Friday 21 January, 2022


Wonder what the collective noun for a mass rally of bikers is.

Quote of the Day

”In answer to: Inside every thin woman there’s a fat woman trying to get out. I always think it’s: Outside every thin woman there’s a fat man trying to get in.”

  • Katharine Whitehorn (of blessed memory). She was one of my favourite colleagues on the Observer.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Joseph Haydn | String Quartet No. 62, Op. 76 No. 3 “Emperor” |2nd movement.


Well, if you’re going to have a national anthem, make sure it’s a decent tune.

Long Read of the Day

 Oh, 2022! by Charlie Stross. Since it’s the weekend, I thought it might be appropriate to suggest a really serious read. It’s a blog post by Charlie Stross, a gifted and successful SciFi writer, and it’s about how to think about the future.

Here’s a sample:

Nobody in March 2019 imagined that by March 2020 the UK would be in lockdown and they’d be storing corpses in refrigerator lorries in New York and Milan. It’s not entirely a black swan; anyone who knew about the history of pandemics knew to expect something like it in due course, and indeed Laurie Garrett won a Pulitzer prize for her book, The Coming Plague in 1994, which predicted more or less exactly what we’re living through today. What she didn’t predict in 1994 (writing in 1991-93) is almost more interesting than what she did — nobody in the 20th century imagined that within just two decades we’d be able to sequence the genome of a new pathogen within days, much less hours, or design a new vaccine within two weeks and have it in human clinical trials a month later. If the SARS family of coronaviruses had emerged just a decade earlier it’s quite likely we’d be on the brink of civilizational, if not species-level, extinction by now—SARS1 has 20% mortality among patients, MERS (aka SARS2) is up around 35-40% fatal, SARS-NCoV19, aka SARS3, is down around the 1-4% fatality level. If SARS1 had gone pandemic we might plausibly have lost a billion people within two years.

Luckily both SARS and MERS are far less contagious than COVID19, but don’t count on this continuing. Those viruses still exist in animal reservoirs, and we know COVID19 circulates between humans and other species and can hybridize with other viruses. The worst easily-imaginable COVID19 variant would be a MERS/COVID19-Omicron hybrid — call it the Omega strain — with the lethality of MERS and the contagiousness of Omicron, which is worse than the common cold, somewhere around the same level as chickenpox. (We don’t remember how awful chickenpox was because (a) we’re generally vaccinated in infancy and (b) it’s not a killer on the same level as its big sibling, Variola, aka smallpox.) But the so-called “childhood diseases” like mumps, rubella, and chickenpox used to kill infants by windrows. There’s a reason public health bodies remain vigilant and run constant vaccination campaigns against them, despite these campaigns being so successful that deaths from these diseases are so rare, leading perversely to an upswing in vaccine denialism.

I found it houghtful and perceptive. I remember at the start of the Covid crisis, in 2020 listening to a New York Times podcast interview with Don McNeil, then the Times’s expert on epidemics. He said that the only parallel with what was coming down the line was the 1918 Spanish Flu. And, in that context, he pointed out that the shortest time it had taken us to come up with a working vaccine up to that point was four years.

At that point I realised that Covid might be really, really serious. And up to now we have consistently under-estimated the threat of the virus. Which is why Charlie’s Omega variant idea reminded me of McNeil’s sombre assessment.

What should Labour do about Brexit?

Great post by Jonty Bloom.

His answer: Accept it, and make it work without letting fantasy get in the way. And then get on with doing sensible stuff. Like: * Make sure to sign up for all the EU schemes on offer, research, space, student exchanges and a dozen more. * Promise to remove the billions of pounds worth of Customs red tape that the Conservatives have loaded on British business. * Negotiate in good faith over Northern Ireland and all other issues and accept compromises that work smoothly if not perfectly. * Accept EU standards for chemicals and everything else — reinventing the CE mark is a total waste of time and a huge unnecessary expense for British industry. * Get business people the right to travel and work temporarily in the EU at any time. * Negotiate equivalence for services including accounting, insurance and the City. * Accept EU agricultural standards, which alone would burn tons of red tape in one giant bonfire.

And do all this quietly, efficiently and without wittering on about sovereignty.


My commonplace booklet


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