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Hot tramp, I love you so
In this episode of The Ruffian: Britain's quiet revolution, how the next election will be fought, and the morality of heritability.
As of writing, the UK hasn't used any coal power for 13 days straight, an extraordinary run. The UK's phasing out of coal over the last seven years has happened at an amazing speed (and much faster than other industrialised countries). As a result, our CO2 emissions are falling rapidly: UK emissions are now at 5.9 tonnes per head (US 16.4, Germany 9.7). That's where they were in 1859. It's a quiet revolution in the way our economy works. This is a story of government and markets working in conjunction with each other, but our political class has received no credit for it, and neither has capitalism. In fact most people are unaware of it. It's a little like the fall in the crime rate since the 1990s. When bad things happen we attribute them to bad policy, bad ideologies (neoliberalism!) or bad people. When good things happen we discount them as somehow natural or inevitable, or ignore them altogether.
If you've been enjoying The Ruffian please burble on feverishly about it to everyone you know, or just give it a shout out on your social networks (thanks to those of you who have been doing so).
Ted Hughes might have been interested in this study of the emotional sensitivity of crows. More on how crow happiness is measured here.
On the latest episode of Polarised, Matthew Taylor and I talked to Clare Farrell of Extinction Rebellion about the origin of the campaign and how it's been going. We were joined by Dr Alice Bell from a more established group, 10:10 Climate Action. The result was a fascinating discussion of campaigning tactics, do check it out.
THE NO DEAL ELECTION
Since Matthew hasn't declared it on the show yet I think we should record his view that those who want a second referendum ought to pray for a Boris Johnson victory in the Tory leadership contest, on the basis that any Tory PM will find a referendum preferable to an election as an escape route from Brexit stasis - and that Boris is the only figure who can sell that to his party. I find this intriguing and plausible. I mean, when I say plausible, it's unlikely, but so are all eventualities now (btw I think Leave would probably win a second referendum, maybe by a bigger margin). An alternative scenario is that, presuming for a moment that Johnson wins the leadership, he immediately fights an election on a promise of No Deal. The hidden rationale for this is that if he loses (probable), this is the position most likely to allow him to survive as leader and fight another day. He will have kept his party together at the expense of power, in the knowledge that another go will come around soon, since a Corbyn-led government will not last long. In fact we'll probably see several general elections over the next ten years, fought under different leaders. So people are thinking at least one go ahead. Much of what we're seeing - for instance, why so many candidates are running for the Tory leadership, and how they're positioning themselves - ought be seen in this light. The whirligig is speeding up.
Couple of crackers in the same recent edition of the New Yorker. First, Ed Caesar's remarkable report on a British neo-Nazi activist who turned against his own side. It's a fascinating dive into the sub-culture of the UK far right, wrapped in an utterly gripping narrative. Once you've started, you won't stop. Second, this portrait of David Milch, one of the godfathers of the "golden age of TV". Although Milch never had a huge hit he is regarded as a genius by TV writers. He is now suffering from Alzheimer's, and doing his damnedest to finish his work while he can, while sending reports on his own deterioration. Mark Singer, who has known Milch a long time, handles it brilliantly. Much of it is just interview transcription, which works because Milch is so uncommonly, opulently articulate. Writing, ageing, life and death; it's all here.
Our attitudes to genes are very confused. There's a lot of evidence that educational achievement is heritable but there is a cultural prohibition against mentioning this, at least among liberals. We don't like to say, of children who do badly at school, "Well, it's probably genetic." That would sound like we're writing them off or suggesting they are somehow less worthy than other kids, so we talk about social factors. When it comes to obesity, however, the politics of genes work the opposite way around. Here, the liberal position is to emphasise the genetic component, to downplay social factors, to point out that some people are just "born that way". The geneticist Dr. Paige Harden suggests, in this brief thread, that there are biological propensities to control your weight and to do well in school, and both are unearned sources of privilege.
Footballers are like most millennials in that they're glued to their smartphones (it's a particularly intense relationship for pro footballers because the whole world is talking about them all the time). Does heavy smartphone-use affect their game? That's what the authors of this paper, published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, wanted to find out. Short answer: yes. Four groups of professional football players used their phones for different periods of time before taking a test of cognitive ability and participating in a football game. The players who used their smartphones for thirty minutes or more suffered from mental fatigue, which impaired their decision-making on the pitch.
I think everyone should be into classical music but the cultural barriers to entry can be quite imposing so I'm always interested in new ways in. This Classical Life is a new Radio 3 series & podcast presented by Jess Gillam, a brilliant 21-year-old saxophonist. Every week she talks to another, er, young person about their favourite music, mostly classical but with other stuff too (sort of a millennial version of Private Passions). It's great! The guest brings a playlist, and the two of them chat about the music as it plays, which sounds odd but actually works really well because you get those moments when they say "Ooh I love this bit" - and that's what it's all about: sheer, unaffected, infectious enthusiasm. You can try any episode but I first got into it after hearing the one with Isata Kanneh-Mason (pianist sister of Sheku) whose picks include Beethoven and Beyoncé. While I'm on this theme, check out the great populariser himself, Leonard Bernstein, on why Bach is like Shakespeare, and stay for Glenn Gould.