A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on.

To be clear, the sandpit is for regular commenters to pursue points that distract from regular discussion, including conspiracy-theoretic takes on the issues at hand. It’s not meant as a forum for visiting conspiracy theorists, or trolls posing as such.

35 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. The new Omicron sub-variant BA.2 is already spreading in multiple countries.

    “90%-120% FASTER—New model on the new #BA2 subvariant shows a 90% competitive growth advantage over vanilla BA1 #Omicron in DenmarkF. Worse, modeling in Englandshows Upwards ~120% faster BA2 advantage over BA1.” – Eric Feigl-Ding.

    It appears to be even more infectious than the Omicron but there is no data yet on its virulence. This of course supports the case that SARS-CoV-2 will keep mutating. If it keeps mutating it will keep producing new waves of infection.

    Prof. J.Q. has written on his Twitter header:

    “No one has yet found a sustainable “living with Covid” strategy. If consistent, R Covid zero, R > 1 -> let ‘er rip. R = 1 is a knife-edge case.”

    The words “if consistent” are important. In a simple model, the mathematical statements above are valid. In the messy real world (which I am sure is why J.Q. added the rider), R does not stay consistent. Improved vaccines and improved natural resistance make R fall. People getting spooked and reducing their social and work circulation also makes R fall. R can fall below zero and the wave subsides.

    Next, vaccine and resistance wanes but people get confident again and circulate more freely and then finally a new variant arrives with immunity escape characteristics and/or the ability to infect new demographic groups more effectively than in the past. The result is that R rises above 1 again and we see a new wave. With pandemic diseases, this pattern can and does continue indefinitely. Influenza is a case in point. By allowing a disease more dangerous than epidemic or pandemic influenza to become entrenched we have condemned ourselves to this long term damaging cycle.

    Being a novel pathogen, relatively new to infecting humans, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has a vast fitness landscape to explore. Humans and SARS-CoV-2 have not co-evolved as host/pathogen over hundreds to thousands of years as have colds and flus. This is the reason we can expect a higher than usual rate of evolution from this RNA virus. RNA viruses tend to mutate more anyway. So an RNA virus that is also a novel pathogen to humans will have a supercharged evolutionary rate: something called punctuated equilibrium evolution. The punctuated equilibrium evolution theory has had a chequered career with evidence being found for both sides of the hypothetical argument. However, the evolutionary record of SARS-CoV-2 so far seems to strongly bolster the case for the theory.

    The current generation of vaccines is failing rapidly. Boosters appear necessary every 3 to 6 months now. We still haven’t developed and tested a booster for a new variant and got it into arms. The virus is evolving and spreading variants faster than we can develop variant boosters and get them into arms, even in developed countries let alone undeveloped countries. We are losing the evolution / technology arms race and likely will continue to do so for years to come yet.

    Our high tech approach is failing. Prevention of epidemicity is going to be better than attempted cure of epidemicity or “living with it”. Put another way, this says that social and political-economy approaches to amending human behavior will be more effective in permanently suppressing the pandemic than high tech approaches which are all proving inadequate to date. The pandemic continues to spread.

    Francis Bacon wrote “To command nature, you must obey nature.” In common parlance, this means work with nature, not against it. How does one identify that one is “working against nature” meaning working against the tendency of all natural forces? There is no need to attempt definitions. The question has a practical and empirical answer. If your approach is failing you are working against the tendency of natural forces. Our approach is failing. Larger and larger pandemic waves are hitting almost all nations. The virions (which are essentially organic nanobots) are defeating the totality of our tech. Why is this so?

    Essentially, the intrinsic complexity (and emergent “calculative power”) of proteins in particular and of material reality itself in general is higher than that of all human brains and computers combined. We are not likely to win this calculation war, not if we play the virus’s game. Letting the virus spread everywhere so that it can “brute force” search all possibilities in its evolutionary tree is playing its game. Reducing its search tree, its evolutionary possibility territory by reducing the number of hosts it enters, is the only way to beat it, most likely, unless a silver bullet vaccine can be found which it cannot “evolve against”. That is possible perhaps as a “hail Mary” pass. We are seeing a contest of unintelligent brute force search versus human intelligent heuristic-directed search. (What people call human creativity is essentially concept recombination but that will take us off track if discussed here.)

    In allowing the virus to spread everywhere and then fighting the virus with vaccines we have essentially expanded the playing board many fold (and manifold) and thus also expanded the moves, pitfalls and traps exponentially. This is like playing Magnus Carlson in an array games tournament (starting with chess) where Carlson has to win 10 out of 10 but where you have the privilege to call the game type in each subsequent round. Then this is like losing round 1 to Carlson in chess and deciding the next game should be even more complex, like Go. We will assume Carlson knows all these games to grandmaster level. Why would you call a more complex game? No, you must immediately call a less complex array game. I would suggest noughts and crosses. With basic effort you can draw every one of these games against Carlson. He cannot win his 10 out of 10 even if you flub and lose a couple of noughts and crosses games.

    The name of the game against SARS-CoV-2 is, or at least was, to reduce the complexity of the playing field and reduce the variations or variants available to SARS-CoV-2. To do that you get R less than 1 and keep it there. You do this even if you have to change your political economy to do it. To change a political economy means to change minds. That is our real battle. Like climate change, COVID-19 “changes everything” as in Naomi Klein’s phrase “This changes everything”. In both cases, we change everything or we degrade and possibly collapse our system.

    There are many dangers to the open-ended “let the game become ever more complex” approach. Do we want to take these risks, unnecessarily? I do not endorse any anti-vax position. I am vaxxed and I advocate that people get vaxxed in the current emergency, for that is what it is. However, I also advocate a suppression and hopefully eradication strategy that would reduce the need for perennial or more frequent vaccination which processes themselves can have significant dangers if pushed to extremes.

  2. A tweet (@Unusual_Times) posted a few hours ago included five parts of a video of an interview with BBC Sunday Morning host Sophie Raworth with Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and COVID-19 Technical Lead for the World Health Organization, Maria Van Kerkhove, includes some inconvenient truths. My paraphrasing of some of Van Kerkhove’s comments:
    Part 1:
    Omicron is not the last variant.
    3 billion people still have not had a first dose of vaccine.
    Omicron is not “mild”.
    Pressure on COVID-19 to evolve to be more transmissible.
    There’s no guarantee that COVID-19 will become less severe.

    Part 2:
    Future variants could evade existing variant vaccine immunity.
    COVID-19 should not be characterized as “a bad flu”.
    Masks are widely available now – be cautious
    We can’t be ‘out of the woods’ when other countries are still suffering.

    Part 3:
    Wearing a mask is not “a big ask” – we are not out of this pandemic.
    We will be in this pandemic throughout 2022.

    Part 4:
    Reduce spread to take pressure off health system – that’s the goal
    We are worrying about the next variant.
    There are 30 descendants of Omicron being tracked.
    COVID-19 is not behaving like a typical seasonal respiratory disease – it will thrive in any climate, if we allow it to.
    Variants of concern, increased social mixing, inappropriate health messaging, susceptible people worldwide, conflicting messaging, misinformation, disinformation, and false narratives “that it is over” – we/humanity are not at the end of this COVID-19 pandemic.

    Part 5:
    If you don’t isolate infected people then the virus will spread – WHO recommend continued isolation.
    We/WHO need everyone’s help throughout the world to fight this pandemic.

  3. There is a question lurking in the back of my mind for a long time. My question is or may be related to J.Q.’s statement, “No one has yet found a sustainable “living with Covid” strategy. If consistent, R Covid zero, R > 1 -> let ‘er rip. R = 1 is a knife-edge case.”

    My question: Is a sustainable notion of “living with Covid” homoeomorphic with “zero Covid” in practice?

    In the comment pages of say the smh, zero Covid, is often if not always interpreted as strict elimination. However, from my listening to virologists (eg Melanie Brinkmann), I conclude that those who advocate zero Covid have in mind public health measures, which aim at keeping case numbers very small. To avoid fruitless discussions as to what is ‘very small’, scientists use the limit ‘zero’ as this strategy’s name.

    What is ‘very small’ in practice under various and varying conditions is best decided by local experts who have detailed knowledge of the behaviour of the particular variant as well as a long list of other factors. As a layperson, I would say graphs of case numbers that remain for long periods at zero or slightly above for very short periods (eg QLD prior to 15 Dec. 21, WA, NSW during the first half of 2021 and again in October-November 2021, …) are consistent with zero Covid.

    The idea of ‘living with covid’, defined as the health system is not totally breaking down, has been rejected by the population in NSW, not in words but rather in what is called a ‘shadow lockdown’; people simulate a lockdown through their behaviour, presumably until the case numbers (official and via the grape vine) are again close to zero.

    So, could one propose: Living with covid is zero Covid + epsilon, where epsilon is an arbitrarily chosen small number that converges to zero?

  4. Ernestine,

    I agree with your final proposal that “Living with covid is zero Covid + epsilon, where epsilon is an arbitrarily chosen small number that converges to zero”. That makes sense and it is essentially what China is trying to do with its “Zero Covid” strategy or more correctly its “zero Covid + epsilon” strategy. The efforts of any nation to achieve “zero Covid + epsilon” will be affected by how many nations attempt this strategy and how many give up and let Covid remain indefinitely pandemic in their jurisdiction. (Endemic is the wrong term in the context of COVID-19.) Then, efforts are affected by the social and political economy pressures to keep each national and the global economy “open”. “Open” has to have scare quotes as we see so often that “open” leads to “shadow lock-downs”, sick-leave peaks, and shuttering of parts of the economy, at least periodically, plus we should mention the human morbidity and mortality costs.

    In practice, small jurisdictions by population and with low population density, like Australia and New Zealand, which are also isolated by sea barriers, could run zero Covid + epsilon strategies. Due to the random walk of epsilon near zero it can hit zero feasibly for lower populations. Then, the jurisdiction has eradicated and is only vulnerable to new incursions. Incursion protection could then in theory be graduated to prevent incursions to the extent that incursions would not put at risk the zero Covid + epsilon strategy. It would not be beyond the ability of good economists and good epidemiologists (working together) to do the equations for this. We would simply need a government wise enough to listen.

    The problem of course is ideology. I will call it neoliberal or market fundamentalist ideology. This ideology has decreed, by axiom, that the economy must remain totally open in the manner it defines as open. I don’t need to sketch this out too much. I think we know what this manner is. It means few formal socio-medical measures like temporary isolation, quarantining and masking plus open travel provided of course you have the money for travel and the standard visas (internationally). This openness is inconsistent with the zero Covid + epsilon strategy except paradoxically when you have achieved zero Covid + epsilon. Then it is mostly consistent except for some more border controls. Internally, life is unfettered by lock-downs a great deal of the time. When Qld. had zero Covid + epsilon we were free and safe to a very reasonable degree. Now that we have been sabotaged, I use the term advisedly, we are unfree and unsafe, especially without boosters. In turn boosters only look like buying us another 3 months of relative safety and not even that if we are very old or have medical pre-condtions. What then? More boosters of ever-declining efficacy? The future is very uncertain at anything above zero Covid + epsilon.

  5. Ikonoclast, I wasn’t proposing an alternative strategy. I was trying to relate the phrase ‘living with covid’ to the phrase ‘zero Covid’ under the condition of sustainability. In other words, finding an equivalence condition of the two phrases with the proviso of both being sustainable (The notion of sustainability is here similar to the notion of an equilibrium).
    Saying ‘living with covid’ is ‘zero covid’ + epsilon in this context means any empirical difference is small or even zero.

    Maintaining hospital capacity and functionality is, IMHO, a separate objective, albeit a very important one.

  6. Ernestine,

    But does it not require an alternative strategy, to the current one, to get to that point? Is not policy advocacy inherent in the elucidation of the equivalence condition unless that thinking enterprise is to remain purely an academic, logical or mathematical exercise? But perhaps I am not understanding you properly?

    It is useful to have scientists and mathematicians quantify aspects of the world and find potentially useful and sustainable equilibria. The point then is to act and test, act and test, continually, to get there.

    “Thought without practice is empty; and action without thought is blind.” – Kwame Nkrumah.

  7. Its time to examine the impact of COVID19 on labour productivity. If we are to be forced to “live” with constant new mutations of the coronavirus, as outlined by Ikonoclast above, then its impact on labour productivity is not transitory. Even before the pandemic, labour economists were predicting low productivity increases in advanced economies. But I have seen no research on the impact on the productivity of labour from the now two year pandemic. This has been the basis of my skepticism about the chances of any “snap back” of advanced economies any time soon. How can an economy “snap back” when fatigue, and even chronic fatigue, has impacted the service industries of advanced economies. Politicians merely look at the accumulated savings of “lockdowns” and “pseudo-lockdowns”
    to boldly state that when those savings are spent their economy will ‘bounce back:. But will they? What if fatigued service workers spend that money on medical therapies and/or fund early retirement plans? The subsequent loss of skilled service workers must surely impact negatively on labour productivity. I am currently reading two books written by Thomas Piketty. The first is a short thesis on THE ECONOMICS OF INEQUALITY. In it Piketty looks at labour force participation rates as well as some more common income inequality determinants. The second one may be of more interest to non-economists. It is a much longer thesis entitled TIME FOR SOCIALISM. In this book Piketty makes the following assertion
    “Now the correct concept for the evaluation of the economic performance
    of a country is its productivity and not its “competitiveness”, which is a
    fairly nebulous concept.”
    (page 76 THOMAS PIKETTY Time for Socialism
    Dispatches from a World on Fire, 2016-2021
    New Haven and London
    2021 )
    If Piketty is still correct for the situation we find ourselves in 2022, where fatigue and chronic fatigue must be impacting on labour productivity at the very least in service industries, then its time to study the real economic effects of any fall in labour productivity for the foreseeable future.

  8. It’s also time to examine the impact of COVID19 on human health beyond the labor productivity issue, important as that is. Along with reduced productivity from morbidity and mortality there is the increased cost of medical care and of QALYs lost to the individual. Indications are that the ongoing disease burden from COVID-19 will be enormous, when we take into account the many manifestations of Long Covid. Loss of life and quality of life will be (indeed already is) enormous. The disease burden will place an enormous drag on the economy. Not only do sick and dying people not work, they require work. It’s a double whammy on the economy. Plus, there is the terrible direct personal experience on people of Quality-Adjusted Life-Years (QALYs) lost by selves and loved ones.

    There is already a new variant of interest to worry about.

    “I’m concerned about the new #BA2 sub variant of #Omicron. … it is surging (light green) to almost half of all Danish #Omicron cases—surpassing the old Omicron BA1 variant… Either it’s much faster transmission or it evades immunity even more. – Eric Feigl-Ding, 24 Jan 2022.

    It is too early to say if it will become a Variant of Concern but I think any claim that there will be no more variants of concern and hence no more pandemic waves would be laughed at by those making probability calculations based on events to date.

    Worth reading.

    Abstract from above:

    “As of 20 January 2022, the Omicron variant has been identified in all EU/EEA countries. From 20 December 2021 to 9 January 2022, there were 23 EU/EEA countries with adequate sequencing volume that reported an estimated prevalence of Omicron VOC of 69.4%. Across studies from various settings, the risk of hospitalisation has been found to be lower for Omicron than for the Delta VOC. However, prior immunity from natural infection, vaccination including booster doses, and improved treatment options contribute to less severe outcomes, making it challenging to estimate the inherent risk of severe infection for Omicron. While studies have used slightly different data, analysis approaches and adjustments for confounding factors, most studies found risk reduction in the range of 50-60%. Still, among Omicron cases reported to TESSy, 1.14% were hospitalised, 0.16% required ICU admission/respiratory support, and 0.06% died. Early studies suggest that current vaccines may be less effective against Omicron infection, although they still provide protection against hospitalisation and severe disease. Given the exponential growth advantage of Omicron and the high numbers of cases, any potential benefits of a lower observed severity can be outpaced by the sheer number of severe outcomes over time.”

  9. In 2020, Covid-19 was the 38th leading cause of death, with 898 case fatalities. Bad flu season of 2019 had approx 300K infections reported, and 902 case fatalities; flu season of 2017 had 1181 case fatalities (NB: 1: case fatality numbers are for a calendar year, i.e. 1st Jan through to 31st Dec; 2) these case fatality numbers are contingent on definition, and different organisations might have somewhat different values; however, these are much better than ballpark, from Barr ASM presentation (2020)).

    And then we have Omicron: from 2021-12-27, when the first Omicron case fatality occurred, there had been 2,188 fatalities due to the pandemic thus far; now, (i.e. 2022-01-25, not even one full month), we have had 3,213 case fatalities. Simple subtraction reveals that in this past month, we have had 1,025 case fatalities, overwhelmingly due to Omicron variant. Compare that *single* month with the entire flu season for 2017! Or 2019. Omicron is not the flu, not by a long shot, and nor are any of the other variants.

    Still, no doubt there are those who would seek to minimise the above, somehow pushing it to one side, as if it were mere technicality. Oh, these comments are in hindsight, how could we have known *this* would happen? [The gist of a recent smarmy git remark by unnamed politician.]

  10. Productivity/Complexity. ROC produced it’s own protein based state covid19 vaccine, Cuba has produced three so far, Australia has finally approved limited use of an import…

  11. The thing that i learned from all this “just the flu” talk was how dangerous the flu can be. Estimates for the flu season 2017/18 in Germany are arround 25000 death (one in 30 years event, Australia should do better on a per capita basis due to the lower average age, still). In hindsight, one has to wunder why no containment measures were taken back then. It´s not like anything at the scale or lenghts of anti covid measures would have been necessary, since the flu is not just less deadly but also far less contagious. Anyway, if people really want to talk about something that aproaches Corona death rates, cigarets would be the example. Curiously, that one is never made. In that case too my primary response would be that we underestimate smokeing, not that we overestimate corona.

  12. Lockdowns in Australia and NZ appear to have caused excess deaths to go into negative territory during the period 6 Apr 2020-31 Oct 2021, per The Economist article updated Jan 24, headlined Tracking covid-19 excess deaths across countries.

    See a tweet by Economist and Monash Uni Lecturer Zac Gross earlier today:

    If you are talking solely about lives & deaths then the case for lockdowns in Australia is even stronger as our excess deaths were negative over 2020/2021…

    As @JohnQuiggin accurately forecast.

    Letting COVID-19 rip through the population appears to increase excess deaths and lockdowns reduce them – who’d have thunk it! 🙄 Apparently JQ did! 👍🙏

  13. Ikonoclast re your 24/1/22, 4:44pm post

    I am in the business of trying to make sense out of words and phrases. I am not in the business of advocating any Covid strategy.

    My question is: Is there a non-trivial difference in practice between the ‘living with Covid’ strategy and the ‘zero Covid’ strategy, as understood by virologists and distinct from what China is practising? To distinguish China’s practice from what I refer to, I denote the China strategy as ‘Zero Covid’. I understand the zero Covid strategy is sustainable, although it allows for a lot of different health measures, depending on the conditions. I say the recommendation as to which public health measures should be adopted is entirely up to the relevant experts, not me. The epsilon term represents deviations from the zero Covid strategy advice, due to considerations by politicians that are outside the purely public health economic concerns. At any time these deviations must not be so big as to threaten the stability of the zero Covid strategy. (I suppose I should write my question to a virologist.)

    When communicated widely by the relevant health experts, I believe people can learn to some extent how to avoid getting infected with the virus and hence supplement public health orders. I understand from public explanations provided by math-biologists-virologists model builders that they have a similar problem to that faced by economists, namely it is difficult to model the behaviour of people. It is conceivable that public health orders can be reduced as evidence emerges that people have changed their behaviour such that infections are avoided to a large extent. So, it would make sense to me if a politician would say: “We all have to learn to live with this virus but first we have to listen to the experts and I can’t tell you now when we have all learned enough.” It makes no sense to me when a politician says: We have to live with the virus. In NSW the public has sent a clear message to the Premier of NSW that they have learned more than his government; they avoid human contact and hence transmissions. (I don’t believe this is how the Chinese government practises zero Covid.)

  14. Ernestine Gross,

    I can only express it as I see it.

    In Australia, in practice, under the Morrison government’s so-called leadership, “Living with Covid” means;

    (a) 2-dose vaxxing to at over 70% of entire population (but still manifestly inadequate by percentage need and booster need criteria); and then
    (b) letting Covid-19 Omicron variant spread in an almost unrestrained fashion with only very light law and regulation restrictions on public activities.

    This kind of “Living with Covid” does not produce anywhere near a low enough “epsilon” value to meet your definition for epsilon. Hence, it is incompatible with Absolute Zero Covid + epsilon; a situation often called suppression in the literature. At suppression one has sporadic, localized outbreaks but not widespread national or near-national “waves” as Australia is experiencing right now.

    You wrote “At any time these deviations must not be so big as to threaten the stability of the zero Covid strategy.” Clearly, the Morrison government’s policies have allowed a wide deviation from any viable suppression strategy.

    You have your mathematician’s hat on, I think, and you are “trying to make sense out of words and phrases” related to the pandemic, and to make sense of them in a mathematizable way. That enterprise I applaud. It is necessary for both epidemiologists and economists to do this work and give good advice if they are in an advice-giving position and/or share knowledge and ideas in their intellectual networks.

    I have my citizen’s hat on and I expect effective action from my government (even though I did not vote for them). I am not seeing that action. They have created a near-disaster which is leading to many avoidable deaths. I lay the political responsibility at their door. They had enough good advice if they had listened to it. This current mess was avoidable. I want action. The epidemiological epidemic control case is crystal clear. One only has to read Raina MacIntyre’s excellent article.

    I want action. There are already enough words and formulas which point to what needs to be done. We need action. People can take personal direct action by self-measures of course but wider social Rafferty’s Rules never works because of fools and free-riders. We have traffic lights and driving licences for good reasons. We agree to rules and regulations for the greater good, for general safety. We need firm rules and regulations to reduce infections to suppression levels. It’s as simple as that. The logic, math and empirical outcomes proved that by the end of 2020 in jurisdictions like the USA.

  15. I think that “living with Covid” is one of those slick, double meaning, propaganda expressions; in essence, it means what the listener hears it to mean, i.e. how they interpret it in their own little bubble of the universe. The cynic in me interprets it to mean that politicians are so sick and tired of Covid, they are now willing to dump all responsibility upon us lot, and they call it living with Covid. Technically, for those of us who don’t die at twelvefold the rate of a bad flu season, I guess we can call that living with Covid. Or, call it, living with politicians who will incidentally kill you, if it means they don’t face responsibility for their choice of strategy.

    Excess deaths were down because the public health measures that were clearly effective in getting rid of Covid were also damn effective in stopping flu in its tracks. And other respiratory illnesses that could lead to pneumonia. Depending on the duration of the current Omicron surge, there could be a delayed excess deaths block, not now but months and months later, as people who needed hospital care/surgery for otherwise survivable ailments end up as fugitive deaths. It’s unclear to me at this point how big an impact the surge is having on essential, if not immediately urgent, surgeries. We’ll see; sadly, we’ll see.

    As for “zero covid,” I would have accepted that as meaning we universally did PCR on likely cases, we used RATs as a general precaution any time that we found a single new covid infection, and that we had built-for-purpose quarantine of inbound international travellers. We could have done that, and by not dismantling our contact tracing, the few escaped cases from quarantine could be very quickly ring-fenced, with RATs being used extensively on the close and casual contacts of the infected person/people. Even Omicron could have been managed with such a strategy. If it wasn’t in the country, it could only get in through international arrivals (including ship staff), but automatic quarantine in built-to-purpose facilities would have virtually eliminated that entry mechanism. Sure, it would have meant travel to Australia was reduced for some time to come, but those who had reason enough to come could do so, so long as they were willing to do the quarantine. And, we could have used RATs on entries to Australia to determine who could perhaps just do a set number of RATs while in the community, with some reporting app, rather than a full quarantine period. In other words, zero covid wouldn’t necessarily have meant rolling lockdowns, just a much more enhanced set of prevention, detection, and tracing processes.

    But, we chose a very different path, essentially through a whole series of lazy decisions or non-decisions. I still haven’t found a RAT for love or money, for instance.

  16. @ Gregory McKenzie January 25, 2022 at 7:26 am

    I thought I’d see if my local public library had a copy of Time for Socialism

    When I plugged in the title in the library’s search engine I got one hit Mein Kampf
    Complete And Unabridged, Fully Annotated

  17. @John Kane January 25, 2022 at 11:42 Pm

    The full title is: TIME FOR SOCIALISM
    WORLD ON FIRE, 2016-2021
    Yale University Press
    New Haven and London
    The contact details : (U.S. office) or (UK office)
    The Library of Congress Control Number is : 2021935893
    Its published number is : ISBN978-0-300-25966-7 (hardcover: alk. paper)

    I am not surprised at the confusion with Mein Kampf (German for My Struggle) as this became the
    bible for National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany in the 1930s. Any computer listing would not
    understand the difference between National Socialism and Utopian Socialism.
    Thomas Piketty does not write about either of these two extremes, his socialism is more a product of European union and his own extensive research of census data on income inequality. If you read first his book :
    The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
    You will get a better idea of where Piketty is coming from in his call for full socialism.

    Hope that helps. Piketty has certainly helped me understand what really is going on with
    capitalism since the GFC event of 2008.

  18. It is beginning to look more and more like the BA2 Omicron subvariant has a 2x growth advantage over Omicron. Given Australia’s open borders to infection, this variant will be in Australia very soon, if it is not already here. BA2, if this infectious, will simply turn our Omicron wave in an Omicron BA2 wave and continue the rise to a new peak. We have to wonder, at this stage, if BA2’s 2x growth advantage comes from more vaccine escape and immune escape. If so, our Omicron wave will certainly climb to a new peak with just a blip slightly before BA2 becomes significant. Quotes below from Eric Feigl Ding’s Twitter.

    “90%-120% FASTER—New model on the new #BA2 subvariant shows a 90% competitive growth advantage over vanilla BA1 #Omicron in Denmark. Worse, modeling in England shows~120% faster BA2 advantage over BA1. HT @JPWeiland (who correctly said Omicron was 5-6x Delta before).”

    “RESURGENCE—Worrisome that #Omicron is somehow surging Upwards arrow upwards again across Southern England Flag of England. London’s case drop has also stalled —now flat. Likely due to dropping #COVID19 mitigations & throwing caution to the wind by @BorisJohnson & @sajidjavid.”

    Note, it may also be that Omicron BA2 is starting to have an impact.

    “I’m concerned about the new #BA2 sub variant of #Omicron. In the left panel, you see it is surging (light green) to almost half of all Danish #Omicron cases—surpassing the old Omicron BA1 variant by a lot. Either it’s much faster transmission or it evades immunity even more.”

    “Several #BA2 Omicron subvariant cases found in Washington state— it’s definitely everywhere now.”

    Note: All of this suggests that Australia’s Omicron wave will likely be supplanted by an even worse Omicron BA2 wave. Semi-isolating the Australia nation, with full 2 week quarantine in proper quarantine stations is the only viable response. Then we must suppress and eradicate COVID-19 in Australia with ALL necessary measures. If we do not do this, the pandemic will simply get worse and worse and worse as it is doing now. Eventually we will have full immunity escape and vaccine escape. Vaccinations will become useless. This is not a disease you can vaccinate away with vaccines solely. Using vaccinations alone simply force evolves it to complete vaccine escape. That way lies disaster.

  19. Addendum to above.

    Interesting tweet.

    “BA.2 looks to be growing in the UK, so SGTF is falling again. If it sweeps, that will be a five-in-a-row run of the virus switching SGTF on and off in successive sweeps: The virus is trolling whole-genome sequencing. – Jeffrey Barrett.

    SGTF = S’ Gene Target Failure.

    I presume the sequence he is referring to equates to tossing a coin for the sequence H, T, H, T, H. My primitive probability knowledge tells me that the chance of this happening randomly is 1/32. Is there selection pressure applied by our SGTF testing and response methods? In other words, is evasive behavior occurring which is driven by this continuous selection pressure? This is NOT to say it’s learned or intrinsic but rather that it’s adventitious each time. BUT this might be demonstrated only if we could show the virus flip-flopped each time we flip-flopped our testing protocols and acted epidemiologically/ medically on the test results. These are all suppositions on my part. I don’t really understand what is happening here and I am sure I am lacking lots of data and knowledge points.

  20. Hazzard admits on ABC TV today that Omicron is not mild. I think he actually used the word moderate or the phrase “not mild”. Overall, he said it’s not mild and with its high contagiousness this makes its total effect severe. The “mild” myth seems to have caused caused people in NSW to skip or delay boosters, which problem Hazzard was bellyaching about. Yet he was one of the very fools who promoted the “mild” myth. No matter how he tries to spin it, Hazzard has effectively admitted his “mild” message was wrong and by default admitted that opening up was a mistake.

    We will not be safe until we rid ourselves of these dangerously foolish LNP governments. Their mistakes are endless and they NEVER learn.

    This pandemic in Australia, and globally, is heading into even more dangerous territory. More on that soon. In the end, suppression will prove to be the only viable strategy. The majority of epidemiologists say this. Only the libertarian and neoliberal outliers in epidemiology (there’s some in every profession) still think it’s a good idea to deliberately spread a dangerous global pandemic as widely as possible so it can mutate into more dangerous forms. Only a comprehensive “Vaccine plus other measures…” strategy will work.

    “Backed by Science: Here’s How We Can Eliminate COVID-19”
    Inside View 23/01/2022 – Guy Marks, Brendan Crabb & Raina MacIntyre

  21. Omicron B2 taking over in Sth. Africa and Denmark.

    “Never a virus had a such large pool to infect.
    Never a virus had such playground to gain Darwinian fitness.
    Wuhan had natural R0=2.7.
    Delta was 5.
    Omicron likely 8.
    Omicron BA2 could be R0=12.
    Any strategy other that #ZeroCovid is irresponsible and DANGEROUS.” – Hugo Lpz.

    “Preliminary calculations indicate BA.2 is one and a half times more contagious than BA.1 Omicron…
    if BA.2 is more contagious, it may mean the wave of infections will be higher and extend into February.” – Denmark Officials.

    It is possible this could happen in Australia too. Add in school startup and BA.2 and Australia’s wave could go up again to a second peak. We continue to play Russian roulette so long as this virus is pandemic. Forget the “endemic” term. That is just nonsense for a pandemic disease.

    COVID-19 is relentless. There is no permanent immunity. Even a triple-vaxxed person who has then had Omicron BA.1 still has likely only 3 to 6 months of substantial resistance to infection before the real possibility of another COVID-19 infection, according to experts. Under such conditions will continuing COVID-19 infections always be mild? Nobody knows yet. There is not enough data yet.

    Meanwhile, many vulnerable people are dying or threatened by this disease. My nonagenarian father-in-law is currently in solitary confinement (essentially) being fully confined to his room in a nursing home. The woman in the next room contracted COVID-19. No news on what has happened to her. The whole facility is under lock-down and full testing. This is being repeated right across Australia of course.

    The strange thing is that with this “opening up”, there are actually more lock-downs, shut-downs, self-isolations and shuttering of businesses than ever. Opening up and letting it rip kills people, maims people and badly hurts workers, businesses and the economy. It’s a losing move on every front. We are far worse off than before. When new and worse variants enter the country, as will inevitably happen with “let it rip”, the condition of the people and the nation will continue to deteriorate.

  22. Worthwhile Swedish initiative

    Well-timed for the European gas crisis created by Putin, an item in PvMagazine :

    “Swedish utility Vattenfall and Dutch heating and hot water systems provider Feenstra have launched in the Netherlands a high-temperature heat pump solution for existing single-family homes that is claimed to be an easy replacement for traditional gas central heating boilers. “

    This is the kind of unexciting incremental innovation that gets the job done. The modest change is getting the air-source electric heat pump to run at the 60-80 deg C of standard gas boilers rather than the typical 45-55 deg C of current residential heat pumps, which require other changes to the heating system and/or extra insulation. So you can just rip out the gas boiler and drop in the heat pump. “Right said Fred”.

    Vattenfall is a state-owned Swedish utility with annual revenues of €15bn. Its performance on cutting emissions (see Wikipedia) has been lacklustre, but sponsoring the much smaller Dutch partner (and I assume the technical lead) is positive greenwashing. A blue-ribbon backer, with deep pockets, political leverage and a reputation to lose, is likely to speed up adoption. The two initial markets are the Netherlands and the UK, where gas central heating is common (UK: ca. 26m gas boilers, NL ca. 7m). Why not Sweden? One, it’s too cold in winter. Air-source heat pumps stop working around -20 deg C which you will never get in the UK or the Netherlands, but occurs regularly in Swedish winters. Two, the Swedes have a lot of district central heating. This could be switched to ground-source heat pumps, but it’s a quite different technology.

    They claim the new heat pumps cost the same as cooler ones. That still leaves them more expensive than new gas boilers, let alone old ones. Adoption needs early deployment subsidies, on which the Johnson government in the UK is dithering. The Netherlands are a better bet for good policy, but it’s a much smaller market and economies of scale will come slower there.

    I’ve decided to move my occasional posts on green tech to the Sandpit. I recognize that this is a personal idée fixe and that I am the resident techno-optimist, as Ikonoclast is the resident Marxo-pessimist. I will stay very selective, from temperament and laziness, no Tesla fanboy stuff or news of laboratory “breakthroughs” on batteries, perovskite solar cells and the like. 1% of these will turn out to be significant, and my guesses as to which they are uninformed.

    The Vattenfall heat pumps illustrate the moderate techno-optimist position. They would make a bankable difference, though the pace of adoption depends on government policy. From a great height, most green innovation seems unimportant as current technology could get us comfortably, and at no net cost, almost all the way to net zero (see Jacobson, Blakers etc.). The one major exception is aviation, since long-distance electric flight requires new and much better battery chemistries. There is also a big gap in sequestration technology, which will be essential to go from net zero to net negative.

    The strategic importance of green innovation looking forward is its impact on costs, and in turn on government policy and the timetable. We are not on schedule to stay within 1.5 deg of warming, and even that is unacceptably hot. The ongoing transition in Australian electricity illustrates how large cost savings can overcome entrenched fossil bias in government policy. This is why V2G with car batteries is big news, though it’s not very interesting technically. It is also more generally why after all operational innovation is still vital to our collective chances.

  23. James Wimberley,
    The modest change is getting the air-source electric heat pump to run at the 60-80 deg C of standard gas boilers rather than the typical 45-55 deg C of current residential heat pumps, which require other changes to the heating system and/or extra insulation. So you can just rip out the gas boiler and drop in the heat pump.

    I’m wondering what “current residential heat pumps” produce water heated to “typical 45-55 deg C”? I’d suggest these certainly wouldn’t be approved for residential hot water use here in Australia (or I suspect in the UK).

    Per UK Health and Safety Executive:

    The primary method used to control the risk from Legionella is water temperature control.
    Water services should be operated at temperatures that prevent Legionella growth:

    * Hot water storage cylinders (calorifiers) should store water at 60°C or higher
    * Hot water should be distributed at 50°C or higher (thermostatic mixer valves need to be fitted as close as possible to outlets, where a scald risk is identified).
    * Cold water should be stored and distributed below 20°C.

    It is necessary to keep warm water at a temperature of 55–60 °C to inhibit the growth of legionella bacteria. Water at 60 °C (140 °F) can induce scalding injuries in less than 3 seconds, while it takes 10 seconds to get an injury at 57 °C (135 °F) and 1.5 to 2 minutes in 52 °C (126 °F) hot water.
    Wikipedia: “Scalding”

    I’d suggest heating water above 65 °C in residential settings is unnecessary, as it increases standing losses as the rate of heat loss is driven by the temperature differential, and increases risks of scalding/burning.

    From the Sanden Eco® Plus brochure (Nov 2018), the:
    * Ambient Air Operating Temperature range is -10 ºC to +42 ºC;
    * Refrigerant is CO2 (R744);
    * Hot Water Outlet Temperature Setting (Nominal) is 63 ºC.

    See the 5 minute video of changing an instantaneous gas hot water supply system to a Sanden heat pump hot water supply and storage system here:

    Upfront installation costs for heat pumps are certainly substantially more expensive than gas or resistive-electric systems, but operational costs are much, much lower.

    From a Renew article published 3 Jul 2018, headlined Heating case study: converting gas to
    heat pump hydronic
    , it includes:

    In a project completed in November 2017, the owners replaced the gas boiler on their existing hydronic heating system with an electric heat pump, while retaining the original 25-year-old

    Owner Peter Hormann says they did a lot of work to check whether a heat pump system would enable the 25-year-old radiators to deliver sufficient heat for their winter heating requirements. An important consideration is the lower operating temperatures of a heat pump system which is most efficient up to 55 °C (though can run up to 60 °C or 65 °C) compared to 70 °C from a gas hydronic boiler.

    While working out their upgrade options, they limited their old gas boiler to 55 °C through two Melbourne winters to test the existing radiator effectiveness at lower system operating temperatures. “We found that with the lower radiator temperatures the room heating was more gradual and took an extra 30 minutes to bring the house up from a 17 °C standby temperature to our 21 °C ‘comfort’ temperature,” says Peter. To compensate, their household thermostat was programmed for an earlier start in the morning and late afternoon heating periods.

    Where ambient air temperatures get significantly below -10 °C (like many places in alpine regions, northern Europe, northern USA and Canada), I’d suggest ground-sourced heat pumps are more effective/efficient.

  24. James Wimberley,
    I think the Vattenfall spiel about coming up “with this innovative idea” is stretching the truth:

    We spoke with Wouter Wolfswinkel, Programme Manager at Vattenfall Customers & Solutions in the Netherlands, who came up with this innovative idea alongside Ramon de Graaff from Feenstra. Here, Wouter helps us to understand more about how the high temperature heat pump works, the roll out in the Netherlands and what this technology could mean for the UK. …

    The high temperature heat pump works more or less in the same way as a traditional heat pump, but where a traditional heat pump uses a synthetic refrigerant, the high temperature heat pump uses CO2.

    CO2 as a refrigerant is not new. Sanden Eco® hot water heat pump systems using CO2 refrigerant were introduced into Australia in 2012. The upgraded design Eco® Plus heat pumps were introduced into Australia a few years ago.

    I think it’s good to see more competition that hopefully will see lower installation costs for much more energy efficient and cleaner heating solutions, but IMO companies shouldn’t be making claims that on closer inspection apparently are concoctions/fibs – it diminishes trust/credibility.

    Later, the article states:

    Like a gas boiler, the outdoor unit has a lifespan of between 12 and 15 years and will need to be replaced. The high temperature heat pump is almost three times as efficient as a condensing gas boiler, but less efficient than a traditional heat pump.

    I suspect it’s less efficient than a “traditional heat pump” because it’s water output temperature is significantly hotter (i.e. “between 65 and 95 degrees Celsius”). I still don’t see the need in residential settings for providing hot water output temperatures at more than 65 ºC.

    It would be interesting to know what the operating ambient air temperature range is for the Vattenfall system.

    (Just Another Neoliberal Myth About SARS-CoV-2)

    “Omicron was about 75% as likely as delta to cause hospitalization in an unvaccinated person with no history of SARS-CoV-2 infection.This fairly small difference implies that omicron, alpha, and wild-type SARS-CoV-2 have similar intrinsic severity.” – Daniel Griffin MD PhD.


    “Although these studies were conducted in locations with very different case-ascertainment rates, after correcting for underascertainment, each study estimated that omicron was about 75% as likely as delta to cause hospitalization in an unvaccinated person with no history of SARS-CoV-2 infection.2,3 This meaningful but fairly small difference implies that omicron, alpha, and wild-type SARS-CoV-2 have similar intrinsic severity.”

    “… omicron’s immune-evasion capability has enabled it to infect many people who wouldn’t have been infected by previous variants, which has fueled its rapid spread and allowed it to more quickly infect nonimmune people, thereby offsetting what appears to be a moderately lower intrinsic severity and exacerbating overcrowding of hospital systems and demands on caregivers.”

    “Viruses don’t inevitably evolve toward being less virulent; evolution simply selects those that excel at multiplying. In the case of Covid-19, in which the vast majority of transmission occurs before disease becomes severe, reduced severity may not be directly selected for at all. Indeed, previous SARS-CoV-2 variants with enhanced transmissibility (e.g., alpha and delta) appear to have greater intrinsic severity than their immediate ancestors or the previously dominant variant.”

    End of excerpts.

    We have been fed a media diet of disgraceful, dangerous and misleading myths or lies about SARS-CoV-2 since the start of this pandemic.

    It’s just a cold or flu – LIE!
    We can live with it. – LIE!
    We can achieve herd immunity- LIE!
    Omicron is milder. – LIE!
    The virus will evolve to mildness. – LIE!

    Everything we have been fed by the neoliberal business and media cheer-squads has been one lie after another. Neoliberalism is as toxic as the dangerous disease they have unleashed upon us and enabled to spread around the world. We haven’t seen a tenth of what this virus is going to do to us. There will be hell to pay for years or even decades to come and many, many tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of avoidable deaths, unless we suppress it to eradication. You cannot run a modern, high density, highly connected socioeconomic system with this pandemic virus loose. If you attempt to do so your whole system will continuously degrade due to the total disease burden (morbidity and mortality).

    This novel zoonotic coronavirus will be extremely and open-endedly dangerous during its accelerated mutation, punctuated equilibrium, co-evolution period with humans which period could be measured in decades or centuries. Suppression to eradication is the only solution. A Zero Covid policy is the only solution and such a policy is not only fully realistic but absolutely necessary.

  26. Ikon and all,

    Where are the stats on Delta now vs Ominron please?

    Is Delta still causing more deaths?

    Is Australia the worst at delivering detailed medical pandemic information or do we just deliver ‘beige’ numbers to satisfy and pacify the masses?

  27. KT2,

    There are no good statistics on this for Australia. Australia continues to fail at COVID-19 testing and statistics just as it continues to fail at COVID-19 control with its over-reliance on leaky vaccination combined with a bizarre policy of infecting everyone as quickly as possible.

    From what I can find, just on the ABC website, estimates of Omicron to Delta in Australia range from Omicron 90% to 99% with most (all?) of the rest being Delta. New York data shows the near total dominance of Omicron (achieved in a few short months).

    “The Omicron variant was first confirmed in New York State on December 2, 2021. For samples of SARS-CoV-2 collected between January 16 and January 29, 2022 from New York that are sequenced and entered into GISAID, 100% were the Omicron variant, compared to 98.3% in the previous two-week period.

    Between January 23 and January 29, 2022 CDC’s program for HHS Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico) estimated 100% of samples were the Omicron variant, compared to 99.9% in the previous one-week period.” – COVID-19 Variant Data, NY.

    The thing is, it’s all COVID-19. It’s all bad. No variant is mild. The likelihood of new and worse variants coming out of uncontrolled regions, which is now the whole world except China, is high. What astonishes me is that no serious new variant has yet come out of the USA (to my knowledge). I can’t see that run continuing. At the same time, the UK is a virtual potpourri of variants. What is it about the UK that makes it such an excellent COVID-19 petri dish?

    ” aggressive #BA2 subvariant of #Omicron has more than **doubled** this week since last UK report—now across all regions. BA2 has been dominant in Flag of Denmark already—prolonging their wave. Other countries be cautious—could make #COVID19 resurge.” – Eric Feigl-Ding.

    I am worried that Australia faces multiple superimposed waves which will keep us on a bumpy plateau for the next six months at least. We have return-to-school, poor booster levels, BA2 coming and winter coming. Our aged care system is on the brink of collapse. Hospitals are holding but a prolonged bumpy plateau rather than a single peak could wear medical staff and the whole system down.

    Vaccination is essentially the sole reason Omicron is killing less people than Delta. Omicron is about 75% as severe as Delta but is spreads faster and infects many more people as it successfully evades natural immunity and vaccine immunity. Remember, Delta was about 2.5 times more lethal than the original wild strain. So, Omicron is about 1.5 to 2 times more lethal than the original strain.

    I would advise all who can do so to get their third booster shot as advised, to practice all methods of masking, distancing and hygiene as advocated throughout this pandemic and to limit activities to those essential for physical and mental health, general welfare and procuring of income and life essentials.

  28. Saw a post on Twitter pointing out that trams are the safest transport there is. We have got to understand that sometimes old technology is the better technology. Trams and electric bikes would work together very nicely on a lot of routes.

  29. Green steel update
    From Coalwire, 10 February: “The German steel producer Salzgitter has announced it will convert its first coal-based blast furnaces to hydrogen and renewable energy-based direct iron reduction and electric arc production by 2026 and complete the full conversion of its steelworks by 2033.”
    The important date here is the first one. The timing of full conversion will depend on both market prices, especially for ETS carbon emissions, and policy incentives. The technology is a done deal. Metallurgical coal is dying, preceded by thermal.

  30. Chinese elctrolysers

    Recharge: ” According to BNEF’s new report, 1H 2022 Hydrogen Market Outlook, Chinese alkaline electrolyser systems cost $300 per kW in 2021, compared to $1,200/kW for Western equivalents, with proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysers even more expensive, at $1,400/kW.”

    When you see a prediction on green hydrogen, especially a pessimistic one, I suggest asking what the assumed price of electrolysers is. Obviously world prices will converge on Chinese ones, not the other way round. An electrolyser is a pretty simple device, first demonstrated in 1800. It does have to meet safety standards. I suspect Salzgitter have done their sums.

  31. Very interesting information on Chinese electrolyzers, thanks James. I am certain hydrogen will get below $1 per kg and I am very pessimistic about its future. Of course, it’s hard not to be pessimistic when your state government wants to burn hydrogen to produce electricity in the location where it may make the least sense in the world. (You take hydrogen from the place where it’s cheap to make and then you put it in the place where it’s not cheap to make! How hard is that to understand?)

  32. I don’t think thats right Ronald. I think you use hydrogen on location or not at all. There seems to be fear and pessimism about Australians being good at manufacturing. There seems to be some superstitious take on comparative advantage. But our problems with manufacturing have come purely out of our dysfunctional financial system and bad policy. This idea of sending cheap gas to China and bringing back expensive urea. This is an offense against sound economics. Gas is also meant to be used close to source, or if transported it should be through pipes. American silly-buggery with trying to ship gas to Europe, to replace Russian piped gas; Its all pretty appalling but transporting hydrogen around would be worse.Some schemes are just criminal. But it would be great to have hydrogen produced and used locally, without need of too much compression.

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