Coronavirus – Day #191

Congratulations, Bozo, you’ve set a new record!

Yes, today’s count of new COVID-19 cases in the UK is 6634; higher than anything achieved during the initial wave of the pandemic. I’m sure that there will be champagne for all in the Cabinet today.

Well, except for Liz Truss, whom I understand got a bit of a roasting by her own MPs today on account of being even more spectacularly useless at her job than the rest of the team.

Also today we have a new track and trace app. The original one, for which the Great British Software Industry tried to go it alone and eschew any funny foreign code, has been scrapped because it didn’t work. The new one is based solidly on the Apple/Google code that most other countries are using.

Naturally everyone is wondering how much money has been paid to Cummings’ mates to produce this, and how much of our data he’ll be selling off to further line his pockets. The answer seems to be precious little, at least according to Wired. Also the app doesn’t seem to be stealing information from our phones, or doing covert surveillance, or any of the other things that Dom is so keen on.

There are problems. It only works on fairly new versions of the Apple and Android operating systems. It also keeps bluetooth on all the time, which I gather can drain your battery fairly quickly. But for people who are out and about a lot it can be useful.

Personally I’m only going to be going out once a week to shop at Tesco. My personal biobubble is me, a collection of soft toys, and rather more computers than I’m prepared to admit. Most of the time I shouldn’t need it. Also I’m giving it a few days before downloading it, just in case someone finds some hidden code that shouldn’t be there.

Coronavirus – Day #190

The second wave is well underway now in the UK. The number of new cases of COVID-19 reported here today was 6178. For comparison, the peak daily number of new cases in the first wave was 6201.

Of course these days there is much more testing. During the first wave you were only likely to get a positive diagnosis if you sought medical help. These days we are probably counting a lot of asymptotic people as new cases. But it is still very worrying, especially as the number of people in hospital and the number of deaths are now starting to tick upwards.

Even the newspapers are staring to refer to Bozo as a clown. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Brexit disaster is going to hit us in January, I’m sure that the Tories would be thinking of getting rid of him. Right now, however, no one in their right mind would want to be Prime Minister.

Apparently there is now talk of setting up a border to control entry into Kent, in order to prevent the county from being clogged up with lorries trying to get to the continent. And Gibraltar is looking to create a border with the UK in order to stay in the EU single market.

Happy Equinox!

Today is the Autumn Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. It is a day of celebration in pagan calendars, and it is well worth celebrating today.

The UK government has finally issued its response to the Gender Recognition Act consultation. As I suggested yesterday, they are not introducing any major reforms, but they are making minor changes, and crucially they are not rolling back any existing rights.

The campaign against GRA reform has always been based on lies about how the reform would give trans people “new rights” that would be dangerous to cis women. Those new rights were all rights that trans people had anyway under the Equality Act. The anti-trans campaign hoped that by complaining about rights we already have, they could persuade the government to remove those rights. That campaign has been a complete failure.

Trans people do want reforms to the GRA, but mostly what we want is legal recognition for non-binary people and for people under 18 years of age. Those two things were never on the table. Even the more trans-friendly Scottish Government has refused to countenance them. The reforms that were proposed were nice to have, but most trans people in the UK are living happily without changing their legal gender. They have already changed their names, passports, driving licences and so on, which is all people need much of the time.

From the government point of view, the objective of reform was to encourge more trans people to change their legal gender so as to bring it into line with the rest of their ID. The original proposed reforms would have done a lot to help with that. What we have been given today is very minor in comparison. The government will know this, and civil servants will probably be working hard behind the scenes to make the process easier to the extent that they can do so without legislation. And when the Scottish bill becomes law and everyone can see that it is more effective that what Westminister has done, they will quietly introduce new legislation without bothering to consult on it, because they do really want us to change our legal gender.

So where do we go from here? Well, GRA reform is now officially dead. Presumably there is no more need for any of these “feminist” campaign groups. Or, if there is, they will have to be honest about their desire to roll back existing laws. My hope is that a lot of them get distracted into things like anti-mask activism and anti-vax activism, partly because many of them are in those camps already, and partly because that’s what their paymasters in the USA are mostly concerned about now.

If that happens, then the trans community will be able to get back to negotiating with the NHS about how to improve our healthcare. And that will bring real benefits.

The main point, however, is that we would not have got here if it was not for you folks (or at least the UK citizens amongst you). Without you crashing the email servers at Downing Street with your letters of protest; without you signing petitions in your thousands; without you supporting us through your companies and trade unions; we would have seen our rights rolled back. Because the government has seen that the vast majority of the British people support their trans siblings, they have decided that persecuting us is not a vote-winner.

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!

Reasons to be Cheerful

Life has been pretty awful for trans people in the UK for the past few years. Most of the mainstream media outlets have devoted themselves to campaigning against trans rights for a few years now, and more recently we have acquired a government that seemed keen to support that campaign. However, over the past week or so we have seen a heartwarming level of support from ordinary British people.

The Trades Union Congress passed a motion in favour of trans rights, and explicitly condemning one of the more ridiculous astroturf organisations set up to campaign against us (an “LGB Alliance” that seems to be actively homophobic).

A group of over 100 major businesses and organisations also came out in favour of trans rights. The signatories included the Army, the Navy, the Welsh Government, and multinational companies such as Disney, Microsoft, BP and Sky.

For the first time ever, the British Medical Association explicitly came out in favour of trans rights.

And best of all, the Employment Tribunal has ruled that non-binary people are protected under the Equality Act. This is a huge deal because it provides legal precedent for an issue that was previously unclear in law.

All of which may explain why the latest piece of malicious sniping in the Sunday Times did not include any mention of rollback of trans rights, as was the case when they previously leaked what Liz Truss was due to say in Parliament. Indeed, the proposals now seem to be for a small improvement in trans rights, albeit somewhat less than Theresa May had promised.

Of course the government can still do with a bit of reminding about the overwhelming groundswell of public support for trans rights. There’s a new petition asking for a proper reform, including recognition of non-binary identities. It has over 75,000 signatures already, and when it hits 100,000 it has to be debated in Parliament, which forces Bozo and Truss to actually pay attention. If you are a UK citizen, please consider signing it. (And if you are not, please promote it to your UK friends.)

Coronavirus – Day #178

It looks like we are definitely into a second peak here in the UK. Today’s count of new cases was over 3500 and as of Monday social gatherings will be limited to 6 people. Of course this doesn’t apply to workplaces or education, because the government thinks that would be bad for the economy, so a lot of the things responsible for the surge in infections will carry on regardless.

I’m not hugely worried at the moment. We’ve learned a lot about biosecurity since the last outbreak, and currently the sharp increase in cases don’t seem to be leading to a corresponding increase in deaths. Things may be very different when winter hits. And of course everything will be much worse in January when Brexit bites and we start to run out of food and medicine.

Coronavirus – Day #175

Hmm, four days with no posts. Partly there’s not been a lot to talk about, but also I have been waiting to see if the rise in COVID-19 cases in the UK was real or a blip. Sadly it appears to be real. In the past three days we have had over 8000 new cases. Hopefully people will be sensible and we can nip this in the bud, because for sure the government won’t be sensible about it. All they care about is how to spin it so that they can claim it is not their fault.

I can report that the car is now running fine again. And I am now the proud owner of one of those jump start battery pack things. For someone with as little mechanical skill as me, this is a major achievement.

Taking of the government, today they announced in Parliament that they would be reneging on the Withdrawl Agreement that they signed with the EU. This does not surpise me. They seem to take the view that making deals is for fools and suckers, and that they can get away with anything if they want to. If Johnny Foreigner doesn’t like it, well he’ll soon find out that getting on the wrong side of the British Empire will do him no good. What they will do when they find out that Britain no longer has an Empire is a mystery. And how they expect to sign trade deals with other countries when they make it clear that they can’t be trusted to keep their word would be an even bigger mystery, except that they have clearly signaled that they have no intention of signing any trade deals. If they did, they would not have put Tony Abbott in charge of negotiating them.

Coronavirus – Day #170

Today I had an adventure. For a couple of medical reasons I needed to travel into Bristol, so I went on a train for the first time in 6 months.

Leaving Trowbridge at around 10:00, my two-car train was pretty much empty. However, coming back around 15:00 a three-car train was much busier. That’s in part due to schools and colleges being back in business. People wore masks on the train because it is a legal requirement. They don’t seem to wear masks anywhere much else.

I’d like to be able to report that Bristol is still there, but it was enveloped in cloud for much of my visit and I didn’t feel like getting my fur wet by exploring.

Coronavirus – Day #168

Today’s excitement was that the car wouldn’t start. That’s no huge surprise. The battery loses charge at a ridiculous rate and if I can’t take it for long runs regularly this will happen. Every so often I need to spend time sorting it out.

However, today I needed to get some stuff from town, so I walked. That gave me a good view of how the town is adapting the pandemic life.

There were quite a lot of people about. Hardly anyone wore a mask outside, which wasn’t hugely worrying as most people kept their distance. Both of the main shopping malls had signs up saying that masks were obligatory, but a lot of people ignored this. Most of the culprits among shoppers were young people. However, hardly any shop staff were wearing masks, so how they expect the public to comply is a mystery.

Out in the world, the number of new virus cases continues to rise. The 7-day rolling average is now over 1300. In contrast, the number of deaths continues to fall. It is very odd. The daily death count has been below 50 since late June, but the number of new cases per day has more than doubled since the start of July, rising steadily all the time. There are a whole heap of theories as to why this might be the case, including a change in the age profile of people testing positive, improvements in how the NHS deals with patients, people being healthier in the summer, and even the 45 theory — too many tests.

The latter needs a bit of explanation. The UK has been very slow in making testing available, but the number of people getting tested has increased steadily, and the biggest rises have come from tests conducted outside of hospital. One of the ways that COVID-19 spreads so quickly is that many people who are infected are asymptotic and don’t realise that they are carriers. Initially almost all of the people who tested positive were in hopspital and already sick. Now most of the people testing positive are outside of hospital and may be quite healthy, or even asymptotic.

Who knows, really? We are still guessing a lot. There’s a whole lot more we need to learn about this virus.

Coronavirus – Day #164

I finally managed to get a physiotherapy appointment yesterday (albeit remote) and have some good advice on managing my back strain. Life is somewhat easier as a result. The short version is never believe medical advice that you read online. With any luck I will be properly mobile again in a week or so.

Meanwhile I am getting some reading done, that being about all I am good for right now.

It looks like my optimism about COVID-19 cases in the UK was misplaced. Yesterday there were over 1500 new cases, and today the government website is mysteriously unavailable, which suggests that someone is trying to massage the data before making it public.

Coronavirus – Day #161

Things have been quiet around here, partly because I’ve been busy and partly as I’ve been unwell. No COVID-19, I hasten to add. A lower back strain, which is very inconvenient when there’s no one else living with you.

I very much enjoyed NASFiC. I’ll stick a report in the next Salon Futura.

Elsewhere the rise in COVID-19 cases in the UK appears to have stalled. This is very good. I have seen it suggested that the reason we haven’t gone into a full-blown second wave, as some parts of Europe have done, is because we don’t trust our government, so when they say “go back to work” we ignore them. It may also be because our foul weather means that we don’t have as much of a cafe culture as Europe, and because our economy is largely service-industry based which is easier to do from home.

Coronavirus – Day #155

Life is trucking along here. Something very exciting happened today, but I’m afraid it isn’t something I can talk about. Suffice it to say that I broke out a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough to celebrate.

Meanwhile something interesting has happened with the COVID-19 data. Back on August 14th we were up to over 1400 new cases in the day. It looks like we were about to take off into a major new outbreak. But it didn’t happen. The weekend was part of that, but we’ve had a couple of days at around 1000, and today we are down to 800. It is a bit early to tell, but it looks like local lockdowns are working. Fingers crossed.

Of course Bozo and his pals have taken the opportunity of a pandemic to launch a major reorganisation of the health service in England, because of course this is a good time to do that. Sigh.

Coronavirus – Day #153

Thanks to the magic of virtual conventions I will be doing my first programme items at a US convention in a very long time. I have a couple of (provisional) panels at this year’s NASFiC. I’ll give more details when the schedule is ready to go live.

Back in the UK, the government continues to dig itself itself deeper and deeper holes. A few days ago I reported the fiasco of large number of estimated exam grades being lowered thanks to a mysterious algorithm that appeared to favour young people who attended private schools, or lived in well-to-do neighbourhoods. Well, the outcry has been so intense that the government has had to back down and will be going back to using the estimated grades produced by the schools.

But that’s not the end of the saga. To start with universities will be in a difficult situation because many of them have already turned down applicants whose grades were lowered by the algorithm, and accepted those whose grades were raised. What do they do now?

One thing they could do is just take more students, but the government had introduced caps on the number of students each university could take, with fines if they went over the cap. And one of the effects of using the estimated grades will be that there are more qualified students.

It might seem that the obvious thing to so would be to remove the caps, except that they are there for a purpose. They were intended to prevent the universities with good reputations from inflating their student numbers at the expense of the less well-known establishments. Without the caps, higher education would be a bit like Mortal Engines with the big universities gobbling up the students from the smaller ones and leaving the latter to starve.

So the smart thing to do would not have been to remove the caps, but to just raise the levels pro rata across all universities, right? So what did the government do?

They scrapped the caps.

But never fear, dear reader. Our glorious leader, Brave Bozo, is ready and willing to take decisive action! He has… (drum roll)

Gone on holiday.

I mean, it is not as if the country needs governing, is it?

Coronavirus – Day #149

It is still warm. I still have lots of work to do. But there is cricket (albeit with a lot of rain delays).

The big news item is to do with exams. Today high school students across the country got the results of their final exams, known as A Levels. Because of the pandemic, no one could actually sit exams this year, so the government said that grades would be based on teacher reports instead. Now, however, they have decided that teacher reports are unreliable, and they have concocted a secret algorithm to “correct” the grades. To no one’s surprise, the result of this is that pupils at fee-paying schools have had their grades raised on average, while pupils at state schools, especially those in poorer areas, have had their grades reduced on average, sometimes drastically. This is what happens when the Cabinet is made up of upper class snobs.

Needless to say, this is a disaster for universities who are having to cope with large numbers of promising students failing to make the grades they needed for admission, and a bunch of posh twits whose parents can afford expensive lawyers demanding those places instead.

Meanwhile there has been an announcement that a number of classic works of fiction by women writers are to be re-issued under those women’s “real names”. While it is likely that some of the women concerned adopted male pen names in order to help their careers, some of them very obviously used their male names in everyday life, dressed in masculine clothing and generally behaved in a gender-variant way.

For a long time the anti-trans movement in the UK has solely targeted trans women. They seem to think that war has been won with the scrapping of reforms to the Gender Recognition Act and leaked promises by Liz Truss that existing trans rights will be repealed. Trans men, and butch lesbians, mostly flew under the radar, until recently when there has been a spate of attacks. We’ve had butch lesbians who are assaulted in toilets after being mistaken for trans women decribed as unavoidable collateral damage. We’ve had a Labour MP say that only people who identify as women should be allowed healthcare such as cervical screening, even though many trans men still need it. This new set of books is very clearly in the same vein. I don’t think that the people behind it care two hoots about women who genuinely adopted a male pen name just for the money. What they want to do is come down hard on anyone who dared display any degree of gender variance. The only thing they forgot was to make all of the covers pink.

Coronavirus – Day #148

It is still rather warm and muggy in the UK, but I have purchased a fan and am now able to put in a decent work day without feeling like the need for a nap every hour or so.

Talking of work, eARCs for The Green Man’s Silence are now available on request. And I’ve made good progress with the layouts for the paper versions so I should be able to get those into the distributor’s catalogue (and thence into stores) fairly soon.

While everyone in England appears to be desperate for rain, Scotland has too much of it. There was a nasty train crash up near Aberdeen today that appears to have been the result of a landslide caused by heavy rain.

In other news, the UK’s GDP in the period April-June was 20.4% lower than in January-March. That’s the biggest economic slump on record, and is on top of a 2.2% drop from the previous quarter. The fall is much worse than other major Western economies such as the USA, Germany and France. There are already signs of recovery thanks to the easing of Lockdown in June, but with the number of COVID-19 cases continuing to rise steadily again it seems unlikely that will be maintained. The really scary thing is that we are likely to already be facing a major economic disaster when Brexit finally starts to bite in January. I have never been so glad to be old, and largely dependent on foreign income.

Coronavirus – Day #146

Yeah, I haven’t been posting much. It was pleasantly warm all weekend, and when cats are warm they go to sleep. It has been a pleasure to have a nice, relaxed weekend.

Not that it was entirely work-free. I do have books to get out. But a fair amount of sleeping has been done, and there was entertaining cricket and motor racing to be watched.

Out in the world, the UK’s 7-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases is over 850. It hasn’t been that high since March 21st when we were just starting Lockdown and the number of new cases was about to rise dramatically. As I understand it, much of the problem is still very localised, and the government is hoping to contain outbreaks by local lockdowns. I have no idea if this will work. However, aside from getting food (which I need to do tomorrow) I don’t need to go out, so I’m happy not adding to the problem.

Coronavirus – Day #143

I have done some interesting things today, but they are mostly things that I can’t talk about yet. Fortunately there is one that I can mention.

This evening I tried my first receipe from Mary Anne Mohanraj’s cookbook, A Feast of Serendib. It was the garlic & ginger chicken curry. I was very pleased with the results. It’s also a very fast cook if you found count the time spent marinating the chicken. I’ll definitely be making this one again. Thanks Mary Anne!

In other news, corruption in the government has got so bad that one story even found its way into the Daily Malice. That’s another £150m of taxpayers’ money gone to friends of ministers.

Interestingly the BBC is not reporting this. I see that Twitter has started labeling accounts run by state propaganda networks as such. They should probably do the same with BBC News.

Coronavirus – Day #142

Worldcon is gradually fading into the distance, though I do have at least one more piece I need to write. In the meantime I have been asked to be on programme for two more online conventions. It is nice to be wanted.

Because people are commenting on last week, I have found myself having to read File 770. When did Mike Glyer become so sad and bitchy? I was shocked.

The number of reported new cases of COVID-19 in the UK continues to rise day-on-day. The death numbers haven’t started to follow yet, but it is inevitable that they will.

Meanwhile the papers continue to be full of stories of incompetence and corruption on the part of the government. And the opinion polls show that 40% of people would vote them back in if there was an election next week. Which is enough to give them a majority again, given the stupid electoral system we have.

Thankfully there is cricket. And Formula E is back (as crazy as ever).

Coronavirus – Day #141

We interrupt your Worldcon programming to bring you this scheduled reminder from the global pandemic.

Yes, Worldcon is over, and I am back at work. Part of that did involve doing the Wizard’s Tower accounts, but I’ve also had a couple of work-related Zoom meetings and have lots of other work stuff to do this week.

I have also caught up with goings on in the outside world. The rate of new COVID-19 infections in the UK is now showing a clear upward trend. It hasn’t gone into full outbreak mode yet, but it could very easily. I understand that this is very patchy, and concentrated in major urban centres, so I’m not too worried, but equally I don’t think we’ll be getting out of lockdown any time soon.

Coronavirus – Day #135

Worldcon is underway. So far so good.

The new Salon Futura is almost ready to go.

Today was also my weekly shop day, the first one since masks became obligatory in England. Much to my surprise, all of the customers were wearing them, and no one was making a huge fuss about it. Quite a few of the Tesco staff did not have masks, but I’m assuming that they are all getting regular testing so the only people they are putting at risk is themselves. It isn’t ideal, but it is so much better than I’m hearing about from the USA, and ever elsewhere in the UK.

Coronavirus – Day #134

I am now definitely into Worldcon mode. I might be still in the UK, but most of what I am doing is either online with New Zealand or doing prep of some sort.

That does incude the new Salon Futura, which I hope to get online tomorrow or Wednesday. It will probably ruffle a few feathers.

Combine that with the fact that there’s a silence protest on Twitter today and tomorrow, as a result of which I haven’t been checking it much, and I have no idea what is going on in the outside world. I can’t even comment on the cricket as today’s play was washed out.

But hey, Worldcon! Have at it.