A Journal of the Plague Year Day 95

Monday 22nd June 2020

Cut my nails. It was amazing.

Cancelled a park meet up.

Went out to sunbathe in the grounds.

Made some maps for Reddit, for which I have a new obsession (something about the globalisation of our pandemic has imbedded in my mind). It will likely last a few days:

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^India 1.38 billion, Pakistan 218m (in that catchment), Bangladesh 165m, Nepal 29m + Sri Lanka 22m = 1.814 billion

China – 1.2 billion in that catchment, Japan 125 million (in that catchment), Koreas 78m + Taiwan 24m, + Vladiviostok metro 1m = 1.428 billion.

SE Asia Thailand 70m, Myanmar 55m, Singapore 6m, Malaysia 32m, + Philippines 110 m+ Laos + Cambodia 24m + Indonesia (in that catchment) 265m + Vietnam 98m = 660m

= 3, 902m (50.0001% of World population 2020 -7.8 billion).

Or if you prefer (spot the difference)

x2

Worked out I could get rid of Borneo and Sulawesi entirely (42m) by substituting it for:

urban Gansu province – 25m (the pert nipple on China)

Tajikistan – 9.5m

incursion into Afghanistan to capture the Kabul region -7.5m

=42m

Some notes:

  • The traditional rice growing regions of the world could support 2-4 harvests, and the nature of growing it (lateral thinking, constant tweaking to fool the plant into thinking it’s constantly drowning) meant feudalism/ top down management was hard to implement = replaced by trading cities, and the planet’s densest tracts of them. Which in turn led to most of the world’s megacities and no less than 7 or 8 megalopoli.
  • Vladivostok (top right corner), long the Siberian banishment beyond the pale, is actually part of the centre of humanity. It could stand to reap in the tourism for much of the world looking for a shorter haul connection to the ‘European’ experience, especially if dolled up/ rebuilding its historic architecture.
  • This is the ‘centre of the world’ in terms of humanity. It shows how cities like Delhi and Beijing are often more important than they’re given credit for.

The Mercator version

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Watched Godzilla, the 1998 version. Shit, not what I remembered it as.

Finished a book, Sapiens by Noah Yuval Harari. Great.

Had lots of soup (A is on a soup-only week, trawling through myriad exotic recipes). Ukrainian borscht.

Went to bed.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 71

Friday 29th May 2020

 

Okay after the uproarious events of the last few days I promised a day off. I mean, how much news can one get? Like a UV drip through every media, either ongoing outside distantly, or swept in full force through a screen.

Two stories have appeared just too delicious. One is the mass protests now occupying America, with over 20 cities seeing in reports of violence, looting and burning of buildings following the killing of George Floyd. CNN is currently holed up in its Atlanta offices with live coverage of a crowd attacking it’s very building, that it shares with a police precinct.

Some of the pictures emerging from ground zero in Minneapolis are horrifying, where two police precincts and several blocks have been burned out.

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APTOPIX Minneapolis Police Death

All the largest cities, from NYC, to Chicago have seen ‘dozens’ of protests each, including freeway intersections in LA and Oakland, near San Francisco and 200 arrested in Houston alone. The White House at one point was put under lockdown as protests took outside it. By day the protesters appear peaceful albeit disruptive, by night it worsens.

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US-POLITICS-POLICE-JUSTICE-RACE-DEMONSTRATION-RACISM

200 have been arrested in Houston alone

Minneapolis, now approaching its fourth night of riots, has called in the National Guard and imposed a curfew and state of emergency (as has Portland), a man has been shot dead in Detroit, though it’s still under investigation if this had to do with the protesting. In Lousiville ongoing protests merged with those for Breonna Taylor, an unarmed emergency medic shot 8x just days before, killed in her bed after it was mistakenly stormed in a drugs/money raid (the police were plain-clothed, burst in with a “no-knock warrant” and didn’t announce themselves -her boyfriend put out a warning shot, and the 911 transcript showed he still didn’t know they were police when he called for help). No drugs or drugs money was ever found at her flat, and the suspect they were looking for was found in an entirely different address.

The city also saw a night of violence, with 7 people shot and injured.

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The 33 cities so far affected by mass protests (both peaceful and violent) are Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Sacramento, San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, Chicago, Des Moines, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Louisville, Bowling Green,  New Orleans, Lincoln, New York City, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Portland, Dallas, Houston, Columbus, Cincinnati, Canton, Richmond, Seattle, Milwaukee and Washington DC.

Early harrowing footage of a disabled woman in a wheelchair being assaulted (punched in the head and a fire extinguisher let off in her face) in a Target Store and doing the rounds across social media appears more than the snapshots used. On closer inspection the full videos show her trying to stab Black looters (and allowing White ones to pass, perhaps randomly perhaps because of race) beforehand, and a later one of her walking about. Mental illness surely?

 

The other storm appears to be Trump’s handling of the unfolding crisis. His Tweet to match ‘when the looting starts the shooting starts’ has been widely condemned that the President of the US is condoning the shooting of its citizens, not to mention the quote was taken from notorious Miami Police Chief Walter Headley who uttered it in a 1967 speech outlining his department’s efforts to “combat young hoodlums who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign.”

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Twitter, hot on the heels of its earlier fact-check warning slapped on his latest falsehood, now hid the text due to inciting violence, another of its rules. As reminder, shooting looters is unconstitutional, even if they are dangerously dark-skinned and TV-holding, or even walking down the street, and despite the long tradition to do so following any disaster.

You literally couldn’t make it up. The Great Orange Dolphin has gone apoplectic; his lifeline to insults, power and obnoxiousness appears to be fighting him. He’s subsequently started the day with all barrels blazing, drawing a gunfight with China with a long list of accusations, from C-19 cover up to stealing tech, while attempting to align the ‘left wing forces’ as supporting them. His announcement of unprecedented action, including the suspension of special treatment for Hong Kong, will ratchet up the trade wars when the world needs it least, with China now waiting to take retaliation. It’s noted this very much looks like his reelection platform, piqueing a hatred of China, of C-19 and lockdown on top of the culmination of White American demographic embattlement. It marries with his announcement alongside that the US is fully leaving the World Health Organisation for claiming it in league with China to “mislead the world”, and withdrawing all funds at a time it needs it most.

Donald Trump

It appears he’s having a bad day. And some people just want to see the world burn.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Week 9

Sunday 10th May 2020

The sun switched back off today, becoming decidedly Poldarkian from the Mediterranean climes these past few days, and sending all the daytrippers packing, furling back their deckchairs, BBQ sets and parasols, and fleeing back into miserable squalor. The wind whistled throughout, the trees occasionally thrashing.

Almost all the patients coming into A&E this weekend have been due to drunken injury. It beggars belief. Perhaps the UK and US really do have a special relationship. I’d hazard it was Anglo-Saxon too, but Australia and Canada have been doing fine.

The rest of the day a write-off. Migraines again. There’s only so much lying in bed with pain one can do. Tried out some frozen peas on my head, then ate some for lunch (shite). I am a bad cook. Terrible. Even I’m tired of the gunk I come up with; stricken with a terrible habit of appropriating whatever’s dying in the fridge then magicking a marinade from what’s grabworthy while in the pan. Worst ever: a microwaved potato with Marmite.

Did manage to change, shower, exercise and look out the window. A middle-aged man wobbling about with a tennis racket and pounding a brick wall, reminding me of our playground craze of patball (Squash without rackets). Yeah, I’ll take that up again, keep fit. Try and inveigle A to play alongside (an impossibility). But tomorrow.

After I check out some Internet. I’m travelling vicariously, going through every major city in China. In the last 5 years every one has gotten swanky looks like, which in turn has made me look into the local design guilds (20,000 around Shanghai alone) and architects churning out amazing new work. It’s ahead of the rest of the world, and a sign China’s now its own market, as opposed to aping the outside. For all the fuss about trade wars, only 3% of the economy is with US trade, and only 17% with exports. The majority of dough running the place is in services, and domestic, with 5x the start-ups of the US and 10x the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) graduates.

Anyhoo, a welcome getaway from the world, the ethnocentrism and geopoliticking. There’s just something very relaxing about checking out the new and fresh. From another life.

80’s POMO is back in

A new development echoing the karst hills of ancient landscape painting

A shopping mall based on a bookshop aesthetic (those items displayed aren’t books).

The international trend for the 80’s again. I’ve never seen retro come back into fashion twice, once in the early noughties, again in the Twenties.

This circular pavilion is a looping restaurant around a traditional tea garden pond – note the mist vents.

 

A converted church becomes a bookstore

Wang Shu won the Pritzker Prize a few years back as the world’s best architect. His buildings incorporate the materials of those demolished before them, like strata of alluvial layers of time, and monoliths to passage.

A high-concept store/ cafe in Shanghai -once again the postmodernism, but fucking with it. One side twee, the other brutal.

A kindergarten, that’s also a memory maker.

A store collective in Shenzhen. A mentioned they should have used traditional Chinese instruments otherwise they looked like they were just copying the West. I threw a book at him, the amount of times I’ve heard that shit.

Modernism btw is sourced from the functional, aesthetic styles of Japan and Morocco, where the earlier modernists such as Courbousier went to study. The world we see around us today looks very homegrown in those two countries (which is why Moroccan style is so perfectly balanced and fine, while zen is subtle and understated -almost plain).

This is an office complex – rooms beyond the wooden one lead to steel cages (pop up foodie vans).

Concept store in Shenzhen. Very Force Awakens imo.

Office space -the rest of the development a luxe playground. 80s Pomo creeping in once again.

Mall architecture -the death of retail round the world (worst performing year on record 2019) due to internet shopping is no different in China. However they’re still being built, and like the others have been transmogrified into ‘experience centres’, where restaurants, gyms, after-school clubs and bars have taken over.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 11

Saturday, 28th March

Another Bad one.

Wind blowing, grey skies, disaster.

  1. Burnt the lunch, smoke billowing, flat stinking. Pan a write off.
  2. Opened the windows, the blinds came out of socket and the frame collapsed.
  3. Cannot write, stuck on the book that I’ve rewritten into a corner with. Never, ever, ever turn round and try and change tense. Easier if you start from scratch again. I’m just 80,000 words too late.
  4. Lost my wallet. Searched the whole house, emptied every drawer, bag and pocket, stripped the sofa, wardrobe and bed, then did it again. Canceled cards.
  5. Went shopping with borrowed cash, took some pics. New phone won’t synch them no matter what.

In other news, thousands of people are dying outside. Italy has surpassed the 10,000 mark in deaths, over 3x that of China, while Spain is now at 5,700, tombstones whose shadows still loom. Some are saying Italy’s high rate is due to the skewing in the demographics, with one of the world’s most aged societies. Others posit the country’s high end healthcare has always kept the populace artificially alive beyond their natural end, and now overrun the disease is all it takes to finish the job. Some sources point toward the testing regimen, or lack of one, and that many, many more are unknowingly infected. Thus the death toll -currently at 10% -seems higher than it is. That virulence is docile.

Coupled with the horror is increasing public unrest, where people holed up too long and out of pocket (3 weeks and counting) are now breaking into shops for goods. China too witnessed a riot, where hundreds of Hubeians massed at the border with Jiangxi were delayed as both sides argued over who was to do the checkpoint testing (China operates an automated health app for every citizen phone), till police cars were being set upon and overturned. China averages about 200,000 ‘mass incidents’ annually, or about 550 per day as a norm (down from 5x that number in 2007). Either way, it looks like two months is approaching the limit for an authoritarian state, and half that for a libertine one. It remains to be seen what plays out in a US lockdown.

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In India the world’s largest, most encompassing lockdown is now threatened by millions of migrant workers. Although shelter is being provided in the stations and public buildings, alongside free food, a large percentage are still desperate to return home, some embarking on foot for journeys of hundreds of miles. The need of home, of food, of employment, money and semblances of normality is something humanity shares as the world starts to fracture without commercial life. We’ve designed all our societies around this.

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Outside I witnessed my first major queues -Asda looked like a 40 minute ordeal, snaking around the car park, while the giant Boots warehouse was either overtly spreading out its custom, or there were far too many of the sick ransacking it for medication. Even Whole Foods had ten people waiting outside, while Lidl operated no outside queueing, and was moderately busy once in. The streets were the same gunslinging noons, the few pedestrians silhouetted into blankness in the sun. The former shops appeared surreal, celebrating a now bygone era.

The day was tough, harried by self doubt and technicalities, plus the usual burden of tasks and worries. Worries for others, for the outside world, for the endless bureaucracy of the 21st century. From composing claims from multiple email channels, to synching devices and wifi coverage, from aligning margins to uploading data on a compromised OS. Bypassing card payments to future-proofing replacement deliveries, via securitised codes. I see visions of a different era, when people spent time, slow time with each other, talking without devices, looking without lenses. When was the last time a sitting room was used for two people to just sit?

Attempted to watch Hitchcock’s The Birds, a vision of pastel suspense and porcelain beauty so far removed, where all of that was evident. In the way people talked and interacted, smoking in the sun or across from coffee tables, chatting at communal bars or intimating at counter tops. All so civic, and civilised, before the impending doom. I would have enjoyed more the growing, brooding skies as the feathered furies began to roost menacingly, but the streaming kept pausing, probably due to the high traffic. I do wonder without streaming services what our society would do -mass incarceration leading to meditative insight, or bag of bats madness. I imagine the latter. It’s practically a public service, a lifeline involving frontline staffing and emergency powers. Thank god we don’t have guns.

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The Birds was preceded by Michael Moores new docudrama, Fahrenheit 11/9 (not to be confused with 9/11), on the rise of Trumpist demagogues and the complicit failures of the Democrat demigods, notably a jawdropping skit of an Obama speech, in which he drinks the toxic tapwater from Flint, Michigan (Moore’s hometown poisoned by lead, as befitting of their corrupt senator), to the horror of the townsfolk. How the scales fall from our eyes.

Film tonight ended with Groundhog Day. Nuff said. As that was all to it.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Week 2

Sunday 22nd March 2020

The sun is out. People are on the streets, and in the parks, basking like how you’d expect in a perfectly normal day on Planet Earth in the early 21st century, and in groups too. From the older lady I spied statuesque in the carpark, soaking up her Sunny D, to the gaggles of teenagers manning street corners and park benches, impervious to care and often reason. A who has been going for a normally lonesome walk every day due to anxiety, reported on the sudden herds. No wonder the govt has had to close down pubs and cafes, throwing heed and germs to the wind appears endemic.

In short, it looked like a quiet Sunday morning. The only difference being the distinct lessening of the traffic.

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I do think there is a libertine element still in London, a mix of Britons never ever being slaves (well, except under the Romans, and Picts, and Saxons, and Vikings, and Normans), and the anything-goes culture of a cosmopolis. On the one hand it lifted my spirits, seeing this semblance of normality, and a reminder that perhaps there is a focus beyond the infectious headlines, on another heavily gloved mit I felt uneasy about the varying options in contagion. A few of the food shops and small supermarkets operated short queues to get in (gone within 5 minutes) akin to exclusive, chichi nightspots albeit dampened by the homeless man sprawled at the entrance, sleeping it off to a sign asking for a hostel room. I’ve heard the homeless will be housed in the emptied hotels, and the Mayor will pay for it. I hope this transpires, that It Is For Real, as few people would notice, or care so much right now.

I managed to buy some face masks from a corner store, the owner having a veritable pile of them for £2.10 a pop at the till (highly suspicious, I’m never lucky). I bought 3, vowing to post them to The Fam. Along with the usual smattering of crisps, a tinned curry and packet of mystery milk, possibly camel. In the small Sainsbury’s opposite it looked normally stocked (read: amazingly stocked), I even got two packets of fresh pasta, which I may build a bidding website for. I can imagine the Die Hard style trials and tribulations an army of unsung transporter heroes must have had to make to get it there, involving car chases, gunsights and terse video calls on zoom.

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Just outside our estate there’s an unofficial corner (read: cul-de-sac) where people leave junk to be collected by the council, or just leave junk. Tawdry closets, mangled sofas, desperately dated drawers, that kinda thing. Today’s offerings were a brand new leather and gilt armchair and a spotless new mattress, glinting in the sun. I’m wondering if anyone will grab them if ever, with the idea of contamination now imbedded as a poo stain, or murder scene. The last time this happened I moved two new chairs to sit them outside the charity shop a whole 20 yards further, but today even I was worried to touch them. I went down again to snap a pic and the chair had been taken, bless. Noticing a bargain is the last stand in functioning society.

There was suddenly something deeply inviting about the bed, in the sun.

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The air feels fresh. I made the mistake of wearing my shoes inside, twice now on the same day, when before I’d warned others about taking them off, the pavements being quite the vector for anything coming out of the human body, and absorbed when wet. I even put it as a Facebook post, like how grannies do the same on some kitten charity or the latest scam you must pass on to all otherwise it means you hate them and want them robbed.

Also sat through an online tutorial, about how the virus is covered in fat, acting a bit like an oil droplet which won’t come off with just water, but needs regular soap or handwash to break it down, and 20 seconds worth. Alongside a vid of how to wash, a short from China showing the bits you’ll likely miss using dye. I did it properly when coming home from my little sojourn, but popping out just now I halved the time. There’s a lot to be said about my enthusiasm for a cause when having relaxed just the teeniest bit, and the saddening studies on how punishment motivates people more than a prize. Or laziness, just sheer I cannot-be-arsed-right-nowness. Those idiots laughing slow mo in the park, that could be me.

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I’ve not looked at the news today, though I did sink to trawling through a news forum. Once again there’s a lot of back and forth about Trump and China being in the sights for global blame. I did get involved, mentioning how China’s localised cover-up was not so much to blame (having informed the World Health Organisation -WHO – a full two weeks before ever castigating Dr Li Wenliang and his private Wechat group).

What we can definitely shake a stick at China for is the fact it hadn’t quarantined the infections believing them only animal > human for nearly a month. The WHO is still haunted by a tweet on Jan 14th maintaining that no evidence had yet to be found of human to human infection. Likely from now on it’ll have to change procedure that any new disease be treated as human > human rather than waiting for a patient to turn up without any contact with wildlife, markets, handlers or farmers (about 3 or 4 new human viruses are discovered every year from animals, but don’t require lockdowns). Also Trump and his cronies insistence to call it a Chinese disease points towards a political tool, perhaps to dive from the spotlight accusing him of gross mismanagement, perhaps in reply to the equally idiotic Chinese General hinting it was all a US spy infection, planted during their joint Hubei exercises.

Imagine Trump diving. Like a fat dolphin, squeak-screaming under the kitchen table and toppling no end of shit.

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There are other diseases out there with place names such as Spanish Flu (rather unfairly Spain was just the country not under media lockdown during WWI and openly spread the word, it originally came from a pig farm in Kansas). Or West Nile Virus, itself a branch of Japanese Encephalitis. However all these were named from the 1930s backwards, or centuries before, and the practice has died out -we don’t call HIV the African disease, nor the Los Angeles Disease, where it was formally identified. To do again in this day and age is courting xenophobia, as if East Asians or anyone who looks like them don’t have enough to deal with right now in a surge of viral racism.

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This ends today’s public announcement. I’m weaning myself off the pollyticks. Really I am, promise. That was only two paragraphs; It really does help when you avoid the screaming headlines. I have no global update to post today.

Mum rang yesterday, she opted to take leave from work, the proud firm of Keeler Ltd, provider of opthalmic equipment round the world and so far protected by being in the private health sector. They’re doing the honourable thing and keeping her on the payroll till it all blows over. She joked with the HR woman’s noncommital gestures -that if they had suggested a course of action (stay away /don’t stay away) and Mum subsequently popped her clogs they’d become liable. I told her not to be mean, that the nice HR lady was doing her job, but Mum maintains the woman found it funny. I can imagine that pained, whooping laugh and beseeching niceties while they stood metres apart.

But joking aside, they are a fantastic, refreshingly humane company that consciously chose not to outsource to a sweatshop in the Global South back in the day, and I beseech the world to each buy a retinal scanner when all this is over.

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At 77, with multiple health issues, she’s high risk and may have to be cocooned away for quite a sentence – 4 months to next year even according to the official hints. Enough to get cabin fever and drive herself and my sister up the tiny cramped walls of the ’60s terrace, stuffed to the eaves with things hoarders hoard. Before she seemed calm, and was going to keep working until I persuaded her otherwise (there’s a legendary 83 y.o. lady who vows to carry on on the factory floor, now laid out so worktables occupy separated rows from each other); she’s now a little more fearful, having seen the numbers in town rise from 2 to 20 almost overnight. That a doctor in the next town over was caught with the disease while treating patients. The fact there may be 20x more infected than officially tested for round the country, it all really hit home, her home.

I felt distant, in every way, and wonder when I’ll next see her.

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My daily structure is becoming less regimented, but still there. Rather than me sitting rod straight on the table tapping away, I’m on the sofa with Netflix in the background. Yesterday  we made the disastrous decision to watch The Leisure Seeker (pronounced Leezhur) starring Helen Mirren (Golden Globe award nominee for the part) and Donald Sutherland as an aged couple kidnapping their own camper van to enjoy a vacay to the umbrage of their kids. Was kind of expecting a delightful mix of Bad Grandpa and Dukes of Hazzard, but it was of course a timeless study on our slow and inexorable act of dying from a largely Italian arthouse team. Donald is a former arts and lit professor deteriorating with Alzheimer’s, liable to accuse his wife of polygamy as he is to burst into quote on Hemingway; Helen his long-suffering, perky Southern belle of a wife liable to chat endlessly to strangers as she is to take up shotguns. No spoilers here but turns out, she’s dying too. Oops, may have fudged that a bit.

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Like you were ever gonna see it.

At the end I felt like shooting myself in the gullet. In one scene they enter an old folks home and point an unloaded shotgun around at several members of the bedded community, then get told off about it and offered a price leaflet. If that happened here it’d be ten years just for possession, and the rest of the fucking story would just end there. Fin. And we would not have had to watch them die and pretend everything was absofuckinglutely fine behind those walls.

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The whole thing felt like a demise mere days from now, dripping slowly worries, fondness, memories and saying goodbye to a sacrament of decaying time -rather than an exercise savoured for your twilight years multiple decades in the future. I may have cried for an instant. Right now America’s Got Talent (AGT!) is playing in the background, by contrast. By very very fucking contrast. So full of cheering and trashy pizzazz I want to reach through the screen and slap everyone of the goobers with a brick. How can people be so very whoopingly supportive, so very worshipping of any given status quo? Does the studio director say jump and they fucking imbed their heads in the ceiling? While Nipplepants Cowell lords over them like an arsey, stuck up demigod, hovering from his red buttoned throne. How can people be so willing to submit to hierarchy, to appraise or condemn from their exalted, cup-holding audience seats? This series will date badly, to the point of becoming historical reference. Culture, society, economy.

I need to get out more. I think rather it was just a reminder of a simpler, freer time that pissed me off so much. History envy may be a thing now.

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What is happening out there? What is happening to my friends and family and everyone I’ve ever known, outside of re-run land where what we see is no longer there, and always Has Been? What is reality from a different lens?

A welcome respite is not really one, when that breath of fresh air is deepening a chasm. It’s not so much a list of cliches: living for the moment, putting off the inevitable and all that jazz, but that we can enjoy ourselves, the air, the sun, and others with social distancing. We need to learn now how to do it, not later, not too late. 800 people died today in Italy, and a week or two ago they too were sunning themselves on passegiata. Eight hundred.

J came home shortly after in a huff, wiping down the door handles on everything -a blindsided colleague of his had admitted his wife had the lergy, yet had come in 3x to work, plus met clients. Well I suppose, I’ll swap that guilt for the kitchen fire last night. J’s working again today, apparently before any auction the dept heads have to work an unpaid weekend, to put in the extra time and commitment. Illegal surely, but suddenly acceptable in these current climes. We wound down with two episodes of Drag Race, all bright colours to bitchiness which J is obsessed by, and is infecting us with. Sakura was kicked out last night, rather unfairly I may add, especially in comparison to that rather uninspired Emo-Minelli, who resembles a pretty slug.

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A car in the lot below has a bookshelf tied to its roof, liberally balancing an assortment of heavy boxes, houseplants, coat stands, bench tools and books on top. Looks like a tenant is moving with his father, back to the country where they can hold out longer, perhaps in a castle. It can’t end well, an opener for Final Destination if ever I saw one. Plus I know how it’ll end for the survivors.

I’m bored. As fuck. I took a picture of the flowers outside, just like little old ladies on social media are wont to do. We can pleasure ourselves for hours over this: I think it’s Spring.

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Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 2

Thursday 19th March 2020

Today was to be the new routine I’d set out for myself to structure the day. The alternative being where you wake, spend untold hours in thrall of the internet, then drop out of bed log-like, and rustle something up in your underwear (who needs PJ’s?), perhaps staring at a microwave woodenly or eating jam back under the covers, to more internet, hours irrelevant, each day or night merging and drifting like clouds. To start smelling, hair/ beard/ armpits a nest, clothes a memory, monosyllabic, perhaps drooling.

Against this scenario I aim to wake, and:

  • check the situation online -the ubiquitous news sites and chat fora, an hour tops.
  • Then lug myself to wash, do my hair, choose some proper attire (avoid ‘comfortable’ attire), perhaps a hat why ever not.
  • No breakfast, I’m never hungry in the mornings and it’ll save on the food. Instead write, work on the book, the diary, creative stuff like starting a photo essay.
  • Tidy, the little odds and ends. To music.
  • Make lunch, sit down to eat, communally if plausible.
  • Learn a language – carry on with online French lessons, start Mandarin.
  • Exercise. Make use of all our gym stuff I salvaged from the communal one.
  • Watch an episode of something, hour tops. Take a very privated walk, if in lockdown just the gated area (the postwar Estate was fenced off in the Eighties due to crime, a process now illegalised in London but done so before the law came into force).
  • Write on the book
  • No tea, dinner.
  • Check in on the craziness online.
  • Movie
  • Wash, cuddle, sleep.

Well one out of two ain’t bad. Will try harder.

Yesterday it had gone swimmingly, I genuinely felt better for having done all of that. Today I spent hours online in bed, fell out to brush my teeth then fell asleep again for 4 hours. Not the best start, tapping away in my dressing gown, but onwards.

Today’s chart:

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Roylab Stats

Yesterday I got news from a Civil Servant that they’d been told not to enter London from today, and that the M25 was about to become a new non-porous border. Then frantic messaging to all I knew on the coming lockdown. It even got leaked to some of the papers within the hour, not just in the UK but in Italy, who printed that London was falling. Coupled with that was footage of soldiers marching down our local High Street, that set Twitter aflame with rumour of the impending sanction.

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However we’ve all woken up, spied people on the street (shopping as per norm) and realised this has not come to pass. The soldiers snapped in Clapham were cadets, off to a local training centre, and apparently they do that every week. Well, now I feel a bit of a plum, having told everyone that’s dear to me (and discovering only then that some of them had fled to their native France and Australia), but assuaged by the fact they then probably did the same. The papers are now hinting it will come in force tomorrow, Friday. Luckily we’ve done our hoarding already, and will miss out on the shopping circus every supermarket must now be in, their shelves emptied and customers only allowed 3-5 purchases a pop.

I saw a video today of East Asian women in a supermarket being harrassed about wearing face masks, and why they were covering up they were sick. The accuser then summoned the staff, after which the group were thrown out by the security guards. I can’t describe how palpitating a mix of rage and sadness I felt watching that, especially with a bit of a familiar past to draw on.

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East Asians are the most likely to be racially harassed, to have racial violence upon the person, and the least likely to be promoted despite having the best grades, performance, and education levels (aka the Bamboo Ceiling). East Asians come shackled to the idea they are meek and thus an easy target, and living as one is a minefield, that directly affects your life plan no matter how hard you try and ignore it. The ancestral culture an automatic mockery from the sound of the language to the food we eat to the way we look, to the regimes we entertain, plus the usual alienness of blood libel – in short no matter how laurel-lying we are, we’ll always be lesser -in emotional intelligence, or EQ, in culture, in viability. Any intelligence is the semi-autistic variety, those world-beating grades or IQ scores passed off as rote learning, a stark lack of higher job prospects excused by a bundle of ‘studies’ projecting it’s our Confucian upbringing and cultural cues to blame. -Despite the fact there exist managers across Asia, and they function just as well, and not the usual workplace bias as suffered by women, other races, LGBTQIA, the disabled, the overweight, the accented, and pretty much anything that’s not the Tall Heterosexual White Male. Sorry if you happen to be that, but you get a privilege that’s not in your control -to be treated more as human, the rest more as sub. Not your fault, but we treat you better, all you 5%’ers of the world.

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And don’t even get me started on relationship prospects, where the swipe is the last great bastion (and indicator) of socially acceptable racism. How EA men fall short, so to speak, tarred by the same tiny brush that refuses to entertain the thought it might not always be the case for every er, member of a 2 billion strong people. I’d get it out, but that would be positively louche. -While women are rocketed way higher, in the objectification kind of way, you’re either a gogo girl or geisha, just don’t take your make up off. And never, ever burp or fart or nowadays, COUGH.

I could go on for days about this, thanks to an upbringing on a skinhead /army estate in the metro’s most racially divided wards, in their glory years of Thatcherism. The kind where, like missiles of a bygone age, bricks, sticks and stones came over the wall, 6 year old sisters got beaten up, shit got smeared,  words got sprayed, cars got leaned out of and flob got thrown. Where walking past any playground was to be avoided, and every street heads swivelled to wherever you were GPS located, meerkat style. Then your schools disbelieving and accusatory, pointing those same fingers due to essays too accomplished. Even after I left I’ve come across it in almost every workplace I’ve had, sometimes overt, most often insititutionalised. And no one fucking talks about it, how it’s acceptable to say and do certain things to one race but not the others. A facade I sometimes feel only I see.

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Says it all really, you not only have to battle the damn street, but the establishment, and a complicit society. That was the Eighties and Nineties, when people were less ‘woke’, yet now I see it re-emerging again in the Twenties, in light of this first globalised disaster. I see how this spread from a culture that apparently tortures animals as per norm (that evidence of low EQ, inhumane), eating them in disgusting ways (alien, blood libel, civilisational war, dirty, laughable), then spreading it through complicit government cover ups (not to be trusted, inscrutable, indoctrinated). Not that most people go around thinking all those things, but it does reinforce the assumptions they make when coming across it.

When I tell people the things I’ve seen over the years they’re appalled, and all this build-up over the past few months is bringing it to a crux. The Taiwanese girl at work who a customer was ‘disgusted’ with, and dropped her money on the till in a show of non-contact, the unremitting stares I get on the street, Benny Hill style seat-swapping on the bus, then reading the stories of the randomised people assaulted (often women), the humiliation of public tirades, avoidance and harassment on PT (to the point many changed their commute), the pupils being sent out for coughing or getting their jaws broken in the playground, people turned away from every hotel and now more, of complicit businesses backing up the racism.

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A bitter note in the fear. It doesn’t help, these divisions, those attempts at blame. I do see that people can’t hack it and have to take it out on another -a show of weakness rather than strength that’ll always manifest our societies, on all sides. From the idioted Chinese generals hinting the disease was left by the US Army during their recent training exercises in the area (with reminders the U.S. spread Mexican Swine Fever that killed 1.4 million), to the insistence it’s a ‘Chinese’ disease by POTUS and his inner circle. All alongside the usual calls in the press for who to crucify even as we wallow with greater priorities right now. My friend who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is finding things harder, his fear of germs ratcheting to a peak on top of everything else. This is similar for East Asians, myself included, the layers of fear on top of fear.

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Ok, breathe (through face mask I’m too scared to wear).

I suddenly feel now I’ve written too much on this. A Pandora’s box I always look back on and get embarrassed, if ever I pique on the subject. It’s a bit like name dropping Dinosaurs in earshot of Richard Hammond from Jurassic Park. But let’s not talk politics, despite it being so Right Now. I even castigated finger-pointing only what? a whole 24 hours ago in the last post. Some notes:

  • The tenancy agency rang back (sound of numerous phones going off in the background), sounding annoyed and terse -I cut to the chase and got him to say basically nothing had changed for anyone who couldn’t pay, as if coronovirus wasn’t on, and that we’d contact him from there if we couldn’t. The government announced shortly after there would be some provisions of people like ourselves, private renters without income/ new dependents, which we await the deets with bated breath, excuse the pun.
  • The streets were yesterday moderately populated (although nowhere near as London normally is, which has nothing but crowds all day and night), of the usual hoarder hordes but also quite a few trying to make the best of their new time off, with the parks and cafes full and the pub to boot, a group of men carrying packs of lager somewhere. The sun had come out. Today is grey, the train station that faces our window silent, when usually it’s a constant bevy of noise and announcements – it’s the world’s busiest with a train on average every 30 seconds, a vast interchange rather than a main terminus, of which London has nine. It’s obsolete now, along with 40 tube stations closed.

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  • I am thinking of cutting my hair. Maybe dyeing it, my one chance to go all K-Pop and crazy without work to worry about. But then I want it long on top for my trip to New York, a holiday planned pretty much all my life and set for May, though likely it’ll be canceled. Such a distant perception these days, almost surreal when you scroll back and see images of people outside enjoying themselves, even just vague figures in the streets doing their day to day without such a specific care in the world.
  • Some leading members of government over the other side of the pond are calling it now the end of America. The effect of that on the populace, dealing with no end of shit right now, is not heartening, at a time we need it most.
  • China has announced zero new cases, for the past few days its handful have been coming off the planes. The web is alive with disbelief and recrimination in light of this, rather than hope.

Oops, there I go again. Politicising thingies.

On a smaller scale, got some tidying to do. J will likely want to polish his silver, a thing he does for his work which I see in a sense of calm, and the appreciation of detail, and beauty. We need this right now.

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I will get changed. I will do my hair. I will cook lunch. I will write some of The Book. I will not look at the news. I will read a book. About a house in the forest.

It’s only fucking Day 2.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020

Wednesday 18th March

Today I woke to the same routine these past few weeks, increasingly set every time I opened my eyes and reached for laptop or phone. Then to scroll bleary-eyed through the news of ratcheting tension, emblazoned in headlines on school closures, lockdowns, crashing markets, panic buying and ghastly figures updated every hour. They say the higher a death toll gets the less people can conceive it, the scale of destruction getting more abstracted the worse it is. I don’t think it applies here, in this instance where we’ve tracked the gradual rise into exponential reaches that double every three days. The lists of countries multiplying alongside, the imagined scenarios fueling a sense of global doom.

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At one point last night, after watching a mindless action movie on Netflix (Pacific Rim II, lurid, banal, unlikely to have a third) I stopped and my ebullience suddenly ebbed. Was this the end of times, was I unlucky enough to be living now? A once in a lifetime experience they say. But then we should remember that millions have had this same clouded prospect, not just clouded but tornadic – Syria, Iraq, Yemen, DPR Congo, Libya, South Sudan as society was whipped away around them. These conflicts prove just as abstracted to this day, when we are a mere spa break in comparison of worry and anguish, and the uncontrolled, unaided death of your loved ones.

sLIS2017003D | Aleppo After the Fall

 

My partner A is now out of work as of yesterday, my flatmate J awaiting his fate in an announcement today, where he works as head of silverware in a West London auction house. We drafted a letter to the agency about our situation and their avenues of support available for us not being able to pay the rent in these trying times (yes we used that phrase, at John’s historicist suggestion). They must be inundated. Then it was the phone call home, that phone call I’d been dreading all day, to find out the situation with The Family. Mum, 77 and still working in a factory, in part to support my sister (long story, do ask) may be quarantined as high risk for up to 4 months according to the government advice, or should I say, hint of what is soon to be imposed. My other sister in the process of moving back to the UK from the Netherlands, and possibly also out of work. Well, that escalated quickly. Almost overnight faced with the prospect of four grown dependents plus myself on the one wage.

Thankfully, although the Natural History Museum closed its doors yesterday for the foreseeable next two months, I will still be paid. Turns out so will Mum, and my sister in the Netherlands. She started her own company in science writing (I’ll just namedrop Atria Communications here) and is working with the disease experts, and now mobile. The acronym WFH has become suddenly relevant and widespread -though commonly misread as WTF, it correctly shares the same impact of the word. So down from a possible four to just a plus one. I should be very, very thankful, I’m lucky enough to be waged with the government, and my mother and sister are in the science sector.

Most people I know are not so lucky, living from paycheck to paycheck, often abroad from their homelands and familial support. It’s stark how very quickly the gig economy has been so exposed to economic ruin, not to mention the fragility of property bubbles and rental market. Notably in London where no one working, middle or even upper-middle class can realistically afford to own a property, unless you like converting a walk-in closet, complete with a shower under your bunk bed that dribbles onto the toilet. Or a bed-in-shed in Slough, one in a rash of tens of thousands now hidden throughout London’s leafy suburbia of illegally built, money-making favelas. Thus a vast proportion rent their abode, and a vast proportion are now looking at homelessness. How did it come to this?

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I saw four homeless people today, three I suspected of being the variety who beg but find sheltered accommodation at night (appearing well fed, dressed, clean, I know a roster of them), but one who was genuinely sleeping in a streetside alcove, wreathed in soiled camping gear. I have no idea what will happen to these people. I also saw the very old, frail, and the heavily disabled, all of them on their own, clutching empty bags on the way to the shops, and the circus that awaited them. Yesterday a woman in a wheelchair blocked everyone from getting baskets as she tried to get her goods into one (she was buying a large houseplant, I have no idea what for), but I almost caved right there and cried. I helped her out, but later heard others asking her if she was okay. Thankfully there’s still that. The mood was tense, every face deeply serious from staff to shoppers alike, but no one busting out into arguments, slappy fights or racing down the aisles, nor complaining about the epic queuing or emptied shelves.

The people are panic buying -game theory really, if one person does it everyone else has to, or they’ll lose out. Then we complain about everyone else, like how we moan about the traffic while sitting in it ourselves, or how the lovely tourist sites are overrun with tourists these days, as if we have a privilege to experience it over any given member of that yappy, sportswear-laden tour group. These days is a potion of concern, for ourselves, our families and the disadvantaged, in an uneasy mix of conflicting priorities, as we go for that last toilet roll, as we see the pensioner standing destitute behind us.

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The UK government, to much fanfare, had recently announced it was following an experimental policy of mitigation rather than extending the containment stage. Hence why, in contrast to our European neighbours, there has been no lockdown, not of schools, of pubs, of gatherings, of farming festivals and horse racing stadia, of incoming visitors, or people in general when it could have made a difference. Despite that China already provided an MO in the form of Hubei Province, roughly the same size and population of the UK, that has proven to work, where we can learn from their open-sourced mistakes and successes. However one of these scenarios also happens to be cheaper on the economy – for all the talk on  ‘sombrero flattening’ no measures have been taken to effectively do so, as yet:

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The proven path so far is lockdown, infrastructure to feed that lockdown, ICU’s, and draft hospitals, with strict quarantining (where the staff get suited up 2 or 3x over, and no object entering those wards can ever leave again, hence why many healthcare workers had to buy new phones to discard later). It saved China, but took out two months of its economy. Britain seems to have tried to have its cake and eat it in contrast to the rest -to let the infection move through the populace while the elderly would be housed away, thus saving the bedspace. However, the Imperial College yesterday released its models on what this would result in, to both the UK and US govts it advises, alongside publishing it to the press. Over 200,000 dead and a healthcare system overrun to the scale of 8x over, and possibly 10x that for the States. This is why the government is about-facing to change tack once again, and why a lockdown is likely to be imminent.

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I cashed in an electronics voucher today, £100 worth, to buy an upgraded phone I didn’t really need, but in order to save my purchase should that company tank during the lockdown. Everyone in there was doing the same. The three workers were gloved up to the max, and wiping down everything passing over the counter, while thrash metal played apocalyptically. A young Spanish guy bought the phone I wanted, his old phone recently kaput and having little choice but to buy a new one before his replacement could be sent (if ever it would reach him), in a time when he could contact family, and where communication would be the last link that cannot, should not fail, no matter what.

Trying times indeed. I often think of what is important to me in life, often. Everyone is saying it’s like a film. Yet this is not so much a Hollywood disaster with gung ho renegades, rousing speeches and wavering flags in the background, to fistpumping and flowering explosions  -rather it’s more a surrealist study in existentialism. The world is increasingly looking black and white, and poignant. I’m not looking forward to an increase in pace, though admittedly holding out for a Deus ex Machina (my First World privilege right there) to throw some contrived lifeline. We can but hope, to Keep Calm And Carry On.

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Just try not to remember that the phrase was dreamt up by a wartime government facing imminent invasion and, unknown to them, the planned execution of the entire adult male population. Thankfully that never transpired, and if we keep our heads level and remember we’re not facing Mad Max or alien armies here -and at worse 3% mostly will succumb at or beyond their given life expectancy anyway -we can get through this together. Game theory once again applies: help out your neighbour or stranger, and the same will likely happen to you or your loved ones wherever they may be. But know this, we’re in this together whether we like it or not. There will be forces, currently garish in the press pointing fingers between countries, races, candidates, exacerbating desperation in desperate times, but we need to collectively fight from the same ground against a common enemy. Hand washing, WFH, WTF, losing support networks, social distancing yet looking after those in need have all already united us in a collective experience, we just don’t need more rule and divide. And neither should we enable the pathologically inclined who do so -those on the sociopathic spectrum in power or with a podium, cannot help it, bless em. We however can. Don’t feed those clicks.

In short, we have enough on our plate for going political or divided right now (if we must, we can enjoy all that later). By all means, exert your pressure, demand, let your voices be heard when things are found wanting, but do the finger-pointing later. Let’s just get through the damn day.

 

Tomorrow

 

 

 

Europe’s Greatest Weakness and Greatest Strengths

In short: it’s the borders, but not as you know it.

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A continent loosely summed up as 750 million people in the more northern climes of the world, famous for its history, heritage and export of culture (and peoples).

But let’s look closer at the geography: the world’s sole ‘landmass’ delineated from the rest by physical barrier – mountain ranges and seas (do ignore the Indian ‘subcontinent’, China or Eastern Africa that could easily do the same) – with the Caucasus forming an adjunct against the Middle East at one end, and the more spurious boundary of the Urals at the other. Never mind that this range peters out uncharitably 600km from the Caspian coast, and is low and heavily gap-toothed anyway – infinitely porous for the peoples of the Steppe, and to which White Russia has long suffered and capitalised on… no, THIS is the boundary that claims itself a stopper against the rest of the Asian multitudes. That declares itself more than just a peninsular of Asia.

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The idea that all continents are defined by their physicality demonstrates European exceptionalism – insofar that the idea of Europe is in reality more based on ethnicity, thinly veiled. That what defined this continent has long been the triptych of pale skin, Caucasian race and Christian culture, all but glossed over in textbooks to this day and accepted as an unsaid, unquestioned norm. With this idea comes the attachments of history, a richly influential vein that runs through collective peoples who went on to annexe 3.5 continents other than their own (the two Americas, Australasia and Asia thanks to Russia/ Kazakhstan) as the greatest source of immigration the world has ever known and likely ever will. In short Europe is a sanctum alluding to the ‘old country’ for many hundreds of millions outside it still, and an idealistic narrative on governance  to even more – a cultural source code for successful nations if one may, yet often reduced to a sum of parts. Europe frequently gets boiled down to a list of these parts.

Ethnic map of the world by Haplogroup:

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This veneration is both the winning laurel and Damoclean sword. On one hand its historic urbanity, iconic motifs and exportable cuisines, languages, style and arts continue to draw visitors and investment by the billion, yet its exceptional storytelling can also jar with the demands of a globalisation, and demographic paths toward a more mutually reliant, Benneton ad of worldly populace. As the per capita incomes of the Developed World and the Developing World (once known as the Third World) begin to converge the eyeliner so long denoting Europe as belle of the ball is increasingly consequential: attracting ever more suitors but also a more fragile sanctimoniousness.

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For example, Europe’s plinth-like status brings in 671 million visitors (2017, accounting for 57% of international travel), with $767 billion investment to local economies – by far the largest destination for tourism, immigration and FDI. New housing, continents removed, still delusionally aspire to Tuscan villas, Norfolk farmhouses and Berlin apartments whether they be in the sprawl of the Texan interior, embattled Israeli outposts or estates in China’s third tier cities. The English language/ suit has become the uniform for global professionals, and Greek democracy, Italian art, French enlightenment, English industrialisation, British and Russian economics, and Swiss modernism have been adopted as worldly norms. Parts sold as templates for governance and modern culture. Looking back on this weight of far-reaching achievement, pride becomes an easy reaction, despite cultural piggy-backing, technology transfer strictly limited between brothers-in-arms, and disparate achievements conveniently united by one race (a redrawing of boundaries as and when needed). All cultivated under the umbrella term of Westernism but subtly or not so subtly redolent of supremacism too. Not to mention a more painful eyeballing from history on an inheritance built on colonialism, slavery, incessant power struggles, foreign invasion and hierarchical inequality no different (or perhaps a little more avid) from the rest.

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But Europe today is also a region most angst-ridden about outside influence and historic navel-gazing (or utter lack of, via rose-tinted media portrayals). It’s incrasingly susceptible to modern day demagogues, where every major economy is now, for the first time in a century, either right wing or in coalition with the far right.

To start, one cannot possibly quantify 750 million people, 130 languages, 50 countries, 87 ethnic groups and myriad cultures and histories as one. Witness the past attempts to do so, whether through bloody world war or cultural hand-wringing when pacts such as NATO or the EU sacrificed imagined sovereignty for greater geopolitical win-win. The continent is still a disparate collection behind the flawless face, with infighting commonplace between countries, and regions within – not to mention many societal pitchforks readied for the stream of newcomers, whether they be from the continent or outside (and despite the welcome also laid out).

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Separatism within Europe:

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Yet should Europe give up on its institutionalised veneration on what it thinks it is to be European – rather than by dint of pure geography – it would find it can marry contemporary progressiveness with a rich past and continuation of traditions. Look at the record of the Nordic, Alpine and Benelux nations, world leaders in education, quality of life, social justice, economic performance and environmentalism coupled with a rich heritage of culture, architecture and the arts, all within the same breathless sentiment.

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But contrast that with worrying support for Le Pen, Jobbik, the Freedom Party or Brexit, coupled with instances of hate crime, terrorism, media-fuelled xenophobia and a stout lack of charity for the current refugee crises (the vast majority of the worlds 68 million refugees fleeing to neighbours within the already embattled Middle East and Africa – some of which have become refugee-majority populations within the last decade – with ‘only’ 1 million of the richest affording the crossings to Europe).

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Also note how Austria and Denmark straddles both these perceptions – open progressiveness with reactionary populism, which lends to the fact no part can be summarised despite all intent. Should Eurocentrism take down its artificial borders both in mind and physicality it can limit the damage wrought by a generalised decline in birth rates and productivity, both demographically and culturally. When the ‘old country’ no longer negates the idea that all societies are new, and that they have always had to be in order to survive.

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Europe is in short a wondrous, rich tapestry of histories and cultures; it does well to build on it. But it also does well to remember how porous its borders were in the age of empires, whether being invaded and influenced from outside (Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, Turkics, Huns, the Silk Routes, Moors, Mongols, Tatars, Ottomans) or doing the invading and influencing of the outside (Greek -Macedonian, Roman, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, British, French, Russian, German), that has so lent it the multitudinal aspects to build and importantly, trade on.

Les trentes glorieuses:

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This is not to overlook the genius of democracy, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, but they were not entirely standalone as we have come to assume, and with often fore runners abroad, from China’s equivalent scaled Industrial Revolution in the Dark Ages (that was destroyed by Mongol politicking and climate change), to Mughal manufacturing that took a quarter of global GDP and Ming Dynasty navies that operated history’s largest pre-industrial ships, industries, and explorations. (On an interesting sidenote these were also scuppered by Mongol threat when funds went into defence instead, with the fleet burned and a capital offence made of going to sea).

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Oops, where was I in my breathless account? The first shoots of democracy in Iraq and India, alongside the worlds first cities, or the first modern warfare. Another sidenote: mechanised war was fired up by the Mongol-Chinese who operated the first guns (‘fire-lances’), cannons, mines, sea mines, grenades and automated rapid-fire crossbows in the attempted invasions of Japan employing vast armadas of 5,200 ships – but who ultimately opted to bury the tech when society started going Call of Duty amongst themselves. Japan, replete with developing the worlds most advanced weaponry (and conquering Korea with their prototype arquebuses) even dumped the lot and went back to 300 years of strict isolationism, to the beauty of the blade via a Samurai-Shogunate society. It’s a myth that the Chinese used gunpowder just for fireworks, and that the Europeans turned them into weapons.

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A lot has been said about the vast rape of the continents by the Mongols, who killed so many Chinese, Arabs, Indians, SE Asians and Eastern Europeans the carbon in the atmosphere fell. Who destroyed over the centuries the world’s largest million+ cities of Baghdad, Gurganj, Merv, Beijing, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Ayutthaya and would attack countries with navies made up of up to 7,000 ships or win against forces of 130,000 when armed with only 8,000. However the Mongols were also a big buffer against historical domination if not a global one. A kill switch or at least barrier to further ambitions whenever any empire started getting too big for its boots such as the Burmese, the Japanese, the Delhi Sultanate, the Song Chinese, the Persians and Islamic Caliphates.

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Plus much iconography we think of as intrinsically European come from beyond, from the adoption of a Middle Eastern religion that is Christianity, to the International Style of modernism (clue’s in the name) sourced from medieval Morocco and Japan by early modernists such as Le Courbousier. The white wedding dress of the Ottomans, the Romanesque arch of Arabia, the Mongol onion dome, the Chinese naval tech, the Japonisme of impressionism and modern art, the African beat, the SE Asian spices, the Americas coffee, Chinese tea, the Himalayan gardens, the Indian manufacturing, the Japanese business frame, the knife and fork, the apple, the tulip, we could go on, and still do. The idea of Europe breaking down its barriers in order to speed its coming extinction, as had been done in the continents it itself overran in the past, only ever happened when coupled with genocide, including viral. It is not to going to pass.

The way we see the world today should, in a very European tradition, be encompassing, outward-looking, clear -yet holding a subtle richness of history and nuance beyond the everyday.

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Do you agree? Comment below:

The Olympicked Chalice

Who wants to win the Olympics?

That moment when your host city beams to the world its assertions of civilisation, finds its cultural identity out of a globalised melting pot, celebrates its diversity, reminds us of its historical achievements, and wheels out its mystery celebs. All in a lovely package of inclusiveness, modern thinking, and children. Lots of children – alone, in groups, singing, dancing, being disabled; smiling for months till their cute little faces wrinkle preternaturally for the rest of their lives.

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www.dailyrepublic.com

But squint again and behind those dazzling teeth and choreographed lightshows is a helluva lot of worry. Will that vast stage behold an architectural and community legacy? Or be a money sucking, windblown embarrassment for decades to come? Will the computers work the show faultlessly, or mechanical breakdown create an epic, global case of schadenfreude? Will we spend too much, drawing negative criticism by the tax indentured populace, or too little, drawing the dubbing of an ‘austerity Olympics’? Or worse – spending loads but having nothing to wow with despite.

Will terrorism raise its underlying head, or freak accidents mar the history? Will corruption claim millions, or worse, be publicly found out to have claimed millions? Will the Olympic spirit die beneath the spotlights?

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^Helen Sharman and the Olympic flame, World Universiade 1991. Helen is from Slough.

In short the Olympics is like sitting a difficult exam or a lesson in complex public speaking, but with the world watching (and all of history), where every fault is indelible, will cost millions, and draw waves of unabashed laughter and criticism, with people paid to heckle. A merciless stage. Even beforehand the vast roving interest of the world, not unlike the Great Eye of Sauron, will beam down at your preparations, go through your friends list (and ex-friends) launching investigations, reading your old diary and spending a good few hours chortling at your fat photos, or sharing the bit where you admitted to stealing a Boyzone mag off Chantelle Norris.

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It is in short a poisoned chalice, your chance to shine, and fall, all over youtube. And it’ll cost you in crippling loans, cancelled holidays, stress, and psychiatrists for the foreseeable future no matter the outcome.

The turning point can be attributed to Athens 2004. Beforehand the huge burning eye of the world’s press was more or less politely unbecoming, or too bored to really pay attention until the big day, with a flurry of activity  before everyone sodded off again. But their own chance to shine came with the increasing spotlight on the delayed construction of the Olympic venues as the big day came ever closer. Olympic Committees arrived to study the progress, or lack of, and came away tutting with some stern words on taking it all away, and never investing in olive oil again.

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www.rediff.com

Like a countdown, the papers could get more and more clicks with every update, wallowing in the Greek mess of infrastructure woes, bureaucratic red tape, lazy work ethic and employment rights (the much frowned upon opportunity to strike). Ignoring the fact Greeks work the longest hours in the West, were one of the poorest members of the EU, and have a damned right to have rights (what with the birth of democracy and all that), it was all too sordid and sardonic not to shake ones head or roll our cultural eyes. Even after they completed on time, launched a highly artistic, emotive and epic opening ceremony that’s the template for every one after, and went more or less without global incident or stage blooper (except the bit where the marathon runner from Brazil got rugby tackled by a mad Irish priest, and lost his lead). Still the effortlessly gorgeous conversion of the national stadium by Santiago Calatrava has been the most beautiful yet devised and a testament for decades to come- a lesson in geometry, natural lines and low cost.

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www.greece.com

Yet we cannot bring ourselves to ignore the perceived ruination of a nation. The Olympic legacy, costing 10,000 Euros of upkeep a week for some buildings to lie vacant, sun-stunned and overgrown. The Handball Arena is now littered with UNHCR tents as use for a refugee camp, while the iconic diving pools lie empty. Or rather we prefer to look at that and ignore the other legacies (such as a highway network, a sparkling new metro and airport etc). Also to look at Greece’s current debt crisis, and put the blame on the elaborate staging, rather than the cook-the-books routine that we all partook in pre-Crisis. To this day news still report on the weed grown facilities looking much like the Classical ruins a metro ride away, despite that countdown long having finished. They will also report unfailingly on libertine passengers not paying on that new metro route.

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www.dailymail.co.uk

Then came Beijing 2008, China’s much heralded coming out party with all the fanfare and billions to invest on her make up. And if you thought Greece went through a PR disaster before her debut, China went through a real test of fire, complete with flamethrowers and paparazzi fast on her Jimmy Choo heels. The year according to Chinese astrology would not be a good one from the outset, despite 8 being the number of choice for luck. The Olympic mascots – the Fuwa, or good luck dolls symbolising the ancient Chinese elements of Water, Earth, Fire, Wood and Air- rather became sinister, cursed symbols of disaster that year. The Five Horsemen:

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Jingjing the Earth panda, native to Sichuan province, was quickly associated with the devastating earthquake that Spring that wiped out 90,000 lives there. Nini the Air swallow, who looks like a kite, was portent of doom to a highly embarrassing train crash, that killed 40 on the country’s much lauded new HSR (High Speed Rail) network – in Weifang, the ‘kite city’. Yingying the Tibetan Wood antelope saw in the biggest wave of protest and race riots in Tibet since occupation, while Watery Beibei the South Chinese sturgeon, saw in flooding in South China that killed 150 and displaced a whopping 1.5 million. All that remained was Huanhuan the Olympic Fire torch cutey and the protests that dogged him throughout the world, so much so they effectively banned foreign flame routes from thereon. China was literally introducing herself to each member state with a round of publicity to her (in)human rights record; and the Fuwa would forever be known as ‘wuwa’ or witch-dolls after.

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As for PR, Beijing did indeed wow the world with a glorious, elaborately staged opening ceremony that gave a soft touch to totalitarian synchronisation, and became the benchmark for all that followed. But even that soon drew criticism. ‘Live’ footage of the fireworks marking out 29 huge footprints across the city to the stadium was widely reported as being faked, thanks to the noticeable onscreen graphics (in reality the fireworks did go off but couldn’t be filmed from above due to danger to the choppers). The insectoid little girl singing the national anthem was found not only to have been miming, but mouthing along to another not-as-sweetie’s voice after a politburo member deemed the vocals substandard (though the girl in Sydney’s previous ceremony, and the norm for all the others, would have been guilty of the same).

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Video Grab/Kent News & Pictures Ltd

They did go off, capitalist dogs:

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Further controversy followed when it was revealed some members of China’s 56 minority groups showing off national dress were Han Chinese, and not the stated ethnicity (though bear in mind ‘colour-blind casting’ was employed in every ceremony since, from London’s Victorian opening theme to Rio’s historical journey of race). For all China’s trump and glory, it became obvious her  detractors would not be missing a beat from the get go.

The Olympics was indeed an overall success: the capital cleaned up and laced herself with state of the art infrastructure, the weather held off, and a memorable Games as could possibly be was beamed to the largest ever global audience of 5 billion. But it also heralded the officialisation of an anti-Chinese rhetoric in the world’s media that continued after the poppers ended. After that mixed year Beijing’s leading Google association became tied to ‘pollution’, rather than being an ancient capital of the world’s biggest population or richest country. Beijing was smog, China was totalitarianism, and its economic rise one to fear, or belittle; its culture aping, uncivilised and enchained. That looked funny and talked funny. It wasn’t the ‘lifting of the sky’ of a billion people on some far off horizon, more a inviting your bling-bedecked Auntie Shazza to a Tuscan wedding.

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When London’s turn was up, envisaged protests to Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War to its extensive colonial er, legacy saw its Olympic torch route kept strictly within the host nation for the first time. It was initially dubbed the Austerity Olympics to be held during the global financial crisis  -London would be the first city to hold it a third time, but both times before were after the world wars and had effectively defaulted there for minimalised costs. The original plans were billed far lower, despite increasing realisation this would be a last once-in-a-lifetime chance to hold a fully fledged Olympic thingy, rather than yet another bare bones offering involving a big pie to go round and some spirited bunting.

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Luckily, it appears the politicians ‘forgot’ to include tax, inflation, infrastructure or contingency funds in their public bid. Nevertheless local protest to the increasing cost of the Games began to garner as the plans began to balloon. Then someone went out and bought a really big bell. In the end it worked out as the second most expensive after Beijing, climbing from initial budgets of under $4 billion to a $15 billion whopper (not including infrastructure).

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In the run up to the opening, more criticism – and laughs – came, thicker, leaner, faster. The beds to gangly athletes in the Olympic Village were found to be too short. Northern drivers, bussed in by private firms and refusing to use newfangled technologies such as er, satnav, were lost for hours trying to transport athletes from the airport, as their captives launched their ordeal on social media.

The worst fiasco came when the world’s largest private security firm, G4S, completely failed to deliver for such a sensitive, highly scaled event, with the army stepping in at the 11th hour to cover the shortfalls. The firm had seen its personnel requirements doubled to 23,000- and subsequently demanded a payrise from £7.3 million to £60 million, half of which it spent on its gold leafed, water-walking management and only £2.8 million on the extra recruitment, to utter ineffect.

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http://www.theguardian.com

A further show of unbridled commercialisation at the expense of Olympic spirit came when viewers noticed the legions of empty seats at many events, despite all tickets having sold out. They were of course the large amount given over to sponsors and associated members, who never bothered to attend, or spent their time at the bar watching footie or dancing like fat twats in suits.

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A final pluck at the strings came with another instance of breakdown. A clock froze during the fencing at the start of the Games, which lead to Shin A Lam unfairly losing a medal, made worse by the decision to uphold the result despite the cause being mechanical failure. It not only exposed the Olympic flaws, but its embarrassing propriety when they muttered painfully to the South Koreans that one has to pay to have an appeal considered. The view of a lone player sitting on an emptied stage, to half an hour of a visibly slow-clapping crowd (to leave the arena means you accept the decision), leaves an imprint.

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All in all London did manage to pull off an inordinately successful campaign – the Opening Ceremony – the first section especially- was one of the most memorable of all time, the Games went off without further hitch, and the PR armies of gurning volunteers, an array of citywide cultural events and fun facilities meant it was one of the most enjoyable ever. The legacy of mixed use buildings, and a deprived district now becoming a polished hub ensured no international follow-ups. They even turned a marginal profit thanks to £1 billion of the contingency fund not being needed, and the following year London became the world’s most visited city. As a sign of its confidence, even in the closing ceremony, they included a poignant shot of Shin A Lam sitting in silence as her world burned. Like the Opening Ceremony, it showed not just the rosy image of revision, but the blood, sweat and tears also.

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In reality the legacy  was a mixed one. For all the much lauded intentions, much of which won London the Games in the first place, they have not been the complete success as widely reported. The route to the Olympic Park remains from day one, as through the city’s largest shopping mall, a festival of money parting and commercialisation; as apt today as it has ever been. The stadium itself was intended to be downscaled and kept for athletics, but the unjustified cost to keep it running led to a complete renege on that idea. And at further cost – adversely dismantling the permanent features while keeping the temporary ones, to the tune of $1 billion, to change it into a football arena as first proposed. FFS.

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The legacy of turning a nation to sports – the ‘Singapore Promise’ to “Inspire a generation” was neither fulfilled. The heartrendingly humble video they played at the bidding, of children from all over Britain and the world seeing the Games and one day becoming Olympians, thus underlying the importance of investment in public sport, does not seem to have transpired. Public facilities across the country have closed, school budgets have been axed and sports participation is dramatically down (people playing sport once a week, shrinking by over 200,000 every six months), despite £325 million invested in getting their dimpled arses off the sofa each year by the state quango.

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At the end of the day London was a success and an English apple of the eye, but behind closed doors not as amazing as trumpeted. The city does have a legacy, just not so much the one it promised about you know, not staring at the fridge, and changing society n crap. More about lining the pockets of investors and landlords, and fulfilling that raison d’etre of sticking two fingers up at the French.

Neither do the Winter Olympics escape, especially if it’s a non-Western country. Although Western countries do get noticeable concessions. Vancouver 2010 garnered its fair share of critique even before it started  following the tragic death of 21 year old Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia a few days into practice. Following  driver error he hit a steel support pole that should have been protected, on a luge track that was 12% faster than its intended limit. Also marring preparations was opposition from certain First Nations members, advocates to the colonial record of one of the major sponsors – the Hudson Bay Company, the repeated vandalism of the Olympic flame, and the plight of the low-income families displaced by the building projects, none of which were beautiful thanks to budget. These were little reported outside national papers, though the British press did castigate the games as overly nationalistic, in a purported attempt at embellishing London’s follow up.

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Vancouver’s opening ceremony heavily featured mechanical failure in a rather sketchy opening show – overall beautiful, alluding to the virginal nature of the First Nations plus a mesmeric song by KD Lang, but also involving an er, stand up comedy sketch, Donald Sutherland as the be-all and end-all of Canadian fame, and a malfunctioning arm of the Olympic flame that denied the opportunity for LeMay Doan to light it. But never mind that, and don’t worry too much about the Georgian unpronounceable either – they gave his family $10,000 to renovate their house in a ‘goodwill gesture’, and Canada’s a nice, civilised Western country anyway, like Britain or Australia. Sydney was great, that was the bestest games ever before all this controversy began (just don’t mention the bribes during the bidding process).

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However, Sochi 2014 in Russia truly marked the shining benchmark of public(ised) criticism, the El Dorado for reporters from rival trade blocs the world over. The world’s most exorbitantly spent-on Olympics, costing $51 billion (tick), in a non-Western (tick) populace that can ill afford it (tick), under a charmless dictator-in-all-but-name (tick), with problems with democracy (tick), a lack of gay rights (tick), garnering accordant social media campaign (tick), in a place more famed for its palm trees and the warmest location yet devised (tick). And an unimaginable amount of graft with billions siphoned off to fellow cronies and friends of Putin (tick). Oh and unfinished buildings in the run-up (tick). And of course, a questionable legacy, with which the story can still be milked for decades to come (tick). Let’s just entirely ignore how great, artistic and well organised the show actually was in the end…

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Oh Russia, you glorious summit for cultural disdain, you embellished standard of socio-economic disaster, you God’s gift to dash-cam Youtube, you. Oh mystical horizon of fur-lined intrigue and chemical factories, how we have missed you. When one of your Olympic rings failed to bloom in the Opening ceremony our collective hearts swilled with drunken love, and bloomed with laughter. Oh the mirth, uniting peoples the world over, in Olympic based spirit. Add to that the cherry on top of the current doping scandal banning much of the team, and replacing medals all the way back to 2014 – and you’ve got the best ever tally won by a single country, now being taken down by a rung or three. Thank you so much. We feel so much better for ourselves.

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Now Rio, you seductress of the south. With your teeming, drug fueled favelas, high profile kidnappings and police shootings. Where to turn the world’s eye – the blinding inequality? Racial politics? High homicide rate and petty crime? The nationwide protests at rising costs and price hikes? The indentured former terrorist / torture victim/ President being impeached? The deepening recession, crumbling the dreams of much of the Developing World? The bacterial gardens of the Guanabara Bay? The unfinished construction? And full circle to Olympic Committee threats to take the Games elsewhere (and never to hold it in a Developing country again)? So much to choose from, so little airtime.

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Okay, the ceremony went without a hitch – though there was that little girl, now summarily executed, talking the whole time behind the first Oympic Laureate making his speech. It was evocative, emotive, fun and held its message for a Green Games, plus it’s amazing, eco-friendly Olympic cauldron shining like a gorgeous, mirrored beacon. And the marathon man who got rugby tackled by that Irish priest in Athens 2004, and who lost his winning medal as a result, got to light the flame. Heart warming. Classy like.

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But then one of the Olympic pools just turned fart-smelling GREEN, inexplicably so, so wa-hey! We’re back on.

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What can we expect from Tokyo 2020? The Japanese are a nice bunch, they’re the sweetest, most polite of peoples, eminently civilised and welcoming, economically great, with a winning allure (food, arts, media) and defining popular culture. Low inequality, high social justice, low crime, high environmentalism. Bullet trains, geishas, anime, Michelin stars, forest cover, zen, bamboo, shrines, cherry blossom, sushi, cat cafes, bunny islands. What could possibly go wrong?

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Well the whales, the war, the yakuza, the comfort women, the weirdness. The suicide rate, the groping, the live food, the history textbooks, the depopulation, the porn, the radiation, the homogeneity, the ageing, the Senkaku Islands. Actually this is gonna be fantastic! It may be a time to put down arms, but to take up more civilised, cultured weaponry instead, from social media to trade wars, hacking to drones.

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It’s a telling sign their inital logo already got sued by Belgian designer Olivier Debie, forcing a later redrawing:

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As we all know the Olympics has traditionally been the time when we all lay down arms and the world stops fighting for the duration of the Games (except in er, WWI, and er, II, and er, every war after that). But anyhoo it’s the thought that counts. The Games are apolitical, yeah. No, I mean no. It’s not a forum to bring up injustice, failure, a few billion dollars, prejudice or scorn. Nosiree.

It’s just our media are increasingly finding the Olympics as a useful tool to promote our  own rhetoric, and the superiority of whatever is the regional demagogue du jour. Start off with a good kilo of global audience, add 100g of competition, 100g of emotion, a generous sprinkling of national pride (hell just throw the damn box in), and feed it through a tight nozzle of media interpretation. In hindsight Hitler’s attempt at making the 1936 Olympics a [failed] promotion of his political ideals was a masterstroke so to speak. We’re just here for the mutherfucking cake.

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So just think, one day… one day… America just might get it again. Another misty, headline grabbing land  ripe with opportunity, hegemony and questionable choices. And what a seasoned gift to the world that would be, inspiring generations of tabloid stories, internet forums and culture bloggers, long in the running. We, as a global community, can once again, dare to dream.

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Got to the end? Do comment.

What would you think would happen if your country were picked to host the Olympics? What would your city do well or not so well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World’s Most Built Up City

So we’ve dallied enough in terms of scale and size, in hard numbers. That was all based on population. So what of the built environment? Which city is most impressive in terms of the size you actually see and experience? For example, let’s forego the fact Karachi has 25 million people and Chicago only 9 million – which city feels and looks bigger? And let’s conveniently  forget every street in Karachi looks like a stadium just emptied next to Camden Market. With cars. -Well otherwise Chicago would be more impressive from it’s dense stacks of skyscrapers as you wander round it’s centre (and not its unending lowrise suburbs). The city has 125 skyscrapers – defined as a building 150m or over in height – whilst Karachi only has one. 341 highrises over 100m, while Karachi has 12 (though watch this space – Karachi has 7 skyscrapers, and 7 highrises under construction). Karachi  may actually feel more built up only if you travel interminably across it’s horizons, but Chicago far outweighs in its centre, which would be the more common experience for the average visitor without a bi-plane.

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Globally there’s an obvious contender for the top spot here. New York, New York. Built on a narrow granite island it’s natural line of development was upward, spiking ever highward on a sturdy piece of rock that could take the weight and foundations of a ballooning population and economy. Its sheer density of building is almost unimaginable, famously creating ‘canyon’ streets sided by overarching walls of concrete and glass. The city is astoundingly built up, feels astoundingly huge, and has done for a century. It is the city of the mind when people think of cities.

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NYC has a whopping 804 highrises, of which 282 are skyscrapers. It’s also going through a building boom as developers rush to get a portfolio of tall buildings into plan before a new zoning law gets called in. The island is so packed already a new phenomenon is rising – small plots but exorbitantly high and profitable buildings rising like slivers, some so tall and thin they look liable to totter the next time a periodic Hollywood tsunami/ meteor strike/ giant monster revisits. By 2030 the city will resemble a glittering porcupine:

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Once again it may be dwarfed by other cities populations (it’s barely if at all in the top 10), but off paper its skyscrapers look and count more impressively. NYC has such a density of tall buildings, little seen elsewhere, it’s streets resemble canyons. Even Dubai with its greater catchment of supertalls had to artificially create it’s one concrete gorge on the Sheikh Zayed Road, whilst all around is lowrise and desert.

 

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New York on the other hand had to build up due to its islanded constraints – and more interestingly – it could. There are of course other islanded city centres (Montreal, pre-Columbian Mexico City, Vancouver, Malé), but they didn’t build upward to the same extent due to the lower population or business demand, and notably, greater difficulty.

Malé, Maldives

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New York is lucky enough to sit on granite, strong enough for all that weight and without the need for hundred foot foundations, as in clay-based, alluvial London or Shanghai, the latter of which began sinking from all the concrete, and a highrise moratorium declared in 2003. Ever wondered why European metropolises aren’t especially highrise-savvy, especially after the wartime clearances? Well they’re further lumped with restrictive zoning laws in the form of historic protection, and ‘viewing corridors’ that forbid any impinging structures on celebrated views.

London has no less than 14 of these hallowed visions stretching across vast swathes of the capital to its 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites, plus one cathedral, so that you can see the small bump of St Paul’s dome on the horizon from a bush 16km away, whose existence controls the world’s premier business district. When one surly pensioner (the kind with a lot of time on his hands) hacked a hole in said bush to restore the 18th Century viewing point, he single-handedly laid waste to 4 planned skyscrapers in the 1980s.

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Only two other major cities share New York’s perfect storm of constraints, freedoms, demand and bedrock. The granite island of Hong Kong, and the granite peninsular of Yujiapu in Chongqing, both of which require high rises stacked closely, and the canyons they create.

Chongqing:

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Hong Kong

A bird's eye view of residential and com

MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

Singapore is another contender in the making, especially as its population balloons, but the presence of its nearby airport keeps the height limit at 280m or lower – pretty much a Hong Kong highrise-fest but with fewer really tall buildings. On the horizon though is Mumbai, a 233 sq mile peninsular of 12.5 million (metro 21 million) that gets smaller the busier it gets, until it dwindles uncharitably into the sea:

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The city now has over 70 skyscrapers topped out, with another 33 over 250m to come, and about 800 more highrises (buildings 12 storeys/ 115ft)  than NYC, at 7,068.  And a helluva lot of profitable land reclamation for the future.

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For decades many Tokyoites believed their rival city in the States to be bigger due to the famed skyscraper thicket there, when in truth Tokyo was the world’s largest just before WWII destruction, and again by the 1960’s, a title it held till 2015. Tokyo’s skyline is still impressive but dampened considerably by being in a notorious earthquake zone, with strict height limits enforced. It’s still deceptively big in terms of highrises (coming in at 157 skyscrapers and 562 highrises), but they form disparate nodes or lone towers (and one REALLY big one), compared to Manhattan’s forest of centrality.

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Tokyo still has multiple winding lanes, midrises and even one storey townhouses throughout it’s centre, interspersed with the usual roaring pedestrian streets and skyscraper districts. It’s not for nothing that Monocle awarded it ‘the World’s Best City’ title in its 2015 and 2017 rankings, for its dichotomous ability for peaceful ambience combined with jaw-dropping size; how very Japanese.

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But look again at Tokyo’s highrises. The modus operandi of many Japanese based multinationals favour large trading floors. Add on the height limits of say 150m-250m (or 500ft-750ft) and you create a market for titanic sized buildings. Huge floors and sheer walls, squat and overbearing in bulk. In any other city – for example NYC, Shanghai or Hong Kong – they would be twice as narrow and twice as tall.

Tokyo’s monsters:

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Many are unapologetically wide and overbearing, creating a certain monolithic grandeur to the city that could almost be described as beautiful; thoroughly in keeping with age old Japanese functionalism, while others more diplomatically disguise their bulk by splitting into (or pretending to be) multiple towers and setbacks. They are the fat ambassadors wives gracing the charity ball circuit:

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Look at the Mori tower, a snippet of modesty at 238m (780ft), yet holding almost the same floorspace as the Willis Tower in Chicago – the world’s tallest building for nearly 25 years, at 442m (1,450ft), nearly double the height and imposition.

Mori:

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Willis:

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Likewise the even bigger Tokyo Midtown tower, with twice the floorspace of One World Trade Center (formerly the Freedom Tower) in NYC though half the height. This is one deceptive power dresser. Note the backing for her – the thin enshadowed strip at left, glimpsed from street level:

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In reality the ‘thin’ strip, made of green glass almost doubles the floorspace, though hidden from street angle. From the air one can see better the bulk of the place; a perfect expression of Japanese culture where the public face of tatamae hides – even compliments – the personal truth of honne.  The gargantuan building debuts with the ultimate socially acceptable accolade: that from whichever angle you see her, she looks half her weight :

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In short Tokyo has the biggest buildings of any city, not measured in terms of height, but on average floorspace. Not just that they’re lower or deceptive in format, but the city itself is so large (with a centre that’s arguably the world’s largest) that its massive buildings don’t need to pack it in to create a Manhattanesque thicket. Rather they are interspersed with lowrises and midrises that form the majority of the urban landscape of the region. However, travel the city seeing in the vastness of its infrastructure, its verdant crowds or taking a flight above it all, and the seething vastness reveals itself.

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Tokyo was of course the biggest city that ever was (multiple times over), for a good 50 years. Its breakneck growth saw in one of the biggest construction booms in history, best measured by population growth. Before the war it had just usurped NYC as the world’s largest city with 12.6 million, but of course plummeted during the war (the bit where it became the world’s most destroyed piece of urbanity ever). It then climbed spectacularly again as a phoenix – between 1960 and 1970 it went from 17.5 million to 24 million, or 650,000 newcomers a year.

Only a few other cities compare. Between 2000 and 2010 Beijing grew by 605,000 a year, Shanghai by 626,000. However… we have a winner: Seoul between 1970 and 1980 added 700,000 a year.

Visitors mention that Tokyo may not feel immediately larger than New York due to its greater preponderance of smaller buildings, but Seoul delivers in spades. A city of 24.5 million Seoul has traditionally been the world’s second largest city, yet one of it’s most obscure, with a surprisingly low global profile for much of the 20th Century – though things have now changed due to the Korean Wave of music, movies, tech and trends (and a certain catchy dance video about a certain highrise district).

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Seoul is the densest of the highrise megacities if you’re just counting the urban areas, with over 33,000 highrises (defined as a building 12 storeys/ 115ft or more) – that’s over 5x NYC. The country has the densest urbanity in general (not taking into account the countryside, or the 70% forest cover of the nation). Much more so than its rival across the sea, it houses the majority of its population in dense tracts of highrise housing, coursing over or around the local topography like a studded sea.

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It does however have far fewer skyscrapers (at ‘only’ 85), deemed a handicap if they were used as landmarks for bombers flying in from the North. Only recently has it thrown heed to the wind and built a swanky new supertall that’s over half a km high and as subtle as the burning eye of Sauron.

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To rival Seoul, there’s The Pearl River  Metropolis made up of the conjoined cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen as mentioned previously (not to be confused with the much wider Pearl River Megalopolis). Like Tokyo it combines massively built scale and population, but is much more high rise. It has 383 skyscrapers (buildings 150m or over) built and 75 under construction – less than Hong Kong’s 390 but more than New York’s 282, or Tokyo’s 157, plus an almost incalculable amount of highrises to compliment.

Guangzhou’s centre…

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…is a mind-numbing 140 km from Shenzhen’s centre, though both are part of a single contiguous urban area. This definitely takes on the northern twins of Seoul and Tokyo for built size:

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It does however, like Seoul, swirl around the many hills or are broken by remaining patches of farmland here and there, so not as blanketing as Tokyo. Best appreciated hovering from the air or a fine green hilltop which the city has many, but not flying for miles across an unbroken sea of buildings.

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Final answer, the most built up city is of course the one with most built living space. I would take that as New York with its skyscraper centre and vast tracts of large single/double storeyed suburbs, covering the biggest land area, but bear in mind the majority of that would resemble a green, sparsely populated forest. Like Milton Keynes, that forgot to stop.

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If you’re talking building up, well that would be the Pearl River Delta (or Shanghai/ Sao Paulo, but that’s on the next post). If you’re flying a plane, that would be Tokyo’s vast picnic sea of urbanity from horizon to horizon.

If you’re talking feel – 24 hr, highrise happy, neon drenched, slightly totalitarian Seoul. The future – Mumbai? Dubai? Chongqing?

And if you’re talking city centre, imo that’s back to the Big Apple baby.

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No, wait…

-isn’t Tokyo twice the size of NYC?

More? The World’s Most Highrise City