Twenty-five years ago today, an unknown author published a short novel about wizards, witches, flying broomsticks, and the return of a once-defeated monstrous evil. Jo Rowling has gone on to become one of the most loved and most hated authors in the modern world, and the series that started with a print run of just 500 copies on 26 June 1997 has sold over a half-billion books.
Happy birthday to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Time for a re-read.
A lot has happened in the past day or so:
- The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 down partisan lines that everyone can carry a gun anywhere they want to, because they had guns in 1791 and so we have to live by 230-year-old rules. (Fun fact: a well-trained militiaman in 1791 could fire four aimed musket shots in a minute! Another fun fact: in 1791, bullets didn't yet exist!)
- That will surely comfort the parents of Uvalde, Texas, about as much as the news that the school police chief finally got suspended in light of the abject incompetence of everyone he supervised.
- Josh Marshall thinks the Justice Department may, actually, prosecute some of the January 6th insurrection leaders—including, perhaps, the XPOTUS.
- Microsoft's president and vice chair Brad Smith explains how Microsoft has fought the cyberwar in Ukraine.
- Robert Wright (sub.req.) argues in favor of a negotiated peace in Ukraine, and that American foreign policy over the past 25 years has made the benefit of standing on principle less than it could have been.
- Philosopher Slavoj Žižek responds that pacifism is the wrong response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
- Walter Shapiro shakes his head at how badly we (the West) squandered the "lost weekend" of 1989 to 2001.
- After investing $50m in the Republican primary election Illinois has next Tuesday, Ken Griffin has decided to up sticks to Florida. He will not be missed.
- Just four weeks before I visit my ancestral homeland, three transit-related industrial actions (strikes) have either started or will start soon, affecting the national railways, the London Underground, and Heathrow's ground staff. It's a good thing that the only modes of transit I typically use in the UK are planes, trains, and the Tube!
- The US Food and Drug Administration has halted sales of Juul e-cigarette products.
Finally, let's all congratulate Trumpet, the bloodhound who won the Westminster Kennel Club's dog show last night. Who's a good boy!
Even though it seems the entire world has paused to honor HRH The Queen on the 70th anniversary of her accession, the world in fact kept spinning:
Blogger Moxie Marlinspike wrote about their first impressions of web3 back in January. I just got around to reading it, and you should too.
- On the same topic, a group of 25 security professionals, including Grady Booch, Bruce Schneier, and Molly White, wrote an open letter to Congress advocating for serious regulation of cryptocurrencies.
- What's Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's strategy in Ukraine? Wait us out. (It helps that he gives no thought to anyone's life but his own.)
- Closer to home, Jelani Cobb writes about "the atrocity of American gun culture."
- The US Navy's last conventionally-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk, has arrived in Brownsville, Texas, for dismantling. Apparently Chicago didn't want an aircraft carrier museum for some reason.
- Chicago has bungalows, L.A. has dingbats, Amsterdam has canal houses, and Dublin has over-basement row houses.
- Bloomberg suggests the Elizabeth Line could prompt a whole re-map of the London Underground.
Oh, and plastic recycling doesn't work, and probably can't.
And here, a propos of nothing, is a photo of St Boniface Cemetery I took this morning:
Chicago's two baseball teams gave up a combined 36 runs yesterday, with the Cubs losing to the Reds 20-5 and the Sox losing to the Red Sox 16-7. Perhaps the bullpens could use a little work, hmm?
In other news:
Finally, astronomers have produced a photo of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, and were surprised to see it looks nothing like Ted Cruz's head.
The Elizabeth Line through central London, formerly known as Crossrail, opened today:
First approved in 2008, the heavy rail line will dramatically improve public transport coverage of the city, says Transport for London (TfL), slashing journey times, providing substantial extra capacity and making the city more altogether more accessible. By extending the transport system to areas that were previously much slower to access and creating new central hubs for transfers to the Tube, the line could also reshape the way people navigate the city.
Travel times from Southeast London’s Abbey Wood to the major western rail terminus of Paddington, for example, will be cut by almost half to 29 minutes. Journeys from southeastern Woolwich—currently one of London’s worst-served areas for train connections—to London’s main eastern rail terminus at Liverpool Street will be halved to 15 minutes, while connections between Farringdon, in London’s financial district, and the newer dockland business hub of Canary Wharf will be slashed from 24 minutes to just ten. While all Londoners stand to benefit from these connections, business travelers will be particularly well-served, with connections from Heathrow Airport to Canary Wharf soon to be possible in 44 minutes.
An additional 1.5 million people will be within a 45-minute commuting distance from the capital’s major commercial and business centers of the West End, the City and Canary Wharf, up from 5 million currently according to Crossrail.
The Elizabeth Line will also redraw the map of London’s central transport hubs.
To take an example: Farringdon Station—the central London terminus of the world’s first underground railway, which opened in January 1863—was, before the Elizabeth Line’s opening a busy but not necessarily pivotal station in London’s transport network. Thanks to the Elizabeth Line, it will now be a key interchange station, connecting the line not just to the Tube but with high frequency trains to London’s northern and southern suburban hinterland that are routed through the station. Farringdon will also now have direct links to St. Pancras International for Eurostar connections and to three major airports: Gatwick, Heathrow and Luton. Combined with the station’s existing Tube links, Farringdon will eventually be served by over 140 trains per hour at the busiest times.
I will deliver a full report in July.
Meanwhile, 89% of UK railway workers have voted for a national railway strike, so who knows how long the Elizabeth Line will run?
The London Underground gets a new line on May 24th. Eventually, you can take the Elizabeth Line from Heathrow to Essex in one go; for now, you have to change twice. But it still adds about 10% more capacity to the Tube:
The Elizabeth line will initially operate as three separate railways, with services from Reading, Heathrow and Shenfield connecting with the central tunnels from autumn this year. When the final stage is complete, customers will be able to travel seamlessly from Abbey Wood to Heathrow and Reading, and from Shenfield to Heathrow.
- Shenfield and the central section of the route will need to change trains at Liverpool Street, walking to/from the new Elizabeth line Liverpool Street station
- Reading or Heathrow and the central section will need to change trains at Paddington, walking to/from the new Paddington Elizabeth line station
- Paddington and Abbey Wood only - no changes needed
The line has all-new trains, all-new signals, and all-new controls, making it "one of the most complex digital railways in the world," according to TfL.
The Heathrow to Paddington route looks like it could give the Heathrow Express some competition, as £6 is less than £25, even if the route takes twice as long.
We had two incredible performances of Bach's Johannespassion this weekend. (Update: we got a great review!) It's a notoriously difficult work that Bach wrote for his small, amateur church chorus in Leipzig the year he started working there. I can only imagine what rehearsals were like in 1724. I'm also grateful that we didn't include the traditional 90-minute sermon between the 39-minute first part and the 70-minute second part, and that we didn't conclude the work with the equally-traditional pogrom against the Jews of Leipzig.
It's still a magnificent work of music.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world:
Finally, Rachel Feltman lists five myths about Daylight Saving Time. Our annual tradition of questioning it without changing anything will continue, of course.
And it's about 16°C outside, so it's time to take Cassie on her third half-hour walk of the day.
I finished a sprint at my day job while finding time to take Cassie to the dog park and make a stir-fry for lunch. While the unit tests continue to spin on my work computer, I have some time to read about all the things that went wrong in the world today:
- Paul Krugman does the arithmetic on why, since the 1870s, conquering your neighbor impoverishes both countries. ("An aside: Isn’t it extraordinary and horrible to find ourselves in a situation where Hitler’s economic failures tell us useful things about future prospects? But that’s where we are. Thanks, Putin.")
- Jonah Shepp agrees, at least about the politics of it. So does David Remnick. In fact, it's pretty hard to find someone who thinks invading Ukraine was a good idea. And yet, every global village needs an idiot...
- Ukrainians have spared no insult on social media against the invading army. It helps that Putin has shown to the whole world that he hasn't got the power he claimed. Josh Marshall also reflects on Putin's, ah, performance issues.
- In lighter news, a Birmingham woman spent £150 on her very first Michelin-starred dining experience, and loved it.
I'm heading out tonight to watch President Biden's first State of the Union Address with friends. Robert Reich will also tune in.
A truly bizarre story from the BBC:
Madbird hired more than 50 others. Most worked in sales, some in design and some were brought in to supervise. Every new joiner was instructed to work from home - messaging over email and speaking to each other on Zoom.
Days were often long. Jordan Carter from Suffolk, who was 26 at the time, was credited with being one of the hardest working members of Chris's sales team. In five months, he pitched Madbird to 10,000 possible business clients, hoping to win deals to redesign websites or build apps. By January 2021, his work ethic had earned him the title Employee of the Month.
Gemma Brett, a 27-year-old designer from west London, had only been working at Madbird for two weeks when she spotted something strange. Curious about what her commute would be like when the pandemic was over, she searched for the company's office address. The result looked nothing like the videos on Madbird's website of a sleek workspace buzzing with creative-types. Instead, Google Street View showed an upmarket block of flats in London's Kensington.
Gemma contacted an estate agent with a listing at the same address who confirmed her suspicion - the building was purely residential. We later corroborated this by speaking to someone who'd worked in the building for years. They had never seen Ali Ayad. The block of flats was not the global headquarters of a design firm called Madbird.
Using online reverse image searches they dug deeper. They found that almost all the work Madbird claimed as its own had been stolen from elsewhere on the internet - and that some of the colleagues they'd been messaging online didn't exist.
The person claiming to be Ayad exists, and the Beeb interviewed him briefly. But they couldn't explain why he had created a fake company in the first place.
The temperature dropped 17.7°C between 2:30 pm yesterday and 7:45 this morning, from 6.5°C to -10.2°C, as measured at Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters. So far it's recovered to -5.5°C, almost warm enough to take my lazy dog on a hike. She got a talking-to from HR about not pulling her weight in the office, so this morning she worked away at a bone for a good stretch:
Alas, the sun came out, a beam hit her head, and she decided the bone could wait:
Meanwhile, in the rest of the world:
- Julia Ioffe interviews Russian diplomat Dr Andrey Sushentsov about Russia's views of the Ukraine crisis. tl;dr: the US and Russia don't even have a common set of facts to discuss, let alone a common interpretation of them.
- In Beijing, former Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon blasts the Russian team for once again crapping on their own performance with yet another doping scandal.
- The government of Ontario secured a court order last night allowing the Windsor Police and OPP to start clearing the Ambassador Bridge. So far, they have managed to do so without violence, but a few extremists haven't yet budged.
- James Fallows updates his earlier post on how framing outrageous actions as "that's just Trump" is an abrogation of the press's responsibility to its consumers. "For perspective here: the late Sandy Berger, who had been Bill Clinton’s National Security Advisor, was investigated, charged, fined $50,000, and sentenced to two years of probation for stuffing copies of a classified document into his socks, and sneaking them out from the National Archives. The story of his downfall was a major news feature back in the mid-2000s."
- The UK now allows fully-vaccinated travelers from most countries to arrive and depart without getting a swab stuck up their nose.
- Comedian Bob Saget died of blunt head trauma, consistent with a slip and fall, according to an autopsy. It also found his heart had a 95% blockage, which might have killed him even without the fall.
Finally, in 2018 Rebecca Mead returned to London after living in New York for 30 years. Her 15-year-old son now speaks with a unique accent Mead says has become the new standard "Multicultural London English."