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The good news of 2018

I started collecting examples of "good news" items a couple of years ago - as a personal antidote to some of the bad things going on out there. This year I've ended up collecting almost too many to keep a handle on. Although the year isn't finished, I'm blogging it here so you can read!

Have a look here - what's a good news item that particularly grabs you?

There's so much good news that it's hard to know how to organise it... I'm writing from a UK perspective so there are plenty of UK things but the big ones are worldwide. I'll try starting with the Big Good News and then grouping other things into categories:

Big Good News


Breast cancer screening improvement - many women can avoid chemo

UK soft drink sugar tax - many firms have cut the sugar in their drinks


WhatsApp Co-Founder Puts $50M Into Signal To Supercharge Encrypted Messaging - this is great news for digital privacy, and Signal's a lovely app

Linus Torvalds, the inventor and maintainer of the Linux kernel, had an awakening about his rude behviour, wrote a detailed apology, and took time off to work on his behaviour

Microsoft open-sourced its entire patent portfolio (over 60,000 patents), pledging unrestricted use to the Linux world

Opening up MasterMap - Unlocking of Government’s mapping and location data to boost economy by £130m a year


Over the past 20 years, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has almost halved.

Percent of Indian households with toilets goes from approx 50% (2014) to approx 90% (2017)

'Remarkable' decline in fertility rates worldwide (journal source) - while this is a complex issue, a cause and effect of many things, the reason I include this is that it's great news for women's empowerment, indicative of a "demographic transition" connected with such progress worldwide.


Spain: Mariano Rajoy and his PP finally ousted by no-confidence vote, after many corruption scandals

The Britain First leaders have been jailed

In Dutch local elections, GroenLinks ("Green Left") goes from 5% up to 8.4% of the vote - they were the biggest party in Amsterdam and in other cities! - while the anti-Islam PVV had a poor showing, collapsing from seven to two seats in The Hague for example

Uber lost its court battles trying to claim its drivers were not actually employees

Malaysia: Mahathir Mohamad says Anwar Ibrahim (who he was previously responsible for deposing) to be given royal pardon

'Gay conversion therapy' to be banned as part of LGBT equality plan

Greece emerges from eurozone bailout programme

Boris Johnson faces court over his well-publicised £350m Brexit claim

The UK government’s independent Migration Advisory Committee concluded that international students are a good thing. Even when considered only in cash terms, "the average non-EEA student makes a net fiscal contribution of more than £5,000 a year"; and that they even benefit domestic students.

The UK's bulk surveillance powers - exposed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden - have been found to be illegal by the European Court of Human Rights.


All kinds of subsidy-free renewable power schemes announced/commenced, meaning that renewables can be economical in themselves.

New government data confirms support for renewables is at an all time high

Chile creates national parks from donated land. "the area being protected was roughly the size of Switzerland." donated by founder of North Face

UK's total greenhouse gas emissions have fallen from 800 million tonnes in 1990, to less than 500 million (...though aviation's contribution doubled and no-one's doing anything about it!)

Bikes now most common vehicle type in City of London rush hour, says official traffic count study

Global carbon emissions could be cut 3% by following the UK’s example

UK introduces plans for a bottle deposit scheme (pfand)

Drop in plastic bags littering British seas linked to introduction of 5p charge

Plastic-eating enzyme discovered (and improved) by scientists in Portsmouth which turns plastic back into its components:

Electric Buses Are Hurting the Oil Industry ("with China leading the way" - 17% of China's entire fleet already! Though the UK has the #1 biggest electric bus fleet in Europe.)

"mini-Holland" schemes in outer London boroughs proven successful - including an auxiliary increase in walking

MoD campaign to stop killing of songbirds on Cyprus hailed a success: Poachers killed 800,000 birds on UK base in 2016 but 72% drop was recorded in last year

Organic solar cells (flexible, multi-purpose) reach a new level of efficiency, competitive with silicon and could produce electricity very cheaply

Last year renewable energy made up 30% of UK electricity - a new record!

The number of vegans in the UK has doubled from 2014 to 2016 - and then more than doubled again from 2016 to 2018:

Record-breaking numbers of UK's rarest seabird return to island after near extinction

Groundbreaking 'spinning' wind turbine wins UK Dyson award - interesting design

Aberdeen offshore wind project opposed by Trump is officially opening

Dutch appeals court upholds landmark climate change ruling - the government is legally obliged to actually stick to its climate targets

A survey run by Waitrose (of everyone, not just Waitrose shoppers) finds "1 in 8" people veggie or vegan

Lancashire Fracking protesters walk free after court quashes 'excessive' sentences


UK became the first country to enforce documentation of the gender pay gap in companies

British astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered pulsars, overlooked by the Nobels, finally won a $3m Breakthrough award

Lancaster City Councillors voted unanimously to save Lancaster Music Co-op

...and finally...

Paris hero climbs four-storey building to rescue dangling child – wow watch this video

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Björk and Kim Gordon and me splitting up

I hadn't noticed that both Björk and Kim Gordon had split up from their long-term partners. Thing is, last summer I split up from my long-term partner. I think back then I would have gained some solace from the work of fabulous artists who were going through analogous pain - even if the analogies were only superficial. But then, I was deep in it all, too busy with our own difficulties and the horrible pile of practicalities that accompany a long-term breakup, to notice everything around me.

That changed this year, when Kim Gordon published a book, and Björk published an album, both of which foreground their breakups. But the timing has changed - it's not last summer any more, and I'm not in the heat of it, so I don't need to take solace from these things like I did back then. I can feel some empathy, remotely of course. I really wonder what I would have made of it all last summer.

Björk's album Vulnicura is a heartfelt and very raw heartbreak album. It does some amazing things, some really intense sonic moments, which work on these emotional issues universally, and Björk's lyrics are along similar lines but they often dive really deep into uncomfortably intimate detail. A bit like hearing someone listing all the bad things their ex did, and not being sure quite how literally to take it all:

"Family was always our sacred mutual mission/ Which you abandoned."

It's so direct that it makes me want to hear the other side's rejoinder. (I should say, by the way, that that quote is nothing like what was going on in my case.)

It's really quite striking though that it's Björk and Kim Gordon. Björk has for decades expressed a very open and deep emotional literacy in her music, and in recent years it's increasingly been less about torrid excitement and more about family bonds. Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore were the alt-rock equivalent of the ideal family: together for decades, raising kids while pushing Sonic Youth and their other projects ever onward. And if these paragons are not immune, well on the one hand that's really sad, while on the other hand maybe I can take some solace from it after all. Their lives aren't exactly average lives, but then whose is? We're still all tumbling through the same kaleidoscope.

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Islam and imagery

I'm quite naive about Islam, so it's hard to get a clear idea of "normal" Islam underneath the headlines about the tiny proportion of violent extremists. Part of the Charlie Hebdo thing was the question about whether it's OK to depict the prophet. So just for reference I found this quote from Tariq Ali in the LRB helpful:

"On the question of images there has always been a debate within Islam. The Quran itself contains warnings against the worship of idols and graven images, but this is taken straight from the Abrahamic tradition and the Old Testament. It’s a stricture on forms of worship. After all, images of the prophet were embossed on early Muslim coins to replace Byzantine and Persian potentates. A number of paintings by Muslim artists in the late medieval period depict the prophet with loving care. The Shia tradition has always ignored the supposed ban on images and portraits of Shia imams have never been forbidden. All the different schools of Sunni jurisprudence don’t agree on the question. It has only become a big issue since Saudi money pushed Wahhabi clerics onto the world stage to fight communism during the Cold War (with the total backing of Washington). Wahhabi literalism misinterprets the Quran and its hostility to images led the Saudi government to destroy the graves in Mecca of the prophet, his companions and his wives. There were no protests except by architects and historians who denounced the vandalism. One can only imagine the response in the world of Islam had the destruction of the graves been carried out, deliberately or accidentally, by a Western power."

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How many persons under trains on the tube, so far in 2013?

There seem to have been two separate person under a train incidents on the London underground today. I know nothing about either of them, but there was also one last Friday - and the cluster of events, well, first it made me feel awful, but then I wondered if there were any stats to help understand how common these events are.

Well yes there are. For example you can see some old-ish data for 1998-2005 here. I couldn't find any more recent data - you could file an FOI request if you like. BUT - TfL's twitter feeds tell the public whenever travel is disrupted. And since they use the standard form of words, it's quite simple to go through and find all occurrences, for example, for 2013 so far. So here they are:


Fifteen in total, so far for 2013. Roughly one per week. This is not the same type of data as the old data I linked above (it includes fatalities and nonfatalities, I expect, whereas the old data is just for the former).

You can do some basic statistical modelling on this: if you assume these are independent events and model them with a Poisson distribution, then you find the probability of seeing two-or-more incidents on one day is 1.04% - which essentially means there's nothing particularly weird about seeing it happen at some point over the past three-and-a-bit months.

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