Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Going viral

Very little in our daily lives has escaped the reach of Covid over the past year, not least in the sphere of beer and pubs. What follows is a collection of miscellaneous musings on the topic that extend beyond the usual subject matter of this blog.

  • The pandemic, or rather the government response to it, has divided families and sundered friendships in a way reminiscent of Leave vs Remain, although perhaps even more bitterly as it is something that is closer to home. There’s a certain amount of overlap, although far from an exact match.

  • It has provided a golden opportunity for authoritarians and puritans of all stripes to advance their hobby-horses knowing that they will receive little kickback. The Burden of Proof fallacy has been working overtime.

    A: We're going to impose Measure X to reduce the spread of Covid.
    B: I'm not sure Measure X is very effective.
    A: So you want to KILL PEOPLE, you monster!

  • There has been a disturbing amount of suppression of views that dissent from the official narrative, with people losing newspaper columns and TV slots and having their social media accounts suspended or deleted.

  • Some people in public life have executed a screeching U-turn and recanted from their previous scepticism. One of the worst examples has been Christopher Snowdon, previously the scourge of the public health establishment on alcohol, tobacco and food policy. In the middle of last year, he was staunchly defending the Swedish approach, but abruptly came round to full-blooded support of the current lockdown. He has compounded this by engaging in mockery of those who disagree with him, completely failing to appreciate the inherent irony.

  • People across all manner of sectors have displayed an unedifying dog-in-the-manger attitude, demanding to know why Business X is allowed to open when they’re not. Sadly, the pub trade and those claiming to support them have been particularly guilty of this.

  • To assert that there is a choice between protecting the economy and protecting lives is to draw a false dichotomy. A healthy economy is an essential foundation for a healthy society.

  • Business failures, economic destruction and a mental health crisis are not caused by Covid, they are caused by lockdowns. Covid is a fact of life, lockdowns are a policy choice. One does not inevitably stem from the other.

  • The police really haven’t covered themselves in glory - arresting people for singing and throwing snowballs, making up the law as they went along on mask exemptions, travel to exercise and what shops were allowed to sell, carrying out heavy-handed and unwarranted raids on pubs on the say-so of one malicious curtain-twitcher, and applying blatant double standards to public protests depending on the cause being promoted.

  • The mask law has encouraged self-righteous, judgmental individuals to feel that they have a right to bully and harass disabled and vulnerable people in public places. It’s all too easy to say “he doesn’t look very disabled”, but of course many of the conditions that entitle people to an exemption aren’t immediately obvious. Anyone tempted to have a go should heed the words of the DHSC:

    And hopefully any person who took it upon themselves to challenge this lady would feel rightly proud of themselves.

  • I don’t doubt that Chris Whitty, Patrick Vallance and Jonathan Van-Tam are able and eminent scientists who are genuinely motivated to do good, but they are only experts in their particular field and seem blinkered to any wider considerations.

    I am reminded of the quotations by C.S. Lewis that “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”, and of F.A. Hayek that "There could hardly be a more unbearable - and more irrational - world than one in which the most eminent specialists in each field were allowed to proceed unchecked with the realisation of their ideals."

    It would be a hollow victory to succeed in eliminating Covid while being surrounded by the smoking ruins of a destroyed economy. And, frankly, the policies enacted over the past year seem to have done a much better job of achieving economic destruction. Maybe an economist should be included on SAGE to provide a wider perspective.

    Neil Ferguson, on the other hand, is a contemptible hypocrite with a long track record of failure in forecasting who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near influencing government policy.

  • Some people, with the benefit of hindsight, have argued that things would have been better if we had locked down earlier and harder. However, looking at the situation across the world, there is no correlation between the severity of lockdowns and the success in tackling Covid. Some of the countries with the strictest lockdowns, such as Peru, Argentina and Spain, have had some of the highest death rates. It seems that, in some people’s minds, lockdowns are rather like socialism, that they would work this time if only they were done properly.

  • Lockdowns have been described as middle class people staying at home on full pay making Zoom calls while working-class people bring them stuff – or lose their jobs. There is a clear correlation between the level of social deprivation in an area and the proportion of inhabitants unable to do their jobs from home.

    Media discussions on lockdown seem to be monopolised by people who have suffered no financial penalty. Maybe every panel should have to include at least one person who has been furloughed or lost their job.

  • The past few days have seen a sharp decline in daily case figures and some more positive mood music about the lifting of restrictions. However, there is unlikely to any more clarity about the road forward until the Prime Minister makes an announcement a week on Monday. In the meantime there is a welter of speculation in the media, most of which presumably originates from anonymous government sources, but only serves to spread anger and alarm amongst the population.

  • And I continue to believe that those claiming that most restrictions will be gone by the middle of the year are being hopelessly optimistic. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not making plans for any holidays further away than Argate.

24 comments:

  1. Professor Pie-Tin9 February 2021 at 15:57

    I hope you're wrong about the holidays Mudgie.
    April in Barbados looks doubtful but it was such a ridiculously cheap punt last summer when I booked it that I'm happy to take the voucher for another time.
    July in Greece would be a killer - the villa booking was postponed from the same two weeks last year.But I'm heartened by the Greek government being the first to seriously consider vaccine passports. Surely to Christ the EU has learned something from their pisspoor vaccine debacle and have people working on some sort of QR code system ?
    I've also just booked a ridiculously cheap two-week cruise around Thailand and Vietnam for Christmas and New Year.I hate cruises but this one is actually cheaper than me staying at home and getting pissed for a fortnight.
    I become a pensioner in July and I'm weeks away from selling my company.I refuse to be anything but optimistic about this summer.Otherwise I'd just get even more cranky than I am now.

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  2. It seems a little odd to criticise "able and eminent scientists who [...] are only experts in their particular field and seem blinkered to any wider considerations." Surely that is their function? It is for the government to take advice on other areas (such as the economy, education) from experts in those particular fields and make decisions accordingly. Surely the government has been at fault here for repeating the mantra "guided by the science", as if that were all that they had taken into account. This has had the effect of deflecting blame onto the scientists, who are not really in a position to argue about whether or not the guidance has been followed.

    Jonathan Van-Tam seems to be an excellent communicator, able to convey subtle and important points by talking straight and in ways that non-scientists can understand, but without appearing to condescend. Perhaps he should have been a politician instead.

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    1. Stories coming out of Germany suggest that their Ministry of the Interior briefed selected scientists to provide specific evidence to justify the imposition of repressive measures there. If true, this isn't a million miles away from the situation here, where SAGE appears comfortable in the knowledge that it will always have the government's support for any policies, however irrational, whose aim appears to be the elimination of a relatively unexceptional virus that has already achieved endemic status. As always, having taken power, politicians and scientists will not surrender it easily, and the rest of us are just collateral damage.

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    2. Yes, the buck ultimately stops with the government, so they should not have allowed, or given the impression they had allowed, the scientists to dictate policy. They should not have been given such a prominent role in press conferences. And Van-Tam is overstepping his brief when he starts saying "And you thought you were going on holiday this summer?"

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  3. "The police really haven’t covered themselves in glory - arresting people for singing and throwing snowballs, making up the law as they went along on mask exemptions, travel to exercise and what shops were allowed to sell, carrying out heavy-handed and unwarranted raids on pubs on the say-so of one malicious curtain-twitcher, and applying blatant double standards to public protests depending on the cause being promoted."

    This link goes nicely with the above:

    http://thylacosmilus.blogspot.com/2021/02/as-if-its-possible-to-embarrass-it.html


    "It seems that, in some people’s minds, lockdowns are rather like socialism, that they would work this time if only they were done properly."

    (slow golf clap) :)

    Cheers

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    1. And they've been beating up a café owner just up the road from me in Burnage, Manchester.

      Re your link, I'd guess that very few of the fixed penalties issued under coronavirus legislation would stand up in court if people had the determination - and the funds - to opt for that course.

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    2. Bloody hellski!

      And yet they'll allow 200 travellers to gather for a funeral. They really are taking the p*ss!

      https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9241273/Police-close-road-packed-traveller-funeral-200-mourners-pay-respects-tree-surgeon.html

      Cheers

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    3. 200 travellers pose rather more of a challenge than one café-owner.

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  4. Professor Pie-Tin9 February 2021 at 22:27

    New polling out tonight merely confirms the old adage that social media doesn't reflect real life.

    Which political party, if any, do you think has the best team of leaders to deal with the country’s problems?
    CON: 41%
    LAB: 21%
    SNP: 5%
    LD: 1%
    OTH: 2% Via
    @IpsosMORI

    https://mobile.twitter.com/PoliticsForAlI/status/1359187310085029889

    For all his faults the people of England overwhelmingly back Boris and his team over the way they're handling the pandemic.

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    1. When you look at the alternatives on offer that isn't really a resounding vote of confidence. The political shit will hit the fan when furlough ends and the true scale of economic devastation is revealed.

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    2. The problem there is that it isn't that Johnson is good, it's that the others are also no good. Johnson is quite possibly the most inept PM in living memory: it's really a case of "which half of this shit sandwich would you like?".

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  5. As far as 'Vaccination' Passports and holidays go, I'd offer the following observations: -

    In my opinion, very few countries will impose a vaccine passport on their own citizen, but I expect that most countries will require 'Proof of Vaccination' in order for visitors to enter, thus making international travel impossible without being vaccinated!

    Then there's the matter of travel insurance. If you contract COVID-19 (or are diagnosed as having done so - not necessarily the same thing!) while on holiday I expect that if you haven't been vaccinated, you won't be covered.

    Fortunately, our narrowboat never ventures into international waters so, as long as the pubs are open (like last summer, as a bare minimum!) I'll be OK for a holiday or two this year.

    It was always my plan to wait for a couple of years to see whether there are any 'hidden' problems associated with these vaccines before I got a jab and, as I had no plans to go overseas in the foreseeable future, that should work fine for me (unless I get run over by a bus!)

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    1. You could just about take it into Wales :-)

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    2. It'll be interesting to see if they enforce a 'hard border' at the Chirk Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal!

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  6. An excellent post Mudge, the vast majority of which I fully endorse, with just a few points I’d like to follow up on.

    Now that it’s endemic within human society, Coronavirus is never going to be totally eliminated, so why are some of the SAGE scientists still obsessed with going down this route? If we follow the SAGE pathway, we will likely remain locked up forever, so instead we will have to learn to live with Coronavirus and adapt to it, just as we have with every other infection that has arisen over the course of human history.

    Almost as an echo to SAGE’s misguided approach, Neil Ferguson, who you rightly condemn, is still there peddling his over-inflated scare stories to anyone in the media who will listen. More to the point, he is probably looking for further mugs to fund his increasingly dubious “research.”

    As you also point out, certain classes of individuals have done very nicely from staying at home during lockdown. Cocooned in their cosy houses, working on full pay, with no commuting costs, whilst the “lower orders” fulfil their Amazon orders, and bring them their Just-Eat deliveries, these people are in no hurry to return to their offices or workplaces.

    The heavy-handed, and often unnecessary, policing of minor lock-down transgressions, needs to end, and as for that video of a police officer assaulting that café owner, well words fail me.

    My final point is one of real concern, as it relates to the loss of rights and liberties that the people of this country have enjoyed for centuries. Rights of free association with our fellow citizens and rights to travel wherever we wish in the country, and indeed the rest of the world, have been stripped from us, with hardly a murmur of protest.

    Having deprived us of these inalienable rights, I doubt very much that governments will rush to restore them. The servile, sheep-like manner with which the majority of the population have surrendered their freedoms, is shameful and is a disturbing demonstration of the power exercised by fear, when it comes to controlling a population.

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    1. Can't disagree with a word of that.

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    2. Professor Pie-Tin11 February 2021 at 13:01

      The majority of the population are servile sheep but not me because I know better.
      Interesting argument.
      I'm sure I've heard it somewhere before ...

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    3. Was it when you criticised the sheep who always vote in the Tweedledee and Tweedledum parties who alternate power in Ireland or, if they don't, vote for the charming folk of Sinn Fein?

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    4. Professor Pie-Tin11 February 2021 at 15:39

      Never called 'em sheep Mudgie.
      Just the product of proportional representation where, like Italy, there are endless coalitions with no alternative opposition.
      Except in Ireland's case there is with Sinn Fein, still controlled by the IRA Army Council , coming up on the rails fast.
      In that event they'd be like lambs to the slaughter.
      Fact is, whether you like it or not and I don't particularly, opinion polls show a significant majority in favour of continuing the tough lockdown with pubs closed and a 10 year jail sentence for people who lie about their travel details.
      That doesn't make them sheep just people who are concerned about their lives.

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  7. Probably not the right post but I note Heineken are binning off 8,000 jobs globally.

    I also note that there is now a concerted effort to bring in a "not a congestion charge" into Manchester. Which will mean a fantastic levy on breweries using vans to deliver into the centre.

    Everything else I have an opinion on about this draconian world we are entering is echoed in your piece and the above comments

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  8. This is an excellent article on the political difficulties of dealing with crises like this, when short-term panic always trumps longer-term reflection.

    "The demand for action creates the pressure to avoid being perceived as weak and indecisive on the part of politicians, while the information asymmetry between the visible, concentrated and identifiable benefits of “action” and delayed, speculative and more distributed costs of action, makes irrational and ineffective but ritualistic policies much more likely. Policies adopted to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic illustrate very painfully these truths."

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  9. Professor Pie-Tin11 February 2021 at 17:43

    In other matters is anyone as excited as I am about the new M&S Marmite and cheese-flavoured hot cross buns ?
    My youngest also tells me Marmite Dynamite is the new thing among his student crowd.Marmite infused with chilli.
    Not for the faint-hearted he says ..

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