Laughter is the best medicine.
Our hopes, our future,/will pass like the hopes and futures of others./And all our anxieties and terrors,/Nights of sleeplessness,/griefs,/will appear as they truly are –/Stumbling, delirious bees in the tea scent of jasmine.
Jasmine, by Jane Hirschfield
Needless to say, my "stumbling, delirious" journey of enlightenment through the wideness of God’s mercy came to a screeching, closed-door halt last Sunday, when I tried to attend the 10:30 mass at St. Augustin’s in the Fifth Ward, my old stomping ground, still chock-a-block full of depraved, youthful-idiocy memories. “All Services Cancelled Until Further Notice” the sign said. Oh, well – I knew my path to reconciliation and redemption wasn’t going to be linear, ungirdled by guilt, self-doubt, irony, regress, or smallness – not a bit of it – my own trepanning for spiritual gold was guaranteed to be invasive and bloody.
But now, miraculously, my sacrilegious self has been granted a force majeure-of-sorts reprieve – a cosmic blink first in the staring contest I was having with the holy and the righteous. We’ll begin the begin again, when all of the political virtue signaling, name-calling, finger-pointing and CYA smoke clears, and I’ll walk once again into the house(s) of God through the front door, so-to-speak. Until then my monographs will become once more what they always were: the rambling and obvious self-indulgent stew you’ve come to know (and love).
I did, however, get to attend services at two other churches these past few weeks before the pointless in my opinion shutterings that I’ll mention now just to tie up some loose ends. First, I went to high mass at Zabriskie Memorial Church of Saint John the Evangelist out on The Point, with a spectacular view of the harbor and the Newport-Pell Bridge, and did exactly what they suggested: “A note for visitors: Feel free simply to sit and soak up the experience of worship. You don’t need a booklet to enter into the presence of God, after all.” So booklet-less, I just sat and soaked up the sights and sounds and incense of the Missa de Angelis, the Gregorian (Chant) Mass that dates from the 9th Century – plainsong, in unison, a cappella. The text (in the missal) actually dictates phrasing and determines when the choir should take a breath. Wonderful.
Then I went to Channing Memorial Church on Pelham Street, facing Touro Park, not it turns out on judgement day, but on a sunrise yellow Sunday morning, Dickinsonian, excellent and fair. Unitarian Universalist contemporary classical composer, educator and public speaker John Dante Prevedini gave a lecture on “Modern Grace” that defined it as: “The Infectious Constructive Embrace of the Present Situation” which is probably as good as any I’ve ever heard, and the lecture was informative, historical and relevant. But I thought he misunderstood the intent and genius of Lex Talionis, and we chatted about it in the narnex after the service. He viewed it as somewhat barbaric and unchristian and reminded me that Jesus famously exhorted his followers to turn the other cheek.
I said that the Hammurabi’s Code of equal retribution was a huge leap forward in man’s march to civilization in my mind – instead of revenge and vigilante justice, the principle of an eye for an eye, though seemingly cruel and absolute, actual confirmed the integrity of each individual, which is the core principle of our modern legal system here in America at least. But not all societies believe in it in theory or in practice, even to this day, – and it’s a shameful disgrace that such barbarity still exists, without the rest of the world howling its disapporval. John said he would look back into it, and I told him I would too, for Christ’s sake.
Speaking of the infectious (no pun intended) constructive embrace of the present situation, I was talking to my buddy JP the other day, and when he asked me my take on the Corona Virus, I told him the only pandemic I saw was on the internet. He laughed, and then dove into his own passionate diatribe about it. The next day he sent me the following email with his thoughts written down, after some research and reflection. I think they’re worth sharing, unedited, and in their entirety.
Sidebar note: As far as my own "social distance" situation is concerned: I've got no friends, and being "self-employed" I have nowhere to go, so I've been in a self-imposed quarantine for years – no need to worry about me catching anything, but thanks for asking!
"Fear is driving decision making. A lack of understanding of 'small data' is causing many people to leverage their position to advocate for a response that is beyond the scope of what is necessary. Sadly, the championed 'solution' is immediately more harmful than the threat.
I can’t help myself from thinking of a scene from the ‘Holy Grai':
LANCELOT: We were in the nick of time, you were in great peril.
GALAHAD: I don't think I was.
LANCELOT: Yes you were, you were in terrible peril.
GALAHAD: Look, let me go back in there and face the peril.
LANCELOT: No, it's too perilous.
GALAHAD: Look, I'm a knight, I'm supposed to get as much peril as I can.
LANCELOT: No, we've got to find the Holy Grail. Come on!
GALAHAD: Well, let me have just a little bit of peril?
LANCELOT: No, it's unhealthy.
Dr. Ioannidis made the correct argument that more data is required before we torch the world economy:
Dr. Lipsitch replied by establishing a false dichotomy between Dr Ioannidis’ approach and one where governments go full bore on a path towards global economic destruction:
By contrasting a massively stupid approach with a serious and correct approach, Dr. Lipsitch is elevating his idea to a level of potential equality by stating there is a binary decision. Sadly, his suggestion is equivalent to saying to a hiker when you get to the cliff’s edge, you can choose to take a left and walk away from the edge or continue to walk forward and over the edge.
Here is what we are learning as data comes in and is thoughtfully considered.
Applying Diamond Princess data to South Korean data to derive an expected mortality rate
- From the Diamond Princess we are told through reporting that 328 out of 697 passengers who tested positive didn’t have symptoms despite testing positive.
- By March 14, 2020 South Korea had tested 274,504 people for Covid-19.
- As of March 20, 2020 South Korea had 8652 positive cases and 94 dead.
- Assume that people without symptoms don’t test i.e., ½ of those with the illness won’t even ask for a test. This is an assumption based on the numbers from the Diamond Princess
- Assume people who go for a test have sufficient symptoms to warrant the effort to be tested.
- Mortality rate will be the number dead/ (confirmed cases + those mild cases that are not tested)
For South Korea: Dead: 94 Confirmed cases: 8652
Number of people who have the illness but would not test is equal to the number people people who test positive = 8652 (using a likely consequence of the Diamond Princess data)
94/(2*8652)= 0.54% (this is 5 times the rate for the common flu)
Applying Insights from the town of Vo in Italy to South Korean data to derive an expected mortality rate
Each of the 3,000 residents in the town of Vo (near Venice) was tested for Covid-19. They found:
- 70% of the residents who had the virus were asymptomatic.
- approximately 3% of the population had been infected (89 positive tests/ 3000 residents).
Assuming the 3% population wide infection rate to South Korea we get:
- Population * 3% = 1,500,000
- Deaths: 94
- Mortality rate : 94/1,500,000 = 0.0063%
Now, let’s reduce the impacted population by ¾’s to estimate a more likely level of population impact. This moves the morality rate to 0.025% still less than the flu.
The range of the 2 approaches provide us with a mortality rate for Covid-19 between 0.025% and 0.54%. The mortality rate for the flu is 0.1%
Now, let’s try to condition the outcome based on age. For this we utilize what we know from the Diamond Princess.
• 1/3rd of the passengers on the Diamond Princess were over 70 years old. This gives us 1235 people (1/3rd of 3711)
- 7 of the deaths were for people over 70 years old
- The mortality rate of people over 70 was 0.57% (7/1235)
- Assuming all passengers were equally likely to contract Covid-19, the mortality rate conditional on getting the illness and being over 70 was: 2.9% (this is the death rate that the world is focused on)
Now let’s apply these ratios to the US population:
- Apply the Italian data for the rate of getting the disease for each American: 3%
- In the US, approx. 17% of the population is over 65 years old: 56 million.
- Number of people over 65 that get Covid-19 (3%): 1.7 million
- Mortality Rate for this Cohort: 2.95% (from Diamond Princess)
- Number of over 65 that could die: 49,000
- Morality Rate for Population of over 65: 0.089% (9 times the flu rate)
For this cohort, the flu is a significant risk. It is estimated that those people who are 65 years and over represent 75% of the 34,000 flu deaths in the US per year. (0.05% of people 65 and older will die of the flu).
Covid-19 represents a risk factor of 0.09% (2 times that of the flu) for this cohort. What would we pay to establish effective isolation strategies for this cohort?
In addition to random population testing, strict testing of the cohort at risk 70 years old and above would successfully reduce the risk to this group to well below the common flu.
The good news is that we have shrunk the problem by 80%. And probably much greater given the propensity of this group to follow rules, etc. So, very quickly the national crisis is 1/10th the size than our Chicken Little syndrome is suggesting!"
Couldn't agree more, JP: the sky isn't falling and it seems to me more Henny Pennys will be killed by the real economic fallout than any virus or lies.
I've gotten a lot of email and texts from fans saying that the silver lining for them is that they've been forced to spend "quality time" with a lot of family and relations – people they'd rather keep at arm's length or see in very limited doses. Or never see again.
So, what better way to show your true colors for those in-laws and outlaws we all have to deal with in our lives, than to knock them for a loop, figuratively speaking, in a game of wits? Can't think of one.
Seriously, I believe that the cure for cabin fever can be and should be worse than the disease. So go ahead and replace the stifling frustration and ennui everyone around you must be feeling with the simple joy of contempt/disdain – destroying a loved one's will to live, putting them in their (unhappy) place, crushing their egos and making yourself feel superior and smarter and much better thanks in the bargain.