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

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, Nestlé, 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.”


Star attacked  for questioning panic measures

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.  Ms Lilly is therefore one of the few rational ones

Avengers star Evangeline Lilly revealed to her fans on Monday that she is refusing to self-isolate because she values 'freedom' and dismissed the coronavirus pandemic as a 'respiratory flu'.

She shared a 'business as usual' post to her Instagram account, in which she revealed she was still going out and taking her children to their activities in spite of the fact that everyone has been told to stay home.

Next to a pair of photos of her 'morning tea,' as the 40-year-old Ant-Man And The Wasp star hashtagged it, Lilly wrote, 'Just dropped my kids off at gymnastics camp. They all washed their hands before going in. They are playing and laughing. #businessasusual'

Evangeline is mom to eight-year-old son Kahekili Kali, with her partner Norman Kali, as well as one other child.

'Some people value their lives over freedom, some people value freedom over their lives. We all make our choices,' the Lost actress responded pointedly within the comments section of her post, clearly making her stance on the world's reaction to the pandemic known.

The post caused many outraged fans and followers to express concern and ask questions, especially regarding Lilly's decision to head out and bring her kids to their normal activities.

'Please stay at home with your family. Flatten the curve and save lives. Irresponsible,' one person commented.

Another concerned fan shared: 'I've always been a fan of yours. But I'm sorry, you are being extremely selfish and irresponsible with people's lives. Screw experts and the world health organization, I'd like a peaceful cup of tea.

But Lilly was adamant about exercising her 'freedom', claiming things were getting 'too close to martial Law.'

Lilly's attitude continued to anger people as she tried to respond to the criticism, revealing that her elderly father with stage four leukemia is currently living with her.

'I am living with my father at the moment, who has stage four lukemia. I am also immune compromised at the moment. I have two young kids.'

Those over 60 or with compromised immune systems are considered at the highest risk for COVID 19 and have been urged to stay home by public health officials.

In yet another comment, Evangeline went so far as to fuel a conspiracy theory that the coronavirus might actually be orchestrated by the government since we're ahead of a presidential election. 'There's 'something' every election year,' Lilly - who was born in Canada - wrote.

Responding to a commenter talking about the dire state of things in New Mexico, Lilly doubled down on her skepticism.

'I think we all need to slow down, take a breath and look at the facts we are being presented with They do not add up to the all-out, global lockdown, control, pandemonia and insanity we are experiencing. I hope that people will find their peace and sanity where you are soon. Sending you loving prayers.'


Why Art Matters

The controversy addressed so eloquently below is an old one. Two of the great protagonsts of art in the past were Oscar Wilde and John Ruskin -- both of whom I read with great pleasure in my early years.

I am somewhat conflicted about the issue myself.  On the one hand, there are some art-forms I enjoy greatly --  poetry, classical music and architecture -- but on the other I don't see that any art rises above the level of entertainment.
Bach and Chaucer entertain me but I don't see that my  pleasures from those sources give those sources any especial virtue.

Some people get great enjoyment out of football games.  Is there anyting in that enjoyment that is inferior to my enjoyment of one of the great Bach chorales?  I can't see it.

The argument below that preservation and promotion of art should be particularly conservative is a cogent one but real life seems to fly in the face of it.  "Arty" people are mostly firmly Leftist, aggressively so in many instances.  Conservatives tend in fact to be unwelcome in such circles.  The great conservative protagonist of art in modern times was Roger Scruton and the treatment he got was merciless.

One could argue that most arty people are poseurs dedicated only to self-promotion and I see much truth in that. But how are we to distinguish genuine art lovers from those who are mere social butterflies?  It would take a considerable flight of ego to do so, I think.

I tend to suspect that the really dedicated lovers of art for art's sake are rather rare.  I am much moved to that conclusion by the well-known phenomenon of what happens whan a famous and highly valued painting is found to be a forgery --a persuasive example of the work of a great master but not produced by him.  The value of the painting immediately drops to about 1% of what it was. Yet the painting itself is unalterted.  It is just the same as it was when it was worth millions.

Clearly the value in the painting did not derive from the painting itself.  The value was solely its snob value. Its value lay in the prestige of possessing something produced by an acclaimed person.

So I am all in favour of any kind of art from which people gain enjoyment.  But if somebody gets great enjoyment out of Old Master paintings while somebody else gets great enjoyment out of Phantom comics or Japanese Manga, it seems to me that neither has any claim to virtue for their own preferences.  If there is any such claim to virtue I would think it goes to the fan of Phantom comics. The Phantom is at least highly moral.

What do conservatives want to conserve? Clearly, conservatives everywhere desire the preservation and maintenance of the good things belonging to their various cultures that have been passed down from previous generations to their present time. That desire also implies conservatives wish to continue their cultural inheritance by passing these benefits on to their children and future generations. That is why teaching culture at universities and schools is important to conservatives.

People who claim to be conservatives, but do not participate in the perpetuation of these good things are deluding themselves. Partisan and pedantic, they corrode the conservative image to the point of appearing philistine. That false presentation of conservatism harms its reputation.

The danger of having a benevolent preoccupation with preserving traditions for their own sake is that it may lead to a pretentious aping of their formal, ceremonial aspects. Preservation then lacks an appreciation for what lies at the heart of the thing being preserved. This kind of imitation is not the conservative’s goal. In fact, the true preservation of the good things of the past is always a reinvention, not a duplication.

The task of the conservative is to use the good things of the past in the new context of the present, to apply them to this new time. When they are truly good, these things are resilient to the abrasive superficialities of fashion and provide the strong core of culture.

Efforts to duplicate the past inevitably fail because the past very quickly becomes an alien place, held at first in the memories of the living, and then only in the recorded history of the dead. That disappearance presents a difficult problem for people keen to conserve the good things of the past. Since we are incapable even of coming to a common understanding of the present and are willing to engage in intense disputes about the interpretation of current affairs, how can we claim to comprehend the past? All histories are nuanced by the positions of their writers.

The answer is that this subjectivity does not mean that the good things of culture are actually bad. It simply means that it is difficult to get culture right. Nor does it mean that conservatives should abandon their desire to maintain them in the studios and classrooms where they are taught.

Culture is never frozen; it is an emergent form that arises from the shared experiences and desires of the living and the dead. The flexible and uncertain past is nevertheless the foundation upon which culture is built. The past cannot be duplicated, but if a culture is to maintain its identity, a healthy respect for its traditions is essential.

Every culture is like a rope stretched through time, made up of long strands, our long ideas, twisted together to give it strength. As we pass through time, different strands take their turn at the top of the rope and achieve more cultural relevance. It is precisely the changing importance of these long truths as time passes that create culture, with its attendant changes in emphasis and importance.

Consequently, it is disturbing to witness the reckless abandonment of the arts apparent in contemporary conservative America.

Cultural outlets that viewers might expect to be reliably conservative do little to suggest that they are the champions of the good things of the past—or that they have any idea of how these good things might address the present or the future. An online survey of news stories about the arts on the Fox News website, for example, reveals a desperate shortfall in coverage, which should cause embarrassment to all Americans claiming to champion the conservative cause. Thankfully, some evidence shows that the situation is improving. After a decade of neglect, National Review has done the right thing and now publishes regular stories about some of the excellent American art of the past. However, it has yet to begin considering living artists who carry the Western artistic tradition.

Fox News celebrates painters like Steve Penley who makes pictures of our presidents burning the Constitution or running for a touchdown, or Jon McNaughton, who adopts the bright colors of Andy Warhol to make portraits of Republican star politicians. They are sectarian propagandists. Endorsing artists who are political partisans is not the same thing as maintaining the good things of American culture.

As didacts, they serve a purpose in stimulating political argument and stirring the passions of voters. But the long ideas of Western culture are richer and more complex than mere campaign marketing.

The sensible and compassionate thinker Roger Scruton, whose recent death has left a dark hole in intellectual conservative culture, said there were two kinds of conservatism. One is a metaphysical respect for the sacred ideas and things we treasure and the will to defend them, and another is the pragmatic conservatism which recognizes that the good things of Western civilization are worth protecting. Scruton said that these things are: individual freedom, the protection of common law, the protection of our environment from exploitation, intellectual freedom, and liberal democracy. In his book A Brief Introduction to Beauty, Scruton shared his ideas about art as a bridge between the metaphysical and the material aspects of culture, as the practical expression of the ideas that bind together the people of the past, present, and future.

Conservatives bear an increased responsibility for the maintenance of the long ideas of culture in both the personal realm and in the realm of education.
To American conservatives, government is only necessary because humans are incapable of living a virtuous life which does not harm others in their individual pursuit of happiness. A limited government punishes those people who fail to understand their role in the society of individuals and organizes the state to defend its citizens. Protecting their culture is a priority of great nations. At the extreme, lives are willingly sacrificed in the defense of ideas—declarations of war are the moments in which a culture insists on the value of its long ideas even at the price of the deaths of its members.

To American conservatives, government should have no involvement in other aspects of life, including the arts. That distaste for governmental interference, does not, however, mean that American conservatives are somehow detached from the arts. In fact, it means that they bear an increased responsibility for the maintenance of the long ideas of culture in both the personal realm and in the realm of education.

John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington were all culturally engaged. Washington was an active collector of the cutting-edge landscape paintings of his day and was an enthusiastic fan of history paintings, campaigning for the purchase of canvases depicting the revolution by American master painter John Trumbull.

Washington emphasized the painter’s popularity, the greatness of the design of his compositions, the “masterly execution of the work,” and how the paintings would “equally interest the man of a capacious mind and the approving eye of the connoisseur.” Washington particularly approved of the efforts Trumbull had made to get excellent likenesses of the key players of the revolution in France and the United States and believed that this attention to detail would “form no small part of the value of his pieces.”

Adams insisted that painters should seek something more substantial than merely copying reality. He said, “the pleasure which arises from imitation we have in looking at a picture of a landscape, a port, a street, a temple, or a portrait” was great, but “there must be action, passion, sentiment, and moral, to engage my attention very much.” He had little time for still life or landscapes as visual records alone, demanding more substance to the work. “A million pictures of flowers, game, cities, landscapes, with whatever industry and skill executed, would be seen with much indifference. The sky, the earth, hills, and valleys, rivers and oceans, forests and groves and cities, may be seen at any time,” he said.

James Wilson and Thomas Paine shared Adams’ cultural interests. Wilson thought,

The chief pleasures of history, and poetry, and eloquence, and musick, and sculpture, and painting are derived from the same source. Beside the pleasures they afford by imitation, they receive a stronger charm from something moral insinuated into the performances.

Those are the words of American conservatives, interested and engaged in the living arts: arts that are based on the cultural traditions of the past, but which respond to the present.

Traditional but evolving skill-based technique; connoisseurship; attention to detail; narrative; sentiment; a moral message. Those characteristics are found in the paintings and sculptures of the flourishing 21st-century representational art movement.

What is the place of art and culture in higher education, then? Should American professors be involved in partisan politics? No. Leave that choice to the students as their democratic obligation.

In our universities and schools, we should provide our citizens with the technical training they need to continue this great American cultural tradition, but also with the imaginative training they need so that they can find ways for these good things, these long ideas, to address the present.


Scott Morrison told to act on Greenie ‘lawfare’

The article below is one of many complaints about the costs and losses of Greenie activism in the courts.  Such activism goes on all the time and is huge in its financial impact.  You can hardly cut a tree down without being hit by an expensive lawsuit.

If a income-producing project is held up for some years in the courts, the income that might have been generated over that period is forever lost.  That is what economists call an opportunity cost.

But there are large explicit costs too.  Very often the property will have to be maintained in some way during the waiting period and if it has been acquired with the aid of a bank loan, interest payments will have to be made during the period.  Those can be big costs. The article below estimates that projects worth about $65bn have been delayed since 2000 in Australia but that figure probably does not include the costs incurred before the project gets started.

So what to do about it all?  The article below puts forward a number of relatiely mild suggestions but the most effective measure would be to reinstate the old legal principle that the costs follow the verdict.  If you cause a person costs and losses by a lawsuit against him and you lose the lawsuit, you should have to pay the costs incurred by your target in defending himself.

For some reason that basic principle of natural justice usually seems to get lost in environmental lawsuits.  The righteousness of the litigant is somehow taken as insulating him from the costs of his actions.  That must stop.  Greenie donors have deep pockets but even they might think twice when asked to pay the lost income of a big mining project (for instance).

At the moment a lot of lawsuits are terminated by an agreed settlement and that settlement usually specifies that both parties will bear their own costs.  Corrective legislation would have to bar settlents from including such a clause.  Strict liability would have to be enforced where environmental lawsuits are concerned.

The shire of Broome is calling on Scott Morrison to crack down on activist charities that are “destroying existing industries” and blocking job-creating resources projects in Western Australia.

The council, which is located in the Kimberley region wants regulatory changes to give ­“accountability requirements” to charities that are using regulatory measures to delay or deter new projects.

Under the changes proposed by the council, activist charities that engage in misleading and deceptive conduct should either lose their charitable status or face being fined.

Charities would also be required to declare their expenditure on political activities; the remuneration of management; their top 20 donors; all government grants received; and any ­financial support given to other organisations involved in political advocacy.

The council passed the ­motion in late February, calling on its chief executive, Sam Mastrolembo, to make the demands in a letter to the Prime Minister.

“They are able to engage in unethical conduct because there is very little regulation holding them to account,” the council wrote in its draft letter.

“Should a public company or pastoralist act in the same manner and spread false information to the public, there would be considerable financial penalties and reputational damage. Not so for these charitable groups.”

The Australian revealed last week that “green” activists had used environmental laws to delay about $65bn worth of projects since 2000. The legal proceedings from conservation and green groups have forced companies into court for more than 10,000 days in the past 20 years.

In the past four years, the activist groups have used the federal environmental protection act to cause delays to seven major projects in regional areas, including the $16.5bn Adani coalmine in Queensland.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt told The Australian he would support any move to stop green groups using excessive legal claims to delay projects.

“People in regional areas are sick of seeing significant, job-­creating resources projects delayed by court action launched by activists with no connection to their area,” he said.

The development of the $31bn Browse Basin has faced delays for more than seven years after the Supreme Court of WA upheld legal protests from the Wilderness ­Society.

The development of the massive gas field is unlikely to start until 2021.

The council’s draft letter says activist charities are causing unemployment by “destroying legitimate industries that are the lifeblood of regional towns”.

“These activists are causing tax collection to decrease by destroying existing industries and preventing new tax-paying industries from being created,” the draft letter says.

“These groups are funded by faceless, unaccountable billionaires and millionaires, many of whom don’t live in Australia.

“Those whose livelihoods the activists destroy or disadvantage have no means to see who pulls the strings in the background.”


France: Warmists lie in their teeth

According to the guff below, climate change is making French wine districts warmer than they used to be. We've been hearing this for a number of years. Global warming is supposedly messing up your wine. So how come France as a whole is cooling?  IF the areas concerned ARE getting warmer, it's not because of global warming.  See the official graph below

France Average Temperature (1996-2016)

Cognac makers are considering overturning longstanding tradition and turning to new grape varieties, as the main cultivar required to make the spirit struggles with the effects of global warming.

Cognac’s star grape, Ugni blanc, which accounts for 98% of the vines in the Cognac region, is ripening quicker and losing acidity as summers become hotter and drier.

The rules that govern the French brandy are among the strictest in the drinks world, and are subject to controlled appellation of origin (AOC) specifications.

Each stage of the spirit’s production, including the types of grapes that can be used, is outlined in its AOC. Cognac can only be made in one 78,000-hectare area of France, using grapes grown in six regions, or crus. This means distillers cannot move production to another part of the country to escape rising temperatures.

The spirit is, broadly, made from wine that is distilled into a liquid called eau-de-vie and aged in oak casks, often for decades. The result is cognac, with Hennessy, Martell, Courvoisier and Rémy Martin among the best known brands.

These brands, and many more, are now working to find sustainable solutions to manage the effects of climate change. Extreme and unpredictable weather has blighted the region: in 2018, powerful hailstorms caused serious damage to 3,500 hectares of vineyards in the Cognac area. Hail and heavy rain also reduced the 2016 harvest, while 2017 was marred by frost.

“There is more extreme weather in Cognac than there used to be,” said Patrick Raguenaud, president of the BNIC, the governing body of Cognac. “We would sometimes have hail, but not this big.”

The changing climate has also thrown out the timings of production. “The grapes are ripening much sooner than they used to,” said Baptiste Loiseau, cellar master at Rémy Martin. “What is key is the balance between sugar and acidity. In cognac we need a lot of acidity to maintain the conservation of the wine because we are not using sulphur.”

Winegrowers have shifted harvest dates forward, and Cognac’s grapes are now removed from their vines in September rather than October. However, this raises concerns that other key flavour characteristics risk being lost. “When we harvest early, we are able to have a correct level of acidity and … sugar,” said Pierre Boyer, deputy cellar master and estate manager at Hine. “But the problem is we are going to have less aromatic components in the grapes.”

Cognac houses and their partner winegrowers are seeking longer-term solutions. According to Loiseau, while Ugni blanc has been the best grape variety for Cognac for more than a century, this may not be the case in the coming decades. “We have to prepare the future for the next generation, to allow them to take the right decisions depending on the conditions of weather,” he said.

A number of estates across the region, overseen by the BNIC, are testing grape varieties that are not currently permitted under the AOC to see if they prove more resilient to global warming and resistant to disease.

Rémy Martin is working with the Monbadon cultivar and, five years ago, planted vines in test sites. After two harvests, Loiseau notes that the grape’s ripeness develops at a slower pace than the Ugni blanc vines, which have been planted in an adjacent plot.

“The role of the trial is to have these two plots and see how they behave year after year, vintage after vintage,” said Loiseau.

Martell, meanwhile, has partnered with the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) to create new cultivars through natural breeding. “We have fantastic small new vines, which are quite promising,” said Pierre Joncourt, vice-president of cognac at Martell Mumm Perrier-Jouët. “They are definitely resistant to the disease so far, and they have slower growth.”

Likewise, the BNIC is naturally engineering completely new varieties of grapes with the help of the INRA, using different plants to Martell.

“We need to prepare as an industry to be resilient and we need to manage long-term actions – we need to experiment,” said Joncourt. “Then, we need to engage all the stakeholders, all the winegrowers … to … do something really consistent at a regional level.”


Private schools cost taxpayers almost as much as public ones, report says

Different figures could no doubt have been produced by other researchers but that is not the main issue.  Choice is the issue.  Private schools give parents some choice of what sort of schooling they want for their kids.  They should be entitled to that. It's an important liberty.

Such schooling clearly saves the government on capital costs.  Governments don't build private schools. The school arrives at no cost to the taxpayer. State school building is a significant budget item for State governments.

How much it saves on running costs is only an issue for authoritarian Leftists who use the issue in an attempt to force all kids into one government-controlled mould:  Very Soviet

Governments would have been financially better off if all new enrolments since 2011 had gone to public schools, according to new research which questions the view that private schools lead to big taxpayer savings.

The paper debunks the oft-repeated claim that private schools save the public purse up to $8 billion a year, and argues the true figure is closer to $1 billion, and potentially less.

The School Money-go-round, by researcher and former principal Chris Bonnor and Sydney University academic Rachel Wilson, found the per-student taxpayer spend in some brackets of disadvantage is less at public than private schools.

"Since 2011, in fact, governments would have come out ahead [in terms of recurrent funding] if all new school enrolments had gone to public schools," Mr Bonnor said.
A new report says private schools save governments far less than most people think

A new report says private schools save governments far less than most people think Credit:Louie Douvis

The authors said the findings should lead to a national discussion over restructuring school funding, and prompt governments to make the non-government sector abide by the same rules as public schools. "They have no obligations to serve a wide variety of students," said Mr Bonnor.

Since the Gonski reforms, funding increases to private schools have outstripped those to public schools because the federal government, which provides most public funding to private schools, has met its targets faster than the states. States have a bigger cost because they are the majority funders of state schools, and there are two public schools for each private school.

By 2017 differences in per-student funding had narrowed to $13,300 in the public system, $11,500 for Catholic school students and $9600 in the independent sector on average, according to the most recent data from the My School website.

But the researchers argued those figures masked the fact that students in the public system were the most expensive to educate, because they had higher numbers of disadvantaged, Indigenous and disabled students.

When the authors - who also included the former principal of St Paul's Grammar, academic Paul Kidson - compared per-student spending on schools with similar students, the gap became much narrower.

Among disadvantaged schools, the median amount of per-student taxpayer money spent on Catholic students was highest at $14,350, followed by $13,850 in the independent sector and $13,450 in the government system.

When the researchers calculated the cost of funding all students at the same per-student cost of government students across all bands of disadvantage, they found the cost would be between $800 million and $1.1 billion.

"Advocates for school systems need to keep up to date with the changing financial situation," Mr Bonnor said. "Because non government schools charge fees, they are de facto selective schools on a socio-educational basis. In equivalent countries overseas, that doesn't happen."

Dr Wilson said there was increasing evidence that segregation eroded the quality of school systems. "Now is the time for a full, national discussion on this," she said. "There's a creeping awareness that across education we need some really bold reform.

"And these school funding arrangements would have to be central to how that would occur."

The chief executive of the Association of Independent Schools NSW, Geoff Newcombe, said one in three students attended private schools, and parents paid a third of the recurrent cost and 90 per cent of building costs.

"It is clear parents enrolling their children in non-government schools save taxpayers billions of dollars each year in recurrent and capital funding," he said. "Savings estimates will vary based on methodology.

Non-government schools are already required by governments to meet significant compliance obligations as part of their registration requirements. We welcome transparency and accountability."

A spokeswoman for the National Catholic Education Committee, said 2017 figures showed the Catholic system saved taxpayers $2.3 billion in savings from the amount deducted from the base level of government funding.

They also saved $1.3 billion in building costs. "Catholic schools funded 89 per cent of capital works with state and federal governments contributing only $152 million combined," she said. Private and public schools had different reporting requirements because they were different entities.

Peter Goss, the head of the school education program at the Grattan Institute, described the report as important, and said while the non-government sector would quibble over details, the central argument of the report was correct.

"Non-government schools no longer save taxpayers much at all," he said. "The sad reality is that unfairness is now baked into our school funding model.

"While Gonski 2.0 in 2017 was a big step forward, several policy decisions since then have taken us backwards. And we can’t even console ourselves by saying that we pay less tax because of it.”


Mass. officials release scathing review of Boston school system

NOTHING improves "low performing" (black) schools and nothing will.  How many decades of failure must the educators have before they learn that? Black educational ineptitude never changes.  Nothing can change it. That can be dealt with constructively if it is faced but facing it nobody will do.  There is always instead some new set of excuses for the failures

It is in fact a great pity that expectations of equality are put on blacks.  It serves them very badly.  They mostly just cannot do the work expected of them so fool around or drop out instead -- leading some of them to miss out on even basic literacy. 

If they were led slowly through the grade school curriculum so that they had at least mastered the Grade 4 work by the end of their grade school years, they would have learnt at least something -- more than many do at the moment

The Boston school system has failed to address several longstanding problems, including lackluster classroom instruction in some schools and deficient programs for students with disabilities and language barriers, according to a scathing state review released Friday that recommends a wide-ranging overhaul of the schools.

“Many low-performing schools in the district have not improved,” the review found. “The district does not have a clear, coherent, district-wide strategy for supporting low-performing schools and has limited capacity to support all schools designated by [the state] as requiring assistance or intervention.”

Approximately one-third of the district’s students —16,656 — attend schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent of the state, the review noted. Onetime school turnaround successes, like the Blackstone and Orchard Gardens, have slid back into low performance. And more than a third of the principals leading turnaround efforts are inexperienced.

The recommendations, however, did not come anywhere close to the kinds of action some advocates had been pushing for and others had feared: a state takeover of the entire system or a portion of it. Instead, the recommendations stressed working in partnership with the district. The state will take the lead on implementing some measures, while the district will handle others under careful state monitoring, under an agreement between the city and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The review seemingly left no stone unturned. It faulted the district for promoting segregation by funneling students with disabilities and language barriers to specific schools; for neglecting the conditions of its buildings; for operating a largely inefficient busing system; and for inequitably funding schools, forcing many students to be denied programs, courses, and other opportunities available in other city schools.

Some of the most troubling findings focused on the unequal education students receive, causing many Black and Latino students as well as those with disabilities and language barriers to trail behind. The review blamed a revolving door of district leadership, noting that in recent years district officials have lacked a “districtwide strategy to strengthen rigor" and knowledge about what is being taught in all the schools.

Consequently, state review team members rated the classroom instruction they observed as often “in the middle range,” meaning the kinds of approaches required to boost student learning were limited or inconsistent, and found a lack of consistency in high school graduation standards.

Boston schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, a former longtime Minnesota education commissioner who started her Boston job in July, said she found a lot of value in the state review and said the resulting state partnership will be helpful as she finalizes her district-improvement plan. Cassellius said overhauling the district’s lowest performing schools is her top priority.

“As a new superintendent coming in, [the review] provides another lens into our schools, classrooms, and district operations,” she said, noting the findings confirmed what she has been hearing and observing. “There is a great opportunity for technical assistance."

Specifically, the state will take the lead on developing outside partnerships — a move that will likely raise concerns among parents and teachers about private entities gaining greater influence in the school system. The state will also help the school system diversify its teaching force to better reflect the backgrounds of the system’s 54,000 students, renovate dilapidated bathrooms in most schools, and develop a concerted effort in specific parts of the city to bolster teacher training.

“Students benefit when the state enables collaborative solutions that fit the local context," Jeffrey Riley, the state’s education commissioner, said in a statement.

The Boston school system, for its part, will need to improve schools ranked among the lowest 10 percent of the state, adopt the state’s recommended college preparatory courses known as MassCore that align with admissions standards to state universities, improve the reliability of its school buses, and reduce the disproportionately high placement of students of color with disabilities in substantially separate classrooms — a practice the state has criticized for more than a decade.

Beyond those immediate actions, the state and the school system are formulating plans to tackle two other big challenges: the persistently low academic performance of students learning the English language and the wide variety of governing structures among the public schools — pilots, in-district charters, and others — each with some level of independence over curriculum, budgeting, and staffing.

School Committee Chairman Michael Loconto said the partnership will be helpful in closing achievement gaps and "build on success at all our schools.”

But Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, expressed hesitation about state involvement, blaming the state for underfunding programs for students with disabilities and those learning English.

“The state has no grounds to say it should run the Boston schools that it has starved for so long,” she said in a statement. “While the memorandum does not constitute a state takeover, it appears to leave the door open in ways that could be dangerous for students and our communities, given the failed track record of top-down district takeovers.”

She also said it was “troubling that the state would release [the review] at a time when the community is grappling with an unprecedented state of emergency” because of the coronavirus that has educators, parents, and students on edge.

City Councilor Andrea Campbell also questioned the timing of releasing the review. "While we are all laser-focused on ensuring that Boston stays safe amid this outbreak of Covid-19, this report deserves close examination and discussion at a more appropriate time.”

The state began its review of the Boston school system in the fall and immediately sparked debate about receivership. Fueling some speculation was recent action in Rhode Island, which took over Providence schools, while other state reviews in Massachusetts led to receivership in Lawrence, Holyoke, and Southbridge.

The district’s educational record worsened in February when the state released four-year graduation rates for the Class of 2019, which dropped for the first time in more than a decade to 73.2 percent. The diploma-earning gap between Black and white students more than doubled, and Latino students continued to trail both groups.

But state reviews have rarely led to takeovers, and the Massachusetts accountability system, which rates every district each fall, most recently noted in September that Boston as a whole was making substantial progress toward meeting state improvement targets on such measures as MCAS scores. It did, however, call for improvement in nearly three dozen schools with low test scores.

City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, who chairs the panel’s Education Committee, said she was pleased the state did not pursue receivership.

City Councilor Michelle Wu said the review nevertheless reinforces the urgency for broad-scale improvement.  “We are past the point of small fixes, or piloting programs here or there," she said. "We need to take this moment to really develop the implementation plans that will get the ideas and policy goals to actually match the experience of students and families in our schools.”

Keri Rodrigues, head of Massachusetts Parents United, called the partnership agreement a step in the right direction yet “shockingly vague.”  “Why should parents believe BPS will be able to do these things when it has never been able to do them before?” she said in a statement. “Why should we trust BPS to have the ability to implement transformational change on its own if the district’s track record indicates it is not capable of it?”

It remains unclear whether state intervention will move the needle. The last review conducted by the state in 2009 faulted both local and state officials for failing to carry through past state-developed interventions.

Janelle Dempsey, an attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights, said she was not hopeful that the new state partnership would lead to significant improvement, calling the agreement “weak and flawed.” 

“There are no provisions for ongoing monitoring, and many of the action steps are sweeping generalizations without meaningful guidance or targets," Dempsey said in a statement, adding it "does not go far or deep enough to provide real support for all students, particularly the most vulnerable.”