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Rolla Peace News

September 15, 2020
Dear Friends:
Editor's note: Today we have a extremely interesting op-ed by Simon Thougaard comparing the responses of Denmark and Sweden to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many thanks, Simon, for this very informative article.

Please consider writing for our newsletter. It's always very exciting to be able to publish submissions from our readers.

Webperson's note: If you are having trouble reading this, it is posted at

In this newsletter is:

4. THE MISFIT MATHEMATICIAN (Tom's column, http://tomsager.org)
          a) From Our Readers: Donald Trump
          b) Climate Catastrophe Essay Updated
          c) The Future We Are All Fighting For



We vigil for peace in front of the Rolla Post Office, THIS THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, FROM NOON TO 1:00 PM (and most subsequent Thursdays until Peace is established). Please join us again this Thursday in saying NO WAR AGAINST IRAN or any other country. The temperature is predicted to be around 80. If you do not feel comfortable standing with us in front of the Post Office, please consider driving by and showing your support for our message by honking your horn and flashing a peace sign.

Note: Since there are so few of us, generally 2 or 3, no need to cancel; but let's maintain social distancing.


Friday, September 25 will be the date of the Global Strike for the Climate. So, we will move the Thursday vigil to Friday on that week and make saving the climate the primary focus of the vigil. Last year we had a great turnout. Photos are posted here.


A Tale of Two Kingdoms:

Responses of Denmark and Sweden to the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Simon Thougaard

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there were two old neighboring Kingdoms. When a plague hit the lands, both Kingdoms were faced with the challenge of saving their people, and consulted their wisest men and women. The southern kingdom urged their people to stay home, and avoid catching the deadly plague. The northern kingdom instead encouraged their people to go about their day, as if nothing had changed. For they believed that to get rid of the plague, they would first need to suffer it.

It was not a fairytale, but the very real situation the kingdoms of Denmark (south) and Sweden (north) faced in the spring of 2020, with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. I am perhaps not suited to tell this tale fairly, because I happen to be from the southern kingdom, and can not deny a certain implicit bias. But I will try to present this as objectively as I can, and hopefully this may work as a cautionary tale, should a plague ever reach your kingdom.

Kingdoms in Europe are relics of the past, mostly ceremony and tradition. However, on March 17 of 2020 something unprecedented happened: Queen Margrethe II of Denmark gave a televised address to the people of Denmark about the crisis. The Queen had never before involved herself in politics, but did it to encourage Danes to socially distance themselves and support government response. The Prime Minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, had recently initiated a lockdown (recommending no social gatherings, closing schools, etc.) on March 11th, but many Danes just ignored social distancing until the Queen's speech. 19 days later, on April 5th, Queen Elizabeth of the UK and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden made similar speeches. The delay between these speeches, would turn out to correlate with the response to the virus. Both Sweden and the UK opted for so-called “herd immunity” strategies in the early phase of the pandemic. Denmark aggressively pursued a hard lockdown.

Denmark and Sweden are often compared, and we often compare ourselves to each other. We have similar societies and cultures, similar population size and demographics. Sweden has about 75% more people, with 10.23 million to Denmark's 5.8 million. Sweden is however much larger, about 10 times the size of Denmark, and Denmark is much denser with about 133 people per square kilometer, to Sweden's 22.5. On March 17th, the day of the Queen's address in Denmark, both countries had about 1,000 confirmed cases. They are an excellent case study for comparing pandemic responses.

Denmark opted for a hard lockdown, early. Police would hand out tickets at public gatherings, and schools would completely shut down. An economic relief plan was issued, which would pay for 90% of salaries of workers that were sent home. The intent was to encourage employers to do nothing, and give workers peace of mind. The lockdown was a mandatory paid vacation. The cost of the relief bill was about 13% of GDP, compared to the US CARES act which cost about 9.3% of GDP. The idea was to “freeze” the economy, until it could be safely opened again.

Sweden opted for a soft lockdown. Social distancing was encouraged, but not enforced, and schools remained open throughout. The economic relief bill in Sweden would resemble the Danish, but since workers were less encouraged to stay home, less money was spent on subsidizing wages. Their relief bill cost 5.5% of GDP. The idea was to keep the economy going, and let society build up immunity to the virus.

So how did things turn out? A lot more got sick in Sweden: Twice as many confirmed cases per capita. A lot more died in Sweden: More than 5 times as many deaths per capita. In fact, Sweden has suffered almost as many deaths per million as the US, 578 to 591 at the time of writing, with Denmark at 109 and Italy at 589.

For months I have had a bad feeling in my stomach about this. To their credit, the Swedish government did follow the advice of their top epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell. The narrative in defence of soft-lockdown, was that the numbers would equalize in time, and Sweden would simply have a better economy then. They would suffer the same, but cheaper. It has been reported that Sweden’s GDP dropped by 8.6% in the second quarter compared to the 12.1% in the eurozone. Not bad, outperforming countries like Italy and Spain. Danish GDP, however, dropped by only 7.4% in the same period.

If the numbers are not painting the picture that I intend them to, let me tell you about the most troubling aspect of the Swedish response: It has been reported that elder care workers were instructed to “weigh the benefits and costs” of sending elderly with covid-symptoms to hospitals. Care workers would often give morphine to sick elderly, in lieu of oxygen, and give them palliative care, instead of trying to save them. They were arguably being involuntarily euthanized. Swedish hospitals were said to have plenty capacity during the height of the outbreak. This was a matter of priority.

In recent days, cases have risen in Denmark, while remaining flat in Sweden. Denmark was one of the first countries to reopen schools in Europe (and one of the first to close them), and my relatives in Denmark tell me they have almost forgotten about the pandemic. The Danish government has begun to threaten another lockdown, if numbers continue to rise. This was in fact the motivation for writing this piece. Because I know that a lockdown would work. Because it did work. We do not have to wait to find out if the Swedish government was right or wrong. They already failed their people, regardless of what comes next.

At this point I should point out a contradiction: Swedish officials defend their strategy of a soft lockdown, where people are encouraged to socially distance and work remotely. They also defend their strategy of “herd immunity”, where early and wide spread of the virus was seen as a benefit, making the population resistant. So which is it? Should Swedes avoid the virus, or catch it early? Clearly the intended strategy was herd-immunity, which begs the question, why encourage self-imposed lockdown? I can only speculate, but it seems like a convenient excuse for a bad strategy. If individuals are responsible for their own safety, deaths can be ascribed to the “individual failure” of some person who didn’t follow guidelines, enforced or not. Swedish officials still stand by their overall strategy to this day.

The narrative is a variation of “we actually didn’t do bad” or “in time, we will be vindicated” or simply “we were unlucky (a few bad apples)” — a narrative not everyone in Sweden subscribes to. Back in April, over 2000 Swedish scientists signed an open letter criticizing the strategy and advocating stronger measures. And yet still, just today I read a bizarre Newsweek article titled “Sweden's Public Health Director Explains Why Lack of Lockdown Was a Success”, in which they remark the unfortunate death rate, but also remark “It is thought the lack of a lockdown in Sweden helped protect its economy, compared with other countries that took more extreme measures.” They cite Swedish officials explaining that they did a good job.

It is beyond troubling, that a US newspaper, while the US is struggling with a second wave and a looming economic crisis, would point to Sweden as a success. It is as if the Swedish narrative is alive here. It is as if the narrative is necessary to justify bad policy.

Be wary of these narratives. They will be used to justify human sacrifice on the altar of capitalism.

Appendix 1:
Graphs comparing confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Denmark, Sweden and the United States

4. THE MISFIT MATHEMATICIAN (Tom's column, http://tomsager.org)
          a) From Our Readers: Donald Trump
          b) Climate Catastrophe Essay Updated
          c) The Future We Are All Fighting For

From Our Readers: Donald Trump

A reader writes:
“Trump is dangerous and scares me. His followers scare me, too, as they are willing to believe what he says. Was it Don Jr who just said that 17 year olds make stupid mistakes in defense of the guy who shot protesters? I'm not going to say all my choices as a 17 year old were good, but never did it occur to me to shoot someone. Trump is provoking gullible people who apparently don't know better. And that shows in the boat parade: they don't even realize they are sinking themselves. Literally. And it could all get much worse.”
And another reader writes:
“Perhaps you should say something about the super spreader event that took place in Sturgis recently. That can be blamed on Trump since his attitude toward mask wearing and social distancing rubs off on his fans. I'm sorry that I'm not religious because if I were, I'd know that Trump would burn in Hell eternally for breaking the 'thou shalt not kill' commandment.”
My response:

I can't quarrel with what our readers have written; but I must note:

If God were not merciful and forgiving, we would all be headed straight for Hell; so let's count our blessings. It is not for me to pass judgment: God redeems whom he will; and leaves whom he will to wander in darkness.

You were a much more mature 17-year-old than I was. At 17, I thought often and hard about shooting people. I was certainly not unique. Militaries thrive on 17-year-olds such as I was.

Keep in mind: Donald Trump invented neither Capitalism nor Imperialism nor Narcissism, although he appears to be pushing each one toward new extremes. Helen suggests the following quote from Joseph Conrad's “Heart of Darkness:”
“You should have heard him say, ‘My ivory.’ Oh, yes, I heard him. ‘My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—’ everything belonged to him. It made me hold my breath in expectation of hearing the wilderness burst into a prodigious peal of laughter that would shake the fixed stars in their places. Everything belonged to him—but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own. That was the reflection that made you creepy all over.”
I love this passage. Replace “peal of laughter” with “wildfires, plagues and hurricanes.” Conrad, could easily have been writing about Donald Trump. Trump is the spittin' image of Conrad's Mr. Kurtz.

Incidentally, there is a very interesting article on COVID-19, the Sturgis rally and other mass gatherings in Wired.

Climate Catastrophe Essay Updated

I've posted the August update to Climate Catastrophe and also added two paragraphs to the section: Can Science Save US? It's not a pleasant read.

The Future We Are All Fighting For

Irie Celeste


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