Washing your mouth out with soap

More fake news, this time invented by our most trusted news organisations as they wilfully distort and mis-report a scene played out in the White House briefing room by President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Acting Under Secretary Bill Bryan, leader of the Science and Technology Directorate at the US Department of Homeland Security. The reporting today is a reconstruction of reality which is clearly designed to cast President Trump as a dangerous imbecile who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a national crisis, and given prominence in the news to the extent that the actual facts were obliterated.

Of course, in all matters coronavirus we should listen to the scientists and definitely not drink disinfectant. In fact it doesn’t really need a scientist to tell us that, does it? Surely that’s a given, and quite clearly the President dropped a massive bollock when he stepped into this territory. So in this rant I’m not referring to the pensioner who should be self-isolating for many reasons at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Rather, I’m making a comment on our press.

‘Trump’s wild coronavirus claims prompt disbelief’ screams the Guardian, in a headline no-one can possibly mistake for one of its characteristic slepping errors. Now I’m entitled to think, especially as a paying supporter of this reasonably sophisticated compendium of millennial bias, that there would be a fact behind this headline. Not so. Trump made no claim.

So let me do my tiny bit to put matters straight with some counter-facts* to the inevitable anti-Trump reporting that will dominate the headlines for the next week and thereby divert our attention from real stories – for example the crashing of the economy, which is getting nowhere near the attention it deserves because the media simply can’t make it up.

Bill Bryan runs a group of highly qualified scientists with the facilities of some of the best laboratories in the world at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center. He presented to the President the findings of research in which the effects of UV light on airborne and surface borne viruses were demonstrated. Lots of science, but Bill managed to put it across in a fairly easily understood way, describing a few basic trends which the Center believes are important. He described how simply being exposed to sunlight appears to have a destructive effect on the virus.

Bill pointed out that the Center was also testing effects on the virus of readily available disinfectants, for example bleach and isopropyl alcohol, and crucially referred to work to integrate the findings into practical applications to mitigate exposure and transmission.

At which point, in thanking the Acting Under Secretary for his briefing, the President related some previous thinking that he gone through with Bill about whether or not it made sense to hit people with UV light, or just very powerful lights. (We used to call this ‘lateral thinking’, and whole libraries of books were written about it by management consultants.) And then clearly stating that this needed some medical input, he surmised with a question whether the disinfectant knowledge being gained by the Center might have some application through an injection or ‘almost a cleaning’. He simply did not make any wild coronavirus claims, and no amount of being screamed at by the Grauniad will make it so, even though it makes a good story and even though there are many good reasons to disagree with the Donald.

This is actually what the President did: he invited an expert to his briefing, allowed the expert to present some facts and then did some lateral thinking whilst acknowledging he wasn’t the expert. I have no doubt that the vast majority of UK news consumers have no idea what that expert said, whilst plenty of reporters had the opportunity to take him up on this at his briefing, but clearly didn’t.

*Source: actual transcript of the actual briefing at the actual White House.

Praying for a Dead Cat Bounce

An old phrase has taken on new life lately as the millions of us who rely on the flows of capital and stock markets around the world for our basic well-being study what’s going on in bewildered despair. None of us who has money in a pension fund – which is more or less everyone that ever had a job – or is reliant on the conversion of capital into profits – which is definitely all of us, no exceptions – can have failed to notice that stock markets around the world have crashed over the last few weeks.

While this was happening, some investors will have made millions through short selling, which basically means they profit through the falling stock prices of our companies. They bet that some companies will be on a downward trajectory, and when they’re right they can make millions and convert these profits into a new yacht. There’s a downside for short sellers, of course, which is that potential losses are unlimited if suddenly a company lifts off like a Changzheng rocket, but on the whole, when China sneezed and the world caught a cold, the short sellers were out looking for victims. So vicious can be the hunt for victims that stock exchanges sometimes step in and ban the short selling of certain stocks, usually temporarily, to protect the prey from being eaten alive by the pack. It seems such a shame though, that these investors aren’t able to have their fun while the rest of us watch our pension funds fall through the floor.

Which brings me back to dead cats. If you’re one of the many small investors that sold your investments just as the market was reaching its apparent nadir driven by an obvious collapse in the world economy due to a little spikey thing from the East , you’ll be a little irritated to discover that the markets have taken off and are now rewarding the ‘dip buyers’. These people are exactly the opposite of the short sellers – buying cheap and hoping to sell later as the market reaches a new peak, at which point the profits will be converted to a new yacht. Simples, yes?

So now we’re back on an apparently upward trajectory. It seems perverse, but many investors are hoping this won’t last. There’s a principal at stake, which is that if you drop a dead cat from high enough it will bounce, and start dropping again to new lows. When it does, the short sellers will rake in more profits, the dip buyers will be buying new Ferraris, and millions of pensioners will close their eyes and hope!

Fake News, Genuine Stupidity

Now that much of the population is in enforced ‘furlough’ many of us are turning to making ourselves useful by entertaining our friends, neighbours and an international audience of social media pals by producing some amazing songs, articles and memes, many of which are really quite funny. Most of us like a bit of a laugh when it brightens up our day, and most of us want to show our support for the huge devotion of our NHS staff, the army of volunteers looking after the vulnerable and the inevitable economic victims of this crisis. Society will come out of this a better club to be a member of, and we’ll all be able to look back and say we did our bit. Well, most of us.

I’ve written before about the trashing of our education system during the years of incompetent government, and I can see signs that the policy of producing idiots at the taxpayers expense did indeed pay off. Squads of impressionable dimwits are somehow managing to organise themselves into lockdown-eluding raiding parties and setting fire to elements of our national infrastructure which the rest of us almost totally rely upon. If you think you don’t, then you probably didn’t spend an average of (give or take) five hours a day on your smartphone, so you won’t be at all bothered by this.

I’ve managed to make contact with one of these idiots by semaphore from the roof of my house. He replied in a fiasco of badly spelled flagwaving that the national 5G network is beaming deadly virus particles at him and that in protest he will henceforth not be using electronic means of communication. He wanted to say more, but we ran out of time and visibility as the sun set behind his gesticulations, and my binoculars misted up. I’m now awaiting the pigeon carrying the remainder of his explanation of how it’s possible to be both smart enough to learn morse code and stupid enough to believe that Vodafone are able to broadcast nano-sized particles of deadly diseases. Presumably I’ll be able to get them via broadband when the beta testing is over.

Spirit of our Time

Our local mini-supermarkets, of which we are blessed with half a dozen or so within a short walk, are each adopting different systems for queue management during these times of enforced social distancing. My favourite is the line of blue dots on the pavement outside Sainsbury’s, carefully measured out and aligned to provide a standing spot for each queuing customer exactly 2 metres from the next and unwittingly providing a slalom course for kids on skateboards. In general, the system is obvious but of course there are people with selective cognisance systems who will, for one reason or another, fail to understand how the concept works. The sense of purpose the security guard at the store has now aquired is palpable. Previously almost totally bored – and frankly, who can blame him – he is now one of our unsung coronavirus frontline workers, diligently keeping track of the ins and outs whilst being also mindful of his day job of tracking our local shoplifters.

Whilst on my little blue dot yesterday, it struck me how quickly we’ve become watchers and judges of others’ behaviours, particularly now we’ve got a nice clear set of rules we can apply. No longer are we too worried about who the muggers and bandits might be. It’s just so much easier to spot the two metre violator or the non-essential dog walker. This could easily turn out badly. I have read, probably in a hyperbolic article but one that may have an element of truth, that a police force in England is recruiting local curtain twitchers to report movements of citizens to and and from the shops and local beauty spots if they believe their amblings to be non essential. It seems the first summons has in fact been issued by a police force for this ‘offence’. Please correct me quickly if this is fake news.

If you grew up in East Germany you would recognise what is going on here. The two moderators of social behaviours, the law and the zeitgeist, are being interwined and conjoined to create a set of apparent police powers which do not in fact exist unless we choose to allow them to exist. I do not believe there is a police power to stop anyone going for a walk, but I do believe they would like us to believe that there is. We choose not to because we are all doing our bit, because this is the spirit of the time.

Two forms of policing took place in East Germany. There was of course the community policeman, the ABV – Abschnitsbevollmachtiger- one of the ‘Vopo’ Volkspolizei who generally knew what was going on in town and nicked the local drunks and horse rustlers. Everyone knew who this was. There was a great deal of give and take between the locals and the Vopos with little debts owed to each other and late repayment rewarded with flat tyres on the Trabby in the morning. This opens up the possibility of bribery, of course.

On the other hand, there were the snitches. The ABV was being watched. So was almost everyone. They were being watched by each other. These snitches were organised by the stasi – the Staatssicherheitsdienst – who were responsible for state security. This was an organisation which policed thoughts and attitudes. The job of the stasi curtain twitchers was to help the stasi to exploit what people wanted to achieve, or what they wanted to hide. Supersnitches at the top of the local pyramid scheme weren’t obvious, their mission in life to use psycho-bait to trap people. This didn’t allow room for bribery, only fear and mistrust between citizens as they wondered which of their drinking buddies was recording boasts of indiscretions in the pub and reporting these to the state.

It can happen and did happen. This is Britain, of course, so it couldn’t happen here. I want the police to police the law, and I know this opens up the possibility of bribery and corruption. I do not want them to police the zeitgeist, because with that comes the certainty of fear, resentment and suspicion.