Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Coronavirus Update Through 3-28-2020

 

I have an update on COVID-19 reported cases and deaths for the US and Western Europe, through yesterday (March 28). These graphs focus on population-adjusted figures and growth rates.

Italy and Spain remain the hardest-hit countries on a per capita basis, by a wide margin. Spain actually surpassed Italy in reported cases per million yesterday, though Italy remains highest in reported deaths per million. On a per capita basis, the US has only 4-5% as many deaths reported as Italy and Spain.

As before, my data source is Johns Hopkins. Details in the comments.

I start with reported deaths per million, by country, for the US and the major Western European nations.

The line for the US (medium blue) and Germany (orange) are difficult to distinguish at this scale, at the bottom of the graph.

Here are the deaths per million figures for the smaller Western European countries. I’ve left Italy in the graph for comparison, so the scale is the same as the first graph above.

I know that it’s a bit hard to differentiate these at this scale. None of the other countries are comparable to Italy or Spain, at least not yet. The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg are similar to France at present, while the others (Portugal, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Norway, and Ireland) are significantly lower, around the level of the US, Germany, and the UK.

The next graph shows the daily growth rate in reported COVID-19 deaths, for the US, Italy, Spain, and France. (I left out Germany and the UK because inclusion made the graph too difficult to read.) This figure varies fairly widely from day to day, so I have smoothed the data by calculating a 4-day moving average.

You can see a general downward trend for Italy (light blue) and Spain (green), which is very good news. France’s figure is more variable. The high early rate in the US was when there were very low numbers of reported deaths (12 or less).

The daily growth rate in reported deaths, in the US, has been fairly steady at around 30% for the past 10 days or so. This is approximately exponential growth, but remember that we expect this to decline, as has occurred in other countries. The difficult question is when.

The next graph is transitional between reported deaths and total reported cases. This graph shows the case fatality rate, meaning the number of reported deaths as a percentage of the number of reported cases. Remember that this is not the mortality rate, but I think that it is a useful comparison between countries. This graph includes a combined line for the smaller European countries (labeled “Other W. Eur.”).

As you can see, the case fatality rate remains unusually low in Germany and the US.

The next graph is total reported cases per million.

You can see that Spain has now surpassed Italy by this metric. The US is at approximately 25% of the level of Italy and Spain in number of cases per capita (but only around 4-5% in number of deaths per capita).

The final graph is the growth rate in reported cases, showing a 4-day moving average.

As you can see, this growth rate has followed a general downward trend in all countries. The US currently has the highest growth in reported cases, but it is trending down. In several instances — the US (blue), Spain (green), and Germany (orange), you can see a “hump” in the trend line, probably corresponding to significantly increased testing, which occurred at different times in different countries.

ChiCom delenda est.

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Member Post

 

My stepdaughter sent me a text yesterday to let me know that 73-year old singer-songwriter John Prine, a favorite of ours for decades, has been hospitalized in critical condition with coronavirus symptoms. He’s been in poor health for some time, surviving a bout with cancer in the late 1990’s, and has had several subsequent surgeries, […]

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. How Did We Become So Weak?

 

Can you believe that 75 years ago–beginning on February 21, 1945–60,000 US Marines attacked the small Japanese island of Iwo Jima? It wasn’t very safe. In fact, about 26,000 of the young men were killed, wounded, or missing by the time the battle ended on March 26, 1945 (that’s 43.33% casualties). 6800 of the young Marines were killed (11.33%).

The motto of New Hampshire is “Live Free or Die.”

When I was a child (I’m nearly 60), we were told of a great American named Patrick Henry of Virginia. In a speech back in 1765, opposing some unjust act of Parliament (the Stamp Act I think) he famously proclaimed “Is life so dear or peace so sweet so as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

What has happened to us? Do we think we shall live forever on this earth? Do we think we won’t die? We will. Of course, we should take reasonable means to avoid death. But really. We’re going to stop people from working and give away money we don’t have (throwing more debt to be carried by future generations) because we’re afraid of a virus? I guess we don’t really believe all that freedom and liberty stuff. Even our Churches are closed–the Church that once astounded pagans by her indifference to death-even in plague-knowing her true homeland was not here.

Lord, help our poor country!

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If the title of the post wasn’t enough; Trigger warning! This post contains sarcasm, and acerbic humor. Unlike some police shows on TV my empathy quotient was not wasted on those who rationalized their criminal behavior. I was compassionate when I could be, and I could fight, and take someone down to the pavement when […]

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Luffing to Cuba: Michael Henry’s First “Non-Fiction” Book

 

I am not often at a loss for words, but in reading Michael Henry’s Luffing to Cuba, I find myself somewhat confounded. Part of that may be the Coda with which he finishes the book. Part is also the extreme changes to life we have experienced in the year since his adventure.

Michael Henry is a writer of many parts. Here on Ricochet he has often shared humorous fiction based on politics. They tend to be very light pieces. His fictional novels are mostly legal thrillers. They are serious in content, although there is often light banter between characters and light moments within the novels. I have commented before that his Willie Mitchell Banks character muddles through the stories rather than being the lantern-jawed tough guy who knows all the answers. Luffing to Cuba falls somewhere between the two while also being mostly non-fiction. Or perhaps I should say that it is non-fiction with flights of fancy interjected throughout. While in a way being of a piece and on the spectrum of his other writing, it has a very different feel, since the people and events are real.

Part of the difference is that a novel or short humorous piece of writing has a goal. A travelogue is more of a record of things that happened on a trip and can be a mishmash of impressions and adventures that in the end return the author home, perhaps changed somewhat, perhaps not changed at all.

In Luffing to Cuba, there are a handful or more of sections depending on how one divides it up. My own division would be the introduction, getting the sailing vessel to Florida, the interlude where they fly back home and Michael speaks more on the subject of his neighbor who owns the sailing vessel, the assembly of the crew and problems before the race, the race, three days in Cuba, and then the trip back home. However one divides it, it is both a fun ride along with an unknowledgeable amateur in a sailing race and a look at Cuba from a fairly average American’s perspective.

The views of Cuba are particularly poignant at this time with so many of us locked away in the CoViD gulag of our homes, praying to find toilet paper in our brief scavenging forays abroad. We have to put up with this for a few months for reasons of contagious disease. Cuba has suffered under the contagious disease of communism for more than sixty years.

The half-page coda is sad and makes the travelogue all the more real. It contains an event that is easily searchable on the Internet to come up with the obituaries and news stories.

It’s not a long book, about thirty thousand words. Were it fiction, it would be considered novella length. It’s well worth the read for the strange fugues into Michael’s mind’s inner workings and for the turns of phrase and descriptions, such as his saying that a modern cruise ship loomed over Habana’s Old Town section like a Death Star. It is as much a travelogue of his mind as of his trip to Cuba.

Michael has made this book available for a few days for free, and while Amazon doesn’t list the normal price after one has acquired a Kindle book, I believe the usual price is $2.99. Even if you get in after the give-away, it’s worth the price for the laughs and insights.

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Day 69: COVID-19 Who/What Do You Trust?

 

This morning’s data sort is by “Recoveries” as I am trying to “look up” a little even as I ask the question: Who/what do you trust? Yesterday I posted a link to a University of Washington affiliated think tank that put out some wonderful graphics attempting to make predictions, state by state (and aggregated nationally) about the bell curve for this epidemic. Or as New York Governor Cuomo said the other day, they were saving stored ventilators for the “apex” of their epidemic. The Washington think tank purported to give an answer as to when that apex might be. Within hours a number of the predictions were falsified which calls the model into question. Not just that the predicted number was wrong, but that the range was wrong as well.

I’ll get back to that in a moment. The Worldometers table pictured above has a new column: 1st Case. We can now look at country data and see it within the context of how long their particular epidemic has been going on. The circled date for the US is “January 20.” This was a man traveling through Wuhan, China early in January and returned to the US on January 15. He fell ill with pneumonia on January 16. The CDC confirmed that he was suffering from COVID-19 on January 20. The reports at the time said that “CDC officials now say there is evidence that ‘limited person-to-person spread is happening.‘”

Well, that turned out to be an understatement. (And there is some belief that the virus may have been circulating in the country undetected as far back as November.)

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder famously said: “Battle plans never survive contact with the enemy.” Which is another way of saying that things don’t go as planned, information turns out not just to be wrong, but serially wrong. That is, we don’t just get it wrong, make corrections, and get it right. We get it wrong, then wrong, and wrong again until we finally get it right.

And that is our dilemma. As we watch our systems struggle, and life and death are in the balance, how do we maintain our confidence in leadership and authority? It doesn’t help that not only do they get it wrong, but the media is crafting a narrative designed to undermine our confidence in the cohesion of our national response. We could turn off our televisions and close down our web browsers, but where would that get us?

So let’s go back to the IHME COVID-19 Projections. They are a great set of graphics. They are data-rich as you pull the sliders across looking into each state’s future. They convey important information about possible deaths and demands on health care. And, so far, they are wrong. The question that IHME has to figure out is why are they wrong? Some might say that they are not wrong because the experience may yet come back into the predicted range. And for some locations that may be true. But why are they wrong now? If there is a single key factor it may be China. From the IHME paper:

Local government, national government, and WHO websites [21–25] were used to identify data on confirmed COVID-19 deaths by day at the first administrative level (state or province, hereafter “admin 1”). Government declarations were used to identify the day different jurisdictions implemented various social distancing policies (stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, school closures, closures of non-essential services focused on bars and restaurants, and the deployment of severe travel restrictions) following the New Zealand government schema. [26] Data on timings of interventions were compiled by checking national and state governmental websites, executive orders, and newly initiated COVID-19 laws. Data on licensed bed and ICU capacity and average annual utilization by state were obtained from the American Hospital Association.[27] We estimated ICU utilization rates by multiplying total bed utilization rates by the ratio of ICU bed utilization rates over total bed utilization rates from a published study.[28] Observed COVID-19 utilization data were obtained for Italy [21] and the United States, [29] providing information on inpatient and ICU use. Data from China [30] were used to approximate inpatient and ICU use by assuming that severe patients were hospitalized and critical patients required an ICU stay. Other parameters were sourced from the scientific literature and an analysis of available patient data. [31] Age-specific data on the relative population death rate by age are available from China, [30] Italy, [32] Korea, [33] and the US [29] and show a strong relationship with age (Figure 1).

Using the average observed relationship between the population death rate and age, data from different locations can be standardized to the age structure using indirect standardization. For the estimation of statistical models for the population death rate, only admin 1 locations with an observed death rate greater than 0.31 per million (e-15) were used. This threshold was selected by testing which threshold minimized the variance of the slope of the death rate across locations in subsequent days.

***

From the projected death rates, we estimated hospital service utilization using an individual-level microsimulation model. We simulated deaths by age using the average age pattern from Italy, China, South Korea, and the US (Figure 1) due to the relatively small number of deaths included for the US (n = 46) and the fact that the US age pattern is likely biased toward older-age deaths due to the early nursing home outbreak in Washington state. For each simulated death, we estimated the date of admission using the median length of stay for deaths estimated from the global line list (10 days <75 years; 8 days 75+ years). Simulated individuals requiring admission who were discharged alive were generated using the age-specific ratio of admissions to death (Figure 3), based again on the average across Italy, China, and the US. The age-specific fraction of admissions requiring ICU care was based on data from the US (122 total ICU admissions over 509 total admissions). The fraction of ICU admissions requiring invasive ventilation was estimated as 54% (total n = 104) based on 2 studies from China. [36,37] To determine daily bed and ICU occupancy and ventilator use, we applied median lengths of stay of 12 days based on the analysis of available unit record data and 8 days for those admissions with ICU care. [37]

No doubt that IHME will be updating their model outputs as new data comes in. But in the initial formulation, they needed to draw data from places with significant case experience. And that was China, and to a lesser extent Italy, in the formulation. That puts a lot faith in the data from China. I do not want to dip into “yellow peril” territory, but the conduct of the Chinese Communist Party does not inspire confidence. No one believes the Chinese gross data reported on Worldometers. Maybe the experts with personal relations with Chinese epidemiologists can decode whatever careful language they must be using in describing what is going on there. But even as China-published data was trending downward, various reports would come out contradicting the official counts. Just the other day Report: Thousands Of Urns Shipped To Wuhan, Where The Virus Is Supposedly Under Control suggests that the virus may still be raging in some parts of China. This, even as China is lending aid to its One Belt One Road (OBOR) partner in Italy. Do we doubt that Chines Community Party would deny some segment of its own people critical supplies in order to promote its international objectives? We do not.

And there are US officials. The CDC has gone from “limited person-to-person spread” to highly contagious community spread. The President has to cut through red tape in order to create a “right to try” approach to the epidemic, not just terminally ill patients from other causes. The federal government bureaucrats sought early on to centrally control the response to the outbreak through its siloed expertise. The President has demanded a “whole of government” and private enterprise approach. The media has been as dismissive of the President in his leadership in the epidemic as they have been of his legitimacy to be President at all.

As a nation, we are being asked to make great sacrifices. The worker relief program is critical as the consumer demand has been totally cut off from some goods and services and redirected to others. Our politicians have larded it up with irrelevant stuff that we will be paying for in the coming decades as well. Our governors have restricted our liberty in the name of safety, and over time that will be the greatest sacrifice we have made if liberty is not fully restored.

But there are two kinds of sacrifices: willing and unwilling. With confidence in leadership, the sacrifices are mostly willing. Without confidence in leadership, our sacrifices are coerced. Who/what do you trust?

[Note: Links to all my COVID-19 posts can be found here.]

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. How Dare You!

 

For a number of years, I have told people that while I might think people on the left are wrong in their beliefs, those same people treat my beliefs as illegitimate; that I have no right to hold different views than they. I believe that it peaked in the current gender wars, mostly because their views became less and less logical under even the gentlest scrutiny.

Now, the virus epidemic gives those people a whole new slew of issues on which, rather than make a cogent argument, it’s considered good form to simply say “how dare you!” That an intellectual adolescent the likes of Greta Thunberg was invited to the UN and literally made that argument foretold how bleak our future looks for any exchange of ideas.

It really hit home this morning when a local (San Antonio) financial columnist was screeching about our Lt. Governor. Dan Patrick had made the case that mitigating some of the quarantine might be worth considering given its effects on the economy. These arguments are the same as the caterwauling about the president’s suggestion about looking forward to Easter as a potential time to start relaxing quarantine rules. Literally nothing about proposing this as a date to think about changing the rules was controversial, yet it’s as if the POTUS proposed slaughtering seniors in their homes.

I wonder if we are past the point of no return, and there is no point in even trying to convince anyone on the other side, of anything.

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Milton Friedman on the FDA: Risk Avoidance

 

Put yourself in the position of an FDA official charged with approving or disapproving a new drug. You can make two very different kinds of serious mistakes:

1. Approve a drug that turns out to have unanticipated side effects resulting in death or serious impairment of a sizable number of persons.

2. Refuse approval to a drug that is capable of saving many lives or relieving great distress and has no untoward side effects.

If you make the first mistake, the results will be emblazoned on the front pages of the newspapers. The finger of disapproval, perhaps even of disgrace, will point straight to you.If you make the second mistake, who will know it? The pharmaceutical firm promoting the new drug…will be dismissed as greedy businessmen with hearts of stone…. The people whose lives might have been saved will not be around to protest. Their families will have no way of knowing that their loved ones lost their lives when they did only because of the [in]action of an unknown FDA official.

— Milton Friedman

This is baked into the FDA pie – every process reflects this central approach to risk. The consequence is that tests of efficacy that should take days or weeks (in the case of Corona) will take, according to the government, many months. Vaccines cannot be “proven” for a year or more.

So we have this central tension right now. The FDA is institutionally incapable of sticking their necks out to support rapid tests or hydroxychloroquine or any other treatment. There are too many unknowns and they are paralyzed. The only thing the bureaucrats are sure of is that they should not make any mistakes by acting too fast. That, and anything Donald Trump supports is probably a bad idea, so they should reflexively oppose it. Can you imagine the opprobrium in the Beltway if the FDA is seen to help the President end a crisis?

So now we have the spectacle of Rudy Giuliani interviewing Zelenko and presenting the findings directly to the American people. The President has to engage in asymmetrical warfare against the Deep State in order to do his job.

If this goes as I would like it to, the FDA ends up being so discredited that its role is reduced to a purely advisory one going forward (seals of approval for medicines and devices, but no veto power). That would be a happy result, indeed! Milton Friedman would be thrilled.

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. So, Hey, How Y’all Doing?

 

[Ricochet is not an airport, so arrivals and departures need not be announced, but here I am anyway. If you’re not a fan of such posts, this one probably isn’t for you. I’m sure the PIT (is that even still a thing?) is hopping if you need an alternative.]

Just reactivated my Coolidge membership on a whim to follow James Lileks’ dialogues from what he’s calling the Duration, which he’s also documenting over on the Bleat. It’s — comforting, maybe? — to read that the bizarre circumstances of 2020 thus far are happening to everybody. I’m also leveraging my membership by watching the live GLoP podcast at the moment and laughing a bit, even though Sanctimonious Mode Jonah makes my teeth itch in ways no dentist can treat. Also, if I spend any more time on Facebook reading misinformation, indignation, and Trump-bashing (as though this isn’t happening to the entire world), I might start acting out the memorable bits of The Shining; I’m really hoping sanity is still the rule at Ricochet.

Life hasn’t really changed for me in Ohio as things have shut down bit by bit by order of Governor DeWine. I’ve worked from home exclusively when not traveling since 2015, after my near-miss with unemployment, so I’m used to WebEx and Skype meetings and usually run video so that I’m not just a voice to my customers. I joke with my newly-isolated co-workers that I was socially distancing before it was cool. The only thing that’s markedly different is the presence of my 15- and 10-year old sons all week long. We have a finished basement with lots of computers and videogames, and most importantly a door, so we don’t really notice their presence. The additional food consumption is really the main clue that something is different.

The boys thought that not going to school constituted a long-term break. Even though they had been sent all their assignments via Google Classroom, they didn’t really include schoolwork in their plans, preferring to sleep in, play games, and avoid schoolwork entirely. Thus, on day 2, we instituted daily 8:30 a.m. stand-up meetings (along the lines of a Scrum stand-up for those who know about such), in which we review everyone’s achievements from yesterday, plans for today, and any issues impeding their progress. It turns out that having a project manager as a dad is less fun than it would first appear.

What else? I opted out of Ubering and Lyfting in mid-February after it became clear that we were all about to experience a major plot twist. Not my proudest moment, but what shook me about driving was taking a Chinese couple of college students from a restaurant back to their Denison University dorm, and all I could think of was “I really hope they spent winter break in Ohio, or anywhere in China other than Hubei Province”. From reading the local Facebook driver’s group, I’m far from alone in my hiatus.

The now 19-year-old daughter is as angsty as ever, having graduated high school and parked herself firmly on our couch, expecting that state of affairs to last forever. Her parents disagree with her plan, noting that we are not doing our parental duty if we allow this extended failure to launch to continue in perpetuity. We had originally set a 1 June deadline for her to find something — anything — to do outside of the house, but it appears that we are going to have to push that date to the right until things get back to normal (whatever that will look like) post-lockdown.

Also playing a lot of Call of Duty Mobile — I’m not normally a gamer, but CoDM has me hooked. Will share my nickname and UID with anyone who’s similarly addicted. My current ‘friends’ list runs a little toward Latin American wannabe gangbangers whose knowledge of English consists mostly of words beginning with ‘F’.

Anyway, didn’t want to skulk back into the room without catching up. Anybody else still here from the old days? How are you holding up?

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Member Post

 

I was doing pretty well for a while. Heck, we even had pizza delivered yesterday. But now I’ve learned that a couple of people from our 55+ development are in the hospital just across the street with COVID-19. I have a pretty reliable source. And I hate the idea of giving in to fear. Here […]

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. WWKD: What Would Krauthammer Do?

 

I think it’s good to have heroes, people you can look up to and admire for the virtues they epitomize. I haven’t had many, a handful of iconic thinkers from my formative years, none who really stand out now as I look back on them. My father, still living, towers above the rest, a man of endless decency, generosity, and integrity: if I had to name a hero it would be him. And if I felt compelled to ask advice, it’s his I’d seek for anything within the scope of his formidable common sense and practical wisdom.

But today we find ourselves faced with strategic choices of historic weight, the outcomes determined by issues of epidemiology and biology that have even the experts at odds with each other. Whom do we trust, as we negotiate this treacherous ground between soaring pathology and spiraling economic collapse?

This evening, for the first time in my life, I found myself wanting the counsel of someone no longer with us. The thought popped into my head unbidden, and caught me completely by surprise: What Would Krauthammer Do?

He could have offered no sure answer, no more than anyone else can. But it would have been nice to hear his thoughts.

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Member Post

 

I understand that Covid-19 is a deadly virus, and we need to take it very seriously. However, the blunt approach of shutting the entire country down is deadly as well, and that fact has to be recognized. To illustrate what I mean in real time, I point to Knox County in Eastern Tennessee where all […]

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Member Post

 

The stores are all shut, everyone has to queue for food, and people are afraid to go outside lest they be denounced by their neighbors.

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Are Ventilators the Wrong Metric?

 

According to a recent report by a doctor in New Orleans, 86% of the patients on ventilators don’t make it. Which means that ventilators are not the thing we are trying to maximize. By the time the patient is on the ventilator, the battle has almost certainly already been lost.

We must intercept the virus before it gets that bad. Hence the suggestions by other doctors to prescribe chloroquine for those with any symptoms, but not waiting until it gets bad enough for hospitalization.

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My pastor is encouraging us to try to live ordered lives in this age of Chinese flu: Set an alarm to get up at the same time every day; pray; enjoy your caffeinated, warm beverage of choice; pray some more; bathe and dress for the day; attend daily Mass via the web; did I mention […]

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. On Crises, and the Wasting Thereof

 

First, I will admit that I have, perhaps, not been paying as much attention to the coronavirus (or as I like to call it, the ‘Rona) as maybe I should. But crass as it may be, it also seems that there are opportunities here.

I’ve been thinking about the quote by Rahm Emanuel, “never let a crisis go to waste.” When it came out, it was much maligned by conservatives, and rightly so, for many reasons, foremost of which, as seen most recently with Nancy Pelosi, is that it isn’t a great look to be seen to attempt to advance political goals when in the midst of said crisis.

However, it also seems to me that conservatives are, as is often the case, missing a wider point here. I’ve read several articles about how FDA/CDC regulations are making it more difficult to bring coronavirus test kits to market or otherwise treat the disease. Similarly, people who normally claim that President Trump is too authoritarian are arguing that he should be ordering nationwide shelter-in-places when every state has a different situation (and the governors should be better placed to make that call than the President anyway).

In other words, we’re letting this crisis go to waste when we don’t argue that if we can cut regulations now, surely they matter less when there’s not an emergency, that letting local authorities make the decisions is better than letting the federal government do it, and that the private sector might be better placed than government at any level to help solve the problem. And I’m also aware that this is preaching to the choir.

But I will ask that now, and in the future, please don’t let a crisis go to waste.

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. ‘We’re Just One-Half of One-Third of Government…’

 

That was former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner‘s favorite excuse for his inability to advance Republican ideas and stop then-President Barack Obama.

“Republicans just control the House; there’s only so much we can do here.” In 2011, with Obama in the White House and Harry Reid running the senate, there were certainly grains of truth in Boehner’s whine, but controlling just the House sure doesn’t seem to hinder Nancy Pelosi!

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Since mid February we have had two young Chinese women living with us, students from Zhejiang Technology University. Every year a group of students come to Charlotte, NC, during their winter break, for an internship teaching Chinese as a foreign language. This year, when their internship ended in mid February, they were unable to go […]

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Member Post

 

There was a #BLM-inspired riot in Newburgh, NY the other day. A man who shot at police and wounded one was shot and killed by an officer. So as to “allay community concerns” the Newburgh department released stills from bodycam footage, to demonstrate that this was not an “unarmed black man” thing, but it made […]

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Role of Children in the Wuhan Epidemic

 

In a terrific interview during the most recent Ricochet Podcast, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford Medical School describes two possible models for the Wuhan virus epidemic. In one model, the virus has a high fatality rate but spreads slowly. In the other, the virus spreads quickly and has already infected a large number of people, which make the current fatality count a small fraction of the total population and hence the true fatality rate for the virus relatively low. (Dr. Bhattacharya, while cautioning that there is a wide divergence of opinion among smart and capable medical professionals, cautiously subscribes to the second view.)

I would like to believe that the virus has been in the population longer than the we generally think, and that many people have been exposed and have already recovered. We don’t have enough information to inform that belief, which is why antibody/serum testing is of paramount importance in understanding this epidemic and tailoring a response to it.

One of the things that makes me uneasy about the idea that it has spread widely in the population is the apparently distinctive nature of the respiratory distress it causes in those most grievously afflicted. If the virus has been in transmission in the US since January is it possible that the medical community didn’t notice the critical and fatal cases of the disease that, it seems, must have occurred during that time? Could they have been mistaken for seasonal influenza deaths? Is the fact that they would have clustered in an elderly and already ill population, one susceptible to failure during the winter flu season, sufficient to explain why the earliest cases might have gone unremarked?

This thought prompted me to go looking for information about seasonal influenza epidemiology, about the pattern of transmission of the “regular” flu during our normal flu season. I came across an interesting paper published online by the National Institutes of Health, titled The Shifting Demographic Landscape of Influenza. That paper contains this observation:

Prior to the introduction of a novel pandemic strain, most of the population is susceptible. The pandemic initially sweeps through the most connected portions of the populations, including groups of school-age children, leaving a wake of temporarily immunized individuals. The remaining susceptible population will consist of less connected portions of the population.

That “less connected portion of the population” is, generally speaking, adults.

Now consider what we know of the Wuhan virus. It is certainly a “novel pandemic strain.” It is moderately contagious through normal social contact. It appears to be asymptomatic in as much as half of the infected population. Serious symptoms are dramatically biased toward the elderly and already ill, with symptoms conspicuously mild in young people. In older infected populations it rapidly causes serious and distinctive respiratory failure.

Given all that, I wonder if it’s possible that the virus has spread widely through the school-age population, but much more slowly in the adult population and only rarely among the elderly. The paper suggests that such a partitioned epidemiology is plausible, and it might explain how the disease could have traveled widely without conspicuous early eruption on the national scene.


The paper also suggests that, while the first iteration of the novel influenza is concentrated in the school-aged population, the second iteration is experienced primarily by adults, given the temporary herd immunity gained by young people in the first wave.

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. For What It’s Worth (Pt. 2): Happy Vietnam Veterans Day

 

Read Part 1 here.

But, it wasn’t just Hollywood. Nearly 3,000 miles to the east, was an influence that was just as malevolent and that influence was found in the “Brahmans” of the Northeastern media establishment.

I suspect that many of the “sophisticates” of the Eastern establishment chuckled when told of the conversation that occurred between the then-Publisher and Chairman of the New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger and his son (and heir to both jobs) Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. When the elder Sulzberger asked his son who he wanted see die in a one-to-one fight; the American soldier or the North Vietnamese soldier, Junior didn’t hesitate. “I want to see the American die since it’s the North Vietnamese soldier’s country.”

At least he was being honest but I still had to wonder; if it were in 1945, would Junior have preferred the German soldier to kill the American who had crossed the Rhine into Germany? Would he have preferred the Japanese soldier to kill the Marine at Okinawa? Maybe it’s not important. However, I did suspect that the Northeastern establishment had no more use for the Vietnam Vets than Hollywood did. But, maybe their contempt was more subtle than that of Hollywood’s.

Despite all of this, the late ’80s became a watershed moment for the Vietnam vets; we were finally beginning to be portrayed in a positive light (President Reagan even referred to us as “Theirs was a noble purpose”). However, along with all those positive developments, there came a group of insidious individuals: the fake Vietnam veterans. They came in all varieties; actors, politicians, and seemingly normal individuals who wanted to mooch off the achievements that rightly belonged to the legitimate Vietnam veterans. I suppose that they all had different reasons for their behavior but many of these buffoons were totally grotesque. Showing up at public functions, with military decorations that made them look like World War II Soviet Field Marshalls, these clowns would parade through the crowds, often being asked to give speeches about their “heroism.” Unfortunately, there are still some of them around, courtesy of court rulings that have made their behavior “protected speech.”

For the vast majority of us that made it back, we made successes of our lives. We went to college, had successful careers, and raised families. To be sure, some of us had some bumps in the road, but those were just obstacles to be overcome. For the first five years or so, I had recurrent nightmares but that was something that was healed by time (and an occasional six-pack). “No biggie,” as we used to say.

Incredibly, over 10 years after I left the Army, I “re-upped” into the Air Force Reserve, where I spent 24 years serving in Combat Communications. (I had become the “Lifer” that I had previously hated!) I was recalled to active duty twice; once for Desert Storm and then again for Iraqi Freedom. I was honored to serve with some of the finest young men and women that you could possibly find today and I was tremendously pleased that none of them had to face the same kind of reception that we encountered when we returned home in the 1960s and ’70s. Perhaps America really did learn its lesson. Still, I wondered each time I heard, “I support the troops but I don’t support the war.” Just how does that work?

Perhaps one day I’ll figure that out. Until then, I’ll content myself with knowing that the generation of Americans that went to Vietnam in the ’60s and ’70s were as good a group of fighting men that this country has ever produced. (I still remember the line from Patton, “What a waste of fine infantry.”) Under the worst conditions (and some of the worst leadership imaginable), we still did our duty and we have nothing to apologize for. So, when a person extends their hand and says, “Thank you for your service,” I will always tell them that I appreciate it. (Truth be told, the first few times that a person wanted to shake my hand, I would always be ready to go on the defensive. Cynic that I became, I still imagined that the next words out of their mouths would be, “So how many babies did you kill?”)

Although I’ve become pretty philosophical about the last 50 years, occasionally something will happen that really does hearken me back to those turbulent times. My wife is the ultimate “CSI” fan; whether it’s the original or any of the spinoffs, she’s down for it. Last year we were watching a “CSI Miami” rerun and one of the characters does something to startle another cast member. “Hey man,” the first character goes, “Are you going all Vietnam on me?” I took the remote and checked the on-screen menu. The episode had been made in 2011. I could only shake my head; when will it ever end?

But, probably my most “traumatic” time was brought about three or four years ago when a local PBS station ran the documentary Fog of War, a film about Robert S. McNamara and his conduct of the Vietnam War. I really didn’t mean to watch the movie; I had found it by accident while channel surfing. However, I forced myself to watch it. McNamara really hadn’t changed much. The same oily, slicked-back hair and the same oily, arrogant personality.

Although I had previously been in a good mood, that quickly changed. I felt a little like the words in Don McLean’s American Pie, “Oh and as I watched him on the stage my hands were clenched in fists of rage.” Here was McNamara, one of the main architects of that monstrosity, calmly sitting there telling me that, “Well, we came to understand that we really couldn’t win the war but blah, blah, blah.” Oh really, then what were we doing over there? And then, McNamara went on to give his 11 “lessons” on what we should have learned. Funny, nowhere in those “lessons” did he mention his grotesque “Project 100,000”, in which 100,000 men of substandard mental and physical abilities were taken into the military each year. But then, McNamara wasn’t really interested in those men or any of those who went to their deaths. As for McNamara, after destroying thousands of lives, he went on to become President of the World Bank and died peacefully in bed at the ripe old age of 93 in his toney Washington DC mansion.

As I said, I’ve moved on from the anger that I felt in the 1960s and ’70s. I really don’t think of the war protestors. I don’t think about the 2S deferments or the guys who joined the Guard or Reserves to get out of going to Vietnam. I don’t even think a great deal about the way we were portrayed by Hollywood. However, when it comes to Robert Strange McNamara and John Forbes Kerry; well, I hope the former is rotting in h*ll and that the latter will soon join him there.

So, for all you folks who made the trip, “WELCOME HOME – WELL DONE.” For those who didn’t make the trip, well, I know this guy who was in Vietnam and he told me that…

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. For What It’s Worth (Pt. 1): Happy Vietnam Veterans Day

 

I’m not sure how many Vietnam veterans might be out there in Ricochet Land. Perhaps a few; perhaps none. Our numbers are dwindling; we’re beginning to die out for one reason or another. Just yesterday, my VFW post provided the Honor Guard for another burial.

With each burial, it’s difficult for me to not think about my own approaching mortality. And, it’s equally difficult for me to not think about the path that took me nearly 9,000 miles from my home.

I graduated from my small rural high school on a Saturday night, 29 May 1965. Two days later, I was on a bus with several other recruits bound for Fort Knox, KY. I had a number of reasons for enlisting at the age of 17. Like a lot of other guys in my graduating class, my parents didn’t have the money to send me to college. As my other choice was to get a job at the local steel mill, I didn’t really agonize over my decision; it was time to put Appalachia in my rearview mirror. I suppose that there might also have been an element of patriotism that went into my thinking. However, I believe that for many of us on that bus, there was also a feeling of “it’s just my turn.” Our grandfathers had fought in World War I and our fathers and uncles, part of the “Greatest Generation,” had fought in World War II. If they hadn’t hesitated to put their lives on the line, why should we be any different?

Nine weeks of boot camp, another 12 weeks of advanced training, followed by an 11-month assignment in Japan. Finally, it was time; in October of 1966, I arrived at my base camp in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam.

In terms of terrain, South Vietnam was not a lot different from many other places that American troops had been in battle. I would compare the area that I was in (the III and IV Corps) to Guadalcanal or parts of the Philippines. (Since I spent my entire 13-month tour in those areas, I can’t speak directly to the topography of I Corps or II Corps. However, they were distinctly different from what I encountered.)

Owing to the use of the helicopter (for troop movement, medical evacuation, and close fire support) there were naturally some changes in tactics. However, once American troops closed with the enemy, fighting was no different than on the battlegrounds I previously mentioned; violent, sometimes confused and always bloody. We didn’t have many named battles; nothing like Anzio or Iwo Jima which would be forever etched in history (Ia Drang and Khe Sanh being two of the exceptions). Instead, we had a long series of operations with forgettable names that have long since disappeared from memory. (I only remember Cedar Falls and Junction City since I was in them.)

When I arrived at my unit (roughly equivalent to the Corps level of World War II) I was assigned to the combined G2/3 (Operations and Intelligence). Upon arrival, I noticed that my duty MOS had been changed to an 11F (Infantry Operations and Intelligence Specialist; an MOS that no longer exists). I was a bit startled at this but I needn’t have been; at the Corps level, it was entirely different from the LRRP snake eaters that went out for weeks at a time. That folks like myself and LRRPs sometimes shared the same MOS was evidently another of the jokes that the Army sometimes played on the enlisted folks. Other than a couple of dicey helicopter rides, an occasional mortaring and a few snipings, my time in Vietnam was much better than that of a Rifleman in the line. (For the Rifleman’s MOS, 11B, it was often suggested that the “B” stood for “Bullet Stopper.”)

When people ask me what I did in Vietnam, almost all of them are taken aback when I tell them that I was a heavily armed bean counter. It sounds strange but that’s what it amounted to. In World War II, success was relatively easy to measure; the amount of territory taken from the enemy, or the number of miles advanced in a particular time period. True, the US had been concerned with “body counts” but it was almost secondary to that of territory seized. Vietnam was entirely different.

In Vietnam, we counted everything. Enemy bodies, weapons, types of weapons, rice captured (yes, rice). You name it, we counted it. Within III and IV Corps there were three infantry divisions, one armored cavalry regiment, and two light infantry brigades. All were expected to report, on an almost daily basis, their “numbers” measuring their success (or lack of it). From rifle companies, to their battalions, then to their divisions and finally, to us at Corps, came the data. Mostly, the data came to us by courier. When it didn’t, it was up to me and a few others to go get it, either by jeep or chopper. Like the mail, the data had to go through. Then, it was up to us to aggregate the data and send it on to US Army Vietnam. From there, it went on to the “Statistician in Chief”, the Secretary of Defense, Robert Strange McNamara.

In 1966, a lot of us didn’t realize it yet but we were in a war that was being managed, not led. More importantly, the reliance on statistics and quantitative analysis made our endeavor seem more like a corporation to be run rather than an Army in which leadership was paramount.

At the Corps level, I certainly had a different view of the war than a rifleman in an infantry division. And, even at the green age of 19, I could see that there were things that didn’t seem to make much sense. On one wall of the G2/3, there was a giant map of the III and IV Corps. At any time, one could look at the map and see where fighting was taking place and the units involved in the action. I thought about that map nearly five years later as I was watching the movie “Patton.. There’s a line in it in which Patton said to one of his British counterparts, “I don’t pay for the same real estate twice, Freddie.” When I heard that line, I snickered to myself. That’s exactly what we did in Vietnam; paying for the same territory time after time.

Yes, yes, I know. That’s the nature of “guerrilla warfare,” or “counterinsurgency” or as we hear today (mostly from “experts” trying to make themselves look smart), “asymmetric warfare.” Still, I had to wonder, why didn’t McNamara seem to care how many times our units had to go back and fight over the same piece of territory?

At times, it seemed to me that we were making up doctrine and tactics on the fly. Some were a remarkable success; others were a dismal failure. It has to be remembered that we were at the height of the Cold War. A large portion of our troops was stationed around the Fulda Gap, waiting for a Soviet invasion that never came. Another large portion was in Korea, stationed there for the same purpose. Years later, I came across a quote from General Omar Bradley which pertained to the Korean War, “The wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.” I think that many of us who made the trip probably felt the same way toward Vietnam.

Still, we soldiered on. In 1966, most of us still had the idea that we were there to win. After all, didn’t LBJ himself (on his visit to Cam Ranh Bay) tell us to “put the coonskin on the wall?” In reality, there were two Vietnam wars; the first from 1964 to 1968 and the second from 1969 to the withdrawal. In the first part of the war, troop morale was fairly high; in the second part, not so much. In the first part, drug use was minimal and fraggings were almost non-existent. In the second part, drug use went up and fraggings became more frequent.

For me, the months went by. Inside the G2/3, I became familiar with terms like “Free Fire Zones,” Strategic Hamlets,” and “Chieu Hoi.” Outside the G2/3, I became familiar with the terms “Lifer,” “Ticket Puncher,” “REMF,” and “Short Timer.” (Not to be confused with a “Short Time,” which was more or less a business transaction.) I learned the three classes of officer: ROTC (usually OK), Mustangs (sometimes OK), and West Pointers (aka, “Ring Knockers” to be avoided at all costs). I learned what the phrase “Long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror” truly meant.

Finally, I penciled in the last day on my “Short Timer’s Calendar.” It was time to go back to “the real world,” the “land of round-eyed women.” I can still remember walking out to get on the plane and stopping short in my tracks. The fuselage of the Braniff 707 was painted a bright orange (with silver wings). I was thinking to myself that it was going to make a great target when I got to the ramp and looked up at the flight attendants. They were all dressed in these wild Pucci outfits that barely came down to their mid-thigh. All of us waiting in line just stared at them; I don’t remember a single word being passed. Even though the plane was packed, it took less than 15 minutes for us to get seated. As we were taxiing out, the entire plane was deathly quiet; none of us wanted to add to the KIA on our last day.

As the plane lifted off, the silence continued. Finally, after one or two minutes, there was a bit of tentative applause followed by a loud ovation. I think the sentiment of “My God, I’m actually going to survive” was being felt by every GI on board. I glanced over at one of my seatmates. His eyes were shut; his hands were clasped. He was clearly giving thanks that he was still alive, in one piece, and going home.

Because I still had seven months left on my hitch, Uncle Sam was determined to get his money’s worth. So, in its infinite wisdom, the Army assigned me as an instructor (at the ripe old age of 20) to an Army Reserve unit. The reservists looked at me with an air of curiosity and, perhaps, some envy. At that time, the Reserve and Guard were havens for those who wished to avoid Vietnam. In some places, a person had to have “connections” to even get on a waiting list for a unit. I didn’t really have any animosity toward those guys; I just wanted to get my time in. Finally, my time was up and I was, again, a civilian. However, I was to find out that my time in Vietnam hadn’t exactly endeared me to many of my countrymen.

In 1968, Vietnam War protests were a daily occurrence, especially on college campuses. In an attempt to avoid any potential conflicts, I quickly donned the “uniform”; faded jeans, ragged sweatshirt, and an army surplus store fatigue jacket. (My own jacket still had all my rank and unit insignia, so that was out of the question.) I let my hair grow long and cultivated a Fu-Manchu that would have made Joe Namath envious.

I had heard of numerous incidents in which returning veterans had been spat on and harassed. However, during my undergraduate career, I didn’t have all that many problems. Sure, I heard veiled references directed toward us “baby killers” every now and then but my strategy of keeping a low profile kept me from any classroom confrontations. However, for Vietnam veterans, there was one area from which we could not protect ourselves and that was Hollywood and the Mass Media.

I’m not sure when I initially noticed the negative portrayal of Vietnam veterans. I didn’t watch television too much in those first few years after my return to civilian life. Since I was working and going to school, I didn’t have much time; evenings and weekends were largely spent in the library. However, in the little time I spent in front of the TV I began to see a pattern, especially in the cop shows, where the villain in the episode would be some sort of deranged, drugged-up Vietnam veteran. Shootings, stabbings, kidnappings, exploding vehicles and buildings; they were all crimes in the Vietnam veteran’s wheelhouse. In the book, From Hanoi to Hollywood, the point was made that “The Vietnam vet would play a strung-out, criminal psychotic who could go off at the sound of a backfire. During the 1974 TV season, for instance, the vet was seen as a hired killer on Columbo, as a drug-dealing sadistic murderer on Mannix, as a suspected yet innocent murderer on The Streets of San Francisco, as a shakedown artist on Cannon, and as a “returned hero” who “blew up himself, his father and a narcotics lab” on Hawaii Five-0. In each instance, the vet threatens law and order, with a criminality founded on his tour in ‘Nam. These were not isolated instances. Throughout the 1970s, it was difficult to turn on a cop show and not see a Vietnam vet portrayed as the villain.

The movies were even worse. The list of movies that portrayed us as psychotic killers and losers would fill more pages than I have for this posting. Even my hero, Dirty Harry Callahan, had an episode in which the villain was a sadistic Vietnam vet (labeled a “paddy jumper” by one of the characters in the movie). In the finale of the movie, Harry cheerfully obliterates the scoundrel with a shoulder-fired rocket.

Even when he was not portrayed as a killer, the Vietnam vet was still a goofball. As From Hanoi to Hollywood pointed out, “When the early 1970s had depicted him — never her — as a mad threat to law and order, the late 1970s turned him into an always irreverent slightly crazed eccentric who was subject to the occasional flashback.” Not much of an improvement.

Everyone in the United States should have asked themselves, “Why, why are our veterans being portrayed in this manner?” It doesn’t take much in the way of brainpower to realize that E-3s, E-4s, and E-5s do not make policy. So why did the Hollywood fat cats consider us as fair game for their anti-war propaganda?

The net result from this, as the authors of From Hanoi to Hollywood note, “Being a veteran was not something to be proud of, as it had been historically. Rather, it was something to forget or hide.” And, that is exactly what I did. When I graduated from college and entered the job market, I did not list my military service on my resume. In any job interview, if an eagle eye in HR asked me about the three-year gap from my high school to college entrance, I would quietly say that I had been in the military and inwardly hope that I would not be penalized for it. (In his excellent book, Stolen Valor, author D.G. Burkett recounts one of his first job interviews, this one at an Atlanta bank. The executive looked at his resume and abruptly stopped reading. “I’m not hiring any Vietnam vets”, he exclaimed as he ripped up Burkett’s resume. “I’m going to get a cup of coffee and I don’t want you here when I get back.” He then got up and walked out of his office.) It seems that there were different ways of spitting on the troops and this “executive” had found his.

It seemed that the final nail was driven into our coffin by an individual who was purportedly one of our own and that person would be John Forbes Kerry. In testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Kerry solemnly swore that American troops had told him that “they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside…”

Supposedly, the source of this grotesque behavior came from a group known as the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Actually, I had attended a meeting of this group shortly after it was formed, more from curiosity than anything else. What I found at the meeting was a group of guys who were throwing around language like “bring down the imperialist American war machine” and things of that nature. Some of them looked a bit “off” and when I would ask them where, in Vietnam, they had been, they became somewhat evasive. That was my first and only encounter with the group.

Later, I found out that the “Executive Secretary” of the VVAW was a creature by the name of Al Hubbard who claimed that he had been a pilot (Captain) in the Air Force and that he had been wounded flying a transport into Da Nang in 1966. After many years of carrying on this charade, it was discovered that he had no record of being in Vietnam; that his highest rank had been as an E-5 and that his only injuries had been sustained playing basketball.

However, Kerry’s testimony, as false (and ludicrous) as it was, tarnished our honor for years to come. To this day, I hate him with a cold passion. In the 2004 Presidential election, I was asked several times why I would vote for a “draft dodger.” My answer was always the same. I didn’t know about Kerry’s “Christmas in Cambodia.” I didn’t care about the circumstances surrounding his receiving the Silver Star. I didn’t even care about his three (dubious) Purple Hearts. What I cared about was the fact that he slandered each and every man and woman that went to Vietnam. He personally trashed the name of every man and woman on that black rock known as the Vietnam Memorial. And, he did it for no other reason than to score cheap political points. He wasn’t just awarded my hatred; he earned it. (Oh, by the way, did I mention that I despise John Kerry?)

But, by 1986, some changes of heart began to emerge and much of that change came with the release of Platoon. On the cover of Newsweek was a picture of the movie cast with the heading of “Vietnam as It Really Was.” Two weeks after the movie opened in Atlanta, a friend at work stopped by my office and said, “You know, I didn’t really know what you guys went through.” I smiled at him. I wanted to tell him that he still didn’t know; he had learned what Oliver Stone had wanted him to know. Still, it was a beginning. (I still haven’t see Platoon although I did buy the soundtrack from the movie. “Adagio for Strings” is one of my favorite pieces of music.)

Suddenly, to be a Veteran veteran was “in.” People at the office that I barely knew seemed eager to strike up a conversation. “Did you get shot at?” (yes) “Did you get hit?” (no) And, of course, my favorite, “Did you kill anyone?” (not that I was aware of) Once in a while, a question would come right out left field, “Did you see Bob Hope?” (No, but I did see Nancy Sinatra. In a white miniskirt with white boots up to her knees; she was magnificent.)

The most bizarre of those who sought to strike up a conversation were guys who generally started out, “Well, I was never in the military, but I know this guy who was in Vietnam and he told me that…” With these guys, I would just inwardly sigh and fold my arms. I knew that I was about to hear some tale of derring-do. Maybe it would be a gory recounting of a firefight; maybe it would be about some interrogation in which a VC would be thrown from a helicopter in flight. These guys always puzzled me. Were they trying to compensate for their lack of military service by calling in their “imaginary friend?”

Still, I wasn’t rude to any of them. It was much better than being called a “baby killer.” Eventually though, the thought struck me; nearly 15 years before, Hollywood portrayed me as a vicious murdering psychotic to these very same people, and they believed it. Now, Hollywood was telling them that maybe I wasn’t such a bad guy after all, and these folks did a complete 180-degree turn in their thinking. What was going on? Did they not have the ability to comprehend anything beyond what Hollywood told them?

Read Part 2 here.

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. My Virgin Experience: Pizza Delivery

 

We’ve never had food delivered to our home. It always seemed so extravagant. So when we’ve had a craving for pizza, ordinarily we’d just eat at our favorite pizza place, LeMay’s. But those plans were not in the offing, given the annoying virus situation.

So we were going to call in a pick-up order, and I would go into the shop to pick it up. But the idea of standing in a crowded pick-up area, handing over a credit card, and wondering how many people had touched my pizza and the box—well, it was just too much for me. We figured there would be much less exposure and touching of pizza-related items if we requested delivery, even for a five-dollar delivery fee plus tip.

Delivery required an hour’s allotment of time. The delivery boy was actually early and very friendly. The pizza was still hot. My husband handled the box gingerly and we removed the pizza with surgical precision onto a large platter. And we promptly threw the box in the trash.

It was the perfect execution of a plan. I guess we’ve graduated from the hoi polloi into the delivery elite!

I could get used to pizza delivery.

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Poison Pen

 

I saw the most extraordinary thing.

A friend of mine owns a pizza restaurant and though on limited service – to-go food only, per the health department – is having trouble keeping his place staffed. That sounds odd right now when most of the service industry is clamoring for whatever money can be had, but waiters are paid less than three dollars an hour. That’s fine. After tips, they end up making more than just about anybody in the house if they don’t sneer a lot. Sometimes even if they do.

But now there is no table service, so now there are not as many tips to go around. As a waiter you can, if over the course of a pay period you don’t make more than the federal minimum wage once tips are included, require your employer to make you whole – up to the minimum.

He was willing to pay them the minimum despite the dire financial forecast for his business, but that was asking people who were accustomed to and budgeted for making at least twenty dollars an hour. Seven dollars and 25 cents doesn’t pay the bills. The newest employees went on to the hope of other opportunities and he was left with a core of long time folks. With the dwindling number, he was able to pay them more hourly and people have been surprisingly generous with their take-out order tips. No one is making as much as before, but muddling by is probable.

The other day the anchor of his staff, who is dear to me, lost one of her grandchildren. It wasn’t the Chinese Flu. The poor kid had been in a vegetative state since he was twelve. Earlier this week at age sixteen he passed. I used to have her job some 20 years plus ago and as I mentioned, I was friends with the owner.

I volunteered to fill in if needed. It’s not like I had anything else to do. I didn’t so much work as be there to help out as needed. Basically I watched Jeopardy, some old baseball games that were re-aired, and occasionally tested the draught beer to be sure it wasn’t going bad. Occasionally I answered the phone. Take out can be brisk, but it doesn’t require that many people to run it smoothly.

It was interesting to see how different people were reacting to contact with others.

There were exceptions: one guy was basically in a hazmat suit and another delivered a pretty tight and seemingly well-rehearsed diatribe warning that Covid 19 was caused by cell phone radiation and the governments of the world were conspiring to cover up that fact, but most of the drivers for various delivery apps were indifferent to the possibility of infection.

People who were not employed to pick up food were all over the place. Some had gloves, some mumbled about all the nonsense (few used the word nonsense), and some would go so far as to pay by phone and request that their food be left in front of the building. For the most part, I don’t judge. I don’t know how compromised someone’s immune system is so I won’t fault them for their precautions, but there was this one woman.

She came into the building. There were three others waiting for their orders and then there were the three front-of-house employees. It was obvious that she was uncomfortable being in proximity to so many people.

She helped herself to the Purell by the register and then retreated to an unoccupied area. When her pizza was ready, she gave her credit card to the cashier and then started railing about the fact that she was signing with a pen that had been touched by others. She was pretty rude.

“You are spreading this contagion!” she howled before storming out as best you can storm when the register is eight or so feet from the exit.

The pen was a breaking point.

There was a moment of “Wait…what?” after she left followed by customer and employee laughter.

We all started pointing out the obvious. She handed a credit card to another person and was thus complicit in spreading the contagion. She took back the credit card mixing the cashier’s cooties with her own. She took the pizza box knowing it had been touched by others. There was Purell she was welcome to after she touched the offending pen.

I pointed out that she might have an aneurism when she realizes how many people have touched the push/pull door pad thingamajiggy that she used to exit into the rest of the world post kinda storming.

I always thought that adults understood that writing instruments rarely come in single-use sterilized packages. Immediately after writing that sentence, I thought about the fact that to get to whatever is inside any sterilized package you have to have contact with the unsterilized outside of that package. Who touched the outside of your box of latex gloves?

There lies madness.

What I’m seeing, and I’d like people’s opinion on this, is that people have differing views of the world. I hate to be one of those “There are two types of people” people, but divides are everywhere.

I’ve always been of the opinion that the natural world was out to kill me. If you want a sense of my thoughts, to steal an analogy from Robert Conquest, this essay is just over a thousand words. Statistically, by the end of the day, per the CDC, 2,000 children will have died from contagious diarrhea worldwide. That’s two deaths for every word you have just read and that’s just today. We have contained that disease in most of the western world, but threats are out there. I feel like I’m watching more people than I expected waking up to my point of view.

So many are in complete panic. So many are exasperated. Do we quarantine or resume our lives?

There will be people who say the answer is somewhere in the middle. I’ve never ascribed to that view. If someone wants to kill me and I don’t want to be killed the compromise would be what, a light beating? No thanks. There is a right answer and sometimes it might be an extreme. I’d like to hear what people think.

But for the sake of my sanity, if you are freaking out about the possibility of getting infected, bring your own damn pen.