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Pandemic Reader #9 — UK incompetence; US nightmare

Curated articles; observed patterns ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Week 11 of UK lockdown
World: 6,057,853 confirmed cases, 371,166 confirmed deaths

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Don’t let them grind us down

This week, under very different sets of circumstances in the UK and the US, there is a common pattern.

The strongmen have headed down into their bunkers, metaphorical or literal. With their low patience for detail and fierce resistance towards anyone who questions their narcissistic fantasy, they don’t play well with any experts. That creates a significant drag on any pragmatic progress towards recovery. Their incompetence is showing, and as their support rates dive, they turn to the only thing they know — spreading division and dragging things further down.

They are busy spreading their toxic narrative, as the social contract is unravelling around us. What a vicious and horrifying circle.

(if some links seem to be behind a paywall, you can usually get passed it by opening them in incognito mode and declining its request for any cookies)

Death toll and immunity

New data in New York brings us back again to the question of excess deaths and just how many of them are co-covid deaths?

Another analysis says when you take those into account, the US must have passed the 100k earlier than thought.

Likely weeks ago. Approx. 25k of those were in nursing homes. Zooming in, this is how it feels when you might have passed COVID-19 to your own mother.

Examination of herd immunity progress shows that even countries who toyed with it didn’t achieve it. It might be another indication that the end of lockdown might prove to be premature.

Or maybe it’s because not everyone is taking an equal life risk when reopening. At the risk of ‘foreshadowing’ this week’s US coverage — African Americans, for example, suffered more in the pandemic, and from its financial toll.

Transmission might be even more related to levels of exposure, not just a yes/no question. Again — raising questions around the way to reopen.

The virus is likely to remain a long term presence. Vaccination or not.

And we’re still learning new things about it. ‘80% ish of people have a normal inflammatory response and in 20% it all goes a bit nuts and it affects the blood vessels all around your body; the bit nuts goes on a while.’ said one doctor on Facebook, herself recovering from one of the ‘nutty’ cases.

UK’s stumble towards reopening

Contempt for rules may unite Johnson and Cummings but isn’t the right quality for the task at hand.

Neither are into the fine detail and complex operational aspects of this crisis. They are increasingly hunkering down in a bunker echoing their own views.

Outside the bunker, doubts about the tracing system. Very mixed opinion about the way to deal with foreign arrivals. Just two examples. There are guidelines, and there are the anecdotal implications of guidelines. They fail to communicate what’s important, and it just looks disjointed and shaky.

We’re heading out of lockdown, gradually, more divided than ever. Trust in the government dropped sharply at an unprecedented rate. I bet they are happy the US is stealing the attention this week.

The American nightmare

The US is a horrifying, violent, bloody mess this week. 2020 could still well be the worst year in its modern history. So where to even start?

Early last week, we may have thought the story would be Trumps’ strange ‘cut your nose to spite your face’ back and forth with Twitter. A platform that has created him to a degree and that he’s used and abused for long (retweeting questionable materials is a small part).

However, the role of social media in platforming hate took a backseat to the wars in the streets.

It was always a powder keg. A dangerous, spotty, reopening with the president’s partisan narrative emphasising it. The fact democratic states are harder hit (down to population density) is fine by him.

The mighty US isn’t doing better than Europe, although it might look like it when only taken as a whole. Plagued by the pandemic and historically high unemployment it seems to have exploded. And yes, COVID-19 is likely to spread with the help of protests as it did before.

The Racial contract is showing. This was an inevitable protest, and the police kept behaving violently even with peaceful demonstrations.

People tend to ask ‘What do the rioters want?’, but riots happen when hope is lost. They don’t happen as an attempt to win anyone over. Even the question of looting may be reframed — isn’t looting part of Trump’s agenda? There’s a racist double standard.

This moment is going to be critical for the election race. Trump knows it. The polls are shifting at an unprecedented level.

He hopes to be the strong “president of law and order” will distract from his pandemic image. He is still trying to create an alternative reality for COVID-19 online. He’ll go to war against his country if he feels he has to.

So he is defaulting to his single. Strongman politics. Not ashamed to pander to his voters and dog-whistle racists evoking darker times. Talking tough is all he knows. A leader should also know how to heal. When even dyed in the wool Republican Schwarzenegger finds some empathy and the president doesn’t, it says a lot. The White House has gone dark, opting for a theatre of violence which signals sending in the army (this was Monday evening).

Here’s one voice that shows the capacity for healing as well as the depth of pain and anger — Rapper Killer Mike’s speech went viral. And a visual essay zooming in on the streets.

Still, as Ibram X. Kendi, director of The Antiracist Research and Policy Centre at American University reflects on history — African-Americans are living the American nightmare.

There’s only so much the media can tell. If you’re interested in more in-depth learning about black lives in the US, here is a list of books.

Hurting world

NYT’s Thomas Friedman wonders how we broke the world. He reminds that even if globalisation is inevitable there are multiple ways to go about it.

Rethinking cities is one crucial aspect. And not just dreaming of utopias but remembering those who have been failed by cities, their infrastructures, plans and institutions.

Brazil is continuing on its journey to being one of the worst-hit in the world.

Egypt couldn’t afford a lockdown, but its looser version still hasn’t helped its economy.

In Armenia, a site spreading COVID misinformation is funded by a US government grant.

Business recession playbook

I highly recommend you follow J Walker Smith’s new blog series, as he looks into the three principles that govern the implications of the pandemic and the recession which follows. This series offers a pragmatic, sensitive and nuanced approach that looks beyond the false dichotomy of all change/no change.

The early signs from china suggest there might be some truth in The Economists concept of ‘the 90% economy’, which we mentioned a few weeks back. Here’s the compelling video version if you need a refresher with plenty of examples. One aspect emphasised in the video is the delaying/buffering effect government support and furlough schemes, in particular, have on how much of the actual damage we can see at this point.

This brings us again to the question of the shape of recovery (which was mentioned here a few weeks before this discussion made it into mainstream media).

Still, some good news as ad spend isn’t expected to be more severe than 2009 and will grow again next year.

Enough time to figure out something as puzzling as TikTok, as this is thorough business-focused overview tries to.

Silver linings

We mentioned the UN covid-19 open brief when it was set. The Drum collected some of the most ingenious responses.

UN’s covid-19 brief.

A man who grew up without a dad launched a YouTube channel teaching some gendered household skills and became a sensation. ‘Dad how do I…?’

JK Rowling decided to release a new story, ‘The Ickabog’ and invited her young readers to illustrate it.

Difford’s Guide is the best cocktail guide on the planet, and they want to help you make cocktails at home.

Dreaming of when we can holiday again? Here are the most wish-listed properties on Airbnb.

I try to read broadly and deeply, but I’m only one red-eyed human. Send me anything good/important that I’ve missed or put it in the comments.

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Uri Baruchin

Strategist. Director of a boutique agency. Teaches the D&AD’s strategy masterclass and the SCA’s course in strategy. Writing between marketing and culture.