Archive

Search This Blog

Ami, a tiny cube on wheels

Classed as a light quadricycle, the Ami is, Citroën says, an “urban mobility object”. All-electric, 2.4 metres long and 1.4m wide, with a top speed of 45km/h (28mph) and a range of 75km (46 miles), it can be driven in France without a full licence by anyone aged 14 or over. It can be recharged from a standard home socket in three hours and costs €6,000 

Turn the key, select D for drive from the three buttons to the left of your seat, release the handbrake and depress the accelerator pedal – and off you go. In front of you is a monochrome display showing speed, battery level and kilometres remaining before the next charge. There’s a rudimentary heater, a solid tubular steel frame. 

Ami, the tiny cube on wheels that French 14-year-olds can drive

Jon Henley . The Guardian 

 

London is one of the most corrupt cities on Earth

When you connect the words corruption and the United Kingdom, people tend to respond with shock and anger. Corruption, we believe, is something that happens abroad. Indeed, if you check the rankings published by Transparency International or the Basel Institute, the UK looks like one of the world’s cleanest countries. But this is an artefact of the narrow criteria they use.

As Jason Hickel points out in his book The Divide, theft by officials in poorer nations amounts to between $20bn and $40bn a year. It’s a lot of money, and it harms wellbeing and democracy in those countries. But this figure is dwarfed by the illicit flows of money from poor and middling nations that are organised by multinational companies and banks. The US research group Global Financial Integrity estimates that $1.1tn a year flows illegally out of poorer nations, stolen from them through tax evasion and the transfer of money within corporations. This practice costs sub-Saharan Africa around 6% of its GDP.

The looters rely on secrecy regimes to process and hide their stolen money. The corporate tax haven index published by the Tax Justice Network shows that the three countries that have done most to facilitate this theft are the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. All of them are British territories. Jersey, a British dependency, comes seventh on the list. These places are effectively satellites of the City of London. But because they are overseas, the City can benefit from “nefarious activities … while allowing the British government to maintain distance when scandals arise”, says the network. The City of London’s astonishing exemption from the UK’s freedom of information laws creates an extra ring of secrecy.

A new and terrifying book by the Financial Times journalist Tom Burgis, Kleptopia, follows a global current of dirty money, and the murders and kidnappings required to sustain it. Again and again, he found, this money, though it might originate in Russia, Africa or the Middle East, travels through London. The murders and kidnappings don’t happen here, of course: our bankers have clean cuffs and manicured nails. The National Crime Agency estimates that money laundering costs the UK £100bn a year. But it makes much more. With the money come people fleeing the consequences of their crimes, welcomed into this country through the government’s “golden visa” scheme: a red carpet laid out for the very rich.

The UK is one of the most corrupt nations on Earth

George Monbiot . The Guardian 

Tomorrow is a new day

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in a letter to his daughter  

Walk to work, to rest, to play

Jean-Jacques Rousseau regularly walked 20 miles in a single day. “I can scarcely think when I remain still,” he said. “My body must be in motion to make my mind active.” (As he walked, he’d jot down thoughts, large and small, on playing cards he always carried with him.)

Recent studies confirm Rousseau’s hunch. Our mind is at its most creative at three miles per hour, the speed of a moderately paced stroll. In one study, Stanford University psychologists Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz divided participants into two groups: walkers and sitters. They then administered a test designed to measure “divergent thinking,” an important component of creativity. They found that creative thinking was “consistently and significantly” higher for the walkers than the sitters. It didn’t take a lot of walking to boost creativity, either - anywhere from 5 to 16 minutes.

When we walk, posited the late psychologist Colin Martindale, we enter a state of “defocused attention.” Someone in this state is not scattered, at least not as we normally think of the word. They are both focused and unfocused at the same time.

People who walk regularly are healthier and live longer than those who don’t, several studies have found. And you needn’t walk very fast or far to enjoy this benefit. One recent study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, put the 10,000-step myth to rest. It is an arbitrary number. People - older adults in particular - accrue health benefits by taking only a few thousand steps each day, and at a leisurely pace.

Walking is a proven way to lose weight, not only by burning calories but also by reducing our appetite. A study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk “reduced chocolate urges” and, in turn, stress eating. Walking has also been shown to ease joint pain, boost immunity, and reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

Why walking is the ideal pandemic activity
Eric Weiner . National Geographic

The 10,000-step myth - Amanda Mull, The Atlantic 

7am

A brief history of boredom

We all respond to boredom in different ways. Some may find a new hobby or interest, others may instead rip open a bag of crisps and binge watch a new Netflix show. Boredom may seem to you an everyday – perhaps even trivial – experience. Surprisingly, however, boredom has undergone quite a metamorphosis over the past couple of centuries. 

Leprosy of the soul? A brief history of boredom 
The Conversation 
Wijnand Van Tilburg 

Humans aren’t inherently selfish

There has long been a general assumption that human beings are essentially selfish. We’re apparently ruthless, with strong impulses to compete against each other for resources and to accumulate power and possessions.
If we are kind to one another, it’s usually because we have ulterior motives. If we are good, it’s only because we have managed to control and transcend our innate selfishness and brutality.
This bleak view of human nature is closely associated with the science writer Richard Dawkins, whose book The Selfish Gene became popular because it fitted so well with (and helped to justify) the competitive and individualistic ethos of late 20th-century societies.
Like many others, Dawkins justifies his views with reference to the field of evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology theorises that present-day human traits developed in prehistoric times, during what is termed the “environment of evolutionary adaptedness”.
This is usually seen as a period of intense competition, when life was a kind of Roman gladiatorial battle in which only the traits that gave people a survival advantage were selected and all others fell by the wayside. And because people’s survival depended on access to resources – think rivers, forests and animals – there was bound to be competition and conflict between rival groups, which led to the development of traits like racism and warfare.
This seems logical. But in fact the assumption it’s based on - that prehistoric life was a desperate struggle for survival - is false.

The Conversation

Humanity at a crossroads

Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO) is the flagship publication of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It is a periodic report that summarises the latest data on the status and trends of biodiversity and draws conclusions relevant to the further implementation of the Convention.

This Outlook draws on the lessons learned during the first two decades of this century to clarify the transitions needed if we are to realize the vision agreed by world governments for 2050, ‘Living in Harmony with Nature’.

Key transitions to sustainable pathways

Each of the conditions necessary to achieve the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity requires a significant shift away from ‘business as usual’ across a broad range of human activities. The shape and nature of such transformative change can already be identified through a series of transitions under way to a limited extent in key areas. This Outlook examines the promise, progress and prospects for interdependent transitions on the following issues, that collectively can move our societies into a more sustainable co-existence with nature:

Land and Forests
Freshwater
Fisheries and Oceans
Sustainable Agriculture
Food Systems
Cities and Infrastructure
Climate Action
One Health

Humanity at a crossroads 

UN Biodiversity on twitter 

A Psychologically Rich Life

What does it mean to live a good life? This question has been debated and written about by many philosophers, thinkers and novelists throughout the course of humanity. In the field of psychology, two main conceptualisations of the good life have predominated: A happy life (often referred to as “hedonic well-being”), full of stability, pleasure, enjoyment and positive emotions, and a meaningful life (often referred to as “eudaemonic well-being”), full of purpose, meaning, virtue, devotion, service and sacrifice. But what if these aren’t the only options?

In recent years, a long-neglected version of the good life has been receiving greater research attention: the psychologically rich life. The psychologically rich life is full of complex mental engagement, a wide range of intense and deep emotions, and diverse, novel, surprising and interesting experiences. Sometimes the experiences are pleasant, sometimes they are meaningful, and sometimes they are neither pleasant nor meaningful. However, they are rarely boring or monotonous.

In Defence of the Psychologically Rich Life

Scott Barry Kaufman . Scientific American

Muesli

 

Give children the freedom to play and learn on their own

A school with no classrooms, homework or grades encourages creativity and imagination, rather than an ability to sit still and nod. 

In many places around the world, education has become something to be endured. A new generation is learning to run a rat race where the main metrics of success are your résumé and your pay cheque – a generation less inclined to colour outside the lines, less inclined to dream or to dare, to fantasise or explore.

Can schools operate on a wholly different view of human nature? What if we give children much more freedom to play and learn on their own?

The thing that moved me the most while I was researching my latest book was visiting such a school in the Netherlands. This school, Agora, relies on the intrinsic motivation of the children. There are no classes or classrooms, no homework or grades, no tests, no timetables. There is almost no hierarchy within the staff. Often, there is no hierarchy at all – the students are the ones in charge.

‘What if we give children the freedom to play and learn on their own?’
The Guardian
Rutger Bregman 

Immunology Is Where Intuition Goes to Die

Even the word immunity creates confusion. When immunologists use it, they simply mean that the immune system has responded to a pathogen—for example, by producing antibodies or mustering defensive cells. When everyone else uses the term, they mean (and hope) that they are protected from infection—that they are immune. But, annoyingly, an immune response doesn’t necessarily provide immunity in this colloquial sense. It all depends on how effective, numerous, and durable those antibodies and cells are.

That system may be vexingly complex, but it is also both efficient and resilient in a way that our society could take lessons from. It prepares in advance, and learns from its past. It has many redundancies in case any one defense fails. It acts fast, but has checks and balances to prevent overreactions. And, in the main, it just works. Despite the multitude of infectious threats that constantly surround us, most people spend most of the time not being sick.

Inner Circle

 

Boating Lake, Regent's Park

 

How to get unstuck from your anxiety

Struggling with chronic worry gets in the way of effectively managing your emotions. Unfortunately, many people who experience distress try to escape their unpleasant emotions by distracting themselves in ways that ultimately backfire.

If you suspect you might be one of them, ask yourself whether you have a tendency to judge your emotions — it’s a common thing to do. But it can fuel a vicious loop of feeling, then avoiding the feelings and feeling even worse. Pushing away feelings is like trying to force a beach ball underwater: They will pop back up. Instead, notice and normalize difficult emotions; ideally, negative feelings, including fear, can motivate us to solve problems.

How to get unstuck from your anxiety

Jenny Taitz . New York Times 

How the Pandemic Defeated America

How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet’s most powerful nation. America has failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin. It has lost its status as a global leader. It has careened between inaction and ineptitude. The breadth and magnitude of its errors are difficult, in the moment, to truly fathom.

It is hard to stare directly at the biggest problems of our age. Pandemics, climate change, the sixth extinction of wildlife, food and water shortages—their scope is planetary, and their stakes are overwhelming. We have no choice, though, but to grapple with them. It is now abundantly clear what happens when global disasters collide with historical negligence.

COVID‑19 is an assault on America’s body, and a referendum on the ideas that animate its culture. Recovery is possible, but it demands radical introspection. America would be wise to help reverse the ruination of the natural world, a process that continues to shunt animal diseases into human bodies. It should strive to prevent sickness instead of profiting from it. It should build a health-care system that prizes resilience over brittle efficiency, and an information system that favors light over heat. It should rebuild its international alliances, its social safety net, and its trust in empiricism. It should address the health inequities that flow from its history. Not least, it should elect leaders with sound judgment, high character, and respect for science, logic, and reason.

The pandemic has been both tragedy and teacher. Its very etymology offers a clue about what is at stake in the greatest challenges of the future, and what is needed to address them. Pandemic. Pan and demos. All people.

How the Pandemic Defeated America

Ed Yong is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers science. 

Avery Row, Mayfair


Unschooling - don’t be afraid of wasted time

“Many children’s lives are so busy with school journeys, subject changes, after-school clubs and homework that they have little time to think, or to take ownership of the life they are leading,” she says. “They spend an awful lot of time being ‘processed’ by well-intentioned adults.”

“What home schoolers want for their children is space to grow, space to develop themselves, discover the world, find out what they are interested in, who they really are and what they want to do in life and then the academic qualifications that will get them there,” she says. “There are lots of parents who already home educate and you don’t have to be supermum or dad to do it,”

Pedestrian Zone, Old Compton Street, Soho


Reckless Records, 30 Berwick Street, Soho


Financial Times . Coronavirus Articles

Coronavirus: free to read A note from Roula Khalaf, Editor: The Financial Times is making key coronavirus coverage free to read to keep everyone informed during this extraordinary crisis. Please share the stories on this page using #FTfreetoread. 

Coronavirus Articles . Financial Times

The golden rules of the pandemic remain: keep your distance, wear a mask and avoid crowds

The golden rules of the pandemic remain: keep your distance, wear a mask and avoid crowds 

In the race to understand the coronavirus and how it is transmitted, scientists still have much to learn. But two new studies shed some light on two of the biggest question marks: the roles played by young children and aerosols.

Though infected children have not been considered vectors of the virus, a small study released on Thursday found that kids under the age of 5 have as much viral material in their noses and throats as adults, and perhaps as much as 100 times more. The research doesn’t prove that children spread the virus, but experts say it’s highly suggestive that they might.

Aerosols — microscopic droplets that people produce when exhaling or talking — have also captivated scientists, many of whom sounded alarm bells long before the World Health Organization acknowledged this month that the virus can be airborne. A new study looked at how the virus exploded onboard the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship where 700 of the 3,711 passengers and crew members tested positive for the virus in January. The researchers concluded that 60 percent of infections were spread via aerosols.

Yes, the Coronavirus Is in the Air

Linsey C. Marr . New York Times 

Coronavirus Briefing . New Your Times 

Cycling and walking plan for England

Electrically-assisted bikes, or e-bikes, help you pedal using a small motor, powered by a battery which can be charged from a normal household socket. No licence, equipment or insurance is needed to ride one.

They are particularly useful for people who, for example, need to ride in business clothes without breaking sweat, or to ride up hills, or to travel long distances, who are older or less fit, or who are otherwise put off by the physical effort of an ordinary bike. As such, they could be hugely important in our goal of bringing non- traditional groups to cycling including older and disabled people. We will establish a national e-bike support programme, which could include loans, subsidies, or other financial incentives, using the learning from other schemes in the UK and abroad for e-bikes, adapted e-bikes and other e-vehicles. (page 39 - 'We will establish a national e-bike support programme') 

Cycling and walking plan for England
Policy paper
Sets out a vision for a travel revolution in England's streets, towns and communities.

E-Bike Sharing (App)
Human Forest
We’re getting started in London. 
We're currently in the trial phase so please bear with us. 
Twenty minutes on an e-bike each day.

Hygiene Theater Is a Huge Waste of Time

“Masks, social distancing, and moving activities outdoors. That’s it. That’s how we protect ourselves.”

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines to clarify that while COVID-19 spreads easily among speakers and sneezers in close encounters, touching a surface “isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” Other scientists have reached a more forceful conclusion. “Surface transmission of COVID-19 is not justified at all by the science,” Emanuel Goldman, a microbiology professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told me. He also emphasized the primacy of airborne person-to-person transmission.

Hygiene Theater Is a Huge Waste of Time