8 minutes and 46 seconds that changed the nation?

On May 25th, 2020, at approximately 2025 hours, George Floyd, an African-American citizen, was killed by Officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department. The incident was captured on multiple cell phone videos and body-worn cameras and widely distributed. The images are disturbing: Officer Chauvin with his knee pressed on the back of the neck of Mr. Floyd while Mr. Floyd moans and complains that he can’t breathe, begging the officers for relief.

In an incredibly swift and judicious action, the Minneapolis Police Department fired Derek Chauvin and three other officers who were at the scene the very next day. This wouldn’t be enough to mollify the public though, as rioting, looting, and burning would commence that night and for the next several nights, turning downtown Minneapolis into a war zone, protestors even capturing and burning the MPD 3rd precinct where the four officers were assigned. Protests and riots would spread across the country in cities large and small. The protestors’ demands? The arrest and charging of the four officers involved.

The clear video and facts of this case are indisputable. Or are they?

On May 29, 2020, four days after the killing, former Officer Derek Chauvin was finally arrested by the BCA—the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, an agency with which fans of novelist John Sandford will be very familiar. The BCA is a state police force, tasked with investigating the actions of the officers involved. In addition to the BCA, the FBI and the Justice Department are running parallel investigations into potential federal charges under the “color of law” statutes.

The charges filed against Chauvin are: 1) Murder – 3rd degree, and, 2) Manslaughter – 2nd degree. The charges were filed by Michelle Frascone, a Special Agent with the BCA, and Amy Sweasy, a prosecuting attorney for the State of Minnesota.

Upon filing the charges, the public erupted in anger once again, insisting that the charges were too lenient, in what would seem at first glance to be a rather humorous flip of the normal complaint that prosecutors tend to overcharge suspects.

Was the charging appropriate? Let’s take a look at the specific Minnesota statutes involved here.

609.195 MURDER IN THE THIRD DEGREE.

(a) Whoever, without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life, is guilty of murder in the third degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 25 years.

At first glance, this seems a completely appropriate charge. I had to look up what “evincing a depraved mind” means because I’ve never heard that term, however, it’s apparently a fairly common term in several Midwest states. Here is what it means, according to the Minnesota Supreme Court: “The phrase “evincing a depraved mind, regardless of human life” as used in these instructions means conduct demonstrating an indifference to the life of others, that is not only disregard for the safety of another but a lack of regard for the life of another.”

There is little doubt that Officer Chauvin’s actions showed a complete indifference to Mr. Floyd’s life, as we’ll see a little later, so after some review, this charge seems completely appropriate. As a prosecuting attorney, you definitely want to charge as high as possible. This gives you maximum flexibility, lending strength to your negotiating platform for plea bargains, and giving juries and judges maximum flexibility during sentencing. When the arresting officer and the prosecutor decide on charges, even though this charge seems to fit the crime, they definitely want to take a look at the next higher charge to see if that one might possibly fit. So, let’s take a look at the statute for Murder – 2nd degree.

609.19 MURDER IN THE SECOND DEGREE.

Subdivision 1. Intentional murder; drive-by shootings.

Whoever does either of the following is guilty of murder in the second degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 40 years:

(1) causes the death of a human being with intent to effect the death of that person or another, but without premeditation; or

(2) causes the death of a human being while committing or attempting to commit a drive-by shooting in violation of section 609.66, subdivision 1e, under circumstances other than those described in section 609.185, paragraph (a), clause (3).

Under subsection (1) we see that the key word “intent” comes into play once you charge murder in the 2nd degree (as well as murder 1st degree.) Subsection 2 doesn’t apply here, obviously, nor does Subdivision 2 which deals with protection orders and other felonies, but you can read them HERE if you’d like.

So, the question becomes, did Officer Chauvin intend to murder George Floyd?

Despite the outrage of the public, despite mayors, governors, and dozens of other elected officials calling this murder, implying or outright stating that this was blatant, intentional murder, objectively this seems absolutely ridiculous. In order to believe that Chauvin intended to murder Floyd, you would have to think that a cop—someone who ABSOLUTELY, DESPERATELY, under all possible circumstances wants to avoid the inside of a prison, where really bad things tend to happen to cops, decided, with multiple cameras rolling, in broad daylight, “Fuck it. I’m just going to go ahead and murder this dude right now.” This seems so completely implausible that it’s laughable, yet that is what “intent” would require. Even if you’re somehow allowing emotion to cloud your judgement and you think that’s exactly what happened, as a prosecutor, you still have to PROVE this in a court of law. You have to prove that Officer Chauvin thought exactly that, that his full intention was to murder. A defense attorney would have a field day with this charge, and the prosecutors know it, so it would seem that Murder – 3rd degree is absolutely the appropriate charge.

Now, prosecutors like to stack charges, and they like to be comprehensive and thorough, so they also tacked on the charge of Manslaughter – 2nd degree. Let’s take a look at that statute:

609.205 MANSLAUGHTER IN THE SECOND DEGREE.

A person who causes the death of another by any of the following means is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than ten years or to payment of a fine of not more than $20,000, or both:

(1) by the person’s culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another; 

Culpable negligence. Negligence that is deserving of blame. Negligence that creates an unreasonable risk and consciously takes chances of causing death to another. Yeah. I think this is pretty clear, and the video would seem to indicate that Officer Chauvin definitely acted in this manner. So, Manslaughter – 2nd degree seems like a good charge, particularly if Murder – 3rd degree doesn’t end up holding up. By charging both, prosecutors can hope for a conviction on Manslaughter if the defense gets an acquittal on Murder. Could they have charged Manslaughter – 1st degree? Let’s take a look at that charge.

609.20 MANSLAUGHTER IN THE FIRST DEGREE.

Whoever does any of the following is guilty of manslaughter in the first degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 15 years or to payment of a fine of not more than $30,000, or both:

(1) intentionally causes the death of another person in the heat of passion provoked by such words or acts of another as would provoke a person of ordinary self-control under like circumstances, provided that the crying of a child does not constitute provocation;

(2) violates section 609.224 and causes the death of another or causes the death of another in committing or attempting to commit a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor offense with such force and violence that death of or great bodily harm to any person was reasonably foreseeable, and murder in the first or second degree was not committed thereby;

(3) intentionally causes the death of another person because the actor is coerced by threats made by someone other than the actor’s coconspirator and which cause the actor reasonably to believe that the act performed by the actor is the only means of preventing imminent death to the actor or another;

(4) proximately causes the death of another, without intent to cause death by, directly or indirectly, unlawfully selling, giving away, bartering, delivering, exchanging, distributing, or administering a controlled substance classified in Schedule III, IV, or V; or

(5) causes the death of another in committing or attempting to commit a violation of section 609.377 (malicious punishment of a child), and murder in the first, second, or third degree is not committed thereby.

As used in this section, a “person of ordinary self-control” does not include a person under the influence of intoxicants or a controlled substance.

None of these sections would seem to apply to this scenario save section (1). You might be able to argue that Mr. Floyd’s actions provoked Officer Chauvin in such a way that it caused him to retaliate by maliciously killing him. However, this is a slippery slope for the prosecution. This argument would require the prosecution to shine Mr. Floyd in a negative light, something that would be detrimental to the prosecution and favorable to the defense, so this seems like a poor prosecutorial strategy. Which means that Manslaughter – 1st degree would be a poor choice of charges, which means that it seems they charged appropriately here as well.

Let’s go back to the statement above that shining Mr. Floyd in a negative light is detrimental to the prosecution. This seems really obvious, right? The prosecution should be attempting to downplay his criminal background, his crimes at this scene, his efforts to resist arrest. The defense will want to bring all of these things up; it will be their job to paint Mr. Floyd in as poor a light as possible, to vilify him in subtle ways that may turn jury opinion to the favor of the defendant. This is super clear to everybody, right? Apparently it’s not that clear to the Minnesota Prosecutor’s Office.

Let’s take a look at the Probably Cause charging document for the arrest warrant for Officer Chauvin.

This document was likely prepared as a coordinated effort between the prosecutor, Amy Sweasy, and the BCA agent, Michelle Frascone. They should be stating the facts of the case and establishing probable cause for the issuance of an arrest warrant for Chauvin. That’s it. This document does not need to be lengthy. Extraneous information is not necessary. It needs only to establish probable cause.

So, what does it say? Let’s pull a couple passages from the document. You can read the entire thing HERE if you choose.

BWC (this is body worn camera) video obtained by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension shows that the officers approached the car, Lane on the driver’s side and Kueng on the passenger side. Three people were in the car; George Floyd was in the driver’s seat, a known adult male was in the passenger seat and a known adult female was sitting in the backseat. As Officer Lane began speaking with Mr. Floyd, he pulled his gun out and pointed it at Mr. Floyd’s open window and directed Mr. Floyd to show his hands. When Mr. Floyd put his hands in the steering wheel, Lane put his gun back in its holster.

Here, prosecutors are laying out the facts of the case. They’re using footage not yet available to the public to establish their PC. At this point in the document, Officer Chauvin hasn’t even arrived onscene. So, why are they describing actions taken by other officers prior to his arrival? Why are they outlining that another officer, Officer Lane, drew his gun and pointed it in the direction of Mr. Floyd, in a document to establish probable cause for the arrest of Officer Chauvin? This is extraneous information. It’s irrelevant to the probable cause. The only purpose that I can ascertain for its inclusion would be to shine the light that Mr. Floyd was a dangerous subject, whose very presence, or the nature of his crime, or actions in the vehicle caused enough alarm in Officer Lane that he felt the need to draw his weapon. This is a bizarre inclusion in a probable cause statement. It would seem to be something the defense would draw attention to during trial, actions they would be trying to get included in their evidence, actions that the prosecution might object to on the grounds of relevance since the defendant wasn’t even present at the scene at this point. Why is it included in the probable cause document?

Let’s look at another section.

Once handcuffed, Mr. Floyd became compliant and walked with Officer Lane to the sidewalk and sat on the ground at Officer Lane’s direction. In a conversation that lasted just under two minutes, Officer Lang asked Mr. Floyd for his name and identification. Officer Lane asked Mr. Lloyd if he was “on anything” and explained that he was arresting Mr. Lloyd for passing counterfeit currency.

Officers Kueng and Lane stood Mr. Floyd up and attempted to walk Mr. Floyd to their squad car (MPD 320) at 8:14 p.m. Mr. Floyd stiffened up, fell to the ground, and told the officers he was claustrophobic.

MPD Officers Derek Chauvin (the defendant) and Tou Thoa then arrived in a separate squad car.

The officers made several attempts to get Mr. Floyd in the backseat of squad 320 from the driver’s side.

Mr. Floyd did not voluntarily get in the car and struggled with the officers by intentionally falling down, saying he was not going in the car, and refusing to stand still. Mr. Floyd is over six feet tall and weighs more than 200 pounds.

In the first paragraph, the state points out that Officer Lane asked Mr. Floyd (sic for the original) if he was “on anything.” Again, the defendant, Officer Chauvin is not even on the scene at this point. Why is the prosecution establishing a basis for the defense to argue that Mr. Floyd may have been acting under the influence of drugs? This is such a bizarre inclusion in a probable cause document that is supposed to be concise and brief. In the last paragraph, the prosecution points out Mr. Floyd’s resistance to being placed into the patrol car. This is not that unusual as they’re establishing a basis for him being proned out on the ground where the incident occurred. What is odd though, is that they describe him as “over six feet tall and weighs more than 200 pounds.” Why are they including this line? Once again it seems like they’re trying to establish a basis that the officers’ actions were appropriate, that they were dealing with a large, strong, bull of a man, and that they had no choice but to elevate to the level of force they used. This is such an odd description to put in the PC document. It seems like a point the defense would want to make at trial, not something the prosecution would want to point out, and certainly not something necessary for the establishment of probable cause for Chauvin’s arrest.

The rest of the PC document is very telling. It describes how Chauvin refused to turn Mr. Floyd onto his side, even when Officer Lang suggested they should do just that. It describes how he kept his knee on his neck through multiple pleas that he was suffering. This plea is not too terribly unusual, by the way. Defendants often complain they can’t breathe, even when they can clearly breathe. However, positional asphyxiation is incredibly dangerous, and I suspect that Mr. Floyd could breathe just fine, however, he could feel the asphyxiation building, and that was the feeling he was trying to describe when he used the term, “I can’t breathe.”

The most sickening part of the PC document is this paragraph:

BWC video shows Mr. Floyd continue to move and breathe. At 8:24:24, Mr. Floyd stopped moving. At 8:25:31 the video appears to show Mr. Floyd ceasing to breathe or speak. Lane said, “want to roll him on his side.” Kueng checked Mr. Floyd’s right wrist for a pulse and said, “I couldn’t find one.” None of the officers moved from their positions. At 8:27:24, the defendant removed his knee from Mr. Floyd’s neck. An ambulance and emergency medical personnel arrived, the officers placed Mr. Floyd on a gurney, and the ambulance left the scene. Mr. Floyd was pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center.

At 8:24:24, BWC video shows that Mr. Floyd stopped moving. At this point, how does Chauvin keep applying a neck hold to him? The suspect had quit resisting many minutes earlier. The neck hold should have been released at the latest when the resisting ended. De-escalation as the suspect de-escalates is just as critical, lawful, and important, as appropriate escalation is. Officer Lane again asks to roll him on his side. Apparently, this again doesn’t happen. Officer Kueng checks for a pulse and can’t find one. What do the officers do at this point?

“None of the officers moved from their positions.”

WHAT? They can’t find a pulse and Chauvin (I’m done using the title Officer Chauvin here, he doesn’t deserve it) continues to use the knee to neck hold??? Nobody starts CPR? Nobody takes responsibility for a suspect in their custody who doesn’t have a pulse?

At 8:27:24, exactly three minutes after he stops moving, Derek Chauvin finally removes his knee from Mr. Floyd’s neck. Why? Because an ambulance has arrived and it’s time to roll him onto a gurney.

This video, and the statements in the PC document that describe video not yet released, is sickening. It’s so disturbing. As a former cop, I’m appalled and saddened. As a human, I’m disheartened and repugnated. The actions of Chauvin in particular, and the other officers in general, are vile, abhorrent, and so unworthy of the badge that so many officers take so much pride in.

So, what will happen to Derek Chauvin? You’re not going to like this…

I don’t think he will be convicted of either of the crimes to which he’s charged. There are many reasons for this, and I’ll outline a few:

For starters, as I have shown in the PC document, it really seems that the fix is in here. The statements made by the prosecution in that warrant application are bizarre, and I’m struggling to find a beneficent reason behind their inclusion. Additionally, neck holds are authorized uses of force in the Minneapolis Police Department. This will change obviously, and probably like next week, but as of this moment, they are completely legal holds. From that point of view, Chauvin did nothing wrong by applying the hold. Where he went wrong was the length of time he applied it, and his wanton disregard for the life of Mr. Floyd. But this is going to be so difficult to prove. Once the defense is granted a change of venue, away from the jury pool immersed in this scene, once they go through a rigorous voir dire process, where they will weed through jury members who might have any knowledge of the incident, once enough time has passed for people to forget, years down the road, they will be able to argue so many points in their favor. They will be able to include Mr. Floyd’s criminal record, his history of resisting arrest, his size, his demeanor. By the time they’re done, they will make him look worse than Hannibal Lector. They will make it seem as if extraordinary measures were necessary for the safety of the police officers and the public. They will villainize Mr. Floyd and elevate Chauvin to the status of guardian hero. They will point out Chauvin’s commendations and his awards. They will exemplify his nineteen years of service to the community.

Here is the second to last paragraph in the Probable Cause document, in my opinion, the biggest smoking gun for my theory that the prosecutor really doesn’t want to try this case and is simply acceding to public pressure:

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner (ME) conducted Mr. Floyd’s autopsy on May 26, 2020. The full report of the ME is pending but the ME has made the following preliminary findings. The autopsy revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation. Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.

What?? Why is this paragraph in a document whose sole purpose is to establish probable cause for the arrest of the officer? THIS IS THE OPPOSITE OF PROBABLE CAUSE! THIS SAYS THAT IT REALLY WASN’T CHAUVIN’S FAULT AT ALL! Once again, this seems like ammunition for the defense. It feels like the prosecution is trying to help them make their case! I have NEVER seen a statement like this in a probable cause document. With this statement in the PC document, I’m kind of surprised the judge even approved the warrant!

The prosecution is always facing an uphill battle when they charge a police officer. When they start that battle in what seems to be a completely half-hearted, almost seditious manner with the most simple and basic of documents, it feels like they will completely blow the prosecution, intentionally or apathetically.

Don’t be surprised if Derek Chauvin ends up being convicted of some lessor charge. Something like Assault in the third degree, or Misconduct of a Public Officer. When this happens, get ready for cities to burn again. Because if this happens, they should burn. We need change, and there’s another article coming sometime soon that will describe what I think needs to happen to effect that change.

Let’s hope George Floyd’s death has meaning. Let’s hope his 8 minutes and 46 seconds of suffering results in meaningful change. Let’s hope America can finally rise to the challenges of racism and brutality. Let’s hope police departments can throw aside the heavy net cast upon them by the tiny percentage of officers who give all the good ones such a bad name. Let’s hope Derek Chauvin gets a fair trial followed by swift and appropriate justice. Let’s hope this never happens again.

How about some good news on the Covid-19 coronavirus front?

The last time I teased this there was actually no good news, but this time there really is just a small glimmer of hope for the near future, as well as a couple of benefits to our current, abysmal state of affairs. Let’s start with a couple of the beneficial results of this forced lockdown.

Currently, somewhere around 90% of Americans are under some sort of stay-at-home or shelter-in-place lockdown order. With a population of about 330 million, that’s 297 million people. According to data provided by the NHTSA, in a normal year, Americans drive an average of 13,500 miles, which equates to about 1125 miles per month. Now, April and May tend to be slightly higher than average driving months, with the summer months significantly higher and the winter months significantly lower than that average. We’ll call a typical April average to be about 1150 miles.

The United States has approximately 685 drivers for every 1000 people, a number that is decreasing from the last report due to the prevalence of ride sharing. In a typical recent year, those drivers would clock up 3.223 trillion miles on U.S. roads. Obviously right now, that number is significantly less.

If 90% of people are under orders to stay home, and 90% of them are following those orders at least 90% of the time, taking into account trips to the grocery store, the doctor, driving aimlessly around, and just plain idiocy that is occurring on a daily basis, that means that Americans are currently driving only about 27% of the miles we would normally drive. That means, if this were extrapolated to a full year, we would drive 873.4 billion miles. Obviously, this isn’t going to last for a year, but let’s take a look at just the month of April.

In a normal April, we would drive approximately 270 billion road miles, but this April, Americans will probably drive closer to 73 billion miles. We are most likely going to drive around 200 billion fewer miles for every month this goes on. A reasonable time estimate for analysis would be mid-March to mid-May, so we’ll call it two months of basic lockdowns, and 400 billion fewer road miles driven.

Where am I going with this?

The death rate from all automobile accidents in this country is right about 1.13 deaths per every 100 million miles traveled. With 400 billion fewer miles traveled, that results in right around 4500 fewer deaths over these two months. That means that there are 4500 people walking around this country right now who would already be dead, or would have been dead in the next six weeks or so, who now won’t be. And these are, for the most part, young, healthy Americans who would have died tragically. Many of them would have been children; in fact, about 20% of them on average would have been fourteen years old or younger.

That’s 900 children walking around this country right now who would have been dead by Mother’s Day were it not for Covid-19.

Now, I know that we’re going to lose more than 4500 people from the coronavirus; probably a lot more if the models hold true. If you’re looking for a silver lining though, this is a pretty good one to grasp onto. Most of the dead from Covid-19 are the elderly and infirm. If you were God, what multiple would you allow for the deaths of those aged 70+ in exchange for the lives of those aged under 14? This is a tough, tough question, and impossible to answer outside of the abstract as no two lives have the same meaning, and a value is very difficult to assign. There are some who would say that all lives are equal, and others who would probably say that a young life is worth at least ten elderly lives. I don’t know the answer, but, again, the silver lining is there if you choose to see it. This year, we very well might see the fewest traffic-related fatalities in this country since the 1940s.

Another statistic in the same vein as lives saved due to fewer auto-related deaths, is those that will be saved due to decreased level of noise pollution from both vehicles and airplanes. This is a tough one to nail an exact number to, but it may surprise you to learn (it certainly surprised me) that the World Health Organization has calculated that at least one million healthy life-years are lost every year in western European countries because of environmental noise, with cardiovascular disease contributing to the vast majority of these deaths. In America, that number may be even higher. Most of those deaths are the result of high blood pressure, heart attacks and coronary heart disease. It is thought that continuous noise, even at a low level, triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which damages blood vessels over time.

The decrease in noise pollution for those who live near busy roads or in crowded cities may save thousands of additional lives, or at the very least extend those lives by orders of magnitude longer than the shutdown will last.

A third benefit is the amazing things happening with air quality right now. Take a look at this chart of air quality levels a month ago, when most of China was still in shutdown and most of the rest of the world was still living normally.

And now look at the air quality readings today.

You can see that in Asia, air quality has decreased tremendously today with China ramping back up in its major cities, air quality there going from only a few areas of moderately unhealthy, to many areas of extremely dangerous: the orange spots to the maroon colored spots. In America, most of the country is in the green, with the yellow, elevated risk levels switching away from the coasts in March, to the center of the country in April, with the coastal states shutting down and quite a few southern interior states continuing life as normal.

Earth observing satellites have detected a significant reduction in nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, and this reduction is a direct result of drastically lower emissions from automobiles around the world. Not only does this make breathing—something we all enjoy—much more pleasant, but it is also going to save a lot of lives. How many? Well, according to at least one analyst, Marshall Burke, a professor in Stanford’s Earth-system science department, a pandemic-related reduction in particulate matter in the atmosphere has probably saved the lives of 4,000 young children and 73,000 elderly adults in China over the two months they were shut down. He thinks that worldwide, around twenty times the lives lost as a direct result of the Covid-19 virus will be saved by the decrease in air pollution, at least in those areas where air pollution is typically at its worst. The article linked above is pretty fascinating to read.

In addition to the lives that will be saved, the doubling time of the fatality rate seems to be slowing in many parts of the world, the United States included. Take a look at this chart:

This is the linear line of fatalities as of yesterday when the United States ended the day with 8451 total deaths, an increase of 1350 from the previous day. As bad as that is, projections from just last week showed that we were on track to hit 10,000 deaths by the end of the day on April 4th. We’re probably going to hit that repugnant number tomorrow, but adding two days to the doubling time is a really good thing. It means—cautiously speaking—that the pandemic may be slowing.

Although it’s difficult to see the decreasing rate from the severely vertical fatality line in the above linear chart of fatalities, let’s look at the logarithmic chart.

This chart shows a track of fatalities on a logarithmic scale. Basically, this is a convenient way of looking at the doubling rate of the deaths. A 45-degree line from left to right would be true doubling, meaning that it would take the same number of days to go from 1000 to 10,000 deaths and from 10,000 deaths to 100,000 deaths as it took to go from 10 deaths to 100, or from 100 to 1000. We don’t want to see a 45-degree or sharper angle to the line when we look at this chart.

As you can see, while we did see a line that was very close to 45-degrees between 100 and 1000 deaths, right here near the top, circled below, over the last four days, this line has really flattened out. I am cautiously optimistic here. Cautious because four data points is not very many from which to draw any real conclusions, and there are many signs that point to things getting worse in the days to come. However, if we’re looking for encouragement, this is it.

When we do hit 10k deaths tomorrow morning, what will be very telling will be the time it takes to reach 20k deaths. If that doesn’t happen next week, we will be able to say with a much better sense of certainty that we have reached the peak of this pandemic in the United States. Let’s hope that’s true.

Until then, give your kids an extra hug tonight. Thanks to the shutdown, 900 of them who were supposed to be dead, will instead be around for Mother’s Day this year.

A look at the current status of air travel

With all of the stay-at-home and quarantine orders around the world, I thought it would be fun to take a look at Flightaware.com and see what the sky looks like from a worldwide air traffic control standpoint. Here’s what Los Angeles International airport looks like right now.

The GREEN planes are all the flights that are currently in the air having departed LAX. The BLUE planes are all the flights currently inbound to LAX. This might look like a lot of flights, but it’s not even close to the volume that would be seen at one of the busiest airports in the world on a typical Saturday at 11:00 a.m. Even more noticeable is the lack of international flights, both arriving and departing. There are only four flights in the air right now inbound from Europe, two of which are coming from the United Kingdom–one Aeroflot flight from Moscow, and one Air France flight from Paris. I’m not sure why those last two are still flying when Trump has shut down all travel from Europe outside of the UK, but there they are.

Even more interesting is this look at Las Vegas’s McCarran International. On a typical Saturday morning, LAS would be swamped with arriving and departing flights, with a multitude of international flights as well. As we know, all casinos in the state are closed, along with most of the hotels attached to them. This makes Las Vegas decidedly undesirable. Here’s what LAS flights look like.

Again, green planes are outbound from LAS (fleeing the wasteland of a city that offers nothing at all when things are closed.) and blue planes are inbound to LAS. (I’m assuming mostly empty flights?) This is a pretty amazing look at the real status of things. There are around 25 flights inbound to Vegas, and the same number outbound. Normally right now there would be hundreds. Those hundreds would typically be completely full flights as well, and from what I’m hearing, many of the flights you see in the air right now are only flying to fill an FAA slot, operating at a big loss.

One thing you can see here is that there are no international flights save two from Mexico, one commercial flight from Guadalajara, and one private flight from Los Cabos. That’s it, everything else is domestic.

Looking at international flights, let’s take a peek at the normally jammed North Atlantic flight corridor between North America and Europe:

This is every flight in the air over the Atlantic right now. Normally, this area would be a huge mess of planes looking like an almost solid line of traffic going both directions. There are still plenty of flights traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Great Britain, but most of the other traffic is completely gone. It will be interesting to see what effect this travel ban ends up having on the total carbon emissions in the upper atmosphere, particularly if this ends up lasting for months.

Maybe at least something good will come from this?

What are Germany and Switzerland doing right in the fight against the coronavirus?

I want to get right into this one and take a look at some of the numbers behind both Switzerland and Germany’s apparent success in controlling coronavirus fatalities. This has been all over the news lately, with a lot of people trying to figure out what it is that those countries are doing right. Let’s start by taking a look at mortality growth rates for Germany and Switzerland, as well as some of the countries around them, with the United Kingdom and the United States also thrown in for comparison.

Germany

First recorded fatality: March 9th

Date 3/14 3/15 3/16 3/17 3/18 3/19 3/20 3/21 3/22 3/23 3/24 3/25
# of deaths 9 13 17 26 28 44 68 84 94 123 159 206

 

As Europe has become the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, Italy’s fatality rate hovers around 10%, France’s is around 5%, and yet right next door, Germany’s fatality rate from COVID-19 has remained remarkably low since cases started showing up there more than a month ago. As of March 25, there were 206 deaths and 37,323 cases, representing a fatality rate of .55%. Of course, this number is fairly meaningless, but it’s one being heavily quoted by those trying to figure out what Germany is doing right.

“I believe that we are just testing much more than in other countries, and we are detecting our outbreak early,” said Christian Drosten, director of the institute of virology at Berlin’s Charité hospital.

Drosten reported that Germany’s low fatality rate is because of his country’s ability to test early and often. He was part of a team that developed the first public domain Covid-19 test, and he estimates Germany has been testing around 120,000 people a week during the monthlong period from late February to now. That’s significant. It means that they are testing a significant number of the country’s youth, those much more likely to survive the coronavirus infection.

“We have a culture here in Germany that is actually not supporting a centralized diagnostic system,” said Drosten, “so Germany does not have a public health laboratory that would restrict other labs from doing the tests. So, we had an open market from the beginning.”

One of the problems with these low numbers is that they are likely to result in false premises and increased infection rates as people ignore lockdown orders because of a lack of awareness of the dangers. Just three days ago, on the 22nd of March, Germany finally implemented a national curfew, well behind those issued by most surrounding countries.

It was President Trump’s travel ban of March 11th that was actually the first wake-up call to Germany, surprising them and putting them into a scramble to catch up. It wasn’t until the 16th of March that the first German state (Bavaria) declared a state of emergency to be put into place for the next 14 days. Restrictions on restaurants began that same day, but were quite lax, just limiting dine-in options to any time after 3pm with five feet required separation between diners.

Bavaria was the first German state again to implement a curfew, this happening on March 20th.

It wasn’t until March 22nd, just three days ago, that Germany began forbidding group gatherings and closing businesses.

 

Switzerland

First recorded fatality: March 5th

Date 3/14 3/15 3/16 3/17 3/18 3/19 3/20 3/21 3/22 3/23 3/24 3/25
# of deaths 13 14 19 27 33 43 56 80 98 120 122 153

 

Switzerland has the second-highest rate of coronavirus infection per capita in the world, after Italy. However, this is incredibly misleading as a stand-alone stat because they’re also testing more people than any country except South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and Norway.

There’s no doubt that they have a very low death count at a current 153, but that is also very misleading. This is the problem with death counts by country. They don’t take into account so many factors, which I’ll go into in just a bit.

What steps has Switzerland taken to control the spread of the virus? The government has issued a recommendation to all citizens to stay at home, especially the sick and the elderly. It has announced a countrywide ban on gatherings of more than five people. An “extraordinary situation” has been declared, resulting in a ban on all private and public events and closing bars, restaurants, sports and cultural spaces; only businesses providing essential goods remain open. Schools are closed nationwide. The measures are in force until April 19. (https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/covid-19_coronavirus–the-situation-in-switzerland/45592192) Entry into the country was effectively banned starting just today. Only Swiss citizens, Swiss residents, those entering the country for professional reasons (e.g., those who work there and have a permit to prove it), and those transiting through, can enter. Even foreign partners of Swiss citizens, who do not have a right of residence in the country, will be turned away at the point of entry.

Fairly severe for a country that has only 153 fatalities.

One of Switzerland’s biggest problems is that there are only 1000 ventilators in the entire country. At a critical infection rate that is probably 5%, that means with just 20,000 infections, their ventilator capacity will be at maximum. And that’s assuming some aren’t already in use by people with other illnesses, which obviously is not the case. In fact, a large number of their ventilators are likely already in use. Switzerland currently has about 11,000 cases of Covid-19, which means they’re about to be in trouble if they can’t get more ventilators. And those aren’t too easy to find these days.

 

Spain

First recorded fatality: March 3rd

Date 3/14 3/15 3/16 3/17 3/18 3/19 3/20 3/21 3/22 3/23 3/24 3/25
#of deaths 196 294 342 533 638 831 1093 1381 1772 2311 2991 3647

 

Most of daily life in Spain was fairly normal from the first fatality on March 3rd, until they reached almost 200 just a week-and-a-half later. On Saturday the 14th, Spain instituted a national quarantine. Everybody was ordered to stay home for the next two weeks. Things started to move quickly. All land borders were closed the next Monday, the 16th. Fines were implemented for quarantine violators. One person was interviewed by NPR about the restrictions. “Starting Monday, starting yesterday, we could face fines of more than $1,000 for not cooperating. And there are already – already seeing police all over the country patrolling streets, telling people to go home, to hurry up and, you know, when their dog does their business, to go back home immediately.” https://www.npr.org/2020/03/17/817021997/spain-hard-hit-by-coronavirus-pandemic-shuts-down

Things are pretty rough already in Spain. There are reports that the Spanish military—who have basically taken over law enforcement duties there—have found older residents of some care homes completely abandoned and even dead in their beds. Defense Minister Margarita Robles told television reporters that soldiers disinfecting homes and providing emergency health care services to residential homes across the country are finding dead bodies. She was unable to give an exact figure for the abandoned dead, but it sounds nightmarish. (https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/03/24/820711855/spanish-military-finds-dead-bodies-and-seniors-completely-abandoned-in-care-home)

Here’s a report from Madrid of one elder care home where twenty people were left abandoned and dead by health care workers. It’s not a pretty picture in Spain, and it’s only getting worse.

France

First recorded fatality: February 15th (This seems to be an anomaly though, so we should use the date of their second fatality, February 26th for comparison purposes.)

Date 3/14 3/15 3/16 3/17 3/18 3/19 3/20 3/21 3/22 3/23 3/24 3/25
# of deaths 91 127 148 175 264 372 450 562 674 860 1100 1333

 

On Saturday, March 7th, 3550 people in France set the Guinness World Record for largest gathering of Smurfs. Yeah, those Smurfs, the blue little creatures from the old cartoons. While the rest of the world looked on in shock, French Smurfs were being interviewed at the gathering.

“We figured we wouldn’t worry and that as French people we wouldn’t give up on our attempt to break the record, and now we’re champions of the world!” One attendee told the AFP news agency.

“There’s no risk — we’re Smurfs! Yes, we’re going to Smurfize the coronavirus!” said another.

“(This) was more important. The coronavirus is no big deal, it’s nothing,” another said.

Some people in France finally got it when the first actual lockdown and movement restrictions were put into place on Saturday, March 14th. Unfortunately, some people—probably the same ones from the Smurf gathering—decided to flood social media with videos of themselves out and about in parks and squares and plazas on Sunday the 15th. That forced the French government to institute even stricter rules starting Monday the 16th. Today, anybody outside their home must have a signed document detailing their reasons for being out. French police drones fly overhead monitoring the quarantine orders. Exercise is allowed only as long as you remain within one kilometer of your home and you only do it for one hour maximum, one time per day. Many southern French cities have curfews in place that completely restrict movement during hours of darkness. Fines are progressive, starting at €135 and going up to €3700, with 4-time violators heading to prison for up to six months.

Sound severe enough? These restrictions are quite an upgrade from just a week or so prior when 3500 alleged adults put on blue paint and danced in a square. You think maybe, just maybe, France is regretting their flagrant little Smurfcapade? How many people will die in the chain-reaction of Smurfpidity that led to that gathering? Why didn’t anybody listen to any of the hundreds of Papa Smurfs, who surely could have told them all what an abso-smurf-ly stupid endeavor this world record attempt was? I know I’m being tough on them for this, but there’s no nice way to put it. And this is not hindsight. I tweeted about it and I talked about how dumb it was in an article the day after it happened. This was stupidity on the highest level possible.

If they held this rally today, I have a feeling there would be a disproportionate representation of Sneezy Smurf and Respiratory Failure Smurf in the group.

 

Italy

First recorded fatality: February 21st

Date 3/14 3/15 3/16 3/17 3/18 3/19 3/20 3/21 3/22 3/23 3/24 3/25
# of deaths 1441 1809 2158 2503 2979 3405 4032 4825 5476 6077 6820 7503

 

A lot has been written about Italy, so I’m not going to go into detail here. They are immersed in an absolute disaster right now, the worst in the world. Unfortunately, I think the rest of the world isn’t too far behind.

 

United Kingdom

First recorded fatality: March 5th

Date 3/14 3/15 3/16 3/17 3/18 3/19 3/20 3/21 3/22 3/23 3/24 3/25
# of deaths 21 35 55 71 104 144 177 233 281 335 422 466

 

In the UK, fatality rates are increasing at an alarming rate in relation to their population. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has only recently come to this realization, just a few days ago taking steps to close all of the UK’s bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, cinemas, and schools. Why did it take so long for him to act, with the very obvious troubles the world was facing? According to this article in BuzzFeed, there were dayslong “heated” and “extremely difficult” arguments between top British scientists and high ranking members of the government over what steps needed to be taken to get control of the infection.

While the scientific debate raged between experts, officials, and ministers, Johnson’s government was publicly insisting that the scientific advice showed the UK did not yet have to bring in more stringent measures to fight the virus. They realized how wrong they were when this chart was published showing a comparison of the path of infections in the UK and the very obviously hellish conditions in Italy:

This is pretty unequivocal evidence that the UK is headed right into an Italian-level crisis and Johnson finally took steps to stop it. Within the next few days, we’ll see if those steps are going to be successful. It’s almost certain they won’t be.

United States

First recorded fatality: March 1st

Date 3/14 3/15 3/16 3/17 3/18 3/19 3/20 3/21 3/22 3/23 3/24 3/25
# of deaths 57 69 87 110 150 206 255 301 414 555 780 1042

 

The United States hit 4-digit death numbers today and is clearly following a doubling path that is three days or fewer. I had somebody ask me today what I thought of the over/under on maximum number of U.S. deaths in any one day would be, with the total being set at 1947 deaths. I would never bet on such a thing, but, if I was going to, over. Way over. I’ve written plenty about the state of the coronavirus in the U.S., and don’t want to rehash it, but with 362 deaths yesterday, it seems we are only two weeks away from days of 5000 or more deaths, and we are nowhere near reaching the peak of our mortality rate curve.

***

As you can see in the above charts, both Germany and Switzerland would seem at first glance to be doing something correctly. There have been many explanations for this, from a younger population, better quarantine procedures, better and more readily available testing, and better medical care. The problem with just looking at the total fatality numbers though, is that they don’t tell the whole story. We really need to look at a bunch more numbers in order to determine if the fatalities in these countries are truly better than they are in others.

One of the things that many people point to when they laud Germany and Switzerland for impressively low fatality rates, is the actual Case Fatality Rate (CFR). This does indeed appear to be very low in these two countries when compared with Italy, for example. In Germany, the CFR is just under .5%, whereas in Italy it is over 10%. This number is basically meaningless though, without knowing the demographics of everyone being tested. If you want a good primer on CFR, check out this article. Obviously, if Germany is testing a huge percentage of the youth of their country, and they’re finding a large number of people who are positive for Covid-19, those people are going to have a low fatality rate and it will skew the number downward. Conversely, perhaps Italy is testing an inordinate number of elderly people, or an inordinate number of people (as a percentage of the whole number of tests given) who are checking themselves into the hospital, already sick. This would cause their number to skew upward in an inaccurate manner.

There’s just not enough accurate information regarding the demographics behind testing metrics for us to make any valid assumptions. For that reason, I think all numbers regarding testing and positive case numbers should basically just be ignored. Even if those numbers are accurate, they’re fairly inconsequential without knowing exactly what percentage of the population has actually been tested, and then comparing countries using those numbers.

Although we don’t have accurate information for that, we do have mostly accurate information on fatality numbers, and we have completely accurate information on country-specific demographics, so let’s take a look at those numbers.

 

  United States United Kingdom Germany Spain France Italy Switzerland
Total population 331 million 67.8 million 83.7 million 46.7 million 65.2 million 60.5 million 8,600,000
Density (per sq mi) 94 727 623 243 309 532 567
Median Age 38.3  years 40.5  years 45.7  years 44.9 years 42.3 years 47.3 years 43.1 years
Percent urban population 82.8 83.2 76.3 80.3 81.5 69.5 74.0
Percent of world’s total fatalities 4.47 2.20 0.97 17.21 6.30 35.40 0.72
Fatalities per 1 million population 2.86 6.87 2.46 78.09 20.44 124.02 17.79

 

 

It’s fairly obvious from this chart that Switzerland at least, is not doing as well as it might appear by looking only at fatality numbers. The number of fatalities is certainly low, (currently at 153) but as a percentage of their entire population, with 17.79 deaths per million citizens, they are significantly ahead of the UK, the U.S., and Germany.

Germany, however, is doing well, the lowest mortality rate on this chart while having one of the higher population median ages, and the highest total population in Europe. If one of the given reasons for Italy’s high mortality rate is their aging population at a median of 47.3 years, then Germany at 45.7 years ought to be doing nearly as bad as Italy. A year-and-a-half isn’t too far off with regard to median age. So, what is the reason for their low mortality numbers?

Germany has a fairly high density rate, and we know the virus thrives on high population densities, so that would again indicate they’re doing something right. The U.S. has a very low density rate, but that number is very misleading because huge states with small populations like Alaska, Texas, and Montana really skew those numbers. If you look a little closer at some of the worst-hit states in the U.S., New York has a population density of 421 per square mile, with New York City at a staggering 26,400 per. California is at 251 per square mile, and Washington State, the original U.S. viral epicenter has an average density of 750 per square mile in its three most populous counties where the virus has hit the hardest. Earlier, I mentioned evidence of the trajectory that the UK was on, matching Italy’s fatality chart, and so, with a population density nearly as high as the UK, and a median age even higher, why has Germany been so successful?

I don’t think they actually are. I think they’re just behind most of their neighbors through nothing more than pure variance or luck. And, I think they’re going to catch up quickly.

Germany didn’t hit 30 coronavirus deaths until March 19th. France and Spain both hit that number on March 9th, ten days earlier. A week after hitting the 30-death mark, France had 148 deaths, and Spain had 342. Today, on the 25th, a week after hitting the 30-death mark, Germany has 206 deaths, putting them right near the middle between France and Spain. The worst hit country in the world, Italy, had 30 deaths on February 29th. A week later, March 7th, they had 233 deaths. That’s very close to Germany’s 206 deaths.

Germany doesn’t seem to actually be far behind Italy or Spain, and they’re well ahead of France when looking at first coronavirus fatality to total deaths a week later, the most recent comparable figure for Germany. In the next week or so, we’ll be able to track this line further. If Germany is going to see a mortality explosion, it’s going to start happening early next week, and their fatality line will project upwards at the same rate as the countries around them. With the lack of isolation efforts and the lackadaisical attitude of a population that has been convinced by the media that they have some kind of special immunity, it’s likely that Germany is going to actually end up being the hotspot of Europe in about two weeks.

This Covid-19 virus is the same virus everywhere. The people in Germany are sick with the exact same virus as the people in Italy, as the people in China, as the people in the United States. If you see CFR numbers that don’t seem to match, it has nothing to do with arbitrary land borders. There’s usually going to be a reasonable explanation if you just look at the math and analyze the situation.

Maybe with the exception of France. Their numbers are going to be off the Smurfing charts before this is over.

Will President Trump actually decide to reopen the United States on Easter Sunday?

Setting aside the semantical difficulties of declaring a grand re-opening of a country that isn’t actually closed, the real question is, will President Trump make the decision that American lives are worth less than the economy?

And, it’s actually a legitimate question.

If you’re one of those people who says, “You can’t put a price on a human life,” please just stop reading now. This article is not going to go your way. In fact, nothing I write is going to go your way. The reason, of course, is that that line of thinking is just ridiculous. If plunging this nation into a recession, and quite possibly a depression, required signing a death warrant on one single person for example, the choice would be obvious. Bad luck for you, random person that I hopefully don’t know.

So, as long as we agree that human life does indeed have a monetary value, then we just need to figure out what that value is. I think that everyone still reading would agree—though they may not like admitting it—that if the cost of saving the entire United States economy was that .00001% of the population (33 lives) would have to die from Covid-19, we should probably get the lottery process started. So, how about .0001% (332 lives)? How about .001% (3320 lives)? How about .01% (33200 lives?) Or, how about 10% (33.2 million lives)? It’s like the old joke with the guy asking a woman if she would sleep with him for increasing dollar amounts, and when he gets up to 100 billion dollars and she finally says that she guesses she would sleep with him for that amount, he replies, “Okay, ma’am, so we’ve determined that you are indeed a prostitute, now we’re just negotiating price.”

Right now, Donald Trump is just simply trying to figure out how expensive of a prostitute he is.

At some number of lives it’s definitely time to pull the plug on this economic shutdown. You see, as dumb as he may be, President Trump certainly has the intelligence to hear the words that the experts are speaking, and the ability to interpret those words and come to the inevitable conclusion that this coronavirus is not going to be marching down the primrose path to obscurity come the completely arbitrary date of Easter morning, April 12th, 2020. No, in spite of the sunny picture he portrayed in the town hall and press conference yesterday, President Trump can’t possibly believe that lunacy.

I believe he’s actually currently trying to decide how many American lives are worth sacrificing in order to save the economy from disaster. And, more importantly, he’s trying to decide how many American lives he can sign death warrants for and still win reelection in November. Because, whatever you think about him, when it comes to winning another four years in the White House, he’s pragmatic, and let’s face it, politicians gonna politic, and sadly, reelection is really all most of them care anything about.

I don’t know at what conclusion he’s going to arrive. I’m actually really glad it’s not me that has to make that decision. Because, in spite of media reports that seem to think he truly believes things will be better by April 12th, I’m just not buying it. Basically, I’m operating on the “nobody is that dumb” principle, particularly not somebody with every available expert resource on the planet at his fingertips and his beck and call. Trump surely understands the enormity of his upcoming decision much the same way that President Franklin D. Roosevelt understood the magnitude of his decisions preceding the news out of Hawaii on December 7th, 1941. Roosevelt knew that voluntarily going to war in Europe would be tantamount to signing hundreds of thousands of American death certificates. He was spared the brutal weight of making that painful decision by the Japanese forcing his hand that fateful day.

Nobody is going to be there to bail out President Trump in this upcoming, monstrous decision.

This decision will ultimately be his alone. Though governors across the nation will fight him on that decision, whichever way it falls, it will still be his call in the end. And let’s be clear, it’s not an easy call to make. Both decisions—to maintain the status quo and fight the virus through social isolation while our economy slips into oblivion—or to tap out, to retire to the corner and concede victory, hoping to recover and regroup, will result in many fatalities. People will die as we remain in isolation and our economy tumbles into the gutter. Suicide rates will skyrocket. Homelessness will soar. Jobs will be lost, some forever. Domestic violence murders will rise. There’s a real chance of civil unrest, riots, looting, murder, and mayhem. The ramifications of pulling us out of the bonds of our isolation orders are obvious.

The only decisions that land on the president’s desk are the tough ones though. When you run for the presidency, you accept that you’re going to have to make very difficult decisions. Decisions that will cost many lives.

If he does decide to “reopen” and return to business as usual, the death rate will be higher than the current 1% or so estimated fatality rate from the virus alone. Health care systems will be overloaded, even if we do get more than two weeks to prepare. Our health care infrastructure is just too decimated to handle an influx of the magnitude we’ll see with a full return to normal function. People that otherwise could have been saved had there been resources available, will instead die. It will be ugly. As if 1% of the population (3.32 million deaths) wasn’t ugly enough.

The good news behind a return to normalcy is that it’s very likely the second wave of infections that’s almost certainly coming next November will be much more controllable. Both choices are going to result in many, many deaths. Remaining in lockdown is just going to make that next viral infection surge another national emergency. And that national emergency will be much more difficult to control, with the economy already in full decimation due to the effects of this current lockdown. Not to mention, the election is next November. What chance will Trump have of winning another four years if the economy is in shambles, America is in a recession, and a second wave of coronavirus infections is decimating the population?

What’s a number that’s close to zero?

Since reelection and the economy are Trump’s primary concerns at all times, what decision will he make?

I have a feeling this lockdown is going to last exactly another 18 days. I suspect we’ll get the news on Good Friday, the 10th of April, that all isolation orders are canceled and that the population should return to a normal routine effective Easter Sunday. Possibly there will be requests for the elderly and the vulnerable to remain quarantined in place, an attempt to keep the most susceptible of our population safe. The rest of us though, will be released. I suspect this will be the decision that Trump eventually makes. You see, because as the economy goes, so does Trump’s electability. And that’s going to mean that the decision makes itself. I guess there is a bailout for him—the economy, in tandem with the election. In that case, the decision seems already made.

I just don’t know if it’s the right one.

See you guys on April 12th.

 

What the F**k is going on with Italy’s coronavirus nightmare?

Although the Covid-19 coronavirus started in Wuhan, China, and ran rampant through the entire Hubei province, it is quickly becoming obvious that Italy has overtaken China as the current viral hotspot of this outbreak. Why is this? What happened in Italy that caused this historical tourist destination full of vibrancy and joie de vivre to see a such a virulent outbreak that is decimating their country?

When a 38-year-old man with severe flu symptoms and respiratory problems walked into the emergency room at a hospital in Codogno, a small town in the Lombardy province of northern Italy on February 18th, medical professionals were not too concerned. Despite the well-documented and dangerous spread of what was then called the Wuhan Coronavirus in China, this man reported that he had not recently traveled nor had any direct contact with anybody who had recently traveled to China, with the exception of one friend who had returned from China but had already tested negative for the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, despite not traveling out of the country in recent weeks, this patient had had an incredibly busy month.

In the last couple of weeks, he’d attended at least three very social and busy dinners with numerous guests. He’d played soccer a few times and traveled with his team to different matches. In between, he had maintained an active and full social life full of meetings with friends for drinks, coffee, and lunch. When, on February 14th, he finally began developing symptoms and feeling unwell, he visited a local doctor where he was prescribed standard treatments for influenza. He resumed his lifestyle on a slightly muted level. It was later discovered that during all of this time and through all of his social contacts, he’d been Covid-19 positive and asymptomatic.

Even after his initial visit to the emergency room on February 18th, he didn’t isolate himself, perhaps lulled by the false sense of security in doctors telling him he just had the flu. He declined hospitalization and decided to get better at home. Later that same day, he was much sicker and returned to the hospital where he was admitted into a general medical ward. He was kept in close proximity to other patients and had a constant stream of nurses and doctors checking on him. Two days later, on February 20th, he was finally transferred to the intensive care unit where he finally received a positive test for the coronavirus and was put into isolation.

His wasn’t the first case of the coronavirus in Italy. On January 31st, two Chinese tourists in Rome tested positive, and a week later, an Italian who had been repatriated from Wuhan also tested positive. The Italian government had already suspended all flights to and from China, and there had been an uneasy silence as the health ministry waited to see if the virus had been contained. The case in Codogno squashed those dreams quickly.

Because of his very active lifestyle, specialists began calling this man a Super Spreader. It’s estimated that he personally infected scores, if not hundreds of people prior to his diagnosis. Although identifying Patient Zero in Italy has been impossible due to open borders in the European Union, Italian authorities have determined that this man is probably Patient One in the spread chart, having likely contracted the virus from another unknown European.

Without a traceable source of the contagion, and with the incredibly high number of contacts from this patient, Italy had no chance of containing the virus.

Doctor Walter Ricciardi, the scientific adviser to Italy’s Minister of Health, said that it was incredibly bad luck that this man, the Super Spreader, lived such an active lifestyle in one of the most densely populated and dynamic areas in all of Italy, and that he went to the hospital in Codogno not once, but twice, infecting hundreds of people including many doctors and nurses. “He was incredibly active,” Ricciardi said.

On Sunday, February 23rd, just a few days after the Super Spreader was officially diagnosed, Italians watched as the number of infected clicked stealthily into triple digits and authorities began to get worried. Eleven municipalities in Lombardy province were identified as coronavirus clusters and were placed under quarantine, locked down by police and military roadblocks. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte canceled all sporting events in Lombardy Province.

Police man a roadblock in a sealed off town in northern Italy. credit…Piero Cruciatti Agence France-Presse

The next day, infections climbed over 200, seven deaths attributed to the virus had been recorded, the Italian stock market was in freefall, and PM Conte was looking for a scapegoat. He blamed the hospital in Codogno for contributing to the spread by not isolating the Super Spreader immediately, and also blamed them for instituting aggressive testing of even those patients without symptoms, something he claimed was exaggerating the severity of the problem by falsely bloating the case numbers. His concern? The economic damage to the country through what he thought was an unfair representation of the severity of the problem.

Sound familiar, Americans?

On February 27th in Milan, the largest city in the Lombardo region, only about forty miles from the center of the outbreak in Codogno, the mayor, Beppe Sala, began publicizing a campaign with the slogan, “Milan Does Not Stop.” He shared a Milan promotional video he’d had created that contained images of people hugging each other, eating in restaurants, walking in parks and waiting at train stations. The most famous square in Milan, Duomo Square, anchored by the landmark cathedral that is a major tourist destination, had been closed since the February 23rd lockdown instituted by PM Conte. Sala reopened it, declaring that the Milanese people would not let the virus interfere with their way of life. People came out of their homes and resumed their lives.

Duomo square in Milan credit Flavio Lo Scalzo/Reuters

Additionally, Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of the co-ruling democratic party in Italy began his own campaign of disinformation. On February 27th, he traveled to Milan where he posted pictures to his Instagram account that showed him eating and drinking with people in Milan with the following translated slogan, “Let’s not lose our habits, we can’t stop Milan and Italy. Our economy is stronger than fear: we go out to drink an aperitif, a coffee or to eat a pizza.” On the 28th of February, he returned to Rome where he met for hours with party leaders, jammed together in a close room, shaking hands and quite possibly discussing the overreaction of the Prime Minister. On March 6th, he held a press conference about the virus in a crowded room with associates and reporters.

On March 7th, he announced he had tested positive for Covid-19.

Drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may be dead.
Hmmm…why does my throat feel so scratchy?

By March 8th, it was readily apparent that Italy had a huge problem on its hands. Total confirmed cases had blossomed to almost 6000. Deaths grew in a 24- hour period from 233 to 366, an increase of more than 50%. Prime Minister Conte ordered the entirety of Lombardy province and 14 other provinces in the heavily infected northern Italy to be quarantined. The news of the imminent quarantine leaked before it could be fully implemented, and thousands of southern Italians who were on holiday in the north fled in a panicked rush to their homes in the south, jamming onto trains and furthering the spread of the infection throughout the country. Holding an impromptu press conference at 2 a.m., Conte urged the population not to panic. He was optimistic about the future and the success they would have in defeating the virus. He warned them to isolate and practice good social distancing. He urged them not to be clever and look for loopholes, but to do what they must to protect their aging population.

The quarantine was instituted and the 25% of Italians were completely locked down.

Police check travel documents and enforce quarantines at a train station in Italy credit Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

It didn’t work. A day later, Italians were basically ignoring the orders and going about their business, huddled up in coffee shops and restaurants for their daily breakfast and lunch meetings, packing public squares, and hugging and kissing each other in greetings on the streets.

On March 10th, fatalities had nearly doubled from two days prior, hitting a total of 631, and Conte put the entire country into a national lockdown. A few days later, bars, restaurants, theaters, and all other non-essential businesses were finally ordered closed across the country. Conte addressed the nation and thanked them for their sacrifices in a very somber tone, far different from the earlier optimism he’d exhibited.

All the steps he’d taken had been reactionary, and those measures had lagged behind the lethal explosion of the infection rate. Italy was in a lot of trouble and Conte knew it.

“It is not easy in a liberal democracy,” said Doctor Ricciardi, at a press conference. He argued that the Italian government acted on the scientific evidence made available to it, and that they took the appropriate steps. Italy’s efforts to contain the virus were piecemeal though, shutting down first small towns, then provinces, then finally the entire country, while slowly closing businesses in the same lackadaisical manner, leaving enough loopholes to make the U.S. tax code look as sound as the vaults of Fort Knox.

All of their efforts just seemed to constantly lag slightly behind the virus’s lethal trajectory.

Sandra Zampa, the undersecretary of health in Italy admitted as much. “Now we are running after it. We closed gradually, as Europe is doing. France, Spain, Germany, the U.S. are doing the same. Every day you close a bit, you give up on a bit of normal life. Because the virus does not allow normal life.” Although she admitted they’d been constantly chasing the virus and had gotten caught in a complacency rut, she said she didn’t know what steps they could have taken differently given the difficulties faced by a democratic republic in instituting drastic and draconian measures.

Other Italian officials agreed, responding defensively to criticism, stating that they had done as much or more than any other democratic state to attempt to stop the coronavirus from spreading. They claimed they immediately acted on the advice of scientists and specialists and implemented unprecedented steps sooner than anyone. They’re only partially right of course, as the examples from earlier have shown. And the fact is, most of their drastic steps were reactive instead of proactive, and they missed many opportunities out of complacency.

And this coronavirus thrives on complacency.

In the United States, the population has much the same problem abiding by shelter-in-place and quarantine orders as Italy. In fact, it’s possible we have an even bigger problem. We’re far less family-centric than Italy, where grandparents live in generational family units and are revered. Much of the youthful population of the U.S. seems decidedly unconcerned with the effect of the coronavirus on the elderly of our community. They also seem to resent the authority of government to enforce stay-at-home orders, flauntingly ignoring the isolation pleas of governors by congregating on beaches, parks, and underground clubs. The complacency seen here in the United States seems to top that seen in Italy at the beginning of their growing struggle, and, as mentioned earlier, the coronavirus thrives on complacency.

The steps taken in Italy are arguably much more stringent than those taken in the United States. Here, we have only instituted shelter-in-place or stay-at-home type lockdowns in sixteen of our fifty states, with Washington State instituting that policy as I type this. Italy locked down their entire country. In the U.S., enforcement of the lock downs is sparse or non-existent. In Italy, travel authorizations are being checked by police at train and bus stations, and the military has been called in to support police with quarantine roadblocks around cities and towns. Will those militaristic and oppressive steps be implemented here in the U.S.? It seems really likely that our near future lies on exactly that path.

The inability of our leadership to present a unified front doesn’t help, much like it didn’t help in Italy with the Prime Minister telling people to isolate while the democratic leadership and the mayor at the epicenter of the outbreak declared, “We Won’t Stop.” President Trump tweeted the following on March 9th, just two weeks ago today, comparing the coronavirus to the flu in an insinuation that the flu was worse:

Just TODAY in a press conference to the nation, he made mention again of the death rate of the flu and even threw in the death rate of automobile accidents in order to minimize the fatality rate of the coronavirus. He also has been hinting that this lockdown will not last more than another week or so, the magical “fifteen-day” mark when he will reevaluate the impact on the economy and decide how best to proceed, hinting that he will probably choose to end the lockdown and restore the status quo. This is incredibly dangerous as studies like the one in one of my previous blogs shows. This lockdown will need to last for months, not a couple of weeks in order to be successful.

So, the real question is, what is the likelihood that we’re going to see a coronavirus path similar to the one seen in Italy? It’s a little difficult to make a true comparison because of a number of differences in our population:

  1. The median age in Italy is 47.3 years, where in the U.S. it is 38.3. Since the virus infects older people at a higher rate and more severely, it is less likely the U.S. will see the same fatality rate. On the other hand, people in Italy are generally healthier than in America, with obesity and heart disease issues significantly higher here. The coronavirus feeds on the unhealthy at an even greater disparity than it feeds on the elderly. That may mitigate the age spread factor, however, it’s impossible to do more than speculate as to how much.
  2. The population of Italy is 60.5 million while in the U.S. it is 331 million. The U.S. has about 5.5 times as many people, which means when comparing numbers, it’s necessary to multiply Italy’s numbers by 5.5 to get comparable numbers for the U.S.
  3. Although the population is significantly lower in Italy, the population density is higher. The virus spreads more merrily through a dense population, so while the results of cities like New York and L.A. may mimic the numbers of the population centers of Italy, taken as a whole for the country, it’s not likely the United States will see comparable fatality figures, especially away from the coastal population centers.

Let’s take a look at a weekly chart of cases and fatalities in both Italy and in the United States. Keep in mind that Italy was way ahead of the U.S. with regard to testing. As the U.S. finally ramps up testing, we can expect to see our confirmed case numbers explode in a way that’s difficult to compare. They’re still listed here for information, but mainly we should focus on the deaths as opposed to the cases.

 

Weekly growth of cases and fatalities in ITALY Weekly growth of cases and fatalities in the U.S.A.
February 23rd 157 cases and 3 deaths February 23rd 35 cases and 0 deaths
March 1st 1701 cases and 41 deaths March 1st 75 cases and 1 death
March 8th 7375 cases and 366 deaths March 8th 531 cases and 22 deaths
March 15th 24747 cases and 1809 deaths March 15th 3680 cases and 68 deaths
March 22nd 59138 cases and 5476 deaths March 22nd 33566 cases and 413 deaths
March 23rd 63927 cases and 6077 deaths March 23rd 43718 cases and 552 deaths

 

It’s somewhat difficult to see here on a weekly scale, but the fatality doubling rate in Italy has an average time span of about four days. The United States has about the same doubling rate. If you multiply Italy’s fatalities by a factor of 5.5 to account for total population difference, you can see that at the current number as of the time of this writing, the U.S. at 552 deaths would be equal to Italy at 100 deaths, which (not on this chart) was reached on March 4th, putting us 19 days behind them. Our death total yesterday, March 22nd, was 413, which would equal Italy’s 75 deaths which occurred on March 3rd, again, exactly 19 days behind them. Going back further, the U.S. had 68 deaths on March 15th which would equal Italy’s 12 deaths, and that occurred on February 26th, exactly 19 days earlier.

It’s impossible to say if this 19-day trend is going to continue, as there just aren’t enough data points to be certain, but the fatality rate sure seems to be following the exact path with the few data points that we have. In fact, if you look at a graph of fatality rates on a logarithmic scale, you can see that they look very similar, as you can see in this not-very-well-constructed overlay. In fact, though the comparison is not quite to the exact scale, the U.S. log track actually appears steeper, and that’s pretty terrifying.

If this rate remains identical, Italy’s 6077 deaths today, March 23rd, will mean 33,423 U.S. deaths 19 days from now, on April 11th, a number that is significantly higher than the number expected through the 4-day doubling average I observed and recorded in earlier blogs. 33,423 would represent a doubling average of about every three days instead, and the rapidly exploding numbers we’ve seen in the last five days or so would seem to support that rate.

If this holds true, it puts us on track to hit 1 million deaths here in the U.S. on April 26th, a good two weeks earlier than the mid-May timeframe I predicted for that ghastly number just two weeks ago.

This is not a prediction, it’s just simply an overview of the mathematical rate of expected fatalities, and a warning of what we might expect after analyzing what’s happening in Italy right now. It’s what we can look forward to if it is indeed true that the actions of the Italian people seem to mimic very closely what has taken place here in America. In Italy they are stacking up bodies because the morgue can’t handle the number of dead. There are reports of bodies lying in apartments for days, with nobody to pick them up to even take them to the morgue. There are reports of hospitals running out of supplies and instituting triage efforts to try to care for those they can still save. Doctors and nurses are catching the virus and dying, leading to even more desperation. It’s not a pretty picture and it’s been really bad there for at least the last 7 days.

If our infection rate and mortality path mimics theirs, it’s going to start getting really bad here about the middle of next week. That’s going to be right around the time Donald Trump is trying to get restrictions eased and isolation orders lifted. If he’s successful in that endeavor, things will be even worse.

It’s not going to be a great time to be anywhere in a major metropolitan center in America.

Let’s hope the numbers flatten out and don’t continue along this hellish and alarming path.

 

 

What exactly is MARTIAL LAW and will we see it declared during the coronavirus crisis?

There have been a lot of whispers lately about a possible declaration of Martial Law as a way of responding to the coronavirus crisis in which we currently find ourselves immersed. In order to get in front of fake news or misconceptions about what this means, I thought it might be a good idea to talk a little about what to expect if we do see such a declaration. Knowledge is power, and martial law can be incredibly frightening if you don’t understand what it means. Camouflaged military vehicles and armed soldiers in urban camo fatigues patrolling the streets with military weaponry is NOT something most Americans are used to seeing, and without knowing what those things actually mean, there’s a good chance that panic could erupt into chaos.

This article is going to deal with martial law as it is defined and implemented in the United States only. If you live in another jurisdiction, the implications are probably similar, particularly if you live in a democracy, but many things may be different, especially with regard to powers of the governors of the individual states here in the U.S.

Martial law is simply some form of military control over all of a country’s activities, mostly with regard to law enforcement and peacekeeping, and only during wartime or due to an emergency or widespread disaster. Martial law can be absolute, or it can also be limited in nature or scope for example, to a particular state only, or even to a county or small area within a state. Per United States law, martial law for the entire country can only be ordered by the president as commander-in-chief and must be limited to the duration of the emergency. The president has the power to use either the U.S. military to enforce martial law, or to co-opt the National Guards of each state to take control.

In addition to a full declaration of martial law in the United States by the president, governors of each state can impose full or limited martial law in their jurisdictions by utilizing the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard troops under their command to take control of law enforcement duties within their states or a portion of their states.

The reason that a declaration of martial law is needed to deploy guard or military troops is because those forces are prohibited from taking any legal action on U.S. soil or against U.S. citizens by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.  The Posse Comitatus Act was written into federal law expressly to limit the powers of the federal government to use federal troops to enforce domestic policies in the United States. Posse Comitatus applies specifically to just the U.S. Army and Air Force, which is why you see the Coast Guard, and sometimes even the U.S. Navy doing things like making arrests during drug interdiction and Customs enforcement along oceanic borders. There are some exceptions to Posse Comitatus such as the Enforcement Acts which were bills written to protect the rights of African Americans. Eisenhower used those exceptions to send federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas to protect civil rights in 1957. A declaration of martial law in an emergency situation suspends Posse Comitatus during the time frame of the emergency.

If we see martial law here in this country, the main thing we’ll notice will be that military troops will take the place of police officers to enforce the law or to keep the peace. In most instances they will work alongside the officers, supplementing their forces, however, the civilian police officers will be subject to the orders of the military commanders in this case. They most likely will implement some sort of curfew or forced quarantine of the population as well. These things become legal, and, in fact, martial law is usually declared in order to make these things legal, because the very important thing that a martial law declaration does is suspend habeas corpus.

It is this suspension of habeas corpus that makes martial law such a daunting declaration. Habeas corpus is the basis of our rights against unlawful arrest and detention. It is in fact, one of the underlying cornerstones of our democracy and our constitution, and represents one of the fundamental rights that we recognize as American citizens. Habeas corpus is the writ of law that guarantees us protection against unlawful arrest and the right to contest that arrest in an impartial court of law. These guarantees are so important that the writers of the constitution limited the ability of the government to suspend them right in Article One, Section Nine, which reads,

“The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”

So basically, if martial law is declared, in addition to military troops enforcing laws, they’ll also be able to arrest and detain people for pretty much any reason they want, and there will be no legal recourse like a court hearing or trial to dispute that arrest. So, yeah, declaring martial law is a pretty big deal.

Now, that’s not likely to be what happens in such a declaration. The troops are still accountable to their commanding officers, who are accountable to the governor, and military tribunals will still be convened to deal with any malfeasance, however, this suspension of habeas corpus is what allows them to enforce things like curfews or quarantines. With a state of martial law, civilian courts are shut down and military courts take over. This means that all citizens are subject to military law and can be tried in military courts. So, if you do see a martial law declaration you might want to get those shoes shined up, soldier.

Martial law has been declared several times in this country in the last hundred years:

West Virginia Coal Wars of 1920-1921. Governor Cornwell dispatched federal troops to deal with striking miners. This was a prime example of the suspension of habeas corpus as many striking union miners were arrested and jailed without any sort of trial or court order, and without having violated any written law.

In San Francisco, California in 1934, Governor Frank Merriam placed a very limited area of San Francisco under martial law, mostly relating to the area around the docks. This was in response to the riots resulting from a dock worker’s strike. The National Guard was used in this case, as opposed to federal troops.

In Hawaii, the state was held under martial law for almost three years following the Pearl Harbor attacks of December 7th, 1941. For those three years, Hawaii was effectively governed like enemy territory with the Army taking full control of all state government and law enforcement.

In Russell County, Alabama in July of 1954, Governor Persons declared limited martial law due to vast corruption by law enforcement officers in that county. The entire police force of the county, including the cities in that county were forced to stand down and the Alabama National Guard took over those duties. Major General Walter Hanna disarmed the citizenry, closed down illegal gambling establishments and businesses serving alcohol, and helped to bring about free elections, an establishment that had been corrupted for decades by the police force who were apparently all on the take from the illegal gambling rings.

So, will we see martial law declared during this coronavirus crisis?

I think the most likely scenario for a declaration of martial law would be the inability of police forces and emergency personnel to respond to developing scenarios. This could happen for a couple of reasons:

  1. The coronavirus could begin to spread through police or fire departments, cutting down on available manpower. This is a big possibility. As we all know by now, Covid-19 is highly contagious and spreads asymptomatically. If a single officer contracts the virus, he or she probably spreads that to others in his division, and those officers spread it on to still others. This could result in quarantine or isolation of huge chunks of these infected departments. We saw this in Kirkland, Washington, the epicenter of the virus in the United States. Twenty or more police officers and firefighters were quarantined for two weeks when a couple of them tested positive. We’re seeing it right now in other jurisdictions like NYPD, and in Washington D.C. where over 200 emergency personnel are currently being quarantined. If coronavirus begins to spread through large police and fire departments, the governors will have no choice but to begin sending in national guard troops to help out. This will be a limited declaration of martial law.
  2. If we start to see rioting and looting as this lockdown continues, and police forces are unable to keep up with peacekeeping, or they start to become overwhelmed with the additional responsibilities in enforcing quarantine/shelter-in-place orders in states that implement them. Currently, as of this writing, California and New York have issued such orders, and I expect we’ll see them in many more states, likely starting with Washington State and maybe Florida after that.
  3. If we start to see the health care system become overloaded and surge capacity of those systems is breached or ventilators become unavailable to people who need them. This will create panic, and guard troops may be needed to maintain order or to supplement security at existing and temporary hospitals. Presumably, the national guard medical units could also be called up to assist in providing care under a martial law declaration as well.
  4. With the borders being shut down completely as of today, there is a possibility that federal troops would be needed to supplement the Border Patrol and to help secure them. This would involve a limited federal declaration of martial law by President Trump.

I see a situation where one of these scenarios happens as quite likely to very likely. I do not foresee a total national declaration of martial law where U.S. Army troops are called in to enforce the peace, however, it seems very likely to me that governors will soon have no choice but to enforce at least limited martial law in sections of their states. It’s just impossible to stop this virus from spreading through emergency services personnel as they can’t be isolated and need to remain out in the public. When that happens, national guard troops are really the only recourse.

In conclusion, it might be a good idea to start doing some pushups and situps while you’re sitting at home. Those staff sergeants who are about to run our lives ain’t gonna put up with no slovenly behavior from the likes of you!

Sometimes there actually is a monster under the bed

Now that most of the world is officially in strongly-urged or forced lockdown and isolation, it’s time to look forward to the end of this viral pandemic. Thoughts of late spring days in the northern hemisphere when we can all get back to our normal lives, enjoying time with friends and family as these dark days slowly fade from our memories, will keep us sane over these weeks of isolation.

Of course, most of us are under the impression that this will last no more than a few weeks. Our companies told us we were being laid off just for two weeks, right? The governor of Nevada told us the casinos were all closed for just 30 days. Schools told us kids would be returning to school at the end of March, maybe the first week of April. This is all just a fun distraction with the end just around the corner, right?

Don’t count on it.

If you’re wondering why the world seemed to suddenly wake up to the incredible dangers we’re facing and took the dramatic steps we saw implemented globally yesterday, it’s very likely it was because of this report from the Imperial College of Medicine in Great Britain that was published two days ago. It’s twenty pages long and rather dense, so to save most of you the time of reading it, I’m going to summarize some of the most important (and quite terrifying) findings.

This first chart of infection hospitalization and fatality rates at first glance looks somewhat promising. After all, if you add all these numbers up, the actual fatality rate appears to be just under 1% across the board. That would be a miracle if that holds up to be true, as that rate was feared to be double that number just a short time ago. Another good number is the hospitalization rate, which at only 4.4% means it’s at least 2-3 times lower than many feared at first glance. These numbers have both come way down to the new estimation of the rate of infection, which has gone way up, as we’ll see a bit later. The concerning element of this chart though, is the percentage of cases requiring critical care, which averages out to about 30% of all hospitalizations.

Critical care in SARS related illnesses means a trip to the ICU for a date with a ventilator. A stay in the ICU means a longer overall stay in the hospital. In addition, the average fatality rates of those in the ICU is 50%, which is very high, but inordinately weighted toward those over the age of 80. The real worry about the ICU rate is the number of beds and ventilators required, and the critical surge capacity of our hospitals. Remember, the fatality rate of those who need a ventilator and don’t get one will be 100%, or very close to it.

The study estimates an R-naught rate of 2.4, which is incredibly high. This means that each infected person infects almost two-and-a-half others on average, which is significantly higher than most of the viral outbreaks we’ve seen recently. This R₀ rate, would result in an infection rate of approximately 81% of the population, with an estimated 2.2 million deaths in the United States alone, had we decided to take no action, or very limited action in response to Covid-19. These numbers do not take into account all of the additional deaths that would occur due to an overload of the surge capacity of our healthcare system. The study estimated that the peak required ICU admissions would reach more than 30 times the national capacity. That would have resulted in a secondary fatality rate that might have been even higher than the deaths from the virus alone.

Good thing we took serious action, eh?

Now, here’s the problem with taking serious action against the spread of this virus. In order to prevent a secondary outbreak before a vaccine is ready, it’s necessary to establish “herd immunity.” Herd immunity means that people need to get sick and then recover in pretty big numbers in order to make sure that the R₀ rate falls below 1 on the next wave of infections. Any R₀ rate of 1 or below ensures that the coronavirus remains under control and does not become a pandemic. The sooner we implement isolation requirements that control the spread of the virus, the fewer infections we have and the greater the likelihood of a reinfection when restrictions are lifted.

What a fun little circle-jerk game this virus is playing with us!

This chart shows us the effect that various isolation measures will have on the surge capacity of our hospitals, represented by the red line at the very bottom. It’s quite obvious by looking at this that none of these measures on their own are anywhere near effective enough, which means that a combination would be required to avoid overloaded hospitals and huge numbers of secondary deaths from triaging those who need advanced care. The “things that make you go hmmm” moment for me with this chart was the blue shading. This shows the period of time that would be needed for each of these measures just to result in the deadly peaks shown here. More on that later.

Above this chart we see this line: Our projections show that to be able to reduce R to close to 1 or below, a combination of case isolation, social distancing of the entire population and either household quarantine or school and university closure are required (Figure 3, Table 4). Measures are assumed to be in place for a 5-month duration.

The key here, obviously, is reducing R₀ to 1 or below, and they’re basically saying that it’s going to require all of the measures listed to be working and in place at the exact same time. The scary part of this though, is the last line. Measures are assumed to be in place for a 5-month duration. Five-month duration. That blue shading represents five months under these conditions. Not two weeks, like we were told at first. Not 30 days, or 60 days like a few are saying. Five months. Through the summer. We can say that we began this around March 15th. That means we can come out of it on August 15th. How many of you think we can maintain this for five months? No frickin’ chance.

If we do somehow maintain these conditions for five months, notice the green and tan lines in Figure A stay right around the red Surge line. This basically means we don’t overload the ICU. We don’t run out of ventilators and begin triaging the worst cases and sending them home to die a very miserable death. This is really important, but again, it’s going to take five months of combined strategies and at home isolation.

Also, notice those spikes of both the green and brown lines in late November / early December. What this means is that we’re going to see another spike of this disease next fall. This is very likely going to require yet another stretch of isolation. Interestingly, the green line, which represents what we can expect if we implement the easiest of the measures, school closure, social distancing, and case isolation, will give us a much higher spike in critical cases than if we implement household quarantine without school closure. That means that it may be correct to allow the kids to go back to school in the fall while the adults all stay quarantined, as counter-productive as that may seem. Oh, and by the way, if you thought your kids were heading back to school this spring…spoiler alert—they’re not.

Short of a complete lockdown, which is the absolute best case scenario for stopping that first spike (although that will result in a much more difficult secondary infection—more on this in a bit) applying all four isolation measures is the most important way to minimize the impact to the healthcare system. The problem — again — is that they need to be held in place for a minimum of three months, five months ideally, and that seems absolutely impossible, at least here in the United States.

***Just as an FYI if you’re looking closely at these charts, all the numbers represent expectations for the UK, not for the US, however, our medical and health care ratios mimic each other with the US at a 5x rate. So, basically multiply every number you see by five, and you’ll get the expected numbers for the US with the lines remaining identical.***

This chart is fairly self-explanatory, so I won’t go over it in detail. The R₀ number on the left represents the most likely infection rates they could estimate with the data available. “On Trigger” is the number of critical ICU cases that trigger the isolation efforts. Obviously, the earlier we trigger those the better. “Do nothing” is number of deaths if we take no isolation steps. PC=school and university closure, CI=home isolation of cases, HQ=household quarantine, SD=social distancing of the entire population, SDOL70=social distancing of those over 70 years for 4 months (a month more than other interventions). The percentages represent the percentage decline in the death rate from the “Do Nothing” category. Again, these number are for the UK, so multiply them all by FIVE to get the numbers for the U.S.

Once these interventions are ended, infections begin to rise again, as we saw in the new curves on the previous graph, resulting in a predicted peak epidemic in late November. What’s really interesting though, is that the more successful a strategy is at temporary suppression through the isolation efforts, the larger the later epidemic is predicted to be because of what they call “herd immunity.”

When we isolate everyone and fewer people get sick, fewer people develop immunity to it. Even in a best case scenario, the virus doesn’t disappear altogether once we have it under control. It’s still out there in the wild, waiting to be picked up again, and that’s why we’re going to see another large spike in cases in the late fall. There’s no avoiding it, short of an immunization being developed, and the better we are at controlling the virus now, the worse that next outbreak will be. The more people who get sick now, the more will have immunity later. The key is to not overload the health system and the ICU capacity while allowing the maximum number of people to get sick right now. It’s an incredibly tricky balancing act.

This shows the number of deaths and ICU bed occupation we can expect to see with the various interventions. Let’s take a low-medium R₀ of 2.2, so the second block of cells. ***Again, remember that for the U.S. we need to multiply these numbers by five because this is for the UK.***

I feel like the most accurate number for the on-trigger death toll is about 200, which represents 1000 deaths here in the U.S. Although we’re currently at only 155 deaths, we’ll be at 1000 in a little more than a week most likely, and, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen very few people actually taking this seriously. In fact, today I saw video from spring breakers partying it up in Miami, saw pictures of people in bars, restaurants, airports, and coffee shops, and saw lots of traffic: street, pedestrian, and aviation, despite so many desperate pleas from authorities to stay home and avoid going out as much as possible. So many people have adapted a blasé attitude toward this, that I feel quite comfortable using that number, and it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to use the bottom number of 400, representing 2000 U.S. deaths, or even a number that’s completely off the chart, quite honestly. But we’ll be conservative.

Using the 200 deaths number and extrapolating through the chart by multiplying by 5, we see that if we did nothing, we’d expect 2.1 million U.S. deaths. This is in the next five months, by the way, and doesn’t even take into account all the added deaths from ICU triage overruns, and the spike next fall (which, in defense of “do nothing,” would be significantly lower, possibly even compatible with an R₀ under 1) which would all result in a number at least double that. Now, looking to the right, you see that the most effective step is to take all four isolation steps (PC=school and university closure, CI=home isolation of cases, HQ=household quarantine, SD=social distancing of the entire population, SDOL70=social distancing of those over 70 years for 4 months) Of course, let’s be honest, this here is the good old U.S. of A., and there’s no chance we’re doing HOUSEHOLD QUARANTINE for three months, so let’s move one box to the left where we see an expected fatality rate of 30,000 times 5 = 150,000.

That’s 150k deaths if we keep up what we’re now doing, and if the idiots stop doing Jaeger bombs in Miami, and if the businesses all close down, and if people stop hugging each other, shaking hands, working in close proximity and going out to eat. Oh, and if we keep all that up for the next three months. So, yeah, basically we’re screwed. I would guess we can easily expect double that death number.

If the R₀ rate is higher, we’re looking at 350k deaths, and double that is 700k deaths, plus, that number will overload our ICU capacity so we can probably call it a million flat. And, quite honestly, I think this is being incredibly conservative based on the behaviors I’ve seen all over the internet from the multitude of people who just don’t give a flying fuck about what’s happening. I’m talking mostly to you millennials, though I know the percentage of you who made it this far into this read is as close to zero as (insert name of your favorite IG star here)’s intelligence. To be fair, it’s not just the millennials. So many Americans just don’t get what’s happening here, and, I don’t know what it will take to wake them up.

Every sports league, done. Las Vegas shut down completely. Borders basically closed. Domestic flights mostly shut down by the end of next week. (Another prediction, there’s no sign of this yet, but if you’ve read my previous blogs have I been wrong yet?) When will people start to realize what’s happening here?

I’m afraid it won’t be until we reach 100k deaths in the U.S. I’m afraid that’s when it will finally start to sink in.

Either way, we’re in this situation for at least another three months, possibly as long as five months. And then, just when we think we’re out of it, we’re going to get hit with another wave in November. There’s some hope there will be a vaccine by then, but I’m not counting on it. There’s probably another blog in here to explore a scenario where we rush a vaccine to market and get to experience all the angst with regard to the incredible dangers being taken by skipping animal trials and moving right into the human trial phase, which, astoundingly, is what seems to be happening, from what I’ve read. I’m not sure even I want to explore the possible nightmarish scenarios behind that decision. After all, I understand that the monster under the bed is now real. I hear him stretching and stirring, his claws ticking on the hardwood floor, and I know he’s about to unleash his full wrath.

I’m not sure I really want to get out of bed to peek at the noises I’m now starting to hear coming from the closet.

*BTW, here’s that full report in case any of you want to read it. I’d love to know if I misinterpreted or misstated anything in my synopsis. Thanks! https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/medicine/sph/ide/gida-fellowships/Imperial-College-COVID19-NPI-modelling-16-03-2020.pdf

The fictional story of our lives under the reign of the Covid-19 coronavirus

If I was writing a novel, the plot of which was a worldwide pandemic involving an exotic, novel coronavirus, here’s what the story would entail:

The novel would open on a late fall day in a thriving city of fifteen million in central China. A tourist would be strolling through a bustling city center. The tourist would come across a gigantic market in the center of town. At more than half-a-million square feet, it would be hard to miss. As he entered the market, he would be astounded—in a state of shock as great as if he’d stepped onto the surface of an alien planet. The noise and the smells would overload his senses, and his eyes would dart around at all of the stalls, the vendors hawking wares that this westerner had never imagined.

As he worked his way to the western end of the market, he would stumble upon the truly otherworldly stalls. He would see cramped crates of live chickens stacked on top of weasels, parrots on top of ferrets, giant centipedes on top of pangolins, and more. He would see stalls selling ostrich, camel, bear, deer, and dogs, many of those animals alive and waiting to be carefully chosen and slaughtered on site. He’d see a stack of crates with live civet cats stacked over rabbits, stacked over peacocks, bats with folded wings hanging over all of them. To the westerner, it would be like a scene from a PETA member’s personal hell. A jungle that would have made Upton Sinclair retch. He would want to leave, but, much like a bad car wreck, he’d find himself unable to tear his eyes away. He would watch as the bustling crowd of mostly Chinese citizens chose their live animals, the clerk butchering the animal for them, craftily cutting it into portions, bagging and wrapping it, and calling the customer’s number to pick it up when it was ready.

He would elbow his way through the crowd, carefully stepping around puddles of water, blood, chicken guts, fish scales, feces, and unknown, unthinkable slimy objects, trying not to get his shoes filthy, while at the same time, trying to ignore the cacophony of screeches and pitiful mewling from the doomed animals in their cramped and squalid cages.

Eventually, he would find an eating area, picnic tables with peeling paint packed with locals and tourists alike eating food from some of the vendors who cook it to order. Wearily, he’d take a seat in one of the few open spots, settling in next to a local man eating a thick, creamy soup with chunks of unidentifiable meat. As he leaned back to take in the sights, the person next to him would sneeze, turning his head toward the westerner to avoid spraying his food. The westerner would jerk, then, remembering his manners, would say, “bless you” before realizing that the local likely didn’t understand the sentiment.

As he left the market, the westerner would not notice that at the other entrance now far away, the one he’d casually strolled through an hour earlier, Chinese soldiers had arrived in droves, many wearing white hazmat suits, whistles and shouts clearing out the shoppers, authoritarian figures shutting down each stall in a brazen display of brutal efficiency only possible in a dictatorship.

The westerner would go back to his hotel, oblivious to the disruption in his wake. A few days later, having just missed all of the excitement, and having seen absolutely no news on television, or in one of the many English language newspapers about the militaristic shutdown of one of China’s largest and most lucrative markets, he’d board a flight, scrolling through his pictures on the plane, excited to share the stories of his travels with loved ones and friends.

The plane would land in Seattle, where the tourist would be greeted by his wife and children. The next day, he would return to work in a downtown office building where he would regale his co-workers with stories about the exotic animal market. A few days later, the tourist would notice some phlegm in his throat, an itchiness in his nose, and a cough. He’d ask his wife to check his temperature and she’d discover it had climbed to 101. Not overly concerned, he would crawl into bed, take a shot of Nyquil, and hope he felt better in the morning.

The novel would then move back to China, from the viewpoint of a Colonel in the Ministry of State Security, the intelligence service of China. This Colonel would be in charge of a top-secret division of the Ministry, responsible for maintaining order during any incident likely to cause civil unrest. Reporting only to the Deputy Minister for State Security, his powers would be broad ranging, and near absolute. He would be a hard man in his sixties, with iron hair and hawk-like eyes. A career military man, he would have a well-documented but top-secret history of trouble-shooting and problem solving.

The release of a novel coronavirus would be a scenario that his division is incredibly and almost uniquely well-prepared for. The first step would be to lock down the suspected source of the virus, the Wuhan wet market. The second step on the long-refined checklist, would be to control any leaks. Already there have been a few, one from a journalist who managed to send out a tweet about a strange, flu-like sickness befalling a bunch of locals, and one from a doctor at the local hospital, this one a query sent out to both the CDC in the United States and to the World Health Organization regarding an unknown novel coronavirus. The colonel had intercepted the sample the doctor had tried to send out, but had not been able to intercept the electronic query. He had, however, notified both the offending doctor and the journalist in the strongest terms that this type of communication with the outside world was forbidden. In fact, the journalist would be currently under arrest and awaiting trial for spreading false propaganda against the state, a charge falling just short of treason. The doctor would have been allowed to return to work after strict orders to keep things under wraps.

The colonel would muse about how difficult his job was actually going to be. With already more than 1,000 cases in this city of 15 million, plugging all the leaks was getting more and more difficult. In top secret meetings with experts, he would have been notified that the strange sickness had already undoubtedly spread around the world. Wuhan was a bustling city with industry centers that had probing fingers in vast global trade. Already, there was certain to be cases of the virus percolating in the bodies of many of the passengers of the hundreds of long-haul flights leaving the city each day. The colonel would chew on some aspirin or antacids, trying to calm the sickening feeling of stress and fear that probed at his stomach. It wouldn’t be long before Western nations would begin making queries, and he would know the suspicions they undoubtedly already had. Three years earlier, a noted American public health specialist and infectious disease expert named Doctor Michael Osterholm, had published a book titled, Deadliest Enemy: Our war against killer germs which named China as the most likely origin of the next global pandemic involving a novel coronavirus. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Netflix, just three weeks earlier, had released a documentary called Pandemic: How to prevent an outbreak that also labeled China as the most likely source of a SARS-like novel coronavirus, even going so far as to pinpoint the likely origin as one of the many wet markets throughout the country. He would know that the eyes of the world were already on China, and that control of information was critical.

Of course, the meat of the novel would be centered on what we now know is actually taking place. It would discuss the colonel’s failure to contain the information, the world’s waking knowledge of the Wuhan coronavirus. It would discuss the anger of the Chinese Politburo at the inability of the Ministry of State Security to contain the leak. It would discuss their refusal to allow western doctors and virologists into the country to examine patients and sequence the virus. It would explore their efforts to lock down true information and disseminate misinformation. It would follow their herculean efforts to isolate the city of Wuhan, their draconian measures to control the spread of the virus through brutal and uncaring police actions against the population. The government would order full quarantine of the city, shoving boulders in front of apartments to trap the citizens, patrolling the streets with heavily-armed soldiers in full bio-hazard gear. They would build two dedicated hospitals in less than a week, ordering doctors from around the country to converge on the hot zone. Huge military tankers would crawl every street spraying a thick fog of disinfectant over entire blocks. Their efforts would result in a containment of the virus that would give the world hope that it wasn’t as serious as most experts warned.

In the meantime, the rest of the world would go about their merry way, ignorantly failing to heed the warnings of experts, doctors, virologists, and on-site witnesses, including the original whistle-blower, the doctor who tried to warn the world before he himself perished from the virus. China’s withholding of pertinent information, their failure to warn other countries, and their refusal to allow in doctors from the WHO and the CDC to study the virus would retard any possibility of containment. The virus would spread, passing from one person to another asymptomatically as western civilization plodded unknowingly forward toward doom — a never before seen and rarely imagined catastrophic scenario on a global scale.

Every continent on the planet would slowly waken to the danger and begin taking steps toward containment. Despite the obvious nature of the threat, there would still be many who would ignore it. Despite having a mortality rate twenty times, and an R-naught infection rate two to three times that of influenza, and despite having asymptomatic spread, a rare condition long exploited by end-of-the-world novels and apocalyptic films, there would continue to be an overwhelming roar of people denying the dangers and making comparisons to influenza. The Flu-Truthers. The American president would use Twitter to tell Americans that there was nothing to fear, that the virus was not dangerous, and that they would be fine. The French, while the rest of the world was going into full lockdown, would set a new world record for the gathering in one place of 3500 people dressed as Smurfs, many of the blue faces shouting in posted videos that they weren’t scared of a little virus. Americans would pour onto the beaches of Florida and Mexico in spring break festivities that decried any fear whatsoever, and across Europe, people would enjoy the warming weather in congregations of tens of thousands at concerts, shows, and sporting events.

Of course, the incredibly dangerous nature of the coronavirus would finally be realized in nations around the globe. As China’s cases began to decline due to their herculean and oppressive containment measures, the rest of the world would experience a heart-stopping surge of cases and fatalities. Everything would shut down, the smoothly oiled machinery of the entire planet grinding to a halt. Nearly every country in the northern hemisphere would lock down their borders and institute forced quarantines.

Of course, the virus would continue to rage unchecked, barely slowed. Because this virus, this heartless, perfect little killing machine, would have an incubation period and infection time that stretched out to two or three weeks, which, combined with that rare little pleaser known as asymptomatic spread, made it one of the most dangerous viruses the planet has ever seen.

Sure, like most of the apologists and deniers would point out, it’s mortality rate would be lower than MERS, EBOLA, and the Spanish Flu, and its R-naught rate would be lower than the SARS epidemic of a decade earlier. But, what so many of them would choose to ignore would be the combination of perfect elements in this microscopic, unseen, devastating, globe-stopper. The high, though not unique R-naught rate. The middling mortality rates. The long incubation and infection period. And, the deadliest of all, the asymptomatic spread capability.

I know this seems like a stretch of fictional credulity, but bear with me…

The virus would get a name of course, and the name would be intentionally lacking of any tag of origin, so as not to seem unsympathetic or racist. Despite many viruses having names that point to their origin, MERS—Middle East Respiratory Syndrome—being one of the more recent, this virus would not for long be called the Wuhan coronavirus, but would be called the very bland and unassuming Covid-19, a portmanteau of coronavirus disease 2019. Any mention of the origin after receiving its official name—things like calling it the Wuhan virus, or the Chinese virus, would be met with an onslaught of furious social justice advocates decrying the racism of terminology hinting at the origin.

China would seize hold of those calls of xenophobia. They would encourage that kind of thinking. They would be thrilled.

You see, because back in China, the government and politburo, headed by a person named Xi Jinping, a dictator in all but title, would begin to recognize an incredible opportunity. As the rest of the world shuts down and flounders under the weight of the devastatingly fast, wildfire-like spread of the virus that originated in the middle of his country, thanks to his severe and heavy-handed approach to containment, China itself is on the rebound. The rest of the world sees cases and fatalities blow by China’s totals in just weeks, the United States taking the brunt of it as deaths soar over a hundred thousand. The novel at this point would switch to the viewpoint of this militaristic president as a plot begins to grow in his coldly-calculating and highly intelligent mind.

Already a dominating superpower with controlling interests in so many of the basic necessities this planet relies on, things like Rare-Earth Elements which power nearly every electronic item in the world, and which China controls more than 95% of, and with a stranglehold on the supply chain of so many medicines relied on by western civilization, he’s in a rare position to increase China’s power and status to unseen levels. To once and for all thrust China into their rightful place as the one world superpower.

The Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges would begin to soar as the Chinese industry got back into running at full strength. As the rest of the world’s markets began to collapse, driving the planet to the brink of a full and brutal recession, industry in a complete coma in all western markets, China would begin driving so many of the industries where they’d once, in a better time, lagged behind, while at the same time, tightening their stranglehold on the all-important Rare-Earth and medicinal markets. While the rest of the world watched trillions of dollars of market cap disappear nearly overnight as cases of the coronavirus soared out of control and fatalities followed an exponential doubling curve that was unstoppable, China would suck up that market cap, exploding into a domestic bull market never before seen, as their own Covid-19 fatalities hit zero and new cases dried up.

Back in America, a sailor onboard a U.S. Navy destroyer would open a piece of mail from a loved one back home, unknowingly picking up the virus from the contents before rubbing his eye and infecting himself. Within weeks, the virus would spread through the ship, then to others in the fleet. Despite all containment efforts, before long, the Navy would be damaged severely with sick and dying sailors, a condition that would spread throughout the military, not just in America, but all over western civilization. Xi Jinping would notice this of course, and his plan would begin to come together.

China would begin withholding the critical components used in every major electronic in the world, including every military guidance system and complex weapon, citing increased domestic consumption. With the full might of the Chinese military power, at the moment when the rest of the world was at its sickest, Xi Jinping would launch an attack on Japan, exacting long-awaited payback for the Sino-Japanese war of 1937. The Chinese military would then drop into Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma, plowing through the Asian countries with little resistance from the sick, disabled, heavily-weakened militaries. The rest of the world would wait powerlessly with their own depleted militaries. Of course, this territorial aggression could not stand unchallenged, so, with no other options, the angered and unhinged leaders of both America and the United Kingdom would form a coalition. United threats of nuclear war would be made, because really, what other option was left?

Would those threats be carried out, plunging the world into nuclear Armageddon? How would I know? It’s just a novel, and the ending has yet to be written. Besides, this whole scenario has become entirely far-fetched.

Right?

The true Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is SELFISHNESS

When I was a kid, my family went hiking a lot. When we were hiking a steep trail with switchbacks, I always wanted to cut the corner, to hike off the trail up to the tantalizing visible trail above us, to blaze my own stubby path and traverse an area where no one had gone before. My dad never let me.

“Stay on the trail. No cutting the corners.”

“Why?” I would whine. “The trail is right there!”

“Because you’ll damage the forest. The trails are here to keep people from walking wherever they want,” he would patiently explain to me.

It took me a long time to understand how my ten-year old shoes could seriously cause any damage to the forest by cutting across the corner of a switchback trail.

The truth is, I wouldn’t damage a frickin’ thing by cutting across the trails. But, as my dad always tried to explain to me, if everybody did what I wanted to do, the forest would be irreparably damaged. My selfish behavior was fine in a vacuum, but if everybody was as selfish as me, it would ruin the whole experience. It’s great to be a trailblazer in business or life, but when trailblazing causes damage to the things society wants to enjoy, it’s usually better to just stay on the path.

I forged this lesson forward when I taught my daughters about littering. It’s absolutely true that if you throw a wrapper out your car window while driving down the highway, it’s not a big deal. It won’t ruin anything for anybody if some paper container with ketchup and three slices of dill pickle that makes your mouth tingle is sitting half-buried in the median. So why does littering provoke such a steeply fined civil penalty in nearly every jurisdiction?

My dad could tell you. It’s because if everybody did it, this world would be a disgusting pigsty of strewn garbage. Actually, it would look a lot like the Pyramids of Giza complex in Cairo, Egypt.

Social distancing is the only thing that is going to slow the spread of this Covid-19 coronavirus. I’m seeing a plethora of people on social media making plans to get together for lunch, to grab a drink, or to see a movie this weekend. The Southpoint casino here in Las Vegas tweeted out this photo last night, bragging about how busy they are:

Image

There are far too many people who still think this is all just a big joke. There are far too many deniers — Flu-Truthers as I like to call them, spewing their vocal ignorance to the masses. I guess I kind of get it. There are 55 deaths from this virus in the United States right now. But not seeing what is happening all around us—having the extreme myopic tunnel vision to focus only on that number—is so incredibly ignorant, asinine, and obtuse that it’s like the driver of JFK’s limo deciding to take another lackadaisical lap around Dealey Plaza after hearing a few loud bangs.

So many people are freaking out right now about the lack of available tests for the virus here in the U.S. There’s no question that this was a colossal failure on the part of the CDC. However, at this time it just doesn’t matter. Governments love to know data and numbers in order to make decisions, but we have all the data we need. We can extrapolate from findings in other countries which have somehow been light-years ahead of us with testing for Covid-19 cases.

The exact number of infected is going to be vast, distressing, uncomfortable–and also completely irrelevant.

If I get sick with Covid-19 symptoms, I’m not going to the hospital to get a test. Why should I? What difference does it make what the test results are? Whether its Covid-19, or just the regular flu, the treatment is the same. I’m going to remain isolated. I’m going to eat soup, drink Nyquil, and try to get lots of fluids. I’m going to stay home and make sure I don’t infect anybody else. Above all, I’m not going to go to a hospital and stand in a waiting room with a bunch of other sick people and healthy people trying to get care for their sick loved ones, and either infect someone else, or actually catch the coronavirus myself when I didn’t actually have it.

I will only go to the hospital at this point if I’m in dire medical need.

Unless you are elderly, in poor health already, or immune-deficient, I suggest you do the same. In the end, the result of the test doesn’t matter. ALL THAT MATTERS RIGHT NOW IS SOCIAL ISOLATION.

Testing and compiling data is not going to save a single life at this point. It is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT that people stop going out. Stop congregating, stop meeting your friends for drinks, stop “supporting local businesses in these tough times.” This will be so much worse if we don’t adhere to the guidelines the doctors and health officials are laying out.

I know you’re all young, healthy, strong as an ox, and not worried about contracting this virus. I know you think this is all overblown and it will be over in a week or two. I know you think even if you get it, it won’t be that bad and won’t matter. And, if you just toss your plastic Starbucks cup out of the car window on your way home from brunch with your friends tomorrow, that act of littering won’t matter either. It’s the same thing.

Unless we ALL stop acting so goddamned selfishly and stop pretending that this disruption to our lives is so inconvenient, we are truly screwed. If attitudes don’t change, we are going to have the biggest economic, medical, and social disaster the world has ever seen. STOP going out unless you absolutely have to. You are being SELFISH. You are contributing to a devastating global pandemic with your absolutely narcissistic and egocentric behavior, all in the name of “it won’t affect me so why should I care?” Would you destroy a national landmark you had no intention of coming back to just because you never have to see it again? Would you toss your garbage bags into the neighbor’s swimming pool just because he won’t know and you won’t have to clean it up? I know my examples are ridiculously bombastic (thanks, Eric) but I just don’t know how to get this message through so many thick skulls.

If we don’t self-isolate in exponentially larger numbers than what’s happening right now, the U.S. government is going to have no choice but to enforce some quarantines. My most dire predictions will come true within a week from today if we don’t collectively and voluntarily make some serious changes. Get ready for martial law and civil unrest, because I don’t see this egocentric collective behavior changing, despite news from around the globe that should be absolutely terrifying to the vast majority of this country.

Spread the word. If your friends ask you to have brunch tomorrow, to go out to dinner, or to go see a show, tell them you’re not going. And, more importantly, tell them WHY you aren’t going. Ask them to follow your lead. Make them understand the importance of curbing this self-centered behavior.

My dad wants you to stop trailblazing. Please don’t be 10-year old me. Please listen to him.

How about a good, uplifting, light-hearted coronavirus blog for a change?

Just kidding. WE’RE ALL DOOMED!!

Okay, not really, settle down! I actually just want to talk about panic.

There’s a lot of posts out there right now decrying the panic. “Stop panicking, everyone!” “Everybody needs to stop fear-mongering and spreading panic!” “Panic does nothing people, be smart!”

Actually, I disagree. Panic can be a good thing. Panic causes people to take action. Panic has already caused so many of the flu-truthers — those people who have been loudly and proudly proclaiming this is just the flu — to delete their posts. Panic is removing dangerous disinformation from the world.

Panic is what is causing people to stock up on supplies. Those supplies are going to save lives. Panic is causing companies to cancel conventions. Panic is what sends people into isolation, what causes travel to stop, what ignites social distancing measures that will keep us all safe.

Panic will be what flattens the infection and mortality lines that are so devastatingly steep right now.

There’s a reason we have the panic gene in our DNA. Panic is an instinct in our evolutionary makeup that causes us to take actions for our survival. Why did our ancestors flee from the giant cave bear? They panicked. Every one of our ancient ancestors panicked many times. That’s why we’re here today. Sabre-tooth tigers once used Cro-Magnon non-panicking truthers’ bones as toothpicks.

As long as panic doesn’t turn into hysteria, we can utilize that primal fear to take actions for the good. We can harness the fear and the adrenaline and the stress to make decisions that will result in our survival. Embrace panic and let it drive you to taking action. Without it, humans turn into quivering, gelatinous masses incapable of action.

What we need to avoid is hysteria. We’re seeing it already, with the melee in Georgia this morning where a man was stabbed over a case of water. This is just the beginning. Be ready for a lot more of this. This is where healthy panic turns into criminal hysteria, and this is what we need to avoid.

People have told me my blogs are causing them to lose sleep. Although that wasn’t my goal or my hope, I’m kind of glad. Because that means you’re realizing the dangers and (hopefully) you’re taking steps to mitigate those dangers. Anxiety is never fun, but, like panic, it can shock us from our shell of denial and make us wake up to the dangers we’re facing. Once you’re protected—once you’re prepared for what’s coming, anxiety will fade away and you’ll sleep soundly.

One must wrestle FEAR to the ground.

Going back to hysteria and how it’s going to get worse: In Italy right now, doctors are beginning to triage. They are sending people home because they have no ability to treat them. They have no empty beds, no available ventilators, no way to ease patients’ pain. They are looking people in the eye and effectively telling them, “Go home and die.” They’re having to make very difficult decisions because their healthcare system is overwhelmed. They cannot treat everybody. I just want to remind everyone that our trajectory is fully pointing toward worse than this happening here in the United States. We are days behind Italy with regard to isolationist steps to control the upward trajectory of the infection and death lines. Triage is going to mean the most vulnerable of our society, the elderly and sick, are eventually going to be turned away from critically needed medical care. This is going to be devastating. We need to mentally prepare for it now.

The other real danger area for us right now is our national blood supply. According to the Red Cross, our nation is critically low on supply because of a number of unfortunate compilations of events that culminated in this viral outbreak. This is the season when blood supply is typically low anyway, but now a bunch of blood drives around the country have been cancelled.

Anybody know any vampires who might be stockpiling supplies?

At some point in the very near future, the Red Cross and other blood banks will need to begin triaging the blood supply. Every two seconds in this country, somebody needs a blood transfusion. Some of these people are going to get turned away. The good news is that less travel equates to fewer accidents which lowers demand, however, exponentially increased sicknesses may blunt that benefit. If you can get out there and donate blood, please do. There is no risk of contracting coronavirus through blood donations, so don’t let that fear stop you from doing everything you can to help mitigate this impending disaster.

It’s almost noon, Pacific time, and President Trump is about to address the nation. He’s very likely to declare a national emergency. This will cause more panic, and that’s a good thing. Somehow, some way, there are still deniers out there. There are still people saying the world has gone mad. Once those final truthers actually start to feel panic instead of anger and bewilderment, we’ll be able to finally all get on board with the steps we need to take to control this thing.

Only by panicking while avoiding hysteria will we “Flatten the Line.”

 

Are you part of The Walking Dead? (Coronavirus update and new predictions!)

As I write this, a gigantic construction expo called Construction Con is happening at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The Bay 101 casino in San Jose is playing down to a final table in their Shooting Star tournament. Kids in Nevada are finishing up homework for school tomorrow, and the Wynn Casino is advertising their poker tournament coming up this weekend.

There are still a lot of people who don’t quite understand what is going on right now.

Covid-19 is the most dangerous virus this world has seen since the Spanish Flu of 1918, and possibly even more dangerous than that. If you don’t get that, despite being first-hand witnesses to the most unprecedented and abrupt halt of the well-oiled machine that is the entire freaking planet, then I just no longer know how to talk to you. You’re already dead to me because you will soon be exactly that.

Just last night, I had an argument with a couple people on the internet who insisted that everybody was just overreacting, and this would all go away with simple handwashing and taking your vitamin C. If anybody had told me that last week, I would have done my best to patiently and persistently convince them of the danger of their way of thinking, to try to get them to see why this virus was dangerous. I would have done my darndest to minimize the spread of dangerous ignorance and misinformation. But to tell me that nonsense last night, after the NBA and NCAA canceled their seasons, Trump closed all travel from Europe, and nations around the world were going dark like curtain call time at a Nickelback concert, I just don’t have the patience to make you see that you are very, very stupid and dangerously incompetent.

I’ve fielded a bunch of calls and texts in the last couple days from people congratulating me on being right about my predictions in the previous two blogs. The fact is, I wasn’t right. Here are just a few things I got wrong:

  1. I projected the Dow Jones would lose 1,000 points on Monday. (It lost 2000)
  2. I projected the Dow Jones would lose 3,500 points by Friday. (Its Thursday right now, and the Dow is down almost 4800 points for the week already.)
  3. I predicted the WHO would declare this a Global Pandemic by the end of the week, middle of next week at the latest. (This happened on Wednesday, three days after my prediction.)
  4. I predicted NBA and NCAA games would be played without fans in the stands. (They flat out cancelled them all.)
  5. I predicted the U.S. would begin to prohibit all public gatherings greater than 500 or 1000 people within two weeks. (This began happening just two days later.)

I’m being credited with being right about all these things (and others) but the truth is, this is all happening even faster than I predicted it all would. Many people thought I was crazy with these predictions, calling them “bombastic,” (I had to look that one up), “doomsaying,” “ridiculous,” and “completely nuts.” Or, my personal favorite, “I don’t have time to read that long shit, stop blowing this out of proportion.” Yet, the fact all my predictions have come true at a speed that leaves even me flabbergasted doesn’t seem to have convinced some people that things are much worse than they have ever considered.

Now, some of the dire things that have happened are really good for controlling the spread of this virus. The travel industry is pretty much grinding to a halt. Planes are being parked. Cruise ships are being docked. Most public gatherings are being cancelled. Governors around the country are declaring emergencies. Schools are closing. Businesses are shutting down and letting employees work from home. Legislation is being rammed through Congress to deal with the financial impacts. People are waking up and taking extraordinary steps. Even President Trump is admitting we have a big problem (after downplaying and minimizing it all last week) and is taking historic steps to try to fix it.

However, although extraordinary and unprecedented steps have been taken in the last two days, its quite possible that these steps are too little, too late.

The virus is here and it has been spreading for weeks, and it is much, much worse than most people want to believe. The governor of Ohio, Mike Dewine seems to get it at least:

This virus is currently spreading like wildfire throughout the country, and the population in general hasn’t yet woken up to that fact. Life as we’ve always known it is going to change drastically in the next few weeks. Somebody told me today that it feels like we’re living in a dystopian movie. We are.

Right now, there are tens of thousands of people walking around this country who will be dead in eight weeks, and they don’t know it yet. The Walking Dead are among us. They are our friends, co-workers, and our loved ones. As terrifying as this sounds, I am comfortable predicting that this is the truth. They either have Covid-19 already, and it is multiplying in their bodies, or they are about to contract it either by being stupid, from bad luck, or from bad decisions by somebody close to them.

I don’t mean to sound like an alarmist or a doomsayer even though I use words like “dystopian.” We are going to be fine. We will recover. This is NOT The Stand, or Mad Max, or The Road. Society is not doomed from this virus. However, things are about to get very uncomfortable, distressing, and painful for many, many people.

So, what do I think is going to happen?

I’ve already said this, but I’ll say it again. The economy is going to collapse and we will be in a recession by April 15th. The Dow will lose 10,000 points (40%) from its value by April 15th. People are going to be in devastating shape financially. There’s a very good chance this will result in a global depression, or at least a very difficult global recession. If you’re one of the ones who is already, or will soon be in dangerous financial shape, curb spending right now. One of the things you can do, if it comes down to the possibility that you won’t be able to buy food, is stop making your house payment. Nobody’s house is going to get repossessed during this crisis. You won’t get kicked out by the bank. The Federal Government will enact legislation to protect people in this time, ordering financial institutions to work with people to save their homes. Stop paying your power bill. Nobody is coming around to shut off your power, not when people are dying. The government will not let them. As incompetent as you think they are, they will take those very minimal steps.

People are going to die. We are all going to know somebody who will die from this virus. Be as ready as you can be for that eventuality. Last week I thought it was possible we would see 250,000 deaths from this virus. Because of the extreme steps that have been taken this week, I think it will be less now, but I still project over 100,000 deaths. Not worldwide deaths. U.S. deaths.  This is going to be a big problem. Healthcare systems are still going to be overwhelmed, and that will happen by mid-April. This is going to cause civil unrest in large cities around the country. Are you prepared for that?

Police officers and emergency responders are going to start getting sick. What happens when this virus makes its way into our emergency services agencies? Just today Las Vegas Metro tweeted an invitation to the public to meet up tomorrow for “Coffee with a Cop.” Great idea in normal times. Terrible idea now. (I tweeted to them telling them it was an awful idea to not cancel that for the next couple months, and ten minutes later they tweeted that it was cancelled. I’m not taking credit, but…)

When police officers get this virus, they will have to quarantine. If it moves through the ranks, patrol shifts will begin to suffer. Calls will begin to go unanswered. People will die because officers are stacking calls and can’t arrive on time. This will result in more civil unrest. There is a very good chance that you will see martial law either actually declared, or prima facie instituted in at least a few jurisdictions by the end of March. Governors will begin calling in the National Guard to maintain order against desperate looters and panicked sick people who can’t get urgently needed medical care.

Are you prepared for this to happen?

I already wrote about the dangerously unprepared state of our hospitals to take on patients. You can read about that in my first blog here: https://wp.me/p7aEcB-q3

It is far more desperate than most people realize.

I see stats that 80% of people will only experience mild symptoms. This is true. This number makes us feel comfortable. It stops us from panicking. It gives us a warm feeling that we’re going to be okay. Well, the other 20% will require hospitalization. One-quarter of those will need a ventilator. Three quarters will need supplemental oxygen to breathe. To avoid a feeling that will be the same feeling as drowning to death. How many ventilators do you think we have? What happens when you need one and they’re all occupied? What will you do to get one? How far will you or your loved ones go to get one when you’re dying?

I’m not saying this terrifying scenario will happen for sure. Obviously, nobody can make that prediction. I’m saying that the odds of this happening has drastically increased from this time last month. Mid-February, I would have said there was about a .1% chance of the above happening. Now, I think it’s about 100 times more likely. I’m putting it at 10% right now. I don’t know about you, but I make serious preparations for 10% likelihoods when its my life, and the lives of my loved ones on the line.

Take a look at these charts from Worldometers.info:

This is a linear graph of the growth of the number of cases in the United States. This is not unexpected, as we did a criminally poor job of implementing testing in the beginning of this pandemic (and really still are doing terrible) and everybody expected confirmed cases to grow exponentially as testing became more and more prevalent. But take a look at this one:

This chart shows the exponential growth of deaths in the United States. This is much more accurate because the number of confirmed cases of the virus is almost certainly much higher than the first chart will ever show, at least until this pandemic is over. We just won’t be able to keep up.

This mortality chart and this line in particular is scary. This is not going to slow down. This exponential growth is our future for at least the next 4-6 weeks, and possibly longer. On March 1st, there was one death in the U.S. On March 7th, there were 19. On March 12th, there are already 41. This last week showed exponential growth, exactly what we saw in China and Italy. This doubling is happening faster than the report I made on Sunday that predicted it to double every six days. Even at that rate, which is now very conservative, on March 18th we will have 80 deaths. 160 on March 24th. 320 on March 30th. 640 on April 5th. 1280 on April 11th. 2500+ on April 17th. 5000 on April 23rd. 10,000 on April 29th. This is when it gets really scary. This is when the conspiracy theorists will finally stop saying “it’s just the flu, guys.” Because…

By late-middle May we will hit 100,000 deaths.

These are conservative numbers. Let that sink in. And, if warmer weather doesn’t slow the virus down, it will be much worse.

Are you prepared for somebody close to you to die and nobody to show up to collect the body? Are you prepared to handle medical emergencies when the aid cars don’t arrive? Are you prepared for stores to be out of food or to limit food purchases? Do you have at least thirty days of food and supplies on hand? Because if this virus doesn’t start to go away as summer approaches and the northern hemisphere warms up, doubling from this point on gets truly scary. Exponential growth is great when you bought 10,000 Bitcoin in 2002 for 12 cents. It sucks when we’re talking about people dying.

I don’t want to be right about these numbers. I’ve already fed my overblown ego plenty from all of my earlier predictions, thank you very much. But, if I am right, are you prepared for the worst? Do you have neighbors, family, friends, coworkers who can’t take care of themselves, who shouldn’t be out of their house right now, who are elderly, who don’t have enough food to get through the next month? If so, can you help them out? Because, if you can’t, there’s a good chance they will be dead next month.

Life as we knew it is on hold for the next few months at least. Everything is different right now. Get comfortable with this new reality so that you aren’t left shaking your head in denial, at risk of more than just the coronavirus; a victim waiting for somebody to wake you up from your nightmare.

Be prepared for the worst-case scenario. If it doesn’t come, you have a little extra food and supplies laying around. If it does come, you just might survive it.

Bay 101 is being negligently irresponsible

Right now, hundreds of poker players are making their way to the Bay 101 casino in San Jose, California to play in the annual Bay 101 Shooting Star event, one of the favorite and most fun events on tour, and one that many in the poker world look forward to each year. At a time when most large gatherings are being canceled around the world, management at Bay 101 has decided to spit in the face of science and logic and run their event anyway. I think this is an incredibly irresponsible decision.

Already in the city of San Jose, gatherings of 1000 people or more are banned, and Bay 101 expects their numbers will be well below that, even counting staff, observers, and other casino patrons.

But just because you can legally do something doesn’t mean that you should.

Just up the road in San Francisco, gatherings of just 250 or more people are banned. What’s the difference between San Francisco and San Jose? Well, about fifty miles and apparently decision makers who are much more proactive. Banning gatherings of 1000 people or more is a good start, but kind of a joke if our desire is to slow the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Having hundreds of people gathered together right now is more than just irresponsible; its negligence, denial, and selfishness.

I understand that cancelling an event that is going to bring a lot of money to your company is a tough decision. It’s a decision that many companies have already had to make and one that many, many more will be making in the near future. Caesars hasn’t yet spoken about what’s going to happen to the World Series of Poker, but there’s no way it’s going to play out as scheduled. And that is going to cost a lot of money to a lot of people. If Bay 101 cancels this tournament there will be financial ramifications to more than just the casino. Dealers, staff, cooks, valets, maids, janitors, waitresses, and many more will all suffer. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the decision that should have been made.

A poker table is a virus’s wet dream. At a time when Harvard has canceled all classes because their original decision, to cancel lectures of 150 or more students, was not aggressive enough, Bay 101 is going to have hundreds of people sitting shoulder to shoulder and passing little, round, clay petri dishes and small, rectangular, plastic virus condominiums back and forth between them for 10 hours straight. They’ll be coughing, sneezing, eating at the table, licking their fingers, and spraying microbes directly into their neighbors faces with every conversation.

This is utter lunacy.

To completely ignore what’s happening in the world right now, this PANDEMIC that is spreading unchecked in this country, is pure negligence. Harvard doesn’t think 150 people should sit in the same room for 45 minutes, but Bay 101 thinks it’s fine to jam hundreds together playing pass-the-germ-frisbees for 10 hours a day for several days straight.

Extrapolating on some numbers here: Last year there were 440 entrants in the main event. Assuming this year will be lower because at least some people out there aren’t stupid enough to go to a poker tournament right now, there will nonetheless be hundreds of players, dealers, waitstaff, other gamblers, observers (it’s the most popular tournament on the tour for observers too) and others in the room. If there is only a 1 in 10,000 chance that any one person in this country has the virus, then there is about a 10% chance that somebody in that room right now is carrying the coronavirus. If someone in there has the virus, they will infect many others. And if it’s one of the players or dealers who has it, they will infect dozens if not scores of others. There’s no getting around it.

This is a novel virus. If you come into contact with it, you catch it. There’s no, “Oh, I’m healthy and my immune system is tops, bro,” with a novel virus. Nobody has immunity, everybody gets it. 100%. A lot of older people are poker players and dealers, wait staff, etc. If this virus spreads to just a dozen people in that casino, those dozen will spread it to scores, those scores will spread it to hundreds, then to thousands, etc.

There’s a real chance that people will die because this tournament runs for the next few days.

It’s time to wake up, people. This is happening and it is real. It’s time for some real tough decisions to be made. This is not one of those tough decisions. This should have been an easy one.

Bay 101 should have been cancelled.

Coronavirus update and predictions, part two!

It’s Tuesday, March 10, 2020 at 1800 PT, and the U.S. response to the Covid-19 outbreak has improved drastically. Unfortunately, there are still many people in denial. Still many people posting flu death numbers and comparing them to the currently minimal number of deaths from this coronavirus. This includes our president, who almost certainly doesn’t actually believe this, but is (rightfully) very concerned about his election chances if the economy crashes.

Unfortunately, too many people just don’t understand why a good number of reasonable people are so concerned. They say its news generated fear, Democratic driven panic designed to undermine Trump so they can win the election. They don’t believe in science and math and the idea that viruses are not all the same.

The problem is that people don’t quite understand that the numbers we’re seeing RIGHT NOW are not what is actually happening right now. We have a time machine here. When we see the infection and mortality numbers, we’re actually looking 7-14 days into the past. And, looking into the past and extrapolating forward with no concept of the power of exponential growth is just dangerous. People are starting to get it, but unfortunately, not enough people are understanding it quickly enough.

As I write this, the NCAA has just announced that there is no plan to change any aspect of March Madness, including the massive crowds expected at every venue. Trump literally announced less than an hour ago that he would be holding a Catholics for Trump rally in Milwaukee in 9 days with Catholics from around the country. (Spoiler alert and prediction number one…it won’t happen!) The denial is just scary.

So, in an attempt to put more of my reputation on the line, I have a few more predictions. These are in addition to the predictions I made in my last blog here: https://authorrickfuller.com/2020/03/08/donald-trump-doesnt-want-you-to-know-this-critical-information/

My new predictions:

  1. Airlines will stop selling middle seats in an attempt to get people to feel more comfortable flying.
  2. Fast food restaurants will start closing their dining areas and offering drive-through service only. The window servers will wear masks for appearance sake.
  3. Major sporting events that will postpone/cancel:
  4. The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500
  5. The Kentucky Derby
  6. The Masters
  7. The NFL draft will still happen on schedule but will be closed to the public.
  8. The NCAA will finally make the decision to play March Madness without spectators. People will be angry because they waited so long to make the call.
  9. States will commandeer stadiums and convention centers to start setting up temporary Covid-19 only hospitals.
  10. Congress will extend its Spring Break next week and will not return to session until at least the middle of April out of, “an abundance of caution.”
  11. Governors will release low-level offenders from prisons in order to limit the chances of a massive infection happening in the crowded quarters. This will happen after the first reports of an infected prisoner, probably next week.
  12. Trump will float the idea that the election might need to be postponed. He will face backlash from both sides. He will say that he was only joking.
  13. Bodies will begin to pile up as infected patients die and there’s nobody to transport them because of a lack of protective equipment and protocols. This will be a huge wakeup to everybody.
  14. State unemployment agencies will begin issuing benefits to those who are quarantined.
  15. Churches? No services for a while, folks. They will be broadcast on live streaming applications.
  16. There will be a community in America that has zero cases. It’s mathematically certain to happen, yet it will be big news and some talking head will decide a report needs to be done on why there are no cases in that one area. Locals in that community will come up with some crackpot concept like, “We have really good water here,” or, “Coal miners are tougher than your average folk.”

Now, a few things that will be implemented in Las Vegas, one of the areas that will be absolutely devastated by this outbreak. After all, Vegas is nothing but a mirage, providing nothing of value but entertainment and built on a lie that you might get lucky and rich. We rely on crowds and crowds are about to become as appealing as licking a cube of plutonium.

  1. Resort fees will be eliminated (temporarily of course)
  2. Blackjack tables will be limited to two players per table to maintain separation
  3. Dice will be changed and disinfected between shooters at every craps table
  4. Every other slot machine will be closed. Employees will be designated to clean machines after every gambler quits.
  5. Employees will be designated to stand at elevator banks and entrances with sanitizer in an effort to pretend they’re taking steps to control things.
  6. “This room has been thoroughly sanitized” signs will appear in all rooms.
  7. McCarren airport will reduce or eliminate landing fees (subsidized by the casinos) for all commercial flights.
  8. Massive hiring of doormen will occur. No casino door will need to be touched by a patron.
  9. Unfortunately, all Vegas shows that seat more than 100 will be canceled, and probably very soon. It’s possible that larger venues will try to sell every other seat or something along those lines, but they’ll quickly realize that doesn’t work.
  10. Casinos will understand that summers are hot in Vegas. They will begin a massive marketing scheme to encourage visitors to show up starting in July. They will write off quarter two and stocks will suffer temporarily. Casinos will turn up their A/C in an effort to make the place warmer and less conducive to viruses. The LVCVA will come up with some type of brilliant marketing tag similar to “What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas” in order to bring people in.

The bad part of making predictions is that although in a vacuum it’s devastating if these things happen, I still feel validated when my prediction comes true, which means I end up secretly hoping for them to happen so I can get that validation. It’s not a good feeling, but luckily I’m fully stocked on alcohol so I can drown the confliction nightly.

Signed,

NostradamRick

Donald Trump doesn’t want you to know this CRITICAL INFORMATION!!

Today is Sunday, March 8th, 2020 and it’s 1500 hours PST as I write this. This is important because at the end of this, I’m going to make some predictions and I want to make sure everybody can reference this so y’all can laugh at me if I’m wrong. (Which I dearly hope that I am.) I know your cousin Bob, who once banged a nurse who told him everybody was overreacting and the regular flu is much worse, believes that the news media are the ones driving this panic in an attempt to undermine his Savior, Donald Trump, but I’m hoping to show you why he’s wrong.

It has now been just three months since a newly mutated virus began sickening people associated with a live, wild-animal, “wet market” in the city of Wuhan, China. This virus was quickly identified as “novel” – a new strain of Coronavirus, a family of viruses that cause respiratory sickness in animals and humans. Coronaviruses themselves are not new – we’ve seen them migrate from animals to humans in outbreaks like MERS and SARS in the last couple of decades. None of those previous outbreaks have been as dangerous as this new one, now called COVID-19. (which is simply short for Coronavirus Disease 2019)

I’m writing this because of the incredible amount of disinformation that keeps getting shoved into the faces of the public on social media platforms. I should state up front, that I’m not an alarmist. I didn’t worry too much about MERS, SARS, H1N1, Ebola, or any other outbreaks of infectious disease in my lifetime. I’ve never bothered to get a flu shot. I went to the doctor last month for the first time in twenty years. I just simply don’t worry about many of the things normal people do. When I first began tracking this latest outbreak while it was still confined to China and there were not yet any cases in the rest of the world, I wasn’t any more concerned than I had been from any of the previous viral outbreaks.

Right up until the end of January when I first heard the rumblings that this virus could possibly spread asymptomatically. This made it immediately different.

Asymptomatic spread of a virus is rare, unusual, and deadly. It’s the kind of scenario that doomsday books like The Stand are based on. I took a few basic steps. I stocked up on supplies, began washing my hands multiple times a day, disinfected doorknobs, remotes, and light switches, made plans to get out of Las Vegas if I needed to, and began warning loved ones that this virus had the potential to be a pandemic. It’s not that I had any inside information, just that I had the time to actually study all of the first-hand reports coming out of Wuhan, and I extrapolated information from the suspicion that it was incredibly likely China was not being completely forthcoming with statistics.

As of this writing, there are now more than 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in America, and more than 100,000 around the world, with deaths having just reached 3500. Big deal, right? As many, many people have loudly informed me, influenza, the common flu, kills many times more people than that each and every year, yet we hear nothing about that, we don’t worry, we don’t stockpile toilet paper, and the stock market doesn’t crash. These people ultimately come to the conclusion that this is nothing more than media-generated hype and unwarranted panic. There are so many problems and fallacies with that line of thinking that I’m astounded at the naivete of otherwise smart people who keep spouting it. Here are the problems with comparing this virus to influenza:

The problem with comparing COVID-19 to other viruses such as Influenza:

One of the biggest problems here is that influenza tends to kill only those who are already very sick or immune-compromised. It’s very difficult to actually catch it if you’re a healthy person who takes even the slightest of precautions. We also have a vaccine for it. It’s called the flu shot, and doctors have been recommending that people get it for decades. We have NOTHING to stop the spread of COVID-19, and most doctors agree that a safe, tested, effective vaccine is at least a year to eighteen months away.

The mortality rate of influenza is about .1 percent. That means one person will die for every 1000 who contract the common flu virus. The mortality rate of COVID-19 is probably around 2%, however, estimates vary greatly between 1.5% and 3.5%. (more on this later) This means COVID-19 kills at a rate at least 20 times that of the common flu, and that alone should be enough to scare you. (virologists say the death rate of the flu in the U.S. last year was more like .05%, which means COVID-19 is at least 40 times more deadly.) However, people rightfully point out that the death rate of SARS was about 10%, and the death rate of MERS was a terrifying 35%. This means that the death rate of COVID-19 is really unconcerning to them. So, why do I think this is a dangerous and naïve way to think about this?

It has to do with what’s known as the R-naught (R₀) rate.

R-naught is a complicated mathematical formula that takes many factors into account and derives a number that signifies the number of people a sick person will infect. For influenza, the R₀ is 1.3, so each infected person will infect 1.3 people on average, however, R₀ really only applies when a population is completely vulnerable to the disease, meaning nobody has been vaccinated and there’s no way to control the spread of the disease. This doesn’t really apply to the common strains of the flu virus, so this number is a bit misleading.

It DOES apply to COVID-19 though, as it is a new (novel) Coronavirus that has never before been seen. Nobody has immunity to it, and there is no vaccine. The R₀ rate of COVID-19 is estimated to be in the range of 2.2 to 3.0. This means every infected person will pass the Coronavirus on to between 2.2 and 3 other people.

THIS IS WHAT’S MOST TERRIFYING ABOUT THIS OUTBREAK.

To put this number into perspective, H1N1, the Swine Flu in 2009 had an estimated R₀ of 1.4-1.8.

H1N1 ended up infecting one-fifth of the entire population of the world.

The only reason many of us are alive to read this today was that the mortality rate of H1N1 was about .02 percent, meaning that even though more than 1.5 billion people caught the virus, only about 2 in every 10,000 died.

               If a virus like H1N1 can infect one-fifth of the world with an R₀ of 1.6, imagine how many people will be infected from a virus with an R₀ that might be double that?

An argument that many people make when faced with some of these numbers is that the numbers must be off because China has controlled the spread of the virus with relatively few deaths. And, if we assume that China is being forthright (which they probably are…WHO doctors are in the epicenter and are now confirming most of China’s numbers) these people have a point. However, here’s what China did to control the spread of COVID-19.

  1. They built two brand new Coronavirus-only hospitals in the epicenter of Wuhan in just over one week. These hospitals added 2300 dedicated beds and were staffed with hundreds of healthcare workers from all over the country.
  2. They initiated an ambitious and aggressive plan to account for every single person who had contact with every single known infected person. This involved at least 1800 teams of 5 or more persons whose sole responsibility was to track down every single person an infected person had had any contact with, interview them, test them for the virus, and isolate them if they had symptoms or tested positive. By most accounts, these teams were able to track down and test more than 99% of the people who had any contact with an infected person. In some jurisdictions they found every single contact, 100% of them.

I need to repeat that because it’s incredible. More than 1800 teams of at least 5 people per team tracked down more than 99% of all contacts from each infected person and gave them instant tests. They have administered more than 100,000 instant Coronavirus tests to date and continue to implement this strategy.

  1. They instituted compulsory lockdown and quarantine of more than 60 million citizens. This lockdown was enforced by police, military, and a bunch of government tracking apps that exist in China. These apps are widely used by Chinese citizens and utilize a traffic light type system of color codes, green, yellow, and red, that lets guards at checkpoints, railways, bus depots, airports, metro stations, etc., immediately see if that person is supposed to be out and about or is restricted from traveling.
  2. They implemented aggressive and forced social distancing measures for anybody not under quarantine that kept people from congregating. They canceled sporting events, shuttered theaters, and closed schools and holiday celebrations. They forced anybody who had to go outside to wear masks, utilizing an incredible stockpile they had on hand.

Can you imagine any of these things happening in the United States? I can’t. So, when you tell me that China was able to control the spread of the virus so the U.S. ought to be able to do at least as good a job as they did, it makes me literally laugh out loud. At the risk of being compared to Bernie Sanders’ love of authoritarian dictatorships, there are some benefits to having full government control of a population. We will never be able to implement the draconian measures we see the Chinese doing, and constitutionally, I’m not sure we’re even legally capable of some of them, regardless of the state of emergency we may find ourselves in. We aren’t remotely implementing any of the steps they took so quickly, despite our advanced knowledge of the problem. While China and Italy are locking down their citizens in a panic to stop the spread of this disease, hippies in California are meeting to decide whether or not Coachella should still happen!

Talk about denial. We aren’t tracking down any contacts of infectious persons except in the most severe cases. We aren’t testing anybody unless they’re admitted to the hospital with severe symptoms. As of last week, symptomatic people were being denied testing because there still weren’t enough tests available, and all tests needed to be confirmed by the CDC, a process that took days. We can’t even get people to quarantine themselves even when the health department orders it. Just today there was a report of a quarantined person who decided to leave his house to attend a school function for his child, and nothing happened to him legally! There’s little doubt in my mind that we will soon have a significantly worse outbreak than China ever saw.

Part of the problem for the U.S. is that our leadership is downplaying the significance of this threat, and too many people take that at face value. In Italy just in the last few days, they’ve implemented forced quarantines and lockdowns of infected areas, measures that are considered mostly unthinkable in democratic countries, but something that is absolutely necessary if we’re to avoid disaster. Remember, H1N1 infected one-fifth of the world with an R₀ rate that’s probably half what Covid-19 has. Even if Covid-19 has the same R₀ rate of 1.6 and it ONLY infects one-fifth of the globe, the mortality rate of H1N1 was 1/100th the (conservative) estimated mortality rate of Covid-19. H1N1 killed an estimated >200,000 people worldwide. Based on these numbers, Covid-19 might kill as many as 20 million people in the next year.

So, I’m healthy, young(ish) and probably not going to be one of the ones who dies if I contract Covid-19. The virus mostly only kills the elderly, immuno-compromised, or the already sick, so why am I worried?

Well, it’s been shown so far that approximately 20% of the people who contract the Coronavirus require hospitalization. Of those, 25% need full-on respirator life-support function, and the other 75% need supplemental oxygen. Since we refuse to accept the severity of this outbreak and we can’t even test people who want to be tested, or enforce any kind of quarantine, it won’t be long before we have thousands of people on respirators in isolation ICU’s around the country.

The doubling rate for infections for this disease seems to be about every six days. There’s little doubt in my mind that a reported confirmed case number of 550 in the U.S. when we’re only testing those who are admitted to a hospital, signifies an actual number of infections that’s at least 10 times that. Let’s say there are 5000 infections currently, and that doubles every six days. By next Saturday, March 14th, there will be 10,000 infected persons (though the official number will be much lower, we aren’t testing anybody not in a hospital right now.) By March 20th there will be 20,000, by the 26th, 40,000, and by the end of May there will be 80 million people infected in this country. This is the power of exponential growth that so many people undervalue, sort of like that game you played as a kid where you told your buddy, “I’ll give you a million dollars in thirty days if you give me one penny and double it every day for a month” and the moron jumped at that chance and still owes you millions of dollars today.

Doubling can’t happen forever of course, so let’s say that there are only 10 million cases by the end of May. Two million of them will need to be hospitalized. How many of you think our health care system can handle an influx of two million people (conservatively) in the next two months? The U.S. has about one million hospital beds total. At any given time, about 65% are in use. That means there are approximately 350,000 beds available at any given time. With the numbers above, we can expect hospitals to start turning patients away sometime around the end of April, right when things are reaching their most dire. Not a good time to be in need of a respirator, that’s for sure.

Of those 10 million infections, approximately 250,000 will die, and that’s before we take into account the thousands more who will die because they can’t get the life support they need because hospitals have had to resort to taking only the most dire cases, leaving many thousands to die gasping for breath, or of other diseases that might have otherwise been treatable in saner times.

Still think the regular flu is worse?

In addition to this, our economy will collapse. The stock market is already in a slump and the Fed pulled the plug on a 50 bp drop that was designed to stop a crash but was premature, not well thought-out, and completely ineffective. There aren’t many bullets left in that chamber, and besides, there’s no way they’ll keep up with the exponential growth we’re going to see with this infection.

Earlier I claimed I would talk more about the wide spread in the mortality rate, estimated at between 1.5 and 3.5 percent. This rate is so wide because we don’t have very good numbers of infections. Many of the infections very well may result in only mild symptoms and can easily be mistaken for a bad cold, or for the common flu. Many of the symptoms of Covid-19 mimic those of the regular flu, and it isn’t until severe respiratory symptoms set in that many people end up being admitted to the hospital and given the actual test. Since most of the people who get infected don’t have symptoms severe enough to be admitted to the hospital and get tested, the number of infections are almost certainly much higher than reported, which means that the mortality rate is lower. Our hope is that the mortality rate is much lower. Anything under 1% would be a godsend. If it truly is as high as 2 or 3 percent, we’re pretty much fucked.

So, what’s going to happen?

Here are my predictions, bold, loud, and public. (Dear God, I hope I’m wrong about all of these.)

  1. The WHO will declare Covid-19 a global pandemic by the end of this week, middle of next week at the latest.
  2. Within two weeks, the U.S. will begin prohibiting all public gatherings of greater than some random number like 500 or 1000. This means that sporting events, including March Madness, NBA games, MLB games, PGA tour events, etc., will be played for TV only, with no audience. Festivals like Coachella will be cancelled. The World Series of Poker will be postponed, probably until August to start, in the hopes that the warm weather of summer helps to control the spread of the virus.
  3. The U.S. will pass China in number of confirmed infections by April 15th.
  4. The Summer Olympics in Japan will be postponed until next year.
  5. The stock market is going to crash. I predict it will lose 1000 points tomorrow (Monday, March 9th, 2020) and 3500 points by the closing bell on Friday. I predict it will be down 10,000 from its current price of 26,000 by the end of May.
  6. We will officially be in a recession by the 15th of April.
  7. Globally, we will be in a depression by June 1st as markets everywhere crash.
  8. Summertime in the northern hemisphere will greatly curtail the virus and numbers will begin to decline. The economy will begin to recover.
  9. The democrats will defeat Donald Trump in November, a man whose only real redeeming quality has been the economy, and whose administration has massively bungled and downplayed the response to this epidemic, a big swing from the incredible foresight that went into prohibiting entry to all travelers from China so early in this disaster. The polarization in his decision-making here is actually kind of astounding.

Like I said, I really hope I’m wrong about all of this, because this could be the worst pandemic in living memory, possibly as bad, or worse, than the Spanish Flu, another H1N1 virus in 1918 which infected about 27% of the world, and may have killed as many as 100 million people at a time when the global population was one-quarter of the population of today.

I really hope I’m wrong, but in case I’m right, are you at least as prepared as OJ Simpson?

 

 

Is it possible to write a unique phrase?

If you’ve ever picked up a deck of cards and shuffled it thoroughly, it’s almost a certainty that you’re holding a unique distribution of cards that has never before in history been seen, and those fifty-two cards will probably never be set in that order ever again.

If you’re not familiar with this fact, this probably seems impossible, yet it is 100% true.

The total possible combinations of cards in a 52-card deck is an astronomical number. In fact, astronomical doesn’t begin to cover it. It’s an unthinkably large number. Unfathomably large. Do you get it now? I’m guessing you don’t.

To figure out how many possible combinations there are, mathematicians would simply say there are 52! combinations. This number (52!) is verbalized as 52 Factorial. This simply means you take 52 and multiply it by every number less than 52, so 52x51x50x49x48… and so on, down to 1.

That doesn’t seem like it’s going to get all that large, does it? Well, here’s that actual number.

80658175170943878571660636856403766975289505440883277824000000000000

When you write it out, it’s quite obvious that it’s a large number. But I don’t think most people understand just how large this number is. In fact, it’s so large that finding ways to describe how large this number is, is nearly impossible. Here’s the best description I have found for just how big this number is. If you take this number as seconds and start a timer counting down, here’s how long it would take for the timer to reach zero:

Start by picking your favorite spot on the equator. You’re going to walk around the world along the equator, but take a very leisurely pace of one step every billion years. Make sure to pack a deck of playing cards, so you can get in a few trillion hands of solitaire between steps.

After you complete your round the world trip, remove one drop of water from the Pacific Ocean. Now do the same thing again: walk around the world at one billion years per step, removing one drop of water from the Pacific Ocean each time you circle the globe. Continue until the ocean is empty. When it is, take one sheet of paper and place it flat on the ground. Now, fill the ocean back up and start the entire process all over again, adding a sheet of paper to the stack each time you’ve emptied the ocean.

Do this until the stack of paper reaches from the Earth to the Sun. Take a glance at the timer, you will see that the three left-most digits haven’t even changed. You still have 8.063e67 more seconds to go. So, take the stack of papers down and do it all over again. One thousand times more. Unfortunately, that still won’t do it. There are still more than 5.385e67 seconds remaining. You’re just about a third of the way done.

To pass the remaining time, start shuffling your deck of cards. Every billion years deal yourself a 5-card poker hand. Each time you get a royal flush, buy yourself a lottery ticket. If that ticket wins the jackpot, throw a grain of sand into the Grand Canyon. Keep going and when you’ve filled up the canyon with sand, remove one ounce of rock from Mt. Everest. Now empty the canyon and start all over again. When you’ve levelled Mt. Everest, look at the timer, you still have 5.364e67 seconds remaining. You barely made a dent. If you were to repeat this 255 times, you would still be looking at 3.024e64 seconds. The timer would finally reach zero sometime during your 256th attempt.

(unknown author at https://czep.net/weblog/52cards.html)

 

Now does it make sense why I say that the deck of cards your holding has never before been seen and will never again be in that order? It’s a mathematical certainty.

So, what does all this have to do with writing a unique phrase?

The question came into my mind when I was watching an old rerun of Cheers and Diane was running around the bar with a notebook writing down quotes she heard from the patrons at the bar. I started thinking about how the writers for Cheers had to come up with some pretty good lines for her to write down and, as I often do as a writer, I wondered if I would be able to come up with anything as good if I was writing for the show.

There are many times when I’m writing a book and I come up with a good line or a humorous quip, that part of me wonders if I heard it somewhere before and I didn’t just make it up. And that led me to wondering if any line could actually be unique, or if every line has been said by someone at some point in time.

There are some 400,000,000 people on this planet who speak English every day. There are 171,500 words currently in the English language. The average sentence is twenty words in length. So, what are the chances that some random combination of those words has been written by someone before?

I can almost certainly create a combination of words that has never before been written by anyone, just simply by randomly choosing twenty words. For example, and just to make sure I can validate the uniqueness of my writing, it’s almost beyond a doubt that nobody in history has ever before typed the following sentence:

Likely feast north treatment fossil lose break determine majority, conclusion grandmother’s presence exit strict, eliminate thigh, expose clock furry leader!

Obviously that sentence makes zero sense, but it is probably unique. However, if I write a sentence that does make sense but that I still feel might be unique, something like this, taken from the first page of my novel, Transient:

I know bitter is a taste, or possibly an emotional reaction and not actually a physical feeling, but I can’t think of a better word to describe the daggers in my stomach as the beer churns in my gut.

Is this a unique sentence that has never before been written? Has any author in history ever taken those 33 words and arranged them in that exact order?

One of the most memorable quotes of all time is by Robert Louis Stevenson:

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.

Just sixteen words, only thirteen of them unique, arranged in an order that is credited to him. Is it possible that he was the first person to ever speak or write down those words in that order? Of all the famous quotes and memorable lines that have ever been credited to an individual, were they really the first to speak them? Did they truly invent that order of words? If so, how many phrases are left to create? Will any combination of words someday be accredited to me?

Someday maybe I’ll learn to just enjoy watching a TV show without thoughts like these running rampant in my head.

Eventually, history will view Adolf Hitler as one of the greatest leaders of all time.

If you could travel back in time with the ability to change one thing in history, what would that be? What if you could go back in time and kill one person? Who would you kill?

I think many, if not most people you asked the second question to would choose Adolf Hitler. Of course, if you posed this question to Americans this day and age, you’d probably get a lot of people answering Donald Trump, but I still think most would answer Adolf Hitler. If you posed the question to Chinese people, the majority would surely answer Mao Zedong, though those who study history may reluctantly choose Genghis Khan instead. If you asked Russians, they might answer Joseph Stalin. Italians might say Benito Mussolini, Cambodians, Pol Pot, Congolese, King Leopold II…the list of history’s corrupt and evil mass-murderers is lengthy.

Despite all of these choices and the various answers you would receive from people around the world, I still believe the answer you’re most likely to hear is Adolf Hitler. And why is this?

Hitler_portrait_crop

Everybody knows Hitler was responsible for starting World War II, perpetrating the holocaust, enslaving entire ethnicities, and numerous other atrocities culminating in well over 40 million deaths.

But few people actually give him credit for some of the good things he accomplished, either intentionally or as an inadvertent byproduct of his actions.

That last sentence is going to piss some people off. The thought that Adolf Hitler might have accomplished some good with his actions is pretty abhorrent when weighed against the evil he committed, there’s no doubt of that. If you don’t like the idea that Hitler accomplished many good things, then my next sentence is going to be even more repulsive to you.

Someday, history will almost certainly look upon Adolf Hitler as a great leader, and his actions as beneficial to both democracy and the human race.

Cambridge professor and member of Parliament, Lord John Dalberg-Acton, is well known for his oft-quoted line, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Less often do you hear people quote the next sentence in that letter he wrote though, and that sentence may be even more germane. “Great men are almost always bad men…”₂ What he meant by that is that leaders usually become great by doing what is necessary to accomplish their vision, however unsavory those acts may be. Historian and Hardcore History podcaster Dan Carlin sums it up in an interesting way with this question that I’ll paraphrase:

“Would you be willing, under certain conditions, to order the killing of an innocent woman or child? If not, you’re already out of the running to be on the list of great people, at least for the category of world leaders.”

World leaders who are historically considered great men, are almost without exception also very bad men who committed what most would consider to be evil acts.

Great men are almost always bad men.

– The Lord Acton

Alexander the Great is one of the most admired people of all time. There have been more than twenty world cities that have borne his name, most notably Alexandria, Egypt. He was undefeated on the battlefield in more than a decade of waging war. He’s credited with bringing Hellenism – the influence of Greek civilization and culture – to the Persian Empire and throughout much of western Asia, bringing in what eventually came to be known as the Hellenistic Age.

And yet, his sole intent was to wage war in order to enrich himself and his generals in Macedonia, and to expand his influence and his empire for his posterity. He killed an unknown number of people, certainly in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. He looted and burned, conquered and enslaved…and today we honor and keep his memory through cities and shrines.

But he’s nowhere even close to holding the title of the worst monarch in history. Another one that comes to mind is Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, now called France, and killed millions of people – his actions have been called a genocide by some – all for his own personal gain, and that of the wealthy Roman elite. He’s often credited for bringing modern-day France into the enlightened era, bringing culture and literacy to the area by eliminating the Celts. Most modern-day French would agree that Caesars actions were good for them and that they’ve benefited greatly from all those deaths. Yet, that wasn’t his intent, it was simply an inadvertent byproduct of his actions.

Historians credit Caesar and praise him for the results of his brutal and merciless actions, when his intent was purely to enrich himself. One famous quote uttered during the time of Caesar’s conquests was: “The Romans create a wasteland, and then call that peace.”

Genghis Khan is another ruler and conqueror who is generally accepted by historians to be one of the greatest leaders and one of, if not the best, battlefield commanders of all time. His small army of mounted Mongol fighters laid waste to most of Asia and large swathes of eastern Europe for more than twenty years, conquering everybody they encountered, and mercilessly burning, looting, raping, pillaging, and murdering as they rode. Those he didn’t order murdered, he often ordered enslaved, remarking that where he trod nothing would ever grow again.

In his rise to power, Genghis Khan destroyed entire cities and even civilizations. There’s one known story about him ordering all the survivors of a town he besieged to walk in front of a wagon. Many of these were civilians and non-combatants. Anybody who was taller than the wagon wheel had their head cut off.

Yet, he’s revered throughout Asia. There’s a mausoleum and many temples in his honor. Shops, hotels, and restaurants are all named after him. Through DNA testing, it’s been determined that more people on Earth are direct descendants of his than of any other man in history, mostly due to his rampant raping of any surviving women during his deadly warring. Approximately 1 in every 500 Chinese people is his descendent. Hell, he’s even pictured on Mongolia’s money. He’s the George Washington of Mongolia!

Genghus Khan money

I was at my cabin in Washington State last week and came upon a hive of yellow jackets living in a rotting log. My nephews had actually stumbled onto the hive and both had been stung numerous times, so I went into the woods to exterminate them. Finding the entrance to their lair, I looked into the eyes of two yellow jackets perched in the entrance like guards, and I fired a stream of poison spray directly into the nest. I then waited for it to dissipate and fired another stream, filling the nest with poison and killing probably hundreds of bees. That wasn’t quite enough though. A few hours later I came back and discovered several bees – ones that had probably been out foraging when my murderous rampage occurred – trying to tunnel their way back into the nest, likely looking to attempt a rescue of any survivors. With no compassion, I exterminated them as well, shooting more poison into the nest to wipe out any unlikely survivors.

I was able to commit this bee genocidal act without losing any sleep because I look upon yellow jackets the same way people like Genghis Khan or Adolf Hitler or Atilla the Hun looked upon some races of people – as subhuman. In fact, my actions mimicked one of the favorite plays of Genghis Khan. He would raid some town in his path and order the murder of every man, woman, and child in that town. After the Mongol army had searched the town for anybody left alive, they would ride off, only to return a few days later, thundering out of the hills on horseback and surprising anybody who had been able to hide from them the first time around, or anybody who had been lucky enough to be out of town that original day, maybe hunting, foraging, or traveling. They would then kill all of those survivors before finally setting fire to the town and wiping it from the face of the Earth. This is brutality without limit, absolute and merciless genocide.

Imagine if Harry Truman had been like Genghis Khan. Imagine if, three days after the first ever atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, while the survivors were stumbling around and rescue workers feverishly tried to save the hundreds of people trapped in the devastation, Truman had ordered the bombers to drop another atomic bomb in the same place. That’s what “great men” like Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, or Alexander the Great might have done. Murder without mercy, terror without compassion, and yet, had Truman done the same, he would have been considered a monster, at least to us in the present. We would be too close to those deaths, too modernized to accept the brutality, and too emotionally attached to see the potential benefits that may have arisen from such brutality. If history is any indicator though, at some point in the future that action alone might have made him a great leader, willing to make the tough choices and do what was necessary without an emotional attachment.

Now granted, he did drop another bomb eventually, just choosing to target a different city, which actually resulted in more loss of life than dropping a second bomb on Hiroshima would have done. However, in terms of emotional devastation and inflicting terror upon the enemy, I can’t help but feel a second bomb in the same location would have been a more effective tool at destroying the Japanese morale and ending the war sooner. After all, it was dicey that the bomb on Nagasaki was even going to end the war. The Japanese had vowed at the beginning to fight to the deaths of every last man, woman, and child if necessary. The Truman administration had a whole list of further targets where they were going to drop bombs, providing they could actually build any more immediately, since, unbeknownst to the Japanese, we only actually had two of them in our arsenal at the time. Luckily, they didn’t have to continue down that list.

The lesson here is that when you’re too close in time to the actions of evil men, it’s hard to look at them objectively, and even more difficult to ignore the pain and suffering those actions inflict in order to analyze any recognized benefits of the actions. It’s also tough to look at the unintentional dividends of their actions and reconcile those gains with the evil brutality that it took to accomplish the benefits we enjoy. Getting distance (timewise) on events allows you to be a dispassionate observer. You lose any feeling of compassion toward the suffering and loss of human life.

Men like Caesar, Genghis, and Alexander are considered great men, yet they were also very clearly evil men.

Joseph Stalin was certainly one of the evilest men to have ever lived. He had a famous quote: “A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic.” And boy did he ever live up to that quote. He’s responsible for millions of deaths, generally considered to be somewhere between 20 million and 40 million in total. He took the communist ideas of Karl Marx and applied them with an iron fist, ruling over the U.S.S.R. without mercy. There’s little doubt that Russians suffered greatly, their culture set back in devastating fashion due to his barbarous policies and actions. Yet, without him, it’s also quite possible that Hitler and the Axis powers would have been victorious in World War II.

With that fact alone, could history consider him a great man? It seems unlikely just based on the fact that he didn’t really conquer anything, and for some reason that seems to be a prerequisite to making the list of greatness. Regardless, Stalin would certainly never be considered to be a great man this close to his actions in the historic timeline. There are living Gulag survivors, and living victims of his torture sessions. When you can look into the eyes of someone who was a victim of a merciless dictator, it’s nearly impossible to ignore their suffering and proclaim the perpetrator of that suffering to be a great leader.

Which is what makes it so difficult to even write the words I wrote earlier, that Adolf Hitler will someday be considered amongst the great leaders of all time.

I’m currently working on writing a book that explores the question of what you would do if you could travel back in time and actually kill Adolf Hitler. Even more importantly, what would a Jewish person, possibly one who lost family members in the Holocaust, do if they could travel back in time and kill him? It seems like an easy question doesn’t it? After all, there were many attempts on Hitler’s life, some of which are well-known and immortalized in books and movies, and others that occurred even before his rise to power, including one little-known attempt that nearly succeeded while he was incarcerated at Landsberg Prison in the 1920s.

What if one of those attempts had succeeded? Well, it probably would have been a disaster for civilization, particularly if you happen to enjoy the benefits of living in a democracy. More on this statement later.

What makes it so unpalatable to admit that history will probably remember Hitler as a great leader and a great man, is that I’ve studied the results of his actions in pretty great depth. I’ve read his book, Mein Kampf. I’ve visited three concentration camps in Poland, along with the Jewish ghetto memorial in Warsaw. I’ve been to the holocaust museum in Washington D.C.  I’ve shed tears in front of this photo of children holding hands as they walked unknowingly to their executions at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

On the way to death

He caused great suffering and great pain, and you could legitimately attribute in the neighborhood of 40 million deaths, on the low side, to his actions. There’s little doubt that Hitler has the military prowess to be considered amongst the great leaders. It would be difficult to find a military historian who would be unimpressed with the success of the German Wehrmacht in nearly every battle they entered. Hitler used his military to devastating effect, taking advantage of the blitzkrieg strategy to first destroy and conquer Poland. He used that same strategy to then invade and conquer Denmark, followed by Norway, despite the two countries receiving help from both Britain and France. The blitzkrieg continued as the Wehrmacht next marched through Belgium and then the Netherlands as they prepared to skirt around the Maginot line to invade and conquer France.

Now, it should be noted that one of the big differences when it comes to future generations admiring Hitler as a conqueror and putting him in the same category as warriors like Genghis Khan or Atilla the Hun, is that Hitler clearly never led from the front. He directed from the rear, and much of his success must certainly be credited to the genius of his frontline military commanders and generals. Of course, conquerors like Julius Caesar, Napoleon, and to some extent, Alexander the Great also relied on their generals and commanders more than on their own fighting prowess, yet history still credits them with the successes of their underlings.

The other big difference is that Hitler failed and died before he could consolidate his holdings, and without achieving success or his end goal. These differences will certainly put an asterisk beside his name on the list of great leaders, but I don’t think it will keep him off it.

Where Hitler didn’t invade and conquer, he made alliances. The photo below of Germany’s success in conquering, controlling, occupying, or allying with nearly all of Europe, along with parts of Asia and Africa is pretty conclusive evidence of Hitler’s status as a great conqueror. The Third Reich’s success at the height of the war was clearly on par with the empire building glorified in the memories of conquerors like Caesar, Genghis, Attila, or Alexander.

Although Hitler was a formidable conqueror, he made one very big mistake, and that was his decision to violate his non-aggression agreement with Stalin and open up a second front to the war by invading Russia. In absence of that decision, it is quite possible, maybe even very likely, that he would have won the war and eventually defeated Great Britain. It’s also likely that America, also caught in a two-front war, would have found it necessary to focus on the Pacific war and abandon the European war had Great Britain fallen, which would have allowed Hitler to consolidate and shore up his power and holdings.

If we can accept that in the future, Hitler will be looked upon by historians as a great military leader and conqueror, just based on the countries he conquered, then we only have to wonder if history will be able to overlook the horrible atrocities he perpetrated. By looking at how history manages to overlook the atrocities from other conquerors it deems great men, it’s quite apparent that eventually, at some point in the future, history won’t care one iota about the deaths or the suffering. As Dan Carlin states in his Hardcore History podcasts, “Nobody weeps for people who died 500 years ago.”

If we as a civilization are able to overlook genocidal atrocities, torture, and rape in pursuit of what we determine as valuable to our species, regardless of the intent of the perpetrator, then there remains little doubt that Hitler will someday fall into the same category of greatness as Caesar, Atilla, Genghis, and so many others. Apparently when it comes to what we’re willing to accept, the ends definitely justify the means. So, let’s take a look at some of the things that were accomplished either as a direct result, or as an unintended consequence of Hitler’s rise to power.

  1. Formation of the State of Israel.

At the end of World War II, hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors and refugees looking for a place to live that was distanced from their awful memories of their destroyed homelands, descended upon what was then known as Palestine, a land that was under British rule.

Jews had been searching for an ancestral homeland since the Jewish diaspora, the scattering of them from their ancestral homeland, and their settling throughout Europe.  In 1881, when the Ottoman Empire ruled Palestine, the first wave of Jews attempted to settle there, fleeing from organized violence against them – known as “pogroms” – in Eastern Europe.

There would be four additional waves of settlement, the last and largest occurring after the fall of Hitler, swelling the population of Jews in Palestine to its largest level, 33% of the total. This caused intense conflict between the Jews and the British Empire, and the Jews and the Arabs, over Jewish immigration limits. Some fighting occurred, the British administrative headquarters was attacked resulting in almost 100 deaths, and Britain finally announce they would be withdrawing from Palestine, basically deciding to let the Jews and the Arabs fight it out without them.

After the British withdrawal, the newly formed United Nations voted to create two new states out of the former British territory, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs, with Jerusalem being a neutral city for all. Jews accepted the plan, Arabs rejected it, more fighting broke out, and the Jews won, causing Arabs to flee and the Jews to seize control of the land with most of the borders poorly defined and in dispute. David Ben-Gurion announced the official formation of the Jewish homeland and gave it the official name of the State of Israel. The following day, Arabs attacked, beginning the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and they have effectively been at odds with sporadic fighting since then.

Adolf Hitler was a big proponent of the formation of a home for the Jews, although he preferred they settle much further away, completely out of Europe. Madagascar was actually one of his preferred choices. At some point during his reign, he changed his mind about creating a home for them, and decided to exterminate them instead. This, more than anything is what caused the wave of Jews to flood to Palestine at the end of the Holocaust, which created the pressure cooker effect in that region, which caused the British withdrawal, which caused the UN to step in, which resulted in the formation of Israel.

If you look at the history, you can see that this result was clearly a direct consequence of Hitler’s actions. In fact, it’s difficult to see a different path toward the Jews ever getting their own homeland without the actions of Adolf Hitler. Although this is clearly an unintended consequence of his actions, it is also very clearly something good that came out of those actions.

I often wonder, were you to ask an Israeli citizen, particularly a Jewish Israeli, if they thought the formation of Israel alone made the atrocities of Hitler’s actions worth it, what they would answer? I suspect they would vehemently answer that it was not worth it, but I wonder what their actual thoughts on the matter would be? Clearly if they lost a loved one to Hitler’s barbarism, or if they themselves were a survivor, the answer would have to be no. But what if you were to ask someone young, a 20-year old say, who’s parents and maybe even grandparents were not even born during Hitler’s time? What if you were to ask someone 100 years from now, when they have no connection whatsoever to anybody who suffered or died under Hitler’s rule? I wonder how much time will have to pass before the answer becomes, yes, it was worth it?

History tells us that 500 years will do it for sure, but I suspect it may be much less than that.

  1. Military and space technology advances and innovations.

Undoubtedly, one of the things history will remember Hitler for is his dedication to advancements in science and technology. Despite fighting a two-front war against most of the world, he placed scientific innovation at the top of his list of objectives and priorities. Now, granted, he wanted these advancements to give him a better chance at winning the war, but after he was defeated, the Allied powers were able to utilize many of Nazi Germany’s technological advancements to rocket our knowledge forward.

The Nazis did amazing work on many weapons of war, including inventing the first ever production helicopter, the first radio guided bomb, great strides in missile technology, and creating the largest ever liquid-fueled rocket, among other things.

Enjoy flying above the weather and at speeds faster than a car can drive? Thank Adolf Hitler, who oversaw the invention of the first jet-powered fighter, the Messerschmidtt ME-262. Before this little beauty, the skies were filled with propeller-driven aircraft, and it wasn’t until the U.S. managed to capture one that we were able to reverse-engineer the technology and use it to create aircraft like the F-86 Sabre and the B-47 Stratojet. It was German physicist Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain who invented Pabst beer the first operational jet engine as well.

Wernher Von Braun is known as the father of rocket technology and he was yet another German who worked for Adolf Hitler during the war. Under the umbrella of the Nazi regime, he developed the V2, the first guided ballistic missile, a huge step toward the ICBMs of today, and a gigantic leap toward the ability for space exploration. After the war, Von Braun was brought to the US along with 1600 of his closest friends and Nazi war criminals – check out Operation Paperclip for more on this – where they propelled us into the space age. None of this would have been possible without Adolf Hitler’s commitment to funding and driving rocket technology.₄

As with most technology, it would have come along eventually, but one of the wonders of war is that the tech field always ends up getting a huge boost forward, and those benefits eventually trickle down to civilian technological improvements. There’s zero chance we would have reached the moon in 1969 without Hitler’s commitment to, and funding of, Von Braun’s rocket research.

By the way, the Nazis also created methamphetamine. I was going to write a big thing about the benefits of stimulants, but I’m too tired.

  1. An end to systemic anti-Semitism and pogroms against Jews.

I don’t want this one to read like I believe that anti-Semitism is dead, because I’m not an idiot. In fact, a recent statistical analysis shows that there may be as many as 150 million people across Europe who harbor serious anti-Semitic views.₃ This is a scary big number for this day and age.

That being said, before and during the time of Hitler, anti-Semitism was a much bigger problem. For starters, it was considered completely acceptable, and possibly even vogue, to be openly and vocally anti-Semitic. Pogroms – attacks on Jewish persons and destruction of their properties – were common, merciless, and often brutal. Leaders, scholars, and influential people of the day openly bandied about ideas of what to do about “The Jewish Question” or “The Jewish Problem.”

Hitler was not the first to consider Jews to be nomadic sub-humans…far from it, actually. In fact, in Mein Kampf, he talks about his struggle actually coming to terms with the rampant anti-Semitism that surrounded him. He was a young man living and working in Vienna at the time, and he spends a long time in the book writing about his first encounters with Jews, his studies of their cultures and beliefs, and the debates he often engaged in with them. Mein Kampf is a weighty, difficult-to-read tome, but below, I’ve cut and pasted some of the relevant parts of his chapter on his discovery of Jews and how he grew to loathe them.

Once, when passing through the inner City, I suddenly encountered a phenomenon in a long caftan and wearing black side-locks. My first thought was: Is this a Jew? They certainly did not have this appearance in Linz. I watched the man stealthily and cautiously; but the longer I gazed at the strange countenance and examined it feature by feature, the more the question shaped itself in my brain: Is this a German? As was always my habit with such experiences, I turned to books for help in removing my doubts. For the first time in my life I bought myself some anti-Semitic pamphlets for a few pence…

Naturally I could no longer doubt that here there was not a question of Germans who happened to be of a different religion but rather that there was question of an entirely different people. For as soon as I began to investigate the matter and observe the Jews, then Vienna appeared to me in a different light. Wherever I now went I saw Jews, and the more I saw of them the more strikingly and clearly they stood out as a different people from the other citizens…

This fictitious conflict between the Zionists and the Liberal Jews soon disgusted me; for it was false through and through and in direct contradiction to the moral dignity and immaculate character on which that race had always prided itself. Cleanliness, whether moral or of another kind, had its own peculiar meaning for these people. That they were water-shy was obvious on looking at them and, unfortunately, very often also when not looking at them at all. The odour of those people in caftans often used to make me feel ill…

Here was a pestilence, a moral pestilence, with which the public was being infected. It was worse than the Black Plague of long ago. And in what mighty doses this poison was manufactured and distributed. Naturally, the lower the moral and intellectual level of such an author of artistic products the more inexhaustible his fecundity. Sometimes it went so far that one of these fellows, acting like a sewage pump, would shoot his filth directly in the face of other members of the human race. In this connection we must remember there is no limit to the number of such people…

I had now no more hesitation about bringing the Jewish problem to light in all its details. No. Henceforth I was determined to do so. But as I learned to track down the Jew in all the different spheres of cultural and artistic life, and in the various manifestations of this life everywhere, I suddenly came upon him in a position where I had least expected to find him. I now realized that the Jews were the leaders of Social Democracy. In face of that revelation the scales fell from my eyes. My long inner struggle was at an end…

If your adversary felt forced to give in to your argument, on account of the observers present, and if you then thought that at last you had gained ground, a surprise was in store for you on the following day. The Jew would be utterly oblivious to what had happened the day before, and he would start once again by repeating his former absurdities, as if nothing had happened. Should you become indignant and remind him of yesterday’s defeat, he pretended astonishment and could not remember anything, except that on the previous day he had proved that his statements were correct. Sometimes I was dumbfounded. I do not know what amazed me the more–the abundance of their verbiage or the artful way in which they dressed up their falsehoods. I gradually came to hate them.

It’s quite obvious, if we’re to believe Hitler’s own words, that he was not a hater of Jews until well into adulthood. I think it would be an interesting take to explore how things might have been different had Hitler encountered a Jew in those days he respected, one who could have debated him on the level he desired, perhaps even just a single Jew he could have befriended. Could you imagine the different world we might live in had that occurred?

Nevertheless, although Hitler is responsible for the most devastating persecution of the Jewish people in history, the fact that they were being persecuted throughout Europe during the time before Hitler’s rise to power is clear. Again, this didn’t end after Hitler’s downfall, however, it was greatly diminished, and with the formation of the State of Israel, finally giving the Jews a homeland, we can assign credit to Hitler for making that happen. In fact, giving the Jews a home of their own was actually his goal, though the idea that they would be ensconced in what was at the time, British Palestine and that they would become a respected and world-leading country would have appalled him.

  1. Formation of The European Union.

Adolf Hitler was an avowed nationalist, and it was his abject sense of nationalism that gave rise to the idea that German citizens were the pinnacle of the human race, valued above all others, and that everybody should desire to become a citizen of Germany. This idea, spread around Europe during Hitler’s time, was truly his goal, at least in the beginning…to achieve great things for all German citizens.

After Hitler’s defeat, Winston Churchill gave a speech to European member states, advocating for the formation of what he called, “The United States of Europe.” This idea gave rise to several coalitions and treaties throughout the 1950s and 1960s, all of which culminated in the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993 which officially formed the European Union.

Without Hitler’s devastation of the continent through his nationalist notions, it’s incredibly unlikely we would have seen the necessity for the joining together of all of these member states. Without the various treaties linking them together, it’s also quite possible we would have seen additional wars breaking out on the European continent in the intervening decades since 1945. There’s no doubt that despite the great many years it took for the EU to actually complete their union, the seed of the idea was planted as a direct result of Hitler’s actions.

5. The downfall of Benito Mussolini.

There’s just no way to be nice about this. Mussolini was a dick. There is zero chance that history will consider him to be a great man, or a great leader. He will forever be viewed by history as a dick. Despite his dickish behavior, Italians somehow let him rise to power as the leader of the National Fascist Party to become Prime Minister, a position he held – in theory—from 1922 until 1945. In reality, he only actually was Prime Minister, a title that implies some sort of constitutional governance, from 1922 until 1925, at which point he dropped all pretense of Italy being a democracy and installed himself as a sort of supreme dictator.

Mussolini consolidated his power by first using his secret police to remove all political opponents, then creating a one-party dictatorship to ensure that he and his buddies were the only ones in power.

You would think that Italians would have fought back against this kind of power grab, but once again we see the power of nationalism and persuasive speech in the rise of a determined ruler. By the time Italians began fighting back against Mussolini, it was too late…he was entrenched and ruled with an iron fist, ruthlessly ordering the death or imprisonment of all who opposed him. By 1925, he had dismantled virtually all constitutional and ordinary restraints on his power and had effectively turned Italy into a police state.

When war broke out in Europe, Mussolini held back on declaring allegiance to one side or the other until he determined that Hitler seemed likely to defeat France, at which point he made the classic dick move of siding with who he thought would be the eventual winner, joining the Axis powers and eventually declaring war on the United States. This didn’t work out too well.

Italy suffered great losses throughout the war, and when it became clear that Eisenhower’s armies were likely to cross the Mediterranean and attack the Italian mainland, Mussolini panicked, begging Hitler to make peace with the Soviets so he could free up Nazi troops to help defend Italy. Hitler, in a battle for the ages on the eastern front, refused.

As bombs began to fall on Rome, the Italian people had finally had enough. Dino Grandi, Mussolini’s minister of foreign affairs, minister of justice, and president of the puppet Italian parliament, openly revolted against him. Grandi eventually petitioned the king to remove Mussolini from office, a power the king held but could effectively only use with enough support from the powerful politicians who surrounded Mussolini…support he now had. Mussolini was removed from office in 1943, arrested, and imprisoned.

He was rescued by Nazi troops a few months later, and Hitler propped him up as the puppet head of government for the territory of Northern Italy, a position where he served only to pacify the Italian people that an Italian was still in charge as opposed to Hitler running the country, which fooled exactly nobody, but did serve to keep the Italian people subdued for a short period of time.

On April 25, 1945, with Allied troops invading Northern Italy, Mussolini attempted to flee to Switzerland. He was captured, and then executed the next day, along with his mistress and a dozen or so members of his government who were fleeing with him.

Were it not for Hitler and his war, there’s a good chance the Italian people would have suffered under Mussolini’s rule for many more years. Even if Mussolini himself had not held power for much longer, by eliminating all other political parties, the Fascist government would have been able to hold out for decades longer at least.

As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Had World War II not interfered with Mussolini’s plans, what trouble might he have decided to thrust Italy into once he completed establishing himself as sole dictator? At what point would he have eventually done away with the King, recognizing his power as a threat? Would Italy be the beautiful tourist destination it is today if Mussolini and his fascist party had remained in power for decades longer? How much more suffering would the Italian people have endured without Hitler’s war outing Mussolini’s true nature and the dangers of fascism?

By the way, just as a side note, after his execution, his body was transported back to Milan where the population was able to spit on it and stone it with rocks. He was then strung upside down at a gas station, along with several of his followers, where more rocks were thrown at him for a few days. Whatever happened to the days of this being acceptable? Can we bring this back?

Mussolini_e_Petacci_a_Piazzale_Loreto,_1945
Mussolini hanging, 2nd from the left

Now, we’re going to get into the realm of things we should actually be thankful to Hitler for today, especially if you’re an American reading this, but also if you’re a citizen of any democracy who enjoys freedom. This brings us back to the question I asked at the beginning of the blog, about who you would kill if you had the chance to go back in time. Unfortunately, without the actions of Adolf Hitler, the world would very likely look completely different today. And probably not in a good way.

  1. The weakening of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union, and communism in general.

Without the ruthlessness and brutality of Joseph Stalin, there’s little doubt that the Third Reich would have eventually ruled over Europe. If I tried to tell the entire story of the war on the eastern front, I’d need dozens of blogs of this length, but to sum it up, it was the pinnacle of suffering and barbarous, inhuman conditions. The losses suffered by the Soviet Union is staggering. More than 10 million soldiers and more than 15 million civilians died, most of the civilians starving to death.  The Soviets lost 134,000 armored vehicles, more than 100,000 aircraft, and more than 70,000 villages and towns that were completely razed. More soldiers died fighting on the Eastern front than in all the rest of the battles of World War II around the globe combined.

At the beginning of the war, Hitler and Stalin had a non-aggression pact. It was actually completely likely that the Soviet Union would have eventually joined Hitler in the Axis powers. Inexplicably – and this action will certainly be a point of argument for opponents of my premise – Hitler decided to violate the pact, open up a second front to the war, and invade the Soviet Union. Hitler’s justification for the invasion was that he thought the Soviets were weak…as he stated to his generals, “The Soviet Union is a house of cards. We need only kick in the door and watch it come crumbling down.”

Take a second and imagine the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. If you know anything about those decades of struggle, you know that although the United States eventually won, at many points, the Soviet Union was close to getting the upper hand. Now picture how much different that might have looked had Stalin been able to maintain his frosty fortress in Asia without it being significantly weakened by his war with Hitler. Imagine if Hitler had kept his pact, the USSR had taken half of Poland and many of the Baltic states as per the agreement between Hitler and Stalin, and now imagine this altered history Soviet Union without the loss of all those soldiers, civilians (26 million combined!), aircraft, tanks, etc.

Not only would the Soviet Union have been stronger, it’s quite likely the United States would have been much weaker. They would have had to commit more forces to the European war, at least in the short term, which would have weakened efforts in the Pacific theater. It’s also entirely possible Stalin would have set his sights on further territorial expansion by means of Alaska.

This sort of revisionist history can, and does go deep into the rabbit hole as you start imagining all of the possibilities, but it’s quite clear that had Hitler never come to power, the Soviet Union would have been an entirely different beast, regardless of whether there was an actual war in Europe. With America committed to fighting the spread of communism, and facing a much, much stronger opponent, this world would look entirely different.

2. The strengthening and heralding of the United States as the predominant world power.

The United States, along with most of the world, had been mired in the Great Depression for much of the decade leading up to the start of World War II. In fact, it was Germany’s weakened and externally reliant state of affairs that at least partially allowed them to welcome the rise of the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler, with his promises to revitalize the German people and transform the country into a self-sufficient, economic power.

In the U.S., Roosevelt had enacted his New Deal, and it had at least partially revitalized the American economy, though it did not completely mitigate the disaster of the Great Depression. However, when the war began in Europe, the vast majority of the U.S. industrial machine turned to war production, selling supplies and materials to (mostly) the allied nations in Europe, particularly England and France.

Seeing the future potential for the U.S. involvement in the war, while at the same time getting years of reprieve from actually being involved, allowed the U.S. to be as prepared militarily and industrially as a non-aggressor participant could possibly be. The entire U.S. auto industry, for example, had switched from producing automobiles, to producing planes, tanks, armored vehicles, and other war machines, both for sale to the Allies, and as a stockpile for our own preparedness. War bonds were sold at very low interest rates, hawked by celebrities as a way for the average citizen to contribute to the war effort. The number of Americans required to pay federal taxes rose, from 4 million people in 1939, to 43 million by 1945, a staggering increase. Not only did the number of people required to pay taxes increase exponentially, the taxes themselves saw incredible increases as well. People making more than $1 million per year, for example, were taxed at 94%, a mind-boggling figure.₆,₇

Adding to the years of selling materials and preparing war machines, not a single bomb struck the U.S. mainland during the entire war. Every factory in the country was producing 24/7, the workforce was at a maximum, including a huge percentage of women for the first time, and money was flowing in from the Allies as their own factories fell to the Axis bombing and they needed to purchase what they could no longer produce.

Even after joining the war effort following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was still able to produce a surplus of military supplies to sell to the Allies. Following the end of the war, as Europe began the long and expensive process of rebuilding, the United States became a literal supermarket, providing building materials, loans, and manpower in order to repair the devastation across the European continent.

Of all the countries involved in the war, the U.S. was in the best shape, both economically, and structurally, by a long shot. While other countries struggled to unbury themselves from the rubble and chaos, the U.S., barely scratched, was able to take great strides in distancing themselves as the most wealthy and powerful country in the world.

This wealth and power has carried forward all the way to today, allowing the U.S. to win the Cold War, win the space race, and build the most advanced and most powerful military in the world. Imagine if this had gone differently. We never would have been able to experience the epic film, Team America: World Police. Devastating.

3. The U.S. development of the first atomic bomb.

 

It’s a near certainty that the United States would have never been the first country to develop the atomic bomb were it not for Adolf Hitler. A startling proportion of the most famous names on the list of physicists involved in the Manhattan Project were from Germany, Hungary, or Poland.₅ Take a look at this list of nuclear (and other) physicists who fled the Nazi regime and emigrated to the United States:

Albert Einstein – Obvious genius. A real Einstein. Actually, the real Einstein. German by birth, he was visiting the U.S. in 1933 when Hitler came to power. A Jew, he wisely decided not to return to Germany, becoming an American citizen instead. He received the Nassau Point letter, also known as the 1939 Einstein-Szilard letter, which was written to President Eisenhower, informing him of the recent discovery of sustainable nuclear chain reactions in Uranium and the potential to harness that energy to create a bomb. The letter was written in German originally, then brought to Einstein at his home on Long Island, where it was translated to English, signed by Einstein, and then sent to the president. This letter, and Einstein’s signature in particular, convinced Eisenhower to order the formation of the group responsible for the Manhattan Project. It also opened his eyes to the fact that the Germans – minus their top nuclear physicist talent obviously – had already discovered chain reactions and were already hoarding Uranium and beginning work to harness it’s power and build a bomb.

John Von Neumann – Physicist and mathematician. The kind of math that looks like Greek when you see it. Oh, and he spoke Greek. He basically performed all the mathematical equations for the bomb.

Leo Szilard – Discovered nuclear chain reactions. Actually wrote the Nassau Point letter to President Roosevelt and brought it to Einstein for him to sign and forward.

Enrico Fermi – Nobel prize winner in physics. Built the world’s first nuclear reactor under the football field at the University of Chicago. Posited the famous Fermi Paradox question – during his lunch break, of course.

Edward Teller – Known as the father of the hydrogen bomb. Designed the thermonuclear weapons of today in collaboration with Stanislaw Ulam (a Polish mathematician who also fled the Nazis and emigrated to the U.S.)

Hans Bethe – Nobel prize winner in physics. Chief theorist at Los Alamos during the effort to build the bomb.

Eugene Wigner – Nobel prize winner in physics. Collaborated with Einstein and the others on the Nassau Point letter. Led the group responsible for the design of the nuclear reactors that produced weapons grade Plutonium.

Each of these incredible physicists were Jews, or, in one case, married to a Jew, and each of them fled the Nazi regime just prior to the start of World War II. Many of them lost close family members in the concentration camps of the Holocaust…family members who were either unable or unwilling to flee along with them.

It’s quite clear when looking at this list of all the top names from the creation of the first atomic bombs, and the first thermonuclear bombs, that had Hitler not come to power, along with his anti-Semitic views and pogroms against Jews, these scientists would not have fled for the safe haven of America, and would have instead done their work in Europe, the most likely beneficiary of the first ever atomic bomb being Germany. Ironic, considering the stringent disarmament treaties from their World War I loss that governed Germany prior to Hitler coming to power.

4. The greatly diminished future potential for a nuclear war

Without the rise of Adolf Hitler, Stalin would have been an absolute powerhouse in the east, one with territorial expansion ideas and weak neighbors to his west. It’s not difficult to imagine Stalin moving his incredible, incomparable military forces to the west, only to encounter a nuclear armed Germany or Hungary.

It’s also not difficult to imagine a shaky peace in Eastern Europe as more and more countries learned about and began development of nuclear weapons. Without the U.S. having dropped two of these early bombs on Japan, would there have ever been nuclear non-proliferation treaties and agreements? It was the recognition of the devastating power of these weapons that made the world take a step back and decide rules and laws were needed to govern them.

One of the theories behind Enrico Fermi’s paradox – if the math says that alien civilizations should be littering the galaxy, then where are they all – is that when a civilization discovers the power of the nuclear chain reaction, they usually use that power to destroy themselves, basically bombing themselves back to the stone age where everything starts over again. What if our planet was destined for that? What if the only thing that stopped us from that fate was the rise of Hitler right at the moment we also became just technologically advanced enough to discover nuclear fission? Think about the timing of those two events and think about how it took Hitler coming to power at just that moment for all the nuclear physicists to flee to America where they were able to collaborate on their findings and create the first bomb for the United States. Which we were then able to use to end the war against Japan, something that would otherwise have cost tens of thousands of American lives to accomplish.

These two events, the discovery of nuclear chain reactions, and Hitler’s rise to power, are two of the most pivotal and potentially destructive events to ever occur in the history of mankind. And they just happen to have occurred within a few years of each other. Had either one happened a decade earlier or later from the other, our world might not even exist today. For them to happen at the same time, on a timeline that stretches for millennia, is an incredible coincidence.

Much of this is undeniably speculative of course, particularly that last part about us dodging nuclear planetary annihilation thanks to Hitler. However, it’s quite obvious that we’d be looking at an entirely different world without his influence, and I think it’s equally apparent that the likelihood that world would be a much worse place is statistically quite high. We can’t know what potentially devastating changes would have occurred without the rise of Adolf Hitler, but it’s more difficult to imagine a world that’s much better than the one we currently enjoy than it is to imagine a world that’s much worse.

At no point in this paper did I expound on the atrocities perpetrated by Hitler and his regime. Those atrocities are well-known, well-documented, and generally acknowledged by history in everything you might read or study about the topic. The point of this paper is not to dwell on those horrible actions, but rather to look at what future historians might have to say about Hitler based on what current historians say about other world leaders who committed atrocities on similar levels to Adolf Hitler. Sadly, as I’ve mentioned a few times, history doesn’t seem to care.

When I started this blog with the question about who would you kill if you could go back in time, I was reminded of the lessons from both Stephen King in his novel, 11/22/63, where the protagonist goes back in time to stop the assassination of JFK, only to learn that his actions resulted in a massive nuclear war that thrust the world into a nuclear winter, and the lesson in the Ray Bradbury short story, A Sound of Thunder, where a time traveling Tyrannosaurus Rex hunter treading on a simple butterfly caused tremendous ripples of change when he returned to his own time.

Though fiction, both of these lessons are certainly applicable when considering the hypothetical question of who you would want to kill if you could go back in time. Adolf Hitler may be the easy and obvious choice, but would the world actually have been better off without him? Or will we someday glance back in time, removed from the emotion of being close to the horrendous tragedies he perpetrated, and consider him to have been a great leader and his actions to have had a net positive impact on our society?

 

Notes:

1. Letter from Lord Acton to Bishop Creighton https://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/165acton.html
2. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-126-0347-09A,_Paris,_Deutsche_Truppen_am_Arc_de_Triomphe.jpg
3. http://jewishjournal.com/mobile_20111212/126144/
4. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/02/books/review/operation-paperclip-by-annie-jacobsen.html
5. https://www.atomicheritage.org/key-documents/einstein-szilard-letter
6. https://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-american-economy-during-world-war-ii/
7. https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=191325
8. Various excerpts pulled from Mein Kampf. http://www.greatwar.nl/books/meinkampf/meinkampf.pdf

 

STARTING WEDNESDAY THERE WILL BE A BAD GUY WITH A GUN ON EVERY PLANE IN THE WORLD!!!

On Wednesday, August 1st, Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed, a non-profit, private security firm located in Austin, Texas, will upload the blueprints for 3D printed guns, known as Ghost Guns, to the internet.

3D printed guns are made from a type of plastic or polymer, and can be produced right from your home for very little cost. In fact, Defense Distributed sells a 3D printer that can be used to manufacture these guns for just $250.

How did this possibly happen? Why hasn’t anybody stopped this Cody Wilson jerk from uploading these plans to the internet?

Well, the federal government tried.

Cody Wilson made his first 3D printed pistol, called The Liberator, in April of 2013. He then uploaded the plans for the pistol to the internet. It didn’t take long for more than 100,000 people to download the plans, and not much longer for the government to allege violations of the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), threaten him with prosecution, and to demand he remove the plans for the gun. Wilson did so, and then sued the federal government for violation of his first amendment rights.

Shockingly, he won. On June 29th of this year, the federal government entered into a settlement with Wilson, paid him $40,000 for his legal fees, and created an exemption in the ITAR regulations, allowing him to publish his plans for 3D printed firearms for international distribution.

Gun safety advocates, liberal lawmakers, and social justice warriors everywhere went nuts when the news was released.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) all sent letters to Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding an explanation for the settlement with Wilson. New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer sent Wilson cease and desist letters threatening him with legal action if he made his plans available to residents of those jurisdictions. (Wilson has sued both of them for intimidation and harassment.)

Three gun control organizations — the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence — attempted to get an injunction against Wilson by filing an emergency motion with Federal Judge Robert Pitman in Austin. Pitman denied the emergency motion, ruling in favor of Wilson.

Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) wrote this letter chock full of fear mongering to the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs chairs in the house, demanding an emergency hearing. As far as I can tell, they seem to have ignored these demands.

Well known screamer and social justice warrior Chelsea Handler felt the need to weigh in on a topic she knows zero about, of course.

None of these last-minute attempts to censor and control the internet have worked, and the plans will be free to all on August 1st when Wilson releases them.

The problem with all this liberal fear-mongering and screaming, as anyone with even a hint of a working brain could figure out, is that you can’t un-ring a bell. The plans for this gun were uploaded in 2013 and downloaded hundreds of thousands of times! That means they are available. In fact, it took me all of five minutes of searching to locate the plans on the file-sharing site ThePirateBay.org. They are on other torrent sites as well. The plans exist already and they can be downloaded by anybody who wants to spend just a little bit of time searching already, right now.

The other problem, as anybody who’s ever shot a gun can figure out, is that when a gun fires, a violent explosion occurs. Plastic guns are not equipped to handle violent explosions. An ATF test done on several types of 3D printed guns showed that many of them will explode in the user’s hands, perhaps even fatally injuring the shooter. Now, Wilson’s Liberator gun did perform well in the tests and that is the concern that many lawmakers have, however, the idea that a new law prohibiting him from uploading the plans for that gun will stop people from making it is just silly. Mainly because…wait for it…

It’s already illegal to own a gun that can defeat metal detector technology!

The Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 was enacted in response to Glock’s manufacture of the Glock 17, the first gun that was made with a large amount of plastic or polymer components. The law states that no gun shall be made or owned that contains less than 3.7 ounces of stainless steel, or whatever amount is the minimum detection level in metal detector technology. It also states that no gun can be created or owned that is undetectable to weapons imaging technologies. (Meaning guns that don’t look like guns.)

This federal law means that if you were to make a gun made entirely of plastic, it would be illegal. You must insert a metal plate that makes it detectable to magnetometers.

Another problem (and this should be really obvious) is that nobody has figured out a way to make a plastic bullet or shell casing. So even if you have an illegal plastic gun, the shells still have to be metal.

Now, the fear mongering that’s happening out there is obviously ridiculous, but let’s address their concerns. The first is that criminals will have easy access to firearms now that they can just make them in their garage. First of all, there are millions of illegal firearms already out on the streets, available for sale for way less than the cost to build your own. Not only is it easier for a criminal to just buy an illegal gun, it’s much more lethal to own a real gun that fires multiple times without blowing up, than it is to trust a plastic gun that might blow your hand off or might fail after firing a few times.

“Ghost guns are as scary as they sound — a terrorist, someone who is mentally ill, a spousal abuser or a felon can essentially open a gun factory in their garage. No background check, no training,” Sen. Chuck Schumer

The second is that criminals will be able to sneak a gun onto a plane or into a courthouse. This may be true, however, they still can’t sneak the bullets through. And, to be clear, the plans for these guns have been downloaded already hundreds of thousands of times over the last five years. Thousands of these guns have been created successfully. Nobody has successfully used one to take down a plane or shoot a judge in that time.

The true purpose of this technology is not to build a gun that can be used to sneak through a metal detector. It is to build components of firearms to make guns cheaper and lighter. Defense Distributed will be uploading plans to replace components of many popular firearms with polymer DIY components. These guns still contain a large amount of metal, including all of the actual firing components including the firing pin, the barrel, and usually the receiver. Keeping these parts metal insures they have the structural integrity necessary to fire safely and repeatedly.

Ghost Guns, scary as the name may sound, are effectively useless for anybody with any criminal intent. Making your own gun is no scarier than buying a gun from a gun show, your neighbor, or a local hood on the street, and not nearly as useful. People who decide to make their own guns will do so as a hobby and nothing more, despite the fear-mongering tactics of the liberal left.

Not only this, but the idea of criminalizing and censoring knowledge should scare all of us. The plans to create a 3D printed gun are no different than the plans to create a metal gun using a metal lathe and boring machine, despite the difference in skill, cost, and time to create that metal gun. It’s a slippery slope once the courts start to decide what information we’re allowed to learn.

With more than 300 million actual firearms floating around this country, having a few plastic ones is not going to change a thing. Now, other countries where guns are illegal and don’t really exist, countries such as Australia and Great Britain may actually have something to worry about. If you live in a place where you can’t easily buy or steal a gun, being able to 3D print your own gun makes things much easier. It will be interesting to see how those countries react to the Ghost Gun uploads and what kind of internet censoring they’ll be willing to do to try to stop them.

Did Japan lie about North Korean nuclear testing deaths?

When I was thirteen years old, I carried a hammer, a bucket of rusty nails, and a bunch of scrap wood deep into my backyard, and then proceeded to build the most epic treehouse imaginable. It was three stories high, with each ascending level slightly smaller than the one below it, the third being simply a lookout perch, with just enough room for one person to stand and keep watch. The lower level had a roof, to keep the rain off me when I decided I needed to be able to spend the night out there on occasion. Railings were only for show, of course. Who needs them when you’re thirteen and invincible?

This treehouse, or tree fortress really, was my legacy, and I was so proud of it.

When my dad got home, he helped me tear it down.

It was my mom’s fault, really. She told on me. She didn’t know what she was talking about, of course, but naturally my dad took her side. The treehouse was “unsafe.” Rusty nails and 2x4s are not structurally sound enough to support a person’s weight over time, allegedly. And three levels is just too high off the ground, and completely unnecessary. Such BS.

Instead of junk wood and rusty nails, my dad helped me build a single-story treehouse in its place. He used 2x6s and large lag screws to secure the boards to the trees. No fortress was this, but rather a safe and secure platform that even my little sisters were comfortable perching on. In other words, it was useless to me.

If you’re reading this, you probably understand that in my eyes as a thirteen-year-old, the tree fortress I had built was amazing. But you also understand that my parents were certainly correct when they made me tear it down. Because a thirteen-year-old doesn’t have the wisdom to see the big picture—to see the nails that had already begun to work their way out of the tree trunks, to see the dangerous bending of the boards as he walks across them, to foresee the possible dangers of a stumble and fall from 20 feet up. A boy who can’t actually fathom the possibility and finality of death or the likelihood of an accident can’t foresee the dangers of his construction. And, without any background in building, construction, physics, or architecture, he can’t see the eventual and inevitable structural failure of his mighty creation.

What does this all have to do with North Korea? Well, I think the press wants us to look at Kim Jong-un as a petulant thirteen-year-old who can’t see the big picture, and can’t fathom his own mortality, or the strength of his rivals.

The media loves to feed this perception, using terms like “hermit kingdom,” “madman,” and “isolated recluse.” If you spend time studying Kim Jong-un though, you’ll realize that these things just aren’t true. Kim is the head of a government. That means he has the resources of a government behind him, backing his decisions and his thought processes.

It’s easy to envision him as Lord Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, eating a plate of greasy chicken while getting vague, fourth-hand reports from a few select advisors, making ill-informed and misled decisions based on faulty intelligence.

But this isn’t the case. Kim Jong-un has a full Intelligence Committee that reports to him. While they do rely heavily on open-source information, they do a fantastically thorough job of gathering and analyzing that intel. And make no mistake, they have a full network of spies doing human intelligence gathering throughout Asia at the very least. While they may not have the capability and resources of the CIA or MI-6, they are committed and dedicated to giving Kim Jong-un accurate and current data about the United States and our allies.

I read a report by Robert Carlin on 38north recently that stated that North Korea believes it’s nuclear forces have reached a level where the United States no longer has the means to counter them. Here’s an excerpt:

One problem not well understood is that the North Koreans believe recent developments in their nuclear weapons program have boosted them to a level of invulnerability, and that as a result, Washington—whatever it might say—is without options to counter them.

In fact, Pyongyang is so convinced that its strategic position has fundamentally changed for the better that it has recently suggested there may be no need for it to continue building up its program. Since two successful ICBM launches last July, the North’s position is that it has reached the “final stage” in bolstering the nuclear force. It has even explicitly laid out a final goal, a “practical equilibrium” with the United States. What that means exactly we do not know, though presumably Pyongyang has something specific in mind.

This is ridiculously misleading. In order to believe that Kim Jong-un thinks his country is strong enough to be invulnerable to a U.S. attack, you have to believe he’s like thirteen-year-old me. Naïve and lacking knowledge to the extent that he can’t fathom his vulnerability. Secure in the hubris of youth and misinformed, or uninformed, to the extent that lead young me to conclusions of security that couldn’t be justified by the actual facts.

This would mean that Kim Jong-un’s network of intelligence analysts are either too stupid, or too scared to give him accurate information. And this is almost certainly not true. North Korea has to know their missiles and nuclear weapons have not been tested thoroughly enough to be reliable. They have to know their arsenal is not sufficient to disable the United States and prevent a counter-attack. They have access to the same internet that you and I do, and we know this information. It’s their jobs to know it, and to pass it up the chain to the Great Leader himself. They have to know the military might of the world would descend upon them in the event of an attack. They are not stupid, they are not naïve, and they are not thirteen and lacking in life experience.

If North Korea is boasting that they’ve reached the “final stage” in bolstering their nuclear force, they are doing that only as misdirection, IMO. Confusion and uncertainty is their primary weapon after all. It’s almost certain that the west has no human intelligence operatives in North Korea, and that we rely on open-source intelligence and satellite imagery for our knowledge of their activities. That makes it fairly easy for North Korea to misdirect and attempt to confuse us.

So, what should the conclusion be with regard to the statements made by Pyongyang regarding their invulnerability to attack? Perhaps they want the United States to believe that they believe that. And, if U.S. intelligence agents think like Robert Carlin thinks (and hopefully they don’t), then I guess North Korea has succeeded.

If Pyongyang can get Washington to believe that they believe they’re invulnerable to attack, then Trump will believe that any attack on Pyongyang will result in a full and complete war, possibly to the extent that nuclear weapons are involved. And if he believes that, then he’ll be less likely to want to take steps that might lead to that type of confrontation—all bluster notwithstanding.

If Kim can get Trump to back down from his confrontational outbursts, then North Korea will buy time to continue their nuclear program without hindrance, and that’s their actual goal. They want to eventually actually be invulnerable to attack, or to at least have the ability to bite back and inflict serious damage if attacked.

And they’re still a long way from having that ability, despite the fears the media wants to project.

Speaking of projecting fear and uncertainty, on October 31st, Japanese news station Asahi TV reported that a tunnel collapse at the North Korea nuclear test facility inside Mount Mantap on September 10th, had killed at least 100 people, and a further 100 had been killed by another collapse during a rescue attempt. They claimed this collapse could cause nuclear fallout to spread throughout the region. This story was picked up and re-broadcast by such heavy hitters as Newsweek, Fox News, USAToday, and MSN. All of them quoted the Asahi TV story as their source, with no confirmation to back it up, blaming the most recent nuclear detonation from September 3rd for destabilizing the terrain and causing the cave-in.

And it might have all been a lie.

According to 38north.com, there is absolutely no evidence to support the story that a tunnel collapse occurred, or caused any deaths. Although satellite imagery was unavailable due to cloud conditions between September 8th and the 17th, analysis of satellite imagery after the clouds had cleared, showed no signs whatsoever of any equipment or new debris piles that would have indicated a rescue attempt had been performed. Although it is possible North Korea could have removed any sign of such rescue efforts during that period of cloud cover, there was also no seismic activity registered on September 10th in the area. Such seismic activity would almost certainly have been present during two major tunnel collapses of that nature, and the Japanese report claimed an earthquake from settling of the mountain due to the nuclear testing had been the cause of the collapse.

So, why would they make up such a story, and why would nearly every major western news organization pick it up without any confirmation?

North Korea officials claim that the story is an attempt by Japan to subvert their nuclear testing program. They blasted Japan through their state-run news agency, KCNA, calling the attempted misinformation “slander” of their nuclear program.

The big part of the story was the report that such collapses could open a vent in the mountainside that would cause nuclear fallout to spread throughout the region. There were reports from Beijing that any nuclear fallout reaching China would be considered an act of war. And it’s possible that the entire story was completely false to begin with.

I think news agencies have reached a dangerous trend where they don’t try to confirm stories prior to posting them, and these stories can have consequences. Instead of confirming the stories, they simply put a small disclaimer in there, “We have been unable to independently confirm these reports,” or something of that nature. And it’s lazy and negligent reporting at its finest.

Of course, I’ve given up on the news media doing the right thing. They’re far too concerned with ratings and exclusives, and seemingly completely unconcerned with accuracy and integrity.

It’s Fake News at its finest, and it’s disgusting, destabilizing, and potentially dangerous. And it’s only going to get worse going forward.

Gunslingers wanted; inquire within.

On Sunday night, October 1st, 2017, I was playing poker at Encore in Las Vegas when my phone rang at 10:50pm. It was my daughter, Meghan, and she told me she was scared. She was at a club at the Wynn Casino and they’d just closed the club and kicked everybody out, telling them there were multiple active shooters on the strip and everybody needed to leave.

I knew what she was talking about. It had been on the news in the poker room for the last fifteen minutes. By now, everybody knows about the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass murder. We know it was just one active shooter, firing from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. At the time though, the reports were conflicting. One active shooter for sure, with reports of several others. Except there are almost never other shooters in these situations, even though there are ALWAYS reports of multiple shooters. I told her that. I then told her to stay calm and to walk over to see me. Luckily, Encore is attached to the Wynn and you can get there without going outside. She could have been at any club in town and I could have been playing poker at any poker room, but we happened to be right next to each other.

Unfortunately, when she got to me, I could offer only emotional support and comfort to her. I could offer little in the way of protection as I was unarmed this night. I was unarmed because Wynn and Encore do not allow firearms in their hotel and casino. Believe it or not, most strip casinos do not have rules against carrying firearms, and I’m almost always armed when I’m playing poker. I have a permit to carry concealed in Nevada, and I nearly always do.

Tonight, I’d decided not to carry because I’d been caught carrying a concealed firearm by Wynn security a few months earlier. They’d seen the slight bulge under my shirt and had asked me if it was a firearm. When I’d admitted that it was, they’d asked me to please check it with security, this time and in the future. I’d done that a few times, and it’s quite a hassle. I know it’s possible if they catch me with a firearm again, there’s a reasonable chance they’ll ban me from the premises since they’ve already warned me, and I’m not willing to risk that, so I always comply with their rules and check my firearm while I’m there, despite the hassle. Tonight, I’d decided not to go through with that hassle and to leave my firearm at home, something I was now regretting. It was the first time in quite a while that I was unarmed on the strip, and there was an active shooter.

Why do I carry a gun on the strip when I’m playing poker? There are a couple of reasons. If you’re a tourist, you may not realize that Vegas is not a very safe city. There are a lot of murders, a lot of shootings, and a lot of armed robberies in these casinos, and on and around the strip. It’s also a target rich environment with constant crowds of clueless tourists stumbling around half in the bag, pockets full of cash. I have a lot of firearms training, from top-notch instructors, and I’ve been through a lot of simulated shoot/don’t shoot scenario training. I’m a good guy with good training, and I think it’s important for good people to be armed in this world where the wolves rarely have to concern themselves with the sheep. More on this later.

Now, to be clear, being armed against this particular active shooter would have been worthless. From his perch on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, nobody was going to be returning fire. In fact, had there been armed and poorly trained people at the concert, it might have done more harm than good. Imagine if they’d decided to return fire? Firing upward with a pistol from 1500 feet away…exactly a zero percent chance of hitting the shooter and a near 100% chance of their bullets slamming into the side of the Mandalay Bay, possibly hitting innocent people in floors well below the shooter. That would have been a disaster. (Although, pistol rounds from that distance would have been unlikely to have enough velocity and kinetic energy to penetrate the hurricane glass.)

 

There have been many situations in the past though, where a well-trained and armed person might have been able to prevent a tragedy, or at least to lessen the extent of the tragedy. A few that come to mind are Sandy Hook, Columbine, Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the church in Charleston, and at Virginia Tech.

There have also been many situations in which an armed civilian has stopped a mass murder from happening, or at least lessened the carnage by confronting the shooter. We hear about these far less frequently than we do about the incidents where the shooter kills many, and the reason is obvious. It’s not as newsworthy when something doesn’t happen as it is when something does. Nevertheless, these incidents do get reported on, just to a lesser extent. Here’s a list of many recent ones. https://crimeresearch.org/2016/09/uber-driver-in-chicago-stops-mass-public-shooting/

So why don’t we encourage more people to carry guns around all the time?

Well, there are a lot of problems with that, which I’ll get into. But first, I want to talk a little about gun control.

I was having a conversation at the poker table the other night with an Israeli. Of course, the subject of the Route 91 shooting came up, as it was just one day in the past. He talked about mass shootings in America and legitimately wanted to know about gun control. I mentioned there were a lot of problems with implementing stricter gun control policies in the United States, one of which was the ease of availability of guns here. I mentioned how Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, yet has one of the highest gun crime rates. At that point, another player spoke up, “What do you do, just quote Fox News stats? Don’t you have any original thought?”

Um, no, asshole, I don’t. And neither do you. Gun control debate has raged in this country for decades. Nobody has any original thoughts on the subject at this point. If they did, they’d be on every news channel discussing them. And, by the way, thanks for inserting yourself into my conversation with your generic, canned and useless response.

The country is sharply divided. Liberals want all guns confiscated, banned, and destroyed, and conservatives want their second amendment rights to own whatever gun they want protected. Gun advocates say the actions of criminals shouldn’t cause their rights to be infringed upon, and gun control proponents argue that the writers of the constitution could have never anticipated the firearms of today.

And, they’re both right.

Anybody who thinks they should be able to own any kind of gun they want, with no restrictions and no government oversite simply because a 200-year-old document doesn’t specifically allow for restrictions, is a dick. And anybody who thinks that guns can just be “rounded up” or confiscated from law-abiding citizens is also a dick. Not only that, they’re a moronic, incapable of critical thinking or logical common-sense dick, which is pretty much the worst kind of dick you can be.

One of my favorite things to hear is how Australia rounded up all their guns and now they have no more mass shootings. I love to hear the champions of the green felt talking about how Australia is soooo advanced and so enlightened, and they discuss it as if the Australians came forward, guns in arms, tears in eyes, and held hands singing softly while the pile of guns burned in the middle of the town square.

That’s not quite how it happened though.

The Australian gun ban came about in 1996 after what’s known as the Port Arthur Massacre. 35 people were killed when a gunman opened fire on a crowd using two semi-automatic rifles. The Australian people were horrified, (obviously) and the National Firearms Agreement was enacted.

Before we get into those laws, it’s important to note that the gunman in the Port Arthur Massacre obtained his guns illegally. Australia already had tough gun laws, and permits were required to purchase semi-auto rifles. The gunman bought his illegally from a licensed dealer, without the permits.

The National Firearms Agreement bonded together the gun laws of each of the Australian states under one federal law. It provided for a buyback program under which 650,000 firearms were purchased back from the citizenry at a cost of $230 million which was paid for by tax increases. It also created a national firearm registry, a 28-day waiting period on firearms sales, and the requirement of a “genuine reason” for wanting to own a firearm.

So, how well did this work? Well, proponents of this law note that between its enactment in 1996 and 2016, there were no mass shootings in Australia. That sounds significant, but we need to dig a little deeper to see if it really is.

In 1996, Australia had 69 gun homicides, not counting the Port Arthur Massacre. In 2012, that number was down to just 30 gun homicides. That sounds like a remarkable decrease, and it is, until you look at the overall number of homicides. A study by Dr. Jeanine Baker and Dr. Samara McPhedran in the British Journal of Criminology found that there was little effect on the overall homicide rates during the decade following the National Firearms Agreement. It would appear that murderers were still killing, they just weren’t using guns as much.

So, what about the mass shooting effect? Another study by the same two doctors compared the incidence of mass shootings in Australia and in New Zealand. After standardizing the data to a rate per 100,000 people because of population differences between the two countries, they found that between 1980 and 1996, both countries experienced mass shootings at the same level, with no statistically significant difference. Between 1996 and the time of the study in 2007, NEITHER country experienced a mass shooting event despite the fact that gun laws in New Zealand didn’t change—semi-auto rifles continue to be legal and available in New Zealand. The authors conclude the following:

“the hypothesis that Australia’s prohibition of certain types of firearms explains the absence of mass shootings in that country since 1996 does not appear to be supported… if civilian access to certain types of firearms explained the occurrence of mass shootings in Australia (and conversely, if prohibiting such firearms explains the absence of mass shootings), then New Zealand (a country that still allows the ownership of such firearms) would have continued to experience mass shooting events.”

Now they don’t seem to state what reason they might attribute to the absence of shootings in both countries, and that’s a bit concerning with regard to the thoroughness of their study, but what they’re stating is that you can’t jump to the conclusion that the National Firearms Agreement is what was responsible for the decline of mass shootings. After all, a 2013 report by the Australian Crime Commission states that there are (conservatively) more than 250,000 semi-auto rifles and 10,000 semi-auto handguns available on the black markets in Australia. If somebody wanted to get a gun and commit a mass murder, they’d seemingly still be able to do so relatively easily, though not quite as easily as it would have been pre-1996.

So, let’s say that these studies are flawed and the National Firearms Agreement is working flawlessly in Australia. (Even though that’s doubtful.) Can we implement that same idea here? Well, let’s look at what that would mean.

The first problem is that our firearm laws are protected by our constitution where Australia’s were not. So, the first step would have to be changing the second amendment, and it doesn’t matter where you stand on firearms laws, nothing significant can be changed without adapting the constitution to repeal the second amendment, which reads,

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

However you want to define what a “well regulated Militia” means, the Supreme Court has ruled numerous times that the important words in this amendment are “shall not be infringed.”

To change the constitution, a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives, and the Senate is required. Then, the amendment has to be ratified by three-quarters of the states. That’s tough nearly impossible to accomplish, but let’s say we’re fed up with all the deaths and we can actually achieve that. The next step would be determining what exactly we’re going to ban.

The first thing would probably be “assault rifles.” The problem here comes in determining just what an assault rifle is exactly. There’s no clear definition because it’s not a real term. Most guns that are considered to be assault rifles are things like AR-15s and AK-47s, and nobody seems to be quite able to figure out what exactly makes it an assault rifle. It’s not the caliber of the bullet, AR-15s typically come in .223 or 5.56mm calibers (which are basically the same thing, in fact, the ammo is interchangeable.) The problem is, these guns are not that different from standard hunting rifle calibers. The .223 or 5.56mm is a small round, similar to the .22 rifle many boys grew up firing. The AK-47 shoots 7.62x39mm rounds which is the same thing as a .308 round, a common deer or elk hunting caliber.

What makes these guns different, and what some consider makes them assault rifles, is high capacity magazines and semi-auto capability. So maybe we could ban those?

There are many problems with this, problems well beyond the scope of this blog, but let’s just look at one of them. You’re never going to be able to ban and confiscate all semi-auto rifles without providing compensation. This is America, we can’t take things away from our citizens without compensating them for them. So how much would this cost?

Well, Slate.com estimated in a 2015 article that there are 3.75 million AR-15 rifles in the United States. That’s out of a Washington Post estimated total of 357 million total guns, which means that represents just around 1 percent of the total US private arsenal of firearms. Let’s say we could get half of those guns back from law-abiding citizens who duly turn them in. We’d have to buy back 2 million (rounded up) guns at an average compensation price of probably around $1500. That’s $3 billion dollars, and it would get just over one-half of one percent of all guns off the street. It would also still leave more than 1.5 million AR-15 rifles on the street, all in the hands of law breakers, (because only the law-abiding citizens turned them in, right?) and that doesn’t even take into consideration the tens of millions of other assault-type weapons, and the hundred million plus semi-automatic handguns.

If we wanted to outlaw all semi-automatic guns of any type, we’re talking somewhere around 200 – 250 million guns. If half those guns were turned in, that would be 100 million guns, and let’s say we completely stomped on everyone’s rights and only offered $500 per gun, regardless of true value or cost. That’s just $50 billion dollars spent, rights trampled upon, and 100 -150 million semi-auto weapons still roaming the streets, 100% of them in the hands of what would be, by definition, criminals.

With all the other problems, including the cost and logistics of such an effort, it seems to be becoming quite clear that outlawing guns and implementing buy-back programs just won’t work. And the fact is, voluntary gun buy-back programs that have been implemented in various locales have mostly been a complete circus. You have most people turning in their absolute junk, non-firing, jamming-prone pieces of scrap metal, and criminals turning in guns used in crimes (no questions asked!!) for real money. You have hawkers working the lines, offering more money than the buy-back program for the few good guns people are trying to turn in, and you have criminals out there burglarizing houses and stealing guns to turn in for easy cash with no questions asked. It’s usually just complete chaos.

So, getting guns off the street, which would seem to be a simple solution, is anything but. There are just simply too many guns in America to effectively rid our society of them. There are more guns than people in this country! I would love it if we could actually rid our society of guns. I own a lot of guns and I would happily turn them all in if all guns were completely eliminated from the planet. But this is an absolute pipe dream, and if you don’t see that, if you say things like, “we should just ban guns!!” then you are part of the problem.

The fact is, I would love to see gun control if it were even remotely possible to effect it without making it such that all the law-abiding citizens comply and all the criminals cheer and rampage. And comparing Australia, Canada, or any other country’s gun control policies to the United States is ludicrous. Put 300 million plus firearms in those countries and let’s see them implement any kind of successful gun control policy, constitutional protection or not. It just flat out won’t happen, and any implication that it can be effectively implemented is nothing but fairy tale thinking. So, what is the solution?

What if we could get more guns on the street in the hands of good guys like police officers?

I don’t think any reasonable person has a problem with police officers having guns, on or off duty. Officers are exempt from most gun laws in most states, allowed to conceal their weapons without a civilian license, and able to carry them nearly everywhere, including courthouses, federal buildings, bars, schools, airports, even onto airplanes in the case of federal law enforcement officers like the FBI and the DEA, and regular police officers with special training and permission. Even the Secret Service doesn’t prohibit cops from carrying guns while they’re sitting next to the President of the United States. Why do we allow and even encourage the carrying of guns by officers in these places where we abide no others to carry?

 

The only reason the law allows cops to carry guns in these places is because we trust them. We trust them because they’ve gone through thorough background checks and extensive firearms training. That’s the only reason. Cops are not superhuman, they’re not immune from mistakes and bad decisions, or even from animosity and criminal actions in some rare cases. They are, however, far less likely than the rest of society to stray from the perfection we desire of them.

Cops go through a thorough background check prior to being hired. This usually includes interviews with references, family members, neighbors, and previous employers. They take psychological tests, a polygraph test, and a medical exam. Then they get hired and they go through the academy where they get firearms training, have to qualify in a range setting, and have to show good decision-making skills through shoot/no shoot scenarios. Once they’re on the street, they still have to qualify with their firearms twice per year at the range and attend ongoing scenario training.

It’s this training and background scrutiny that makes us feel comfortable as a society with having cops off duty, carrying concealed firearms into our most sacrosanct places such as our schools, planes, and courthouses, as well as our venues such as stadiums and concerts where most civilians are forbidden from bringing firearms. We want these officers out there as a deterrent to the criminals who would cause us harm. The problem is, there just aren’t enough of them.

Hiring cops is expensive, and the truth is, we don’t actually need police officers in order to put more guns into the hands of citizens with police officer-like training and credentials.

I have two concealed firearm permits, one for Washington State, and one for Nevada. These two permits allow me to carry concealed firearms in 32 states because of reciprocity agreements. In Washington, I had to go through a background check and a mental health check. In Nevada, I had to go through a background check, attend an 8-hour class, and qualify at the range. States that require all of those things combined, have permits that are honored in more states than my two permits, despite the totality of qualifications of my two permits being the same as their one.

Both states have different laws pertaining to where I can carry my concealed weapon, and each of the 30 reciprocity states have their own laws as well, which means I need to be careful when I travel that I’m facile in all these different laws. For instance, in Washington, I can’t carry my gun into any place where the minimum age to enter is 21. In Nevada, I can carry into bars and casinos as long as I’m not legally intoxicated while carrying. In neither state can I carry on school property, however, Utah, which accepts my Nevada permit, allows me to carry a concealed weapon at a school. Some of these restrictions can get confusing, especially if you travel a lot with your firearm.

But, if I was a police officer, I could carry my gun anywhere. If Encore security saw the bulge under my shirt and asked me if I was carrying a firearm, I could have shown them my badge and they would have told me to have a nice day. They would have known I was trained and trusted to carry a firearm, and they would have likely welcomed my armed presence on the premises. After all, the day after the 1 October shooting, they hired outside, armed security to work their doors, persons carrying guns who have probably less than half the training and background scrutiny of a police officer. They’re fine with guns on their property in general, they just want to know those guns are in the hands of competent and trusted people.

I mentioned earlier that it would be great if we had more cops carrying guns on the streets, but the truth is, we don’t need them to actually be cops. They don’t need to know how to drive fast, how to enforce the law, or policies and procedures for dealing with domestic violence incidents. They don’t need to know how to write a ticket, how to clear a car during a felony stop, or how to search a building after a burglar alarm. They don’t need to know civil service procedures, how and when to take a child from an abuse situation, or how to investigate and gather evidence from a robbery. They don’t need to know 99% of the things a police officer needs to know.

All they need to know is how, and particularly when, to use a gun. And of course, they need to undergo the full background check that a police officer goes through.

Background checks aren’t cheap. Depending on the applicant, a full background check can take dozens of hours to complete. Even with a young applicant with relatively little work or life experience, it can take 8-10 hours to interview family and neighbors and to check references. Then there’s the psychological evaluation and the polygraph test, each of which can cost around $500. And, on top of all that, you have the firearms training. Some applicants require more training than others, but the average is probably around 30-40 hours in the classroom and at the range. The total cost of all this runs well into the thousands.

If we estimate the average background check at 20 hours, and we say the investigator responsible for this probably needs to make $40 per hour, the background investigation likely costs $800. We’ll say $500 each for the psych and the polygraph testing, so now we’re at $1800. Then, let’s say we need 40 hours of initial firearms training for each person, however, it doesn’t need to be one-on-one training, you can have, say, 5 trainees per trainer. If the firearms instructor makes $50 per hour, we’re talking about another $400 per person for firearms training. On top of that, maybe we need 8 hours of situational simulation training which would all be individual, so there’s another $400. That’s a grand total of $2600 to get a person through a full and complete background investigation, and to get them fully trained in firearms usage and scenarios. Add some money for paperwork processing, the application process, licensing costs, etc., and maybe we’re up to $3000 per person.

If we could spend just $3000 per person to put a fully qualified, armed person on the street, licensed to carry a weapon everywhere a police officer can carry, and in every state, we could stop many of the mass shootings we’re seeing nearly every day in this country.

If teachers and principals were some of those people, it would be the same as putting more cops into the schools. If judges and lawyers were some of those people, it would be the same as having more cops in courthouses. If pilots and flight attendants were some of those people, with additional training because of the extra dangers involved in shooting a firearm on a plane, it would be like having more air marshals. And none of these people would be drawing salaries for providing these services.

How many people in this country do you think would like to have the ability to carry a firearm without restriction? How many would like to have the training and be one of these people? How many would be willing to pay the $3000 themselves to have this ability?

I’m one. And I’d bet there are tens and maybe hundreds of thousands like me.

This isn’t exactly original thought, it would effectively be the implementation of a national concealed carry permit. The difference, and what should make my idea unique and significantly more palatable to those states that currently have the strictest gun control laws, such as California and New York, would be the background scrutiny and training. Right now, even the most stringent of concealed carry permits requires only a criminal history and domestic violence check, a check to see if you’ve ever been referred for a mental health evaluation, and 8 hours of classroom and range qualification training.

Can you imagine the difference that could be made if there were 100,000, or 500,000, or more armed citizens with police equivalent firearms training and background scrutiny? And if those hundreds of thousands of people were not banned from carrying their firearms into casinos, schools, stadiums, concerts, and courthouses? The difference would extend far beyond stopping many mass shootings. There would be fewer robberies, murders, and violent crimes of all types. Criminals would hesitate to commit their public crimes, knowing the increased odds that one of the citizens they’re attempting to violate may be carrying a weapon they’re thoroughly trained to use.

Understand, this wouldn’t actually put a lot more gun-toting people on the street in general. I suspect a huge number of these people would be current concealed carry holders. But this would allow for them to carry their weapons at all times, without fear that they may need to go somewhere their weapons aren’t allowed currently. In fact, applicants would be encouraged to carry their firearms at all times, similar to how most police departments encourage (or even require in some cases) their officers to carry while off-duty. This would allow them to travel to other states with their guns, to carry them in places that currently forbid guns, places like Disneyland, NFL games, and concerts—all target rich environments, as we saw on October 1st. Now, again, this wouldn’t have stopped this particular tragedy from happening, but it would have potentially stopped many others from the recent past, and some of the inevitable future mass murders.

In my opinion, it’s either implement something like this, or go on the way we’ve been going, continuing on in constant fear of the evil of the type that just descended upon Las Vegas. Because nothing else seems to be a viable option. There are just too many guns in America to ever actually effect any meaningful gun control laws. Enacting the harsh penalties that would encourage more people to give up their guns would only worsen our overcrowded prison system, and we’d be filling it with people who’ve truly done nothing wrong, people who never had any intent of using their firearms for wrong.

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…” This is how the second amendment starts, and I believe what I’m proposing would be exactly that—a well-regulated militia. A well-regulated and well-trained militia of civilians responsible for the security of our free state, a state that is under attack by bad people who want to perform atrocious acts of murder and mayhem upon innocent civilians. I don’t believe strict gun laws—even the strictest of gun laws—can work in a country that has more guns than people. I don’t believe the sheep should have to disarm so that the wolves can do their evil work free from fear with victims who can’t bite back. I believe nothing will get better until we embrace that our society is a gun society, and until we embrace that in order to regulate a gun society, we need gunslingers. We need people who are competent and capable and willing to carry a weapon and fight back.

These civilian operators, regulators, militia, gunslingers, whatever you want to call them, would be subject to oversite from a review board. They’d be accountable for their actions, licenses subject to suspension or revocation. They’d have to re-qualify with their firearms every six months, attend update training and scenario training. They’d be trustworthy and competent, and they’d be free of charge. They’d draw no salary, and I believe the costs of any regulatory agency would be happily paid by gun owners in the way of a tax increase on firearms and ammunition. The general public would bear no costs but reap the benefits. Crime would suffer while quality of life skyrocketed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.