Friday, June 26, 2020

Sweden ‘followed classic pandemic model’ fighting COVID-19 pandemic

A Swedish expert says the world “went crazy” when they didn’t follow Sweden’s “classic pandemic model” to fight the coronavirus.

Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, who is largely behind the approach of keeping large parts of the country open during the coronavirus pandemic, says he was surprised to see other European Union countries close their borders.

Anders Tegnell, chief epidemiologist for Sweden’s Public Health Agency, described his country’s strategy in a program by Swedish public radio channel Sveriges Radio P1 as a “classic pandemic model” that he had been discussing with international colleagues for 20 years.

Tegnell said “it was as if the world went crazy and everything we discussed seemed completely forgotten”.

Sweden, a country of 10 million people, has so far recorded 62,324 coronavirus cases and 5209 deaths.

Tegnell said the coronavirus was unpredictable and stressed it was difficult to know which methods had the best effect.

A recent survey in Dagens Nyheter, one of Sweden’s largest newspapers, showed that support for Sweden’s Public Health Agency had dropped to 57 per cent in June from 69 per cent in April.

When most of Europe was in government-enforced lockdown, Sweden went against the grain.

The country’s unique strategy to deal with the deadly coronavirus without tanking the economy was to keep schools, cafes, restaurants and shops open, while encouraging people to voluntarily distance themselves and work from home. The idea was that the country would achieve “herd immunity” – a level of the disease where most of the population has been infected, and subsequently developed immunity, which would in turn stop the virus from spreading.

But a recent study has found the number of Swedes who have formed antibodies to the virus is smaller than expected, dashing hopes that herd immunity can be achieved.

The study, carried out by the country’s Public Health Agency and published last week, found that just 6.1 per cent of the country’s population had developed coronavirus antibodies by late May. This figure falls far short of the 40 per cent predicted by Anders Tegnell, the country’s chief epidemiologist.



The Confederate-Monument Controversy Is a Democrat-vs-Democrat Question

How should we think about those Confederate statues and those Confederate names on U.S. military bases?

If I were a Republican, I might be very strongly tempted to just sit this one out: If some Democrats want to pull down statues of other Democrats, then that’s a mess in the Democrats’ house. The Republicans might say, “You guys sort this one out. We’ll be over here with Honest Abe.” But, of course, they are not over there with Honest Abe — they’re down there with Dishonest Don, who cannot help but make everything about himself, even when doing so doesn’t serve his interests.

The Confederate controversy is a Democrat-vs.-Democrat question, but, fundamentally, so are the riots and arson and looting in Minneapolis and elsewhere. Those guys in the black uniforms setting fire to the police station are not, I think we can safely assume, for the most part registered Republicans. I haven’t seen a single pair of penny loafers or pleated khakis in the whole scene. We have default Democratic voters rioting in protest of the failure of Democratic policies cooked up by Democratic municipal governments and implemented, sometimes with lethal brutality, by Democrat-managed agencies. It takes a certain kind of perverse political genius for Republicans to get themselves on the wrong side of that, but there they are.

It is easy for a middle-aged white conservative to look at the fight over this statue or that base name and think of it as a silly exercise in cultural small ball, in that we could replace every statue of Jefferson Davis with a statue of Malcolm X and the schools would still stink in Philadelphia and St. Louis would still have an absurd murder rate.

The more cynical among us even suspect from time to time that these fights over monuments are provoked intentionally by the Democrats in order to distract from those Democratic governance failures in Democrat-run cities: “Well, yes, we Democrats have been running the police department in Minneapolis lo these many years, but what about Robert E. Lee?” But people have a right to their own priorities, even if those priorities mystify middle-aged white conservatives.

For some younger people on the right, this appears to be a straightforward issue. National Review recently published an excellent essay on the subject, arguing that the Southern rebellion against the duly constituted government put in place by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson was nothing like the rebellion of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson against the duly constituted government of their time. (The essay was written by Cameron Hilditch, our new William F. Buckley fellow, who hails from Belfast, where they are the world’s leading authorities on domestic tranquility and getting everybody on the same page behind the Union.)

The essay makes several excellent and true points: The Southern cause was not very much like the cause of 1776, as the Confederate leaders themselves attested, and there is no denying that the Southern cause was the cause of human bondage and white supremacy. Hilditch sums up: “Those who led a bloody rebellion against [the Union] flag to preserve an economy of human subjugation were traitors to the nation our military serves; they don’t deserve to be honored.”

That is an easy view to take in 2020. At the end of the Civil War and in its immediate aftermath, they took a different view. Surrendering Confederate troops were treated with military courtesy and offered courtesy in return, “honor answering honor” as General Joshua Chamberlain described the scene at Appomattox Court House. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned for a short period of time and treated harshly at first, but ultimately he was released on bail — paid in part by Horace Greeley and Gerrit Smith, both abolitionists — and then given amnesty by President Andrew Johnson. When Greeley’s fellow Republicans criticized him for extending his hand to Davis, he dismissed them as “narrow-minded blockheads, who would like to be useful to a great and good cause, but don’t know how.” Robert E. Lee was President U. S. Grant’s guest in the White House and became the president of Washington College, known today as Washington and Lee University.

President Lincoln had offered amnesty to most of the Confederate soldiers and functionaries, with pointed exceptions: “all who are, or shall have been civil or diplomatic officers or agents of the so-called Confederate government; all who have left judicial stations under the United States to aid the rebellion; all who are, or shall have been military or naval officers of said so-called confederate government, above the rank of Colonel in the Army, or of lieutenant in the Navy; all who left seats in the United States Congress to aid the rebellion; all who resigned commissions in the army or navy of the United States, and afterwards aided the rebellion; and all who have engaged in any way, in treating colored persons, or white persons in charge of such, otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war, and which persons may have been found in the United States service as soldiers, seamen, or in any other capacity.”

Andrew Johnson was not a president to be very proud of. But President Grant as General Grant had actually fought the war, and he carried on President Lincoln’s legacy in important ways: appointing African Americans to federal office, prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan, and pursuing the cause of civil rights through constitutional reform and other measures. Was he wrong to honor Robert Lee with a White House visit and to treat other Confederate leaders with honor and charity? Are we so much wiser?

Maybe Grant was wrong — Lee remained an important force in Southern politics, an enemy of legal and civil equality for African Americans, insisting that black Americans had “neither the intelligence nor the other qualifications which are necessary to make them safe depositories of political power,” an opinion that long survived him and every other veteran of the Confederacy. The country probably would have been better off if the Radical Republicans had prevailed and imposed a more invasive model of Reconstruction than the one that was implemented.

Perhaps it was the case that Grant et al. were only being practical, doing what they felt they needed to do to keep the Union together and ensure the peace. Lee praised President Johnson as someone whose policy “has been doing much to strengthen the feeling in favor of the Union among us.” And, of course, he hated the Radical Republicans and had the audacity to blame them for feelings of disunion in the South:

They are working as though they wished to keep alive by their proposals in Congress the bad blood in the South against the North. If left alone the hostility which must be felt after such a war would rapidly decrease, but it may be continued by incessant provocation. The Southerners took up arms honestly: surely it is to be desired that the good-will of our people be encouraged, and that there should be no inciting them against the North. To the minds of the Southern men the idea of “Union” was ridiculous when the states that made the Union did not desire it to continue; but the North fought for the Union, and now, if what appears to be the most powerful party among them is to have its own way, they are doing their best to destroy all real union. If they succeed, “Union” can only be a mere name.

So if it is difficult to rehabilitate the name of Robert E. Lee, General Lee himself bears more than a little of the blame for that, though what this has to do with the behavior of police officers in Minneapolis in the second decade of the 21st century is something less than obvious. There is an argument that the police misbehavior in Minneapolis and the statues in Mississippi are part of the same vast edifice of white supremacy, which must be attacked on both the symbolic and the  practical fronts. And underneath the vandalism and hysteria and political opportunism, there is a reasonable argument for that point of view, not that the rioters and arsonists have any great interest in reasonable argument.

Conservatives should acknowledge that reasonable argument, but we should not permit its being used as political cover for a Democratic retreat from the failure of Democratic policies in Democratic cities into the safe abstraction of “white supremacy.” There are specific, urgent, and immediate questions that demand answers in Minneapolis, and those are questions mainly for its Democratic mayor, its Democratic city council, its progressive leadership and management class, for Democratic elected officials such as Representative Ilhan Omar, and a great many other people who are very comfortable talking about the ghastly moral failures of the Confederacy a century and a half ago but rather less eager to talk about the facts on the ground in Minneapolis in the here and now.

Of course the past matters. (It is incredible that some people who call themselves conservatives have to be reminded of that.) But the present matters, too, and surely it deserves more of our attention than some potential slight to the very mixed legacies of Braxton Bragg or John Bell Hood. Given current events, the Democrats are very eager to change the subject. They should not be accommodated.



Voice of America:  Overdue reform begins

As I observed in my Townhall column back in December 2016, the present day VOA—once the bastion of America’s Cold War efforts to battle Communism through broadcast arms Radio Free Europe and, more recently, Radio Marti—bears scant resemblance to the pro-USA agency taxpayers came to expect. For example, few taxpayers I know would approve of articles VOA distributed before the 2016 election in Russian, Urkranian and other languages calling Donald J. Trump “a dog,” “a pig,” and other derogatory terms. And lavish waste and mismanagement has continued to be of concern by those charged with Congressional oversight over the past three years with little—if any—actual corrective action.

As I personally learned from insiders at VOA, management offices at the “independent” agency throughout the 2016 campaign were often festooned with Hillary Clinton posters, photos of prominent Democrats, and those goofy lifesized cardboard cutouts of Barack Obama that tourists used to pick up at the souvenir shop at Reagan Airport in Washington.  That’s perfectly okay if you’re working at the teachers union or Planned Parenthood or any other wholly-owned subsidiaries of the DNC, though hardly kosher at a taxpayer-supported agency of the Federal government. But I digress.

The resignations of VOA director Amanda Bennett and deputy director Sandy Sugawara—per the Washington Post—was cloaked in mystery. “It wasn’t immediately clear,” Farhi darkly suggests, why the two submitted their letters of resignation. But he adds they came “amid concerns within the agency” that the Trump administration may “exert greater control” over VOA reporting.

Which is the equivalent of suggesting that there is concern amid the cockroach population that pesticides like Black Flag and Raid might “exert greater control” over their proliferation in your pantry.

Kicking Donald Trump one final time as she scurried out the door before the arrival of the new sheriff, Bennett whined about the Trump Administration’s efforts to limit access for VOA reporters…adding that might possibly“result in the kind of chilling effect on our journalism that we regularly see in the markets we broadcast to that have no free press.”  (You mean like the rest of us are saddled with in New York and Washington, Amanda?)

In an earlier hyperventilation, Bennett countered President Trump’s criticisms of her agency (which he referred to in private lunch with U.S. Senators as “the Voice of the Soviet Union”) with the lame suggestion that “even China” has branded VOA reports as propaganda and has at times “expelled” VOA journalists. I guess Ms. Bennett was asleep during the college history class when they taught how Nazis during World War II would shoot one of their own as “a spy” to cover their other anti-American activities.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Losing the wisdom of crowds

We’ve lived through the most bizarre experience of human folly in my lifetime, and perhaps in generations. Among the strangest aspects of this has been the near universal failure on the part of regular people, and even the appointed “experts” (the ones the government employs, in any case), to have internalized anything about the basics of viruses that my mother understands, thanks to her mother before who had a solid education in the subject after World War II.

Thus, for example, are all governments ready to impose new lockdowns should the infection data turn in the other direction. Under what theory, precisely, is this supposed to help matters? How does reimposing stay-home orders or mandating gym closures mysteriously manage to intimidate a virus into going away? “Run away and hide” seems to have replaced anything like a sophisticated understanding of viruses and immunities.

So I decided to download Molecular and Cell Biology for Dummies just to check if I’m crazy. I’m pleased to see that it clearly states that there are only two ways to defeat a virus: natural immunity and vaccines.

The book completely left out the option that almost the entire world embraced in March: destroy businesses, force everyone to hide in their homes, and make sure that no one gets close to anyone else. The reason that the text leaves that out is that the idea is essentially ridiculous, so much so that it was initially sold as a strategy to preserve hospital space and only later mutated into a general principle that the way to beat a virus is to avoid people and wear a mini-hazmat suit.

Here is the passage:

"For all of recorded history, humans have done a deadly dance with viruses. Measles, smallpox, polio, and influenza viruses changed the course of human history: Measles and smallpox killed hundreds of thousands of Native Americans; polio killed and crippled people, including US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; and the 1918 influenza epidemic killed more people than were killed during all of World War I.

For most viruses that attack humans, your only defenses are prevention and your own immune systems. Antibiotics don’t kill viruses, and scientists haven’t discovered many effective antiviral drugs.

Vaccines are little pieces of bacteria or viruses injected into the body to give the immune system an education. They work by ramping up your own defensive system so that you’re ready to fight the bacteria or virus upon first contact, without becoming sick first. However, for some viral diseases no vaccines exist, and the only option is to wait uncomfortably for your immune system to win the battle."

A virus is not a miasma, a cootie, or red goo like in the children’s book Cat in the Hat. There is no path toward waging much less winning a national war against a virus. It cares nothing about borders, executive orders, and titles. A virus is a thing to battle one immune system at a time, and our bodies have evolved to be suited to do just that. Vaccines can give advantage to the immune system through a clever hack. Even so, there will always be another virus and another battle, and so it’s been for hundreds of thousands of years.

If you read the above carefully, you now know more than you would know from watching 50 TED talks on viruses by Bill Gates. Though having thrown hundreds of millions of dollars into cobbling together some global plan to combat microbes, his own understanding seems not to have risen above a cooties theory of run away and hide.

There is another level of virus comprehension that came to be observed in the 1950s and then codified in the 70s. For many viruses, not everyone has to catch them to become immune and not everyone needs a vaccine if there is one. Immunity is achieved when a certain percentage of the population has contracted some form of virus, with symptoms or without, and then the virus effectively dies.

This has important implications because it means that vulnerable demographics can isolate for the active days of the virus, and return to normal life once “herd immunity” has been realized with infection within some portion of the non-vulnerable population. This is why every bit of medical advice for ederly people has been to avoid large crowds during the flu season and why getting and recovering for non-vulnerable groups is a good thing.

What you get from this virus advice is not fear but calm management. This wisdom – not ignorance but wisdom – was behind the do-no-harm approach to the polio epidemic of 1949-1952, the Asian flu of 1957-58, and the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69. Donald Henderson summed up this old wisdom beautifully: “Communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted.”

And that’s what we did for the one hundred years following the catastrophic Spanish flu of 1918. We never again attempted widespread closures or lockdown precisely because they had failed so miserably in the few places they were attempted.

The cooties theory attempted a comeback with the Swine flu of 2009 (H1N1) but the world was too busy dealing with a financial crisis so the postwar strategy of virus control and mitigation prevailed once again, thankfully. But then the perfect storm hit in 2020 and a new generation of virus mitigators got their chance to conduct a grand social experiment based on computer modeling and forecasting.

Next thing you know, we had this new vocabulary shoved down our throats and we all had to obey strangely arbitrary exhortations. “Go inside! No, wait don’t go inside!” “Stay healthy but shut the gyms!” “Get away from the virus but don’t travel!” “Don’t wear a mask, wait, do wear a mask!” (Now we can add: “Only gather in groups if you are protesting Trump”)

People started believing crazy things, as if we are medieval peasants, such as that if there is a group of people or if you stand too close to someone, the bad virus will spontaneously appear and you will get infected. Or that you could be a secret superspreader even if you have no symptoms, and also you can get the virus by touching almost anything.

Good grief, the sheer amount of unscientific phony baloney unleashed in these terrible three months boggles the mind. But that’s what happens in any panic. Apparently.

Now, something has truly been bugging me these months as I’ve watched the incredible unravelling of most of the freedoms we’ve long taken for granted. People were locked out of the churches and schools, businesses were shuttered, markets were closed, governors shoved through shelter in place orders meant not for disease control but aerial bomb raids, and masks were mandatory, all while regular people who otherwise seem smart hopped around each other like grasshoppers.

My major shock is discovering how much sheer stupidity exists in the population, particularly among the political class.

Forgive a defense of my use of the term “stupid” but it is technically correct. I take it from Albert Camus and his brilliant book The Plague (1947). “When a war breaks out, people say: ‘It’s too stupid; it can’t last long.’ But though a war may well be ‘too stupid,’ that doesn’t prevent its lasting. Stupidity has a knack of getting its way.”

Indeed it is true.

It was only last February when we seemed smart. We had amazing technology, movies on demand, a smartphone in our pockets to communicate with everyone and reveal all the world’s knowledge. There was peace more or less. There was prosperity. There was progress. Our medical systems worked. It seemed that only a few months ago, we had it all together. We seemed smart. Until suddenly stupid took over, or so it seemed.

Actually we weren’t smart as individuals. Our politicians were as dumb as they ever have been, and massive ignorance pervaded the population, then as always. What was smart last February was society and the processes that made society work in the good old days.

“Please explain.”

I shall.

Consider the social analytics of F.A. Hayek. His major theme is that the workings of the social order require knowledge and intelligence, but none of this essential knowledge subsists within any individual mind much less any political leader. The knowledge and intelligence necessary for society to thrive is instead decentralized throughout society, and comes to be embedded or instantiated within institutions and processes that gradually evolve from the free actions and choices of individuals.

What are those institutions? Market prices, supply chains, observations we make from the successful or unsuccessful choices of others that inform our habits and movements, manners and mores that work as social signals, interest rates that carefully coordinate the flow of money with our time preferences and risk tolerances, and even morals that govern our treatment of each other. All these come together to create a form of social intelligence that resides not in individual minds but rather the process of social evolution itself.

The trouble is that a well functioning society can create an illusion that it all happens not because of the process but rather because we are so damn smart or maybe we have wise leaders with a good plan. It seems like it must be so, else how could we have become so good at what we do? Hayek’s main point is that it is a mistake to credit individual intelligence or knowledge, much less good governments with brainy leaders, with civilizational achievements; rather, the real credit belongs to institutions and processes that no one in particular controls.

“To understand our civilisation,” Hayek writes, “one must appreciate that the extended order resulted not from human design or intention but spontaneously: it arose from unintentionally conforming to certain traditional and largely moral practices, many of which men tend to dislike, whose significance they usually fail to understand, whose validity they cannot prove, and which have nonetheless fairly rapidly spread by means of an evolutionary selection — the comparative increase of population and wealth — of those groups that happened to follow them.”

The lockdowns took a sledgehammer to these practices, processes, and institutions. It replaced them nearly overnight with new bureaucratic and police-state mandates that herded us into our homes and arbitrarily assigned new categories: elective vs non-elective medical procedures, essential vs nonessential business, permissible vs. impermissible forms of association, even to the point of measuring the distance from which we must be separated one from another. And just like that, via executive order, many of the institutions and processes were crushed under the boot of the political class.

What emerged to take its place? It’s sad to say but the answer is widespread ignorance. Despite having access to all the world’s knowledge in our pockets, vast numbers of politicians and regular people defaulted back to a premodern cognition of disease. People did this out of fear, and were suddenly and strangely acquiescent to political commands. I’ve had friends tell me that they were guilty of this back in the day, believing that mass death was imminent so the only thing to do was to shelter in place and comply with the edicts.

The seeming intelligence that we had only in February suddenly seemed to turn to mush. A better way to understand this is all our smartest institutions and practices were crushed, leaving only raw stupidity in its place.

Truth is that we as individuals are probably not much smarter than our ancestors; the reason we’ve made so much progress is due to the increasing sophistication of Hayek’s extended orders of association, signalling, capital accumulation, and technological know how, none of which are due to wise leaders in government and industry but are rather attributable to the wisdom of the institutions we’ve gradually built over decades, centuries, and a millenia.

Take those away and you reveal what we don’t really want to see.

Looking back, I’m very impressed at the knowledge and awareness that the postwar generation had toward disease mitigation. It was taught in the schools, handed down to several generations, and practiced in journalism and public affairs. That was smart. Something happened in the 21st century to cause a kind of breakage in that medical knowledge chain, and thus did societies around the world become vulnerable in the presence of a new virus to rule by charlatans, hucksters, media howlers, and would-be dictators.

With lockdown finally easing, we will see the return of what seems to be smart societies, and the gradual loss of the influence of stupid. But let us not deceive ourselves. It could be that we’ve learned nothing from the fiasco that unfolded before our eyes. If economies come to be restored, eventually, to their former selves, it will not be because we or our leaders somehow beat a virus. The virus outsmarted everyone. What will fix what the political class has broken is the freedom once again to piece back together the institutions and processes that create the extended order that makes us all feel smarter than we really are.




Taxpayers still on the hook for stadium debts, even though coronavirus canceled sports; but then, those stadiums weren't likely to bring the growth the cities wanted in the first place (Reason)

Due to Seattle's unrest, a billion-dollar investment firm is moving to Phoenix (KTAR News)

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoes bill to reopen bars and gyms (Washington Examiner)

Audio emerges of Jimmy Kimmel, a social-justice fraudster and misogynist, using the N-word (The Daily Wire)

Friendly fire: Black Lives Matter forces LGBTQ organization to face its history of racial exclusion (NBC News)

Colorado passes landmark law against qualified immunity (Forbes)

New Jersey ranked least patriotic state in America (New York Post)

Andy Ngo: My terrifying five-day stay inside Seattle's cop-free CHAZ (New York Post)

Black Lives Matter founder is an "expert" at George Soros's Institute for New Economic Thinking who called for "opposing capitalism"; colleague admitted "We are trained Marxists" (The National Pulse)

South Korea says John Bolton's memoir on Trump-Kim summit is distorted (Reuters)

Policy: Coronavirus cases are climbing again. So what? (Issues & Insights)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Forget Vaccines, Catch a Cold Instead

An interesting suggestion from  Jon N. Hall

The Wuhan pandemic has been compared to the devastating Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, but the two differ in their victims. The Spanish flu hit young adults aged 20-40, a group that the Wuhan virus mostly doesn’t prey on. The Spanish flu also hit children, which our virus virtually ignores. I’m not an epidemiologist, but when compared to the Spanish flu, COVID-19 seems almost “benign.”

The Spanish flu had a fatality rate of 2.5 percent, while the seasonal flu usually has a fatality rate of just 0.1 percent. Some research suggests that the fatality rate for Covid will ultimately turn out to be more in line with the seasonal flu than with the Spanish flu. And note that there’s a vaccine for the seasonal flu while scientists have yet to develop one for Covid.

So if the latest fatality numbers hold, then Covid will turn out to be much less lethal than the Spanish flu. But calculating the fatality rate is difficult, and can involve a lot of guesswork. To get a taste for the problem of putting a number on the fatality rate, read “Covid-19 Is Not the Spanish Flu” at Wired.

In his novel The Andromeda Strain (1969), Michael Crichton dreams up a pathogen which, in the small town it invades, spares no one except for two individuals. Perhaps the Wuhan virus, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that has been flown around the globe on commercial airliners to infect the entire planet, might be thought of as a “reverse Andromeda strain,” in that it spares just about everyone except for old folks. If that sounds wacky to you, then you haven’t kept abreast of recent research which suggests that Covid has already infected far more of the population than had been thought.

In Crichton’s fiction, the two survivors of his Andromeda bug aren’t saved by having superior immune systems, but rather by another biologic factor (which I’ll leave for those who haven’t read the novel to discover on their own). Because the Wuhan virus is new, one might think that Covid’s survivors are protected by the immune systems they were born with, i.e. their innate immune systems.

The exquisite defense system that we were born with is a general system. But when that general system of innate immunity neutralizes a pathogen, it creates a second line of defense, an antibody that targets that specific pathogen. Antibodies are part of the adaptive immune system, which is acquired. I know of a hair stylist who swears that the reason she never gets sick is because her clients continually cough and sneeze all over her. The gal may have developed adaptive immunity.

It’d be interesting to see what kinds of antibodies are present in people who work in close proximity to others, like our hair stylist. I’m not an immunologist, but because the Wuhan virus is new, what could account for the ease with which some throw it off, often not even knowing they’ve contracted anything? Is it innate immunity or something else?

On May 14, the website for the journal Science ran “T cells found in COVID-19 patients ‘bode well’ for long-term immunity” by Mitch Leslie. The article cites research suggesting that T cells which fight Covid could have been developed in response to other coronaviruses, like the common cold:

T cells, in contrast, thwart infections in two different ways. Helper T cells spur B cells and other immune defenders into action, whereas killer T cells target and destroy infected cells. The severity of disease can depend on the strength of these T cell responses. …

The researchers think these cells were likely triggered by past infection with one of the four human coronaviruses that cause colds; proteins in these viruses resemble those of SARS-CoV-2...

Before these studies, researchers didn’t know whether T cells played a role in eliminating SARS-CoV-2, or even whether they could provoke a dangerous immune system overreaction. [Link added.]

On May 21, The Federalist ran “Stop Fear-Mongering: Kids Are Safer From Covid-19 Than Everyone Else” by Phil Kerpen, who wrote that “recent papers suggest they [i.e. children] may either have innate immunity or effective partial immunity from recent exposure to common cold coronaviruses,” and he cites much foreign research to support that. But nowhere in his lengthy article does Mr. Kerpin mention T cells. However, on June 2 Kerpen tweeted “A lot of people beat SARS-CoV2 with just T cells.”

On June 3 at Business Insider, science reporter Aylin Woodward wrote:

Some people's immune systems may have a head start in fighting the coronavirus, recent research suggested.

A study published last month in the journal Cell showed that some people who have never been exposed to the coronavirus have helper T cells that are capable of recognizing and responding to it.

The likeliest explanation for the surprising finding, according to the researchers, is a phenomenon called cross-reactivity: when helper T cells developed in response to another virus react to a similar but previously unknown pathogen.

In this case, those T cells may be left over from people's previous exposure to a different coronavirus --- likely one of the four that cause common colds.

The Wuhan virus affects different groups in markedly different ways. Responses range from the asymptomatic to death. If you’re weathering the “cytokine storm” and a hospital puts you on a ventilator, you’d best have your “affairs in order.” To more completely understand this virus, we might study those in each group who respond differently than the group as a whole; that is, study the anomalies.

Are there any commonalities held by the anomalies in each group? The main group that Covid attacks is the elderly, but it also has a taste for males, the obese, and those with underlying conditions (comorbidities), such as diabetes. So, if Covid were to sweep through a nursing home and kill off every last patient except for an obese 70-year-old man with diabetes, we’d have ourselves an excellent anomaly to study, (which might even put one in mind of Crichton’s Andromeda strain.) Likewise, a grade schooler who succumbs to Covid while his classmates don’t even know they’ve contracted it, or a fit pro football player who is laid low by the virus, such as Mark Campbell, would also be an anomaly to investigate.

The “experts” tell us that we can’t get back to normal until we get a vaccine. But often the yearly flu shot is ineffective more than half the time. And there’s no guarantee that science will be able to come up with a vaccine. The experts weren’t able to develop vaccines for other coronaviruses, such as those responsible for SARS and MERS and the common cold.

Americans are being asked to wait for a vaccine which the vast majority of them don’t need due to their innate immunity, their antibodies from growing herd immunity due to having already contracted the virus, and their T cells. Also, this hoped-for vaccine might quickly become useless if the virus mutates, as viruses are wont to do. Are we just supposed to remain in lockdown while we wait until the so-called experts say it’s safe to go outside?

Think of how devastating the Wuhan virus would have been if it had hit the younger still-productive part of the population. Think of the heartache were it to have preyed on kids, wiping out classrooms in the way it wiped out nursing homes. If I were a virus, or a cannibal, I think I’d be more attracted to the young and succulent rather than to the old and stringy. So, as far as viruses go we’ve been lucky with Wuhan, given its choice of victims. Be that as it may, to boost your killer T cells: man up, leave your bunker, and go out and catch a cold.



UK: One steroid, and all Europe, says lockdown must end

The discovery in Britain that a £5 steroid, dexamethasone, can be effective in treating COVID-19 marks a potential breakthrough in our understanding of the virus.

Much remains to be learned about the wider potential of the drug but the claims made about its success are striking: that it reduces deaths by one-third in patients on ventilators and by a fifth in ­patients receiving oxygen only.

It has not been shown to benefit COVID-19 patients who do not require oxygen, but this can still, in a global pandemic, mean thousands of lives saved.

There are two further points to be made. With COVID-19, there is a better chance of finding a treatment for the virus than of finding a vaccine. Second, the gathering and interrogation of this data can be of huge use in finding out what works and what does not. The British study looked at the role of old ­familiar generic drugs.

Pharmaceutical companies understandably focus on developing new products: that is their ­raison d’etre. There is no real money to be made in the discovery about the role of steroids.

It is understandable that Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been so keen to tell the world about dexamethasone. Some 4000 COVID patients are dying each day across the world, and if even a small fraction of those lives can be saved with a widely available drug then every day counts.

But another mass experiment is going on, which is also worthy of the British government’s attention. In schools, too, every day counts. Lockdown is being eased all over the world, without much sign of the second wave that so many feared.

In hundreds of thousands of classrooms, children are being taught in the same way as they were pre-COVID, without any viral backlash. The 2m rule should now be abolished and lighter regulations put in place, with schools first in line for a return to normal.

The evidence of London, too, needs to be taken into account. For two weeks now, the number of new lab-confirmed COVID cases has been, on average, two dozen a day — in a city of nine million. Nor have mass protests in Britain over the past fortnight ­resulted in the faintest flicker of a resurgence in new cases. There has been no triggering of the early warning systems (specifically in calls to the 111 hotline that mention COVID-­related symptoms).

We know this because the government is better now at collecting data. And the data should embolden ministers to move faster in reopening society.

The new cases, when they ­arrive, are isolated. Last week, we had news of an outbreak in Beijing, which may lead to the city being locked down in the way that Wuhan was in January. Bizarrely, China has responded by halting the import of European salmon. But overall, it is remarkable how little resurgence there has been in countries that have gradually eased their way out of lockdown or other restrictions.

Weeks ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested the COVID-19 crisis might not be solved until a vaccine was found. No one knows when that will be, yet the announcement on dexa­methasone reminds us that therapeutic drugs can go a long way to make up for the lack of a vaccine.

Look at HIV/AIDS. In the 1980s, a vaccine was thought to be four or five years away. It still hasn’t been found, but in the meantime retroviral drugs have done a pretty good job of suppressing the virus within individuals, to the extent that new infections have fallen sharply.

Given the success other European countries have had in relaxing lockdowns without rekindling the virus, it is puzzling that the British government is proceeding so gingerly. The level of infection in the population is now so low that it does not qualify under the definition of an epidemic. That has been the case for several weeks, yet non-essential shops have only just reopened, and there is no firm date for reopening bars, restaurants, theatres, hotels — only a promise that it won’t happen before July 4.

Johnson began this crisis seemingly unaware of the medical havoc it might cause. Now he risks seeming to ignore the economic and social damage it has already caused — and the even greater havoc it will cause if lockdown is not lifted soon. Businesses can keep going for only so long without income. Should lockdown be imposed for much longer, we will begin to see a cascade of collapse.

Six months ago, Johnson won an election partly by promising to be the entrepreneurial candidate, who would lead us away from the EU’s precautionary principle towards faster growth. It is time he finds the resolve shown by European counterparts — and leads Britain out of lockdown so the recovery can begin.




Justice Department proposes rolling back protections for Big Tech (Reuters)

Trump signs bill protecting Chinese Uighurs on same day John Bolton claims he gave President Xi Jinping approval on detention camps (The Daily Caller)

Dick Durbin gives token apology to Tim Scott after "token" remark about police-reform bill (Washington Examiner)

Senate Democrats silent when asked if they condemn Dick Durbin's "token" comment (The Daily Caller)

Hypocrite Nancy Pelosi pours $180,000 into Facebook ads while calling for advertisers to boycott the site (The Washington Free Beacon)

Ex-Atlanta police officer who killed Rayshard Brooks charged with felony murder (CNN)

Georgia Bureau of Investigation says it was not consulted by the DA before charges were filed against officers in Brooks case (

"There are officers walking off": Atlanta cops vote with their feet on indictments (Power Line)

Dumb and dumber: Seattle adds concrete barricades to safeguard the militant group CHOP (Bearing Arms)

Cornell law professor censured by dean after criticizing Black Lives Matter movement (The College Fix)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Coronavirus is weakening, could die out on its own without a vaccine and patients now survive infections that would have killed them at start of the pandemic

I suspect that what the good doctor is noticing is that all the very vulnerable to the virus are now dead.  So he is now seeing what is left, people who were less vulnerable to it in the first place

But it is certainly true that viruses evolve and it certainly true that a form of a virus that does not kill its host will itself survive better. So a non-lethal form could well become dominant

The coronavirus, once an 'aggressive tiger' of a disease, has weakened and become more like a wild cat, according to a top Italian doctor.

Professor Matteo Bassetti said he is convinced the virus is 'changing in severity' and patients are now surviving infections that would have killed them before.

And if the virus's weakening is true, Covid-19 could even disappear without a for a vaccine by becoming so weak it dies out on its own, he claimed.

He has said multiple times in recent months that patients with Covid-19 seem to be faring much better than they were at the start of the epidemic in Italy.

Professor Bassetti suggests this could be because of a genetic mutation in the virus making it less lethal, because of improved treatments, or because people are not getting infected with such large doses because of social distancing.

But other scientists have hit back at the claims in the past and said there is no scientific evidence that the virus has changed at all.

Professor Bassetti, the chief of infectious diseases at San Martino General Hospital in Genoa, Italy, told The Sunday Telegraph the virus could wither away on its own.

He said: 'It was like an aggressive tiger in March and April but now it's like a wild cat. Even elderly patients, aged 80 or 90, are now sitting up in bed and they are breathing without help. The same patients would have died in two or three days before.'

Italy was one of the worst hit countries in the world during the pandemic's early stages, and has now recorded more than 238,000 positive cases and 34,000 deaths.

Scientists have said the elderly population there, the virus spreading in rural areas and the suddenness of the outbreak contributed to the country's high death toll.

Professor Bassetti suggests that one of the reasons the virus might be causing less serious illness is a genetic mutation which has made it less damaging to people's lungs.

Or, he said, people may simply be receiving smaller amounts when they get infected, because of social distancing and lockdown rules, making them less sick.

This theory depends on the severity of someone's illness being affected by their 'viral load' - the amount of virus that gets into someone's body when they're first struck by it.

Professor Bassetti said: 'The clinical impression I have is that the virus is changing in severity.

Viruses are known to change over time because they are subject to random genetic mutations in the same way that all living things are.

These mutations can have various effects and many will only happen briefly and not become a permanent change as newer generations of viruses replace the mutated ones.

However, some of the mutations might turn out to be advantageous to the virus, and get carried forward into future generations.

For example, if a virus becomes less dangerous to its host - that is, it causes fewer symptoms or less death - it may find that it is able to live longer and reproduce more.

As a result, more of these less dangerous viruses are produced and they may go on to spread more effectively than the more dangerous versions, which could be stamped out by medication because more people realise they are ill, for example.

The mutation may then be taken forward in the stronger generations and become the dominant version of the virus.

In an explanation of an scientific study about HIV, the NHS said in 2014: 'The optimal evolutionary strategy for a virus is to be infectious (so it creates more copies of itself) but non-lethal (so its host population doesn’t die out).

'The "poster boy" for successful long-living viruses is, arguably, the family of viruses that cause the common cold, which has existed for thousands of years.' 

'In March and early April the patterns were completely different. People were coming to the emergency department with a very difficult to manage illness and they needed oxygen and ventilation, some developed pneumonia.

'Now, in the past four weeks, the picture has completely changed in terms of of patterns.

'There could be a lower viral load in the respiratory tract, probably due to a genetic mutation in the virus which has not yet been demonstrated scientifically.'

But other scientists did not welcome the idea and said there was no evidence to back up Professor Bassetti's claims.

Dr Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, from the University of Wollongong in Australia, told MailOnline that the idea the virus has disappeared 'seems dubious'.

The epidemiologist warned Italy - which was the centre of Europe's coronavirus crisis in March - was still recording new Covid-19 cases and deaths, showing the virus was still a danger.

At the start of June, in response to Professor Bassetti's claim, Dr Angela Rasmussen, from Columbia University, tweeted: 'There is no evidence that the virus is losing potency anywhere.'

She added less transmission means fewer hospitalisations and deaths - but warned: 'That doesn't mean less virulence.'

The virulence of a virus is how dangerous the illness is but may not directly relate to how contagious it is.

Dr Oscar MacLean, of the University of Glasgow, added: 'These claims are not supported by anything in the scientific literature, and also seem fairly implausible on genetic grounds.



It’s been more than three weeks since mass protests started in the US, sparking fears of a surge in infections. The data so far is surprising

No surprise.  The rioters were mostly young.  The coronavirus is almost always a disease of the elderly

On May 26, the day after George Floyd’s death, people started to stream onto America’s streets to protest against police brutality and racial discrimination.

Before long those streets were brimming with protesters. Day after day, tens of thousands of people were marching together in more than 100 cities across the country.

They were also jammed together like proverbial sardines – well inside the 1.8-metre distance dictated by their government’s coronavirus guidelines.

That created an obvious fear – that the protests would cause a huge surge in infections, just as the United States was trying to open up again.

Government officials allowed the demonstrations to continue; they were too big to shut down anyway. But several did express deep concerns.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti warned the protests could become “super spreader events”. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told protesters they should all get themselves tested for the virus. Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she worried the mass gatherings could cause “spikes in coronavirus cases” later.

“Two weeks from now, across America, we’re going to find out whether this gives us a spike and drives the numbers back up,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said at the end of May.

Well, here we are, almost three weeks later. The US currently has 2.2 million confirmed cases of the virus, and its death toll stands at more than 120,000.

And yet, in news as welcome as it is baffling, so far there is little sign of the protests having the effect health experts feared.

According to America’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, someone can carry the virus without symptoms appearing for as long as a fortnight.

So, let’s take the example of Minneapolis, which was the site of Mr Floyd’s death and the initial epicentre of the protests. It has been 26 days since the demonstrations started there.

So far more than 10,000 Minneapolis protesters have been tested for the virus, and fewer than 2 per cent of those people were infected.

“We’re delighted that we are not seeing a huge increase in cases,” Kris Ehresmann, director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s infectious disease division, told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday, though she did say officials wanted to be “cautious” about drawing conclusions.

The statistics are similar in Philadelphia, Seattle and even New York.

Al Jazeera recently looked at a selection of cities where major protests took place. Its analysis is about a week old now, but still accounts for the virus’s expected incubation period. Again, there was little evidence of a protest-related spike.



Most Americans do not want to “defund” the police

But they support other reforms

“DEFUND THE POLICE”, a slogan that might once have appealed only to America’s left, has gone mainstream. Since George Floyd’s death on May 25th, protesters across the country have called for police departments to be “defunded”, or for a portion of funds to be diverted to social programmes. Others want departments abolished altogether. Some lawmakers appear to have listened. On June 7th Bill de Blasio, New York City's mayor, pledged to redirect some of the city’s $6bn police budget to youth and social services. The same day members of the city council in Minneapolis, where Mr Floyd was killed, vowed to dismantle the city’s police department entirely. The Los Angeles City Council is also researching how to cut its police department’s budget by $100m-150m.

But the proposal has yet to win over a majority of voters. A recent survey by YouGov, a pollster, found that only a quarter of American adults are in favour of cutting funding for police departments outright. (When respondents are alerted to arguments from opponents of defunding that it might lead to a rise in crime, the proportion drops even lower.) A larger share favour redirecting funds from police to alternative first responders, such as social workers, drug counsellors and mental-health experts. Nearly half of Americans approve of this approach, though support is split along party lines with 68% of Democrats in favour, and 55% of Republicans opposed.

Other police reforms enjoy broader support. Another survey, also by YouGov, found that large majorities of Americans favour training police officers to de-escalate conflicts (88%), equipping them with body cameras (87%), identifying troublesome officers sooner (80%) and banning restraint of suspects’ necks (67%; Mr Floyd was choked by an officer’s knee). Two bills introduced by the House and Senate, on June 8th and June 17th, respectively, include all of these ideas in one form or another. The Senate bill encourages de-escalation training; the House bill boosts funding for investigations of police misconduct; both encourage the use of body cameras. The House bill bans chokeholds and neck restraints outright, whereas the Senate one discourages chokeholds by blocking federal grants if used.

Yet when it comes to reforming the police, congressional powers are limited. Most of America’s 18,000 law-enforcement agencies are governed locally, so lawmakers in Washington can only regulate them in roundabout ways—for example by collecting data, prosecuting abuses of power or restricting access to federal grants. Some reforms passed in Congress could be ignored.

Things may not get that far. Democrats and Republicans in Congress struggle to pass controversial legislation even in amicable times, let alone during an election year. President Donald Trump, who recently signed an executive order creating a national database to track misbehaving police officers, could veto whatever legislators come up with. On the day the Democratic-led House unveiled its bill, Mr Trump tweeted his disapproval: “the Radical Left Democrats want to Defund and Abandon our Police. Sorry, I want LAW & ORDER!”




Nancy Pelosi orders removal of four portraits of Confederate House speakers — Democrats Robert Hunter, Howell Cobbs, James Orr, and Charles Crisp — from the Capitol (NBC News)

Only the beginning: Senate Democrats move to gut the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (National Review)

Europeans are working with the U.S. to restructure the World Health Organization (Reuters)

Fifty-five percent believe that Biden potentially has early stages of dementia (The Daily Wire)

Politico agrees that polls are underestimating Trump just like in 2016 (The Daily Wire)

Senator Marco Rubio introduces the Fairness in Collegiate Athletics Act to address name, image, and likeness in college sports (

Olympia, Washington, Mayor Cheryl Selby, who supported Black Lives Matter, gets home vandalized during riots, calls it "domestic terrorism" (The Daily Wire)

Major fumble: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy foolishly apologizes for "pain, discomfort" caused by sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with One America News (ESPN)

Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said she would issue an executive order that would take effect before the November election, ending Iowa's distinction as the last state to deprive all former felons of voting rights for life (The New York Times)

Notre Dame Law School establishes Religious Liberty Clinic (Notre Dame News)

Massive spying on users of Google's Chrome shows new security weakness (Reuters)

Border violence could spur India to help U.S. counter China (Washington Examiner)

Policy: Reform our cities, not just the police (National Review)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Monday, June 22, 2020

Incentives for innovation will eventually defeat Covid-19

Matt Ridley

It will be an innovation that eventually defeats the virus: a new vaccine, a new antiviral drug — or a new app to help us avoid contact with infected individuals.

So the one thing the world needs more than anything else is an incentive to innovate. Here’s an idea for how to do so.

The problem is that innovation is an uncertain, unpredictable process. I argue in my new book How Innovation Works that you can rarely summon an innovation to order when you need one.

We would love to have flying cars that run on water, or cheap ways to suck carbon dioxide out of the air, but necessity is not the mother of invention after all.

Take vaccines. Some viruses prove impossible to vaccinate against after decades, while others succumb quickly.

“Vaccine development is an expensive, slow and laborious process, costing billions of dollars, taking decades, with less than a 10 percent rate of success,” according to Wayne Koff, president of the Human Vaccines Project, writing just before the pandemic began.

There are lots of different teams working flat out on developing a vaccine for COVID-19. Some are using whole virus particles, killed or attenuated, some are using protein molecules manufactured in bacteria, some are using messenger RNA fragments that instruct human cells to make viral proteins to alert the immune system.

It is impossible to say which will work, if any.

So governments and venture capitalists have a problem: which horse to back? Giving grants and subsidies to those that shout loudest — or have the best connections — is regrettably, all too often the way innovation gets funded. But by trying to pick winners, governments all too often end up picking losers.

Luckily, there is a new idea out there for how to incentivize innovation without trying to pick winners. It’s called the Advance Market Commitment and it is the brainchild of the Nobel-winning economist Michael Kremer.

It is basically a prize, but not in the form of a lump sum, rather in the form of a contract at an attractive price to produce the innovative product once — if — it gets invented.

Earlier this month the global vaccine alliance, known as GAVI, launched an appeal to fund exactly this kind of reward for a vaccine for COVID-19. It aims to raise $2 billion through a financing instrument that would effectively guarantee sales of the new vaccine in developing countries where healthcare systems often cannot afford the costs of new vaccines.

Exactly such a venture, funded by various governments and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, achieved a remarkable breakthrough a few years ago in the search for a vaccine for pneumococcus, a bacterium that kills large numbers of children in the poorer parts of the world.

Hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved. The same idea also helped the development of a vaccine for Ebola, though the epidemic ended before that vaccine could be fully tested.

These Advance Market Commitments are surely the way to go to fund innovation more generally. They have the advantage of being agnostic about the means by which an innovator achieves his or her end.

Indeed, the ancestor of all such schemes, the famous Longitude Prize in 18th century England, demonstrated neatly how solutions to problems can come from unexpected directions.

Mariners were unable to measure longitude while at sea, resulting in a disaster in 1707 when a naval squadron turned out to be farther east than its commander thought and was wrecked on the Scilly Isles. The government offered the huge sum of £20,000 (over £4 million in today’s money, and over $5 million US) for the first person to solve the problem of measuring longitude.

To the consternation of the scientific establishment, it was eventually won not by an astronomer or mathematician, but by a clockmaker from Yorkshire, John Harrison, who pointed out that all you need to know is what time it is back in Greenwich and compare that with local time (by measuring when noon occurs) and you know how far west of Greenwich you are.

So good robust clocks that kept good time even on board ship were the solution, and so it proved.

Let’s solve lots of our problems in this way: not with grants and subsidies, but with prizes.


How Germany got coronavirus right

This April, Walther Leonhard got an unusual call from the authorities in Rosenheim, his hometown in southern Germany. He was being given a new job, in a new field, with a title that had just been invented, “containment scout”.

Leonhard, 33, who had been working as a court officer in Munich, was soon back home and hitting the phones. He was the latest recruit into Germany’s army of Kontaktmanagers (tracers) — the foot soldiers of its strategy for containing coronavirus.

Leonhard’s job is to call people who have tested positive — and all those they have recently come into contact with — to tell them to self-isolate for a fortnight. It’s not much fun. A lot of people are scared and confused when he breaks the news.

“They ask how they’ll be able to feed themselves, what they should tell their boss, whether they can go for a walk — and you tell them, ‘No, you have to stay inside your four walls,’ ” he says. “And you say, ‘This isn’t some mean, vile thing the government is doing to you — it’s for your own protection, and to protect those around you.’”

Combined with its six-week shutdown, Germany’s “track and trace” system has been instrumental in stalling the spread of Covid-19 and preventing it from overwhelming the health system.

It has also helped that the country has a well-oiled government, led by Angela Merkel, a physicist, that has avoided the screeching policy zigzags seen elsewhere. On April 17, authorities announced that the pandemic was under control — less than six weeks after Germany’s first deaths from Covid-19.

The country saw its first outbreak in January at the headquarters of Webasto, an automotive supplier near Munich. The source was quickly identified as a Chinese employee who had been attending in-house workshops there.

Some 10 employees ended up getting infected — one after using a salt shaker handed to him by a colleague with the virus. After extensive detective work, those with coronavirus were swiftly isolated, their friends and relatives found and alerted.

“Contact tracing has been important ever since Webasto,” Jens Spahn, Germany’s health minister, tells the FT. “With Webasto, we managed to quickly recognise all the chains of infection and interrupt them. And that meant we were able to stop it spreading all over the country.”

Some experts think it’s not entirely fair to hold Germany up as an exemplar of crisis management. “There are other model countries that have received much less attention, such as Vietnam, which has seen no deaths at all from Covid-19,” says Hendrik Streeck, professor of virology at Bonn University.

A lot of Germany’s relatively good performance was down to luck. “[We] had the advantage that we had more time to prepare,” he says. “We saw the images from China and Italy before the wave hit us too.” But it also reacted more quickly to those images than other countries, he says, with “consistent testing and track and trace”.

The figures bear that out. By June 1, Germany had 183,508 confirmed Covid-19 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, making it the world’s ninth-worst-hit country.

But the number of infected people who have died is remarkably low — just 8,546, or about 4.7 per cent of the total. That works out at roughly 103 deaths per million inhabitants, compared with 430 for France, 554 for Italy and 579 for the UK.

This occurred despite one of Europe’s least draconian shutdowns. Though schools, non-essential shops and restaurants were closed for weeks, a large proportion of businesses and factories continued to operate as normal. Germany also left lockdown more quickly than many of its neighbours.

More importantly, the health system never came under too much pressure. “We never reached the point where we had too many people in intensive care,” says Streeck. “That meant we were never faced with the need for triage — when you only treat those patients with a greater chance of survival. For us, triage was only ever a theoretical possibility, never a real one.”

This pattern was being replicated across Germany. A key role in ramping up preparations was played by the country’s health ministry, led by Spahn, a 40-year-old politician who has long been seen as a potential chancellor. His department intervened early, telling hospitals to postpone all elective procedures. “That freed up a lot of intensive care capacity, which gave us an important buffer at the peak of the crisis,” says Spahn.

The call was backed by financial incentives: the ministry promised hospitals €560 a day for every bed they kept vacant for a potential Covid patient and €50,000 for each additional intensive care bed they created. Even before those measures were introduced, Germany had many more intensive care beds than other big European countries — 34 per 100,000 people, compared with 9.7 in Spain and 8.6 in Italy. This ratio increased in the pandemic, with the number of ICU beds rising from 28,000 to 40,000. There were so many that, in the end, a large number stood empty.

Part of the German system’s strength is how uniform it is in terms of financial resources and the quality of care — a factor that contributed to combating coronavirus. “Our hospital landscape is extremely homogeneous,” says Deerberg-Wittram, who has worked across the UK and knows about regional disparities in the NHS. “There are no real weak spots — the standard of care is the same everywhere.”

Germany’s system also benefits from being much more decentralised than, say, the NHS. Town hospitals are often controlled by elected local mayors, rather than by regional or central government. “The mayor of Rosenheim needs great schools, swimming pools and a great hospital, and that’s the same for the mayors of Hamelin and M√ľnster too,” says Deerberg-Wittram.

Spahn sees the decentralised nature of health provision as an asset. The hundreds of mayors “don’t just get orders from above . . . A lot more people have to take on responsibility and make independent decisions,” he says. “And if they didn’t, they’d have to answer to their voters.”

The prevalence of testing meant cases were identified at a much earlier stage, and people could be admitted to hospital before their condition worsened — one of the reasons why Germany’s death rate has been relatively low.

“In Italy, people waited far too long and by the time they got to hospital they were seriously ill,” says Deerberg-Wittram. “That just overwhelmed the health service there. In Germany it was the opposite.”

Meanwhile, the authorities were gradually ratcheting up restrictions on public life. On March 8, they recommended the cancellation of all big public events. Five days later, most of Germany’s 16 states closed their schools and kindergartens. Then, on March 22, the government closed shops and restaurants and banned meetings of more than two people.

At the same time, Berlin launched a massive economic aid package that, according to the Bruegel think-tank, is equivalent to 10.1 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product — larger than that of any other western country.

It included a €100bn fund to buy stakes in affected companies, €50bn in direct grants to distressed small businesses and €10bn for an expanded furloughed worker scheme. The aid came in very useful — according to government forecasts, Germany will this year face the worst recession in its postwar history.

While the emergency fiscal response was spearheaded by the federal government in Berlin, shutdown measures were co-ordinated in a series of teleconferences between Merkel and the governors of the federal states, in which the chancellor, whose approval ratings soared during the crisis, deployed her powers of persuasion to reach a national consensus.

“This isn’t in our constitution — it was newly invented for corona,” says Reinhard Busse, head of the department of healthcare management at Berlin’s Technical University. “It became the central organ of crisis management, and ensured that at least at the height of the pandemic, the response was highly uniform.”

Though there were occasional tensions, vicious bust-ups of the kind seen between US president Donald Trump and state governors are unheard-of in Germany.

Much policy was overseen by Helge Braun, head of the chancellor’s office. A trained anaesthesiologist, he worked for years in an intensive care and pain management clinic. “It makes a difference that the chancellor is a scientist and her chief of staff a doctor,” says Busse. “That has shaped our response to this pandemic.”

Jens Deerberg-Wittram says Merkel’s heavy reliance on experts was a critical factor in the crisis. “She said, ‘Before I do anything, I have to understand what’s going on here,’” he says. This meant Germany’s leading virologists played an outsized role in shaping policy. “There was a kind of ‘no bullshit’ attitude that dominated all decision-making,” he says.

Meanwhile, infection rates have slowed: Germany is now reporting a few hundred cases a day, compared with 6,000 a day in early April. As the crisis eases, the unity of purpose that defined the country’s initial approach has broken down. In April, Merkel expressed frustration at the “unthinking” way some states were rushing to ease the shutdown.

These differences broke out into the open late last month when the chancellery sought to extend Germany’s restrictions on social contact till July 5. The states rebelled, insisting they be scrapped by June 29. Some states are now increasingly ignoring Berlin and setting their own rules.




A tidal wave of bankruptcies is coming (The New York Times)

China will speed up purchases of U.S. farm goods (MarketWatch)

Thomas Jefferson statue should be removed from NYC Council chambers, lawmakers say (New York Daily News)

Uncle Ben's rice to take black man off box; Cream of Wheat mulls removing black chef (The Daily Wire)

D'oh! Oakland mayor launches hate-crime probe into nooses in trees. Black man says it's exercise equipment he put there. (The Daily Wire)

NYPD cops encouraged to strike on July 4 to give city its independence (New York Post)

10 times Barack Obama acknowledged that DACA was unconstitutional (PJ Media)

Hillsdale College refuses to bow to the totalitarian mob (The Federalist)

Susceptible to fraud: The federal government spent nearly $3 trillion on coronavirus relief. Oversight has been a mess. (Reason)

People would be mentally crushed by second wave, psychologists say (Washington Examiner)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Sunday, June 21, 2020

America's new enemy:  The "conservative" Supreme court

Being a justice of the Supreme Court is very much an elite position.  Unfortunately, persons obtaining a position there soon begin to exhibit elite attitudes.  They have recently handed down a stream of destructive Leftist opinions

The DACA decision

In a remarkable moment on the floor of the U.S Senate, Ted Cruz (R-Texas) used his ten minutes to take a flamethrower to the Supreme Court decision over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Calling Roberts’ repeated siding with the liberals on the court a charade, he said, “Everyone knows the game they’re playing. They’re hoping that, come November, there’s a different result in the election, that a new administration comes in and decides that amnesty is a good thing.”

His fiery speech began:

Mr. President, today’s U.S. Supreme Court Ruling, in the Department of Homeland Security versus the University of California Regents, is disgraceful. Judging is not a game. It’s not supposed to be a game. But, sadly, in recent years, more and more, Chief Justice Roberts has been playing games with the court to achieve the policy outcomes he desires. This case concerned President Obama’s executive amnesty. Amnesty that President Obama decreed, directly contrary to federal law. He did so with no legal authority. He did so in open defiance of federal statutes.

He then tore apart the decision itself:

President Obama’s executive amnesty was illegal the day it was issued, and not one single justice of the nin Supreme Court justices disputed that. Not a one. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by the four liberal justices on the court. This is becoming a pattern. The majority believes that Obama’s executive amnesty is illegal, and then, bizarrely, holds that the Trump administration can’t stop implementing a policy that is illegal.

Cruz points out the legal knots into which Roberts tied himself:

The majority holds that, of course, an administration can stop an illegal policy. “All parties agree”—that’s a quote—all parties agree that “DHS may rescind DACA.” …. The majority then says, “You know what? The agency’s explanation wasn’t detailed enough.”

He also reflects on the pattern of legal mumbo-jumbo Roberts has engaged in to side with the liberals on the court:

That is exactly the sleight of hand that Chief Justice Roberts did, almost exactly a year ago today. In another case where the Chief Justice joined with the four liberals and struck down another one of the Trump administration’s policies. The Commerce Department, which is charged with conducting a census every ten years, wanted to ask a commonsense question: “Are you a citizen of the United States?” That’s a question that has been asked in nearly every census since 1820.

Calling the Democratic Party and the press the party of illegal immigration, Cruz proceeded to destroy that argument too:

What did John Roberts do? He wrote an opinion that says, “Yes, of course the Commerce Department has the authority to ask in the census if you’re a citizen.” Of course they have! …. But, no, John Roberts, a little twist of hand. You know what? The Commerce Department didn’t explain their reasoning clearly enough.

Cruz is clearly onto the game Roberts has played, piercing the veil to reveal him as a pro-amnesty NeverTrumper. Roberts gave us Obamacare, and now he’s given us amnesty too. This allows the Democrats to run out the clock until November, hoping that Uncle Joe can take the White House and save them from the Bad Orange Man, implement permanent amnesty, and turn the United States into the illegal immigration utopia they all envision.


Redefining Sex

In what dissenting Justice Samuel Alito called one of the most “brazen abuse[s]” of the Supreme Court’s authority, a six-member majority of the court led by Justice Neil Gorsuch has rewritten Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the definition of “sex.”

Why bother trying to pass the proposed Equality Act when you can get the justices to make law for you?

Title VII prohibits an employer from failing or refusing “to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual … because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

Gorsuch—joined by the four liberal justices, along with Chief Justice John Roberts—decided that employment decisions that take any account of an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity necessarily entail discrimination based on sex in violation of Title VII.

In Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, which was combined with two other cases, Gorsuch wrote that the straightforward application of the terms in Title VII, according to their ordinary public meaning at the time of its enactment, means that an employer violates the law when it intentionally fires an individual based in part on sex.

In a logical and legal leap, Gorsuch then argued that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, since those concepts are related to sex.

Thus, Gorsuch reasoned, it means the employer is treating individuals differently because of their sex. An employer cannot escape liability by showing that it treats men and women comparably as groups. The employer has violated the law even if it subjects all male and female homosexual and transgender employees to the same treatment.

Gorsuch dismissed as irrelevant the historical fact that none of the legislators who passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 would have ever expected or contemplated that Title VII’s ban on employment discrimination on the basis of sex would apply to a man hired by a funeral home who then told his new employer, the R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home, that he planned to “live and work full-time as a woman.”

That was one of the three cases before the court. That provision of the 1964 law was intended to stop the blatant employment discrimination rampant against women at that time.

The majority opinion by Gorsuch upending more than five decades of prior precedents was only 33 pages long. Alito, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, filed a blistering dissent in which he said that “there is only one word for what the Court has done today: legislation.” He pointed out that the majority’s claim that it is “merely enforcing the terms of the statute” is “preposterous.”

As Alito undisputedly says, “if every single American had been surveyed in 1964, it would have been hard to find any who thought that discrimination because of sex meant discrimination because of sexual orientation—not to mention gender identity, a concept that was essentially unknown at the time.”

The majority tries to “pass off its decision” as just an application of the term “sex” in Title VII, claiming it is applying the textualism championed by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. But according to Alito, that claim and the majority’s opinion “is like a pirate ship.” He added:

It sails under a textualist flag, but what it actually represents is a theory of statutory interpretation that Justice Scalia excoriated—the theory that courts should ‘update’ old statutes so that they better reflect the current values of society.

Alito said that the majority’s “arrogance” is “breathtaking,” since “there is not a shred of evidence that any Member of Congress interpreted the statutory text that way when Title VII was enacted.”

Neither “sexual orientation,” nor “gender identity” appear on the list of five specified grounds for discrimination in Title VII, and the majority’s “argument is not only arrogant, it is wrong,” he wrote.  The terms “sex,” “sexual orientation,” and “gender identity” are “different concepts,” and neither of the two latter terms are “tied to either of the biological sexes.”

Alito is, of course, entirely correct, as one of us pointed out in a recent article in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

And, of course, Congress knew that “sex” didn’t include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” Alito recalled that there have been numerous bills introduced in Congress over the past 45 years to amend the law and add those terms, but they all failed.

The majority is “usurping the constitutional authority of the other branches” of government and has taken the latest congressional bill on this topic and “issued it under the guise of statutory interpretation.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh also filed a dissenting opinion, in which he wrote that “this case boils down to one fundamental question:  Who decides?”

The issue is whether Title VII “should be expanded to prohibit discrimination because of sexual orientation,” he wrote, adding that responsibility “belongs to Congress and the President in the legislative process, not to this Court.”

Kavanaugh lauded the “extraordinary vision, tenacity, and grit” of the gay and lesbian community for working “hard for many decades to achieve equal treatment in fact and in law.”  But, he added, under separation of powers, “it was Congress’s role, not this Court’s, to amend Title VII.”

Alito made it clear that the “updating desire to which the Court succumbs no doubt rises from humane and generous impulses.” But the “authority of this Court is limited to saying what the law is.”

In their dissents, Alito, Thomas, and Kavanaugh got it right, and the majority got it wrong. The word “sex”— still today as when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964—refers to our biological reality as male or female. It doesn’t refer to our sexual orientations or malleable gender identities as some see it.

If those terms were contained within Title VII, there would have been no need for Congress to repeatedly try to amend the law to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.

In an act of judicial activism, a majority of the Supreme Court has simply legislated from the bench and amended the statute itself. 

Congress has not legislated such an outcome, and it was wrong for the court to usurp lawmakers’ authority by imposing such an extreme policy on our nation without the consent of the governed.


Gun rights

The Supreme Court of the United States delivered a blow to gun rights activists on Monday when they turned down the possibility of hearing roughly a dozen Second Amendment-related cases. The last time the Court heard a gun-related case was in 2010 with the landmark McDonald v. Chicago decision.

Below are the cases that were rejected (via Bearing Arms):

Pena v. Horan is a challenge to California’s microstamping law, which took effect in 2012 and has curtailed not only the availability of new models of handguns, but has caused existing models of handguns to be barred from being sold in the state.

Gould v. Lipson is a challenge to Massachusetts’ carry laws.

Worman v. Healey is a challenge to the state’s ban on so-called assault weapons.

Rogers v. Grewal, Cheeseman v. Polillo, and  Ciolek v. New Jersey all deal with challenges to New Jersey’s carry laws and “justifiable need” requirement for a carry permit.

Malpasso v. Pallozzi takes on similar requirements in the state of Maryland.

Culp v. Raoul challenges an Illinois law barring residents from 45 other states from applying for a non-resident concealed carry license, while Wilson v. Cook County takes on the Illinois county’s ban on modern sporting rifles.

Mance v. Barr is a case challenging the ban on interstate sales of handguns.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion, which Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined, calling into question the Court's failure to hear firearm-related cases that need clarity.

"The text of the Second Amendment protects 'the right of the people to keep and bear Arms.' We have stated that this 'fundamental righ[t]' is 'necessary to our system of ordered liberty.' Yet, in several jurisdictions throughout the country, law-abiding citizens have been barred from exercising the fundamental right to bear arms because they cannot show that they have a 'justifiable need' or 'good reason' for doing so," Thomas wrote.

"One would think that such an onerous burden on a fundamental right would warrant this Court’s review. This Court would almost certainly review the constitutionality of a law requiring citizens to establish a justifiable need before exercising their free speech rights," he wrote. "And it seems highly unlikely that the Court would allow a State to enforce a law requiring a woman to provide a justifiable need before seeking an abortion. But today, faced with a petition challenging just such a restriction on citizens’ Second Amendment rights, the Court simply looks the other way."

Thomas also cited the lower court's split decision on Americans having to prove they are in need of a concealed carry permit. Having lower courts split on a decision is a prime reason the Supreme Court takes on a case.

"This case gives us the opportunity to provide guidance on the proper approach for evaluating Second Amendment claims; acknowledge that the Second Amendment protects the right to carry in public; and resolve a square Circuit split on the constitutionality of justifiable need restrictions on that right," Thomas said. "I would grant the petition for a writ of certiorari."

Thomas also made the argument that the Heller decision – which states a person has a right to carry a firearm outside of the home for self-protection – provided a framework for lower courts to decide cases.

The justice made it clear he believes these cases are being put off for political reasons, particularly for those on the Court who oppose the right to keep and bear arms.

"Whatever one may think about the proper approach to analyzing Second Amendment challenges, it is clearly time for us to resolve the issue," Thomas stated.


Sanctuary cities

The Supreme Court on Monday turned down an appeal from the Trump administration seeking to challenge a California “sanctuary law.”

As is the court’s custom, its order declining to hear the case gave no reasons. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they would have granted the administration’s petition seeking review.

The California law prohibits state officials from telling federal ones when undocumented immigrants are to be released from state custody and restricts transfers of immigrants in state custody to federal immigration authorities.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled that the federal government is not entitled to commandeer a state’s resources to further its immigration agenda.

Judge Milan D. Smith Jr., writing for the panel, acknowledged that the state law “may well frustrate the federal government’s immigration enforcement efforts.”

“However,” he wrote, “whatever the wisdom of the underlying policy adopted by California, that frustration is permissible, because California has the right."

The Trump administration told the Ninth Circuit that Congress, in enacting immigration laws, expected that states would cooperate with the federal government. “That is likely the case,” Judge Smith acknowledged. “But when questions of federalism are involved, we must distinguish between expectations and requirements. In this context, the federal government was free to expect as much as it wanted, but it could not require California’s cooperation.”

In a petition seeking the Supreme Court review of the case, United States v. California, No. 19-532, lawyers for the Trump administration wrote that the state law conflicted with federal ones and posed a risk to public safety.

“When officers are unable to arrest aliens — often criminal aliens — who are in removal proceedings or have been ordered removed from the United States, those aliens instead return to the community, where criminal aliens are disproportionately likely to commit crimes,” the petition said. “That result undermines public safety, immigration enforcement and the rule of law.”

In response, lawyers for California said the federal government was not entitled to take over the state’s resources.



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