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Man, you've been a naughty boy
This week: rational crowds, beautiful warehouses, and intelligent nonsense.
RATIONAL BEHAVIOUR ON THE STREETS OF LONDON
Last week there was a false alarm about a terrorist attack at Oxford Circus. I'm still not sure exactly what was behind it but it involved Olly Murs. It also involved a crowd of people running and shouting which might seem idiotic but was actually a sensible reaction. My first ever piece for The Economist's 1843 magazine (then Intelligent Life) was about how crowds get a bad rap. It is a thought-cliché that crowds are dumber than their individual members, prone to hysteria and every-man-for-himself selfishness. When crowd disasters happen, our first instinct is often to blame the crowd in a moralising way when in fact it's the organisation and planning which is to blame (Hillsborough being the obvious and appalling example). In reality, according to the people who study crowd behaviour, people in crowds usually behave calmly, rationally, and kindly in a crisis. The old prejudice showed itself in the reporting on the non-incident at Oxford Circus and one of the academics I cited in my 1843 piece then co-authored a piece on it for the BBC. As the academics point out, reports used the word 'panic' a lot, with the implication that people were dumbly over-reacting. But of course, if you get information about a potential attack in the vicinity, it's perfectly rational to run. The irrational thing to do would be to stand there until the information is confirmed.
IN LIKE FLYNN
When it comes to news on Trump and Russia my policy is to ignore over-caffeinated tweet threads and head to the indispensable Lawfare blog for a more sober grade of analysis. Either way you look at it, this latest news is significant, and things are starting to get interesting. The recklessness, venality and stupidity of Flynn are just flabbergasting. I do think the chances of it all leading to a successful impeachment are slim, however, and I hope all the attention being paid to Mueller isn't making it easier for the Republicans to pass appallingly destructive laws. But you know what, even if it doesn't bring Trump down, I'd be happy just to see Jared to go to jail.
I guarantee that you will not read a better piece about the design of supermarket distribution centres all week. Seriously, this is fascinating, visually stunning, and oddly heartwarming. Hey maybe late-stage capitalism isn't all bad.
WINNING THE BREXIT PR WAR
A lot of the arguments generated by Remainers seem designed to strengthen the conviction of Leavers that they are right. Along with Rob Blackie, I've written a guide to how to win at least some Leavers over.
GOO GOO GA JOOB
Writing nonsense lyrics is much harder than you'd think, and this forensic examination of The Beatles' I Am The Walrus does full justice to John Lennon's genius. Even if you're not a mad Beatles fan (just fyi I am a mad Beatles fan) this is worth reading, as it's bursting with linguistic insights. I particularly enjoyed its analysis of pronoun use.
HOW TO LIVE
Judith Kerr is author of some of of the most enduring and best selling children's books, including and especially The Tiger That Came To Tea. She is 94, now, and still working. This account of her working day is a thing of beauty and happiness. I mean, talk about living your best life. I think my favourite detail is the lunchtime Martini Rosso.
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