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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 weekend, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Internet

Ringing Alarm Bells

The incredibly popular smart doorbell devices by Ring allegedly make your home safer, but EFF have revealed they also flog your personal data from the app, including not just usage, but your phone’s accelerometer data, and even your name and email address. In the US, the firm has monetised fear; with user’s permission, Ring provide direct access to the video feeds to local law enforcement, which receive additional free devices to hand out (and increase their arc of surveillance) for every download of their local ‘Neighbours’ app they manage to flog, thus transforming the cops into a sales force for the company. Shifty.

The UK

Au Revoir, nos Amis

This Friday, 31st January 2020, at 11pm, the UK will cease to be a member of the European Union. Big Ben won’t toll it’s bells as the Brexiteers were so hoping, after the many impassioned millions of supporters only managed to raise £272,000 of the £500,000 needed. There won’t be street parties and brass bands playing in the streets, but a handful of sad, angry populists having a little party in Parliament Square celebrating their remarkably successful hi-jacking of British politics. They’ll have the excitement of listening to to A-list speakers such as Wetherspoons (imagine if a pub was also a publicly traded company) founder Tim Martin, Julia Hartley-Brewer (a cut-rate Katie Hopkins impersonator, speak of the actual devil – she recently lost her Twitter privileges), and Richard Tice.

There’s not really any way to make this funny to be honest, other than perhaps the schadenfreude we’ll experience watching the NHS fall apart as that infamous promise of “£350m a week” fails to materialise. There is plenty to cringe at though, like the disparity in goodbyes: as the European Parliament stood together to sing Auld Lang Syne, Farage and his cronies threw insults and waved tiny little flags… Completely pathetic or a Freudian insight? You be the judge. 

For the record though, the ‘Remainer Passport Covers’ The New European newspaper is offering as a freebie with subscriptions were my bloody idea first! Shame I didn’t get my act together.

(On a personal note, I flew back from a wonderful weekend in Germany on Monday, and the realisation as I boarded the plane that this would be my last time in Europe as a European citizen, very nearly brought me to tears! – W)

Swimmingly Good Stuff

Have a read of this great article from the BBC on an example of the good sort of British eccentricity: The Goldfish Club. The exclusive supper club is only open to members who have dodged death by ‘taking an aircraft for a swim’ and surviving!

The World

Isareally Good Deal?

It’s hard to comment on any Isreali-Palestinian deal without reading an incredible amount, and maybe doing a cheeky PhD, because it’s really insanely, bafflingly complicated. Sort of like how it might be considered insane to hand responsibility for the problem to your real estate agent son-in-law with a sum total of zero foreign-policy or diplomacy experience. But the times, they are insane-ing.

Trump and Kushner’s new deal (and Netanyahu’s wet dream) seems to boil down to basically trying to purchase away all of the Palestinians’ playing cards. The Palestinian state would have no right to a military, or control of its airspace, whilst Israel would be allowed to annex many settlements (including the many illegal ones), control all access points from Arab states, and, rather cleverly, secede a region which presents political opposition to Netanyahu.

Why bother with such tedious concepts as International Law or the Geneva Convention, when those in a position of power can unilaterally impose a ‘deal’? Ultimately, what’s one more diplomatic disaster after over half a century of human rights abuses… Besides, this deal is great for business (if your business is making flags for burning) and U.S. repute in the Middle East.

The solution has been described by one expert as: “the Monty Python sketch of Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives.” Demonstrating his newly-honed diplomatic chops, J-Kush explained it would work if Palestinians stopped being so “hysterical and stupid”.

Stop This Space Train, We Need to Get Off

Elon Musk is planning to launch as many as 1000 Starlink broadband satellites this year. 

(WJH mentioned this last year along with a story of seeing the strange space train launching, a truly mystifying experience when catching one off-guard)

The flying wi-fi routers that are already hanging about are creating dramatic ‘trains’ of lights across the night sky, which look awesome, but are creating havoc for astronomers. (Space wi-fi though… the future is here…) 

As space gets increasingly congested, it may shock you to learn that efforts to avoid collisions largely consist of an automated e-mail pinged out to other operators just before launch. (Space spam mail… now that sounds like a more realistic future!)

The US

You can’t im-Peach an Orange

When there is no credible defence of mega-shady behaviour, why not choose to defend something else instead? Well, admittedly, this strategy will require talking about alternative realities. Like one in which Trump’s impeachment proceedings are the result of Democrats being sore losers… rather than say, having your personal lawyer attempt to manipulate foreign leaders into investigating your political rivals at your instruction. 

Like the ends of a horseshoe that’s been placed in a pile of fresh manure, Trump’s defense comes close to reality, in a few gross ways. Though it is still certainly a long and unpleasant path to get there while remaining tethered to reality by, oh I dunno, facts?

To refer to Trump’s defence team as Weasels would be a great insult to the Mustela genus. I refer the reader to the following quote from Alan Dershowitz

The defendant wants to hide the truth because he’s generally guilty. The defense attorney’s job is to make sure the jury does not arrive at that truth.’

This sort of Orwellian nonsense also draws parallels with a key narrative in Adam Curtis’ HyperNormalisation, a term drawing inspiration from the Strugatsky brothers sci-fi classic “Roadside Picnic”, insofar as one becomes confused about the distinction between political theatre and actual states of affairs.

Every Little Counts

The hotly-anticipated event that is the 10-yearly US census has officially begun by counting the first person in the incredibly remote village of Toksook Bay in Alaska. Although the census will kick-off properly in March, it’s necessary to count some villages in January, whilst the ground is still frozen. Presumably, questions include: Why do you choose to live somewhere so insanely inaccessible? I joke of course, that question would be irrelevant with the current state of politics, we certainly shouldn’t be surprised that the population of Toksook Bay has actually grown in recent years!


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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