Sunday, May 31, 2020

The World Health Organization Was Against Quarantines Only Last Year

I recommend to you a document written in saner times, and published by the World Health Organization: “Non-pharmaceutical public health measures for mitigating the risk and impact of epidemic and pandemic influenza.” It came out in 2019. I’ve embedded it below.

When the document says influenza, it is referring to any influenza-like infection which is inclusive of COVID-19; that is, any pandemic virus that happens to come along. In the last 100 years, they give examples of four prior to the current virus.

The point of the report is to examine a series of what are called non-pharmaceutical interventions, which can cover the full range of strategies of disease control, from hand washing to surface cleaning to mask wearing to quarantines to travel restrictions. The document contains both good and regrettable material, both of which are covered below. But the standout points for us today are that the World Health Organization only last year solidly recommended against quarantines even if it is only limited to the exposed and sick.

It never even considered the notion of universally locking down an entire population. In that sense, it is an improvement over current practice, and evidence that governments around the world threw out long-standing law and tradition in a disease panic, shattering human relationships and the global economy.

That said, a major problem with the document is its overly formal approach that seeks to model disease severity and government response.

The pandemic influenza severity assessment (PISA) framework was introduced by WHO in 2017. The severity of an influenza epidemic or pandemic is evaluated and monitored through three specific indicators: transmissibility (referring to incidence), seriousness of disease, and impact on health care system and society. The severity is categorized into five levels: no activity or below seasonal threshold, low, moderate, high or extraordinary. The PISA framework is being tested and improved during seasonal influenza epidemics; the aim is to help public health authorities to monitor and assess the severity of influenza, and to inform appropriate decisions and recommendations on interventions.

Almost everything here rests on the ability to discern and model disease severity in real time. The trouble is that we have to make the judgement call in the midst of this pandemic. Dr. Fauci in late February wrote that “the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza.” By WHO standards, that would qualify as “moderate.”

A few weeks later, fear of hospital bed shortages and a lack of ventilators caused that assessment to change. In a few short days, we moved from thinking this was a seasonal problem to treating it as the most severe pandemic since 1918, and it’s not really clear why. The more we know about the virus, the more we realize that Fauci’s original assessment was closer to the truth, especially when considering how it targets especially those with very low life expectancy, exactly as John Ioannidis predicted on March 7.

Deciding whether and to what extent non-pharmaceutical interventions might be necessary is easily modelled on paper but far more difficult to assess in real time. Everything is clear looking backwards. We can know what we need to know about managing the pandemics of 1968, 1957, 1948-51 (during which times government did almost nothing and left disease mitigation to the professionals), and 1918, when some governments used powers condemned by medical professionals later.

But planning backwards in time is not what the WHO proposed last year. They expected high-end health professionals to become central planners in real time, in the midst of enormous confusion over data. It’s just not possible to do that. Empowering governments with the responsibility to make such extra decisions over people’s lives and freedom might not be the wisest route to take.

Nonetheless, there is a fairly large gap between what the WHO recommended in 2019 and what governments actually did in 2020.


Here's a Relief: Corpus Christi Jihad Attack Condemned by...Catholic Bishop

Few Americans even know that there was a jihad attack in Corpus Christi, Texas last week. But Michael Mulvey, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Corpus Christi, is well aware. Last Thursday, a 20-year-old Muslim migrant from Syria named Adam Salim Alsahli, according to CNN, “attempted to rush the security gate with a vehicle.” Then, after “security deployed a barrier to stop the vehicle,” Alsahli “exited the vehicle and opened fire…and naval security forces returned fire.”

Alsahli was “neutralized.” After his attack, officials “identified various social media accounts, which initial reports indicate are likely associated with the shooter….Online postings by these accounts expressed support for ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).” But you can relax now: the Roman Catholic Bishop of Corpus Christi has condemned the attack, so all is well.

As far as we know, Mulvey had nothing to do with the attack, but nonetheless, as Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported, he announced Thursday: “I condemned the act of terrorism that was perpetrated this morning at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. These acts of violence are heinous, but they will not undermine our resolve to work for peace in our hearts, and our society. Our prayer is with the sailor who was injured this morning.” CNA noted that Mulvey “pledged to be a force for peace in the face of evil.”

Well, that’s a relief. You know that concerned citizens all over the country were on the edge of their seats, wondering whether the Catholic Bishop of Corpus Christi was going to applaud or condemn the attack. Now he has come down on the side of the angels, we can all relax and go about our business.

Mulvey’s statement was similar to dozens of condemnations of jihad terror attacks that politicians and other public figures have issued after jihad massacres all over the world in the last few years. It is unclear what moves them to make these statements. Did anyone really think that Michael Mulvey, a Catholic bishop, might be in favor of Adam Alsahli’s jihad attack?

Are there people out there who suspected that Michael Mulvey helped Adam Alsahli buy his gun or otherwise prepare for his jihad, and were such suspicions so persistent that the good bishop felt it necessary to clear the air? Does Michael Mulvey think that his condemnation will stop future jihadis from carrying out their attacks, for fear that the local Roman Catholic bishop will condemn them?

If Michael Mulvey is sane, which presumably he is, then he knows that the answer to all those questions is no, and so there was no reason whatsoever for him to issue his condemnation except to signal his virtue. Mission accomplished.

But the bitter irony here is that no matter how thunderous Mulvey’s condemnation was, and no matter how resoundingly it inspired pangs of conscience in jihadis everywhere, and no matter how hard Mulvey tries to be a “force for peace,” he will find himself unable to persuade jihadis to lay down their arms and stop waging war against unbelievers, because those jihadis consider that war a divine command (cf. Qur’an 9:29).

What’s more, the Roman Catholic Church in general is indefatigably committed to Pope Francis’ ridiculous claim that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.” That is, the Catholic Church is institutionally committed to ignoring and denying the ideological wellsprings that give rise to attacks such as that of Adam Salim Alsahli.

Consequently, no matter how much Mulvey works to be a “force for peace,” he will find himself confronted with jihadis who, in his view, persistently misunderstand their own religion. But he can’t deal with that problem in any realistic manner; to do so would be to deny one of the modern-day Catholic Church’s most cherished newly-minted dogmas, that Islam is a religion of peace.

It is worth noting also that both Adam Alsahli and Mohammed Alshamrani, who attacked another naval air station in Florida in December, were foreign nationals; Alsahli came to the U.S. as a “refugee” and Alshamrani as a foreign student. The Catholic Church strenuously opposes any efforts to reform the programs by which they entered the country.

And so Michael Mulvey might as well go the whole way and have printed a whole pad full of his condemnations of jihad activity, so that all he has to do is fill in blanks for the place and date of the attack. He will find that he will go through such a pad with remarkable speed.

“Leave them; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14)


When the personal becomes political

By Scott Sumner

When I was young, the Democratic Party included African Americans, factory workers, nerdy intellectuals, and many other diverse groups. Democrats and Republicans were roughly equally likely to be pro-choice or pro-life. In many ways, that was a healthy state of affairs. Recently, however, we have increasingly sorted into blue and red tribes, in a number of dimensions.

At some point, even seemingly non-political lifestyle issues became political. President Trump recently announced that he was taking the drug hydroxychloroquine as a precautionary step (and then later stopped doing so). A few days ago, he visited a Ford factory and did not wear a mask in the public part of the visit. (Later he did wear a mask when he was off camera.)  President Trump frequently describes himself as a germaphobe.  Thus I suspect that his reluctance to wear masks in public settings has a political dimension.

Inevitably, everything the president does is criticized by some and defended by others. But in this post I’m more interested in the way that lifestyle choices become increasingly seen through a political lens.

Consider the following two lifestyles: One person likes to eat lots of juicy steaks. They get high cholesterol and take a statin to control the problem. Another person likes to eat lots of sushi and kale salads, which they view as a healthy diet. Which person is more likely to vote for Trump?

In the 1950s, the question would have seemed absurd. What does diet preference have to do with political affiliation? Today I suspect that most people would see the steak eater who takes a statin as more likely to vote for Trump.

If I told you I had a somewhat “macho” friend who thought wearing a mask was effeminate, and who strongly believed in the effectiveness of taking hydroxychloroquine, who would you guess that he would vote for?   And is it a healthy state of affairs to be able to predict political affiliation based on lifestyle issues (or scientific judgments) with no obvious connection to politics?  Is it healthy for a country to increasingly sort into red and blue tribes?

I see libertarianism as the ideology that tries to make fewer things political.  Thus I’m not pleased to see us move toward an “everything’s political” world.  It’s not so much that there’s anything wrong with different points of view on wearing masks or taking particular drugs, it’s that I’d prefer those points of view not be linked to unrelated political ideologies.


‘This virus doesn’t want to kill us’

This is the inside story of how Australian scientists in some ways got the jump on the world.  Australia has had great success in controlling the virus.  Was the early understanding of the virus among Australian scientists part of that?

“This virus doesn’t want to kill us. It has no brain, no will. It just wants to grow and reproduce, to obey the laws of evolution and natural selection.” So says Professor Peter Doherty, a man who knows a thing or two about unpicking a virus. If the virus that causes COVID-19 did have a brain it would probably avoid coming up against the 79-year-old, Brisbane-raised, Nobel prize-winning immunologist who in the mid-1990s unlocked the secret of how our body’s immune system gives viruses a good kicking.

His name has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight again as patron of the research and public health organisation that bears his name, the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. No organisation in Australia has been more prominent in tackling COVID-19, not only in the lab but in shaping government policy through the findings of its public health scenario modellings. “I’d just written my retirement book,” Doherty laughs down the phone from his home in Melbourne, where his age means he’s under strict isolation. “I thought I was fading into the distance and now suddenly I’m back as a talking head.”

There’s a lot to talk about. If we are in an ­enviable position in this war against COVID-19, with the tantalising prospect of life returning to normal seeming closer every day, it’s in part due to the early work of scientists at the Doherty Institute.

It’s easy to forget those early days back in ­January, when bushfires preoccupied the country and no one suspected a mysterious virus in China would within two months result in unimaginable global upheaval. But in the age of globalisation, viruses can move faster than even the news cycle, and so can those who fight them. Within hours of Australia’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 landing on our shores, the Doherty Institute had grown the virus in culture and shared it with the world (the first lab outside China to do so), sequenced the entire genome of the virus, mapped the human body’s immune response to the infection and was supplying the modelling that informed the Federal Government’s response in imposing the lockdown restrictions. Now its ­scientists are collaborating on a vaccine and testing possible treatments. Things have happened so fast that you could almost swear they were waiting for this virus.

Actually, they were. Doherty director Sharon Lewin calls it “peacetime preparations”: all the work that goes on when you’re not in the grip of a pandemic, when you’re not sure what sort of infectious disease will hit next but you know it will and you’d better be ready for it. It was SARS that primed the institute for COVID-19, but its bread-and-butter work is annual outbreaks of influenza, tracking cases in the community and developing new vaccines and treatments. “SARS was very infectious but the difference was people would only spread the virus when they were unwell,” says Lewin, “so you knew who was spreading it because they were sick and usually in hospital. But nothing like this new coronavirus has ever affected us.”

A collaboration between The University of ­Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Hospital, the Doherty Institute was born out of another disaster – the Global Financial Crisis – as a recipient of the Rudd government’s 2009 stimulus splash in the tertiary sector. It was established to deal with the exact sort of crisis we’re in right now.

The first cases of a mysterious pneumonia-like illness emerged from the wet markets of Wuhan, China in late December. It was soon confirmed to be a new type of coronavirus, and on January 7 China revealed to the world its genetic sequence – like sharing a fingerprint from a crime scene. “That’s when people started getting nervous,” says Lewin. “It was different to SARS. It set alarms off around the world.” The impetus for countries outside China was then on designing a diagnostic molecular test (called a PCR assay), so they’d know if the virus washed up on their shores. But Australia was a step ahead. We already had the test.

“The tests were designed in the wake of SARS and MERS, predicting that this would happen again and we’d need a test capable of detecting an unknown coronavirus,” says Mike Catton, director of the Doherty Institute’s Victorian Infectious ­Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL).

Having the virus’s genetic sequence meant ­Catton and his team could quickly tailor their test to the new virus. From January 15 they started testing samples from anyone arriving from Wuhan displaying cold-like symptoms. Catton jokes that if anything urgent is going to happen, it’ll be on the Friday night before a long weekend. On Friday January 24, the lab got a call from Monash Hospital. Another return traveller from China had presented with corona­virus symptoms and a sample from the patient was taken back to the lab for testing. By 2am they had preliminary results, and by 4am had completed the entire genome sequencing, confirming the matter beyond all doubt that the fingerprints matched. COVID-19 was here.

Getting a positive ID was just the beginning. The next step was to try to grow the virus in cell culture. If growing a virus is an art form then Julian Druce is the artist. Druce is the senior scientist at VIDRL’s viral identification laboratory, where he tends to cultures in flasks with the tender touch of the finest orchid grower. Other labs had failed to get it to sprout, but Catton says if anyone in the world could grow it, Druce could. The practice of growing cultures was once de rigueur, but is now almost antiquated since the molecular test revolutionised virology in the late 1980s. While a molecular test will place your suspect at the crime scene, only by having a viable virus strain grown in culture can you fully interrogate the virus and learn its nature and characteristics, allowing you to potentially design antiviral drugs and vaccines.

Over the weekend Druce and Catton watched their virus grow, sometimes in the lab during the day, sometimes in the middle of the night. When unable to sleep, they would periodically open the laptop and hook into a webcam pointed at the flask back at the office. “It was really exciting,” says ­Catton, adding drolly: “if that’s your idea of excitement.” By the time Australians were back at work on the Tuesday, VIDRL had uploaded the genome sequence to an international database and were spreading the virus round the world, but in a good way, with the hope it could still be contained.

Sharing the virus before having it accepted into an academic journal was a bold and unusual move. Researchers will usually keep their discoveries closely guarded until the findings can be published. It’s possible that at least two other labs around the world had grown the virus before the Doherty Institute, but were sitting on it. Julian Druce says they didn’t have time for that. “We wanted to get the genie back in the bottle. It was clear to us here that public health came before publication.”

Collaboration would also come before commercialisation, with the COVID-19 crisis heralding an unprecedented flurry of global scientific ­co-operation through the sharing of information, materials, expertise and facilities. “I think it sent a message to the world about how we should be playing this thing,” says Catton.

Immediately after sharing the virus, VIDRL focused on helping public health labs, diagnosing samples sent in from New Zealand and states without local capacity. Throughout March the focus was on getting Victorian hospitals and ­community pathology labs set up with their own testing programs. Australia now has the highest per capita testing rate in the world.

Having a viable virus in the lab meant that labs around the world could start work designing antiviral drugs to treat patients, test vaccine candidates and begin serology testing to detect antibodies deployed by our immune system to fight the virus.

At the same time as VIDRL was growing the virus, the institute was claiming another world-first. An early patient had her immune response to the virus scrutinised, providing vital information on how the body fights COVID-19. The 47-year-old woman from Wuhan became the first person in Australia to be tested under a platform called ­Sentinel Travellers and Research Preparedness Platform for Emerging Infectious Disease (SETREP-ID). Doherty Institute infectious disease physician Irani Thevarajan helped set up SETREP-ID two years ago, around the time when the world was getting jumpy over new diseases such as ebola and zika. The platform – with pre-approved ethics – allows for testing and research of any travellers returning to the country with an emerging infectious disease. “We set it up knowing that new infections could walk through the door any day,” says Thevarajan. “So we wanted to be able to do immediate detection and research, to gain an understanding of it when it arrived.”

Thevarajan activated SETREP-ID on January 7, back when the world wasn’t even sure if human to human transmission was possible, and calibrated it to recruit data from any return travellers from China. When the woman arrived at hospital in late January and tested positive to COVID-19, a team led by Dr Oanh Nguyen and Dr Katherine Kedzierska immediately started taking blood samples and mapping her immune system response.

“We wanted to know right away what the immune system does when it sees this new coronavirus, because no one knew at that stage,” Thevarajan says. It was mild case of COVID-19 but the study revealed valuable information about the immune response. However, Thevarajan says a vital part of the puzzle is still missing. “What we don’t fully understand is what’s driving the really severe disease. We don’t yet fully understand why most people recover but some don’t.”

Nor do we fully understand what we stand to lose as collateral damage in the battle against COVID-19. On February 3, a collaboration of researchers led by the Doherty Institute convened a workshop with the Office of Health Protection and jurisdictional representatives in Canberra to discuss modelling the impact of COVID-19 on our health system.

Modelling was released to the public on April 7, two months after being provided to the Federal Government, which used it to inform its public health response. It’s this modelling and the delay in releasing it to the public that’s subsequently become the most controversial and debated element of the early initiatives, and the one that may prove to have the most serious long-term consequences. Doherty director of epidemiology Jodie McVernon led the team that built the model. She says at that early meeting the team proposed a “very broad brush set of initial scenarios based on influenza pandemic preparedness assumptions about severity, which was then highly uncertain”.

Back in 2009, McVernon had led a team of modellers responding to the H1N1 influenza ­pandemic that killed half a million people globally. So when COVID-19 came along and a preparedness model was needed in a hurry they brought out the influenza plan as a template, updating data specific for COVID-19 as it came in. “It’s our business to be surprised. That’s what emergencies are about,” says McVernon. “The reason this [modelling] could be done so fast was because the government had invested in preparedness for a very long time. So the toolkit, the thinking and the strategies were ready, but as the data came in it became clear this was beyond the influenza scenarios.”

The modelling, though, came in for criticism for basing its assumptions on overseas data, for not taking into account Australia’s case numbers, ­different demographics, geography and health care system. Australia never saw the widespread virus transmission of places like Italy, Spain and New York. Some say this is because of the strict social distancing measures the government put in place. Others say it’s because Australia never had the effective reproduction number (the number of people infected by each person carrying the virus) that Wuhan did, our population isn’t as elderly as ­Italy’s, our rate of smoking is relatively low, we don’t have high-density slums, and a thousand other differences that mean a one-size-fits-all model was never going to be an accurate representation.

McVernon says they had no choice but to use overseas data, as that’s where the epidemics were occurring. She says they simply didn’t have time to wait. “We’re acutely attuned to the fact we have to contextualise this to our local setting,” she says, “but you have to start with what you have. Yes, there were uncertainties, but the model is there to help you come to a consistent set of decisions. You ask yourself if any of those uncertainties would change your decisions.”

The modelling revealed that an unmitigated COVID-19 epidemic in Australia would have been a disaster, quickly overwhelming the health system. Suddenly “flattening the curve” became a phrase every Australian was familiar with. The curve was soon flattened, but at what cost? We won’t know until later the legacy of shutting down the economy, consigning so many Australians to the unemployment queue, or the other social impacts. One million Australians have become unemployed, and the Federal Government’s economic support packages are costing the country $320 billion.

McVernon admits she’s nervous about the ­collateral damage but stands by the measures. She says it was their job to avert a crisis. “It’s not a stretch to compare COVID-19 with the plague. ­People are saying that public health is being allowed to run the ­government. Well, I think there was definitely a need for public health to lead the charge to avert a catastrophe. That was our single task.”

The world waits for a vaccine. Doherty Institute virologist Dr Damian Purcell says more than 100 vaccine concepts are being worked on. “It doesn’t take a lot of time to produce a vaccine candidate,” he says, “what really takes time is the testing.” The institute’s collaboration with the University of Queensland to design a vaccine is one of those 100. Purcell says UQ started the work on ­January 20 and it’s now being tested on ferrets in the Netherlands prior to human trials. Elsewhere overseas, other vaccine candidates are already at the human trial stage.

In-house, the institute is working on its own vaccine candidates, thanks to a $3.2 million donation from the Jack Ma Foundation. Meanwhile, two ­international groups, one from Britain’s Oxford University and another from US group Inovio, are testing vaccine ­candidates at the CSIRO in Geelong. CSIRO has partnered with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), part of a global alliance aiming to speed up the development of vaccines, and in April was given $220 million by the Federal Government to upgrade its biosecurity research facilities and help expedite the quest for a vaccine.

Purcell says international collaboration and funding are the keys to unlocking a vaccine. “Funding is the thing that fires up the rocket sled. But things are highly accelerated now because people are sharing information in real time. A lot of the problems with vaccine development is it’s so expensive to manufacture at a high grade and going through the larger scale testing, so we’re speeding up the process of the early phase testing. As soon as things look remotely good and we get the safety signals, we pull the trigger and manufacture.”

If it sounds simple, don’t kid yourself. Developing a vaccine is one thing, but working out how to safely mass produce what is a very complex biological product for the consumption of millions, to fight a virus we still don’t know a lot about, and doing it by yesterday, requires navigating seemingly insurmountable problems. Purcell believes we will get a vaccine, but he’s just not sure if it will be the elixir the world is expecting. “It may be difficult to achieve effective vaccination of the elderly, we just don’t know. Therapeutic antibodies or anti-­viral drugs may turn out to be more important. That’s why we need to advance all fronts.”

Other fronts include a trial led by the institute involving 2500 people in more than 80 hospitals in Australia and New Zealand (called the ASCOT trial) to assess the effectiveness of two antiviral drugs, lopinavir/ritonavir (used to treat HIV) and hydroxy­chloroquine, the antimalarial drug touted by ­Donald Trump and Clive Palmer.

It’s also partnering with Monash University on a study of the anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin. Early experiments done at the Doherty Institute days after the virus was identified in Australia showed that Ivermectin killed SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, within 48 hours in cell culture. Dr Kylie Wagstaff from Monash Biomedical Discovery Institute says anecdotal evidence is good, but getting the dosing right is the key before human trials in Australia can start.

Peter Doherty, who still has a key research advisory role with the institute, remains relaxed and grounded, an endearing everyman infected with an incurable case of humility. On April 27 he tweeted what was meant to be a Google search: “Dan Murphy opening hours.” Even strict isolation comes with occasional caveats. Rather than delete the tweet, he let it stay and gather likes and laughs. “Only flawed humans can be loved,” he later tweeted. “And I certainly qualify.”

The real work is more sobering. Doherty says the worst virus he’s ever seen is smallpox. It killed about 300 million people in the 20th century, about 30 per cent of those it infected. Ironically, it’s also the only human infectious disease ever to be eradicated, the last case occurring in 1978. “We’re probably not going to eradicate COVID-19,” says Doherty. “So whatever people think of what’s being done, we need to build up the armamentarium against this thing. It’s lethal.”


Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The media’s raison d’etre exists, not in the truth, but solely in opposition

The mainstream media have printed various misinformed or later-to-be-corrected statements about the impact of COVID-19, mainly because they (like most of America) were still learning about the spread of the virus and its potential public health implications.

The president was learning, too, in real time. The difference is that he is blamed by the media for every statement he makes. If it’s true, then it’s insensitive, and if it turns out to be inaccurate, then it was a blatant lie.

At this point, it seems that the mainstream media exists solely to refute and oppose anything the president says.

Of course, President Donald Trump is not perfect. He exaggerates. He makes blanket statements without caveat. And he is known to protect himself to the point of stretching reality.

Those who have come to know him and work with him on a daily basis understand his foibles. But they also understand that the president is merely human.

He breathes the same air and eats the same food we all do. He has hopes and dreams for his own life and for America that echo our own. Despite his many faults, he was duly elected to lead the country; he has our best interests at heart.

But the media’s raison d’etre exists, not in the truth, but solely in opposition. When the president goes left, whether right or wrong, the media go right. It is as if they have abdicated their roles as fact-finders and investigators and turned into repudiators.

This is laziness at its worst. It lacks credibility and betrays an emotional bias that goes to the heart of truth and falsehood. If the media is so readily able to embrace falsehoods merely to combat the president, are they not just as guilty of the betrayal of truth they accuse the president of committing?

Perhaps the most cynical media iconoclasm centers around the seeming glee some pundits take in the tanking economy. It is almost as if they embrace forced closings and their devastating economic effects as the welcome price of ridding the country of Trump.

Forget about the folks who are suffering. Forget about working mothers with children out of school and nowhere to go. All these pundits have to do is show up at their laptops and type away from the cushy surroundings of their high-end condos. But they aren’t forced to make the hard choices of laying off workers or letting crops rot in the field. For them, reopening the economy is synonymous with losing the political battle.

We all want a free press that is able to question the official line. As a media pundit and commentator, I often question the president’s approach. But it bears asking whether a press is truly “free” when it is bound by its preconceived notions of truth and falsehood.

Perhaps ideological constraints on fairness and objectivity devalue their roles as the investigators and revealers the Founders imagined when they enshrined the First Amendment.



In his American Greatness column “The doctrine of media untruth,” Victor Davis Hanson lays down a highly useful rule of opposites:

As a general rule, when the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Public Radio, Public Broadcasting Service, NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, and CNN begin to parrot a narrative, the truth often is found in simply believing just the opposite.

Put another way, the media’s “truth” is a good guide to what is abjectly false. Perhaps we can call the lesson of this valuable service, the media’s inadvertent ability to convey truth by disguising it with transparent bias and falsehood, the “Doctrine of Media Untruth.”

Victor gives many pertinent examples. This one is my favorite and I quote it for the sheer pleasure of the truth blast:

The country once knew little of Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). But once the media sanctified his role after the 2018 election as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, we knew what lay ahead. No sooner had the Renaissance Schiff assumed the chairmanship of the committee than we were lectured ad nauseam how he was a Harvard Law graduate, with a sly sense of humor, who had he not blessed the country with his stellar political career otherwise might well have been a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He ran his committee with flair and competence lacking under the former chairman, the supposedly plodding dairy farmer Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). In other words, we quickly discovered the truth through the Doctrine of Media Untruth.

Within about a year, the public knew that Schiff was a fraud. He had suppressed key testimonies that long ago revealed that the functionaries in the collusion hoax had admitted under oath they had no evidence for the accusations they made daily in the media, and that CrowdStrike, in fact, could not prove a Russian genesis for the hacking of DNC emails.

Schiff himself tapped into the communications records of his own colleague and the former chairman of his committee, Nunes. He lied habitually, most egregiously in denying that he or his staff had anything to do with the Ukrainian “whistleblower” when in fact his team had been in close communications with him.

Each time Schiff assured the media of “bombshells,” that the “walls were closing in,” or that there were all sorts of new top-secret, classified, rarified information known only to him, which would shortly “prove” Trump “collusion,” we understood that he was a con man and prevaricator who had no proof at all or any such evidence. Whatever report he issued (cf. the “Schiff memo”), would certainly be dishonest and not factual. And, of course, it was.

Incidentally, Hanson’s rule of opposites must be applied to understand Susan Rice’s incriminating memo of January 20, 2017. It is one key among many to the biggest scandal by far in American political history


NYT Attacks Military 'Racism' Over Memorial Day Weekend

Poorly timed race-baiting revisionist history from the Times's editorial board. 

“Why Does the U.S. Military Celebrate White Supremacy?” That’s the headline of a New York Times editorial attacking the military for naming some bases in the South after Confederate officers. Why the Times editorial board’s armchair generals chose Memorial Day weekend to tread upon the memory of fallen Patriots with this race-baiting tripe can likely be explained by the new Pulitzer Prize sitting on the shelf for the Times’s race-baiting revisionist history in the 1619 Project. But perhaps it was also a distraction from Joe Biden’s revealing remarks on the black vote. In any case, when all you have is a race hammer, everything looks like a racist nail.

“It is time to rename bases for American heroes — not racist traitors,” declares the Times. Bafflingly, the editorial’s argument begins by recounting a racist’s attack on a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, five years ago. Predictably, the Times also makes multiple Nazi references. Why either has anything to do with the name of Fort Benning in Georgia is left to the deranged imagination of leftists everywhere.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman offered this response: “On a solemn day for remembering those that have given their lives for our country fighting against tyranny and subjugation, the NYT has more than a million possible stories of the ultimate sacrifice by American patriots that they could tell. But they don’t.”

Likewise, retired Staff Sgt. Joey Jones slammed the paper, saying, “There are 365 days in a year. There has been 150 years since the Civil War. Why is the New York Times writing this on Memorial Day this year of all years?” He added, “To me that’s offensive. That’s as bad as saying that coronavirus was warranted because we had slavery 200 years ago. That’s not how we look at our country. … I find it offensive and repulsive.”

There’s a time and place for thoughtfully evaluating American history, but this was neither the time nor was it thoughtful. More to the point, where does the airbrushing stop?

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery Monday morning. He too used the word “race” in his remarks, though the meaning was entirely different. Praising the National Guard and others who’ve battled the coronavirus pandemic, Trump said, “Once more the men and women of the United States military have answered the call to duty and raced into danger.” Trump appealed for the kind of unity that the Times aimed to destroy. “Together, we will vanquish the virus and America will rise from this crisis to new and even greater heights,” he said. “As our brave warriors have shown us from the nation’s earliest days, in America, we are the captains of our own fate.” Indeed we are.


Correctly counting the cost shows Australia's lockdown was a mistake

The future will now be worse because the flawed pandemic health projections didn't correctly calculate their effects on economic welfare.

Australia’s economic policies in response to the coronavirus threat have been driven in the main by projections of death and infection rates, produced by epidemiological modelling, that since have been proven to be orders of magnitude above what any country anywhere in the world, regardless of policy, has experienced.

Meanwhile, the welfare costs of our economic policy responses have been either overlooked entirely, gestured towards vaguely but not actually calculated, or calculated in ways strikingly out of alignment with international best practice when estimating the welfare costs of different policy alternatives – eg, using full value-of-a-statistical-life (VSL) numbers, rather than age-adjusted VSL or quality-adjusted life years, when valuing lives lost to COVID-19 (which are predominantly the lives of older people with a few years, not an entire life, left to live).

A leading reason for points 1 and 2 is that it’s a lot less work to count bodies and point to scary body-count projections than to think hard about the many and various costs – many invisible and requiring a reasonable counterfactual that is, again, mentally taxing to create; many manifesting only over time – that arise when we take the drastic economic policy actions we have taken.

The costs of what we have done are enormous. These costs will show up most obviously over the next few months in the body counts sacrificed to causes other than COVID-19 – like from famine, preventable diseases and violence in lower income countries; and deaths from despair, isolation, and non-COVID-19 health problems that have lost resourcing in better-off countries such as Australia – but will also stem from sources that don’t have actual deaths of presently living people attached to them.

Lower GDP now and going forward means lower levels of government services on education, healthcare, research and development, infrastructure, social services, and myriad other things that keep us happier, healthier and living longer.

Kids whose education has been disrupted due to our mandates that schools and universities move activities online, and young people who have lost their jobs or are entering the job market during the recession we have created, will carry the impact of these disruptions for years.

Discoveries of cures for diseases other than COVID-19 will be delayed; IVF babies won’t be born; our progress on lifting up the tens of thousands of Australian children who live in poverty will be set back.

The future we’ll now have is worse than the future we could have had without the policy responses we have seen.

That comparison of what-we-will-have to what-we-could-have-had can be expressed in terms of quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) and wellbeing-adjusted life years (WELLBYs), and compared directly to estimates of the QALY and WELLBY costs of the COVID-19 deaths and suffering that our policies have averted.

When you make this comparison, correctly, the evidence is clear that Australia’s lockdown has been a mistake.

In hindsight, instead of reacting out of fear, our government could have understood its primary role early on to contain and reduce the population’s fear; it could have set proportionate and targeted policy, not blanket policy (eg, extreme lockdowns were not what drove the decline from peak infections in Australia: when many of the harshest measures were set, infections were already on the decline); and it could have been perennially mindful of the massive economic and hence human welfare costs implicit in any decision to stop trade, pull children out of school, or lock people away from their friends and family.

In normal times, we jump up and down and fill national airwaves about changes in GDP or unemployment rates that are an order of magnitude less than what we are seeing now. In normal times we don’t track single-digit daily death rates from any cause as a leading indicator of whether it’s safe to venture outside, knowing that hundreds of people in Australia die each day from myriad causes. In normal times we talk about striving for health not through sitting at home and avoiding other people, but by building our strength and supporting our immune systems. People today have lost their perspective on what is normal.

Travel bans and social distancing rules have drastically reduced footfalls at Australia's prime tourist destinations, and economists anticipate a telling effect of the drop in tourism on the economy.

As the costs of our decisions become more and more apparent, with time, our fear will stop controlling our minds. I hope the perspective of the public and policy-makers returns quickly, so we have a chance of handling things better if the next wave of the virus attacks again what is now one of the most immunologically unprepared high-income countries in the world: Australia.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Legal Actions Against Military Chaplains Pose Threat to Religious Freedom

The German submarine struck in the wee small hours, and despite all the precautions of its captain and crew, the USS Dorchester was hit hard and deep, and went down like a stone. The torpedo destroyed the ship’s electrical system, plunging those of the 900-plus soldiers aboard still alive into near total darkness, even before it took them down into the icy sea.

Only 230 would survive the sinking; many of them owed their lives at least in part to four chaplains who moved quickly amid the pitch-black corridors and general panic to herd them up on deck, then help them into life jackets and lifeboats. There weren’t enough of either.

When the life jackets ran out, all four of the chaplains instantly took off theirs. Though they represented four very different faiths, Methodist George Fox, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Catholic Priest John Washington, and Dutch Reformed Clark Poling made no effort to get their own last hope of survival into the hands of someone who shared their religious convictions; they just gave their jackets to the nearest outstretched hand.

None of the four tried to board one of the already overcrowded boats. They were last seen arm-in-arm, standing on the fast-tilting deck, singing hymns and praying together as the cold, dark waters of the North Atlantic rapidly rose to engulf them.

In the years after that February 1943 tragedy, the nation honored the chaplains’ sacrifice with medals and monuments, their memory paintings and books, even an official day of remembrance. But somehow, many today have lost their respect for a particularly crucial aspect of their heroism that dark night.

To Americans of the World War era, the importance of faith—and admiration for those who held to their faith even in the face of chaos, fear, and death—was a given. Not everyone was a churchgoer, of course, but most recognized the critical role people of faith and their love of religious freedom had played in the nation’s founding.

They also understood, almost intuitively, that religious liberty was the linchpin that held all other civil liberties in place. After all, if you can take away a man’s right to honor and follow his conscience, it’s short work to rob him of his freedom to speak, to gather, to bear arms.

Polls seem to indicate that Americans today don’t necessarily share that understanding with the “Greatest Generation.” And efforts outside the military to crush religious freedom indicate that faith—even in this most recent time of chaos, fear, and death—no longer enjoys the same respect … or protections.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, for example, has moved aggressively during the coronavirus quarantine to urge crackdowns on overt expressions of faith by chaplains—acting on and encouraging the complaints of servicemen and women who are undaunted by foreign adversaries but apparently deeply afraid that a military chaplain might actually share his or her faith in a military setting.

Since COVID-19 restrictions went into effect, MRFF has filed complaints against chaplains around the country who have shared video sermons on military installation webpages (a legally approved forum), persuaded Facebook to remove videos of chaplains ’prayers, and pushed for formal charges against a Korea-stationed chaplain who shared a religious book with his subordinates as a ministry tool (no chaplain was required to read, much less use, the book).

The group even demanded and received a public apology from a Christian who shared hymns and encouragement from the balcony of his military housing apartment.

Presumably, MRFF and the military personnel it represents would want members of the military and their families to find comfort, strength, and hope during these difficult days of world pandemic—they just don’t want those encouragements coming from God, or from those who take God seriously.

Clearly, these activists have little appreciation for the critical role chaplains have long played in ministering to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the men and women of our armed forces. One almost wonders if, offered a lifejacket that night when the Dorchester went down, they’d have felt duty-bound to reject it as some unseemly expression of those chaplains’ faith. Or held out until some worthy atheist was willing to part with his.

These anti-Christian accusations by the MRFF are not only unjust to today’s military chaplains—they present an unworthy response to the legacy of the many courageous and conscientious chaplains who have served our military across the centuries … and reveal a sad contempt for America’s rich heritage of religious freedom.


Is this Really a Post-Liberal Era?

Even before the COVID-19 virus swept round the world, there was a growing chorus of voices declaring that the world was shifting from one political era to another and that in particular we were moving into a post-liberal era. The term ‘post-liberal’ began to spread as both a description and a self-identified label. These kinds of claims have become even more widespread as the pandemic and government responses to it have dominated the headlines.

There is a widespread, and understandable, feeling that an event of such magnitude marks some kind of dividing line or turning point.

What is interesting is the number of people who think that turn is from a liberal era of politics to a post-liberal one, in which, presumably, liberal ideas and policies are part of what is left behind. This doesn’t necessarily follow from the perception that the pandemic is some kind of watershed – why not a move to some other kind of future? It derives therefore from a feeling about the dominant features of the recent past and a growing perception of what the experience of the pandemic reveals.

In some sense the argument is correct but we need to understand how it is correct (because that sense is limited and specific). Liberals of all types should not despair and feel they are like Sir Edward Grey watching the lights of liberal civilisation go out all over Europe: if they understand better where we are then the new state of affairs could end up being an improvement over the way they have been for the last two to three decades.

What though does this glib phrase post-liberal actually mean? If we unwrap the term it has two implications or wider meanings. Firstly, the ‘post’ prefix implies that we have been in a liberal era, one in which liberal ideas and policies were dominant. This is a widespread view on the political left and also among a certain kind of conservative or right-wing thinker.

These very different people all believe that public debate and policy has been dominated by specifically liberal (or more narrowly ‘neoliberal’) ideas such as free markets, globalism and open borders, cultural and intellectual individualism, and limited government. One such person has gone so far as to claim that Ludwig von Mises has been the most influential economist of the last forty years.

Secondly, the term suggests that we have left this liberal dominated world behind us and are moving into a different one where non-liberal ideas will dominate public debate, without it necessarily being an anti-liberal world. The idea is that some of the legacy of the liberal period will survive. This kind of perspective is exactly the one that began to appear before that fateful Summer of 1914 and which became almost a commonplace in the years after the War.

The first of these meanings will provoke grim amusement among many classical liberals and individualists. In fact, the idea that we have been living through decades when public argument and policy were dominated by ideas of free markets, limited government, and individualism will provoke hysterical laughter from many. If only this were true, they will say.

However this is partly a matter of where one stands: a socialist or conservative will be more impressed by how far things have indeed moved in a liberal direction (or, more importantly, what they see as a liberal direction) whereas a liberal will be more struck by movement in the opposite direction or by how limited any movement that has taken place has been. In this context, as always, it helps to have historical perspective.

What this tells us is that the critics of liberalism have a point: over the longer term of several decades there has been a movement in a liberal direction, in several senses of that word. In particular there has been a decline in the coherence and influence of clearly non- or anti-liberal ways of thinking and acting. This is not merely or even primarily a matter of politics. In the more recent past, the last thirty years to be precise, that movement has taken a form that many liberals of all types are uncomfortable with, which is another reason why they do not recognise the picture painted by their critics.

In the longer term it makes sense to look back to the later 1940s. At that point liberalism of all kinds was at a low ebb and this remained the case for some time thereafter. Even though fascism (and indirectly, reactionary conservatism) had been defeated in World War II, anti-liberal ideas were still widespread and influential. In both the US and the UK there was a tense political and intellectual contest over whether to retain the extensive state controls that were put in place during the war and the outcome was in doubt for some time.

More obviously there was still a global threat from explicitly anti-liberal ideas, backed up by armed force. The big case was international communism, in the shape of the USSR and its foreign supporters but there was also the revolutionary nationalism that had captured many anti-colonial movements during the interwar years. There was also traditional despotism in places like Latin America and the Middle East, which the liberal West tolerated or even supported for geopolitical reasons. Even in the democratic nations liberals, both classical and revisionist, were very much a minority.

Democratic politics (which accepted and built on the achievements of nineteenth century liberalism) was dominated by traditions that had emerged during the crisis of classical liberalism at the end of the nineteenth century; democratic conservatism or Christian democracy on the right, social democracy on the left. At that point both of those traditions were non-liberal in their philosophy and much of their policy. Liberals had no choice but to make alliances of convenience with one or both of these traditions.

From the mid-1960s onwards these efforts, and the intellectual work of scholars, were partly successful. To simplify what was a complex process, classical or free market liberals persuaded democratic conservatives to move towards economic liberalism while both types of liberal succeeded in pushing social democrats towards social liberalism. (We often forget that before the 1960s or 1970s social democrats and labor movements were very socially conservative, as much if not more so than actual conservatives).

Later on, after 1990, there was some success in persuading a few conservatives of the good side of social liberalism and some social democrats of the benefits of economic liberty. In this sense the people mentioned earlier are correct; there was a movement towards liberalism in the years after 1970 and liberal ideas and policies did spread.

However, this does need to be heavily qualified. While the right became economically liberal and the left socially liberal, neither side bought into the entire liberal package or its underlying principles. Although liberal ideas and some of their policy applications had become more influential, liberalism as such had not. What emerged instead was a curious kind of hybrid.

In 1989-90 the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed. China, while remaining a despotic state ruled by a ruthless oligarchy, was already no longer communist in a meaningful sense. At this point it seemed that liberal ideas of various varieties were triumphant. They had taken over the main democratic ideologies and now the other great anti-liberal force of the twentieth century had perished. It is the thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall that the critics are truly thinking of when they declare that we have lived through an era of liberalism (neo or otherwise) that we are now leaving behind us.

It seemed as though there was no other ideology left standing, as Francis Fukuyama famously declared. And yet, as already intimated, this supposed triumph was negative rather than positive. It was not that liberal ideas were now consciously and openly held and dominant. Rather it was that explicitly and openly anti-liberal ones had been discredited.

What happened therefore was the adoption of liberal policies in some areas but as a matter of technique or supposedly impartial expertise rather than as the consequence and expression of an actual philosophy. So far as the dominant politics of the last thirty years can be said to have a philosophy behind it, it is best described as technocratic managerialism, a belief in the ability of applied knowledge to devise the best way of organising economic and social life and, increasingly, private life as well.

This found expression in two kinds of public policy that the critics now deprecate. The first was a political economy that while apparently pro-market saw market relations as something that was created and sustained by a technocratic state and expert economists, instead of being something that emerged from what people did when they were left alone. In concrete terms this increasingly meant an economy that was organised and run to favour specific interests; in class terms those of a managerial class defined by professional certification, in institutional ones a network of large firms above all ones involved in finance.

A central part of this was an increasingly deranged monetary policy that, like an insidious drug, began to have cumulatively damaging effects on the economic fabric. The second was a social policy that promoted a kind of social and cultural individualism but one removed from concrete social relations and responsibilities. This went along with an expansion of state welfare and income transfers, for reasons that combined egalitarianism with individualism.

The central fact was that there were no more consistent and self-aware liberals, of either variety, than there had been in the early 1960s, even if their ideas had a wider hearing. Moreover, the core beliefs had lost something of their coherent identity and had become as much a matter of technique as principle. This kind of technocratic politics could not survive indefinitely, because it begged a whole series of foundational questions (in the correct sense of that expression).

Slowly, non-liberal or explicitly anti-liberal ideas and philosophies came back together and found new expression. On the right this has taken several forms; a revival of traditional reactionary conservatism (particularly in Europe but also in the Anglosphere), the appearance of an overtly anti-liberal form of religious thought; and the appearance in electoral politics of a politics that combines nationalism and economic dirigisme with hostility to cosmopolitanism and social liberalism.

On the left there are two tendencies that are increasingly in bitter conflict with each other as well as with both actual liberal ideas and the current style of politics. The first is a revival of classical socialism and even Marxism, as found in publications such as Jacobin magazine. The second is what is commonly described as the Social Justice Warrior left, a kind of politics that derives ultimately from post-modernism and combines a radically subjectivist idea of identity with a tribalistic notion of social life and a highly intolerant view of public discourse.

All of these are self-consciously opposed to the status quo, which they see as an expression of liberalism, and to liberal ideas in a more profound sense. They are also increasingly politically successful, even before the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it has triggered.

This looks like a bad situation and in some ways it is: but, it may well trigger a beneficial response. The situation and experience of liberals in the post-War world led to an attenuation of their ideas and identity, even as their influence increased in some ways. The present position means that liberals in general and classical liberals in particular have to rediscover their foundational principles (which should not be conflated with a particular kind of policy perspective) and to become more aware of their own distinctive philosophical and ideological identity.

When confronted by explicitly anti-liberal politics the only way forward is to give a comprehensively liberal response. This will mean three things: a rearticulation of core or essential liberal ideas and values, such as that of personal autonomy and a strictly limited sphere of politics (which is more than small government); a concern with and exploration of the whole range of liberal thought on a wide range of questions, rather than a narrow fixation on one area or discipline; and a coming together of the divided parts of the liberal tradition, that agree on the fundamentals but disagree on one area (such as economics).

Political identities and traditions are often formed in response to a challenge by their opposite. After 1945 that opposite for liberals came from one location, which led to a series of tactical alliances. Faced now with anti-liberal assaults from several directions we much hope that a coherent liberal identity re-emerges in response. If that happens then we have clearer and more definitely liberal thought and action in the supposedly post-liberal era than we actually had before.


Israeli Annexation May Give Palestinians the Push They Need

Jeff Jacoby
Sometime this summer, Israel’s new government — a broad left-right unity coalition — may move ahead with plans to formally annex about 30 percent of the West Bank, applying Israeli civilian law to the Jordan Valley and to Jewish settlements established after 1967, when Israel seized the territory in the Six-Day War. It has formally been under military occupation ever since, while its permanent status has been up for negotiation.

While Israel will act only if it gets a green light from the United States, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has signaled that the Trump administration will not object. “That’s an Israeli decision,” Pompeo said last month. “And we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in [a] private setting.”

Within Israel’s government, there is a solid consensus in favor of annexation. But much of the world has reacted to the prospect with condemnation.

On Tuesday, the French government warned Israel that any move to extend its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank would damage relations with the European Union. The German government and the Palestinian Authority issued a joint statement calling annexation a “clear violation of international law” that would “seriously undermine” the likelihood of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, angrily declared (not for the first time) that he would abrogate all agreements made with Israel and the United States. There were denunciations from Russian and Vatican diplomats. Jordan’s King Abdullah II predicted a “massive conflict” if Israel goes ahead with annexation.

In the United States, Democratic voices joined the chorus of opposition. “I do not support annexation,” former Vice President Joe Biden told participants in an online fundraiser. Three Democratic senators circulated a letter avowing that annexation “would fray our unique bonds, imperil Israel’s future, and place out of reach the prospect of a lasting peace.” More than 30 former Democratic foreign policy officials called for adding language criticizing Israel and supporting Palestinian rights in the 2020 Democratic Party platform.

Faced with such antagonism, wouldn’t Israel be better off shelving the whole annexation idea?


For all the fulminating about the threat annexation poses to a “two-state solution,” the scenario being contemplated by Israel would not prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. None of the territory currently administered by the Palestinian Authority would be annexed, nor any Palestinian population center. The purpose of annexation is to extend Israeli sovereignty to existing Jewish communities that have long been seen as destined to remain part of Israel in any peace deal. That would still leave more than two-thirds of the West Bank, plus all of Gaza, for a sovereign Palestinian state.

But statehood has never been the goal of the Palestinian movement. Time and again, Palestinian leaders have been offered a “two-state solution.” Time and again they have said no. In 2000, Israel was willing to recognize a sovereign Palestinian state in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza, plus shared control of Jerusalem, only to be spurned by Yasser Arafat. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert repeated the offer to Abbas in 2008; he too was turned down. Not even Barack Obama, the most Palestinian-friendly president ever, could elicit a “yes” from the Palestinian Authority.

The root of the conflict has never been land; it has always been the refusal of Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state. That is why the “land for peace” strategy repeatedly failed. Unlike Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, who was prepared to accept Israel’s existence in exchange for the return of the Sinai Peninsula, Palestinian leaders have steadfastly insisted that the land “from the river to the sea” must be cleansed of Jews. Israel’s comprehensive withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 — when every settlement was dismantled and the entire territory turned over to Palestinian control — led not to peace, as so many expected, but to increased violence.

By contrast, the conflict tends to recede when Israel asserts its own sovereignty. There was international condemnation when Israel annexed the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, but the controversy faded without more bloodshed. There was outrage when the US embassy in Israel was moved to Jerusalem two years ago, but that storm abated too. Indeed, Biden has said that if he is elected, the embassy will stay where it is.

The most significant development in Israel’s relations with its neighbors in recent years has been the dramatic rise in cooperation with the Sunni Arab countries: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates. Those warming ties, which stem from antipathy to Iran and its menacing “Shia Crescent,” have not been derailed by Israel’s unresolved friction with the Palestinians. There is no reason to expect annexation, if it happens, to change that. Almost as if to underscore the point, Etihad Airways on Tuesday flew its first direct commercial flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv. There may be pro forma rebukes from the Arab League. But Israel’s Arab friends won’t go to the mat to support Palestinian intransigence.

Extending Israeli sovereignty to a small part of the West Bank not inhabited by Palestinians won’t change anything on the ground. But maybe, just maybe, it can jolt Abbas and the Palestinian Authority into recognizing that their adamant refusal to compromise is getting them nowhere.

“Annexation can be seen as a step towards ending the deadlock between the parties,” argues Gregg Roman, director of the Middle East Forum, in The Hill. By demonstrating in concrete terms that rejectionism has consequences, annexation might persuade Palestinian leaders that time is not on their side. Granted, it’s a long shot. But Israel has little to lose by taking it. There will be a hullabaloo, but it will pass.


Advertisements need more scutiny for false information

Misinformation, hoaxes, and fake cures have run rampant on social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Will new measures be enough?
It is a rare moment in history when you can say with absolute certainty that tomorrow will be a great day.

But this tomorrow most certainly will be. The nation’s first and largest state – Australia’s birthplace of public education – is reopening all schools to all students.

It is a great day for society, for the economy and most importantly it is a great day for our kids. Education is the best antidote to poverty and disadvantage and the greatest gift we can give our children.

And so how did the most vital role of society – that of raising and educating its next generation – get arbitrarily shut down or suspended on the basis of no hard evidence nor top-level medical advice.

How is panic and fake information spreading so far and wide? How do we have supposedly educated people demanding the shutdown of educational institutions with no evidence to support it? And how do we have genuine concerns about the impact of such shutdowns likewise overtaken by lunatics who believe coronavirus is a myth altogether? Or caused by the 5G network? Or a conspiracy engineered by Bill Gates?

A clue to this lies in a cunning little experiment undertaken by a canny little think tank called Responsible Technology Australia (RTA), which was recently established out of concern that perhaps internet and social media giants aren’t quite as responsible and righteous as they pretend to be.

The test case was the online megalopolis Facebook, which despite its mission statement of “bringing the world closer together”, has been infamously exposed for peddling fake news stories deliberately designed to sow division.

After this came to light, a supposedly chastened Facebook claimed that it would move heaven and earth to stop the spread of false and dangerous information, just like a good global citizen should.

Only this week Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the BBC “we don't want misinformation to be the content that is going viral” and that Facebook had and would remove any content likely to result in “immediate and imminent harm” when it came to COVID-19 conspiracies.

And that’s great to hear. The only problem is it hasn’t and it didn’t.

To prove this, the people at Responsible Technology Australia set up a Facebook page called “Ozzie News Network” and then set about posting the most dangerous misinformation they could think of.

These included:

*  COVID-19 pandemic “advice” ads urging users to turn off their 5G, drink more water and get 30 minutes of daily sunshine

*  Saying the Australia-Indonesia free trade agreement was just a front to allow mass migration from Jakarta

*  Telling 18-year-olds not to bother to enrol to vote

*  Saying that the new 5G network will allow the Australian police to spy on you through your phone

*  Telling people the AEC has assessed they live in a safe electorate and therefore shouldn’t bother voting

These posts perpetuated obvious lies and misinformation posing as official advice. At worst they encouraged people to risk their lives and break the law. And the kicker is that they were posted as ads that Facebook both reviewed and approved.

There is absolutely no way on earth they would ever have been allowed to run in a responsible mainstream media outlet. Not News Corp, not Nine; nor Ten nor Seven nor anywhere with a pair of human eyes.

But still, a global giant like Facebook with billions of users could hardly be expected to notice everything that was posted on its millions of pages. Surely once it was brought to their attention the ads would be removed, right?

Wrong. Even after the group reported their own ads to Facebook for fake and dangerous misinformation they were still not taken down.

“No traditional publisher or broadcaster would ever run ads like this,” RTA’s executive director Chris Cooper told

“But not only did Facebook review and approve them, even when we repeatedly reported them as misinformation they were never taken down.”

Yes, even after RTA did Facebook’s job for it and flagged the fake ads, still no action was taken – even though anyone following their advice could be putting themselves at risk. So much so that the group deliberately targeted the ads to an audience which had already been informed they were fake and consented to receiving them to ensure they did not inadvertently spread dangerous information themselves.

“Our fake ads deliberately play on people's fears in ways we know are typical,” Cooper says.

“This experiment proves just how easy it is to spread fake news on Facebook, and it would be easier still for an experienced malicious foreign actor.”

The posts were finally removed only after approached Facebook for comment. The company confirmed they violated its policy.

“We’re aggressively going after misinformation about COVID-19 and have teams across the company dedicated to this effort,” a spokesperson said.

“We’ve applied warning labels to millions of pieces of misinformation and remove content that could lead to imminent harm.”

But the fact they were able to be posted in the first place, were spread for so long and were not removed even after being reported should send a chill down the spine of anyone who still believes in facts or whatever the world has left of reality.

We have social media giants policing opinions while publishing obviously false information for the sake of a few bucks. And all the while using the journalism of real news organisations to cannibalise the advertising revenue that allows real journalism to survive.

This is the perfect petri dish for fake news. An Essential poll this week found one in eight Australians believed Bill Gates was somehow responsible for the coronavirus and it was being spread by the 5G network.

The corona crisis has already shown that even argument among politicians and experts can produce catastrophic results for both lives and livelihoods. Adding endless idiotic opinions to the mix makes things far worse, yet for anyone who believes in free speech it is a necessary evil.

But peddling false facts for cash is another level of devilry altogether, especially when you are pretending to be on the side of the angels.

Facebook and other social media titans have already helped forge a wild new world where facts are determined by sentiment instead of science and reality is a matter of opinion. The result has been a decade riven by extremes: Crazed conspiracy theories, right-wing populism and left-wing socialist fantasies.

The chaos they have fuelled on global issues ranging from coronavirus to climate change is often quite literally a matter of life and death. Surely they have profited from it enough without pocketing every last cent from dangerous and dodgy propaganda – not to mention the pontification they serve up for free.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Liberals Don’t Believe They’re Capable Of Doing Anything Wrong

One thing you notice when having a conversation with a committed liberal is you’d have a more productive and honest discussion with a shoe. An old, worn-out shoe. Normally, this phenomenon could be chalked up to ignorance – stupid people are, well, stupid. But many of these people are not stupid, at least not in the traditional sense. It’s arrogance, a kind of arrogance that can only come from indifference to anything contrary to what they want.

You see this manifest itself in reaction to the reaction to the documents exposing how the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign. You also see it in the glee from leftists whenever they have the opportunity to report bad news about Hydroxychloroquine. And we saw it again Friday when Joe Biden casually dropped a racist comment in a radio interview. None of these people honestly believe they are capable of doing anything wrong because progressives don’t believe anything can be wrong when they do it in the name of their agenda.

Lying isn’t wrong if it’s done in the cause of righteousness. Theft isn’t wrong if it’s done for altruistic purposes. Murder isn’t wrong if it’s a bad person killed. Taken to their logical extremes you get the horrors of fascism and communism, but these people refuse to see that. One person, or a few people, even a lot of people, harmed in the name of the “greater good” is not a tragedy. It’s a statistic.
CARTOONS | Tom Stiglich
View Cartoon

General Michael Flynn’s rights were trampled, his life destroyed, and he only agreed to plead guilty after financial ruin and the threat/promise of the same being brought upon his son, but so what? He worked for Donald Trump, and Donald Trump is bad. Anything done in opposition to “bad” is inherently good, or so the logic goes.

What do the civil rights of one man matter, or many people working on a campaign matter, when the campaign is for someone they view as the new Hitler?

Of course, using fascistic tactics to combat perceived fascism is the basis of ANTIFA, the enforcement wing of the Democratic Party. The concept behind those tactics are now the norm for the party as a whole.

Barack Obama is exposed as, at a minimum, completely aware of the spying. Obama was informed by the people who knew there was absolutely nothing to the collusion lie, but Obama justifies it because it’s Donald Trump. Donald Trump has to be bad. Trump supports positions opposite Democrats, and Democrats are all good. Anything is justified.

I’ve personally seen people gleefully greet unfavorable studies about Hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 as something to be grateful for. Why? Do they want people to die? No. But that’s the result.

There are more studies and anecdotal stories of Hydroxychloroquine helping than hurting, but those don’t make the social media feeds or leave the lips of these people. Many may not even be aware of their ghoulish behavior and hypocrisy, too satisfied in the warmth of what they view as a political victory, but it is gross. Somewhere out there, people whose lives could be improved or saved by Hydroxychloroquine will refuse to take it because of the enthusiasm with which the “dangers” of the drug are reported. They don’t care.

Then there’s Joe Biden. The senile, presumptive Democratic nominee said Friday, “If you’ve got a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or for Trump, then you ain’t black.” Democrats went from feeling entitled to own black people to feeling entitled to own the votes of black people.

When Biden said out loud what Democrats whispered to each other for decades, people were rightly disgusted. But he’s their candidate, so the left scrambled to justify and explain away his words. New York Times “Journalist” and 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones tweeted, “There is a difference between being politically black and being racially black. I am not defending anyone, but we all know this and should stop pretending that we don’t.” She seems like she’d be a lot of fun at parties, doesn’t she?

At the Washington Post, two quick attempts to keep everyone from acknowledging the obvious were made. The first was by Jonathan Capehart, who cartwheeled his way through a piece insisting Biden’s racism “was clearly a joke.” He spends a lot of time picking out quotes and giving them new context, making him the only joke in the whole ordeal.

Then the Post’s Paul Waldman took his bite at the apple with, “How to think about Joe Biden’s gaffes.” Waldman absolves Joe by declaring he is “sometimes captured by problematic assumptions and ways of speaking that used to be much more acceptable among white people than they are now.” In 1992, Ross Perot was attacked as racist for saying “you people” to a crowd that happened to be black, but Biden’s long history of racist comments are simply his inability to adapt to acceptable speech he and his party have been leading the fight to create over 30 years?
Does This CDC Study Deliver the Knockout Blow in the COVID Lockdown Debate?
Matt Vespa

Their defense is “he’s not racist, he’s old and out of touch.” That shows just how bad it is when that’s their best option.

Joe refused to apologize – why should he, in Democratic Party politics, he wasn’t lying – but he did “walk back” the comment (which is decidedly NOT an apology), calling it “cavalier,” adding he “shouldn’t have been such a wise guy.” He honestly believes the only thing he did wrong was saying it out loud in public because I guarantee you it’s said regularly in liberal political circles in private while laughing. You can be that “cavalier” when you know the entirety of the left-wing media industrial complex will snap to attention and defend you, and he was right. By Monday, it will be as if he didn’t say it, just like right now it’s as if he wasn’t accused of sexual assault by a former staffer with a lot of contemporaneous supporting evidence to back her up.

It’s good to be a Democrat if you don’t mind being a hypocrite and having to live with yourself.

Deep down, none of these people think they really did anything wrong, or that they’re capable of doing anything wrong. There is no wrong that can be done in pursuit of what they view as right. That’s what allows them to ignore their truly awful history, and it’s what emboldens them now. You’d have a more honest conversation with an old shoe than a liberal; at least an old shoe doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. And in all cases, it smells a lot better than what liberals are shoveling.


Why Jordan Peterson Is Worth Defending

Cultural upheavals have been known to swell and crash like waves. Although their popularity may rise and fall with the times, the underlying conditions that allowed them to flourish (and their ripple effects in society) run deeper than undulating political trends. Examining why certain ideas gain momentum at a given historical moment is crucial in mapping our present course; otherwise, the ocean of our collective unconscious remains an uncharted and treacherous mystery.

Jordan B. Peterson was a psychology professor at the University of Toronto when he skyrocketed to intellectual stardom after taking a widely publicized stance against the rise of politically correct culture and social justice ideology on campus. Although his original concern was propelled by the specter of Bill C-16, which added gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, his protest was part of a broadening resistance to the excesses of the cultural Left. These excesses of the cultural Left include an emphasis on privilege, structural bias, identity and historical oppression, which have increasingly seeped into our institutions and set the boundaries for polite discourse. Resistance to this narrative and the norms it has promulgated was building up for years, but the expansion of online progressive activism, precipitated by the widespread use of social media, unleashed a massive counter-reaction across the West.

As his notoriety catapulted online, Peterson became a spokesperson for the burgeoning anti-woke crowd known as the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW), a diverse medley of individuals with various political persuasions united in their disdain for identitarian extremism on both ends of the aisle. As such, Peterson used his platform to expound a message of personal responsibility and spiritual renewal for a world at a loss for meaning.

But with notoriety comes droves of untold pressure. His rise was met with a deluge of hard-hitting interviews and hit pieces from mainstream media outlets, some rendered in good faith but the vast majority resembling character assassinations meant to shame and discredit. It is not difficult to see why Peterson was considered a threat: He was challenging the very basis of received wisdom on major cultural issues, not just in terms of prevailing ideas and attitudes but with regards to the entire moral identity that underlied them. He was effectively saying to establishment journalists, academics, and pundits who otherwise imagine themselves as being on the right side of history, “You are not so innocent.”

The backlash to this indictment showed through in number of well-documented skirmishes, including the infamous Cathy Newman Channel 4 interview, a 2018 Munk Debate in which race writer Michael Eric Dyson called Peterson “a mean mad white man,” and a GQ interview with Atlantic writer Helen Lewis, which constituted nearly 2 hours of accusational “gotcha” questions. Of course, not all of the pushback was entirely unwarranted; controversial figures should be scrutinized by our cultural gatekeepers, if only to see what all the fuss is about. Yet, the sheer volume of scorn went beyond mere scrutiny. His ascendence was received as a menace.

But the initial zeal Peterson carried into the culture wars eventually began to wear thin. In his last few televised appearances, he looked visibly worn, with his arguments lacking the authentic spontaneity and charisma of his earlier debates. The highly anticipated clash with Slavoj Žižek was disappointing at best, with Peterson coming off rather anemic and polemically out of his depth. In a bizarre turn, it was revealed he had barely read any Marx at all, the thinker whose ideology he had been excoriating very publicly for years.

And then in February, it was reported by his daughter, Mikhaila, that Peterson had checked into a Russian hospital (of all places) to treat a benzodiazepine (an anti-anxiety medication) dependence and had nearly died from a severe case of pneumonia while spending four weeks in intensive care. After raising the dosage during his wife, Tammy’s, cancer scare, the effects of the medication backfired, resulting in heightened physiological distress and suicidal thoughts. Although Peterson’s condition is now stable enough for him to have recently left Russia for the United States, he has yet to do any public appearances, and much still hangs in the balance.

With Peterson’s waning magnetism and subsequent withdrawal from public discourse, the energy and momentum behind his rise has receded.

A number of scathing critiques have arisen of Peterson, most notably from the democratic socialist Left, who might otherwise be sympathetic to condemnations of elitist identity politics. Of course, criticism of Peterson is nothing out of the ordinary. But what’s significant is that—in contrast to the expected epithets hurled from the social justice crowd—these critiques directly address his actual arguments.

In this telling, Peterson had always been a receptacle for reactionary sentiment, taking advantage of the low-hanging fruit of campus overindulgence (epitomized by the archetypal image of screeching blue-haired feminists) to ultimately score partisan points for the Right. Moreover, the professed principles of self-determination expounded in his lecture series and best-selling book 12 Rules For Life are effectively a defense of the status quo in the form of unfettered capitalism, exposing his inability to recognize the socio-economic root causes of the human suffering he sought to ameliorate. More broadly, the incoherent anti-polarization message of Intellectual Dark Web members masked their own respective biases or, otherwise, reflected a glaring naïveté of how politics works and a misplaced self-congratulation for their faux dissent. The exhaustion of the Peterson phenomenon, according to this view, is a result of the embedded contradictions and fallacies in his positions rather than either the unrelenting attacks and pressure involved in becoming an international sensation virtually overnight.

These contradictions were sharply summarized in a recent essay for the socialist magazine Jacobin by former Quillette contributors Ben Burgis and Matt McManus, quaintly entitled “Why Jordan Peterson Is Always Wrong,” a preview of their recently released book in critique of Peterson. The piece makes three basic points:

Peterson’s preferred ideological boogeyman of “postmodern neo-Marxism,” a fusion of communist ideals and deconstructionism a la Jacques Derrida, which pursues equality of outcome above all and derides the West as a vast system of oppression, is a serious misreading of these doctrines’ historical context and draws a false equivalency between healthier expressions of the modern Left and outright Stalinism.

Peterson strawmans the Left in asserting that its purveyors want to eliminate any and all hierarchy rather than simply mitigate the overreach of traditional hierarchies in accordance with modern sensibilities of fairness, succumbing to an unrealistic bootstrapping absolutism and rugged individualism that would have effectively nullified any historical demand for greater equality such as with abolitionism or civil rights. 

Peterson fails to take into consideration the uprooting effects of capitalism in breaking down traditional moral values and civic engagement, choosing rather to excoriate young people for their lack of gratitude and blame esoteric philosophers for our present crisis in meaning.
These arguments form an appropriate launching pad for a response.

It is quite true that Peterson A) overstates his case in respect to the historical efficacy of “postmodern neo-Marxism” B) that he has the tendency to paint with a broad brush in his analysis of Left that might lead to sweeping and reflexive dismissals C) and that he downplays the role of capitalism in our cultural entropy.

There are quibbles to be made of each point, such as that A) extreme forms of progressive activism can mirror certain totalitarian features of statism in its all-encompassing pursuit of racial/gender parity B) the Left’s inability to restrain its radical fringe contributes to the stigma of Leftism itself being problematic and C) the net benefits of capitalism in terms of general life outcomes is not necessarily in contradiction with its propensity to upend traditional modes of meaning (it can be both/and). But there is a stronger case to be made as to why none of this particularly matters in relation to Peterson’s larger message and impact, despite whatever limitations he may have had as a messenger.

The energy behind a movement does not go away when its coherence dissolves. It may disperse or remain dormant, but it will eventually be redirected in more or less productive ways. The disciplines of individual self-determination and personal development Peterson articulated offered a path toward releasing interpersonal bitterness through building a culture of responsibility: a reaction to the widening chasm between emergent impulses arising bottom-up from experience and the moral properties enforced top-down by our institutions. Although it tends to escape the solely politically-minded among us, Peterson’s message was fundamentally moral, cultural, and psychological—a repudiation of progressive guilt and the entrenched need to create an identity as against historical sin. Recognizing one’s relative privileges and feeling responsible for spreading them to more people is one thing but ritualistically sermonizing on a society’s past errors and stigmatizing anyone who questions its utility is another thing entirely. A reasonable Left would reject the latter outright.

A distinction needs to be made here between economic Leftism and the cultural Left. The former involves ideas of wealth redistribution and broad-based social programs based on principles of equality, fairness, and universal dignity to mitigate suffering. The latter is about retribution for historical injustices and leveling inequalities between groups. Put bluntly, cultural Leftism is vastly less popular, with 80% of Americans reporting an aversion to political correctness in the Hidden Tribes, because it operates through repression and moralization. Economic Leftism, however one feels about it’s tenets and purveyors, is more pragmatic as it does not require mind-reading accusations and unfalsifiable theories to pursue its ends. The prospect that Peterson and the IDW did not draw a clear enough line between them does not justify their critics doing the same.

 Finally, the forces that laid the groundwork for Peterson’s rise have not vanished in his absence. The progressive bias in our cultural institutions remains stark and has been met with an increasingly reactive and reactionary Right. The ever-expanding definition of the racist/sexist epithets is occurring at the same moment that the demographic makeup of the country is rapidly changing and men, in particular, are falling behind on a number of important socio-economic metrics. This lends credence to far-right movements, which will only grow stronger with time and change. The decline of religion in the West and the explosion of digital technology has opened up a vacuum of purpose and identity that is not being filled by modern culture. And, in the midst of it all, a Canadian psychologist told people to clean their rooms before trying to change the world and has not ceased to be excoriated for his efforts years later. History will be kinder to him than his opponents.

On a more personal note, as a young man with a quite severe chronic illness I can say with full confidence that Peterson has positively influenced my life through his teachings. And contrary to what Peterson critics often think about his supporters, I somehow never managed to fall down a far-right rabbit hole online. For those unconvinced that Peterson’s appeal was anything other than political, consider some videos I spliced of Peterson on my YouTube channel which have racked up millions of views and decide for yourself.


The real scandal about illegal immigration into Britain is the collusion of the French Navy

Nigel Farage

There is a scandal that has been known about for a long time among seaside communities but which, until now, has never been filmed or broadcast to the British public. I refer to the arrival of illegal immigrants in British waters with the active participation of the French Navy.

Over the last few weeks, I have been doing my best to expose the rapid rise in illegal immigrants entering Britain via small boats in the English Channel. Since lockdown began on 23 March, at least 1,085 people have been picked up, according to official figures. These are just the cases that are known about.

Having witnessed such a French Navy-assisted crossing myself this week, I feel qualified to predict that if this influx is not tackled, thousands more will come over the summer. It is important to be clear from the outset: the vast majority of the people choosing this route into our country are young men and economic migrants. They are not refugees. It is as if a sign has been hung on the White Cliffs of Dover that reads: “Everyone welcome.”...


Australia: ‘Audiences are sick of being told they’re horrible’

When David Williamson was starting out as a playwright with his satirical dissections of the 1970s in Don’s Party and The ­Department, Australia’s cultural elites were the people he calls the “first-nighters”. They were from the wealthier suburbs, the silvertails and socialites, effectively being paid by the government to attend premieres at the opera and the ballet.

“We thought they were the real elitists because they were being subsidised about $150 a ticket,” Williamson says.

“The most affluent section of our society was being paid the most to see, to us, elitist art forms. The elitism wasn’t contemporary work. It was the opera and ballet, and I think it still is.”

Today’s culturally privileged are not only the rich but also the poorer citizens who work as ­actors, comedians, directors, ­authors, songwriters, filmmakers, painters and curators. They are members of the creative class who hold a mirror to contemporary Australia and tell us what they see. Williamson knows they can rub people the wrong way.

“I do think that some middle-class audiences at the theatre are finding it a little tiresome to get yet another play from yet another minority group, that tells them that they are unconscionable, and beats them about the head, and tells them that they have caused great problems for minority groups,” he says. “I’m sure there is a bit of that. Some sections of the audience are sick of being told they’re horrible.”

A study released this week by Canberra think tank A New ­Approach also highlights the divide in Australia’s cultural life. The authors wanted to hear what “middle Australians” had to say about the arts, and held focus groups with 56 men and women from the suburbs of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Townsville. The groups comprised swinging ­voters who worked in offices, trades and other jobs.

In general, they have a very positive attitude about Australian culture, especially activities that inspire the imagination and involve them in their communities. But they showed little interest in the “high arts” that are too ­expensive, too hard to get to, and not to their taste.

“I am not a big fan of the ballet. I have seen it advertised a lot recently — yeah, not really my thing,” said a man from Brisbane. A Sydney woman told the focus group: “Opera, because of how expensive it is, I don’t think it is easily accessible for everyone. And if you haven’t been exposed to that sort of music you might not enjoy it.”

In recent months, the creative class has taken a great deal of interest in what the rest of Australia thinks. The coronavirus lockdown has devastated the arts and cultural sector, shutting down untold exhibitions and performances and locking thousands out of their livelihoods. Opera Australia, the nation’s biggest and busiest ­performing arts company, has cancelled 570 performances to date, costing $70m. Losses across the performing arts will likely ­exceed $540m, not counting screen production, galleries, museums, book publishers and other cultural businesses.

State and local governments have, to varying degrees, held out a lifeline to the arts and culture sector, which will take months if not years to recover. But support from the federal government has been but a blip in total stimulus spending: just $27m for especially ­vulnerable groups. While Arts Minister Paul Fletcher says “billions” of JobKeeper dollars will flow to those in the arts and creative industries, many are not eligible because they work for government organisations or are employed on short-term contracts. Appeals to broaden the JobKeeper eligibility criteria ­appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Just why the arts have been ignored is causing significant anguish and not a little soul-searching. Broadly, the problems can be identified as a failure to effectively communicate the value of the arts; a disconnect between the elite arts and the general community’s idea of culture; and a ­difference in values between the progressive creative class and the conservative government.

Arts and culture are big business in Australia when you include film and television drama, publishing, live and recorded music, galleries, museums, dance and drama teachers, the professional performing arts and other activities. The government’s Bureau of Communications and Arts Research puts the value of cultural and creative activity at $111.7bn a year, although that ­figure includes creative industries such as fashion, media and information technology.

Taken alone, the creative arts contribute $14.7bn to the economy and employ 193,000 people, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. As an employer, the arts is bigger than finance, accommodation and coalmining, but many people don’t recognise its significance. In a report released this week, the Australia Institute found that 68 per cent of people underestimate the size of the creative workforce compared with coalmining. It’s an indication, says research director Rod Campbell, that people don’t recognise art and culture as an economically dynamic industry and one that employs tens of thousands of Australians.

A second challenge for the arts is to shake off the elitist tag and connect meaningfully with people beyond a rusted-on audience. One approach has been to widen the frame of reference by giving a boost to artists from different cultural backgrounds.

This is the policy of the federal government’s arts agency, the Australia Council. Its corporate plan sets out strategies to increase the visibility of people from cultural minorities, with particular emphasis on celebrating indigenous artists.

The intention is to give fuller expression to the many different voices and perspectives that make up our nation. One of the findings of the New Approach study is that people value those diverse cultural experiences. But a constant emphasis on minorities or identity politics also risks alienating the mainstream, leading to those familiar accusations of cultural elitism and political correctness.

“Very good at preaching to the converted, not so good at talking to nonbelievers,” is theatre director Sam Strong’s diagnosis of the malaise in the arts sector. But he believes that art is also the way to reach across the cultural divide. Strong recently directed Williamson’s Emerald City — the season at Melbourne Theatre Company was cut short by the lockdown — and is due to direct the stage ­premiere of Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe, now scheduled for next year.

“That is a great example of a contemporary Australian story that has engaged vast numbers of people,” Strong says of Dalton’s novel. “I think that’s partly because there’s an immediacy to Trent’s writing and a lack of pretension. But ultimately there’s a capacity for people to recognise themselves and their own experience in those stories.”

The divide between the arts sector and the rest of society is perhaps more imagined than real, Strong says. But the question ­remains why the federal government has stayed silent on a substantive rescue package for the sector, and the implicit message is that “what we do isn’t valued”.

Strong is careful not to blame the lack of federal support on an ideological stand-off with the Coalition, believing the sector has to own its own failures. But others do. This month actress Noni Hazlehurst accused the government of “waging a culture war” against the arts by denying industry assistance. And Williamson says conservative governments have long regarded the contemporary arts with suspicion, seeing in a film’s or a play’s social critique an attack on their own kind.

“Conservative governments are quite happy with anything that was written 200 years ago — the opera and the ballet — that’s not threatening,” he says. “But I do think there is an element of conservative governments feeling threatened by contemporary work and, consciously or unconsciously, that’s part of the reason they don’t value and don’t fund the arts.”

Indeed, the Coalition’s relationship with the arts has been less than rosy in recent years. There are bitter memories of budget cuts in 2014 and of former arts minister George Brandis’s radical intervention in arts funding. Coalition funding for the Australia Council remains less than that of the last Labor government. And funding for the arts across all tiers of government is in decline. An earlier study by A New Approach reported a decrease of 4.9 per cent in Australian governments’ arts spending, in per capita terms, in the decade to 2018.

Esther Anatolitis, of advocacy group National Association for the Visual Arts, says what is apparent, more than any culture war, is simply a lack of interest from Canberra in a large part of Australia’s economic and cultural life.

“The fact that the government has failed to respond with a specific stimulus is the clearest demonstration that they just don’t want to,” she says. “The government talks about throwing out ideology … but in practice they are being driven by a set of values, and one of those values is not to support the arts.”

Leaders in the arts sector say they must continue to make the case for investment in an industry that brings economic and other pay-offs: that the arts assist schoolchildren in their learning and concentration, that a strong cultural life aids social cohesion and national identity, that creative activity can help ward off some effects of old age.

But there is also a need to master the politics of persuasion, to read the community’s mood, to break out of the arts bubble and to change the well-entrenched narrative that the arts are elitist or only for the rich.

At the time of coronavirus and the nation’s emergence from hibernation, the stakes have never been higher.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here