Serious

The Guardian would like to tell you Germans have curious native customs that include opening their windows twice a day, and that even their leader Angela Merkel gives advice about this on television. Now, one of the basic things everyone should know by now about SARS-CoV2 is that it spreads primarily through aerosol transmission in poorly ventilated indoor spaces. Ventilate to exterminate. I don’t even think I need to provide links to outbreak investigations for this; here’s Zeynep Tufekci in case you need convincing.

But the Guardian comes over all sniffy that Die Zeit has published extensive advice on how to flush viruses out of your space. They sneer that the coverage runs to 10 pages. Imagine how many salty hot takes about how you’re consuming wrong, you’re probably a monster, and you can fix that if you buy more stuff you could fit in there! One thing they don’t do is offer anything remotely useful or even consider that these childlike natives’ amusing ways might be, I dunno, in tune with nature.

I can’t read Die Zeit‘s guide because I’m not a subscriber and to be frank that paper is heavy even by my standards, but the Süddeutsche Zeitung is quite clear about this. The bug is transmitted through the air. This is why masks are useful, and therefore why ventilation is useful. You can either flush any aerosol out with fresh outside air, or you can filter the inside air. They quote air quality specialists and someone who I suspect is really a CBRN defence specialist, and provide operationally useful advice.

You need to exchange the air volume six times an hour; if you can’t get fresh air from outside, filtering will do, but the filter needs to comply with the H14 particulate filter standard or better, according to the EU standard EN1822-1. The common acronym HEPA should be ignored, because it’s not a technical standard and isn’t legally defined. Machines with bigger fans by diameter don’t need to run as fast to achieve the same flow rate and therefore make less noise.

Another German news article, this time in Der Tagesspiegel, sent me to this release from the Technical University of Berlin. This adds that people tend to associate cold air with fresh air, which is misleading, and recommends as a rule of thumb that if the CO2 concentration is below the regulatory limit of 1000ppm, the building is adequately ventilated. Nobody’s likely to walk into shops with a CO2 monitor for their own use, and they’d probably be an atrocious nosey parker if they did, but if you’re responsible for a building or a bunch of students or whatever, this is useful as they’re cheap.

The glaring difference here is of course that this is serious, and the other isn’t. I keep thinking of this essay of Charles Pierce’s, written months before the pandemic:

Sooner or later, this was going to be all that was left, and it was going to have to confront a serious crisis with unserious people.

Well, you’re sitting in it. I’m sitting in it. We’re all sitting in it. And this reminded me of something.

In the glorious spring of Old Blogging, there used to be an epithet about the Serious People. The Serious People were the broadly centrist supporters of the Iraq War, morphing with time to be the economic policy establishment of 2010 or so. The phrase came from the aggression with which they shut down criticism from…bloggers!…as not being serious. We weren’t serious because we didn’t just pick up the phone to important people, which we couldn’t as we didn’t have their numbers and in any case they’d hang up because we weren’t serious. Sure, we were outsiders.

What was more interesting, though, was that the defining feature of being a serious person was taking no interest whatsoever in anything serious. The history of Iraq, or just the fact there was a distinction between Sunni and Shia – that already made you unserious. Whose friends were briefing that the narrative would change if someone stopped a Baghdad bus before the Baghdad Bounce kicked in – that was serious, that made you serious. It’s exactly the same today. Is anyone actually pouring concrete at Dover? Not serious. Repeating that the prime minister somehow lost weight, when he was in a high dependency unit for God knows how long, because the briefers say so? Serious.

This goes some way to explaining the absolute off the hook, screaming rage towards us. A really important feature of the Corbyn years was that actual, real ordinary people took part in politics like they’d been told to do for years, engaging with serious ideas. The line that all was theatre and nothing was more serious than utter frippery had to be defended at all costs, or the serious people would have to confront all kinds of things about themselves they’d rather not. Nobody, however, is as serious as the virus.

3 Comments on "Serious"


  1. Genuinely sorry to see the Graun playing a part in this, though – they were never going to side with the Left (they backed the SDP, after all) but siding with fluff and distraction seems even worse, perhaps because it’s so definitively useless. I guess it goes back to my rule of thumb that there are no adjectives in life, only adverbs – no states, only tendencies and directions of travel. Everything’s either push or pushback. So after Alan Rusbridger you don’t get someone whose editorial style is like Alan Rusbridger’s, you get someone who’s going to take the paper in the same direction as Rusbridger did – after everything he’d already done, and (coincidentally) at the worst possible time. (Did the Graun get worse faster in reaction to Corbyn? It doesn’t seem wildly implausible.)

    That report from Beverley makes grim reading, btw – but I guess it stands to reason that we’d be doing Eyam in reverse this time.

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  2. As a German, I thought the Guardian article was spot on as a characterisation of attitudes to fresh air in this country. And while written in a fluffy tone, I thought it was serious enough to bring the message across.

    But maybe it feels different to a native English speaker.

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  3. “What was more interesting, though, was that the defining feature of being a serious person was taking no interest whatsoever in anything serious.”

    Absolutely.

    Serious Discourse is a narrative about events shared by certain politicians and media political correspondents and is an odd mixture of analysis of a particular area and the political optics around it. It tends to divert attention away from tricky issues that Serious People don’t want to think about and, as you say, “have to confront about themselves”.

    The virus is serious. The invasion of Iraq was serious. Pandemics and Climate Change and Antibiotic Resistance are serious issues. As Rebecca Long Bailey said back in March, because of COVID we will soon find ourselves doing things that we never dreamed we would be doing. Serious Discourse is a way of avoiding thought about the fact that this means considering actions that are outside the narrow confines of politics as usual.

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