Here’s a big subject on which I recently changed my mind

One of the more glaring things covid has reavealed is just how unwilling people are to change their minds. No amount of evidence that face masks do not work to stop the spread of SARS-2 will convince the pro-maskers that they were wrong. This intransigence when it comes to changing one’s mind seems to be a common feature in our mental makeup, perhaps reinforced by social media.

But I must admit, I found that in my mid-40s, I have very much changed my mind on a political issue on which I have thought often and long, over the course of my adult life – that being a woman’s right to procure an abortion.

As a humanist and a classical liberal, I have always held that one should have the choice to do whatever one wants, up to when that action impacts on the rights of others. It follows, therefore, that a woman’s right to choose an abortion can only be denied if the fetus is defined as a human life. Was it clear that the fetus was not a human life? No pro-choicer could convince me of the fact. Indeed, I had met many who never even tried. I concluded, therefore, that I was pro-life, not because I was certain that life began at the moment of creation, but because there was sufficient doubt to suggest this was the most moral course for society to take.

In the long months of lockdown, I came to reconsider this opinion. I came up with a reason why, after all, a fetus was not a human life; one that I found perfectly consistent with Christian theology and humanism. Indeed, one might sneeringly point out that it was the very fact of finding my freedoms curtailed, my body subject to vaccine mandates, that forced me to see another point of view. Perhaps so.

But there is a more philosophical path of reasoning, and it goes like this: What, after all, defines human life and makes it different to, say, the life of a bovine, whose muscle tissue finds its way into my cheeseburger? To answer this, I would say, and indeed have always said, that as a humanist and a Christian, the thing that makes us essentially different to animals is our free will. That is, we are human because we have the ability to choose good or evil. This fact is of course at the very genesis of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Do fetuses possess the ability to choose between good and evil? It should be clear that they do not. Indeed, it is very arguable that small children up to the age of three are not, in that philosophical sense at least, human. To be perfectly clear, I am not suggesting that because small children lack free will, and are therefore not spiritually human, then they are fair game for extermination under the law.

But it does take away the absolutist premise from the pro-life argument, and opens the door for a more nuanced perspective on what is the appropriate balance between society’s obligations to ‘potential humans’ absent that absolutist protection, and our obligation to respect the rights of a woman. These rights, after all, derive from her inalienable freedoms, because unlike the fetus growing inside her, she is a fully formed human; one who by definition fulfills the philosophical criterion of humankind – in that she possesses the ability to choose between two distinct moral outcomes.

This certainly doesn’t settle the abortion debate. Important questions remain about what the cut-off point should be – medically and ethically. For even if a fetus is not a fully formed human, that does not preclude some measure of protection. After all, the law forbids cruel treatment of animals. And it also does not settle the very important question of ‘male abortion’, of which I remain a staunch proponent.

The 10 rules of War Propaganda

The West is at war. And because of that, it’s worth remembering the ten basic rules of war propaganda that always apply when you read anything about the war.

  1. We didn’t want this war.
  2. The enemy is responsible for this war.
  3. The enemy’s leader is the devil.
  4. We’re fighting for a good cause.
  5. The enemy is using forbidden weapons.
  6. Horrible acts committed by the enemy are intentional; ours are accidental.
  7. Our casualties are minor; those of the enemy are significant.
  8. Artists and intellectuals support our cause.
  9. Our cause is holy/righteous.
  10. If you question (1)-(9), you are a traitor.

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.

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.

Conspiracy is breathing at the same time: let’s all take a deep breath.

A knave by any other name…

One of the worst things you can be called nowadays is a ‘conspiracy theorist’. It is right up there with ‘anti-vaxxer’, ‘COVID denier’ and ‘Trumper’ as a dysphemism with the weight of mainstream, neo-liberal social condemnation behind it. Very few of those who wield it as a ball-and-chain in the melee of internet comment battles ever stop to consider what the two words in the compound actually mean.

To ‘conspire’ is for two or more parties to agree in secret a course of negative action. ‘Theory’ is a much abused word in common parlance. As Brett Weinstein has been at pains to point out over at the Darkhorse Podcast, in the scientific sense a ‘theory’ is a well-substantiated explanation of a phenomenon, which fits together laws, hypothesis and observational data.

A Wuhan conspiracy? Or just people breathing at the same time?

So when those advancing the Lab Leak Hypothesis concerning the origins of COVID were branded conspiracy theorists, the branders were unwittingly using doublespeak. Because in fact no collective secret agreement was needed to conceal the mistake that is hypothesised to have occured at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in late 2019 – a simple denial on the part of those involved will suffice, combined with an unwillingness to allow any meaningful investigation. Nor does the hypothesis in any way hinge on leading virologists like Peter Daszak from EcoHealth Alliance sitting in a smoky back room with President Xi and Tony Fauci. He might simply pursue naked self-interest in aligning himself with the statements of the Chinese Communist Party. And likewise, the media who skillfully ignored the leads that were publicly available last year needn’t have been party to any conspiracy; their distaste for Donald Trump was enough for them to shy away. Since no one has a positive motive to admit the truth, there is little need to assume they would agree to withhold or suppress it.

Nor is the hypothesis necessarily worthy of earning the title ‘theory’, as it lacks the weight of rigorous testing to which hypotheses should be subjected.

Are so! Am not! Are so! AM NOT! ARE SO!…

But none of that matters, because the term ‘conspiracy theory’ has assumed a meaning distinct from the sum of its parts. It now merely infers, ‘a statement or line of reasoning that is out of step with orthodox views, and which is therefore worthy of public derision, and association with which should cause a loss of credibility for its proponents, advocates or even elucidators.

Like its siblings in the medical and political spheres, the conspiracy theory label does much damage to our ability to understand and find positive solutions to important problems. Those unjustly branded with this label are shoved further away from the centre, making consensus more difficult. And the fact-free, lebel-heavy nature of such accusations is at best lazy, at worst feeds a cycle of ad hominom attacks and ego battles. Reason emerges as the big loser.

Content warning: this section has been fact-checked by Facebook’s independent shareholders and found to pose risks to Facebook’s share value

All this is a preamble to address an example of just such a ‘conspiracy theory’; one which has received surprisingly little air time, even among those whose natural scepticism earns them the collective designation ‘tin foil hat brigade’.

I am referring to the role Big Tech has played in steering the political discourse. Anyone paying attention cannot be ignorant of the considerable power these tech monopolies now have over virtually every aspect of our lives. Many on the neo-liberal centre left didn’t blink when, in the wake of  controversial election results in January, Jack Dorsey used his editorial control of Twitter to silence the democratically elected leader of the Free World. They barely raised an eyebrow when, shortly thereafter, Jeff Bezos used his control of servers to shut down Parler, effectively silencing half the political voices in the US. Because, well, Orange Man Bad.

Yet they ought to have been concerned. You don’t need to be an exceptional scholar of the history of tyranny to appreciate that when that kind of power exists, it will not exclusively be used against your political foes. And so there was somewhat more of a collective gasp when, a little later, Facebook acted to effectively shut down the virtual lives of millions of Australians, when that country dared try and enforce the intellectual property of its free press.

But few have wondered about the role Big Tech is so evidently playing in this ongoing pandemic response. No one seems to ask how it is that, barely 16 months ago, no country in the world would have considered lockdowns as any legitimate pandemic response, yet the media and social media were virtually unanimous in supporting these measures. No one wonders why Alex Berenson’s pamphlets which make this very point and others were banned from Amazon, saved only by a personal intervention on the part of Elon Musk. No one queries how numerous YouTubers, from Iver Cummins to Freddie Sayers to TalkRadio have faced content removel, shadow banning and demonitisation, all for the crime of daring to engage in public debate on the most important and unprecedented policy change of the Century, and at a time when it was literally illegal for us to have such discussions in person.

Q: Qui bono? A: Page, Gates, Zuckerschmuck, Dorsey, Bezos…especially Bezos

This lack of questioning is all the more surprising when you consider the obvious motives these companies have in promoting as much panic and overreaction to COVID as possible. By closing coffee shops, people take to Twitter and Facebook to stay in touch, with Google running everywhere in the background. For this they need computers, sold to them by Gates. And by shuttering physical stores, more people shop on Amazon, and Bezos pulls ahead of Musk in the race to be the world’s billioniest billionaire.

But don’t take my word for it. Just look at what happened to the share value of all these publicly traded companies in the wake of the pandemic. Without exception, they profited massively. And likewise, as things have threatened to return to normal, share values begin settling down again. Then suddenly: second wave, third wave, UK variant, South African variant, Indian variant, limited natural immunity, vaccinate yet wear masks forever…

Of course, this is a crazy ‘conspiracy theory’. But my point is that no conspiracy is actually needed. In fact, given these publicly traded companies have no legal duty to tell ‘truth’, yet do have a fiduciary duty to maximise shareholder value, you could easily argue it would be illegal for them to not downplay content that tends to reduce lockdowns and encourage people back into the physical world. Evil? Perhaps. But that’s business. And with business decisions increasingly being taken by AI, it’s not even clear that an unscrupulous human being is required to achieve that outcome. Skynet could be doing it all on its own.

When all is said and done, very little is being said and nothing is being done

What is most worrying is the relative lack of meaningful post mortem. On any of it. By which I mean: On face masks. On lockdowns. On border closures. On the media’s role. On Big Tech’s role, and how policy decisions are arrived at. On the role of Big Pharma. On the origins of the virus. On the role of the WHO. On the role of Anthony Fauci and other ‘medical and scientific experts’, and how consensus is reached within their hierarchies. On the side effects of mRNA vaccines. On why large-scale clinical trials were not ordered in April 2020, (or October 2020, January 2021…or even today) on ivermectin, given its safety and the clear evidence it might be an effective, if not ‘pandemic ending’ treatment.

At this stage, these questions are becoming increasinly academic in nature. But it is nevertheless important that we answer them, and make a concerted effort to address the weaknesses that have allowed a relatively mild pandemic to do so much damage to our societies, our economies and our well-being.

But there is still time to ask the right questions

As a start, I would suggest we need to consider the harms of informational monopolies in terms that go beyond classical market failure (consumer prices) and take into account societal harm and harm to our democracies. We need to take a hard look at how our institutions – academia and the medical establishment – perform in light of funding, hierarchy and the process of peer review. We need to look at how media voices create and sustain particular narratives, including the role of corporate control and ownership in mainstream media channels.

Oh, and we need to consider how the Chinese Communist Party is using its high degree of centralised power to achieve favourable political and market outcomes outside its own borders.

Facemasks in Brussels: A Textbook Example of Bad Regulation

If you abstract from the very real impact these dystopian restictions have on our lives, there is a certain academic pleasure to be had in analysing just how bad the policymaking around COVID has been.

My favourite example of this is without a doubt the decision by the Brussels region to make facemasks mandatory in outdoor public places, with a hefty fine for non-compliance. I’m sure Brussels isn’t alone in this measure, but as I limit my exposure to the news and as travel is not allowed, I can’t comment on how this might be administered in other places.

But the Brussels face mask law manages to break every one of my principles of good policymaking. Here goes:

A good law should be

  1. Effective in achieving its stated aim (if enforced). We know, from multiple sources, that there is no scientific evidence supporting the use of face masks in the community setting. Randomised control trials on influenza-like illnesses have shown, for decades, that they either do nothing, or do next to nothing, to slow infections. Where they have been proven effective is in hospital settings, when used by trained professionals, in conjuction with other hygiene measures.
  2. Proportionate to the aim. Formally, proportionality means it should be the least burdensome way of achieving a stated goal. But as stated above, there is no evidence that the measure can achieve its stated aim, it cannot be said that the measure is proportionate to this aim. Indeed, much of the ‘wisdom’ behind the face mask rule seems to repose on the fact that, while it has no measurable benefits, it is also not really that onerous a requirement to impose (I question this – see below).
  3.  Transparent and clear in its application. The rule as written makes exceptions for anyone who is a jogger or is in the act of drinking or eating. There are less clear, but de facto just as real, exceptions for smokers. But what is a jogger? If I am kitted out for a jog, but decide to only walk, am I in breach of the law? What if I stop for a short breather? Should I put on my mask? What if I am walking very briskly or even running, but not wearing the requisite sporty outfit? Does the face mask rule come with a description of what is the appropriate sort of attire which permits one to be outside without strapping a piece of cloth to one’s face? What if one has an unlit cigarette dangling from one’s lips, which one leaves there for several kilometres? What if one’s juice bottle is nearly empty and one holds it, nursing the last few drops as one strolls from Berchem-St Agathe to Fort Jaco?
  4. Fair. Good laws do not have a disproportionate impact on the poorest citizens. But this one clearly does: If you have the good fortune to live in a large house with a garden, you can enjoy time outside with the sun on your face. But if you live in a little apartment, you will be denied this pleasure for months at a time.
  5.  Enforceable in a consistent manner. There is no way to enforce such a measure, even if clear criteria for its application could be assured. Simply put, there are too many people in the city and too few police to enforce this rule. Consistent enforceability is really important. Without it enforcement becomes a sort of lottery. This is very toxic for both the community and the enforcers themselves. Having unenforcable rules languishing on the books creates an environment in which the citizenry grows wary of police contact, generally unsure whether or not they might get called out for a breach of some half-forgotten law. On the opposite side, there is the risk that enforcement becomes arbitrary, giving to the enforcer the discretion to punish at will. To be clear, this is not something a well regulated state should tolerate: Police enjoy a monopoly on physical force with very clear strings attached; they must exercise that power with a minimum of personal discretion. Anything else opens the door to discrimination and abuse of power.
  6. Free of unintended consequences. The list of unintended consequences from forcing an entire population to cover its face in public is very long indeed. First is the loss of public discourse and social interaction, leading to psychological distress and isolation. Then there are the costs for hearing impaired people who rely on lip reading to participate in public life. Then there is the risk of criminal activity from criminals being allowed to walk about freely in disguise. Then there are the (albeit evidence-free) claims of adverse health effects from mask usage. Then there is the financial cost, the environmental burden, and the list goes on.
  7. Measureable in its impacts. For any law, it should be possible to perform a review, to assess using objective benchmarks whether or not the above criteria were indeed met. But for the facemask rule, there are no such criteria. How can we know if, in the absence of the measure, things would have been worse? This is why measures should be piloted first, tested to see if they work. It happens that tests were done in the Netherlands, and on the basis of them, the Dutch took the decsion not to implement outdoor facemask rules. Could the Brussels authorities not have learned from the example of their Dutch neighbours, and refrained from muzzling the entire population?

Nineties-stalgia: why the Golden Decade is due for a comeback

From Dust cover til Red Dawn

Those of us old enough to remember life in the 1980s will no doubt recall the very real fear of thermonuclear annihilation. We tried to make light of it at the time, with movies like Rocky IV or off-the-cuff black humour – how it was better to be close to ground zero than to suffer the slow, cancerous demise occasioned by a nuclear winter. Still, it haunted us at night. As children, we awoke in cold war sweats, to stare out our bedroom windows and watch imaginary mushroom clouds dominating the night sky.

But as the 80s drew to a close, the fear ended too. David Hasselhoff stood on the Berlin Wall wearing piano keys. And as every non-German marvelled at the fact that Knight Rider could kinda sing, the conflict and angst that defined two generations crumbled into legend. The mighty Soviet Union was reduced to an alcoholic Russian joke, in the person of Boris Yeltsin.

Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Thus were born the 1990s. A decade when any remaining questions the world had asked about Western dominance seemed to be answered. The slow progression of liberal values looked inevitable. Sure the Third World was still a mess, but give us a bit of time and we’d sort that out too. Bob Geldof was, after all, recording a second version of Band Aid, and after U2’s musical death in a custom-graffittied Trabant, Bono was soon to reveal himself at Emmaus.

Image result for dawsons creek
Only a decade with the confidence of the 1990s could have given us something as deliciously bad as Dawson’s Creek.

And so slipped by the Golden Decade. Our thoughts turned to home affairs perhaps, with only a distracting glance in Dan Rather’s direction, to see if the glove fitted on OJ’s hand, or if the cigar fitted into Monika Lewinsky’s … version of events. The news had become a light distraction, a welcome interruption from the humdrum of our civilisation’s happy ending.

As you undermine our security, we undermine yours

And with a whiff of not-too-genuine concern about the Y2K bug, we set about partying like it’s 1999. But the Golden Decade had a little more to give. Which is why we failed to brace for impact when, 20 months later, it all came crashing down in a heap of dust and debris, and a new shadow swept over the West – the spectre of Islamic terrorism. Like the current crisis, the reality of terrorist threats was nothing near as deadly as our overreaction to it – in this sense the terrorists succeeded in every goal they had. With a couple of box cutters, they got us to submit to any and all kinds of security checks, extraordinary rendition or the waging of reckless, endless war on petty despots and the civilians they oppressed. The enduring impact of 9/11 was not the bullets of Kalishnikov-wielding theocrats, but the subtle abandonment of our liberal values; the precedent that when our fear is great enough, we will throw away everything we pretended to hold dear.

Rohan, my lord, is ready to fall

After this traumatic early childhood, the Millenium’s awakening into teenagerdom was little better. There was no single drama that defined the crappiness of the 2010s, rather we were caught in an emotional pinser movement by three slow-moving threats: Immigration, Climate Angst and the inequality which followed the Great Recession. What belief we might once have had in our own civilisation was just about thoroughly beaten down, and as any casual glimpse at the Netflix catalogue will reveal, by mid-decade we could hardly imagine any kind of fiction that didn’t sport the adjective ‘dystopian’. We valued our democracies as little as we valued our data, all to be given away for trinkets in the clouds. We were ready for something like Donald Trump’s tweets. Oh and we got them. We got Rachel Maddow in ‘literal’ [sic.] hysterics over imagined Russian collusion. We got slick, Youtube-ready comedians dispensing sanatised, corporatist Identity Politics by the sound bite. And we kept giving away our privacy to enjoy more of the show.

This background helps us make sense of the madness that is 2020 – how a seemingly mighty tree can topple with only a slight gust of wind, once its core has been allowed to rot away for twenty years. How three hundred years of enlightment principles could be uprooted in a single storm.

Rediscovering the lost decade

And it’s also why, looking back on them now, the 1990s seem so damn appealing. It’s why Nineties-stalgia is the way to go. I defy anyone to tune in to the first few seasons of Friends and not find themselves longing for a time when music sucked but we still had public payphones. Your job might have been a joke, you might have been broke, but if you were young in the 1990s, Western Civilisation was there for you.

Even better than Friends is Dawson’s Creek. Not actually ‘better’. The scripting is at times painfully bad, the accoustic underscores are suburban coffee-shop cringeworthy and the teenagers are, even by the standards of the Golden Decade, implausibly articulate and self-confident. But it is the most perfect encapsulation of the optimism that came to those who grew up in the long Indian summer of a victorious empire.

One that did not yet see its downfall coming.

The Great Barrington Declaration

I am reprinting this on my blog:

As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists we have grave concerns about the damaging physical, and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection. 

Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice. 

Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.

Fortunately, our understanding of the virus is growing. We know that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza. 

As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls. We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e.  the point at which the rate of new infections is stable – and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine. Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity. 

The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection. 

Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to COVID-19. By way of example, nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimized. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home. When possible, they should meet family members outside rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals. 

Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.

Great Barrington, Massachusetts, 4th October 2020

To sign the declaration, follow this link (will be live later today):
www.GBdeclaration.org

Lockdown madness goes on, even as science shows COVID isn’t that deadly

There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that the coronavirus related disease COVID-19, is not nearly as deadly as is being widely reported in the media and as is believed by the public.
Here is one of many serologic studies which uses the best scientific evidence available to demonstrate this fact:
“Fear of Covid-19 is based on its high estimated case fatality rate — 2% to 4% of people with confirmed Covid-19 have died, according to the World Health Organization and others,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “So if 100 million Americans ultimately get the disease, two million to four million could die. We believe that estimate is deeply flawed. The true fatality rate is the portion of those infected who die, not the deaths from identified positive cases.”
This study was performed by researchers are Stanford University, and follows a similar study, which found similar results, performed by Bonn University. It also follows the data gathered early on from the cruise ships, which provided near-laboratory like conditions for seeing the spread of the virus on a population crammed together under contagion-inducing conditions. Please understand that this is not right-wing propoganda, these are not fringe institutions. They are among the best scientists in the field, and the message is clear:
Coronavirus SARS-Cov-2, and the COVID-19 disease it causes, kill only about 0.5% of its victims. The clear majority (over 80%) of the deaths are among the very old, and the vast majority among those who are over 65 and have preexisting conditions (93%). While of course their passing is tragic, a disease that kills someone who is very close to their natural life expectancy is very different to one that cuts down healthy people in their prime.
What is more, the Lockdowns that have been put in place have no proven impact on the spread of this disease.
What the lockdowns certainly do cause is a massive contraction in economic activity. On this point, there seems to be some confusion on what such a contraction means. This isn’t a case of ‘the banks losing money’, rather it means there are fewer goods and services in the economy – an estimated reduction in 10% for the current year in most countries. Concretely, this will certainly mean an increase in poverty by at least 10% – fewer resources to fund schools and hospitals. Many, many more people will die from this that could possibly be the case from the virus itself.
In addition, the lockdowns represent an unprecedented curtailment of our civil liberties. Governments everywhere have overstepped their constitutional limits, locking their citizens in their houses and literally surpressing public debate. The only public forums available for discussion are online businesses, who have a direct economic incentive to keep the non-virtual economy closed for as long as possible. Not surprising therefore, that those who oppose lockdowns are being shadow-banned or blocked on Facebook and Twitter (e.g. Brazil’s democratically elected president).
Those of you who know me know that I am a measured, reasonable person. I have been educated in economics at a leading university and have worked number-crunching for public institutions for many, many years. In that context, I write policy documents that by their nature avoid hyperbole and sensationalist conclusions. But before I go, I just want to leave you with the following graph, to help you understand that not everyone is losing out, and that the very companies that are winning in this crisis are the ones who have the most control over how we understand this crisis:
covid amazon stock price