Good news this week has the unusual form of potential good news (disclaimer: quality of news depends on actual outcome, yet to be determined, presumably correlating with whether or not we take some bloody action!).
Analysis by the charity ‘Campaign for Nature’ has shown that a worldwide effort to invest in protecting 30% of the world’s land and oceans would actually bring a net benefit to the economy. Yes, it would require a fair bit of capital pumping in (to the tune of $140bn a year, for the next ten years) but would see the world economy gain a net output of between $64bn and $454 a year.
The benefit would come in a multitude of forms, but it’s largely made up of reducing the impact of carbon emissions, avoiding mass extinction of ecologically important animals and insects, and allowing valuable fish-stocks to recover to viable levels.
Another idea gathering traction is ‘enhanced rock weathering’, in other words spreading rock dust onto farmland. When spread, the dust absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over a few months and locks it into the form of carbonate, whilst reducing soil acidity (which farmers often do by spreading limestone). The rock dust then gets buried into the soil or watched into rivers and oceans with surface water, where it settles as a harmless sediment. Many industries already produce useful forms of rock dust, like Basalt, as a by-product.
Elon Musk has been known from time to time to enjoy a good trolling; see tweets such as “Nuke Mars!” (weirdly, actually a reasonably viable way to warm the planet up for human habitation), repeatedly calling a volunteer rescue diver a “pedo”, and “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.”, for which he was fined $20m by the SEC.
Recently, Musk hasn’t felt particularly friendly to parts of the markets short-selling Tesla’s stock, cue the response of any self-respecting billionaire: launching limited-edition, satin-red Tesla ‘Short-shorts’, priced at $69.420. The attention to detail here is second to none: his developers will have had to faff around getting the website to add that trailing zero, bravo sir, bravo.
Then there’s saying “The Pyramids were built by aliens, obv.”, which elicited an earnest response from Egyptian officials to the effect of ‘No they bloody didn’t and also our tourism industry has tanked, please come see the pyramids…’. I’m aware of the irony in taking the time to write this but it’s bloody ridiculous that Musk’s tweets earn (per tweet) whole-ass-news-article level coverage. Especially since he’s also tweeted “My Twitter is pretty much complete nonsense at this point”
Microsoft-backed OpenAI has launched the third iteration of its language prediction model, GPT-3. It’s a ‘narrow AI’ which means it can predict text but not understand it; hence it can write prose in the style of any author you tell it to, but also thinks a pencil is heavier than a toaster.
Some other amusing responses that a Turing test produced related to queries which don’t make any sense. The ability to distinguish nonsense is an incredibly complex problem (hence why it’s so easy to fool children), so if I ask you “How many bonks are in a quoit?”, you’ll respond “go home and stop drinking Absinthe”, but GPT-3 will earnestly claim: “There are three bonks in a quoit.”
Somewhat more amusingly, GPT-3 is capable of generating its own hype, and has done, writing a blog in a style indistinguishable from that of tech blogger Manuel Araoz bigging itself up.
What it has started to do astonishingly well though is write code from a plain text description of a desired outcome, for example describing an app to it which it promptly builds itself.
Tweeteth the Birds of War
A couple of week’s back a teenager in Florida sent myriad messages from the Twitter accounts of the world’s most famous. The messages implored people to send them Bitcoin in order to receive twice the amount back… thusly Joe Biden was briefly embodied by the infamous prince from far away lands who just needs a token of your appreciation in order to bestow unfathomable riches upon you.
Given many millions of people treat Twitter as a sort of pseudo news source (often assuming fully fledged credibility) it’s pretty concerning to imagine the counterfactual of this having occurred with seriously mischievous aims in say, a run up to an election. Or when the Iranian and American governments were communicating in real time, while exchanging missiles, via Twitter.
Can’t touch this
Brazil’s ‘no contact’ approach to the remaining indigenous peoples has proved a viable model for other countries in similar situations i.e. with vast, resource rich, ungoverned territory which is inhabited by folks who’ve forged their own path in the world for the past ~15,000 years (the Bering Land Bridge between Siberia and Alaska likely facilitated the migration of humans to the American continent, between 13 and 17 thousand years ago). So we’re talking about a human story and cultural arc on the Americas for something like 60 U.S.A.’s worth of history here (15,000/250).
The project to develop Brazil into a competitive global player, with a vast population over an even greater landmass, developed strategies to enable mutually beneficial cohabitation across cultural and ethnic grounds.
The Brazilian authoritarian-ass-hat at the head of public office, is going well out of his way to dismantle the safeguards for the remaining 100,000’s of indigienous inhabitants.
The ‘no-contact’ ethos is essentially what it sounds like; don’t go hassling the locals with your religion, disease or misguided attempts to achieve glory via violently conquered Earthly treasures.
If you can’t vaccinate ‘em, treat ‘em
In a rare bit of ‘rona positivity (that doesn’t end in self-isolation) preliminary results from a small double-blind trial of a Covid-19 treatment called Interferon B show it has been hugely successful.
Interferon beta is a protein generated by the body when fighting a viral infection. In the trial, subjects inhaled a synthetic version directly into their lungs using a nebuliser.
The results on hospitalised patients were quite remarkable, reducing the chances of developing a severe version of Covid-19 by 79%, and taking average days spent in hospital from nine to six.
Being only preliminary results though, experts’ opinions vary on whether this is something we should be getting excited about.
Attack of the Drones
Soon not even the peaceful beauty spots of Mars will go unmolested from the tinnitic buzz of a drone. In its latest Mars mission, Nasa has launched a miniature robotic helicopter to help it survey areas of the red planet that are unreachable by rover. Rather excitingly, it will be the first aircraft to ever fly on another planet. Even more excitingly, it is dropped thunderbird-like from the belly of the Perseverance Rover.
Rose City Republic
Sleepy Portlandia has been occupying the front pages of the New York Times and BBC news this past week as Trump’s Federal Government makes the political error of domestically exerting force usually reserved for the fledgling democracies of states on the periphery of America’s sphere of influence.
The posture of the Fox News / President of The United States media hydra has been quintessentially polarizing and unhelpful. Getting folks all riled up with culture wars and what not before disappearing people on the streets of a fabulously liberal, porgressive city on the West Coast.
For the highlight reel, please see this naked lady standing off against a wall of paramilitarized and anonymous State (as in ‘nation’) police. Followed by the Mayor of Portland, after very public calls for federal police to leave our sleepy neck of the Pacific NorthWest alone in peace, getting tear gassed among the protestors. Ted Wheeler (Mayor of Portland) has received criticism from the radicals among us for joining in ~ 2 months late, to this round of popular dissent, at a politically advantageous moment. If he’s just in it for the photo op… imagine what we could accomplish with a world of leaders prepared to get tear-gassed for what they believe in.
All fascism and facetiousness aside, the towering titans of the hour are the mum’s of Portland forming a protective frontline between protestors and the federal police. A close runner up is the dad’s of Portland using leaf-blowers to return tear gas to its origin – faceless representatives of the military industrial complex.
Bye bye baby, baby Goodbye
The tearful senial basket case disgracing the institutions of the United States via the office of the President of the United States… the voldemort of the committed American democrat, shall remain unnamed – isn’t exactly playing from strength to strength at the moment politically… or otherwise.
Federal little green men are withdrawing from Portland. It’s feasible that the administration is backpedaling because their presence didn’t appear to be popular with the electorate (click here for polling details). The campaign of LAW and ORDER (being yell/typed from the restrooms of the oval office) is in many respects a tried and tested strategy; George Wallace rode the same narrative arc with such vigor as to plough new depths both morally and aesthetically speaking.
The grounds for cautious optimism; Wallace didn’t get elected.
(Yup, that pun sucks, no apologies.)
Justin Trudeau has given the Canadian equivalent of flipping the bird and taking a crap on the doormat, by politely declining to attend the upcoming NAFTA meeting with the US and Mexico.
It’s not a personal insult, more a damning indictment on the appalling state of coronavirus in the US. Given the case total in the US sits at thirty times that of Canada, it’s probably a good call.
The border between the two countries has been closed since March 21st, with a 14-day quarantine required for those allowed to enter Canada.
Boris Bakes a Balls-up
One can only assume that our current Government has finally got to the point where it has made a conscious decision to go beyond satirising itself and is leaning into whatever it is that it calls this nonsense. It ran an ad a couple of weeks ago in all the major newspapers: “Enjoy Summer Safely”. This ad used an image of a baker in North Yorkshire, without said baker’s permission.
It gets better.
Said baker, Phil Clayton, is quite well known for the loaves he bakes. Said loaves have “F*ck Boris” written on them in stencilled flour. Clayton is now suing the government for a ‘modelling fee’. That is all.
Scrutiny? What Scrutiny?
Some people may say “Stop relentlessly criticising the Government, it’s getting monotonous”, to which I respond “I will stop when they stop doing shifty nonsense like the following”.
The nonsense in question this week was regarding the Government’s decision not to publish the number of people being tested each day for Covid-19 on a temporary basis back in May. The decision has now been made permanent.
It should be noted that they are still publishing the number of tests taken, just not how many people have been tested. Downing Street says that because those figures had included only people taking their first test, they could be skewed. So rather than break the statistics down and show how many are first tests and how many are repeats, they have chosen just not to publish them at all.