Real news v fake news, making money from coronavirus, two deaths and an unexpected kindness

8 March 2020

Tragically, today is International Women’s Day.  Isn’t it sad we still need one and can’t just have an International People’s Day.

The good news is that 10 Downing Street does read this blog:  rumour has it the government will be doubling spending on flood defences in this week’s budget (see the 29 February post).

I came across something this week that’s even more worrying than Boris Johnson’s bid for absolute power, something that is patently obvious but I’m too thick to have registered it before:  real news tends to be hidden behind a paywall (with the honourable exceptions of media like the BBC and the Guardian – even the Washington Post limits the number of free articles you can read and will only show you more if you allow their trackers) while fake news is free.

The real news is still coronavirus-obsessed so I’m spending more than 8 hours on public transport going to a London hospital on Tuesday to see for myself just how crowded the streets are and how many people are wearing masks, and I might as well have my laryngeal botox injection while I’m there.  I’ll report next week if I survive.

The virus has provided some wonderful opportunities for capitalists who still follow Thatcher’s creed that exploiting market forces is the only true economic imperative.  Amazon claims to be struggling to de-list products such as hand sanitisers and masks whose prices have been ramped up by 2000% but you can still get a 4-pack of 5 litre containers of Primagel Plus “Against CorONAVIRUS-HIV-SARS Disinfected” (sic) from an Italian supplier for only £150.  It is apparently a “must-have product for hand disinfection” and “is a clear gel for surgical medical presidium” (no, me neither).  The stuff has one 5* review that says “Very good & strong”.  Obviously irresistible.

A search for “coronavirus” on the website apparently also shows products such as testing kits for dogs and cats.  I know that greedy entrepreneurs preying on the neuroses of the gullible isn’t funny but I did find a smile creeping upwards as I imagined people on their hands and knees calling “Come along Whiskers, sit here while, SIT, while I, stop wriggling, while I test you, SIT DAMN YOU, while I test you for a virus you can’t catch”.

Incidentally, while everybody is panicking about catching Covid 19, let’s think about it from their point of view.  From all the pictures I’ve seen, it’s a very pretty virus and, while it is very small, it has clearly developed some sort of survival instinct.  For example, it’s made itself unusually easy to catch and has realised that it’s not in any virus’s best interests to kill their hosts so the death rate is very low (even for those of us in the demographic with a 10-15% death rate).  Their best chance of propagation is to leave their hosts alive and active so they can pass it on to as many other people as possible.  Perhaps, in some unimaginable way, they’re intelligent, possibly with the group mentality and/or race memory of ants who build nests and run amazingly efficient maintenance systems that are not affected by the death of individual ants?

I was asked an unanswerable question this week.  “What’s hagiography?” someone asked, so I explained and was then asked “How did you learn that?” which flummoxed me completely and I realised I don’t know when or where I came across most of the words I know, including flummox.

The saddest news locally is that FlyBe, which is/was based at our local airport, has gone bust and a couple of thousand people have lost their jobs.  It remains to be seen whether the airport will be able to survive without them.

The saddest news from America – apart from the obvious one – is that Kerry Spencer and Nathaniel Woods were sentenced to death for the murder of three police officers in a drug raid in 2004.  Spencer admits the killings and has repeatedly insisted that Woods was “absolutely innocent” and actually ran away when the shooting started.  Guess which one the state of Alabama has just killed by lethal injection.  Now guess what colour he was.  Spencer is on death row but still alive as I write.

The saddest news in this house is that a friend unexpectedly died in her sleep on Wednesday night.  One of us has known her for 60 years, the other for longer because they were at school together and, despite my pleas, the school wouldn’t let me in, quoting some rubbish about a gender problem.  Strangely, her death led to an unexpected example of kindness.

We have two labradors, one who’s 13 with arthritis and fading sight, the other her son, a bouncy 10-year old hoolidog.  The mother is a sweetie but now too old to play games and, if she ever gets the younger’s favourite toy, he will immediately grab it from her.

As I passed on the news, I was crying and the mother dog suddenly appeared beside me and snuggled up to comfort me, then fetched the favourite toy and presented it to my wife, something she’s never done before.

Perhaps ‘kindness’ is being over-anthropomorphic but there was certainly some sort of empathy, and a wish to comfort us, which impressed us a lot.

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