A Journal of the Plague Year (9)

The Imperial Dirigible Service

“The New Normal”…How many times have we heard that before? In our city there were no new cases today, but we all know that the storm is coming. But forewarned is forearmed so emergency preparations are moving into full gear. The last time that a city emergency was declared was only last year and lasted six weeks due to excessive spring flooding. That time, however, did not involve the whole population being housebound.

Our local area of town seems ordered and low-key. Canadians tend to be a reserved and placid lot, which, as it happens, is a great attribute in times of stress. It must be the climate. When you’re alone in a cabin for a six-month winter, you learn quite bit about introspection, its uses and abuses. And for all our foreign fans, no we don’t live in igloos.

For those of you who want to really bone up on the medical research in real time, check out the JAMA Network[here], interviews with leading researchers in the US and the world with Howard Bauchner, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

One of the real-time effects of this thing is that medical research is, to a considerable degree, dispensing with much of the time-consuming peer-review process and other publication bottlenecks to get the latest findings on to the Web. The peer-review process has been under much scrutiny over the past few years, being accused of being too much of a “pal-review” process among other things. This is why sites like Retraction Watch [here] have been so active in the last few years keeping track of the faults in this process. It is important, but it’s become sclerotic and is in need of major rejuvenation.

The rapid spread of corona has shown in stark detail the unresponsive nature of many bureaucracies around the world. When decisions have to made in hours, a wait of a week for some bean-counter stifled in red-tape is not helpful [here]. The federal bureaucracy in the US, the Center for Disease Control, has been a part of the problem. As reported on NBC News:

As a result of the CDC’s being the sole organization to make and distribute the authorized test kits, the agency needed to strictly ration distribution. Because of the tight supply, the CDC initially set very restrictive criteria on testing individuals. To make matters significantly worse, by mid-February, the CDC had learned that many of its tests, for all the supposed focus on quality control, were inconclusive because of a flaw in one of its components and needed to be fixed. Meanwhile, no competing manufacturers were ready to meet the increasing demand.

As usual, in the US, the private sector is rapidly stepping up to the plate.

In the US, tests for the virus had to be sent out. Now they are being done in hospitals and private laboratories, which, prior to this event, did not have approval. There was no reason for this but hopefully this strangulation of private initiative will be greatly curtailed in the future. Especially when time is of the essence.

Further, as the New York Times from Reason (some actual reporting of facts, which must be new for the Times),

Seattle infectious disease expert Dr. Helen Chu had, by January, collected a huge number of nasal swabs from local residents who were experiencing symptoms as part of a research project on flu. She proposed, to federal and state officials, testing those samples for coronavirus infections. As the Times reports, the CDC told Chu and her team that they could not test the samples unless their laboratory test was approved by the FDA. The FDA refused to approve Chu’s test on the grounds that her lab, according to the Times, “was not certified as a clinical laboratory under regulations established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a process that could take months.”

So really, too much government control can result in disaster. Again, medical institutions should be run by doctors, nurses and medical professionals, not bean-counters, bureaucrats and MBAs. And certainly not politicians.

And of the future: maybe travel will be slower, and rapid airplane travel replaced by a more sedate Imperial Dirigible Service as depicted above. Mint Juleps served prior to dinner.

Rebel Yell

A Journal of the Plague Year (8)

There is some good news from Italy today; over the past three days, the daily increase in the number of cases has fallen from just under 7 000 to just under 5 000—hardly an occasion for great joy but moving in the right direction. The quarantine effects are just beginning to be noticed—as predicted, about ten days to two weeks after their implementation.

The daily increase in the number of cases is the essential measure. But this can only be known by testing the population, meaning that testing must be as extensive as possible. If antibody testing is available soon, then testing will enable us to determine who has been infected, and now has antibodies in the blood, and is now immune. These people can get back to productive activity and help out others.

Now, confined to quarters, can be a good time to catch up on some of the things we might have wanted learn. The mathematics behind the statistical analysis of disease and infection has been a subject of great interest to only a few people in the disaster business (as was I). Check out this talk on the nature of modelling and prediction  [here].

Also, an interesting video on the Science Paper That Has Changed US And UK Covid-19 Policy (from Imperial College) and why it happened… [here] You can read the paper  [here].

Also, Thunderfoot, a British science guy, does easily understandable videos [here].

And now, Prime Minister Modi of India has announced a three-week lockdown of India. All of it! 1.3 billion people. Nothing like this has happened in history before and ‘interesting times’ doesn’t even come close to describing it.[here]

As I submit this paltry screed for publication, the world case toll passes 417 000. We can only hope that our medical people can cope with it. After this, they will be remembered.

We’re in for a bumpy ride…

Rebel Yell

“Not to defend the country but to make it worth defending”

The interview with Freeman Dyson is a magnificent review of the effectiveness of WW2 bombing, the ending of World War 2 with Japan, science policy, what to do with surplus nukes, too many science labs focused on nukes, how to control the spread of nuclear weapons, and he reveals a careful, sensible mind. I cannot believe I said that. I know he is wrong but I am not sure why. I may be coming around to many of his views.

And God said….

God has heard us and answered our prayers. We said: too much carbon dioxide being spewed into the atmosphere. We must cut back on carbon emissions. The planet is heating at an unusual rate. The Lord, tiring of the whining, and knowing full well an ice age will shortly arrive (as reckoned in celestial time), put forth His hand and said: let there be a pernicious virus that will keep everyone at home. I will not make it too deadly, but I will make it as contagious and surreptitious as possible. The carbon dioxide will be cut way back. Families will be forced to play board games, and mothers will be forced to educate their children, such as by making up new rules for creating property rights in Monopoly or by teaching them not to cheat (or how to cheat). Travel will virtually cease. Skies will clear. China will be disgraced. Trump will be humbled (greatest miracle of all). The mighty will be brought low, and the poor truck drivers and store clerks exalted. And great shall be the joy in heaven thereof.

The clangour of global warming hysteria has finally creeped Him out. He has determined to put an end to Greta Thunberg’s pernicious moral influence.

Does this sound plausible? Once you grant a Supreme Deity, the interpretive possibilities are much richer.

Image result for The lord has heard your prayers and they are really creeping him out

Changing the track on a skid steer

I thought the readership of Barrelstrength would be informed and spiritually refreshed by an Andrew Camarata video. This one involves changing the track on a skid-steer. Maybe as many as half of you will have never heard of a skid steer. As you contemplate the world from inside your sealed compartments, just imagine needing to have a skid steer to get your work done. It is not a form of software download or a protocol translator.

Also, in terms of cool forestry equipment, there is a company in Sweden call Kranman making cranes and haulers that work from an ATV rather than from a tractor. The idea started as a toy for kids until the builder began to receive interest from adults, and voila, a small industry was born.

I am sure there is thesis for a business school in this story somewhere: innovation, small business, marketing, youtube, market need. I know that if I were rich I would definitely get one. Though I would not dress up as a Korean riot policeman to go into my woods.

A Journal of the Plague Year (7)

One week ago, I asked the technician coming to do a small job on my Yamaha digital piano to may be put it off a bit. Well, one week later, the whole country grinds to a halt. Is this over-reacting? This is the subject of today’s missive from my digital scriptorium.

First, on the local front, everyone has stopped frantic messaging and has started swapping recipes for pantry cooking and the best sites for online games–symptomatic of a massive cool down. Local grocery stores will prepare orders for pick up, thereby significantly reducing unnecessary contact with essential staff. Our in-house volunteers pick up recyclables to take down to the building disposal. Doors and handles are cleaned and maintenance is done. So far everything is operational.

On the world front, as the picture above shows, events can reach unmanageable proportions quickly. One school of thought uses figures that relate to the overall death rate from corona which may be much lower than currently thought for a variety of reasons. (See Plague Journal (5)). The other school lays much more importance on the rate of change of numbers and the tsunami of seriously ill people affecting the health care system in a short time. The picture above illustrates the situation in Spanish hospitals in Madrid.

It seems to me that the most important issue is tactical: how will the health care system cope with the wave of severe cases that appears in any affected population. We know this from the Chinese experience and later from Italy. The number of new cases per day is the critical number to watch. If this is decreasing, then there is hope that the disease may be under control. However, we do not know really how many actual cases there are in the general population as testing is so sporadic and sparse right now. The latest news from Italy may have a sliver of hope.[here]

The next two months will be critical in that regard. This is a virus on a blitzkrieg, so tactics will determine our success or failure.

After this, the failure of the managerial “elites”, that shower of lawyers, economists and other people of nothing must be held accountable, and then replaced with people fit for purpose.  I don’t know exactly how that will happen, but happen it must.

No matter the medical results, the economic, social and political fallout will be bigger than anyone thinks right now. Personal relationships have changed; our relations with the ruling class, the media, and the irrelevant parasites that occupy our social airspace—all that will change.

Watch the interview via the Journal of the American Medical Association with Dr Michelle Gong from New York, Chief of Critical Medicine at the Montifiore Medical Center for news on the front line.

Also, the drug Arbidol (Umifenovir, in the West), an antiviral treatment for influenza, has been around for years in Russia and shows some promise for treatment [here]. Of course, it has not been approved by the US FDA; where would the US be without its own Soviet bureaucracy. Some studies in Russia and China have shown that it can be effective against some influenza types of disease. Some work must be done on this.

While the members of our society who have real value, the nurses, doctors, truck drivers, garbage collectors, sewer maintenance engineers, are keeping the world turning, let’s give a thought to the narcissistic, fatuous, useless hypocrites of the chatterati, the celebrities, social justice whiners, and other pustules on our body politic. They really have shown how utterly worthless they are when the chips are down.

To close today, a comment from an American scribe on the wretched media and political elites (h/t Kurt Schlicter):

Our elite has contributed nothing to this fight, except self-serving lies, cheesy power grabs, and terrible covers of the worst song ever recorded, “Imagine”. As usual, as always, our salvation comes from you, the normal American who sees a challenge and meets it. We had a paradise, and in paradise, you can indulge in silliness like multi-culti blather and meaningless virtue signaling. But things just got real. We have no time for that crap now. The elite who imagine themselves indispensable to the world that normal people built, run, and defend, are being revealed as useless and ridiculous just when things got serious. We won’t forget how much they suck when this ends.

I could not put it better myself.

Hang tight, we’re all in for a bumpy ride.

Rebel Yell

A Journal of the Plague Year (6)

Every day is an age. History seems to be made every week. Today it’s been almost impossible to keep up with all the emails from around the world. The street scene above will be the face of our towns and cities for sometime to come.

Until recently, I’ve never used Facebook and other social media due to privacy concerns and such. Now, I have completely rearranged my priorities by re-activating Facebook. Maybe social media will grow up and be concerned with the real world rather the fatuous half wits of Hollywood. I received immediate responses from old friends from Taiwan I met in Moscow some years ago. And Bob, the cable guy in Oregon. It’s interesting who remembers you. People you haven’t seen in years, but should have.

The local residents’ association has already circulated a list of all the grocery stores, pharmacies and businesses that will deliver and their opening times. We have special hours set aside for seniors.

In our apartment building, folks are coming together to help each other. Sometimes a real disaster does bring out the best in people. But it seems to me that it’s the best in ordinary people, not the chattering classes, politicos, pundits and “celebrities”. They become more repugnant every passing day.

On the international front, despite the dire straits that Italy finds itself in, no help has been forthcoming from the EU— that monument of bureaucratic futility. The only real help is coming from—wait for it—Russia and China. A fleet of Russian planes is heading to Italy with medical teams and supplies. Even Cuba has volunteered help, and gee, thanks Brussels, we never you cared. And an interesting Keiser report on Russia Today concerning the likely development in the economy and connections to the past. Many things like this have happened before.

The events that are hard to comprehend are occurring in Britain. First, the government makes absurd claims that “herd immunity” will provide protection. Herd immunity [here] is a long-term result of repeated exposures to viruses and bacteria that a population can adjust to. It’s a kind of strategic adjustment. Here, covid-19 is spreading at a rate that is a blitzkrieg. There’s no time for that nonsense. The increase in the daily case rate is now greater than that of Italy two weeks ago. And two weeks in this game is an age.

This thing is going to teach us all about many people who are overrated and all those who have been underrated. I hope we can show those who were underrated some more respect in the future. Here are some interesting views on that subject.

[Update: Interview with Italian doctor and JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), March 13th already history, back good background on the frontline emergency response].


Rebel Yell

A Journal of the Plague Year (5)

March 21st, 2020

On a slightly different, and not so technical, note today, I ventured out into the Zombie Apocalypse. Essential supplies required (a case of wine). We are confined to quarters for two weeks. Only allowed out for groceries and pharmacy supplies. The local grocery store was not busy at all, sparsely populated, no problem in the parking lot. No shortages of anything either. I did go with my mask and bleached rubber gloves ready for a Level 4 decon event. Maybe over the top, but you never know.

I asked the wine guy for a case of Cabernet Franc. “Sure, no problem, sir.” All the staff wore gloves (good), but not masks (umm..) and were doing continuous cleaning of the carts and doors; all places subject to touching by the great unwashed. Sound practice.

Only one other person (one of my neighbors) had a mask.
At the self-checkout, she said, “Soon been time for biking, eh?” “Sure thing, Cathy. Who’ll be out first?” She’s also an avid biker. No panics. Drove home. Washed gloves with hot water and soap. Opened a bottle. Had a drink.

It seems a different world in the rarefied atmosphere of the twitterati, the chattering classes and the constricted world of journalists of limited mentality. No wonder President Trump got a little annoyed with some half-wit journalist the other day—he has a real problem to deal with and a real job—not a job as a permanent media-bitch.

This is the reality of ordinary people. Once a real problem is realized, everyone seems to knuckle down, get serious and keep cool. Only the media act like a Benzedrine puff adder on a bad day. The CBC, Canada’s answer to Pravda TV, announced one of their spectacularly stupid actions. They are shutting down local TV news and sending everything through Pyongyang Central, aka Toronto. In any emergency situation, as anyone who has dealt with these situations will tell you, local news for local people is the best way to communicate information and get reliable feedback from the ground. It’s what binds people together, especially in such a diffuse and sparsely populated country as Canada. It’s just so typical of the fossilized liberal mindset of the CBC that sees Toronto as the center of the universe. It’s the very last thing we need, not that most people get their news from the CBC anyway; its credibility quotient is less than zero anyway. It’s just the total lack of understanding of the real situation. As Chris Selley pointed out in the National Post today:

On Wednesday, in a moment history may well note as Mother Corp’ rock bottom, CBC announced it was scuppering all its local television newscasts. Instead it would feed us all Canadians a mixture of national and local news from the same Toronto-based spigot.
Basically, CBC ended itself. It almost beggars belief.
Brodie Fenlon, editor-in-chief of CBC News, took to his blog to explain the decision — but didn’t, really. He talked of “staffing challenges” stemming from employees self-isolating and working from home. “Television is especially resource-intensive, and many jobs are difficult to do at home,” Fenlon wrote. “Our systems are overtaxed.”

Ah, the poor guys! (And femmes and trannies too!). Too many diversity boxes to tick. That must have tired them out. “Television is especially resource-intensive” they whined. If they want to see resource-intensive, go to an ER during this crisis, go see Hydro workers during an ice storm in the middle of winter, go see fire fighters in a forest fire or oil workers on a rig in a storm. These CBC clowns have no idea what a real job is. Real jobs are not sitting around in comfy studios driveling on about how oppressed some “gender studies ‘professor’” is on $100 000 a year.

Selley is right. After this thing is over, we’ve got to get rid of the CBC; it’s just Liberal Party propaganda financed by the taxpayer and it’s nothing but a retirement home for washed-up party gasbags and intersectional weirdos.

Time to kill it. Stone dead.

That’s it for today, time for some bourbon.

Rebel Yell

Weather and spread of COVID-19

One of the mysteries regarding the spread of COVID-19 is that the African countries and India have been largely spared. In fact worldometer finds that so far, India has had a total of 332 cases with 5 deaths with the last death being that of a 69-year old Italian tourist. Why is that the case?

A study by University of Maryland, which is referenced in this article states that:

The University of Maryland mapped severe COVID-19 outbreaks with local weather patterns around the world, from the US to China. They found that the virus thrives in a certain temperature and humidity channel. “The researchers found that all cities experiencing significant outbreaks of COVID-19 have very similar winter climates with an average temperature of 41 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit, an average humidity level of 47% to 79% with a narrow east-west distribution along the same 30–50 N” latitude”, said the University of Maryland.

“Based on what we have documented so far, it appears that the virus has a harder time spreading between people in warmer, tropical climates,” said study leader Mohammad Sajadi, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine in the UMSOM, physician-scientist at the Institute of Human Virology and a member of GVN.

There are two graphs from study that are particularly relevant with the first “image below, the zone at risk for a significant community spread in the near-term includes land areas within the green bands.”

The second image below is of relevance because “as of right now reported cases as a function of latitude, about one-third of the world’s population is below 22.5°N yet has not experienced meaningfully high levels of infections.”

Does the same correlation exist within US, i.e. the virus is more prevalent in the North? Based on the above image one would think so. This study collected the population data from:


The latitude data is from the following two websites:


The latitude data from the two sites differs slightly with mean difference of 0.21 and standard deviation of 0.81.

If we then divide the data into two bins of above 41N, which includes the states of Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Wyoming, Oregon, Vermont, New Hampshire, Idaho, Michigan, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and Washington, and below 41N, whilst discluding Alaska, you get the following numbers.

Below 41N

Total cases 9,099
Total deaths 127
Total population 249,756,021
Total cases/1M people 36.4
Total deaths/1M people 0.51

Above 41N

Total cases 15,668
Total deaths 161
Total population 77,812,978
Total cases/1M people 201.4
Total deaths/1M people 2.07

The numbers are markedly different. Of course The Economist tries to stoke the fear by stating:

Fears are rising that the world’s second-most populous country might be on the brink of a big covid-19 outbreak. Until now India has been lucky with this coronavirus. It has relatively few visitors from the early centres of the pandemic—China, Italy and Iran. And Indian governments, at both federal and state levels, have been strikingly forceful in their response to the virus, with public-information campaigns saturating the television airwaves, and recorded messages pushed to mobile phones. So the number of Indian cases so far can be counted in the scores. But India has so far tested only a few thousand people, and some experts think it already has thousands or tens of thousands of cases. If so, decades of under-investment in public health have left India ill-prepared, with not enough doctors, beds or equipment for its 1.3bn people even in ordinary times.

Based on the Univ of Maryland study this is unlikely. Of course what it does imply is that the areas below the equator will suffer a similar fate in their winter.


A Journal of the Plague Year (4)


Image Credit: Imperial College, London (my old school!)

March 20th, 2020

As I write, Italy seems to be approaching a moment of truth. The case load for hospitals in the Lombardy region appears to be near critical. MIT Technology Review is running a website “Radio Corona” with excellent interviews with some of the leading medical minds—check it out.

I want to address a few points here that fellow scribes have raised which I think display faulty reasoning. And there is confusion about the absolute numbers, relative numbers, and the rate of change of numbers, each of which have different importance.

Point 1.

Much is made of the numbers of cases and deaths due to Covid-19 as compared to the standard flu that occurs every year. As Dalwhinnie points out (quoting the illustrious Professor Briggs):

• In Wuhan itself, the City of Doom, some 2,446 souls departed their fleshly existence earlier than expected. Google tells us the city has between 11 and 19 million, depending on whether you count the entire metro area as “the city”.
• The city had 49,995 cases. The case rate was 0.26% to 0.45%, depending on what China called “the city”. The total dead rate was 0.01% to 0.02%. The case dead rate was 4.9%.
• People fixate on that last number, forgetting you first have to get the bug before you can die from it. But everybody now seems to believe they’ll get it with certainty. Review Bayes Theorem & Coronavirus!

Nothing is wrong with these numbers or with the application of Bayes’ Theorem to the problem. However, it’s right only so far as it goes. The city had a total case rate of nearly 50,000 (0.5%) which doesn’t sound that bad, given a population of nearly 15 million. But this is only weeks AFTER a total shutdown of the city was instituted when even the Chinese leadership realized something big was happening. This is not what would have happened had that action not been taken. Witness Italy now and figure how far they were (are) behind the Chinese curve.

Further, this massive case load was IN ADDITION to the normal hospital case load of any city anywhere. And thousands of doctors and nurses do not miraculously appear overnight to care for them.

Moreover, it was only after the lockdown that (more than a week I think) the rate of increase of cases began to fall off. The effects of pushing down the value of R-naught, the base reproduction number, to below one led to this. Case numbers continued to rise due to the appearance of symptoms in those who were already infected prior to the lockdown.

Point 2.

Even if a health care system can cope with greatly increased numbers at various times, a tsunami of new cases can rapidly overwhelm even the best system. Despite the fact that the Chinese government was criminally negligent at the beginning, at some point something snapped in the leadership when they realized that this thing will not go away or be suppressed politically. It was then that mass action started. Europe, and especially Italy, did not follow this path and is paying the price.  (CIDRAP, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, at the University of Minnesota is an excellent source).

It is not only hospitals and the medical workers that are affected, all kinds of supply chains and manufacturing are affected, especially in the West. Or they will be. As I alluded to in my previous missive, it’s not the absolute numbers at any time that count, but the rate of increase and the transmissibility of the thing.

Point 3.

Testing— Of vital importance, not only for those who are becoming sick, but for the general population currently unaffected, but possibly infected. This latter group is the source of further spreading. Tracking contacts and quarantine is the way to stop that and South Korea has shown that this works.

When an antibody test is available (apparently quite soon, maybe in a few days), this will enable us to detect persons who have been exposed to the virus and developed antibodies but have never become sick. Knowing this can give us a much better idea of the number of people who have been infected but never displayed sickness and the number who become sick (the afflicted). This greatly affects assessment of the case fatality rate.

If the health care system becomes overwhelmed at any time, the case fatality rate will rise as many sick people will get no treatment at all. Check out the graph at the top for possible scenarios.

So that’s it for today. This will not go away in a few weeks, we’re all in for a bumpy ride.

Rebel Yell