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So another week off turned into another month off. 

Who can blame us, the news is exhausting. 

Whether it’s the toxic as West Coast air U.S. election year campaigning or something else entirely, which only a divine being could love, there’s plenty to motivate one’s withdrawal from informed public discourse. 

That’s where we come in. 

We want to help make the stuff that you should probably know about much easier to digest – while citing quality sources and generally giving piss-poor popular journalism a run for its ill gotten money. 

So, without (much) further ado; the highlight reel, from the past few weeks: 

Vladimir Putin poisoned the Russian opposition leader with a weaponized Belarusian uprising; Barack Obama blew up thousands of tonnes of explosives in a major Beirut’s port as a means of demonstrating the extent of the threat posed to western democracy by an ongoing Bezos & Thiel presidency… 

All the while, anarchists have finally collaborated and elected a governor of Portlandia called Theodore Weiner von Snitch’zel.

Now, obviously something is wrong in the above retelling, but – if you don’t read the news, or a short, snappy and entertaining digest (or a longer one?), how do you know what did actually happen? 

Facts are real, unlike birds. Let’s get to it. 

The Internet

You want the truth?! You can’t afford the truth!

Facts have a fundamental problem: they’re expensive. There’s a reason the Daily Mail, Fox News, Breitbart and the like are free, whilst The Economist, NYT, the Financial Times and their ire are subscription based. 

It’s fundamentally inexpensive to pump out fact-lite, populist, sensationalist garbage, with a click-bait title. Just slap a bunch of obstructive ads on and you’ll make a fortune. You need look no further than Alex Jones’ Info Wars (he recently got in shit for selling toothpaste that he claimed cured coronavirus).

Whereas digging deep into actual facts is a time-consuming and expensive process, even more so to drag out meaningful reasoned conclusions. That’s why subscriptions to academic journals are so f*cking expensive: you’re paying the price for a team of experts to work for months, then for their peers to check their work (let’s save the examination of the broken peer-review system for another time, the principle checks out).

We need facts, we need intelligent debate, and opinions from genuine experts, but the miracle that is the internet and all the wealth of access it provides has really tripped us up.

This article from Current Affairs takes a deeper dive into the nature of the problem.

New York (City) Cops 

When you see a headline to the effect of “cop steps down following death of mentally ill man placed in hood and violently pressed into the ground until dead”, you assume the cop is ashamed. Deeply, truly ashamed. 

That’s not how the police forces of America do PR… oh no. They brutalize the citizenry and then decide to walk out when people call them out for it (like the 57 police who resigned in Buffalo, New York in protest of their peers’ scrutiny for hospitalizing an old man). 

The senior rank and file of the Rochester, New York police force resigned, in protest of what they’ve considered “attacks on their character”. 

Entirely inverting the social contract, like rather than acting as though your salary is paid for with tax dollars you instead decide to brutally murder insane people in the streets and then try to cover it up, and succeed for months, only to get caught. 

If you’re going to resign – do it with dignity and acknowledge your mistake. Don’t cruise out saying ‘couldn’t do it ya’ll, this is on you’. 

This is why there isn’t a song called ‘fuck the fire department’. 

The World

The Show Must go on

Ahhhh, exhalation… Remember the heady days when breathing out heavily wasn’t taboo? In the era of facemasks and social-distancing the concept of an orchestra playing together may seem rather far-fetched, but research in Austria and Germany has shown that most instruments are actually pretty safe to play.

Rather than acting as aerosol/spit-accelerators, brass instruments actually capture the vast majority of particles within their workings. The least covid-friendly instrument is the flute, but even that was judged acceptable without needing distancing measures.

Sounding Off

Sticking with noise news, a novel piece of research conducted at the University of Salford has posited that Stonehenge may actually have been the world’s first example of acoustic engineering.

Having constructed a ‘Minihenge’ 1/12th scale model, including where all missing stones were believed to have been positioned, the researchers realised the design very effectively amplified interior sound whilst making it very hard to hear what was being said from outside of the circle. 

Canna Get a Drone High?

A Tel-Aviv based cannabis-legalisation advocate group launched their ‘Rain of Cannabis’ project last week by dropping hundreds of bags of weed from a drone over a central square. Whilst seemingly mainly a publicity stunt, the group also claimed it to be part of a test for effective weed delivery in any future coronavirus lockdown.

‘Rain of Cannabis’ intends to make weekly drops of 500 2g bags in a number of Israeli cities. Police announced the arrest of two men in their 30s, so the plan may have… gone up in smoke…

The US

Apocalypse Now

Oregon usually see’s 500,000 acres burned annually. This year, within a few days of the fire season approximately 1,000,000 acres of forest has burned, exacerbated by unusually high winds and a prolonged drought. About half of Oregon is forested, with about 30 million acres of wooded areas. 

While it’s obviously true that climate change is a contributing factor here (Figure 2 below), there are also things we can do moving forward to prevent increasingly dangerous and blade runner-esque red skies. Things like controlled burns and clearing out dead, extremely dry (and flammable) stuff. There is plenty of evidence that the indigenous used deliberately set and carefully managed fires to help preserve the ecosystem generally by mitigating the risk of catastrophic, uncontrollable blazes. For the past 150 years or so, the government has officially favored fire suppression in all of it’s forms. This seems about as wise as building above ground power lines through forests, where a single falling tree (or power line support, which are also basically trees), can start a forest fire. As they frequently do. Side note: The Californian Public Utilities Commission estimates 1 in 10 forest fires are caused by power lines, bearing in mind they have obvious reasons to bias studies and underestimate this, this is 100% more fires than need to be started by power lines. Revolutionary 21st century solution: dig a trench, put the cables in it, bury the cables. 

More generally, remarkably well resourced fire safety and response organizations are obviously going to be imperative for the 21st century. This is something the US government doesn’t quite understand, as is evidenced by the decrease in the fire budget for the Department of the Interior – spending ~$1 billion on fire management for the ~500 million acres of land administered… that’s about 1/5th of the U.S. by the way. For reference, one billion dollars is approximately the amount of money which was cut from the New York police budget in 2020. 

Some places have employed methods like ‘fire breaks’ in attempts to mitigate the spread of wildfires; essentially a perimeter or edge without fuel for the fire (like a big ditch, road or the void containing Mike Pence’s repressed homosexual urges). Though there are still historic fires year on year in such places as British Columbia, Canada where 1/50th of the forests burned up in 2017.

Real-time Assessment and Planning Tool for Oregon (or RAPTOR to use a reaching acronym)

So you’ve got an idea for how sodding huge the fires are. With the green area meaning “be ready to run for your lives”, yellow representing “you really better be ready to get to steppin’” and red being “you’re really still here? Jesus Christ do you have any idea how close you are to an entirely uncontrolled wildfire of epic proportions? Get outta’ here!”.

Compare this to Canada, where there are clear markers for ‘yeah don’t worry this is under control’ and similarly polite acknowledgements of ‘oops, this one’s not contained!’. 

BC Wildfire Dashboard

If you’re interested in the origins of the terms ‘fight fire with fire’ and ‘backfire’ then please enjoy this piece. TL;DR 19th century European settlers in North America struggled to effectively use controlled burns, to the extent that they sometimes backfired; which (presumably combined with the conviction that if white people can’t figure it out then it’s probably impossible) might well have influenced less than evidence based government policy. 

The Art of Dealing with Failure

Mary Trump’s “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man” was infamous before even being released, thanks to the Trump family’s effort to quash it, and it seems there really is no such thing as bad publicity. The book sold 1.35 million copies in its first week, compared to Trump’s tombe ‘The Art of the Deal’ which sold just 1.1 million in its first 29 years.

Gathering Dust

It’s sometimes difficult to summon up shits to give about the deranged, old, race-baiter-in-chief and his campaign’s bizarre antics, but I had to share a wonderful line from coverage of Trump’s recent North Carolina rally. Trump used the gathering (illegal under state law which has a cap of 50 person gatherings) to ridicule social distancing rules and deride race-equality protests, whilst the crowd and President chose of course to ignore mask mandates.

Thank you Guardian for this gem: “While supporters waited for Trump to arrive, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door played over the loudspeakers, making for an inadvertently dark soundtrack.”

The UK

National Treasure

Rather than bore you with the details of the 4th year of bullshit Brexit has predictably generated, we offer you a glimmer of hope for a bright and prosperous future; brought to you by the one and only David Attenborough. Watch this inspiring and beautiful story about recovering mountain Gorilla populations in the Virunga Mountains – which straddle the borders of Uganda, the DRC and Rwanda. Intentional cooperation and a well executed revenue sharing scheme based around tourism has been massively successful. The programme sees a portion of funds spent by visitors allocated to communities on the edge of the wilderness, providing a viable economic alternative to turning Gorilla habitat into agricultural land (as was the main cause of their habitat loss decades ago). The local Gorilla population has increased many times over.

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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