Great Barrier Reef: Same old same old scares

Every couple of years we get the whines we read below:  The reef is being destroyed by global warming and farming.  But the reef is still there.  The prophecies of doom don't eventuate. 

One should in fact gravely doubt the findings below.  Peter Ridd has shown that the JCU people routinely exaggerate reef damage.  There are always bare spots on the reef and these are attributed to global warming.

But that is not so. It is the Crown of Thorns starfish that is responsible for most reef damage.  But from an aircraft you can't see starfish so the damage is all put down to global warming.  What you read below is therefore a travesty of science.  No effort was made to exclude competing explanations -- which is utterly basic in science.  They are propagandists, not scientists.

In another sad blow for the Australian environment, it has now been confirmed that once again climate change has taken its toll on one of its greatest natural wonders - the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system, home to some 600 species of coral.

But a recent aerial study has confirmed scientists' worst fears, concluding that the reef is experiencing its third large-scale bleaching event in five years.

Coral bleaching is the direct result of warming sea temperatures, which causes corals to become stressed. In this situation, coral expels the symbiotic algae which lives within its tissues, which is responsible for its bright colour.

Usually bright and colourful jewels among the reef, bleaching leaves a stripped-bare skeleton of the coral behind.

Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, led a team of researchers to assess the extent of coral bleaching across the reef.

Professor Hughes said: “We surveyed 1,036 reefs from the air during the last two weeks in March, to measure the extent and severity of coral bleaching throughout the Barrier Reef region.

“For the first time, severe bleaching has struck all three regions of the Great Barrier Reef – the northern, central and now large parts of the southern sectors."

Aerial surveys concluded that while some areas of the reef have remained unscathed, large swathes in other regions have been severely bleached, casting ominous doubt over the reef's future.

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation has described the phenomenon as a “matter of huge concern”.

So in order to preserve and protect the Great Barrier Reef for years to come, what is the solution?

How can the Great Barrier Reef recover?

Dr Mark Eakin, Coordinator of NOAA's Coral Reef Watch program, said while people “continue to spew carbon dioxide” the current phenomenon will become a much more common occurrence.

He said: “This is the third widespread, severe coral bleaching in less than five years.

“As long as we continue to spew carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, corals will continue to bleach and die.

“Local efforts to reduce pollution on the reef and to restore reefs piecemeal help keep corals alive.

“If we want to save the Great Barrier Reef and other reefs around the world, we have to move off fossil fuels as quickly as possible.”

According to Dr Richard K.F. Unsworth, Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology at Swansea University, farming practices needs a significant overhaul in order for the reef to survive.

He said: “Although climate change is the primary cause of bleaching, the capacity of the reef to recover after bleaching events is improved when the water quality is high.

“This means low levels of nutrients, sediments and contaminants such as herbicides.

“The water quality in many areas of the inshore Great Barrier reef remains poor principally because of poor farming practices, reducing the capacity of the reef to recover after bleaching.”

Dr Unsworth added: “For the reef to have any chance of survival in the long-term, the water quality of the Great Barrier Reef region needs to improve through better farming practices, and global carbon dioxide emissions need to reduce rapidly.

Phil North at Dive Worldwide said some divers fear it “is not what it once was”, but all is not lost for the reef yet.

He added: “This having been said, the reef is vast. It is the largest living structure on earth that can be viewed from space.

“Not all of it is destroyed and there are some parts that are still quite beautiful.”

While the current bleaching event is undoubtedly a setback for the reef, Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden said the reef is a “resilient ecosystem” which can still recover.

She added: “We know that on mildly or moderately bleached reefs, there is a good chance most bleached corals will recover and survive.

“It’s heartening to hear that some of the key tourism reefs in the north and central areas are amongst those likely to bounce back from lesser levels of bleaching.”



UK: Leading educationalist ANTHONY SELDON has a stark warning about the uncharted waters of home-schooling

This is a rather strange article. Homeschooling in Britain is far from uncharted.  It goes back to the 19th century.  So what is the problem Seldon sees with it?  Let me mention what he is really on about.

It is black children.  They get some discipline while in school but out of school they tend to run riot.  And an extended riot of black criminal behavior is what Seldon reasonably fears

I met Seldon in 1977 and had some interesting chats with him.  So I know him as a realistic man.  So I am confident that I am not getting it wrong in saying what he cannot say

There are many drastic changes being made to our lives as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But what few people appreciate is that Britain has embarked on one of the greatest educational and social experiments in our history.

In any normal year, schools would reconvene in two weeks' time after the Easter holidays for the summer term. Not this year.

Millions of children of school age, with the exception of those who are considered vulnerable or whose parents are in key jobs, will have to adjust to working from home for as long as six months.

It is an eventuality for which we have had next to no time to prepare, the risks are beyond the imagination, and of all the toxic legacies bequeathed by this coronavirus crisis this one may prove to be the most devastating.

It is true that some 50,000 young people are already home-schooled, but their parents long ago worked out how to do it. In educational terms, the vast majority of young people have been abandoned in unknown territory.

Let me make this very clear. When it comes to home-schooling en masse, we have no collective memory of best practice, no historical evidence of the most effective techniques, and no bank of psychological research.

In short, we are embarking on a road without maps.

I write not as a psychologist nor a scientist, but as someone who was a school teacher for 30 years, 20 years of them as a head.

And for the past five years I have been running a university, which makes me the only person in Britain to have run both schools and a university — and I am worried.

In the worst-case scenario, too many of the most vulnerable children who are no longer in school under the watchful eye of teachers will, I fear, fall through the cracks. They are at risk of becoming victims and perpetrators of crime.

They will be easy prey for the equivalent of the spivs and criminals who were spawned by the upheaval of British life during World War II — only their contemporary successors are far more sinister.

Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner, has already voiced her fear that criminal gangs will exploit school closures to recruit children as drug mules and street fighters.

She describes the drug-selling networks known as county lines as 'sophisticated enterprises that have well-established hierarchies and use intense violence as part of their business model'.

We know already that these gangs are practised at targeting susceptible children and woo them initially by offering friendship, then money, then drugs. Many such children — and there is an estimated one million of them — live in households affected by violence and addiction.

'For those kids, school is the place where they get their safety, stability and structure in their lives,' says Longfield. Without this support, the Children's Society believes that more and more young people 'will put their lives at risk, rob rival gangs for [drug] supplies'.

Let's face it, schools find it hard enough to keep the disengaged in school and to secure their attention under normal conditions.

Imagine how much more difficult it will be to keep young people studying — and safe — without a structure that combines registration, routine and the threat of sanctions. The fear is that many of them will run amok.

After all, what is to stop young people leaving their homes, congregating out of sight, out of mind, and falling into all kinds of danger?

We have only a limited number of police, they are already overstretched and their new powers to exercise control during this crisis are even now being questioned by judges.

Mental health problems will also proliferate. The past ten years have seen a steady rise in depression among the young, as well as an increase in suicide attempts.

And, only this week, the mental health charity MIND reported seeing a rise in concerns from those with existing conditions.

Even children lucky enough to live in secure and loving families often find that schools are unique in adding meaning and structure to their often anxious lives, as they negotiate the transition from childhood to adolescence.

The reassuring rhythm of the school year, the challenges it provides, and the aspiration it breeds all go towards engendering a sense of community and belonging. All that will be stripped away.

As for those who have worked for years to prepare for GCSE and A-level exams, suddenly hearing that those exams are to be scrapped has proved deeply traumatic.

And children are not the only vulnerable groups. Parents and guardians will be increasingly at risk of mental health problems, too, as they struggle to deliver home-schooling and to keep their children occupied and safe.

Tensions at home will become unbearable for some, leading to sky-rocketing rates of separation and divorce, and the pressures of living in lockdown could even spark an epidemic of domestic violence.

Meanwhile, social inequality will only be enhanced because not all children have parents equally willing and capable of overseeing lessons at home.

The tools they have at their disposal will vary, too, depending upon the resources they have at their disposal.

While many middle-class households will be able to draw upon a wide range of tech devices to enable access to digital technology at home, others on low incomes will find it hard to give their children the equipment they need.

In the same way, children whose families live in cramped high-rise flats may struggle to find quiet spaces in which to study.

Thanks to factors such as these, it may take years to make up the social disadvantages embedded by the loss of the long summer term's study at school.



I visit the Australian Antarctic Division, a sprawling space station-like complex on Hobart’s southern fringe, for a briefing from its director, Kim Ellis

Most of the article excerpt reproduced below is devoted to prophecy of disaster from Antarctic melting.  The melting is seen as an ongoing process that will eventually "tip" into disaster

When we get to the actual facts however, it is a different story. Note in the last two paragraphs reproduced below that the senior antarctic scientist stresses how random are the actual changes in the Antarctic.  They are so far from a steady progression towards disaster that he prefers "term “climate strange” to “climate change”.

Clearly, what is actually going on is nothing more than the random walk that we would expect from natural changes in the weather.  Global warming is not only completely superfluous as an explanation, it does not fit the facts at all.

Though the effects of climate change are less visible across the Australian Antarctic Territory on the east of the continent, which Ellis administers, than on the western Antarctic Peninsula, where I’m headed, he has no doubt that warming on the continent is a concrete and not a spectral thing. The Antarctic is estimated to have lost three trillion tonnes of ice over the past 25 years and Ellis holds grave fears of an approaching tipping point.

“As ocean salinity changes due to the melting ice sheet and freshwater run-off, so do ocean currents,” says the 64-year-old former army officer in a bright bureaucratic tone that conceals the gravity of this grim scenario.

“The currents around the Antarctic are a major cooling factor. The Antarctic is the Earth’s airconditioner.”

If and when it tips – a moment unlikely to be discernible until it’s already past – Antarctica will become an aggressive driver of climate change. A warming, melting Antarctic would likely propel global sea levels one to two metres higher by 2100, washing an erstwhile frozen continent to the doorstep of many coastal communities.

Experts believe it would also stimulate a change in the direction and strength of the world’s big currents, and deplete oceanic oxygen levels and nutrition to the point where the Earth’s surface water would resemble a “marine desert”.

In the same facility I meet the Australian Antarctic Division’s acting chief scientist, Dirk Welsford, who is dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt bearing a cartoon of a rather wan-looking penguin. He’s a marine ecologist and like his boss, bearded.

Ellis sports a trimmed, almost Elizabethan beard; Welsford’s whiskers are more bearish. He stresses the dramatic temperature fluctuations on the continent between years, seasons and regions, preferring the term “climate strange” to “climate change”.

“The key thing we’re seeing is that everything is less predictable than it used to be,” he explains. “The ice might break out earlier than normal, or later than normal. That’s the big message for us from climate change – it’s not a steady upward swing. It’s pulsing in unpredictable ways.” The new normal, for Welsford, is the abnormal.



Air quality improving: Will it help with global warming?

The Greenies want huge economic shutdowns to halt global warming.  Courtesy of the response to the coronavirus we now have such shutdowns.  So what difference is that making to the climate?  None, apparently. Global carbon dioxide levels are not budging.

It's logical that a short period would not do much to a level built up over many years but the fact that we are seeing no response at all despite the huge changes in human activities does suggest that the CO2 reduction that Greenies want may be far greater than could ever be achieved in reality

In terms of the article below, all that Greenie policies could achieve would be "noise": too small to detect above natural variability

Seattle-area air quality is a bit better as the novel coronavirus shuts down economic activity and travel.

Levels of nitrous oxide (NOX), a pollutant produced by tailpipe emissions and other sources, are being detected at generally lower values in local air-monitoring devices. And a satellite that detects emissions in the atmosphere linked to cars and trucks shows declines in pollution over the Seattle area in March 2020 compared with March 2019.

But efforts to “flatten the curve” – the rate of spread of the coronavirus — have not even dented a different curve also of great importance to humanity around the world: The Keeling Curve.

The Keeling Curve is a record of global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration maintained by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. Over the past 62 years since measurements began, the curve has gone, except for seasonal variation, in only one direction: relentlessly upward. Right through the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Through the global economic turndown of 2008. To record levels, without stopping. And so it continues, even now as public life grinds to a near standstill.

Ralph Keeling – his late father, Charles, invented the measurement — said even greater declines in fossil fuel use than we are presently seeing would need to be sustained for at least a year to show up clearly in global carbon dioxide levels.

But in the short term, it’s not enough to make a difference in global warming.

“A lot of people are saying this is good for the climate problem. No, not really,” said Pieter Tans, senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Monitoring Division. To bend the Keeling Curve, emissions from fossil-fuel burning would need to be cut by half, and then continue to decrease, Tans said. Even a 25 percent reduction would result in only a few tenths of one part per million decrease.

“It would be hard to see it in the record, to pick it out of the noise of natural variability. Maybe if we have a long downturn, maybe we begin to see something above the noise.”



Does warm weather inhibit the Coronavirus?

A study suggests the coronavirus outbreak could be stifled by warm English weather in May. Researchers from University College London found infections from three common coronaviruses followed a seasonal pattern in England, with large numbers in winter at the same time as influenza. 

The academic study below is a one of a number that suggest that coronaviruses may be destroyed by heat.  And if the mild heat of an English summer destroys them, how much greater must be the effects of a warmer climate?

Heat is in fact the only good explanation of the extraordinarily low coronavirus death toll in Australia.  Australia is an advanced Western society very similar to Britain and the USA but differs in that it is located in the Southern hemisphere.  For that reason, Australia is only now coming out of a very hot summer. And in any case Australia has a hot climate, with around a third of it being in the tropics

So for just about the whole period of the coronavirus outbreak, Australia has been distinctly hot.  And there is no obvious other way in which Australia differs from other advanced countries

It may be noted that Singapore is also an advanced economy in the tropics -- and so far, its infection and death rates have been lower than most other countries, despite schools and universities remaining open.

Seasonality and immunity to laboratory-confirmed seasonal coronaviruses (HCoV-NL63, HCoV-OC43, and HCoV-229E): results from the Flu Watch cohort study

Robert W. Aldridge et al


Background: There is currently a pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The intensity and duration of this first wave in the UK may be dependent on whether SARS-CoV-2 transmits more effectively in the winter than the summer and the UK Government response is partially built upon the assumption that those infected will develop immunity to reinfection in the short term. In this paper we examine evidence for seasonality and immunity to laboratory-confirmed seasonal coronavirus (HCoV) from a prospective cohort study in England.

Methods: In this analysis of the Flu Watch cohort, we examine seasonal trends for PCR-confirmed coronavirus infections (HCoV-NL63, HCoV-OC43, and HCoV-229E) in all participants during winter seasons (2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009) and during the first wave of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic (May-Sep 2009). We also included data from the pandemic and ‘post-pandemic’ winter seasons (2009-2010 and 2010-2011) to identify individuals with two confirmed HCoV infections and examine evidence for immunity against homologous reinfection.

Results: We tested 1,104 swabs taken during respiratory illness and detected HCoV in 199 during the first four seasons. The rate of confirmed HCoV infection across all seasons was 390 (95% CI 338-448) per 100,000 person-weeks; highest in the Nov-Mar 2008/9 season at 674 (95%CI 537-835). The highest rate was in February at 759 (95% CI 580-975). Data collected during May-Sep 2009 showed there was small amounts of ongoing transmission, with four cases detected during this period. Eight participants had two confirmed infections, of which none had the same strain twice.

Conclusion: Our results provide evidence that HCoV infection in England is most intense in winter, but that there is a small amount of ongoing transmission during summer periods. We found some evidence of immunity against homologous reinfection.



The Swedish alternative to ferocious shutdowns

Note that the death toll below becomes comparable with other countries only if we take Sweden's small population into account -- 10 million. So the 105 deaths reported below amount to less than 1 per capita, which is less than almost anywhere except Australia

There have been recent prophecies that Sweden will have to crack down soon.  But so far they are just that: Prophecies.  The basis of the claim is that deaths in Sweden have risen a bit recently.  They are however still very low by world standards

In the bright spring sun, flaxen-haired families held barbecues on the beach. Crowds in this provincial Swedish town shopped in ­designer boutiques and in supermarkets laden with toilet paper and pasta.

As much of the world hunkered down at home to hide from the coronavirus, life in Sweden was — for many — carrying on almost as normal last week.

Swedish public health experts argue that the virus can be stopped solely by vaccination or by herd immunity.

Since a vaccine for widespread use is still at least a year away, they say, the only possible way to stop the epidemic is by isolating vulnerable people while allowing the virus to spread as slowly as possible through the healthy population as they build resistance.

Scientists at Sweden’s public health agency say this will also prevent a harsh resurgence in ­infections. “It’s important to think how long can you keep these measures going,” said state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell.

“What we’re doing now we think we can do for a long time. Of course it slows down many things in society but we can make it work. We all know that this is going to go on for months. You can’t keep schools closed for months.”

There were 3447 infections in Sweden and 105 deaths by Sunday. Some restrictions have been imposed to slow the spread of the virus and protect the vulnerable.

Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned and colleges and universities are closed. Those over 70, or with pre-existing health problems, have been asked to stay at home except for a daily walk. But restaurants and bars are open and children are going to school.

The authorities say Swedes can be trusted to follow recommendations to socially distance and do not need draconian laws to slow the spread of the virus.

“If the public health agency goes out and says stay home, ­people do stay home,” Dr Tegnell said. “My feeling is that the actual impact of having a law in another country and a recommendation in Sweden isn’t that different.”

Last week The Netherlands, which has been aiming for herd immunity, announced a ban on ­almost all gatherings amid public fears over a large projected number of deaths.

In Sweden, scientists at the public health agency are shaping the national response to the virus together with the government, but — by law — politicians cannot ­intervene in the details of its ­implementation.

“The agencies have the technical and scientific expertise. The government has the expertise in policies and politics,” Dr Tegnell said. “Most experts in the world agree that there’s no way of stopping this any more. It hits almost every country in the world. We can’t get rid of it, that never happened in history — only with smallpox after decades of vaccination.”

Anders Bjorkman, a leading ­epidemiologist who spent years at the forefront of malaria research, challenges the model used by ­researchers at Imperial College London, which estimated that about 1 per cent of those who contracted the virus would die. He ­argues that the estimate is misleading as it does not include those with the virus who exhibit no symptoms.

“They say there’s 1 per cent mortality. That’s not true. They completely discard the asymp­tomatics,” he said. “In all these groups there are some who don’t have symptoms and aren’t reported. In Sweden the average age of all reported corona cases is 56 years roughly. The average age of the population is 40 … and I believe that all age groups have been more or less equally exposed. Among the younger population, those under 40, there are so many non-symptomatics.”

The death rate in Sweden, he said, was likely to be closer to 0.1 per cent than 1 per cent. Hundreds, rather than tens of thousands, would die before herd immunity was achieved.

The public health agency said that in tests of about 5000 people who had returned to Sweden from visits to Italy, the few hundred that were positive all exhibited mild symptoms — implying that there could be a large number of people in Sweden who are asymptomatic — with mild or no symptoms — who have not sought medical treatment.



Study: The Ozone Layer Is Repairing Itself, Affecting Wind Flows

This is a curious study.  Changes in the ozone layer may indeed be affecting wind flows but are those changes traceable to the Montreal protocol? The protocol entered into force on 1st January 1989.

The fact that the hole was at its largest extent in 2015 would indicate that the protocol had done nothing even by that stage. A quarter of a century is a long time to have an effect

I add the journal abstract to the article below.  Note that they attribute the ozone change to the year 2000.  So by even their reckoning that Montreal agreement is pretty laggard in having any effect

While most people’s focus remains directed at the coronavirus pandemic, some good news has emerged: a hole in our ozone layer is now in recovery.

The hole—located above Antarctica—is continuing to recover and bringing changes in atmospheric circulation as a result, according to New Scientist.

Many dangerous changes are being brought to a halt in the atmosphere of the Southern Hemisphere due to the ongoing recovery.

Ozone depletion began to bring air currents in the Southern Hemisphere further south in the 1980s. This caused a change in ocean currents and rainfall patterns.

Global News reported that the new changes suggest that a ban on producing ozone-depleting substances, called the 1987 Montreal Protocol, is now having a positive effect on the world.

On Wednesday, a research paper released in Science Daily showed that the ozone layer has started recovery due to changing wind patterns.

Antara Banerjee and her colleagues at the University of Colorado Boulder did the research and noted that the ozone layer in the Northern Hemisphere is on track to fully recover to its 1980s levels sometime in the 2030s.

They added that in the Southern Hemisphere should return to that state by the 2050s. The Antarctic hole is expected to take longer and is estimated to recover by the 2060s.


A pause in Southern Hemisphere circulation trends due to the Montreal Protocol

Antara Banerjee et al.


Observations show robust near-surface trends in Southern Hemisphere tropospheric circulation towards the end of the twentieth century, including a poleward shift in the mid-latitude jet1,2, a positive trend in the Southern Annular Mode1,3–6 and an expansion of the Hadley cell7,8. It has been established that these trends were driven by ozone depletion in the Antarctic stratosphere due to emissions of ozone-depleting substances9–11.

Here we show that these widely reported circulation trends paused, or slightly reversed, around the year 2000. Using a pattern-based detection and attribution analysis of atmospheric zonal wind, we show that the pause in circulation trends is forced by human activities, and has not occurred owing only to internal or natural variability of the climate system.

Furthermore, we demonstrate that stratospheric ozone recovery, resulting from the Montreal Protocol, is the key driver of the pause. Because pre-2000 circulation trends have affected precipitation, and potentially ocean circulation and salinity, we anticipate that a pause in these trends will have wider impacts on the Earth system. Signatures of the effects of the Montreal Protocol and the associated stratospheric ozone recovery might therefore manifest, or have already manifested, in other aspects of the Earth system



Coronavirus: Why per capita deaths in Italy so vastly exceed deaths in America

A Reader writes

I was looking for a chart listing all the states in the US rated by the number of cases and number of deaths PER CAPITA. I could not find one so I made my own, using info from the excellent New York Times COVID-19 data by state and county, updated every hour. I have attached it here. Since testing is sporadic and not standardized, I don't put much value on the Cases/Million. But Deaths/Million is a very real thing. So I sorted the table by Cases/Million, in descending order.

American States are hugely safe compared with Italy. As of 29 March, 11,000 have died in Italy, or 183 per capita. Why was Italy so badly hit?  A number of reasons came together:

1).The chief cause is that they have a large elderly population.  The average age at death from Coronavirus in Italy was 80. We are talking about elderly Italians who were in frail health to start with

2). Italians tend to be keen smokers.  Heavy smokers at any age are a high risk group.  Coronavirus is mainly a lung disease and smoking damages lung capacity.

3). Italians are notorious scofflaws.  They tend to treat laws as just suggestions.  So you can imagine the low compliance with laws aimed to get them to stay at home.  "Promenading" is a common leisure activity among Italian men


Coronavirus: Why per capita deaths in Italy so vastly exceed deaths in America

A Reader writes

I was looking for a chart listing all the states in the US rated by the number of cases and number of deaths PER CAPITA. I could not find one so I made my own, using info from the excellent New York Times COVID-19 data by state and county, updated every hour. I have attached it here. Since testing is sporadic and not standardized, I don't put much value on the Cases/Million. But Deaths/Million is a very real thing. So I sorted the table by Cases/Million, in descending order.

American States are hugely safe compared with Italy. As of 29 March, 11,000 have died in Italy, or 183 per capita. Why was Italy so badly hit?  A number of reasons came together:

1).The chief cause is that they have a large elderly population.  The average age at death from Coronavirus in Italy was 80. We are talking about elderly Italians who were in frail health to start with

2). Italians tend to be keen smokers.  Heavy smokers at any age are a high risk group.  Coronavirus is mainly a lung disease and smoking damages lung capacity.

3). Italians are notorious scofflaws.  They tend to treat laws as just suggestions.  So you can imagine the low compliance with laws aimed to get them to stay at home.  "Promenading" is a common leisure activity among Italian men


Shutdown is killing the economy — and is also no good for our health

President Trump has announced that he is aiming toward Easter Sunday to start getting the economy up and running again. This has triggered heavy opposition. There is a serious debate about how much destruction to the economy we are willing to tolerate to save lives from the coronavirus. How many millions of businesses are we willing to allow to file for bankruptcy? How many millions of workers are we willing to become unemployed? This calculation is difficult to make because we do not know how many people the coronavirus will kill. It seems cold hearted, even cruel, to assess the costs versus the risks of policy actions when lives are at stake.

But guess what? Government officials have to make these decisions all the time. Most regulations are approved based on economic costs versus lives saved. If the only goal of government is to minimize deaths, then the first step would be to prohibit people from driving cars and abolish swimming pools, amusement parks, and bacon. We do not do these things because we have decided as a society that benefits for 320 million Americans of having reliable transportation outweigh deaths on the highway.

This is also why President Trump, along with governors and mayors across the country, need to acknowledge that the lockdown of the economy also carries health risks and unintended consequences. You cannot crush the economy without having a significant degree of human misery and even deaths, not counting the loss in dollars of wealth and income.

In an academic article two years ago, Taiwanese researchers showed a direct link between unemployment and suicide, a link that can linger for up to three years after unemployment has already retreated. Even a brief recession has lasting consequences. In rough terms, each 1 percent rise in unemployment leads to one additional suicide for each 100,000 people. If unemployment increases by 5 percent in the current economic shutdown, that could mean some 16,500 additional suicides. A 10 percent spike in unemployment could mean some 30,000 additional suicides.

A study by the National Survey of Drug Use and Health found the rate of drug addiction could be as much double for those who are unemployed as for those who are employed full time. Research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis concluded that with large increases in unemployment, the number of drug users can also rise dramatically. Yet another study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found a 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate could mean a 3 percent rise in opioid overdose deaths and more than a 6 percent rise in emergency room visits.

Among Americans between the ages of 50 and 75, a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found the unemployed are 35 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack. Robert Zoellick, the former World Bank president and the former United States trade representative, and others have noted that supply chain disruptions jeopardize the health and lives of patients facing health risks other than the coronavirus. In other words, the human toll will be very real from job losses, business bankruptcy, and so on.

There are some 20 million Americans with cancer or survived it, another 30 million with heart disease, 34 million with diabetes, and 35 million with chronic lung disease. All together, nearly one in five Americans are being treated for these ailments. What happens if they cannot get medications and treatments thanks to the economic lockdown? If just one in 1,000 of these people dies because they cannot get their medications, or because hospitals cannot take them in, that is another 75,000 deaths.

An economic shutdown is a supply chain shutdown like never before. The two of us both know people who have died from the coronavirus and the heartbreak associated with it. Americans are right to be worried. Donald Trump has likened himself to a “wartime president” fighting this invisible enemy. Being smart and reasonable about the costs and benefits of every strategy decision is critical to winning wars against all enemies.



Don't Miss the Silver Linings

As the nation awaits the flattening of the Chinese coronavirus curve, it'd be easy to come up with a laundry list of all that's going wrong. And while we're weeks or months away from knowing how this will all play out, it might help to focus on the good that's coming out of the experience.

One of the important changes brought about by our nation's response to CV19 is the deregulation in various industries, from healthcare to food distribution. Initiated by President Donald Trump and the nation's governors, these steps have unleashed innovation and made the production and delivery of a wide range of products more efficient. In fact, companies are hiring tens of thousands of workers in order to keep up with the demand for essential services.

For example, Texas not only waived size and weight restrictions of commercial vehicles but now also permits trucks that typically deliver alcohol to transport food products to grocery stores. Other states now permit restaurants to offer carryout meals without first going through a bureaucratic approval process.

"The ability to suspend these laws without fear of endangering the public opens the door to questioning their purpose," writes Charles Blain at the Foundation for Economic Education. "Many of these regulations appear to serve as no more than impediments to free exchange. If these measures exist simply to generate additional government revenue, the public should ask themselves, once the crisis has abated: should they exist at all?"

It's a great question. And the answer seems to be a resounding "No."

Another area of American life that's transforming right before our eyes is education. College students (and their parents) are beginning to realize they don't need to take on crushing debt for room and board when classes can be effectively delivered online.

For the parents of younger children, homeschooling may now be a more viable option. It allows parents to take their kids out of unsafe or underperforming government schools and provides them with more say over what and how their children learn. While this undoubtedly presents a challenge for some parents, there are unexpected rewards.

"Families are struggling to adjust to a new reality," Martha Ross writes at The Mercury News. "Parents have to play the role of teacher, a job they have no training for. They're also trying to manage their own anxiety, while their kids, generally pretty social creatures, are cut off from friends." But, Ross adds, "Parents interviewed said their families are enjoying time together."

Think about it: How many of us saw a myriad of daily activities canceled and are now sitting down to a family dinner that was once all but impossible?

And married or committed couples are also enjoying more quality time together, leading to speculation about a 2021 "baby boom."

Who would've guessed that social distancing would actually bring American families closer together?

We're also realizing that millions of office jobs can now be performed just as well from a home office. Allowing employees to telecommute reduces traffic, allows families to settle in affordable neighborhoods away from cities, and gives workers more time with their families. Sure, there are some downsides to working from home, but the option is now there for millions of Americans.

Kyle Sammin of The Federalist reminds us, "Others' jobs cannot be done from home, including many people who are still working right now: doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, and more. In between those two groups, however, are millions of office workers whose jobs can take place anywhere there is an internet connection."

Eventually, we'll get over the coronavirus curve and return to work and school, but these two institutions may never look the same. And that's a good thing for many Americans.



Little of Pelosi’s Wish List Made It Into COVID-19 Relief Bill. That’s a Relief in Itself

Among other things, Pelosi would have:

Mandated “diversity” on corporate boards and in banks.
Required airlines to disclose and reduce emissions.
Mandated that states allow voting by mail.
Increased union bargaining power.
Expanded tax credits for wind and solar power.
Prohibited universities from disclosing the citizenship status of their students.
Provided a bailout for some private pensions.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Pelosi was not going to be accused of letting a crisis go to waste.

In what is becoming a familiar theme (think of her failed attempt to control how the Senate conducted its impeachment trial), Pelosi backed down shortly after making her demands.

With the legislation now through Congress, how much of Pelosi’s wish list made it into the bill?

None of the wish-list items listed above made the cut, but there remains a lot of unnecessary and unwise spending in it.

Diversity requirements for banks and corporate boards are out, as is Pelosi’s demand for a Securities and Exchange Commission advisory group to promote corporate “diversity.”

Also out is her demand that companies taking relief funds establish and staff a minimum five-year “diversity and inclusion” program. Indeed, the words “diversity” and “inclusion” don’t appear in the legislation passed by the Senate.

The package also does not include any new carbon emissions restrictions or disclosure requirements for airlines or other industries.

Similarly missing are any of her proposals for a federal takeover of state elections.

Her attempt to give unions a handout failed, too, as did her attempt to give a handout to wind and solar power providers.

The bill does not prevent colleges and universities from disclosing their students who are illegal aliens, or provide any other shroud for illegal status.

Likewise, the private pension bailouts she demanded are nowhere to be found in the Senate bill.




Narrative buster: U.S. was more prepared for pandemic than any other country, Johns Hopkins study found (Fox News)

"We don't have evidence of that": Dr. Deborah Birx says coronavirus data doesn't match the doomsday media predictions (RealClearPolitics)

"Cognizant" of coronavirus constraints, EPA eases up on enforcement of pollution rules (Washington Examiner)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tests positive for coronavirus, is experiencing "mild symptoms" (CNBC)

China supplied faulty coronavirus test kits to Spain, Czech Republic (National Review)

Iranian officials stole more than $1 billion in humanitarian funds (The Washington Free Beacon)

Twenty people are charged over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, including two aides to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Daily Mail)

Venezuela President Maduro wanted by DOJ for drug trafficking, AG William Barr announces (Fox News)

"All they want is the money": Hospitality union demands dues from members left unemployed (The Washington Free Beacon)

Bending the curve: Dow exits bear market on optimism of $2 trillion relief package (Fox Business)

Tone deaf: Planned Parenthood sues Texas after governor declares abortion nonessential (The Daily Wire)

Policy: COVID-19 is killing the case for socialized medicine (Issues & Insights)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement



Money or lives: at some point we must say ‘enough!’

We trade off lives against other things all the time. If lives were all-important, we would ban motor cars -- given the many deaths from traffic accidents

And it is not as if confining people to their homes is safe.  It will undoubtedly create depression in many and in already depressed people the outcome will be suicides.  As well as tracking virus deaths we should also be tracking deaths from suicides and deaths from domestic violence. Becoming "stir crazy" from confinement is a well-known and dangerous phenomenon.  It may not be long before deaths from confinement-related causes will equal or surpass deaths from the virus

Our current draconian policies to tackle coronavirus are just not sustainable. The middle ground is more like what Sweden is doing. See below


The potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic is enormous. But draconian policies to tackle the virus also have colossal costs. Ignoring the trade-offs could land us with one of the worst possible outcomes.

A landmark study by London’s Imperial College on death impacts from different policies helped change the minds of US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson towards implementation of lockdown policies. It showed that without any such policies, COVID-19 would kill a half-million people in Britain and 2.2 million people in the US.

Unrestricted COVID-19 means most people get sick at the same time, entirely overwhelming the healthcare system. Without restrictions, corona infections would peak in early June in Britain, with 280,000 sick people needing hospitalisation but only 8000 beds available. That is why it is crucial to “flatten the curve”. Policies to reduce the speed of infection can help spread out when people get sick and make hospital beds available for more people.

Smart policies such as self-­isolation, house quarantines and isolation for the vulnerable have little cost and can flatten the curve somewhat, reducing deaths by about 50 per cent. But this still leads to a quarter-million dead in Britain, so understandably almost all societies have decided that stronger policies to slow the spread of the virus are needed.

Imperial College defines social distancing of the entire population to mean that people still go to school and mostly to work but they curtail other social interactions such as going to restaurants, cinemas and bars by 75 per cent. Together with the other smart policies, this could flatten the curve so much that there would be almost enough beds for everyone for the next five months.

Unfortunately, the study also shows that such a successful reduction in infection means few people have gained immunity. So if restrictions are lifted in September, a second wave of infections will once again overwhelm society and kill almost as many.

Thus, if we want to keep deaths low, the Imperial College study shows we may have to maintain social restrictions for what may be up to a two-year wait ­before vaccinations are available.

This point needs more emphasis. Up to two years of draconian social restrictions will not only be phenomenally costly but also impossibly hard to keep in place.

Look at the costs first. Most of the early predictions were moderate. But the world’s much more ­severe policies have exploded the costs. According to JPMorgan, China’s economy will shrink by an unheard of 40 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

For the US, Goldman Sachs envisages a 24 per cent second-quarter gross domestic product slump, and Morgan Stanley a 30 per cent drop. In the past week alone, 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits.

Moreover, most governments seem to have committed to draconian policies to avoid most deaths across the long term. These will cost much, much more. If China wants to reopen, it risks a second wave of coronavirus; if it doesn’t, the economic contraction could continue or get even worse. Economists are suggesting the costs of continued extreme policies could be comparable to Germany in the 1920s or the US in the 30s, with massive economic costs, a third of the workforce unemployed and a generational loss of opportunities.

The current raft of draconian shutdown policies spanning much of the world includes border closings, shutting down travel and closing schools, concert venues, restaurants, bars, malls, sports ­facilities and countless jobs.

These policies cannot be sustained realistically for many months, let alone years. Already, mobile phone tracking shows that 40 per cent of Italians still move around despite curfews and lockdowns. In France, “virus rebels” are defying bans and young Germans hold “corona parties” while coughing at older people.

As weeks of shutdown turn into months, this will get much worse. With many more people at home, this will likely lead to higher levels of domestic violence and substance abuse. As schools stay closed, the skills of the next generation erode. One study shows closing schools for just 13 weeks could initially cost the economy 8.1 per cent of GDP. As more people become unemployed and the economy plunges, we will be able to afford much less, also leading to lower-quality healthcare for every­one. Politically, the outcome could be dire — the previous long-term recessions in the 20s and 30s didn’t end well.

We need to discuss openly the trade-offs between tougher shutdowns and economic calamity. Trump is irresponsibly itching to end most restrictions by Easter. It could help the economy in the short term, but in the long term it could lead to the corona catastrophe forecast by Imperial College. Similarly, long-term shutdown policies also can lead to devastation: first destroying the economy; then, with their support withering and health regulations unravelling by September, a huge secondary wave of COVID-19 killing people indiscriminately.

Fortunately, the Imperial College study maps out more of a ­middle ground. It didn’t advocate the complete shutdown we mostly are seeing implemented. The researchers envisioned people continue studying and mostly working while reducing their ­social activities. They pointed out that cancelling mass gatherings has “little impact”.

This middle ground is more like what Sweden is doing: recommending people work from home if possible, and asking those who are sick and over 70 to avoid social contact. But most people still work, children go to school, most of society is still running. This is long-term sustainable. Shutting it all down — like France, New Zealand and California — is not.

We need to map a middle course that saves most lives and avoids a catastrophic recession.



Voting in Queensland. What are the challenges of holding elections in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic?

I observed early voting on Friday and saw long well-spaced queues being supervised by a cheerful electoral officer.

On Saturday morning, on the main day to vote, one might have expected bigger queues but that is not what I encountered.  Where it was very busy last time, there were no queues at all

There were none of the usual leaflets handed out but there was plenty of signage so that was no problem  That would certainly have reduced the litter problem

I got my hands sprayed with sanitizer and I used the pencil supplied to mark my ballot paper.

The big miss is that there were no charity stalls cooking sausages.  Election sausages are an appreciated part of Australian elections and, being something of a sausage freak, I certainly missed them.

There are as yet no figures on the turnout to vote but despite compulsory voting, turnout at municipal elections is always well down. From what I saw, it would have been really down in this election.  A lot of people probably saw coronavirus restrictions as a good excuse to skip voting this time.

Countries around the globe have postponed elections due to the coronavirus pandemic but in Queensland, top officials say you are more at risk in the supermarket aisle than the polling booth.

The State Government is pushing ahead with Saturday's planned local government elections and two state by-elections on the advice of its chief health officer.

Authorities said measures like physical distancing, plus a record number of pre-poll and postal votes, meant the risk was low compared to other day-to-day activities like grocery shopping.

The Electoral Commissioner flagged State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers could even be called upon to help maintain physical distancing at the booths during "these extraordinary times".

But the move to go ahead with the elections has baffled some doctors and scientists in the community who believe it is a gathering "we shouldn't have" and is inconsistent with other messages to stay home.

Hygiene concerns have also seen three Brisbane Catholic schools decide to pull out as polling booth venues.

There are around 3.3 million eligible voters across Queensland.

As of 6:30pm Thursday, more than 1 million people had cast their vote early, on top of another 570,000 who registered for a postal vote.

According to Queensland's chief health officer Jeannette Young, there is no risk in going to vote tomorrow with the safety measures in place.

The Electoral Commission Queensland (ECQ) is telling people to bring their own pen or pencil and stand 1.5 metres from others, while how-to-vote cards or election material won't be handed out.

Its website said hand sanitiser would be provided "where available" for voters and polling officials, and there would be extra cleaning to ensure surfaces were regularly disinfected.



President Trump should issue the Buy American executive order to end China’s control of our medicines

This is good patriotic stuff and there is some point in it.  But we must be careful to avoid overkill.  The writer below shows no awareness that he is advocating a big leap in the costs of most medicines. American workers will not work for Chinese wages. Medicines are costly enough without a step-change upwards.  Such a change would produce a big political  backlash

A more moderate and realistic policy would be to draw up a short list of critical (life-saving) medicines and mandate that they be obtained only from America or its allies.  Both Britain and Europe have substantial pharmaceutical industries with established production of many medicines so could help a rapid turnaround of the supply chains of many medicines.

By Bill Wilson

With all we are facing today, with all the fear and outright transformation of our entire society, it might seem odd that a group of medical organizations would sign a letter opposing American independence in the production of medicines and medical equipment.  You would think that in the crisis these groups would want to see America move toward a strong, independent position.  But you would be wrong.

The Association for Accessible Medicines (AAM), a trade association for large pharmaceutical manufacturers is pushing a letter opposing an executive order proposed by President Donald Trump that would reduce or eliminate regulations that have raised the cost of manufacturing medical compounds and equipment in the United States.  His goal is to end American dependence on China for the medicines we need.

The big international corporations, of course, say the order will make it difficult for them to supply antibiotics and equipment needed now to fight the Chinese coronavirus.  Their stated reason for opposing the President is that they want to “do their part” in fighting the scourge.  But there is likely a far more sinister reason for this action.

The Chinese Communists will do just about anything to keep their stranglehold on the supply of medicines, the components to make medicines and medical equipment, This is about power — the power of the Chinese Communists to dictate terms to America and Europe.  And they are delivering this message through the serpentine voices of major corporations.

So far, the letter being circulated by the pharmaceutical giants has 40 signatures, mostly from associations funded by the pharmaceutical firms themselves   In all fairness, most of these groups need the funding from the corporations so it is no surprise that they are doing as they are told.  And, as would be expected, there are a handful of so-called “conservative” groups reciting their “free trade” mantra.  They, sadly, are so blinded by their failed religion of globalism that they cannot see the threat to America their position holds.

The move by President Trump to begin to bring the production of medicine and medical equipment back to the United States is the only honorable and right thing that could be done.  For those corporations now under the golden thumb of China to oppose this basic movement toward American sovereignty is tantamount to a renunciation of their U.S. citizenship.  They now side with the rulers of a foreign, hostile regime over that of the people of the United States.  Going forward, they should be treated as foreign agents, because that is what they are.

We can expect more pushback to efforts by President Trump and the growing legion of elected officials that see the damage done by the globalist agenda.  But understanding that these pathetic attacks are simply the end result of dictates from Beijing renders them inert.  They have no meaning or bearing.  The march to restore America, to return basic industries to our shores, to rebuild tens of thousands of communities will continue.  The tide of history cannot be ordered to not come in.



Coronavirus may have already infected half of UK, study says

The leading person behind this finding is an expert in precisely this subject, so her conclusions carry more weight than most other pontifications on the subject.  

And her prediction is highly congruent with what we know already:  Lots of people are exposed to the virus but don't get ill.  It seems highly likely that the people who get ill are a quite small fraction of the population. And those who die are an even smaller fraction.  Given that, calculations of incidence have so far been much overblown.  The numbers reported as adversely affected amount to less than 1% of the population and those who die are a tiny fraction of that.

In Australia only 11 people have died.  What fraction of the 25 million population is that?  It's totally insignificant.

And those who die all seem to be in risk groups anyhow. In Italy, the average age of those who have died is 80! And people in that age group frequently succumb to whatever flu is around that year. In Britain deaths were also in risk groups. 43 coronavirus deaths were recorded there on Wednesday 25th.  But only one of those did not have an underlying health condition

Unless that radically changes, we must therefore conclude that the number of cases adversely affected may be no greater than what we see in a normal bout of the flu. The flu kills between 20,000 and 60,000 Americans every year. We are, in other words, moving heaven and earth to prevent something pretty normal and of no unusual concern.

In the whole of biology a trend never goes on forever.  What we always see is an initial leap followed by either a flattening out or a steady decline.  And exactly that will happen with the present infections.  The big question, of course is WHEN will the infections stop increasing. 

China has already experienced a cessation of new infections so from that datum we have to conclude that those adversely affected will be a very small percentage of the overall population.  

We may however wonder how far we can trust the Chinese figures so the findings below are timely.  They too lead to the view that only a small part of the population gets ill from the virus.  So we now have two lines of evidence leading to the view that we are turning our world upside down for something very minor in the total scheme of things. If so, the rational course would be simply to let the virus run its course -- as we normally do with flu viruses

The rapidly spreading coronavirus may have already infected half the UK population — but that is encouraging news, according to a new study by the University of Oxford.

The modeling by researchers at Oxford’s Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease group indicates the COVID-19 virus reached the UK by mid-January at the latest, spreading undetected for more than a month before the first official case was reported in late February, the Financial Times reports.

But even though this suggests the spread is far worse than scientists previously estimated, it also implies that only one in a thousand people infected with COVID-19 requires hospitalization.

The researchers say this shows that herd immunity — the idea that the virus will stop spreading when enough of the population builds up resistance through becoming infected — can help fight the highly-contagious disease.

This view is in contrast to the Imperial College London modeling used by the UK government to develop policies to halt the crisis, including social distancing.

“I am surprised that there has been such unqualified acceptance of the Imperial model,” Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology, who led the study, told the Financial Times.

If the Oxford model is confirmed by testing, Professor Gupta believes this means current restrictions could be removed much sooner than the government has indicated, the Financial Times reports.

The group is now working with colleagues at the Universities of Cambridge and Kent to start antibody testing to figure out what stage the epidemic is in and to assess protective immunity, according to the outlet.



Smoke from Australia's bushfires killed far more people than the fires did, study says

Smoke is particulate pollution and the study below looked at a standard measure of that pollution: PM2.5. And there is a great deal of prior research on pollution of that sort.  

The conventional assumption is of course that inhaling such pollution is bad for you.  The Australian experience would however seem to show that is is NOT very bad for you.  Australians were not dying like flies while experiencing it. They seemed to be going about their business in their usual way, in fact.

So how have the authors below got their apparently alarming findings:

Modelling garbage.  They had no real data on the health of  Australians at the time at all. They just used conventional assumptions to estimate what the effects would have been. But the conventional assumptions are crap, to use a technical term.  The existing research on particulate air pollution (PM2.5.)shows effects that range between no effect and effects that are so weak that no confidence can be placed in them. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here

The conventional assumptions take the occasional tiny effects that turn up in some research to build a great castle on, if you will forgive my prepositional impropriety. So you get statements that pollution causes such and such an ailment, without mentioning the very fragile evidential basis for such a posited effect.

So after that useless modelling it will be interesting if the authors do something more useful in the future -- such as comparing actual recorded deaths and morbidity during the smoke affected period with the same period in the previous much clearer year.  My hypothesis -- based on the actual prior research -- is that deaths and disease in the same period of the two years will differ trivially, if at all.

The "study" is just a grab for government funding

Smoke pollution that blanketed Australia’s south-east for many months during the bushfire crisis may have killed more than 400 people, according to the first published estimate of the scale of health impacts – more than 10 times the number killed by the fires themselves.

The figures, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, are “definitely alarming”, according to Chris Migliaccio, who studies the long-term effects of wildfire smoke at the University of Montana in Missoula and was not involved in the research.

Lead author Fay Johnston, an epidemiologist at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, estimates 80% of Australia’s population of about 25 million was blanketed by smoke this summer.

“The fires were unprecedented in Australia’s history, in terms of vast amounts of smoke, the huge populations affected by the smoke and the long duration,” she said.

Sydney experienced 81 days of poor or hazardous air quality in 2019, more than the total of the previous 10 years combined.

“When you’re affecting millions of people in a small way, there are going to be enough people at high enough risk that you’re going to see really measurable rises in these health effects,” Johnston said.

As data on hospital admissions, deaths and ambulance callouts was not yet available to researchers, Johnston and her team instead modelled the likely medical consequences of the pollution, which is the “the only other way to get a quick ballpark idea of the health impacts,” she said.

To come up with a picture of the overall health burden of smoke exposure, they looked at existing data on death rates and hospital admissions to get a baseline. They then modelled how the known levels and extent of smoke exposure across the southeast, during the height of the crisis from 1 October to 10 February, would have affected these.

Their results estimate that over this period there were 417 premature deaths, 3,151 extra hospitalisations for cardiorespiratory problems and 1,305 additional attendances for asthma attacks. This compares to 33 who reportedly died as a direct result of the bushfires.

Many of the deaths and hospitalisations are likely to have been older patients with heart disease or lung problems, such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema – but severe asthma attacks will likely have resulted in deaths in younger people too, Johnston said.

In patients with pre-existing cardiorespiratory issues, smoke exposure promotes inflammation, stresses the body and makes blood more likely to clot, increasing the risk of a heart attack. “In someone at high risk, subtle changes due to stress … can be the precipitating factor for a very serious or terminal event,” she said.

Guy Marks, a respiratory physician and epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney who was not involved in the research, said the findings “highlights the importance of the health consequences” and is useful in estimating fire-related deaths that may not have been recognised as the result of smoke exposure.

The findings concur with previous studies of the health consequences of wildfire smoke in North America, but the numbers “are more drastic, potentially as a result of the unprecedented nature of the exposure,” Migliaccio said. He added that while previous studies found increases in hospital visits, the addition of large numbers of premature deaths in the Australian study is significant and disturbing.

Migliaccio said that due to climate change increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires “these types of exposures are increasing in number and intensity, making this kind of research vital.”

To look into just such effects, a consortium of 10 air pollution researchers from across Australia, led by Marks and including Johnston, have already put up their hands for $3m in government funding, which became available in the wake of the crisis.

The research proposal, funding of which has yet to be confirmed, aims to plug significant gaps in knowledge about the health impacts of bushfire smoke and how these might be mitigated.

Marks says that questions he and his colleagues hope to address include whether there is anything unique about health effect of air pollution caused by bushfires, what the long-term effects of exposure are, and what the effects might be on newborn babies and pregnant women.

The researchers – all members of a collaborative consortium, The Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research (CAR), funded by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council – also hope to study whether it’s possible to filter air to make indoor refuges safe from pollution, and if public health advice can be improved.



Will the Coronavirus change the world for the better?

The pessimists are as usual out in force, declaring that the Chinese virus will destroy civilization as we know it.  It is refreshing therefore to hear a different view from English libertarian Sean Gabb.  He even sees the crisis as a blow against the Left and a boost for conservatives. 

He has a thoroughly Trumpian respect for some trade restrictions. My background in economics still makes me idealize unrestricterd free trade but economists have always conceded that there can be rational restrictions to that and China's takeover of world manufacturing does generate some concerns.

I am afraid however that I do not see as likely the revival of England's industrial North that Sean hopes for.  The product of the North was never first quality and we are fortunate to be rid of it. British manufacturing is still strong in parts but it was prosperous as a whole only while the rest of the world took time to catch up with and surpass the advantage the British had of being the first in the field.

Chinese quality is also mostly low so far but they rule the roost because of their very competitive prices.  The prospect of the British worker accepting Chinese wages is however non-existent.  There probably are some areas however where the Chinese advantage is not great and a tariff would bring that production back home.  

Britain has long had a significant pharmaceutical industry so that would seem an early prospect for promotion and encouragement. On grounds of quality assurance a tariff to support local manufacture would seem advantageous for pharmaceutical manufacturers

Lastly, I want to endorse Sean's skepticism about the hysteria  that the Chinese virus has produced from governments.

With 217 deaths in the USA at last update, the Wuhan virus is a very minor cause of death.  It would not even be a blip in the record of the number of people who die from various illnesses every year.  

The panic over it is therefore hugely disproportionate and destructive.  The panic is clearly causing more harm than the disease.  The virus is primarily a lung disease so ensuring widespread availability of  oxygen was all that needed to be done

I have no particular knowledge of medicine or the natural sciences. However, I remember the Aids panic of the 1980s, when we were told there would be two million deaths by 1990 in this country alone. I remember the Mad Cow Disease of 1996, when we were told that a million people would turn into zombies by 2016. There have been a dozen lesser panics the details of which I presently forget. The Coronavirus may be a modern equivalent of the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. But I have reason to be sceptical. Indeed, if ignorant of medicine in any practical sense, I do know a lot about the bubonic plague pandemics of 542-4 and of 1347-51. These exploded among populations severely weakened by hunger, following downturns in global temperature. The Spanish Flu took hold because of the dislocations produced by the Great War. The human race now has never been so well-fed and so well-provided with medicine. It seems that most victims of the Coronavirus were very old or already in poor health. I do not, of course, welcome any death. But I shall need to see much higher rates of infection and many more deaths – and much and many more outside those groups presently most at risk – before I regard this as other than some collective madness.

This being said, there may be more to be said. Far above the ravening sheep in the supermarkets stands a new political establishment that cannot really be as stupid as its apocalyptic warnings make it appear on first inspection. I begin to smell a conspiracy – and a most unusual conspiracy, so far as its main victims may be the kind of people who do nicely out of the new order of things that has emerged since about 1990, and particularly since 2008.

I have read the Guidance Notes of the British Government’s Coronavirus Bill. Except the proposals go absurdly beyond the needs of the outbreak as it seems to be, it is a broadly proportionate response to the outbreak as it is said to be. I do not see the powers to close public gatherings and lock away the plainly infected as a blueprint for any more of a police state than we already have. The final Act may smuggle in provisions to outlaw cash or to censor the Internet. But I doubt it will. The other responses – shutting down all the schools, subsidising wages, deferring tax payments – are costing or losing the British State a lot of money, and none of this, so far as I can tell, is going to the usual special interest groups. Though grossly disproportionate to any reasonable view of how severe this outbreak is, the Johnson Government’s response is the opposite of the Brown Government’s response to the 2008 financial crash, which involved handing over a mountain of our tax money and the future growth of our savings and pensions to the very rich.

So what is happening? One possibility is that the outbreak is a convenient excuse for at least the British and American Governments to do in a state of emergency what they want to do, but would have trouble doing in the normal course of politics. What they may want – and this is congruent with the promises made by Mr Johnson and Mr Trump – is a deflation of the financial sector and a shortening of supply chains and a tightening of borders, all in the interests of greater security and equality for ordinary people. They have confected a panic, or gone along with an autonomous panic. This has brought on a wholly self-inflicted supply shock. The British Government in particular is taking large new financial liabilities. But this is a supply shock from which recovery should be fast and complete. The financial liabilities put money directly into the pockets of those most immediately harmed by the shock – and the ceiling of £2,500 per month on the wage subsidy will involve a progressively greater loss for those earning more than the average.

The usual suspects are asking for a delay to our full departure from the European Union. This is probably not on the agenda, as it goes against the underlying principle of the emergency measures. This includes a real tightening of border control and an encouragement of domestic manufacture. Again, ordinary people will benefit from the raising of wage rates. As a libertarian, I am not supposed to approve of anything that looks like protectionism. On the other hand, using China as a giant sweatshop is almost certainly not the outcome of any clean market process. More likely, the current pattern of world production and trade has nothing to do with Ricardian comparative advantage, but is the outcome of various hidden subsidies and prohibitions that mainly benefit the rich and well-connected. Removing these and allowing the emergence of shorter supply chains might improve the lives of ordinary people.

And improving the lives of ordinary people might be good for the cause of liberty. After 1979, the Government kicked the bottom out of the world for the working classes. Millions were thrown out of work. Millions more eventually found employment in menial and insecure jobs. One result was to end the threat of trade union militancy. Another was to remove people from some connection with scientific rationality – even the lowest industrial labour is a kind of applied science – and to leave them open to every stupid superstition and moral panic the media cared to promote. Restore something like the broad industrial economy of the past, and we might see a rebirth of liberal opinion in the old sense of the words.

As for the gathering financial collapse, the wage subsidy will protect ordinary people from the worst effects. Its most notable effect may be the liquidation of the debt and credit bubble that was blown up after 2008 and that has now become unsustainable. I doubt we shall reach the point where those glass towers that disfigure Central London are remade into flats and workshops. If that were to happen, though, it would be no cause for regret – except to those enriched by the present order of things.

And so, I do not fear the Coronavirus – not yet, at least. I moderately fear the shortages in the supermarkets. I am keenly interested in the possible emergence of an England in which the Northern working classes will be proud to be seen voting Conservative.



Plastic pollution

Plastic rubbish on land and sea is a big problem.  You can pick it up but what do you do with it then? That all discarded plastic should be recycled seems to be an article of faith -- as we see below.  But  nobody is saying why it should be recycled. What is wrong with just dumping it in landfill?  Digging a hole and filling it in again is not rocket science. Most plastic ends up in landfill anyway, so I am not proposing anything radical, unusual  or outlandish.

But how many holes can we dig for landfill?  What happens with all that landfill eventually?  Again the answer it not outlandish.  There is a fair chance that you are living on top of landfill already if your house is a recent newbuild.  As good urban land for home building becomes scarce, developers buy holes -- valleys in the landscape.  And they then fill up the holes to create flat land.

And what do they put in the holes?  Garbage, some of which will be plastic.  They then put in a layer of rocks to hold it down and then a layer of soil on the very top to facilitate people growing things in a garden. They will usually have to wait a year or two for everything to settle and then the "For sale" signs will go up.

It is a normal item in the precautions of conveyancing for buyers to hire a geologist to certify that the ground has settled into a stable state but the developers know that so will be sure to have sent in their own geologists before releasing the land for sale.

And the old method of dealing with garbage is still sometimes used -- particularly in small towns and cities.  The local authorities find a hole or small valley, use it as a general garbage dump and top it off with rocks and soil when it is full.  And what do they use the newly created flat "land" for?  It becomes parks, sportsgrounds and playing fields.  You would be surprised at how many of your local recreational areas originated that way.  A dump I used to go to is now a sportsfield.

So holes will become a valuable asset and urban areas will slowly become flatter.  That is the only penalty for putting plastic waste in landfill.

Plastic recycling enjoys ever-wider support among consumers: Putting yogurt containers and juice bottles in a blue bin is an eco-friendly act of faith in millions of households. But faith goes only so far. The tidal wave of plastic items that enters the recycling stream each year is increasingly likely to fall right back out again, casualties of a broken market.

Many products that consumers believe (and industries claim) are “recyclable” are in reality not, because of stark economics. With oil and gas prices near 20-year lows—thanks in large part to the fracking revolution— so-called virgin plastic, a product of petroleum feedstocks, is now far cheaper and easier to obtain than recycled material. That unforeseen shift has yanked the financial rug out from under what was until recently a viable recycling industry. “The global waste trade is essentially broken,” says Graham Forbes, head of the global plastics campaign at Greenpeace. “We are sitting on vast amounts of plastic, with nowhere to send it and nothing to do with it.”

This gargantuan overload is creating a conflict that industry and government can no longer ignore—one that pits the profitability and usefulness of plastic against its threat to public health and the environment. There are few places where that conflict is more visible than in Malaysia. Here, rock-bottom wages, cheap land, and a still-evolving regulatory climate have enticed entrepreneurs to build hundreds of factories in a last-ditch bid to stay profitable. The real economic and environmental costs of plastic recycling are on vivid display, as I discovered traveling across the country with photographer Sebastian Meyer. Over the course of 10 days, we visited 10 recycling factories—some of them, including Biogreen Frontier, operating without official registration, under threat of a shutdown—as they grappled with waste shipped by the boatload from across the world. And we saw how the consequences of the broken plastics economy spill over into waste dumps, container dockyards, private homes, and out into the ocean.

FOR HALF A CENTURY, plastics have seen rocketing growth, for good reason: They are cheap, lightweight, and virtually indestructible.

“There’s a great future in plastics,” a nervous young Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) is told by a would-be mentor in the 1967 movie The Graduate. Acting on that tip would have yielded spectacular returns. Global production soared from 25 million tons a year in 1970 to more than 400 million tons in 2018.

Behind this polyethylene deluge is an economic colossus: a global plastics market worth about $1 trillion last year, according to U.K. data analysts the Business Research Co. Demand for plastics has doubled since 2000 and could double again by 2050. “We have a growing middle class around the world that needs to improve their quality of life,” says Keith Christman, managing director of plastic markets for the American Chemistry Council, an industry organization whose members include major producers like Dow, Dupont, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil. “Plastic is a part of that.” You can find plastic not just in your water bottles and sandwich bags, but in sweatshirts and wet wipes, home insulation and siding, chewing gum, tea bags, and countless other items.

The durability that makes plastic so appealing, it turns out, also makes it an environmental time bomb. An estimated 90.5% of all the plastic produced since 1950 is still in existence, according to analysis by Roland Geyer, an industrial ecology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science &Management. Only 8.4% of plastic waste in the U.S. was recycled in 2017, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. An additional 15.8% was burned to generate energy; the rest wound up in landfills. Recycling rates are even lower in parts of Asia and Africa. Even Europe, with its stringent environmental laws, recycles only about 30% of plastics.

For decades, plastics producers and their biggest customers—consumer-goods giants like Coca-Cola, NestlĂ©, Pepsico, and Procter & Gamble—have argued that improving these recycling numbers is the solution to the plastic-waste crisis. They frame the problem as one of behavior—ours. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to say the problem is with plastic,” Tony Radoszewski, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association, tells me. “The culprit is the consumer who does not dispose of products properly.”

It’s true that recycling rates are low. But to blame that fact on consumers alone is disingenuous. The bigger problem is a huge shift in energy markets. Prices for oil and natural gas have plummeted over the past decade. That in turn has made it far cheaper for petrochemical companies to produce virgin plastics than for factories to create recycled plastic. And with big profits to be made, companies have sharply increased virgin production, further driving down prices. Recycling used plastic is labor- intensive and therefore expensive—and the shifting economics now work against recycling in much of the world.

In 2018, this ecosystem endured another major blow when China halted the importation of almost all plastic scrap, saying that its own recycling industry was becoming an environmental hazard. The decision has caused chaos in the world’s plastic-resuscitation economy. Up until then, for example, the U.S. had been sending about 70% of its plastic waste to China. Now, “recycling is on life support,” says Mike Engelmann, solid waste coordinator for Smithtown, N.Y., a town of 120,000 people on suburban Long Island.

“Hopefully things will turn around. But I am not sure how.”



The stories of Australia's "Stolen Generations"

I note that this hoax is now in the plural: "Generations". It was originally singular.

I have no doubt that the experiences described below are largely true.  Many Aboriginal children were relocated from their homes and the experience was no doubt traumatic in many cases.

The big unsaid thing in the matter is WHY Australian governments for a time did such relocations.  From the article below you are left to assume that it was from evil impulses, "Racism" probably.

But it was nothing of the sort.  The removals were part of the normal child welfare practices of the time.  To this day Aboriginal men are very hard on their children, with even feeding them being haphazard.  And drunkenness in particular is  rife and generates a lot of physical conflict.

In short, the children were removed to protect them from abuse and sometines death. They were adopted into white families because safe black families were hard to find.  And it was felt that reorienting them to white culture while they were in an adoptive family would be advantageous to them

But personality is heavily hereditary so that was usually a doomed effort.  The children simply reinstated in their own lives the parental behaviour that had got them removed in the first place.  As the man below describes his life: "considerable time spent drinking heavily and living on the streets - including a few short stints in prison". Like father like son.

Melbourne, Australia - When Archie Roach speaks, his eyes close, deep in thought, as if taking on the countenance of an ancient, blind seer.

Reflecting on his life takes considerable courage; removed from his family as a child as part of Australia's Stolen Generations, Roach would experience alcoholism, homelessness and even a suicide attempt before sobering up and becoming the internationally-recognised singer-songwriter most know him as today.

His life story is now recounted in a new autobiography, Tell Me Why, which - like his music and lyrics - is written with passion, beauty and a hint of sadness.

"[Many people] hear about Stolen Generations but don't realise the journey that one makes, or takes, to find their way back - if they do at all," Roach said. "I wanted to write about that, and what I've learned through the years."

Now 64, Roach's love of music came from his adoptive father, a Scottish migrant who would sing the traditional songs of his homeland around the dinner table.

After being removed as part of Australia's policy to assimilate Indigenous children into white families, Roach was adopted into what he describes as a stable home.

It was during high school that he would receive a letter from his then unbeknownst older Indigenous sister that would set Roach on a remarkable journey to find his biological family.

After considerable time spent drinking heavily and living on the streets - including a few short stints in prison - Roach would eventually reconnect with his Aboriginal family.

Deep-seated trauma

Yet the trauma of his removal, and the impact it had had on his community, was deeply felt. He would begin to write songs about his, and his family's, experiences, and in 1991, rose to prominence with the song Took the Children Away.

Tell Me Why describes in considerable detail, the effect of his removal and separation would have, including on his own children and grandchildren.

"I explain to [my grandchildren] about being taken away and it's very confusing for them at first. And they get older and they think about it and it actually upsets them when you talk about it now. Because they are hurt, because their own grandfather was taken away from their family.

"They can't understand why that would have happened in the first place. And that's the question they ask too - 'why did they do that?' [And I have to say] 'I don't know. They probably thought we'd be better off.'"

Along with the emotional trauma, Roach said the removals had severe cultural implications. "You couldn't speak [Indigenous] language - they'd lock you up. You couldn't practise cultural practices - they'd lock you up or withhold rations.

"So we grew up and we weren't able to teach our children and grandchildren language, dance and things like that."

Roach said he was fortunate to eventually find his biological family, but acknowledged that there were many Indigenous children who did not.

He said he hopes that readers understand "that this happened, in this country. Not just to me but thousands of other children. And some of them never made it back. And some of us did, and were fortunate."



Women are genetically superior.  Coronavirus is killing more men than women 

That females are better survivors has long been evident.  You just have to see the aged wisps of female humanity tottering around the place.  Women have to be tougher to cope with the burdens of pregnancy. Their systems have to provide for two lives

And it is interesting to read below some details of the genetic mechanisms involved.  

But attributing the fewer female deaths  from coronavirus infection to genetics is tendentious.  Coronavirus is primarily a lung disease and more men are smokers.  So the sex-difference appears to be behavioural, not genetic

Coronavirus is killing more men than women, according to early figures. In its first six weeks almost equal numbers of males and females were infected with the disease but only 1.7 per cent of the women went on to die compared with 2.8 per cent of the men. Scientists think they know why: women’s immune systems are stronger than men’s. They’re built that way.

Dr Sharon Moalem, a Canadian-born ­physician, rare disease specialist and author, has a theory that women are genetically tougher than men. In 2016 Moalem and his wife Anna were driving in Toronto. A car ran through a red light and smashed into them. “We rolled,” he recalls. “The cabin, the roof, totally caved in. We were very lucky to be alive. If we hadn’t ducked down, we would probably have been decapitated.”

They were hospitalised for more than a month with very similar injuries. But here’s the strange thing: Anna was released two weeks ­earlier than Sharon. “What was really noticeable was the ­healing time,” he says. “The superficial cuts, for example – her healing time was faster. I got more infections than she did, my infections didn’t clear as fast and I just didn’t get back on my feet to the same degree.”

His delayed recovery and the resilience of his wife did not surprise him. To him it was more proof that women are genetically superior to men. After the crash, he decided to write a book about it, The Better Half: On the Genetic ­Superiority of Women, released next month.

The evidence is strong. Women on average live longer than men. More men are born than women – 105 to every 100 – but, by the age of 40, the numbers are equal and, by 100, 80 per cent of the survivors are female. Women suffer fewer congenital birth abnormalities – tongue-tie, webbed toes and so on – than men. Men are about 20 per cent more likely to get cancer and 40 per cent more likely to die from it. Male children are twice as likely to ­suffer developmental disabilities such as ADHD, autism, learning problems and stammering. Women tend to have better colour vision than men and some are tetrachromatic, which means they may see up to 100 million colours, not the one million most men struggle by on.

Ah, you say, but men are physically stronger than women. Well, no, not in terms of survival. When Stalin’s policies in Soviet Ukraine starved millions, more women than men survived. Men are certainly more muscular and better than women at most sports requiring power. No female sprinter is going to beat Usain Bolt, and men still dominate at marathons. But men are not so good when it comes to extreme endurance contests such as ultra-marathons.

“The further the race, the more difficult the conditions, that’s when men start dropping off,” Moalem says. The point was dramatically made last year when Jasmin Paris, a 35-year-old vet and mother, won the 431km Montane Spine Race along the Pennine Way up to Scotland. “She broke the course record by 12 hours. At the rest stations along the way, she was pumping breast milk for her baby while the men were flat out on the floor.”

Moalem also cites the Transcontinental Race, a bike ride across Europe of about 4000km. Last year that too was won by a woman, Fiona ­Kolbinger, a 24-year-old medical student from Germany. This is happening because, increasingly, women are taking part in events once thought too difficult for them. In fact, they’re ­easier for women than men. Why?

“We think it is twofold,” Moalem says. “One reason is that women have a lower resting metabolic rate, so they don’t exhaust themselves as ­easily. The other piece of this puzzle that I looked at was famine survival, for which women have an immense advantage. I think that’s where the ultra-endurance performance comes from.”

He does not mention the rigours of pregnancy, once compared to running a marathon daily. Surely this is the ultimate proof of his theory? Moalem is too much of a scientist to go there. ­“Suffice to say that a mammalian pregnancy requires a staggering biological response and ­adaptation. Yet until we manage to get an XY male pregnant, there’s really no way for us to make that comparison and know for certain. But I would say that far more impressive even than a genetic female’s capacity to support a pregnancy to term is their ability to make it across the supercentenarian ­finish line. There’s really nothing biologically harder for a human to pull off than making it to 110 years of age and beyond.”

Moalem is equally careful not to draw too many conclusions about coronavirus – yet. “Yes, so far it seems that more men are unfortunately succumbing to COVID-19, but we will only know for certain a few years after the pandemic if more males were affected,” Moalem says. [The figures cited in the first paragraph of this article are based on preliminary results from the Chinese Centre for Disease ­Control and Prevention based on data from 72,314 people diagnosed with COVID-19 as of February 11.] “Mers, another coronavirus that we do have more experience with and more epidemiological data, does in fact kill more males.”

Somehow, for millennia, science and society have managed to overlook all of this. We have ­preferred the strong-man myth. “As a physician and scientist, the schooling that I got was that men are stronger” – meaning not just more muscular but all-round more robust. “It took me 20 years to deconstruct that paradigm.”

Moalem knows there is going to be resistance to his theory. “I thought a lot about that while I was considering whether to write this book. It’s a dangerous idea and it’s going to upset a lot of ­people. It probably has already. Whenever you’re swapping paradigms, there’s a lot of resistance. But it’s such a fundamental rule of biology that ignoring it is to our detriment when it comes to the medical applications. That’s what gave me the impetus and the courage to say, you know, it’s time now for us to make a change.”

One way in which it has been to our detriment is in drug prescriptions. Bizarrely, Moalem says, ­scientists prefer to use male mice to test drugs. “To this day, preclinical research does not require you to use both female and male mice,” he says. Of course, there are studies that use female mice, but scientists often veer towards using males because they are less hormonal than females, which, they say, makes for clearer data. But there’s a drawback, says Moalem: as a result, doctors find that women report more side-effects from drugs than men. This is not because they are weaker, but because they are being overdosed on the basis of tests ­performed on male mice. Women’s bodies hold on to drugs, including alcohol, longer, so the effects and the side effects are intensified.

For Moalem, the central truth underlying his thesis is that women are better built. The reason fewer female babies are born than male is that the construction process is trickier, so slightly more female embryos and foetuses are rejected before birth. “Building a woman is an immensely complicated process,” he says. “It has to go perfectly.

If it doesn’t, then everything is lost.”

Moalem believes that the reason for all this lies deep within women’s cells. Humans normally have 23 pairs of chromosomes – gene-bearing coils of DNA – in each of our cells. But one of these pairs, the sex chromosomes, differs in men and women. In women, it consists of two so-called X chromosomes – one from her mother and one from her father; in men, it consists of an X from the mother and a Y from the father. The Y chromosome’s ­primary function is to produce testes and sperm, and is relatively poor in genetic information ­compared with the X chromosome.

For years it was believed that one of the two X chromosomes in women was effectively silenced. This fed straight into the “men are stronger” mythology. There were even novels and a TV series, The XYY Man, that suggested ­having two Ys made you stronger and inclined to criminality. This is nonsense. In reality, about a quarter of the genes on the “silenced” X chromosome are still active and accessible to female cells. So she has two possible sources of genetic information to fight ­disease, hunger or exhaustion. Men only have one. So having two Xs is, in Moalem’s view, the source of female superiority. “We now know why it’s so important, because so many of the genes that are used to make the brain are on the X chromosome. And so many of the genes that are involved in the immune function are on the X. It’s like having 23 volumes of instruction manuals for your house. But the one that is the most crucial for humans is the one about the brain and immunity. Without immunity, we’re not going to be around much.”