Grief Break Over The Marvelous Teacher

Sorry to say, I need another grief break. My mom, Shirley J. Naughton, passed away on Sunday at the age of 83. It wasn’t a total shock because she’d been having brain-shrinkage issues and was obviously declining mentally. The Older Brother, who’d been taking her to a neurologist in St. Louis, told me a year ago if I wanted to visit Mom while she was still all there, I’d best not wait. We made a trip to Illinois soon after, and were planning another trip this spring. Social distancing canceled that trip. We figured we’d make a trip to see her this summer once the lockdown is over.

Just over a week ago, she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. There was nothing doctors could do except recommend comfort care. The Older Brother and Younger Sister took her home. When I woke on Sunday, Chareva told me my nephew Grant had called to say Mom had passed.

Like a lot of women in her generation, Mom married young. She was 19 when she and my dad tied the knot. She was only 21 when The Older Brother was born, and 23 when I was born. For many years, she was just Mom to us, a housewife and mother. But she always had a lively mind, so in her late thirties, she enrolled in college classes. She ended up earning a master’s degree in English literature and went on to teach composition and literature in local high schools.  I met some of her former students when I was college. They couldn’t say enough about what a marvelous teacher she was and how much they enjoyed her classes.

Even after she officially retired, she was always busy. As her obituary explains, she was involved with the local symphony, the local arts council, the Abraham Lincoln Museum, a gourmet cooking club, activities with her grandkids, etc., etc. I used to tell her she needed to retire from being retired. She didn’t slow down until the brain issues forced it on her.

I called her a few days before the stroke to check in. She was mostly coherent and told me she’d found a box of letters I’d written to her over the years. She told me she loved re-reading those letters they were well-written and funny. She told me the one about “mom school” in particular made her laugh out loud while bringing a tear to her eye. I wasn’t sure which letter she meant.

I didn’t know it was the last conversation we’d ever have, but in retrospect, it was a fitting goodbye. I dug through my files (I’ve long been a fanatic about backing up my work) and found that “mom school” letter from nearly 20 years ago. I’ve posted it below because I think it says as much about Mom as anything I could write now.

I’ll thank you in advance for your condolences, then I’m taking some time off.

Dear Mom,

You’ve said more than once that you hope to discover your purpose in life someday. Since you’ve read rather a lot on spiritual topics, you probably know that people who have near-death experiences are often told to return to their lives, and to remember that the purpose of living is to love, to learn, and to teach.  If that’s true, and I like to think it is, then you’ve already been living your purpose, even if you’re unaware of it.

When I was attending Illinois State, I met some of your former students, and they all thought you were a marvelous teacher. I could’ve told them that. I’ve been attending the Shirley Naughton School of Moms for four decades. Here’s just some of what I’ve learned:

Preschool: Moms are warm and they kiss you and they love you a lot. They don’t like it if you draw on the bricks. They still love you, though.  When you grow up, you’ll probably marry Mom.

Kindergarten: Moms know how to make buttered toast with cinnamon and sugar and hot milk poured on top. This is quite possibly the best breakfast ever invented.

First Grade: If you don’t wear your scarf and hat, you’ll get an earache. Moms warn you about these things because they love you.

Second Grade: If you get an earache, it’s okay to wake up Mom in the middle of the night and tell her about it. She’ll hug you and kiss you so you’ll feel better. The next day, she’ll take you to the doctor. He’ll put oily stuff in your ears. And you should’ve worn your hat and scarf.

Third Grade: Moms know how to take an ordinary can of Spaghetti-Os and turn them into the best lunch ever invented. They do this by mixing in pieces of hot dogs. It’s a lot of work, but they do it anyway because they love you.

Fourth Grade: Really good Moms become den mothers for a bunch of Cub Scouts. They teach you techniques for creating modern art, such as gluing split peas to a jelly glass and spray-painting the whole thing gold. You can give these masterpieces to your grandparents.

Fifth Grade: Moms don’t like slugs. If you find a slug on the sidewalk, you definitely should not put it on the kitchen counter shortly before Mom walks in to cook. Hearing your mother scream isn’t as much fun as you might think. If you do put a slug on the kitchen counter, Mom will still love you.

Sixth Grade: If you learn a new song at school, Mom would like to hear you sing it. If you sing really well, your Mom will say so. If you don’t sing really well, she’ll say you do anyway. You probably shouldn’t judge your talents based on what Mom says.

Seventh Grade: If they are surprised, Moms can forget what their own kids look like. If you forget your homework, you definitely should not let yourself into the house through the garage door and surprise Mom coming out of the bathroom. In this situation, Moms often mistake their kids for axe murderers. If you do grow up and become an axe murderer, your Mom will still love you and tell people you’re just confused.

Eighth Grade: Moms love dogs. They also love hamsters and guinea pigs. If you want any of these animals, you should go straight to Mom.

Ninth Grade: If you make a Mom angry enough, she’ll spank you. This isn’t a great concern, however, because it doesn’t hurt and you’ll both end up laughing. Also, it will probably only happen two or three times in your entire life.

Tenth Grade: Good Moms love your friends and feed them better meals than they get at home. They also talk to your friends as if they have brains, which is true almost all the time. This means your friends will want to spend a lot of time at your house.

Eleventh Grade: Moms are smart. They can go to college and learn about English literature and philosophy and start correcting your Dad’s grammar. This is really cool because it gives you someone to talk to if you’ve also been reading philosophy and literature and enjoying it. The bad news is that sometimes you’ll end up talking until 2:00 in the morning and spend the next day feeling tired and not all that philosophical.

Twelfth Grade: If you’re studying literature in school, you should raid Mom’s library and see if she’s already read whatever book you’re supposed to read next. If she has, you could almost write a term paper on what you glean from the notes scribbled in the margins. At the very least, you’ll have some interesting points to raise in class and impress the teacher.

College, First Year: Moms love you and don’t care what you plan to do for a living as long as you’re happy.

College, Second Year: Moms don’t mind if your band practices in the basement. They like hearing the same song fifty or sixty times in one week.

College, Third Year: Moms love you and don’t care what you plan to do for a living as long as you’re happy.

College, Fourth Year: When you come home for weekends and holidays, Moms celebrate by making Beef Bourguignonne. This is the best dinner ever invented and only takes a couple of days to whip together.

College, Fifth Year: Moms love you and don’t care what you plan to do for a living as long as you’re happy.

Early Twenties: If your best friend gets married, Moms make moussaka for the rehearsal party. This is the second-best dinner ever invented and only takes a couple of days to whip together. The next morning, it’s also the best breakfast ever invented.

Later Twenties: If you write a play, Moms will be reasonably sure you’ve established yourself as a literary genius.

Thirty: Moms don’t care if you don’t do anything for a living as long as you’re not completely miserable. Moms will assure you that if you follow your dreams, something good will happen.

Early Thirties: Moms are good to your girlfriends and can even miss them when you decide you didn’t actually mean to get engaged. Some girlfriends will tell you they wish they’d had your Mom instead of theirs.

Mid Thirties: Moms make excellent comedic material. If you can’t make people laugh by talking about your Mom, you’d better find another career to pursue.

Later Thirties: Great Moms make great Grandmas, too. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t necessarily live in little houses that smell bad, and it can make you feel warm and fuzzy to see how much your nephews like going to grandma’s house.

Forties: Little boys don’t actually grow up and marry their Moms. But the lucky ones grow up and get married and are almost ridiculously happy – because they learned how to love and be loved from their Moms.

Thanks, Mom. You really are a marvelous teacher.

I love you,


We Need To Leave BizarroWorld

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Here’s how bizarre BizarroWorld has become: in some California counties, you can be fined $1,000 for being out in public without wearing a mask. In Michigan, the governor decided seeds and hardware supplies are non-essential and people can’t go out to buy them … but alcohol and lottery tickets are essential, so it’s okay to go buy those. Meanwhile, people all over the nation are calling the police to rat out fellow citizens who fail to observe mandated social distancing. Sig Heil.

This is nuts. People are acting as if the coronavirus is airborne HIV or the Super Flu from the Stephen King novel The Stand. By gosh, if someone doesn’t properly social distance himself, he’ll spread the disease to all of us and we’ll all die. Honey, that man is playing basketball in a public park with his friends! Call the police before he kills us all!

The insanity is continuing even though the death toll is a mere fraction of what various governments and experts predicted. Dr. Fauci, the head of the coronavirus task force, initially suggested COVID-19 could kill as many as 240,000 Americans. Now he’s downgraded that prediction to 60,000. As I write this post, the reported number of deaths in the U.S. is around 33,000. Yes, that’s a lot of deaths. But keep in mind, the CDC estimates at least 60,000 and perhaps 80,000 Americans died from influenza during the 2017-2018 flu season.

And there’s a good chance the number of COVID-19 deaths has been exaggerated. Here’s a quote from a Fox News article:

The federal government is classifying the deaths of patients infected with the coronavirus as COVID-19 deaths, regardless of any underlying health issues that could have contributed to the loss of someone’s life.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, said the federal government is continuing to count the suspected COVID-19 deaths, despite other nations doing the opposite.

“There are other countries that if you had a pre-existing condition, and let’s say the virus caused you to go to the ICU [intensive care unit] and then have a heart or kidney problem,” she said during a Tuesday news briefing at the White House. “Some countries are recording that as a heart issue or a kidney issue and not a COVID-19 death.

“The intent is … if someone dies with COVID-19 we are counting that,” she added.

A Minnesota senator who also happens to be a doctor reported that he received a seven-page document from the MN Department of Health advising him to fill out death certificates with a diagnosis of COVID-19 whether the person actually died from COVID-19 or not. It’s almost as if governments are so heavily invested in convincing us the coronavirus is especially deadly, they’ll fudge the numbers if necessary.

It’s not just the death toll that’s been far lower than originally predicted. The number of hospital beds, ventilators, etc., we were told we’d need was way off as well. New York, which originally said it was desperately short of the ventilators it would need, is now apparently shipping excess ventilators to other states.

Well, that just proves social distancing worked!

Uh … no. Here’s a quote from an article in National Review:

There is no shortage of government spin, regurgitated by media commentators, assuring us that the drastic reductions in the projections over just a few days powerfully illustrate how well social distancing and the substantial shuttering of the economy is working. Nonsense. As Alex Berenson points out on Twitter, with an accompanying screenshot data updated by IHME on April 1, the original April 2 model explicitly “assum[ed] full social distancing through May 2020.”

The model on which the government is relying is simply unreliable. It is not that social distancing has changed the equation; it is that the equation’s fundamental assumptions are so dead wrong, they cannot remain reasonably stable for just 72 hours.

It simply doesn’t make sense that the drastically reduced death toll is all because of social distancing. Let’s not forget what flattening the curve means. Better yet, let’s start by explaining what the theory behind social distancing doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean “we avoid contact with each other, and therefore most people are never exposed to the virus, and far fewer people die.”

The virus is going to spread through population eventually. Social distancing was mandated to slow down the rate at which it would spread. The fear was that if too many people became sick within a short span, there wouldn’t be enough hospital beds and ventilators to save people who could be saved with medical intervention. Flatten the curve means we slow down the rate of exposure so the medical system isn’t overwhelmed. That’s all it means. Dr. Malcolm Kendrick made that point in a recent post.

It may well seem that all this suffering was…well, for what, exactly? To simply prevent a surge of cases. This government, all governments, must be honest about this and admit that in the longer term we cannot prevent almost everybody getting infected and acknowledge that a proportion of those infected will die.

When lockdown restrictions are lifted this does not mean that the virus has gone. It does not mean that people cannot infect each other. It does not mean we can simply carry on as before. It means that we have kept the first surge under control.

The big social-distancing lockdown was never about stopping the spread the of virus. That’s not possible. So unless you believe more than 100,000 Americans were saved from death because medical intervention was available thanks to social distancing, the logical conclusion is that the lethality of the virus was wildly overestimated.

So how deadly is the virus? We still don’t know exactly, because we don’t know how many people have been exposed to it. We won’t know until antibody tests are available and given to large, random samples of the population in different areas. But there’s growing evidence that the virus has already spread more than government officials first believed. Here’s a quote from Chicago City Wire:

A phlebotomist working at Roseland Community Hospital said Thursday that 30% to 50% of patients tested for the coronavirus have antibodies while only around 10% to 20% of those tested have the active virus.

Sumaya Owaynat, a phlebotomy technician, said she tests between 400 and 600 patients on an average day in the parking lot at Roseland Community Hospital. Owaynat said the number of patients coming through the testing center who appear to have already had coronavirus and gotten over it is far greater than those who currently have the disease.

Here are some quotes from an article in The Los Angeles Times:

A man found dead in his house in early March. A woman who fell sick in mid-February and later died.

These early COVID-19 deaths in the San Francisco Bay Area suggest that the novel coronavirus had established itself in the community long before health officials started looking for it. The lag time has had dire consequences, allowing the virus to spread unchecked before social distancing rules went into effect.

I disagree with that last sentence. The virus is going to spread. Social distancing only slows down the spread. So if San Francisco’s hospitals weren’t overwhelmed, it’s good news that the virus has already spread more than officials estimated. More on that later. Back to the article:

“The virus was freewheeling in our community and probably has been here for quite some time,” Dr. Jeff Smith, a physician who is the chief executive of Santa Clara County government, told county leaders in a recent briefing.

How long? A study out of Stanford suggests a dramatic viral surge in February.

But Smith on Friday said data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local health departments and others suggest it was “a lot longer than we first believed” — most likely since “back in December.”

“This wasn’t recognized because we were having a severe flu season,” Smith said in an interview. “Symptoms are very much like the flu. If you got a mild case of COVID, you didn’t really notice. You didn’t even go to the doctor. The doctor maybe didn’t even do it because they presumed it was the flu.”

The virus that has people ratting out fellow citizens for playing basketball in a park is sooo freakin’ deadly, by gosh, millions of people may have already been exposed and failed to notice.

Even the CDC’s own data suggests coronavirus was here far earlier than we thought:

CDC Data supports theory of much earlier COVID infection than has been reported. Data shows a dramatic spike in “Influenza Like Illness” in certain states as early as November of 2019. A number of states appear to have already experienced an ILI and made it through to a more stable ILI footing for this time of year.

The US Military participated in the 2019 Military World Games in Wuhan, China between October 18 and October 27 of 2019. Their chartered flights arrive and depart from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Washington is one of the earliest states to show a spike in ILI, corresponding with the incubation period should the virus have been introduced as the military traveled through Washington to other destinations.

If the virus has been around longer than officials originally believed, and if tests eventually show far more of us have been exposed than originally believed, that’s very, very good news. Two infectious disease researchers I saw interviewed in YouTube videos both made the same point: a virus like this spreads until it runs out of new, vulnerable hosts. If millions of us have already been exposed, the virus is running out of those hosts. One of the researchers, in fact, said that social distancing may just ensure a second wave of deaths, because new hosts are being held in reserve.

An article in The Economist quotes researchers who believe the virus is about as deadly as the flu:

Despite initially being warned about deaths in the “millions” if Americans didn’t subject themselves to business killing closures and “social distancing,” the coronavirus, while it has spread faster than normal viruses do has actually been less deadly, according to the Economist, citing a new study.

Last Saturday, the Economist said that it is actually somewhat of a blessing that the coronavirus’ spread across the United States as it did, in fact calling it “good news.”

“If millions of people were infected weeks ago without dying, the virus must be less deadly than official data suggest,” the magazine reported, while utilizing graphs that suggest the faster the disease spreads and hits its peak, in fact the fewer people that will die from it.

Citing a new study by Justin Silverman and Alex Washburne, the Economist says that data shows the coronavirus is currently widespread in America, which is quite obvious.

In a somewhat surprising conclusion, the two researchers found that the mortality rate of coronavirus could be as low as 0.1 percent, or similar to the mortality rate of the flu.

Okay, any mortality figure is a best-guess until we really and truly know how many people have already been exposed. But considering how many people have tested positive and never felt sick (ABC’s George Stephanopoulos being a recent example), I find it difficult to believe that this virus is soooo deadly, we all have to avoid each other and kill the economy in the process.

Yes, the virus is deadly for a small subset of vulnerable people. The vast majority of us aren’t in that subset.  As this study put it:

People <65 years old have very small risks of COVID-19 death even in the hotbeds of the pandemic and deaths for people <65 years without underlying predisposing conditions are remarkably uncommon. Strategies focusing specifically on protecting high-risk elderly individuals should be considered in managing the pandemic.

Most of the people who’ve died from COVID-19 died were elderly and had existing health problems. I suspect many of them would have died from ordinary influenza if COVID-19 hadn’t gotten them first. After all, influenza kills more than 30,000 Americans in a typical year, and (at the risk of repeating myself) killed perhaps 80,000 Americans in 2017-2018.  If the death toll from that flu had been the lead story every night on the news, people would have been just as scared.

I think it’s time we start operating on what Lierre Keith called adult knowledge in her wonderful book The Vegetarian Myth. She was referring to vegans who want to believe nothing dies to put food on their plates. Adult knowledge of how food is grown and harvested says otherwise. As adults, we simply have to accept that things aren’t always as nice and pretty as we’d like.

Adult knowledge says the coronavirus will spread … and the most social distancing can do is slow the spread. Adult knowledge says the virus will kill people – just like the flu kills people — whether we shut down the economy or not. Adult knowledge says we’re not going to save millions of lives by sheltering at home for months on end – but we will bankrupt thousands of businesses and put millions of people in debt.

I agree with Dr. Malcolm Kendrick:

So, what is the exit strategy? The answer is that we don’t have one. We have a strategy of delay and mitigation which will continue until… when? Until everyone has been infected? Until we have an effective treatment? Until we have an effective vaccine? Until enough people have been infected that we have achieved herd immunity?

The Government must tell us the truth and be clear about what end point they are seeking to achieve. Only then can we have an exit strategy. One thing for sure is that this lockdown is not a way to defeat the virus.

BizarroWorld has been kind to me. I’m still employed, my expenses have gone down, I get to spend more time with my daughters because they’re not in school, and I get to work from home every day, which I prefer. But we need to leave BizarroWorld behind.


The (BizarroWorld) Farm Report: Easter-Weekend Work

I hope you all had a good Easter/Passover/Whatever week. It was, of course, an unusual Easter weekend because of this:

Chareva usually puts together an Easter-egg hunt on the property and invites friends and relatives. She didn’t bother this year, of course. There are rules about gatherings, you know. Some healthy kid might breathe in a coronavirus out there in the fresh air and die within minutes. Or something like that. Turned out the weather wouldn’t have allowed for an Easter-egg anyway, but we’ll come back to that.

On Saturday, we got several steps closer to having one of the old chicken yards secured. The yard is surrounded by good fencing too thick for a raccoon to chew through, but thanks to our hilly, uneven terrain, there are places where the fence doesn’t quite meet the ground. I don’t know if you can see the gap in the picture below, but trust me, a raccoon wouldn’t miss it.

Even where the fence does meet the ground, we need to keep Rocky Raccoon from burrowing under. We learned from experience that a double-layer of pavers does the trick. If there’s a raccoon strong enough move those, I should probably just get out of his way and let him have the chickens … or least use a higher-caliber rifle to kill him.

I sleep later than Chareva, so by the time I woke up on Saturday, the pavers had already been delivered. There are 168 of them in that stack.

I’m all in favor of getting some exercise doing farm work, but carrying those things one at a time to where we needed them seemed a bit ridiculous. I elected to move a stack at a time with the hand truck, then we placed them along the outer fence.

The yard we’re securing shares an inner fence with the other old chicken yard. There’s nothing at this point to keep Rocky Raccoon from waltzing right into that other yard, which means he could scurry under the shared fence and help himself to a chicken dinner. So we put down a layer of pavers along the shared fence as well.

I certainly got in some exercise pulling a hand truck loaded with pavers across the hill and down to the entryway to that yard.

In some spots along the shard fence, the ground dips enough that it took three pavers to cover the gap.

The pavers aren’t fancy or pretty, but they do the job. If we ever redesign or move the chicken yards, the pavers are at least portable.

We ended up using all 168 of them. In fact, we’re probably going to order two more stacks of 168 soon. Chareva wants to secure the chicken run as well so the chickens can have access to it after dark without risking becoming a main course for a raccoon.

We have one more task to accomplish before moving the existing flock into that yard: we need to get out some twine and fix a few holes in the net. I don’t know if a hawk would try to swoop down through the holes, and I don’t know if a raccoon would try climbing through them, but we’re not taking any chances.

I’m sure the chickens will be happy after the move. Their soon-to-be new home has plenty of vegetation and will certainly have plenty of bugs to peck.

Their current yard, by contrast, has been pecked down to the dirt.

As I mentioned, Sunday wouldn’t have been a good day for an Easter-egg hunt even without social-distancing orders. It rained sheets for a good part of the day. When we get heavy rains, all that water eventually runs down the hills that surround our property.

Our creek usually looks like this — I took this photo a couple of weeks ago, in fact:

After the rains finally stopped on Sunday around 5:00 PM, it looked this:

Here are some shots from different angles.

That’s why my bridge over the creek is chained to a big ol’ tree. As you may recall, when I built the bridge, I figured it was too heavy to be washed away by rain. That theory lasted until the next heavy rain, when I had to go retrieve the thing from rather far away.  I’m all for outdoor exercise, but I can do without having to lift and drag that beast again.

Stay healthy, my friends.


The Bizarro-World Farm Report

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I almost felt guilty saying it the first time, but I’ll say it again: my life hasn’t changed much since we entered BizarroWorld. The main difference is that I don’t commute to work two days per week.

If we lived in a townhouse with no yard – which was the case in our California days – I’m sure I’d be suffering a bit of cabin fever by now. But on a six-acre mini-farm? Nope, no cabin fever. Spring has sprung, and the farm doesn’t know or care about social distancing, so the work goes on as usual.

Last November I was just starting to cut up a huuuge tree that fell down in the front yard.

I also had plans to cut down and cut up a tree near the creek that was dying and dropping widow-maker branches now and then.

I’d like to tell you how I took my manly tools and did a manly job of hacking through those trees, but I’d be lying. They’re gone now, but the manliest role I played was writing a check. The crew that cuts our pastures suggested coming out before the first cut of the year and doing the cleanup for us. We agreed.

They cut up the huuuge tree (most of it, anyway) and hauled away the wood.

They cut down the tree that was dropping widow-makers.

They also cut down two more dead or dying trees near the creek and burned the burn-pile of dead twigs and branches we’d been building up.

With all that work done by other people, I lodged a half-hearted complaint with Chareva about not getting enough exercise, especially now that the gym is closed. She’s a loving and sympathetic wife, so she solved my dilemma by assigning me the task of tilling the ground for one of her gardens.

It may not look like a physically demanding task, but keep in mind this is Tennessee. The state’s theme song is Rocky Top for good reason. The tiller is billed as a walk-behind model, but when you’re tilling soil on a hill that’s full of rocks and clay, it’s more of a bucking-jumping-wild-animal model. By the time I finished tilling the little plot of land shown below, I was winded and exhausted. Gym? Who needs a gym?

When Chareva doesn’t have chores for me, I’ve been getting outside for some fresh air and physical activity by working on my golf game.  I’m not playing actual golf, you understand. My nephew Eric (the Older Brother’s Oldest Son) is an avid golfer, and he recently sent me an email describing what it’s like to play actual golf in BizarroWorld, at least where he lives:

  • No concessions, bathrooms, or even clubhouse checkin/pay. Call with credit card or pay online and then show up. They open door, you tell them your name, and then they let you know which person/group you were behind.
  • No golf cart
  • No driving range
  • No removing pins. They turned the cup over so the ball would only go down about an inch in the hole to make it easier (and you wouldn’t remove the pin out of habit) to get the ball out.
  • They even removed the ball washers and bunker rakes

My (ahem) “golf course” looks like this.

I hit balls into the net. I have a contraption called a Swing Caddie SC2000 that reads the speed of the clubhead and the ball and tells me (in a kindly female voice) the carry distance and the total distance. I’m not sure why the manufacturers chose a female voice. Perhaps they tried a male voice originally and found it was making comments like, Seriously, pal, 125 yards with a seven-iron? Does your husband play too?

During non-Bizzaro times, Chareva spends a chunk of her day running the girls to school, to after-school activities, to her aerial silks classes, etc. That’s all gone for now, so she’s been spending extra time in the garden. She’s been using the wood chips she had delivered last year for garden paths.

This is asparagus she planted three years ago. It will be ready to eat this year. (Some of you carnivores out there may want to avert your eyes.)

The BizarroWorld experience reminded us that we bought the farm partly to be less dependent on the industrial food chain. When we had 40-plus chickens laying so many eggs we had to sell most of them, I felt we could get by for a long time if need be.

Well, Rocky Raccoons One through Nine eventually reduced the flock to seven. During the winter months, we even had to (egads!) occasionally buy eggs at Kroger.

We began re-netting and re-securing one of the old chicken yards last spring, then kind of lost our enthusiasm when our dog Coco was killed. But we’re probably one or two weekends’ worth of work from being done. So last week, Chareva bought nine new chicks. They’re called Golden Comets.

They’re currently living in a trough in the basement. Our cat Rascal is a nice, affectionate pet … but he’s a cat. His brain is hard-wired to issue a kill! command when he sees birds. Chareva engineered this high-tech security system to keep him out of the trough.

When they’re bigger and the old chicken yard is fully secure, we’ll move the existing flock to that yard, then put these chicks in the yard where the existing flock lives. At some point, we’ll need to re-secure the other old chicken yard so we can rotate the two flocks among the three yards.

I hope y’all are keeping your sanity out there.  Stay well, my friends.


From The News (a.k.a. Dispatches From BizarroWorld)

So how are you getting along in BizzaroWorld? Truth is, my lifestyle hasn’t changed all that much. I get up on weekdays, do my programming work from home (which I do half the time anyway), then work on a music or software project for a few hours, then watch an episode of whatever Amazon or Netflix series currently has my interest. Same old, same old.

I do miss going to the gym. My daughter Sara and I usually work out twice per week. She’s 16 and can get by on youth, but I’m an old man whose body is less forgiving. I’m starting to feel a little soft. Chareva has assured me she has some manual-labor projects for me to tackle this weekend, so that will help.

The girls have concluded that their summer vacation began a month ago. At this point, I’m sure they’re right. I’d glad Sara elected to take the ACT in the fall instead of the spring. She scored rather well, and she’s been receiving recruiting letters from colleges we’ve never heard of, as well as many we have. We got a good chuckle from one college that thought it would entice her by bragging about its gender studies department. Suuuure, there’s a degree worth investing in.

Anyway, the news I’m focusing on in this post is all about the coronavirus, of course.

America leads the world in coronavirus cases and journalistic stupidity

I won’t link to any particular article, because heck, just pick one. You’ve seen the headlines: AMERICA NOW HAS MORE CASES THAN ANY OTHER COUNTRY, INCLUDING CHINA!

You are supposed to read those headlines and assume the virus has begun spreading like wildfire in the U.S. (and then, depending on which news source you’re consuming, blame Trump). If you have at least half a brain and are willing to use it, however, you’ll immediately grasp that the big jump in cases simply means widespread testing is finally underway. The more people we test, the higher the number of cases will go. That doesn’t mean more people are becoming infected.  It means more infections are being identified.

Do we really have more covid-19 cases now than China? Well, that would assume two things: 1) We can trust any data coming from the Chinese government, and 2) China is testing at the same per-capita rate as the U.S.  I wouldn’t bet on either.

Why testing wasn’t available earlier


Sorry, just had to do my impression of some lefties I know. Actually, John Stossel uploaded a video explaining how regulatory tangles prevented test kits and treatments from becoming available sooner. Let’s hope when this whole coronavirus panic is over, most of the regulatory streamlining he mentions becomes permanent.

Why I’m still not convinced this virus is particularly lethal

South Korea has been praised for its quick response to the virus and the extent of its testing efforts. Let’s do a little math using the figures from South Korea available in this report:

More than 376,000 people have been tested. So far 9,332 people have tested positive, and 139 have died. So … in South Korea, 2.4 percent of those tested are infected. I don’t know if they’re focusing their testing on those considered at greater risk. If so, the infection rate in the general population would likely be lower. Among those identified as infected, the death rate is 1.4 percent. Among the 376,000 people tested, the death rate is 0.037 percent, or one in every 2,705 people.

But that’s among those tested. The population of the entire country is more than 51 million, the vast majority of whom haven’t been tested. Within the entire population, coronavirus has killed one in every 369,784 people. For reference, run-of-the-mill influenza kills around 2,900 people per year in South Korea, according to this study.

So I’m still where I was a couple of weeks ago. I understand we don’t want the virus to spread, and I understand that it’s killing people. But lots of things kill people. Auto accidents kill roughly 100 people per day, but we don’t order everyone to stop driving. Around 3,500 Americans drown while swimming or boating each year, but we don’t order them to stay away from pools, rivers and lakes. Hell, according to this article, 4,866 people in Japan drowned in their bathtubs in 2014. Should we outlaw baths?

The point is, I’m concerned we may be social-distancing ourselves into a deep and destructive recession over a virus that’s getting a helluva lot of press coverage, but may not be much worse than ordinary influenza, and may be far less deadly than many day-to-day activities we wouldn’t dream of giving up.

And it turns out Dr. Anthony Fauci, who’s leading the federal effort to contain the virus, isn’t exactly convinced we’re looking at a repeat of the 1918 Spanish flu either. Here’s a quote from an article he wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine:

On the basis of a case definition requiring a diagnosis of pneumonia, the currently reported case fatality rate is approximately 2%. In another article in the Journal, Guan et al. report mortality of 1.4% among 1099 patients with laboratory-confirmed Covid-19; these patients had a wide spectrum of disease severity. If one assumes that the number of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic cases is several times as high as the number of reported cases, the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1%. This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza (similar to those in 1957 and 1968) rather than a disease similar to SARS or MERS, which have had case fatality rates of 9 to 10% and 36%, respectively.

At least that’s what he wrote a month ago. If he’s changed his mind on the expected fatality rate, I’m not aware of him saying so.

No social-distancing in Sweden?

We should all pay close attention to the infection and death rates in Sweden for the simple reason that unlike most of the world, they’re not hunkering down at home.

While most of Europe is firmly locked down in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19, Sweden is taking a softer line, keeping primary schools, restaurants and bars open and even encouraging people to go outside for a nip of air.

This stands in stark contrast to the urgent tone elsewhere and has sparked heated debate whether Sweden is really doing the right thing.

The country has reported more than 2,299 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 41 deaths.

Let’s do some quick math. Sweden has a population of 10.12 million. I don’t care about the confirmed cases, because unless everyone is tested, we don’t know how many people currently have or previously had the virus. With 41 dead, that’s one death for every 246,829 Swedes. In the U.S. so far, there are currently 1,470 covid-19 deaths, which translates to about one death for every 222,448 people.

So the Swedes, who are not on lockdown, have a slightly lower per-capita death rate than the U.S., which is on full lockdown. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues.

Apparently the Swedish government has issued warnings, but people are ignoring them.

On Tuesday, the Swedish government announced that restaurants and bars would only be allowed to provide table service to avoid crowding, but stopped short of actually closing them. Health authorities also urged people to reconsider trips to visit relatives over Easter.

But for many, life is carrying on close to normal. Bars and restaurants were full at the weekend, and Stockholm’s city buses have been jam-packed at rush hour despite the social distancing recommendations.

Like I said, let’s keep an eye on Sweden. If their death rate doesn’t begin to climb beyond ours, we need to seriously wonder if all the stay-at-home orders are making a difference.

What if we’re trying to stop the spread of a virus that’s already been spread?

The link doesn’t work anymore, so I won’t bother with it, but I clipped this text from an article in the Financial Times:

The new coronavirus may already have infected far more people in the UK than scientists had previously estimated — perhaps as much as half the population — according to modelling by researchers at the University of Oxford.

If the results are confirmed, they imply that fewer than one in a thousand of those infected with Covid-19 become ill enough to need hospital treatment, said Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology, who led the study. The vast majority develop very mild symptoms or none at all.

Bingo. Rand Paul tested positive, but had no symptoms. Prince Charles had mild symptoms that could have easily been written off as an ordinary cold. We keep hearing about people who’ve tested positive but didn’t know they were infected. Keep that in mind.

The research presents a very different view of the epidemic to the modelling at Imperial College London, which has strongly influenced government policy. “I am surprised that there has been such unqualified acceptance of the Imperial model,” said Prof Gupta.

The Oxford study is based on a what is known as a “susceptibility-infected-recovered model” of Covid-19, built up from case and death reports from the UK and Italy. The researchers made what they regard as the most plausible assumptions about the behaviour of the virus.

The modelling brings back into focus “herd immunity”, the idea that the virus will stop spreading when enough people have become resistant to it because they have already been infected. The government abandoned its unofficial herd immunity strategy — allowing controlled spread of infection — after its scientific advisers said this would swamp the National Health Service with critically ill patients.

But the Oxford results would mean the country had already acquired substantial herd immunity through the unrecognised spread of Covid-19 over more than two months. If the findings are confirmed by testing, then the current restrictions could be removed much sooner than ministers have indicated.

Okay, it’s a model. Models can be wrong. But it got me thinking about this article, which I read a few days ago:

A “strange pneumonia” was circulating in northern Italy as long ago as November, weeks before doctors were made aware of the novel coronavirus outbreak in China, one of the European country’s leading medical experts said this week.

“They [general practitioners] remember having seen very strange pneumonia, very severe, particularly in old people in December and even November,” Giuseppe Remuzzi, the director of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, said in an interview with the National Public Radio of the United States.

“This means that the virus was circulating, at least in [the northern region of] Lombardy and before we were aware of this outbreak occurring in China.”

The current thinking among the scientific community is that the first infection in Lombardy was the result of an Italian coming into contact with a Chinese person in late January. However, if it can be shown that the novel coronavirus – officially known as SARS-CoV-2 – was in circulation in Italy in November, then that theory would be turned on its head.

One of Chareva’s relatives who works in an emergency room in Illinois told her the same thing: there was a sudden increase of patients with respiratory issues in November, but tests showed it wasn’t any of the ordinary flu strains. (The patients he saw all recovered, by the way.)

I’ve heard over and over that we weren’t prepared because nobody knew we’d end up with so many sick people.  And yet I found several articles written in November or earlier warning that a nasty flu season was coming.  Here’s one from Forbes:

The flu season is off to a particularly early start this year with seemingly more influenza activity last month than any other November since 2009, the year of the H1N1 flu pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of November 17-23, flu activity had appeared in all 50 states. Looks like the flu has already gone “viral,” so to speak.

A December article in Infection Control Today offered this warning:

The 2019/2020 influenza season is expected to be a rough one. Flu activity in Australia, often used as a litmus test for the United States, left many alarmed at what we might see this winter … Based upon the surveillance data in both Australia and America, the early indicators point to a severe influenza season for 2019/2020.

Could some of those cases have been Covid-19?  I looked online to see if people who were infected and recovered can still test positive. Nope, not after two to three weeks. Which got me wondering … since most people have either no symptoms or mild symptoms, and since coronavirus wasn’t on anybody’s radar back in November, is it possible the virus was circulating earlier than we currently believe? Is it possible millions of us were infected, but most of us barely noticed? Are we shutting down the world economy to prevent the spread of a virus that’s already been spread?

I don’t know. And since we can’t go back and retroactively test people who may have been exposed in November or December and recovered, we’ll probably never know.

But coronavirus has to be way worse than ordinary flu because hospitals are being overwhelmed and that hasn’t happened before!

I hear you.  In fact, I did some research online and found articles about hospitals being overwhelmed, governors declaring a state of emergency, doctors having to treat patients in temporary tents because all the hospital beds were occupied, etc.  But the articles were from 2018.  Yup, 2018.

We’ll start with a United Press International article:

Hospitals across the United States are scrambling to treat a mass influx of flu patients.

They have asked staff to work overtime and some have set up triage tents and canceled elective surgeries to handle the flood of patients.

“We are pretty much at capacity, and the volume is certainly different from previous flu seasons,” Dr. Alfred Tallia, professor and chair of family medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Brunswick, N.J., told Time. “I’ve been in practice for 30 years, and it’s been a good 15 or 20 years since I’ve seen a flu-related illness scenario like we’ve had this year.”

Alabama, which declared a state of emergency in response to the flu epidemic last week, is facing a similar situation. Virginia’s hospitals are also overwhelmed by an increasing number of flu cases coming into the emergency room.

In New Jersey, emergency rooms are at full capacity and hospitals are restricting visitors, especially those with children, to help control the flu’s spread.

I’ll say it again: that article is from 2018. Here’s another from CBS:

Health officials in Southern California are warning the public that the current flu season is so intense that some hospitals are rerouting patients due to their increasingly limited capacity. From Laguna Beach to Long Beach, emergency rooms were struggling to cope with the overwhelming cases of influenza and had gone into “diversion mode,” during which ambulances are sent to other hospitals, CBS Los Angeles reports.

Here’s another from Modern Health Care:

In the middle of one of the heaviest flu seasons in years, hospitals must contend with both financial and clinical challenges.

The surge has left many hospitals overwhelmed, forcing some to set up triage tents outside of emergency departments. Others have resorted to emergency protocols such as postponing elective surgeries and limiting the number of visitors. Such activity is likely to hurt the bottom line, even though volume is increasing.

And yet another 2018 article from The Los Angeles Times:

The huge numbers of sick people are also straining hospital staff who are confronting what could become California’s worst flu season in a decade.

Hospitals across the state are sending away ambulances, flying in nurses from out of state and not letting children visit their loved ones for fear they’ll spread the flu. Others are canceling surgeries and erecting tents in their parking lots so they can triage the hordes of flu patients.

From Time Magazine in 2018:

In Fenton, Missouri, SSM Health St. Clare Hospital has opened its emergency overflow wing, as well as all outpatient centers and surgical holding centers, to make more beds available to patients who need them. Nurses are being “pulled from all floors to care for them,” says registered nurse Jennifer Braciszewski, and are being offered an increased hourly rate to work above and beyond their normal schedules. Many nurses have also become sick, however, so the staff is also short-handed.

From the Texas Tribune in 2018:

Big-city hospitals in Texas have been overwhelmed this week by an influx of flu patients, and state health officials say influenza activity is widespread across the state.

At Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, waiting rooms turned into exam areas as a medical tent was built in order to deal with the surge of patients. A Houston doctor said local hospital beds were at capacity, telling flu sufferers they might be better off staying at home. Austin’s emergency rooms have also seen an influx of flu patients.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Hospitals overwhelmed, more patients than hospital beds, hospitals having to treat people in temporary tents, medical centers postponing elective procedures to free up staff to care for the influx of sick people, etc., etc. Once again, that was in 2018.

What, you don’t remember that?  Probably not, because it didn’t become the every-hour-of-the-day news story, and we didn’t shut down the country to avoid infecting each other.

As I pointed out in my last post, if government officials held news conferences and reported all the deaths from influenza every time it comes around, we’d probably feel the same sense of panic all the nonstop news about the coronavirus is spreading.

It was a nasty flu that went around in 2017-2018.  When all the data comes in, we may find out the coronavirus wasn’t much worse.

Stay well, my friends.


Welcome To BizzaroWorld

      65 Comments on Welcome To BizzaroWorld

Well, aren’t these some interesting times?

My girls haven’t been in school for two weeks, although this week would be spring break anyway.  They won’t return to school until at least April 3rd.

I haven’t been in the office either. We’re all working from home until at least March 30th, when the company bigwigs will decide whether it’s safe for us to breathe the same air. I don’t mind doing my programming job at home, of course. I do it half the time anyway. But it feels a little weird to be ordered to stay home.

I’m not sure what to make of all this. Part of me thinks we’re committing economic suicide for what will turn out to be little worse than the flu that goes around every year. Dennis Prager wrote a column recently that’s in line with my thoughts on the issue:

Some perspective:

Chinese deaths (3,217) account for half of the worldwide total. If you add Italy (1,441) and Iran (724), two countries where many Chinese were allowed in until recently, that totals another 2,165. In other words, outside of China, Italy and Iran — with 5,382 deaths collectively — 1,018 people have died.

Those numbers have gone up a bit since the column appeared, but keep in mind that the flu – run-of-the-mill flu – kills 30,000 or more people per year in the U.S. alone. The H1N1 swine flu of 2009 killed roughly 12,500 Americans.

Meanwhile, according to this article, 99 percent of the people who died in Italy suffered from previous medical conditions, and most were elderly. The average age of those who died was 79.5 years.

Back to Prager:

The thinking is that we must shut down the Western world to prevent the exponential growth of the virus. If we don’t, our hospital systems will be overwhelmed. Many thousands, maybe more, would die, as doctors have to make grisly triage decisions as to who gets care and who doesn’t. This latter scenario is reported to have already happened in Italy.

Though there is no longer an exponential growth in the United States, they may otherwise be right.

Is this thinking correct? The truth is we don’t know.

We have no idea how many people carry the COVID-19 coronavirus. Therefore, the rates of either critical illness or death are completely unknown. Perhaps millions of people have the virus and nothing serious develops, in which case we would have rates of death similar to (or even below) the flu virus. On the other hand, perhaps not many people carry the virus, but the rates of illness demanding intensive care and of death are much greater than those of the flu.

We can only be certain that shutting down virtually every part of society will result in a large number of people economically ruined, life savings depleted, decades of work building a restaurant or some other small business destroyed. As if that were not bad enough, the ancillary effects would include increased depression and divorce and other personal tragedies.

That’s what concerns me: we may be scaring ourselves into tanking a lot of businesses and jobs. If government officials and news anchors breathlessly reported all the people dying from run-of-the-mill influenza each winter, would we be any less scared? If every fatal auto accident ended up on the news — complete with pictures and press conferences by police describing the deaths -– would you ever want to take a casual drive again? Maybe not, considering you’d be hearing about roughly 100 people dying in their vehicles every day.

I’ve mentioned Dr. John Ioannidis in several posts, speeches, etc. He’s the doctor and researcher who studies the studies on diet and health and points out how unreliable most of them are. He wrote an interesting piece on our reaction to the coronavirus as well. It’s long, but here are a few quotes:

The current coronavirus disease, Covid-19, has been called a once-in-a-century pandemic. But it may also be a once-in-a-century evidence fiasco.

At a time when everyone needs better information, from disease modelers and governments to people quarantined or just social distancing, we lack reliable evidence on how many people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 or who continue to become infected.

Bingo. You’re probably heard people on the news talking about the infection rate or the death rate. You can ignore whatever numbers they’re citing for the simple reason that we have no friggin’ idea how many people have the virus. An article I read last week quoted a woman who contracted the virus on a cruise ship. How awful was it? It wasn’t. She had a fever for a couple of days and that was it. For all we know, hundreds of thousands of people have already been infected and experienced a few symptoms they wrote off as a common cold.

This evidence fiasco creates tremendous uncertainty about the risk of dying from Covid-19. Reported case fatality rates, like the official 3.4% rate from the World Health Organization, cause horror — and are meaningless. Patients who have been tested for SARS-CoV-2 are disproportionately those with severe symptoms and bad outcomes. As most health systems have limited testing capacity, selection bias may even worsen in the near future.

The World Health Organization could do their credibility a huge favor by sticking to what they actually know.  These are the same people who told us (with “evidence” that’s beyond laughable) that meat causes cancer.  Hey, WHO: if you want me to listen to you about the threat posed by a disease, don’t lie to me about the threat posed by a hamburger.  You remind me of this headline from the satirical site The Babylon Bee.

Anyway, Ioannidis crunches some numbers and says what while we don’t know what the death rate would be in the general population, he suspects it would be somewhere between 1.0 percent and 0.5 percent.

If we assume that case fatality rate among individuals infected by SARS-CoV-2 is 0.3% in the general population — a mid-range guess from my Diamond Princess analysis — and that 1% of the U.S. population gets infected (about 3.3 million people), this would translate to about 10,000 deaths. This sounds like a huge number, but it is buried within the noise of the estimate of deaths from “influenza-like illness.” If we had not known about a new virus out there, and had not checked individuals with PCR tests, the number of total deaths due to “influenza-like illness” would not seem unusual this year. At most, we might have casually noted that flu this season seems to be a bit worse than average. The media coverage would have been less than for an NBA game between the two most indifferent teams.

Makes sense to me.

On the other hand, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author Antifragile and The Black Swan, made his fortune by understanding and calculating risk. He believes social distancing for a few weeks is exactly the right thing to do.  Maybe, but I hope it doesn’t stretch into months.

It’s been interesting watching the run on food and other supplies at the local grocery stores. I’m not sure why people wait until a real (or perceived) threat is announced to start preparing for a lockdown. Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, malevolent hackers, an electromagnetic pulse … there are all kinds of potential threats to the supply chain. Keeping some extra food and supplies around is a good idea in any year.

About a year after we moved here, our part of Tennessee was slammed by The Great Flood of 2010. When we bought the mini-farm, we asked the previous owner how she fared during the flood. The house stayed dry (it’s on a hill), but the creek that cuts through the front pastures turned into a river for about a week. She couldn’t leave the property.

With that and other potential Black Swan events in mind, we’ve made it a habit a keep a good stock of non-perishable foods and emergency supplies on hand. When the coronavirus panic finally ends, do yourself a favor and assume there’s another lockdown on the horizon somewhere.

Stay well, my friends.