Sunday, September 06, 2020

Shock: David Graeber dead at 59yo; "We are the 99 percent" more relevant than ever

Shocking news: David Graeber dead at 59yo

This man helped invent the most important political slogan of the current era, "We are the 99 percent", arising out of the 2008 crash, which led to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

More: Vale David Graeber by Michael Hudson 

Earlier this year I bought both Debt and Bullshit Jobs. I've yet to finish both of these books, partly due to work commitments. But I do believe they will provide me with invaluable insights into the inner dynamics of the modern world.

Update (Sept 11, 2020):
I'm still at an early stage of trying to understand David Graeber's ideas. Stephen Wright's essay, The death of David Graeber may be more about Wright's views than Graebers. But he does link us to three essays by Graeber which I read and comment on below.

Essays by David Graeber:
What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun? (January 2014)
This speculative essay argues for more than "play is ok" or good for learning; that it may be deeply wired into the nature of matter

The Shock of Victory (2009)
Part one argues that nuclear power plants ought to be and were successfully opposed. I can't agree with that since I support nuclear power plants for their significant contribution to the decarbonisation of energy production. Part two describes the campaign against neoliberalism and claims it was successful despite the interruption by the 9/11 terrorist attack. Sadly, I wasn't involved in this so I should study Graeber's claims here more closely.

The Bully’s Pulpit (2015)
Where he outlines some surprising research about bullies and victims: (1) the overwhelming majority of bullying incidents take place in front of an audience (2) bullies do not suffer from low self-esteem (3) the ideal victim is one who fights back in some way but does so ineffectively. This reveals the deep structure of bullying: Bullying creates a moral drama in which the manner of the victim’s reaction to an act of aggression can be used as retrospective justification for the original act of aggression itself

Saturday, July 11, 2020

brief overview of Michael Hudson’s political economy analysis

Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy (2015) by Michael Hudson

In these times we need to shine the light in the right place. The problem is not just the virus but the underlying economic crisis that many were predicting before the virus and which obviously is further greatly exacerbated by the virus. Who understands those underlying economic issues?

The twelve themes of this book:
1) Tangible, productive or real economy v. FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate), not productive
2) Banks don’t finance tangible investments, they do finance the FIRE sector
3) Asset price inflation (prices of home, office buildings, companies increase in the growth phase)
4) Debt deflation (at the point when debts can't be paid, the economy shrinks)
5) Austerity makes things worse
6) Debts grow exponentially (compound interest)
7) Debts are not paid, individuals, companies, governments sell off or forfeit their assets
8) Bubble economy sustained for a while by easier credit but led to 2007 crash
9) Banks and bondholders oppose debt write downs to bring debt in line with earnings and historical asset valuation
10) Financial sector, the One Percent and IMF, backs creditor friendly oligarchies and military dictatorships
11) Financial sector, not governments plan the economy, since 2007 they have seized political power
12) Support the Classical economic policy of taxing and de-privatising economic rent and asset-price (“capital”) gains

I'm part way through reading this book. The above is a thumb nail sketch of the contents. I'm struck by the straightforward, relative simplicity of Michael Hudson's analysis. The non productive FIRE sector took over the American economy after the 2008 Great Recession, the One Percent seized political power. Obama went along with it and bailed out the Financial sector with trillions of dollars. Since then the real economy has continued to stagnate even though the stock market appeared to recover that was just another bubble.

Hudson argues that if the mortgages of the 10 million or so victims of the fraudulent loans (subprime mortgage crisis) had been written down and instead the perpetrators of those loans punished then the economy would be in much better shape today. He taps into the inside story of the 2008 power brokers (Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself (2012) by Sheila Bair) to illustrate that part of his argument.

Even though 2008 is a flashpoint, the book provides a historical overview of the centuries old struggle between the productive sector and financial sector for political control. I think Hudson would say that Marx volume 3 is more relevant to the current situation than Marx volume 1. It is both a relatively simple yet powerful analysis. I can't fault it.

Good review by John Repp here

Killing the Host chapter names here (scroll down)

Michael Hudson's blog

in April Roubini predicted a Greater Depression

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

the contrarian black and white voices matter

Update (July 15):
More shocks:
Bari Weiss resignation letter from the New York Times.

James Flynn's (known for the 'Flynn effect') book on free speech has been pulled by the publisher.

My poor imitation of a Dylan line goes like this: How many contrarians need to speak out before their voices are heard?

In the wake of a just cause (anti racism) we witness the cancer of anti racism religion, the woke cancel culture.

Now they are trying to cancel Steven Pinker. I'm shocked by the depths of their stupidity. As Jim said, "How childish ... Wittgenstein doesn’t have enough middle fingers for them."

The cancel attempt is here.

There is a great rebuttal here.

I say that the contrarian black voices matter because when I did not understand what was happening in America I searched and found coherent analysis from them.

I'm referring to Glen Loury (twitter), John McWhorter (twitter), Coleman Hughes (twitter) as well as Killer Mike (video) and rapper Lupe Fiasco (video). Read and listen to these guys if you really want to understand what is happening in America with regard to race.

So, which slogan should I support. "Black Lives Matter" or "All Lives Matter". I think Steven Pinker has explained this better than anyone:
Linguists, of all people, should understand the difference between a trope or collocation, such as the slogan “All lives matter,” and the proposition that all lives matter. (Is someone prepared to argue that some lives don’t matter?) And linguists, of all people, should understand the difference between a turn in the context of a conversational exchange and a sentence that expresses an idea. It’s true that if someone were to retort “All lives matter” in direct response to “Black lives matter,’ they’d be making a statement that downplays the racism and other harms suffered by African Americans. But that is different from asking questions about whom police kill, being open to evidence on the answer, and seeking to reduce the number of innocent people killed by the police of all races. The fact is that Mullainathan and four other research reports have found the same thing: while there’s strong evidence that African Americans are disproportionately harassed, frisked, and manhandled by the police (so racism among the police is a genuine problem), there’s no evidence that they are killed more, holding rates of dangerous encounters constant. (References below.) As Mullainathan notes, this doesn’t downplay racism, but it pinpoints its effects: in drug laws, poverty, housing segregation, and other contributors to being in dangerous situations, but not on in the behavior of police in lethal encounters. And it has implications for how to reduce police killings, which is what we should all care about: it explains the finding that race-specific like training police in implicit bias and hiring more minority police have no effect, while across-the-board measures such as de-escalation training, demilitarization, changing police culture, and increasing accountability do have an effect.
(follow the link to The Purity Posse pursues Pinker to see the 6 references listed)
So, yes, the contrarian white voices matter too.

A Letter on Justice and Open Debate A statement signed by 150 people incl. Noam Chomsky, J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Garry Kasparov, Steven Pinker, Gloria Steinem, John McWhorter, Coleman Hughes and Salman Rushdie expresses concern over the illiberal trend intensified by our national reckoning

My Enlightenment fanaticism by Scott Aaronson

covid-19 Inspiring Black Rights Matter Protest Long discussion thread in which I became involved, attempting to assess the true nature of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

were you sprayed by the Extinction Rebellion's fake blood?

The Extinction Rebellion activists then opened up a fire hose and sprayed fake blood, which they had made from beet juice, onto the building. But they immediately lost control of the hose and ended up drenching the sidewalks and least one bystander.
It has reached the point where many, including myself, are reluctant to speak out. Who wants to be labelled a climate change denier = right winger = doesn't listen to the science, etc. etc.?

Ten years ago I read The Climate Fix by Roger Pielke jr which confirmed my belief that we were being told less than half the truth.

More recently, when people said to me things like, "Even after the (Australian) bushfires, Scott Morrison doesn't believe in climate change". The next sentence, "How dumb is that?" didn't even have to be said. I held my tongue. The Earth is not flat.

Hence, it's important that you follow this link, read the reviews and then read this book: Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All by Michael Shellenberger

How Badly Have Environmentalists Misled and Frightened the Public!
the ecomodernist manifesto
the environment, capitalism, modernity and marx
environmental talking points and references

Monday, June 29, 2020

in April, Roubini predicted a Greater Depression

In April, before he wrote The Main Street Manifesto, Nouriel Roubini predicted a Greater Depression. His analysis has induced me to resume study of political economy. I'll list the books I am reading at the end. Meanwhile here are Roubini's 10 reasons:

The Coming Greater Depression of the 2020s
April 28, Nouriel Roubini

1) Debt – public and private
The first trend concerns deficits and their corollary risks: debts and defaults. The policy response to the COVID-19 crisis entails a massive increase in fiscal deficits – on the order of 10% of GDP or more – at a time when public debt levels in many countries were already high, if not unsustainable.

Worse, the loss of income for many households and firms means that private-sector debt levels will become unsustainable, too, potentially leading to mass defaults and bankruptcies. Together with soaring levels of public debt, this all but ensures a more anemic recovery than the one that followed the Great Recession a decade ago.

2) Health care in aging societies
A second factor is the demographic time bomb in advanced economies. The COVID-19 crisis shows that much more public spending must be allocated to health systems, and that universal health care and other relevant public goods are necessities, not luxuries. Yet, because most developed countries have aging societies, funding such outlays in the future will make the implicit debts from today’s unfunded health-care and social-security systems even larger.

3) Debt deflation
A third issue is the growing risk of deflation. In addition to causing a deep recession, the crisis is also creating a massive slack in goods (unused machines and capacity) and labor markets (mass unemployment), as well as driving a price collapse in commodities such as oil and industrial metals. That makes debt deflation likely, increasing the risk of insolvency.

4) Currency debasement produces stagflation
A fourth (related) factor will be currency debasement. As central banks try to fight deflation and head off the risk of surging interest rates (following from the massive debt build-up), monetary policies will become even more unconventional and far-reaching. In the short run, governments will need to run monetized fiscal deficits to avoid depression and deflation. Yet, over time, the permanent negative supply shocks from accelerated de-globalization and renewed protectionism will make stagflation all but inevitable.

5) Accelerated automation
A fifth issue is the broader digital disruption of the economy. With millions of people losing their jobs or working and earning less, the income and wealth gaps of the twenty-first-century economy will widen further. To guard against future supply-chain shocks, companies in advanced economies will re-shore production from low-cost regions to higher-cost domestic markets. But rather than helping workers at home, this trend will accelerate the pace of automation, putting downward pressure on wages and further fanning the flames of populism, nationalism, and xenophobia.

6) De-globalisation / Protectionism
This points to the sixth major factor: de-globalization. The pandemic is accelerating trends toward balkanization and fragmentation that were already well underway. The United States and China will decouple faster, and most countries will respond by adopting still more protectionist policies to shield domestic firms and workers from global disruptions. The post-pandemic world will be marked by tighter restrictions on the movement of goods, services, capital, labor, technology, data, and information. This is already happening in the pharmaceutical, medical-equipment, and food sectors, where governments are imposing export restrictions and other protectionist measures in response to the crisis.

7) Xenophobia
The backlash against democracy will reinforce this trend. Populist leaders often benefit from economic weakness, mass unemployment, and rising inequality. Under conditions of heightened economic insecurity, there will be a strong impulse to scapegoat foreigners for the crisis. Blue-collar workers and broad cohorts of the middle class will become more susceptible to populist rhetoric, particularly proposals to restrict migration and trade.

8) Decoupling USA - China
This points to an eighth factor: the geostrategic standoff between the US and China. With the Trump administration making every effort to blame China for the pandemic, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s regime will double down on its claim that the US is conspiring to prevent China’s peaceful rise. The Sino-American decoupling in trade, technology, investment, data, and monetary arrangements will intensify.

9) New cold war
Worse, this diplomatic breakup will set the stage for a new cold war between the US and its rivals – not just China, but also Russia, Iran, and North Korea. With a US presidential election approaching, there is every reason to expect an upsurge in clandestine cyber warfare, potentially leading even to conventional military clashes. And because technology is the key weapon in the fight for control of the industries of the future and in combating pandemics, the US private tech sector will become increasingly integrated into the national-security-industrial complex.

10) Environmental disruption
A final risk that cannot be ignored is environmental disruption, which, as the COVID-19 crisis has shown, can wreak far more economic havoc than a financial crisis. Recurring epidemics (HIV since the 1980s, SARS in 2003, H1N1 in 2009, MERS in 2011, Ebola in 2014-16) are, like climate change, essentially man-made disasters, born of poor health and sanitary standards, the abuse of natural systems, and the growing interconnectivity of a globalized world. Pandemics and the many morbid symptoms of climate change will become more frequent, severe, and costly in the years ahead.

Books I am currently reading:
Graeber, David. Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2014 edition)
Graeber, David. Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2019)
Hudson, Michael. Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy (2015)
Hudson, Michael. J is for JUNK Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (2017)
Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013)

Interviews and links to his books at Michael Hudson's blog

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Main Street Manifesto

The Main Street Manifesto
Jun 24, 2020 Nouriel Roubini

The mass protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer are about systemic racism and police brutality in the United States, but also so much more. Those who have taken to the streets in more than 100 American cities are channeling a broader critique of President Donald Trump and what he represents. A vast underclass of increasingly indebted, socially immobile Americans – African-Americans, Latinos, and, increasingly, whites – is revolting against a system that has failed it.

This phenomenon is not limited to the US, of course. In 2019 alone, massive demonstrations rocked Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, France, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Malaysia, and Pakistan, among other countries. Though these episodes each had different triggers, they all reflected resentment over economic malaise, corruption, and a lack of economic opportunities.

The same factors help to explain populist and authoritarian leaders’ growing electoral support in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis, many firms sought to boost profits by cutting costs, starting with labor. Instead of hiring workers in formal employment contracts with good wages and benefits, companies adopted a model based on part-time, hourly, gig, freelance, and contract work, creating what the economist Guy Standing calls a “precariat.” Within this group, he explains, “internal divisions have led to the villainization of migrants and other vulnerable groups, and some are susceptible to the dangers of political extremism.”

The precariat is the contemporary version of Karl Marx’s proletariat: a new class of alienated, insecure workers who are ripe for radicalization and mobilization against the plutocracy (or what Marx called the bourgeoisie). This class is growing once again, now that highly leveraged corporations are responding to the COVID-19 crisis as they did after 2008: taking bailouts and hitting their earnings targets by slashing labor costs.

One segment of the precariat comprises younger, less-educated white religious conservatives in small towns and semi-rural areas who voted for Trump in 2016. They hoped that he would actually do something about the economic “carnage” that he described in his inaugural address. But while Trump ran as a populist, he has governed like a plutocrat, cutting taxes for the rich, bashing workers and unions, undermining the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and otherwise favoring policies that hurt many of the people who voted for him.

Before COVID-19 or even Trump arrived on the scene, some 80,000 Americans were dying every year of drug overdoses, and many more were falling victim to suicide, depression, alcoholism, obesity, and other lifestyle-related diseases. As economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton show in their book Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, these pathologies have increasingly afflicted desperate, lower skilled, un- or under-employed whites – a cohort in which midlife mortality has been rising.

But the American precariat also comprises urban, college-educated secular progressives who in recent years have mobilized behind leftist politicians like Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. It is this group that has taken to the streets to demand not just racial justice but also economic opportunity (indeed, the two issues are closely intertwined).

This should not come as a surprise, considering that income and wealth inequality has been rising for decades, owing to many factors, including globalization, trade, migration, automation, the weakening of organized labor, the rise of winner-take-all markets, and racial discrimination. A racially and socially segregated educational system fosters the myth of meritocracy while consolidating the position of elites, whose children consistently gain access to the top academic institutions and then go on to take the best jobs (usually marrying one another along the way, thereby reproducing the conditions from which they themselves benefited).

These trends, meanwhile, have created political feedback loops through lobbying, campaign finance, and other forms of influence, further entrenching a tax and regulatory regime that benefits the wealthy. It is no wonder that, as Warren Buffett famously quipped, his secretary’s marginal tax rate is higher than his

Or, as a satirical headline in The Onion recently put it: “Protesters Criticized for Looting Businesses Without Forming Private Equity Firm First.” Plutocrats like Trump and his cronies have been looting the US for decades, using high-tech financial tools, tax- and bankruptcy-law loopholes, and other methods to extract wealth and income from the middle and working classes. Under these circumstances, the outrage that Fox News commentators have been voicing over a few cases of looting in New York and other cities represents the height of moral hypocrisy.

It is no secret that what is good for Wall Street is bad for Main Street, which is why major stock-market indices have reached new highs as the middle class has been hollowed out and fallen into deeper despair. With the wealthiest 10% owning 84% of all stocks, and with the bottom 75% owning none at all, a rising stock market does absolutely nothing for the wealth of two-thirds of Americans.

As the economist Thomas Philippon shows in The Great Reversal, the concentration of oligopolistic power in the hands of major US corporations is further exacerbating inequality and leaving ordinary citizens marginalized. A few lucky unicorns (start-ups valued at $1 billion or more) run by a few lucky twenty-somethings will not change the fact that most young Americans increasingly live precarious lives performing dead-end gig work.

To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry.

The new proletariat – the precariat – is now revolting. To paraphrase Marx and Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto: “Let the Plutocrat classes tremble at a Precariat revolution. The Precarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Precarious workers of all countries, unite!”

REFERENCES, from the article
The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class by Guy Standing

Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case and Angus Deaton

Decades of rising economic inequality in the U.S.
Testimony by Elise Gould, 2019

Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain by James Bloodworth

The Meritocracy Trap: How America's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite By Daniel Markovits

The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets by Thomas Philippon

FOOTNOTE: For more about Roubini's background and economic ideas see Nouriel Roubini (wikipedia)

Sunday, June 21, 2020

poetry that fits today's world

This era is growing a heart
The burden is too much, it will die of pain.
We need to hurry to help
Because the future is breaking in every part of the world

Thanks to Sally for helping with this part of the translation
See a rather mangled translation by Google translate below
Le he preguntado a mi sombra
A ver cómo ando, para reírme
Mientras el llanto, con voz de templo
Rompe en la sala regando el tiempo

Mi sombra dice que reírse
Es ver los llantos como mi llanto
Y me he callado, desesperado
Y escucho entonces
La tierra llora

La era esta pariendo un corazón
No puede más, se muere de dolor
Y hay que acudir corriendo
Pues se cae el porvenir

La era esta pariendo un corazón
No puede más, se muere de dolor
Y hay que acudir corriendo
Pues se cae el porvenir
En cualquier selva del mundo

Mi sombra dice que reírse
Es ver los llantos como mi llanto
Y me he callado, desesperado
Y escucho entonces
La tierra llora

La era esta pariendo un corazón
No puede más, se muere de dolor
Y hay que acudir corriendo
Pues se cae el porvenir

Debo dejar la casa y el sillón
La madre vive hasta que muere el sol
Y hay que quemar el cielo
Si es preciso, por vivir
Por cualquier hombre del mundo
Por cualquier casa

Google translate (mangled)
I have asked my shadow
Let's see how I go, to laugh
While crying, with a temple voice
Break in the room watering the time

My shadow says to laugh
Is to see the crying as my crying
And I've been silent, desperate
And I listen then
The earth cries

The era is giving birth to a heart
He can't take it anymore, he dies of pain
And you have to run
Well the future falls

The era is giving birth to a heart
He can't take it anymore, he dies of pain
And you have to go running
Well the future falls
In any jungle in the world

My shadow says to laugh
Is to see the crying as my crying
And I've been silent, desperate
And I listen then
The earth cries

The era is giving birth to a heart
He can't take it anymore, he dies of pain
And you have to run
Well the future falls

I must leave the house and the chair
The mother lives until the sun dies
And you have to burn the sky
If necessary, to live
For any man in the world
By any house

Sunday, June 07, 2020

The Hippocratic oath of activism: First educate yourself

Coleman Hughes argues that the Black Lives Matter movement is based on a half truth. True that the police treat blacks worse. Not true that they murder disproportionately more blacks than whites. The videos where the police murder whites don't go viral. The problem with the police is corruption (not being independently investigated) not disproportionate murder of black people:

YouTube link: The Same Drugs: Coleman Hughes on race, racism, police violence, and Black Lives Matter.

Ok, it's 45 minutes, but well worth it to find out what is actually happening, rather than relying on mainstream media, which likes to highlight the conflagration, looting etc.

"The Hippocratic oath of activism: First educate yourself"

Monday, May 04, 2020

Why you should download the COVID19 app

The contribution to the R0 value from presymptomatic transmission is roughly 0.9, almost enough to generate renewed exponential growth on it's own. See quote from Ferretti et al below.

As restrictions are lifted (and people inevitably relax their social distancing mentality) then we need a new weapon to enable rapid tracing and isolation of people who have been in contact with an infected person. Manual contact tracing is too slow.

More details:
covid-19 Roadmap to Recovery (critical analysis of the government roadmap)

Quantifying SARS-CoV-2 transmission suggests epidemic control with digital contact tracing by Ferretti et al
Specifically, our approaches suggest that between a third and a half of transmissions occur from pre-symptomatic individuals. This is in line with estimates of 48% of transmission being pre- symptomatic in Singapore and 62% in Tianjin, China (30), and 44% in transmission pairs from various countries (31). Our infectiousness model suggests that the total contribution to R 0 from pre-symptomatics is 0.9 (0.2 - 1.1), almost enough to sustain an epidemic on its own. For SARS, the corresponding estimate was almost zero (9), immediately telling us that different containment strategies will be needed for COVID-19.

Transmission occurring rapidly and before symptoms, as we have found, implies that the epidemic is highly unlikely to be contained by solely isolating symptomatic individuals. Published models (9–11, 32) suggest that in practice manual contact tracing can only improve on this to a limited extent: it is too slow, and cannot be scaled up once the epidemic grows beyond the early phase, due to limited personnel. Using mobile phones to measure infectious disease contact networks has been proposed previously (33–35). Considering our quantification of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, we suggest that this approach, with a mobile phone App implementing instantaneous contact tracing, could reduce transmission enough to achieve R < 1 and sustained epidemic suppression, stopping the virus from spreading further. We have developed a web interface to explore the uncertainty in our modelling assumptions (here). This will also serve as an ongoing resource as new data becomes available and as the epidemic evolves.
Update 1 (May 6):
Having persuaded myself to download the app I receive a message on PlayStore "Your device isn't compatible with this version". Googling to understand I found on a Whirlpool thread that you need "Android 6 or above". I have Android 5.1.1. mmm ... time for a new phone or should I just curse the darkness / government?

Update 2 (May 27):
How did the Covidsafe app go from being vital to almost irrelevant?
Where the app has faltered has been in transparency. Developers have reported difficulty communicating with the Digital Transformation Agency about problems.

Early on developers noted the iPhone version would not be able to exchange Bluetooth handshakes with other devices unless it was running on the screen – incredibly impractical for users.

The government initially denied this, refused to answer questions about it, and only once, before the Covid-19 senate committee, did the agencys chief executive, Randall Brugeaud, admit the Bluetooth function suffered when the app wasn’t on screen.
Update 3 (May 27):
A flood of coronavirus apps are tracking us. Now it’s time to keep track of them
This article evaluates various COVID tracer apps being used around the world in line with these principles:
  • Is it voluntary? In some cases, apps are opt-in—but in other places many or all citizens are compelled to download and use them.
  • Are there limitations on how the data gets used? Data may sometimes be used for purposes other than public health, such as law enforcement—and that may last longer than covid-19.
  • Will data be destroyed after a period of time? The data the apps collect should not last forever. If it is automatically deleted in a reasonable amount of time (usually a maximum of around 30 days) or the app allows users to manually delete their own data, we award a star.
  • Is data collection minimized? Does the app collect only the information it needs to do what it says?
  • Is the effort transparent? Transparency can take the form of clear, publicly available policies and design, an open-source code base, or all of these.
The Australian app gets 4 stars out of 5, failing on the transparency issue.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

How to make your own hand sanitiser

When you go shopping you are touching things and it's very hard not to touch your face before you get home and wash your hands. Alcohol based hand sanitiser is a good solution to this problem.

The shelf at Coles was empty, except for a few exotic non alcohol based hand lotions.

But I found these ingredients readily by shopping around in Alice Springs:
  • 1 litre of Diggers methylated spirits from Bunnings for $4. I was only allowed to buy one and my ID details were taken.
  • aloe vera gel 250g $9 (at Chemists)
  • lavendar oil 25ml $5 (at Chemists)
  • TOTAL $18 to make a litre of hand sanitiser
Methylated spirits ("metho") is a mixture of ethyl alcohol (95%) and methyl alcohol (%5). The methyl alcohol is poisonous and is added to prevent the methylated spirits being used as cheap drinking alcohol.

The recipe I used: (source)
  • 3/4 cup of isopropyl or ethanol alcohol (99 percent)
  • 1/4 cup of aloe vera gel (to help keep your hands smooth and to counteract the harshness of alcohol)
  • 10 drops of essential oil, such as lavender oil, or you can use lemon juice instead
  • Pour all ingredients into a bowl, ideally one with a pouring spout like a glass measuring container.
  • Mix with a spoon and then beat with a whisk to turn the sanitizer into a gel.
  • Pour the ingredients into an empty bottle for easy use, and label it “hand sanitizer.
Another recipe:
“You just need one cup of alcohol, two teaspoons of glycerin and one teaspoon of tea tree oil - mix it together and there’s your hand sanitiser.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Studies that report Asymptomatic and Presymptomatic transmission of COVID19

This is the issue which I think explains both the world wide rapid spread and extreme difficulty of controlling this virus

It is a major worry. I have heard of reports of someone on a plane flight (to Alice Springs) later developing COVID19 and the other passengers not being tested because of the time lag. The assumption being that the virus is not transmitted while the carrier remains asymptomatic.

I googled and traced back the various reports to scientific references which were often provided in references. I’ve included a couple which are not referenced scientifically but still seem to provide important information. I’ve arranged them chronologically.

The American choir report also indicates that aerosol transmission can be a major factor, although singing would project the virus further than normal conversation. (see reference 7 in the Singapore study titled “Aerosol emission and superemission during human speech increase with voice loudness”)

These reports verify the importance of social distancing (and possibly mask wearing to prevent infection from people who are asymptomatic, but have the virus, from spreading it).

They do qualify an earlier WHO report from the team who visited China in February that the main spread was through family groups (extended contact) and through surfaces not aerosol. This may be true. But the minor transmission through the harder to track presymptomatic spreading helps explain why the virus spread so rapidly around the world.

The Singapore study, at the bottom, April 1, I thought contained the most interesting and easy to follow details.

Feb 14th
Wuhan Coronavirus by Rud Istvan (not a scientific study)
The bad news is that Wuhan IS transmissible during some later part of the symptomless incubation period. The definitive clinical proof ... is an age 50’s UK male who attended an about 100 person sales conference in Singapore 1/20-1/22 2020. A single individual from Wuhan also attended this conference and was–per Singapore Wuhan containment policies– symptomless on arrival (no fever, no cough). That either symptomless or very early symptomatic individual transmitted Wuhan to the UK citizen in Singapore. The UK individual then flew to France for a 4-day family ski vacation 1/24-1/28 at Le Contamines-Montjoie. During the 4-day vacation the UK male remained symptomless (entire incubation time Singapore plus France at most 8 days) but transmitted Wuhan to 11 other individuals, 5 later diagnosed in UK (family and friends), 5 later diagnosed in France, and 1 later diagnosed in Spain. Clearly this case is NOT family close proximity contact transmission. ...
February 18th
Evidence of SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Returning Travelers from Wuhan, China
Wuhan to Germany
“In this effort to evacuate 126 people from Wuhan to Frankfurt, a symptom-based screening process was ineffective in detecting SARS-CoV-2 infection in 2 persons who later were found to have evidence of SARS-CoV-2 in a throat swab. We discovered that shedding of potentially infectious virus may occur in persons who have no fever and no signs or only minor signs of infection.”
February 21
Presumed Asymptomatic Carrier Transmission of COVID-19
“A familial cluster of 5 patients with COVID-19 pneumonia in Anyang, China, had contact before their symptom onset with an asymptomatic family member who had traveled from the epidemic center of Wuhan. The sequence of events suggests that the coronavirus may have been transmitted by the asymptomatic carrier.”
March 19
Serial Interval of COVID-19 among Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases
US study (CDC) of Chinese data
“ ..12.6% of case reports indicated presymptomatic transmission.”
March 29
A choir decided to go ahead with rehearsal. Now dozens of members have COVID-19 and two are dead
USA, newspaper report, not a scientific study
Choir rehearsal, 60 members, on March 10th no one was ill
Nearly three weeks later, 45 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or ill with the symptoms, at least three have been hospitalized, and two are dead.

The outbreak has stunned county health officials, who have concluded that the virus was almost certainly transmitted through the air from one or more people without symptoms.
April 1
Presymptomatic Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 — Singapore, January 23–March 16, 2020
LOTS OF IMPORTANT DETAIL – most convincing study
Investigation of all 243 cases of COVID-19 reported in Singapore during January 23–March 16 identified seven clusters of cases in which presymptomatic transmission is the most likely explanation for the occurrence of secondary cases...

In four clusters (A, B, F, and G), it was possible to determine that presymptomatic transmission exposure occurred 1–3 days before the source patient developed symptoms...

Presymptomatic transmission might occur through generation of respiratory droplets or possibly through indirect transmission. Speech and other vocal activities such as singing have been shown to generate air particles, with the rate of emission corresponding to voice loudness (7). News outlets have reported that during a choir practice in Washington on March 10, presymptomatic transmission likely played a role in SARS-CoV-2 transmission to approximately 40 of 60 choir members.*

Saturday, March 28, 2020

debating the virus

Exponential growth

Eight days ago I sent some figures to a friend saying that if exponential growth continued, doubling every 4 days, then we would have 3,200 corona virus cases in Australia today (28/3)

Our government website, Coronavirus (COVID-19) current situation and case numbers, says that yesterday, 27/3 at 3pm there were 3,166 confirmed cases, so we are still on an exponential growth path.

From their graph the doubling looks roughly like this:

date   total cases
9/3        100
12/3       200
16/3       400
20/3       800
24/3      1600
28/3      3200

Extrapolating that further if the current exponential growth continues
1/4       6400
5/4      13,000
9/4      26,000
13/4     52,000
17/4    104,000
21/4    208,000
25/4    416,000
29/4    832,000

Nearly a million cases by the end of April. These figures, understanding exponential growth, explains the importance of an immediate lock down or hibernation.
Click on the image for a larger view. The lower reported figures in the last two days could be a positive sign or could be a delay in reporting.

update (new graph 4 days later, March 31st):
Hard to read at that size but click on the image for a larger view. Note that the reported figures for each day creep up after the day has passed. New cases on 26/3 are 280 on the first graph and jump to 360 on the second graph. New cases on 27/3 are 175 on the first graph and jump to 370 on the second graph.

Nevertheless, the curve has flattened a little. If doubling every 4 days had continued we would be up to 6,400 cases tomorrow (1/4) and our current figure of 4,359 (today, 31/3) is well below that.

The debate in Australia and world wide is divided between:
  • Those screaming for an immediate lockdown (#lockdownAustralia, Dr Greg Kelly) and critical of Scott Morrison for his ambivalence and mixed messages.

  • Those saying that the danger of this virus has been exaggerated, that the Infectious Fatality Rate is roughly 2 deaths in a 1000 cases (eg. Global Covid-19 Case Fatality Rates:
    Our current best assumption, as of the 22nd March, is the IFR is approximate 0.20%... and later .... Current data from Iceland suggests the IFR is somewhere between 0.05% and 0.14%
  • Those saying that it is more important to keep the economy going and that a lockdown will have worse consequences than attempting to contain the virus (eg. The Corona Dilemma)

  • Those saying that the capitalist system is inherently anarchic or unstable and that this event will push us into an economic downturn worse than the 1930s Depression (A Greater Depression?, People’s Forum: Economic Lessons for 2020)
My views:
I'll keep this brief since still reading and assessing:
(1) What should we do immediately? I agree with lockdown simply because there are empirical cases of
(a) it can overwhelm health systems as in Italy
(b) Some countries through lockdown have succeed in flattening the curve (China, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore)

(2) There is a lot we don't know about this particular virus, we need to learn a lot more. eg. as far as I'm aware we don't know whether young people with the virus who are asymptomatic pass it on to others. Of course there are a lot of experts working hard on this right now.

(3) What does the health endpoint look like and how long will that take? Can a vaccine be developed in less than 18 months? Apart from a vaccine what other end points are possible?

(4) Economic and political futures. The left has been lost for many years. There seem to be a few thinkers with a clue (eg. Michael Hudson, David Graeber) but no coherent movement to lead us out of this mess.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Second open letter from Australian doctors to Australian federal and state governments regarding COVID-19

Listen to this podcast interview of Dr Greg Kelly which explains the thinking behind the open letter in more detail.

Second open letter from Australian doctors to Australian federal and state governments supporting strong COVID-19 response to save the lives of Australians
To: Australian Prime Minister Hon. Scott Morrison MP
cc: Australian Health Minister Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Australian Chief Medical Officer Prof. Brendan Murphy, State Premiers and Health Ministers


Australian doctors, healthcare and emergency workers applaud the difficult decisions that have been made by governments this week alongside comprehensive economic measures. However, we are critically concerned that these measures remain inadequate to contain the transmission of COVID-19.

We support the immediate introduction of maximal measures. This means dramatic limitation of physical contact, by requiring all people to stay home, and a shutdown of all services that are not absolutely essential to provide for the necessities of life and functioning of the healthcare system.

We note that Australia is now an outlier amongst other nations that have moved to maximal shutdowns including the UK, New Zealand, Spain, France and Italy. These restrictions are inevitable, as at this stage of the pandemic they are the only way to avoid the disastrous loss of life and profound economic damage seen in Europe and the US. The demonstration of community transmission in NSW and Victoria now means that the virus has not and can not be contained. We need to urgently move to minimise the impact COVID-19 will have on the health system and our community. Despite efforts to increase the capacity of intensive care units across Australia, it is clear from international experience that a surge of critically ill COVID-19 patients can overwhelm even the best health systems and result in much higher death rates. We remain on track for this catastrophic outcome in Australia.

We explicitly endorse the Group of Eight advice of 22nd March commissioned by the Chief Medical Officer, that recommended a “go now, go hard, and go smart” strategy as the best way to “increase the likelihood of a speedier move to a national social and economic recovery phase.” While there will never be perfect information, the risk of further delays is simply too great to wait any longer.

We further explicitly endorse the call from the Australian Academy of Science that the data underpinning COVID-19 decisions in Australia be made public to enable scrutiny of key assumptions and input from frontline health care and emergency workers.

Finally, we are continuing to experience alarming shortages of personal protective equipment at the front line. This equipment is vital to protect the lives of healthcare and emergency workers and our families, as well as reduce transmission to the general community. We acknowledge government efforts in this area, but request urgent, ongoing attention to increasing supplies of personal protective equipment.

Tuesday 24th March 2020

Dear Prime Minister,

We, the undersigned Australian medical doctors, write again to express our grave concern regarding the rapidly escalating threat that Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) poses to the lives of all Australians. We support the strong measures that Federal and State Governments have already taken to contain its threat and, additionally, support the even stronger measures that we know will be required in the days ahead.

We request:
1. The immediate shutdown of all non-essential services in Australia and strict social isolation to limit the spread of COVID-19;
2. Continued strong support for health systems to prepare to face a surge of COVID-19 patients; and
3. Further attention to the risks for Indigenous, rural and remote Australians.

Each of these points is addressed in more detail below.

When 7,000 Australian doctors wrote to you on the 17th of March we made alarming predictions regarding the rate of increase of COVID-19 infections in Australia that have since proved conservative. Worryingly, our prediction of 1,500 cases by today was realised a day early. Italy has continued to suffer very high mortality rates and other developed countries including the United Kingdom, United States, Spain and France are all now suffering from hundreds of deaths as severe COVID-19 cases overwhelm their health systems. We are very concerned that Australia, with 1,700 cases but thankfully few deaths, is currently in a similar situation to the UK's of 14 March, when they had 1,100 cases and 21 deaths. Now, as you know, the UK has had 5,500 cases and 280 deaths. Given our current rate of case increases and the fact that it takes infected patients some time to develop critical illness, we are very concerned that we are little more than one week from a comparable situation. We commend that Australia has performed more COVID-19 testing than most other countries and that faster testing kits are arriving, however, this does not change the current numbers nor the trajectory. Hence, the time to act is now.

We appreciate that Federal and State Governments are giving the situation their full attention and resources, and attempting to balance health risks against severe social and economic ones. We applaud the measures that you and State Premiers have announced in recent days in suspending non-essential gatherings, and note that further measures have been flagged. However, we are concerned that these measures are not being implemented soon enough to slow or halt transmission. Therefore, we support immediate, further action, including a national shutdown of non-essential services and enforcement of strict social distancing. Although these measures will be challenging for us all, implementation needs to happen now to give Australia the best chance to minimise the human and economic toll from this disaster.

Last week, we requested that our health systems urgently prepare for a surge of COVID-19 patients. We appreciate the leadership and resources that have been dedicated to this issue in the last week. Healthcare workers and systems are now clearly focusing on these preparations. However, we need more time and resources at the front-line. Preparations remain incomplete. These include obtaining adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), training to use it properly and environmental changes to minimise the risk to staff from COVID-19. Also, measures to increase our capacity to care for critically ill patients are lagging - many hospitals are still performing elective surgery, repurposing of areas remains incomplete and vital equipment has yet to arrive. We need more time for this preparation. Hence, reducing the rate of COVID-19 transmission remains critically important. Recent experience from Italy shows that poorly-protected healthcare workers are at substantial risk from COVID-19. It also shows that the mortality rate from COVID-19 can be as high as 4% when health systems are overwhelmed, compared to 1% when they are not.

Finally, we appreciate the attention that has so far been paid to ensuring the health of Indigenous, rural and remote Australians in this crisis. We support ongoing measures to limit transmission in these areas, build capacity and support Indigenous, rural and remote health workers and healthcare.

With these strong, immediate measures, Australian doctors stand ready with their communities to face COVID-19. We cannot do this alone. We need the help and support of the Australian people, and of our representatives in government, to give us the best chance of saving the lives of your loved ones and to protect ourselves and our families too.

Yours sincerely

Sunday, March 22, 2020

5 countries have flattened the corona virus curve

Click the image for an enlarged view.

This graph shows which countries have developed effective measures and have flattened the curve (South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China) and summarises how they did it.

On the other hand the USA has the sharpest upward trajectory.

Note that the vertical axis is logarithmic not linear.

The best information I am obtaining comes from Dr Greg Kelly's twitter feed

For Northern Territory vital corona virus updates follow Dr John Boffa's twitter feed

Great news!:
Northern Territory introduces strict new coronavirus border controls to halt COVID-19 spread
The Northern Territory will introduce strict border controls from 4:00pm on March 24 that mean anyone arriving from interstate or overseas will have to self-isolate for 14 days.

Key Points:
  • Restrictions will not halt the delivery of essential goods and services
  • There are some exemptions, including health services and police
  • The measures are likely to remain in place for six months
Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced the new restrictions on Saturday

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Open letter from Australian doctors to Australian federal and state governments re. coronavirus COVID19 emergency response

This letter was initiated by Dr Greg Kelly (his twitter feed)

Open letter from Australian doctors to Australian federal and state governments re. coronavirus COVID19 emergency response
To: Australian Prime Minster Hon. Scott Morrison MP
CC: Australian Health Minster Hon Greg Hunt MP, Australian Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy, State Premiers and Health Ministers

Monday 16th March 2020

Dear Prime Minister

We, the undersigned Australian medical doctors, are writing to you today because of our grave concern regarding the threat that novel Coronavirus 19 (COVID19) represents to the lives of Australians. We believe that Australian federal and state governments can avert disaster by heeding the lessons of other countries.

This means:

1. Immediately implementing the strict measures of lockdown and social distancing that have been shown to be effective at slowing the spread of COVID19 and,
2. Preparing our health systems for a surge of COVID19 and critically ill patients.

Taken together, these measures would reduce the numbers and presentation rate of COVID19 patients and allow our health system to cope.

International experience is that the COVID19 virus behaves in a relatively predictable way with the number of cases doubling every 3-5 days before strict lockdown and social distancing measures are implemented. Data from China, Europe and now Australia support this assertion. Exponential growth of this kind leads to relatively small numbers of infected patients to become large numbers at first slowly and then very, very quickly.

On current growth rates the 370 cases in Australia today will be 750 on Friday, 1500 on Tuesday next week, 3000 next Saturday, 6000 on the 1st of April and 12 000 by the 4th of April. This is less than 3 weeks from now and puts us in a worse position than Italy is currently in. Experience from China and Italy has also shown us that social distancing changes implemented today will take 2 weeks to show an effect on the numbers of diagnosed new cases due to the lag between initial contact and development of severe disease. We are especially concerned about impacts on Indigenous communities given their high rates of pre-existing illnesses and limited health infrastructure.

While we applaud the measures that have been taken by Australian authorities so far we know that they are not enough. The Italian government believed that they were acting decisively with their first local lockdowns at just 21 confirmed national cases, far lower than the current rates in Australia. Many of us are in contact with colleagues in Italy, Spain and France and they are begging us to learn from their mistakes.

The Italian authorities are reporting much higher rates of critical illness in their population than reported in Wuhan, China. This is likely related to an older population demographic with more pre existing illnesses. Australia is much more similar to Italy than Wuhan in this respect. Patients with critical COVID19 illness require admission to an intensive care unit for respiratory support and require highly specialised staff, equipment and locations, all scarce resources that cannot be easily increased. The Italian region of Lombardy which is currently hardest hit by COVID19, is one of the richest areas in Europe with a health system equal to that of Australia's. Our colleagues there have made herculean efforts to increase their capacity to care for critically ill COVID19 patients. Despite their efforts their systems are completely overwhelmed with corresponding very high death rates and inability to provide intensive care to previously healthy seventy year olds. They describe their situation as like being "in a war zone." With access to intensive care the death rate from COVID19 is likely less than 1%, but in an overwhelmed system without access to intensive care the death rate approaches 4%. Today, Italy has reported over 2100 deaths.

Fortunately, experience shows that COVID19 transmission rates can be significantly reduced if we heed the lessons of other countries. Chinese provinces outside Wuhan are excellent examples of this, as are Singapore, Korea and Taiwan. Widespread economic lockdown and social distancing are what is required. Transmission still occurs but the number of severely ill people remains within the capacity of our health system to treat them. The international experience has been that this decision cannot be averted, only delayed, and that the cost of delay in economic and human terms is higher than the cost of acting early and decisively. Furthermore, due to their experience with SARS, countries like Singapore can teach us valuable lessons about minimising economic effects from such epidemics.

Our second request is that urgent preparations are made to prepare our health systems for an unprecedented surge of COVID19 infected and critically ill patients. Such measures include an immediate reduction in elective work, increased frequency and intensity of hospital cleaning, measures to temporarily increase intensive care capacity and increasing personal protective equipment for staff.

With these immediate measures, Australian doctors and health care workers stand ready with their communities to face COVID19.


Related: Covid_19: Open letter from Italy to the international scientific community

As you surely know, Italy is suffering a dramatic spreading of the coronavirus.

In just 3 weeks from the beginning of the outbreak, the virus has reached more than 10.000 infected people.

From our data, about 10% of patients require ICU (Intensive Care Unit) or sub ICU assistance and about 5% of patients die.

We are now in the tragic situation that the most efficient health system of the richest area of the country (Lombardy) is almost at its full capacity and will soon be difficult to assist more people with Covid-19.

This is the reason why an almost complete lockdown of the country has been ordered: to slow down and hopefully stop the contagion as soon as possible.

The virus is spreading at maximum speed, doubling the number of infected people in just 2,4 days[1].

As it emerges without a doubt from the data available, all the European countries are in fact experiencing the same rate of contagion speed and that they are just a few days behind on where it is Italy now [2].

The beginning of the outbreak had the exact same number of infections in China, Italy, and other countries. The difference is that China strongly and quickly locked down Wuhan and all of the Hubei region 8 days before Italy [3].

Just 8 days of delay for the Italy lockdown will result in an enormous increase in the number of total deaths in Italy with respect to China.

This exact same initial dynamic in the number of new cases can also be observed in every country outbreak.

It’s hard for non-specialists to intuitively grasp the way an exponential rate increase can get out of control.

So it’s very difficult to realize the tragic consequences that an exponential growth can have in a contagion like this one.

As a scientist, you surely do understand it. You do also understand that, as long as the rate of increase is exponential, no linear solution to contrast it will work (I.e. increasing x times the number of ICU machines, etc.)

Similarly, just imposing a limitation on people from staying together in large groups is not a sufficient solution.

This is an appeal to you, as a member of the scientific community, to urge your government to act now for actively stopping the virus!

In most EU countries you have enough time to make a lockdown similar to China or South Korea to quickly slow down and stop the contagion with much less effort and cost of what is now needed in Italy.

If Italy had strongly acted just 10 days ago, and that is more or less where you are now, there would have been much fewer deaths and economic tumble.

South Korea and China should be taken as the example to follow to stop this epidemic.

There is no other way.

So please, make your best effort to urge your government to act now! Time is our common enemy as the virus is very fast and really lethal.

Every minute is exceptionally important as it means saving lives. Don’t waste it!

Take care.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease (summary)

Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Feb 10- Feb 24, 2020)

I've extracted some of the main points. The whole report is 40pp.

Zoonotic origins
COVID-19 is a zoonotic virus. From phylogenetics analyses undertaken with available full genome sequences, bats appear to be the reservoir of COVID-19 virus, but the intermediate host(s) has not yet been identified

Routes of transmission
COVID-19 is transmitted via droplets and fomites (eg. human skin cells, hair, clothes, bedding) during close unprotected contact between an infector and infectee. Airborne spread has not been reported for COVID-19 and it is not believed to be a major driver of transmission based on available evidence

Household transmission
In China, human-to-human transmission of the COVID-19 virus is largely occurring in families. … Among 344 clusters involving 1308 cases (out of a total 1836 cases reported) in Guangdong Province and Sichuan Province, most clusters (78%-85%) have occurred in families.

Contact Tracing
China has a policy of meticulous case and contact identification for COVID-19. For example, in Wuhan more than 1800 teams of epidemiologists, with a minimum of 5 people/team, are tracing tens of thousands of contacts a day.

Transmission in China outside of Hubei
To date, most of the recorded cases were imported from or had direct links to Wuhan/Hubei. Community transmission has been very limited. Most locally generated cases have been clustered, the majority of which have occurred in households, as summarized above.

Data on individuals aged 18 years old and under suggest that there is a relatively low attack rate in this age group (2.4% of all reported cases).

The signs, symptoms, disease progression and severity
Symptoms of COVID-19 are non-specific and the disease presentation can range from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe pneumonia and death. As of 20 February 2020 and based on 55924 laboratory confirmed cases, typical signs and symptoms include: fever (87.9%), dry cough (67.7%), fatigue (38.1%), sputum production (33.4%), shortness of breath (18.6%), sore throat (13.9%), headache (13.6%), myalgia or arthralgia (14.8%), chills (11.4%), nausea or vomiting (5.0%), nasal congestion (4.8%), diarrhea (3.7%), and hemoptysis (0.9%), and conjunctival congestion (0.8%).

People with COVID-19 generally develop signs and symptoms, including mild respiratory symptoms and fever, on an average of 5-6 days after infection (mean incubation period 5-6 days, range 1-14 days).

Most people infected with COVID-19 virus have mild disease and recover. Approximately 80% of laboratory confirmed patients have had mild to moderate disease, which includes non-pneumonia and pneumonia cases, 13.8% have severe disease ... and 6.1% are critical (respiratory failure, septic shock, and/or multiple organ dysfunction/failure).

Individuals at highest risk for severe disease and death include people aged over 60 years and those with underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer. Disease in children appears to be relatively rare and mild with approximately 2.4% of the total reported cases reported amongst individuals aged under 19 years. A very small proportion of those aged under 19 years have developed severe (2.5%) or critical disease (0.2%).

Mortality increases with age, with the highest mortality among people over 80 years of age (crude fatality ratio, CFR 21.9%)

While patients who reported no comorbid conditions had a CFR of 1.4%, patients with comorbid conditions had much higher rates: 13.2% for those with cardiovascular disease, 9.2% for diabetes, 8.4% for hypertension, 8.0% for chronic respiratory disease, and 7.6% for cancer.

Knowledge gaps
Annex D summarizes the key unknowns in a number of areas including the source of infection, pathogenesis and virulence of the virus, transmissibility, risk factors for infection and disease progression, surveillance, diagnostics, clinical management of severe and critically ill patients, and the effectiveness of prevention and control measures. The timely filling of these knowledge gaps is imperative to enhance control strategies.

Much of the global community is not yet ready, in mindset and materially, to implement the measures that have been employed to contain COVID-19 in China. These are the only measures that are currently proven to interrupt or minimize transmission chains in humans. Fundamental to these measures is extremely proactive surveillance to immediately detect cases, very rapid diagnosis and immediate case isolation, rigorous tracking and quarantine of close contacts, and an exceptionally high degree of population understanding and acceptance of these measures.

For the public
1. Recognize that COVID-19 is a new and concerning disease, but that outbreaks can managed with the right response and that the vast majority of infected people will recover;

2. Begin now to adopt and rigorously practice the most important preventive measures for COVID-19 by frequent hand washing and always covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing;

3. Continually update yourself on COVID-19 and its signs and symptoms (i.e. fever and dry cough), because the strategies and response activities will constantly improve as new information on this disease is accumulating every day; and

4. Be prepared to actively support a response to COVID-19 in a variety of ways, including the adoption of more stringent ‘social distancing’ practices and helping the high-risk elderly population.

Friday, March 06, 2020

useful articles about the corona virus

update: (March 13th)

It is easy to overdo COVID-19 quarantines

This one covers the nature of the virus, the health and economic issues.

Quarantines and restricting events with huge crowds (Scott Morrison's current "solution") will slow down the spread of the virus but won't stop it. It is unlikely that a vaccine will be developed soon. So, the virus will continue to spread to a large percentage of the population. This will lead to a profound economic downturn.

On a personal note, wrt health issues probably the smart thing for an elderly person like myself to do is take supplements to improve my immune system:
Nutrition experts recommend supplementing diets with Vitamins A, C, E, antioxidants and selenium. Other experts say zinc, Vitamin D and elderberry may be helpful
How does the coronavirus outbreak end?

Deaths by age in mainland China:
over 50: 94%;
under 50: 6%
You’re likely to get the coronavirus.

The assertion was based off an estimate from Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, who predicted some 40 to 70 percent of all adults around the world would catch the virus within a year. Lipsitch has since revised that estimate downward and with a greater range: He now estimates it’s “plausible” that 20 to 60 percent of adults will catch the disease. (If this comes to pass, while being bad, it’s not apocalyptic: Most cases of Covid-19. are mild. But it does mean millions could die.)

In an email, Lipsitch says his model “assumes that the transmission in the rest of the world is at least fairly similar to that in China.” But “projections should be made with humility,” he adds, as there’s a lot still to uncover that will impact the forecast (like the role children play in spreading the disease).
Did the coronavirus get more deadly? The death rate, explained

From the figures it appears that the death rate from those infected is 3 to 4%. But this is misleading because many mild cases are not reported.

Worldometer corona virus

The latest stats: The coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting 124 countries and territories around the world (March 12, this figure increases daily)

Original post (March 6th) At this point I'm persuaded it will lead to a global recession. The first article talks about this and I can't refute it.

The second article is about overlooked issues, quite interesting. The third one is about how our health systems are susceptible to hacking.

The Gathering Storm: Could Covid-19 Overwhelm Us in the Months Ahead?

Easily overlooked issues regarding COVID-19

Security of Health Information

Monday, February 03, 2020

the Todd river

Alice Springs locals say that when you see the Todd flow three times you'll stay for life. In 2018 we had 161 consecutive days without rain so I was doubtful that I would ever see the Todd flow.

But today after more than 2 years here I saw it flow for the first time:

Monday, January 27, 2020

books I am reading in 2020

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2007)
Bruner, Jerome. The Culture of Education (1996)

Eglash, Ron and co., various articles:
  • Automation for the Artisanal Economy: Enhancing the Economic and Environmental Sustainability of Crafting Professions with Human-Machine Collaboration (2019)
  • Of Marx and Makers: an Historical Perspective on Generative Justice (2016)
  • Culturally responsive computing as brokerage:toward asset building with education-based social movements (2016)
  • Computer Science Education from Life (cSELF) (2013)
  • From Ethnomathematics to Ethnocomputing: indigenous algorithms in traditional context and contemporary simulation (2012)
  • Fractal Simulations of African design in pre-college Computing Education (2011)
  • Teaching with Hidden Capital: Agency in Children’s Computational Explorations… (2009)
  • Culturally_Situated_Design_Tools_Ethnocomputing from field site to classroom (2006)
Gershenfeld, Neil; Gershenfeld, Alan; Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld. Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution (2017)
Graeber, David. Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2014 edition)
Graeber, David. Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2019)
Hudson, Michael. Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy (2015)
Hudson, Michael. J is for JUNK Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (2017)
Kelly, Kevin. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that will Shape our Future (2017)
Marcus, Gary and David, Ernest. Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence we can Trust (2019) Merlan, Francesca. Caging the Rainbow: Places, Politics and Aborigines in a Northern Australia Town (1998)
McLean, Ian. How Aborigines invented the idea of contemporary art: edited and introduced by Ian McLean (2011)
McLean, Ian. Rattling Spears: A History of Indigenous Australian Art (2016)
Nakata, Martin. Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines (2007)
Perkins, Rachel. Boyer Lectures 2019 (audio)

Previous: 2019 books

my decade

I went through my blog posts from 2010-now to clarify my own path. As usual I have jumped around, leading multiple lives, burning bridges and ending up in no man’s land. Nevertheless, it makes sense to me.

I began the decade continuing with some serious study of political economy, mainly but not only Marx. I feel satisfaction that I finally gained some understanding of Capital and value theory. Why did I stop this, given that the economic crisis certainly hasn’t gone away? Part of the reason was that I couldn’t find reliable comrades to team up with. Another reason was that I found it really hard to get a strong grasp of the subject. But, in thinking about it more, in the end it felt like armchair research. I couldn’t see an endpoint that would be socially useful. I wouldn’t be able to prove anything beyond the now fairly obvious fact that capitalism is an unstable system. I’m an activist as well as a theoretician. Would I return to this topic? Perhaps. I would like to understand authors like Picketty (Capital in the 21st C) and Graeber (Debt: The First 5,000 years)

I began the decade as a huge fan of Noel Pearson. Because of him I became involved in indigenous education and decided to give Direct Instruction (Zig Engelman version) a go. In my interpretation of Noel’s educational vision I could play a positive role. I completed an observation visit to Djarragun College (a Pearson school), near Cairns, in April 2012 and was impressed. Later, I went there to work, 2016-17. The school was a fascinating place but in 2017 the leadership turned bad. I learnt a lot about Noel and now think he is a poor leader. I learnt that someone might be a great speaker and writer but still a poor leader. Nevertheless, because I was teaching aboriginal kids from all over the Cape and Torres Strait Islanders too, I ended up with an experiential understanding of the difficulties and joys of teaching those kids.

Assessing the significance of indigenous culture has been a tortuous path for me. Initially, due to Noel’s influence (DI) and Alan Kay’s influence (the non universals) I was one eyed about the virtues of modernity. However, this began to change due to both my reading and exposure to culturally informed ways of teaching maths. Through the conferences run by Chris Matthews (ATSIMA 2016 and 2018) I discovered YuMi Deadly Maths and authors such as Martin Nakata ( Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines). This was a slow burn, starting in 2016, but looking back now I can see it transformed me from a determined supporter of DI into something very different. I still see a place for DI, the Rhonda Farkota version, but it is not central to my way forward anymore. I’m no longer a vanilla modernist but have transformed into a mongrel modernist.

Throughout the decade I have attempted to understand the true nature of science. Following Pickering I now see science as a complex performance in which there is a dance of agencies between humans and machines as nature offers resistance to our attempts to understand it. Representation and abstraction may be useful at times but they are not real. The path to truth is in the world, lived practice, the full, messy, sensual social human drama of activity.

I still believe there is no single unified learning theory and good teachers have to walk the walk along several approaches: behaviourist, cognitivist, constructionist, enactivist, phenomenology.

In the past couple of years I’ve resumed study of the potential of computers in education. In particular the three game changers of computer coding, physical computing and maker spaces. I’d like to make a contribution by taking these devices to Disadvantaged students, particularly the indigenous.

Late in the decade I’ve discovered the work of Ron Eglash and co which can be called ethnocomputing or Culturally Situated Design Tools. I think I can apply this to Australian indigenous conditions and make a positive contribution in this regard. I’ve developed an exemplar to illustrate this approach, called Dotted Circles, which integrates computer coding, maths and the Papunya Tula art form.

Life after Noel (2018)
Alan Kay Universals / Non Universals (2008)
Martin Nakata: Disciplining the Savages ...
Rhonda Farkota
The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency and Science (1995) by Andrew Pickering (download the book)
the 3 game changers, Invent to Learn
Ron Eglash CSDT site and articles

Monday, January 20, 2020

Frontier Justice by Tony Roberts

I remember being impressed by the meticulous research in this book when I read it in 2018. IMO it is essential reading for those who want to understand the frontier wars. Keith Windschuttle has challenged this sort of information when it has been put forward by other authors, such as Henry Reynolds, in what is known as the history wars: the true impact of British colonialism on Australian aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. I did look for critical reviews of this book but couldn't find any.

I found a review I agreed with (here) and am quoting it in full.

Frontier Justice: A History of the Gulf Country to 1900 by Tony Roberts (2005)
Tony Roberts begins his monumental study of Aboriginal-white frontier relations by describing the harshness, remoteness and dangers of the Gulf country, a vast region stretching from the Barkley Tablelands to the Roper River in the Northern Territory and from the Stuart Highway to the Queensland border and beyond as far as Burketown. The region is centred on the isolated township of Borroloola.

As Roberts notes, this was Australia’s last frontier. Even today the area is remote and little known to most Australians. The strength of Robert’s study of frontier relations in this region is evident from the start in the deft and telling way he sets the context. During the pastoral boom of the 1880s thousands of head of cattle were driven along the ‘coast track’ from Queensland to Roper Bar and Katherine in the Northern Territory to stock the vast stations being established. There followed many hopeful individuals seeking riches in the Kimberley gold rush. Roberts notes this was ‘a momentous time in Australian history’.

However, describing the enormity of the dispossession and destruction that overwhelmed the tribes of the area in the short space of two decades, Roberts applies those same words to describe the significance of these events for Aboriginal society. He says it was ‘a momentous time in Aboriginal history’. The implication is clear – there are two histories in this country. Roberts sets himself the task of exploring both versions, and in the process throws much light on previously hidden aspects of the interaction of the two societies, settler and Aboriginal, in this remote frontier region.

Roberts’ detailed, almost forensic, examination of this relationship reveals a tragic and cruel tale. The damage inflicted, sometimes unwittingly, but all too often with callous intent, on the Aboriginal people of the region, is captured in the words of his title – ‘frontier justice’ – a title redolent with irony, as the reader becomes only too well aware as the story of the destruction wrought upon Aboriginal society is revealed.

Frontier Justice provides a detailed account of the history of the area to 1900 on a chronological and on an area by area basis. Although this approach leads to some repetition, the result is a comprehensive account. Roberts has spent 30 years researching and writing this book. It is a labour of both love and despair. The story Roberts tells is one of rape, abduction and murder of Aboriginal people by brutal whites (and Roberts makes abundantly clear that not all whites were brutal), of Aboriginal reprisals by way of killing of whites (Roberts uses the term ‘murder’), spearing of stock and setting fire to the country. The deadly cycle of reprisal, including ‘punitive expeditions’, then comes into play. Indiscriminate shooting of Aboriginal men, and sometimes of women and children, became the method of ‘controlling the blacks’. Roberts builds a strong case to show that the police were active agents in the punitive expeditions, and in particular raises serious concerns about the role played by Inspector Paul Foelsche who was in charge of policing in the northern half of the Territory from 1870 to 1904.

Roberts explains that essential to the subjugation of the Aboriginal tribes was the conspiracy of silence that prevailed. This kept the metropolitan government in Adelaide at bay as they struggled ineffectively to keep some control of the Northern Territory situation. One needed to know the code to understand what was happening – Aboriginal people were not ‘shot’, they were ‘dispersed’. When reports were written they understated the numbers killed and misrepresented the circumstances. Bushmen were not obliged to join in the hunting of Aborigines, but they were required to keep silent about what they knew. Roberts has managed to penetrate this ‘veil of secrecy’ only through an enormous research effort. He has uncovered many key documents from archives and personal possessions which have not previously seen the light of day. He has relied on a wide variety of sources, published and unpublished, including extensive Aboriginal oral history. It is a cover-up that almost succeeded.

Such a mass of information could have been overwhelming, and made such an account as this turgid and difficult. However, Roberts writes with an economy of words that repay close attention as they carry much information, directly and by implication. Writing of the punitive expeditions, Roberts notes: ‘In the fledgling Northern Territory they [the punitive expeditions] were commonplace: supported by government officials, applauded by the local press, perpetrated by ordinary men and sometimes led by senior police officials’.[1] The sentence says a lot about the nature of the Australian frontier. Roberts’ book is lengthy not because the author is wordy, but because of the mass of information it contains.

As well as punitive expeditions, casual shootings and assorted violence, Roberts describes the forced sexual mistreatment of women and children in the region. Venereal disease became rampant and was untreated. The practice of kidnapping young children left old people to fend for themselves – often destitute and starving.

However, a parade of violence, well-researched and documented as it is, would not take us far in understanding the dynamics of the frontier. Roberts shows that lying behind the self-justified and largely unchecked violence was the assumption that the Aboriginal people had no rights in the lands they had occupied for millennia. On the other hand, the whites had, apparently, the right to travel through, or even take possession of, these lands. Any opposition on the part of the Aboriginal people was seen as contrariness, treachery or criminality. This is the true psychology of terra nullius. Roberts himself pinpoints this assumption by the whites: ‘The land was simply occupied as if it were terra nullius and severe punishment was meted out to any Aboriginal who resisted’.[2]

Frontier Justice is a well-informed, closely researched and absorbing book. It is a work of detailed scholarship which manages to be objective, in the sense of a dispassionate search after historical truth, and morally engaged at the same time. Roberts does not hesitate to name moral bankruptcy. Frontier Justice strips away the romanticised view of the pioneering days which has largely served to hide the brutal and difficult realities of our past. These realities have to be faced. Frontier Justice makes a significant contribution to this task. It deserves to be in every school, university and public library.