How can the University of Queensland recover from the Drew Pavlou affair?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/05/2020 - 3:12am in

This Will Reflect Well On Me,' Says Cartoon Villain Peter Hoj ...The management of the University of Queensland, and in particular Peter Hoj and Peter Varghese, stand condemned today by the international media, by both Labor and Liberal politicians, by both left-wing and right-wing Australians, by its own students, and by the powerful pro-American lobby. That management unleashed a shit-storm on itself today by its decision (via a kangaroo court) to suspend Drew Pavlou for 2 years and thus oust him as student representative on the UQ Senate, as well as make it impossible for him to finish his studies.

I have talked about the intricacies and wider politics of this case before, and in a recent comment I analysed the particulars of the shit-storm and how UQ management has effectively already admitted defeat. They’ll back-track on Drew.

Here I want to talk about how the University of Queensland, where I worked for more than 6 years and where I still have friends and colleagues, can truly recover from its current shame. Let’s first scope the full extent of the scandal and then the two paths the university can now take: a cosmetic make-over that will leave the corrupted structures in place and will hence just mean another scandal in 5 to 10 years time, or a radical clean-up that would restore UQ as a place of learning and debate. Obviously the cosmetic make-over is the far more likely course of action, but the radical clean-up is the better course of action in the longer run, so I want to sketch that one too.

Let’s first think about the scope of the scandal. Being condemned by the whole of the Western world, exposed as a place that has totally lost its values and its way, is no small matter.

The current condemnation is much bigger than the one around the corruption scandal with the previous vice-chancellor, Greenfield, who secured his daughter an undeserved place in the medical school. That scandal opened the way for Peter Hoj who promised to clean the place up but, instead, joined in with all the shenanigans. He set up an internal police to subdue any dissident academic and student voices, a police force that wrote the 186 page report on Drew. He looked after Greenfield in retirement via helping him with lucrative commissions and board positions. He set up even more management layers than UQ already had, and, as many now realise, sold out completely to the Chinese Consulate.

Within a few weeks or so, I think the following picture of UQ management will be shared by Australians in general, including the citizens of Brisbane:

  1. The management of Queensland’s premier university sold out to a foreign power (China) for money, a foreign power that has just enacted a controversial new law regarding the suppression of civil liberties in Hong Kong.
  2. UQ management allowed that foreign power to violently suppress peaceful demonstrations on campus that supported the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
  3. It allowed that foreign power to dictate the content of courses related to China, to vet the academics teaching it, and to control Chinese students on campus.
  4. UQ management hence abandoned Chinese students critical of the Party, Australian students, human rights principles, any usual academic standards, any notion of free speech, and any form of independence.
  5. In order to be able to make such a Faustian bargain, UQ management needed absolute control. It had achieved this by systematically suppressing academic independence and student free speech for many years, such that the academics and students felt intimidated enough to just go along with anything management wanted. If you need proof of this, just ask yourself the question where you can read the voices of UQ academics critical of Hoj’s handling of the case. Till very recently, there were almost none because they are far too afraid, having seen what happens to dissenters many times in the last 10 years. Also, there is no more obvious token of the conversion of a once real university into a subdued craven fiefdom than the fact that Peter Hoj arrived as merely a vice-chancellor and is now the President of UQ. It will be King of UQ next, then Emperor.

I think all this will be publicly known soon and accepted as the lay of the land, seen widely as a problem that should be fixed. There are much deeper problems though for the University of Queensland, extending far beyond the current management group, which will not be so visible and hence will not be part of the thing that is asked to be fixed. Those much worse and deeper problems are listed later on.

 the easy scapegoat - Canadian Counselling and ...Now, the cosmetic solution to these five visible problems is to scape-goat Peter Hoj, get rid of any overly visible Chinese Communist Party influence on the UQ campus, and otherwise continue to pretend UQ management is not bullying its academics and students into continued submission.

That cosmetic makeover would minimally mean taking away the honorary academic title given to the Chinese Consul-General, a man with a background as a police officer, not an academic. It would mean promising to get rid of the Confucius Institute on campus as soon as is legally possible, while reducing its power over UQ academics and students immediately. This would entail not letting that Institute decide on the content of course material, getting some outside academic group to judge the content of China-related courses, and actively outlawing violent pro-Party activities on campus.

Otherwise, not much would change except for small adjustments in personnel and rhetoric. Hoj and Varghese out, replaced by a “fresh team” of people who can be trusted to keep happy all the current interest groups who have their claws in the place. The new team would come in with lots of promises and noise, announcing to do lots more “human rights initiatives” (like those “Paris principles” UQ just signed up to), meanwhile doing the exact opposite, just like Peter Hoj himself when he arrived there about 8 years ago.

Behind the scenes in this scenario, UQ management, and particularly its next vice-chancellor would try and patch up relations with the Chinese consulate as much as possible to still attract new Chinese students, though of course also trying to diversify the foreign student portfolio. So they wouldn’t say anything negative about the Consulate but simply talk of “taking away any possible impression that…”, “representing various views on campus….”, “fully respecting free speech of course…” and all the other blabla that comes with saving face.

An on-campus police would continue to exist to terrify the UQ academics, who have been understandably silent during the whole Drew Pavlou affair, totally cowed and intimidated as they have been for years. There would certainly be no return of free speech for academics, though students would be allowed a bit more leeway.

This has got to be the front-runner in terms of what happens next at UQ: an embarrassed Brisbane elite organising a cosmetic make-over for UQ, meanwhile ensuring little really changes. It is politically the route of least resistance.

What would a complete overhaul mean? To see what it would take, one needs to realise some of the deeper problems that now exist at UQ:

  1. UQ owns a lot of property throughout Queensland and has set up side-firms and organisations to manage that property, which means it has become entangled in the property mafia that is very connected and powerful in Queensland, something I wrote about with Cameron Murray in “Game of Mates”. This property has spawned a group of ex-UQ administrators who administrate and get rents out of all that property and who are invested in the question of who will run UQ next.
  2. The UQ campus has made property deals with developers and business people who run the student dormitories on that campus. This is big business worth hundreds of millions, of which the university gets a slice. It means there is a whole set of legal obligations and business networks around UQ management that would drag many a well-meaning administration into the mud, let alone a management that is more than happy to start in the mud from the get-go.
  3. UQ has made deals with foreign universities (like in China) to send it students on which a lot of money is made. Similarly, it has made deals with language-provision companies, insurance companies, legal firms, and lots of other commercial entities in Brisbane who make money from servicing foreign students and doing other business with the university. This too provides a very corrupting force on any UQ administration because it gives so many opportunities for getting bribes, lucrative positions, cosy commissions, board jobs for retired UQ administrators, etc. It also means those outside companies, including many of the top legal firms in Brisbane, have an interested in continued business with the university, which gives them an interest in resisting any true attempt at a clean-up.
  4. UQ has made implicit deals with Brisbane politicians not to rock the boat on whatever those politicians do. That is what my own case of 5 years ago so clearly revealed, when the University did the bidding of the council in suppressing research into racism on council buses, but by now its a worked-out system. So UQ academics are prevented via all these bogus “ethics committees” from looking at serious corruption of Queensland politicians and civil servants: essentially the “ethics rule” that is now enforced is that the corrupt have to agree to be researched. Some ethics! This system gives Brisbane politicians a strong incentive to want another corrupt management team to take over from any previous set at UQ: the Brisbane politicians strongly fear a truly independent academia in the middle of the city. They might just do what a crime-and-corruption commission should do in Queensland but has been prevented from doing for over a decade. Corrupt local politicians need a corrupt and docile local university.
  5. There are many skeletons in the cupboard, including lots of UQ academics who took UQ to court for bullying. One cannot run a local dictatorship without forcibly shutting up the strange and the brave. UQ management has a whole list of people it has bullied over the years, and then had to fend off in the courts or compensate them to keep quiet. This is now oddly enough a protective layer for UQ management: if UQ truly cleans up, those skeletons will come back to haunt them. Openly acknowledging the bullying of the past would be a costly legal liability for any new management and would suck up a lot of time and effort, easily portrayed in the media as the failure of a new management.  All the little torturers who are still working for the university and who facilitated the bullying and profited in their own little way would be compromised and hence would resist opening up about the past. Not openly acknowledging the past means letting the little torturers continue and thus perpetuate the system of the past.

Total Corruption Cartoons and Comics - funny pictures from ...In short, UQ management is but the tip of the ice-berg of a totally corrupted system that encircles and constricts the University of Queensland. The corrupt network encircling it includes a whole network of interested top-politicians, property developers, former UQ-managers, interested professional bodies (lawyers and medics in particular), and others. This is exactly the group that would normally decide how to actually “clean up” the University of Queensland in the Drew Pavlou affair.

I hope you can thus see why it is so unlikely that the present scandal will lead to a true clean up of the problems with the university and why hence a cosmetic make-over is so much more likely: most of the big movers and shakers in Brisbane have a lot to lose from a real clean-up. They might make room for the pro-American anti-CCP lobby that wants CCP influences gone from the UQ campus, but that’s not the same as letting go of their investments entirely. And the anti-CCP lobby has no real stake in cleaning up local corruption. Their interest is not the university community in Queensland. Not their fight.

Let’s dream a little though and think of some of the moves needed to truly clean up UQ.

 Grab the bull by the horns - Less Conversation More ActionObviously, it would need a whole team to come in, breaking down a lot of the previous control apparatus and working its way through new institutions and habits on campus. It would need unprecedented powers to sever previous contracts, including labour contracts (think of those police enforcers!), and to re-arrange the campus physically (those dorms!) and intellectually (those ethics rules!).

Frankly, such a thing could not be contemplated without real backing from the very top of Queensland and Brisbane politics. They would have to enact laws specifically designed to make the clean-up possible, such as breaking up many of the property deals and other legal obligations that would keep UQ in the mud. These politicians would have to own the new narratives and be ok with the new scrutiny that they themselves would fall under if a real university would once more arise in Brisbane.

This is basically unimaginable at present. Though I desperately want it, I can’t see it as a remotely realistic option. There is no appetite for it that I can see in the Brisbane elites, as one can gather from the quickest of glances at how the Brisbane Times is reporting the Drew Pavlou case.

The underlying problem, which is that of a totally corrupted layer running UQ and having many unseemly relations with big interest groups in Queensland, will thus probably persist and will ensure new scandals in the future as the next group of leaders becomes just as arrogant and dictatorial as the current mob. That machismo will inevitably over-reach itself, as it has done the last two administrations, leading to the next scandal. It is in the nature of local dictators to push the boundaries of their fiefdom, convinced of their own greatness and invincibility, till they run out of luck.

The previous vice-Chancellor Greenfield came up against the medical profession that resented the dilution of their educational reputation by having entry into the medical courses corrupted. Peter Hoj came up against an energetic innovative campaigner serious about human rights, who to his own surprise was backed up by powerful interests. So in both cases, an insular UQ management mob came up against the reality of outside forces they underestimated because they had gotten away with so much previously.

The next mob will surely be just the same, so it will be a cosmetic makeover followed by repression and corruption as usual for the next few years. It will remain painful for any real academic to be at UQ. But at least I now do think they will get the pleasure of more robust student protests on campus. Maybe those students will start to do the research and investigating that the academics are prevented from doing? Now, there’s a thought….

And what will happen to Drew Pavlou? They’ll reinstate him, hope he finishes his studies soon, suffer his antics whilst grinding their teeth, count the days till he leaves UQ, and then build him a statue once he is gone and can no longer actually bother them.



Protestors criticised for looting business without forming Private Equity firm first

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 5:00pm in

I loved this headline from the American satirical website “The Onion” It concerns the rather unsurprising discontent in Minneapolis following what looks to be a police arrest using deathly force. Interestingly it seems that fires in the disorder were contained rather than extinguished by the fire brigade – seemingly as further protest. But the short,... Read more

Covid strategies for Australia: herd immunity or quarantine land?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 9:20pm in

Let’s talk about some of the covid policy options facing Australia in the coming months and years. It seems to me we can either grasp the nettle and accept we will get a wave of highly visible covid-19 deaths before life returns to normal, or we can try and defend ourselves against any further wave and infections by quarantine rules, State border controls, immunity passports, tracer apps, and the like. The main cost of the latter is in the total collapse of several industries, as well as longer-term but less visible loss of life. The main political cost of the former is admitting we f*cked up first time round and needlessly damaged the economy and society for no benefit.

Let’s talk about the quarantine path first.

Stuck In Quarantine – Zombie Guide Magazine

If one only wanted to prevent a up flare of covid cases in Australia one should continue the current restrictions.

One would have strong quarantine rules regarding visitors from any country with a high number of active cases. Even with countries with few identified active cases, one would want a strict quarantine policy: there is a 2-week delay between the unseen spread of the virus via asymptomatic cases and visible deaths, so you don’t know whether a country is experiencing an unseen flare up of the virus. Hence even visitors from “clean” countries pose a risk. This means one should not expect too much of the idea of some large group of countries that declare themselves a covid-free zone and have free travel between them. One little wave of infections in one of them and such a system would already break down.

The economic costs of quarantine rules is that it kills off some of the tourism, a lot of the international student business, quite a bit of temporary migration, and most business travel. This is exactly why in the UK over 70 big travel operators and hotel businesses have called on the UK government to ditch its plans for quarantine rules. Those businesses are very afraid that the summer holiday season (mid June to August), in which they make a lot of their yearly revenue, is lost, so they are making a huge noise right now. It would mean the end of their business and hence the jobs they provide if the quarantine rules are kept in place. They claim to be close to 10% of the UK economy.

If you count all the ancillary business associated with tourism and business travel, like catering, this industry is somewhat similar in size in Australia. So quarantine rules come with a big economic impact, which is why right now the Gold Coast operators are strongly lobbying the Queensland government against border controls and quarantine rules. They claim 40,000 jobs are in danger. And the Gold Coast is just one small part of the Australian tourism and business travel industry.

And don’t forget, jobs and the economy are about lives. That’s why a job is called someone’s “livelihood”. Jobs support individuals and their families. As I have calculated before, a million jobs lost for just one year equates to over 100,000 life-years lost in terms of direct misery to the unemployed, and another couple of hundred thousand life-years via reduced public services and (health) consumption for the whole community.

Now, of course, things are not quite as bleak as saying quarantining arrivals from outside of Australia kills all tourism and hospitality: quarantine rules not only discourage foreign tourists from coming in, but they also discourage domestics from going out, meaning less foreign tourism but more domestic tourism. Australians do like to travel, with a million or so abroad at any moment in time and they’d do less of that if forced into quarantine every time they return from abroad. With the glut of Asian tourism in the last 10 years, Australia is probably a net winner in terms of the international tourism trade, but it clearly wont be true that its tourism industry will have no clients if the Asians and others are discouraged from coming via quarantine rules. Destinations popular with Australians might even see a net increase. It’s the internationally oriented tourism, travel, and hotel chains that will lose out most. So yes, jobs are on the line, but not quite as many as the whole of the industry.

That is unless one has lots of border controls within Australia that basically kill off most internal tourism as well! Lots of internal controls on movement are essentially equivalent to preventing lots of people from doing their jobs (ie, looking after interstate tourists and travelers), which is a straightforward reduction of total production in Australia. Its like a mandatory closure.

So there is an economic price tag on quarantines rules for foreign visitors and a separate but also big price tag on internal border controls.

Nevertheless, let us press on with describing what the continued suppression path could look like. Importantly, you wont keep this out completely with a quarantine regime, if only because of all those government and military people still flying around on official business. Also, you’ll get cases that fall through the cracks of any quarantine system, whether that is an infected visitor escaping from the quarantine hotel or some infected piece of clothing getting passed on from a docking freight ship. It’s just too contagious and hard to notice to keep out completely when you have a lot of activity in airports and freights (which you have even right this moment). So you cant only have a quarantine regime if you want to keep the virus repressed.

Another element in the suppression strategy is the notion of forced local lock downs connected to a track-and-trace system. They now announced such a system in the UK: anyone tested positive for covid will be asked to say whom they have been in contact with recently, and those others can be forced into an involuntary two week lock down to prevent further spread. The UK government is essentially copying the Chinese system of neighbourhood snitches for this, ie 25,000 busy-bodies whose job it will be to go and pester everyone about their health and their movements. Those 25,000 ‘contact tracers’ will be on the phone to all the friends of an identified case, as well as looking at the movements of a victim’s mobile phone, charged with looking at where an infected person might have gotten the virus from and whom he or she might have given it to.

To Tame Coronavirus, Mao-Style Social Control Blankets China - The ...One might call this a “low-tech” track-and-trace system, something that other countries try to do with apps but that China and Japan have done with an army of local busy-bodies checking on all others. Key in this system is that one can be forced to undergo a covid test if one the new busy-bodies think that is appropriate. One might thus call it the covid-police.

The Australian government first tried something like this with a mobile phone track-and-trace app, but that one now seems to be abandoned. Yet, it can try again with an updated app or copy China, Japan, and the UK, in setting up a covid-police to track and trace more manually.

Now, of course, the dangers for abuse in this system are horrendous. These contact tracers can threaten businesses with oblivion by calling for a local lock down of all the high-contact businesses in an area, and they can make life hell for any particular individual by calling all their friends and families, or forcing them into continuous tests. As a result, people will be very reluctant to have tests done!

Perhaps even more important is that “track-and-trace” creates its own demand when it is “successful”: by preventing local flare ups, such a system means the community never gets high infection levels and so perennially remains vulnerable to them. So one has to track and trace until there is a vaccine. And with a new virus or a new version of the covid-19 virus, one would have to have the track-and-trace system running again. The local Chinese busy-bodies also find some new threat to guarantee them an ongoing job, and the Australian covid-police would do so too. So its an ongoing cost and form of interference. Just like the Chinese system of social busy-bodies. It would turn the UK or Australia into a mini-China.

Successful continued repression in Australia comes with the irrelevance of immunity passports: those only make sense if you have had enough cases of people recovering from infections. That’s relevant for the UK, but not Australia.

Crowds - The opera house was deserted. The doors were closed. The ...Note also how difficult a track-and-trace system is to operate with lots of visitors and foreign tourists in a neighbourhood. A place like Buckingham Palace or the Sydney Opera House, with a continuous flow of buses full of foreign tourists feeding into cramped spaces, does not allow one to track and trace all the interactions between them and the locals.

So track-and-trace almost inevitably comes with further restrictions: no crowds in massed spaces and no mass tourism. The Opera House deserted.

What does a ban on mass gatherings kill off apart from certain forms of tourism? Well, it kills of all major sports, cultural, or even political events. No stadiums full of football fans or music lovers. No festivals. No Opera House performances with meaningful numbers of attendants. No sizeable political demonstrations. No election rallies. No park runs. No London or Sydney marathon. Probably no large full open office spaces.

So track-and-trace combined with bans on mass gatherings kills off a lot of joy and work. Again, this holds until there is a vaccine, and then applies again with the next version of the virus or some new threat.

Another policy meant to suppress the virus is social distancing and staying indoors. In Europe, we have basically woken up to its futility in preventing cases. Both the 1.5 metre ban and the pressure to stay indoors have now proven to be either largely useless (social distancing) or strongly counter-productive (staying inside). The Germans are thus leading the way in lifting the 1.5 metre ban, and governments are starting to realise they should encourage people to go outdoors.

The Australian government will be getting the same advice right about now.

However, one should note that whilst being in close proximity to others outdoors is now known to carry very little risk of infection, it is of course not the case that there are no infections from close proximity outdoors. Also, close proximity outdoors makes track-and-trace virtually impossible to do. If each individual is in close proximity to a thousand others every day, such as via public transport or lots of close passes on the streets, then the covid-police is going to have to call millions of people every day to inform them they have been ‘in contact’ with someone who has the virus. That is quickly going to become laughable. So there is a tension between letting go of the “stay inside and keep distance” policy and track-and-trace, which is basically why much of continental Europe has abandoned the idea of track-and-trace.

Note also that, once again, preventing mass gatherings might create its own demand if it is successful: one prevents lots of people from catching the virus so one maintains total vulnerability in the population.

Then, the business of face-masks. These have now been found to have a particular use in crowded indoor places with low humidity and poor ventilation. They are thus made compulsory in many European countries for use in public transport (which is crowded, poorly ventilated and sometimes with low humidity). They seem quite important in reducing infection rates.

For those not yet in the loop on the medical reason for this: the issue is tiny “respiratory” droplets of water and saliva (snot!) in the air which contain the virus and which people breathe in. Infected people breathe out rather a lot of such droplets and those droplets can hang in the air for hours depending on circumstances. Those circumstances are humidity and ventilation: if a place is well ventilated, the droplets move away or fall to the ground, and if there is high humidity the droplets also fall down much quicker. On the ground, those droplets are not much of an infection hazard. And where is ventilation good? Outdoors. Where is it bad? Indoors.

So this has become the new wisdom on covid-19 infections: the main place lots of people get strongly infected is in crowded indoor places with poor ventilation, like the Sydney Opera House on a dry day. Sit in there with a few infected people for a few hours and the infection will have reached all areas of the lungs, a much worse form of infection than having only the nose infected by a chance meeting outside. The face masks stop most of the droplets.

So compulsory face-masks in public transport come with another strongly suggested policy, which is continued bans of large gatherings in poorly ventilated indoor places, or at least compulsory face masks in those. That includes lots of school sports. It includes parliament, though they’ll be fixing the ventilation there as soon as they can. It includes bus rides full of tourists. It includes ocean cruises and large boats generally. It includes lots of factory floors. It includes academic conferences, business retreats, and all those other mass-indoor events. For some, you can imagine everyone wearing face-masks for an hour so, but for many, like factory floors or indoor sports, wearing continuous face-masks seems pretty infeasible.

So it kills off an awful lot of industries and activities, at least in the face-masks-off form we used to know, until there is a vaccine, which might well be never. Considering how every year there are new versions of the flu, that it normally takes many years to develop and test a vaccine, and that there is still no vaccine for the previous covid-virus (SARS), one shouldn’t believe in a quick vaccine miracle too easily.

Realistically speaking, the package of quarantine, State border controls, track-and-trace, face-masks, and banned mass gatherings should be expected to have to stay in place for several years in a suppression strategy. Precisely if they work, they have to be kept up till a vaccine because the population never develops immunity. So one kills off large economic sectors indefinitely.

Now, particular aspects of the potential package are more socially and economically costly than others. It is hard to know with the data at present, but I think that compulsory face-masks are probably the least costly of the package, unless they are mandated for all offices and factory floors. They main cost is more indirect in keeping up the fear. Social distancing is probably the most economically and socially expensive item in the potential package as it kills off most of office life and regular work. If mass gatherings include office floors, then keeping them outlawed costs close to that of social distancing. Quarantine is quite expensive, particularly economically, whilst track-and-trace on its own is probably more socially expensive than economically expensive.


Let’s then talk about two different options for grasping the nettle, ie accepting some form of herd immunity is the way to go, which comes with accepting a second wave of infections and deaths with a full opening up of the economy.


Measles, journalism and herd immunity / Data news / News / Home ...The technically easiest thing to do is to simply lift all government-mandated restrictions (state and federal), have some measures in place for the most vulnerable (unhealthy old people in nursing and retirement homes), and otherwise just watch and see what happens as international tourists, business people, migrants, and students come flooding back in. Like in Sweden, one would let individuals and businesses make their own calculations and decisions on how afraid they would be of what, but the official line would have to be that the risks in hindsight were much smaller than initially feared and people should hence just get on with their life and not be so scared.

There would clearly be a wave of infections and deaths lasting a few months. That wave would be quite a bit larger than the first wave Australia had. How large is not known, but I would personally expect it to be inbetween Sweden, which looks like ending up with a death rate equivalent to 15,000 Australians, and Japan, which would mean a few thousand Australians. Hand on heart, I’d expect about 10,000 covid deaths in Australia if we fully open up and stop worrying about the virus.

The advantage is that the economy starts to recover and social life resumes. There would still be one hell of a recession and a leftover government debt, but at least one would be on the path upwards again rather than killing off more industries permanently.

What happens after that first wave? The experience in Sweden is still the most instructive: the virus keeps “burning its way through the population” to the degree that that is natural with the economic and social reality in that country. Large parts of the healthy population eventually get the virus. After 2 months, the Swedish virologists now think only about 20 to 25% of the population in the capital have had the virus (up from 7% in early April), and they thus still have a few more months of relatively high infections to go before so many (50%?) are immune that the number of new cases become negligible. Part of the reason the immunity is happening slower than expected is because of the high degree of voluntary isolation by a population afraid to gather in large numbers.

Australia would be on a similar trajectory, with probably lower eventual levels of the population having been infected because Australia is more spread out, more humid, and might be lucky in importing less virulent versions of the disease than Sweden.

So it would take maybe 4-6 months for the number of cases to drop to almost nothing, after which you’d get the occasional local flare-up but no major further waves as a large part of the population has become immune. If it turns out that people lose immunity, you’d get smaller waves in subsequent years, much like the flu comes around every season. Eventually the population shrugs it off as just another health risk among many other, more worrying ones, like smoking or obesity.

Now, for me this represents the politically easiest option as one does not have to do anything radical but simply talk down the risks of the virus and give in to the demands of business to lift restrictions.

The narrative writes itself: “we have to make a living”, “we cant hide away from the world”, “Australia must be open for business”, “The virus is not even 1/10th of the risk of smoking”, “Our children must have a future”, “our elderly must be allowed to mingle with their family and friends”, “we cannot police the whole population”, etc.

This is the politically easier option and thus the more likely one. Yet, if one is of a more pro-forward and maverick nature, like myself, one is interested in the question of the smartest option around. What would that look like?

I think the smartest option around is to have a designated period in which one tells the old and frail to stay away from the active part of the population, whilst one deliberately created herd immunity by letting the healthy who come most into contact with others get a mild infection in the nose. You’d literally give them nose-sprays with the virus, a technology we already have and could mass-produce quickly.

One would thus have an infection program to catch up with Sweden, but then with fewer deaths and less economic disruption. You’d want something like 30-40% of the population to get infected, and that of course should be the most active group that runs almost no risk of dying from the infection. That’s 18-60 year olds who travel around a lot, which includes public transport commutes.

So you have a second wave, but one that is created and managed rather than one that occurs naturally. One can repeat the exercise in future years if it turns out that people lose immunity. There would of course still be a sizeable number of deaths from this approach. Not so much among those deliberately infected, but among those infected by the deliberately infected. One would try to minimise this damage, but one cant prevent such a large group of people entirely from working or mingling during their infectious period and one should thus expect to fail to some degree in completely protecting the vulnerable population during this deliberately created second wave.

Is this the lowest risk option? I think on balance yes, but it is not without risk. One such risk is that one didn’t need to do it because of some as yet unknown advantage that Australia might have that would make the natural “herd immunity level” particularly low. In that case the “second wave one needs to have to get back to normal” could be much smaller than it seems at present. Just as the fatality of the virus was totally over-estimated, so might the level of the population needed to be immune to get herd immunity also be over-estimated.

One indication that this might be possible is that much of Asia and Africa simply has incredibly low infection and death rates of this virus, suggesting that “doing pretty much nothing” would not lead to much death or infection in those places anyway. Just like malaria does not exist in Europe because it is too cold, maybe covid-19 has a tougher time in Australia than you’d think from merely looking at the usual indicators (urban density, climate, health characteristics of the population, age structure, work habits, social habits, etc.). So the deliberate infection options comes with the risk of creating a larger second wave than you’d actually need.

Politically, the fast-track policy to herd immunity also seems a tough sell. It is super easy to criticise and you’d have a conga line of supposed experts warning of the dangers of doing this. Whilst there are the odd medics whispering in the corridors about such an option, there is not an open consensus on it, so one cant hide behind some recognised solidly large group of scientists. You’d get doctors grand-standing how deliberate infections violate their oaths, and lots of other forms of protest. That alone would seem to make it a political impossibility, even though it seems to me the smartest option on the table with the least net economic and social disruption. Its probably too toxic for politicians to even mention it.


Between A Rock And A Hard Place. Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty ...These are then the more politically realistic options: continue with suppression indefinitely at high social and economic cost until the miracle vaccine appears, or open up fully and take your chances. Whilst Australia is currently right on track with the suppression option, it seems inevitable to me it will end up with laisser-faire after a few months of pussy-footing and continued economic harm. It would be nice to visit Australia again without needing to spend 2 weeks in a hotel room alone.

Harvesting other people’s debts should not be a business model

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 5:00pm in

Crises tend to reveal unacknowledged truths. In 2008, we learned that the majority of the financial wizards we had been taught to treat with awe for the previous two decades were, in fact, little more than scam artists — and rather clumsy ones, at that. The coronavirus, and resulting lockdowns, is teaching us an even... Read more

The Cummings Show

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 5:53am in



Monday afternoon, 25th May 2020. A beautiful, warm day on which to watch our new overlord make his first speech to the nation. I refer, of course, to Dominic Cummings's press conference.
The Daily Mirror and the Guardian had revealed that Cummings had gone to stay in a family cottage near Durham at the end of March, and that he had also been seen in Barnard Castle, about 30 miles from Durham. The country was under full lockdown at the time, with non-essential travel completely banned, so both trips appeared to break the law.

Furthermore, his wife, Mary Wakefield, had published an article in the Spectator magazine towards the end of April which said that she had developed CV-19 symptoms on 27th March and he became ill with suspected CV-19 the following day. Wakefield described him as "lying doggo" for 10 days, too ill to move. Yet on 31st March, Cummings's father had confirmed to the police that his son was self-isolating in a property on his estate. So Cummings appeared to have driven to Durham while either his wife or both of them had symptoms of CV-19. This would violate the law requiring households which include people with symptoms to self-isolate for 14 days. 
Before the conference, public pressure had been building for days for him either to resign or be sacked. He repeatedly refused to resign, and Government ministers - including the Prime Minister - defended him. But on Monday morning, Downing Street appeared to give in to pressure, announcing that Cummings would make a personal statement later that day. Some people expected him to announce his resignation. I didn't. 
To the annoyance of people trying to organise their lives, the schedule wasn't issued for some time, was eventually set for 3 pm, and then delayed until 4 pm. That day, the Prime Minister was leading the coronavirus update at 5 pm. So the statement had to be over by then. But there was supposed to be a substantial Q&A afterwards. It was all looking a bit tight. 
And it was to get much tighter. Growling about having our plans for the day disrupted, we all signed on to watch. 4 pm came and went, but there was no sign of the great man. The minutes ticked on. 4.10...4.15...4.20..... we started to sing "Why are we waiting," socially distanced of course. 
He finally strolled in at 4.30. "Sorry I'm late," he muttered as he sat down at the table. But he didn't give any explanation for his tardiness. He simply got on with reading his prepared statement. 
As I listened to Cummings reading out his statement, I had a strange feeling that the ground was no longer solid. I felt as if I was floundering in a swamp of misinformation, trying to find something secure to hang on to. My head struggled to make sense of what he was saying. Too many explanations. Too much complexity. Obfuscation. Confusion. 
I wasn't alone. Almost all of the commentary since then has focused on the content of his statement. Picking it to pieces has become a national sport. His explanations for his actions fit the known facts, but they don't make logical sense. The statement creates more questions than it answers. Why did he think his wife and child were at risk from photographers and protestors, when London was under strict lockdown and any crowds would have been dispersed by police? Why didn't he ask for security protection from the police? Why, if his house was constantly the subject of media interest, are there no photographs of him driving off with wife, child and a fully loaded car? Why didn't he even try to find child care in London? How did he manage to drive for five hours without stopping, with a sick wife and a four-year-child in the car? Why did he think teenage nieces living with their mother would be more appropriate child carers than family members in London? questions simply keep coming. 
Stop. Take a step back, and remember who he is. He's the Vote Leave mastermind. The person who, as Emily Maitlis put it in her powerful opening remarks on Newsnight, always "got" public opinion. Or, more accurately, manipulated it. And he's just done it again. We are all doing exactly what he wants - talking about the petty details of his statement and completely missing the point. 
The whole thing was staged. It was a show. And as with all shows, it is not the content that matters, but the presentation. 
The content of Cummings' statement was clearly designed to ward off legal action. And it may succeed, though the Barnard Castle jolly seems to sail decidedly close to the wind. But he could simply have issued a written statement. Indeed, for a special advisor to the government, this would have been a more appropriate course of action than a dramatic solo appearance. By opting for the latter, he seized the limelight. 
Right from the start, the way the Cummings Show was presented signalled its true purpose. When the Q&A continued past 5 pm, as it was inevitably going to, the coronavirus update led by the Prime Minister had to be delayed. By being half an hour late for an already rescheduled appearance, Cummings had forced the Prime Minister to give way to him. A clearer display of passive-aggressive dominance is hard to imagine. 
Then there was the interesting choice of location. The Rose Garden of no.10 Downing Street.  Dominic Cummings, an unelected bureaucrat, addressed the nation from the place where another person with the initials DC had announced the deal that would make him prime minister  - the person whose power was crushed by Vote Leave's victory in the 2016 referendum. Please don't tell me this was unintentional. 
And there's the staging, too. Cummings sat at a table throughout. But the journalists asking questions had to stand. I found myself wondering if they should walk backwards as they left his presence. With the sound off, it all looked very much like an audience with royalty. 
Of course, Cummings played the role of beleaguered government official desperately trying to keep his job. And he played it well, too. Hunched shoulders, anxious expression, fidgety, stuttering - one friend of mine commented that he looked as if someone had given him a right telling-off.  He had even toned down his customary anarchic appearance, doffing the trademark beanie hat and scruffy T-shirt in favour of a casual shirt and trousers. But I have worked in the performing arts long enough to recognise acting when I see it. His apparent contrition was totally fake. And he had trouble maintaining his character in the questions. Now and then, when someone asked him a question he didn't like, he showed flashes of anger and contempt.  
But it was after the end of the show that the mask really slipped. As the audience dispersed, Cummings drained his water glass, then slid it casually across the table. And as he walked off the stage, he smirked
Several people recognised this as "duper's delight" - the smile of a con artist who has convinced everyone. Cummings had won, and he knew it. 
In fact, he had already won before the conference. At some point in the last few days - we don't know exactly when - Johnson effectively ceded power to Cummings. It is Cummings who keeps him in power, Cummings who calls the shots. Despite the humiliation of being sidelined by Cummings, Johnson has nevertheless rallied the troops behind him. The whips are now forcing ministers and backbenchers to support Cummings, for example by issuing boilerplate tweets. Those who refuse to cooperate will lose their jobs, as has already happened to other politicians who crossed Cummings. They may even have the whip withdrawn. After all, Johnson's majority is easily big enough to sustain a few losses. 
Cummings has now achieved his aim. He has established himself as the real power in the U.K. He is effectively above the law. The institutions of government, the civil servants we employ, the politicians we elect - all are now subservient to, and controlled by, him. Even some of his supporters are uncomfortable about such concentration of power in his hands: Paul Goodman, for example, hopes that Cummings will in time give up his preferred model of "wielding centralised power via pliant ministers" in favour of "strong Cabinet ministers exercising the freedom to run their own departments." But no-one who has as much hunger for power as Dominic Cummings ever relinquishes it voluntarily, and Johnson has proved himself too weak to take it from him. 
Britain will now be run by puppet politicians controlled by a ruthless, manipulative, unaccountable mastermind. In the Rose Garden, democracy died.  
Related links:
Full recording of press conference - YoutubeDominic Cummings: how legal phrasing can be used to obfuscate - FT (video)

PM Cummings in complete control

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/05/2020 - 5:00pm in

Michael Gove has told LBC he has ‘on occasion’ driven to check his eyesight, but the Minister said he was ‘not an authority on driving.’ But he doesn’t believe in experts so why on earth does that matter? Perhaps, driving whilst checking your eyesight – it is of course only a mere suggestion – is... Read more

We may be on the money – towards a common outlook

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/05/2020 - 5:00pm in

I have been contributing to a ‘Positive Money’ paper on the Covid-19 consequences. I have no idea if it will be accepted but I thought it would be interesting to discover how they are becoming much more ‘government money creation’ friendly! Indeed I think they suggest that they probably always have been (and, actually who... Read more

Remembering What America Might Have Been

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/05/2020 - 12:17am in

The coronavirus epidemic will have a lasting worldwide impact, to be sure, but it will have a unique native social impact as well, one equal to those brought about by the upheavals of the 1960s and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Already it’s changed the way we see ourselves, and our nationhood. Continue reading

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The Fascist Politics of the Pandemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/05/2020 - 9:00pm in


Democracy, fascism

Jair Bolsonaro. Photo credit: Marcelo Chello / There is nothing like a pandemic to bring out the fascist ideology...

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Lost property: moral compass

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/05/2020 - 4:49am in

I think it appropriate to add this screen shot of a civil service tweet – since. of course, deleted ( I’m told it lasted only ten minutes but got 33,000 retweets) – that went up very soon after Johnson’s lying press conference today, which showed contempt for the rule of law, never mind contempt for... Read more