Monday Message Board

Back again with another Monday Message Board.

Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please. If you would like to receive my (hopefully) regular email news, please sign up using the following link You can also follow me on Twitter @JohnQuiggin, at my Facebook public page   and at my Economics in Two Lessons page

30 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. Will there ever be high speed rail freight links across Australia, for example, for one, linking the Hunter region to the Kimberley Region? Or 30,000 ton heavy freight trains?

    China planning high-speed rail freight network to help e-commerce sector
    The country already has an extensive high-speed passenger network and is now looking to develop new goods trains

    Rail bosses believe demand from online retailers will help drive the development of the network
    Matt Ho Published: 8:00am, 23 Aug, 2020
    How Is China’s Belt and Road Changing Central Asia?
    To what extent does the BRI lead to the expansion of China’s institutions and legal norms in Central Asia?
    By Roza Nurgozhayeva July 09, 2020
    Could Russia side with the US and India against China?
    Cracks are opening in the Russia-China relationship, from the status of Vladivostok to Russian arms sales to India
    The biggest crack involves New Delhi’s suggestion that Moscow join the US-led Indo-Pacific grouping, which is widely seen as anti-China
    Maria Siow Published: 12:00pm, 22 Aug, 2020 Updated: 12:00pm, 22 Aug, 2020

  2. Challenge trials of vaccines

    A new NGO advocating challenge trials for Covid-19 vaccines: Advocacy Open letter signed by 15 Nobel laureates in different disciplines, including Barry Marshall, who famously infected himself with helicobacter pylori.

    I think they are right. (Declaration of interest: as an oldie with a preexisting condition I would personally benefit from any good vaccine, and am not eligible for trials, so I’m a free rider.) The idea is that a standard Phase 3 trial relies on exposing the participants to infection in the wild, which takes time to show any difference between those getting the vaccine and the control group. In a challenge trial healthy young volunteers all get the vaccine, then are deliberately exposed to the virus. You find out much quicker if the vaccine works. Traditional medical ethics says Eek, “do no harm”. Against this, (a) you can expect to save many lives from earlier deployment (b) participants are fully informed of the risks which (c) are low, from Phase 2 trials (also on healthy volunteers).

    And there’s (d). Traditional double-blind trials aren’t ethically costless. Take the Phase 3 trial of the Oxford vaccine currently taking place in Brazil. This involves IIRC 30,000 participants. Half of these, 15,000, are in the control group. Say 10% will be infected in the wild, that’s 1,500. Say 5% will get seriously unpleasant symptoms, that’s 75, and 0.6% will die, that’s 9. These numbers are approximate, but are of the right orders of magnitude. Add some percentage of failures of the vaccine in the other group. This is clearly a morally significant toll, imposed by the double-blind design needed for statistical confidence. That burden goes all the way back to James Lind’s first clinical trial of lemons against scurvy, on HMS Salisbury in 1747. In assessing this burden, note that the control group are still better off than the general population, because they are closely and well monitored; any subjects infected will be isolated quickly and are much less likely to pass the bug on to their families and friends.

    Ethics nerds will ask how this fits in with the contentious moral equivalence of action and inaction. Law and common intuition say they aren’t quite the same, partly because I can’t specify the full list of things I’m not doing just now. But in the case of a clinical trial, the inaction – not giving the vaccine – is the result of a perfectly conscious and deliberate choice to let a random number algorithm allocate individuals to a control group. That looks to me morally equivalent to the action of giving the test group the vaccine. The researchers own any resulting harm to either group. Yes, it’s worth it, but I would say that, see above.

    It took 50 years for Lind’s citrus juice to become standard issue in the Royal Navy. Let’s hope we can do better on Covid-19.

  3. Emissions from cement

    For your bookmarks, a solid survey of the state of play:

    Short takes:
    1. Cement is a hard problem, as half the emissions come from the chemistry of calcining limestone, and only half from the energy needed to heat it. The latter can easily be made renewable, the former not.
    2. The analogy with ironmaking is only partial. That’s chemistry too (reducing iron oxide ores), but there exists a simple fix: doing it with renewably catalysed hydrogen. The only real issue is the cost of hydrogen. But for cement, there is no comparable single solution.
    3. Instead there are a great variety of promising approaches, ranging from replacing wasteful cement bags with readymix trucks to bulking up concrete with low-carbon fillers and experimental alternative chemistries. One they don’t mention is shifting to building with engineered wood (current record 18 stories / 85m, in Norway). You still need concrete foundations, but these are less massive anyway as the superstructure is much lighter.

    My take. Both ironmaking and cement need a carbon price or equivalent to enable the technological progress on offer. If a general carbon price is infeasible, both sectors lend themselves to sectoral levy-and-rebate schemes. In both cases, production is concentrated in large companies operating immobile plants, and there are few substitutes for the product.

  4. Fortunately — for certain values of the word fortunately — cement flue gas has about twice the CO2 concentration as coal power station flue gas, which makes carbon capture easier. Of course, if there are better alternatives, it would make sense to use them instead.

  5. Ronald: the UNEP report I linked to has 50 references to CCS, though the focus is on cheaper alternatives.

  6. “It took 50 years for Lind’s citrus juice to become standard issue in the Royal Navy. Let’s hope we can do better on Covid-19.” – James Wimberley.

    If it proves biologically possible to create a safe and effective vaccine against COVID019, I will hazard a guess that it will take less then 50 months for it to become available. I’m willing to accept that “effective” means “protects more than 50% of subjects against infection”. I’m willing to accept that “safe” means less than two directly attributable deaths per one million vaccinations.

    I would say the caveat condition “If it proves biologically possible” will be determined in practice by a failure to create a safe. effective vaccine within 4 years. However, this gets dangerously close to making my forecast non-falsifiable. (There are biological / biochemistry reasons why immunizing against pulmonary diseases is very difficult. Flu vaccines are only about 50% effective and then only against the strain they were developed for.)

  7. Is this news for anyone? I am not sure. The audiance seems to contain a lot of techies. This link might be old news for most people in this audiance.

    I have to wonder how relevent this developing story is that is presented in the link below.

    One one hand Tesla is making Solar Power much more affordable. On the other hand the pemafrost is melting.

    On one hand the world’s birthrate is declining. On the other hand the extent of Arctic sea ice has fallen to a record low level. Even worse that sea ice is thinner than it ever has been.

    One one hand the world is no hotter in 2020 than it was in 2016. One the other hand it is not an El Nino year.

    One one hand people have been studying how to make cement production more sustainable. One the other hand no government has lifted a finger to make agricultural more sustainable.

    One one hand the world’s medical industry now seems to be directed by world revolutionary forces. One the other hand it seems that the world revolutionaries not only forgot to infiltrate the world’s most important police forces, it seems that the world’s reactionaries did not forget to infiltrate the world’s most important police forces.

  8. It has 50 references? I’d surely benefit from reading them if my attention span was longer than what it takes to write a single sen

  9. James: “there exists a simple fix: doing it with renewably catalysed hydrogen. The only real issue is the cost of hydrogen”

    The shortage of platinum in the world as a catalyst is also a major barrier.

    There are many substitutes under development, but as far as I’m aware, as of 2020 none have moved beyond experimental lab stage, and shown they’d be truly feasible and economic (they’re more expensive to produce, they’re less efficient, they degrade more quickly etc)

    Be happy to be corrected on that though as it’s been a while since I’ve looked at it.

  10. I don’t know much about platinum, but a lot of it is cuurently locked up in ICE catalytic converters, which will soon become available for recycling.

    Ronald: I meant 50 uses of “CCS” in the text, not 50 bibliographical references. Cheer up and skim diagonally like me.

  11. Pumped hydro update
    Definite progress in the USA: a new design of submersible pump-turbines could on paper reduce the project costs of pumped hydro by a third. (H/t CleanTechnica).

    What’s striking is the piddling scale of the research grant: $1.18m. Diminishing returns are surely at work. PUHS is great-grandpa’s technology, and has seen negligible innovation apart from GE’s reversible pumps a decade ago. The payoff in going from $0 public R&D to $1m is very high. Contrast the billions wasted on nuclear and CCS, in defiance of experience.

  12. Michael Mosely s Corona virus show said that there are 200 animal viruses known to be able to jump across to humans (they didnt say how many actually have ) and that there is a further 500,000 that might be able to do so. Also there was a virus that killed about 1 million people in the 1800,s that is suspected to be one of the viruses that today causes the common cold .

    Another China factoid ; they have built 1 million km of new roads over the past 10 years.

  13. Michael M also said that in the few years before this pandemic there were 3 scientific papers published that warned of the possibility of a novel corona virus jumping from bats to humans .

    The Australian newspaper said overall deaths in Victoria for July were down 500 from July last year . Jeff Sparrow said death rates lower during depressions ,except for a small rise is the suicide rate. The New York Times said total deaths in the US were up by 220,000 for the period March 1 to July 25 . The actual Corona toll there by now might be near 250,000 .

  14. Neat delivery. Got questions? Corona virus? Neat answers.
    National Press Club Address
    Wednesday, 26 Aug
    Series 2020 | Episode 31 | Wang Xining – Deputy Head Of Mission/minister, Embassy Of The People’s Republic Of China In Australi
    12:30 PM – 1:42 PM [72 mins] Repeated on Friday 28 Aug at 3:40 AM,
    The Deputy Head of Mission/Minister, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Australia, Wang
    Xining addresses the Press Club on the topic ‘China and Australia – Where to from here?’

    Heard again the other day: “Diplomacy. It’s not about what you say. It’s about what you get.”

  15. Yet another piece of the underbelly of ponzi Big Australia guest worker labour and other dodgy immigration visa policies exposed:

    “…Judge John O’Sullivan said Skypac and Skypic had previously been put on notice to comply with workplace laws, the breaches were serious and deliberate, and the penalties should “act as a deterrent to others who may be minded to flout the law”.

    Judge O’Sullivan also made a general comment that: “It is also an illustration of, an all too common, a phenomena where employers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who exploit workers (including, or especially, from within their own ethnic communities) and then come before the Court and seek to rely on their own alleged ignorance of workplace laws or foreign cultural norms to mitigate any penalties that need to be applied when they are finally caught out”.”

    “…In handing down his judgement in the Federal Circuit Court, Judge John O’Sullivan said the $277,000 penalties should “act as a deterrent to others who may be minded to flout the law”.”

  16. Just discovered there is a Documentation/movie scene Version of Capitalism in the 21 century, on Amazon prima of all places.

  17. Kishore Mahbubani.


    Kishore Mahbubani served as Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and held the position of President of the United Nations Security Council between January 2001 and May 2002.

    The PRC’s 2IC diplomat in Australia, Wang Xining, currently Deputy Head of Mission/Minister, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Australia, served 1998 to 2002 as Attache/Third Secretary in the PRC embassy in Singapore.

    Wikipedia and DuckDuckGo are silent on Wang Xining and his 25 year diplomatic career progression, but the Australian msm have been granted limited background access in return for a free feed of Australian beef, barley, and, of course, Australian wine…

    From the second eye’s BBC World News per ABC NewsRadio as broadcast Sunday 23Aug2020 on the W/E AM program between 0600 and 0800 ( ):

    BBC HARDtalk

    Kishore Mahbubani: Has Covid-19 weakened the West? – 21 Aug 2020

    Released On: 21 Aug 2020 Available for over a year Available now 23 minutes
    Download HQ (128kbps)
    Download LQ (64kbps) (11.1 MB)

    Former Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani believes that Covid-19 has fundamentally weakened the west.

    Is he right that this is now Asia’s century?

    Increasing tensions between the US and China have plunged relations to the lowest level for decades. This comes at a time when the world is facing its worst recession in living memory due to the coronavirus. Could this lead to a reshaping of the global order? Zeinab Badawi speaks to former Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, who believes that Covid-19 has fundamentally weakened the west. Is he right that this is now Asia’s century?

    Sir John Sawers, former MI6 Chief, speaking in July, at 20:24, paraphrased quote as paraphrased by interviwer Zeinab Badawi:

    … we must be careful not to turn China into an enemy … 20:45 But China’s leadership must also understand they will pay a price if they impose their system and standards on other countries… by economic leverage or military force … 21:08 Kishore Mahbubani replies that China was not intersted in that… Pompeo is wrong on this and that… secondly… and BRI is 100year project.

    My ears pricked up sharply at Sawyers being quoted, even at that too early in the morning instant, considering some of the sense and quality of China analysis heard coming from UK intelligence/security agency chiefs on occasion over the last few post Sawyers, pre Bojo years.

    Perhaps of interest to some there’s Kevin Rudd Thought at 12:57!

    Also some of the projects of the Royal United Services Institute, Edelman Inc, and conferences on China at the Ditchley Foundation conducted in both the UK and New York, USA, in the time since John Sawyers filled a position on that board of govenors may interest…

    _________________________________________________________________________ (Kishore Mahbubani 2005, 2010, 2011)
    – Sawers is a governor of the Ditchley Foundation, which aims to promote international, especially Anglo-American, relations.
    – He is a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Conferences and participated in conferences since 2014
    – On 14 May 2015 he was appointed independent non-executive director of BP Global
    – Sir John Sawers Distinguished Fellow
    – Sir John Sawers is Executive Chairman of Newbridge Advisory, a firm he founded in 2019 to advise corporate leaders on geopolitics and political risk. He is also a Non-Executive Director of BP.
    – Sir John has 36 years of experience in diplomacy and intelligence, culminating in five years as Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) until he left public service in 2014….
    T.J. Coles. 2016. Britain’s secret wars: how and why the United Kingdom sponsors conflict around the world. Clairview Books. 224 pages. ISBN: 978-1905570782. Paperback.
    “With regard to Iran, Coles cites the head of MI6 in 2012 (Sawyers) as saying that British spies have been at work in the country since 2008. The British appear to have aided the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (MEK), hence removing them from its list of terrorist organisations in 2008, and the EU and US followed suit in 2009 and 2012 respectively. There remain allegations that the MEK continues to pursue violent activity against Iran, including in Hansard….”
    – The Bilderberg meeting is an annual conference established in 1954 to foster dialogue between Europe and North America. The group’s agenda, originally to prevent another world war, is now defined as bolstering a consensus around free market Western capitalism and its interests around the globe. Participants include political leaders, experts from industry, finance, academia, and the media, numbering between 120 and 150. Attendees are entitled to use information gained at meetings, but not attribute it to a named speaker.

  18. Breaking news: Someone from Singapore sees proof of Asian supiriority in a world event. You see those pesky western democrats and their complaints about Singapore, calling it a tax evader enabling dictatorship they just don´t understand the supirior ethno Chinese, sorry Asian way of life.
    Other breaking news: Donald Trump saw proof of American supiriority in a world event.

  19. Old news: Proof reading. It’s not about what you see. It’s about what you don’t.

    Which brings to mind:

    “Whole sight; or all the rest is desolation.” – John Fowles, “Daniel Martin” (1977). Brilliant opening, and impossible closing sentence.

  20. “At the start of every disaster movie, there’s a scientist being ignored” – Placard at a rally in the US.

    “COVID-19 is like an X-Ray of our society. It has exposed everything that is broken.” – An Australian doctor or scientist (I think).

    This COVID-19 pandemic has certainly exposed the grave weaknesses of the West and weakened it even further. It has exposed the relative strengths of modern Asia compared to the modern West. I look at the USA and Europe on the news and I can scarcely believe the mess I see.

    The West is in serious trouble. Denialism will get us nowhere. We have effed up big-time, oh except for N.Z. and maybe Australia. Although it now looks like Australia will succumb with a late rally of stupidity from our “Idiot-in-Chief”, Scomo, cheered on by the tourism and corporate lobbies.

    The West looks astonishingly stupid these days. What has made most of us so stupid? Actually it’s clear what has made us stupid: neoliberalism, individualistic selfishness, science denial and right-wing populist propaganda.

  21. So you believe there is any information value in a Singapore diplomat saying the west is weakened by a world event? I don´t think so, even when he´s “right” within that childish bigger dick framework of foreign policy like a stopped clock sometimes is. In Singapore, which is an obvious cultural hybrid in reality, more or less thinly covered appeals to ethno Chinese racism have always been a weapon against people opposing any of the many things that are uterly wrong with that place.

  22. hix,

    There are more information sources than a Singaporean diplomat. I’ve paid no attention to him. But I have paid attention to the numbers coming out of the pandemic. Infection rates and death rates are far higher in the West than in “Sinic Asia”, the East Asian Cultural Sphere. We need to analyze why this is happening. Key reasons are the general application of market fundamentalist principles to our political economies and the resultant poor state of our medical and disease control systems, lack of full cover by public health systems in much of the West and cults of science denial and individualistic selfishness riddling the West with stupidity, weakness and an inability to cooperate for the common good. To deny there is something systemically and fundamentally wrong with the West is to deny the plain and extensive facts.

    I want the West to reform itself, if out of no better motive than my own enlightened self interest. I don’t want to live in a decaying and collapsing culture and economy domestically. At the same time, I want to live in a world with a balance of powers. That requires the different regions all to be healthy. A collapsing West will be no good for anyone in the long run.

  23. Sweden’s COVID policy more a function of governance rather than design;

    “ The reason why the Swedish government could not take control like others around the world is really simple: the Swedish Constitution is several hundred years old and does not foresee a plan of action for a pandemic. In peacetime, Sweden cannot declare a state of emergency like Estonia could. In other words, the Swedish government did not have the authority to restrict people’s freedom of movement.

    The problem goes further. Governing Sweden is based on administrative dualism. Several institutions stand beyond the reach of ministries’ authority and have the freedom to shape their actions regardless of the government’s wishes. Thus, the Public Health Agency of Sweden (Folkhälsomyndigheten) had more say during the pandemic than did the government.”

  24. “So you believe there is any information value in a Singapore diplomat saying the west is weakened by a world event?”

    I believe I saw yer coming, and then some.

  25. “There are more information sources than a Singaporean diplomat.”

    A given. You need at least five eyes in the back of your head too to have any idea of what’s happening and what’s coming next.

  26. Dennis Atkins: After a hellish week, Morrison plays his ‘China card’

    …Australia on the front line of the Great Decoupling.

    …The Morrison Government has taken a page directly from Washington’s (and London’s) book

    …But this China gambit has a dangerous edge to it.

    …The Trump administration is the major player in this development, although the strategy is now bipartisan in Washington.

    This. And Pompeo’s and Slomo’s happy clapping and Bojo’s 2024 washed up West runs. Make the West great again, again. Or to hell with it all.

  27. The western covid response is quite obiously put to shame by many asian nations, no matter how you draw the line between east and west. What i´m strongly objection to is the frameing as an issue of relative power. You can´t nuke the world into extinction more than once. The frameing gets particular ridiculous when it comes from Singapore.

    Have been watching that capitalism 21 documantary version. There is one quite interesting part: You see Zuckmann and Piketty explain a middle class squeeze in the west. The welfare of the population at large is not increasing anymore in the west because all gains are captured by the very rich. In particular young middl class people now can expect a decrease and wellbeing compared to their parents. Then that is contrasted with China where the cake is still growing so fast that everyone gets something despite a similar trend of inequality. Zuckman tells that some regions are now richer than Portugal. The middle class parents can expect their children to do much better over time despite rising inequality. While they are talking, you see pictures of some rich Chinese coastal cities, where people run arround with n95 ventile masks. The documentary is done pre covid. They are wearing those masks obviously to protect themself, not others out of some supirior colllectivism. The air quality is just so damn bad. Looks like Portugals standard of lifing as opposed to gdp is still far higher than the one in booming Chinese regions. While those kind of air quality issues were not unknown in the west at a similar point in industrial development, things were never quite that bad. And China had all opportunity in the world to learn from western mistakes instead of repeating them on a larger scale.

    Before that, you see Reagan doing a i´ll make America great again, all those Japanese and Germans are now destroying our car industry stick. Cut: Now there is a short animation with all the foreign cars arriving like a big destroying ocean wave on the coast.

    This duality between makeing the other bigger, being jealous for no real reason, fealing threatend and makeing him smaller at the same time, often blameing crisis on him is nothing new. Nazi, heck even mediaval depictions of Jews are already like that: Smarter than the good real Germans/Christians, but in an unethical devious way. That worked out better back than as now because intelectual capabilities were not considered such a core positive quality.

    So it was fine to make Jews into devious intelectual geniuses, as long as they had ugly noses an were worse at sports! Nowadays there might even be some subculture of iq racists jews (not sure this kind of people on the internet who spew that jew iq stuff includes a significant number of actual jews, my hunch is unforunatly yes) that build their self enhancing framework unknowingly on those old racist steretypes. Westerners can have that look at China, and get the same look right back. Xenophobes hiding their insicurities at both sides can then feal validated in their views by focusing on the exagerated threatening positive qualities attributed to them.

    Its all very complicate. The other mistake is also very common, the “those are all just (wrong) stereoypes ” and we have to take every human as a unique intersectional flower. Thats bullshit too: When someone from China asks me for directions or vice versa, in 99% of the times that interaction will not touch either ones unique flower qualities. Likely similarities in social class will not matter either. That conversation will be dominated by diffiulties due cultural difference.

    In all likelyhood when the framework is one of relative power applied to nothing less than a pandemic, its a disucssion that end ups with that dynamic of excessive othering, excessive attibution of both infirior and supirior colective qualities. There is also a non trivial probability leading exponents of that discussions will use that framework more or less conciously to deflect from very different issues.

    Another level of complication that tends to give me nausea is a tendency to replicate dominant US academic discourse on race class and all that as if it could be applied to other western nations in a copy paste way.

    (in case someones wundering, should be learning math, … so naturally, that leads to long internet posts about very different topics)

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