Newspaper neutrality

Are newspapers supposed to be neutral? Or better still, are they allowed to have a leaning? And if so, how exactly should we define a “leaning”? To expect anything run by humans to be absolutely unbiased would be naïve. Humans are biased to some extent, we have likes and dislikes, we have preferences, and we express it — subconsciously or otherwise — in everything we do, say, or write. And as long as humans run a newspaper, there will be some bias and some preference for one idea over another that creeps into the editing, and eventually establishes itself as the voice and political stance of that publication. This is true as much of television as it is of print media, and the question in the end of it all is not whether media are biased, but how consumers need to ensure they are not buying into a political stance blindly.

The Washington Post is a classic example of this: articles in the newspaper backed the remain campaign in Britain (although the paper did not do so openly or officially — their front page was uncannily neutral) and, the same day, right after the entire country voted to leave the European Union with disastrous consequences, the Post published an article titled, “The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it”. First of all, no, it was most certainly not the case if you thought that headline meant most Brits did not know what they were voting for, but, at first glance, it certainly makes the most valid case yet for a second referendum by terming the past one effectively pointless — the people did not know what they were looking for, and given another chance they would vote to remain in the EU. This is, first of all, a classic clickbait style headline intended to rope people in. The article itself is not stellar, and draws misdirected conclusions backed by poor numbers. (If you seek a rebuttal read the one published in The Telegraph a few days after the article in the Post, and others like it, gained traction on the internet.)

The front page of the Washington Post on Brexit.

The front page of the Washington Post on Brexit.

Buzzfeed made a list showing what several newspaper front pages said about Brexit. I read three among these regularly, two of which officially backed the remain campaign, much like I did myself, and one that claimed no backing — understandably, since it is an American publication. Such a stance is, from my experience, a little less common, although not absent, in America. Oftentimes, the backing is unofficial, but it is there nonetheless. However, just because a publication backs a certain ideology need not make them biased: there is a difference between support and bias. The former demands that the publication be open to calling out the follies of their side and appreciating the opposing side for a good and fair step they may take. This is healthy. Once again, the problem is not when backing (or leaning or support if you will) exists, but when bias exists and creeps into the editorial. Such news sources are best avoided (think Fox who, besides their heavy right-wing backing, was prompt to report that the UK voted to leave the UN).

Consider The Atlantic, which boldly claims to be “of no party of clique” — and stays true to this — but often carries an unofficial liberal stance in a lot of its writing. Harper’s is similarly liberal. Now liberal does not mean left-wing. This is actually an American misnomer because the Democrats are largely considered liberal and are the left-wing in American politics, while the Republicans are housed on the conservative, right-wing. This model is often employed to understand politics in other nations and erroneously at that. Alas, the situation is considerably more complex around the world. The issue could just be attributed to nuances and forgotten, but it does help to examine that if only to show what really qualifies as leaning — which was the primary question we started out with. There is some futility here too: for example, “liberalism” is of two types — social and fiscal — but this is just the tip of the iceberg and it really clarifies nothing. What one should see instead is the beliefs that define these forms of liberalism (or, on the other end of the spectrum, conservatism). Someone who calls for smaller role of governments, lot of civil liberty, and freer markets would be a “classical liberal”, and would actually be right-wing. Someone who calls for, say, gay marriage legalisation, decriminalisation of drugs etc. (two predominant issues in America today), would be a “social liberal”, which is what the US Democratic Party is. But then, muddying the waters for no reasons, the Americans call a combination of economic and social liberalism as “libertarianism”, a word which does not carry the same meaning as it does in Europe or Asia, and “liberalism” in America has nothing to do with small governments — neither of the two major American parties supports it — but instead is a relative term: the Democrats are more liberal from the Republican perspective and vice versa. From an international perspective, the Democrats (and this is my opinion at this point) would be right of centre, while the Republicans would be the true right-wing. (For the curious, I looked it up and there happens to be a little-known political party in America, called the “Libertarian Party”, which is left-wing but has almost no presence anywhere in the country.)

Leaving the US behind and coming to a more understandable international stage, it becomes clear that one should talk more in terms of the various main beliefs rather than collections of beliefs in terms of isms. It also helps to dilute things as far as possible: believers of small states, free markets, and traditional individual lifestyles are economic liberals and would be right of centre; believers of complete individual freedom with similarly complete governance over markets are social liberals and would be left of centre, but these have, of late, been calling themselves “progressives”. So a libertarian that America refers to would be a social liberal in, say, Europe, and a liberal in America would be an economic liberal in Europe, and so on. I will restrict myself from addressing this issue further because I already wrote about it last week while talking about the increasing popularity of the right-wing around the world. It would suffice to say that, over time, people have picked an assortment of these beliefs and the line between left and right is now merging into a spectrum of sorts.

The point here is that having and expressing any of these beliefs, while it may be termed as one’s “leaning” is not harmful and is, in fact, an unescapable part of being human. It is precisely this bias that I refer to as human, and it is precisely this bias that everyone and their editor has and is expressed in all publications. However, when bias moves from beliefs in how society should function to blindly following whatever a political party says or does, it gets dangerous. And it is this form of “leaning” that has absolutely no place in journalism. Considering that, in addition to everything discussed so far, any form of leaning must not be blind, must not twist facts, and must be open to change and to objectively weighing and accepting opposing viewpoints, we can probably shrink it all down to a single sentence: backing a stance is good, backing a political party is not.

Unfortunately, for a lot of publishers, falling subscriptions and, quite simply, the rise in an entire generation that takes journalism for granted and does not see the point in paying for it — because, for some strange reason, everything on the internet is expected to be free — means compromising just to stay alive. This includes, especially, native advertising, or advertising disguised like the medium that carries it — for example, as articles in newspapers. Something as critical as abortion — which I believe should be allowed at the woman’s discretion, and whose fictitious “health hazards” have no credible evidence in support — are not only advertised against in the form of fake news articles, but are also targeted especially to women who have visited abortion clinics or related locations, all using GPS. This actually happened as recently as two months ago, and caused understandable concern, besides violating basic ethics — nobody subscribed to their offensive, intolerant, ill-informed ads — and then hiding behind the banners of trusted publishers. This will not improve the credibility of the advertiser as much as it will destroy that of the publisher. Further, this extends to things from shoes to — as John Oliver pointed out on his talk show on HBO, Last week tonight — a seemingly innocent advertisement about how our energy needs are changing, courtesy of oil drilling company, Chevron, which has left a string of negative environmental impacts in its path, from Ecuador to Angola to Niger to Rio to Bangladesh to Poland to California, to name a few. There is, on the same page, all the way at the bottom, a disclaimer that the New York Times news and editorial staff had no role in the preparation of the advertisement. But it comes in too small a text size, too late, promptly after a reader has gone through the entire page.

Sponsored native advertising is also a form of bias for which the newspaper itself is not directly accountable, but still is partly responsible. This bias does not, of course, extend throughout the paper, but it does exist somewhere in it and harms the trust readers place in the publication. The underlying point here being one of skepticism: open backing of a stance leaves room for skepticism, which is healthy; blind support of a party does not. Similarly, an advertisement that looks obviously like an advertisement is a good thing because readers know how and when and if they have to be skeptical about it and take away any information they may need, which is not something seedy native ads propound. This form of bias, even though it may be introduced into the publication by a third-party, reflects on the newspaper. This is not unlike having regular advertisements (like this website does) which are clearly ads. What if I slyly inserted a paragraph in-between this article that was really an advert and then informed you about it in illegible text all the way at the end? First is a sense of betrayal of trust, followed by a sense of lost time invested into reading this article. The same is the case with newspapers which, quite simply, means that bias that is announced loudly and clearly before the fact is not at all problematic. Bias that sneaks into the main context unsurprisingly has no place there. And it is most certainly not the habit of a “publisher sharing its storytelling tools with a marketer” as The New York TimesMeredith Levien puts it. Bias arising from an editorial stance on an issue is wholly different from that arising from vested interests, which is what advertising is all about, so claiming that the onus is on the reader makes little sense when the reader only ever subscribed to the views of the Times news and editorial boards, not, say, Chevron’s. At its best, native advertising is bias fro vested interests; at its worst, it is like an annoying e-mail newsletter you never subscribed to and can never unsubscribe from.

A hint of open-minded bias is good and I think it makes reading worthwhile, because plain, factual news delivery can get tedious. At the same time bias with vested interests, be it from a corporation or a political party or anything or anyone else, is nothing less than a danger to society.

Life on other planets

What is it about life outside the Earth that excites us so much? This was one of the questions Ian Sample of The Guardian asked Dr Stuart Clark two weeks back on the Science Weekly podcast. Around nineteen minutes into the show comes the question, “Why are we so keen on this idea?… There is something about this which seems to be endlessly appealing to us. What is this?”

“I thought about this a lot,” replies Dr Clark, “because I wanted to imbue (the book) with some sense of the philosophy of why we do this and why this seems to capture us so much.” He is, of course, talking about his latest book, The search for Earth’s twin. I think he comes up with a rather diplomatic answer: the idea that there could be other planets with life out there, he says, is “terrifically life-affirming”. To astronomers and astrophysicists, and to physicists in general, this is a question less about faith and more about the work we do. On the one hand is how Mr Sample points out that articles written about Earth-like planets become wildly popular on the web irrespective of how many remarkably similar ones get published in even a brief span of time, which is strangely true, and how Dr Clark attributes it to human nature, which is also true, and on the other is a harder truth: the Earth will not last forever, humans want to.

What makes a planet Earth-like?

The search for other planets is a recent one, starting around 1995, and it was accelerated some years ago with the launch of NASA’s Kepler mission which led to the discovery of thousands of planets. Given that planetary systems were so commonplace, our next search was for planets that were most like Earth. The strongest argument in favour of this is because the life we know evolved in the conditions present here on Earth, we know such life best and searching for such conditions is our best bet. This does reduce the chances of finding life dramatically — or perhaps not at all — because various other unfathomable forms of life may already exist which are not hydrocarbon-based like ours is, and we may be the minority; none of this is certain, which is why we settled to search for that which we know best. Kepler, however, is no longer functioning, but has collected sufficient data that we can examine it for quite a few years until ESA’s similar mission is launched.

The way we search for an Earth-like planet is to look for the most ideal case: one that is orbiting a G-type star, with an orbital radius of roughly 1AU, that is rocky, and Earth-sized. In other words, a photocopy of the Earth. Once we find such an ideal case (which has eluded us till date) any deviation can be translated to the changes it would bring to potential habitation on the surface. There are specific reasons why we look for these properties. Orbiting a G-type, sun-sized star would mean all the other characteristics of the potentially Earth-like planet have to be, quite literally, the same as the Earth. A 1AU orbit would give it the same climate, an Earth-sized radius and rocky structure would give it 1g acceleration due to gravity, and in turn a similar atmosphere as the Earth and so on. And even if one of these measurements is found to be different, all other measurements will then change accordingly.

Goldilocks and Saturnian moons

The 1AU orbital radius is of particular significance for two reasons. Firstly, the climate, and possibly the seasons in cahoots with the right axial inclination, which allows for hydrocarbon-based life to thrive. Secondly, because any potential Earth-like planet we have found so far has consistently never been in this region. Instead, heavy giants like Jupiter populate the so-called Goldilocks zone. The exact reason why this happens is unknown, but it could well be the general drift of heavier planets as they slowly drift from the outer reaches of a planetary system towards their parent star. The Juno mission that will soon reach Jupiter (our Solar System’s version of the many heavy giants we find everywhere else) should give us some insight into all this.

This effectively translates to finding a planet that can sustain liquid water at room temperatures (of our Earth) so that life as we know it can evolve. Water is the key element required for hydrocarbon lifeforms like ourselves. While this is all a fine case for finding actual planets like our Earth, remember that the story itself is incomplete. Once we find the Earth’s twin comes the question of whether there is life on it. And if not, we need to start all over again and look for another potential Earth-like planet, so stretch yourself, lean back and relax. This is going to be one long millennium.

However, all is not lost. Besides planets, there could be other natural satellites that may have unique ecosystems capable of supporting life. As an article in Scientific American last week pointed out, there is growing belief that Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, may well be our best bet as of now. With an icy parental cover shielding what many believe is a liquid ocean beneath it, in Enceladus we may have a system that is able to support life closer to home after all. This does not mean there is already life on Enceladus, but if there is — and there is a remarkably slim chance of this — then it would tell us a great deal about how life on earth evolved deep in our oceans, a trump card for biologists as well. Enceladus may even be too good to be true with its geysers shooting right out of its oceans which would make it easy for a targeted mission to collect samples without even landing on the icy surface and drilling. But, of course, there is no mission planned as yet, although several astronomers are hoping for one.

At the end of it all, one cannot — unfortunately — dismiss supremely religious people. Those who take pride in not believing in evolution etc. will have a lot of fingers to point at a lot of things. Facts, however, stand their ground. If life is found, it will improve our knowledge of a lot of things; if it is not, we have to remember that we are looking for needles in universe-sized haystack.

Locked out of Instagram

This week started with a bang: I somehow got locked out of my Instagram account. The account itself still exists and you can view and like my photographs and — as I expect will start happening now — leave a tonne of spammy comments. The reason my account was flagged was likely because I posted from travel abroad, which already resulted in an e-mail seeking clarification about accessing the account from a previously unused location or something to that effect. Back in my country now (which probably got flagged as another major change in location, although that does not make much sense) I find that the e-mail associated with that account has been mysteriously deleted and access to my account revoked with only one possibility of restoration: contacting Instagram directly.

While a lot of people wrote to me saying that Instagram will restore access if I write to them, and that the system may have made a mistake flagging it, I would, myself, look at this as a good thing — not unlike William’s curfew, for any of you who have read Sellars and Yeats’ 1066 and all that, the classic satire: “Another very conquering law made by William I said that everyone had to go to bed at eight o’clock. This was called the Curfew and was a Good Thing in the end since it was the cause of Gray’s Energy in the country churchyard (at Stoke Penge).” Coming back to the present, I have decided not to contest the blockade and instead let the account rest, or even be scrapped if Instagram chooses.

Like always, there are two ways to look at everything. I could whine about losing my half-decade old Instagram account, or I could make it a good thing. One of the qualms I have had with Instagram, and Google+ before it, has been that they encourage photo sharing, full stop. I got into the entire Instagram/G+ bandwagon (the latter before it ballooned, when at beta, and when it was more promising than it sadly is today) solely because of love of photography. But I often disliked how, like the internet itself, these networks can quickly become more of dictators, and, instead of encouraging and developing one’s photography, they become machines harvesting content, regardless of its quality. In their defence, they never really set out to improve anyone’s photography, but I still find it interesting how offline, say an art gallery, also meant mainly for showcasing, can still help improve your work. I digress. In a splendid personification of human tendency to band with one’s own kind, with others who share our views, both of these networks have people who enjoy and promote select photographic styles, and it is far too easy to get caught up in that. 500px is another excellent example of this, or at least the most obvious one, with its streams rich in heavily photoshopped work bordering on or often even crossing into the unnatural. However, all this is fodder for another article that is currently in its final editing phase and which I intended to publish before the whole Instagram fiasco happened.

There is one problem with this entire setup, however: photography is my hobby after all and it makes little sense if I have no place in which to collect my final works. This was primarily what I used Instagram for; the social aspect was a tacky add-on as far as I am concerned. VSCO has a social feature that feels, quite literally, tacky, but it will do for now. What I do love about VSCO, as much as I detest their new app UI, is that there are rightly no concepts of likes, favourites and other absurd means of measuring one’s worth. (This should really be no surprise coming from someone like me who quit Facebook when everyone the trendy thing to do was join it — I have never been one for following trends anyway.) All said and done, and despite my complaints about VSCO earlier this month, I think we ought to pick our battles: between Instagram and VSCO, I pick VSCO without a second thought, so that makes it official. See you, Instagram. It was great while it lasted.

The rise of the right wing

Make no mistake, the dynamics of the world are changing. The far right is taking over country after country as it increasingly seems as though the dominance of ideologies left of centre that followed wartimes are receding into the background. At first thought this could be in part due to the fact that the horrific memories of war are disappearing with every new generation, giving rise to polarising nationalism that caused the last two wars, and, undoubtedly, a curious sense of religious pride — both small-minded and pointless ideas in my opinion. However, facts speak otherwise: support from youngsters has been historically low for Donald Trump, the republican frontrunner in the American election, and the man who thinks “bigly” is a word; the Brexit polls last week saw thrice as much support from the older populace than youngsters; and India, where the nationalist, right-wing, RSS-backed Bharatiya Janata Party came into governance years before, did not see any unusually strong support from the youth — no more than other sections of society in any case.

In fact, all incidents point in the opposite direction. Society is now opener and freer than it has ever been, save in some countries like North Korea that have remained unchanged. Networking has increased, and with it populist beliefs. This is understandable — they are called populist beliefs for a reason. But, as the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, put it, “It was already clear before the Brexit vote that modern populist movements could take control of political parties. What wasn’t clear was whether they could take over a country like Britain.” I would urge you to read Mr Blair’s entire article, which he wrote in The New York Times last week, predictably on Brexit, in which he highlighted similar points with no refrain —

The immediate impact of the Brexit vote is economic. The fallout has been as swift as it was predictable. At one point on Friday, the pound hit a 30-year low against the dollar, and a leading British stock index had dropped more than 8 percent. The nation’s credit rating is under threat.

The lasting effect, however, may be political, and with global implications. If the economic shocks continue, then the British experiment will serve as a warning. But if they abate, then populist movements in other countries will gain momentum.

Mr Blair may not be the most loved man in Britain, and his views may not exactly be new, but he put it succinctly, and I think he nailed it. This is a turn the world is taking, with far-right populists forcing themselves into the picture everywhere. Perhaps it is in the natural order of things to sway from left to right over periods of time — a lot of things oscillate in physics as well — but, if it so, we are headed for a troubling order indeed. If you dwell in a world of left-right politics, I would be just a little off-centre, leaning left. My calculated political compass pegs me as near-centre (on the left-right axis) and about halfway towards libertarianism (on the authoritarian-libertarian axis) — see below. I tend to agree for the most part, but I never truly backed or believed in the dry left-/right-wing model. Its definitions remain hazy across countries. For instance, is a libertarian left- or right-wing? Does a neoconservative have to be hard right? And, a question seemingly coming from the less informed — how is a liberal left of centre while a neoliberal is right? And the list goes on. Free markets and stable societies are a must, but so is fair governance, which means I am not all the way left-wing. Further, individuals have the right to live their own private lives. This is not the first time I am speaking openly in support of privacy. It needs to exist with a friendly hand from the government when individuals need it, rather than in the form of an imposing umbrella of protection and dictation. In any case, nationalism, religion, and patriotism are all overrated.

My political compass: the coördinates are -1.25, -5.08.

My political compass: the coördinates are -1.25, -5.08.

The central question remains, even though we have ruled out the fact that peacetime and inexperience in war (i.e. the world the youth grew up in) have not been the motivators of extreme ideologies: why are such sweeping right-wing movements growing popular? The first indication is that both extreme left and extreme right tendencies are bad in their own way, but it is the right that is catching up now, so that is where the problem (or solution) lies. A few months ago I wrote about Trump and a growing authoritarian outlook. The original article was written in Vox by Amanda Taub and detailed how a group consisting of PhD candidates and professors had identified and even predicted the rise of an authoritarian voice in world politics. That experts had warned us should be a déja vù now: nobody heeded to the talk by political scientists and economists before Brexit, and now both the leave campaign and the Labour Party are in what can only be described as a mess, with UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, going on record saying they could not uphold one of their biggest campaign promises, and the left strongly hoping to bring down their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who promises to stay on. Incumbent prime minister, David Cameron, whose idea it was to put the “in/out referendum” to vote, has scheduled his resignation for October. (Unfortunately, Boaty McBoatface is no longer the worst public voting fiasco to ever take place.)

Immigration has undoubtedly been a reason authoritarians have used, and especially so by the leave campaign, to garner support for their ideas, to “take back the borders”. (In America, Mr Trump habitually also blames religion.) But one would not be hasty in realising that it is precisely these authoritarian and nationalist beliefs that sprout fear and misplaced patriotism and eventually lead to war in the false pretext of heroically rebelling against assumed bad governance — in most cases. If war is a thought far into the future, national unrest is a more present danger. Thankfully, at least in Britain, while right-wing populists may have won they do not seem to have secured their position yet. There is Northern Ireland’s border, now with the EU, that has not always been the most peaceable. This morning’s newspaper carried Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgen’s statement vowing to ensure Scotland stays in the EU even if it means leaving the UK — a strong move with repercussions of its own, although, once back in the EU, Scotland will be safe, unlike England. She promises to call for a second Scottish referendum and there is no doubt Scotland will vote to leave the UK given that they voted overwhelmingly against leaving the EU. Couple all this with Mr Blair’s comment that governments would be uncoöperative about new negotiations with the UK simply because they “won’t want to make leaving easy for Britain, in order to discourage similar movements”, and you have a world that still exists to check extreme ideologies — even if only for selfish reasons.

And yet, populists are not alone in taking the blame. The centre, the moderates, and, in Britain, the remain campaigners — much like the Congress party in India a couple of years ago — are equally guilty of this rise of the right-wing simply because the did not do enough to stop it and did not voice arguments that were convincing enough to sway the people. Perhaps they took the status quo for granted. In this day, mob mentality is an incredibly easy thing to build up, given that, with our penchant for gossip and small talk, it is just easier to look at corrupt governments, lying politicians, and scheming corporations as believable even though this may not be the case. Take a break from all the noise masquerading as news on the internet and on some television channels and you realise that the world is a more optimistic place than people want to believe: openness is at its height and promises to be more open, anti-internet movements are constantly quelled on a daily basis. Unfortunately, in a world so far drawn from actuality thanks to films and the internet and virtual reality headgear, marching for tradition and vestige, and being part of rebellions against allegedly corrupt governments just seem more palatable, even like a duty at times. That is not to say all tradition is for nought or that no government is corrupt. However, to generalise is to blunder: when tradition blinds one so much that they are oblivious to the benefits of change and progress, they have entered murky waters.

What is funny in the Brexit backdrop is that both the leave and the remain campaigners were mixed on their stand and with their parties, almost as if the Tory-Labour divide or the left-/right-wing definition was too cut and dried for its own good — which should surprise no-one. Back in 1997, when John Prescott loudly claimed that “we’re all middle class now”, whatever he really meant the working class heard him as, “you don’t exist anymore”, and he joined the American leaders of the 70s (who initiated the current distrust in governments among the public) in making way for people who touted themselves as “saviours” of the under-represented masses, even if only in different words and guises. And the marketing move worked, they got votes, they got into the very governments they were opposing et cetera. The public and politicians alike are no longer informed, nor are they making the slightest attempt to become so. Experts are increasingly being ignored, or worse still, forced to say things people or governments want to hear. Here is one fact, for example: the net migration to the UK from the EU is 184,000 people, whereas from outside the EU is 188,000 people. That the immigration problem would be solved by cutting away from the EU is absurd —even the British Labour Party knew this.

Mr Blair was not alone in pointing out that the events in the UK could be a sign of things to come. Published on the same day for this week’s issue of The New Yorker was an article by Amy Davidson on how Brexit should be a warning about Trump — I cannot say who, between The NYTimes and The NYer, published it first (the Times article is certainly better), but the fact that they had similar thoughts says something about what is on everyone’s mind. Trump’s slogan for Americans has been similar to Mr Farage’s silly call for celebrating Brexit as Independence Day. There is a trend in all the right-wing campaigns that can be seen under the Brexit events. One, a nationalist feeling — a bid to take back one’s country as if it was ever taken away from them in the first place. Clearly, this does little more than polish one’s own ego. Two, that spending can assuredly be within the country alone. This is simply not how the world works, and this also takes all forms of returns that are not monetary out of the equation. Sometimes, the money a country spends on another is returned not as money itself but as other exports/imports or in one of several diplomatic ways. (Incidentally, the leave campaign website — leave.eu — uses a top level domain that belongs to the EU. I can understand the intention, but it still is a bit ironic. The remain campaign has given its site — strongerin.co.uk — a rather misleading name that sounds like stronger in UK.) The arguments are often confusingly opposite at times, or even outright misleading. As a simple example, consider how the leave campaign says leaving the EU gives each household an extra £1,000 to spend for the family whereas the remain campaign says staying in the EU reduces costs in shops, letting them buy more for the same amount of money. The latter is verifiable (the UK was still in the EU then, like it had been for years), but just how they calculated the former is beyond me. There are simply too many extra expenditures, not to mention whole new trade agreements, for a Britain outside the EU to save up £1,000 for each of its 18.7 million households, or a total of £18,700,000,000 — over eighteen billion pounds. But this is not the only time the leave campaign has tossed around statistics in pounds — see the £350 million they promised for NHS every single week and then soon after the Brexit vote said they made a mistake.

The right-wing take over is happening as we speak — or at least it is getting started. This is not just in the UK or America; it started with Mr Norbert Hofer, of the far-right Freedom Party, coming to power in Austria. France, in all possibility, seems poised to elect a far right party into power as well, albeit one with less extremist views. There is an undeniable growth that is yet to establish itself firmly enough. Yet, just because things do not seem all too bright for the right-wing should, it not serve as a reason for everyone else to sit back, wait, and watch. The Brexit vote may get another go if the petition for a second referendum takes form (there have been over a million-and-half signatures already), and Scotland may seek independence if Brexit stays. I would, personally, give time till the American presidential election before declaring that the world has now been taken over by the far right, and who but the authoritarian Mr Trump can be an absolute indicator of that? We will know when the great wall of the US and Mexico gets built, all paid by Mexico because it has a deficit of over $50bn — although the sane person in me strongly hopes that that day will never come.

Pixel & Paper

Exactly one year ago to the date last week, I joined Adhoc Studios as a design advisor. I was not in it with a paying position, more due to a calculated mixture of courtesy and shared interests. Founded by a friend of mine, the company was a branding, design and photography studio whose future — as harsh as this may come off — was bleak in my opinion. I had voiced this with said friend and had noticed a hint of agreement in his voice, although this was not how he would eventually take it. Understandably, and quite appreciably, he had faith in his company and I did too. But it takes more than blind faith to run a company. For the next months, on and off, we did work for a bunch of clients and things were going great until I stopped getting new projects altogether.

Recently, he got in touch with me to share news of the demise of Adhoc Studios. As expected (and, once again, at the risk of sounding hard-hearted) this was due a lack of coherence in the vision and, arguably, an imbalance in the efforts of its main partners. But Adhoc had taught us valuable lessons. For one, unless two people are looking in the same direction, there is little sense in pulling a horse cart; and secondly, that while a there were wildly different approaches earlier, he and I did agree on quite a lot of things. That is to say, we had the coherence Adhoc did not. And we still have the same interests in design, however different our approach and our work itself may be, there is a freedom of communication, discussion, teaching and learning that can only be afforded by the nearly decade-and-half long acquiantance we share.

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It made sense to us, therefore, to start something of our own. Therefore, please welcome Pixel & Paper, a design studio with ideologies rooted in simplicity and function. (This will be mainstream for him, and an aside for me, given that my research is my main work at the moment and for the foreseeable future; nonetheless, we share the company in half.) I am currently working on our website while he, with all his background and degree in marketing, is rightly looking for new clients. The site is ready, although it is still under testing, but we do have a quick preview available.

Pixel & Paper is a lot of things depending on how you look at it. At first glance, it is all about covering the physical and the virtual — logos, brochures, branding, websites etc. — but to stop there would be to have a shallow outlook, like reading Hamlet the one time and calling it a day. The design firm embodies our common idea that the most powerful things are extraordinarily simple at the end of the day, that form is not a standalone but a derivative of function, that everything, every line, every dot, has a purpose and an intent to fulfil. That design is not merely a flourish but a language, a communicator, and an enabler. That is what Pixel & Paper stands for, and it aims to help convey and represent everything its clients stand for too.

Personally, I look at this as a journey. I cannot say where it will take me, but it sure looks interesting and promises to be a wonderful experience. I doubt we really know the destination of every journey we embark upon: some lead us to utopia, others drop us a few hundred yards off course, but they all help us grow.

What I particularly like about this is that we know the mistakes Adhoc made, which gives us a sort of head start so long as we remain careful not to commit the same mistakes again, and, from my brief experience, I find that the biggest contributions come from making sure we do the littlest of things in the most professional manner. After all we are what we do when left alone in the dark and when nobody is looking — integrity and all that.