The metaverse on the high street

Amazon may have decided to shut up shop, but that’s not put Facebook Meta off.

Meta plans to open its first retail store as it highlights metaverse-related productsThe New York Times
The Meta Store, at the company’s campus in Burlingame, Calif., will open on May 9, Meta said. The store will showcase Meta’s hardware, including the Quest 2 virtual-reality headset, the Portal video calling device and the Ray-Ban Stories smart sunglasses. Customers can try out the devices to experiment with virtual and augmented reality and buy the items in the store or later online at Meta’s or Ray-Ban’s website.

I won’t be rushing to get there.

Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse obsession is driving some current and former Facebook employees nuts: ‘It’s the only thing Mark wants to talk about’Insider
Last year, it lost $10 billion on its Reality Labs segment, which handles metaverse projects. It intends to spend that much this year, too, and possibly for many years to come. Zuckerberg has said the metaverse is a long-term project that won’t be fully developed for a decade or more. So far, there’s little to show for so much money spent, according to another employee who recently left. “There’s still not much to touch or look at, much less use,” the person said, “for all of its metaverse proclamations.”

Mark Zuckerberg’s augmented realityThe Verge
Animating the push for AR glasses and Facebook’s rebrand to Meta is a desire by Zuckerberg to cast the company he founded as innovative once again, people familiar with his thinking say. The social network’s reputation has been stained by a series of privacy and content moderation scandals, hurting employee morale and faith in leadership. Regulators are trying to break the company up and curb its business of personalized advertising. And among its Silicon Valley peers, it has become known as a ruthless copycat. If the AR glasses and the other futuristic hardware Meta is building eventually catch on, they could cast the company, and by extension Zuckerberg, in a new light. “Zuck’s ego is intertwined with [the glasses],” a former employee who worked on the project tells me. “He wants it to be an iPhone moment.”

Ukraine’s surprise defenders

Perhaps simply by not losing, they’re kind of winning.

Ukraine’s Digital Ministry is a formidable war machineWIRED
The department, staffed by tech-savvy millennials and led by Mykhailo Fedorov, a 31-year-old founder of a digital marketing startup, was established to digitize government services and boost Ukraine’s tech industry. Now it had to figure out what digital bureaucrats can offer in wartime.

The projects the ministry came up with have made it a linchpin of Ukraine’s fight against Russia—and the country’s broad support among world leaders and tech CEOs. Within three days of the first missiles falling on Kyiv, Federov and his staff launched a public campaign to pressure US tech giants to cut off Russia, began accepting cryptocurrency donations to support Ukraine’s military, secured access to Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet service, and began recruiting a volunteer “IT Army” to hack Russian targets. More recent projects include a chatbot for citizens to submit images or videos of Russian troop movements. “We have restructured the Ministry of Digital Transformation into a clear military organization,” says Anton Melnyk, an adviser to the department.

‘It’s the right thing to do’: the 300,000 volunteer hackers coming together to fight RussiaThe Guardian
The sprawling hacker army has been successful in disrupting Russian web services, according to NetBlocks, a company that monitors global internet connectivity. It says the availability of the websites of the Kremlin and the Duma – Russia’s lower house of parliament – has been “intermittent” since the invasion started. The sites for state-owned media services, several banks and the energy giant Gazprom have also been targeted. […]

Like many of his peers, Kali was directed to the Telegram group, which has Ukrainian- and English-language versions, by Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s vice prime minister and minister for digital transformation. Fedorov, 31, has been using his vastly expanded Twitter profile to plead with executives at the world’s biggest tech firms to cut ties with Russia. On 26 February, he posted a link to the Telegram group, which was set up by his ministerial department. “We need digital talents,” he said. “There will be tasks for everyone.”

The workaday life of the world’s most dangerous ransomware gangWIRED UK
The Conti ransomware gang was on top of the world. The sprawling network of cybercriminals extorted $180 million from its victims last year, eclipsing the earnings of all other ransomware gangs. Then it backed Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And it all started falling apart. […]

On February 28, a newly created Twitter account called @ContiLeaks released more than 60,000 chat messages sent among members of the gang, its source code, and scores of internal Conti documents. The scope and scale of the leak is unprecedented; never before have the daily inner workings of a ransomware group been laid so bare. “Glory to Ukraine,” @ContiLeaks tweeted.

Perfect logo redesigns for companies leaving RussiaDesign You Trust
Big brands are boycotting/leaving the Russian market to express opposition to Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. Art director Václav Kudělka has created a series of brand redesigns to show what company logos would say if they could speak.

People are booking Airbnbs in Ukraine — not to stay, but to lend their supportNPR
Speaking to NPR from Kyiv, Martiusheva says the bookings mean a lot: “These days we do not have any income. We do not have any right to ask our country to help us, because all the country’s resources are for the war and for the victory.” Airbnb hosts are paid 24 hours after a guest checks in, so people abroad are booking stays and letting hosts know that it’s a gesture of solidarity, and they don’t plan to appear.

It’s great to see so many people coming together in this crisis, but let’s not feel too pleased with ourselves, though.

Two refugees, both on Poland’s border. But worlds apart.The New York Times
Over the next two weeks, what would happen to these two refugees crossing into the same country at the same time, both about the same age, could not stand in starker contrast. Albagir was punched in the face, called racial slurs and left in the hands of a border guard who, Albagir said, brutally beat him and seemed to enjoy doing it. Katya wakes up every day to a stocked fridge and fresh bread on the table, thanks to a man she calls a saint.

Their disparate experiences underscore the inequalities of Europe’s refugee crisis. They are victims of two very different geopolitical events, but are pursuing the same mission — escape from the ravages of war. As Ukraine presents Europe with its greatest surge of refugees in decades, many conflicts continue to burn in the Middle East and Africa. Depending on which war a person is fleeing, the welcome will be very different.

Yeah but what if we are?

Simulation theory, the idea that we’re all living inside a supercomputer is pretty far-fetched, to be sure. But no one really believes it, right?

Of course we’re living in a simulationWIRED
In other words, yes, and with sincere apologies to Tonelli and most of his fellow physicists, who hate it when anybody suggests this: The only explanation for life, the universe, and everything that makes any sense, in light of quantum mechanics, in light of observation, in light of light and something faster than light, is that we’re living inside a supercomputer. Is that we’re living, all of us, and always, in a simulation.

Jason Kehe presents an interesting case (one that I really hope is more than a little tongue-in-cheek) in his review of David Chalmers’s new book, Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy.

Over the course of writing this essay, I must confess that everything seemed to confirm the truth of the simulation. Every impossible coincidence I experienced or heard about—simulated. The stranger at the café who quoted practically verbatim a line I was reading in a book—simulated. Every new book I picked up, for that matter—simulated. Seriously, how could every book one reads, in the course of writing about reality, be about reality in such a fundamental way? […]

This, it seems to me, is what the physicists, and simulation skeptics of all sorts, are missing. Not a belief in the simulation, per se, but the irresistible possibility of it, the magical conspiracy. It doesn’t diminish or undermine their science; quite the opposite, it enriches and energizes it. How many people, generally unmotivated to learn, find their way to a concept as intimidating as, say, quantum indeterminacy by way of the (far more welcoming) simulation argument? I’d guess a great many, and physicists would do well not to belittle that entry point into their work by calling it fluff, nonsense, the sci-fi pursuits of littler minds.

I get that it’s hard to prove a negative, that we can’t prove that our reality is not virtual, but does the inverse follow? Are our virtual worlds really real? Here’s an interview with David Chambers.

Can we have a meaningful life in a virtual world?The New York Times
I think what moves a lot of people is the idea that somehow if you were in a virtual world, it would all be fake, it would be an illusion. Maybe the virtual worlds are like video games: Nothing that happens there really matters; it’s just an escape from the issues in the real world. Whereas I think what happens in virtual worlds can, in principle, be very significant. You can build a meaningful life in a virtual world. We can get into deep social and political discussions and decisions about the shape of society in a virtual world. Rather than living in a video game, my analogy would be more like we’re moving to a new, uninhabited country and setting up a society. The issues will be somewhat different from the issues where we came from, but I wouldn’t consider that escapism. Also, I’m not saying abandon physical reality completely and go live in a virtual world. I think of the virtual world as a supplement to physical reality rather than a replacement, at least in any remotely short term.

That sounds very familiar.

Shelved

Remember those Amazon Bookstores I mentioned a while back, with their odd shelving arrangements? They started off full of promise.

Amazon begins a new chapter with opening of first physical bookstoreThe Guardian
Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said the surprise initiative showed the strength of demand for hardback and paperback books. “This is a vote of confidence in the physical book and the physical book store,” he said. “Book stores have been imperilled in recent years, but even Amazon has seen the benefit of a physical browsing experience.”

That initial enthusiasm didn’t last …

Amazon charges non-Prime members more at physical bookstores, hinting at new retail strategyGeekWire
When the Amazon bookstore in Seattle opened almost exactly a year ago — the company’s first full-fledged retail location — book prices were identical to those on Amazon.com, whether you were a Prime member or not. But now the discounted prices are only available to Prime members. If you’re not, you’ll pay sticker price. The message: If you’re not a Prime member, you can’t get discounts.

Amazon’s bookstores are generating almost no revenue — and there’s an obvious reason whyInsider
More likely the real reason is that the bookstores aren’t really a place for browsing and discovering books like a local independent bookstore — they’re actually just a place for Prime members. There’s no compelling reason for a non-Prime member to visit an Amazon Books store, except maybe to check out devices like the Amazon Echo or Kindle.

Is Amazon’s brick-and-mortar store a facade for e-commerce?Fortune
The ideas brought forth in Amazon Books are novel—such as review cards for each title that feature an aggregate of Amazon.com user ratings and a critic’s review—but industry experts believe the store is more interesting in what it’s attempting to achieve: to drive online sales through a brick-and-mortar presence.

… and they’ve finally shut up shop for good.

Amazon to shut its bookstores and other shops as its grocery chain expandsReuters
Amazon had aimed to reach shoppers in more places and bring its online touch into the real world. Its bookstores would pull from its vast data trove and showcase what people were reading, even the reviews they left on Amazon’s website. But the company’s innovations were not enough to counter the march toward online shopping that Amazon itself had set off. Its “physical stores” revenue – a mere 3% of Amazon’s $137 billion in sales last quarter, largely reflective of consumer spending at its Whole Foods subsidiary – has often failed to keep pace with growth in the retailer’s other businesses.

Amazon to close all BookstoresPublishers Weekly
The opening of its first store and subsequent national rollout gave rise to widespread speculation about what Amazon’s goals and motives were in opening the outlets, as well as a guessing game about where Amazon Books would next appear. Despite rumors that the company planned to open hundreds of bookstores, the chain’s impact on the overall bookstore business has been negligible.

Amazon is closing its terrible brick-and-mortar BookstoresCurbed
“Spending time browsing here was among my most dismal shopping experiences in recent memory: joyless, arbitrary, spiritually empty. And that was before a 20-something guy bounded into the store and started screaming: ‘Alexa! Alexa! Alexa!’” read a New York Times review of the 4-Star store in Soho. “Antiseptic and bewildering,” said The New Republic, which pointed out that readers generally didn’t care if books were on a lot of other people’s wish lists, had 4.8 versus 4.7 stars or were “hot on Amazon.” Many people noted that the bookstore’s selection was incredibly sparse, much more so than a normal bookstore, in part because the books were all displayed facing out to attract maximal attention and showcase their data points.

Some monumental women #2

To mark International Women’s Day, here’s a recent article from Hyperallergic.

“I will show your Lordship what a woman can do”: Artemisia Gentileschi’s compelling feminist lifeHyperallergic
Arguably, the sexual assault she suffered aged 17 at the hands of her father Orazio’s colleague Agostino Tassi has come to define her, if not in art historical terms then certainly in the popular imagination; her images of powerful female figures are easily summarized in auction or museum blurbs as avatars for feminist strength in defiance of (or revenge against) this singular biographical event. The 2020 show made inroads toward shaking off this reductive and emotionally driven interpretation. Barker deliberately sets out to correct “panegyric” accounts of her life and work, bringing together the most recent art historical developments and discoveries of primary documents to flesh out her biography, and asserting that we “have only begun to get to know her.”

For more on this powerful artist, you really must check out these reviews of her (and others’) paintings of Judith and Holofernes, both part one and part two, that I shared a while back.

And it was nice to see Sheffield’s Women of Steel statue as today’s Bing background image.

Women of Steel bronze sculpture in Sheffield city centre, by sculptor Martin JenningsPeapix
With working-age men away fighting, women – some girls as young as 14 – were conscripted to work in Sheffield’s factories and steel mills, often undertaking dangerous and physically demanding work. But when the war ended, they were dismissed and their contribution went unrecognised for decades until, after a fundraising campaign, this sculpture was unveiled in 2016.

What to do with anonymous trolls

The debate over the contents of the draft Online Safety Bill continues.

New plans to protect people from anonymous trolls onlineGOV.UK
The government recognises too many people currently experience online abuse and there are concerns that anonymity is fuelling this, with offenders having little to no fear of recrimination from either the platforms or law enforcement. […]

So today the government is confirming it will add two new duties to its Online Safety Bill to strengthen the law against anonymous online abuse. The first duty will force the largest and most popular social media sites to give adults the ability to block people who have not verified their identity on a platform. A second duty will require platforms to provide users with options to opt out of seeing harmful content.

Sounds reasonable?

Filter out ‘unverified’ accounts, tech giants toldBBC News
The DCMS acknowledged that people use anonymous accounts for a variety of reasons, including whistle-blowing, exploring their sexuality or sharing their experience in an authoritarian company. However, it said users should be given tools to “control who can interact with them”.

But here’s Benedict Evans’s take on it, from a recent newsletter. And even the government agrees that he knows what he’s talking about.

The UK’s content regulation hairball
The UK’s Online Harms Bill began as a pretty sensible and narrowly defined effort to solve one kind of problem: make a list of specific kinds of harmful content, and create an obligation for platform companies to make reasonable best efforts to minimise them. Unfortunately it’s now become a grab bag of hobbyhorses and every random terrible Internet regulation idea from the last decade.

The latest idea is that somehow if the Internet wasn’t anonymous, no one would behave badly, and so big Internet platforms need to give everyone an option to verify their identity, and an option to hide content from people who aren’t verified. This is a bizarre overreach – the UK wants YouTube offer people in Vietnam, Argentina and New Zealand an option to upload passports. Yet since this of course has to be optional, no one will actually do it, so the switch to turn off unverified content will just hide everything and be completely useless. Meanwhile, there have been any number of studies in the last few years demonstrating that the vast majority of problematic accounts are not anonymous anyway. This is regulation by press release – we expect better.

What a mess #2

The war in Ukraine is horrendous, doesn’t bear thinking about. But if you do want to think about it, here are a few interesting links. Let’s start with something positive from the art world.

A selection of resources in support of the people of UkraineIt’s Nice That
We stand in solidarity and support of the Ukrainian people and everyone affected by this war, and wish to use our platform to help. So, here, we’re sharing a growing list of resources put together with our sister company Creative Lives in Progress, shared by our team and community. They include places to donate and volunteer; creative responses to the crisis including projects, campaigns and fundraising sales; key information for those who need it; and other useful links, such as a free photo bank to tackle Russian government propaganda, a list of Ukrainian illustrators to commission, and a callout for help with Ukrainian artist visas.

STOP WAR: A new series of works by Sho Shibuya in support of UkraineDesign You Trust
In the peak of the coronavirus epidemic, he decided to recycle each of the New York Times front pages to turn them into works of art. The designer dedicates his new series of works to the war in Ukraine, a senseless and fratricidal war. A war that became a tragedy for millions of people. A war that cannot be justified.

Ukraine-based content platform launches a free resource of images of Russia’s war in Ukraine for anyone to useIt’s Nice That
Vista’s Depositphotos, a Ukraine-based content platform, has launched a free image collection, Say No to War, detailing the “brutal truth of what’s happening in Ukraine, as well as images of protests from around the world and inside of Russia”, says the Depositphotos team.

Rich with imaginative detail, Maria Prymachenko’s colorful folk art speaks to life in UkraineColossal
Expressive and consistently advocating for peace, Prymachenko’s paintings are widely known throughout Ukraine and internationally: she received a gold medal at the Paris World Fair in 1937, when Pablo Picasso is said to have dubbed her “an artistic miracle.”

Earlier this week, Russian attacks northwest of Kyiv destroyed the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, where about 25 of her works were housed. According to the Ukrainian Institute, though, local residents were able to retrieve the pieces from the burning museum before they were lost entirely. The aggression subsequently prompted calls for Russia to be removed from UNESCO, which declared 2009 the year of Prymachenko.

Ukraine accuses Russia of burning down a museumHyperallergic
About 25 paintings by Ukrainian artist Maria Pryimachenko were destroyed in a fire incited by an attack as part of the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said today, February 28, on Twitter. The works were housed at the Ivankiv Local History Museum in the Kyiv province. A video circulating on Twitter shows what appears to be the museum’s building in flames. The destruction of the museum was also reported by the Kyiv Independent. Hyperallergic could not independently verify these reports.

Some big names from the world of music aren’t faring too well.

Anna Netrebko withdraws from upcoming Met Opera engagementsOpera Wire
The company noted that in “not complying with the Met’s condition that she repudiate her public support for Vladimir Putin while he wages war on Ukraine, soprano Anna Netrebko has withdrawn from her upcoming Met performances in Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ this April and May, as well as the run of Verdi’s Don Carlo next season.”

Putin’s Maestro, and the limits of cultural exchange in wartimeThe New York Times
How will we think of Valery Gergiev a century from now? One of the world’s leading conductors, he has in just the last week lost a series of engagements and positions, including as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, for not disavowing the war in Ukraine being waged by his longtime friend and ally, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

How would those cancellations be spun in Russia, I wonder.

Outside Russia, Putin’s propaganda machine is swiftly crashing downVanity Fair
Under pressure from the Ukrainian government and other foreign leaders, tech giants and cable providers are issuing a flurry of measures to curb the reach of Russian state media in Europe as Russia wages war on Ukraine. Google on Tuesday blocked the YouTube channels of RT and Sputnik, two Kremlin-owned outlets that serve as mouthpieces for Vladimir Putin’s propagandistic agenda across the continent. The move came a day after Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and TikTok both said they would block RT and Sputnik content on their platforms in the E.U. Nick Clegg, Meta’s head of global affairs, cited “requests from a number of governments and the E.U.” and “the exceptional nature of the current situation” as he announced the restrictions, which prevent users across E.U. countries from accessing pages or content posted by the two state-backed outlets. Microsoft likewise took action against “state-sponsored disinformation campaigns” Monday as it blocked RT and Sputnik content from appearing on its platform in Europe and banned advertising from Russian state media. In doing so, the company joined Google, YouTube (which is owned by Google), Twitter, and Facebook, all of which have either restricted or banned state-backed media outlets from selling ads.

Russian state TV is covering the war very differentlyCNN
Russian media coverage looks very different than how CNN and other western news outlets are covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine war: ‘My city’s being shelled, but mum won’t believe me’BBC News
“I didn’t want to scare my parents, but I started telling them directly that civilians and children are dying,” she says. “But even though they worry about me, they still say it probably happens only by accident, that the Russian army would never target civilians. That it’s Ukrainians who’re killing their own people.” […] Oleksandra says her mother just repeats the narratives of what she hears on Russian state TV channels. “It really scared me when my mum exactly quoted Russian TV. They are just brainwashing people. And people trust them,” says Oleksandra.

Some Russians are breaking through and trying to make a different, though.

How Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova is using crypto to fight for equalityTime
[I]n the days following the late-February invasion of Ukraine, she helped launch UkraineDAO, a fundraising campaign that racked up almost $7 million in cryptocurrency donations in less than a week, with funds channeled towards Ukrainian aid organizations. “It’s really important for me to be a good activist and be an influential artist to be able to maintain my anti-Putin voice. In that way, it’s all inherently connected,” she says.

Here’s another example of new technology being used for good.

When war struck, Ukraine turned to TelegramWIRED UK
“How to distinguish our equipment from the enemy?” UkraineNOW posted on Friday, sharing pictures of Ukrainian and Russian tanks. On Saturday, three separate posts in the space of just six minutes warned of imminent airstrikes across Ukraine (“air alarm: Lviv, Rivne ❗️❗️❗️”); maps showing air raid shelter locations were shared. On Sunday the channel advised on ways to safely pass military checkpoints (“turn on the hazard warning light, no video recording”) and what to do if there are attacks on chemical processing plants (“close the windows and do not open them unnecessarily”).

With nearly 500,000 members before Russia’s invasion, UkraineNOW was already one of the country’s biggest Telegram channels. Now a million people depend on it for updates about the war.

And it’s nice to see the Second Life community playing its part too.

Linden Lab statement on UkraineSecond Life Community
Effective Monday, we will be further supporting our eligible Ukrainian-based community members by granting them a temporary 30-day moratorium on recurring account fees such as Premium Membership and Land Maintenance fees. We will review this again after 30 days and assess what we can do as next steps where necessary. We invite any of our Ukraine-based community members to contact support with any specific questions they may have.

Second Life community rallies to help Ukraine-based creators on platformNew World Notes
This is a Google Spreadsheet of Second Life stores and website Marketplace shops owned by Ukraine-based creators on the virtual world platform. It was quickly created by SL community members within the first 24 hours of the Putin regime’s invasion of that country, with a goal of supporting these merchants with L$ purchases — which they can subsequently convert into their local currency. (Whenever, that is, they are able to find a stable Internet connection in the now-embattled region.)

Slava Ukraini! Ways to show your support for Ukraine in Second Life (and in real life, too!)Ryan Schultz
You might be surprised to learn that current events in the real world are often quickly reflected in the virtual world! The war in Ukraine is no exception, and in almost no time at all, Second Life content creators have responded! This blogpost will showcase FREE clothing and home/yard decor to allow you to express your feelings about this unwanted, unnecessary, heartbreaking war.

Sadly, not everything online is a positive influence.

Scammy Instagram ‘war pages’ are capitalizing on Ukraine conflictInput
Hayden, who claims to be a 21-year-old from Kentucky, says that after learning about the war breaking out through the hip-hop Instagram page @Rap, he saw an opportunity. He had already run a popular war page called @liveinafghanistan. More recently, he had renamed it @newstruths and pivoted to posting viral, vaguely conservative-leaning videos featuring people shoplifting and clips of President Biden. But on Wednesday night, it was wartime again, and so the page became @livefromukraine.

Seven ways to spot fake photographs of the war in UkraineThe Art Newspaper
As it turns out, this piece of video was produced in DCS, a popular flight simulator game, and was originally posted to YouTube as a tribute to the Ghost, before being repurposed and circulated online as genuine footage. The footage is purposely miscaptioned and therefore fabricated.

Russia using TikTok to spread anti-Ukraine disinformation, experts sayUSA Today
Cyabra’s analysts tracked thousands of Facebook and Twitter accounts that had recently posted about Ukraine. Researchers saw a sudden and dramatic increase in anti-Ukrainian content in the days immediately before the invasion. On Valentine’s Day, for instance, the number of anti-Ukrainian posts created by the sample of Twitter accounts jumped by 11,000% when compared with just days earlier. Analysts believe a significant portion of the accounts are inauthentic and controlled by groups linked to the Russian government. […]

Russia tailors its propaganda message for specific audiences. For Russians and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, the message is that Russia is trying to defend its own people against Western-fueled aggression and persecution in Ukraine. Similar tactics have been used, including by Nazi Germany when it invaded Czechoslovakia under the guise of protecting ethnic Germans living there, Ludes noted.

But let’s not forget Western media is not without its flaws.

‘They seem so like us’: In depicting Ukraine’s plight, some in media use offensive comparisonsThe Washington Post
Such coverage resorts to “Orientalist concepts of ‘civilization’ that have long been present in European colonial discourse,” said Denijal Jegic, a postdoctoral researcher in communication and multimedia journalism at Lebanese American University in Beirut, in an interview. “This implicitly suggests that war is a natural phenomenon in places outside of the Euro-American sphere, and the Middle East in particular, and that war would take place because of a lack of civilization, rather than due to unjust geopolitical power distribution or foreign intervention.”

Recalling that Western media cares more about people Western countriesThe Morning News
In light of a round-up in the Washington Post of offensive descriptions in the media of the Ukraine invasion—ironic considering a headline the Post used for a George F. Will column as recently as July: “Civilized nations’ efforts to deter Russia and China are starting to add up”—an old graphic feels pertinent:

The Fox News journalist fact-checking channel’s pundits on air over UkraineThe Guardian
Last week Griffin had already corrected Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy and lectured the Fox News host Harris Faulkner about how Joe Biden stationing troops at Ukraine’s border would have given Putin “a pretext to go into Ukraine”, but the veteran journalist stepped it up in recent days as she apparently lost patience with the opinions of some of the Fox News punditocracy.

It’s hard to know what to say.

Help for teachers and families to talk to pupils about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how to help them avoid misinformationDfE Education Hub
Establish the facts by pointing pupils towards “trusted, reputable sources that explain the what, where, when, why and who”. It encourages teachers to challenge incorrect information when they see it and to present evidence for facts and get pupils to do the same.

How to talk to children about what’s happening in UkraineMetro News
As parents and carers we can feel like what we should be doing is giving them all of the facts and keeping them informed. But this approach can sometimes leave children feeling overwhelmed, Tania explains. ‘Children tend to be really good at spontaneous questioning. If they want to know something, they’ll ask,’ she says. But if they do ask, or you feel that they need some explanation or reassurance, it’s important to think about how you’re feeling first.

Let’s take a step back.

Ukraine Recap: the origins of Putin’s war – and why it’s not gone to planThe Conversation
Putin has also expressed his concern the Nato has reneged on a pledge after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 that it would not expand into the former Soviet republics. Whether there was indeed a formal pledge along these lines is doubtful, writes Gavin Hall of the University of Strathclyde. But what is not in doubt, writes Aldo Zammit Borda of City, University of London, is that Russia, Ukraine, the UK and US sat down and agreed that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be respected. In return, Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal, at the time the third-largest in the world.

Beyond the fog of war: books to help us understand the invasion of UkraineThe Guardian
A crucial weapon that Putin’s Kremlin deployed in defanging the – albeit rickety and imperfect – democracy that grew up in Russia in the 1990s was his control of the press. No one has written about this better than Kyiv-born Peter Pomerantsev in Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, a hilarious but terrifying account of his own career in the Russian media. Joshua Yaffa did a fantastic job of exploring how ordinary people navigated the system Putin built in Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition and Compromise in Putin’s Russia.

But the west is very much not guiltless in supporting the corrupt systems that have bedevilled both Russia and Ukraine (anger at which drove Kyiv’s 2014 revolution). To understand how kleptocracy is enabled out of western capitals, and, above all, out of London, read Kleptopia by Tom Burgis. The oligarchs from both sides employ western lawyers, accountants and wealth managers to hide the money they stole, then spend it on property, luxury goods, fine art and more.

The best books on Ukraine and RussiaFive Books
The Soviet Union fell apart on the issue of Ukraine. The first to raise the banner of independence were the Baltic states, but they’re small countries and they’re not Slavic. The Ukrainian referendum of December 1991 didn’t ask the question of what one wanted to do with the Soviet Union, the referendum was about Ukraine only: ‘Do you want Ukraine to be independent?’ But once more than 90% of Ukrainians responded in the affirmative, the USSR was gone within a week. The Central Asian republics were really pushed out of the Soviet Union because Russia was not interested in a union with them without Ukraine. That’s the beginning of the most recent part of the story: the Soviet Union fell on the issue of Ukraine and now, if there are to be effective Russian economic, military and other spheres of influence, Ukraine is essential, like it was back in 1991.

UK universities brace for impact of sanctions against RussiaThe Guardian
Simon Marginson, a professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, said most academics would support a research boycott with heavy hearts and concerns for Russian colleagues. “All the Russian academics I know oppose the war. The internal situation in Russia will get nastier and they will need solidarity, so there is a case for maintaining ties,” he said.

What a mess. Let’s leave the last word to the Ukrainians themselves.

Thoughts, hopes and disappointments in Kyiv: a street photographer’s photos of Ukraine – 2001-2021Flashbak
Everyday moments in Kyiv before the tanks rolled in.

In the nation’s darkest hours, Ukrainians look out for each otherKyiv Independent
Civilians all across the country do whatever it takes to help each other: They deliver medicine and food for those hiding in bomb shelters. Both regular citizens and restaurant chefs prepare meals for the military, refugees, and civilians. People adopt abandoned animals and offer shelters and rides to fellow Ukrainians.

Liutyk is no exception: The girl, together with her mother and best friend, has been offering warm food and drinks for free to fleeing Ukrainians who are spending exhausting hours in lines on the border with Poland in Lviv Oblast, where she lives. “Such difficult times either break the nation or, just like in our case, unite it entirely,” Liutyk says.

Happy Twosday

So today is 20/02/2022. Time for some facts, before we get carried away.

22/02/2022 meaning: How rare a palindrome (or ambigram) date like ‘Twosday’ is and what people say it means iNews
Twosday has no real special meaning or significance, other than the date is palindromic. … There will never be a 33.03.3033 as there is not month with 33 days in it. … 22.02.2022 will never happen again.

Today also happens to be my father-in-law’s birthday. I wonder if his mother, way back in 1943, realised his 79th birthday would fall on such an unusual day. Any date in 2022 would be almost unimaginably futuristic. Have any of us given the year 2101 a thought?

Eye to eye #2

A horrible act of vandalism in a Russian art gallery occurred last December.

Vandal added eyes to figures in painting by Malevich’s studentThe Art Newspaper Russia
Anna Leporskaya’s painting “Three Figures” (1932-1934) from the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery, provided for the exhibition “The World as Non-Objectivity. The Birth of a New Art” to the Yekaterinburg Foundation “Presidential Center of B.N. Yeltsin”, as it became known to our publication, suffered from the hands of a vandal. An unknown person drew small eyes with a ballpoint pen on the abstract faces of two figures in the picture.

A somewhat different set of art gallery eyes than Chris Eckert’s, certainly, but still a case for the local police, surely?

Russian police won’t investigate after vandal draws eyes on painting at museumARTnews
Once the damage was reported, law enforcement agencies refused to open a criminal case because there were no signs of a crime as defined by the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Since the image did not look fundamentally different, and since the painting was no longer in Yekaterinburg at that time (it had returned to Moscow for restoration by the time police got involved), the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation sent a complaint to the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office about the refusal to initiate a criminal case. When asked about the subject, Alexander Drozdov, executive director of the Yeltsin Center, said, “We were not even slightly puzzled when police decided not to open the case, because based on their damage assessment there was no legal grounds for [an investigation]. They say ‘no,’ you obey. We’re law-abiding citizens.”

Turns out it was another inside job.

“Bored” security guard draws eyes on faceless Russian painting on his first dayIt’s Nice That
Anna Leporskaya’s Three Figures, a painting on display at the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center, has been vandalised by a security worker, who scribbled small eyes on two of the figures with a ballpoint pen. In what is possibly one of the worst first-day-on-the-job horror stories in recent history, the security guard had apparently worked at the gallery for less than 24 hours before he drew on the painting; Three Figures is insured for approximately £740,000.

Russian gallery guard charged after drawing eyes on avant-garde painting with ballpoint penThe Art Newspaper
The guard has been fired and was last week detained by police on criminal vandalism charges. He faces a fine of up to RUB 74.9m (£738,000)—the amount the painting was insured for—and up to one year of correctional labour or up to three months in prison, according to The Times.

Bird’s eye view

Some wonderfully atmospheric images from the unlikeliest of early twentieth-century photographers — pigeons.

The turn-of-the-century pigeons that photographed Earth from aboveThe New Yorker
That perspective that is so commonplace to us now, in which the rooftops stretch out before us as though they were made of a child’s blocks, and people crawl along like ants, was a rare sight when Neubronner took his pigeon pictures. The photos offered a glimpse of the world rendered pocket-size, as it eventually would be via a hundred types of new technology—by airplanes, or skyscrapers, or Google Earth.

But there’s also something a bit wild about the photos, precisely because they were taken by birds. Their framing is random and their angles are askew; sometimes a wing feather obscures the view.

Pigeons are surely the most pedestrian of birds, but, looking at these oddly graceful photographs, or at Neubronner’s pictures of the birds looking stately and upright in their photo kits, they start to seem like heavenly creatures.

Turning noise back into sound

Whether loud or quiet, noise can be a problem. But not for everyone though, as Victoria Bates, associate professor from the University of Bristol, demonstrates.

How the noises of a hospital can become a healing soundscapePsyche Ideas
The label of ‘noise’ is attached to sounds for a wide range of reasons that go beyond loudness. A quiet sound can become noisy over time, sometimes bothering only one person who is frustrated that nobody else can hear it: a ticking clock, for example, or the rattling of an air conditioner. Loud sounds can be tuned out through familiarity. ‘Alarm fatigue’ is often experienced by staff members working in high-technology environments. […]

‘Noise is to sound what stench is to smell (and what weed is to plant) – something dissonant, unwanted, out of place, and invasive.’

A fascinating take on how to turn noise — not just an acoustic phenomenon, but an individual and social one — back into sound.

These sounds save livesVimeo
The purpose of the film was initially to promote & demystify the topics within Victoria Bates’ new book titled Making Noise in the Modern Hospital. But as we developed the script and style, we found that by broadening the audience and centering the patient experience the film could also serve a therapeutic and educational purpose. If this film can help us reframe how we hear and listen within hospitals, maybe then it can help us cope in future moments of distress or anxiety.

A visit to hospital can be a uncomfortable experience and noise is often a source of complaints. Over the years, the NHS has spent significant amounts of money on things like sound-proofing and internal communications campaigns to try and reduce noise within the hospital, but as our film makes clear – silence is never the goal.

Moving animation #2

The 2022 Oscar nominations were announced today. It’s nice to see Dune doing well, but I loved the way a recent Aeon newsletter coincidentally highlighted this Oscar-nominated film — from the late 1960s.

An Oscar-nominated animation that celebrates walking with humansPsyche Films
Walking by the Canadian animator and artist Ryan Larkin (1943-2007) made an indelible mark in the history of animation in 1968 with its innovative combination of drawing and colourwash techniques. The film was nominated for an Oscar® and seemed to augur a bright future for Larkin. However, he made only one more film – Street Musique (1972) – before a long run of drug addiction, alcoholism and destitution.

Wonderfully hypnotic — perhaps an influence on Universal Everything’s walker? A troubled soul, though, as this incredible Oscar-winning animation shows so effectively.

Artistic genius and fragility intersect in this surreal, Oscar®-winning animationAeon Videos
This experimental animation from 2004 finds fellow animator Chris Landreth interviewing Larkin about his brief, storied animation career before confronting him about his alcoholism. Rendered in a world where emotional scars manifest themselves as surreal physical aberrations, Ryan is a strange and striking glimpse into Larkin’s life, including the sometimes fraught relationship between creativity and mental health. Ryan won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Following the film’s completion, Larkin revived his animation career before dying from cancer in 2007.

I think I remember that film when it was first out. I’m so glad I’ve had a chance to revisit it now. And Chris Landreth’s other films are well worth a look too.

My type of calendar

I was going through my old bookmarks and randomly came across one from 2014, a link to a now-forgotten Etsy printable typewriter desk calendar thing. I’m not looking for a 2014 calendar at the moment, but I tried the link anyway. Not only did the link still work, but it redirected to an updated 2022 version.

2022 DIY printable paper desk calendar papercraftEtsy UK
Here’s a quaint little 3D Paper Desk Calendar for your mantelpiece, table-top or shelf… in the form of a typewriter, with 12 month cards with dates for 2022. The body of the calendar is like a miniature vintage typewriter, complete with realistic details.

Comes in yellow, too.

Just goes to show, you can’t keep a good typewriter down.

Minting messages of opposition

Time for more Olympics posters. Unlike those from last year’s Paralympics, these are certainly not official.

Badiucao launches NFT collection to protest against China’s human rights record on eve of Beijing Winter OlympicsThe Art Newspaper
The dissident artist Badiucao—dubbed the Chinese Banksy—is launching a “protest NFT collection” criticising the Chinese government’s record on human rights ahead of the Winter Olympics in Beijing which begin on 4 February.

Beijing 2022 NFT Collection
The first NFT project from Chinese dissident artist Badiucao, the Beijing 2022 Collection includes five works of art depicting the Chinese government’s oppression of the Tibetan people, the Uyghur genocide, the dismantling of democracy in Hong Kong, the regime’s omnipresent surveillance systems, and lack of transparency surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s looking at you, Vincent

There’s a new Van Gogh exhibition in London.

Van Gogh. Self-PortraitsThe Courtauld
Van Gogh. Self-Portraits takes as its springboard Van Gogh’s iconic Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, one of the most celebrated works in The Courtauld’s collection, and will bring together around half of the self-portraits Van Gogh created during his short years as a painter. This will be the first time that the full span of Van Gogh’s self-portraiture has been explored in an exhibition. Several works in the exhibition were last together in Van Gogh’s studio and have never been reunited, until now.

I very much like the sound of it. It’s great to see one of my favourite portraits of his is included.

Van Gogh Self-Portraits at the Courtauld Gallery review: beg, borrow or steal, you have to see thisEvening Standard
It would be easy to phone-in a Van Gogh self-portraits show, but the Courtauld’s is rigorous and thoughtful, with smart pairings and groupings. And it has a compelling argument: that we inevitably see the artist’s paintings of himself through the prism of his mental health and suicide, but they should instead be seen as him pursuing a unique artistic language despite rather than because of his illness. Yes, they were vehicles for expression, but it was a more rational pursuit rather than one governed only by torment.

‘Magical, mysterious and electrifyingly intimate’ – Van Gogh: Self-Portraits reviewThe Guardian
One of the star attractions in the collection of the Courtauld Gallery in London is Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, which was painted in January 1889. The artist had mutilated his left ear two days before Christmas, following a quarrel with Paul Gauguin, with whom he had been sharing a house in Arles. Van Gogh looks pale and introspective, clean-shaven, dressed for the winter chill in his yellow room, an easel behind him and a Japanese print on the wall (the Courtauld owns this print, too, but it was stolen in the 1980s and never recovered). The Dutch artist has the hunted look of a man not yet ready to re-enter the world, except through his painting. The open blue door on the right is the same blue door that appears in the picture of his straw-bottomed yellow chair, which now hangs in the same room at the Courtauld. You can take the chair as a kind of self-portrait, too. It is as if he has stepped out for a second, leaving his pipe and tobacco pouch on the seat.

A trip down to the capital is in order, I think. And whilst we’re there, we might visit this other Van Gogh exhibition. It takes a very different approach, similar to that one in Paris.

Van Gogh Exhibition: The Immersive Experience – London
Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a 20,000 square foot light and sound spectacular featuring two-story projections of the artist’s most compelling works. Encounter the brilliance of one of history’s greatest artists in 360 degrees.

Your first look at the eye-popping, immersive Van Gogh exhibitionTime Out
As you can see from the photos, Van Gogh’s paintings are beamed hyper-sharp all over the floors and walls, using dozens of cutting-edge projectors. The all-encompassing sight of iconic works like Starry Night and Wheatfield with Crows (complete with flying birds, natch) knock a lot of socks off (particularly when augmented and combined with VR headsets).

Can’t keep a good Maus down

As surely as night …

‘Maus’ Holocaust novel removed from classrooms by school boardThe New York Times
The board voted unanimously to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel from classrooms because it contained swear words, according to minutes from the meeting. […]

After reading the minutes of the meeting, Mr. Spiegelman said he got the impression that the board members were asking, “Why can’t they teach a nicer Holocaust?”

… follows day.

Maus sales spike after Tennessee school board banHyperallergic
The board’s decision is part of a wider trend of book banning in schools across the country. Books about gender and sexuality, race, and social inequality have been banned from public schools in Idaho, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, South Carolina, and other conservative states.

In an interview with CNBC last week, Spiegelman said he was “baffled” by the ban and called the school board’s behavior “Orwellian.”

Meanwhile, readers have voted with their wallets, giving Maus bestseller status more than four decades after it was first published.

When it comes to stress, we’re all birdbrains?

Another stressful Monday in the office? Let the birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology put things into perspective for us.

What can we learn about stress from birdsCornell Lab of Ornithology: YouTube
Stress is a common part of modern life, and everyone has experienced its negative effects. Many people even suffer health impacts from chronic stress. So why do we stress out when facing challenges? Research in birds is helping us to discover when natural selection favors a strong stress response, and when it is better to stay calm.