Thursday 30 April 2020

Europe not doing too well

Deaths Population Deaths per
(Million) Million
Belgium 7,501 11.42 657
Spain 24,275 46.72 520
Italy 27,682 60.43 458
United Kingdom 26,097 66.49 393
France 24,121 66.99 360
Netherlands 4,711 17.23 273
Ireland 1,190 4.85 245
Sweden 2,462 10.18 242
Switzerland 1,716 8.52 201
United States 60,908 327.17 186

But spooky if it were to go down


Wednesday 29 April 2020

What a surprise this isn't

Almost 18,000 more people could die from cancer over the next year in England because of the impact of COVID-19, new research suggests.

It has prompted NHS clinical director for cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, to declare that "cancer treatment hasn't stopped" because of coronavirus and he is urging people with cancer symptoms not to delay in seeking medical help...

Comparing the data from 3.5 million patients, the report's authors estimated that pre-COVID-19, about 31,354 newly diagnosed cancer patients would die within a year in England.

But as a result of coronavirus, they found there could be at least 6,270 extra deaths in newly diagnosed cancer patients - a rise of a fifth.

If we disrupt everything it should come as no surprise that everything is disrupted. Another reason to get back to normal - the damage is already in the pipeline.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

What if Kim dies?

Kim inspects production of  Workers' Delicious Banquet No 1
What if North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is dying or already dead? It is widely anticipated that his sister Kim Yo-jong could seize the reins of power but nobody seems to know much about her. I am unreliably informed that her name translates as Fragrant Production Target although nobody really knows what is going on in the Gangster Kingdom.

Yaron Brook on fraudulent science

The Edward Archer article referred to is here.

Monday 27 April 2020

The versatility of madness

But the brilliance, the versatility of madness is akin to the resourcefulness of water seeping through, over and around a dike.

F. Scott Fitzgerald - Tender is the Night (1934)

There seems to be a division between people who are comfortable with viewpoints which are merely conventional social formulae and those who prefer more nuanced views and have a tendency to see many conventional formulae as misleading or at least questionable.

Familiar enough and hardly surprising because we need conventional formulae as shortcuts to social cohesion. We can’t keep inventing the wheel of ideas. The problem is complexity because social formulae have to be very widely adoptable which inevitably means that they cannot easily evolve the nuances and adaptability demanded by a complex world. Adoptable is not adaptable.

It is tempting to see many current social trends as akin to madness, but madness may be a feature here, not an aberration. What could we have done to avoid the madness? Nothing – there is no formula for avoiding the madness. One solution appears to be the widespread adoption of a formula which may be somewhat crazy but it works, it holds societies together and causes more good than harm. A religion for example.

However, as Christian religions fade away as useful if obviously patchy social formulae we seem to be adopting a monolithic political formula, a totalitarian form of sentimental environmental socialism. This is quite obviously not a formula for avoiding confusion, nonsense and outright madness. It is far too simple, sentimental and too suspicious of reason and analysis.

Again – there is no formula for avoiding madness. If there were it would not be a formula. Socially we may blunder into madness but not out of it. That requires more of an involuntary upheaval such as a revolution, which of course is another form of madness.

Sunday 26 April 2020

In the end leaders have to guess

The number of deaths from coronavirus could reach 100,000 in the UK by the end of this year if a gradual lockdown is implemented just to shield the elderly, Professor Neil Ferguson warned yesterday.

The Imperial College epidemiologist said it was impossible to send the young and healthy back to work while keeping the vulnerable in lockdown without seeing a huge increase in deaths...

Professor Ferguson said some degree of social isolation will continue to be required until a vaccine to the killer bug is released, which Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab today said was unlikely to happen until 2021.

He was asked if young people could be allowed out of lockdown if the tough measures have suppressed the infection rate enough and the Government has increased NHS capacity to a sufficient degree.

Professor Ferguson told UnHerd: 'In practical terms, you would require a very high level of effective shielding for that to be a viable strategy.

Not wishing to be too cynical and scientifically it is a very difficult position, but this has the flavour of a ploy to me. Politically, lockdown until a vaccine is developed is a hopelessly unattractive option. Many more deaths will happen anyway so this take on the situation is most unlikely to be proved entirely wrong. A ploy? Feels like one to me. 

In the end decision-makers have to take a sideways look at what everyone else is doing then make a guess as to the best policy move. Experts can be remarkably unhelpful.

Saturday 25 April 2020


Ludwig Wittgenstein was an interesting chap and well worth reading, although he only published one book during his lifetime. We could probably describe him as highbrow without too much argument.

The substance of the world can only determine a form and not any material properties. For these are first presented by the propositions—first formed by the configuration of the objects.
Ludwig Wittgenstein - Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921)

But suppose we compare him with someone more popular, more accessible and less obviously highbrow. Novelist Edith Wharton for example.

But that was always his way: the least little fragment of fact was enough for him to transform into a palace of dreams, whereas if he tried to grasp more of it at a time it remained on his hands as so much unusable reality.
Edith Wharton - The Gods Arrive (1932)

To my mind Edith Wharton was more broadly astute than Wittgenstein, with wider insights into the human condition. Her novels bring that out even though they are of course fiction. Yet in an important sense there is no such thing as fiction because even fiction is rooted in a language and a reality any reader must understand.

Wittgenstein's ideas tended to be too theoretical for him to bother with certain insights which are there to be grasped by most of us. He refined his thinking too far, pared away too much in a passionate quest for ultimate truth which he never actually achieved. In later years he seemed to gravitate towards viewpoints which were almost mundane and perhaps this too reflects a reality where the human condition is essentially mundane. Easily grasped but easily evaded too - for various reasons.

Popular isn’t necessarily shallow and does not necessarily occupy some lower sphere of human insight. Even now we are too hierarchical in our ideas and our thinking and the drawback of that is obvious. Too many experts go beyond their expertise.

I've lived long enough to doubt whether any real good ever came of sacrificing beautiful facts to even more beautiful theories.
Edith Wharton - The Quicksand (1902)

Friday 24 April 2020

Time to big up the virus

During our daily walk we have to cross the main road twice. Not so long ago we could wander across and see no approaching vehicles in either direction. Now we have to wait for a gap in the traffic and nip across. Traffic isn’t back to normal but there has been an obvious and significant increase. Lorries, vans and private cars - people are beginning to move on.

This is merely an additional sniffing the air kind of observation, but Mrs H and I think the coronavirus debacle has entered a phase where it has become politically expedient to big up the lethal nature of the virus to save face by keeping the current police state strategy going.

Not that bigging it up hasn’t been the case from the beginning, but now the aroma of strategic exaggeration becomes stronger on an almost daily basis. There isn’t much to add to that because it is merely speculation distilled from weeks of intense propaganda, but the tone of the narrative does appear to have changed.

Thursday 23 April 2020

Not smoking may be bad for your health

Nicotine patches are to be tested on coronavirus patients and healthcare workers treating infected people after initial studies suggested smokers were less likely to catch the disease...

The authors write: "Our cross-sectional study strongly suggests that daily smokers have a much lower probability of developing symptomatic or severe SARS-CoV-2 infection compared to the general population.

"The effect is significant, it divides the risk by five for ambulatory patients and by four for hospitalised patients. You rarely see that in medicine."

Now we know - the virus has a sense of fun.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

UN lying is the deeper emergency

Despite the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the world mustn't forget the "deeper environmental emergency" facing the planet.

That's the view of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in remarks released to celebrate Earth Day.

The toll taken by the virus is both "immediate and dreadful", Mr Guterres says.

But the crisis is also a wake-up call, "to do things right for the future," said the Secretary General.

Do things right for the future? Whatever does he mean? Be better prepared for future pandemics originating in China? 

He doesn't mean that of course. He means that institutions such as the UN will carry on lying to us - especially about what is known and what is not known, real risks and imaginary risks, certainty and uncertainty.

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Know anyone with COVID-19?

Mrs H and I have been discussing the likelihood that we might know of some specific individual who definitely has or who definitely had the coronavirus infection. This would include family, friends, acquaintances, slight acquaintances and people we know at one remove - friend of a friend for example. That must be a fair number of people and many would be in the higher risk group by virtue of their age.

A slightly ghoulish question, but of some interest in view of the draconian way the pandemic has been tackled. Yet we haven't heard of anyone at all and one or two of the people we know encounter large numbers of other people in their daily lives. I don't know if this lack of even the most nebulous personal link is unusual or not though.

This link has some calculations but the numbers involved are too uncertain to throw much light on the question.

Monday 20 April 2020

The same ballpark as seasonal influenza

I've been following the work of this chap for a few years because he has produced some interesting analyses of  reproducibility problems with biomedical research. His headline quote is at 2:30. 

Sunday 19 April 2020

Trending towards totalitarian futility

Two weeks ago this post suggested that the UK coronavirus response is trending towards cock-up. Two weeks on we know enough to see an emerging trend towards totalitarian futility.

The coronavirus debacle is complex and there is little point in pointing towards this or that bit of evidence, authority, conjecture or anecdote. We do our own analysis and we try to see the big picture. To my mind the big picture is becoming increasingly obvious. There are caveats but there will be caveats for ages yet. The big picture still begins to seem excessively draconian. Lockdown harm and its potential for lasting damage have become the issues.

Simple observation tells us that here in the UK we have adapted to the lockdown as far as we ever shall adapt to it, we have learned the lessons as far as we ever shall learn them –

Unless we ease the lockdown.

Because we have quite obviously reached a situation where any further learning and adaptation by the UK population should be via an eased situation. We need to move on and we should do it now and learn whatever there is to be learned. The vast majority of vulnerable people know they are vulnerable and can be relied on to do whatever they are currently doing. It is in their interests to do so and they know it.

Supermarkets could still maintain a controlled shopping routine for vulnerable people – say an hour a day on certain days of the week. Apart from that, all we need is to maintain the flow of information keep the obvious cautionary messages in mind, wash our hands, observe social distancing as far as conveniently possible - but get on with normal life. Normal life will then generate new ideas and new behaviours as we adapt further to the pandemic. It's called progress.

I’m not holding my breath though. The trend towards totalitarian futility continues.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Coronavirus lessons

An odd thing about the coronavirus debacle is that it is both ferociously complex yet it is not difficult to understand where the problems are – at least in a broad sense where uncertainties are acknowledged.

As we all know, some subjects are both interesting and exceedingly complex. As we also know, however complex they may be they have an irresistible attraction for those who insist on their ability to guide us through the complexities. Over-confident experts, journalists, assorted pundits and political actors are the main culprits although celebrities often like to join in too.

All this is familiar enough, but suppose some interesting and important subjects are so complex that nobody actually understands them in a completely comprehensive way. Suppose some of them are so complex that nobody ever will understand them comprehensively because they will always be a patchwork of specialisms. History for example.

In other words, a unifying and overarching narrative may be impossible beyond some procedural guidelines and standards. Some subjects have levels of complexity which cannot be resolved into to any narrative we would recognise as a comprehensive overall conclusion.

We could add to this by supposing that all these complex subjects can be summarised inexactly but usefully and huge numbers of ordinary non-specialists are capable of understanding those summaries. Not only that but they are capable of detecting spurious summaries which go beyond a valid specialism. Non-specialists can see specialist boundaries being breached, they can detect dubious specialist summaries which claim too much.

To my mind this is what the coronavirus is showing us.

W.C. Fields

Friday 17 April 2020

Corbyn never understood religion

An interesting post by James Kenyon on Conservatives Global.

Jeremy Corbyn may not be an overt blood libel anti-Semite as such, but he does otherize Jews. Reading between the lines in his tortured remarks on British Jews, Hamas, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s clear that whilst he doesn’t hold any overt hatred towards the Jewish people, he essentially sees them as foreign, not as a part of the fabric of British society. Perhaps he was not lucky enough, as many of us have been, to have lived his life with Jewish friends or relatives and can afford therefore to see them as the other with a clean conscience. This allowed him to be far too comfortable in his association and platforming-sharing with out-and-out anti-Semites.

 Not a radical angle on Mr Corbyn and his inability to shake off anti-Semite associations, but the piece does offer a useful reminder of his obvious failure to distinguish ancient and enduring religious hatreds from standard political class narratives.

He has been quoted describing Hamas as “an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people and bringing about long-term peace and social and political justice in the whole region.”

Since, in his mind, nobody really believes in God or religion anymore, their extremism must really find its roots in poverty, colonialism, and class struggle, and that we only need appease, befriend, and morally support them in order to reach peace. It certainly isn’t unprecedented for leftists to defend Hamas on the grounds that they have at various points formed a democratically elected government in the Palestinian territories, as if Hamas themselves could care less about democracy or freedom.

The problem with this is that anybody who has ever lived outside of the secular elitist Guardianista bubble knows that this isn’t the case, and that believers of all faiths really do believe, some of them violently so. Hamas and similar organisations make clear in their founding documents that they do not merely seek for the liberation of Palestine (to allow their terminology), but for the destruction of the State of Israel and even of worldwide Jewry. These are the people whom Corbyn, in his utter blindness towards the power of the religious impulse, combined with his indifference towards the wellbeing of the Jewish people and state, has no qualms describing as his ‘friends’.

We may be bombarded with coronavirus propaganda for some time yet, but it is worth reminding ourselves that older and more intractable problems haven't gone away. For example, not everyone is unhappy about the current police state, rolled out in response to the coronavirus debacle. Not everyone would like to see things go back to normal. 

Thursday 16 April 2020

Has Testing Made the Problem Worse?

An interesting piece on coronavirus testing from off-Guardian.

Concerns about the virus SARS-COV-2 that causes the disease called COVID-19 have centered around reported mortality rates. However, errors in reporting those rates have led to confusion regarding the true health impacts. Because estimated rates are dependent on the test used to identify infected patients, understanding that test and its history could lead to much needed clarity...

The piece is quite technical but the gist of it is fairly straightforward - for example the criticism of CDC.

Unfortunately, the US decided to follow its own rules for testing of SARS-COV-2. In fact, WHO and CDC never discussed the U.S. using the same test as being done internationally. Investigators from The Scientist found that it was “not clear why the CDC chose to develop a different assay to that selected by the WHO and taken up by other countries. The CDC declined to respond to questions.”

The CDC was criticized for its decision and problems were later found with its test kits. Although CDC has been secretive about the details, the concerns with its test appear to have included both test design issues and contamination.

Well worth reading the whole thing, if only as a counterweight to the over-simplified and misleading messages on testing we see in the mainstream media.

Wednesday 15 April 2020

In a spirit of priggishness

All those sour fellows who criticize other men's lives in a spirit of priggishness and are real enemies to their own lives, playing schoolmaster to the world – you should not consider them as worth a farthing, nor should you hesitate to prefer good living to a good reputation.

Seneca - Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium c. 65 AD

I’m not sure how odd this is, but the mainstream media do not appear to have enhanced their reputations during the coronavirus debacle. Odd because it should have been fairly easy and popular to present the essential information and the uncetainties without screeching headlines and political point scoring.

Of course we are so used to the media screeching we hardly notice when it shouldn’t be there. Yet in this case it doesn’t seem to benefit the screechers at all. In which case – yes it is odd.

Had to be the Guardian

Had to be the Guardian. The world knows the WHO to be incompetent, corrupt and in need of drastic reform. Nevertheless the dear old Guardian has to poke its feeble stick at the US President merely for firing a shot across its sacred global bows.  

Tuesday 14 April 2020

As he has given up everything else...

Prince Harry could give up hunting because his wife dislikes the sport, according to conservationist Dr Jane Goodall.

In an interview with Radio Times, Dr Goodall said she had spoken to the Duke of Sussex since he and Meghan stepped down as senior royals.

At the suggestion that Harry and his brother, the Duke of Cambridge, were champions of the natural world, she said: "Yes, except they hunt and shoot. But I think Harry will stop because Meghan doesn't like hunting, so I suspect that is over for him."

Monday 13 April 2020

Why most clinical research is not useful

Dates back to 2016 and still interesting on its own merits, but perhaps also relevant to the current coronavirus debacle. Clinical research is not at all easy yet it is constantly suggested that powerful medical defences against the SARS-CoV-2 virus are just around the corner. Maybe we'll be lucky and they are just around the corner - or maybe not. We'll see.

Sunday 12 April 2020

What do you think about?…

Imagine someone walking down the street, just an ordinary person going about his or her business. Suddenly he, I’ll assume he for convenience, is stopped by a person conducting a survey. A survey about what? Doesn’t matter – suppose it is the technical and social value of sending astronauts to Mars.

Our imaginary chap may not even know that a trip to Mars is technically possible. On the other hand he may avidly study such matters over breakfast every single day and thinks a trip to Mars is the greatest human adventure of his life. Doesn’t matter, what we are interested in here is how many of our imaginary survey subjects had to formulate an opinion about astronauts going to Mars.

Suppose we assume that many people never had any significant thoughts or ideas about the prospect of astronauts going to Mars. Suppose we also assume that on brief reflection and because it is a survey and because they don’t want to be lumped with the don’t knows, some of those people will offer some kind of instant opinion.

In which case it is obvious enough that to a significant degree the survey created the opinion. In certain cases, possibly a majority of cases, the opinion wasn’t somehow lurking in the survey subject’s brain waiting for the right question asked in the right circumstances. It didn’t exist until the survey created it.

It is much the same with the coronavirus debacle. Before it hit the headlines, it is likely that very few of us had any idea of how a pandemic might be tackled. Very few journalists and politicians would have had any idea either, although we don’t see that now do we?

Yet as soon as the pandemic becomes a dominant feature of the public arena, pandemic ideas and opinions evolve and they evolve most rapidly in those people who make a profession of having opinions. In a sense the pandemic has asked them what they think about pandemics and they absolutely do not wish to be lumped with the don’t knows.

To a lesser degree the same effect works on experts as the pandemic creates a powerful desire for expert opinion. Those experts who are cautious about unreliable data may not satisfy the urgent demand for opinion. As ever, nobody is really interested in the don’t knows.

Saturday 11 April 2020

The planning illusion

There are those walking among us who seem to think that our response to the coronavirus debacle should have been a matter of rolling out a ready-made pandemic plan. A well-oiled marshalling of identified resources perhaps, although it is not always clear what the plan should have been.

It’s an interesting illusion because there is a significant political divide between those who think planning is a widespread human ability and those who know it isn’t one of our strong points. Much political posturing is based on the planning illusion. The main political division in the UK is between Labour the lunatic planners and increasingly demented Tories who pretend to be planners but don’t really believe in it.

Yet it is obvious enough that nothing really new is ever planned, everything evolves from something else. Every event evolves from earlier events but is never quite the same as any previous event and will never be exactly the same as any subsequent event. Any response has to be based on where we are now and on similar past experiences.

We can plan, but we aren’t very good at it because that’s not how the natural world works. It has unpredictability built in. What do we plan for after the coronavirus debacle? Another pandemic, a massive meteor strike, a huge volcanic eruption, catastrophic climate change, pervasive surveillance, artificial intelligence, an ennui pandemic, political decay? I plan to have another coffee - based on previous experience.

Friday 10 April 2020

The totalitarian virus

Cambridgeshire police have come under fire on social media after a tweet was posted about non-essential shopping aisles at a local supermarket.

The tweet, from the official Cambridgeshire police account, mentioned that while officers were out on patrol they noticed "the non-essential aisles were empty", in the Bar Hill Tesco.

Hundreds have hit back at the tweet, questioning the force how they can determine which aisles are non-essential and arguing it is not their role to monitor where people walk or what people buy.

To some extent this is a kind of statistical artifact. Give authority and draconian guidelines to any large body of people and a certain percentage of enforcers will make those guidelines even more draconian. What it does show how a totalitarian regime might easily evolve within what is supposed to be a democracy. Give it time and it will happen - is happening.

It also shows how vigilant democracies have to be if they wish to prevent this kind of thing because it goes much wider than policing supermarket isles. Unfortunately people who think of themselves as progressive usually portray the necessary vigilance as a kind of antiquated bigotry. Yet mission creep within a society which is already heavily policed is not a good sign. It won't end well. 

Thursday 9 April 2020

A Wikipedia entry

Wikipedia entry for Northamptonshire Chief Constable Nick Adderley at 19.55 today:-

Nick Adderley is the current Obergruppenführer of Northamptonshire Schutzstaffel.

He certainly tried to earn it.

Health and safety applied to duelling

Not one of my usual browsing areas but an interesting and well presented video. I can't quite understand what it was all about though.

Wednesday 8 April 2020

Only a third?

A third of Britons think the police have gone too far in their lockdown crackdown across the UK, a new survey suggests.

While nearly half of the public support the force's approach to implementing coronavirus lockdown rules such as social distancing measures, a third believe their handling has been too strict.

A YouGov poll commissioned by crime and justice consultancy Crest Advisory asked 1,646 adults between Friday and Sunday for their thoughts on how they view the police handling of the new laws and Government guidance to keep people indoors and protect against the spread of Covid-19.

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Some people just don't get it

A town mayor has apologised for saying Prime Minister Boris Johnson "completely deserves this" after he was admitted to intensive care.

Sheila Oakes, who is the mayor of Heanor in Derbyshire, made the comments below a Facebook post about the news.

The Amber Valley Labour Group said it had withdrawn the whip, meaning she is no longer a Labour councillor.

Ms Oakes has since apologised and accepted she "made a mistake".

In response to a post asking people to say a "little prayer" for the prime minister on Monday night, Ms Oakes had written: "Sorry, he completely deserves this and he is one of the worst PMs we've ever had."

Certainly makes a chap wonder about people attracted to politics. And voters. This is a guess on my part, but she probably can't even name all the prime ministers "we've ever had", let alone assess their careers.

Monday 6 April 2020


Hundreds of homes were left without water after a major water pipe burst.

The pipe on Bullbridge Hill in Ambergate, Derbyshire, burst shortly after 06:00 BST.

We woke up early to no water supply this morning. As you can see from the photo there was a bit of a leak in one of the Severn-Trent water mains. 

An fine performance by STW though. Even though we hadn't contacted them, they were soon sending out automated information bulletins via text and phone. After a few hours the leak had been isolated and water supplies diverted from elsewhere. 

We were also told by text and phone how to get rid of any discolouration in the water. Pretty impressive we thought, considering the circumstances.   

Guess the Guardian headline

Europe’s Roma communities are often living on polluted wastelands and lacking running water or sanitation in their homes as a result of “environmental racism”, a report has concluded.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a pan-European network of green NGOs, found Roma communities were often excluded from basic services, such as piped drinking water, sanitation and rubbish collection, while frequently living at or near some of the dirtiest sites in Europe, such as landfills or contaminated industrial land.

One of my minor browsing games is to pick out media headlines which look like Guardian headlines. I play the game because I'm right often enough to be amused at how easy it is. Many of us poke fun at the Guardian, but it survives and seems to provide what its readership needs. If the Guardian didn't do this particular flavour of ideological silliness some other outfit would. 

The interesting questions are surely obvious enough. Is the ideological silliness the deliberate cultivation of a particular readership? If so, is this one way in which useful idiots are cultivated? Sounds like a conspiracy theory that latter question but the Guardian is so batty, so middle class and yet curiously prominent in the media arena.

Sunday 5 April 2020

Trending towards cock-up

As we all know, squeezing good information from the coronavirus debacle is not easy. The pandemic is ferociously complex and reporting standards are both variable and complex. Uncertainty is the big problem as it always is in the natural world. As ever the mainstream media make a considerable addition to the uncertainty.

Yet as we have two radically different strategies for containing the pandemic in Europe, it is worth comparing the current UK strategy with the far more relaxed Swedish approach – as many have done already. Here we have a situation where COVID-19 deaths should eventually show a significant difference between Sweden and the UK. Otherwise the huge economic, social and political damage caused by the UK approach will have been a disastrous decision.

Ignoring a number of caveats connected with COVID-19 death rates in the UK and Sweden, we could compare deaths per million people within each population. We may as well add Germany to illustrate the uncertainty headache when it comes to assessing the effectiveness of containment policies.

The situation yesterday was –

UK          64 deaths per million people
Sweden   37 deaths per million people
Germany 17 deaths per million people

As a further comparison there are about 9000 deaths per million people each year in the UK. So far the virus is virtually insignificant in terms of overall UK mortality although that may change significantly. We hope not of course, but it may.

As we know the situation develops day by day and tomorrow both the UK and the Sweden numbers will be significantly higher. However, at some point the UK number must turn out to be significantly lower than the Sweden number or UK containment policy will be seen by many of us as a disastrous failure.

At the moment we can’t say that, but UK containment policy is currently trending towards failure in the restricted sense that it now seems unlikely that it will be unambiguously successful and worth the enormous cost. The trend may change and it may change radically, but at the moment it is what it is. A major UK government cock-up is certainly on the cards.

If so it will be denied – vigorously.

Saturday 4 April 2020

Welcome whiff of comedy

Sir Keir Starmer has vowed to lead Labour "into a new era with confidence and hope" after decisively winning the contest to succeed Jeremy Corbyn.

Inevitable I suppose. Labour needs a posh, titled, London-based millionaire QC to reconnect with those northern heartlands.

Maybe he'll be the straight man in a double act with Angela Rayner, a Corbyn groupie from a political milieu where it is permissible to hate posh, titled millionaires such as - er - Sir Keir Starmer.

After she took on the role full-time, representing the Stockport branch, she featured in a Guardian series called A Working Life.

At the time, her office was covered in newspaper clippings, picturing her with Gordon Brown and Ed Milliband at Labour Party conferences.

She told the reporter that people always underestimated her, adding: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time.

“I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

That would be some form of loud stealth presumably.

Friday 3 April 2020


Strewth - now we know how quickly a police state can be rolled out. As it will not be rolled all the way back again it is even more necessary to keep our focus on totalitarian trends. For example, here in the early decades of the twenty first century we have a level of prosperity almost unimaginable only a few generations ago. Which is fine, there is little point moaning about prosperity, but at what cost have we arrived here? Because there is always a cost – something we could have aimed for instead. More research into virus pandemics for instance. 

However it is not easy to say what the cost might have been even with hindsight, but suppose we begin with the 1950s. WWII was behind us, rationing was fading into history and new freedoms, new technology and new prosperity appeared to be on the horizon. What should we have done to make the best of those promises?

In the 1950s we had the death penalty, we understood the importance of marriage and the nuclear family, we had no mass immigration and we understood patriotism, we valued education, self-improvement, integrity and honesty, we respected the law and the police, we understood the value of inequality, we valued science, technology and engineering. 

Certainly we have to remove the rose-tinted spectacles when considering such matters. They were by no means universal and were diluted with numerous caveats and shades of opinion but we also knew that many social and political radicals were also totalitarians.

Totalitarians eh? Yes – we understood totalitarians better than we do now. We were emerging from a disastrous world war – of course we understood totalitarians as people with disastrously repressive political ideals. Or rather many of us understood totalitarians in that way. Now we don’t because the totalitarians survived and multiplied. 

We became more prosperous and as we became more prosperous the iron fist pulled on a velvet glove so we became more tolerant towards totalitarian politics. Young people dabbled in it as they always do, but unfortunately many seem to have encountered no reason to let go, no reason to put aside the toys of childhood. In a complex world simplicity appeals.

Now there are numerous prominent totalitarians in public life but we don’t recognise them as such. Totalitarians have become commonplace, invisible. Climate change is totalitarian politics where we have discovered something amazing - even the climate, even the natural world can be used to promote a thoroughly totalitarian political ethos. Or rather we haven't discovered it - merely some of us have. 

In their different ways Jeremy Corbyn and Prince Charles are totalitarians but millions do not see it. Prince Harry is an environmental totalitarian, numerous celebrities are totalitarians. Earlier generations would perhaps have recognised them as such, seeing the signs, the moral rot. Not now.

One to avoid

The BBC will offer daily programmes to help parents and children with schoolwork at home during the lockdown.

Starting on 20 April, videos, quizzes, podcasts and articles will appear on BBC Bitesize Daily via the BBC iPlayer, red button, BBC Four and BBC Sounds.

Thursday 2 April 2020

To level the mountains

Demons  is a fascinating and powerful novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky published between 1871 and 1872. For those who haven’t read it, a brief summary from Wikipedia -

Demons is an allegory of the potentially catastrophic consequences of the political and moral nihilism that were becoming prevalent in Russia in the 1860s. A fictional town descends into chaos as it becomes the focal point of an attempted revolution, orchestrated by master conspirator Pyotr Verkhovensky...

'Demons' refers not to individuals who act in various immoral or criminal ways, but rather to the ideas that possess them: non-material but living forces that subordinate the individual (and collective) consciousness, distorting it and impelling it toward catastrophe.

The demons of the title are effectively evil ideologies which take possession of susceptible people. As Jordan Peterson has said, ideologies possess people, not the other way round. Dostoyevsky's novel also sheds a powerful light on our modern world and our apparent inability to preserve the civilisation which nurtured us. We cannot absorb the lessons of history, having lost sight of the political and moral nihilism eating away at what we are – soon to be what we were.

Dostoyevsky saw the danger and described it - as perceptive and articulate people still do today, but the message is not quite simple enough to take hold. The climate change narrative, to take just one modern example, is just as morally nihilist as the political disease Dostoyevsky saw in Russia 150 years ago. Just as demonic.

Here are two extracts.

“Listen, Stavrogin. To level the mountains is a fine idea, not an absurd one. I am for Shigalov. Down with culture. We’ve had enough science! Without science we have material enough to go on for a thousand years, but one must have discipline. The one thing wanting in the world is discipline. The thirst for culture is an aristocratic thirst. The moment you have family ties or love you get the desire for property. We will destroy that desire; we’ll make use of drunkenness, slander, spying; we’ll make use of incredible corruption; we’ll stifle every genius in its infancy. We’ll reduce all to a common denominator! Complete equality!

Listen. I’ve reckoned them all up: a teacher who laughs with children at their God and at their cradle; is on our side. The lawyer who defends an educated murderer because he is more cultured than his victims and could not, help murdering them to get money is one of us. The schoolboys who murder a peasant for the sake of sensation are ours. The juries who acquit every criminal are ours. The prosecutor who trembles at a trial for fear he should not seem advanced enough is ours, ours. Among officials and literary men we have lots, lots, and they don’t know it themselves. On the other hand, the docility of schoolboys and fools has reached an extreme pitch; the schoolmasters are bitter and bilious. On all sides we see vanity puffed up out of all proportion; brutal, monstrous appetites.... Do you know how many we shall catch by little, ready-made ideas?

Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Demons (1871-72)

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Snail's pace

The European Union has weathered the storms of eurozone bailouts, the migration crisis and Brexit, but some fear coronavirus could be even more destructive.

In a rare intervention Jacques Delors, the former European commission president who helped build the modern EU, broke his silence last weekend to warn that lack of solidarity posed “a mortal danger to the European Union”...

“This is definitely a make-it-or-break-it moment for the European project,” said Nathalie Tocci, a former adviser to the EU foreign policy chief. “If it goes badly this really risks being the end of the union. It fuels all the nationalist-populism.”

The coronavirus debacle has exposed a number of previously obvious EU failings, but a major failing has been its inability to react in a timely manner. The EU is painfully slow in its deliberations. We may criticise Boris and the UK government, but compared to the EU it has responded like lightning. 

Oddly enough this suggests that the EU has been lucky up until now. It has not had to respond to such a fast-moving crisis as this and its turgid inability to change gear has not been so obvious. Now it is obvious.