Parks without Parking, Beaches without Beachcombers

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Reposted from The Cliff Mass Weather Blog Original title: Seattle Parks without Parking, Washington Beaches without Beachcombers Tuesday, May 12, 2020 If you want to drive to a major Seattle park, you will not be able to park there. And if you are looking forward to a walk on a Washington State ocean beach, forget…

Lockdown Fail In One Easy Graph

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Guest “Excel-lent!” by David Middleton What happens if you crossplot the “lockdown” rating of the Lower 48 states and DC with the COVID-19 infection rate? To the extent there is a correlation, the states with the tightest lockdowns have the highest infection rates. Alaska and Hawaii were the only states ranking in the top 10…

An influenza test for whether lockdowns work

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By Chris Gillham As one of the audit team for Jo Nova’s blog, I have been looking at the question of whether lockdowns work and their potential suppression of communicable diseases other than COVID-19. Since the current pandemic only began killing people this year, there is no previous year with which it can be compared.…

Distributed Denial of HCQ to COVID-19 Victims

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Summary On March 19, at a White House briefing, President Trump “touted” chloroquine (hydroxychloroquine is chloroquine metabolite) for possible use against COVID-19. The very next day, a media operation was launched to deny this treatment to the public. Several fake news outlets published articles, saying things like this (NYT, March 20): Trump’s Embrace of Unproven…

Why herd immunity to COVID-19 is reached much earlier than thought #coronavirus

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Reposted from Dr. Judith Curry’s Climate Etc. Posted on May 10, 2020 by niclewis By Nic Lewis Introduction A study published in March by the COVID-19 Response Team from Imperial College (Ferguson20[1]) appears to have been largely responsible for driving government actions in the UK and, to a fair extent, in the US and some…

Pangolins may possess evolutionary advantage against #coronavirus

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Pangolins may possess evolutionary advantage against #coronavirus

Elon Musk: Lockdowns unconstitutional, threatens to pull Tesla out of California

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Guest “I can’t believe I’m praising Tony Stark Elon Musk” by David Middleton Elon Musk Tells Joe Rogan: Lockdowns Are ‘Unconstitutional’ by LUCAS NOLAN 9 May 2020 During a recent interview on the Joe Rogan Experience, Tesla CEO Elon Musk called recent Wuhan coronavirus shelter-in-place orders “unconstitutional” just days after reports appeared implying that Tesla’s…

Reflections on VE Day 75

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Lightnings and Vulcans

Avro Vulcan

Growing up under the only occasionally used flightpath to Buckingham Palace, every Queen’s Birthday, we would go up to The Green, just in time to see the flypast. I remember going with my dad, who had done his National Service in the RAF. He loved planes. I think my mum stayed at home, but she might have come a couple of times. My brother came too.

In the early days it would be Lightnings and Vulcans, perhaps even other v-bombers, I don’t remember. I remember the Vulcans and Lightnings because of the noise. A brutal sound of the air tearing apart. The rip of the Lightning and the roar of the Vulcan, a sound so loud it would make your lungs vibrate inside your ribcage. These were awesome machines. Sometimes it would be Concorde and the Red Arrows (flying Folland Gnats back then). Making a beautiful V in the sky. By the time I’d left home in the early 80s, the gnats had long gone as had the Vulcan and Lightnings. The Battle of Britain memorial flight first flew in 1973 apparently, which would fit pretty well with my memories of Spitfire Hurricane and Lancaster joining in with these flypasts, which in my memory seemed to grow with the years.

As well as the annual flypasts, we’d go to air shows, lots of air shows. the Shuttleworth collection was always a favourite, and once they got going, the International Air Tattoo, which moved around, but included Alconbury, one of the big US cold war airbases in East Anglia. I think it’s fair to say I was obsessed with military machines from a young age. My dad was really good at making and painting airfix models of aeroplanes, which he would hang from my bedroom ceiling with cotton thread. There were loads of them. I think there must have been between 10 and 20 including some large Bombers (including the infamous B29, which carried the atom bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki). It was unfortunate that they were a fantastic place for dust to gather which did my allergies no good, but I loved them.

Fully Immersive Second World War Experience

I also made kits of tanks and other armoured vehicles, many, many kits. I used to set them up on the floor and have mock battles. My childhood was steeped in images of war. War films were always on the TV, showing heroic actions of the British forces, dramatisations of true events, or pure fiction. Looking back, it seems like I grew up in fully immersive second world war experience, but I think it was just part of the culture, the making of a myth, how “we” won the war. Slowly, as I learnt more history, I realised that it wasn’t just “us”, well us and those latecomers the Yankees.. but the critical, actually dominant, role played by the Soviet Union. Being half Australian I also knew a bit about what had happened in the Pacific, including that I’d lost an uncle in the Pacific war.

I knew a fair bit about the Blitz as my dad had lived through the entire war in East London (aside from a very brief period of evacuation). I can just remember bomb sites from my early childhood (lots of corrugated iron fencing and Rosebay Willowherb), and driving around the docks (as my grandad had been a docker), or rather the large expanse of wasteland and crumbling ruins that was left. I kind of knew something momentous had happened, but I couldn’t really grasp what it was.

Much was left unspoken, or turned into a bit of a joke, like when my grandad went into the house to rescue their cat during a raid, and when a bomb landed nearby the shock wave knocked a wardrobe over onto him. He was trapped but was rescued unharmed, with the cat, the next morning. How we laughed. Later my dad would recount coming out of the shelter to find next door’s had received a direct hit, leaving body parts scattered across their garden and in trees. Looking at the bomb damage map for their part of east London, it’s a small miracle they survived. A parachute mine was lodged in a tree and didn’t go off. An oil bomb landed about 4 houses away. V1’s landed all over the place. And their street is now two streets with a little park between them, the site of a V2 impact crater.

I think it’s fair to say my dad was quite anti-German, and my grandparents certainly were. Playground games inevitably revolved around “we won the war” and the Germans getting their comeuppance. I did have a German friend at primary school whose mum had come over from East Germany (there must be a story there). I don’t remember him being bullied for being German, but perhaps he was. Then again it was a very multicultural primary school, so we all got along without a second thought.

We never went to Germany on holiday and it wasn’t until I went to Hamburg on a school exchange when I was 15 that I discovered that Germans were just like us. The family could not have been kinder or friendlier – and the 15 year olds in Hamburg seemed an awful lot more grown-up than in Britain. I remember my exchange friend (Arno)’s dad taking me to the factory where he worked (injection moulding since you ask) and while there was no explicit discussion of the war, or Germany’s partition, I came away knowing that the beautiful mediaeval town of Lubeck had been painstakingly rebuilt after its destruction. And we did take a peek at the border fence. No mention though of the Hamburg bombing in Operation Gomorrah, which killed perhaps 40,000 inhabitants.

I knew what VE day meant, but there was no celebration in any year I can recall. It was the day before my dad’s birthday. He was 12 the day after the war in Europe ended. That day he went with his mum up to the West End, with the crowds. I think they stood in The Mall with the hundreds of thousands of others, failing to hear what the King or Churchill were saying. But they were there. My grandad was working in the Bristol Docks after the London Docks had been bombed to dust. He wasn’t around. He wasn’t really around as a father to my father, for five years.

VE day just wasn’t a thing back then in the 70s and early 80s. There must have been quiet commemorations, church services and the like – and formal occasions when the allied country leaders came together to commemorate the dead. Veterans must have got together and talked about the old times, the close shaves, the comic incidents, and their lost comrades. What could be more natural? It wasn’t really until 1995 that a big do was put on. 50 years is a big anniversary for anything and I think it was felt that this would be the big one, after which veterans in particular would start to find it more difficult to take part. There was a public holiday for the 1995 VE day, shifting May day to the 8th. It’s interesting that there had previously been moves to get rid of the May day bank holiday by Tory Governments, because of its association with the Socialist International Workers Day. May Day only became a Bank Holiday in 1978.

I was always a bit uneasy about flag waving, and patriotic events. I think it’s probably come from my dad who was a republican. We used to go the proms but never the last night. We didn’t get involved in the Silver Jubilee street parties – then again our road was a major East London rat run – if anyone had tried to have a street party they would have been run over by a juggernaut within the first minute. Come university days I was generally anti-establishment, especially with Thatcher in power.

In 2010 my dad died after a long battle against cancer. It was a type of leukaemia which is associated with exposure to things like radiation or Benzene. I sometimes wonder whether his time in the Air Force, with all those big dirty jets, gave him a dose which later killed him. Nothing provable of course, but the rest of his life he worked in an office. The ten year anniversary approaches, and on Saturday we would have been celebrating his 87th birthday, which is a strange thought.

VE Day 75

Now VE day 75 is upon is. Back in the distant past of last June, on the very same day that Theresa May announced her resignation, the Govt announced that there would be a 3 day long weekend of commemoration and celebration for the 75th anniversary. It seems that the forces charity SSAFA was closely involved in organising the event – and SSAFA do get funding from the MoD and DHSC, though they are an independent charity, but I think it’s fair to say they are close to Government. As well as the formal commemoration events, the plan was to get everyone to take part, a national toast, picnics, street parties, bunting, singing along with Vera Lynn.

All of that has been scuppered by Covid-19, but people are now being encouraged to celebrate at home, or over the fence with their neighbours. All quite innocent really.

But there’s another story. All of the planned VE Day 75 celebrations focus on Britain the part Britain played, the Victory that Britain won in Europe. It’s all about the sacrifice that Britain made, as if no-one else was involved. This may be an entirely innocent oversight. Then again if it’s been organised by a British Services charity, perhaps it’s no surprise that the focus is solely on British veterans and their lost comrades.

I was pointed to a fascinating photo which shows flags being printed for the actual VE day. As well as Churchill’s face, the flags also included ones with American President FD Roosevelt, without whose support Britain would have foundered in 1940. Even more tellingly, were the flags showing Joseph Stalin’s face. In 1945 people celebrated VE day by waving flags with Stalin’s face on, in London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps it’s not so surprising when you remember that just 2 months later, the British electorate overwhelming voted in the first, and only, socialist Government this country has ever had.

Will people this VE day remember that Britain was supplied with troops and materiel from the largest Empire the world has ever known. The supply of materiel and the military ban on fishing in the Bay of Bengal led to a famine which killed between 2 and 3 million people.  Troops came and fought, and died, for the Empire, from the Dominions and the colonies, just as they had in the First World War.

Will people celebrating this weekend recall the 26 million in the Soviet Union who perished in the war, or the 6 million Poles. Will they recall how resistance armies fought against Nazi and Fascist tyranny in Yugoslavia, Hungary, Greece, France, Norway and elsewhere. Even within Nazi Germany, people continued to resist in many small ways right through the war, like the White Rose students. Exiled Poles, Czechs, French and other Europeans fought alongside British troops throughout the war.

Maybe they will, perhaps they won’t.

The other thing that over the years has become increasingly stark to me is the very different experience people in Britain had during the war. Aside from the Channel Islands there was no occupation and all of the horrors that created – the food shortages, the deportations, the forced labour. Bombing by the allies was far worse than anything experienced in the Blitz, horrendous though that was for those who lived through it. And at the end of the war the upheavals, the displaced people, the retribution against collaborators, the starvation. And of course the new oppression in countries caught behind the Iron Curtain. It’s estimated that 60 million refugees were created by World War Two – and a million were still refugees in 1951. This is the background behind the creation of what would become the EU.

Things have changed

Things have changed over the last 10 years. Back in the 70s and 80s the far-right were a fringe. They extended into the Conservative Party via the Monday Club and the Federation of Conservative Students, but they were only ever a small minority, albeit influential. Now, with the rise of populism across the world (Trump and Modi, alongside Salvini, Le Pen, Farage) the far right is in ascendant again, in a way we have not seen since the 1930s. The far right loves the flag, loves the military victory, the hero, the strong man vanquishing foes. It’s a very black and white world. The Victors get to celebrate (forever), the losers die or are subjugated. There’s a danger with pageants, anniversaries, celebrations of military victories, that the far right slips in under cover. This is particularly true since Brexit, which was also so much about flag waving British (or English) exceptionalism, as the writer Otto English described here.

As we have dissociated ourselves from the project which was created to ensure war didn’t break out again in Europe (yes the EU and its antecedents) I worry that as a society we are drifting to the right, and that gives the far right more room for manoeuvre. Coronavirus and its aftermath – potentially an economic crash at least as bad as the 1929 crash (which ushered in the far-right in the 1930s) may be just the catalyst those in the far right need to gain influence. This needs watching closely.

Couple that with our Prime Minister who idolises Churchill. Johnson would love to have his own VE day moment. Perhaps he’ll announce VC day – Victory over Coronavirus, and after a celebratory weekend we can also put the horror behind us and get back to normal life. Although of course that didn’t happen in 1945, with rationing continuing until 1953; and post-war austerity for longer. Still, the National Health Service, mass housing for the homeless, and the welfare state were created.

The Military celebrate their Victories

I can understand why some, especially those in the forces or ex-forces, see that it is the right thing to do to celebrate military victories. Victory in Europe is the biggest one of them all. The military celebrates its victories and honours its dead, this is right and proper; it’s what helps create the identity of military units.

That does not apply to the rest of the population though, in my view; and it sets an uncomfortable, jarring, tone when so many are dying  – as a result of Government failings – of Coronavirus. Jingoistic expressions of national military might (even if they are past glories that have been mythologised) seem especially inappropriate, almost offensively so, when so many have died so needlessly.

As of today (5/5) Chris Giles of the FT estimates (a cautious estimate) that nearly 54,000 have died in the UK. This exceeds all UK wartime civilian casualties (almost all from air raids) in 1940, 1941, 1942 and 1943. The current monthly death toll exceeds the average monthly British death toll in the Second World war, from both civilian and military deaths. This is a vast loss of life by any measure.

So I won’t be celebrating VE day on Friday. I will remember my dad (who I still miss hugely) on his birthday; and see my mum (socially distanced) and be with the rest of my family. I will pay my own respects to the war dead and reflect on what is to come.

Vulcan photo  wikimedia attribution Konflikty.pl

Coronavirus Diary; the Solace of Nature

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When I went to let the chickens out first thing this morning, there it was, a familiar sound. No, it wasn’t yet another Blackcap pretending to be a Garden warbler. It was the drone. The hum, the incessant background noise. The sound of traffic on the bypass. Perhaps it was a shift in the wind direction, or humidity in the air after such a long dry period. But there it was. The spell was broken.

In truth it has been slowly building over the last week or two. I was trying to figure out who it was who was doing the driving. Second homers secretly heading down to Dorset via the back roads to dodge the police roadblocks set up at what would have been known as “County Gates” in the past. People heading back to work because they think the First Pandemic Wave has crested and everything goes back to normal now – or their boss has phoned them and told them to be at their desk/work station or risk losing their job. Who knows, but it’s a herd movement – in the sense that each individual has its own reasons for travelling, but collectively they contribute to one whole action – and that action brings the familiar background noise of the bypass to my ears. And they are perhaps over sensitive ears.

In the near month since I last wrote something on here, the world has changed. How have I spent the time? I furloughed from work at People Need Nature, and the freelance project which should have been completed weeks ago – well I have at least made a decent start on it. But finding the motivation has been like… searching for a coin in a bucket of treacle. With a pair of sugar tongs. In a blindfold.

Two things have come to dominate my waking thoughts – the dreadful (in the true sense of the word) unfolding drama of the catastrophic handling of the Pandemic by this Government. And my daily walks in nature, which got ever longer, ever more immersive, and with each day took on more of a desperation to find an escape, find solace, find a moment when everything falls away and I am in that moment, listening to that bird (yes it’s another Blackcap), letting the ultra blue of Bluebells saturate my retinas, the neurotransmitters wash through my nerves, wash away the feelings of helplessness, uselessness, panic.

I have found moments of intense experience this Spring in nature. Senses feel heightened, time moves at a different pace, time stops. Just for a second, or a minute if I’m really lucky. Not having that constant background drone of traffic (or airliners) makes such a difference. The birdsong at times feels ridiculously loud, as though the birds know the background noise is muted and sing more loudly, more exuberantly, revelling in the new sound space, filling it. On Maiden Castle I listened, rapt, to the jangling keys of Corn Buntings, a chorus of Skylarks from multiple directions, and then a Stonechat, well, chatting, in the background. I must have stood there for 10 minutes, probably grinning like a fool. Fortunately few other people were around.

Many, many people have died. Many more will live on with lifelong after effects – shot lungs, kidneys. Post Traumatic Stress. Weakened Immune systems.

Families destroyed by the pointless, unnecessary loss of loved ones.

The hundreds of people – Doctors,  Nurses, Therapists, Cleaners, Care workers and others, who willingly spent their lives caring for others, by working in the Health and Care services. Have given their lives, have lost their lives, have had their lives taken away from them, because the Government ignored the experts (we know how they feel about experts) and let the Pandemic Stockpile run down. Or told workers that an apron would suffice instead of a gown. Or counted each individual glove when making up figures about how many millions of PPE they had sent out.

We lost one of our GPs – no, he was taken away. He had been a great help when one of us was very ill. He had very recently retired, but I guess went back in to help. Another friend’s son caught the virus at Uni and ended up back home, then in hospital locally, on Oxygen. Back at home, he’s slowly recovering. Now I suspect everyone knows of someone who’s had it, or who has died.

Now we know the many many thousands of our parents and grandparents, who have died a painful and early death from Covid19 in care homes. By the latest reckoning, more people have died in care homes than in hospitals; and the virus continues to rage through these places, even as hospital deaths start to plateau – for now.

That’s not to forget all the people who have died, will die early, or have less healthy lives, because the NHS had no spare capacity and had to let other treatment, therapy, testing and prevention work go by the wayside to focus all effort on Coronavirus – as a result of a decade of vicious cuts to the Health and wider Care service. Another 18000 cancer patients could die in the next year as a result of the spin-off effects of Coronavirus. And that’s just cancer. Add in diabetes, heart disease and so on.

The sun has gone and the rain – welcome rain, rain the ground needs to soak up, has come. On  Monday I walked up to Poundbury – the Model Town Prince Charles has created as an urban extension to Dorchester. It was warm, sunny, lots of people were out – a group of daytime drinkers lolling on the grass, ignoring the social distancing rules. Nobody seemed bothered. A hundred metres away a queue for the Pharmacists, everyone diligently spaced 2m apart. Knowing the rain was coming, it almost (fancifully yes) felt like a day in September, the end of the Summer – in late April! I can remember Summers with fewer sunny days than we’ve had these last 5 weeks. Or perhaps that’s just me.

What does the future hold? I can’t think about that. Nobody knows. Next week is long enough away. I hope it doesn’t rain this afternoon, and I can get out for a walk, maybe see the Bluebells a couple more times before they fade.

I could really do with a haircut.

LOVE, AND SOLITUDE IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

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Love And SolitudeThe more things change, the more they stay the same.

According to the dictionary this proverb means:

“Turbulent changes do not affect reality on a deeper level other than to cement the status quo.”

Well, I do not know if this apply also to this crisis, since its the first time on my life I am forced to a quarantine, however being somewhat in age, and living by myself for a quarter of a Century, I believe loneliness, doesn’t affect me on a special way, rather more like an inconvenience, not to be able to run errands, and go to eat outside the house, and of course getting my favorite coffee drink, and seat at a coffee house, a pleasure that I indulge for many years now, a few days a week.

Seating At a Coffee House

A leisurely activity that I miss a bit, but that if not struck by the virus, and gone tomorrow, hope I will enjoy once again, in the future.

I guess for the social types, like extroverted characters, these conditions may be harder to bear, extroverts are often described as talkative, sociable, action-oriented, enthusiastic, friendly, and out-going.

I know, I got brothers, and a daughter who fit the mold, now I smile when at a very young age was determined to live by myself, growing up in a home were everybody including my parents were extroverted, it was just simply exhausting for me. Of course at the time couldn’t understand why I was different, neither my family.

Playful Games All Over The House

Now, do not misunderstand, I had a happy childhood, and I also participated playing, but more often than not, I rather will be seating and reading by myself, I got to be an expert to focus my attention to my book, and ignore the noise around me.

School also was a problem, a big one, but despite the noise, and all the mayhem that a classroom without a teacher present becomes, also made good friends, but looking back most of those friends were somewhat introverted, and the kind of guy who enjoyed a more relevant type of conversation, rather than play, and general hubbub.

Child Reading

It took me sometime to clear out of jobs who enforced a daily contact with many people, even if I can say when it come to work I always got high marks, in whatever I did, but now looking back and knowing myself better, can clearly see how certain jobs I enjoyed more than others.

When computers arrived at the workplace, I worked for several companies were even in a crowded place, I had the privacy of my cubicle to concentrate on what I was doing, in a few months, I invariably became at the highest top category of producers. And companies will be sad to let me go when finding a more lucrative job.

Working Alone With Many Others My last and final job  had nothing to do with computers, but it was a small environment, with about seven people, and at least five of them were no doubt introverted, quiet characters, who you could have great conversations, during the frequent  lull periods during the day, due to lack of clients. Of course we will get busy with other work, but we could work, and chat, and many clients as well, will enjoy our conversations, I could say our most frequent customers were the ones who even if doing business with us, they preferred us, to others similar businesses because our expertise, not only on matter related to our work, some of them they will even hung up around our place on their free time. They even will say something like:

“This is a place were not only you come for business, but were you can be leaving more wiser, than when you went in.”

Relaxed Shop Envirnment

Well, what we are gone to do? We may enjoy solitude or not, we all need to go out in order to live a normal life in society, the old days of living in a cave are not an option, but for a few.

A tension in the coronavirus response is that it’s so difficult to get people to accept social distancing that few want to muddle the message with worries about social isolation. But if the ultimate concern is the health and well-being of the most vulnerable, then both dangers need to be addressed.

But we’ve also entered a new period of social pain. There’s going to be a level of social suffering related to isolation and the cost of social distancing that very few people are discussing yet.

Well I hope for most of you to be safe from the pandemic decease, and free from the effects , and troubles of isolation, for all of you and your loved ones.

Keep safe, and use the phone, grab a good book, and finish work, or projects undone around the house, but above all, keep the love flowing to everyone, even if from a safe distance.

Wish the best, to all of you.

Kepp it Safe  and at a Distance

Coronavirus Diary: Performing Lockdown

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News that farmers and other landowners were starting to erect home made notices telling visitors using public rights of way that they were closed due to coronavirus naturally led to a sense of righteous indignation rising inside me, and I put out a public request for examples that people had seen on their legitimate and legal daily exercise walks in the countryside. This elicited an amazing response – thanks to everyone who replied and all the photos. But it also caused me to stop and think about why I (and others) had had such a visceral response to these actions. Talking to environmental historian Matthew Kelly yesterday, got me thinking about all of the different roles people are slotting into – as Matthew said our “performative roles”; and how these roles coloured our perception of what the countryside is for, and how we should react to the Pandemic.

Foot and Mouth Memories

For farmers and landowners, especially in the remote uplands of England, Coronavirus has forced traumatic memories of the Foot and Mouth Disease Epidemic of 2001 to come back to the surface. It’s impossible for anyone who isn’t part of the farming community, especially those tight knit remote communities in places like the Lake District or Yorkshire Dales, to understand how traumatic the FMD epidemic was – I can only guess. Sheep flocks that had been built up through generations of breeding were slaughtered. Pyres of cattle burnt day and night. Imagine the smell, the sense that connects most directly to our emotions. Six million animals were slaughtered.

As part of the Government’s efforts to stop FMD, an extremely infectious disease which can survive outside animals on all sorts of surfaces (sound familiar?), the countryside was closed. At the time I was working as a freelance ecologist doing lots of wildlife surveys. I remember having to go through stringent biosecurity procedures before entering farms or even woods. There was whole set of kit in the back of the car to keep boots clean. I didn’t venture into the uplands.

Coronavirus is a very different disease from FMD, but its emotional impact has been similar  – and that emotional response has generated the fear not seen since nearly 20 years ago. I think this explains the home-made signs – or at least most of them. Others will use the epidemic as an opportunity to push their own hobby horses, or allow their own prejudices to come into play.

A few farmers have expressed to me their strong belief that all footpaths should be diverted out of farmyards, everywhere. Their argument is that you wouldn’t allow a footpath to pass through a factory, where fork lift trucks and other dangerous machinery operates. So therefore, on health and safety grounds, it’s wrong to allow footpaths to run through farmyards where teleforks and tractors are driving around. There’s a certain irony that on the whole farmers object to the notion that farming is akin to an industrial process – objecting to the phrase factory farming. Apart from when it is useful to draw that analogy, for the purposes of excluding the public.

Others have expressed concern for elderly, self-isolating, relatives, living in houses near or on farms, with footpaths running past their garden gates. And there is no doubt that walkers touching gates do present a risk of contagion. But how large a risk that is, and how easily it is avoided, have to be considered. We are all implored to wash our hands as soon as we return home, on the basis that any surface could be contaminated with the virus. I struggle to understand why this would not operate on a farm, as it would at the local supermarket.

Others have sought to rightly highlight the ever present problem of sheep worrying by out of control dogs, during the lockdown. But there are no more dogs than there were before (though some may be getting more walks than they are used to). So while one place – perhaps nearer to towns, will get more dog walkers, other places will suddenly be dog-free.

And then there are the landowners who just don’t like “the public” using their land. I was told about one particularly egregious example from Yorkshire, where tacks had been laid along a public bridleway causing the bike rider to suffer immediate punctures which could have led to a nasty accident.

Performative Exercise

There’s another side to this though, which is the way the Government message has been broadcast and interpreted. I won’t go into the rights and wrongs of overzealous policing, as that has already been covered elsewhere. What is more interesting is the way that exercise has been recognised as an essential aspect of this pandemic. We are not only allowed out to exercise (and this is at odds with the way other countries have defined their own lockdowns); but the very fact that it has become such a topic of discussion, means that people feel both instructed to exercise for their own good, but also encouraged to give themselves permission to exercise this small liberty, when so many other liberties have been removed.

So I think for some people they will go and exercise this liberty, walking on public Rights of Way – and the language there is very interesting isn’t it – exercising their rights to use a footpath; as a way of expressing – or indeed performing –  the fact that we still live in a democracy, albeit a restricted one. They may well feel they should go and walk a footpath they’ve never walked before, almost as a duty to uphold a vague notion of democratic rights. I think may be especially true for a certain section of the population – the healthy, wealthy, retired. Some might call them Boomers, but that’s often used in the pejorative, which is not what I am trying to convey. They are used to having free access to the countryside, to beauty spots, national parks, the coast. They have the money to spend supporting local economies, eating well, staying in nice B and Bs or hotels. Walking long distance footpaths. They are being constrained as never before.

Another irony is that these are a section of the population which did very well as a result of the partial dismantling of the state under Mrs Thatcher – and often look back on more statist times of the 60s and 70s with scorn. Yet they feel that same righteous indignation I mentioned earlier, at the prospect of having access rights, won thanks to statist policies of the 40s, being obstructed. Their desire, or even feelings of duty, to get out and perform that role as guardian of hard-won democratic rights, may feel very strong.

So it’s possible that for those of us cooped up at home, we may feel very strongly that we should be doing our hour of exercise a day, even if that was more than we had previously done. And for those who were already doing regular exercise, like joggers and runners, they may feel that their exercise now has official endorsement, and are now “exercising importantly” as someone put it. I have experienced this – the headphoned joggers powering past people well within the 2m limit. “Get out of my way I have important state-sanctioned exercise to perform.”

Never mind herd immunity, there are strong statist herd instincts being encouraged here.

Private v Public Rights

On one level, this is just another angle on the age-old tussle between private property rights, and the rights of the rest of the population to enjoy the land of the country that they live in. Interestingly in Wales, the Government has introduced laws which has allowed whole National Parks to shut down access, as a way of avoiding repeats of the events of the weekend before lockdown day, when thousands of people headed for the hills. It’s going to be vitally important that these restrictions are removed when the pandemic has passed. There are no signs that this is going to be imposed in England, at least not yet. Given that London is now becoming the epicentre of the pandemic in Europe, closing footpaths in remote parts of the country are unlikely to have any impact on that crisis.

On another level, each of us is, unwittingly perhaps, falling into our separate performative roles, whether it’s siege mentality, righteous indignation, or state-sanctioned exerciser. The Panic Buyer seems to have come and gone very rapidly. Are these roles helpful or not, are they having any effect on the spread of the disease, and are we even able to break out of them?

 

Coronavirus diary: Libertarians, Pandemics and Populism

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I had a bit of a cough yesterday. My wife and younger daughter had been ill the previous week with a typical winter bug. Was I fighting it off, or was it the beginnings of the dreaded coronavirus-19? Many thoughts flashed through my anxiety-ridden mind. Could I go and see my 89 year old mum, isolating to avoid catching it from anyone. In the end the cough didn’t become persistent, I felt better by the afternoon. Panic over. Perhaps the cough appeared as a result of Corona-anxiety, I don’t know. I feel fine this morning.

Many other people also felt fine – partly I suspect because the weather was so beautiful. How ironic, after the relentless rain of the eternal Autumn (Winter never appeared here in Dorset), that in the week we were implored not to go out, the weather should finally turn sunny and dry. And off they went, crowding the coastal resorts, crowding the Lake District, the Peak District, and every other National Park I expect. The National Trust, having bravely opened its parks and gardens to the public for free, to encourage them to go outdoors and enjoy the Spring, now found themselves having to shut up shop, because so many had taken up their kind offer. Scenes of crowded parks litter Social Media, generating a tidal wave of criticism, of these selfish people spreading the virus.

What is going on? I think it’s partly of the Government’s own doing.  The Government, now being run by the likes of Dominic Cummings and his mates from the Vote Leave campaign, who are in turn drawn from a small cabal of activists on the libertarian right – all of whom work for a small group of “think tanks” mostly based in Tufton Street, Westminster. These are the people who have spent the last twenty years quietly plugging away at a narrative, a narrative which finally came to fruition in the Brexit campaign.

The narrative is simple – Government is bad. The state is bad, it is by its very nature oppressive. It inevitably gets in the way of the Natural Order of things. The Natural Order is that everyone is an individual and that individual liberty is more important than anything else. And that the natural collective of individual liberty is enshrined in the Market. Public Spending is bad because it’s Taxpayers Money, being stolen from them by the state. Public services are therefore bad and need to be privatised. The private sector is part of the Natural Order of things and will always do a better job than the public sector. Rich people are rich because they worked harder or deserve to be rich. The poor are either lazy or stupid. Interestingly this point is one of the intersectional points between the Libertarian (or Hard) Right and the Authoritarian or Far Right. The Eugenic theories espoused by the likes of Toby Young and Dominic Cummings seek to provide a pseudo-scientific justification for the argument that “the poor are genetically inferior, which is why they will always be poor.”

Everything that gets in the way of the Natural Order must be swept away. This includes Regulation, the Civil Service, The BBC, and anyone who seeks to challenge the narrative of the Natural Order. Money should also have its own liberty, and be free to flow wherever it can. If that means it all ends up in the pockets of multi-billionaires, massive transglobal corporations and offshore tax havens, that is part of the Natural Order.

Naturally multi-billionaires, massive transglobal corporations and offshore tax havens are the places where money also flows from, into the coffers of those Think Tanks in Tufton Street – the Taxpayers Alliance, Policy Exchange, The Institute of Economic Affairs, The Adam Smith Institute, the Centre for Policy Studies, etc etc.

Think back over the past 20 years and there have been some very significant victories by the Libertarian Right –

they saw off plans for the UK to join the Euro.

They put a massive hole in the public’s perception of trust in (Westminster) politicians with the expenses scandal.

They cemented the idea that public spending was bad in the media. It’s a basic Libertarian tenet, but it was dressed up as Austerity in the wake of the 2008 financial crash.

They saw off electoral reform in the no 2 AV campaign.

They poisoned the mind of the public against the EU resulting in the Brexit win. In doing so they simultaneously exploited the rise of populism across Europe (and more widely) and the opportunities to be gained from weaponising social media as a propaganda tool.

Having created this narrative so successfully, Cummings and his Tufton Street mates seized power in 2019. Let’s face it, with Jeremy Corbyn and his own little cabal running the Labour Party into the ground, and with a pliant media to pump out their slogans, it was, in hindsight, an easy win. The ground was prepared to transform Britain – or perhaps Greater England, as Northern Ireland would need to be sacrificed to have any decent sort of trade deal with both the US and the EU, while Scotland would only become ever more restive – into their dream: the small state, everything privatised, dream. With the clown Johnson as their front man/patsy, the stage was set.

Then came the Coronavirus, like Banquo at Macbeth’s feast. Or Thanos, if you prefer a modern analogy. The natural response from the Natural Order boys (and they are almost all boys), was “it’s all part of the natural order, we must let the virus spread through the population so the healthy will survive and everyone will have herd immunity.” That’s straightforward Social Darwinism, the survival of the richest, who can disappear off to their second homes  in the Caribbean or sail out to safe places in their superyachts. Once it became clear that not only would half a million people die in very short order of CV-19, but many others would also die because the NHS had collapsed under the strain, panic set in. The awful truth dawned – The Government would have to Do Something.

Consider what the exquisite messaging that had been deployed by Cummings & His Mates:

Don’t Trust Politicians. They are all self-serving liars.

Take Back Control

Give the People The  Power to Decide for Themselves.

The People’s Parliament.

The People’s Budget.

you get the idea. The Libertarians aren’t interested in populism other than as a mean to their ends, which is dismantling state and public power.

Now, the Government was going to have to take control, to start telling people what to do. The messages are simple – wash your hands and keep 2m away from other people. But the messages coming from Johnson and the Government have been disastrous. Firstly they prefer to persuade, the Nudge Unit, another bit of fake science, was tasked with producing messages to persuade, and came up with the Herd Immunity line. Secondly they gave the job to inveterate liar Johnson.

Not surprisingly the messages have failed to get through. Instead we’ve lurched through a series of mishaps and delays, before finally closing pubs and other public gathering places, finally closing schools. Weeks have been wasted.

Instead of a wall to wall public information campaign we have dribs and drabs, a daily press conference with  Johnson at the helm, automatically negating any credibility it might have.

But the biggest problem is that, having told the public for years to mistrust politicians, take back control and decide things for themselves, that is exactly what a significant chunk of the public are doing. Can they really be blamed? This, coupled with a traditional “I’m alright Jack” British exceptionalism, will prove, is proving fatal.

Given that in order to be effective, a large section of the public need to act on the key messages (hand washing and social distancing), two paths now offer themselves.

The “Herd Immunity” path is still there. Without a massive behavioural change from the public, the virus will spread, exponentially. The NHS will fall over. Half a million and more will die in a very short time. Mass Graves. Essential workers not at their stations. The fabric of society will be threatened, as food and energy supplies come under pressure. The Army will be on the streets.

The other path is scarier for the Libertarians. It’s a strong state, verging on the authoritarian, as has already happened in France, Spain and Italy. Permission is needed to venture outside your home. Gatherings are banned. Perhaps even the state takes over the media to pump out the necessary messages. The state has already taken over paying people’s wages, or at least made several large steps in that direction. Next will be essential services being brought into state ownership, including the food supply. This is, after all, what happened in the last great national crisis, World War Two.

Which would you prefer?

 

 

 

 

The Coronavirus Spring

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I’ve held off writing anything about the Coronavirus crisis until now. This is partly down to having other stuff to do, and partly because things are moving so fast at the moment, it’s hard to see beyond the latest headline. But as we’re all going to have more time to read stuff in the coming weeks and months, it’s irresistible for someone who has an urge to write, as I do, not to do so. I’ll try and avoid writing anything hysterical or just adding to the existing maelstrom of anxiety.

Where did it all start? Coronaviruses such as SARS and SARS 2 aka Covid-19, appear to live, under normal circumstances, in Horseshoe Bats and Pangolins (a kind of scaly Anteater) in South-East Asia. The closely related MERS is a virus which lives in Dromedaries in the Arabian peninsula. It looks like a precursor to Covid-19 passed from Pangolins in the Chinese medicine/wild meat trade, to humans some time last year. The precursor then mutated into Covid-19, such that it could very effectively infect humans  – and the pandemic was born. Researchers were already studying a very diverse set of Coronaviruses in Pangolins last year, before the pandemic began in China. But there’s no evidence that the virus is genetically engineered or escaped from a lab.

There’s a massive illegal trade in Pangolins to provide meat and scales to the mainly Chinese market, particularly for Chinese medicine. So it’s a fairly straightforward fact that the wildlife trade in general and the trade supplying Chinese herbal medicine specifically, caused this virus to infect humans. Some have sought to exploit this fact to blame China and even seek reparations for the economic impact.

 

 

This would open up a very large can of infected worms. Would the surviving indigenous peoples of the Americas claim reparations against unspecified European nations for unwittingly bringing smallpox to them, which wiped out millions? There’s even some evidence that it was deliberately used as a genocidal weapon against indigenous peoples in North America. Let’s set aside such ill conceived and inflammatory suggestions and  ignore their writers. Remember these are the same people who wanted Brexit, to break free from the chains of oppression created by the EU; who wanted to shrink the size of the state, remove all but the flimsiest of safety nets and place all our faith in the markets.

Talking of markets….no, let’s leave that till later.

Covid-19 has spread like wildfire, as other pandemics have before it. the 1918 Influenza pandemic was spread around the world by soldiers, initially from the US to France during the final year of the First World War; then as those soldiers returned home. My Australian granny caught it when she was 18 and obviously survived otherwise I wouldn’t be here to write this. It spread more slowly in the age before air travel.

The 2009 swine flu epidemic spread much more rapidly, as a result of air travel. I can remember our eldest daughter being sick in a Heathrow baggage collection hall, after picking up swine flu on a trip to Vienna, poor thing. The virus was widespread by then, I hasten to add. This is different. This isn’t flu. The reason the swine flu pandemic fizzled out was because a significant chunk of the global population already had some immunity to it. No-one has any immunity to covid-19 – and we don’t even know if anyone, who’s already had it, has gained immunity to it for the future yet. It might, like seasonal flu, mutate again and again.

How many will catch it and how many will die? Nobody knows the answer to that. But what is clear is that countries with good health services are better able to support people who become gravely ill as a result of catching the virus. But even some of those are struggling – Italy and Spain for example. Others seem to be doing much better – South Korea and Germany. And also it appears that countries doing a lot of testing and contact tracing (China, South Korea, Hong Kong), are getting on top of the infection much more effectively than others. Whether they will be able to keep on top of outbreaks in the long run is another unknown.

This brings me to the UK. It’s difficult to be certain what’s going on here. This is partly because the information coming out of Government has been patchy and confusing. But it’s also partly because we’re in the middle of a major crisis and lots of things will not become public until long afterwards. We’re used to having information instantly available to everyone all the time thanks to the internet, 24/7 rolling news and social media.

As we have learnt over the past five years, this is both a blessing and a curse. Information can be manipulated, and the more there is out there, the more difficult it is to see what’s fake, what’s conspiracy theory, what’s well intended but wrong, and what’s accurate. I hope I’m not adding to this with this piece. I’m certainly trying not to.

What we do know if that the virus is spreading and it’s spreading rapidly. I’m in rural Dorset and so far we only have two known cases. But of course as there has been nowhere near enough testing, it’s inevitable that there will be more people out there who are infected, often showing no symptoms. It’s best to assume that wherever you go, you’re at risk of picking up the virus.

At the moment we can still go outside – for a walk, to enjoy the Spring. I fully intend to continue doing this and report back on what I have seen.

A couple of days ago I went to Kingcombe Meadows nature reserve, the jewel in the crown of Dorset Wildlife Trust’s reserve network. I try and go every year at this time to see the Moschatel, or Town Hall Clock. This diminutive green-flowered plant grows along an ancient green lane at Kingcombe – it’s often found growing on old wood banks in ancient woodland. It’s a difficult plant to photograph on a phone so apologies as these don’t really capture its loveliness. I suppose the thing I find particularly endearing about it is that it appears very early in the Spring and does its thing before almost any other plant has started; and its persistence and longevity. It’s a plant of old places, growing slowly and spreading along undisturbed places – albeit places created by humans in the long past. It to me suggests quiet continuity, resilience. Perhaps that’s a useful message in these days of panic buying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not going to offer any sage pieces of advice on what needs to happen next, what the Government has got right or wrong, the pros and cons of helicopter money, or even whether we should celebrate the fact  that industrial pollution levels have plummeted alongside the collapse in economic activity.

Suffice to say we are living in a very different society than we were even a month ago and that things will continue to change. Perhaps some things will never be the same again? who knows.

All I will say is that it’s more important than ever that we all look after each other, support each other and do what we can to help – to help our families and friends, to help our local communities and wider society. I think it’s inevitable that a few unscrupulous people will take advantage of this crisis – whether it’s Hedge Fund owners “shorting” businesses to make a quick killing, fly tippers seeing an opportunity to save a few quid; or toilet roll hoarders looking to turn a profit on ebay. This is not something any of us can do anything about other than to avoid them, refuse to take part, and where necessary report miscreants to the relevant authority.

Bear in mind though that all public services are under incredible strain – that’s the NHS, the forces, the emergency services, local authorities, public bodies, the civil service, the lot. We all need to do everything we can to avoid adding to their already huge burden; and we need to support them where we can. They were already reeling from 10 years of savage cuts in funding and loss of key staff and expertise.

I’ll continue to post here and on the People Need Nature website, exploring Spring and encouraging you all to get outside and enjoy it as much as we can. It is, after all, free and universally available. And it can be enjoyed while applying the 2m social isolation zone!