Sunday 17 January, 2021

Kubler-Ross, grief and the virus

Watching people’s responses to, and thinking about, the pandemic what often comes to mind is Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s model of the ‘five stages of grief’ which postulates that those experiencing grief go through a series of five emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Over the years there’s been much debate about the model with critics lining up to point out that there’s little empirical evidence for it etc. My feeling, as someone who has lived through a bereavement, is that it’s useful not as a model but as a metaphor.

In that sense, I’ve seen something of each stage in people’s responses to the Covid virus in the last year.

(a) Denial This was much in evidence in Boris Johnson’s ludicrous Greenwich speech of February 3, 2020. Here’s the passage I had particularly in mind, verbatim:

We are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.

And here in Greenwich in the first week of February 2020, I can tell you in all humility that the UK is ready for that role.

We are ready for the great multi-dimensional game of chess in which we engage in more than one negotiation at once and we are limbering up to use nerves and muscles and instincts that this country has not had to use for half a century.

(b) Anger All you have to look for is the rage that ran through right-wing regimes on both sides of the Atlantic against the ‘China virus’ and the defeatism of governments who were afraid to let it rip until the magical properties of ‘herd immunity’ wold manifest themselves, enabling Supermen Johnson and Trump to emerge from their phone booths to vanquish the Oriental plague. (En passant one wonders how many people under the age of 20 know what a phone booth is — except perhaps as the Tardis in Dr Who.) Remember Trump’s rage when it dawned on him that the virus might adversely affect his chances of re-election.

(c) Bargaining Here we come to the discussions about the trade-off between the economic and other costs of lockdowns. How much lockdown would people stand, and stand for? How could it be enforced if people revolted? Would the hypocrisy displayed by Dominic Cummings’s testing his eyesight in Northumberland be widely replicated? And so on. The talk was all about costs and benefits.

(d) Depression Now widespread, despite the availability of vaccines, because of the dawning realisation that this virus, like all viruses, understands neither borders nor economics.

(e) Acceptance We’re nowhere near that yet. People still haven’t grasped that there’s no going back to the way we were. That past is indeed a different country. It’s also a country that was heading straight for climate catastrophe. So every time someone talks about a “return to growth” you know that the reality of what lies ahead hasn’t yet been appreciated. The only kind of growth worth having post-pandemic is a greener, carbon-neutral one. And the only question worth asking is: could we create such a future?

Quote of the Day

“When’s the game itself going to begin?”

  • Groucho Marx, while watching cricket at Lord’s

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Martin Hayes and the Gloaming | The Sailor’s Bonnet | Live


The Gloaming is IMHO the most interesting group to emerge in Ireland in recent years. The Sailor’s Bonnet is the third tune of a famous medley by Sligo fiddler Michael Coleman (1891-1945).

The silencing of Trump has highlighted the authoritarian power of tech giants

My Observer column this morning. The US president’s ban has sparked a furious debate about online opinion, but it’s part of a bigger conversation.

What was missing from the discourse was any consideration of whether the problem exposed by the sudden deplatforming of Trump and his associates and camp followers is actually soluble – at least in the way it has been framed until now. The paradox that the internet is a global system but law is territorial (and culture-specific) has traditionally been a way of stopping conversations about how to get the technology under democratic control. And it was running through the discussion all week like a length of barbed wire that snagged anyone trying to make progress through the morass.

All of which suggests that it’d be worth trying to reframe the problem in more productive ways…

Do read the whole thing

Trump, sellotape and the documentary record

The Guardian has a story about the documentary record of Trump’s presidency which won’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention for the last four years.

The public will not see Donald Trump’s White House records for years, but there is growing concern the collection will never be complete – leaving a hole in the history of one of America’s most tumultuous presidencies.

Trump has been cavalier about the law requiring that records be preserved. He has a habit of ripping up documents before tossing them out, forcing White House workers to spend hours taping them back together.

White House staff quickly learned about Trump’s disregard for documents as they witnessed him tearing them up and discarding them. “My director came up to me and said, ‘You have to tape these together,’” said Solomon Lartey, a former White House records analyst.

The first document he taped back together was a letter from Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, about a government shutdown. “They told Trump to stop doing it. He didn’t want to stop.”

Lartey said the White House chief of staff’s office told the president that the documents were considered presidential records and needed to be preserved by law. About 10 records staff ended up on Scotch tape duty, starting with Trump’s first days in the White House through at least mid-2018.

Truly, you couldn’t make it up. Trump didn’t read much, but whenever he did he then tore up the document. But because the toothless Presidential Records Act stipulates that every document touched by the President must be preserved, the waste-paper bins were searched every night for fragments and shipped over the sellotape squad.

Fortunately, the Donald J Trump Presidential Library is now available on the Web. It’s well worth a visit. In fact it’s unmissable. For admission, click here. And don’t forget to sign the Visitor’s Book — if you can find one.

Revealed: Tory MPs and commentators who joined banned app Parler

Lovely piece of reporting by Mark Townsend.

At least 14 Conservative MPs, including several ministers, cabinet minister Michael Gove and a number of prominent Tory commentators joined Parler, the social media platform favoured by the far right that was forced offline last week for hosting threats of violence and racist slurs.

Parler was taken offline after Amazon Web Services pulled the plug last Sunday, saying violent posts and racist threats connected to the recent attack on the US Capitol violated its terms.

Analysts from the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) said that Parler had become a platform where the ideas of mainstream Conservative MPs coalesced with those of extremists.

Amazing! Who knew? Tory MPs’ views coalescing with those of extremists. Surely it’s the other way round?

Other, hopefully interesting, links

  • We fail to understand exponential growth at our peril. Or why new variants could change everything — and sooner than we think. Link
  • Lost passwords lock millionaires out of their Bitcoin fortunes. Fascinating NYT report. Stefan Thomas, a programmer living in San Francisco, has two guesses left to figure out a password that is worth, as of this week, about $220 million. The password will let him unlock a small hard drive, known as an IronKey, which contains the private keys to a digital wallet that holds 7,002 Bitcoin. Link
  • Pro Golf Finally Cancels Donald Trump. The PGA of America, announced that it was cancelling its plans to hold the 2022 PGA Championship at Trump’s New Jersey golf course. Not to be outdone, the Royal & Ancient, the fusty custodian of the British Open and of golf outside of the US, announced that it will avoid using Trump’s Scottish golf course, Turnberry, for the “forseeable future” for any of its championships. Couldn’t happen to a nastier guy. Link.

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