I want to go back to a society where problems are invented
Imagine being stuck on a plane which has found itself in trouble. The captain tells everyone there is engine failure and he’s going to attempt an emergency landing. You all adopt the brace position and get ready for the worst and… the guy sitting next to you is on a work call, busy arguing because he’s convinced his manager should cop the blame for losing the Japan deal. “This is important,” he tells you when he sees your puzzled expression.
I feel this way when I look at the few remaining culture warriors in our midst using the coronavirus as a hammer to hit what they hope might be a nail. Do you really care, anymore? ...
Social habits can protect us during crises
It includes a busy street market scene, absolutely thronged with people. It’s a largely male crowd and a fine day, but almost everyone is wearing a hat. All the men are wearing dark-coloured jackets too.
Why the spontaneous uniformity? The formality? The hats?
There’s a theory that the car killed the hat. Cars provide protection from the elements, but not much headspace — so no need, and no room, for headgear. ...
As in the UK, Left-leaning outlets have blamed political leaders for 'corona chaos'
For the past couple of weeks I have been peering through one little window onto the German C-19 soul by watching the main evening news programme ZDF Heute Journal (on the ZDF app). Reassuringly (perhaps) the story in Germany seems to have followed a very similar trajectory to here, with both countries considerably less draconian than France, Spain and Italy. We have been just a few days behind Germany as it has closed schools, then shops, encouraged people to lockdown so far as possible, and then ordered people to do so.
In the days after Angela Merkel’s big televised address on 18 March advising people to socially distance there was the same official concern, as in the UK, that too many people were disobeying instructions and mixing in the sunshine. So last Sunday she delivered a second address after a meeting with the minister presidents of all the German states ordering people to stay at home. Though she didn’t say order. Instead, just like Boris Johnson in his address on Monday, she said these are no longer recommendations they are rules. ...
We must use this crisis to re-shape our economy into something greener
Among all the relentlessly grim news, pictures of nature flourishing as humans withdraw have been little moments of light. #rewildtheworld seems the appropriate Instagram hashtag, but I’m reminded more of a line from the biblical book of Chronicles. After Israel is carted off for exile in Babylon we are told: “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed”.
Nature needed a sabbath, because the nation had not obeyed the mosaic law, which set out clear limits on humankind’s use of the land in order that both could flourish, and had instead exploited and mistreated creation. History doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme. ...
If a scientific finding is interesting, it's probably not true
Imagine you see a small light in the sky. Is it a star or a satellite? Without more information you can’t know. A huge, far-away object and a small, close object both provide the same amount of light.
Models of disease outbreaks suffer this problem. Imagine you have a novel disease that kills 10 people. You don’t know anything else about it. It could be that it’s infected 100,000 people and only kills one in 10,000; or that it kills every person who gets it, but only 10 people got it. Without more information you can’t know.
Of course you normally do have more information. With Covid-19 many people got sick or tested positive but didn’t die, so we know it doesn’t kill everyone. But we also know not everyone who gets the disease gets diagnosed, which means the death (and hospitalisation) rates are still unknown. The problem remains: the number of deaths we see is compatible with both “only thousands have it, quite a lot die” and “millions have it, not many die”. ...
Signing up or shipping out reverses decades of social and cultural change
Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, was asked a question at a regular Downing Street press conference about the implications of current measures on romance. “If the two halves of a couple are currently in separate households, ideally they should stay in those households,” Harries said. “The alternative might be that, for quite a significant period going forwards, they should test the strength of their relationship and decide whether one wishes to be permanently resident in another household.” In other words: move in together, or break up.
This is cataclysmic for budding contemporary relationships, which — thanks in part to the structure of internet dating — are built around options, flexibility and a continuous get-out-free clause. While these freedoms can be enjoyable, they have also entrenched a preference for hedging to commit, sometimes over years and years. The numbers of game-players and hedgers are now up: full of assurances of how much you like the person you’re dating? Time to put your money where your mouth is. Those keen to keep sexual arrangements in place may decide that they now have to provide not just emotional support but team-playing as well. ...
He warned about the threat to our food security over a decade ago
If David Cameron is mentioned at all these days, it’s unlikely to be for his foresight — certainly not since calling the Brexit referendum that ended his premiership
But there’s one danger he did foresee — the threat to our food security. The evidence is in a speech he gave to the National Farmers Union back in 2008, when he was still Leader of the Opposition:
Remarkably, he took aim at the neoliberal assumption that global markets will always provide:
We can’t take abundant food supplies for granted, he warned. Factors like soaring global demand for meat (produced from grain-fed livestock), the impact of climate change and the use of land for biofuel crops could cause global shortages. ...
The books were a central part of my childhood and made me feel genuinely European
Asterix was a central part of my childhood. We lived in France for a while, and I remember being left (in a way that would probably get my parents arrested nowadays) with my brothers in the books aisle at the local supermarché, devouring Asterix books while my parents shopped.
I read and loved the books in French, then bought them again as an adult in the very funny English translations done by the brilliant (and also late) Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge. I do not think I am alone in having absorbed most of what I know about classical civilisations from Asterix. ...