Government Cheese

 

During the early ’80s, part of my cheese business was cutting and packaging government-owned 40-pound cheddar blocks in 5-pound pieces. We also processed 500-pound cheddar cheese barrels into 5-pound American cheese loaves. There was a huge glut of these products in storage and it was getting larger. The Federal government gave it to the states for free distribution. Each state did it differently but the cheese ended up in many households. It was a good product and many people loved it.

Although I am long retired, I sort of keep up with the industry. The Government now has 1.5 billion pounds of cheese in storage again. That’s enough to give 5 pounds to every man, woman, and child in America. Although it disrupts normal supply channels it may be time for the COVID-19 cheese giveaway. What say you, Ricochet?

Member Post

 

Today’s eye-grabbing news (and inspiration for this post) is that the nation’s supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) was depleted during the Obama administration during the H1N1 epidemic (that killed and estimated 12,000) and never restocked. Really? With an FY 2021 discretionary budget request for Health and Human Services (DHHS) of $94.5 billion and a […]

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Day 63: COVID-19 “Shelter-in-Place”

 

[Transcript of unrecorded video broadcast from Rodin on March 23, 2020]

OK, it looks like we’re there. [Scrolls to the paragraph above Worldometer.com table] 194 countries and territories reporting the virus, so I think we have pretty much run out of independent jurisdictions free of the virus.

Good morning, everyone. There is the screengrab for what it’s worth. The USA has nearly 40,000 active cases. New York is the epicenter. Cases are growing elsewhere in the country, of course, but nowhere near what’s happening in New York. A quick look at the state table:

Still waiting for updated Washington state data, but they had 200 additional cases yesterday. Remember they had the first big cluster, followed by California. It took a while for New York to get in the game, but they are really in it now. Of the jurisdictions, it looks like they are the one most in danger of going out of control. The New Jersey numbers seem to be driven by proximity to New York City.

State “lockdowns” “sheltering-in-place” “stay at homes” whatever you want to label it is becoming quite popular at the moment. Even places with less than 1,000 cases are getting into that game. The Johns Hopkins world map is offering finer detail now on the places in the US where the virus is spreading:

Shifting our view back to the world for a moment: Ricochet is one of the best sources for following the epidemic from your home or bunker. Lots of debate over how serious things are, whether the cure is worse than the disease. Even arguments over math.

There appear to be lessons on how to do this without killing your economy. Not clear whether we are going to do that because Democrats prefer to rule over an ash heap than occupy a lesser office in a happy and prosperous nation.

What am I looking at on Ricochet? Well, just about everything. If I log off then I have to work on the honey-do list. Oops, I think she heard that.

So, I am going to have to ring off for the day. Stay safe, eat take out so that at least some restaurant workers have a job, practice social distancing and wash your hands.

[Note: Links to all my COVID-19 posts can be found here.]

Christians Being Defiantly Normal

 

Our Church is very committed, very loving, very devoted to our co-parishioners. I was hoping that our pastor would find a way to have services on Sunday, and he did. We assembled in the parking lot, made a circle of cars and either sat in our cars or stood beside them. Thirty-three cars eventually joined our circle, thus about 50 parishioners.

Pastor Joe stood in the center and gave a wonderful sermon on “Living by Faith, not by Fear” based on II Corinthians 4:7-11.

We sang hymns, we made an offering, we prayed. It was a memorable spiritual event. Near the end, a patrol car entered the parking lot but we were not accosted; one of the deacons spoke to the officer, who told him that she had stopped not to break up the event, but to hear the word.

We are obliged by civil authorities to live in fear and isolation, but there are a thousand ways we can reach out, within and without our communities, and continue to be Christians, and families, and neighbors. Use a little imagination and others will come to mind.

The large building on the right is our Church. It was built in 1915 for a Christian Science congregation and now houses a small Baptist assembly.

I am proud of our pastor beyond words.  May God bless us all.

Coronavirus Calculations: The Perils of Projections

 

There’s a saying that I learned back in the 1980s while studying probability, statistics, and mathematical modeling: “Torture numbers enough and they’ll confess to anything.” It was right up there with “correlation does not imply causation” and “GIGO.” (GIGO stands for garbage in, garbage out.)

As most of you know by now, I’ve been skeptical of the catastrophic projections of the expected progression of the WuFlu. I do not think that the figures presented are an intentional “hoax,” though I suspect that some people and institutions, particularly the major media, have an ideological reason to exaggerate the danger. But I suspect that the bigger problem is the limited amount of information presently available, even to the most sophisticated modelers.

Mathematical modeling is tricky. It is sensitive to a number of choices. The first choice is the mathematical formula selected to model the phenomenon. Typically, there are a great many formulas that might be selected. The second choice – or more often, the second and third and fourth and fifth – are the values selected for various parameters of the mathematical formula.

I’m going to present several hypothetical models of WuFlu spread, to demonstrate how difficult it is to differentiate between such models in the early period. These examples are not intended to be an accurate prediction of the actual progress of the WuFlu. They are intended to demonstrate how it is possible to select several alternative formulas, adjust the parameters so that each appears to be a good fit in the early period, and yet generate predictions that can vary enormously in as little as 2-4 weeks.

I hope that this will be of interest to some of you.

I. What We Expect

A general rule of epidemiology is that disease outbreaks follow an “S-Curve.” This is called Farr’s Law (here and here are two papers describing the rule; I’ll add a brief technical discussion in the comments). If you want to impress your friends, you can use the 50-cent term for an S-Curve, which is “Sigmoid Function.”

Another model assumes “exponential growth,” which means a constant rate of daily increase. For example, an exponential growth model may increase by 10% daily, or 33% daily, or more.

It turns out that, in the early period of many S-Curves, the graph is pretty close to an exponential growth curve. Here is an example:

Notice that in this example, the curves look quite similar until Day 36, then diverge sharply. The S-Curve, in this case, is calibrated to reach a final level of 500,000. I had to truncate the exponential growth curve at Day 41, or the S-Curve graph would have ended up looking like a straight line at the bottom of the graph. This is because, by Day 63 in this graph, the exponential growth function would be approximately 477 million, almost 1,000 times greater than this particular S-Curve.

The S-Curve is a generic term for curves shaped like the one in the graph above. There are several mathematical formulas that follow this general shape (some described at the Wikipedia entry for S-Curves, here).

II. An Example – Evaluation of Three Models

I’ve previously posted graphs showing reported WuFlu cases by country, with my most recent posts focusing on cases per million. In this example, I use the actual data for reported cases by country, per million, in Italy and the US, through yesterday’s reporting (Saturday, March 21, 2020). Each graph starts on the day when the country reaches 10 or more cases per million.

I’ve created three separate mathematical models of the increase in cases per million, which will be labeled Model 1, 2, and 3. I will provide further information about their characteristics later.

Note that these are simplified models for illustration purposes. A true model would be much more complex, and would account for variables such as the rate of infection, the degree of contact between the population, the time lag between infection and the onset of symptoms, and others.

A note on logarithmic scale: I’ll be showing some graphs in normal (linear) scale, and some in logarithmic scale. Logarithmic scale is a bit counter-intuitive, until you’re used to it. The trick is to notice that the increment between intervals on the vertical axis (the y-axis) is not fixed, but grows as you look higher up the axis. So instead of the vertical hash-marks being at 1, 2, 3, and so on, they are at 1, 10, 100, and so on.

The logarithmic scale is not meant to mislead, but it can be misleading if you are not accustomed to it. It has two advantages (at least) in examining phenomena with rapid growth: (1) it makes it easier to differentiate the curves in the early period (the left side of the graph), and (2) it makes it easier to discern whether growth is exponential, because exponential growth appears linear in a logarithmic scale. A disadvantage of logarithmic scaling is that it makes large differences in the late period (the right side of the graph) appear smaller than they actually are.

On to the models. Here is the graph for the first week, in logarithmic scale:

Notice that all 3 models seem pretty accurate in this period, with Model 2 notable for underpredicting in the first few days. Here is how the same information looks in linear scale:

The data in this graph is exactly the same as the first, but the scale is different. Notice that: (1) it is harder to differentiate between the curves in the first few days, and (2) the differences at the end of the week look a bit bigger than in the logarithmic graph.

Now let’s move forward to the second week. The data for the US ends after the first week, because we are only 7 days into the time series (i.e. the US first exceeded 10 cases per million on March 15). Here is the graph for the second week, in linear scale:

Notice that all 3 models are significantly over-predicting the course of the disease in Italy (dark blue). Model 2 is the worst, over-estimating by a factor of about 5. Model 1 is the best, but even this model is about twice the actual figure.

Lesson 1: A model that looks accurate for the first week can be
quite inaccurate just one week later.

On to the third week. Here is the graph, first in logarithmic scale:

Notice how things have changed. All three models continue to significantly over-predict the course of the disease in Italy (dark blue), but Model 2 is curving downward, and is now the most accurate after three weeks, though it was the least accurate after two weeks.

Also notice how all three models don’t appear to wildly overstate the actual case number in Italy – because we’ve switched to a logarithmic scale. Here is how the same data looks in linear scale:

In the linear scale, the huge divergence between Italy’s actual reports, and all three models, becomes clear. Model 2 is now the best, but is about 3 times higher than the actual figure. Model 3 is the worst, approximately 7 times the actual figure, with Model 1 in the middle.

Lesson 2: The model that looked the worst last week can
look the best just one week later.

Three weeks is about all of the data that we have for Italy so far. But let’s run the projections forward for another three weeks, to week 6. Here is how it looks in logarithmic scale:

Notice how Model 2 has leveled off, and Model 1 has grown to surpass Model 3 (on day 36). Italy’s trend line is still below all three models, and curving down slightly, though it appears to be on a path to surpass Model 2 in the next few days. Still, in the logarithmic scale, none of the models look wildly incorrect.

But look at it in the linear scale:

In this scale, the extent of the vast over-estimates generated by Model 1 and Model 3 is apparent. Notice that Model 1 is now predicting about 1.2 million cases per million – in other words, 120% of the population has had the WuFlu after 6 weeks. (This is theoretically possible, I suppose, if it turns out that there are high levels of re-infection, but it seems extremely unlikely.)

Notice further that the projections generated by Model 1 and Model 3 are so huge, by the end of Week 6, that the result of Model 2 appears to be a flat line at the bottom of the graph, and the actual reported figures in the US and Italy are not even visible. By the end of 6 weeks, Model 1 projects about 600 times as many cases as Model 2, and Model 3 projects about 250 times as many cases as Model 2.

Lesson 3: Projections over periods as short as 6 weeks can lead to drastically different
results, which can easily be wrong by a factor of 100 or even 1,000.

III. How The Magic Trick Is Done

Model 1 is an exponential growth model, assuming a daily growth rate of 33%. This is the number that has been pretty widely used in a number of media sources. It is pretty accurate in the very early period, and the US remains above this trend line after the first 7 days. But Model 1 leads to an enormous estimate of the number of cases after just 6 weeks – about 120% of the entire population. Moreover, it is already quite wrong as to Italy – Model 1 projects that Italy would have over 7,000 cases (per million) yesterday, while the true figure is about 885 cases (per million). That is about 8 times the number of cases that Italy has actually reported, after about 3 ½ weeks.

Models 2 and 3 are examples of the generalized logistic function (Wikipedia entry here), which takes the form:

If that makes your eyes glaze over, I don’t blame you. Notice that there are six parameters that can be adjusted (labeled A, B, C, K, Q, and v). Each of these parameters can be adjusted independently. The parameter K is the upper asymptote (when C=1, which I assumed in these two models). Thus, I was able to input, into my formula, a pre-determined maximum number of cases (per million). The independent variable is t (time), and the “e” in the formula is not a parameter, but is the transcendental number e (about 2.7182).

Model 2 was designed to have an upper bound of 2,000 cases per million (i.e. 0.2% of the population). Remember that this was the model that gave the greatest overestimate of actual cases (in Italy) after the first two weeks.

Model 3 was designed to have an upper bound of 500,000 cases per million (i.e. 50% of the population).

It was pretty easy for me to adjust the parameters of these models to be fairly accurate over the first week or two, compared to actual reported cases in Italy.

IV. What Difference Does It Make

The problem, at present, is that we are being presented with quite alarming projections of the progress of the WuFlu. It appears that our President, and other leaders, are making major decisions on the basis of such information. Specifically, there was a report released by Imperial College London (here), which included a projection of approximately 2.2 million deaths in the US (page 7). It predicted “deaths per day per 100,000 population” in a graph (page 7), with this prediction passing 5 around mid-May, and peaking at about 17 in early June (you have to estimate these figures from the graph, which will be shown a bit further on).

With a total US population of about 330 million, this implies about 16,500 deaths per day beginning about 8 weeks after release of the report (7 weeks from now), peaking at about 56,000 deaths per day about 11 weeks after release of the report (10 weeks from now).

Is this at all realistic? We have no idea. I don’t think that the doctors who performed the study have any idea. But – they can plug certain assumptions into a model, and out come the results.

It would be nice if the Imperial College report provided a prediction about the daily number of new reported cases, which would allow us to assess, over time, whether reality is following the predictions. The report does predict that 81% of the US population would be infected (page 6), though it did not state when this would occur. The graph shows the number of daily deaths will be declining by mid-June, so presumably, we will be approaching the 81% infection rate by that time – about 90 days from now.

The Imperial College model is much more sophisticated than mine – but it has an even greater number of parameters, none of which are known with confidence. Small changes to any of those parameters might cause huge swings in the predicted spread of the disease.

As an example, I present my Model 4. This is another generalized logistic function, tweaked to accomplish 2 things: (1) to match the disease progression in Italy thus far, and (2) to achieve the 81% ultimate infection rate predicted by the Imperial College report in approximately 90-120 days.

Here are the graphs, starting with the first 24 days (through yesterday, March 21, for Italy):

Is that a great fit or what?

Now here is the projection through 14 weeks – which will be around June 21 in the US:

Remember that this graph is total cases per million, and the model is designed to reach 810,000. With a population of about 330 million, this predicts about 267 million cases over the next 3 months or so. As of yesterday (March 21), there were about 27,000 reported cases in the US and about 54,000 in Italy. Notice that you can’t even see the figures for Italy (data for 24 days) or the US (data for 7 days), because they cannot be distinguished from zero on this scale.

This leads to our final lesson:

Lesson 4: In most complicated mathematical models, you can tweak the
parameters to show almost any result that you want.

As a final demonstration that my Model 4 is quite similar to the Imperial College report, I’ve graphed the expected number of daily deaths. Again, their model is more complex than mine, but my simple assumptions are: 14-day lag between case onset and death; 0.82% death rate. Here is my graph, and the one from the Imperial College report (page 7, Fig 1A), side-by-side:

Pretty uncanny, isn’t it? My graph shows peak death rate a bit higher than the Imperial College report for the US (though very similar for the UK). The total number of estimated deaths in both models is the same, 2.2 million (for the US). Note that this graph shows total daily deaths per 100,000 — so you can multiply that graph by about 3,300 to get the actual projections, which peak at around 75,000 per day in my model and about 56,000 per day in theirs.

V. Conclusion

The point of this post is not to make projections about the spread of the WuFlu, or of the ultimate death toll. The point is to demonstrate how easy it is to put together a mathematical model that will show anything that you might want to show, and that matches the data collected to date.

I want to emphasize again that the Imperial College model is far more complex than mine. I do not have enough information to evaluate it. However, it is projecting an extraordinary spread for this disease, and I am very skeptical of this projection. As demonstrated in Section II, such a projection could easily be wrong by a factor of 100 to 1,000.

I Was Right All Along

 

There are lots of arguments here about whether we really are exponential, or in a best-case or worst-case scenario. Passions are high. And in a month, everyone on this site will be exclaiming how they were right all along. I know, because I am quite sure I will be one of them. Just wanted to get that out there. Indeed, I want it on record that I am the first to announce that I was right. So there.

Every so often we have an argument between dark-age religious fanatics and enlightened atheists, in which the enlightened explain that humanism and love of life do not require any religious text, that principles of decent society are in fact essentially obvious to any decent person.

My answer, speaking without permission on behalf of the great unwashed, is that in times of normality, good people are found everywhere. It is in times of crisis that you need a touchstone text, a document that reminds us of the lines between civilization and barbarism. Those who lack a touchstone find themselves able to justify anything in the moment.

This entire Lung Pao Sicken (WuFlu/Kung Flu/CCP Virus) panic is doing a similar thing, but in peculiar ways. Instead of dividing between the believers and the unbelievers, or even the stupid and the smart, it is opening a chasm between the Collective and the Contrarians.

The Collective are, of course, everyone who, if not quite planning to die themselves, think we need to plan for the Worst Case, and act accordingly. That is still most people out there. I wish it was not. To me, the Collective find themselves able to justify invasions of privacy and freedoms that anyone would have rejected just a few weeks ago. Even the Constitution is no longer a touchstone.

The Contrarians are those who may not be sure of much, but we are sure that most people are wrong most of the time. Contrarians almost reflexively think that this whole situation stinks to high heaven. To us, “Everyone thinks” is invariably a mob mentality, like Climate Change or Eugenics in its day. To at least some of us (after all, some Contrarians don’t even agree with me!), this whole thing is a media plot to bump Trump, or Make the Media Relevant Again, or launch massive government invasions of our rights and liberties.

Until we have the benefit of hindsight, we won’t know who was right. And, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, each of us will righteously proclaim our wisdom a month from now, whatever happens between now and then! You can be quite sure that I will do it again.

Quaran-gesima

 

For us Catholics, Lent is supposed to be a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Its length of forty days leads to its Latin name “Quadragesima.”

During this time of coronavirus, I have been quarantining at home since even before the executive order in New York State and the bishops’ decree there be no public sacraments in churches. It is difficult to say what I think about the bishops’ decision. Part of me agrees with it and part of me is horrified, so mostly I try not to think about it but instead to pray for relief and grace and protection.

Last Thursday our pastor announced that he and other area pastors had been instructed by our local bishop to bring the Blessed Sacrament outside and bless our nation. As our parish’s Facebook page says,

At 12 noon on Thursday, March 19, per the request of Bishop Colacicco to reassure our Parishioners of the continued pastoral solicitude of our Priests, Fr. John along with many other Parish Priests, offered a simple Benediction at the front doors of our church with the Monstrance in hand. The intention was to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness, to ask protection against the spread of the Corona Virus and to end this pandemic. Not to violate the emergency executive order prohibiting gatherings, we were told NOT to notify anyone of this Benediction beforehand, but to publish the Benediction afterwards.

This public act filled me with hope and peace. I rejoiced knowing that this had been done, especially because it was the feast day of St. Joseph, the Terror of Demons!

This time has been very difficult, but at the same time, on a personal note, the forced isolation helps me to realize how much time and energy I put into our parish’s celebration of Lent. As a cantor, I lead many services at our church, which always takes a lot out of me. My children serve on the altar and as lector. We have no outside obligations this year. I will be home all of Holy Week this year. Rather than focusing on the songs and the order of the service as I tend to do when I am responsible for so much during the liturgy, I have leisure to focus on the prayer itself. This is a true blessing, and one of those unintended consequences of this terrible time.

I feel much more peaceful going into Laetare Sunday and rounding the corner of these days as we spin down towards Holy Week. There are no pamphlets to coordinate with the religious ed director or psalms to rehearse or any of the many mundane things that go with the public performance that is part of the Mass. I hate not having the sacraments available to me, but at the same time, the opportunities for grace abound and I have the leisure to see them.

I pray I never live through another Quadragesima like this one and that I can return very very soon to my church and worship our Lord in spirit and in truth, receiving Him sacramentally as well as spiritually, but I also thank the good Lord for His graces during this Quarantine, and His help in making it holy. It is my Quaran-gesima this year.

May you all find peace and blessings this and every day.

Of Monuments and Men (revised)

 

AmericaRegardless of whether the coronavirus itself is a national crisis, Americans suddenly find themselves sinking waist-deep into recessional quicksand as quarantine and shelter-in-place orders pop up in cities across the country when only weeks ago we were treading on rock-solid ground. The fog of the pandemic war is closing in from all sides. Fear is crippling the economy with each tumble of the stock market, each business that closes, and every American that enters unemployment. We are constantly bombarded with statistics predicting doomsday – and many of those come from people thirsting for a disaster to lay at the feet of the Trump administration.

Americans with a healthy skepticism of our impending doom at the hands of the WuFlu are branded science deniers or even of being responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. But after wailing about World War III with Iran and North Korea, the destruction of the internet over net neutrality, or the end of American democracy at the hands of Russia, then Ukraine, then Russia why should anyone blindly believe a news media or editorial board who time and again acts like the Boy Who Cried Wolf? Or who all but guaranteed a Hillary Clinton presidency? And pardons to those who think the federal government is the answer to our problems. But to borrow a phrase: the government is the problem. I’m a little suspicious when the biggest entity currently left running is the entity that runs things the worst.

It’s tempting to accept this as too big a problem to not leave to the government. While it is true the federal government can leverage powers to mobilize resources and centralize information for (relatively) quick and uniform circulation, it’s also true that any effort would be lost if not for the will of the average American to fight for survival – both economically and life itself. Americans on the ground choose how we react, and act, in times of strife. We can succumb to overwhelming panic, point fingers in a cowardly game of blame, or we can fight – together.

This is a time of equal uncertainty and risk. We’ve already seen the pettiness of reporters and journalists accusing President Trump of racism for calling out China’s role in spreading the coronavirus. Never Trump ride-or-die loyalists are excusing the Chinese government’s role in the pandemic because their deep dislike of Trump supersedes any rational thought. Many look to the United States government to take action as the last best hope of humanity. It’s a knee jerk reaction for those wanting an excuse to expand the federal government or as an ego boost for a Washington D.C. pundit who thinks he has the solution to fix humanity. But the world isn’t the seed-ground for utopia; President Reagan didn’t believe that political bureaucracy perfects human nature (and I don’t think President Trump does, either). A small group of socioeconomic and cultural elites in Washington can’t plan our lives better than we can for ourselves. It’s keeping power in the people, not the government keeping power from the people. That is part of why Reagan, and Trump, are so despised. It’s the American people who will pull together – must pull together – to achieve victory over fear and desperation. We will follow the guidelines put forth by the CDC, but must not sit idly by and wait for someone to rescue us.

I accept the ugly part of society that will always lash out at the innocent during a crisis; they would throw their own mothers in the crocodile pit if it meant safety for one more day. But I also accept and take comfort in the other side: the customer who bought a bag of dog food for a stranger who just lost her job at a closed casino. A young couple getting groceries for an elderly neighbor. Stores voluntarily opening early for the medically vulnerable. We see it time after time: Christians standing guard outside synagogues after targeted violence, the Cajun Navy rescuing people from flooded homes, firefighters running up the burning stairwells of the World Trade Center on 9/11 as the buildings collapsed around them. It’s standing up with bold determination to help our fellow Americans because it is right and it is good, not because the government-mandated it, but because the average American steps in to fill the void the government cannot.

We will survive this on the sacrifices of the working American who always bears the brunt of economic and political turmoil. Elites who have eyes and fingers attached to their smartphones and opine about having to fire his housekeeper because she might carry the virus preaches sacrifice to the very cleaner, hairdresser, barkeep, server, and ticket-taker who are now without jobs. But Americans will find a way to band together as communities, friends, and neighbors, despite our ‘Betters’’ efforts to divide us by race, class, religion, and political affiliation. We won’t do it by licking the boots of the Chinese. We won’t do it by rolling over like the Europeans, foregoing treatment to administer Last Rites to a generation who survived the Great Depression and won the Second World War. We will do it because Americans defy the odds. We fight like our lives depend on it because it does. We are the America that righted the wrong of slavery, who conquered fascism and communism, who cheered Jackie Owens and the Miracle on Ice.

We are the torchbearers of men like 78-year-old farmer Samuel Whittemore, who on April 19, 1775, was shot in the face by British soldiers, bayoneted six times and clubbed in the head with the butts of their muskets after he shot three Boston-bound British soldiers near his house. The stubborn Revolutionary refused to die, living another 18 years even though the British musket had torn away part of his face. In an era when monuments are torn down, this man as much as any is deserving of his own marker. But you won’t find his likeness at the National Mall or his bust in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol just like there is no monument to the people who wake up every day facing uncertainty, hardship, and loss, but who rise anyway and do their best to be stewards of a nation of hope and opportunity. That The American doesn’t have a monument is precisely why we don’t need one: we are living testaments to the enduring spirit of freedom. We work thanklessly to make certain liberty isn’t smothered by the blanket of security.

President Theodore Roosevelt’s words may as well be etched in the hearts of those Americans who rise to the challenge, despite the risk of failure, and fight on:

It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

-April 23, 1910 “Citizenship in a Republic”

Member Post

 

Please notice my choice of prepositions: I’m sick of the corona virus, not sick from it. Specifically, I’m so very tired of reading about it on Ricochet. But I should be even more specific. I do watch for specific posters (I’m looking at you @rodin and Jerry Giordano (@arizonapatriot) because I can keep updated on […]

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QOTD: Further Language from Truthful James

 

I have taken life-long satisfaction in the writings of L. M. Montgomery, a Canadian author most well known for Anne of Green Gables. Re-reading one of her collections of short stories the other day (Chronicles of Avonlea*), I came across the following quote:

Do I sleep, do I dream, do I wonder and doubt?
Is things what they seem, or is visions about?

Although I’ve read that story multiple times, for the first time I decided to hunt down the provenance of the quote.

The quote is the first line of a poem by the American poet Francis Brett Harte, known as Bret Harte. Harte was a New Yorker who moved to California in 1853 and worked a series of jobs from mining to telegraph delivery to journalist. Harte was covering for his boss, the editor of the Northern Californian newspaper in San Francisco, when the 1860 massacre of the Wiyot tribe in northern California, around Humboldt Bay, occurred. Harte published a blistering condemnation of the massacre, with explicit description of the dead, although the popular opinion of the day was different. No one was ever persecuted for the massacre, which killed women and children with knives, clubs and hatchets so as not by gunshots to notify the men, who were off performing ceremonial religious rites.

Harte fled town fearing for his life after a number of death threats for this editorial. He was able to return, and continued writing, although no longer journalism. Instead, he published some satirical works, including a poem called, “Plain Language from Truthful James,” a tale of two miners, Bill Nye and Ah Sin, cheating each other at cards. The poem was wildly popular, although annoyingly for Harte, many of its fans mistakenly thought Harte was belittling the Chinese when he was in fact satirizing the idea that the Chinese were too dumb to cheat at cards, and the poem became known as “The Heathen Chinee” from one of its lines.

The run-away popularity of this poem resulted in all sorts of knick-knacks related to it, including this ceramic pitcher produced in 1875. Note the aces falling from the sleeve of the Chinese character:

Harte returned to the narrator, Truthful James, for later works, including the 1870 poem from which my quote came, “Further Language from Truthful James.”

Do I sleep? Do I dream?
Do I wonder and doubt?
Is things what they seem?
Or is visions about?
Is our civilization a failure?
Or is the Caucasian played out?

Which expressions are strong;
Yet would feebly imply
Some account of a wrong–
Not to call it a lie–
As was worked off on William, my pardner,
And the same being W. Nye.

He came down to the Ford
On the very same day
Of that lottery drawed
By those sharps at the Bay;
And he says to me, “Truthful, how goes it?”
I replied, “It is far, far from gay;

“For the camp has gone wild
On this lottery game,
And has even beguiled
‘Injin Dick’ by the same.”
Then said Nye to me, “Injins is pizen:
But what is his number, eh, James?”

I replied, “7, 2,
9, 8, 4 is his hand;”
when he started, and drew
Out a list, which he scanned;
Then he softly went for his revolver
With language I cannot command.

Then I said, “William Nye!”
But he turned upon me
And the look in his eye
Was quite painful to see;
And he says, “You mistake; this poor Injin
I protects from such sharps as YOU be!”

I was shocked and withdrew
But I grieve to relate,
When he next met my view
Injin Dick was his mate;
And the two around town was a-lying
In a frightfully dissolute state.

Which the war dance they had
Round a tree in the Bend
Was a sight that was sad;
And it seemed that the end
Would not justify the proceedings,
As I quiet remarked to a friend.

For that Injin he fled
The next day to his band;
And we found William spread
Very loose on the strand,
With a peaceful-like smile on his features,
And a dollar greenback in his hand.

Which the same, when rolled out,
We observed with surprise,
Was what he, no doubt,
Thought the number and prize–
Them figures in red in the corner,
Which the number of notes specifies.

Was it guile, or a dream?
Is it Nye that I doubt?
Are things what they seem?
Or is visions about?
Is our civilization a failure?
Or is the Caucasian played out?

In 1877, Harte and Mark Twain collaborated on a play based on “The Heathen Chinee” intended to combat anti-Chinese sentiment, but it was not a success. Harte and Twain had a subsequent falling out, in which Twain accused Harte of insincerity, making up the dialect for his miners, and borrowing money from friends without intended to repay it. Twain referred to Harte as “The Great Bilk.” Harte’s lack of popularity in the United States led to many financial setbacks, but in the late 1870s he moved to England where his stories from the American West retained their popularity.

I’d never heard of Harte before today, but I’m glad I sussed out the background of that quote, which I’d read for years without ever possessing the mental curiosity to explore.

Thanks, Quote of the Day series for the inspiration!

* The story I was reading was “The Winning of Lucinda,” a charming story about misunderstanding and stubbornness being overcome.

A Boy Falls into the Sea

 

In the last few days, this Coronavirus thing has awakened in my mind the image of a horse scratching its behind on a tree. After a few days of wondering why I had connected, in some part of my subconscious, a scratching horse with a pandemic, I went to Google and typed in “horse scratching his rear end.”

Nothing. At least nothing more than a bunch of articles on how to stop your horse from constantly scratching his rear end on fences and poles. All good advice, no doubt, but not to my purpose.

I used to teach literature, so I thought the horse-scratching image might come from a poem I had once taught. So this time I went back to Google and typed in “poem: horse scratching his rear end.” Ah, there it was! About ten items down, after more advice about the itchy rear end of horses, I found a reference to a poem by W.H. Auden that contains the image of a horse scratching his rear. The poem was Musee Des Beaux Arts. Google is a miracle.

Ah, it was all coming back. I used to love to teach that poem. How could I have forgotten it? And now as I glanced through the poem, not having read it for thirty or so years, I saw why that image of the horse kept rearing up in my subconscious — and why I connected the horse with the Coronavirus. In Auden’s poem, the horse nonchalantly scratches his rear end on a tree while his owner is torturing someone.

The horse is us! We nonchalantly scratch our rear ends (metaphorically, of course) while the Coronavirus leaves suffering in its wake. Auden’s poem is about our ability to go on blissfully with our lives while others are suffering.

Auden points to images in Pieter Bruegel’s painting, The Fall of Icarus, to make that idea come alive. His poem begins with these words: “About suffering they were never wrong,/The Old Masters.” What those Old Masters, in particular Bruegel, were never wrong about was that people suffered while the rest of us are either unaware or don’t care.

I went back to Google to look up the painting, Bruegel’s The Fall of Icarus, that is the source much of the imagery in Auden’s poem, Musee Des Beaux Arts.

It’s a curious painting. The image around which everything revolves is so small it seems almost an afterthought. But if you look hard, you can see two little legs (lower right) disappearing into the sea. Those are the legs of Icarus.

If you remember the myth, Daedalus is a master craftsman who constructs wings so that he and his son can escape the Labyrinth where they were imprisoned. But Daedalus’s son Icarus, full of hubris, flies too close to the sun. The wax that holds his wings together melts, and Icarus falls from the sky into the sea and drowns.

But what really matters in the painting is the reaction of the plowman in the foreground, who tills his soil and ignores the death of the boy. He has a field to plow. The men aboard the ship also ignore the falling boy. They must have seen Icarus falling into the sea, Auden tells us, but they had harbors to reach “and sailed calmly on.”

In the middle of a pandemic, Auden’s (and Brugel’s) theme is a reminder, uncomfortable but totally understandable, that we can go blissfully about our business — like the torturer’s horse, the plowman, the men aboard the sailing ship — while others suffer, sometimes even on a mass scale.

But of course we have to ignore most human suffering. It would overwhelm us if we didn’t. Auden tells us that the Old Masters like Bruegel knew this.

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking.

A horse and a virus — just a few days ago they were somehow linked in my mind. I didn’t know how. It took Google to show me how they fit together.

Postscript One:  When I finished this post, I was struck by how pedestrian Auden’s theme is when it is put into prose — but how nuanced and dramatic the theme is when put into poetry.

Postscript Two: In case you’d like to read Auden’s poem in its  entirety, here it is:

Quote of the Day, March 21: A Sign of the Times…Job Posting

 

The Department of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, invites applications for a tenure-track position at the rank of assistant professor in queer migrations. Research may focus on trans/queer geographies, racialization, decoloniality, and flows of people, ideas, and objects across borders. Of special interest to us are innovative methodological approaches to gender and sexual citizenship, discourses of belonging, and human rights in the context of state and social violence against LGBTQ communities in historical or contemporary national and transnational frames.

Residents of California, may I present your tax dollars at work.

My spell/grammar checker flagged two non-words in this ad, and my brain flagged at least eight unknown, and perhaps unknowable concepts. I would like to meet whomever they hire for this position. It might be indicative of how the “academic” mind works these days.

Two American Heroes, One American Story

 

[Everything I write here is dross. If you ain’t got the time, go to the link at the end. ‘Murica.]

Tired of bad ‘n blue news and data churning. Time for something inspirational.

A couple of themes I’ve mentioned before but have not braided together. After I retired from the military (and a short stint as a private security guy; yeah, no), I cheated by becoming a DOD contractor. Great job, great people–many of whom I’ve known and worked with for years if not decades, and have the utmost respect for. The work my crew does is often thankless, and everyone who ignored us for a year develops, when the time comes for execution, 20/20 hindsight enabled by the tardy appearance of the Good Idea Fairy. Aside from being one of the most productive elements of the unit (which no one really sees, ’cause we’re that good), we are hands down the happiest element of the unit. I’ve been stopped numerous times in the halls, with people saying in a down-low, surreptitious way, “hey, man, please get me into your directorate.” Dude, I’m just a contractor. My piece of the unit is awesome for multiple reasons, but the fountainhead is the boss.

Wayne P. (“Pat”) Richardson is a retired full-bull Colonel. One of the good ones. One of the best. Call sign “Papa Negro,” he is known throughout Central and South America. He helped grow a lot of officers that are now at higher command and Ministerial levels in the region. Last year, at an exercise, one of the Partner Nation general officers pulled up to talk to Papa Negro and assumed a rigid position of attention, and only chillaxed after multiple admonitions to do so.

Pat was introduced to the elephant early. He was a young Ranger lieutenant during the ill-fated Operation EAGLE CLAW, which met with calamity at the Desert One refueling spot.

After the Rangers, Pat went Special Forces and became geographically affiliated with Latin America. He earned a Bronze Star with “V” device (V stands for valor) in El Salvador during the ’80s. [Note: Pat will, when we get deep in our knickers telling war stories, throw an arm over my shoulder and counsel, “Mongo, when the CIA guy leaves your firebase for the night, that’s the night you’re going to get hit.” Yeah, I know/knew that, but it’s good to get validated now and again.]

Pat chose to be a Foreign Affairs Officer (FAO) and served for years as a military member of numerous US Embassies.

So, when he got promoted in that status to Full Bird Colonel, it was a big deal.

There are villages and orphanages through Latin America that Pat supports in a private capacity. He’s truly an American hero.

But he was born to an American hero. They paved the way.

Death Is a Trailing Indicator

 

Every time I see one of these apocalyptic exponential projections based on a “doubling of the death rate every two days,” or whatever the current numbers suggest, I want to slap someone. At the moment, and for the next week or so at least, the death count is a trailing indicator of contagion.

It appears to take, on average, from about ten days to two weeks between infection with the Wuhan virus and subsequent death. That suggests that today’s death figures are a proxy for the rate of infection ten days to two weeks ago.

Ten days ago the schools were open, businesses were open, theaters were open, bars were open, colleges were open, and America was going about its business with little concern of infection. Unless one believes that our subsequent efforts have had little effect, one must assume that the rate of new infection has dropped off substantially. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which it hasn’t, outside of one or two super-dense metropolitan areas.

Today’s death figures are an echo of conditions that no longer exist. This will be true for another few days, after which time the death figures will begin to reflect actions begun ten days ago.

I am pretty sure that the nation has never shifted its approach to interpersonal contact as profoundly and abruptly as it did last week. Today’s death figures can barely reflect that. Look at the numbers toward the end of this week. I’m expecting a good Friday report.

Quote of the Day: Amazing Grace

 

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world were discussing whether any one belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. In his forthright manner Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”–From Christianity Today

This post isn’t a theological disquisition on grace, and whether it is solely dispositive of, or required for, one’s excellent and non-horribly-thermal, prospects in the afterlife. Or about whether or not “works” count even more than faith or grace, or if they count as much, or if they count not at all. I have neither the scholarly chops, nor the temerity to expound on those subjects, beyond a rather insistent gut hunch that, in accepting Christ as my savior, I’m bound to give His precepts on how to live a Christian life at least a pretty good college try, and that many of those precepts involve living a certain way, and doing certain things (and not doing certain other things). He may not be all about the old quid pro quo, but I guess I am, somewhat anyway, and I do my very imperfect best from day-to-day to try to hold up my end of the deal. He may have infinite patience, but I have deeply-ingrained ideas about things like fairness, and I just don’t think it’s right or proper to try His patience too far.

This post is about a time in my life when, I believe, I saw God’s grace in action. It’s a story whose roots go back almost forty years:

No one would have predicted, in July of 1981 when Mr. She and I got married, that Monica and I would become allies, let alone friends. After all, she was the “ex.” And I was the “next.”

And, at first, things were extraordinarily difficult. I won’t go into much detail here, because it doesn’t matter anymore. It probably never did. Suffice it to say that people were not at their best with each other, that there were those on all sides of the family who acted horribly, people who stirred the pot, people who couldn’t let go of the past, and people who acted in deliberately and maliciously, and publicly, hurtful and shaming ways towards others. Mr. She’s father (a “devout alcoholic” to use Mr. She’s description of his Dad) was particularly unhelpful, given to phoning up both Monica and me in the dead of night and threatening to burn our respective houses down; and then phoning only a few minutes later to tell us that he had (nonexistent) bags full of money which he was going to drop off for us at various Pittsburgh landmarks. At least he was even-handed in his inconsistency, so there’s that.

Through it all, Monica and I tried to find our way, tried to suppress our mutual suspicion and mistrust, and tried to do what was right for the children. I have plenty of things in my life I’ve done that were quite stupid, and many that I regret: the way I treated Monica and her children has never been one of them. And I know, on Monica’s part, that everything she did was done for the benefit of the kids, too. And, on that basis, we began to forge a path forward, not quite together, but at least going in the same direction, and with a view to serving the same purpose.

Six months after I married, Michael (14 years old at the time) was horribly injured in an accident. He was on a bicycle, was hit by a car, and was not expected to survive. That catastrophic, near-tragic, event helped our family “blend,” as we became dependent on each other over the subsequent months and years of Michael’s hospitalization and rehabilitation. The petty bickering, meanness, and one-upmanship began to recede, and a life of cooperation and friendliness began to take its place. Communication between the two families improved, and we worked together on Michael’s recovery, and in trying to help each other with his older brother (Sam’s) serious mental illness. In 1984, in an extraordinarily generous move, Monica allowed Jenny, then 14 years old herself, to travel to England with my mother-in-law and me for a vacation and to meet my family. It became a benchmark of cooperation for us, and a wonderful memory for decades to follow.

Monica was a gifted teacher of small children, and she taught at a Catholic elementary school not far from where she and the children lived. The parish, and the children, loved her. But in the early 1980s, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her health began to decline. A small lady, she was never physically robust. Her strength came from her faith. And it was strong. And unwavering. And so was she.

But as her cancer progressed, she became more and more frail, and more and more tiny, until I used to worry that she’d blow away or simply vanish in a puff of smoke. In all respects but the physical, she was fierce–a force to be reckoned with when it came to loving her family, especially her children, and in loving and doing good works for her Church. One of the proudest days of her life coalesced those loves at Jenny’s wedding in October of 1999 (the fact that the ceremony took place on Halloween may have had an effect on subsequent events in that marriage, but that’s an entirely different story . . . ). I’ve never been prouder than I was when Jenny asked me to re-do the back of her wedding dress and put covered buttons and loops on as the fasteners (quite a project). And I’ve never been so humbled as I was when Monica asked me to take in, and re-hem, her dress for the day so that it would better fit her increasingly slight and frail frame.

She was strong.

A few months after Jenny’s wedding, Sam cycled into a very troubled schizophrenic break, and moved back in with his mother. Monica and I talked often about his condition, and about how hard it was to help him, and I told her that I’d do my best for Sam. And Michael. And Jenny. And when Sam, who’d really gone off the deep end in March of 2000, took to calling us up in the dead of night and insisting on a “family conference” to discuss our problems, Monica called and said, “let’s set this up and see if we can get him past this stage.” I agreed.

Twenty years ago, in March of 2000, Mr. She and I presented ourselves at Monica’s house. It was the house which Mr. She and she (Monica) had shared, and in which the kids had grown up. Michael was there. Jenny was there. Sam was there but didn’t attend, preferring to stay in the living room, apart. Monica had made some plates of snacks, and the rest of us, sans Sam, sat around the kitchen table, and had a lovely chat, mostly focusing on funny stories, like the time Michael convinced Jenny to fill the Christmas tree holder with creme-de-menthe, which he said would make the tree smell nice, and make it green, or the time Michael (who was a bit of a hellion) bit the teacher, or the time Mr. She (in an excess of helpfulness) declared that he was going to take overfilling the dishwasher and doing the dishes. That was the time, after a week or so of sticky dishes, I did some investigation and found that he was washing the dishes in “Country Time” lemonade mix. (“Well!” he insisted. “You said the powder was in a cylindrical cardboard tub in the kitchen . . . . “)

During this lovely meeting, which would have been enough in itself, we talked about favorite restaurants, and Monica said, “you know, I’ve never eaten at a Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and I’ve always wanted to.”

Jenny and I looked at each other. We have a super-secret, double-spy look we’ve developed over the decades. It says “We can make this happen!”  So we did.

And on March 18, 2000, the entire family met at the recently-opened Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Pittsburgh, and we had one of the nicest, loveliest, most memorable, dinners I’ve ever had in my life. I’ll always remember every moment of it. It was sweet. It was salvific. It was grace.

One thing I did not know at the time, was that the day before, St. Patrick’s Day, Jenny had been to see her mother, and in a vignette she recounts in a searing and moving memoir of the time:

She and I watch The Quiet Man, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I see her still dreaming of a man who would love her like John Wayne does Maureen O’Hara. In a possessive, open-to-the- whole-town, way. In a rough around the edges but solid, accountable, steady, whole-heart, permanence.

She refers, in her way, to scripture. “He pursues her like a jealous husband.”

“So he does, Mom. I wish it had been the same for you.”

“I don’t know that anyone really loves anyone that way,” she says, “it’s why we have Christ… and the movies.”

She was strong.

Three days after our wonderful dinner at Ruth’s Chris, Mr. She and I received a “thank you” note from Monica. A treasure.

The next morning, Jenny called to say that her mother had fallen down the stairs the previous night, that she had hit her head on the corner of a shelf, and then on the floor, and that she was in the Mercy Hospital ICU.

She had a fractured skull and a broken collarbone. We visited, and in a private moment between them, Mr. She and Monica somehow made everything right between them. (Did I mention, she was strong?) I had a conversation with her too.

And on the 25th of March 2000, one short week after our dinner, Monica died.

In that memoir that I mentioned above, Jenny wrote:

“. . . in nothing less than a surprise cinematic finish, she fell down those same stairs. Hit her head, hard, on the wood floor below, and died. Her death certificate reads blunt trauma to the head. She’d have been proud that it didn’t say cancer.”

Oh, it was cinematic, alright. But also, I’ll never believe it was anything other than God’s grace. Showered upon all of us. Monica’s work on this earth was done. And she went home. And I have no doubt that when she arrived at the Pearly Gates, St. Peter started out with Matthew 25:23, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and perhaps, in a lighter moment progressed to the Irish Blessing she loved so much:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

I wish that for all those I’ve ever loved.

PS: The image at the top of this post is St. Monica of Hippo. Mother of St. Augustine. A mother. Monica would have liked that, I think.

Coronavirus by Country: March 21 Update

 

I have a new chart today and an update of a prior chart. As before, I’m reporting on South Korea, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, the US, and the UK. Here is a bar chart of the average daily growth rate of reported WuFlu cases, by country, in five-day increments.

The general trend is downward, which is good news, indicating that the growth is not following an exponential curve.

The US is the exception. This should not be surprising, because the US is well behind most of the other countries listed, in the progression of the disease. The latest figures are of concern, however, so let’s all pray for a downward trend soon.

The shorter-term trend in the US is a bit more favorable. Our growth rate peaked at 48.9% on March 19, declined to 40.6% yesterday, and declined again to 37.7% today.

Here is an update of the graph that I first posted yesterday, showing total reported cases per million, with the trend line starting when each country first surpassed 10 cases per million.

Using this trend line, the US is 28 days behind S. Korea, 24 days behind Italy, 16 days behind France, 15 days behind Spain, 14 days behind Germany, and 2 days behind the UK.

My data source is Worldometer for both WuFlu cases (here) and population (here).

If you like the graphs, please “like” the post. I’m not fishing for praise, but trying to calibrate whether I’m providing useful information, or am becoming annoying. I do tend to excel at the latter.

Hardpoints in the War on Coronavirus

 

President Trump now considers himself a wartime president. Appropriate, I think. The inestimable Victor Davis Hanson thinks that war is a valid metaphor for combatting the COVID-19 virus.

Okay, let’s do that. Later, after we’ve secured ourselves, we can go on the offensive (in this case, that means get proactive) and ensure that we annihilate China’s ability to control worldwide supply chains and production (in this case, the production of medical supplies). First, though, defense. If this is a type of war, why don’t we secure Fortress America the same way we secure our Army posts, our air bases, our Naval stations, and our OCONUS Forward Operating Bases?

All of these installations require varying degrees of security, but we don’t lock down the whole installation all the time. That would be, as the kids today say, unsustainable. So, too, is locking down all of the US.

Too many security impediments to personnel getting to their place of work decrements duty performance efficacy and efficiency. Plus, military dependents (see, I’m no sexist; I didn’t say “wives”) can’t make the school carpools, the soccer practices, the commissary runs. No bueno. So an ID card check at the front gate works to get people with a legit purpose on post the ability to move on and off with a minimum of friction. Visitors without an ID card have the privilege of pulling over for a vehicle search and a paperwork check (if you forgot to renew your registration this year, sorry, you’re not getting on).

But, security appropriate for the front gate is not optimal for those areas that may be targeted by the threat. So, security forces create hardpoints with which to protect vulnerable parts of the installation. It’s easier to get onto base than onto the (military) fuel point. It’s easier to get onto the fuel point than it is to get into the Ammunition Holding Area. You may have access to the AHA, but not the flight line. And you’ll definitely never get into a SCIF without proper ID/credentials etc.

Some hardpoints within installations have dedicated armed security with whole different Rules of Engagement than the bubbas at the front gate.

Establishing social and economic hardpoints crafted to give us maximum protection of our vulnerabilities while permitting those less prone to the vagaries of the virus to go about doing America’s business should be priority one. Our greatest asset in setting up viable, effective hardpoints is the American people themselves. Sure, there’s always some knucklehead that thinks “this rule doesn’t apply to me.” But in this case, I think there would be a cast of action agents willing to say, “Hey, knucklehead, you stupid?  This rule applies to you.”

Right now, our biggest liability to setting up viable, effective hardpoints is our media. The American people would probably go a long way to making this situation safer for everybody if they could get timely, accurate, relevant information from the news (okay, not that chick in Port St. Lucie who called 911 because McD’s had run out of McNuggets, and her ilk). But we can’t, because our media sucks.

First step in any operation — offensive or defensive — is to perform an intelligence assessment. That is difficult to do with garbage media. Sure, most Ricochetti are switched on and have found their go-to sites for reliable intel. Vast swathes of our population, though, have the now-unreasonable idea that they can switch on the news and get what they need to plan their lives accordingly.

The unwieldy military term for gathering the best information possible to develop the most viable plan to reach the optimal achievable end state (sheesh, talk about unwieldy) is Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment (or JIPOE). This has four steps:

Define the Operational Environment.

Describe the impact of the Operational Environment.

Evaluate the Adversary.

Determine the Adversary Course of Action (given that particular Operating Environment).

It’s pretty simple, even though there are 19 sub-steps total inside those original four steps.

I’m not an epidemiologist, or a virologist or any other kind of scientific or medical guy, but using any kind of paradigmatic template to observe, evaluate and assess the threat and appropriate countermeasures should be well do-able to get the country back to work.

‘Course, it would have been do-able a lot sooner if the lyin’, dog-eating, bat-soup-slurping CHICOM government had come a lot cleaner a lot sooner. But first, security. Then, we get proactive and ensure those commie bastards can never put us over a barrel again.

Back to the Future in the Age of Coronavirus?

 

In desperation, small business people are doing what they can to stay solvent, to stave off government-mandated ruin. One strain of these responses has been a revival of earlier car culture. The drive-in movie and the drive-in diner suddenly have an attraction again. Consider two stories from Texas: one a family restaurant turned drive-in movie theater, and the other a community theater putting on a drive-in live performance. Consider, also, the Sonic restaurant brand.

In “Ingenuity to Beat the Ban,” Aaron Miller told the story of the Butler House restaurant, in Spring, Texas, which put up a large screen television in the parking lot and serves meals, including beer or wine, car side. Modern cars are pre-equipped to support this experience, as we have lots of cup holders. Back in the 1950’s you needed a special tray attached to the side of the car window because there was nowhere to safely put down your drink. Moreover, all cars now have FM radios, so you can even have a low power FM transmission of the audio.

This last feature has been leveraged by a live theater company in Texas. I heard the owner or manager interviewed on the Mark Davis Show this past Friday, and read the Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on Cleburne, Texas:

Artistic director JaceSon Barrus and the community group, Plaza Theatre, in Cleburne shut down their production of “Little House on the Prairie” Saturday because of the coronavirvus.

But the virus isn’t stopping them from putting on a different type of show this Saturday.

For the first time in the 13-year-old history of the company, there will be a drive-up theater production, “Nifty Fifties,” where patrons will watch and listen as they sit in their vehicles.

[…]

Barrus said the Plaza Theatre building will be the backdrop for the stage and patrons will be in the parking lot.

Patrons will listen on an FM radio station.

Social distancing will be observed by performers, but Caitlan Leblo and her husband, Josh, might be a bit closer than the others.

The show is free, but donations will be accepted.

The Plaza Theatre has a large overhand at the entrance, creating a covered stage space. The parking is immediately in front of the entrance, so should allow a small crowd to come and see the show from the bubbles of their closed cars. This is no way to stay in business, even medium term, but gets some visibility and goodwill at low cost. Hopefully, it will draw good donations from those who attend.

Restaurants, with all their employees, are hammered, with the exception of fast-food restaurants that were built for drive-through, and the few remaining drive-in restaurants, most strongly represented by Sonic. Business Wire had a piece this February on Sonic refocusing their advertising towards families:

The corresponding branded spots feature real people and follows four families from across the nation as they go about their routine in the span of “One Day,” – sans script – to capture the hilarious and heartwarming moments that happen on the way to, at and from SONIC.

[…]

SONIC, founded in 1953, is the largest drive-in restaurant brand in the United States with more than 3,500 restaurants in 46 states. Served by SONIC’s iconic Carhops, the restaurant’s expansive, award-winning menu offers unique, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack and drink options for the whole family. SONIC is part of the Inspire Brands family of restaurants. For more information, visit SonicDriveIn.com and InspireBrands.com.

American cars have certainly changed since the 1950s, but their centrality to most Americans’ lives may allow a short revival of drive-in entertainment and food.

Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella

 

All kinds of people visit our gym in this community. Some are very friendly and we kid around and harass each other. And there are those who are shy and distant, rarely making eye contact. But I feel connected to them, too, since we are all older people on a mission to stay healthy.

One couple, in particular, goes to the gym to put in their exercise time and I’ve not seen them speak to anyone else. The fellow is very tall and thin, with a Colonel Sanders beard and mustache. His wife is much shorter, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail. I’d never spoken to either, and if I caught their eyes and smiled, they would respond with a tolerant smile in return.

Now we are all banned from the gym due to the virus. Several of us are walking instead, or walking over and above our usual time. In the last few months, I’ve passed Colonel Sanders on my walk, and we exchange “good mornings” with an amused smile, as if to say, yeah, we don’t talk but we’re out here workin’ it, aren’t we?

Well, this morning I saw the Colonel walking with his wife. (Actually, I saw them both yesterday and at my greeting, they made eye contact and marched on.) This morning the sun was out and the cardinals were in full voice. As I approached the couple walking toward me, they started to move to the side, even though this section has a very wide walk that will accommodate golf carts. As they approached, I called out, “It’s okay, there’s room for all of us!”

Suddenly, their smiles burst forth in return. Somehow, those words, that acknowledgment of them in these dreary times, let the sun shine through on the three of us. The song, “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella” came to mind, and coupled with their momentary delight, I’ve decided to brighten your day, too.

After all, there’s room for all of us!

Once I met a happy little bluebird
I was just as blue as I could be
In a little while I began to smile
When he sang this merry song to me

Just let a smile be your umbrella
On a rainy, rainy day
And if your sweetie cries just tell her
That a smile will always pay

Whenever skies are gray don’t worry or fret
A smile will bring us sunshine and you’ll never get wet
So let a smile be your umbrella
On a rainy, rainy day

Let a smile be your umbrella
On a rainy, rainy day
And if your sweetie cries just tell her
That a smile will always pay

Whenever skies are gray don’t worry or fret
A smile will bring us sunshine and you’ll never get wet
So let a smile be your umbrella
Be your big umbrella on a rainy, rainy day

Day 62: COVID-19 “Shelter-in-Place”

 

Today’s Worldometer.com screengrab is sorted by active cases. I think active cases rather than total cases is a better sort because total cases do not reflect the current and future challenge. And it is the current and future challenge that we need to be focused on. And we cannot assess our current strategies without context and perspective. How are we like Italy and Spain that bookend the USA on the list? How are we different? Are our critical cases fewer only based on time? Is our capacity to handle the number of critical cases seen in Italy and Spain better, worse or about the same?

The President is pulling out pretty much all the stops to deploy medical supplies and therapies to the problem. The Defense Production Act is an awesome power (and expensive) to command commercial entities to work on critical supplies and materials. The Air Force has been flying in test kits and other materials from anywhere in the world they are available.

At the same time, the Governors are closing down states for business. And it is this latter strategy that is now the focus of question of whether the “cure is worse than the disease?”

Both @drbastiat and I posted a link yesterday to Aaron Ginn’s article Evidence Over Hysteria. The website where it originally appeared, Medium, has taken it down. ZeroHedge has now published it. There is controversy over the accuracy of Ginn’s claims. But there is no controversy, in my view, over the questions he raises. As is typical, some of the most interesting information related to any post is found in the comments by Ricochet members. I encourage you to go to that post and read the commentary: Evidence over hysteria — COVID-19 [Updated][More Update].

I should also point out a second article (brought to my attention by @staugustine): A Doctor’s Assessment of the COVID-19 Outbreak. It is authored by Dr. Joel M. Zinberg, an associate clinical professor of surgery at the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in New York. Dr. Zinberg raises similar issues to those by Aaron Ginn: Are we doing more harm than good? Politicians are amateur sociologists, not research scientists. They react to the moods of the people and their own private predilections. The moods of the people are stirred by media reports that sensationalize threats. Certain politicians never let a crisis go to waste. Is it coincidental that the states taking the most extreme and authoritarian measures are led by progressives?

@jameslileks in a comment on the Ginn article summed it up pretty well:

The disconnect between “it’s going to kill fast swaths of the population and crash the health care system” and “it’s not the Satan Bug and the stats give us good reason to hope” is so wide and profound you do not know what to think. We’re all Jack Nicholson slapping Faye Dunaway here.

I do not get a gut-grip over the number of cases increasing, if that’s a result of increased testing. I watch the mortality stats. Likelihood of contraction from asymptomatic carriers, length of time between infection and manifestation of symptoms, and likelihood of how many infected will have anything other than a crappy fortnight of aches and weariness – that’s what I want to know.

Just so.

(Yes, I know that quoting James likely makes this post ineligible for “post of the day.” He is too self-effacing to designate it thus and make quoting him appear to be a strategy to gain that honor.)

[Note: Links to all my COVID-19 posts can be found here.]

Member Post

 

Fauci: Trump Coming at Coronavirus from a ‘Layperson’s Standpoint’ — I’m Coming from a ‘Scientific Standpoint Host Margaret Brennan asked, “You are the leading infectious disease expert in the U.S. government. You said this week that you differed from the president in his assessment that a combination of two drugs, Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin, could have […]

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Member Post

 

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,   “To talk of many things:Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—   Of cabbages—and kings—And why the sea is boiling hot—   And whether pigs have wings.”              (Tweedledum and Tweedledee , The Walrus and the Carpenter, recited to Alice) The virus is not a hoax, it’s deadly — if you […]

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Evidence over hysteria — COVID-19 [Updated][More Update]

 

Powerline Blog this morning included a link and summary of Evidence over hysteria — COVID-19, an article by Aaron Ginn.

The article is long but worthy of a complete read. Ginn sets out his evidence in a compelling manner. I won’t detail that here, but Ginn is raising some questions (and providing answers) that I have highlighted in some of my daily posts — how good is the published data? are we getting the right message from the data? have we gone overboard in our reaction?

Here are excerpts from some of his conclusions:

Local governments and politicians are inflicting massive harm and disruption with little evidence to support their draconian edicts. Every local government is in a mimetic race to one-up each other in authoritarian city ordinances to show us who has more “abundance of caution”. Politicians are competing, not on more evidence or more COVID-19 cures but more caution. As unemployment rises and families feel unbearably burdened already, they feel pressure to “fix” the situation they created with even more radical and “creative” policy solutions. This only creates more problems and an even larger snowball effect. The first place to start is to stop killing the patient and focus on what works.

The most effective means to reduce spread is basic hygiene.

The best examples of defeating COVID-19 requires lots of data. We are very behind in measuring our population and the impact of the virus but this has turned a corner the last few days. The swift change in direction should be applauded. Private companies are quickly developing and deploying tests, much faster than CDC could ever imagine. The inclusion of private businesses in developing solutions is creative and admirable. Data will calm nerves and allow us to utilize more evidence in our strategy. Once we have proper measurement implemented (the ability to test hundreds every day in a given metro), let’s add even more data into that funnel — reopen public life.

Closing schools is counterproductive.

With such little evidence of prolific community spread and our guiding healthcare institutions reporting the same results, shuttering the local economy is a distraction and arbitrary with limited accretive gain outside of greatly annoying millions and bankrupting hundreds of businesses. The data is overwhelming at this point that community-based spread and airborne transmission is not a threat.

The data shows that the overwhelming majority of the working population will not be personally impacted, both individually or their children. This is an unnecessary burden that is distracting resources and energy away from those who need it the most. By preventing Americans from being productive and specializing at what they do best (their vocation), we are pulling resources towards unproductive tasks and damaging the economy. We will need money for this fight.

These days are precarious as Governors float the idea of martial law for not following “social distancing”, as well as they liked while they violate those same rules on national TV. Remember this tone is for a virus that has impacted 0.004% of our population. Imagine if this was a truly existential threat to our Republic.

The COVID-19 hysteria is pushing aside our protections as individual citizens and permanently harming our free, tolerant, open civil society. Data is data. Facts are facts. We should be focused on resolving COVID-19 with continued testing, measuring, and be vigilant about protecting those with underlying conditions and the elderly from exposure. We are blessed in one way, there is an election in November. Never forget what happened and vote.

We have nothing to fear but fearful people driving fearful outcomes.

[Update: The article at the link has been removed by the website with the note “This post is under investigation or was found in violation of the Medium Rules.” Medium Rules can be reviewed at https://policy.medium.com/medium-rules-30e5502c4eb4. Apparently there were some readers that complained about the article. Not being privy to the complaints I have no idea why the article would be pulled. My own reading of the article revealed some startling claims that were sourced, but these days who knows why speech might be silenced. It was an opinion piece after all.]

[More Update: The link in the post now goes to ZeroHedge.]

Letter from Budapest: Cardinal Mindszenty, Confinement and Us

 

This week the Danube Institute, where I work, was scheduled to host a conference centered on the life of the Most Venerable, Joszef Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary. One by one, however, COVID-19 forced speakers to cancel. Train travel by Vienna was determined to be unsafe, knocking out one speaker. Next came the news that first the Lombardy region, then the whole of Italy was locked down, knocking out our Rome-based speaker. 

I finally informed our Croatian speaker and our local speaker, US Ambassador David Cornstein, that the conference would be canceled, as Budapest began a rolling move to reduce the risk of “community spread” by limiting (then canceling) public meetings, shutting down schools, reducing the operating hours of stores, etc. We were moving into the COVID-19 world, which has changed lives here in Budapest and in capitals, cities, and townships across the world.

Confinement is not a new experience in Budapest. 

A short stroll from where I sit is the American Embassy where Cardinal Mindszenty spent 15 years in a state of “asylum cum house arrest.” Under the terms negotiated between the US government and the Soviet-controlled Hungarian government, Cardinal Mindszenty was confined to quarters, forbidden to conduct public Mass, could spend only 15 minutes outside in the garden once a day, not allowed to receive Hungarian visitors, and in general, lived like a prisoner. Let us state it again: for 15 long years.

But this was a piece of cake for the Cardinal. Before this, he had spent eight years in solitary confinement, was tortured, brainwashed, and put through the travesty of a show trial. Cardinal Mindszenty had three days of freedom after he was released by young revolutionaries during the 1956 uprising until his arrival at the US Embassy seeking asylum as the Russian tanks returned.  

Wait, there’s more.

Before that, he was imprisoned by the Pro-Nazi Arrow Cross party during World War II, as Hungary fell under control of the Nazis during the German occupation of Hungary. His crime? Along with all the Hungarian Catholic bishops, he wrote a letter denouncing the government when it ordered the Jewish community into the ghettos. He said the government had no right to take away their God-given human rights.  

Now, 50 years after his release COVID-19 has led to our own brief (with luck) confinement. We’re required to stay close to home, to limit venturing out to necessary trips for food or medicines, to avoid standing too close to other wayfarers. Governments are working to mitigate shortages in medical supplies such as masks and testing equipment, rewriting or eliminating regulations that act as impediments to beating the virus, warning against large gatherings, etc.  

Budapest seems eerily quiet, but that’s an illusory calm before the growing storm. And parts of it are hives of activity. The hospitals, of course. Doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers are on long shifts to treat patient numbers expected soon to grow exponentially. 

It’s the same across Europe. The Brits have even called up retired healthcare professionals, expanding the system’s capacity to cope with the increased need. Businesses are thinking out of the box, turning their plants to the production of suddenly needed new products from hand sanitizers to respirators to new testing methods. Ordinary people are volunteering, signing up to deliver groceries to their house-bound neighbors. One shouldn’t romanticize it, but there’s a spirit of cooperation about as well as one of panic hoarding.

U. S. Embassy where Cardinal Mindszenty stayed 15 years The US Embassy in Budapest, where Cardinal Mindszenty spent 15 years.

Many of us will be taken ill, some of us will die, but most will recover. We have the benefit of modern supply chains to keep us fed. We have modern connectivity to allow us to remain informed, to work, bank, socialize and entertain ourselves, and now, to even seek medical advice via “telemedicine.” Some of us will say the rosary as Cardinal Mindszenty did, as we ask for God’s help during this time of trouble.

The bottom line? Be of good cheer and if you get a little testy with your confinement, think of Cardinal Mindszenty and the amazing example this man of God gave us, especially fitting for our modern travail.