Get Ready, ‘Cause Here It Comes

Scientists have no firm grip on the fatality rate for this coronavirus. That’s because no one knows who is infected and/or who has experienced the virus without significant reaction. Until testing for the virus and antibodies is widely accessed across the entire population, these answers will remain unknown.

Ask the president when widespread testing will be available and you might trigger a temper tantrum like the one he unleashed yesterday on a FOX reporter.[1]

Also, what anyone knows about the mortality rate depends on whether you’re talking about apples or oranges:

In the UK, as of 2 April, 2921 people had died out of 33,718 confirmed cases – a crude case fatality rate of around 9 per cent. For Italy, the figure is nearly 12 per cent and for Germany just 1 per cent. These figures don’t tell us what we really want to know, though: how many of those infected will die as a result, which is known as the infection fatality rate.[2]

Then there’s the vaccine. Several promising ideas are in the pipeline, including a DNA-based formulation under development by Inovio and supported by Bill Gates.[3] But by any and all accounts, a vaccine is still twelve to eighteen months away.

Bubonic Plague The Black Death caused about 50 million deaths across Africa, Asia and Europe in the 14th Century. It wiped out up to half of Europe’s population. Its last terrifying outbreak in London was the Great Plague of 1665, which killed about a fifth of the city’s inhabitants. Then there was a 19th Century pandemic in China and India, which killed more than 12 million. But the disease has not been consigned to the dustbin of history. It is endemic in Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru. What’s perhaps more surprising is that it is still killing people in the US.

So why is everyone talking about an ‘end’ to self-isolating by May or June? Nothing magical happens in June. The virus will still exist. Those of us who have avoided it so far will have no more immunity in June than we have now.

Well, there is the weather. Quite a few viruses have seasonal growth and decline, and this general knowledge apparently led President Trump to assert “that the virus will be gone by April.” He claimed that when temperatures rise, ‘the virus’ will ‘miraculously’ go away.’ The idea has triggered several studies of that effect in this particular outbreak. It’s not good news.

As summarized in a report by the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard School of Public Health,

The short answer is that while we may expect modest declines in the contagiousness of SARS-CoV-2 in warmer, wetter weather and perhaps with the closing of schools in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, it is not reasonable to expect these declines alone to slow transmission enough to make a big dent. [This report is worthy of a full read!] [4]

So no big break from warm weather and no vaccine until 2021. Do we self-isolate for the next year?

In reality, people simply can’t and won’t self-isolate for the next year. Many aren’t doing it now either because they hold an ‘essential services’ job or because they’re stupid. Plus the government can’t and won’t send out an endless supply of money to businesses to keep people on their payrolls or send money directly to the unemployed. Jobs are jobs because things need to get done – farming, transportation, shipping and dockworkers, manufacturing of a thousand things, millions of small businesses that involve everything from plumbing to roof repair to house cleaning, haircuts and dry cleaning, auto repair and lawn mowing. Then there are the big stores where people buy groceries, batteries, and underwear, essential in their own ways.

Yellow Fever — Since the 1980s, the number of cases of yellow fever has been increasing. This is believed to be due to fewer people being immune, more people living in cities, people moving frequently, and changing climate increasing the habitat for mosquitoes

And – if you’ll remember – those charts showed a high curve and longer, lower curve – that longer, lower curve means people are still getting infected months into the outbreak. The idea of self isolation was to spread out the incidence of infection so that medical facilities didn’t get overwhelmed all at once, not so that the mitigation ended the risk.

How do we plan for the future?

Some national leaders are telling it like it is:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday Canadians will need to stay at home and practice physical distancing for months as the first wave of COVID-19 cases in the country won’t end until the summer and Canada won’t return to normal until there is a vaccine — which could take a year and a half.[5]

None of this should be a surprise. Outbreaks like this have been on the rise for decades and show no sign of slacking. The World Health Organization notes that in just the last three months of 2019, there were documented cases of MERS/CoV, Yellow fever, Ebola, Measles, Dengue fever, Lassa fever, Zika virus, and Cholera in multiple locations from the Middle East to Congo to Pacific Islands and including Afghanistan, the Netherlands, and France.[6]

Scientists have been trying to prepare us for the next outbreak. A 2018 article on pandemic preparedness published in Nature Microbiology stated:

As recent outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Ebola and Nipah viruses, and pandemic influenza make clear, emergent infectious agents pose a continued and considerable threat to human health. However, our ability to detect and predict the initial emergence of a novel human pathogen (for example, the spillover of a virus from its animal reservoir to a human host), and our capacity to observe and forecast the transmission and spread of that pathogen within and among human populations, remains limited.[7]

Zika virus attacks fetal development resulting in severely reduced brain area.

Key words:  “Remains limited.”

Scientific consensus is that we are at greater risk of pandemics from both known and unknown disease vectors than in the past.

Evidence suggests that the likelihood of pandemics has increased over the past century because of increased global travel and integration, urbanization, changes in land use, and greater exploitation of the natural environment.[8]

This is why it was criminally short-sighted by President Trump to “reorganize” Obama’s Global Health Security and Biodefense unit responsible for pandemic preparedness. The unit resided under the National Security Council (NSC), a forum of White House personnel that advises the president on national security and foreign policy matters. Now merged into one “directorate” with arms control/ nonproliferation and weapons of mass destruction terrorism, the global health and biodefense team’s clout is apparently lost in the shuffle. Trump was advised as early as December that a new bio-threat was shaping up in China and again several times in subsequent weeks, yet he failed to grasp the seriousness until mid-March.

Whether that’s a failure of his leaderless and diluted biodefense team or his basic inability to grasp anything is unclear. “Responding to an epidemic requires cooperation across a variety of government agencies, but without a dedicated coordinator, none has the responsibility to solve the problem.”[9]

The hope for a vaccine within the next year seems to assume a vaccine will be developed. Surely it will–no guarantees. But even our best flu vaccines are only about 50% effective. That’s because these viruses mutate frequently, changing enough of their DNA to wriggle away from our efforts at prevention. So far scientists are optimistic that a vaccine might be more effective with COVID-19, known more formally as SARS-CoV-2.

Based on current data, it seems as though SARS-CoV-2 mutates much more slowly than the seasonal flu. Specifically, SARS-CoV-2 seems to have a mutation rate of less than 25 mutations per year, whereas the seasonal flu has a mutation rate of almost 50 mutations per year.[10]

Unless one lives in a remote location without human contact, chances are all of us are going to end up exposed, one way or the other. The sooner we face that existential reality and adjust our outlook accordingly, the sooner we can relax.

At the very least, the lessons of the current experience demand better federal oversight and a president who pays attention to his security briefings. We need national stockpiles that can immediately respond to the need in mass infections and a public educated in advance on social distancing and other mitigation steps. We need to bolster our institutional and personal preparation for such inevitable events.

It’s coming.

Mass graves in New York, April 9, 2020












Thoughts on Women (Candidates)

Popular dolls created by Russian-Canadian artist Marina Bychkova feature a female with pubescent breasts and childlike eyes and body. While Bychkova intends to reflect her thoughts on “numerous social issues and aspects of our humanity” with her dolls, they instead portray the intensely conflicted self-identity of the modern woman.

In the current political situation where we find ourselves confronted with a viable female candidate for the presidency, questions about women’s real status in the United States have bubbled to the surface. On first glance, criticisms about Hillary Clinton seem substantial. The beleaguered emails, for example. That she doesn’t verbalize her ‘message’ as well as Bernie. But while conservatives and Bernie fans alike point to this and other purported deficiencies, there’s little comparable discussion of male candidates’ shortcomings.

Despite the advances in women’s rights, the fact remains that many take a dim view of women who dare to step out of their traditional roles as supplicants, mothers, and helpmates. If she speaks loudly, she’s shrill and aggressive. If she presents her life experience, she’s bragging or exaggerating. But my topic isn’t Hillary or the fact that she’s the most qualified candidate in the field and that she is, without doubt, experiencing a pernicious assault.

It’s my view that the impetus behind this assault is that she is a woman. My topic is the status of women in our culture today.

Women assume they want respect, equal pay, and an independent, self-confident lifestyle. But if you look around, you see women appearing in public as giddy waifs. Hairstyles blind them. Skirts hobble them. Shoes produce a helpless stagger. I’m not the first to weigh in on the regular absurdities of women’s fashion and I readily agree that not all women buy into the fashion parade. It’s largely younger women eager to emphasize sexual allure in competition for male attention. But it’s also largely younger women who despise Hillary Clinton for reasons they can’t fully explain.

For women not comfortable with themselves or with their confused role in our culture, Hillary is a threat. As women have invaded the workplace and other venues previously occupied by males, many are driven by a need to demonstrate submissiveness. Hillary isn’t submissive.

Uneasy with the gender dynamic, women dress in crippling shoes while peering through the hair in their eyes to say, “Okay, I’m working here beside you, but I’m a helpless little thing.” <giggle>

Recently I read an article arguing that we live in a pedophile culture. The author angrily postulated that the ongoing incidence of pedophilia is perpetuated by male demands that women look like little girls in order to be sexually attractive. In other words, men really want pubescent girls and reward females who fill those expectations. To meet the demand, women starve themselves and remove body hair in order to satisfy male expectation.[1]

This attitude is part of the problem. Men are not in control of what we wear or whether we shave our legs.

I’ll just quickly point out that until a hundred years ago, men were expected to marry much younger females because (a) until at least age thirty, men had not established enough of a livelihood or home base to support a wife and inevitable family, and (b) by age fifteen (onset of puberty), women were considered ripe for marriage and their parents were eager to marry them off.

This tradition of the much older man pairing with a much younger woman goes back at least to Greece and Rome where a fifteen to twenty year difference in age between the bride and groom was the norm. I could argue that this longstanding cultural pattern has created a behavior bias sublimated in countless subtle social clues and which contributes to the tendency for women to emphasize their youthful appearance and for men to desire women who appear young.

Underlying this long-established pattern is the assumption that the youthful female is a virgin, thus assuring the male that any offspring are unquestionably his.

Well, hello. We have birth control. We have genetic testing to determine paternity. The population of our ‘tribe’ isn’t suffering, so women are no longer valued as brood mares tasked with producing a team of farm workers or warriors. In theory, our increasingly sophisticated culture places more value on qualities of men and women besides their ability to produce offspring.

The author of that article mistakenly assumes that men’s desires determine how women present themselves. I disagree. Are men excited by women peering through locks of hair? Does a female staggering in four inch heels trigger male lust?  Can’t men become sexually aroused by women devoid of all the mascara, push-up bras, and pencil skirts?

Fashions are adopted and sustained by women. Yes, we might agree that men expect it. But I’d be willing to wager that men won’t stop wanting sex no matter how women look. After all, some men have sex with blow-up dolls, less-than-lovely prostitutes, and even the random sheep.

It’s the competition among females that creates this false world of absurd fashion. Tighter skirts and higher heels allow a woman to say “Look at me, not that homely bitch over there.”

It’s a pedophile culture if women make it that way. If they identify with images like the Enchanted Dolls created by Bychkova or even with the more developed waif doll Barbie.

One would think that as the female has gained the right to vote, own property, become educated, participate in the business world, and yes, run for president, she has also realized that hooking up with a man doesn’t have to be her only role in life. But there are two big stumbling blocks to that realization. One is that many women have no ambition but to have babies and be a housewife. I’ll go out on a limb here and postulate that this particular point of view is shared by more than half the female population. Maybe they’re hewing to the course embraced by their mothers and grandmothers. Maybe they see great importance in creating family.

Maybe they’re selectively evolved to do little but breed.

The other stumbling block to women’s real independence is that men have become less empowered. It’s as if without women in subjugation, men don’t quite know how to act. Women who exhibit the logical end stages of independence (i.e. Hillary) create too much cognitive dissonance for large segments of the population. Rushing into the void is an onslaught of scandals, ‘lies,’ and mistrust to help explain an otherwise illogical revulsion.

Confusion incited by these shifts in surface gender norms leads to interesting activities. Not only are women unwittingly compromising their independence through restrictive fashions, they are fantasizing about the good old days. For example, consider the wildly popular “Fifty Shades of Gray” in which a simpering virgin claims a perverse billionaire’s heart by accepting his need to dominate her. That he eventually backs off the whips and chains to a lesser degree of domination undercuts the point. He’s the power figure. Their relationship works because she accepts his need for control and because he loves her so much he’s willing to give up something he enjoys. Kind of.

Probably aside from the author’s intent, the story serves as a metaphor for the conflicted state of male-female relations in our modern age. Is it the Darwinian fate of the sexes that women will always crave the powerful male who slams her against the wall and has his way with her? Are women hardwired to look for warrior males because at one time such men were her only protection?

If the lucrative romance literature market serves as any measure of what women want, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’

Beneath that thriving fictional world, however, is the reality that women today often share with their male partner the responsibility for child care, house care, and earning income. They may initiate sex or take a dominant role in sex play. Those pesky surface gender norms require they be partners in a complex relationship that is both rewarding and exhausting.

What a relief then to pick up a novel that wipes away all the modern obligations and allows her to cavort, however fantastically, in a highly charged romance where all responsibility has been removed, where the perfect male anticipates her every need and forces her to accept what is best for her. Where she is perpetually a teary-eyed, childishly innocent creature in need of male support.

It’s worth remembering that marriage is still considered the greatest accomplishment in a woman’s life.

These undercurrents that drive women to take on submissive appearance and to flock to entertainment that enshrines submission may in fact tell us something about the unliberated psyche of today’s women. It bears consideration that many women may remain hardwired to a primal pattern of submission that doesn’t go away just because of birth control pills and the right to vote.

The behaviors exhibited by a powerful woman like Hillary strike many of us as foreign and even unnatural. Women who are able to move beyond instinctive gender roles and compete with men for the most powerful positions of business and politics trigger suspicion and dislike. In the hearts and minds of many who have yet to recognize their own inner biases, she is not to be trusted.