Our successor to This Week in the Guardian, This Week in the New Normal is our weekly chart of the progress of autocracy, authoritarianism and economic restructuring around the world.
1. We name heatwaves now
It’s July, which means it’s getting pretty hot in the Mediterranean.
Sorry, “getting pretty hot” is old-fashioned talk. What I mean is “record temperatures seen as Spain braces for heatwave Cerberus”.
Yes, we name heatwaves now. I was absolutely positive they’d never done it before…but I was wrong. They named two others, both last year.
I’m not sure what exactly prompted this change in policy, but it’s not hard to imagine the internal memos about “showing people how serious climate change is”, or whatever.
Oh, and in case you were wondering about those “record temperatures”, they created them by deceptively altering the way they report temperature.
Standard meteorological temperatures are measured in the air, two metres above sea level. But this week the media have been parroting a European Space Agency report that relied on land temperatures recorded by satellites.
Land surface temperatures are almost always substantially hotter than air temperatures, as anyone who’s ever walked barefoot across a beach, patio or cement road could tell you.
I won’t bother explaining why they did this, we all know.
2. 15 minute cites and 13 neighborhoods
Despite being a ridiculous conspiracy theory that doesn’t really mean anything, the 15-minute city programme continues to spread around the globe. This week it was reported that 15-minute cities would be great because they would combat the “epidemic of lonelieness”,
Meanwhile Deep Cove, BC – a district of Vancouver – joining the charge:
Across the Atlantic, in the UK, it was announced that Liverpool is being divided into 13 neighborhoods…for purely administrative purposes, you understand.
That’s not a step towards 15 minute cities at all. Promise.
This week saw the release of two “big” movies – Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.
It also saw a bizarre viral marketing campaign aiming to link the two movies as if they are sides of a coin, #barbenheimer.
Again we’re in a “choose a side” territory, and the sides are divisive, abusive gender politics or war-crime apologia (or nuclear near-miss predictive programming if you’re feeling especially paranoid).
Marketing, obviously. But it also feels like a social experiment. Like another part of a concerted on-going campaign to reduce everything in life down to a series of personality-defining either-or decisions.
Are you a Barbie or an Oppenheimer, they ask, without reference to the fact you can clearly see both or – more importantly – you can choose to watch neither.
Most nauseating of all is this tweet from UK PM Rishi Sunak…
The family vote was only ever going one way…
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) July 22, 2023
To be clear, his family didn’t decide to go and watch Barbie. He’s the Prime Minister of the UK, if he wanted to watch a movie they do a private screening in a secure location, they don’t pop down to the IMAX.
If he actually went, it was decided by his handler. The scene was set, waves of security guards are just out of view. The photo was likely taken by a professional photographer with lights rigged up. The casual denim and sweater combo was workshopped to be relatable without being sloppy. More expensive jeans were tried and rejected for look too elitist, they trialed a hole in the knee or scuffs, but decided against it.
There was discussion of which cinema chain they attend, what phones/snacks/merchandise the family are holding. There was discussion in some boardroom or zoom chat over whether Sunak should appeal to the intellectual middle class with Oppenheimer or the working class with family-friendly Barbie.
The studio likely made some roundabout payment for this service, and Sunak’s PR department likes it because it sells him as a real person…when he’s not.
Even the responses – ranging from “the country’s on fire and he’s watching a movie” to “whatever you say about our political disagreements, he’s still a nice family man” – are likewise predicted and even stage-managed.
Nothing about it is real, not one single aspect of it.
And so few people are ready to engage with that. They just want to talk about Labour vs Tory, Russia vs NATO or Barbie vs Oppenheimer.
BONUS: Quiet-part-loud of the week
US Vice President Kamala Harris with a major Freudian slip this week, claiming they want to reduce population…
Kamala Harris wants to “invest in reduced population” 😳
— Wall Street Silver (@WallStreetSilv) July 14, 2023
…when she apparently meant to say “pollution”.
It’s not all bad…
Cartoonist Bob Moran – an heroic voice during lockdown and the “pandemic” in general – is doing a one-man show, Art-Pocalypse, in London later this year.
Oh, and I discovered this poem this week – When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer, by Walt Whitman – it is beautiful, and honest. And we need all the beauty and truth we can get:
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
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