Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

The New Yorker’s brilliant essay this week ‘The War on Coffee’ provides a wonderful extended break from the Coronaverse, with an insightful delve into the dark intertwining of Caffeine and Capitalism. It also leads with a quote from Louis XV which got us thinking: “What would life be without coffee? But, then, what is life with coffee?”Likewise, more than six months in: what is life with What Just Happened? What has happened, has What Just Happened happened? We’ve had a lot of brilliant, constructive feedback from many people, but we’d love more. Please tell us what you like, and what you don’t. Longer, or shorter? Deeper, or shallower? Does our tagline make us sound like arseholes? Are we, infact, arseholes anyway, and should we just embrace that? Get in touch and let us know: Facebook; Twitter.

The World

Oil Slick

This week brought us a new and interesting first (and perhaps the final proof if you needed it, that the current form of capitalism makes zero mathematical sense) when US crude oil prices turned negative. More specifically, the expiring May 1-month future contracts turned negative for West Texas Intermediate Crude (WTI), which is used as the benchmark for US crude pricing.

This translates as the price that investors holding a contract for delivery of oil at the end of May are willing to sell those contracts. Storage for WTI is pretty close to full, hence people were willing to pay to offload those contracts as the cost of storage increases. The storage issue is so severe worldwide that a record 160 million barrels worth of oil is sat in anchored supertankers outside major ports. Consequently, the colossal demand for supertanker hire has increased the price from an average of $25,000 a day to $150,000 a day (is it all sounding ridiculous yet?).

This situation poses an interesting thought experiment: could you buy an old tanker, get paid to take oil futures and turn a profit? Worry not, the last bastion of clickbait, Vice, has done the maths (or some of it, poorly). Well, yes, you probably could. A sold-as-seen oil tanker with sketchy papers that has been sat for a while in nameless port on the east coast of an African nation will set you back about $10-20 million, and if you could get a crew and get it to the States, and get the oil contracts, you could probably turn a pretty huge profit. But you’d also just be the worst.

(If you have 5 minutes to get lost online, which you do, because you’re reading this, go and have a gander at Horizon ship brokers, the things you can buy on the internet! I want this ‘Expedition Vessel’ desperately, just to go all Life Aquatic and say at parties that I have an ‘Expedition Vessel’. Maybe this is why I don’t get invited to parties… Or remember when failing Grayling awarded a £13.8m no-deal Brexit ferry deal to a company with no boats and no staff? You can buy a bloody high-speed ferry for $6m!!)

Iranning a Good Time

One would hope that some of the wars, proxy-wars, and general global instability could have all taken a break during this truly global pandemic, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that was the case given the lack of coverage. Sadly, that’s not the case. The Iran-US war of words (and some missiles) has continued to tumble downhill, giving us hope we can escape lockdown just in time for World War 3. 

The Iranian military have launched their first satellite successfully, which concerns many interested parties, as the technology being Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles is worryingly similar. Meanwhile, following the ‘harassment’ of US Navy warships by Iranian vessels, in which at one point they came within ten yards of each other, Trump has issued orders (via Twitter, naturally) that the US is to destroy any Iranian vessels which engage in this behaviour. Shockingly, things that Trump tweets during his morning shit are in fact viable military orders. Perhaps reassuringly, Adm. Charles Brown of the Navy reminded us all that “the Navy will continue to follow international laws of armed conflict” rather than toilet-tweet straight into needless bloodshed.

Cynics may suggest there is some strategy to this sabre-rattling, seeing as it caused a spike in struggling American crude oil valuations.

The knee-jerk reaction of firing the commanding officer of an aircraft carrier (for the crime of asking for help on behalf of the ~100 soldiers on his ship with COVID19), despite a possible reinstatement of captain Cozier in the near future, has provided the Iranians ample material for this sick burn:

“Instead of bullying others, the Americans should put all their efforts toward saving those members of their forces who are infected with coronavirus”

Abolfazl Shekarchi – Iranian Students’ News Agency (source)

Autocratic Reward

The European Union’s reaction in the face of the pandemic is looking increasingly impotent. At times of crisis, nationalism tends to loom large; even the most adamant proponents of freedom of movement such as Germany, have closed their borders, as they battle their invisible enemy. More shocking though, is the lack of conditions or oversight that have accompanied the awarding of huge funds to EU countries which are teetering on the verge of autocracy. Hungary and Poland have each been awarded more than twice the amount of emergency funding as Italy has, despite smaller populations and lower Covid-19 infection rates.

It’s difficult to balance this with the shocking consolidation of power to their executive branches in both countries. Whilst Hungary has effectively suspended the ability for parliamentary oversight, and Poland has pushed ahead with judiciary reform, creating a chamber of “extraordinary control”. Hungarian President Orban has punished political opponents by diverting tax receipts from areas controlled by his opposition to those held by his party, whilst Poland are pushing bills to restrict abortion and sex education. The level of corruption is such that the Polish election will proceed by post, despite being labelled as “absurd and impossible”, on the basis that if it was delayed, the current president would find it difficult to win.

The two countries may lose their voting rights within the bloc, were it not for the fact that the two have agreed to veto any resolutions passed against the other, rendering the European Council’s reaction utterly toothless.

The US

Labradoodler

We might have to start doing a ‘not the onion’ section… While the U.S. was systematically gutting it’s federal agencies last year (you know, when the government wasn’t shut down for the longest period in history) one might reasonably question the leadership’s pedigree. Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) – which, incidentally sounds about as pro-human-happiness as a typical HR department – has been carving a rather meandering path through the swamp since 2018 (his predecessor slunk off following a, not entirely distinct, scandal). 

Under Azar’s ‘leadership’ the previous HSS Chief of Staff, Urbanowicz, who had decades of public health experience was replaced by Harrison – a dude who used to breed Labradoodles. 

The HSS is a trillion dollar operation with 80’000 employees. How hard can it be? 

Harrison was involved with Dallas Labradoodles, a family enterprise, until 2018. Harrison was appointed by Azar as the HSS’s point-man for coordinating the government response to the novel coronavirus in January of 2020. 

Clean up your act

It’s worth remembering, and appreciating, how recently medical biology was demystified. Even recently compared to our understanding of quantum mechanics. We were splitting atoms before we were understanding (demonstrably) the notion of a randomized, blind, clinical trial. Richard Feynman’s wife died of tuberculosis while the Manhattan Project was wrapping up. The bacteria behind Tuberculosis are about 3 micrometers long (the order of 1×10−6 m or 0.000001), a neutron is something like 1.7566×10−15 m wide. We figured out how to work with something a billion (1,000,000,000) times smaller than bacteria before we figured out randomized controlled trials. Good work shoe-wearing-apes, God couldn’t have guessed that epistemological course of events given all the drum circles and smoking sessions eternity affords. 

The first really on-brand clinical trial (as we know them today i.e. randomized and controlled) was in 1946, incidentally the same year Donald Drumpf was born. So he’s only had 73 years to catch up to the progress of modern medical science. Yet, here we are with a deeply confused articulation(?) of the potential treatments of COVID19 with injections of disinfectant and intense UV light… To add to the confusion here, Aytu BioScience are actually investigating a novel endotracheal device to target unwanted bacteria and viral material (hopefully without damaging the healthy tissue). Is this perhaps one of a plethora of examples as to why it’s wise to read the book before giving your report to the class? (Or the world?) Or is this just a coincidence?

The words of the president of the United States, ladies and gentleman: 

“I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs.”

source

In case you missed it, here’s the pure bamboozlement of a scientific advisor amid Trump’s ramblings. If anyone was ever going to materially dissolve into a cloud of hippocratic oath induced logical inconsistency, it was this person. With only a few seconds to add clarity to the discussion before attention would start to wander, the stunned doctor has to clarify that there isn’t any evidence that UV light kills the virus and people should not ingest bleach in any form. 

Additionally, it seems like Trump often forgets where and when he is and just slips back into apprentice mode:

“I’m just here to present talent.”

President of the United States – Whitehouse briefing

That and the whole ‘executive branch of government’ thing. 

The Broke Reaper

Mitch McConnell helpfully waded into the fray this week to inadvertently support the notion that running a country as if it were publicly-traded business is nonsensical, when he suggested that states that might require federal bailouts should instead simply declare bankruptcy.He got shat on pretty brutally for suggesting that it was Democrat states that would be bailed out, both for totally unhelpful partisanship, and also for his own state’s financial affairs. New York’s Governor Cuomo suggested it was “one of the really dumb ideas of all time”, before pointing out that New York makes a net payment to federal funds, whilst McConnell’s home state of Kentucky in is a net deficit.

The UK

Counting one’s Chickens

In a jarring piece of analysis, the Financial Times reckons the UK’s death toll might be twice that reported by the government. The official stats only include those in hospital who’ve tested positive for the virus. Bearing in mind that the UK has performed ~640,792 tests thus far, we’re damn far away from recording all of the positive cases. Finding those who’ve died from it is another grim statistical task. 

Graph time:

Not all testing capacities are created equal: source
Tests per million of a countries population and absolute deaths: source

The main insight from these graphs is garnered from the fact that one has to squint to see Germany. 

So where is the UK currently sitting with its testing performance? Well Dominic Raab claimed on Wednesday that ‘testing capacity’ was at 40,000 per day, and that they were on target for 100,000 per day by the end of the month, which seems like a huge leap. Capacity is not the same as the number of tests actually carried out though, which on Friday was only 28,500.

The Government opened up the testing to around 10 million key workers and their families on Friday, but suffered a severe reality-check when testing ‘reached capacity’ almost immediately after the application website opened, when 15,000 were booked. Yes, that’s correct, they opened up testing to 666 times as many people as they are capable of testing.

Reassuringly, the Government is outsourcing some testing to accountancy firm Deloitte. That’s the same Deloitte who were convicted of fraud in 2019 relating to Serco’s contract with the Ministry of Justice, in which it oversaw the electronic tagging of criminals. Except Serco were tagging people who were dead, in prison, or out of the country, in order to inflate their numbers, and Deloitte, their auditor, knew full well. I digress. The bulwark of integrity that is Deloitte have been busy losing test results, or sending them to the wrong people.

Meanwhile, it has become apparent that Dominic Cummings (boiled-egg-in-chief, and the Prime Minister’s most senior unelected advisor) and a fellow Vote-Leave crony, have been attending the extraordinarily secretive SAGE meetings, which are intended to be the independent board of scientific advisors. Downing Street’s spokesperson took a page straight out of the Trump playbook by admitting this was correct then attacking the media for reporting it: “Public confidence in the media has collapsed during this emergency partly because of ludicrous stories such as this.”

Smaller Blessings

Remember that time less than a month ago when we almost praised the Home Office for doing the right thing and suspending evictions of asylum seekers? Spoke too soon! This week a group of asylum seekers in Glasgow were given as little as 30 minutes notice to collect their belongings and were moved to a hotel in which they claim social distancing is impossible. All financial support has also been removed as the authorities claim they are being provided with everything they need, leaving them unable to use pay-phones or mobiles to even contact legal support. Pretty dystopian.

The Internet

If you go down to the beach today, you’re sure for a grim surprise

By way of protesting Florida’s characteristically questionable decision to reopen beaches (during the peak of their coronavirus outbreak) a lawyer plans to haunt the beaches of Florida dressed as the Grim Reaper. 


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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