Thursday 30 April 2020

'Trust deficit: The roots of Russia’s standoff with the West'

“After the collapse of one pillar of the former bipolar world order, it became fashionable in the West to think that the world order could become unipolar, with the U.S. at the helm. In the 1990s, Russia descended into its worst crisis since 1917. It not only ceased to be a superpower, it suffered political, economic, and social collapse as well. It was not even clear that Russia would survive physically. So, perhaps believing that Russian interests and views didn’t matter anymore, Clinton made the decision to enlarge NATO to the east. But just because Russia couldn’t do anything about it at the time doesn’t mean that we accepted it. We never did. Since then the process of NATO expansion has been unstoppable, and so has the subsequent chain of events.”

“It’s not that we view NATO as an existential threat right now. But Russia cannot accept that a country next door would be a member of a military alliance that is hostile to Russia. We are not opposed to Ukraine being democratic. It’s fine with us if a neighbor has a different political and social system. But not a member of an adversarial bloc. Security is the central issue.”

So says from Alexei Gromyko, who "as director of the official Institute of Europe, often serves in an advisory role to today’s Russian leaders" interviewed in a very interesting article by Fred Weir on the way Russians (those in power at least) view the West. 
Alexei Gromyko is the grandson of Andrei Gromyko, the seemingly eternal Soviet Foreign Minister  from 1957 to 1985. He was wittily called 'the Abominable No-man', a sobriquet dating from his time as Stalin's ambassador to the UN.

Brendan O'Neil: Healthy people locked up, old people left to die

Image may contain: possible text that says 'Brendan O'Neill 18 elderly. We We that coronavirus particularly bad that death rate from exponentially higher And yet than strategically resources on protecting older people, especially in care homes, devoted our energy to enforcing society-wide lockdown, putting perfectly healthy people under house arrest, flagging up the tiny number deaths among young people as the anyone (a obsessing Protecting reprimanding shopped more policing once This is where the care-home crisis comes from. It's product only long-standing neglect places, but of lockdown fanaticism. The fearmongers, especially in so obsessed shutting whole society distracted section society strategic thinking, needed disastrous.'


"You little know my son with how little intelligence the world is governed." Count Oxenstierna's words are no less true now than when he said them.

Gibbon said history was little more than the catalogue of the crimes and follies of mankind. Just so you know.

"Young women are butterflies who turn into moths!" Schopenhauer

They may talk as they please about what they call pelf,

And how one ought never to think of one's self,

How pleasures of thought surpass eating and drinking,

My pleasure of thought is the pleasure of thinking

How pleasant it is to have money, heigh ho!

How pleasant it is to have money.

A.H. Clough

Boris Johnson becomes a father of six but is he still married?

Like everyone I am pleased the British Prime Minister's mistress has been delivered of a healthy son and congratulate the couple. Boris now becomes one of the three fathers of six in the House of Commons,  according to the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, another of them. 

But how strange that the papers don't talk about Mrs. Johnson, who might still be Boris's wife. Has there been a divorce absolute yet? The papers are silent. 

I feel sorry for her, having suffered and recovered from cancer after her husband left her.

On the other hand, as Melanie McDonagh pointed out, those who live by the sword die by the sword. There was a First Mrs Johnson until a fortnight before his second marriage.

How strange that the tabloids say nothing, except for one story in the Mirror back on 1st March, headlined  

Boris Johnson's estranged wife 'in pieces' and children 'furious' over engagement

Even odder the bishops say nothing about it either but bore on instead about climate change and economics. They don't even talk about death and the four last things, despite the virus.

You should read these quotations from the WSJ yesterday

Most politicians in most countries are changing the explanation for why they locked down their economies. Originally they said they wanted to slow Covid-19’s spread to ease pressure on hospitals, but increasingly they seem to want to stop it entirely. (New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also invoking an R0 [reproduction rate] of 1 before his state can reopen.) Berlin may provide a cautionary tale in whether that is possible as lockdowns ease—and, therefore, whether the lockdowns have been worth their immense human and economic cost.
Editorial, The Wall Street Journal yesterday

This column isn’t about Sweden, but the press now claims Sweden’s Covid policy is “failing” because it has more deaths than its neighbors. Let me explain again: When you do more social distancing, you get less transmission. When you do less, you get more transmission. Almost all countries are pursuing a more-or-less goal, not a reduce-to-zero goal. Sweden expects a higher curve but in line with its hospital capacity. Sweden’s neighbors are not avoiding the same deaths with their stronger mandates, they are delaying them, to the detriment of other values.

The only clear failure for Sweden would come if a deus ex machina of some sort were to arrive to cure Covid-19 in the near future. Then all countries (not just Sweden) might wish in retrospect to have suppressed the virus more until their citizens could benefit from the miracle cure.

Please, if you are a journalist reporting on these matters and can’t understand “flatten the curve” as a multivariate proposition, leave the profession. You are what economists call a “negative marginal product” employee. Your nonparticipation would add value. Your participation subtracts it.

...Let’s apply this to the U.S. Americans took steps to counter the 1957 and 1968 novel flu pandemics but nothing like indiscriminate lockdowns. Adjusted for today’s U.S. population (never mind our older average age), 1957’s killed the equivalent of 230,000 Americans today and 1968’s 165,000. So far, Covid has killed 57,000.

... The 1957, 1968 and even 1918 strains are still with us, contributing to an estimated 650,000 flu deaths world-wide every year.

…Before patting ourselves on the back, however, notice that we haven’t stopped the equivalent deaths, only delayed them while we destroy our economy and the livelihoods of millions of people. 
That’s because public officials haven’t explained how to lift their unsustainable lockdowns while most of the public remains uninfected and there’s no vaccine.
        Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. in The Wall Street Journal

Monday 27 April 2020

Boris is talking nonsense

Boris Johnson emerged in front of No 10, Downing St to address TV cameras and say there will be an end to the lockdown only “when we’re sure that this first phase is over” and that the government’s five tests – falling rates of deaths and infections, protection of the NHS, sorting out testing and PPE provision and avoiding a second peak of cases – have been met.

I like Boris but he is talking nonsense on stilts. 

Of course there will be a second peak if people are allowed to walk around freely. The lockdown was ordered to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed and this is no longer a foreseeable danger. 

Distancing and fear will reduce infections and deaths but the important thing is to save the world economy. 

Otherwise anything could happen - apart from anything else imagine the effects in Africa, where famines might well occur.

Sunday 26 April 2020

What the papers say

The big story is the supposed death of North Koran dictator Kim Il Jong.

Meanwhile the EU censored itself to avoid angering China by criticising her handling of the virus.

Here in Romania we have 608 deaths of people with (not necessarily of) the Coronavirus, alas. Only 12 have died in Latvia, 46 in Estonia, 42 in Lithuania. In Belarus, with no lockdown, supposedly 67, but who knows?

It is very hard not to conclude that the virus was considerably less dangerous than we feared, thank God.

Latvia had a limited lockdown. The Telegraph publishes today an interview with the Latvian P.M., 
Krisjanis Karins.

By the time of the first Covid-19 related death in Latvia, the limit on public gatherings had dropped from crowds of 200 to groups of two, and strict social distancing rules were in place.

"In retrospect we actually shut everything down, went to two people, and two metres, before we even had our first confirmed death of Covid-19," Karins says. But the majority of businesses were allowed to remain open, with the exception of cinemas and theatres.

Large shopping centres were instructed to close at weekends. Cafes and restaurants could, in theory, remain open, but following the introduction of social distancing rules many lacked customers and shut down anyway. "By not shutting down our businesses and having the social distancing, we're trying to get that balance of keeping people healthy and at the same time doing the least amount of damage to the economy as possible in these times. Of course, our economy is taking a big hit as everyone's economy is."

Daniel Hannen writing about Sweden yesterday in the Daily Telegraph.

Modelling by country’s authorities suggests that the infection rate in Stockholm peaked on 8 April. If so, we need to consider the implication, namely that, once basic hygiene and distancing measures are in place, tightening the screw further perhaps makes little difference. Which would be good news for the rest of us. Adopting Sweden’s more laissez-faire response might not restore our economies to full health, but it would at least allow us to bring them out of their induced comas

..... “It’s bad news for us politically,” a Rightist MP admits. “The socialist government is up 21 points. But I am a patriot, and I want what is best for my country. I criticise ministers for not helping small businesses. But I don’t criticise them for sticking to the science when other countries gave in to populism.”

Unfortunately although the number of new cases peaked in Sweden on April 8 Swedish deaths are rising. Daily deaths per capita on Friday were the highest in the world. Still, I am very hopeful about Sweden.

This is from an article by 
Alistair Haimes, who has worked with data for 25 years, in The Critic.

Along month ago in 10 Downing Street, before public opinion (and Jeremy Hunt) turned against him, Sir Patrick Vallance was painstakingly clear that group immunity while sheltering the vulnerable is the only game in town, but that we should flatten the curve (“squash the sombrero”) so that the NHS would not be overwhelmed.

Yet faced with murky data, a clamouring press and terrifying reports from Italy, the current lockdown was hurriedly declared, in order to buy time for the NHS to build further capacity for the approaching storm. Given the paucity of data available when the decision was made, and how things could have gone, perhaps the government did the right thing. It has, indeed, used the time to create impressive capacity, and can now assert that the UK does have capacity (both hospital beds generally and ICU beds and ventilators in particular) for whatever comes our way.

But we’re still locked down. Like many things in life, it turns out that lockdown was much easier to get into than to get out of. It also turns out that the reasons for going in seem to be wildly different to the reasons for coming out; the key that locked the door doesn’t unlock it.

Saturday 25 April 2020

Very important fact to bear in mind about the Coronavirus

I keep remembering that when the Chinese locked down Wuhan in January they deported thousands of foreigners living there. The foreigners were quarantined in their respective countries and tested. Only 0.6% tested positive and many of them had no symptoms.

Belarus has no lockdown

According to the country's health ministry yesterday, Belarus had reported 8,773 Coronavirus cases, 1,120 patients who have recovered and 63 deaths, meaning 7 deaths per million people. All the dead were suffering from chronic diseases. President Lukashenko, 'the last dictator in Europe', has not imposed a lockdown though, unlike in Sweden, parents have the choice about whether to send their children to school and less than 40 per cent of children do go to school. I wonder if children who are sent to school question if their parents are so very attached to them, though in fact children are in no danger at all.

Are these statistics likely to be true? Probably not but nor are they anywhere. Only crude death rates from all causes are not to be trusted. On the other hand, we'd have heard if big numbers of people were dying of the virus there.

More than 9000 cases of people swallowing bleach are reported in US each month. Now all will be the fault of Donald Trump.

Ruth Dudley Edwards said she derided President Trump's daily press conferences until she watched one and found he was rather good. Judge for yourself whether he encouraged viewers to inject themselves with Dettol. The BBC which hates him was very unfair to him. What makes what the Chinese call disparagingly 'white liberals' angry is not China, nor the head of the WHO covering up for China but Donald Trump and Boris.

More than 28,000 calls in the first quarter of this year to American poison control centres, involved bleach and other cleaners, News 4 San Antonio reported. Now they will all be blamed on Mr Trump.

More important is the first paragraph which suggests that the virus may well fade away quickly because of the good weather, though perhaps only to return in December if herd immunity has not been achieved.
Bill Bryan, Under Secretary for Science and Technology at DHS, said at the press briefing, “Our most striking observation to date is the powerful effect that solar light appears to have on killing the virus, both surfaces and in the air. We’ve seen a similar effect with both temperature and humidity as well, where increasing the temperature and humidity or both is generally less favorable to the virus.”

“The virus does not survive as well in droplets of saliva, and that’s important because a lot of testing being done is not necessarily being done, number one, with the COVID-19 virus and number two, in saliva or respiratory fluids,” Bryan continued. “And thirdly, the virus dies the quickest in the presence of direct sunlight under these conditions.”

Thursday 23 April 2020

Seen on Facebook

Dr. Sean Gabb (Richard Blake):
In the short term, we are looking at a repeat of the 1930s on steroids. I did think, when the lockdown started, that it would be a brief supply shock, followed by an immediate recovery. But it's now gone on too long. Many businesses won't re-open. Commerce will begin to flow along new channels, and it will take time for this to show. The long-term effects may be positive - but only in the sense that a forest fire makes room for new growth. I'll add that we've done this on a false prospectus. There has been no mountain of

Death rates in 1990 and 2019

In 1990 in the UK the death rate was 11.8 per 1,000. Last year it was 9.4 per 1000, a very welcome big drop. I hope Coronavirus does not take us back to 1980s death rates.


A bear arrived on Saturday at noon in the empty streets of the mountain resort of Busteni, in what used to be called (when I was seven and first saw the name on a map) the Transylvanian Alps. The animal walked freely among the Communist era blocks of flats, until it was noticed.

The bear was filmed by a man and posted on Facebook.

Happy St George's Day

On St George’s Day, I’d just like to let you know about two other patron saints of England who were favoured by Richard II, seen here kneeling in the wonderful Wilton Diptych (now in the National Gallery in London) : left to right, my patron saint St Edmund the Martyr, St Edward the Confessor, and St John the Baptist, barefoot with lamb and blanket. 

Image may contain: 4 people, people standing

SS. Edmund and Edward have crowns because they were kings.

Richard II seems to have been less keen on St George, installed not long before by Edward III as patron saint of England in place of St Edward the Confessor.

St Edmund of East Anglia ('the Martyr') is my patron saint. He was killed by infidel migrants who conquered his country and in time all of England.

I have two close Romanian friends whose birthday this is and when I spoke to Lara just now her daughter told me it was her birthday too, because she is Georgia.

Which put me in mind of my favourite song, which I proceeded to sing the first lines of in tune. My father said they'd never write a better song than Georgia and he was right.

What better way to celebrate St George's Day than listening to the original version of Georgia On My Mind?

Two Yorkshiremen have been arrested for posting "disgusting" racist stickers reading "Pubs closed, borders open"

The BBC reports that two men have been arrested after "disgusting" racist stickers were posted in Sheffield, Yorkshire.

The stickers said "Pubs closed, borders open".

Police said two men, aged 20 and 22, were held on suspicion of racially aggravated public order offence but 'released under investigation'. 

"The Local Democracy Reporting Service said the stickers have been seen on lamp posts, bins, bus stop signs and bollards around Granville Road, Paternoster Row, the Crucible Theatre, the railway station and near Norfolk Heritage Park."
"The Local Democracy Reporting Service', save the mark.

"Ben Miskell, a local councillor, added: 'This is absolutely disgusting and comes at a time where our diverse community is busy working together to tackle the virus.'"

The BBC does not mention that Ben is Labour. He is just 'a local councillor'.

A Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in 1937, in his last broadcast to the country on the BBC, said freedom was England's secret. 

"Let me end in this, the last speech I shall make before a great audience as Prime Minister of this country. Let me proclaim my faith, which is the faith of millions of all races from end to end of the British Empire. Here we have ceased to be an island, but we are still an Empire.

"And what is her secret? Freedom, ordered freedom, within the law, with force in the background and not in the foreground: a society in which authority and freedom are blended in due proportion, in which state and citizen are both ends and means. It is an empire organised for peace and for the free development of the individual in and through an infinite variety of voluntary associations. It neither deifies the state nor its rulers.

"The fruits of a free spirit of men do not grow in the garden of tyranny. It’s been well said that slavery is a weed that grows in every soil. As long as we have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith, men will turn their faces towards us and draw their breath more freely. The association of the peoples of the Empire is rooted and their fellowship is rooted in this doctrine of the essential dignity of the individual human soul: that is the English secret, however feebly and faintly we have, at times and places, embraced and obeyed it.

"And the torch I would hand to you and ask you to pass from hand to hand along the pathways of the Empire, is a great Christian proof rekindled anew in each ardent generation: that is a message I’ve tried to deliver as Prime Minister of England in a hundred speeches, and I can think of no better message to give you to take away tonight than that."

It was another time, another Conservative Party and another BBC. 

Coronavirus in England and Wales peaked two weeks ago - would it have done so without a lockdown?

18,516 deaths were registered in the week ending April 10 in England and Wales, which contrasts with the most recent five-year average of 10,520 for the same week of the year, but is fewer than the number of deaths in a single week in January 2000, when there was a very bad flu.

However the real number of deaths in the week ending April 10 this week may be a lot higher.

According to the Office of National Statistics, there were 184,960 deaths in the UK this year between January 1 and April 10th, meaning fewer deaths than at the same point in 2018 (187,720).

2018 saw a very high number of deaths because of a bad flu and nobody noticed, but they were spread out week by week rather than coming in a rush as this month. Because of a mild winter and fewer deaths from flu and other respiratory illnesses than usual, the number of deaths in the UK and Europe this year had been below average for the time of year until late March, when the Coronavirus deaths mounted up.

However, the real number of excess deaths this year up to April 21, eleven days later, may be more than double that figure, according to the Financial Times, which yesterday estimated that including deaths outside hospitals the number of excess deaths in the UK this year until April 21 was not the official 16,952 but somewhere in the region of 41,102.

Thankfully, the FT agrees that the deaths have reached their peak on April 8.

From a BBC report the day before yesterday:
'Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, of the University of Cambridge, said the NHS England figures suggested we were past the peak and in a "steadily" albeit slowly improving position. 

But he added: "Judging from the experience in Italy, this could be a lengthy process."'
Prof Carl Heneghan, from the University of Oxford, said he agreed, saying London, which saw rapid increases earlier than the rest of country, peaked even earlier, suggesting the steps taken before full lockdown had an impact.

In other words deaths peaked because of steps taken before the full lockdown. The lockdown was imposed to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed and patients dying on the floor. In fact there are very large numbers of empty beds. Presumably the lockdown is no longer necessary.

I am aware that we have no vaccine and unlike many people I know it is perfectly likely that we may ever have one. I know too that a second wave of the virus is likely, because herd immunity has not been reached.

The British Chief Medical Officer who wanted to achieve herd immunity told journalists on 13 March:
“We want to… not suppress it so we get the second peak and also allow enough of us who are going to get mild illness to become immune to this to help with the sort of whole population response, which would protect everybody.”
Instead England may face a second peak in the winter, exactly what back in mid March the British government was so keen to avoid.

More quotations

I think Britain is a much, much better place than when I first came here [in 1973]. It’s more cosmopolitan and worldly, and I love that. So I was disappointed they voted to leave, but on the other hand… I keep reading these opinion pieces saying Britain shot itself in the head and I think, actually, no. Britain handled Brexit really, really well given that it was such a 50-50 thing. Where are the gilets jaunes? We can disagree ferociously but we are not going to start punching each other. Considering how finely divided the country was, I think it has been pretty civilised. It’s got a little fractious at times but… Look at the Basque separatists. Here, there weren’t any violent protests, we didn’t have to get tear gas out or rubber bullets or anything. Every-body was pretty good about it.
Bill Bryson talking to Leaf Arbuthnot in the Spectator

Coleridge said 'the theologians tell us that souls have no sex, but I wonder. I very much wonder.'

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Working at home

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Wikipedia

Tweet today from the British Labour Party's youth wing in London

London Young Labour is controlled by the far left which supported Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party until two weeks ago. He responded to the fall of the Berlin Wall by printing an article in the newsletter he edited headlined 'No cheers here for a united capitalist Germany'. His close aide Seamus Milne defended Lenin, denied that he and Stalin are responsible for the deaths of millions and said

“For all its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality.”

The lockdown in the UK was a mistake

An article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday by Philip Johnston, summarising the views of Prof Carl Heneghan, is the best thing I have yet read about Coronavirus. Prof Heneghan was talking about Great Britain but what he says applies, mutatis mutandis, to other countries.

Figures from the ONS yesterday showed that, in the week to April 10, there were 18,500 deaths in the UK which is 7,000 more than average because of Covid-19 but about the same as in the first week of January 2000, a bad flu year.

According to Prof Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University and a clinical epidemiologist, we passed the peak of deaths on April 8, which suggests that the mortality from Covid-19 is not much worse than it was 20 years ago. Indeed, with a much higher and older population, it is statistically less so. Arguably, it has been suppressed by the lockdown and yet two countries that have not had one, Sweden and South Korea, have fared better than the UK.

Prof Heneghan says infection rates halved after the Government urged people to wash their hands and distance themselves from others on March 16. But ministers “lost sight” of the evidence and rushed into an unnecessary lockdown.

....For coronavirus, the Government was following this framework almost to the letter while preparing the country for what would be a difficult period. But that all changed on Mother’s Day when pictures of people out and about led to a clamour for a lockdown that was never planned for. Prof Heneghan says the Government lost its nerve. Concerned that it would be seen to be putting the economy ahead of the NHS, it is now inflicting worse damage on the country than the virus itself.

....Nor is there any sign of an end. Five benchmarks were announced for relaxing the measures, the fifth of which is to prevent a second wave of infections in the autumn. But this will not be possible without continuing the lockdown until then and further wrecking the economy.

I have to say that I was not aware of pictures out and about in England on Mothers' Day. I thought the lockdown was introduced because of what was happening in Italy. The crisis there had very specific causes, especially mistakes by doctors. 

Do face masks work?

I went into the chemist's yesterday to buy plastic gloves but they had none. Instead they sold me masks and i wore one for the first time in Carrefour, but not in the street like most of the few passers-by.

Dr John Lee in the Spectator seems to think I might have been wasting my time even in the shop. He asks if a face mask protects you from the virus and answers his question

...don’t expect it to stop you getting the virus from aerosols – which are likely to have an important role in viral transmission, especially in crowded or busy environments.

Viruses, he thinks, are just too darned small.

He concludes:

So does wearing a mask protect others if you’re infectious? There’s little direct evidence to say that it does, and quite a lot of straightforward reasoning to suggest it doesn’t.

Closing borders and the era of globalism

“I am of the opinion that the state border must remain closed for at least another year,” 
said Czech President Milos Zeman on Sunday. 
“Otherwise, foreign travel can lead to a new wave of the epidemic. I think that our citizens could use this situation in order to enjoy the beauties of their own country.”

He is a powerless figurehead and the Czech government is in talks with Austria and Slovakia about re-opening borders. 

Personally I'm sceptical about lockdowns and hope Sweden will prove that they are unnecessary. Banning international travel for a year would be terrible for tourism (which contributes 10% of world GDP) In countries that get lots of foreign tourists (not Romania), but it would be very good in many ways. The lesson of the virus is be rooted, be local.
BUT WE CAN STILL BE TOURISTS in the country in which we live. In my case, Romania is incomparable and I keep telling myself not to leave. Romania is, after Italy, the loveliest country in Europe, but all countries in the world are very beautiful (except Monaco).

In some ways the world in February was a Tower of Babel and this terrible epidemic is a sign.

I don't know how many countries have closed their borders. Romania has not but bans visitors from many EU countries including the UK, Belgium, Austria, Spain, Italy, Eire and Holland.

Total number of deaths in the UK April 3-10 were slightly lower than in the same week in 2018

According to ONS data cumulative deaths [in the UK] for w/e April 10th (184,960) are lower than cumulative deaths at same point in 2018 (187,720). Further so far there have been 30 deaths for under 40s and 260 deaths for under 60s. So why don’t we just focus on protecting the elderly and ending the lockdown now?

Brooks Newmark

Given that the evidence reveals that the Corona disease declines even without a complete lockdown, it is recommendable to reverse the current policy and remove the lockdown. At the same time, it is advisable to continue with low-cost measures, such as wearing masks, expanding testing for defined populations and prohibiting mass gatherings.

Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel, April 16, 2020. (He discussed on Israeli TV on April 13 his thesis that the spread of the coronavirus comes almost to an end after 70 days, regardless of any steps taken to contain it.)

One thing is for sure: once this plague is over, national barriers might make a comeback and be seen as more than just an impediment to human freedom. A borderless world may be the dream of rich subversives such as the ghastly George Soros, but something good always emerges after a catastrophe: like never trusting the Chinese and outlawing the word ‘globalist’.


To break even given its full-throttle expenses, Saudi Arabia needs oil prices to be around $80 a barrel. The Kingdom is running a budget deficit and a prolonged oil price crash could do for Saudi Arabia what it did for the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.

Mark Almond

Covid-19 looks less like Communist China’s Chernobyl than Beijing’s opportunity to assert itself globally while the West, paralysed by the virus, turns inward.

Mark Almond

'In the course of the season, he [a British fruit farmer] employs up to 1,200 people to pick strawberries, raspberries and so on. He hopes to recruit more British workers than in the past, but finds that in practice few young British people tolerate back-breaking, finger-chafing picking and cutting for 60 hours a week at the minimum wage. Very few have rural upbringings. They are untrained for the work involved, are often students, and usually not local. Those filling in online forms this month because of their unsought idleness may like the sound of working outdoors in summer (1,500 have applied to him), but his past experience tells him that only one per cent will stay the course.
'He also points out that the lockdown will probably end in June. At that point, the British workers would probably depart, leaving the raspberries unpicked.
'Eastern Europeans, by contrast, are used to agricultural labour and keen on the work, because it pays more than four times their home rates. On his farms, half of the workers who come one year return the next. They come legally, currently under EU rules; after any forthcoming trade deal, they will arrive under the seasonal workers’ agricultural labour scheme which the Government has promised to expand. The labourers are socially distanced from the wider community because they are housed in caravans on the farms.
'Besides, says my friend, even if every single one of the 36,000 British applicants got a place, our fruit farms would still be roughly 50,000 workers adrift of the over 85,000 they need this year. Without the Romanians and Bulgarians, the crops would simply rot and the British public would have to buy their fruit from places like Morocco instead.

Charles Moore - British job applicants say they are not too lazy to do this  work.

When the black death affected this country, parliament couldn’t sit. Thanks to modern technology, even I have moved on from 1349, and I am glad to say we can sit to carry out these fundamental constitutional functions.

Jacob Rees-Mogg in the House of Commons

Just as we were getting used to the headlines about hospitalization and mortality rates, the really bad news arrives. Meghan and Harry are back. After scuttling to California before they were isolated in the hell of a luxury rental in Vancouver, the unemployed ex-royals are loose on the streets of Los Angeles. Disguised as two Postmates workers, they’re delivering bags of food to already vulnerable members of the public and making sure to be filmed doing it. Think Candid Camera, without the candor.

Like everything this spontaneously warm and down-to-earth couple does, this stunt combines a cold whiff of careful planning with their signature aroma, a complex blend of farce, vanity and self-destruction. 

Dominic Green in the Spectator unfortunately is right. His article is merciless and accurate.

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Charlotte Bronte in favour of action

“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility; they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.”

Charlotte Brontë, born today in 1816.

Many Happy Returns of the Day, Your Majesty!

1930 Original Newspaper Gift, 1930 newspaper, 1930 News, 1930 Headlines - Historic Newspapers

God save H.M. the Queen, who is 94 today. This, I imagine, is the strangest of her 94 birthdays.

No guns were fired to mark the day on the instructions of Her Majesty, because of the epidemic ravaging her country.
When she was born 94 years ago the telegram informing him was given to her father in a silver box on a tray, while he was playing golf. He shared the news with his companion who congratulated him and they finished their game.

Then she was only Heir Presumptive, not Heir Apparent, because her Uncle David, the future King Edward VIII, was expected to marry and have children. Now she is the oldest British monarch. 

Queen Victoria, the second oldest, died at 81 having lived five days longer than King George III.

The Prince of the Wales, if he ascends the throne will be the oldest monarch to do so. He is the second oldest heir to the throne after the Electress Sophia of Hanover, who died, aged 83, after running to escape a shower of rain, a few weeks before her distant cousin Queen Anne.
Here is some film of the Queen as a little girl, playing with her younger sister Princess Margaret Rose, released today to celebrate the monarch turning 94. As a little girl, although only Heir Presumptive, received a huge amount of attention from the press because the Heir Apparent, her (somewhat wicked) uncle, Edward, Prince of Wales was unmarried.

The Daily Mail says
The clips - sure to help boost the country's mood during the coronavirus pandemic - show Elizabeth playing with a pram as a toddler, on a seesaw and playing in a garden and dancing on a yacht with Margaret.

Herd immunity?

397,670 British people have been tested for the virus. More than one third, 129,044, were positive. This is very encouraging if it means herd immunity is in sight. In any case it strengthens the case for lifting the lockdown in the UK, but for politicians that would be fraught with peril (and possibly for everyone else). On the other hand were those people tested at random or because they had reason to think they were infected? 

The research at Oxford suggested last month that half the UK might be infected. Other scientists last month thought it was one in fifteen.

Of the deaths registered in the UK in the week ending 10 April, one third mentioned “novel coronavirus (COVID-19)”, compared to 21% the week before. Most of these deaths are with not of the virus. This also suggests the British are rapidly approaching herd immunity, if herd immunity is attainable, which depends on whether having the virus once gives you immunity and whether the virus mutates sooner rather than later. The Daily Mail has a story headlined 

“Chinese study finds up to 30% of coronavirus patients hardly develop ANY antibodies against the infection - raising concerns many who recover from COVID-19 are not immune.”

Monday 20 April 2020

When does old age begin?

President Macron of France is very unpopular and unlikely to be re-elected, which is a solitary shaft of sunlight in an otherwise very dark landscape. Researching him, I found this small gem in The Times (what Americans call the London Times) the day before yesterday.

'With the pandemic beginning to ebb after 17,000 deaths and a month of lockdown, Mr Macron set May 11 as the start of “le déconfinement”. Schools, shops, businesses and hairdressers would reopen while cafes, restaurants and cinemas remain shut, he said in an address watched by 36 million. However “the elderly” would stay isolated.

'Caught by surprise, ministers watered down Mr Macron’s promises after celebrities in their seventies alleged discrimination. No one has defined “les personnes âgées” who are to stay indefinitely in isolation but a consensus appears to have settled on 70, three years older than Brigitte Macron, the 42-year-old president’s wife.'

They manage these things better in Taiwan

Taiwan seems to be the place that is safest from the virus. Despite being so close to (Red) China, it has had only 422 reported cases and six deaths. I know of one rich man who decided this over dinner in Thailand six weeks ago and promptly left for Taipei. 

The Taiwanese Vice-President Chen Chien-jen is also the country's chief epidemiologist. The Telegraph interviewed Mr Chen in his office last week  and asked him if Taiwan’s pandemic strategy can be copied in bigger countries. He replied:

"Yes, sure. It will never be too late to control any kind of outbreak in any country. There are still a lot of chances for different countries to adopt good strategies developed here to help contain the outbreak. Social distancing and good health behaviour are definitely important – frequent handwashing, measuring body temperature, using a face mask if necessary. At home, close contacts [of the infected] shouldn’t dine together. The [patient] can live in a single room. It’s not necessary to stop all activities. As long as more than 50% of the population reduces 50% of their social contacts then the outbreak can be controlled. They can go to school, to work but must reduce non-essential recreation and social contact.

"Home quarantine is important. Close contacts must stay at home for 14 days and check their health status.
It’s not necessary to stop all activities. As long as more than 50 per cent of the population reduces 50 per cent of their social contacts then the outbreak can be controlled. They can go to school, to work, but must reduce non-essential recreation and social contact.”

Coronavirus may have an infection fatality rate of 0.2% or less

The Coronavirus epidemic dramatises the dangers of globalisation, just in time supply chains and mass movement but also, paradoxically, the need for international cooperation and the inadequacy of international organisations. 

The WHO in particular, led by an Ethiopian who is accused of covering up epidemics when he was Minister of Health in his own country and who spent valuable time when the virus was spreading warning against xenophobia and anti-Chinese prejudice. He owes his position to China and Third World countries and has used it to make the WHO the Chinese PR firm. 

The EU has been notably useless. There is no European solidarity, as Italy has learnt. When it's a matter of life and death nations and nation states are what count, not abstract principles or internationalism or social class. But it is better so - had the European Union tried to interfere it would have made things worse.

Talking of utterly corrupt international institutions I'd be happy if Coronavirus meant the end forever of the Olympic Games. Apparently Japan does not expect them to happen next year but need they happen at all? They long ago lost their original purpose.

They are now about business and drug taking rather than amateurism, the joy of taking part and a celebration of physical strength. 

Please bear in mind that there is no reason to suppose a vaccine will ever be developed for this virus and in any case the virus will mutate outwitting a putative vaccine. 

The US death toll now exceeds 40,000, mostly in New York State and New Jersey, though the numbers of dead in New York State fell yesterday to below 550. In Italy the daily death toll has fallen below 500. 

A third of two hundred participants in a Massachusetts study tested positive for antibodies linked to COVID-19 after giving their blood samples in the street at random. That suggests herd immunity is in sight, at least in New England.

90,000 cases have been recorded in Africa, but I imagine the real number in Africa is far higher and unknowable. This will be where the virus will probably kill most, unless it does not like hot weather.

I remember President Trump being jeered at by the press when he said his hunch was that the fatality rate for the Coronavirus was 1% or less. That was when the WHO was absurdly saying the rate was 3%. 

My hunch all along has been that the death rate was around 0.1% to 0.2% and this is what a new study by Stanford University suggests. It found Covid-19 antibodies in 50 to 85 times more people than previously thought in Santa Clara County, California, resulting in an infection fatality rate (IFR) comparable with a bad flu, though of course the Coronavirus is much more infectious than a normal flu. Professor John Ioannidis explains the study in a new video.

It is important to be aware of the difference between the case fatality rate (CFR) and the infection fatality rate (IFR). CFR is the number of deaths divided by the number of confirmed cases of disease, which depends on how many people are tested. IFR is the number of deaths divided by the number of actual infections, which also depends on how many people are tested. All these figures are questionable.

In a new analysis, the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford argues that the IFR is between 0.1% and 0.36%. Even with people over 70 with no serious preconditions, it is less than 1%. 

Sunday 19 April 2020

They are ‘actually quite glad they are not the prime minister’

An anonymous cabinet minister told the Sunday Times, “People are realising they are actually quite glad they are not prime minister — and most of them never thought they would say that.”

Saturday 18 April 2020

London looks like a scene from a thriller

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

London looks like a scene from an Edwardian thriller, by Edgar Wallace or John Buchan. There was an Avengers episode where Steed and Mrs Peel wake up (in separate establishments, of course) to find London is deserted.

Sir Edwin Landseer carved the lions in Trafalgar Square. I read, in one of the countless Edwardian memoirs I devoured pointlessly between Cambridge and the start of real life, if you can call it real, that he bought an old, toothless circus lion to model his lions. One day he invited some society ladies to tea, forgetting that his lion was in the drawing room. The ladies ran away in horror (it was before feminism) crying out, 'Oh, Mr. Landseer, a lion!'

Friday 17 April 2020

Virus quotations

Stone Walls do not a Prison make,

Nor Iron bars a Cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an Hermitage.

If I have freedom in my Love,

And in my soul am free,

Angels alone that soar above,

Enjoy such Liberty.

Colonel Lovelace, one of 'the wits of either Charles's days, The mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease' (Pope) and a favourite poet of mine when I was a romantic boy of 14.

Will this pandemic prove the decisive factor in America's retreat from global hegemony?

With the U.S. budget deficit for 2020 originally set at $1 trillion, now triple that, there is going to be a hard reckoning for the allocation of our diminished resources after the nation reopens.

And policing the planet is likely to be seen as yesterday's priority, and a primary candidate for discard.

Pat Buchanan

Deaths from respiratory illnesses in UK 2 years ago and this year

Professor Anthony Costello of University College London's Institute for Global Health told the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee the UK "could see 40,000 deaths in this wave" of coronavirus cases.

Presumably that includes deaths before and after the lockdown is lifted, because we can't wait till the last man dies before lifting it.

Two years ago 58,000 deaths from respiratory illnesses were recorded in the UK, 40,000 more than normal, and the increase was scarcely mentioned in the press.

The mystery of the empty hospital beds

The Nightingale hospital's 4,000 beds are still almost empty, yet London hospital cases with Covid-19 are declining. If coronavirus had hit the NHS anything like as bad as predicted, it would have been filled several times over
The rapidly built Nightingale hospital in London has 4,000 beds, almost all empty, yet London hospital cases with Covid-19 are declining. If coronavirus had hit the NHS anything like as bad as predicted, it would have been filled several times over

To prepare for the expected surge in Covid-19 cases, British hospitals discharged patients and emptied beds. Fortunately, the Covid-19 models were wrong: the ICU surge never happened. Not only are British hospitals not overwhelmed, they have some 37,500 empty beds, four times more than is normal for this time of year. The lockdown was imposed to prevent the British National Health Service being overwhelmed. This will not happen, thank God, but the lockdown continues indefinitely, at least until Boris is well enough to make a decision.

The temporary corona hospitals built near New York were largely empty a week ago. The federal medical facilities at the Javits Center and the USNS Comfort were filled with empty hospital beds and operating at about one-tenth capacity on Tuesday. 

Private hospitals in Pennsylvania lost money by saving beds for Corona virus patients who did not come, I am pleased to say. The hospitalisation rate in New York was overestimated by a factor of seven. A Covid-19 field hospital set up near Seattle in the USA was closed after three days without admitting any patients. The hospitals famously built at very short notice near Wuhan were mostly under-utilised or even empty and then dismantled after a short time. 

Many intensive care beds in Germany and Switzerland are empty.

A big field hospital that was set up near Stockholm remains closed due to lack of demand. The number of patients in intensive care units remains low so far in Sweden which does not have a lockdown. There have been 1400 deaths with Covid-19 in Sweden, 139 per million, but the numbers are rising. There were 67 deaths yesterday, the highest single-day death toll in Sweden so far.

Enjoying the lockdown

I must say I am being completely irresponsible and heartless and loving this lockdown. But the economic consequences of the lockdown do not bear thinking about and so I do not think about them.
"We have learnt no end of a lesson.
It will do us no end of good."

Will this be true of the lockdown? It may do us no end of harm.

Am I the only one who is secretly dreading the end of lockdown?

lists a lot of good things about the lockdown, including no journey to work, delicious food, time to read, conference calls in pyjamas, a valid excuse for avoiding people.

Why does Eastern Europe have the virus under control?

Mass migration and globalisation made the virus crisis happen. 

East European emigrants returned home for lack of work abroad and brought back the virus to their motherlands. Contrast the speed with which the Coronavirus spread with the Bubonic Plague (an immeasurably worse disease, of course) that took seven months to cross Europe. Yet, despite the infected returning natives, Eastern Europe is doing much better than Western Europe.

Deaths from the virus per million. Romania 21. Moldova 16 (but are Moldovan statistics reliable?) Hungary 16. Bulgaria 6. Czechia 16. Slovakia 1. Poland 8. Bosnia 14. Albania 9.

Romania compares badly with her neighbours, but look westwards. Belgium 445. Spain 413. Italy 367. France 275. UK 202. USA 105. 

Chinese figures are of course worthless.

Eastern European countries to some extent have infections under control, even though many or most of these countries have inadequate hospitals and their medical staff complained about insufficient equipment. Why?

Many introduced lockdowns before richer countries, partly because they knew how inadequate their health systems were. Also in post-Communist societies people accept orders and have what Douglas Murray, quoting Unamuno, calls the tragic sense of life. 

The Czech Republic closed her schools and borders on March 12, Slovakia introduced a state of emergency on the same day. Poland closed her borders, restaurants and shopping centres on March 13. 

The Romanian President was notably slower but closed hotels and bars on the 17th and by March 24 imposed a full lockdown, the day after Boris Johnson did the same in the UK.

Not long ago the explanation seemed to be simply that Eastern Europe is two weeks behind Western Europe. I hope this is not the case and no longer think it is. I think the obvious explanation is that there is much less traffic and commerce between Eastern European countries and the rest of the world than between Western Europe and other continents. 

Lack of globalisation may have saved the Eastern Europe from the virus, as it so far has from other evils too.

Another explanation is that in Romania (and elsewhere in Eastern Europe) they don't test as much as in the West. Many of the dead had the virus and other things and were recorded as having died of those other illnesses. But the way to control for this factor is to look at the one reliable statistic: the crude weekly number of deaths from all causes.


"The individual is foolish; the multitude, for the moment is foolish, when they act without deliberation; but the species is wise, and, when time is given to it, as a species it always acts right." 
Edmund Burke

"To the man-in-the-street who, I'm sorry to say,
Is a keen observer of life,
The word intellectual suggests right away
A man who's untrue to his wife."
W.H. Auden

"Not heav'n itself upon the past has pow'r."
 Dryden translating Horace applies to Brexit.

"Think you, if Laura had been Petrarch's wife,
He would have written sonnets all his life?"
Lord Byron, Don Juan

"Christians have killed each other quite persuaded
That all the apostles would have done as they did."

"A sleepy Venus seemed Dudu, 
Yet very fit to "murder sleep" in those, 
Who gazed upon her cheek's transcendent hue, 
Her Attic forehead, and her Phidian nose : 
Few angles were there in her form, 'tis true, 
Thinner she might have been, and yet scarce lose :
Thinner she might have been, and yet scarce lose 
Yet, after all, 't would puzzle to say where 
lt would not_spoil some separate charm to pare."

I remember a Spectator cartoon in which an ineffably languorous young man says to a languid beauty: 

I jumped from the working class to the upper class without landing in between.

To which languid beauty replies languidly: Then why are you wearing a diver's watch?