From the Brownstone Institute
On March 6, 2020, the mayor of Austin, Texas, canceled the biggest tech and arts trade show in the world, South-by-Southwest, only a week before hundreds of thousands were to gather in the city.
In an instant, with the stroke of a pen, it was all gone: hotel reservations, flight plans, performances, exhibitors, and all the hopes and dreams of thousands of merchants in the town. Economic impact: a loss $335 million in revenue at least. And that was just to the city alone, to say nothing of the broader impact.
It was the beginning of US lockdowns. It wasn’t entirely clear at the time – my own sense was that this was a calamity that would lead to decades of successful lawsuits against the Austin mayor – but it turned out that Austin was the test case and template for the entire nation and then the world.
The reason was of course Covid but the pathogen wasn’t even there. The idea was to keep it out of the city, an incredible and sudden fallback to a medieval practice that has nothing to do with modern public health understanding of how a respiratory virus should be handled.
“In six months,” I wrote at the time, “if we are in a recession, unemployment is up, financial markets are wrecked, and people are locked in their homes, we’ll wonder why the heck governments chose disease ‘containment’ over disease mitigation. Then the conspiracy theorists get to work.”
I was right about the conspiracy theorists but I had not anticipated that they would turn out to be right about nearly everything. We were being groomed for nationwide lockdowns.
At this point in the trajectory, we already knew the gradient of risk. It was not medically significant for healthy working-age adults (which still to this day the CDCs does not admit). So the shutdown likely protected very few if anyone.
The extraordinary edict – worthy of a tin-pot dictator of a dark age – completely overrode the wishes of millions, all on the decision of one man, whose name is Steven Adler.
“Was the consideration between maintaining that money, effectively rolling the dice, and doing what you did?” asked Texas Monthly of the mayor.
His answer: “No.”
Clarifying: “We made a decision based on what was in the best health interest for the city. And that is not an easy choice.”
After the shocking cancellation, which overrode property rights and free will, the mayor urged all residents to go out and eat at restaurants and gather and spend money to support the local economy. In this later interview, he explained that he had no problem keeping the city open. He just didn’t want people from hither and yon – the dirty people, so to speak – to bring a virus with them.
He was here playing the role of Prince Prospero in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” He was turning the capital city of Texas into a castle in which the elite could hide from the virus, an action that also became a foreshadowing of what was to come: the division of the entire country into clean and dirty populations.
The mayor further added a strange comment: “I think the spread of the disease here is inevitable. I don’t think that closing down South Bay was intended to stop the disease from getting here because it is coming. The assessment of our public health professionals was that we were risking it coming here more quickly, or in a greater way with a greater impact. And the longer we could put that off, the better this city is.”
And there we have the “flatten the curve” thinking at work. Kick the can down the road. Postpone. Delay herd immunity as long as possible. Yes, everyone will get the bug but it is always better that it happens later rather than sooner. But why? We were never told. Flatten the curve was really just prolong the pain, keep our overlords in charge as long as possible, put normal life on hold, and stay safe as long as you can.
Prolonging the pain might also have served another surreptitious agenda: let the working classes – the dirty people – get the bug and bear the burden of herd immunity so that the elites can stay clean and hopefully it will die out before it gets to the highest echelons. There was indeed a hierarchy of infection.
In all these months, no one ever explained to the American public why prolonging the period of non-exposure was always better than meeting the virus sooner, gaining immunity, and getting over it. The hospitals around the country were not strained. Indeed, with the inexplicable shutdown of medical services for diagnostics and elective surgeries, hospitals in Texas were empty for months. Health care spending collapsed.
This was the onset of the great demoralization. The message was: your property is not your own. Your events are not yours. Your decisions are subject to our will. We know better than you. You cannot take risks with your own free will. Our judgment is always better than yours. We will override anything about your bodily autonomy and choices that are inconsistent with our perceptions of the common good. There is no restraint on us and every restraint on you.
This messaging and this practice is inconsistent with a flourishing human life, which requires the freedom of choice above all else. It also requires the security of property and contracts. It presumes that if we make plans, those plans cannot be arbitrarily canceled by force by a power outside of our control. Those are bare minimum presumptions of a civilized society. Anything else leads to barbarism and that is exactly where the Austin decision took us.
We still don’t know precisely who was involved in this rash judgment or on what basis they made it. There was a growing sense in the country at the time that something was going to happen. There had been sporadic use of lockdown powers in the past. Think of the closure of Boston after the bombing in 2013. A year later, the state of Connecticut quarantined two travelers who might have been exposed to Ebola in Africa. These were the precedents.
“The coronavirus is driving Americans into unexplored territory, in this case understanding and accepting the loss of freedom associated with a quarantine,” wrote the New York Times on March 19, 2020, three days after the Trump press conference that announced two weeks to flatten the curve.
The experience on a nationwide basis fundamentally undermined the civil liberties and rights that Americans had long taken for granted. It was a shock to everyone but to young people still in school, it was utter trauma and a moment of mental reprogramming. They learned all the wrong lessons: they are not in charge of their lives; someone else is. The only way to be is to figure out the system and play along.
We now see epic learning loss, psychological shock, population-wide obesity and substance abuse, a fall in investor confidence, a shrinkage of savings reflecting less interest in the future, and a dramatic decline in public participation in what used to be normal life events: church, theater, museums, libraries, fares, symphonies, ballets, theme parks, and so on. Attendance in general is down by half and this is starving these venues of money. Most of the big institutions in large cities like New York, such as Broadway and the Met, are on life support. The symphony halls have a third empty seats despite lowering prices.
It seems remarkable that this three-and-a-half year-long war against basic liberty for nearly everyone has come to this. And yet it should not be a surprise. All ideology aside, you simply cannot maintain much less cultivate a civilized life when governments, in combination with the commanding heights of media and large corporations, treat their citizens like lab rats in a science experiment. You only end in sucking away the essence and vibrancy of the human spirit, as well as the will to build a good life.
In the name of public health, they sapped the will to health. And if you object, they shut you up. This is still going on daily.
The ruling class that did this to the country has yet to speak honestly about what transpired. It was their actions that created the current cultural, economic, and social crisis. Their experiment left the country and our lives in shambles. We’ve yet to hear apologies or even basic honesty about any of it. Instead, all we get is more misleading propaganda about how we need yet another shot that doesn’t work.
History provides many cases of a beaten down, demoralized, and increasingly poor and censored majority population being ruled over by an imperious, inhumane, sadistic, privileged, and yet tiny ruling class. We just never believed we would become one of those cases. The truth of this is so grim and glaring, and the likely explanation of what happened so shocking, that the entire subject is regarded as something of a taboo in public life.
There will be no fixing this, no crawling out from under the rubble, until we get something from our rulers other than public preening about a job well done, in ads sponsored by Pfizer and Moderna.
Witnessing the Media’s Covid Coverage from the Inside
From the Brownstone Institute
If right-leaning outlets wanted my words and left-leaning ones did not, my Occam’s razor landed on ideology as the explanatory factor. So-called progressive media had a story to uphold and rejected any plot twist that threatened the cohesion of its narrative.
In the movie An Education, the main character gets sidetracked from her studies by a smooth-talking art dealer who turns out to be a criminal—and married. Our protagonist learns more from that experience than from all the medieval literature books she cracked open before. I have similar feelings about my own education. While I’ve been earning my living as a writer for the past 29 years, it’s only during the Covid era that I learned what the writing business is really about.
I wear two hats in my professional life: medical writer, creating materials for doctors and the healthcare industry, and feature-article journalist for consumer magazines. It wasn’t until Covid that I began pitching essays and op-eds for publication.
I started with a piece called “A Tale of Two Pandemic Cities,” which grew out of my short trip to Amsterdam and Stockholm in the summer of 2020, when the European Union opened its doors to “well-behaved” countries like Canada. The Covid hysteria in my country had made me desperate to visit more balanced parts of the world, and my trip didn’t disappoint. The article found a home at a Canadian outlet called Healthy Debate, though the editor asked me to temper my enthusiasm for the Swedish strategy with an acknowledgement of its risks. Happy to find a legit publisher for my first Covid piece, I capitulated, sort of. (You can judge for yourself.)
Thus began a feverish outpouring of essays, each one motivated by the same bewildered questions: What the hell is happening to the world, and why? Has everyone else gone mad, or is it me? I had written a few controversial articles throughout my career, but never before had I held a “dissenting view” about an issue that affected the whole world—or felt such an urgent need to express it.
The Great Divide
I quickly learned that certain news outlets were less open to my pieces than others. Salon, fuggedaboutit. Spiked Online, bull’s eye on the first try. Washington Post, not a chance. Wall Street Journal, a couple of “close, but no cigar” efforts and then finally a yes. It boiled down to this: the further left a publication leaned, the less likely it would publish my pieces (or even respond to my inquiries). I’m sure a statistician could write an equation to capture the trend.
So why the radio silence from left-wing publications? I doubted I was tripping their “Covid disinformation” radars, as my pieces had less to do with scientific facts than with social philosophy: the balance between safety and freedom, the perils of top-down collectivism, the abuse of the precautionary principle, that sort of thing. If right-leaning outlets wanted my words and left-leaning ones did not, my Occam’s razor landed on ideology as the explanatory factor. So-called progressive media had a story to uphold and rejected any plot twist that threatened the cohesion of its narrative. (Not that right-wing media behaved much differently. Such is the age of advocacy journalism.)
Most nerve-wracking of all were the publishers who accepted my articles but, like that first Healthy Debate editor, insisted I make substantive changes. Should I concede or push back? I did a bit of both. The most important thing, I told myself, was to make people reflect on the topsy-turvy policies that had freeze-framed the world. If I had to soften a few sentences to get the word out, so be it. I have the utmost respect for writers who refuse to yield on such matters, but 29 years of paying the bills from my writing have tipped my internal compass toward pragmatism.
I did stand my ground with an article on the mask wars. My thesis was that the endless and pointless disputes on social media—masks work, no they don’t, yes they do, no they don’t—had less to do with science than with worldview: irrespective of the data, social collectivists would find a way to defend masks, while my freedom-first compatriots would never countenance a perma-masked world.
One editor agreed to publish the piece if I mentioned that some studies favor masking, but I argued that quoting studies would undercut my central argument: that the forces powering the mask wars have little to do with how well they block viruses. He wouldn’t budge, so we parted ways and I found a more congenial home for the piece at the Ottawa Citizen.
The process of pitching counternarrative essays, while arduous at times, led me to a smorgasbord of lesser-known, high-quality publications I never would have discovered otherwise. Topping the list was the glorious UnHerd, a UK news and opinion website with such daring thinkers as Mary Harrington and Kathleen Stock on its roster of contributors. The US-based Tablet magazine offered consistently fresh takes on Covid and never took the easy road in its analyses. In its pages I found one of the most powerful Covid essays I have ever read. The author, Ann Bauer (no relation), teased out the common threads between the “settled science” about the virus and the litany of quack theories about autism, which fed into her son’s death by suicide.
Then there was Quillette, whose contempt for the sacred cows of wokeism gave me a special thrill. True confession: I blew my chances with Quillette and it’s my own damned fault. Like many working writers, I sometimes pitch a piece to more than one outlet at the same time, a practice known as simultaneous submissions. This goes against protocol—we’re supposed to wait until an editor declines our pitch before approaching the next one—but the reality is that many editors never respond. With the deck thus stacked against us, we writers sometimes push the envelope, figuring the odds of getting multiple acceptances (and thus pissing off editors) are low enough to take the risk.
On this particular occasion, I submitted an article called “Lessons from my Half-Vaxxed Daughter” to three publications. Medpage Today responded right away, and I accepted their offer to publish it. (This was while Marty Makary, the dissident-lite physician who called out people’s distorted perception of Covid risk in mainstream media, led the editorial team.) A few hours later, Quillette’s Canadian editor sent me a slightly reworked version of my piece and told me when he planned to run it. I had no choice but to proffer a red-faced apology and admit I had already placed the article elsewhere. He never responded to my email or to a follow-up mea culpa a few weeks later—and has ignored everything I’ve submitted since then. I guess I’ll have to wait until he retires.
Earlier this year, Brownstone Institute published my book Blindsight Is 2020, which critiques the pandemic response through the lens of 46 dissident thinkers. By all standards a moderate book, it stays clear of any “conspiratorial” speculations about the origins of the pandemic or the political response to it. Instead, it focuses on the philosophical and ethical issues that kept me awake at night during the peak Covid years—the same themes I explore in my essays, but in greater depth. I wrote the book not just for “my team,” but for those who vehemently opposed my views—perhaps especially for them. I didn’t expect to change their minds as much as to help them understand why some of us objected so strenuously to the policies they cheered on.
After the book came out, a few podcasters invited me to their shows. I appeared on a Libertarian Institute podcast in which the host puffed on his hand-rolled cigarettes while we talked. I spoke to an amiable ex-con podcaster who made it his mission to share Ayn Rand’s ideas with the world. I bonded with Rupa Subramanya—a brilliant Canadian conservative journalist and podcaster featured in my book—over the Freedom Convoy we had both supported.
All told I’ve appeared on 22 podcasts to date, each of them hosted by a right-leaning or libertarian host. Crickets from the left. Not one to accept defeat, I’ve begun reaching out to left-leaning podcasters on my own. Perhaps one day I’ll hear back from them.
Covid media, like so much else in modern life, has become hopelessly fractured: the tall, left-facing trees dominate the landscape, telling the story of a deadly virus that we “did the best we could” to manage. Below the tree canopy lies the tangle of weeds that sway in the wind, whispering songs of freedom and warning against the totalitarian impulses that all too readily emerge during crises. While I’ll continue to throw my essays at those unyielding trees, the messy underbrush is where I’ve found my journalistic home.
Why So Many Countries Followed China’s Lockdown Example
From the Brownstone Institute
The answer to why countries followed China’s lockdowns is simple. They were told to do so by the World Health Organization (WHO). Why did the WHO tell them to do that? You might want to ask Dr. Bruce Aylward
A novel coronavirus that was 10 times deadlier than the flu had gripped the world in 2019. Without a compass to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, all lessons learned from previous viral pandemics were thrown out the window. The World Health Organization was adamant, “This is not the flu.” Tony Fauci terrified the US House of Representatives with forecasts of disaster. Global populations were defenseless without a vaccine for the novel coronavirus that no one had ever seen before. The only viable defense at the time was to shut down the world.
China took the lead in lockdowns. Media exported from China showed people dropping dead in the streets. Caskets were piling up. Doors to buildings were sealed to lock in tenants. Throughout the panic, all reasonable alternative assessments of risks from the viral outbreak were ignored, censored, or rejected.
Nevertheless, I wondered whether a video of a person falling down in the street was really representative of the entire population. Were caskets piling up largely due to families fearing to claim them because of contamination with the virus? I noticed that the front doors to my local mall in Ontario, Canada had also been sealed, just like in China apartment buildings, but this was only to control access through a single entrance to the building, not to seal in customers.
My first clue that the emergency response to the outbreak of the coronavirus didn’t seem to make sense was when I heard Fauci tell television audiences that if our response seems to be overreacting, then we are probably doing the right thing. What? Since when is overreacting ever the right thing to do? Do generals win wars by overreacting?
I looked at the numbers that Fauci had presented to the US House of Representatives concerning case and infection fatalities of the coronavirus. They were backwards! His 10-times deadlier prediction was simply a made-up number! This was in March 2020. By May 2020 it was obvious that people were NOT dying at the inflated rate Fauci had predicted.
I published a paper on Fauci’s coronavirus mortality overestimations: Public Health Lessons Learned From Biases in Coronavirus Mortality Overestimation. But when I mentioned all this to my friends, they responded that the lower than predicted deaths just proved the lockdowns were working. Fauci was off the hook. Back to China.
WHO/China Joint Mission on Covid-19
The answer to why countries followed China’s lockdowns is simple. They were told to do so by the World Health Organization (WHO). Why did the WHO tell them to do that? You might want to ask Dr. Bruce Aylward, the Director of the WHO/China Joint Mission on Covid-19 investigating the coronavirus outbreak.
Aylward noticed a precipitous drop in novel coronavirus pneumonia (NCP) in China during February 2020. This was before China adopted WHO’s name of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Upon seeing China’s surveillance data, Aylward announced the spectacular findings to the world and told the world to do what China has done and lock down. But he appeared to make a fundamental epidemiological error by wrongly assuming that the association of China’s lockdowns with lower deaths proved the lockdowns were working (just like my friends had told me).
Soon after in March 2020, China published its latest case definitions for NCP (Covid-19). In a nutshell, the definitions showed that no one could be declared to have died of the disease unless they had viral pneumonia (a severe acute respiratory illness), and only if no other virus normally associated with viral pneumonia was present, except SARS-CoV-2.
Coinfections with the coronavirus were not acceptable criteria, and what should have been a broad surveillance case definition with high sensitivity to monitor the spread of the virus within the population narrowed down considerably into an overly specific diagnostic case definition. That pretty much sealed the deal to declare Covid-19 deaths in only single digits for many months during the pandemic throughout China. This super-low outcome impressed Dr. Bruce Aylward enough in February 2020 to implore the world to lock down. Did we ever!
In the meantime, other countries used case and death definitions that went to the opposite extreme of China’s narrow diagnostic definitions, disseminating overinflated surveillance numbers without adjusting the numbers to remove bias. Even Fauci eventually admitted that reported cases and deaths counted WITH the coronavirus are much higher than cases and deaths counted FROM the coronavirus. Ironically, the WHO had previously published material on the correct use and interpretation of surveillance and diagnostic definitions in infectious disease outbreaks. Aylward didn’t appear to get the memo.
There is more to the story. Was this even really a novel coronavirus, or just a novel genetic sequence of the coronavirus showing greater detail than previously available? China supposedly received updated genetic sequencing technology in late 2019. They had abandoned surveillance of SARS in 2003 for lack of technology.
Now they were back in business again by the end of 2019. The team of virologists that reported the genetic sequence of the virus in Wuhan noted that it would be necessary to investigate the epidemiological evidence to guide infection control responses. Who has time for that? Shut it down!
If the novel coronavirus isn’t really so novel, this would explain why the lockdowns didn’t work. We had already known that lockdowns don’t work in other viral pandemics. Even China eventually gave up its Zero Covid Policy after it was obvious that lockdowns weren’t working. My friends owe me some explanations to justify their lockdown views. Maybe Fauci isn’t off the hook after all.
For more information on biases in Covid-19 case and death definitions, see my peer-reviewed article with cited references: Biases in COVID-19 Case and Death Definitions: Potential Causes and Consequences.
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