“And nothing feels right now”

This, by Jared Misner for the NYT, is devastating.

Now that I’m actually married (the legal kind), I can say I love my husband very much. He is pragmatic, kind and handsome.

But he does not pull over for garage sales. He does not smuggle bags of dog costumes and treats out of press events to later give to my dogs and my parents’ dogs. He does not bring friendship bracelet crafts or design-your-own hats to our annual Labor Day trip and does not understand my references to the Beehive.


“How have I been?”

Are you feeling guilty about not maintaining all your friendships through COVID? Me too. Brandy Jensen takes the helm of Jezebel’s “Ask a fuck-up” and tries to explain.

The problem, for me, is that it feels like there is simply nothing to catch these people up on anymore. Too many things are happening but also nothing much is happening at all, and I find I have nothing particularly interesting to say about it. Life is dull and that has in turn made me a dullard.

Health Hell in a handcart


If you’ve been wondering why the far right is so keen on anti-masking and so against any measures to combat COVID other than letting the virus rip through the most vulnerable, the answer is simple: a core tenet of fascism is about casting out the weak.

On the internet there’s a famous trope called Godwin’s law, which says that in any online argument sooner or later somebody will be compared to the Nazis or Hitler. But as Godwin himself has said, the law only applies to false comparisons. When you’re talking about actual neo-Nazism, Godwin said:

By all means, compare these shitheads to the Nazis. Again and again. I’m with you.

And right now, the shitheads are everywhere.

It’s frightening to see ideologies that once belonged solely to the far right appearing in mainstream discourse, as sides in a “debate”. It’s as if we’ve persuaded ourselves that fascism only manifests itself in Hugo Boss uniforms and shiny boots, rather than in smart suits, carefully chosen soundbites and Facebook groups.

Here’s political analyst Natascha Strobl on the far right’s belief that COVID should be left to eliminate the weakest members of society, an ideology that’s becoming worryingly echoed by sectors of the mainstream press too.

And it is precisely here that we witness one of the most central elements of fascist ideology: the weak and all its synonyms. A decadent, soft, unmanly, hysterical, panicky, timid, effeminate society is the problem… men aren’t men anymore, but nervous, urban, overly intellectualized and (here it comes) sickly weaklings. The idea of sick as weak is important.
… Protagonists now proclaim with great pathos that should they be befallen by the virus, they will look death calmly in the eye. Self-heroization against a virus (which doesn’t care at all).
And what is demanded as a globally social strategy is to let things go their usual way, both in order not to ruin the economy and because the lockdown is a fearful and thus unmanly strategy, and the measure are the strong, not the weak.

The idea that some people are weak and not deserving of saving – that their weakness is harming the strong and damaging the economy – has a chilling precedent. The first victims of the Nazis were the “unfit”, the “unworthy of living”: the disabled, the mentally ill, the chronically sick. Nazi propaganda posters told the public that disabled people were a drain on the economy, and that the money spent on them was “your money too”.

One of the programmes responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of disabled people was called Aktion T4, aka T4. Speaking at the unveiling of a memorial to its victims, German culture minister Monika Grütters told the crowd that the memorial “confronts us today with the harrowing Nazi ideology of presuming life can be measured by ‘usefulness.’”

Health Hell in a handcart

Competence and cronyism

The UK, which is very far away from China, has a population of around 66 million people and has officially recorded 635,000 cases of COVID-19 and 43,000 deaths.

Vietnam, which has a long land border with China, has a population of 95 million people. It has recorded 1,113 cases and 35 deaths.

The difference isn’t some special Asian COVID-resistant DNA, as some of the more unhinged right-wing commentators have suggested, or the Vietnamese government suppressing the real scale of the virus; doctors on the ground say the figures match their experiences. It’s that Asia has learnt lessons from previous pandemics and applied them competently.

To take just one example, in Vietnam temperature checks were introduced in Hanoi airport in January before human to human transmission had even been confirmed. In the UK, we started trialling temperature checks for Heathrow arrivals in late May, two months after we went into lockdown. Vietnam began contact tracing and quarantining in January. As The Guardian reports, the UK track and trace system wasn’t announced until late May and it still isn’t working.

the government’s Sage scientific advisers have concluded NHS test and trace is not working.

Too few people are getting tested, results are coming back too slowly and not enough people are sticking to the instructions to isolate, they say.

The system “is having a marginal impact on transmission”, as a result, and unless it grows as fast as the epidemic that impact will only wane.

One of the reasons it isn’t working is that the government decided to outsource everything to private firms instead of using existing public health services. The Guardian again:

The percentage of people reached and asked to provide details of recent close contacts [by the national test and trace system] hit its lowest level since June at the end of September, with performance worsening steadily over the month. It means about 25% of contacts are not reached at all.

Our World In Data has a fascinating and comprehensive explanation of how and why Vietnam responded to COVID. Not everything could have been replicated elsewhere, but in its conclusion the report says that many lessons are applicable to other countries: investing in public health infrastructure, taking early action to curb community spread, having a thorough contact tracing system, quarantining based on possible exposure rather than symptoms, and clear, consistent and serious public communication.

When Vietnam did lockdown and contact tracing, it did it properly. Here, the time lockdown was supposed to buy us wasn’t spent on building an effective track and trace system; it was spent enriching the Government’s mates and giving lucrative contracts to cronies. That’s already killed thousands of people, and it looks likely to kill very many more.


Tourism, large tables and Tinder dates

Helen Rosner, the New Yorker’s roving food correspondent, is a great writer. And this is a great article: although it’s about New York I think it has resonance here too. It’s called The Uncertain Promises of Indoor Dining in New York City.

This grinding moral calculus leaves us with a fallacious sense of personal responsibility and misplaced blame. In recent months, I’ve seen chefs and restaurateurs lash out on social media at those whom they deem insufficiently supportive of the industry’s return. Those declining to eat in restaurants during the pandemic, they argue, are complicit in the economic suffering of their businesses and employees. (The crisis is unimaginably severe, and the stress is nearly unbearable, but such a position seems rooted more in existential terror than in logic.) There are, of course, ways to be supportive without prioritizing capital over safety: early in the pandemic, when the mass extinction of small businesses was looming, I purchased more logo-emblazoned sweatshirts, coffee mugs, and tote bags than one human ever ought to own, and encouraged everybody I knew to do the same. Still, it is obvious that restaurants will not be saved by T-shirt sales alone. I’ve found a measure of relief in a simple piece of advice passed along by a friend: pick three businesses that matter to you and your community—a manageable number—and then pour everything you can into making sure they come out O.K. on the other side. But, in September, during a Zoom conversation I had with the chef David Chang to promote his new memoir, he put the same idea in more dire terms, invoking philosophy’s infamous trolley problem: “I think ninety per cent of independent restaurants are going to die,” he said. “We need to start to choose which ones we want to prop up.”


Lots of food isn’t labelled

The UK government’s decision to relax food standards to allow imports of poor quality, appallingly produced and potentially hazardous US beef, poultry and pork is disgusting, of course, but some people are arguing that it isn’t a big deal: we can just read the labels and choose not to buy it.

But that’s only true for raw food that we buy in shops. As Jay Rayner points out on Twitter, there are lots of places where food won’t be labelled: cafés, restaurants, canteens, pre-made sandwiches…

Not in food service it wont: that sandwich you buy on the run, that school meal your child eats, that lunch you get served in hospital; indeed in any food service operation. No labeling at all.

Health LGBTQ+

Why trans people go private

There’s a good piece by GenderGP head of patient services Adi Ni Dhálaigh Gourdialsing in PinkNews about trans people accessing private healthcare.

In 2016, the Women and Equalities Commission bravely and unreservedly found that: “The NHS is failing in its legal duty under the Equality Act in this regard. There is a lack of continuing professional development (CPD) and training in this area amongst GPs. There is also a lack of clarity about referral pathways for Gender Identity Services. And the NHS as an employer and commissioner is failing to ensure zero tolerance of transphobic behaviour amongst staff and contractors.”

Fast forward to 2020 and little has changed. We still have: No NICE guidelines on the medical interventions available for gender incongruence; no standards of medical education set for this area of healthcare by the General Medical Council; no continuing professional development (this is the responsibility of the Royal Colleges and Postgraduate Deaneries); no agreed standards of care for NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups; no UK-wide medical guidelines; and healthcare that is provided in super-specialised clinics, which are supposed to cater for just 500 patient cases per year.

I’ve been involved in a few consultations about trans healthcare recently and absolutely none of the issues being raised in the consultations are new. Trans people go private or self-medicate because in many parts of the UK the NHS tells them to wait nearly six years before they can discuss getting any kind of treatment.

Health Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

Intended consequences

The anti-trans mob and their evangelical Christian pals are behind a judicial review that could have chilling effects on young women’s access to contraception. That’s not a potential unintended consequence. It’s the whole point.

Stonewall’s Nancy Kelley, writing in the i Paper:

If [we] chip away at the idea that children and young people are not fit to know what’s best for them, we open the door towards eroding Gillick Competency. ‘Gillick’ was a case in 1985 which established that young people under the age of 16 can consent to their own medical treatment, without the need for parental knowledge or permission.

Gillick is a cornerstone of children and young people’s rights and helps ensure young people can access the healthcare service they may need, including abortion, contraception or sexual health services.

So, this case isn’t just about healthcare for trans young people, it’s about a much wider issue: whether we believe children and young people have a right to treat their bodies as their own.

The lawyers representing the people bringing the case say it would push Gillick to ‘breaking point‘. This would give a green light to those who want to use this an opportunity to roll back the healthcare rights of not just LGBT young people, but all young people.

Getting rid of Gillick is a key goal of the religious right, who do not want any teenagers to have access to contraception or sexual health services. The anti-trans women hoping the verdict goes against the NHS are either willing accomplices or deeply, deeply stupid.

Health Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

This is what cancelling looks like

This week, the BBC and The Times both went after the private GP service GenderGP, an ongoing target of the anti-trans mob.

I’ve written about GenderGP before: it’s a practice that enables trans people to access healthcare privately when the NHS expects them to wait for many years for an initial assessment. I’m a former patient, so I can attest that while it isn’t perfect it is also serious and professional in its prescribing. It certainly isn’t handing out HRT like sweeties.

The reporting was full of innuendo but didn’t find anything significant to report. Despite this, the UK’s pharmacy regulator has responded to the bad publicity and removed GenderGP’s ability to prescribe HRT to trans people with immediate effect.

Overnight, thousands of trans adults have had their private healthcare stopped – not because GenderGP has been proven to have done anything wrong, but because two of the most powerful media outlets in the country have targeted it.

The anti-trans mob, of course, are rejoicing about this. Removing life-saving trans healthcare from thousands of adults, as far as they’re concerned, is something to celebrate.

Trans people will continue to need medicine. By shutting down safe, legal services, all that’s going to happen is that trans people will turn to possibly unsafe services instead. If you’re one of the people affected, there’s a good thread of (safe) options here.

Once again this gives the lie to the idea that any of this is about ‘reasonable concerns’ or ‘protecting women’. These people want us dead.

Bullshit Health Media

Bad journalism

I’ve been listening to the You’re Wrong About podcast, this time about the infamous Ford Pinto. It seems that almost everything I thought I knew about it was incorrect and largely based on a single Mother Jones article.

The podcast makes an interesting point about that, and about journalism more widely: a lot of bad journalism comes from writers who are operating in good faith, or at least partial good faith. They believe that they have uncovered something so huge that they must tell the world. That belief can cause a kind of myopia.

Journalism is as much about what you choose to leave out as what you choose to put in. Let’s say you’ve got a whistleblower from inside an organisation with a suitably salacious tale. If it’s a really good story, if it’s the kind of story that’ll have people gasping over their morning paper, how much consideration will you give to the things that contradict or cast doubt over what the whistleblower is telling you?

People like to be heroes, and journalists are no exception – so if you think you’re the hero who’s going to break the story, you’re not going to consider that perhaps you’re being misled, or seeing connections that aren’t there, or ignoring evidence that shows that you’re not the hero here but the villain.

The MMR scare is a good example of that. How many journalists telling their readers of the entirely invented dangers thought they were doing Pulitzer-worthy public service journalism? And how many lives have been destroyed by the anti-vaccination movement they helped spawn?