A Journal of the Plague Year (15)

One of the things we’re learning in this crisis is that so many organizations, particularly international organizations so beloved of the progressives, have shown themselves to be absolutely worthless.

The World Health Organization (WHO), belatedly calling for the measures it opposed only weeks ago (such as travel restrictions) at the behest of their communist masters in China, is now looked upon as a leading light. How short memories are.

And, in a very revealing and penetrating article in National Review, the timeline of the incompetence and catastrophe is laid out clearly.  It was well known in China in December of 2019, that there was a new, menacing pneumonia on the loose in Wuhan.

I won’t go into detail here, you should read the whole article. It reveals how the WHO has been just a mouthpiece for Chinese communist propaganda, and, as a result, Western nations have been stymied in their attempts to come to grips with this problem. Its head, Dr Tedros, has long been associated with Marxist revolutionary movements in Ethiopia that were responsible for untold deaths. He was and is in the pay of the Chinese communists. However, we’ll hold that for later. Now is the time to concentrate forces on the biological problem. Yet again, President Trump is showing himself to be a leader; a leader adapts fluidly to rapidly changing circumstances, without being bound by dogma. The White House press conferences show that. However, they also reflect the true nature of the Fake News Media. Repeatedly, CNN, the Cuckoo’s Nest network, would cut away from President Trump and the doctors on the task forces, to go to some fatuous nonentity for “opinion” or “interpretation”. In a time of national emergency who wants to listen to some bloviating halfwit from the world of pinko irrelevancy when we need facts about what is going on on the ground?

Esteemed idiot, Rachel Madcow, on MSNBC, was driveling on about how the US hospital ships Comfort and Mercy would not be arriving “for weeks” when live TV showed them arriving in New York and LA at that time. Truly a Comical Ali moment for the drivel network! There should be handouts of special awards, the New York Times Walter Duranty Awards for Mendacity in Journalism, with a special mention for Rachel Madcow.

As they say in a potential airline disaster, “brace for impact”, the next couple of weeks will be the make or break.

Rebel Yell

A Journal of the Plague Year (14)

March 30th, 2020

This pandemic is certainly sorting out the men from boys. It’s also bringing out the best and, tragically, the worst in people. There will be a reckoning.

In Canada, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a favorite figure of ridicule by the Fake News media, has stepped up to the plate and is receiving a good deal of praise from across the country—and the political spectrum—for his calm and focused response to the crisis. In the US, President Trump seems, likewise, to have adjusted rapidly and is taking charge. On the other hand, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, after wasting months on a spiteful, pointless “impeachment” process, is still preoccupied with personal insults in the midst of a national and international emergency.

Progress is being made on developing an antibody test which will be essential for determining who has been infected but who never may have shown symptoms. They will be immune, at least for while.  According to Science magazine, Singapore is setting the pace here.

The test was developed by a team led by Linfa Wang, an emerging disease specialist at Duke-NUS. In blood samples from recovered patients, the team identified antibodies targeting the spike protein that proved able to block the virus from killing cells in laboratory tests. In parallel, they created synthetic viral proteins that can detect those antibodies in a blood sample without having to use the live virus.

Daily New Cases in Spain [Johns Hopkins University].


The daily new cases in Spain is showing some decline over the past five days, which is some encouraging news. But this may show a rise with increased testing of the population.

In a very revealing article by Spanish journalist and author, Ixtu Diaz, he discusses the fantasies that occupy the liberal mind in the EU and the real world that we all live in.

On November 28th, 2019, the European Union officially and solemnly declared the “climate emergency,” in a ceremony presided over by the would-be 17-year-old prophet Greta Thunberg. Today, almost four months later, in the midst of a real emergency, the only thing that remains official and solemn in that declaration is its ridiculousness.

And …

The reactions of politicians in Europe reflect the bewilderment of those who were living in the Matrix and have just been awakened. Most governments in Europe have moved from denial to chaos. But probably the most vile reaction has been that of the Social Communist government in Spain, which encouraged Spaniards to participate massively in the March 8 feminist rallies, the next day hiding reports that the coronavirus was already out of control in the country — something they may well have to answer for in court. Vice President Carmen Calvo said at the time that to attend the demonstrations was a moral obligation for all Spaniards: “what is at stake is the life” of many people. She was referring to violence against women, I think. It goes to show that Sanchez’s government only tells the truth by accident. Yes, many people’s lives were at stake, as we have unfortunately found out. Now Calvo is recovering from coronavirus, as are most of the members of government who took part in the demonstrations. Of course, the Spanish do not seem to be worried about the government’s taking a few days holiday: It’s worse when they’re actually on the job.

And on our side of the pond, in the US, long held as the bastion of free enterprise, it turns out that the major holdups have not been from politicians (although they have there share too), but from all the bureaucratic red tape for protecting “privacy” and, of course, that utterly useless “precautionary principle” which guarantees that nothing can get done when required. From the New York Post:

It’s the latest example of red tape gone awry that could prove deadly. It took weeks for the feds to waive regs even on coronavirus testing kits. For more than a month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only allowed the use of its test — which proved to be inaccurate much of the time — even as companies were champing at the bit to produce better and faster kits.
South Korea kept the spread of the virus under better control than most countries because of its widespread testing, something that took the United States months to match.
N95 respirator masks are produced for medical use and construction-industry use. But manufacturers of those made for the former have to jump through a ton of extra hoops — special tests of flammability and strength, for example — because they’re classified as medical devices…..

…Why didn’t the feds immediately waive those non-essential requirements when it became clear it was crunch time? Mostly because bureaucrats assume they can only get in trouble for allowing something that later produces problems, rather than for stopping something that was actually fine — a rule that’s all too true in normal times.

Perhaps governments could learn a few lessons for the future: emergencies actually have to be prepared for, not just talked about.

Rebel Yell

The Wheel of Leftism

Hat tip to Oleg Atbashian, the former Soviet agitprop-painter whose cheerfully satirical website, the People’s Cube, reminds us of the Soviet nature of popular propaganda. Atbashian had recognized the Leftist nature of the media long before I realized that he was not kidding or exaggerating. Though I had long realized the leftist nature of CBC, the Globe or the Toronto Star, it took me several decades to realize the depth of their commitment to the “we are always wrong” interpretation of world events. Have you ever had one of those conversations where the words “campus rape culture” was used seriously? Atbashian has carefully summarized the tropes by which any conversation may be derailed. The point is never the point. It is always the Revolution.

A Journal of the Plague Year (13)

March 29th, 2020

I went to do some grocery shopping today. Our local supermarket (market really, it’s not that big) was almost deserted. Continuous cleaning was been done by staff—all very calm. Some of the aisles, paper products and the milk and yogurt were a little sparse, but probably due to heavy weekend shopping. No problem with anything else. I’ve yet to see any panic anywhere.

Is all this being overdone a little?

We all know that journalists, reporters and the flotsam of ignorance on TV dearly love a panic especially with lashings of hysteria. Is this warranted, if ever? …See[here]:

If we look at the 110 fatalities in Washington State as of Mar 23 [4], the picture
is similar — bulk of deaths from people in 70s, 80s and 90s with preexisting
conditions. Only two deaths from people in their 40s, both in Snohomish
County. No younger deaths reported. Most deaths (87 of 110) are clustered in
King County, and in turn 42% of those deaths (37) originate from the same
nursing home in Kirkland.
Ditto for recent data from the Netherlands — no recorded deaths below age
of 54 so far. [5] Keep in mind selection bias towards severe patients, though.

[Comments on https://wmbriggs.com/post/29886/ ]. All true, but the cool voices will never be complimented later; only the hysterics]. Also note that these figures will be out of date as soon as you read this.
Anyway, regardless of one’s level of paranoia, a check on the disease rates and hospitalization rates of other years should act as a soporific….

Whenever you hear “…if it saves one life, it’s worth it”, you know it’s bullshit, else one would never get out of bed in the morning.

Trump is right, as usual, the economy will have to be re-started soon; people will have to accept (maybe) a slightly elevated level of risk. It must happen and it will be OK now that we know how to deal with a new level of risk.

Just had an excellent dinner of braised lamb in coffee and red wine. Never let a lock down stifle good dining. Cheers!

Rebel Yell

A rainy day in seclusion

Oh, the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we’re feeling no pain
Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain

with apologies to Dean Martin

The recent confinement to quarters has for many people been something of a blessing. Parents who have not seen their children for a decade are seeing them every night at dinner. Many people are reporting they have cleaned out closets and cupboards they scarcely knew existed. Yesterday I insulated a hot water pipe that had escaped attention for sixty years, since the construction of the house, since it was difficult.. The workshop is being organized. I have thrown out obsolete tools from the 1950s.

I got a call from a somewhat drunk friend last night who told me she had been in quarantine with a new boyfriend for the past 14 days. Things had gone swimmingly.

Eventually these minor projects will have been finished, but by then we will be thinking of much bigger ones. I am not concerned. I always said to myself I needed more time. Now I have it.

And when the day’s tasks are completed, there is always the woodstove in the living room, the giant orange house cat sleeping in my spot, and my wife doing the same as me, working and loafing at a comfortable pace.

A little money, a lot of time, some wine in the racks, some meat in the freezer. When I tire of this, I will let you know.

Every Bad Idea is French

For a non-plague entry enjoy this rollicking, brilliant, illuminating chat on Trigger-nometry with Dr David Starkey. What a joy.

He starts off with placing the seed of all the modern rot, Rousseau, and his bastard spawn, the French Revolution, at the root of the decay of civilization in the world today. The idea that all of history prior to the fantasies of the Left is “wrong” and the world and society have to be remade in the image of “reason”–actually the dreams of the revolutionaries–is the cause of our modern demise.

“All revolutions turn into the worst excesses of the ancient regime”. “Bolshevism–the same disease in the 20th century, and even worse than the French Revolution.”

“All bad ideas [in politics] are French”. Zing! Pow!

“The Left today are eating themselves. Look at that ghastly woman in Guardian…”

“I didn’t know the Guardian had 300 readers, let alone employees!”

Guaranteed analysis and enjoyment.

Rebel Yell

Thackeray “The Virginians”

While Trump endures months and years of unrelenting and unscrupulous attacks, this passage comes inevitably to my mind, and no doubt yours. A young officer is displeased that the Marquis Lafayette is brought into the American army as a major-general. He reproaches Gen. Washington. And Washington replies.

Tis easy to sneer at him (though, believe me, the Marquis has many more merits than you allow him); to my mind it were more generous, as well as more polite, of Harry Warrington to welcome this stranger for the sake of the prodigious benefit our country may draw from him—not to laugh at his peculiarities, but to aid him and help his ignorance by your experience as an old soldier: that is what I would do—that is the part I expected of thee—for it is the generous and manly one, Harry: but you choose to join my enemies, and when I am in trouble you say you will leave me. That is why I have been hurt: that is why I have been cold. I thought I might count on your friendship—and—and you can tell whether I was right or no. I relied on you as on a brother, and you come and tell me you will resign. Be it so! Being embarked in this contest, by God’s will I will see it to an end. You are not the first, Mr. Warrington, has left me on the way.’

 ‘Ah!’ he added, ‘an open enemy I can face readily enough. ‘Tis the secret foe who causes the doubt and anguish! We have sat with more than one at my table to-day, to whom I am obliged to show a face of civility, whose hands I must take when they are offered, though I know they are stabbing my reputation, and are eager to pull me down from my place. You spoke but lately of being humiliated because a junior was set over you in command. What humiliation is yours compared to mine, who have to play the farce of welcome to these traitors; who have to bear the neglect of Congress, and see men who have insulted me promoted in my own army? If I consulted my own feelings as a man, would I continue in this command? You know whether my temper is naturally warm or not, and whether as a private gentleman I should be likely to suffer such slights and outrages as are put upon me daily; but in the advancement of the sacred cause in which we are engaged, we have to endure not only hardship and danger, but calumny and wrong, and may God give us strength to do our duty!’ 

A Journal of the Plague Year (12)

March 28th, 2020

So here we are, the online companies delivering food, booze, and other essentials of life are set to make money and supply a vital service to the public at the same time. It’s not very often that the social attributes of the good are rewarded monetarily. But, hey, they deserve it.

I spent much of the day on WhatsApp video phone calls with friends. This may well be a significant new quantum of our social relationships in the future, nay, the present, until new rules of proximity have been developed.

Placed an order for two weeks food and other groceries…pick up next weekend. Wine and liquor to be delivered in a few days.

President Trump is postulating a quarantine for New York. Apparently, the zombie Democrats may be flooding out and infecting the rest of North America will liberal absurdity—but, too late, they’ve already done that.

If the American health care system cannot cope with the case load, then nobody can. According to the Society of Critical Care Medicine [here], the US has more critical care beds per 100 000 people than any other nation. And six times as many as Britain, with their National Health Service (the envy of the world). If the Americans are in trouble, so is everybody.

Here, a new paper [here] in bioRxiv is predicting the peak of new cases around mid-April and then a tail off. Check it out. That’s the good news.

Well, we don’t really know what the bad news might be. I’m having an early night tonight. One aside, this whole affair is making me sleep 8–10 hours a night. That can’t be bad.

And a friend finally arrived back from Portugal after multiple flights and country hopping. As he says: “I’m now under house arrest! But fine.”

Rebel Yell

A Journal of the Plague Year (11)

Today I’ve been busy trying to organize bookmarks in my browser in the right folders so as to make everything readily accessible for my preparation of the latest screed.

Also, Zotero for the academic publications to be saved for references.

First, an excellent source for the real meat of this thing with all the latest from bioRxiv.org {here], a preprint server like arxiv.org for physics.

Second, BoJo himself in the UK has been diagnosed with corona virus; rich and poor can be cut down. But we hope he’s going to be OK, he’s got a lot of work to do—no time for slacking.


And now…

In a situation like this, there is precious little time for partisan shenanigans, but you wouldn’t know it from the behavior of Pelosi and the Democrats in the US. Blame seems to be cast always on the politicians in office.

Actually, I’m going to go out on a limb here and cut the politicos a bit slack. Not much, but a bit. No country in the world has been prepared for this. Europe, America, the UK, Canada, wherever, no-one. Political leaders are always confronted with the Something-Must-Be-Done Syndrome. Whatever problem or fresh disaster occurs, whatever weird social deviance is suddenly de rigeur for the chattering classes, whatever new degeneracy deserves some special new “right”, our political leaders Must-Do-Something. When, most of the time, nothing need be done. Their skepticism really is justified much of the time.

But when it does need to be done, when it’s based in the scientific reality of the world and not the fevered imaginations of some deranged progressives, it’s suddenly very difficult.

An interesting article appeared today in the City Journal, (America’s Regulatory Framework Exacerbated Covid-19 Crisis) an American blog, concerning the lead up to this disaster in the US. As the preliminary phases of the epidemic began to show up on the radar of medical professionals, the warning signs were noted. I’ll just quote this passage in toto, as I can’t summarize it any better and the details are important…[CDC = Center for Disease Control]:

As has been widely reported, the CDC’s in-house testing design was flawed, thus compromising early testing results. Mistakes happen, but the impact of the test-design flaw was much greater than it should have been—owing to the U.S. bureaucracy’s tightly controlled process. Even had the CDC test worked perfectly, not nearly enough tests would have been available for wide-scale testing on the South Korean model.
The reasons: the American regulatory system, cumbersome even in emergency settings; and the specific choices made by regulators that proved to be tragic misjudgments. As Alec Stapp of the left-leaning Progressive Policy Institute has documented, after Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar declared a public-health emergency on January 31, private laboratories had to obtain an Emergency Use Authorization to conduct their own testing. On February 4, the FDA approved an authorization for the CDC—and only the CDC. This created a testing bottleneck, with all testing in the nation routed through the government agency. By February 28, the CDC had processed only 4,000 tests. The next day, the FDA finally invoked the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments to permit testing at some 5,000 highly specialized virology labs (among more than a quarter-million laboratories nationwide with some testing capability). The first Emergency Use Authorization granted to any entity other than the CDC was issued on March 12, to Roche. Throughout this period, the rollout of mass testing was limited by privacy rules in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA); they were not waived until March 15.
Some of the holdups in the critical early U.S. testing effort read like paradigmatic illustrations of bureaucratic bloat. In Emergency Use Authorization applications in the face of an epidemic, the government was actually requiring labs to mail in CD-ROMs for agency review, rather than permitting online submission, owing to outdated rules. (Thankfully, they’ve since dropped that particular rule.)

That mailing in CD-ROMs in this day and age at the apex of a national emergency is not only so 20th century but shows the suffocating force of bureaucratic red tape—in an organization that is responsible for dealing with emergencies! So anyone thinking that more government control of the health care business is a good thing should think again.

In any emergency response operation, responsibility for much decision-making and action has to devolve to those on the front lines who are dealing with the actual problem. The bureaucracy is always worrying about what the clouds of parasitic lawyers might do if a decision later turns out to be not the best choice (which invariably happens in real emergencies). And the political leaders are always worrying about how this will look on the re-election prospects. “You told us it was a national emergency and only 300 people died!” —as the media-bitches will whine afterwards.

Perhaps Satan has a special room for some of the media.

Rebel Yell

A Journal of the Plague Year (10)

March 26th, 2020

Time to reflect a little on the hysteria surrounding the corona virus outbreak. Every day you can hear some frenzied journalist (especially in the US) rabbiting on about how many millions will die because a) President Trump, b) President Trump, c) President Trump. Actually, after a shaky start he seems to have come to grips with the issue quite well; would that we could say that about the political class in general. The attempts by Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress to insert billions of pork-barrel items into a piece of emergency legislation beggars belief. It’s nothing but venality to the n-th power.

Every day a new “study” appears filled with new prognostications and predictions for the future. Let’s put aside the predictions for the political future, or futures, and take a look at the science picture. The main subject of discussion has been a paper from Imperial College that modeled the likely outcomes in terms of cases and deaths based on certain prior assumptions:

We assumed an incubation period of 5.1 days. Infectiousness is assumed to occur from 12 hours prior to the onset of symptoms for those that are symptomatic and from 4.6 days after infection in those that are asymptomatic with an infectiousness profile over time that results in a 6.5-day mean generation time. Based on fits to the early growth-rate of the epidemic in Wuhan10,11, we make a baseline assumption that R0 = 2.4 but examine values between 2.0 and 2.6. We assume that symptomatic individuals are 50% more infectious than asymptomatic individuals. Individual infectiousness is assumed to be variable, described by a gamma distribution with mean 1 and shape parameter alpha = 0.25. On recovery from infection, individuals are assumed to be immune to re-infection in the short term. Evidence from the Flu Watch cohort study suggests that re-infection with the same strain of seasonal circulating coronavirus is highly unlikely in the same or following season (Prof Andrew Hayward, personal communication).

It was this paper that led to the change of course of the British government.

From this, and the use of the modeling algorithm, they can make predictions of outcomes after making various changes to attempt to modify R-naught and bring down the rate of infection. R-naught is not just a function of the virus, but a function of other things such as the different behaviors of the population like social distancing. Based on certain of these assumptions, this is where the prediction of nearly half a million deaths came from.

Another paper out of Stanford University claims that the prognosis is way over-estimated (can’t find the link right now), but a paper in The Lancet addresses a small study from China. Also, Tomasso Dorigo, an experimental physicist at CERN, thinks that the hype is turning physicists into crackpots.

Although it’s early days, some caveats need to be borne in mind.

First, computer models do not produce evidence of anything. Repeat that to yourself.

Second, computer models produce conjecture—not data.

The models are exactly that, they produce numbers (often displayed with very pretty graphs and diagrams) that are generated by an algorithm operating on a given set of assumptions. The numbers coming out are only related to the initial parameters and the algorithm in the software, which may represent the real world accurately—or not.

Third, data are generated by performing scientific experiments and making measurements and observations of the world around us. This is evidence.

Fourth, when the data match the output of the model then, and only then, can you say that the model may be a reasonably accurate representation of the real world. Note that any change in the parameters in the algorithm or any change in the logic path in the algorithm can lead to radically different computational outcomes. This happens all the time in modeling.

In computer science, the GIGO Principle is undefeated: Garbage In—Garbage Out. Computer models are fine as far as they go, but reality gives data.

Hence, suddenly, claims that the Imperial College model overestimates the numbers of cases. If the coronavirus has infected many more people prior to the panic, who then developed antibodies and they have never shown symptoms of disease, then the case fatality rate will be much lower than heretofore believed. However, we can’t know this until extensive antibody testing is done on the population—all the population not just sick people.

Even if that is true, the tsunami effect on the health care system is still just as real, but the time frame may be much shorter.

The less information we have, the greater the uncertainty. Both these views of the problem may be wrong (they can both be wrong but they cannot both be right!). Millions of tests must be done to make the enemy visible. If there are large numbers of people with antibodies, then they are immune and can get back to work and get the economies moving again, but this can only be ascertained by testing for the antibodies, not just the antigen.

All these discussions between scientists are perfectly normal and good—the science is never settled. That’s only in Al Gore’s fantasy world. Only journalists and politicians think they’re always right. And remember the words of the great physicist Richard Feynman—

…any scientist talking outside his field is just as dumb as the next guy.

When someone you’re talking to keeps dumping on President Trump, remember, he’s the guy making the political decisions—that’s what he was elected to do. After this thing is over, you’ll be glad there was an alpha-male in charge.

[Update: see science20.com article [here].  Could the predictions be out of line?]

Rebel Yell