Monday 21 December, 2020

The key question about vaccines


Quote of the Day

In short, “neoliberalism” is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practise and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity.

  • Stephen Metcalf, Link

Ideology is what determines how you think when you don’t know you’re thinking.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Mozart | Exultate Jubilate | Regula Mühlemann Link

Long Read of the Day

Mutant coronavirus in the United Kingdom sets off alarms but its importance remains unclear

Terrifically calm and informative piece in Science summarising what is known just now about the new mutant strain of Covid-19 that has brought he UK to a juddering, isolated halt.

Last Writes

David Vincent’s final Covid-19 diary post of 2020

Early in the lockdown, David Vincent’s lovely book, A History of Solitude, was published. He’s also been contributing to a collective Covid Diary over the year. In his final post of the year, he observes how the incidence of loneliness, as measured by the Office of National Statistics, hasn’t varied much over the course of the pandemic, which is not something most of us would have predicted. “This stasis,” he writes, ” which contrasts so sharply with the switchback ride of government regulation, generates conclusions which may hold more broadly for the pandemic.”

Modern societies have developed a raft of techniques for exploiting the benefits of living alone and avoiding the worst of the pitfalls. In this regard as in so many others, Covid-19 struck a population full of resources built up amidst the consumer and communications revolutions in the modern era.

The second is that faced with a crisis for which no country was adequately prepared, individuals and social groups have proved far more adaptable than the arthritic structures of government. Community groups have come into being focusing on the needs of those suffering from the absence of company. Neighbours have looked out for neighbours with increased vigilance. And those most vulnerable have acquired new skills. As with so many of my generation I have gained a new mastery of Zoom and its rivals, without which my isolation from children and grandchildren would have been far more profound.

The third is that we live in time. Any experience, negative or otherwise, is conditioned by its duration. ‘One definition of loneliness’ I wrote in my book, ‘is that it is solitude that has continued for longer than was intended or desired.’ If there is no ending that we can see or control, then it becomes unbearable. With yesterday’s emergency Tier 4 lockdown, Christmas is going to be a trial for many separated families, despite the special dispensation to form a support bubble with others if ‘you are the only adult in your household’. But we do know that the vaccine is coming.

Light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe.

The threats to tear down the BBC have not gone away.

Great piece by Alan Rusbridger in today’s Guardian on the extraordinary, Murdoch-inspired, campaign to destroy the BBC.

It’s hard to know where to begin. Britain has, unusually, a highly polemical and often partisan press. Nothing wrong with that, so long as there is also a universally available source of news that aspires to be something different. Words such as impartial, fair, balanced and objective come to mind. Many people might not want to live in a country with the BBC as a sole source of news. An equal, or larger number, might not want Fleet Street to dominate the airwaves as well as the print and online spheres. The mix is all.

The timing of this debate is extraordinary. We are drowning in a world of information chaos, with many surveys showing a public no longer knowing who to trust. The middle of a pandemic, where real lives depend on the supply of widely available and reliable information, is an odd time to be playing up the possibility of destroying the very basis of our most used and trusted public service news source.

Cummings is on record as wanting more Fox News-style broadcasters in the UK. Yes, that’s the Fox News that dismissed Covid-19 as a hoax and slavishly parroted the White House line until the moment Murdoch decided to pull the plug on Trump himself. To replace the BBC with Fox News feels like a kind of national death wish.

The most recent Ofcom report into the BBC described an organisation still used by 90% of the population for news. Three-quarters of the users said it was important; 78% said it was high quality; 71% trustworthy. The corporation had, said Ofcom, responded “effectively and rapidly to Covid-19, additionally offering a significant amount of educational content to fill the gap when schools were closed”. There were zero breaches of the code requiring due impartiality or accuracy.

Rusbridger is right. The campaign against the BBC is like Trump’s against the New York Times. Clillingly documented by Patrick Barwise and Peter York in their book The War Against the BBC: How an Unprecedented Combination of Hostile Forces Is Destroying Britain’s Greatest Cultural Institution

Another, hopefully interesting, link

  •  The most-read Wikipedia page on each day of 2020. Link

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