, whilst reminiscing about my student days and bored of our usual radio station, child #2 switches to Pete Tong’s House Nation programme, something we’ve never listened to before. And just at the right time to catch this blast from the past — Kaw-Liga from The Residents.

The Residents – Kaw-Liga

I don’t think I’ve listened to that since leaving university. Back then, it was their interactive Gingerbread Man and Freakshow CD-ROM work that first caught our eye, I think. (When was the last time you saw the word CD-ROM?)

The Residents 1994 interview PCTV

It’s strange to think that, even though we had the internet in the mid-nineties, it wasn’t anywhere near as easy or as embedded as it is now. This was 10 years before YouTube was founded. It’s taken me just moments to find the original 1950s Hank Williams version and to learn that that bassline in The Residents’ version is deliberate.

Kaw-Liga
The avant-garde band The Residents recorded the song for their 1986 album Stars & Hank Forever: The American Composers Series, replacing its original backing music with the bassline of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. This was more than likely a reference to Williams’ wife, who was named Billie Jean.

* OK, not the next minute, but the 12,610,000th one. Roughly.

Fixing music

I can’t think of many things more enjoyable than listening to music. Starting with the radio alarm clock in the morning, mp3s on the bus, Spotify in the office, to relaxing with the radio again on an evening, I try to have music around me all day. Why (apart from distracting me from my tinnitus)? Because it’s pleasurable, of course. But why is it pleasurable? Er, good question.

It’s hard to know why music gives pleasure: is that the point?
We know music is pleasurable, the question is why? Many answers have been proposed: perhaps none are quite right.

The thought of being without music or amongst music makers is horrible — “Between 2007 and 2017, funding for arts programs in Philadelphia public schools was cut from $1.3 million to $50,000 annually.” So begins this short, quirky documentary from Topic.

Broken Orchestra

The format of the film could be seen as gimmicky, but I think its setting and style are really appropriate. And quite moving in parts.

How Philadelphia fixed its ‘Broken Orchestra’
When the Philadelphia public-school system began losing almost all the funding for its music-education programs in 2007, thousands of instruments in need of repair were forced into retirement, and community members moved to action. In this triumphant new documentary by Charlie Tyrell, we are introduced to a few of the innovators, educators, volunteers, advocates, and musicians behind Symphony for a Broken Orchestra, a music and art project begun in 2017 that raised awareness for the issue, helping to get those broken instruments back into Philadelphia students’ hands.

From Philadelphia’s Broken Orchestra to Manchester’s Kaleidoscope Orchestra, and their re-imagining of The Prodigy’s music. We’ve seen this kind of thing before — Nick Proch’s orchestral arrangement of Rage Against the Machine, for example, and of course 2Cellos and Thunderstruck — but there is surprising delicacy and emotion here.

A gorgeous orchestral tribute to the late Keith Flint of The Prodigy
In April we recorded this tribute to Keith Flint. We were shocked and saddened to hear of his passing and wanted to pay our respects through an orchestral medley featuring music by The Prodigy. We’re continually trying to help raise awareness for the mental health of musicians as it affects so many of us.

Tribute to Keith Flint – The Prodigy Orchestra Medley

More on music and loss.

Italy violin-makers rush to save damaged wood
An unprecedented wave of storms has knocked trees down in Italy’s forests and artisans are racing to salvage the valuable wood before it rots. More than 2,500,000 red spruce trees were felled in violent storms. Red spruce is a wood prized by violin-makers – and they are concerned that supplies of it are running out, which makes destructive weather like this even more devastating.

An emotional reunion between cello and cellist
The accident led to the discovery of other, more insidious problems: Matteo’s three-hundred-year-old insides were collapsing. The top was losing its arch; the cracks were widening. “A domino effect,” Haimovitz said. He visited every two months. Once, he arrived to find cello parts scattered around the room, attended to by different experts, like an intensive-care unit. “For thirty years, it goes everywhere with me, and then, so suddenly, not to have it around? And then to see it—” He broke off, full of emotion.

Keep an eye on the time

A mesmerising, meditative film introducing us to Faramarz, a London-based Iranian watchmaker. The world may seem chaotic, but “everything is in exactly the right place.”

The Watchmaker: A philosohy of craft and life
Filled with the pulses of numerous ticking watch hands, this short documentary from the UK filmmaker Marie-Cécile Embleton profiles a London-based Iranian watchmaker as he muses on the delicate and temporal nature of his work. As Faramarz meticulously polishes wood, shapes metal and positions springs, his personal philosophy emerges – one that values the minutiae of moment-to-moment experiences, and finds craft in all things.

Mitka Engebretsen is another watchmaker working in the UK. Here’s his set-up, somewhat shinier, though no less hypnotic.

Mitka’s vintage watch service

He lets us follow along on his blog when he’s servicing his clients’ vintage watches. The intricacy and precision is wonderful to see, however out of my reach they may be. Not that there’s anything wrong with my current watch — I love it!

What would he make of this video from Watchfinder & Co on the level of expertise that goes into producing fake watches these days, fakes that will still set you back £1,000.

This fake Rolex is the most accurate yet
Two years ago, we investigated just how far fake watches have come when we compared a real Rolex Submariner with a fake one. For anyone thinking that fake watches were the easy-to-spot domain of the seaside tat shop, we demonstrated that it’s harder to spot a fake than you might think. Two years on, and it’s got even harder.

One way round that, of course, is to not have a watch at all.

A Norwegian city wants to abolish time
“You have to go to work, and even after work, the clock takes up your time,” Hveding told Gizmodo. “I have to do this, I have to do that. My experience is that [people] have forgotten how to be impulsive, to decide that the weather is good, the Sun is shining, I can just live.” Even if it’s 3 a.m.

Magnetic Chernobyl

Before 26 April 1986, Chernobyl was the name of a city in Ukraine. It was also the name of a nuclear power plant close by, near the city of Pripyat (population 49,000). I can’t imagine many people in the West would have heard of it. After 26 April 1986, that all changed, of course.

In 2014, Danny Cooke and a documentary crew spent some time there, and showed us around.

Eerie drone footage shows Chernobyl from above
“We spent the week together exploring Chernobyl and the nearby abandoned city of Pripyat. There was something serene, yet highly disturbing about this place. Time has stood still and there are memories of past happenings floating around us.”

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl

Its radioactive magnetism keeps pulling us back.

Chernobyl’s horrifying realism merits its place as TV’s top show
It’s this combination of forensic attention to detail and chilling terror that has made Chernobyl, now IMDB’s highest-rated TV series of all time, so compelling. Creator Craig Mazin has captured why, 33 years after it occurred, Chernobyl continues to grip the public’s imagination, and why the event has become a metonym for grand-scale, human-induced suffering: the prospect of nuclear disaster still makes for the ultimate horror story.

HBO’s Chernobyl vs Reality – Footage Comparison

Pripyat may be a ghost town, but it’s not empty.

Meet the dogs of Chernobyl – the abandoned pets that formed their own canine community
After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Pripyat and the surrounding villages were abandoned, and residents were not allowed to take their pets to safety. Chernobyl Prayer, a devastating oral history of the period, tells of “dogs howling, trying to get on the buses. Mongrels, alsatians. The soldiers were pushing them out again, kicking them. They ran after the buses for ages.” Heartbroken families pinned notes to their doors: “Don’t kill our Zhulka. She’s a good dog.” There was no mercy. Squads were sent in to shoot the animals. But some survived and it is mainly their descendants that populate the zone.

[…]

While the dogs get some food and play from the visitors, their health needs are met by Clean Futures Fund, a US non-profit organisation that helps communities affected by industrial accidents, which has set up three veterinary clinics in the area, including one inside the Chernobyl plant. The clinics treat emergencies and issue vaccinations against rabies, parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis. They are also neutering the dogs. Lucas Hixson, the fund’s co-founder, says: “I don’t think we’ll ever get zero dogs in the exclusion zone but we want to get the population down to a manageable size so we can feed and provide long-term care for them.” This makes Chernobyl safer for the dogs, but also for the workers and visitors.

‘Visitors’. They’re not to be called tourists, that would be too- … crass?

As seen on TV: Fans of HBO series flock to Chernobyl, Geiger counters in hand
Fallout zones don’t usually make popular tourism attractions, but tour agencies are reporting as much as a 40 percent jump in daytrip bookings to the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident since the debut of the hit HBO miniseries Chernobyl, according to Reuters. More than six million people watched the series finale last Monday, so there’s every reason to expect the tourism boomlet will continue.

[…]

Scientists have estimated that it will not be safe for humans to live in the 770-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for up to several hundred years, given that contamination levels are not consistent in the surrounding area. Still, the Ukrainian government opened Chernobyl to tourists in 2011 and about 60,000 tourists visited Chernobyl last year, noted local tourism official Anton Taranenko at a recent press conference.

Milka Ivanova, from Bulgaria, and Dorina-Maria Buda, from Romania, were five years old in 1986. They’re now academics at Leeds Beckett University. Here, they share their perspective.

Chernobyl: we lived through its consequences – holidays in the fallout zone shouldn’t be a picnic
As I write this – decompressing my memories and digging up those of my family back in Romania – there’s still a heaviness in my chest. Milka and I channel our anxieties over Chernobyl and life in communist eastern Europe into our research. To overcome the restraints of those days, I have travelled, worked and studied in eight countries on four continents. My published work deals with psychoanalytic theories of the death instinct, trauma and nuclear tourism – the industry that monetises a fascination to visit places where nuclear accidents have laid waste to people and their communities. The Fukushima disaster of March 2011 in Japan created the most recent entry in this list of tourist hotspots.

Interestingly, 2011 was also the year that Chernobyl was officially declared a tourist attraction. The HBO miniseries has generated interest in nuclear tourism, but this fascination with our communist history is nothing new among western tourists.

Pack your bags

The best laid plans, and so on.

This Vancouver market is handing out embarrassing plastic bags to customers
Currently, East West charges customers five cents per embarrassing plastic bag that they take. They plan to continue handing out the specialty bags for the foreseeable future, but note that they’d rather no one take them. Instead, they hope to start a conversation about single-use plastic bags, as well as influence shoppers to bring their own bags – whether they are shopping at East West or somewhere else.

But they were just too popular.

Problem in the bagging area: the plastic-shaming scheme that went very, very wrong
So perhaps the way to deal with the plastic crisis isn’t to daub single-use plastics with well-designed, slyly aspirational joke logos. Perhaps the bags should be printed with closeup pictures of dead seabirds and huge text reading: “I am pillaging planet Earth of its most precious resources.”

In the UK, a 5p levy was introduced in 2015 to discourage shoppers from using plastic bags. The supermarkets are supposed to be donate that money to good causes that benefit the environment. Is that really happening?

Are retailers ‘bagging’ the 5p plastic carrier bag charge?
What we found when we dug into the plastic bag levy suggests it has been managed in a way that can confuse customers and leave them unaware of the levy’s purpose or their option to return used bags. If customers believe their 5p is going to good causes but discover it’s actually going into marketing spend for retailers, they may lose confidence in the scheme.

Meanwhile.

At the Newark Public Library, shopping bags carry local history
The Newark Public Library in Newark, New Jersey, has an unusual collection that can’t be found in its stacks. Stored in the library’s Special Collections department, in one filing cabinet and 61 archival Solander boxes—some of which are so full their latches barely close—are over 2,000 shopping bags. Meticulously cataloged by geographic location, size, and theme, the collection records the history of graphics, culture, and everyday life from the mid-20th century to the current day.

pack-your-bags-1

Video game nostalgia

It’s a big week for video games, with E3 2019 in full swing. But never mind all that, let’s look back to the good ol’ days with Sam Dyer, founder and book designer of Bitmap Books.

Bitmap Beauty: Exploring classic video game box art from the 80s and 90s
“Given the limitations the artists had, this pixel art is a real work of art and deserves to be treated as so. However, the box art also hugely influenced which games we purchased before the internet. It really was the cover art that would draw you in, when in a shop.”

The unsung design wonder that is classic video game packaging has been explored by Bitmap Books for five years now, with Sam founding the indie publisher following a decade as design head for brand agency The House. The first release was a visual compendium dedicated to the 1982 Commodore 64, and like all the vintage console-dedicated books on Bitmap, the tome is packed out with game screengrabs, creator interviews and lovingly annotated looks at box art from around the world.

video-game-nostalgia-1

In a similar vein, here’s a link-filled piece from a pair of academics writing in The Conversation last year.

Finding nostalgia in the pixelated video games of decades past
Every day, it seems, new ultra-high-resolution video games are released, syncing with players’ social media accounts and ready for virtual reality headsets. Yet old games from the 1970s and 1980s are still in high demand. The Nintendo Corporation has moved recently to both quash and exploit that popularity, shutting down websites hosting old games’ code while planning to release its own back catalog on a new platform. […]

Playing old video games is not just a mindless trip down memory lane for lonely and isolated gamers. The average age of a U.S. gamer is 34, and many popular retro game titles have been around for 20 years or more. It seems Generation X-ers could be returning to their cherished childhood properties.

In fact, emerging media psychology research, including our own work, suggests that video game nostalgia can make people feel closer to their past, their friends and family, and even themselves.

Meanwhile.

The crowded race to the top

Nominations officially open today for Theresa May’s replacement. The sprint is expected to reach the finish line towards the end of next month, and the press are frothing all over it.

But consider this look at the US presidential marathon race, with a year and a half still to go.

crowded-race-to-the-top

More candidates and earlier
We’re 536 days out and 23 Democrats are in. In contrast, there were 8 around this time in 2008.

A week to remember

Two significant anniversaries last week. Let’s start in northern France, with some staggering numbers.

13 memorable facts about D-Day
D-Day was the opening chapter in a long campaign. The Normandy invasion was not a one-day affair; it raged on until Allied forces crossed the River Seine in August. Altogether, the Allies took about 200,000 casualties over the course of the campaign—including 4413 deaths on D-Day alone. According to the D-Day Center, “No reliable figures exist for the German losses, but it is estimated that around 200,000 were killed or wounded with approximately 200,000 more taken prisoner.” On May 7, 1945—less than a year after D-Day—Germany surrendered, ending the war in its European Theater.

Some of these images really get across the scale of that operation.

Photos: Take a look at D-Day, then and now
The 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings will fall on June 6. Here, we take a look back at iconic images of the day and at modern photos related to the day’s events.

a-week-to-remember-1

a-week-to-remember-2

It all looks very different now.

11 incredible D-Day Landing pictures that show the beaches then and now
The following pictures combine original photos taken on and around D-Day with others taken in 2014 and show holidaymakers in the sun, largely oblivious to the horror that took place where they stood over 70 years ago.

a-week-to-remember-3.jpg

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And for a different, but very direct, perspective of events that day, you must take a look at these scanned documents.

Bletchley Park and D-Day
A rare collection of Enigma messages sent on D-Day by the German navy, and broken at Bletchley Park, gives a blow-by-blow account of the action. As events unfold, confusion gives way to a realisation of the scale and importance of the invasion. Intelligence from Bletchley Park played a crucial part in the operation’s planning and execution.

The D-Day commemoration coincided with Trump’s state visit. I loved the language in this view of that from across the Atlantic.

We are being embarrassed by ugly-American grifters on an ego trip to London
Referring to “the red-carpet treatment” accorded to Donald Trump and the ignominious confederacy of unindicted co-conspirators that accompanied him to London, the city’s mayor remarked, “In years to come, I suspect this state visit will be one we look back on with profound regret and acknowledge that we were on the wrong side of history.” Why wait? As an American, I’m already regretting the spectacle of the Trumps tweeting pictures of themselves stumbling around Buckingham Palace. It’s not just that, as a republican, I have no taste for the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the British royal family. It is not even that Trumps are so obviously enthralled by imperial excess.

What I have a problem with is the notion that the United States of America is being “represented” on the global stage by an ugly-American cabal of black hats in ill-fitting tuxedos. Mehdi Hasan got it brilliantly right when he said of the president’s decampment to the United Kingdom: “He’s taken four of his five kids with him, his four grifter kids with him to Buckingham Palace. They’ve been posting pictures all night on Twitter of themselves. They’re all loving it. It’s a great day for the whole grifter family.”

The other anniversary, of course, was in China.

Beijing falls silent as tight security surrounds Tiananmen Square anniversary
Thirty years after bloody crackdown in China, visitors have IDs checked and journalists are warned against taking pictures.

In the UK and elsewhere, reminders of what happened, like this one from The Guardian ten years ago, are so easy to find.

20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square: how events unfolded
Revisiting the protests, from the beginning of the student uprising to the brutal crushing of dissent by the Chinese regime.

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That’s obviously not the case in China.

A look at the many ways China suppresses online discourse about the Tiananmen Square protests
Suppression of information means that an entire generation of people know little about the events, even as the activists involved continue to suffer repercussions, including long prison sentences. In recent years, the government’s censorship apparatus has become even more powerful, with voice and image recognition and machine learning making it easier to block or remove posts at scale.

Jiayang Fan, writing in The New Yorker, was four in 1989.

Memories of Tiananmen Square
I had left China when I was too young to know about censorship, when I was just being introduced to the written word and to the stories that written words told. It would never have occurred to me, or, perhaps, to any child, to question the history books, because that would have seemed like an interrogation of reality itself. In China, the past is never past, but it is frequently purged. The story is rewritten, the narrative reframed, the villains and the heroes recast. There is a hallucinatory quality to such a society, as if you are living a life that does not and never can fully belong to you. China’s vertiginous economic growth during the last three decades, for example, has given people permission to pursue prosperity without ever granting them political autonomy, reducing them to children at the mercy of an irascible, paternalistic government.

Ilaria Maria Sala was an exchange student in Beijing at the time, just a couple of years older than me then.

The very last spring all things seemed possible in Beijing
People handed me spent bullets and bloodied items, wanting me to go back home and tell the world what the army had done. I told them that people knew, every journalist was in Beijing. I was evacuated by the British Embassy to Hong Kong in the early hours of June 7, and returned home to Italy. As soon as I could, at the end of August, I went back to Beijing again, to study, to look for friends, to try to understand what had happened.

Her story continues.

Beijing Autumn: My return to China three months after Tiananmen
Beishida felt too desolate, so I transferred to Peking University, where all the few returning foreign students seemed to have congregated. But as the students there were those most involved in the demonstrations, the authorities decided to suspend the first year, and send all the freshmen to the army instead. The notice-boards at Sanjiaodi, where the political posters had been hoisted just a few months before, where the international TV crews had filmed the students keeping up-to-date with the strike and its developments, where impromptu speeches had been given, was now a deserted triangle dotted with forlorn little posters advertising English classes, chess tournaments, and qigong demonstrations.

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Libraries of the past and the future

I’ve always thought of libraries as places that have existed forever, like cemeteries, or shoe shops — they’re just a necessary part of a normal society, right? (It’s thought the Library of Alexandria was founded as long ago as 285 BC, though its current incarnation is only 16 years old and closes at 4 pm today.)

But libraries haven’t always been around for everybody.

A history of the American public library
CityLab’s visual storyteller Ariel Aberg-Riger shares the story of how America’s public libraries came to be, and their uneven history of serving all who need them.

libraries-of-the-past

That’s all a world away from the history of libraries over here, in our grand stately piles.

What was the real purpose of the English country house library?
In Mark Purcell’s all-encompassing study, The Country House Library, every aspect of this topic is researched and addressed on an epic, Girouardian scale. Whereas architectural and art historians are often uninterested in the actual books found in historic architect-designed libraries, Purcell argues it is impossible to separate them from a consideration of situation, appearance and design. Demolishing the commonplace belief that volumes were “bought by the yard”, he offers an opportunity for historians to think afresh about the way collections were read and valued within the elusive confines of the country house library.

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A gripping chapter covers the early 19th-century bibliomania that culminated in the great sale of the Third Duke of Roxburghe’s library in June 1812, described as a chivalric tournament between Earl Spencer, the Marquess of Blandford and the Sixth Duke of Devonshire. Purcell gives an excellent account of the arc of sales reflecting the decline in the fortunes of the landowning classes after the late 1880s. In 1966, Shane Leslie wrote in his memoirs, Long Shadows: “The empty shelves at Blenheim, Sledmere and Althorp gave me the ghastly gasp as coffins and vaults ravaged by body-snatchers.”

Here’s an idea of how to make more use of our present-day libraries.

How to be a library archive tourist
When I’m traveling and am at a loss for how to spend my time, I look up as many libraries I can in the area I’ll be traveling to, and I check to see if they have special collections. Then I make an appointment with the library to visit those special collections, and usually it means I get to spend a day in a quiet, climate-controlled room with cool old documents. It’s like a museum but with no people, and where you have to do all the work, which is honestly my idea of a perfect vacation.

But what of the future? As this high-tech university library shows (designed, coincidentally, by Snøhetta, the Norwegian architecture firm behind the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt), those old values of accessibility are still key.

A robot-filled, architectural marvel in North Carolina is the library of the future
Public libraries remain a critical public resource, but as budgets have been slashed and information digitized over the last several decades, many have been forced to adapt from book-storage rooms to high-tech public spaces. Indeed, libraries in urban areas remain an important space for those residents with limited incomes, education, and access to resources. By reimagining the relationship between information and technology and how humans interact with both, Hunt’s designers created a unique space in which the community can learn, create, or simply gather.

[…]

“Whether or not you’re talking about a library focused on digital technology or on books or papyri, as the ancient libraries were, the most important thing is to make a library open and accessible,” he adds, noting that books weren’t invented until centuries after the first libraries came about. “[Libraries] had museums, they had lounges, they were interactive and in a very vibrant way,” he says, “more like libraries of the future.”

And yes, I know this is a bookshop and not a library, but you must check it out.

Mirrored Chinese bookstore offers readers a maze of discovery
The newest of China’s surreal mirrored bookstores is now open in Chongqing, offering a disorienting, Escher-like experience to all who enter. Designed by X+Living, the Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore leads visitors through an unassuming glass facade on the third floor of Zodi Plaza and into a reflective maze full of reading materials waiting to be discovered.

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Anyone else seeing Daleks there?

Who’s a good dog (owner)?

Yes, our little cocker spaniel puppy brings us lots of joy. But plenty of stress, too, it has to be said. “She’s just a puppy, she’ll grow out of that”, I’m forever being told… Some people seem to take to dog ownership easier than others. But why? Here’s something to add to the on-going nature/nurture debate.

Our love for dogs may be coded in our DNA
While this kind of twin study can’t tell us exactly which genes are involved, they do demonstrate for the first time that genetics and environment play about equal roles in determining dog ownership. The lead author Tove Fall commented, “We were surprised to see that a person’s genetic makeup appears to be a significant influence in whether they own a dog.” She then went on to suggest that some genetically determined personality factors might underlie this when she speculated, “Perhaps some people have a higher innate propensity to care for a pet than others.”

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It’s still 1984, and always will be

It’s 2019, but are we any further on?

Nothing but the truth: the legacy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
Orwell was both too pessimistic and not pessimistic enough. On the one hand, the west did not succumb to totalitarianism. Consumerism, not endless war, became the engine of the global economy. But he did not appreciate the tenacity of racism and religious extremism. Nor did he foresee that the common man and woman would embrace doublethink as enthusiastically as the intellectuals and, without the need for terror or torture, would choose to believe that two plus two was whatever they wanted it to be.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is about many things and its readers’ concerns dictate which one is paramount at any point in history. During the cold war, it was a book about totalitarianism. In the 1980s, it became a warning about technology. Today, it is most of all a defence of truth.

Speaking of liars.

Boris Johnson may be the UK’s next Prime Minister, but he’s up on criminal charges for Brexit “Battle Bus” lies
Ball’s complaint claims that Johnson knew that his NHS promises were lies, and as evidence, cites instances in which Johnson used accurate figures. The complain calls for a criminal sanction as remedy for these lies, because “lying on a national and international platform undermines public confidence in politics.”

There will be preliminary hearings tomorrow, and then one of four things may happen: Johnson may appeal, the Criminal Prosecution Service may allow Ball to continue with his own private proceedings, or the CPS may take over the proceedings, or they may shut them down on the basis that the prosecution is not in the public interest.

George Orwell jumped ahead 36 years. With his new TV series, Years and Years, Russell T. Davies only leaps from five to 15 years ahead, but his vision of the future feels likelier and far scarier as a result. Why do we, the audience, keep doing this to ourselves?

From Years and Years to Bird Box: why we turn to dystopian dramas in a crisis
Right now, it’s hard to think of a more prescient film than the 2006 thriller Children of Men with its depiction of environmental catastrophe and xenophobia; call me naive but not in a million years did I think we’d get so close to Alfonso Cuarón’s vision. Great art is supposed to reflect life, or so we are told. For me, the power of Years and Years lies not in its moments of high drama but in its more subtle drawing of the growing tensions between families, generations and cultures, and the line the series draws between now and the years to come. The future is here on TV, but the question is: have we got the stomach for it?

Years & Years (2019): Official Trailer

Being there — or not

They say there’s nothing quite like being there in person, whether there is on top of a mountain or in front of a painting. I’m not so sure, though.

Louvre is ‘suffocating’ with high volume of visitors, striking workers say
Union officials say that Louvre management is failing to address the issue of overcrowding, and that they are “dismayed” by “the shameful image we give of our establishment”. Staff must deal with “angry visitors” unhappy with conditions while emergency evacuation procedures are inadequate, they say.

Why I won’t be joining the queue at the top of Everest
Everest has become largely detached from the rest of climbing and mountaineering. It has become a trophy experience, drawing too many otherwise without much interest in the sport, validated by media coverage that sees Everest as being endlessly “conquered” rather than passé.

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Game of Thrones is ‘game changer’ for NI tourism
“I’m all for tourism in Northern Ireland but this sort of tourism – herding people in and out – they come to see one thing and that’s it,” she said. “For local residents it is frustrating – the constant buses never stop.” […] There are also issues at the Dark Hedges outside Armoy, County Antrim. Just 10 seconds on Game of Thrones was enough to make it a tourist attraction. Congestion and damage to the trees led to traffic being banned but that is not always obeyed.

We need more monsters

An essay by Lauren Elkin on Susan Sontag, and why her work matters now more than ever.

Susan Sontag was a monster, of the very best kind
This is how I see her monstrosity: residing not in whether she was or was not likeable, but in her relentlessness, and her refusal to pander. The word ‘monster’ comes from the Latin monere, to warn. We need monsters like Sontag because they aren’t afraid to speak a certain kind of truth: cutting through cant, received opinion, nationalist rote, the efforts of alt-Right bot farms. We need critics who insist on hierarchies of thought and output, instead of buying into marketing hype that makes everyone really, really good, critics who don’t lunge straight for content, for what a book is ‘about’ or what it ‘says’, but who stop to consider form, and style – which, as Sontag shows us, are inextricably bound up in content. We need critics to keep us on our toes, to question authority, sweeping claims, totalising world views. We need Sontag to help us think for ourselves, and be unafraid to speak our minds. And we need her for these things now, more than ever. Maintaining a lively critical capability isn’t just about snark. It’s how we’re going to make it out of these dark days of nationalism and populism with our democracy intact.

What a load of crap

The world is full of it.

The curious history of crap — from space junk to actual poop
That’s the thing about our garbage: We have become experts at acting like it doesn’t exist. Space trash, in fact, barely registers as a blip compared to the enormity of the waste our species generates. In disused home appliances, computers, mobile phones, and other electronic equipment, or e-waste, we generate close to 45 million metric tons of waste every single year. That’s the equivalent of over 4,500 Eiffel Towers. Trash that could obstruct a city skyline. But not only do we not see it, most of us don’t even know where it goes. […]

But even then, what we toss out is just the tip of the proverbial trashberg. Most garbage comes from the manufacturing process. What we throw in the bin—the final product—represents a mere 5 percent of the raw materials from the manufacturing, packaging, and transportation process. Put another way, for every 150 kilograms of product we see on the shelves, behind the scenes there’s another 3,000 kilograms of waste that we don’t see. In total, the world produces approximately 3 million metric tons of garbage every 24 hours. That number is expected to double by 2025. And if business continues as usual, by the end of the century it will be an unfathomable 10 million metric tons of solid waste a day.

Some people produce more crap than others, though.

‘Staggeringly silly’: critics tear apart Jacob Rees-Mogg’s new book
“Absolutely abysmal”, “anathema to anyone with an ounce of historical, or simply common, sense”, “a dozen clumsily written pompous schoolboy compositions”, “yet another bit of self-promotion by a highly motivated modern politician”. […]

“No doubt every sanctimonious academic in the country has already decided that Rees-Mogg’s book has to be dreadful, so it would have been fun to disappoint them. But there is just no denying it: the book is terrible, so bad, so boring, so mind-bogglingly banal that if it had been written by anybody else it would never have been published.” […]

“The book really belongs in the celebrity autobiography section of the bookstore. At best, it can be seen as a curious artefact of the kind of sentimental jingoism and empire-nostalgia currently afflicting our country.” […]

“Before I started, the prospect of Rees-Mogg in Downing Street struck me as a ridiculous idea. But if this is what it takes to stop him writing another book, then I think we should seriously consider paying the price.”

Happy Monday everyone!

Mondays, eh? The Book of Life is here to help again.

The true cause of dread and anxiety
It therefore follows that the first step towards breaking the cycle of alarm is to notice that we are behaving like self-hating people convinced that we deserve misery and that this self-assessment is in the process of heavily colouring all our assessments of the future.

Then, very gently, we should start to wonder how a self-loving person might behave and look at matters if they were in our shoes. When panic descends, we should try to reassure ourselves not with logical arguments about the grounds for hope but by wondering what a person who didn’t loathe themselves might be thinking now. If we could reduce the element of internal punishment and attack, how would the situation appear?

And, to help gain a little perspective, try this from Quartz.

To get better at life, try this modern mantra
The word mantra comes from Sanskrit and literally means “mind tool” or instrument of thought. People have used these tools for thousands of years to quiet thinking, cultivate focus, and induce spiritual states. In truth, anyone can use them, and there is scientific proof they work, whether or not you are spiritually inclined. […]

“Right now, it’s like this” is an invitation to explore what is present. At the same time, it clearly reassures us that impermanence is hard at work. So even though the mind threatens me with the idea that “it’s going to be like this forever,” this phrase helps me call bullshit on that. It helps me let go of the main message from the mind, “that something has to be done.

Let’s see if this helps.

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Just thinking about coffee can improve your focus, researchers say
Future research, with larger sample sizes, is needed to confirm these effects and to parse the stimulating consequences of say, black diner coffee and a milky espresso drink, or various strains of tea, the authors note in their paper. One day, they propose, it might be possible to match the task at hand with the appropriate level of mind-generated arousal.

For now, Chan believes that “[we] need to better understand the ‘meanings’ and ‘beliefs’ we assign to foods and beverages,” he writes. What we feed our minds has a lot to do with what it feeds us in return.

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Let’s try it: coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee