THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Posts categorized "Coronavirus" Feed

Bread & Circuses

In their prime my paternal grandparents were each – in their different ways – formidable members of the "great generation". They didn't suffer fools gladly or (unless obliged by family ties and then with open scorn) at all. They thought psychology was fake. They thought depression was weakness glorified. My grandfather was a cripple and, as I learned the hard way, got angry if you used the euphemism "disabled".

Why are you playing with words? Calling me something else makes me no less crippled you bloody fool!

They thought hard work, prudence, patriotism and family loyalty were the keys to all progress. 

They may sound scary and  – to their first of many grandchildren – they often were, but they were impressive too. This, despite having suffered losses that would justify many moderns in claiming lifelong victimhood. They just accepted them as their fate, got on with life and became angry if you mentioned them.

My grandmother had received "the telegram" from the non-euphemised War Ministry during WWII after my grandfather broke his back in an accident on a troopship. His commanding officer had assumed he wouldn't make it and sent a premature report of his death. He survived, but was told he'd never walk. Grandmother's first inkling that the MoW had erred was his knock at the door, having walked several miles from the railway station. They expected no apology for the Army's incompetence and lack of concern for their welfare or (God forbid) feelings. They suffered no PTSD. They never thought to sue. There was a war on. Worse had happened to others. Worse still needed to be done to others, so the war could be won.

Grandfather was not confined to the long-promised wheelchair until his eighties, by dint of forcing himself to walk miles every day in agony. His country had rewarded him in 1946 by seizing the transport business that he and his brothers had founded with their savings from working down a coal mine as teenagers. He never complained about that, saying that the Labour Party was sincere, if misguided, in taking it and that his fellow citizens (including his sister) had voted for it genuinely believing the country would run it better. It hadn't (as he had predicted to them at the time) and he'd lived to see his business re-privatised. He had also lived to see the Soviet Union fall and died thinking such nonsenses were now ancient history. He never bemoaned his own fate in that experiment; saying when I pressed him on the subject near to his end, that to be angry at his Labour-voting family and friends would have achieved nothing but to make him miserable. Life wasn't ever fair. He didn't vote Labour precisely because he wasn't naive enough to think it could be. 

Why do I tell these stories now? Because I remember watching the personalities of these formidable folk crumble when old age and frailty confined them to their conservatory. Their view of the world became distorted as their direct experiences of it dwindled. Their news of events in their old orbit was limited to what visitors chose to share. These fiercely-independent people began to live inside their own heads and to get things wrong in ways their admiring, if fearful, grandson would never have expected.

As I have watched my country during the pandemic from my own equivalent of their conservatory; locked-down not by ill-health but state force, I have been alert to parallels between my experience and theirs. My information sources were limited as were the range of friends with whom I could discuss them. I feared to blog about the issues, not because I was afraid to be in a minority – I have been in that position for many decades now – but because I sincerely worried that I might be losing touch with reality. The situation was so artificial that I feared for my own judgement. I thought my mind might be failing me as theirs had in their isolation. As we begin to return to normality, I begin to realise I drew the wrong parallel.

I have been inclined to despise my fellow-Brits to be honest. Opinion polls suggested they were not the potential John Hampdens I had always imagined, but actually more like Pavliks. Even friends I had considered essentially "sound" were in fearful submission to, essentially, whatever the hell the establishment chose to tell them would save them from the plague. I kept quiet because I feared I might be wrong – and I was, but not in the way I thought.

We Britons have let ourselves down in this crisis. We have looked for answers elsewhere rather than seeking them out ourselves. We have listened too much to authority, while demanding it give us bread. In the last few days we've allowed ourselves to be distracted by authority posturing about the modern circus that is football. But in some ways we have been like my grandparents at their best, not their worst. Terrified by data deliberately warped to maximise our fears, we have tried our best to be good citizens in the face of danger. "There's a war pandemic on" we told ourselves, so normal rules don't apply and it would be disloyal to moan. Others have it worse (look at what a mess those idiots in Brussels, Paris and Berlin have made, for example) so we should just get on with it as best we can. 

Yes I was in my equivalent of my elderly grandparents' conservatory, but I was not alone. The whole frightened nation was in it too. The difference is that – unlike my grandparents – we're going to emerge. We have not yet failed the test of who we are as a nation. It is about to be set as we return to normality. I hope we pass it in a way that would make my grandparents in their prime proud.


An hour well spent

I don't normally go for podcasts, as I can take in information faster by reading and don't spend much time in traffic these days. This however, is worth your time.

My last post was, I confess, a bit defeatist. I certainly felt defeated. Douglas Murray does not. On the contrary he is optimistic that the forces of evil are vulnerable and makes convincing arguments for going on the offensive. Rather than bemoan "cancel culture" he thinks it's overstated and urges the "silent majority" to speak up.

Referring to Kay Burley's ludicrous smears in relation to former Aussie PM, Tony Abbott, he is hilarious. He points out that she once grabbed a female fellow journalist by the throat in anger, squeezing so hard that she left a bruise. Playing her own game, therefore, it's possible to say that Kay Burley once grabbed a woman by the throat and injured her. Anyone who appears on her show is condoning the strangulation of women. By her own logic, she should be cancelled!

No right-thinking person wants Kay Burley silenced of course. Her bluster turns people off every argument she tries to advance and she serves a useful function in exposing the weakness of Tory ministers, but it takes Douglas to pierce the pompous veil so elegantly. I commend him to you.

 


A disappointed idealist speaks

The Misses Paine once said "Dad is not a cynic. He's a disappointed idealist." This may be so. Equally, it could be said that a man who reaches his 60s without becoming somewhat cynical has simply not been paying attention. There are some things in Britain I can still trust. The way the Common Law develops itself quietly, sensibly and practically (when not over-ridden by statute) for example. The jury system, for another. I would still trust a panel of British jurors over any tribunal known to Man if I were charged with a crime of which I was innocent.

Sadly I can't trust Parliament any more. John Bercow saw to that. Nor can I trust British Democracy more generally, alas. The past few months have shown us – even more than the long years of defiance of the popular will over Brexit - that the self-selected, self-serving members of the permanent apparatus of the state are far more important in practice than our elected representatives.

Our rights were not quashed because our politicians exercised scientific judgement. People who act on science they don't understand are every bit as blindly faithful as the religious and our MPs are a particularly ignorant bunch. Not only, by any means, on matters scientific. They possess precious little knowledge of anything useful and usually no great experience of the real world. Apart from a brief honourable spell as a DJ, my own MP (for example) has never received a penny of income freely paid under contracts with people who had other choices. Before she was a Marxist trying to foist Communism on us by stealth in Parliament, she was a tax-funded sociology lecturer trying to indoctrinate our impressionable young.

We have had one scientifically-knowledgeable Prime Minister (the first major political figure in the world to pay serious attention to the problem of climate change by the way) and she is now universally despised by the liberal arts-educated bureaucracy and most of her political successors. Even to say her dread name with approval is to mark yourself out as an untermensch. There have been many times since the pygmies drove her out of office when I have wished she was in Number 10 still. Never more so than in the past few months.

Lockdown (a horrible euphemism drawn from the prison system) happened because the apparatchiki of the Deep State decided it was necessary to close the useful parts of society. They have deprived the productive citizens who pay for everything – private and public, of their livelihoods, because they saw an opportunity to reassert their power after their embarrassing setback at the peoples hands over Brexit. They saw the chance to take an extended holiday on full pay from jobs (often non-jobs) that already pay more (on average) than those of the productive and which yield pensions substantially greater than those the private sector taxpayers who pay them can ever dream of. "Serve them right", our Deep State masters no doubt thought while trashing our lives, "for we are their moral superiors because of our [well-paid, over-pensioned] lives of 'public service'". They service us, in my personal view, more in the agricultural sense than any other.

My respect for the teaching profession in principle is great. No more important group of workers exists in a well-organised society. I personally owe a great deal to one or two conscientious teachers among the throng of idlers, wasters, lead-swingers and intellectual under-achievers who staffed my bog-standard comprehensives. But it would take a greater idealist than I have ever been to keep on rose-tinted spectacles now in viewing British teachers. They have shown themselves (with honourable exceptions who should really find a profession with worthier colleagues) to have absolutely no concern about the education or welfare of the young people in their charge. They have used COVID 19 both as an excuse to idle and a political stick with which to beat a government they consider to be their political enemy. "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach" was always (I thought) a rather unfair assessment. Now it seems generous. Those who can't be arsed, teach, might be closer to the mark.

I made some of these points in conversation with a fellow-photographer at a shoot I attended today – pointing out that Woodstock and the Isle of Wight Festival were staged, the worlds economies continued to function and social and sexual lives were unaffected globally during the just as deadly Hong Kong Flu pandemic of the Sixties and that the UK death toll this year will likely be greater from untreated cancers and other serious diseases because of the "save the NHS" strategy than from COVID 19 itself. "It's one of those situations," he opined, "when the politicians can't do right whatever they choose." He has a point. The cynic in me agrees and even perhaps feels sorry for our politicians. They have, after all, seen voters (scared senseless by outrageous propaganda from Deep State agencies everywhere) back the apparatchiki in opinion polls. The Great British Public is, it seems, a bunch of submissives clamouring for more not less of a spanking from their government. The battered idealist, from some deep crevasse in my soul, cries out that leadership should still be a thing and that they could have stood up to their advisors – if they only had a single ragged principle to their sorry names.

I cringe now as I remember all the times I told colleagues, clients and friends in the post-Communist countries where I worked for twenty years that "Brits would never accept" the various impositions that their governments, administrations and police (conditioned by decades of totalitarianism) were still inclined to attempt. All my proud talk of "yeoman spirit" and the ghost of Hampden, seems to have been so much embarrassing nonsense now as I angrily watch my fellow-citizens drop all claims to freedom while clamouring for more discipline from stern Father State. The only winners here will not be us or our politicians but the staff of the state apparatus that rumbles on regardless of our votes. Unless a party emerges that promises to do to the entire state apparatus what Ronald Reagan did to America's air traffic controllers, I shall probably not be voting again. It's not a matter of not encouraging the politicians. It's just recognising that – as things stand in modern Britain – they don't matter.


Pandemic, or catastrophic government failure?

 

This is one Australian journalist’s take on the situation in his home state of Victoria.  It’s the kind of voice I grew up with; thoughtful and robustly sceptical. It’s the kind of voice that belongs to, nay is essential to, nay forms a free society. It’s the kind of voice that — with honourable exceptions — I am not hearing in Britain.

In a dispiriting conversation with an old friend this week I was barraged with “official” information and accused of callous indifference. The social media ban on criticism of official messaging on the pandemic (even where it’s self-contradictory) is apparently redundant. The population is policing itself; sending to Coventry anyone who dissents. I’m beginning to feel like metaphorical Coventry is my home town.

If you try to research the issue on Google you will find yourself steered to the state’s agitprop (sorry “official information”). I distinctly recall reading an article reporting a study by medical researchers at Oxford University, which estimated that 63,000 life years will be lost in the UK to cancers undiagnosed/untreated because of the “save the NHS” focus on COVID 19. I remember the detail that twenty years of a young cancer patient’s life could be lost to a late diagnosis. I remember mentally contrasting that with the weeks or months of life of those most vulnerable to coronavirus that might be “saved” by lockdown. Or rather might have been saved if it had not been combined with sending infected old folk back to their care homes. I should have kept a link because that article has vanished into the search engine’s sinister, algorithmic “memory hole”. 

The old-fashioned blogosphere comes into its own here (though weakened by search engine manipulation). This excellent post makes several important points, for example, and I suggest you add the blog in question to your regular RSS feed or bookmarks. Unless, of course, you’d prefer to take the blue pill and be happy in the carefully-crafted search engine matrix of мистификация (Russian for “mystification” or what we call disinformation)  

If the criterion is severity of the pandemic or likelihood of death from the disease, this disease is not unprecedented at all — and not even within my own lifetime. In 1968-69 we had the so-called Hong Kong flu. Look up how many people died of it, and you will find a figure of “approximately” 100,000. They didn’t even try to keep exact track of the figure; but of course the seeming precision of today’s number is an illusion anyway. The 100,000 may sound like a lot fewer than the recent Covid-19 numbers, but remember that the U.S. population was much smaller — under 200 million, compared to today’s 331 million. Gross up the 100,000 figure for today’s larger population, and you would have had about 165,000 deaths, which is approximately the same as the worldometers site is reporting today as the number of U.S. deaths in the current pandemic. Then there was the so-called Asian flu of 1957-58. U.S. mortality for that one is given at about 70,000, but this time with a population of only 172 million. Grossed up for today’s population would give close to 140,000 deaths.

What was different about the Asian flu and Hong Kong flu pandemics was not the severity of the disease or likelihood of death, but that governments and bureaucrats had not taken on the arrogance of power to think that they could make the disease go away by scaring everybody out of their wits and locking down the economy and throwing millions of people out of work. We went about our lives as normal. People went to work. Children went to school. Social events and plays and concerts continued. Indeed, the Woodstock festival was in 1968, just as the Hong Kong flu epidemic was cranking up.

Our Western leaders put us all under house arrest. Our leaders in the 1960s never thought to stop their “flower children” going to Woodstock or the Isle of Wight. Consider how different our cultural history would have been if those “happenings” had been prevented. Quite apart from economic impoverishment and (for the most unfortunate among them) lost years of life, what Woodstocks has this generation lost? What moral right did our political leaders have to make these choices for them? What does it say about us that, not only did we allow it, but most of us ostracised or even demonised those who questioned?

 

POST SCRIPT

Encouraged by David Bishop's comment (below) I went back to Google and managed to track down if not the article (behind the Daily Telegraph paywall) that I was remembering, then one very like it referring to similar research. More helpfully I found the article in The Lancet Oncology that it was referencing, along with this alarming chart (click to enlarge). The number of "life years" lost seems to be more than I remembered, when you add up all their careful calculating, cancer by cancer (the effects of delayed diagnosis vary).

Image 10-08-2020 at 18.20

My "memory hole" point stands in that Google puts lots of approved data in your way when you are trying to find something specific. There are clearly algorithms that detect searches looking for such things as "lockdown causing cancer deaths" (which is what I searched for). Back at the beginning of this self-inflicted "crisis" I said I would not be surprised if measures to "fight" coronavirus caused more deaths than the virus itself. Given that these stats refer ONLY to cancer (and there will be lots of heart patients and others who failed to present for diagnosis because of the corona-panic) it's sadly beginning to look like I may have been right. I take no pleasure in that, but I do think heads should roll among the apparatchiki. With great power, as I believe someone's Uncle Ben once said, comes great responsibility. They must take responsibility for the way they abused the great powers we should never have granted them.

POST POST SCRIPT

This tweet links to the actual article I was remembering. I mis-remembered 63,000 as 68,000 and have corrected that above. 


What have we learned from coronavirus?

I have not blogged about Coronavirus. Why? Because I have no relevant scientific knowledge or skill and this is a scientific problem, right? Everyone says so. Epidemiology is certainly not my subject and humility (not always my strong suit, to be honest) is definitely in order. So I have been all ears and no mouth. Thank goodness there are people who don't find epidemiology as boring as I do. I doubt I'd enjoy their company, to be honest, but right now I am ready and willing to love them. 

From the outset, I worried that the governments of the world were caught up in a kind of mass hysteria. Leaving aside the totalitarian states (including the one whose vicious incompetence has probably given the world this learning opportunity) the response of the world's democracies has been fascinating. Firstly, our leaders played it down. It was just another flu. Then they realised they faced something that might kill voters on a scale comparable to Spanish flu, leaving grieving relatives disinclined to vote for them again. They acted on scientific advice to implement some sensible control measures. So far, so reasonable.

Then the press asked (as is its job) if the measures were enough. Discussion about how far the measures should go became a pissing contest and hysteria mounted. Opposition parties everywhere suggested they would (of course) do more and better. Popular pressure built until the current draconian measures were implemented. Even libertarians like me can't just blame the vicious statists here – our fellow-citizens cried out to be roughly dominated like the submissives they apparently are.

Governments anxious to be seen to "do something" (the curse of democratic politicians everywhere) made grand dramatic gestures – building hospitals in days that would normally have taken years. To hell with whether they were needed or not (the much bruited London Nightingale reportedly has just 19 patients) Look! We are doing stuff. Stuff you could never do yourselves!! The State and its hordes are heroes.

Now we face the risk of the worst economic crisis in centuries. Even citizens of those countries whose leaders did not stampede with the global panicked herd of brute beasts (h/t Sweden, Iceland and Portugal) will be badly affected by what is happening now. Those of us retired and living on our investments face ruin. Those earning a living by selling their labour face it too.

I have read what I can on the subject, noted the conflicting opinions, been amused by the fact that they are coloured by personal animosities between the scientists, and tweeted links to those writings on the subject that made sense to me. So what have I learned? Not much science, to be honest. Just that the laws of economics – a science every bit as imperfect as epidemiology – don't go away and nor do political divisions.

Even that learning is doubtful, affected as it no doubt is by my confirmation bias. The internet is awash with people (at times including me) using the greatest information resource in human history to prospect for nuggets of information that "prove" their opinions to be true. I try to be alert to that bias, but I must acknowledge that it exists. It draws my eye to every example of entrepreneurs developing solutions to the threat of the virus and every state agent behaving like a thug. The confirmation biases of Leftists, on the other hand, draw their eyes to noble agents of the heroic state solving problems and grasping capitalists profiting from tragedy.

Human knowledge in science advances, it seems, along as crazy a zigzag path as in other fields. Every new fact is seized upon to confirm views that are hard to shift. Extremely powerful forces are required to change human minds. The mind of Professor Neil Ferguson, for example, does not appear to have been much changed by his own scientific failures. In 2005 The Guardian ran this story;

Last month Neil Ferguson, a professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, told Guardian Unlimited that up to 200 million people could be killed. "Around 40 million people died in 1918 Spanish flu outbreak," said Prof Ferguson. "There are six times more people on the planet now so you could scale it up to around 200 million people probably."

Actually fewer than 500 people worldwide died. Amazingly the experience of being so bone-crushingly wrong does not seem to have impacted Professor Ferguson's self-esteem at all. There is something admirable in that. Being wrong once, doesn't mean you always will be any more than winning one bet guarantees you'll win the next. That it hasn't disinclined HM Government to take his prophecies of doom with a pinch of salt however, is not admirable at all.

What have have learned is that, as Bastiat told us long ago, problems arise when people prioritise the seen over the unseen. Professor Ferguson and his clients in government are not setting out to hurt anyone. I accept their sincere attempt to try to save lives. Their extreme focus on one seen epidemiological issue however may well cost more lives than they save when all the unseen issues they are ignoring emerge. As a commenter on this article at the Ludwig von Mises Centre's site said;

“If we want to stop traffic fatalities, we could ban cars. That’s a solution that would ‘work’. But it only ‘works’ if our sole benchmark is the number of traffic fatalities. What about liberty, moral agency and economic rights?”

Exactly. Stay safe, gentle readers, as no doubt everyone is advising you, but also stay calm. This too will pass and when one day we are looking back at it, I predict only that it will prove to have been a very different story than it seems at present. In the meantime, I commend you to this blog for a different perspective.