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February 27, 2020

The Morning Rant: Minimalist Edition

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One of the mixed blessings of the information age is the instant and world-wide transmission of pretty much everything, from the raw data to wild extrapolations and interpretations and politically motivated screeds that may or may not be based on reality. Even worse is the lack of perspective, since hysterical tweets and headlines sell ads and newspapers, while sober reflection and interpretation is wiser and more boring.

And coronavirus is a great example of this. Is it the pandemic that will bring down the world economy, or is it just another flu-like syndrome that kills the old and the weak, just like the flu does...every single year. Last year the flu killed 20,000 people in the USA alone. And the year before was worse. World wide? WHO estimates that seasonal influenza may result in 290 000-650 000 deaths each year due to respiratory diseases alone.

So what is the official government response to this widespread yearly virus that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year? Pretty rational actually! The American government subsidizes vaccine research, tries to make the public aware of the basic precautions that will minimize exposure, and places it properly in the category of "manageable."

But hysteria usually wins out, and here is a great example of such.

Michela Musolino is a professional singer and a long-time reader and commenter at AoSHQ who was in northern Italy recently for a series of concerts, unfortunately right smack in the middle of Italy's coronavirus outbreak.

Her experience is fascinating, and her observations are equally valuable and worth a read.

Greetings From Coronavirus Central!

By Sunday afternoon, we found that we couldn't go anywhere because not only were all Northern regions cancelling all public activity, Southern regions in Italy were already barring entry to anyone from the Lombardia region. We felt like the "unclean" from the times of the Plague. Masses had been cancelled as well. This happened only days before Ash Wednesday, the start of Christendom's holiest season. All of our live performances had been cancelled, whether they were in the Lombardia or not, even if they were in a different region, more than three hours from any outbreak. Musician friends of ours were reporting that some of their shows on Saturday, the night before had been cancelled, even if in areas untouched by the virus. By Sunday night, everybody was sitting around telling stories to keep entertained and saying that we were reliving Boccaccio's Decameron, except by then that joke was already wearing thin.
Read the whole thing!

Here's what I think: Coronavirus is probably self-limiting, just like the flu. And when a vaccine is developed it will be relegated it to the back pages of newspapers as filler on a slow day. As Michela points out, there is very little information about the people who are actually dying of this. Are they old and sick? Are they smokers (the Chinese smoke like chimneys!), do they have other preexisting conditions that make the virus more dangerous? How many people who get it have mild symptoms and then recover quickly without coming to the attention of the statistics gatherers?

I am deeply suspicious of any analysis that does not recognize the realities of the differences in medical care and overall health between a country like China and a country like The United States. We deliver health care much quicker and much more effectively than China, our citizens are much healthier, and our culture limits exposure to these things in many ways. Why, it's almost as if there are qualitative differences in cultures and countries!


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posted by CBD at 10:53 AM

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