On lockdowns

I didn’t want my first post since my return to this blog to be about Covid-19 but here it is anyway.

What I’m going to talk about is something that pretty much everybody is chewing over, and that’s the topic of more fucking lockdown measures and rules. A few disclaimers before I get going though. Firstly, I smile when people in my country (the UK) use the term “lockdown” and cry about how difficult the spring/summer were for the country. Yes, it was shit and, yes, reality has been altered for the worse in every way, but I would hardly describe what we had as a REAL lockdown. I see what happened in other, more authoritarian countries (maybe some of you reading this are familiar with it) and said, “THAT’s a lockdown.”

The second disclaimer is that I’m not trying to promote money or business above lives. This post will have an anti-lockdown flavour but be more focused on the bigger, more uncomfortable picture, and some questions that I have. I’ve heard a lot of calls for another lockdown to contain this second wave of cases – people in support of tightening the leash once again. I could get into the discussion about willingly handing over our rights and freedoms to people who certainly don’t care about preserving or restoring them, but I won’t because that’s a different can of worms for a different time.

The observation that I DO want to make however, is that the people who strongly support such a course of action are the people who aren’t likely to be affected by economic disaster. Scientists won’t be put out of a job. Ditto for the government and MPs. And the civilians being vocal about shutting everything down again are those in middle/high tier jobs that can comfortably work from home with laptops, video conferencing and all that stuff. Unfortunately, not everybody is able to enjoy such occupations and the larger safety nets that come with them. If you work in a shop or the hospitality sector, further lockdowns could mean the end of your employment. The government dished out some bloody generous financial aid earlier in the year that kept such business afloat and countless jobs secure, but the magic money pit isn’t bottomless. Furlough schemes have long since stopped paying 100% of wages for example, and there will certainly come a point where the flow of “free” money simply dries up. Businesses are already going under and unemployment is already rising.

But there are those in well-paid office jobs working from home who couldn’t care less about that. It’s not them that will lose their jobs or be directly affected. “Tough titty,” they think. “It’s their fault for not having a better career,” they say. Likewise, the people in government making these decisions won’t have to worry about paying the bills. For anybody living from paycheck to paycheck, with little savings in the bank, and no way of transferring themselves into a different, more secure field of work, these are incredibly stressful and unsettling times.

It’s not my intention to divert onto an us-versus-them rant because that doesn’t solve anything, and it’s a lack of unity amongst us as human beings (push all that class nonsense aside) that historically causes most problems, but it would be a nice thing if the more affluent members of society remembered that the people working in warehouses, the retail sector, and hospitality venues are crucial cogs in the economic machine. I saw it during the initial lockdown period in the summer while working in the wholesale sector: well-off people having a blast, being paid 100% of their wages to have barbeque after barbeque, and guzzle crates of alcohol. There was a definite divide between the haves (said customers) and the have-nots (those of us still working to keep everybody else going, despite the threat of the virus in the workplace, and the rotten attitudes of customers). It should be noted that I didn’t mind the work as it gave me an ongoing routine and sense of normality as well as job security, but I witnessed bitter attitudes from co-workers not happy about others being paid by their employers to relax in their gardens, eat food, and drink, drink, drink.

I can’t lie: I too was guilty of the occasional flash of resentment, largely due to the fact that work was busier than ever, we were getting a heap of abuse from non-compliant customers due to stock shortages and restrictions, and I genuinely felt ill through the stress of it all at times. But, all of that said, I couldn’t blame the others. After all, would anybody say “no” to being paid in full to stay off work and just chill out?

But, now, I get the sense that those capable of working from home – and those whose employers won’t go out of business as a result of new restrictions – would happily support another lockdown, even if it means job losses. I have read comments online from people who claim they are sick of bars, restaurants, and retail outlets complaining about the fact that they will go under if their doors must once again close. To me, it’s a very narrow-minded and ignorant attitude to take for I’m sure that these same people would see things very differently if they were forced to switch places. Thinking, “Ah well, sucks to be them” when another business goes under – taking hundreds or thousands of low-skilled jobs with it – isn’t actually very intelligent. We all saw what happened in 2008 with the banking crisis and the resulting cataclysmic domino effect. And it’s with this point that I will move away from people’s attitudes, and onto the topic of whether another full-fat lockdown is actually a good idea.

The scientists are saying that it is the most effective way – the only way – of dealing with a Covid-19 resurgence, and that we only have to look into our history at previous pandemics (the Bubonic Plague, Spanish Flu, Cholera etc.) to see that this is how those diseases were stopped. But I don’t see how the same approach can be so easily applied to the world in 2020. We are so globalised now, and the world economy is ridiculously fragile – far more so than it was hundreds of years ago. The slightest imbalance or sudden shift in demand for a product/service can send huge, damaging ripples through the markets and trigger a mind-blowing butterfly effect that can grow exponentially and cause untold damage further down the domino chain.

But I’m putting business in front of lives again, aren’t I? Well, you can look at it that way, and I can’t blame you for seeing it like that. I guess there’s no way around it.

However, I believe that we will reach a point where we can no longer avoid the possibility that Covid-19 will never go away. Covid-19 is a Coronavirus (many mistakenly refer to the former as the latter), and do you know what else is a part of the Coronavirus family? The common cold. I’m not at all playing down Covid-19, but think about it: colds never go away. There is no cure for them (due to how quickly they mutate and shift forms) and they stay with us all year. For more dangerous examples of a Coronavirus, see SARS and MERS, two more diseases that have no vaccine for either the treatment or prevention of infections. So it seems crazy that the world is banking on a forthcoming vaccine to bring all of this to a neat end. I just don’t believe that there will be a vaccine for Covid-19, or else it would have been possible to vaccinate against SARS, MERS and colds by now.

And without a vaccine, and an inevitable dehydration of financial handouts, I believe that we will ultimately be forced to try and return to normal because there will be no other choice. Lockdowns will temporarily suppress the virus but it only stalls infections. As the T-101 stated in Terminator 3, “You only postponed it. Judgment Day is inevitable.” Unless it can be 100% eradicated, then it will never go away. If even a single person remains infected with Covid-19 (and that is inevitable given how many asymptomatic cases there are), it will simply once again spread out into the community, just as it did when the first infected individual set foot on the doorstep of a Covid-free country and set it loose when this all began in the first place.

A functioning vaccine is the only the way but – as I have just pointed out – based on the evidence that no previous Coronavirus has been successfully vaccinated against, should we really be putting so many eggs in that basket?

Otherwise, we will soon not have the luxury of hiding away and keeping everywhere closed. Not unless we wish to face mass unemployment and the dire social, economic, and mental consequences that such a scenario would entail. And the thing is, unemployment is a much bigger issue than many believe. For starters, you can forget the stats and figures that governments and their agencies put out as they are so skewed by false reporting, technicalities, zero-hours contracts, and a host of other variables.

Travel back in time hundreds or even thousands of years, and you would find that the majority of people’s jobs were classed as essential. Farming, warfare, construction, the manufacturing of clothes – all of these were essential jobs that needed to be done. Fast-forward to the modern day, and so many of us work in utterly non-essential industries and service sectors that have nothing to do with basic living and basic survival. Anything to do with leisure, entertainment, the arts, non-food retail, hospitality, travel, e-commerce and much, much more…all of it absolutely non-essential if an economic situation is so bleak that paying the bills, keeping a roof over your head, and eating are the only things that matter. Our ancestors probably could weather quarantines as they were a) more self-sufficient b) less reliant on income from non-essential trade and c) not living in such complex and easily damaged economies.

To that end, anybody currently working in a non-essential role can consider themself “unemployed”, since a major disaster will render all of those jobs irrelevant and all of the people in them with no income. And it isn’t as if they could all suddenly transfer into essential jobs because the sheer volume of roles isn’t there, and the population of working-age people is much too large versus that of our ancient ancestors.

I’m not proclaiming to have the answers but I am concerned that the world seems to be going all-in on the vaccine solution when there is ample reason to suggest that a truly effective vaccine will not be possible. In the meantime, there will be tough choices to make if we wish to strike a balance between protecting ourselves and protecting our ability to keep a roof above our head.

Bullshit News: Sex = Banned

Honestly, I’d hoped not to ever revive the Bullshit News series, as I don’t enjoy watching it anymore, let alone commentating on the latest outrage or twisted facts. Unfortunately, there is an excess of fuel for the bullshit furnace thanks to the biggest topic of 2020. Particularly here, in the UK. Have you seen our hypocritical, self-contradicting shambles of a government? We haven’t fought our way to the top-tier of the Covid-19 death league table by fluke, you know.

The latest? Sex is banned – apparently. That’s how the outraged mob on social media are spinning it anyway. The government didn’t actually come out and SAY that, though. What actually happened was that a new regulation was passed in order to control people’s movement under an easing of lockdown restrictions. So now you can meet up with people – to socialise – outside of your household…as long as you remain outside and two metres apart of course. The outrage stems from the fact that couples not living together can now finally see each other, but they aren’t permitted to make physical contact.

In reality, nothing has changed. However, people have been riled-up by the fact that the new regulation specifically forbids people from having private gatherings, of two or more people, indoors. This specific clause has sparked considerable public anger, simply because it didn’t exist before. However, it didn’t need to exist before. After all, we were instructed to stay in our homes unless it was absolutely essential to leave i.e. for food or work (if you were unable to work from home and weren’t furloughed), so we weren’t really permitted to go and enter other people’s houses anyway. Beyond all the bluster about sex being banned, nothing has really changed. There has actually been a loosening so, if you were being a good lil’ egg and staying away from your partner, you can now physically see them. The new rule has been brought in to prevent people from skipping the (hopefully) forthcoming future easing of distancing.

As usual, the media has transformed yet another distancing rule into an outrage-inducing headline to whip up a controversy and generate ad revenue, viewing figures, and newspaper sales.

Now, all of that said, does that mean that I’m in favour of this continued clamp-down on humanity? Fuck no. If you’re married, or living with a partner, then you’re probably laughing at a sex “ban”. “Sucks to be them” and all that. It’s not so great for those of us who aren’t locked-down with our significant other, though. And I’m not just talking about being denied the main course – I’m talking about not even being able to show regular affection, such as kissing, hugging, or holding hands. I know it’s easy to overplay these things (especially if you aren’t an especially affectionate person), but it’s also easy to take them for granted.

As I said in my last post, any measures that take away our humanity must be regarded with extreme caution. That doesn’t mean that I think we should decide for ourselves that the virus has gone and just do whatever the fuck we want (that’s just dumb, and a direct insult to those who have died or are fighting the virus in our hospitals), but we need to keep a close eye on the status of our freedoms and what the government is doing with them.

And I haven’t even got to the bullshit yet. Oh, no. So far I’ve discussed how people have taken the new regulations out of context. I’ve touched on how the news media have twisted the information to play the public like a fiddle, and get them foaming at the mouth. And I’ve talked about how frustrating it is for couples living apart. But all of that is poodle poop compared to the steaming mountain of elephant crap that comes next, and it ties into the strain being put on couples living apart.

It’s the double-standards, hypocrisy and blatant contradiction that is impossible to ignore. This is the kind of stuff that we should really question, and direct our anger at.

So…sex with your girlfriend at her house is a big NO, but it was okay for scientist and health advisor, Professor Neil Ferguson, to allow his (married) lover to enter his home and get her knickers off? After he’d preached the importance of social distancing?

Don’t worry though; I’m sure he was dealt with just as firmly as any of us would for being caught sneaking into our partner’s home by a nosy neighbour. No immunity for a top government advisor, right?

Scotland Yard said Prof Ferguson’s behaviour was “plainly disappointing” but officers “do not intend to take any further action”.

BBC News

Oh.

Moving on…

Meeting up with your boyfriend and giving him a hug is an AWFUL thing to do, but nobody gets fined or prosecuted for hitting the beach and observing zero social distancing?

[Image: Phys.org]

And you must, MUST stay two metres away from your estranged partner…even while idiots queue up for hours for an utterly non-essential McDonalds.

[Image: BBC]

I’m NOT here to advocate breaking the rules (that have been implemented for the good of the country’s health and safety) on the basis that other people are taking the piss. The well-he-does-it-so-am-I philosophy is a slippery slope that never ends well. But being told to keep apart from your partner while all of this is happening right before your eyes is a slap in the face. We should all be in this together, and facing the same hardships, so that we can come out the other side as quickly as possible and get on with our damn lives. But it’s clear that this isn’t the case, and I absolutely cannot fault people for kicking off about being unable to touch their significant other when mass gatherings and utterly non-essential, selfish activities go unpunished. We are told to do one thing and then shown the opposite. Made to feel afraid about being caught doing one thing while hundreds – if not thousands – get away with taking part in something far worse. Ordered to keep our genitals in check while the science men issuing the advice are busy banging married women.

And don’t even get me started on the Black Lives Matter protests. I agree with your cause and your anger but you’re creating a nice breeding ground for Covid-19 in those densely-packed crowds. I know that a lot of people are afraid to come out criticise because of the backlash that they will receive but I don’t give a fuck. You – and the dumbass beachgoers who prioritise a day out over a national effort – are making an invaluable contribution to a second wave that will keep us all locked-down for longer than we could have.

Why you should reject the “New Normal”

There’s a new phrase that has established itself in the media: The New Normal.

I’m not a fan of this particular string of words. In fact, I utterly despise it. But what is “The New Normal”?

It’s a phrase to describe our lockdown lives right now. It’s a way of coming to terms with and accepting our current circumstances. And I’m all down with that if it’s going to make a difference and minimise the infection rate. But, just as we are being cautious about spreading the virus, we also need to be careful that this New Normal remains a temporary state, and that elements don’t linger in our post-Covid societies. In fact, I’m more worried about living in some sort of paranoid, contact-shy dystopian world than I am about Covid-19. A temporary acceptance of the new rules is fine. It’s required, and to flippantly disregard the measures would be a great display of ignorance to those who have succumbed to Covid-19, those fighting it on the frontlines, and those who have lost loved ones. But, at the same time, we must not fall into the trap of becoming desensitised to it all and allowing the New Normal to become simply Normal.

It is NOT normal to wear face masks.
It is NOT normal to steer around other people in the street.
It is NOT normal to be so scared of catching something.
It is NOT normal to go on virtual dates, rather than be face-to-face.
It is NOT normal to have our towns and cities covered in tape and “keep your distance” signage.
It is NOT normal to have every TV commercial referencing the virus and lockdown.

As I’ve already said, we need to do these things right now because Covid-19 is far from a done deal. But realise that we have willingly given up our freedoms to our governments and that we get them back when they (backed up by scientific advice) say so. Previous generations have endured far worse changes to everyday life that lasted a lot longer, so we can do this.

But don’t accept these things as permanent changes. Do I think the masses will remain fearful and in favour of digital communion in the long-term? No, I don’t actually think that. The thousands of people that have been breaking distancing rules to pack themselves onto beaches are proof enough (though they are still fucking idiots). So what do I think COULD happen?

First of all – without wanting to become a conspiracy theorist – I think governments around the world will be watching and taking note of just how easy it was to force the populance to remain indoors and surrender basic freedoms. I don’t buy into the theories out there that the virus was released on purpose to trigger a lockdown response that would cow society. But the lockdown will remain invaluable data to leaders should they wish to impose these measures on us again. And next time, it might not even be for a valid reason. All they need to do is to sell us a reason that makes us all feel like heroes.

I think there is going to be a lot of unemployment as businesses fold, and others realise that they have managed just fine without their full workforce. And all this “free” money that has been thrown about will come at a great cost. Public funding is going to be cut and the tax bill is going to be bigger than Christina Hendricks’ boobs. We’re going to be living with the financial aftermath for a long-ass time.

But we can deal with those things. It’s the subtle, creeping social changes that we need to be wary of. Everything that we are doing right now is not human. Virtual communication without the senses of smell, taste and touch isn’t human. Queuing up outside stores in masks with big gaps between us certainly isn’t human. I DO think that we will get over all of this and move on but social changes tend to happen gradually, and subtlety, often without us noticing until, one day, we look back and think about the old ways of living. And that’s why we need to be careful because the longer this pandemic drags on, the more opportunity these temporary practices have to take root and be normalised in society.

I have several other Covid-19/Lockdown-related posts brewing in the back of my mind but I’m not sure if I’ll actually have the energy to publish them. Like most of us, I’m tired of it all, and tired of talking about the whole damn situation. Furthermore, I’m no expert and I have my own biases that make these kinds posts difficult to write.

Book Talk: Topical Reading…

The world is currently on lockdown due to a certain virus (seriously, just fuck off already) and, as a result, it’s a bit gloomy out there (understatement of 2020, I’m sure). So what did I decide to do to cheer myself up?

Bake cakes?
Binge some boxsets?
Get stuck into a time-sink of a videogame?

No, no and no. I actually decided to read a book about a government-developed virus that escapes, wipes out most of the human race, and draws a line under society and civilisation as we know it. Of course.

The book in question would be Stephen King’s The Stand – a book widely regarded as one of his greatest epics. The regular version of The Stand is good and all but, for me, the only option is the seriously hefty Complete and Uncut Edition – a fat tome that surpasses 1400 pages.

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I have read this book before but it’s one of a handful of Stephen King novels that I’ve only experienced once. This whole virus situation reminded me of The Stand‘s plot so I decided to dig the book out and cross it off the “to re-read” list. After all, I recalled really enjoying it the first time around, and they do say that you should always go back for seconds of a good thing.

If you aren’t familiar with the Uncut edition of The Stand, then here is a brief explanation straight from the mouth of King himself:

For the purposes of this book, what’s important is that approximately four hundred pages of manuscript were deleted from the final draft. The reason was no an editorial one; if that had been the case, I would be content to let the book live its life and die its eventual death as it was originally published.
The cuts were made at the behest of the accounting department. They toted up production costs, laid these next to the hardcover sales of my previous four books, and decided that a cover price of £6.95 was about what the market would bear (compare that price to this one, friends and neighbours!).

I haven’t restored all four hundred of the missing pages; there is a difference between doing it right and just being downright vulgar. Some of what was left on the cutting room floor when I turned in the truncated version deserved to be left there, and there it remains. Other things, such as Frannie’s confrontation with her mother early in the book, seem to add that richness and dimension that I, as a reader, enjoy deeply.

The end result is that an already-great book became even better, thanks to that extra dimension and character development.

And while that character development is ongoing during the book’s early phases, the Captain Trips virus is spreading throughout America in a way that eerily mirrors the current Covid-19 outbreak. Captain Trips is far more lethal, but the ease with which it spreads certainly prodded the paranoia lurking at the back of my mind.

The main characters and their backstories are gradually introduced to the reader even while Captain Trips is doing its thing in the background. It begins with the odd mention here and there of a supporting or very minor character suffering with a “summer cold” or a runny nose, and  – at first – it seems pretty innocuous, even though we (the reader) know what the real deal is. It allows the main characters (who obviously have a natural immunity to the virus) to unfold within the pages while the virus remains ever-present in the background. It’s fairly chilling, and almost comparable to a horror movie ghoul creeping up on an unsuspecting victim, because you just KNOW that the lives and supporting cast of each character can’t outrun the indiscriminate, killer virus forever. At some point, it will step into the foreground and demand recognition. It reminds me of how Covid-19 began as a mid-tier news item on the TV before it dominated our every waking minute.

I’m not going to go too deep into The Stand or even review it properly in this post but, suffice to say, things get a LOT worse, very rapidly, and some very shady shit goes down as the US government and the military attempt to cover their tracks and stop a crumbling society from uncovering the truth; that their own leaders developed and inadvertedly released the killer virus.

That’s all just the first act of the book, mind. I told you it was huuuuuge.

Oh, and it also stars one of my all-time favourite fictional villains: the evil Randall Flagg who has appeared in numerous King books such as The Dark Tower and The Eyes of the Dragon. That alone makes The Stand worth reading for me.

Coronavirus Diary: March-April

Well, this virus thing got pretty serious, huh? Admittedly, I was a little flippant about the whole thing in my previous C-Virus posts and I suppose, as a result, I might come across as a bit of an ignorant arsehole in said posts.

Regardless, I am still here. I haven’t posted anything for a while simply because I’ve been absolutely shattered courtesy of work and haven’t had any creative juices left in the tank once I get home. So reviewing books and shit has been out of the question.

I work in food wholesale so I am classed as a “key worker”. On the positive side, this means that I am still going to work, still getting paid in full, and still partaking in a routine that keeps me from being shut indoors at home. I feel that it’s important to make clear that I am fully aware of these upsides – and grateful for them – at a time when job security, income and simple routines aren’t givens.

Unfortunately, this tough time seems to have brought out the worst in our customers at a time when we should be banding together. Every day it’s

  • An onlsaught of rude punters
  • Massive queues
  • Arguments
  • Battles over short-supply items
  • Confrontations over refusal to adhere to distancing and numbers of people permitted in the building
  • Customers promising that they will “remember this” when it’s all over, and reminding us that they are keeping us in business
  • An avalanche of theft

All of this at a time when almost half of our staff have been sent home for three months due to being in an at-risk category. We are staying open for these people, putting ourselves at risk, and trying to keep the supply chain going, but we are being repaid with the crap listed above. It’s exhausting and headaches are now an almost daily occurence. Many of us have lost sleep or feel physically ill about coming to work and dealing with another full day of this shit.

All of that said, it’s nothing compared to what doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals are facing. Even though I am classed as a “key worker” (and have a document in my car’s glovebox to prove it, in case I am pulled by the fuzz), I like to remain realistic. I’m simply continuing to attend work, because it just so happens to be a business that needs to remain open. I’m no hero and I don’t ask for thanks or some sort of big deal to be made about my contributions. All I ask is for some civility and less animal-like behaviour from our customers, so that we can go home at the end of the day and NOT feel as if we’ve been hit by a freight train or two.

I do have a few more Coronavirus-related posts that I wanted to put out but, in all honesty, I’m not sure that I will do them. Aside from the aforementioned creativity-murdering shifts at the ol’ workhouse, I think we’re all just absolutely sick of talking about the situation and having our humanity sapped from us by the lockdown/social distancing stuff.

So keep yo’ selves safe and I’ll be back soon with something.

Coronavirus: getting its power from the media

Coronavirus Generic 1

Yes, it’s two posts in a row about the hot topic of the moment: the Coronavirus. Now, I’m as sick of hearing about this damn virus as you probably are, but what I have to say in this post felt like a topic in its own right so here it is.

I want to discuss whether we – as a species – are overreacting to the Coronavirus and granting it too much power over us.

But a little disclaimer before I get into this shit. I’m in no way attempting to downplay the Coronavirus or pretend that I am some sort of expert with an inside line. Here, on this blog, I have previously spoken about the importance of accepting that you know nothing and that you must always prepare to be wrong about something, and I continue to subscribe to these philosophies. I’m no scientist or medical expert and I accept that I could be totally wrong with my regards to the Coronavirus.

In defence of the seriousness of the situation:

  • The virus is highly contagious and spreads ridiculously easily
  • There is no vaccine available
  • The elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions are at a real risk

It’s this last one that’s particularly important because it’s easy to bang on about how we will endure the Coronavirus as we would the flu, but there is an entire section of our community that doesn’t feel as invincible and with good reason. A standard flu could be fatal for them but at least there is a vaccine available. What I’m saying is that it’s a bit ignorant and selfish to only think about ourselves and those in our age bracket.

That said, I remain sceptical.

While I agree that the Coronavirus is a serious threat, I DO believe that we are overreacting. Shutting everything down. Panic-buying toilet roll and hand gel. Crippling the economy. The panic-buying is down to people being idiots. The rest? Well, the media and the governments of the world need to take a good look at themselves.

What SHOULD be happening is an appeal for calm. We need to try and carry on as usual and not live in fear of somebody in the same room sneezing. Unfortunately, the media LOVE this shit and the more dramatic and apocalyptic they can make the Corona sound, the better. As I said, we need to get our shit together and not give the virus so much power over our thoughts and day-to-day life. Understandably, it’s pretty difficult when the news channels be like

Corona-1

The first thing to realise is that our media is incredibly misleading. Only last night, for example, I heard the BBC news refer to the Coronavirus as a “disease”. That’s factually incorrect for starters.

Next, they like to highlight the seriousness of the situation by repeating how many hundreds (or thousands depending on where you live) are infected. The thing is, these figures are the total confirmed cases that have been recorded since the beginning of the outbreak. What the media doesn’t do is subtract all of the people who have recovered. Instead, they keep on stacking the cases up, implying that all of these people are still infected and recovering (which is false).

Thirdly, every new Coronavirus-related death is hammered home for maximum effect but you have to look beyond the headlines. Every person that has died here in the UK for example, has been of an older age and already suffering with underlying health conditions. Yet, millions of fit and healthy younger people are absolutely bricking themselves. I don’t have any actual figures but I’m reasonably confident that as many, if not more people, have succumbed to the regular flu since 2020 kicked off.

The news media is doing the world no favours by broadcasting Coronavirus updates on a 24/7 loop. What they are doing is fueling the fire and encouraging panic, forcing governments to react accordingly and cause MORE panic by taking drastic measures such as quarantining entire cities or cancelling public gatherings. When measures such as these are taken, it MUST be an end-of-the-world scenario, surely? I saw the following post on a forum that I’m a member of and I have to say that it hits the nail squarely on its head:

“I’m not worried about coronavirus.

It’s the various governments, medias and general population’s panicking in pants-wetting fear reaction to coronavirus that I find worrisome.

Overreaction to new threats is part of the human condition but I’m feeling increasingly uncomfortable about our current media and leaders apparently being unable to resist the drama and seeming hellbent on putting the shits up themselves and everybody else when they should be calming things down.”

I have wondered: what if this virus had never been given a label? What if it wasn’t being given the top billing on every news bulletin? Would we all just be walking around complaining about how much flu was going around? I think we might. After all, doctor’s waiting rooms were heaving last December with flu-riddled patients so, given how inaccurate and suspicious China’s reporting of the Coronavirus has been, how do we know that it wasn’t already doing the rounds before the official announcement of the outbreak? Obviously, that’s just a loose theory, and I’m sure that I can be proved incorrect, but hopefully you get my point.

The news media has transformed the Coronavirus into a boogeyman and given it an incredible amount of power over us that I’m not happy about.

Social media has also played its part by allowing everybody to post images of empty supermarket shelves and whip the populance into a panic-buying frenzy that is entirely unnecessary. The hysteria on the likes of Facebook and Twitter is possibly more destructive than the traditional news because millions are constantly viewing their feeds and gradually being convinced that they too must surely need to start stockpiling supplies. After all, if everybody else is doing it, it has to be the right thing to do…right? FOMO and all that. Baaa.

corona-4

There are some nuggets of positivity that have come out of social media’s Coronavirus coverage however:

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That’s the sort of can-do attitude that we need! None of this miserable doom-mongering.

My outlook on the Coronavirus is simple: there’s only so much you can do. I’m going to be cautious, keep washing my hands (as advised) and do what I can to keep my germs to myself but, at the end of the day, if it’s going to happen, then it’s going to happen. Worrying and losing your shit isn’t going to help.

I firmly believe that we need to remain calm and relieve the pressure on our society and economy by NOT giving the Coronavirus so much power. Above all, don’t be a stupid fool and fill your spare room with bog roll. If everybody carries on as usual, and shops as normal, then there won’t BE shortages. All of these shortages are entirely artificial and caused by people stockpiling for no reason. Automated re-ordering systems in shops aren’t prepared for such a sudden influx of sales and will take time to catch up. That doesn’t mean that X item is no longer available. It just means that businesses and systems run on projected sales that are based on past shopping trends. These systems are being overloaded by monstrous sales volumes that they haven’t anticipated. Likewise, the  manufacturing sector wasn’t ready for such a rapid upturn in demand.

Don’t be a sheep.
Don’t stockpile like a greedy, panicky douche.
Don’t assume that this is the end of the world.
And, just maybe, don’t keep checking the news every hour.

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Coronavirus: Exposing our world’s greatest illusion

Yes, even Unfiltered Opinion isn’t immune to the dreaded Coronavirus. I’m not infected here at UO Towers but the situation has provided me with some food for thought.

Heading off on a brief (but wholly relevant) tangent, one of my favourite series’ of books ever written are Robert E. Howard’s Conan adventures. It is in one of these entirely unapologetic and totally non-PC stories (Beyond the Black River, 1935) that I came across a fantastic quote that has stayed with me ever since:

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,” the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. “Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”

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We put an incredible amount of faith in our civilisation, society and – above all – the controlled order of things. We believe ourselves to be intelligent, highly sophisticated and far above the primitive nature of our caveman ancestors. Furthermore, we assume that everything around us is here to stay forever – as solid and dependable as Conan’s muscles.

The reality is that we, as creatures, haven’t actually changed all that much, and major epidemics such as the Coronavirus expose our civilised world for what it really is – an illusion. It’s an extremely thin and terribly fragile illusion too, as illustrated by how quickly we fall back on our primal survival instincts at the first signs of trouble, discarding all of our learned concepts of order and rationality. There could even be an argument to say that we are heading backwards when it comes to our behaviour and mental strength.

If you doubt me then may I point you to the utterly bonkers panic buying of toilet roll in Australia.

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What we see here is wholly irrational activity that makes zero logical sense. First of all, there have been no indicators to suggest that toilet roll – of all things – is going to be in short supply during a Coronavirus epidemic yet a lot of Australians are shitting themselves (pun totally intended) at the prospect of being caught short (another 100% planned pun) and not having access to a doomsday bunker’s worth of bog roll.

Secondly, why in hell is toilet roll being bought out above FOOD?

Thirdly, Australians are acting like sheep and buying crazy amounts of toilet paper because they see other people building these entirely unnecessary stockpiles and believe that there MUST be a reason for it. They don’t want to be left behind. In short, people are imitating their neighbours and fellow shoppers without asking themselves if it’s really necessary. Even the OG toilet paper panic-buyers had no evidence or inside information to justify what they were doing so what hope is there for those who are switching off their brains and following the herd? Blind, instinctive reaction is trumping calm rationale.

Point four: we have become entirely dependant on our lifestyle of convenience and consumerism, where everything is produced and provided for us in pretty packages. It’s a far cry from a time when we humans had to go out into the wild and gather resources for ourselves. Whatever we want, it’s there on a store shelf, available 24/7 – no effort, risk or skill required. We are totally domesticated and painfully vulnerable, depending on this structured way of life like a baby clings to a big, reassuring, milk-dispensing breast.

As Dr Rohan Miller from the University of Sydney says…

“We’re not used to shortages and scarcity, we’re used to being able to pick and choose what we want, when we want. So the rush to get toilet paper is just this sheep mentality to maintain that status.”

My fifth and final point?

Police were even called to a dispute on Wednesday, with reports saying a knife was pulled out in an argument over toilet roll between panic buying shoppers.

Head in Hands

To summarise the Australian toilet roll madness:

  • Irrational behaviour
  • Fear taking control
  • Utterly fucked priorities
  • Herd mentality
  • Instincts > rational thinking
  • Violence and aggression

Now, does ANY of the above belong in a civilised, ordered society where we claim to be “better” than our ancient ancestors? Does any of this gel with us supposedly being more intelligent and resilient than ever before?

This is where I was going to sign off, point having being made. However, in the time that I left this post unfinished, I have been on the frontlines of this madness. Yes, the bog roll panic-buying has come here to the UK – again, for absolutely no reason whatsoever. It has crossed over from the land down under without requiring a human-to-human transmission, so you could say that this braindead stupidity is far more infectious that the Coronavirus itself.

I work in the wholesale business and it was with great dismay, on Saturday, that I noticed customers wheeling big trollies of toilet roll to the tills. It wasn’t their fault, mind. Their shops had been cleaned out by rampant panic-buying crazies and so they had to come in and re-stock.

Worse still, we were cleaned out of painkillers and some medicines because, clearly, these are also hot commodities that any respectable British citizen needs in their Coronavirus-ready fallout shelter. Antiseptic liquids were another casaulty but these were being purchased by enterprising profiteers. One such businessman laughed and happily told me that people are buying anything with the word “antiseptic” printed on the bottle so he was stocking up to cash in on the situation.

The cracks in our concept of civilisation are growing a little wider it would seem. I can picture the borderer from Beyond the Black River nodding sagely as I type this…

Oil prices are rising but who will suffer?

The man in the street of course. Not the politicians who are fueling (no pun intended) the latest potential oil crisis. I think Linkin Park nailed it when they used this line in the song “Hands Held High”:

When you can’t put gas in your tank
These fuckers are laughing their way
To the bank and cashing their check

Yes, it’s the ongoing Yemen/Saudi Arabia/Iran/USA crisis that you may have seen in the news. Saudi oil refineries were hit by drone strikes that caused significant damage, with the knock-on effect being that global oil supplies have been cut by 5% and prices are going to go up at the pumps. Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attacks while the US has pointed the finger at current global sparring partner, Iran. Obviously, Iran has denied any involvement despite the US allegedly having evidence to prove that the drones came from there and not Yemen.

In short, it’s you and I who will have to pay the price when fuel prices rise. If we’re lucky, that’s all that will happen. The worst case scenario is that fuel stations run out or have intermittent supplies – a situation that could well become reality should the Saudi facilities suffer further attacks and consequent damage. Then we really will feel the squeeze. It’s been approximately ten years since the last such shortage hit us here in the UK and that time, it was down to a national blockade and industrial striking. Prices soared and pumps ran dry as motorists had to endure miserable queues, fraying tempers and the not knowing when you would next be able to fill up.

A very sneaky and convenient thing happened when the shortage was finally resolved though. Prices went back down but NOT all the way down to where they were before the blockade began. If the price hike was due to the shortage then there’s no reason why the price couldn’t have returned to where it had been. Clearly, the oil giants saw the opportunity to sneak a permanent increase through while customers were just relieved to be able to get fuel again and at a lower price.

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[Source]
If I were to put on my conspiracy hat, I might even suggest that the whole thing was orchestrated on purpose to get that price increase through when there was no other justifiable reason to do so…

But back to current affairs, this latest strain on our wallets will be the direct result of world leaders once again waving their dicks about and playing power games, heedless of how the ordinary people will feel the impact of their supreme arrogance. The situation is of course complicated and I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on what is happening but I’ll try and summarise.

  • The Houthi rebels fighting for control of Yemen are backed by Iran
  • Their opponents – the overthrown Yemenese government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi – are continuing to fight back, backed by multiple Sunni Arab states.
  • Saudi Arabia are the principle backer of Mr Hadi’s government and the Saudis are, of course, aligned with the US who supply them arms.

So the core battle on the ground is a war between two different religious factors. But the far more dangerous aspect of Yemen’s war is the proxy war between outside states that overshadows the original conflict. As a predominately Shia country, Iran is of course going to support the Houthi rebels, especially when it means gaining greater influence in the region. Iran’s enemies – the Saudis – aren’t interested in that happening in the slightest and so they are naturally attempting to restore President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s government, get rid of the Houthis and prevent Iranian influence from creeping into a neighbouring state.

But there is another conflict taking place that is having a direct influence on the war in Yemen – the cold war between Iran and the US. Donald Trump continues to throw stones in glass houses as he takes a hardline stance with Iran which I’m sure some of Trump’s supporters and right-wing types appreciate. Don’t fuck with ‘murica! Of course, there is the irony of the President being robust with a country that he has called the world’s number one “state of terror”…the same President who was about to have peace talks with the Taliban, on US soil no less. Unbelievable.

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[Source]
However you view Trump’s stance on dealing with countries like Iran, the facts still speak for themselves. Since tearing up the nuclear deal and ramping up the sanctions on Tehran, Iran has become increasingly hostile. They have resumed enriching uranium and breached the previously imposed limit as defined by the nuclear deal. They have been accused of sabotaging oil tankers in the region and have seized others. All of this will have unfavourable effects on ordinary people when oil supply lines are disrupted.

Between this and Trump’s other actions on the world stage, he is causing a lot of chaos and conflict. It’s almost as if he is moving through a jungle and using a stick to prod tarantulas and snakes. Prod them enough and they will strike back but what else can you expect? Iran has its back to the wall – its economy suffocating beneath the weight of sanctions – so what else does anybody expect them to do? Simply keel over and do what an outside state demands them to? Would you expect the US to do that?

I’m not defending Iran because they are in no way innocent in all of this but this is yet another instance of a nuclear-equipped country telling another country that they aren’t allowed nuclear weapons. It’s double-standards of the highest order and you can see why the likes of Iran and North Korea don’t take too kindly to US and European insistence that they don’t create nuclear weapons of their own. America isn’t the shining defender of justice and liberty that it likes to portray itself as because, at the end of the day, their administration’s involvement in proxy wars and meddling in foreign spheres of influence is only ever to gain or maintain input on the global sphere of influence.

It should also be said that while we will be bitching and moaning about fuel prices, the real suffering is taking place in Yemen where innocent people are being killed and their lives utterly destroyed as religious conflict and foreign policy translates into constant airstrikes and the savage destruction of their home. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to live in such conditions. So perhaps spare a thought for them next time you are feeling irate about have to spend a few more pounds to put petrol in your comfy German executive saloon.

Brexit of Thrones

If you’ve ever read any of my previous posts on the shitshow that is Brexit then you may be familiar with the way I’ve described this catastrophe of a process as a rubbish version of Game of Thrones. Minus the attractive ladies and dragons of course. Unless I’ve missed a key day of news, neither of those things are happening down at Westminster.

But Brexit has everything else that makes George R.R. Martin’s books and HBO’s TV adaptation so enthralling:

Political back-stabbing
Defections
Individuals using events to further their own agenda/careers
The struggle for power taking precedence over what’s important for the country
The populance being split apart with a growing “Us vs Them” environment
Wars of words with neighbouring countries

So what exactly is my point with all of this? I’m not actually sure but at least my half-assed attitude is more solidified than the rapidly-shifting events here in the UK that continue to flabbergast us. You honestly couldn’t write this shit. Each morning’s fresh batch of headlines bring something else that chips away at any belief I have in our leadership. This is a considerable achievement given that my current faith in our political elite would be represented with a negative number were I to use a percentage-based metric.

Bringing this post back to the original analogy, I have genuinely often thought, “fuck Game of Thrones. It has nothing on Brexit.” If Brexit was all entirely fictional and dramatised as a book then it would be one hell of an addictive page-turner, brimming with plots, counter-plots and end-of-chapter shocks that turn everything upside-down.

As I’ve already said, so much has happened since Boris Johnson ascended to the Iron Throne armchair in No.10, Downing Street. Therefore, it’s incredibly difficult to summarise the current situation – especially given that this crap has been selling papers since 2016 – but I will try to put it in layman’s terms…

Parliament is currently on shutdown because Boris Johnson asked the Queen for permission to do so. This is known as being “Prorogued”. During this time, MP’s may not enter Westminster and no parliamentary business may take place. Prorogation has historically been used by Monarchs in Britain to prevent parliament from interfering with their plans. In the modern era (where Monarchs are figureheads and don’t wield their theoretical power), prorogation is usually reserved for bringing parliamentary sessions to an end.

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Is Boris Johnson our version of Donald Trump? The similarities are striking and I’m not just talking about the hair…[Source]
However, opposing MP’s were planning to try and pass new legislation which would prevent the Prime Minister from taking the UK out of Europe without a trade deal if one hasn’t been agreed on by October 31st. The “No Deal” option is seen as the riskiest option which could send economic shockwaves throughout the country but Boris Johnson has repeatedly made clear that he is going to get Brexit done by the 31st of October, whether a deal with the EU has been successfully negotiated or not. No request for an extension – just leave and get Brexit over the finish line.

The Queen granted Johnson’s request to prorogue parliament and it is widely accepted that he chose to do this in order to shut down parliamentary business as soon as possible and give the opposition much less time to pass their legislation.

The legislation WAS passed, however. Johnson’s Conservative government held a majority in parliament by the slimmest of slim margins – just one seat. Unfortunately for him, an MP defected to the Liberal Democrats thus torpedoing the Conservatives’ majority. The opposition was therefore able to band together, take control of parliamentary business and get their legislation through after winning a vote in the Commons.

This is where the shit really hit the fan and Westminster became the scene for raging slanging matches between Boris Johnson and the divisive Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Furthermore, Johnson decided to expel all of the Conservative MP’s from his own party who had rebelled and sided with the opposition when it came to voting on the legislation that would make No Deal illegal (or at least very difficult to pull off).

The fallout is still happening, even as parliament is prorogued and Westminster lies dormant, despite that fast-approaching October 31st deadline.

A No Deal “worst case scenario” preparation document that speaks of potential food/medicine shortages and civil unrest was leaked and forced to be publicised. Jeremy Corbyn has been as indecisive and flaky as usual, saying he wants a General Election, then that he doesn’t, then deciding that he does after all. The Brexit Party has proposed some form of possible alliance with Johnson’s Conservative party if it means getting Brexit over the line. MP’s are resigning and switching teams all over the place. The public is sick of the whole damn thing.

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All the shouting and thinly-veiled insults may be amusing to watch but they haven’t gotten us anywhere since 2016. [Source]
I don’t know where all of this is going to end, nor would I be confident in making any sort of prediction. I do, however, think that the government is teetering on the verge of a cataclysmic implosion and might not see out the year. I also think that the next elected government has a high chance of being either a hard-right or hard-left party, due to the fact that so many people are absolutely fed up of politicians by this point and so millions of mainstream, centre-ground voters may simply avoid the ballot box.

One thing’s for sure though: as in Game of Thrones, it’s politicians and the rich elite that stand to gain from this mess while the common folk suffer as usual. They will certainly be able to weather any economic storm. Either way, they are playing a dangerous game and prioritising their own egos and party agendas. Is it really all about doing right by the country or is it about exploiting a weakness in the government and getting their foot in the door of No.10?

We should never have been given this vote in the first place but – staying on theme – it was a pledge in David Cameron’s manifesto. He promised to deliver a vote on the UK’s membership of the EU if he was elected. In other words, he offered the necessary treats to get voted into No.10, probably (wrongly) assuming that the British public would never actually vote to leave. And when we did? He immediately stepped down as Prime Minister and washed his hands of the problem – proof, if needed, that Brexit is simply the result of politicians chasing power and trying to further their own careers.

I think the likes of Tyrion Lannister and Littlefinger would be in their element here…

Us vs Them

I’m a big believer in the idea that our (sometimes) wonderful race won’t be wiped out by a planet-consuming disease or a sudden asteroid impact. Likewise, it won’t be a biblical flood, global warming or even aliens that will supply us with our tickets for the Death Express. While all of these things remain a possibility, I think that WE will be the architects of our own doom in some form or another. Our own supreme ignorance; the selfish agendas of the elite; our frustrating inability to learn from past mistakes…these things are all in with a bigger shout of fast-tracking human extinction.

Right now for instance, the Amazon rainforest – an unrepeatable wonder of natural beauty – is burning and, rather than save it, the Brazilian government and other world leaders are using it as the latest political battleground. Far into the future (if we even make it that far) the loss of all that forest and the unique species within is going to look pretty dumb.

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I have no doubt that our race will regret this in the future. [Source]
It’s quite sobering to think about where we – as an overall race – could be right now and how far we could have come if we hadn’t poured so much time, resources, money and intellect into killing each other or preserving the status quos that keep the rich rich and the powerful powerful. Obviously, there are far too many factors as to why this is the case to go into here, but the outcome is still the same: irrational hatred and conflict holds us all back.

Different races regard one another with suspicion.
Neighbouring countries harbour deep-seated resentment of each other based on historic acts that were ordered and carried out by people long since dead.
Society on a national level is divided by issues where compromise seems impossible.

A free pass for this behaviour could have been handed out thousands of years ago when humans lived in tribes and raw survival was the sole priority. But now, with the benefit of knowledge and the experience of countless mistakes, we should know better. And yet we don’t and likely never will. Not as a collective species anyway. As intelligent as we are, we are also incredibly dim-witted at times.

What happened to accepting that we all have different opinions, beliefs and views? Is it not possible to disagree with somebody else and NOT take shit to the next level? At the end of the day, the person you disagree with is still a person and you will probably have shared interests…if you’d actually view them as a person and not their beliefs. Take the embarassing Brexit saga currently splitting the UK in two for example: it’s turned into a real Us vs Them war of opinion. Suddenly you are either a Remainer or a Brexiteer and both camps are hurling abuse at each other, forgetting that those on the other “side” are just like them – British guys ‘n gals just trying to get on with life.

The irony is that Brexit was never about giving the people what they wanted or about Britain puffing its chest out and going solo. Offering the vote was David Cameron’s way of tapping into an existing anti-EU sentiment in order to win a general election and get into No.10, Downing Street. Everything that has happened since has been a game of political chess with parties and individuals hoping to utilise Brexit as a means to advance their own agendas and careers…

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[Source]
Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party hope to get into power by toppling an unconvincing Conservative government. The Scottish National Party cite Brexit and the government’s piss-poor handling of it as evidence that a second independence referendum for Scotland is necessary. The Brexit Party has risen from the ashes of the (now irrelevant) UK Independence Party and become a genuine political force. The anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats are enjoying a resurgance. Back-stabbing and shifting alliances within ruling the Conservative party itself continue to dumbfound us all.

It’s like a really low-rent, boring version of Game of Thrones without the dragons and breasts.

More importantly though, the rich and powerful continue to move the pieces around the board and get away with it while we continue to divide ourselves and shun neighbours based on which way they voted.

I’m not proclaiming to be perfect. I have my own prejudices and reservations about certain people and groups/organisations for example. But more and more, I’m recognising how incredibly short-sighted and foolish it all is in the grand scheme of things. While we fight and scream at each other over social media, determined to have the last word on a disagreement that we’ve probably long since lost sight of, common threats that should concern us ALL are hiding in plain sight.

Environmental destruction.
Automation.
Disease.
Shortages of natural resources and food.
The rise of Artificial Intelligence.
Blatant corruption and cover-ups by the elite.

Yes, some of these do get their fair share of air time but some don’t and even those that DO are forced to make way for “news” on Donald Trump’s latest Tweet or the latest dick-measuring contest between world leaders.

It is in our nature to be competitive and to band together around common beliefs – to be tribal. It’s part of our biological make-up and to try to stamp it out altogether would probably be impossible as well as dangerous. But that doesn’t mean that we should stop learning from the outcomes that division and hatred have historically triggered. Right now, it often feels like we are actually regressing and getting wrapped up in our petty quarrels while actual progress and improvement is forced to take a back seat.

I’m not telling you to discard your views or opinions but try taking a step back and seeing the people behind the labels, because they are most likely just like you, ultimately fighting for the same things.