“If people see no path to influencing the powerful, some will kick down”

Adam Ramsay in OpenDemocracy:

In the wake of the Andrew Wakefield scandal and two decades of disastrous climate change denial, newspapers surely have a social responsibility to be calm and cautious when contradicting scientific consensus, not turn serious questions of health communication into flesh for bare-toothed columnists to spar over.

Despite continuing to spread confusion about the virus, the Tory press has been more than happy to denounce people who are confused.

…When responsibility is cast onto an atomised population, it doesn’t land evenly. It is channelled down the social structures which already exist. Race, class, gender, sexuality: blame is always mobilised against the already marginalised.

Fact-checking as fake news goes viral

The BBC has put together a page fact-checking the latest coronavirus-related nonsense circulating on social media. Today’s crop includes disinfectant-spraying helicopters (nope), a memo from Bill Gates (fake), video showing Turkish food parcels (old) and the official-looking text messages you may be getting right now (criminals).

As ever, Snopes.com continues to bust bullshit (if you’re in the US, they’re hiring!). The top 50 currently includes everything from Nostradamus predicting Covid-19 (nope) to whether the virus is a distraction created so we don’t panic about the doomsday asteroid that’ll kill us all (oh, come on).

My favourite fake news story is the one about Russia releasing 500 lions into the streets to enforce its coronavirus lockdown (there isn’t a lockdown, and there aren’t any lions). As Snopes put it:

No, but we don’t doubt the effectiveness of such a strategy.

Useful, free apps for music and video

I get quite annoyed by social media posts urging us all to be productive and/or learn new skills during THE END OF THE BLOODY WORLD – but I also get really bored when I’m stuck at home and I find messing around with music helps enormously.

If you’re a musician or want to be one, there are currently some really useful offers you can take advantage of.

First up, Fender Play is currently offering three months free. That’s three months of really good lessons for beginners and more experienced players alike. The lessons are for acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar and ukulele. The deal was originally limited to 100,000 people but it’s been upped to half a million now. Fender:

We’re all going to be spending more time inside – so we might as well make some noise.

Apple has announced a 90-day trial of its music production studio, Logic Pro X. That’s the app I use for almost all of my music, and it’s usually £200. It’s a digital recording studio that’s ideal for any genre of music, and three months is long enough to make some really cool musical projects and/or learn transferable skills that’ll stand you in good stead for any other music production app. If video is more your thing, Final Cut Pro is free for 90 days too.

For electronic musicians, the mighty (and to me, terrifying) Ableton Live is also free for 90 days. And Avid, makers of Pro Tools, Media Composer and others, is offering 90-day trials too.

Korg’s wonderful Minimoog synth app is free for another couple of days, alongside its excellent iKaossilator beat-maker.

God doesn’t want you to die of stupidity


I’m normally a big fan of schadenfreude, the feeling of pleasure in others’ misfortunes. But so much of what I’m reading just now just makes me sad. For example, there’s no joy in seeing prime minister Boris Johnson admit to having coronavirus just days after boasting about shaking coronavirus patients’ hands; I’m just sad that he’s probably infected others who will in turn have passed the virus on. I feel sorry for his pregnant girlfriend, who must be terrified right now.

One of the saddest things I’m seeing right now is people dying from arrogance, from misinformation and from tribalism. In the US, you’re much less likely to take the virus seriously if you’re a Trump voter, very religious or both; the lines aren’t as dramatic here in the UK but there’s still social media activity indicating a similar split between Brexit leaver and remainer.

Viruses don’t care who you vote for or who you pray to.

There’s an old Russian sailor’s proverb (often attributed to the gonzo writer Hunter S Thompson, but it was around for hundreds of years before him):

Pray to God, but row away from the rocks.

Sadly some people would rather row straight into the rocks and take lots of others with them.

Here in Scotland, the evangelical politician John Mason initially refused to cancel his face-to-face surgeries and home visits to protect his constituents. When one church closed, he posted on Facebook:

Surely we should be bold, take risks, and trust in Jesus?

Trust in Jesus is not an effective anti-viral.

I detest Mason, but I feel sad that his dark-ages idiocy could have caused people to become infected. And he’s not the only one. The usual contrarian clowns have had their say, and Scotland’s Free Presbyterian Church, another bunch of yahoos I’d happily see cast into a lake of fire, initially refused to cancel church services because:

attending public worship is not a mere social activity or recreational pleasure

This idiocy is global. In the US, pastor Landon Spradlin died from coronavirus this week. His death has made him internet famous because before he contracted the virus he shared online posts suggesting the media was creating “mass hysteria” over coronavirus; he also approvingly shared a tale of a missionary who cared for Black Death victims and never contracted the disease because God would ensure that “no germ will attach itself to me.” God must have been looking elsewhere this week. She’s got a lot on her plate.

Spradlin had previously railed against helping poor and vulnerable people get healthcare; when he got sick, his family had to resort to a crowdfunding website “to help relieve them from the stress of the situation [and] medical bills.” Some people are finding schadenfreude in that, and some have gone as far as to abuse his grieving family on social media. I just feel sorry for their loss.

And I also feel sorry for the other families who’ll grieve. Politicians’ inaction and media misinformation – particularly noticeable in the US, where the virus will kill many more people than 9/11 did – will cost many lives. As of today, the US has more coronavirus cases than anywhere else in the world. The toll so far is 1,297 deaths. There will be many more.

You can sum up a lot of current events in a single story.

No matter what god you may pray to, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want you to go out like that.

We are the people

There’s been a really nasty outbreak of everything-ism over the Coronavirus and people’s reactions to it. A tweet from the comedy programme Have I Got News For You today was a good example: it captioned a photo of people queuing too closely outside ASDA as “natural selection in action”. The replies included lots of comments about the people in the photograph being “sheep”, a few swipes at some of the shoppers’ weights and in one particularly horrible comment, a description of how someone should park a tank in the car park and machine-gun the shoppers.

I find it hard to believe that anyone from HIGNFY or any of its social darwinist commenters hasn’t been to at least one supermarket in the last week and bought more than their usual shop or stood within two metres of strangers. But that’s different, isn’t it? They’re not like those people.

And that’s true. They’re not. They were able to stock up – not panic-buying, no, just getting a few essentials just in case – because they had a car and a credit card and the freedom to shop when they first started to worry.

They didn’t have to wait to finish a series of shifts or for a meagre pay cheque or for their universal credit payment before they could get a bus to queue with the others to walk past bare freezers, the contents long moved to the chest freezers in suburban garages, the shelves showing the last known location of the multiple packets of rice and lentils currently sitting in oh so many tasteful kitchen cupboards.

Just because you panic-bought quietly before everybody else started doing it doesn’t make you morally superior. I know I’m not: I bought some extra food before the freezers emptied and the rice ran out. And I also know that had one client not paid me last week, I’d have been queuing up with everybody else outside ASDA.

It’s a similar story with the elevation of people in parks to national hate figures on social media. How dare people without gardens of their own use public parks after being told to do so by the Prime Minister?

Those people are us. Yes, some people are idiots – but idiocy isn’t limited to a particular social class, income bracket, waist measurement or postcode, as contrarian columnists and rent-a-gob politicians frequently demonstrate. Most of us are trying to navigate terrifying times with inadequate information, vague and often contradictory direction and a flurry of misinformation in social media and in parts of the mainstream media too. Sometimes we’ll make bad decisions. Sometimes we’ll panic.

Don’t rage against people going to parks when the government told them to go, and when it won’t stop employers demanding many more non-essential workers cram into the Tube every morning. Don’t blame the panic buyers when the government leaks lurid tales of lockdown to the press and then unconvincingly denies them the next day; don’t blame people for besieging shops when all the online shopping slots are booked solid for six weeks by the worried well. Don’t blame the pubgoers when the PM’s own dad says a pint is your human right and the commentariat tells you it’s your national duty.

There will be a time to rage, and there will be people deserving of your rage. But not now. And not those people.

When empires collapse

A fascinating piece in Mother Jones by historian Patrick Wyman.

The fall of an empire—the end of a polity, a socioeconomic order, a dominant culture, or the intertwined whole—looks more like a cascading series of minor, individually unimportant failures than a dramatic ending that appears out of the blue. Carts full of olive oil failing to arrive at some nameless fort because of a dysfunctional military bureaucracy, a corrupt official deciding to cook the books and claim taxes were collected when they really weren’t, a greedy aristocrat bribing that official instead of paying his bill, an aqueduct falling to pieces and nobody willing to front the funds to repair it.

…Historians will look back at some enormous disaster, either ongoing now or in the decades or centuries to come, and say that it was just the icing on the cake. The foundation had already been laid long before then, in the text of legislation nobody bothered reading, in local elections nobody was following, in speeches nobody thought were important enough to comment on, in a thousand tiny disasters that amounted to a thousand little cuts on the body politic.

“Lazy contrarians are putting everyone at risk”

Alex Andreou, writing for Politics.co.uk:

I fully support Peter Hitchens and Brendan O’Neill’s inalienable right to be infected with a deadly virus. If they existed in a vacuum, I might buy myself one of those big foam fingers and cheer them on, as they march to the extinction that is the destiny of every dinosaur.

But they don’t exist in a vacuum. They have no more a ‘right’ to keep congregating in pubs than they have a right to set fire to their flat on the ground floor of a skyscraper. Not following guidance, not distancing socially, doesn’t just imperil you. It is something that imperils my friends, my loved ones, everyone. Nobody has a right to put others at risk.

… the very talking heads who have been, for some years now, telling everyone else to rediscover the Spirit of the Blitz, were revealed to be the morons who refused to turn their light off during a blackout and endangered their entire neighbourhood.

It’s becoming very clear who the real “enemies of the people” are.

“There’s something quite transcendental about making love with a dolphin”

Just because it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of stuff to laugh at. This, from the Mirror, had me in tears.

Man had sex with a dolphin called Dolly for a year – and claimed she seduced him

Almost every paragraph has a killer line, such as:

“At first I discouraged her, I wasn’t interested. After some time I thought ‘if this was a woman would I come up with these rationalisations and excuses’?”