Covid-19 and Protagoras’ Paradox

This interesting reflection explains a lot about how the British Government were handling Covid-19 in the early days. It has been doing the rounds on the internet though we are unaware of the original source. The earliest source we can find for it is the Nigerian publication “City People”

Over 2000 years ago, in Greece, there was a lawyer named Protagoras. A young student, Euthalos, requested to apprentice under him, but was unable to pay the fees. The student struck a deal saying, “I will pay your fee the day I win my first case in the court”. Teacher agreed. When the training was complete and a few years had elapsed without the student paying up, the teacher decided to sue the student in the court of law.

The teacher thought to himself: ‘If I win the case, as per the law, the student will have to pay me, as the case is about non-payment of dues. And if lose the case, the student will still have to pay me, because he would have won his first case. Either way I will get paid’.

The student’s view was, ‘If I win the case, I won’t have to pay the teacher, as the case is about my non-payment of fees. And if I lose the case, I don’t have to pay him since I wouldn’t have won my first case yet. Either way I will not pay the teacher.’

This is known as Protagoras Paradox, which ever way you look both have equally convincing arguments, one can go either way in supporting the teacher or the student and would not be wrong.

Those of us in medical practice often come across such situations, either in making a diagnostic or therapeutic decision. One physician can recommend a course of treatment based on scientific evidence and another can recommend a diametrically opposite course again based on medical evidence. Right or wrong, but some merit would exist on both sides.

Often the physician himself is having an internal struggle to make a decision about the most appropriate course of action, Protagoras & Euthalos are arguing in his mind, to do this or to do that. The horns of dilemma are tearing him apart.

But what prompted this essay was a tweet by Donald Trump, ‘hope the cure is not worse than the disease’. L & G I hate to say, but I find some merit in this tweet. In our global attempt to flatten the COVID curve, I hope we do not flatten the global economy curve. The question is what’s the best way forward. One group recommends ‘total lockdown’ to break the transmission chain, based on evidence from China, they managed to control the spread of the virus by ruthless lock down and 3 months later they are showing that disease is controlled in Wuhan. On the other hand, the other school of thought is graded isolation & protection of elderly and very young and those with co-morbidities, let it spread amongst the young and healthy, after all the disease ultimately will be controlled when we achieve ‘herd immunity’. The medical community is divided in these two groups. To enforce complete lockdown or Graded isolation?

To complicate the issue the epidemiologists have joined the bandwagon with cacophony of statistical analysis. From Rosy to Dooms day predictions. If we don’t do a complete lockdown then a million people will die in 1 year. No say some more like 90 million will die in 1 year. Whose data analysis is correct. Some suggest do nothing, nature will take over in a few months and all will be well, they quote historical data to justify their recommendations. On whose inputs should we base our disaster management strategy.
Then come the economists with their doomsday predictions. If this continues till May our medical resources will be overwhelmed, Agriculture will suffer, food shortages will occur, production will come to a standstill. There will be an economic crisis of the proportions that world has not seen ever. So, break this lockdown nonsense and let’s get back to work as usual.

What will our political masters do. My guess is they will listen to medical experts, epidemiologists & economists. Then they will decide what course of action will ensure their survival, what will get them people’s votes and they will run with that. At present ‘Lockdown” finds favour with them. Boris in UK had to abandon the recommendations of the medical community about graded response, because the people’s perception became that our Government is not doing enough to protect us citizens. That means revolt against him. So, screw it, lets go with total lockdown if that’s what the people want. Gradually people will get tired of lockdown and demand- let life go on. Then with equally convincing arguments the governments will say the time has now come to lift the blockade, we have controlled the contagion, we have won.

Incidentally the Protagoras Paradox has not been resolved till date. Students in Law schools still hold mock trials and give arguments on both sides, without any resolution of the dispute.

 

The UK should not use Huawei’s technology to develop its high speed internet

The current coronavirus crisis originated in China and has become – quite naturally – the only issue about which most of us care. But there are other China related issues that affect our future, and the overarching crisis should not allow other issues to slip under the wire unchallenged. The most important of which, as far as the UK is concerned, is Huawei, as the following implies:

Huawei’s access to the UK’s 5G network is a political matter – one the UK government shouldn’t underestimate.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson allowed Huawei to be part of the country’s 5G network, although setting a strict cap of 35% on market share. The decision triggered criticism among Tories, as it was taken whilst ignoring US warnings of alleged links between Huawei’s administration and the Chinese Military. UK citizens may be wondering whether the country should use Huawei’s technology to improve high-speed internet. The answer is no.

Without detracting from Huawei’s technological capacity, it does not seem in the UK’s strategic interests to increase the involvement of the Chinese company in its 5G rollout. Aside from the alleged relationship between Huawei’s CEO, Ren Zhengfei, and the People’s Liberation Army, the reason that should keep Johnson from letting the company free access to the country’s 5G network is the USA.

The race to dominate tech and the cyberspace is part of the trade war between China and the US – a solution to which is nowhere near in sight. Choosing a partner to implement 5G broadband nationwide is thus a matter of picking sides: regardless of the deepening of China-UK relations, the US is still the island’s first trading partner – whereas China ranks fifth – and the US is a traditional political and military ally.

Americans, who are now in a phase of retraction from world economy under Trump’s leadership, might further hold back from engaging economically with partners they don’t consider trustworthy: if that is the case, fast-speed downloads and uploads allowed by Huawei’s 5G coverage might be more expensive than the UK can afford.

 

Why the Chief Rabbi was (almost) right

About two weeks before the 2019 parliamentary elections, UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis wrote an article for The Times accusing the Labour Party of antisemitism. The allegations were twofold:

  • Firstly, the leadership failed to account for the antisemitic behaviour within the party.
  • Secondly, Mirvis wrote, Corbyn is personally ‘complicit in prejudice’.

Unlike some commentators, I do not question the right of religious leaders to intervene when the stakes are this high. ‘Challenging racism is not a matter of politics’ Mirvis said. It is also not a matter of beliefs –  those with authority should always call it out. 

There is no doubt that antisemitism is a problem in the Labour Party – as it is in wider society. However, we have little evidence for its systemacy; the only extensive report on Labour’s antisemitism, the Chakrabarti inquiry, mentioned an ‘occasionally toxic atmosphere’, but concluded that the Party ‘is not overrun by antisemitism’. Be that as it may, we should not dismiss the allegations of Corbyn’s antisemitism lightly. Although some of his words and actions could have been misinterpreted, or should perhaps be excused because of the context, the amount of serious evidence is too great to to ignore.

There is no denying that by attacking the leading opposition party, Mirvis endorsed the Conservative government. While 85% of British Jews think that Corbyn is antisemitic, the institution of a Chief Rabbi is not the same as that of a megaphone. The Tories’ obsession with ‘Cultural Marxism’ or Jacob Rees-Mogg’s denunciation of two Jewish MPs as ‘illuminati’ is as worrying as cases of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Not to mention other types of racism common among Conservatives, which certainly should concern Rabbi Mirvis. Even though we might have got so used to the old antisemitism of the far-right that we do not register it anymore – it is still there, almost three times more frequent than on the far-left. 

Regardless of how prevalent the anti-Jewish attitudes in Labour truly are, my stance is that Mirvis was right to call out the cases of antisemitism that he saw. But, by ignoring the other side of the equation, he not only overlooked the duty to ‘challenge racism in all forms’ that he mentions in his article, but also left the door open for more antisemitism to come, this time from the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Photo of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis above by The Foreign and Commonwealth Office

 

June Jacobs Memorial Lecture

There is to be a memorial lecture in remembrance of the great peacebuilder and NCF Trustee, the late Mrs June Jacobs. It will be on Wed, 25 March 2020 at 19:30 and will be held at New London Synagogue, 33 Abbey Road, London NW8 0AT. The speaker will be Naomi Chazan, leading human rights activist, former Israeli Knesset Deputy Speaker and Professor Emerita of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

If you wish to go along you must register through Eventbrite on this link:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/june-jacobs-memorial-lecture-tickets-89579437509

 

A Champagne Socialist or the Darling of the Left

We only recorded this personal comment from the NCF Secretary General yesterday (a link here or above) but today on closer inspection we realise that they were all disloyal except for the lefty, Rebecca. And it is hard to stomach disloyalty. To be honest none of them are that good. It is the same problem the Democrats have in the USA. They simply have a weak field of choices to stand against the great beasts both sides of the pond: Trump/Boris.

So who will the new leader of the opposition in the UK parliament be?

 

Conservative parliamentarians call for comprehensive new Iran deal

The Conservative Friends of Israel sent us the following note on the call from Tory MPs for a new deal with Iran. The trouble with this kind of thinking is that it undermines the JCPOA which took the best part of ten years to negotiate. The JCPOA was and is flawed but it is the best we have got and reinventing the wheel never helped anyone. The video link above may be of interest to those of you that speak Arabic. It is of Catherine Shakdam, the Head of our Yemen Unit, talking on Iran on BBC Arabic.

In both the House of Commons and House of Lords this week, Conservative parliamentarians called for a new, more comprehensive deal with Iran, in light of the UK’s triggering of the dispute resolution mechanism of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. CFI Honorary President Lord Polak CBE called for a “complete redrafting” of the Iran deal, with “provisions to curtail Iran’s international aggression and financing of terror that were omitted from the original agreement”. He underlined: “One of the major criticisms of the JCPOA at the beginning was that it allowed Iran to continue its destabilisation of the region”. In a House of Commons debate following a statement on the JCPOA by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Rt. Hon. Mark Harper MP welcomed the Government’s decision to trigger the JCPOA dispute resolution mechanism and argued that the agreement should be widened “to encompass all of the other activities of Iran”. Philip Hollobone MP asked: “Isn’t it time for a truly comprehensive agreement covering both nuclear weapon technology, missile technology and Iran’s export of terror?” The new MP for Bury South, Christian Wakeford MP, raised concerns about Israel’s safety as a result of Iran’s deception over its nuclear programme. In response, Foreign Secretary Raab underlined: “We share Israel’s concern, not just about the nuclear ambitions that Iran has but also about the wider activities in the region”.

Moving Beyond the Good Friday Agreement

Northern Ireland stands at a crossroads; one road leads to a future in an ever more precarious United Kingdom, the other charts the path to a united Ireland. In a parallel universe, one where the UK opted to remain in the European Union, this choice could be delayed, perhaps for a few decades; alas the choice must be made now.

The Good Friday Agreement was predicated on the UK remaining within the EU meaning upon its departure, parliament will have to decide whether to uphold the agreement. Failing to do so will leave Northern Ireland in the wilderness as Stormont has been, as of this writing, closed for 1,079 days. The Conservatives will want to avoid creating such a power vacuum as they paint, in broad brush strokes; the country’s trading relationship with the rest of the world. Failing to pass the necessary laws will cause the easel to collapse leaving Northern Ireland in uncharted territory particularly as the Nationalists hold the majority of seats in Stormont for the first time in its history and the Unionists are sharply divided on how to deal with this sudden change in fortunes. This change in the topography is not merely due to the growing Catholic, normally Nationalist, community bolstering Sinn Féin and the SDLP support but the advent of growing dissatisfaction within the Unionist movement as a whole with their traditional parties.

The DUP and UUP’s base largely voted in favour of remaining in the EU and they are far more socially liberal than the Arlene Fosters of this world indicating a growing disconnect between Unionist politicos and their erstwhile supporters. This scene is eerily similar to that which hung like a scepter over the Labour heartlands in the last election and could indicate a similar implosion in Unionist support is yet to come.

Perhaps it is time to take Frost’s “road less travelled by” and make plans for the border poll necessary for reunification as it appears unification is more inevitable than ever. However, the finished painting will be more Picasso than Rembrandt.

Picture: Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly

 

2020 – good, bad or hopeful?

William Morris, Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, shares some thoughts in the aftermath of a year that included every conceivable divisive issue from Brexit and Trump as we move into the new decade.

 

A tough year with a Happy Ending

William Morris, Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, shares some thoughts in the aftermath of a year that included every conceivable divisive issue from Brexit and Trump to the death of Jamal Kashoggi.

The UAE helps the Great British war juggernaut keep on rolling

The great Middle East politics expert, Neil Partrick, shared the following with us. It is his article on the DSEI defence/arms fair in Docklands this week. You can either read it below or find the original (with far more pictures) on this link to his “Deira Diary” blog:

The first thing that I noticed upon arriving at DSEI was a young mother and baby protesting one of the world’s biggest defence and security exhibitions, or ‘arms fairs’, depending on your point of view. The Excel Centre in London’s Docklands – Newham if you actually live there – played host this week to the biennial defence industry jamboree. The mother and a friend – there were surely many more at a safer distance – chanted ‘arms are for hugging,’ which made the policemen and security guards standing nearby smile.

I entered DSEI in record time, thanks to a very efficient media registration operation, and soon settled in to my usual people and kit-watching mode. It wasn’t long before I wondered what the hell I was doing at this almost absurd spectacle. This was my fourth time of attending; I’ve also been to IDEX in Abu Dhabi and similar events. At the latter, some 20 years ago, I was however speaking at an associated Gulf security conference. At DSEI I was, as ever, unsure of what my role was.

I typically wander around either trying to hook up with existing contacts or just talking to stall-holders about their wares. However there were some undoubted sights to marvel at too. Whether the classic British Centurion tank or a chance for the boys (me included) to play with some guns, there was much spectacle.

I noted that past in-theatre deployments of Russian ultra-babes had been forsaken for more conventional ways of promoting the goods. I gawped at the sheer scale of the UK’s state of the art ‘Tempest’ aircraft (see picture below), which had a steady queue of both men and women wishing to clamber aboard. I stepped outside and admired the huge naval ships in the former London canal-way and the small aircraft or unmanned drones taking to the skies above Docklands. Across the way two huge abandoned warehouses stood as stark reminders of what the area used to be.

team Tempest

Having a Gulf interest, I scoured in vain the DSEI guide for any sign that the Saudis’ much-vaunted planned expansion of their limited defence production capacity was reflected at DSEI. The DSEI website did have a brief about SAMI: the ‘Saudi Arabian Military Industries’ company set up as part of the Kingdom’s ambitious Saudi Vision 2030 (SV2030). But there was no DSEI stall number. SAMI, in partnership with GAMI, the overarching ‘General Authority’ for Saudi military industries is tasked with ensuring that 50% of all new Saudi arms are produced in-country within 11 years and that SAMI becomes a significant arms exporter.

More prosaically, earlier this year a former UK official told me that SAMI was making progress because it was producing small and, he admitted, basic engineering components. ‘Widgets’ was the word that came to my mind. Either way, this is seemingly not enough to warrant hiring a DSEI stand.

The contrast with the UAE was striking. Perhaps having a ‘UAE Pavilion’ wasn’t that surprising as the Emiratis own the Excel Centre in which DSEI is held. However the UAE seems more serious than the Saudis about developing a domestic defence industry. This effort essentially revolves around Tawazun, the state-founded company that since the early 1990s has been promoting in-country defence industry capacity. EDIC, the ‘Emirates Defence Industry Company’, was founded more recently as the country’s overall defence industry platform, but Tawazun has the majority stake in it. Someone on the Tawazun Economic Council (TEC) stall told me that TEC’s focus since 2017 has been on using ‘offsets’ (a de facto Gulf tax on western defence companies who commit to developing local know-how as part of an arms deal) to assist defence and non-defence industry development. TEC is also using its remit to develop local capacity in order to shepherd ostensibly private Emirati companies such as Halcon (part of the Al-Yas Group), who were right next door in the Pavilion. In February 2019 Halcon got a large TEC soft loan as part of the TEC policy to either fund or co-opt local defence businesses[i]. I was told that Halcon employs about 150 people, over half of whom are Emirati and are typically engineers who come to the UK for a post-graduate education. About 30-40% of the components in Halcon’s missile guidance and control systems are imported apparently. This is the all-important electronics component; the rest is done in-country.

On the other side of Halcon’s stand was one belonging to ‘Al-Hamra’, whose smart promo publication boasted of them “Addressing Tomorrow’s Threats, Today”. Their emphasis it seems is on assisting private and public organisations with counter-terrorism and ‘intelligence’ work, something they do across the Middle East and Africa according to their glossy brochure. Sadly there was no one on the Al-Hamra stall to comment further. In fact this was a depressingly familiar experience from past such encounters of mine. It belies the UAE’s go-ahead attitude that seeks to match its regional and extra-regional military ambitions with a greatly expanded supply of domestically produced kit that by definition isn’t beholden to western political sensitivities or technology embargoes. I spoke to the former Tawazun press spokesman who told me that his successor, Mohammed Ahmed, was the only one who could make any comment to me, whether on or off the record. However Mohammed Ahmed had been called away from DSEI on business and would, I was assured, contact me when he returned. He didn’t.

I am ambiguous about missiles. However one that caught my eye was QinetiQ’s ‘Banshee’, which is actually an aerial practice target. Perhaps it was the name that appealed to me, making me think of Siouxsie Sioux’s band, or perhaps it was its attractively bright red colour-scheme and the free key ring.

I wandered into a talk by a representative of Oxford Space Systems who addressed punters on her company’s contribution to the ‘miniaturisation’ of space communication. She mentioned that her company had a UK Ministry of Defence contract for aspects of this work. On my way out I noted that the use of canines in war zones was taking on a very hi-tech dimension (see below).

dog of war

Oman was out in force at DSEI, commanded by Sheikh Badr bin Saud Al-Busaidi, officially known as ‘the minister responsible for defence affairs’. When I spotted him and his large retinue of unformed Sultanate officers, they were surrounded by UK military and defence industry people. He went on after DSEI to meet with the UK’s new defence secretary Ben Wallace, and to visit Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre.

Oman hosts a new UK naval base and, separately, an army training base. The former, located on the Arabian Sea, is designed to accommodate the UK’s one and only aircraft carrier which is still undergoing operational trials before being scheduled to form a ‘carrier group’, with a still to be trialled second carrier, sometime in 2021[ii]. This intimate British role in Oman’s security was arguably unaffected by our ‘pull-out’ East of Suez in 1971. However its stepping up in recent years has made the UK even more central to the Sultanate’s security, including the highly tense Gulf littoral [i].

Before leaving DSEI, I met with an ex-British military friend. He told me that coming in to DSEI on the DLR that morning he had felt disconcerted by man who sat right next to him. The man in question started wheezing before my friend asked if he was ok. He noted that the man was wearing a ‘Veterans for Peace’ t-shirt and was obviously about to join a protest outside DSEI. An understanding passed between them. ‘Have a peaceful day,’ my friend said at their parting.


[i] February 19 2019, Dania Saadi, https://www.thenational.ae/business/tawazun-to-invest-up-to-dh193m-in-uae-defence-company-halcon-1.827609
[ii] ‘UK carrier begins ‘Westlant 19’ operational trials’, Richard Scott, Jane’s Defence Weekly, September 4, 2019.
[i] See my article for the University of Kingston’s History Department blog contrasting Harold Wilson’s decision to end the UK’s formal defence presence in the Gulf and commitment to defend the Gulf rulers, with the so-called return ‘East of Suez’ under PMs Cameron and May

Boris and Brexit and Halloween

A narrow margin of just under 52% of the British population voted leave. The majority of those who voted leave appear to want a no deal Brexit:

38% of the British population support no deal
44% of the British population oppose no deal (the balance are don’t knows / don’t cares)

However 73% of those that voted leave in 2016 support no deal. And by contrast but similarly: 76% of those who voted remain in 2016 oppose no deal (source the BBC poll).

People like Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, who say “Nobody wants no deal” are clearly completely out of touch with reality and live in cloud cuckoo land. They must not even read the newspapers. Meanwhile, the Labour Party has no clear position on the leave / remain divide beyond saying that they prefer a second referendum.

The next general election will therefore be a clear choice between Brexit Tories and Remain Liberals. Traditional Labour voters will be confused. As a consequence the Remain vote will be split, much of it going to the Liberals. The Labour vote could even collapse. The Conservatives will have a slim but solid majority. But it is tenuous. The Sun poll on the 7th September gave the Conservative Party a 3% lead over Labour whereas the Sunday Times poll the day before gave the Tories a 14% lead over Labour.

The British Prime Minister has been constrained by parliament to ask for an extension if he cannot get a deal but has said:

  1. He will not ask for an extension
  2. He will not resign as premier
  3. He will not break the law

Which means he must successfully either:

  1. Bring a new deal before parliament
  2. Challenge the law in the courts (e.g. on the basis that it was illegal for the speaker to take control of parliamentary business)

Or he will after all have to resign as Premier but could delay his resignation until the last minute which could be just before the UK is due to leave the European Union at 23:00 GMT on 31 October 2019.

These are uncharted waters. Only two things seem likely in my view. Not certain but fairly likely:

  1. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will leave the European Union with or without a deal on Halloween
  2. Boris Johnson will win another term as Premier of Britain with a slim but working majority