No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘Great Britain

We shall defend our Island…

Not a headline I expected to see in the early 21st century.

Apparently it’s something to do with fishing vessels

A Franco-British feud over access to prime fishing waters escalated on Thursday as the two countries deployed patrol and navy ships near the Channel island of Jersey.

Access to Britain’s rich fishing waters was a major sticking point in post-Brexit talks. A transition period was agreed in which EU fishermen would give up 25 percent of their current quotas — the equivalent of 650 million euros per year — in 2026. The deal would then be renegotiated every year.

Until then, EU vessels have access to an area between six to 12 nautical miles from Britain’s coast, but they have to ask for new licenses.

This is where things got complicated.

The French side says London acted outside of the deal by tightening conditions for access to UK waters

Basically a repeat of the Great Cod War of the mid-1970’s then. Not until reading that Wiki did I realise that there had been similar stoushes in the early 1970’s and 1958-1961.

It seems the French are already turning to the comfort of land warfare, where they have a history of far more success against the British than at sea:

“We’re ready to resort to retaliatory measures” that are in the Brexit accord, Girardin told lawmakers in the National Assembly on Tuesday.

“Concerning Jersey, I’ll remind you of the transport of electricity via submarine cables,” she added. “I would regret it if we have to do it, but we’ll do it if we have to.”

Anyway, I don’t think we should treat this as entirely funny because, as the great Edmund Blackadder once said:

Doesn’t anyone know? We hate the French! We fight wars against them!

Did all those men die in vain on the field at Agincourt?

Was the man who burned Joan of Arc simply wasting good matches?

Written by Tom Hunter

May 10, 2021 at 5:32 pm

Beauty and Terror

Right now we’re in need of beauty more than ever, so here’s a couple of photos to feast your eyes on, starting with one that looks like it could be an oil painting by Edwin Landseer or perhaps Winslow Homer.

The second has a similar quality to it, in this case something that could come from a number of the artists from the famous Hudson River School in the USA.

Meantime, after almost two months of quiet, harvesting season is upon us and I’m about to re-enter the grind of six day weeks and 15 hour days. Fortunately I won’t be driving my rigs anywhere like this. Photos taken at Dingleburn Station in the South Island.

H/T to fellow blogger HomePaddock for pics one and three.

Written by Tom Hunter

February 16, 2021 at 10:15 am

The Seeds of 21st Century Socialism?

I’ll finish off this series on where Socialism might be going in the future by putting out an example of how thinking on capitalism may be changing with the generations.

Coming of age in the 1980’s meant passing through the world of Thatcher, Reagan and, here in New Zealand, Roger Douglas. A world of privatisation of government-owned businesses, deregulation and the general encouragement to get out there and make big bucks.

All of this was more than just a political moment. It was cultural as well. There were TV characters like Alex Keaton of Family Ties, who appalled his Baby Boomer, hippie-values parents with his Right-Wing, pro-business attitudes, as well as keeping a framed photo of Nixon beside his bed. The series was pitched to studio as “Hip parents, square kids“: some things never change. Then there were movies like Risky Business and The Secret of My SuccessWorking GirlTrading Places, among many others.

But the one that probably had the biggest impact was Wall Street in 1987, Oliver Stone’s acidic take on the 1980’s financial world. 

And of all the scenes in the movie it’s the following one that has stuck in people’s minds, as actor Michael Douglas chews up the scenery on his way to winning the Oscar for Best Actor as Gordon Gekko, giving the famous “Greed is Good” speech explaining to the stockholders of Teldar Paper exactly how the company’s management has screwed them over while creaming it themselves.

It certainly is a speech for the ages, and to the horror of Stone and Douglas, has resulted in countless people telling them over the years that it’s the reason they got into financial trading.

America has become a second-rate power. Its trade deficit and its fiscal deficit are at nightmare proportions. 

2020: Hold my beer!

Now, in the days of the free market, when our country was a top industrial power,..

Sound familiar with any recent political rhetoric? Paens to an American past:
 
The Carnegies, the Mellons, the men that built this great industrial empire, made sure of it because it was their money at stake. Today, management has no stake in the company!
And in a strange way, perhaps because of Stone’s beliefs, he puts words into the mouth of a corporate raider that might have come from any enraged Socialist raging against the Rich: 
… you are all being royally screwed over by these,…. these bureaucrats, with their steak lunches, their hunting and fishing trips, their corporate jets and golden parachutes.

… our paper company lost 110 million dollars last year, and I’ll bet that half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents. 

A few years later in 1991, came a movie that I regard as superior to Wall StreetOther People’s Money. It never made as big an impact, perhaps because the moment had passed, it originally being a play written in 1987.
.

As in the former movie one of the key points occurs during a stockholders meeting as an old company, New England Wire & Cable, tries to fight off another corporate raider, this time Larry “The Liquidator“Garfield, played with deliciously brazen evil by Danny DeVito. 

 
There are two scenes here, the first where the Chairman of the Board, Andrew Jorgenson, played by the great Gregory Peck, pleads – in fact almost begs – the stockholders not to sell. Like Gordon Gecko he too appeals to a past America, but the nature of the appeal is different and I’ve always thought that Peck, in what would be his last prominent role, could have written the words himself, as one of the Old Guard Left in Hollywood who believed in FDR’s New Deal, most other Left-Wing causes and who was publicly appalled by the Age of Reagan.
 
 

There is the instrument of our destruction. I want you to look at him in all of his glory, Larry “The Liquidator,” the entrepreneur of post-industrial America, playing God with other people’s money. 

The Robber Barons of old at least left something tangible in their wake — a coal mine, a railroad, banks. 

So it’s not just corporate raiders making that appeal. But Jorgenson, calls out to something that Gekko does not.

God save us if we vote to take his paltry few dollars and run. God save this country if that is truly the wave of the future. We will then have become a nation that makes nothing but hamburgers, creates nothing but lawyers, and sells nothing but tax shelters. 

And if we are at that point in this country, where we kill something because at the moment it’s worth more dead than alive — well, take a look around. Look at your neighbor. Look at your neighbor. You won’t kill him, will you? No. It’s called murder and it’s illegal. Well, this too is murder — on a mass scale. Only on Wall Street, they call it “maximizing share-holder value” and they call it “legal.” And they substitute dollar bills where a conscience should be. 

Dammit! A business is worth more than the price of its stock. It’s the place where we earn our living, where we meet our friends, dream our dreams. It is, in every sense, the very fabric that binds our society together.

I was lucky enough to see the original play in a Chicago run and during this speech the guy playing Larry The Liquidator – who was built more like Pavarotti than DeVito – would stroll up and down the aisles of the audience and burst into songs from the musical Oklahoma and other classics. It was an excellent way of showing the contempt he held for Jorgenson.

Larry gets his turn to respond and unwinds one of the greatest pro-capitalism speeches ever. There’s a better quality clip at this site.

 

You just heard The Prayer for the Dead, my fellow stockholders, and you didn’t say, “Amen.”  

This company is dead. I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me. It was dead when I got here. It’s too late for prayers.

You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies makin’ buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company?
 

You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.

I’ve actually sat in one or two meetings where the buggy whip analogy was used, though luckily about systems rather than entire companies. 

“Ah, but we can’t,” goes the prayer. “We can’t because we have responsibility, a responsibility to our employees, to our community. What will happen to them?” I got two words for that: 

Who cares? 

Care about them? Why? They didn’t care about you. 

They sucked you dry. You have no responsibility to them. For the last ten years this company bled your money. Did this community ever say, “We know times are tough. We’ll lower taxes, reduce water and sewer.” Check it out: You’re paying twice what you did ten years ago. And our devoted employees, who have taken no increases for the past three years, are still making twice what they made ten years ago; and our stock — one-sixth what it was ten years ago.

==================

 

The reason I’ve put these clips up, plus the 1980’s background, is that a couple of weeks ago my kids had some of their friends around for a post-lockdown catchup and they watched a couple of movies. They’re all into Media Studies and History and Mathematics and Science and so forth, but not Economics. They’re interesting to talk to, so I showed them these three clips – none of them had ever seen either movie – and asked them what they thought of the ideas and arguments expressed in each.

  • The Wall Street clip elicited anger at the useless, fat-cat managers of Teldar while knowing that Gekko was obviously just using those sentiments to screw people and make money for himself. They didn’t admire him one bit.
  • The first OPM clip caused rolled eyes. Yes, Jorgenson seemed like a decent man but all this mythologising of the past and the idea of a company being the centre of a community just seemed unlikely. But (shrugged shoulders) if it worked for people then why not try to save it?
  • But the second OPM clip with DeVito’s speech brought forth anger: real hatred of the character and what he was about to do. Why could the company not be saved? Why could investments not be made to grab those new opportunities in fibre optics and the like? Why did it have to be destroyed? What would happen to the town that depended upon it?
I was fascinated by these reactions, which were mostly the exact opposite of me and my peers when we watched these movies thirty and more years ago.

 

I also informed them that, as with most Hollywood fantasies, the dream is saved at the end of Other People’s Money: investment is found to make hi-tech metal fibres for airbags.

By contrast the play had no such happy ending, only grim reality. Larry takes over and the company shuts down. The jobs, and likely the town, go with it. He even gets the girl at the end.

So there you are. A new generation that thinks somewhat differently than I do about capitalism, free enterprise, free trade and local communities, including nations. Perhaps the socialism of the 21st century will have new soil in which to grow and new seeds from which to raise warriors for the working day.

===============
See Also:
 
Fully Automated Luxury Communism

Written by Tom Hunter

July 1, 2020 at 6:00 pm

Fully Automated Luxury Communism

This is a phrase apparently invented by a British Communist named Ash Sarkar and it has proved so popular that one of her comrades has written a book that uses it as the title.


The comrade is a guy named Aaron Barstani.

Bastani paints a picture of artificial intelligence and automation liberating us all from work. Commodities, he predicts, will become so cheap as to be practically free; renewable energy will render fossil fuels redundant and solve the climate crisis; and genetic editing and synthetic biology will eliminate disease and the need for farmed meat, while also extending quality and length of life.

So far, so utopian. But Bastani does try to put some meat on these Star Trekian bones by going a little Alvin Toffler, talking about a “Third Disruption” based on IT – the first being agriculture and the second being industrialisation – and what this will mean for communism:

“I think communism in the 20th century was impossible. And it’s impossible today, but it’s something we’ll be able to think of if the technologies we’re now seeing emerge are as disruptive as the industrial revolution in the late 18th century.”

Also quoted is another one of this crowd, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (“the Left’s favourite sex symbol” – 🤮), who says similar things about 3-D printing your own BMW, but pushes a little way into the social and political sphere where the Revolution is not storming the Winter Palace or the Bastille:

At that point you’re going to have a situation where the current social arrangements we have that generate all kinds of power structures and so on will simply become obsolete. And then you’re going to have a revolution and I don’t mean people holding flags and going out.”

Has he met Counselor Troi? (@ 2m14s)

 

“It unites humanity in a way that no one ever thought possible when they realize they’re not alone in the universe. Poverty, disease, war. They’ll all be gone within the next fifty years.”

For all the gloss of 21st century “cool” they apply, this all sounds no different to Marx’s original vision, with informisation substituting for mechanisation, right down to some vague concept about how all the bad stuff – private property, competition, conflict and corporations – will just… wither away? Well maybe, but in the world of IT we seem to be off to no better a start than all those Industrial Revolution workers looking up at the Dark, Satanic Mills, as The Pandemic Road to Serfdom pointed out:

… as the promise of becoming business owners and homeowners has faded—particularly for the young—many increasingly fall into the insecure “precariat” of gig and part-time workers. These modern-day serfs are suffering the most from the pandemic. Millions of low-wage workers in hospitality, retail, and restaurants have lost their jobs and possess only meager prospects of getting them back in the near- or even medium-term future.

But as jobs are destroyed on Main Street, others, like those at well-positioned Amazon, are created by the hundreds of thousands. It is also a rosy new dawn for online collaboration applications like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Rooms, Microsoft Teams, and Slack, the fastest-growing business app on record.

And voila…
.

In the face of this, the best these modern communists can do is blather about the rise of a populist movement (“Greetings President Trump”) while others talk of a UBI (Universal Basic Income). In the latter there is backing from none other than the High Tech world, but the “Serfdom” article points out what may really be driving that:

Ultimately such disorder threatens the power of both the oligarchs and the clerisy. Their likely response may be embracing what I call “oligarchal socialism,” where the very notion of work disappears in favor of a regime of cash allotments. This notion of providing what Marx called “proletarian alms,” widely supported in Silicon Valley, could prove a lasting legacy of the pandemic. 

This is how Rome, as slaves replaced the middle orders, kept its citizenry in line, and how the Medieval order in times of economic stress relied on the charitable efforts of the Church.

That seems a more likely future than the ones described by Ms Sarka and friends.

===============
See Also:

Class War
Middle Class Warfare
The Pandemic Road to Serfdom
American Socialism and its Discontents
It’s Class Warfare Jim, but not as we know it!

Written by Tom Hunter

June 24, 2020 at 6:00 pm

It’s Class Warfare Jim, but not as we know it!

In looking at where American Socialism might be going in the future I came across a quote that surprised me.

It came from, The Guardian, and it was talking about someone I thought was a fully reconstructed Leninist: the Labour MP and Corbyn acolyte, John McDonnell.

[John] McDonnell believes there are limits to how far the left can increase taxes and government spending. In his view, many voters are unwilling, or simply unable, to pay much more tax – especially when living standards are squeezed, as now. He also believes that central government has lost authority: it is seen as simultaneously too weak, short of money thanks to austerity; and too strong – too intrusive and domineering towards citizens.

Wait! What? That’s my line!

I don’t know how the hell McDonnell and friends reconcile that outlook with the big-spending plans they had for Labour in government, but it at least seems to acknowledge that the old ways of implementing Socialism are being re-thought even by its most ardent believers. One of McDonnell’s more well known comments was a desire for “socialism with an iPad“.

An iPad from a newly nationalised Apple? Nope. What McDonnell is alluding to here is dealing with the same problem being faced by American Leftists:

… our post-industrial economy is more geared to individual autonomy than ever in history, as anybody using Tinder and Spotify could attest. Those are not corporate entities that any of the “youf” want to tear down or nationalise in the name of class warfare, even as the same economy pushes them into the non-unionised “gig economy” of Uber and Lyft, which rely on the same basic model of connecting individuals.

“… money doesn’t exist in the 24th century“.

Aside from desperate measures from some cities around the world to simply ban Uber, while also holding out the carrot of them unionising their workforce, the Left so far has had no real answers to these very real problems. Networked decentralisation of work just doesn’t seem solvable with unions, set wage rates, and work-to-rule practices.

But this 2019 British article, Fully Automated Luxury Communism, looks at some people who think they may have found a way around this, although they start with a past thought from Mr Marx himself:

[Marx] argued that the relentless search for profit would lead to capitalism’s demise, a process that would be accelerated by mechanisation. In its wake, he predicted, would rise a leisured communism in which a man could, “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

A century-and-a-half later and the world is mechanised beyond Marx’s dreams. Yet there are record levels of low unemployment in the UK. On the surface it would seem that, for all his commanding insights into capitalism’s inherent contradictions, Marx underestimated its ability to reinvent itself. In any case, his vision of the leisured Renaissance man seems more like the product of the opium pipe than scientific analysis.

Basically what this new way comes down to is a future Socialism that may finally resemble Marx’s opium vision, made possible when every household has its own Star Trek Replicator.

Sarkar, who attributes her own political awakening to Marxist theory, disagrees. Marx was right, she contests. It’s just we haven’t developed enough yet. But according to her, that point of digital reckoning is fast closing in on us. As she put it in a short film she made for BBC2’s Politics Live: “Imagine if technology meant you didn’t have to work any more: fully automated luxury communism.”

That’s Ash “I’m literally a communist, you idiot!” Sarkar.

Ash Sarkar

A vivacious 26-year-old of Bangladeshi heritage, Sarkar is a photogenic gift for the selfie generation. She’s given to wearing luridly bright nail polish and defines herself as a Muslim woman who, according to her Twitter profile, 

“Walks like a supermodel. Fucks like a champion.”

In your face, Babushkas!

Although I thought that supermodels were simply another representation of the degrading excesses of capitalism, who will be put against the wall when the Revolution comes?

It would seem that in the same manner of those American Bohemian-Bolsheviks, Ash is a new type of commie far removed from the old in more than just appearance:

That sassiness is a clue to the appeal of this new communism. Back in the day, communists were called names like Harry Pollitt. They were trade unionists, white, male and walked like they were leading a picket line. They were not people whose sexual habits anyone ever wanted to consider. Sarkar, who also ghostwrites memoirs for grime artists, looks about as far from the old stereotype as it’s possible to be.

In times gone by, a 26-year-old woman like her would have been sent out for the cause to sell hard-left propaganda sheets such as the Morning Star or Socialist Worker. But in the age of social media, every good communist knows that the collective takes a back seat. This is the age of the outspoken individual.

Ah! Individualism again. Pity that Communism is not the best system for individuals to both cooperate and compete with each other: that would be a system of free enterprise and markets.

As she told the Guardian, “It’s about the desire to see the coercive structures of state dismantled, while also having fun. It’s not about driving everybody down to the same level of abjection, but making aesthetic pleasures and luxuries available to all.” 

Communism in this guise has nothing to do with coercion and repression. All those issues of how to confiscate private property, redistribute wealth and forcefully ensure equality were, it seems, a historical misinterpretation of Marx.

I’ve heard that one before.

===============
See Also:

 

Class War
Middle Class Warfare
The Pandemic Road to Serfdom
American Socialism and its Discontents

Written by Tom Hunter

June 23, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Dame Vera Lynn

Born March 20, 1917. Died June 18, 2020.

One hundred and three years old. What a great life.

It’s just so wonderful that one of the grand ladies of British history could have lived such a full and long life, beloved to the end, as the British people turned to her spirit again in yet another test and trial of their character.

In a televised address in April, the Queen evoked Dame Vera’s wartime message, assuring families and friends who were separated during the coronavirus pandemic: “We will meet again.” 

Just two weeks earlier, Dame Vera herself had sent a message on her 103rd birthday, calling on the British public to find “moments of joy” during these “hard times”. 

Then in May, We’ll Meet Again was used during the finale of the BBC’s coverage of the VE Day anniversary. Dame Vera appeared in a virtual duet with Katherine Jenkins, while key workers also joined in with the song. 

That led an album that had been released for her 100th birthday – featuring contributions from younger singers including Alfie Boe, Alexander Armstrong and Cynthia Erivo – to re-enter the UK top 40.

I’ve included possibly her most well-known song, We’ll Meet Again, in two versions.

The first is the one used at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 Black Comedy, Dr Strangelove. But instead of the Black & White images of the original film this one is updated with video clips from material declassified at the end of the Cold War and used in the brilliant 1995 documentary, Trinity and Beyond.

 
 
 
The second version is from an actual performance in the field for the British troops, which she did many times, and one of the great things from these recordings is the way the men join her in song.
 

I’m not going to say R.I.P. because to me that implies a life of hardship and pain from which she has now been released, and that was never Vera Lynn’s spirit. Instead I’ll choose this quote from somebody who had almost nothing in common with her:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Written by Tom Hunter

June 18, 2020 at 10:09 pm

Posted in New Zealand

Tagged with , , ,

The British Lockdown

George Orwell set his dystopian story, Nineteen Eighty-Four, in Britain for the simple reason that it was the place and people he knew best.

But while other nations actually did suffer something close to that horror story I’ve always thought that the particular nature of the British people was better suited to the tale than most others around the world. The buttoned-down conformity, the in-built Class structure and its forelock tugging, the Boxer-like attitude towards enduring while being screwed over by higher powers.

For all of Simon Schama’s lofty talk about the long history of the British people’s fight that “tied together social justice with bloody-minded liberty“, and some recent evidence of the latter in the Brexit vote, the response to their government’s lockdown of the nation to deal with the Wuhan Flu has been sad to see.

In a superb piece at Spiked Online, editor Brendan O’Neill explores aspects of the damage this has done to Airstrip One

Covid Britain feels like a one-party state. Normal political life has been suspended. Political protest and industrial action have been banned. Even small gatherings that question the ruling ideology of this strange new nation – the ideology of lockdown – are violently broken up. Witness the police brutality that was visited upon lockdown sceptics in Hyde Park a few days ago. You dissent at your peril. 

The role of the citizen in the Covid dystopia is to applaud the state, not question it. Every Thursday night, on your doorsteps or your balconies, you must clap for the benevolent state and its gracious health service. Big Brother loves you and you must love it back. Vast propaganda billboards remind us of this duty.

But he points out the degree to which blaming the government or the Police is diverting responsibility:

Snitching is the only thriving business. By the end of April, British police forces had received 214,000 calls from Covid Britain’s willing army of spies. ‘Always the eyes watching you’, as Winston Smith put it.

There will be no hugging of people from outside your household until autumn at the earliest, says Matt Hancock, the secretary of state for human touch. A survey found that some people (possibly as high as one in five) are breaking lockdown to have sexual intercourse. Sex is an illicit activity in Covid Britain, as in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Hancock is our one-man Junior Anti-Sex League keeping a watchful eye over citizens and their wandering hands. In Orwell’s dystopia, ‘the sexual act, successfully performed, was rebellion’. Same here. Just ask Neil Ferguson.

To be fair to the British I’d bet there’s been a lot of booty calls going on that breeched the lockdown rules. The old instincts never run far below the surface of civility.

 

But O’Neill points out that, aside from instinctive desires, there’s been almost no thinking opposition:

Public debate has disintegrated. Do not for one minute be fooled by the noisy media discussions of the government’s failures or the pantomime yelling matches between TV presenters

All of this takes place within the lockdown ideology. The only ‘dissenting’ view you may hold in Covid Britain is that the lockdown didn’t come early enough / wasn’t severe enough / is being eased too early. The media-government spats over the Covid crisis are the narcissism of small differences.

In lockdown Britain, there’s one way to think and one way to behave. You must accept the lockdown or risk being demonised as a hateful individual and possibly being beaten by the police.

Sounds familar, even from our comments section. And as Public debate collapses so too does Political debate:

Every clash and row takes place within the parameters of acceptable thought. Genuinely demurring voices are notable by their absence. Lockdown scepticism is staggeringly absent. Jacob Rees-Mogg is right to say that MPs must get off their Zoom calls and physically return to the Commons. 

But it isn’t their physical absence that’s the problem – it’s their intellectual absence. Where are the voices for reason and liberty and a return to work and production? The speed and thoroughness with which our allegedly conflictual political system was bent to a singular, myopic cause raises profound questions about the health of our democracy.

He points out that the lockdown long ago achieved its objective of “flattening the curve” so that hospitals were not overwhelmed, and that people cooperated with that. But the cases never came in the numbers predicted, hospitals are now half-empty, and lockdown has now become something else entirely:

…lockdown has become a political, ideological cause, not a medical one, on to which so many of the elite’s prejudices – about the harmfulness of economic growth, the undesirability of mass society, the unimportance of liberty, the need for mass compliance to expert advice – have been projected. The lockdown is now separate from the pandemic. It has its own logic. It is the ruling ideology of our age.

As with other societies that have gone down this route, it has been enabled through fear multiplied far beyond what science said:

Government adviser Professor Robert Dingwall is right to say that officials have ‘effectively terrorised’ people into believing that coronavirus will kill them. We have been incited to fear not only a disease, but each other. Misanthropy is the fuel of the lockdown ideology. Steer clear of people. Do not touch them. Do not sit next to them. They might be diseased. And you might be diseased.

And similarly the result may end up backfiring on the conservative government because such terror has worked too well.

Polls show that many people are now reluctant to go back to normal life. Many want schools to remain closed. There is fear about returning to work. Things are so bad that the government is having to redirect its resources, away from terrorising us to stay indoors towards trying to coax us to come out again.

Return to your tasks subjects! The economy needs your enterprise and labour. The Welfare State needs your taxes.

Johnson himself is quoted as joking that “I’ve learnt that it is much easier to take people’s freedoms away than give them back.”, to which O’Neill responds pungently:

That isn’t funny. The use of terror to cow much of the public, decimate economic life and suspend everyday liberty is not a joking matter. Terror has consequences, especially in a situation where any form of meaningful dissent from the terror was demonised and even criminalised.

One of the most pathetic aspects of the old communist regimes was that their leaders always ended up wondering why The People slowly turned away from their slogans and exhortations and turned to drink and apathy. They seemed surprised that decades of fear and terror and repression and ugliness should induce such behaviour.

It would be ironic if the same thing happened to the victors of the Cold War, and it would be richly deserved.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 24, 2020 at 11:17 pm

More News From Airstrip One

Things have got so bad in Britain with regard to civil liberities that there are Conservatives calling for Big Brother type monitoring in order to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and any others that turn up in the future.

But as always the Conservatives are behind in bending the arc of history as news seeps out – buried as it is by Chinese Lung AIDS hysteria – that the British Labour Party has already taken the lead, with leaked reports of internal faction fights:

Labour’s former general secretary Iain McNicol has stepped down from the party’s frontbench in the House of Lords while an investigation is carried out into claims former senior officials sought to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Lord McNicol was nominated for a peerage by Corbyn after resigning as general secretary in February 2018.

An 860-page report, which was leaked to Sky News at the weekend, includes lengthy extracts of private WhatsApp conversations between former senior Labour staff in which they are scathing about leftwing MPs and advisers – and Corbyn himself.

So far, so what?. There are always faction fights inside political parties and Corbyn’s entire reign was legendary for them from the start. For the most part the juicy bits from the report are around accusations of sexism, racism, anti-semitism, ableism and all the rest of today’s tiresome cliches.

But what should really concern people, Labour members or not, was that the report also revealed that Labour spied on its own people (quote from the report itself):

You got that? Labour worked with Twitter and Facebook to uncover the identity of Labour members. As the author of that last blog site (he’s a British lawyer) points out:

It is worth turning to the Data Protection Principles set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, which was in force at the time (replaced by the EU General Data Protection Regulation and Data Protection Act 2018 in May 2018). The principles were set out in section 4 (archive) and Schedule 1 (archive).

Of especial relevance, these principles included processing data, “fairly”, holding data that was “not excessive”. Fairness usually means notifying members of the way their data will be used. A quick glance at Labour’s current terms on its, ‘Join’ page does say that email addresses will be used to contact members. It says nothing about consenting to Orwellian real time monitoring for wrongthink.

Even the Labour staff involved in the investigation are said to have described their software as a “Stasi” system, intentionally likening themselves to the feared and hated secret police in Soviet-era East Germany.

Of course! No matter how high tech the system is it needs people to run it, and those people have to like it and celebrate themselves as the good guys, including making mocking references to themselves that reveal not shame-faced embarrassment but pride that they’re part of a “Stasi”-like system.

And it’s not just the staff. The report itself uses that term.

That software and the way it worked was only possible with the assistance of Facebook and Twitter, and the lawyer sums it up pretty well:

This is probably the most sinister thing I have ever seen ever out of Big Tech. A major political Party, conspiring with the world’s two largest social media companies, to scan its members feeds and expel or suspend them for “incorrect” views. I would say it should be against the law but of course it is. Anyone affected by this has the right to sue Labour for injury to feelings. That even includes people not suspended.

And just think what they’d do to you if this is how they treat their own privileged members!

Written by Tom Hunter

May 1, 2020 at 2:09 am

Models vs. Reality


“And please: speak as you might to a young child. Or a Golden Retriever. 
It wasn’t brains that got me here I can assure you of that.”

By now most people should be familiar with this basic graph that plots the progress of a pandemic disease and how it looks against the capacity of a nation’s healthcare system to cope with the forecast loads of infected people who need to be hospitalised. The following is courtesy of The Economist.


This graph shows the by-now-classic requirement to “flatten the curve” of the number of cases so the healthcare system is not overwhelmed, resulting in a lot of deaths. Aside from all the other factors involved in forecasting something like this, the phrase “protective measures” that you see in this graph could involve many things itself, from the now equally-famous “social distancing” to the sort of “lockdown” that New Zealand and other countries have imposed on their entire population.

But it should not be forgotten that there are other curves in that model, notably the one created by temporarily boosting the capacity of the healthcare system. There are many ways that can be done. Taking over warehouses, halls, indoor stadiums and other large spaces for hospital beds – Chicago is using McCormick Place, the largest convention centre in the USA – emergency manufacturing of ventilators and other ICU equipment, calling on retired doctors and nurses to return to work, the military’s medical capabilities.

But the central question with any model is how it measures up to reality. Let’s take a look at the real thing, courtesy of the IHME Model that has become the default in the USA and which seems to be based on the Imperial College model from Britain – as it would seem is New Zealand’s. The following is for New York city and the prediction is for April 4.

So how did the model do compared to the reality of April 4, as sent out in a Tweet by NY Governor, Andrew Cuomo:

The reality on April 4 was 15,905 people hospitalized. The IHME model overstated the actual number by 400 percent. The same thing happened the next day, April 5.

As of today (April 8, EST) it has downscaled a lot, predicting a peak of 25,486 beds needed on April 8, the expected peak date for hospitalisations. The peak for deaths is expected to be April 9, EST, with 878 deaths.

When you’re planning for hospital capacity that sort of forecast is worse than useless. It can even be dangerous since you will be diverting resources from other hospital and healthcare needs. What happens to them? There are already many reports out of NYC of huge drops in the numbers of people reporting to NY hospitals with heart attacks, strokes and other dangerous medical issues. How many of those will have died in their homes because they were too scared to report to a hospital or because they simply could not get through the phones lines for an ambulance?

Their deaths should be counted against the deaths by COVID-19.

And understand that this can’t be excused away because the model had factored in the NYC lockdown. The figures were already for the best-case scenario of such a lockdown – and yet they were still wildly off.

And they’re still off: compare and contrast the IHME daily new hospitalisation projections for April 7 with the actual numbers (586).

If the expert’s projections are off by that much, then how much do you think they’ll be off down the line as time passes? NY Governor Andrew Cuomo must be thinking much the same as a press conference included the following graph showing that the total deaths for NYC now look like they’re going to vastly undershoot even the best-case scenario – and NYC is the worst-case situation in the USA.

NYC “is not just flattening the curve – it’s squashing it“.

Source: NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, April 4 press conference.

Something similar is happening in the state of Minnesota, where its Governor ordered a widespread shutdown on March 27, based on a projected 74,000 deaths from COVID-19 and then – a week later in the same manner as GB –  said it would save 24,000 lives. And now:

As of the moment I write this morning, Minnesota has experienced a total of 30 deaths attributable to COVID-19. That is up approximately one since Sunday. 

Minnesota “is not just flattening the curve – it’s squashing it.

And of course in New Zealand, where we are almost certainly relying on the same Imperial Model, we currently have 1,160 cases and 1 death as of April 9.

New Zealand “is not just flattening the curve – it’s squashing it.

Now of course the leaders in each place are going to claim that the only reason these numbers are so much lower than projected is thanks to their various forms of “lockdown”. But that reason does not fly when the numbers are so much lower than even the best-case, lockdown scenarios of those models. There’s really one explanation.

The models were wrong from the start.

Whether they were wrong because of inadequate data or faulty assumptions or a combination of both will be the questions asked in the next few months. As an example of the problems around calculating just one of the numbers fed into the models, even the death counts from places like Italy could be wrong:

“On re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12 per cent of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus, while 88 per cent of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity – many had two or three.”

Those questions will be asked of these experts and their models in the wake of the gigantic amount of economic destruction wrought by governments in trying to solve the COVID-19 problem.

And this is where things could get tricky for the IMHE / Imperial College model and its chief spokesman Neil Ferguson. The London Times took a hard look into the tiny world of infectious disease experts and the track record of them and their models in the case of two previous epidemics.

First with the 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in the UK:

it was from Imperial that Ferguson and Anderson dominated the government response to foot and mouth.

A subsequent government inquiry was damning of the general approach. It said: “The FMD epidemic in UK in 2001 was the first situation in which models were developed in the ‘heat’ of an epidemic and used to guide control policy

analyses of the field data, suggest that the culling policy may not have been necessary to control the epidemic, as was suggested by the models produced within the first month of the epidemic. If so it must be concluded that the models supporting this decision were inherently invalid.”

Second with the dreaded Swine Flu in 2009:

Britain was, however, left with 34 million doses of unused and expensive vaccines. Again there was an inquiry — which concluded that ministers had once again treated modellers as “astrologers”, asking them to provide detailed forecasts when they had too little data.

“Modelling did not provide early answers,” it concluded. “The major difficulty with producing accurate models was the lack of a relatively accurate idea of the total number of cases . . . This is not to reject the use of models, but to understand their limitations: modellers are not ‘court astrologers’.”

And now here we are again, courtesy of the same people and the same models it would seem. Models that in hindsight don’t stand up well but have nevertheless been used again in a new pandemic – and again have predicted fantastic healthcare damage and death if we did not take the most extreme actions that the experts wanted us to.

And of course this time Ferguson has revealed that their initial dire predictions were supplied to the UK government but when it did not react the way Ferguson and company thought it should they released the data publically to force the government’s hand.

Oxford professor of epidemiology Sunetra Gupta is already on to this:

I decided to publish and speak out because the response to this pandemic is having a huge effect on the lives of vulnerable people with a profound cost and it seems irresponsible that we should proceed without considering alternative models. Imperial has a long history of involvement with government and its epidemiological models can have huge importance and translational impact but it’s tricky to use them to forecast what’s going to happen. We need to also consider alternatives.

Remember that when a government tells you it’s listening to “experts” what they mean is the selected experts they already employ – the “court astrologers”. It’s like a nation that goes to war with generals promoted during peacetime. The ruthless encounter with reality winnows out those who cannot cope. How often does that happen with bureaucrats outside of war?

In the great Asian Flu pandemic of 1957/58, some 150,000 Americans eventually died of the disease. Scale that up to today and that’s about 250,000. Yet in that season, the USA did not shut down its economy at all, let alone to the extent it has now. Nasty epidemics are a natural thing. Turning a country into East Germany circa 1960 isn’t.

In Britain, New Zealand and other places, any alternatives were brushed aside in favour of as complete a lockdown of society as was possible. TINA reigned.

See also:

Supermodels, Dangerous Curves and Experts – Part 1
Supermodels, Dangerous Curves and Experts – Part 2
Supermodels, Dangerous Curves and Experts – Part 3

Written by Tom Hunter

April 8, 2020 at 11:00 pm

Supermodels, Dangerous Curves and Experts – Part 1

The phrase “on the advice of expert epidemiologists and public health officials” has been bandied about a lot so I decided to write about these experts and their models of COVID-19 infection, and this is the first part, focusing on the models as they are being presented to us, at least from overseas.

When Jacinda Adern made specific reference to “tens of thousands of deaths” in New Zealand during her Monday announcement of the Level 3 and Level 4 measures, my ears pricked up for that more than anything else, even with all the other drastic stuff. Could it be true?

Well I was assured by various people on this forum that Jacinda was getting advice from experts in public healthcare and epidemiology. Experts! With models and everything.

Presumably a model similar to the one published on March 16 by epidemiology experts at The Imperial College in London. They input assumptions about transmission, infection rates and other factors and played out different scenarios, including one where nobody took any action, not even individuals protecting themselves:

.. given an estimated R0 of 2.4, we predict 81% of the GB and US populations would be infected over the course of the epidemic.


Leading to the graph on the left.

Naturally it was this one that got the attention of the MSM: 500,000 dead after about three months before the disease burns itself out as usual.

They also looked at other strategies such as mitigation and supression, with different tactics used in each.

Then they reached some summary conclusions:

Perhaps our most significant conclusion is that mitigation is unlikely to be feasible without emergency surge capacity limits of the UK and US healthcare systems being exceeded many times over.

In addition, even if all patients were able to be treated, we predict there would still be in the order of 250,000 deaths in GB, and 1.1-1.2 million in the US.

We therefore conclude that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time.

Mass deaths. Government hospital systems swamped. “Suppression” of the population the only option.

Sound familiar?

With a claim like that from such an impeccable source, Boris and company had no choice but to go for a lockdown similar to ours. In case the report had not made it clear the lead author, Neil Ferguson, did so in the NYT a day later:

Based on our estimates and other teams’, there’s really no option but follow in China’s footsteps and suppress.

You would think that scientists would be more careful. As the study itself admitted the do-nothing scenario was highly unlikely. Even in the absence of government action people would protect themselves in various ways, starting with the now famous “social distancing“. But Ferguson let it ride because he knew that such a strawman, worst-case scenario would scare the living daylights out of everybody and enable him to get his preferred option.

And now he has decided this new strategy and new data has changed the results, as he testified to Parliament the other day:

UK deaths from the disease are now unlikely to exceed 20,000, he said, and could be much lower.

Not only that but he now thinks the NHS can cope with the peak of the disease when it hits in the next two-three weeks, after which it will subside. No longer any calls for suppression lasting five months or and eighteen month quarantine until a vaccine turns up. From 500,000 to 250,000 to 20,000. That’s one hell of a model.

But it was not just the strategy factor that was changed. It was also that estimates of the viruses transmissibility have changed:

New data from the rest of Europe suggests that the outbreak is running faster than expected, said Ferguson. As a result, epidemiologists have revised their estimate of the reproduction number (R0) of the virus [up to 3 from 2.4]

Now all that is fair enough: inputs to a model change, but as one other expert commented:

The Imperial model has played a key role in informing the UK’s coronavirus strategy, but this approach has been criticised by some. “To be fair, the Imperial people are the some of the best infectious disease modellers on the planet,” Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia, UK, told New Scientist last week. “But it is risky to put all your eggs in a single basket.”

True. Because another team from University of Oxford released provisional findings of a different model that they say shows that up to half the UK population could already have been infected. The model is based on different assumptions and will also have flaws, but it reaches roughly the same number of predicted deaths as the Imperial Model – for now. Remember the latter got its new numbers based on factoring in the new lockdown strategy for GB.

Bottom line: We still have no real idea how many people have this disease and aren’t showing symptoms, for whatever reason. It could be a small number. It could be an immense number. The death and hospitalization rates depend entirely on knowing, as does our national response.

This is my shocked face from years of dealing with experts, models and their inbuilt assumptions, not to mention data.


This has not stopped this particular virus spreading to the USA, where it’s turned up as an online model called COVID Act Now.

And of course it’s producing the same projections with the same focus on hospitals being swamped (rather than deaths), with the same logical conclusion being followed by Governors of states – lockdown.

But the projections of hospitalisations by mid-late March turned out to be wrong, typically by an order of magnitude.

This, plus the following types of criticisms of the Imperial Model…

Chen Shen at the New England Complex Systems Institute, a research group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his colleagues argue that the Imperial team’s model is flawed, and contains ‘incorrect assumptions’. They point out that the Imperial team’s model doesn’t account for the availability of tests, or the possibility of ‘super-spreader events’ at gatherings, and has other issues.

… have resulted in the COVID Act Now website providing a list of its problematic assumptions:

  • Many of the inputs into this model (hospitalization rate) are based on early estimates that are likely to be wrong.
  • Demographics, populations, and hospital bed counts are outdated. Demographics for the USA as a whole are used, rather than specific to each state.
  • The model does not adjust for the population density, culturally-determined interaction frequency and closeness, humidity, temperature, etc in calculating R0.
  • This is not a node-based analysis, and thus assumes everyone spreads the disease at the same rate. In practice, there are some folks who are ‘super-spreaders,’ and others who are almost isolated.

And all this scare-mongering finally led one of Trump’s COVID-19 taskforce experts, Dr. Deborah Birx to specifically call out the Imperial Model compared to the reality they’re seeing and also take the scare-mongers of the MSM to task.

  • So in the model, to get the numbers of infected people predicted, from which other projections of hospitalisations and death tolls are derived, you have to have either:
    • A large group of asymptomatic people who have never presented for any test. That’s possible but to determine that in fact, much testing is going on, Yet – “In no country have we seen an attack rate of more than one in a thousand.
    • Or a transmission rate that’s very different from what is being seen on the ground.
  • But the predictions of such models don’t match the reality of what they’re seeing on the ground in Italy, South Korea and China.
  • If you did the divisions according to the models, Italy should have 400,000 deaths. They’re not even close to that.
  • “Models are models. There’s .. enough data now of the real experience with the coronavirus on the ground to make these predictions much more sound.”
  • When people start talking about 20 percent of a population getting infected, it is very scary but we don’t have data that matches that based on the experience.
  • There’s no reality on the ground where we can see that 60 to 70 percent of Americans are going to get infected in the next eight to 12 weeks“.
  • It would only be possible for 50-60% of the US population to get the virus if there was nothing being done to mitigate it and if the virus was constantly being recycled through this cycle and the next into 2021.
  • 19 out of 50 states had early cases of coronavirus, but have persistently low levels of cases. “That’s almost 40% of the country with extraordinary low numbers and they are testing
Is the Imperial Model the one our experts are using here in New Zealand? It would seem so, judging from the PM’s dire predictions of tens of thousands of deaths if we did not go with this State of Emergency.

So what assumptions did they make to customise it for New Zealand? What reasons do they have as to why they’re confident that those assumptions are correct, given the problems with the assumptions of the original model. And that’s before we even get to the question I raised yesterday about having accurate numbers on testing, ICU beds and so forth.

One last thing: it would seem that Neil Ferguson’s one of those cold-blooded types who thinks that most of the fatalities will be in people who would have died later this year anyway:

It [the deaths of those who would have died anyway] might be as much as half or two thirds of the deaths we see, because these are people at the end of their lives or who have underlying conditions.”

But he does at least have a grasp on the economics of this, which is nice to see given that it’s not his area of expertise:

But, he added, there would be a cost. Thanks to the stringent measures used to save the health service from disaster, “we will be paying for this year for many decades to come in terms of economic impact”.

Written by Tom Hunter

March 28, 2020 at 1:39 am