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]

I am shocked, shocked to find that there has been a political riot in the US

Biden victory confirmed after deadly attack on Capitol

Note the convenient unidirectionality of the word “deadly” in that BBC report.

A writing challenge for you: how would these events be reported if those who stormed the Capitol had been doing it in support of Black Lives Matter?

Dud war analogies

I saw this comment on Facebook from a friend and I quote this in full because it sums up so much for me about what is at stake and what the issues are. My friend here is absolutely not a “covid denier”, or one of those who thinks vaccines are the works of the Devil/the Bald Bloke from Davos who is channeling Ernst Blofeld, whatever.

(My friend responded to a comment from a person who says lockdowns are parallel to wartime measures brought about by extreme circumstances, in which bottom-up solutions aren’t going to work. The comment got a fair amount of pushback, not least around the problems that all wartime measures have around mission creep, corruption of certain agencies, etc.)

Anyway, here is my friend’s response:

The virus is far from severe enough to consider such collectivist war analogies. The virus is mostly at war with rather old and/or unhealthy people, who are largely only alive today because of our productive economy and liberty to innovate – both of which are now being squashed. We will have to wait and see how much liberty we will get back, and how much wealth has been sacrificed (redistributed).

Many elderly people are not too fond of being locked down either, spending perhaps their last Christmas alone, etc. Not to mention the financial, mental wellbeing of the more healthy citizens, or the physical wellbeing of those in the developing world (how many will die from the coming recession, lack of growth etc.?, do they count in this calculus?). And let’s not forget that the lockdowns are meant to solve problems in healthcare that the government has caused: ossified bureaucratic institutions, swamped with regulations, lack of competition and innovation, delayed testing, rationed IC capacity, massively delayed vaccines. The fact that the whole West is reacting like this and even many in the libertarian sphere accept this, is a sign that we are facing a much worse problem than Covid-19: collectivism run rampant.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The people of Crete unfortunately make more history than they can consume locally.”

Saki (aka Hector Munro). I just liked this quotation. Yes, it has nothing really to do with anything current, which for my mental balance is a blessing. If anyone needs a mental health break from the Zombie Apocalypse, I recommend all of Saki’s stories.

Samizdata quote of the day

In less than a year, our government has dictated 1) when we can leave our homes; 2) if we can work; 3) what we can buy; 4) what we have to wear in public; and 5) who we can see in private. All from the initial ‘ask’ of a two-week lockdown to “flatten the curve”. Let that sink in.

Viva Frei

Time for a name change?

Although much of the focus in the UK political reporting is on Boris Johnson’s government (the UK has gone into “Tier 5”, which is basically a lockdown in plain language), it is worth remembering that throughout the COVID-19 affair, the leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, and leader of the Labour Party, has called frequently for longer, earlier and more severe controls on the public, salved in his mind by calls also for even more gigantic amounts of debt (inoculated, he hopes, by central bank fairy dust). An example of such a call is here.

Sir Keir (he was named after Keir Hardie, first leader of the Labour Party) knows that he will not be held accountable by most voters for any of his calls, or maybe hopes that is the case and that when the next general election is called, this shitshow will be a memory, and his demands for lockdowns will not be held against him. Such are the dangers of our lockdown consensus among large swathes of chattering class opinion.

Even so, I think commentators who want to wind Sir Keir and his colleagues up, and scold and irritate their supporters, should start to refer to the Labour Party as the Lockdown Party on every occasion. It may be rude, even thought a bit juvenile. But we are past the time for being sweetly reasonable towards those who quite clearly want to use these powers and would do so again, possibly on even weaker pretexts than now. If Sir Keir has referred to the civil liberties issues of lockdowns, as Lord Sumption has done, I have missed it. And remember, Sir Keir is a lawyer by profession. One might think that some concern about the civil liberty aspects of lockdowns might be a matter he might address.

As for the Liberal Democrats, they might as well belong in a museum.

Anyway, back to the Labour Party. I think Lockdown Party sounds much better. This will be a more accurate reflection of its values. The party is not really interested in work any more – groups such as the teaching unions seem to positively recoil from it – and many of its members no doubt hope that in world of universal basic income, paid out of the profits of Big Techs in some sort of Brave New World, human labour will be irrelevant.

Let’s make the change, today!

On this day in 1951, Seoul fell for the second time

BBC On This Day: 1951: Communist forces to re-take Seoul

The Third Battle of Seoul

We in the West seem to have entirely forgotten the Korean War. President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China is keeping the memory alive, in his own fashion.

Trouble comes to the EU from three directions

“The EU is a divided house”, writes John Keiger at the Spectator:

A 2019 German think tank report, entitled ‘20 Years of the Euro; Winners and Losers’, costed the single currency’s impact on individual states. From 1999 to 2017, only Germany and the Netherlands were serious winners with the former gaining a huge € 1.9 trillion, or around €23,000 per inhabitant.

In all other states analysed the Euro has provoked a drop in prosperity, with France losing a massive €3.6 trillion and Italy €4.3 trillion. French losses amount to €56,000 per capita and for Italians €74,000. Without fundamental reform the nineteen-member single currency’s divide between high-debt, high-unemployment southern states and their low-debt, low-unemployment northern counterparts will widen. The next crisis will come as the ECB’s quantitative easing programme ends and southern debt ceases to be sucked up by the Bank.

“The EU’s China deal is bad for democracy”, writes Edward Lucas at the Times:

The deal itself is quite narrow. It replaces and amplifies multiple existing agreements, with the aim of protecting investors against arbitrary treatment. Their bugbears include mandatory joint ventures, which China uses to steal technology and other secrets, and subsidies for local competitors. China has also made a mealy-mouthed commitment to make “continued and sustained efforts” to ratify International Labour Organization conventions that underpin free trade unions and prohibit slave labour.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may have given away a bit on this front but has gained far more on others. Hopes of a global stance against Chinese bullying are dashed. Australia, the subject of ferocious pressure, is left marooned. Countries mulling how far to stand up to China will draw their own conclusions: Europe talks about values but self-interest trumps solidarity.

The deal exemplifies the gap between the EU’s foreign policy aims and reality. The European Commission claims to be “geopolitical”. In 2019 it deemed China a “strategic rival”. Yet the mercantilist influence of big business, particularly in Germany, steamrollers ethical and security concerns.

“EU’s coronavirus vaccination strategy in chaos as supplies run short”, write Oliver Moody and Charles Bremner, also in the Times:

The European Union’s vaccine strategy has been criticised as “clearly inadequate” after a first week of inoculation on the continent was marred by logistical mishaps.

President Macron reprimanded his ministers over France’s sluggish start after only 400 people received the Pfizer-Biontech jab in the first six days.

A senior German minister and the German-Turkish scientist who developed the Biontech vaccine questioned why the EU had not amassed a sufficient stockpile of the only vaccine it had licensed. Brussels has ordered up to 300 million doses of the jab — barely enough to cover a third of the EU’s 450 million residents — but turned down an offer of an extra 500 million doses, according to Der Spiegel magazine. This has left the bloc dependent on a range of vaccines that have yet to be licensed, including those from Sanofi and Curevac, which are not expected to be available until at least the second half of the year.

But the EU has survived many predictions of its demise, and it is not the only union of nations under strain. “With Brexit, the UK may be bolstering the EU and seeding its own disintegration”, writes Andrew Hammond in the South China Morning Post:

Within the EU, for instance, there are several key debates about the 27-member bloc’s future well under way, including rebalancing the union given the new balance of power within it, and whether the EU now integrates further, disintegrates or muddles through.

For instance, with the UK no longer in the Brussels-based club, the EU 27 has already made significant steps last year towards greater federalism. One example is the new €750 billion (US$825 billion) coronavirus recovery fund, a major political milestone in the post-war history of European integration, which saw the continent’s presidents and prime ministers commit for the first time to the principle of jointly issued debt as a funding tool.

What do you think will happen to the EU? What do you want to happen? Views from citizens or residents of EU countries would be especially welcome.

Without the vaccine, what would countries have done?

(A repeat of a comment I posted to a Facebook page. I have added a fresh comment at the bottom of this article.)

A troubling thought for many is what would the present – and other – governments have done without a credible vaccine? (I leave aside the specifics of the Pfizer/Oxford etc outcomes for the moment.) Suppose nothing was on the horizon. What, to take the UK example, would Mr Johnson and his colleagues have done in this situation? Lockdowns for a further six months, then a pinch of liberty in mid-summer in time for Ascot, Wimbledon and Le Mans (in my case, beer in hand) before we go back to our manacled, shriveled existence? Another year? Two? Three? Maybe redefine lockdowns into some “reset” terminology so that going out to the pub is just accepted as a vanished custom?

For example, I have heard it said that “shielding” is not viable, because, er, reasons. Apparently, shielding only works with great test and trace and well, the less said about that the better. So if shielding is not viable – as the government and is defenders claim – a world without vaccines would be intolerably bleak. At some point in this scenario you might expect a significant upsurge in social protest, coinciding with rising inflation, failed government bond sales, a run on the pound, maybe calls for exchange controls and for more rationing. A repeat of the 1970s economic scenario, but without flared jeans and Roxy Music.

It is worth thinking about what would happen without a vaccine. I’d like to see a politician, particularly Mr Johnson, put on the spot about this. Because to be frank I don’t think he or his colleagues would have the foggiest notion.

(One person who thinks that regardless of policy, we are in this mess for almost two years or so is Stephen Davies, of the Institute of Economic Affairs. For all his radical classical liberalism, he has stated that the lockdown policy we have had on and off has been largely inevitable given the failings of track and trace and the initial failings to hit the virus early.)

Up like a rocket, down like a stick: a Covid tale from the BBC

2.3 million people have listened to Matron Laura Duffel’s alarming account of a system overwhelmed:

2:00 PM, Jan 1, 2021.

BBC Radio 5 Live
@bbc5live

“It was minimally affecting children in the first wave… we now have a whole ward of children here.”

Laura Duffel, a matron in a London Hospital, tells Adrian Chiles about the Covid situation in hospitals.

The tweet in reply sent at 8:21 PM, Jan 2, 2021 by Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health saying, “As of now we are not seeing significant pressure from Covid-19 in paediatrics across the UK” has garnered less interest, though that may change. It includes a link to this article on the BBC website:

Doctors have sought to reassure parents that there has been no increase in the severity of Covid-19 cases among children because of the new variant.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said children’s wards are not seeing any “significant pressure” from Covid-19.

It comes after London hospital matron Laura Duffel told BBC Radio 5 Live that wards were full of children with coronavirus.

Doctors have denied this is the case.

Professor Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH, said: “Children’s wards are usually busy in winter. As of now we are not seeing significant pressure from Covid-19 in paediatrics across the UK.

“As cases in the community rise there will be a small increase in the number of children we see with Covid-19, but the overwhelming majority of children and young people have no symptoms or very mild illness only.

“The new variant appears to affect all ages and, as yet, we are not seeing any greater severity amongst children and young people.”

Dr Ronny Cheung, a consultant paediatrician at Evelina Children’s Hospital, in London, added: “I’ve been the on-call consultant in a London children’s hospital this week. Covid is rife in hospitals, but not among children – and that is corroborated by my colleagues across London.”

Prof Calum Semple said that he spoke to colleagues on intensive care units and “not one of them has seen a surge in sick children coming into critical care and we’re not hearing of a rise in cases in the wards either”.

“We’re not seeing a different spectrum of disease in children, certainly we’re not seeing a surge in cases,” Prof Semple told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.

Dr Liz Whittaker, a consultant paediatrician at St Mary’s Hospital London, said “only small numbers” of children who test positive for Covid develop severe disease and these are “within expected levels” at the moment.

“I continue to worry for my elders, not my kids,” Dr Whittaker added.

Meanwhile, Dr Lee Hudson, from Great Ormond Street Hospital, said that none of his paediatric colleagues at hospital across London were reporting higher rates of sick children because of Covid but said that parents should never be afraid to seek medical help if they are worried about their children.

The Daily Mail says, “Ms Duffel is a vocal campaigner for nurses who has appeared on Good Morning Britain on a number of occasions”.

Edit: Having seen some of the comments made against Ms Duffel on Twitter, I want to add that I very much doubt she intended to misinform people. It is far more likely that she saw a local spike in children getting Covid-19 and mentally leapt to generalise it because oncoming catastrophe fitted her model of the world.

Now that the EU is sorted, time to focus on opposing state overreach in Westminster

The next political war is at hand, but for tonight at least…

Enraged is not a good way to end the year

So I will post this without comment:

The New York Times Helped a Vindictive Teen Destroy a Classmate Who Uttered a Racial Slur When She Was 15

May better times lie ahead for all reading this. It is a relief that Brexit is done. Boris’s deal is far from ideal, but there were times during the last four years when I would have counted us lucky to get the referendum vote honoured at all.

Happy New Year!

On the British National Health Service imbalance between lethargic diagnosis and really rather good actual treatment of serious medical conditions

Yesterday I sent out a mass email to a list of my nearest and dearest, as many of them whose names I could remember, telling them that, just before Christmas, I had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and you know, pass it on. I said how bad I thought it was, and it does indeed seem rather bad. And I said what they could all do to cheer me up. Basically, tell me and tell the world what a clever fellow I have been over the years, and what their favourite writings and activities of mine have been. This process is now well under way, and a very gratifying boost to my morale it has already been, morale when faced with cancer being, I surmise, a rather big deal, maybe even a life-saver. My thanks to all those who have already communicated with me along those lines, and long may that process continue.

I put the entire text of that email up at my personal blog, and should you now wish to, you can read it there.

What else to say? Many things, not least that this diagnosis has concentrated my mind wonderfully on what really matters to me. During the last few years, I have found myself writing more and more about trivia and esoterica, of the sort that intrigues me but lacks general appeal, at my various personal blogs, rather than trying to grab the world by the ears here at Samizdata. Although I promise nothing, I now feel that this is liable to change. My life now looks like being too short to be postponing the final bits of ear-grabbing that I now want to try to get done, before I depart. Famous last words are hard to contrive, but some rather more impressive ones than would have happened had I merely died suddenly now seem worth attempting.

I’ll make a start by writing about a phenomenon I have become very aware of during the last few days and weeks, which is the imbalance between the effectiveness of Britain’s National Health Service when it comes, on the one hand, to the diagnosis of a disease, and on the other hand, to the treating of it.

Basically, the NHS does the first very inefficiently and in particular very slowly. But, it does the second really rather well, often just as well or better than the private sector, and often with the exact same equipment and staff.

My understanding of this contrast may be distorted by the fact that I am now being treated, at the expense of the NHS, at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital in the Fulham Road, which has a global reputation for its cancer treatment. But, in not a few of the sympathetic emails I have received from friends and relatives, this same story has recurred, of slow and unsatisfactory NHS diagnosis, then followed by a vigorous, urgent and targetted response to the problem, once that problem was properly understood.

The email which explained this best came from my sister, who was an NHS General Practitioner for all of her working life until she retired.

The problem faced by the NHS in diagnosis is that the NHS is confronted on a daily basis with an ocean of complaints about aches, pains and general misfortunes which can be anything from very serious to hardly counting as real medical problems at all. NHS general practitioners provide a service which stretches all the way from trying to spot something like my lung cancer, to just lending a sympathetic ear to a person who is being tormented by her husband or children, or just generally feeling glum and run-down. The service is free at the point of use. If you are having a miserable life and could use some pills to take the worst of the sting out of that life, and if you would positively welcome waiting in the queue at the doctor’s, thereby enjoying a little moment of blessed relief from the disappointments or even torments of the rest of your life, well, you would visit your doctor, wouldn’t you?

The National Health Service doubles up as a sort of National Friendliness Service. At which point, how is the doctor supposed to decide who he or she should spend serious time with, in this vast and varied queue, and whom he or she should shove to the back of the queue? How is the doctor supposed to spot the serious medical cases, in among the vast throng of the merely unhappy and unfortunate? I’m not blaming these NHS doctors for their problem. They’re doing their best. It’s just that their best is liable not to be that good.

So it is that the NHS takes a huge amount of time to identify the serious cases, such as mine is. A pain in your pelvis, you say? Quite bad, you say? Well, I suppose you could have a test, towards the end of next month. Maybe an appointment with a bone doctor, in January? Would the 21st be convenient? Our budget is rather limited, as I am sure you realise, and time slots soon get taken.

Faced with this interminable process, while my aches and pains gradually got that little bit worse as the weeks went by, I eventually sought the informal help of medically expert friends. Who immediately advised me to go private to find out what the problem was. Sounds like it’s serious, they said. They recommended a trusted private sector GP, who talked my sufferings over with me on the phone within about one hour, and immediately steered me towards an esteemed colleague. I put myself in this colleague’s hands. I did not and still do not have any private medical insurance scheme. Nevertheless, for the price of a cheap second hand car, I then learned the bad news of what was happening to me in a matter of days. In no time at all, or so it now feels, I began to be treated at the Royal Marsden, for the immediate threat to my spine, which is just next to where the tumor is.

I soon realised that what I had paid for was not just a diagnostic expert, but also an advocate for me, within the NHS system. That advocate could lay out the evidence in front of the NHS. Look, this is serious. Treat this, and you won’t just be chucking money at nothing. You will be curing or at the very least seriously treating a serious condition.

I am not trying to make a partisan political point here. I know I know, NHS equals socialism, yah boo hiss. But I think the distinction is a bit more subtle than that. As I say, the serious treatment of serious conditions bit of the NHS seems, if my experience and that of other emailers to me in recent days is anything to go by, to work rather well.

I think the distinction concerns what in other contexts is referred to as “moral hazard”. It is one thing to exaggerate an ache or a pain in order to have a nice little conversation with a nice doctor and to get hold of a few prescription anti-depressants or some such thing, without having to part with any money you do not have because payday is not until tomorrow. But people don’t fake lung cancer merely to get the sympathetic attention of a doctor. I mean, how would you even do that?

I was persuaded by two dear friends in particular that there was almost certainly something or other seriously wrong with me, and I was willing and could afford to reinforce my question with a stash of quite serious cash. I bought my way to the front of the diagnosis queue, and I do not apologise for this one little bit. I bought my way past various merely unhappy and somewhat discomforted people, and well done me. I now have a fighting chance. It turned out that I did indeed need serious medical attention and I needed it fast. My one big regret now is that I did not start waving my money around sooner.

As I say, it was the way that this original surmise of mine was so strongly confirmed by the experiences of others that made me sure that this was something worth me writing about, at the internet outlet I have at my disposal that will reach the greatest number of potential readers. What I’m saying is: Learn from me about how to throw money, in particular, at the diagnosis stage of a potential illness. If your problem proves to be no big problem and is easily corrected, well, fine, you’ve checked it out. Panic over. But if it is a serious problem, chances are you don’t want to be wasting time, and if you have the money, you should spend it and save the time.

Another way of explaining this is to point out that testing for things like cancer can get decidedly expensive, if it is to be done well. Soon after consulting my private sector diagnostic expert, I had about three different tests, each of them costing well over a thousand quid each. It makes no sense to give tests like that to people who are merely unhappy with their lives and their lot in life, and are telling you they have a tummy ache merely to get a little bit of your attention.

Or to put it yet another way, I look forward fondly to the time when such tests get much, much cheaper. Cancer care itself, I have been learning, is massively better than it was even a few short years ago. Well, likewise and one day, I’d like to think that instead of spending half an hour on some unwieldy and expensive space age contraption at the Marsden, there will come a time when all those complaining of bodily misfortunes, however slight, can just step through a gadget no more complicated than an airport metal detector. If the hit rate for serious conditions is a mere one per two hundred, or some such number, well that’s fine. Cheap at the price.

And don’t get me started on Brunel, which is the Marsden’s even space-agier device which has been giving me my first doses of actual treatment. Brunel is really something.

Like I say, my treatment looks like it’s state-of-the-art.

If this blog post saves or merely prolongs just one life, then good. Mission more than accomplished. This has not been that important a posting, and I certainly claim no originality for it. I’m sure many others have noted the same things as I have just been noticing. But, maybe for just one reader or friend-of-a-reader, it just might be the straw, so to speak, that saves one human camel’s back, if you get my drift.

This posting has been written in some haste, hence its rather excessive length. Brevity tends to take longer, I find. Also, I dare say there’s the odd typo or two, which I will correct as and when I or anyone else spots them. But I am sure you understand my haste. I have lots more things I want to say here before I make my exit, and it looks now like I have far less time to waste than I had earlier been supposing.