2023 scorched by. Here in New Zealand, we started things off on entirely the wrong foot. Only Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern knew when to cut and run to a Harvard gig.
The rest of us, collectively traumatising ourselves with floods, leaving the newly-promoted Chris Hipkins in the hot seat to run around in a raincoat and look sadly concerned about stuff. The newly elected Auckland Mayor, Wayne Brown also faced his first big test over this period. Abroad, France burned for most of the year and the States gave off the low thrumbing sound of a country on the edge of complete dysfunction as ageing senators completely forgot where they were or what they were doing. Ukraine caught a couple breaks when the Russians decided to invade themselves for a change, but this was far too short-lived. Rishi Sunak managed to put a stop to the revolving door of Prime Ministers, the UK was enjoying over 2022. The year was decidedly capped off by Israel and the Gaza Strip, which magically made everybody an expert on the region’s history and geopolitics.
Taking a leaf out of John Key’s book, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stepped down ahead of elections later in the year. Quitting with no losses under the belt is a good way to go, if you ask me, and things were not looking good for Labour this term. Their chances of gaining another term were looking dismal. Ardern’s statement claimed that it was occupational burnout. “I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”
Chris Hipkins took over the role as Prime Minister, hopeful that he could shake the party up enough to make them appealing in time for the next election.
2023 French Pension Reform Strikes
France has two pastimes, one of them is rioting and I haven’t decided what the other is yet. Something vaguely racist about bread. From here, the year is pockmarked with violent protests. This first one was sparked by the government moving to up the retirement age from 62 to 64. One famous flash point involved President Macron removing his watch midway through an interview discussing minimum wage earners purchasing power and needing to raise the retirement age. Critics saw the removal of the Bell & Ross BR V1-92 as him trying to hide his wealth while a spokesman defended Macron, saying it was due to the banging sound it made on the table.
Gabriel & January Floods
Unexpected weather wrecked havoc across New Zealand, to say the least. First in Auckland and then across Waikato, Northland and Thames-Coromandel. Lives were lost and homes and memories got buried by mountains of silt in Hawke’s Bay. It’s hard to write about this one as even in 2024, my own parents and friends are still struggling to get back into their homes or get any sort of aid. Our friends were living in the Waitakere Ranges when their next-door neighbour’s house rolled into their property. Fortunately, that family was fine, able to crawl out with their kids. My parents had to swim out of their house when they realised, “Oh, this water is just not going to stop, is it.”
It doesn’t matter whether you lived on a mountain range or somewhere low. Water and mud will find you.
Wagner Group Coupe
The Ukraine conflict took an unexpected turn, almost literally, when the infamous PMC Wagner Groupe turned 180 degrees and marched toward the Kremlin. Perhaps Wagner got fed up waiting for Ukraine’s spring-offensive and decided to do it themselves. American intelligence believe that Wagner began building up supplies and soldiers for the attempt shortly after it was announced Wagner would have to integrate with the regular army. Their offensive started with the capture of Rostov-on-Don and civilians used the opportunity to take selfies with the Wagner soldiers.
The column then moved on to Moscow, lasting a full day and claimed the lives of at least 13 servicemen and aircrew from the Russian defensive. Civilian dash cam footage shows motorways with traffic still on them being air-striked to slow the Wagner forces down.
Unfortunately for the global community watching on with popcorn paused halfway to their face, Putin came to an agreement with Prigozhin, Wagner’s leader, and the fighting dematerialised.
2023 SAG-AFTRA Strike
The entertainment industry coming to a grinding halt as writers and actors joined forces to secure better terms. This included protections against the encroachment of AI, as well as getting remunerated for work hosted on streaming platforms. As writers downed tools, this caused a ripple delaying projects and leaving talk-show hosts out to dry. Execs played hardball throughout the year, keeping the strikes going far longer than they ever had to.
In a textbook example of counter-programming, Barbie and Oppenheimer released on the same day. The two were so tonally different that they came full circle to make the perfect pairing, with many moviegoers booking double features to see both on the same day. One is about Barbie entering the real world; the other is the biopic of a man responsible for creating the nuclear bomb, the most fearsome weapon the world has ever seen. This mix was dubbed Barbenheimer on social media, and both films saw significant ticket sales. Even Tom Cruise got in on the action buying tickets along with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One Director Christopher McQuarrie. Their movie, out at the same time, unfortunately suffered as a result of Barbenheimers popularity.
Twitter Renamed X
If you had one of the most recognised brands on the face of the planet, what would you do with it? I agree, change the name and make it completely unrecognisable. As usual, Elon Musk tweeted about it and it was taken as a joke initially, until it happened. Initial claims about the logo were that it was taken directly from a $30 font pack. It was inspired by the font, but the accusation is in the end false. The move was done as part of Musk’s strategy to make X the everything app. Also now that subscribers could do entire posts and full-length video on the app, Musk said the short “tweet” term no longer made sense. He’s been unable to find a suitable alternative to the word other than “post” and it has left news articles to forever write “X, formerly Twitter” every time X, formerly Twitter, is referenced.
Game of the Year
Baldur’s Gate 3 finally released after three years in early access and six years in total development. It’s a top-down turn-based CRPG that faithfully recreates the D&D experience at a beautifully intricate level with the added benefit of not having to hit on your mate as they roleplay a buxom NPC at the tavern. The game sold gangbusters, surprising developer Larion Studios that figured they’d done most of their sales in early access. The game has sold over five million units on Steam alone, with undoubtedly high sales on the console market and other PC digital storefronts as well. The game has rocketed its voice actors to stardom and is yet another positive entry in the legendary RPG series.
Prigozhin’s Little Accident
Two months after the coup that never was in Russia, Wagner Group leader Prigozhin suddenly died in a completely unsuspicious plane crash along with ten others. This included three crew and a mix of Wagner leaders on Putin’s shitlist. The culprit is believed to be an explosion onboard the plane. Putin stated that hand grenade fragments were found on the bodies. But whether Putin was in charge of pulling the pin or not, the crash sent a clear message. If you’re going to do a coup, you had better make sure you finish the job. Don’t live with regrets of a job half done.
Trump Mug Shot
Trump became the first president to get a mug shot. “Is there anyone on the planet who doesn’t know what I look like, I wish there were some people like that. That would be very nice for me. And yet for some reason, the communist democrats in Atlanta made a mugshot of me,” Trump said in a statement, which ended in him hawking T-shirts with his mugshot emblazoned across it. The fundraiser with his shot netted him well over 7 million dollars. He was given a prisoner ID and the mugshot due to charges of election racketeering.
Various editorials in the papers describe it as you would the Mona Lisa, Time went out of its way to sound like a terrible romance novel, “His platinum blonde cotton candy wisp of hair shimmering in the harsh jailhouse lighting. His eyes locked in a hard stare. His mouth flattened in a grimace.”
Nazi Applauded in Canadian Parliament
The Canadian parliament, while hosting Volodymyr Zelensky, got egg on its face after giving two standing ovations to a Ukrainian veteran who fought against the Russians in World War II. They somehow forgot that Russia was an ally in World War II. The 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka had openly blogged about his time as a volunteer in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS. Anthony Rota. The Speaker of the House, took full responsibility for the debacle and resigned shortly after. The Jewish community were rightfully up and arms about a Nazi getting platformed in parliament and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to apologise while also saying that, “It’s important to push back against Russian propaganda, Russian disinformation,” as this had all been a Ruskie ploy cooked up in the heart of Canada. Various minor parties in parliament also used it as a chance to dogpile Trudeau, stating they had been tricked into applauding a Nazi. Apparently, this was everyone’s first time hearing about this fabled World War II.
Rugby World Cup 2023
We lost, and lost interest.
Trying to write about Gaza without getting in hot water with everybody is difficult. I don’t recommend even trying it! Here goes…
In a shock attack by Hamas terrorists, 1,200 people in Israel were slaughtered with up to 6,900 injured. 240 are taken back to Palestine as hostages. Hamas obviously knew they couldn’t topple Israel, instead inflicting a blow on them so grievous that Israel would be forced to act, sparking renewed international focus on Palestine. Which is exactly what they got.
Israel returned the favour, with a current count of 18,600 dead in Gaza (after going to publish a few weeks ago the number has now crawled to 22,835), with reports saying that about 67 percent were women and children. Particular focus had been placed on the assaults on hospitals and whether tunnels underneath give you carte blanche to do whatever you like. Israel has a sticky situation of wanting to uproot Hamas, which is diffused throughout the population leading to untenable civilian fatalities, with each tragedy inflicted creating a new generation of people growing up having a bone to pick with Israel.
The war kicked off renewed hate crimes against Jews and Muslims around the world. Protests in support of Palestine converged on the streets and the USA sent an additional $14.3 billion to Israel. This was on top of their yearly tithe of $3.8 billion.
Speaking at a donor event, Biden said Israel had support from “most of the world” including the USA and European Union. “But they’re starting to lose that support by indiscriminate bombing that takes place,” he said. At the UN, 153 countries voted in favour of a humanitarian ceasefire with 23 abstaining and ten voting against including the USA and Israel.
New Zealand Elections
New Zealand got to have a little go at this whole democracy thing. Unfortunately for the new Prime Minister and Labour Leader Chris Hipkins, he was unable to turn the ship around quickly enough to land a third term for Labour. Everyone had to wait for the special votes to all come in, but it would look like a National, Act, and NZ First government would be on the cards.
Sam Bankman-Fried Convicted
Bankman-Fried? More like Bankman-incarcerated, am I right? I am. The crypto golden boy and FTX founder, Sam Bankman-Fried faces a maximum sentence of 115 years in prison after being found guilty on all seven of his criminal fraud counts. This is the biggest scandal in the crypto space, sending ripples throughout its ecosystem as FTX, the third largest exchange, was sent into bankruptcy. This was triggered by a run on the exchange after users were alerted to questionable business practices from its founder Sam and his other company, Alameda Research, which seemed to be pumping the value of FTX’s token.
The key witnesses include his personal inner circle, as well as his ex-girlfriend, Caroline Ellison who had already pleaded guilty and was cooperating with the prosecution. Sam maintained that he just made some dumb business mistakes; for example, the “rounding error” of over $8 billion in customer funds up and disappearing at about the time his lifestyle got lavish. About the only person on Earth other than Sam who believes in his innocence seems to be biographer Michael Lewis, author of the books that inspired Moneyball and The Big Short.
“They had a great real business. If no one had cast aspersions on the business, if there hadn’t been a run on customers’ deposits, they’d still be making tons of money,” Lewis told CBS.
Bird of the Century Election Meddling
Americans once again meddled in elections via the sock puppet and propagandist John Oliver, armed with wit and a trustworthy-sounding British accent. This craven display of interference manipulated the vote for New Zealand’s Bird of the Century The Pūteketeke Australasian crested grebe who easily won. New Zealanders are now being ruled under the iron thumb (wing?) of the grebe for the next 100 years.
Oliver’s campaign was so bonkers that he dressed as the grebe on chat shows and even took out billboards for it in Paris and Tokyo.
In all seriousness, it was great to celebrate our birds and get some attention for them.
“More than 80 percent of our native birds are on the threatened species list, yet clearly these amazing species mean so much to us as New Zealanders.” says Forest & Bird Chief Executive Nicola Toki.
“Pending cuts to the Department of Conservation, the agency tasked with protecting these taonga under threat, are a huge worry. The world is watching us and how we look after our birds.”
OpenAI Coup and Microsoft
Sam Altman, perhaps the most fascinating CEO on the planet at the moment, was briefly out of a job when he was ambushed with a surprise firing by the board of OpenAI. The creators of ChatGPT deemed that Altman had not been “consistently candid in his communications” with the board. For a few days, everything was up in the air and Microsoft, an investor in OpenAI, made an incredible play. They offered Altman a job to do whatever he liked with AI. This was followed quickly by a letter from the majority of OpenAI employees demanding the board step down and reinstate Altman, otherwise they’d go to work for Altman’s new company. Even one of the board, feeling regret at what they’d done, signed the letter. Microsoft welcomed the idea with open arms, knowing that they’d essentially be getting OpenAI for a song.
The board backed down and Altman returned as CEO, purging most of the board in the process. While he was at it, Microsoft got a board seat. Well played. We still don’t know the real details of why Altman was fired, and we probably never will.
National’s Chris Luxon had a tough job having to carve up the kingdom to get both ACT and NZ First’s support. The result was that Winston Peters and David Seymour would both take turns at being the deputy prime minister. They got to swift work rolling back a bunch of Labour laws. This includes an ambitious anti-smoking initiative, 90-day trials, a Fair Pay Agreement, and Clean Car discount. Protestors hit the streets over concerns for Māori rights as te reo usage was rolled back and Te Aka Whai Ora – the Māori Health Authority headed toward the chopping block.
Flavour Of The Year: AI
It’s safe to say, 2022 was defined by the Ukraine invasion. While the war drags on, 2023 was the year that would be defined by OpenAI. After completely changing the tech landscape with its release of ChatGPT in November 2022, businesses everywhere fretted over how it would affect them. Tech companies suddenly pivoted to keep up and teachers worried that kids were just throwing all their homework into the machine to get instant answers. Here at M2, our live events changed focus to equip business owners with the knowledge they need to tackle this new monster with talks by tech professionals familiar with what the future might hold. Our email inbox saw a conspicuous uptick of oddly-worded (possibly) AI-generated press releases and even the odd news piece didn’t smell like an actual human had much to do with its creation. As I write this, we discovered that one of my ex-coworkers generated their resignation letter. Apparently, the personal touch of telling your boss to get wrecked has lost its lustre in 2023. Have we no passion left?