Welcome to another edition of Well, that happened…
Keeping it short and sweet this fortnight as it’s Easter weekend, but there has been plenty of big news events to deconstruct. We will summarise these stories for you as they stand now, but many of them will have wider reaching ramifications that we will analyse over the next few weeks.
Have a great bank holiday everyone, and we will see you in two weeks!
Extinction rebellion holds up London
Thousands of protestors descended to London this week, blockading streets and causing major disruption to public transport in an escalation to get the government to address climate change.
Describing their protest as non-violent civil disobedience, the group Extinction Rebellion (XR) blocked traffic at Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus. Three protesters glued themselves to a DLR train and have been charged by the British Transport Police.
There are three demands XR want the government to enact. They want the government to declare a climate and ecological emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025, and create a Citizen’s Assembly that will lead on decision to address climate and ecological breakdown.
Police have taken a strong stance against the protesters, and have deployed over 1,000 police officers a day to the scenes. At the time of writing nearly 600 people have been arrested.
Notre Dame burns down, millions donated
The 17th Century cathedral has been devastated in a fire that is now being attributed to an electrical short circuit. The alarm sounded at 18:20 on 15 April and took firefighters more than 12 hours to get the blaze under control.
At the time of writing, more than $1bn has been pledged to help from people around the world to help restore the cathedral. A minor controversy broke out over many of the donations were coming from the wealthiest in society, asking whether it was for tax reasons. Corporations such as Disney and Apple have also pledged money for the efforts. Emmanuel Macron has said that Notre Dame will be rebuilt in five years ready for the French hosting of the Olympics, although experts are saying the rebuild could take as long as 15 years.
Brexit fittingly postponed until Halloween
Having failed to convince anyone that no deal is better than a bad deal, and failing to convince anyone her bad deal is good, Theresa May had to go back to the European Union and ask for a second extension. She requested a short extension that would see the UK leave before the new session of European Parliament, and many within the EU wanted to give an extension to the end of the year. The one hold out was French President Emmanuel Macron, who wanted to take a hardline approach with the UK - in no small part because he will soon be facing tough elections.
The 31 October is simply the date the UK must leave the UK (unless a further extension is granted or we revoke Article 50), but if a deal is passed within Parliament then we can leave earlier. At the very least we will be waiting for two weeks, as Parliament has gone on recess, and with growing murmurs of discontent within the Conservative Party over Theresa May’s leadership there is likely to be more disruption. It has also been reported that talks between Number 10 and the Labour Party have broken down, suggesting that when Parliament reopens the gridlock will remain.
First image of a black hole released
The image you see above is the first ‘photograph’ taken of a supermassive black hole. The dark shadow in the centre is the black hole, and the bright orange ring that surrounds it is Messier 87 (M87), the galaxy it sits at the centre of.
It took eight telescopes stationed on five continents to capture the data, and it was explained to The Verge that the image you see above is what you would see if you had eyes as big as the Earth, and could see in radio. The eight telescopes were aligned for a week in April 2017 to capture data from the area. The amount of data captures was vast - roughly 5000 years worth of mp3 files, and was recorded on a half a ton of hard drives that were then physically sent to central locations to be processed by supercomputers.
The amount of data captured was colossal. Speaking at a press conference, Sera Markoff, an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam said, “You’re basically looking at a supermassive black hole that’s almost the size of our entire Solar System.” It is estimated to be 6.5 billion times more massive than our Sun.
Source: The Verge
Redacted version of the Mueller report released
A redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections has been released, with plenty of juicy information but a frustrating number of questions left unanswered.
It has been a few weeks since Mueller wrapped up his investigation and handed his report over to the Attorney General William Barr. Barr then wrote a summary of the report, saying that Mueller had decided not to make a decision one way or the other in regards to collusion or obstruction of justice. This meant it was up to the AG to decide whether there was sufficient evidence, and he decided there wasn’t.
The release of this report has now brought Barr’s impartiality into question, as it shows there were 10 instances where Trump’s own actions may have amounted to obstruction of justice, and additionally found that the Trump campaign was “receptive” to aid from the Russians. Again, although Mueller didn’t state that Trump or his campaign were guilty, he presented plenty of evidence in the expectation that Congress would be able to explore the issue further.
Among the details released is that White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied to the press about why former FBI Director was fired, and that Trump believed he was “f****d” because Mueller was investigating him. It also recounts how Trump might ultimately have been protected from obstructing the course of justice because people disobeyed his requests.
A parliamentary group to support diversity in the arts has been created
A new cross-party parliamentary group has been established to tackle the lack of diversity in the arts. Former Arts minister Ed Vaizey was appointed to chair the group as a result of his continued involvement in the culture sector, despite being removed from his post in 2016. The group has a number of high level MP’s in it, including Labour MP and former actor Tracy Brabin, and Sarah Hodgson, who is also the chair of the parliamentary group for Art, Craft and Design in Education.
The group’s formation comes at a time of increased criticism of the creative sector failing to be more diverse. Only 5% of the workforce in England’s core-funded organisations identify as disabled, despite disabled people making up 20% of the working age population. 12% of the core funded staff identify as BME, compared to 16% of the working age population.
Source: Arts Professional
Arts contributes more to the UK economy than agriculture
Arts and culture has overtaken agriculture in terms of its contribution to the UK economy, according to a new report. Published by Arts Council England, the report states that the arts and culture sector added £10.8bn to the economy in 2016, a year-on-year increase of £390m. This is more than the agricultural sector, and roughly equal to the contributions made by cities such as Sheffield or Liverpool.
The report has also found that 37% of arts organisations have become more risk averse as a result of funding cuts, and 54% of those organisations with funding cuts have been unable to compensate for the loss. This has resulted in staff cuts or wage freezes.
The £10.8bn contribution to GDP is just the direct impact. The report found that when taxation, employment and supply chains are taken into account, the overall contribution climbs to about £23bn.
Source: The Guardian