Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Faith and Fear in the Midst of Snitching: A Firsthand Account

While the tragedy of the Corona virus pandemic has brought out many examples of good as people pull together, sacrifice to help each other, and show courage in many ways, there have been many troubling developments as well. One of the unfortunate developments is the encouragement from some government for neighbors to snitch on each other. There are neighbors in some cities who are acting like spies, taking notes on the activities of their neighbor and looking for evidence that people may be violating the oppressive regulations against "non-essential" travel or violating draconian social distancing/forced isolation regulations.

When simple activities explicitly protected by the Bill of Rights (e.g., the freedom to assemble, freedom of religion) become criminalized and normal social relationships are soured with distrust, spying, and eagerness to report others to an overly powerful government, something very ugly has happened. With that thought in mind, I'd like to share the recent experience of a friend of mine who lived in fear of his neighbors for a while in a city where snitching related to the Corona virus was a serious threat. I share it both as a warning of what we may face in our society, but also as an example of a parent in a fearful situation finding guidance and strength through prayer to be able to cope. The account below, used with permission, was written for a broad group of his friends, many of whom are not fellow members of his faith. What he did not explain is that the fervent prayer he describes was actually a priesthood blessing he gave his daughter as they were on the eve of a necessary move that could result in either returning home safely or possibly facing a nightmare. To protect my friend's privacy, I have edited out a couple of statements that would could have made it easier to track him down, just in case.

I will also add that my experience in Shanghai was often blessed by kindness from our neighbors. One of them, our landlord for the past couple of years, has been one of the most friendly and loving people we know. She took my wife to dinner recently at a marvelous restaurant and is always bringing us food and doing other kind things. We've had such friendly and kind neighbors. I'm sorry that my friend went through quite a different experience in another part of China, but what he faced and overcame may have valuable lessons for some of you.

Here is the account of a father in China caring for a daughter with the flu, not COVID-19:
From my vantage point in China, it looks as though things are careening out of control overseas, as the crisis that we in China have been living with for months is now hitting home in the West. My daughter and I were in a remote area of southwestern China, on vacation, when the panic hit here. When the news of the Wuhan lockdown reached [the large city where we were], people vanished from the streets, and everyone began watching each other, eager to report any friend or neighbor showing symptoms of any illness, or anyone suspected of having come from Hubei Province, where the epidemic was raging. Pharmacies were watching for customers purchasing medicine, and police and neighborhood watchmen were vigilant. Anyone sick with anything was being detained and quarantined, no one knew where, along with family members. All public places were shut down, so there was literally nowhere we could go.

And in the midst of this mass hysteria, my daughter came down with a bad case of the flu. No dry cough, no respiratory issues. Just a good old fashioned high fever, sore throat, and serious congestion. I realized that, if she were discovered, we might both be whisked away into some awful quarantine, or worse, she might be taken from me, and interned somewhere where she might come into contact with the real Corona virus. For several days, we stayed put in the house where we were staying, while I hoped and prayed for her fever to break, constantly monitoring her symptoms against what was then known of the Corona virus, to make sure it WAS the flu.

Day after day we waited. I was very careful to hide the piles of used tissues in non-see-through trash bags, so that no one snooping through trash bins would find the evidence, and to conceal the food that I was bringing back for her. Finally, on the day before the owner of the house (who was beginning to suspect we were harboring a sick person) told us we had to leave, we managed to get plane tickets to get as far as Chengdu, a city where [we had access to an apartment], where my church has representation, and where the U.S. government has a consulate -- a place with a support network. But there was a problem: my daughter was still running a fever, and all the airports and transportation hubs were swarming with people checking temperatures.

At this point, in sheer desperation, we resorted to a final fervent prayer that my daughter would be healed overnight, so that we would be able to escape. And in a turn of events that can only be characterized as miraculous, she awoke the next morning fever-free and almost completely better! By the time we went to the airport that afternoon, she was back to her normal self, after more than a week of illness. But I did not breathe easily until we were past the checkpoints and on the plane.

We subsequently made it back to [our destination city in China], where we have been living in relative ease and safety, with adequate food and other supplies.... Even as I write these words, life is returning to normal here. It turns out that this disease is not like the flu, in that quarantines and other commonsense safety measures do seem to work. But for a few weeks, it certainly seemed as if the world as we had known it had come to an end.

Believe me when I say that I understand fear, because both my daughter and I experienced the absolutely sickening, overwhelming helplessness that comes of being in the midst of world-altering events, in a far-off land where no help is forthcoming. Yet we both got through it, with a little prayer and a stiff upper lip. As your countries plunge into what we've already been through, know that it won't last forever. China had to power down for a while, but now it's powering back on; and the rest of the world will, too. To paraphrase Vera Lynn, who sang reassurances in a far darker time than this, the lights will go on again, all over the world. You will have your sporting events, your rallies, your schools and universities, your churches, your travel, your vacations, your parties, and all the other social activities that make our lives worthwhile. This thing will not last. Some of you may fall ill, but you will heal. Markets will fall, but they will recover. Fear may trouble your hearts, but it can be replaced with hope and optimism. Stay strong, use common sense, and use resources like social media to strengthen each other. That's what we've done here, and what you can do there!
May we all be spared from snitch-rich environments. Here's wishing for a return to a more normal and healthy society. But whatever our environment, we can seek divine guidance on how to cope and how to live. Keep growing in faith and prayer!

Saturday, May 02, 2020

“The Chicken Sacrifices Are Working!” A Novel Approach for Coping with COVID-19

Sacrificial victims in Hong Kong, a low-COVID-19 city.
“It’s not any lockdown that's taming the virus,” Ollie explained to me in our interview. “It’s the chicken sacrifices. This would be the worst time to stop them or we’ll have a total disaster. They are working, but we must increase our faith and the chicken body count. This is all a scientifically obvious fact and you cannot disprove that. The chicken sacrifices are working, and that’s why the curve is being fattened.”

“You mean flattened?,” I interjected.

“Fattened, flattened, who cares? What matters is the lives we are saving with science. The science shows that our chicken sacrifices are working to save human lives. We’re the ones making this happen.”

“But Ollie, what’s the evidence that it’s actually the sacrifices and not the lockdowns or other factors that are affecting the disease?”

“Can’t you see? After we called for worldwide chicken sacrifices in February, the sacrifices began and soon the expected number of COVID-19 deaths began to decline and the spread gradually slowed – because, of course, the sacrifices are working! Science is real.”

“But what about some of the spikes that we are seeing in places like Wisconsin?”

“Those correlate perfectly with a lack of faith, leading to a decline in chicken sacrifices or sacrifices that weren’t done properly. It all fits! Look at these charts! I’m warning you, if we don’t do more sacrifices more faithfully, we’ll see more spikes, even very big ones, but if we do see numbers dropping, it will show the sacrifices are working. It’s our work that’s making all the difference in every state and nation – and the hard work of many others who are following my guidance. It’s our science-based faith that’s controlling the virus.”

I was fascinated with what I was learning from the Chief Executive High Priest, Ollie Fogey, leader of a mysterious faith-based group that is sometimes called the “Cock-a-Doodle Cult,” more formally known as the Worldwide Worshippers of the Great Goat God (WWGGG), a god who apparently has a strong animosity toward chickens.

Frankly, it was hard to argue with the evidence. Every dip and rise of every curve had an explanation that fit his paradigm. Maybe we do need to offer more chicken sacrifices. All this time the rest of us were thinking that the lockdowns were doing the trick, or maybe just the social distancing and good hygiene that people were doing on their own, but the evidence for the success of chicken sacrifices might just be even better than any evidence for the success being claimed for the widespread lockdowns, and might be a little more logical, too. Frankly, I just couldn’t see the logic in the idea that shutting down gyms and small scattered businesses made us safer and healthier since the result was everyone congregating at Walmart or those "essential" liquor stores. Ollie at least had some logic and snazzy charts on his side, if you can accept the idea of an angry goat god who dislikes chickens. 

This religion, or “cult” as they prefer to be called, has a unique and allegedly scientific approach to dealing with COVID-19. I had the rare opportunity learn more through an interview their leader while he was in Wisconsin last week for their annual Spring Sacrificial Rites and Chicken Fry in the backwoods of northern Wisconsin during a beautiful full moon.

Ollie says he can neither confirm nor deny rumors that the WWGGG was given massive Federal bailout that was buried in the hundreds of pages of emergency COVID-19 legislation that was recently signed into law. Since nobody, especially our politicians, has had time to read the new laws, it’s still too early to know which special interests are getting how much. But WWGGG claims to be at the forefront of dealing with the Corona virus, and wants credit (if not cash) for what they have done for America and the world.

Though known to believers as “Grand Exalted Chief Executive High Priest and Nemesis of All Poultry,”  WWGGG Chief Executive High Priest Ollie Fogey simply goes by Ollie when dealing with non-believers. He’s a charming and passionate retired mechanical engineer turned Kansas farmer who became “enlightened” after being struck on the head by a flying shingle during a thunderstorm. When he came out of the coma two weeks later, he announced he was the spokesman for the Great Goat God. Thanks to great social media marketing, his movement has gone global and he now leads literals dozens of worshippers around the world engaged in “science-based” goat worship. He guides them through his role as Chief High Priest of WWGGG, and also advances the mission of WWGGG through many humanitarian projects through his influence as a board member of the Great Goat God Foundation.

It was still damp and cold right after the Spring Sacrificial Rites when we met. Believers huddled around the fires where the hundreds of sacrificed chickens were being deep fried. We shared a couple plates of fried chicken during the interview. Absolutely delicious, thanks to a secret revealed blend of herbs and spices. Proper social distancing was maintained for the interview. 

Q. “Ollie, what’s up with the chicken sacrifices? Why would your Great Goat God want that?”

A. “Anyone who has run a farm should know that the wisest farm animal, the goat, is terribly annoyed by chickens. They are the nemesis of all that is goatly. The Great Goat God is most pleased when chickens are sacrificed.”

Q. “And you think this has something to do with COVID-19?”

A. “Absolutely. COVID-19 is an expression of the Great Goat God’s anger toward humanity. He must be appeased by more chicken sacrifices. That’s our faith, but it’s not just faith – the science is firmly on our side.”

Q. “Science?”

A. “Certainly. The science shows a perfect correlation between our work and the progress being made in the disease. Did you not read my global pronouncement in February?  As the disease first began spreading to the US and Europe, I announced that 100 million would die from the disease – 25 million in the US alone – unless chicken sacrifices were increased significantly.”

Q. “25 million in the US? Even the most extreme computer models were only predicting 2 million deaths, and that was way off.”

A. “Those models are worthless and have never been close. Computer models can’t foretell the future, but chicken gut models can, and they consistently showed 25.2 million deaths, with a 95% confidence interval of plus or minus 0.3 million.”

Q. “Chicken gut models?”

A. “Yes, it’s a very scientific process of extracting future-oriented data from the entrails of a properly sacrificed chicken. It takes into account biomolecular metrics, climate change, geomagnetism, big data, forensic epidemiology, green energy, quantitative easing, and it's 100% organic and totally sustainable.”

Q. “That actually works? How do you know?”

A. “It works most of the time. It’s a gift. When the prediction fails, though, it means the bird wasn’t sacrificed properly.  When it comes true, it shows the sacrifice was done properly. Very reliable correlation.”

Q. “But COVID-19 is now on the decline, and there’s no way it will reach 25 million deaths here.”

A. “Yes, of course, because the chicken sacrifices are working. Don't you get it? Our faithful members, with literally dozens on every continent except one–“

Q. “No believers in Antarctica?”

A. “Wrong, we’ve got a Level 3 priest at Russia’s Vostok Station who is offering regular sacrifices as best he can – frozen chicken nuggets – and that’s clearly helping to stave off the disease in Antarctica. It’s Australia where we don’t have members yet. A troubling lack of faith.”

Q. “So you would predict Australia should be in chaos from COVID-19?”

A. “No, there are chicken sacrifices still being conducted vicariously, in a way, as the people there respond to my calls to increase their consumption of chicken.”

Q. “So the data for your success can include actual chicken sacrifices or general chicken consumption?”

A. “It’s fluid. Faith and life are complex things. But all the data conforms to my expectations and shows that sacrifices and/or chicken consumption is appeasing the Great Goat God and resulting in progress.  Or sometimes in lack of progress where the sacrifices and chicken consumption aren’t enough.”

Q. “Can you explain why New York is so hard hit, while other large states like Florida have much less trouble?”

A. “Certainly. New York has two great problems. One, there burdensome regulations make it very hard to do a chicken sacrifice properly, so fewer sacrifices per capita is a big problem there. Second, New Yorker’s don’t like chicken all that much, and they really dislike Chick-Fil-A. There’s just a handful of restaurants for the whole state. Lack of sacrifices and low chicken consumption angers the Great Goat God. But we are ramping up our efforts there, so we’ve seen some progress recently and avoided total disaster, thanks to our work. But if Cuomo or de Blasio take any credit for their recovery, it’s a lie. The science shows we deserve the credit. Also, consider South Dakota, with very few deaths and no lockdown. You know why? Because of their enlightened laws that make it easier for my followed to carry out frequent chicken sacrifices. Plus South Dakota has a lot of goats. It all fits.”

Q. “Ollie, what motivates you to do this? Some say there are conflicts of interest involved with all this chicken consumption you are calling for. Do you stand to profit?”

A. “It’s only natural that I should try to influence society where possible for the greater good of mankind. That’s why I’m on the board of Tyson Chicken, Chick-Fil-A, KFC, and a few other companies that are at the forefront of saving the world by appeasing the Great Goat God through their valiant commercial enterprises. But it's not about profit, it's about saving lives.”

Q. “I guess that’s reasonable. What’s next for your cult when this virus is tamed?”

A. “There’s always another crisis ready to hatch, waiting in the wings, so to speak. We are already devising science-based ways of applying our faith to cope with the demands of climate change. My chicken entrails modeling shows that the Great Goat God may soon express more anger with climate change, or possibly hyperinflation from excessive dollar creation, either of which will call for vast increases in chicken sacrifice. And there are other diseases yet to be tamed. Our faith and our science will both be in the right place at the right time.”

Ollie’s message may be one that humanity desperately needs. Come to think of it, the lockdowns may have forced more people to rely on high-chicken fast food rather than more expensive low-chicken restaurants, so chicken consumption probably has increased due to the lockdowns, which may be fueling WGGG’s impact. And the New York data certainly seems in Ollie’s favor. It all sort of fits. What if Ollie is right?

As we see signs of progress in fighting COVID-19, I expect that we will soon face a new round of controversy as different parties contend in claiming credit for the success. Will our victory be due to Dr. Fauci’s wise guidance, to the visionary leadership of the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, the steady influence of the Gates Foundation in moving us to a vaccinated utopia, the inspiring example of local leaders like Governor Cuoma or Mayor de Blasio, the courage of California leaders in forcing people away from sunny beaches and covering a skateboard park with sand, or the tsunami of economic and policy influence from the legendary geniuses at the Federal Reserve Bank whose next brilliancy may be negative interest rates as the sure-fire economic cure to cure all cures? Maybe it’s Ollie and his small cult of goat worshippers whose chicken sacrifices and calls for increased chicken consumption that are doing the trick by appeasing a very irritable Great Goat God.

If you have better scientific tools to identify who should get the credit for our progress in avoiding the millions of predicted deaths or for the eventual taming of COVID-19, let me know. Meanwhile, I’m off to Chick-Fil-A for a science-based meal. If it saves only one (human) life, it will be worth it.

Meanwhile, dear readers, remember, you are safer at home, so please don't go out into the dangerous sunlight, don't go out into the fresh air, don't get any outdoor exercise, don't get a haircut (unless you are a mayor or something special), and for goodness sake, please just sit around gorging yourself with chocolate, ice cream, and liquor. It could save a life, though probably not yours.


Related resources: 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A Bump in the Road for the Shanghai Temple

Unfortunate news just reported in The Salt Lake Tribune indicates that plans for a Shanghai temple may have hit a bump in the road. Peggy Fletcher Stack's story, "Plans for an LDS temple in Shanghai may have hit an obstacle," reflects some decent investigation and a good understanding of how things work in China. Kudos, Peggy! We can't be sure at this stage if the apparent problem is real, serious, or just temporary, or if anything has actually gone wrong, but with parts of the government in China saying we don't have a deal, it sure looks like trouble As the article points out, such setbacks happen often in negotiations in China.

There are many organizations, departments, bureaus, and diverse interests that can play a role in these things and influence outcomes, resulting in the fairly common occurrence of a foreign entity thinking an agreement is settled when, in fact, it is still up in the air or might be reversed. It is possible that President Nelson's surprising announcement has been set back by increasing tensions between the US and China, or that it was premature from the perspective of key leaders in Beijing, Shanghai, or a variety of agencies and bureaus, or had not yet been approved by someone that those involved did not realize needed to be involved. The announcement itself could have triggered alarms or stirred people to become involved that might not have been originally--if so, that doesn't necessarily make it a mistake, for it may have resulted in facing hidden challenges months or years earlier than would have occurred otherwise, possibly leading to a swifter final resolution, one way or the other (of course, I personally hope that a temple will be possible in the end). I doubt that there is no fundamental issue apart from temporary misunderstanding from some officials -- to me, this looks like genuine trouble that will require further negotiation and patience.

When sensitivities are at play, surprises abound in China. Anything involving foreigners can be sensitive, as can anything involving religion, and when you put the two together for a deal involving foreigners seeking to create a temple in China, a final agreement may take several cycles past the stage when all seems settled to the foreign party.

The announcement of a Shanghai temple, as surprising as it was, was merely a baby step, and this set back may also be merely a small but painful step backwards, the kind of temporary setback we have encountered many times in seeking to build temples around the world. Will there be a temple in Shanghai? I sure hope so. It will benefit local members there and reduce their need to go to Hong Kong or other places to receive temple blessings. But until all relevant authorities are on board and any new concerns are resolved, we'll need to be patient. It may also require some improvement in relationships between the West and China which have become greatly strained in recent weeks.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Science-based vs. Faith-based Policies for Coping with the Corona Virus

Are we using faith or science to cope?
Though I am open about my faith and often welcome steps that allow faith to play a more visible role in society, I prefer to let faith be a personal matter and not a basis for government policies. Unfortunately, I fear that an abundance of faith,, perhaps even blind faith, is behind many policies and plans being pursued by government leaders these days, especially when it comes to dealing with the novel Corona virus. 

Here in Wisconsin, we have a popular governor, Tony Evers, who is a man of great faith. His faith was on display in his recent announcement that Wisconsin's "Safer-at-Home" slockdown policy would be extended for at least another month. In a touching and poignant expression of his faith, Governor Evers said:
"I want to be honest with you folks, things won't get back to normal until there's a vaccine and treatment for this disease and even then our new normal will not be the same as our old normal," Evers said. "This will be a slow and gradual process."
I fully support Governor Evers' right to have faith that unpredictable future events may happen, even miraculous ones. I would love to have a successful cure and a safe, effective vaccine, preferably both. But my personal faith on this matter is not as strong as his.

This novel Corona virus, which is closely related to the old-fashioned Corona viruses that have been part of the viral group causing common colds for millennia, might be conquered in a year or two with a vaccine. If so, we'll have yet another reason to shout hosanna (be sure to use a white Kleenex tissue instead of a handkerchief for that occasion)! But we can't base that hope on a reliable prediction grounded on firm science, only our faith in what might happen, if we are very lucky. 

Scientists have not been able to develop successful vaccines or cures for the common cold after all these decades of trying. Scientists have been working on a vaccine for HIV for almost 40 years. We are closer than ever and perhaps need to keep spending money based on the belief that a vaccine will solve that problem, and this could happen, but so far our faith has not been rewarded. Fortunately, scientists have had much more success in developing vaccines for influenza, which have been administered to people since the 1940s. The faith-promoting success stories from the battles that science has won in fighting influenza with vaccines may (and even better stories for polio and other diseases) be the source of Governor Evers' deep faith that similar success might be seen with the novel Corona virus and COVID-19. But just how successful have influenza vaccines been? There is too much misinformation about vaccines on the web (I am not an anti-vaxer and have stayed current on many vaccinations, even getting several vaccine shots while I was in China), so let's turn to the US government's CDC website, "Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do the Flu Vaccines Work?":
  • Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick with flu.
    • Flu vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor’s visits each year. For example, during 2017-2018, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 6.2 million influenza illnesses, 3.2 million influenza-associated medical visits, 91,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 5,700 influenza-associated deaths.
    • During seasons when the flu vaccine viruses are similar to circulating flu viruses, flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu by 40 percent to 60 percent.
That's wonderful news. The 2017-18 flu season was perhaps the biggest in the past decade, but thanks to vaccines, 5,700 lives were saved and over 6 million people were prevented from becoming ill. Wonderful! Sadly, skeptics (there's always one in every crowd!) might try to cast doubt and create distraction at this point with cheap shots like, "Yeah, but how many people actually died from influenza that season? How many got ill anyway?" Fortunately, the CDC also has provided documentation on this so there's no need to turn to negative fake-news sites.  On the CDC's tersely titled page, "2017-2018 Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths and Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths Averted by Vaccination in the United States," we find the facts:
CDC estimates that influenza was associated with 45 million illnesses, 21 million medical visits, 810,000 hospitalizations, and 61,000 deaths during the 2017–2018 influenza season. 
Wait, 61,000 died? Over ten times as many as the lives saved? And 45 million still became ill? OK, not everyone gets the flu shot, but a flu shot is no guarantee of success. Not even close. One problem is that there are many viruses and viruses mutate. A vaccination based on one virus might not work on another strain. The CDC makes this point in its assessment of vaccine efficacy against influenza:
During seasons when the flu vaccine viruses are similar to circulating flu viruses, flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu by 40 percent to 60 percent.
In other words, under favorable circumstances when the influenza virus that is circulating happens to be similar to the virus used in creating the vaccine, the risk of needing to seek medical help is reduced by about half. Will be any luckier with the novel Corona virus?

"Fortunately," you may say, "we're dealing with just one novel Corona virus, not a host of variants like we have with influenza, so there's no problem. One virus, one vaccine, one hope for all! That vaccine will work and will come on schedule, soon!" Thank you for that expression of faith. But please recognize that it is a view based on faith, not real science. Science might offer a different perspective. A study from one of the top universities in China, Zhejiang University in beautiful Hangzhou (one of my favorite cities in the world) examined the virus in 11 different patients in that city and found over 30 mutations. See "Coronavirus has mutated into at least 30 different strains new study finds" at The Jerusalem Post.

The large number of mutations that are probably occurring with this virus could make it more difficult to control with a vaccine. Even before this new data, Dr. William Haseltine for Scientific American explained why we really don't know if we can develop an effective vaccine for this disease. So how long do we need to keep roughly 30 million people unemployed? How long do we need to suspend the Bill of Rights and let governors exercise vast power over their people and decide which businesses can live and which must die? Well, how long has it taken to successful prevent and cure the common cold from other Corona viruses (and other families of viruses as well)? How long has it taken to cure AIDS with a safe, successful HIV vaccine?


We may see a miraculously swift and effective vaccine come out soon and be ready for widespread use in a year or two. But policies that rely on such hope are not really "science based," no matter what our politicians and medical celebrities tell us as they justify the need for more control and more spending, with more billions going to their friends in Big Pharma and Wall Street. 

At this point, you may be feeling your blood pressure rise and a wave of righteous indignation sweeping over you. "This fool sounds like he's about to question the wisdom of the lockdowns! They are working and saving our lives. He must be a vile person who doesn't care about other people and puts money over lives!" If so, please understand that this reaction is not based on the scientific method. In principle, at least, the scientific method does not lead scientists to become angry when someone asks if there is solid evidence to support an assumption. Science is based on questioning assumptions and considering new evidence to test our hypotheses. Science should welcome, not condemn, data that points to weaknesses in understanding, for that may be an opportunity to advance our knowledge, if the data is accurate. It is in the realm of faith, especially blind or immature faith or religious zealotry, where reasonable inquiries may cause believers to feel threatened or angry, and where the response is to shout down or denounce the infidel who dares ask questions. The "science-based" approach some people support may be more faith-driven than they realize.

It's an article of faith across much of our society that draconian lockdowns in the US and Europe are saving lives and are essential for coping with the virus. But do we really have data to support that? Yes, it's logical that social distancing will reduce the rate of spread of the disease. But Americans were already taking extensive steps to do social distancing on their own before the lockdowns began. Many of us, most of us, were already washing our hands more, being careful about gatherings, and taking other steps that could help protect us. Is there evidence that we are significantly safer now because we have forced many businesses to close and tens of millions to lose their jobs? Is there evidence that staying indoors is safer than going to the public parks? Is there evidence that mass assemblies every day in Walmart make us healthier than going to the gym, to a park, or to a small business? Your faith may be strong and passionate on this matter, but is it really based on science as you have been led to believe?

An important question, though, is not whether or not the lockdowns work, but whether they are justified. Many influential voices are praising the lockdowns for saving many lives, but have they presented careful evidence that a lockdown truly saves lives versus no lockdown? If we compare states without draconian measures to those that ignore the Bill of Rights, can we see clear evidence that a lockdown itself can be credited with saving lives? This is rarely considered, though so far it seems that the data suggests there may not be evidence of a significant benefit to a lockdown. See, for example, Wilfred Reilly's attempt to compare results to see the impact of lockdowns

South Dakota, for example, has come under much heat from the media for the apostate approach of  Governor Kristi Noem, the infidel who claims that she lacks the power to suspend the Bill of Rights and actually must uphold it based on some oath she took long ago when sworn into office. Her approach seems to be "teach people correct principles, and let them govern themselves" -- a concept you may have heard before -- when it comes to social distancing and coping with risks. Tragically, under this reckless approach, there have been 10 deaths in the state as of today. Each death is tragic, but when we consider that this number is barely a blip compared to many other routine causes of death, it might give you pause if you are open to science-based discussions. For example, South Dakota had nearly 200 suicides in 2017, over 20 times the deaths from COVID-19 so far. 

South Dakota is a remarkably safe place to drive, and last year had a record low number of automobile fatalities: 102, ten times their COVID-19 fatalities so far. That number was reported as good news, showing great progress in automobile safety, and was not used to frighten people into staying home and shutting down all non-essential travel, but we certainly could cut those deaths to nearly zero by simply banning travel. So why don't we ban vehicular travel nationwide? Why don't we spend most of each news broadcast talking about frightening automobile accidents and the need to force people to stay home to save lives? For most of us, the ability to travel is viewed as a right and as a necessity for economic well being. It's always risk, a risk that could kill us one day, and while every death is tragic, facing risk and living with risk is part of life. 

But a key question for justification of the lockdowns is not whether they reduce Corona virus deaths. Even if we believe that they are legally justified (that governors can properly suspend the Bill of Rights when they feel there is an emergency and dictate where we can go and which businesses can continue), to be justified, the lockdowns should at least have an overall positive effect on the health and well-being of the people. Even if you believe that one life saved justifies making 30 million people lose their jobs and a nation of school children regress in their education, does the science really show that lives are being saved overall? If one life saved is worth any cost, as one governor seems to think, what if that cost is 10 lives? Is that rational?

If the lockdown saves the lives of a lot of us older grandparents but leads to two suicides of younger people for each of us seniors that are saved, would anyone be arguing that we older people are just worth more than those with mental health issues? (Some mental health professionals are worried about the impact of our response on suicides. Tennessee, by the way, recently reported having more deaths from suicide than COVID-19, a phenomenon that may be true for many other places.) 

If more people will die from failure to see doctors now due to missed cancer detection, missed hypertension treatment, missed warning signs of heart disease -- these are all very big killers, and the impact of lessened "non-essential" health care is a cause for great concern -- or if lives saved from Corona virus proves to be far less that the additional deaths due to the inactivity, poor diet, stress, and poor health care that comes from unemployment among millions of people, are we doing the right thing by crushing the economy now? Should be we be angry at people who are least ask such questions about the overall impact, even if it shakes one's faith to hear such apostate talk?

The only thing that is apparently being considered by most of our politicians and, by his own admission, Dr. Fauci, is the impact of the Corona virus per se. There's no attempt to consider the balance between multiple factors. But the massive steps we have taken will affects tens of millions in adverse ways that will also cost lives. Just the missed diagnoses for cancer alone may result in deaths from lack of early detection that could be as great or greater than the health impact of the Corona virus. On this issue, see: "Professor Warns Cancer Deaths Due to COVID Disruption Will Be Greater Than Deaths From Coronavirus" and the Harvard summary of a study on the 2008-10 economic downturn, "Global economic downturn linked with at least 260,000 excess cancer deaths." What we have down to our economy already may have a far bigger impact than what we faced in 2008-10.

The lethal impact of our economic suicide may not be limited to indirect deaths from cancer, heart attacks, and actual suicides,  but could have a more direct lethal impact through widespread famine. This is not something I learned about from random angry anti-big-government sites, but from one of the major pro-government sources of all, the United Nations. David Beasley, UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director in the April 21 virtual session of the UN Security Council on the Maintenance of International Peace warned about the far-reaching impact of poverty arising from the response to COVID-19:
There is also a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself. 
In a related article at WFP.org, WFP’s Chief Economist, Arif Husain said:
COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread. It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock – like COVID-19 – to push them over the edge. We must collectively act now to mitigate the impact of this global catastrophe.
I have been lucky to travel in China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Mexico, and some other parts of the world where real poverty afflicts many people, in spite of great progress in recent years to life the living standards there. It was especially in visiting the homes of a few of those afflicted by poverty in China and seeing what happens to their options, their quality of life, their health care, and other issues, that I came to see how awful the impact of poverty is. It leads to tragedies and unnecessary deaths and despair.  Our self-inflicted economic collapse, one that could be greater that that of the depression, will not just affect many American lives, but will have a wide circle of influence on the global economy and on the lives of those many millions who are now trying to rise out of poverty around the globe. Our nations and their nations need us to have a healthy economy, not one that is shut down unnecessarily. It is my disdain for poverty that makes it impossible for me to relish a trade war with China or other steps that will exacerbate poverty there or in other nations like Indonesia, Vietnam, and Mexico. (And don't get me going on my disdain for war and the global harm caused by our war machine. Some other time we can have a calm discussion, I hope, about the evidence regarding the issue of what our trillions spent for war is doing in terms of making the world a better place or not.)

So many have a passionate faith that they need to stay locked down indefinitely and just trust their prophet-like leaders with their prophetic models of doom, even though the models have been so severely wrong that they should have no credibility by now, though they continue to guide policy and faith. what they have been told and stay locked down in fear. These passionate believers know what to do when someone raises inconvenient concerns about the bigger picture and the possibility that our self-inflicted economic wounds may be doing more harm than good. They will respond with passionate acts of faith to condemn the uncaring infidel. They may ask the social media enforces to deplatform me for spreading "fake news" that challenges the official government position. Perhaps some will eventually pursue an even more flamboyant act of faith, such as the good-ol' auto-da-fé that was a tried and true way in the past to enforce the faith and correct the non-believers. But if such anger is your gut reflex, at least realize that it may not be as scientific and science-based as some would have you believe. 

At least for some parts of the country, sustained lockdowns do not appear to be justified by logic, science, or law (I suggest that the freedom to assemble, free speech, religious freedom, etc. are meaningless if all it takes is one official declaring it's an emergency to nullify those rights without due process). The impact of economic suicide may be far greater than the limited good being achieved. And the fear that has been whipped up in the media with constant attention to this virus may be wildly out of proportion to risks that the US people have been coping with for years, such as a over 60,000 deaths from the flu in a single season a couple years ago, 99,000 deaths last year from hospital acquired infections (easily solved by any politician: just burn hospitals to the ground to stop those infections at their source -- isn't it worth it if only one life is saved?), 40,000 deaths a year from car crashes, etc. But for centuries, we have understood that such risks are part of life, and have chosen to move forward. Now we are surrendering our economy and our Constitutional rights to cower in fear. Is this healthy? The latest scientific data suggest that sunlight is useful in killing the virus, so instead of a "Safer-at-Home" edict for my state and yours, the science-based approach perhaps should be "Safer Outside of Home" edicts that let us get back to our lives, while continuing to take appropriate steps to keep us more vulnerable folks safe, while letting the young have their future back.

COVID-19 is worse than the flu. The death rate for infected cases looks like it's about 0.4% now that we have better data, which is worse than the flu, but not horrifically so.  The death rate in many states has been far less than a typical flu season. In fact, far less than a typical flu season for that state. Flu deaths in South Dakota for the 2017-18 flu season were over 20 times higher than the 10 COVID-19 deaths far, and here in Wisconsin, the flu deaths were nearly 4 times higher than the 262 deaths we've had so far, though we've had a new spike in cases and sadly more deaths are likely. As a reminder to those of you who are saying these lockdowns are needed to save the children, 97% of our deaths in Wisconsin have been in the 60+ age group and zero have been reported for people under 40 years old. It's not the young that we're saving. 

The horror that we see from COVID-19 largely comes from New York City, where severe problems exist. It seems that their crowded subway system was the ideal environment for spreading the disease (woe to the heretics who might opine that maybe driving to work in a car is much safer). But their crisis is not the crisis the entire nation faces. Florida with a greater population and a very high percentage of vulnerable older people was predicted by the experts to be facing even more deaths than New York, but at 1,046 deaths in Florida, they are nowhere close to the 16,599 deaths in New York as of today. New York's panic need not be ours (though almost all our media is from their and their crisis informs every report, contributing to the national panic). The steps they feel they must take need not be emulated everywhere else. Even at this late date, with abundant data showing New York's situation to not be representative of the rest of country, I see intelligent believers declaring that if we lift the lockdowns soon, we will end up having a worse problem than New York. That kind of fear is based on faith in authority figures who have botched their figures; it is not based on science.  

What am I calling for? Science, not misguided faith in technocrats or politicians or media figures, to make informed decisions. Respect of our Constitution and allowing communities to decide what protective measures are appropriate. Teaching the people correct principles and letting us figure out how to live our lives, run our businesses safely, how to exercise in a gym, how to jog or enjoy sunlight without getting a ticket, how to get a haircut without having to be an elite politician (sorry, Chicago!), how to take care of our children and our elderly, and how and where to shop. 

As for education, let communities and families figure that out. But one thing I'll say: we should realize that the people who have done most to help keep school children safe from viruses, safe from bullying, and safe from mass shootings are the parents who have been doing home schooling. Right now, if you know a home schooling parent, chances are they can give you great tips on the resources needed for effective remote education and how to do schooling at home more effectively. In addition to praising our medical care workers for the valiant work they are doing (sorry to the many who are now on inactive or furloughed because of the painful ban on non-essential medical services, resulting in many hospitals being emptier than ever), perhaps we should also spend some time thanking home schoolers for the work they have done to help keep children safe and healthy. Many more families may wish to consider that option for their children. 

Wow, so many heresies in one blog post! I'm truly a lost soul, I know. But I had to mention the home schooling issue because in the widespread spirit of "never let a crisis go to waste" and "let's use this panic to push through the rest of our agenda," a brilliant Harvard professor just came out with a call to ban homeschooling in order to "protect" our children. As with many things being done to "protect" us in this crisis, the solutions are sometimes more about power and wealth than about actually making life better for Americans. Sorry, but I'm just not a believer when it comes to trusting the elite who always know how to run our lives better. 

Whether you agree or not with my proposals, I hope you will agree that we should ask for wise decisions to be made that will protect our communities in the long run, overall, carefully weighing the multiple factors and risks, not just one. I hope you will also ask that such decisions carefully respect the rights of individuals, rights that should not be summarily suspended without due process regardless of how bad a flu season or how bad any other crisis is or is imagined to be.  Let's rely more on real science and real inquiry, not a faith-based, fear-based approach.

Postscript

At least one faithful member of the Church has accused me of going against the Church in suggesting that the lockdowns might not be helpful. Since the Church has asked members to suspend their meetings to reduce spreading the virus, that supposedly suggests the Church and the Lord think that lockdowns are the way to go. But as I've explained, I'm very much in favor of what the Church has done.  It's a great example of the voluntary steps that organizations can take on their own to reduce risk. The Church and the Lord, as far as I can tell, has not called for businesses to be shuttered and millions to be unemployed. In fact, on the COVID-related Church website, "Keeping Our Employees and Service Missionaries Safe During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic," we read the Church is encouraging working from home for its employees when possible, but does not appear to be laying off mass numbers of people or slashing paychecks. Further, regarding Utah offices, "Church offices remain open for the workforce, including stand-alone operations (e.g. Church Office Building, Global Services Department, Joseph Smith Building, Riverton Office Building, Bishops’ storehouses, Beehive Clothing, Granite Mountain Records Vault)." Offices are being kept open. Work is continuing, but being done safely. It's a smart, voluntary move, one that businesses can figure out on their own. Nothing in any of the Church's statements regarding COVID-19 appear to endorse shutting down most of the economy and promoting a nation dependent on a government for sustenance. The principles of provident living and self-reliance still apply.
 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Keep Preparing: Food Storage May Become Especially Important

There are many reasons to be optimistic about overcoming the pandemic before us and getting our economy moving again (for example, one optimistic perspective is being offered by one of the world's leading epidemiologists, Professor Johan Giesecke). But the impact of broken supply chains, of excessive debt, and possible massive misallocation of resources (like taking trillions out of some sectors of the economy to funnel them to favored big businesses) can have many unexpected consequences in the future. Those consequences can lead to banks defaulting and problems in cash flow and finances for companies that manage your food supply, among many other supply chain problems. The food supply chain is nothing to take for granted. There are reports of food going to waste in many regions due to problems in transport and many other factors directly or indirectly related to COVID-19. Many products are already in short supply and prices of some are rising, even as prices of oil plummet, all a sign of market chaos.

There's no need to panic about food, just as there's no need to keep panicking about COVID-19, but wise precautions make sense in both areas. Are you ready if there's a shocking jolt in the realm of food? It could come from a bad turn in the weather, a broken international supply chain that creates a shortage in packaging materials, the economic collapse of major players related to the food supply, food processing plants being shut down due to disease, a trucking strike, or other events. Many items are already in short supply in many stores. When happens when something else goes wrong? Just be prepared.

I hope you will strengthen your ability to bless the lives of your family and those around you by building food storage steadily. For basics like grains, did you know that members in the United States can log into the Church's website and use the Church's online store to get some items such as #10 cans of red wheat? I didn't even know that until today, when a daughter-in-law explained it to me. Good prices for red wheat, but many other products appear to be sold out. I also made some purchases at Honeyville Farms, a Utah-based operation with a good selection of grains and other food-storage items. Again, many things are sold out -- we are not alone in recognizing the need for food storage, but bags of red wheat and a number of other products are still available.

Stay calm and prepare steadily.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Easter and the Corona Virus: Rays of Hope in a Time of Darkness

Good Friday was a time of much reflection on the state of the world and our country, filled with cause for sorrow and also cause for hope and rejoicing. The greatest hope of all comes from Jesus Christ. In this world of death and decay, death, of course, is inescapable. It can be delayed, perhaps, but never escaped, no matter how long we are forced to be locked up in our homes, no matter how much the government spends, and no matter how many vaccinations you get. But the shadow of that grim reality is swept away in light of the glorious news, attested by eye-witnesses in two hemispheres, that Jesus Christ lives and has unlocked the gates of death and hell. The sting of death is swallowed up in victory. His Resurrection is the greatest victory of all time and of all eternity.

It's painfully easy for people to disregard the New Testament accounts of multiple witnesses of Christ's Resurrection: "The Bible has through so many hands, copies of copies of copies. We don't have the original documents. What did they say? And even if we did, perhaps Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, if they were even the authors of the manuscripts bearing their names, just repeated rumors someone else concocted or did fabricated their stories. Who knows?" The Bible stands as a witness of Jesus Christ and contains the accounts of multiple human witnesses of His reality and triumph, but it's far too easy to disregard that ancient account.

Here is where we, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have something marvelous for the world, an independent and majestic second witness, another testament of Jesus Christ that was brought to the world through miraculous means, for which numerous evidences continue to mount that demand attention. The Book of Mormon is that additional testament of Christ. No other book I've ever seen is so centered on Christ and does so much to clarify the majesty of His mission, the reality of His Resurrection, and the power of His Atonement. Shout it from the housetops: we have a record, an ancient record brought forth by miraculous means, filled with evidence for and truth about the Savior of the world. In this time of pain and sorrow, it has a message the world desperately needs. The Book of Mormon is true and confirms what the world needs to know today: Jesus Christ lives and has power not only to rescue us from death, but to cleanse us from sin and to bring us back into the presence of God and the Lamb of God, the Son of God who lived and died for us.

That's the key good news we should focus on. Christ is our most real and vital source of hope in times of despair and throughout all the seasons of our lives. But in much less important areas that still matter greatly to many of us, there may be more rays of hope in this time of crisis.

Update: On Easter Sunday or anytime, why not experience this hope musically with the majestic Lamb of God Singalong with the music of  Rob Gardner? I am listening to it now and am so impressed with the music and artwork that brings the story of Easter to life. I especially love the song sung by the Lord’s mother at His death. How kind of Rob Gardner and many others to give the world this gift about the Ultimate Gift to mankind.

Good Friday was a day of fasting and prayer for millions of members of the Church and many others, as we sought the Lord's help and guidance in this trouble time. We need miracles. We need added hope. I have been praying that there might be advances in our knowledge so that we can better cope with the virus without causing far more harm, without further crushing the economy, without adding terrible burdens to those who are already ill or suffering from mental health challenges, without impoverishing our nation and others, and without allowing thieves to steal our future or diminish our liberty.

While there has been much bad news recently, some surprising good news has come forth during this time of fasting and prayer that may give us some hope. Here are some examples:

1. Iceland Gives Us Hope
So much of what has been done to cope with the Corona virus has been done without consideration of available data. Granted, early on, very little data was available and what was coming from China wasn't always clear or timely, and yes, there's still much we don't know. To cope with the virus, we need to know how lethal it is. What is the real infection fatality rate (IFR), the number of deaths divided by the number of infected people? We often hear reports on CFR, the number of deaths per reported cases, but those numbers can be misleading. When a new virus comes, the only cases known are the real serious ones that go to the hospital, resulting in frightening CFR statistics that tend to decline steadily. But what really matters is the IFR. Understanding IFR requires thorough testing, and nobody is doing more extensive testing than little Iceland. To me, the data from Iceland gives us hope. Here's an excerpt from the Oxford COVID-19 Evidence Service and their report, "Global Covid-19 Case Fatality Rates," updated April 7:
Iceland has tested a higher proportion of people than any other country (9,768 individuals), equivalent to  26,762 per million inhabitants the highest in the world (as a  comparison, South Korea has tested  6,343 individuals).

Screening suggests 0.5% are infected;  the correct figure is likely higher due to asymptomatics and many not seeking testing: estimates suggest the real number infected is 1%.

Iceland,  currently reports two deaths in 963 patients, CFR . 0.21%.  If 1% of the population (364,000) is infected, then the corresponding IFR would be 0.05%.    However, they have limited infections in the elderly as their test and quarantine measures have seemingly shielded this group, and the deaths will lag by about two weeks after the infection.

Iceland’s higher rates of testing, the smaller population, and their ability to ascertain all those with Sars-CoV-2  means they can obtain. an accurate estimate of the CFR and the IFR during the pandemic (most countries will only be able to do this after the pandemic). Current data from Iceland suggests their IFR is somewhere between 0.01% and 0.19%.
Thank you, Iceland, for extensive testing! (I wish the US had not messed up so bad in the testing area, a factor that has been a key contributor to our problematic state.) Your data helps us better understand the true enemy that we are waging war against. Maybe we can fight this war without fire bombing the entire nation.

Iceland, though, may have shielded the most vulnerable (the elderly) effectively from the disease, keeping the IFR low. But taking into account data from all over the globe, not just Iceland, the Oxford report ("Global Covid-19 Case Fatality Rates") gives this overall estimate:
Taking account of historical experience, trends in the data, increased number of infections in the population at largest, and potential impact of misclassification of deaths gives a presumed estimate for the COVID-19 IFR between 0.1% and 0.39%. [emphasis added
If the IFR for the US will be as low as Iceland reports or is in a higher range between 0.1% and 0.39%, is that rate so terrible, so unlike influenza or other diseases, that we really need to shut down the economy, require government approval to travel and work, and give unlimited power to bankers to create trillions of new dollars via digital creation ex nihilo (without even the courtesy of at least printing their counterfeit money so that ATMs won't run out of bills when banks begin to fail)? Maybe panic is not the correct response. Maybe Iceland and good global data can help us get back to normal (and can we have our future and our freedom back, please? or at least the trillions the Fed is taking?).

The Oxford report also notes that we still have not adequately distinguished between dying with the virus versus dying from it. Many elderly people who die and are reported as COVID-19 deaths may have had the virus but died from other factors such as diabetes or heart disease, with the virus just being one of several new problems. Once we understand that differences, they note that the IFR may be even lower.

For the record, I've just added a trip to Iceland to my bucket list, if I don't kick the bucket first from COVID-19 or anything else. I've only been to the Reykjavik airport, but thinking about Iceland has stirred travel fever in me. A beautiful nation that I want to visit when things get back to normal.

Other countries also give us hope. How about Sweden and Brazil? Both have been criticized for their failure to follow social distancing and to lock down their economies. Have they invited chaos? It doesn't look that way so far. They seem to have done remarkably well. Some say Sweden's success comes from a compliant population who are following sound social distancing rules, but I don't know if that explains Brazil. Sweden and Brazil give us hope and might give us courage to ask if the US lockdown is really the source for the success we've had, relative to the gloomy forecasts of models (discussed below).

Right next to China is Vietnam which, as of a few days ago, had zero deaths. Lots of Chinese tourists go there. I saw many while I was there in January. Quickly closing their borders may have been their key to success. The virus may eventually spread, but so far they have done well. Some have speculated that other factors there such as climate or diet might have helped. In any case, I think we need to be looking more closely at Vietnam, at Taiwan, and other nations that are coping effectively with the disease and have not needed to intubate their economy.

2. California Gives us Hope 
I usually don't say that about California, but look at the amazing numbers.  Their 541 deaths, while a cause for morning, is less than 10% of what New York has. Their population is 2/3 that of Italy (40 vs 60 million), but Italy is reporting over 19,000 deaths. OK, it may be that nearly 90% of Italy's deaths should not be classified as strictly due to the virus, but even if the real count in Italy is 2000 or so, California's numbers are still amazingly good in comparison. Experts with their brilliant, unbiased models were predicting tens of thousands of deaths for California and utter chaos as it would surely become the epicenter of viral chaos.  California should be the epicenter because no other state has had such close contact with Wuhan before we knew what was happening. There have long been direct fights from Wuhan to California and just about every Chinese tourist going to North America wants to go to California. They will also go to New York, but California is the focal point based on what I see among my Chinese acquaintances. And no matter where you are going in the US, if you travel from China, you are likely to first fly to LA or San Francisco and then transfer (but there are direct flights to several other cities).

So why is California so lucky? Well, they had an unusually severe and unusually early flew season in late 2019 which may have actually been due to the Corona virus, and now we are seeing the benefits of some degree of herd immunity in California. See Victor Davis Hanson's article, "Coronavirus: The California Herd." It's an amazing story that needs more investigation but may give us hope. The great numbers from California may mean that their close contact with China gave them a head start in building herd immunity -- without having to shut down their economy and without having to force people to stop having funerals, weddings, parties, and religious gatherings until a perfect vaccine can be developed, perhaps once the virus stops mutating). Yes, it was a rough flu season and hospitals then were overwhelmed, but they got through it. If they did, maybe the rest of us can, too. That's a cause for hope.

However, Hanson's hypothesis may be wrong and California may not have a real head start on herd immunity after all, as some are arguing in response (see a discussion of the issues at SFist.com). 

But even if California did get hit with the virus earlier than we thought, don't let that give you too much hope. In fact, the same basic information (once stripped of the actual numbers) can be properly spun in a way that supports the normal narrative in this way: "Yikes, the virus was here in California even earlier than we thought, and that means it's had more time to spread -- so we're really doomed!" In The Los Angeles Times, the April 11 article, "New signs suggest coronavirus was in California far earlier than anyone knew," shows us the politically correct approach. The story begins and ends with tragic stories of death and tells us that the lag time between the early arrival of the virus to California in 2019 and the social distancing rule in 2020 "has had dire consequences, allowing the virus to spread unchecked before social distancing rules went into effect." But it would be great if there is some herd immunity in California, and hopefully we'll know for sure soon. 

Based on the history of failure and delays with vaccines for new viruses, perhaps herd immunity (getting back to normal life with good hygiene but not panic while encouraging sheltering for the more vulnerable), not mandatory vaccinations and lengthy lockdowns is the real hope for us. AIDS has killed about 700,000 people in the US, more than are likely to die from the Corona virus. How's that HIV vaccine working for you? Oh, right, there still isn't one. Scientists have been working to develop one for years, or rather, decades, but there still isn't one, as HIV.gov reports. We are approaching the 40th anniversary of the official recognition of the AIDS epidemic (June 15, 1981). Thank goodness we didn't have politicians lock down the economy then until a successful vaccine could be developed and mandated.

3. Consistently Failed Predictions and Inflated Numbers Give Us Hope
I usually don't say this about failed software or the many massive failures from bad or biased computer models, which have driven much of the panic over the Corona virus. But these persistent failures now give me hope. Bill Gates' IHME model, relied on so heavily by our government, has, like all the other "professional" models being touted in the media, been grossly wrong on many things. New York should have run out of hospital beds by now, but they did not. The models have been highly inaccurate, but have been used to stir up fear and were trusted to make sweeping policy decisions that could affect us for years to come. They have been unreliable, but that's good news. Maybe we don't need to panic or to trust those stirring the panic.

When a trusted government icon like Dr. Anthony Fauci tells us that we should never shake hands again, that it might be a good idea for the government to require us to carry papers to justify our travel in the future, that we may need to stay in lockdown mode for 18 months or so, etc., etc., it's OK for us to not blindly trust what he or any other acclaimed expert says, Bill Gates included. In fact, when he claims that the great decline in actual numbers versus predicted number is because Americans have complied with his edicts, it's OK for us to ask questions, like what is the evidence that the edicts actually created the unexpected decline? Since your models already had considered the effect of social distancing, and were still wrong, do we really understand this disease enough to attribute good news to your policies? Do you really know that the reason for the lower numbers when the collective wisdom of the models gives predictions that often aren't even close?

What about inflated numbers? Above I mentioned the concern raised in the Oxford report about the failure to distinguish between deaths "with" the virus versus deaths "from" the virus, especially among the vulnerable group of people who are already struggling with severe issues. A large number of these deaths should not be flagged as deaths caused by the virus. Sadly, the new legislation to cope with the virus has added strong financial incentives to count deaths as corona virus deaths, even when that's not very accurate. See "Hospitals Get Paid More to List Patients as COVID-19 and Three Times as Much if the Patient Goes on Ventilator" at The Spectator, April 9. That's a financial incentive that may be hard to resist and surely will exacerbate any problems in overcounting COVID-19 deaths. On top of that are whistleblower allegations that the CDC is also manipulating deaths to be excessively high. But the disconnect between the fearful models and physical reality, even with overcounted deaths, is great enough to help us see past the fearmongering, and that's hopeful.

4. Perhaps Some Hope from Anecdotal Reports by Doctors
Some doctors have touted apparent benefits hydroxychloroquine in treating Covid-19. This medication has not been proven yet with serious double-blind studies, but such studies are underway. Instead of waiting many months or possibly years for those studies to be completed, some maverick doctors are jumping the gun and reporting apparent dramatic benefits. Yes, there are legitimate reasons to question Trump's emphasis on this drug and reasons to think that widespread use may be a bad idea. But maybe it will help some, or perhaps many. Let's see. Meanwhile, there are also reasons that think that it may be unwise to deny patients the right to take an experimental treatment when in a life-threatening situation. I think Katherine Timpf makes a reasonable argument on this point.

Update, 4/12/2020: As was kindly pointed out to me this morning, I should also mention zinc as one of the rays of hope from anecdotal but significant reports from multiple doctors. A fascinating video clip shows the frantic media effort to downplay the possible good news that such inexpensive materials as zinc and hydroxychloroquine might be making a significant difference for those with COVID-19. And another friend suggested I might wish to remind people of the tentative evidence or at least reasonable hypotheses that other inexpensive nutriceuticals like glucosamine and N-acetyl cysteine might be helpful as well.

5. And a Hands-free Touch of Hope from Face Masks
One of the positive developments recently has been that the US government is finally (finally!) acknowledging that masks might actually help, something that numerous studies support. There are many companies that could make plenty of masks, but sadly, government regulations make that just about impossible. While it's now too late for most of us to buy them, partly because the government has begun seizing large orders of masks that were being shipped to US hospitals that needed them, or, in some cases, were being exported to other places that needed them, there's still hope. Just grab and old T-shirt or bandana and you are good to go.

Fortunately, there are some good resources showing you how to make a face mask. See the "Face Mask Guidelines" document and its links at https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2020/04/face-masks.php. Special thanks to University of Utah Health who partnered with Intermountain Healthcare and Latter-day Saint Charities to create these guidelines.  

Face masks, hand washing, healthy caution about crowds -- these are principles that can help us cope with infections disease not just now but throughout our lives. That's a source for hope, though I'm still disappointed that the Surgeon General told us something that wasn't very accurate and possibly harmful. Glad we are past that and now have the government's approval to protect ourselves a little more.

The Best News I Had on Good Friday
During my fasting for Good Friday, I received me joyous news from my wife in Shanghai. She reported that a government doctor had just visited her and gave her the government's permission to leave her quarantine. The electronic lock on her door was now removed after two weeks of being under close scrutiny (she was allowed to open the door during 3 brief intervals each day in order to receive ordered food or to place a garbage back outside her door). At last, now she can step outside her apartment. She was even allowed to go jogging, a freedom millions of Americans may now lack or soon will lack (sorry, Chicago!). There will still be restrictions on movement, but she has an app on her phone showing a QR code that can prove she's been given the government's thumb of approval, after a successful quarantine apparently free of the virus, so now she can move about the city and enter one of Shanghais numerous malls, for example.

Being locked up in her apartment for two weeks was a remarkable blessing, as a matter of fact, compared to be quarantined elsewhere. Two of her friends returning to China were not so lucky. They were required to go to a government quarantine facility, a converted hotel, and to pay for two weeks of a hotel stay plus additional fees to get delivered meals. For at least one friend, that was a huge financial blow. There were other challenges. For safety, the heating was turned off so there was no air conditioning to spread germs. But it was cold, and one friend of ours in such a place had just come from warm Singapore without many warm clothes, so it was really hard. Fortunately, friends from our branch were able to bring a space heater to his facility and asked the guards to give it to him, and I understand that worked. For another friend, staying in the facility was physically challenging for other reasons. I won't go into details because they might be perceived as just rumors, but it's understandable that being held in any government facility in any country can be challenging and can impose difficulties that might not exist when one is free to just walk down the street and buy whatever one wishes to eat or drink, for example.

China's system is different than ours. There is much to respect in China (their advances in innovation and strong intellectual property rights, for example, are remarkable, and I even had surgery there in a low-cost public hospital and had a remarkably positive experience), but there are also some things that we US citizens will disagree with in light of our ways, our systems, and our traditions. I have no right to tell China how to run their country, but as a US citizen in a nation with a very different system and very different history, I not only have the right but a duty to be involved here and to stand up for the US Constitution. I can and should say that under our system and with our heritage, it would be a dramatic loss of the liberties our Founding Fathers fought to secure for us if US citizens need to have government approval to leave our homes or go to work or travel anywhere, even though Dr. Fauci may favor that idea. Some other nations require their citizens to have government papers in order travel and are subject to arrest for seemingly arbitrary reasons by overly powerful police. Are we on that path? If so, it's time for a detour. And in the war against the virus, once again, maybe it's time we give peace (and liberty) a chance.

Here's a fair question and a reasonable answer I just saw from Congressman Justin Amash:

https://twitter.com/justinamash/status/1248641039830745090?s=20


I am deeply concerned about the far-reaching side-effects of the political actions being taken to cope with the virus. First, it seems like many things are being done in bad faith, almost as if some governors and mayors want the populace to be as unhappy as possible (is there algorithm something like more pain = more hate for Trump, perhaps?), or as if politicians see this as an excuse to slip all sorts of mischief and corruption into emergency bills that few have time to scrutinize or even skim carefully. Some of the steps being taken could do lasting harm, decades of harm, long after we've reached herd immunity to this virus.

To prevent tens of thousands of deaths mostly among us older people (I'm in a higher risk age group), the entire nation is being hurt in ways that could lead to many more deaths. The lack of exercise due to closed gyms and having to stay at home can exacerbate hypertension and heart disease, which are huge killers. The failure of millions to see doctors for routine checkups could lead to many failing to be diagnosed for cancer or other diseases where early diagnosis is critical. Some states are seeing suicides spike and outpace COVID-19 deaths. For those with mental health issues, the lockdown is horrific. The vast unemployment being created by government decrees can lead to numerous health issues. Healthy diets are less likely under these conditions. As I've seen in my travels around the world, poverty is debilitating. It leads to so much heart break, so much suffering. We need to lift people out of poverty, and the rise of the US economy again can help lift other nations. For their good and ours, I pray that we can shake off these chains and revitalize our economy. As an older guy with not such great lungs, I'd rather be at elevated risk of death by COVID-19 than see the future of our young people jeopardized in the need of keeping me safe. We don't want anyone to die early, but there's a balance that must be made with the welfare of our future generations in mind, and that welfare is being shot today.

Speaking of balance, in late March I heard an interview with Dr. Fauci in which he was asked if he looks at the big picture such as the impact on the economy, on jobs, on other aspects of life when he makes recommendations. He said no, his entire focus is on the medical issues:
No, I don’t consider the balancing act; that is a very good question. The president has the awesome responsibility of considering every aspect of this. I just give public health advice completely clean, unconnected with anything else. He has to factor in other things. And that’s the way he operates; he takes in advice from a number of people from a number of different vantage points and then he makes his decision.
Wait, is he serious? Everyone in the media and in Washington seems to be relying on him as the  COVID-19 guru for policy decisions, for clues about when we can open up the economy again and what we need to do. He's making statements about why we need to keep the lockdowns going longer, a major policy matter that goes far beyond pure medical science. His statements are driving policy, but admittedly lack consideration of the economic impacts (and the massive indirect health impacts). So if he were in charge of a task force to reduce automobile deaths, would we all be locked in our homes because that will drop auto fatalities to zero? Heaven help us -- and while I'm serious about that request, heaven's help often requires that we do something first.

The crisis we are in is not just one of health, and not even one about the economy, but a crisis in the battle for liberty. I have been praying that leaders might be more wise, but also that people might be more wise in resisting the erosion of their liberties and the theft of the nation's wealth. We need miracles and good news, not just for coping with one virus, but with the viral tendency to erode liberty and to exercise unrighteous dominion over others -- something that every petty official in the country seems to be doing these days. Imagine fining people for jogging outdoors, handcuffing and dragging away a man in an empty park for playing with his wife and daughter (hey, Colorado folks, that happened in your state!), banning of non-essential medical services (a mindless move that is punishing health care workers as well as patients), and releasing violent criminals including child molesters using the virus as an excuse. These are among the assaults to reason, public welfare, and liberty that have been occurring. Shake off those chains!

Religious liberty, one of the fundamental principles behind the rise of this nation and one of the first rights specifically protected in the Bill of Rights, may be at risk. I appreciate the way our Church has called off meetings. That's a responsible, voluntary action. But if a group of believers in some other faith wish to gather, even if we think it is irresponsible, what right do we have to stop them? Or to threaten them with permanently closing their churches, as Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City did? In a letter from some of members of Congress to President Trump calling for protection of our religious freedom, it was stated that "recent reports indicate the Governor of Kentucky will be tracking the license plates of any individuals attending Easter services and subsequently forcing them to quarantine for fourteen days. There is no place for this behavior in America." Looks like we need to include Kentucky in our prayers. The idea of police tracking down and forcing quarantine on citizens for choosing to attend an Easter service seems outrageous. This is still America.

Hey, here's an idea. Why not get creative but also very safe, and hold a drive-in religious service where every stays in their cars, apart from everyone else, with your windows rolled up while listening to a lonely preacher in the church preach over a weak radio signal? That would work! Oops, sorry, it was tried by the Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi and, apparently under orders from the state, the police came in and fined those religious zealots $500 each for holding a gathering. Honestly, I was really impressed at how calm the man making the video remained as his religious liberties were being threatened. No cussing, no nastiness, just a polite question or too. Well, here's a proud shout out to you innovative and faithful Baptists for trying this and for holding your ground as Christians even as the police came to your cars issuing tickets, as I saw in the video.

If Constitutional rights only exist when the government says they do, and can be withdrawn whenever someone declares an emergency of some kind exists, then those rights don't really exist, certainly not as inalienable rights. We need to be reminding our representatives of this. Meanwhile, I hope we can be tolerant of those who wish to gather in a church rather than at Walmart to express their faith and priorities, even if we think gathering at church should be avoided for now. Let that be a voluntary decision.

Don't overlook the long-lasting implications on liberty from this crisis. While the aim of the Book of Mormon is to turn us to Christ and teach us of Him, it also teaches us about the essential nature of liberty. Without liberty, the work of the Church of Christ can be impeded and the welfare of a nation can be imperiled. The Book of Mormon repeatedly teaches us that there are many people who are looking for excuses to seize power and to exercise unjust control over the lives of others. They will use anger, fear, and even war to manipulate others for their ends. They will corrupt the government or ignore the laws or create vile laws to enforce their agenda. They will enter into "secret works of darkness" to gain wealth or power. Those who believe such things are reflexively called "conspiracy nuts" and are told to trust the elites in government, but the lesson of history across the world for millennia is that humans generally cannot be trusted with unlimited power and that some of the worst among us will gravitate to such power. Being wary of human leaders is not paranoia, but the very loud lesson of world history. It is also an important theme of the Book of Mormon which teaches us not to be naive, not to blindly trust those seeking for power, but to recognize that there may be corruption and danger. It may be time for us to revive that awareness of danger rather than to blindly trust in ever expanding government power. I may be wrong in my views on what politicians are doing, but in any case, we have much to learn from what the Book of Mormon teaches us about dealing with perilous times. Let's dig in and learn more.

These are dark times. Pray for light, courage, and relief. We need more miracles here including breakthroughs in medical science and breakthroughs in liberty. It can be done.

One final thought: In addition to praying that these lockdowns may end soon, I would like to suggest that in our remote ward and branch council meetings, and in our conversations with family members and friends, that we be sensitive to the sudden eruption of unmet needs that may be occurring among those who may need just as much attention as any victim of the virus, but might be alone and vulnerable due to the isolation created by these lockdowns. When people need visits and attention but visits are banned or seem overly risky, what works? Do calls do enough? Any tips from your experience? I'd love to hear from some experienced people who understand the challenges of mental health issues when everything has become so difficult recently.