Monthly Archives: July 2020

Badge of the Leper

Shortly before government lockdown, I wrote a post here titled “unclean“, after the social exclusion of lepers in the distant past.  Now that covering our faces has become the headline law, perhaps it’s time to revisit that subject.

I can’t comment on treatment of people with a regular cough or sniffles, because I haven’t seen any.  Either we’ve rid ourselves of the common cold and had a particularly mild hay fever season, or sufferers have avoided going out.  Though it could also be down to my own loss of social life and narrowed horizons (my life feels like something from Iain Banks).  Only data point I have was when I myself went down with a mild lurgy just after that blog piece, and removed myself voluntarily from social life for … well, until government lockdown.

But we have come closer to a literal leper’s badge than even that post envisaged.  Badges for people with medical exemptions (whose definition seems unclear) from hiding their faces.  Seems my use of the analogy was indeed prophetic!

In that post, I wrote:

Latest advice is to self-isolate if you show even mild symptoms of a lurgy, and government moves to help avoid penalising people for doing the right thing.  Splendid: it seems they can at least do something right!

Seems I jumped the gun re: government help, and the Right Thing is more-or-less exactly what they didn’t do.  Specifically that was about sick pay for workers in the gig economy taking time to self-isolate when possibly unwell.  Yet despite the staggering levels of handouts to some in a cruel lottery, that hasn’t happened, and people of very limited means – some of them in the care sector – still can’t afford to take time off work for possible covid.

Regarding facemasks, I’m going to stick my neck out with another contrarian prediction.  As from late July they’re the law in shops.  By the end of August, this will have lead to a rise in the coronavirus spread rate.  The overall numbers may (or may not) still be declining, but the rate of decline will at least be reduced.

Why?  Well, here are a few reasons:

  • Make it harder to breathe, and people will breathe harder.  Including those with germs.  Not to mention breathing hard is the last thing I want to do if someone in the seat behind me has a lurgy and I can’t move!
  • The school tie problem.  As you reach your teens and rebel against some of the sillier rules imposed on you – like school uniforms – you also realise that a tie worn sufficiently badly is worse than no tie at all.  It becomes a protest!
  • I’ve already seen face masks discarded to ensure maximum spread of infection, like in a supermarket trolley in the row outside the shop.

UK Government: America First

Trump is explicit: America First.  His country has form, though rarely quite so explicitly.

Now it appears more pervasive than we (or at least I) ever realised in the UK parliament.  It’s being trailed that our own industry will be held back (indeed, has already lost over a year in uncertainty), to give American companies the best-possible start in the Intellectual Property land-grab arising from 5G.   For we can be sure that 5G will give rise to an explosion of new technology and applications.  An explosion accompanied by patents which will give their owners licence to nobble the competition for a generation.

As with the Web in the late 1990s, most of it will be pure dross, but there will be nuggets of gold among it.  The US had widely-available decent-quality internet[1] at several years ahead of us, which is no doubt one reason the most successful of those 1990s companies – think Google or Amazon – are American.  They had the environment to be first.

With 5G, Europe appeared to have the edge over the US.  Facing the risk of America Third (worst case, behind both Europe and Asia, not necessarily in that order) something had to be done.  Trump’s weapon of choice was an ill-founded[2] attack on market-leading technology provider Huawei: attack China directly, and at the same time attack European companies – like BT and Vodafone here in Blighty – through an evolving level of uncertainty over a vendor widely used here but not in the US.  And crucially, by holding back deployment here, reduce or delay development of new technology and intellectual property in America’s potential rivals: not (mainly) the big telcos, but the next generation of Unicorns.

Can’t blame Trump: he’s always been explicit about America First.  But how did he get quite so many Fifth Columnists into our Parliament?  And why is he making not merely UK foreign policy, but now also domestic policy?

[1] Like DSL broadband at home-user prices, when a UK customer would have to pay £3k/year for a 64K leased line.

[2] April 2019, I wrote “… against the competitive threat of 5G rollout giving Europe and Asia a big edge over the US.”.  Though I’m not sure if I realised until later how central that was to what looked at the time like just another incoherent Trump rant.