Happy birthday my son! (16th letter)

Well, here I am, writing to you again so soon.

I’m back home now after my trip to the USA. It was eventful and good to see your grandfather, who seems to be on a real path to recovery (fingers crossed). But after all that, it’s quiet in the house again – we got a little bit of a cold that is going around, so we’re hunkered down.

So I just wanted to send a quick message to wish you a happy birthday and to let you know that, as always, I am thinking of you.

My you must be getting big! – nearly heading into your teenage years! An exciting time lies ahead, with lots of fun and adventures, I am sure.

One day, I know we’ll have a chance to talk about all the great things you have been living. Until then, I am you loving father,

Dad

My review of George Orwell’s ‘Coming Up for Air’




Coming Up for Air by George Orwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before starting to read Coming Up for Air, I was 150 pages into a lesser known Dickens called Martin Chuzzlewit. I had resigned myself to the pompous 19th Century style, with its improbably overwritten dialogue and run-on sentences. After all, it was a Dickens, and that meant the payoff would be a good story.

Well, there is a reason why Chuzzlewit was lesser known. 140 years before the Fonz was doing it on waterskis, Dickens managed to jump a rather ugly shark – petty personal grievances arising from his America trip, and the even more unforgivable sin of writing what he did not know. And as the story of Chuzzlewit became less engaging, the prose appeared to grow more overwritten and tortorous by the page.

Coming out of this and into a nice George Orwell felt like, well, coming up for air. It also put Orwell’s style in just the right social context. He was among those post-WWI writers whose plain prose stood in deliberate counterpoint to the exclusive and pretentious verbosity of the Victorians, for whom ‘common’ was a synonym of ‘cheap’. For Orwell, a plainly written novel was in itself a political statement: the socialism of the written word.
This theme is also perfectly echoed in the book itself, which tells the story of an ordinary middle aged man with a deliberately ordinary name – George Bowling – whose life spans the trenches of the Great War. As his youth unfolds in memory, the reader is taken through the great changes that redefined England in the early 20th Century. The social: A shopboy finding a higher place in the new social order, with its illusion of meritocracy, and ‘iron cage’ economy. The physical: The engorgement of bucolic villages by industry, the surburban sprawl of London, turning the South of England into the ugly maze of A-roads, roundabouts and semi-detatched houses we all know and hate.

Coming Up for Air is also a deeply personal story, unlike Orwell’s more overtly political (and better known) works. Drawing on personal experience, the author manages to tread the perilous line of a flawed protagonist; one who yet remains human enough for us to like. That’s not easy to do. But Orwell goes further – he crafts a tale that is captivating despite having no real plot beyond whether or not George Bowling will catch a fish.
Yet the novel is most memorable not for its retrospective on the first four decades of the 20th Century, but rather for its precience concerning the fifth. At various times during my read, I had to return to the copyright page to check that the book truly was written in 1940. The foreshadowing of the Second World War was so uncanny it left the impression that Orwell had written it 8 years later, when the dust had begun to settle. This in itself makes the book compelling, especially for today’s reader, whose spidey sense is perhaps tingling with the same grim forebodings.
In summary, if you were to read only one book that covers the great social change in England caused by the wars, this would be the one I would recommend.




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Happy New Year (15th letter)

Hello my dear son!

Well, it is 2022 and I am in the United States, making an emergency visit to your grandfather, whom you don’t remember. But he did meet you once, when you were a tiny baby.
He’s not doing so well – he had a stroke, which is like a wound in your brain. He can’t walk and his speech is slurred. But the doctors think he could make a recovery, with hard work and a bit of luck.

The most I can do is give him encouragement. Your sister Anna is also here, helping and just being the wonderful person she always is.

In ways, I feel very blessed.

But of course I still miss you. The fact that you were taken out of my life remains the biggest point of soreness in my heart.

But one day, sooner or later, we will meet. I am sure of it.

Meanwhile: Happy New Year, my son.

Love,

Dad

Trawling Netflix for hidden Covid truth

Escaping the vaccine immune escape

Over the weekend, the weight of current events got to me. It drove me to seek distraction. More accurately, I promised my wife I’d take a break from reading Covid news and from futile debates online with Covid zealots. And so I took to Netflix and sought out some pre-2020 viewing I was convinced would be as far away from Emergency Use Authorisations, monoclonal antibodies and vaccine passports as possible. This took the form of one movie and one series: a rewatch of the excellent film “The Big Short”, and a new-ish series about a magician doing street tricks on randomers, called “Magic for Humans”.

Though highly entertaining, both titles failed to provide an escape from the ‘Rona Blues. To my utter surprise, I’d picked two offerings that struck closer to the heart of the Covid debate than any Joe Rogan podcast or John Campbell Youtube Clip could.

Blame it on the algorithm.

Herd immunity versus herd mentality

Of course, both are set in a world that existed before the corona crisis was even a twinkle in Klaus Schwab’s eye. The Big Short was made in 2015, but it describes events leading up to the financial crash of 2008. More specifically, it details how the mortgage bond market was manipulated through the creation of financial instruments (called collateralised debt obligations) that encouraged ever riskier subprime lending. I’d seen it all before, but in the rearview mirror of media-induced virus hysteria, the underlying theme really comes into focus.

The film lays bare that the 2008 crisis was not only likely, but in fact inevitable. The fascinating part of the story is not how a handful of finance guys figured this out (and therefore made millions), it is how everyone else didn’t. After all, nothing they discovered was in any way hidden. The only thing these guys did differently was look. They literally walked into housing estates in Florida and talked to mortgage brokers, homeowners and real estate agents and quickly understood that the loans backing the bonds were garbage. Which meant the bonds were garbage, which meant the banks holding the bonds were garbage.

How did Alan Greenspan and his successor Ben Bernanke not see this coming? How did the shareholders of the banks, who lost their life savings, not see it? How did the legislators and the President not see it? For those of us who still believe in rationality, it is a humbling reminder that the wisdom of the masses is based on nothing more than the wool of the sheep standing next to you. Just because something is posted on a billboard, a government website, or comes blasting out of your neighbour’s mouth, doesn’t make it true.

The other lesson from The Big Short, even more worrying, is that when this kind of mass delusion takes root, it takes a hard and painful crash in order for everyone to snap out of their hypnosis. That was what I stewed on as the closing credits rolled.

It’s a kinda magic

So I shook my head and turned to the magician Justin Willman doing tricks on the mask-free streets of a 2018 Los Angeles. “Magic for Humans” sounded both magical and, well, …human. Surely the widening of children’s eyes as a blob of water defies gravity would succeed where global financial mismanagement had failed to distract my Covid-addled brain. And the first few of Willman’s tricks did not disappoint – artful slights of hand; fun gimmicks to please passer-bys. That is, until he got to the internet influencers.

This segment came in episode 2, and it made my blood run cold. Three young internet personalities were brought into a sort of ‘fun house’ and given a diverse box of props. After a short introduction by the magician, they were asked to go around the various rooms with their phones, separately, and take selfies with whatever props they thought would make the best Instagram post. Afterwards, Willman asked them to each separately select the single best picture and give it a hashtag. Without any consultation, all three had chosen the same spot in the house – a watermelon themed swing; the same prop – an ice tray; and the same hashtag – #TrayCool. Then Willman revealed the picture he had already pre-cooked of himself with exactly the same details, the one he knew they would do too.

Influencing the influencers is scary-easy – “Magic for Humans” Episode 2 (Netflix)

Plus ca change, plus on demeure aussi idiot qu’avant

The point was that his ‘short intro’ was so full of suggestive images that they had been steered into making what they thought were independent choices, but were in fact pre-programmed by the magician himself. Of course, when you see a trick like that play out, it is almost impossible not to draw the parallels to what has been happening over the past 21 months. If one TV magician can manipulate people so completely in the space of five minutes, just think what a team of ‘nudgers’ in a government department could do, with the resources of the State, the complicity of the mainstream media, and the cooperation of all the Big Tech platforms.

Could they do enough to get people to take an experimental vaccine they don’t need and could possibly harm them? Enough to get them to give it to their children? Enough to get them to surrender all their civil liberties and cower from life, triple-masked, in a bubble of fear? Enough to get them to agree to show a medical record to access their local pub or supermarket, forever, with no sunset clause? Enough to get them to hate… yes HATE … anyone who opposes the prevailing narrative – even close friends, even loved ones?

Maybe so. We’ll have to wait for the Netflix documentary to find out.

Absolute risk reduction for vaccines in UK

I bothered to crunch some numbers on coronavirus vaccine efficacy, based on the UK’s latest published data which covers week 45 of 2021. I should note that this data comes to me from Eugyppius’ very excellent substack.

The UK Health Security Agency notes at the outset of the report that using the raw data contained in the weekly reports to calculate vaccine efficacy is problematic. Unfortunately, they then go on to give us their own take on vaccine efficacy, which is basically to say the vaccines are highly effective, based on published studies which date from May 2021, a time when efficacy from S Antibodies was riding high. Needless to say, in a world of waning vaccine efficacy and dominant Delta, these studies are next to useless.

Their caveats are well taken. Without controls, we don’t know very much about the populations of vaxxed versus unvaxxed, so it’s difficult to say we are comparing like with like. Still, given the time issues and the fact that massive public health decisions are being taken in real time, one must work with even flawed data, and try to read what it says. So here goes:

Cases, deaths and case fatality rates in Weeks 41-44 of 2021 for the United Kingdom

The top box shows the cases of new infections for Weeks 41 – 44 by age bracket and vaccination status. The middle box shows deaths for the same cohort, and for the same categories. This is data straight from the report. The bottom box shows the case fatality rate, i.e. the proportion of deaths among cases, for the two main categories (vaxxed and unvaxxed).

Right away, alarm bells should be ringing here. Case Fatality Rates, though following known trajectories with respect to age, seem high. Really high. For the over 80s the data suggests a CSF for the unvaxxed of over 30%, for the vaxxed almost 13%. We have known since the Diamond Princess that SARS-CoV-2 just isn’t that deadly. So this suggests we are looking at a very small subset of some unknown Infection Fatality Rate, or that the virus has evolved in a super-deadly direction. Hmm.

The last column of the bottom box is what I want to focus on though. It shows the absolute risk reduction – i.e. the percentage point reduction in fatality risk associated with being vaccinated. Again, all the caveats apply, and the fact that case fatality rates seem strangely high suggests these numbers are an upper bound. But the picture that is painted is so stark, it should be looked at and listened to by anyone pushing for more vaccination and boosters.

For anyone aged under 50, the absolute risk reduction from taking the vaccine is less than a quarter of a percentage point. For anyone under the age of 18, the absolute risk reduction is less than a quarter of a hundredth of a percentage point. To put this number into some kind of context, consider that the CDC reports the risk of death from the vaccine itself to be 0.0022%, virtually identical to childrens’ absolute risk reduction from the vaccine, i.e. the benefit.

The idea of pushing a medical procedure with unknown long-term risks and with short-term risks as high as if not higher than the benefits is, to say the least, neither rational nor medically ethical.

Open Letter to Christie Morreale concerning future COVID measures (in French)

Madame le Ministre,

Vos remarques de ce week-end passé sur des possibles mesures à entreprendre vers une obligation vaccinale contre le COVID-19 en Belgique m’ont interpellé.

Tout d’abord, des telles mesures iraient à l’encontre de droits fondamentaux, plus précisément la chartre des droits fondamentaux de l’Union européenne, Article 3:

« Dans le cadre de la médecine et de la biologie, doivent notamment être respectés: le consentement libre et éclairé de la personne concernée… »

Mais il existe également des raisons bien plus pratiques et immédiates pour mettre en cause l’approche vaccinale contre le COVID-19: Il ne fonctionne pas aussi bien que promis. Partout dans le monde, y compris la Belgique, nous constatons que le nombre de cas « percée » ne cesse pas d’augmenter. Pire encore, là où le taux de vaccination est le plus élevé, on retrouve également un taux d’infection plus élevé.

Les chiffres de Sciensano met la situation au clair (Page 28 du rapport de 11 novembre 2021):

Au  cours  de  la  période  du  25  Octobre  2021  au  7  novembre  2021,  un  total de  2285 personnes ont été hospitalisées pour le COVID-19 en Belgique. Parmi elles, 670 n’étaient pas vaccinées, 31 l’étaient partiellement, 1289 l’étaient entièrement

Donc plus que la moitié d’hospitalisations COVID-19 dans la période la plus récente concerne des personnes dites « totalement immunisées ».

Face à une nouvelle vague, la population wallonne est fatiguée d’une politique sanitaire de plus en plus contrainte – port de masque, confinement, CST [COVID Safe Ticket]…  qui s’avère complétement inefficace – le taux d’infection globale en Belgique étant inchangé depuis la meme période de l’année dernière, malgré toutes nos sacrifices.

Il est plus que temps, Madame le Ministre, de changer notre approche – et non pas de renchérir.

Bien à vous,

Graham STULL

cc HARDY Maxime, LEGASSE Dimitri, DISABATO Manu, DURENNE Véronique, VANDORPE Mathilde, DELPORTE Valérie

On lockdowns, masks, vaccines and vaccine-mandates

Lockdowns don’t work (very well)...

Even to the extent the idea of forcing healthy people to hide away in their homes to avoid getting sick ever could work, as of today we are well past that point. The virus is now endemic. Everyone will get exposed to SARS-CoV-2, many will develop symptomatic infection (Covid), of which the vast majority will develop natural immunity and recover fully. A small number, mostly those past normal life expectancy, will die. That’s kind of sad, but not really.

…but they do cause harm.

Lockdowns ruin our economies, drive people (especially the young) into depression and anxiety. They concentrate economic power among large companies and Big Tech. They reduce the flow of goods and services in our economies and make us poorer. They inhibit the sick from seeking genuinely beneficial medical care when needed. They disproportionately impact the disadvantaged, especially children.

Masks don’t work (very well)…

Especially when imposed on people who would otherwise not wear them. This is because the virus doesn’t transmit asymptomatically, so the best advice is for sick people to stay home (always good advice). To the extent we have any idea how it transmits, it’s thought to be through aerosolised particles so tiny that nothing short of a hazmat suit will make much difference. Or it could be through the manifold animal reservoirs that now exists in every patch of woods from New Brunswick across the Bering Straight and all the way to Brittany. We don’t really know – after all SARS-CoV-2 has never been isolated. But from the epidiomological data we can be pretty sure masks make little to no difference.

…but they do cause harm.

They inhibit human contact and expression. They hamper children from developing cognitive skills. They deaden our souls by robbing us of the ability to smile at strangers we pass in the park. Finally, they cost money and resources to make, and they pollute our landscapes.

Vaccines’ don’t work (very well)…

They provide some short term immunity through S antibody production, which wans to almost nothing after 11 months. Boosters may revitalise the protective effect, and therefore be effective for a small number of vulnerable people, as a stop-gap measure. But mutations of the virus will almost certainly make the current vaccines redundant the longer this ‘pandemic’ drags on. They may also inhibit the production of more durable N antibodies or suppress the production of T- and B-cell immunity, which is the true key to ending COVID. The best we can hope for by doubling down on mass vaccination is an endless cycle of booster shots, piling ever more toxins into our bodies and enriching Big Pharma in a sad, dystopian spiral of medical dependency and immuno-suppresion.

…but they do cause harm.

They cost billions of euros/dollars/pounds to produce, diverting resources away from the productive economy and therefore from the truly vulnerable. Short term adverse effects, while low in absolute terms, are relatively high – and by ‘relatively’ I mean an order of magnitude higher than for all other vaccines currently approved. These include fatigue, nausea, myocarditis, and my personal favourite: sudden death. Long term effects, in particular concerning immuno-suppression in the case of mRNA ‘vaccines’, are unknown, but there are at least theoretical pathways to imagine they could cause harm on an apocalyptic scale.

Vaccine mandates/passports don’t work...

Either it is the case that the vaccines don’t work (see above), in which case the mandates are senseless, or it is the case that they do, in which case the mandates are redundant. Even leaving aside this obvious conclusion, there is a more pragmatic point: Mandates are self-defeating in the signalling they send to the vaccine hesitant, who will naturally start to wonder why, if this jab is so good for them, the authorities feel the need to coerce them into taking it.

…but they do cause harm.

They set truly dangerous precedents regarding medical autonomy and patients rights, not to mention personal privacy and liberty. These are important concerns at all times in human history, but in the age of digitalisation, the only ones who would not shy away from the dangers of medical-based IDs of this kind are fools and tyrants. There is a deeper social point: Vaccine compulsion divides us – along ideological lines, along racial or ethnic lines, or even in terms of exacerbating existing socio-economic inequalities. We are already far too divided. Worst of all, it creates the belief that the human body in its natural state is unclean, sullied and requires a State-sanctioned ceremony to be purified.

My review of ‘The Truth’ by Stanisław Lem

The Truth and Other StoriesThe Truth and Other Stories by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished the title short story, The Truth, with tremendous thanks to a Polish friend of mine, who recommended it to me.

Humbly and with embarrassment for my Anglo-centricity, I am forced to admit I would otherwise never have read Lem, nor was I even truly aware of his existence as a writer – despite his having written the book behind the classic sci-fi film Solaris.

Yet The Truth, in its execution and in the concepts it evokes, is as deserving of a place among the great works of 20th Century sci-fi as anything written by Bradbury, Asimov or Clarke.

Nor does the genius of the story repose entirely on the strength of its ideas. The writing is more than competent – some passages touch on the beautiful. But what I really liked was how Lem uses the common narrative device of an unreliable narrator to reflect on a personal level the story’s (eponymous) philosophical question. In this way, he creates a perfect mirror between the metaphysical and the psychosocial.

Of course, in the end, it is the ideas that are the lasting mark of this story’s greatness. Here we come back to humility – in under ten thousand words, Lem manages to construct a plausible hypothesis that challenges our most basic assumptions about the universe and our place in it. That is enough to humble even the most widely read sci-fi enthusiast.

The Truth deserves more than just five stars. It deserves all of them.

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Sanity is just the average of all the different kinds of crazy.

I went out last night with a group of people from work. It was a late summer night, the weather was near-perfect, the bars were crowded and everyone was in a good mood.

But the one prevailing sentiment was this: “we should make the most of it now, before the next lockdown happens and we’re all stuck back in our houses for an indeterminant amount of time, until ‘they’ decide to release us”.

It impaired my enjoyment of the event by more than a little, to witness how this received wisdom has become an average thought, and therefore is a sane point of view.

Because by the standards of my own internal logic, it sound crazy to me that intelligent, educated people would so easily accept that, in a country where 80% of the population has been vaccinated, we are likely to endure further lockdowns over a virus which, even in the absence of any vaccine or therapeutics, has an infection fatality rate known to be below 0.4%, and for which proven treatments are available which can drive that IFR to much lower levels.

I didn’t bother to question the premise very much yesterday evening – it was not the time, and I was not so inclined. But if I had, I know that I would have been dismissed as ‘crazy’ – in today’s language, a ‘CovIdiot’, for questioning the efficacy of lockdowns, for which the evidence is at best scant. For questioning the value of wearing facemasks, for which the evidence is at best scant. For questioning the efficacy of vaccines in a country in which 25% of new PCR positive tests are among the fully vaccinated. For vehemently opposing vaccine passports on the grounds that there is no logical reason for them, much less a clear cost-benefit case.

I am crazy for thinking these things. I am crazy because it is a ‘belief’ to hold that reason defines what is and what is not true. Most of human history contradicts this assertion, so only a crazy person would persist in believing it.

But they are crazy too. They are crazy for believing in the dangerosity of a disease that mainly affects the old and comorbid, and for which valid therapeutics exists. They are crazy for sacrificing all of their basic freedoms to enrich Big Pharma and Big Tech, in the vain hope of avoiding an illness they will in any event almost certainly get, but will do them little actual harm.

The only difference between our brands of crazy is that theirs is much more common.

My review of Philip K. Dick’s “Ubik”

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The promotional quote on the cover my copy of Ubik is from Terry Gilliam. It reminds the would-be reader that “Philip K. Dick got there first.”

I took this as a warning more than a commendation. So often, we find the pioneers of great art lacking, when seen in the rear view mirror of progress. They have been copied, improved upon, and remain only as curiosities, historical artefacts who can better help us appreciate their predecessors.

Such will not be the fate of Philip K. Dick. His work remains timeless and inspiring today, even after all the copycats. One can barely imagine what it must have been like to read him in his heyday, the late 1960s, when even the whiff of such ideas had not yet been breathed into existence.

To be sure, there are weaknesses in the writing of Ubik. The prose is typical of mid-20th Century America, naive and blunt, almost to the point of disrespect for the English language. As if the very conventions of writing were a hindrance to Dick and the ideas that were dear to him. If Dick had had some other means of conveying those ideas – perhaps via the very instruments of telepathy he describes in the story – he would likely have made recourse to them.

But the ideas remain timeless, uncompromising in their complexity. Inspiring stories like The Matrix, but going further and deeper into the metaphysical. Asking questions of the reader, instead of providing the comfortable, Hollywood answers to which we have since grown accustomed.

I take the fact that Dick has yet to be outclassed by those who follow in his wake as a testament to his greatness. His apostles should take it as a challenge.




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