Five Things #27

Song of the Water Bear by Laine Bell is a surprisingly effective story about tardigrades, from their own perspective.

I am constantly perplexed as to why so many people are people panic-buying toilet paper. Neuroscientist, Dean Burnett explains.

Sara Elsam talks to Games Workshop co-founder Ian Livingstone about fantasy, bringing D&D to the UK and the birth of Warhammer.

Kieran Fisher argues Buffy the Vampire Slayer Is the Perfect Binge Watch. This is part of a series, all of which is worth a look.

Dana Najjar considers the billion year algae that hints at the origin of land plants.

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 #21

KT Bryski provides a very different take on the story of Red Riding Hood in The Path of Pins, the Path of Needles.

In 2008 Rian Dundon spent 9 months on the road with Fan Bingbing, China’s biggest movie star, and gained a firsthand look at the country’s celebrity-industrial complex.

There are exactly two wolves in the wild in Flanders at present. Pups could be on the way.

Nick Tyrone discusses three things the left gets wrong. Repeatedly.

Ben Orlin presents The Game of Snakes. All you need is a pen and a bit of paper.

Five Things #19

Shades of H. P. Lovecraft in Nesters by Siobhan Carroll.

Was it just luck that Earth has plenty of oxygen? Lewis Alcott and Benjamin J. W. Mills suggest that breathable atmospheres may be more common in the universe than we first thought.

Luke at Start Your Meeples examines the enduring popularity of Carcassonne.

Ryan Billingsley suggests that if you want your kids to read, you should let them read whatever they want. This is a view I can wholeheartedly endorse.

And James Parker considers the joy of being middle aged.

Five Things #17

With Graveyard Weeds and Wolfsbane Seeds by Seanan McGuire is a wonderfully unnerving tale of Halloween, haunted houses, and the consequences of entering perfectly preserved buildings.

Batteries are not a panacea and in What Green Costs, Thea Riofrancos examines the social and environmental costs of lithium mining.

With the release date of No Time to Die confirmed for April 2020, JJ Bona looks back at five of James Bond’s best moments.

Most voters, planners and politicians in Brussels agree that the city should become less clogged by cars and more friendly to pedestrians. Gareth Harding suggests 10 Brussels squares that should be car-free.

Ian Sample reports on the Neolithic chewing gum that helped recreate image of an ancient Dane.

Five Things #16

The Hidden Girl by Ken Liu is a tale of magic and morality set in eighth century China, a time when rivalry among military governors —- the jiedushi —- was often violent and bloody.

“By studying rats in a smarter way, scientists are finally learning something useful about why some drinkers become addicted and others don’t.” Ed Yong on a landmark study on the origins of alcoholism.

George Nash looks back at Gremlins, and the timely return of Joe Dante’s controversial creatures.

Nick Tyrone rediscovers football after a ten year absence and wonders if the gentrification of the sport has gone too far.

Simon Brew salutes 2019’s most underrated –- and finest -– blockbuster movie villain

Five Things #12

The Etiquette of Mythique Fine Dining by Carolyn Rahaman is a light but effective exploration of the challenges and dangers that come from cooking and eating magical foods.

Ed Yong on the predator that makes great white sharks flee in fear. Better to run than to have your liver squeezed out.

André Spicer on how organisations enshrine collective stupidity and employees are rewarded for checking their brains at the office door.

Denzil at Discovering Belgium takes an 11 km circular walk through the Forêt de Soignes and discovers the Monument aux Forestiers, a stone circle that memorialises foresters killed during World War One.

We Are Cult revisits Clockwise.

Five Things #10

For He Can Creep by Siobhan Carroll is a dark fantasy about Jeoffry, a cat who fights demons, Jeoffry’s human, a poet, who is confined to an insane asylum, and Satan, who schemes.

Stephen Dowling suggests that cats are more social than we realise.

Margaret Schotte asks how the sailors of early modern Europe learn to traverse the world’s seas. The answer: they learned maths.

Nick Barlow argues that the first past the post electoral system is a significant factor in why British politics is broken.

And Luke at Start Your Meeples suggests four opening strategies for Hive.