Sweden suffers record economic plunge despite lighter lockdown

What is not mentioned below is that Sweden probably had both its stage 1 and stage 2 infection episodes all at once -- leaving very few people for the virus to infect.

Another way of saying that is that Sweden is probably pretty close to herd immunity -- meaning that almost all those who were significantly susceptible to the virus have had contact with it but not been infected.  And because they were not infected they will not pass it on.  So even the living remainder of those people who are seriously susceptible will not get it.

That puts them miles ahead of any other nation..  There is at the moment an element of speculation in that because many of the uninfected probably have a a strong natural immunity that leaves no trace of contact with the virus -- even though there was contact.  Time will tell

Sweden’s light-touch lockdown failed to spare its economy from a historic plunge in GDP as Covid-19 triggered a collapse in exports and spending.

Output contracted by a record 8.6pc in the second quarter compared with the previous three months, but the Nordic nation suffered a much smaller hit than many other European economies.

Despite some of the most relaxed Covid-19 restrictions in the world, its exporters were hit by tumbling global demand and household spending slumped as the virus struck.

“The economic crunch over the first half of the year is in a different league entirely to the horror shows elsewhere in Europe,” said David Oxley at Capital Economics.

It is “still likely to be among the best of a bad bunch this year”, he said, pointing to signs of a rebound at the start of the third quarter.

While the hit to GDP was lower than the 12pc slump in the eurozone in the second quarter, Sweden's Nordic neighbours have managed to avoid both a health and economic crisis.

The figures come amid declining support in Sweden for the strategy not to use a mandatory strict lockdown to contain the virus. The controversial approach relied on voluntary social distancing, bans on large gatherings, care home restrictions and table service in bars and restaurants.

Sweden has recorded almost 6,000 Covid deaths compared with about 250 in Norway and just over 600 in Denmark, giving it one of the world's highest death rates.

Prime minister Stefan Löfven has launched an inquiry into the handling of the pandemic. “We have thousands of dead. Now the question is how Sweden should change, not if,” he admitted when announcing the probe in late June.

Torbjörn Isaksson, chief analyst at Nordea Markets, warned that it was “too early to evaluate how different strategies to deal with Covid-19 have affected the economies”.

“Swedish GDP contracted much less in the first half of the year than for instance in the euro area, while some of our Nordic neighbours probably fared better than Sweden,” he said.

The OECD has predicted that Sweden will suffer a 6.7pc plunge in GDP this year if there is only one significant Covid wave. Norway and Denmark expect a smaller 6pc and 5.8pc hit while also containing the virus.

There is also growing evidence that stemming the health crisis is the key to strong recoveries, with life returning to relative normality in countries that successfully stemmed outbreaks.

Households could slam the brakes on consumption if they fear the virus is surging. Worried consumers in the US, for example, have curbed spending as cases surge, while some states have been forced to roll back reopenings. The same could happen in Europe if fears of a second wave on the Continent are realised.

For now, however, the recovery in Sweden is taking shape. Neal Kilbane at Oxford Economics said the Swedish economy had bottomed out and was starting to recover.

“Private sector production ended four consecutive months of decline by expanding by 0.7pc month-on-month in June, while July’s composite PMI increased above 50 and into expansionary territory for the first time since February,” he said.

Sweden will avoid the collapse in output seen in much of Europe, but its Nordic neighbours have shown that containing the virus does not necessarily trigger economic collapse.



The silver lining that could recharge Australia's manufacturing

This is a very optimistic article.  It is true that Australia mines some of the rare earths used in electric car batteries but most such rare earths are mined more cheaply in China.  So there is no clear reason why Australia has any advantage that would cause the fabrication work to be done here

And the article assumes that the demand for electric cars will boom.  There is no good sign of that and as the poor performance of electric cars in cold weather and in cold climates becomes well-known, the boom is more likely to be a bust.  Anyone with shares in Tesla should sell them now

With the closure of Holden, Australia has reached the end of an era of car manufacturing domestically. Sadly, 100 Holden engineers finished up with the company in Port Melbourne last month, and another 100 are set to leave the company's Lang Lang proving ground in Victoria soon.

This news was so grim that Queensland MP Bob Katter turned up to Parliament House recently dressed as the Grim Reaper himself. Armed with a plastic scythe and flanked by a procession of classic Holden cars, Katter blamed the government for the death of Holden and Aussie manufacturing.

However, as one door closes another door opens. At the former Holden factory in Elizabeth, South Australia, global battery manufacturer Sonnen has opened a battery assembly plant, employing a number of former Holden workers in the process.

Workers like operations supervisor Craig Johnston, whose parents met at the Holden factory and who worked in car manufacturing himself for 25 years before starting a new career in clean energy in 2018. Craig left the Holden factory on a Friday and returned the following Monday to join Sonnen, helping manufacture batteries under the same roof where he once made cars.

Australia has historically had a large and productive manufacturing industry, but the past 30 years has seen this sector decline. Faced with the dual threats of COVID-19 and climate change, is now the time to revitalise Australian manufacturing?

In 2015, the world committed to act on climate change, with the aim of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees. This commitment has sparked a new industrial revolution in zero-carbon technologies such as wind, solar and renewable hydrogen, and zero-carbon commodities such as steel and batteries. Batteries in particular are going to play a substantial role in the global decarbonised economy, helping to power our homes, stabilise our electricity systems and drive millions of cars and buses around the world.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global energy storage is set to boom by 2040, and this represents a $662 billion investment opportunity.

The biggest area of energy storage growth will be in lithium-ion batteries, due to their energy density. In the next five years, demand for lithium for the global electric vehicle market alone is likely to increase fivefold.

BNEF anticipates that Australia is one of only 10 countries able to secure three-quarters of this global battery market. The reasons: Australia has the mineral deposits essential to the production of batteries, we are an excellent investment destination, we are an attractive market for small and big scale batteries, and we are close to major markets in Asia.

According to the WA government, Western Australia alone produces nine out of the 10 minerals needed to make lithium-ion batteries.

Now is the time to assertively position Australia as the world's leading battery nation. While we are already the world's largest exporter of lithium ore - spodumene - this just continues our trend of being a "dig it and ship it" nation. A new approach is required if we are to rekindle our manufacturing sector and ensure the full economic value of our resources benefits Australia.

TheAustralian Trade and Investment Commission found Australian lithium realised $213 billion in the global market in 2017, but only 0.53 per cent ($1.13 billion) of this wealth stayed in Australia.

Most of Australia's lithium is exported to China for processing. Afterwards it is sent to Japan and Korea and transformed into battery packs, which are then imported back to Australia and other countries.

However, in the past two years, we have seen the beginnings of an advanced manufacturing battery supply chain develop in Australia. Western Australia has seen the first lithium processing facility, Victoria the first battery recycling facility, and South Australia the first two battery assembly plants.

Then of course there are the thousands of households installing batteries, and the energy companies and governments who are following suit at a community and grid scale. In the ACT, the government is running a tender to deliver one of Australia's largest battery storage facilities, able to power 25,000 homes for two hours when needed.

The remaining gaps are battery component and battery cell manufacturing. The good news is that the Western Australian government's battery manufacturing strategy is looking to target the next step - battery cathode manufacturing. Up in Townsville, there is an ambitious plan to establish a battery cell "Gigafactory".

COVID-19 has demonstrated the fragility of many global supply chains. This in turn is leading to a national conversation about the importance of Australian manufacturing.

If we are serious about both increasing our economic resilience to global crises, stimulating the economy, growing new jobs now and into the future and revitalising this dwindling sector, we need to focus on manufacturing for a clean energy future - and an economic stimulus package for batteries would be a great place to start.

Targeted government support now will unleash a global battery powerhouse that drives investment and jobs right across the value chain from mining to refining, making and recycling.

In Europe, a focus on cleaning up transport as a stimulus measure has buoyed the electric vehicle market, and in turn the global metals and minerals markets.



How we lost trust in our universities

The debate over standards has been going on for a long time.  Universities have been under informal pressure to give Chinese and other foreign students "leeway" in marking because of their often imperfect command of English.  And in a way that is fair enough.  In such cases the ability of the student is not well represented by the mark that he would otherwise be given. So the standards of the university are not compromised and the student can be expected to go back home and perform well

There has however always been internal debate about where you draw the line.  Are you making a fair allowance for a basically good student or are you giving a pass to a genuine dummy?  There is never much in the way of clear guidelines in some situations and some universities have been known to give out passes to very poor students from abroad. -- often to the disgruntlement of the teachers who know the student well.

One would think that it should be left to the markers to pass or fail the students but that is not always so. Admin sometimes increases the mark recorded.  That seems to me wholly obnoxious. There have been some well-known cases

I have myself once given an Aboriginal student marks commensurate with his poor performance only to be completely overridden by "higher-ups".  I made only a small fuss as I knew what I was up against.

But this latest development where there is a concerted campaign to lower standards is, I think, new.  It is of course completely foolish.  It just devalues whatever degree is awarded.  Such degrees will rapidly become known as "Chinese degrees" and will be disrespected by anyone in the know.  That is of course a huge disfavour for Chinese students who are genuinely up to par

The politicization of the universities mentioned below is a largely separate issue and I have already commented on the cases mentioned below.  Again it is not entirely new.  Judging by publications, my academic career could well have been stellar except for my conservative views

Australian National University vice-chancellor and astronomer Brian Schmidt, who is the only university leader in the world to win a Nobel prize (for physics), made a telling point in his annual Foundation Day address this week. Australia needs universities more than ever amid the COVID-19 crisis, he said. But they have possibly never been more distrusted.

In an interview with Tim Dodd earlier this year, Professor Schmidt identified what families want universities to be. That is, a place where “Australian students can get an education as good as any place in the world but distinctively Australian”. That aspiration should serve as a model for our universities, which, since the days of the Colombo Plan in the 1950s, have attracted students from around the world for their quality and for the experience most students enjoy.

For decades the sector built on that reputation to the point where last year education had grown into the nation’s fourth-largest export, worth $40bn to the economy. For now, at least, the coronavirus has smashed the business model centred on international students. But that is only one of a range of problems facing the sector, as serious revelations reported in recent weeks have shown.

Most of these come down to the issue of standards, which university leaders must improve and defend if their institutions are to serve the nation and retain (or recover) their international reputations. Contentious cultural issues of academic freedom and censorship also loom large.

Suspicions that some institutions have “gone soft” in marking the work of foreign students have been rife for years. Alarm bells should be ringing among university leaders after confirmation that lecturers are being cowed into lowering academic standards by organised networks of overseas students. Academics admit they have “dumbed down” courses to ensure foreign students can complete degrees. Lecturers who refuse risk being targeted by official complaints signed by up to 100 students, as reported on Wednesday. It is even more alarming that such complaints are taken seriously by university executives and have the potential to derail academic careers. Language barriers are a major part of the problem, as local students know from experience. In defending standards, universities must insist on proficiency in English.

Recent scandals also show how far universities have strayed from what should be central to their raison d’etre — free speech and academic freedom. As Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven wrote recently, universities have two types of problems with freedom of academic expression. One is corporate, “where an academic writes something that could rile a major stakeholder: a sponsoring corporation, a government partner or — frankly — China”. Vice-chancellors understandably, but not heroically, Professor Craven noted, “feel for their institutional wallet”. The second assault on academic freedom is more insidious because it is internal. “An academic strikes trouble because he or she writes something counter to the accepted wisdom of their faculty or university as a whole.”

Despite an admirable policy on free speech, the University of NSW resorted to censorship when it withdrew a tweet quoting adjunct law lecturer and Australian director of Human Rights Watch Elaine Pearson criticising China’s miserable human rights record in Hong Kong. UNSW vice-chancellor Ian Jacobs, to his credit, has apologised for the decision to delete the tweet.

The suspension of pro-Hong Kong democracy student activist Drew Pavlou by the University of Queensland also smacked of repressive censorship. Both universities’ approaches were anathema to Western ideals of free speech. But Chinese Communist Party propagandist media, unsurprisingly, were deeply critical of both Ms Pearson and Mr Pavlou. Such erosion of intellectual integrity has compromised universities’ credibility.

The treatment of James Cook University physicist Peter Ridd by his employers also was indicative of an increasing hostility to debate on campus. The cardinal sin that brought about Dr Ridd’s demise was his questioning of the rigour of university-linked research on the health of the Great Barrier Reef under climate change.

Last year’s campus free speech report by former High Court chief justice Robert French made the point that university codes of conduct could be hostile to the freedoms they purported to uphold. That is particularly the case in relation to opinions that challenge progressive norms among academics. But when it suits them, some faculties prefer to turn a blind eye to empirical evidence. For instance, too many education faculties fail to prepare trainee teachers to use phonics in teaching children to read, despite impressive evidence about the method’s effectiveness compared with trendier “whole-word recognition” systems. Nor should promoting “cancel culture” be academics’ focus.

Regardless of such problems, universities remain our prime drivers of ideas and scientific breakthroughs. As Professor Schmidt said, few people realise how large and direct a part the ANU and other universities are playing in the fight against coronavirus. During the enforced interruption in their operations because of the pandemic, vice-chancellors and other leaders have a chance to raise academic standards, reinforce the value of free speech and improve accountability to taxpayers and to the Australian students who primarily fund universities. Doing so would rebuild trust and enhance their international standing.



Government warned on Chinese state involvement in Australian power grid

This is rather paranoid.  A transformer does just one simple thing:  Change the voltage of an electrical current.  There is no scope for China to subtly change that in some way.  It either supplies the correct voltage or is does not.  And if it does not you will soon know it. 

It is true that electricity supply lines can transmit messages.  They do that all the time. But a transformer that added a gadget  to receive and transmit messages from China should be detectable.  Putting through a pulse to burn out such a gadget before installation should also be possible

And the bottom line is that the Chinese firm would lose all its sales if it were to get up to tricks

The federal government is being urged to conduct a review of Chinese state involvement in Australia’s electricity grid and consider the removal of some equipment amid fears of remote sabotage.

Influential South Australian senator Rex Patrick is behind the push as Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows China has overtaken Vietnam as the main supplier of transformers for the Australian electricity network in recent years.

Transformers are crucial parts of the grid that convert alternating current from one voltage to another, powering households and energy-intensive factories.

In 2018-19, Chinese companies supplied 29 of the 70 transformers imported by Australia. Of these, 16 were for use in Victoria. The Andrews government signed a memorandum of understanding with China in 2018 to participate in its controversial Belt and Road initiative.

The rise in China-sourced transformers has occurred since Beijing’s State Grid Corporation bought stakes in electrical transmission network companies SP Ausnet and ElectraNet, as well Melbourne-based retailer Jemena, in 2013.

Prior to those deals, in 2011-12, China supplied just eight of the 135 transformers imported into Australia. Vietnam supplied 33.

The increasing reliance on Chinese-built transformers has raised fears about the vulnerability of Australia’s electricity grid to foreign interference.

In May, US President Donald Trump issued an executive order to place tight restrictions on the use of foreign-sourced equipment in the electricity grid because of rising fears about the possibility of remote attacks and sabotage.

While Mr Trump’s executive order referred only to “foreign adversaries” targeting the US power system “with potentially catastrophic effects”, it was widely interpreted to be aimed at China and Russia.

Mr Trump’s order stated “the unrestricted foreign supply of bulk-power system electric equipment constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States”.

US authorities last year seized a large Chinese-built transformer en-route to a substation in Colorado and transported it to a government laboratory for inspection. The Chinese company that built this transformer also provides them for the Australian network.

Western security agencies fear foreign-built transformers could have malicious electrical components surreptitiously installed that could potentially allow another country to interrupt power supply on a whim.

Cyber-security expert Paul Dabrowa said it was possible for a foreign government to badly damage Australia’s electricity grid within two minutes. “It could take months to repair the damage … there’s open-source material about experiments that have proven this is possible,” he said.

Senator Patrick said the recent moves in the US to limit the potential for foreign influence in its electricity grid should encourage Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to use his powers under the Critical Infrastructure Act to reduce the risk to Australia.

“At the same time, the Australian government needs to bring forward its proposed changes to Australia’s foreign investment laws and commit to require the divestment from Australia’s power grid of all involvement by companies owned, controlled or significantly influenced by the Chinese government,” he said. “Given the change in Hong Kong’s status, such a policy should extend to companies registered in Hong Kong.”

Senator Patrick said particular attention should be paid to the State Grid Corporation representatives on the boards and in the executive ranks of its Australian electricity companies. Jemena’s executive team features a former deputy mayor of a Chinese city. To hold such an official position requires membership of the Chinese Communist Party.

In 2016, then treasurer Scott Morrison blocked a bid by the State Grid Corporation and Hong Kong’s Cheung Kong Infrastructure from buying a 99-year lease on a 50.4 per cent stake in NSW electricity distributor AusGrid. Mr Morrison said at the time that the decision was in the national interest and was backed by the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Victorian electricity distributors Powercor and Citipower are majority-owned by Hong Kong-based CK Infrastructure. Although CK Infrastructure is privately owned, its chairman, Victor Li, is a member of the 13th Chinese Peoples’ Political Consultative Committee.

The Home Affairs Department said it had increased funding and introduced laws in 2018 in recognition of the risk of foreign influence in the national electricity grid.

Jemena said it operated in accordance to stringent rules under Australia’s “extremely robust” foreign investment regulatory regime. Its shareholders had no direct control over the day-to-day operations of the business and its directors adhered to “strict governance procedures”, it said.

Powercor said its executives were all Australian citizens and no one on its board was a Chinese Communist Party member.

Both Jemena and Powercor said customer details were kept in Australia.



The four types of climate denier, and why you should ignore them all

He leaves out a category:  The scientifically literate.  And he offers no evidence that any of his types exist outside of his own imagination.

If he was less full of himself he might have done a survey, extracted the principal components from the results and did  a varimax analysis of them.  That's old hat if you want to know the actual subtypes in the responses

But he is probably not scientifically literate enough to do any kind of factor analysis.  I am no great fan of factor analysis myself but it sure beats mere opinion

The shill, the grifter, the egomaniac and the ideological fool: each distorts the urgent global debate in their own way

Anew book, described as “deeply and fatally flawed” by an expert reviewer, recently reached the top of Amazon’s bestseller list for environmental science and made it into a weekly top 10 list for all nonfiction titles.

How did this happen? Because, as Brendan Behan put it, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. In an article promoting his book, Michael Shellenberger – with jaw-dropping hubris – apologises on behalf of all environmentalists for the “climate scare we created over the last 30 years”.

Shellenberger was named a hero of the environment by Time magazine in 2008 and is a loud advocate of nuclear power, but the article was described by six leading scientists as “cherry-picking”, “misleading” and containing “outright falsehoods”.

The article was widely republished, even after being removed from its first home, Forbes, for violating the title’s editorial guidelines on self-promotion, adding further heat to the storm. And this is why all those who deny the reality or danger of the climate emergency should be ignored. Obviously, I have broken my own rule here, but only to make this vital point once and for all.

The science is clear, the severity understood at the highest levels everywhere, and serious debates about what to do are turning into action. The deniers have nothing to contribute to this.

However infuriating they are, arguing with them or debunking their theories is likely only to generate publicity or money for them. It also helps to generate a fake air of controversy over climate action that provides cover for the vested interests seeking to delay the end of the fossil fuel age.

But the deniers are not all the same. They tend to fit into one of four different categories: the shill, the grifter, the egomaniac and the ideological fool.

The shill is the easiest to understand. He, and it almost always is he, is paid by vested interests to emit clouds of confusion about the science or economics of climate action. This uncertainty creates a smokescreen behind which polluters can lobby against measures that cut their profits.

A sadder case is that of the grifters. They have found themselves earning a living by grinding out contrarian articles for rightwing media outlets. Do they actually believe the guff they write? It doesn’t matter: they just warm their hands on the outrage, count the clicks and wait for the pay cheque.

The egomaniacs are also tragic figures. They are disappointed, frustrated people whose careers have stalled and who can’t understand why the world refuses to give full reverence to their brilliance. They are desperate for recognition, and, when it stubbornly refuses to arrive, they are drawn to make increasingly extreme pronouncements, in the hope of finally being proved a dogma-busting, 21st-century Galileo.

The ideological fool is the fourth type of climate denier, and they can be intelligent. But they are utterly blinded by their inane, no-limits version of the free-market creed. The climate emergency requires coordinated global action, they observe, and that looks horribly like communism in disguise.

They could explore the many credible climate action plans being pursued, including by those on the political right. But their cognitive dissonance forces them to the conclusion that because state intervention is wrong, acting to avert climate danger cannot be right. Intellectual gymnastics to “expose” climate alarmism then follow naturally.

But why do I say ignore them all? The climate crisis is urgent, and we need debate to drive action. However, vigorous debates over action are already taking place in good faith all over the world, from the tops of governments to the smallest local action groups.



'Quantum shift': Ambitious new targets to improve Indigenous lives

Targets are all very well but how are they going to be met?  Nobody knows. We have only vague generalities below and it has all been tried before.  The truth is that Aborigines have been going downhill ever since the missionaries were forced out

Even the missionaries could do only so much.  Aborigines have some eerie abilities at perception and memory but they have one of the lowest average IQs in the world, and it shows.  Their educational performance is disastrous and that is fatal

Ambitious targets to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians by lifting school attendance, employment rates and university enrolments while dramatically lowering the number of children in out-of-home care and behind bars will be unveiled on Thursday.

A new national agreement on Closing the Gap, which sets 16 new national socio-economic targets to track progress, will put community-controlled Indigenous organisations at the centre of efforts to redress inequality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the broader community.

The plan will commit federal, state and local governments and a coalition of 50 peak Indigenous organisations to a significant reduction in suicides as well as a pledge to reduce the Indigenous adult incarceration rate by at least 15 per cent among adults and at least 30 per cent among juveniles by 2031. It will also aim to dramatically reduce the number of Indigenous children in out-of-home care in the next decade.

After more than 10 years of failings in many of the key targets, new independent and state-based reporting of results will be put in place. This will include the Productivity Commission undertaking an independent three-yearly review on progress, complemented by an independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led review.

The agreement has been written in a collaborative process overseen by Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt and Pat Turner, convener of a coalition of 50 peak Indigenous organisations.

Mr Wyatt said the historic plan would for the first time bring shared responsibility and joint accountability to efforts by governments, councils and communities to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the results are not good enough as he releases the Closing the Gap report vowing to make changes.

He said the new agreement represented a "quantum shift" from a decade of failings.

"Every word has been considered and debated, every target has been considered and debated," Mr Wyatt said. "We know that the best outcomes are achieved when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are equal partners with governments and when they have a direct say in how we are going to be successful in driving the desired outcomes."

The annual Closing the Gap report, released in February, showed a staggering failure to meet targets in improving levels of Indigenous childhood mortality, life expectancy, school attendance and employment.

The new agreement will focus on four priority reforms to change how governments work with Indigenous Australians, establishing formal partnerships and shared decision making, transforming government agencies, and improving and sharing access to data and information to enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to make informed decisions.

Ms Turner said it would be the first time First Nations people would share decision making with governments on Closing the Gap.

"Our country has unforgivable gaps in the life outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians in all aspects of life including mortality, chronic disease, disability rates, housing security, education, employment and wealth," she said.

"These gaps have burdened our people and caused the erosion of health and well-being of generations of First Nations Australians. The national agreement represents a turning point in our country's efforts to close these gaps."

Federal and state governments agreed on draft targets in December 2018 for education, economic development and health as well as planning a new goal to reduce Indigenous incarceration within a decade.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the agreement was a new chapter. "The gaps we are now seeking to close are the gaps that have now been defined by the representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This is as it should be," Mr Morrison said. "By focusing our efforts on these more specific, practical and shared objectives we can expect to make much greater progress.



Tropical Plants Harmed by Global Warming (??)

There is a very clear trend in the response of plant life to temperature:  The warmer it gets the more plant life flourishes. So the article below is aberrant

So how did the researchers come to a different conclusion?  They looked at existing data on seed germination.  But the data was not optimized to determine temperature maxima so is not conclusive. A proper experiment where the effects of a range of temperatures on germination ceteribus paribus would be needed to give sound results.

And even in the survey concerned, it was admitted that the effects are not "all or none". There were different percentages of germination for different temperatures.  So if only 5% of the seeds germinated in some projected future high temperature the species would still survive and probably flourish in that temperature. 

The whole article is a big underestimate of survival capacity.

The thing that totally makes it absurd however is that in the much warmer age of the dinosaurs, plant life flourished mightily.  The species of today are descendants of that ancient plant life so most should have the heat tolerance of that time.

Further in the all-effects-of-climate-change-are-bad category, we hear that “Tropical plants closer to the equator are most at risk from climate change because it is expected to become too hot for many species to germinate in the next 50 years, UNSW researchers have found.”

On the face of it this conclusion is implausible. Global warming should drive species from their current habitats to ones that used to be cooler, away from the Equator toward the poles, in which case cold-weather life forms would hit the wall first (say, those obstinately flourishing polar bears) while things like orchids would be the last to go, migrating from Central America to Wisconsin and ultimately Baffin Island before going off the edge. As even the Guardian admits, “When left unattended, trees migrate toward more favorable conditions through a process known as seed dispersal, in which seeds are carried by the wind or birds to new places, taking root where the weather and water are right.” But when it’s climate change, warming can’t even expand the range of things that like warmth.

How about that! It's almost as if Mother Nature reacts protectively during times of (slow, gradual, perfectly normal climate evolution) and takes steps to ensure her progeny's welfare. As the Guardian story cited above observes with wonder:

There is an impressive array of pine species at the Nature Conservancy’s Plum Creek preserve in Maryland – loblolly, Virginia, shortleaf – creating a landscape that emits the smell of Christmas well into the summer. But a newcomer to the preserve has fueled an ethical debate about the role of conservationists in the age of climate change.

But longleaf is not native to Maryland, and many scientists believe they should not be planted at Plum Creek, or anywhere outside of theirnaturalrange. These relatively young trees are part of an experiment to determine if human intervention could help the pines migrate north as climate change alters its natural range... Assisted migration has been accused of being expensive and risky, a case of humans playing God.

This being the Guardian, the worry is that even with the help of Scientists (the new priest class of the atheist Left), neither gimpy old Gaia nor God himself won't be able to move fast enough to save herself. And a "restoration ecologist" named Deborah Landau blames -- you guessed it -- the coming of the white man for the retreat of the ugly, scrub longleaf pines.

Longleaf pine once blanketed 90 million acres of the American southeast, but today it inhabits only 3% of its original range. According to Landau, longleaf was “practically knocking on the door” of the Chesapeake Bay when Europeans showed up 400 years ago. “We truly feel it would have eventually arrived on its own,” she says. Instead, longleaf pine forests were decimated by logging and fire suppression, their growth fragmented by human development.

Climate change -- is there anything it can't do?



As public schools go all virtual in fall, parents eye private schools that say they will open their campuses

Once again the Left harm those they purport to help.

Leftist  governors and Leftist teachers' unions have been very reluctant to tell their teachers to go back to work.  The evidence shows that reopening the schools is very safe for all concerned so why?

It's another demonstration of their hatred of their own society.  Keeping the schools closed messes up a lot of people and they like that. They seem completely unembarrassed that they will hurt  the poor by it -- whom they pretend to side with.  It is the kids of the poor who rely on public schools.  So they will get a truncated education.  

Private schools, by contrast generally have a better relationship with their teachers so will open as soon as possible.  So middle class children who go to private schools will get an education while poor kids do not.

The whole episode shows how hollow is the Leftist pretence of compassion for the poor.  If they feel that way, they would be energetically re-opening their schools

Valerie Kindt wants to return to work full time. Kindt, the mother of a rising third-grade son, scaled back her hours to part time at an international nonprofit organization in April so she could guide her son through his daily four hours of remote-learning lessons at his D.C. public school. But she thinks this is a pivotal time in her career and fears what being a part-time employee will mean for her professionally.

So she is taking a gamble for the fall: She is pulling her son out of their beloved public elementary school and putting him in a private school that, for now, says its campus buildings will be open full time for in-person learning in September.

Kindt says she realizes that she’s making a bet and that she may end up in the same situation as she was at the public school: All virtual learning from home.

But she said she expects that private schools will eventually be able to switch to in-person learning quicker than public schools, making it a worthwhile gamble for her.

“If they do close I am back to square one,” Kindt said. “It again means I will not be able to go back to work.” 

While most of the region’s public school districts say their campuses will remain closed for the start of the fall semester, many private schools — which can charge more than $45,000 a year in tuition and fees — are still planning to bring students into classrooms for at least part of the week. It’s a situation that could exacerbate existing inequalities, with wealthier students attending classes in person at private schools, and everyone else using public schools’ distance learning, which left many students behind in their academics.

In D.C. wards hit hardest by Covid, sending children back to school is a risk some families won’t take.

The fact that these private schools may offer some in-class instruction has fueled an uptick in enrollment inquiries from families who can afford to make the switch.

“As of July 22, pretty much across the board, schools are planning for some sort of in-person learning in the fall,” said Amy McNamer, executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington, which supports 76 private schools in the region. “And I have to add this big caveat that that could change,” she said. 

In online forums, parents are asking one another for advice about private schools, saying they fear that virtual learning at their public schools will be a disaster.

We are “looking at private options,” one Fairfax County Public Schools parent wrote on the online forum DC Urban Moms, seeking a private school with a strong virtual-learning program. “We had been considering it even before the pandemic but now it’s clear.”

McNamer said private schools are better equipped for in-person learning. Their campuses are typically bigger and class sizes were already smaller — sometimes just 12 students in a class — before the pandemic, allowing students to better keep their distance during the school day.

“Our schools are able to make decisions for one institution and one community only and that allows them to change course quickly,” McNamer said.

It’s unclear, however, how most teachers feel about returning. Unlike public schools — whose unions have pushed for schools to reopen virtually — the teachers at these private campuses are not unionized. Hundreds of private school teachers from across the country, including in the Washington region, have circulated online and anonymously signed a statement calling on schools to reopen virtually. Private school teachers and staff said in interviews that they think their schools are reopening because administrators do not want to lose tuition-paying parents who might withdraw from the school, and they fear they will have no protections if they are not ready to return.

For parents who can afford it, a solution for the fall: Bring teachers to them.

We “believe that it is our duty to share publicly that placing our students into classrooms this fall is an unsafe, pedagogically unsound, and ultimately unethical course of action,” the statement reads.

President Trump’s son Barron, 14, attends St. Andrew’s Episcopal — a private school with a sprawling campus in Maryland that serves 645 students from preschool to high school. Trump said during a briefing that he was comfortable with his son going back into the classroom. St. Andrew’s has told families in a letter posted on its website to expect either all distance learning in the fall or a hybrid model, where elementary school students could attend in-person classes every day and older students would switch between distance and in-person learning.

In Northwest Washington, the Sheridan School says it plans to bring its 226 elementary and middle school students back to classrooms five days a week. In Baltimore, the all-boys Gilman School says elementary school students can come to campus every day, while high schoolers can return three days a week.

The Archdiocese of Washington said in a letter to families it has set guidelines for the region’s Catholic schools for reopening, and schools are now working on their individual fall plans.

In the Washington region, many parochial schools have said they will open their doors.

Clyde Davis Jr. sends his son, a rising seventh-grader, to Holy Trinity: An Episcopal School in Prince George’s County. Davis was laid off from his job in the beverage industry and said he has been able to supervise his son during distance learning. He said his son is an independent student and has not fallen behind in academics.

Davis, a D.C. resident, said the school plans to offer at least some in-person learning during the fall, but he plans to keep his son at home. He may allow his son to return for the first days to reunite with friends, but with coronavirus case numbers rising, he is not ready to send the boy back to the school building just yet, fearing for the safety of students and teachers.

“There was a part of me that thought if they go virtual, I might as well send him to public school,” Davis said. But he is sticking with the private school.

The current situation for many of the region’s elite private schools is a far cry from the doomsday scenario that some anticipated at the beginning of the pandemic. Sidwell Friends received a $5.2 million Paycheck Protection Program loan and told The Washington Post in May that it anticipated declining enrollment for the 2020-2021 academic year and other revenue streams to dry up. In a recent email, a Sidwell spokesman wrote that “we are grateful that interest and enrollment remain steady.” Sidwell has not yet announced plans for the fall.

Owen Daly, director of secondary school admissions at Gilman, said the school has received more inquiries about enrollment since the surrounding Maryland public school districts have announced an all-virtual start to the academic year.

 “For Gilman, and a lot of the schools, the challenge is that our school is fully enrolled so it’s not like we can accept a lot of these families even though we would like to help them,” Daly said.

Because of donations from alumni, the school is able to hire more teaching assistants and staff, allowing students to remain in small, socially distanced cohorts on campus and maximizing in-person class time, Daly said. Parents may select an all-virtual option and the school is still figuring out which staff members would be willing to return to in-person classes.

“It’s a lot of money to invest in elementary school education and we want to make sure that we are providing the best education possible — safely,” Daly said. 



Welcome to the 15-minute city

This is just the old "smart growth" idea resuscitated. Such policies still have a following but only because they sound good in theory.

Attempts to implement it have been shown to drive the price of housing up, significantly reducing discretionary incomes, which necessarily reduces the standard of living and increases poverty

And relatively few job opportunities can be shoe-horned into the "smart" area.  It is generally inconsistent with economies to  scale

When a plague tore through Milan in the 1570s, everything had to change. Shops were closed. Mass was sung outdoors. A large church, the Lazzaretto, became a hospital. By 1578 the disease had fallen back, but the city was in financial trouble and had shed almost a fifth of its population.

This year, in the chaotic fallout from coronavirus, the Lazzaretto is once again part of an ambitious urban experiment. Giuseppe Sala, Milan’s leftwing mayor, announced in April that the area would host a pilot scheme for “rethinking the rhythms” of the Lombard capital. Amid the dense cityscape that has built up around the remains of the old hospital, the plan is to “offer services and quality of life within the space of 15 minutes on foot from home”.

The “15-minute” idea is based on research into how city dwellers’ use of time could be reorganised to improve both living conditions and the environment. Developed by Professor Carlos Moreno at the Sorbonne in Paris, the concept of “la ville du quart d’heure” is one in which daily urban necessities are within a 15-minute reach on foot or by bike. Work, home, shops, entertainment, education and healthcare — in Moreno’s vision, these should all be available within the same time a commuter might once have waited on a railway platform.

“One of the first lessons of Covid-19 is that we could radically change our ethos for working,” Moreno says. “In a few days, most people changed their remit and their jobs.” The mass, global switch to “working from home” (or living at work, as it may feel) suddenly makes multi-hour commutes appear wasteful, and clock-watching office life inefficient. Ironically enough, the French automobile group PSA (which makes Peugeot, Vauxhall and Citroën cars) was early to seize the opportunity to shift its non-production workforce to permanent remote mode.

Moreno, scientific director of entrepreneurship and innovation at the Sorbonne, is also special envoy to Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, and has influenced her vigorous implementation of pedestrian and bike schemes. Re-elected as mayor last month, Hidalgo pushed her “Paris Respire” programme even further during lockdown, turning miles of traffic lanes into cyclist-friendly “corona pistes”.

Moreno models the 15-minute city on his research into the “new relationship between citizens and the rhythm of life in cities”. To achieve a better rhythm, he says, we need to develop multipurpose services — “one building, with many applications through the day. How, for example, we could use a school for other activities, during the weekend. We also want buildings that mix places for living and working at the same time — this reduces the time for commuting.”

Above all, the 15-minute city is one that cuts down unnecessary journeys: “We need to reduce the presence of cars on the streets,” says Moreno. Hidalgo has already banned traffic along parts of the Seine and on some Sundays along the Champs-Élysées.

Other cities, such as Buenos Aires, have introduced free bike-rental schemes for both residents and tourists, while pioneering Amsterdam has a new model, the City Doughnut, which aims to reduce emissions and waste in the drive towards carbon neutrality.

But though the “quarter-hour” framework seems convenient and ecologically sound, it implies many limitations. Lockdown challenged an understanding of cities as places that provide the chance introductions and chains of encounters upon which interesting careers (and personal lives) are constructed. Is it realistic to think of this 15-minute lasso as a permanent, practicable feature? “We don’t want to oblige people to stay in the 15-minute district,” Moreno says. “We don’t want to recreate a village. We want to create a better urban organisation.”



Women board members increase businesses' profits tenfold, report finds

"Pull the  other one" was my immediate old-fashioned reaction to seeing this claim.  It appears to emanate from this document

The document concerned, however, is primitive from an academic POV.  It has lots of pretty grapics but no details of its  methodology: no definitions of the terms it uses, no breakdown into categories of economic activity, no breakdown into the recency or otherwise of the company and no breakdown into whether it served a poor, rich or medium clintele.  It appears in fact to have no controls at all.  I would very much like to see the raw data.  I am sure that the influence of feminist management would be much reduced if all other plausibly relevant factors were taken into account.

Just off the top of my head, let me suggest that firms selling cosmetics are exceptionally profitable.  The prices charged for some such products would certainly suggest large profit margins.  Women as a whole are very gullible about products that allegedly increase their beauty.   And beauty-promoting  firms would undoubtely have a strong female presence in their management.  So such female-led companies were not highly profitable because they were led by women.  They were exceptionally profitable because they were operating in an exceptionally profitable business sector

The method of analysis is important too.  Are we looking, for example, at extreme quintiles?  This is a lamentably common practice elsewhere and normally means that there is no overall relationship in the data as a whole.

So much more information is needed before these findings can be accepted

Companies with greater numbers of female board members bring in 10 times greater profits, a study has revealed.

The research found that executive committees composed of more than a third of women have a net profit margin of 15.2 per cent, while those with none make just 1.5.

The ‘Women Count 2020’ report claims that this performance gap is costing the UK economy a potential £47 billion of pre-tax profit.

Lorna Fitzsimons, co-founder of The Pipeline, which commissioned the report, said the difference is driven by the fact that companies that are more representative have a "better understanding of clients and customer need”.



'Dead Wrong': Historian Calls Jihad a 'Myth'

Johan  Norberg,  a noted libertarian, calls Islamic aggression a myth. Norberg is a libertarian supporter of open borders who likes to sneer at “nativists” who oppose this insane policy. Like Chris Berg, another libertarian supporter of open borders, he thinks there is nothing special about nations.

I agree with libertarian thinking in general but some libertarians make it into a cult.  They become very rigid. They see liberty as the only needed explanation of human behaviour. That ignores important influences on behaviour -- such as genetics -- without which we cannot understand what is going on or influence what is going on

The electoral success of "Make America great again" should tell him that there really is something important about national identity -- and emotions generally

An especially stark example of how Leftists thrive on distorting history -- a tactic pivotal to their very being -- recently appeared.  In a video titled “Dead Wrong: The Anti-Muslim Myth,” Johan Norberg, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who holds an MA in “the History of Ideas” from the University of Stockholm, begins as follows:

The Nativist right likes to tell the story of the West through the prism of a conflict between Christendom and Islam.  One of the founding myths is the Battle of Vienna in 1683, when the united Christian armies defeated the Muslim Ottoman Turks.  This historical narrative is dead wrong, because back then, people concerned themselves with other divisions.

The rest of the brief video -- one minute, forty-two seconds are devoted to proving the “anti-Muslim myth” -- tries to substantiate this, primarily by arguing that there were divisions within Christendom, specifically infighting between Catholics and Protestants, which prompted some of the latter to ally with the Ottomans against Vienna.

This argument fails on many levels.  For starters, Norberg overlooks two simple and interrelated facts: 1) realpolitik -- prioritizing the practical over the ideal -- is as old as human society; 2) that does not mean that ideals do not exist and motivate politics, including war.  It’s not a question of “either/or.”

Naturally, as northern Protestants and southern Muslims had the same common enemy between them -- Catholic Christendom, particularly in the guise of the Holy Roman Empire -- the timeless adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” was evident during the siege of Vienna, as well as previous conflicts.  Elizabeth I of England (r. 1558–1603), for example, formed an alliance with the Muslim Barbary pirates -- who during her reign had enslaved hundreds of thousands of Europeans -- against Catholic Spain.

Even so, Norberg ignores the fact that it is precisely because of the Catholic/Protestant schism -- which was entirely religious -- that Catholics and Protestants came to fight each other in the first place.  While he lumps them together as “Christians” in an effort to show that Christian unity against Islam never existed, Catholics and Protestants did not see each other as “fellow Christians” but religious enemies of the first order -- worse than Muslims.  It is because of this ideological divide that one could ally with Islam against the other without breaking faith.

In short, during the siege of Vienna, realpolitik was evident only in the very limited sense that the Catholic king of France, Louis XIV -- who once said “If there were no Algiers [to terrorize his competitors, particularly Spain] I would make one” -- sided against Catholic Vienna.

Other than that, most if not all of the Christians and Muslims involved at Vienna saw the conflict in distinctly religious terms, beginning with the battle-hardened Catholic king of Poland, John Sobieski III. Although he had little to gain by fighting on behalf of and eventually delivering Vienna, he still lamented how Islamic “fury is raging everywhere, attacking alas, the Christian princes with fire and sword.”  He also believed that “it is not a city alone that we have to save, but the whole of Christianity, of which the city of Vienna is the bulwark. The war is a holy one.”  Before setting off, he sent a message to Imre Thokoly, the Hungarian Protestant who was stirring trouble around Poland’s border, “that if he burnt one straw in the territories of his allies, or in his own, he would go and burn him and all his family in his house.”

Similarly, although the Ottoman pretext for war was support for their ally, the aforementioned Thokoly, the grand vizier who eventually led nearly 300,000 Turks to conquer Vienna, Kara Mustafa -- reputed to be “fanatically anti-Christian” -- exposed his mind earlier: “They ought,” he had told Ottoman high command, “to take advantage of the disorders of the Christians [Catholic-Protestant schism] by the siege of the place [Vienna], the conquest of which would assure that of all Hungary [currently the Turks’ “ally”], and open them a passage to the greatest victories.”  Later, during an elaborate pre-jihad ceremony, Sultan Muhammad IV, “desiring him [Mustafa] to fight generously for the Mahometan faith,” placed “the standard of the Prophet… into his hands for the extirpation of infidels, and the increase of Muslemen.”

There are many other examples highlighting the religious/ideological nature of the Ottoman siege of Vienna: before initiating its bombardment, Kara Mustafa offered the city the standard Islamic ultimatum (convert, capitulate, or else); and the Ottomans are constantly depicted as crying out typical jihadi phrases, such as “Allahu Akbar.”

So much for Norberg’s categorical claim that “back then, people concerned themselves with other divisions [than religion].”

In the end, however, Norberg’s greatest failure is that his is a classic strawman argument.  Recall the title of his video: “Dead Wrong: The Anti-Muslim Myth.”  Recall his opening sentence: “The Nativist right likes to tell the story of the West through the prism of a conflict between Christendom and Islam.”  Yet, while pretending to debunk the religious nature of the perennial conflict between Christendom and Islam -- which dramatically manifested itself in countless ways and battles over the course of a millennium before the siege of Vienna in 1683 -- he talks only about that one encounter (and fails even there).

The reason is evident: before the aforementioned Catholic-Protestant rift began in the sixteenth century, Christian unity against Islam was relatively solid, providing little material for people like Norberg -- such as John Voll and William Polk, professors of Islamic history -- to manipulate in an effort to show that  the “anti-Muslim myth” is “dead wrong.”

Such are the Left’s tired tricks when conforming history to its narrative: take exceptions and aberrations, exaggerate and place them at center stage, and completely ignore the constants.  Above all, offer no context.



Alcohol is good for your brain

This is such a fun finding I could not resist putting it up. It's from a major medical journal so carries some weight. The effects were very slight but in a good direction from my point of view.

Sad to say, there were no controls for demographics mentioned so the finding could be wholly artifactual. The drinkers could for instance have been slightly richer on average -- and we know that rich people tend to have better health and higher IQs

Association of Low to Moderate Alcohol Drinking With Cognitive Functions From Middle to Older Age Among US Adults

Ruiyuan Zhang et al.


Objective:  To investigate whether associations exist between low to moderate alcohol drinking and cognitive function trajectories or rates of change in cognitive function from middle age to older age among US adults.

Design, Setting, and Participants:  A prospective cohort study of participants drawn from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative sample of US adults, with mean (SD) follow-up of 9.1 (3.1) years. In total, 19 887 participants who had their cognitive functions measured in the HRS starting in 1996 through 2008 and who had participated in at least 3 biennial surveys were included. The data analysis was conducted from June to November 2019.

Exposures:  Alcohol consumption and aging.

Main Outcomes and Measures:  Trajectories and annual rates of change for the cognitive domains of mental status, word recall, and vocabulary and for the total cognitive score, which was the sum of the mental status and word recall scores. Participants were clustered into 2 cognitive function trajectories for each cognition measure assessed based on their scores at baseline and through at least 3 biennial surveys: a consistently low trajectory (representing low cognitive scores throughout the study period) and a consistently high trajectory (representing high cognitive scores throughout the study period).

Results: The mean (SD) age of 19 887 participants was 61.8 (10.2) years, and the majority of the HRS participants were women (11 943 [60.1%]) and of white race/ethnicity (16 950 [85.2%]). Low to moderate drinking (<8 drinks per week for women and <15 drinks per week for men) was significantly associated with a consistently high cognitive function trajectory and a lower rate of cognitive decline. Compared with never drinkers, low to moderate drinkers were less likely to have a consistently low trajectory for total cognitive function (odds ratio [OR], 0.66; 95% CI, 0.59-0.74), mental status (OR, 0.71; 95% CI, 0.63-0.81), word recall (OR, 0.74; 95% CI, 0.69-0.80), and vocabulary (OR, 0.64; 95% CI, 0.56-0.74) (all P < .001). In addition, low to moderate drinking was associated with decreased annual rates of total cognitive function decline (β coefficient, 0.04; 95% CI, 0.02-0.07; P = .002), mental status (β coefficient, 0.02; 95% CI, 0.01-0.03; P = .002), word recall (β coefficient, 0.02; 95% CI, 0.01-0.04; P = .01), and vocabulary (β coefficient, 0.01; 95% CI, 0.00-0.03; P = .08). A significant racial/ethnic difference was observed for trajectories of mental status (P = .02 for interaction), in which low to moderate drinking was associated with lower odds of having a consistently low trajectory for white participants (OR, 0.65; 95% CI, 0.56-0.75) but not for black participants (OR, 1.02; 95% CI, 0.74-1.39). Finally, the dosage of alcohol consumed had a U-shaped association with all cognitive function domains for all participants, with an optimal dose of 10 to 14 drinks per week.

Conclusions and relevance:  These findings suggested that low to moderate alcohol drinking was associated with better global cognition scores, and these associations appeared stronger for white participants than for black participants. Studies examining the mechanisms underlying the association between alcohol drinking and cognition in middle-aged or older adults are needed.



Why does the coronavirus sometimes strike young people?

It's usually clearcut.  The virus only strikes people with impaired immune systems -- people who have other ailments.  Old people normally have other ailments so they are very often affected by the virus.

And when young people get it, they are usually ones who are ill already. They too have other ailments.  But how come there are a few cases of young people being infected who seem otherwise healthy? Why does the virus single them out?  Why in their case was being young and healthy not enough to protect them?

The article from a major medical journal below shows why in at least some cases.  It shows that they have a genetic defect that weakens their immune system in crucial ways. That may not be the answer in all cases but it is clearly now an in principle explanation.  The vast majority of young people are safe

Presence of Genetic Variants Among Young Men With Severe COVID-19

Caspar I.van der Made et al.


Objective:  To explore the presence of genetic variants associated with primary immunodeficiencies among young patients with COVID-19.

Design, Setting, and Participants:  Case series of pairs of brothers without medical history meeting the selection criteria of young (age <35 12="" 16="" 2020.="" 23="" 2="" 4="" admitted="" analysis="" and="" april="" as="" available="" between="" brother="" care="" controls="" covid-19.="" date="" due="" experiments.="" families="" family="" final="" follow-up="" for="" four="" from="" functional="" genetic="" hospitals="" icus="" in="" included="" intensive="" march="" may="" members="" men="" netherlands="" of="" p="" pairs="" segregation="" severe="" the="" to="" unit="" unrelated="" variant="" was="" were="" years="">
Main Outcome and Measures:  Results of rapid clinical whole-exome sequencing, performed to identify a potential monogenic cause. Subsequently, basic genetic and immunological tests were performed in primary immune cells isolated from the patients and family members to characterize any immune defects.

Results:  The 4 male patients had a mean age of 26 years (range, 21-32), with no history of major chronic disease. They were previously well before developing respiratory insufficiency due to severe COVID-19, requiring mechanical ventilation in the ICU. The mean duration of ventilatory support was 10 days (range, 9-11); the mean duration of ICU stay was 13 days (range, 10-16). One patient died. Rapid clinical whole-exome sequencing of the patients and segregation in available family members identified loss-of-function variants of the X-chromosomal TLR7. In members of family 1, a maternally inherited 4-nucleotide deletion was identified (c.2129_2132del; p.[Gln710Argfs*18]); the affected members of family 2 carried a missense variant (c.2383G>T; p.[Val795Phe]). In primary peripheral blood mononuclear cells from the patients, downstream type I interferon (IFN) signaling was transcriptionally downregulated, as measured by significantly decreased mRNA expression of IRF7, IFNB1, and ISG15 on stimulation with the TLR7 agonist imiquimod as compared with family members and controls. The production of IFN-γ, a type II IFN, was decreased in patients in response to stimulation with imiquimod.

Conclusions and Relevance:  In this case series of 4 young male patients with severe COVID-19, rare putative loss-of-function variants of X-chromosomal TLR7 were identified that were associated with impaired type I and II IFN responses. These preliminary findings provide insights into the pathogenesis of COVID-19



Historians blast BBC for 'unbalanced' News At Ten report claiming Churchill was responsible for 'mass killing' of up to three million in 1943 Bengal famine

These attacks on Churchill are absurd.  Churchill was fighting two wars, with Germany and Japan, so simply had no resources left to give to India.  Britain was no food bowl at that time. It imported much of its food.  And transporting anything by ship was a huge challenge with German U-boats sinking many of the transports.

And it was not his responsibility anyway.  It was the responsibility of the government of Bengal.  That government might conceivably have imported grain from Australia but -- again -- where would they get the ships to carry it?  And finding the grain in India would be a very unlikely enterprise. India was always on the brink of starvation and with many men away at the war, that would have meant no grain to spare.

I was in my youth an admirer of Churchill but I have much revised that view now that I have heard of the repatriation of the Cossacks (Southern Russians).  The Cossacks were very anti-Soviet and many joined the Wehrmacht to fight the Red army.  The Wehrmacht lost the war, however so towards the end many of the Cossacks in the Wehrmacht escaped to British lines in Austria.  They knew that Stalin would murder them and thought that they would be safe as British prisoners of war.

But Churchill betrayed them.  He sent them back to Stalin and almost certain death.  Why did he do it?  Because Russia had considerable numbers of British and French prisoners of war and Churchill wanted them released.  It was a prisoner swap.  But it was not the usual swap.  Swapped prisoners are normally welcomed back to their homeland.  The Cossack were killed instead.  And, knowing that would happen, Churchill should have done some other deal -- presumably repatriating all non-Cossack prisoners

So Churchill was no saint. He was a politician.  The Cossacks were a huge blot on his record.  But nobody is perfect and he is certainly well worthy of the honour that is normally given to him.  His unrelenting opposition to Communism is a large part of that

In 2002 the BBC ran a massive national poll asking citizens of the United Kingdom to vote for the 100 greatest Britons of all time. At the top of the list was Winston Churchill.

Historians have criticised the BBC for an 'unbalanced' News At Ten report claiming Churchill was responsible for the 'mass killing' of up to three million people in the 1943 Bengal Famine.

A section broadcast on Tuesday examined how modern Indians view the wartime prime minster as part of a series on Britain's colonial legacy, and featured a series of damning statements about his actions.

Rudrangshu Mukherjee of Ashoka University in India, said Churchill was seen as a 'precipitator' of mass killing' due to his policies, while Oxford's Yasmin Khan claimed he could be guilty of 'prioritising white lives over Asian lives' by not sending relief.

But today historians said the report ignored the complexities behind the famine in favour of squarely blaming Churchill. World War Two expert James Holland argued he had tried to help but faced a lack of resources due to the war against Japan.

It comes amid a wider campaign to trash the war hero's legacy, with his statue defaced with the word 'racist' by Black Lives Matter protesters in London and civil servants calling for the Treasury's 'Churchill Room' to be renamed.

The Bengal Famine was triggered by a cyclone and flooding in Bengal in 1942, which destroyed crops and infrastructure.

Historians agree that many of the three million deaths could have been averted with a more effective relief effort, but are divided over the extent to which Churchill was personally to blame.

Yogita Limaye, the BBC News India correspondent who led the report, said many Indians blamed him for 'making the situation worse'.

But historians suggested the report attributed too much of the blame onto Churchill when other factors were more significant.

Tirthankar Roy, a professor in economic history at the LSE, argues India's vulnerability to weather-induced famine was due to its unequal distribution of food.

He also blamed a lack of investment in agriculture and failings by the local government.

'Winston Churchill was not a relevant factor behind the 1943 Bengal famine,' he told The Times. 'The agency with the most responsibility for causing the famine and not doing enough was the government of Bengal.'

Churchill has been blamed for down-playing the crisis and arguing against re-supplying Bengal to preserve ships and food supplies for the war effort.

However, his defenders insist that he did try to help and delays were a result of conditions during the war.

They point out that after receiving news of the spreading food shortages he told his Cabinet he would welcome a statement from Lord Wavell, the new Viceroy of India, about how he planned to ensure the problems were 'dealt with'. He then wrote a personal letter urging the Viceroy to take action.

The historian James Holland weighed into the row today, insisting that Churchill faced immense difficulties supplying Bengal due to the amount of British resources tied up in the fight against the Japanese in the Pacific.

'In light of the latest furore over the Bengal Famine and people wrongly still insisting it was Churchill's fault, here's this on the subject,' he tweeted.

'His accusers don't a) understand how the war worked, or b) that his hands were tied over use of Allied shipping.'

Sir Max Hastings, the military historian, accepted that Churchill's behaviour was a 'blot on his record' but argued it should be considered against his achievements in helping to defeat fascism.

The recent Black Lives Matter protests have seen a renewed focus on Churchill's legacy, including calls for his statue to be taken down from Parliament Square.

At one point the monument was even boxed in by London Mayor Sadiq Khan to protect it from vandalism during a weekend of demonstrations. Figures of Gandhi and Mandela were also encased with wooden sheeting, at a cost of £30,000.

Threats to the statue triggered a strong reaction from defenders of the national hero who pointed out that his greatest achievement was defeating racist, anti-Semitic fascism.

At the time, Boris Johnson criticised the calls as being the 'height of lunacy'. The Prime Minister said he would resist any attempt to remove the statue 'with every breath in my body'.

Churchill's legacy has been attacked in other quarters, with a group of civil servants recently complaining that they did not feel 'comfortable' with having a room in the Treasury named after him.

BBC News insiders told MailOnline its report on the Bengal Famine made clear Churchill didn't cause the disaster but has been accused by some of making it worse.

A BBC spokesman said: 'The item was the latest in a series looking at Britain's colonial legacy worldwide.

'The series includes different perspectives from around the world, in this case from India, including a survivor from the Bengal famine, as well as Oxford historian Dr Yasmin Khan.

'The report also clearly explained Churchill's actions in India in the context of his Second World War strategy. We believe these are all important perspectives to explore and we stand by our journalism.'



Melbourne intensive care nurse's blunt warning of big coronavirus risk to younger adults

This is contrary to all previous observations so requires explanation.

The explanation probably lies in the origin of the current outbreak. It originated in big blocks of welfare housing.

Many of the residents would be there because they had health challenges.  So they fit the usual observation that substantial co-morbidities normally are required for the virus to take hold.

So my hypothesis would be that the young patients came from welfare housing.  The virus normally hits the elderly most because most elderly do have substantial co-morbidities.

A senior Melbourne intensive care nurse says hospitals are preparing for the prospect of deaths among younger Victorians as authorities battle to rein in the state's coronavirus cases.

The head intensive care unit nurse at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Michelle Spence, said there was a growing number of younger adults being hospitalised by the virus.

"What we are seeing now is young people who are going to die. There is no doubt about it," she said. "And these are people who are 30s, 40s, 50s, who have no past history."

She said deaths in Victoria had so far predominately been in older people, but that would change.

Yesterday, authorities revealed 20 per cent of people in Victorian hospitals with the virus were aged under 50, including four children.

The figures also showed a quarter of COVID-19 infections were being recorded in people aged in their 20s.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital has acquired a further 22 ventilators as the intensive care unit prepares for a surge in cases.

Ms Spence, who is the hospital's ICU nurse manager, said the hospital had patients ranging from their 30s to their 80s "and all of them are at varying degrees of their COVID journey".

"We're definitely not just seeing the elderly, that is not the case at all."  "It is definitely not an old person's disease," Ms Spence said.

She said a COVID patient's time in the intensive care unit was a long, slow process, where very ill people were separated from their families.

"Being in ICU is not a nice place to be," she said. "It is absolutely not a comfortable thing to do."

Ms Spence warned the process of recovery, even after patients leave ICU, could take a long time.

She urged Melburnians of all ages to follow the directive to wear a face mask when outside their homes, saying wearing a mask was "way more comfortable than being on a ventilator".



How Earth’s Climate Changes Naturally (and Why Things Are Different Now)

The heading above is from a long but emptyheaded article that catalogs in a  handwaving way the various influences on earth's climate.

One might expect that a consideration of all the natural influences would inspire doubt about the anthropogenic global warming thesis. One would think that a signal emanating from human deeds would be hard to distinguish from all the other influences at work.

No such luck. The article is straight warmism.  The idea seems to be to create an air of profundity in its claims.  By discussing all the other climate influences and still showing anthropogenic global warming at work the article reassures  us that a full scholarly exercise has been undertaken before concluding that anthropogenic global warming exists.  All "t"s have been crossed and all "i"s have been dotted.

But the article in fact gives no evidence at all for anthropogenic global warming.  The most it offers is a link to another paper which in turn relies on the IPCC reports. So it is all just the same old same old.  It's a long article but there's no reason to spend any time on it.

Earth’s climate has fluctuated through deep time, pushed by these 10 different causes. Here’s how each compares with modern climate change. Orbital wobbles, plate tectonics, evolutionary changes and other factors have sent the planet in and out of ice ages.

Earth has been a snowball and a hothouse at different times in its past. So if the climate changed before humans, how can we be sure we’re responsible for the dramatic warming that’s happening today?

In part it’s because we can clearly show the causal link between carbon dioxide emissions from human activity and the 1.28 degree Celsius (and rising) global temperature increase since preindustrial times. Carbon dioxide molecules absorb infrared radiation, so with more of them in the atmosphere, they trap more of the heat radiating off the planet’s surface below.

But paleoclimatologists have also made great strides in understanding the processes that drove climate change in Earth’s past. Here’s a primer on 10 ways climate varies naturally, and how each compares with what’s happening now.

MORE here


Indigenous owners lose bid to protect land earmarked for Shenhua mine

You can guarantee that any new mine, dam or road will be found to trespass on an Aboriginal sacred site.  There's money in such claims.  They usually result in a "compensation" payout for the Aborigines and their lawyers

But the company fought this one so everyone is out of pocket

This does clearly need reform.  A rule specifying that there will be no monetary reward for such claims would probably result in most such claims never even being raised.  An apology would have to suffice

An Aboriginal group has lost its bid to protect a culturally valuable site from being destroyed for the Shenhua coal mine in northern NSW, but says the fight to protect the area is not over.

Federal Court Judge Wendy Abraham dismissed the application for a judicial review of the Environment Minister's decision not to protect the Mount Watermark site near Gunnedah from the controversial open-cut mine.

The applicant, Veronica 'Dolly' Talbott, acting as a member of the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians, had submitted that Environment Minister Sussan Ley took into account an "irrelevant consideration" when she weighed the impact of the mine on Indigenous sites against perceived social and economic benefits to the local community.

In dismissing the application, Justice Abraham said the applicant had failed to establish that the social and economic impacts are irrelevant under the Heritage Act.

The judgment said Minister Ley had stated she "considered the expected social and economic benefits of the Shenhua Watermark Coal Mine to the local community outweighed the impacts of the mine ... as a result of the likely destruction of parts of their Indigenous cultural heritage."

Ms Talbott said the decision "demonstrates the abject failure of the [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection] Act to provide meaningful protection for areas of particular significance to Aboriginal people."

She said the decision had not deterred Gomeroi elders from continuing to seek protection for the area, and the group, which represents more than 600 Gomeroi people and 31 Aboriginal nations, had made a new application to the Environment Minister to protect the area's sacred sites.

"If this mega-mine proceeds, our interlinked sacred places will be completely destroyed and obliterated from the landscape."

Ms Talbott said there is "an urgent need" to protect places of significance to Aboriginal people, especially following the destruction of the Juukan caves by mining giant Rio Tinto earlier this year.

A spokesman for Minister Ley said the ruling confirms her decision was made in accordance with the provisions of the act and has already announced her intention "to commence a national engagement process for modernising the protection of Indigenous cultural heritage, commencing with a round table meeting of state Indigenous and environment ministers."

The meeting will be jointly chaired by Minister Ley and the Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt.



Dr. Ridd: James Cook University wins unlawful sacking decision

The grounds for the university's actions were contemptible.  He was sacked for disagreeing with his colleagues.  If academics cannot disagree with one-another, where does that leave the search for truth?

He was not even abusive in what he said. He just said that their conclusions needed more validation -- a scientific comment if ever there was one.

This needs to go to appeal but funding may be a barrier to that

The reason for the furore is that the JCU scientists said that the reef was damaged by global warming.  Dr. Ridd demurred

The Federal Court has allowed an appeal of a decision which found James Cook University acted unlawfully in its 2018 sacking of Peter Ridd, after the professor questioned colleagues' research on the impact of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef.

Dr Ridd was awarded $1.2 million in damages by the Federal Circuit Court in September, which had earlier found JCU sacked the physics professor unlawfully.

The case attracted intense focus due to Dr Ridd's scepticism of climate change science and the broader debate about free speech at Australian universities.

The university reiterated last year it would launch the appeal, and has maintained its sacking of the professor was based on his treatment of colleagues rather than the expression of his scientific views.

Dr Ridd had originally sought reinstatement to his position but later abandoned this in favour of compensation.

In a judgment published on Wednesday, the Federal Court set aside that compensation decision and allowed the university to appeal the earlier ruling it had acted unlawfully.

Justices John Griffiths and Roger Derrington found Dr Ridd's enterprise agreement did not give him "untrammelled right" to express his professional opinions beyond the standards imposed by the university's code of conduct.

The termination of his employment did therefore not breach the Fair Work Act, they said.

Outlining his final declarations and penalties last year in September, Federal Circuit Court Judge Salvatore Vasta suggested the university's conduct had bordered on "paranoia and hysteria fuelled by systemic vindictiveness".

"In this case, Professor Ridd has endured over three years of unfair treatment by JCU – an academic institution that failed to respect the rights to intellectual freedom that Professor Ridd had as per [his enterprise agreement]," the judge decided.

Conservative think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs described the new Federal Court judgment on Wednesday as a "devastating blow" to freedom of speech.

"Alarmingly, this decision shows that contractual provisions guaranteeing intellectual freedom do not protect academics against censorship by university administrators," IPA director of policy Gideon Rozner said. "The time has come for the Morrison government to intervene."

He added that Dr Ridd was now considering his legal options around a High Court challenge.



Is peer review bad for science?

I have had considerable experience of peer review, both as an author (of c.300 articles) and as a reviewer and my overwhelming impression of the process is that most reviewers do not read what they review.  They just look at the conclusions of the article and if they sound right, the reviewer passes the article with just a few desultory comments.

There are some reviewers who put up detailed and apposite comments but their comments often betray an ignorance of the previous research on the subject. They may know some recent reports but not the deep background to the field.  For that reason I always tried to supply the deep background in my articles and that did seem to pay off in that about half of my articles got accepted on the first submission.

Many of the articles that were rejected were ones where reviewers seemed not to be interested in either the previous research or my findings, apparently  because my conclusions were uncongenial to them

Articles that went strongly against the consensus certainly got much more negative treatment than ones that did not rock the boat

After studying the popular practice of peer review of scientific journal articles for several years, I have reluctantly concluded that peer review is bad for science. While the practice has its good side, there are several ways that it greatly impedes progress, and the bad greatly outweighs the good.

To begin with, let’s look at what peer review tries to do. The obvious thing is to block the publication of fake science. However this appears to be a rare event in most sciences. There are several million journal articles published each year, all peer reviewed, typically by two or three reviewers. Clearly these many millions of reviews did not keep any of these myriad articles from being published.

Paradoxically, however, most of these articles were in fact rejected based on peer review; many were rejected many times. Top journals often boast of having high rejection rates, like 80% or so. If this is the general practice then the average article must be submitted to something like five journals before it is accepted and published. If each submission is peer reviewed then that is a lot of reviews per article, perhaps ten to fifteen on average.

Given that all of these multiply rejected articles eventually get published, something other than simple gate keeping must be going on. This something looks to be an extremely laborious sorting process, whereby each article eventually finds the “right” journal. It is hard to see any value being added by these many millions of peer reviews. Given modern search technologies, which journal an article ultimately appears in no longer seems very important.

One negative aspect of peer review is well known. This is where gate keeping keeps great new ideas from being published. Max Planck, who discovered the quantum nature of energy, put it very nicely, saying something like “Your ideas will (only) be accepted when your students become journal editors.” This is the dark side of peer review blocking science, the novel good ideas get blocked as bad ideas.

But there are several other bad things that flow from peer review that I have not seen mentioned. These down sides are features of the incredibly time consuming and laborious nature of the practice.

First there is the huge time delay between the time a paper is written and when it is finally published. Let’s say that peer review takes four months, which is probably pretty fast. If the average paper is reviewed five times then that is almost two years of reviews before it is finally accepted. (Also, there are many other steps between these reviews, so the average might be more like four years from first submission to final publication.)

If two million papers are published each year, with an average delay of say two years each, due to peer review, that is an accumulation of four million years of delay every year. It is reasonable to believe that eliminating this vast tide of delay would dramatically speed up the progress of science.

Then there is the cost. Organizing and managing the peer review process is probably the greatest expense that journal publishers face. Keep in mind that given an 80% rejection rate, something like five articles will be reviewed for every one published. At three reviews each that means fifteen reviews per published articles.

The high cost of journals and articles is a major obstacle to access by all but the richest universities and researchers. This to probably greatly impedes the progress of science.

Then there is the huge amount of time that researchers spend reviewing each other’s articles. Reviews are expected to be comprehensive, so they probably take from 10 to 20 hours each, maybe more. If there are fifteen reviews per article published that is 150 to 300 hours of review time.

Multiply that by 2 million articles published and we get an incredible 300 to 600 million hours a year devoted to reviewing, rather that to research. Assuming that a work year is 2000 hours, this is like taking 150 to 300 thousand researchers off the job, just to peer review each other’s papers. Think of what that amount of research might create. Again, this is a huge loss to the progress of science.

Conclusion: Peer review adds an enormous amount of delay, cost and distraction to the process of science. It does not do enough good to justify these huge adverse impacts on the rate of scientific progress. Thus on balance peer review is bad for science.