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

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Fear and Trembling and Sickness Unto 47 Million Deaths: Basic Math and the Pandemic Panic

A well-educated friend with a graduate degree from an outstanding university sent me this video from Dr. Emily Porter of Austin, Texas and felt it was enlightening. She artfully and eloquently explains why we need lockdowns to cope with COVID-19 or millions will die. It has been received with great enthusiasm and numerous supportive comments. It's viewed as credible, authoritative, and compelling. It's also a classic example of how a failure to be careful with basic math can lead to terrible conclusions that can drive all of us to despair (for various reasons). Sadly, this video has served to exacerbate unnecessary fear and encourage trust in some policies that may do more harm than good. Regardless of the merits of lockdowns, understanding the nature of the mistakes and tactics in this video, as well intended as it may be, can help us stand up to more bad science from others for this or other crises.

I'll break things down by looking at key portions of this video, marked by time. The video was posted to Youtube March 22, 2020, and thus data cited may be out of date, but some of the errors are timeless, or rather, happen all the time, even in discussions from experts that we are told to trust.

Setting:  Some credentials for the speaker, Dr. Emily Porter, are established verbally and visually. She's a doctor, she's wearing a white laboratory coat, she has a stethoscope around her neck, and tells us she has a sister, Katie Porter, who got elected to Congress and is apparently pretty popular. She seems like a passionate, intelligent, eloquent, and sincerely concerned medical doctor, and I'm sorry that there are some gaping flaws that need to be pointed out. As I explain below, these may not be her fault, and I don't want to criticize her personally. I suggest it's the soundness of the widespread and popular message she is sharing that needs to be considered.

Video @ 0:55 to 1:20: "CDC is estimating that 40-70% of [America's 331 million people] will get infected" with COVID-19. So, she says, let's say 150 million, on the lower end, will be infected. For the infected population, "80% will be just fine. 20% will need hospitalization."

Response: 20% of those infected need to be hospitalized? That's a remarkably high number. Even when we didn't know about all the asymptomatic people that don't even feel sick (about 35% of those infected), such a high hospitalization rate was not on the table, as far as I can recall. That rate only applies to the very old. Below is hospitalization rate data from the CDC, and while it was published in April less than a month after Porter's presentation, the knowledge of the hospitalization rate in March should not have been wildly off. The highest hospitalization rate listed is 17%, and it's for those over 85 years of age. Not an average of 20% for everyone!

Porter's error (if it's even hers) is probably unintentional, but it is a critical one that blows the threat way out of proportion. Unfortunately, the nature of this questionable blunder is very similar to another even more egregious error made minutes later.

For the 150 million who might become infected, she does not say how long this will take. For a virus to sweep through a population until herd immunity is established can take years or at least many months. Part of the fearful impact to come in this video is the implicit notion that we could have a huge population of sick people all at once. This needs more clarity.

Video @ 1:20 to 1:35: She warns that Italian hospitals are being overwhelmed by the virus, and we have even fewer hospital beds per capita than Italy, so we're in big trouble.

Response: Reasonable, but this neglects the vast differences in our populations, for Italy has a much older population with many more elderly people susceptible to the virus. Not exactly a fair comparison. (As we've seen since this video was made, our hospitals in almost every state were not overwhelmed, even in -- or especially in -- states like South Dakota that did not impose harsh lockdowns.)

Video @ 1:20 to 1:35:"5 to 10% of the 150 million that get infected will need vents."

Response: This huge number requires the incorrect assumption that 20% of those infected will need hospitalization. New York's early experience had about 1/3 of their hospitalized COVID patients on ventilators, so if 20% hospitalization were reasonable, then 5-10% on ventilators would make sense. OK. 

Video @ 1:50 to 1:58: "5% of 150 million people is 7.5 million vents needed in America." The caption drives this home: "7.5 MILLION VENTS."

Response: 7.5 million people needing ventilators sometime does not mean that 7.5 million ventilators are needed all at once. This assumes that all of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients are sick at the same time and each needs their own machine. This is an utterly unrealistic, even an impossible scenario. The disease does not spread across the country in a day, sending nearly 8 million people to ICUs all at once. This is an blunder that builds on the prior mistakes. Don't blame her personally --  this kind of questionable math and logic seems to be sweeping the nation, sort of like a pandemic on its own.

Video @ 2:00 to 2:40: Porter explains that we only have around 100,000 ventilators in the nation. To be conservative, she assumes we actually have 150,000. With 7.5 million needed but only 150,000 available, only "0.02% [sic] of people could get a ventilator if they needed one." She then explains that this means that only 1 in 50 people could get a ventilator.

Response:  A relatively minor math error here is reporting 0.02%, which would be 2 out of 10,000 or 1 in 5,000, an utterly unreasonable number. But this is probably just due to overlooking the meaning of percentage, for 150,000 divided by 7.5 million is 0.02. As a percentage you should then say 2%, not 0.02%. Fortunately, when she then explains that 0.02% [sic] means 1 in 50, she's at least back to a correct ratio, in spite of the confusion about percentages.

The important issue here is that she claims only 1 in 50 patients who need a ventilator can get one, when this is based on the bad assumptions that have already seriously tainted her analysis. It's way off. But the worst is yet to come.

Video @ 2:40 to 2:47: "That means that 49 out of 50 are gonna die. That is scary. That should scare you. That scares me." The big, bold captions hammer this home.

Response: Her presentation is based on the assumption that those who get ventilators live and those who don't will die. Even back in early March, it was becoming clear that many or most COVID patients on ventilators died. Ventilators are a last resort for desperate cases and often don't do any good. A more fair comparison would involve the number of seriously ill patients who will die without intubation versus those who will die even with intubation. Good data might not have been available for COVID-19 when she gave this presentation, but she should at least have recognized that there's still a high death rate for intubated patients even before COVID came along, and that not getting a vent is not necessarily a death sentence. There's no nuance here, all clear cut and dramatic without the caution demanded by science. Science demands a little nuance. Stirring fear, not so much.

A few weeks later, the evidence was indicating that things aren't anywhere as clear cut as Porter says. Sometimes ventilators can do more harm than good, and patients who seemingly need ventilators based on old criteria might be fine without one. See Sharon Begley, "With ventilators running out, doctors say the machines are overused for Covid-19" at StatNews.com, April 8, 2020. Now we also know that New York, said to be in dire need of more ventilators, had plenty after all.

Video @ 2:47 to 2:50: "That should scare everybody who can understand basic math."

Response: This is one of the most accurate and fitting statements made, but in an ironic way. What she is saying in this video should alarm those who can understand basic math and see through the errors, with the biggest and scariest yet to come. It is frightening to see how much fear, panic, and self-imposed harm on this nation is being spread through fearmongering and a failure to do the math and consider the science.

Video @ 2:55 to 3:17: "The doctors have to choose who that 1 in 50 is. Can you imagine?" She suggests that doctors will tell people that since they once had cancer or some other disease, that they "are not worth saving." She also suggests that doctors will be force to let people over 80 die, "because that's that they are doing in Italy right now."

Response: Calm, authoritative fearmongering. That's a harsh word, and she may just be reflecting what's she gathering from other sources, but it's still a reasonable term. Creating a horrific worst-case scenario, based on flawed math and bad assumptions, and then driving it home in an emotional way, is fearmongering. Scary and effective, but not accurate.

As for assuming Italy's crisis would be ours, that's again unfair given their much older population. As for the claim that Italy was choosing not to treat elderly people, that may not be completely accurate, either. USA Today's fact check of March 20, 2020 on that Facebook rumor gives it a "false" evaluation, though I think they may have had to use triage in one overwhelmed region. But if that's not completely accurate on her part, it's a minor flaw relative to the key elements of this presentation.

Video @ 3:18 to 3:30: "Unless you want somebody to decide whether you're worth saving or your dad or your sister or your baby or your grandma, you have to do your part to prevent us from having to make thse decisions."

Response: Fearmongering that gets really personal, with a touch of added irrationality. She creates the most frightening, emotional scenario: having someone decide that your baby may have to die because the ventilator needs to go to someone else. By March, it was already abundantly clear that unlike the regular flu, COVID-19 is remarkably gentle on the young. The risk for infants and children is very close to ZERO. Even if there were only 1 ventilator in the country, it's not reasonable to stir up fears that maybe your baby is going to be selected by heartless doctors to die unless we shut down our economy, shut down the schools, and force people to cower at home. This is just fearmongering that goes beyond a mere lack of nuance. Does she not know that the young have virtually no risk? It's fair to worry about grandma, though,  and it's wise to encourage grandma to stay home, wear a mask, wash her hands, and be careful about visitors. But that's not her message at all.

Video @ 3:35 to 4:21: She discusses the meaning of flattening the curve. She shows how cases can increases exponentially and create a curve where the number of patients exceeds the fixed capacity of the healthcare system. She shades the portion of the curve above the dotted line showing the capacity, and then tells us what happens to all those in the region above the curve: "If we don't do anything, without protective measures, we're going to end up up here, above the ability to take care of everybody. What that means is that all these people, and probably more, die. They die. Because we don't have ventilators for them. And we have to start playing Russian roulette of who's gonna get saved."

Response: As discussed above, a ventilator for pneumonia or other respiratory diseases does not make a 100% plain-and-simple difference between dying or living. If you need a ventilator, you may still die and with COVID-19, it seems that most on ventilators still die. Not getting one if someone things you need it also does not mean you won't survive. "They die," end of story, is a dramatic oversimplification.

Video @ 4:21 to 4:46: Social distancing and protecting measures are discussed. She acknowledges the frustration of social distancing, not going out of the house except for groceries, having schools cancelled, of having to home school and work from home.

Response: Reasonable comments. (No mention of people losing jobs or the many adverse consequences of lockdowns and the ensuing economic devastation, but that has taken time for people to just begin to appreciate.)

Video @ 4:47 to 5:46: This is a key moment. We cut forward in her presentation to a scene with new numbers on her easel that aren't explained. The numbers show what must be the mortality rate for infected patients by age groups, increasing sharply with age. For those over 80 years old, the mortality rate is listed as 14.8%. At the bottom of the pad is a huge number: 47 million. She says, "There's a million reasons to be angry and just think this whole thing sucks because it does. But what really sucks is losing 47 million people."

Response: The "basic math" here is not explained, and maybe it's best that the methodology was cut to just focus on the fear. But it seems that she or someone she's following has taken the 14.8% mortality rate for those over 80, maybe turned it into the 14.5% number written below,  and applied that to the entire US population of 331 million, and generously rounding down to 47 million. That's right, 47 million.

So after all the math errors and faulty assumptions before, now we get the granddaddy of them all. We are faced with this terrifying, gargantuan number of 47 million people who will die if we don't do strict lockdowns, and it seems to be based on assuming that the terrible COVID death rate statistics for the most vulnerable age group, those few who are over 80 years old, suddenly applies not just to the 150 million who might eventually get infected, but to the entire population, eradicating one out of every six people. This is not just a slip of the tongue when she meant to say something like 470,000 people or something. She spoke it and has it written down. We are at risk of losing 47 million if we don't comply and obey the experts in white robes who can do basic math much better than the rest of us.

The whole pandemic panic got started with a discredited model from Imperial College that predicted 2.2 millions deaths in the US if we didn't take strong measured. That was wildly off. I just can't fathom how she or whoever provided her these numbers got 47 million and would use it in this presentation.

Breathtaking! Sadly, I couldn't find a single comment from hundreds made that pointed out the this bizarre and ridiculous gaffe and the other massive flaws in basic math, logic, and science in this video.

Incidentally, as a very minor point, the 14.8% mortality rate for 80+ may have been reported early on, but at least by the end of March a lower rate was being reported: 7.8% for the 80+ group. I think around 8% is still considered reasonable for that high-risk age group.

Wait, one last possibility to rescue this: could the 47 million be global deaths? Could that explain this huge number of deaths she's thinking about? No, I'm afraid not. See the next section below.

Video @ 4:57 to 5:24: "I'm doing my part. I'm also just listening to what I'm being told by the experts." "If you care about anybody other than yourself, including -- especially -- these 47 million Americans, that you will also do the same and just not complain about it."

Response: The math leaves me speechless. Such unjustified fear. But her message continues to be the message of many: "1. Trust the experts and do what you are told. 2. If you complain, you don't care about others. You're a bad person."

Conclusion: There's more to this painful video than just some bad math to poke at. She seems like a passionate, intelligent, eloquent, and sincerely concerned medical doctor, and I'm sorry that there are so many gaping flaws that need to be pointed out. Perhaps much of this is sharing things she heard from the media rather than checking assumptions and math herself, so don't blame here. These same kind of things are being shared and said from many sources.

At the time she made this video, we were being told we were just flattening the curve for a couple of weeks and that's all. She mentions that in this final section, also, that it's just two to four weeks. But the goal of flattening the curve and avoiding the overwhelming of hospitals was achieved, yet long past March we were being told in many places to continue cowering, that it's "cavalier" to send kids back to school, that we must have slow, gradual plants that might take many months of strict criteria before it's safe to buy things anywhere but Walmart and liquor stores, and that whatever the increasingly huge costs of the lockdown, it's "worth it if we save only one life," as Governor Cuomo put it, neglecting the cost in lives that is increasingly becoming apparent from many of the neglected side effects of this terrible cure in which the young and healthy with very low risk are locked up and the vulnerable were not properly protected (at least in New York and some other places), and in which everything from the media and some politicians seems focused on driving the message of "be afraid, shut up, and comply or you don't care about others."

I fear that education in basic math and independent thinking must simply be widely lacking in our educational system. If someone with a  lab coat and a stethoscope around their neck tells you something, do you feel compelled to believe and comply, or do you have the ability to question and push back when something is said that just doesn't make sense? I suggest more of us should be willing to ask tough questions.

Excessive fear of COVID-19 has been used to force religious groups to stop meeting, even to the point of not allowing drive-in services. It's been used to create a spirit of fear and trembling among many, including children who are really not at risk. The CDC's current estimate of the overally mortality rate is around 0.26% when asymptomatic cases are included, which make it's maybe twice as bad as what we face in most flu seasons, but does it really merit this level of fear and trembling? Does it merit prolonged lockdowns and insistence that we can't go back to normal until a vaccine is available -- when this class of virus doesn't appear to have any examples of successful vaccines, and when other viruses like HIV don't have vaccines yet after nearly 40 years of serious effort? The fear that most people are accepting is not nearly as science based as they have been led to believe. It's time to ask tougher questions and not lose complete sight of the overall welfare of our nation and our young people. Look at the many unhealthy side effects of the lockdowns and the many deaths that will follow the self-inflicted economic wounds we are creating. It's a time for thinking and asking better questions. It's a time to really do the math -- but carefully.

Related news:
  • A leaked internal report from the German government is leading many Germans to question the wisdom of their relatively mild lockdowns. Many are suspecting that the official narrative behind the panic has been exaggerated. Germany seems to have had some related "bad math" problems.
  • 500 doctors sign a letter to the President warning that the lockdowns are doing more harm than good. The media is downplaying this as just a bunch of Trump supporters playing politics. The concern for lost lives and ruined health should not be so callously dismissed. 
  • Oxford's Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine published a report on March 17 on global  COVID-19 data, "Global Covid-19 Case Fatality Rates." While this has been updated several times since then, it has long given us clear information that can help counter the urge to panic. "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 somewhere between 0.1% and 0.41%."
  • CDC's latest estimates on mortality rates also gives much lower numbers than those used to create the panic over COVID-19. Their 0.4% number does not reflect the impact of asymptomatic cases, which may further reduce the effective rate. Still worse than the flu in most years, but not wildly so. It's a deadly disease, certainly, especially for the elderly and those with severe health problems already. Perhaps we should focus on protecting those that are are risk and let the rest of the population leave their quarantine and get back to school, work, church, beaches, whatever. Just a thought.

Book of Mormon Reminder: Resist Voices That Stir Hate and Violence

 1. The Book of Mormon's Warnings Against Manipulative Power Seekers Who Stir Us to Anger

The Book of Mormon is becoming more relevant day by day during this time of dramatic tension and sweeping upheavals in our society. One important lesson from the Book of Mormon is that society is often threatened by the power-hungry, whether it be those already in power seeking for more power and wealth, or for those seeking to overthrow the existing order to seize power. Ordinary people often cannot relate to the mentality of a megalomaniac like Amalickiah who would be willing to destroy so much to gain his selfish goals, but world history is littered with the ruins of such unusual people, rare though they may be. An important contribution of the Book of Mormon for coping with their threat is comes through insights into how they work. Their key tool is manipulation of their followers and, when possible, the populace at large. Anger, hate, and fear are their key tools -- in other words, it's all about manipulation through emotions, and toxic ones at that. But there is often an ideology or even a "faith" that can support the emotions and justify the desired actions, just as the manipulations of King Noah, would-be-king Amlici,  Amalickiah, and the Gadianton robbers were all propped up with an appealing worldview/faith that countered the Nephite faith and offered an allegedly more rational philosophical/religious framework that turned abhorrent pillaging, looting, and bloodshed into a virtue and a just cause.

Look how often the Book of Mormon shows us how the wicked use bold accusations and eloquent words to "stir" others to anger, often with the hidden or explicit agenda of gaining power for themselves. Laman used sweeping language to condemn Nephi as evil in his quest to be the leader of their small group. "And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger" (1 Nephi 16:38). Nephi later writes that Satan "stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness" (2 Nephi 9:9), here apparently drawing upon language from the brass plates version of Genesis, perhaps closely related to our current Book of Moses, as I'll discuss in a following post this week. Likewise in 2 Nephi 28:20, he tells us that Satan in our day "shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good."

Limhi reports that the Lamanite's King Laman, seeking to gain the wealth of the small Nephite colony in the City of Nephi, "began to stir up his people that they should contend with my people; therefore there began to be wars and contentions in the land" (Mosiah 9:13).  Peace was achieved with that king, but when he passed away, his son followed the same business model: "he began to stir his people up in rebellion against my people; therefore they began to prepare for war, and to come up to battle against my people" (Mosiah 10:6). The business of war is almost always rooted in stirring up the people to anger, as we should increasingly note today. Common people generally don't want war, but those seeking power and wealth need it for their aims, and thus manipulating the people to anger against an enemy, real or imagined, is needed.

Ironically but not unexpectedly, the wicked are swift to accuse their opponents of the same things they do, and that includes charging those who oppose them with fearmongering and spreading hate or divisiveness. Thus, the vile King Noah seeks to maintain his tyrannical power by censoring and ultimately executing the prophet Abinadi. King Noah said, "I command you to bring Abinadi hither, that I may slay him, for he has said these things that he might stir up my people to anger one with another, and to raise contentions among my people; therefore I will slay him" (Mosiah 11:28). But when finally confronted with Abinadi and his impressive prophetic presence, King Noah was about to relent, but his priests, seeking to maintain their own power and topple this enemy prophet, manipulate King Noah with familiar tactics, appealing to the King's ego: "the priests lifted up their voices against [Abinadi], and began to accuse him, saying: He has reviled the king. Therefore the king was stirred up in anger against him, and he delivered him up that he might be slain" (Mosiah 17:12).

But one of those wicked priests, Alma, was profoundly touched by Abinadi's words. He spoke out in favor of the prophet, but had to flee for his own life. He repented and returned to the real Nephite faith and began teaching others. This movement drew the attention of the king, who saw it as a hreat to his power and used the muscle of the state to stamp out this unwanted message. His justification? "The king said that Alma was stirring up the people to rebellion against him; therefore he sent his army to destroy them" (Mosiah 18:33). Such religious persecution is widespread in the world today, though it is rarely given much attention in the mainstream media since it doesn't seem to fit their ideology (IMHO).

In an interesting and relevant scene from around 90 B.C., a power-hungry elitist, Amlici, seeks to become king. His followers try to persuade the Nephites to abandon their new system of government and seeks to gain "the voice of the people" to reinstitute the throne. When the voice of the people (we often jump to the conclusion that this was a one-man-one-vote kind of election, when that's not necessarily how it happened nor what the text requires) came back with a firm "no" to the proposal, "Amlici did stir up those who were in his favor to anger against those who were not in his favor" (Alma 2:8) and launched a civil war that killed thousands.

The Book of Mormon frequently reminds us that it is the elite in society who are some of the most dangerous people, not just because of such obvious threats as Amlici's civil war or Amalickiah's massive campaign of violence, but also because of the local disorder they cause as part of their business model. This is a profound and subtle point that we can see in operation in many ways today. In Ammonihah, corrupt administrative officials called "lawyers" were stirring up trouble that resulted in a steady flow of work and income for them: "Now, it was for the sole purpose to get gain, because they received their wages according to their employ, therefore, they did stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances and wickedness, that they might have more employ, that they might get money according to the suits which were brought before them; therefore they did stir up the people against Alma and Amulek" (Alma 11:20).

"Stirring up" to anger is how Satan moves the Lamanites to seek the destruction of their own converted brethren (Alma 27:12); it is how the leader of the Zoramites stirred up his people and the Lamanites to see to destroy the people of Ammon (Alma 35:8-10); it is how Zarahemnah gained influence over the Lamanites to manipulate them into war against the Nephites, "that he might usurp great power over [the Lamanites], and also that he might gain power over the Nephites by bringing them into bondage" (Alma 43:8); it was the basic tool of Amalickiah (Alma 46:30, 47:1, 48:3, 51:9),  a tool of other power-hungry kings, tyrants, and enemies of the Nephites (Helaman 1:18, 4:3, 4),  the key tool used to Satan to gain and maintain a grasp on the hearts of men (Helaman 16:22, 3 Nephi 6:15), and the mobilizing force on both sides of the horrific civil war that wiped out the essence of the Jaredite civilization (Ether 15:6).

When Christ ministered to the Nephites, one of the first things he taught them was the warning that contention and anger was a tool of Satan:
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.

Such teachings had a profound and peaceful impact on human society for several generations, but they sound fell back to the natural ways of vengeance and violence as the Nephites and Lamanites battled it out again, and then the victorious Lamanites continued to war among themselves, all because "Satan stirreth them up continually" (Moroni 9:3).

Stirring up the hearts of men, whether it is to anger, to other forms of wickedness, or to yielding to the manipulations of maniacal power seekers continues to be a dominant tactic of the Adversary today. It may be easy to see that happening when we look back at history, but do we have the awareness to recognize when we are being manipulated? Do we trust what we are told? Are we easily stirred to anger? Are we easily led to violence and war, whether it is civil or against other nations? Are we easily manipulated to surrender to the machinations of those seeking to control us and expand their power?  From a Book of Mormon perspective, it would seem reasonable to be skeptical and  question the motives of those who influence our society in ways that might stir up hatred and violence, whether at home or abroad. It is wise to question the motives of those from any party who stir up raw emotions to promote war, bloodshed, their own expansion of power, or the surrender of liberties. Treating the Book of Mormon as relevant history can help us better cope with real challenges today, in my opinion.

2. The Horror of the Riots Sweeping America

Shocking violence is erupting in the name of opposing violence. Virtually everybody of every race seems to agree that what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis was an outrage. Black people are offended. So are whites. We want our police to be servants of the people, protectors, bringers of peace, not brutes, not militarized thugs, not killers. I sympathize with those who wish to peacefully protest. But some of the peaceful protests have been turned into violent riots.

I have spent a lot of time in Minneapolis for work and have family and friends there. It is a place that celebrates diversity, where citizens of many colors and immigrants from many nations do a great job of being friends and working together. So what's leading to the massive destruction of that beautiful and once peace-loving city?

Local citizens, black or white, in Minneapolis and other cities don't want to burn down the stores they shop in. They don't want to destroy their neighborhoods. Even when outraged over a horrific killing, they don't want to smash the windows and loots the shops of black owners (many of those facing the wrath or rioters are black) or white owners who had nothing to do with the crime. They naturally don't want to kill or beat up random people to make a statement against violence.

I don't think it's the locals out of control here. There seems to be a coordinated effort to bring in hundreds of thugs, many if not mostly white, perhaps either stirred up to anger or just encouraged by some vile ideology or incentives to be violent. Some say it's white supremicists, others say it's Antifa, the radical leftists known for violent tactics. But I believe that the violence is definitely not an expression of the average local black people in Minneapolis or our other cities, though I fear this violence will only increase racial misunderstanding as some people make that assumption.

Who's behind the coordinated violence? Yes, coordinated. One of  the multiple clues that a coordinated, funded effort is at play would be the many pallets of bricks that are being brought in to major cities and deposited ahead of time in key urban areas for the convenience of the thugs will be come out in force at night. Amazing and pretty obvious. Who paid for these? Who brought them in? Who's organizing the violence? This should be exposed ASAP.

These events go far beyond natural outrage over George Floyd. Violence is being deliberately fomented. Citizens of all colors should demand that the instigators be found and that concerned black communities not be smeared with blame for what Antifa or other radicals of any color or ideology have done. But the radicals need to be stopped.

Our law enforcement agencies, with all their vast domestic spying tools created ever since the Patriot Act was rushed through Congress in the name of stopping terrorism, should be able to figure out who purchased and delivered these bricks and who sent all the texts and emails that coordinated the arrival and even busing of thugs to unleash chaos and terrorism in our cities. Why are these powerful tools, enable with dramatic and questionable legislation in the name of coping with terrorism, apparently not being used to prevent or instantly stop domestic terrorism? I'm not saying I think government should be able to spy on its own people without a cause, but since that power has been taken, at least use it to protect us.

Meanwhile, voices that stir up hate and violence in response to an act of injustice need to be called out and questioned, not listened to. Those seeking to inflame may have ulterior motives. Ask questions, don't succumb to hate or anger, but do stand boldly but peacefully against violence.

Kudos to those who were calling upon the officer to get off the neck of George Floyd. How sad that other police at the scene, now fired, apparently didn't dare stop or question what was being done. May all police everywhere realize that their job is to protect people, not to just follow orders and go along with whatever someone in authority tells them. May we all have that attitude and be able to stand, when needed, against oppression and tyranny.

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.

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