Posted on  UTC 2020-03-01 02:01

29.03.2020 – COVID-19 sanity check

Epidemics down the ages: three charts by master statistician William M Briggs. Click a chart to display a larger version in a new browser tab.

Note that the y-axis is death as a percentage of world population, a more accurate expression of the social impact of an epidemic than the absolute number of deaths.

500 BC to 2020

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1900 to 2020

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1950 to 2020

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27.03.2020 – Disgusting

Three small children, having no understanding of the world, here shown doing what they have been told to do in a video made and distributed for political effect.

Video: Instagram@kensingtonroyal.

The people who make such things are disgusting; the people who mindlessly swoon over them contemptible. We laugh cynically at this kind of thing when produced by the dictators of the world: how is this different?

24.03.2020 – Thuggery

As a response to the COVID-19 panic, most European countries have now imposed some restrictive measures on freedom of movement and association for their citizens. Nearly all of these measures – possibly with the exception of the characteristically French 'print your own pass' system – are completely unenforceable in any systematic way. The United Kingdom has now joined them with a mumbled list of its own.

In this close field, Boris™ Johnson's bumbling list has to take first place for unenforceability. Are police going to park in suburban streets, counting how many times people leave their homes? One may only leave the home only once per day – but for how long? All day? His list is not only unenforceable, it is incomprehensible. One must only count the number of times the word 'should' has to do duty for 'must'. Boris™ really only wants to be liked.

But, of course, we all realise these rules are not intended to be enforced: they are just measures to frighten and intimidate the populace… Oops – almost wrote 'citizens', but they disappeared a long time ago.

Infractions will be punished by that other tool of authoritarian social control, 'on-the-spot fines'. Submit and pay the fine, or resist and end up paying ten times as much in fees and costs.

21.03.2020 – New site navigation

A new navigation system makes it easier to move around the Figures of Speech website.

As has been the case up to now, clicking on the year in the page trail will load the menu page for that year, positioned on the current page entry.

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Now, though, hovering the cursor over the entry 'Menu' will display a navigation menu allowing direct access to all the major sections of the website. Note that clicking on a year in this list will load the menu page for that year, but positioned at the top.

Most touchscreens do not recognize 'hover'. In this case, a tap on 'Menu' will display the navigation menu.

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The navigation elements at the bottom of the page work as they always did.

19.03.2020 – Saint Joseph's Day

Serendipitously seen whilst walking on Saint Joseph's Day, 19 March 2020:

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'Zwetschge Sämling von Sepp', 'Plum seedling from Sepp' [= Joseph]. Image: FoS.

09.03.2020 – Can the UK National Health Service cope with COVID-19?

Since the NHS manifestly cannot cope (in any usual sense of the word 'cope') with normal circumstances, the answer must be: No.

The bovine docility of the population in the face of such incompetence is a wonder to behold – and also of the media that should be holding this decrepit monolith to account. But it just doesn't happen.

The journalist, author and general self-promoter the Honourable Toby Young writes an article in the Spectator magazine in which he worries about the preparedness of the NHS for the epidemic. He had to sit with his 16-year-old daughter in the overheated waiting room of the Chelsea and Westminster hospital for nearly four hours on a Sunday evening in order to have her torn fingernail inspected.

We may laugh at him for expecting hospital treatment of such trivia, especially late on a Sunday, but he and his daughter were punished for their presumption during the gruesome, four-hour wait before some antiseptic and a sticking plaster were applied. The Great British Public were present in numbers, along with, it seems, the usual proportion of the care-in-the-community crowd.

Instead of wrecking the joint and taking down as many of the useless staff as he could with him in one glorious episode of cathartic violence, he meekly concludes:

I'm a big fan of Chelsea and Westminster, which saved my son Ludo's life when he was a newborn, and I've raised money for the hospital in the past.

Meaning that the next time he turns up there, nothing at all will have changed, as it hasn't since 1948.

09.03.2020 – Do not touch me, woman

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Meet Tabea Steiner, 38, thought by some to be a 'young talent' in the Swiss literary scene. She was given a softball interview in the Zurich TagesAnzeiger yesterday.

Asked what the 'love of her life' was, she announced: 'probably the semicolon, just before water'. [Sehr wahrscheinlich wird dies das Semikolon bleiben; in Konkurrenz zu Wasser]

We would hope that a thirty-eight-year-old had acquired slightly more sense or even – as a literary type – more awareness of what she is saying. She still has some way to go before she reaches fifty, our wisdom hurdle, though.

The readers of TagesAnzeiger were as shocked as I was by the filthy boots on the sofa, the disgustingly dirty floor and the ancient, dusty, TV-set on the filthy stand. As commentator Herr Brunner put it, if you were invited round to her place you should wipe the surfaces before you sit down.

Some were also shocked at her use of the 'North German' word Semikolon instead of the traditional word Strichpunkt.

There are two possibilities, both of which may apply. Either the picture editors at the Tagi, presumably trained to spot such things, were also shocked at this lack of Swiss cleanliness. Perhaps they decided to dispense with an appearance-saving crop and just publish the photo as taken, letting her twist in the dusty wind; or (see what I did there with that semicolon?) the colony of 'young' artists in Zurich are pigs who have grown immune to their own filth, which they and their like in the media no longer even see.

Let's see how that immunity works out with the present cleansing pandemic. 'Eugenics?' Did someone say 'Eugenics?' Wash your mouth out with hand sanitizer immediately!

09.03.2020 – Two inspectors call

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The Kommissarinnen, 'police superintendants', Johanna Stern (Lisa Bitter) and Lena Odenthal (Ulrike Folkerts) in the Tatort episode 'Leonessa'. Image: SWR.

No, this is not a photograph of two lesbians in a mutual suicide pact on International Women's Day. It is a still from the German TV crime series Tatort, 'Crime Scene', broadcast yesterday, showing two lady detectives presumably about to raid someone's flat.

A glance through the spyhole will warn whoever's in the flat that they shouldn't answer: just pretend to be out and wait until the two ladies shoot each other. It clearly won't take long. Two rings?

06.03.2020 – And don't step in the excrement

Dr Sara Cody, a public health official in the San Francisco Bay Area, suggests that residents of that cesspit should 'start working towards' not touching their faces, in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, she is a compulsive page wetter. The woman behind Cody is a compulsive hair fiddler, too. Only the little, bespectacled, balding, bearded man with the pen in his shirt pocket keeps it together for fourteen seconds.

Residents of central San Francisco have more pressing health concerns than COVID-19.

06.03.2020 – Country music for the doolally

Three o'clock this morning. Eyelids shutter open in the darkness. Brain boots: 'In a bar in Toledo across from the depot … da-di-da-di-da … you picked a fine time to leave me – ?

Lucy? … Lulu? … Lola? … LaTasha? … Don't be ridiculous.

This is a bad sign. Perhaps by the end of next week I'll be round at Dignitas sipping their renowned Harvey Coffinbanger, the one that never gives you a hangover.

Try something else. 'Busted flat in – ?'

Oh, come on!

New Orleans? … Pensacola? … Wigan? …

Better make that appointment for the beginning of next week.

A minute or two later the brain seems to have booted all its bits and all its peripherals and storage, among them its library of Country Music.

Lucille! Lucille! for God's sake!

Baton Rouge! Yes! '… with those windshield wipers slapping time … Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose ….' Hooray, I'm compos mentis after all! Calloo callay!

Even the names of the performers have surfaced out of the darkness: Kris Kristofferson, Kenny Rogers.

Phew, that was close. Forget about (an unfortunate phrase in the circumstances) that Dignitas appointment for, oh, at least a month. Joe Biden will certainly be there before me.

'In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree…' No problem, did it right to the end.

But it's still just past three and the brain is now going fast enough to mine Bitcoin. What do I do for the next two hours before breakfast? Perhaps I can try and remember the name of that rather odd woman who keeps turning up at breakfast, pretending to know me. I'll just have to humour her, as usual.

04.03.2020 – The Schubert guide to handwashing

As we predicted, the COVID-19 virus is now being passed around freely among the just and the unjust. The UK government suggests frequent handwashing sessions, each of which should continue as long as it takes to sing 'Happy Birthday to You' – twice (say some). The internet was quick to come up with some other song suggestions.

The Schubert option is clear: Der Tod und Das Mädchen (D 531, 1817), text by Matthias Claudius (1740-1815), 1774. The girl's song will take up the recommended 20 seconds nicely:

Karin Branzell, mezzosoprano; Frieder Weißmann, piano. Recorded in Berlin on 9 November 1927. Recording: SLUB.

Vorüber! Ach, vorüber!
Geh wilder Knochenmann!
Ich bin noch jung, geh Lieber!
Und rühre mich nicht an.
Keep going! Oh, just keep going, you savage skeleton! I am still young, go friend and do not touch me.

Of course, if, when you have finished abluting, you hear someone else singing the next bit, then there is either a Schubert fan lurking in the stalls or you're in real trouble:

Gib deine Hand, Du schön und zart Gebild!
Bin Freund, und komme nicht, zu strafen.
Sey gutes Muths! ich bin nicht wild,
Sollst sanft in meinen Armen schlafen!
Give me your hand, you beautiful and delicate thing! I am your friend and I am not here to punish you. Be of good cheer! I am not savage, you will just gently go to sleep in my arms!

02.03.2020 – The good old days before social media

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Luisa Max Ehrlerova, The Telegram, 1894. Image: National Gallery Prague [Click the image to open a larger version in a new browser tab].

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