May all your Zooms be clear and bright.
The only thing powerful enough to shunt the tedious ‘Baby it’s Cold Outside’ debate out of the public conversation for a season might not be a shiny new coronavirus, but the appropriate festive safety precautions around said virus certainly appear to be sufficient.
So we have that to be thankful for.
Along with Brexit coming early, as the Europeans finally decide to tell the British and their sense of exceptionalism to “do one”. So exceptional are the Brits (as usual mostly the English) they’ve even incubated a newer, shinier, more novel and more contagious strain of the (now even less) novel coronavirus of yesteryear.
The French are starting to let some of the thousands of lorries (stranded in Kent on the English side of the Channel Tunnel due to travel restrictions imposed in light of the aforementioned Rona2020 edition of now that’s what I call a viral infection in the respiratory tract) back onto the continent but only on the condition that the drivers sing ‘La Marseillaise’ and denounce Islam for no apparent reason but to stir the ethnic pot. Of course, I joke, but the French government has recently been stepping into the same pile of philosophically incoherent detritus as the U.S. would have seemingly all but entirely proved to not be wise during the whole ‘forever wars’ thing…
The rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, first in the UK and now the US, is incredibly exciting and feels like great progress towards that pin-prick of light at the end of the tunnel. There is one incredibly crucial and fundamental aspect of the vaccination program however, that seems to be being given no attention at all in any public messaging. So, a PSA: we do not yet know if the vaccine prevents you from being contagious. This is essentially because the vaccine trials look at how many people in various samples get sick, not who’s passing it onto whom.
In other words, post-vaccine the chances of you getting ill with Covid-19 are very small, but we don’t yet know if it will prevent you from passing it on to others.
So when you get the coveted jab: please, please don’t abandon mask wearing and social distancing, they are still entirely necessary until community transmission drops right down, or we have proof that it prevents people from being contagious.
Preachy shit over, treat yourself to a video of a baby doing funny faces, drinking stuff, and yelling “yeet” (#yeetBaby).
Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Neighbour’s House
It’s customary to piss-off the neighbours after moving in, but Trump is never one for custom. Although he continues to not accept the results of the election publicly, work has been underway for some weeks at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort to renovate his residential quarters ahead of a permanent move there.
Trump claims he loves legal battles (despite having lost more than 50 in the last couple of months alone) and it looks like he’s in for a fresh one with Palm Beach residents after he gets evicted from his current pad. The Don signed an agreement in 1993 which allowed him to convert the estate into a business provided he didn’t reside there for more than a week at a time up to a total of three weeks a year.
Despite Palm Beach voting overwhelmingly Republican, it appears the residents have had enough of closed roads, motorcades, helicopters and the general circus of moving the president.
Leave the Pardons for the Turkeys
It’s always darkest before dawn. This maxim is true of our current pandemic related circumstances, as the second wave of deaths (or if you’re in the U.S. the ever growing first wave) eclipses the spring and looks set to keep on cruising throughout the holidays and everyone’s viral return to their usual places of residence. The saying is also true of Trump’s ongoing assault on the American republic, as he pardons the private contractors who massacred Iraqi civilians in 2007 while ‘protecting’ staff in their heavily armed and armoured convoy.
The Blackwater firm hired by the government to help minimize legal risk for the government during blatantly illegal war related actions, among other motives and drivers, saw several of it’s staff sentenced to lengthy prison stints. Until Trump decided to undo the convictions. Bearing in mind many convictions weren’t finally issued until last year, for the families of the victims the 12 years spent waiting for justice were only briefly brought to a conclusion. One has to wonder if this is of Trump’s volition or if some (other) psychopath in the administration is encouraging this as a final skidmark on the ethical pantaloons of America’s international image.
Also Trump pardoned some more folks found guilty of lying to Federal law enforcement about the extent of their contacts with the Ruskies during Trump’s presidential campaign.
It’s pretty difficult to focus through the outrage. That’s the strategy. The response requires calm, focus and patience. Capone went to prison for tax related indiscretions, not the more blatant crimes. So there’s hope yet…
Take my Money!
Every time you think late-stage Capitalism has peaked, along comes another Apple product. The latest being the Airpods Max headphones, and their accompanying bra-case. Retailing at a ball-aching £549 (or, annoyingly $549) the headphones are of similar quality and specification to their chief competitors from Bose and Sony, but a cool double the price. Naturally this means they will sell astonishingly well.
How we all laughed when the ridiculously impractical and expensive Airpods were launched. We continued to laugh whilst they became a ubiquitous status symbol, and laughed some more whilst their cordless USP was eroded by the sales of $60 straps to connect them together (when I was a kid you got that shit for free). And as we laughed, Apple sold $7,300,000,000 worth of them in 2019 alone.
To put that into context, Apple’s laughing-stock product has annual sales equivalent to the GDP of Kyrgyzstan. Or two Central African Republics and a Suriname.
That’s a Fine Looking Wooden Horse…
… “I bet it would look great inside the Government IT infrastructure”, is what hindsight leads me to believe various U.S. gov. procurement agencies must’ve been thinking to themselves when they decided to outsource much of their tech and network management to Solar Winds. In fairness, it was also a private company that alerted the government to a truly epic ongoing information security breach. Suggesting that despite billions of dollars being expended on so-called cyber-security initiatives, the government would have continued to not notice various breaches leaking e-mail and other sensitive data from thousands of devices.
The CDC, the State Department, the Justice Department, The Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon all appear to have been using software which hackers had built various gateways into. Several folks in the treasury who might occasionally ping their colleagues something more important than a dank-meme appear to have potentially had their emails made available.
Perhaps the most frightening part of all this is the ongoing uncertainty around the exact extent of the hack. There’s a state sponsored group of hackers sitting somewhere (probably within Russia’s sphere of influence, says apparently everyone but Russia) wondering if the silly Yankees will ever realize the extent of their informatic heist.
As if one needed another reason to protest the government (or private companies) recording video of you on the toilet in a clandestine fashion, or other private/sensitive data, this totally fundamental cluster-botch reminds us not only that our data isn’t being stored safely – but that the powers that be don’t even know how vulnerable it is. If they were being honest (which they often aren’t – see our story from 2019 “The Glorious Republic of Snowdonia”), they couldn’t tell you. Merry Christmas, ya’ filthy animals.
Some Coronas are Better than Others
It’s that time we eagerly await each year: the publication of The Grocer magazine’s Top Products Survey.
Over the last few years the survey has highlighted an emerging shift to plant-based diets and a general rise in health and wellbeing sales. This year, however, was 2020, so the star-performers were: lager and cigarettes.
Of particular note was Corona, with sales up 40% on last year. Presumably 90% of these were to post an IG story: “hey look, I’ve got Corona, haha”. Who would do such a thing? Definitely not I, back in March on the eve of lockdown 1.0.
A ministerial aide has been sacked after leaking to the press a letter from the Tory Chief Whip warning of the consequences of leaking to the press. (I say the press, I mean libertarian blogger Guido Fawkes, who labels literally anything he disagrees with as ‘Marxist’.)
In a scene straight from Yes, Minister/The Thick of It, the Whip sent the warning letters to each of the Parliamentary Private Secretaries with a slightly different wording each time so that he could identify the leak. The ‘canary trap’ strategy was expected not to work given the plan was previously announced to the press.
Why didn’t he call it ‘Fake News’?
Labour leader Keir Starmer was handed an early Christmas gift this week by the Wellingborough Branch of the Conservative Party ahead of the last Prime Minister’s Questions of the year.
The local party newsletter ran advice for potential party candidates on how best to emulate Trump’s success by “weaponising fake news”. It told campaigners to “say the first thing that comes into your head… it’ll probably be nonsense, but it knocks your opponent out of his stride and takes away his headline.” It goes on: “If you make enough dubious claims, fast enough, honest speakers are overwhelmed”, concluding: “Sometimes, it is better to give the WRONG answer at the RIGHT time, than the RIGHT answer at the WRONG time”.
When presented with these quotes Johnson of course said the first thing that came into his head, blustering some barely comprehensible nonsense followed by the meaningless: “I think what the people of this country would love to hear from [Starmer] in this season of goodwill is any kind of point of view at all on some of the key issues.”
Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Staring into the Abyss
Excitement over this story will probably be limited to those who live in the vicinity (i.e. probably just Will), but anyhow, the Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors national parks have been designated as the UK’s largest International Dark-Sky Reserve. The accreditation aims to improve the night environment by reducing light pollution, improving the area for nocturnal creatures, and providing great astronomy opportunities. Indeed in most of the area, on a clear night, you can see the Milky Way with your bare eyes.