I know it’s necessary but I’m long past the point of expecting Glasgow’s COVID restrictions to be lifted any time soon: that’s us going into week 38 of the temporary 2-week restrictions that we’ve been living under since September. As Fraser Stewart pointed out on Twitter, there are Glaswegians who fell pregnant at the start of those measures who’ll be due to give birth soon.
The horrific new anti-women legislation in Poland, a near-total ban on abortion, is already harming women. The country already had some of the strongest anti-abortion legislation in Europe, and it has now removed the exception for foetal abnormalities. According to the New York Times, 1,074 of the 1,100 abortions performed in Poland last year were for that reason.
Poland’s right-wing government is not the only evil here. Its bigotry and intolerance has been assisted legally and financially by the US Christian Right. As OpenDemocracy reported late last year, Trump-linked religious groups in the US have spent hundreds of millions globally to assault women’s rights and LGBT+ people’s rights: in its report it noted that one organisation had taken part in multiple Polish cases “to defend that country’s conservative policies including against divorce and abortion”.
One of the organisations in the report is the Alliance Defending Freedom, which operates in the UK too: it has been a loud voice against Scots hate crime legislation and against trans people.
The EPF’s [European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights] Neil Datta said: “As Europeans, we cannot sit back and watch what’s happening in the US with distance, thinking that the erosion of democratic norms and human rights cannot happen here. The same US Christian groups pushing for this in the US are now spending millions in Europe trying to achieve the same over here.”
You don’t need me to tell you that Boris Johnson lied when he said the UK government had done everything possible to minimise the COVID-19 death toll.
There is a reason we have a death toll exceeding 100,000 while New Zealand has 25, Vietnam 35 and Taiwan 7. As Devi Shridhar writes in the Guardian, we didn’t close our borders, we abandoned community testing, we didn’t lock down quickly enough, we didn’t have enough PPE for key workers and our government messaging has been incoherent and incompetent. So many of the UK’s deaths were completely preventable.
But this is not just about the Government’s incompetence and corruption. It’s also about a media that’s consistently failed in its most basic function, which is to hold power to account. For more than a year, too much of the press has been more interested in parroting the government line, platforming cranks and giving airtime to dubiously funded pressure groups than holding our failing government to account.
Every newspaper front page that heralded ‘Independence Day’ last summer when the first lockdown was eased, every headline that passed on the government’s message that people should get back to offices, every report that passed on demands from bloviating backbenchers and astroturfing groups of suddenly ‘militant’ mums contributed in its own way to reaching that number that is so abstracted in today’s newspapers — 100,000 people have died.
Every puff piece about Boris Johnson and his cute little family, every shot of his future mother-in-law coming to Downing Street, every photo spread about their dog, every column that made excuses for Dominic Cummings, sneered at ‘hipster analysis’ in the early days of this avoidable disaster, or told us about ‘Dishy’ Rishi and how much he cares, contributed to 100,000 people dead.
Every jingoistic throwback pun to a war that none of us fought and to a history that most people misremember contributed to 100,000 people dead, ever ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ promo plastered on a tabloid front-page, every syllable uttered by political hyena Matt Chorley played its part, every Rod Liddle column, every Fraser Nelson quote, every Sarah Vine column oscillating between bafflement at government policy and insidery snideness, every story that poured more shame on celebrities and influencers than the government that got us here shares a piece of the blame.
None of these people will be held to account.
Something that’s become really apparent in the final days of the Trump administration is that cranks of a feather flock together. If you believe that the US election has been stolen, chances are you also believe that the COVID vaccine contains microchips, and that furniture shop Wayfair traffics stolen children.
Thanks to Twitter I discovered that there’s a name for this phenomenon: crank magnetism. As RationalWiki puts it:
A sovereign citizen, a creationist, an anti-vaxxer, and a conspiracy theorist walk into a bar. He orders a drink.
The reason for it is very simple. Believing in a conspiracy theory means denying evidence, denying authority, denying reality. And once you do that once, once you decide that despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary the people in authority are covering something up, you’re much more open to the idea that they’re covering other things up too.
To put it simply: once you believe they’re covering up one thing, it’s easy to believe that they’re covering up everything.
For example, if you believe that mainstream medicine is covering up the efficacy of homeopathy or of ancient Chinese medicine, it isn’t much of a leap to believe that mainstream medicine is covering up the links between MMR and autism. If you believe that Big Pharma is being funded by the Jews to turn everybody trans, it’s hardly a stretch to believe that Big Pharma created COVID to sell vaccines or that those vaccines contain microchips.
Once you deny one reality, you can easily end up denying all reality. You can see that in the COVID deniers, in the QAnon craze, in the ludicrous things people believe about marginalised groups.
The conspiracies don’t even need to make sense, or fit with a coherent worldview. Studies have found that conspiracists will happily believe conspiracies that contradict each other – so if you believe that Princess Diana faked her own death, you’re also highly likely to believe that Princess Diana was murdered. The specifics don’t really matter: either way, there’s a cover-up.
It’d be fascinating if it weren’t so frightening.
Ed Yong is one of the best science reporters we have, and his COVID reporting for The Atlantic has been superb. He’s just published his final piece of 2020: Where Year Two of the Pandemic Will Take Us. It’s for a US audience but it’s relevant to many other countries too.
How does a country learn from its mistakes if it cannot even agree on whether it made any?
As far as I’m aware, The New Yorker has only devoted its entire issue to a single story once before, for reporting on Hiroshima. And now it’s done it again for this incredible piece of journalism, The Plague Year. It’s very long, very detailed and very powerful.
There are three moments in the yearlong catastrophe of the covid-19 pandemic when events might have turned out differently. The first occurred on January 3, 2020, when Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke with George Fu Gao, the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which was modelled on the American institution. Redfield had just received a report about an unexplained respiratory virus emerging in the city of Wuhan.
It’s hard to be optimistic in these dark days (I don’t just mean metaphorically: I live in Scotland, where the sun doesn’t so much rise at this time of year as send a few expletives into the sky before going back to bed). And it’s harder still with more serious COVID restrictions about to come into force: from Friday, Glasgow will effectively be in lockdown apart from supermarkets and schools. So here’s a reason to be cautiously cheerful: the end of the pandemic is now in sight.
The piece, by Sarah Zhang for The Atlantic, is a fascinating explanation of what the new vaccines are, why they’re revolutionary and most of all, why they’re probably going to work. And if they don’t, why we probably won’t be vaccine-less for long.
The vaccine by itself cannot slow the dangerous trajectory of COVID-19 hospitalizations this fall or save the many people who may die by Christmas. But it can give us hope that the pandemic will end. Every infection we prevent now—through masking and social distancing—is an infection that can, eventually, be prevented forever through vaccines.
A powerful Twitter thread by writer and academic Alice Tarbuck:
I have been schooling my tongue, but I would just like to say: for those of us living alone, COVID feels like a sudden ‘stop’ in a game of musical chairs. There are those who found a seat, already found spouses, had children, acquired pets. There are those of us who didn’t.
And of course, everybody’s situation is hard. But all the people whose shutters came down, who were able to retreat into their households and didn’t need to reach out for social/emotional support and so didn’t, well. Not everybody is in that position. Some of us felt you leave.
And I am delighted that people have lives they can retreat into and not be on their own! Just delighted! But I wonder if there might be consideration of what it means to break contact, to stop reaching out, when others don’t have that luxury, when others might need that contact.
Nobody chose to be lonely, and nobody is as safe in their un-loneliness as they think they are.
Kindness should never be extended as apotropaic* magic, of course, but perhaps ‘treating others as one would wish to be treated’ wards against your own future chair-stop.
Because goodness, one day you might wish it had been.
* Having the power to avert evil or bad luck. I had to look it up.
Some of my songs are about people who are struggling, either because of the situation they’re in or because of the chemistry in their heads. It’s a subject close to my heart because I struggle too, and some days are considerably harder than others.
Our song A Moment of Clarity is about that. It clearly resonates with people: almost every time I’ve played it live, whether with the band or solo at an open mic or live-streamed video, I’ve had people tell me that it has connected with them in a really powerful way. Everybody has their struggles.
On the worst days, three words have been really helpful to me: wait until tomorrow.
Wait until tomorrow is a deal you make with yourself. You’re not going to try and persuade yourself that what you’re feeling isn’t real, or try to convince yourself that things aren’t as bad as they seem to be right now. All you’re going to do is wait until tomorrow.
And if you still feel the same tomorrow?
We’ll deal with that tomorrow.
I’ve found that some of the very worst days are like a severe storm. In real-world storms, ordinary things turn on us. The wind damages property, fells trees, turns ordinary objects into projectiles; the rain makes land slip and roads flood. Mental storms do much the same, and in some cases do the mental equivalent of a hurricane throwing a cow through the front of your house.
But all storms, even the very worst ones, pass.
And when you wait until tomorrow, you’ll often find that your one does too.
And if it doesn’t?
We can deal with that tomorrow.
If you’re struggling with mental health, help is available: I’ve listed a lot of helplines, including LGBT+ specific ones, at the very bottom of the page. If you need to speak to somebody right now, here are some other places that can help:
Call Samaritans on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Text SHOUT to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line (text YM if you’re under 19)
The Campaign Against Living Miserably, online or 0800 58 58 58.
Jonn Elledge has just re-shared this excellent piece he wrote in April about lockdown and those of us who live in cities. He argues that it isn’t country folks who live outdoors; it’s city ones.
it’s actually the urban residents who live their lives outside, for the obvious reason that their homes are so small they don’t have a choice. If you live in a major city, you are less likely to have a garden, or a spare room, or even – in the age of landlords taking the piss because, hey, who’s going to stop them? – a living room. Finding space to work that isn’t also the space you sleep in means going to a café; space to socialise means going to the pub. If you want to chill out and enjoy the sunshine, you go to a park. What else can you do?
As he writes, the city is a trade-off: we have a smaller, more expensive home because of the things that surround us and our proximity to things such as our workplaces and social spaces. And that’s great, until those things get locked down.
this trade-off always seemed like a good one to me – right up until the point three weeks ago when the government announced that all bars, restaurants, galleries and so on were to close, and the entire country was in lockdown for the foreseeable future. At which point I was suddenly just living in a small, expensive space very close to other people, with all the advantages to doing so taken away from me, and without even a balcony to hang out on.
I have a balcony, but otherwise I’m in the same boat: I’m paying a lot of money to live close to things that aren’t open.
This isn’t a complaint. Many people have it much, much worse than me: I don’t have to cram an entire family into a tiny flat; my kids are still at school so I can work. But there’s no doubt that the experience of COVID restrictions is very different for city dwellers than it is for suburbanites or our more affluent neighbours (and for those who are partnered rather than those who live alone).
It also raises interesting questions about the future of cities. If working from home becomes the new normal, if our social spaces die from lack of support, if our cultural centres close and events are unviable, if COVID accelerates the shift from bricks and mortar retail to online, what are cities actually for?