Friday, October 23, 2020

The distilled arrogance of power

And its personification, the lame duck Czech minister of health

The Slovak prime minister is a true believer. He seems to genuinely believe that his mission is to shut down Slovakia and to strip all Slovaks of their basic civil rights because of this "terrifying" disease. Well, as you may expect for Czechs in general, his counterpart, the "October minister" of health Roman Prymula, doesn't really believe anything and he's way more rational and pragmatic. He views his job of being the "master of the lockdown" as a great method to gain power and money. This apparent former colonel of the communist secret police is also selling face masks through a company he controls. He has an impressive Elo rating in chess.

The Last Supper. Click for more gold by TMBK

Fine, so Roman Prymula, the main (and perhaps only) "epidemiology expert" in Czechia who agrees with the Coronazis was appointed as the new minister on September 21st, succeeding Adam "Ken" Vojtěch, the handsome singer from the Czech American Idol. He immediately started to tighten the screws up to the "almost lockdown" that began yesterday. Such policies don't work and he doesn't really know how to do things that work so the Covid activity in the country increased by more than one order of magnitude during those 32 days. But it was a personal mistake that apparently removed him.

The most influential Czech old-fashioned tabloid The Flash (Blesk) published these pictures:

On Wednesday night (10 pm or so), Prymula went to a fancy restaurant (Rio Vyšehrad). Well, it doesn't look fancy outside but it is meters away from the St Paul and Peter Basilica at Vyšehrad, the "Old Upper Castle" in Prague (the interior is fancy). He ordered coffee for himself and his buddies, Mr Faltýnek who has been known as the #2 man in both prime minister's corporation and his party, and Dr Havrlant from a hospital in Ostrava. They spoke without face masks, with each other, with the owner of the restaurant, with the driver, drove without face masks, and violated other things. The Flash has impressed many people with photographs without bras and underwears; as someone has observed, it is capable of creating even more juicy photographs without face masks. ;-)

OK, the tweet from The Flash says that this is the man who demands the most stringent restrictions. He ignores all of them. To say the least, restaurants at night have been banned for many weeks. Some extra restrictions came to force on Wednesday. Now, all the restaurants are banned at all times, at least up to the early November. The owner of this restaurant clearly had to open for these two men. After seeing this hypocrisy, lots of opposition politicians wanted Prymula to be fired and the prime minister abruptly agreed in this case. "It is a catastrophe, it is unforgivable". Babiš ordered Prymula to resign or be fired. A transparent option that makes it clear that Prymula is really fired but gives him the option to formally resign himself. Faltýnek already resigned as a deputy chairman of the movement.

The story isn't quite over because Prymula actually refused to resign; and President Zeman (who may accept or refuse every resignation in the government) wants to defend Prymula, too. As the only epidemiology-related expert in Czechia who agrees with similar draconian policies, he is a darling of all the hysterical people and Coronazis, a set that has unfortunately devoured the Czech president in recent weeks, too.

Restaurants and clients have paid nontrivial fines for much more modest violations of the face mask and restaurant closure rules than this one. This violation is as obviously in conflict with the rules as you can get. A fancy restaurant was open in order for two would-be VIPs to talk to each other just like if the rules didn't exist. But Prymula said that "he didn't do much" and gave some hilarious interpretations of the events. For example, he didn't know it was a restaurant. "He just came to an address that he was sent and sat to the table in a chapter". ;-) Next to the photograph of a self-evident "table in a fancy restaurant", this comment sounds like comedy gold (the owner of the spaces and the manager running the restaurants have already denounced this crazy fairy-tale; the chapter has no private spaces and through a renting contract, this is a regular restaurant). And he's invented several similar excuses for the other violations (and he funnily insisted that he wouldn't name the other people there, everyone knows them); audio.

People speculate whether The Flash could take this picture "accidentally". A possibility is that Babiš wanted to fire him which is why Prymula was invited to a restaurant and the tabloid photographers were ready. Also, Prymula could have wanted to produce an "elegant resignation" unrelated to his very expensive policies with terrible results, so he could have invited the photographers himself. I choose the "happy accident" which is what Occam's razor seems to favor. I think that these tabloid journalists are trying to follow similarly important people at all times and they were lucky.

We don't know for certain whether the removal of the minister by the PM will get through the president. And we don't know who will be the new minister (it should be decided by Monday). Hopefully, the new minister is going to be less restrictive. Sadly, the opposite possibility exists – but in that case, I think that he would have to be a clear non-expert, some new would-be dictator (there are a bunch of "technically experts" who are almost as supportive of draconian policies as Prymula but not quite). But what's troubling is that many people are defending Prymula even now – as the only man who can save the nation from extinction. This set includes the president but the core of this community sits somewhere in the SJW Prague Café community (what a bunch of strange bedfellows with Zeman! These coronavirus camps go across all previous political groups and societal classes).

Prymula's suggestion that he has the right to be exempt is a typical example of the abuse of power that the communist Big Cheeses had during communism (not that it doesn't exist in democracy). An extra problem with this "exemption for the VIPs" is that lots of other people would want (and, in any sensible cost-and-benefit analysis, badly need) this exemption and they are arguably more important than the minister of health and their events could be more important than Prymula's seemingly unimportant meeting with Mr Faltýnek (the two men didn't even agree what was the topic). Even the best artists and billionaires are prevented from meeting listeners or business partners in proper restaurants now. Prymula's apparent belief that he is more important than the whole elite including billionaires, CEOs of large companies, the gems of the cultural and athletic elites, this is already communism. I think that regular democratic ministers don't think that they're "much more important than all the billionaires" and other groups; the job of a minister is just another "better job", not the ultimate holy grail. They would understand that this idea about the castes is extremely strange. If he can do it, many others can do it, too. About 100,000 users have already joined Facebook event called "Let us Reopen Restaurants With Prymula", "Drinking Beer With Prymula", and a few more.

So this minister clearly believes that he has won the jackpot and became a dictator who has greater rights than literally everyone else, including the very rich men. His staunchest fans clearly believe in this picture, too. They liked him as a new dictator and they still want this system to continue. Also, Prymula's visit to the restaurant and the absence of the face masks proves that he is not actually afraid of his health and the health of his buddies from the restaurant. He's not afraid of the life of the most important dictator in the country, namely himself! This fact clearly undermines the idea that everyone should be afraid of his health. The most prominent proponent of this fear in the country doesn't believe it himself! He knows very well that the risks are limited and it's silly to behave in this way.

The story of this (hopefully) 32-day-long minister shows how very bad it is to hire a would-be expert whose actual advantage is to fulfill a predetermined, purely political role and to abuse his monopoly in being "the right kind of an expert". Being the "right kind of an expert" that a politician or a corporation wants means to throw away one's scientific integrity. You always find such people and their moral values are likely to be similar to Prymula's. Also, the people who continue to defend Prymula are similarly arrogant. Even though they often hysterically attack people who violate some rules just slightly, they don't have any serious problem with Prymula's "sin" concerning his own rules. I think that this attitude makes it clear that they already envision a new organization of the society in which the hysterical Coronazis such as Prymula – and, indeed, themselves – have greater rights than literally everyone else. This is their desired "main implication of the virus". It's absolutely disgusting, unacceptable, and let's hope that they will be shown to be totally wrong.

Of course, my dream is that Babiš has been persuaded that these policies are counterproductive, the Covid events in Czechia are already between 30% and 50% of the "whole sequence", there is not much we can change about the rest, and a rational minister will be appointed who will reopen the economy and cleverly manage the country while it is unavoidably converging towards the herd immunity and beyond. Ideally, the new minister should articulate this vision explicitly. Ex-minister Miloslav Ludvík, the current boss of the country's largest hospital, is said to be a candidate which would be great, he is a decisively anti-hysterical man who often emphasizes the excess capacity in the hospitals (and the fact that 40% of Covid patients in his hospital are asymptomatic). When Ludvík was a minister in Sobotka's government, I surely had no clue that in a few years, he would become a nearly dream choice of mine for the same job.

Otherwise Babiš's timing for sacking Prymula seems optimal for Babiš's political strength. It is clearly an optimal moment at which the prime minister's "we can't preach water and drink wine" has quite some currency.

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