COVID-19 PROVIDES a cataclysmic example of humanity’s refusal to prepare for low-probability, high-impact events. As represented by its governments, the world prefers instead to ignore them until forced to react—even when foresight’s price-tag is small This is an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of the future. But pandemics are not the only improbable but catastrophic events. The world should also prepare for “coronal mass ejections”, when the blazing ring around the sun throws vast sheets of charged particles into space, potentially messing up electric grids and communications. As for volcanoes, very large eruptions should be fairly easy to anticipate, but not how large, or what the effect will be, eg, in damaging harvests around the world. After the coronavirus, new diseases are inevitable. The experience of how the world has dealt with HIV/AIDS shows that, though pandemics do subside, they may not end. And in their wake comes the risk of other calamities, such as the risk of famine.
President Donald Trump has announced that America will withdraw 9,500 of its 34,500 troops stationed in Germany. Such threats have been made before, but this time they look credible. At a rally in Oklahoma on June 20th Mr Trump called Germany “delinquent” for free-riding on American security protection, while spending too little on defence. The proposed withdrawal has caused alarm in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, and, unusually, has galvanised bipartisan opposition at home. With barely four months until America’s election, some still hope it may never happen. Hints of another change in America’s security policy come from efforts by hawks to secure America’s withdrawal from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, so that, for the first time since 1992, it can test its nuclear weapons.
Many people do not realise that a growing share of their savings and pensions pots has been wagered on commercial property. As government-bond yields have fallen, these investments have been higher-yielding and used to look safe and rather boring. But during covid-19 millions of tenants have stopped paying rent. In America delinquency rates on securities backed by commercial mortgages have exceeded the levels seen during the financial crisis of 2007-09. And the difficulties are not just short-term. The pandemic may speed up the decline of bricks-and-mortar shops and offices, as remote shopping and working, taken up out of necessity, become habits or preferences.
From July 1st, according to an agreement between Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, and his partners in the governing coalition, the cabinet can begin discussing annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank. They could decide to annex a large swathe of territory, nothing at all, or, more likely, something between the two. Mr Nethanyahu spies a window of opportunity, opened in part by his friendship with Donald Trump. His supporters say the peace process is moribund anyway, and blame Palestinians for refusing to discuss Mr Trump’s plan for a Palestinian state (facing onerous conditions). But for Israel, the risks of annexation are manifold. America’s Democrats, whose man may soon be in the White House, oppose unilateral annexation, as do European and Arab leaders. The Palestinian inhabitants of any annexed territory would pose another threat. Grant them Israeli citizenship and one day they might outnumber Israeli Jews. Deprive them of rights and Israel might look like an apartheid state. Annexation would make it hard for Israel to remain both democratic and Jewish.
The pandemic has accelerated the growth of competitive video-gaming. In fact, for some time video games have quietly been becoming more like traditional sports. Like them, they are more than just entertainment, but something between a sport and a social network. They have also become more competitive. So much so that it is possible to make a case for their being included in the next Olympic games, due to be held in 2021. Certainly, millions who might otherwise not have bothered would tune into watch. And if it did not go well, “Fortnite” and the others could simply follow in the footsteps of other games tried and later ditched from the games: croquet, tug-of-war and solo synchronised swimming.