Georgia O’Keeffe New York night 1929
Epic. This same pastor, Artur Pawlowski in Calgary, was fined $1,200 a year ago for feeding the homeless.
“If the Prime Minister needs the comfort of company with other politicians, get in touch with Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida.”
• We Cannot Afford to Censor Dissenting Voices During a Pandemic (Kulldorff)
The media has been very reluctant to report reliable scientific and public health information about the pandemic. Instead they have broadcast unverified information such as the model predictions from Imperial College, they have spread unwarranted fear that undermine people’s trust in public health and they have promoted naïve and inefficient counter measures such as lockdowns, masks and contact tracing. While I wished that neither SAGE nor anyone else would argue against long-standing principles of public health, the media should not censor such information. During a pandemic, it is more important than ever that media can report freely. There are two major reasons for this: (i) While similar to existing coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus that we are constantly learning more about and because of that, it takes time to reach scientific conclusions.
With censorship it takes longer and we cannot afford that during a pandemic. (ii) In order to maintain trust in public health, it is important that any thoughts and ideas about the pandemic can be voiced, debated and either confirmed or debunked. [..] I hope that the UK Government will quickly reverse course to avoid further unnecessary damage from both COVID-19 and the lockdowns. Why the UK Government and SAGE are not looking at public health more broadly is incomprehensible to me. Chris and Patrick got it right in early March 2020, when they argued for focused protection of high-risk older people without a destructive lockdown for children and young adults. Chris, Patrick, take advice from yourself from a little over a year ago.
You can complement that with the extensive knowledge of epidemiology professors such as Sunetra Gupta and Carl Heneghan at Oxford University, Ellen Townsend at the University of Nottingham, Francoix Balloux at University College London and Paul McKeigue at University of Edinburgh. It should now be obvious to everyone that lockdowns, masks and contract tracing failed to protect older high-risk people, as it could not suppress and contain COVID-19, with far too many deaths as a result. Lockdowns are just a dragged out let-it-rip strategy. That was clear to most infectious disease epidemiologists already a year ago. The fatal logical flaw of the lockdowners has been that we must lock down because COVID-19 is dangerous. The opposite is true. Because it is a very dangerous disease among the old, they should have been properly protected through focused protection.
Instead of continuing to take advice from those who were wrong then, Boris should listen to those who were right. In the UK, you have the world’s preeminent infectious disease epidemiologist in professor Sunetra Gupta. She can help implement a focused protection strategy of older high-risk individuals through vaccination and other means, while removing the lockdowns. If the Prime Minister needs the comfort of company with other politicians, get in touch with Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida.
Logic is overrated.
• Boris Johnson Ditches Plans For Covid Vaccine Passport For Pubs (Sun)
Boris Johnson has ditched plans to force customers to show a vaccine passport every time they go into a pub. In a major boost for the hospitality trade, the PM will exempt bars and restaurants from new Covid safety rules. Only those attending mass gatherings, such as festivals or major sports events, will be required to provide proof of a jab, test or natural immunity. Landlords, who can reopen outdoors-only a week tomorrow in England, will soon be free to admit anyone who follows existing guidelines on social distancing and mask-wearing. Boris’s change of heart came after an angry backlash from 72 MPs who branded the idea “divisive and discriminatory”. But he will tomorrow announce his determination to press ahead with a “vaccine certification” system for larger venues from next month.
NHS chiefs are developing a new app members of the public will have to show to gain access to sports stadiums, theatres, festivals and nightclubs. Those without a smartphone will get a paper certificate. The system will be trialled at nine pilot events over the next few weeks, where experts will also explore how high-tech ventilation and Covid tests on entry are working. Mr Johnson will study the feedback to help decide how to manage other large-scale gatherings as restrictions are lifted. The PM said: “We are doing everything we can to enable the reopening of our country so people can return to the events, travel and other things they love as safely as possible, and these reviews will play an important role in allowing this to happen.”
Liverpool will be a key test centre for the opening up of the rest of the country — with four pilot events being held at a comedy club, a cinema, a nightclub and a business conference arena from next week. And some fans will be allowed at Wembley for the Carabao Cup final on April 25, the FA Cup final on May 15 and a semi-final on April 18. The World Snooker Championship in Sheffield and a mass participation run at Hatfield, Herts, are also involved.
Ashley Frawley, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at Swansea University and the author of Semiotics of Happiness: Rhetorical Beginnings of a Public Problem.
• Policymakers Use Panic To Shift Blame For Covid-19 Onto Us, The People (RT)
The message is clear: Regardless of who you are, you are at risk. Stay home, clap for the NHS. Or this could be you. This expansion of risk is a common tactic in public health messaging. While risks tend to be patterned, officials find it politically useful to play down patterns and ‘democratise risks’: Take a risk specific to some people and generalise it to everyone so everyone feels equally afraid. This avoids accusations of discrimination against any one group, and officials can never be accused of playing down risks. But it also encourages us to see the world as much riskier and scarier than it is. Is it any wonder that levels of health anxiety have steadily increased, particularly among young people who in many ways have least to fear?
But for policymakers, anxiety is useful. Ideally, citizens imagine any risk, no matter how small, as quite likely to happen and act accordingly. Indeed, a level of crippling anxiety that means you cannot leave the house is the goal. But as we have seen with overblown risks regarding, for example, child abduction, this level of fear cannot simply be switched off. The profound effects on society long outlive the initial panic – which is why children’s unsupervised play has dwindled. Yet as audiences, we knew that in the balance of probabilities, the cropped-headed patient on the gurney would not be us. For all the attempts by government officials to claim that ‘the virus does not discriminate’, it was difficult to deny that, in terms of deaths, it clearly did.
But behavioural scientists viewed people’s level-headed appraisals of risks as another problem to be overcome. In a report by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviour (with the fittingly dystopian acronym ‘SPI-B’), the authors bemoaned the fact that people were comforted by low death rates in their own age groups. “A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened,” they lamented. In response, they advised governments to ramp up fears. To accomplish this, a different approach was needed. In a series of posters released weeks later, a yellow and red filtered NHS worker in full PPE looks at audiences with a slightly cocked head and serious eyes. Her surgical mask looks more like a gas mask than a protective covering. This grainy, dystopian aesthetic was beamed out on social media with the message:
‘IF YOU GO OUT, YOU CAN SPREAD IT. PEOPLE WILL DIE.’ It is this emphasis on threats to others that became the dominant tactic of the campaign. You are at risk. But more importantly, you are A risk. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in the ‘look into my eyes’ campaign, where extreme close ups of coronavirus patients in oxygen masks accompanied by messages like, ‘Look him in the eyes. And tell him you always keep a safe distance.’ If things have gone wrong, it is not because of government failures to, for example, protect care homes or stop the virus leaking out of hospitals. No, it must be you.
“You might be wondering why the government has been using the Public Health Act, rather than including a general lockdown clause in the Coronavirus Act, or even using the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which was designed precisely for an emergency such as Covid-19. The reason is simple: to avoid parliamentary scrutiny.”
• Do We Now Need Permission To Be Free? (Black)
As Britain was heading into lockdown on 23 March 2020, UK health secretary Matt Hancock was busy introducing the accompanying legislation in parliament. ‘To defeat [Covid-19]’, he said, ‘we are proposing extraordinary measures of a kind never seen before in peacetime’. He was underselling them. In their repressiveness, their illiberalism and often their sheer arbitrariness, the ‘extraordinary measures’ the government was then about to impose on British society had never been seen before in wartime, either. They exceeded powers granted by the Defence of the Realm Act 1914. And they went beyond those of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939. These were draconian pieces of legislation, placing people and property at the service of the state. But they certainly didn’t authorise the de facto imprisonment of every single citizen in his or her home.
Because that is what Hancock’s ‘extraordinary measures’ amounted to: the quarantining of everybody, regardless of health. As Lord Justice Hickinbottom described it, the government’s response to Covid represented ‘possibly the most restrictive regime on the public life of persons and businesses ever’. Take the Coronavirus Act itself. This hulking 348-page document, rushed through parliament in just four days, was focused mainly on marshalling the nation’s medical resources and authorising the massive public expenditure that was to come. But it still found room to stamp all over civil liberties. It granted the state unprecedented powers of detention, allowing police, public-health officials and immigration officers to detain for up to 14 days those whom they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect of being ‘potentially infectious’.
Which gave them the power to detain, well, anyone. The act also invested the government with the powers to close premises, cancel events, prohibit gatherings and ban protests. That act is now halfway through its two-year lifespan, but, troublingly, it can be extended if the government decides ‘it is prudent to do so’. Not that it seems to need the Coronavirus Act to deprive us of our most basic freedoms. No, for this the government has principally used the Public Health Act 1984 (as amended in 2008). This authorises it to create a regulatory regime ‘for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public-health response to the incidence or spread of infection or contamination’.
Indeed, it was on the basis of the Public Health Act that the government first created the regulations that, in steadily expanding form, have dominated and restricted our lives for a year, from closing all businesses to confining people to their homes unless they had a ‘reasonable excuse’. You might be wondering why the government has been using the Public Health Act, rather than including a general lockdown clause in the Coronavirus Act, or even using the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which was designed precisely for an emergency such as Covid-19. The reason is simple: to avoid parliamentary scrutiny. General lockdown measures in the Coronavirus Act would have rightly demanded a lot more interrogation. And, under the conditions of the Civil Contingencies Act, regulations have to be put before parliament in draft form before they are issued. And even if approved, they will lapse within 30 days.
Yes, but stop the “vaccine” propaganda.
• The Texas Neanderthals Were Right (Spiked)
In early March, Texas governor Greg Abbott announced he was ending the state’s mandate for people to wear masks, and reopening businesses at full capacity. Media outlets went into overdrive to denounce him and predict catastrophe. CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza called Abbott’s decision ‘head-scratching, anti-science’. ‘Model projections for Texas show worst-case scenario without mask mandate’, warned an ABC TV station in Houston. Abbott’s move was part of a ‘bold plan to kill another 500,000 Americans’, screamed Vanity Fair. Politicians also rushed to criticise Abbott. Former representative and failed presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke called his decision a ‘death warrant for Texans’. California governor Gavin Newsom said Texas was ‘absolutely reckless’ for lifting its Covid rules.
No less than President Joe Biden felt obliged to speak out and condemn Abbott. ‘The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine – take off your mask, forget it. It still matters.’ Well, it appears the Neanderthals in Texas got it right, and Biden is the one whose thinking is caveman-like. Now, three weeks after Abbott’s order to lift the mask mandate went into effect, the Covid situation has improved in Texas. New cases are down, to their lowest level since June. Hospitalisations have fallen to their lowest level since autumn. Death rates have plummeted. Furthermore, the outlook for vaccinations in the state appears bright, with a record daily number of people receiving shots. Adults of all ages are now eligible for a vaccine jab, a faster pace than many other states.
Have Biden and the media apologised for slandering Texas? And have they learned that lifting mandates on mask-wearing and removing other restrictions does not lead to Covid-spreading? Of course not. Instead, Biden cited an uptick in new cases nationally to bang on again about masks. ‘I’m reiterating my call for every governor, mayor, and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate’, he said earlier this week. ‘Please, this is not politics. Reinstate the mandate if you let it down.’ Biden’s plea came on the same day that CDC director Rochelle Walensky warned of ‘impending doom’. Holding back tears, she said: ‘Right now, I am scared.’
Overwrought emotionalism from the head of the CDC is not helpful, to put it mildly. Nor is a president insisting on state-mandated mask-wearing. Biden’s message implied that the latest increase in cases was down to states like Texas that have loosened restrictions on activity, but that is not true. In fact, the national increase was driven mainly by New York, New Jersey and Michigan – states that have imposed the most onerous of restrictions. As it happens, there is no need for alarm in the US. Yes, new cases are up in some states, but far below the January peak. The levels are much too low to talk about a ‘fourth wave’.
With the rollout of vaccines in progress, it is important for any discussion of Covid’s spread to break down findings by age group. And here we find encouraging developments. Nearly three-quarters of those aged 65 and older have been vaccinated, a group that has accounted for about 80 per cent of all Covid-related deaths. Accordingly, hospitalisations and deaths among seniors have been reduced dramatically. The latest increase in new cases is concentrated among younger people. This spread from older to younger was seen in Israel as vaccines were implemented there, but proved to be a temporary phenomenon. Also, we know that younger people are much less likely to be hospitalised or die from Covid. That’s why it is unlikely the latest increase in cases will lead to a corresponding increase in deaths.
Self testing is all the rage suddenly.
• Rapid Test Result To Be Confirmed With PCR Amid Hunt For New Variants (Ind.)
The government is to use standard PCR testing to confirm positive Covid-19 results returned via rapid, on-the-spot tests which are now being used by millions of people every day across the UK. This comes as part of efforts to quickly detect new and emerging “variants of concern”, some of which are partially capable of evading immunity triggered by infection or vaccination. For those people who test positive via a lateral flow device (LFD), which is capable of returning a result in 30 minutes, the result will then be cross-checked using a PCR test. These are more accurate than the LFDs and also make use of new technology, known as genotype assay testing, which could halve the time it takes to identify if a positive Covid test is caused by a variant of concern.
This will allow positive cases to be traced sooner and stop the spread of variants on UK soil, the government has said. Genotype assay testing is compatible only with PCR tests and not LFDs, meaning the latter is unable to detect or trace the spread of variants. The UK has bought millions of LFD tests as part of plans to reopen society. Teachers, schoolchildren and their families without any symptoms are being asked to test themselves using the kits twice a week. Contact tracing will continue to be implemented in the eventuality of a positive LFD result, but will be stopped automatically after receipt of a negative confirmatory PCR test.
NHS Test and Trace has introduced new features that will automatically inform anyone self-isolating from a positive LFD, along with their contacts, to stop isolating if the confirmatory PCR is taken within two days and is negative. Jon Deeks, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Birmingham, said the new policy was “very welcome”. “This will ensure that the risk that individuals are unnecessarily isolated through false positives is reduced,” he told The Independent. “It is only a shame that it has taken so many weeks for concerns raised by the Royal Statistical Society and others to be addressed, with many children unnecessarily missing school as a result.”
• Persistence Of Covid-19 Antibodies Varies Widely From Person To Person (F.)
One of the greatest unsolved mysteries of Covid-19 is why the neutralizing antibodies our bodies generate in response to the virus tend to dwindle in number so quickly. A small minority of studies, including one completed in Iceland last summer, have observed lengthier periods of persistence in their participants, but the vast majority—spanning a wide breadth of people and places, from specialized Covid-19 hospitals in China to healthcare workers in Tennessee—concluded that anti-Covid-19 antibodies were fast to fade, so much so that some patients didn’t even appear to develop any, at least not at levels that could be detected by researchers. Another way of interpreting this array of data, however, is that antibody persistence varies from person to person—meaning people with longer-lasting antibodies wouldn’t be outliers, but just one clause of a general rule.
This is the argument made by a new study published in The Lancet last week, which sorted participants into five different categories based on the titer and duration of their neutralizing antibody response. While distribution between them was by no means equal, it ranged enough to beg the question of whether current conceptions of immunity from Covid-19, which influence everything from nationwide vaccine strategies to our individual choices and behaviors, require revision. The subjects of the study were 164 Covid-19 patients living in Singapore. Researchers collected data on these patients using both neutralizing and binding assays over a period of 180 days, then plugged that data into an algorithmic model to predict how long their antibodies would last in the years and even decades following initial infection.
Based on the longevity of their antibody responses, patients were sorted into one of five groups: the negative group, or patients whose antibodies never reached detectable levels; the rapid waning group, or patients whose antibody levels were detectable within 20 days of infection, but dropped in less than 180 days; the slow waning group, or patients who still tested antibody-positive 180 days after infection; the persistent group, or patients whose antibody levels, over many months, showed little to no signs of decay; and the delayed response group, or patients who, against all odds, had a late surge in antibody levels later in their recovery as opposed to after infection.
Earlier immunological research on Covid-19 placed most patients in one of the first two categories—negative or rapid waning. But this study found that the spread between the rapid waning, slow waning, and persistent groups was as close to even as it gets, with about 29.8 percent of participants falling in the rapid waning group, 29 percent in the slow waning group, and 31.7 percent in the persistent group. Just below 12 percent landed in the negative group, with a small sliver—just 1.8 percent—rounding out the curve in the delayed response group.
Table 1. A table based on data from the persistent antibody study. “DYNAMICS OF SARS-COV-2 NEUTRALISING ANTIBODY RESPONSES AND DURATION OF IMMUNITY: A LONGITUDINAL STUDY” HTTPS://WWW.THELANCET.COM/JOURNALS/LANMIC/ARTICLE/PIIS2666-5247(21)00025-2/FULLTEXT
• JPMorgan Reveals ‘Big’ Bitcoin Price Prediction (F.)
Bitcoin has won its fair share of Wall Street supporters this year amid a bull run that’s seen it soar around 500%. The bitcoin price hit highs of just over $60,000 per bitcoin last month before falling back slightly but has since made up lost ground. Meanwhile, the broader cryptocurrency market has surged to almost $2 trillion—boosted by decentralized finance (DeFi) tokens. Now, analysts at Wall Street banking giant and former bitcoin skeptic JPMorgan have said bitcoin could climb as high as $130,000 in the long-term if it continues to see its volatility converge with that of gold’s. “Considering how big the financial investment into gold is, any such crowding out of gold as an ‘alternative’ currency implies big upside for bitcoin over the long term,” JPMorgan analysts led by Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou wrote in a note to clients this week.
The bank found that a six-month measure of bitcoin volatility appeared to be stabilizing around the 73% mark—suggesting “tentative signs of bitcoin volatility normalization” that could help to “reinvigorate” interest from institutional investors. High volatility “acts as a headwind towards further institutional adoption,” according to JPMorgan. The bitcoin price has soared as institutional investors including London-based asset manager Ruffer and insurance giant MassMutual have bought into bitcoin—with Elon Musk’s Tesla topping off a series of high-profile bitcoin bets. The bitcoin price has climbed from around $10,000 per bitcoin to around $60,000 as a result, but JPMorgan thinks it could still have some way to run. “Mechanically, the bitcoin price would have to rise [to] $130,000, to match the total private sector investment in gold,” JPMorgan analysts wrote.
Quite the story. Stay tuned.
• The Crazy Claims Against Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz (NYP)
An alleged orgy with prostitutes. Accusations of sex with an underage girl. A trophy photo of a woman wearing only a hula hoop. And a convoluted extortion plot involving a likely dead American hostage in Iran. Even by Florida standards, the Matt Gaetz saga is downright bizarre – and getting weirder by the day. Before this week, the young Sunshine State congressman and ally of former President Donald Trump was best known, like his mentor, for his ambitious conservatism and promontory coiffure. But this week, the Republican has faced a daily flurry of scandalous ≠headlines. Most seriously, he is being investigated by the Justice Department for allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old girl, and for paying for her to travel with him across state lines, potentially violating federal sex-trafficking laws.
Gaetz denies the allegations – but not the fact of the investigation. Then, on Thursday, CNN alleged that he had shown fellow lawmakers nude photos of women he said he’d slept with, including one photographed wearing a hula hoop, and nothing else. There have also been claims by two of Gaetz’s enemies that the FBI has photos of him in a “sexual orgy with underage prostitutes.” It’s all enough to make his penchant for posing on Instagram without pants, as he did in a July posting he captioned, “Covid work!” seem tame by comparison. This is how the latest Gaetz drama has played out so far: News of the sex-trafficking investigation, launched in the final months of the last administration, broke Tuesday in The New York Times.
The Pensacola bachelor, 38 — whose engagement to Harvard business school student Ginger Luckey, 26, was announced on Twitter by Fox’s Jeanine Pirro in December — immediately denied he had sex with a minor or transported one across state lines. “In the strongest possible terms. I deny that I have ever been with someone underage,” he told The Post on Tuesday. “That is false,” he insisted. [..] Then there’s the Iranian hostage angle. McGee and ex-Air Force intelligence officer Bob Kent didn’t want the money for themselves, necessarily, Gaetz is alleging. They wanted to use the money to free Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent taken hostage by Iran in 2007, and declared dead by his family last year. McGee, meanwhile, has denied Gaetz’s hostage-extortion plot allegations, calling them “a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that he’s under investigation for sex trafficking of minors,” as he told The Washington Post. And McGee is fighting Gaetz with banner-headline dirt of his own.
Jimmy Lai was just convicted, with 6 others, for organizing a protest. He faces years in prison.
• ‘Your Life Is Not About Yourself’: Jimmy Lai (HKAD)
Lai was born in 1948 in Guangzhou to a family of wealthy landowners, who saw their properties confiscated by the Chinese Communist Party. His father fled to Hong Kong amid political persecution, while his mother was taken to labor camps. As a child, Lai scavenged and sold illegal cigarettes to feed his sisters. When the country was hit by famine in the late 1950s, he escaped to Hong Kong as a stowaway at the age of 12 with only a dollar in his pocket. On the second day of his arrival, he got a job at a glove factory on Fuk Wing Street, beginning his career in manufacturing and working his way up from an apprentice to a manager. In 1975, the 26-year-old set out as an entrepreneur and established his own textile factory along with two partners.
Six years later, he began his foray in the retail industry and founded the Hong Kong clothing brand, Giordano, which rapidly expanded into a chain after a drastic reform. Lai could have retired in his 40s, but the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 set his life on a different trajectory. You must live remembering the shame of June Fourth. Even as the country celebrates its prosperity, you must hold on to this torch in a dark corner, Lai wrote to his children on the 20th anniversary of the event. A year after the bloody crackdown in Beijing, Lai founded Next Magazine in Hong Kong and withdrew his business from China. Because of his belief that a free flow of information would push China towards democracy, Lai started Apple Daily, a newspaper that stands firm on the universal values of democracy and freedom.
The paper remains fiercely critical of the authorities, even as other media outlets in Hong Kong are gradually undermined and bought up by Chinese corporations. Advertising revenues plummeted amid the political pressure and the newsroom was raided by nearly 200 police officers in August 2020, a month after Beijing imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong. I will stay and fight till the last day, Lai pledged, even as he was taken away in handcuffs. “If we give up on the fight for freedom and justice, we also surrender our dignity as humans,” he wrote on the 20th anniversary of Apple Daily in 2015. “Your life is not about yourself.” And six years on, the rebel tycoon still holds fast to his belief and remains defiant against oppression, even at the price of his own freedom.
• Giant Pieces Of Ancient Alien Planet May Be Lodged Under Earth’s Surface (JTN)
Scientists seeking to explain a series of seemingly inexplicable formations deep within the Earth’s surface may have found an explanation: They came from outer space. Researchers with Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration said in a recently published paper that the “continent-sized Large Low Shear Velocity provinces” identified in Earth’s mantle—essentially giant formations of rock the origins of which scientists have struggled for decades to explain—may have been formed by Theia, the proto-planet thought to have slammed into the ancient Earth billions of years ago.
The collision between Earth and Theia is hypothesized to have ejected a significant portion of Earth into outer space; those fragments would have eventually coalesced under Earth’s gravity to form the Moon. In the paper, the Arizona State researchers argue that “the left-over Theia mantle materials may [have sunk] to the bottom of Earth’s mantle and cause[d] the LLSVPs.” Theia’s geological mantle, they argue, may have been “several percent intrinsically denser than Earth’s mantle,” leading it to sink down through the Earth and form the mysterious provinces. The Theia impact theory is widely regarded as the prevailing explanation for the Moon’s origin.
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