Archive for March, 2020
It is March 2020 and a pandemic is declared. We are all part of a global lockdown. That is huge; we have never before had a global and domestic travel lockdown. Confined to our own home-bubble except for highly regulated essential movement. The virus has been analysed and found to have come from bats. Initial blame for the virus is that bats may have infected some other mammal that somehow found its way into a seafood marketplace in Wuhan, Central China. Further analysis of the situation is emerging to suggest that the virus released in the Wuhan seafood market may well have been a human to human transmission and so focus is now on the nearby biosecurity laboratory that studies bat sourced viruses. It may very well have been human curiosity opening Pandora’s box of infectious diseases that has caused this pandemic.
If you are looking for any cosmic link to Wuhan being fated to be the spark to launch this pandemic, there are two. In the 1858 Treaty of Tianjin, ending the second Opium war that Britain waged on China, Britain demanded access to Wuhan, right in the heart of China, for trading purposes. Wuhan is strategically located at the confluence of the Han and Yangtze rivers and provided access to all the products and industry in central China. The weakened Qing dynasty had no choice but to agree and Wuhan became known as the Chicago of China as a vital trading post where several Western trading countries had land concessions and consulates. What the West finally imported from Wuhan 160 years later is a lesson for all bullies to be careful what you demand.
The second connection to Wuhan is that in 1911 the republican revolution of China was launched there. This liberal revolution led to the overthrow of the Qing dynasty, the last Imperial dynasty of China that had begun in 1644. That capitalist-based system was subsequently seen by Mao Zedong and his followers as a political virus and ridding the country of it resulted in a death toll in the tens of millions, many from starvation, before it was quarantined to the island of Taiwan. In the history of virus release, it seems Wuhan has history.
An historical parallel with China is that the 14th century Bubonic Plague, the black death, was brought from south-east China along the trade routes established by the Venice merchant Marco Polo between China and Italy. Italy was also the first European country to experience the Covid-19 pandemic.
But how on earth did this current pandemic cause such a global lockdown after all the extraordinary development in medical science, healthcare and global communications that we have made since the outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918.
The dawn of the age of Aquarius broke in the 1960’s in San Francisco, rose in New York’s production of Hair the Musical in 1967, was worshipped in Bethel N.Y.’s Woodstock in 1969 and welcomed to the world by “Blue Mink” proclaiming that ‘what we need is a great big melting pot.’. This counterculture was singing out for a world of coffee-coloured people. We wanted to travel; to experience other cultures; create fair trade to share the wealth of the first world with the third world. We were rebelling against greed and selfishness; against hate and prejudice. It all seemed so idealistic, we were so ‘woke’, but it ended up with a McDonalds photo-bombing the Giza Pyramid. Where did it all go so wrong?
The era started promisingly bringing with it both jet travel and the internet to help make the global village vision a reality. But the word of warning to humankind is the power of the mathematical phenomenon called exponential growth. Start with you as one person infecting just two people who each infect two people, who each infect two more people and you now have eight people infected; three further steps takes it to 64. Three further steps takes it to over 500; and just three more steps and you are over 4,000. And that is with each person only infecting two others.
Our civilisation moved from being a boutique world 50 years ago to being a hyper-store world today. Air travel has accelerated exponentially by 80% from 2004 to 2012. With the power of technology, flight data companies like FlightAware can tell us that on any average day last year there were around 10,000 aircraft in the sky at any one time. Jets consume 150,000 litres of jet fuel on a 10 hour flight. We became a world focused on globalisation and perpetual population expansion, economic expansion and mass consumerism.
It was jet travel that spread the Covid-19 virus from Wuhan to almost every geographic cell on the planet; follow the pattern of this visualisation of a 24 hour pattern of global flight, with each yellow dots representing a flight, and you will essentially be watching the transmission of this virus. But it was the internet that spread the panic.
In my domestically locked-down state I decided to do a little virtual travelling to while away the hours. I went on a visit to San Diego Zoo which in the old world would have been a 12 hour flight to LA and a car hire to drive down the California Coast. Today I was there in virtually a minute. Searching through the live cam options I decided to have a look at the penguins. I had seen penguins here on the Otago Peninsula as they emerge from the ocean after a long days fishing watched them gather together apparently discussing the days fishing success before waddling up the sandbank to their nest to feed their spouse and young and settle down for a well-deserved sleep. The San Diego virtual experience was nothing like the real natural experience. In San Diego a kindly Zoo ranger sat on a rock beside a pond and threw out bits of food to the cluster of penguins surrounding her. All except one in the background, apparently quarantined behind a wall structure. After lunch they were allowed to waddle on the small rock surface or paddle around in the pond.
That pond may be safer than the ocean and it is much easier to be hand-fed by a kindly ranger than to swim all day in the ocean depths hunting food; but it is no life for a penguin. My lockdown, consisting of passively watching passive existence in a zoo on a computer, is no life for a human either. We cannot hide away waiting for the scientists to try to beat nature at its own game. The common cold is a coronavirus and we have no vaccine for that; likewise SARS from 2002, H1N1 from 2009 and MERS from 2012. All are a Coronavirus infection (as distinct from flu) and we have no vaccines for any of them.
This pandemic is a serious threat, but any time of threat is also a time of opportunity, and in particular a time of political opportunity. Politically the WHO organisation decided that this virus needed to be branded in a way that did not assign blame on any of WHO’s sources of income. So this virus was market-positioned as the new improved SARS, now to be known as Covid-19. Neat, with a catchy by-line and appealing to the target market. The right balance between alarm and hope. I like it, it just needs a jingle to be a classic marketing campaign.
In respect to the clear message of the spread of the Covid-19 virus through humans around the globe there have been two distinctly different responses by nations. In general terms these align with the political bias of the country, taking their lead from the different political structures of the two economic giants of the world, USA and China. China is a social democracy where the government, while allowing what they see as a necessary capitalist ‘virus’ to exist, keeps it firmly under control. The USA is a liberal democracy where huge corporate ‘donations’ to political candidates, give the corporate donors significant leverage over the decisions of government. China went into immediate and severe lockdown particularly at the epicentre. Business simply shut down. Health was more important than wealth. The USA stayed open for business, saying it was not serious, it was more important to keep trading than to take a day off. Until so many workers got sick and unproductive that the “Boss” ungraciously accepted the ‘sick leave’ disruption but warned he wants them back at work very quickly. The billionaires’ club need their businesses to keep running.
Modern China evolved from the austerity of hardline communism under Mao Zedong to the social democratic system of China’s Government today. You certainly cannot argue with the economic success of that system as we have seen China emerge over the last four decades from an impoverished nation to an economic powerhouse. The Western economic powerhouse of the USA has operated, since its foundation, under a liberal democracy.
Today the whole world is being tested on which system, social democracy or liberal democracy will emerge from the Covid-19 challenge in strongest health. Will the USA President retain his position as economic leader of the world? Or is there a new sheriff in town? We don’t like having our personal freedom restrained for social good but on the other hand, personal freedom is so often abused by individuals to the great cost of society. Not least the freedom to breed beyond the parents, or the planet’s, ability to support those children with the basics of a healthy life. In local politics we will wait and see whether, when we go to the ballot box, PM Jacinda will be seen as a Joan of Arc or a Florence Nightingale; Head Nurse of the National Sanitarium who’s job is now done and done well, or CEO of NZ Inc. whose job is yet to be done.
We have a perception that viruses are by definition malevolent. In fact many are simply benign and some are actually an essential part of life, performing vital functions. But all life forms live with the reality of viruses. In many cases they form a natural culling process; and being natural this is for the greater good. And it is not only nature that culls life forms. We humans, who were given reign of all the birds and beasts, will regularly cull wild animals when they are becoming so numerous as to cause ecological damage. Whether it is shooting goats from a helicopter or releasing the cruel rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) virus to cull the rabbit population in New Zealand, humans do what must be done to control animal populations that get out of control.
The earth is a living organism and has strong immunity, but it still needs to take appropriate measures to maintain its good health. When humans become the problem for the health of the earth then it is nature which is called on to resolve the problem. While records were not accurately taken, analysed and shared globally a hundred years ago, our best estimates today are that the 1918-8 Spanish flu killed about 2% of the world population. Initial data from China suggested that was similar to the Covid-19 impact. 2% does not sound a lot but that was approximately forty million people worldwide a hundred years ago. If this Covid-19 virus cannot be contained and has the same impact as the Spanish flu, that would equate to a culling of 150 million people off today’s global population of 7.5 billion. Pro rata, the 150 million death toll would be approx. 28 million in China; another 26 million in India; 6.5 million in the USA; 1.5 million in Germany, 1.3 million in the UK and 100,000 in New Zealand. On the plus side 1.3 billion of the healthiest people in China would survive, over 320 million of the healthiest Americans and 4.9 million of the healthiest kiwis would also survive. The ‘median human’ on the planet would be slightly younger and notably healthier than now. Natural selection is about the survival of the species, not the individual; it has always been thus.
It is August 2021 and New Zealand is in its second national lockdown.
Almost two years after the original creation of this SARS COV 2 virus we are facing the wrath of its Delta variant and it appears this is one variant too many for major western countries of Britain and America who are just starting to ‘live with Covid’, which of course means accepting whatever level of dying with Covid this virus intends. The current global death toll is just under 5 million, if we reach the estimated 2% death toll of the Spanish flu we, globally, have 145 million deaths yet to face.
That will of course mean many fewer aged and seriously ill people on a forced life extension in hospital beds and many fewer people filling the chairs in aged-care lounges around the world, progressively having the one thing they prized most in life, their dignity, being taken from them. The global total of age 80+ was 15 million in 1950, 0.6% of the population. By 2011 it was 110 million, 1.6%, by 2050 it is projected to be 400 million at 4% of the population. Keeping old people on life support is a big industry and this trend defies nature’s ‘three score years and ten” rule as a natural life span or as the Bible quotes in Psalm 90 10 “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.“
In the late 19th century Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest spawned a social movement coined as ‘eugenics’ by Sir Francis Galton, an English scholar, and, early in the 20th century, picked up by American John Kellogg who, with his brother Will developed the process of flaked corn which Will subsequently turned into the Kelloggs company. Walt Disney is reputed to have had such a eugenics philosophy as well and, of interest, in 2001 Disney/Kelloggs established a joint business venture with a Disney themed cereal. Eugenics became a popular social movement in the United States that peaked in the 1920s and 1930s. Books and films promoted eugenics, while local fairs and exhibitions held “fitter family” and “better baby” competitions around the country. The eugenics movement in the United States proposed the elimination of undesirable traits from the population. Proponents of this movement reasoned the best way to do this was by preventing certain individuals from having children. During the first part of the twentieth century, thirty two States passed laws that resulted in the forced sterilisation of more than 64,000 Americans including immigrants, people of color, unmarried mothers and the mentally ill. But this movement applying animal husbandry logic to humans soon morphed into barbaric, inhumane, racial genocide with the emergence of Germany’s Nazi Party.
This eugenics movement was soundly defeated in WW2 by the humanitarians. Although ironically it was the ruthless and horrific use of indiscriminatingly dropping bombs from the sky on hundreds of thousands of non combatant citizens of all ages that brought a final end to the war on eugenics and ‘victory’ for humanitarianism. And that included the development and use of the atomic bomb which also ironically created the current humanitarian peace model of ‘mutually assured destruction’, with the appropriate acronym of ‘mad’. Today the outcome of our liberal humanitarianism is a population that is escalating exponentially out of control.
The phenomenon of exponential growth shows in the human population reaching 1 billion around 1800 a.d. rising to to 2 billion around 100 years ago then escalating exponentially to 4 billion less than 50 years ago and about to reach 8 billion any day now. The progression takes us to 10 billion in a matter of a couple of decades, if not controlled. The damage that such exponential growth does to our planetary body is the same as a virus does to our own body or an infected body does to an entire population. It is not so much the actual resources of coal and oil that is causing the present environmental impact of the planet, it is the sheer volume of the use to keep this huge and growing population alive that is causing the destruction of our environment.
Somehow that exponential human population curve has to be levelled out and then reduced to a sustainable level or the whole environment of earth will be destroyed by human over population. We can only hope that Sars-Cov-2 is a more humane method of bringing humanity’s social ambitions into line with natures laws. It appears from 18 months data to date that the least healthy of the projected 400 million 80+ year olds are its primary target. From our history it is clear that humans are incapable of creating a sustainable, humane civilisation; it remains to be seen if nature has a better plan for the survival and evolution of the human species.
In the midst of this pandemic that just won’t lie down in spite of herd immunity and chemical vaccinations, China has just announced a ban on under 18 year-olds from playing video games for more than three hours a week. 8-9pm Friday, Saturday & Sunday. The market for video games in China alone is $US45 billion; globally it is estimated today at $US140 billion. On-going lockdowns, with unprecedented home detention levels, guarantee rapid further growth in this industry. When the stock market reacted sharply to this decision from China the wealth of the tech giants controlling this industry was massively impacted. The industry’s unwitting spokespeople, the social liberals, will be immediately marshalled to the online frontline for damage-control protesting. Well-meaning social liberals have always been easy recruits for corporate agendas. Protecting this $140 billion (and growing} industry is a very big corporate agenda.
Chinese authorities describe these games as spiritual opium. I think that would have made a lot of politically centrist western parents sit up and blink. Those millions of parents who are coping with the addiction of their children to virtual worlds. Those parents who are watching their previously bright young children morph into sleep-deprived zombies with the consequential impact on their social behaviour and mental well-being. Those parents who have had the right to make their own disciplining decisions legally taken from them by liberal extremists infiltrating bureaucracy, thereby giving the video gaming industry unregulated access to the children even legally by-passing parental control. Make no mistake, aspiring global sheriff Xi Jinping has sent a very strategic message to a middle America that is already worried about the obvious political bankruptcy of their own country.