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Showing posts from March, 2020

On the value of reading during a global pandemic

On the value of reading during a global pandemic

Though it save no life
passes time
that could be wasted
with Money Heist
or Tiger King
on Netflix; or fear

or breaking the law
with walking twice
the same day. To read
is to return
to somewhere never gone
or only in memory;

it is a home abroad,
a power without pain.
Libraries are banks
that never drain away
their fiscal strength;
a book is a mile

of miles at a single length.
You may start Sir Browne
and die before the Urne;
no holiday ends
too late; life is brevity,
reading infinite. We skim

the stone of ourselves
upon the surface of time
like a meteor burning
as it skips the skin of space.
We hold a place
to return again. But even

entering the waves once
permits the wetting sea
to begin.  Death is omnipresent,
gasping at medics
like a vicious shark; they lean
in to serve, are swallowed

themselves by dark.
Though lovers break orders
to couple danger in the park.
Open any volume, intake
the giving breath of a moment
whose endless living

is language’s flowing monument.
No consolati…

17,000 CASES

It gives me no pleasure, in my weekly weekend update on the Covid-19 pandemic, to say that what I predicted last Sunday - that we would see 15,000 cases by 29 March, and at least 700 deaths - is to be the tragic case.
Readers of this blog will know that I also stated that if we saw such a steep increase we could assume the curve was rising, precipitously. It raises the question, why did the government not put us into lockdown a week earlier?

Unfortunately, the number of UK deaths currently stands, on the 28th of March, at 1,019, and there are 17,089 recorded cases.

A new study suggests that the worst of this nightmare will be over on April 5th, Palm Sunday, with the peak declining thereafter, due to the social distancing having taken effect by then.

I hope this is so, though this optimistic new study suggests less than 6,000 deaths will occur in the UK, a hopeful outcome that is belied by the Birmingham airport being repurposed as a mass morgue. If the UK needs ten new 'Nightingale…

Neo-romantic poem

I am exploring a neo-romantic style of poem, simpler and more expressive, of late, partially inspired by recent German writers, and the events that have changed the world as much or more than the French revolution. Here is a new poem in this style.

I saw my first flower today
not only of this spring
but ever
as this time my eye
saw at once
what might never be
seen later if I might die
the next day
as the time is fast
coming of a blight
so the red rippling
flew out at me
like a wild thing
so enraged with living
it seemed no cage
could keep such a tiger in.


ts
26 March, 2020
London

FALL OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE

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I have been watching the dawning, infuriatingly slow wake-up call Covid-19 has been for many Americans these past few weeks... as the Washington Post editorial goes, this pandemic will strip the United States of any pretence to normalcy or capability. Trump is one man, but he represents something the land of the free has indulged for decades now - a willingness to ignore science, fact, and reality, for pure partisan ideology and bias.

This emotive, irrational and blind behaviour, aided and abetted by the right-wing, often religious TV and radio media and latterly, the amoral nihilistic Silicon valley companies, literally recreated a biblical-level-event Babel. Since America is ludicrously rich and powerful, it has had much capital to spend, even waste.

But it has been too intellectually and morally profligate, and now has a gutted and aberrant leadership, unable to form coherent, rational plans, and project determined, sane orders outwards, to change and ameliorate the real world. Genui…

AHEAD OF THE CURVE

The laws announced in a dramatic speech last night at 8.30 pm live on BBC television by PM Boris Johnson are the most astonishing ever, in a UK context. The history of Britain, since Magna Carta at least, has never witnessed such draconian measures; indeed, not even the most fevered of ancient kings would have imagined ordering EVERYONE to stay indoor for 3 weeks, under penalty of sanction.

That these laws do not go far enough, in this blog's opinion, is a measure of just how serious the current global pandemic is. Indeed, it is of grave concern, now that cases are arriving in Africa, that death rates have been so high in Italy - a country with superb health care. The concern for all humane persons must be what such a deadly virus could do on a continent with far fewer hospital beds or ventilators per capita than Europe, which is itself stressed to breaking point, with many healthcare workers themselves dying from Covid-19.

Those who deny or diminish the dangers of this novel virus …

OVER 5,000 CASES

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This is my weekly summary of the pandemic, from a London perspective. My poem in the previous post expresses a sense of the emotions and images of the time.

Here I just want to add that, unfortunately, what I wrote last Sunday is mostly accurate:

If we have 5,000 cases in a week, and 500 deaths, we will know we are on a very bad path, and closer to the 'Italy scenario' than thought.

Today, there are just over 5,000 reported cases in the United Kingdom; and over 230 deaths. The good news, such as it is, if one can use such empty phrases, is that the death rate is not as high as Italy's, though it is being recorded as 4.6%, a naïve number. There are probably at least 50,000 unreported infections now in the community, so the death rate is likely closer to .5% - still no comfort for the one in 200 people who will die this year because of the virus. If 80% are infected, that will be over 2 million of us in the UK.

By March 29, on current form, there will, sadly, be over 15,000 repo…

poem on mothering sunday

THAT TIME REMEMBERED


Something about duty, about going into the sun
As if it was rare; something about not enough
Of basic things, too much information;
A recollection of locks, distance, and crowds
In parks as if they were safer. A sense the young
Were careless, indifferent, as they always are;
The old preparing for what they knew happens;
A time of waiting, as if the air raid sirens


Had just begun, but the shelters hadn’t yet
Flung open. Something else, connected to being
Apart, a decision we made to come together,
A grander union, after division bells, local anger;
Seriousness at a level you could hear in a stadium,
But they were shut. The image of someone holding
A pint glass, laughing at the figures on the telly;
Stocking up on boxed sets, brown rice, macaroni;


Wondering if the straps of your mask were right;
That clutching in the chest like holding on
To your last belongings; a gust of fight or flight.
More dying than had to, but that’s politics,
A retired nurse leaning over with exhausted fear,
Back…

OVER 1,372 CASES

A week ago, last Sunday, I wrote the following prediction of a worst case for the UK:

'Viruses peak, so we may expect a rapid acceleration of cases - maybe 1000 by Mothering Sunday in a fortnight in Britain; and 34 deaths. Any higher number so soon would be worse case bad.'

A fortnight is two weeks, but here we are, 7 days later, with 1,372 cases and 35 deaths. If we have 5,000 cases in a week, and 500 deaths, we will know we are on a very bad path, and closer to the 'Italy scenario' than thought.

It is obvious there is a scientific debate of unusual urgency and impact unfolding, here in Britain, as the PM's chief scientific advisors opt for less agressive containment measures than their counterparts on the continent have gone for - Germany, Italy, Denmark, and France, are in various stages of lockdown - the thought of all cafes and restaurants in France closed is strikingly poignant - not even the Nazi invasion managed that.

This is now humanity's World War 3 - a …

poem

I first published this 15 years ago on this blog (in 2005)… eerily prescient...

The Shape of Things to Come

Resembles a triumphant trump of doom;
Is like a hollow room; a horn of plenty;
A ballerina’s shoe; a house in Hooville,
Like a devil’s mouse; a bang-
Drum, a pirate drunk on deadman’s

Rum; like a broken broom used to brush
Away the webs from day-dreaming boys
In a math exam; like a rack of lamb;
A donut convention; a depleted pension;
Like the sort of position churchmen don’t

Like to mention; is shaped like a poem,
Mute and dumb; like a big bronze bell
Held by a handlebar-moustachioed strongman

THE UK GOVERNMENT IS WRONG IN HOW THEY ARE HANDLING THE PANDEMIC - AND IT WILL KILL MILLIONS

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When a brilliant scientist like John Ashton says the government's Covid-19 strategy is wrong, you should sit up and listen. See his bio below (note he is not the author of this editorial).

Today, the top scientist in Boris's circle of boffins, 'Sir Patrick', said he was comfortable with 60% of the UK population getting the disease - because we need 'herd immunity' and that it will 'return annually' and that 'it can't be stopped'. All of these comments should get him replaced immediately. Consider if your top general announced the enemy could not be defeated?

You'd fire him. More seriously, this almost inhumanely-cold approach (reminiscent of notorious mid-century experiments on large populations) takes for granted that 1% of the population will (must) die for this 'herding' to work... that's giving up on upwards of half a million people in the most threatened categories in the UK alone...

This extraordinary idea - to let the vir…

THE COMING STORM

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Readers of this blog will know that, over the years, we have made a few predictions of war, or collapse, or doom, and they have not always panned out - though we did predict that Trump would win in 2016, and we suspect (sadly) he may beat Biden or Bernie later in 2020. But nothing in our experience since this blog began 15 or so years ago - a time that has seen exponential scientific, cultural and political change with the digital explosion, global warming crisis, and rise of populism - is as serious as the current imminent pandemic, Covid-19.

Many Brits adopt a stiff-upper-lip attitude, and Trump downplays the danger, but Covid-19 is not 'just a bad flu'; indeed, it is more like the more ruthless and effective brother of SARS. In today's Daily Telegraph (often a denier of scientific scare-mongering) one of the world's leading experts, a scientist in charge of developing the British vaccine push, says it scares him more than Ebola (which is hardly a friendly disease), a…