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First and foremost, Happy Treason Day! Ungrateful colonials… 

The World

Learn as if you were to live forever

It’s finally happened, The Economist have run an article about effective altruism and some of the more eccentric tenants (or, honestly, the core tenants) of the Future of Humanity Institute. With a name that lofty you can expect some hot air and about as much practical direction as an earnest pilot can afford a balloon in a hurricane. Proportionate cynicism aside, there’s an awesome couple of takeaways from the piece. Particularly I enjoyed the process of asteroid surveillance which has brought us to a place where it’s reasonable to talk about evidence based estimates of the number of potentially dangerous asteroids still yet to be discovered. Knowing enough to know what you don’t know. 

Home Crowd

Turns out playing football to a home crowd makes a quantifiable difference. The Bundesliga (German premier football [soccer] league) was one of the first major sports in Europe to kick-off again, which has now allowed a good few weeks of data to be accrued. The matches are being played behind closed doors (without South Korean sex dolls standing in for the crowd) which makes it possible to analyse the differences in players performance. 

It was found that a home team scored 1.74 goals per game with a crowd compared to 1.43 without, and that they took less shots on goal which were in turn less accurate. It should be mentioned though that this could partly be attributed to players being a bit rusty having had a gap of a couple of months not training with their teams.

Veil of Ignorance

If that I were a studio exec this week, I would be feverishly scrambling a team together to buy the rights to a story that will be made into either a superb or woefully disappointing movie (there is no middle ground with ‘based on a real story’). The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA)  announced more than 700 arrests on Thursday morning following a joint European operation which infiltrated an encrypted mobile phone network.

Encrochat was a legitimate company that designed and sold phones explicitly designed to be highly secure. The handsets had the GPS chips, cameras and even mics physically removed, and used a specialist operating system to encrypt all messages. They were sold around the world by a network of resellers on a contract basis for around £1,500 for 6 months. Allegedly, they were intended for use by journalists, lawyers or anybody else who may need to conduct their business in secret, but in reality were marketed to high-level criminals (and corrupt police) to allow them to communicate with ease.

The criminal networks’ belief in the security was such that thousands of users discussed major drug shipments, kidnaps and even murders with perceived impunity, sending photographs of cash, guns and drugs, and using their own names. 

The French police first managed to hack the system a few months ago, giving them a backdoor into Europe’s organised gangs. They watched as baffled criminals discussed how they couldn’t understand how the police were arresting their operatives.

Eventually Encrochat spotted the backdoor and shut the network down, so police in five European targets swooped on their remaining targets. It has reportedly left European organised crime temporarily stalled; as one Dutch investigator put it: “international drug and money laundering corridors have become crystal clear”.

I for one, look forward to the ‘Narcos: Basingstoke’ Netflix series.

The US

Closer to God

Churches, or ‘Corona Houses’ as they’re called in America, are performing the devil’s work as of late. Gathering in large groups in closed air, without masks, for prolonged periods of time, is usually uncomfortable while someone in overtly authoritative garments dangles the carrot of a better life in parallel with the stick of eternal damnation; it’s still a walk in the park compared to dealing with COVID, for most. A recent spike in cases in Union county Oregon stood testament to the danger of such myopic freedom of faith in one’s imperviousness to a pandemic… willful ignorance and all that. 

Mount (Rush)more Culture War

TL;DR Trump doubles down on divisive rhetoric (denouncing a “new far-let fascism”, as opposed to good old fashioned fascism…) in an highly unordinary Independence Day celebration at one of America’s most famous historical monuments. A member of Trump’s campaign team tests positive for COVID. Protestors and indigenous tribes blocked the road to the event space for a few hours before being either arrested or tear gassed by the national guard and SWAT teams. 

Neil Young denounced Trump’s use of his music at the fireworks display, particularly ‘Rockin’ in The Free World’ and affirming his solidarity with the Lakota Sioux. The Great Sioux Nation and constituent tribes (such as the Lakota) are not particularly keen on Trump or the old-white-dudes on carved out of the rock of their motherland. To sum up the history of the Lakota particularly as a series of increasingly egregious incursions on their sovereignty, and right to an autonomous existence (sounds like the American dream, right?), would be both a criminal understatement and essentially true. 

Mt.Rushmore is visited by ~2 million people per year (moment of cautious optimism, this is about 1/3rd of the annual attendance to the Museum of Natural History in New York). The 60 ft heads were finished in 1941, for a visual impression of quintessentially American small-minded nativism please see the Leshan Giant Buddha – a 233ft statue of the Buddha completed ~1,200 years ago, which deserves it’s position as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

South Dakota’s Governor is doing a great job of stirring the pot (where the pot is a dumpster fire and the dumpster is a portable-toilet). Talking about how social distancing won’t be practiced at the July 3rd Fireworks display at Mt.Rushmore, while also propounding the Freedom’s that make America great. It’s almost like nationalism runs counter to the impressions of evidence based thinking. 

It’s remarkable that something as obvious as a physical barrier to catch some of your breath and prevent others from inhaling so many of your virions (should you be infected, say, with a virus which hangs around in the respiratory tract) has become a battle line in the US culture war. What culture war? We hear from those of you emerging from beneath your rocks of isolation. To sum it all up, we have a series of binary choices in the universe (so says the culture war):

  • Law and Order, OR
  • Emancipation for the descendants of slaves

Also, we can either:

  • Wear masks, OR

Historical figures are one of the following: 

  • Heroes, OR 
  • Satan

The Culture War has no time for nuance or subtlety. No regard for anachronistic applications of ever more sophisticated and broadly-informed moral landscapes. There is clear cut, intellectually unthreatening, right and wrong, good and bad. ‘With us or against us’ – to quote G.W.Bush, else anyone think we’re living through some sort of ‘uniquely fucked’ period of history, it’s been a pretty wild slide into modernity. Which brings me on nicely to my suggestion for the next monument, to replace Rushmore, which would be a depiction of that time an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at G.W.Bush during a press conference in 2008.

Anyhow, according to Pew Research, attitudes towards mask wearing are something which correlate with political affiliation (which is possibly the strongest argument for technocratic governance I’ve ever heard):

“Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are about twice as likely as Republicans and Republican leaners to say that masks should be worn always (63% vs. 29%). Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to say that masks should rarely or never be worn (23% vs. 4%)”

The UK

Boris Baffles Bots

Boris Johnson has famously avoided media interviews in recent years, going as far as banning his cabinet from appearing on BBC Radio 4’s flagship program Today, and running into a walk-in fridge at a dairy to avoid television cameras. Interesting then that he graced the launch of the new Times Radio channel with his first live interview in many months. I’m sure it had nothing to do with Times Radio being part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, given his remarkably cosy relationship with the Conservative Party.

The launch didn’t go entirely to plan, however, for listeners on smart speakers. Those trying to listen using Amazon’s Alexa devices tuned into Times Radio Malawi, where they were “treated to a Chichewa-language discussion of Malawi’s politics and some upbeat music”, which sounds infinitely preferable to Johnson waffling in Latin about education policy. Users of Google’s smart speakers got Chris Moyles’ breakfast show on Radio-X (presumably the speaker confused it for the ‘times’ symbol).

All Change Please

On Saturday 4th July England will give a wan shrug as the new Coronavirus regulations come into place and restrictions effectively end. I say ‘effectively end’ not because they actually end, more that they become so bafflingly complicated that the chances of people actually following them seem vanishingly small. The summarised version of the changes is 5870 words.

I’ve tried to summarise them below:

  • You can meet groups of 2 households (including your own, but your ‘support bubble’ counts as only one) indoors or outdoors as long as you social distance
  • Social distancing is now 1m, unless you can do 2m, in which case do that, and you should probably wear a mask (except nobody in the government ever will)
  • You can meet outside in groups of up to 6 people from 6 different households (again including yourself, but your ‘bubble’ is only one)
  • Your household (and ‘bubble’) can stay over at another house, which means you can now have sex with people inside again, as long as you’re unfathomably well-endowed
  • Groups of more than 30 total people cannot gather anywhere including in pubs, cafes and restaurants, except in pubs, cafes, restaurants, shops, cinemas, theatres (but theatrical shows aren’t allowed), visitor centres, schools, places of worship, hotels, attractions, campsites, weddings, funerals, community centres, youth clubs, libraries, hairdressers (but not nail salons), funfairs, theme parks, zoos, museums, galleries, bingo halls, outdoor skating rinks, amusement arcades, model villages (mentioned explicitly, I shit you not), social clubs, outdoor gyms, playgrounds and anywhere else with a vowel in it
  • You can travel as far as you wish, apart from to all the countries which don’t want you there, such as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • You shouldn’t use public transport unless you really want to, in which case that’s cool
  • If your birthday fell on a waning moon, you’re exempt from all the above, and those with the letter ‘æ’ in their name must not buy the first round at pubs south of Watford Junction

Okay so the last one is bollocks, but the rest are the ‘new normal’. The Government’s advice is to “be responsible”; this from the country that brought you football hooliganism, a Prime Minister named Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, and self-imposed economic and social suicide because of something to do with frozen kippers. So good luck to us all with working that out. If I must go out, I shall be wearing a clear plastic bin over my head and avoiding the queues for pubs and hairdressers like the literal plague.

Grand Re-Opening

What’s the perfect image to represent people gathering indoors in the midst of a pandemic? Likely this image of a car driving straight into a red brick pub in Kent as the wall comes tumbling down. The pub was hours away from reopening after months of closure, although we imagine the plan was to use the purpose built doorways. The UK, who’ve recorded the most COVID19 related deaths (per capita) of any large, wealthy country, might do well to look to Texas as an early warning system. Texas (the world’s 10th largest economy as measured by trucks and gusto, or GDP, or whatever you like really) started serving punters in restaurants and other places that aren’t outdoors in mid May. As of Saturday July 4th two counties have reached hospital capacity. Governor Abbott acknowledges he certainly could have delayed the reopening of bars, with the benefit of hindsight. Encouraging people to wear masks would also have helped, a bit. Or at least, not actively working to ensure people’s freedom to give one another a novel coronavirus – by banning local authorities from imposing fines on the maskless i.e. those too belligerent, stupid or lazy to wear masks in public spaces. So yeah, keeping the bars closed and also not taking active efforts to undermine common sense policies would likely have helped a lot.

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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