Resisting state violence and asserting the right to protest: the Waterdale Road marches, Melbourne 1970

Barry York

Fifty years ago, on 11 September 1970, a group of 70 students at La Trobe University assembled on their campus for a protest march against the American war in Vietnam. I was one of the organisers. It was an unusual protest march in that its route was along a suburban street in West Heidelberg, Waterdale Road, which ran off the campus grounds. The street consisted of a light industrial section and residences, including housing commission homes.

The 70 of us were a motley crew of Maoists, anarchists, and Christians and our objective was to march five kilometres to the Ivanhoe shopping centre, give out leaflets promoting the second Vietnam Moratorium scheduled for the 18th September, and then march back to the campus. The first Moratorium, on 8 May that year, had been a resounding success, with about 100,000 participants in Melbourne.

History is full of surprises, twists and turns. We had no idea that our poorly attended, local, march would become a cause celebre – thanks entirely to the violent, repressive, behaviour of the police.

The march had not progressed very far when police cars arrived and blocked the street. A plain-clothed Special Branch policeman jumped out and gave the order: “Batons! Break it up!” The police laid into us, not just with batons but with fists and boots too. We tried to flee back to the campus and made it to a wide paddock (today the asphalted carpark of Chisholm College) but the police pursued us on foot and in their cars.

It was a shocking and frightening experience and I think it’s to our great credit that we were not intimidated. Instead, we rallied in the central square of the campus and, with our trusty megaphone, informed students who gathered from the library, cafeteria and colleges about what had just happened.

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A general meeting resolved to organize another march along Waterdale Road, this time from Northlands shopping centre, two kilometres away, to the campus. We figured that the police would let us march, given that we were marching to the campus. We were not out to block the street and welcomed independent observers, such as the university chaplain, Ian Parsons.

The second march, attended by about 400 students, took place on 16th September, and on this occasion the media were also in attendance. Everything seemed fine – until we came to a section of the street that narrows at the industrial area just before the campus.

There is no doubt that the police had made a decision to attack the demonstration at that part of the route. They were well prepared with larger numbers and with particular student leaders as their targets. In a letter to the dailies, Ian Parsons expressed his ‘disgust at the behavior of the police’.

A conservative group, the Moderate Student Alliance, reported that, ‘There had been absolutely no provocation’.

The inspector in charge of the police riot, Platfuss, told a reporter: “They got some baton today and they’ll get a lot more in the future”.

Such violence on the part of the state was not new to those of us who, by 1970, were seasoned protestors. But what was surprising was that it was so openly political. They could have just let us march back to the campus, as we had nearly completed the route. Instead, they waited in ambush just a block from the university grounds. Nineteen students were arrested that day, on 16th September, and many were punched, kicked, batoned and injured by police.

Another surprising, and worrying, aspect was the use of guns to make arrests. I know of no other protest marches of the Vietnam period in Australia where police made arrests at gunpoint.

Again, we sought refuge by running to the campus but again the police pursued us. I was running across the paddock slightly ahead of a comrade, who I will call ‘Peter G’, when suddenly I heard the exclamation “Stop or I’ll shoot!” I glanced back and in the distance saw a policeman aiming something in our direction. I kept running but Peter G stumbled and was arrested.

Larry Abramson was arrested at gunpoint before the march had scattered. He describes what happened in the brief audio excerpt accompanying this article.

It is with a sense of pride that I recall how we again refused to be intimidated. A huge student general meeting resolved to organize a third march, an assertion of our free speech and right to protest.

The third march, on 23 September, received wide support and included representatives of trade unions. About 800 people marched defiantly along Waterdale Road, to the campus. The police were fully prepared to attack, with two busloads of constables, two carloads of Special Branch and mounted troopers. But they had clearly been given orders from on high not to do so.

On the third march, as we approached the campus, we took over the whole width of the street. The police tried to move us over but we stood our ground. The power of the people had won something vital to democracy, something that is not guaranteed in any laws but must be asserted: the right to march.

(Originally published on the blog of the Museum of Australian Democracy, Canberra)

Addendum:

Here are three youtube compilations respectively about the first, second and the third Waterdale Road demonstrations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLr7ac1Ht-s

The first march, on 11 September 1970, proved to be a ‘single spark’
The second march took place on 16 September 1970
The third march was a win for students and workers and the right to march

Reflections on my trip to China in 1971, and the eventual victory of the ‘capitalist roaders’

China 1971

An old comrade and friend recently wrote some of his reflections on his trip to China in 1978. This prompted me to write about my own time there, a month in May 1971. I was one of 19 Australians on a delegation organized by the Australia-China Friendship Society. Our aim was to promote the campaign for the establishment of diplomatic relations with China. Nearly all of us were sympathetic to the Chinese revolution, and a core was Maoists. The tour leader was the communist leader of Melbourne’s wharfies, Ted Bull. He often called in Jim Bacon and I for discussions on the trip, which makes me think we were his ‘deputies’.

My friend’s account of China in 1978, when he went there, makes me realize how quickly things can change. I must say that I disagree with his assessment of Deng Xiaoping as a ‘great man’. I take the opposite view, and shall explain why in relation to the features in China that attracted and inspired me back then, in 1971.

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My memories of the 1971 trip remain strong for a number of reasons. Firstly, during the 1970s, I gave talks and showed my slides about the trip on more than a hundred occasions. I only had a cheap ‘plastic’ camera but took 400 photographic slides. Incidentally, I was never stopped from taking photos over there.

In 1971, there was great interest in ‘Red China’ in Australia and it was sensational for any Australian to have ventured beyond ‘the Bamboo Curtain’. I remember a neighbor in my street in Brunswick asking, with great concern, as to whether I was worried that they might not let me out. I explained to the neighbor that China wanted a more open relationship with the world and that it was the Australian government that had placed tight restrictions on ordinary people travelling there.

During the 1980s and 1990s, I continued to show my slides but much less frequently. I last showed them about five years ago when some Chinese friends of a friend were visiting Australia and my friend told me the visitors would love to see slides of their homeland from way back in 1971. Their reactions to my commentary and slides suggested that ‘the past (really) is a foreign country – they do things differently there’. The visitors were very loyal to the current philosophy and policies of the Chinese Communist Party and had a kind of nostalgic attachment to the Mao period.

A few years prior to that I had shown the slides to one of the mums at the local school. My wife had told her that I had been to China and met Zhou Enlai. This young mum, whose parents were Chinese and had lived through the Cultural Revolution, was thrilled to meet me and to see the slides. She was gushing with enthusiasm to meet someone who had actually shaken the hand of the late Premier. Born years after Zhou’s death, she none the less gushed: “We Chinese LOVE Premier Zhou!”

My memories were also kept alive by an oral history project I recorded for the National Library in 2013 in which I interviewed several of those who were on the 1971 trip. Their memories and reflections, from the perspective of ‘now’, were fascinating and revived more of my own recollections. Later, I persuaded the Library to allow me to record the memories of members of the Australian table tennis team – the ‘ping-pong diplomats’ – who we met in Beijing in May 1971. It was another fascinating project. One of the players described to me the difference in the attitude of the everyday people in the eastern bloc, where he had also competed in table tennis, and those in China. The vibe of enthusiasm in China was a marked contrast, he told me, to the drabness and crushing sense of alienation in East Germany and other Soviet bloc countries.

I could relate to what he said because, wherever we went in China, the vibe in the streets was one of friendliness, happiness, engagement and curiosity. Perhaps all this was staged, but there were times when it couldn’t have been – such as when Jim Bacon and I told our guides in Shanghai that we wanted to go shopping and that we were confident we could manage on our own without a guide or interpreter. It is a humorous but insightful anecdote that I always tell with my slide show (but too long and complicated to take up space here). We were more or less mobbed by the locals, many of who sported Mao badges and all of whom seemed very happy people. I can imagine their vibe was not terribly different to that in other revolutionary societies, including the unleashing of enthusiasm during and immediately after the English civil war and the period in America when the British were defeated and Washington elected unanimously by the Congress as the first President.

Anyway all this has kept the memories alive for me.

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Like my old friend, I was keen to see socialism in action. I had read a fair bit of theory and there were detailed accounts by westerners like the American communist William Hinton who had spent long periods living there among the peasants and workers, poet Rewi Alley and novelist Han Suyin, and scholarly works by Joan Robinson, professor of economics at Cambridge University. It was Robinson’s book on the cultural revolution, published in 1968, that influenced me in terms of the Maoist view of the relationship between the economic base of a society and its superstructure. The deterministic brand of Marxism that saw the relationship as a one-way street was rejected by Mao and developed into a nuanced understanding that the superstructure, the culture, customs, and habits, can impact on the base of a society with such power as to turn it into its opposite (ie, under socialism, restoring capitalist social relations of production).

The source of the regressive impact was not ‘socialist’ but feudalist. In terms of ‘custom’ etc that reflects and in turn pushes the ongoing development of socialism, we are talking of a lengthy process (which is why Mao spoke of the need for many cultural revolutions). Feudalism was collectivist because there was no other choice: the individual, rights, and expectations being severely constrained. And it was this cultural drag that was able to present aspects of itself as ‘socialist’. The communists were waging a struggle on two fronts – against feudal ideas and practices (the latter of these especially because they can present themselves as ideologically free zones) and the emerging bourgeois ones that were also able to present themselves as revolutionary (and to the degree they were anti-feudal, they were).

Thus, it made sense to wage ‘cultural revolution’ against those in the communist party who sought to perpetuate bourgeois values of selfishness over serving the people, competitiveness over cooperation, and personal acquisition of great wealth, as a virtue. The much-promoted slogan for the socialist ethic at the time was ‘Serve the people’.

I could readily relate to this distinctively Maoist outlook for two main reasons: I was very much the “Arts” type and into subjectivity. I was easily moved by music, film and poetry. I loved expressing myself through writing and art and music. Mao emphasized human agency in the materialist dialectic. Marx had dealt with the power of subjectivity in the interaction between base and superstructure in footnotes – Mao pushed it centre-stage at a time when socialism was being built in China. Secondly, I felt part of a youth rebellion in the late 1960s. It took many forms, from rock music to opposition to censorship and rejection of notions of obedience. I grew my hair long. One day, walking along my street in Brunswick, a bloke in a Holden drove by, slowed down, and yelled out, “Get a haircut, ya poofta!” From that day on, I pledged to myself I’d be a ‘long hair’. (Even now, when Nature has placed a prohibition on me doing so, I at least like to grow a pony-tail). This ‘youth revolt’ was global and, as in China, we were challenging the old assumptions and the old ways. So, I went to China in 1971 very keen to see this playing out.

William Hinton’s book, ‘Fanshen’, based on his life with a commune, was a very detailed description of daily routines under conditions of land redistribution and ‘New Democracy’, with power placed in the hands of the people through revolutionary committees – similar to Russia’s earlier soviets – in which workers and peasants could directly elect their managers and recall them at any time by popular vote. These committees elected representatives to higher bodies and, in turn, they elected representatives still higher up. But the beauty of the revolutionary committee system, to me, was that the workers and peasants had a real say in the economic direction of their local community and the bigger society. It was the exact opposite power structure to that in Australia and other capitalist societies where, at best, you might have a corporation appointing a union boss to a board of management.

So, I was keen to see how these revolutionary committees worked.

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I won’t go into detail here – I could write much more about all this – but I’ll list five principal features of China’s revolutionary life that inspired me and that I experienced during May 1971.

  1. The revolutionary committees. We met with cadres from two such committees (from memory) and one that I remember clearly (again, thanks to the slide showings) was based in a rolling stock and locomotive factory. The workers had produced surplus stock and the revolutionary committee convened a mass meeting to decide what the workers wanted to do with the surplus. We were told they decided to donate it to the government of Tanzania, where a railway was being built. The socialist ethic of ‘serving the people’ was not nationalistic but based on international solidarity. I returned to Melbourne and to La Trobe University with an almost evangelical zeal to convey what I knew about the revolutionary committees. One of our student demands was for ‘student power’. We even had to struggle for a student representative on the governing body of the university – indeed, in 1969, I received my first penalty for political protest on the campus when I was ‘severely reprimanded’ for being part of a deputation that ‘invaded’ the Council chambers during a Council meeting to demand student representation. We also wanted students to have the right to observe Council meetings.

 

  1. Big Character Posters. These were, in a sense, the Internet of the day. While the Cultural Revolution was dying down in 1971, with Mao concerned about the ultra-leftists and violence between the various ‘true Maoist’ factions, the Big Character posters were apparent in schools and streets. These were forms of grass-roots expression, usually expressing local grievances and/or criticizing capitalist-roaders within the communist party. The posters were something that anyone could do – hence my analogy with the Internet.

 

  1. Who needs a Navy? I’ll never forget meeting with party cadres and discussing the military threats to China from the Soviet social-imperialists (the Ussuri River border being a dangerous hot spot where fighting had broken out in 1969) and from the US imperialists in Indo-China and the Pacific. We were told that China’s military strategy was entirely defensive and based on the Peoples Liberation Army and civil defense. My ears pricked up when mention was made of a coastal naval defense force. I asked, “Why doesn’t China have a conventional Navy – why just a small coastal guard?” The reply, which I’ll never forget, was that “China does not need a Navy because we have no intention of expanding our interests beyond China. We shall never become imperialist! Only imperialists need a large powerful Navy!”

 

  1. Social ownership of property and poverty/progress. When Marx spoke of ‘private property’ he meant the means of production, not one’s spectacles or shoes. China’s communes were based on collective ownership of land once owned by individuals and formerly run in pursuit of maximizing the profit to the landlords. Socialism is social ownership of means of production. When that is lost, then you no longer have socialism. The grass-roots’ enthusiasm that I saw in China, and that people like William Hinton, Han Suyin and Rewi Alley wrote about based on experience living there, confirmed to me that society does not need greed or the pursuit of individual profit as a motivator for innovation. I saw things that were indicators of progress, especially in housing and, at the same time, I also saw a level of poverty that did not exist anywhere in Australia’s regions and cities. This was not disillusioning, though, because I knew, from works like Edgar Snow’s ‘Red Star over China’, what conditions had been like for the peasants pre-1949, when they had to eat bark off trees or hand over their children to landlords in lieu of rent. We met elderly folk who recalled the bad old days, usually with tears, and who described how their personal lives had changed for the better. Yes, they could have been party stooges, reciting by rote what the party bosses were forcing them to say. If that were the case, then China had some truly magnificent actors, individuals worthy of Academy awards. They seemed very genuine to me.

 

On the topic of progress, I’ll relate an episode when we visited a waterfront. With the assistance of an interpreter, Ted Bull was invited to speak to the Chinese waterside workers. Ted began by telling them that conditions on the wharves in Melbourne were superior to what he had seen in China. I was rather surprised by his frankness. He explained that this had been achieved by struggle, hard struggle, over many decades. He said that they had to struggle because the waterside workers were more or less ‘owned’ for the period of their labour by the ship owners and other capitalists. He told the Chinese workers that the big difference in China was that they had much greater ‘ownership’ of themselves as a class and could thus progress through struggle of a different kind, such as the struggle to develop better ways of improving safety on the job and better ways of innovating and producing stuff. He hardly needed to point out that socialist China had begun from a far less developed starting-point.

 

5    Politics in command – It is right to rebel!  In 1971, there were still signs of revolutionary enthusiasm such as big character posters and anti-imperialist and anti-racism billboards. Whenever we met with cadres, they were intensely political – politics was in command. The politics was based on dialectical understanding – the cadres often spoke about the on-going struggle between the two lines within the communist party. The notion of rebellion as a positive value struck me – but I may have been projecting my own values onto the situation. One would have to live there for many years to grasp anything like that – as William Hinton did. In 1971 I was living and breathing politics as an activist at La Trobe University, and had been since 1968/69. A highly politicized society strikes me as an engaged one: a participatory democracy. Apathy and cynicism are tantamount to surrender. Our struggles at La Trobe had no room for either.

 

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Those five features, whether accurate or not, and whether a product of idealised rose-coloured glasses or not, struck me as essentials of socialism, of the dictatorship of the proletariat (ie, the replacement of the rule by the 0.1% with the rule of the 99.9%); things that would really take off with even greater success under conditions of advanced industrial capitalism. There was occasionally theoretical discussion in Melbourne about whether it was possible to ‘jump’ mature capitalist development from a semi-feudal society into socialism. At the time, I believed it was possible.

 

But each of those five features was gradually reversed following the coup – ‘regime change’ – after Mao’s death in 1976. And this leads me to why I have no time at all for Deng Xiaoping, the architect of ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’.

 

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At the time of the coup in China, I merely followed the party line, the CPA(ML) line. I’d been like that for too many years – an obedient follower rather than a critical reflective thinker, researcher and debater. That was the negative of my experience for most of the 1970s. Dogmatism, group think, formula-thinking, failure to investigate and think for myself… and worst of all: obedience. I may have still called myself a ‘Maoist’ but I was far from being one. Of course, to rebel within the CPA(ML) was not easy and had bad personal consequences, especially if you were dependent on a social life based around others who also tended to have become dogmatic and obedient. (I could write a book about this period).

 

To the extent that I did think about it in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I regarded the rise of Deng as a positive move; something along the lines of Lenin’s New Economic Policy and the beginning of a modernization process (something Mao had wanted and which was clearly needed) rather than a regime change ushering in a completely different path. I would have agreed with the idea that Deng was a ‘great man’. The ‘Gang of Four’, I speculated (in the absence of any investigation or evidence), were ultra-leftists who put sloganeering above economic development. Closer to home, we had the Red Eureka Movement, who supported the Gang of Four – and (nearly) everyone in the party knew they were ‘no good’ and heaven help you if you suggested, even mildly, that they might have had a few good points. And, further, their ‘leader’, Albert Langer, was a CIA agent –a definite fact according to Duncan Clarke and other veterans. Of course, it was nonsense (and I’m ashamed to say I went along with such nonsense, for too long).

 

My doubts about Deng were slow to develop and I was able to question what had happened more freely after I resigned from the party late in 1980 or early 1981. I opened my mind to different possibilities about him and followed events in China more closely. And listened to the range of opinions and analyses on offer.

 

Something that struck me as strange was that the western media, almost unanimously, praised Deng and admired him. This usually doesn’t happen to genuine communists while they are alive. They are usually vilified and demonized by the capitalist press. But, no, Deng was almost heroic to some pro-capitalist western outlets: he was ‘opening up’ China’s economy by facilitating a market aspect. Well, I figured, maybe that is needed. Let’s see.

 

Then, in the early 1980s, I learned that the revolutionary committees had been disbanded in 1978 – not by the workers and peasants but from above. The revolutionary committees had formed the backbone of China’s New Democracy for more than a decade. No wonder the capitalist media was glowing in their admiration for Deng. In 1982, I also read about how the Chinese regime had banned the Big Character posters. This was done as part of the revision of the Constitution no less. Apparently, genuine rebellious types in China were using the posters to challenge the corruption that grew with the new market direction. Defiantly, other rebellious types revived them seven years later and, despite being unlawful, they became ubiquitous during the June Fourth protests in 1989.

 

It seemed to me that China under Deng’s influence might be going down the capitalist road as had happened in the Soviet Union but it didn’t preoccupy me as an issue. I was now living and studying in Sydney, enjoying life more, and this issue only arose for me through my reading of ‘Vanguard’ and newsletters of the Red Eureka Movement and occasional contact with former and current party members who wanted to talk about it.

 

I was easily influenced by others during the 1980s but I had at least started thinking again. I suppose ‘confused’ would be the best word to describe myself at that time. I’d read damning stuff about ‘the real Mao’ and been influenced by that, and then a counterpoint would come along and I’d feel okay about him again. The western media rightly portrayed Deng in contradistinction to Mao. They got that right. Either way, I still adhered to the values embodied in those five features of China in 1971 that impressed me so much. I still believed that socialism could work and offered something better, more innovative and productive, less alienating, more democratic and more conducive to the development of the full human being, than capitalism.

 

Then came another clanger for Deng in my eyes. “To get rich is glorious”. Really? Glorious? What happened to the socialist ethic: Serve the people? In 1986 in a Sixty Minutes interview, Deng did not deny saying that but tried to justify it by claiming he meant “For society to get rich is glorious”. In the context of the widening of the market economy under the reforms he supported, it was entirely plausible that what he meant was individuals getting rich was glorious. This is certainly supported by his other claim: “Let some people get rich first”.

 

And what was happening to the communist slogan, ‘Keep politics in command’? According to Deng, it was a case of “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white so long as it catches mice”.

SAY WHAT??!!

 

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During the 1980s, I had friends who visited China. Gone were the days of the early 1970s when the tourist industry was barely developed over there (which actually meant a greater degree of freedom for tourists, as I found in 1971). In the 1980s, the tourist industry was becoming large and sophisticated, and more controlled. Anecdotal evidence from my friends indicated that there had been a profound cultural change in China, reflecting the development of market capitalism. My friends would complain about how on every street corner in Beijing or Nanjing or wherever, someone was trying to sell you something. Everyone, they said, seemed to be out to make a fast buck. “To get rich is glorious”!

 

Still, around the mid-1980s, I still wouldn’t have felt confident to argue with anyone about all this. But then, in 1989, something happened to clinch it all: a ghastly massacre of young students and workers who had occupied Tiananmen Square to protest against government corruption. In rolled the tanks. And even the corpses were crushed.

 

A perennial question for any leftist confronted me: whose side was I on? Against the insistence of a handful of party loyalists (who struck me as increasingly eccentric) that it was all a foreign plot, I sided with the rebels, the protestors, the courageous ones, the ones without the tanks, the ‘long hairs’. And it wasn’t only because some sang ‘The Internationale’. It was because their cause was just, and their suppression despicable and completely unjust. (The Waterdale Road demonstrations from La Trobe University in 1970, which were violently attacked by police who made two arrests at gunpoint, were a pleasant afternoon tea party by comparison).

 

In my eyes, Deng – who was chairman of the central military commission in 1989 and had argued for swift military intervention – was clearly a social-fascist. Mao would have described him as such.

 

Marxist William Hinton’s book, ‘The Great Reversal: the privatization of China, 1978-1989’ provides an abundance of evidence and elaboration for all the above. He lived and worked there for many years, including during the 1980s.

 

On the Cultural Revolution, I recommend Mobo Gao’s ‘The battle for China’s past’ and Dongping Han’s ‘The unknown Cultural Revolution: life and change in a Chinese village’ for evidence-based alternatives to the mainstream understanding promoted through the media and universities.

 

 

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covid-19 Senior Constable Vogon of Fitzroy Police Station

This afternoon at 16:16 I had a 12’27” call to Fitzroy Police Station to inform the Sergeant about the conduct of a Senior Constable whose name was not Vogon.

The call was handled professionally so I hope the problem will be dealt with. I was asked at the end whether I would like to be called back with any follow up. I said that would not be necessary as I am merely informing the Sergeant about behaviour that should be confirmed by the other officer present and would be likely to be part of on an ongoing pattern. But I am available to provide evidence if needed.

These notes are not about the call but concern the incident I was calling about, while the facts are still fresh, in case there is need to assist further. I have added humorous embellishments for the benefit of other readers.

A little after 15:30 pm this afternoon I was sitting at a table in a public park close to my current accommodation eating a cookie and reading channel 9 Entertainment’s daily newspaper. My face visor and walking stick were clearly visible on the table, as was the cookie.

I saw two police officers approaching and put on both the visor and an N75 mask in view of the likelihood that they intended to come close enough to speak to me and therefore too close. They did.

One of them introduced himself as a Vogon seconded from the Vogon constructor fleet to assist the Murdoch press in discrediting the Victorian police. He did this by requesting that I remove my face mask so that he would be able to hear me speak clearly.

I’m not sure that I emphasized that clearly enough in conversation with the Sergeant. Just think about the newspaper headlines in “The Sun”. Dictator Dan’s police patrol public parks demanding that people remove their face masks! This isn’t some ordinarily incompetent bullying SC, but somebody quite “special”. He is either being paid to provoke people or he cannot help himself.

He made this quite breaktaking request in the manner of an exceptionally polite Vogon. I had no difficulty in suppressing my amusement and responding politely that I would keep my mask on and he would be able to understand anything I said.

My best guess is that he had been rather looking forward to lecturing me about the need to have my mask on and then exercising “leniency” by just giving me a warning and felt frustrated about my having put the mask on before he arrived, jumped to the conclusion that I had done so to avoid the lecture rather than because I would do so before conversing with anybody at all and was just too dumb to figure out some less bizarre opening remark.

A much less plausible theory is that if I had removed the mask he could then have delivered the lecture and issued an infringement notice that would inevitably be challenged. That would require actual collaboration from the other officer. I saw no sign of that. There was no direct intervention by the other officer. Whoever was senior, it would not be unusual for officers to avoid intervention against each other in public despite bizarre behaviour. It is interesting to encounter one officer behaving like SC Vogon, but two actually supporting each other in asking people to remove their masks so they could issue infringment notices for not wearing them seems a lot less likely.

Anyway, the other police officer avoided any potential escalation of the absurdity by professionally asking for my name, address and date of birth. I mentioned that I walked to and from the park for exercise, wore my mask only when entering shops and had removed the visor for eating. I was told that they were looking for somebody else involved in an incident nearby who matched my description. I complied, with the request, also mentioning that my name was not the same on my driver’s licence and that I was very young at the time of my birth and was only repeating what I had been told since.

SC Vogon stood further back while this was proceeding. I would guess this is standard infection control procedure and it was certainly welcome.

But when the other officer had finished and was prepared to leave he stepped forward and took over, demanding to know why I was in the park. I responded that I had already given the other officer the information required. He said that there were only four valid reasons to be out and I was required to leave immediately. I told him that I had downloaded and was thoroughly familiar with the CHO directions of July 19 and was in full compliance with those directions.

“Stay At Home Directions (Restricted Areas) (No 3):

  1. Leaving premises for exercise or outdoor recreation
    (1) Note 1. …Examples: Outdoor recreation includes sitting in a park…”

SC Vogon said that he was requiring me to pack up and leave immediately and that if I did not do so he would issue an infringement notice. I said that I would be making a formal complaint about him and would not be leaving until he provided his name and number. He did so before leaving and his Sergeant now has them.

If the other officer is truthful the Sergeant will know that SC Vogon engaged in two criminal offences:

  1. Abusing his membership of the Police Force to demand removal of the face mask of a person he knew to be over 70 and especially vulnerable to covid-19. Nobody stupid enough to go around asking anybody at all to remove their face masks in response to a directive requiring face covering should remain in the police force.
  2. Threatening to issue an infringement notice to a person sitting in a park by themselves, knowing that he had no authority to do so whatever. Nobody up themselves enough to go around doing that should remain in the police force.

I am in favour of rigorously enforcing public health directions in a pandemic emergency. Doing so requires removing saboteurs like SC Vogon from the police force.

It would be surprising if this behaviour is not part of a pattern that others can confirm and that any random Sergeant in any police station would want to stop.

So I am leaving it to the internal administrative processes.

But if there is some subsequent inquiry as to why SC Vogon was not dismissed before he caused real damage, my contemporaneous notes of what was known to his Seargeant about him as of today will be available.

covid-19 – Strategic Direction – “No Community Transmission”

https://www.health.gov.au/news/australian-health-protection-principal-committee-ahppc-statement-on-strategic-direction

“Our strong public health advice is to pursue no community transmission, which many areas of the country have achieved. A goal of no community transmission has been a part of our suppression strategy from the start of the pandemic. AHPPC recommends that this now be more strongly pursued.

This involves knowing that single cases will occur. Success will rely on finding new cases early and stopping chains of transmission. If new chains appear, it is important to quickly find, contain and stop them.”

That statement on July 24 is worth reading carefully in full. Taken at face value it implies a strategic switch to “Elimination” despite being worded to obscure that. The wording avoids objections from the media campaign against Elimination, that Australia cannot be completely shut off so there will inevitably be some new chains.

Accountability for the previous policy and the pathetic claim that elimination of community transmission has been “a part of our suppression strategy from the start” can be left until later. It would be sufficient if the Chief Health Officers of the AHPCC now know that opening up while there was still community transmission in the largest States was a blunder even if they don’t want to spell it out.

But eliminating community transmission does require that WHEN (not “if”) new chains of transmission appear the capacity exists to “quickly find, contain and stop them”.

Acquiring that capacity requires first acknowledging that it does not currently exist. Instead of wording intended to obscure that and pretend continuity from the start it requires open and frank explanation of the difficulties and mobilization of the resources needed to overcome them.

On the same day, the following came:

“National Cabinet agreed to a new set of data and metrics to ensure that the Commonwealth, states and territories all have access to transparent up-to-date jurisdictional data on contact tracing, tracking and other metrics to ensure health system capacity. This will better help guide the public health response and support the coordination of efforts by the Commonwealth, states and territories…

National Cabinet recommitted to the suppression strategy to address COVID-19. The goal remains suppression of COVID-19 until a point in time a vaccine or effective treatments are available, with the goal of no local community transmission.”

https://www.pm.gov.au/media/national-cabinet-24jul20

Presumably the obscure wording from the AHPPC is intended to assist “National Cabinet” sliding in “the goal of no local community transmission” while proclaiming it has “recommitted” to the “suppression strategy” that produced a surge in community transmission.

In updates to my post of 31 March I pointed out that Australia had no serious modelling capability as demonstrated by the release of toy models supposedly representing “the science” guiding policy:

https://c21stleft.com/2020/03/31/covid-19-four-corners-looks-back-ignores-urgent-need-for-quarantine-accommodation/

In April I provided some links about contact tracing KPIs here:

https://c21stleft.com/2020/04/29/covid-19-roadmap-to-recovery/

Despite this I was reassured by news (Update 6) that the need for quarantine accommodation to isolate at least people known to be infected so that they would not infect others in their household had been endorsed by the Tasmanian AMA and would inevitably percolate through to government action.

Now I know that did not happen. The necessary preparations to cope with the much larger numbers that now need to be isolated (including contacts and others waiting for test results) simply have not been made in the months since. Even infected Aged Care residents are being kept in their existing residences to infect others and police were used to confine confirmed cases in the “vertical cruise ships” instead of escorting them to quarantine accommodation to prevent infecting others in their cramped “public housing”.

There are large numbers unemployed and an enormous amount of work for them to do. Apart from lots of front line workers that need to be trained in proper use of PPE while testing, isolating etc there are many other tasks such as ensuring adequate ventilation of essential workplaces. Mobilizing the public has not even begun.

Recent announcements make it clear the situation with modeling is far worse than I thought. Not only do they not have the capability for models to guide policy but they do not even have metrics for the Key Performance Indicators that need to be monitored for acquiring the necessary data for models. I thought they just didn’t want to release the sort of KPIs that New Zealand released because of their hostility to public scrutiny. The National Cabinet announcement indicates that the various governments did not even have adequate “data on contact tracing, tracking and other metrics” themselves!

On the positive side they will now get those metrics, which is a necessary step towards actually being able to carry out any policy whatever, whether it is called “Suppression” or “Elimination”.

It ought to be self evident that there has been a breakdown in contact tracing from the massive blow out in numbers of cases “under investigation”.

Instead of a plan to deal with the problem we got a speech from the Premier of Victoria complaining that 90% of people who were confirmed as infected did not get tested within 3 days of having symptoms and more than half of those tested did not isolate themselves while waiting for test results. The three lags between symptom onset and testing, results of tests and full isolation are absolutely critical KPI metrics that should have been monitored continuously.

The links I provided showed that pre-clinical transmission before people even develop symptoms can be about 90% of the minimum necessary to generate an epidemic in the absence of restrictions. Isolating an infected person within 24 hours of developing symptoms may not be fast enough. Hence the need for continuous tracking and automatic notification of contacts. But currently test results are taking an “average” of two days (with many taking far longer and difficulty prioritizing correctly). Adding 3 days for getting tested means five days of transmission without isolation, which is most of the usual infectious period. That means failure to “quickly find, contain and stop them”.

Today’s speeches about the latest record breaking numbers did at least have a start at preparing for the possible imminent further blow out in numbers. Training reserves of ambulance drivers is an essential step to prepare for large numbers of paramedics being unavailable due to isolation together with an increase in cases. Using paramedics already in isolation to help with contact tracing also makes sense. Likewise beds are being prepared etc.

What makes contact tracing possible is the fact that stage 3 restrictions sharply reduce the numbers of contacts that each infected person has.

Those restrictions were not first introduced until the very same day the Grand Prix was about to start with tens of thousands of spectators. Large crowds mean there is simply no way to trace the people an infected spectator came into contact with. The point of restricting “gatherings” to two people is to enable contact tracing. That worked in the first wave but has not been sufficient to suppress the second wave.

Most developed countries gave up contact tracing as already too difficult at much lower numbers than Victoria is still attempting to handle, so it isn’t that the Victorian Public Health officers are not working hard enough.

It just isn’t possible to keep up with the case load at the current level of social distancing restrictions. That was clear when the numbers continued to increase after locking down several suburbs to stage 3 and it remains clear two weeks after locking down the whole of Melbourne to stage 3. The AMA called for a move to stage 4 about a week ago.

Any plan has to start with shutting things down to the point where contact tracing can keep up. If governments won’t do it, local Committees of Public Safety will have to step forward.

The difficulty pointed out by Victoria’s Chief Health Officer is that most of the current transmission is connected with essential workplaces that would remain open in a “stage 4” lockdown. That increases the urgency of drastic measures to reorganize those workplaces as well as a more thorough lockdown elsewhere. But instead it has resulted in simply hoping that masks will turn out to be sufficient. They might, but wait and see is not a proactive policy for dealing with an outbreak when flying blind without adequate statistics about what happened weeks ago.

A policy of “wait an see” whether quaranting individual suburbs of a large metropolis could work merely allowed the case load to double.

The current plan is to “wait and see” the results of mandatory masks. But we already know the first two weeks of stage 3 restrictions has not stopped exponential growth and is close to overwhelming the test and trace capability. We also know that the original source of seeding has been cut off by diverting incoming travellers from Melbourne while quarantine hotels are tightened up.

That means the continued growth of cases is entirely local. The fact that numbers “under investigation” has blown out means most of that continued growth in local cases is “community transmission”. It doesn’t really matter if those numbers are eventually epidemiologically linked to a known local outbreak when the link is made too late to actually do much isolating either upstream or downstream.

Instead of waiting to see, a pro-active policy would be to do whatever it takes to bring the effective Reproduction number well below 1 and keep it as low as feasible until “No Community Transmission”.

Such a policy must be spelled out sharply as a break with the past, not obscured to avoid offending the pro-death advocates of sacrificing lives to save asset values for the owners.

The current situation is that most public discussion is basically uninformed about epidemics and contact tracing.

See for example the comment on my last article:

“The growth is not exponential and I suspect R0 is around 1, or less, given the extensive testing going on. Here is a graph” (linked to a search on Bing)

According to both the current Victorian guidelines (v23, July 10) and the National guidelines (SoNG 3.4) :

“Estimates for the basic reproductive number (R0) of SARS-CoV-2 range from 2–4, with R0
for confined settings, e.g. cruise ships, at the higher end of this range. Estimates of the
effective reproductive number (Reff) vary from between settings and at different time points
are dependent on a range of factors, including, public health interventions such as isolation,
quarantine and physical distancing to limit close contact between people (5, 6).”

Reference to R0 instead of Reff indicates that the person making the comment could not possibly have an informed opinion as to whether the growth was exponential, even if they were looking at accurate current figures and were able to notice when the graph they are looking at is simply a Bing bungle.

Suffice to say that there were 0 new daily cases at the start of June, rising to a record of 459 before the end of July.

Technically that is an infinite rather than merely exponential increase. But a glance at the actual curves for the first and second waves in Victoria enables anybody with their eyes open to see that the second is already much larger and still growing faster than the “exponential” period of the first wave.

Many people have their eyes firmly shut. This does not prevent them from pontificating about what they “suspect” after looking up “trends” in Bing.

https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/coronavirus-covid-19-daily-update

https://www.covid19data.com.au/victoria

It makes sense for conservatives to keep their eyes firmly shut and just hope things will sort themselves out. Conservatives naturally have faith that the authorities know best. There is no need for conservatives to propose detailed measures for mobilizing people to deal with problems. Simply thank them for staying home. “They also serve who only stand and wait”.

But anybody on the left will have less faith in the authorities and will be studying what needs to be done to mobilize people to tackle the problem. It is ludicrous to pretend to have confidence that people will transform capitalist society after an economic crisis while not being interested in concrete policies for dealing with a health crisis and just demanding that governments Eliminate the problem without proposing how to do so.

covid-19 – Do panic?

As far as I can make out there is no current plan for containing the second wave in Victoria. The effective reproduction rate is clearly still above 1, two weeks after returning to stage 3 restrictions but no plans to lower it have been announced.

The continued exponential growth is not unexpected since cases in the second wave are driven by “community transmission” from sources that remain unknown after contact tracing and consequently cannot be isolated. The first wave was mainly seeded from overseas and was contained with only a low level of untraceable community transmission remaining. Contact tracing was able to keep up when contacts were restricted by stay at home orders. But with restrictions lifted while transmission continued it is much harder to suppress the second wave. It is likely to require stronger restrictions as well as take longer, but no such plans have been announced yet.

The Australian Medical Association called for stage 4 restrictions nearly a week ago:

https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-17/coronavirus-australia-live-news-covid-19-victoria-nsw/12464550

Instead of a plan there were three announcements today:

  1. First, there was an announcement about a future announcement. There will soon be an announcement about paying people who cannot afford to stay away from work while waiting for test results so that they can afford to do so. Obviously necessary but there is no more reason to expect workers in precarious jobs to quickly change their responses as a result than there is to expect a governent to take such an obviously necessary measure less than 3 months after a pandemic begins.
  2. Second, instead of a plan there was announcement today that the government is concerned that 90% of people who get tested because of having symptoms are waiting 3 days from onset of symptoms and half of those tested are not remaining isolated while waiting for results.

That does drive transmissions since it is well established people are most infectious for the few days immediately before and after onset of symptoms. The successful response to that has been extensive health monitoring and testing with immediate isolation in separate facilities, as in China (including HK and Taiwan). No other response has been shown to work.

Nobody has ever claimed that mere speeches at press conferences could possibly have a major impact on the predictable and expected delay between symptom onset and testing nor on the likelihood of people isolating themselves when they have got tested as a result of appeals to do so rather than with an expectation that they actually have the disease.

  1. Third, instead of a plan there is an incoherent press release about face coverings (with an exception to encourage people breathing heavily as they run past others to continue doing so). This press release has not even been turned into an enforcable “direction” but has been accompanied by a $200 penalty for “failing to comply with a requirement in relation to a face covering”.

https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/face-masks-covid-19

https://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/as-made/statutory-rules/public-health-and-wellbeing-amendment-further-infringement-offences

Recommendations to use cloth face masks were accompanied by instructions on how to sew one yourself on 20 July:

Click to access Design%20and%20preparation%20of%20cloth%20masks%2010%20July.pdf

Actually organizing supplies of cloth masks, should be easy compared with supplies of effective PPE such as P2 or N95 disposable masks. Instead, national stockpiles of PPE are being released to hospitals and aged care facilities to cope with the inevitable supply chain difficulties resulting from panic buying by the public in response to a panic announcement that use of masks would be compulsory from midnite tonight.

Cloth maks are of course even less effective than the surgical masks that health and aged care workers have been stuck with. They simply don’t adequately prevent aerosol transmission in confined spaces. Recent evidence indicates such aerosol transmission is more significant than previously thought.

Being in the same room as a confirmed case for more than two hours already makes one a “close contact” subject to mandatory 14 days quarantine. That was true when aerosol transmission was considered less important. Confined spaces encourage droplet transmission both direct from face to face and via face to hand to surfaces to hands to faces. Cloth masks and ordinary surgical masks can both reduce droplet transmission and should have been made compulsory in all confined spaces long ago (with cloth masks as merely a “better than nothing” expedient while supplies of disposable surgical masks were ramped up).

But a serious response to evidence that aerosol transmission is more important than previously thought cannot involve either cloth masks or standard surgical masks. It would require very strict controls enforcing effective PPE both on public transport and in workplaces (including schools) since crowding people into both results in breathing each others aerosols in confined spaces. That is radically inconsistent with the national policy of opening up the economy instead of first eliminating community transmission. It would involve prohibiting the use of cloth masks or surgical masks and requiring the correct use of effective diisposable PPE (N95 or P2 masks or Positive Air Pressure Respirators).

Mandatory cloth masks have been openly introduced in both the UK and USA to to reassure people that it is safe to go to work and school and shopping when it isn’t.

The stated reason for following the catastrophically stupid UK and US policies here is in response to a Lancet article published:June 01, 2020:

“Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis”

https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31142-9

That article did systematically review a large number of previous publications and confirmed the well known fact that PPE is essential in health care settings. It did not shed any light whatever on the public policy issue of whether mandatory cloth masks would have greater benefits in making people more situationally aware and increase compliance with physical distancing and hygiene measures or whether it would do more harm by tending to reassure people that it is safe to enter crowded public transport, workplaces and shops etc. In healthcare settings cloth masks are used only when supplies of proper PPE are unavailable.

It is inherenty difficult to be sure about the effects outside healthcare settings. The evidence actually available is confounded by the likelihood that people who do wear masks when they are not mandatory are more cautious generally and therefore less likely to give or receive infection. The UK government may find people are not as reasssured as they hope.

But the only serious medical advice is that WHEN you are unable to maintain physical distancing AND you don’t have effective PPE, a cloth mask is better than nothing. Presenting that as though using cloth masks can substitute for greater restriction of physical distancing is purely cynical.

The Lancet study had no relevant information about likely effects of mandatory use. In fact it listed only one paper that was actually about Covid-19 and was not about healthcare settings. All the rest were either about other coronaviruses or about healthcare settings. The relevant paper was:

“High transmissibility of COVID-19 near symptom onset”.

medRxiv 2020; published online March 19:

https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.03.18.20034561

The title accurately describes the content. That title is the most important fact about COVID-19 that distinguishes it from other pandemics.

The implications of that fact are starting to sink in.

A debate is now starting about whether to attempt Elimination instead of the obviously failed current strategy. (The term “Eradication” should be avoided as impossible until a global vaccine whereas Elimination might be possible with strict border controls for island countries like Australia and New Zealand).

If it does turn out that the current second wave in Victoria is entirely or even just largely from strains of the virus that were not in circulation before the ending of stage 3 restrictions that will be fairly conclusive evidence of the bankruptcy of current policies to “Adapt and Control” (and claim to “Suppress”).

It would imply that elimination was feasible in Victoria since the previously existing small levels of community transmission had been eliminated in Victoria just as in New Zealand, Western Australia, Tasmania etc. It would also imply that the “slow and careful lifting of restrictions” was in fact completely fragile since it had been able to rapidly produce a second wave.

Unfortunately advocates of an elimination strategy are not explaining clearly how hard it will be and what sort of measures are required.

Elimination first requires greatly prolonging restrictions for enough weeks and months after zero cases per day until there have been no new cases outside quarantine isolation for a month or so. Pretending that would be quick or avoiding the issue only helps opponents.

Pretending that Elimination would not be fragile and require major preparations against another epidemic is even more helpful to opponents. It is blindingly obvious that with the large majority of the population still fully susceptible to infection and an announcement that the virus is not circulating at all the conditions would be ideal for “normal” behaviour to resume and so for any new outbreak to become another epidemic exactly as before.

The following are necessary to prevent subsequent sporadic occasional clusters becoming outbreaks and then epidemics during the long period in which the overwhelming majority of the population remains susceptible because there is no vaccine:

  1. Tight quarantine isolation. That lesson has probably been learned although still not applied to “contacts” and people “waiting test results”. Absurdly, people considered likely to be infectious are still being encouraged to isolate at home and infect their households. I thought that idiocy was over when the AMA in Tasmania recommended medi-hotels and the Commonwealth Health Minister indicated being open to it. But it isn’t over. Police were used to confine infected people in “vertical cruise ships” to their cramped large households rather than escort them to safe quarantine accommodation.
  2. Massive continuous testing, especially for all workers in contact with the public (shops and schools as well as healthcare etc). That requires serious industrial effort to deploy test workers, equipment and supplies. Pooled tests can immediately expand the numbers by an order of magnitude without waiting for more equipment and supplies, but it still requires a major workforce for which there does not seem to be any current plan. More than an order of magnitude increase is required for continuous testing so large long term investments are necessary for capacity to produce equipment and supplies as well as to train staff. This should also be part of an effort to help other countries in a less fortunate situation.
  3. Rapid contact tracing. Basically not possible without mandatory use of tracking devices. Targets for manual contact tracing within 24 hours are not being achieved during stage 3 restrictions and could not possibly be achieved once restrictions are lifted following Elimination. It is unclear whether achieving those 24 hour targets would be sufficient to stop another outbreak anyway. Instant contact tracing is achievable only with mandatory tracing devices.

Manipulating people to “opt in” to trusting governments with mass surveillance was a cynical ploy rejected by a substantial majority. The tracking must be switched off whenever it is NOT a public health emergency and switched on only during sporadic outbreaks for the purpose of rapidly suppressing them.

To Topple or not to Topple? … That is the question…

Contradictions lead forward. Statues and other symbolic representations need to expose contradictions, not ignore them – or worse, be made unaware of them. We need to ask questions.

220px-SaddamStatue

(by Tom Griffiths)

A few weeks ago I posted on Facebook a ‘shooting from the hip’ response, reproduced in part at the foot of this post, to the then new wave of statue toppling and attempted statue toppling occurring in the States and the UK, events that were riding the wave generated by the BLM movement and the murder of George Floyd. Not for the first time my guiding spirit in this response was Bertlot Brecht and his poem Questions From A Worker Who Reads, a poem that ‘accompanied’ me on a visit to Toronto Museum.

My gripe then, as it is now, is not so much the fate of individual statues – some ask to go, others to be daubed, scribbled upon or otherwise improved, while others ask for company to have their story told more honestly or completely. My gripe is how the story, events and processes of history remain distorted and misunderstood. And by misunderstood I not only mean in effect, through ignorance, but also through deliberate misrepresentation. This is not simply about who gets wiped from the account, but is about those not even considered important enough to be a part of the account in the first place – Brecht’s builders and masons responsible for the Chinese wall, for Babylon, the Seven Gate of Thebes …And if you are feeling bridled at women not making the account here, this too is another part of the missing story.

Churchill once wrote that history is written by the victor. Aside from the fact that he would and could say that, his individual history and his inherited history of being a ‘card carrying’ member of the British ruling class giving him what I could term bragging rights, he could also have added: and by those who rule or do the ruler’s bidding. Because ‘victor’ not only applies militarily, to interpretive cum ideological spoils of war, but more pervasively to the interpretive and ideological spoils of class warfare, the internal social dramas characteristic of all written history.

There is nothing to be gained in condemning these omissions – what’s happened has happened and the water we once poured into the wine cannot be drained off again, as Brecht once put it – but we need to understand them (to ask questions) to understand the social and economic forces that enabled, or forced, the great majority of people to be pushed off stage, or not even invited on it in anything other than the most servile and ‘meaningless’ of roles. I say ‘meaningless’ with a sense of irony because without them, without Caesar’s cook, Lima’s mason’s, the builders of the Chinese wall etc there would have been no stage for the ruling classes and associated flunkies to perform and preen themselves on in the first place. In saying this I do not intend to gloss over or deny the role or capabilities of particular individuals in history. I do suggest however that they and their achievements need to be seen in context and the context I am focussing on is the enabling, and in this sense the central role of the ignored, the hindmost.

One of the things about modernity is that it allows/enables these formerly ignored players to stick their heads above the parapet and begin to be noticed, both in terms of their emerging individuality and their contributions in all spheres of life. Do we condemn their wiping from the historical record in times past? No, we seek to understand history, the forces at play, what was possible and what needed to be fought for and achieved by future generations. Do we condemn their being ignored, downplayed or written out of recent history or of current events? Yes we do.

So, within this brief contextual framework let me first look at what we should/could do with statues that carry symbolic weight before ending by looking at a late C20th example of how history can be brought to life, enabling the complexities and emergent currents of class related struggle to be displayed in statue form, a form that not only remembers the hindmost, but honors them. And it is worth remembering here that this is not simply about the past, be that distant or recent, because in one hundred, three hundred, a thousand years hence, we will be history and the same questions will not only apply to us then, but, knowing that, apply to us now.

Let’s Topple…?

Above I suggested that some deserve and need to go and I will nominate a few to demonstrate the point. That being said it is not whether they need to go so much as the manner in which they go, a distinction I think is important.. Allow me to demonstrate the point with several examples, including one of a figure I admire. I will start with the most current and work my way back.

John Colston

From being an obscurity outside of Bristol to being catapulted to international infamy in the space of a topple and a dispatch into the river, the British 18thC slave trader’s statue is now where campaigners have long wanted it to be – gone. But not entirely gone. Retrieved from the river the statue’s destiny is now likely to lie as a museum exhibit where curators will have the opportunity of letting viewers know why and how the statue ended up before them. For inspiration on how to make this opportunity transformative they would be hard pressed to go past an exhibit I saw in Toronto Museum (see link above) of three century old native American figures in traditional garb (representatives of a bye gone and defeated past) radically transformed by the addition of a power drill, a camera and tripod and an ipod and the following caption,

We do not want to be depicted in the way we were when we were first discovered in our homeland in North America. We do not want museums to continue to present us as something from the past. We believe we are very, very much here now and we are going to be very important in the future.”

Let us hope the Bristol curators are up to the task; if not, another campaign beckons.

While this is probably where Colston will end up, another option exists. Following Colston’s long overdue demise a resin statue of a black protester was put in his place and then removed by local authorities. It depicted a young black protester, her clenched fist raised. See Spiked article Who Would Black Lives Matter Erect a Statue To. This figure, or something like it, represents a big improvement on both Colston and on nothing at all. But it is incomplete. The irony here – and it’s a big one – is that what is needed to complete this public square statement is Colston’s statue, toppled and at the feet of the protester. This would tell a much more compelling and accurate story and would be a far more powerful statement.

The Arab Spring and the Toppling of Tyrants

While the Arab Spring has been stalled, remaining very much unfinished business, the statues of three former dictators, two of whom, Saadam Hussein and Gadaffi had been deposed, the other, al-Assad, sadly, dying in office before he could be overthrown, were toppled. Good riddance to bad rubbish we can say. But, so far as the statues are concerned, is that all there is to it? Or, rather, should that be all there is to it? Should they just be melted down or reduced to rubble and consigned to landfill or can they, as fallen idols, be used for progressive purposes (in dialectical jargon, be turned into their opposite)? My inclination would be to use them in an ongoing, symbolic and educative way. Left where they fell (bespattered, disfigured, pissed on….) they would send two clear messages, one to other tyrants, or those so inclined – “This is what awaits you” – the other a message of hope to the oppressed or to those who may become so, and that that hope is to be realized through resistance and rebellion – “It is right to rebel”.

Lenin Falls

In May 1991, following the overthrow of Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Miriam, a large statue of Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution, was toppled with enthusiastic crowd support. Lenin is a historical figure I admire, but his revolutionary spirit and acumen has long since been ignored and his figure, actual in the case of statues, ‘expropriated’ or used to prop up fake revolutionary regimes. The statue had to go and had Lenin been around at the time he would have been urging the crowd on.

The Lincolns, the Douglas’, the Churchills, the…

The above examples belong to the obvious/easy to justify category, blatant examples of political propaganda in the service of tyranny. The Confederacy lauding statues belong in the same category – reactionary propaganda pieces erected to support the Jim Crow segregationist laws in the formerly Confederate States, after the Civil War. Politically they are low hanging fruit and if existing authorities in the UK and the US are too laggard to act they effectively invite others to act in their place. But these are not the ones that stir my interest that much precisely because of their being low hanging. It is the ire, the rage (fey or genuine) aroused by statues of Lincoln, Ulysses S Grant et al in the US, Churchill in the UK (or their equivalents anywhere) that is really interesting and which open up possibilities that Brecht’s questioning worker would have approved of.

The thing about any work of art – statues in this case – that either depicts a figure or an event, is what it intends to communicate to the observer. This includes whatever the artist or commissioning body wants to portray or whatever is portrayed in addition to (or in spite of) this. And this can become more clouded, or lost entirely, as time passes, a point not lost on Brecht’s worker. In my ‘farcebook’ post I cited a statue of Winston Churchill as an example. A heroic figure in the war against Fascism, (“… we will fight them on the beaches…we will never surrender.”) certainly. And this is the figure portrayed. The problem with this is not that this aspect is untrue, but that it is one dimensional, it does not portray anything like the “whole truth”, as former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass put it, in relation to the Lincoln statue. It is not without reason that the coal miners of Wales and England remembered Churchill with hatred. How does history remember them, or more to the point how does history remember and portray his relationship with the miners specifically and workers generally? Varied answers can be found in libraries and online if one searches, but what about in the public square where he now stands? “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”, he wrote. And while others have written with a different bent (there has been some very good British historiography written) it is his depiction in the public square that interests me, and in that place Churchill needs the bronzed company of coal miners, of the Welsh Tonypandy ‘rioters’, of the 1926 strikers, of those who had no confidence in Churchill to ‘manage the peace’ after WW2. To treat their histories as separate is to grant Churchill the privilege of writing history and to dismiss and demean the Welsh and English workers by so doing. This is a contemporary example of workers, the ‘not the right kind of chaps’, being written out of history as this relates to the statue’s narrative.

 

The situation in the States is just as, if not more interesting, for there not only are statues valorizing the Confederacy coming down (and about time too) but the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park, Washington is now fenced off from attempts to pull it down. This statue, depicting Lincoln standing beside a former slave, kneeling and with chains broken, was dedicated in 1876 by Frederick Douglass, former slave and abolitionist. Douglass’ view of the statue was extraordinarily astute and prescient. The statue failed to expose what Douglass termed the “whole truth”,  that enslaved men and women had resisted and rebelled, enlisted and taken up arms to fight for their own freedom. A few decades down the track, as revolutions swept through Russia, and  later China, we would call this a failure to identify and focus upon the developing aspect of the contradiction. .

His solution, nearly 150 years ago, was not that the statue needed removing, but that a partially true story needed completion. Archer Alexander, the freed slave who was the model beside Lincoln, needed to be seen having finished what he’d begun, standing as Lincoln’s equal. Nor need he be alone. The depiction in the statue is a moment of synthesis and being such it heralds the opening up of new and higher levels of struggle. Former slaves and activists like Douglass and Charlotte Scott, the woman whose idea it was and whose philanthropy began the campaign for the statue in the first place, are figures who straddle both sides of the emancipatory divide and should be seen standing with Alexander. But so could others who inherited the baton they passed on. Those who immediately come to my mind include Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Rosa Parks, Mohammed Ali, Martin Luther King …. activists and fighters all. All are linked to the Emancipation Memorial and all have thrown into the ring invaluable contributions to an ongoing, emergent “whole truth”.

The “whole truth” involves a mighty big cast  many of whom are lost to us as individuals and who require symbolic representation.and I am aware that, in a numerical sense a single public square or park will have its limits with choices needing to be made no matter one’s political inclinations. But that should be a challenge that excites, not inhibits. …

Truth that aspires to the “Whole Truth”

Frederick Douglass had remarked, in his constructive criticism of the Emancipation Memorial, that no single statue could portray the “whole truth”. The sculptors, participants and supporters of Wrath of the Serfs, a series of 106 life size clay sculptures, completed in 1975, of serf life in Tibet – repression through to rebellion – were clearly reading from the same page when it came to portraying the “whole truth” through sculpture. The works were done by sculptors from the College of Fine Arts of the Central May Seventh Academy of Arts in Peking, a teacher from the Lu Hsun Art College of Shenyang and art workers of Tibet. Their ‘brief’ was to expose the evil of the old Tibetan regime and acclaim the serfs’ heroic struggle. There is a striking parallel here between this acclamation, the focus on the serf’s own role in struggling for liberation and Douglass’ astute criticism of the Liberation Memorial were the role played by slaves in their own liberation is not focussed upon and remains ambiguous (the former slave’s chains are broken, but by whom?).

The figures portrayed in Wrath of the Serfs,  are striking in their dynamism and their fidelity to lived experience. Aside from the skill level of the sculptors the main reason for this can be found in the preparation undertaken prior to the work being done. This “included more than 5,000 kilometres of travel inside Tibet for the purpose of study and investigation. The artists listened to the angy condemnation of past sufferings by a hundred liberated serfs, asked for suggestions from former poor and lower-middle peasants and herdsmen and improved their works on this basis.” There are two things we should note about this. The first is its unremarkableness – of course one would conduct research and were possible speak to those who not only represent the subject matter, but actually were the subject matter, Tibetan serfdom only being formally abolished in 1959. The second is its remarkableness, the fact that for the first time Tibetan serfs were considered important enough to be empathised with, to be listened to, to have their experiences valued and for them to be elevated to play the leading role in the drama of their former lives. Brecht’s hindmost were now the foremost.

Concluding remarks

I have gone to the bother of writing this because there is something simultaneously impressive and disturbing about the current spate of statue toppling. The concluding comments of my facebook post in late June summed this up and I will end this post with remarks I made following Brecht’s Questions From A Worker Who Reads.

So many questions indeed. Statue toppling/defacing on the one hand, and confused cum paralysed responses by authorities on the other. It’s also a reflection of serious historical ignorance, crap politics and an inability to deal with, let alone be aware of contradiction. (BTW, statues of contemporary creeps like Saddam Hussein deserved to be toppled). Churchill was right to say that history is written by the victors and Brecht more right (utterly right, actually) to draw our attention to those ignored, forgotten or deemed unworthy of attention (those he elsewhere referred to as the hindmost).

Spitting the dummy and demanding obliteration is actually the worst option, Talibanesque in fact. It not only removes or wipes clean the historical slate – and whatever else history is, it is never a clean slate – it out does the Churchillian ‘line’ by the proverbial country mile. It does this because every statue or other symbolic representation contains its opposite.

This is the truth that Brecht was getting at. Removal, wiping the slate clean, actually succeeds in doing what even the punciest, most egocentric or reactionary statue fails to do – it totally removes the unacknowledged, the exploited etc. along with the figure being revered. So a better solution needs to be found than ditching everything. I actually like the idea of – using statues as an example – bringing the hidden figures into the open in direct ‘communication’ with, for example, Churchill. The coal miners hated Churchill so their irate and critical presence would help onlookers ask questions. But he was also an important figure in the fight against Fascism and this aspect also needs open acknowledgement, not separately, but together.

Contradictions lead forward. Statues and other symbolic representations need to expose contradictions, not ignore them – or worse, be made unaware of them. We need to ask questions.

 

covid-19 – Total Lockdown and Henrik Ibsen

Today’s announcement of additional postcodes returning to stage 3 restrictions and a total lockdown for 3,000 people in public housing could be encouraging:

Statement From The Premier

It implies that governments are following public health advice to ensure the hospitals do not get overwhelmed.

There is still no recognition that the need for this retreat indicates that the current level of opening up is already unsustainable. But perhaps it indicates that if and when that does become clear, the resulting shutdown will be clearly aimed at Eradication.

Even with successful Eradication (at least a month with no new cases) it can be expected that occasional sporadic outbreaks would occur (both from quarantine failures and the very long tail of asymptomatic or pre-clinical carriers). The point is that sporadic outbreaks can be contained by the sort of local measures successfully undertaken relatively easily in regional Northern Tasmania and now being taken with greater difficulty in suburban Melbourne. The resources available for testing, contact tracing and isolation can contain an outbreak that really is just local, sporadic and occasional.

But with any level of underlying “community transmission” there is simply no way to avoid the statistical certainty that some of the regular inevitable clusters resulting from that will become outbreaks, some of which will again become epidemics.

According to the current testing results we now have an unacceptable level of community transmission from untraced sources whose contacts are unknown and cannot be isolated. That level is higher than when Australia abruptly went into stage 3 physical distancing. We are now restoring the same level of “stay at home” orders in 12 postcodes that we had more widely in March, plus a total lockdown for 3,000 people (enforced by 500 police, 1 for every two or three households!).

It may well be feasible to contain the current epidemic wave without the wider response that was needed in March, because:

  1. We are able to do far more testing now and can be more confident that the level of community transmission is not already dramatically higher than we are aware of.
  2. The surge capacity of the hopsitals has been greatly increased.
  3. We know that if containment fails we can revert to stage 3 restrictions and expect them to work rapidly enough to avoid the increased surge capacity being overwhelmed.

Obviously it is better to impose these restrictions locally than nationally if that can work, just as it is better to isolate large numbers of “contacts” than to shutdown the whole society.

But the main reason for confidence that these local shutdowns could work is the genomic evidence that they originate from a single common cause. The virus strains of many current cases were not known in Victoria prior to the shutdown and so can reasonably be assumed to have arisen from failures of quarantine of incoming travellers rather than from underlying
“community transmission”.

If that was not the case, it would be illogical to attempt just shutting down local areas, except as a way of preparing for a wider shutdown. The underlying community transmission could not reasonably be assumed to be sufficiently localised for that to work.

We won’t know if it is sufficiently localised now until the current efforts have either succeeded or failed. But we do at least have a path towards a full shutdown again by simply adding postcodes as the efforts fail. Obviously the public health authorities making the local attempt are in a better position to judge the likelihood of success than anybody else and are entitled to a “margin for appreciation” in not knowing what to do quickly enough.

But is that situation acceptable?

Assuming they are right and the current second wave is contained locally, what does that tell us about the policy of “Suppression”?

No matter how egregious the blunders that produced this particular outbreak might be, we know that there will be more outbreaks regardless of how well those particular blunders are dealt with. The public health officials in charge have confirmed this repeatedly.

We also now know that at the present levels of social distancing etc a small single cause outbreak can easily become an epidemic.

To me that necessarily implies the present levels need to be tightened. Yet Government policy continues to be for further loosening and opening up.

So far that policy has not cost many lives. Do we really have to wait until it does before reversing it? The USA and Brazil are not outliers. The UK and several European countries where public health advice is not being spectacularly ignored still have larger death rates and are pressing on to open up their economies. There doesn’t seem to be much other than “luck” preventing Australia joining the club.

The least developed countries do not have an option for attempting Eradication. China, including Taiwan and Hong Kong have demonstrated that it is at least worth attempting. Australia and New Zealand still have the option.

That option was explained in the “Group of Eight” Universities Report to Government but has been rejected.

I am not competent to say whether Eradication is feasible in Australia. It will certainly take a lot longer for States with community transmission. We are now more or less back to the starting point level of community transmission in Victoria, just from one major outbreak becoming an epidemic wave.

But I am competent to say that there has been no clear coherent justification for the current policy of not attempting Eradication. An attempt may not work and could take much longer than people hope, without working. That much has been coherently explained.

But we also know that the policy of Suppression is not working. The current level of opening up has already led to one epidemic wave and can be expected to result in more, even though economic activity is nowhere normal levels.

If we narrowly escape having to go back into Stage 3 more widely, how much worse off would we be if we had instead prolonged the previous Stage 3 for longer? The government proclaims that an “on off” policy of successive waves would be worse. True enough. But why would narrowly avoiding the first “on off” be confirmation that they are on the right track? Doesn’t it rather confirm that their policy of lifting the restrictions to the present level was a blunder that has not resulted in opening up the economy but rather left us in limbo waiting for the next outbreak?

There needs to be some serious detailed study based on scientific evidence.

That is not the function of an administrative inquiry.

But there is now an administrative inquiry. If it does its job it should at least spell out the need for a scientific inquiry:

https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/judicial-inquiry-into-hotel-quarantine-program/ Wed 2020-07-02

The administrative inquiry to examine the operation of Victoria’s hotel quarantine program for returning travellers will begin promptly to examine a range of matters that includes “policies” and “decisions and actions” of government agencies.

With a budget of $3 million a report is due by Friday, 25 September 2020. That is about 10 weeks.

The inquiry is headed by one of the former Royal Commissioners into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse with experience on the Coroner’s Court.

The necessary administrative changes have presumably already been made. A formal inquiry may or may not contribute to fully absorbing lessons learned, and either deflecting or promoting political, and legal accountability both civil and criminal.

But wouldn’t it be interesting if the inquiry did take up its mandate to examine “policies”?

It has been proclaimed loud and clear that the underlying policies are “suppression” as opposed to “eradication”, that outbreaks and deaths are to be expected as part of the “new normal” in adapting and learning to live with the virus.

The aim of that policy is to avoid overwhelming the hospitals with a surge of cases while opening up the economy as rapidly and safely as feasible. The current lockdowns in Victoria are cited by public health officials as a textbook example of that policy in action, with deaths expected as a result.

That policy is the underlying root of this and every future outbreak, any one of which could become another epidemic wave as long as there is no vaccine and the current lack of restrictions remains in place.

Any coroner investigating the deaths should be able to draw attention to the underlying problems that will result in more such deaths and do so with sufficient vigour to result in a scientific inquiry.

Here’s a submission rebutting the “evidence” from business pleading to open up faster:

https://www.marxists.org/archive/eleanor-marx/works/enemy/index.htm

This play was censored in China following performances in September 2018.

The audience recognized that the Norwegian local business interests rejecting medical advice to protect public health were exactly like the Chinese officials who initially covered up the Wuhan outbreak of covid-19 a year later. The Chinese officials recognized the resemblance too and simply cancelled the play.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Enemy_of_the_People

It is available as video Starring Steve McQueen:

https://m.ok.ru/video/1040526478004

Well worth watching. I initially thought the play presented the behaviour of local businesses a bit too crudely.

But a glance at today’s media in full cry for “opening up” shows a level of shamelessness that is hard to caricature.

Our national government told everybody that it was their patriotic duty to download the Covid-safe app in order to enable the government to safely open up the economy.

A large majority decided not to do so.

There are many reasons why people don’t trust governments. But governments do know they are not trusted.

The lie that the economy is being opened up “safely” should be exposed.

Promotion of Henrik Ibsen’s play could be a major contribution.

covid-19 Teetering at the Rubicon

Perhaps Australia is teetering on the edge of the Rubicon rather than having crossed it.

The pause in rollback of restrictions in Victoria suggest at least a certain hesitation about actually crossing.

My view was and is that a flat rate of daily infections implies that the rate is likely to start rising.

That is because the declining numbers from incoming travellers are presumably being roughly balanced by the increasing numbers of “community transmission” from untrackable local sources.

I wrongly thought that the week or so of roughly flat numbers at around 50 marked the bottom of the trough, but in fact that was a temporary blip and the numbers continued to decline.

But restrictions were lifted while there was still community transmission so I assumed the relevant authorities were aware of the consequences and fully committed to a much higher rate of infection (while also committed to not risking the hospitals becoming overwhelmed).

Now I’m not sure what’s going on. Victoria’s Chief Health Officer mentioned that the virus is doubling every week. I haven’t attempted to analyse the statistics and last time I looked some of the necessary information was not available (proportions “under investigation” that end up classified as “community” or “known source”). The raw numbers more than doubled over the past week but I assume he was referring to a more relevant estimate of the underlying effective rate at which each infected case generates another one before becoming non-infectious or dying (taking into account that many are isolated and unable to infect others while others transmit before ever being isolated or while ineffectively isolated).

If it is doubling every week under the present level of restrictions it would obviously be necessary to impose much tighter restrictions to prevent the hospitals eventually being overwhelmed.

Perhaps the local restrictions are intended to prepare the way for that and help neutralize the massive campaign that has been waged from “business” to reopen regardless.

But perhaps not.

Perhaps there is still some lingering belief that a “sweet spot” exists in which the level of restrictions and behavioural adjustments just keeps the virus “under control” with a relatively small number of sporadic outbreaks. each of which can be contained. It might be hoped that local lockdowns and the “pause” would tip the balance of behavioural changes sufficiently.

That doesn’t make sense to me. “Eradication” is the only such “sweet spot” – when the numbers are so low that new cases are merely “sporadic” outbreaks. That was not attempted in Victoria or New South Wales. I am not competent to say whether it was feasible but if they were going to attempt it they would need to maintain a much longer period of tight restrictions and I cannot estimate how long that would have needed to be or how feasible it would be to maintain restrictions for so long. Also far more would need to be done to ensure that subsequent sporadic outbreaks could not get out of control (eg the contact tracing app would have had to be mandatory).

The alternative to Eradication was and is successive “waves” of infection. Each time the restrictions are lifted the virus comes back at first gradually and then quickly so that another shutdown has to be introduced. That alternation continues until a vaccine.

But the current “pause” seems to indicate some sort of “teetering” between fully accepting a policy of successive waves and actively seeking to replace it with a policy of Eradication.

I don’t see how local lockdowns could prevent ongoing community transmission within a city like Melbourne. Such measures could only work against “sporadic” outbreaks. It will be interesting to see whether it can work in Beijing.

But perhaps others who know more about it than I do think it is at least worth trying. If so, perhaps they could still go in either direction – continue crossing the Rubicon or attempting Eradication.

covid-19 Inspiring Black Rights Matter Protest

The Melbourne rally and march was really enormous.

I stayed on the outskirts to keep about 8m away as most protestors were far closer than 1m. Unfortunately masks do make people feel too “safe”. So I missed out on the speeches, perhaps fortunately. But I did not miss out on the size or nature of the crowd as it went past while I waited to join in at the end.

It took more than two hours to go past! The usual suspects were hardly noticeable in such a large crowd of mainly young people, enthusiastic and lively.

The mass media campaign against it was a dismal flop and they are now just admitting that there were more than ten thousand present. There certainly were. I cannot estimate but two hours stretched across Bourke St is bigger than anything since the Vietnam moratoriums and a LOT more than just ten thousand.

Youth are on the move again.

Inevitably it simply was not possible for protestors to be properly organised for social distancing the first time. But it clearly is just the first time as lots of people who turned up will now know how strong they are compared with the mass media’s lies.

So it will be necessary to seriously prepare for spreading people out at far less than 1 person per four square metre. The same preparations can ensure the police remain just as absent from disrupting future smaller protests as they wisely were from this one. A self-disciplined crowd spread out can be even harder to suppress than one that blocked the entire CBD for two hours because it was just too big to avoid doing so.

The police prevented trams going down Collins Street for many more hours, perhaps out of frustration, more likely just stupidity. But it was obvious to anybody that this blockage was caused by a police van parked on the tram tracks rather than the protestors departing from the demo.

No doubt when the infection rate rises from the successful media campaign to loosen restrictions prematurely they will blame the protestors. But that won’t impress many.

With even the Courts and police knowing better than to try and suppress huge mass demonstrations reflecting popular feeling, the demands for suppression from the newspapers of Channel 9 and Murdoch have just highlighted both their hypocrisy and their impotence.

An international solidarity movement has just been born. It took a LOT longer to reach this level in the 1960s.

covid-19 Crossing the Rubicon

As far as I can make out, Australia is now fully committed to a policy of “Adapt and Control” as opposed to “Eradicate”.

This means infection rates will continue to grow, at first gradually and then suddenly.

The intention is to avoid the hospitals being overwhelmed while gradually lifting restrictions to get people back to work.

There is already an increase in the reproduction rate, “R”, above 1, from the reduced physical distancing that inevitably followed the announcements of success and plans to remove restrictions. It started rising weeks ago, which was triumphantly announced as still being below 1.

That growth is starting from a very low rate of community transmission, so the growth will initially again be “gradual”. But community transmission means untrackable and uncontrolled transmission. “Community” transmission is not stopped by testing and contact tracing because the carriers are often pre-clinical and don’t get tested. It is only limited by physical distancing preventing transmission. Lifting the restrictions simply means there is nothing to prevent community transmission growing again, at first gradually and then suddenly. This shows up weeks later as the numbers of known cases growing gradually and then suddenly and later still for the numbers of deaths.

Opening the schools removes the main obstacle to getting people back to work and at the same time opens a channel for wider spread of infections among households via schools even while the faster transmission between households via workplaces remains restricted.

As infected school children tend to have mild or no symptoms it is likely that they are less infectious and so transmission between them in schools would be relatively slow compared with transmission between adults at workplaces. That has been presented as though a slow rate of transmission means a decline in cases – with “evidence” such as the low numbers of clusters among school children and of household transmission from children to adults. But we don’t know much about mild or asymptomatic cases because pre-clinical cases obviously do not get much clinical study since they don’t seek clinical assistance. If some of them last longer than more severe cases that trigger an immune system response or result in long term carriers, then a slow rate of transmission can still result in a larger than 1 rate of reproduction, sufficient to cause a (slower) epidemic.

But we don’t actually even know whether or to what extent infected children are less infectious than infected adults. Droplets are the main source of contagion, direct and via surfaces with transfer from hands to face. One would certainly expect that to be greater with symptoms such as coughs and sneezes that actually project droplets. Hence the emphasis on physical distancing together with washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes. Aerosol transmission by simply breathing is mainly known to be important in a healthcare setting where there is continuous close contact with infected patients. But aerosol transmission is important enough that religious ceremonies now permitted even in confined spaces in Germany are not permitted to sing. Singing projects larger quantities of virus into a confined space than merely breathing or talking, even though it does so less than coughing or sneezing. The cumulative effect of being confined in the same classroom as an infected child for hours each day over several weeks is simply not known.

The available evidence is quite sufficient to convince everybody who is utterly determined to get kids back to school so that their parents can get back to work. They are all chanting about it in unison. But since they live off other people’s work their livelihoods depend on them not understanding.

For example the livelihood of lobbyists for pubs depends on believing that a pub could maintain social distancing of 1.5m between customers if it was permitted to cram them in at 1 per 2 square metre instead of the current limit of 1 per 4. Consequently they can adamantly demand that the number allowed in be doubled so that they might be able to reopen some pubs. It simply does not matter that it would be physically impossible for anybody to get in or out. Their role is to lobby, not to understand things that their livelihood depends on them not understanding.

Rather more evidence should be needed to convince others. Why should one expect to have seen clusters among school children, given that children were withdrawn from schools well before governments shut them? Why would one expect a child to be reported as the first case in a household given that they usually only have mild or no symptoms? I would expect the first case reported to be someone with more severe symptoms who got tested as a result, with any child in the house subsequently found to be infected likely to be recorded as only as a subsequent case assumed to have been infected by the adult.

School childrn will now be spending many hours a day in the same confined classroom space with a cumulative effect on other children and teachers. So it may be possible there could be a gradual but substantial increase in the numbers of infected children before there is enough onwards transmission to more severe cases among teachers and households for this increase to be picked up from surveillance testing and contact tracing.

That could result in a substantial overshoot with the numbers of cases picking up again until it becomes necessary to slam on the brakes again.

The public health officials taking these decisions are not in the same position as politicians mouthing off. They have serious powers, responsibilities and duties, with corresponding legal liabilities for negligence, misconduct or refusal to perform those duties.

I don’t see how it would be possible to avoid a second wave from pre-clinical transmission given that the reproduction rate for pre-clinical transmission without physical distancing is itself nearly enough to cause an epidemic. The peak transmission rate for each case tends to occur just before they start to show symptoms so they are only tested after having already had the opportunity to infect others. We are starting from a position with the effective rate already above 1 even before the actual removal of restrictions.

If the decision makers have got it right, that second wave will be smaller than the first wave. They will be able to avoid overwhelming the health system while still substantially raising the numbers of cases and deaths, for some significant increase in the numbers back at work.

If they got it wrong there might be a more sudden increase in infection rates that discredits the “Adapt and Control” policy and forces a serious attempt at “Eradication”.

But I don’t see much likelihood of that reversal unless they get it so wrong that there is again a serious danger of the health system being overwhelmed. Nor do I see that as likely in Australia. The danger arose from failure to prepare in advance and was averted by the few weeks warning from the collapse in Italy. The next demonstration of spectacular incompetence seems more likely to be about something else rather than acting even slower for a second wave than for the first. It would require criminal misconduct rather than mere negligence and failure to perform duties for the brakes not to be slammed on before a second wave overwhelmed the hospitals. In Australia the consequences are likely to be a longer economic shutdown rather than an overwhelmed hospital system. The same may not be true in many parts of the USA and Europe and it certainly won’t be true in most of the countries ruled by kleptocrats.

I don’t know whether “Eradication” was likely to succeed. But we did have the option to try and no attempt has been made to find out. Australia still doesn’t have any seriouis modelling capability. Other developed countries did not have that option.

If an attempt had been made and had been successful, it could only have resulted in “Zero Tolerance” for outbreaks rather than zero outbreaks. There would have inevitably been occasional outbreaks, but only sporadically with each outbreak or set of outbreaks stamped out rather than becoming a continuous background rate of infection that would continue to grow, again at first gradually and then suddenly. Eradication means preventing that initial gradual growth, not preventing all outbreaks. The resources available for testing and quarantaining contacts and their contacts (“even unto the fourth generation”) are sufficient for sporadic outbreaks, but would be quickly overwhelmed when outbreaks become continuous rather than sporadic. Contact tracing is much easier when people have few contacts because they only go out for “essentials”. What was achieved by contact tracing under recent restrictions won’t still be possible without those restrictions. The last announced numbers for downloads of the “CovidSafe” tracing app would only cover less than 5% of contacts.

“Occasional outbreaks” seems to be what is being sold to people now. The story is that we can have less physical distancing and more people going to work or school together in confined spaces at the cost of some occasional outbreaks that will be kept under control.

That could have been true if we had Eradication first – i.e. zero community transmission for a few weeks before starting to ease up. It might even still be true for Western Australia etc. But it seems pretty implausble for Victoria and NSW now.

It remains to be seen how many people they will be able to get back to work but it seems reasonably certain that any economic recovery will be much slower than if there had been a successful Eradication first.

There doesn’t seem much hope of those responsible for this policy doing much to help other countries in a far worse situation, eg our neighbours in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. They will be far too busy trying to drive people back to work.

For those in the vulnerable categories the danger of infection will now become significantly greater than it was with tighter restrictions and will remain present until a vaccine is developed.

What remains to be seen is how much longer people will remain tolerant of a ruling class whose unfitness to rule is now a matter of life and death.