On How We Get Out Of This
What I Learnt From Robert Heinlein
This arrived yesterday. One of my favourite books from my adolescence, which as some of you know was a difficult time.
This is the version with the author’s preferred ending, when the central character dies. (Spoiler alert.) It makes far more sense. Her younger brother’s trajectory, from brilliant but sociopathic 11 year old to a human, requires the death of his sister. Heinlein’s publisher would not allow her death in an atomic explosion, protecting another sentient creature.
This is how he rewrote it. Heinlein is one of the most misunderstood writers of the 20th century. I learn a lot from him. He started as a pulp fiction writer in the 1940s – Beyond This Horizon is pretty staple, The Day After Tomorrow borderline racist.
By the 50s he was writing what we would now call Young Adult Fiction. Heinlein is not a great writer but I would rank him above JK Rowling. Double Star, Red Planet, Starman Jones, Time For The Stars – these are all books I would recommend for intelligent, questioning tenagers.
By Podkayne, he was trying to move beyond into more adult areas, but the publisher didn’t much like it.
He is best known for Starship Troopers, which I read when I was 12. And again and again. He posited a society in which only veterans could vote, and in which public flogging and execution are the norm.
There was the film, by Paul Verhoeven, that turned it around the other way, making it satire. Great film, but not what Heinlein meant.
There is no evidence that Heinlein thought this was an ideal society. He was a socialist in his youth in the 1930s, not an easy thing to be then. He has depicted societies based on anarchism – The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, possibly his best. A hippie utopia, Stranger In A Strange Land, a society where any physical violence is punishable by mandatory therapy, even a theocracy. No reason to believe he thought any one a good idea.
His reputation has been equally sullied by by the books published in his senescence, when he was probably suffering from some sort of dementia. Though I would put in a word for Job: A Comedy Of Justice, a satire on religion involving parallel worlds.
And The Door Into Summer is possibly the most uplifting SF novel ever written.
On An Epiphany, And Anger Management
On Self-Isolation, And The Stranglers
Every day’s just like the last/On the ship, tied to the mast…” Golden Brown, The Stranglers, English rock band.
Dave Greenfield, keyboard player with The Stranglers, died the other day. He was 71, had underlying medical problems and succumbed to Covid-19. Never my favourite band; I saw them live once and they seemed to attract a lot of violent idiots.
The above song is generally reckoned to be a paean to brown heroin. A drug which, and I do not speak from experience, changes the perception of time, allowing it to seem to pass very slowly but still disappear unmarked.
You probably see where this is going. I am not the first to point out that the actual days, under lockdown, seem very slow but the weeks, months seem to concertina. We are six weeks away from when time stopped, but it seems like much less.
We try to mark each day with an event to distinguish it from others – a visit to this shop, a walk down by the river. The high point of one day might be a conversation with a complete stranger, from six feet of distance.
I am using social media to try to keep up a point of contact with someone, anyone, who is not immediate family. This means I am in touch more with people I do not know – that writer in Belgium, that former contact from my days in the City, someone I was at school with half a century ago – than with people I used to interreact with on a daily basis.
I put out music or random tweets, which are picked up and commented on by those same near strangers. This is the paradox of lockdown, touching from a distance. We are social animals, and we need that contact, however random. That conversation with that stranger, six feet apart…
When This Is Over, and this will not be for a long time, will we be different? Yes and no. No, because we will doubtless revert to being the greedy and selfish people we were. Yes, because we will appreciate other people more. Not just the healthcare workers we will hopefully never come into contact with, but the people who have made a difference. Our unfailingly cheerfully postwoman, the lady who has been delivering plants and compost to us and our elderly neighbours, for some of whom their gardens are a lifeline, about the only thing keeping them going.
We will understand the importance of such social interreactions, and we will appreciate them more when they accelerate and we approach more normal times. Some of us are learning how to be human.
But at what a cost. Random thoughts in dark times.
On Covid-19, And Two Discrepancies
I am not a scientist. But I have a good understanding of science, and of statistics. There are two things about this virus I fail to understand. If anyone with a better knowledge, any doctor or a virologist, can put me straight and explain my lack of understanding, please feel free.
This is also not an attempt to spead stupid Internet conspiracy theories. All of this comes from my own understanding, not from someone wearing a tinfoil hat in Peoria. (No disrespect to the inhabitants of same.)
One, this virus kills twice as many men as women. Almost precisely, based on the death rates as far as I can see them and irrespective of age.
We are told this has to do with:
A: Women having two XX chronosomes are more robust, on an immunological level, than men with XY chronosomes. More options for protection.
B: Men’s lifestyle choices, smoking, drink…
All this plays well with the prevailing narrative, women the stronger sex, men are stupid. Except it makes no sense because female survival rates from other infections, or debilitating conditions like leukaemia after chemotherapy, are not significantly better than men’s. If the above were true, they would be. Like 67/33 per cent.
I am aware of no other pathogen in history that affects the sexes so disproportionately. And I have looked.
Two, it seems the quantum of viral material that sufferers come into contact with affects their chances of survival. Again this seems unprecedented; you get a virus, like a cold, you get it. Doesn’t matter how much viral material there is involved.
This is why front line medical workers are being affected so badly. It is not about re-infection, though this is another uncertain area. It is the amount of virus you are exposed to from the off that affects your chances of survival.
Again, I know of no pathogen for which this holds true.
Correct me of I am wrong. The implications are, to say the least, disturbing.
On Johnson, And The Virus
We knew he was lazy. We knew he was dishonest. Many of us regard Johnson as the worst Prime Minister we have ever had. Yet The Sunday Times’ revelations today, that he failed to attend crucial meetiungs and seemed more concerned about his leisure time than the worst crisis facing the country he thought he was privileged by birth to rule, are still shocking.
Put that aside. The Government he leads has, as I see it, three main problems.
One: Having lied to us for three to four years and having said experts have nothing to contribute to any debate, Johnson and the selection of non-entities he has appointed for their loyalty to the Brexit cause rather than any innate ability are now saying, we are only following the advice of the experts. Don’t blame us. There is inevitably a question over the credibility of the advice we are being given. By anyone.
Two. It is becoming clear that we are not all in it together. The poor, the marginalised, the young, the low paid workers, are all suffering the worst effects of the crisis. As the well-off are seen to be driving off in their SUVs to their second homes, as Government ministers flout the basic rules they insist we ordinary people obey, there is going to be a mounting problem with social cohesion and obedience to those rules. It is pretty clear, from the briefings given the press on the exit from lockdown, that someone at the heart of government has realised this. This cannot go on much longer.
Three. There is the difficulty of handling any good news, on the spread of infection, vaccines, whatever. The balance is between spreading public despondency and losing that support for lockdown and the necessary measures in place and telling people, we’ve solved it. Remember that promise that it will all be over in 12 weeks? If people perceive the crisis is coming to an end, they will start to socialise again and the infection rate will pick up.
In all this, it would be a great help if we had a Government we could all believe in, respect and get behind. Instead we have one led by Boris Johnson.
So I am back to the place I was more than two years ago. Trying to make sense of it all. As Joan Didion said ( she was a Californian writer in the 1970s) I never understand anything until I write about it. And I will.
I would seem to have got this restarted, with help from Boy. Trying to link to FB and Twitter. Then the world will have to suffer my inchoate opinions. Here’s hoping.
On The Twitter Mob
Well this has been an instructive few hours on Twitter. Most of you probably know I use Twitter to keep in touch with what is happening in the world and express my own views and/or support for others.
Yesterday I Tweeted a mild message of support for a moderate Labour MP I admire in response to a Tweet she had put out, while also suggesting I spoke for “almost all” of her followers.
The hate mail arrived almost immediately and has continued since. 24 hours later. These Tweets are apparently interlinked, with one Tweet being retweeted from one account to another and back again.
Apparently I do not speak for “almost all”. I made that up. My other failings are that I am unlikely to be affected by austerity. (True.) Which by implication I support. (Untrue.) I am a financial journalist. (True.) I am by implication a supporter of capitalism at its worse. (Untrue.)
And so on, with increasing hatred and rancour. I thought at first I had misspoken and apologised for any accidental offence caused. To such people, in full flood, apologies for accidental offence are irrelevant.
It is quite disturbing. These people do not know where I live and have little idea who I am. Still, you worry about stirring up such feelings.
The stuff is still coming in, even if I have indicated I will not be responding. An investigation of the accounts involved suggests the people involved are at the Corbyn end of the political spectrum, to put it as tactfully as I can.
My own experience is quite mild – as one friend points out, no mention of the C word. God alone knows what that poor MP, and others, have to go through each day, though.