Saturday 27 February 2021

Technology and the decline of the nation state

Most people nowadays no longer live in villages, towns or cities but on the internet. 

On the internet nations are an abstract idea.

Some states restrict internet use (China, Vietnam, Russia, countries in the Middle East and in the future the European Union) but only three that I know of (Turkmenistan, Cuba and North Korea) more or less ban it altogether. 

In the democratic countries so far the internet is not linked to territory. 

I could be writing these lines from Bucharest, Bukhara or Timbuktoo. In fact, I am writing this in Bodrum in Turkey. 

Distance has been abolished. Have nations?

Abolishing distance creates many problems. Only the naive imagined that this might not be so. 

People are happy now to work at home, not realising that if they can do their jobs remotely so can people in poorer countries for less money.

An Englishman in Bucharest can live there for decades, speak English at work, with his friends, in shops and restaurants, inform himself through English language sites on the internet and through English language television and never learn Romanian.

I know hundreds of such people.

Americans do the same in Paris.

So do many Arabs in London, perhaps attending a local Saudi-funded Wahhabi mosque, though not speaking English is much more limiting than only speaking English.

This state of affairs predates the internet, by the way. Major-General Richard Clutterbuck, the only sociologist I ever came across who was not left-wing, pointed out in the 1980s that because of satellite television and many other things there was no longer a culture in England to which immigrants could be hoped to assimilate.

It was also back in the 1980s that Steve Cohen, a leading English immigration lawyer and author of several books about racism "from a Marxist perspective", said that countries do not belong to the people living in them.

Yet not long ago the world was not globalised. From the first to the nineteenth century the Catholic Church was the only institution in the world that was universal. 

Tuesday 23 February 2021

Ursula von der Leyen has “disgraced Europe”

'Die Zeit newspaper's Alan Posener said that “if the British were still EU citizens, they would be like us: instead of having vaccinations, simply waiting for Godot”. Der Spiegel said that the EU had attempted to secure the vaccines in a “hare-brained manner, as if it were a summer sale, a bargain hunt on a whim.” Peter Tiede of the daily Bild newspaper claimed that von der Leyen had “disgraced Europe”.
'Not everyone, however, shares these views. Ellen 't Hoen, is a lawyer and public health advocate at research group Medicines, Laws and Policy, and is former policy director for Médecins sans Frontières’ Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. Speaking to The Lancet, she said people should be cautious before envying the UK's approach. “What is the UK going to gain if other countries in Europe don’t have the vaccine?"'
From an article in The Lancet on Saturday. The answer to Ellen t'Hoen's question is obvious. A schoolboy or girl of six could answer it. A much more interesting question is what does her question mean and what makes her ask it.

Sunday 21 February 2021

Rereading novels

Nabokov said as soon as you have finished a novel you should immediately reread it. I am sure he is right. But I find it almost impossible to read a book at all.

One night in the summer of 2015 I left my telephone in the office and my WiFi wasn’t working at home. I couldn’t get on the internet on desktop or tablets and so I managed 2 chapters of War and Peace.

War and Peace IS ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL, very readable indeed, undoubtedly the best novel I ever read, but I had started it in February to get ready for visiting Russia in May and didn't finish it for almost two years.

The only other book I read in 2015 was a 150 page book with big type by Lucian Boia, "Cum s-a romanizat Romania", which I picked up in a tent selling books while hanging around Vama Veche. I read it while waiting for a friend who was two or three hours late because my telephone was almost out of battery.

Of making many books there is no end and much study wearies the body (Ecclesiastes 12.12), but at least when you read a book you do come to an end. The problem with the internet is that you never reach an end to it. There’s always something else to click on.

Even the pandemic has not led me to read many books, though I read very many articles about Donald Trump.

Does anyone have any tips as to how to read these days? 

I have one. I have given up social media and reading the news and anything political for Lent. 

It sort of works but do I have the willpower to continue it after Lent?

Holidays help. I picked up, packed and read The End of the Affair by Graham Greene for the third time when I went away last summer. 

I was in tears as always, though I almost never cry. 

This reminds me of a Romanian femme fatale, who once asked me if Englishmen ever felt emotion. 

I replied yes, certainly, when we think about the Queen.

Friday 19 February 2021

Governments did nothing about the Hong Kong Flu of 1968 which was much worse than Covid-19

Asian Flu emerged in China early in 1957 and spread by September to the UK, where doctors were “amazed at the extraordinary infectivity of the disease”. 

Some GPs called for the British government to issue a warning about the virus and coordinate measures to deal with it. 

One doctor writing to the BMJ in June 1957 said,
“The public seems under the impression that nothing can be done to prevent the calamity that is threatened by the advance of influenza in the Far East. On the contrary there is a great deal that the Government can do; by acting at once they may save hundreds of thousands of lives.”
These calls were ignored and the press did not make a big thing of the pandemic.

The flu burnt itself out by April 1958, after the deaths of about 20,000 people in the UK and more than 1 million deaths worldwide.

Between 1 and 4 million people died of the Hong Kong Flu of 1968, with half the deaths among individuals aged up to 65 — very much in contrast to Covid-19, 90% of whose victims are 65 or over.  

Life in 1968, as in 1958, continued as normal. 

Daddy and I spent two or three days in bed with the Hong Kong Flu, doing puzzles in my Rupert Bear annual.  

Thursday 18 February 2021

Romania leads the rest of the EU

The Romanian government chose not to impose another lockdown after the one that ended in May and the economy outperformed the rest of the European Union last quarter.

Output not only grew from the previous three months, but surged by more than 10 times what analysts had expected. The expansion of 5.3% puts it ahead of all other EU members to have reported data so far.

Boris is Hillary in drag

I keep saying that Boris Johnson is not Donald Trump but Hillary Clinton in drag, if you can imagine her with eloquence, a sense of humour and a quick mind, which obviously you can't. 

The things he has in common with the Donald are charisma (dread word, Wallace Arnold would say) and the ability to make good jokes, but not ideas or political philosophy.

After he bottled out of his initial, short-lived inclination to try the Swedish policy of going for herd immunity Boris has instituted three lockdowns.

In 2008 when he was Mayor of London he called for an amnesty for hundreds of thousands of (or maybe well over a million) illegal immigrants in London, saying that deporting them from the UK is "just not going to happen". He is right about that last bit. 

He repeated his call for an amnesty in 2013 and in 2015.

Now he has announced that he is in favour of three million Chinese in Hong Kong having the right to settle in the UK. 

Hillary Clinton, eight days before she lost the 2016 election, said that regime change in Syria was her 'top priority'. It was also Boris Johnson's policy as British Foreign Secretary back then and he would happily have helped her achieve it. He rowed back from it after Donald Trump became president and said President Assad could stay for a while. 

Wednesday 17 February 2021

Lockdowns seem not to work

The best thing I read recently about the pandemic is this article about Sweden from Spiked. It seems to me pretty much to prove that Sweden did not lose by not having a lockdown.

When Sweden decided not to lockdown in March, we were told it would lead to nearly 100,000 deaths by 1 July. The actual total ended up being 5,490. Infections and deaths were falling from mid-April, pretty much at the same time as in most other European countries with strict lockdowns.
If you click on the link above, you see the estimate of nearly 100,000 Swedish Covid deaths comes from Yale University. Modelling by Professor Neil Ferguson's team at Imperial College, London predicted 85,000 Covid deaths.

Then in the winter Covid came back in Sweden and now is ebbing away again, again without a lockdown.

We have to assume that this illness is to some extent seasonal, which Professor Ferguson assumes it isn't.

By now, eleven months after lockdowns started, there should be proof that they work. There isn't.

Tuesday 16 February 2021

"We should have hanged George Washington. He was the worst sort of populist."

I left Facebook and will leave Twitter tomorrow for Lent and perhaps for good. Today I got my first suspension from social media, for twelve hours, for commenting on a post by the  American political opportunist Nikki Haley, praising George Washington as the president in office when the US Constitution was written. 

I commented, as I always repeat, that it was a shame we didn't hang him. I showed some originality by adding that he was the worst sort of populist. In a split second I was suspended for twelve hours. Oh well. 

Magna est veritas et prævalet. Great is the truth, and it prevails.

Everyone else pointed out that Washington wasn't president when the constitution was written. How could the presidency be older than the constitution? She is another inhumanly stupid politician, more stupid than Old Man Biden, Ursula von der Leyen or possibly even Theresa May. 

Thursday 11 February 2021

Most people in Stockholm who died of or with Covid last spring would have died in a few months anyway

More than 70% of people who died with Covid-19 in Sweden, up to the middle of May 2020, were people in elderly care institutions. This is a much higher proportion than in other countries. More people died in Sweden than Norway and Denmark because Sweden had no lockdown, but a very big reason was the failure to look after people in nursing homes. 

As Anders Tegnell, the Swedish chief epidemiologist, pointed out, it is hard to see how a lockdown would have prevented the disease from entering the elderly care homes.

Those who died of Covid-19 in Stockholm’s nursing homes had a 'life-remaining median' somewhere in the range of 5 to 9 months. Median life expectancy means the age which half of people will die without reaching and half of people will live past.

Most people worldwide who died with Covid-19 were over 80. Many of those, perhaps most, would have died within months anyway. 

Most might not have died of Covid at all, but simply with Covid.

A report on deaths with Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate in old people's facilities in another Swedish province showed that 75% of the deaths were not caused by Covid-19.

Dr Horatiu Moldovan, the Romanian secretary of state at the Ministry of Health, said back in May that he had examined in detail all Covid related deaths in Romania and 80% of Covid related deaths in Romania were not deaths from Covid. 

Old people, he explained, die because they are old and frail. Once their immune system breaks down they catch every infection going. If Covid-19 is going they catch that.

Wednesday 10 February 2021

YouGov poll in Great Britain

 Britons think facing up to ten years in jail for lying on a passenger locator form in order to avoid quarantine is...

Too harsh - 30% About right - 51% Not harsh enough - 13%

Tuesday 9 February 2021

Swedish cases of Covid-19 have fallen away, again without a lockdown

A lot more people died in Sweden of Covid-19 than I had hoped and expected last spring. Much of the much higher death toll than in Norway was because of the negligent way in which the Swedes treated old people's homes. 

By the summer the epidemic was over there but they didn’t avoid a second wave, as I had expected them to do. 

I expected it because no respiratory infection has come back since the Spanish Flu of 1918-20. I assumed the other countries would have second waves because lockdowns had pushed deaths into the future. 

I wonder why Sweden had a second wave. Perhaps because without a lockdown people took lots of measures not to mix. So herd immunity is not achieved. 

In December as a result of the second wave restrictions were imposed in Sweden, which was taken by the foreign press as an admission that the arguments for lockdown were compelling. These restrictions were mild stuff:  limits on opening hours of bars and restaurants, closing schools for pupils aged 16 and above and recommending masks on public transport.

Still, from the end of December, Sweden has experienced the same steady decline in cases as elsewhere: a 60% decrease in positive tests from 7,136 on 20 December (taking a seven-day average) to 2,875. That’s almost exactly the same as in the locked down UK, where the Deputy Chief Medical Officer is warning people about making holiday plans for the summer and there is even talk of wearing masks to continue into next year or even beyond.

QAnon and Black Lives Matter are cults born in the social media

QAnon is the clearest example of a cult born on social media: there is no way it would have reached the size it did without social media.' 

So says Stanford University's Renée DiResta, who is is researching online conspiracies. 

Black Lives Matter is another clear example, but does not worry most researchers at famous American universities. 

They probably approve of the BLM movement as a spontaneous movement protesting against injustice, though there was nothing spontaneous about it and the injustices in question were spurious and based on misinformation on social media. 

The expert class is very frightened of the public and the power the social media give the public, but it is not the possibility of a left-wing revolution that worries them. The spectre that haunts them is not the spectre of Communism, although the Black Lives Matter movement is explicitly Marxist, but fascism. 

But even more what frightens them is conservatism.

To feel comfortable you need your own approval

A land that lacks your sacred rites cannot supply guards for its borders. But it can if you are willing. Who would dare to be matched with this god?

quae tuis careat sacris,
non queat dare praesides
terra finibus: at queat
te volente. quis huic deo
compararier ausit?
Catullus 61.71-75 (translated by Michael Gilleland). The god is Hymen, the god of marriage.

“Writing makes a critical mass of one's true self.”  

Ira Lightman

"To feel comfortable you need your own approval."
Mark Twain
"Propaganda is often not used for indoctrination, but rather to signal the government’s strength in being able to afford significant resources and impose on its citizens...not meant to 'brainwash', but rather to forewarn the society about how strong it is."
Haifeng Huang, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California

“What should our policy be towards non-Marxist ideas? As far as unmistakable counter-revolutionaries and saboteurs of the socialist cause are concerned, the matter is easy, we simply deprive them of their freedom of speech.”
Chairman Mao

Sunday 7 February 2021

The King is dead

Yesterday was the 69th anniversary of King George VI's death and Queen Elizabeth II's accession to the throne.

'The King is dead' are very powerful words. 

'The King' is much much more powerful than 'the Queen'.

Frederic Harrison said his first memory was of his father paying a very rare visit to the nursery and saying,

'Frederic, I am going to tell you something now that you will remember for the rest of your life. The King is dead.'

'I said, "Oh, papa, who will be King now?" and my father said, "We are not going to have a king. We are going to have a queen."

' I said, "So, it has come to that." '

Wednesday 3 February 2021

German business guru: "By failing to procure vaccines, the EU has validated Brexit"

“It is dawning on the German and European population that the political class has failed across the board in meeting the enormous economic and social challenges of the Corona crisis. It marks the accelerating decline of the EU.

"...Everybody in the economic sphere now knows that whenever there is a problem at a production site in the EU, there is a risk of being hit with an export ban: vaccines today, biotech tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow what?

“This destruction of trust in the EU as a place of business (Standort EU) is all of a piece with its tendency towards over-regulation and planned-economy control. The gap between wish and reality in the EU is greater than ever. By failing to procure vaccines, the EU has validated Brexit and given all EU citizens an objective reason for euroscepticism.
Daniel Stelter, a widely respected German business writer, in Manager Magazin, quoted by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph’s Economic Intelligence newsletter.

An anonymous highly placed source in Brussels told a British journalist, Simon Kuper, in 2018 that Europe’s ruling political class no longer identified with Britain’s Conservatives because they had embraced a nineteenth-century nationalism unparalleled among Western European governments. The British conservative politicians are not nationalists but they and the British have rediscovered belief in the nation. I think everyone in Europe has, thanks to the pandemic and especially thanks to Ursula von der Leyen.

British Secretary of Health Matt Hancock says he overruled advice and ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine rather than 30 million because the film Contagion had taught him there would be a global scramble for vaccine. He says every Brit needed to be jabbed “and I wasn’t going to settle for less”.

I can't see any reason why healthy people under 50 need a vaccine but the important point is that he on his tod made the decision and had he got it badly wrong it would have probably cost him his job.

How differently things work in the European Commission where Mrs von der Leyen accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the AstraZeneca mess, even though she handled procurement of vaccines personally, says
the European Union should be proud of its vaccination strategy. 

She asks with astonishing brass neck that she should be judged when her term of office ends in 2024.

Simon Kuper said back in 2018 that wanting to punish Britain isn't personal with most Eurocrats, just business.
"Europe’s ruling classes do want Brexit to hurt Britain – but chiefly so as to shut up the continent’s anti-European populists."

That is still their strategy. With Ursula von der Leyen reportedly it is Brexit that motivated her to try to stop AZ sending vaccines to the UK. 

That strategy is in big trouble now. 

We shall see what the rest of the year brings but January 2021 feels like an historical turning point.

Great Britain never ceased to be great until 2016 when she almost became a failed state

Neville Chamberlain is very unfairly treated. He was a great man in the wrong place at the wrong time. In his day Great Britain was considered the most powerful country in the world.

The war changed that.

Eden was not a great man, though his contemporaries thought he was. By invading Egypt and then withdrawing at Eisenhower's behest, he showed the world how weak we had become. After him all British governments have been satellites of the USA.

In the 1970s Britain was regularly called the sick man of Europe and this sense of decline was what led Macmillan and Heath to take us into the EEC - Labour leader Harold Wilson who opposed entry would also have taken us in. The one man who could have prevented it was his predecessor Hugh Gaitskell, who opposed entry but who died suddenly in 1962.

After we joined the sense of decline got much worse during the Labour governments of 1974-79.

Still, even in all those years from Suez to Brexit, even if the British did not know it (and they didn't), Great Britain remained a great country in every way that can be measured.

She has always one of very powerful and respected countries except for two historical periods: during the reign of King Charles II, who was subsidised secretly by Louis XIV, and in the three years when Theresa May was humiliated by Brussels and almost led us to perdition, by becoming vassals of an EU over whose policies we had no influence.

This is what Boris has saved the country from. This is why his trade deal is comparable with the Glorious Revolution (so called, I am a sentimental Jacobite) of 1689.

1689 was the English Revolution and Brexit is the British Revolution.

I give Boris the credit for getting the UK out of the Houdini-like box Michel Barnier and the witless Theresa May had constructed.

I should add that successful revolutions have many authors and the man who deserves most credit for Brexit is the oft maligned Nigel Farage.

Tuesday 2 February 2021

If there weren't a statue to Charles de Gaulle in London already we should have built one now

The reason?

He vetoed the UK joining the EEC twice.

At the time it was considered typically ungrateful and bloody-minded of him, but he was right.

His words in 1970 are the epigraph to Robert Tombs' new book, This Sovereign Isle: Britain In and Out of Europe.

'Our neighbours across the Channel, being made for free trade by the maritime character of their economic life, cannot possibly agree sincerely to shut themselves up behind a continental tariff wall.' 

Jacques Chirac was a very much less admirable man, in fact a devious, adulterous crook, but he too deserves a statue for begging the US and UK not to invade Iraq in 2003.

Mrs von der Leyen's vaccine fiasco: we miss Jean-Claude Juncker already

"We mustn't gloat. This is no time to gloat. But I can tell you, I am gloating like hell." (William Whitelaw)

The British government is the midwife of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Oxford University was planning to collaborate with Merck, a US firm, but London did not want Donald Trump to be able to seize all the vaccines for US use. The British invested the very large sums of money to enable the Oxford or AZ vaccine to be developed and has earnt a debt of gratitude from the whole world.

The EU, who still haven't paid a large part of their bill for the AZ vaccine, should have praised the British effusively and said, 'Thank you very much, Boris - we owe you one. We are happy to wait patiently in the queue until you vaccinate your vulnerable and old people before we obtain the vaccine.'


I remember a journalist on Twitter saying "You'll miss him when he's gone" when a film clip emerged of Jean-Claude Juncker unsteadily circling other dignitaries at an outdoor ceremony in Africa with a blazing flambeau.

That prediction didn't take long to come true.

Herr Juncker said in a speech in Stuttgart on Sunday that he was "very much opposed" to his successor Frau von der Leyen's export restriction measures. 

He and everyone else.

“Isn’t European management of the vaccines the best advertisement for Brexit?” the French minister of state for European affairs of France was asked yesterday. 

He replied: “I don’t think so. This has nothing to do with Brexit. The British are in an extremely difficult sanitary situation. They are taking a lot of risks with their vaccination programme. I can understand that. They have spaced out massively the delay between the two injections, up to 42 days. Our scientists tell us you mustn't do that."

"They are relying primarily on one single vaccine, which is AstraZeneca, and the German authority has already said there are doubts about its efficacy for the over 65s. In the UK they're using it for that group."

Actually Oxford scientists are sure the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective for people over 65. 

The Pfizer vaccine has also already been rolled out across Britain and the Moderna coronavirus vaccine has been approved for use. Not to mention the Novavax and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. And more coming along.

The UK has now vaccinated 9.2 million people, out of a population of 67 million. 

The idea that without a hard border people in the Republic of Ireland, who don't have vaccines, would sell vaccines to Northern Ireland, where they have lots, is the proof of how completely useless Ursula v d Leyen is.

Matt Hancock, British Secretary of State for Health last night:

“I want to say this to our international partners. Of course I’m delighted about how well this is going at home. But I believe fundamentally that the vaccine roll-out is a global effort… So we will protect UK supply, and play our part to ensure the whole world can get the jab…”

The EU has almost unbelievably lost the opinion writers in the Financial Times and it has lost even more than that - it has lost the German press. 

What a difference this debacle makes, not just for a week but for many years to come, to British opinion (Macron wants to kill British people aged over 65) but also to European and world opinion. 

The AstraZeneca story is a parable.