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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

"Christians Poisoned the Wells!" -- Katherine Stewart, New York Times


A week ago, the New York Times warned against encouraging hatred towards one group of Americans by associating them with the dreaded Covid-19:

"As bigots blame them for the coronavirus and President Trump labels it the 'Chinese virus,' many Chinese-Americans say they are terrified of what could come next."

See the source imageThen last Friday, America's "paper of record" changed its mind about scapegoating groups of people over pandemics.  In a piece originally entitled "The Road to Hell was paved by Evangelicals," (the title has now been toned down) Katherine Stewart tried to exploit the present crisis to stir up more proper hatreds: 

"Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown."

The hypocrisy, of course, is rich, as Michael Brown among others have noted:


But calling someone a hypocrite does not prove his or her claim false.  The New York Times may be all kinds of hypocrite (granted) and their hate speech all kinds of dangerous (blaming whole groups of people for diseases never hurt anyone, did it?), yet their claims may still claim a basis in reality.  

It is a medical fact, after all, that wrong as racism is, this particular virus did originate in China, among Chinese.  Furthermore, Chinese cuisine seems to have played a role in that transmission, along with the Culture of Cover-up in a China ruled by the communist party.

But Stewart appeals to "science" and "reason," as we will see.  So let us analyze her argument as a claim or claims supported (or not) by evidence, a line of reasoning purportedly backed up by logic and facts.   

The subtitle of the piece implies six claims: 

1. Evangelicals were "determined" to help Donald Trump become president.  
2. They "deny" science, in some sense no doubt to be explained. 
3. They "bash" government, again in some sense yet to be developed.  (Keeping in mind that this piece itself is about to bash American government, which is led by Donald Trump, in SOME sense.)
4. Evangelicals care more about how loyal folks are than how qualified they are.  (More, one assumes, than politicians generally.)  
5. A recent spike of deaths in such liberal enclaves as New York and Seattle, and after the neo-pagan festival of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, somehow flows causally from the work of evangelicals.  
6. Who should be blamed for economic and personal woes caused by the spread of Covid-19, which have impacted "all" of us.  

This seems quite a lot to prove in one article.  Let's see how Ms. Stewart makes out.  No doubt we'll learn something, if not about American evangelicals, at least about Ms. Stewart, the New York Times, and the nature of scapegoating. 

We'll take Stewart's claims bite by bite.  

"At least since the 19th century, when the pro-slavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as 'theories of unbelief,' hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States."

What relationship does one racist theologian (a "mainline Presbyterian," at that) in the Old South bear to an argument about reason, science, modern evangelicals, and a 21st Century pandemic?  Is this supposed to support the claim that "extreme forms of religious nationalism," whatever that means, have long been "hostile to science?" 

Hard to say, because that's all Stewart says about 19th Century American Christianity.  She does not mention the fact that the abolitionist movement was largely led by zealous believers, as sociologist Rodney Stark and others have shown.  She doesn't mention the evangelical ant-slavery tract, Uncle Tom's Cabin, which had an enormous influence on liberating the slaves.  She seems to bring in the Rev. Dabney at best to make a feint at adding historical depth to her thesis, more likely to cite irrelevant calumny to predispose her readers against American Christians of all sorts - like mentioning the Merchant of Venice in an article about Jews poisoning wells.  (An act which itself is called "poisoning the well.")

"Today, the hard core of climate deniers is concentrated among people who identify as religiously conservative Republicans.  And some leaders of the Christian nationalist movement, like those allied with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has denounced environmental science as a “Cult of the Green Dragon,” cast environmentalism as an alternative — and false — theology."

Here's another well-poisoning term: "climate denier."  Who on Earth denies climate?  I would not deny that wild accusations against tens of millions of Americans in leading newspapers might potentially create a "climate" of hysteria or hatred.  So I guess I'm not a "climate denier?"

Taken literally, a "climate denier" might seem to be someone who does not believe that the Amazon basin contains a tropical rainforest, or that Greenland is subject to regular snow storms in winter.   

Don't be thick, you tell me.  Stewart simply means that some people disagree with her theories about climate change, not that they deny climates even exist.  Yes, but shouldn't she say what she means, then?  Again, I suspect she is simply lying when she claims that Cornwall Alliance has ever "denounced environmental science."  Disagreeing about a claim within a discipline is not the same as declaring the whole discipline anathema.  

Cornwall Alliance, run by Calvin Beisner (whom I will tag on this), does indeed argue against some elements of the Anthropogenic Global Warming consensus.  They describe their position as follows: 

"The Cornwall Alliance is a network of evangelical Christian scholars–mostly natural scientists, economists, policy experts, theologians, philosophers, and religious leaders–dedicated to educating the public and policymakers about Biblical earth stewardship (men and women working together to enhance the fruitfulness, beauty, and safety of the earth, to the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbors), economic development for the poor (through private property rights, entrepreneurship, free trade, limited government, the rule of law, and access to abundant, affordable, reliable energy), and the gospel of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God by grace through faith in the atoning death and vindicating resurrection of Jesus Christ."

I don't see anything here about denying environments, or even denying that environments can change.  

Stewart goes on: 

"This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives . . . "

Now disagreement over the cause of atmospheric warming has evolved into not just a denunciation of environmental science and a denial of climatology, but denial of all science AND of critical thinking.     


How does a woman making such an argument dare to mention critical thinking?  

No evidence has yet been offered that anyone "denies" any part of science, let alone all of it.  We have jumped from one bigoted Calvinist in the Old South (whom it might be anachronistic to call "evangelical") to an organization worried about the poor in modern America, somehow joined by their alleged "denial" of some undefined aspect of rationality -- without a single clear example, let alone a survey of who is guilty, or evidence that the larger group to which they allegedly belong is guilty at all. 

Genuine critical thinking would be welcome.  Stewart does, at least, begin to focus on response to Covid-19 now: 

"(This denial) . . .  now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis. On March 15, Guillermo Maldonado, who calls himself an 'apostle' and hosted Mr. Trump earlier this year at a campaign event at his Miami megachurch, urged his congregants to show up for worship services in person. 'Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus? Of course not,' he said."


Finally, a drop of evidence relevant to Stewart's point!  Although the website for the church she mentions now says:

"As we continue to monitor news of COVID-19, we want to assure you that your safety is our number one priority. For that reason, our ministry will follow the requests made by the CDC and has decided that all Supernatural Encounters events from now until July will be postponed."
"Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida mocked people concerned about the disease as 'pansies' and insisted he would only shutter the doors to his packed church 'when the rapture is taking place.'  In a sermon that was live-streamed on Facebook, Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, said, 'We’re also going to pass out anointed handkerchiefs to people who may have a fear, who may have a sickness and we believe that when those anointed handkerchiefs go, that healing virtue is going to go on them as well.'”

For all I know, the Apostle Maldonado and Rev. Howard-Browne may have waited too long to shut down their operations.   Disney World didn't close until March 15th.  American has over 300,000 churches.  It would be a miracle indeed, if none of them were headed by presumptuous fools.  

Did such meetings actually foment the spread of Covid-19?  Stewart offers no evidence that they did.  But of course disease no doubt does spread in churches, as in any other public forum where sick and healthy people meet. 

Two weeks ago, I described nine factors which may contribute to quick spread of the Wuhan virus.   

One of the causes I mentioned was "bad faith:"  The examples I gave were the "New Heaven and Earth Church of Jesus" cult in Daegu, Korea, and Shiite Muslims in Iran who kissed a shrine in defiance of disease.  I compared the attitude of such "believers" to Satan's temptation of Jesus: 

"If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"

Such "bad faith" could indeed be a contributing factor to the spread of Covid-19 in America, along with Mardi Gras, old folks' homes, New York subways, Amazon warehouses, doctors' offices, and Satanic covens.  But Stewart makes no attempt to show that evangelical worship services actually have played a major role in transmission of the disease.  Continued failure to back up one's slurs with serious, systematic evidence seems itself to reflect "bad faith."  

"By all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction."

Now that's a problematic admission . . . But Stewart is arguing, so far, mostly from her own gut, or spleen.  

"But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base. In his daily briefings from the White House, Mr. Trump actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet unproven cures."

Stewart's new claims here, rather than supporting her old ones (she has already admitted that Trump is probably NOT motivated by evangelical faith), raise new questions:  

1. Are "religious nationalists" really the "core" of Trump's base?  
2. Does Trump routinely "disdain and contradict" his own experts?  Dr. Anthony Fauci denies this, saying Trump listens carefully and accepts his claims, complaining (in his mild way) that the press is trying to pick a fight.
3. Is it really a service to the country for the left-wing press to try to turn Trump against government experts at a time like this?)   
4. By "tout unproven cures," I assume Stewart refers to Trump's hopeful but much-scorned words about chloroquine.  Trump expressed optimism that that and other drugs would prove effective.  Indeed, numerous doctors around the world have been using it for some time, not because they all dial up Donald Trump when they plan a treatment, but because they've seen the same "unproven" but suggestive evidence. 
5. Anyway, if Donald Trump is dismissive of science (despite Dr .Fauci's claims), wouldn't that undermine Stewart's thesis, by reminding us that evangelical faith is not, in fact, a necessary cause of such an error?  

Is that Stewart's evidence that Trump is "denying science?"  Telling the American people that scientists and doctors have found drugs that might prove useful in combating a deadly epidemic, which doctors in fact are widely using, then saying "I feel good about this," followed by "We'll see?"  

Good heavens. 

"Not every pastor is behaving recklessly, of course, and not every churchgoer in these uncertain times is showing up for services out of disregard for the scientific evidence. Far from it."

Far indeed.   Citing three reckless pastors is, indeed, weak support for the notion that evangelical faith is to blame for the spread of a disease out of communist China.  Good to see this curt nod to reality.  

"Yet none of the benign uses of religion in this time of crisis have anything to do with Mr. Trump’s expressed hope that the country would be 'opened up and just raring to go by Easter.'  He could, of course, have said, 'by mid-April.'  But Mr. Trump did not invoke Easter by accident, and many of his evangelical allies were pleased by his vision of 'packed churches all over our country.'”

Though I am not sure I would call myself an evangelical or a Trump supporter, I plead guilty to this alleged "anti-science" crime.  I would very much like to see the virus die down enough to celebrate Easter this year.  I would love to be able to go into a packed church and sing out loud, "Christ the Lord is risen today!"

I'd also like to eat in restaurants again, go to work without fear, and freely visit the home of friends.  

For these anti-science thought-crimes, of which Trump is the Felon-in-Chief, forgive us, New York Times.  (Of course Trump regretfully admitted this opening up unlikely to happen so early.  I am sorry, too.)  

“I think it would be a beautiful time,” the president said."

Amen.  

"Religious nationalism has brought to American politics the conviction that our political differences are a battle between absolute evil and absolute good."

While editorials in the New York Times blaming Christians for gifting the country with a plague tend to bring America together in sweet harmony.  

Stewart's lack of self-awareness is astounding.   

"When you’re engaged in a struggle between the “party of life” and the “party of death,” as some religious nationalists now frame our political divisions, you don’t need to worry about crafting careful policy based on expert opinion and analysis. Only a heroic leader, free from the scruples of political correctness, can save the righteous from the damned. Fealty to the cause is everything; fidelity to the facts means nothing. Perhaps this is why many Christian nationalist leaders greeted the news of the coronavirus as an insult to their chosen leader."

While "many" left-wing politicians greeted the attempt to protect us from it as racist xenophobia, if you want to put it that way. 

See the source imageSome people on both sides unfairly demonize opponents.  Indeed, Stewart is engaged in just such an act in this piece.  Her complaint about extreme rhetoric is like the Walrus complaining that the Carpenter has unfairly dined upon naive young oysters. 

But what is one to say when Democrats vote overwhelmingly against a bill requiring doctors to give medical care to infants who are born alive during abortions?  Or against laws against partial birth abortion?  Though we're wandering far afield now from Stewart's original claims.    

"In an interview on March 13 on 'Fox & Friends,' Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, called the response to Coronavirus 'hype' and 'overreacting.' 'You know, impeachment didn’t work, and the Mueller report didn’t work, and Article 25 didn’t work, and so maybe now this is their next, ah, their next attempt to get Trump,' he said."

I don't know if Falwell is being accurately represented or not, but frankly, I have never been fond of the man.  What was far more dangerous, though, was the mayor of New York City telling people on February 13th:

"Unfortunately many businesses and restaurants in Chinatown, Flushing, and Sunset Park are suffering because some customers are afraid of the coronavirus. But those fears are not based on facts and science. The risk of infection to New Yorkers is low. There is no need to avoid public spaces. I urge everyone to dine and shop as usual.”

But no need to mention Mayor De Blasio, because he is a "spiritual but not religious" former campaign worker for Hillary Clinton.   He was telling people to go out and party on behalf of politically CORRECT causes.  And he is mayor of the city that is getting hammered right now.  
"When Rev. Spell in Louisiana defied an order from Gov. John Bel Edwards and hosted in-person services for over 1,000 congregants, he asserted the ban was 'politically motivated.'  Figures like the anti-L.G.B.T. activist Steve Hotze added to the chorus, denouncing the concern as — you guessed it — “fake news.”

So now we have examples of dumb pastors in Virginia, Florida, and Louisiana, plus (a sign that Stewart is running short of relevant examples) a doctor who is pushing vitamins (not Jesus) to boost one's immunity against the disease.  Such is the evidential base upon which our apostle of critical thinking builds the foundation for her condemnation of tens of millions of Americans.

The Trump Cabinet

Four pastors and an Old South racist theologian -- now two Trump officials. 

"One of the first casualties of fact-free hyper-partisanship is competence in government. The incompetence of the Trump administration in grappling with this crisis is by now well known, at least among those who receive actual news. February 2020 will go down in history as the month in which the United States, in painful contrast with countries like South Korea and Germany, failed to develop the mass testing capability that might have saved many lives. Less well known is the contribution of the Christian nationalist movement in ensuring that our government is in the hands of people who appear to be incapable of running it well."

Democrats have not yet been able to find a clear link between Donald Trump and the CDC's terrible blunder.  Others have pointed out a damaging pattern of bureaucracy and reliance on regulations which predated Trump, and which Trump and other Republicans have fought against.  But don't worry, when that link between Trump and slow testing is established, you'll hear about it right away. Only now we have to blame Christians, too.  Otherwise we're off on another free-association tangential rant against Republicans, rather than the purported target of this piece. 

"Consider the case of Alex Azar, who as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has had a prominent role in mismanaging the crisis. It seems likely at this point that Mr. Azar’s signature achievement will have been to rebrand his department as the 'Department of Life.'  Or maybe he will be remembered for establishing a division of Conscience and Religious Freedom, designed to permit health care providers to deny legal and often medically indicated health care services to certain patients as a matter of religious conscience."

May God abundantly bless Azar if he manages to protect believing doctors from tyrants who wish to force them to kill the unborn against their consciences and the life-affirming civilization which the Gospel created in the ruins of Roman cruelty.  

But sadly for Stewart's thesis, Mr. Azar is an Eastern Orthodox Christian, not an evangelical. 

"Mr. Azar, a 'cabinet sponsor' of Capitol Ministries, the Bible study group attended by multiple members of Mr. Trump’s cabinet . . . "

A smoking gun!  This man apparently believes in the Bible!  Which many historians of science credit for helping to inspire the birth of modern science . . . 

" . . . Brought with him to Health and Human Services an immovable conviction in the righteousness of the pharmaceutical industry (presumably formed during his five-year stint as an executive and lobbyist in the business), a willingness to speak in the most servile way about “the courage” and “openness to change” of Mr. Trump, and a commitment to anti-abortion politicsabstinence education and other causes of the religious right. What he did not bring, evidently, was any notable ability to manage a pandemic. Who would have guessed that a man skilled at praising Mr. Trump would not be the top choice for organizing the development of a virus testing program, the delivery of urgently needed protective gear to health care workers or a plan for augmenting hospital capabilities"

Stewart is, yet again, meandering in search of relevant evidence and a coherent argument.  Must be under one of these rocks!

Her thesis is supposed to be that evangelicals (not Eastern Orthodox Christians) are being hired despite lack of qualifications, and botching things due to their incompetence and ideology.  (She seems to assume, BTW, that in a free country, a pandemic can be "managed" quite easily.)

No qualifications?  Here, according to Wikipedia, are some of Azar's relevant credentials:  

"On August 3, 2001, Azar was confirmed as General Counsel of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. George W. Bush's first HHS Secretary, Tommy Thompson, said Azar played an important role in responding to the 2001 anthrax attacks, ensuring there was a vaccine ready for smallpox, and dealing with outbreaks of SARS and influenza.[6] On July 22, 2005, Azar was confirmed as the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services.[16][17] He was twice confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate.
"Working under Secretary Mike Leavitt, Deputy Azar supervised the operation of HHS, which would grow to annual budget of over $1 trillion by 2017 when he was appointed Secretary. Azar led the development and approval of HHS regulations, led U.S. government efforts to encourage worldwide pharmaceutical and medical device innovation, and was in charge of the HHS response to an initiative implemented by President George W. Bush to improve government performance."

Apparently, the notion that Azar is unqualified did not occur to anyone in the US Senate.  No doubt that body also uniformly consists of evangelical Bible-thumpers.  
Why mention the fact that an eastern orthodox Christian with such a richly relevant CV says nice things about his boss in a piece purported to prove that evangelicals are to blame for a pandemic which began in China and has peaked so far in southern Europe and Iran?  And this, in the name of critical reasoning, fairness, and science?    
OK.  We're just a few fact-free panegyrics from the finish line.  
"Or consider Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and another 'cabinet sponsor' of Capitol Ministries. As a former pediatric neurosurgeon, Mr. Carson brought more knowledge about medicine to his post than knowledge about housing issues. But that medical knowledge didn’t stop him from asserting on March 8 that for the 'healthy individual' thinking of attending one of Mr. Trump’s then-ongoing large-scale campaign rallies, 'there’s no reason that you shouldn’t go.'”

So Christianity is also somehow to blame for the fact that a cabinet official, like the irreligious mayor of New York, the Democratic mayor of New Orleans, and lots of other people on both sides of the political spectrum, still thought three weeks ago that public meetings were OK.  (Though probably not in New York City!  Context might be relevant.) 
"It is fair to point out that the failings of the Trump administration in the current pandemic are at least as attributable to its economic ideology as they are to its religious inclinations. When the so-called private sector is supposed to have the answer to every problem, it’s hard to deal effectively with the very public problem of a pandemic and its economic consequences."

Ma'am, wasn't your last point that in fact, the federal bureaucracy screwed up?  (Which it has, again and again, due to over-reliance on regulations which Donald Trump has tried to simplify?)  

"But if you examine the political roots of the life-threatening belief in the privatization of everything, you’ll see that Christian nationalism played a major role in creating and promoting the economic foundations of America’s incompetent response to the pandemic."

Stewart now has the gall to tell us what we will find if we do her research for her, and dig up the evidence she has failed to give to support her arguments.     

These comments also contain even more new and sensational claims, in lieu of evidence for those already on the table.   Christians favor "privatization of everything!"  (Including the White House?  Yosemite?  The USS Gerald Ford?)  The US did worse in handling this pandemic than European countries!  (By what metric?)  

Stewart is also contradict herself again.  Christians are to blame both for incompetence in federal office (because the Democrats have done so well!), and for worrying about trusting too much in the competence of government!  

Yet about when Trump stopped Chinese from entering the US, Joe Biden warned against his "hysterical xenophobia."  The Democratic House even wrote a bill to prevent Trump from banning flights. 

Bernie Sanders, an evangelical socialist, not Christian, also took advantage of Trump's actions to accuse him of vile motives: 

Bret Baier: If you had to, would you close down the borders?
Bernie Sanders: No. What you don’t want to do right now when you have a president who has propagated xenophobic, anti-immigrant sentiment from before he was elected. What we need to do is have the scientists take a hard look at what we need to do. There are communities where the virus is spreading. What does that mean? It may mean self-quarantine, maybe not having public assemblies.
But let’s not go back to the same old thing. Isn’t it interesting that a president who has been demagoguing and demonizing immigrants, the first thing that he can think about is closing down the border . . . 
Those remarks have not aged well.  But Stewart cherry-picks stupid comments only from people she desires to demonize, ignoring those by her own allies, even when they are far stupider and of more import.  

"For decades, Christian nationalist leaders have lined up with the anti-government, anti-tax agenda not just as a matter of politics but also as a matter of theology. Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council, one of the Christian right’s major activist groups, has gone so far as to cast food stamps and other forms of government assistance for essential services as contrary to the 'biblical model.'  Limited government, according to this line of thinking, is 'godly government.'”
The alternative being . . . unlimited government?  

"When a strong centralized response is needed from the federal government, it doesn’t help to have an administration that has never believed in a federal government serving the public good. Ordinarily, the consequences of this kind of behavior don’t show up for some time. In the case of a pandemic, the consequences are too obvious to ignore."

Now we are asked to believe that the Trump administration "has never believed in federal government serving the public good?"  

Good heavens.  Stewart's rhetoric becomes more reckless and unsupported by evidence as she goes on.    

I teach 16 year old Chinese students how to argue rationally.  I would be ashamed if one of them turned in such a mass of anecdotal, self-contradictory, meandering, lily-pad hopping, question-begging, vitriolic, hypocritical, inflammatory, and utterly uncritical effusions.  

Here again were Stewart's original implied claims: 

1. Evangelicals were "determined" to help Donald Trump become president.  
2. They "deny" science, in some sense as yet unspecified. 
3. They "bash" government, again in some sense unspecified. 
4. They care more about how loyal folks are than how qualified they are.  (More, one assumes, than politicians have generally valued loyalty since the first chief of the first tribe gathered his warriors to attack an enemy tribe or hunt a mastodon.)  
5. A recent spike of deaths in such liberal enclaves as New York, Seattle and a Michigan run by a Democrat who despises Donald Trump and who still lags Minnesota in testing, is somehow causally down-stream from the efforts of a coterie of Bible-readers in the White House.
6. Also the shutting down of the government and the spread of Covid-19.

In support of these claims, Stewart cites a bigot who lived in the Old South 170 years ago, three dumb but obscure preachers, one evangelical and one Eastern Orthodox cabinet members whom she vaguely accuses of some common or unspoken error, several tangents about abortion, global warming.  She conflates conservative governing ideology with libertarianism, conflates AGW skepticism with denial of climate or loathing towards environmental science, and in general, can't keep to any of her points for five minutes, let alone back them up with pertinent still less systematic evidence.  And she keeps a blind eye to parallel, even greater sins of her own crew. 

All the while touting the value of critical reasoning!   


It hardly need be said that as arguments, still less as exemplars of the goodhearted spirit the New York Times says we should seek in these times, these assertions remain "naked as a monkey's butt," as the Dai people in southern China describe a mountain bereft of any trees.   





Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The World Should Thank China! And America Should Apologize!

Here's my translation of an article in China's official news agency, Xinhua ("New China"), that has stirred angry reactions in the United States.

I'll write some commentary on this later.  Certainly there is much to say in response.  One important point: I do not know how much these views represent the thinking of the Chinese leadership.

The original is included below. -- DM


The Truth is, the World Should Thank China

March 4, 2020  Source: 黄生看金融微信公号

Today, yet another state in the US has declared an emergency.  The state of Florida announced public health emergency conditions.  The state governor publicly announced that two people had tested positive for the New Corona Pneumonia (note: Covid-19, to be used below), awaiting confirmation from the federal Disease Control, and that at present these two people are being quarantined.  Presently, after the states of California and Washington, this is the third US state to declare an emergency.  This is a clear sign that Covid-19 is spreading like wildfire in the US.  In addition after America announced the first death from Covid-19 yesterday, today it was discovered that two people had already died from the disease.  What is ridiculous is that in order to confirm an instance of Covid-19, the Center for Disease Control needs to confirm, indeed the governor of Florida expressed dissatisfaction for this reason, and the state declared the Emergency before the case had been confirmed by the Center for Disease Control.

Clearly, America underestimated Covid-19, for the reason above, all confirmations of infections have to come from the Center for Disease Control, causing the whole world to doubt American data.

As Covid-19 has become more and more serious in the US, Trump continues to come out and bluster off the record, telling the American people not to worry.  But actually, in his heart Trump is extremely concerned, and the Vice President, who is in charge of combating Covid-19 is even more worried, praying in the White House that the Covid-19 epidemic will quickly pass.

(Photo given below.)

At this time, Trump turned around completely, and started giving China emphatic praise.  The day before yesterday at a press conference, an American reporter asked Trump: "If the Covid-19 epidemic worsens in America, would the American government consider measures like those taken by China?"

At the time Trump said they would make use of a portion of Chinese measures to control Covid-19. and mentioned that China has made tremendous progress, you can see Starbucks open in China again, Apple has resumed full-scale production, Chinese prevention measures against Covid-19 have gained remarkable progress.  

It was obvious that these words were from the heart, and because at the present moment there has been a big change, China has made important progress in controlling Covid-19, while America is trapped in the midst of the squall.  More and more states are announcing emergency conditions, American medical equipment is extremely short, and an uncontrolled coronvirus epidemic will be practically impossible to avoid.  
The American stock market has plunged several days in a row, losing more than 12% of its value in a short week.  Facing this crisis of collapse caused Trump (to recognize) that when the American stock market continued to plunge, this would not only influence American economics, but also affect Trump's reelection.  As the Covid-19 epidemic continues to spread, the challenge that Trump's presidential seat of authority faces grows larger and larger.

If at this time, China were to announce (that it was) limiting Americans or people who had visited America from entering China, and announce that Chinese were restricted from heading to the United States, that is to say institute travel restrictions on the United States, then American economics would suffer a huge blow, and the American stock market would collapse even more.  But China did not do this.    
But everyone should know, after Covid-19 exploded in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, Trump's American government first announced that it would bring Americans home from Wuhan, leading other countries to scurry in and follow their example, forcing China to stand by and watch.  
Not only so, the American government also announced that it was restricting Chinese and foreigners who had visited China from entered the US, which is to say indirectly announcing travel restrictions on China, making other countries in the world covertly to render China isolated.  The impact on Chinese economics was enormous.   
These actions by America were extremely lacking compassion, like throwing rocks on someone who has fallen into a well, going after someone when they're sick.  But now China's Covid-19 situation is under control.  Aside from Wuhan, new cases are in the single digits, while the situation in America is increasingly serious.

If at this time China were to carry out revenge, aside from announcing a ban on American travel, China could also announce that it was carrying out a war strategy of controlling medical products, forbidding exporting to America.  In which case the US would plunge into great seas and oceans of coronavirus (汪洋大海).  
According to what an official at the American Center for Disease Control says, most American masks are produced in China and imported from China.  If China were to forbid the export of masks to the United States, then the US would run completely dry of masks, and couldn't even take the most elementary precautions to prevent Covid-19.

In the same way, an official at the American Center for Disease Control openly admitted that an enormous majority of American drugs are imported, some imported from Europe, but Europe has placed the production facilities for these medicines in China.  Therefore more than 90% of American imported medicines have some connection with China.  The underlying meaning was, at this time, if China were to announce that medicines they should seek to use drugs to satisfy domestic needs, America would descend into a Covid-19 hell.  
But there is humanity among mankind.  The Chinese government and Chinese people have never done this, tossing stones at someone in a well, still less prohibit exporting drugs to America.  As China's Covid-19 situation has gradually come under control, China is greatly expanding its ability to export masks and medicines, and America is one of the regions that is asking for them.  American officials, for instance Secretary of Commerce Ross, American Secretary of State Pompeo, and White House Economic (note: Trade) Adviser Navarro, openly gloated over the Chinese Covid-19 situation, expressing the hope that the explosion of the pandemic in China would be useful to the United States, bringing business back to America, and advising the world to consider the dangers of China's distribution chain.  The notorious Wall Street Journal even published an odious essay (note: literally "reek for ten thousand years"), "China is the Sick Man of Asia."  At the time, the American New York Times also openly put out an article, criticizing China for shutting up Wuhan, calling it a violation of human rights.  This American culture of tossing rocks on a man in a well is truly disgusting.  But now the Fengshui (literally wind-water) has turned around, and America has become a a victim of the new Coronavirus.  At this time China has not tossed rocks in the well, and has not blamed America.  The US should now even more apologize to China for all these previous errors.   
During this period, a certain kind of voice is being deliberately hyped, saying that China owes the world an apology.  This is extremely ridiculous.  In order to prevent the spread of Covid-19, China sacrificed an enormous amount, spending an huge economic sums, cutting off the spread of Covid-19.  There is no country that has paid so great a sacrifice in stopping the spread of Covid-19.  
In addition, according to research by Academician Zhong Nanshan, while Covid-19 erupted in China, its origin is not necessarily from within China.  Now a great deal of research points to the origin of Covid-19 may possibly be another country.  America, Italy, Iran and other nations generally haven't had the opportunity to test Asian cases to prove this point.  So China has still less cause to apologize.  
Now we should forthrightly say, America owes China an apology, and the world owes China a voice of thanks.  Without China's huge sacrifice and expense, there wouldn't be this valuable window of time to fight Covid-19.  One can say that the strength of China alone, steadfastly held out against the epidemic for a long time.  This is truly a deed to amaze Heaven and Earth, and make the spirits themselves cry!   

理直气壮,世界应该感谢中国
2020-03-04 10:45:32 来源: 黄生看金融微信公号


  今天,美国又一个州宣布紧急状态,美国佛罗里达州宣布进入公共卫生紧急状态,佛州州长办公室对外宣称,该州已经发现了两人为新冠肺炎推断确诊病例,需要等待美国疾控中心进一步确认,目前这两人正在接受隔离治疗。这是美国继加利福尼亚州、华盛顿州之后,美国第三个宣布紧急状态的州,可见新冠肺炎疫情在美国已经出现了星火燎原的迹象,而且继昨天美国公布第一例新冠肺炎死亡病例后,今天又发生了一起新冠肺炎死亡病例,总共已经有了两名死亡病例。然而荒唐的是,美国现在要确诊一名新冠肺炎病例,还需要美国疾控中心最终审核,这也就是佛罗里达州对此表示很不满的原因,虽然美国疾控中心还没有最终确认,佛州自己就宣布进入紧急状态了。
  很显然,美国真实的新冠肺炎疫情被严重的低估了,原因就是上面说的,所有的确诊病例,必须由美国疾控中心来最终认定,这使得美国的数据一直让人全世界怀疑。
  随着美国新冠肺炎疫情越来越严重,特朗普也不断出来吹风,让美国民众不要恐慌,但实际情况是特朗普内心也非常着急,负责新冠肺炎疫情防控的美国副总统彭斯更是大为紧张,在白宫办公室祈祷新冠肺炎疫情尽快过去。
  这个时候,特朗普发生了一个很大的转变,开始对中国赞扬有加。在前天的一场记者招待会上,有美国记者问特朗普:“如果美国的新冠肺炎疫情恶化,美国政府是否会考虑采取和中国类似的措施呢?”
  特朗普当即表示,会采取部分中国的措施来控制新冠肺炎,并表示现在中国取得了很大的进展,可以看到星巴克在中国重新开业了,苹果公司在中国已经全面恢复了生产,中国的新冠肺炎防控确实取得了很大的进展。
  很显然,特朗普的这番话是发自内心的,也是因为现在角色发生了转换,中国控制新冠肺炎取得了重大的进展,而美国却陷于疾风骤雨之中,越来越多的州宣布紧急状态,美国的医疗物资极度紧缺,一场失控的新冠肺炎疫情几乎无法避免。
  美国的股市连续大暴跌,短短一周的时间跌幅超过12%,直追美国次贷危机期间的大崩盘,这让特朗普如坐针毡,一旦美国股市继续暴跌,不仅仅影响美国经济,也影响特朗普的总统连任,一旦新冠肺炎疫情继续蔓延,特朗普的总统宝座面临的挑战就越来越大。
  如果这个时候,中国宣布限制美国人或者去过美国的人进入中国,宣布禁止中国人前往美国,实际上就是对美国实施旅行禁止,那么美国的经济将会遭受巨大的打击,美国的股市更会暴跌,但是中国并没有这样做。
  而大家要知道,当中国湖北武汉爆发新冠肺炎疫情后,特朗普的美国政府第一个宣布从中国武汉接回美国人,导致了其它国家纷纷跟进,使得中国当时非常被动。
  不仅仅如此,美国政府还宣布限制中国人和到过中国的外国人进入美国,实际上就是对中国间接宣布旅行禁止,让世界上其它国家变相对中国形成孤立,对中国的经济冲击是很大的。
  美国这些做法非常不厚道,可谓在落井下石,趁人病要人命,而如今中国的新冠肺炎疫情已经得到了控制,除了武汉外,其它地方新增确诊病例为个位数,而美国的新冠肺炎疫情却越来越严重。
  如果这个时候中国对美国进行报复,除了宣布对美国旅行禁令外,还宣布对医疗产品进行战略管控,禁止出口美国,那么美国将会陷入新冠病毒的汪洋大海之中。
  根据美国疾控中心官员的公开表示,美国的口罩大部分是中国生产,并从中国进口的,如果中国禁止将口罩出口到美国,那么美国就会陷入口罩荒,防范新冠病毒最基本的措施都无法做到。
  同样根据美国疾控中心官员的公开表示,美国的药物绝大部分也是依靠进口,有些药物是从欧洲进口,但是欧洲又将这些药物的生产基地放在中国,因此90%以上的美国进口药物都和中国有关。言下之意,这个时候只要中国宣布药品尽量满足国内而禁止出口,美国将会陷入新冠肺炎疫情的地狱。
  然而,人间有大爱,中国人民和中国政府从来没有这样做,没有对美国落井下石,更没有禁止口罩和药品出口美国,随着中国的新冠肺炎疫情逐渐受到控制,中国的口罩、药品的出口能力将极大的提升,而美国正是需求方之一。美国政府的官员,比如商务部长罗斯,美国国务卿蓬佩奥,美国白宫经济顾问纳瓦罗等,公开对中国的新冠肺炎疫情幸灾乐祸,表示中国爆发新冠肺炎疫情对美国有利,有利于企业回流美国,还呼吁世界上的企业考虑中国供应链的风险。甚至臭名昭著的《华尔街日报》还发表了一篇遗臭万年的文章《中国是亚洲真正的病人》,美国的《纽约时报》当时也公开发文,谴责中国武汉封城,说是侵犯人 权。美国这种落井下石的文化,实在让人不齿,而如今风水轮流转,美国成为了新冠肺炎疫情的受难国,这个时候中国没有落井下石,没有谴责美国,这个时候的美国,更应该为之前种种的错误行为向中国道歉。
  这段时间,有一种声音故意在炒作,说中国欠世界一个道歉,这是非常荒谬的,中国为了抗击新冠肺炎疫情,做出了巨大的牺牲,付出了巨大的经济成本,切断了新冠病毒的传播途径,没有哪个国家在这次新冠肺炎疫情中做出了如此大的牺牲和付出。
  而且,根据钟南山院士的研究,新冠肺炎疫情虽然在中国爆发,但是源头并不一定在中国。现在很多研究也指向新冠病毒的源头可能来自其它国家,美国、意大利、伊朗等国家的很多没有亚洲接触史的新冠肺炎确诊病例就说明了这一点,因此中国更没有理由道歉。
  现在我们应该理直气壮的表示,美国欠中国一个道歉,世界欠中国一声感谢,没有中国的巨大牺牲和付出,就不可能为全世界赢得宝贵的抗击新冠肺炎疫情的时间窗口,可以说中国一己之力,硬生生的将新冠肺炎疫情挡住了很长一段时间,真的是惊天地、泣鬼神!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Covid-19: Why here? Why there?

"It only takes a spark to get a fire going."

We used to sing that song about "God's love."  But fires can burn down buildings as well as warm people up.  Right now we have a fire called the Covid-19 epidemic which is setting nations ablaze.  


Why does this disease break out in one city or nation, but less in another?  What causes that fire to blaze as if through bone dry timber in one place, while catch more slowly in another?  

Fire requires a heat source, oxygen, and fuel to ignite and spread.  Other factors such as humidity, suppressing agents (water or humans), catalyzing agents  (wind or humans, again) help determine where and how long and hot a fire will burn. 

This disease, too, begins and spreads most virulently depending on a variety of factors.  First, of course you need the spark, the human or animal carrier who releases virus through cough, sputum, or touch.  Second you need an environment that allows the virus to survive long enough.  Third you need a receptor who will host the virus and allow it to multiply.  

In some locales, Covid 19 has burst upon the population with explosive speed.  Most famously, these include Wuhan, the Diamond Princess in Yokohama Harbor, Iran, northern Italy, Spain, and to a lesser extent (so far), Seattle and New York. 

What do all these places share in common?  How can your city avoid the fate of the worst of these?

There are numerous hypotheses.  We need not choose among them, because epidemics, like fires, are over-determined.  Many factors likely play a role.  

Here are some of the candidate villains I have run across, and what seem to me to be the strengths and weaknesses of each theory (though I suspect they all play some role): 


(1) A Culture of Contact

Some say one reason the coronavirus spread so rapidly in Italy is that Italians are given to hugging and kissing.  We are told to stop shaking hands as well, at least for the time being.  A facetious debate has erupted on Facebook over whether one should adopt Japanese-style bows, fist touches, or an old-fashioned Roman salute.  Babylon Bee is, as usual, having much fun with the challenges of cutting down natural and culturally-determined human contact.  

See the source imagePluses: I don't know Italian culture well, and we'll no doubt have to wait until after the fact to see all their touching did, in fact, play a role.  But it seems plausible.  Kisses on the cheek certainly violate what has become a cardinal principal of social interaction for our time. 

Chinese are less distant physically than Japanese, having adopted our habit of shaking hands, and being fairly ready with hands on shoulder or back, though they do not employ hugs.  In recent years, Chinese have also adopted the custom of paying by scanning cell phone aps, such as Wechat or Zhifubao.  So no dirty yuan need to exchange hands.  

Round restaurant tables, seem likely transmission opportunities, especially since Chinese do use their chopsticks to pull food from common dishes.  Cruise ships also seem easy places to rub elbows.  Some say the virus may be spread through ventilation, but others deny this:
“'Outbreaks on ships can be sustained for multiple voyages by transmission among crew members who remain onboard or by persistent environmental contamination,” the CDC explains. During the trip, passengers may also be exposed to illness and disease during a port visit, and bring the infection back on board."
"But far as the current coronavirus outbreak goes, while the virus is more likely to spread faster via person-to-person contact in close quarters, 'there's no evidence yet that coronavirus has spread more quickly on a cruise ship than it has elsewhere,' Jeremy Brown, MD, director of the Office of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health and author of Influenza: The Hundred-Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History, tells Health."

Minuses: I don't know if the Culture of Contact theory could explain Iran, and doubt it could explain New York.  But it may bode well for Japan, where people bow, and don't shake hands. 
  


(2) Bad Faith

See the source imageIn Korea, the Covid-19 outbreak began at a New Heaven and Earth Church of Jesus, often described as "doomsday" and "cult-like," said to believe (like New Atheists) that all other churches are evil.  (New Atheists just believe in one more evil church!)  

For a while, a huge percentage of cases were associated with that church in the city of Daegu, or with the hospital to which members were taken when the got sick.  Apparently church members spread the disease through close-packed prayer meetings. 

In Iran, pious Shiite Muslims were photographed licking a shrine and saying they were not afraid of the coronavirus.  I am sure the virus was delighted to hear that. 

A new recent report from Pakistan argues that irresponsible religious behavior may be fueling spread of the epidemic in (Sunni, I suppose) Muslim countries, as well.  

I believe that God does miracles, but doubt He does them often to reward such presumptuous stupidity.  This is like Satan tempting Jesus to throw himself off the temple and force God to come and save him.  And for the record, it was Christian missionaries who introduced modern medicine to both China and Korea, among other countries.  

Pluses: Certainly theological presumption has brought about the deaths of some over the past weeks, and aided the rapid spread of Covid-19 to in some places.  

Minuses: Probably not, however, in China, Yokohama Harbor, Italy, Spain, or Seattle. 


(3) Cool, Slightly Dry Weather

My friend Brad Cooper is in the process of developing this theory, as are the University of Maryland authors of a paper entitled Temperature  and Latitude Analysis to Predict Potential Spread and Seasonality for Covid-19."  A more sophisticated model notes that the virus is usually spread indoors, and emphasizes its liking for low humidity, which may remain constant indoors and out.  A study from China emphasized the importance of both humidity and temperature.  

Notice that the worst known outbreaks, marked by circles, are all located in a particular climactic band.  The authors argue that the temperature and humidity of this band are just what makes Covid-19 friskiest.  So you don't get outbreaks in the far north, where it's too cold, nor in the tropics or southern hemisphere, where it was too hot during January and February.  But the danger may be approaching those other latitudes, while the disease is likely to go into remission in summer for most of the rest of us.  

Let me quote a few paragraphs from an online magazine which summarizes the UM paper's main points


World Temperature Map November 2018-March 2019
  • Similar winter climates with an average temperature of 41 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 11.11 degree celsius)
  • An average humidity level of 47 to 79 percent with a narrow east-west distribution along the same 30-50 N latitude.
Wuhan in China, South Korea, Japan, Iran, Northern Italy, Seattle, and Northern California have similar weather and humidity patterns.



“Based on what we have documented so far, it appears that the virus has a harder time spreading between people in warmer, tropical climates,” said study leader Mohammad Sajadi, MD, associate professor of medicine, UMSOM, physician-scientist at IHV, and a member of GVN."



"In areas where the virus has already spread within the community, like Wuhan, Milan, and Tokyo, temperatures did not dip below the freezing mark, the researchers pointed out. They also based their predictions on a study of the novel coronavirus in the laboratory, which found that a temperature of 39 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity level of 20 to 80 percent is most conducive to the virus’ survival."
Pluses: Some colds and flues do, it seems, die down in summer, then come back with a kick in fall.  Of course environment is as vital for a fever-causing virus as for other fires.  So at first glance, the thesis seems logical.  And most of the locations at which outbreaks have occurred, do indeed fall within those green bands.  Is that likely to be a coincidence?   
Minuses(1) Seven cities seems suggestive, but may be too narrow a data set upon which to draw very strong conclusions.  (And Seattle was more humid during much of this time than this model prefers -- it was a terribly rainy January, even by Seattle standards.)  
(2)  I think the theory's biggest problem is that the authors overlook the fact that transmission usually occurs indoors, where temperatures are in the low 70s, not outdoors, at 39 degrees.  Elder care facilities in Kirkland, Washington, are no doubt heated, as are cruise ships, Korean churches, and Italian cafes.  

Mind you, SOME transmission probably occurs on door handles and in still-cool cars, for example.  But most would almost certainly occur indoors.  The authors' failure to deal with this serious objection seems not only to cast some doubt on their theory, but also on their credibility.  

(3) They also overlook the domestic pattern of transmission within China, which seems to fit a model that emphasizes travel connections over latitude.

Covid-19 spread most quickly to cities near Wuhan (but less to Shiyan far in the east of the province), then to neighboring provinces, and south to Guangdong (Canton) which is considerably warmer.  A bullet train line passes through Changsha and goes on to Canton and Shenzhen across the border from Hong Kong, and it is well-traveled.  
(4) It is true that cold regions in and outside of China don't seem to have been hit hard yet. This may be because the virus doesn't do well in cold weather. But it also may be because the people hosting the virus don't like cold weather, either, and avoid Moscow and Harbin in winter.

(5) The authors seem at times to stand in danger of cherry-picking data to support their conclusions. They suppose that the disease may flourish later in  Vancouver, BC.  But Vancouver, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle are neighboring cities, with essentially the same weather.   They can't both say their model explains why the disease spread in Seattle, then say it predicts it will spread later in Vancouver.  Vancouver is slightly cooler, but not enough to explain such finely-grained differences.  

They also predict trouble ahead for London.  But I doubt London is much colder than Wuhan in winter, either. (In fact London's usual weather that month seems to fit the model described in their paper better than Seattle.)

(6) Data is probably quite lacking in many Third World countries, which tend to be in the warmer south. I suspect (hope) this is not a big problem.  Hopefully the authors are right, and the diseases simply hasn't hit the Global South that hard yet, and won't.  But they failed to address the weakness of our data base.  


This may also be true of California, which initially was second in America behind Washington State in cases, then fell back somewhat behind New York.  My cousin, an experienced MD in a rural town in an inland farming district of Southern California, told me he had three patients in one day whose symptoms fit Covid-19.  He said he hoped to get testing kits soon!  

Again, it may be that all of these objections can be answered by the authors. Weather likely does have something to do with Covid-19.  But I find this, at best, a partial and still debatable explanation for why this disease grows explosively in some places, but not others.  


March 26 update: Since this was first posted, outbreaks in Indonesia and the Philippines have grown, though not yet proven to be as explosive as those in northern Italy and Spain.  US sailors have caught the disease in Vietnam before it was confirmed to be widespread there, suggesting that testing in that country lags.  (As it seems to for many tropical countries.)  The second-highest incidence of disease in the US is now Louisiana.  Humidity in New Orleans is in the 50s this time of year, while temperatures have varied between 62F and 86F for the past two weeks.  

So it looks like new data are somewhat undermining this theory, though its biological and demographic basis still lends it some importance.  


(4) The Camel Cries

Buy a ticket from on-line travel company Qunar in China ("Going Where?"), and while you wait for your purchase to be confirmed, a little camel walks across the screen, sweating to show he is working hard to fill your order.  

Where do you want to go?  Walk around downtown Seoul, and you'll here a lot of Chinese, because Korean culture has been popular in China for several years.  Numerous flights left daily from the town I lived in, to Seoul-- more than any other international destination by many times. 

Chinese tourists seem to have introduced the disease in northern Italy, which of course is a magnet for culture-loving tourists of every nation. 

The three US states where Covid-19 first sprang up most ferociously, are among America's top four exporting states.  They are popular destinations for East Asian tourists, businessmen, and students alike.  

It only takes a spark to get a fire going.  But all else considered, the more sparks land in one spot, the more likely that spot is to be set ablaze.  

Which is, of course, the rationale behind travel restrictions around the world right now.  

Pluses: Most of the cases seem to fit this theory, and it certainly makes sense.  The authorities obviously believe it.  

Minuses: Iran is not a particularly hot spot for Chinese travel.  The Diamond Princess took on one traveler who picked up the virus in Hong Kong, and that one spark was apparently enough. 


(5) Human Petri Dish 

According to this model, large outbreaks of pestilence are likely to break out where some facility serves as an initial incubator.  Covid-19 has been said to have a transmission rate of about 2, which means the average person passes it on (no doubt under some ideally average conditions) to two other people.  And that might be about right, in families.  But in larger groups, the number can be shockingly elevated, given a perfect storm of conditions.  

See the source image
Visiting Life Care of Kirkland, WA
Pluses: Again, the Petri Dish theory both makes sense, and covers most of the data.  An un-hygenic church, an elder care facility (staff at twelve such facilities in the Seattle area were soon found to be infected), cruise ships, and prisons in Shandong Province (where most cases were where I live in China), proved among the incubators for major or minor Covid 19 outbreaks.  

This theory is closely allied with the "Culture of Contact," "Bad Faith" and "Camel" hypotheses, but at first glance may seem to conflict a little with the Weather model.  The petri dishes mostly seem to be indoors, and therefore at much warmer temperatures than 39 degrees.  

Minuses:  I don't know how well this would explain Italy, Spain, or Iran.  That is merely a confession of ignorance.  


(6) Socialized Medicine!  

Software developer Matthew Tanous argues that while both South Korea and Italy have state health insurance, it is South Korea's far more robust supplementary private health care system that has prevented it from sliding into the abyss.  

"Although South Korea provides a basic safety net, it is also one of the closest healthcare systems in the world to a free market, outpacing to a significant degree even the US system (which includes a great number of supply-restricting regulations that only drive up costs and hurt availability). As a result, South Korean healthcare did what Italy’s already under-supplied system could not do—cope effectively with the pandemic and manage to get it under control without shutting down the entire country in the process."

Pluses: It is true the biggest botch in the US so far, the failure to deliver test kits for several weeks, has been ascribed to government bureaucracy with a monopoly on testing.  In short, the CDC screwed up.  The US seems now to be getting the private sector more involved.  South Korea has a healthy market in private hospitals, with three times as many beds per capita as Italy, according to Tanous. 

Minuses: The argument that depends upon comparing two countries, provides a fairly weak evidential foundation on which to lay a universal claim.  (The weather hypothesis at least mentioned seven cities.)  While there are private hospitals in China (I went to one for acupuncture in Qingdao, and it was a much more pleasant experience than the state hospitals), the bulk of the successful response to Covid-19 in China appears to have been public.  Also, while the drought of hospitals and hospital beds may contribute to Italy's high death rate, this would do less to explain why so many Italians caught the disease in the first place.  (Though lack of beds may force some patients to stay home and infect others, one might surmise.)  

This is an interesting thesis, and may help explain success or failure in two countries or even a general point about monopolies.  It is well worth further, nuanced, investigation.  But coming from someone with little expertise in any obviously relevant field, and with probable political bias, it should probably be taken with a grain of salt pending further study.  


(7) The Donald

It is the political season in America, and Donald Trump is a polarizing figure, at the best of times.  In this heated season, the sparks are flying, and to some, he is the devil from hell, while to others, an angel sent to save America from its doom.  

Trump is blamed for, variously, down-talking the plague for political purposes, cutting funds for the CVC, or talking about it, firing important officials, and generally tweeting embarrassing and counter-productive comments.  Maybe he is secretly trying make a killing on the disease, somehow. Certainly he only cares about his ego and reelection.  Perhaps the testing-kits botch has his fingerprints on it.  And he is ignoring the experts.  

Trump is credited for, variously, far-sightedly shutting down flights from China, appointing a high level panel to get things done, and, I don't know, you've heard enough of both in the past few weeks yourself.  I was one of those Americans who rejoiced that the news was finally not all about Donald Trump -- for about ten minutes, until it was, again. 

The problem with both theories is that the US has not been particularly outstanding either in bold response or in bad luck with this disease.  We're not as hardly hit as Europe yet, thank God.  

The most serious outbreak in the US has with great probability been traced to a single case that arrived in Seattle from China on January 15.  (I came in the same day, though probably not on the same flight.  I don't recall being asked about the virus, which was only known to have infected a few dozen people so far.).  In some ways, it seems, both that patient and the doctors and scientists in the Seattle area did everything right.  He got checked up as soon as symptoms became serious, was put in isolation, and his contacts were tracked down and interviewed.  But the virus got loose not only to begin a petri-dish outbreak in Seattle, but also on The Grand Princess in California.  

In short, this disease is not about Donald Trump.  Thank God for small mercies.  


(8) Cultural Arrogance

Bruno Macaes, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, recently posted a fascinating article on Quillette arguing that Europeans (and Americans by extension) failed to adequately prepare to combat Covid-19 out of arrogance.  They tend to see China as still backwards, and casually assumed it couldn't happen to advanced European countries with free social welfare systems.  

"The director of a hospital in Madrid was unusually forthcoming. Still traumatized by the images of the emergency care unit where he works, Santiago Moreno confessed that 'we have sinned from too much confidence.'  As he explained it, everyone in Spain thought an epidemic such as the novel coronavirus could spread in a place like China, but not 'in a country like ours.'  It is simple, really. People in Europe still think of China as a developing country. When news started to arrive of the outbreak in Wuhan, they imagined filthy Chinese markets and hospitals, they thought of the spitting and the lack of doctors, and they trembled. They feared for the Chinese people, not for themselves. This perception explains why, as mainstream opinion lambasted China for mismanaging the outbreak, there was remarkably little concern that the mismanagement could have consequences for Europe and other parts of the developed world. There was effectively no planning or preparation."

As a China scholar, I appreciated the following point:

"I should note here that the very limited number of people who have been publicly alert to the great danger facing the world—and who grew increasingly angry at the lack of seriousness in Europe or America—were almost invariably those with some knowledge of contemporary China. If you know what progress China has made and how the country is now ahead of the West on many dimensions of what constitutes a modern society, you are very unlikely to shrug with indifference when Chinese authorities lock down a major megapolis."


Pluses: "Pride comes before a fall."  From ancient Greek playwrights to Old Testament prophets, this is a familiar enough pattern, not unknown in every-day life.  Put your nose up in the air, and you're liable to slip on a banana peel.  



(9) The Judgement of God

"Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world," wrote C. S. Lewis.  That is one of the themes of the Old Testament prophets.  In our increasingly prosperous and self-satisfied society, maybe we should consider the possibility that God allowed this virus, in part, to shake our (my) complacency, and remind us to seek higher things.

Man is trying to become God.   There may be a downside to these efforts.

The Judgement Theory is closely allied to the Arrogance Theory.  Pride is "the Great Sin" (Lewis again).  "He who thinks he is standing, take heed lest he fall."  (St. Paul)  Societies, like individuals, give in to the sin of hubris, and take it on the chin, often as a natural consequence, like slipping on a banana peel

Pluses & Minuses: God knows.


A single effect is usually the fruit of many causes.  Fruit itself comes of earth, rain, sun, and seed.  Pandemics also require a seed -- a little spark -- then feed on what they find in the environment, to wreak havoc.  It is possible, then, that there is an element of truth in most or even all these models, different causes complementing one another.

Since humility means, in part, a willingness to learn, a humble and open attitude, an attitude that seeks truth and is willing to admit error, may be help us respond to our present challenge, in all its complexity.