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This Week in the New Normal #21

Our successor to This Week in the Guardian, This Week in the New Normal is our weekly chart of the progress of autocracy, authoritarianism and economic restructuring around the world.

1. Lockdowns, clean air and saving lives

Not a big story this week, just snuck into the papers without much fanfare, is a report claiming that lockdown saved lives by increasing the air quality in cities.

I mean, it does make any sense, because even if people were driving less, delivery trucks were driving more, and public transport was still running, and planes were still flying, and police vehicles and ambulances and fire engines. Garbage trucks and recycling vans too.

Plus all the essential workers – meaning grocery store workers, gas station attendants, delivery drivers, healthcare workers, police, craftsmen, firefighters – well they all still had to commute to work.

Given all that, it’s hard to see how much the air quality could have improved.

Nevertheless, the report says it did by up to 60%, and that as a result over 800 lives were saved…across 47 of Europe’s biggest cities, concluding:

The information can be important to design effective policies to tackle the problem of pollution in our cities.”

It doesn’t take a genius to decode that sentence.

Now, some of you might be saying that 17 lives per city per year is a number so small as to be insignificant and not worthy of news coverage, let alone impacting public policy…but when your endgame is justifying future “climate lockdowns” to “save the planet”, you need every tiny crumb of propaganda support you can find.

2. BBC Invites the unvaccinated on Question Time

Last week Fiona Bruce, host of the BBC’s flagship political “debate” program Question Time, put an appeal out on social media for unvaccinated people to take part.

The appeal was “slammed”, to use tabloid parlance, by a lot of (completely real) people on social media who believe it is dangerous to allow “implacable” and “nonsensical conspiracy theorists” any airtime at all. Laughably, there were also “concerns” about unvaccinated people sharing an auditorium with the vaccinated.

Guardian columnist Zoe Williams argued against it in the proprietary blend of smugness and ignorance that is unique to the Graun’s opinion pages. The position that “these people are too wrong to argue against, and letting them on TV might convert other people to being wrong” is not one I will ever understand.

In response to the concerns, the BBC has said they will be employing “audience vetting” and “disinformation specialists”:

The issue facing the BBC is how to find “ordinary” unvaccinated members of the public, rather than obsessive anti-vaxx activists, and whether it is possible to distinguish between the two groups. The BBC also runs the risk of broadcasting dangerous medical disinformation to millions of viewers.

Do you see the trick? How all sides work together to direct the narrative?

By issuing the invite the BBC puts up a veneer of even-handedness, and then theatrical “public outrage” means they are “forced” to do what they always intended to do in the first place: Stack the deck against the unvaccinated argument through censorship and “fact-checking”.

Now all they have to do is allow the “audience vetting” to weed out the “obsessive campaigners” (read: the rational or well-informed people), whilst at the same time employing useful idiots or even shills to deliberately argue badly and make factual errors, discrediting the whole movement on live TV.

3. The Ukraine Tug of War

Having covered the Ukraine crisis a lot in the first two years of OffG’s existence, it has been bemusing to watch the back-and-forth over the alleged soon-to-be “Russian invasion”.

First of all, let’s be clear here, Russia is not going to invade Ukraine. They have literally nothing to gain by doing so, and even the most cursory knowledge of military history would teach you that nothing good comes from starting a land war in Eastern Europe in the middle of winter.

…but then why are the US and UK constantly talking about a Russian invasion?

Well, that’s not really the interesting question. Russia-baiting nonsense has been around for literal centuries, and is a constant drip-feed in the news since at least 2013.

The interesting part is that nobody is agreeing with them.

Germany and France have both played down the Russian invasion “threat”, with Germany stopping Estonia from shipping German-made weapons into Ukraine, getting a write-up in the Wall Street Journal for being a “bad ally” for its trouble.

Splits in NATO’s Big Four are nothing new, they date back to Iraq and beyond, but any time the narrative is incoherent or fractured there’s the possibility of some new insight.

However, the really surprising dissent comes from neither France nor Germany, but Ukraine itself. Just yesterday, President Zelensky warned the West they are “creating panic”.

Since the 2014 coup, and subsequent civil war, the Ukrainian government – no matter the administration – have claimed to be “invaded” by Russia at least a dozen times, if even they are saying “the Russian’s aren’t going to invade”, well, then something weird is going on.

It feels like a struggle between the Old Normal and the New Normal, with the Anglosphere wanting to drop Covid and get back to doing war.

BONUS: PR misfire of the week

Someone, somewhere, told the Mayor of Chicago that this was a good idea…

There’s a lot to take in here. Clearly it is tone-deaf and somewhat creepy…but it’s also just so funny.

From the fact that if you look closely there’s only about 800 dollars there, to the unexplained stains all over one seat of the couch, to the neatly folded one-dollar bill as an apostrophe, to the Batman-villain-like smile on Lightfoot’s face…and just the overpowering reek of desperation.

It’s not quite as bizarre as New York’s Bill de Blasio offering french fries in return for vaccinations, and eating a hamburger like he’s never even seen one before while he’s doing it, but it’s a close-run thing.

Also another piece of evidence suggesting that vaccine take-up figure might not be quite as high as they’re saying it is.

It’s not all bad…

The huge trucker protest in Canada was the main good news this week, you can read about that in detail here.

Denmark and Austria are lifting their Covid restrictions, too. While we’ll have to wait and see exactly why, and what that means going forward, for now at least it seems to be a good thing, certainly for the unvaccinated Austrians who are allowed outside again.

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All told a pretty hectic week for the new normal crowd, and we didn’t even mention the increasingly strange Spotify war or Covid’s latest scare symptom: priapism (yes, seriously).

There’s a lot of change in the air, a lot of agendas in the works, if you see a headline, article, post or interview you think is a sign of the times, post it in the comments, email us or share it on social media and we will add it to the next edition.