Bunny hops and Faraday cages, Bob Dylan on mortality, C-in-C sells Americans, naked market forces, nerfing, and kindness in an online interview

5 July 2020

My curiosity was aroused recently by a notice we get from Western Power Distribution with our annual wayleave payment for the power line that runs over our garden.  It warns of the dangers of hitting a power cable with a vehicle you’re in, and what to do next.  We don’t actually have any cherry-pickers or trench diggers but I read it anyway.

Much of it is obvious, such as stay in the vehicle if possible (you’ll be in a Faraday cage so you won’t get electrocuted in the car but remember mobile phones don’t work in Faraday cages).  In summary, it says that, if you have to get out, jump – or, if you have a Lamborghini, crawl – straight down to the ground, don’t touch the vehicle after any part of you has landed, then “move away from the vehicle using bunny hops”.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like not knowing interesting things, however irrelevant, so I naturally contacted WPD to ask why the bunny hops and a manager who lives nearby called in on his way home one day to explain.  Basically (and I simplify somewhat), the power flowing from the cable round your vehicle into the ground doesn’t just go straight down but it dissipates over an area surrounding it so there’s a risk that, if you walk, your back foot might still be in a 50,000 volt area while your front foot would come down in a 30,000 volt area, with the remaining 20,000 volts going through your body, whereas bunny hops mean that both your feet are always in areas of similar voltage.

It’s why birds can sit on power lines without getting electrocuted, and why you can bunny hop onto a live rail at the station without getting a shock (I know it works because I did it once to prove it to a dubious friend that I wouldn’t die).

In an interview published in the New York Times on 12 June, Bob Dylan was asked if he often thought about mortality.  He answered “I think about the death of the human race. The long strange trip of the naked ape. Not to be light on it, but everybody’s life is so transient. Every human being, no matter how strong or mighty, is frail when it comes to death. I think about it in general terms, not in a personal way.” 

I put it differently some years ago when I wrote “All our lives are written in sand, and washed away by the tides of time” but it comes to the same sort of thing, that we overestimate our own individual significance.  In a century, we’ll all be forgotten, and our statues will be toppled.

Even Donald Trump’s increasingly lunatic efforts to be remembered as America’s worst-ever president will be forgotten.  Last weekend’s contribution came when he claimed that he didn’t know Russia had offered to pay to be allowed to attack American troops in Afghanistan.  If he really didn’t know, he should find out why;  if he did, the US military should know that their commander-in-chief is willing to sell their lives to Russia.

As a country, the US is also outstandingly successful at alienating other countries all over the world but at least we might learn the dangers of unregulated market forces now that America’s bought the world’s entire stocks of remdesivir, which is manufactured by a company called Gilead Sciences Inc and is one of the two drugs that seem to work against Covid-19. 

In an open letter published on 29 June by Daniel O’Day, Gilead’s Chairman & CEO, he explains how socially conscious they are and says “As with all our actions on remdesivir, we approached this with the aim of helping as many patients as possible, as quickly as possible and in the most responsible way” and “In normal circumstances, we would price a medicine according to the value it provides.”  With Covid-19, they reckon it would allow patients to be discharged four days earlier, which would save American hospitals about $12,000.

He then boasts that “To ensure broad and equitable access at a time of urgent global need, we have set a price for governments of developed countries of $390 per vial. Based on current treatment patterns, the vast majority of patients are expected to receive a 5-day treatment course using 6 vials of remdesivir, which equates to $2,340 per patient” in government healthcare programmes;  (because private US insurance companies expect discounts, they’ll have to pay $520 which, less 25% discount, happens to come to $390.)

Gilead’s generosity goes even further and O’Day says:  “In the developing world, where healthcare resources, infrastructure and economics are so different, we have entered into agreements with generic manufacturers to deliver treatment at a substantially lower cost. These alternative solutions are designed to ensure that all countries in the world can provide access to treatment.” 

In other words, they are refusing to share their knowledge with the developed world and the rest of us, from China through Russia to Europe can die for all they care.

He adds later “As the world continues to reel from the human, social and economic impact of this pandemic, we believe that pricing remdesivir well below value is the right and responsible thing to do.”

Of course.  We would have expected no less of big pharma?  Wouldn’t we?

Except they then sold 500,000 doses, Gilead’s entire output for July and 90% of August’s and September’s output, to Donald Trump.  Trump’s reported to be some sort of Christian but obviously not the bible-reading sort.

Thinking of Trump reminds me that, during the week I came across the word ‘nerf’ for the first time, so I looked it up.  It turns out to be used in computer gaming as the opposite of ‘buff’ and is defined as a feature in some video games that decreases the power or strength of the player, and is used metaphorically in more generalised contexts, such as ‘Trump’s been nerfed by his own stupidity’.

As has Boris Johnson who this week said that the coronavirus pandemic “allowed” him to allocate money to repair schools that have been falling apart since George’ Osborne’s ‘austerity’ policies reduced school funding so much they couldn’t even afford the buckets they had to put under drips from leaky roofs.  Johnson needed a pandemic to allow him to do this?  Nerfed.

This week’s kindness comes from a BBC journalist, Christian Fraser, when he was interviewing Dr Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, about local lockdowns.  As she was explaining the problems of accessing testing data, her daughter Scarlett appeared beside her with a picture of a unicorn and asked “Mummy, what’s his name?”.

Wenham apologised and lifted her down and Scarlett went to the back of shot to try the picture on different shelves in a bookcase.  At the end of the interview, after thanking Wenham, Fraser spoke directly to Scarlett saying “Scarlett, I think it looks best on the lower shelf … and it’s a lovely unicorn.” What a lovely way to put an embarrassed mother at ease.

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