We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

COVID is only a problem for people with some form of compromised immunity and/or comorbidity.

It has always been thus.

As Dr McCullough would say – “it is amenable to risk stratification and effective early treatment” (whatever “it” is, which you will understand is not actually that important if you read on).

The “hammer” approach is actually a great analogy. It’s just like this other one: “A sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

My favourite way of expressing it at the time was taking a homogenous approach to tackling a heterogeneous problem.

Absurd, illogical, inefficient, doomed to inevitably fail even absolutely let alone in terms of relative cost/benefit.

Several months later, the best epidemiologists in the world articulated it in The Great Barrington Declaration.

What’s truly incredible is that any of this needs saying. I can still clearly recollect Covidians arguing that it was not easier to protect the vulnerable (who were already mainly corralled in hospitals and care homes anyway) who numbered no more than 2% of the population, than it was to shut down the other 98%.

Joel Smalley

“Why aren’t China’s Covid lockdown measures working?”

“Why aren’t China’s Covid lockdown measures working?” asks Tom Whipple, Science editor of the Times:

The original R rate of the Wuhan strain was 3, meaning that each infected person passed it to three others. Estimating the R of Omicron is near-impossible — but we know it is vastly harder to contain. It has evolved to spread more effectively and infect more easily.

In the rest of the world, its spread, as well as the Delta variants, has given us “hybrid immunity”. People have been infected after being vaccinated, and the population has a soup of varied antibodies working against infection and serious illness.

In China, they have less a soup of antibodies than a single distilled flavour — from averagely-effective vaccines designed to repel a virus that no longer exists. Omicron has plenty of virgin territory to conquer.

Despite some of the debates we are having today, at a very basic level and on their own terms, lockdowns clearly work. China is proof of that; if people can’t meet each other they can’t infect each other.

But restricting people’s lives entirely is impossible. Eventually both the virus and human nature find ways to circumvent restrictions. Only a country with the state apparatus of China could have hoped to have maintained rolling lockdowns so strict, for so long, that it could persist with zero Covid.

Why is President Xi doing it? Western scientists are increasingly bemused. One answer is vaccination — the country isn’t where it needs to be. Although overall more than 90 per cent of the 1.4 billion Chinese have received two doses and a third booster shot, the rates tail off among the elderly. According to the latest statistics, only 40 per cent of the over-80s have been fully vaccinated. But this just leads to another question: why not?

Some Chinese speculate that the older population, especially, have been reluctant to get boosted and lulled into a false sense of security by strict measures and state propaganda that lauds the country’s lower cases and death rates compared to the West. Distrust in vaccine safety, inevitably, also plays a part.

But another reason China is still focused on prevention, not treatment, could be the lack of intensive care beds — less than four for every 100,000 people, according to the National Health Commission in Beijing, which means a large-scale Covid outbreak could have disastrous consequences. In Britain, the figure at the start of the pandemic was 7.3 critical care beds per 100,000 people, less than half the average in other European nations (15.9).

In its pursuit of zero Covid, China was not blessed by geography, it was instead blessed with a powerful state and fewer qualms regarding civil liberties. What is baffling to outside observers is that the same state that is so effective at imposing extremely severe restrictions on its people is so ineffective at getting all of them vaccinated, or providing enough hospital beds.

Don’t fixate on Mr Whipple’s use of the word “blessed” in “blessed with a powerful state and fewer qualms regarding civil liberties”; he clearly means it ironically. Alongside many others, he is finally beginning to understand. A pity it comes so late, but better late than never. One day it may no longer baffle him that a society that runs on lies cannot get science right, and that a society that runs on force cannot get anything right.

“Rare unrest in Guangzhou”

This video comes via the Guardian: “Rare unrest in Chinese city of Guangzhou as people protest over Covid restrictions”

Is unrest such as this really so rare? Would we know if it were not rare?

Related posts: “Riding the Covid tiger” and “Sci-Fi dystopia or real world?”

Samizdata quote of the science – censoring day

The participants in our study, as well as those mentioned in the introduction and many others not included in our sample, are not fringe scientists. Most of them are leading figures: researchers and doctors who prior to the COVID-19 era had a respectable status, with many publications in the scientific literature, some of them with books and hundreds of publications, some headed academic or medical departments, some of them were editors of medical journals, and some had won significant awards. Nevertheless, as our findings show, they were not protected from censorship, nor from the suppression and defamation campaign launched against them. This fact indicates that the message is that no one is exempt from censorship and no academic or medical status, senior as it may be, is a guaranteed shield against it.

– Study: Censorship and Suppression of Covid‐19 Heterodoxy

Don’t give up the day job. Try doing it instead.

Here is a confession: I wrote most of this post on January 17th, the day I read the Times article that I quote. Then something distracted me and I put it aside to finish later. It is now “later”, as in “250 days later”, and, having been reminded of the onrushing apocalypse by the reaction to Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget, I have finished it up and present it to you now.

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How’s your science fiction novel getting along? Oh. Sorry. Same here, I must admit.

Maybe we would be doing better if the government were paying us to write the stuff?

“Met Office forecasts a Britain of militia war, bartering and child labour”, the Times reports:

It is 2070 and Britain as we once knew it has vanished. The government has collapsed, the police and justice system no longer exists. Militias control feudal microstates within the UK, with people accepting severe restrictions on freedom in exchange for work and protection.

This is not the beginning of a sci-fi film but a report commissioned by the Met Office into how the UK might evolve over the next century.

The “Met Office” is the Meteorological Office, the UK’s national weather forecasting service.

The weather service is behind a “ground-breaking project” to explore five different paths the nation could take up to 2100, and show how it will be easier to mitigate and adapt to climate change in some versions of the future than others.

In one scenario, researchers explore what would happen if international tensions caused the UK to increase border controls and increase military spending. Political and social tensions would initially be spearheaded by “nationalistic public attitudes” that would support populist leaders who drive a breakdown in international relations. A lack of foreign trade would push the government to lift environmental regulations to focus economic growth on domestic manufacturing and intensive farming. Food safety and animal welfare standards would also be lowered.

By 2040, in this scenario, the four UK nations have become independent of one another, with strict border controls leading to the countries making use of their own resources. By the 2050s, the railway system, the NHS and universities will have collapsed, while “child labour re-emerges in connection to a widespread return to subsistence farming and bartering systems”. By the 2070s, the government has collapsed and militias enforce laws in microstates, while controlling resources and an illegal arms trade.

The scenario is one of five different outlooks called Shared Socioeconomic Pathways, a UK-version of a framework used by international climate scientists and economists to examine how societies and economies might change over this century.

The Met Office report was carried out by Cambridge Econometrics, a consultancy firm, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and the universities of Edinburgh and Exeter. It was funded by the Met Office and UK Research and Innovation, a government-funded body.

There are a few more pessimistic scenarios, including one in which “a rich elite has privatised the NHS and introduced military conscription to deal with criminality and social unrest” (I could go with the first half of that) and then, shining softly in the darkness like your one permitted eco-friendly lightbulb, there’s the one where…

… the UK makes a “societal shift towards more environmentally sustainable systems”, researchers believe poverty will be “eliminated”. This would also involve rejoining a “progressive and expanded EU”.

They couldn’t resist.

In this outlook, the UK will have a “fully functional circular economy” as society quickly becomes more egalitarian, “leading to healthier lifestyles, improved well-being, sustainable use of natural resources, and more stable and fair international relations”.

Decades ago the U.S. Center for Disease Control got bored of doing its day job and decided to spend its time controlling guns instead. In vain did the Republicans add a rider to the 1996 omnibus spending bill telling ’em to stick to diseases; Obama repealed it. Turned out the CDC might indeed have been better employed doing what it said on the tin.

I hate to dash the dreams of fellow aspiring science fiction writers, but I think the same advice might apply to the Meteorological Office.

“We don’t have to feel like prey”

Fair play to the Guardian for running (sorry) this article, which will have gone against the preconceptions of many of its readers:

‘We don’t have to feel like prey’: the female joggers running with guns

Jamie, a 40-year-old runner who prefers to withhold her last name for privacy, says, “Women who carry while running are not monolithic, but we are often characterized as such in the media. We are characterized as right-wing, aggressive, backwards-thinking, and ignorant of the risks of gun ownership. I am none of these. I am educated, politically moderate, and sane.”

Jamie goes on to describe her own experiences. “I was followed around a popular lake trail by a man who exposed himself to me … about a half mile later, I heard steps behind me and it was him.” It was getting dark, and Jamie realized she was alone with the man, who she assumed was strong enough to overpower her. He came closer and closer, ignoring her entreaties to leave her alone, and backed her into some trees. Finally, “I put my hand on my [up until then concealed] pistol like I was about to draw and I told him to get away from me.” Suddenly, Jamie’s aggressor completely changed his demeanor, telling her to, “stay safe”, and running away.

Paypal have shut down the account of the Free Speech Union

“PayPal shut down the accounts of the Free Speech Union, its founder the journalist Toby Young and a news website he created after alleged Covid-19 vaccine misinformation”, the Times reports:

Recent tweets by Young appear to question links between excess deaths and the Covid-19 jab, despite no evidence of a link between the two. The Daily Sceptic, of which he is editor-in-chief, also publishes articles on the topic. In 2021 Young was rebuked by Ipso, the press regulator, over a “significantly misleading” column that claimed the common cold could provide “natural immunity” to Covid and London was “probably approaching herd immunity”.

However, he insisted he was not anti-vaccine: “I believe the risks of the mRNA vaccines outweigh the benefits for those under 65 and without any medical conditions. We have repeatedly made it clear in The Daily Sceptic that while we have reservations about the efficacy and safety of the mRNA vaccines we do not take a position on whether people should take them or not but encourage them to do their own risk assessments.”

For the record, I have had all the Covid vaccinations, and plan to have the booster. But if Big Tech wanted to spread doubt about the safety of Covid vaccines there would be no better way to do it than what they are doing now. The purpose of this is obviously to censor. Like all types of lying, censorship can often work well for the liar at first, but once people know that censorship is occurring, they start to doubt every subsequent statement from a censored source. Every line is read through a lens stamped with the words “What else are they hiding?” In this case, “Are they hiding reports of adverse reactions? Do they even know if adverse reactions are occurring, given that you can’t talk about it?”

What about the argument that Paypal are a private company and ought to be able to exclude whoever the hell they like? This is one of many things I would gladly leave to the free market if we lived in anything like a free market. Unfortunately, in the real world the big companies are locked in a loving embrace with the State. They are quite happy to squelch troublesome people like Toby Young in exchange for regulators squelching troublesome competitors. In an industry where there are very few big players, it does not take long for a senior civil servant to make all the necessary calls. Then suddenly all sorts of ordinary things get difficult. Want to buy or sell on eBay? This is the list of permitted payment methods. Short, isn’t it? How long before all of them follow Paypal’s lead?

I miss the days when these verses from the Book of Revelation were the preserve of wild-eyed men walking the streets wearing sandwich boards:

16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand or in their foreheads,

17 that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark or the name of the beast or the number of his name.

Riding the Covid tiger

“He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount” – Chinese proverb.

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China’s decision-makers face a quandary after maintaining an open-ended “zero Covid” policy with doomsday predictions of the alternative, said Huang. “What if they eased controls and nothing significant happened? Then people would question why Beijing imposed such harsh measures for so long.”

– Philip Sherwell, in a (paywalled) piece for the Sunday Times called “Millions under lockdown to stop Covid spoiling Xi Jinping’s party congress”.

Meanwhile, in an interview broadcast on Sunday, President Biden declared that the pandemic was over. Then someone noticed that would mean that the “Covid emergency” justification for his student loan payoff was also over, along with the justification for mask mandates. So the White House undeclared the president’s declaration:

A day later, an administration official told CNN that the President’s comments do not mark a change in policy toward the administration’s handling of the virus, and there are no plans to lift the Public Health Emergency, which has been in place since January 2020 and is currently extended through October 13.

I am not sure why “the administration” trumps “the president”, unless it is to give him practice in getting Trumped.

Lizardmen need tampons too

Pollsters talk about “the lizardman constant”. It was given that name in this “Slate Star Codex” post by Scott Alexander:

So first we get the people who think “Wait, was 1 the one for if I did believe in lizardmen, or if I didn’t? I’ll just press 1 and move on to the next question.”

Then we get the people who are like “I never heard it before, but if this nice pollster thinks it’s true, I might as well go along with them.”

Then we get the people who are all “F#&k you, polling company, I don’t want people calling me when I’m at dinner. You screw with me, I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to tell you I believe lizard people are running the planet.”

Alexander put the lizardman constant at about 4%. Keep that figure in your mind.

A month ago, the polling company YouGov did a survey on “period poverty” (Tabs here.) The survey found that:

Period poverty looks likely to increase as the cost of living crisis bites

6% who currently have periods have been unable to afford period products in the last 12 months

13% are likely to be unable to afford period products in the next 12 months

The final line really ought to refer to “13% think they are likely”. The percentage of British wom… of British people who currently have periods who claim they have actually experienced being unable to afford period products is 6%. That’s the Lizardmen plus two percent.

Why so small? Because, though it is a real problem in the Third World, in developed countries period poverty no longer exists except in the minds of earnest sixth formers, publicity-hungry politicians and progressives seeking a government sinecure. The problem was solved years ago. As I said in a post from 2017 called “The Bleeding Obvious”, capitalism solved it. At Boots, tampons cost 4p each. Aldi’s tampons cost 4p each. Tesco’s tampons have been hard hit by inflation; at the time of the previous post they used to cost 4p each but now it’s 5p. As you can see if you click the links, tampons are usually sold in boxes of 20 to 24. I no longer have periods, but when I did, I used a little under one box per period. I usually picked up tampons in Tescos at £1 a packet. At nights I sometimes used sanitary towels instead or as well. 70p for ten. Some women might require more; so double that, no, triple it – you are still only looking at just over £5 per month.

So, market competition has developed period products that are far more hygienic, comfortable and discreet than the bloody rags of yesteryear, has evolved a distribution network to put them in every village shop, and has carried the price down almost to nothing. But not quite all the way, the evil bastards: four pence per tampon is not zero. That last 4p is an opportunity for some. Like a mediocre footballer who pushes forward to nudge the ball last and hence get the glory for a goal that others set up, the State can still swoop in at the last moment and get applauded for making them FREE.

In theory, there ought to be no need for this. In the UK, Universal Credit or other welfare payments ought to be enough, but sometimes the welfare system fails, and even if a woman’s problems are partly self-caused by drink or drugs or poor budgeting, I think most people would say, for pity’s sake, just help her anyway.

How is that best done?

The Scottish government’s form of help was this: (1) Pass a law called the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act. The procedure for passing a bill in the Scottish Parliament is described here. I have no idea what it all costs, but no doubt it was less than most bills because no MSP was brave enough to oppose it. (2) Appoint a Period Dignity Regional Lead Officer (salary of £33,153 – £36,126 per annum) for each Scottish region, and a bunch of lesser Period Dignity Regional Officers to serve under the Lead ones. The salary and other employment costs of these new local government posts would depend on how many of these regions there are. I hope a region is more than just one Local Authority, because Scotland has 32 of those. (3) Just for fun, appoint a bloke as your first ever Period Dignity Regional Lead Officer, then scrap the role because of the controversy, and wait ’til he sues for sex discrimination. The costs of that argy-bargy remain to be seen, but the services of barristers, sorry, advocates since it’s Scotland, do not come cheap. (4) After the Members of the Scottish Parliament, assorted Parliamentary researchers and support staff, recruitment consultants, HR managers, Period Dignity Regional Lead Officers, Period Dignity Officers and the lawyers have all had their cut, use whatever is left over to buy some tampons to give away. Good thing tampons are cheap.

“Little by little the truth of lockdown is being admitted”

A retired and now ennobled supreme court judge writes in the Times that the decisions of the government during a crisis were wise and good and that if, perchance, any slight errors were made, fear not, lessons will be learned.

Bzzt. Click. System error. Commence program reset.

A retired and now ennobled supreme court judge – Lord Sumption – writes in the Times that “Little by little the truth of lockdown is being admitted: it was a disaster”.

In a remarkably candid interview with The Spectator, Rishi Sunak has blown the gaff on the sheer superficiality of the decision-making process of which he was himself part. The fundamental rule of good government is not to make radical decisions without understanding the likely consequences. It seems obvious. Yet it is at that most basic level that the Johnson government failed. The tragedy is that this is only now being acknowledged.

Sunak makes three main points. First, the scientific advice was more equivocal and inconsistent than the government let on. Some of it was based on questionable premises that were never properly scrutinised. Some of it fell apart as soon it was challenged from outside the groupthink of the Sage advisory body. Second, to build support, the government stoked fear, embarking on a manipulative advertising campaign and endorsing extravagant graphics pointing to an uncontrolled rise in mortality if we were not locked down. Third, the government not only ignored the catastrophic collateral damage done by the lockdown but actively discouraged discussion of it, both in government and in its public messaging.

Lockdown was a policy conceived in the early days by China and the World Health Organisation as a way of suppressing the virus altogether (so-called zero Covid). The WHO quickly abandoned this unrealistic ambition. But European countries, except Sweden, eagerly embraced lockdown, ripping up a decade of pandemic planning that had been based on concentrating help on vulnerable groups and avoiding coercion.

At first Britain stood up against the stampede. Then Professor Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College London published its notorious “Report 9”. Sunak confirms that this was what panicked ministers into a measure that the scientists had previously rejected. If No 10 had studied the assumptions underlying it, it might have been less impressed. Report 9 assumed that in the absence of a lockdown people would do nothing whatever to protect themselves. This was contrary to all experience of human behaviour as well as to data available at the time, which showed that people were voluntarily reducing contacts well before the lockdown was announced.

I find myself in the odd position of being slightly more in sympathy with the government than is a former supreme court judge. Frightened men make mistakes. I also find myself slightly more in sympathy with Rishi Sunak than I was yesterday. However, I have to ask why he did not voice his doubts at the time.

If we had…

…a free market in money then we wouldn’t have inflation. (Please note that with zero inflation prices can still move relative to one another.)

…a free market in housing then we wouldn’t have a housing crisis.

…a free market in healthcare then queues for cancer care would be much shorter, perhaps even non-existent.

…a free market in energy then – all things being equal – things would be looking a lot better for this winter. Of course, if we had a genuine free market in energy – all things not being equal – then polluters would be compensating their victims. This could lead to some very odd outcomes and I wouldn’t like to predict what they would be.

…a free market in education there would be a lot less wokeness and a lot less student debt.

…a free market in social media we would have pile-ons, doxing and cancel culture.

Thou shalt not blaspheme against the True Faith

Someone posted this on Twitter…

And Twitter suspended their account. Thou shalt not blaspheme against the True Faith.