Recent Writings on the
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Epidemic
January 5, 2021 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
2. DR. EMILY MASTERSON ON COVID-19 VACCINES AND MUTATIONS
Hello! I still enjoy reading your newsletter weekly even though I no longer live in Rolla (in fact my husband, two kids and I happily reside in Boulder County CO!).
As a medical doctor, I would like to offer some quick info regarding a statement you made about the COVID vaccine possibly not being effective against the new strain of COVID circulating in the UK and future mutated strains.
The scientific community is fairly certain that the vaccine will be effective against the new strain (and likely any strain that remains infectious to humans) as it targets the spike protein which is required to enter the human cell and therefore cause illness. If a strain of SARS-CoV-2 mutates at the site coding the spike protein in a way to significantly alter it's function it would likely render that strain non-infectious to humans.
As a frontline healthcare worker it is very important to me that we not spread undue fears about the vaccine. The vaccine/vaccines will be a critical tool for the world to overcome this challenge. I’d hate to see people refusing the vaccine based upon faulty information.
I gladly received the Moderna vaccine a few days ago and had no reaction other than expected arm soreness. I have a great sense of relief knowing that two weeks after my second vaccine I will have 95% protection from serious illness from COVID. The data leading to its approval was solid and no safety steps were skipped.
By the way, I wholeheartedly agree with your putting a spot light on the fact that some in a position of wealth and/or power are cutting the line to get the vaccine. It is a moral abomination that hospital administrators, young politicians who were COVID deniers prancing around super spreader events with no mask and the wealthy gleefully getting a vaccine the first week it was shipped. Nothing new in America though...
I hope everyone there is happy and healthy. I will always have a special place in my heart for Rolla.
Thanks for fighting the good fight—I know it can feel hopeless at times.
Emily Masterson MD
A Further Note on COVID-19 Vaccines and Mutations
Thanks for writing to us, Emily. It is so good to hear from you after all these years. And we hope that you and your family are all safe and healthy and have enjoyed the holidays. Thank you for all you are doing to keep us safe and helping us through these trying times of pandemic.
I think the issue with today's vaccines is not so much whether they will work in the future; but that THEY ARE WORKING NOW. I feel confident that they are working as advertised, because they have been subjected to intense international scrutiny. Some countries (such as Cuba) have excellent doctors and medical researchers who would be a lot harder to fool or co-opt than what little is left of our medical regulators in the United States. Also there are websites, such as Russia Today, that would be most happy to jump on any irregularities that came to light in western-produced vaccines. And would the wealthy be cutting in line to get vaccinated if the vaccines were a hoax?
Today, with increased infections and hospitalizations rising precipitously, it is important that we all do whatever possible NOW to keep the infection rate down so as not to further overwhelm our overstretched public health infrastructure and personnel. Getting a vaccination, when available, even if it turns out to be less effective than what we hoped for, would seem to be the very least we can do.
I, too, have seen pronouncement by “experts” that today's vaccines will work on tomorrow's mutations. I do not share your confidence in these experts. They have been wrong again and again, particularly when it comes to predicting the future. This novel coronavirus continues to blindside us.
Rather than looking at vaccines as a magic bullet, I would suggest looking at them as just another weapon in our arsenal against the novel coronavirus: along with masking, testing, contact tracing, hand washing, social distancing, immune system enhancing medications, anti-viral medications, quarantining, crowd avoidance etc.
The bottom line: This will be a protracted war. We must be prepared for further surprises.
More from Dr. Emily Masterson
“I agree that the vaccine will be just one tool, albeit a very important tool, to get the pandemic under control. Here is a nice graphic you can share if you’d like.
“Lastly, thanks for the link to the article about the virus mutating—that’s a good article, however it does not alter my optimism that the vaccines will likely be effective against future mutated strains.”
December 29, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Vaccination Campaign Off to a Shaky Start
Seems like the vaccination campaign is way behind schedule. Surprised? Well, we could have been mass producing and stockpiling vaccines while trials were still in progress. As Dean Baker explains, even if the vaccines turned out to be worthless, we would only have wasted a few hundred million dollars; far less than the cost of the latest tax-breaks for the rich like the “three martini lunch” tax write-off.
And the rich are now cutting to the front of the line and getting their vaccine before front-line healthcare workers. The problem is probably far greater than what has come to light so far at Stanford and New York.
And why are young healthy “law-makers” getting vaccine ahead of the aged who are far more at risk? Congress-member Tulsi Gabbard called out her colleagues and refused vaccine until every elder who wants vaccine gets it. Hooray for Tulsi! Tulsi's another “badass.”
And in spite of the shortage of trained doctors, a for-profit hospital in Indiana has just killed off a doctor, sending her home while sick with COVID-19, almost certainly because she was black. And we are killing off our frontline healthcare workers like flies to the tune of 2,900, largely though failure to provide adequate protective equipment.
And we're not even sure that these vaccines will work against some new COVID strains, such as the new strain that is now devastating Britain. These viruses are tough. They mutate as I write.
With all these shenanigans, how are we to trust a public health establishment that has mounted by far the worst response to the COVID-19 pandemic of all wealthy nations?
Consider: if the wealthy and well-connected are able to buy their way to the front of the line; what's to stop some clever entrepreneur from replacing the real vaccine with something else, say bleach, and selling the real stuff on the black market?
We continue to violate the most important rule of public health: — Gain the trust of the public.
Nevertheless, I have written a jingle for the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. It's to be sung to the tune of “Cod Liver Oil” as performed by the Dubliners.
Doctor Anthony Fauci, now don't be so mean;
December 8, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Lots of vaccines for COVID-19 out there now — well — almost out there — available soon — we're assured. Pfizer's vaccine, which is already in use in the UK, should be available by the end of the week in the USA. Moderna's vaccine is expected to be cleared for emergency use very soon after. Then there's Astrazeneca, several Chinese products that you don't hear much about, several Cuban products that you hear even less about, and, of course, one from Russia too.
Seems with so many wonderful products almost available, at least one of them should pan out and soon we can all get back to normal. Which ones will work out in the end? Who knows? Wouldn't it make sense for the whole world to share whichever vaccines turn out to work best? Unfortunately, share doesn't seem to be a very popular word in these days of gross inequality.
Still, I'm not placing any bets. Two reasons:
I'm a skeptic. I'll wait and see.1. This is one tough virus — full of surprises. Back in January, who would have thought that 11 months later the world would be well into a third wave of infections — each one worse than the last?
So maybe we can get back to “normal.” But what is normal? If the pre-Trump years are to be considered normal, I don't think we will ever get back to normal; and that might be a good thing.
I'm not sure what the “new-normal” will look like, I don't think anyone knows; but hopefully we will have learned an important lesson from this novel coronavirus. Hopefully, we will have learned that we are a part of Nature and attempts to dominate Nature often end in disaster.
So who gets the vaccine? In the United States, there seem to be plans for a fair and equitable distribution. Will they materialize? Let's wait and see. I suspect the wealthy elite will want to get theirs first and the pharmaceutical companies will want to maximize profits. China? I suspect China will go whole hog in vaccinating all 1.44 billion Chinese as soon as possible and help vaccinate people in friendly countries too. And Cuba? Cuba is a small island of 11.3 million people. I suspect they will not only vaccinate their entire population; but will go into the world's poorest countries and vaccinate as many as possible there too.
How do I know? I don't. I 'm just extrapolating from past behaviors.
More on Vaccines: History
Here in the West, we usually give Edward Jenner credit for inventing vaccination; but as this article from Wired documents; vaccination had been practiced for hundreds and maybe thousands of years before Edward Jenner. The procedure probably originated in China.
Perhaps this has something to do with why China has had their pandemic under control since early April while in the United States and Europe it just keeps getting worse. (see table below)
This article is particularly important reading for those who do not believe in vaccination. And if you are concerned about being vaccinated with a Bill Gates nanochip; then you can always go to Cuba, beyond the reach of Bill Gates' long arm, and receive your vaccination there, probably for a lot less than it would cost in the United States.
As Bernie Sanders suggested back in March, we should at least give China credit where credit is due, for feeding its huge population and give Cuba credit for caring for the health of its citizens. Maybe if we had, we wouldn't be facing the crisis we are in now where over 15 million of us in the United States have been infected with COVID-19 and 1/6 of us are food insecure. What is really sad is that in suggesting we give China and Cuba credit where credit is due, Bernie torpedoed his own campaign.
Think about this. A candidate who suggests giving folks credit for what they do right doesn't stand a chance in the United States.
Novel Coronavirus: Origins
There appears to be some biologic evidence that the novel coronavirus appeared in the United States and Europe at least as early as December 2019. What does this do to the orthodoxy that the COVID-19 virus came from a Chinese bat? It definitely cast some doubt on that theory. But, in truth, there is little doubt that had we been more interested in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and less interested in blaming it on China, we would be far better off now.
Pandemics and Economics
We often hear how we can't quarantine, isolate and close down businesses because it would have a negative economic impact; but here's some data from the International Monetary Fund showing that some countries that successfully limited COVID-19 infections did relatively well economically too; and some countries that failed to limit COVID-19 infections did relatively poorly economically.
It would seem that countries that have successfully kept their rates of infection low have made out better economically than countries where infection rates are high.
December 1, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
How to Survive COVID-19 and All Other Pandemics
In this short editorial, Pope Francis tells us everything we need to know about surviving pandemics. Read it carefully and savor each word. This editorial may save your life.
November 24, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Rolla Gets a Mask Ordinance
Last night the Rolla City Council by a vote of nine to three enacted an ordinance requiring masks and limiting the size of gatherings. If Rollaites obey the ordinance and stop insisting that they have a constitutional right to spread their viruses among the population, it should bring down the COVID transmission rate, which has been surging out of control in Phelps County and overwhelming our regional hospital. Kudos to the Rolla City Council and Mayor Magdits. Special thanks to fifth ward representative, Marie Allen, who led the charge and rallied the troops.
November 17, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
From Our Readers: Rolla Makes National News With Superspreader Event
In reference to the Daily Beast article on the “private” homecoming dance at Matt's Steakhouse that turned into a superspreader event, a reader writes:
My response:“And, goodness, what were those parents thinking? We don't go inside places without masks, and we sure don't go into crowded places for a homecoming dance. ... COVID is spreading at such high rates again. Stay safe.”
I can't say what those parents were thinking; but I suspect they had been drinking too much kool-aid.
On a positive note, I watched a video of yesterday's Rolla City Council meeting and it appears that Mayor Magdits and many members of the Rolla City Council are finally getting it. We may have an ordinance banning such events by next week. As Mayor Magdits put it, there comes a time when you have to put your ideology aside. (video of meeting to be posted soon)
Again, this was all very predictable. Here's a couple of quotes from previous newsletters:
Rolla Peace News, January 28, 2020 (when the United States had 5 confirmed cases of COVID-19).
Rolla Peace News, February 11, 2020 (when the United States had 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19)“While it's too early to know how far this epidemic will spread, one thing is certain: humanity is ripe for a major epidemiological catastrophe. There are many reasons: war, poverty, a changing climate and overpopulation are just some that come to mind.
In late March, The United States became the country with the most confirmed COVID-19 infections, surpassing China, Spain and Italy. The US has held that title ever since and now has 11.7 million confirmed cases, 2.8 million more than India, which now has the world's second most confirmed COVID-19 infections. Lately the United States has been averaging over 150 thousand new infections daily. (COVID data from worldometers)“‘Human civilization’ is primed for a global epidemic of gargantuan proportions. The Wuhan coronavirus epidemic may be only a harbinger of what is to come.
November 1, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Thoughts on Tuesday's Election
In the past, winning a free and fair election used to be the goal — no longer. Now, it's winning at any cost. For some, even mass murder and suicide has become preferable to losing. Consider:
Friday, the US experienced around 100,000 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 (slightly less by some counts, slightly more by others) and close to 1,000 deaths with COVID. By comparison, China has experienced less than 86,000 confirmed cases and 5,000 deaths over the entire life of the pandemic. Think about this: 16% more new cases in one day than China has experienced in 11 months. It didn't have to be this way.
President Donald Trump famously said in March, “One day, its like a miracle, it will disappear.” After bringing its epidemic under control, China claimed that if the world followed China's example, the pandemic could be over by June.
The world hasn't. The pandemic rages evermore out of control (except in China and possibly a few other locations). Over 1.2 million dead worldwide, 236 thousand in the United States — mass murder and suicide.
Climate change is another example. We've experienced what may be this country's worst four-year period ever when it comes to hurricane, drought, wildfire and other climatic disasters. But, according to some, climate change is still a Chinese hoax.
Yet another example: nuclear war. I can well imagine those who hold the nuclear triggers taking down the world in a mass murder/suicide event — like Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple — only this time we're not just talking 918 people, we're talking hundreds of millions, maybe billions.
I think it might be helpful if our next president had a somewhat better grip on reality that our current president.
October 20, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
How to Keep COVID-19 from Spreading
After discovering six cases of COVID-19 in Qingdao, a city of 9.4 million; China has tested ten million people in four days and found seven more cases. China appears to have contained the outbreak through mass testing and contact tracing.
COVID-19 first made itself known in China and has since then become a global pandemic. As of today, China has experienced less than 86,000 confirmed cases and 4.6 thousand deaths.
The United States, in which many consider the virus a “Chinese hoax,” has experienced over 8 million confirmed cases and over 200,000 deaths. (If you want to know why, see cartoon referenced above.)
So wear a mask, avoid crowds, particularly indoors, and if you feel sick or have been exposed, get tested and, if possible, self-quarantine.
October 6, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
2. HELEN AND I TESTED NEGATIVE FOR COVID-19
Having been potentially exposed to the novel coronavirus, we self-quarantined until 14 days after possible exposure and missed last week's vigil. While we felt the chances of our actually having been exposed and having contracted COVID-19 were small, we also felt the risk of further spreading the disease warranted testing and self-quarantining. COVID-19 has infected millions worldwide and in the United States. One can hardly be too careful.
Here is an article discussing measures that partially reduce the chance of spreading the virus and how very important they are. Please read this article.
And a million thanks to everybody who offered to help us shop for groceries. We really appreciate it. We look forward to returning for this week's vigil.
September 1, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Africa: Missing COVID Cases — Missing Deaths
I've been writing since April about how COVID-19 appears to be primarily a disease of wealthy countries, although in recent months it has spread into some less-wealthy countries.
Here's a very interesting article by Linda Nordling discussing some recent findings from Africa, where it appears that in multiple areas, large numbers of people are developing antibodies to the COVID-19 virus without actually getting the COVID-19 disease or at least not having symptomatic cases. While one might surmise that the health authorities are “missing” a lot of cases, this appears unlikely, as there does not seem to be an uptick in mortality
Medical researchers surmise that it might be due to Africa's youthful population or perhaps even genetic factors; but here's the conjecture that really caught my eye: Due to their exposure to other diseases such as colds and malaria; Africans have developed more robust immune systems better able to adjust to novel germs like the COVID-19 virus.
I'd like to take this conjecture one step further. Perhaps those of us in wealthy countries, who are over-vaccinated and over-medicated have damaged our immune systems to the point where we cannot easily adjust to novel microbes.
Do we really need to be vaccinating the entire population for chicken pox? Do we really need to be exposing the population constantly to antibiotics through the meat we eat? Over-vaccination and over-medication may be causing unintended consequences.
And if you think the medical establishment knows best, consider:
The human immune system is tremendously complex and no one, not even Donald Trump, fully understands it.
Dr. Yoshihiro Sato published over one hundred peer-reviewed papers and even had a medical protocol based on his research adopted. Later his publications were found to be based on fake research.
But, getting back to Africa: One epidemiologist quoted in the article by Linda Nordling, Yap Boum of Epicentre Africa, the research and training arm of Doctors Without Borders, suggests that because of the high prevalence of antibodies in the population and the low prevalence of active cases and deaths, Africa might try for a relatively painless herd-immunity to COVID-19 without waiting for a vaccine.
In a proposal that I made recently, I also suggested a way in which we might arrive at a relatively painless vaccine-free herd immunity in more immuno-compromised populations, such as our own.
What If China Develops a COVID-19 Vaccine First?
The first out with a vaccine will become world famous. Wealth, power and acclamation will certainly accrue. But, shouldn't we all be working together instead of competing? Does it really matter who is first? Isn't it more important that the job be done right?“As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.” —Benjamin Franklin
This article presents dire predictions should China be the first to produce an effective vaccine, an event which is appearing more and more likely all the time. I think competition is just fine on the playing field; but I'd rather not take a vaccine that was the result of a high-stakes competition.
Two New Cartoons
I've added two new cartoons to my website, both on the coronavirus theme.
For those of you old enough to remember mid-20th-century absurdist theatre: Waiting for Dr. Fauci
And for the mathematically inclined: Asymptotic Spreaders
Also the section on Benjamin Franklin and the Postal Service has been redone and some of my more serious writings on the COVID-19 pandemic have been updated.
August 18, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
I received some very thoughtful comments on the proposal in last week's newsletter on developing herd-immunity to COVID-19. One reader felt it would not be ethical to deliberately give a volunteer COVID-19. Another was concerned about long-term side-effects of having been infected with COVID-19. I'm going to save discussion of these points for a later date. Please continue to send in comments.
The proposal is posted here.
August 11, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Beating the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Modest Proposal
Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread. Some 250,000 new cases are confirmed each day; and counting unreported cases, the daily total may well reach into the millions. Worldwide, death toll estimates from the virus approach 750,000.
Some countries, such as Laos, have been quite successful in avoiding the pandemic so far. In others, most notably, the United States, the pandemic has ravaged through the population for months. Many, such as China, where the pandemic was first noted, have brought the pandemic under control and kept it under control. In other countries, such as Japan, the pandemic is resurging after having been previously brought under control. In still others, such as India, the pandemic arrived late, but when it did arrive, it spread like wildfire.
Second waves of COVID-19 cases are definitely in vogue now. Here are some examples:
Folks in places where new cases have peaked and then fallen drastically, worn out from beating back the initial wave, are living in fear of a resurgence of COVID-19 — hoping science will give them a vaccine before it's too late.Spain peaked with an average of 7,800 new cases reported daily during the week ending April 1. New cases fell to an average of 279 over the week ending June 10, but then surged to an average of 2,704 new cases over the week ending August 10.
Here, I have a modest proposal to make. It's a low-tech solution. It doesn't require a vaccine that may not be available for a long time and may not work particularly well, even after it is available. In fact, this proposal doesn't require anything that we don't already have, except the will to implement it.
First thing is to estimate how many active infections can be handled without overwhelming one's healthcare infrastructure. Here, we must not lose sight of the fact that people still need medical attention for other reasons as well.
Second let's estimate how many active infections we can handle without sending our economy into a tailspin.
These estimates need to be fine-tuned. If infected people are not aged or immuno-compromised, our healthcare infrastructure can tolerate a lot more infections than if the infected are among the most vulnerable in society. If the infected people are from non-critical professions, we can handle far more infections than if the infected are frontline healthcare workers.
Then, we want to build in a safety factor; and when all is said and done, we have a number, let's call it our Maximum Comfortable Active Infection Load or MCAIL for short. Note this number should change over time as we strive to build a more robust healthcare infrastructure and fine-tune the proposal.
Now, estimate our current active infection load. If its above the MCAIL threshold, first thing to do is to bring it down, using known techniques such as isolation, contact tracing, social distancing etc. It's not my purpose here to review these techniques that we have all heard about over and over again.
When our active infection load falls below the MCAIL threshold; we ask for volunteers; who agree to be deliberately infected with COVID-19. Our purpose here is to arrive at herd-immunity as quickly and painlessly as possible, without overwhelming our healthcare infrastructure or destroying our economic livelihood.
Herd-immunity is attained when the immune portion of the population is large enough that the virus cannot easily spread through the portion that lacks immunity. I've seen estimates of herd immunity that vary from requiring 20% of the population to be immune to requiring 80% of the population to be immune. Clearly, the details need to be worked out in real time.
Immunity derived from having recovered from a disease is the real McCoy — much more effective in general than vaccine-induced immunity, particularly new untried vaccines that have been rushed to market by for-profit corporations, hoping to make a killing (literally) off the pandemic. So far, there have been no confirmed instances of a fully recovered individual getting sick with COVID-19 a second time (although there are plenty of rumors).
As volunteers recover, new volunteers are accepted, keeping the active infection load as close as possible to the MCAIL threshold. Once a volunteer has recovered and acquired immunity, he returns to the general population, perhaps a month or so after being selected. Once we reach herd-immunity, we can pat ourselves on the back and say, “Job Well Done.”
Certainly, volunteers should be offered something for agreeing to be human guinea pigs. What should be offered? Whatever it takes to get enough volunteers.
The infection fatality rate, the portion of those infected who can be expected to die from the infection, is low — less than 1% — and even lower if healthy volunteers are chosen. Lasting complications are certainly possible, but seem to be rare among healthy individuals. Volunteers should be isolated and checked daily until they are coronavirus free. If needed, they should receive the best medical care available. Most will likely experience at worst mild symptoms. Volunteers might well be less likely to die of COVID-19 then the general population, because of the constant medical care and attention they would receive while infected.
In addition, volunteers should certainly receive a salary commensurate with their earning abilities. Their salary should also include hazardous duty pay.
Afterwards, being virtually immune, their services should be in great demand in hospitals, nursing homes and other places where workers must be around folks who are likely to be infected or those who are most at risk from infections.
What we are striving for here is far more than flattening the curve. Indeed, if this works as planned; we no longer have a curve at all; Instead we have a level straight line.
Before 1963, it was common knowledge that most children would eventually get measles. Many parents would deliberately expose their children to measles at opportune times in order to get the inevitable over with, in spite of the risk involved.
It is likely that, short of an effective vaccine, most people will eventually contract COVID-19. With this proposal, we are simulating the situation that existed with measles prior to 1963 when the first measles vaccine was developed.
And what happens if an effective COVID-19 vaccine is developed? We can always switch horses (as we did with measles) if desired. But let's not put all our money on the vaccine horse; especially since there is no guarantee that it will ever reach the finish line. Indeed, many think that a COVID-19 vaccine that comes even close to the efficacy of our measles vaccine (97% effective) is highly unlikely. And let's not forget that decades into the HIV/AIDS pandemic, science has failed miserably in producing a vaccine.
Actually, this proposal increases the likelihood of eventually developing an effective vaccine for COVID-19. It allows vaccine developers the time necessary to do the job right. “Warp-speed” is no longer necessary since we have another, perhaps even better, method of fighting the pandemic. Haste makes waste. Personally, I would not want to take a vaccine produced under the conditions now envisioned.
There are certainly a lot of unknowns here; and I am not in a position to fill in all the blanks. However, I believe the idea is sound; and certainly beats doing nothing while living in fear and waiting for a vaccine.
You might ask: where's the money going to come from? How about from the almost $2 trillion that the world spends each year on war and preparations for war. A minuscule percentage of the world's war budget should easily cover implementing this proposal worldwide. Not only would we conquer the pandemic; but we would also render war, potentially a much greater killer than COVID-19, far less likely.
August 4, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Israel: Just When I Thought It Couldn't Get Worse
In the middle of a global pandemic, Israel deliberately demolished a COVID-19 testing center in Hebron on the West-bank of Palestine.
Viruses don't play politics or respect political boundaries. Israel has been hit very hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, Israel reported 1,768 new cases of COVID-19 or 192 cases per million population. By contrast, the United States reported 54,505 new cases or 165 cases per million; and Palestine reported only 229 new cases or 45 new cases per million. Like the United States, Israel is experiencing unrest from those who would rather see their own country-people get sick and die than see their social and economic lives disrupted.
Perhaps, if Israel were more interested in taking care of its own citizens and less interested in brutalizing Palestinians, their COVID numbers would come down at least as far as Palestine's.
(The data above are from Worldometers.info.)
July 14, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
From Our Readers:
A reader writes:
My Response: National Outcomes from COVID-19 Pandemic“Three countries led by leaders who trust their gut feel rather than listen to the scientists have had very bad outcomes: USA, UK, Brazil. Generally countries that have listened to their experts have done much better: New Zealand for example. I have seen studies claiming that if Trump had done the right things such as shut down the country and take the responsibility for stocking PPE when the warnings first came, tens of thousands of lives would have been saved. Instead he said that it was no worse than the flu, and would disappear in the summer, and did nothing. That's what happens when we elect an egotistical moron as president. Whatever you can say about Hillary, she is way more competent than Trump, and I believe the outcome would have been much better. I'm no expert on your religion, but I'm sure that tens of thousands of lives saved must factor in somewhere.
How ought we to compare the responses of various countries to the COVID pandemic? total number of cases confirmed? total number of deaths attributed to the COVID virus? cases per population size? mortality per population size? What other factors ought to be taken into account? health? age? wealth? environment? stability? number of tests performed? I have no easy answer; and I suspect no one else does either.
In the comparisons which I have posted online (here and here) and update regularly, I rank countries according to total number of COVID cases. I'm somewhat unhappy about this, although it seems to be working out, provided you don't take the numbers too seriously and keep in mind the limitations of this approach.
At present: (0:00 hrs gmt on July 15) the top countries in total confirmed cases are, in order: USA. Brazil, India, Russia, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Spain, South Africa, UK. One might argue from the first three countries, that countries with right-wing ideologues as heads of state are most susceptible to the COVID pandemic. However, going back to March 20, six of the top ten countries were Western European democracies. China, Iran, USA and South Korea rounded out the top ten.
The UK's performance is in line with other Western European countries, although near the high end: second to Spain in number of cases; first in mortality; and quite far down the list in number of cases per population size
Sweden, with its much-lauded policy of remaining open, is not doing particularly well at present, particularly in deaths per population size
Some countries that might surprise you: Vietnam and Mongolia seem to be doing quite well, Israel and Saudi Arabia quite poorly.
On January 28 when the USA had five confirmed cases and China less than 6,000, I warned:
By early April, the USA was Number One in confirmed COVID cases, a position we have held ever since, even widening our lead over other countries. The United States surpassed a confirmed infection rate of 1% of the population this weekend. On July 10 the United States logged over 71,000 new cases, over 85% of China's 83,000+ total confirmed cases over the life of the pandemic so far.“The United States is perhaps particularly vulnerable. We've gutted our public health infrastructure in favor of for-profit health care. When people are afraid to seek medical help because they might end up paying for it for the rest of their lives, how are we to keep contagious disease from spreading?”
What makes the difference?
China's leadership was willing and able to do whatever necessary to stop the epidemic from spreading. China has a robust national healthcare system which extends to the entire population.
The United States, as you note, is under the leadership of a delusional head of state who doesn't seem to understand or care. Decades of for-profit healthcare have left our public health infrastructure in shambles.
Note 1: Data is from worldometers.info and is “as reported” which may or may not represent the reality on the ground faithfully.
Note 2: COVID-19 is currently the name of a disease, syndrome or pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 is the official name given to the virus that causes the COVID-19 syndrome. However, that is hard to say. I prefer to call it the COVID-19 virus or simply the COVID virus
My Response: Donald Trump and Religion
This quote comes from an article I found a couple of years ago, in which the author was interviewing people on the USA/Mexico border. I've been saving it for the proper occasion.“Sometimes, God uses unusual people, people that are not exactly on the straight and narrow. And I believe God is using Mr. Trump. Like I said I don’t like his style, but I believe God is using him. He doesn’t answer to people, he does whatever.” —Kathy Casillas
I'm glad you asked about Donald Trump and religion. I, too, believe God is using him; and the purpose for which I believe God is using Donald Trump appears to be the destruction of the Great American Empire.
Think about it. If your intention was to destroy the Great American Empire, could you think of a better way then to place an “egotistical moron” like Donald Trump in the White House?
On March 31, I warned:
The COVID-19 virus is fast degrading the capacity of the US military to maintain its empire. Here's an example from Okinawa. Okinawans, fed up with the crime and pollution associated with military occupation, long ago asked the US military to pack up and leave their islands. That US troops are now spreading COVID-19 among the population could be the final straw.“But this will pass. Eventually humanity will develop herd-immunity to the COVID-19 virus.
My Response: Origins of the COVID-19 pandemic
Representatives of the World Health Organization are currently visiting China with the goal of forming an international mission to seek the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. They apparently will look into all possibilities, including the possibility that the COVID-19 virus was created in a laboratory. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, they find, particularly since the United States has withdrawn from the WHO and presumably will not be participating.
July 7, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
From Our Readers: It's All Connected
I received some very nice responses to last weeks column on how everything is connected. One reader writes, “I agree with you wholeheartedly.” Another writes, “Good Stuff Tom! What came first Man or Nature? If we think we can disrespect nature without consequences, we had better think again! We only have to just be still, pay attention and open our eyes.”
My response: Thanks so much to both of you. Here's a verse from the Qur'an:
The Book of Genesis places the creation of man as the final act of God on the sixth day of the Creation. Amerindians also describe the creation of man as the final act of creation, as in stories such as And Me, Coyote. According to Science, modern man evolved around 250 thousand years ago. Life on the planet Earth began around 4 billion years ago. In other words, Nature got along just fine for 3,999,750,000 years without us. I suspect she will get along just fine after we are all gone. So let's show a little respect.“Assuredly the creation of the heavens and the earth is a greater (matter) than the creation of men: Yet most men understand not.”
A third reader sends in a similar post from Nicaragua, The Rona and Trees, that seems to be inspired by the same article that inspired my column last week.
And yesterday, I found this wonderful article by Robert Shetterly that looks at connections between White Men in Suits, Original Sin, and Rumplestiltskin. I think it is in the aether that all is connected, and many are picking up the vibes.
A fourth reader writes in, “I'm glad to see that you've decided that COVID-19 is zoonotic and not from a lab.”
My response: I've decided nothing of the kind. Assuming the original viral material for the COVID-19 virus came from a bat, it could have been transformed into the COVID-19 virus through natural selection, through genetic manipulation in a laboratory, or perhaps by other means as well. I stand by my statement that:
I have seen no satisfactory explanation as to why it is “impossible” that the COVID-19 virus was created in a laboratory. When you brush aside the cobwebs it turns out to be, “We're the experts. We'll spare you all the details that you wouldn't understand anyway. Just take our word for it.” And then the mantra is repeated endlessly through the media.“In my opinion it is quite likely that the COVID-19 virus was genetically engineered and released in China in an act of economic or political sabotage.”
So let's assume for now that the COVID-19 virus was created in a laboratory. And let's assume the secret gets out.
So far, 540 thousand have died of COVID-19. People all over the world have lost family and friends to this virus. Folks have had their whole lives disrupted. How are they going to respond to the knowledge that this scourge was visited upon them by a handful of scientists? Might they not torch a few ivory towers? Might they not liberate a few laboratories? Might they not scourge a few scientists?
Indeed, scientists have a very strong interest in keeping the public from believing that they hold any responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic.
We should also keep in mind that in the past, scientists have visited other destructive technologies on humanity. The most obvious example is nuclear weapons. Another is the technology to mine and burn fossil fuels, without which it is unlikely that we would now be plagued by a warming climate. A third example is computer technology, which makes possible unmanned vehicles that can deliver bombs precisely anywhere in the world.
So would folks that have made weapons capable of wiping humanity from the face of the Earth stop at creating a disease which is likely to kill one to five percent of humanity? I'll let you, Dear Reader, answer that one.
Scientists, such as the renowned Dr. Anthony Fauci, decry that so many have “an anti-science bias” for “inconceivable reasons.” As a fellow scientist, let me explain, Dr. Fauci.
Given the discussion above, is it not truly bizarre that so many look upon Science as the Savior of Humanity? Some may not articulate their objection to Science in manner I have; but I suspect subconsciously they understand.
This age is not unique. There have been ages in the past when people have turned against Science. Consider the early 19th Century English Luddites who smashed machines and turned against industrial automation which was destroying their livelihood.
My favorite example, however, is the Chinese Cultural Revolution (roughly 1967 to 1977) during which universities were shuttered and scientists were sent to the countryside to work on collective farms and learn the value of hard labor.
Maybe, if scientists did more for ordinary people, and less for the elite classes of billionaires, corporate executives, politicians and generals — maybe then, there would not be so many people with “an anti-science bias.”
June 30, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
It's All Connected
A reader sends in this article from the New York Times detailing connections between emerging diseases (particularly COVID-19) and environmental destruction — a perfect illustration of the adage “Nature Bats Last.” The devastation we have done to natural ecosystems comes back to haunt us as zoonotic disease like COVID-19.
Reading the article, I couldn't help feeling that we are going to get hit by disease upon disease until we learn that we are a part of Nature — not separate from it and definitely not holding dominion over it. I think Nature is trying to teach us something. We ignore the lesson at our own peril.
Here's another article from Institute for Policy Studies detailing what may be the most important connection: Militarism and Climate Change. This has been a major theme in my writing; so I was very glad to see this excellent article. War and Climate Change feed on each other. To take one example: War is a carbon intensive activity. Tanks and fighter planes run on petroleum-based products, lots of it, and are heavy emitters of carbon dioxide, causing Climate Change. The changing climate in turn leads to disruption and scarcity of resources which makes War more likely.
And here's an article from the Guardian discussing another connection between Climate Change and disease. Climate Change makes natural disasters more likely. People fleeing natural disasters, like fires, end up crowding into shelters and camps where disease is easily spread.
And one final connection: Inequality. If we can't look at each other as equals, how are we going to join together to tackle so many common problems.
So what's the solution? Learn to live in harmony with each other and with Nature. Sounds easy when you put it that way. Stop looking at ourselves as being exceptional. We're all in this together. If humanity is to survive, we'll have to replace “Make America Great” with “Make Nature Great.” The part can never be greater than the whole.
June 23, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Thinking of a career in Public Health? You might want to think a little harder. Folks are leaving the profession in droves.
Seems like a lot of folks don't care to be healthy. Worse than that, they don't care if others are healthy either. And even worse than that, they'll viciously attack anyone who works to keep folks healthy.
Well, we are a free people. We have a Right to our diseases. And we have a Right to spread them around freely. We are a free people; and as former president George W. Bush once remarked, "They hate our freedoms." Maybe this was what he was referring to. Maybe they hate our freedom to spread disease.
Well, cases of COVID-19 are, very predictably, on the rise in the United States. Having fallen briefly below 20,000 new cases per day, we have now, for the first time since April, surpassed 30,000 new cases in four of the last five days. A rise in mortality will very likely follow on the heals of the rise in new infections.
June 16, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Corona Virus Appears to be Mutating
The COVID-19 virus appears to be mutating and may be becoming more contagious and more virulent. It is moving into war-torn countries on the heels of invading soldiers and foreign bureaucrats. In Afghanistan, confirmed cases increased almost four-fold from 6,664 to 26,310 over the past 30 days. In Yemen, confirmed cases increased almost seven-fold from 128 to 885 in 30 days. These numbers are likely grossly under-reported.
Here, in the United States, we remain by far the country with the most COVID-19 cases and our numbers continue to increase at an alarming rate. While daily new cases have been falling over the past two months; with the reopening of business and social life, new cases have leveled off and appear to be set to rise again.
May 26, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Coronablog: First the Good News
Italy has recommended the Cuban medical brigade, which has been active in Italy helping to fight the COVID epidemic, for the Nobel Peace Prize. Meanwhile, here in the USA, we sanction Cuba and make it difficult for them to buy ventilators and other medical equipment.
With the help of Cuba, Italy has brought new infections down from a high of over 6,000 daily to less than 500.
Coronablog: Now the Bad News
Looks like the “healthcare” industry is making a killing (literally) off the coronavirus: Timothy Regan who went to the emergency room with COVID-19 symptoms was socked with over $3,000 in charges of which has medical insurer, United Healthcare, paid about 1/3, leaving him with a bill of more than $2,000.
The “healthcare” industry is making record profits amid the coronavirus pandemic. (In case you are wondering what fuels all these conspiracy theories about COVID-19, you need look no further.)
And Gallup finds that 14% of people in the US would not get checked out if they had fever and a dry cough, typical COVID-19 symptoms, due to the cost.
Let's do a little seat-of-pants calculation here: Taking 14% of the 1.7 million confirmed cases in the United States (the actual number is thought to be much higher), we get 238 thousand people. And each one infects about 2.5 other people, that's 595 thousand. And of those 595 thousand around 2.5% will die. That's almost 15 thousand people who may have died so that the healthcare industry can make record profits.
Question: So, why aren't the CEOs of these corporations being charged with crimes against humanity?
Answer: We live in a country that values profit more than human life. That's Capitalism!
Of course, that is not the whole story. In our rush to reopen Missouri's economy, how many will have caught COVID-19 over Memorial Day weekend? And how many will they infect? And how many of those will die? I'll let someone else do this calculation.
May 12, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Tired of Writing About COVID-19
I'm tired of writing about COVID-19. If you wish, you can get the latest numbers at worldometers.org. (Really love this site! Hope you do too. Their data is basically the same as everybody else's — as reported. However, I find their tables and graphs more up-to-date and easier to read than those on other sites.)
It cannot be stressed too much that the numbers therein are only as good as the reported data, which may or may not faithfully represent the situation on the ground.
I would, however, be remiss if I didn't recommend to you this article by Belle Chesler, who is a teacher of visual arts in the Beaverton, Oregon public schools. Chesler talks about how inadequate distance learning is as a replacement for the hands-on classroom experience.
I sure do miss reading to my classes at Mark Twain. (No, I'm not going to start reading on Zoom.)
STOP now and read Chesler's article.
May 5, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Global Military Spending Up
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has come out with their 2019 asessment of global military expenditures. The world saw a 3.6% annual increase in military spending to over $1.9 trillion, the largest growth in a decade. As you might have guessed, the United States leads the pack spending a whopping $732 billion on its military in 2019, roughly equivalent to the ten countries with the next highest military expenditures, in order: China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and Brazil.
And the world has topped 3.6 million reported cases of COVID-19. The United States again leads the pack with over 1.2 million cases, slightly more than the six countries with the next highest number of COVID cases, in order: Spain, Italy, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Russia.
Lots of overlap in the two lists. I don't think it's coincidence.
Nor do I think it coincidence that the country responsible for over 1/3 of the world's military expenditures has been afflicted with almost 1/3 of the world's reported COVID-19 cases.
Imagine! if the world had spent that $1.9 trillion on public health infrastructure, instead of the wherewithal to kill each other. Perhaps, there would have been no pandemic at all.
But, sadly, it seems that a lot of folks are more interested in fighting each other than staying healthy.
Some Scriptural References to Pandemics
Here's an amazing hadith (Saying of the Prophet Mohammed, Peace and Blessings be upon him):
Today we would say, “shelter in place,” and we would say “pandemic” instead of “plague.” The Prophet knew 1,400 years ago that this was the way to fight a pandemic.“If you hear of a plague in a land, then do not go into it. If it happens in land where you are, then do not go out of it.”
And this hadith about plague is even more amazing:
One who dies in a pandemic while sheltering in place will receive in the hereafter the reward of one who chooses death, so that others may live.“It is a punishment that Allah sends upon whoever he wills, but Allah has made it a mercy for the believers. Any servant who resides in a land afflicted by plague, remaining patient and hoping for reward from Allah, knowing that nothing will befall him but what Allah has decreed, he will be given the reward of a martyr.”
Ancient scripture tells us that pandemic disease is a punishment from God.
This chapter from 2 Samuel, often called the “Census of David” is particular pertinent to this discussion. Here are the results of David's census:“But the transgressors changed the word from that which had been given them; so We sent on the transgressors a plague from heaven, for that they infringed (Our command) repeatedly.”
King David was apparently only interested in men who could draw sword. His great sin for which God sent a pestilence upon Israel was preparing for War, perhaps even aggressive War against his neighbors.“And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.”
And the pestilence ended only after David learned humility and spake unto the LORD saying:
Since the European “Enlightenment,” people have stopped believing that pandemic disease is a punishment from God; but today, when modern science finds itself helpless to protect against emerging diseases like HIV/AIDS and COVID-19, I think many are returning to the ancient belief.“Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father's house. ... And David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.”
Think about this: The best protection available today against COVID-19 was advocated to his followers 1,400 years ago by Prophet Mohammed.
April 28, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
From Our Readers: Is COVID-19 Primarily a Disease of Wealthy Countries?
A reader writes in:
My response:“I read the Rolla news this morning and clicked into your article about coronovirus/wealthy countries. I agree with your premise: you'd think poor countries with less access to handwashing facilities and such would be harder hit. On the other hand, wealthy countries with people who travel more are more likely to spread it. Also, all the stats are based on where tests are available, so hard to say how many cases are where. I agree that we don't know a lot. ... I think the correlation you're making is interesting—I've wondered why we aren't seeing more spread in less developed countries.”
Many very important points in your response. I've included them along with a few others in the Is COVID-19 Primarily a Disease of Wealthy Countries? article (the article).
I reran the correlation using numbers as of 0:00 hours gmt April 28 (7pm cdt April 27). There were 43 countries in the top 50 in both Gross Domestic Product and number of coronavirus cases reported (the same number as at 0:00 hours gmt April 7 although a few of the countries had changed). Including the other 14 countries that are in the top 50 in one but not both categories, this time we get a correlation coefficient of 0.43 as opposed to 0.46 on April 7. However, using only the core 43 countries, we get a correlation coefficient of 0.57 as opposed to the previous 0.50.
Statistically speaking, It would seem that little has changed over the past three weeks.
The new graph and table have been added to the article.
There are many interesting factoids that can be gleaned from this data.. For example: Ten of the 11 countries with the highest GDP are among the 15 countries with the highest reported number of COVID-19 cases. And these ten countries comprise 62% of the worlds GDP and 66% of the world's reported COVID-19 cases.
But, putting numbers aside, I think the reason COVID-19 has struck such fear into people in wealthy countries is that they are so used to catastrophes striking those others in poor countries, not us. Now, here's one that seems to strike us more then them. (Doesn't God work in such marvelous ways! Perhaps we will learn humility and the importance of sharing from this, although it doesn't seem to be happening.)
It cannot be stressed too much that the numbers herein are only as good as the reported data, which may or may not faithfully represent the situation on the ground.
Anybody out there with a statistics background interested in playing with these numbers? I'd welcome an informed opinion.
Wherefrom Cometh the COVID?
According to the gurus at Johns Hopkins (and many other respected institutions and publications in the United States):
Likely? Huhhh? If you don't know where COVID-19 came from, how can you rule out human creation?“TRUE or FALSE? The new coronavirus was deliberately created or released by people.
I'm no expert on genetic manipulation; but if I wanted to create a deadly disease and release it, I'd sure try my hardest to mimic natural selection to cover my tracks. Wonder whether these “scientists” thought of that. Actually, mimicking natural selection in Nature has been going on for millennia. It often goes under a name like selective breeding or grafting. However, genetic engineering can speed up this process many fold.
Neither you nor I know what goes on in these ultra-secret military and commercial laboratories. And if you think scientists are so hard to fool, remember the Piltdown Man.
But here's the kicker:
Unlike COVID “myth-buster” articles in the United States, like this one, the World Health Organization does not mention man-made creation as a myth. They have apparently refused to jump on this bandwagon; and maybe this has something to do with why the United States just terminated funding for the World Health Organization.
Here are three other reasons why I stand by my previous statement that:
“In my opinion it is quite likely that the COVID-19 virus was genetically engineered and released in China in an act of economic or political sabotage.”
Keep in mind that all the above evidence is purely circumstantial. Nothing has been proved or disproved. Unlike some “science gurus,” I am not claiming to know what I do not.1. Many of these folks in high places are pure sociopaths. They think nothing of killing millions of people.
The term “quite likely” is purposefully vague. How about, “with a probability of 65% or greater?” instead.
Note (added May 15): Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization, said in a recent interview:
But that is totally different than saying it is false that “the new coronavirus was deliberately created or released by people.”“We have listened again and again to numerous scientists who have looked at the sequences and looked at this virus; and we are assured that this virus is natural in origin.”
This Is Disgusting
Seems some folks are worried that China or Russia might steal our research into COVID-19 vaccines.
Why aren't they sharing? To date over 200 thousand people have died with COVID-19 including over 50 thousand in the United States. Apparently, the important thing is the money and prestige that would come from developing the first vaccine — very little concern over how many more people might die in the meantime.
If you are having trouble keeping a sense of humor about all this, try this article.
April 21, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
November Intelligence: When Did the US First Learn About COVID-19?
It was reported first by ABC News and a week later by the Times of Israel that US intelligence became aware of the coronavirus epidemic in China back in November, perhaps as early as the second week of November, at least partially through intercepted Chinese messages. US intelligence reported this to the White House and shared with Israel and NATO. Apparently, nobody did a thing.
This doesn't make a lot of sense. It wasn't until December 30 that Doctor Li Wenliang became aware of the existence of 7 cases of a SARS-like infection in Wuhan.
But, lets assume the reports are true. It makes authorities in China, the United States, Israel and Europe all look bad — sitting on their duffs while pandemic disease spreads out of control.
Now let's assume the report is only partially true. US Intelligence became aware of the spreading epidemic in China in November; but only because they were looking for it. Why? Could it be that they had brought the virus to Wuhan themselves?
We could also assume that the whole report is simply “fake news” and ignore it.
Take your choice; but as for me, whereas in the past I have stated:
I now have to upgrade “there is a significant probability” to “it is quite likely.”“in my opinion there is a significant probability that the COVID-19 virus was genetically engineered and released in China in an act of economic or political sabotage;”
If you are part of the “blame it all on China” cabal, read this article from Moon of Alabama. Moon of Alabama opines:
COVID-19 Pandemic: The United States and The Countries It Sanctions“China took extreme and drastic measures at high economic costs to prevent a larger outbreak. It did not do that to deceive anyone but because it saw the seriousness of the problem. It acted in the global interest and to defeat the virus.
Let's look at how the United States, and countries under US sanctions are fairing amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic:
Perhaps, if the United States were more concerned with the health of its citizens; and less concerned with empire building, war making, pampering the rich and brutalizing the unfortunate, our numbers would look more like the other numbers in the table above.
And here are the numbers for a few more selected countries. If I've omitted your favorite, check the worldometers.info site.
Data from worldometers.info as of 0:00hrs gmt April 21 (7pm cdt April 20). Note: All statistics are “as reported.” There is an excellent discussion of this on the worldometers.info website.
Nicaragua: How to Avoid Shutting a Country Down
While Sweden is often cited as a country that has remained open in spite of the COVID pandemic, Nicaragua is a far better example. There is actually no comparison. (See tables above.)
Here's a description of how they are doing it from an Estadounidense who has lived in Nicaragua for over 20 years.
And this is how NOT to avoid shutting a country down.“Yesterday I went to a Nicaraguan government office to take care of necessary paperwork. At the door I was politely asked to wash my hands in one of two outdoor sinks with soap. The nice man at the door then checked my temperature with an infrared thermometer and waved me in. Just inside the door was a disinfectant mat, I was asked to wipe my shoes and then my hands were sprayed with alcohol. At the check-in desk I was given a squirt of alcohol gel for my hands and my ID, which I handed over in exchange for a visitor's ID that had also been disinfected.
And if you are of the opinion that COVID-19 is no different from the flu, read this article from Science.
While most countries are onboard with a ceasefire in all conflicts so humanity can unite to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States and Russia apparently think a global ceasefire should not pertain to them.
March 13, 2020 (last updated April 17)
Has COVID-19 Caused Changes in Atmospheric CO2?
The underlying data for the accompanying graph, which were provided to me by NOAA, are daily averages for CO2 in the atmosphere in ppm, as recorded at Mauna Loa. The lines in the graph represent 30 day running averages (leftmost: March 14 – April 12, 2020; rightmost: Dec. 1 – Dec. 30, 2019). 30-day average concentrations, as expected, rose up to mid-February when they unexpectedly started to level off, peaking on Feb. 25 at 414.21 ppm, and then falling to 413.84 ppm on March 13 and rising to 414.57 on April 1 and 415.48 on April 12.
Historically, concentrations or atmospheric CO2 should rise from October through May. So what caused the late February – early March decrease? My best guess is COVID-19. More precisely, the decrease in economic activity in China caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 was first confirmed in late December. Less then 2 months later, atmospheric CO2 peaked and started to decrease.
But then, what caused the uptick in atmospheric CO2 after March 13? Again, my best guess is that it is related to the COVID-19 pandemic, this time to the Chinese bringing the pandemic in China under control, and to the concomitant resurgence of industry in China.
It should be noted that there are other possible explanations for the February and March changes in atmospheric CO2. For example, the March uptick could have been caused by the atmosphere making up for the February deficit by drawing carbon out of our ocean sinks. However, I think the explanation above by far the most likely.
If the conjecture holds that these changes are, to a significant extent, due to COVID-19, it would mean that a decrease in economic activity, particularly in China which is now responsible for more CO2 emissions than any other country, could result in an almost immediate decrease in atmospheric CO2.
It should be noted that the pandemic is still raging in North America and Europe. Why is this not affecting atmosphic CO2 concentrations? Again, I would conjecture that the shutdown in North America and Europe is no where near as complete as it was in China.
In other words, it is likely that we could begin to reverse global warming immediately, simply by decreasing unnecessary economic activity. It is also noteworthy that Nature simply did what we could have easily done for ourselves in an orderly manner, without the death and disruption caused by COVID-19. This certainly demonstrates the old adage, “Nature Bats Last;” or as Kumi Naidoo put it, “Nature does not negotiate, it responds to our intransigence.”
While some toot the decrease in anthropogenic CO2 emissions, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be noted that this has had little, if any, overall effect on atmospheric CO2. Average atmospheric CO2 concentrations rose 2.36 ppm in February 2020 over February 2019 and 2.53 ppm in March 2020 over March 2019, as compared to a 50+ year average increase of 1.74 ppm per year. In the first 12 days of April 2020, CO2 concentrations rose 3.62 ppm above the equivalent period in 2019.
Caveat: Four+ months is less than a blink of an eye in climatological terms. It will be interesting and exciting to see what tomorrow brings.
April 14, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
The Peace Virus
Here inside, all is still. You wouldn't know that outside rages a tiny, but deadly, assassin, a coronavirus, not even a micron in diameter.“And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at you with a vengeful aspect.”
Perhaps, COVID-19 ought to be renamed the Peace Virus. We have been calling for an end to the bombing of Yemen for years. COVID-19 has succeeded where we failed. Saudi Arabia has unilaterally called a truce to go home and fight the coronavirus. And in both Syria and Afghanistan, truces seem to be holding and progress continues to limp toward Peace.
And in the US Navy, COVID-19 has forced a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to port, and forced the acting Secretary of the Navy to resign. That is no mean feat.
I had hopes that the Peace Virus could have helped to reverse global warming, and it yet may. But, in spite of the global disruption and recession, concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide continue to rise; and March 2020 was the second warmest March on record.
No, I wouldn't count on the Peace Virus to set everything straight for us. But, Nature has powers that we humans can not even dream of.
So all is still. We hunker down indoors, afraid to go outside, and I think of another Joseph Conrad line:
“And outside, the silent wilderness ... struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.”
April 7, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Is COVID-19 a Disease Primarily of Wealthy Countries?
In mid-March, I suggested that COVID-19 seems to be attacking primarily wealthy countries such as the United States and many European countries. I think the case is a lot stronger now than it was three weeks ago when I wrote that. I've written a short article here.
New COVID-19 Cases in Iran Fall for Eight Consecutive Days
In spite of US sanctions that have severely degraded Iran's health care abilities, Iran appears to have stopped the COVID-19 virus in its tracks. New cases have fallen for eight consecutive days, and the number of active cases is coming down too. On top of this, Iran appears to have prepared for the worst, which may not come.
March 31, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Is Satire Obsolete?
I was just feeling a little silly that evening, when I photocollaged The Lone Ranger meets the Coronavirus cartoon, Within a few days, as coronavirus cases exploded exponentially around the world, it morphed into dark humor. It wasn't funny any longer.“Sometimes, reality outraces our capacity for satire.”
Decades ago, Tom Lehrer was asked if he was going to return to writing political satire. His response, “political satire became obsolete when they awarded Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize,” was political satire at its best.
Recently, I saw an article on CNN that reported that gun and ammunition sales were booming on account of the coronavirus pandemic, which made me think of Lehrer's remark and my cartoon.
Think about that: As a nation, our response to any adversity is to arm ourselves, no matter how inappropriate that might be. This, I think, is a big part of the reason that the United States now leads all other nations in COVID-19 cases.
I still don't know whether political satire is obsolete; but perhaps Lehrer was right.
And here is Tom Paxton singing, Buy a Gun for your Son (1965).
So many of the threats we face are global threats, and require a global response. Besides Global Warming and Nuclear Warfare, the current pandemic is an obvious example. All people must stand together to successfully oppose these threats.
In order to allow all peoples the ability to fight the current COVID-19 pandemic, clearly, all nations should place a hold on warfare and sabotage and, at least temporarily, lift all sanctions and blockades that degrade the ability to fight the pandemic. Unfortunately, the United States is doing exactly the opposite, placing new sanctions on Iran at a time when sanctions should be lifted.
Interestingly, Iran which has suffered for years under US sanctions that have degraded their ability to provide the people with adequate healthcare, appears to being doing far better than the United States at containing the pandemic. By the numbers, the US now has more COVID-19 cases, both in absolute numbers and relative to its population than Iran. The US has also experienced a greater mortality than Iran, in absolute numbers although not relative to their populations. However, perhaps most importantly, the United States now has more than six times the number of currently infectious cases than Iran has. Since future cases come from those currently infected, this numeric disparity seems likely to increase.
The United States is also ramping up attacks on Venezuela, declaring President Nicholas Maduro a “narcoterrorist,” without a shred of evidence and placing a bounty on his head. So far, Venezuela has kept the pandemic mostly at bay, with currently a mere 135 cases.
The closest ally of the United States, Israel, also appears to have done a lackluster job at containing the pandemic. Israel now has 4,695 COVID-19 cases, more than all but 16 other countries. Israel maintains the world's largest open-air prison, Gaza, with 1.8 million Palestinian inmates, half of whom are children. Gaza is ripe for a disastrous epidemic having inadequate clean water and medical facilities due to the long-standing Israeli blockade which clearly should be lifted immediately.
By contrast, China and Cuba are going around the world providing aid in combating the pandemic to many countries in need, including Italy, Iran, Jamaica and Venezuela.
Note: The above statistics on the COVID-19 pandemic come from worldometers.info and are as of 0:00 hours gmt on March 31 (7:00pm cdt on March 30). Statistics are “as reported” and may or may not truly represent the reality on the ground.Whither To?
But maybe there is an upside to all this. I see very little in the news now about War. Perhaps nations are too busy fighting the pandemic to fight each other.
And perhaps this pandemic is giving Nature a chance to make a comeback. Purportedly, the waters in Venice, Italy have never been so clear.
But this will pass. Eventually humanity will develop herd-immunity to the COVID-19 virus.
However, I suspect COVID-19 will prove to be a terminal illness for the Great American Empire. Weakened from without by Perpetual War and Climate Change, hollowed out from within by corruption and inequality, I do not expect the Great American Empire to survive intact. COVID-19 may well be the final nail in its coffin.
What will follow? I don't have a crystal ball. All I have are Leonard Cohen's prophetic words: “You're not going to like what comes after America.”
March 24, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Oh boy! What a day. Don't know where to begin; so lets start with the numbers: over 10,000 new COVID-19 cases in the United States yesterday — up from over 9,000 the day before — an 838% increase from a week ago. We're setting new records day after day. No other country has come even close: not China, not Italy, not Iran, none. Among the ten countries with the most COVID-19 cases, United Kingdom is next with a 331% increase over the past week. Worldwide cases have increased 108% over the past week. And in China cases have increased less than 1% over the past week.“I read the news today, oh boy,”
On January 28, I wrote:
On February 11, I elaborated:“The United States is perhaps particularly vulnerable. We've gutted our public health infrastructure in favor of for-profit health care. When people are afraid to seek medical help because they might end up paying for it for the rest of their lives, how are we to keep contagious disease from spreading?”
So why is this happening? Many reasons:“The United States, with it's for-profit health industry, is perhaps the least able of all wealthy countries to respond positively to such an epidemic. How do you fight an epidemic when a large part of the population is too poor to afford to go to a doctor? How do you fight an epidemic when a large part of the population is so afraid, that it would not bring itself to the attention of the authorities anyway? How do you fight an epidemic in a society that has become so used to blaming others for everything that goes wrong, that it has lost its power of introspection?”
1. This can't be happening to us! So, let's go to the beach and party. This is abject stupidity: Californians ignoring a “shelter in place” order and crowding onto the beaches en masse amidst a global pandemic.
2. How can we profit from the coronavirus? Profiteering is rampant. Even the President reportedly tried to buy up exclusive rights to a promising German vaccine that is under development.
3. A total lack of national leadership. We've spent decades getting “big government off our backs”. So it's hardly surprising to find big government missing in action when it is most needed.
4. While the world needs to pull together in face of the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of putting a hold on sanctions which degrade the ability of others to fight the pandemic, the United States is ramping up sanctions on Iran, one of the hardest hit countries.
5. Blame it on the Chinese. Donald Trump insists on calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus”, sparking racist assaults against East Asians in the United States. This, in spite of that nobody knows where and how COVID-19 came.
Last week I quoted Shakespeare on hand-washing. Here's another Shakespeare line describing a similar situation:Note: I stand by my previous statement that, “in my opinion there is a significant probability that the COVID-19 virus was genetically engineered and released in China in an act of economic or political sabotage.”
The Chinese have a much older saying:“For ’tis the sport to have the engineer
Some other statistics:“To pick up a rock only to drop it on one's own foot.”
1. There appear to have been few cases of internal transmission in China recently. China is ramping up surveillance at airports and border crossings in order to identify travelers with COVID-19 infections.
2. Israel, with a population of around 9 million, has reported almost 1,500 cases of COVID-19. Meanwhile, Palestinian prisoners are held in unsanitary conditions without access to the means to prevent the spread of disease. Israel also holds 1.8 million people, in the world's largest open air prison, Gaza, without adequate medical supplies or clean drinking water.
3. Europe has far more cases than any other continent: around 200,000.
4. Cuba and China are helping Italy and other countries fight the pandemic. Meanwhile, the United States is not even helping itself.
Juan Cole has written an excellent article on the US response to COVID-19.
5. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has tracked the rise and fall of the COVID-19 pandemic in China pretty closely. The epidemic spread in China throughout January, peaking in early February and then falling below 100 new cases per day by early March. The 30 day running average of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere peaked on February 25 and fell until March 13 tracking the earlier decrease in economic activity in China caused by the pandemic. After March 13, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere rose again, this time tracking the resurgence of economic activity in response to China's bringing the pandemic under control.
Historically, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations rise from October through May.
Maybe now that China has shown the world how to beat the coronavirus, next they will show the world how to beat global warming. It won't be easy; but I believe it can be done. Maybe they could also show the world how to live in Peace. It's never been done before. But, maybe, the time is now.
Note 1: Most of the statistics on COVID-19 above come from the tables and graphs at worldometers.info. The worldometers.info day begin at 00 hours universal (Greenwich mean) time which is 7:00pm cdt the previous day. Thus, yesterday refers to 7pm Sunday, March 22 to 7pm Monday, March 23 cdt. Weekly growth rates refer to 7pm Monday, March 16 to 7pm Monday, March 23 cdt.
Note 2: By time you read this, many parts of this post are likely to be out-of-date.
March 17, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
William Shakespeare on Hand-Washing
In truth, I am tired of writing about the COVID-19 coronavirus; yet, here I go again.Sanctions: an Attack on Public Health
Here are three articles on Iran, Venezuela and Cuba and how US sanctions have degraded Public Health in these countries. I suspect Iran, Venezuela and Cuba will continue to do the best they can under the circumstances to inhibit the spread of the Coronavirus. Perhaps, in the long run, better than many far wealthier countries.
Iraq is another case. Sanctions of Iraq, 1990-2003, probably killed well over a million, mostly children, of preventable disease. It was known in the halls of government that this was happening, yet it continued for 13 years.
China appears to have the COVID-19 coronavirus under control. Over the last 10 days, China has averaged 20 new confirmed cases per day.Kudos for China
China claims that if the rest of the world takes appropriate measures, as China has, the pandemic will be over by June.
China has objected to the use of the name Wuhan Coronavirus, pointing out that the virus may not have originated in China.
I agree. And I apologize for having used that name in the past.
And I think the Chinese and some others know exactly how it originated; and I suspect at some point they will go public. If I had anything to do with starting this pandemic, I'd be quaking in my boots right now.
Taking a look at the 20 countries with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases. They are, in order:Disease of the Wealthy Countries
China, Italy, Iran, Spain, Germany, South Korea, France, United States, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Belgium, Sweden, Japan, Malaysia, Canada, Australia, Portugal.
Except Iran and Malaysia, they are all relatively wealthy countries in North America, Europe, Australia and East Asia.
One can ascribe various reasons for this, but I can't help thinking:
“But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” —Matthew 19:30 (KJV)
This is what really scares me. As I've stated before, I think the world is primed for a really serious epidemic, one which will make COVID-19 look like the common cold. Think, for example, of a respiratory infection like COVID-19, but with all the characteristics of HIV/AIDS. That's scary.What's Next?
The world better learn to put aside its differences and learn to work together.
Coronavirus Poem: for children and advanced grownups
And Here is a video of me reciting this poem to my grandchildren.
Coronavirus cartoon: The Lone Ranger meets the Coronavirus
As expected, on March 5, new cases worldwide surpassed new recoveries for the first time since February 18. The number of contagious cases, which had been decreasing since February 18 are now on the rise again.
New cases in China fell to 40 on March 8. Meanwhile new cases outside of China stood at 3,847.
Parts of Italy have been placed under partial quarantine. Will this work in Italy the way it has in China? Will the Italians show the dedication and discipline the Chinese have shown? We'll see.
There are now over 500 cases in the United States including one in Missouri. 22 have died.
John Feffer notes how fragile our global civilization is and how it is literally disintegrating before our eyes under the scourges of climate change, pestilence and militarism. Feffer recommends a new globalization where the world hegemons, the United States and China, work together against climate change, disease and inequality. This is an important article. Please read it.
March 3, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update
Worldwide, recoveries have exceeded new infections since February 18, mainly due to the work of the Chinese in containing the virus. However, if the trend of the last few days continues, new cases outside China will soon dwarf recoveries in China.
To date, the world has seen close to 100,000 cases with over 3,000 deaths.
The coronavirus epidemic in China appears under control, probably due to draconian measures taken by the Chinese authorities, including the quarantining of millions of people. New infections in China fell to 202 on March 1, 125 on March 2 and 119 on March 3.
In many other locations, new infections are on the rise. Coronavirus cases in the United States reached 124 today. Nine deaths in the United States are attributed to the coronavirus epidemic.
Iran has experienced 2,336 cases and 77 deaths, perhaps partially due to US sanctions that have hit the healthcare sector very hard.
Previously I have stated that in my opinion there is a significant probability that the COVID-19 virus was genetically engineered and released in China in an act of economic or political sabotage. I stand by this statement. If true, with the coronavirus spreading worldwide, the perpetrators have a lot to answer for.
I have also stated previously that I felt that among wealthy countries, the United States, with its for-profit health care system and its corrupt government, is among the least prepared to combat an infectious epidemic. I stand by that statement too.
It appears that the Wall Street healthcare moguls are charging folks thousands of dollars just for COVID-19 testing. The cardinal principle of public health is to win the trust of the public. It appears that the cardinal principle of the United States healthcare system is to make as much money as possible off of the public's misfortune. How many will forego testing and spread disease simply to avoid these exorbitant charges?
For my part, I've written a short six line poem stressing the tried and true method of inhibiting the spead of respiratory infection: wash hands and cover mouth when coughing. Here's a video of me reciting this poem to my grandchildren.
On a lighter note, for all you Lone Ranger fans, here's a cartoon: The Lone Ranger meets the Coronavirus.
But lets keep this all in perspective. HIV/AIDS has killed over 32 million and still infects hundreds of thousands each year.
Note: Most of the statistics above come from these graphs on worldometers.info.
February 25, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
From Our Readers: Wuhan Coronavirus
A reader sends in this article from the Washington Post dated Feb 2 on the early spread of the Wuhan coronavirus with no further comment.
This article highlights a major drawback of top-down authoritarian social systems: They can be slow to react. In the case of the Wuhan coronavirus, precious weeks were lost during which the spread of the virus could have been slowed.
However, the article does not mention the strength of China's system: that once the national leadership began to react, it quickly mobilized all the powers of the State to combat the spread of the virus: quarantining millions and building hospitals at break-neck speed.
Here are some statistics from a graph posted on Worldometer:
New cases appear to have peaked on February 4 shortly after China began to mobilize against the virus.And some final notes:
While new cases outside of China have spiked in the last few days, the transmission rate within China appears to have fallen.Like other existential threats, such as climate change, it is imperative that humanity start working together against the common enemy, instead of making War on each other.
February 18, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
From Our Readers: Wuhan Coronavirus
In response to last week's post in which I wrote:
A reader writes in:“The United States, with it's for-profit health industry, is perhaps the least able of all wealthy countries to respond positively to such an epidemic. How do you fight an epidemic when a large part of your population is too poor to afford to go to a doctor? How do you fight an epidemic when a large part of your population is so afraid, that it would not bring itself to the attention of the authorities anyway? How do you fight an epidemic in a society that has become so used to blaming others for everything that goes wrong, that it has lost its power of introspection?”
My response:“You say that the United States is the least able of the wealthy countries to respond to the epidemic. I have no idea whether you consider China a wealthy country, but it is certainly an economic powerhouse. Because of its secrecy and stonewalling it has certainly proved itself the least able to deal with such a crisis. I suspect that if Trump stays out of the way, our infrastructure will handle it okay. The CDC is very professional, and seems to be dealing with this correctly.”
I stand with World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and many others in believing that China has done an admirable job in responding to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. Do you think the United States could have quarantined a city the size of Wuhan? Do you think the US could build hospitals as quickly as China has? China has a system of universal health care and a history of top-down social control that permits rapid responses to public health emergencies. We do not.
Reading US Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross's gloating remarks about the damage the coronavirus will do to the Chinese economy and the possible boost to the US economy, the first thing that popped into my mind was biological warfare and sabotage. Apparently, I was not the only one thinking along these lines. Here is a three part article about US biological warfare and sabotage including attempts to spread plague and other disease among the North Koreans and Chinese during the Korean War.
[Hey, Wilbur, You're getting senile. You weren't supposed to say that in public.]
This article comes to me by way of Gary Kohls.
I highly recommend this three part article on biological warfare, although I would have liked to have seen mentioned:
And don't forget that 30 miles down the road from Rolla lies Fort Leonard Wood, home of the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School.1. The use of smallpox as a biological weapon against our Amerindian population. Smallpox could be as much as 95% fatal to a population that lacked immunity.
February 11, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Two New Statistical Milestones
What do these two statistics have in common? They both demonstrate the inability of “human civilization” to respond positively to global threats.1. Yesterday the daily average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at the Mauna Loa observatory surpassed 416 ppm for the first time since record-keeping began. (Just nine months ago the 415 ppm milestone was also surpassed at Mauna Loa.)“I hate statistics. What I got to know, I keep in my head.” —Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean
We've known for well over 30 years that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will heat the planet and make it increasingly hostile to “human civilization.” Yet, we seem totally unable to shed the behaviors that drive this crisis: Fighting wars, burning fossil fuels and eating meat (in that order) may be the three most important of these destructive behaviors.
“Human civilization” is primed for a global epidemic of gargantuan proportions. The Wuhan coronavirus epidemic may be only a harbinger of what is to come.
The United States, with it's for-profit health industry, is perhaps the least able of all wealthy countries to respond positively to such an epidemic. How do you fight an epidemic when a large part of the population is too poor to afford to go to a doctor? How do you fight an epidemic when a large part of the population is so afraid, that it would not bring itself to the attention of the authorities anyway? How do you fight an epidemic in a society that has become so used to blaming others for everything that goes wrong, that it has lost its power of introspection?
Here's an interesting article from Science about the World Health Organization and its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Russia and Cuba are actively helping China to contain the coronavirus epidemic. US Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, gloats over the damage the coronavirus may do to the Chinese economy and the possible boost to the US economy.
February 4, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Wuhan Novel Coronavirus
The Wuhan novel coronavirus, so far has infected at least 20,000 people, mostly in China and killed over 400, all but two in China. It's first cases appeared in December, 2019. While the world panics and markets fall, it is important to put this novel coronavirus in perspective.
Here is a list of epidemics from Wikipedia. Going through the list, the Wuhan coronavirus doesn't appear to distinguish itself. It's kill rate is 2 to 3 percent. Some of those infected early, appears to be healing which is a sign that the epidemic may be peaking. China is now testing the Russian antiviral drug, Triazavirin, on the virus.
Compare to the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic that has killed over 30 million since its onset in the 1960s and still kills hundreds of thousands annually and infects millions each year. All attempts to develop an HIV vaccine have failed including this most recent one.
Both HIV and Wuhan coronavirus are thought to have jumped from other mammals to humans, although we should not rule out that these viruses may have been man-made.
January 28, 2020 (written for Rolla Peace Newsletter)
Wuhan Corona Virus: This Could Be A Big One
With all the existential threats the human race faces, lets not forget this one: Pestilence. The Wuhan Corona Virus (aka 2019-nCoV,) has so far killed at least 132, spread to over 6,000, and caused China to place at least 60 million people under quarantine. The virus is thought to have jumped to humans from a bat or possibly a snake in a live animal market in Wuhan, although no one is really sure.
While it's too early to know how far this epidemic will spread, one thing is certain: humanity is ripe for a major epidemiological catastrophe. There are many reasons: war, poverty, a changing climate and overpopulation are just some that come to mind.
The United States is perhaps particularly vulnerable. We've gutted our public health infrastructure in favor of for-profit health care. When people are afraid to seek medical help because they might end up paying for it for the rest of their lives, how are we to keep contagious disease from spreading?
So wash your hands often and well, cover your mouth when you cough, and your nose when you sneeze and if you don't know how disease is spread, Tom Lehrer explains it in song in this two minute video.