The Null Device
An electronic composer in Vienna has developed a means of reproducing the human voice on a piano. Recordings of speech are analysed and converted to frequency data, which is turned into MIDI notes. When played on a grand piano (using a system consisting of 88 pencil tops pushed by electromagnets or motors), it sounds intelligible, though otherworldly.
With the Tories being almost a dead certainty to win the next election (New Labour have thoroughly spent their lesser-evil capital, and, thanks to the first-past-the-post system, the Lib Dems have next to no chance), some are speculating that the UK may soon elect its last ever Prime Minister. Basically, the Scots, having borne the brunt of Thatcherism, despise the Tories and are unlikely to vote for them while anyone still alive remembers the 1980s, and a Tory government in London is likely to further strengthen the Scottish National Party (which govern's Scotland's limited domestic government) and embolden those calling for independence. Given that the Scots are more pro-European than the English, and particularly more so than the Tories (a significant proportion of whose demographic have always wanted to pull out of the EU), it looks like things may get interesting:
As Cameron, William Hague and the others get into a battle over the constitution and the future of Europe, the Scottish government will be offering itself as a pro-European bastion, just as the Irish did – and nobody knows better than Salmond what a huge financial benefit that once won for Dublin. Many Tories will say, of course, that all this is absolutely fine. According to them, the Scots have been a revenue-sapping bunch of whingers for years, whose main export to England seems to have been politicians and journalists. An independent Scotland means a Tory majority in England way into the distant future. And it makes standing up to the EU easier, in many ways, because Eurosceptic opinion is particularly strong in England. What's the problem?
Cameron is surely right to be concerned. If the prospect of an all-out confrontation with the rest of the EU is unsettling to middle of the road opinion, the end of the UK is much more so. What do you call the country that remains? It isn't England, quite, because there is also Wales. Does it stay a Diminished Britain, a Little Britain, whose flag is a simple spider of red lines on white? Trident, of course, goes because the naval bases in Scotland go. What about the currency? If the euro is circulating just north of Newcastle and Carlisle, the pound will feel more embattled.
Less than a year into his first term, President Barack Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, essentially for not being a douchebag ("his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples"). Which suggests that expectations of what the US President is meant to do on the world stage have fallen so far in the past eight years that the rest of the world is jubilant when he doesn't just growl and shake his fists at everyone else.