The Folly of ‘Zero Covid’

There are many objections to the lockdown strategies being inflicted upon Australians. Many of these I leave to others to address, but one of them – the goal of ‘zero Covid’ touches upon my personal experience of virus infection.

The original intention of the gross curtailments of liberties we refer to as ‘lockdown’ was declared to be ‘to prevent the health services being overwhelmed’. That reasonable objective lasted about ten minutes, and now exists, if at all, in name only. Public policy is now either explicitly or implicitly directed at ‘Zero Covid’, with even Gladys stooping to using the absurd phrase ‘crushing the virus’.

This unattainable goal promises to condemn us to a state of eternal crisis, to the destruction of our economies, and ultimately of our society.

In April, 1977 I was living in New South Wales, having recently migrated from the UK, where I had been born and, like all children of my generation, received both the Salk and the Saben polio vaccines.

During the Anzac long weekend, I developed a severe headache and fever. On the Tuesday morning, I began to lose the use of my left arm. My fever was now raging. After a brief consultation with a GP, I checked into RPAH. Over the next few days, I lost entirely the use of my left arm, and almost all function in my right arm. The doctors treating me were at a loss to diagnose my illness, but speculated that I might have caught poliomyelitis, a disease none of them had encountered before, since it was believed to have been eradicated from our society.

During the acute phase of the disease, I also developed severe breathing difficulties, and for a period of about 18 hours felt as though I was continually short of oxygen.

Having survived the acute phase of the disease, I recovered partial use of my right arm. I entered rehab, and began to learn to live with my disability.

Many years later, I encountered an Indian spinal surgeon whose career had included a stint as ‘Director of Poliomyelitis’ for the Indian government. I took the opportunity to describe my symptoms and ask his opinion. He told me he was certain I had contracted a variant of polio.

I mention this personal history for two reasons.

  • In the hope that I may escape the glib accusation typically hurled at Covid policy sceptics that we ‘don’t know how serious this virus is.’ I know from experience what it is like to have a headache many times worse than anything I had previously experienced. And I know what it is like to fight for breath, yet never seem to get enough. I wouldn’t wish such an experience on anyone, but nor do I need the admonitions of bien pensant lockdown enthusiasts to convince me of the seriousness of Covid to those few unlucky enough to suffer a bad attack.
  • Because I had polio two decades after the last major epidemic in Australia, since when it was believed that it had been eradicated – that we had reached, in current parlance ‘Zero Polio’. It follows, for me, that policies aimed (whether explicitly or not) at ‘crushing Covid’ are a cruel and wasteful misuse of executive power. There is no reason to believe that Covid can ever be eliminated.

To apply the logic of lockdown retrospectively to my instance of polio, NSW should have been in ‘polio lockdown’ for the previous twenty years! Since such a policy is – or ought to be – self-evidently absurd, one must conclude that Covid is a virus we must live with, just as, aided by vaccines and a range of traditional – and voluntary isolation strategies, we have always lived with viruses.

The Illusion of Safety

One of the consequences of having suffered an exceedingly rare attack of a disease – poliomyelitis – which almost everyone believes to have been eradicated, has been that I have not succumbed to the creeping trend of safetyism which has overtaken the developed world.

By safetyism, I mean the increasingly prevalent mindset which is simultaneously both acutely risk-averse and inclined to believe that science has overcome all the major sources of risk.

Like all the most pernicious creeds, safetyism comprises a set of tenets which are held subconsciously, and which those who hold them would reject as absurd, were they to actually examine them. Safetyism can reasonably be said to have its origins at the conclusion of WW2. That war demonstrated the power of planning to wreak miracles of productivity. It also coincided with, and accelerated, the development of a series of vaccines and with the perfection of penicillin, innovations which dramatically reduced the real risks encountered in the course of an ordinary,peaceful life.

Welcome though these innovations have been, they have brought with them an unspoken assumption, shared by most in the developed world, that nothing bad should ever happen to people; that if it does, the ‘government’, informed by ‘the science’, must be able to fix it; and that it has a duty to do so. This belief that the world has become an essentially risk-free place has allowed the people of the developed world to become alienated from risk, and to lose the sense of proportion to which, for almost all of its existence, our species owed its survival and increasing prosperity. It now imagines threats where none exist, wildly exaggerates those that do exist, and supports unhinged policy responses which have unintended consequences which would be entirely foreseeable by minds in which a proper sense of proportion had been retained.

The Covid episode has challenged the tenets of safetyism, but since they are unavowed, the challenge has gone largely unanswered. Rather than accept that the world has turned out not to be as hazard-free as it had appeared, but rather to be intractably, if sporadically hazardous, the appearance of a moderately serious virus threw the developed world into a state of scientistic hysteria. The virus was immediately compared with the 1919 influenza, and endowed with miraculous powers of communicability. Humans, by contrast, were endowed with no endemic immunity, and assumed to be incapable of judging for themselves the risks they faced, and taking appropriate steps to mitigate them. These preconceptions were fed into computer models, which duly produced harrowing predictions of plague.

Evidence that large numbers of asymptomatic people were testing positive was treated by a scientifically illiterate ABC as further evidence of the terrible virulence of ‘this virus’, rather than evidence that it was one from which comparatively few people suffered any ill effects.

Gladys having finally succumbed, we now have lock-down in NSW. Numbers of infections in the low hundreds, and a couple of handfuls of hospitalised cases, are treated as ‘worryingly large’, even as Britain, with daily positive tests of the order of 50,000, begins to lift its lockdown, having finally woken up to the futility of chasing ‘zero Covid’, and the need for people to be allowed to make their own choices about the extent to which they expose themselves. The gauleiters of the health bureaucracies simultaneously profess bafflement at the whack-a-mole progress of the disease, while professing complete certainty that the answer lies in ever more repressive locking down of the population.

This is not the Australia I migrated to in 1976 – free and free-thinking, sceptical of authority and endowed with a rich vein of common sense. Instead we have become a fearful, gullible society, rendered infantile by intrusive government edicts; hyper-receptive to narratives of catastrophe, and institutionally hypochondriac.

Hurrah – a cure for range-anxiety

Cygnett 5,000 mAh Portable Power bank.



We may be grumpy old Harrumpfers, but we’ve become avid users of mobile phone technology. On our earlier visits to the UK and Europe, the map/GPS function had become indispensable. I’m a fully paid up, ocean-going, industrial grade range-fretter; if my phone goes below 80%, I start gently sweating, and anything below 50% is just intolerable. Having a rented car meant that recharge was never far away, but when we decided to visit Vienna, where we’d be relying on public transport to get around, range-anxiety kicked in, and I looked for an portable power bank that wouldn’t cost the earth, was easy to use, and would give me at least one entire recharge of an iphone 8 – or half each for two phones.

Between my stepson and the guy at JB Hifi, I settled on the Cygnett 5,000mAh Portable Power Bank, for $40. It promises 1.4 charges, which seemed enough to get both Lynne and I out of trouble. I found it easy to use, robust and travel-worthy in a very “haveable” way, and a great travel accessory.

The Cygnett got its first outing when we flew to Viena from Heathrow, after dropping the car off. A whole 6 hours away from mains power, with no 12V socket to provide comfort, and the need to get an Uber and find our hotel at the end of it!

The Cygnett is about the size of an original iphone, has 2 USB output ports, and comes with a short charging cable with its own USB connector – you need a USB source to charge the Cygnett. It has a blue numerical LED display telling you its percentage charge. With the display showing 100, I stuffed the Cygnett in the pocket of my cargo pants, together with a USB cord and, as an afterthought, its own little charging cord, and set off for the train station.

The whole bundle was like carrying an extra small-format iphone. I first used it on the 2-hour flight, as my incessant consumption of Brexit news drove the battery in my phone down to 75%. Only slightly worried that I might be mistaken for a suicide bomber, I fished the lead out and plugged it in. This produced a familiar and reassuring beep from the phone, and a rate of charge superior, so far as I could tell, to what we get from our mains setup. By the time we arrived in Vienna, my phone was fully charged, and I was experiencing the warm, cuddly feeling we range-aholics get when we know that we’ve got enough of our favourite tipple to get us through the day.

Thereafter, I basically carried the Cygnett around in my pocket, although apart from a day trip to Bratislava we hardly used it. Because that’s half the point of it – just knowing it’s there.

I haven’t tried any of the Cygnett’s competitors – have you? What did you think?

Kitchen Harrumpfs

OK, let’s rip into kitchen design. What do we Harrumpfers want in our kitchens? We want stuff that’s intuitively easy to use. Our eyes are not quite as good as they used to be, so hot/cold water mixers with tiny little red and blue dots to indicate temperature are a pain in the neck – what’s wrong with a bold splash of colour? And when we’ve got a roast in the oven, we want to be able to check the temperature from across the room, rather than having to go to the cooker, bend down and inspect the knob minutely, hoping that the numbers haven’t been worn off during cleaning the oh-so-stylish brushed steel fascia.

So much kitchen design seems to be about concealing function in pursuit of a misguided aesthetic, when what we really want is the exact opposite.

Big knobs, like the ones you used to see in 50s sci-fi movies, with positive action so you know when you have done something.

Simple functions – less is nearly always more!

Big letters and numbers for everything that matters, so that whatever part of our kitchen we’re in, it’s easy to check on what’s going on in all the other parts of it.

In the following posts, I’ll be harrumpfing about different appliances I find pointlessly annoying to use, but I really would like to hear about brands that deserve Hurrahs rather than Harrumpfs, so please send them in.

Laptops

Let’s have a look at what’s right in front of us. This is a picture of my laptop, with power, memory stick and USB mouse disconnected, much as it would be after returning from a meeting. The job of reattaching them ought to be a matter of seconds.

Instead, Acer have deliberately set out to conceal the location and identity of each port, by opting for a sleek, ‘cool’ design ethic.

I have to fiddle around, peering or pawing at its opaque black edges, to discern the precise whereabouts of each socket. Because it’s not enough to know roughly where they are –we’re in “miss is as good as a mile” territory here. You really need them marked, and preferably embossed, too, on the top of the keyboard. But of course that wouldn’t look cool and sleek, would it? Bah, humbug! Harrumpf!

Now, it’s true that my inoperative hand makes this shortcoming particularly irritating for me, but a few harrumpfs with friends suggest that many of them would forgo the “designer” look in favour of clarity, if given the option.

So listen, laptop makers: there’s a market waiting to be tapped for any of you bold enough.

If you know of a good laptop that defies convention by actually telling you where all its bits are, we’d love to review it on Harrumpf.

Rent-a-Nanny – the Volvo V40 experience

My wife and I recently visited the UK for a couple of weeks, and then spent 6 nights in Vienna. Plenty of harrumpfs, and one or two now-that’s-more like-its…

We rented a Volvo V40, but we might as well have rented a Victorian nanny. The safety features on this car are so numerous and so poorly thought-through that they end up being counter-productive.

Vision

Let’s start with the simple business of seeing out of the thing. Most cars have a bit of a blind-spot, but this thing is really a blind spot with portholes.

Now I have no doubt that this car would have protected us admirably if we had crashed it, rolled it, or driven it off a cliff. Which is comforting, for those of us who don’t mind crashing, rolling or driving off cliffs. For those of us who prefer to complete our journeys without these additional excitements, it’s a nightmare, because it’s structural integrity has been achieved by giving it pillars so massive that the windows have all but disappeared.

I’m a tall bloke, and it’s true that that gives me the worst viewpoint, but even ducking my head down to the height of the average driver, the view over my right shoulder, so crucial in safely entering roundabouts, is so restricted as to be positively dangerous. To add insult to injury, it’s got those wide-angle wing-mirrors that distort perspective, so they’re no help in finely judging distances.

Here’s a picture which gives you some idea of the view over your shoulder:

Collision avoidance

The Volvo V40 is stuffed to the gills with sensors. These include sensors in its wing mirrors that glow orange when there’s a car behind you in an adjacent lane.

Thanks, but I’d prefer a flat wing-mirror, plus Mk 1 eyeball, if you please. And no, I don’t need the car to remind me of the need to check that a lane is clear before I move into it. It’s something I’ve been doing for 50 years, and the suggestion that I’m going to forget it just because I get into a Volvo V40 is insulting, as is the implicit suggestion that I should treat the absence of a warning as an unqualified assurance that it’s safe to switch lanes without checking your mirror.

So all the little orange light is doing is reminding me not to do something I’ve never done, and never intend to.

But the worst of this infernal, dangerously misguided nannying is yet to come.

It’s got a collision-detection system which, if it becomes convinced you are about to hit something, makes a loud beeping noise, and sets off a row of flashing red lights right in front of your eyes.

It sounded three times during our two-week rental. On two occasions the cause was never clear to me, and certainly I never hit anything, or saw any obstacle which could prove life-threatening, despite the distraction of an inexplicable burst of lights and beeping.

The third occasion was at a roundabout, where, hampered by the car’s appalling visibility, I was entering a busy roundabout.

I had to negotiate a row of stationary cars already on the roundabout and waiting to leave it to my left, and of course to give way to traffic coming from my right. I found a suitable gap, but it required that I accelerate briskly towards the rear of the queue of stationary cars, which were pointing towards my 10 O’clock, and concentrate hard to get my timing right.

Right in the middle of this moderately exacting manoeuvre, when I wanted all my wits about me, the car decided that the row of stationary traffic to my left, pointing at 45 degrees to my direction of travel, was a serious collision hazard, and set off the beeps and lights. It is difficult to imagine anything more calculated to distract me from my manoeuvre, and cause me to have an accident. Well done, Volvo – just brilliant.

Gearbox

The car had a choice of fully automatic transmission or flappy-paddle sequential gearbox. Being the possessor of only one functioning arm, I used the automatic box. Fine, except that it kept switching, for no apparent reason, to sequential. This meant that I had to either flip it up through the gears sequentially or flog it to the red line to force it to change automatically.

And here’s another picture of the thing – note the almost non-existent quarter-light window:

Come in and have a moan with me…

Thanks for joining me!

I started this thing because I got fed up with frothing at the mouth at the stupidity of so much contemporary design and policy, and decided  that if I had to froth, then I might as well do it among like-minded friends.

So if you have ever frothed, even a little bit, at products, services that seem to embody style at the expense of substance, or policies that seem designed to fail or be counterproductive, then read on, share my outraged Harrumpf!, and send me your own harrumphs.

There’d be little point in doing this, though, if it didn’t actively seek to improve design by finding examples of good design, and sharing them with the community. So please, when you spot something really well thought-out, drop me a line.