Jan 292020

M.C. Escher Fluorescent sea 1933


It’s a little amusing, though that word may not fit the topic, to see how people react to the 2019-nCoV (Wuhan coronavirus) “epidemic” that appears to have started in the city of that name. It’s understandable that people compare the warnings about it to those about for instance SARS (also a coronavirus, so either call this one 2019-nCoV or “Wuhan coronavirus”), and conclude that since that episode was not so bad, neither will this one be, but that’s certainly not the definitive story.

If only because stating that the world is due for a large-scale epidemic, a pandemic, is not some scare-mongering exercise, it’s basic statistics and broadly recognized. The last really big one is over 100 years ago. The Spanish flu of 1917-1918 killed an estimated 50 million people, more than WWI which took place from 1914-1918, and saw an estimated 40 million fatalities.

(Un)predictability is key: Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, director of Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City says: “There is no good way to predict [when a flu pandemic will occur], but “this is something that happens every 10 to 40 years”. In essence, since a real flu pandemic hasn’t happened in 100 years, we’re overdue.

There are of course vast differences between today and 1918. But then again, these differences may balance each other out to an extent: on the one hand: 1) medical science has made enormous progress in the past 100 years. But on the other: 2) there are many more people, and they move around and come in contact with each other a lot more too.


Cross-sectional model of a coronavirus. Source:
Scientific Animations (CC BY-SA 4.0)


World population in 1918 was 1.8 billion; today it’s over 4 times that at 7.7 billion. Add increased mobility through planes, trains and automobiles -in the west and now China- and you will find the number of miles traveled and the number of people “met” per capita has probably gone up by a factor of 10 or more. Just what a virus wants: 10+ times more potential hosts.

The 2009 swine flu killed “only” 200,000 people. Not the “real thing”. SARS affected about 8,000 people and killed 774 in the early 2000s. Hardly even an epidemic, let alone a pandemic. MERS, another coronavirus, infected 186 people and with a death toll of 36. Small change in comparison.

But of course scientists are looking into the matter all the time. And, certainly compared to 1918, they have developed much more sophisticated models to do that, aided greatly by computing power. A simulation of a global pandemic that involves a coronavirus, developed late last year by scientist Eric Toner at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, showed that 65 million people might die within 18 months in such an event.

A more recent model was developed by a team led by Hong Kong University’s medicine dean Gabriel Leung:

The Coronavirus outbreak doubles every 6.2 days [..] That figure validates the forecast of top virologists who claim that Coronavirus is ten times worse than SARS. Hong Kong University is ranked a top 25 college globally and houses the world’s top 1% scientists according to Thomson Reuters. Based on the model used by HKU, up to 150,000 individuals could be affected by Coronavirus in the next three to four months on a daily basis.

Leung’s team said that it confirmed transmission from humans to humans is already occurring in virtually every major city in China. By April to May, Leung said Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chongqing are likely to see widespread infections of Coronavirus, [before the number of infections could begin to gradually decline in June or July, Leung said.

As many as 44,000 people could be infected in Wuhan alone, with only 25,000 likely to be showing symptoms at this time..] Specifically, Leung noted that due to the close ties between Chongqing and Wuhan, Chongqing could see nearly 150,000 people affected per day at its peak.

Chongqing is sometimes presumed to be the world’s most populous city, with 30 million inhabitants, though data are somewhat opaque.

SCMP adds:

Leung, who sits on Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s advisory committee on the coronavirus, called for drastic measures to curb the spread of the virus. “Substantial, draconian measures limiting population mobility should be taken immediately,” he said, calling for the cancellation of mass gatherings, along with school closures and work-from-home arrangements.

He would undoubtedly also cancel all flights to and from Wuhan, and perhaps even all of China, as British Airways has already done, and as other airlines will be forced to follow suit.

Yesterday was the first day that the 2019-nCoV virus had infected over 1,000 new patients. And that’s in official numbers, those are the confirmed ones for a disease with a 2-week incubation period and an R0 rate (how many people are infected by each positive person) of 2.5 to 4. It was also the first day that more new cases were reported outside of Hubei province than inside it.

Scores of new countries were added to the list of those with confirmed cases. There are now 19: China, United States, France, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Nepal, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Canada, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Germany and UAE (Finland was just added; now there’s 20). Moreover, several of these countries have confirmed human-to-human transmission.

Still, while Hong Kong University’s Gabriel Leung estimates the 2019-nCoV peak at late April-early May 2020, Chinese respiratory diseases expert Zhong Nanshan, echoed by Gao Fu, the director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said the peak would be reached in 10 days.


Infection cycle of a coronavirus


The WHO is, as I speak, burying China in compliments for its efforts to control the disease. Which is fine, and likely more constructive than criticism, but we’ve all been able to see the footage of dead and dying people in the corridors of Wuhan hospitals. And we know China’s history on SARS reporting. Beijing is worried sick by now, but the CCP’s biggest worry will always remain power and control. The Hong Kong protests have only enforced that attitude.

But who are we to criticize China anyway? In our own countries, the main concern in the media is still about the economic effects of what may or may not become a pandemic. “It’s going to hurt global trade, it’s going to hurt our economy, woe, woe..” As if it’s such a disaster that for a few months fewer non-essential goods are schlepped halfway across the globe. That period is likely too short for us to realize than we would do good to produce at least essential goods closer to home. The main concern is money, not that 132 people have died and many more will soon. Those are our priorities.

For a bright light to hit home upside our heads that we would actually notice, that would make us take a look at ourselves, we would need a real bad pandemic. Or we will not learn that we should not need a pandemic to realize we should take care of ourselves, our own basic needs, and not let someone 10,000 miles away do that.

As for fewer airline bookings or Louis Vuitton or Apple sales, if that’s your priority, maybe you’re overdue a lesson no matter what. A lesson about what your society needs to survive, vs what are extras, luxuries, added benefits. We seem to have lost comprehension of that difference entirely.

Summary: no panic, but vigilance. Same as every other day. And not too much focus on money and profits. 2019-nCoV doesn’t care about those either. In 2020, with all the resources at our disposal, and with 1918 to guide us, we should be able to see these things coming from miles away, and not need any time to respond. It should be no more than flicking a switch.

Now it’s like: but where will our food come from, and our iPhones? We should have the answers to such questions ready at all times, or we have failed as societies. Maybe someone’s holding up a mirror to us.

A question I can’t resist is: Are we better prepared today than people were in 1918? And I can’t give you the answer. I know we should be with all the wealth and resources and available energy we’ve added, but I can’t.



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Home Forums 2019-nCOV

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  • #53166

    M.C. Escher Fluorescent sea 1933   It’s a little amusing, though that word may not fit the topic, to see how people react to the 2019-nCOV (Wuhan
    [See the full post at: 2019-nCOV]


    Dr. D:

    “You are correct: 6,000 / 130 = 0.02 which is how to express 2%.”

    Well, let’s blame the typo (you originally wrote 0.02%). Thanx for clarifying that and your reference to the tunnel vision WES deals with. I didn’t think you were addressing me, but since I was the only soul present in the declarative room at that time, I had no other hypothesis to follow.


    John Day: I found your sharing and comments today very enlightening. I agree with Charles Smith. This time around, the 80-year 4th Turning generational cycle of history seems to be uncommonly precise. If so, I guess it’s because all the applicable dynamics are adamantly defined, packed as they are with extreme urgent excess.


    fwiw, I don’t see this virus oputbreak as intentionally planned by any body of elites. Too hard to contain and control. But I must remind myself that the level of megalomaniacal sociopathy concentrated in those boardrooms and tropical villas is so great that, as Saul Alinsky said in Rules for Radicals (paraphrase alert): ‘I am convinced I could get a greedy businessman to sign a deal that would make him rich tomorrow even though he knew it would get him killed the day after that.’) That much power and lust for more does seem to breed a special kind of blindness.

    Anyway, I think that if it was a deliberate release of a lab-bred pathogen, it was the act of the Harvey Oswald variety: a single agent or a very small group. There are people so disturbed by our future prospects they might decide to start the attrition and collapse of civilization sooner than later. Mathematically speaking, it is morally sound, because the longer we wait to confront the crash, the more people will be alive to suffer and make things worse for everyone in the process.

    But I dislike mathematical morals. Not just because of the logic of the infamous Stalin quote about single deaths versus large mortality statistics, but also what Ursula K. LeGuin wrote:

    The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

    However, the question of who or what dunnit is a minor logistical quibble. The existence of labs that breed pathogens for “study” means that such a thing was bound to happen eventually. Let’s pray that neither Russia nor USA ( both of which retain, last I knew, viable smallpox samples in their labs) loses control of their labs or their logic0-moral good sense:

    Smallpox Attacks!

    sigh… I remember when our only major global survival concern was nuclear weapons.


    “It’s understandable that people compare the warnings about it to those about for instance SARS (also a coronavirus, so either call this one 2019-nCoV or “Wuhan coronavirus”), and conclude that since that episode was not so bad, neither will this one be, but that’s certainly not the definitive story.”

    This lies within the purview of a social behavior complex I recall as The Cassandra Syndrome. Y2K is a textbook case: Y2K was indeed a major problem that could have torn the world apart for awhile. But because enough warnings were made and enough action taken, the damage was 99.9% contained. A wet firecracker.

    The success of genuine warnings taken seriously and effectively acted upon leads the masses to believe that such warnings don’t need to be taken seriously.

    YOu’ll hear tyhis fallacy all the time frompeople who dislike unpleasant notions. After all, this predicted disaster or that predicted disaster didn’t happen, so this one won’t either.

    MAlthus was wrong a few hundred years ago, so all subsequent over-population warnings must be wrong, etc.

    Typically, this comes coupled with the “we’ll think of something, we always do” when in fact we usually don’t.

    THis also relates to silly jive about ‘Where are my flying cars? as if The Jetsons were remotely connected to genuine futurism rather than being just a silly cartoon.


    Messed Up Sentence of the Day:

    “Their “prophecies” were not well-received; Jeremiah, for example, being thrown into a deep well as well as put in wooden stocks.”


    Raul:. These viruses concern people because of their unpredictability.

    However, I also have wondered in the grand scheme of life, if such viruses are not also part of life’s ongoing long term success strategy.

    What would happen if we didn’t face such viruses? Might we be worst off? thanks for

    I have often wondered about the purpose of the common cold.

    Someone once told me that there are over 20,000 different cold viruses. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I have probably suffered over at least a 100 colds in my life so far. Maybe 200?

    My theory for colds is this nasty pest is somehow necessary to either test or boost my immune system from time to time to be ready to prevent something more serious.

    Flu’s and pneumonias probably do the same thing except brutally they cull out the weak the way wolves cull weak and sick deer to keep the herd healthy.

    During the winter months I do not go out very often which helps to reduce my exposure to other 2 legged monkeys. I try to remember to wash my hands after ever outing. Those seem to be the only two things within my control.

    Meanwhile life goes on.

    V. Arnold

    M.C. Escher Fluorescent sea 1933

    Wowee zowee; that Escher is spectacular…
    Good find Ilargi…


    “My theory for colds is this nasty pest is somehow necessary to either test or boost my immune system from time to time to be ready to prevent something more serious.”

    I’ll take the liberty of stating that differently, without teleological overtones:

    cold viruses have flourished in humans, and whatever other fauna they may find residence in, because they are mild enough to mostly not kill off their hosts. In the process, they flourish enough to develop a robust culture (myriad varieties of cold viruses).

    Over time, the symbiosis benefits both. The viruses benefit as described above, and we benefit as WES described, the new varieities teaching our immune system new tools for adapting to new pathogens.

    V. Arnold

    A question I can’t resist is: Are we better prepared today than people were in 1918? And I can’t give you the answer. I know we should be with all the wealth and resources and available energy we’ve added, but I can’t.

    It seems to me, that if we factor in human nature, we begin to get a picture.
    Our propensity towards denial could well scupper any and all lessons that we should have learned…
    Certainly the next few weeks will tell us a lot.

    Boy oh boy; I sure love that Escher…


    Aye, that Escher’s a rare treat.

    John Day

    @boscohorowitz: Thanks for the kind words, Amigo.
    What about weaponized coronavirus? We may assume it exists in US, Chinese, Canadian and how many other labs, right?
    In war-by-fire, the most dangerous and unpredictable sort of weapon, the designer of the attack still wants an asymmetrical result, hurting the target much more than the home-team.
    What might be done to protect the home team from raging fire?
    What about a controlled burn, done before unleashing the uncontrolled burn on a windy day against the adversary?
    If you were running a bioweapons lab, maybe you would design a cold virus with some similar antigenic features to the weapon, and release it on the population to be protected, something like half a year before releasing the weapon on the target population.
    I’m speculating, really, I’m just speculating, guys and gals…
    What would be noticed is that spread would slow down when it hit the “vaccinated” zone.
    We shall probably see if that happens, but there will be public health measures like quarantines, which will confound analysis.

    Dr. D

    Readers to Armstrong on Wuhan:

    “#1: Lots of work at a BSL-4 lab actually takes place at a BSL-2 level. CDC and Chinese officials have pointed out that BSL-2 protocols are completely inadequate for 2019-nCoV.
    #2: BSL-4 (and any serious study of both virii and bacterial agents) requires both incubations as well as “test subjects”. These can (and often do) bite…or at least escape from cages.
    There is a good Lancet article on the Wuhan origins. Again, having worked in BSL related to study for infectious agents, the Lancet overview of infections and also knowing Chinese “culture” there are a couple of salient points:

    #1 Gloves. If BSL-2 protocols were not sufficient and yet lots of tests were being run there….Gloves got contaminated. For the lab – no problems, just toss them out – but for any poor person picking through the garbage and suddenly finding a “treasure trove” of “hardly used” gloves…Well. I’ve been to these markets and the sellers all wore gloves…
    The massive spike of infected people going to some random market suddenly got an incredible boost as a disease vector.”

    Again, this goes back to my line of embarrassment and they knew, as the U.S. knows, or well enough, but also WHY are they developing a disease of this nature? Well, obviously to kill a lot of people. Random people? It has no natural containment like a time-limit, so why make such a thing unless you want to kill everyone, yourself included? Maybe John Day knows. Ah, humans. Why ask why?

    “compared to 1918, they have developed much more sophisticated models to do that, aided greatly by computing power.”

    Except that anyone who knows computers knows they are always wrong and only compound human error faster. …Look at 30 years of dead-wrong climate computing, still accepted as reasonable and not discredited, neither by method nor the Agencies and Universities that failed always. If I predicted the Cincinnati Bengals would win the Superbowl 30 years in a row in new and interesting ways, could I not get discredited, at least some day? Anyway, yes, if you ‘garbage in’ alarming parameters, you get alarming results. If you ‘garbage in’ moderate parameters, you get moderate results. Big surprise. I can do that without computers. If Hopkins put in better parameters, they would find 99.9% of humanity would die in 96 hours. …But since humans are just making this up using pretty colors on a computer, that concoction wouldn’t sound plausible and newsworthy. In reality the extreme events are predicted constantly, daily almost, but are rare. That’s what makes them “extreme.” Because decade after decade they don’t happen. No one notices. What did Einstein say ‘the real human tragedy was that people do not understand statistics”? Or was it compounding interest?

    For predictions, yes, pandemics occur with climate change, specifically cooling periods. That correlates to unrest and shaky governments. But that’s a 200+ year cycle, so you won’t get the year nor probably even the style. Spanish Flu was unusual as far as I can tell. It happened only once and struck the young and healthy particularly. Plague would be more usual, returning over and over for even decades, but we have selection bias that 1918 is closer and the most recent, and generally Western, I think. Just like we think the next GFC will be 1929, which it wasn’t in ’08 and won’t be now. Like they thought the next war would involve horses and dreadnaughts, which it didn’t. Making predictions is hard, especially about the future. Will it happen? Yes, someday. I’d bet when we’re a lot more run down than now.

    Cancelling flights and massive semis of food, supplies, and support that Charles Smith pointed out only REQUIRES Wuhan to slip through quarantine and go home. They’re not going to sit around and get killed, especially by senseless unemployment and starvation. There are limits and they are pretty sloppy and low. They’re lauded by the WHO for being draconian, of course, instead of hearing from Napoleon who said, “Do you know what amazes me more than anything else? The impotence of force to organize anything.” Socialists never learn. Voluntary cooperation is the only way. If China and the WHO are so great, why is the virus everywhere on earth already? Lauding your success at keeping it off of Antarctica? But when you call failing in computer models for decades a success, why not call a total failure to contain – or even identify patients — a success?

    “My agency wants money and power, and my friends’ agencies want more money and power.” There, fixed it.


    “Again, this goes back to my line of embarrassment and they knew, as the U.S. knows, or well enough, but also WHY are they developing a disease of this nature? ”

    I think that your embarrassment line of reasoning holds its water better than any other attempts to peer over the Official Explanation, but I must dispute this statement: “Well, obviously to kill a lot of people.”

    It is just as plausible that they are doing research to attempt to foresee what kind of icky natures this changeling virus might develop that could cause major mayhem. Not all enemies are human foreign entities or human domestic entities. Like I wrote in a short story about a halfwit (me) surviving an unexpected encounter with a cougar (that’s the fiction part) in a very small town where cougar tracks are sometimes found in the sidewalk snow 6 yards from the front porches of its citizens:

    “I feel triumphant. I also feel edibly vulnerable with the same knowledge rabbits live and die with: something, somewhere, thinks you’d make a fine meal. Cougars, viruses, IRS, all want a slice.”

    Learnig what viruses might emerge to kill you and your people is not only a valid defense against same, it is also a viable source of bioweaponry.

    The false dichotomy is DEEPLY coded into our thinking as a culture.

    As for socialism never learning, I’ll accept that “Socialists never learn. Voluntary cooperation is the only way,” now for the sake of discussing on established terms. Having said that, I’ll point out that voluntary cooperation borders on impossible in cities of and significant size, a size which can be as “small” as around 100K (see the Bruce Cockburn article on polio in 1956, the glorious year of my miraculous birth).

    People in highly bureaucratic authoritarian sociliast polities (China, USA, Russia) don’t do anything like voluntary cooperation until their government/economy collapses (as in Orlov’s description of early post-USSR).

    It’s like saying, Capitalists never learn, which is also true, but the only large-scale solution to our capitalist dilemma is a capitalist solution, and since capitalists never learn any more than socialists, we must wait until the Sky City tent collapses before any significant voluntary cooperation among the people emerges to deal with the wreckage.

    Illustration 1

    Relevant Song 1

    Ilklustration 2:

    Relevant Song 2a

    Relevant Song 2b


    Likewise with this needlessly, heedlessly absolutism:

    “Except that anyone who knows computers knows they are always wrong and only compound human error faster.”

    The first clause is patently wrong in a way that is hard to shrug off even as hyperbole for rhetorical effect. The latter can be true (depends on the program one is using) when human error is involved. Just as GIGO can mean Garbage In Garbage Out it can also mean Good-data In Good Data-out.

    Computer models are what gert satellites successfully launched into orbit.

    Also, most of the original, pre-politicized computer sims of global climate disruption (yea, the anthropogenic kind no less), have oproven mostly right.

    The truth is that reality is not political, that politics are a minor subset of reality, and reality kicks politics ass so often that this is probably why politics rarely ventures forth into that realm.

    This World is Full of Stuff


    Illustration 1 in my post above lacks an attacking conservative agenda as well, but its absence rather highlights part of what it illustrates (among other things): partisan politics is a sucker’s shell game with one side ever blaming the other.


    Dang. Post-op opiates and my usual disdain of my reading glasses makes for a wealth of typos. Illustratin 1 should properly be:

    Sky City


    I liked the point about the focus on the economic impact of the virus, overshadowing the human health impacts. Presumably in places where the disease is rampant people will have different priorities. Also interesting to see the major economically-damaging adjustments that are made overnight to fight the virus (quarantine, flights stopped, celebrations stopped, malls closed) — things that would be deemed “unpossible” to fight climate change…

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