Monday, April 06, 2020

Joe Hildebrand on the week’s most ‘disgraceful’ coronavirus ban

Anyone under the age of 29 in this country has never lived through a recession, let alone a war. Their parents were the last generation to face the prospect of being sent to war and they protested endlessly against it until the threat was removed. The World War II generation is now all but gone – there were only 13,000 living veterans this time last year. The generation before that had to live through the triple horror of the Great War, the Spanish flu and the Great Depression.

In short, we live in a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity and almost all of us have known nothing but. Our mistake was to assume it was normal.

Little wonder then that the coronavirus outbreak has caused such panic in Australia and triggered such an astonishing government response – an oddly dissonant mix of extreme restrictions on movement and socialisation by the states combined with apparently limitless rivers of money and relief from the commonwealth.

It’s a bit like being treated by two doctors at once: One who chops your legs off and another who provides the prosthetics.

Of course, I completely understand and support the need to manage the rise in coronavirus cases to stop the hospital system from being overrun. If that should happen, we will go from the unhappy tally of inevitable deaths to the more tragic count of avoidable ones.

And like most people I am abiding by the social restrictions and putting my faith in both levels of government acting on the sum of expert advice.

But it remains a deeply cynical faith – if such a thing can logically exist – and one that is tested daily.

It is bone-chilling, for example, that Victoria thought it acceptable to ban people in a relationship from seeing each other if they did not live in the same house. It is hard to think of a creepier government overreach into people’s personal lives.

And the fact that the ban was quickly lifted only makes it more troubling: Was this deadly practice for five minutes and totally fine a few hours later?

Obviously not, which raises the question of how any public leader in a liberal democracy could think this level of control over people’s private lives was ever acceptable.

It is disturbing – no, disgraceful – that a state could even contemplate let alone enact a rule whose only conceivable precedent is the criminalisation of homosexuality.

The cost of fighting coronavirus must always be measured against costs we do not yet know. It is now clear some in government are prepared not just to break the economy but to break hearts. I would say life without love is hardly worth living, but maybe I’m just a romantic.

As for the more seasoned and cynical in the world, they might say wiping out the entire global economy – with all the future deaths and misery that will inevitably follow – is perhaps an overreaction to a virus that is bad and deadly but far from the worst or deadliest thing facing the world at the moment.

By way of example, the death rate of corona at the time of writing was over 50,000. By contrast, almost 10 million people die of cancer each year – 70 per cent in low- to middle-income countries – according to the World Health Organisation. Heart disease kills 18 million.

And the vast majority of coronavirus deaths are people already suffering from cancer or heart disease or some other medical condition. In many cases it is actually this condition that is the major contributing factor to their death, even though it is counted as a coronavirus fatality. And in Italy, the worst hit country, the average age of death is almost 80.

None of this is to say we should just let people die but it is important to remember that people do die, often at a far younger age and in far greater numbers than from the disease we are stopping the world to fight.

It is also vital to remember that the aim of our strategy is not to save every soul but to save our hospitals. The major concern is that if hospital beds are overrun then those who could recover will be denied the care and equipment they need. And if the hospitals are full with corona patients it makes it even harder to treat everybody else. Likewise it is important for at-risk people to get a flu vaccine so they are not taking up beds that could be used for corona patients.

In other words, this is not a moral crusade, it is a numbers game. People compare the fight against corona to a war but we are not trying to wipe out the enemy, we are trying to manage it.

As US General Omar Bradley said, in war only amateurs worry about strategy – professionals worry about logistics. The most important number in this fight is the difference between the number of victims and the number of ventilators.

And yet there seems to be an evangelical zeal in the imposition of ever-increasing restrictions, even as the curve appears to be flattening and the battle appears to be turning as a result of measures taken days and weeks ago.

And some of these crackdowns seem to be based far more on public and political panic than calm and considered advice. One wonders what the medical opinion is on banning couples from bonking in Victoria or fining someone $1000 for eating a kebab on a bench in NSW or using drones to disperse parkgoers in WA.

Even more perplexing are those who are openly calling for the government to place even harsher restrictions on them – as though they have some kind of political bondage fetish.

Already we have become a housebound nation. We have become so fearful for our lives we have forsaken our freedom and outsourced our free will.

We might be able to tolerate this deprivation of liberty but we should never embrace it. And there must be constant pressure on the state to restore what it has taken at the first possible opportunity, not as a last resort.

After all, the only just wars are waged for freedom. If we lose that then there is not much left to fight for.


National coronavirus hysteria will lead to disproportionate suffering

If you’re in an aged-care facility you’re not waiting to be discharged and sent home in a few weeks. You’re on your way out, and the exit’s probably not that far away. Coronavirus is speeding up the process, and it must feel overwhelming to the medical staff on the frontline. Which is precisely why they shouldn’t be making the decisions.

The health of a nation is not the sum of the health of its citizens. We require doctors and nurses to focus on their patients, but politicians need to take a broader view of the myriad components of a functioning, worthwhile society.

Sarcasm aside, when did life move from being precious to priceless? We lost 20 people to the disease in March. In the same month we lost another 13,000 or so to other ailments and accidents, but let’s not worry about them.

As more facts emerge about the virus, it looks as though it does most harm to the chronically sick or the elderly, as do most respiratory diseases. And when old age is combined with a pre-existing serious illness, you’re in real danger. So the high-risk group would be wise to take all precautions, withdraw from society if they wish, and resurface when there’s a vaccine. We could devote enormous resources to looking after them.

Instead, we are asking the healthy, most of whom will be no more than inconvenienced by this latest strain of flu, to sacrifice or cripple themselves, their livelihoods, their children’s future, to preserve people whose own future is already precarious and limited. Has anyone checked with the elderly, who tend to have a more sanguine outlook, to see if this eco­nomic suicide is what they want?

As individuals it’s excruciating to assign a value to human life, and happily few of us are obliged to do so; but as a society we make those calculations all the time. Our highway speed limit is 110km/h; we could reduce that to 20km/h and watch the fatalities tumble, but the inconvenience would be intolerable. We let people swim and surf (at least we used to) from wild, unpatrolled beaches, and sadly accept some of them will drown, measuring the pleasure of millions against the misfortune of a few.

We are always managing risk, but suddenly in this panic no risk, to anyone, is acceptable.

Even news organisations have adopted this position, their HR departments issuing earnest communiques that declare “the health and wellbeing of our employees is our paramount priority”. Sorry, since when? As part of my job I have been sent, and sent others, to war zones — yes, with bombs and bullets — to bring our readers the news. That’s what I thought our priority was as journalists. Now half my colleagues in the media have emerged as trembling amateur epidemiologists, scouring the online world to find the youngest and healthiest victim to ramp up the terror and prove this disease attacks anyone, not just the old and sick, when that’s manifestly not the case.

As Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, said last week, “people with no comorbidities can relax; you may feel funny but the mortality is incredibly low. The wider question is how we best manage people with comorbidities and keep them safe and out of hospital.” So far our leaders’ answer is to paralyse the country and the prospects of everyone in it.

In Sweden, never thought of as a nation of daredevils (they’re so safe they gave us ABBA and Volvos), the vulnerable are sequestered and cared for. They might have to sit things out until a vaccine is developed, while the rest of the people are visiting restaurants and bars, more or less as usual. So far it seems to be working.

No such luck here, though. Our reckless, hysterical governments tumble over each other to impose ever more ridiculous constraints on our liberty, supported by police forces that interpret their authority in a fashion sinister and absurd at the same time. And they have the audacity to quote “the Anzac spirit” as they order fit young men to cower in their trenches.

Some of us are not surprised that our elected leaders and their unelected enforcers have been found wanting, but what really shakes your faith in society is how meekly their ludicrous commands have been obeyed. Did anyone real­ly think more than 500 people at Sydney’s Bondi Beach represent a threat? And if so, why the same 500 limit around the corner at Tamarama’s beach, a fraction of the size? And why a zero limit now? Why can’t a solo sunbaker lie on the grass in a park without a police car moving him on? Why can’t a boat owner take a run up the coast? Why can I only buy “essential” goods? Will PC Plod soon be inspecting my shopping bags for truffles and Toblerone?

Save your comments; I know there will be plenty of people rushing to justify any extreme measure that “saves someone’s life”. The curtain-twitchers are busy in Britain, dobbing in neighbours who leave their houses twice a day or have their girlfriend over. They’ve adapted to their police state very comfortably. Fortunate, perhaps, that Churchill’s World War II promise that “we will fight them on the beaches” was never tested.

The driver of this madness is that the data we are working with, as has been pointed out by many epidemiologists, is fundamentally flawed. If we don’t know how many people have been infected, we don’t know the mortality rate. One of our panic-stricken pollies was on the radio on Monday warning people that even if they felt fine, they could be walking around spreading the disease. A disease with no symptoms that doesn’t make you ill? Terrifying.

But those symptom-free people will never be counted, just as all the people who have avoided burdening the hospital system with their minor coughs and sore throats will never be counted, so the mortality rate is inflated. So too in Italy and Spain, where everyone who dies with the disease is recorded as dying from it, no matter whether they have been wiping their feet on death’s doormat for months.

You don’t need to be good at maths or medically trained to realise all these numbers are wickedly inaccurate. If the infection can manifest itself with mild symptoms or none, how on earth can we declare how many are infected? How many run-of-the-mill flu infections go uncounted each year? I’ve never been sufficiently troubled by a cold or flu to go to the doctor, so I’ve never featured in any statistics. Perhaps I’m freakishly lucky, but I doubt it.

Instead we have a simple division sum, but one where the denominator may be out by a factor of a hundred, or a thousand. If one in every 12 people infected dies, that’s a nightmare. One in every 1200, with 99 per cent of them already gravely ill and of advanced age, it’s not so frightening. And are the millions thrown out of work a price worth paying?

John Ioannidis, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Stanford University in the US, believes if we hadn’t counted and tested this new COVID-19 separately from ordinary colds and flu (and the scary sci-fi name doesn’t help), “we might have casually noted that flu this season seems to be a bit worse than average”.

He may be wrong, but what is certain is that for many of our fellow citizens, this will be the year everything they’ve worked so hard for — their businesses, their savings, their jobs and dignity, their marriages, their sanity, their hopes and dreams and joy — evaporated.

One day we’ll emerge blinking into the economic wasteland we have wilfully created, but next year winter will come around again, and with it more flu, no doubt with another horror mutation.

So what will we do then? You can only kill yourself once.


Don't worry about kids missing school, says university boss

Sydney University vice-chancellor Michael Spence has urged parents not to worry about children missing school, saying the education system is adaptable and teachers would get children back on track when the COVID-19 crisis is over.

Dr Spence, who has eight children ranging in age from babies to adults, said families could have faith that Australian educators would be able to identify and fill gaps in children's learning when classroom teaching resumed.
Dr Michael Spence with his sons Theodore and Hugo

Dr Michael Spence with his sons Theodore and HugoCredit:Louise Kennerley

His comments come as parents - particularly those with children in primary school - say they have been overwhelmed with the stress of working from home, and fighting to hold onto vulnerable jobs, while supervising their children's lessons.

"I'm not saying education is not important, but I think we can act sometimes as if the education of a young person is a process of jumping through hoops, where every hoop has to be jumped through in the right order at the right height," Dr Spence told the Herald and The Age.

"The school system is really adaptable, and teachers are terrific professionals. When this all picks up again, part of what they are going to be doing is making sure people are back on the curve, in one way or another."

Dr Spence said schools had proven their adaptability by responding so quickly to the crisis.

"In a matter of weeks, the whole model for teaching in many schools was turned on its head, and teachers responded to that challenge," he said.

"I don't think the schools are expecting parents to become teachers. They are setting formal work, saying, 'Get through as much as you can, and trust us that, when it's all over, we will be able to sort things out.' "

Dr Spence said his children had attended many different types of schools, ranging from a British school that was threatened with closure by the government to tiny Christian schools, NSW state schools and expensive private schools.

As long as you talk to children about ideas, read to them and discuss what's going on in the world, "they find their own way", he said. Some children did not have access to those things at home, but "they are not the kids whose parents are anxious".

"The education system doesn't do a bad job of identifying those kids' educational needs, too."

Dr Spence said he was not worried about students entering first year university next year without the same level of teaching as their predecessors because of the disruption to learning, saying universities always had students with different levels of preparation.

"A big part of what we do in first year is identify where people have learning needs and learning strengths, and try to make sure that everybody is able to be brought on to a point where they are ready for the second year," he said.

"That's what educators do for a living."


It’s time to stop fake political correctness and artificial harmony

The good intentions of political correctness have today stifled curiosity, understanding and our ability to empathise. It’s also a movement that needs to be curbed, according to Sarah Liu.

Political correctness has been around for half a century and throughout that time the world has witnessed many great changes; the end of apartheid, Australia’s first female Prime Minister and the passing of the same-sex marriage bill.

The term describes an avoidance of actions and language that offends or marginalises groups, particularly those that have historically been discriminated against.

The problem with political correctness.  Yes, political correctness has a powerful place in society, but in our increasingly diverse workplaces, PC culture has stifled curiosity, understanding, and our ability to empathise.

Australia is a proudly multicultural nation. Because of this, many believe our diversity rates and inclusive behaviours are ahead of the pack. In reality, we are not as progressive as we think. Working with global organisations from Shanghai, Japan, Pakistan, Malaysia and Silicon Valley taught me that Australia’s relationship with diversity and inclusion is fraught – and no-one wants to talk about why they’re uncomfortable.

The smile-and-nod mentality is futile; on the surface workplaces are agreeing, while deep-down they’re not buying in. There is an artificial harmony between the politically correct way to embrace diversity and inclusion, and the real feelings, concerns and questions we have about the practical implications of change.

We must do better, and if that means being politically incorrect for the greater good of true progress, then so be it.

Political incorrectness is the real answer

Humans are organically wired to be exclusive creatures; we gravitate towards similarity and comfort, and often we find that in reflections of ourselves. When asked to not only support, but prioritise difference, it’s a common reaction to feel uncomfortable or threatened.

This needs to be acknowledged, and that begins by proactively inviting dissent. Everyone has a bias – be that unconscious or otherwise – that informs their understanding of what diversity and inclusion is.

Of all groups, rarely do we encounter anyone that wants to openly discriminate, rather it’s misinformation that fosters resistance.

Creating psychologically safe spaces to be politically incorrect and ask taboo questions without fear of judgement is the way to having honest and effective conversations.

The ‘one size fits all’ approach – rigid workplace policies or lectures on the issue – only moralises workers, rather than actively engaging them in what they think diversity and inclusion means. This has the potential to create a culture of blind acceptance by suppressing curiosity and real understanding.

Acknowledging resistance is the first step to dropping the false pretence of artificial harmony. We are often told about the benefits of diversity and inclusion; the increased performance results; diversified skill sets; expanded talent pool; increased innovation – the list goes on. But little attention is paid to the myths and challenges associated with implementing change.

Hidden myths of implementing change

A common myth is that women and minority groups are promoted or given special treatment over men, sparking all sorts of heated debate around the role of meritocracy. In reality, diversity and inclusion is not about superiorising women and minorities, it’s about adopting and learning an alternate view of what success, skills, experience and potential looks like when it encompasses a greater portion of society.

Another common misconception is that all people want to be treated equally, that the goal of diversity and inclusion is to see no distinction between men, women, and minority groups. But the dream is not equality; it’s equity.

Focus on the power of equity instead

Treating everyone with equity is part of the reason why diversity and inclusion is challenging, not only to implement but to maintain.

As a leader, it takes more money, time, resources and work to authentically manage individualism. Yet within many organisations, there’s a sense that once the right boxes are ticked, the job is done.

Diversity and inclusion create friction that can proactively encourage dissent, but the belief that creating change is easy discourages the hard work behind progress and the benefits that come with it.

It’s politically incorrect to openly acknowledge the difficulties of diversity and inclusion, but until we start to accept that it’s okay to imperfectly participate in conversation and be honest about the complexities that making real progress brings, we will continue to cultivate artificial harmony by wavering on the precipice of change.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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