Yes, no kidding. The story of how this unusual collaboration between Herbie Hancock and rabbi’s son Jonathan Klein came about is told here:
And here is the actual album (recorded in a single 6-hour studio session):
Ron Carter – Bass; Phyllis Bryn-Julson – Contralto Vocals; Grady Tate – Drums; Jonathan Klein – French Horn, Saxophone [Baritone]; Herbie Hancock – Piano; Jerome Richardson – Flute, Saxophone [Alto, Tenor]; Antonia Lavanne – Soprano Vocals; Thad Jones – Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Rabbi David Davis – Voice [Reader], Other [Original Sleeve Notes] Recorded in New York in 1968 and originally released on a private label.
(1) There is a lot of discussion whether the 220,000+ “official” COVID19 dead are an underestimate or an overestimate (due to counting “died with COVID19” as “died of COVID19”). What however cannot be fudged easily is the all-cause mortality in a given time period (say, a week, a month,…). Unless a country has a very rapidly growing or declining population, this can then be compared to the 5-year average of deaths in the corresponding weeks/months of the previous 5 years. In order to enable comparisons between countries, one can then express the difference as a percentage of average mortality, the P-value. Ourworldindata.org has great interactive graphs for this: let me include a static screenshot of one example below:
What does this mean in absolute numbers for the USA?
The excess mortality is then the sum of the differences between the red and black lines. This actually will add up to more than the official number: the difference could be due to collateral mortality, e.g., as consequences of deferred care for the “Big Three killers”, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and cerebrovascular diseases. Or from “deaths of despair”. Indeed, if (as I suspect) the official COVID19 toll is highballed by about 30-50%, I would not rule out that collateral mortality rivals direct mortality.
The coronavirus cabinet met late into the night on Thursday [to discuss the 2nd stage of lockdown exit, starting this coming Sunday. It] approved opening classes for grades one through four, allowing one-on-one activities and services (driving lessons or personal training) to resume […] and for [hair] salons and bed and breakfasts to open. It also agreed to allow up to 10 people to pray in synagogues. […] In addition, the ministers agreed to [compress] the nine-stage exit strategy originally outlined by the Health Ministry [in]to six stages […] presented earlier in the week by the National Security Council.
Small business owners took to the streets on Thursday as the cabinet convened, begging the government to allow them to operate. However, ultimately, the cabinet decided to push off opening street shops another week, until November 8, unless there was a significant drop in infection.
Basically, the said paper shows that beyond 35 or so amplification cycles (each representing a doubling), positive results are unlikely to represent viable virus particles — yet testing centers in many countries routinely run out to 40 cycles (i.e., a factor of 128 more). It is probably more precise to speak of “meaningless positives” than of “false positives”, but that is a distinction without much of a difference in public health terms. I believe it would be best to report not “positive” or “negative”, but the lowest cycle count at which a positive result is obtained — the lower the count, the more likely the patient will not just be infected but infectious, and the higher the count, the more likely it is just some dead RNA fragments.
Netea and his team also conducted a laboratory experiment that suggested how flu shots could prevent coronavirus infections. First, they purified blood cells taken from healthy individuals. Then they exposed some of the cells to the Vaxigrip Tetra flu vaccine, made by Sanofi Pasteur, and let the cells grow for six days. After that, the researchers exposed the cells to SARS-CoV-2 and analyzed them one day later.
The cells that had first been primed with the flu vaccine produced more of several kinds of virus-fighting immune molecules, known as cytokines, than did those that had not been exposed to the vaccine. Though such molecules can be detrimental when they are produced late in a patient’s course of COVID-19—inciting a so-called cytokine storm, which can damage many body organs—cytokines produced early in the infection process are helpful, Divangahi explains. They “get rid of the pathogen,” he says, making the infection milder.
(3) Researchers at U. of Arizona, building on work from U. of British Columbia in Vancouver, created a new test based on a saltwater gargle (which pretty much everybody tolerates well) rather than the unpleasant nasopharyngeal swab. Moreover, the test generates results in as little as 18 minutes and appears to be at least competitive with RT-PCR in accuracy.
[*] I stopped spending time on Twitter some years ago — Insta rightly calls it “the crack cocaine of social media” — my whole presence there consists of WordPress auto-tweeting new posts there. I however saw saw the notification when I clicked through from a thread elsewhere.
(1) (hat tip: Jeff Duntemann). A Spanish study on vitamin D and COVID19 was just accepted for publication in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. https://doi.org/10.1210/clinem/dgaa733
In short: there is a very strong statistical link between COVID19 infection and vitamin D deficiency — but once it gets bad enough you’re in hospital, there is no significant difference in progress of the disease between deficient and non-deficient patients.
(3) Good news from Israel, where Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem was able to close down two of its four COVID19 wards. Severe cases nationwide have dropped to a bit over half the peak figure, and positivity rates in tests are now in the 2% range, down from 15% at the peak.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Prof. Ronni Gamzu will step down as COVID19 commissioner in November and be replaced by former IDF Surgeon-General Nachman Ash, who will start transitioning into his new role tomorrow. Gamzu was on leave of absence from his job as Director-General of Sourasky Medical Center (still known to Israelis by its old name Ichilov Hospital), and apparently had previously committed to returning on November 13.
Israel’s State Comptroller’s Office released a withering interim report on the handling of the COVID19 crisis. (JPost coverage; Times of Israel coverage). The most standout item: the antiquated, dysfunctional mess that is the track-and-trace system, with data being recorded on paper (!) then typed free-form into a computer. In two out of three cases audited by the SCO, epidemiological investigation began four days or more after diagnosis. For this incompetence, we “thank” the efforts of Health Minister Yuli Edelstein to keep the track & trace effort within the ministerial turf. He may be an improvement over his execrable predecessor Litzman, but that is damning with extremely faint praise.
Israel’s cabinet just decided that on Sunday, November 1, the 2nd stage of reopening will take place. Hairdressers, beauty salons, and other non-essential businesses that receive customers will be able to open, one customer at a time. (Presumably this last aspect will be fine-tuned later, although hairdressing salons in Israel tend to be small operations.)
(Hat tip: masgramondou) An interesting paper titled “Reducing chances of COVID-19 infection by a cough cloud in a closed space featured”, Physics of Fluids32, 101704 (2020); https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0029186 From the abstract: “Recent experiments [P. P. Simha and P. S. M. Rao, “Universal trends in human cough airflows at large distances,” Phys. Fluids 32, 081905 (2020)] have shown that the velocity in a cough-cloud decays exponentially with distance. We analyze the data further to estimate the volume of the cough-cloud in the presence and absence of a face mask. […] The volume of the cough-cloud without a mask is about 7 and 23 times larger than in the presence of a surgical mask and an N95 mask, respectively. We also find that the cough-cloud is present for 5 s–8 s, after which the cloud starts dissipating, irrespective of the presence or absence of a mask.” Masgramondou comments that it would have been nice of they had also looked at ordinary cloth masks, which would probably score somewhere between surgical masks and nothing at all.
The Spectator summarizes reports on the effect of social distancing on seasonal flu worldwide. Consistent with what I’ve reported here early in the epidemic (quoting on-the-ground reports from Europe and Japan), the flu season was abnormally mild. Now the flu season is over in the Southern Hemisphere and the data are in — a harbinger of what’s to come in the Northern hemisphere. In fact the reduced mortality from the flu compensates for COVID19 deaths in some countries. (For example: Australia had just 36 deaths from flu compared to 812 last year — the difference nearly cancels out the 905 COVID-19 deaths.) Go read the whole thing
Looking at the messaging of the two POTUS candidates, and taking a step back, something struck me. And it isn’t the contrast between the blustering of Trump and the pathetic doddering of Biden, or the contemptible degree to which the media gatekeepers and Big Tech are running interference for one side. No, from a distance, there’s another, deeper story.
It is the stark contrast between the positive, upbeat message of the Trump campaign and the utter negativism of the Biden-Harris campaign. (Pretty much nobody believes Biden will be able to serve out his term if elected.) Trump’s message is basically, “we’re a great country, we have troubles now but we can lick this if we try”. Biden? Judge for yourselves.
I could not help thinking how deeply neo-Calvinist the Democratic Party’s messaging is. “The world is completely depraved, our country is born in sin, but the woke elect will be saved.” Linguistics professor John McWhorter (who happens to be black) apparently talked about this parallel in late June:
Five key points of Calvinism are often referred to by the mnemonic acronym TULIP (not just medical students do this to help them memorize):
T for Total depravity
U for Unconditional election [i.e., G-d “picks them based not on their personal character or merit, but out of his kindness and sovereign will.”]
L for Limited atonement [i.e., Jesus died only for the sins of the Elect, not of all mankind]. Calvinists who do believe the “all mankind” part are referred to as “Four Point Calvinists”
I for Irresistible grace [G-d will choose His Elect and they have no choice but to accept]
P for Perseverance of the Saints
dddd Just mentally replace “G-d” with Gaia, or democratic socialism, or what Prof. Gad Saad calls the DIE religion: does this start to look familiar?
We have a political class that may miscall its party “Democratic” (the way the “People’s Democracies” of the Eastern Bloc were neither democratic nor of the people) but at heart believes they are the Elect (or what Thomas Sowell called The Anointed). Some of the fellow members of what I call the Brahmandarin Caste (e.g., here and here) are may be highly regarded specialists in certain technical specialties: as decades in academia have taught me, this does not rule out total ineptness in other aspects of human life. This is what William Buckley referred to when he famous quipped that he’d rather be governed by the first four hundred people in the local phone book than by four hundred Harvard professors.
But to the Elect, an actual record of achievement in something relevant to governance does not matter — witness the extremely undistinguished record in 51 years as a senator of Trojan Joe Biden. (The Churchillian quip, “a modest man with much to be modest about”, comes to mind.) Nor does rampant corruption or international “pay for play” at mind-blowing levels — indeed, the Elect engage in IMAX-level projection about this, when they’re not dismissing it as no big deal anyway.
The Elect also feel an entitlement to lord it over the rest of us, “all for our own best, of course”
Fortunately, enough alternative ways to “boost signal” exist that for now, info that is on the Woke Church’s Index of Forbidden Books still has a way of getting around, and ham-handed attempts to “kill” a story may actually enhance its reach through the “Streisand Effect”.
Indeed, Big Social is going a step further still – by banning or deplatforming people for speaking against the religion of the Elect. Excommunicating them, if you like. If you have a large following and they complain loudly enough, the company may decide it was an “unfortunate technical problem”, but who else will be so lucky?
The dream of the Elect, I suppose, would be a worldwide oligarchy under themselves, where the vast majority, “for their own good”, of course, would be living in a hybrid of the mindless hedonism of “Brave New World” and the surveillance and information manipulation dictatorship of “1984”.
Make no mistake. Trump is hated by the Elect not (just) because of his blustering manner, his hyperbole, his Queens accent, or his tendency to regard counterattack as the best defense. He represents the antithesis of everything the Elect stands for: an outsider, a Tribune of the Plebs, somebody who believes that the country he leads is greater than its Elect, and somebody who places tangible achievements over credentials and prestigious mutual congratulation prizes. And who meanwhile, more than anyone else, is responsible for the transformation of the GOP into the Elect’s worst nightmare: a truly broad-based party of limited government populism that is making inroads into the core constituencies of the Elect’s party.
The Elect cannot have this, you see—or it would prove they are not the Elect.
Instapundit, as you well know, has had a weekly column in the mass-circulation newspaper USA Today for many years. For the first time ever, they refused to run his column, as it addresses the Hunter Biden Emails story. So he ran it unedited on his own blog. Respectfully, doing my bit to boost the signal, I am republishing the story below in its entirety.
In my 2019 book, The Social Media Upheaval, I warned that the Big Tech companies — especially social media giants like Facebook and Twitter — had grown into powerful monopolists, who were using their power over the national conversation to not only sell ads, but also to promote a political agenda. That was pretty obvious last year, but it was even more obvious last week, when Facebook and Twitter tried to black out the New York Post’s blockbuster report about emails found on a laptop abandoned by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter.
The emails, some of which have been confirmed as genuine with their recipients, show substantial evidence that Hunter Biden used his position as Vice President Joe Biden’s son to extract substantial payments from “clients” in other countries. There are also photos of Hunter with a crack pipe, and engaging in various other unsavory activities. And they demolishedthe elder Biden’s claim that he never discussed business with his son.
That’s a big election-year news story. Some people doubted its genuineness, and of course it’s always fair to question a big election-year news story, especially one that comes out shortly before the election. (Remember CBS newsman Dan Rather’s promotion of what turned out to be forged memos about George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service?)
But the way you debate whether a story is accurate or not is by debating. (In the case of the Rather memos, it turned out the font was from Microsoft Word, which of course didn’t exist back during the Vietnam War era.) Big Tech could have tried an approach that fostered such a debate. But instead of debate, they went for a blackout: Both services actually blocked links to the New York Post story. That’s right: They blocked readers from discussing a major news story by a major paper, one so old that it was founded by none other than Alexander Hamilton.
I wasn’t advising them — they tend not to ask me for my opinion — but I would have advised against such a blackout. There’s a longstanding Internet term called “the Streisand effect,” going back to when Barbara Streisand demanded that people stop sharing pictures of her beach house. Unsurprisingly, the result was a massive increase in the number of people posting pictures of her beach house. The Big Tech Blackout produced the same result: Now even people who didn’t care so much about Hunter Biden’s racket nonetheless became angry, and started talking about the story.
As lefty journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote in The Intercept, Twitter and Facebook crossed a line far more dangerous than what they censored. Greenwald writes: “Just two hours after the story was online, Facebook intervened. The company dispatched a life-long Democratic Party operative who now works for Facebook — Andy Stone, previously a communications operative for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, among other D.C. Democratic jobs — to announce that Facebook was ‘reducing [the article’s] distribution on our platform’: in other words, tinkering with its own algorithms to suppress the ability of users to discuss or share the news article. The long-time Democratic Party official did not try to hide his contempt for the article, beginning his censorship announcement by snidely noting: ‘I will intentionally not link to the New York Post.’”
“Twitter’s suppression efforts went far beyond Facebook’s. They banned entirely all users’ ability to share the Post article — not just on their public timeline but even using the platform’s private Direct Messaging feature.”
“Early in the day, users who attempted to link to the New York Post story either publicly or privately received a cryptic message rejecting the attempt as an ‘error.’ Later in the afternoon, Twitter changed the message, advising users that they could not post that link because the company judged its contents to be ‘potentially harmful.’ Even more astonishing still, Twitter locked the account of the New York Post, banning the paper from posting any content all day and, evidently, into Thursday morning.”
This went badly. The heads Facebook and of Twitter, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, are now facing Senate subpoenas,the RNC has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, arguing that Twitter’s action in blacking out a damaging story constituted an illegal in-kind donation to the Biden Campaign, and most significantly, everyone is talking about the story now, with many understandably assuming that if the story were false, it would have been debunked rather than blacked out.
Regardless of who wins in November, it’s likely that there will be substantial efforts to rein in Big Tech. As Greenwald writes, “State censorship is not the only kind of censorship. Private-sector repression of speech and thought, particularly in the internet era, can be as dangerous and consequential. Imagine, for instance, if these two Silicon Valley giants united with Google to declare: henceforth we will ban all content that is critical of President Trump and/or the Republican Party, but will actively promote criticisms of Joe Biden and the Democrats.
“Would anyone encounter difficulty understanding why such a decree would constitute dangerous corporate censorship? Would Democrats respond to such a policy by simply shrugging it off on the radical libertarian ground that private corporations have the right to do whatever they want? To ask that question is to answer it.”
“To begin with, Twitter and particularly Facebook are no ordinary companies. Facebook, as the owner not just of its massive social media platform but also other key communication services it has gobbled up such as Instagram and WhatsApp, is one of the most powerful companies ever to exist, if not the most powerful.”
He’s right. And while this heavyhanded censorship effort failed, there’s no reason to assume that other such efforts won’t work in the future. Not many stories are as hard to squash as a major newspaper’s front page expose during an presidential election.
As I wrote in The Social Media Upheaval, the best solution is probably to apply antitrust law to break up these monopolies: Competing companies would police each other, and if they colluded could be prosecuted under antitrust law. There are also moves to strip them of their immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects them from being sued for things posted or linked on their sites on the theory that they are platforms, not publishers who make publication decisions. And Justice Clarence Thomas has recently called for the Supreme Court to revisit the lower courts’ interpretation of Section 230, which he argues has been overbroad. A decade ago there would have been much more resistance to such proposals, but Big Tech has tarnished its own image since then.
Had Facebook and Twitter approached this story neutrally, as they would have a decade ago, it would probably already be old news to a degree — as Greenwald notes, Hunter’s pay-for-play efforts were already well known, if not in such detail — but instead the story is still hot. More importantly, their heavy handed action has brought home just how much power they wield, and how crudely they’re willing to wield it. They shouldn’t be surprised at the consequences.
(1) Dr. John Campbell reviews two recent studies that show pretty convincingly that zinc deficiency is correlated to severity of COVID19.
He attributes the lack of interest in this work as “there’s no money in it, since zinc and vitamin D supplements are dirt cheap to produce”. (Actually, the lack of interest is not universal: Israeli HMOs are now telling dietitians to recommend vitamin D supplements to the entire population. They are not [yet] doing this for zinc.)
I remember picking up a biochemistry textbook to see what processes zinc plays a role in, and eventually concluding, “OK, I should have asked instead which processes it’s not involved in”.
(2) Dr. Seheult reviews recent studies on Remdesivir. I would have changed the title to “… may not work in patients sick enough to require hospitalization”
While there appears to be some indication it might do some good when administered early (as it was to US President Trump), the WHO “Solidarity Trial” on hospitalized patient shows no statistically significant therapeutic benefit. Actually, this is more or less what I’d expect with our current understanding of the disease: by the time patients are sick enough to require ventilation, the real enemy is no longer the virus but the patient’s own immune system. Look in the graph below at “low-flow O2” vs. the other options. (“No O2” was too few hospitalized patients to gather statistically significant data on.)
(3) a quick update on Israel: we are exiting lockdown tomorrow morning. Our epidemiological stats continue to trend in the right direction:
And finally, active infections (=verified – cured – deceased)
I’ve been taking a break from commenting directly on politics, to better focus limited spare time on COVID-blogging and on my alternate history series.
Yet yesterday something happened that should scare the bejeebus/bemoses out of you, no matter what your political orientation.
In the last two days, the New York Post dropped two bombshell stories about Joe Biden, his never-do-well son Hunter, and bribery and corruption involving communist China and Ukraine.
Twitter and Facebook decided to actively block people from sharing these stories, as they were supposedly “unverified” and “based on illegally obtained information”. (That is, found on a waterlogged laptop that had been dropped off at a computer repair shop. The repairman tried to figure out from the laptop whom it belonged to so he could return it and get paid, saw the explosive [and in places extremely family-unfriendly] content, and contacted Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.)
Now I know that the Big Social-Big Mediatainment complex is so far in the tank for their guy that they are hitting gravel — that’s nothing new. But for quasi-monopoly social media companies to actively throttle the sharing of a story that is damaging to their favored candidate — this crosses a watershed. Larry Correia (warning: salty language) lays out at great length why: go read the whole thing , but let me just share some paragraphs (slightly edited for family-friendliness):
…these entities being the primary exchange of information for BILLIONS of people[…]it’s kind of hard to put this thing which didn’t exist before into historical context. Facebook has no real competitors, and it has something like 2.7 billion regular users. With the flick of a switch it can stop a third of the Earth’s population from seeing whatever it doesn’t want them to see. Humanity has never had that before.
That’s real [bleep]ing power right there. […] Communications law is not my area, and I’m not going to be a Dunning-Kruger[r]and talking about section 230 or whatever.
However, what I do know is that this is some seriously dangerous bulls[**]t, and if we keep going down this road it is going to lead to some very bad ends. Freedom of speech functionally ceases to exist when both sides speak, but only one side is heard. […]
From somewhere up there, Martin Niemöller nods in recognition.
Mark Steyn (hat tip: the BbESM), less salty but with plenty of black humor, also weighs in—go read that one too.
Look, I’m not a lawyer and am not going to be what Larry calls a Dunning-Krugerrand [heh], but at risk of belaboring the obvious: in plain English, social media quasi-monopolies are trying to have it both ways. Let me explain.
The archetype of a “common carrier” is the US Postal Service. What if the USPS suddenly decided it would not deliver mail from or to the Trump (or Biden) campaign — or from the GOP (or from the Democratic party, for that matter)? Misbehavior by individual employees aside, this does not happen.
In contrast, the New York Times or the Washington Post can be as nauseatingly yellow and partisan as they wish — as long as they don’t cross the line into actionable libel [and good luck securing a conviction for that] This is limited only by how many people cancel their subscription in disgust, or how many advertisers pull out. (Then again, some billionaire may decide that owning a pet newspaper is just the ticket: cough, Carlos Slim, cough, Jeff Bezos.)
Facebook, Twitter, and Big Social more generally are arrogating to themselves the freedom of content creators, like the NYT or the WaPo, to mold/pick/censor/highlight content, while simultaneously wrapping themselves in the mantle of “common carriers” to shield themselves from liability for content posted on them. (Usually, the liability is copyright—YouTube is filled with illegally “ripped” music and videos, though in many cases they have helped me discover music or documentaries I otherwise might never have heard or seen.)
More and more people rely on social media (and instant messaging applications owned by Big Social — e.g., WhatsApp owned by FB) as their primary means of communication and source of news. We can bemoan this trend (I find myself having to school college students on how to write a proper letter), but it is the reality on the ground.
[…]I don’t give a sh[*]t if you are liberal or conservative[:] the idea of some entity like Google determining what mankind is allowed to know or not know should terrify the sh[*]t out of you. Free speech becomes a meaningless concept if only approved speech is ever seen. And if you are cheering this sh[*]t on because right now it is helping your team score points against the other team, you are [a] fool. Because once they have that power it is only a matter of time until one of your beliefs ends up on the naughty list too.
PS: one more thing. If I were otherwise sitting on the fence on who to vote for in the US elections, this would sway my vote. We rely on a vigorous independent press to keep elected officials honest. The Big Social-mediatainment complex is clearly utterly incapable and unwilling to do that to “their” side of the spectrum, except perhaps to ‘cancel’ somebody for not being radical/hyperpartisan enough. That alone would make me pull the lever against the said side—even for Zeeba the syphilitic camel if that were the only viable alternative.
What some call “cultural appropriation” I’ve been calling “cultural cross-fertilization” for a while. It’s just another mechanism of evolution in action. (One special form that has been fascinating me for a long time is the evolution of language.) Below is a great fisk.
As usual, their text is Bold, my response is Italics.
“Stop saying ‘off the reservation’. It’s a reference to the pass system that was in place restricting Native people from leaving without permission.”
Actually, it was a reference to Natives arming up in groups and attacking folk.
“Stop making ‘1/16th, ‘great-great grandmother’, etc. jokes. All of these reference blood quantum, a system designed to ‘breed out the Natives’. Indigeneity isn’t defined by a percentage, fraction, etc. Quit policing Indigenous identities and quit…
the 1 km (0.6mi) limit on nonessential travel is rescinded. (This limitation anyhow carried so many exceptions that one could always come up with an excuse.)
non-customer facing businesses can return to normal operation. (Sales of food, medicines, essential household necessities, and telecom equipment were never locked down.)
restaurants can offer takeaway (deliveries were already allowed), still no sit-down service
national parks and beaches are reopened to the public
kindergartens and preschools reopen
social meetings between family and friends are now permitted up to 10 people indoors or 20 people outdoors.
In addition, the airport will reopen for outgoing flights starting tonight at midnight.
Customer-facing businesses (e.g., clothing shops, furniture stores, …) and personal care (hairdressers, manicurists,…) will have to wait for future reopening stages. While I completely understand many small business owners are at the end of their tether, and am even more sympathetic to those who say they don’t want government handouts but the chance to earn an honest buck, I also understand concerns that an overly hasty reopening might lead to yet a third lockdown, which would be a death blow to many parts of the economy.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, from the Shas (“Sephardi Torah Guardians”) party, “reportedly left the ministerial meeting angrily, after his proposal to allow weddings with up to 200 guests was rejected.” He was being accused of “wanting to drag the country down to a third lockdown” under pressure from his chareidi (“ultra-Orthodox”) constituents.
In unrelated news, the Knesset approved the peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates 80-13, with the 13 “no” votes coming from the Joint Arab[ and Communist] List. Former defense minister (and erstwhile Chief of the General Staff) Lt.-Gen. Moshe “Boogie” Ya`alon boycotted the proceedings, saying the ‘secret’ parts of the agreement should have been presented to the Knesset before the vote.
In other unrelated news, the Attorney-General closed one of the corruption cases against PM Netanyahu (the “submarine case”) for lack of evidence.
(2) Dr. John Campbell, in a video, looks at what I would call “the Japanese paradox”.
Unlike South Korea and Taiwan, which nipped the epidemic through early implementation of contact tracing (capitalizing on their experience with the 2002-3 SARS and [in South Korea] 2015 MERS outbreaks), Japan did have significant outbreaks — and serological data in Tokyo indicate that close to half (!) of the population was exposed. (It is pretty hard to get tested in Japan, unlike South Korea where testing centers are open to walk-ins, so the official case number of under 91,000 is a gross underestimate.) https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.09.21.20198796v1.full.pdf
Nor did Japan resort to extreme lockdowns: it has applied a light touch. (At present, large gatherings are limited to 5,000 people (!). (“Masgramondou” has told me life in rural Japan is pretty much “business as usual”.)
Dr. Campbell tries to come up with various explanations:
widespread, deeply ingrained mask wearing culture going back for decades
“non-tactile” culture, keeping physical distance, bowing instead of greeting
not a “loud” culture: shouting or speaking loudly is highly frowned upon. (This aspect is extremely unlike Israel.)
very low rates of obesity
a diet rich in seafood of all kinds, and hence rich in vitamin D and zinc. (I looked for studies on vitamin D deficiency in Japan: one study found a figure as low as 5% (!) among active elderly people.
Somehow I wonder if something is missing from these explanations. Green tea? A close relative who has lived in Japan told me the Japanese drink copious quantities of green tea — and as covered here earlier, green tea contains a zinc ionophore nearly as potent as hydroxychloroquine, namely, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Could this be a clue? As I discuss there, however, bioavailability from oral ingestion is problematic.
Then again, it’s not just Japan: all the East Asian countries (except for mainland China) seem to have weathered the COVID storm fairly well to very well. And Mrs. Arbel — very familiar with the region — stresses how widely green tea is drunk in all of them.
There is clearly something going on we don’t know here, and the sooner we find out, the better.
Israel just spent the entire High Holidays season under fairly tight lockdown. The choice of dates was at least partly motivated by a desire to mitigate the economic impact by choosing a block of dates that includes many national holidays, and in which many people normally take their annual vacation in any case.
the positivity rate among tests, at its peak about 15% in the general populations (and as high as 33% in the chareidi and Arab sectors!) has now fallen below 8%, the lowest in a month
occupancy in COVID19 wards nationwide, from a high in the mid-900s, has been steadily declining over the past week to about 850. (This only represents moderate and severe cases — mild cases are treated at home or, if home isolation is not feasible, in so-called “corona hotels”.)
The total number of active patients (i.e., confirmed infections minus confirmed recoveries and deaths) is finally declining (see 1st graph below)
The 7-day moving average of daily new cases (applied to smooth out weekday-weekend testing variations) is likewise clearly trending down (see 2nd graph below).
As an aside, our overall CFR (case fatality rate) stands at 0.85%. It was generally assumed in our epidemiological community, from earlier serological testing, that our Dunkelziffer (undetected asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic infections) is about ten times as much, which would correspond to an IFR (infection fatality rate) of just 0.085%. A more recent serological survey by the health ministry between July and September found that 5.5% of the population had been exposed to COVID.
According to the study, up to half a million people may have caught the virus, about double the number of cases that had been confirmed by the end of September, and about four times the number who had been confirmed infected at the start of September.
It seems we still have a ways to go before we reach even second-order herd immunity.
There is widespread grumbling among the general population that the general lockdown “was forced upon us by the misbehavior of two minority groups” — Arabs and chareidim (so-called “ultra-Orthodox”). In the Arab sector, it was wedding season, and mass wedding parties are the norm there (as well as, through cultural influence, among Israeli Jews whose parents immigrated from Islamic countries). Predictably, packing hundreds of people into wedding halls, with lots of shouting, hugging, kissing, and no social distancing to speak of, is a recipe for ‘super spreader events’. Apparently, after Arab medical professionals reached out to the community with impassioned pleas, the community internalized the message and infection rates are now leveling off toward those of the general population. In the chareidi (“ultra-Orthodox”) sector, however,
Channel 12 also cited figures from Weizmann Institute of Science Professor Eran Segal showing that “46% of the contagion at the moment is in the ultra-Orthodox community,” in what appeared to be a reference to the percentage of active cases countrywide. The ultra-Orthodox make up some 12% of the total population in Israel.
Ravid said that, while most of the city’s residents were trying to abide by government regulations, in Bnei Brak there are “Hasidic neighborhoods that are flouting the rules,” and that “talking to the rabbis will not help .. [they] have lost control of their communities to a certain extent.”
“Until today there has never been an entire group of people that has disregarded authority like this, and killed people… I don’t understand what religion has to do with what they’re doing. They were taught to get everything and give nothing back for years,” he said.
Asked about what was happening in the non-Hasidic Haredi community, Ravid said, “The people of Bnei Brak are mostly different, they are people like you and me who try to follow the guidelines. [However,] they don’t really succeed because the city is tightly packed with people, and that is part of their way of life.”
[…] Last week, the government’s COVID-19 czar, Ronni Gamzu, told ministers that ultra-Orthodox Israelis are 2.5 times more likely to test positive for the coronavirus and that 40% of recent cases were in the ultra-Orthodox community.
Being a rather ‘live and let live’ sort, I am rather more concerned with the role of some specific elected politicians from that community — in particular the incompetent and truly nauseating Yaakov Litzman who was recently forced to resign following a police indictment. As I have mentioned here many times before, our coronavirus czar Prof. Roni Gamzu actually fought against a national lockdown tooth and nail — being an economics professor as well as a doctor (OB/Gyn), he was keenly aware of the catastrophic cost thereof. So he developed a so-called “traffic light plan” for implementing containment (or relaxation thereof) on a town or neighborhood basis, rather than nationally. Health Minister Litzman torpedoed it, together with his Interior Ministry colleague Aryeh Deri (who in the past served time in Ramle prison for accepting bribes) on the tiresomely predictable grounds of being “discriminatory”.
“We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” Dr. David Nabarro said to The Spectator’s Andrew Neil. “The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”
Our second lockdown was avoidable and more or less forced upon us by spiraling infections that exceeded the capacity of our track & tracing infrastructure (no thanks to the current health minister Yuli Edelstein, who seems more concerned with protecting the health ministry bureaucracy from unwanted ‘competitors’ than with working with others towards an effective and scalable T & T infrastructure). Hopefully, de-escalating will now be done smartly, in a way that prevents having to go through this exercise a third time. For some of us — we’re the lucky ones — it’s merely annoying. For many others, it ruins their livelihood.
First step: fewer than 2,000 confirmed infections/day and R=0.8. Then non-customer facing businesses would return to normal operation, restaurants would be allowed takeaway service (rather than only deliveries as now) beaches and nature reserves open up, as would kindergartens. This could realistically happen as early as next Sunday
Reopening classrooms in grades 1-4
Reopening customer-facing businesses, B & Bs, and synagogues. (Outdoor prayer with adequate distancing is already allowed — and possible because of the weather.)
Restaurants, cafés, gyms reopen. At this point, the “traffic lights” plan would finally be implemented.
Hotels and public pools reopen
Remaining grades of school reopen
Culture, events, concerts reopen
Event halls reopen
Sports stadiums allowed to open to the public.
According to Alroy-Preis, the epidemiological logic of these stages is that places will open early where there is a low risk of infection and those with a high-risk will stay closed until wait until later stages. The higher risk places are those in which people do not wear masks or that are inside.But she cautioned that in order for the exit strategy to work, there is a principle that cannot be broken and that is to manage Israel’s opening of the economy not based on dates but morbidity. She answered a question from The Jerusalem Post about whether populism would get in the way of carrying out the program to plan with the simple answer: “I am not sure.”
At the town of Great Barrington, MA, three leading epidemiologists held a summit where they drafted the Great Barrington Declaration, with 36 initial co-signatories. Meanwhile, an online petition in support has been signed by over 10,000 medical and public health people, and over 100,000 members of the general public.
As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists we have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection.
You can read for yourself on their website what they advocate (in nine languages so far). The basic thrust is: no more lockdowns as their economic and collateral medical cost way exceeds any benefit; economic, as entire sectors and large swaths of the population lose their livelihood, and collateral medical, through reduced prevention and treatment availability for the Big Three deadly diseases (cancer, cardiovascular, cerebrovascular). (Reduced vaccinations for other infectious diseases will also cause higher morbidity and mortality from them.) Also, that we cannot wait long for a vaccine; we should instead focus on protecting the most vulnerable and allow the rest of the population to approach herd immunity in a controlled fashion. (If you like, a “Modified Swedish Approach” — the modification consisting of greater protection for the vulnerable.) They also argue that lockdowns disproportionately hurt the disadvantaged (since the jobs that can easily been done from home tend to be upper-middle and upper class jobs), and that suspending schools causes irreversible damage. [*] Because of the exponential dependence of the IFR (infection fatality rate) on age, they argue that school-age children are actually in a regime where influenza is more dangerous than COVID19.
Here the three authors of the declaration are being interviewed on UnHerd
Dr. John Campbell reacts here. While he agrees with some of their points, he is clearly at variance with others, sometimes (in his British understated way) stridently so. Let’s hear him out.
I do wish to say one thing though. He points to the three lead authors
and insinuates that people who come to such prominent positions often do so less because of their professional acumen than because of their skills at politicking. Now even if I granted, for the sake of argument, that this might be the case — how much more so can one say the same thing about the credentialed healthcare bureaucrats that sit at the top of WHO, CDC, NIAID, and the like?!?
UPDATE: White House advisor Dr. Scott Atlas tweets in support of the Great Barrington Declaration. And in semi-related news, is vitamin D a silver bullet? Dr. Campbell has of course been advocating viatmin D supplements hammer and tongs for months, and very large scale Israeli studies seem to have conclusively proven a link between vitamin D deficiency and susceptibility to COVID19 infection as well as severity thereof. This is at any rate in the category of “things you should be fixing on general principle”, since vitamin D is so crucial in the immune system more generally.
[*] I would be much more sympathetic to this ‘school deprivation’ argument if schools were actually still in the business of education, rather than warehousing, political brainwashing“enlightenment”, and as playgrounds for the latest in pretentious and counterproductive educational theories.
Just the day before, he’d released this video about what the solo in Stairway To Heaven would have sounded like if played/improvised not by Jimmy Page, but by one of several other guitar legends, including Eddie Van Halen.
Many people do not realize Eddie’s first instrument was the piano — he even won some high school-level classical competition. When he picked up the guitar, he ended up trying to translate some of his keyboard finger techniques to the fretboard —- as such, he did not so much invent two-handed tapping as popularize it and become its best-known exponent. (A decade earlier, Steve Hackett had applied two-handed tapping to great effect on Gabriel-era Genesis songs like The Return Of The Giant Hogweed and Dancing With The Moonlit Knight.)
Eddie’s keyboard skills are of course on evidence in the brash synthesizer parts of Van Halen’s blockbuster hit “Jump”. Here is another song that brings out both Eddie’s chops on both axes, as well as the sunny side of the band’s musical personality. Rest In Peace, Eddie.
(3) And of course (again h/t Masgramondou), then there is the estimate by the WHO that as much of 10% of the world population may have had a COVID infection — about 20x the documented case number.
(4) The Jerusalem Post quotes a study from Tel Aviv University, supposedly just accepted for publication in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine (I could only find a medrXiv preprint, https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.11.20128520 ) that analyzes (anonymized) cellular phone mobility data from COVID-afflicted countries and concludes the following:
“Mobility data indicate that a hermetic lockdown, in which everyone must stay at home, is unnecessary. Instead, social distancing measures should be introduced as early as possible,” say Pupko and Mayrose. “We have shown that the countries with the lowest mortality rates in the first outbreak of COVID-19 were not those that imposed the most hermetic lockdowns, but rather those in which mobility decreased (even slightly) at an early stage… as the government considers tightening [Israel’s second lockdown] even further, the import of our research is clear: Extreme restrictions are uncalled for. What we need is fast implementation of social distancing.”
(1) Via Dr. Seheult (video here) and Dr. Campbell (video here), a preprint of a meta-analysis (in plain English: a distillation of statistical data from many primary studies) that finds a surprisingly simple “rule of thumb” relationship between infection fatality rate and age:
A money quote from the abstract: “We find that differences in the age structure of the population and the age-specific prevalence of COVID-19 explain nearly 90% of the geographical variation in population IFR.”
(2) On a related note, Dr. Seheult also points to a very detailed data page on the website of the ECDC (the European Centers for Disease Control). One very telling set of graphs is an age breakdown of the per-capita infection rate, when juxtaposed with the graphs of overall infection and fatality rates. For example, below for Belgium:
As a result, below you see a shark peak in mortality in the first wave, while the rise in infections in the second wave is not accompanied by any significant rise in mortality (yet). Wishful thinking about “the virus getting weaker” need not be invoked, as the exponential dependence of infection fatality rate on age is more than adequate to explain the variation.
(3) The end times must be upon us, because the New York Times, which has been excoriating Sweden in shrill tones for its “road alone” in handling the COVID19 epidemic, just published an article about Sweden that is surprisingly fair: “Vilified Early Over Lax Virus Strategy, Sweden Seems to Have Scourge Controlled. After having weathered high death rates when it resisted a lockdown in the spring, Sweden now has one of Europe’s lowest rates of daily new cases. Whether that is an aberration remains to be seen.” ( Archive copy here: https://archive.is/99o2J )They even go as far as to say:
In response to the recent outbreaks, many European countries are imposing new restrictions. But political leaders, anxious to avoid unpopular and economically disastrous lockdowns, are relying mostly on social-distancing measures, while trying to preserve a degree of normalcy, with schools, shops, restaurants and even bars open. In essence, some experts say, they are quietly adopting the Swedish approach. “Today, all of the European countries are more or less following the Swedish model, combined with the testing, tracing and quarantine procedures the Germans have introduced, but none will admit it,” said Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health, in Geneva. “Instead, they made a caricature out of the Swedish strategy. Almost everyone has called it inhumane and a failure.”
I remember thinking that Israel, under new COVID19 czar Roni Gamzu, had adopted a “modified Swedish model” for the second wave, until we were blindsided by steep rises in infections in two minority sectors of the population, and a second lockdown was declared in response to hospitals in affected areas approaching capacity limits.
Is Sweden approaching higher-order herd immunity? Or has the virus just run out of ‘low-hanging fruit’? Or is it merely between two waves? Public health chief Dr. Anders Tegnell addresses the question:
Mr. Tegnell stressed, as he has many times before, that Sweden did not set out to achieve “herd immunity,” calling it a “myth that has been created.” “We are happy that the number of cases is going down rapidly and we do believe immunity in the population has something to do with that,” he said in the interview, conducted just before the case numbers rose slightly. “And we hope that the immunity in the population will help us get thought this fall with cases at a low level.”
Happy Sukkot to my fellow Jewish readers. It has been all over the news that President Donald J. Trump and the First Lady tested positive for COVID19 and, “out of an abundance of caution”, have been admitted to Walter Reed Medical Center. We just got a press conference from his medical team here:
In brief: he ran a fever Thursday and Friday —- and it is implied he was on oxygen yesterday — but is off oxygen and fever today doing much better, says “he feels ready to walk out today”. He got both remdesivir IV (2nd day of a 5-day course) and a polyclonal antibody treatment (Regeneron). During Q&A a doc says his pO2 is 96% without an oxygen feed — which is one notch less than I get when I’m perfectly healthy, and I’m nearly two decades younger.
Below follows another video, from yesterday, by pulmonologist and medical school tutor Dr. Roger Seheult, who also dives into the science of interferon response and how deficiencies in it can cause patients to progress to the severe stage. We also learn there that the POTUS was on a prophylactic regime of vitamin D, zinc, melatonin, and low-dose aspirin (as an anticoagulant), much of it overlapping with what Dr. Seheult has been taking himself and has been advocating for other patients. Dr. Seheult quotes a BMI of just over 30 (the threshold for “obese”) as a risk factor, but balances that with blood pressure readings of 121/79, which at that age and with such a stressful job are nothing short of astonishing. (Trump does not smoke and is a teetotaler.)
(1) Around September 11, the Hoover Institute’s Uncommon Knowledge series had an interview with Stanford epidemiologist Scott Atlas MD, currently an advisor to the US President.
YouTube deleted the video as “misinformation” (a classic example of why tech monopolies need to be disrupted). At least they could not just ignore the Hoover Institute, and now (following two ‘corrections’ to the video) it is online again.
(2) Dr. John Campbell again on vitamin D, recapping the science, and the increasing evidence that deficiency is very strongly correlated with bad outcomes for COVID19 (as for respiratory infections more generally).
He is not given to conspiracy theories, but does sarcastically note “there is no money in it, since vitamin D is dirt cheap”.
(3) I mentioned in a previous installment how the local outbreak that has pushed us into a second lockdown is primarily due to surges in the chareidi (“ultra-Orthodox”) and Arab sectors, the latter (and to a lesser degree the former) owing to mass indoor wedding celebrations acting as superspreader events.
A medical source in Belgium, apparently unaware of this aspect of the situation here, told me they have been seeing the same among the Turkish and Moroccan immigrant communities. (The first mass breakouts in Belgium — and parts of Germany — came from a different type of superspreader events, among the “native” population: indoor carnival celebrations. In Israel, it was Purim parties ).
(4) One of the greatest assets a public health authority has is the public’s trust: particularly the US public health authorities have been doing a great job of squandering that (through zig-zagging and mutually contradictory guidelines, plus ‘bait-and-switch’ like ‘two weeks to flatten the curve’), as Instapundit does not tire of reminding people.
But the media seem to be taking the cake in this regard. According to a recent Gallup poll, to the question “”How much do you trust the media?”, the answers were:
“A great deal”: 9% (nine percent!)
“A fair amount”: 31%
“Not very much”: 27%
“Not at all”: 33% (an all-time high)
If the two positive answers (“a great deal” and “a fair amount”) are added up and broken down by party affiliation, we get:
“Republicans”: 10% (an all-time low)
Independents: 36% (again, an all-time low)
I know Russian immigrants who, when reading the US mainstream media, wonder if they are reading the Pravda or the Izvestia.
(5) Die Welt (in German) reports on how the reintroduction of returnee quarantine requirements is a body blow to the tourism and travel industry in Germany. Said industry instead proposes mandatory COVID19 testing upon arrival: this was nixed during the 1st wave, citing capacity limitations, but now there is about 20-25% spare testing capacity in the system.
(6) ScienceAlert reports claims that sniffer dogs at Helsinki Airport can detect COVID19 cases with nearly 100% accuracy. I have no difficulty whatsoever believing dogs can detect metabolic anomalies in humans…