Saturday, November 7, 2020

The state of things in Paris

It has been eight months of hysteria now, and it's getting hard to remember what Paris was like before the Deadly Virus appeared. And the past year has already been a mess for the city and its residents. Let us count the ways:

No. 1: The Notre-Dame fire

The roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris caught fire and burned away completely on April 15, 2019. The roof was made of lead (which melted like beeswax), and was supported by an 800-year-old wooden frame (which burned like a box of matches). Contrary to rumor, the rest of the building was spared; but it will take years to repair the damage.

Notre-Dame, minus the roof
This had a huge impact on businesses in the neighborhood, which were forced to close for a time due to safety issues (like lead contamination), and were subsequently further harmed by the absence of tourists. The cathedral was one of the  city's major attractions. The origin of the fire is mysterious. Restoration work was in progress at the time. Apparently some workers were smokers. But it might have been a problem with electrical equipment, too. In any case, Notre-Dame is closed until further notice, and its visitors are gone.

No. 2: The scourge of the Gilets Jaunes

Demonstrations, vandalism, and looting were carried out practically every weekend for months by the Gilets Jaunes ("Yellow Vests," so named because they usually wear yellow safety vests while making trouble). Retail businesses had to board up their entrances to prevent destruction and looting, and they obviously couldn't receive any customers when they did so, leading to huge losses in revenue. The Gilets Jaunes don't even know what they are protesting; they are just dorks who like to make a shambles. Rioters, looters, and other hooligans joined in the fun, making things worse. This further reduced tourism.

No. 3: Strikes

Weeks of crippling transit strikes particularly afflicted Pars, which is highly dependent on its excellent public transportation system. The strikes were prompted by proposed changes to the national retirement system, which would (among other things) make it harder for public workers to retire at … age 50. This did more damage to the economy. The number of tourists diminished further.

No. 4: The Deadly Virus pandemic

A virus grossly comparable to seasonal flu arrived in France and Paris at the start of this year, and was portrayed as being deadly. Actually it's not deadly at all—at least 99.5% of people infected survive, and some never even have symptoms. But that hasn't stopped the media, politicians, and assorted demagogues from deliberately fomenting hysteria of history-making magnitude that has swept the world, including the French capital. The clueless, draconian "executive orders" and other commandments issued by politicians—who may not even have authority to issue them, and certainly have no science to back  them up— have rained down upon citizens, and crippled society and the economy to an extent that may have aftereffects for decades. This is driving the last nail into the coffins of many retail businesses that were already at death's door due to the preceding events … especially in the tourism and hospitality industries. The number of tourists has effectively dropped to zero now.

No. 5: Return of the terrorists

Islamist extremists have been committing terrorist acts, such as publicly beheading a teacher who dared to discuss some magazine caricatures of the Prophet in class. Normally this would make a substantial (albeit temporary) dent in tourism, but the effect on tourism has been limited, since all the tourists are already gone.

The most damaging of the above, by far, has been the virus hysteria. And it has no basis at all in science. It is so intense, so bizarre, so incongruent with the reality shown by the hard data, and so impossible to justify, that I have to wonder what possible motives might have been behind its creation. There's no rational explanation behind it. Other similar viruses come and go regularly; why is this one treated differently?

The government adds and complicates its various random royal decrees literally every day. If the virus numbers improve, the government takes credit, asserting that its hodgepodge of measures is responsible for the good news and it is only necessary to keep the measures in place indefinitely. If the numbers get worse, the government claims that citizens are stupid and irresponsible and have failed to adequately obey orders, and it adds new orders to keep all those incompetent citizens in line.

At this particular moment, you need to wear a mask everywhere outside home in Paris, indoors and outdoors—unless you're younger than six years of age, or eating or drinking, or smoking, or alone in a car, or you have a doctor's note.

In addition, a new lockdown began a few days ago. To step outside your domicile, you need a police form on your person, dated, timed, and signed, justifying your presence outside. Only a handful of reasons for going out are allowed. You may also need notes from your employer or doctor or someone else, depending on the reason for venturing outside your home. You need to be back home in an hour. You can't be more than one kilometer from home.

All but "essential" retail businesses are closed. Essential businesses include supermarkets, pharmacies, post offices, computer stores, and DIY stores—but not hairstylists or barbers, bookstores, sit-down restaurants, or bars. Certain "non-essential" items (such as books) may not be sold, and aisles containing them must be blocked off in stores that are otherwise  open. All types of deliveries and take-out food services are forbidden after 10 PM.

Breaking the rules can involve fines of up to €3750 and jail time. Presumably the virus is also required to follow all these rules, lest they be rendered moot; but it's not clear how enforcement is ensured.

I think I've got that all right; in any case it will probably all be different a few hours from now.

Some politicians have suggested making vaccinations mandatory as soon as some hastily-developed vaccine is available. Others have suggested that children wear masks all the time, even at home. Still others have suggested that constitutional freedoms should be suspended in order to deal with urgent problems. The state of emergency with rule by decree has been extended by the National Assembly to February 16.

Am I the only one who sees disturbing parallels between this current state of hysteria and certain historical events, notably a bit over eighty years ago, but also going much further back?

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