We’re all in this together #3

Here’s an interesting way of visualising the scale of all this. As in real life, it starts slowly then builds up. And up, and up.

A time-lapse map of every death from the Coronavirus pandemicYouTube
This is an audio-visual time-lapse of every death from the Coronavirus pandemic from January to June 2020. Inspired by Isao Hashimoto’s “A Time-Lapse Map of Every Nuclear Explosion Since 1945”; each country is represented by a tone and an expanding blip on the map when a death from Covid-19 is recorded. Each day is 4 seconds long, and at the top of the screen is the date and a counter showing the total numbers of deaths. Every country that has had a fatality is included. (via Kottke)

It’s very easy to criticise other countries’ responses to this global crisis. For instance:

Angry folks throw an anti-mask rally in Florida, the state that just broke a Covid-19 recordBoing Boing
Rather than give up their “freedom” by simply wearing a mask, they’d rather risk losing a bigger freedom by filling hospitals to full capacity (as they did in, er, Florida), shutting down international travel (because other countries are turning Americans away who try to enter), shutting down cities and states with a high coronavirus caseload, and obliterating our economy. With that kind of logic, Americans should be permitted the freedom to drive drunk or race cars on public streets.

Jimmy Fallon predicts Trump will say he was the first to wear a maskThe New York Times
After the president finally wore a face mask in public, the “Tonight Show” host called it “a really smart move — if today were March 13th.”

Sweden ‘literally gained nothing’ from staying open during COVID-19, including ‘no economic gains’The Week
Ironically, Bloomberg News reports, the social distancing requirements in Sweden are now more stringent than in Denmark, Norway, and Finland, all of which opted for strict lockdowns early on. Sweden’s 5,420 COVID-19 deaths may not seem like much compared with 130,000 in the U.S., but per capita that works out to 40 percent more fatalities than in the U.S. and 12 times more than Norway, seven times more than Finland, and six times more than Denmark, the Times notes.

But we’re far from getting everything right here. For instance:

UK among highest COVID-19 health worker deaths in the worldAmnesty International UK
The 61-page report – Exposed, Silenced, Attacked: Failures to protect health and essential workers during the pandemic – shows that, with at least 540 health and social workers having died from COVID-19 in England and Wales alone, the UK is second only to Russia, which has recorded 545 health worker deaths. […]

Healthcare professionals across the UK were also warned not to talk about shortages in protective equipment. Almost half of healthcare workers questioned as part of a major survey by the Doctors Association UK said they had effectively been gagged and prevented from raising concerns.

Revealed: 20 areas of England at most risk of coronavirus resurgenceThe Guardian
The government has drawn up a list of 20 councils facing the worst coronavirus outbreaks in England, with Bradford, Sheffield and Kirklees identified as areas needing “enhanced support”, according to a classified document leaked to the Observer and the Guardian.

Perhaps there’s not much to choose between them.

The pandemic is the world’s long overdue reality checkForeign Policy
Three of the four largest democracies run by illiberal populists—the United States, Brazil, and the U.K.—now rank one, two, and three in deaths from the coronavirus. (India currently lags behind but is moving up with frightening speed.) That is not a coincidence, for the leaders in each country have tried to minimize the gravity of the disease or—in Bolsonaro’s case—deny it altogether. Populist leaders deny COVID-19 for the same reasons they deny climate change: first, because acknowledging a force beyond their control might break the spell of omniscience in which they have bound their followers; and second, because deference to science and logic undermines the emotional sources of their appeal. If Anthony Fauci is right, Trump must be wrong.

Back to work, or hit the beach

We’re being encouraged to return to our offices, as everything’s fine now, apparently.

‘Stay at home’ message ditched as Gove urges more people to go back to workSky News
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, Mr Gove said: “We want to see more people back at work, on the shop floor, in the office, wherever they can be. Of course in some cases it is appropriate and convenient for people to work from home, but we want to make sure that where people can add value, where the economy can benefit from people being at work, that they are at work.

England to make masks mandatory in shopsFinancial Times
Government guidance on face coverings has been contradictory in recent days, with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove saying on Sunday they should not become mandatory in English shops. There has also been confusion over advice to workplaces after ministers on Monday encouraged office staff to return to work where possible, although the official government guidance — which is for people to work from home if possible — has not changed.

So are you back in the office yet, or are you still dialling in from home? If the latter, this free e-book might help.

Take control of working from home temporarilyTake Control Books
We’re in a time of unprecedented uncertainty. In the middle of a global viral outbreak, you were told or asked to work from home—and you’ve never or rarely had to be productive where you live before. What to do? We’re here to take some stress out of your life with a new, free book that details how to set up a home office and balance work and home life for those not accustomed to it.

Perhaps you don’t intend to go back to the office full time.

Is the five-day office week over?The New York Times
“You should never be thinking about full time or zero time,” said Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford whose research has identified causal links between remote work and employee performance. “I’m a firm believer in post-Covid half time in the office.”

According to a new survey by Morning Consult, 47 percent of those working remotely say that once it’s safe to return to work, their ideal arrangement would be to continue working from home one to four days a week. Forty percent would work from home every day, and just 14 percent would return to the office every day.

Or even back to the office at all.

If you can work remotely, Barbados want you to come and stay for a yearBoing Boing
The Caribbean island nation of Barbados is issuing 12-month “Barbados Welcome Stamps” as an incentive for people to come and work remotely. Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley said people can “come and work from here overseas, digitally so, so that persons don’t need to remain in the countries in which they are.”

Sounds interesting.

Great interest in 12-month Welcome StampBarbados Government Information Service
Ms. Mottley said: “COVID-19 has presented tremendous challenges to those countries that are tourism and travel dependent and we have reached a position where we recognize that part of the challenge relates to short term travel …. So, if we can have a mechanism that allows people who want to…take advantage of being in a different part of the world, of the sun, sea and sand, and … a stable society; one that functions well, then Barbados is a perfect place for you to come.

“Rather than coming for the usual week, or three weeks or a month, why not plan out your business, given the fact that all we have gotten from COVID-19 is uncertainty. So, we can give you certainty for the next 12 months … and you can work from here.”

Something funny

Something old (not really).

Beer mats of the 1970sScarfolk Council
The pubs have reopened. Here is a selection of 1970s beer mats from the Scarfolk council archives. Collect them all!

Something new (not really).

New work by Gary LarsonTheFarSide.com
So here goes. I’ve got my coffee, I’ve got this cool gizmo, and I’ve got no deadlines. And—to borrow from Sherlock Holmes—the game is afoot.

Belated birthday wishes

I thought it would be fun to share this on my birthday (like I did with something similar the other year), but that was a few weeks ago — I had forgotten all about it.

Happy birthday in the styles of 10 classical composers – Nahre Sol

Some dazzling playing there, and those annotations really get across just how complicated these musical structures can be. I love the idea of Steve Reich and John Cage wishing me happy birthday.

Scene changed?

Some desperately needed good news at last.

Boris Johnson pledges £1.5bn lifeline to keep UK’s arts sector afloatThe Guardian
After weeks of desperate warnings that the UK was facing an irreversible cultural catastrophe without targeted support, ministers announced a package that it said would protect the future of the country’s museums, galleries, theatres and music venues.

The playwright James Graham, who has spoken passionately about the urgent need for investment, said the money appeared to be more than most people in the arts had dared dream of. … “If this package is as ambitious as it looks, then conversations within our sector will now need to turn to what our recovery might look like in terms of protecting any gains made in recent years over inclusion, representation and diversity, and how this support can reach who need it most, particularly outside of London.”

A welcome lifeline.

S C E N E / C H A N G E (@_scene_change_) Instagram
A community for stage designers taking action for theatre.

But as ENO’s John Berry says, the devil will be in the details.

‘At last a glimpse of hope’: UK arts leaders on the rescue packageThe Guardian
“£1.57bn is a lot of money, but there are a lot of institutions for this to go round. It has to be seen as a positive step from the government and for culture in general, but it will all now be in the detail, in the balance between grants, loans and help for major institutions and help for individual artists, who have been hit the hardest.

“What are the strings attached going to be? In Germany, they just came out and said we’re going to pay every freelance artist now just to get them through, on top of everything else. The reason that opera and classical music have a voice and a direct line as high up as the prime minister is that culture is spoken about on the same level as health and social issues. So it is very normal in the rest of Europe for artistic leaders to be in regular conversation with the government about public subsidy during an emergency.

“Classical music and opera are central to the arts in this country and publicly there hasn’t been enough support for them. Freelance musicians have been hit hardest. It’s just depressing to see so many artists lose their work in opera, classical music and theatre in general in the UK. The plight of opera houses has been almost invisible.”

Will it be enough?

Emergency money for culture ‘won’t save every job’BBC News
The culture secretary said institutions would have to apply through industry bodies and would be asked to prove how they contributed to wider economic growth. He said the government was confident the emergency package would protect the majority of jobs in the culture sector – but not all.

“Sadly, not everyone is going to be able to survive and not every job is going to be protected and sadly, I will have to be honest with you, of course we will see further redundancies.”

Need a change of scene?

Cheers! But not everything’s opening back up tomorrow, on Super Saturday.

#scenechange designers wrap theatres with pink tape in #MissingLiveTheatre campaignOfficial London Theatre
While much of the UK’s entertainment and hospitality industries will be open to customers from tomorrow, theatres sadly remain closed, unable to stage live performances.

A community of designers named #scenechange have been struck by the negative visual imagery of theatre closures and the sadness that comes with seeing venues that were once bubbling with energy, now feeling stark and bleak.

Today, in collaboration with theatres across the UK, the #scenechange community will launch #MissingLiveTheatre, wrapping theatre buildings in a positive message of hope and visibility to the industry.

It’s not just a West End issue. Far from it.

Designers will wrap theatres in #MissingLiveTheatre tapeTheatre Weekly
Beginning with the National Theatre, #scenechange will, in conjunction with theatre staff, wrap theatres with pink barrier tape reading ‘Missing Live Theatre’. The baton will then be passed from the National Theatre to Royal Exchange Theatre, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Lyric Belfast and Sherman Theatre across the day on Friday, and throughout the West End on the Saturday. The week beginning 6 July will see further theatres nationwide joining #MissingLiveTheatre, with over 50 venues already committed including the RSC, Sadler’s Wells, Theatr Clwyd, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Sheffield Theatres, Ambassador Theatre Group, amongst many others.

It’s a larger industry than you’d think, and a difficult one to be in at the moment.

Designers unite to support freelance theater creatives with #SceneChange platformVariety
Freelance creative artists make up the major part of the theater ecology — of the 290,000 jobs in the U.K. theater industry, for example, more than two-thirds are freelance or self-employed.

As visual artists, designers bring a unique skill set that can help reimagine theater spaces as the industry navigates its way back to live performance. #SceneChange aims to positively engage with buildings, directors and producers nationwide, to support and inform the process back to production.

Top score

You’ve heard of 8 Bit Cinema, retelling movies as old school arcade games? Well, there was this competition to compose a soundtrack to accompany a scene from Westworld …

Westworld scoring competitionSpitfire Audio
We teamed up with HBO’s Westworld to bring you an exclusive competition: to download and score a scene from Westworld Season 3 for your chance to win some amazing prizes – as well as the opportunity to showcase your work to the best in the business. What happened next was extraordinary. We received 11,000 entries, in a variety of styles and re-imaginings.

The announcement of the eventual winner left many people either scratching their heads or picking up their jaws off the floor. Listen for yourself. It starts conventionally enough, but then—

It stands out, at least, which is more than could be said for the indistinguishable runners-up. But it seems not everyone appreciates this ‘dares to be different’ approach.

Why are some people upset about this ‘Westworld’ scoring contest?No Film School
Responses to the winning entry have been mixed. For instance, on Twitter, game composer Austin Wintory called Kuddell’s work “out-of-the-box” and a “bold move.” But many other composers who entered the competition commented that they were confused about how the winning score met the brief.

The controversy has prompted one composer to revisit that pompous Hans Zimmer Masterclass YouTube advert.

That Hans Zimmer ad, but it’s chiptuneCDM
“In music, you’re basically having a conversation…” Sometimes that conversation is best expressed in 8 bits. … Hans Zimmer’s ad for Masterclass already felt like self parody; this just goes next level.

But wait, there’s more. Much more.

What’s really out there?

How we know what we know seems such a hazardous topic.

Anil Seth on why our senses are fine-tuned for utility, not for ‘reality’Aeon Videos
It’s easy to mistake our conscious experience for an ongoing, accurate account of reality. After all, the information we recover from our senses is, of course, the only window we’ll ever have into the outside world. And for most people most of the time, our perception certainly feels real. […]

Seth argues that it’s not just that our perceptions provide flawed accounts of the outside world, but that our brains aren’t in the business of recovering the outside world to begin with. So it’s more accurate to think of our conscious experience as a series of predictions that we’re incessantly and subconsciously fine-tuning – a world we build from the inside out, rather than the outside in.

And here, with plenty of visual illusions to illustrate the point, is another take on the same issue.

“Reality” is constructed by your brain. Here’s what that means, and why it matters.Vox
“The dirty little secret about sensory systems is that they’re slow, they’re lagged, they’re not about what’s happening right now but what’s happening 50 milliseconds ago, or, in the case for vision, hundreds of milliseconds ago,” says Adam Hantman, a neuroscientist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus.

If we relied solely on this outdated information, though, we wouldn’t be able to hit baseballs with bats, or swat annoying flies away from our faces. We’d be less coordinated, and possibly get hurt more often.

So the brain predicts the path of motion before it happens. It tells us a story about where the object is heading, and this story becomes our reality. […]

In Hantman’s view, what we experience as consciousness is primarily the prediction, not the real-time feed. The actual sensory information, he explains, just serves as error correction. “If you were always using sensory information, errors would accumulate in ways that would lead to quite catastrophic effects on your motor control,” Hantman says. Our brains like to predict as much as possible, then use our senses to course-correct when the predictions go wrong.

Image Victoria Skye, via Gavin Buckingham

How to get back to normal

A lot of thought is going into what happens next.

Social distancing: how we overcome fear of one another to embrace a new normalThe Conversation
We mustn’t overlook how we make sense – physically and emotionally – of a world affected by a global virus. My research has examined how our embodied use of space – our proximity, our distance, and the boundaries we create between one another, affects us socially, culturally, economically and even politically. Now we are witnessing how our bodies learn to cope in a new world shaped by a pandemic.

But this isn’t serious, right?

Transition from videocall to real life conversation with the ‘see yourself window’designboom
If throughout the many videocalls during lockdown you’ve been looking more at the little rectangle of yourself than the faces of your friends and family, then perhaps this device created by rana rmeily is for you. The ‘see yourself window’ is a small, lightweight and 3D printed gadget that hooks onto your ear and aims to ease people back into real, physical interaction.

Back in the office yet?

So lockdown’s easing here next week.

What’s reopening on June 15? All of the lockdown restrictions easing on MondayLondon Evening Standard
All non-essential retail shops will be able to reopen from Monday, provided they follow Government guidelines to make them “Covid-secure”, Business Secretary Alok Sharma confirmed last night. Mr Sharma said the move will “allow high streets up and down the country to spring back to life”. These include clothes and shoe shops, book shops, electronics retailers, tailors, auction houses, photography studios, indoor markets, and shops selling toys.

Things might start to feel a little more normal for some, but for others less so.

Ten Lincolnshire schools report COVID-19 infections since reopeningThe Lincolnite
Years One, Six and Reception classes returned to the classroom last Monday. Since then Lincolnshire County Council said two school staff have been confirmed positive, while two results have come back negative and eight are still waiting.

Plan shelved for all primary pupils to be back in school before summer holidaysSky News
[T]he National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said that if the plans were confirmed, it would be “pleased to see the government will not force the impossible”. The body previously said returning all pupils before the end of term would present “unsolvable practical barriers if the hierarchies of control are to be maintained”.

It’s a difficult balancing act, with different parts of the country experiencing different transmission rates.

The UK may need local lockdowns. But can it make them work?Wired UK
Explaining to the public what scientific evidence local rules are based on will be key. “Under local lockdowns it seems very likely that people who live not very far from each other will end up receiving very different policing responses. So it will be important that those most affected understand the basis of those decisions, else they may feel they’re being unreasonably or unfairly dealt with,” says Stuart Lister, professor of policing and criminal justice at University of Leeds.

No change for me next week, though. I’ll still be working from home, logging in from the kitchen table with its view of our little garden and bird feeders. I could get quite used to this.

Remote work’s time has comeCity Journal
[I]t’s important to bear in mind that the pivot to remote work due to Covid-19 is being made under extraordinary conditions, rushed and relatively unplanned. Many will be attempting to work remotely while simultaneously providing child care and dealing with other pandemic-related exigencies. … The sudden expansion of remote work will feel especially socially isolating, since it is occurring amid general social distancing. In short, this is the worst version of modern remote work. It will get better.

Let’s hope so. The question we’re all asking is, when will all this go back to normal, whatever that new normal ends up being?

When 511 epidemiologists expect to fly, hug and do 18 other everyday activities againThe New York Times
Many epidemiologists are already comfortable going to the doctor, socializing with small groups outside or bringing in mail, despite the coronavirus. But unless there’s an effective vaccine or treatment first, it will be more than a year before many say they will be willing to go to concerts, sporting events or religious services. And some may never greet people with hugs or handshakes again.

When will life return to normal? This is the answer of epidemiologists, as embroidered by one of them, Melissa Sharp. Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

Black lives, history, respect, status matters

From across the USA …

These pictures show just how large the protests against police brutality really areBuzzfeed News
Across major cities and small towns, people turned out en masse to demonstrate against the police killing of George Floyd and to call for change in the US.

… and across the decades …

This is what 100 years of racial protest looks like in AmericaBuzzfeed News
From the 1917 silent protests in the streets of Manhattan to the recent national unrest following the killing of George Floyd, these pictures capture the long and tumultuous struggle for racial justice in the US.

… to cities all around the world, right now.

Images from a worldwide protest movementThe Atlantic
Over the weekend, demonstrations took place around the world, with thousands of people outside the United States marching to show solidarity with American protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. In many places, marchers also voiced their anger about systemic racism and police brutality within their own countries.

From our streets, to our museums …

‘Time to give back the swag, guys!’ British Museum unleashes Twitter storm with statement on Black Lives MatterThe Art Newspaper
“Look, I love you guys, but maybe you ought to sit this one out,” said one Twitter user, Jeff Pearce, a novelist and historian. “Unless you plan to return the looted Ethiopian treasures, the stolen Elgin Marbles and permanently return the Benin Bronzes.”

… and living rooms.

Little Britain pulled from iPlayer and Netflix because ‘times have changed’BBC News
In 2017, Lucas said: “If I could go back and do Little Britain again, I wouldn’t make those jokes about transvestites. I wouldn’t play black characters. Basically, I wouldn’t make that show now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now.” Walliams has also said he would “definitely do it differently” in today’s cultural landscape.

Times may have changed for some, but change is moving too slowly for others.

Windrush scandal: only 60 victims given compensation so farThe Guardian
Only 60 people have received Windrush compensation payments during the first year of the scheme’s operation, with just £360,000 distributed from a fund officials expected might be required to pay out between £200m and £500m.

Metal pipes

It’s time for another Bill McClintock mashup, I think.

An unexpectedly catchy mashup of ‘Shout’ by The Isley Brothers combined with ‘Ace of Spades’ by MotörheadLaughing Squid
Video editor Bill McClintock has put together an unexpectedly catchy and entertaining mashup of the classic Isley Brothers song “Shout” with the legendary Motörhead song “Ace of Spades”.

As I’ve said earlier, I used to listen to a lot of metal, and have loved that track from the start. It’s great to see it again, still fresh.

More metal now, in the form of a pipeline, care of Armin Küpper and his saxophone.

Saxophonist cleverly plays into giant piece of pipeline to accompany himself with an echo in perfect pitchLaughing Squid
(translated) This sound on the tube, in this loneliness always gives me the feeling: Hey, you’re not alone there! Sometimes I just can’t stop playing. The nice thing is, when it gets cool in the evening, I sit down in the tube heated up during the day and enjoy the sunset playing the saxophone.

Groovy!

Good question

Face masks, then, but

Why are Britons reluctant to wear masks to contain covid-19?The Economist
Future historians looking back on 2020 will be struck by its dystopian imagery: footballers taking to the pitch wearing masks in Brazil; models strutting down the catwalk in couture coverings in France; a head of government being sworn into office, his face shrouded in a surgical guise, in Slovakia. Wearing masks—hitherto an almost exclusively East Asian practice—has gone viral.

And yet one country, it seems, did not get the memo.

On a related matter, it’s good to see the Led By Donkeys folk back at work.

Styles of “law” “enforcement”

Why does the Minneapolis police department look like a military unit?The Washington Post
Such protests have become common in a country where more than 1,000 people annually are killed by police, with black people three times as likely as whites to be the victims. Also common is what happened soon after demonstrators gathered to protest Floyd’s death: Police in riot gear shot tear gas canisters into the crowds and fired stun grenades and “nonlethal projectiles” at demonstrators, injuring many. It was stunningly easy to point to the same department’s gentle treatment weeks ago against white anti-lockdown protesters while those protesting against police violence were met with militarized violence.

But this too should not surprise us. Police departments have come to resemble military units, contributing to deadly violence disproportionately against black Americans. While many policies related to policing and mass incarceration happen at the local level, the militarization of police has been promulgated by federal policies.

Writing for The Conversation, Tom Nolan, an associate professor in Sociology and a former police officer of 27 years, has the research to back up this shift he’s seen first-hand.

Militarization has fostered a policing culture that sets up protesters as ‘the enemy’The Conversation
Night after night, angry protesters have taken to the street. So too have police officers dressed in full riot gear and backed by an arsenal that any small military force would be proud of: armored vehicles, military-grade aircraft, rubber and wooden bullets, stun grenades, sound cannons and tear gas canisters. […]

A study of police-involved deaths between 2012 and 2018 found that on average, police kill 2.8 men every day in the U.S. The risk of death at the hands of an officer was found to be between 3.2 and 3.5 times higher for black men compared to white men.

And there appears to be a correlation between militarization and police violence. A 2017 study analyzed spending by police departments against police-involved fatalities. Summarizing their results in The Washington Post, the authors of the study wrote: “Even controlling for other possible factors in police violence (such as household income, overall and black population, violent-crime levels and drug use), more-militarized law enforcement agencies were associated with more civilians killed each year by police. When a county goes from receiving no military equipment to $2,539,767 worth (the largest figure that went to one agency in our data), more than twice as many civilians are likely to die in that county the following year.”

As those articles show, this militarisation is not a recent shift. This is from 2014.

Why are police using military-grade weapons in high schools?Rolling Stone
For Laura Aguilar, another high school senior who co-leads Taking Action along with Davis, the weapons program is illustrative of the way students of color are treated regularly. “A mine-resistant vehicle isn’t a thing that exists for our safety. It exists for our harm,” she says. “Why are we providing all these resources to the wrong side of education?” Both Aguilar and Davis said that, while they were disturbed by the level of militarization of school police, they were not surprised. “A lot of us have already internalized it. It’s the norm for students,” said Aguilar. “We’re being policed already in our communities, and now a second time in our schools.”

And this illustration is from 2011.

Police confront demonstraters, then and nowPhil Ebersole’s Blog

Here’s a fascinating visual essay from Nate Powell on how the police, paramilitaries and (other) fascist groups are adopting the style and symbols of pop culture, as highlighted in various images from the past few days.

About facePopula
At its core, this is a child’s power fantasy finally enacted in adulthood, speaking only the language of power, the intellectual crudeness of reaction, contrarianism, opposition.

This is a canary in the coal mine (just one of many): that aggrieved, insecure white Americans with an exaggerated sense of sovereignty have officially declared their existence as above the law, consistent with a long tradition of acting and living above it – propped up by apolitical consumer trends’ normalising impact.

I think I’ll leave this here as a final word, an attempt to lighten the mood a little.

Update 05/06/2020

I’ve found a few links that go to illustrate that last chilling line in Nate Powell’s essay, about “future fascist paramilitary participants and their ushers”. There’ll be no shortage of volunteers.

The armed white men who terrorized Philadelphia’s Black Lives Matter supportersThe Guardian
Protesters reported men ripping up signs, yelling homophobic slurs, and spitting on people. And the police greeted them as friends.

And here’s one to show that this is neither a new nor a US-only sentiment.

Update 12/06/2020

Something else I’ve found that relates to Nate’s essay, above.

Creator of the Punisher is organizing a Black Lives Matter benefit to reclaim the skull symbol from policeBoing Boing
“It’s disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the Justice system. He’s supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority and the reality some people can’t depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way.” […]

Unfortunately, Conway’s insistence on what’s plainly obvious for anyone who’s actually familiar with the Punisher has not stopped the character from becoming a symbol of fascism, proudly worn by law enforcement agents who probably shouldn’t be boasting about their love of fascism.

Tracking mortality, 350 years ago

I know a number of people are keeping diaries at the moment, to set down our thoughts and experiences of these strange days. We’re not the first to do that, of course.

Diary of Samuel Pepys shows how life under the bubonic plague mirrored today’s pandemicThe Conversation
For Pepys and the inhabitants of London, there was no way of knowing whether an outbreak of the plague that occurred in the parish of St. Giles, a poor area outside the city walls, in late 1664 and early 1665 would become an epidemic.

The plague first entered Pepys’ consciousness enough to warrant a diary entry on April 30, 1665: “Great fears of the Sickenesse here in the City,” he wrote, “it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all.”

Just a few months later …

In London, the Company of Parish Clerks printed “bills of mortality,” the weekly tallies of burials. Because these lists noted London’s burials – not deaths – they undoubtedly undercounted the dead. Just as we follow these numbers closely today, Pepys documented the growing number of plague victims in his diary.

At the end of August, he cited the bill of mortality as having recorded 6,102 victims of the plague, but feared “that the true number of the dead this week is near 10,000,” mostly because the victims among the urban poor weren’t counted. A week later, he noted the official number of 6,978 in one week, “a most dreadfull Number.”

Samuel Pepys wasn’t the only one keeping a record of events.

Coronavirus: Defoe’s account of the Great Plague of 1665 has startling parallels with todayThe Conversation
HF [the narrator] becomes obsessed with the weekly mortality figures. They charted deaths by parish, giving a picture of how the plague was moving around the city. Still, it was impossible to be sure who had died directly of the disease, just as in the BBC news today we hear people have died “with” rather than “of” COVID-19. Reporting was difficult, partly because people were reluctant to admit there was an infection in the family. After all, they might be locked in their homes to catch the disease and die.

HF is appalled by those who opened up taverns and spent their days and nights drinking, mocking anyone who objected. At one point he confronts a group of rowdies and gets a torrent of abuse in return. Later, exhibiting one of his less appealing traits, he is gratified to hear that they all caught the plague and died.

Here’s a look at those Bills of Mortality in greater detail.

London’s dreadful visitation: A year of weekly death statistics during the Great Plague (1665)The Public Domain Review
As early as 1592, London parish officials had instituted a system for keeping track of deaths in the city, trying to curb the spread of the plague by tracking it and quarantining victims and those who lived with them. Since it was not then legally required to report deaths to a central authority, the officials hired “searchers of the dead”, whose job it was to locate corpses, examine them, and determine cause of death. These “searchers” were not trained in any kind of medicine. Typically they were poor, illiterate, older women whose contact with the infected isolated them socially and often brought their lives to an early end. They were also, in one of the more gruesome examples of gig work offered by history, paid per body. […]

In addition to the alarming number of plague deaths, Londoners, of course, continued to die by other means, both familiar and strange.

Many familiar maladies hide behind the enigmatic naming. “Rising of the Lights”, dreamy though it sounds, was a seventeenth-century term for any death associated with respiratory trouble (“lights” being a word for lungs). “Griping in the guts” and “Stopping of the stomach” were similarly used for deaths accompanied by gastrointestinal complaints. “Spotted feaver” was most likely typhus or meningitis.

Many labels — such as “suddenly”, “frighted”, and “grief” — speak of the often approximate nature of assigning a cause (not carried out by medical professionals but rather the “searchers”). “Planet” referred to any illness thought to have been caused by the negative influence/position of one of the planets at the time (a similar astrological source lies behind the name Influenza, literally influence).

Meanwhile.

This guy used an old Samsung monitor to make a legendary plague doctor maskDesign You Trust
Employees of the IT industry sometimes have to communicate with users. And they also need protection – like the legendary mask of the plague doctor, but with nuances. User of Pikabu social network used an old Samsung SyncMaster monitor to make this mask by himself. The result is amazing!

Will we get the future we deserve?

I have to admit this Plandemic conspiracy theory has somewhat passed me by. It sounds bonkers, to say the least.

Fact-checking Judy Mikovits, the controversial virologist attacking Anthony Fauci in a viral conspiracy videoScience
Mikovits: Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions, and if it happens to be SARS-CoV-2, then you’ve got a big problem.

It’s not clear what Mikovits means by “coronavirus expressions.” There is no evidence that wearing a mask can activate viruses and make people sick.

Mikovits: Why would you close the beach? You’ve got sequences in the soil, in the sand. You’ve got healing microbes in the ocean in the salt water. That’s insanity.

It’s not clear what Mikovits means by sand or soil “sequences.” There is no evidence that microbes in the ocean can heal COVID-19 patients.

It’s worrying how mainstream these ludicrous conspiracies are becoming.

The Plandemic conspiracy has a wild new fan club: Facebook momsWired UK
Across Facebook, the Plandemic video was shared on hundreds of community groups. Its appearance was often incongruous, akin to the conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. turning up uninvited to your village’s summer barbecue and telling everyone that vaccines are going to kill their children. The spread of the conspiracy theory on otherwise banal community groups reveals a perilous new reality: one where the coronavirus pandemic has taken dangerous, fringe views and planted them firmly in the minds of scores of ordinary people. And, as with the anti-vaccination movement, the Plandemic conspiracy theory has resonated particularly strongly amongst women – often young mothers. […]

The unprecedented success of the Plandemic video is part of a growing trend: of conspiracy theorists using the coronavirus pandemic to seek out ever larger audiences. For this to work, they have changed tack. While poorly-produced, hour-long rant videos and clumsy memes still persist, the Plandemic was notable for its higher production values. This added slickness is central to efforts to attract new believers. And it’s working.

The video’s long gone now, taken down in an attempt to stop the spread of misinformation. But even that’s not straightforward.

[T]he messaging around the Plandemic was designed for it to be censored – Mikovits, so the conspiracy theory went, had been silenced, now she was speaking out, but soon the big technology platforms would censor her again. The big technology platforms dutifully obliged, not by limiting the spread of the conspiracy theory but by simply deleting it. This created the perfect storm – a Streisand effect that boosted the conspiracy theory still further.

It may feel like a US-only problem, but that’s far from the case, sadly. Here’s another Wired UK article from earlier this year, before our current lockdown had properly begun. Facebook, again.

How Facebook turned into a coronavirus conspiracy hellholeWired UK
The posts, which are filling innocuous Facebook groups normally dedicated to political discussions and flight deals, are a strange evolution of conspiracy theories that have been knocking around the internet for years. One much-mooted theory, for example, is that the coronavirus has been caused by radiation from 5G masts. […]

Other Facebook groups keen on coronavirus conspiracies include “We Support Jeremy Corbyn”, “I’M A BREXITEER” and the “Jacob Rees-Mogg Appreciation Group”, with hundreds of posts and tens of thousands of reactions. These posts incorporate political conspiracies – for instance, one post on the “We Support Jeremy Corbyn Facebook” group, states that “people have bugs like this all the time, the media are basically covering up the economic global crash which is coming and also the Brexit shit show.”

It’s easy to feel despondent, reading all this — we’re just too stupid to help ourselves, we’re going to get the future we deserve. But it’s important to remember that, however noisy all these scared stupid bigoted idiots people are, and however much attention the media gives them, the vast majority of us are sensible and keeping it together. Right?

Coronavirus, ‘Plandemic’ and the seven traits of conspiratorial thinkingThe Conversation
Understanding and revealing the techniques of conspiracy theorists is key to inoculating yourself and others from being misled, especially when we are most vulnerable: in times of crises and uncertainty.

Playing with themselves

Remember that young guy with four saxophones playing the Wii theme tune? It seems the lockdown has provided an opportunity for others to have a go at similar recordings.

Bassoonist pulls off one-man “Thomas The Tank Engine” quartetInspireMore
Everyone deals with quarantine boredom differently. Maybe you deep cleaned your house, built a swing set for the kids, or finally beat that video game you’ve been working on forever. Michael Elderkin took a more musical approach.

You can join in, if you like, though I think I’d rather play along to this one.

Knight Rider for 8 cellosKottke
You’re either the type of person who can’t wait to click on a link that says “Knight Rider for 8 cellos” or you are not.

Get the facts, before it’s too late

Rather than bringing us together, social media can often pull us apart. We all know this, and it seems the platforms themselves know this too.

Facebook executives shut down efforts to make the site less divisiveWSJ
“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”

But of course the platforms aren’t solely to blame. The users have to take some responsibility for what they write and share. Take this user, for example, just your typical conspiracy theorist.

See those little ‘Get the facts’ warning labels, suggesting he’s spreading fake news making unsubstantiated claims?

Twitter labels Trump’s false claims with warning for first timeThe Guardian
The company’s decision on Tuesday afternoon to affix labels to a series of Trump tweets about California’s election planning is the result of a new policy debuted on 11 May. They were applied – hours after the tweets initially went out – because Trump’s tweets violated Twitter’s “civic integrity policy”, a company spokeswoman confirmed, which bars users from “manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes”, such as by posting misleading information that could dissuade people from participating in an election.

He didn’t like that, as you can imagine, and is trying to retaliate.

Trump to sign executive order on social media on Thursday: White HouseReuters
The officials gave no further details. It was unclear how Trump could follow through on the threat of shutting down privately owned companies including Twitter Inc. The dispute erupted after Twitter on Tuesday for the first time tagged Trump’s tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact check the posts.

But is this just the beginning?

Trump sows doubt on voting. It keeps some people up at night.The New York Times
The anxiety has intensified in recent weeks as the president continues to attack the integrity of mail voting and insinuate that the election system is rigged, while his Republican allies ramp up efforts to control who can vote and how. Just last week, Mr. Trump threatened to withhold funding from states that defy his wishes on expanding mail voting, while also amplifying unfounded claims of voter fraud in battleground states. […]

The task force began with 65 possibilities before narrowing the list early this year to eight potential calamities, including natural disasters, a successful foreign hack of voting machines, a major candidate’s challenging the election and seeking to delegitimize the results, and a president who refuses to participate in a peaceful transfer of power. Among the scenarios they eliminated when making final cuts in January, ironically, was a killer pandemic that ravaged the country and kept people homebound before Election Day.

That election’s going to be interesting, to say the least.

Dining out, at a distance

Bars, cafes and restaurants are still closed here, but other countries are cautiously opening them back up, with some fun responses to the challenges they face.

This restaurant in Bangkok uses cartoon dragon dolls as space keepers for social distancingDesign You Trust
These guests look special! They are green, they have wings and they don’t say a word. The dragons are of course not living beings, but figures. The owner of a restaurant in the country of Thailand in Asia has placed them at the tables in his restaurant.

Restaurant finds a genius way to help their customers feel less lonely while social distancing using pandasBored Panda
Maison Saigon placed plush pandas in the restaurant so that people have to sit at a safe distance. Also, if you come to eat alone, you have some company. The rules and regulations are changing rapidly and most of us are confused about what to do and how to be safe, so this idea is a charming and smart way to make sure everyone is being protected from the virus.

Restaurant to reopen with cardboard customers to make diners comfortableSunrise
Five Dock Dining owner Frank Angeletta has placed cardboard customers in empty seats around the venue. He’s also prepared ambient background noise, including chatter and the sounds of clinking cutlery, to play in the background. “We really wanted to add some atmosphere and give diners that realistic dining experience,” he told Sunrise. “The cut outs and background noise are a bit eerie when you first walk in – but once you’re sitting down it’s a bit of fun.”

Cafe in Germany gives customers hats with pool noodles to keep them apartBored Panda
The owner of “Café Rothe Schwerin”, Jacqueline Rothe, went the extra mile and came up with an ingenious idea to make sure the patrons keep their distance—pool noodles! Yup, you read that right. The business is using pool noodles attached to customers’ hats to help them with social distancing! She also clarified that this was a one-time event only for the reopening of the cafe and the guests don’t wear the hats regularly.

Don’t quite know what to make of this, though.

Mask in a restaurant? This one can gobble like Pac-ManReuters
Israeli inventors have developed a coronavirus mask with a remote control mouth that lets diners eat food without taking it off, a device they say could make a visit to a restaurant less risky.

I think I’ll stick to takeaways for now…

Update 05/06/2020

Spotted another.

Burger King debuts ‘social-distance crowns’ in Germany as restaurants test quirky ways to keep customers apartBusiness Insider
“We wanted to reinforce the rules of high safety and hygiene standards that the BK restaurants are following,” a Burger King representative told Business Insider. “The do-it-yourself social-distance crown was a fun and playful way to remind our guests to practice social distancing while they are enjoying food in the restaurants.”