Programming note: On Tuesday, I'll be joining James Golden, aka the one and only Mr Snerdley, live at 4pm Eastern on New York's radio powerhouse 77 WABC. Nothing against any of the various "successors" to Rush, but to me James will always be the heart and soul of the old EIB network.
~I'm not much for "memes" (dread word, as Wallace Arnold would say), but this one gave me a mordant chuckle over the weekend:
Alec Baldwin has still killed more people than the Omicron variant.
Which was unhelpful to the narrative but, alas, correct:
WHO says Omicron in 38 countries, no deaths reported
Mr Baldwin was recently holed up just across the Connecticut River from me in the state of Vermont. The Governor of New Hampshire nevertheless chose not to mandate quarantine for non-residents and order citizens to work from home lest the actor venture across the I-89 bridge to the Granite State.
On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, where such measures have been imposed, the Prime Minister reports today:
Sadly, yes, Omicron is producing hospitalisations and, sadly, at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron.
So I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus, I think that's something we need to set on one side and just recognise the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population. So the best thing we can do is all get our boosters.
Ah. One person has died "with" Omicron. Shelter in place until further notice.
And don't even think about "snogging under the mistletoe," advises Mr Johnson's cabinet colleague Thérèse Coffey.
And so the "free world" staggers on to the third year of "two weeks to flatten the curve". Chinese New Year #3: Year of the Bat, Year of the Pangolin, Year of the Wuhan Institute Researcher... On Friday's Mark Steyn Show, Douglas Murray quoted David Starkey: The world gets a Chinese virus, the world gets more Chinese...
I'm not sure the initial "two weeks" would have been possible forty years ago - or even ten, when the concept of "social media" was in its infancy, and "smartphones" weren't quite so. Before the Internet, before 24/7 cable news, confining the entire population would have been more obviously seen as "house arrest", and it would have grated more quickly:
What's going on? Who knows? I telephoned a friend to find out but the line was busy, probably because she was telephoning somebody else to find out...
Do you remember the now obsolete term "crackberry"? It was in the air a little over a decade back, for those people who couldn't keep off their Blackberries even when dining à deux in a swank restaurant. Blackberries went away, and nobody came up with an equivalent term for iPhones, because by whichever model it was it had become accepted that, if four pals meet up in Starbucks, their smartphones stay out and on, just in case someone comes up with an amusing meme while they're ordering their chai lattes...
If governments took away the smartphones, people would get real mad real fast. But leave them the smartphones and take away everything else, including human contact, they shrug and adjust: 2020 man was already on his way to becoming a post-social animal; ChiCom-19 mainly accelerated the process. As I've mentioned many times this last year, in my corner of the world, when lockdown eased and so-called post-Covid life began, general stores that had stayed open until 8 or 9pm for as long as anyone could remember began closing at five or six: no staff for the late shift. Hitherto seven-day diners and restaurants stayed shuttered on Mondays, and then Tuesdays and Wednesdays, because they couldn't get the wait staff. Some places have closed up entirely: the short-order cook never returned from lockdown.
Way back at the turn of the century, the manufacturing got shipped to China and low-paid service jobs became the norm for increasing numbers of Americans. If that's the job, it turns out that the state doesn't have to give you all that much dough for you to figure you'd rather sit at home and text and watch Netflix. In many parts of the west, the WuFlu quickly became a pilot program for Universal Basic Income.
The last two years have sharpened the contrasts: If you're a government worker, you didn't lose a dime. If you're a hairdresser or a gym-owner, your business exists at the whim of government, and the state imposes conditions that change from week to week and remove or restore its economic viability according to whether or not one unfortunate individual has died "with" this month's variant. Meanwhile, if you're one of those people who thought the only problem with Amazon was that its hammerlock on global market share was not yet total, the Covid era has been a colossal boon to Jeff Bezos and a few other woke billionaires.
After my monologue on Friday's show, I caught in my Twitter feed the following response from Amanda Morris, a Liberal Democrat councillor in the English seaside town of Eastbourne:
Because a tv presenter is fully qualified virologist, right?!
Well, actually, I was chewing over general government responses to the present scene: for example, in the Province of New Brunswick, one cannot enter a grocery store to purchase bread and milk without showing a "vaccine passport". But, as Councillor Morris sees it, a fellow must now be a "fully qualified virologist" to argue for the right to buy food. Only Dr Fauci is qualified to decree "Let them eat cake!"
Ms Morris was briefly famous for declaring that "the only good Tory is a dead Tory", even though she's not a fully qualified mortician. Be that as it may, prostration before experts would be bad enough, but something more feudal is underway. In the old days in Amanda Morris's neck of the woods, a horny-handed son of toil seeing the local squire approaching would doff his flat cap to him - and thus "doffing the cap" passed into the language as a shorthand for the masses' excessive subservience to their betters. Seeing the massed ranks of sad saggy cloth masks of no "scientific" use in preventing transmission or infection and too worn and weary even to stay on the end of the nose, one naturally assumes they are there for some other purpose - to signal one's compliance and, as with the burqa and niqab, that one knows one's place. Such deference is extended not merely to "fully qualified virologists" and to government leaders but to winners of Oscars and Tonys. As Glenn Greenwald notes, at the most glittering events it is now accepted that the celebrities go maskless but the staff are covered. The science behind this is totally solid: Everyone knows that if you've got a Grammy it's equivalent to at least thirty-seven booster shots.
When I bought my pad in New Hampshire many years ago, people still spoke of "cabin fever" - late February, March, when winter had been going too long and you were still holed up with the snowdrifts against the door and going bonkers with the isolation from the world... Then Steve Jobs came along, and the telephone became a substitute for the world, and indeed superior to the actual world. As Covid demonstrated, what need did one have of "freedom of movement" or even "freedom of religion" when the magic lantern of Apple could bring you church services by Zoom and search engines for the entirety of human knowledge?
But, just in case you were minded to seek knowledge in the wrong places, the cartel of woke billionaires put their thumbs on the scale, ever so lightly at first, and then their elbows. Councillor Amanda Morris only wants to hear from fully qualified experts, but the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration were just that, and they got buried by the Internet commissars for "disinformation" - which means the same in the twenty-first century west as it did in the twentieth-century east: questioning the official version.
And, if it's necessary for public health, why not for the broader public good? Not so long ago, the Hunter Biden story would have been on every front page just for the coke and hookers. Better yet, unlike errant British cabinet ministers, young Hunter used his prostitutes as confessors, discoursing with them at (recorded) length on whether his dad should run for office and whether all the China/Ukraine stuff would be a problem.
But, in order to "fortify" the election, Mark Zuckerberg and Big Social declared all that a Russian plot and killed it stone dead.
So here we are two years on: Real reality - work, purpose, life - is a weak and feeble thing. But virtual reality has a tighter grip than ever: you in your room with your telephone. Because who needs the world when the world is just a click away. Even if the click, and thus the world, is controlled by Google-Facebook.
In 2019 I serialized a highly prescient story by E M Forster from over a century ago:
"I have been outside since I spoke to you last. The tremendous thing has happened, and they have discovered me."
"But why shouldn"t you go outside?" she exclaimed, "It is perfectly legal, perfectly mechanical... One simply summons a respirator and gets an Egression-permit. It is not the kind of thing that spiritually minded people do, and I begged you not to do it, but there is no legal objection to it."
"I did not get an Egression-permit."
"Then how did you get out?"
"I found out a way of my own."
The phrase conveyed no meaning to her, and he had to repeat it.
"A way of your own?" she whispered. "But that would be wrong."
In the future foreseen by Forster, man does not venture out, but stays in his room and lets the world come to him:
There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk--that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh--a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs...
And into the little room, via "the machine", come not just melodious sounds but "fully qualified" expert views on all manner of subjects. Forster called his story "The Machine Stops". In 2021 the machine has not stopped; it is merely "fortified". If you make two, three clicks, you can still find the Great Barrington Declaration or Hunter's laptop. But most people do not make two, three clicks, only the one. And so they think - know - that Omicron has slaughtered legions of South African seven-year-olds, and canceling Christmas is the prudent thing to do...
The machine will decelerate further in 2022. It will take four, five clicks to find the Great Barrington Declaration and other dissents. But, as with Google in China, you won't be able to make that fifth click...
The front page of today's Dublin edition of The Daily Mail (top right) is a snapshot of our times: As long as there's free Spider-Man, the citizenry are cool with vaccine mandates. Why not? They're the same story: the plots are implausible, but the good guys are masked.
When virtual reality is becoming a scam, the trick is to reclaim real reality - as demonstrators in many European countries were this last weekend, many of them getting roughed up by the coppers. But beating up protestors takes resources, and the more dissidents the more manpower. Whereas keeping people in their rooms sedated by Spider-Man takes no resources. In 2022, take back the real world.
~It was a busy weekend at SteynOnline, starting with the weekend edition of The Mark Steyn Show on GB News with Robert F Kennedy Jr, Douglas Murray and Gary Osborne joining me to discuss everything from Covid to Elton. For his weekend movie date Rick McGinnis considered Carole Lombard in True Confession. Sunday brought a Christmas addition to my anthology of video poetry and to our Song of the Week. And our marquee presentation was also in seasonal mode, with more of this year's Christmas Tales for Our Time by the semi-canceled Stephen Leacock: you can explore the disappointments of a Christmas stocking here, the vicissitudes of Christmas shopping here, and reflections on a wartime Christmas here - or go back to our first yarn and have a good old binge-listen here.
If you were too busy defying the authorities with a marathon mistletoe-snog this weekend, I hope you'll want to check out one or three of the foregoing as a new week begins.