Satire or harmful deception?

Fake videos — they’re just a bit of fun that we’re happy to spread around on social media, right? Whilst they play a part in the BBC dystopian future drama, Years and Years, helping to sway a general election, we’re not really fooled by them, are we?

Well, perhaps not yet, but they’ve got US politicians worried enough about their upcoming presidential election in 2020 to officially look into it all.

Congress grapples with how to regulate deepfakes
“Now is the time for social media companies to put in place policies to protect users from this kind of misinformation not in 2021 after viral deepfakes have polluted the 2020 elections,” Schiff said. “By then it will be too late.”

At the outset of the hearing, Schiff came out challenging the “immunity” given to platforms under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, asking panelists if Congress should make changes to the law that doesn’t currently hold social media companies liable for the content on their platforms.

Another example.

Deepfakes: Imagine All the People
Of course this isn’t real. The video was done by a company called Canny AI, which offers services like “replace the dialogue in any footage” and “lip-sync your dubbed content in any language”. That’s cool and all — picture episodes of Game of Thrones or Fleabag where the actors automagically lip-sync along to dubbed French or Chinese — but this technique can also be used to easily create what are referred to as deepfakes, videos made using AI techniques in which people convincingly say and do things they actually did not do or say.

A ‘fake’ arms race, for real

This essay from Cailin O’Connor, co-author of The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread, frames the issue of online misinformation as an arms race.

The information arms race can’t be won, but we have to keep fighting
What makes this problem particularly thorny is that internet media changes at dizzying speed. When the radio was first invented, as a new form of media, it was subject to misinformation. But regulators quickly adapted, managing, for the most part, to subdue such attempts. Today, even as Facebook fights Russian meddling, WhatsApp has become host to rampant misinformation in India, leading to the deaths of 31 people in rumour-fuelled mob attacks over two years.

Participating in an informational arms race is exhausting, but sometimes there are no good alternatives. Public misinformation has serious consequences. For this reason, we should be devoting the same level of resources to fighting misinformation that interest groups are devoting to producing it. All social-media sites need dedicated teams of researchers whose full-time jobs are to hunt down and combat new kinds of misinformation attempts.

I know I’m a pretty pessimistic person generally, but this all sounds quite hopeless. Here’s how one group of people is responding to the challenge of misuse of information and fake videos — by producing their own.

This deepfake of Mark Zuckerberg tests Facebook’s fake video policies
The video, created by artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe in partnership with advertising company Canny, shows Mark Zuckerberg sitting at a desk, seemingly giving a sinister speech about Facebook’s power. The video is framed with broadcast chyrons that say “We’re increasing transparency on ads,” to make it look like it’s part of a news segment.

“We will treat this content the same way we treat all misinformation on Instagram,” a spokesperson for Instagram told Motherboard. “If third-party fact-checkers mark it as false, we will filter it from Instagram’s recommendation surfaces like Explore and hashtag pages.”

The crowded race to the top

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

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

crowded-race-to-the-top

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

It’s still 1984, and always will be

It’s 2019, but are we any further on?

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

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

Speaking of liars.

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

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

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

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

Years & Years (2019): Official Trailer

Ta ra, Theresa

The press are keen to analyse her political legacy (blah blah blah blah), but I’d rather look at Prime Minister May’s time at Number 1O via two of my favourite things – photos and charts.

The political life of Theresa May – in pictures
A look back over May’s political career, from being elected as MP for Maidenhead in 1997 to Brexit, the snap election that backfired and her onstage dancing at the 2018 Tory conference.

ta-ra-theresa-2

ta-ra-theresa-1

Theresa May: Premiership in six charts
1. She hasn’t been in office long
Mrs May has developed a reputation for surviving in almost impossible circumstances, but she is still among the UK prime ministers with the shortest time in office.

ta-ra-theresa

What a load of crap

The world is full of it.

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

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

Some people produce more crap than others, though.

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

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

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

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

Political persuasion 2.0

I’ve been enjoying (if that’s the right word) Wired UK’s recent articles on how technology is being used against us.

A bitter turf war is raging on the Brexit Wikipedia page
Other debates revolve around the Brexit jargon and the page’s 19-word-strong glossary. Is Leaver the best way to refer to Brexit supporters, or is Brexiteer more common? And is “Remoaner” the remain-supporting version of “Brextremist” or is the latter somehow nastier? A recent question on the Brexit talk page, where editors discuss changes to the article, raises another question about the term Quitlings. Is it something to do with quislings, and if so, shouldn’t the glossary mention that? For now, the consensus is that yes, it is a reference to the Norwegian Nazi sympathiser Vidkun Quisling – whose name has evolved into a synonym for traitor – but that the term isn’t widely used enough to justify including it in the article.

The Brexit Party is winning social media. These numbers prove it
The extraordinary level of this online engagement is inextricable from the populist nature of Farage’s message. “Polarised content does brilliantly, hence Farage has significantly more reach than any of the main political figures of the UK,” says Harris. “His content will receive significant numbers of shares, comments (both positive and negative) and likes and negative dislikes, and will have more organic reach than content from mainstream political parties that people like to see in their timeline but don’t like or comment on it because they passively agree with it.”

The EU elections are next week. Fake news is not the problem
Information operations are rarely about changing the things people believe, but changing the way they feel. Anger and fear are not things we can correct with better facts. As we head into the EU election, this fact should be at the forefront of our minds. Media monitoring is vital, and the work of fact-checking organisations to identify, correct and call out false information is a necessary and valuable part of this. But it is crucial that we look beyond the accuracy of the news, and zero in on how the media ecosystem as a whole is being manipulated. Inflammatory trending stories, harassment of journalists, feverish online debates – the public discourse behind all of these is being pushed and prodded by those who want to see us angry, divided, and mistrustful of each other.

The secret behind Gina Miller’s anti-Brexit tactical voting crusade
Miller’s Remain United campaign uses a technique called multilevel regression and poststratification (MRP) to analyse polling data and identify which Remain-supporting party stands the best chance of winning seats in the European elections on May 23. Remainers are encouraged to vote for those parties in order to secure a sizeable pro-EU representation from the United Kingdom in the European parliament.

Battling Brexit

Don’t worry about Brexit, a 76-year-old former Secretary of State, and a 72-year-old former spoon bender are on it.

Brexit: Vince Cable stakes Lib Dems’ claim as torch carriers for remain
Vince Cable has staked the Liberal Democrats’ claim to be the leading remain party in the European elections, as he unveiled a forthright new slogan for the campaign: “Bollocks to Brexit.” The phrase, previously plastered on stickers and T-shirts by ardent remain supporters, is now emblazoned across the Lib Dem manifesto for the 23 May poll – though more squeamish candidates will have the option of one that just says “Stop Brexit”.

Bending BREXIT? Uri Geller Sends Open Letter to Theresa May
I feel psychically and very strongly than most British people do not want Brexit. I love you very much but I will not allow you to lead Britain into Brexit. As much as I admire you, I will stop you telepathically from doing this — and believe me I am capable of executing it.

battling-brexit-1  battling-brexit-2

Elections everywhere

Polarisation seems to be the political theme, these days.

Socialists strengthen hold in Spain election
Spain’s Socialist Party strengthened its hold on the government on Sunday in the country’s third national election since 2015, with nearly complete results showing growing political polarization and party fragmentation. […] An anti-immigration and ultranationalist party, Vox, won its first seats in Parliament, a major shift in a country that long appeared to be immune to the spread of far-right movements across Europe, in part because of the legacy of the Francisco Franco dictatorship.

This doesn’t sound good.

Benin’s government has shut the internet ahead of an election that has no opposition
The West African nation now joins the list of African states, including Sudan, DR Congo, and Egypt who have limited online access ahead of key elections, political referenda, or anti-government protests this year. Activists say the cut-offs usually have significant economic, political, and social costs, particularly given how popular messaging apps like WhatsApp are crucial for voters, journalists, and election observers.

Some places are getting it right, though.

It only takes India a month to set up a better election than the US
To be sure, the Indian election is a thing of wonder. Its scale alone is mind-boggling: More than a million polling stations, 900 million voters, nearly 2,300 parties. It is also an impressive work of democratic logistics that can teach a few lessons to the rest of the world, including countries with far more resources, like the US.

Meanwhile.

The French Ambassador is retiring today. Here’s what he really thinks about Washington.
Let’s look at the dogma of the previous period. For instance, free trade. It’s over. Trump is doing it in his own way. Brutal, a bit primitive, but in a sense he’s right. What he’s doing with China should have been done, maybe in a different way, but should have been done before. Trump has felt Americans’ fatigue, but [Barack] Obama also did. The role of the United States as a policeman of the world, it’s over. Obama started, Trump really pursued it. You saw it in Ukraine. You are seeing it every day in Syria. People here faint when you discuss NATO, but when he said, “Why should we defend Montenegro?,” it’s a genuine question. I know that people at Brookings or the Atlantic Council will faint again, but really yes, why, why should you?

 

This report is ███████████

So what are we to make of the Mueller Report on Trump’s dealings with Russia? Here’s The Economist‘s take on it.

What to make of the Mueller report: Robert Mueller’s magnum opus
The first 170 pages concern Russia. […] Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s campaign chair, who was deep in debt to a Russian oligarch, shared internal polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, one of his Kiev-based employees with apparent links to both that oligarch and Russian intelligence. Even Rick Gates, Mr Manafort’s right-hand man, believed Mr Kilimnik was a “spy”. That did not stop Mr Manafort from meeting Mr Kilimnik. George Papadopoulos, a junior foreign-policy advisor who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators, tried to let the campaign know early on that the Russians had compromising material on Mrs Clinton (nobody thought to tell the FBI). Donald Trump junior arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised “dirt” on Mrs Clinton. And of course Mr Trump himself was pursuing a Trump Tower Moscow project until just five months before the election, while simultaneously pushing for better relations with Moscow. None of this may have been illegal, but had voters known about it they might have made a different choice.

[…]

The report’s second part deals with obstruction of justice. […] The striking thing about this section, when read in full, is how self-wounding Mr Trump’s behaviour has been. Had he simply kept quiet, and let Mr Mueller complete his investigation into his campaign’s links into Russia, the obstruction investigation never would have happened. Instead, he interfered clumsily on many occasions, allowing the special counsel to amass a damning record of the president’s truculence, dishonesty and contempt for federal investigators.

The report itself is quite an important, historical document, though.

Mueller Mania is in full swing, and people are paying a pretty penny for the free report
The Mueller Report is available for free on the Justice Department’s site (here). But that didn’t stop publishers from printing it for profit.

Simon & Schuster’s Scribner published a version “presented with related materials by The Washington Post” — available for $10.22 as a paperback or $7.99 on the Kindle — that topped Amazon’s best-seller rankings. Publisher Skyhorse’s version, featuring an intro by a Harvard law professor, claimed the #2 spot (at $9.20 in paperback); publisher Melville House’s straight-up version (just $7.27) took the #3 spot. […]

People aren’t buying books, they’re buying mementos
The fact that people bought enough copies of a free report to mint not 1 but 3 separate best-sellers may seem unlikely, or even downright dumb.

But it’s not the first time a government document has gone big: The Starr Report (about President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky) and the Pentagon Papers both became popular best-sellers after printing in 1998 and 2011, respectively.

Perceptive publishers know that people don’t buy these books for the info they contain, but the emotions they evoke: A physical Mueller Report meta-memorializes months of dramatic, scandalous, and conversation-starting news cycles in a single, boring book.

You would have thought we had had enough by now.

Remember when Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, shot himself in the foot with some sloppy document formatting? Mueller’s report wasn’t much better, initially — it was just a collection of scanned images.

The official PDF of the Mueller report has been updated in a subtle but important way
The decision immediately elicited groans from people trying to search the report for juicy details. A giant file of images has no text to search. It was also condemned by a group involved in setting technical specifications for the portable document format: “This deliberate and unnecessary act made the document substantially harder for anyone and everyone to use, forever,” wrote Duff Johnson, executive director of the PDF Association, in a delightful review of the file’s nerdiest details.

News organizations and Mueller fanatics quickly addressed this problem by running the PDF through a process known as optical character recognition (OCR) to add searchable text to the document. So, to review: The Mueller report was written on a computer, then printed out on paper, scanned back into digital images, and finally regenerated into text using software.

Of course, not everything in the report has been made available to us. As this image from FlowingData shows, a significant amount of redaction has taken place.

Redacted
The redacted version (pdf) of the Mueller report was released today. Here’s the thumbnailed view for a sense of the redactions.

this-is-1

And as this Quartz Obsession post explains, redaction is big business.

Redaction
95 million: Documents classified by the United States in 2012

2 million: Employees the National Archives estimates it would take, given a year and a half, to review one year’s worth of current classified output of one US intelligence agency

14,462: Peak size of the US government’s World War II-era Office of Censorship, whose duties included redacting letters

But let’s end this on a more creative note.

The Trump-era boom in erasure poetry
Published less than a month after Trump’s first executive order banned citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days, “Form N-400 Erasures” is an example of erasure poetry, a poetic form that has spiked in popularity since Trump’s elections galvanized a culture of resistance online. Also known as blackout or redaction poetry, this is a type of poetry created from the substrate material of an existing text. Obscure many of the words, these poems command, and you will find the sentences that have been there all along.

this-is-2

While erasure can mimic the violence of the state, it can also expose the human cost of suppression, and symbolically restore a voice to the silenced.

Erasing the language of Trump, on the other hand, provides the particular satisfaction of watching Trump say exactly what he means, stripped of bombast. That perverse pleasure drives “When You Win It’s Winning,” Ariel Yelen’s erasures of four of his speech transcripts. Here, Trump is hyperbolic and boastful as ever, but in erasing certain words, Yelen has him articulate the implications of his rhetoric. “I / want / a new America / an / America / so / reckless / s / o / disastrous / s / o / chao / t / ic /,” he says. “I / am / what is wrong with this country.”

We’re all in this together. Right?

Hanna Rosin from NPR has noticed a worrying trend. It’s not just that we’re caring less, but that we’re reducing who we care for.

The end of empathy
Konrath collected decades of studies and noticed a very obvious pattern. Starting around 2000, the line starts to slide. More students say it’s not their problem to help people in trouble, not their job to see the world from someone else’s perspective. By 2009, on all the standard measures, Konrath found, young people on average measure 40 percent less empathetic than my own generation — 40 percent!

It’s strange to think of empathy – a natural human impulse — as fluctuating in this way, moving up and down like consumer confidence. But that’s what happened. Young people just started questioning what my elementary school teachers had taught me.

But surely we’re all in this together.

I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people
Personally, I’m happy to pay an extra 4.3 percent for my fast food burger if it means the person making it for me can afford to feed their own family. If you aren’t willing to fork over an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac, you’re a fundamentally different person than I am.

I’m perfectly content to pay taxes that go toward public schools, even though I’m childless and intend to stay that way, because all children deserve a quality, free education. If this seems unfair or unreasonable to you, we are never going to see eye to eye.

An ugly problem, a possible solution

Taylor Lorenz at The Atlantic takes a long, hard look at Instagram and the extent of the misinformation and extremist ideologies that riddle the site.

Instagram is the internet’s new home for hate
Following just a handful of these accounts can quickly send users spiraling down a path toward even more extremist views and conspiracies, guided by Instagram’s own recommendation algorithm. On March 17, I clicked Follow on @the_typical_liberal. My account lit up with follow requests from pages with handles alluding to QAnon, and the app immediately prompted me to follow far-right figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Alex Jones, and Candace Owens, as well as a slew of far-right meme pages such as @unclesamsmisguidedchildren and @the.new.federation. Following these pages resulted in suggestions for pages dedicated to promoting QAnon, chemtrails, Pizzagate, and anti-vaccination rhetoric.

On and on it goes.

@q_redpillworld17, for instance, which requested to follow me after I followed @the_typical_liberal, has posted several videos and images claiming proof that the New Zealand shooting was a “false flag”; one post compares the mosque’s blood-spattered carpet with another image, implying that the carpets don’t match so the shooting was staged. Another is a graphic video of the shooting, with a caption claiming that the bullets disappeared mid-air. Another suggests 200 examples of proof that the Earth is flat. Another falsely claims that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is secretly connected to the Clintons, who feed baby blood to George Soros.

It’s interesting, vital reading, with links to Instagram accounts I’m certainly not going to follow or even link to here.

But what can be done? Ignore the worries of the privacy, anti-censorship and free-speech activists and regulate the whole tech industry? Yes, let’s start with that.

The white paper on online harms is a global first. It has never been more needed
Some of the worries seemed rooted in the classic error of confusing the internet with a few giant companies that have come to dominate that world. In reality, the problem we have is not the internet so much as those corporations that ride on it and allow some unacceptable activities to flourish on their platforms, activities that are damaging to users and, in some cases, to democracy, but from which the companies profit enormously. Sooner or later, democracies will have to bring these outfits under control and the only question is how best to do it. The white paper suggests one possible way forward.

It does so by going to the heart of the problem – corporate responsibility.

[…]

The white paper says that the government will establish a new statutory duty of care on relevant companies “to take reasonable steps to keep their users safe and tackle illegal and harmful activity on their services”. Fulfilment of this duty will be overseen and enforced by an independent regulator with formidable powers and sanctions at its disposal. Companies will have to fulfil their new legal duties or face the consequences and “will still need to be compliant with the overarching duty of care even where a specific code does not exist, for example assessing and responding to the risk associated with emerging harms or technology”.

You can read the White Paper online and judge for yourself.

Process unclear

Another day, another flowchart trying to explain the remaining Brexit options, at the end of this article from the BBC on Jeremy Hunt’s take on recent events.

Brexit: Jeremy Hunt says ‘absolute priority’ to avoid European polls
The foreign secretary said the public would find it “hugely disappointing” to be asked to send MEPs to Brussels. Asked if it could be a disaster for the Tories, he told the BBC “in terms of polling it certainly looks that way”.

process-unclear

Want more?

Brexit: What happens now?
The UK was originally due to leave on 29 March. The first extension shifted that date to 12 April. But now the UK now has just over six months to decide what it wants to do.

Government ministers are continuing talks with Labour leaders to try to find a compromise deal. If they can agree, MPs will be given a chance to vote on the deal. If not, a range of alternative options will be put to them instead.

process-unclear-2

Everything’s upside-down

Feeling disorientated?

Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger unveils new public work, The World Turned Upside Down
Forcing the viewer to reconsider their relationship to the traditional Mercator projection of the world (i.e. the one most of us immediately see in our mind’s eye when we’re asked to conjure up an image of the globe) by asking us to consider both the vastness of the oceans and the true size of Africa, The World Turned Upside Down we’re told, reflects “the spirit of progressive enquiry that has characterised the School since its inception.”

Minouche Shafik, LSE Director, is quoted as saying, “this bold new work by Mark Wallinger encapsulates what LSE is all about. We are committed to tackling the biggest global challenges through our research and teaching, and this means seeing the world from different and unfamiliar points of view.”

upside-down-1

It’s a simple idea, effectively realised, and sits nicely alongside this magazine cover from Germany.

“A small twist with a big impact”: New ZeitMagazin International cover reflects topsy-turvy Europe
The new SS19 issue of ZeitMagazin International, the German weekly’s English-language sister publication, is all about Europe in a time of confusion and uncertainty. Mirko Borsche, the creative director of the biannual glossy magazine, has created a limited-edition cover for 1,000 copies showing the map of Europe turned upside-down.

“It’s interesting, because the European map looks totally strange, even though fundamentally I haven’t changed anything, apart from turning the country labels 180 degrees.” He says the decision was mainly motivated by the team in Berlin’s feelings about Brexit. “Personally, I’m sad about it,” he says. “But like the cover itself, I think it will change everything without changing very much.”

upside-down-2

Art, design and politics are more entwined than ever.

Luc Tuymans: ‘People are becoming more and more stupid, insanely stupid’
This is a dark time, Tuymans says. “Think of England, it’s no longer an empire although the English still think it is, which is basically insanity. Think about Brexit, about this narcissistic idiot Trump, the whole constellation of the West is in dire straits.” In the face of this, it is important to study not just our history—“people forget, that’s one thing,” Tuymans says—but the way we construct it and misremember it. At the heart of Tuymans’s project is a central conceit: that images are unreliable, that they can offer us no more than a fragment of reality and that our own memories, personal or collective, mislead us.

Still being led by donkeys

I’ve mentioned them before, but I’m more than happy to share another article about them. It was great to see one of their billboards just down the road from me here in Leeds, and here they are again, on that recent Brexit march.

How the viral Led by Donkeys anti-Brexit campaign is haunting flip-flopping politicians
On a weekend that featured an array of aesthetically creative Brexit protest signs, the most memorable was perhaps the simplest: just a quote from arch-Brexiteer David Davis, blown up to massive size and unfurled over the thousands of protestors gathered in London’s Parliament Square.

still-being-led-by-donkeys

I think they’re right about the impact of these physical, in-your-face representations of what could be seen as throwaway lines.

Richard says that the effectiveness of the group’s tactics has something to do with relationship between offline and online speech. “We discovered that if you take a digital format, a digital message and you put it up on a six-meter-by-three-meter billboard in a town centre, in a physical space, it forces that politician to own those words,” he says. Bringing an online quote into the offline world seems to overcome the internet’s ephemerality; it makes a statement more substantial.

Another take on all that.

The Brexit farce is about to turn to tragedy
Welcome to Disneyland. Leading Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg is playing Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice from Fantasia; Theresa May is the wicked witch from Snow White — though she is short on magic. Across the pond, an evil ogre known as Donald Trump is waiting to eat us all up.

It’s grim; but it’s a great learning experience. Has anyone learnt? Has former Brexit secretary David Davis worked out that his plan to leave the EU while retaining “the exact same benefits” as staying in the single market, was a little ambitious? Or that the Germans actually care more about the integrity of the EU than about selling Brits BMWs? Has Michael Gove finally noticed that we did not after all “hold all the cards” the day after we voted to leave? Has anyone worked out that frictionless trade is quite complicated, and that the dreary Brussels machinery does a good job for us?

We shouldn’t count on it.

I loved this last line. An inquiry is coming, surely?

Government by slogan does not work. Are we taking back control or handing it over to Brussels? By the time we find out, it will be too late. If the UK prime minister had a sense of humour, she would set up the committee of inquiry now, so it could take evidence in real time, as the tragedy unfolds.

A response to that petition

The government have responded to that viralled petition that 5,830,676 (and still counting) people have signed, about revoking Article 50.

Petition: Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU.
It remains the Government’s firm policy not to revoke Article 50. We will honour the outcome of the 2016 referendum and work to deliver an exit which benefits everyone, whether they voted to Leave or to Remain.

Revoking Article 50, and thereby remaining in the European Union, would undermine both our democracy and the trust that millions of voters have placed in Government.

I don’t think they could have responded any other way.

The map of where the signatories come from is interesting. People from every constituency have taken part, from what I can see, following the north/south, urban/rural pattern seen in the original referendum.

a-response-to-that-petition-1

Speaking of which:

EU cannot betray ‘increasing majority’ who want UK to remain, says Tusk
Tusk said: “Let me make one personal remark to the members of this parliament. Before the European council, I said that we should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy, which would of course mean the UK’s participation in the European parliament elections. And then there were voices saying that this would be harmful or inconvenient to some of you.

“Let me be clear: such thinking is unacceptable. You cannot betray the 6 million people who signed the petition to revoke article 50, the 1 million people who marched for a people’s vote, or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the European Union.”

Update 15/04/2019

Even though the government responded negatively, above, the petition was still debated in the House of Commons. Here’s the Hansard transcript.

Leaving the European Union
It is entirely coincidental that the date is 1 April, but I must confess to hoping right up until noon that the Prime Minister was at some point going to reveal to the nation that the Government’s entire handling of Brexit has actually been the most painstaking and elaborate April fool’s day hoax in history, and that she does in fact have a plan to get us out of this mess. Regrettably, that did not happen, and we are still in a national crisis.

A class act

Brexit blah blah blah. Chris Dillow makes some interesting points on how we might have got here.

On class difference
My point here should be a trivial one. Background determines character, so rich backgrounds tend to generate different characters than poor ones. I’d suggest other differences, all of which should disqualify most posh people from politics:

1. If everything comes naturally to you, you don’t need to think so much about how to get it. So you under-invest in learning how to hustle, negotiate or strategize. (Is it really an accident that the western politician who most mastered these arts, Lyndon Johnson, came from a poor home?) This might be one reason why Brexit has gone badly. Having spent his entire life thinking he could get what he wants simply by asking, Jacob Rees-Mogg has been disturbed to find that the EU doesn’t work like that.

[…]

3. The rich don’t appreciate just how important money is. For a poor family, an extra fiver at the end of the week can make the difference between relief and misery. This warps their political priorities. Whereas I regard economic growth and redistribution as the main political issues, the rich have others – Brexit if you are on the right, Palestine if on the left.

And so on.

Whilst we’re on the subject (kinda):

Oh **UK!

I liked The Economist’s headline this week.

oh-uk

Oh **UK! What next for Brexit?
When historians come to write the tale of Britain’s attempts to leave the European Union, this week may be seen as the moment the country finally grasped the mess it was in. In the campaign, Leavers had promised voters that Brexit would be easy because Britain “holds all the cards”. This week Parliament was so scornful of the exit deal that Theresa May had spent two years negotiating and renegotiating in Brussels that mps threw it out for a second time, by 149 votes—the fourth-biggest government defeat in modern parliamentary history. The next day mps rejected what had once been her back-up plan of simply walking out without a deal. The prime minister has lost control. On Wednesday four cabinet ministers failed to back her in a crucial vote. Both main parties, long divided over Brexit, are seeing their factions splintering into ever-angrier sub-factions. And all this just two weeks before exit day.

Explaining the Brexit endgame

Another Brexit vote, another significant defeat. Here are a couple of useful charts outlining what might happen next.

The Brexit state of play: a guide to this week’s crucial votes

explaining-the-brexit-endgame-3

Here’s a version from Quartz, set on a calendar. An interesting note on 18 April…

Every possible remaining Brexit outcome

explaining-the-brexit-endgame-2

It’s enough to drive you mad.

Brexit has become a mental health issue
Hamira Riaz, a clinical psychologist based in the UK, says it’s not surprising that the uncertainty over Brexit is weighing on mental health. If “you suddenly find that decisions that are made on a national level are impacting your material security, that is definitely going to be a significant negative life event,” she explains. “And we know that people facing significant negative life events can tip over into mental health issues—such as depression and anxiety.”

[…]

The UK’s National Health Service could find itself less able to address mental health issues in the near future. An NHS briefing (pdf) last year said Brexit’s impact on mental health services would be “far reaching,” in part because of the risks it poses to the supply of workers. About 165,000 NHS employees are EU nationals, and while those that are already in the UK can apply to stay, domestic recruitment alone won’t be able to meet future staffing needs.

And how about this for a summary of the key issues here?

🇬🇧🔥 Brexit, Briefly: REVISITED! 🔥🇪🇺

Unforeseen Brexit impact #324

As the slow-motion car crash that is Brexit continues, here’s a look at how some in the art world are dealing with its ramifications.

Art world scrambles to ship art before Brexit deadline
The British Council is sending all works for Cathy Wilkes’s Venice Biennale exhibition in Italy “well ahead of the 29 March deadline to avoid any possible disruption”, says a spokeswoman. Wilkes, who is based in Glasgow, Scotland, has been selected to fill the British Pavilion this year.

The organisers of the biennial’s Irish pavilion are also transporting works from Eva Rothschild’s London studio early to avoid any delays at British ports. “We don’t know what’s going to happen after 29 March but it’s not worth the risk of things getting held up at customs. The ramifications are huge,” says Mary Cremin, the commissioner and curator of the pavilion and director of the Void Gallery in Derry, Northern Ireland.

It’s not just a problem for British art going out to Europe.

The prospect of hefty EU import taxes is already disrupting exhibition programmes in the UK. Tornabuoni Arte in London is closing its show of paintings by Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana two weeks early and transporting the works back to Italy to avoid a potential multimillion-pound reimport bill. Italy’s import rate stands at 10%.

“We are covering our backs because no decision has been made yet, but we are looking at an enormous amount of money to reimport incredibly expensive works. It’s crippling,” says a gallery spokesman.

The title for the Venice Biannale’s art exhibition is so appropriate.

Biennale Arte 2019
The 58th International Art Exhibition, titled May You Live In Interesting Times, will take place from 11 May to 24 November 2019 (Pre-opening on 8, 9, 10 May). The title is a phrase of English invention that has long been mistakenly cited as an ancient Chinese curse that invokes periods of uncertainty, crisis and turmoil; “interesting times”, exactly as the ones we live in today.