Tag: pandemic

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.