Coronavirus Lessons: Fact and Reason?

After the Covid-19 pandemic is over (presuming an effective virus is developed) there will be a lot of looking back at the actual dangers the virus posed, and whether reactions to it were justified, over the top or too light and too late. We should find out what the death toll could have been if different measures had been taken, and whether the degree  impact on economies, business and jobs was justified or was an overreaction.

We should learn lessons from it, because sooner or later there is certain to be another virus that threatens the world.

Making pronouncements now about the whole thing, what should and shouldn’t have been done, is premature. We are currently experiencing perhaps the worst of the first wave of the virus after taking drastic action to contain Covid-19, but there’s a real risk of followup waves of infection, especially as people movement and border restrictions are lifted.

Some of the reactions have been as over the top as some of the predictions and warnings seem to have proved to be.

From William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn at RCP –  Coronavirus Lessons: Fact and Reason vs. Paranoia and Fear

Given the most recent mortality rates and modeling, it appears that the death toll in America from coronavirus will end up looking a lot like the annual fatality numbers from the flu. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Washington state is now projecting 68,841 potential deaths in America. It is also estimating lower ranges than that. The flu season of 2017-2018 took 61,099 American lives. For this we have scared the hell out of the American people, shut down the economy, ended over 17 million jobs, taken trillions of dollars out of the economy, closed places of worship, and massively disrupted civic life as we know it.

A few points on this opening statement.

Current projections of deaths should be more accurate as much more is known than a couple of months ago, so hopefully the US will only end up with 60-70,000 deaths from Covid.

But this is still a huge death toll from a single virus. While it may be similar to the annual toll from influenza it is largely on top of the flu toll, so it is still a substantial increased number of deaths.

And at this stage at least claiming ‘only 60,000 so what was the fuss about’ ignores what the death toll might have been if such drastic measures were not taken. If borders weren’t shut and lockdowns weren’t enforced it is certain the spread would have been worse, probably much worse. So a 60,000 toll doesn’t necessarily indicate an over reaction (it could), but to some extent it is due to success from the severe restrictions and drastic actions taken.

A panic and hysteria over a pandemic that does not look to be what so many frightened us into thinking has radically degraded this country. What should be the major lessons learned here? How did we go from an ethos of “Let’s Roll!” when America was hit by a major attack from outside forces two decades ago to “Let’s roll up in a ball”?

Maybe there was panic and hysteria in some places but I haven’t seen that. Sure there have been concerns and there has been fairly rapid action, but that action has largely been orderly. Most early criticisms were for not doing enough soon enough, and the US (led by Trump) is still arguing over who didn’t do enough soon enough.

Presuming “major attack from outside forces two decades ago” refers to 911 that’s a poor comparison. 911 was a one day attack that caused all US flights to be grounded, and resulted in major restrictions and impositions on travel that we still experience, and it resulted in a misguided war or three. ‘Let’s Roll!’ is a poor description of the reaction to 911 – there were complaints then of too much rolling in a ball.

911 was fundamentally different. the enemy was human sized, weapons were much larger than humans, and they could be seen and detected. As has been pointed out with Covid it is an invisible enemy, and is much harder to contain than terrorists, and  there is potentially a much bigger supply of enemies – viruses replicate, terrorists tend to die out and replication takes a lot longer, if it happens at all.

First, New York City is where the epidemic has struck the hardest. The media is centered in New York City. Although sensationalism is not new, something in the 21st century media landscape is: Reporting the news has been replaced with raising alarms, heightening political tensions, and funneling information through a strictly partisan lens.

Media overreaction has been an issue for a long time. It happens here in New Zealand. We have a minor problem with partisan divides here, but it is bad and getting worse in the US. That’s partly stoked by media (and right wing media is to blame as well as left wing media), but it’s largely a political problem, with politicians using the media to inflame and divide. Blaming the media is a bit like blaming bombs for wars. The media are tools of trade in a bitter US political battle. Some of the worst sensationalism and division is generated personally by the president using Twitter (but I guess at least his device keeps his fingers away from nuclear buttons).

Conspiracy theories and extreme rhetoric have replaced fact and reason, as well as reasonableness. These dark impulses have been aided and abetted by a series of left-wing notions that have come to dominate our politics, giving us a new “paranoid style in American politics.”

Having just talked about “funneling information through a strictly partisan lens” the article launches into paranoia and sensationalism: “aided and abetted by a series of left-wing notions that have come to dominate our politic”. Blaming the left is as bad as blaming the right, but both sides seem blind to their own faults in this respect.

There doesn’t seem to be much fact or reasonableness here.

Aided and abetted by its mainstream media enablers and ideological soulmates, the left has warped our political rhetoric to a point beyond reason, impeding our ability to make calm and rational assessments. President Trump, for example, is not wrong or too conservative — he’s an “existential threat to America” and “worse than Hitler,” and, of course, responsible for all the deaths from COVID-19.

Cherry picking a couple of extreme examples of criticisms and then throwing in a ridiculous claim is warped.  Maybe someone has claimed Trump is responsible for all Covid-19 deaths, but that’s ridiculous. Someone else did actually claim that Covid-19 would be gone by summer, things would be back to normal by Easter and “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle—it will disappear” and those warped views got a lot more airtime.

Thus, when the virus came to our shores, Americans were primed enough to accept and cower in front of models of death telling us that two million of us would be killed.

Models didn’t claim that 2 million Americans would be killed. They projected that that sort of toll was possible if nothing was done to stop the spread of Covid-19. As it turned out a lot was done, and the toll seems likely to be much less. To an extent at least that’s success.

Now, after the damage was ignited by shutdowns and panic, the social destruction of this irresponsible fearmongering will take a long time to undo.

The damage from doing less would have taken longer to undo – and in fact deaths can’t be undone, even by Trump.

There are things that will take time to recover from, and some things are unlikely to be the same again. The cruise ship business has been badly effected – but did people stop cramming into cruise ships due to panic? I’d call it prudence.

Or any other institution. As part of our national affright, we engaged in a shuttering of our best forces of composition — such as churches, synagogues, schools — and our venues for physical exercise. Just at the time of their greatest needs, these services were ordered to be shut down.

If churches, synagogues, mosques and schools weren’t shut down no amount of praying would have prevented much worse problems than we have experienced. Some people may have suffered from not being able to worship as usual, but the suffering would have been quite a bit worse.

Sure negative impacts from what has been done will be felt for some time, but there will also be some positive outcomes (on top of saving many lives). Many people and many families have done more together than they have for some time in busy lives. People have gone back to cooking food from basics, teaching kids important skills, brought communities together in what had become a fractured society. There will be pluses and minuses from what we are experiencing.

Lesson Four: Understand there is public health, and there is public health. Does a virus that may take as many Americans as the seasonal flu require an upending of literally everything in our life, work, and recreational activity, affecting so much more of our other health, including mental health?

A repeat of a fundamental flaw in their argument – if much less upending was done the toll would have been greater and probably much greater than the seasonal flu.

Lesson Five: Do not be impervious to good or hopeful news. Compare this virus’ numbers and prognoses to other numbers and prognoses we have taken for granted without even knowing it. When data reveals that there is a .007% chance of dying from this disease in America, report that. When evidence shows there may be extant medicines that can treat the virus, encourage rather than anathematize that.

But data hasn’t revealed that there is a .007% chance of dying from this disease in America. It’s too soon to tell because all the data can’t be known yet. The chance of dying would have been much more if much less had been done to stop the spread of Covid. And I think their maths is screwy anyway, I can’t see where their .007% comes from.

This article is badly lacking in both facts and reason.

Bob Woodward on Donald Trump – Fear and Crazytown

Bob Woodward has been a reporter and editor since 1971. he shot to prominence in 1972 when with Carl Bernstein did a lot of reporting that led to Watergate and the eventual resignation of Richard Nixon.

A number of parallels have been suggested between Nixon and Donald Trump, but there are also significant differences.

Woodward has written a book on Trump called fear. The Washington Post reports: Bob Woodward’s new book reveals a ‘nervous breakdown’ of Trump’s presidency

…“Fear,” a forthcoming book by Bob Woodward that paints a harrowing portrait of the Trump presidency, based on in-depth interviews with administration officials and other principals.

Woodward writes that his book is drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses that were conducted on “deep background,” meaning the information could be used but he would not reveal who provided it. His account is also drawn from meeting notes, personal diaries and government documents.

The president called Woodward in early August, after the manuscript had been completed, to say he wanted to participate. The president complained that it would be a “bad book,” according to an audio recording of the conversation. Woodward replied that his work would be “tough,” but factual and based on his reporting.

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

This is fairly credible because it’s fairly obvious that this is a fairly plausible explanation for Trump’s statements and behaviour.

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly frequently lost his temper and told colleagues that he thought the president was “unhinged,” Woodward writes. In one small group meeting, Kelly said of Trump: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”

Some one has to do it to try and keep the United States on the rails.

At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.

“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”

Reince Priebus, Kelly’s predecessor, fretted that he could do little to constrain Trump from sparking chaos. Woodward writes that Priebus dubbed the presidential bedroom, where Trump obsessively watched cable news and tweeted, “the devil’s workshop,” and said early mornings and Sunday evenings, when the president often set off tweetstorms, were “the witching hour.”

The devil’s workshop has been getting busier and more bizarre as time goes on. One reaction yesterday to ongoing attacks on the US Attorney General: Trump shows why he is unfit for office. From ‘Fear’:

A near-constant subject of withering presidential attacks was Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump told Porter that Sessions was a “traitor” for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, Woodward writes. Mocking Sessions’s accent, Trump added, “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. … He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”

Trump has been a particular concern in the volatile Middle East.

After Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called Mattis and said he wanted to assassinate the dictator. “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them,” Trump said, according to Woodward.

Mattis told the president that he would get right on it. But after hanging up the phone, he told a senior aide: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.”

Other officials manipulated Trump.

Cohn, a Wall Street veteran, tried to tamp down Trump’s strident nationalism regarding trade. According to Woodward, Cohn “stole a letter off Trump’s desk” that the president was intending to sign to formally withdraw the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea. Cohn later told an associate that he removed the letter to protect national security and that Trump did not notice that it was missing.

Cohn came to regard the president as “a professional liar” and threatened to resign in August 2017 over Trump’s handling of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

Trump was sharply criticized for initially saying that “both sides” were to blame. At the urging of advisers, he then condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but almost immediately told aides,

“That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made” and the “worst speech I’ve ever given,” according to Woodward’s account.

On North Korea:

Woodward recounts repeated episodes of anxiety inside the government over Trump’s handling of the North Korean nuclear threat. One month into his presidency, Trump asked Dunford for a plan for a preemptive military strike on North Korea, which rattled the combat veteran.

On family and advisers:

The president’s family members, while sometimes touted as his key advisers by other Trump chroniclers, are minor players in Woodward’s account, popping up occasionally in the West Wing and vexing adversaries.

Woodward recounts an expletive-laden altercation between Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and senior adviser, and Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief White House strategist.

“You’re a goddamn staffer!” Bannon screamed at her, telling her that she had to work through Priebus like other aides. “You walk around this place and act like you’re in charge, and you’re not. You’re on staff!”

Ivanka Trump, who had special access to the president and worked around Priebus, replied: “I’m not a staffer! I’ll never be a staffer. I’m the first daughter.”

The Mueller inquiry:

The book vividly recounts the ongoing debate between Trump and his lawyers about whether the president would sit for an interview with Mueller. On March 5, Dowd and Trump attorney Jay Sekulow met in Mueller’s office with the special counsel and his deputy, James Quarles.

Dowd then explained to Mueller and Quarles why he was trying to keep the president from testifying: “I’m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot. And you publish that transcript, because everything leaks in Washington, and the guys overseas are going to say, ‘I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with this idiot for?’ ”

“John, I understand,” Mueller replied, according to Woodward.

But Trump, concerned about the optics of a president refusing to testify and convinced that he could handle Mueller’s questions, had by then decided otherwise.

“I’ll be a real good witness,” Trump told Dowd, according to Woodward.

“You are not a good witness,” Dowd replied. “Mr. President, I’m afraid I just can’t help you.”

The next morning, Dowd resigned.

There will no doubt be more on Woodward’s book.

But remarkably there is little about Trump that will shock, because he has been such a train wreck that the absurd and the outlandish and the scary have become normal Trump news.

It could be that ‘Fear’ tips Trump over the edge, demanding something be done about his dysfunctional presidency, but the odds are that the White House will stagger on while Trump increasingly obsesses over Twitter. Some oof his recent tweets:

Some will applaud these tirades as Trump telling things as they are, but they are a telling indication of John Kelyu’s observations from having to deal with him:

“He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown.”

Not as bad as many people think

Things aren’t as bad in the world as many people seem to think. Why does pessimism often take precedence over facts?

BBC:  Why things may be not be as bad as we think

…most of us, most of the time, seem to think the world’s going to hell in a handcart – even when it isn’t.

I don’t know if ‘most of us’ is accurate – perhaps most of those who express their fears about what problems are actual or imminent.

The evidence is in a report by the research company Ipsos-Mori, The Perils of Perception. Our perceptions of the world, it turns out, are often at odds with the reality – and significantly more negative.

The researchers put the same questions to people in 38 countries, and found a pattern.

Some examples:

  • The murder rate in most countries has fallen significantly in the past 15 years. That’s the reality, but most people don’t believe it – fewer than one in 10 thinks there are fewer murders
  • Deaths from terrorist attacks around the world were lower in the past 15 years than in the previous 15 – but only a fifth of us think that’s the case

Even when it comes to other areas of public life, people’s assessments can tend to be incorrect.

For example, people overestimate the number of teenage pregnancies by what the researchers call staggering amounts.

In some countries, they think about half of teenage girls get pregnant every year: in reality, the highest figure for any country is 6.7%, and the rate across all 38 countries is just 2%.

Teen pregnancy rates in New Zealand (source NZH):

  • 1962: 5.4%
  • 1972: 6.9%
  • 2008: 3.3%
  • 2016: 1.6%

Coupled with that are misconceptions  about the rate of teenage mothers on the ‘DPB’.

One reason for this tendency to assume the worst of the world, say the Ipsos-Mori people, is that we’re genetically programmed to believe bad news more readily than good.

Our brains process negative information in a different way and store it more accessibly than positive stuff.

News is by definition something unexpected, surprising, and probably alarming. The world is getting healthier and wealthier, which is good news, but headlines about that sort of thing just don’t cut it when there’s a terrorist attack or a war to report.

“If it bleeds, it leads,” is said to be the tabloid news editor’s mantra. Whoever coined the phrase clearly had a profound insight into human nature.

Critics talk about “fear-based media”. If we’re fed such a relentlessly negative diet, they ask, is it any wonder we end up thinking the world is a terrible place?

Except, it turns out, we already thought that – or at least were predisposed to think it.

All those negative news stories are just reinforcement, feeding us what we’re programmed to want – because it may save our lives.

This hypersensitivity to negative information – or bad news – apparently served an important function as human beings evolved.

Having the kind of brain that reacted more strongly to information about possible dangers meant, quite simply, that you were likely to live longer.

And those who didn’t have that kind of brain? Well, as one scientist delicately put it, they “got edited out of the gene pool”.

Now those who worry too much about negatives and fear that the sky is about to fall are more likely to die of stress related illness.


“Free from fear, innocent of hatred”

Trump: “We want our country to be a place where every child from every background can grow up free from fear, innocent of hatred, and surrounded by love, opportunity and hope.”

Wonderful words.

Or they could be if they were spoken by someone who didn’t divide and ostracise using fear tactics, and didn’t promote hatred of immigrants, minorities, media, and political opponents in his own as well as other parties.

And who didn’t provide opportunity and hope for big business at the expense of ordinary people and the health of the planet.

I wonder how the 800,000 young people at threat of deportation think of this speech?

Reuters: U.S. top court blocks release of Trump ‘Dreamer’ immigrant documents

Since its inception, the DACA program has provided protection from deportation and work permits to about 800,000 mostly Hispanic young adults brought into the United States illegally by their parents. At the time Trump announced the rescinding of the program, about 690,000 people were protected under DACA.

Trump scrapped the program as part of his hard-line immigration policies, calling DACA an unconstitutional overreach by Obama. Trump gave Congress until March to come up with new protections for the Dreamers.

Dreamers are a fraction of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Obama and his fellow Democrats have defended the program as one that protects young people who grew up and were educated in the United States and are Americans in every way but actual citizenship.

Are the ‘Dreamers’ free from fear? Surrounded by surrounded by love, opportunity and hope?

Is anyone terrified by MANA?

Anger. Fury. Fear. Bomber talks up a terror campaign at The Daily Blog:

It’s MANA that the elites fear turning populist anger against them

Bryce Edwards covers off the anger that is simmering in the electorate and the fear by elites of where that anger will erupt, but I think he misses a very important part of the spectrum which is open to radicalism.

And that is MANA.

To date the fear is that angry hordes of the disaffected and under educated will elect some type of Trump-esk figure who will take the nation to hell in a hand basket.


But if you look at who is bleeding here, it is young, poor and brown. The middle classes are getting nervous about the inequality and the pundits are scrambling to understand a poverty that is beyond their suburbs.

The furious response at Hone announcing his re-entry into politics suggests the elites fear those who are being hurt most by the housing crisis and growing inequality will rejoin the debate and demand a welfare state that isn’t as cruel and draconian as the current one has become.

I don’t recall seeing any fury. Bemusement was more apparent.

Radically demanding a reorganisation of the neoliberal state is what makes the elites nervous, not some old warhorse like Winston making ‘two wongs don’t make a right’ styled 1970s retro-racist jokes.

Given their lack of anything close to success to date radicals demanding a revolution will not be threatening many nerves.

If the poor and those on benefits re-engaged under a radical MANA brand demanding dignity, that would scare the bejesus out of the elites.

In the last election MANA attempted to gain representation using Kim Dotcom’s cash. The electorate punished Hone for trying to be too clever and screamed sell out, the grim reality of poverty however now howels at the door and those being hurt most by Key’s elitist economy are scrambling for a radical solution to their ever decreasing living standards. If MANA provides that, the elites will be terrified.

I doubt that many people will be terrified by Bradbury or by MANA.

Combined with the Internet Party and Dotcom’s millions they got 1.42% of the vote last election, they have no MPs, they barely register in polls, and Labour and the Greens have moved on without them. Labour never wanted to be seen with them.

Voters are likely to see another Bradbury promoted campaign not with terror but as terrible.

What is there to fear?

Te Reo Putake tries pushing a fear factor at The Standard in relation to Andrew Little’s recent performance.

What is there to fear?

Fear is a Man’s Best Friend

An odd heading considering the content, which begins by praising Little, then:

So why are the haters, even the ones who claim to want National gone, climbing into him?


Andrew Little has turned the Labour Party around. The caucus are working collectively within and without. Labour are quietly building good relationships with the two prospective coalition partners. The third potential partner, the Maori party, are also leaning toward a change of direction, or so I’m told.


The thought that the Key Government is going to collapse under the weight of its own bullshit is driving Key and his acolytes to personal attacks on a man on whom they can find no dirt. It’s driving them nuts that he is succeeding where Goff, Shearer and Cunliffe could not.


The thought of a left wing lead Labour Party achieving power is anathema to some who claim to be lefties, too. The most obvious characteristic of these folk is their inability to work collectively. That’s often reflected in their insignificant influence in actual politics; nobody much wants to work with them either. Any fool can shout the odds in the pub. But its hard graft in the real world that gets things done.


The Tories are on the slide. The loss in Northland is an indicator of the trashing to come. Bugger the polls we get to see, their internal polling is telling them the true story. John Key has burnt off sector after sector. His attack on the flag has made rural and provincial NZ question whether National really are their kind of party any more. That may not translate directly to votes for Labour, but any softening of the right’s vote will bring this Government down.


What I fear the most (although fear isn’t really the right word, it’s more a concern) is that under Little’s leadership Labour will continue to flounder as they have done since Helen Clark left them over seven years ago.

I am concerned that we will continue to have a weak opposition that fails to adequately hold the Government to account.

I am concerned that we won’t have two strong coalition options to chose from in next year’s election.

I’m concerned that Labour will continue to languish and may even fade away, leaving one dominant party. I don’t think that is good for our democracy.

We, on the left, need to hold our nerve. For the first time since the Clark years, all of the principal opposition parties have solid, sensible leadership. We may have a fear of a fourth term for Key, but it’s nowhere near his fear of us. If we can organise, organise and organise, we can win.

I have concerns that many people don’t see solid, sensible leadership in Little. Nor in James Shaw.  Nor in Metiria Turei.

And is Winston Peters really seen as a ‘solid sensible leader’ on the left? Would TRP think it sensible if NZ First sided with National to form the next Government?

Trying to organise a 2008 Christmas Party isn’t going to win next year’s election. Labour and the left need to do far more things than organise, organise and organise.

Trying to spread fear isn’t one of them. I don’t smell fear, I smell futile and farce.

Boris Johnson on Islam and war

A column from London mayor Boris Johnson on Islam, awar, hate and solutions (thanks for the link Alan).

The Islamists want war, but it would be fatal if we fell for it

Giving in to fear and its corrosive effects only strengthens the forces of hatred

It’s only known that a small radical minority of those following Islam want war.

This weekend we were all Parisians. While the Prime Minister and others joined the march in the French capital, other European cities staged rallies and events of all kinds. In Trafalgar Square we gathered to pay our respects to the dead of the past few days: to the heroic journalists who died for the right to express themselves; to the innocent victims of the kosher supermarket. In tribute to our sister capital, we illuminated the great buildings of central London with the Tricolore. “Je suis Charlie”, said countless signs. The people of London were sending a message of joint defiance, of shared values, of a refusal to give in to terror.

It was an important show of unity against terrorism and fear.

And yet we must be honest, and confess that in claiming the mantle of the editors and cartoonists of the French satirical magazine, we were being not only presumptuous, we were being pretentious and, I am afraid, simply inaccurate. There is hardly a paper in Britain that has followed the lead of Charlie Hebdo, and printed the offending cartoons of Mohammed. In fact, I cannot think of any mainstream media organisation that has been able to tell its viewers or readers what the fuss is all about.

I don’t think it’s important to do what Charlie Hebdo did. Your don’t have to agree or like or coopy what they did, just defend their right to do it (as others have the right to choose not to do similar).

You would have thought it was essential to the story. Appalling carnage has been inflicted; young men have been incited to commit acts of disgusting savagery; the French nation is in a state of shock and grief. And yet the British public is unable to form any kind of judgment about what exactly it is that is meant to have caused the offence. Was there something particularly rude or risqué about the drawings? Were they obscene? Was it just the fact of the depiction of the Prophet?

It hasn’t been difficult to find out.

There have been offensive Western depictions of Mohammed at least since Giovanni da Modena in the 15th century, and even in Islamic art the image of the Prophet may be rare, but it’s far from unknown. We need to know what precisely Charlie Hebdo did to provoke such mindless hostility – and at the heart of the whole story there is a blank, a big white space. The British press is globally famed for its willingness to say anything to anyone, to tell truth to power, to hold up people’s private lives to hilarity and scorn. In this case, a great ox has stood upon our tongue.

Perhaps, like me and many others, they didn’t like repeating the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. From what I’ve seen they weren’t very good cartoons and the were unnessarily provocative.

I choose not to wave insulting banners outside a Mongrel Mob house. Is that gutless, or is it sensible?

There are some respectable reasons that may be advanced, of course, and we have heard them a lot over the past few days. No one likes to give unnecessary offence to any religion, or to any group of people. There are many acknowledged limits to freedom of speech today – many of which are enforced by the law. There are words that may not be used, or not in certain contexts. There are assertions that may not be made, or not without the risk of legal challenge.

And everyone who publishes, be it newspaper or blog, has a choice on content.

But it is very striking that we in the British media have been almost uniquely reluctant, in Europe, to elucidate our viewers and readers as to the images at the heart of the furore, and I am afraid that it is not just a question of politeness, or punctilio, or old-fashioned good manners. The main reason no one is running the cartoons is that they are afraid.

I can’t speak for them but I’m not afraid to publish them. They are not the sort of thing I’d normally have anything to do with so why should I now? It would achieve nothing.

Then Johnson makes a more important point.

Many fine things have been said and done over the past few days, but some of the bravest words and deeds have come from Muslims. I think of the Muslim policeman, shot in cold blood as he lay on the pavement – try to watch that clip without weeping. I think of the Muslim shopworker, who helped hide some of the kosher supermarket customers in the cold store.

Across France, Britain and the rest of Europe, there are Muslim voices saying what needs to be said, like the Association of British Muslims – which issued a dignified and sensible statement, in which it not only condemned the killings in the strongest possible terms, but defended the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish the cartoons.

I’ve posted similar from New Zealand in Muslim condemnation of Charlie Hebdo killings.

And my hero – the man who got straight to the point – was the Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, himself a Muslim. “If you don’t like freedom,” he told the Dutch nation’s potential jihadists, “then pack your bags and leave. There may be a place where you can be yourself, so be honest with yourself, and don’t kill innocent journalists. If you don’t like freedom, then f— off.”

That’s a fair point.

It reminds me of the 1970’s when there was noticable British immigration to New Zealand and the term ‘whining Poms’ was commonly used. They had a choice of getting to like what New Zealand offered or returning (which some did).

That is the voice of the Enlightenment, of Voltaire. We can and will protect this country against these jihadist thugs. We will bug them and monitor them and arrest them and prosecute them and jail them. But if we are going to win the struggle for the minds of these young people, then that is the kind of voice we need to hear – and it needs above all to be a Muslim voice.

Another fair point. All Muslims are not responsible for the actions of a small number of vicious thugs. And they don’t have to apologise on behalf of terrorists when they have nothing to do with them.

But is in their interests to speak up. They should keep making it clear that spreading fear and trying to provoke war through terrorism is totally unaccetpable to good Muslims.

This is similar to the worth in non-violent men speaking up against male violence in our own society. We aren’t responsible for the violence but we have a responsibility to stand up against viiolence.

The same applies to mainstream Muslim organisations. It is important that they keep making it clear that they don’t support any sort of terrorism. As should the rest of us.

For and against marriage change – love versus fear?

It has been suggested that arguments for and against same sex marriage could be summarised by two words (I have added my summaries):

Love – should any couple who love each other be able to get married, regardless of their sexual orientation?

Fear – fear of religious faith being challenged, fear of marriage being devalued, fear of the end of society as we know it, fear of homosexuality?

Someone heavily involved in the debate has blogged:

The contrast between those in favour and those opposed was striking.

There have been strong arguments both for and against the proposed changes in the marriage equality bill. Politicians have received numerous emails and letters, and a large number of people made submissions to the parliamentary select committee.

We looked for a graphic way of representing this contrast, and used a “sample” of all the correspondence that arrived over a particular time to create word clouds. It’s not science. It’s not discourse analysis. But it makes the point.

Fundamentally there is a difference of world view: those opposed subscribe to a moral code based, usually, on a particular religious faith, and believe everyone should follow this code, whether or not they share that faith.

Marriage - fear

By way of contrast those who support the Bill usually have a very clear pluralist world view, in which they see the role of Government as providing a framework for a society of many faiths and codes of behaviour.

Marriage - love