Saturday, March 28, 2020

Where might this all lead? Unexpected options and outcomes... and some solace.

I've been asked by so many in the press and media etc. to speculate on "what might be longer term effects of the COVID-19 crisis?" And so, for this weekend posting, let's ponder some of those answers.

Of course there are deeply sobering possibilities. Authors like Mary Shelley, Alice Sheldon, Margaret Atwood, Joanna Russ, Stephen King, Frank Herbert, John Christopher, Cormac McCarthy and even yours truly have cast their eyes to plagues far worse than this one.* Indeed, some of my own past sci fi has proved more pertinent than I’d want! My Hugo-nominated story “The Giving Plague” explores our complex relationships with viruses and such, including several paths a parasite can go down, in “negotiating” with us hosts. 

We'll return to that topic. But for a moment, let’s take a pragmatically optimistic turn. 

== Things we could do now, if we had leadership ==

Earlier I made a modest suggestion for what cities across America and the world might do, to maintain some employment and solve real problems, while our streets are mostly empty. The “Pothole Gambit” proposed that we send out scores of 2-person teams to fill potholes, repair empty schools, etc. Risk to the crews would be minimal, if they take basic precautions, and paychecks would flow. This could be done even before testing is widely available.

This kind of selective-contingent thinking leads further to an almost sci fi extension. Once the U.S. has rapid, effective and plentiful COVID-19 tests (as we should and could have had, two months ago) then why not let companies re-open some factories etc., putting back to work employees who have already gone through their exposure to the virus and the following latency period, whether symptomatic or not? 

Picture a scenario. Elon Musk rents the Pebble Beach Golf Club in order to test and ease-in staff for his Tesla factory... If that works, expand the experiment. Eventually, some restaurants might even bring in Covid-positive staff to serve an only-Covid-positive clientele. 

Sure, one should always look ahead to secondary consequences; would healthy folks in their 20s then deliberately hold COVID Parties, in order to get it over with? I don't recommend this, as it's dangerous for the rest of us... and for an unknown few of those youths(!)... that is unless resort hotels rented themselves out to let this happen while young "invulnerables" stay away from their older relatives? (Envision those 1980s “herpes dating clubs.”)

The same sort of thing could happen for Covid-negatives (though only with much better quick-testing.) Companies might wind up having pairs of offices or twin plants engaged in friendly rivalry, like those in that commercial, that produce the left vs. right halves of Twix bars.  

Or else trade-off and pick-a-side? Envision Disneyland open for positives and Universal for negatives? 

Extrapole some more! "Sectors" of cities divide-up just like in some sci fi flick! ("You're from ZONE TWO? Get away from me!")  Heck let's go beyond the obvious Romeo & Juliet riff. Maybe we'll speciate... ! no, forget that last part. Sorry. Professional habit. But the first part seems quite do-able in a gradual and incremental way. 

Note that these two factors are mutually dependent. The Separation Workforce gambit cannot possibly work without cheap, rapid and massively available and accurate testing. And massive testing can only happen if we augment our public services by puttin the immune or semi-immune to work.

Indeed, had Donald Trump pushed to deploy massive testing, instead of sabotaging it at every turn, we'd by now not only have the data we need to fight the pandemic better. We'd also possibly be positioned to implement this positive-negative plan and rescue "his economy." 

== Okay, Earth to Brin. Come back down now... ==

Let's get practical, then. I’m sure you’ve seen reports that an early harbinger of COVID illness is loss of the sense of smell

This suggests a mass experiment that would produce useful data while having zero possible deleterious side effects. If everyone simply scratches and sniffs a lemon, three times daily, the minimum outcome will be cheering up the nation a bit! (Try it now! Go on. I'll wait... And now, aren't your spirits lifted just a little?)

 And if thousands note the time span between not smelling anything and other symptoms, that could be significant data! Is a mass experiment with zero conceivable negative outcomes worth encouraging? (And  doubly necessary, since some doubt has been cast on this "smell test." after all. Can it hurt to check it out?)

== Longer term effects? ==

Technological changes: Assuming the grip of lunacy is pried off of federal government... or even if we have to rely on real leadership from California and New York... there will be a Manhattan Project level push to reduce the ramp-up time for testing kits and vaccines. (Side-bet: this may involve human-animal chimeras to shorten the pathway to antibody discovery and deployment.)

Business meetingware and work-from-home software has been predicted for decades and languished due to managerial reluctance. These will advance rapidly. But I predict also a real estate boomlet in small scale satellite offices, where employees will spend at least part of each day being personally supervised, so their work-at-home hours can be kept effective. This “sweet spot” might reduce rush hour traffic, but also strain middle management.

Expect a revival of Obama-era push for nationwide broadband, as has proved so useful in South Korea and Taiwan. There's a constituency now, for sure. 

Infrastructure. It goes far beyond potholes and school repairs. Democrats have demanded major programs to rebuild bridges etc while improving the quality (vs. quantity) of jobs and increasing money velocity. Republicans - while speaking the "I-Word" have blocked all such endeavors. All of this changes in a major recession, of course. Expect partisan gridlock to break in this one area.

Transportation. The shift to Uber/Lyft style ride services will boom, short term. But also mid-scale van/jitney services in big cities… followed by a big push for self-driving taxis. But underground metros may not be finished. Today’s filthy subway trains could be supplanted by smaller, more efficient cars that shunt between lines and report in regularly for disinfecting.

Social effects: It wall take more than COVID to end the personal handshake, but those pretentious European three-cheek air-kisses may be finished. Elbow greetings won’t last! But the fist-bump is likely the big winner, over time, as a compromise that's about 75% sanitary/safe and good enough for the new -- post-COVID -- normal. (My preference? I like the Roman style fore-arm clasp.)

Of course, many are already commenting and speculating on possible effects upon birth rates, divorce rates, domestic violence and so on. I guess we'll find out.

As usual, those suffering most are the poor and working stiffs. Even if they keep a job and can manage the financial strain, families are stressed out in cramped quarters with many ensuing problems. While supporting actions to help, somehow we must encourage such folks to do one thing to make a difference. Vote.

Epidemiology extends beyond just raging viruses. Will we discover that other chains of cause and effect were broken by cities and states and nations semi-shut down? Certainly not the "viral" effects of rumors and faux-news, which have electronic vectors. But the precipitate drop in traffic accidents may have side effects. Are there contagions of wide variety that we never noticed before, because they were part of the background noise of urban life?

And yes, some foresee all this accelerating the exodus of the uber-rich, abandoning us to simmer in festering cities and suburbs. Certainly there is a “prepper” wing of oligarchy that’s bought up whole mountain ranges in Patagonia, Siberia and under the sea. I portrayed that sick mind set in The Postman and in Earth and in Existence. And of course the smarter half of the zillionaire caste wants no part of such insanity. Nor will all their preparations avail the selfishness fetishists an iota, even if the fit truly hits the shan. There are five reasons why this masturbatory survivalist fantasy is utter proof of mental defectiveness.

Reason number six: we could sure use all hands on deck, right now. And we’ll remember which ones helped, or wallowed in apocalypse fantasies. Oh, however things go down, we will remember each and every one of you.

== Artistic Solace ==

Was that lemon sniff helpful? 

Well maybe I can add a little wry comfort. 

I last posted about this during the "bird flu" mini-crisis in May 2006. 
But it's never seemed more apropos.

In December 1979, NPR ran an evening show called "Unpacking the Eighties" which had some very clever riffs, including a song about the terrible flu we'd all get, around the far-future date of 1986... Alas, in this age when nothing is supposedly ever lost or un-findable, I can't sniff out any trace of this masterpiece!** Still, I'll manage to share something, with a nod to an unknown genius.

Here's a riff I remember by heart... except for parts I made up, in order to fill in gaps:


Back in the Pleistocene,
When we were still marine,
a virus launched a quest
to be the perfect guest
And re-arranged our genes.

So to this very day,
Whether you grok or pray,
all your inheritors
count on those visitors
And what they make you pay.


It’s a virus,
It inspired us,
to rise above the mud.
It’s a virus,
It’s desirous,
of your very flesh and blood.

Now I know your body’s burning,
But don’t give up the ghost.
Tiny viruses are turning you
Into the perfect host.


Though you may curse microbes
who make you blow your nose,
evolution bends
to what a virus sends,
making us recompose.

Though when you least expect
You may be struck down next,
thank the virus, he
put us in misery,
But then he gave us sex!


It’s a virus,
Its inspired us,
to rise above the mud.
It’s a virus,
It’s desirous,
of your very flesh and blood.

Now I know your body’s burning,
But don’t give up the ghost.
Tiny viruses are turning you
Into the perfect... 

Persevere. Endure...

*The Last Man, The Screwfly Solution, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Female Man, The Stand, The White Plague, No Blade of Grass, The Road, The Postman.... and so many others.

** I think the artist was named "Jesse" something, but can't be sure.


Lorraine said...

You think this one is here to negotiate?

Anonymous said...

Robert here,

why not let companies re-open some factories etc., putting back to work employees who have already gone through their exposure to the virus and the following latency period, whether symptomatic or not?

Assuming that one bout confers immunity, of course. Or that a mild/asymptomatic infection confers immunity from a greater one. Do we know that's the case?

bones ownbey said...

I posted your sniff idea on facebook giving you credit. I have noticed that over the last couple of weeks when i smell something it puts a smile on my face because I think it means I don't have the virus yet.
thank you for the idea of a mass experiment with no ill effects and possibly with a small benefit.

DP said...

With 20% to 30% of Americans soon to be out of work, the Depression era CCC and WPA start looking real good.

The first to heal our environmental damage and the second to repair our crumbling infrastructure.

Today we call it the Green New Deal.

So we do the following:

A. Keep the quarantines in place to save human lives.

B. Have the government hire the massive numbers of unemployed. The 20% to 30% of Americans soon to be out of work will be employed by the Green New Deal.

C. Tax the rich heavily to pay for it all.

The world is facing three other problems besides pandemics: global warming and environmental degradation, wealth inequality and concentration, endemic technological unemployment.

This approach solves all four.

Larry Hart said...


Assuming that one bout confers immunity, of course. Or that a mild/asymptomatic infection confers immunity from a greater one. Do we know that's the case?

It seems to me that the more important question is whether recovery from one bout means that one is no longer contagious.

If I've already survived one round of COVID, it might be ok for me to get re-infected (if that's even possible) on the grounds that my body will already recognize the infection and probably fight it off better the second time than the first. But the danger is if I go back out into the general population and they can still be infected by me.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Extrapole some more! "Sectors" of cities divide-up just like in some sci fi flick!

Permanent probationers?

Heck let's go beyond the obvious Romeo & Juliet riff. Maybe we'll speciate... !

The sci-fi drama writes itself. A boy and a girl from opposite sectors share forbidden love and produce a child whose biology provides a unique antidote to the virus. If the story is a tragedy, the three of them are killed before the ironic big reveal. Otherwise, the denouement has them as the saviors of humanity. Maybe on Easter.

no no, forget that last part. Sorry. Professional habit.

Uh, yeah, er, *choke*, ahem!

Anonymous said...

Larry, Robert here

If you can be reinfected then you're still at risk (maybe to a lesser degree — do we know that yet?). Enlightened self-interest should keep you social distancing.

If you are immune then you could mix with other immunes (everyone else who tests positive) and help provide essential services to keep society running.

On the downside, given the behaviour we've seen from people who thought they were less at risk*, becoming immune might also lead to people selfishly endangering others. Enough of that and we will end up with herd immunity, possibly at the cost of millions of people who would have survived with better social behaviour.

I do like Daniel's solutions. I would be very surprised if they happen, or anything close to them happens. Hasn't your president just said he's going to ignore parts of the stimulus law he finds inconvenient?

*I believe the hashtag is #COVIDIOTS

Dwight Williams said...

At the risk of promoting a product prematurely here, the race for better lab tests may have started bearing its hoped-for fruit in at least one place. I don't know about the "plentiful" part of your equation yet. Abbott claims to have produced the second such test. Who was first?

duncan cairncross said...

Just finished "The Ancient Ones" - it was Good - a bit heavy on the "silly pedal" -
Taking "silly" to "Ludicrous Speed"
Would have been Superb if "silly" had stayed at "Insane Speed"

But still a good read

Pot Hole fillers -
In a varied career I have ended up being responsible for and being trained on lots of things -
I hold an STMS license - Site Traffic Management Supervisor -
Which I keep valid as it enables me to be in charge of our Hot Rod Club road closures for running events -
Only in Southland would we have the main road closed for a cruise and have the Hot Rods joined by steam traction engines
Anyway - back to the potholes - working in the roadway is NOT a trivial exercise - cars are dangerous and controlling the traffic to make it safe to fill those potholes is not easy
For a lot of jobs the traffic control part requires more people and time than the actual work - as in ten times as much!

And that is before we get into the mechanics of repairing the holes so the repair lasts for more than five minutes

David Brin said...

Duncan, thanks and I hope you laughed a few times.

Sure, potholes take larger crews than "a couple of guys." But here's the thing, you could hire a couple of guys as flagmen, a couple as loaders and a couple as spreaders and the pairs need have little more than shouted interactions. The job is inherently contagion-controllable, even if you have ten guys there. But why argue. Some city (new orleans?) should simply try it!

Larry Hart said...

Suddenly, this song seems oddly appropriate:

I've seen the lights go out on Broadway.
I saw the Empire State laid low.
But life went on beyond Palisades.
They all bought Cadillacs
And left there long ago.

We held a concert out in Brooklyn
To Watch the Island bridges blow.
They turned our power down
And drove us underground
But we went right on with the show.


They sent a carrier out from Norfolk
And picked the Yankees up for free.
They said that Queens could stay.
They blew the Bronx away,
And sank Manhattan out at sea


Michael said...

I’ve had a lot of spare time to think about 2nd and 3rd order effects of this pandemic. Some thoughts of what we might see.
1. Lower auto insurance rates as the actuaries factor in the reduced number of accidents during this period.
2. More realistic continuity of operations planning informed by lessons learned during this period.
3. Baby boomlet beginning in Dec 2020. (This has been pointed out by others.)
4. Greater appreciation for the value of local schools. Schools have been at the forefront in food distribution under the school lunch program.
5. A greater appreciation for public health, health care professionals, and biology professions in general.
6. Government funded healthcare for all will be seen as a national security issue. (But I may be engaging in wishful thinking here.)
7. Expertise will be valued.
8. A greater value will be placed on resilience in our planning.

Orval said...

The smell test thing turns out to be an anecdote from S. Korea magnified by shoddy reporting:

Cari Burstein said...

I think in addition to a baby boomlet we should probably also see a spike in divorces. I suspect this forced confinement (and the related job losses and associated stress) may cause some relationship rifts to accelerate. I have a friend (who lives in Italy) who just separated from his wife shortly before all this. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been if she had not moved out before the confinement ensued.

I'm also thinking this forced confinement (and more difficult access to fresh foods and the closure of gyms) might lead to more problems with obesity and health issues down the road. For people for whom it's a difficult struggle to improve their health, this is probably going to lead to a lot of backsliding.

On the plus side, perhaps aside from coronavirus, we might have less than the usual general spread of illnesses in addition to the reduced accidents.

I think also we'll see a much larger percentage of the population learning to be a bit less tech averse given the situation's encouragment to get over discomfort with technologies such as video chat/conferencing.

David Brin said...

Orval, duly noted in an update. And still, can sniffing a lemon hurt? Now GARLIC on the other hand....

locumranch said...

Daniel_D's 'Green New Deal' has arrived in pandemic form, so why isn't he ecstatic yet?

(1) Social distancing & self-quarantine has decimated the consumer & service economies, causing a drastic reduction in fossil fuel-related CO2 production with CNN & MSNBC already raving about how clean our air has become;

(2) Massive unemployment & a YUGE potential die-off are both positive sum circumstances that can only perpetuate the current economic downturn & consolidate the drastic reduction in fossil fuel-related CO2 production as mentioned above;

(3) Our crumbling infrastructure also helps "keep the quarantines in place", isolates those pesky deplorables, restricts unnecessary movement & handicaps future economic development; and, as usual,

(4) Tax the rich heavily to pay for it all without confiscating a dime, easily, by dumping so many trillions of dollars into circulation that Zimbabwe level currency debasement occurs, hoarded wealth evaporates & income inequality disappears as if by magic.

Utopia is very close.


David Brin said...

Can any of you even parse the individual paragraphs of that incoherent screech?

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Can any of you even parse the individual paragraphs of that incoherent screech?

1) Fossil fuel use is down, leading to cleaner air and less global warming.

2) As more people self-Rapture by dying, the trend toward less fossil fuel use will continue.

3) Crumbling roads means that people aren't free to move away when their local areas are devastated by COVID. I presume this is a tacit admission that the virus is no longer a media-driven hoax, but with loc, one never knows.

4) Without having to bother passing a tax increase, we're virtually taxing the rich by making their money worth less by printing trillions more dollars.*

Essentially, "What are you libtards complaining about? COVID-19 is helping reduce global warming and serving as an excuse to give rich people's money to workers. Your wildest dreams are coming true, so aren't you happy?"

* I used to think this back in the 80s, but since then, the deficit and the national debt have exploded to levels unthinkable back then, and yet not only have we not seen Zimbabwe, Greece, or Wiemar Germany levels of inflation, but inflation is barely noticeable. Maybe Paul Krugman could explain the economics--I sure can't--but I do know what I see with my own eyes, and hyperinflation of the US dollar just doesn't happen.

Unknown said...

Covid cruises for the hospitality industry. Kissed while boarding, certify when disembarking. Maybe a commemorative tat.

yana said...

Pertinent questions

This post is about... well you know what it's about, what everything's about the past few weeks. How the hell does a pangolin get within SOCIAL distance of a bat?

OK, SARS i understand. Encaged bats were kept above civets, and batshit doesn't roll downhill it just kinda oozes downward naturally. So civets get SARS and some nutjob cooks the civet after dabbing their brow with a bloodstained rag. Who would eat a civet? They're cute and if you feed them coffee beans (and litter-train them) you get rich! Or at least great coffee. Who the hell would eat a civet?

Sci guys went to the batcave where SARS originated and sure enough, the fledermausen had a hundred other coronavirii. Guess what else they found there? Beer bottles and snack wrappers. Super Brilliant Idea, to test the folks in the nearby town. Sure enough, plenty of novel coronavirii had passed from bats to people, and circulated around this town, just didn't cause disease. Why did SARS make you sick yet a dozen other virii of the same type cross to humans but cause no problem?

This was like ten years ago. If someone had a "really good brain" in 2010, could it have been focused on solving why local villagers had dozens of coronavirii which did not cause disease, or would that "great brain" be better applied investigating a birth certificate? Oh well. But shouldn't someone have won a Nobel for answering this question in 2011? The new SARS is less lethal but really infectious. It loves people, and again it came from a bat. Can't we just stop people eating bats?

Finally, got some answers not just about the chemical assay and the genetic sequence, but the protein folds. Looks like your regular bat coronavirus, but with aspects of similar virii found in the pangolin. Also a fairly adorable creature, which nobody should be eating. Don't let the scales fool you, it's a mammal and thus qualifies as huggable. (They don't like to be hugged, so don't try this without butcher gloves and a fencing mask.)

So did a pangolin poop into a bat cage and the bat had nothing better to do than fiddle with the turd? or did a bat dribble guano on that one pangolin who customarily forgets his umbrella?

My answer is mac 'n cheese. It's like 69¢ a box. We are one weeklong middle-school fundraiser away from saving the entire nation of Gabon from having to eat pangolins. As for making people stop eating bats, it can't be that hard, can it? I mean there can't be much meat on them, right? Nutritionally, one box of mac 'n cheez has to equal 6 or 7 bats, amiright?

Here's the 64,000 ventilator question: Are the people who survived SARS less at risk for COVID-19?

On an outside note, have less downtime than most but it has become more solitary time than before, and using it to get into Greek folk music. Don't know all the words but like it. If you're competent with English you'll pick some out, but they're really just singing about the things every other song in history sings about.

Acacia H. said...

Yes. "It's the end of the world as we know it... and I feel fine."

No doubt next he'll start harping on "reinfection" or the like, though a monkey trial showed reinfection didn't occur and that these cases were likely the person in question not being fully recovered and then relapsing.

As for my "predictions" I'm going to predict an increase in murder-suicides among white families with disaffected young white men who no longer have schools that they can inflict their rage upon. You might have some school bombings as well as some of these punks decide to try and take out symbols rather than go after token targets of their aggression.


On the "off the crazy end of the Kool-Aid Pool" my former friend apparently expressed "concern" to his wife that I could end up becoming a serial killer because I'm an "internet troll" and the like. I'm not entirely sure what was being smoked over there, but I'd already written off the former friend and told my flatmate not to try and make amends (as he was feeling guilty over my breaking ties with said friend).

It's sad, in a way. In a time of world crisis, with people coming down sick left and right, with me being seriously ill, this Trumpist doubled down and chose paranoia and hate rather than community and friendship. And I'm truly tempted... that once I overcome this bug and am no longer infectious to drive down there, buy a hundred dollars of groceries, and deliver them to his front door step as his family (who are immune-compromised) could definitely use such largess. Because if I'm going to drive him nuts anyway, I might as well do so with an act of kindness and decency.

Acacia who plans on the revenge of a life worth living

dotcommie said...

I joked about launching a Covid-Positive dating site (Covid-Choice) with my wife this evening before reading this. Nice.

David Brin said...

Thanks LH, I think you might have paraphrase bracketed somewhere in the general direction of what that howl was meant to say. Though even the paraphrased made me want to wash up.

In fact, it would take quite a few $3 Trillion interventions for us to reach debt/GDP levels of Japan, and they are doing pretty well on the scale of being productive and prosperous (though in demographic collapse.)

I admit to being old fashioned in that I do NOT want to go down their weird path. Just ending all Supply Side failed experiments and restoring the Greatest Generation's Rooseveltean social contract ... plus real infrastructure investments and educatio and return of science ought to get money velocity back up and progress happening while proving yet again that liberals are VASTLY more fiscally responsible than so-called conservatives.

yana very interesting! But you leave out the huge coincidence that China's one P4 facility is in... Wuhan... and didn't an earlier outbreak come from there, via accidental release? Nothing is proved or official? But doesn't that raised hackles?

Acacia there are so many ways to confuse-an-enemy with kindness... or at least calmness. Hang in there.

yana said...

One great bit of news is that i was wrong. The Seattle outbreak was thought to come straight from Wuhan and presented a genomic mutation right away. This made it seem that a new infectious variant would be a biennial event. With a new week's learning, the eight mutations so far maintain that same protein hook on the end. Which is where your IGM antibodies learn, how your IGG antibodies plan the attack, and which is why a vaccine, when it comes, should be protective for 3 or 4 years instead of 18 months.

The devil loves details and there is one... the wider this goes throughout our own genome, the more likely mutations become, and specifically mutations to help the bug reproduce inside a human. Poor thing, it just wants to live. And it seems we can live with it, by getting a shot every few years, starting next year.

Amazing, how fast the science on this is moving, a real testament to the smart people who actually drive the economy, the geologists not the coal miners. Someone has probably done work 10 days ago which will ultimately garner her a Nobel, but we are many months away from a real vaccine. So several million people are going to die during our first negotiation with SARS2.

It's an old book, but try reading "Plagues And Peoples" by William McNeill. The negotiation between humans and a virus/bacterium has historically been won by greater genetic diversity in humans. Yeah there's a whole lot of lately distasteful colonialism involved, but we can grasp the lesson. The "browning" of America decried as a hellscape by the nutright is actually what will save us from future epidemics.

It's all of a piece. A political system which does not bend will snap, an industry which entrenches will be outrun, and a genome kept pure withers.

Acacia H. said...

I'm thinking of yana's post and contemplating something. We might be going about this all the wrong way. We should look at a historical lesson with smallpox... and cowpox.

Smallpox was a contagious viral disease that laid waste to countless people. However, a certain group of people were resistant to the disease - people who regularly worked with cows and who had succumbed to the disease cowpox which was not lethal.

Now let's look at that group of people at that town near where so many coronoviruses were infesting peacefully. Are they doing well? If so, might they have been exposed to a cousin of COVID-19 that doesn't trigger the symptoms this one does? And if we can figure out which virus does this... use that virus as the basis of a weakened live virus vaccine to start treating people and helping create actual herd immunity?

Just some food for thought while I sit upright in bed hoping not to cough out my lungs....


Jon S. said...

Yana, HIV started as a flu virus common among a species of monkey in Africa. Said monkey was also prized as a source of delicious brains. You'd think stopping AIDS by getting people not to eat monkey brains would be simple enough, wouldn't you?

Folks gonna eat what they gonna eat. Besides, in order to stop all this, you'd have had to intervene and make them stop eating bat before the first outbreak, and my time machine won't be back from the shop until last month.

Laurence said...

We've not been marine since the Ordovician, although it's harder to find a rhyme for that

Ahcuah said...

Dr. Brin wrote: "But you leave out the huge coincidence that China's one P4 facility is in... Wuhan... and didn't an earlier outbreak come from there, via accidental release? Nothing is proved or official? But doesn't that raised hackles?"

However, if that is the site that is more susceptible to such bat infections (due to the widespread presence of bats mixing with humans), wouldn't it make sense to put one's research station there?

After all, do you put your Arctic research station in the Amazon?

Bob Neinast

David Brin said...

Ahcuah that isn't even a hypothesis... more of a what-if. As if therearen't even more virus sources in jungle areas further south?

Laurence, couldn't help yourself, could you? I mean we all noticed that, yes? ;-) There's more in that vein... um artery... in THE ANCIENT ONES.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

(My preference? I like the Roman style fore-arm clasp.)

The problem with that is transitivity. It prevents person B from picking up the disease from person A when they greet each other. But when one of the two then turns to greet person C, the virus may be passed from previously-infected forearm to palm.

The other, less-obvious danger is that when person B next sneezes into his elbow, he might touch his face with that infected forearm himself.

James Vasil said...

RE: Longer term effects?

In my most optimistic moments, I hope that a leader will emerge that gives a “We choose to prevent future pandemics” speech (similar to JFK’s “go to the moon” speech) that would motivate our country to invest in biological technology in a manner similar to the investment in electronics and mechanical systems in the 50’s and 60’s. This could even be tied in how advances in these fields could be used to help us save ourselves from the global warming crisis (but, I get ahead of myself).

While holding my breath for this to happen, I do wonder what fields of study should be encouraged in order to reach this goal? I’m a EE/CS engineer who never took any biology and minimal chemistry so I’d appreciate any ideas you could share on this subject. I assume “microbiology” would be near the top of the list and the little I’ve read about “Microbial Engineering” and “Biological Engineering” suggests they are also important. Any other fields that you can suggest?

Of course, the question of whether people would accept a goal of advancing biological engineering is a huge unknown. SF hasn’t provided nearly as many examples of this technology being used for the good as it does of addressing the negative possibilities. Aside: Thanks for The Practice Effect!!!!

locumranch said...

Larry_H did an excellent job paraphrasing my screeches (1)(2)(4), except for (3) which he missed by a mile.

Insomuch as progressives tend to classify fossil fuel-driven economic development as BAD and infrastructure merely aids & abets fossil fuel-driven economic development & consumer waste, one must conclude that infrastructure maintenance & repair is also BAD.

No worries though.

Our progressive government is way ahead of you and, in the interest of enforcing the new 'stay-at-home' directives upon an increasingly non-essential majority, it will invariably decide to start dynamiting bridges & thoroughfares to and from various urban pest-holes, much in the same way that it has already started closing internal state, county & municipal borders.

Take a hard look at the news coverage of the deserted streets in Paris, New York & San Francisco, and tell me again how 'essential' the continued survival of the Blue Urban elite is.

One can only conclude that these Blue Urban pest-holes are packed solid with non-essential personnel who survive mostly by parasitism, as they now appear entirely dependent on the good will & largesse of the much maligned Red Rural flyover states.

Cities have often been described as 'Economic Engines' and, if this is true, then the following must also be true:

Cities & the people who live there are BAD because economic development is BAD -- as is the infrastructure maintenance & repair that they require to live there -- and economic development & all-of-the-above are BAD because fossil fuel use (which they all require) is really really BAD.


Larry Hart said...


However, if that is the site that is more susceptible to such bat infections ...

Sorry, my perception has been forever ruined by childhood association with the 1960s Batman tv show. "Bat infections" sounds differently from how you meant it.

Deuxglass said...

For the pothole idea, we could hire a team to fill them up during the day and another crew to dig them out again at night. We could spread the idea to other activities in the service sector such as paying one group of lawyers to sue some company and pay for another group of lawyers to defend the said company. Since these activities add to the GNP then in no time our economy will be up and running.

Anonymous said...

The Trump Administration refuses to comply with oversight for $500 billion slush fund.

Hank Roberts said...

> One can only conclude that these Blue Urban pest-holes are
> packed solid with non-essential personnel

That hardware and software you're using to post this assertion?
It comes from one or more of those "Blue Urban pest-holes"

Number of Organizations: 3,435
Industry Groups: Internet Services
Location: San Francisco Bay Area, California, United States

Good luck communicating without us, cowboy.

Deuxglass said...

Having looked into this virus early on and having followed all its twists and turns I can now say that I am very optimistic because everything you need to do is now being done more or less. None of that existed 3 months ago.

If use use a military analogy Wuhan was Pearl Harbor. It just appeared out of the blue even though there were numerous indications that it would happen, no one believed them. Next we had a series of battles lost like Singapore and Bataan where nothing seems to go right and despair is felt by almost everyone. Actions don't seem to be working in this phase. That's where we are now.

However he seeds of the virus's destruction have been sown by putting enough people in quarantine. It is the Battle of Midway and we have the advantage because we have superior intelligence. We know where the virus is, its heading and how many carriers it has. The quarantine is the ambush and the virus walked right into it. It foolishly assumed that it could just merrily go along an infect at will. That battle is still going on but the dive bombers are on the way.

After we win this battle another one starts, the Guadalcanal Campaign starts. This is a rough no-hold bared knockdown dragged out where doctors and scientists combat the virus by finding treatments and drugs that have some effectiveness but don't work in all situations. It is a frustrating time because you have partial victories and many false hopes. Nevertheless you can see progress being made.

After Guadalcanal you have enough knowledge and resources to drive up the island chains taking back more and more land by widespread testing until the virus counterattacks by mutating but by that time we have overwhelming drug and treatment firepower to snuff it out. It's the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Now both sides know it is just a question of time because our Manhattan Project, the vaccine, is ready and blows the virus apart. End of story.

Deuxglass said...

By the way my fourth grandchild was born a week ago. Life goes on.

I have been reading a lot of articles saying that people will change because of the virus. People never really changed after all the other pandemics so I don't see why this will be different. They will however adapt to try to prosper in the MMT world where money can and will be created at will. Calls for austerity will no longer muster and if a government calls for it then it would run a grave risk of revolution.

I put my toe back into the market. Some of these prices look too good. We are at maximum worry. Buy at the sound of canons. Sell at the sound of violins.

Larry Hart said...


except for (3) which he missed by a mile.

Well, I did say "With loc, you never know". There, I've run rings around you logic'ly.

Our progressive government is way ahead of you and, in the interest of enforcing the new 'stay-at-home' directives upon an increasingly non-essential majority, it will invariably decide to start dynamiting bridges & thoroughfares to and from various urban pest-holes, much in the same way that it has already started closing internal state, county & municipal borders.

Oh, but are they keeping us away from you, or are they keeping you away from us? Red state cultists are welcome to insist on their own facts until they meet Reality on a battlefield and self-Rapture, after which we will emerge from our shelters if you don't mind, or even if you do.

Deuxglass said...

Since we have 2 billion people in the world under some form of quarantine the production of CO2 must have fell off a cliff. Maybe we can use this period to measure how much humans actually produce of the stuff. It's an experiment that normally would never have been possible to conduct and yet here it is. Atmospheric scientists should be having a field day.

Larry Hart said...


Take a hard look at the news coverage of the deserted streets in Paris, New York & San Francisco, and tell me again how 'essential' the continued survival of the Blue Urban elite is.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but much of that Blue Urban elite is still working from home.

One can only conclude that these Blue Urban pest-holes are packed solid with non-essential personnel who survive mostly by parasitism, as they now appear entirely dependent on the good will & largesse of the much maligned Red Rural flyover states.

You seem to be under the impression that California, Illinois, and New York state are bereft of food sources. We can survive without you better than the other way around.
After all, without the Blue Urban elite, how would the Red Rural rednecks continue to watch FOX News or read what their false god has to say on Twitter?

David Brin said...

LH, the widely touted elbow sneeze is dumb! It only reduces danger by maybe one order of magnitude. Far better is the lapel or collar lift — pulling either your shirt collar or your jacket lapel to fully cover your lower face and sneezing UNDER all that toward your arm pit. And if it makes you feel a bit damp? Well, that stuff used to go into the air, swirling around others. Ponder that.

As for greetings - how will we ritualize encounters after COVID passes? Regular handshakes will return but folks will push for something new. The Roman forearm-grip is generally fairly sanitary - certainly much more than palm-to-palm, since most microbes don’t do well on cloth or skin after some minutes, if they get to dry out. But yes, it is only a 10x improvement and the fist bump is slightly better… maybe 20x. But people hunger for contact and I doubt the elbow thing will last past the crisis.

locum: “Larry_H did an excellent job paraphrasing my screeches (1)(2)(4), except for (3) which he missed by a mile.”

Hilarious! He never ever paraphrases or brackets to try to see if his strawman targets are remotely related to what others said… yet he’s picky when he is paraphrased, never getting the irony! Nor that his admission (above) ignores the fact that Larry then showed how each of those positions is stark, jibbering insane.

And given that Red America absolutely has depended on economic largesse from the blue hands they bite, the rest is just sad.

Deuxglass Pacific War analogies… well, we’ll see. Will Douglas McArthur then brag his way into the White House? Congrats on the grandchild! Jealous.

Dwight Williams said...

Marvel movies and Star Trek may provide some options via the Wakandan and Vulcan salutes, respectively. Context-dependent, of course. I've seen other ideas from different corners of pop culture...

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, Mythbusters already disproved your theory.

They found that sneezing or coughing into your elbow was even more effective than coughing or sneezing into a handkerchief. The latter would allow moisture to penetrate, get on your hand anyway, and then contaminate everything in your pocket. Sneezing into your collar or lapel would spread MORE contagion as not as much of the face and nose is covered.


David Brin said...

Crum that's absurd. The elbow sneeze has to be done exactly right (and few will) to get that mythbusters result. Whereas turning your collar into a full face mask will work for anyone! Well, a lot of women don't have collars OR lapels on their attire ... or sleeves, for that matter....

Larry Hart said...

Sheltering in place means that I've watched more tv in the last week than I probably have in the previous decade. Part of that includes binge-watching The West Wing, and from what I hear on Stephanie Miller's show, I'm hardly the only one watching that particular show on Netflix. It's part presidential competence porn and part "saddest [words] are these, 'It might have been.'" remembering when presidents knew stuff.

I've also found that Star Trek, both TOS and TNG, are available on Netflix, although in a way, those shows are cause for tragic sadness for much the same reason.

Larry Hart said...

Oh, and before locum holds me up as an example of a useless Blue urban couch potato, I'll have you know that said binge-watching of Netflix is entirely a nights and weekends affair. As I happen to work for a health care provider, I am not in danger of being laid off, and while sheltering in place, I've worked from home a full day every day. In fact, the early part of last week was devoted to the quick implementation of an ad-hoc application to match employee volunteers with open shifts at hospitals and physician offices to make sure those locations are fully staffed. The team I'm a part of received praise from the bosses for promptness and dedication.

I mention this not to brag--I was only one cog in a large multi-team effort--but rather to point out that plenty of urban workers who are not out on the streets are nevertheless doing their jobs, not just make-work, but work essential to the war effort as it were.

Cari Burstein said...

I do find it odd to describe empty streets as somehow signifying any relationship to how many people are working in this time. I do remember how light the freeways got when the tech bubble burst the first time in 2000, but here in the Bay Area the empty freeways aren't really a good reflection of who's actually working.

Thankfully most of us folks in the tech industry can do their jobs from anywhere- in fact my company shut down our Bay Area office a few years ago (where we used to work 2-3 days a week and work remotely the other days) to save rent, and I've been working full time remote ever since. If anything I've been a bit busier right now as the division I work for deals with community health related data primarily used by health departments and hospitals and I've just finished working on a small project to assist them with finding data that may be useful specifically for this crisis.

Most of my friends in the area work in tech jobs as well and are generally working as much or more than usual, but saving a lot of commute time. My brother in LA is no longer traveling for his work (he works for a charity that sets up music education programs in schools) and is instead learning how to stream online classes to students. My other brother also works at a tech related company on the east coast and is similarly working remotely. My mother's work can also be done remotely, although she's concerned about the student teachers she works with and how they will finish their programs. Given her age I'm glad she's not in a field that she needs to be out because although she's quite healthy for her age she's definitely in the extra vulnerable zone (she was actually planning to retire after this school year but possibly still keep working part time).

I'm quite sure the world could get by just fine without my particular job or the jobs of my immediate family- but thankfully they don't have to! I feel quite badly for the folks who are out of work right now and even worse for the ones whose jobs are essential but put them in harm's way. I wish as a country we had done a better job of reacting earlier on to have reduced the pain they're going through.

duncan cairncross said...

Question for this group

The dreaded virus is transmitted into a population - an individual infects two or three others and it spreads

A simple cheap face mask - disposable or washable - will catch some of the droplets - I have seen figures of 90%

It appears to me that even a very poor mask that catches half of the droplets would bring the spread to a grinding halt

We would ALL have to wear such masks ALL of the time we were out of our own personal "bubble" -(my house and my shed)

I see pictures from Korea and Japan - everybody wearing masks


TCB said...

@ Laurence, it's not THAT hard to rhyme Ordovician, if you've the time for that sort of mission.

Larry Hart said...

Do we even need additional proof that Benedict Donald is an illegitimate president? And that the congressional Republicans are abdicating their duty by allowing their fuhrer to actively impede aid to certain states?

I keep hearing how, counter-intuitively, Trump's approval ratings are going up over his handling of this crisis, but I wonder how his approval ratings are doing in Michigan.

There is evidence that blue-state governors who won't grovel at Donald Trump's feet won't get crucial medical supplies needed to save lives. On Friday, Trump attacked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) on Fox News for pointing out that the federal government has not coordinated well with the states that are trying to save the lives of people who have caught COVID-19. Trump said of her: "She is a new governor, and it's not been pleasant. We've had a big problem with the young—a woman governor. You know who I am talking about—from Michigan." Then he added: "We don't like to see complaints."

Whitmer then did an interview with Detroit's WWJ News Radio in which she said (on air) about the vendors of crucial medical supplies: "They're being told not to send stuff to Michigan." Whitmer called the White House, but her call wasn't returned.

This is not just the view of one unhappy governor who might be making stuff up, however. Trump has basically admitted this is what his administration is doing. Mike Pence is coordinating the efforts to deal with COVID-19 and Trump said of Pence: "He calls all the governors, I tell him, I mean, I'm a different type of person. I say Mike, don't call the governor of Washington, you're wasting your time with him. Don't call the woman in Michigan." Then he added: "If they don't treat you right, I don't call." Note also Trump's repeatedly making a point of noting Whitmer's gender. The people of Michigan are lucky she's not also Chinese or a Muslim.

Anonymous said...

Robert here

Duncan, non-medical masks would be a good idea IF they didn't nudge people towards carelessness in social distancing, sanitation, etc. There is some evidence that increasing visible safety measures encourages riskier behaviour, because many people moderate their behaviour based on perceived risk. Some of the behavioural economics books I've read include social risks as part of the equation, which complicates analysis.

Medical masks, at the moment, should be in the hands of front-line workers. People shouldn't be driving around town wearing N95 masks in their cars while front-line doctors in New York are rationed to two masks a week.

Tacitus said...


I'm pretty sure masks would have an effect. If for no other reason I figure people would look at masked up folks and wonder...hmmmm, germophobe or already sick? And back off another meter.

But to have the greatest impact you'd really need it to be universal and that's an easy sell in what I think of as germophobe cultures. Here....not so much. Young, probably non or minimally symptomatic young folks are the problem.

They ain't got much sense.

Epidemiology of covid-19 is fraught with challenges but I think we'll find a small number of what are called "superspreaders" can have a devastating impact on control measures.


Deuxglass said...


Even if the cheap mask protects by a small amount it would be mathematically worthwhile. When the virus started here in France the government kept saying that masks were not only worthless but they we worse because they would give people a false sense of security. Later on it was found out that the 1 billion 400 million masks that were built up during the Swine Flu scare had been sold off and drawn down. The reasoning behind it was that they could always buy them if needed. Instead of saying that there aren't enough masks and that they would have to be rationed they just said that masks are unnecessary. Sorry to bitch about it but people over here are pissed off about being manipulated.

If you run the numbers if everyone wears masks the infection rate goes down and every little bit helps.

Deuxglass said...

It is awfully nice to be able to work at home or to be retired like I am. By staying put I can limit my exposure to a minimum. However the people who deliver my food and medicines are exposed by the nature of their jobs. If you work at home eventually down the line a person will have to physically do something and expose himself to fulfill your job. These are the ones being exposed to allow you to be able to be safe in your homes. They, not you are keeping civilization running at this time. They keep the power and internet on. They keep the water flowing, they farm and raise the food and they drive the trucks to get it to you in the cities. They are the ones who expose themselves every day they work to keep things. They and the medical professions are keeping us alive now so we should recognize their worth and reward them for the great job they are doing.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"Take a hard look at the news coverage of the deserted streets in Paris, New York & San Francisco, and tell me again how 'essential' the continued survival of the Blue Urban elite is."

You may have noticed that global markets have been crashing. I promise you it isn't because there's less traffic at the four-way stop in my town of 800.

Deuxglass said...

Here in France the farmers are asking for volunteers to help them grow the crops and get the food to the markets. They were deluged with people signing up. I guess they wanted to do something worthwhile rather than sit at home watching reruns on Netflix.

Dennis M Davidson said...

Larry Hart,
A bit of humor:
I tend to skip locumranch these days. Instead I'll read posts of yours (and others) who are responding to his nonsense. Today, in my haste, I read the sentence below, thinking it was you responding to locum. I thought, "Larry has really captured locum's voice this time." Turned out I was reading locum by mistake! LOL. Jokes on me.

"Our progressive government is way ahead of you and, in the interest of enforcing the new 'stay-at-home' directives upon an increasingly non-essential majority, it will invariably decide to start dynamiting bridges & thoroughfares to and from various urban pest-holes, much in the same way that it has already started closing internal state, county & municipal borders."

scidata said...


I've heard that Germany is actively importing COVID patients from Italy and France because they have a more solid hospital system. Is this true? If so, it's the strongest salvo yet fired by the Rational West.

Larry Hart said...

Tim W:

But to have the greatest impact you'd really need it to be universal and that's an easy sell in what I think of as germophobe cultures. Here....not so much.

Two things...

First, I've heard that the reason Japan has such a germophobic culture comes out if the 1918-1919 Spanish flu epidemic. They've apparently got quite a long-term cultural memory.

Also, I'm at a loss as to how our US culture, which tends to look at precautionary measures such as masks or social distancing as "weak" and "feminine" squares that with the notion that the Germaphobe In Chief occupying the White House is a strong man.

Deuxglass said...


This is a study of the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of influenza.

It helps a lot.

David Brin said...

In France, many farms double as micro-resorts for cousins who takebrief holidays at "the family farm." Almost any degree of family connection counts. Fourth cousins. Fifth! Instead of paying in cash, they bring mountains of urban "gifts for our farm cousins" from lists the farmers provide, and then they put in a week of "work" helping clear a field or something. It makes for a great fiction as the urban cousins get to claim some kind of link to the land.

I may be exaggerating the phenomenon, that I heard from several French friends. But in fact I like it! We should have more such real-life cos-play.

Alfred Differ said...

Tim & Duncan,

My wife sewed a few simple cloth masks for the whole family. I can confirm that people get wary around us when we wear them. None of us are actually infected (as far as we know), but those masks are wonderfully effective ad creating social distancing awareness in the people around us. We get WAY more than 2 meter distance (often 4 or 5) and I have no doubt that makes up for the poorer filtering capability of our amateur attempts. 8)

Still, the best we are doing in this is flattening the infection curve. I know if it is flattened enough, many of us will escape the season with no infection at all, but I'm expecting a return next winter when people are a bit more relaxed about it.

Alfred Differ said...

I've too have watched more TV in the last two weeks than in the last two years. Binge-watched West World and just caught up last night. Might sit down for Watchmen too.

It's an evening thing for me. I'm working from home in my office all day, so I want to go sit in a different room at some point. The big TV is in the living room, so that works.

For me, the fight is about trying not to gain weight during these weeks. My genes know darn well I should be packing on the pounds to survive events like this. My ancestors did, so I want to eat the loaf of bread instead of a couple slices for a sandwich. 8)

David Brin said...

Paul Krugman is one of the smart-wise ones out there, along with fellow beardy Robert Reich. They both have "master class" video series that are much better uses of your isolation time than binge watching "Friends" or "Cheers." Krugman is also a big sci fi fan, grew up on Asimov.



Even if I I sometimes quibble at the edges -- e.g. I do think PK is too ready to accept Modern Monetary Theory excuses for deficits, when Democrats have much better economic records than Republicans BECAUSE Dems are vastly more fiscally prudent than wastrel goppers -- I still feel you would learn so much and arm yourselves to fight against the War on Facts and Reason.

Alfred Differ said...


Your 'broken windows' analogy for growth of GDP made me grind my teeth and want to respond about how often that's been disproven, but your WWII analogy made up for it. I'm all smiles now. 8)

Larry Hart said...


I tend to skip locumranch these days. Instead I'll read posts of yours (and others) who are responding to his nonsense.

I've actually been ignoring his posts as pointless for several months, but unfortunately, I gave up avoiding trolls for Lent. Two more weeks to go. :)

Alfred Differ:

My wife sewed a few simple cloth masks for the whole family.

My wife is also sewing cloth masks, not just for us, but for neighbors. I may have waited until I was 35, but I married the right woman.

For me, the fight is about trying not to gain weight during these weeks. My genes know darn well I should be packing on the pounds to survive events like this. My ancestors did, so I want to eat the loaf of bread instead of a couple slices for a sandwich. 8)

I feel your pain. When first diagnosed as diabetic, I was able to control my diet enough to drop from 193 pounds to 163. Unfortunately, that didn't last, and my body seems to have settled on approximately 180. I was having enough trouble shedding pounds during the Christmas season, and now this!

jim said...

Deuxglass said
“They, not you are keeping civilization running at this time. They keep the power and internet on. They keep the water flowing, they farm and raise the food and they drive the trucks to get it to you in the cities. They are the ones who expose themselves every day they work to keep things. They and the medical professions are keeping us alive now so we should recognize their worth and reward them for the great job they are doing.”

Well from the horrible deplorables and lazy splitters in the midwest, thanks deuxglass,

My blue collar buddies and I are part of the necessary work that needs to be done in the pandemic. (we are part of the food supply chain.) We are coming to work every day even though most of us are in our 50’s and 60’s and therefore have a not insignificant chance of dying if we get the corona virus. Of course upper management, sales and marketing don’t have to come to work, just the people doing the real work.

Cari Burstein said...

I agree, the really important folks right now are the ones who have to go out in this mess and keep things running. I've been talking to a friend in San Diego who works as a transporter in a hospital- he worked with his first Covid patient yesterday and he says things that would normally take 5 minutes take an hour due to all the sanitizing required to keep things safe right now. He also said they've been told to avoid transporting Covid patients as much as possible but it isn't always practical. He says they're running low on all the sanitizing materials, even bleach.

I can't do much to help other than my actual job, being careful myself and sending money to the food banks trying to keep people fed. My boyfriend who's retired went back to doing Meals on Wheels again since they're short on people. He says most of the people who deliver the Meals on Wheels food are themselves in the danger zone agewise so he worries about them getting exposed.

The other thing we're trying to do to support the local businesses is order takeout a lot more than we usually do and give the delivery folks big tips. We're very lucky that we're comfortable financially and that's at least one thing we can help with. I'm still going to the grocery store myself instead of using delivery services, as the grocery store is more of a risky area than takeout and I'd rather not pay someone to expose them to risks at the store when I can be careful myself and go (and since I'm otherwise not really going out, I'm less likely to be spreading anything myself).

I also put stuffed animals in the window because apparently that's a trend now to give kids something fun to hunt for when they go out on walks.

Dwight Williams said...

Making a note to look at those videos from Krugman and Reich after supper tonight. Many thanks!

Treebeard said...

Deuxglass, I wonder how a call for volunteers by farmers would fare in the USA? Probably about as well as the guy in New York who tried to emulate the Italian balcony-singers and was told to STFU. This is when you want to live in a country that still has at least a remnant of a sane, rooted, traditional, cohesive culture. Unfortunately, Americans don't really go for that sort of thing, which is why their response tends more toward hysteria, hoarding TP, buying firearms, hustling/fearing neighbors, ranting about Trump/Democrats and binge-watching netflix. If nothing else, this place is serves as a laboratory for cultural dysfunction and a lesson in how not to build a resilient society.

jim said...

You know I have been worried that our problems would start cascading into one another and it seem to be happening.

In case you haven’t seen, you can add these to all the other issues we must deal with

- big ozone hole in the northern hemisphere as a predicted consequence of global warming.

- aerosols have been underestimated, the impact in masking global warming is about two times higher than previously thought. (meaning the situation is substantially worse than realized.)

- low oil prices over the last several years and the current plunge in prices means that investment in new oil production has been and will be extremely low -expect production/supply problems a few years from now. Good news for the environment but bad for the economy.

Deuxglass said...


Germany has taken in more than a few Covid-19 cases from French provinces near it. Germany has a much higher ratio of Critical Care beds and the accompanying medical teams per capita than France ( 29.2 vs 11.6) which gives it a better margin before becoming saturated.

A comparison is shown here:

The US has 34.7 beds per capita which a bit more than Germany. Hopefully that will translate into a lower death rate but we will see.

Deuxglass said...

The above numbers above are ICU beds per 100,000 inhabitants.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

The biggest mistake many people are making right now is listening to "patently insane" advice about using face masks whenever it is necessary to go inside a store or otherwise interact with those outside of your household.

So-called "physicians" in the popular media have been giving people lethally dangerous advice not to wear masks.

I have been listening to, and reading articles by, actual scientists on this matter for the past few weeks. They always say to wear a face mask when interacting with the public in any manner. A mask is not so important when you are just taking a walk outdoors for exercise and happen to say hello to someone passing by; but for other occasions, a mask is mandatory when interacting with the public in the current environment.

For example, see:

More importantly, see this conversation between two evolutionary biologists with PhD's and lots of practical research experience in dangerous environments. This is Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying discussing improvised masks and telling what they are doing.

An N95 mask is best, but all sorts of improvised masks can provide considerable protection.

Don't worry about how you will look. We need to start a trend, and we cannot just wait for the other person to do it. In the Czech Republic, people went from saying "Look at the idiot wearing a mask!" to saying "Look at the idiot not wearing a mask!" in just 2 days. I have read reports that the improvised masks are sufficiently effective against COVID-19 that it is now illegal in the Czech Republic to be out in public without a mask.

Also see this very important brief video by Lex Fridman, an MIT artificial intelligence researcher who regularly interviews the world's top scientists:

Lex recommends making a mask from an old T-shirt, but many other cotton fabrics work just as well (such as old bed sheets or pillow cases).

David Brin said...

jim is on vitamins and making some sense. Treebeard makes up for it by proving yet again that he doesn't live in the same country as many of us do. Hey fellah, if you are under 65, how about donating a pint?

scidata said...

Re: Germany importing patients
Thanks for that Deuxglass. The news report I first saw was showing critically ill Italian patients being loaded onto a German plan bound for Cologne. The reporter asked, "Aren't you afraid of the risk?". The German paramedic replied, "No, I think these patients will be ok once we get them to the intensive care they need." Then I had to endure another news conference from the Cheeto. What a contrast.

locumranch said...

Those of you who are lucky enough to work from home are non-essential workers by definition. You may provide a 'value-added' service but, most likely, you do not manufacture a tangible product or a necessity like bread, meat, produce, energy, shelter or security.

You receive an arbitrary value (aka 'money') for the nonessential services that you provide; you exchange that money for tangible products & necessities; you suppress the fact that the value of your money is entirely arbitrary; and you hope against hope that your deceitful monetary practices never come to light.

Nonessential (adj) means 'unimportant' and 'unnecessary' and most of us are:

Why do you assume, then, that you can still convince the NECESSARY worker to labour on indefinitely for a mere pittance?

Expect a general strike soon.


COVID-19 stats from CNN -- 2500 dead, 150,000 infected -- suggest a calculated US mortality rate of about 1.6% which is most likely artificially high as it does not reflect the number of the infected who have not yet been tested.

TCB said...

@ scidata, if you look at the current Coronavirus Dashboard you'll notice that Germany has had (so far) an anomalously low serious case/mortality rate, and nobody yet seems to be sure why. But at the moment it puts them in a good position to help neighbors.

TCB said...

Holy crap, I just had an entire thought. (Not a particularly constructive one, but still.)

What if toilet paper can be made into N95 masks? Hoarding conspiracy theory is born!

Lorraine said...


Can any of you even parse the individual paragraphs of that incoherent screech?

Probably not, but I'll take a stab at one of them.


(3) Our crumbling infrastructure also helps "keep the quarantines in place", isolates those pesky deplorables, restricts unnecessary movement & handicaps future economic development; and, as usual,

In my rare necessary travels, I couldn't help but notice about 30% of the cars still on the road are Challengers and Chargers. I've largely given up on the constantly mutating alt-right symbolism, but I've developed a working hypothesis that Chargers and Challengers are the new coal rolling.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Guys
I have made myself a mask - and found some latex gloves - so now I'm going out for my weekly shop

My plan is to wear a mask and gloves every time I need to leave the house/shed - and keep those occasions to an absolute minimum

Let's see if I get grumpted at for wearing a mask

Jerry Emanuelson said...

People have been hoarding the wrong material if they want to make an N95 mask out of toilet paper. They should have been buying the highest quality consumer 3M furnace filters. I'm sure that quite a lot of these must be still available. The highest-grade large furnace filters have enough high-grade filter material for a few dozen home-made masks. Outside of intensive medical environments, the general public doesn't need to worry much about individual isolated virus particles. The main danger (as long as as a person is maintaining social distancing) is the microscopic droplets that can be suspended in the typical indoor air environment for about three hours.

yana said...

Perhaps Jacob Glanville will get the 2023 Nobel. A year or two ago, heard about his work on trying to find a universal vaccine for influenza, stimulating antibody production which targets one part of the flu's protein mesh which it can not mutate, without making the virus denatured, innocuous. You may have seen him in a NFlx docu from Jan this year: "Pandemic".

He's still working on that, but on his front burner is our new little friend SARS2. Pretty wild things become possible if he succeeds. Last we know, SARS-COV-2 has mutated eight times, involving 11 base pairs, over 150 days. That hook on the end is how it breaks into a cell. So far, no known mutations have altered the hook so new variants are no more, nor less, infectious.

Influenza has a nasty little folded protein mechanism like a spring-loaded hole-puncher to invade host cells. And flu is a very mutable virus, which is why the vaccine is new every year and always half wrong. Glanville's approach there is not to target the hole-punch, but the spring. The bug is certainly free to mutate into a form without the spring, to evade an antibody-equipped immune system, but then it wouldn't cause disease any more.

The more we learn about SARS2, daily now, suggests that it adopts a different survival strategy than flu or SARS1. One relies on genetic promiscuity, the other an over-engineered reproduction system. The new one is more balanced, a less sturdy invasion vector swapped for a neater package. Easier dispersion but a higher viral count needed to create dangerous infection. Crafty bugger.

Glanville is not looking for a vaccine. He is looking for a direct antibody. The difference is that a vaccine takes time to work, as the immune system ramps up capability against the innocuous virus to which has been, well, innoculated. Polio vaccine takes 3 weeks from the injection to full efficacy. A vaccine can take a month to elicit immune response, and months afterwards to prove that it's persistent and without side effects. That's why folks are talking about 2021 for a vaccine.

Direct introduction of antibodies just puts bullets right into the hands of our hunter/killer cells, without the immune system having to invent it's own rifle. A shot of direct antibodies can stone a viral infection in hours, and unforeseen side effects should reveal much faster. This strategy could take 3 months, not 14 months. Major funder is the armed forces, so presumably that's where our pool of immunes would grow from, starting this Summer, if all goes well.

Project this possibility into the future, and it's a far different world than some wild conjecturists have imagined. In fact, November 2021 would look quite like November 2019, except for a million vacant chairs at Thanksgiving.

History has been a negotiation between micro-critters and people, but this time we might simply dictate terms. Thanks of course, to a vast goverment investment into our genome 20 years ago. If everyone gets a simple shot by the end of 2020, we return to the previously televised program: petty squabbles over money, dirt, and gods. In other words, completely normal as we know it.

David Brin said...

Yana interesting. Got a link?

Similar tothe old fashioned "serum" approach in which plasma from an immune system is injected into new patients.. as in OMEGA MAN and OUTBREAK.

yana said...

David Brin thought:

"Yana interesting. Got a link?"

Yep, link here:

It's an MP3 file about 27 MB, about 59 minutes. I knew Glanville, but did NOT know that there is an explanation for why i have not had flu in 35 years, beyond my own folkloric anecdotes. Yay Science!

Anonymous said...

Re: Germany: The problem is not the number of ICU beds, but the shortage of skilled personel. We have an 13:1 Patient/Nurse Ratio (Companies to 4:1 in the US and 7:1 in most other EU countries). Prior to Covid, child ICU patients were not admitted to hospital treatment because of this shortage.

Yet, on a funny turn of events, the 4000 doctors and nurses of the Medizinischer Dienst der Krankenkassen (MDK) have been ordered to reinforce the personell during this crisis. The MDK normally has a control function, evaluating the quality of nursing homes and hospitals as well as denying and allowing treatment of patients in general. All controlling Tasks are suspended until September, meaning that the entire Elderly Care sector has some air to breathe.

The Bundeswehr is one step before general mobilization, Essential supplies like masks and gowns start to dwindle.

yana said...

By the way, Glanville is on Twitter, if memory serves the handle is


yana said...

Whoops, Jake, not Joe!

duncan cairncross said...

Went shopping with my homemade mask - nobody laughed

But very few people were wearing masks -
everybody seemed to be keeping a couple of meters clearance

That's me back in shed and house for at least another week

gregory byshenk said...

A few ICU patients (only a handful, I think) have been transferred from the Netherlands to Germany, as well. And some have been moved from Noord Brabant (in the south, where the Covid-19 has hit the hardest) to hospitals elsewhere in the Netherlands.

We may have succeeded in 'flattening the curve' here (if the immediate trend holds: we hit a peak of 1.2K new cases three days ago, and new cases have been falling since then - but that's a very short trend), but there remains significant concern about hospital beds and particularly ICU space, given that hospitalization rates are proably effectively already set from one to two weeks ago.

For anyone interested, the situation here is one of 'social distancing', but not enforced isolation (except for those who are actually infected). The streets are quiet, but not empty, and few people seem to be wearing masks. Bars and restaurants are closed, and all events are cancelled or postponed, but shops may remain open. Merely by observation I would say that the vast majority of shops (other than food, housewares, and building supplies) have chosen to close, as no one is buying clothes and the like. Shops that are open limit the number of persons who may enter at any time, and require 1.5m separation between customers. Most of them have set up plastic barriers between the cashiers and the customers, and many are 'pin-only' (Dutch version of debit cards), no cash. Takeaway and delivery of foot is still permitted, and a number of restaurants (including 'fine dining') have created special menus that they can deliver. The roads, trains, and buses are very empty. Trains and buses are running limited schedules and also require 1.5m separation between riders, which seems to be honored, even as people debark and board. (I had to go to the office yesterday to deal with a bit of physical hardware, and on the way there I had an entire train carriage to myself.)

Larry Hart said...


Those of you who are lucky enough to work from home are non-essential workers by definition. You may provide a 'value-added' service but, most likely, you do not manufacture a tangible product or a necessity like bread, meat, produce, energy, shelter or security.

Ok, point taken with caveats. Neither my wife nor I produce products which are required for the immediate maintenance of life.

She does, however, produce masks for local distribution, so there is that.

Now, in my own case, my employer seems to consider what my team does from home to be essential to their continued operation. And as my employer is a hospital chain currently treating COVID-19 patients (among others), I'd say at least that there's "essential" and then there's "mostly essential".

Nonessential (adj) means 'unimportant' and 'unnecessary' and most of us are:

Well, "unimportant and unnecessary" to whom?

Why do you assume, then, that you can still convince the NECESSARY worker to labour on indefinitely for a mere pittance?

Why do you assume that we assume that?

And why do you assume (elsewhere) that the NECESSARY workers all live in red states. There are plenty of Illinois farms within half a day's drive from my house.

Expect a general strike soon.

That's one of those things (like hyperinflation) that I used to expect all the time, but never seems to happen.

scidata said...

The states are responsible for obtaining their own ventilators.
FEMA is buying up all the ventilators, effectively blocking the states from getting them.
It's almost as if some Federal entity is being insincere.

Caroll said...

If we are all watching TV I suggest going to Amazon and watching the program Regenesis. It is a Canadian Program that ran from 2004 to 2008. It is still relevant today. If follows a fictitious trilateral governmental agency. The agency, Norbac studies biological threats to the US, Canada and Mexico. The first three episodes deal with an engineered contagious virus. IMHO is it well worth watching.

Dwight Williams said...

We need a real NorBAC if we don't already have one.

Larry Hart said...


The states are responsible for obtaining their own ventilators.
FEMA is buying up all the ventilators, effectively blocking the states from getting them.

When in the course of human events...

It's almost as if some Federal entity is being insincere.

Not so much insincere as..."A third time is enemy action."

David Brin said...

LH, you keep looking for the better interpretations from locumranch, as when he said: "Expect a general strike soon."

LH: "That's one of those things (like hyperinflation) that I used to expect all the time, but never seems to happen."

In fact, locum's raving is a dog-whistle among incels and randian solipsists, xenophobes and Confederate lackeys eager to be unleashed by their oligarch masters. In is the language that preceded Krystalnacht. t is code for killing the smartypants*....

But um, is the idea that California... the state that feeds the nation... will somehow starve without Kasas animal feed?
Even those blue states that are net importers of calories have only to go vegetarian. Give up meat, except hold the fisheries. Seriously do the math.

*Smartypants who happen to be all the folks who know genetics, biology, nuclear science, cyber stuff.

yana said...

Have you noticed the lack of gun nut shoot-em-ups lately? Yeah, other people have too, and some early debate pits the lack of targets versus a tightening of familial bonds and the emotional support they give. There's an easy doctorate out there for someone who figures it out. Or at least chatters about it with lots of footnotes.

Other new norms,

* Obviously, new national healthcare systems in 50 or 60 nations.

* A catastrophic loss of cultural memory will mean nostalgia becomes a viable industry.

* The balance of commerce inre online versus local, has shifted and will only give back half of the gains it made this quarter.

* People are going to wash their hands more often, forever.

* Any event which panics the few will consternate everyone, so everyone will vote in 2020. They'll vote for healthcare, coincidence that the leftward turkey wing is all about that thing.

* National shortage of teachers is suddenly fixed, as 50 million Moms attempt home-schooling, and 450,000 of them discover they've a knack for it.

* Commercial real estate collapses in value as telework proves to be not only prudent in times of plague, but downright profitable.

* Just a couple years after 51% of people live in cities, 10 billion sqft of downtown commercial space will convert to residential. No stopping us now.

* Air travel explodes as the recent nebulous yen for experiences over possessions becomes the American Dream. Recall my earlier comment about hedonism.

* Pangolins and civets and bats no longer fear that humans will bite them, so they can get on with helping us with our Longest War, against those insidious insects. We already know insects are going to love the warmer temps, seems like killing a bat for dinner is the stupidest and most selfish thing a person could do.

Deuxglass said...

I was born and raised in Ohio and although I no longer live there I believe that we Midwesterners are the best of people. We don’t scare and we rise to the challenge every time.
Duncan, I am glad you liked it. It started out as an explanation of the process but it then took on a life of its own.
Now that MMT is being used in a size had been unthinkable we will have study the ramifications. Saying you can’t do this because there is no money to do it won’t work anymore because everyone knows the Fed just created an ungodly amount of the stuff.

Treebeard, I am sure that lots of city-dwellers would volunteer if given the opportunity. I do believe that some of them have reached their “Goodbye Yellow brick Road” moment. My opinion is that to truly enjoy the big city experience you need to have gobs of money. Otherwise it’s not worth it.

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

California accounts for only 12% of total US food production by value. It does not feed the nation. The Midwest accounts for over 40%.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

LH, you keep looking for the better interpretations from locumranch, as when he said: "Expect a general strike soon."

It's more accurate to say I keep looking for ways to demonstrate that even the better interpretations are wrong.

David Brin said...

Deuxglass fair point and keep using stats to keep me honest. But seriously, have you tried subtracting animal feed?

TheMadLibrarian said...

Don't forget that much corn is being turned into ethanol for gasoline additives, although the last couple of years' crap weather may have made a dent in that, among other things like soy and wheat...

Keith Halperin said...

@ yana said:
"...How the hell does a pangolin get within SOCIAL distance of a bat?"
Well, it was last call and the pangolin thought:"Hey, they're not really my type, but we're both mammals, so WTF..."

@Dr. Brin:
A bat, a pangolin, and a civet go into a wet market and the civet says: *...

Stay Well,

Keith "Catching COVID-19 is Easy; It's Comedy That's Hard" Halperin

*Dr. Brin, you're the creative one- take it from here...

Acacia H. said...

Greetings from the lands of plague and misery!

So for two days now I've not felt like something someone stepped in and then rubbed across five lawns, two pavements, and three sand lots. The truly important thing seems to be hydrating yourself. That said, my breath still bubbles in my lungs and I'm still coughing. But at least I'm not completely fatigued!

I probably should still take another day off to be safe. I mean, apparently I have just shy of 240 hours of sick time saved up even after having taken eight days off. At this rate, I probably could just use sick time for when I eventually have bottom surgery to finish transitioning rather than disability leave or the like.


I look at Trump's decision to extend the Social Distancing to the end of April instead of ending it by Easter and I have to wonder if someone explained in small words what the economic impact of the death of 1,000,000 or more Americans in a three-month period of time would be. He was all for the Stock Market and all that but really, the moment this thing spreads into the rural regions (and it will, thanks to Republican intransigence and a refusal to do the right thing when it comes to stopping a pandemic, compared to stripping women and minorities of their bodily autonomy and legal rights) you're going to see a lot of people dying among Trump's demographic.

If 1% of America's population dies, it's going to devastate the economy. If 4% died because some folk decided profits were more important than human health, then it would be a greater hit than the Great Depression.


As an aside, I'd been speculating on the lack of school shootings. I suspect we're instead going to have an increase in murder-suicides instead as these young punks freak out and decide they're going to go out now while healthy and make sure no one in their families gets ill either.

Then again, I suspect at times I undoubtedly make the Ent and Locu look like stark raving optimists....


David Brin said...

Yep. Subtract animal feed and ethanol. The bread basket that remains is important and merits our love and respect! But they got no basis to make threats. So ecotopia goes pisco-vegetarian and electric cars -- and feeds itself just fine. Which is why it is only imbeciles who tayyer about coercing us with threats of a "general strike."

duncan cairncross said...

I have just heard a story going around that the ventilators are not a problem for a bad reason

The story is that once somebody needs a ventilator then they have almost no chance of survival - and that 99% of the people put on ventilators are still on ventilators

So a shortage of ventilators will NOT result in an increase in the death rate

Any of you guys have any actual experience/data to confirm or contradict that?

Cari Burstein said...

I'd agree that a large percentage of people who can do their work from home would fall under the category of non-essential. Certainly I already stated that we'd get along just fine without the work of the people in my immediate family. I do think empty streets aren't really a good measure of how many people are still working.

I disagree with the definition of non-essential as being applied to anything that can be done remotely however, there are many jobs that are rather important right now that can be done with minimal in-person human interaction. For example the people who handle the coordination of dealing with emergency calls in theory could do their work via home terminals (I'm not sure if they are currently equipped to do so currently). A lot of initial medical consultations are currently being done via the internet. Coordinating how to get the various critical supplies and foodstuffs from one place to another is presumably mostly a desk job that could be done remotely, and yet without people doing those tasks there'd be a lot of dangerous downstream effects. The internet and other critical infrastructure are all important for a variety of things right now, and quite a lot of the maintenance of that can be done via remote access. There are also a lot of people working hard on analysis of data related to this crisis to try to find ways to address the various problems cropping up, and a lot of that can probably be done from a distance.

Defining essential as only what can be physically produced is too narrow a definition. There are a lot of interconnected parts in modern society necessary to connect the physically needed items to all the people who need them.

The people who do have to go out and work in this mess in person, especially in the under-appreciated and under paid fields like picking our produce, stocking our grocery shelves, cleaning the stores and the hospitals deserve our respect and our cooperation right now. The best we can do for them is to make things as easy as possible for them (which means don't do things like dumping gloves on the ground in the parking lots of your grocery store). I hope they're getting added pay right now, I know a lot of them don't have sick leave, insurance, etc.

I've heard Amazon and Instacart workers are both talking about strikes (possibly already striking already) due to conditions they're currently in. I hope they get the help they need.

I do agree that a large percentage of what we employ people for in the United States is work that is not essential to our survival. That's kind of how civilizations work. When you have a large enough civilization you can afford to redirect some of the "must do to survive" resources to other endeavors due to the economies of scale produced by them. The more technology we've developed, the more efficiently we've been able to produce our resources critical to survival which has freed up quite a lot of resources for everything else. In theory we could get by with a very small percentage of the population doing the actual work.

The problem lies in how to distribute resources effectively when human personalities are involved. The way we've currently been tackling this is by providing incentives to people to participate in the economy, to generate demand excessive to what we need so we can keep the economic engine running and employ people to produce that which we don't need so they can keep buying stuff. The unfortunate part (aside from the environmental problems this creates) is that it pushes us to also not ensure everyone has the basic building blocks of survival, under the theory that we need the price signals in the market to distribute effectively. I don't know what the right solution is, but it's clear that our current approach considers the risk of breaking the economic engine to normally be a higher priority than ensuring people have the essentials.

David Brin said...

We all knew there were mob connections. Indeed, the thing the Trumpists fear most is release of the full swathe of documents from Deutsche Bank, proving a billion dollars of Russian oligarch mafia rescued the family from their multiple bankruptcies. Still, this book excerpt shows how far back it goes and a depth of mob links that swirl so thick you'd need more than a respirator... more like a spacesuit... not to choke.

It concludes: "We don’t need more careful legalese. We don’t need more cryptic phrasings along the lines of “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” We need to hear, loud and clear, what the FBI knows. We need to be told, unequivocally, that Trump is an inveterate crook—a real crook; an actual criminal; not just a cute Twitter assertion—and, even more surprising, and contrary to all recent evidence, that he is capable of telling the truth when it serves him."

And Tim, does this come anywhere close to a red line?

David Brin said...

As for "non-essential," we have for more than a century been concocting artificial jobs as ways to use a capitalist economy to basically give everyone a sense of purpose and a way to pay for an increasingly comfortable and excellent life. Automation will make the fiction harder and we may wind up needing Direct Income.

Are my "jobs" "essential?" Let's ask the mega-modelling minds of 500 years from now.who know what made a difference back in the 2020s. No seriously, ask them NOW! Because we're likely in one of their historical simulations.

scidata said...

I've been watching the workers in south Texas running around preparing SN3 for cryo tests, and stacking SN4. Now those are essential jobs.

Ahcuah said...

Slightly related to Dr. Brin's mob comment is a story that does not appear to me to be getting much play: The DOJ handed over to Judge Reggie Walton the unredacted Mueller Report (in response to an FOIA request). The Judge will decide whether the redactions were property authorized.

Here's Raw Story:

And here, of all places, the Washington Examiner:

Jon S. said...

The lack of mass shootings is easily explained.

Everybody's on lockdown. No gatherings of more than ten people. You can't have a mass shooting without a mass to shoot.

David Brin said...

Florida submitted a request on March 11 for 430,000 surgical masks, 180,000 N95 respirators, 82,000 face shields and 238,000 gloves, among other supplies — and received a shipment with everything three days later. Democratic-leaning Massachusetts, which has had a serious outbreak in Boston, has received 17 percent of the protective gear it requested, and super-hard-hit Michigan is being punished for its "woman governor's" impudence in not effusively praising Trump.

Is THIS a "red line"? If not his, then the next outrage, or the next? You need to ask this of every RASR you know, and not let them shrug off each new treason as a New Normal, or wince and make false equivalences. Treason has been proved a thousand fold across 3 years.

And yes, we know why locum accuses us of plotting for his death, without any evidence and diametrically opposite to our characters. Because it is what he would do and what his mad cult is doing, so he assumes we're like him.

locumranch said...

Carl_B is a typical non-essential who asserts his social necessity & importance out of sheer egotism, as do we all, even though the sad truth is that no one -- and I mean 'no one' -- is irreplaceable, especially me.

Neither is any particular political party, city state or nation, even though a partisan David implies otherwise by citing a 1975 hippy rebellion fantasy called 'Ecotopia' (which I've read) wherein Washington, Oregon & California secede from the United States in order to create a progressive utopia of organic foodstuffs, mandatory recycling & healthcare-related sex surrogacy.

Once-was human mortality was a near-universal common knowledge but, sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Western Society went stark raving insane, believing that it was both indispensable (as in 'essential') & immortal.

So, now you cower in your little hidey-holes, too terrified to live & too scared to die, completely undone by a microscopic corona virus that threatens you & your loved ones with a 2% chance of mortality and a 98% chance of survival.

What's that!! A 98% chance of survival & recovery is not 'good enough' for you??

If so, then you're a coward, no matter how much you calculate or rationalise, and so you die a thousand times before your death, but the valiant taste of death but once, and it seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.

Remember you are mortal.


yana said...

Keith Halperin thought:

"A bat, a pangolin, and a civet go into a wet market and the civet says: "

"I got the hook after the pangolin bit off my paw. Now I look like a goddamned pirate. Why the eye patch? Ask the bat, it was the first day i had the hook. I get top bunk this time. (S)Aaaarrrsss"

Alfred Differ said...

CA doesn't feed the nation. We could feed a lot more of them than we do, but it's far cheaper to export to Pacific Rim nations. For certain crops, that isn't the case and we loom large in the US. For others, not so much. What we DO manage to do pretty well is feed ourselves, but not through self-sufficiency. (self-sufficiency is the path to poverty). For that feat... we trade around the Pacific Rim again.

I've done the non-farming-boy-on-the-farm thing. No thanks. Lived in North Dakota for a while and gleaned potatoes. Soil on the east side of the state is the bottom of a former ice age lake that made Lake Superior look like a bathtub. Put a nail in the ground and it becomes a crowbar. Great place for growing things, but I'm not interested. Automate the whole industry please. ASAP. And yes... I'm willing to eat mostly vegetarian.
As for 'essential', that's a game I won't play. No one should be deciding which jobs are essential. I'd prefer a blanket rule and then let people argue for why they should be an exception. Does your activity save lives? Does your activity risk MORE lives? Ask them to make the case and most of us will know who should be staying home.

My particular job is 'essential' for national security, but it is 'not essential' that I show up in person at a office to do it. It's also 'not essential' that I do it every day. There is a sliding scale in there somewhere and since I can adapt my behaviors, I can MITIGATE the risk to me and risks I cause for others. It is 'mitigation' that should capture our attention. Not 'essential.'

David Brin said...

With a shrug, knowing he will not study why or be encouraged to shift in any way... but locum's latgest rant, while psychotic and hostile and revealing a bone-deep spite, was nevertheless an expression of a perspective that has enough merit to be read and added to the pile. There is an element to what he just said.

Though for a fellow who quails at the thought of subjecting any of his assertions to fact-based money wagers to sneer at us as cowards, because we want to learn the methods that will save many lives now and might save us all next time, is rather hypocritical.

Alfred Differ said...

...sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Western Society went stark raving insane, believing that it was both indispensable...

Ha! That happened LONG ago mostly along religious ideas. Nothing new here. Must be when Locumranch grew up enough to become aware of it. 8)

What's that!! A 98% chance of survival & recovery is not 'good enough' for you??

Hmpf. I took a 90% chance of survival coupled to a 90% chance of major side-effect, but my option was near certain death. What my diagnosis stated involved a 50% chance of death at the 5 month (since onset) mark and I was already 3 months in. The odds went to near 100% quickly after that.

What I do NOT take is a 90% chance of survival when my option is near certain survival. Maybe when I was a young man before my forebrain was fully wired into the rest of me to help me see consequences before taking actions, but I'm well past my 25th birthday.

I don't like 98% chances or survival either. Got things to do in an exciting future ahead of us.

A 98% chance taken once a day by a large group of people kills half of them by day 34. Once a year and it's year 34. Choosing that when there are better options results in Darwinian selection.

Cari Burstein said...

Apparently the alternate reality Locum lives in has different text in posts than in this one, since he not only can't read the content of my post (at no point did I say I was essential, in fact I clearly said I wasn't) but he also can't even read my name, or fathom that there are people on the internet who aren't men. Don't worry Locum, you're in good company there, a large percentage of the people on the internet get that wrong.

If I recall he said he was at one point a doctor, in which case I kind of hope he had a better bedside manner for his patients. I can only imagine the kind of peptalks he gave them!

I do hope in his real life he isn't quite such a troll and isn't the guy going around licking the groceries at the supermarket to make a point. Presumably he's not actually as dumb about the point of the flattening the curve approach as he pretends to feed his strawmen.

Larry Hart said...


So, now you cower in your little hidey-holes, too terrified to live & too scared to die, completely undone by a microscopic corona virus that threatens you & your loved ones with a 2% chance of mortality and a 98% chance of survival.

You misread the room entirely. We're not cowering in hidey holes. We were still going out until our mayors and governors made it clear that we were endangering lives by doing so. Not because I might get sick (and yes, probably recover), but because the virus spreads so quickly among the herd that the entire health care system was in danger of being overwhelmed by those who do require medical intervention.

If you were still a practicing physician, you might appreciate the gesture.

What's that!! A 98% chance of survival & recovery is not 'good enough' for you??

Again, no. It's that six million ICU patients might be too much for hospitals and doctors and clinics to handle all at once. You are willfully pretending not to understand the concept of "flattening the curve". If a certain number of people need medical help over (say) two years, it's much less a danger to civilization than if the same number need help over two weeks.

Tacitus said...


I did skim the Trump/Mobster article. I think I'm following the main points.

1. Trump had dealings with mafia related businesses and individuals during his career in casinos and construction in New York and New Jersey.
2. The writer thinks he might also be a Confidential Informer.
3. The writer thinks that would be a very bad thing.

Then he swerves out into Russia, Russia, Russia and I lost interest.

Point number one is likely true. It would be difficult to be in those industries in that time and place and have it not be so.

I believe similar allegations were made against JFK and oddly, Truman. I'm actually more off put by the Reality TV phase of his career.

Certainly valid reasons to not vote for the man in 2016 or 2020. Or by red line are you proposing to impeach him again?

Side question, any regrets pursuing impeachment in Dec/Jan/Feb on what had to have looked even then like a quixotic mission designed mostly to tarnish his a time when efforts to ramp up response to the Wuhan virus were getting underway? I had to have been a distraction.

If your answer is no then feel free to take another run at it, I'm sure it will go well.

Or we can wait a few months and vote. The Democrat alternative choice is, alas, not looking that great either at the moment....unless a sort of (non smoke filled) backroom switcheroo is being considered.


Larry Hart said...

reposting a link from Dr Brin above:

With apologies to Obi-Wan Kenobi, "Who's the more traitorous? The traitor or the traitors who follow him?"

Larry Hart said...

locumranch redux:

So, now you cower in your little hidey-holes, too terrified to live & too scared to die.

Again, you misread the room. After a little over a week of mandated working from home, several of my colleagues were asking, "Is it ok to come into the office one or two days a week?" The answer was no, it's been mandated. If we can work from home, we must work from home.

It's not the work from home people who insist on sheltering in place. It's the people who have to be physically in the office who don't want the rest of us endangering them.

Jon S. said...

Tim. Tim, Tim, Tim.

The disease is called COVID-19. The responsible agent is SARS-CoV-2. But of course you know this.

If you want to be informal, the popular name for both agent and disease is "coronavirus" - inaccurate, as "coronavirus" is a category of virii, but popular. This you also know.

"Wuhan virus" is a racist - well, I was going to call it a racist dogwhistle, but really it's more of a foghorn. But of course you know this too.

And your dodging of the good Doctor's question tells me that for you, there is no red line. You appear to have swallowed the Fla-Vor-Aid. Pity, in the past you've seemed reasonable.

David Brin said...
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Tacitus said...

Jon, Jon, Jon,

Mea culpa, I did know that the term Wuhan would be grating. Disease nomenclature does allow for geographic terms such as Lyme disease, Ebola. I generally use covid-19. For influenza the various H and N antigen terms are more useful. But it is hardly racist to acknowledge that the disease originated in China. Heck for all we know Patient zero might have been a cis white European male.

But for prodding y'all with no good reason to do so, again, I apologize.

Now, as to my ignoring the "red line" question. I beg to differ. I said that assorted aspects of Donald Trump's past business dealings were legitimate reasons to not vote for him. And then went on to ask if by Red Line our genial host meant something else. Such as impeachment. Even David rarely ventures out to the fever swamps that lie beyond the legal and constitutional systems...

You seem big on precision in terminology, I hope you'll acknowledge that it is important in this context as well.

Not sure what Fla-Vo-Aid is. Pretty sure I've never had it. Reasonable is so oft in the eye of the beholder and is often regarded as being a synonym of "agrees with me".

Cheers, I'm off line a while now.


Deuxglass said...

40% of the corn production now goes for ethanol because many years ago there was a fear of being dependent on foreign suppliers of oil. It was also considered an environment-friendly biofuel. Bush upped the subsidies corn acreage rocketed up. That 40% was extra corn planted while the feed corn production stayed the same. We now know that ethanol production for fuel is not ecological at all and should be eliminated and that foreign dependence of oil is unlikely unless an administration decided to eliminate fracking but once a subsidy is in it is almost impossible to take it off. Also the by-product of making ethanol is itself used as feed for cattle, poultry and hogs.
I myself like eating meat and see no reason to stop. Secondly I haven’t heard of farmers going on strike especially in these times. I have heard of those who do work and whose jobs are considered essential for the nation complaining about not having the means to protect themselves as they go about their work. That is a very legitimate complaint and I am for favoring them when it comes to masks and gloves and so forth as well as paying them extra (a quite bit extra) to make up for the added risk they are exposed to. Soldiers in combat zones are paid extra so they should also be paid a bonus.

I couldn’t believe it when the head of WHO urged countries to keep letting airplanes from China land even after the Chinese government knew that the virus was very dangerous and out of control. I can only conclude that their aim was sinister. In the future I will be going through politicians and other leaders’ connections with a fine-toothed comb to see who are beholden to them. I believe there are a lot of compromised elected officials.

David Brin said...

JFK was an era of secret mistresses and secret moderate to low level deal making with mob bosses, even while trying to put them in jail. Boy did he and Bobby pay for it. It was an era of transition - like many others - in which assumptions of the past start to become the no-nos of a new era. Bill Clinton paid for that transition... a good one, by the way! But he shoulda been today the sort of elder statesman Obama is. Except for giving in (3rd base) to a temptation that "rewarded" big male leaders in every generation before his.

So yes, Tim, there's a sliding scale and some inflated contracts and bribe slipping are past skullguggeries you'd expect from a past NYC real estate developer. But it went much farther. The Kushner slum lords fostered real violence on tenants. Becoming a casino man meant levels of mafia stuff VASTLY beyond any 'normal.'

And shrugging off "RUssia, Russia, Russia" is exactly this phase of "I see no red line yet!" Because that one indicts every top Republican.

David Brin said...

Tim, I wrote about impeachment in Polemical Judo and much of what I predicted came true. The ability to the confederates to line up in perfect rows of support for the unsupportable meant that it was a doomed gesture, without a "killing someone on Fifth Avenue" moment... though yes, now he and his supporters are literally killing folks on Fifth Avenue.

We accept you've red-lined to "never voting for" Trump. You are a decent person and probably passed that line early in 2017.

What we are waiting for is acknowledgement of the pure fact that Fox is now a Goebbels-level machine pushing a hypnotic Nuremberg rally, round the clock, waging open war on fact professions, and that at-minimum maybe we should believe our professionals about acts of war pouring at us daily from Moscow, and that most (I won't insist that you asay "all") of the Republican establishment is complicit. And that efforts to portray some kind of false-equivalence with Democrats is - at this point - just a Nuremberg-style Big Lie.

I softened and reduced that paragraph from the levels of outraged certainty that I actual feel, sure. But even that is enough.

Tim, there is an industrialist/ commerce-friendly wing of the Democratic party. That is the raised garden bed from which the roses of your kind of conservatism may yet rise and bloom. It happens to be the ONLY force in American life that genuinely believes in fiscal prudence and has a track record of fostering creative/competitive enterprise. (The GOP does NOT and I offer huge wager stakes.)

We don't need you to say "I won't vote for Trump." We need you to get mad and to help us defeat outright and open and lethal treason.

Dennis M Davidson said...

I read the same article. Thought it was sloppy and beside the point. Everyday politics and the mob were much more entwined 60-70 years ago than now. What's alarming to me is that Trump has been running a white-collar criminal enterprise since at least 1970. And it continues to this day. Except now he has the GOP covering for him. Trump did promise to release his tax records, then lied about that promise. What is he hiding? Why so many lies?

Regarding impeachment as a method to tarnish Trump's record:
Really? Is this a joke? Trump's record of threatening his own ambassadors. Making mob-like threats of execution at WH civil servants and military staff. Threatening journalists while praising promoters of conspiracy theories. Tarnishing that record? That record needed to be said out loud, reported on, and documented in such a way that it couldn't be buried under Trump's lies and BS. Impeachment by the democrats was necessary because the Republicans didn't have the guts or ethics to impeach Trump in January 2017. It was their responsibility to remove Trump and they failed.

Regarding Trump's impeachment as a distraction:
Of course it was a distraction!
+ distraction from watching Fox News.
+ distraction from tweeting threats at his fellow citizens.
+ distraction from his tax fraud.
+ distraction from his bank fraud.
+ distraction from his spreading false information about coronavirus.

and more recent days:
+ distraction from coordinating a national effort for medical supplies.
+ distraction from lying about availability of coronavirus tests.
+ distraction from saying everyone that wants a test, gets a test.
+ distraction from hundreds of people daily being denied coronavirus tests.
+ distraction from falsely claiming that NYC has more ventilators than they need.
+ distraction from dragging his feet on the Defense Production Act for this pandemic.

Trump has so many distractions. Maybe, for once in his life, he could focus and do his job. Or resign and let a President Pence do it. Of course, they could both resign. Then we'd have President Pelosi for the next 10 month. She'd get the job done.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"What's that!! A 98% chance of survival & recovery is not 'good enough' for you??"

Would you be posting to this board if there was a one in fifty chance it could kill you?

Larry Hart said...

Tim Wolter:

Certainly valid reasons to not vote for the man in 2016 or 2020. Or by red line are you proposing to impeach him again?

At this point, I think all Dr Brin is asking for is a point at which you no longer believe that the foibles of this president are just like those of any other, and acknowledge that whether or not his lickspittles in congress or the justice department or the courts will do anything about it, the man is not performing the duties of the office.

By filling orders for emergency resources only for his supporters and shortchanging or blowing off my state, he is being criminally malfeasant in the office of the presidency. In a rational democracy, he would have been impeached/convicted/removed or 25th-amendmented already. If not that, he would be overwhelmingly voted out of office by the 70% who live in 30% of the states instead of kept in office by the 30% who live in 70% of the states.

If removal from office is not possible in these most egregious of circumstances, then are you suggesting another remedy?

jim said...

Rather than thinking our problems require us doing ever more, more, more…….
The current situation reveals that many of our problems can be reduced if we do less.
Less energy
Less stuff
Less stimulation

Take for example the problem of Fox News, they are currently having big issues with advertising dollars ( they are not alone, add supported media is having a lot of issues right now). Far fewer people/ organizations want to advertise now. For those who do not like what Fox has done to our collective discourse and want a good way to reduce Fox’s income stream, cut your cable cord. Some of your cable bill goes to Fox New for its content, these cable fees are a major source of revenue for Fox, not just advertising. So do less (by cutting your cable bill) and help defund a bad actor.

You will not regret cutting the cord, 1/3 of the time you spent was enduring advertising. And something like Netflix is a really good substitute for watching the shows you want.

So do less,
Save some money
And hurt Fox’s bottom line at the same time

(it is almost enough to make me believe is positive sum interactions ;-)

Larry Hart said...


...Republicans didn't have the guts or ethics to impeach Trump in January 2017. It was their responsibility to remove Trump and they failed.

There's an old episode of The West Wing--one that sticks in my mind even without having seen it recently--in which President Bartlet comes to realize that, because all other outlets have been foreclosed, the only option he has for dealing with an ostensibly-friendly foreign leader who has sponsored acts of terrorism on US soil is to order the guy's assassination. In a fit of moral quandary, he laments to his chief of staff, Leo, "Why do I have to [do that]?", to which Leo's sober response is "Because you won."

Under the Constitution, congressional Republicans had to wrestle Benedict Donald's hands off of the levers of power because "they won" and the action was required by the congress that they had been elected to. "I don't want to" or "It's not politically advantageous for our party" is not an excuse for refusing to uphold one's oath of office.

Not only is Trump derelict in his own duty, but so are the congressional Republicans and right-wing talkers who carry his water, as are the voters who support all of them.


Tim H. said...

The damndest things come out of Trump's mouth:
Once upon a time the GOP could win with their party's platform, and no more than the usual cheating in a human endeavor, theoretically, they could do so again. Not holding my breath for that.

Larry Hart said...

Tim H's Guardian article above is worth the read:

“The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” Trump said during an appearance on Fox & Friends.
Trump’s Monday comments showed he saw voter suppression as part of his re-election strategy, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) said in a statement Monday. “Ensuring that Americans can vote during the Covid-19 crisis is fundamental to maintaining our democracy. It is shocking that Trump is essentially admitting that when the American people vote, Republican lose,” said Xochitl Hinojosa, a DNC spokeswoman. “Trump knows that suppressing the vote is the only way he and Republicans win in November.”

David Brin said...




And if you guys deem the ideas in the next one to be worthwhile... share it!


Кал said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Кал said...

(Please delete my previous comment; this is a fuller version of it.)

Nobody seems to mention hugging/kissing, so lemme have a go. :)

I believe they will not go, and indeed should not. We will still need that immunity they help us build--maybe more than ever, after spending so much time in our own isolated microworld. And the oxytocin. My, the oxytocin.

See what I mean? :)

Cheers from the Human Library,

DanDroid said...