Tag: pandemic

Brave New World

It’s a Brave New World out there. For those looking for a review of the classic novel by Aldous Huxley, this isn’t a critique. But you might, just might, find my ramblings interesting. The technological revolution is profound, exciting and more than a little bit concerning. Quite the dichotomy, but not surprising in the year 2020.

Brave New World of Science

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought out the worst in some people. The Great Mask Debate and the Virus Hoaxers continue weeks after Election 2020 when the illness was magically scheduled to disappear. Unfortunately, in my part of the world the virus is spreading like wildfire.

On the bright side, across the world scientists are working to find both effective treatments as well as a vaccine. Perhaps with the passage of time the efforts will appear concerted. But at present, the work reminds me of the Race to the Moon.

Two of the vaccines closest to distribution are using a new technology. Instead of using the virus itself to develop immunity, the vaccines are taking a genetic approach. Ironically, I first wrote about CRISPR in my review of Robin Cook’s Pandemic back in February 2019. This cutting edge technology is currently treating genetic defects such as Cystic Fibrosis (CF).

Scientists responding to the Covid-19 crisis have taken two approaches. The tried and true use of either small amounts of live virus or the mRNA genetic approach linked to the CRISPR technology. Small groups such as individuals with CF have been treated with medicines based on this bioscience for about a year. There are known side effects. But the individual I personally know taking treatment based on this new science has so greatly benefitted by improved health, he has no qualms about a vaccine developed using similar techniques.

Ethical Questions

Genetics has elicited ethical questions throughout the years. Both those who lived through the era of World War II and those who studied the history are familiar with Hitler’s desire to create a master race. The Holocaust must never be forgotten.

Fortunately genetic sequencing was not possible in the 1930s. It is now. If a Covid-19 vaccine using mRNA is a success we will have embarked on a path for a brave new world. The possibilities for good may be endless. But the same is true for evil.

Key Questions for a Brave New World

Aside from moral questions, the biotech revolution raises a host of questions. How are new products tested and regulated? What is the cost of development? How are the costs recouped? Will drugs be affordable? Who makes sure only “good” or beneficial drugs are created?

Of course those are just the tip of the iceberg. In the case of Covid-19, millions, nay billions of individuals will benefit from a vaccine. So who is first in line? Again, who pays? Lots of old adages come to mind. Money doesn’t grow on trees. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Those apply. There is a cost to be born, yet obviously the ability to pay varies. Perhaps in the end all questions are truly moral in scope.

Science is truly not my strong suit. So I am sharing some of the many articles I have been reading. I am a late adopter. But I am related to many early adopters as well as trend setters. I hope Covid-19 is but the latest in a long line of once in a hundred year pandemics. Once in a lifetime is plenty!

https://www.brinknews.com/crispr-and-the-fight-against-covid-19/

https://www.wired.com/story/why-its-a-big-deal-if-the-first-covid-vaccine-is-genetic/

https://innovativegenomics.org/projects/crispr-based-dna-vaccine-enhancer-covid-19/

https://www.scmp.com/business/article/3088568/explainer-who-are-global-competition-develop-coronavirus-vaccine?src=covid_home_faq

https://www.scmp.com/presented/news/hong-kong/education/topics/research-excellence/article/3109497/cityu-develops-anti

Patience with a Side of Self-Discipline

Practicing patience with a side of self-discipline is much needed these days. For Americans, a double helping is called for due to the as yet uncalled Presidential election. But, across the globe, the pandemic still reigns and all of us need to exercise both.

Patience is a virtue. Our busy lives do not lend themselves to this particular quality. 24/7 news, cell phones, the Internet and even fast food restaurants provide instant gratification with no need for patience. Unfortunately a lack of patience can lead to non-virtuous behavior.

The loss of patience manifests in the inability to practice self-control or display self-discipline. Patience is difficult to teach. Just ask any mother of a young child. But patience and self-discipline are critical at this moment in time. The waning months of 2020 look to be a challenge on several fronts.

Election Results

Citizens of the United States as of this writing still are unsure of which candidate won the election. There may be recounts and challenges. Yet, there will be an inauguration in January. We just need to exhibit patience with a side of self-discipline while awaiting results.

In my corner of the country this is occurring. No riots or demonstrations have occurred. Neighbors supporting opposing parties are still neighborly. Indeed, a greater concern is Covid-19.

Pandemic Continues

Unfortunately my small town reflects much of rural America. We are currently experience a large outbreak of the coronavirus. And worse, patience with a side of self-discipline is not evident. Twelve fellow citizens out of 240 confirmed cases have died. Yet, I see less caution now than last spring. We have grown weary of the pandemic. But Covid-19 did not magically disappear after the election.

We really need to practice the ideal discussed in the May 2020 Wrap-Up. People, Place, Time and Space will get us through this one hundred year viral outbreak. Limit the number of individuals you meet with; meet either outside or in large indoor spaces; shorter time periods and greater amounts of space between individuals make it hard to transmit the virus.

Patience with a Side of Self-Discipline

Two major holidays are just around the corner. Thanksgiving and Christmas are both loved and revered in this household. But much like Easter, I think plans will need to alter. Spreading the virus in a large family gathering is a recipe for disaster.

We need to practice patience with regard to Covid-19. Time will allow for better treatments and hopefully a vaccine. But it will take a healthy side of self-discipline during the waiting period. Our current outbreak has been exacerbated by family gatherings. Holiday office parties are on the horizon. Maybe this is the year to take the money spent on these gatherings and distribute as a bonus. Quite possibly the extra income could come in handy.

We need to understand Covid-19 affects people in different ways. Many individuals will fight off the virus easily, but up to twenty percent will have a more difficult time and/or have long-lasting complications. I prefer to use the CFR (Case Fatality Rate) when looking at Covid-19. The November 2020 edition of the International Journal of Infectious Diseases has an excellent article covering Covid-19 CFR on pages 302-308. Click here for direct access. As the article points out, the CFR varies from country to country. Just as responses to the pandemic have varied. At this point in time it looks like the CFR is dropping worldwide. A good thing.

Unfortunately my little hamlet is well above the world average with respect to CFR. Our five percent rate is scary. Patience with a side of self-discipline is much needed here. Maybe now that the divisive campaigning is over, we can practice the self-control needed to bring down the CFR.

October 2020 Wrap-Up

My October 2020 was certainly busy, but not as stressful as October 2019. I spent quite a bit of time in the garden before the snows finally came. But now that the seasons have made their hand-off I am re-focusing on indoor hobbies. Political events are taking center stage and Covid-19 is ever present so I expect the month of November to be action packed.

In the Library

Only two reviews were released this month. One was non-fiction-The Day It Finally Happens and the other, Near Dark by Brad Thor was reviewed earlier this week. These were not the only books read. You can expect a review of Catherine Coulter’s newest FBI series next week. However, I actually encountered two unpalatable books this month. Neither were finished. Fortunately, one was checked out from the public library and the other on Libby, so money was not wasted.

It isn’t often I encounter a book I just don’t like and two in a month, nay two in a year is unheard of. Looking on the bright side, odds are it will be quite some time before I stumble upon another. Perhaps, the negative political advertisements have permeated everything-even enjoyment in reading. Or, maybe the books were just bad.

October 2020 In the Garden

The Big Garden is ready for winter. Hoops over the rosemary and artichoke have worked so far. The basil just beyond the rosemary did not survive. Nor did I expect it to. A greenhouse is still in the dream stage. But, the Swiss chard and the brassicas are good-for now.

New straw and compost were spread along the rows of the garden. While I may still pop some garlic gloves in the root row, the rest will lay fallow until late winter. The Raised Row system has eliminated rototilling and I have been reluctant to put in a cover crop over the winter.

I did receive a query this October 2020 on how hard a raised row system would be for senior citizens. I wish to share my response with all of you. Setting up the garden is strenuous. Depending on individual fitness, the implementation may require the aid of a younger body. But the reason I love my big garden so much is the weed control. I have few weeds to pull in the rows-both growing and walking. Indeed the only weeds are along the outer edges. Crabgrass and bindweed try to sneak underneath the metal perimeter.

So, if you are a senior citizen and can get help starting a raised row garden, I highly recommend one. The main caveat would be nimbleness. If you no longer are able to easily get up and down due to flexibility issues, raised boxes may be a better answer. Bodies-and minds- age at different rates.

A few strands of wheat came up volunteer this past summer. Even though it is late I may take those gathered seed heads and plant in one of the boxes as an experiment. Less than half-a-dozen heads were gathered. Otherwise, the garden is at rest until February.

October 2020 In The Kitchen

Lots of goodies were processed in the kitchen this October 2020. Many of the recipes such as Green Tomato Relish have been shared in earlier years. This relish is a favorite. Click here for the recipe. And I still have a bucket full of tomatoes in the garage slowly turning red.

The baking season is about to begin. I am fine tuning another biscuit recipe. Unlike the Hearty Wheat Buttermilk Recipe posted last spring, these are light and fluffy. Delicious, but probably not as healthy.

Of course, Halloween is a holiday. Holidays call for rolled sugar cookies and themed cookie cutters. I am glad a few little ones live near enough to indulge my need to celebrate holidays in this fashion. Otherwise I would indeed turn into a Cookie Monster complete with an extra pound or two.

I do not plan to hand out candy tonight. Instead, I packaged some goodies and walked around to the neighboring kids. I think the Covid-19 outbreak will impact the festivities.

Hobbies

Indoor activities will now come to the forefront. This past week featured hand-quilting of one baby quilt, finalized piecing and layering for another, and early color selection for a third. The family is expecting another little one in late February.

The wet snowy days do not lend themselves to hand quilting. I am finally experiencing a touch of arthritis in my right hand. Since both my mother and maternal grandmother have/had problems this was not unexpected. I am just happy the problem held off so long. Perhaps I will invest in a long arm quilting machine if the condition deteriorates quickly.

Covid-19 Pandemic

My little corner of the world had a rude awakening this month. The number of Covid-19 cases doubled in just over a week. We also registered our first deaths. Yes, plural. Unfortunately we still have low compliance. In addition to anti-maskers and hoaxers, we have an unwillingness to social distance.

Rural areas are experiencing what happened in the cities last spring. We have fewer people and much less resources. Many counties only have one hospital and critical care cases are flown out-weather permitting- to the large cities. It may get quite ugly.

We were behind Europe by 3-4 weeks in the spring. If this holds true, I expect Thanksgiving, a very dear holiday to Americans, to be quite bleak. Shut downs may occur again. And people will probably ignore common sense. We are trying to be optimistic, but I doubt Thanksgiving will be normal.

United States of America Elections 2020

I have been fairly quiet with respect to elections. Partly from the influence of my paternal grandfather. He had some quirky beliefs. One was that a young woman should only appear in print three times; at birth, upon marriage, and at death. Another ideal was to never discuss religion or politics at the dinner table.

So far, I have tried to stay within that parameter. That is not to say I have not discussed the elections. Instead, my intent is to get everyone to vote. Even if the individual may have opposite views. I am encouraged by the early voting turnout. I may end up in the minority on some candidates and issues, but I feel like the 2020 election year will be representative of our populace.

Furthermore, I am confident that our elected officials overseeing the vote are accountable and will give us honest results. Our county clerk lives in my neighborhood and her character is outstanding. We need to remember everything begins at the local level. If you can trust your local officials, then that belief can be transferred up the line. And if you can’t- then you have the duty to vote out the local representatives.

I have put together a slideshow for October 2020. This is a transitional month between seasons. Perhaps that is what makes October a favorite time of year. Enjoy.

August 2020 Wrap-Up

Wrap-Ups can be hard posts to put together and the August 2020 piece is no exception. In addition to the bucolic happenings in my rural part of the world, many events of note are occurring elsewhere. Unfortunately, the news from outside my hamlet is both disturbing and distressing.

Civil Unrest

Most significant from my point of view is the continuation of violence in American cities. Perhaps readers living outside of the United States see the civil unrest as more of the same. But my perception is different.

Some of my earliest memories arise from the year 1968. A year in American history marked by assassinations and protests. The issue of civil rights for African Americans played a significant part of the unrest in 1968 and is a key component to 2020 protests. Additionally, young people in 1968 as in 2020, formed the heart of the disruption. The Vietnam War also played an important part in the history of 1968. The prevailing uncertainty of 2020 is the Covid-19 pandemic.

Both years also share the aspect of a Presidential election.

However, in my mind the unrest is different in this year of perfect hindsight. The divisiveness is uncivil. Finger pointing and name calling have given way to bricks, Molotov cocktails and most upsetting, bullets. It seems to be Blue Lives Matter versus Black Lives Matter. And God help you if you try to insert All Lives Matter. Those three words are akin to the kiss of death. Just ask Hillary Clinton.

Political pundits and others claim outside influences. Multiple countries have been stipulated. This concept dates back to the cold war. Author Helen MacInnis posited this type of psy-ops in many of her books. This is a theory bandied about but to date no solid proof.

Covid-19

The pandemic continues. Much like an ocean tide its’ intensity ebbs and flows across the globe. An area or country is thought to be past the danger when new infections pop up. As of yesterday there are 8 confirmed cases of re-infection. I fear we are far from the end of this virus.

Covid-19 has also caused conflict, and not just here in the United States of America. Mask or no mask, closed borders, restricted travel, herd immunity or flattening the curve, each approach finds opposition among the populace. Each individual must weigh the risks because collectively most nations have failed to balance the health danger with economic collapse. The end result is a failure of both.

Furthermore, the rush to find a cure is problematic. First is the shortened time period and reduced number of trial participants in order to put a vaccine on the market. This leads to the second problem of public skepticism.

In authoritarian run countries, the citizens will not have a choice. The vaccine will be required. In places where individual freedoms are core to the culture, the government(s) must convince the public that the vaccine is safe. This will not be an easy task in countries such as the U.S.A. where the response has been ambiguous at best and disastrous in some states and localities.

Financial Crisis

A distant third in the list of national and global concerns is the financial crisis. The debt levels in the United States are spiraling upward as can be seen in the debt clock by clicking here.

Perhaps more concerning to those with an economic background is the changing role of the Federal Reserve. In the past, the primary role of the Federal Reserve has been addressing inflation and unemployment through monetary policy. This is no longer the case.

Perhaps due to the political climate in Washington, D.C. the role of the Federal Reserve is evolving. An excellent discussion of this change is in the latest newsletter from Allison Schrager. Click here to access her website and sign up for her newsletters. Or click here to read my review of An Economist Walks into a Brothel.

August 2020 for Econogal

August 2020 contained many days of triple digit temperatures. Yet the garden kept producing vegetables. I was able to read quite a few books, scientific papers and blogs. In addition to working on quilts, masks were made as it seems we will be wearing them for a bit longer.

August 2020 In the Garden

The garden continues to produce much of our fresh produce. Green beans, eggplant, Swiss chard, cucumbers, beets, onions and tomatoes made regular appearances at the dinner table. On occasion, enough ripened simultaneously to preserve.

The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving is a life saver for a home gardener. I do not have space for multiple rows of tomatoes or cucumbers, for example, and it is nice to put a small amount up at a time. This winter we will enjoy opening the garden bounty as well as sharing s Christmas gifts.

I spent a few hours picking grapes at the home of a relative. My own grapes are not yet ripe due to a late freeze. I love grape jelly. However, it has been a bit difficult finding the low sugar pectin. So the full sugar recipe was also utilized.

Visitors to the garden were beneficial insects, bees and spiders. So far, no orb spiders with their distinctive web. But spiders are welcome additions to the garden. I just need to remember where the webs are.

I also had human visitors to the garden. Three family youngsters brought me honey and sand hill plum jelly. I sent them home with enough Swiss chard to make Swiss chard with Raisins and Almonds. As they left, air hugs were exchanged. Such is life during a pandemic.

August 2020 In the Library

I read a variety of novels this month and reviewed the best of them. This month I concentrated on books that were either uplifting or offered escape. Sometimes you need a mental break from the difficulties of life. A balance of entertainment keeps one grounded and ready to face life’s tasks.

Non-fiction continues to be a struggle. Perhaps the scientific and business articles I am reading need an offset of light hearted fiction. Plus, my reading is predominantly from Libby or Kindle. I have yet to make an appointment to browse at my library. A requirement now that Covid-19 is making the rounds of our small community. Nor have I had the pleasure of wandering around a book store. Usually these two places are my sources for non-fiction.

August 2020 In the Kitchen

We continue to create new dishes in the kitchen using fresh produce from the garden. However, I am glad Econogal is eclectic versus solely based on food. I either forget to take pictures, or take pictures and forget to write down the recipe. So you can guess what will feature in next year’s resolutions.

Hobbies

I am so glad I learned to sew many years ago. The quilting offers inspiration. I love working with colors.

But the ability to make my own masks is wonderful. I do not like the elastic around my ears. Nor could I find any until just recently. So my masks have ties. Plus, I can color co-ordinate masks to my outfits. Many sacrifices need to be made with regards to the pandemic, but fashion doesn’t need to be one!

July 2020 Wrap-Up

July 2020 Wrap-Up

In these pandemic times each month stretches into a year and July 2020 is no exception. Our little corner of the world tripled in virus cases this month. Yet we have only had one new case in the last ten days. This is a good example of how the disease spreads- in fits and starts.

I struggled with my emotions a bit in July 2020. I live in a rural area and many still feel like the virus is unreal, even a hoax to an extent. So, I isolated as much as possible. And I kept my spread sheet current. I am tracking daily new cases in counties of interest to me. My hope is the numbers will help me evaluate the risk of certain actions.

Travel

The only travel outside of my county in months was the quick trip to Vail Valley over the weekend of the 4th of July. Click here to read how we mitigated our risk. It has been almost a month since our risky celebration. No ill effects so far.

As those who follow me know, I like to travel. So, this pandemic is really curbing my style! It has been interesting to hear from others that also are afflicted with wanderlust. Cautionary tales of planning as well as the willingness to call an audible are emerging. In the end it boils down to risk averseness. Each individual needs to understand the risk/benefit ratio.

Staying away from hot spots and following health protocols diminish the risk, but the danger from Covid-19 remains. Thus I am still aiming to strike a balance.

Weather Anomalies At Work

For decades the weather pattern in my part of the world has been one of rains in April, May and June. The 4th of July usually marked the end of the moisture and the beginning of triple digit heat and winds close to tropical force levels. But July 2020 is following the pattern seen more recently.

The wind and heat were abundant in June with a much lower rainfall mount than “average” but this last week in July 2020 has brought monsoon type rains and pleasant temperatures. Last night we enjoyed our backyard fountains and fireplace. No wind and cool, but not cold temperatures. The forecast for the next ten days is similar.

I hope these daily temperatures continue. The garden thrived on the over two inches of rain this week. My tomatoes struggle with triple digit temperatures too. So the respite is welcome.

My canning chores have begun. Beets and cucumbers have been pickled and a batch of mixed fruit jam made. Grape harvest is not much more than a week out. Plenty to keep me busy as we begin the last full month of summer.

The homegrown veggies are a staple of our evening meals. Eggplant and Swiss chard comprise a major part of the current menu. The peas are about done but the beans are starting to take their place. If you don’t currently have a garden, consider planning one for the next growing season. Now is a good time to finalize the fall crops. Kale, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are among the crops I have begun for a fall garden.

July 2020 Reading

I continue to borrow books from Libby, the library app. We have also bought some to read through Kindle. I have a backlog of reviews. My feedback from loyal readers is that two posts a week with an occasional third is just about right. So my blog has been a little off in the timing this month with some reviews posted on days other than Friday.

I did read a children’s book explaining the coronavirus published back in April. So much has been learned since then. I also continue to read research papers from across the world. I truly appreciate Google translate, this tool allows me to read in my native language.

Looking Forward

August will be spent working in the garden, quilting, reading and enjoying my corner of the world. I have two places to keep track of for possible trips in September. Striking a balance remains important. I do not envy the local elective officials and their task to decide the best way to keep educating our young.

Enjoy the pictures and stay safe from this virus everyone!

Volunteer Garlic Bunch
Volunteer Garlic-Hardneck Variety
Flower among a Planting of tomato
A gladiola growing alongside a tomato.
Tray of drying basil
Drying Basil
Fire glowing in outdoor fireplace
Our back patio retreat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acrylic painting landscape view from car window
An acrylic painting titled Getting an Early Start

Vail Valley Escape

Last week we escaped the triple digit heat with a retreat into Vail Valley of the Colorado Mountains. We did as much as we could to mitigate the chances of catching Covid-19. Only time will tell if we were successful. But it was a much needed break from the past few months.

Vail Valley House Rental

There were several pieces to our mitigation strategy. First, we rented a house from Gore Creek Properties. This actually turned out to be an economical decision as well. Because we had four generations, we would have needed three motel rooms. Our rental price was about half of the motel cost.

Perhaps the owners had the three story home backing onto Gore Creek priced at a discount since the Vail Valley area had just re-opened days before. Or, the cost was lower because the location was in East Vail. Whatever the reason, we benefited.

The house itself dated to about the 1980s. Since there were three levels, the generations each had their own floor. (The fourth generation having recently reached the ripe old age of one, had to share with her parents!) I believe this spacing along with the multiple outdoor spaces offered many beneficial health benefits: Both physical and mental.

Packing In and Out

A second piece of our strategy was packing in our food. Four coolers of food sustained us through the stay. It helped to have both a spacious kitchen and an outdoor grill. Of course cultural differences popped up. As “Westerners” our bar-b-que night consisted of burgers, grilled sliced herb potatoes, and hot dogs. The lone Southerner was surprised. In the southern part of the United States, bar-b-que means pulled pork and brisket along with slaw and potato salad. We muddled through.

We did have to pack out a few items as a result of one of two trips into the town of Vail. Our first outing was a Sunday morning Farmer’s Market. Even though we went early, we did encounter some crowded situations. However, in Vail Valley the majority of individuals wore masks.

Our best buy at the market in terms of taste was a delicious, if pricey, blueberry pie. One of the best I have ever tasted. Sometimes you do need to pay up for quality.

Most of the pictures in the slide show come from this foray into town. The second visit to the more populated part of Vail Valley was a trip to the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. Again, a majority, but not all, had masks on. Even the kids.

Mountain Air

There is something to be said for the pureness of air at elevation. The altitude is in the 8000 foot range. Fortunately, everyone from the toddler to the octogenarian fared well. The adults enjoyed biking, hiking and running while the youngster ruled from her stroller. I have fond memories of the area from the Extreme Hike fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis a few falls ago.

While I do not plan to participate this year, the fundraiser is ongoing. You may click here for more information. Hopefully, important organizations like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will be able to survive Covid-19.

Taking Risks in Everyday Life

Granted, taking this trip to Vail Valley was a risk. We did our best to limit the danger. As I discussed in May in the blog post ‘Striking A Balance’, individuals need to be responsible; Every day and especially during this pandemic.

We wear masks in public. As individuals, we practice social distancing. And we strive to keep healthy with an appropriate level of exercise.  Most importantly, we are striking a balance between total isolation and ignorance of how quickly this virus can spread. Family gatherings can be dangerous.

In our case, three of the attendees had recent negative tests for Covid-19. Two live in an area where testing is limited. But they actively practice social distancing and good hygiene.

I hope those who don’t believe in this virus change their minds. Currently, we just have one family member fighting the disease. She picked up the virus working as a camp counselor at a summer camp for kids. Others we have known with the virus have recovered. Unfortunately, one did not.

Apparently we are too early in this pandemic for everyone to know someone who has either survived or died from Covid-19. I still am questioned on whether I “actually” know someone who has caught the virus. I tell them I not only know individuals who have it, I know someone who died from it.

Rest in peace April.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Striking A Balance

Striking a balance is a key to life. One that seems to be sorely missing at this moment in time. In economics we call this balance an equilibrium. If you believe in the philosophy of Adam Smith you think a system which is out of whack will correct itself. Eventually. If you are a fan of John Maynard Keynes, your belief runs toward giving nature a helping hand through intervention. Usually government intervention.

To be honest, I tend to favor Smith over Keynes. (Although neither is my favorite.) The biggest problem with Smith is that nature can take a long while to correct itself. The biggest problem with Keynes is thinking man has the discipline, and the knowledge to strike and maintain a balance. Striking a balance is quite difficult. Maintaining one, perhaps impossible.

Debt

From time to time I link to the Debt Clock. I have already asked you to click here once this year but please do it again. The overall number is eye-popping. Over 25 trillion as I type this. But dig down deeper. Look at family savings, student and credit debt. Take a further look at household and national debt. Finally take a look at the M2 money creation.

The Federal Reserve is following a Keynesian path and pumping money into the monetary system. This chart from the St. Louis Federal Reserve office shows the steep increase in M2 since the start of the year. The Federal Reserve has deeply cut the interest rate on the funds loaned out. The rate currently stands at .25 down from 1.75 earlier this year.

From both the Debt Clock and the M2 chart one can discern the attempt at striking a balance the Federal Reserve is trying to make. It is not this action I disagree with. Instead I worry about the unwillingness for re-balance in good times. Why, were interest rates low to begin with when we were at all time market highs the first months of the year? Shouldn’t the rates have been at 3, 4, or even 5 %?

My fear is the inability of governmental entities in striking a balance. Keynes’ basic philosophy will work but only if humans can put aside for a rainy day. I have seen little of this in my lifetime.

Managing a Pandemic

Public service is difficult. I have had some personal experience on a local level and the job is tough. Making decisions for the public is not easy. A crisis makes it even harder. Dealing with Covid-19, while not unprecedented, is proving to be the greatest challenge many will ever face. This holds true on a personal as well as public level.

I think the problem will be most apparent in countries that have enjoyed more freedom for citizens. But I think people everywhere will struggle with striking a balance in fighting this pandemic. Individuals in countries that practice preparedness will do better than those who live in places where a just-in-time philosophy extends to households as well as production facilities.

There have been a multitude of agencies as well as people that have not responded as effectively as one would hope. Additionally, political leadership has not been on an even keel. But perhaps what disappoints me the most is the divisiveness of the human population. Although, I feel a little better about the split since reading Gina Kolata’s Flu. Apparently a similar split has happened in the past on the best way to deal with an epidemic.

Personal Responsibility in Striking a Balance

Nonetheless, I urge everyone out there to consider the needs of others. A person can look healthy and young on the outside, but suffer from lung conditions such as asthma or cystic fibrosis. Pacemakers are not just operating in the elderly. So for once I am asking you to “assume” something. Please assume anyone you meet, young or old, may have an underlying condition. Give people some space. Further, assume you could be asymptomatic, spreading disease unknowingly. And by all means, if you do have symptoms of Covid-19 take responsible actions.

Striking a balance between public health and public wealth is difficult. We all have a responsibility. As humans, we need to show respect for each other. At some point in the future we will reach an equilibrium. Let’s just hope we remember to repay the funding mechanisms. Otherwise, the difficulties of living through this pandemic will pale in comparison to a future of financial instability.

 

 

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It Book Review

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata  is a well- researched tome. I spent about a week reading through the historical information in order to better understand the response to the Covid-19 pandemic we are currently facing.

Historical Account of Flu Through The Ages

Kolata begins with a prologue well worth reading. She follows this with an opening chapter on the Spanish Flu of 1918. The information presented is a basis for the main thread of virology research which takes place decades later and is the impetus of Kolata’s writing. This historical approach carries throughout Flu.

In order to give the reader perspective on pandemics, Kolata digs deep into history. An early (perhaps the earliest) record of epidemic exists through the writings of Thucydides from 431 B.C. in Athens, Greece. In addition to describing the illness, Thucydides comments on the reaction of the populace to the disease. The Greeks experienced medical doctors falling prey to the epidemic, people turning to religion for salvation and finally isolating themselves in their homes to avoid the illness.

This pattern repeats itself throughout the centuries. Kolata reports on the various pandemics including the Black Death and the flu of 1918. An eerily similar response occurs time and again. The population divides into two groups of thought. (Much like we are experiencing in 2020.)

Cross Species Flu

After providing an historical basis, Kolata switches to some of the unknowns of viral spread. Through the years, scientists tried to link all types of flu outbreaks to bacterium. Perhaps the presence of bacteria provided the quick spread. Others linked viruses to co-existing in animals. Pigs, ferrets and birds are just some examples.

The 1918 pandemic is often linked to swine and the author ties this strain to a chapter on the Swine Flu vaccine of 1976. Again, the comparison to the politics and scientific disagreements to current events is relevant for the reader.

Advances in Science

Much of Flu focuses on the work of scientists to determine the cause of the 1918 pandemic. I found the information interesting. But, to be honest I struggled to a certain extent with the jargon as well as the concepts presented. But biology was not my strong suit.

Kolata discusses multiple attempts to isolate the 1918 Influenza virus. As early as the 1950s, scientists attempted to retrieve the virus from frozen bodies. This effort was unsuccessful. However, the 1990s brought about additional attempts.

This portion of the text interested me the most from an economic standpoint. In the 1990s, multiple researchers again attempted to isolate the origins of the 1918 virus. Kolata relates several different approaches. One expedition took five years at a cost of half a million. It did not succeed. However, other sources had more success.

Flu was written prior to the reconstruction of the 1918 virus. Those of you interested in what has happened with this particular strain can click here for a CDC report.

Non-Fiction

Gina Kolata presents in Flu an excellent example of a well-researched non-fiction account of scientists searching to unravel the source of a pandemic.

Those of you who follow me know that I have been struggling of late to finish a variety of non-fiction books. Kolata’s book was the longest at almost 400 pages of text. Perhaps what sets Flu apart was the thorough research. Another possibility is the blend of science and history. Regardless, I read Flu in its entirety.

Although Flu was published in 2001, copies are still available to purchase. The book is also on Kindle and through the Libby app. I highly recommend this book for anyone with a science or history background. Furthermore, I think those with an interest in political science, economics, and anthropology will also find the subject matter of interest. Flu is not a quick read. The time spent is worthwhile. Someone on my Christmas list will get a copy in December of 2020.

 

March 2020 Wrap-Up

Flowering Pear Tree March 2020 has been a long month. Covid-19 is a pandemic and has caused widespread damage. Both lives and economies will be impacted in the near future. I cannot foresee the long term consequences, but there will naturally be repercussions. So, I spend a small amount of time daily looking to the future.

Socio-economic Impact of Black Swan Events

If you have not read The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I highly recommend finding a copy. Even though the book was published over a decade ago, I think you will find it relevant. In simple terms a Black Swan event is one that is highly improbable.

Back in January, I took notice when the city of Wuhan was placed on lock-down. Even though the mortality numbers were not necessarily statistically significant, the sheer fact that a city of millions lost the freedom to move about created a concern in my mind. The few I discussed this with did not see such an event happening in a democratic country. New York City was often cited as a comparison. Even I had trouble picturing a quarantine covering the five boroughs. But, I did not rule it out. Unfortunately that has come to pass not only in New York City but in other cities I love such as Milan, Italy. Or in cities and countries I yearn to visit.

Now I have two immediate goals. The first is to stay healthy. Since I no longer work outside the home, I am somewhat hopeful. However, I live with someone working in an essential business. We are mitigating danger as much as possible.

Online Learning

The second goal is to analyze how society will change in response to Covid-19. Across the world students spent much if not all of March 2020 away from campuses and schoolrooms. I know this will have a long-term impact.  But I am not sure what that effect will be. So here are some possibilities.

I think at the college level and possibly at the high school level there will be a trend toward hybrid and online courses. Personally, I find hybrid learning an excellent method for adult learning. I have taught and taken courses using a hybrid method and find it preferable to a course totally online. However, I think a case for the merits of online learning will be presented by the educational response to Covid-19.

It is unknown how younger students will respond and that response is one I intend to study. One of my offspring works for Denver Public Schools (DPS) and has shared how they are handling the stay at home order. With a great effort, the school district scrambled and procured a Chrome book for each student.

Lesson plans revolve around established content. Classroom teachers have regular “office hours” so that students (and parents) can reach out to them. The individual teachers have leeway to expand on existing lessons. In addition to DPS curriculum, information on supplementary online learning resources is provided. I hope this is a success.

Self-regulating and Sick days

I am also interested in how sick days are handled going forward. Not all workers get sick days. I know as an adjunct instructor I had to make up any days missed due to illness. Most of the time the make-up days were poorly attended by the students. And students often came to class sick worried about getting behind. I taught adults. Sick kids are even more complex because of sick care issues.

In the case of Covid-19, there is a possibility that individuals may be asymptomatic and still spread the disease. Perhaps this is in part why voluntary social distancing is a failure in my part of the world. But there is danger in the inability to self-regulate. I fear the lack of self-control will increase big government. I prefer local control.

March 2020 Mental Relief

I found relief from the mental stresses of March 2020 in a number of ways. Since I am a reader I spent a lot of time with cozy mysteries and romances. I thoroughly enjoyed all five books in the Ivy Malone series by Lorena McCourtney. Other books enjoyed were penned by Nora Roberts, Iris Johansen and Janet Evanovich.

On the most depressing of days I turned to sitcom and old reruns. The Big Bang Theory almost always makes me laugh out loud. My husband and I also enjoy watching Magnum P.I., both the old and the new versions. So, even if Covid-19 continues a filming hiatus, I will have ample options.

March 2020 In the Garden

From time to time we have a very warm March followed by colder temperatures in April and May. This is one of those years. Both the pear and peach trees are already blooming. We will still have below freezing temperature nights and so the fruit production will be impacted.

Early season greens have made an appearance in the garden. We have enjoyed Swiss chard in our lunchtime smoothies. The lettuces are not far behind nor are the radishes and spinach. Additionally, I have started a variety of seeds indoors. Everything from artichokes to tomatoes are growing in pots throughout the house. I am still concerned that the pandemic will affect supply chains on a variety of levels. Starting the plants by seed will act as a back-up if I cannot buy bedding plants next month.

Quilting in March 2020

I am working on the final border of a Train Quilt. To be honest I am stuck. The current train cars will vary from the original pattern. I plan to make the train a circus train. However, I am having trouble blending the fabrics. Specifically, the clowns. They are primary colors and the overall design is more pastel. Also, the elephant and giraffe come from a baby fabric with a blue background versus the mauves and greens I am using. It will be interesting to see how I tie everything together.

Covid-19 Reports

I have readers across the globe. Please share any experiences you may have with this pandemic in the comment section. While I have personally met individuals battling this novel corona virus, no close friends or relatives have contracted Covid-19 so far. I sincerely hope this continues. Take care everyone and pay attention to your health!

Finally, those with interest in economics may find the following interesting:

https://www.permanentequity.com/writings/viral-prohibition-eminent-domain-and-the-path-ahead?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=prohibition_eminentd

The Rise of Magicks Book Review

The third segment in the Chronicles of The One series by Nora Roberts is The Rise of Magicks. I was looking forward to reading it as I discussed in the review Of Blood and Bone because I thought more of Roberts traditional romance writing would be evident. Even though the story contained a romantic thread between two main characters, the romance is secondary to the story.

The Rise of Magicks Characters

This third story refocuses on a group approach albeit the center character remains Fallon Smith. But much like the first novel, Year One, The Rise of Magicks contains multiple characters and is sometimes a bit hard to follow the large cast. Much like the original offering, the story line in The Rise of Magicks concentrates on battles between the good and evil forces.

On top of the large number of characters from the original book and the second generation born to those individuals, additional characters are introduced in supporting roles. Keeping the story lines straight is easy if you have read all the books. Roberts also does a nice job of providing closure for the cast in Year One who were run out of New York City.

Romance

As stated above, romance develops between Fallon and Duncan. To be honest, I found the interaction to just be satisfactory. It was like an aside to the story. I am not sure the book was enriched by the interaction.

The young couple had a few ups and downs, but the emotional struggle was lacking. They seemed more like a couple of old marrieds versus two young adults falling in love for the first time.

Good Overcoming Evil

In the end, good triumphs over evil but not before loss of innocent lives. One of my favorite characters is lost in a battle. So, Roberts does tug at the heartstrings a bit.

But truth be told, I consider the middle book in the trilogy to be the best. I certainly encourage those who have begun the trilogy to finish with The Rise of Magicks. The tale is quite satisfactory. But I was not left wishing for another installment. All loose ends have been tied back together.

I was hoping for a good Nora Roberts romance. Not a book with romance on the side. Additionally, I really think the real life pandemic of Covid-19 has dampened the enjoyment of reading about fantasy pandemics. Perhaps reading The Rise of Magicks a year from now will be much more entertaining for you.

 

Pandemic Book Review

Book cover of Pandemic by Robin CookPandemic by Robin Cook opened my eyes to the dark side of the biotech world. Protagonist Dr. Jack Stapleton, a New York City medical examiner, fears an influenza virus is the cause of a sudden death on the subway of a young woman. He is wrong about the cause of death. But his instincts are on target.

Stapleton is married to his boss, Dr. Laurie Montgomery. There is quite a bit of tension in their relationship. Both at home and at the office, tempers flare. Jack begins to shut his wife out. In the end this puts his life in jeopardy.

Organ Transplant

At the center of the plot is a young heart transplant patient. The reader watches her race along the subway platform in order to catch a train. She makes it. Her heart beat returns to normal. Then death strikes. The first symptom is a chill followed by breathing difficulties. She dies before reaching her destination.

The autopsy reveals a heart transplant, with the heart in fantastic shape. But the lungs are filled with pus. Stapleton hypothesizes death by virus, but pathology tests are inconclusive. To make things worse, the patient is a Jane Doe. Stapleton, unwilling to face problems on the home front, buries his troubles in his quest to identify both the woman and her cause of death.

Characters

This was the first Robin Cook novel I had read, so all the characters were new to me. But to existing fans there are both recurring and fresh faces in the story. For a new reader, the returning characters were not as richly developed as the newbies. Only the stress of living with a special needs child defines the relationship of Stapleton and Montgomery.

CRISPR/Cas9

The acronym CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. Cas9 is a protein. A better explanation of this genetic breakthrough than I can give can be found in this video from University of California-Berkeley

Cook uses the novel Pandemic to introduce the promises of CRISPR/Cas9 as well as the serious consequences of the misuse of technology. The possibilities remain to be seen. But, birth defects such as Cystic Fibrosis and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy are among the targets for this technology.

Mirroring Trends

I found it unsurprising that a billionaire capitalist was the villain of the story. Nor was I surprised that the communist leaning millennial son saves the day for both Stapleton and the world. Yet, the virus was concocted by the son. Definitely some mixed message in this book.

Cook even throws in some comments from the son of how divisive America is as compared to a more unified younger Chinese population:

In dialogue, the young man states: “We Chinese university-age generation are all on the same page, whether we are in school in Wuhan, or Canberra, or Paris, or Boston. We are of the same mind-set to truly make China great again, pardon the hackneyed phrase. Whereas here in the USA there is depressing divisiveness and a kind of anti-immigrant neotribalism that is getting progressively worse, in China we millennials are coming together.” (Cook, 2018, page 372)

My economic background understands mixed economies. Capitalist societies have some socialism within the market. The same holds true for the other “isms.” I tend to cringe when I read praise for Communism and Socialism. But we have a generation raised after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The fears of yesterday disappear as time marches forward.

Pandemic is worth reading. Cook brings attention to a rapidly changing world. Yet, pausing to think about the consequences of the change has merit. Let me know what you think of this novel.
For those of you interested in learning more about gene therapy the following website is informative:

https://www.neb.com/tools-and-resources/feature-articles/crispr-cas9-and-targeted-genome-editing-a-new-era-in-molecular-biology

Year One Book Review

Year One

Year One by Nora Roberts surprised me. Perhaps I need to read more of her work, but I tend to think of her writing in terms of romance combined with mystery as in Carolina Moon. I am not sure quite how to categorize Year One. While there are heartfelt relationships, there is not the typical romance plot. So I would not place the book in that genre. Furthermore, this is an ensemble cast. Only towards the end did I realize who the lead characters were.

Pandemic

The novel begins by depicting the start of a pandemic. The virus spreads quickly and is terminal for all infected. Thus, the world faces a die off greater than that of the Black Plague of the 14th Century. Roberts introduces the cast of characters mostly based in New York City as the pandemic gets its’ start.

From the beginning, the author prepares the reader for a departure from everyday characters. Individuals with unworldly powers are a major part of the story line. As such, some suspension of disbelief is required. Although you may already be open to the “Uncanny” as she calls them. For readers skeptical of supernatural powers, Roberts first takes a plausible approach. For example, Jonah, the paramedic, can sense death. Later character introductions stretch both their powers and the reader’s imagination.

Survival

Since the virus quickly kills off much of the population, Year One develops into a doomsday/survival story. Those immune to the virus feel compelled to leave the city. Their flights from the city are a large part of the story as some of the Uncanny are evil. Another threat comes from what remains of the government as it begins rounding up some of the survivors.

Roberts does a nice job of foreshadowing. In one instance, a newly introduced character talks of a cleansing of the people. In my case, this turned me off the individual even though he is presented as a good person. Eventually he shows his true colors. I liked how the writer uses both characters and plot to posit the key theme of good vs. evil.

I could describe this book as an action adventure detailing the escape of the characters from doom. Or the book could turn into one of those mid-October reads because of the heavy supernatural theme. However, even with the coupling of some major characters, I did not feel as though the book was a traditional romance where all works out with a happy ending.

Nora Roberts leaves the reader hanging with the ending of Year One since the lead character is separated from the rest in a surprise attack. The book is slated to have multiple sequels which I will look for. I would like to know if the character I bonded with the most managed to survive the battle. Naturally, there is also interest in the lead who escaped, heart-broken but alive, and with the promise of a savior.