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Posts Tagged ‘Italy

“An idea is like a virus,

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…resilient, highly contagious and the smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you”.

Ideas like lockdowns of entire national populations for example, even – or should I say especially – in Western democracies, having spread from the dominant global superpower, China.

Most Western democracies in fact, since “democracy” is increasingly something to chuckle about, especially at election time, rather like the term “post-Covid-19 world”.

Widely vaccinated Britain recorded 26,852 new cases on Tuesday. For New Zealand to experience a similar infection rate, it would need to record around 1,900 cases per day.”

The NZ government, the local MSM, and probably much of the population, would have heart attacks if we had 1900 cases per day. Mind you, that would remove the source of the virus – the idea virus that is.

Future Communist leaders will surely see that claiming a Public Health Emergency is much the most effective way of screwing over every other law of the land, mainly because it’s far superior to trying to do so via cultivating envy of your neighbour’s property or demonising capitalist counter-revolutionaries. With Public Health Emergencies you can actually enlist much of the population to be help as your willing executioners.

The sense of power and control over others is overwhelming, especially when added to self-righteousness. In the case of the talking-to-your-neighbours-will-kill-granny idea, that spread faster than the Delta virus from Australia to New Zealand. It had barely emerged from the mouth of the NSW Chief health wallah than it dropped out of the mouth of the New Zealand Prime Minister.

An idea is like a virus…

So to Australia, where it seems the natives are getting a bit restless, being locked up in their homes and all.

At least they were using pepper spray against adults this time, rather than 12-year old kids.

Beria would certainly have appreciated the following, although he may have thought the uniforms a bit too clunky.

You’d think you were watching a scene from some Middle Eastern dictatorship, but no, that’s Australia.

“Beachgoers sneaking out during Sydney’s Covid lockdown to soak up some winter sun have been sensationally lambasted by a hovering police helicopter,” The Daily Mail wrote. “Footage uploaded to TikTok shows officers in a chopper demanding sunbathers pack up and leave Gordon’s Bay … or be hit with fines for breaking stay-at-home orders.”

Remember: grandma could die if you step outside your homes and talk to your neighbours.

How about Germany?

Apparently Germany is going to introduce vaccine passports. Mind you they’ve got form on this sort of thing. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun stated that unvaccinated people, even if they test negative for Covid, would not be allowed to go to venues like restaurants, cinemas, or stadiums, because “the risk to everyone else is too high.”

I’m sure there are other anti-vaccination arguments that could be put forward, but announcements like that are probably the most effective of all.

France:

Some 3,000 security forces have been deployed around Paris in anticipation of more protests against the “health pass”, which will be required soon to enter restaurants and other places. The system — likened to vaccine passports — goes into effect on Aug. 9.

A teacher protesting in Paris told The Guardian that the health pass policy is creating segregation in France: “We’re creating a segregated society, and I think it is unbelievable to be doing this in the country of human rights. So I took to the streets; I have never protested before in my life … I think our freedom is in danger.”

I think you’re a bit late sweetie.

Italy:

… thousands of anti-vaccine-pass demonstrators marched in cities, including Rome, Milan, and Naples. Milan demonstrators stopped outside of the city’s courthouse chanting “Truth!” “Shame!” and “Liberty!” In Rome, they marched behind a banner reading “Resistance.”

Italian authorities have also approved the implementation of a health pass to enter bars, restaurants, and other venues. Critics of the measure argue that it’s draconian and infringes on basic personal liberties.

What’s the point of civil liberties and “freedum” if you’re dead: that’s the argument right?

English writer Mervyn Peake said “To live at all is miracle enough.” It’s a good line and I’ve quoted it for years, but but now I see merely to live at all is not enough, not nearly.

A caged bird is alive but without the freedom to fly the Limitless sky, it is denied everything that makes a bird in the first place. To be alive is not enough. What matters is to live in freedom. A bird is such a fragile creature. It’s really all and only about movement. Take away a bird’s movement and it’s a handful of feathers and air.

The Dice People

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Go Comics

As the world begins to turn the corner on the great Chinese Bat Soup Virus scare, with falling rates of infection, hospitalisations and deaths, attention will start to turn to three key issues:

  1. Different types of butt covering by governments along the spectrum of too-much-death vs. too-much-economic-damage.
  2. The role played by the leaders of epidemiological models
  3. Why were those epidemiology models so wrong?
I’m going to deal with each of those in seperate OP’s but for this one let’s just take the first topic and pick a non-NZ example. The State of Minnesota is in some ways similar to NZ. It has a population of 5.6 million people in a mix of urban, suburban and rural worlds and its people suffer from a condition called “Minnesota Nice” that will feel awfully familiar to Kiwis, in that the people there are very reluctant to criticise others or rock the boat. It has also undergone a lockdown very much like ours, with the Governor of the state talking about tens of thousands of deaths. In fact the IHME models have gone as follows:

  • 74,000 deaths (worst case, no private or public actions)
  • 50,000 deaths (lockdown)
  • 442 deaths (projected as of April 11)
However, with the death toll at just 70 – weeks after an exponential explosion was supposed to have happened – the state government is under severe and growing pressure to explain itself. Claiming the lockdown has worked is not going to fly given that the numbers were dropping before a lockdown policy could have worked: it was supposed to work further down the line, not in the first two weeks.
 
Part of the answer would be to boost the numbers of dead, and the way to do that would be to change the definition of what killed them:

“a seven-page letter from the Minnesota Department of Health that gave guidance on how to classify COVID-19 deaths. The letter said that if a patient died of, e.g., pneumonia, and was believed to have been exposed to COVID-19, the death certificate should say that COVID-19 was the cause of death even though the patient was never tested, or never tested positive, for that disease.

To that end, watch this video of an interview with Minnesota GP Dr Scott Jensen, talking about those instructions and how contrary that is to normal death certificate practice which is about facts, not probabilities. He then points out that this data is fed into the models.
 

 
“Fear is a great way to control people”
 

There is a big difference between Covid-19 causing death, and Covid-19 being found in someone who died of other causes.

And Minnesota is not alone, as acknowledged by Dr Birx in a White House briefing:

“The intent is right now if someone dies with COVID-19, we’re counting that as a COVID-19 death,” Birx said. “There are other countries that if you had a pre-existing condition and let’s say the virus caused you to go the ICU and then have a heart or kidney problem. Some countries are recording that as a heart issue or a kidney issue and not a COVID-19 death.”

Italy may have suffered the same problem as the USA, whereas Germany seems to be a lot tougher on its classification, which may be a partial explanation as to why its COVID-19 death rates are lower than its neighbours.

But worse is that having screwed-up data fed into a model, even if the model was trustworthy, is not a sound basis for health planning or any sort of planning. It leads to nonsense like this from Colorado:

The number of coronavirus cases in Colorado is expected to peak sometime between May 8 and Sept. 14, depending on the effectiveness of social-distancing measures such as the statewide stay-at-home order, according to modeling released by the health department.”

September! If the Colorado State Government thinks it can keep things locked down until September it’s going to find itself facing riots.

I pointed out that in Models vs. Reality: even the best-case scenarios of these models, assuming population lockdowns, screwed up, with NYC as just one example:

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.

NYC is the worst-hit part of the US. Remove New York, New Jersey and Michigan from the real numbers and the rest of the nation looks like Germany, which is being hailed as a success for big nations with borders.

And that’s the point on which this political issue will turn, the balance between two scenarios:

  • How many lives were saved by government decisions?
  • How many lives were damaged and to what degree by those same decisions?

If you believed the models then expect politicians like Trump to say that his actions saved millions of lives, and here in NZ that Adern saved tens of thousands. Don’t be surprised if their political opponents try to laugh off such claims, as they should. But since many of those same critics cried out that one should listen to the experts and their models, that’s going to be tough for them to do. Even tougher for US critics of Trump when Democrat Governors will be making the same claims on the same basis.

In the case of at least prominent MSM journalist, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, the answer is to go conspiracy theory:

 

Political leaders will not want the death tolls to be anywhere near what the models projected because of the blame that would ensue – and luckily for them nothing close to those numbers is going to appear.

But they also need the death tolls to be high enough to justify the incredible societal damage they’ve wrought, hence reactions like that of Minnesota to try and push their very low numbers up. The damage might be worth 300 lives, or even 200 – but not 70, let alone 9.

So the arguments over lives saved will turn into a “what-if” affair, with no conclusive answer beyond what competing partisan propaganda campaigns can achieve, since the models were so wrong to start with.

Striking that balance is going to be tough, whether you have the MSM on your side or not: Jacinda does, Trump does not. But both defenders and critics are stuck in the same place; most of them believed the models. What number of “lives-saved” will a leader choose to defend and how will they defend that number given that the models have been so out of whack? That you can trust the models now?

 
A key part of that propaganda is the shroud-waving, “You value money over the lives of the elderly” polemic, which has worked well to date in shutting down criticism of the lockdowns.
 
But a few months from now when tens of thousands of people are dependent on government welfare and thousands of destroyed small and medium-sized businesses are not re-starting because their equity – and likely the mental health and confidence of their owners – is gone, that argument will increasingly be overshadowed by immediate misery.
 
And the MSM that loves misery and bad news will have a new topic to push: Village Spared From Deadly Storm” will be replaced with yet another “Deadly Storm Threatens Village” headline.

Politicians most everywhere quickly figured out that there was little immediate down-side to taking harsh, economy-killing measures. They could be blamed for doing too little, when the inevitable deaths occurred, but who would blame them for doing too much? Not the emotive MSM, at least not right then. As the feckless Andy Cuomo said, if we save just one life, destroying our economy and devastating the lives of millions is worth it.

We’re a actually a few months away from testing that claim.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 15, 2020 at 12:00 am

Dismissing the Chinese Coronavirus

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I see there has been a recent bout of the usual “Wight-wingers are thupid” accusations, these ones based around early warning of the Chinese Coronavirus: the whole, “they don’t listen to scientists” thing.

So I thought it would be fun, and a timely marker to refer back to, by listing the predictions of just some prominent Lefty politicians and MSM sources from earlier in 2020.

Feb 5
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer blasts Trump’s “war against immigrants” after Trump shuts down flights between USA and China.

Incidently that January 31 decision by Trump was made at a time when the CDC was assuring us the risk to America was low, the WHO was covering for China, Democrats were trying to impeach the president, and Biden was attacking the decision as xenophobic.

Feb 9
NYC Councillor Mark D Levin is Chair of the city’s Health Committee.

I guess #coronavirus scare was trending.

Feb 10
The NYC Health Commissioner (a doctor FFS).

Feb 24
Nancy Pelosi touring the SF Chinatown district and encouraging people to “come join us“.

March 25.
And finally perhaps the biggest idiot of them all, New York City’s mayor Bill de Blasio, promoter of most things communist:

I’d love to get hold of the Tweet from the Mayor of Florence Italy, who in February was encouraging Florencians to go out and hug a Chinese tourist – because the most important thing you could do was prove you weren’t a racist or a xenophobe.
Even if it killed you.
But I think he deleted it. Others were not so smart.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 9, 2020 at 12:03 pm

Supermodels, Dangerous Curves and Experts – Part 2

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Starting at the end, the polling site 538 has done an excellent job in applying some probability – which is their area of expertise – to these wide ranges of predictions by epidemiological experts.

So let’s look at what four experts in infectious disease have to say specifically about the models upon which we’re making such huge political and economic decisions.

  1. Dr. Deborah Birx, Clinical Immunology, US Army
  2. Dr. Paul Auwaerter, Clinical Director, Infectious Diseases, Johns Hopkins
  3. Dr Eran Bendavid and Dr Jay Bhattacharya, Standford professors of medicine
  4. John P.A. Ioannidis — Stanford professor of epidemiology and population health

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1, Because it’s worth showing Dr Birx again as she talks about the Imperial College model.

 
  • 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“.

================
2.  Dr. Paul Auwaerter talks about the infection / transmission rate

If you have a COVID-19 patient in your household, your risk of developing the infection is about 10%….If you were casually exposed to the virus in the workplace (e.g., you were not locked up in conference room for six hours with someone who was infected [like a hospital]), your chance of infection is about 0.5%

===============
3. Dr Eran Bendavid and Dr Jay Bhattacharya

a) Testing vs infected population

“…First, the test used to identify cases doesn’t catch people who were infected and recovered. Second, testing rates were woefully low for a long time and typically reserved for the severely ill. Together, these facts imply that the confirmed cases are likely orders of magnitude less than the true number of infections. Epidemiological modelers haven’t adequately adapted their estimates to account for these factors.

b)  The number of US people infected and the US mortality rate

The epidemic started in China sometime in November or December. The first confirmed U.S. cases included a person who traveled from Wuhan on Jan. 15, and it is likely that the virus entered before that: Tens of thousands of people traveled from Wuhan to the U.S. in December. Existing evidence suggests that the virus is highly transmissible and that the number of infections doubles roughly every three days.

An epidemic seed on Jan. 1 implies that by March 9 about six million people in the U.S. would have been infected. As of March 23, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 499 Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. If our surmise of six million cases is accurate, that’s a mortality rate of 0.01%, assuming a two week lag between infection and death. This is one-tenth of the flu mortality rate of 0.1%…”

This point is crucial and is much debated. One of the Trump taskforce has argued in the NEJM that the final mortality rate is likely to be between 0.1 and 1.0% – but has also said that the virus could be ten times more deadly than the flu, if it approaches the upper bound of his estimate. Both his arguments could be correct. It should also be noted here that Dr Birx above does not see – from the actual evidence to date – that there could be 6 million infected people in the US as of March 9)

c) The Italian and Chinese actual mortality rates.

“…Fear of Covid-19 is based on its high estimated case fatality rate – 2% to 4% of people with confirmed Covid-19 have died, according to the World Health Organization and others. So if 100 million Americans ultimately get the disease, two million to four million could die. We believe that estimate is deeply flawed. The true fatality rate is the portion of those infected who die, not the deaths from identified positive cases

“…On or around Jan. 31, several countries sent planes to evacuate citizens from Wuhan, China. When those planes landed, the passengers were tested for Covid-19 and quarantined. After 14 days, the percentage who tested positive was 0.9%. If this was the prevalence in the greater Wuhan area on Jan. 31, then, with a population of about 20 million, greater Wuhan had 178,000 infections, about 30-fold more than the number of reported cases. The fatality rate, then, would be at least 10-fold lower than estimates based on reported cases.

Next, the northeastern Italian town of Vò, near the provincial capital of Padua. On March 6, all 3,300 people of Vò were tested, and 90 were positive, a prevalence of 2.7%. Applying that prevalence to the whole province (population 955,000), which had 198 reported cases, suggests there were actually 26,000 infections at that time. That’s more than 130-fold the number of actual reported cases. Since Italy’s case fatality rate of 8% is estimated using the confirmed cases, the real fatality rate could in fact be closer to 0.06%…”

====================================
4. John P.A. Ioannidis

This was written on March 17 and while testing in many countries has ramped up massively since then his point still stands:

The data collected so far on how many people are infected and how the epidemic is evolving are utterly unreliable. Given the limited testing to date, some deaths and probably the vast majority of infections due to SARS-CoV-2 are being missed. We don’t know if we are failing to capture infections by a factor of three or 300.

This evidence fiasco creates tremendous uncertainty about the risk of dying from Covid-19. Reported case fatality rates, like the official 3.4% rate from the World Health Organization, cause horror — and are meaningless. Patients who have been tested for SARS-CoV-2 are disproportionately those with severe symptoms and bad outcomes. As most health systems have limited testing capacity, selection bias may even worsen in the near future.

It’s quite obvious that whatever decision governments make are going to be rolling the dice. South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore threw resources at testing and tracking which is risky but seems to have worked. Holland has gone for the herd immunity approach: given their enthusiasm for euthanasia that should not come as a surprise. Sweden also seems to be taking a relaxed approach. Given its Federal nature the USA has different approaches being taken by different states. New Zealand and other nations have gone for a fairly hardline lockdown that may burn to the ground a substantial part of the economy.

“Draconian countermeasures have been adopted in many countries. If the pandemic dissipates — either on its own or because of these measures — short-term extreme social distancing and lockdowns may be bearable,”

“How long, though, should measures like these be continued if the pandemic churns across the globe unabated? How can policymakers tell if they are doing more good than harm?”

Well the answer is that they can’t. They may never even be able to point to the number of lives saved, and even if they do there will be lives lost because of the lockdown. The phrase “Excess Deaths”, calculated at the end of 2020, may be the best measurement.
 
See Also
 

Written by Tom Hunter

March 31, 2020 at 11:31 pm

Tracking COVID-19

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I’ve made reference a couple of times to the following website:

Worldometer – Coronavirus

Below is a screen shot of how it looks right now. Obviously the site is dependent on national reporting, which is always suspicious in the case of China as they desperately pretend that they don’t make mistakes and perhaps refuse to report new cases; the site showed zero on that front for several days.

At the other end of the scale is Italy, where it seems the death till may have been badly exaggerated by medical reporting, as the Italian National Institute of Health is questioning:

“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.”

Meantime, if the fucking Chinese Communist Party keeps going with their spin job, media intimidation (when the media is not carrying water for them) and conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus then the promotion of new names for the virus is going to increase. One suggestion I have is:
  The Chinese Communist Party Virus.
Up yours Xi Peng, and here’s a Winnie The Pooh toy to cuddle.

Written by Tom Hunter

March 24, 2020 at 7:38 pm

Posted in China

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Why is Italy getting so hammered by COVID-19?

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As of this writing the death toll in Italy just went past that of China according to the Worldometer website:
And then there’s this chart, which plots something not being discussed much by the MSM – death rates per capita:
Italy has a vastly higher mortality rate than any other Western country and given that the first coronavirus cases appeared in the USA, South Korea, and Europe at roughly the same time, it’s clear that there’s something unique about Italy that should be kept in mind when people start pointing at their death rates and screaming about how we’re next!
What could the unique Italian factors be?
There seem to be four major ones.
  • Italy has 28.6% of its population over 60 years of age. That’s the second highest in the world next to Japan’s 33%. In Italy to date, 90% of the deaths have occurred in those 70 or older.
  • Italy has multiple generations of families living together. That’s driven by both cultural and economic factors. In the latter case the disparity between incomes for younger people and the cost of housing. What it means for this disease is that younger family members who catch the coronavirus but aren’t particularly sick bring it home, where it may be fatal to a grandparent.
  • Smoking rates in Italy are much greater than other parts of Western Europe (and that’s saying something). When visiting the place last year I was amazed at how many young people smoked, and a lot of woman too. And as with other Western nations this rate was higher among the older populations, male and female alike. Given that this disease seems to kill via lung problems, having a less-than-healthy set of lungs to start with means you’re more likely to die.
  • Lack of widespread, early testing. Testing is important because it enables a nation to start planning ahead for ICU beds and the like. That’s especially important in a central command and control healthcare system like Italy’s government healthcare.
It’s possible that Italy’s strong links with China for tourism could also be a factor and that’s certainly a commonality with Iran, another nation getting hit hard by the virus. However, China is also well-connected to nations like Australia, the USA – and us of course, and we haven’t suffered the same. I’m not aware of exactly when Italy finally cracked down in flights from China, but it was probably part of their big lockdown that started two weeks ago, which is some time after the US and other nations started on that factor.

While Italy is a crisis zone it seems that things are improving in China, with the disease showing the usual pattern of such things with the rate of new cases rapidly dropping, recovered cases increasing and  the death toll stalling out.

But we should not give the Chinese Communist government too much credit. They enabled this in the first place via allowing things like “wet markets” to continue, then by trying to cover up the outbreak – including the forced silencing of various medical whistleblowers – , and then lying to the rest of the world. Also when they did respond it was with the usual top-down, lockdown that one would expect from a Police State.
These are not options for free and open societies and a great example is nearby South Korea, which has handled things much better than either Italy or China, but that deserves a separate article.

Written by Tom Hunter

March 19, 2020 at 8:23 pm

Posted in Europe

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Movie Review: Ford v Ferrari

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The best movie I’ve seen since The Martian (2015) and one you absolutely should not miss on the big screen.

I’m no petrol head, so have never been much into the mechanics of cars or motor racing. I’ve watched parts of Bathurst races and appreciated rally car events because they at least drove on the sort of roads I used. But the idea of going to a Formula 1 track to stand in one place watching large slot cars whip around a corner seems fantastically boring. Let alone something like NASCAR where they fly around a rectangular track with exactly two corners.

Added to all this has been Hollywood’s increasingly rapid descent into Woke World, where seemingly every movie, even “historical” ones have to deliver at least one, and probably several “Messages” that are approved of by the Modern Left, whether it’s LGBTQ, Global Warming, or the evils of the USA and free enterprise (“Big Business”). The two movie stars in this effort – Matt Damon and Christian Bale – are very much plugged into all that.

As a result I had very low expectations going into the movie and only went because of two reviews. I even persuaded my oldest son to go with me and he’s even more reluctant than I am to spend money at movie theatres, so…

But the movie is magnificent and it’s lot more than a car racing movie.

Carrol Shelby
Ken Miles
It tells the story of two men – Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby – who worked together in the mid-1960’s to build race cars for Ford.
And not just any racecars but ones  that could beat the then invincible Ferrari team in the famous Le Mans 24 hour car race in France.
 
Despite Ford’s gigantism, this plays as an underdog story and works as such.
That’s because it’s not actually supporting Ford as much as supporting two guys up against both Ford, with its corporate “suits” and Ferrari, with it’s typical European snobbishness about America.
The Shelby Cobra

Shelby – played by Matt Damon – had actually won Le Mans as a driver several years earlier but been forced out of racing by a heart condition, which is where the movie starts.

He turns his considerable engineering and sales skills to making his own sports cars, including the legendary Shelby Cobra pictured here.

Meantime in the world of corporate cars another legend, Lee Iacocca, then a young executive tyro with Ford Motor Company, is trying to persuade senior management, including CEO Henry Ford II, to “jazz up” their vehicles and appeal to the upcoming Baby Boomers who have jobs and money and want sexy European cars rather than the staid clunkers that Ford is turning out. The attitude is captured perfectly when Iacocca shows a picture of James Bond standing beside his Aston Martin, only to be told that “Bond’s a degenerate” (modern feminists would likely agree). Nevertheless Iacocca wins his sales pitch and support for his plan to buy Ferrari, which is almost bankrupt.

But it all goes wrong. Enzo listens to Iacocca’s offer but goes with Fiat instead, delivering some choice insults along the way about how the Americans should just go back to “their big, ugly factories” to produce “their ugly little cars” – and that Henry Ford II is not the man his grandfather was.

Bale listens to Damon’s Le Mans proposal

Spurred by these insults Ford decides to write a blank cheque to beat Ferrari at the Le Mans race they have dominated for some time.

Through Iacocca they pick Shelby to get it done, and he in turn picks Ken Miles – played by Christian Bale – as his primary driver-engineer.

Miles is an Englishman and a WWII veteran who drove tanks from D-Day to the end of the war and now lives with his wife and son in California.

He loves his family very much and shows it – but he’s also loves cars and racing them. More than just a driver he runs a small car repair shop (which has tax problems), understands every aspect of car engineering, and berates the occasional customer for not driving a sports car as it needs to be driven. He’s also a very combustible chap.

The two men get to work to build what eventually becomes the Ford GT40. They test the hell out of it at Los Angeles International Airport and after initial doubts, Miles comes to love every minute, even the problems, one of which involves the brakes failing at high speed.

Ford GT 40 Mark II – 1966 Le Mans

But Miles is not liked by some of Ford’s management, especially Senior VP Leo Beebe, who does not consider such a volatile man, and a Brit, to be “the Face of Ford”.

It doesn’t help when Miles, on first meeting Beebe and not knowing who he is, tells him that the newly unveiled Mustang is “a lump of lard“.

Rejected from joining their first Le Mans attempt, Miles listens to the race as all the GT40’s steadily drop out with various mechanical failures, as he had warned would happen if they did not drive them carefully.

Shelby has to answer to an angry Henry Ford who wants him to give one good reason why the whole show should not be canned after such a humiliation. Shelby’s answer is that even with all the failures, one GT40 went down the Mulsanne Straight faster than anything Ferrari has ever produced and that “Old Man Enzo” must know that and be fearful of it.

Ferrari 330 P3 – 1966 Le Mans

The next year Miles gets his shot and the last hour of the movie centres on the race itself and his role in it as one of the co-drivers of the three GT40’s Shelby put into the race.

One of the keys to winning is their idea of swapping out the entire brake system, which is within the letter of the law. It’s not a spoiler to say that they win: you can look it up on the Internet.

But there is an unexpected, bitter-sweet moment when Beebe demands that all three GT40’s cross the finish line together to provide “a great photo“, despite Miles’s car having to slow down and wait for them since he’s leading by almost two laps. And this is added to by the pathos of how the movie ends a little later.

Christian Bale as Ken Miles

Christian Bale is just fantastic as Ken Miles, even if he is aided by getting all the meaty scenes. Although the Oscars have fallen from most people’s view, this role should surely net him another win, this time finally for Best Actor: he’s been nominated twice for it as well as twice for Best Supporting Actor, with one win for the latter.

Watching the movie I’d wondered what criticisms I’d find later about his wonderful “Brummie” accent – only to find out that his actual British accent is not too different. Perhaps his native heritage is a cheat here but even holding one of his endless “moogs” of tea he looks the part.

But Bale’s performance clearly conveys that underneath the language, oil, grease and mechanical knowledge Miles is also an artist, with an artist’s temperament; he absolutely cannot stand authority, at one point telling Shelby that the Ford “suits” will destroy them simply because they hate men who refuse to follow the slots and grooves of everyday life.

We can see that he is desperate to do what he was born for, but only on his terms, meaning that he seeks perfection, as he explains to his son in this quiet and beautiful scene:

The perfect lap. No mistakes. Every gear change. Every corner. Perfect

Matt Damon is ok as Shelby, although an actor like Matthew McConaughey probably would have been a better pick. Damon just doesn’t look right in a cowboy hat and boots with a Texas twang – which he completely gives up on by the end of the movie! But if Bales shows us the artist’s temper, then Damon certainly portrays with compassion the pride and ambition of a man as he swallows corporate bullshit and deals with his disappointments – and navigates between the suits and Miles.

“Got a face like a smacked arse now, haven’t ya?”

And the two actors do have great chemistry on the screen, in dramatic and comedic moments. They’re helped greatly by sparkling dialog:

They said I’d have carte blanche this time. I looked it up, it’s French for ‘horseshit.’“.

And it does not always require dialog. In one dramatic scene Shelby has literally bet the sale of his little company to Ford plus Miles driving at Le Mans, on winning the Daytona 24 hour race and finds Beebe scheming to get the other Ford GT40 team to win by using a NASCAR pit team rather than the build crew Shelby has. Under instructions to keep the engine below 6000rpm, Shelby, near the end of the race and with everything to lose, writes on an instruction blackboard and carries it across to the side of the track where Miles can see it:

7000rpm+. Go like Hell.

In keeping with the joyousness of the whole movie, Miles whoops with delight at being able to unleash both himself and the machine he rides.

The movie’s story may be simple but it is beautifully structured and flows effortlessly, with scene after scene that amount to brilliant little movies in themselves. None more so than the last part about the 1966 Le Mans race. There are breaks in the action as drivers swap out and rest, pit stops made and problems – both human and mechanical – are dealt with. It’s not forty continuous minutes of racing, which would be boring.

There is some CGI in the film, mainly around the crowd scenes and the accidents, which are fast and brutal but, as from the drivers perspective, not lingered upon. The racing sequences were mostly filmed on tracks with replica cars, and they are some of the most intense and real that I’ve ever seen, whether externally or as the drivers must have seen it from inside the cars. Whether it’s evading the accidents, cornering, passing, watching the brakes become glowing red discs, or ploughing into rain and darkness at 200mph you truly get to feel how dangerous this is. I saw audience members flinch during one accident scene as a car literally comes apart in front of Miles.

But it also captures those quiet moments that Miles reaches for, where he is simply, “a body moving through time and space“. And yet even in that there is nothing pretentious about this movie: no reference to Zen.

Also no lecturing buzzkills, no puffed up self-importance, none of the usual “messages”. No woke. There certainly is a message told through character and story though and it’s a vital one in these days of whining Western self-criticism and self-pity, and that’s a message about being your own man, about not getting chewed up and spat out in some corporate or government collective, about sons and fathers and husbands and wives and friends and chasing impossible dreams.

By contrast there were those two reviews I mentioned at the start, from which I’ll provide some excerpts. First up is one Hannah Elliott in Canada’s National Post:

Ford v Ferrari shows a generation best left dead and gone….men dominate the screen for 98% of the time, by my unofficial count….. And when I say men, I mean white, straight men…It’s no surprise to survey this patriarchal wasteland — but it’s no less depressing to see it, nonetheless.

Second is something called L.V. Anderson, in The Daily Grist:

‘Ford v Ferrari’ is the climate change horror film nobody needed…  As wildfires rage in Australia, a record-breaking hurricane season draws to a close, and meteorologists predict that this year will go down as the second-hottest in recorded history, it’s clear that Ford v Ferrari is the wrong movie for 2019…

Thanks idiots, it’s called The Streisand Effect.  As soon as I read all that I knew that this was a movie I had to see.

You should see it too – and take your sons and daughters and grandsons and grandaughters as well. They’ll probably be able to see past the 98% aspect and know that it’s 100% about human beings with a human story that they might be inspired by.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 28, 2019 at 7:44 pm

The Strangeness of History

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I’d had our trip to Italy planned for over a year, and mostly booked for two months, before I realised that there was one possible side-trip we could do almost purely by accident.

On one day we would be driving between the coastal towns of Riomaggiore and Portofino, passing through a larger town called Chiavari, which is on the blue line in the upper left of this picture.

And it just so happens that near Chiavari in 1941/42 my Dad was a POW in PG52: Campo di concentramento per Prigionieri di Guerra no. 52. Perhaps I’d be able to visit whatever memorial existed for the camp, if any. Investigations began and produced the following website sub-section, Camp52, Chiavari.

Modern day site of Campo PG52 

And that in turn produced many interesting snippets of information, including where the camp had been located, a few miles inland from the town.

But most important was the information that a small museum dedicated to the POW camp had been set up in Chiavari. It was part of a larger military museum located in the base of the Scuola Telecomunicazioni Forze Armate – the School of Telecommunications Armed Forces.

But even more important was the information provided by one commentator who visited the original site in 2007:

The camp was beside the bridge and bordered the river. Believe it or not we met the Italian Camp Commandant (then 92 – in 2007), he struck us as being a nice man. He, nor his 2 sons could speak english, and my italian is limited, however, he had the original books, in pristine condition, recording all the names of the PG52 POW’s.

Campo PG52 as it was in 1942.

And later in the thread came the information that some years later, after the old man died, his sons had passed all those books and other memorabilia to the little museum, and that this included the original POW index cards, according to another poster writing twelve years later.

Lt. Zavatteri, the adjutant at the time of the armistice, took away what I have always understood to be the entire collection of prisoner of war records on 9/10 September 1943 or thereabouts – before the Germans arrived to take over the camp. When Lt. Zavatteri died his son gave the material to the Communications Museum.

I had to see if Dad’s was one of them. I’d made the whole day available for the drive anyway, to allow time for photostops, lunch and so forth. An unhurried day of some 94kms driving narrow, coastal roads: three hours if we did not stop at all. I had the time and finding the place would be easy in these days of Siri and Google Maps.


We arrived at about 1pm and there was the base as advertised. We pulled straight in and a guard opened the gate and let us park. Some confusion followed as he looked at my hand-written notes, then made a phone call. A few minutes later a bloke in his fifties, wearing the uniform of an Italian Naval Officer, turned up on a bicycle and explained in fairly good English that visitors were allowed to see the museum only with a letter of invitation.

My heart fell for a second.

Then he smiled and told me that since we had come all the way from “Nuova Zelanda”, he would allow us in, at which point we were introduced to Warrant Officer Venuto who would be our escort, since it’s still an active military base.

A few minutes and many keys later, we were inside. The museum, which is predictably enough dedicated to the history of Italian military telecommunications, occupies an entire building. Warrant Officer Venuto was very proud of the place and enjoyed showing us around the other sections as well. All very cool – but I was keen to get to my real objective: the PG52 archives, built into a bedroom-sized annex.

PG52 Archive Collection

In this photo you can see the boxes of index cards at the bottom of the picture, with a large photo of the camp on the wall above it and shelves of memorabilia like helmets, canteens and boxing gloves. Not seen on the right is a pair of shoes made by the prisoners, which was a pretty sad reflection on the sparse life of a POW.

Having said that, Dad had no real complaints about either of the Italian camps, which were run efficiently but without the edginess of German camps.

The POW Index Cards

A couple of minutes searching through the boxes and there it was: my Dad’s POW card, created when he entered the camp in December 1941. That’s the red one sticking out in the picture to the right.

And below is the card itself.

There’s a lot more information on it than on the German one Dad filched from the Commandant’s office at Stalag IVB in 1945 just after the Germans fled and before the Red Army arrived. The capture date here is likely out by a day, although different groups of 24 Battalion were captured for several days after Nov 30. Dad reckoned his capture was Dec 1st and that’s what’s recorded on the Stalag IVB card.

Also there’s no mention of Sidi Rezegh, just “S. Tobruk“, which is at least reasonably accurate and understandable in the chaos of war. It was also good to get the exact departure date for PG57 nailed down, as I’d had only a range of dates based on the letters he wrote to Mum.

Dad’s POW card for Campo 52

………

In one respect the card is nothing, and I wondered what Dad would have said about my journey to this place. Probably something along the lines of “Why the hell would you bother doing that?”. To him it was simply a year in one place, not fondly remembered, in a time of vast and terrible events that millions of other ordinary blokes like him experienced.

But to me this small thing meant a great deal. I felt a wave of mixed emotions as I extracted the card and eagerly read the details. A simple piece of cardboard – but touching it, reading it to confirm it was really him, that he had really been there, seemed overwhelmingly important and still does as I write this. Perhaps it’s the fact that history wipes most people from the face of the earth, leaving not a trace, sometimes not even memory. I reflected upon the dialog from the TV mini-series, Chernobyl, where the main scientist involved is threatened by the head of the KGB:

“You will remain so immaterial to the world around you that when you finally do die, it will be exceedingly hard to know that you ever lived at all.”

This card, and other small things, are the answer to that, at least for my Dad.

PG52 living conditions
Warrant Officer Venuto

There were other bits of memorabilia in the place, including the wonderful drawing on the left, of the inside of the huts and the bunks the men lived in, and a large drawing of the camp, probably made by the same artist.

And this photo to the right, is of our escort, Warrant Officer Venuto, in his workaday clothes, who spoke only broken English but was a warm companionable man who could see what I was feeling.

I’m very grateful to him, the base commander and the guard at the gate who did not simply turn us away when they could have, and I must write them a thank-you letter.

Arthur Douglas’s drawing of PG52. Unfortunately the scan is not precise enough to capture the dialog.
Thanks Dad!

……..

I drove away feeling light-headed and light-hearted. A long-shot effort to trace a little piece of family history had come off. That evening, as I sat in an open-air bar just below the Portofino lighthouse, I could see across the way the lights of Chiavari and the hills behind it where PG52 once was, so I raised a glass to Dad and the men who gave so much of their lives for us, sometimes everything they had.

I’d like to think that Dad would be amused that his son would one day travel through the same place in a time of peace and prosperity, but I think he’d say that it made the sacrifices of he and Mum worth it.

And I remembered the words of the historian Simon Schama, in the last episode of his great documentary series, A History of Britain:


But history ought never to be confused with nostalgia. It’s written, not to revere the dead, but to inspire the living. It’s our cultural bloodstream – the secret of who we are.

And it tells us to let go of the past even as we honour it, to lament what ought to be lamented, to celebrate what should be celebrated.

And if in the end that history turns out to reveal itself as a patriot, well, then I think that neither Churchill nor Orwell would have minded that very much.

And, as a matter of fact, neither do I.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 25, 2019 at 3:30 am

Posted in Military, New Zealand

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Are you kidding me?

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Naples from Vesuvius

That’s Naples in the distance, and that’s a lava field on the slopes of Vesuvius in the bottom right of the picture, aimed directly at the city. That lava flow is from the last eruption in 1944. Talk about living in the mouth of the shotgun!

One million people in the “Red Zone” for the volcano and our Pompeii guide – an archeaologist – informed us that she doesn’t think most people know or care. Evacuation from an eruption would likely be a mess in her opinion.

But it’s no different on the other side of the volcano.

………………

Scafati and other cojoined towns, with Vesuvius in the background

In the photo to the right are more, smaller, but cojoined cities spread out on and around the South and East flanks of Vesuvius: Santa Maria, Pompeii (yes – an actual suburb/city now), Scafati, Poggiomarino and others. Vesuvius looks like a uni-directional beast, even if it has mainly headed for the North and West in the past. Another million people in a Red Zone: (H/T to an anonymous reader who corrected me on these cities vs. Salerno)

I never thought I’d be using this blog as a Travelogue, but what the hell. Having been in Italy for two weeks I thought I’d take advantage of the FrecciaRossa train’s Wifi to write up some quick impressions.

First, the old ideas of Italian inefficiency seem to have gone by the board. The Frecciarossa’s are one example.

Having said that we’re going to be 30 minutes late into Florence due to some “system failure” just out of Rome, but that’s been the exception. Everything else has been on time.

Taxi drivers: good. Not ripoffs and not nasty.

Hotels: again, efficient, although we’ve not been staying in doss-houses, the experience of being in one’s 20’s anywhere in the world. But still, I expected problems and have found none.

Soldiers in a Naples street

Security: Police of several different types and armed soldiers EVERYWHERE, especially the tourist sites. These guys, as well as the ordinary cops, were at every major tourist spot in Milan, Venice, Rome, and Naples. Gives you a good idea of what Europe is up against in general. They’re not there to stop pickpockets. Did give us a feeling of safety however.

Restaurants: wonderful of course, even the cheapy places. Naturally I’ve gorged myself on pasta and while in Naples, on seafood.

Countryside: beautiful, if strangely empty of animals to my New Zealand eyes. Have had only one glimpse from the train of a “dairy parlour” and saw that all the cows are inside. Probably our future as well. One herd of goats and a feral pig has been it. All else is cultivated fields.

Positano

Okay – so the following is Positano on the Amalfi coast and it’s as stunning as all the tourist brochures said. Could come back to spend a week here. A nearby hotel charges 3000 Euro per night!!

The people: really bloody nice, especially in dealing with our broken Italian! All our guides have been woman, and since we’ve been in small groups we’ve been able to chat a lot.

Every single person we’ve met is angry with Italian politics. Corruption abounds. But given the country has had 100+ governments since 1945 perhaps that’s just normal for the place.

Refugees: anger at them and the government and the EU, which are held to be responsible for bringing them in with no jobs in sight, only welfare in its various forms.

The economy is okay – aside from a trillion $US debt – but not in terms of jobs or career paths. One woman guide has a son in Germany with his engineering degree. He’ll only return if he’s rich enough to buy a second house. Young people seem intent on getting away and often work out of the country as a stepping stone.

The result of this is a visible aging of the population. We’ve drifted into a couple of churches during mass and I doubt there was one person under fifty there. Similarly two of our young woman guides told us that various business areas, like farming, are regarded as being “for the old”. Artisans the same, with people in their 70’s and 80’s still churning out stuff but with no one to train.

Waiters have mainly been middle-aged men, or men pushing into their fifties: most unlike NZ. I’d reckon about four to one being the male/female ratio and the women are mature also. Being a waiter seems to be a profession regarded as worth doing as an adult here, although again you have to wonder about the aging.

And here’s Florence coming up soon! Blogging at 299km/h!

Written by Tom Hunter

October 8, 2019 at 11:17 am

Posted in New Zealand

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Keep Karma and Karry On

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Is this another case of ‘serves you bloody right?

Anti-vax leader given a taste of his own medicine

An Italian populist politician who campaigned against compulsory vaccinations for children is in hospital suffering from chickenpox.
Massimiliano Fedriga, Governor of the northern Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and a ­senior official in the anti-migrant Northern League party, was mocked on social media after he admitted catching the disease.

Adolf caught chickenpox when he was nineteen.  It’s bad enough for children but for adults, it is agony.

I hope he enjoys his sacrifice in the cause of his cause.

Written by adolffinkensen

March 20, 2019 at 5:49 am

Posted in Europe

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