Read on the street 1 August 2020
While lockdown imperilled our livelihoods, scuppered our social lives, and generally messed with our collective mojo, some of us were comforted by the consolatory news that our green spaces – and the flora and fauna that reside in them – were apparently thriving, free from the maleficent impact of humans. Discernible reductions in air pollution were widely reported and equally widely welcomed, literally, as a breath of fresh air.
Unfortunately, many of the positive effects were fabricated or exaggerated and the reality was that fly-tippers, litter bugs, and other more pernicious criminals capitalised on the relative lack of prying eyes to commit serious acts of vandalism and animal cruelty, as evidenced this week with confirmation of the illegal poisoning of a sea eagle in April.
If the natural world did indeed enjoy some relief from the injurious effects of people, it would appear now to be paying for that fleeting respite in spades. We humans have been making up for lost time since the restrictions on our movement have been eased, flexing our top-of-the-food-chain muscles, reminding our cohabitants of our seemingly limitless capacity for recklessness and destruction.
This week, mountain rescue teams in England warned of a “tidal wave” of avoidable call-outs as inexperienced staycationers take to the hills – often woefully ill-prepared – in a bid to relieve the boredom and frustration that comes with having spent most of the spring and early summer under one roof.
Many of those people are also swapping tiled roofs for canvas, but without first brushing up on the countryside code that entreats us to leave no trace of our having been there. Combine that lack of awareness with cheap camping gear and a throw-away consumer culture, and places that were once eye-popping in their soaring beauty have quickly become eyesores.
As Neil Oliver wrote last week, “this is not a world without us, not yet, and for as long as we are here we must tend the place.”
So, while there always seem to be new reasons to despair about human behaviour, in our choices this week we’ve tried to include a healthy dose of hopeful, uplifting pieces to restore some faith and evidence the fact that some people, at least, are tending the place.
Enjoy your weekend.
“Together, you can redeem the soul of our nation”
John Lewis, the civil rights leader who served as a member of congress in the US for 33 years before his death earlier this month, wrote this essay in his final weeks, requesting that it be published on the day of his funeral. In it, Lewis writes of the hope and inspiration he took from the Black Lives Matter protests and reminds us that “Democracy is not a state. It is an act… Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”
Read or listen to an audio recording of the essay in The New York Times.
Tales from the battlefield
Dispatches from hospitals have been a recurring theme during the Covid-19 pandemic, but few go as deep as this 1843 piece, which involved journalists following doctors and nurses in London hospitals for three critical months during lockdown. It tells a story of incredible resilience against terrifying odds and celebrates the bloody-minded determination of those on the front line, but it also shines a light on some of the less reported reactions from those treating the virus. It ends with a sobering reflection on the true impact of the virus, and the very real dangers of a second wave, despite everything that has gone before.
Read in The Economist.
Performative activism accepted
The #ChallengeAccepted trend, nebulously aimed at "supporting women", caught the imagination of Hollywood's elite this week and, inevitably thereafter, women around the world. However, as Kat Brown reminds us here, the good excuse for celebrities to post glossy black and white photos on their social media feeds actually began as a movement to raise awareness of women killed in Turkey, a nation in which nearly 500 women were murdered by their partners or families last year. How must its originators feel, Brown asks, to see their despairing campaign co-opted by people with no idea where it came from?
Read in The Telegraph.
Fostering peace from the ground up
Who is responsible for protecting populations in war zones? Who represents the interests of local populations during peace talks?
When it comes to multilateralism and diplomacy, these are the questions that almost always should be asked. In reality, however, crisis discussions often fall folly to negotiations about power-sharing.
Drawing upon observations of how women consistently emerge as peace builders to protect their communities, during times of crises and wars – this article will leave you wondering: where are the women peacemakers?
Read in Le Monde Diplomatique.
The fog of markets
Colossal sums of money have been pumped into the global economy by central banks since the global financial crisis, a trend that has accelerated further with Covid-19. This has driven the cost of borrowing for countries and companies to historically low levels, whilst prices of many assets are left hugely inflated. With so much morphine swilling around, the resultant fog makes accurate risk assessment difficult. Continuing to drug a symptom does not address the root cause, so when will we do so? The public, media and political debates need to demystify this whole story, as it gets right to the heart of democracy and our model of political economy. What we thought of as a tail-risk at the start of the crisis – an inflationary surge – is already suggested in the price of gold and, in particular, silver. This on Zero Hedge is as good a precis as we have seen and well worth your time.
Read at Zero Hedge.
A Swift change of direction
We have a soft spot for Taylor Swift in our house. Her irresistible hit Shake It Off was one of the first pop songs to really capture the imagination of my then one-year-old daughter when it was released in the summer of 2014. But for the global lockdown, Swift would have spent this summer touring her seventh album, released less than a year ago and so still justifiably considered new. Grounded by coronavirus restrictions, instead she spent the time collaborating secretly with The National’s Aaron Dessner on a series of new songs which soon became her eighth studio album, launched without warning to widespread astonishment – and critical acclaim – last week. Folklore is a far cry from Shake It Off, granted, but no less brilliant. Should we be surprised? Well, no, obviously, as Ann Powers argues here in a lively conversation with her NPR colleagues Stephen Thompson and Lyndsey McKenna.
Read at NPR Music.
Written by David Gaffney, Partner