Gordon Campbell on Level Two, and Little Richard

Richard imageLevel Two will be life Jim, but not as we’ve known it. At 4pm today, PM Jacinda Ardern will announce the Cabinet decision on when the shift out of Level Three will occur, along with – presumably – a bit of finessing as to what its final details will look like. Come Thursday, the Budget will also clarify what income safety nets New Zealand can continue to afford after economic reality – aka as “the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s” – has fully kicked in, come July. Until then, many of us will still be living on the borrowed time provided via the wage subsidy scheme. Presumably, the Budget will indicate what if anytbing, will replace it.

Well into 2021, the role of the government in stimulating economic activity and upporting people’s incomes can hardly be overstated. No doubt, this week’s re-opening of firms will be welcomed by many – obviously, any activity is better than none at all. Yet the openings will also be a bit irrelevant, given that demand is almost certain to remain a mere shadiow of its former self. Partly because people are sill justifiably scared about the virus, or are fearful for their jobs and incomes. Any bounce in retail sales at Level Two is unlikely to last for long.

Hopefully….as the scale of this new economic reality begins to emerge, politicicans will need to lift their game accordingly. Meaning : this is a national crisis, and not something that could have been avoided by a bit of tinkering with the fine print of how and when we emerged from Level Three. About 195 million jobs worldwide will be destroyed by Covid-19, according to the UN. Among other things, that means consumers in other countries are going to struggle to pay for our exports.

Given this inevitable suppression of demand, the job losses, losses, the reductions in business turnover and the decline in tax revenues available to government, you can bet we won’t be returning to “ normality” anytime soon. Whole sectors of international trade have been wiped out. So…the recent spasm of blaming central government over the fine print of its lockdown rules ( or quibbling about the legal rationale for how the Level Four ckdown was enforced) seems beside the point. Judging by National’s poll numbers, the public is feeling in no mood to be distracted by any attempts at scapegoating. .

To repeat : the Covid-19 economic crisis was never going to be avoidable if only we’d copied this or that lockdown rule adopted in Australia – which BTW, is currently doing it just as tough as we are. Across the Tasman, the nuances about what firms can stay open seems to have made not a jot of difference to the economic damage the virus has inflicted. As economist Shamabeel Yacub told RNZ this morning, their likely job loss figures are looking even worse than ours. comparatively. Our estimated nearly 40,000 job losses, Yacub said, “ [Are]not as bad as they’ve had it over in Australia, despite less retrictive movement.”

So much then for the centre-right criticisms that we should have acted more like the Australians, or that much of the economic pain being felt here is due to our allegedly “overly conservative” managemernt of the Covid-19 crisis. Being open is virtually irrelevant in the context of such a major slump in demand. In an additional blow on the demand front, many people are likely to have adopted cost-saving practices under lockdown, such that old habits (like socialising in cafes over coffee etc ) may not resume, overnight – if ever- on previous levels.

To date, National has offered no insights into how New Zealand can cope with the crash in demand that we are now beginning to experience. Budget Day will reveal what the government has in mind.

Bringing It All Back Home

So….the big difference at Level Two will not be about swhich firms can now open, and which ones cannot in case the virus regains a foothold. The main difference at Level Two will be that more of us will be congregating inside – in closer promimity for longer periods – at work, and on various forms of public transport. We all need information on how to minimise the threat this change in behaviour will entail

Amid the avalanche of material available online, this article very clearly and calmly states what we currently know about how the virus is transmitted indoors. Erin Bromage usefully cites the levels of potentially infectious viral particles expelled by coughing, sneezing, talking and breathing. The equation comes down to this : infection = exposure x time.

Obviously,any infection caught in public spaces will be brought back home, so – again – this underlines the need for cleaning, and regular surface wiping as well as effective hand sanittation. Especially, as Bromage indicates, in the home bathroom, toilet and on doorknobs etc. where regular and daily disinfecting routines need to be in place. Regular handwashing is just one part of that process.

Given that a few of us will be able to afford to head back into cafes and restaurants at Level Two, Bromage also offers some useful information about how to avoid transmission via proximity across a table or downwind from an asymptomatic infected person, over the average 1.5 hour duration of a meal. As Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Brebndon Murphy said yesterday, staff and managers in restaurants will have to become pro-active in refusing service to customers who may be showing Covid-19 symptoms. Apparently, one sneeze can expel enough droplets containing the virus sufficient to contaminate an entire room.

As yet, no country in the world has yet figured out to how safely re–open public transport. If an infection outbreak does occur, it can take a fortnight or so before the evidence becomes apparent in the community and this time lag – again – underlines the need for rapid testing and tracing as soon as synptoms become apparent. Clearly, if people are moving through a number of public spaces, the difficulty of effective contact tracing will increase. Again, the duration of exposure is a crucial element in determining whether proximity results in infection.

This raises a perennial issue. Some countries that have successfully managed the virus have advocated (or required) the wearing of non-medical masks in public spaces but – for increasingly unconvincing reasons – our MoH has remained agnostic about the value of doing so. That’s despite the advice from Otago Medical School epidemiologist professor Michael Baker (and the evidence from Taiwan and South Korea) that the wearing of non-medical masks can play a preventative role, especially in the crowded envoronments ( eg bus, train and airport terminals ) that many of us will be re-entering at Level Two. The public will have to take their dafety into their own hands. To paraphrase Spiderman, with greater freedom comes a need for greater responsibility.

Footnote : New Zealand’s testing capacity has come a long way in a very short time. Currently, New Zealand ranks second in the world (behind Vietnam) in the ratio of Covid-19 tests to confirmed cases.

Damn those dams

Amid the media focus on Covid-19, a lot of other global issues are being swept aside. Gaza for instance has been in lockdown for yeaers and years, with capriciously violent consequences for any transgression of the lockdown rules. Here, we’ve been talking about the mental health consequences of only a few weeks under lockdown.

Similarly, there has been almost no coverage of the impact that China’s building dams along the Mekong river is having on the food security of millions of people in the countries ( Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand) situated downstream.

Water flows along the 4,300km (2,700 mile) Mekong shift naturally between monsoon and dry seasons, but non-governmental groups say the 11 hydroelectric dams on China’s portion of the river – five of them starting operation since 2017 – have disrupted seasonal rhythms. This threatens food security for the more than 60 million people in the Lower Mekong that rely on the river for a livelihood, they say.

“Naturally, Mekong water rises and decreases slowly about three to four months from highest to lowest levels,” said Teerapong Pomun, director of the Mekong Community Institute, an NGO focused on water resource management and based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. “[But now] the water levels fluctuate almost every two to three days all year, and every year, because of the dams.”

A serious drought – and yes, the Covid 19 threat – are compounding the problems, being experienced downruver.

The Mekong River nourishes wetlands known as Asia’s rice bowl thanks to the high nutrient loads the river disperses. Because so many people live off and from the river, disruptions to its water levels can be devastating.

“Farm crop yields decrease, animals die, which has a huge impact on the livelihood of people as their life depends on natural resources,” said Bunleap Leang, the executive

director of 3S Rivers Protection Network, an NGO that works to support dam-affected communities in northeastern Cambodia.

Little Richard RIP

Little Richard Penniman was talent spotted at the age of 14 by the gospel great Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and then spent the next six years working amid the remnants of the minstrel circuit, honing his skills as a performer. Looking at the clips online – and hearing some of the tributes since he died a few days ago at the age of 87 – it can be difficult to shake the sense of otherness that’s always been draped around him, even amongst the welmeant praise.

Meaning : then as now, Richard was treated as the spontaneous, emotionally uninhibited black guy, doing what comes natural. So crazy he gave stardom up after only 17 months to beoame a preacher because of some fireball he saw in the sky above Australia. (The fact “retirement”also released him from a recording contract that was earning him hits but making him precious little money wasn’t such a colourful story.) He always knew the schtick expected of him; in some ways, he was the greatest ever exponent of it. Somewhere along the line, it became him.

Before fame struck, he’d spent years working out the details, even as he failed to achieve hits during previous stints on the Peacock label and on RCA. What I’m getting at is that the brilliance of the songs, arrangements and recordings he eventually did on the Specialty label didn’t happen spontaneously. In fairy tale fashion, the hits went on to liberate a whole generation of white teenagers ( Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney among them) even if Pat Boone’s milkwhite cover version of “ Tutti Frutti” still outranked Richard’s original on the Billboard charts.

Richard eventually became one of rock’n’roll’s crucial, most reliable crossover acts. Sure, Fats Domino, Check Berry and any number of black one off hitmakers and doowop groups also had hit records during this early phase of rock’n’roll. Yet it was Richard’s rasping, occasionally blown out voice that made him the most extreme mainstream act of the entire period. When parents threw up their hands about rock’n’rroll, Little Richard was the prime evidence of where all of this might end up.

This was a paradox. All but simultaneously, some of the major conflicts of the civil rights era were being fought out in the nation’s streets and schools. In parallel, white artists were imitating black r& on an industrial scale, but the same audience was surprisingly receptive to black music styles by black performnrs as well.This was happening despite the fact that at many of the shows, blacks were still being roped off into the gallery upstairs, while the white kids crowded the stage and the dance floor. In Little Richard’s act, it can be hard to separate the mugging for the white audience from the genuine flamboyance – and Jimi Hendrix, Richard’s one time guitarist never entirely resolved the ‘superblackness’ performative issue during his own career, either. The mojo gets put to work, overtime.

Here’s Little Richard and his band rocking the white folks on the Alan Freed show…..and also “Greenwood, Mississippi” a good later track he did for Fame Records, with Travis Wammack featured on guitar.