The serious situation of the Three Gorges Dam

In case things were not bad enough already in China, there is a serious situation rapidly turning into the risk of a catastrophe with the Three Gorges Dam. In brief, its structural integrity appears to be compromised. Combined with very high rainfall in the catchment area of the Yangtze River, the Dam is buckling and the authorities are releasing as much water as is possible to take the pressure off. But it might not be enough. Should the dam fail, it would cause a catastrophe in China.

The first impact would be humanitarian. Millions of people live and work downstream of the dam. Casualties would be large in number. The second impact would be local economic wipe out. The third would be international economic consequences. The fourth impact would be political reprisal. This is not looking good.

Move along, buddy, you’re holding up the line.

It’s time to get back to the business of life, if only our political masters would permit us. There is nothing to see anymore. The media fascination with counting each new COVID-19 case ought to be over.

What is notable from the next two charts is the shape of the curves. First, some larger countries and secondly smaller, (just to make the data easier to see).

Conclusion: the daily deaths have been falling everywhere, even bad boy Sweden, since the peak in late April. This is despite the rapidly growing number of reported cases globally for the last month.

Next, look at the excess deaths from the continuous mortality study, Euromomo, with 24 participating countries:

Conclusion: the spike in deaths, relative to normal, was 4 months ago. Also notable is that there is a spike in deaths every European winter. In 2017, the excess deaths reached 70,000 per week. In 2018 and 2019, they reached 60,000-65,000 per week. In 2020, there were two spikes: the ‘normal’ winter spike around 60,000 per week and then the COVID-19 spike reaching 90,000 per week.

Time to get back to living, working, schooling, business, socialising and recreation.


Where is the global panic about deaths from road accidents? Or HIV/AIDS? Or tuberculosis? Why is COVID-19 worthy of a 6 month on-going panic when TB doesn’t rate a mention?

Currently, the global total death toll from COVID-19 is 562,000 people. Round that out to 0.6 million.

In other news, annual deaths from road accident trauma total 1.2m people, tuberculosis also kills 1.2m people annually and HIV/AIDS is killing about 1m people each year. Each and every year.

Let’s tally up the score over the last three years in terms of aggregate deaths:

  • Combined road trauma, TB and HIV/AIDS: 10.2m deaths
  • COVID-19: 0.6m deaths

Why weren’t economies busted and free people locked down years ago?

Photo by Tobias Rehbein on

A bewildered man under pressure

This is the picture of a man under pressure. He looks bewildered.

Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, 7 July 2020

He has just announced the reintroduction of hard lockdown rules to apply to all of metropolitan Melbourne and one neighboring municipality. Back to square one. Covid19 lockdown strategy, here we go again in the State of Victoria.

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Emu Export

There was a time in the middle 1980s when Western Australia punched above its weight in the Culture Stakes of Australia. Those were the days of Alan Bond, the Royal Perth Yacht Club, America’s Cup and Swan Lager. One of the more famous video clips of Bob Hawke, who had been Prime Minister for only 6 months by the time Australia II became the first challenger in 132 years to win the Cup, thereby breaking the longest winning streak in sporting history, had Bob on breakfast TV looking as if he was soaked in champagne. Still, such was the era that his image was enhanced. Today, one can imagine a craven apology being delivered by a subdued PM guilty of much less wayward antics than merely being soaked in champagne at breakfast.

I was reminded of those days recently while in my local Dan Murphys liquor store in Melbourne when I spotted a beer that I had not seen in over 30 years: Emu Export. The label says ‘Beer for Western Australia’. Well, of course I had to buy a supply. For in my younger days, at the start of my career, I spent two years working in Perth, WA, the State of Excitement as the local car number plates intoned. It wasn’t particularly exciting in those days if your car was low on petrol at the weekend because the filling stations went onto a roster system so that half would shut down for the weekend. This could require some planning in the pre internet days of finding out where the nearest open filling station was. There was no app.

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COVID-19 update

The total number of people that die in any one year across the whole world is currently around 56 million. Of those, around 28 million were over age 70.

The current total number of deaths due to COVID-19 is 56,000 globally. Of those, the proportion aged over 70 appears to be very high, at least 80% based on what scant data is available.

The global workforce is almost entirely aged less than 70 years. Thus COVID-19 has killed around 11,200 people of potential workforce age. In any typical year, the number of deaths globally of potential workers is 28 m. Thus the increase in workforce deaths, so far, is 0.04%.


Every day is like Sunday

“Every day is like Sunday. Every day is silent and gray.” So sang Morrissey  in the 1980s. He was envisaging nuclear winter but in doing so comparing it to the typical Sunday of the times. Sundays were different then. Shops were closed and churches were open. Even fuel filling stations were mostly closed. The streets were quiet, families had a cooked lunch together at home and grandparents may have been visited in the afternoon.

Melbourne seems to have returned to the Sundays of old, but with some differences. The churches are no longer permitted to admit worshipers. Visiting grandparents is discouraged by the arbiters of assumed state power. The police force is harassing couples on the beach* trying to enjoy the last sunshine of the late summer. Citizens are bullied into a state of hibernation, jobs forcibly removed from many yet they cannot go hunting for new work.

The panic displayed by political leaders stems from two fundamental causes. The first is that over time, people have allowed governments ever increasing powers over our daily lives. The fear of being seen to be doing nothing has replaced the fear of doing something damaging in the mind of the politician. The mainstream media and social media has encouraged this shift. The second cause is a fundamental error in making predictions about the outcome of an exponential growth process. The predictions are wrong, badly so. The error stems from the inability to model the behavioural changes that people make in the face of risk. The risk of infection from social contact with an infected person is not constant over time. It reduces. This is because people change their behaviour. Those models that attempt to show how one infected person infects 2.5 others who each infect another 2.5 persons and pretty soon the whole country is infected and the deaths will be in their millions are wrong. Yet it seems public policy is conducted based on such fears.

There is another side to this pandemic not receiving sufficient attention and that is the fatality rate. Firstly, it is being expressed as a case fatality rate, not infection fatality rate. Case rates are always going to be much higher, yet infection fatality rates are what matters to the population. Second, the rates should be broken down by age band. This data appears to be hidden by authorities, but what is available shows that the mortality rates are heavily skewed to the elderly. Why should an economy be sledgehammered when the workforce is no more badly affected than any other flu season? Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the key point is not the number of deaths from COVID19 itself, but the net increase in deaths from all causes. In other words, are deaths being labelled as COVID19 deaths rather than heart disease, pneumonia, respiratory failure, stroke, etc. By the time that people get to their elderly years, they usually have a number of underlying medical conditions. Which one is it that should be recorded as the cause of death? It seems that practices are differing in different countries. Germany, it is reported, is not counting a death where there is a number of underlying issues, including COVID19, as caused by COVID19. Italy counts every death where COVID19 is present as a COVID19 cause. When all is said and done, what matters is the total deaths (per time period) compared to the typical number of deaths split by age and gender. If the totals are not changing, then COVID19 is a relabelling exercise. Despite the wholly unsatisfactory analysis of the data, our way of life, civil liberties, economic wellbeing have been damaged immensely. It surprises me that more people are not complaining in the streets. Civil unrest will emerge eventually if these draconian restrictions are not removed.

Update: Reported in the Sydney Morning Herald: “Anyone in NSW who leaves their house without a “reasonable excuse” could spend up to six months in prison and face an $11,000 fine under an emergency ministerial directive gazetted overnight.” The politicians are out of control and seriously risking public disorder.


Attentive readers will note that On the Beach was a movie made in Melbourne in the 1950s about nuclear apocalypse. I’m on a roll, here.