Modern Life is Rubbish

Mortgage rates in Britain are rising in the face of all economic logic and contributing to inflation going through the roof. Experts are being cancelled for criticising the government on Twitter. Police can do what they want to us. And we can now see the physical impact of austerity on the next generation: British five-year-olds are shorter than their European peers.

Two days ago, the prime minister avoided the vote on the Privileges Committee report on whether Boris Johnson lied to Parliament about Partygate. (Let’s see how this poll tracker shifts next week.) On social media, Boris backers have been trying to distract from the central issue of his lying to the House by focussing on the party aspect and again minimizing it all as “a bit of cake”, but the leak of a video filmed at a Jingle and Mingle party on 14 December 2020 has blown up that defence; now it’s “they were just letting off a bit of steam”, despite the invitations actually calling it a party. The fury from people who lost loved ones or had gruelling shifts on Covid wards at the time isn’t going away. This heartbreaking clip from a BBC Radio 4 call-in last week should be played to every last one of the minimizers.

Oh, and the WHO didn’t say that the pandemic was over, despite the British press reporting that it did.

21 June 2023 · Politics

Explosive Reads

Russia blew up the Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine on 6 June (archive), although Russians crowing about it online changed their tune within hours and blamed Ukrainians themselves (yeah, right). Timothy Snyder provided useful guidelines for writing about the attack. The impact on the people of the area is almost too devastating to contemplate.

A couple of books over the past year have helped make everything clearer for me around Russia and Ukraine. The first was Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe by Norman Davies, a history of countries that used to exist but no longer do; learning about the changes in Eastern European borders over the centuries was particularly helpful. The second, which I read more recently, was Masha Gessen’s The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, tracing the changes there since the Cold War through the eyes of half a dozen individuals. This was outstanding; when the book ended I wished the narrative could have kept going past its publication date of 2017. Some contemporary reviews quibbled with its conclusions or said it was a bit over the top, but from the vantage point of 2023 it was bang on.

21 June 2023 · Books

Domestic Bliss

Have some beer and pizza while AI takes over your life.

Fish are running out of oxygen.

Europe’s cruise ships emit as much sulphur as a billion cars.

The plague killed Ancient Britons.

Homo sapiens domesticated ourselves.

Wes Anderson’s Star Wars.

Beatrix Potter kept quiet about Peter Rabbit’s origins.

The German town encrusted with diamonds.

Steve Albini on why debating the willfully ignorant is exhausting and pointless.

Notes from Prince Harry’s ghostwriter. Worth reading even if you aren’t obsessed with the royals:

If you don’t speak your emotions you serve them, and if you don’t tell your story you lose it—or, what might be worse, you get lost inside it. Telling is how we cement details, preserve continuity, stay sane. We say ourselves into being every day, or else.

21 June 2023 · Weblog

Popularity Contest

“Here Comes the Sun” is the first song by the Beatles to hit a billion streams on Spotify (via Mefi). Fascinating that a Harrisong got there first: almost twice as many as Lennon’s contender “Come Together” in second place and McCartney’s “Let It Be” in third. Further evidence, as if any were needed, that the Beatles had three incredible songwriters, not two. (And a fourth who did write at least one great Beatles song in “Octopus’s Garden”, although as Peter Jackson’s Get Back revealed, he had a little help from his friend.) The Beatles’ most popular streaming songs, album by album. How “Come Together” became one of their most streamed tracks (archived).

21 June 2023 · Music

←May 2023