13 years

I realised some time ago that I completed 13 years of blogging around January or March (archives on this blog go back to March 2012; the older posts are just awful to read today. The month depends on which post I consider to be my first.). Regardless of how bad my writing in this period has been, I consider the unlikely duration of this habit to be one of the few things that I can be, and enjoy being, unabashedly proud of. I’m grateful at this point for two particular groups of people: readers who email notes (of appreciation or criticism) in response to posts and reviewers who go through many of my posts before they’re published. Let me thank the latter by name: Dhiya, Thomas, Madhusudhan, Jahnavi, Nehmat and Shankar. Thomas in particular has been of tremendous help – an engaged interlocutor of the sort that’s hard to find on any day. Thank you all very much!

Lord of the Rings Day

Here’s wishing you a Happy Lord of the Rings Day! (Previous editions: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2014.) On this day in the book, Frodo, Sam and Smeagol (with help from Gandalf, Aragon, Gimli, Legolas, Faramir, Eowyn, Theoden, Eomer, Treebeard and the Ents, Meriadoc, Peregrin, Galadriel, Arwen and many, many others) destroyed the One Ring in the fires of Orodruin, throwing down Barad-dûr, bringing about the end of Sauron the Deceiver and forestalling the Age of Orcs, and making way for peace on Middle Earth.

Even though my – rather our – awareness of the different ways in which Lord of the Rings and J.R.R. Tolkien’s literature more broadly are flawed increases every year, in the last year in particular I’ve come back to the trilogy more than before, finding both that it’s entwined in messy ways with various events in my life, having been the sole piece of fantasy I read between 1998 and 2005, and more importantly, because Lord of the Rings was more expansive than most similar work of its time, I often can’t help but see that much of what came after is responding to it in some way. (I know I’ve made this point before but, as in journalism, what stories we have available to tell doesn’t change just because we’re repeating ourselves. :D)

This said, I don’t know what Lord of the Rings means today, in 2021, simply because the last 15 months or so have been a lousy time for replenishing my creative energy. I haven’t been very able to think about stories, leave alone write them – but on the flip side, I’ve been very grateful for the work and energy of story writers and tellers, irrespective of how much of it they’ve been able to summon, whether one sentence or one book, or the forms in which they’ve been able to summon it, whether as a Wikipedia page, a blog post, a D&D quest or a user’s manual. I’m thankful for all the stories that keep us going just as I’m mindful that everything, even the alt text of images, is fiction. More power to anyone thinking of something and putting it down in words – and also to your readers.

Some good books I read recently

Since January 2020

Read

  1. Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin’s Sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko
  2. Every Creature Has a Story, Janaki Lenin
  3. The Writing Life, Annie Dillard
  4. Half-Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo, Physicist, Frank Close
  5. Shoes of the Dead, Kota Neelima
  6. The Overstory, Richard Powers
  7. Wild and Wilful, Neha Sinha
  8. Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights, Helen Lewis
  9. Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado
  10. The Big Book of Modern Fantasy, ed. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Reread

  1. On Nuclear Matters, Praful Bidwai
  2. Toll the Hounds, Steven Erikson (Malazan 8)
  3. Cut-outs, Caste and Cine Stars, Vaasanthi
  4. Karunanidhi, Sandhya Ravishankar
  5. Still Bleeding from the Wound, Ashokamitran
  6. Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, Sabine Hossenfelder
  7. Exhalation, Ted Chiang

Now reading: A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman

Next

  1. Caliban and the Witch, Sylvia Federici
  2. A Burning, Megha Majumdar
  3. The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin
  4. When the Whales Leave, Yuri Rytkheu

Thanks to Srividya, Jahnavi, Dhiya, Shankar and Siddharth for the recommendations!

End of a tab-hoarding era

Google Chrome just pulled the plug on the Great Suspender browser extension. The Great Suspender allowed its users to keep lots of tabs open at any time on Chrome without guzzling RAM, which Chrome is notorious for – simply by keeping the tab open but not displaying any of the page’s contents. When a user does need to view the page’s contents, they could just click the ‘frozen’ page and the tab’s contents would load then. So by getting the RAM consideration out of the way (mostly), the Great Suspender engendered certain questionable browsing habits, like believing that I could read everything I discovered on the internet or had been shared with me (and which was worth reading, of course) if only I could keep track of them. At last check, my Great Suspender extension was handling 48 tabs.

Now that Google has eliminated the extension without nary a warning, I – like many thousands of users – find ourselves suddenly bereaved, with a giant tab-shaped hole in our lives. I’m not even sure, even though a few hours have passed, if I’m feeling good or bad about this. The reason appears to be that the extension’s original developer sold it to another, unknown person in June 2020, this person snuck in some malicious code in a subsequent version, and it’s been downhill from there (more info and some technical workarounds here).

There are of course other extensions like this one, especially now that this particular one is no more, but the Great Suspender also came recommended from many of those tech-news sites like Mashable. I also don’t have the competence to independently judge how good and safe each one is. Perhaps more importantly, for tech-semi-illiterate or -illiterate people like me, to discover that extensions like the Great Suspender can include and run malware also imposes another layer of wariness towards add-ons, plug-ins, etc. It’s another issue to evade, yet another point to look out for in articles recommending these things, and until I get a recommendation that’s that robust, I’m going to give extensions of this sort a skip.

This also means I need to pay more attention to how I spend my time online. Without being able to hoard tabs, I need to focus on pages I’m likelier to consume soon instead of mindlessly trawling through everything that strikes my fancy. A laptop with more RAM is also out of the question considering how costly they have become. A couple small mercies: I don’t have to give up the luxury of being able to reading an article long after I’ve discovered it, when I’m in just the mood for it, thanks to Pocket.

Update (8:42 am, February 7, 2021): As one reader pointed out, there’s also One Tab – an extension that allows users to collect links to multiple tabs in a single page with the click of a button, and restores them with similar ease. But while it seems like a different way to execute the same paradigm, of working around Chrome’s RAM needs, it may also impose an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mindset that allows users to ‘collect’ tabs en masse but may not help them remember that they’re there. So using One Tab to dispense the same duties that the Great Suspender did will also require behaviour change, which is costly. So let’s see.

Good luck with your Maggi

You know when you’re cooking a packet of Maggi noodles in a saucepan, and you haven’t used enough water or don’t move the stuff soon enough from the pan to a plate once it’s done cooking, and you’re basically left with a hot lump of maida stuck to the bottom? That’s 2020. When you cook Maggi right, right up to mixing in a stick of butter at the end, you get a flavourful, well-lubricated, springy mass of strings that’s a pleasure to eat at the end of a long day. Once in a while you stick a fork into the plate and pull up a particularly long noodle, and you relish sucking it into your mouth from start to finish, with the masala dripping off at the end. That was probably many other years – when you had a strong sense of time moving from one event to the next, a sense of progression that helps you recall chronologies even long after you’ve forgotten what happened in March and what in September. For example, 2015 in my mind is cleanly divided into two parts – before May 11 and after May 11 – and memories of little personal accomplishments from that time are backgrounded by whether The Wire existed at the time. If it did, then I know the accomplishment happened after May 11. The Wire‘s birth effectively became an inflection in time that cut a little notch in the great noodle of 2015, a reference mark that created a before and an after. 2020 had none of this. It forsook all arrows of time; it wasn’t linear in any sense, not even non-linear in the sense of being exponential or logarithmic. It was practically anti-linear. Causality became a joke as the pandemic and its attendant restrictions on society fucked with the mind’s ability to tell one day apart from the next. So many of us beheld the world from our windows or balconies, although it wasn’t as if the world itself moved on without us. We weren’t there to world the world. Or maybe we were, but our collective grief at being imprisoned, literally and otherwise, seemed to be able to reshape our neighbourhoods, our surroundings, our shared cosmologies even and infused the fabrics of our every day with a cynical dye that we know won’t come off easily. Many of our lived experiences carried an awful symmetry like the circular one of a bangle, or a CD. How do you orient it? How do you say which way is up, or left, just by looking at it? You can’t. In the parlance of Euclidean geometry, 2020 was just as non-orientable. There was no before and after. Even our universe isn’t as bad: despite the maddening nature of the flatness problem, and the even more maddening fact of Earth’s asymptotically infinite loneliness, the universe is nearly flat. You’d have to travel trillions upon trillions of light-years in any direction before you have any chance of venturing into your past, and even then only because our instruments and our sciences aren’t accurate enough to assert, with complete certainty, that the universe is entirely flat and that your past will always lie in the causal history of your future. 2020 was, however, a singularity – an entrapment of reality within a glass bubble in which time flowed in an orbit around the centre, in perpetual free-fall and at the same time managing to get nowhere really. You can forget teasing out individual noodles from the hot lump on your plate because it’s really a black hole, probably something worse for shunning any of the mysteries that surround the microscopic structure of black holes in favour of maida, that great agent of constipation. As you stare at it, you could wait for its effects to evaporate; you could throw more crap into it in the hopes of destabilising it, like pushing yourself to the brink of nihilism that Thucydides noticed among the epidemic-stricken people of Athens more than two millennia ago; or you could figure out ingenious ways à la Penrose to get something good out of it. If you figure this out, please let the rest of us know. And until then, good luck with your Maggi.

Ending 2020

My blogging took a hit this year – as did everything for everyone. I couldn’t publish nearly as much as I’d have liked. While the average post length was the highest it’s ever been – 989 words – and audience engagement was through the roof, I had to just forget many ideas for posts I’d had because I lacked the time and more importantly any creative energy to produce them. Since around May, I felt like writing only on the weekends, and only if an idea or an insight crossed a threshold of interestingness that for some reason kept climbing higher.

YearPostsWords
201211981,710
20139671,096
2014163117,302
2015209181,233
20166455,206
2017135114,737
2018184145,530
2019169136,241
2020113111,752

That said, I have two takeaways from blogging this year. The first is a minor one – that I’ve published 1,200 posts in all now. I don’t think of this number except at the end of every year; its bigness feels reassuring, and reminds me when I’m down that I haven’t entirely wasted my time.

The other takeaway is that it’s certainly becoming harder to get through to The Other Side, as their louder commentators clamber further down their rabbit hole, and further persist with argumentative tactics guided not by reason or even the pursuit of common ground but by the need to uphold Hindutva at all times. And as they’ve dug their heels in, I’ve found I’ve been doing the same thing, although not deliberately. I’ve used the first person to refer to positions and the provenance of argumentative tacks more in 2020 than in any other year, and I’ve also been less and less inclined to spell my position – as if I’ve become sub-consciously aware that I’m no longer speaking out to change minds as much as to harden the stances of those who have already expressed solidarity.

I’m not entirely happy with this shift, this closing of the gates – even if it sounds more productive, as the engagement data also attests – because I don’t know whether when all this tides over, and it will tide over, I will be capable of reopening the gates as swiftly as I might need to. Granted, keeping the gates open even a little bit now – i.e. attempting to reason every now and then with those who aren’t amenable to reason – could prove injurious, but I remain convinced for now that it’s the smaller price to pay. And this is why I think the continuously rising threshold of interestingness is a coping mechanism of sorts, an internally supplied resistance to the hardening of the exterior.

I’m excited to find out where blogging, writing, reporting, editing, publishing in 2021 will take me – will take us all, in fact.

My heart of physics

Every July 4, I have occasion to remember two things: the discovery of the Higgs boson, and my first published byline for an article about the discovery of the Higgs boson. I have no trouble believing it’s been eight years since we discovered this particle, using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and its ATLAS and CMS detectors, in Geneva. I’ve greatly enjoyed writing about particle physics in this time, principally because closely engaging with new research and the scientists who worked on them allowed me to learn more about a subject that high school and college had let me down on: physics.

In 2020, I haven’t been able to focus much on the physical sciences in my writing, thanks to the pandemic, the lockdown, their combined effects and one other reason. This has been made doubly sad by the fact that the particle physics community at large is at an interesting crossroads.

In 2012, the LHC fulfilled the principal task it had been built for: finding the Higgs boson. After that, physicists imagined the collider would discover other unknown particles, allowing theorists to expand their theories and answer hitherto unanswered questions. However, the LHC has since done the opposite: it has narrowed the possibilities of finding new particles that physicists had argued should exist according to their theories (specifically supersymmetric partners), forcing them to look harder for mistakes they might’ve made in their calculations. But thus far, physicists have neither found mistakes nor made new findings, leaving them stuck in an unsettling knowledge space from which it seems there might be no escape (okay, this is sensationalised, but it’s also kinda true).

Right now, the world’s particle physicists are mulling building a collider larger and more powerful than the LHC, at a cost of billions of dollars, in the hopes that it will find the particles they’re looking for. Not all physicists are agreed, of course. If you’re interested in reading more, I’d recommend articles by Sabine Hossenfelder and Nirmalya Kajuri and spiralling out from there. But notwithstanding the opposition, CERN – which coordinates the LHC’s operations with tens of thousands of personnel from scores of countries – recently updated its strategy vision to recommend the construction of such a machine, with the ability to produce copious amounts of Higgs bosons in collisions between electrons and positrons (a.k.a. ‘Higgs factories’). China has also announced plans of its own build something similar.

Meanwhile, scientists and engineers are busy upgrading the LHC itself to a ‘high luminosity version’, where luminosity represents the number of interesting events the machine can detect during collisions for further study. This version will operate until 2038. That isn’t a long way away because it took more than a decade to build the LHC; it will definitely take longer to plan for, convince lawmakers, secure the funds for and build something bigger and more complicated.

There have been some other developments connected to the current occasion in terms of indicating other ways to discover ‘new physics’, which is the collective name for phenomena that will violate our existing theories’ predictions and show us where we’ve gone wrong in our calculations.

The most recent one I think was the ‘XENON excess’, which refers to a moderately strong signal recorded by the XENON 1T detector in Italy that physicists think could be evidence of a class of particles called axions. I say ‘moderately strong’ because the statistical significance of the signal’s strength is just barely above the threshold used to denote evidence and not anywhere near the threshold that denotes a discovery proper.

It’s evoked a fair bit of excitement because axions count as new physics – but when I asked two physicists (one after the other) to write an article explaining this development, they refused on similar grounds: that the significance makes it seem likely that the signal will be accounted for by some other well-known event. I was disappointed of course but I wasn’t surprised either: in the last eight years, I can count at least four instances in which a seemingly inexplicable particle physics related development turned out to be a dud.

The most prominent one was the ‘750 GeV excess’ at the LHC in December 2015, which seemed to be a sign of a new particle about six-times heavier than a Higgs boson and 800-times heavier than a proton (at rest). But when physicists analysed more data, the signal vanished – a.k.a. it wasn’t there in the first place and what physicists had seen was likely a statistical fluke of some sort. Another popular anomaly that went the same way was the one at Atomki.

But while all of this is so very interesting, today – July 4 – also seems like a good time to admit I don’t feel as invested in the future of particle physics anymore (the ‘other reason’). Some might say, and have said, that I’m abandoning ship just as the field’s central animus is moving away from the physics and more towards sociology and politics, and some might be right. I get enough of the latter subjects when I work on the non-physics topics that interest me, like research misconduct and science policy. My heart of physics itself is currently tending towards quantum mechanics and thermodynamics (although not quantum thermodynamics).

One peer had also recommended in between that I familiarise myself with quantum computing while another had suggested climate-change-related mitigation technologies, which only makes me wonder now if I’m delving into those branches of physics that promise to take me farther away from what I’m supposed to do. And truth be told, I’m perfectly okay with that. 🙂 This does speak to my privileges – modest as they are on this particular count – but when it feels like there’s less stuff to be happy about in the world with every new day, it’s time to adopt a new hedonism and find joy where it lies.

Eight years

On June 1 last year, I wrote:

Today, I complete seven years of trying to piece together a picture of what journalism is and where I fit in.

Today, I begin my ninth year as a journalist. I’m happy to report I’m not so confused this time round, if only because in the intervening time, two things have taken shape that have allowed me to channel my efforts and aspirations better, leaving less room for at least some types of uncertainty.

The first is The Wire Science, which was born as an idea around August 2019 and launched as a separate website in February 2020. From The Wire‘s point of view, the vision backing the product is “to build a constituency for science journalism – of contributors as well as readers – and drive a science journalism ecosystem.”

For me, this is in addition an opportunity to publish high-quality science writing that breaks away from the instrumental narratives that dominate most journalistic science pieces in India today.

The second thing that took shape was our readers’ and supporters’ appreciation for The Wire‘s work in general. I like to think we’re slowly breaking even on this front, indicating that we’re doing something right.

On these notes of focus, progress and hope – even though the last 12 months have been terrible in many ways – I must say I do look forward to the next 12 months. I’m sure lots of things are going to go wrong, just as they’ve been going wrong, but for once it also feels like there are going to be meaningful opportunities to do something about them.

The life and death of ‘Chemical Nova’

You know how people pretend to win an Oscar or a Nobel Prize, right? Many years ago, I used to pretend to be the author of a fictitious but, blissfully unmindful of its fictitiousness, award-winning series of articles entitled Chemical Nova. In this series, I would pretend that each article discussed a particular point of intersection between science and culture.

The earliest idea I had along these lines concerned soap. I would daydream about how I was celebrated for kickstarting a social movement that prized access to soap and ability to wash one’s hands under running water, and with this simple activity beat back the strange practice among many of refusing to wash one’s toilet oneself, instead delegating the apparently execrable task to a housemaid.

The fantastic value of Chemical Nova should be obvious: it represented, at least to me, the triumph of logic and reasoning above class-commitments and superstition. The fantasy took shape out of my longstanding ambition to beat down a stubborn Creature, for many years shapeless, that often caused a good review, essay or news report to inspire only cynicism, derision and eventually dismissal on the part of many readers. It was quickly apparent that the Creature couldn’t be subdued with deductive reasoning alone, but for which one had to take recourse through politics and individual aspirations as well, no matter how disconnected from the pretentious ‘quest for truth’ these matters were.

Chemical Nova dissipated for a few years as I set about becoming a professional journalist – until I had occasion to remember it after Narendra Modi’s election as prime minister in 2014. And quickly enough, it seemed laughable to me that I had assumed upper-caste people wouldn’t know how soap worked, or at least of its cleansing properties. An upper-caste individual invested in the continuation of manual scavenging would simply feel less guilty with a bar of soap placed in his dirty bathroom: for scavengers to wash their hands and not be at risk of contracting any diseases.

The belief that ‘the job is theirs to perform’ could then persist unfettered, rooted as it was in some sort of imagined befoulment of the soul – something one couldn’t cleanse, out of reach of every chemical reagent, or even affect in any way except through a lifetime of suffering.

It was a disappointing thought, but in my mind, there was still some hope for Chemical Nova. Its path was no longer straightforward at all insofar as it had to first make the case that the mind, the body and the community are all that matter, that that’s how one’s soul really takes shape, but its message – “ultimately, wash your hands” – still was an easy one to get across. I was tempted and I continued to wait.

However, earlier today, the Creature bared itself fully, exposing not itself as much as the futility of ideas like Chemical Nova. An advertisement appeared in a newspaper displaying a pair of hands kneading some dough, with the following caption: “Are you allowing your maid to knead atta dough by hand? Her hands may be infected.” The asset encouraged readers of the newspaper to buy Kent’s “atta maker & bread maker” instead, accompanied by a photograph of Hema Malini smiling in approval.

Malini has been the brand ambassador for Kent since 2007 and the incumbent Lok Sabha MP from Mathura since 2014. I’m not sure of the extent to which she knew of the advertisement’s contents before her face (and her daughter’s) appeared on it. Her affiliation since 2004 with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), known for its favouritism towards upper-caste Hindus (to put it mildly), doesn’t inspire confidence but at the same time, it’s quite possible that Malini’s contract with Kent allows the company to include her face in promotional materials for a predefined set of products without requiring prior approval in each instance.

But even if Malini had never been associated with the product or the brand, Chemical Nova would have taken a hit because I had never imagined that the Creature could one day be everywhere at once. The chairman of Kent has since apologised for the advertisement, calling it “unintentional” and “wrongly communicated”. But it seems to me that Kent and the ad agency it hired continue to err because they don’t see the real problem: that they wrote those words down and didn’t immediately cringe, that those words were okayed by many pairs of eyes before they were printed.

The triumph of reason and the immutability of chemical reagents are pointless. The normalisation of exclusion, of creating an ‘other’ who embodies everything the in-group finds undesirable, is not new – but it has for the most part been driven by a top-down impulse that often originates in the offices of Narendra Modi, Amit Shah or some senior BJP minister, and often to distract from some governmental failure. But in the coronavirus pandemic, the act of ‘othering’ seems to have reached community transmission just as fast as the virus may have, finding widespread expression without any ostensible prompt.

And while Kent has been caught out evidently because it was the ‘loudest’, I wonder how many others don’t immediately see that what they are writing, saying, hearing or reading is wrong, and let it pass. As Arundhati Roy wrote earlier this week, the attainment of ‘touchlessness’ seems to be the new normal: in the form of a social condition in which physical distance becomes an excuse to revive and re-normalise untouchabilities that have become taboo – in much the same way soap became subsumed by the enterprise it should have toppled.

Examples already abound, with ministers and corporate uncles alike touting the prescient wisdom of our Hindu ancestors to greet others with a namaste instead of shaking hands; to maintain aachaaram, a collection of gendered practices many of which require the (Brahmin) practitioner to cleanse themselves of ‘spiritual dirt’ through habits and rituals easily incorporated into daily life; and now, to use machines that promise to render, in Roy’s words, “the very bodies of one class … as a biohazard to another”.

It started with a bang, but Chemical Nova slips quietly into the drain, and out of sight, for it is no match for its foe – the Creature called wilful ignorance.

Featured image: A snapshot of William Blake’s ‘The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun’, c. 1805-1810.

Time and the pandemic

There is this idea in physics that the fundamental laws of nature apply the same way for processes moving both forwards and backwards in time. So you can’t actually measure the passage of time by studying these processes. Where does our sense of time, rather the passage of time, come from then? How do we get to tell that the past and future are two different things, and that time flows from the former to the latter?

We sense time because things change. Clock time is commonly understood to be a way to keep track of when and how often things change but in physics, time is not the master: change doesn’t arise because of time but time arises because of change. So time manifests in the laws of nature through things that change in time. One of the simplest such things is entropy. Specifically, the second law of thermodynamics states that as time moves forward, the entropy of an isolated system cannot decrease. Entropy thus describes an arrow of time.

This is precisely what the pandemic is refusing to do, at least as seen through windows set at the very back of a newsroom. Many reporters writing about the coronavirus may have the luxury of discovering change, and therefore the forward march of time itself, but for someone who is somewhat zoomed out – watching the proceedings from a distance, as it were – the pandemic has only suffused the news cycle with more and more copies of itself, like the causative virus itself.

It seems to me as if time has stilled. I have become numb to news about the virus, which I suspect is a coping mechanism, like a layer of armour inserted between a world relentlessly pelting me with bad news and my psyche itself. But the flip side of this protection is an inability to sense the passage of time as well as I was able before.

My senses are alert to mistakes of fact, as well as mostly of argument, that reporters make when reporting on the coronavirus, and of course to opportunities to improve sentence construction, structure, flow, etc. But otherwise, and thanks in fact to my limited engagement with this topic, it feels as if I wake up every morning, my fingers groaning at the prospect of typing the words “lockdown”, “coronavirus”, “COVID-19”, “herd immunity” and whatever else1. And since this is what I feel every morning, there is no sense of change. And without change, there is no time.

1. I mean no offence to those suffering the pandemic’s, and the lockdown’s, brutal health, economic, social, cultural and political consequences.

I would desperately like to lose my armour. The bad news will never stop coming but I would still like to get back to bad news that I got into journalism to cover, the bad news that I know what to do about… to how things were before, I suppose.

Oh, I’m aware of how illogical this line of introspection is, yet it persists! I believe one reason is that the pandemic is a passing cloud. It leapt out of the horizon and loomed suddenly over all of us, over the whole world; its pall is bleak but none of us doubts that it will also pass. The pandemic will end – everybody knows this, and this is perhaps also why the growing desperation for it to dissipate doesn’t feel misplaced, or unjustified. It is a cloud, and like all clouds, it must go away, and therefrom arises the frustration as well: if it can go away, why won’t it?

Is it true that everything that will last for a long time also build up over a long time? Climate change, for example, doesn’t – almost can’t – have a single onset event. It builds and builds all around us, its effects creeping up on us. With each passing day of inaction, there is even less that we can do than before to stop it; in fact, so many opportunities have been squandered or stolen by bad actors that all we have left to do is reduce consumption and lower carbon emissions. So with each passing day, the planet visits us with more reminders of how we have changed it, and in fact may never have it back to the way it once was.

Almost as if climate change happened so slowly, on the human scale at least, that it managed to weave itself into our sense of time, not casting a shadow on the clock as much as becoming a part of the clock itself. As humankind’s grandest challenge as yet, one that we may never fully surmount, climate change doesn’t arise because of time but time arises because of climate change. Perhaps speed and surprise is the sacrifice that time demands of that which aspires to longevity.

The pandemic, on the other hand, likely had a single onset… right? At least it seems so until you realise the pandemic is in fact the tip of the proverbial iceberg – the thing jutting above the waterline, better yet the tip of the volcano. There is a complicated mess brewing underground, and out of sight, to which we have all contributed. One day the volcano shoots up, plastering its surroundings with lava and shooting smoke and soot kilometres into the air. For a time, the skies are a nuclear-winter grey and the Sun is blotted out. To consider at this time that we could stave off all future eruptions by pouring tonnes of concrete into the smouldering caldera would be folly. The pandemic, like magma, like the truth itself, will out. So while the nimbuses of each pandemic may pass, all the storm’s ingredients will persist.

I really hope the world, and I do mean the world, will heed this lesson as the novel coronavirus’s most important, if only because our sense of time and our expectations of what the passage of time could bring need to encompass the things that cause pandemics as much as they have come to encompass the things that cause Earth’s climate to change. We’ve become used to thinking about this outbreak, and likely the ones before it, as transitory events that begin and end – but really, wrapped up in our unrelenting yearning for the pandemic to pass is a conviction that the virus is a short-lived, sublunary creature. But the virus is eternal, and so our response to it must also transform from the mortal to the immortal.

Then again, how I wish my mind submitted, that too just this once, to logic’s will sans resistance. No; it yearns still for the pandemic to end and for ‘normal’ to recommence, for time to flow as it once did, with the promise of bringing something new to the threshold of my consciousness every morning. I sense there is a line here between the long- and the short-term, between the individual and the collective, and ultimately between the decision to change myself and the decision to wait for others before I do.

I think, as usual, time will tell. Heh.