End of World Diary N°4: Le monde est tellement con, yet the future is interesting
I hesitated quite some time before starting this post—more than three weeks, actually. The world seems so stupid—in some regards, even more stupid than it was in the Middle Ages—that it’s simply pointless for me to try to write anything, for it wouldn’t be of any use. And yet…
1 The social networks are depressing to look at. I stopped visiting Facebook some time ago (although I keep the account for different matters, usually to log into some apps); I never understood Instagram and even less the newer TikTok; and now I’m forced to the conclusion that Twitter has gone beyond any reasonable usability–what am I going to do without any social network, knowing that the blogs are long dead?
Twitter started to become Facebook-like when they replaced “Bookmark” with “Like”; one can notice now how so many people are clicking “Like” the way they are doing it on Facebook, whereas the normal way of showing some interest on Twitter was a retweet–either a native RT, or a RT with an added comment. To add insult to injury, Twitter acknowledged this queer behavior by starting to show the “liked” tweets to the followers of those who “liked” them. Previously, a follower would have only seen the tweets posted and those retweeted by a followed account. Now, with the default “Home” timeline that does not show the tweets chronologically, but rather uses an obscure algorithm to show you things “that might interest you,” there’s barely a difference between Twitter and Facebook.
Basically, I stopped using Facebook when I noticed that people who followed me only saw my posts 7 to 10 days after I wrote them. Back to Twitter, I noticed that, while the new Home algorithm was not yet in place, Twitter had the good idea of emphasizing tweets one might overlook, with notes like “after a long pause, X tweeted this,” which was good. Then, the tweets got longer–great! Also, many people started to write Twitter threads, which I found to be a good way of expressing longer arguments on a social network not meant to be used this way.
But then Twitter forced the default “Home” algorithm over “Latest Tweets”; third-party apps still only know of the reverse chronological way of displaying tweets, but their decline is severe: almost nobody uses unofficial Twitter apps, because they miss some of the newest features.
So now, instead of seeing tweets from the people I follow–possibly with a friendly reminder that I might overlook a lonely one–I am constantly flooded with tweets from people I was never interested in, just because “it’s trending,” or because someone I follow is following them, or has liked (but not retweeted) something from them. On occasions, this helps me find potentially useful things, but more often than not this mechanism of “dynamic expansion” (the opposite of dynamic range compression) silences the tweets that very few people noticed (RT or liked), and makes insanely popular those tweets that got some decent exposure (through RT, likes, or for being issued by accounts that have many followers). Mainstream ideas–but also popular conspiracy theories!–become even more mainstream, and niche opinions become even more niche. Shame on you, Twitter!
The Instagram-like #hashtags only made things worse, and not always because of the people. Twitter itself has encouraged such a behavior, through its “Trends for you” selected hashtags. This is insane!
But it’s even worse than that. Now that most people are at home and hysterical about Covid-19, the quality of the contents in the social media is unprecedentedly low. It’s like I were living on a planet populated by complete morons.
And it’s about Fake News too. If we thought in 2006 that Idiocracy is the worst thing that could happen to our civilization, we have severely underestimated (or misunderestimated, apud Dubya) the power of stupidity.
The Fake News phenomenon is not new. You might find in various magazines stories about how Fake News existed even in the classical antiquity and ever since. The press has spread enough fake news since always, and censorship wasn’t specifically directed towards such disinformation. Heck, I remember the so many idiotic chain letter (or even chain PowerPoint files) transmitted through e-mail even by educated people who nonetheless lacked common sense.
Now the Fake New situation is paroxysmal. Even people who only use WhatsApp–which was never meant as a social network–are spreading plenty of fake news (alongside other crap) with an unbelievable speed. Under the circumstances, the measures taken by social networks and Governments seem unable to stop such fake news and, for the first time in history, Chinese-like Internet censorship might be a good idea. Normally, I am against any kind of censorship (and any kind of interdiction), but I simply cannot stand this degree of mass idiocy.
2 As a matter of fact, not only the Fake News are bothering me in the social media or more generally on the Internet these days. Even before the crisis, the Internet was hardly bearable and full of various attention traps: even the most interesting websites or YouTube channels are not informing you, they’re craving for your attention. Sites like Unbelievable Facts (just a random site) are just wasting your time; pseudo-blogs like Interesting Engineering are stealing information from a plethora of sources, often not even mentioning them; the about 80 YouTube channels that I might recommend you (but I just won’t) are nominally interesting, but almost all of them are made with the purpose of monetizing such contents, therefore every single video is longer than it should have been; many videos shouldn’t even exist; and, frankly, all YouTube creators are narcissistic pompous asses. Life is too short to spend it in such traps.
So basically I stopped reading the crap du jour, which is 99.999% connected to the current Covid-19 crisis. No, while staying at home, people don’t learn to draw, to dance, to play an instrument; they’re not learning two programming languages and three foreign languages; they aren’t even binge-watching movies and series that are worth their time; they are fucking staying on the Internet and filling it with even more crap!
I have to admit that myself I am rather disconcerted these days, hardly being able to focus. In the last two weeks, I could read some books, but I couldn’t be bothered to rate or review them on Goodreads. Movies? Not that much into them. Unlike most of the populace, I find books more effective than movies to escape reality. Even stranger, despite my selection of dozens of Internet radio stations of all genres, plus Deezer, the music seems to me as more surreal than the reality (this might explain why movies are not my cuppa tea right now, despite having too many of them that I could watch–and I want to watch them some day!).
Right now, I am spending 15 minutes a day on Twitter, and zero on other social networks. Giving that I used to take most of the links to news from the mainstream international (US, UK, France, etc.) press from Twitter, this means I had to change my sources.
Still related to this crisis, I started to read the Italian press either on each journal’s website (a few are offering €1/month online subscriptions), or as PDF (I have my sources): mostly La Stampa, Corriere della Sera, Il Fatto Quotidiano, La Repubblica, occasionally 20 Minuti, Il Giornale, Il Sole 24 Ore, Il Tempo, La Sicilia and a few weekly or monthly magazines. I strongly diminished my traditional intake of French press, because I’m literally fed up with this people’s obtuseness and monomania. It’s not tomorrow that the French culture is going to be great again, and the so many columnists, essayists and “philosophers” seem unable to adapt to the new times; I discovered much more nuanced and intellectual approaches in the Italian press.
Of course, smartphone oblige, I have my take of news apps, from ntv, ZDFheute and SWR Aktuell to Euronews, BFMTV (duh) and news aggregators that only show mainstream media, not crap (newspaper selections: Deutsche Zeitungen, Italia Notizie, France Actualités; but nothing like News Republic, Yandex Zen or similar apps that, while able to switch the content from a country to another, are full of conspiracy theories, tits and crap for retards). As CNEWS has a horrendous Android app, I prefered the replays for Éric Zemmour dans Face à l’Info.
There’s also a Telegram channel called Corona-Infokanal des Bundesministeriums für Gesundheit. Also, after a while, I decided to go back to listening to Sud Radio.
My only regret is that there’s too little about Spain in the press and generally in the media. The numbers of infected and of the dead is not everything that matters. (BTW, there’s a selection of articles in the English edition of El País.)
3 What bothers me the most is not the idiocy of the general public, but the dullness of the authorities. As I said in my previous “End of World Diary” posts, how could one trust the WHO and the Governments when the measures taken are dependent on the “stage” of the contamination? In other words, if the number of the contaminated people is below a certain figure, we don’t do much to prevent an epidemic, and we only ban public gatherings of, say, 1,000 or 500 people. This is beyond ridiculous: did anyone believe this would have any effect at all to slow the pandemic?
One of the most criminal episodes of indecision–in the line of “the alcohol is useless…. oh, wait, it’s fine if it’s at least 60° v/v”–is the face protection masks nonsense. Giving that the shortage of masks was obvious, they all rushed to say “if it’s not FFP2/FFP3/NP95, it’s useless, don’t wear a mask unless you’re sure you’re infected!”. I won’t insist on how this would discourage even the infected people to wear a face mask (it’s like wearing a huge sign: LEPER!), but now the same medical authorities say… “wear a mask, any mask is better than nothing and can help to slow down the spreading of the disease!”
As a satirical French cartoon featuring President Macron and Sibeth Ndiaye, the most inept speaker the French Government had, said: if we don’t have enough masks, we say they’re useless; once we have them, we’re going to say they’re mandatory!
Should Europe (and the US) have had enough masks–at least one per person per day!–maybe the lockdown would have been unnecessary. I can’t see how a person wearing a mask would still go to a restaurant or a café, but the economic activity could have gone unhindered if everyone had a mask and the necessary protective gear!
But how could we have had billions of masks if almost everything that matters is Made in China or, if not in China, in some other Asian country?
Here’s a stupid corrugated cardboard replacement for a cat’s scratching toy: retailing at €9.99 and Made in Malaysia probably for €0.01!
How would one expect us, Westerners, to manufacture anything at home, when the capitalist greed decided to make even the cheapest cardboard at tens of thousands of kilometers away? I bet the cumulative costs of exporting, shipping, and importing go way beyond the manufacturing costs. But hey, we couldn’t make it in Germany for €0.10 apiece, because we’re selling it for “only” €9.99, and we need a better profit margin!
One more time, the criminals are not the greedy capitalists, but the politicians who allowed them to “globalize” everything. But even if some stupid Greens would finally awake and say “we shouldn’t allow cheap merchandise to travel that much by ship and generate so much pollution,” there are trading agreements between the EU and the respective countries of origin, and even the WHO imposes caps on import taxes, so under the current legal framework it would be impossible to impose custom duties of e.g. 500% or 1,000% to discourage such predatory–and yet suicidal!–behaviors. You must have noticed how when Trump’s trade wars raised the custom duties for certain items to 10%, 15% or 25%, the world cried that this would break everything.
In short, maybe Governments would declare items such as face masks and protective gear “strategic items that must be manufactured at home,” but this won’t change anything else.
Right now, it’s much easier to find face masks in the so-called “third-world countries” from Asia (not those from Africa or South America) than in Western Europe or the US. In some countries the politicians are eager to plan a gradual return to “normalcy” (the corporations and the finance are pressuring them), but how the fuck could this happen when there are no masks? “Oh, look, we ordered 1 billion masks from China, they should arrive by end-June. Meanwhile, a few millions should come from Turkey or be made at home.” Pathetic.
Speaking of face masks, do you know how one can test a DIY one for effectiveness?
4 The second major crime for which both the politicians and the medical authorities are responsible is the non-use of cheap medication that could have reduced the death rate probably by 75%.
After so many talks, I’ll just make a list of what might help, not before reminding you that what makes Covid-19 so dangerous is not its unexplained contagiousness or the fact that many people are asymptomatic, but the unpredictable response of one’s immune system, which can overreact by releasing too many cytokines, whose inflammatory actions would trigger severe respiratory distress and eventually lead to pulmonary failure.
Major treatment paths (not including the fever reducers):
- The anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine (which counters the cytokines) and the antibiotic azithromycin.
- The experimental Clazakizumab (an anti-interleukin-6 monoclonal antibody, also regulating the immune response).
- The antiparasitic Ivermectin (Australian study: even a single dose could have the potential to remove all the viral RNA in 48 hours).
- Plasma from recovered Covid-19 patients (in theory).
More recently, there’s also hope from an antiandrogen (testosteron blocker) treatment used against the prostate cancer, based on the idea that in the prostate there is a trans membrane protein called Tmprss2 which is also present in the pulmonary epithelium.
No, the following drugs are not effective:
- The antiviral Remdesivir (highly toxic).
- The antiretroviral HIV drug Kaletra (Lopinavir/Ritonavir).
Preventative or self-administered, to increase one’s chances of having a proper immune response, these adjuvants might help:
- Vitamin D (it has to do with the cytokines much more than vitamin C and the zinc), especially when one is self-quarantined.
- Green or black tea (for the anti-inflammatory, not the antioxidant properties).
- The oat straw (Avena sativa) and black seed oil (Nigella sativa). Yes, it’s again about inflammatory cytokines.
- Acetylcysteine (ACC), also known as N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC), nominally an antioxidant that used to be sold OTC even in the German DM drugstore as a mucolytic and expectorant, but now the idiots (Big Pharma? stupid medical authorities? moronic politicians?) decided it should only be sold in pharmacies. This ACC/NAC has been shown to inhibit replication of the seasonal H5N1 human influenza A virus, so it might help a bit here too. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory properties that can help even in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. It’s also used in cases of intoxication with paracetamol, which is likely to happen in cases of high fever (and self-medication), especially as more effective antipyretic drugs such as sodium metamizole (Novaminsulfon, Dipyron, Анальгин, Algocalmin), magnesium metamizole (Nolotil), aminophenazone (Pyramidon®), propyphenazone (Saridon®), and the orthoxyquinoline sulfonate of aminophenazone (Acalor®) have been discontinued or are forbidden in most countries.
Speaking of drugs that have been discontinued: originally, Formitrol had 10 mg formaldehyde, but since 2004 formaldehyde is considered carcinogenic and banned in the EU; dozens of millions have taken it without any problem, but nowadays everything can cause you cancer. Either way, nobody knows whether it would have had any relevance against SARS-CoV-2 (probably not), but it has been shown that it inactivates the seasonal influenza virus A (H3N2) and avian influenza virus A (H7N3). One more simple, classical remedy that’s gone…
Back to our sheep, why is it criminal not to give everyone hydroxychloroquine, despite the recommendation of Prof. Didier Raoult (see my previous post)?
It is criminal not to give everyone, bar those who have specific contraindications, but they’re a minority:
- a drug that’s very cheap:
- a drug that is exceptionally well-tolerated;
- a drug that has been taken so far probably by 1 billion people;
- a drug that is taken one time a week several weeks before someone visits a malaria-ridden area;
- a drug that is also used for autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus and rheumatoid arthritis;
- a drug that, despite not having any certainty as per the rigorous scientific procedures and by all the bureaucratic standards, can cure 75% of the patients that respond to it;
- a drug whose effectiveness–being based on the blocking of cytokines–is maximal in the early stages of the Covid-19 infection, not when the patient is intubated with the lungs reduced to a sieve!
Here’s how all the Governments are responsible for most of the Covid-19-related deaths, no matter some of they say “all paths are explored and no possible treatment is ignored,” because of the same time there must be “a medical commission” to consider “each case” before administering hydroxychloroquine! What the fuck, you idiots, there aren’t enough doctors anyway, and you imagine a commission for each patient?!
Even more criminal, as I said before, in some countries the hydroxychloroquine was OTC, but they made sure it’s prescription-only these days: the French authorities made the prescription mandatory on January 15, and in the meantime they have added “données de pharmacovigilance” to scare people away. And yet…
• Je suis médecin interniste, j’ai 36 ans d’exercice en médecine hospitalière puis libérale. J’ai eu l’occasion de suivre des dizaines de patientes atteintes de Lupus et de PR traitée par hydroxychloroquine à 400 ou 600 mg pendant plusieurs mois voire même plusieurs années. Jusqu’à l’heure actuelle aucune complication cardiovasculaire ou rétinienne n’ont été observées. Je me demande pourquoi toutes ces alertes sont signalées actuellement. S’agit-il d’un dénigrement gratuit du Pr Raoult ou des réactions de certains laboratoires qui souhaiteraient commercialiser d’autres substances beaucoup plus chères ? Soyons humains, les gens sont en train de mourir par milliers.
• Anesthesiste Rea, je consomme Plaquenil depuis 35 ans pour une PR a la dose de 200 mg/j, aujourd’hui 200 mg associé à 12,5 mg de methotrexate par semaine sans effets indésirables secondaires. Surveillance ECG et ophtalmo annuelle.
• Plaquenil: la dose toxique est à 25 mg/kg , soit une dose de 1750 mg/jour pour un poids de 70 kg, on est loin des 600 mg/jour dans le TTT du Covid-19 ; croyez vous qu’un médecin soit soupçonnable de commettre une telle erreur de posologie ?
• Comment se fait-il que l’on nous bassine avec les problèmes de risque cardio alors qu’on l’a utilisé en pratique sans faire d’ECG avant la mise en route du TTT, quant à l’association risquée avec le Zithromax, le labo Sanofi Aventis ne la signale pas dans ses précautions à prendre.
Les connaisseurs have been self-prescribing it ever since le citoyen lambda couldn’t just purchase it; but the citizen can find on Wikipedia an alarmingly long section of Effets indésirables et toxicité for the hydroxychloroquine.
I won’t quote the relatively few studies (and not peer-reviewed, as if that would be a label of quality) that show how effective the hydroxychloroquine can be (this one is Chinese; but there are several others), and maybe Didier Raoul is “just a French mad doctor,” but first-hand evidence is persuading me:
Here’s the first study conducted by Didier Raoult on patients in intensive care; and a quick summary of it:
Here’s a Twitter thread from an American neuroradiologist, from which I’ll extract a few ideas–it’s about hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) or chloroquine (CQ), plus azithromycin:
• China recommends early HCQ. S. Korea recommends IMMEDIATE CQ.
• Dr. Vladimir Zelenko NY: 68 high risk treated outpatient HCQ + azithromycin + zinc, >50% C19+, only 4 progressed inpatient.
• Dr. Rob Richardson OR: 15 outpatients tested C19+, VA home, average age 80, treated with HCQ and azithromycin, 14 survived, 0 admissions, 0 intubations. One patient died who couldn’t get HCQ nor azithromycin (cardiac contraindication).
• Dr. Jeff Colyer (former KS governor), Dr. Daniel Hintorn: 21 outpatients C19+ treated HCQ and azithromycin, 0 admissions.
• Our hypothesis: treating early to prevent admission is better than treating late at admission in selected high risk patients, or patients who are symptomatic or very symptomatic, or some subset of patients yet to be determined, or great majority of patients. Like HIV, or cancer, or appendicitis, or pneumonia, or Tamiflu and influenza, or almost any other viral infection, EARLY TREATMENT IS BETTER.
• Mode of action: Stop spread of virus from nasal/pharynx to lungs/organs, attenuate viremia and shedding and transmission, decrease R0, azithromycin may help stop superinfection (high prevalence) and make HCQ more effective, decrease admissions, stop cytokine storm, prevent ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome), prevent ICU, save world.
• Outpatient doctors are discovering HCQ/chloroquine works anecdotally before inpatient doctors/hospitalists.
• Something to consider: Rheumatologists prescribe these every day, and these are generally considered safe medicines (many/most? don’t order EKG prior to starting daily HCQ [half life of 40 days]). EKG and LFT’s prior to and possibly after HCQ and azithromycin treatment? Is QT prolongation risk and other side effects riskier than the potential complications from the illness, and riskier than the benefit to potentially for decrease viral shedding and cutting the spread down, the resultant devastation to people’s lives? Individual risk/benefit analysis.
• Anecdotal summary: I’ve only found a few patients who took HCQ and azithromycin early that later went on to be admitted. But hardly anyone is using it early on outpatient basis in America. Doctors are scared to prescribe it as outpatient even to moderate to high risk carefully selected patients. Except some are prescribing it to their spouse/ family!
• Working document with links: https://docs.google.com/document/d/14XqG9eCefzu93kSVueiCRqMDX8jMjGSopHFeUi0oaGs/edit
A bit about Dr. Zelenko. The NYT, always eager to find fault with Trump, wrote on April 2: Touting Virus Cure, ‘Simple Country Doctor’ Becomes a Right-Wing Star. How Dr. Vladimir Zelenko’s claims for his coronavirus treatment spread from a New York village all the way to President Trump:
Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, 46, a mild-mannered family doctor with offices near the village. Since early March, his clinics had treated people with coronavirus-like symptoms, and he had developed an experimental treatment consisting of an antimalarial medication called hydroxychloroquine, the antibiotic azithromycin and zinc sulfate.
After testing this three-drug cocktail on hundreds of patients, some of whom had only mild or moderate symptoms when they arrived, Dr. Zelenko claimed that 100 percent of them had survived the virus with no hospitalizations and no need for a ventilator.
Everything that comes from Trump must be wrong, and any means are good to trash him: “Mr. Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine.” Another “proof” is that they found some idiot able to do this: A man thought aquarium cleaner with the same name as the anti-viral drug chloroquine would prevent coronavirus. It killed him.
They also managed to find flawed studies. A Brazilian study enrolled 440 severely ill Covid-19 patients and had to give up administering chloroquine to one fourth of the patients, because after ten days at 1,200 mg/day, some “developed heart rhythm problems, and trends suggested more deaths were occurring in that group.” This was the double of the dosage that works in Covid-19, and much higher than the dosage used in malaria (200 mg/week) and rheumatoid arthritis (200 mg/day).
A mischievously flawed American study:
Of course, SARS-CoV-2 didn’t come from the pangolin; the latest-and-greatest “conspiracy that is not conspiracy because it’s mainstream” theory favors the bats one more time: State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat coronaviruses:
Two years before the novel coronavirus pandemic upended the world, U.S. Embassy officials visited a Chinese research facility in the city of Wuhan several times and sent two official warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety at the lab, which was conducting risky studies on coronaviruses from bats. …
In January 2018, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing took the unusual step of repeatedly sending U.S. science diplomats to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which had in 2015 become China’s first laboratory to achieve the highest level of international bioresearch safety (known as BSL-4). WIV issued a news release in English about the last of these visits, which occurred on March 27, 2018. …
The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help. The first cable, which I obtained, also warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic. …
The Chinese researchers at WIV were receiving assistance from the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch and other U.S. organizations, but the Chinese requested additional help. The cables argued that the United States should give the Wuhan lab further support, mainly because its research on bat coronaviruses was important but also dangerous.
As the cable noted, the U.S. visitors met with Shi Zhengli, the head of the research project, who had been publishing studies related to bat coronaviruses for many years. In November 2017, just before the U.S. officials’ visit, Shi’s team had published research showing that horseshoe bats they had collected from a cave in Yunnan province were very likely from the same bat population that spawned the SARS coronavirus in 2003.
“Most importantly,” the cable states, “the researchers also showed that various SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus. This finding strongly suggests that SARS-like coronaviruses from bats can be transmitted to humans to cause SARS-like diseases. From a public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance of SARS-like coronaviruses in bats and study of the animal-human interface critical to future emerging coronavirus outbreak prediction and prevention.”
The research was designed to prevent the next SARS-like pandemic by anticipating how it might emerge. But even in 2015, other scientists questioned whether Shi’s team was taking unnecessary risks. …
As many have pointed out, there is no evidence that the virus now plaguing the world was engineered; scientists largely agree it came from animals. But that is not the same as saying it didn’t come from the lab, which spent years testing bat coronaviruses in animals, said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley.
Either way, what happened to Didier Raoult’s insistence that a cheap malaria drug (associated with an antibiotic) should be used on a large scale and ASAP? After all, President Macron is more human than President Trump, right? Right?
Well, it depends. Partial chronology:
- March 26: Dans le cadre de l’urgence sanitaire, l’hydroxychloroquine peut être prescrite en traitement du COVID-19, mais seulement “sous la responsabilité d’un médecin” (Décret n° 2020-314 du 25 mars 2020, JORF n°0074 du 26 mars 2020)
- March 26, Professeur Gilles Pialoux, chef service des maladies infectieuses de l’hôpital Tenon (APHP), LCI, 24h Pujadas: « Même si cette épidémie galope on ne peut pas bruler des étapes, les règles. Ça n’a rien à voir avec le saut en parachute. »
- March 27, Sud Radio, chez Valérie Expert: “Il y a une bureaucratie sanitaire qui fait tout pour empêcher l’utilisation massive de la chloroquine. La machine administrative fait tout pour retarder cette solution.” (Eric Verhaeghe) “On manque de pragmatisme dans la manière de gérer cette crise.” (Laurence Taillade)
- March 28: Le Tribunal administratif de Guadeloupe ordonne au CHU (centre hospitalier universitaire) et à l’ARS (Agence régionale de santé) de commander des tests ainsi que les doses nécessaires de chloroquine et d’azithromycine conformes au traitement défini par l’IHU Méditerranée Infection (Institut hospitalo-universitaire en maladies infectieuses de Marseille)
- March 28: Le Conseil d’État refuse que la chloroquine soit prescrite par des médecins de ville (seulement en hôpitaux). Les pharmaciens ont l’interdiction de le délivrer sauf pour les malades sous traitement en cours pour certaine maladies chroniques (décision du Conseil d’État et Gouvernement). Commentaire: Si le Conseil d’État a la compétence pour soigner les gens et prescrire des médicaments, alors supprimons les médecins!
- March 29: FDA issues emergency authorization of anti-malaria drug for coronavirus care. “The drugs have been championed by President Donald Trump for treatment despite scant evidence.”
- April 17: Russia authorizes the use of hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 patients.
Why this contradictory decisions in France? As Éric Zemmour explained (Face à l’Info du 15/04/2020), Didier Raoult has been ostracized by the entire sanitary structure in France, in part because the persons in charge were who were and had the interests they had. But instead of prescribing HCQ (+antibiotic) from the beginning, Big Pharma would have preferred much more expensive treatments–and, should such treatments become available, make sure they’ll get approved pronto.
The contradictory essayist Éric Zemmour (which is against the lockdown, but I’ll discuss this matter later) also interprets Dr. Raoult’s sayings that Africa might paradoxically prove to be better prepared than the West in face of Covid-19 “because they have older medicines” (including the anti-malaria ones that seem to help) as a bashing of “modern molecules, of which 90% are useless or dangerous”. He refers to the book Guide des 4000 médicaments utiles, inutiles ou dangereux, by Philippe Even and Bernard Debré (Le Cherche midi, 2012).
As a matter of fact, do the following exercise: search the Internet for PDF versions of the following books: The Modern Materia Medica, New York, 1906 (306 pp.) and Revue des médicaments nouveaux et de quelques médications nouvelles, Paris, 11e édition, 1904 (430 pp.), then browse them. You’ll become flabbergasted by how many drugs were known back then (well, including cocaine against cough)! Obviously, no antibiotics, nor cytostatic drugs. Nonetheless, many “classical molecules” that people over 40 are familiar with and which worked are now discontinued and banned. Food for thought…
As for a useless drug, here’s an easy one: Strepsils (Dobensana in Germany), the classic formula introduced in 1958, based on Amylmetacresol and (2,4-Dichlorphenyl)methanol: do you know anyone, any single person to whom this crap was effective? I don’t.
One last topic about the medical bureaucracy that kills instead of saving lives: Is protocol-driven COVID-19 respiratory therapy doing more harm than good?
Physicians in the COVID-19 trenches are beginning to question whether standard respiratory therapy protocols for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) are the best approach for treating patients with COVID-19 pneumonia.
At issue is the standard use of ventilators for a virus whose presentation has not followed the standard for ARDS, but is looking more like high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) in some patients.
In a letter to the editor published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine on March 30, and in an editorial accepted for publication in Intensive Care Medicine, Luciano Gattinoni, MD, of the Medical University of Göttingen in Germany and colleagues make the case that protocol-driven ventilator use for patients with COVID-19 could be doing more harm than good.
Dr. Gattinoni noted that COVID-19 patients in ICUs in northern Italy had an atypical ARDS presentation with severe hypoxemia and well-preserved lung gas volume. He and colleagues suggested that instead of high positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP), physicians should consider the lowest possible PEEP and gentle ventilation–practicing patience to “buy time with minimum additional damage.”
Similar observations were made by Cameron Kyle-Sidell, MD, a critical care physician working in New York City, who has been speaking out about this issue on Twitter and who shared his own experiences in this video interview with WebMD chief medical officer John Whyte, MD.
The bottom line, as Dr. Kyle-Sidell and Dr. Gattinoni agree, is that protocol-driven ventilator use may be causing lung injury in COVID-19 patients.
While not willing to name the hospitals at this time, he said that one center in Europe has had a 0% mortality rate among COVID-19 patients in the ICU when using this approach, compared with a 60% mortality rate at a nearby hospital using a protocol-driven approach. …
Dr. Gattinoni and colleagues … identified two primary phenotypes …: 1) Type L, characterized by low elastance, low ventilator perfusion ratio, low lung weight, and low recruitability; and 2) Type H, characterized by high elastance, high right-to-left shunt, high lung weight, and high recruitability.
“Given this conceptual model, it follows that the respiratory treatment offered to Type L and Type H patients must be different,” Dr. Gattinoni said. …
Dr. Gattinoni and his colleagues offered a proposed treatment model based on their conceptualization:
• Reverse hypoxemia through an increase in FiO2 to a level at which the Type L patient responds well, particularly for Type L patients who are not experiencing dyspnea.
• In Type L patients with dyspnea, try noninvasive options such as high-flow nasal cannula, continuous positive airway pressure, or noninvasive ventilation, and be sure to measure inspiratory esophageal pressure using esophageal manometry or surrogate measures. In intubated patients, determine P0.1 and P occlusion. High PEEP may decrease pleural pressure swings “and stop the vicious cycle that exacerbates lung injury,” but may be associated with high failure rates and delayed intubation.
• Intubate as soon as possible for esophageal pressure swings that increase from 5-10 cm H2O to above 15 cm H2O, which marks a transition from Type L to Type H phenotype and represents the level at which lung injury risk increases.
• For intubated and deeply sedated Type L patients who are hypercapnic, ventilate with volumes greater than 6 mL/kg up to 8-9 mL/kg as this high compliance results in tolerable strain without risk of ventilator-associated lung injury. Prone positioning should be used only as a rescue maneuver. Reduce PEEP to 8-10 cm H2O, given that the recruitability is low and the risk of hemodynamic failure increases at higher levels. Early intubation may avert the transition to Type H phenotype.
• Treat Type H phenotype like severe ARDS, including with higher PEEP if compatible with hemodynamics, and with prone positioning and extracorporeal support.
I kept the technical details at the end to let you understand that in order to save lives one must think. Protocols are made for robots. They have obviously saved lives when incompetent doctors saved lives by just sticking to a protocol, but who knows how many people have died because some idiots couldn’t observe the reaction of the patient and adapt? Protocols are for people unable to assume responsibility. Sure thing, there’s no medical malpractice if someone “just stuck to the protocol,” but the patient “happened to die.”
Even established protocols are hard to follow by many retards. According to a John Hopkins study, and to another study conducted in NY, between 250,000 and 440,000 people in the U.S. die every year from medical errors. Now you might understand why, despite the unquestionable heroism of so many doctors these days, especially in Italy, Spain, France, my overall consideration for the medical profession is close to zero. Most doctors are insensitive shitheads that can’t even apply a broken protocol; how could anyone expect them to save lives? Since doctors can’t anymore establish a diagnostic without several high-tech investigations, lives are generally saved by technology, not by doctors: dialysis, defibrillators, various ICU devices, etc.
Let’s read again the protocol-based vs adaptive approach: 60% mortality vs 0% mortality among the intubated people. Are you sure you understood that? And what do you believe to be the average death rate for all hospitals? Based on a chart on the contagiousness, of about 50%, so you can be sure that most of the “heroes” are following the protocol and kill the patients:
Manual proning is also an indication in Covid-19 patients, but with a shortage of personnel, the automated one is preferred, despite being more harmful to patients.
About four weeks after I tweeted about the utility of a pulse oximeter (IT: saturimetro), but I later deleted a lot of “deprecated” tweets, so I can’t prove it (here’s an Italian article from March 14), Dr. Richard Levitan writes in the NYT: The Infection That’s Silently Killing Coronavirus Patients:
I have been practicing emergency medicine for 30 years. In 1994 I invented an imaging system for teaching intubation, the procedure of inserting breathing tubes. … So at the end of March, as a crush of Covid-19 patients began overwhelming hospitals in New York City, I volunteered to spend 10 days at Bellevue, helping at the hospital where I trained. …
Even patients without respiratory complaints had Covid pneumonia. The patient stabbed in the shoulder, whom we X-rayed because we worried he had a collapsed lung, actually had Covid pneumonia. In patients on whom we did CT scans because they were injured in falls, we coincidentally found Covid pneumonia. …
And here is what really surprised us: These patients did not report any sensation of breathing problems, even though their chest X-rays showed diffuse pneumonia and their oxygen was below normal. How could this be?
We are just beginning to recognize that Covid pneumonia initially causes a form of oxygen deprivation we call “silent hypoxia” — “silent” because of its insidious, hard-to-detect nature.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs in which the air sacs fill with fluid or pus. Normally, patients develop chest discomfort, pain with breathing and other breathing problems. But when Covid pneumonia first strikes, patients don’t feel short of breath, even as their oxygen levels fall. And by the time they do, they have alarmingly low oxygen levels and moderate-to-severe pneumonia (as seen on chest X-rays). Normal oxygen saturation for most persons at sea level is 94 percent to 100 percent; Covid pneumonia patients I saw had oxygen saturations as low as 50 percent.
To my amazement, most patients I saw said they had been sick for a week or so with fever, cough, upset stomach and fatigue, but they only became short of breath the day they came to the hospital. Their pneumonia had clearly been going on for days, but by the time they felt they had to go to the hospital, they were often already in critical condition.
Pulse oximetry is no more complicated than using a thermometer. These small devices turn on with one button and are placed on a fingertip. In a few seconds, two numbers are displayed: oxygen saturation and pulse rate. Pulse oximeters are extremely reliable in detecting oxygenation problems and elevated heart rates.
Pulse oximeters helped save the lives of two emergency physicians I know, alerting them early on to the need for treatment. When they noticed their oxygen levels declining, both went to the hospital and recovered (though one waited longer and required more treatment). Detection of hypoxia, early treatment and close monitoring apparently also worked for Boris Johnson, the British prime minister.
Widespread pulse oximetry screening for Covid pneumonia — whether people check themselves on home devices or go to clinics or doctors’ offices — could provide an early warning system for the kinds of breathing problems associated with Covid pneumonia.
5 Chaotic central and government response and general cacophony. Remember how it started, when it all started? Some countries–including China and South Korea–began by measuring the temperature of passengers in airports and train stations. They couldn’t be bothered by elementary logic: not everyone that had fever had it from Covid-19, and not everyone that had Covid-19 developed a fever. Anyone who knows a bit of statistics understands that this breaks the conditions of sensitivity and specificity, thus rendering useless the entire operation. Despite the fact that eventually South Korea and Taiwan (and Vietnam, who closed its borders pretty soon) proved to be success cases, such inept measures should have told us that the emperor is naked: they’re all stupid, both the politicians and the so-called specialists.
It’s useless to list the chaotic measures taken–when taken–by various governments, but it became clear that the “Union” part of “European Union” is an empty word. There wasn’t anything coherent and concerted among the member states and, as previously mentioned in a past post, Ursula von der Leyen didn’t thought the problem was real, and she was mostly concerned with keeping an open-border policy (the same for Macron, actually).
How about the member states? The federal countries (e.g. Germany, Belgium) and those who nominally aren’t federations but their provinces or region are autonomous enough to function as if they were federations (e.g. Spain and Italy) couldn’t take national measures for a long time; instead, each Land, province or region decided for itself. It was the time when here public gatherings couldn’t be larger than 1,000 people, there than 500 people, in another place than 100 people. Here only schools were closed, there also the kindergartens. Here you didn’t have a lockdown, but a “recommendation” to stay at home. Forty kilometers away, there was a curfew in a city, but in another city the curfew hours were different. À Nice, à Cannes, à Menton ou à Saint-Laurent-du-Var, les maires ont tous mis en place des couvre-feux avec à chaque fois des horaires différents, à tel point que le préfet des Alpes-Maritimes a dû prendre un arrêté sur l’ensemble du département pour harmoniser le tout: “À Sanary-sur-Mer (Var), ville de 16.000 habitants, le maire a pris un arrêté interdisant de se déplacer pour acheter des produits à l’unité, puis un autre interdisant les sorties à plus de 10 mètres [sic] de son domicile.” Emergenza coronavirus, caos Italia tra mille leggi diverse: “La Regione più «combattiva» finora è stata la Lombardia, non a caso quella in cui il Coronavirus ha fatto i maggiori danni. Il governatore Fontana, in «aggiunta» ai vari provvedimenti di Conte, ha previsto una multa per gli «assembramenti» pari a 5.000 euro, il divieto dei mercati scoperti, la chiusura dei distribuori H24, lo stop alle attività degli studi professionali, la chiusura degli alberghi con un massimo di 72 concesso agli ospiti residui per sloggiare, la misurazione della temperatura prima di entrare nei supermercati. … In Calabria, per dirne una, c’è il divieto di fare scorte ai supermercati, e il compito di vigilare è affidato ai titolari delle attività. In Campania e Friuli c’è il divieto totale di fare sport, anche da soli (il governo, invece, lo permette nei pressi dell’abitazione). L’Emilia Romagna ha imposto la chiusura di tutte le attività (compresa la rivendita di alimentari ma escluse le farmacie) nei giorni festivi. Nel Lazio gli orari dei servizi commerciali sono stati ridotti (dalle 8 alle 19 nei giorni feriali, dalle 8.30 alle 15 nei festivi). In Liguria si è dato ordine di individuare i luoghi di possibili assembramenti e di interdirli al pubblico e si è vietato del tutto di raggiungere le seconde case (il governo, invece, lo impedisce solo nei festivi e nelle giornate immediatamente precedenti e successive come il venerdì e il lunedì).” What the fuck was that?!
I criticized Angela Merkel before, as she was not firm enough and whatever she said had to be implemented by each and every Land in whatever way the respective Ministerpräsident understood her guidelines. For instance, in some Länder the hardware stores remained open, while in other Länder they were closed. And in NRW they went to reopen IKEA, because. I mean, just because.
An update to this “because”: the Federal Government had talks with the Länder on Wednesday, April 15, and the Länder generally decided on April 16 or 17 the lockdown relaxation measures to be taken starting with April 20 (a Monday). It was as a result of the April 15 agreement that NRW said they are going to open IKEA simultaneously to opening the car dealerships, as they can’t see any difference. BW’s Ministerpräsident Kretschmann had a more conservative interpretation, yet inconsistent: all stores under 800 m² can open; car dealers, bookstores and libraries can open regardless of size. Why the limit of 800 m²? No, it’s not random: “From this sales area upwards, retail businesses are considered large-area retail businesses according to the jurisdiction of the administrative courts,” said Kretschmann. What has a sanitary emergency to do with the administrative classification of the stores?! Also, hardware & gardening stores such as OBI were open, but not furniture stores. What’s the logic?!
The same could be said about Trump, who left each Governor to take whatever measures they thought appropriate. Apparently, he doesn’t even have the powers to force Governors to take all the same measures! Within states, the president has little to no power to act, because of states’ sovereign rights to exercise their police powers. Go figure, the President of the United States can decide to kill anyone, anywhere on planet Earth, with a drone, but he can’t impose a nation-wide lockdown! He can start wars before a proper declaration of war—the last time the US formally declared war was in 1942, all of our wars and military interventions in Asia, in Latin America, in the Middle East and elsewhere having been authorized “using other means” and this, despite the War Powers Resolution, which has a questionable constitutionality–and the US Code Title 50 regarding wars has about 5,000 paragraphs, but in case of a nonbelligerent national emergency, the President is impotent! (America is so fucked-up!)
So governors of Kentucky, NY (Gov. Cuomo) and others were smart; governors of Florida, Texas, Arizona, Alabama (a decrepit bitch, age 75) were as dumb as soup, but hey, these are the advantages of a non-centralized governance system! (The same way the educational system is teaching the kids different things in different US States, or in different German Länder; I wonder whether 1+1=2 in all those distinctly different education systems; maybe there isn’t a consensus about that.)
Preventative measures also don’t seem to agree that physics, chemistry, biology have the same laws everywhere on Earth. In many countries, the official instructions on washing hands have it as “at least for 20 seconds”; in Belgium the radio stations say “40 to 60 seconds.” WTF?! Then, the initial idea in most parts of Europe was that “social distancing” meant keeping 1 meter away. In some German supermarkets the imposed distance is 1.5 m, whereas in others it’s 2 m, consistent with the US 6 ft. Of course, who cares that a sneeze creates a cloud of infected droplets that can be up to 8 meters away?
Centralization is not good, they say; it’s not democratic. “President Vladimir V. Putin has mostly delegated handling of the coronavirus crisis to regional leaders,”, writes the NYT in this article:
Ernest Mazek, a Komi legal activist who has investigated the fiasco in Ezhva, said in a telephone interview that he did not think local officials were under any orders from Moscow to lie but simply feared telling the truth in a system that gives little incentive for honesty.
“Putin is not sitting in a bunker telling everyone to hide the truth,” Mr. Mazek said. “Local officials lie because this is what they have always done. It is a habit.”
I guess I forgot to mention in my previous posts a new thing that might or might not be true: the “simple” surgical masks, supposed to only protect the others, seem to actually protect better against incoming droplets!
Who to believe? So many “specialists” who can’t agree with one another.
I won’t be commenting anything about any the economic “stimulus packages” or any similar measures taken by national governments, by the European Commission, by the ECB, the IMF and whoever else. Nothing can be good enough. No matter how many the hundreds of billions, they cannot compensate for this abrupt and prolonged disruption in the economic activity.
It is so rare when the EU does not stop or prohibit something which a country plans to do for its own people. And yet…
And yet, no matter how good the unprecedented measures announced at the EU level might look like, they’re not to be trusted by countries like Italy. The ESM (European Stability Mechanism) is a perfidious way of imposing a specific use of the public finances in a beneficiary country–remember how “well” was life in Greece after the 2008 crisis?
Most Italians seem to be united against the ESM (MES in Italian). Surprisingly enough, three weeks ago the Italian Government actually told to the “Ugly Europe” something like “Go fuck yourself”:
As for the United States…
Useless figures. I cannot stand the morbid interest everyone seems to have in counting the infected people, the dead, the recovered. Why should we count them, especially as there aren’t two countries to apply the same testing criteria? Comparing the detected infections is not the same as comparing the real infections!
If we wanted to know the number of people who were ever infected, than we should have tested for the antibodies, not for the virus itself, as the virologist Ilaria Capua said from the beginning (and also by Claudia Torrisi). That information would help us to know how close we are to a “herd immunity” stage. Apparently, we’re still far from that, with unofficial estimates of 30% for some countries, whereas 60-70% would be required. Either way, increasing the testing in itself, without any other specific measures, only serves one purpose: to boost the morale by making the mortality rate seem lower: when the denominator increases… you got it.
Otherwise, Germany’s low mortality rate is partly due to intensive testing, partly due to the fact that most detections were on younger patients, partly because of the fact that R0 is small and the epidemic has not peaked yet, and possibly also for different other reasons. Lombardy and Spain, or other countries? Brief summary from El Paìs: “France only records Covid-19 fatalities in hospitals, Spain does not include unconfirmed cases in senior homes, and the Netherlands only tests hospitalized patients.” Each country counts differently: “The way that you determine the cause of death, whether from the virus or from underlying diseases the patient may have had, also plays a role. This is not being done the same way across different countries, and it makes comparisons less reliable.” Also, Die Welt thinks that not all the Covid-19 deaths are counted in Germany, depending on the Land. So let’s fucking stop comparing numbers that cannot be compared!
Germany is a special case, but it looks too good to be true. I fear that there’s only a matter of time before it gets really ugly. But for now, let’s address the way they managed to brag about the “26,000 ICU beds that have been pumped up to 40,000 ICU beds with ventilators”; it’s only that the most recent figures count 26,628 beds!
Liar, liar, pants on fire? Sorry, I couldn’t find a German equivalent…
A fact still remains, and it’s intriguing: no matter how you count it, Germany has the largest number of ICU beds per capita:
Knowing how stingy they are in Germany, it looks like an extravagance and an unbelievable squandering. What’s the explanation? Nobody bothered to solve the mystery.
At first sight, most of them are usually unused. The first chart says this: out of 26.6k ICU beds, 12.5k are taken by other medical conditions, 2.8k by Covid-19, and 11k are free. Having more than 50% free (26,628 minus 12,543 gives 14,085) “in times of peace” is surreal! In most countries, most ICU beds are usually taken! Typically, there’s barely a margin…
Maybe it has to do with the practices of the German medical school, of which I know exactly nothing. Suppose the medically induced coma (a practice I strongly disagree with, no matter the rationale, as I believe it’s too risky) is much more common practice in Germany than everywhere else; as the induced coma requires mechanical ventilation, this would explain the excess of ICU beds with ventilators. It’s only a hypothesis, but the only one I could think of. Obviously, the powers that be (and the press altogether!) didn’t found necessary to inform the populace.
Sinon, Roselyne Bachelot a une explication du succès allemand du système médical allemand, sauf que la solution ne semble pas trop compatible avec l’esprit français :
The populace was nonetheless informed by Angela Merkel that the current “equilibrium” is fragile: Germany is lucky to have R0=1.0. Should R0 increase to 1.1, the healthcare system will reach its capacity by October; but if it’ll get to 1.2, the capacity will be reached in July!
Speaking of Angela, remember when she was suspected of being contaminated after being vaccinated by a doctor who was positive? Vaccinated against… well, she already was vaccinated against the common flu, she wanted the Pneumococcal vaccine, which was a wise thing to do. We don’t want several infections simultaneously in our lungs, do we?
Here’s now a figure that’s wrong, yet useful. What Everyone’s Getting Wrong About the Toilet Paper Shortage:
Georgia-Pacific, a leading toilet paper manufacturer based in Atlanta, estimates that the average household will use 40% more toilet paper than usual if all of its members are staying home around the clock. That’s a huge leap in demand for a product whose supply chain is predicated on the assumption that demand is essentially constant.
If you’re looking for where all the toilet paper went, forget about people’s attics or hall closets. Think instead of all the toilet paper that normally goes to the commercial market — those office buildings, college campuses, Starbucks, and airports that are now either mostly empty or closed. That’s the toilet paper that’s suddenly going unused.
And that toilet paper–the one people would use at work, in airports, etc.–cannot be sent to supermarkets, because it’s different from what you’d normally purchase. Often, it doesn’t even come from the same paper mills. Also, switching the production from commercial-use to retail-use toilet tissue is not as easy as flipping a switch:
Because toilet paper is high volume but low value, the industry runs on extreme efficiency, with mills built to work at full capacity around the clock even in normal times. That works only because demand is typically so steady. If toilet paper manufacturers spend a bunch of money now to refocus on the retail channel, they’ll face the same problem in reverse once people head back to work again.
But the article is wrong when it asserts that very little of the toilet paper shortage was triggered by hoarding, and for several reasons. Primo, that the hoarding started before people were told to stay home or to work from home; hence, before they any increase in the home consumption was noticed or forecasted. Secundo, that only 39% of the Americans work from home; bar the 16M who just lost their jobs, and the students, those who still have a job they go to are, um, shitting as usual. So maybe the domestic increase is around 20%, not 40%. But the article is still informative and useful, because once the hoarded toilet paper is gone, people will still need to purchase more than usual. So the shortage is still here.
Random acts of stupidity. A quick and very partial selection.
Deutsche Welle in English expressed their concern regarding the starving pigeons:
Well, the problem is that in many parts of Germany it’s illegally to feed them anyway, but these journos are retards:
Other journos, this time from Italy, decided it’s high time for a Cold War with Russia: La Stampa accused Russia of sending “useless” aid to mask an espionage operation.
The German Bundesministeriums für Arbeit und Soziales created several FAQ documents, in many languages but German (why on Earth?), and one particular answer caught my eye. Took from the documents in Romanian and in English:
Simply put, if the S-Bahn or the bus traffic is canceled because the (local or federal) government decided so, and the employee relied on them to get to work, there is no protection for the employee! Apparently, the German legislation is written by the automotive industry. When you think that Germany was considered a country where one can live without a car! What legal text mentions that “employees bear the risk concerning their ability to get to work” and where? It’s nowhere on BMAS.de.
I understand the concept that it’s nowhere’s task to make sure a workplace is reachable by public transportation, but this is to be considered when one applies for a job. When it’s the Government that cancels the public transportation that existed… what the heck is this?! (It’s been years since I compare the spirit of the German legal system with the spirit of the legal systems that are based on the French one, and every once in a while I am forced to the conclusion that the German one is half medieval, half idiotic, and sometimes inspired by the Common Law principles; in short, a screwup.)
The Governor of Michigan decided grains are not essential, so even when a supermarket that’s legally open offers them, they’re forbidden from sale:
For goodness’ sake, they must be really retarded in America! In Germany, where e.g. Saturn, MediaMarket, OBI, Hofmeister, etc. are closed, if e.g. Kaufland has electronics or gardening tools or whatever, of course they can sell them, even if they can’t be eaten! Gosh. And pillows too:
Bill Gates had three solutions to kill the pandemic:
- Strengthening the isolation of citizens
- Intensify testing
- Data-Driven approach to find the vaccine
The third one is the really stupid one. No, it’s not about monitoring people via their smartphones; it’s about distributed computing in the sense of using the general public’s computers the way they are used by projects such as SETI@home, Folding@home, Rosetta@home. Sort of bitcoin mining, but “for good causes.” This is ridiculous. Here’s the thing.
Here’s how someone who’s normally sharp-minded (even as he’s an explainer and now a supporter of Trump’s) can have outbursts of stupidity:
Obviously, the lockdown cannot be compared to the collective summer holidays many countries experience in July or August. When people in Europe take an entire month of vacation, their consumption increases. The hotels are full, the extra vacation money are all spent, nobody stays put at home to watch TV. Normal vacation time generates trillions of euros of tourism.
Insane censorship: YouTube removes a video because it was suggesting that vitamin C and D improve the immunity is “fake news” in the context of #Covid-19. Is thus the world of tomorrow?!
Another incredible idiocy: Federazione Italiana Editori Giornali would like to ban Telegram because some people are illegally distributing PDFs with newspapers on Telegram. Why not shutting down the entire Internet then? Are they aware that a messaging app is by no means the primary source of “illegal content” when there are gazillions of servers on the Internet? Oh, and why not banning WhatsApp too? (BTW, Health Ministries of Italy and Germany have official Telegram accounts.)
And let’s not forget that the WHO insisted, throughout January and February, that Covid-19 cannot be transmitted from a human to another human:
But at least the WHO finally decided on a delicate problem that opposed Québec and France, Belgium and Switzerland: which is the sex, sorry, the gender of Covid-19?
Now that the most important questions have been settled, how about getting inspiration from China and South Korea and create apps that monitor the whereabouts of everyone? So far, the apps developed or in development in Italy, France and Belgium (in Australia too!) are using Bluetooth (inspired by Singapore’s TraceTogether), not GPS, and are installed on a voluntary basis (so far). Italy just started the deployment!
What can be worse than that? Maybe this: Montenegro’s government published lists containing the personal data of self-quarantined citizens. European values and all.
6 Lockdown vs masks and protective gear. At the crux of the matter is the variety of measures taken to contain or slow the spreading of the pandemic.
In my opinion, those who say that an early full lockdown of 2…6 weeks would have made miracles were right. But very few countries did so; most notably, China did in Wuhan, and it helped, no matter what figures you choose to believe. Most countries failed to close the borders, and generally did almost nothing of relevance … bar other measures that only help in the early stages of any epidemic. Inquiring about one’s contacts and test them makes sense when the number of infected people is very low, and when “epidemic” is an overstatement. This approach helped in previous viral epidemics, such as SARS and the bird flu. But this Covid-19 has spread inconspicuously and swiftly, and when it was about taking more assuming measures…
The lockdown wasn’t a full lockdown everywhere. There was and is no real lockdown in countries like Sweden or Japan. In Hong Kong, only schools were closed. At the opposite end, Jordan, India, Spain, Israel, the UK, Denmark, and many others. But what I found the most absurd was the way the lockdown was imposed in Italy, France, Romania and Belgium (the latter since April 8; they must have liked the “great effects” the concept of an attestation de déplacement dérogatoire / autodichiarazione had in the other countries).
These countries have established a system of self-certification based on complex declarations that must be printed or copied by hand. I’m not aware of any such stupid mechanism in the entire history of the humankind! Seriously, when the Wehrmacht occupied whoever they occupied in the last world war, any Ausweis was released by the Kommandatur, not by each recipient! There was nothing like “I hereby declare I am not a Jew and I’m on the street in order to purchase a loaf of bread.” But here, three stupid governments imposed absurd and cumbersome restrictions to entire populations (30% of the Italians don’t own a printer), out of idiotic bureaucracy! Also out of bureaucracy, such self-certifications changed in form every couple of days.
Let’s not talk of the “herd immunity” approach initially favored by countries such as the UK and Denmark. It’s the most stupid idea, because when too many people get sick simultaneously, the health care system can’t help them. In the meantime even the most stupid of us have understood that.
There is however an approach from the Governments who respect and trust their citizens and only strongly recommend everyone to limit their social contacts to the minimum necessary. That’s in the mildest form, which usually also includes teleworking where working from home is possible, and closing down the schools, especially elementary schools and kindergartens, of cinemas, theaters, restaurants, etc. Stronger forms include closing of all non-essential businesses and non-food stores, and even the interdiction to be in the street without a justifiable reason, but without stressing on documents and fines, which are an insult to the common sense and a proof the government despises its subjects!
OK, I understand that in Romance cultures people are behaving differently than in Teutonic and Nordic ones. Conviviality contributed to the speed the epidemic had in Italy, Spain, and possibly France.
But no, the force is not the proper measure to be taken against an entire population. The citizens must be persuaded; they can also be directed gently, like in the case when eateries were told to only serve “to-go” or to distance the tables several meters apart (something that still happens in China today); and, most importantly, they must be helped.
And guess what would have been the most helpful measure of all, if taken by a Government that already takes through taxes 35% to 55% of the GDP (in Europe) without doing much for the money, a measure that would have allowed for an almost normal economic activity?
Masks. Masks. Again, masks, not fines and certificates.
Either way, a paradox remains: in Europe, the countries with the highest number of deaths are those with the strictest lockdowns and with the most severely punished infringements–Italy, Spain, France.
Food for thought courtesy of Prof. Enzo Pennetta: The lockdown is not a solution, but a declaration of bankruptcy. As in the tale of the three little pigs, if the straw house falls because of the wind, at fault is not the wind but the fact that the house is made of straw and not of brick.
As Éric Zemmour remarked (Face à l’Info du 13/04/2020), how can France pretend not being a third-world country when it’s unable to provide everyone with masks? Airbus and nuclear power plants, yes, but masks and tests, no. How can the lockdown be relaxed without masks and tests?
Side note: using latex gloves seems to be a bad idea for the public. Firstly, because such a glove risks transferring the contaminated droplets from a surface to the next one it touches; secondly, because it makes the hand perspire, and once the glove is removed, a moist hand is more vulnerable. But let’s not be paranoid: As with any other poison, viruses are usually deadlier in larger amounts. So the best protection is only required for those who are routinely in contact with many people and with the virus.
Zemmour is a strong opponent of the lockdown–“Lockdown is so Middle Ages” (Face à l’Info du 15/04/2020)–, and I agree with him that two months of total lockdown will destroy Western economies. And that normalcy could exist–as long as there isn’t yet a vaccine, nor a “herd immunity”–only if two conditions are met:
- Masks for everyone. (Protective equipment gear when appropriate: hospitals, police, etc.)
- Tests for everyone, and quarantining of those contaminated. (Testing an entire population isn’t possible in a reasonable time, but the idea is that any suspect must be tested, and whoever is positive should be quarantined.)
Unfortunately, the “developed” Western countries can’t provide even the most exposed personnel with protective gear, so how could they make sure the entire population has at least face masks? (And hand sanitizers, and whatever is needed.) Zemmour: “On surveille les plages avec les hélicos, mais on ne peut pas fabriquer des masques.” (Face à l’Info du 13/04/2020)
This is a collective failure of the West. They can’t even distribute them based on rationing coupons. (South Korea distributes 200 million masks per week to the population.) And this is why the lockdown is necessary. But it will kill us economically.
7 The aftermath. So far, it’s way too early to think of an aftermath. It’s my opinion that too many countries haven’t yet reached the peak, and the descent is going to be a slow one. Without a specific treatment and a vaccine available to everyone, there’s no aftermath. Unless we really want to reach the “herd immunity” fast and no matter the costs. Be aware that there is zero chance that the virus will disappear with the summer; SARS disappeared with the summer, but not because of the heat: it was the effectiveness of the containment who killed it.
A number of countries are pushing towards a relaxation of the lockdown, a gradual opening of the schools (Denmark even the elementary schools, which is an idiocy), reopening of whatever else was closed (except that one cannot eat in a restaurant, café, gelateria). Some even mandate (e.g. Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia) or plan to mandate wearing a mask in public. But, you motherfuckers, if people can’t get any masks, how can the Government force people to manufacture their own masks?!
A Lord Mayor of a small town in BW (Kirchheim unter Teck) and the government of the neighboring state BY decided to make face masks mandatory; one week later, the state of BW decided to transform the “recommendation” to wear a face mask into an obligation. In all these cases, scarfs are considered acceptable, despite being useless. Stupid local autonomy that allows different laws of physics, chemistry, biology in different places. The cities of Jena and Nordhausen also introduced compulsory mask wearing a couple of weeks ago.
As I am writing this, the only European country where the Government managed to make face masks available to everyone was Luxembourg:
As a matter of fact, when was the last time when your Government informed you what’s the exact situation with:
- the masks that allegedly have been ordered (from China, Turkey, etc.),
- the masks that allegedly are made by the national industry,
- the masks that are available or on their way,
- the masks that have been distributed (to whom, to which regions, etc.)?
And yet they’re insisting that schools must be reopened, and exams (Abitur, Bac, etc.) be taken.
Once everything is over, there’s only one solution to that kind of governance.
Fear. It’s about fear and a changed relationship with death. Let’s talk about fear first. Of course we’re scared shitless. But how rational is this fear?
If we try to put it in context, everything seems ridiculous. Many more people die every single year of any single one of the following causes taken alone: cancer, smoking-caused cancer, heart attack or brain stroke, diabetes, car crashes, seasonal influenza. In France, the 10k deaths from Covid-19 (so far) are about 2% of the annual death rate; and the scorching heat of 2003 made 15k deaths in less than 3 weeks in the same France, without causing such a panic.
Hint: back in 2003, most of those people died at home, not in hospitals.
Let’s skip the major influenza pandemics–the Spanish flu (1918–1920), the Asian flu (1957–1958), the Hong Kong flu (1968–1969), the H1N1/09 flu pandemic (2009–2010)–and get further back in time, to other epidemics or pandemics that didn’t scare us that much.
How about the 1916 polio epidemic in the northeastern United States, when there had been more than 27,000 cases, with 6,000 deaths, of which 2,000 deaths in New York City alone? (Franklin Delano Roosevelt was this epidemics’ most renowned victim.) Easily forgotten. How about the other polio epidemics in the US, such as the one of 1944, in New Jersey, the other one in 1949 (2,720 deaths in the United States), and the worst of all, the 1952 polio epidemic? 57,628 cases, 3,145 deaths, 21,269 paralyzed.
Funny fact: the first iron lung used in the treatment of polio victims was tested in 1928 in Boston. In the Copenhagen epidemic of 1952, large numbers of patients were ventilated by hand (“bagged”) by medical students and anyone else on hand, because of the large number of bulbar polio patients and the small number of ventilators available.
Hint: back then, people were taking death as a more probable outcome than they do today.
But how about legionellosis (aka Legionnaires’ disease, named after the outbreak where it was first identified, at a 1976 American Legion convention in Philadelphia)? I would have been petrified to know that I could die from a stupid A/C system! It’s not an eradicated disease; to quote Wikipedia, “Legionnaires’ disease is the cause of an estimated 2–9% of pneumonia cases that are acquired outside of a hospital. An estimated 8,000–18,000 cases a year in the United States require hospitalization.”
At least, it’s not necessarily lethal nowadays.
Also, how would you have felt back in the 1980s, when HIV was just identified, and AIDS was rampaging? AIDS was 100% lethal back then! Maybe in the general lack of information, many people thought: “I’m not gay, the risk is practically zero to me.”
Suppose then you were in France. Ever heard of their infected blood scandal? In 1985, to avoid importing American blood testing equipment from Abbott Laboratories and heated blood (that would be HIV-free) from Travenol Hyland, the then Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, Social Affairs Minister Georgina Dufoix and Health Minister Edmond Hervé decided to distribute to hospitals untested blood that wasn’t heated to the standards required to kill HIV, despite knowing that some of it was certainly contaminated. Also, when tests were made available, the existing blood stocks still weren’t tested. In 1991 it was estimated that 95% the hemophiliacs in France were contaminated as a result (compared to 70% in the US, 50% in West Germany, 33% in the UK, 7% in Belgium); additionally, up to 8,000 people that received blood during surgery were also contaminated (compared to 1,300 in Italy). This piece of shit of Laurent Fabius never went to jail, and he’s serving as President of the Constitutional Council since March 2016, despite not having any juridical qualification; an énarque (École nationale d’administration) by formation, after the École normale supérieure and Sciences Po, this incompetent and criminal politician is emblematic of the disaster inaugurated in 1981 by Tonton Mitterrand, the last King of France, nominally socialist, but in reality only craving for power.
It helps not to know how you’ve been contaminated; but once the scandal exploded, I’d have requested the reinstating of the guillotine specifically for such scum. And I’d have dissolved the Socialist Party and ban it forever. Instead, the French sheeple did… exactly nothing.
Taking all that at face value, it looks like we aren’t really scared by death, are we? My take is that in all those situations, people were just dumb, the investigative journalism wasn’t really a thing, there were no cable networks, and no Internet.
We were very lucky such (ahem) isolated “situations” didn’t evolve to a real pandemic. We were even luckier that the SARS (2012-2013) and the avian flu (H5N1 1997 Hong Kong, H7N9 2013 and 2016 China) epidemics were quickly contained.
But now this SARS-CoV-2 is in the wild, uncontained. Even if we’ll reach the “herd immunity” before a vaccine is made available, we might find that the overall death rate is 0.2% (against 70% of the population), not 2%, as previously thought. And yet…
The eternal Zemmour. In Face à l’Info du 13/04/2020, he rightfully asserted that the current panic is due to an altered relationship with the death. In the distant past, death wasn’t a scandal, it was part of life, everyone knew and accepted that you could die at any moment. Today, if we read that the life expectancy is e.g. of 80 years, we all want to live at least 80 years. “On veut resister à tout prix à la mort.”
To support his ideas, he directed us to a book by Philippe Ariès, “Essais sur l’histoire de la mort en Occident du Moyen Age à nos jours”, Seuil, 2014; also to an article by Guillaume Cuchet, “Le virus, ou la mort imprévisible que nous avions oubliée“:
Nos ancêtres vivaient avec l’idée que la mort pouvait frapper à tout instant. La pandémie révèle combien nous en avions perdu la mémoire, explique l’historien.
Notre régime démographique, tel qu’il s’est mis en place dans les deux décennies qui ont suivi la Seconde Guerre mondiale, diffère de celui qui a précédé par trois traits principaux: la mortalité infantile (avant 1 an) et juvénile (au-dessus), qui fournissait jadis le gros contingent des morts, a presque disparu (elle a été divisée par dix dans les dix ans qui ont suivi la guerre) ; on a gagné «une vie en plus» en termes d’espérance de vie, ce qui bouleverse aussi bien la structuration des existences individuelles que l’équilibre des générations dans les familles ; les décès ont tendance à se concentrer au-delà de 65 ans et, partant, la courbe de survie à se «rectangulariser».
À telle enseigne que nos contemporains considèrent désormais qu’ils ont une sorte de droit à vivre jusqu’à 80 ans, barre en deçà de laquelle tous les décès leur paraissent plus ou moins prématurés. Il en résulte, avant 65 ans, une sécurité psychologique extraordinaire, inconnue des âges antérieurs, comme si notre régime démographique avait pris le parti de notre inconscient dont Freud disait qu’il «ne croyait pas à notre mortalité». … Ceci pour la mortalité ordinaire.
La mortalité extraordinaire, elle aussi, a beaucoup évolué. A peste, fame et bello, libera nos, Domine (de la peste, de la faim et de la guerre, libérez-nous Seigneur) disait la prière d’un long Moyen Âge, qui s’est prolongé fort avant dans le XIXe et le XXe siècle. Ces catastrophes récurrentes qui, sous l’Ancien Régime, se produisaient localement tous les quinze ou vingt ans, expliquent, ajoutées aux conditions de la mortalité ordinaire, que la croissance de la population ait été quasi nulle en France entre le début du XIVe et le début du XVIIIe siècle. La dernière famine européenne (irlandaise) date de 1846, la dernière épidémie vraiment meurtrière (la grippe espagnole) de 1918-1919, la dernière guerre vraiment sanglante de 1939-1945.
… Bref, la mortalité extraordinaire, avec tout ce qu’elle implique d’incertitude et de possibilité pour chacun d’avoir à quitter ce monde inopinément, a disparu. Et c’est bien la raison pour laquelle nous avons pu désinstaller collectivement l’ancienne culture civile et religieuse de la mort qui permettait, bon an mal an, de résister à ce véritable tabassage psycho-anthropologique. C’est le dernier stade ou la phase de liquidation de ce processus que les historiens des mentalités ont pointé dans les années 1970 sous le nom de «nouveau tabou de la mort».
… Alors que dans l’ancien monde, le problème majeur était de faire face à l’imprévisibilité de la mort, le nôtre serait plutôt inverse: c’est sa trop grande prévisibilité qui tend à devenir anxiogène.
L’espérance de vie, jadis simple artefact mathématique sans grande signification psychologique, correspond désormais pour les individus à des dates de décès probables, que chacun calcule spontanément pour son propre compte au vu du dernier état de l’indice. Un profil de vie en cloche, longtemps très théorique, se généralise et impose comme une nouvelle norme des existences qui se prolongent jusqu’à 80 ou 90 ans, avant de s’éteindre paisiblement dans une forêt de tubes bienfaisants (d’où, au moins en théorie, le principe de la réanimation pour tous). …
On comprend mieux dans ces conditions le sens de la réaction actuelle face à la pandémie de coronavirus, indépendamment du rôle des médias qui, par leur focalisation exclusive sur l’événement, fonctionnent, pour la psyché collective, comme une forme d’organisation de l’obsession. Elle correspond au retour d’une forme de mortalité extraordinaire, en réalité très limitée (dans les conditions de sa prise en charge actuelle), puisque la maladie tue peu par rapport à ses grandes devancières et qu’elle respecte largement l’ordre des générations face à la mort (à la différence du sida, par exemple).
L’écart entre la minceur de l’événement sur le plan démographique … et l’ampleur de ses conséquences, sanitaires, sociales, écologiques, économiques, psychologiques, est frappant.
Où commence, au XIXe siècle, la peur de la mort
Ainsi les images de la mort traduisent-elles les attitudes des hommes devant la mort dans un langage ni simple ni direct, mais plein de ruses et de détours. Nous pouvons en guise de conclusion résumer leur longue évolution en trois étapes significatives :
1) A la fin du Moyen Age, les images macabres signifiaient, comme l’ont pensé Huizinga et Tenenti, amour passionné de la vie et en même temps, comme je le crois, fin d’une prise de conscience, commencée au XIIe siècle, de l’individualité propre à chaque vie d’homme.
2) Du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle, des images érotiques de la mort attestent la rupture de la familiarité millénaire de l’homme et de la mort. Comme l’a dit La Rochefoucauld, l’homme ne peut plus regarder en face ni le soleil ni la mort.
3) A partir du XIXe siècle, les images de la mort sont de plus en plus rares et elles disparaissent complètement au cours du XXe siècle, et le silence qui s’étend désormais sur la mort signifie que celle-ci a rompu ses chaînes et est devenue une force sauvage et incompréhensible.
La mort interdite
Entre 1930 et 1950, l’évolution va se précipiter. Cette accélération est due à un phénomène matériel important : le déplacement du lieu de la mort. On ne meurt plus chez soi au milieu des siens, on meurt à l’hôpital, et seul. On meurt à l’hôpital parce que l’hôpital est devenu l’endroit où on donne des soins qu’on ne peut plus donner à la maison. Il était autrefois l’asile des misérables, des pèlerins ; il est d’abord devenu un centre médical où on guérit et où on lutte contre la mort. Il a toujours cette fonction curative, mais on commence aussi à considérer un certain type d’hôpital comme le lieu privilégié de la mort. On est mort à l’hôpital parce que les médecins n’ont pas réussi à guérir. On vient ou on viendra à l’hôpital non plus pour guérir, mais précisément pour mourir.
Comment le mourant est privé de sa mort
… L’homme a été, pendant des millénaires, le maître souverain de sa mort et des circonstances de sa mort. Il a aujourd’hui cessé de l’être, et voici comment.
D’abord, il était entendu, comme une chose normale, que l’homme savait qu’il allait mourir, soit qu’il s’en aperçût spontanément, soit qu’il eût fallu l’avertir. Pour nos anciens conteurs il était naturel que l’homme sente sa mort prochaine, comme dit à peu près le laboureur de La Fontaine. La mort était alors rarement subite, même en cas d’accident ou de guerre, et la mort subite était très redoutée, non seulement parce qu’elle ne permettait pas le repentir, mais parce qu’elle privait l’homme de sa mort. La mort était donc presque toujours annoncée — en un temps où les maladies un peu graves étaient presque toujours mortelles. …
Plus on avance dans le temps et plus on monte dans l’échelle sociale et urbaine, moins l’homme sent de lui-même sa mort prochaine, plus il faut l’y préparer et, par conséquent, plus il dépend de son entourage. Le médecin a renoncé au rôle qui fut longtemps le sien, sans doute au XVIIIe siècle. Au XIXe siècle, il ne parle que si on l’interroge, et avec déjà quelque réserve. Les amis n’ont plus à intervenir, comme au temps de Gerson ou encore de Cervantès. Depuis le XVIIe siècle, c’est la famille qui prend ce soin : signe des progrès du sentiment familial. …
Le mourant ne devait pas être privé de sa mort. Il fallait aussi qu’il la présidât. Comme on naissait en public, on mourait en public, et pas seulement le roi, comme c’est bien connu d’après les pages célèbres de Saint-Simon sur la mort de Louis XIV, mais n’importe qui. Que de gravures et de peintures nous représentent la scène ! Dès que quelqu’un « gisait au lit, malade », sa chambre se remplissait de monde, parents, enfants, amis, voisins, membres des confréries. Les fenêtres, les volets étaient fermés. On allumait les cierges. Quand, dans la rue, les passants rencontraient le prêtre qui portait le viatique, l’usage et la dévotion voulaient qu’ils le suivissent dans la chambre du mourant, même s’il leur était inconnu. L’approche de la mort transformait la chambre du moribond en une sorte de lieu public. …
Aujourd’hui, il ne reste plus rien ni de la notion que chacun a ou doit avoir que sa fin est proche, ni du caractère de solennité publique qu’avait le moment de la mort. Ce qui devait être connu est désormais caché. Ce qui devait être solennel est escamoté.
Il est entendu que le premier devoir de la famille et du médecin est de dissimuler à un malade condamné la gravité de son état. Le malade ne doit plus jamais savoir (sauf cas exceptionnels) que sa fin approche. L’usage nouveau exige qu’il meure dans l’ignorance de sa mort. Ce n’est plus seulement une habitude introduite naïvement dans les mœurs. C’est devenu une règle morale. …
… Combien de fois n’avons-nous pas entendu dire d’un époux, d’un parent : « J’ai du moins la satisfaction qu’il (ou elle) ne s’est jamais senti mourir » ?
The next day, Zemmour mentioned another anomaly: « Dans toutes les civilisations, on accompagne les mourants. Depuis un mois, des parents peuvent mourir sans voir leurs enfants. Tous les rites sont brisés et personne ne dit rien. C’est une rupture anthropologique majeure. Un événement dans l’événement. »
We really forgot that as fifty years ago, the hospitals were terrible primitive compared to what we have now. The modern intensive care unit (ICU) is a recent creation. Fifty years ago, if there was an oxygen tube and an IV drip, that was all! And there was no defibrillator. Watch the first minutes of Serpico (1973) and notice the rudimentary aspect of a NYC hospital; a Russian hospital in the 1950s might have looked similar. Watch the first minute of this French documentary from 1968: the response to an accident wasn’t any better anywhere else at that time! People were simply expected to die in the case of a severe road accident, on the spot, on the way to the hospital, or shortly after the arrival.
Speaking of the comparison with AIDS (incidentally mentioned by Guillaume Cuchet): an article in South China Morning Post created some panic because of the title: Coronavirus could attack immune system like HIV by targeting protective cells, warn scientists:
• Researchers in China and the US find that the virus that causes Covid-19 can destroy the T cells that are supposed to protect the body from harmful invaders
• One doctor said concern is growing in medical circles that effect could be similar to HIV
A doctor who works in a public hospital treating Covid-19 patients in Beijing said the discovery added another piece of evidence to a growing concern in medical circles that the coronavirus could sometimes behave like some of the most notorious viruses that directly attack the human immune system.
“More and more people compare it to HIV,” said the doctor who requested not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
It’s actually a sensationalist interpretation of an article published on April 7 in Cellular & Molecular Immunology: SARS-CoV-2 infects T lymphocytes through its spike protein-mediated membrane fusion. The only true thing that there is a T lymphocytopenia in the most severe cases of Covid-19, but this condition is by no means exclusive to AIDS: it can also happen during a common cold, a flu with H1N1, chemotherapy, leukemia, advanced Hodgkin’s disease… and indeed, during Covid-19 (mentioned since Feb. 28).
On March 26, the Italian writer Alessandro Baricco wrote in La Repubblica “Virus. È arrivato il momento dell’audacia.” (Virus. The time for audacity has come.) An attempt to translating the main ideas (note that, among other more important writings, Baricco wrote a book called “The Game,” which is an essay on our transition from the analogical to the digital world, from 1978 onwards):
We need to move on to audacity … to take the deadly risk of giving everyone some certainty. …
1. The world is not going to end. Neither will we find ourselves in a situation of anarchy … Wake up, those are novels. Let’s come to our senses. …
2. We’re making peace with the Game, with the digital civilization: we founded it, then we started hating it, and now we’re making peace with it. People, at all levels, are maturing a sense of trust, familiarity and gratitude for the digital tools that will settle on the common feeling and will never leave. … In a few weeks we will … find in our hands a friendly civilization that we will be better able to correct because we will do it without resentment.
3. Anyone has noticed how terribly they miss non-digital human relationships these days. Turn this certainty upside down: this means we had a lot of human relationships. While we were saying things like, “Our whole life now goes through digital devices,” what we were doing was piling up an unspeakable amount of human relationships. …
4. A crack that seemed to open like an abyss, and that was making us suffer, closed in a week: the one that had separated people from the elites. In a few days, people aligned themselves, at the price of unimaginable sacrifices and, after all, with great discipline, to the indications given by a political class in which they had no confidence and by a class of doctors who until the day before they found it difficult to recognize a real authority even on simpler issues, such as vaccines. A ruling class that was never able to make a reform of the education has managed to lock down an entire country. What the hell happened? Fear, you might say. All right. But it’s not just that. There’s something more …: despite appearances, we believe in intelligence and competence, we desire someone who can guide us, we can change our lives based on the indications of someone who knows better. Our revolt against the elites is temporarily suspended, but this can help us to understand it better: we believe in intelligence, but no longer in that of our fathers; we want competence but not 20th century competence; we need someone to make decisions for us, but we have imagined that it wouldn’t come from a caste that is stuck by itself, tired and unable to regenerate itself. I’ll summarize. We wanted a new ruling class, we can wait, now is not the time to make a mess. But we’ll start wanting it again the day this emergency ends.
5. It is likely that the Covid-19 emergency will turn out to be a historic pinnacle of immense importance. I’ll try to put it this way: it’s the first planetary emergency generated in the age of the Game, of the digital revolution, and the last planetary emergency that will be managed by an elite and intelligence of the 20th century type. … They challenged us to a video game, and we sent chess players to fight. We’re exactly suspended between one world and another. … You have to realize that without even a smartphone, 80% of what you see happening around you wouldn’t have happened (information flow, storytelling, tides of fear coming and going, survival in an almost total lockdown situation, speed of decisions…): and yet the management of all this is inevitably in the hands of 20th century rationality. …
The 20th century had the cult of the specialist. A man who, after a lifetime of studies, knows a lot about one thing. The intelligence of the Game is different: since it knows it’s dealing with a very fluid and complex reality, it privileges another kind of wise man: the one who knows enough about everything. … It would never leave doctors, alone, to dictate the line of a response to a medical emergency: it would put a mathematician, an engineer, an engineer, a merchant, a psychologist and everything that seems appropriate. Even a clown, if need be. They would probably act with one imperative: speed. And with a singular methodology: make mistakes quickly, never stop, try everything.
For the time being, however … we are guided, in the best possible way, by an elite that, for preparation and generational belonging, uses digital technology but not digital rationality.
8. The Covid-19 emergency has made of obvious evidence a phenomenon that we vaguely sensed, but did not always accept: for some time now, dictating the agenda of humans is fear. We need a daily quota of fear to take action. Now the virus covers our entire needs, and in fact who is scared rather by immigrants or terrorism or Salvini, by the effects of videogames on children, or by the gluten? … Our agenda should be dictated by desire, not fear. By desires. By visions, for God’s sake, not nightmares.
9. No one escapes, these days, the doubt of a certain disproportion between the real risk and the measures to deal with it. It can be explained to us, but the feeling remains: a certain disproportion. I don’t want to get into those parallels that make you compare the deaths of Covid-19 with those caused by diabetes or the slipperiness of waxed floor. But there remains, ineliminable, the doubt that somewhere we are suffering a certain inability to find a golden proportion between the extent of the risk and the extent of the countermeasures. In part we can certainly put it on the account of that 20th-century intelligence, its logic, its lack of flexibility, its adoration for specialism. However, … there is a collective inertia, … a collective feeling …: we are too afraid to die. It’s as if the right to health (a fantastic conquest) has stiffened into an impossible right to a perennial life, which, on the other hand, no one can assure us.
Now, the relationship with death, and with the fear of death, is first and foremost an individual thing, a matter that everyone manages by himself (I, for example, suck at it). But then the fear of death is also a collective feeling that human communities have always been careful to build, file, correct, control. In other words, my grandfather’s civilization, who still needed wars to stay alive, was careful to keep up a certain “capacity for death”. We are a civilization that chose peace (in principle) and therefore we stopped cultivating a collective habit of comprehending death. As a community we fight it, but we do not comprehend it. Instead, the wonder of a civilization of peace would be to be able to comprehend death again, and accept it, not with courage, but with wisdom; … Communities, in the past, have been able to bring millions of their children to die for an ideal, whether beautiful or aberrant: why shouldn’t a community be able to bring all its children to understand that the first way to die is to be too afraid to do so?
10. Many wonder what will happen next. One possible thing … is that there won’t be an after. Not in the sense that we’re all going to die, no, of course not, I’ve already said that. But in this sense: we are realizing that only in emergency situations the system works well. The pact between people and the elites is strengthened, a certain social discipline is re-established, each individual feels responsible, a widespread solidarity is formed, the level of quarrelling drops, etc., etc., etc. In short, as absurd as it may seem, the machine stops losing its parts when it exceeds two hundred kilometers per hour. So it is possible, in fact, that we may choose not to go below that speed anymore: the emergency as the chronic scenario of our whole future. In this sense the Covid-19 case has all the air of being the big dress rehearsal for the next level of the game, the final mission: saving the planet. The total, chronic, very long emergency, in which everything will work again. I can’t say frankly whether this is a desirable scenario, but I can’t deny that it has its own rationality. …
11. Last one. I don’t know about this, but it doesn’t take much to realize that everything that’s going on is gonna cost us a lot of money. Much worse than the economic crisis of 2009, on a hunch. I’d like to say one thing: it’s going to be a huge, historic opportunity. If there is a moment when it will be possible to redistribute wealth and bring social inequalities back to a bearable and worthy level, that moment is coming. … The difficulty is that certain things are not reformed, they are not obtained with a gradual, pharmaceutical improvement, they are not improved a little every day, in small doses. Certain things change with a violent twisting movement, which hurts, and which you didn’t think you could do. Certain things change from a well-managed shock, from a crisis converted into rebirth, from an earthquake experienced without shaking. The shock has arrived, we are suffering the crisis, the earthquake has not yet passed. The pieces are all there, on the chessboard, they all hurt, but they are there: there is a game that has been waiting for us for a long time. What an unforgivable nonsense it would be to be afraid to play it.
Gosh, this guy is nuts. He’s both terribly right and terribly wrong.
He’s right in some aspects:
- We should act based on what we want to do, not on what we fear.
- We’re living in a digital world (which makes it possible for so many people to work from home these days, and to everyone watch Netflix and Youtube instead of reading printed newspapers and books), but the reaction we had is medieval (that “20th-century intelligence” is nothing more than an upgraded version of the approach we had in the times of the pest-transmitting “effluvia”).
- We’re missing real (not virtual) human relationships, so it was something we had.
- There is “a certain disproportion” between the risk and the measures taken.
- That we wanted a new ruling class, and we’ll want it even more once this crisis is over.
- That this should be a good opportunity to change the way the wealth is distributed on Earth.
And I hope he is wrong when he believes such things:
- That the digital civilization (The Game) is here to stay and to replace everything we had since there’s a human civilization on Earth.
- That the cult of the specialist is replaced by the cult of the practical imposture, namely the valorization of the people who know “just about enough” about everything.
- That the world works better while in emergency mode (“the machine stops losing its parts when it exceeds two hundred kilometers per hour”.) Poor me, I thought the world already was running in emergency mode, waiting for the smallest error to crash or to explode!
It would be a nightmare to have an aftermath as envisioned–optimistically in his opinion!–by Alessandro Baricco!
But I forgot to explain how the measures taken these days are “medieval”; I’ll bring Daniel Defoe to help, not with “A Journal of the Plague Year” (1722), but with a less-known book from the same year, “Due preparations for the plague as well for soul as body“:
Blessed be God, the evil is yet at a distance, and the danger may be said to be remote; but as we (1) find it to be a terrible spreading distemper, furious and raging beyond what was ever known in this country, sweeping away old and young till it has desolated whole towns and even some populous cities; (2) that it spreads apace this way, having already advanced itself above 100 miles in these eight months past, and that we have some reason to believe that it was come much nearer than they allowed us to know of; on these accounts, I think, it is reasonable at least to put ourselves in a posture not to be surprised if we should meet with the same here. Besides, I am far from being singular in my apprehensions ; the Government are evidently in the same concern ; and therefore we have had several Proclamations, Orders of Council, and other directions for ships performing quarantine, and for goods to be opened and aired which come from suspected places ; and one Act of Parliament has been passed to enforce those orders upon the highest penalties, nay, even upon pain of death. And so cautious was the Parliament in this point that they put the nation to the expense of £25,000 sterling to burn two Turkish ships which were but suspected to have goods on board which might contain an infection, and which might bring the plague among us, which £25,000 has been paid to the merchants and owners of the ships and cargo in satisfaction of the damages done them.
Can any man say that the Government have not had occasion for these measures? Let such look to what has been done in Holland, where they not only burned two ships, but hanged a man for attempting to save some goods out of the wreck of one ship that was cast away, and which should otherwise have been burnt as coming from places infected or supposed to be infected with the plague.
General preparations seem to be confined to the measures which the Government or magistrates may take to preserve the people from infection. The main thing the Government seem to have their eyes upon in this nation is to limit and prohibit commerce with places infected, and restrain the importation of such goods as are subject to be infected ; here it is granted that some goods are apt more than others to retain the poisonous effluvia which they may have received in foreign parts, and, by consequence, are apt to emit those effluvias again when they arrive here and come to be spread. These poisonous or infectious effluvia, or particles, as some call them, take hold or seize upon the people who are handling them. I need not enumerate the particular sorts of goods which are thus esteemed susceptible of infection. Abundance has been said on that subject by other authors, and all our proclamations, Acts of Parliament, &c., which have been passed on this subject, have taken notice of them.
The physicians seem at present to fall in with the French methods, viz., of preventing the spreading of infection by surrounding the towns where it shall happen to be with troops of soldiers, cutting off all communication with the countries or parts of the country where such towns are that shall be infected. This Dr. Mead has been pleased to propose also in his treatise called ” A Short Discourse.”
I must confess I do not see that this can be made practicable in England, and we see already it has not been effectual in France, notwithstanding greater severities have been used there than I presume will ever be allowed to be used here. For example, the plague began in Provence, in a part of the country the most easily separated from the rest of the world of any that can be singled out on their side, as will appear by the situation of the country.
But … in spite of all the guards placed in their lines, and the vigilance of the patrols on the bank of the river, men have made their escape in the dark, and by private ways have gotten into the mountains, and from thence, being acquainted with the country, have passed on from place to place till they have found retreats, and have been received by their friends, and concealed as they desired. …
Thus a galley slave who made his escape from Marseilles, and, as it is said, reached to his brother’s house at La Canourgue in the Gavandan, carried the plague with him ; and thus it broke out at once one hundred and forty miles off Marseilles, and all the precautions, guards, lines, patrols, &c., used to prevent its coming out of the Nether Provinces, were at once defeated.
This now is the effect of surrounding of towns with lines and with soldiers, and imprisoning the people against their will, forbidding the sound separating themselves from the sick, which they must needs take for an insufferable cruelty, and by which means they make the people desperate and mad. So that rather than stay in the place to be poisoned with the breath of dying people, and be certainly infected with the stench of bodies dead or sick of the plague, they venture at all hazards to make their escape, and, in effecting this, infect their friends ; and thus it will be among us, I doubt not, if ever such methods are put in practice here.
Besides, as they can have no pretence to invest a town, or prohibit the inhabitants from quitting it, till it is infected, they put those inhabitants upon all possible means of concealing the infection when it is begun, till those who are in the secret of it can make their escape ; and thus they travel securely with the distemper upon them, and emit the effluvia of infection wherever they come. Thus the city of Avignon was infected a month and seven days, viz., from the 17th of August to the 23rd of September, before it was publicly known in the country round ; so that people went freely into the city from all the villages about Avignon, and the citizens went freely out into the country, and the distemper was fetched by one and carried by the other, without any precaution to all the neighbouring towns for several leagues round the place, several of which towns are more fatally touched with the contagion than the city itself … ; and yet all these lines seem not to be capable to effect the thing proposed by them, for when the inhabitants are thus made desperate by locking up the sound with the sick, they do and will find ways to escape, whatever hazards it may be to themselves or others.
Whereas, if the people were left at their liberty, except as was practised here in the time of the last visitation, viz., by shutting up houses known to be infected, I say, if the people were left at liberty, those that did flee at all, would flee because they were infected, and thereby save their lives, and likewise not carry the distemper with them when they went.
In the next place, the cutting off of the communication of one part of the country with another in England would be such a general interruption of trade, that it would entirely ruin the countries and towns so cut off, and the people would be very tumultuous and uneasy upon that head.
It seems to me a much more rational method, that as soon as any town or village appears to be visited, all the sound people of the town be immediately removed and obliged to go to some certain particular place, where barracks should be built for them, or tents pitched for them, and where they should be obliged to perform a quarantine of days, and after that to be admitted to go whither they pleased, except back to the town from whence they came ; if they thought fit to remain where they were till the town or village infected was entirely restored, and had been so for a full quarantine, then they might be admitted again ; and if any families proved to have the distemper in their encampment, they should remove again, leaving the sick families behind. And thus continually moving the sound from the sick, the distemper would abate, of course, and the contagion be less strong by how much fewer persons were affected with it.
Yet there are effectual measures for London and other great cities. For example : First. That upon the approach of the infection, proclamation should be made that all people that intend to remove themselves and families should do it within such a certain time.
Secondly. All reasonable encouragement should be given to the poorer sort of people who had any friends or relations to receive them, to remove with their families, even to the giving them reasonable allowances for their travelling; that as many poor families as possible may quit the city and separate, which would be their safety, and contribute much to the safety of the whole city also.
Thirdly. That all such persons as have no legal settlement in the parishes within the city and liberties, &c., should be forthwith passed away by authority and sent home to the parishes from whence they came; no beggars, vagabonds, or loose people to be suffered in the streets.
Fourthly. All the parish pensioners, alms poor, and poor chargeable upon the parish, as also all the hospital poor, should be immediately removed at the expense of the parishes respectively, to such places as each parish could secure for them, at least twenty miles from London, and to be maintained there at the charge of the public parishes to which they belong.
Fifthly. All occasion of bringing people to London by the necessity of business should be as much as possible prevented; to which purpose the terms must be adjourned ; the Inns of Court shut up ; no man should be arrested for debt, so as to be put in prison above a certain time, but that if he could not give bail, or some pledge for his appearance, such debtors should be removed to such public places as the officers of the city should be obliged to prepare, at the distance of fifteen miles at least.
Sixthly. That all the prisoners for debt should be immediately removed to the same places as above.
Seventhly. That all criminals, felons, and murderers should be forthwith tried, and such as are not sentenced to die, should be immediately transported or let out on condition of going forty miles from the city, not to return on pain of death.
Eighthly. That all the children of Christ’s Hospital, called the Blue Coat boys and girls, be immediately removed by the government of the said hospital to Hertford and Ware, where they have houses for their reception.
Ninthly. That all workhouse children, charity children, and all the children of the poor, as are not in condition to maintain them, should be removed into the country, at least thirty miles from the city, and be maintained there by the public.
Tenthly. That all the masters of families who purpose to abide the extremity be exhorted to send all their children that are under fourteen years of age into the country, and if any of them are destitute of places and friends to send them to, on paying a reasonable sum to the common-treasure of the city, care should be taken to provide accommodation for them in the country at the public expense, where they should be well provided for, for a year.
Eleventhly. That the governors of the Blue Coat Hospital should undertake, on the payment to them of a reasonable sum of money by the city, to provide maintenance for all such children as the city should recommend them, and to be kept in the terms of the hospital, that is to say, as they now keep their other children, not exceeding the number of twenty thousand.
Twdfihly. That the governors of the workhouses do the like in proportion, so that, in short, all the children in the city and the suburbs should be sent away.
These evacuations of people would greatly lessen the number of the poor in London, and consequently take away the fuel which the fire of the pestilence generally feeds upon.
Thirteenthty. That after the time first limited for all people that please to remove, if any person after that should desire to remove, he should not be hindered otherwise than on the following conditions :
1. On bringing good testimony of his body being sound and not infected. This testimony to be given by some able physician or surgeon or other person, after their having searched the person three days successively.
2. On the persons performing a vingtaine, that is to say, a restraint of twenty days, in such barracks or houses as shall be appointed by the magistrates of the city, at some place at least five miles from the suburbs ; after which, and no sickness appearing upon him, he shall have testimonials of health, and may go whither he pleases.
All these measures being taken at the beginning of the infection, or at the first approach of it, we might reasonably hope, God’s infinite mercy concurring, that the city would be in a posture to bear the visitation much better than ever it was before ; for though there would be still many thousands of the inhabitants left, yet they would live at large, be un encumbered with poor, and with children, and with all the stench and filth that attend those who want conveniences, and who would in such a calamity only serve to infect one another, and strengthen the contagion in general.
8 The real aftermath will have to deal with the economy first. Let’s be optimistic and suppose there’s a vaccine, and everybody gets it. There’s also a treatment. Somehow, the world didn’t end, we’re neither dead nor in Hunger Games, and we’re back to “normal”… or to whatever will make it be. Now what?
Only 9% of Britons want life to return to “normal” after the coronavirus outbreak is over, a survey suggests.
People have noticed significant changes during the lockdown, including cleaner air, more wildlife and stronger communities.
More than half (54%) of 4,343 people who took part in the YouGov poll hope they will make some changes in their own lives and for the country as a whole to learn from the crisis.
And 42% of participants said they value food and other essentials more since the pandemic, with 38% cooking from scratch more.
The survey found that 61% of people are spending less money and 51% noticed cleaner air outdoors, while 27% think there is more wildlife.
Two-fifths said there is a stronger sense of community in their area since the outbreak began and 39% say they are catching up with friends and family more. …
Professor Tom MacMillan from the Royal Agricultural University, and research lead for the RSA’s commission, said: “This data shows there is a real appetite for change, and for the nation to learn from this crisis.”
The bad news: no, I don’t think the world is going to be much better afterwards.
No matter what you believe about the person Dominique Strauss-Kahn, he’s competent enough in economics and finance, so this analysis of his is worth your attention: L’être, l’avoir et le pouvoir dans la crise.
In a nutshell, there’s a lot of place for pessimism. And DSK makes some points:
- We don’t know anything about the resilience of an economy that’s so globalized and so integrated.
- The speed of the propagation of this pandemic is unprecedented, and the globalization contributed to it through an accelerated movement of people.
- We lacked the necessary agility to have a proper reaction. Unlike Taiwan, the West didn’t have protective equipment, and didn’t have a plan.
- In our cozy comfort, we forgot (tiens! tiens!) that death is a possibility, regardless of the increased life expectation.
- The well-known recession cycle can’t be avoided, given the sharp drop in demand. A deflationary spiral is also possible if compensatory measures aren’t taken.
- The financial assets are at a risk never encountered after the Great Depression.
- The central banks have reacted swiftly, unlike in 2008. But the emerging economies will only marginally benefit, if at all.
- What will Europe do when confronted with millions of migrants from Africa?
- On middle and long term, the trade globalization based on the low cost of the workforce in the emerging markets might have to change. No matter one criticizes it for the “ecologically absurdness” or moving the merchandise 20 times around the globe, for the “colonial exploitation”, or for the security of the supply chain (e.g. when 90% of the penicillin is Made in China; but also when China has a de facto monopoly on rare earths), it’s likely that some forms of relocalization of the production take place. Bringing back home part of the production will have a cost though.
- The world already was in a stagnation and this might be a chance to get rid of it. We had a situation of under-employment that couldn’t be changed because of a low interest rate associated to an almost non-existent inflation on the goods and services markets, whereas the financial assets were much more profitable (I’d say DSK meets here Thomas Piketty). The technical progress doesn’t bring many new products, and the innovations are rather leading to economies of capital. The investment can’t be stimulated when the interest rates are already zero. It’s what the economists call “excess saving” (although it’s not really about savings; it’s just a lack of investment). Obviously, the growth is slowed down. The financial crisis triggered by the financial engineering in the last decades masked the economic realities furthermore. By destroying enough capital, this crisis might be a way out of this stagnation, says DSK. New investment opportunities would be created by the death of part of the productive apparatus (Schumpeter’s creative destruction theory).
- The inequalities across professions should be considered, as not everyone is able to work from home these days.
- No matter how difficult, the future of the economy is largely in our hands. (Eurogroup, ESM, ECB, mutualization of the debts, etc.)
- Maybe the most worrisome aspect is the multifaceted crisis of the power: (1) Sovereignty crisis. (2) Representation crisis.
- There’s also a technological dependence which we tend to underestimate. Letting China become “the world’s factory” we also gave up our security.
- We also became aware of another technological dependence: the low level of security of the communications in general, and of smartphones in particular. Also, Europe lacks a digital sovereignty.
- The sanitary crisis has awakened the nationalist impulses. (DSK is having a pro-EU plea here.) Such national selfishness might kill the EU dream. The lack of a political vision made all this possible–from the sanitary crisis to this egoism. We need a shock to have “the real nature of the EU” show up; we do have this shock, therefore a rebirth is possible. (I wouldn’t hold my breath.)
- Our democratic model, based on representativeness, is now decrepit. The confidence in it has dropped, in part because of the social networks where everyone knows better, in part because of the slow atrophying of the labor unions and political parties. It’s this parliamentary democracy that this crisis is hitting the hardest. Once again, a representation crisis.
- We could even ask ourselves whether the concept of a “political program” still makes sense. Our representatives are unable to keep their promises, the citizens don’t trust them anymore; we’re sliding towards more or less organized forms of direct democracy.
- On the other hand, such a crisis could strengthen the autocratic regimes, such as the one in China. (Especially that one, I’d say!)
- The mass-surveillance and other liberty-limiting measures taken by our Governments during this crisis should be temporary and exceptional. We should watch that they be temporary and not permanent.
- What will the new geopolitical equilibrium look like? China can’t lead the world, but it’s not clear that the US is still able to do it either. (See also L’editoriale di Maurizio Molinari in La Stampa: Il coronavirus cambia gli equilibri tra le potenze: “Nato e Ue usciranno più deboli o più forti dalla pandemia? Riguardo alla Nato la questione investe la capacità dell’Alleanza di includere la Sanità nel concetto strategico, dunque nell’idea stessa della sicurezza collettiva.”)
- How are the interpersonal relationships going to be after the crisis?
Many questions, very few answers…
A lesson of the 2008 global financial crisis is that it is a mistake to draw firm conclusions too soon. … The euro sovereign debt crisis did not happen until about two years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, as it emerged that the Greek government had been falsifying data about its borrowing and as confidence in financial markets in the future of the euro started to decline, dramatically. It was at that point that European banks, holders of huge amounts of sovereign bonds, were seen to be weak and even in danger of insolvency.
The longer this crisis goes on, and even during the recovery phase, our admirable solidarity is likely to fray. It often has in the past, and Italians are already right to worry about tensions in some regions. In all our countries, a recovery or reopening phase during which some people benefit sooner than others will risk serious disorder, which could in turn delay the recovery. The lesson is the one that was not learned after 2008: government fiscal support must not be withdrawn prematurely.
We can already see some social and political disorder even in highly-controlled China.
Until technology provides at least some reassurance, we will not see a sharp reopening and a sharp recovery. But once anti-body tests and mitigation treatments become available, our ability to manage the health crisis and restore confidence in each other will improve dramatically, enabling economic recovery to begin.
But I’m highly pessimistic.
If there ever was a chance that China be trusted, now there’s exactly none. Even the most passionate sinologists should be able to understand that China is the number 1 enemy of the West, much more so than the Soviet Union ever was, because its most deadly weapons are its factories.
I’ll restate my opinion that whatever official figures are used to say that China is world’s second largest economy are bollocks. China is world’s first economy. We all notice how almost everything is Made in China–from plastic crap to laptops and whatnot. It’s the way they compute the GDP that’s wrong. Take a product that’s made in China and exported at a price of $0.20. After an extra $0.05 in shipping and import taxes, the product retails for $10. No matter what the marketing & distribution costs were, for this product China’s GDP is credited with $0.20, and the US’s GDP is credited with $9.80. Do you find this logical? The same happens when clothing is manufactured for €1 in some country with low wages, yet it’s sold in the West for €200 (retail price). In the “good old times” the margins were lower: when a German was purchasing a coat for 60 DM, the manufacturing costs were likely to be around 30 DM, and it was made in Germany! Bottom line: in terms of creation of real value, China is hands-down #1. And it was the West that made this possible!
Random questions–with my quick answers:
§ Is the globalization going to be reversed, and most of the manufacturing return to Europe, the US, Japan?
I’m afraid this won’t happen at the required scale. For now, Japan assigned $2.2bn to help Japanese manufacturers shift production out of China, but the West is still silent. Here’s Adidas getting €3bn from several banks with the guarantee of the Bundesregierung, just because Adidas is losing €1bn in China, where it manufactures most of their products. WTF? The deindustrialization of the West is atrocious: 40 years ago, the industry was making 25% of France’s GDP, now it’s only 11%. We all know how dire the situation is, yet the system in place–corporation, lobbyists, corrupt or dumb politicians–will make everything they can to preserve the status quo, except maybe for some “strategic” products, that all of a sudden will include face masks, other protective equipment, sanitizers, and medical ventilators.
Simply put, the West cannot compete with the countries where the wages are low, workers’ rights are non-existent or not respected, idem for the environment, the taxes are also lower (but the welfare state is also absent), and so on. The only barrier could be the custom duties, but to be effective they should be raised to something like 500% or more for products coming from such countries, and this is impossible. Not only the EU agreed custom duties are ludicrously low, but even under the WTO (ex-GATT) tariffs, most custom duties would ne in the 10-15% range. Remember the outrage when Trump wanted in 2019 to impose a 15% tariff on some Chinese goods, or when in 2018 imposed 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum? Wow, who could imagine 10% would make such a difference? If the average industrial import duties are of about 2% in the US, the Chicken Tax still stands, and it’s 25% on imported light trucks. The circumventing measures the various manufacturers (even Ford!) had to take are just ridiculous. So the US still has a 25% tax that nobody complains about, yet a 10-15% tax on anything else just can’t be accepted?! We’re doomed. In relation to China and other Asian countries, nothing could be achieved without at least 100% in custom duties. But this would have pervert effects on the US, which is a major exporter of soybean to China! It definitely makes sense for a developed country such as the US to export soybean to China and to import computers from China!
So we’re doomed. There will be no trade war. China will still own us. And the autocratic regime of Xi is already more and more autocratic; as the regime uses nationalism as a weapon, the Chinese are more and more xenophobic and racist; on April 14, the National Security Day, buildings were displaying slogans like this: “work together to fight traitors and oppose spies.”
What I found it strange is that it shouldn’t be so difficult to repatriate the factories, as with the newest technologies and the industrial robots, the part of the labor cost in a product is lower and lower every day. In Germany one could find various plastic boxes, basins, etc. Made in Germany or Made in Switzerland. And the toothbrushes in the supermarkets don’t cost more if they’re made in Germany and not made in China. Also, I compared the price of identical Bic® products Made in France, Made in Tunisia, Made in China, Made in Mexico, Made in the US, and they were practically the same. So why are we still making everything that’s electronics in Asia (and I’m not talking of Japan or South Korea)?
Either way, the reaction speed of the EU can only compared to those of the dinosaurs, who became extinct without ever finding why. It’s only on April 19 that the European Commission vice-president Jourová slammed Europe’s ‘morbid dependency’ on China. Why, what a surprise!
§ But how about changing the world? Inequalities and all?
You must be kidding to believe there’s going to be a revolution. Of course everyone is talking about this: in Italy, in France, in Spain, even in the US. But it’s just not going to happen.
One way I look at it is this: it’s not bad enough to trigger a fundamental change. To have the masses do something, it first has to be very, very bad. But nowadays, no matter how millions of unemployed people we’d have, there are some safety nets, and to some extent mechanisms of a welfare state. So it won’t get that bad. It is bad, it will be worse, but not worse enough.
This is a simple psychological (or sociological?) mechanism: unless it’s terribly long, there’s no insurrection. In the 21st century we do have social networks, which have been used to trigger “the Arab Spring” in a few countries, and there are the Yellow Vests in France, but don’t get fooled: people aren’t that insurrectionary anymore. Not in the West! (Les Gilets jaunes, ça ne compte pas.)
For a clear set of reasons beyond the unwillingness to risk their comfort or (oh, my!) their lives:
- They’re disunited. The labor unions aren’t what they used to be.
a. If in Germany IG Metall probably represents 80% of the workers in factories, what’s the representativeness of CGT and FO in the industrial workforce in France? 20-25%? (Non-industrial employees rely on other unions, such as Verdi in Germany and CFDT in France.)
b. In many factories (from Peugeot to Porsche) just about 50% of those who work there are employees; the others are temps (intérim) usually provided by staffing companies such as Randstad, Adecco and Manpower. The economic success of Germany is based on the crucial contribution of such firms, called Zeitarbeitsunternehmen, Personaldienstleister, Personalvermittlung, or Leihfirmen. Whoever comes from such a company usually doesn’t benefit of the rights and advantages of a labor union member, as they’re not employees of the company on whose premises they work.
c. Both the white collars and the blue collars are now increasingly independent: freelancers, consultants, contractors, whatever. In many cases they carry out the same activities as their colleagues who are employees. But not being employees, not only they don’t have any unemployment benefits, but the labor unions have nothing to do with them. They’re like the dockworkers in the 1800s, at the mercy of the whims of any idiot who has an MBA.
- They lack a direction. We can all agree that the “dictatorship of the proletariat” wasn’t such a good idea, no matter the heritage of Lenin and Stalin, Mao, Chávez, etc. might not be indicative enough of what Marx might have imagined. But in some regards today a new Marx would be needed (no, not you, Piketty!), as the globalization, the financialization (from hedge funds to high-frequency trading) and the precariousness (including the “dockworkization”–see above) are beyond the scope of Marx’s Capital and Manifesto. Unfortunately, there’s no ideology, no doctrine, no direction whatsoever.
As for the political context… is there anyone who can still trust any of the current political parties?
Various attempts have being made to reform the system of political parties, to no avail so far:
- Trying to come with “new and different” parties under the current party system: Macron’s LREM (La République en marche) is a fraud and an association of incompetents and morons. Various other countries have or have had “umbrella parties” which are equally stupid (say, USR-Plus in Romania). “Extreme” (far left or far right) or “populist” parties (defined as “populist” because they question e.g. the European Union, the Euro currency) don’t seem to be the solution either. Syriza and Podemos are dead. VOX is not, but what the heck. Not even François Asselineau’s UPR managed to attract enough people.
- The countries with a two-party system (especially US, UK) are doomed anyway (VOX: The two-party system is killing our democracy). If in economics a duopoly is not considered healthy, somehow hundreds of millions of people believe that “two is enough to have choice.”
- Even the countries who traditionally have several parties in the Parliament (e.g. France, Italy, Germany) aren’t fully democratic. No matter the system is fully proportional or mixed proportional (anything is better than first-past-the-post voting, and people are generally too stupid to understand and accept the instant-runoff voting, as it was proven in a 2011 UK referendum), most countries use an electoral threshold of 5% or 7% (rarely 3%), so that small parties cannot enter the national Parliament. This way, new ideas and new people have no chance of reaching a national audience. (Strange enough, independent candidates usually can enter the parliament.)
My bewilderment, from when I was about 13 years of age, is this: why are people still thinking in terms of “class struggle” and “left-wing vs. right-wing”? Why should one’s vote for a party also be against some other party that has diametrically opposed views? I thought that extremists views (“let’s confiscate everything from the rich people” vs. “let’s not tax the rich, but only the pauper”) are things of the past. Also, the old idea to alternating the power between the Right (who “creates wealth”) and the Left (“who redistributes it”) is overly dumb. After all, despite the inequalities and the existence of “classes” (or whatever you want to call them), this is not about war, but about compromise. Social-democracy managed to grant many social rights in Europe (in US, paid sick leave is not a right, and nor is maternal leave; as for the length of the paid vacation time in the US…), and the question is about how to fine-tune the social measures to balance them with the interests of the “capitalists” and of the entrepreneurs; the current politics model is blanket hogging, instead of making the blanket available to everyone!
What would be a better model than blanket hogging? As I said, even as I was about 13, I thought the day will come when the political spectrum will not be spread between far-right, right, center-right, center, center-left, left, and far-left, but between several flavors of centrism. As we can see, almost nobody ever voted with a centrist party, and it’s even questionable whether a truly centrist party ever existed (in France, in 1830 the Orléanists were considered centrists; the Mouvement Républicain Populaire was considered centrist in 1944-1967; the Union pour la Démocratie Française and the Mouvement Démocrate were supposedly centrist, but they failed to attract many voters). Basically, the time when the political debate won’t turn around what to do, but around how to do it, with differences of nuances only, isn’t for 2020. Maybe for 3020…
Of course, non-partisan democracy would only work on planet Mars (because it’s inhabited); Homo sapiens sapiens couldn’t possibly only vote independent people, because sheeple.
When the coalition government in Germany was almost a “national government” in 2013, they called it GroKo, and also several coalitions were called Jamaica Coalition (although this term was used in other countries too, alongside traffic light coalition), and political pundits considered that a too wide coalition breaks the idea of democracy, which of course is a stupid way to look at it. Quite the contrary: a Government in which all the interests are represented is the apex of the democracy, as it favors the compromises. This should also open the way to the birth of several center parties–but this just doesn’t happen anywhere on Earth!
Of course, extremists or “populist” political parties appear not just because of the idiocy of some people. Their existence is usually due to the aberrant policies of the European Union, who has suppressed national sovereignty, and also a national currency for 19 of the 27 member states. Knowing that the EU membership is like the Mafia one–you can get in voluntarily, but you can’t get out and still be alive, and the UK is not the best example–it’s not hard to understand why the political parties who favor an exit from the Eurozone and from the EU are considered by the Establishment as extremist or populists.
§ But aren’t such crisis favoring big reforms for the better?
Yes. In your dreams. Which were the big changes for the better subsequent to the Great Depression (1929-1933, but it actually lasted through 1937)?
We all know what happened in Germany when a Social-Democrat government wasn’t able to tackle the unemployment.
We all know about the horrendous Spanish Civil War.
Maybe France, with Léon Blum’s government of the Front populaire, was able to start some important reforms but even here, most of the progressive measures (“les acquis de 1936”) had to wait the end of World War II to be implemented: the 40-hour work week, the paid vacations, and more. And even before there was a war with Germany, the Front populaire was confronted with huge social unrest, so it practically accomplished nothing.
So no, there’s no hope whatsoever.
Sauf pour Michel Onfray, qui va lancer au mois de juin «Front Populaire, la revue de Michel Onfray et de tous les souverainistes. Réflexions et débats d’idées pour rebâtir notre monde et penser les “jours d’après”»:
§ But what is really going to happen?
Well, it all depends on how the lockdown easing (le déconfinement) is going to happen. Several governments are planning “back-to-normal” measures that are absurdly grotesque, ubuesque. Not all the countries being in the same stage of the epidemics, it’s understandable that in each case the easing of the lockdown either already started, or it will start mid-May or at some other point. But the reopening of the schools is going to screw everything.
Also, as much as the economic activity should resume, the lack of protective equipment is going to bring a second wave of contamination earlier than normal.
Apparently, the French government is already prepared to count the deaths and to adjust the measures so that the dead could still be counted and buried:
And they beheaded Louis XVI, not Macron. Strange people, the French.
Either way, with no vaccine in sight, and no definitive treatment, the near future is grim. Very grim.
What I know is that the following parts of the economy and of the society might not recover for years:
- Restaurants and cafés–despite opening of some of them being part of the lockdown easing measures already.
- Fitness studios, gym clubs and the like.
- Hotels and tourism in general. I simply cannot see how the tourism industry can recover until we’ll all be able to get a vaccine! (Supposing that an effective vaccine is even possible…)
- Festivals, concerts and the like are even more dead than the tourism. (No, I don’t care if Bundesliga dies.)
- Airlines and airports: they’re practically dead already.
- Is there is one thing I will rejoice to see dead, it’s this one:
Is this how tourism will look like?
Socially speaking, a number of changes will be catastrophic:
- Digital Life is what our life is going to be called from now on. Whoever praised the technology that “brings people closer” will keep pushing it in the attempt of replacing the real life with this digital ersatz. The generational gap doesn’t help either: the younger, the stupider.
- With our increasing dependency of digital tools, our security and privacy will decrease to abysmal levels, never imagined by anyone. The security and privacy record of Zoom (previously an obscure app, now valued at ~$42.0 billion) is catastrophic, yet somehow most homeschooling is using this crap instead of Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and whatever else is out there.
- Despite the financial difficulties most people will experience, car ownership is going to increase. It’s much safer to be autonomous than to have to risk being contaminated in a train, bus, or tram.
Politically speaking, there are three obvious risks:
- Censorship. Everything might get classified as “fake news” and censored. What’s already happening these days is mind-boggling.
- Mass-surveillance. Smartphone apps or not, this is what’s being deployed today, and I fear it’s never going to end. The Chinese model is getting exported.
- Authoritarianism. One more time, China is exporting its “values.” Even if the current restrictions will nominally disappear, the current politicians became aware that they can have even more power and lack of accountability. They should have liked it.
Speaking of non-accountability, in most countries the lockdown measures came with heavy fines for those in breach of them. I believe the standard fine is €135 in France, but in other countries there are fines from €500 to €4,000. What’s the purpose of these fines? Millions and millions of fines… to do what with the money? How can people who already are earning less to pay huge fines? BBC News:
Romania has issued 200,000 fines in under a month to people who failed to comply with restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The relatively high fines handed out between 24 March and 19 April amount to £69m (€78m), said to equal Romania’s February 2020 corporate tax take. …
Anyone caught breaking restrictions in Romania faces fines of between 2,000 and 20,000 lei, in a country where the average monthly salary is around 3,000.
Romania has a population of 20 million with one of Europe’s most underfunded and ailing healthcare systems, so the fines have been viewed as a way to prevent it from quickly becoming overwhelmed.
And, when they won’t be able to pay the fines, what are the authorities going to do? Are they going to build new prisons for the “criminals of the coronavirus age”?! America loves jailing people, it’s a national sport out there:
And it’s still unclear whether the fact that many nations are trying an early easing of the lockdown will help us avoid a huge depression. Is the “social distancing” going to have this kind of Phase 2?
It’s not such a pessimistic scenario. Apparently, the prices didn’t rise to the level suggested by certain photos, and yet, the uncertainty is maximal. Absolutely nobody can tell what’s going next.
Some people still believe in the left-wing solution; page 3: “L’après-crise, un boulevard pour la gauche… si elle le veut bien.” Subtitle: “État, service public, démondialisation, revenu universel… Le retour fulgurant au premier plan des politiques sociales semble offrir une occasion inespérée… que les rancœurs pourraient bien gâcher.”
Other people are constantly pessimistic:
The Italians, while in lockdown, wrote new books:
Maybe we’ll remain with the reading after the crisis.
But maybe the solution is purely individual. If coöperation is anything but possible between nations, maybe it’s not possible between individuals either. An article by Peter S. Goodman, Katie Thomas, Sui-Lee Wee and effrey Gettleman, in the NYT of April 10, A New Front for Nationalism: The Global Battle Against a Virus (also here), got a much more appropriate title in Libération on April 21: Divided Against the Pandemic:
Now, just as the world requires collaboration to defeat the coronavirus — scientists joining forces across borders to create vaccines, and manufacturers coordinating to deliver critical supplies — national interests are winning out. This time, the contest is over far more than which countries will make iPads or even advanced jets. This is a battle for supremacy over products that may determine who lives and who dies.
At least 69 countries have banned or restricted the export of protective equipment, medical devices or medicines, according to the Global Trade Alert project at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. The World Health Organization is warning that protectionism could limit the global availability of vaccines.
With every country on the planet in need of the same lifesaving tools at once, national rivalries are jeopardizing access for all.
For seven decades after World War II, the notion that global trade enhances security and prosperity prevailed across major economies. When people exchange goods across borders, the logic goes, they become less likely to take up arms. Consumers gain better and cheaper products. Competition and collaboration spur innovation.
But in many countries — especially the United States — a stark failure by governments to equitably distribute the bounty has undermined faith in trade, giving way to a protectionist mentality in which goods and resources are viewed as zero-sum.
Now the zero-sum perspective is a guiding force just as the sum in question is alarmingly limited: Potentially vital supplies of medicine are in short supply, exacerbating antagonism and distrust.
OK, if the individualism is the key, maybe we’ll return to that, even in the absence of a war:
I’m not sure I’ll be able to grow my own laptops though…
Two final questions:
- Are we finally going to get rid of those idiotic business buildings whose windows cannot be opened, because everyone is supposed to be intoxicated and contaminated by recirculated air conditioning? It’s one of the worst thing the American idiocy brought to the planet.
- Are we finally going to understand what proper hygiene is? Since forever, I’ve been shocked how in movies everyone just jumps in the bed with street shoes. I don’t know people who really do that, but I know that even educated people in developed countries just don’t care about hygiene.
Epilogue. That was most likely the last post about this Covid19 crisis. They’re all under the tag apocalypse. I don’t plan to keep a journal of the crisis, and already these very long posts are somewhat useless: not so many people would read them and, if they did, the server would probably crash. This post included a last selection of things about the last month; as things are both volatile and boring, it makes no sense to go further. Bar correcting some typos, I won’t update this post. Soon I’ll be 50 and I’d need to be able to reinvent myself.
I have a backlog of two dozen books I didn’t review on Goodreads. (My Vivino ratings are up-to-date though.) And I have hundreds of books to read. I have comic books (des bédés franco-belges e alcuni fumetti italiani) in the backlog too (mostly older ones, but also contemporary; I keep discovering them, there must be several thousands I know about). I have many things to do, once the motivation kicks in.
Smile, tomorrow will be worse!