Oh my Cron! It’s Omicron!

NHS advert - All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate for ten dates regardless of their vaccination status

All contacts of suspected Omicron cases? They don’t have to be confirmed now? We are sleep walking into a police state.

How severe are the symptoms from the new Covid variant, Omicron? According to the doctor who first detected it in South Africa, its symptoms are ‘extremely mild’. She accuses the UK – and now, by extension, much of the rest of the world – of ‘panicking unnecessarily.’

At the time of writing, fourteen cases of the new variant have been detected in the UK out of population of 64 million. As a result of just three of these, England has been returned to mandatory mask wearing by a prime minster and health secretary, Sajid Javid. The pair promised back in July that the lifting of restrictions would be ‘irreversible’. There were no provisos on this promise – no ‘unless another variant appears’ get-out clause. We were fools for believing them, this government of panickers, flounderers and trashers of civil liberties.

This time round Boris Johnson is imposing mask wearing while travelling on public transport, in hairdressers and shops and in a variety of other locales. The virus, however, is apparently unable to penetrate restaurants, pubs, cafes, cinemas and theatres so mask wearing is not required there. And quite rightly too. It should not be mandatory anywhere. Politicians and the scientists who advise them are well aware of the extremely limited way that masks protect others from the droplets in your breath.

A doctor explores the efficacy of masks.

Yet still they impose such a mandate, this time with a £200 fine for the first ‘offence’ of failing to wear a mask in the specified locations. If masks were effective, then Scotland, which unlike England did not dispense with them back in the summer, would have fewer cases of Covid than England. In fact, it has considerably more. Likewise Germany, which imposed the compulsory wearing of high standard FFP-2 surgical masks back in January. Meanwhile mask-free England (free that is until yesterday) has seen cases and hospitalisations falling.

Whenever I write about the pandemic – which some scientists now regard as coming to an end, despite the predictable winter increase in cases – I receive fewer likes than when I write about Christianity. That may be because I address the Covid situation primarily as it affects the UK. But it might also be because I question the received narrative; that we must panic, must wear masks to protect ourselves and others, must protect the health service that exists in reality to protect us. I’m no conspiracy theorist; as I’ve explained before, incompetence more readily explains governments’ actions this past two years. Crediting them with the intelligence and deviousness necessary to perpetrate a worldwide conspiracy is truly beyond them. But it is nonetheless alarming to see the extent to which they have deprived us of our civil liberties. Overnight, we can be imprisoned in our own homes if we are in contact with someone who suspects they may have Omicron and fined if we don’t, while not wearing a mask has become a crime. The police, having nothing better to do, say they will be hanging around England’s transport hubs and shopping centres to challenge and fine those not wearing face coverings.

Further indication that politicians really do not know what they are doing comes from their making available the booster vaccination to all over 18 year olds a mere three months after their second shot. Boris Johnson said yesterday that the booster will, while the second vaccination is supposedly still offering its own protection, ‘undoubtedly’ save them from Omicron (with its very mild symptoms).

Do we know this? We do not. Vaccine producers have begun tests to see if it so. Injecting all and sundry is merely more panic, not to mention a political ploy to make us think they’re actually doing something. They aren’t. Why are politicians surprised that the populace has lost all faith in them, does not believe a word they say and, when it’s not engaging in government and media induced panic, is ignoring their ever conflicting messages, empty rhetoric and false promises?

I have had my three shots, plus one for flu. The vaccine is demonstrably the most effective way of minimising Covid and the variants that have appeared so far. It may well be the only way. Nothing else we have done has held back the virus. Scotland now has what appears to be a home-grown version of Omicron, not one that came from outside the country (those masks really worked!) and even those countries that have undergone extreme lockdowns discover it’s among them once they re-open: Omicron has been found in the perpetually locked down Australia. Variants will be around for a long time to come. Governments cannot continue to impose sanctions every time a new one emerges. If they do, they and we will be playing this ridiculous circle game forever.

Food For Thought

The late Patricia Highsmith’s diaries were published recently. Highsmith is the author of The Talented Mr Ripley and Strangers On A Train among many others. She wrote a mean short story too – mean in every sense of the word – some of which I read a while back. The following is a spoof of the kind of thing she came up with.  

Vernon had read somewhere about how ancient Aztecs – or perhaps it was Mayans – would eat the hearts of brave enemies so that they might absorb their courage. He was sure too he’d read something about how, on the same principle, consuming the flesh of intelligent creatures endowed the consumer with whatever intelligence the creatures had originally possessed. He read some strange things, he knew, but had become fully convinced that in principle these facts must be true. As he was, he felt, averse to cannibalism, he researched what would be the most intelligent animals one might reasonably devour. He supposed that dolphins and chimpanzees were off limits – though hadn’t he read of an African tribe that considered chimpanzee a delicacy? – and discovered an article that suggested intelligent life had evolved twice-over. Next to humans, it said, cephalopods were considered to have the greatest intelligence. Apparently the octopus brain was diffused throughout its body and therefore to eat it did not entail ingesting lumps of grey matter. Rather, it could be taken into the body in a soup or stew made from the entire organism.

The next set-back, he was disappointed to discover, was that octopus soup was not readily available in any of the stores near to where he lived. However, after further enquiry, he was pleased to learn that a Japanese restaurant in the next town specialised in such a dish. Accordingly, he determined to travel there on a daily basis, Sundays not included, to take his evening meal. He was surprised, though pleasantly so, to discover that octopus soup had a certain piquancy to it, reminiscent of a crab paste he had once tasted. He found it eminently palatable and for the next sixteen days, Sundays not included, partook of cephalopod consommé.

He would have continued with his regime for longer if not for a peculiar development. While his intelligence and capacity for deep thought had, he was pleased to say, improved considerably as a result of his new diet, he discovered on rising on the seventeenth day, that unsightly red blotches had appeared all along his arms. He was further dismayed, on swinging his legs from the bed, to see that the same marks ran from ankle to thigh.

Doctor Highsmith was at a loss to explain them. ‘Probably a virus of some sort,’ she said vaguely, washing her hands after what Vernon considered to be a perfunctory examination.’Or an allergic reaction to something. If I didn’t know better, I might even say you’d contracted plague – ring-a-roses and all that,’ she joked; impertinently Vernon thought. He wondered if his new diet could have played a part in his condition, but considered it best not to mention it to the doctor. He had, he knew, already surpassed her level of intelligence and did not therefore expect her to understand.

He was further alarmed two days later, however, when the red blotches had assumed a more three-dimensional appearance. They looked now rather like miniature, red-rimmed volcanic craters. He counted sixty-four in total, a neat multiple of eight. They were not painful but had blossomed so that his normal pasty flesh tones were all but obliterated with zig-zagged rows of the little craters. They somehow looked familiar and so he returned to his Encyclopaedia Animalia and the pages relating to cephalopods. Yes, that was what it was; the craters were like the suction cups on the arms of the creatures. He was not unduly alarmed; it was perhaps only to be expected after consuming so many of them and he was sure the symptoms would pass. His confidence was shaken a little though, when he caught himself adding an excess of salt to his food. It was rocked when he noticed that when passing water he was instead emitting a blue-black substance, indistinguishable from the ink secreted by octopuses themselves.

He was on the point of dialling Doctor Highsmith again when he was struck with a stabbing pain in his right arm. He rolled up his shirt sleeve to discover the entire limb had now a deep gash of glistening crimson, running its entire length between the rows of suction cups. Each side of this channel appeared to be on the verge of parting company with the other. His left arm was the same. He dared not look at his legs. He took up the telephone again but was shocked to discover that his lips had hardened around his mouth to the point of being beak-like. He was simultaneously overtaken by an urgent and compulsive need to visit the coast.

He drove to the sea – he knew not how – and abandoning his vehicle, tore off this clothes with what remained of his hands. He ran, gulping for air, to the cliff top. Launching himself from its prominence he entered the water, eight limbs trailing behind a now bulbous body, and disappeared beneath the surface.

 

Scourge

He came from out of nowhere. Myalgic was his name, but he was more commonly known as The Scourge . He was dressed in an impenetrable armour, shining shades of metallic blue and purple, like a beetle’s carapace. He towered over me and despite my own superhuman powers, overpowered me with one blow from the back of his axe. The first wave of unbearable pain swept over me as, in that same instant, my arms, from shoulder to finger ends, became as iron, rendered immoveable, while the muscles of my back twisted into knots of corroded steel. My legs likewise were seared, down to my toes of shattered bone, inside my own inadequate armour. I was being broken from the inside out; every part of my body succumbing to an agony unlike any I have never known.

And then he moved on, leaving me there, smashed into innumerable agonised pieces, defeated.

That was years ago. The pain has not left me. Yes, I have days when it abates, but always it returns with vengeful severity. I cannot, will not, allow it to prevent me from living as fully as I might – of course not – but my days of using my abilities to serve others are gone, ending the day Myalgic The Scourge descended and conquered the world; my world.

Very Naughty Children

Remember when you were a child in primary school and the whole class was kept in at playtime because one or two individuals couldn’t behave themselves? Remember how unjust that felt? You’d done as you were told, as had most of your classmates, and yet there you were, stuck inside while other groups played out. All because of the actions of a few. When I became a teacher myself I vowed I would never do this to whole classes of children. Those who couldn’t behave would be the ones to face the consequences of their actions, not those who had. To the best of my memory, I kept this promise.

The sense of injustice I felt as a child when I was punished because of others’ misdemeanours returned this week, when UK health secretary Sajid Javid threatened the entire country with a Christmas lockdown if more eligible people didn’t take up their Covid booster jab. The ‘booster’ amounts to a third shot because, it turns out, the effects of the first two vaccinations last only six months. I have my booster booked for tomorrow. And yet, having done the right thing for myself and others, I could still be faced with the prospect of having Christmas curtailed because, according to Sajid Javid, too many people have been naughty children and haven’t done as they were told.

If this is the case, might it not be because the populace as a whole has grown tired, not to mention altogether sceptical, of politician’s promises about Covid?

       ‘Lockdown for three weeks to flatten the peak of the epidemic’ we were told by the Prime Minister in March 2020.

       Lockdown again, for a month, in November 2020, this time to protect the NHS.

        Stay locked down for over six months.

     Keep your distance, wear a mask, get tested – with which we all complied – and we’ll stop the infection from spreading.

       Get the injection and we’ll soon see off this pandemic;

       Get a second and save grandma;

     Vaccinate your children and erm… we’ll soon see off this pandemic (again).

      Get the booster jab and you can have Christmas. (What will it be after another six months? ‘Have your fourth shot or we won’t let you go on holiday’?)

While these measures may have been effective (the fact we’re still being threatened with lockdowns might suggest otherwise), the means by which we have been coerced into compliance has been through blackmail and bullying. Only a couple of days ago, NHS chief Amanda Pritchard claimed that hospitalisations are currently 14 times higher than they were this time last year. This was a lie. They are considerably lower, as the government’s own data shows. (Regrettably, Ms Pritchard neglected to mention that the NHS itself has been responsible for the deaths of about 11,600 people who caught Covid while in hospital for other ailments.)

I’ll be having my booster and I’ll be having Christmas too, regardless of what an authoritarian career politician and inept NHS chiefs tell me. If we have learnt anything as a result of the pandemic about those who govern us it is that they really do not have the first idea what they are doing. Nor do they know how to manage people. Bullying, blackmailing and punishing the whole class because of a few naughty children is not the way.

Religion Is Bad For You. Always.

There is no upside to religion. All of them, not just Christianity (though certainly including it.)

Religion makes its adherents judgmental. Those who don’t share their beliefs are ‘other’. Consider the terms that religion has spawned to describe non-believers: infidel, heathen, goy, kafir, lost, dissenter, apostate, scoffer, profaner, blasphemer, paynim, idolater, deviant. Needless to say, none of these is designed to flatter. If not being ostracised – ‘be not unequally yoked with unbelievers,’ says Paul with his usual magnanimity – then non-believers are viewed as sinners in need of redemption or enlightenment, as souls to be won, fodder for evangelism. Never as people to be respected or accepted for themselves.

Religion causes its adherents to abandon their critical faculties, accentuating their irrationality so that even those with some intellectual capacity sacrifice it to subscribe to a primitive, superstitious mind-set. They believe in miraculous resurrections, eternal life, covenants with the gods that necessitate the genital mutilation of children, prayer, ‘prophets’, demons, spirits, pantheons of supernatural beings and myths about the end of the world. There’s no evidence for any of this fantasy material, yet the believer trades in their good sense to embrace all of it to one degree or another.

Religion cultivates delusion. Otherwise intelligent believers are convinced their god talks to them in their heads while they, in turn, are capable of projecting their thoughts into the deity’s mind. They take part in rituals they believe appease him, assume  specific body positions and dress up in items of clothing they think, for some unfathomable reason, will help them gain favour in his sight. They believe they’re possessed by the spirit of the deity that enables them to do miraculous things, not least survive their own deaths.

Religion discourages thinking for oneself. Believers are told, either by a ‘holy’ book or by those who claim they know gods’ thoughts, what they should think about vaccinations, abortion, women, homosexuality, politics, guns, the significance of climate change, the state of the world and all those godawful infidels. Woe betide the believer who dissents from the views of their particular cult or sect.

Religion compels its adherents to deny reality. Believers are in a constant state of denial: about the world, evolution, education, the rights of others, the fact people can be moral without religion and death itself. They deny that the universe and nature are as they would be if there were no gods; that religion has contributed nothing to our understanding of the world, has discovered nothing, invented nothing. All of this is the equivalent of sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and singing na-na na-na. Who needs facts when you’ve got third rate fantasy?

Religion causes hatred. There are those within every religion who seek to eliminate their enemies. They fly planes into buildings, shoot and stab innocent people in the street because they regard them as profaners or blasphemers, and call for the death penalty for those they regard as deviant.

Religion prevents people from being themselves. It convinces them they are worthless sinners in dire need of forgiveness and then imposes an inauthenticity on them. It makes them assume a role that reflects, or so they think, the nature of their saviour or prophet. It’s all an act, held in place by the collective pressure of fellow believers, in churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and kingdom halls. It is not life affirming but life denying. It is a lie.

Anyone care to defend religion? One particular version of it? What has your pet religion contributed to the world? What good does it serve?

Facts & Figures

The average age of death in the UK is around 82.

The average age of vaccinated people dying from Covid-19 is 85.

Most Covid deaths are of people with five other underlying causes.

The majority of hospitalisations are of unvaccinated people.

The majority of people in Intensive Care Units are unvaccinated.

The statistics tell us Covid cases are on the increase in the UK. These scientists tell us they are about to decrease.

NHS executives Matthew Taylor and Amanda Pritchard argued last week that the government should impose restrictions on the populace to ‘protect the NHS’. These are the same executives who have done nothing since last winter to better prepare the service for this winter.

Taylor and Pritchard are paid in the region of £255,000. Regional NHS executive posts are advertised with salaries of between £220,000 to £270,000 a year.

The restrictive measures that executives want to bring in for England are already in place in Scotland and Wales. Covid rates in Scotland and Wales are increasing at a greater rate than in England.

Health Secretary, Sajid Javid said this week that the Booster programme in the UK had slowed due to a reluctance on the part of those eligible – the over-65s whose second shot was 6 months ago – to have the booster. They should, he said, book their booster on the NHS online booking system.

Many of those eligible report that the online booking system will not allow them to book a booster shot online. The online system refers them to an NHS telephone booking system. The telephone booking system refers them to the online booking system.

 

Why I’m not watching the News any more

I’ve reached the point where I can’t watch or read mainstream news reports. I’ve had difficulty with them throughout the pandemic with their incessant reporting of Covid cases and deaths completely devoid of context (how many cases were serious enough to cause hospitalisations? How many deaths were ‘of’ Covid rather than ‘with’ it? How many of the deaths were excess deaths; how many people die in any given period normally?) Ignoring context, the media became intent on fostering anxiety and panic. Their reporting was not independent; in the UK at least they parroted uncritically and relentlessly the government’s position. This, in turn, was shaped by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and in particular the predictions of computer modeller Neil Ferguson. Ferguson, regularly interviewed on BBC news programmes, was, as he now admits, wrong on every occasion. Very wrong. The pandemic was nowhere near as drastic as he repeatedly said it was going to be (I’m not disputing how serious it was. It was not, however, anywhere as near as bad as he kept predicting it would be). Yet the government and the media continued to rely on his predictions as if they were fact.

All of which is the reason I reduced my watching, listening and reading of the news to a minimum. Headlines only. Early in the summer of this year, the UK government felt the need to restore some normality to society, it asked the mainstream media to reduce its reporting of Covid statistics. All media outlets immediately complied. Conservatives can never say again that the BBC in particular is biased against them; it has done their bidding throughout the pandemic.

This is not, however, the reason I am abandoning the news, giving up even on headlines. I am tired of predictions, conjecture, speculation, forecasts and extrapolation. None of these is news. They are attempts to see the future, something that we are incapable of doing. Of course we need to be aware of potential consequences of decisions or actions, our own, governments’ and society’s. But reporting those possible consequences as fact, as outcomes that are inevitable, fait accompli, like Neil Ferguson’s hopeless predictions, is not what news reporting should be about. Its job is to tell us what has happened, how, where and possibly why (analysis). That it extends itself well beyond this by determining for us what a particular development means ‘for the future’ or ‘’in the long term’ is nothing more than supposition. It also, dangerously, leads to some self-fulfilling prophecy, such as we’ve seen in the reporting of recent supply chain difficulties. That these were restricted to specific areas was not reported but the possibility that these difficulties could, possibly, maybe, result in food shortages was. Result? Panic buying and food shortages in some areas. The same happened with supposed fuel shortages. Christmas is now in danger according to the UK media.

With Covid largely off the agenda, the news media find themselves in need of something else with which to fill schedules; some alternative source of doom and gloom. The mainstream (in the UK, at least) has opted for climate change, replete with forecasts of catastrophe, destruction and extinction. Of course it’s possible that if we do not act collectively to reduce the human contribution to climate change, that these outcomes will come to pass. It’s possible but it isn’t certain to be the case. Who remembers the media reporting that by this point in the 21st century we would be living in an ice age because of climate change? (This speculation is still about and has traction in some quarters).The news is that climate change is happening. That’s it. What we might do about it is for some other source that doesn’t claim to be delivering news.

I am tired of the narrative of the day, be it #MeToo, Brexit, BLM, Covid, climate change. Tired of its promotion by the media, of the prediction and conjecture that goes along with it, but only while it attracts sufficient viewers or readers. When something more ‘newsworthy’, sensational and alarmist comes along, what was once narrative of the day is dropped. There’s a new bandwagon to jump on! This time though, I’m doing the dropping first.

 

Are You Born Again?

Someone handed me the above card in town yesterday. ‘Are you born again?’ No, mate, and neither are you. As Bart Ehrman shows in Jesus Interrupted, and as I’ve written about before, the story of Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 is a literary construct (as are the gospels in general.) The pun between ‘born a second time’ and ‘born from above’ only works in the Greek, where ἄνωθεν (anothen) can mean either ‘again’ or ‘from above’ (though it’s usually the latter.) Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely Jesus spoke Greek. Here’s Ehrman:

  In the Gospel of John, chapter 3, Jesus has a famous conversation with Nicodemus in which he says, ‘You must be born again.’ The Greek word translated ‘again’ actual has two meanings: it can mean not only ‘a second time’ but also ‘from above.’ Whenever it is used elsewhere in John, it means ‘from above’ (John 19:11, 23). That is what Jesus appears to mean in John 3 when he speaks with Nicodemus: a person must be born from above in order to have eternal life in heaven above. Nicodemus misunderstands, though, and thinks Jesus intends the other meaning of the word, that he has to be born a second time. ‘How can I crawl back into my mother’s womb?’ he asks, out of some frustration. Jesus corrects him: he is not talking about a second physical birth, but a heavenly birth, from above. (Jesus Interrupted, p155)

So Nicodemus is made to misunderstand Jesus, confusing ‘born again’ with ‘born from above’, and Jesus has to tell him what a twit he is. Translators of this chapter haven’t understood the point of the story either, making Jesus say, in John 3.3, ‘you must be born again’, when the rest of the narrative makes clear he means, ‘you must be born from above’ (i.e: be renewed by God who sits in Heaven on high.) 2000 years later, Christians, thanks to these translators, still make the same mistake.

There’s even more poppycock on the back of the card. The born again, it seems, avoid sin like the plague. Sure they do. Just ask all those kids molested by priests, preachers and Christian youth workers.

So Long, Jesus – the new book is here!

My new book, marking a final farewell to Jesus and his cult, is available now from all Amazon outlets. So Long, Jesus and Other Lessons From Life collects together the religiously-themed posts that have appeared on this blog over the past three years. A great Christmas present for those of your friends who might be considering saying their own farewell to Christian mumbo jumbo. This is the book you’ve been waiting for! 

So Long, Jesus and Other Lessons From Life – get it before the rapture!

Is It Me?

Is it me?

Has the world gone completely mad during the pandemic?

It’s one of the two. In the UK, we have panic buying of fuel because of a shortage in some areas of delivery drivers and the consequent closure of a small number of petrol stations. According to a leading motoring organisation, we have over 5 times the usual number of people putting the wrong kind of fuel into their cars (diesel instead of petrol or vice versa.) There have even been some fights. The would-be German chancellor, Olaf Scholz (not yet, Olaf!) blames Brexit, which is a rather curious thing to do when Europe too, as well as the US, is likewise suffering from a shortage of delivery drivers. Perhaps it’s Covid, with some foreign drivers having returned home at the start of the pandemic, never to return. Perhaps it’s the poor working conditions for drivers in the UK or the fact that some companies have driven down their wages, making the job less attractive.

We have civil servants, who, despite their title, are neither civil nor cognisant of their duty to serve the public. Rather, it is, apparently, the public’s duty to comply with all of their demands. I’ve been dealing today, for example, with the DVLA, the agency that handles driving licences in the UK. They want my son, who lives in Australia, to renew his UK licence. He has explained to them by email why he won’t be doing so, only to be instructed to send his explanation in writing. You might think an email is in writing, but you’d be wrong. An email simply won’t do. It must be a letter in the post. Explanations are unacceptable in any other form.

Is it me?

Many civil servants are still working from home following the lockdowns and are reluctant to return to the office. A number of services are unavailable as a result, including queries about tax and pensions, as well as applying for various government permits. Perhaps I’m being unrealistic or unreasonable, but are these people, all of whom have been on full pay throughout the pandemic, working or are they not? Is ‘working from home’ now a euphemism for ‘avoiding dealing with the public we’re meant to serve’?

I don’t know. Maybe it is me.

I’ve been collecting together some of posts from this here blog into book form, as I’ve done several times in the past, using Amazon’s Kindle Direct. (What a splendid Christmas present it will make when it eventually goes on sale – I’ll be sure to let you all know when it does.) Amazon, however, emailed me a couple of hours after I submitted it yesterday, asking me to confirm whether the author of the book (me) is alive or dead. Apart from the pointlessness of this request, I do wonder how, if I were dead, I would confirm the fact.

Doctors (GPs) are now diagnosing people by phone, with many resisting the efforts to get them to resume face-to-face appointments. It took me three weeks to secure an in-person appointment with a doctor recently. I almost put ‘my’ doctor there, but as I’d never seen this particular doc before and am unlikely ever to see him again, I’m not sure ‘my’ really applies. Meanwhile, the Labour Party, the only serious opposition to the UK government, is currently embroiled in an argument about whether only a woman is in possession of a cervix. Many members of the party are reluctant to say and those who have, have been subject to verbal abuse. It is, obviously, the burning issue of the day.

It must be me. Perhaps I’m just getting old and grumpy. Maybe I’ve been locked up (let’s call it what it is) too many times during the last 18 months and, like my fellow Brits, am now facing the possibility of being locked up again this winter because successive UK governments have failed to get to grips with an ailing health service.

If it’s not me, then quite possibly the world really has gone mad.