Everything has changed. Changed utterly. Has the corona virus, Covid-19, broken capitalism? Perhaps. Business and financial experts argue that we must keep the show on the road: Reduce interest rates to almost zero. Print money. Keep everyone spending. Save the airlines, the motor car, tourism, roads, cruise ships, burn oil. Spend, spend, spend. Shore up the economy. We mustn’t fall into a depression. But why would we want to return to the flawed system of the last century? The hamster wheel of growth is harming the planet and most of our psyches.
Post Corona let’s think about how we contribute to the social good (or how we “add value” to use the business speak). Most of us have lost the ability to understand the difference between what we need and what we want and so we prop up all sorts of derivative but inessential businesses that come loosely under the sectors of gambling, entertainment, narcissism, addiction, greed. They play on our desire for a thrill, a desire to celebrate our selves, our fears about the future and our need to avoid boredom.
Wants are things you desire, luxuries to spend your surplus on: fast food, horse racing, a punt, the lottery, TV sports, the stock market, fashion, beauty treatments, anti-aging face creams, drinking and eating out, drugs, fast cars, gyms, second houses, tourism, cruises; the entire world of financial derivatives.
Does it really add value to society being a celebrity footballer? Does it add value if you work in gambling? Stock market traders are gamblers but gambling with someone else’s money (most often your pension).
We can try something different after Covid-19. We could become a nation which no longer subscribes to the hard capitalism of winners and losers which favours the strong, creates a society where fewer and fewer people hold more and more of the wealth.
No better place to start than with the leaving cert this year.
Every leaving cert student could be given an amnesty: all awarded 600 points. When the places are allocated, in August, the universities, colleges and apprenticeships would take a random selection of the people who applied for that course if it was over-subscribed (as it would be in courses like medicine). If you do not get accepted this year in the random selection you will be in the first group to be selected for the following year. Or defer to the subsequent year if the course was still oversubscribed by the first year's surplus — and if you still didn't get a place, push to the following year again. The important thing is there is a guarantee that you will eventually get place in medicine if that is what you want to study. If not an oversubscribed course then a college could accept everyone who applied.
If a student had a change of mind and wanted to swap and reapply elsewhere that would be allowed. There is a high chance that the people who apply for a course will do well in it as we tend to know our own strengths and recognise our weaknesses. We self-select (make personal choices) wisely all the time. Why go for languages if you hate them or find them difficult?
Continuing the theme of universal points for students, imagine Ireland using citizen's assemblies to plan on how to become the first green nation; how to provide a universal income for citizens; to having random selection for taking your turn (like jury service) at being a political representative. We could have our own local Irish Euros as our currency (in our banks and on our contactless cards) and they could be exchanged for French Euros (Euro for Euro) in a clearing system at the border when a tourist returned to France, for example. The EU could set a single interest rate across the block. Ideally a single currency would extend to the whole world and end the industry of currency speculation.
Imagine Ireland as the first nation to become carbon neutral, the first nation to fully harness tidal energy, wind energy, solar energy, re-cyling, re-using, up-cycling. The swap industry is booming — the time is ripe for us to take advantage.
Like other nations Ireland could adopt a requirement for every Irish national to do their civic duty in the form of army training for UN peace keeping or doing community service for two years between the age of 18 and 25.
What do we need? Really need. Food, shelter (a home), electricity, health, public transport, clean air, clean environment, information, love, family, touch; and for your soul and self-worth we need books, art, music, gathering together in community, belonging, feeling you are contributing to the social good.
Some might call it communism. I’d call it fair.
#coronavirus #Covid_19 #CoronaCrisis
© Alison Hackett posted 20 March 2020
What does the Visual Time Traveller have to say about plagues and viruses? Quite a lot — they feature on at least 13 pages:
Alison Hackett 19 March 2020 Gallery of pictures on Facebook here
I once received a piece of junk mail of epic proportions. It came in the form of a beautiful glossy book with a cover almost A3 size. I wasn’t the only one. Ten thousand others had the same tome land with a thud on their doormats. Members of Congress. Libraries. Academics. Science Museums. Cultural Institutes. It happened when I was working as the Institute of Physics Representative in Ireland, a title that earned me the reputation of being a physicist although I was nothing of the sort – I just worked for them. My office was based in UCD – in a room I shared with the eminent physicist and founder of the Young Scientist Exhibition, Dr Tony Scott. Now Tony (if he is reading this) is hearing the full truth of this story for the first time. When it happened I might, at the time, have told him a little white lie in order to maintain his belief in my good character. Ahem.
I got a message that there was a large package for me to collect from the Post Office in UCD. I had to go over and lug it back over to Physics. Not easy with a 5.4 Kilo package. I open it up. It is a coffee table book called The Atlas of Creation by Harun Yayha published in Turkey. It is glossy with beautiful pictures. It looks like a popular science book on evolution. I’m flicking through. Wow. Expensive production. This would cost me about €75 to buy. Eight hundred glossy pages. A dream book for a school project on fossils and evolution. A sort of mega-sized National Geographic. And it has been sent to me for free. Unsolicited. Why?
Now I start reading. What’s this? The word “God” is on every page. Oh dear. I think it is advocating creationism. A sort of evidence-by-pictures proof of Creationism. An anti-evolution treatise. A creationist believer's book! I dip in to find out more. I’m distracted by the photographic plates dominating every page, but there are descriptions underneath. Mostly brief and repeated throughout the book – telling me that life forms on Earth have never undergone even the slightest change over millions of years; have never developed from one form into another. Pictures of million-year-old fossils alongside pictures of modern-day animals stating that they are identical. And each page rounded up with a sort of Q.E.D. in the form of: “therefore God created the universe and everything in it. Down with Darwin.”
Oh, but it is beautiful. What will I do with it?
It is not scientific. It is junk mail albeit expensively produced junk mail.
Why has it been sent to me, unsolicited?
Can I have this book on my desk and work for the Institute of Physics in Ireland?
Better call Saul. I mean Sheila, my colleague, a real physicist. She’s here for a meeting tomorrow. She is a proper physicist. She will know what to do. Tony isn’t here. Can’t ask him.
Sheila is horrified by the book.
“This is dangerous” she says. “If this gets into the hands of children they will believe it. That is how indoctrination happens. We can’t let it get out there.”
“But shouldn’t we put it down in the Physics library.” I try. “Let the scientists judge it for themselves. They’re smart people.”
“No. It is lies. It is false. It is propaganda. It is selling a false message using beautiful pictures.”
“Could I return it?”
“Yes. Mark ‘return to sender’ on it. And post it back.”
Now this is where my inner laziness gets in the way. I’d have to wrap it back up and lug it all the way back over to the post box. I’d probably have to pay to return it. It could cost about €40 to post back. It had come from Turkey. “That would be a pain in the neck. Haven’t time.”
“We mustn’t let it get into children’s hands.” Sheila continues.
“So what else can we do? Throw it away? Second hand shop?” And then I whisper. “Destroy it?”
“Yes.” Says Sheila firmly. “It must be destroyed.”
“Tear it up?” I ask weakly.
I look at the book again. Everything is screaming at me that it would be the most terrible thing to tear a book like this up. Who tears up books? Who burns books? Oh God. I’m in a medieval horror film.
I go first. Have a look at the cover and try to pull it off. It isn’t going anywhere. This is a well glued spine and strong hard cover. Okay open the book. Try tearing a single page. A beautiful fossil torn in half. That worked. Into the bin. Tear a few more. Sheila takes one side. I take the other. We start to tear several pages at once. And all of a sudden we are moving fast. We have torn up the whole book and rip the front and back cover off the spinal remnants. It is in tatters. We are sweating. I put as much as will fit in the bin and the rest in a plastic bag. Down we go for a coffee. Neither of us says a word about what we had just done. Sheila heads home.
I bump into friend and physicist, Emma Sokell, on the way back to the office. I confess to her. I need some affirmation. “I could never tear a book up.” She says. She is appalled. I can tell I have gone right down in her estimation. Oh no. What will Tony think?
I test out the story over the weekend on my family and friends. Everyone is horrified. “You TORE it up? A beautiful coffee table book? You should have let us see it. That is like burning books. How could you?”
I tell my friend – Fraser Mitchell, a botany professor, in Trinity. “Oh. We got that book too. I brought it down to the coffee room for students and staff to look at it. You can’t destroy books. Let the people judge.”
At a dinner party that night there is a major row. everyone is screaming about the tearing up of the book. A few days later I am back in UCD. Tony is there.
“Good morning Alison. Where did you park the Maserati this morning?” I sneak a glance towards the bin. It’s empty. Evidence gone. Phew. But did he see it torn up in the bin?
“Did you see the huge book that was on my desk a few days ago?”
“No.” Says Tony. I have to tell him.
“A beautiful book about fossils and creationism. It’s weird. I was sent it free. It was completely non-scientific. Enormous – a stunning production. But it was not scientific. NOT SCIENTIFIC. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t keep it in Physics. Physicists would hate it. It was so heavy. It was so glossy. It wasn’t science.”
“What did you do with it?” Pause. I can’t say it. Not to Tony.
“I returned it to the sender. Some guy in Turkey.”
A lie I’ve carried with me until today. Sorry, Tony.
© Alison Hackett posted 11 March 2020
Illustration © Alison Hackett March 2020
Woke up thinking about Covid-19 as my trip to the London Book Fair had been cancelled due to the virus. I’d been checking the World Health Organisation (WHO) information, curious about the spread of the epidemic and was wondering this morning about Turkey, particularly thinking of all the Syrian refugees at the border, and how vulnerable they would be.
Something odd here. Zero cases of Covid-19 in Turkey on the WHO map. And in Iran, which shares a border with Turkey, there are 6566 confirmed cases. Is it a mistake? Time to get some online info. First link I click on is the Daily Sabah, the Turkish pro-government daily newspaper owned by a friend of President Erdoğan, founded in 2014. What did the Daily Sabah say? That, yes, Turkey was ahead of the game keeping the virus out. They had installed thermal screenings at Istanbul airport and were quarantining people coming from Iran, in particular from Qom or Mashhad; used special disinfectant and sanitising on all public transport and in schools etc (vocational schools producing 100 tons of disinfectants for daily supplies.) In early February they launched a Covid-19 test kit which Turkey had developed “with all-local means and resources, the kits give results in 90 to 120 minutes.” and they added that according to the ministry, “the testing kit has an accuracy rate of 99.6%.” Here's a question: how did Turkish scientists get their hands on the Covid-19 virus to develop a test kit to recognise it — when by the virus is not in the country? Did they smuggle in a sample of Covid-19?
Can this be true? Does Turkey have zero cases despite being a trade partner with Iran which has 6566 cases? Is it statistically possible? Or is the Daily Sabah simply an effective way for President Erdoğan to control the propaganda and thus the Turkish people? Another Turkish daily, the Hürriyet Daily News, seems to be in agreement regarding zero cases. Seems to me the propaganda patient zero is the Ministry of Health.
Off to trusty Twitter to find out more. Some viral tweeters may have slipped under Erdoğan’s radar. Yes, I’m not the only one who is thinking this way. A man called Can Okar (@canokar) has noticed how weird it is that Turkey has not had the virus get across its border “we’ve reached the point where we can say it is a statistical impossibility that Turkey does not have a single case of coronavirus. We’ve all been privately talking/joking about it but it’s probably time to really discuss what is happening here.” and he tweets following the death of the first Turkish person in France on March 6th:
@RencapMan adds to the thread with a sharp observation: “I can think of billions of (tourism dollars) reasons why Turkey might not have recorded a #coronavirus case - about 3% of GDP in fact.” Concerned now that information is not what it seems, I check out other nation's details of reporting of Covid-19. Hmmm. Turns out the Russian Federation, a country of 147 million people, has seven confirmed cases. Seven! Something dodgy going on, folks.
Meanwhile in the Guardian Ai Weiwei writes about the epidemic in Wuhan, where it started: "Police have welded doors shut in order to monitor who enters and leaves buildings. Roads out of the city are cut with deep trenches or blocked by walls. Even little paths that lead towards farmland have been destroyed. Swim down a river? There are nets to catch you."
Give me the freedom of Italy any day over the autocratic states of Turkey, Russia and China, Corona or no Corona.
© Alison Hackett posted 9 March 2020
Information from the WHO map was sourced here
This blog is now, on occasion, going to be where I publish the letters I sent that didn't make it past the letters' editor. Undoubtedly there will be good reason some of these didn't make it to print — maybe because I was too controversial, too undiplomatic, too long winded; or simply wrong and possibly slanderous making print in a reputable newspaper risky. It's encouraging to think some of my letters may have gone past the lawyers before printing. As I have not opened this blog to comments I won't know how many I am upsetting or driving to anger by publishing now. So, my terms and conditions are as follows: read this blog at your own risk. Any upset caused was not intentional. Emotions may go up as well as down.
A letter in response to a Guardian article about Dominic Cummings and designer babies.
Be careful what you wish for, especially intelligent baby creation by gene selection (à la Dominic Cummings). In my experience academics (acknowledged by their own criteria to be of very high intelligence) have, on occasion, been the rudest, most arrogant, most smug people I have ever come across.
But this is already going on (à la carte baby selection). In most sperm banks you can select your sperm (like a dating app, swipe left for no, right for interested) by sorting though the physical attributes, job descriptions, hair colour etc. of the potential fathers on the database. I have no idea why we let this happen — it is a disturbing form of eugenics in a dark pact that has emerged between the science, ethics and business. Some of the these children end up with up to fifty half siblings as the father’s sperm profile was so popular. Not good. Identity is the most precious thing you have. We are playing with fire by allowing this to happen on our watch.
In my view you do not have the right to a child. But it is a privilege to be a parent, to be allowed to love and guide a human being from infancy through to adulthood. To quote Khalil Gibran:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
From The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (1883 - 1931)
© Alison Hackett posted 5 March 2020
The Visual Time Traveller
This is a labour of love, insanity, beauty and, perhaps, an attempt to reintegrate history, art and science together again. Simon Cocking Irish Tech News
Not only is she forced to share a small city with da Vinci, he has even turned up in the same postal district. Frank McNally The Irish Times
Her range of language is both staccato and soft, in succinct verse, which encourages you to read this aloud, truly the best way to engage in the emotional depth of a poem.
Deirdre Conroy Sunday Independent
21st Century Renaissance
Harbour Court, George's Place
Dun Laoghaire, A96 P0A4
Co. Dublin, Ireland
T +353 (86) 8092532 E firstname.lastname@example.org