Lockdown

I live in a quiet English country town. It’s even quieter now. Pretty much all I can hear outside my window is the chirping of birds and gusts of wind.

I’ve been listening. I’ve only heard 3 cars in the last 30 minutes. Normally it’s 5 or 10 times that. And normally there’s the sound of lawnmowers and hedgecutters and the distant sounds from the new estate being built half a mile away. And occasional greetings exchanged. Children calling.

I have a neighbour who normally steps outside for a cigarette every half hour or so. I hear the clicking of his lighter. No sign of him today. Everyone is staying indoors, it seems. So is he smoking indoors now, or has he stopped smoking? I know he’s at home, because I’ve heard his dog bark once or twice: if he’s not at home the dog barks non-stop all day.

I haven’t been outside for weeks, since I started getting food delivered. And since I only ever shave when I go out, it means that I’m growing a beard.

In fact, shortly after food started being delivered by the local Tesco supermarket, it stopped being delivered. You have to book a delivery slot online. When I started there was next day delivery. Now all the delivery slots are booked solid for the next 3 weeks, despite Tesco doubling or tripling the number of delivery slots. My online delivery shopping days seem to have ended as soon as they’ve begun.

But I found that there’s an online pizza and kebab and burger delivery outfit in town. So I’ve been buying hamburgers and kebabs and pizzas, and (wonder of wonders) milkshakes that I haven’t bought in decades. So right now I’m living on reheated pizzas and burgers, with added milkshakes. I could happily live this way for months.

Another slight change: I’ve started drinking water, plain simple tap water. It’s partly because I’m finding that the milk that gets delivered goes off more quickly than usual, so I’m cutting down on using it. It means that when I do make a mug of tea, it tastes like ambrosia. Tea has never tasted better in recent days.

The aim of the lockdown is to prevent transmission of the new coronavirus. And if the rest of Britain is like it is round here, it’s going to stop it dead. And this is something that people are doing of their own volition: there’s no police or army presence, no loudspeakers ordering people around.

All the same, it must be a shock to most people to find everything shut: pubs and cafes and restaurants closed, shops closed, cinemas and theatres and art galleries closed.

It’s no shock to me. It’s  the way life has been for the past 13 years. British smokers have been under lockdown for 13 years since 1 July 2007. They’ve had no pubs and cafes and restaurants and shops and  cinemas and theatres and art galleries – none that they’re welcome in, leastways – for nearly 13 years. It’s why I never go anywhere: I’m unwelcome in my own country.

And now everybody is experiencing what smokers experience. Now everybody knows what it’s like to no longer have a local friendly pub or restaurant to visit, because that’s closed to them too now. Now everybody knows what “social distancing” is like, as they no longer see any of their friends.

One difference is that when (if?) the UK lockdown ends in few weeks time, the smokers’ lockdown will continue, and intensify. And that’s because the coronavirus lockdown is a response to a genuine (if slightly exaggerated) sudden health threat, while the smokers’ lockdown is a carefully planned piece of social engineering. The aim of smoking bans isn’t to protect anyone from anything: the aim of smoking bans is simply to stop people smoking.

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Death of the Experts

Delingpole:

Britain’s drastic lockdown policy may be based on a flawed and unreliable model devised by a scientist with a track record of failure.

Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College, London, is the scientist behind the doomsday report that terrified Prime Minister Boris Johnson into imposing sudden and radical lockdown measures across the United Kingdom.

The report apocalyptically predicted that coronavirus could kill as many as 500,000 people in Britain if nothing was done to stop the spread of the disease.

Ferguson has since substantially revised down his death toll, saying it could be “substantially less than 20,000”. Colleagues at Imperial, however, have at times predicted a death toll even smaller than that — as few as 5,700 fatalities if the lockdown continues.

Rival scientists are increasingly critical of Ferguson’s original doomsday predictions, noting that his previous modelled forecasts have been found severely wanting.

Among his critics is Professor Michael Thrusfield of Edinburgh University, co-author of two reports highly critical of Ferguson’s mathematical modelling during the 2001 Foot and Mouth crisis.

Ferguson’s predictive modelling — which helped persuade Tony Blair’s government to carry out a pre-emptive cull which led to the deaths of more than six million cattle, sheep and pigs and which cost the UK economy an estimated £10 billion — was subsequently described as “not fit for purpose.”

It’s not just Ferguson. It’s all of them. All their models are flawed and unreliable models. None of them know what they’re talking about.

Think about it. Nobody has any experience of what’s happening right now with coronavirus.. So there can be no ‘experts’. There are no experts who really know what they’re talking about. There are just a bunch of people who’ve been claiming to be experts in one thing or another, but one thing is becoming clear is that none of them really have a clue what they’re talking about.

It’s true about coronavirus. And it’s true about climate change. And it’s true about tobacco. And it’s true about the EU and politics and economics and everything else. None of them have a clue what they’re talking about. They’re all full  of hot air. And they’ve always just been full of hot air

I like James Delingpole, but he’s full of hot air too.  He talks about climate change like he understands the science, but I don’t think he understands the science at all. I’ve never seen him do any. Because there is no Climate Science. There are just lots of people who claim to know all about it, and they’re full of hot air as well.

The people to distrust are those who say; “Listen to me. I know all about it.” They’re the people who become “experts”, and who get funded – but only because they’re claiming to be experts. And now we’re finding out that none of them are experts about anything. They just made a good living pretending to be experts.

All the models are flawed, All the models are unreliable. And they’re always going to be flawed and unreliable. That’s the nature of a model: a model isn’t a perfect representation of reality. A model is always a simplified representation of something. There’ll be elements missing from it, which are thought to be unimportant.

I don’t believe anything that’s being said about coronavirus right now. I don’t believe any of the predictions that are being made. Why should I believe the predictions of people who have no previous experience of anything like this? They’re just guessing when they say that X number of people will die, or that the pandemic will last another Y months.

Ian Ferguson had a good run. He managed to fool a lot of people into thinking he was an expert. He wasn’t. But neither is anyone else. There are no experts out there that are expert about anything. And there never have been. And there never will be.

Sure, some people know more about some things than most other people. But they only know a little more. Not enough to call themselves experts.

If the coronavirus episode results in one thing, I hope it’s the mass extinction of self-styled experts.

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The Supremacy of Public Health

Peter Hitchens:

Perhaps we will emulate the French or Italian states, which have returned to their despotic origins and reduced their populations to a sort of cowering serfdom, barely able to step into the street.

I wonder whether there might also be restrictions on what can be said and published. I can see no necessary bar to this in the law involved.

Section 45 C (3) (c) of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 (appropriately enough) is the bit that does it. Once the Health Secretary believes there is a threat to public health, he has – or claims to have – limitless powers to do what he likes, ‘imposing or enabling the imposition of restrictions or requirements on or in relation to persons, things or premises in the event of, or in response to, a threat to public health’.

The former Supreme Court Judge Lord Sumption doubts that the Act can be used in this way and warns: ‘There is a difference between law and official instructions. It is the difference between a democracy and a police state. Liberty and the rule of law are surely worth something, even in the face of a pandemic.’

It’s Public Health Above Everything.

Nothing else matters.

Might this be an occasion when people start to question the supremacy of Public Health?

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Measuring Body Temperature

Some 15 or 20 years ago, when I was looking after my bedridden mother, I bought a digital thermometer to keep tabs on the temperature in her bedroom. I’ve still got it, and it’s still working. Last night it was telling me that my bedroom temperature was 15º C – which seemed entirely plausible on what’s been a rather cold day.

I’d never used it to measure my temperature. But since one of the symptoms of Covid-19 is fever, which requires temperature to be measured, I put the probe in my armpit, and then in my mouth under my tongue. It reported a temperature 35º C in both cases. Internal human body temperature is supposed to be 37º C. So I seem to be rather cold. But body temperature varies between people, and during the day:

Why is my temperature so low? Maybe the battery is low? I never changed it. But last year I bought another digital thermometer, hoping to use it to record snow temperatures, but there’s been no snow round here. It’s a bit more precise, recording temperatures at 0.1º C intervals. And I doubt that the battery is flat. I can recharge it if it is. I’ll be interested to see what numbers it comes up with.

I used to have a mercury thermometer. Maybe I still do. If so I’ll try that as well, if I can find it. . Maybe buy a new one if I can’t.

If human core body temperature is 37º C, then measuring it at its edge is bound to produce a lower temperature.  Forehead skin temperature is likely to be much nearer ambient air temperature than body core temperature. So how meaningful are the results provided by infra-red thermometers pointed at people’s foreheads by police? After all, they’re measuring skin temperature, not body core temperature. And skin temperature will be a bit above air temperature. So if the police measure your forehead temperature, they’ll actually be measuring your car’s air temperature. They might decide you’re running a fever simply because you keep a warm car.

Equally, I might be seeing low temperatures because I keep a cold flat with hardly any heating. That’s the way I like it. Warmth sends me to sleep. And maybe that’s why I’m seeing numbers like 35º C: they accurately reflect my environment.

I think I may buy an infra-red thermometer. I almost did a couple of years ago. If I do I could start reporting my forehead surface temperature, and maybe also my room surface temperature.

Hat tip to smokingscot for this report:

Smoking, vaping and hospitalization for COVID-19

Abstract
The study presents an analysis of the current smoking prevalence among hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in China, compared to the population smoking prevalence in China (52.1% in males and 2.7% in females). Through a systematic research of the literature (PubMed) we identified 7 studies examining the clinical characteristics of a total of 2352 hospitalized COVID-19 patients that presented data on the smoking status. The expected number of smokers was calculated using the formula Expected smokers = (males x 0.521) + (females x 0.027). An unusually low prevalence of current smoking was observed among hospitalized COVID-19 patients (8.7%, 95%CI: 7.6-9.9%) compared to the expected prevalence based on smoking prevalence in China (30.3%, 95%CI: 28.4-32.1%; z-statistic: 22.80, P < 0.0001). This preliminary analysis does not support the argument that current smoking is a risk factor for hospitalization for COVID-19, and might even suggest a protective role. The latter could be linked to the down-regulation of ACE2 expression that has been previously known to be induced by smoking. However, other confounding factors need to be considered and the accuracy of the recorded smoking status needs to be determined before making any firm conclusions. As a result, the generalized advice on quitting smoking as a measure to improve health risk remains valid, but no recommendation can currently be made concerning the effects of smoking on the risk of hospitalization for COVID-19. No studies recording e-cigarette use status among hospitalized COVID-19 patients were identified. Thus, no recommendation can be made for e-cigarette users. Keywords. SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, ACE2, expression, susceptibility, smoking, hospitalization, electronic cigarette.

This follows on from a couple of my recent articles which drew attention to the low numbers of smokers suffering from Covid-19 in China recently.

It would seem that the authors agree that the data from several (7) studies “might even suggest a protective role” for smoking against the new coronavirus, possibly due to  “the down-regulation of ACE2 expression that has been previously known to be induced by smoking.”

This contradicts recent media suggestions that smokers are at greater risk than non-smokers.

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War

Smoking is an idle time activity.

Idle Theory was an inkling I had one sunny spring morning in 1975. I’d recently started building heat flow models at university, and was wondering how to judge whether one heating system was better (or worse) than another. The heat flow models had temperatures and masses and volumes, but they didn’t include “better” or “worse”. The usual way to judge was to find which was cheaper. But it seemed to me that a good heating system kept people more comfortable than a bad heating system. And thermal discomfort was something that people noticed and had to do something about: shiver, add more clothes, turn up the heat. Discomfort meant busyness. Equally the price of fuel and shelter and clothes was always paid with work, and work was another kind of busyness. People were either busily uncomfortable, or idly comfortable. In Idle Theory people were either frantically busy, or perfectly idle, or someplace in between.

I began thinking about economics in general as being all about people finding ways to live idle lives. You weren’t rich if you had a lot of money or property or gold: you were rich to the extent that you were idle. Economic growth entailed increasing idleness. And this was best done with useful tools: tools that got jobs done quicker. An axe will cut down a tree quicker than a stone. A donkey will make for a quicker journey than on foot, a horse an even quicker one, and a Ferrari quickest of all. A computer performs calculations much faster than any man can. The Industrial Revolution speeded up every kind of work, and made for an idler, richer society. And in their idle time people could drink beer and smoke cigarettes, and do other things they enjoyed doing for their own sake.

And I began to think about ethics as being all about increasing idleness. What was Good was what increased idleness. And what was evil was what decreased idleness. A fair exchange between two people was one in which both gained equally in idleness. An unfair exchange was one in which one person gained in idleness, and the other lost (e.g. theft). Fair exchanges required consideration: you shouldn’t just count your own gains or losses, but should also count those those of everybody else. You shouldn’t cheat. You should pay your debts. And you should keep your promises.

I also started thinking about biology in terms of idleness. All living things operated at some degree of idleness. And if they ever fell to zero idleness, working all thee time, they were at the point of death and extinction. Living things had their own built-in useful tools, like legs and wings and teeth and claws. And they were always inventing and refining new tools.

I thought about religion in terms of idleness. Heaven was a state of perfect idleness, and Hell a state of unremitting busyness. The Fall of Man had meant the end of an easy life, and its replacement by a hard one. Redemption would mean the return of an easy life.

I gradually expanded Idle Theory in all directions. I published it as a collection of essays. It was a rational, numerical,  systematic, internally consistent way of thinking about all sorts of things. I saw it as a way of giving science an ethical dimension it didn’t have.

I guess that, after 32 years, I only stopped thinking about it on 1 July 2007, when idle smokers like me came under existential attack. The antismokers don’t like idleness. They think people should be busy working all the time. It’s not tobacco or alcohol or sugar or meat that they really hate: it’s idleness. Their ideal world is a labour camp: that’s why they always build lots of them.

And now I’m in a war, fighting thieving, lying antismokers. I think that if smokers are going to win this war, they’re going to have to unite. They far outnumber the antismokers. So I’m more interested in trying to build bonds between smokers, everywhere in the world, in order to unite them.

Because the antismokers never stop:

Cuomo considers banning cigarette sales for six weeks amid Coronavirus outbreak.

This is pure, unalloyed, cruel, antismoking viciousness. Cuomo wants to take away smoker’s cigarettes just when they need them most, and when it’ll hurt them the most to lose them. And hurting them means keeping them busy, keeping them uncomfortable, keeping them working. There’s no justification for it, and it won’t help. But antismokers don’t need justifications, and they’re not trying to help: they’re trying to hurt. It’s all they ever do

In Idle Theory war is big busyness. In peacetime idleness increases; in wartime idleness decreases. The loser is the first to reach zero idleness death and extinction.

Tobacco Control must be destroyed. It must be utterly and completely destroyed.

 

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How Bad Does It Get?

Evening Standard:

UK coronavirus news LIVE: Boris Johnson to continue to lead coronavirus response from isolation

Express:

Boris made the announcement on Twitter. In a video posted from self-isolation he said: “I want to bring you up to speed with something that’s happening today, which is that I’ve developed mild symptoms of the coronavirus – a temperature and a persistent cough, and on the advice of the chief medical officer I’ve taken a test. That has come out positive.

Boris is not symptomless. He has a temperature and a cough. Doesn’t that mean that he is unwell? And doesn’t that mean that he’s likely to start making bad decisions, or stop making decisions, precisely because he’s not well?

Conversely, if having Covid-19 has no effect on someone’s powers, then is it even a disease, with all that is entailed by dis-ease?

Who decides whether someone is sufficiently unwell that they are no longer able to do their job?

Who decides whether someone is sufficiently recovered that they are able to resume their job?

Isn’t this an important decision?

As more and more politicians and public figures test positive, are they all going to carry on working in self-isolation? Doesn’t self-isolation have any adverse effects on people’s ability to do their job? And are any of them going to need hospitalisation at some point? Will they then continue working from hospital? Or will someone else take over?

The foreign secretary and former Brexit secretary would become the acting prime minister if anything happens to Johnson during the pandemic.

Something has happened to him: he’s caught the coronavirus. So have Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and Chief Medical Officer Peter Whitty, and Prince Charles.

We might gain from this something of a measure of how bad a disease Covid-19 really is. If they all carry on working, doing their jobs normally, then Covid-19 is more or less harmless. If they’re all carted off to hospital, then Covid-19 is very harmful. If they all end up dead, then Covid-19 is extremely harmful.

So far, all concerned seem to be doing their jobs normally in isolation. So Covid-19 isn’t looking very harmful at all. But this might change.

Why is Covid-19 having so little apparent effect on Boris Johnson, but killing a thousand people a week in Italy? Perhaps part of it is that many elderly people already have conditions that put them at risk, and getting Covid-19 is enough to push them over the edge, and Boris isn’t one of these. But isn’t it also likely that Boris Johnson is receiving top rate medical care, and the rest are not? Should Boris need a respirator, he’ll have one in minutes. The rest may have to wait a few hours or days to get one. They might never get one.

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Transmissibility

ZeroHedge:

Imperial College London’s Neil Ferguson – who originally estimated 500,000 deaths in the UK due to Coronavirus, now says that the virus will peak in just two or three weeks, and that UK deaths from the disease are now unlikely to exceed 20,000, according to NewScientist.

The need for intensive care beds will get very close to capacity in some areas, but won’t be breached at a national level, said Ferguson. The projections are based on computer simulations of the virus spreading, which take into account the properties of the virus, the reduced transmission between people asked to stay at home and the capacity of hospitals, particularly intensive care units. -NewScientist

Why the change of heart from Ferguson – who himself has contracted COVID-19?

Ferguson – whose ‘Terrifying’ research from just 10 days ago predicted 2.2 million deaths in the US and that the UK would need to be under quarantine for 18 months or more – now says that coronavirus will not overwhelm the UK’s ICU beds, and that over 1/2 of those it will kill would have died by the end of the year anyway because they were so old and sick.

His reasoning is that estimates of the virus’s transmissibility are much higher than previously thought – and that many more people have gotten it than we realize, making it less dangerous overall.

I guess he must have some sort of model that he plugs numbers into. How are epidemics modelled?

And I wonder if he’s right?

I guess any virus will have inherent high/low transmissibility, but won’t there be other factors as well? In cities, I’d expect transmissibility to rise because there are more interactions between people in cities. Same with crowded trains, buses, theatres, stadiums. And if people all stay home, transmissibility should fall to near zero. Perhaps that’s why he’s changing his tune about the UK, where we now in something like a lockdown.

I had an odd thought yesterday. What caused the rise of ancient Greece? Much of Greece consists of islands. Might the population of an archipelago of islands be more resistant (low transmissibility)  to epidemics sweeping mainlands? The islands are natural quarantine camps. During epidemics, the Greeks may have stopped all travel between islands, with the result that the epidemics never got to them. So Greek islanders weren’t decimated by epidemic diseases, and their numbers rose, and they spread to areas where populations had been decimated by disease – hence the rise of Greek civilisation.

Same reasoning might apply to fortified cities. The walls weren’t just to keep armies out, but also epidemics for a few weeks/months.

And in fact the same reasoning would apply to towns with separate, private, walled houses. Privacy is a health measure. An epidemic in a town where all spaces are public spaces would infect almost everyone.

Coronavirus: Prime Minister Boris Johnson tests positive

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