Saturday 13 February, 2021

Trinity Hall at night.

Quote of the Day

”There are three roads to ruin — women, gambling and technicians. The most pleasant is women, the quickest is with gambling, but the surest is with technicians.”

  • President George Pompidou on technocrats.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Schubert | Trio op. 100 | Andante con moto


Three Covid anecdotes and a (tentative) conclusion

  1. From someone who flew from Ireland to Budapest the other day. The plane was packed. Social distancing was therefore non-existent. Almost nobody, except my informant, wore a mask. A young boy sitting in the aisle seat was having an argument with his sister, sitting in the opposite aisle seat. At one point the boy spat at his sister. Nobody batted an eye.

  2. RTE News reports that “A dental practice in Tenerife has stopped taking appointments from Irish patients after it experienced a surge in bookings in the past fortnight, only for some of the patients not to show up. It comes as the Police National Immigration Bureau at Dublin Airport reported that up to 40% of those travelling to sun destinations have letters for dental appointments. Clinica Dental in Southern Tenerife said it has received around five requests per day over the past two weeks from Irish people who were specifically looking for confirmation in writing of their appointments. The surgery’s Office Manager, Roberta Beccaris, told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne programme that she became suspicious when some of these patients, who she said were noticeably younger than their usual Irish customers, subsequently failed to show for the appointments. The national Police Commissioner has now said that “From this morning, we warn people that we do not regard a dentist’s appointment as a reasonable excuse to travel and that they may be prosecuted if they carry on with their journey.” Speaking on The Late Late Show, he said the €500 fine was not the deterrent the authorities thought it might be but “today we found that people have turned back rather than be prosecuted and risk imprisonment or a suspended sentence”.

  3. From an academic colleague currently in Bulgaria, where she has done some teaching at the University of Sofia. She was nonplussed to receive a call from the University offering her an immediate (and unsolicited) appointment for a Covid-19 vaccine jab. Given her relative youth — early 30s, I’d guess — she was surprised, given that priority was being given to older people and she hadn’t expected her name to come up for several months at least. So why had the appointment come so soon? The answer turned out to be that many senior professors at the university had refused to be vaccinated. On further investigation, it turns out that anti-vaxx propaganda is rife in Bulgaria and there is little or no central messaging from the government.

Now of course all of this is just anecdotal, but it seems to me that these stories help to explain why our societies are finding it so difficult to suppress the virus to the point where it’s under control. There are, I suspect, two main reasons for this:

  • the first is that many people have no choice but to expose themselves to risk if they are to keep their employment. For example, Irish workers employed as moderators for Facebook have been required to show up at the office every day, but have been forbidden by a Non-Disclosure Agreement from speaking to the Deputy Prime Minister about their working conditions. Millions of other workers have been forced to work in Covid-unsafe conditions either by financial need or bullying by employers.
  • the other reason is that many people don’t give a damn and are not prepared to have their freedoms curtailed by what they see as a nanny state.

Given that democracies have been trying to balance public health with preserving economic activity and some notion of civil liberties (together, perhaps, with fears that the state lacks the capacity for practical and remorseless enforcement of lockdowns), this virus is set to become endemic. And the corollary is that only authoritarian states have the capacity to get it under control.

The Dig – contd.

My naiveté about the Netflix film is a gift that keeps on giving. Anthony Barnett (Whom God Preserve), for example, thought I was too kind to the film.

Ralph Fiennes’s performance was marvellous and he had clearly studied the black and white films of Brown. I was willing to accept artistic license on the other characters although I thought (and Sheila Hayman confirms) that it was a lot of stereotyping. But what I thought was unforgivable was (not) showing the actual excavations of the treasure. It was all hauled out in one short sequence. There is a huge audience fascinated by restoration and excavation. We wanted to see the amazing face mask. This was apparently restored from hundreds of pieces. Were they large or tiny, were they together, did they realise what it was when they dug them up? How did they excavate the bracelets etc, we saw Brown himself being excavated – I powerful scene I thought and a metaphor for the film itself seeking to excavate him as the person who did the crucial work – but there wasn’t any equivalent on the actual discovery and unearthing of the objects. This is what I was really looking forward to seeing reconstructed and I found myself shouting at the screen in disappointment!

And Sheila Hayman returned to the fray:

Apparently the bike had the wrong kind of brakes, too . Shocking. Even the Spitfire was wrong. Shocking!

Climate change and pandemics – contd.

Further to the research paper I mentioned yesterday on the consequences of human destruction of wildlife habitats, Patrick O’Beirne sent me a link to a piece in Paris Match — and a translation of a relevant extract about the Nipah virus.

In 1998, a forest in Borneo is burnt to plant palm-oil trees, and indigenous bats have to flee from the flame and smoke. They fall back on Malaysia, land on mango trees for food, defecate on pigs raised under trees in an industrial manner. Via the pigs, the workers are contaminated — even in the slaughterhouses located in… Singapore! Result: 105 deaths out of 265 infected people, and the slaughter of more than 1 million pigs to stop the epidemic.

And the moral: Bats are not inherently dangerous; they become dangerous if they are dislodged — which is what humans are doing. It’s depressingly obvious, really.

Long Read of the Day

 Can Capitalist Democracy Survive? 

Good question. Great essay by Bill Janeway.

For two generations after World War II, the constructive coexistence of capitalism and democracy was largely taken for granted in developed countries – including the former Axis powers. This deep-seated complacency was reinforced by the collapse of the Soviet Union. But the 2008 global financial crisis put an end to faith in the supposed inevitability of liberal economics and democratic politics.

To those who were paying attention, signs of an emerging discontinuity between market capitalism and representative democracy were already evident in the later decades of the twentieth-century. The digital revolution had ushered in another wave of globalization, opening and expanding markets in capital, goods, and services – including labor services – while also incrementally transforming the nature of work (like every wave of technological innovation before it). At the same time, China, after 1979, began to demonstrate the effectiveness of an alternative system of authoritarian capitalism.

100 Not Out! — my lockdown diary, is out as a Kindle book. You can get it here

Webinar next Thursday (February 18): Can Democracy Keep Pace with Digital Technology?

Joshua Fairfield on his new book: Runaway Technology: Can Law Keep Up? in conversation with Julia Powles and Simon Deakin

Open to all: Book here.

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