Photo by Erkan Utu from Pexels

Listen to the Podcast

Good news! This week’s good news comes courtesy of ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) in France, which has seen the first and largest part of what will be the world’s largest tokamak (or ‘fusion donut’ to use silly language) moved into place. A tokamak is essentially a miniaturised, contained star which utilises nuclear fusion to generate boundless clean energy without harmful emissions or byproducts. We’re still a way off, but if it all works when it begins winding up in 2025 it’ll be hugely exciting. Less excitingly, the UK has withdrawn from parent organisation Euratom as part of Brexit, yay for progress.

Our musical pick of the week (I know this isn’t a thing, but why not?) comes from our favourite folk hero Beans on Toast with ‘Chessington World of Adventures’.

The Internet 

“Fundamentally Offensive”

Andrew Cuomo speaks in no uncertain terms with regards to the footage of a full riot squad of up-state New York police marching directly through an old man; shoving the poor old chap to the ground, one hears a crack in the video as the old man is propelled backwards and his head meets the pavement, the cops do not appear interested in helping the chap on the floor with blood immediately pooling around his ears. Saints alive. Still think fascism couldn’t happen in the United States? 

The response from the police in Buffalo (where the attempted murder of an unarmed old man was recently made available to the world) was fantastically duplicitous. The police claimed the man tripped and fell… to which the internet broadly responded with a ‘we can see the Storm Troopers push the 75 year old man to the ground, what are you talking about?!’. The front running Storm Troopers (remember ‘paramilitary’ being a descriptor of choice employed by US police forces with respect to their training and duties) were initially place on unpaid administrative leave. Weirdly, the other ~50 or so members of this particular riot unit have resigned in solidarity with their peers. Representing a choice of allegiance along the lines of “I didn’t sign up to be a riot officer so I could not almost kill old men in the street for peacefully assembling!”. 

Much like camera phones make racists famous, they can also help keep brutes at bay. Around the same time the police department must have realized lying wasn’t going to be a sufficient response, nor was just unpaid leave, the two officers have charges of felony assault brought against them and could face up to seven years in prison. 

While I don’t feel every single police officer is a bastard, I have an ocean of sympathy for everyone willing to yell ACAB after being bombarded with images of police officers killing and brutalizing the citizenry. 

It’s also becoming increasingly dangerous to be a member of the press… as is demonstrated by this Australian camera man being hit with a riot shield and punched in the head by a riot officer.  Excuse my while I swallow my outrage induced vomit.

The World

Peer-review my ass

We’ve talked at some length in previous weeks about Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), the drug for malaria and lupus that Trump has so keenly touted, and the less-than-half-arsed approach to science in the rush to find Covid-19 treatments. As with all things 2020, it turns out we hadn’t got to the bottom of the barrel of incompetence yet when it comes to HCQ.

Last week the WHO urgently halted HCQ trials after the publication of a paper in the Lancet (a highly regarded medical journal) which showed a higher risk of death in patients taking HCQ. This week though, somebody actually took the initiative to find the source of the data used in that paper. The alarm bells rang when it claimed to include the patient data from more Covid-19 patients in Australia than had actually died at the time.

The data came from US company Surgisphere. Surgisphere’s data-handling credentials seem somewhat sketchy. One of their ‘Science Editors’ is actually a science fiction writer, whilst their Marketing Executive is an adult model. Before Monday “the ‘get in touch’ link on Surgisphere’s homepage redirected to a WordPress template for a cryptocurrency website”. So the claim that it runs “one of the largest and fastest hospital databases in the world”, seems somewhat doubtful. The CEO meanwhile, Sapan Desai, has been named in three medical malpractice lawsuits.

The result of The Guardian’s investigation was the resumption of the WHO trial, meanwhile another study this week showed HCQ is no more effective at combating Covid-19 than a placebo.

Just a Drop in the Arctic River

Have you ever been baking a cake that required intricate care, attention and decoration, only to mess it up a bit, then smash your fist through it in fury and throw it at the floor to finish it off? Well 2020 felt much the same and thought we should throw the world at the floor to finish us off by means of the Russians spilling 20,000 tonnes of diesel into a river in the Arctic circle across some 7.5 miles. That’s a full on Exxon Valdez level of oil spill. To make things better, there are no roads in the area and the river is too shallow to access with barges, making a clean-up operation virtually impossible. Naturally, the idea of setting fire to the river is being batted around, because why not set fire to a river with 20,000 tonnes of diesel sat on its surface in the Arctic circle?

The US

Make like a mole-rat

Hiding in a bunker as the populous gather outside your house angry and unsubmitted by the state is not something which democratically legitimate leaders tend to do. It’s more of a flailing autocrat thing. While being surprised or outraged by Trump is a groundhog day phenomenon at this point: the excuses are worth paying attention to because they highlight the extent to which accountability has been forgotten. Claiming he only visited the bunker under the Whitehouse to ‘inspect’ it after a wave of righteous indignation washed over the POTUS is reminiscent of the myriad other ways Trump has dodged responsibility in recent months: be it explicitly denying having any responsibility for the federal government’s shambolic coronavirus response; or his ad-hoc decision that suggesting disinfectant ingestion to be a viable COVID treatment was actually just a sarcastic remark to troll journalists… classy. 

The mole-rat in chief took a break from bunker exploration to go proclaim himself the President of Law and Order in-front of a famous church – not before a path was cleared through protestors with tear gas and excessive police force. The windows of St. John’s Episcopal Church are boarded up in the background behind Trump holding a copy of the bible. The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, responsible for the church in a number of capacities, was completely incensed that the Whitehouse didn’t let her know of this impending photo shoot. 

The Geneva Protocol of 1925 banned the use of various poisonous and asphyxiating gases in theaters of war, of the 38 signatory nations, many have not seen this restriction to bear upon their treatment of protestors or rioters domestically. It is actually legal to tear gas your citizenry in the states after a 1997 bill passed the senate; imagine waking up to go vote on the ‘Chemical Weapons Convention’ law and feel you’re representing your community.  

The POTUS appears to have been playing some sort of ‘floundering autocrat bingo’ this past week, hiding in bunkers, curtain twitching away and tweeting threats of ruthless violence. All this culminates in threatening to bring the army in, an hysterical reaction to righteous indignation which doubtless proved a tipping point for many sensible Americans. 

The US is a rather militaristic place, with approximately 1.3 million soldiers (and almost another million in reserve): Compare this to the UK’s ~80,000 soldiers and consider the following naive statistics; for every 1,000 men women and children in the UK you can expect one of them to be a soldier in the army. For the same sample size in the US you can expect 4 to be in the army. This isn’t including the reserves, bring them in and the proportion of the population in (one branch of) the armed forces starts to look like 10 times that of the UK. 

Another Abolition?

The cops in the UK are broadly speaking your friends… if you’re white, or if you live in a relatively enlightened portion of the country. The good people of the United States have a more complicated relationship with their police forces… 

Huge budgets and introspective mechanisms for accountability, unsurprisingly, don’t yield much in the way of communitarianism. Here’s a tweet from a New York police union (the NYC Sergeants Benevolent Association) calling the Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene a bitch… what on Earth?! Dr. Barbot is reported to have said she didn’t give rats about your cops in response to an urgent request for half a million surgical masks – in fairness I imagine she was busy trying to source them for area hospitals… especially since a Nurses Union is suing the state over a lack of PPE. Calling her a bitch publicly is bad PR at best and blatant misogyny at worst. In any case, it’s a pretty stark indicator of how poorly aligned with society these unions are. 

Speaking of disproportionate sway…

Many US police forces have a financial incentive (i.e. funding is dependent on) presenting protest movements (or other perceived threats to the status quo) as coordinated organizational efforts. If antifa is a terrorist organization rather than a loosely associated group of politically conscious individuals offended by violence and institutionalized racism, then it’s much easier to get funding to be dealt with… which is a marker of the divergence in the discussion if nothing else.

White Supremacy 2: Electric Boogaloo

What in the hell is a ‘Boogaloo Boi’ when one’s at home, and why is it wearing an Hawaiian shirt? All good questions, but you may not want one at home seeing as it will likely have a semi-automatic weapon and a penchant for anarchy (and not the fully-automated, luxury gay style of anarchy…).

The Boogaloo movement is a somewhat confusing and ever-shifting group, which is perhaps what makes it so dangerous (apart from the AR-15s). Its followers (the Boojahdeen) believe in the impending ‘Boogaloo’: an armed insurrection of the American government and/or a race war. The colorful shirts derive from their alternative name for the ‘Boogaloo’, the ‘Big Luau’ (or ‘pig’ roast). ‘Boogaloo’ itself bizarrely derives from the 1982 break dancing movie, ‘Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo’.

Their members aren’t necessarily white supremacists, although many are, but are drawn from both the far-left and the far-right. The common thread being a belief in ‘accelerationism’, a hybrid neo-Nazi/Marxist belief that economic and political order is bound to collapse and that any and all measures that accelerate its demise are acceptable. The man who attempted to bomb a Missouri hospital during the early days of the Covid outbreak was a believer.

During the George Floyd protests, their members have both stood in solidarity with the black community, and allegedly also used the protests as a cover for property destruction and violence (three Boohjadeen were arrested in Las Vegas with molotov cocktails).

The UK

Taking us for a Ride

Health secretary Matt Hancock said he “can’t think of anyone better” for the job of leading the Covid-19 Test and Trace effort than Baroness Dido Harding. Perhaps we should simply take this comment at face value; perhaps Hancock’s imagination has been suffocated by memorising a daily stream of 10 second soundbites in order to regurgitate them in answer to irrelevant questions. But who is Dido Harding, now the person leading arguably the most important part of our defenses against Covid-19 as we begin to reopen?

Harding has had a remarkable career, culminating in the role of CEO of telecoms company Talk-Talk, where she presided whilst the personal details of 150,000 customers (including 15,000 bank details) were stolen. She was amply rewarded by her university chum, then Prime Minister David Cameron, with a life-peerage as a Conservative baroness.  

She was poached for Track and Trace from her role as the chair of ‘NHS Improve’, which couldn’t sound more like a W1A-style boardroom of twats with no healthcare experience vomiting self-congratulatory management buzzwords if it tried, which presumably with that title it did. (Disclaimer: I have no idea what NHS Improvement actually is, and if indeed it’s effective, because I couldn’t read past the first paragraph on the website without my eyes glazing over: “Local health systems are supported by our seven integrated regional teams who play a major leadership role in the geographies they manage. They make decisions about how best to support and assure performance in their region, as well as supporting system transformation and the development of sustainability and transformation partnerships and integrated care systems.”)

Harding is also on the board of the Jockey Club, which hosted 260,000 guests at the Cheltenham festival a few days before lockdown and has been identified as a ‘super-spreading event.

In a peculiar twist, her husband, Conservative MP John Penrose, has just joined the advisory board of the think-tank 1828, which promotes the scrapping of the NHS and replacement with a private, insurance-based healthcare system and the abolition of Public Health England. When asked about 1828’s views, Penrose said “I don’t necessarily agree with all of them particularly if they contradict the NHS manifesto pledges”, suggesting he either doesn’t know them or hasn’t read the manifesto.

Sharma Karma

(Strictly speaking that pun is unfair, because I’m sure Sharma hasn’t done anything to deserve Covid-19)

Tuesday saw a suitably farcical return to work for the UK parliament, as remote voting was removed, leaving a snaking queue of MPs a kilometer long, which took an hour and half to complete a single vote (and they voted to remove remote voting). Only 50 MPs are allowed in the Commons chamber, severely curtailing debate, whilst as many as 250 MPs will be unable to vote due to health vulnerabilities or caring requirements (although proxy voting is allegedly on the way).

Somewhat concerning then that the next day, following an in-person meeting with Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, whilst making an address in the Commons, business secretary Alok Sharma began to look unwell and started sweating profusely. As if he had, you know, a fever. Luckily, Sharma tested negative for Covid on Thursday, but it brings into stark focus the totally unnecessary risk of bringing hundreds of people into a room together before sending them back to their communities all over the country,

(Interestingly, I’m spending much of my 9-5 at the moment writing Covid-19 return-to-work risk assessments, and according to the government’s own guidance any work that can feasibly be done from home, must be, whilst in-person meetings must be avoided.)

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.

Success! You're on the list.