The hole truth

I’m sure we all occasionally find ourselves thinking about nothing in particular. But here’s an invitation from Aeon to think specifically about nothing.

Is a hole a real thing, or just a place where something isn’t?
It seems indisputable that there are holes. For example, there are keyholes, black holes and sinkholes; and there are holes in things such as sieves, golf courses and doughnuts. We come into the world through holes, and when we die many of us will be put into specially dug holes. But what are these holes and what are they made of? One of the big philosophical questions about holes is whether they are actually things themselves or, as the German-Jewish writer Kurt Tucholsky suggested in ‘The Social Psychology of Holes’ (1931), whether they are just ‘where something isn’t’.

Any conclusions? I know about the holes in space, and the ones in speakers and even in photographs, but after reading this, there remains a hole in my understanding.

“What happens to the hole when the cheese is gone?”
Bertolt Brecht

Debauched Bach?

Whether alphabetized or not, when it comes to classical music composers, Bach’s at the top of the list. It’s hard to overstate his influence and legacy. But, as this excerpt from Ted Gioia’s Music: A Subversive History shows, he was no saint.

J.S. Bach the rebel
I’ve talked to people who feel they know Bach very well, but they aren’t aware of the time he was imprisoned for a month. They never learned about Bach pulling a knife on a fellow musician during a street fight. They never heard about his drinking exploits—on one two-week trip he billed the church eighteen groschen for beer, enough to purchase eight gallons of it at retail prices—or that his contract with the Duke of Saxony included a provision for tax-free beer from the castle brewery; or that he was accused of consorting with an unknown, unmarried woman in the organ loft; or had a reputation for ignoring assigned duties without explanation or apology. They don’t know about Bach’s sex life: at best a matter of speculation, but what should we conclude from his twenty known children, more than any significant composer in history (a procreative career that has led some to joke with a knowing wink that “Bach’s organ had no stops”), or his second marriage to twenty-year-old singer Anna Magdalena Wilcke, when he was in his late thirties?

It’s not all bad news

I think I might not bother keeping up with current affairs for a while, it’s all too ridiculous. Basically, another prime minister, another deal, another vote.

How much of Johnson’s ‘great new deal’ is actually new?
As MPs prepare to vote on Boris Johnson’s EU withdrawal agreement, Guardian analysis shows that less than 5% of the original deal has been renegotiated, despite it being rejected by parliament three times.

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Another lost vote.

‘House of fools’: how the papers covered Johnson’s latest Brexit defeat
Newspapers cast prime minister as either a fighter or a loser, with plenty of anger directed at Parliament, too.

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This current prime minister seems as prime ministerial as that president is presidential, i.e. not much.

Boris Johnson’s three letters to Brussels: what do they mean for Brexit?
Rather than writing one letter to the European Union, Johnson has sent three – almost. The first is less of a letter: rather an unsigned photocopy of a portion of of the Benn Act. Rather than asking for an extension on behalf of Johnson, the text merely points out that the Benn Act requires the government to seek an extension. After this, it adds that “if the parties are able to ratify before this date, the government proposes that the period should be terminated early”. In what seems a fit of pique, and reinforcing his determination simultaneously to write and refuse to write to Brussels, the prime minister declined to actually sign the missive.

Remember all those flow charts trying to explain how we might leave, back in March and April? Back to the drawing board with all those.

Brexit: What happens now?
It’s not clear that the whole process will be completed by 31 October. The government will seek to pass a “programme motion” to limit the length of debates in the House of Commons. MPs could reject that, though, and the bill must also pass through the House of Lords.

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And it’s not just the British press that’s struggling with politics.

Why Australia’s media front pages were blacked out today
Australia’s major media organisations blacked out their newspaper front pages and websites on Monday in a coordinated push for legislative change to protect press freedom and force the government to increase transparency.

According to the organisations – which include SBS, the ABC, Nine, News Corp Australia and The Guardian – a slew of laws introduced over the past 20 years have hindered the media’s capacity to act as the fourth estate and hold the government and other powerful figures to account.

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But what we need to remember is, if we step back from all this, it’s not all bad news. We just need to look in the right places.

Beautiful News
A collection of good news, positive trends, uplifting statistics and facts — all beautifully visualized by Information is Beautiful.

We’ll be releasing a chart every day for a year to move our attention beyond dramatic news headlines to the slow developments and quiet trends that go unseen, uncelebrated.

Amazing things are happening in the world, thanks to human ingenuity, endeavour and collaboration.

It’s the new initiative from David McCandless and his Information is Beautiful team. Here’s an example.

Everyone, everywhere is living longer
One of the greatest achievements of humanity is the increase in life expectancy. In 1960, the average life span was 52.6 years. Today it’s an impressive 72 years. The reasons are simple: improvements in child survival, expanded access to healthcare (including widespread vaccination), and people being lifted out of extreme, grinding poverty.

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And another.

More Afghan girls are being educated
Educating girls is probably the single most impactful thing we can do to make the world a better place. Women who spend longer in school have fewer, healthier and better-fed children, are less likely to die in childbirth, contribute more towards a country’s economy, participate more in politics, and are less likely to marry young or against their will.

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Just two of dozens of uplifting stories. I know which news website I’d rather read.

Update 22/10/2019

I should, of course, have added some links to Hans Rosling’s work after that.

Bill Gates on Factfulness
Bill Gates recently read Hans Rosling’s new book “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.” In it, Hans offers a new framework for how to think about the world.

And here’s Hans in his own words about the need for fact-based optimism.

Good news at last: the world isn’t as horrific as you think
Things are bad, and it feels like they are getting worse, right? War, violence, natural disasters, corruption. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; and we will soon run out of resources unless something drastic is done. That’s the picture most people in the west see in the media and carry around in their heads.

I call it the overdramatic worldview. It’s stressful and misleading. In fact, the vast majority of the world’s population live somewhere in the middle of the income scale. Perhaps they are not what we think of as middle class, but they are not living in extreme poverty. Their girls go to school, their children get vaccinated. Perhaps not on every single measure, or every single year, but step by step, year by year, the world is improving. In the past two centuries, life expectancy has more than doubled. Although the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress.

Fixing space and time

Here’s a wonderfully poetic extract on time and impermanence from Maria Popova’s new book, Figuring.

The first surviving photograph of the Moon: John Adams Whipple and how the birth of astrophotography married immortality and impermanence
Four years into it, the thirty-year-old Whipple would awe the world with his stunning photographs of celestial objects — particularly his photographs of the Moon. Louis Daguerre himself had taken the first lunar photograph on January 2, 1839 — five days before announcing his invention, which marked the birth of photography — but his studio and his entire archive were destroyed by a fire two months later. Whipple’s remains the earliest known surviving photograph of the Moon — an image that continues to stun with its simple visual poetics even as technology has far eclipsed the primitive equipment of its photographer.

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Yes, it’s an incredible photograph (here’s my own version), but this is about more than just astronomy.

We say that photographs “immortalize,” and yet they do the very opposite. Every photograph razes us on our ephemeral temporality by forcing us to contemplate a moment — an unrepeatable fragment of existence — that once was and never again will be. To look at a daguerreotype is to confront the fact of your own mortality in the countenance of a person long dead, a person who once inhabited a fleeting moment — alive with dreams and desperations — just as you now inhabit this one. Rather than bringing us closer to immortality, photography humbled us before our mortal finitude. Florence Nightingale resisted it. “I wish to be forgotten,” she wrote, and consented to being photographed only when Queen Victoria insisted.

I wonder about this as I stand amid the stacks of the Harvard College Observatory surrounded by half a million glass plates meticulously annotated by the hands of women long returned to stardust. I imagine the flesh of steady fingers, atoms spun into molecules throbbing with life, carefully slipping a glass plate from its paper sleeve to examine it. In a museum jar across the Atlantic, Galileo’s finger, which once pointed to the Moon with flesh just as alive, shrivels like all of our certitudes.

Pinned above the main desk area at the observatory is an archival photograph of Annie Jump Cannon — the deaf computer who catalogued more than 20,000 variable stars in a short period after joining the observatory — examining one of the photographic plates with a magnifying glass. I take out my smartphone — a disembodied computer of Venus, mundane proof of Einstein’s relativity, instant access to more knowledge than Newton ever knew — and take a photograph of a photograph of a photograph.

 

Affecting and infecting movie music

In this video from Vanity Fair, director Todd Phillips talks us through a few of the opening scenes from his new film, Joker.

Joker director breaks down the opening scene

At 3:40 or thereabouts, he’s talking about what really helps Joaquin Phoenix get into a scene.

And I think, if I remember it right, in this particular scene I was playing the score for him, in the room, because – we had Hildur Guðnadóttir, who was our composer, I had her write music before we shot the movie, which isn’t done very often, and she wrote it based on the screenplay – and I wanted that because I wanted the music to really affect and infect the set in a way, really, even the camera operators, the set dressers, wardrobe, everybody to feel this music.

(That’s a name to look out for in the future.) Todd Phillips is not the first director to use this technique, however.

Why Sergio Leone played music on set

It might be too much for some people, though.

Deafening cinema sound is ruining films, claims Hugh Grant
Joker, the sinister hit starring Joaquin Phoenix, is dividing film critics. Hailed as a masterpiece by some, it has left others balking at its violence. For the actor Hugh Grant, the experience of watching at his local London cinema last week was “unendurable”, but not because of Todd Phillips’s menacing vision as director.

Grant felt high noise levels in the auditorium had made his trip to see Joker at the Vue in Fulham “pointless”, he complained on Twitter, adding: “The joke was on us”. “Am I old or is the cinema MUCH TOO LOUD?” the film star asked.

A disastrous message

Here’s an interesting follow-on to yesterday’s post about Chernobyl. Rather than an accidental nuclear catastrophe, how would we react to a planned attack?

A secret UK committee drafts a message to be played in case of nuclear attack
In 1973, fearing a Soviet nuclear strike, a UK government committee was formed to write a message to be played from the British Broadcasting Corporation’s secret bunker in Scotland during a worst-case-scenario attack. Irreverently constructed using declassified documents and scenes from the BBC’s drama-documentary The War Game (1965), Final Draft: Scripting the Apocalypse is a darkly comic, Kubrickian examination of the deep weirdness of modern warfare.

Final Draft: Scripting the Apocalypse

Happy days

Last week I mentioned that it was Optimistic October and Stoic Week 2019. Well, today is World Mental Health Day. Here, my favourite philosopher teams up with Jessica Kellgren-Fozard to explore what makes us happy.

YouTuber Jessica Kellgren-Fozard: ‘It’s OK not to be OK’
For some it meant money, for others it was dream holidays, and in one instance a Chanel handbag (other handbags are available). But in her seven secrets of happiness, the presenter went for more modest and noble targets – such as acceptance, appreciation and personal growth.

In the pursuit of this happiness, she thinks it’s time we cut ourselves, and each other, some slack.

What is the secret of happiness | The School of Jessica Kellgren-Fozard

They’re not the only ones attempting to answer this question for us, of course. Here’s another.

Dalai Lama’s guide to happiness

Open for (more) business

News that Chernobyl is expanding its tourist offer.

Chernobyl control room now open to visitors — but only wearing a hazmat suit
The move is part of a government drive to encourage tourism in the area after President Volydymyr Zelensky signed a July decree designating Chernobyl an official tourist attraction.

“We must give this territory of Ukraine a new life,” Zelensky said at the time. “Until now, Chernobyl was a negative part of Ukraine’s brand. It’s time to change it.” …

“Most of the people say they decided to book after seeing this show,” says Victor Korol, director of SoloEast. “It’s almost as though they watch it and then jump on a plane over.”

Chernobyl’s infamous Reactor 4 control room is now open to tourists
As for what to expect, in 2011 the Guardian reported that the room had largely been stripped of its plastic instrumentation switches by “souvenir-hunters among the decommissioning staff,” though some things such as diagrams on the behavior of the reactor and aged wiring remained …

Sergiy Ivanchuk, director of SoloEast tours, told Reuters in June that his bookings for tours had risen 30 percent in May 2019 (when the HBO miniseries was released) compared to years prior, while bookings for the summer months had risen some 40 percent.

Take a look inside radioactive ruins of Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4

Interestingly, YouTube has added the line “RT is funded in whole or in part by the Russian government” underneath that video, with a link to RT’s Wikipedia page. Make of that what you will.

Devolving politicians

Banksy painting of chimps as MPs sells for record £9.9m at Sotheby’s
The timing of the sale was impeccable, coming exactly four weeks before the revised Brexit deadline and a year after Banksy’s Girl with Balloon (2002) was shredded via remote control in the same saleroom. That work sold for £1.04m with fees after it was legally designated a new work by Banksy’s handling service Pest Control and renamed Love is in the Bin a week after the auction in October 2019.

Banksy painting of MPs as chimpanzees sells for record £9.9m
Chimpanzees first appeared in his work in 2002, with his piece Laugh Now. The painting shows a row of apes wearing aprons carrying the inscription “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”. In 2009, Banksy said of Devolved Parliament: “You paint 100 chimpanzees and they still call you a guerrilla artist.”

The Cockroach by Ian McEwan review – a Brexit farce with legs
But in truth the parallel is misleading. It is not just that in McEwan’s case the metamorphosis is reversed: Sams is not a human transmuted into an insect but a cockroach who has taken over the body of the prime minister of the UK. (The room in which he awakes is in 10 Downing Street.) It is also that this fable is much more Swiftian than Kafkaesque. In The Metamorphosis, the story is really about the strangeness of everyday life and the human capacity to deny it. The world of The Cockroach is more like one of Swift’s parallel universes where political and intellectual idiocies are not so much reduced to absurdity as magnified into towering follies.

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Let’s be optimistic

I think it’s pretty obvious to those that know me that I’m a glass-half-empty kind of guy.

The bright and dark sides of optimism and pessimism
Many psychologists classify the population as predominantly optimistic — some claiming 80% of people are optimistic, others stating that 60% of us are somewhat optimistic. This seems an optimistic appraisal to me. Some experts agree — they believe that optimism itself may affect the validity of research on positivity.

I still struggle with the concept that a positive outlook is a choice, that I could simply choose to be optimistic. But then my better half just sent me this:

october_2019

Optimistic October calendar
Let’s stay hopeful and focus on what really matters. This Optimistic October Action Calendar has daily suggested actions to do throughout October 2019 to help you be a realistic optimist and have goals to look forward to.

I’ve not come across Action for Happiness before, but it could be just what I was looking for.

Action for Happiness
Our patron is The Dalai Lama and our members take action to increase wellbeing in their homes, workplaces, schools and local communities. Our vision is a happier world, with fewer people suffering with mental health problems and more people feeling good, functioning well and helping others.

And there’s an app, too.

Octobers can be such gloomy months; summer has long gone, the nights draw in, the clocks go back. Perhaps that’s why these pick-me-ups are so necessary now. For instance, Stoic Week 2019 is starting up again next week, 7–13 October. I enjoyed it last year, and will give it another go.

And coincidentally, just as I was about to publish this post, a newsletter with links to these articles has just landed in my inbox.

Being depressed in the ‘world’s happiest country’
Finland regularly tops global rankings as the happiest nation on the planet, but this brings a unique set of challenges for young people struggling with depression.

A 60,000-year-old cure for depression
Traditional healers have been entrusted with the well-being of indigenous Australian communities for as long as their culture has been alive – yet surprisingly little is known of them.

Sounds like we need all the help we can get.

Productivity advice from US spies

I have to admit to a certain level of smugness when a popular website publishes something that I’ve already highlighted here years ago. Like this top-secret US sabotage manual from 1944, for example, that I first mentioned in 2015.

This new Quartz article does take a different approach to it, however, by looking at what it can teach us about today’s bureaucratic management styles.

How to cope with a toxic boss, according to a US spy manual from WWII

“Insist on doing everything through channels. Never permit shortcuts to be taken. Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions. Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant projects.” …

“When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions. To lower morale, and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient works; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.” …

If you feel like your boss is following these directions, the only option is to insert yourself as a counter-saboteur, and to get ahead of their actions. This World War II manual has actually proven helpful in my own corporate work experience. If nothing else, it has prompted me at times to think about how to turn an overly bureaucratic situation into a productive and expedient one.

Law disordered?

I loved the cropping of the photo The Guardian used for John Crace‘s write-up of the home secretary’s speech at the Conservative party conference yesterday.

Tories reveal themselves as party of lawlessness and disorder
“Today, here in Manchester, the Conservative party takes its rightful place as the Party of Law and Order in Britain once again,” she began. Er … run that past us again, Priti. Psycho Geoff on his way home to the Cotswolds in the back of a police car under armed guard. The prime minister has been accused of groping two women at the same time and channelling public funds to a woman with whom he had an affair. The government judged by the supreme court to have acted unlawfully over prorogation. The full-on search to find a way of getting round the Benn Act. Mark Francois committing crimes against his own sanity. Right now, it was harder to find someone in the Tory party without serious form.

These clowns are a joke.

Heavy questions for a Monday morning

I’ve just got round to reading this weekend’s Art & Letters Daily newsletter. More coffee is required before I properly engage with these questions, I think — the first, about the value of the arts; the second, the value of higher education.

What’s the point?
These feel like such dire times, times of violence and dislocation, schism, paranoia, and the earth-scorching politics of fear. Babies have iPads, the ice caps are melting, and your smart refrigerator is eavesdropping on your lovemaking (and, frankly, it’s not impressed).

Fascists, bigots, and guys who plan to name their sons Adolf wake up every day with a hateful leer on their faces and the Horst Wessel Song in their hearts—if you’re an ignorant, misogynist, xenophobic, racist against science, I guess times have never felt better. But for the vast rest of us—and please know, please believe, you and I greatly outnumber them—for the rest of us, things can seem so much worse than they did back in 2010, when a decent, thoughtful, level-headed, rational, and humane black man was living in the White House.

It has all seemed to fall apart so quickly. Looking around, it’s hard not to wonder who or what is to blame. I think it might be me. No, hear me out.

(This quote from George Bernard Shaw might help here.)

Does meritocracy stall social mobility, entrench an undeserving elite, and undermine trust in higher education?
An attack on meritocracy is invariably an attack on higher education, where meritocrats get sorted and credentialed. So the turn against meritocracy prompts big questions. Has meritocracy in fact failed? Is it time for universities to rethink the definition of merit, and, more broadly, higher education’s role in American life? Are meritocracy’s critics too sweeping in their indictment? Is it still — flaws and all — the fairest way to organize society? If we do away with it, what comes next?

We put these questions to 10 scholars and administrators from across the academy. Here are their responses.

What a mess

No, I’m not talking about Westminster this time.

Lisa Li: Angry landlord exposes online star’s ‘double life’
A social media influencer in China has been exposed for living a “double life”, after her landlord revealed her filthy living conditions, which contrasted with the glamorous image she presented online. Footage went viral showing the apartment of Lisa Li – a blogger with 1.1 million followers – littered with rubbish, mouldy food, and dog excrement.

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She went on to apologise to her landlord and clean the mess up. I don’t imagine anyone thought of preserving it for posterity. That does happen though…

Francis Bacon’s preserved art studio
After his death, the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, Ireland, was able to obtain the entire contents of his artists’ studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, London, in 1998. The entire space was broken down into its parts. Over 7,000 articles were collected and cataloged, including everything from paintbrushes to art supplies, and even the dust! The ceiling, the walls, and the narrow staircase that led up to the studio were even taken. The massive collection was then reassembled in great detail and precision using architectural maps and photographs.

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History of studio relocation
The Francis Bacon Studio Database is the first computerised archive of the entire contents of a world ranking artist’s studio. Every item in the studio has a database entry. Each entry consists of an image and a factual account of an object. The database has entries on approximately 570 books and catalogues, 1,500 photographs, 100 slashed canvases, 1,300 leaves torn from books, 2,000 artist’s materials and 70 drawings. Other categories include the artist’s correspondence, magazines, newspapers and vinyl records.

Enigmatic Estonia

It might have a picturesque mix of medieval architecture and stomach-churning TV towers, but Estonia isn’t your average ex-Soviet country.

Concerned about Brexit? Why not become an e-resident of Estonia
And that’s the opportunity, because Estonia is working on linking its tax office with its counterparts in other regions of the world. The Estonians want to offer the option for, say, UK citizens to run their UK companies through the Estonian system, which would in turn, in the background, with no extra work for the user, make sure that the UK tax office receives all the money it is legally due. A UK-based entrepreneur, they hope, will decide to open her business in Estonia, use an Estonian bank and pay for some Estonian services, even if the company was only going to be trading in the UK, because she would find Estonia’s national infrastructure far easier to deal with than the UK’s. In other words, a nation is now competing with its neighbours on the basis of the quality of its user interface. Just as you might switch your bank to one with a better mobile app, the Estonians hope you’ll switch your business to a country with an infrastructure that is easier to use.

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Innovative in other areas, too.

Estonia to become the world’s first free public transport nation
Who is profiting the most from free buses, trams and trains in Tallinn?
“A good thing is, of course, that it mostly appeals to people with lower to medium incomes. But free public transport also stimulates the mobility of higher-income groups. They are simply going out more often for entertainment, to restaurants, bars and cinemas. Therefore they consume local goods and services and are likely to spend more money, more often. In the end this makes local businesses thrive. It breathes new life into the city.”

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It had its own tiny, imaginary kingdom for a while, due to an unseen clerical error.

Kingdom of Torgu, Laadla, Estonia
500-odd people who lived in the area were surprised by this negligence, but soon decided to take advantage of the mistake. They came up with the idea of starting their own country, and calling it a kingdom. The throne was offered to a journalist and political activist named Kirill Teiter, who accepted it and became the first (and only) monarch to reign over the newly formed Kingdom of Torgu. The kingdom has its own flag, a coat of arms with a “snail-dragon” as the emblematic animal, and its own currency in coins, the “kirill,” with the worth of 1 kirill fixed to the price of a half-liter of local vodka.

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But what really caught my eye was this article on its language (the summary is from The Browser).

“Did you eat the whole cake?” On learning Estonian
Estonian is popularly known as a difficult language to learn. Much of its vocabulary is unfamiliar, as the only other national languages it’s related to are Finnish and, more distantly, Hungarian. It’s even been described as the most difficult Latin-alphabet language for a native English speaker, and some of its features have assumed an almost mythical status.

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I loved the exasperation in The Browser‘s summary of that last article.

How to learn Estonian. You have to grow up in Estonia, pretty much. The complexities of the language have an “almost mythical status” among scholars. Estonian nouns decline through fourteen or more cases, each with a singular and a plural. The essential cases — nominative, genitive, partitive — are also the most irregular, often involving changes in the stem of the noun. Verbs come in 149 varieties, each with five moods. But there are only two basic tenses, past and present. The future has rules of its own.

Goodness me. And I thought learning French at school was hard.

A brief moment of clarity

In all the muddle and obfuscation swirling around the Brexit miasma, the judgment of the supreme court on the legality of Boris Johnson’s prorogation provided welcome evidence of intelligence and crystal-clear language.

From the full judgment:

JUDGMENT R (on the application of Miller) (Appellant) v The Prime Minister  Respondent) Cherry and others (Respondents) v Advocate General for Scotland (Appellant) (Scotland)
55. Let us remind ourselves of the foundations of our constitution. We live in a representative democracy. The House of Commons exists because the people have elected its members. The Government is not directly elected by the people (unlike the position in some other democracies). The Government exists because it has the confidence of the House of Commons. It has no democratic legitimacy other than that. This means that it is accountable to the House of Commons – and indeed to the House of Lords – for its actions, remembering always that the actual task of governing is for the executive and not for Parliament or the courts. The first question, therefore, is whether the Prime Minister’s action had the effect of frustrating or preventing the constitutional role of Parliament in holding the Government to account.

56. The answer is that of course it did.

Loving that ‘of course’.

61. It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason – let alone a good reason – to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, from 9th or 12th September until 14th October. We cannot speculate, in the absence of further evidence, upon what such reasons might have been. It follows that the decision was unlawful.

And from the summary:

R (on the application of Miller) (Appellant) v The Prime Minister (Respondent) Cherry and others (Respondents) v Advocate General for Scotland (Appellant) (Scotland)
This Court has already concluded that the Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty was unlawful, void and of no effect. … The prorogation was also void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgment of all 11 Justices.

Put your mouth where your money is

Not to be outdone by Japan’s offering, or those green tea ones, KitKat is at it again.

Luxury ‘bespoke’ KitKat candy bar to be sold in the UK
The range, which will be sold at the “KitKat Chocolatory,” includes several special edition flavors, including gin and tonic, cherry bakewell and earl grey, which will cost £7.50 each.

Customers will also be able to create their own bespoke candy bars for as much as £14, with almost 1,500 flavor combinations on offer. Custom-made “Create Your Break” KitKats will be eight-finger bars, which will offer a choice of milk, white, dark or ruby chocolate and three ingredients, such as salted caramel chunks and rose petals.

Sleepy Victorians

Another Monday morning has rolled around. Still feeling a little sleepy? Nothing new there.

Stress caused sleeplessness for the Victorians too – but they thought it only afflicted ‘brain-workers’
The Victorian era experienced not only the extraordinary upheavals of the industrial revolution, but also the arrival of gas and then electric lighting, turning night into day. The creation of an international telegraph network similarly revolutionised systems of communication, establishing global connectivity and, for groups such as businessmen, financiers and politicians, a flow of telegrams at all hours.

Such shifts brought new patterns and expectations of work. By the 1860s the twin diseases of modernity – overwork and sleeplessness – became the focus of cultural anxieties. Victorian medical men warned against the dangers of sleeplessness. Drawing on this research, an 1866 article in the Spectator argued that sleeplessness was one of the “most annoying concomitants of civilised life”, but also one of the greatest threats to health:

Any system which really increased the average capacity for sleep would benefit nervous diseases, increase the habitableness of great cities, and probably diminish perceptibly the average of lunacy.

Music at war

I’m familiar with the role drums have played during times of war, but not pianos.

When the pianos went to war
During the war, the U.S. government essentially shut down the production of musical instruments in order to divert vital resources such as iron, copper, brass, and other materials to the war effort. Yet the government also determined that the war effort ought to include entertainment that could lift soldiers’ spirits. But just any old piano wouldn’t do. They needed ones hearty enough to withstand the trying conditions out in the field—including being packed into a crate and dropped out of a plane.

From literal war, to a more symbolic musical clash.

The ‘implicit danger’ of a violin concerto
The concerto is the ultimate display of musical virtuosity – pitching a soloist against the orchestra as they alternate, compete and combine in a constantly changing dialogue. Those dynamics are crystallised in the word concerto itself, which has two, apparently contradictory, meanings: Competition and agreement.

And far from clashing and jarring, here are two genres working so well together you wonder why combining metal and jazz hasn’t been done before.

A funky mashup of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’, Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ and Herb Alpert’s ‘Rise’
Video editor Bill McClintock has created a really funky mashup of “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, “Master of Puppets” by Metallica and Herb Alpert‘s iconic instrumental “Rise”. It all sounds really good together, however what stands out, is Abraham Laboriel‘s phenomenal bassline punching through.

Mashup – War Puppets Rise to Heaven

There are plenty more where that came from.

Global protests for a global crisis

Lots of attention, rightly, on the school climate strikes today.

Greta Thunberg is leading kids and adults from 150 countries in a massive Friday climate strike
It’s a big moment for Thunberg and the legions of youth and adult activists and leaders she’s inspired since August 2018, when she began skipping school on Fridays to protest outside the Swedish Parliament. Thousands of young people in the movement, called Fridays for Future, now strike every Friday to demand more aggressive action from their governments and the international community. The last large-scale coordinated climate strike on May 24 drew participants from 130 countries.

The huge youth climate strike is about courage, not hope
As children and young people in more than 150 countries skip school, university, or work, to strike against climate inaction, they aren’t just creating a new form of activism. They are also creating a platform that presents a united front to a multi-pronged global problem.

It’s not just for teenagers this time.

Global climate strike: how you can get involved
The global climate strike kicks off on Friday and will ripple across the world in more than 4,000 locations, the start of a weeklong movement to train international attention on the climate emergency. It’s the latest of a succession of strikes on Fridays led by schoolchildren – but this time adults are invited to join in.

The scale of the problem can feel a little overwhelming, but here’s a possible way forward.

Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot make short film on the climate crisis
Environmental activists Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot have helped produce a short film highlighting the need to protect, restore and use nature to tackle the climate crisis. Living ecosystems like forests, mangroves, swamps and seabeds can pull enormous quantities of carbon from the air and store them safely, but natural climate solutions currently receive only 2% of the funding spent on cutting emissions. The film’s director, Tom Mustill of Gripping Films, said: ‘We tried to make the film have the tiniest environmental impact possible. We took trains to Sweden to interview Greta, charged our hybrid car at George’s house, used green energy to power the edit and recycled archive footage rather than shooting new.’

(Speaking of videos that are trying to change hearts and minds, have you seen the absolutely heart-wrenching film from Sandy Hook Promise, Back-To-School Essentials?)

The most interesting links of the day, I think, are all these from The Conversation, bringing together climate science with economics, culture and the media.

Five things every government needs to do right now to tackle the climate emergency
I would never argue against setting climate targets. They are necessary – but far from sufficient. We must guard against politicians hiding behind distant and possibly empty promises, and demand climate policy that impacts the carbon ledger here and now.

I stand with the climate striking students – it’s time to create a new economy
My research area remains marginal, and its results neglected, because to accept it would require a fundamental transformation of the prevailing economic philosophy. We would need to pay less attention to growth and profit as the measures of prosperity, and replace them with sufficiency and equity – a fair division of resources to provide what is sufficient for well-being and not more. After centuries of entrenchment, that’s no easy feat.

How getting rid of ‘shit jobs’ and the metric of productivity can combat climate change
But suppose we stopped chasing productivity growth. What might happen? It would make it easier to decarbonise. We’d no longer be stuck on the production-consumption treadmill. It would mean less stuff too. But do we need all the crap we have?

Humanity and nature are not separate – we must see them as one to fix the climate crisis
Scholars such as Timothy Morton and Bruno Latour remind us that viewing the natural world as separated from humans is not only ethically problematic but empirically false. Microorganisms in our gut aid digestion, while others compose part of our skin. Pollinators such as bees and wasps help produce the food we eat, while photosynthetic organisms such as trees and phytoplankton provide the oxygen that we need in order to live, in turn taking up the carbon dioxide we expel.

Climate change: children are carving out a place in politics – now adults must listen and act
It’s not enough to put children on the covers of newspapers and call them “heroes”. It’s not even enough to listen to the concerns they’re raising through the global strikes for climate action. Adults in positions of authority need to give young people the means to change the world and create their own visions for the future.

Why is climate change still not top of the news agenda?
Journalists with a better grasp of the science (and indeed social science) of climate change would be less reliant on press releases, reducing the impact of corporate lobbyists and the need to include their public relations activity as part of the news. However, these suggestions are optimistic considering the wider power structures that constrain how journalists operate.

#ShowYourStripes: how climate data became a cultural icon
Helping science to make this leap from the lab to social media is crucial to changing mindsets. My research has often focused on communicating the impacts of climate change to new audiences. The more people that see and understand this huge problem, the better chance we have of solving it.

Imagining both utopian and dystopian climate futures is crucial – which is why cli-fi is so important
When now is the time that we need to act, the rarer utopian form of cli-fi is perhaps more useful. These works imagine future worlds where humanity has responded to climate change in a more timely and resourceful manner. They conjure up futures where human and non-human lives have been adapted, where ways of living have been reimagined in the face of environmental disaster. Scientists, and policy makers – and indeed the public – can look to these works as a source of hope and inspiration.

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