Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website, www.rhysy.net



Tuesday, 5 January 2021

A Corona Christmas Carol

One of those rare, "yes, an actual blog post !" posts that's not about science or philosophy and will have an absolute bare minimum of politics.

I love Christmas. Christmas is a time to be jolly, and holly, and... other things ending in olly. Christmas is a reassuring rock of tradition in a sea of confusion. A few months ago, it looked like it might just be possible to have my traditional family Christmas, but it soon became clear that that wasn't going to happen. Our decision not to travel was, needless to say, undoubtedly the right one.

To be honest an entire year alone in the jungles of Puerto Rico would have driven me to despair. A year in Prague ? Not so much. In fact, by staying safely within our cosy little bubble, we managed to have an effin' lovely Christmas.

Actually, we put the decorations up in late November. Again. Last year we did this on the grounds that we'd only just bought them and we'd only be here for part of December. This year we did it because we wanted 2020 to be over all the sooner. The doggies seemed to appreciate it; we covered the tree in tinsel until we could barely see it (still not enough, so we ordered more but it never arrived !) and tree chocolates, and Shirley even found crackers. Perfect.



Oh... and we also had a lot of alcohol. A lot.

The Czech Republic has this bizarre scheme to give a small part of the salary back as meal vouchers. Why, I've not a clue. But they expire at the end of each calendar year and by the start of December I realised I'd accumulated 57 of them, worth 5,130 CZK : about £180, and food money goes a long way here. One of the consequences of this was that we got a 4 kg goose (that's more than the combined weight of both the dogs and considerably tastier) for the grand sum of 85 CZK (£3). Yes, £1 buys more than 1lb of goose. Ridiculous.

And so, in the end, we had a fabulously traditional Christmas that just wasn't where we were expecting it to be. Our neighbour came over for Christmas dinner the night before, and then we opened presents in the morning and watched the Muppet's Christmas Carol twice. Twice ! I mean, come on. If you can't appreciate the Muppet's Christmas Carol then you have no soul and are a pretty poor excuse for a human being, in my book. And we did a Lord of the Rings marathon, which I was sort of hoping to avoid this year because I watch it ever year and don't want to spoil it, but seen as how the year had been infinitely worse than usual this decision never stood much of a chance. And even after seeing it a billion times, it still gives me goose bumps. No other movie does that.


Of course the reality is that we're fabulously lucky. Other major crises have seen people march off to grim death in a muddy wasteland, but all society is asking of us is to stay at home. Fair enough if your job is at risk*, but if you're complaining because you can't go outside, you can sod off, thanks.

* Or indeed if you're suffering in any other way through no fault of your own. You can, and should, absolutely protest for better conditions. Just stop voting Tory though, mmkay ? You know, for the rich people only interested in lining their own pockets ? It would help, is all. Just sayin'. 

So screw you, pandemic. You've forced me to stay inside in my lovely snug flat underneath a Christmas tree with two cuddly doggies and a mountain of chocolate and a goose you could clobber someone with. Things could be a hell of a lot worse, and for all that 2020 is a shitty year, it's by no means the worst in living memory. Not even close.

Then Shirley got a big promotion and this was the result.

Really should have held out on that LOTR marathon. Ah well, there's always next year. But Aliens looks bloody fantastic with 4k upscaling from blu-ray and an ambilight creating a pseudo-disco background. That's the lifestyle of a big-shot HR project manager, I guess.


So all is well in the land of Rhysy. Of course, all is not well elsewhere. Both the Czech and British governments have done a singularly awful job of managing the pandemic and shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. Look, it shouldn't be this difficult. Other countries have managed to turn the tide, and indeed, the Czechs succeeded in keeping it at a manageable level for some months. 

Then they got complacent and things exploded.

Surely by now we know enough to tackle this more sensibly. So far as I can tell this involves :

  • Lockdown hard or not at all. Scrap the ridiculous tiering system or reduce it to two levels : hard or severe restrictions. There's no point in doing this softly-softly, that doesn't do anything. Compensate all those who cannot work from home or who are forced not to work at all. Lockdowns, though, are a means to an end, not a solution in themselves, so :
  • Use the lockdowns to develop a proper, localised track-and-trace system, emphasising the need for backwards tracing to find the super spreaders. Learn from the Eastern countries which have managed to do this.
  • Focus on the positive percent rate of tests and follow the WHO advice not to ease restrictions until it's below 5%. Stop easing restrictions - I mean, completely stop any kind of easing whatsoever - when it drops, say, from 45 to 35%, which is what the Czech approach seems to be. The higher the positive rate, the higher the number of undetected cases and the more out of control the situation is. A huge number of undetected cases is better than an enormous number of undetected cases but it's still awful.
When it comes to people whining about civil liberties, I say fuck 'em. If you had to face closer monitoring for a few months in order to prevent 75,000 people (in the UK so far) from being wiped out by an asteroid, or shot by an invading army, of course you'd do it. You wouldn't hesitate. People would look at you like you'd gone mad if you suggested otherwise. It shouldn't be any different just because this is a slower burn.

Of course, I can't end on a negative note, so I'll finish by pointing out that my hypothetical path to a better future is, quite remarkably, well on course. America has indeed elected Biden and resistance has been all but negligible and completely pointless. We haven't really found a way of living with the virus, but the vaccine has been put in production much sooner than expected, so that works too. And we have, as I predicted months ago (even when everyone else was insisting otherwise) got a Brexit deal, even if a daft one - that's still better than none at all. It turns out that all the childish grandstanding really was just petty brinkmanship after all.

And one other thing has happened that came sooner than I dared hope was reasonably possible : Cummings has gone. Now, the Brexit deal may have given the Tories a bump in the polls, but I see no reason this won't collapse. Labour has climbed back well into the realm of electorally-competitive sanity (sorry Frankie Boyle : a boring leader is exactly what we need right now), and frankly, if the UK elects this farce beyond farce of a government again, given that it now faces a thoroughly sensible opposition, then it fully deserves to sink into the sea. But it won't. As David Attenborough says, what use is crying in a corner ? No ! Despair is the worse and most dangerous luxury of all. Go and do something, even if that only means raising awareness. Keep the faith : a better world is possible.

(Link if uplifting embedded video doesn't work)


3 comments:

  1. Re: lockdowns, two studies came out recently:
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/eci.13484
    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2020.604339/full
    Seems "not at all" is better than hard.

    As for liberties, I have to disagree a bit there. Its always a dangerous path when the state gets stronger, and so rare for any of that to be reversed. The UK has seen some terrible police brutality in the 1st lockdown, and is seeing more horrors now, that sort of policing (especially the Met's TSG) does not belong in a democratic society. Liberty is worth taking risks for, and life as a whole really needs to be about enjoyment, not just continued existance. There is more to life than just avoiding death, especially for the elderly who are close to death anyway and would rather enjy the limited time they have left than spend it alone in misery, or the young who are at minimal risk from the virus, but face a lifetime of lost opportunities due to the costs of lockdowns.

    https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/covid19/2020/12/14/for-the-middle-aged-by-the-middle-aged-how-the-responses-to-covid-have-ignored-the-preferences-of-those-most-affected/

    and also, https://lockdownsceptics.org/lest-we-forget-life-is-not-non-death/, this one is undoubtedly a biased source, but the it makes some interesting philosophical points

    I can certainly agree that the UK government has massively *ocked up on the 2nd and 3rd bullet points, they've had SO MUCH TIME NOW, and still haven't managed to do anything like:
    1.properly upping hospital capacity,
    2.working out how to keep as many medical personnel working as possible (a big part of the problem is making healthy staff isolate with, often false, positive tests, even if asymptomatic cases are transmissible, which seems quite unlikely in the light of recent studies, infected but well-feeling staff could still help on covid wards,

    continued next post...

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    Replies
    1. further from last post:
      3.working on making sure tests are actually reliable,
      4.gaining a better understanding of how the virus is really spreading,
      5.proper infection control in the hospitals (so much spread appears to be there rather than in the community),
      6.getting a wider pool of experts in to advise them on full costs-and-benefits of each policy option,
      7.avoiding introducing the virus in to the most vulnerable populations *they shipped infected hospital patients to carehomes!)...
      The WHO has said in autumn that lockdowns are effective only in making the poor poorer, and suggested they only be used as a last resort to buy time (in the light of more recent evidence they might not help that either), but with all the time in and out of lockdowns the UK government could have done infinitely better than they have. They've had a whole sumemr and autumn to prepare for the fact that respiratory viruses love winter, they love it even more when people are forced indoors mroe where sutffy air lets them circulate most efficiently, to prepare a health infrastructure good enough to cope and let the country keep running normally, they've known that the NHS always has bad winters (due to chronic underfunding of frontline staff and expansion of back-office bureacracy). They spent most of early autumn betting everything on a mass testing idea, one which most scientists condemned on account of the fact it would take twice as much resources as the whole NHS and that it would be dogged by false positives. They spent late autumn on "firebreak" lockdowns which can be seen not to have worked. They've spent the whole pandemic betting our entire future on the vaccine turning up swiftly, its early arrival is a welcome change from all their other policy blunders, but it would have made more sense to adopt a way of getting back normal with the vaccine as a complimentary part to the strategy, not being so dependent upon it being ready when it was. The amount they've spent on useless programmes of look-busy activity* could have provided hundreds of thousands of pounds of personalised support to EVERY vulnerable person in the UK if a more Great Barrington like method had been pursued, and if it had been worked out early and properly prepared.

      *especially proposals with grand names, expensive feasibility studies, then fading to nothing

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    2. I will try and return to the links as and when time permits. Suffice to say for now that it would take a great deal to persuade me that lockdowns either don't work or are a bad idea. I think the evidence is pretty overwhelming on this point; they don't work only if they're insufficient and/or improperly enforced (a "firebreak" style approach is useless if ended too soon, as the Welsh one was).

      The question of lives or liberty ought to always be a difficult one. Liberty is important. But who can have liberty if they don't have life ? And the situation of choosing "my life or my liberty", i.e. voluntarily accepting risk only to oneself, is starkly different from "my liberty or someone else's life", i.e. the risk comes to someone potentially far down a chain as a direct result of one's own actions.

      Will try and address this properly at some future point though...

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