The Belgian shutdown has started

You can tell things are getting bad when Belgium gets a government. This is, of course, only a temporary government — negotiations are still ongoing for the new federal government — but prime minister, Sophie Wilmès now has powers for six months to take measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic without requiring parliamentary approval.

The first thing this government did was to declare a declare a nation-wide shutdown as of noon today. Until 5th April, we are all expected to stay at home except for essential reasons, such as food shopping, or outdoor physical activities which can only be done with people living in the same house.

They are trying to avoid calling this a lockdown for fear of negative connotations. But that’s what this is.

Compared to yesterday, we’re not that much affected. I’m already working from home and Eve is still able to take the boys out in the afternoon in order to prevent us all going stir crazy. Because I am not walking to work at present, I have taken to taking a walk around town before I start working and again when I have finished. This is still allowed as long as I don’t talk to anyone.

In slightly more positive news, a citizens’ initiative has been launched aiming to bring together isolated people with volunteers available to gather and deliver essential shopping. The idea from Covid Solidarity is to make shopping list templates for printing out available to people who find themselves isolated.

Once completed, the list may be placed in a visible position in front of one’s house so that a neighbour can pick it up and set about making the necessary purchases.

The shopping is then deposited without physical contact, and reimbursement for purchases made is handled directly by the person lending assistance and the person being assisted, according to the procedure detailed on the site.

And two Dutch universities are looking into whether a vaccine for tuberculosis can be used to boost immune systems which may mean fewer and less severe infections.

Mad compromise of the moment

The Belgium National Security Council met on Thursday to come up with new measures to address the public concern surrounding the coronavirus. They have come up with a number of measures that, essentially, amount to cancelling weekends and, bizarrely:

All classes at school will be suspended, but schools will be asked to provide care, especially for parents who are unable to look after their children during school hours. The Prime Minister has called for children not to be taken care of by grandparents.

In other words, schools will remain both open and closed until the end of the month.

According to Politico, this is the result of disagreement between Flemish and French-speaking politicians:

Whereas French-speaking politicians wanted to close down all schools in Belgium, as is now the case in France, Flemish politicians were more reluctant to do so, fearing an economic shock. A compromise was found by suspending all classes but not closing all schools.

After the press conference, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon stressed that schools are not shutting down completely. “Closing all schools would be a problem for people who work in the health sector or for parents whose children can only be cared for by grandparents. That is precisely the most vulnerable group. Parents who can’t find a solution for their children can still rely on schools.”

I am certainly sympathetic to the view that offloading kids onto grandparents — the most vulnerable group — for the best part of three weeks would be insane. But if schools are going to stay partly open, I don’t see the value in not keeping them fully open.

Then again, it probably shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that the country that gave us Magritte would also be the first country to invent Schrödinger’s School.

Five Things #25

Sonya, Josephine, and the Tragic Re-Invention of the Telephone by I. S. Heynen is a powerful slice of dystopian fiction.

Chris Grey suggests that Brexit is going feral, and examines the consequences.

Denzil visits The Vlooyberg Tower near Tielt-Winge.

Ben Orlin asks What Makes a Great Teacher? With answers from four great teachers.

And another wolf has been sighted in Belgium. This time in Liège.

Five Things #24

In Fortune’s Final Hand Adam-Troy Castro envisages a casino in which memories can be gambled and asks how much of you would still be you if your memories once belonged to someone else.

Rich Pelley talks to David Jason and Brian Cosgrove about Danger Mouse.

Renewable energy still has a long way to go. Wednesday was Belgium’s Grey Day, the day when notionally the country’s green electricity production is used up.

Klaus Sieg visits Sirplus, a chain of German supermarkets selling expired yogurt, mislabled jam and weird potatoes.

Chris Grey argues Brexiters need to stop campaigning and start governing.

Preparing to fail

Do you remember that photo, taken shortly after Theresa May had formally informed the EU of Britain’s intention to leave, of David Davis and the UK’s negotiating team meeting their EU counterparts. On the EU side, the negotiators each had thick folders stuffed with detailed guidelines intended to shape the direction and outcome of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations. On the UK side, the negotiators had… David Davis’ inane grin.

Before that, of course, we had the utter insanity of Theresa May invoking Article 50 and setting the clock ticking on the UK’s exit from the EU without having the first clue of what she wanted to achieve or how she was going to get there.

This was followed by three years of chaos as the UK’s clueless and incompetent government stumbled from one crisis to the next while allowing itself to be pushed into taking ever more extreme positions by their own Bennite wing. This carried on until everyone was so fed up with the whole mess that they let Boris Johnson tell them that throwing Northern Ireland under a bus and caving in to everything represented some sort of victory.

David Allen Green notes that nothing has changed:

The European Union chief negotiator produced draft negotiation guidelines for the next stage of the Brexit process: that is the future relationship agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

You can read the draft here, thirty-three pages of detailed guidelines, which if adopted will shape the next stage of the negotiations.

As Green notes, the EU negotiators understand the process and have put thought into making sure they are fully prepared for the next part of the Brexit negotiations.

The UK could have done something similar; a draft negotiation document, for example, which could have been put before Parliament for approval

There would be no problem with the Prime Minister doing this: he has had the civil service machine at his disposal since summer — plenty of time for the government to know what it wants from the next stage of negotiations, especially as he wants the agreement in place by the end of this year.

And there would be no risk for the Prime Minister in doing this either: unlike his predecessor, he has a majority in the House of Commons and so he could be confident of any such guidelines getting parliamentary approval.

Of course, no such document was published.

The obvious explanation for the United Kingdom government not publishing a document as detailed as that of the European Union is that it has (currently) no proposals as detailed as those of the European Union.

As in 2016-2020, the United Kingdom does not have a clue in practical or detailed terms what to do next.

This government hasn’t learned a thing.

Five Things #23

Gut Feelings by Peter Watts imagines scenario in which gut flora reprogram the brain’s anger and image-recognition macros via the Vagus Nerve. It is, as the author notes, about as heartwarming as a Peter Watts fantasy can be.

Looking at how people keep on voting, Chris Dillow draws the obvious conclusion that the public does not want economic growth.

A possible third wolf has been sighted up at the Hoge Kempen National Park and its surroundings in Flanders, according to Landschap vzw, the nonprofit association behind Welcome Wolf.

In other Belgian rewilding news, the De Logt brewery will be introducing a ‘Naya’ beer, named after the ‘Belgian’ wolf that was killed last year, on 1st February. Part of the proceeds will be contributed to Welcome Wolf.

Tom Jolliffe takes a jaunt back to the 80’s to see how some of the decade’s biggest fantasy films have aged. Confession: I like Krull. And Time Bandits, for that matter.