If you fancy a longer read this weekend you could do worse than Vanity Fair’s recent essay on the inimitable Elon Musk, if only for the wonderfully crafted title: Elon Musk’s Totally Awful, Batshit Crazy, Completely Bonkers, Most Excellent Year.
It’s not the first examination of Musk through the eyes of those who know him (indeed this 2018 article from Wired is arguable better) and it won’t be the last; we can’t help but be fascinated by this comic book superhero/super-villain character and all the juxtaposition and paradox that go alongside his apparent genius. What stands out though is its focus on Musk’s recent changes in attitude. Where previously Musk had been someone mildly obsessed with his public image, that has changed since ‘the summer of 420’ (in 2018 when Musk attracted the ire of the SEC and a hefty fine following false tweets about taking Tesla stock private at $420 – & of course also smoked pot with Joe Rogan on his unbelievably prolific podcast).
It tells of how, much like Trump staffers, his employees wake every morning to check Twitter to see what destruction the night before may have wrought. How his moods are so variable that Tesla executives carefully watch for the success of SpaceX missions to know what sort of Musk will confront their emails, and vice versa when Tesla production numbers are published. He even famously hung up the phone on the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) who wanted to discuss a fatality caused by a driver using Tesla Autopilot.
Musk has now quite publicly swung to really not giving a flying shit what anybody thinks unless you happen to agree with him. He blocks any journalists or media outlets who have criticised him or any of his companies and has fired the entirety of his PR staff at Tesla. His attitude is aptly summed up in his response for comment on the article in question, saying simply: “Vanity Fair sucks”.
It would stand to reason that the departure of the biggest nastiest bitchiest president that the world ever did see, is not exactly a lesson in gracious humility.
It’s customary for incoming presidents to be supported by the outgoing administration in the months leading up to inauguration, such as that which will coincide with next year’s reanimation of Mr.Biden on January 20th, in this year of our Rona, 2021.
Support would obviously be great, and perhaps even a reasonable expectation – if it wasn’t the Twat from the apprentice running the show.
But we live where and when we do, so we’ll settle for not active obstruction.
You know, like when the service at a restaurant is shit but the waiter doesn’t go out of his way in attempts to take your healthcare away and harm the dignity of your family.
Trump, and his chickenshit enablers, have refused to pass on messages from world leaders congratulating Mr.Biden on his victory.
Usually, inside a day of an election result having become clear, the General Services Administration agrees to release funds and provide the inbound administration access to facilities. Trump’s appointed Emily Murphy has not signed the expected ‘ascertainment’ letter, which would free up funds… This is exactly the kind of shit you deserve for appointing the heads of, purportedly independent, non partisan procurement agencies (see also anything we’ve written over the past year on the UKs cronyism).
We’re used to weird uncooperative shit from outgoing administrations, like pinching all of the ‘W’ keys off very many keyboards around the Whitehouse, though this Trumpian farce, characteristically, lowers the bar.
Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing
In a move that marks the first time citizens have successfully forced a state government to re-introduce a native animal, Colorado voted narrowly to re-introduce Gray Wolves (which are, of course, an example of a “Keystone Species”). Wildlife policy has traditionally been controlled by agricultural and hunting interests, so this represents a marked shift to democratically determined, socio-ecological considerations. Re-introducing a predator to an environment can have a colossal trickle down effect of rebalancing an entire ecosystem. For example species such as Elk spread rapidly without predation, losing fear of open spaces, which in turn causes them to eat or damage saplings which hinders reforestation, which in turn hinders indigenous species which rely on tree cover. Here’s George Monbiot narrating a story about wolves changing the course of rivers.
Coroning Home for ‘Ron-mass
For the many of us who experience Christmas, it’s as routine as the changing of the seasons. Though I’m sure many of us have mixed feelings about it, whether we’re consciously aware of this or not… So, perhaps we can all stand to have an even better Christmas in 2021 if we just take a rain check on this one?
The upcoming migrations around the U.S. for a selectively cognizant misremembering of the relationship white settlers had with the indigenous, happens to coincide with alarming spikes in covid cases. 1 in 1,000 North Dakotans have died with Covid. El Paso, Texas is seeing prison inmates work as circumstance demanded morgue orderlies, stacking viral bodies in refrigerated trailers… Jesus wept.
Europe is experiencing a serious resurgence as well; these are treacherous times in the northern hemisphere. So now is absolutely not the time to fly across the country to go share breath with your elderly relatives.
Here’s papa Fauci laying a truth egg for our benefit.
For those of you, mostly the uniquely privileged and neurotic (not exactly an independent phenomenon) Americans, fretting about getting a covid test before travelling – that ain’t how it works darling. The virus can take weeks to incubate, a negative test does not mean you’re free and clear to go kiss grandma.
Spare a thought for the Hawaiian locals having to deal with dipshit corona-packers heading out their way from the lawless mainland of the United States. People have been required to get tests before flying out, though many were able to get on flights pre-result and yet more tested negative before arriving and testing positive… This was both foreseeable and preventable. Once one acknowledges this, it becomes a candid discussion about quality of life and risk. Though of course, they’re the lives of others (if you’re young and going on holiday to Hawaii…).
Just a Scratch…
The bounty of vaccine development news has been incredibly exciting for all of us; we’ve just suddenly seen a pin-prick of light at the end of the tunnel. But amidst the frenzy, it’s rather important not to over-amplify aforementioned light and remember we are very much in the tunnel.
Partly I say this because when I say we, I mean we as in the sum-total of humanity, which exists across a wildly diverse world subsisting on willdy diverse incomes in wildly diverse economic, political and environmental conditions. To ‘beat’ Coronavirus we can’t simply roll out a vaccine in Western Europe and North America and consider the work done.
(Helpful then that Trump buggered off to play golf instead of attending the G20 joint pandemic response meeting.)
Having several vaccine candidates in late phase-3 trials inside of a year of a disease spreading is frankly an astonishing achievement and absolutely justifies a high-level of excitement. Now the hard work begins for those vaccines in establishing full-scale production and logistics; no mean feat when the Pfizer vaccine requires storage and transport at -70°C.
A successful candidate or three though does not mean the development work can stop. What we have so far is simply unsuitable for use for a huge proportion of the world’s population, not to mention unaffordable.
The logistics of transporting and storing vaccines at -70°C and -20°C are virtually insurmountable in countries such as India, and neither company has any plans for distribution. Not to mention that stocks have been snapped up at inflated prices by the wealthiest countries. Interestingly, India has two homegrown vaccines in development which it hopes to roll out in the next 6-months to a year.
Then there are those with a non-functioning or suppressed immune system for whom these vaccines will mostly be useless. A trial is getting underway to test a jab containing a mix of antibodies injected directly into the patient which could provide up to 6-months protection.
So room for optimism? Sure. This is a once-in-a-lifetime scientific effort that is showing early signs of widespread success. Are we there yet? Hell, no! And it’s important we don’t forget that and let social-distancing lapse in advance of widespread vaccination.
Masking the Truth
Ever ones to delve to an absurd level of detail derived from frustration at the way of the world, we published a long essay in October about the UK Government’s cretinous and cronyist mis-use of public funds in procuring PPE, or indeed failing to. Fast-forward a few weeks, with a little more information coming to light, everybody seems to be catching on: this is some full-on corruption.
Not only did the National Audit Office draw attention to the ‘VIP’ procurement route for companies recommended by MPs (allowing them to bypass due diligence steps), it has emerged that in one case a jewellery designer was paid £21m of taxpayers money to act as a go-between for PPE procurement. In effect he was employed by the contracted supplier to find manufacturers for items that had already been sold to the UK, in a deal described as ‘lucrative’.
This story has yet again taught me the lesson of writing any part of this newsletter more than a day in advance of publishing, as facts seem to be coming to light at an increasingly alarming pace.
On Friday a Guardian investigation revealed that one of the companies mentioned in our essay, Unispace Global, had (hopefully inadvertently) sourced PPE for the Department of Health and Social Care from a Chinese factory using North Korean slave labourers.
I mean… Holy shit.
I guess this is what happens when you put an accountancy firm in charge of procuring PPE from totally unknown suppliers with zero experience in the industry and bypass all due-diligence processes.
The use of North Korean labour is shockingly commonplace in countries such as China and Russia. The deal basically works by the fascist regime sending labourers to work 18 hour days, 7 days a week without any permission to leave the premises of the factories, forestries, or construction sites they are contracted to, whilst the North Korean Government seizes 70% of their wages.
But then again, if slave labour is good enough for your iPhone, it would be surlish to reject it for your PPE…
Dido Harding, former Talk-Talk executive turned unelected and unqualified leader of about 70% of the UK’s pandemic response, tweeted this week that she had been instructed by her own Test & Trace app to self-isolate.
What was presumably an effort to show “Hey, look at me, I’m the head of test and trace, but even I isolate when told to” sparked more confusion than she may have intended. When informed to isolate, you are supposed to do so for 14 days, but Harding posted a screenshot showing she had to isolate for 9 days along with a caption stating she had just received a notification to self-isolate that evening.
So either Harding had received the notification some 5 days before and not posted on Twitter so she could get away with being out and about during those days, or her app hadn’t told her to isolate when it should have. So basically, either way you frame this, continuing to publicly demonstrate her ineptitude.
Of course not that I’m saying she got this role through some sort of cronyism, like being on the board of the Jockey Club and donating funds to Matt Hancock (the Health Secretary) for his election campaign, or say being married to Conservative John Penrose MP. Because this would of course have been reported and investigated by the Government’s ‘Anti-corruption Champion’: John Penrose MP.