featured image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Sendero_Luminoso#cite_note-mp-1

Welcome back to this week’s installment of the all-new What Just Happened?!, a semi-comical weekly digest of the most important news from the UK, US and the World from Will Marshall, and Alistair Simmonds-Yoo. Look out for us every Friday, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The UK

Church and State, or the Hateful Eight

(I’m absurdly happy that pun works, yes there are eight main parties contesting the General Election! – W)

This week marks the week the General Election campaign got nasty(er). In perhaps a deliberate ploy to steer attention away from their luke-warm manifesto, the Conservative party really doubled down on labeling Labour as anti-semites, aided by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis who stated Labour had allowed a “poison, sanctioned from the top”. Naturally, this was followed by an attack on the Conservative Party’s record of Islamophobia by the Muslim Council of Britain. This sparked the first ever apology for Islamophobia by Boris Johnson, whilst Corbyn refused to apologise further (although he has before).

There have no doubt been some toxic individuals in both of these parties, but the political interventions of religious figures gives me a distinctly uneasy feeling. And now for something, loosely related: we might benefit from recalling this exchange between the Monty Python team and some bullying bishops, it speaks volumes to the history of religious influence (to the extent that a comedic film was broadly censored by local councils in the late 70’s) over ‘political life’ (construed broadly) in the UK and our comparatively short lived enjoyment of the hard-fought secularism liberals have come to expect. The Pythons’ message – make up your own mind, don’t be told what to think! –  is as relevant today as it was almost half a century ago.

Johnson’s frankly appalling record of racist, homophobic and misogynist comments kept lengthening this week as journalists ploughed through 20-odd years of column in the Spectator and Times to dig out new gems. Whilst many may accuse Corbyn’s party of harbouring those with hateful views, they don’t hold a candle to Boris. Our present Prime Minister (let that sink in) wrote an assessment for the Telegraph in 1996 of the “hot totty” on display at a Labour conference, claimed “Voting Tory will give your wife bigger breasts”, called gay men “tank-topped bumboys”, suggested gay marriage was equivalent to marrying animals, called people from Africa (which he thought was a country) “flag-waving piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, said Muslim women “look like letterboxes” and so so so many more.

Read our round up of last week’s Question Time special.

Dunce Cone

Way back when Brexit last didn’t happen, we mentioned briefly Operation Brock, the transformation of the M20 in Kent into lorry parking. Well now an FOI request has revealed that £200,000 was spent on putting out 7500 traffic cones in advance of a legally impossible no-deal Brexit… and then taking them back up within 24 hours.

The US

Hardly Muhammad Ali

I know you’ll be incredulous that this is a sensible sentence, however, it is our duty to observe that, the President of the U.S. is acting even weirder than usual… Tweeting a picture of himself badly photo-shopped onto Rocky Balboa. Spare a thought for the staffer (presumably) tasked with producing this alt-meme (since Trump presumably refuses to use the clicky-foldy-google-machine).

Portrait of a typing man

This comes after another disorienting event (last week) in which Trump’s batshit-crazy notes…

…were photographed (& have since precipitated a font called ‘comic tiny hands’, I love the internet) along with an associated astoundingly unpresidential performance on the White House lawn. It’s bizarre that anyone might consider this appropriate preparation for addressing the world…

The all caps handwriting supports speculation that Trump, both: thinks the world is Twitter; and, refuses to wear glasses (which he likely needs).

Harassing democracy

The U.S. ambassador to the European Union is a hotel owner whom donated $1 million to the Trump syndicate and thereby (presumably) earned himself a position representing the U.S. to Europe’s leaders… If anything puts the ‘demos’ in democracy it’s this hotelier turned diplomat. Anyway an article, co-published by ProPublica and Portland Monthly, highlighting accusations of Sondland’s harassing Women, comes soon after Sondland’s testimony in the impeachment hearings. A testimony involving allegations which (quite aside from his allegedly being a creeper extraordinaire) we seem to now have to thank for ‘comic tiny hands’ being born unto the world (see previous story and Trump’s response to Sondland’s alleged ‘quid pro quo’ regarding Ukraine).

The response (to the harassment allegations) from Sondland was a categorical denial à la Kavanaugh, and from his lawyers we get a rather toxic statement seemingly aiming to discredit the accusers by going on the attack (classic move of the innocent):

“Notably, what each of these three women share in common is that they pursued Ambassador Sondland for financial and personal gain — an investment, a job, and insurance brokerage work — and he declined their proposals.”

Sondland also makes good use of the Trumpian playbook (think ‘stupid and inelegant Machiavelli’) to discredit the publishers of the article along the same trope, essentially saying the magazine is angry that he refused to invest sometime ago… I do not doubt that Sondland doesn’t donate to ProPublica and suspect he doesn’t understand that it’s a non-profit.

You’re just not thinking fourth dimensionally Elon!

Tesla have launched their *cough* distinctive Cybertruck this week. To quote the creator of the original Truckla, Simone Gertz: “It’s a lot…”. The occasion was marked by the already infamous breaking of the unbreakable ‘Armour glass’, twice. Elon needn’t worry though, there are already orders in the 100’s of thousands.

The design is certainly unique, TechCrunch have a great write-up on the engineering necessities created by a battery-powered truck.

The World (and beyond)

The Virtual Grass is Greener

I could propound on this story about cows with VR headsets, but it’s already been said as well as it can be: ‘This is literally the plot of the matrix’.

The Glorious Republic of Snowdonia

Edward Snowden has released a book, which the state is making clear Snowden will receive no money from (essentially to discourage any other would-be whistleblowers from a change in career trajectory) by suing him.

From the U.S. Department of Justice on the lawsuit:

“the government seeks to recover all proceeds earned by Snowden”

Aha! So you acknowledge the income is earned. I rest my case, and bid goodnight to the fine people of Snowdonia. Joking aside…

The whole thing is pretty remarkable, in many other countries you wouldn’t have any chance whatsoever to publish something similar. Even if it was revealed by an ex-CIA/NSA agent presumably using some learned skills to avoid being assassinated while under exile in another country…

You can either get yourself a copy of ‘Permanent Record’ or listen to this marvelous 3 hour podcast where Joe Rogan politely says about 8 words and otherwise let’s Ed split lyrical about the state of state surveillance. Some of the stories and revelations are astounding, including, but not limited to this bit in which the most senior spy in the U.S. lies under oath by denying the NSA’s witting collection of data. He later admits it’s a lie, after Snowden’s original revelations, and described his line as ‘The least untruthful thing I could’ve said’…

A Life Well Sent

Tragically, one of the greatest climbers in history has fallen to his death in Mexico. Brad Gobright held the record for fastest ascension of The Nose of El Capitan, which involved hastily free climbing (if you fall a rope isn’t catching you) the final section of the 3,000’ granite monolith.

The final climb would be of the gargantuan limestone wall (1500 feet: 450m) El Sendero Luminoso, colloquially referred to as El Sendero (which I originally interpreted as a climbing bro’s Spannish-sounding wordplay on ‘The Send’), means the shining path (or bright/light path) and is not to be confused with the Communist Party of Peru, which operates by the same name (coincidence!? Yes).

To say Free Solo climbers have radically different conceptions of risk compared to average folks would be a categorically prosaic understatement. 

To say that Brad Gobright forged his own shining path in the world, would perhaps begin to do his journey justice.

Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next week, get in touch with the authors Will Marshall and Alistair Simmonds on Twitter and let us know what you did and didn’t like.

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