The second in a series on Prague under quarantine, I am joined by Woodstock to talk about the the days before the quarantine was imposed (and before the Coronavirus had risen to the top of the news agenda and to the forefront of our minds). Woodstock, helpfully, has a list of the major announcements in terms of the restrictions imposed by the Czech government. Equally, she has a list of films we had watched in the days that the reality of the disease, which would be declared a pandemic in this period, was sinking in and beginning to affect behaviour, impacting sporting and cultural events such as the One World Festival and the "Shockproof" Film Festival which we discuss.
We talk about the following films:
And an event, Filmový hovnocuc, which the festival organisers charmingly translate as "Cinematic Shitsucker: Space Farts". The listener may wonder that I place such emphasis on the alien in Dark Star; I had intended to use this notorious episode in the film to illustrate the nature of the cinema and the festival since, at that moment, a number of beach balls were thrown out from the balconies to be bounced around the hall for a number of minutes. It might equally have illustrated something of the nature of quarantine since I have regularly woken up Woodstock since by bouncing on her with a yoga ball "alien": there is a kind of stir-crazy exam time student humour to lockdown that overlaps with the target audience of The Shockproof Festival.
At the end of the recording, I talk about the restrictions being imposed in different countries in Europe. Up until this point, Britain's handling of the crisis had been roundly criticised by experts and pundits alike. In an article, published on the Guardian website at mid-afternoon on the day of the recording, Devi Sridhar, chair of global health at the University of Edinburgh, charges that the government had squandered a head start over Covid-19. She has been active on twitter over this time. I had said several times that things had been moving very quickly. Following the recording we sat down to watch the last episode of a 1979 BBC version of John Le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier, Spy, during which I missed a call from my brother: A "lockdown" had finally been imposed on the UK. A Buzzfeed News article by the political editor, Alex Wickham published on the morning of March 21st, dissects the heated debate between scientists that forced Johnson to change policy. Devi Sridhar is not impressed by this action alone. In future recordings we will attempt to follow this.
Only briefly do we mention the criticism of the Czech Response to the pandemic. We will go into this more in future episodes perhaps. It seems very likely that Central and Eastern European states will pursue a course which is authoritarian in nature and rather more reliant on peer pressure to conform to restrictions than is seen elsewhere. I have not yet come across any well-informed English language1 commentary on the Czech response to Coronavirus but, though I praised the response of the Czech government in terms of the timely imposition of measures involving social distancing, Devi Sridhar's commentary on the necessity of testing and contact tracing to either accompany such measures or to some degree obviate them is perhaps almost equally applicable to the Czech case. That said, we do place Czech and indeed Central and Eastern European reactions to the context in its proper context and will continue to examine this as the quarantine, and alongside it the series, progresses.
Credits and acknowledgements
This is a tough time for musicians, please support them however you can. If you know of any other bands and musicians who are using Creative Commons licenses, please let me know.
Tryad's album, Instrumentals can be found at Bandcamp.
Golden Duck Orchestra also have a Bandcamp page.
Further reading and footnotes
Eric Garner and Black Lives Matter:
- Five Years Later, Do Black Lives Matter?, an article by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in Jacobin Mag.
- An NPR interview with Matt Taibbi who wrote a book I Can't Breathe on Erica Garner, police practices, and the Black Lives Matter movement. (I have not listened to this though have reason to believe it will be good; I was in fact looking for what I thought was a This American Life podcast investigating the many deaths of people who have been involved in Black Lives Matter.
- Black people are still suffering from police violence. Is America still listening?, a Vox article from May, 2019 investigating the fortunes of Black Lives Matter.
Hospitals in Syria
- Kim Willsher relates the story of Amani Ballour who for six years ran a secret underground hospital in Syria.
- A 2016 Amnesty International report Syrian and Russian forces targeting hospitals as a strategy of war
- A Guardian story on Médecins Sans Frontières taking the decision to stop sharing the location of hospitals in Syria.
- Charles Lawley, an aid worker and head of advocacy for Syria Relief, has written in The Spectator about the current dire situation in Syria. (Originally published in the UK edition of The Spectator, I link to the US version which appears to have less tracking.)
The British response to Coronavirus
- Dr William Hanage is a professor of the evolution and epidemiology of infectious disease at Harvard. When he first heard Britain's "herd immunity" plan, he thought it was satire - an opinion piece from March 15th, over a week after the first death in the UK.
- Another broadly medical opinion from the same day was from Anthony Costello, professor of global health and sustainable development at University College London and a former director of maternal and child health at the WHO. His conclusion: "Every day of delay will mean more people become infected or die."
- "The worst possible people are in charge at the worst possible time." This the opening sentence of George Monbiot's column [rss] in the Guardian on the 18th March.
- On Thursday 12th March, Gian Volpicelli wrote a piece for Wired about a meeting chaired by Boris Johnson's egregious adviser, Dominic Cummings. Present were representatives of all of his beloved surveillance capitalists including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Palantir.
- Twitter threads on the same, mostly from Carole Cadwalladr who has pivotted from Brexit and influence campaigns to explore the dangers of putting a cabal of inexperienced chancers vetted for their views on a single issue in charge at a time of international crisis.
- A thread on Johnson's incompetence and media management, March 22nd
- Requests from Carole Cadwalladr and sometime her collaborator Peter Jukes to Robert Peston to reveal the sources of his information on "Johnson, Cummings, and Hancock"'s herd immunity plan. Jukes then, in a tweet from March 22nd, suggests there is an audit trail to Dominic Cummings for this plan which had the following logic: “protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”. In a thread from March 22, Cadwalladr insists that Cummings, who is in contempt of court for refusing to go before a House of Commons Select Committee, should go before one to answer questions on this catastrophic misjudgement.
- Meanwhile, from the day of recording, a comment upon emergency powers power grabs.