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Archive for March 20th, 2020

Why the Coronavirus Has Been So Successful

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Ed Yong writes in the Atlantic:

One of the few mercies during this crisis is that, by their nature, individual coronaviruses are easily destroyed. Each virus particle consists of a small set of genes, enclosed by a sphere of fatty lipid molecules, and because lipid shells are easily torn apart by soap, 20 seconds of thorough hand-washing can take one down. Lipid shells are also vulnerable to the elements; a recent study shows that the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, survives for no more than a day on cardboard, and about two to three days on steel and plastic. These viruses don’t endure in the world. They need bodies.

But much about coronaviruses is still unclear. Susan Weiss, of the University of Pennsylvania, has been studying them for about 40 years. She says that in the early days, only a few dozen scientists shared her interest—and those numbers swelled only slightly after the SARS epidemic of 2002. “Until then people looked at us as a backward field with not a lot of importance to human health,” she says. But with the emergence of SARS-CoV-2—the cause of the COVID-19 disease—no one is likely to repeat that mistake again.

To be clear, SARS-CoV-2 is not the flu. It causes a disease with different symptoms, spreads and kills more readily, and belongs to a completely different family of viruses. This family, the coronaviruses, includes just six other members that infect humans. Four of them—OC43, HKU1, NL63, and 229E—have been gently annoying humans for more than a century, causing a third of common colds. The other two—MERS and SARS (or “SARS-classic,” as some virologists have started calling it)—both cause far more severe disease. Why was this seventh coronavirus the one to go pandemic? Suddenly, what we do know about coronaviruses becomes a matter of international concern.

The structure of the virus provides some clues about its success. In shape, it’s essentially a spiky ball. Those spikes recognize and stick to a protein called ACE2, which is found on the surface of our cells: This is the first step to an infection. The exact contours of SARS-CoV-2’s spikes allow it to stick far more strongly to ACE2 than SARS-classic did, and “it’s likely that this is really crucial for person-to-person transmission,” says Angela Rasmussen of Columbia University. In general terms, the tighter the bond, the less virus required to start an infection.

There’s another important feature. Coronavirus spikes consist of

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2020 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Health, Science

The Coronavirus Could Reshape Global Order

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 and  write in Foreign Affairs:

With hundreds of millions of people now isolating themselves around the world, the novel coronavirus pandemic has become a truly global event. And while its geopolitical implications should be considered secondary to matters of health and safety, those implications may, in the long term, prove just as consequential—especially when it comes to the United States’ global position. Global orders have a tendency to change gradually at first and then all at once. In 1956, a botched intervention in the Suez laid bare the decay in British power and marked the end of the United Kingdom’s reign as a global power. Today, U.S. policymakers should recognize that if the United States does not rise to meet the moment, the coronavirus pandemic could mark another “Suez moment.”

It is now clear to all but the most blinkered partisans that Washington has botched its initial response. Missteps by key institutions, from the White House and the Department of Homeland Security to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have undermined confidence in the capacity and competence of U.S. governance. Public statements by President Donald Trump, whether Oval Office addresses or early-morning tweets, have largely served to sow confusion and spread uncertainty. Both public and private sectors have proved ill-prepared to produce and distribute the tools necessary for testing and response. And internationally, the pandemic has amplified Trump’s instincts to go it alone and exposed just how unprepared Washington is to lead a global response.

The status of the United States as a global leader over the past seven decades has been built not just on wealth and power but also, and just as important, on the legitimacy that flows from the United States’ domestic governance, provision of global public goods, and ability and willingness to muster and coordinate a global response to crises. The coronavirus pandemic is testing all three elements of U.S. leadership. So far, Washington is failing the test.

As Washington falters, Beijing is moving quickly and adeptly to take advantage of the opening created by U.S. mistakes, filling the vacuum to position itself as the global leader in pandemic response. It is working to tout its own system, provide material assistance to other countries, and even organize other governments. The sheer chutzpah of China’s move is hard to overstate. After all, it was Beijing’s own missteps—especially its efforts at first to cover up the severity and spread of the outbreak—that helped create the very crisis now afflicting much of the world. Yet Beijing understands that if it is seen as leading, and Washington is seen as unable or unwilling to do so, this perception could fundamentally alter the United States’ position in global politics and the contest for leadership in the twenty-first century.


In the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease now referred to as COVID-19, the missteps of Chinese leaders cast a pall on their country’s global standing. The virus was first detected in November 2019 in the city of Wuhan, but officials didn’t disclose it for months and even punished the doctors who first reported it, squandering precious time and delaying by at least five weeks measures that would educate the public, halt travel, and enable widespread testing. Even as the full scale of the crisis emerged, Beijing tightly controlled information, shunned assistance from the CDC, limited World Health Organization travel to Wuhan, likely undercounted infections and deaths, and repeatedly altered the criteria for registering new COVID-19 cases—perhaps in a deliberate effort to manipulate the official number of cases.

As the crisis worsened through January and February, some observers speculated that the coronavirus might even undermine the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. It was called China’s “Chernobyl”; Dr. Li Wenliang—the young whistleblower silenced by the government who later succumbed to complications from the COVID-19—was likened to the Tiananmen Square “tank man.”

Yet by early March, China was claiming victory. Mass quarantines, a halt to travel, and a complete shutdown of most daily life nationwide were credited with having stemmed the tide; official statistics, such as they are, reported that daily new cases had fallen into the single digits in mid-March from the hundreds in early February. In a surprise to most observers, Chinese leader Xi Jinping—who had been uncharacteristically quiet in the first weeks—began to put himself squarely at the center of the response. This month, he personally visited Wuhan.

Even though life in China has yet to return to normal (and despite continuing questions over the accuracy of China’s statistics), Beijing is working to turn these early signs of success into a larger narrative to broadcast to the rest of the world—one that makes China the essential player in a coming global recovery while airbrushing away its earlier mismanagement of the crisis.

A critical part of this narrative is Beijing’s supposed success in battling the virus. A steady stream of propaganda articles, tweets, and public messaging, in a wide variety of languages, touts China’s achievements and highlights the effectiveness of its model of domestic governance. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2020 at 3:04 pm

Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance

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Tomas Pueyo describes a good approach, which (unfortunately for the US) requires a strong and capable leader. Pueyo writes in Medium:

Summary of the article: Strong coronavirus measures today should only last a few weeks, there shouldn’t be a big peak of infections afterwards, and it can all be done for a reasonable cost to society, saving millions of lives along the way. If we don’t take these measures, tens of millions will be infected, many will die, along with anybody else that requires intensive care, because the healthcare system will have collapsed.

Within a week, countries around the world have gone from: “This coronavirus thing is not a big deal” to declaring the state of emergency. Yet many countries are still not doing much. Why?

Every country is asking the same question: How should we respond? The answer is not obvious to them.

Some countries, like France, Spain or Philippines, have since ordered heavy lockdowns. Others, like the US, UK, Switzerland or Netherlands, have dragged their feet, hesitantly venturing into social distancing measures.

Here’s what we’re going to cover today, again with lots of charts, data and models with plenty of sources:

  1. What’s the current situation?
  2. What options do we have?
  3. What’s the one thing that matters now: Time
  4. What does a good coronavirus strategy look like?
  5. How should we think about the economic and social impacts?

When you’re done reading the article, this is what you’ll take away:

• Our healthcare system is already collapsing.
• Countries have two options: either they fight it hard now, or they will suffer a massive epidemic.
• If they choose the epidemic, hundreds of thousands will die. In some countries, millions.
• And that might not even eliminate further waves of infections.
• If we fight hard now, we will curb the deaths.
• We will relieve our healthcare system.
• We will prepare better.
• We will learn.
• The world has never learned as fast about anything, ever.
• And we need it, because we know so little about this virus.
• All of this will achieve something critical: Buy Us Time.

• If we choose to fight hard, the fight will be sudden, then gradual.
• We will be locked in for weeks, not months.
• Then, we will get more and more freedoms back.
• It might not be back to normal immediately.
• But it will be close, and eventually back to normal.
• And we can do all that while considering the rest of the economy too.

Ok, let’s do this.

1. What’s the situation?

Last week, I showed this curve: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much, much more, with lots of charts.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2020 at 2:47 pm

US authorities are failing to test people and notify their contacts, a cornerstone of outbreak response.

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We are seeing a total absence of leadership in this crisis, from the Trump administration and Congress and from some state governments (for example, Utah and Texas). Amy Maxmen writes in Nature:

“I’ve been in the ICU fighting … wait for it … Coronavirus!” tweeted a 38-year-old geneticist on Sunday. Clement Chow, from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, was in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU) in Utah. Pretty soon, two dozen geneticists who had attended a meeting with him nine days earlier saw the tweet. Many were worried for Chow, and also upset that this was the first they had heard about it.

One member of the group saw the tweet just after having dinner with her 88-year-old mother, who has asthma, and her 84-year-old father-in-law, who has diabetes and a heart condition. She feared she could be infected, and might have transferred the virus to her family. COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, is particularly dangerous for elderly people and those with certain medical conditions. Concerned about causing panic, she requested that her name not be used in this story.

Over the next 12 hours, the worried researcher and about two dozen others from 16 states scrambled to work out who they had spent time with since returning home from the meeting. They were upset that four days had passed between when their colleague was hospitalized with symptoms of COVID-19 and when they found out, through Twitter, that he had the disease. Another 24 hours would pass before an email from Utah’s public-health departments made it their way. Every passing minute, the virus has a chance to move to someone else.

“In the middle of a known pandemic, how is this not moving faster?” asks David Pollock, an evolutionary genomicist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora who attended the meeting.

Dismal comparison

Across the United States, overwhelmed health departments are failing to diagnose people with COVID-19 and do the detective work usually used to contain outbreaks of contagious disease. This involves rapidly identifying the people with whom infected individuals have been in contact, requesting that close contacts quarantine themselves in their homes for two weeks, and testing them as soon as they have symptoms. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers these containment measures crucial because they reveal chains of transmission, and close them down before people have time to spread infections.

Analyses of successful coronavirus responses in China, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea suggest that these regions curbed their outbreaks largely because of rapid testing, contact tracing and quarantine. One analysis found that of all the measures China put into place — including travel bans, school closures and lockdowns — early case detection and isolation packed the biggest punch. Without this measure, the study suggests, five times as many people would have been infected in the country by the end of February.

But US health officials seem to be deprioritizing this targeted approach in favour of social-distancing measures, as is the United Kingdom. Such behaviour is a matter of concern for the WHO, which recommends both strategies. “We have not seen an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the response,” said director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press briefing on 16 March. “We cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected,” he said. “You cannot fight a fire blindfolded.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2020 at 1:40 pm

COVID-19 growth rate by nation

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As of March 19, via Kevin Drum’s post:

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2020 at 1:31 pm

How Do You Know Whether You’re Living Through the Death of an Empire?

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Patrick Wyman writes in Mother Jones:

The fall of an empire is supposed to be a dramatic thing. It’s right there in the name. “Fall” conjures up images of fluted temple columns toppling to the ground, pulled down by fur-clad barbarians straining to destroy something beautiful. Savage invasions, crushing battlefield defeats, sacked cities, unlucky rulers put to death: These are the kinds of stories that usually come to mind when we think of the end of an empire. They seem appropriate, the climaxes we expect from a narrative of rise, decline, and fall.

We’re all creatures of narrative, whether we think explicitly in those terms or not, and stories are one of the fundamental ways in which we engage with and grasp the meaning of the world. It’s natural that we expect the end of a story—the end of an empire—to have some drama.

The reality is far less exciting. Any political unit sound enough to project its power over a large geographic area for centuries has deep structural roots. Those roots can’t be pulled up in a day or even a year. If an empire seems to topple overnight, it’s certain that the conditions that produced the outcome had been present for a long time—suppurating wounds that finally turned septic enough for the patient to succumb to a sudden trauma.

That’s why the banalities matter. When the real issues come up, healthy states, the ones capable of handling and minimizing everyday dysfunction, have a great deal more capacity to respond than those happily waltzing toward their end. But by the time the obvious, glaring crisis arrives and the true scale of the problem becomes clear, it’s far too late. The disaster—a major crisis of political legitimacy, a coronavirus pandemic, a climate catastrophe—doesn’t so much break the system as show just how broken the system already was.

Comparisons between the United States and Rome go back to the very beginning. The first volume of Edward Gibbon’s magisterial The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was published in 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers had a deep appreciation and understanding of classical antiquity, and to some extent, they modeled aspects of their new nation on that understanding of the Roman past. Southern planters retained a distinct fondness for the Roman aristocracy, cultivating a life of high-minded leisure on the backs of chattel slaves.

As at the beginning, so too at the end. If anybody knows anything about Rome, they know that it fell, and they usually have a theory—lead poisoning is a popular one—to explain why. Every scholar working on Roman history has faced the linked questions of whether we’re Rome and where we are in the decline and fall. Those twin queries might come from students, casual acquaintances at a mandatory social function desperately trying to find conversational common ground, some guy at a party ripping massive bong hits to whom you made the mistake of telling your occupation, or, in my case, from podcast listeners and people on Twitter.

I spent the better part of a decade thinking about the end of the Roman Empire in its various manifestations. Academics, being academics, agree on very little about the topic. The idea of “fall” is now passé, for better and for worse; scholars prefer to speak of a “transformation” of the Roman world taking place over centuries, or better still, a long, culturally distinct, and important-in-its-own-right Late Antiquity spanning the Mediterranean world and beyond. If the Roman Empire did ever come to a real end, all agree, it was a long, slow process spanning many lifetimes—hardly the stuff of dramatic narratives. There are still a few catastrophists out there, but not many.

On one hand, this is all beside the point. While the eastern half of the Roman Empire survived in some form for the next thousand years, brought to an end only by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in 1453, the Roman Empire in the west did in fact come to an end. After a certain point, either 476 (Romulus Augustulus) or 480 (Julius Nepos), there was no longer an emperor in Ravenna claiming authority over the vast territory it had encompassed, stretching from the sands of the Sahara to the moors of northern Britain. Supply wagons laden with grain and olive oil for garrisons of Roman soldiers no longer rolled along roads maintained at state expense. The villas everywhere from Provence to Yorkshire in which Roman aristocrats had passed their time, plotting their election to town councils and composing bad poetry, fell into ruin.

Depending on the time, place, and the identity of the observer, this process could look and feel much different. Let’s say you were a woman born in a thriving market town in Roman Britain in the year 360. If you survived to age 60, that market town would no longer exist, along with every other urban settlement of any significant size. You lived in a small village instead of a genuine town. You had grown up using money, but now you bartered—grain for metalwork, beer for pottery, hides for fodder. You no longer saw the once-ubiquitous Roman army or the battalions of officials who administered the Roman state. Increasing numbers of migrants from the North Sea coast of continental Europe—pagans who didn’t speak a word of Latin or the local British language, certainly not wage-earning servants of the Roman state—were already in the process of transforming lowland Britain into England. That 60-year-old woman had been born into a place as fundamentally Roman as anywhere in the Empire. She died in a place that was barely recognizable.

Let’s consider an alternative example. Imagine you were lucky enough to have been born the son of an aristocrat in Provence around the year 440. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2020 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life, Government, Memes, Politics

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Sherlock and the iKon OG1

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My Rooney Finest made a fine lather with the able assistance of Chiseled Face’s Sherlock shaving soap. This is my second outing with the iKon OG1 , which as you see from the photo of the bottom of the baseplate is another in a series of asymmetric razors from iKon (the OSS and the 101 are other examples). The OG1 is, however, noticeably less comfortable and more nick-prone than those two (the 101 being exceptionally comfortable while also highly efficient). The OG1 has a lot of blade feel, and I did get a few small nicks this morning. I think the OG1 will appeal to those who like an “aggressive” razor. While somewhat short in comfort, it rates high in efficiency, and the result was a very smooth though slightly nicked finish.

However, I’ve observed that, just as one must “learn” a new kitchen knife, a new razor requires a similar learning curve. It may be that experience will help with the nicks and aggressiveness. For example, in my next shave I’ll definitely work to keep the pressure extremely light.

A good splash of Sherlock, and we are on the threshold of the weekend.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2020 at 9:00 am

Posted in Shaving

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