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If you're lonely you can talk to me
This week: what we know about ageing, whether Google Trends is reliable, how to be cool in a tank top.
HOW TO LIVE LONGER
A useful summary of the science of ageing; why our chance of dying or getting ill goes up as we get older, and what can be done about it. Among the many interesting bits: mice live longer when they eat less (there's a good case for intermittent fasting, 5:2 diets etc), eunuchs live longer than normal (less clear how to apply this one). Visually and verbally, a great example of science communication. The author has been a practising scientist since she was 12.
Google Trends is a really useful tool if you want to make a claim about what people are really thinking. It appears to give us unmediated access to the public mind. Journalists love it, because it's a free alternative to public polling and less work than looking up any relevant research. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has spun a whole book out of it, called Everybody Lies, in which he purports to reveal people's real, private attitudes to race, porn, terrorism and so on. But how reliable is it, really? The political scientist Jon Mellon investigates that question here and concludes, not very. It's an interesting lesson in the wider question of the uses and abuses of big data, on which Tim Harford wrote the definitive piece in 2014.
Keen eyed Ruffianers will have noticed that there was no missive last week. That's because I had the flu. Actually, as I am reluctantly having to admit to myself, I have the flu. Having not had it before, in living memory anyway, I thought, stupidly, that it was like a bad cold, where you feel like hell for two or three days then quickly recover. But not only was I confined to bed all of last week, this week I am still barely human. It was only after reading this thread on mumsnet that I came to terms with it. Mumsnet is just the best place for this kind of information. Not every answer is 100% useful or reliable, of course, but in aggregate they add up to a reliable and human guide to many of life's questions. That was the original promise of the internet: that it would harness the collective wisdom of the species, that it would be a space where the sum of our partial points of view would add up to something greater than any single source could offer. Mumsnet and Wikipedia are the only parts of the internet to have delivered on this dream.
Radiohead are in dispute with Lana Del Rey over the rights to her song Get Free, which to my ear does actually sound quite a lot like the melody from Creep (no lawsuit has been issued but lawyers are talking). Reading around this case threw up something interesting: the writers of The Air That I Breathe, a hit for the Hollies in 1974, won a share of the publishing rights for Creep (on the basis of what seems like a rather more dubious claim of similarity). Both cases centre of that extraordinary chord change which, in the Radiohead song, takes you from "I'm a creep" to "I'm a weirdo". Which brings me to one of my favourite pieces of music writing ever, from Alex Ross, on that very moment: "No matter how many times you hear the song, the second chord still sails beautifully out of the blue. The lyrics may be saying "I'm a creep" but the music is saying "I am majestic."
FOUR GO MAD
Rare film of the Beatles in the studio, recording the somewhat underrated - at least by me until now - Hey Bulldog. I like the spirit of this film - I like that they were still having fun at that stage (here's a nifty video about the story behind the recording). Has anyone ever rocked harder in a Fair Isle tank top than Paul McCartney? I'm struck by the power of the song's refrain, "if you're lonely you can talk to me". That's so Lennon. From I'm a Loser to Help and Strawberry Fields, he was a poet of male vulnerability: the bravura rock star who said it's OK to be hurt, sad, confused. You don't always need to front up. You can talk to me.
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